KING OF GATE 2023 FINALS
AUGUST 3, 2023
KORAKUEN HALL, TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
Kota Minoura’s career is a conundrum.
The Gifu-native, five years pro yet still only 24 years old, is a prodigy who does not feel like one. He’s yet another success story among Dragongate’s dojo and training methods, yet he’s suffered tremendous public failure. Even when securing his King of Gate crown, which eluded him in his prior two trips to the finals, Minoura still felt like somewhat of an underdog as he rallied against the white-hot Big Boss Shimizu.
This year’s King of Gate was an incredibly strong tournament. Running single-elimination brackets instead of block play, which has been the motif since 2020, shifted the tournament’s focus from vintage G1-like bangers to solid stories told throughout the rounds, although there is a good case to be made that Dragongate’s high-end stuff in this tournament matches the high-end stuff from this year’s G1. I digress.
From the moment the brackets were announced, it became clear that Big Boss Shimizu was going to be a player in this tournament. I was still hung up on the fact that he cut a promo on the Reiwa Six at May’s Korakuen show, yet nothing came of it. I knew he was destined for something big at some point this year, and when I saw how the brackets played out, I knew he’d be a threat to win the entire thing.
On Shimizu’s side of the bracket, he was met with the possibility of facing nothing but Reiwa Six wrestlers. He started out against Shun Skywalker and then met Strong Machine J before wrestling Susumu Mochizuki, who advanced via forfeit from the Reiwa’s Ben-K. Shimizu survived the veteran, which granted him access to the semi-finals against the leader of the cause, Madoka Kikuta. Minus Ben-K, who was not in condition to compete, and both Minoura and Yuki Yoshioka, who were not in Shimizu’s bracket, the now-10 year veteran ran through the stars of today with ease.
As for Kota Minoura, he had a chance to win because Kota Minoura always has a chance to win.
The story has been told one million times now, but let me do it again, quickly. He debuted in 2018, after Ben-K and Shun Skywalker but before Jacky “Funky” Kamei and Madoka Kikuta. He was good, instantly. He surpassed HYO and arguably Yuki Yoshioka in Mochizuki Dojo. When Dragongate returned from a pandemic hiatus in the summer of 2020, Minoura was given an immediate push. He won the Twin Gate belts that fall, fell to Kzy in the finals of King of Gate 2021, and then wrapped up his ties with his then-unit Masquerade at the end of the year before being given his own unit in 2022.
That unit, originally consisting of Kaito Ishida, Naruki Doi, and a freshly-debuted Takumi Hayakawa, now dubbed Minorita, became known as Gold Class, and their goal was to make sure that Dragongate had the biggest female fanbase in all of Japanese wrestling.
Ishida cut heel promos, Minoura flopped as a babyface, and Doi seemed mentally checked out, however. The only bright spot was the man who walked in Minoura’s shadows.
Then came King of Gate 2022.
Minoura was bounced in the first round by Kzy, but thanks to a Jason Lee injury (which I’ve always been convinced was a work), Minoura found himself in the semi-finals after winning a resurrection battle royal. He knocked Shuji Kondo out of the tournament in a lifeless, masturbatory exhibit of a Gold Class act that had already run its course. Minoura heeled it up, Minorita helped him win, and everyone sat on their hands.
Mercifully, Yuki Yoshioka won the tournament, defeated KAI at the Ultimo Dragon 35th Anniversary Show, and proceeded to have an electric Dream Gate run that was almost universally loved.
If that were the story, simple as can be, it would be a great one. But Minoura didn’t just go away after losing the finals of the tournament.
July 11, 2022, began what we now recognize as The Kota Minoura Debacle.
In the midst of what was turning into a sneaky-great Dream Gate affair between KAI and the aforementioned Shuji Kondo, the Korakuen Hall lights flickered off and on, and when the building returned with lights, Minoura was standing over both men.
Having covered Dragongate for seven years by that point, I knew at the moment this was a problem. Now a year removed from the situation, I can confidently say nothing during my time as a Dragongate reviewer has bombed this badly. This was a bomb for the ages. Easily one of the biggest misses in the entire history of the company. It was like biting into rotten food. As soon as Minoura showed up, I knew we were in for trouble.
The debacle was all-inclusive. Attendance for the rest of the month fell off a cliff. There was an uncomfortable tension in the air that made viewing Dragongate nearly impossible. It was as if the cloud of Minoura’s forced, uneasy main event push hung over everything on the card.
Dragongate turned Minoura’s inclusion into a clumsy, three-way battle for Dream Gate matches. Minoura and Yoshioka outlasted Kondo, so during the two-headed dragon that was Ultimo’s Anniversary Show and Kobe World 2022, Yoshioka beat KAI, then Yoshioka beat Minoura. It was messy and predictable and painful.
Yoshioka went on to prosper, while the back half of Minoura’s 2022 was spent in Dragongate’s equivalent of Witness Protection.
