Dragongate
Fantastic Gate
December 5, 2023
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo Japan

Watch: Dragongate Network

Big Hug opened the show coming out to a new face version of Hyo’s theme. Mante and him have basically spent the loop post November Korakuen as a pair. A few things have become clear in Dragongate over the last four weeks: Hyo is a charisma monster who managed to learn from his heel tenure what works with the Dragongate audience. He built up his face turn with heavy audience pandering which brought out Z-Brats to build up the main event and Mante vs KAI.

YAMATO & Naruki Doi Def. D’Courage (Madoka Kikuta & Ryoya Tanaka)

YAMATO drilled D’Courage’s rookie with rebounding Galleria in a fun opener.

The first month of Ryoya Tanaka’s tenure in D’Courage has come to a close and it is hard to look at it as anything but a success. The schedule of November allowed Tanaka time to gel with the team. It’s not an immediate instant perfect fit like Ben-K joining Gold Class last year, but we’ve see Tanaka form chemistry with Dragongate’s main characters and attempt to become one in his own right. It’s been a lot of fun.

When we see Tanaka, just over a half year in wrestling and 42 matches in, face off with one of the most decorated tag teams in Dragon System history, it’s very clear why the company has so much stock in him over Daiki or Nagano. The crowd already wants to see him get the better of the vets in YAMATO and Doi. As Tanaka brashly interrupts a Go To Hospital 2 with a basement dropkick of his own, we know will be seeing Tanaka’s huge crowd appeals in a not too distant future. Fun Opener! ***1/4

Genki Horiguchi, Punch Tominaga & Problem Dragon Def. Kenichiro Arai, Ho Ho Lun & Daiki Yanagiuchi

The Open The Triangle Gate champion snapped on young Daiki with a cross-armbreaker in a short affair.

With Strong Machine J’s injury forcing some changes to Natural VIbes/Kung Fu Master affiliated matches, this turned into the latest episode of the “who can finally get a Triangle Gate shot at Punch’s expense” podcast. The moment turned to Daiki Yanagiuchi suddenly displaying a kickboxing ability which would place him high on a Buyuden draft card against Tominaga. This caught everyone, Daiki included, off guard. What made it more perplexing was that while we all were comprehending the sudden violence from the former Korakuen Hall staffer, Punch Tominaga defensively locked in the Cross Armbreaker and left us more in shock. **1/2

Gold Class (Kota MInoura & Ben-K) Def. KAGETORA & Shuji Kondo

Minoura won the scrappy tag with a surpise Jumping High Knee on KAGETORA.

There were moments in 2023 where Gold Class finally felt like the complete coherent act it was promised to be in early 2022. Ben provided the endless charisma, Minoura felt ever bit the showpiece of the collection, Minorita was the glue and Hulk gave the beleaguered group an air of respect.

Due to unfortunate injuries dwindling the group down to just these two Reiwa Big Six members, there really is not too much the company can do with them with the unit and title battlefield in its current form. In the past, I would have rolled my eyes at a tag like this, however the teams decided to make their own fun and put some extra zip behind Apache Punches that in no way needed the extra zip. A perfectly fine card filling tag with guys not being highlight at this very moment. ***

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M3K (Masaaki Mochizuki, Susumu Mochizuki & Yasushi Kanda) Def. Natural Vibes (Big Boss Shimizu, Jason Lee & U-T)

Mocchy got the pin after a Twister on U-T. In what may be the first time in hundreds of their matches, an M2/3K team didn’t attempt the double count out once.

This was a complete sprint playing up Masaaki’s crazy weekend of matches in Iowa and Los Angeles leading to him going straight from his intercontinental plane flight to Korakuen Hall. As well, G.W.D. was played without muting for the network in memory of the vocalist, Yusuke Chiba’s, recent passing.

Post-Match, Mochizuki announced his upcoming 30th anniversary match. Junior, in a full walking cast, again challenged his father for this match. Mocchy, much to Junior’s frustration, turned him now again pointing out clearly that this wouldn’t be the right time for his match given his leg. GM Ryo Saito announced that the anniversary will be actually a full show with a very special match for Mocchy’s 30th. The match was fun, the post-match announcement kept all the Mochizuki plates spinning until Junior’s return. ***1/4

Luis Mante Def. KAI

Mante wins an abbreviated singles match with his slingshot rana hold Super Tigre.

In just under five minutes Dragongate accomplished the following:

1) Gave Mante his strongest singles performance since returning from injury,

2) That performance was a win over a massively protected Dream Gate champion in KAI.

3) Mante essentially ran through KAI in the same way the 4-on-1 match was last month, all in pursuit of Shun Skywalker.

4) Hyo, protecting Mante when he really shouldn’t have before his big Brave Gate match, got laid out a half hour before his match with ISHIN

5) We still desperately want Luis Mante vs Shun Skywalker. Now even more than we did before. **3/4

After that, Mante refused to leave without getting his match against Skywalker. This devolved into Mante proclaiming himself the number one guy in Dragongate, Shun stating that as long as he was around he was number one and repeating themselves until Madoka Kikuta came out. As Dream Gate champion, and vanquisher of Shun Skywalker, Kikuta sees this as ridiculous and then the three way shouting match further devolved until Ryo Saito returned to settle things.

