DRAGONGATE
REY DE PAREJAS
MARCH 6, 2024
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI DEF. RYU FUDA 

If Ryu Fuda ever becomes A Thing, it’s going to be such a joyous celebration for all of Dragongate. 

The Miyagi-born kicker has battled setback after setback since his debut against Masaaki Mochizuki in November 2021. I wrote at the time, “Ryu Fuda is going to be somebody. Remember this name and remember this match.” Instead, Fuda was lapped by then-contemporary Takuma Fujiwara, then overtaken by the likes of TN Revolucion, Ryoya Tanaka, and even Daiki Yanagiuchi, all of whom debuted after him. Even when Fuda started to gain momentum last fall, his Brave Gate challenge against ISHIN was canceled due to Fuda’s severe hand injury, the most recent thing that put him on the shelf. 

Fuda returned at Champion Gate in Osaka, three days prior to this match, with a new look but the same obvious, raw talent that he’s possessed since his debut. The benefit that he has now, compared to his most recent comeback, is the sheer fact that Fuda came back. He’s had so many opportunities to fade away into permanent obscurity, but he’s rallied every single time. Seeing him in this environment, once again kicking the life out of the 30-year-pro in Masaaki Mochizuki, was a delight. While Fuda needs to demonstrate that he can thrive against the non-kick-heavy wrestlers on the roster, it’s so clear that this demonstrated Fuda at his very best. 

Unfortunately, the story was the same as his debut over two years ago. No matter what Fuda threw at Mochizuki – and he delivered a lot of offense – it wasn’t enough to take down the three-time Dream Gate Champion. An Ikkakugeri put Fuda down after a valiant fight. 

ISHIN & SHUN SKYWALKER DEF. DAIKI YANAGIUCHI & RYOYA TANAKA 

ISHIN & Shun Skywalker, two-thirds of the current Open the Triangle Gate Champions, are participating in the B Block of Rey de Parejas this year. Sadly, neither Daiki Yanagiuchi or Ryoya Tanaka are in the tournament this year. That feels like a massive miss on Dragongate’s part. 

This non-tournament match was full of hate and physicality, fitting as Yanagiuchi, who has spent the first year of his career getting his ass kicked, celebrated his first anniversary in this bout. The obvious highlight of the match came when Tanaka, who has been flawless as of late, slipped while attempting to do a step-up crossbody to Skywalker. Tanaka regained his composure, but when he went to dive, Skywalker “Samoa Joe’d” him and the rookie embarrassingly crashed to the canvas. 

Yanagiuchi, the Korakuen Hall employee-turned-Dragongate wrestler, is still winless one year in. For a brief moment, it looked like he was going to get one over on ISHIN with a victory roll, but it was all for not. ISHIN has become the unclearable hurdle for the generation younger than him and I love that. Just like he did against Tanaka in Osaka, ISHIN eventually put Yanagiuchi away with the Jinchū. ***1/4 

BXB HULK, KAGETORA, PUNCH TOMINAGA, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, KZY, STRONG MACHINE J, & U-T 

The Vibes are not good in Natural Vibes. 

Strong Machine J is refusing to dance, friendly fire is abundant, and they’re now taking pins from Punch Tominaga. Both the second incarnation of Vibes, which lasted from the beginning of 2021 through May 2022, and the third incarnation, which we’re living in, have unquestionably been bright spots in the company. Vibes has elevated plenty of wrestlers and given older wrestlers a purpose. If their days are numbered, Dragongate is closing the book on a legendary unit. The apparent breakup is painful and unpleasant for all involved, which could eventually lead to the justification that Z-Brats need to do a unit disbands match. 

After multiple failed attempts to secure a win, a frustrated Strong Machine J shoved U-T to the mat, giving Punch Tominaga the chance to hit him with a crucifix pin for the win. ***

REY DE PAREJAS 2024 BLOCK B MATCH
YAMATO & SUSUMU MOCHIZUKI DEF. DRAGON DIA & MADOKA KIKUTA 

YAMATO & Susumu are a real threat to win this tournament, which is incredible considering that they’ve never really teamed together before. In the 18 years they’ve shared in the same promotion, they’ve only been in the same unit twice: Final M2K in 2006 and Junction III in 2011. Within those units, it’s not like YAMATO and Susumu were attached at the hip, however. 

