GATE OF EVOLUTION
NOVEMBER 9, 2023
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
Before the opening contest, D’Courage came to the ring to make the announcement that Ryoya Tanaka had officially joined the unit and would make his D’Courage debut in the semi-main event on this show.
PUNCH TOMINAGA DEF. DAIKI YANAGIUCHI
Last year at this very same show, Punch Tominaga was forced to tap out in an exhibition match against Yoshiki Kato in a match that predated Kato’s “official” debut. Tominaga has had a career of lows, but that one was shockingly low. It was the first and only time that both myself and commentator Dragongate Jae remember a fall actually being scored during a five-minute exhibition. That just doesn’t happen. Tominaga was the perfect guy to bludgeon by way of the mysterious and almighty Kato.
A year later, by a strange act of God, Tominaga has the Triangle Gate titles alongside YAMATO and Dragon Kid and it isn’t totally terrible. In fact, anyone that saw him win the belts last month alongside that trio realize that this reign is a “feel good” moment in a year that has been full of bad luck.
Just like last November, Tominaga was slated to face a Dragongate rookie, this time in the Korakuen employee-turned-wrestler Daiki Yanagiuchi. We continue to see Yanagiuchi attack his opponents early and then fling himself to the outside with a reckless tope suicida, something that he does better than nearly anyone in wrestling. His early flurry was not enough for Tominaga, however, as the veteran was able to recover, kick out of a Double Underhook Suplex (which commentators hyped up as a possible finisher), and then connect with a PT Kick for the win. **3/4
BIG BOSS SHIMIZU & U-T DEF. GENKI HORIGUCHI & TAKASHI YOSHIDA
Big Boss Shimizu entering Korakuen Hall without the Open the Dream Gate Championship was a sad sight. After six months of fighting with Dragongate’s top wrestlers, he’s back in the undercard, screwing around with Takashi Yoshida. This was quick and inoffensive, and in the end, Shimizu planted Horiguchi with a powerbomb for the win. **1/4
DON FUJII, KAGETORA, & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. KENICHIRO ARAI, SUSUMU MOCHIZUKI, & YASUSHI KANDA
Congratulations to Kenichiro Arai, whose Hanshin Tigers won The Japan Series this year, ending their 38-year drought and The Curse of the Colonel in the process. Araken, a known fan of the team, wrestled in this match in the team’s jersey and signature black and yellow colors.
This was an encore performance for Kanda, who capped off his career year at Gate of Destiny when he and Susumu lost the Open the Twin Gate Championships to the D’Courage duo of Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka. Kanda’s year has been incredible. At no point throughout his career has he wrestled the way he has this year. I assume now he will fade into the spotlight and go back to being nothing more than a familiar face on the card, especially as it seems that M3K is now on its last leg. He was once again the best worker in the match, racing around as if he’s never had a serious neck injury and doesn’t have 25 years of wear-and-tear on his body.
He and Kagetora closed things out. Unfortunately for Kanda, after connecting with a John Woo on Kagetora, Kagetora bounced back and rolled him up for the win. It would appear the M3K Magic has finally worn off. ***
DRAGON KID, EITA, SHUJI KONDO, & YAMATO DEF. BEN-K, BXB HULK, KOTA MINOURA, & NARUKI DOI
Gold Class was back, firing on all cylinders after a meaningless opening match performance at Gate of Destiny. Dragongate seems content with having Doi, who used to be in Gold Class officially, team with Gold Class, even though he’s not an official member anymore. I don’t mind this at all. Especially with Minorita sidelined for the foreseeable future, Doi provides a spark to this unit that keeps Minoura and Ben fresh. His presence is not only nice, but quite possibly necessary.
The star of this match was not anyone in Gold Class, though. It was Shuji Kondo, who has laid low since losing the Twin Gate belts with Kenoh in June. He was excellent here, hitting the Kubinage multiple times with his partners being used as projectiles towards his opponent on the mat. After doing it successfully with Dragon Kid and Eita, he and YAMATO stared each other down with YAMATO eventually relenting and volunteering himself as the final participant in Kondo’s Kubinage train. Of course, when Kondo threw him violently towards the mat, Kota Minoura moved out of the way. Brilliant stuff.
After a great back-and-forth between Ben-K and YAMATO, YAMATO caught the former Dream Gate Champion in a Frankensteiner of the Almighty for a win. ***1/4
YOSHIKI KATO DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI
Newly heel Yoshiki Kato defeated Masaaki Mochizuki via disqualification after Mochizuki Junior, who is currently suffering from a dislocated kneecap, crawled into the ring, beat Kato with his crutch, and then attacked Referee Yagi when he tried to break up the brawl. We somehow not only continued the story of Junior and Kato with this, but after the beatdown, Junior challenged his father to a singles match.
