I know that, around this time of year, most of our bandwidth for Japanese pro wrestling tournament watching is consumed by the G1 Climax, but I have to speak up for Dragongate’s annual foray into the tourney space: King of Gate!
I love King of Gate, and, to me, a lot of the tournament’s magic comes from the house style of the promotion. Dragongate’s reputation is built on historic multi-man matches marked by its roster’s inhuman speed and precision. Typically, until you get to the end of the tournament King of Gate matches are tight and succinct. Few wrestlers are as good at getting in, getting down to business, and getting out as products of the DG dojo.
And much like the G1, King of Gate makes an excellent entry point for new fans. Even when, like this year, it’s a single elimination tournament rather than a round-robin, you get a taste of the whole roster and what they’re about. About half the matches will be released for free on YouTube to make things even easier. Where applicable, I’ll include the link. Everything else can be found on the Dragongate Network.
Today, I’ll get you caught up on the entire first round of the tournament—recommended matches, storyline threads, things to look out for going forward. I’ll come back in a few weeks to do it again after the quarterfinals wrap up.
From there, I’ll pass the baton to Open The Voice Gate’s Case Lowe, who’ll review the August 3 Korakuen show where the semi-finals and finals will occur.
If you’re a newcomer or a little behind, I’ll include links to show reviews for added context wherever possible. I’d also recommend Voices of Wrestling’s excellent 2022 Dragongate Primer and, as it will come up often, Mike Spears’ excellent piece about Dragongate’s new Big Six — the wrestlers pegged to lead the company into a new generation.
Alright, I think that’s everything.
Here’s your tournament bracket, and let’s get into it.
Dragongate King of Gate 2023 First Round Results
Night 1: July 7, Korakuen Hall
Read the VOW review of this show here.
- Kzy d. Eita (9:10) ***3/4
- Punch Tominaga d. BxB Hulk (2:24) **¾
- Big BOSS Shimizu d. Shun Skywalker (13:43) ****¼
- Madoka Kikuta d. Masaaki Mochizuki (10:34) ****
Night 2: July 8, Act City Hamamatsu (YouTube)
- Shuji Kondo d. Genki Horiguchi (7:39) **¼
- Dragon Kid d. Kagetora (12:15) ***½
- Dragon Dia d. Jason Lee (11:33) ***½
Night 3: July 9, EDION Arena Osaka #2
- Takashi Yoshida d. Mondai Ryu (5:24) **
- Don Fuji vs. YAMATO – Time Limit Draw (15:00) **¼
- Ben-K d. KAI (10:46) ***½
- Kota Minoura d. Naruki Doi (13:05) ****
Night 4: July 14, Tsuyuhashi Sports Center (YouTube)
- ISHIN d. Minorita (7:56) ***½
- Yasushi Kanda d. Strong Machine J (8:26) ***
- Yuki Yoshioka d. Jacky Funky Kamei (9:53) ***
- HYO d. U-T (13:31) ***¼
Top Five Matches of Dragongate’s King of Gate 2023 First Round
ISHIN vs. Minorita
It’s easy to forget just how good of a wrestler Minorita is. Maybe that’s because his gimmick is still “miniature version of Kota Minoura given as a gift by Naruki Doi to lure him into a new faction of sexy men.” Can we get something else going for this guy? It’s like when you really like a band, but you don’t know if you want to get into them because they’re called Diarrhea Planet.
ISHIN continues to find himself as the brooding, all-business Brave Gate champ. He gets frustrated with Minorita’s speed and tenacity and turns the tables by luring him out to the floor or just, well, kicking him in the nuts. In between, they clobber each with forearms. ***½
Kzy vs. Eita
Since Eita stopped being a full-time roster DG member, his booking has been consistent. In short, he’s an absolute monster who just isn’t allowed to win any important matches. This one was kind of like a condensed version of Eita’s Dream Gate challenge against Yuki Yoshioka at Dangerous Gate 2022. He battered Kzy for most of the match, wasn’t able to seal the deal, and Kzy was able to capitalize on a small window of opportunity for the win.
— Kayden/ケイデン🌸🌺 (@KVR216) July 7, 2023
And I don’t want that to sound reductive — when you get the effort out of him, Eita’s offensive arsenal is super captivating to watch, and Kzy is always a great underdog. ***¾
Madoka Kikuta vs. Masaaki Mochizuki
I call it The Mochizuki Special. Need a match that defines a title reign? Give a young stud a career-defining match? Permanently elevate a mid-carder? No sweat. Just stick them in a Korakuen Hall main event with Masaaki Mochizuki and sit back.
And make no mistake, Madoka Kikuta earned his Mochizuki Special, even if it was a King of Gate first-round match rather than a Dream Gate defense. He’s been a fireball of late, and his aggressive, physical in-ring style paired excellently with Mochi’s middle-age rage.
