With all the G1 Climax coverage happening, it’s easy to forget that we are still in King of Gate season. Dragongate’s most prestigious annual tournament continues to chug along, and I’m back with more exhaustive coverage. This middle portion has had some remarkable highs to go along with some middling, long-winded lows. If you’re an old fan, I hope you still like me by the end of this, and if you’re new, cool! Hi! 

Like the G1, King of Gate is such a great entry point for new fans. You get a taste of the whole roster and what they’re about, and this year, a ton of the tournament is available for free on YouTube. Where applicable, I’ll include the link. Everything else can be found on the Dragongate Network

If you’re behind, go back and check out my recap and rundown of the entire first round. If you’re wondering what I think about literally anything happening in Dragongate right now, don’t worry pal, you’ll probably find it in there. 

Today, we’ll go over the second round and quarterfinals of the tournament. I’ll rank and review some matches, I’ll give some report grades, and then wrap things up with a preview of the 8/3 Korakuen Hall show where the semi-finals and finals will take place. 

From there, I’ll pass the baton to Open The Voice Gate’s Case Lowe, who will always review that Korakuen Hall show for the site. 

If you’re a newcomer or need some refreshers, I’ll include links to show reviews for added context wherever possible. I’d also recommend VOW’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. For reference, here’s your tournament bracket. Let’s get into it. 

King of Gate 2023
Second Round Results

Night 5: July 15, Kyoto KBS Hall

  • BIG BOSS Shimizu d. Yasushi Kanda (3:43) ***¼ 
  • Yuki Yoshioka d. Dragon Kid (17:28) *** 

Night 6: July 16, Kanazawa Distribution Center (YouTube)

  • HYO d. Kzy (12:04) **** 
  • Madoka Kikuta d. Takashi Yoshida (15:01) *** 

Night 7: July 17, Fureai Cube Kasukabe (YouTube)

  • Kota Minoura d. Punch Tominaga (3:34) **¾ 
  • Shuji Kondo d. ISHIN (10:53) ***¾ 

King of Gate 2023
Quarterfinal Results

Night 8: July 22, Kobe Geijutsu Center

  • BIG BOSS Shimizu d. Susumu Mochizuki (13:54) ***¼ 
  • Madoka Kikuta d. Shuji Kondo (20:43) **¾ 

Night 9: July 23, Juroku Plaza (YouTube)

  • Kota Minoura d. Yuki Yoshioka (21:04) ****½ 

Night 10: July 29, Tsushima Bunka Center (YouTube)

  • HYO d. Dragon Dia (17:10) ***¼ 

Top Five Matches of the King of Gate 2023 First Round

5. BIG BOSS Shimizu vs. M3K (Yasushi Kanda 7/15, Susumu Mochizuki 7/22)

Okay, I’m cheating. But this is a great chance to talk about this tournament and why star ratings don’t always accurately illustrate its strengths and weaknesses. 

As we established last time, the big story of the tournament seems to be BIG BOSS barreling through the new Reiwa Six, proving he belongs to be listed among them. Kanda’s first round upset over Strong Machine J and an injury to Ben-K gave us this neat little detour through one of DG’s classic (and newly resurgent) tag teams. I gave both matches ***¼ stars, but this is a great example of why stars don’t tell whole stories. 

Look, I want you, dear reader, to be able to use this article as a resource. Maybe you’re reading this five years in the future and you just want to know where the good matches are. I couldn’t give Kanda’s three-and-a-half-minute romp more than that. It’s barely a match! 

But really, Yasushi Kanda cleverly dragged his husk of a body through another smart and memorable entry in his miraculous 2023 campaign. Kanda knew he couldn’t complete straight up with the reinvigorated Shimizu, so he empties his entire playbook of veteran M2K tricks. He attacks before the bell, he goes for small packages, he receives outside interference, and of course, he goes for a countout. 

Last week I also said Shimizu is notable for his “childlike enthusiasm and naivete.” That’s part of what made this work so well. He’s so EXPRESSIVE. He was exasperated, gasping for air, and hanging on by a thread. His eyes rolled around in his head like Thing 1 and Thing 2 were fucking his whole living room up. He got no relief until the moment he snagged Kanda in the Shot-Put Slam for the win, a little shy of four minutes. It was a blast. That’s a really good three-and-a-quarter! 

