DRAGONGATE
OPEN THE NEW YEAR GATE
JANUARY 10, 2024
KORAKUEN HALL
TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

HYO & LUIS MANTE DEF. KAGETORA & RYOYA TANAKA 

Ryoya Tanaka is on a tear.

The soon-to-be-25-year-old has been turning heads since he broke out with D’Courage in November. In the ring with both the Open the Brave Gate and Open the Dream Gate Champions, Tanaka once again put his best foot forward, going right after Luis Mante, in particular, and looking like he belonged. Tanaka wrestles with a quiet confidence that is only going to help him grow and prosper as his career continues. He’s less than a year in, in a featured unit, and reasonably could win a secondary title at any moment if he was given the opportunity. There’s just so much to like about him. 

On the 2023 Open the Voice Gate Awards episode, I spoke at length about how Kagetora did nothing in 2023. He was a complete non-factor who wasn’t involved in anything important. That’s going to change in 2024 by way of the fallout of this match. He and Hyo crushed it down the closing stretch. Kagetora failed to pin the champion (Hyo would pin Tanaka with the Hunting, a diving Ace Crusher), but after the match, Hyo would call Kagetora back to the ring and set up a Brave Gate match for January 27 in Yokohama. Productive, fun stuff. Love it. ***1/4 

BIG BOSS SHIMIZU & JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI DEF. SUSUMU MOCHIZUKI & YASUSHI KANDA 

This felt like a prologue for the year that Jacky “Funky” Kamei is about to have. Slated against the top tag team in Dragongate last year, Kamei ran wild, showcasing his freakish athleticism, brilliant creativity, and entertaining kung-fu all in one match. Kamei was a force to be reckoned with as he carved up Dragongate’s original tag team. Unfortunately for the Vibes duo, Mochizuki and Kanda came roaring back and at one point nearly pinned Kamei after a big flurry of offense and a Jumbo no Kachi. 

Not to be shown up in his first Korakuen outing of the year, the momentum swung back in favor of Kamei, who countered Kanda’s John Woo kick with the Jacky Knife cradle – a great counter that I had never seen before, and pinned him for the win. ***

OPEN THE OWARI GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
LINGERIE MUTO (c) VS. DON FUJII 

Lingerie Muto, the lesser-known drag character played by Munenori Sawa, went to a double-countout with Don Fujii in his first defense of his Open the Owari Gate Championship. 

Here’s what I’ll say about this. Matches like this are aggressively not my thing. I don’t get entertained by Sawa and Don Fujii wearing lingerie. That being said, stuff like this is over, and I have seen far less entertaining versions of what these guys went out there and did. I can’t say I’d recommend it, but I can comfortably say that it wasn’t a waste of time. NR  

GIANNI VALLETTA & KAI DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA & ULTIMO DRAGON 

This was Gianni Valletta’s Dragongate debut. The Malta-born giant teamed with Takashi Yoshida in All Japan’s 2019 Real World Tag League and spent a majority of the last year working with one of Dragongate’s loose ally’s in IWRG. He is a Bruiser Brody-type who destroyed a crop of young boys on his way to the ring. That part of the Valletta experience was excellent. He destroyed Daiki Yanagiuchi and some green boys and although over-the-top, it was highly entertaining. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone cared. 

Valletta sticks out like a sore thumb in modern Dragongate. That isn’t to say that he isn’t talented, but everything about him is different from the polished and sometimes subdued roster. Valletta, if anything, could be dinged for simply failing to do something original in a company that is always pushing innovation. I know the point of his act is that he’s just like Bruiser Brody, but I think that means less to a Dragongate crowd than it does nearly anyone else. 

The match itself was a very simple demonstration of Valletta’s power. He hit Tominaga with an Iron Claw Powerbomb two minutes into the match and put him away with a subsequent Knee Drop. They did everything right, but I’m not sure it will matter. This didn’t seem to get over. It’s impossible to tell what Valletta’s ceiling in Dragongate is based on such a short match, but his presence did not bother me. **1/2 

BXB HULK, DRAGON KID, KZY, NARUKI DOI, & YAMATO DEF. BEN-K, DRAGON DIA, KOTA MINOURA, MADOKA KIKUTA, & STRONG MACHINE J 

Kzy being a part of the veterans squad and not the “new generation” squad is a real-life version of a “wanna feel old?” meme. 

Members of Dragongate’s Reiwa Generation and Dragon Dia squared off against what can now be considered to be Dragongate’s old guard in the first excellent match of the night. This was such an effective 10-man in the sense that everyone – even a hobbled BxB Hulk – did something to stand out. For the veteran crew, I was particularly impressed by Kzy’s fire. For two straight years, he’s had these incredible, quiet in-ring years, and it seems like 2024 might be more of the same for him. To go along with the impressive offense from Kzy, any time YAMADoi were in the ring with one another, it felt electric. YAMADoi might be Dragongate’s greatest, secret weapon. It feels like this team can be unleashed sparingly and every time, it’s going to feel huge. 