— Kayden/ケイデン🌸🌺 (@KVR216) July 7, 2023
Mochizuki is known to target and neutralize his opponents’ greatest weapons. As Case from Open The Voice Gate astutely noted, that meant he spent a large portion of this match literally kicking Madoka Kikuta’s ass. The champ would stand his ground though, and watching the two trade nasty lariats (and nastier lariat bumps) down the closing stretch was mesmerizing.
Naruki Doi vs. Kota Minoura
Let’s take a minute with this one.
Naruki Doi is the greatest prick in the history of Dragongate. I say that lovingly. That’s why I was so excited when he formed the GOLD CLASS unit around Kota Minoura in 2021.
Minoura had already established himself as an outright menace in the ring. He’d adopted the “7 Colors Suplex” nickname for the variety of ways he’d toss opponents over his head. He had tremendous performances at his two big coming-out parties, the 2021 King of Gate finals and his Dream Gate challenge at Dangerous Gate that September. Minoura was, quite possibly, the best bell-to-bell wrestler in the company.
He was just a little bit of a drag otherwise, is all. Not exactly the life of the party.
Who better to force-feed this kid some personality than Naruki Doi? And sure, it was going to take some work — Minoura’s first big league outing as a total prick was the build to Kobe World 2022, which didn’t go so great. But there was time!
Then Naruki Doi went freelance in the fall of 2022. He exited GOLD CLASS and had his spot filled by Ben-K. Minoura lost his mentor and even his mini — Minorita started tagging with Ben and developed a whole new set of comedy bits. Doi continued making sporadic appearances, always outside the purview of any major storylines.
Then, at this year’s Kobe World, Doi reunited with his former GOLD CLASS mates and claimed the Triangle Gate belts from Natural Vibes. I got my hopes up fast. If Doi was holding a belt, the company possibly had him on the hook long enough to complete this thread. This first round matchup between Doi and Minoura was announced. Doi could complete his Total Prick Masterclass and truly pass the torch down.
I had it all plotted out — Doi would beat Minoura using every dastardly trick in the book, and Minoura would learn he’s going to need a personality to get past Doi. Then at, say, Dangerous Gate, Minoura outmaneuvers Doi, overcomes his teacher, and boots his ass back out of GOLD CLASS. The student has become the douchebag. It writes itself.
At the July 7th Korakuen, everything was falling into place. Doi teamed with the rest of GOLD CLASS in an eight-man tag and rubbed everyone the wrong way — he tried to take the spotlight from all of their big spots and couldn’t recognize that the group had moved on in his absence. What an asshole! Yes!
Finally, we arrived at the match. Once the bell rang, everything I’d hoped for began to come to fruition. Doi and Minoura, predictably, were putting on a clinic. But more importantly, Doi was being insufferable. Yapping, posing, slapping the kid with the turnbuckle mat. The ring was his classroom. The match delivered in every conceivable way.
The only problem is Minoura won. ****
BIG BOSS Shimizu vs. Shun Skywalker
Back at Hopeful Gate in May, Shimizu came to the ring to confront the new Reiwa Era Big Six. He took issue with Madoka Kikuta leaving his name off the list, and he believed he belonged at the top of the card with them. It’s a fair argument for him to make, but we’ll get to that later.
Shimizu hasn’t had to opportunity to act on his dispute until now, and he started right at the top. Here’s the thing about the new Big Six: while some of the names are still hopeful bets, Shun Skywalker is the proven commodity. He was the best wrestler in the world in 2021 as the leader of Masquerade, and then he completely reinvented himself as the company’s manic supervillain. His betrayals of Dragon Dia and Diamante will live forever in the annals of Dragongate history, and all the while, he’s wrestled matches like a final boss.
On the other hand, Shimizu’s had a rather uneven career. But whether he was Dia.HEARTS’ eager solider, Eita’s bumbling sidekick, an Ultimo Dragon tribute act, or the Earl to Kzy’s Toejam, Shimizu’s always been identifiable by his childlike enthusiasm and naivete. He’s such a lovable dude.
— Kayden/ケイデン🌸🌺 (@KVR216) July 7, 2023
That’s why it should come as no surprise that while Shimizu violently planted Skywalker into the mat until he’d finally stay down, the crowd at Korakuen Hall was coming completely unglued. Skywalker bumps like an absolute lunatic for Shimizu’s closing stretch. It’s a beautiful moment. ****¼
Ben-K vs. KAI
On its own merit, this match is a lot of fun. Ben-K and KAI, two of the bigger, stronger guys on the roster, just take turns dropping bombs on each other until KAI relents. The real joy of this match is watching it with commentary from Kzy and Big BOSS Shimizu. When Ben hits his spear, the two start imitating Goldberg and shouting “WHO’S NEXT?” When KAI hits a thrust kick, Kzy yelps, “Sweet! Chin! Music!”