The following week, Shimizu met Kanda’s partner Susumu. Susumu ran an exhausted Shimizu through a similar gauntlet of M2K-esque trickery. Again, Shimizu fed into it expertly. 

But Shimizu’s match with Susumu had SO MANY more layers to it. For starters, Susumu hadn’t wrestled a single match in the tournament yet (he’d gotten into the quarterfinals on back-to-back injury byes), while Shimizu had wrestled one-and-a-half grueling matches. Susumu and Shimizu also have a history as successful Twin Gate champion partners in Natural Vibes. Finally, Susumu CAN complete with BIG BOSS Shimizu — in both a kayfabe and non-kayfabe sense, Susumu Mochizuki is one of the best wrestlers in company history. 

And they capitalized on each of these points. When Shimizu fought back, Susumu walloped him with stiff Jumbo No Kachis. In the end, the BIG BOSS win felt hard-earned. However, they also had me sit through a bone-dry eight-minute Susumu control period in a house show semi-main event in a quiet room that looked like a school cafeteria. 

So I guess what I’m saying is, the tie is a fakeout. Your #5 match is BIG BOSS Shimizu vs. Yasushi Kanda. Matches like that — matches that comprise small, fun chapters in the overarching story of the tournament — are a big part of what makes this tourney work. No one will ever write this much about matches this inconsequential again. ***¼ 

4. HYO vs. Dragon Dia, 7/29

There’s a case to be made that nobody’s stock has risen in this year’s King of Gate more than HYO’s.

HYO established early that he can go in the ring as Mochizuki Dojo’s panther cub. Since his heel turn in 2019, it’s been an uneven road watching the former Hyo Watanabe find himself. There have been some fantastic highs — his “big brain” period, spoiling the 2021 KoG with double count-outs, and his Bamashiri Bros. run with SBKENTo. At last year’s Kobe World weekend, he claimed the Brave Gate title and then defended it in what turned out to be SBK’s farewell match from the company. 

HYO’s Brave Gate run was a mostly drab series of repetitive, gimmicky heel affairs that left him aimlessly adrift going into 2023. Now, he’d long proven he could be a compelling character; it was just time to put it all together. HYO needed to transfer all of this into a package that made you want to in when you saw his name in a singles match. 

Fast forward to today’s muscle-bound, suspender-donning incarnation of HYO: he’s like a positively shredded stripper who is going to beat the shit out of you. And now, the in-ring performances are catching up to the presentation. 

This isn’t his best performance in the tournament — we’ll get to that — but it’s a great sampler. HYO’s three opponents have all set the stage for by-the-book face/heel dynamics, and Dragon Dia is the babiest of faces. Z-Brats interference and outside-the-ring stalling got a little long winded here, but Dragon Dia’s crowd connection and killer comebacks compensated for that. 

Bonus points to this one for a neat little sub-story. HYO’s been winning matches with Dragongate’s newly most protected finisher: clapping in his opponent’s face and then rolling them up in a small package. Dia was the first opponent to catch on — at the 7/22 show in Kobe, he pinned HYO with his own clap/roll-up combo. In their KoG tilt, Dia remained savvy: in one of the best spots of the tournament, he flung his arms out in time to prevent HYO from clapping his hands together. ***½  

3. Shuji Kondo vs. ISHIN, 7/17

In the first round recap, I talked about my high hopes for ISHIN’s Brave Gate reign and my hopes that his KoG would set the tone for it. In that regard, I think his tourney was a success. I would have liked for ISHIN to advance, but Madoka Kikuta’s gauntlet of imposing, large men required a Shuji Kondo in the quarterfinals. 

