On January 31, 1999, Ultimo Dragon changed the course of professional wrestling. 

After spending nearly two years in Mexico with his first class of students, Ultimo Dragon helped launch the careers of his original students – names we now recognize as CIMA, Don Fujii, Dragon Kid, Magnum TOKYO, and SUWA. They would soon be joined by worldly talents like Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, and Milano Collection AT in future classes. From 1999 to July 2004, Toryumon, the Ultimo Dragon-led promotion, was a well-oiled machine, pumping out more shows, producing more memorable gimmicks, and rivaling any promotion in terms of great matches during that time period. 

When the Toryumon roster split from Ultimo Dragon in Toryumon to form Dragon Gate in 2004, they fully morphed from a plucky, punk rock-startup to an independent powerhouse, clinching the proverbial “#2” spot in Japanese wrestling by the end of the decade. 

Through the 2010s, Dragon Gate would enter a golden era both creatively and from a business perspective. Names like Akira Tozawa, Shingo Takagi, and YAMATO would take hold of the promotion before going onto international success. In an era where countless promotions failed to evolve from a prior era, Dragon Gate became known for its relentless ability to farm new talent and evolve them at a break-neck pace. 

In 2018, the company’s top star, CIMA, would lead an exodus, taking prized, young talents and business partner Takashi Okamura with him, altering the company permanently.

Dragon Gate would become Dragongate, symbolizing a new era, and in July 2019, 15 years after his trainees distanced themselves from him, Ultimo Dragon stepped foot in a Dragongate ring. 

Not a promotion to rely on their laurels, Dragongate has pushed forward in their second full decade of existence, bolstering a deep roster full of world-class wrestlers under 30. Despite an array of talent, Dragongate enters its silver anniversary, fearing the unknown. A depleted wrestling economy, legends’ retirements looming, and a Herculean task of replenishing those stars stands in their way. 

Woefully undercovered and often underappreciated, over the course of the next year, we will tell the stories of this promotion that desperately need to be told with a unique blend of long-form essays, audio content, and group retrospectives. 

From Anthony W. Mori to Z-Brats and everything in-between, this is Dragongate 25. 

-Case Lowe & Mike Spears, Open the Voice Gate Podcast

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