This match was built around the simple idea that Dragon Dia and Madoka Kikuta have spent nearly two years teaming together in tags and trios matches, while YAMATO and Susumu,despite their overall experience, have never had any time together teaming with one another. Early on, D’Courage dominated, as they were able to string together complex double-team moves that had both of the former Dream Gate champions on the ropes. It wouldn’t have shocked me had D’Courage dominated here in an effort to force YAMATO & Susumu to really buckle down. For Kikuta, in particular, this was a big night for him as he was relentless against YAMATO. I loved the way he ran through the ace of the promotion like a runaway train when YAMATO was expecting to trade shoulder blocks and I loved how brutal Kikuta was with his chops and hip attacks. Aggravated Kikuta is good for everyone, and we got that Kikuta in this match. 

All of that prior chemistry between Dia and Kikuta was all for not, however. In a brilliant finish, YAMATO tried to catch Kikuta with the Frankensteiner of the Almighty, but Kikuta rolled through and turned the attempt into a roll-up. Before the referee could count to three, though, Susumu came in and cleaned his clock with a Jumbo no Kachi, altering Kikuta’s moment and sending YAMATO into a pinning position that got the win for him and his partner. 

There’s so many things to like about Rey de Parejas, but YAMATO & Susumu are near the top of the list. They were awesome here. ***1/2 

REY DE PAREJAS 2024 A BLOCK
GIANNI VALLETTA & KAI VS. SHUJI KONDO & TORU OWASHI 

This match ended in a double countout after five minutes of pure chaos. 

Toru Owashi, for those that only keep one eye on Dragongate, announced on his recent Produce Show that 2024 will be his last full-time year in wrestling and that he’ll be splitting his time between DDT and Dragongate. Some people have an unfair aversion to Owashi in this promotion, which I find odd because 1) it’s technically his home promotion and 2) since his part-time return in 2020, he’s been involved in a handful of very good matches and a handful of utterly harmless matches. At worst, he’s a net-neutral for the promotion. 

On a night like this one, though, Owashi was an undeniable positive. The Aagon Iisou duo of he and Kondo clashed against the current bruisers in Z-Brats in a match that felt like Memphis-meets-Dragongate. As discussed on the most recent Open the Voice Gate, Valletta’s presence in the building is unbelievable. Dragongate continues to do everything right with him and now, they can add him to the list of names like Matt Sydal, Ricochet, and Luis Mante, who have all become world’s better thanks to their time in Dragongate. Valletta moved around with such fury and aggression while he targeted the once-legendary heel duo. 

The action spent a few minutes in the ring, but inevitably spilled to the floor where all hell really broke loose. Valletta and Owashi brawled all around Korakuen Hall while KAI and Kondo kept things close to the ring. With the 20 count looming, Kondo made one last-ditch effort to slide into the ring to pick up a countout win for his team, but KAI thwarted it, dragging Kondo back to the floor and signaling for the double countout. 

The action didn’t stop there, however. KAI and Valletta looked unstoppable as they not only kept beating down on Kondo and Owashi, but also the babyfaces who came out from backstage to try to break up the brawl, notably Masaaki Mochizuki. 

All of the Valletta stuff feels so un-Dragongate in the best way possible. He’s become such a satisfying addition to the roster and more importantly, he gets better every time I see him. When he first came into the promotion, he was working light as a feather with people that were half his size. Now, his work looks devastating, and he’s able to bring it against people of all sizes on the roster. This was not a “great” match in the traditional sense, but it was barrels of fun. ***1/4  




REY DE PAREJAS 2024 A BLOCK MATCH
DRAGON KID & NARUKI DOI DEF. BEN-K & KOTA MINOURA 

The biggest act in Dragongate right now is Big Hug, the tandem of Hyo and Luis Mante. In a delightful bit of quirkiness, Dragon Kid (who everyone hates in storyline) and Naruki Doi are wrestling as Team No Hug in this tournament. Doi may claim to hate Dragon Kid, but that didn’t stop him from getting some superb, matching gear to wear alongside his partner in Rey de Parejas. 