What’s so fun about this match is the role reversal. After some Z-Brat assistance put ISHIN in control, he kept the much larger Kondo on his heels for the rest of the match. ISHIN looked like the killer we want him to be, even hoisting Kondo up for some impressive slams. Kondo was able to find a King Kong Lariat and squeak by after a rare, very game, underdog performance. ***¾ 

2. HYO vs. Kzy, 7/16

Some folks lament the current direction of Dragongate for being a little more vanilla, a little less colorful than things have been in the past. I get that. We’re in the midst of a generational shift, and many of the principal players are still finding the elements that will make them true, reliable torchbearers. Dragongate built its name on some of the most vibrant characters and matches we’ve ever seen. Recent champs like Yoshioka and Kikuta are still, primarily, “smiley handsome young dudes who wrestle good.” 

Here, Kzy and HYO provide an excellent rebuttal against claims that the Gate’s gotten too dry. This one’s got all classic hallmarks — opposing factions at odds, a crazy pace down the stretch, and tons of creativity in the finish. Kzy, even while flanked by Natural Vibes at ringside, was up against seemingly insurmountable odds, getting battered by Z-Brats at ringside. As expected, these two turned on the jets in the match’s climax, and Kzy secured the upper hand, locking HYO in a deep Spider Twist. 

Then the bell rang. Kzy relinquished the hold, thinking HYO had tapped out. As it turned out, ISHIN had taken the timekeeper’s hammer and rung the bell himself. The crowd was on fire at the reveal, and HYO soon took the opening to perform his devastating super-finish which, again, is clapping in his opponent’s face and rolling them up in a schoolboy. ****

1. Yuki Yoshioka vs. Kota Minoura, 7/23

I predicted last time that either Minoura or Yoshioka would lose in the second round because this match was too big to happen on a random YouTube show. What I left out was that I’m a dimwit. The 7/23 show was in Gifu, making it a homecoming show for both of these guys (and also, Konomama Ichikawa). 

Before I go on, I really can’t recommend that show enough. It’s free on YouTube or available on the Network as a Director’s Cut. It has the return of Yoshiki Kato, an all-star six-man tag for Stalker’s homecoming, and this match — the best match of the tournament so far, and DG’s second-best singles match this year. 

Early on, Minoura assumed the heel role, showing flashes of what he may have absorbed under Naruki Doi. He’d escape the ring to break Yoshioka’s momentum, before tricking Yoshioka into a beating on the floor. Once Yoshioka, the babyfaced leading man, regained composure in the ring, the tone shifted. There’d be no more games, just two men trying to outdo each other in a non-stop firework show — two men competing like they know this rivalry just might define their careers. 

That makes sense. After all, the last time these two wrestled was in the main event at last year’s Kobe World. But herein lies the beauty of King of Gate: the fat from weighty, often bloated Dream Gate matches can get cut. Here, in a tight 21 minutes that felt more like 15, Kota Minoura and Yuki Yoshioka blew away their big Kobe World clash. And they did it in their hometown in front of one-quarter of that crowd. And I watched it for free on YouTube, filmed by a single handheld camera on the floor. 

And you should too. ****½ 

Top Ten King of Gate 2023 Matches Overall

  • Yuki Yoshioka vs. Kota Minoura, 7/23 ****½
  • BIG BOSS Shimizu vs. Shun Skywalker, 7/7 ****¼
  • Naruki Doi vs. Kota Minoura, 7/9 ****
  • Madoka Kikuta vs. Masaaki Mochizuki, 7/7 ****
  • HYO vs. Kzy, 7/16 ****
  • Kzy vs. Eita, 7/7 ***¾
  • Shuji Kondo vs. ISHIN, 7/17 ***¾
  • ISHIN vs. Minorita, 7/14 ***½
  • HYO vs. Dragon Dia, 7/29 ***½
  • Ben-K vs. KAI, 7/9 ***½

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Preliminary King of Gate 2023Report Cards

Shun Skywalker: B+

I said last time that Skywalker is, to this point, the only truly proven commodity in the new Reiwa Era Big Six. All it took was one match to show you why. I think, no matter how this tournament plays out, when we look back at the ‘23 KoG, we’ll remember Shun’s raucous Night 1 collision with BIG BOSS Shimizu. He re-established Shimizu as a serious threat and set the BIG BOSS on his tournament-long course to humble the new class of stars. 