This was a remarkable “Go To Intermission” angle. The levels of emotion felt entirely earned and delivered the needed steps to get us to the first three-way Dream Gate match in over a decade. It’s a relatively crafty form of booking given the situation around the Dream Gate. Madoka Kikuta has either felt like the most important person in Dragongate over the last 18 months, or a complete after thought. The box office as champion hasn’t the best through Gate of Destiny seems to be building momentum out of nowhere. This three-way won’t be the Mante vs Skywalker match everyone anticipated coming out of Kobe World. That also means that every still thinks we are getting that match one-on-one, so Shun could easily pin Mante, get the belt back to him without hurting Kikuta, and we can still build to that Mante vs Skywalker match perhaps until Kobe World 2024.

There might be too many moving parts and this could be too cute by half, but I thought this was effective and I’m going to see if they pull off this slight-of-hand booking.

Natural Vibes (Kzy & Jacky “Funky” Kamei) & Viento Def. Z-Brats (Shun Skywalker, Yoshiki Kato & Demus)

Jack got the new heel Kato with the JFK in a fun debut for the foreigners.

Viento comes from Pro Wrestling Revolution, a Calfornia based indie that had Ultimo Dragon as their champion for what felt like five years. Demus, the Tijuana-based vet, appears after spending the last three weeks in DDT. I felt like both looked fine, but Demus seemed to get his rudo role a bit better than Viento’s random teaming with Vibes. Neither were awful, but I’m not clambering to see these guys around Dragongate more than this tour for them.

After a start of showing off the new foreigners, the match settled down into Jacky “Funky” Kamei versus the world, one of the better tropes the company has found this year. I struggle to add more superlatives to describe how Kamei’s grown over the last twelve months.The two and half years in SB KENTo’s shadow gave way to JFK unquestionably becoming the star of the new generation. There isn’t anyone on the roster who has the ability of Kamei alongside Kamei’s ability to make every opponent look like a million bucks by bumping his ass off. It must be such a comfort for Yoshiki Kato, who basically did nothing of note in this match but looked like a natural in the rudo role, to have someone like JFK as an early opponent as you’re figuring out your heel character.

Like most of the undercard this didn’t overstay its welcome but provided a bit more tooth to it ***1/2

D’Courage (Yuki Yoshioka & Dragon Dia) Def. Dragon Kid & Eita

The Twin Gate champs won with Yoshioka’s Frog Splash on Eita.

I feel like the fact that this match happened after Eita’s feuds against the Dragons was more remarkable than the match itself. Eita and Dragon Kid bogged down the main event of shows in 2018 when PAC wasn’t around and it felt like the number one thing that paring needed was distance when it concluded. Approximately five years and Eita going freelance was what the last Summer Adventure Tag League winners needed!

We got a very fun, albeit kind of toothless, semifinal where the Twin Gate champions won strong to set up their big interpromotional title defense in Fukuoka against Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Alejandro (who appeared in Korakuen) and Yoshioka’s big wish in Kaito Kiyomiya (who had better things to do on his World Tag League off day, apparently). Eita remained sickeningly over in comparison to his commitment level to his former promotion. For this sort of “okay we can do this match exhibition,” I am glad that it happened but the stakes and reality of Eita took me out of it. ***¼

Open The Brave Gate Championship
Hyo Def. Ishin ©

Hyo captures his second Brave Gate after a Samson Driver and becomes the 51st champion. Ishin fails on his second defense of his second reign.

As one of the earliest notable fans of Hyo Watanabe, it’s been a trip to get to this point, where he’s now one of the most popular people in the company after last month’s face turn. In a class with three former Open The Dream Gate champions, Hyo was always the distant fourth. Never the size or presence of Ben-K, the composure of Yoshioka, or the certainty of Skywalker, it took the Big Cat scratching and clawing to just not be the heel fall post. Revitalizing his career in 2020 and 2021 as the great heel genius led to Dragongate’s first five star match in almost five years, Final Gate 2020’s R.E.D. vs Toryumon Generation – Loser Must Disband, a match solely made because the then H.Y.O. won a battle royal to book any match he wanted.It took H.Y.O exhausting his great brain to deliver him his highest solo mountain top, the Brave Gate victory at Ultimo 35. He wasn’t Ben-K who waltzed to the Dream Gate as fast as anyone had at the time, He wasn’t Skywalker, who came back from Mexico and called his shot, He wasn’t even Yoshioka who had the earthshattering Mask Match in 2021 that led to him becoming 2022’s main character. It took years of shoveling and outsmarting the world to get Hyo to headlining the
strongest Korakuen attendance show since K-Ness retired.

The work in this match played on the Big Hug vs Z-Brats feud that has ignited the company in recent months. Hyo is the hot hand and the crowd desperately wanted him to take the belt off of ISHIN’s hands. He got jumped before the bell, he persevered until Z-Brats got involved and the ref bump, eventually Luis Mante was able to help H.Y.O. at his most desperate moment, clearing the way for Senior Ref Yagi to count a long three after a second Samson Driver. Nothing mind blowing workrate-wise, but the emotional song and dance and performance we’ve grown to love.

I never thought we really got the “True” ISHIN Brave Gate match during his run with the belt. Perhaps that was the Ryoya Tanaka breakout from Gate of Destiny last month. With Z-Brats at this low point, one has to figure that the belt needed off of him before Unit Shuffle madness. It’ll be interesting to see how Hyo is as a babyface Brave Gate champion. I figured in the initial days of Big Hug that he’d be mostly on fall duty whenever Mante needed to lose but not lose and that’s completely out of the window. ***¾

Final Thoughts

Although the star ratings might not reflect it, the early December Fantastic Gate Korakuen Hall was an easy thumbs up. Major pieces fell into place for The Final Gate on Christmas Eve as the company went to its familiar beats and rhythms to start out the month.