The road to get there was just as entertaining as the angle that capped off this match. To begin, Mocchy punched Kato with a straight right hand. It looked very much like that one move could end the match. Kato was able to recover, then begin his attack by chopping the veteran so hard that his chest turned purple. This heel turn should do wonders for Kato. He’s already changed his hair and his gear and I think slowly, he’ll be able to find his footing in this new persona. He certainly comes across as a dick when he’s on the opposite side of the Mochizuki Family.
The DQ came 5 minutes in, so despite some early, entertaining strikes, this match never developed into anything special. NR
— DRAGONGATE NETWORK (@dragongatentwk) November 9, 2023
JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI, JASON LEE, KZY, & STRONG MACHINE J DEF. DRAGON DIA, MADOKA KIKUTA, RYOYA TANAKA, & YUKI YOSHIOKA
This match reminded me of the famed Blood Generation vs. Do Fixer match from Ring of Honor.
No, it wasn’t quite as good, but this match proved that no matter how many faces change within Dragongate, the spirit of the promotion remains the same. When then-Ring of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky spoke with Dave Meltzer after the event, Sapolsky was astounded at the minds that put the match together, noting, “The part that really blew me away was that before the match, CIMA told me that this was Dragon Kid’s match. If you look at where they put Dragon Kid’s big spots and how they saved the one major kick out for him, you’ll see that the psychology is really strong. The place was chanted ‘Dragon Kid’ after the match so it is obvious that their plan worked.”
17 years later, Dragongate had “The Ryoya Tanaka match.”
A handsome high-flyer from the Hyogo prefecture, it’s like Tanaka was created in a lab to become a Dragongate wrestler. He’s everything they want. He debuted in May to much fanfare and slowly began racking up impressive performances. At no point prior to his Brave Gate challenge vs. ISHIN in early November had Tanaka had a blow away performance; he was good from the jump and getting better with each outing. I claimed then that this was his big break and as it turned out, I was wrong.
Everything about this match was perfect.
Tanaka, time after time, was put in a position to shine brighter than some of Dragongate’s biggest stars. From the get-go, D’Courage launched a string of offense that concluded with Tanaka in the spotlight, delivering a no touch tope to Natural Vibes. Later, Tanaka was set up by his partners to hit a spring Diamond Cutter that nearly won the match for his squad. Finally, he was left all alone with “Mr. Consistent” Jacky “Funky” Kamei, someone who a majority of the wrestling media grossly underrates. Kamei is Dragongate’s go-to glue guy. He does not have bad matches. He does not let guys down. The champions of D’Courage took flight, Dia and Yoshioka hitting big dives and Kikuta landing a devastating hip attack off the apron, paving the way for Tanaka to hit a one-man Spanish Fly on Kamei. All 1,356 people in attendance bit on that nearfall.
In what is starting to become a trend, Tanaka’s finishing stretch momentum was halted by a rookie mistake. Against ISHIN a week earlier, he landed a Stardust Press, but ISHIN countered the pin by shifting his weight and he ended up pinning Tanaka with a school boy. Here, Tanaka connected with a suplex, but when he went to step over Kamei, he was grabbed by the ankle and quickly rolled up into a Jacky Knife. Tanaka reversed that pin attempt, luckily, but couldn’t escape the Torbellino and subsequent pin. Tanaka was defeated not because he was lacking talent, but because he was lacking awareness.
As Jae astutely pointed out on commentary during one of the many blistering sets of offense, this was the first time Tanaka had been thrown into a signature Dragongate multi-man match. He had spent his time in veteran vs. rookie tags (which are structured differently), low-level undercard matches, or singles affairs. This was Tanaka, not experimenting, but excelling, and doing it alongside the best workers on the roster.
On the Japanese commentary side of things, the camera panned over to Gold Class after the bell rang, who were doing color commentary as the match was going on. They were hooting and hollering, blown away by what they had just seen.
Ryoya Tanaka is not a star after this match, but he now matters. The idea of Ryoya Tanaka is far more intriguing after these 16 minutes than it was before the match.
With the end of the year approaching, my eyes sometimes glaze over when I look at my spreadsheet full of great matches throughout the year. This was my 62nd Dragongate match at 4 stars or higher this year (and second for the aforementioned Tanaka). I do not remember the intricate details of all of those matches. There are some Z-Brats multi-mans, surely, that were great, but were just another great match to coincide with all of their other great matches.
I will not only remember this match at the end of the year, but I will remember this match for a very long time. This was a coming out party for Tanaka, akin to what Takehiro Yamamura did in February 2017. Tanaka’s first match as a member of D’Courage couldn’t have gone better.