Shuji Kondo: D

Hey, I’ve always loved Shuji Kondo. I’m not happy about it either. If anything, this tournament may have shown me that a Kondo singles match isn’t necessarily appointment viewing these days. In his 7/22 main event against Madoka Kikuta, rather than engaging in the total bullfight we all expected on paper, Kondo worked Kikuta’s arm for about 12-14 minutes, moving like a man stuck in molasses, only to get steamrolled by — you guessed it — a cavalcade of lariats from the champ. He had three chances to wow me, but the only time I dug Kondo this year was when he was getting the shit beat out of him by ISHIN. 

HYO: A

I already ranted about HYO enough, but King of Gate was the coming out party for what this incarnation of HYO is capable of. If you want more proof, watch him on the receiving of Stalker Ichikawa’s big comeback on the 7/23 YouTube show. Here’s how I know it’s working: for the first time in his career, I’m genuinely, full-heartedly excited to watch a HYO singles match this week. 

Kota Minoura: A- 

Here he is folks, your King of Gate MVP to this point. In two of the three best matches of the tournament, he asserted himself in the GOLD CLASS pecking order by dropping Doi and then reasserted himself in the company’s pecking order by knocking off Yuki Yoshioka. I believe he’ll be in two more matches this week, and the hits will keep on coming. Minoura’s still has some finding himself to do, but goddamn if he can’t put on a show. 

Kzy: B+

Kzy went out there and took awful beatings in two of the most memorable matches of the month. He let the free agent version of Eita get ALL of his shit in, and he was a magical foil for HYO’s antics. 

I think about Kzy a lot in the ascension of the new Big Six. 7 of the last 9 Dream Gate holders have been first time champs. As the belt gets passed around, more than ever, it seems like Kzy’s window to win the big one has passed. Maybe that’s the greatest gift Kzy can give to that belt — proof that not everyone can hold the Dream Gate title, even if they were way more qualified. 

Madoka Kikuta: C+

Just keep scrolling, it’s FINE. I didn’t think I could get away with skipping the champ. The Mochizuki Special was very good, he just got stuck having to wrestle snoozers with Yoshida and Kondo on house shows. He’s a good champ so far, he’s in the two best DG matches this year, and he’ll go crush it with Shimizu at Korakuen. In two years, I’ll be the only one who remembers the Yoshida and Kondo matches because I wrote 3,000 fucking words about them. 

BIG BOSS Shimizu: B+

It’s his story and he’s acting like it. His match with Shun might go down as “the match” from this year’s tourney, and his next two rounds were master classes in the character stuff he brings to the table. The pressure is on for August 3rd to be a memorable one. 

King of Gate 2023 Finals Preview

DRAGONGATE
KING OF GATE FINALS 2023
AUGUST 3, 2023
KORAKUEN HALL
TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragongate Network

Given that our only remaining matchups will happen  on this coming Korakuen Hall show, I figure we can swap the format for a straight-up show preview. This Thursday’s show will open with the semi-final matchups, delve into a smattering of somewhat interesting midcard fodder, and wrap up with the King of Gate finals. You can look forward to this show being covered extensively by the pros, Case and Mike, both in text and on Open Voice The Gate. 

Madoka Kikuta vs. BIG BOSS Shimizu

King of Gate Semifinal
Madoka Kikuta vs. BIG BOSS Shimizu

Here it is, the centerpiece of KoG’s most prominent thread. Kikuta is the one that took a microphone and named the new Big Six and, as champion, he’s their de facto top dog. If Shimizu wants to push back on being left out, here’s where he can make his biggest statement. 

Kikuta’s had an uneven tournament, but it’s taken him through a murderer’s row. He got the Mochizuki Special on night one, and since then, he’s dispatched a pair of oversized brutes in Takashi Yoshida and Shuji Kondo. It won’t get any easier for him against BIG BOSS Shimizu in the semis. 

It’s a cool story for our large-rumped champion. He’s begun to position himself as the super-physical aggressor of the new Big Six — it’s no coincidence that he was sent in to tangle with historic DG bully Shingo Takagi at Final Gate 2022. Toppling Goliaths is a great way to exhibit his strength and athleticism. I can forgive meandering main events with Yoshida and Kondo, I don’t think we’ll be screwing around much in a hyped opener at Korakuen Hall. 