This match only further convinced me that Team No Hug should win this entire thing. Two veterans of prior Dragongate tag leagues, their work was so unbelievably crisp. The match started at a slower pace than I was expecting with Team Muscle grinding away at the two veterans, but things kicked up a notch as the match hit the final stretch and as a result, this was the best match of the show, up to this point. 

Naruki Doi’s legacy changed for the better at the end of 2019 when he shocked the world and defeated Ben-K for the Dream Gate belt. His second Dream Gate run, which was interrupted by COVID, erased the decade-long stink that his first Dream Gate run carried. It’s wild to think, but Doi has probably been doing the best work of his career in the 2020’s. He was an excellent champion while carrying Dragongate’s top prize, he’s been a brilliant freelancer, and he remains one of the single-best tag team wrestlers to ever put on a pair of boots. I’m so impressed with the way that he’s been able to stay relevant and vital in the modern landscape. In 2022, while he was battling a severe injury, it looked like he was going to fade away like a Genki Horiguchi-type. Instead, Doi healed up and is now back to being a can’t-miss wrestler when he makes tape. 

I say all of that because it can’t be understated how good Doi was in the finishing stretch. He has a knack for bringing out the best in Ben-K, and now it’s safe to say that that honor can be attributed to Kota Minoura, also. I thought the match would surely end in favor of Team Muscle once Minoura interrupted Doi’s attempt at a Bakatare Sliding Kick with his signature Jumping Knee, but No Hug was able to keep the fight alive. This led to Minoura blocking an attempt at Dragon Kid’s Bible, but his efforts were all for not as he ate a Bakatare while in the crucifix hold, letting Kid hit the Bible after all. That led to No Hug getting a victory in their opening match of the tournament. ***3/4 

After the match, Dragon Kid lept into Doi’s arms, a la Hyo and Mante, only for Doi to throw him to the ground. No notes. That was perfect. 

REY DE PAREJAS 2024 BLOCK B MATCH
JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI & JASON LEE DEF. HYO & LUIS MANTE 

Was there ever any doubt this would be incredible? How many times have we seen Kamei, Lee, and Mante have utterly ridiculous matches throughout the last few years? Too many pundits are asleep at the wheel and missing an era of long-term Dragongate storytelling that is going to pass them by before they know it. This era of Dragongate may very well be defined not by Madoka Kikuta, Shun Skywalker, or Yuki Yoshioka, but by the continued efforts of Jacky “Funky” Kamei and Luis Mante, who have elite-level chemistry with one another. 

The Natural Vibes pairing got off to a hot start with Kamei hitting a big Torbellino a minute into the match, but Big Hug, who currently hold both singles titles in the company, battled back shortly thereafter. It felt like a quarter of this 20 minute match was then spent pummeling Kamei. Mante commands an obvious size advantage over Kamei, and while Hyo doesn’t have that, he has a clear meanstreak advantage over the Tottori-native. The heat on Kamei was slow, but engaging. That’s partially because – and I do not say this lightly – Kamei has a Rey Jr-level of ability that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of him, because at any moment Kamei could begin a comeback with an insane counter or a thrilling feat of athleticism. 

Indeed, that is what happened. In a desperate attempt to get Jason Lee back in the match, Kamei hit the ropes and then climbed the body of Mante, stepping onto his shoulders and in one motion, leaping into the air to make the hot tag to his partner. This had a chance to either 1) go poorly or 2) look corny, which is far worse, and yet it actually just looked incredible. 

With Lee in the ring, the match picked up and never let up after that. The pace these four proceeded to work for the rest of the match is the thing that still sets Dragongate apart, despite so much of the wrestling world being influenced by their house style. The hits just kept coming and coming with each team looking like they had the match in the bag at multiple points. 

This match not only accomplished the obvious, which was to have a great match, but it also continued the Natural Vibes dissension that was hit on heavily earlier in the show. As the battle raged on, Kamei climbed to the top to hit a missile dropkick, but Big Hug moved out of the way and Kamei’s feet knocked Lee to the ground. At this point, I was fully convinced that Big Hug were starting the tag league off in a dominant way. Kamei recovered and sent Hyo off the ropes, but Hyo, without missing a beat, took that opportunity to run into a huge dive onto Lee, who was on the outside of the ring. 