In only a few months, Gold Class had completely revamped itself. Out were Doi and Ishida, the latter leaving the company entirely with the former restructuring his contract to become freelance, and in was Ben-K, who had spent the last few years going nowhere fast. He joined Gold Class and received what can only be described as a Nakamura-esque charisma injection. Long gone was the stoic, unable-to-cut-a-promo Ben-K, and in his place, a loudmouth, banana-loving, hip-hop-adoring Ben-K took over. Without Ben-K, I don’t think the Gold Class branding would have survived.
Ben, Minorita, and later BxB Hulk put the unit that wasn’t theirs to begin with on their back and leaped into the spotlight while Minoura remained doing busy work on the undercards.
In January, Minoura won Triangle Gate gold alongside Ben and Hulk, but that was more of a vehicle for Hulk to establish himself in this unit. It wasn’t until July, this year’s Kobe World to be exact, when Minoura started to feel like himself once more. Flanked by Minorita and the still-freelance, now-quasi member of Gold Class Naruki Doi, the trio won the Open the Triangle Gate belts in a match that actually put the spotlight on Minoura. He had done so much damage to his image in the year prior that it took them a full year to rehab and regain trust in him, but Minoura delivered when he needed to.
He parlayed that success into King of Gate, where we stand now. Minoura headlined in Osaka against Doi and looked great standing over the Nara-native, victorious. He got by Punch Tominaga, easily. Then, in the quarter-finals, he was met with a challenger that will be a thorn in his side for his entire career.
On July 23, 2023, just over a year removed from the start of The Kota Minoura Debacle, he fully redeemed himself. In his hometown (which doubles as Yuki Yoshioka’s hometown) in a super-no vacancy audience, Minoura and Yoshioka went to war. They had a Kobe World-level match without the existential dread and despair that their actual Kobe World match had. This shook off whatever was left of Minoura’s 2022. He was perfect in this match. He was the wrestler that I always thought he could be in Mochizuki Dojo or Masquerade. It was, without a doubt, the most pivotal match in his career. Had he laid an egg in this environment, it would be hard to ever believe in the idea of Minoura as a legitimate main eventer.
Minoura took down Yoshioka, setting the table for a semi-finals encounter with HYO and a possible third straight King of Gate finals appearance.
1,258 people were on-hand at Korakuen Hall to see Kota Minoura finally win the tournament that he had been unable to win the prior two years, and nothing about his participation in the finals this year seemed forced.
He thwarted HYO’s path of destruction to get to the finals. Nothing about this match was bad, but it was the HYO Formula that all of us have seen before.
The finals against Shimizu, who defeated current Dream Gate Champion Madoka Kikuta to get here, was simply an exquisite match.
Both Minoura and Shimizu are two wrestlers who excel at putting together engaging finishing stretches, and they put forth their best foot forward with this encounter. Shimizu was the first to truly put a dent in Minoura’s armor, landing both a Big Boss Press and a Shot Put Slam on the Gifu-native. Minoura survived, however, by putting his foot on the rope during the ensuing pinfall after the Shot Put.
A strong wave of “Mi-Nour-A” chants echoed throughout the building as a result of his survival. He rode that wave of momentum into a near-fall with his signature Bevel Gear pin, then began trading strikes with one of Dragongate’s biggest monsters. I had never seen Minoura show such fire before. If his early years represented him as an artist not yet comfortable in his own skin, this was a performance that represented Minoura’s evolution into becoming a brass ring-grabber. He wiggled out of a last-ditch La Magistral from Shimizu, popped him with his Running Knee, then planted him with the Golden Rose.
Kota Minoura is finally King of Gate.
Whether he sticks the landing at Dangerous Gate or not is yet to be seen. He’ll have his second singles match of the year with Madoka Kikuta, the first of which was a classic and led to Kikuta’s eventual Dream Gate win.
The story of Kota Minoura’s career is far from over, but we have finally reached out first bit of closure with his King of Gate victory. Whether he becomes Dragongate’s Carmelo Anthony, a player that dominated the headlines despite accomplishing very little, or Dragongate’s Dwayne Wade, a winning player who thrived with a strong supporting cast, is still undetermined.
All that is clear is that in only five years’ time, we’ve seen the rise, fall, and return of Dragongate’s Kota Minoura.
KING OF GATE FINALS MATCH RATINGS:
- Big Boss Shimizu def. Madoka Kikuta: ****1/4
- Kota Minoura def. HYO: ***
- Mochizuki Junior, Susumu Mochizuki, & Yasushi Kanda vs. ISHIN, KAI, & Shun Skywalker (double countout): ***1/4
- Ben-K, BxB Hulk, Minorita, & Naruki Doi def. Daiki Yanagiuchi, Dragon Kid, Punch Tominaga, & Yoshiki Kato: ***1/4
- Don Fujii & Masaaki Mochizuki def. Shuji Kondo & Takashi Yoshida: ***
- Dragon Dia, Eita, Kagetora, YAMATO, & Yuki Yoshioka def. Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Jason Lee, Kzy, Strong Machine J, & U-T: ***1/2
- Kota Minoura def. Big Boss Shimizu: ****1/2
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