So who wins? Well, let’s look at recent King of Gates. They don’t really have the champ win this thing, and they usually don’t get too cute with the booking. Ascensions of names like Ben-K, Eita, and Yuki Yoshioka were pretty clearly projected. Let Shimizu cook. He made this tournament about him when he confronted the Big Six at Korakuen Hall. And he was right to, for what it’s worth. Most of them aren’t at his level yet. Prediction: BIG BOSS Shimizu

Madoka Kikuta vs. BIG BOSS Shimizu

King of Gate Semifinal
HYO vs. Kota Minoura

In very different ways, these two are my top performers this year. HYO successfully levelled up, and Kota Minoura was the most consistently exciting guy to watch. If I had to guess, I’d predict this match to be the lightest fare of the evening, and that’s fine. Let these guys take a victory lap. 

HYO’s path has been through some of the purest, most whitemeat babyfaces in the company. That isn’t the case here — Minoura and the rest of GOLD CLASS are very comfortable taking a shortcut or two. We know the rest of GOLD CLASS is in the building; I don’t foresee them letting Z-Brats have a field day on their boy. 

Beyond that, the King of Gate final is usually pegged to be a serious main event war. HYO’s style, and his notable size disparity next to Shimizu or Kikuta, makes that a tall order. I pick Minoura to move on, giving Shimizu one more Big Six pin to knock down. Prediction: Kota Minoura

Elsewhere on the card…

Obviously, this show is about the tournament matches, but I’ve got two matches circled that you may want to keep an eye on. 

An M3K lineup of Susumu Mochizuki, Yasushi Kanda, and Mochizuki Jr. will take on a Z-Brats team of ISHIN, KAI, and Shun Skywalker. The only thing we’ve been missing over the past month is seeing our dear boy Mochizuki Jr. wrestle. A scary neck injury took him out of the mix for a few months, but now the prize of the rookie(-ish) class is back in action. Because of their history, some folks have Mochizuki Jr. pegged as the guy who ends ISHIN’s title run. I don’t know if we’re ready for that, but I’m not complaining if this match sets up a Brave Gate bout between the two. 

GOLD CLASS is in the building, sending a team of Naruki Doi, BxB Hulk, Minorita, and Ben-K out against a mish-mash squad featuring Yoshiki Kato, Dragon Kid, Punch Tominaga, and Daiki Yanagiuchi. The July 23rd Gifu show saw the return of Yoshiki Kato, and thank heavens. Kato is an instant attention grabber. He wrestles like frightening and angsty strongman, a welcome diversion from the slew of petite high flyers coming out of the dojo. I apologize for that stray, Daiki. I think you’re very good, too. 

This could also be an interesting glimpse at what’s happening in GOLD CLASS. The original team daddy, Naruki Doi, is back in town and part of their Triangle Gate squad. Last time these guys wrestled together, Doi couldn’t jive with the new guys’ family dynamics. Since then, he’s been put in his place by Minoura in the KoG first round. Do they play nice? 

King of Gate 2023 Final
??? vs. ???

Obviously, there’s only so much I can say about a match I don’t know the participants of. But let’s send ‘em home happy. 

Madoka Kikuta is a champ that needs a challenger. HYO is a tiny dude who wrestles gimmicky matches. Kota Minoura is an active Triangle Gate champion who is still rehabbing his image from his last run at the Dream Gate title. 

All signs point to BIG BOSS Shimizu taking this one. It feels like we’ve been waiting for Big R Shimizu to get back to his true ass-kicking ways ever since he sat in that chair covered in flour and trash at the end of the 2019 Dead or Alive cage match. Maybe he’s back on this night. Maybe he’s an inconsequential stepping stone in Madoka Kikuta’s story. Maybe he just loses and we forget this all happened. 

Either way, I hope we see him end the night in that ring with Kota Minoura, and I especially hope we watch them beat the hell out of each other. Prediction: BIG BOSS Shimizu