With Lee and Hyo away from the action, Mante tried to seize the moment and put Kamei away for good. He launched into the ring with a dive attempt of his own on Kamei, but Kamei side-stepped the dive, sending Mante to his back and nearly pinning him with the Jacky Knife flash pin. Mante stopped his momentum with a big boot and a subsequent Liger Bomb, but Kamei survived the ensuing pinfall attempt. 

By this point, time had become a factor. Although it seemed like these four could wrestle for another 20 minutes, the Rey de Parejas matches have a 20 minute time limit and they were within a minute of going to what would’ve been a deeply unsatisfying time limit draw. Determined to get ahead in the block, Mante threw Kamei off the ropes and then lifted him up for the Vuelta Finale when he returned, but Kamei rolled through and caught Mante with yet another Jacky Knife, this time pinning the Open the Dream Gate Champion and sending Korakuen Hall into a frenzy. 

Let me be clear when I say this: fuck “your” Dragongate. This is Dragongate. This is the type of match that this promotion was built on and will continually thrive on. CIMA’s not walking through that door. Akira Tozawa is doing TikTok dances. Anyone focused on who is no longer in Dragongate instead of who is currently in Dragongate is woefully behind the times. You may not like it, but the machine that is this company continues to chug along. 

You will not find many better wrestlers on the planet better than Jacky “Funky” Kamei, and the tastemakers with a wider reach and more clout than me (there are many) are routinely missing the boat by not being locked in on whatever Kamei is doing. During his first few years in the company, I called him this generation’s Genki Horiguchi, because much like Horiguchi, he matched the heart & soul of Dragongate’s “little engine that could” mentality. With all due respect to Genki Horiguchi, however, that downplays who Kamei is. He’s a combination of Susumu Mochizuki and Rey Mysterio Jr. He’s fiercely innovative like Rey and he never misses like Susumu. People are out to lunch if they don’t think he’s a top 25 wrestler in the entire world. He’s not on the same tier as an Ospreay or a Danielson or an engaged Okada, but let me be clear, the gap is not as wide as some may think, and no one with a clue should scoff when Kamei’s name is thrown around with such high praise. He does it time and time again and now it looks like he might be challenging for Dragongate’s top prize once this tournament is done with. 

It’s nothing short of remarkable that Kamei was initially built up to be a generational rival of SB KENTo, the BxB Hulk to SBK’s Shingo Takagi, if you will. It seemed very possible that an unintended consequence of SBK’s dismissal from the promotion would be that it would halt Kamei’s progress in its tracks. Instead, Kamei’s only gotten better. He only feels more vital to the day-to-day of this promotion. I said on Open the Voice Gate in November that Dragongate was making a huge mistake by not featuring Kamei in bigger matches. His presence was felt on every show, but they weren’t treating him like a world-beater. They are now. Kamei has headlined 3 of the last 5 Korakuen shows and wrestled in 3 different title matches since that podcast was taped. It’s coming. You can feel it. Jacky “Funky” Kamei is going to exit 2024 in a much better place than he entered it, and he came into the year with an ungodly amount of momentum. 

While this didn’t reach the highs that the now-infamous tag match from Ultimo Dragon’s 35th Anniversary Show did, it is so obviously worth your time to anyone who wants to absorb as much high-level wrestling as they can. I will table my thoughts on Jason Lee’s continued greatness and Hyo being the single most over man in the company for another time. This, yet again, was a great match because of the work that Jacky “Funky” Kamei did. The only flaw with this match is that not enough people will see it. ****1/2 

Afterwards, Kamei and Mante shook hands, causing Lee to get physical with his own partner. After all, the last thing that he saw was Kamei hitting him with a dropkick. Natural Vibes teased more dissension, Kamei and Mante teased a future Dream Gate match. Get into it.

Final Thoughts

Just like last year, the opening night of Dragongate’s Rey de Parejas was a slam dunk success. If you can’t get excited about the return of Ryu Fuda to Korakuen, Team No Hug, and yet another great Jacky “Funky” Kamei match, this is not the hobby for you. 

Listen to Voices of Wrestling’s Dragongate podcast: Open the Voice Gate

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