The main characters of Dragongate have just added a supporting cast member, and he’s going to be a problem. ****1/2
This is DRAGONGATE🐉🔥
— DRAGONGATE NETWORK (@dragongatentwk) November 9, 2023
LUIS MANTE DEF. HYO, ISHIN, KAI, & SHUN SKYWALKER
In 2014, Dragongate ran BxB Hulk, the Open the Dream Gate Champion at the time, defended the title against the five members of Mad Blankey in a gauntlet-style match. Hulk was able to get past Problem Dragon and Cyber Kong, but the advantage that Mad Blankey had on Hulk was too much, and Naruki Doi, the third entrant in the match, took control and pinned Hulk, becoming an interim Dream Gate Champion in the process. The match was championed in the hardcore wrestling intelligentsia bubble as an example of logical and practical booking, a stark contrast from an era of mainstream American wrestling that was still dominated by John Cena overcoming any and all odds that were stacked against him.
Do not let the result of this match fool you. It was every bit as logical and effective as the match from what many consider to be Dragongate’s golden era.
Whereas Mad Blankey had an incentive to pin Hulk before he could run the gauntlet, Z-Brats wanted to take their time picking apart Mante. He was decimated by every member of the heel unit that has run roughshod through Dragongate for nearly two years now – a unit that Mante used to be a part of. This isn’t to claim that Z-Brats didn’t try to win the match. They did, and with every pinfall attempt, a new obstacle appeared in their way. At times, it was simply the strength of Mante, who kicked out of hate-filled pin attempts. Other times, like with KAI, he simply wasn’t the legal man, as Referee Yagi tried to keep some semblance of order.
Throughout the match, Skywalker and HYO, who have been feuding within the unit, had three instances of friendly-fire. Moments like that also helped Mante survive the onslaught. The Mexican import finally caught fire, surviving a rollup battle with HYO and gaining momentum in the process. He went for a Vuelta Finale on Skywalker, but Skywalker escaped and threw Mante into the referee. This paved the way for numerous chairs to enter the ring by way of Z-Brats and their newest member, Yoshiki Kato.
With Skywalker and KAI hoisting Mante up in the air and ISHIN preparing to dive off the ropes, it looked like Mante had finally run out of luck. That turned out not to be the case, however. He slipped out of the grip of Skywalker and KAI, planted KAI with a Michinoku Driver on the chairs and knocked ISHIN away from attack position, but that gave Skywalker the time he needed to drop Mante with a Blaster on the chairs.
Dragongate got so much out of this match. Each time Mante began a comeback and was thwarted, it was a devastating blow to his fanbase, but it never felt like a comeback was insurmountable.
Skywalker continued his assault, landing a handful of big moves on his new top rival, but when he went to put him away with the SSW, Mante slipped out. Unfortunately, he slipped out and right into a Box Attack from ISHIN and a Rock Bottom from Skywalker. Another SSW was attempted, but Mante survived with another counter. This brought HYO into the ring with powder. Before he could drill the former masked man with the powder, Mante turned the tables on Skywalker, and without hesitation, HYO blasted his unit leader in the face with powder.
After four years of being a shit-stirring heel, HYO has seen the light.
The crowd erupted – and I mean ERUPTED – as HYO dodged attacks from the clearly rattled Z-Brats members. He launched his body over the top rope and onto KAI, Kato, and Skywalker, leaving ISHIN all alone with Mante, who quickly threw himself at ISHIN with a hurricanrana and pinned him, once again sending Korakuen into a frenzy.
When the dust settled, HYO and Mante embraced in the ring with HYO leaping into the arms of Mante and embracing in a Big Hug. The duo on subsequent house shows went under the name Big Hug.
HYO announced that his name will be symbolized as 豹, meaning that he will go back to his name being written as Hyo in English.
Z-Brats, fuming with the result, set up two matches for the next Korakuen show.
I’ve been largely dissatisfied with wrestling in 2023. I think “storytelling” is a plague and it has infected too many smart people and too many good promotions. When it comes down to it, no one does “storytelling” better than Dragongate, because no one is better at telling the story of good vs. evil like this promotion. The Hyo babyface turn, which we’ve been waiting on all year, was a genuinely beautiful moment and Korakuen responded in kind. As a match, everyone involved has done “better”. This, however, was a sight to behold and a beautiful display of emotion through wrestling. It is absolutely worth your time and energy. ***3/4
— DRAGONGATE NETWORK (@dragongatentwk) November 9, 2023
【12.05 Fantastic Gate 2023 Match Announcements】
— Dragongate Japan Pro-Wrestling (Official English) (@DragonGateEN) November 9, 2023
Go find a new hobby if you don’t enjoy the last two matches on this show. Seriously. If you don’t have a smile on your face watching Ryoya Tanaka transform into a guy that matters and then watching Hyo and Mante embrace in a beautiful, not annoying display of friendship, you are a curmudgeon. Even if the undercard lacked real juice, this show gets an automatic thumbs up for the final two encounters. Run to the Dragongate Network and give them a look.
Powered by RedCircle