Dragongate King of Gate 2023 Second-Round Matches
Night 5: July 15, Kyoto KBS Hall
- BIG BOSS Shimizu vs. Yasushi Kanda
- Yuki Yoshioka vs. Dragon Kid
Night 6: July 16, Kanazawa Distribution Center (YouTube)
- HYO vs. Kzy
- Madoka Kikuta vs. Takashi Yoshida
Night 7: July 17, Fureai Cube Kasukabe
- Punch Tominaga vs. Kota Minoura
- Shuji Kondo vs. ISHIN
Already Confirmed for the Quarterfinals:
- As a result of injuries to Diamante and Ben-K, Susumu has moved onto the quarterfinals without wrestling a match. He’ll likely meet BIG BOSS Shimizu there.
- As a result of the Don Fujii/YAMATO time limit draw, Dragon Dia receives a bye into the quarterfinals. He meets the winner of Kzy vs. HYO.
What Can We Expect Going Forward?
BIG BOSS vs. The Big Six…sort of?
The most popular line of thought is that King of Gate is Shimizu’s story. After challenging Madoka Kikuta’s assertions of a new Reiwa Era Big Six, the bracket seemed perfectly set up for Shimizu to run through four Big Six adversaries.
Then, Ben-K went down with an injury, and Strong Machine J was upset by Yasushi Kanda.
Still, all signs seem to point to this being Shimizu’s tournament. All of his bouts are on Network shows, and he was put given a marquee Korakuen spot to eliminate Shun Skywalker. He’s still on course to meet Kikuta, the current Dream Gate champ, in a semi-final matchup in Korakuen Hall on August 3rd. Should it happen, the result of that match could have a huge impact on the course both men are on.
ISHIN’s Brave Gate Breakout
Look, I love the Brave Gate title, and it’s for a lot of the same reasons I love King of Gate — high-stakes matches without all the pomp and circumstance. In recent years, only a few Brave Gate reigns have lived up to the pedestal I put that belt on. I’m thinking specifically about Susumu Yokosuka’s 2019 campaign where he rescued the belt from a middling Dragon Kid/Eita feud and SB KENTo’s late 2021 tour of overachieving defenses at house shows.
Like myself, ISHIN has spoken about wanting to inject some prestige back into the Brave Gate. His title win against Jason Lee at Kobe World was a very brief but enticing taste of what he’s capable of. Now that he’s off-leash as a singles wrestler, he’s looking like a killer — a far cry from his debut as the chunkier Iihashi brother. Can his King of Gate performance set the tone for his title reign?
His first-round bout with Minorita showed promising flashes of violence and heel flair. Next up, he’ll face Shuji Kondo on the 17th in Saitama. Kondo had his big King of Gate moment last year, squashing then-champ KAI in the first round. I don’t imagine he needs another one of those. Taking down a tank like Kondo could make for a great feather in ISHIN’s cap.
What’s Next for the Champ?
Kikuta’s declaration of a new Big Six for the Reiwa Era changed the tone of the entire promotion, for better or for worse. All eyes are on these gentlemen to fill some absolutely iconic shoes. Who will be the next to take that big step up the way Shun Skywalker has?
Since returning from injury, Madoka Kikuta has exhibited a fierce athleticism that sets him apart from his peers. Like Yoshioka before him, he’s a worryingly vanilla figure in a promotion known for its colorful characters, but his in-ring style and demeanor give him a leg up that Yoshioka lacked. And if you’ve watched Madoka Kikuta wrestle, you know it’s a tremendous leg.
His title win over Shun Skywalker at Dead or Alive was a stunner — the best DG singles match this year. His first defense against Yuki Yoshioka underwhelmed in the semi-main spot at Kobe World (beneath another tremendous Skywalker performance in the cage). In the first round of this year’s King of Gate, he was gifted the Mochizuki Special (a career highlight match in the main event at Korakuen Hall, for those who are scrolling around). There are high hopes for his match-to-match performance in King of Gate, but the tournament will also likely dictate his next challenger. That gives us a few enticing options, but one seems to be the clubhouse leader.
All roads APPEAR to be leading to a semi-final meeting with Big BOSS Shimizu at Korakuen Hall on August 3rd. If he falls to Shimizu, it sets up a great beefy boy matchup, with an equally beefy built-in story. If he wins, he likely runs into some sort of major generational matchup in the final. Neat.
Who’s Coming Out of the Left Side?
With all this talk about Shimizu and Kikuta, discussion has really favored the right side of the bracket. And that makes sense — the left side is littered with undersized Brave Gate challengers and veterans who have stepped away from the main event scene.
With YAMATO’s elimination, the two biggest names remaining are Yuki Yoshioka and Kota Minoura. They also fit into the Shimizu vs. The Big Six narrative as finalists. Should they collide, it would take place at the July 23rd show in Gifu. Yoshioka and Minoura, a rematch of last year’s Kobe World main event, seems like too big of a match for a YouTube digest show. My guess is that one of them will be eliminated.
At the top of the bracket, HYO is still floating around. We’ve seen the impact HYO can have on a King of Gate tournament (forcing double count-outs with his big ol’ brain in 2021). We still don’t know the power he wields since getting absolutely shredded and buying a pair of suspenders.
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