Dragon Dia stole the show for his generation. He lost some of his luster in 2023 after a career-altering 2022, but it is clear that Dragongate has plans to fire Dia back up this year. He looked awesome against Kota Minoura in Kyoto on the first show of the year and I thought he commanded a great deal of attention here. 

Kota Minoura is the other name to note. After Dia and his D’Courage partner Madoka Kikuta cleared the ring with a great flurry of offense, Minoura was left all alone with YAMATO. In a gut-check moment, Minoura came up short. He and YAMATO traded bombs, and ultimately, Minoura wasn’t strong enough. An indignant YAMATO put Minoura away with a Galleria in a painful reminder that Minoura is still not on YAMATO’s level. 

This match, however, was next-level. Well worth your time. ****




ISHIN, SHUN SKYWALKER, & YOSHIKI KATO DEF. SHUJI KONDO, TAKUYA SUGAWARA, & TORU OWASHI 

Aagon Iisou, Masaaki Mochizuki’s former unit and a legendary staple of Toryumon, came back to work this show. People get weird when Sugawara and/or Owashi show up, but this is technically their home promotion. I’m not saying I want to watch Toru Owashi, but it’s a dumb thing to get bent out of shape about. 

It is valid to get bent out of shape about the direction of this match though. Doing the Aagon trio against the Z-Brats trio was a novel idea. It was interesting watching the older heels try to out-heel the current heel unit. However, things took a turn for the worse once ISHIN brought out the Dragongate Heel Box and began destroying his opponents with it. That began a festival of shenanigans that missed the mark. 

The crowd felt noticeably cold for all of this. None of the heel vs. heel stuff got over in a way that is going to aid Z-Brats in the future. It got worse when Referee Yagi wrestled a chair away from Yoshiki Kato, only for Owashi to shove Yagi down, take the chair, and then beat on Kato with it until a DQ was called. 

There were two options here: Z-Brats could’ve pinned Aagon Iisou to look dominant, or Kondo, specifically, since he wrestles in Dragongate on a regular basis, could’ve gotten one over on Z-Brats in a feel-good win for those that yearn for the days of Toryumon. They did neither. They did a stupid DQ. I truly do not mind DQ’s if they serve a purpose. This served none. This was a very rare example of Dragongate leaving a bad taste in my mouth. This had potential and it lived up to none of it. **1/4 

MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI 30TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION MATCH
SHINGO TAKAGI DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI 

Masaaki Mochizuki has been killing it for so long someone for this very site wrote and raved about his 20th Anniversary Singles Match – and it wasn’t me. 

I wrote a very long article about the entirety of Masaaki Mochizuki’s career in preparation for this match. He may very well be the greatest wrestler to ever live. I will refrain from speaking about his career in-length here, and will keep those thoughts only to that article.

Mochizuki vs. Takagi in 2024 was reminiscent of when I saw The Cure last year at the United Center in Chicago. Sure, it might have been better seeing The Cure fresh off of “The Head and The Door” in 1985 or at the peak of their commercial power in 1992 on the “Wish” tour, but none of that mattered, because seeing The God Damned Cure is an experience that is rewarding, no matter how old they are. Greatest hits tours sell tickets for a reason. This wasn’t the best Mochizuki vs. Takagi match (I reviewed that match in real-time here), but no version of this match is bad. 

In a surprising turn of events, Mochizuki dominated a lot of this match. He threw out his best moves. He busted out the Tope Masaaki, the standing moonsault off of the apron, and all of his signature, brutal kicks. The only sign of age that the near-54-year-old showed was missing the mark while trying to put Takagi in a tree of woe. It took them a moment to adjust and get Takagi in the corner, but the ensuing kick to the head that Mochizuki landed on the former IWGP World Champion made me easily look past the momentary blemish. 

Takagi took nearly 15 minutes to heat up, but when he did, he blasted Mochizuki with such fury that I thought he might break the 30 year veteran. Instead, Mochizuki kept firing back. He survived a pair of Pumping Bomber attempts, then another lariat that sent Mochizuki spinning like a pinwheel. He managed to kick out at 1 after being launched into orbit by said lariat. 

His luck finally ran out, though. Takagi, 12 years his junior, simply had too much gas left in the tank. Before Mochizuki could begin another string of offense, Takagi planted him with a Genichiro Tenryu-style powerbomb, pinning the former WAR standout. 

This might not be the match of the year, but this should certainly be in the running for the best match of the month. Masaaki Mochizuki may be the greatest wrestler of all-time, and if he’s not, the answer may be Shingo Takagi. Of course this match is worth watching. ****1/2 

Final Thoughts

Come for an exciting 10-man tag that showcases Dragongate’s youth, stay for the celebration of 30 years of Masaaki Mochizuki. This show was frustrating at times, especially in the semi-main event, but there was enough stuff in here to seek out and make this show worth your while.

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