DRAGONGATE
REY DE PAREJAS 
APRIL 10, 2024
KORAKUEN HALL
TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

This show began with an in-ring promo from Z-Brats to introduce Jason Lee as their newest member. The promo itself was nothing consequential, but as Z-Brats was leaving the ring, Shun Skywalker got into a confrontation with Shuji Ishikawa, who was seated ringside, next to the boss of the LEC Corporation. As has been discussed on Open the Voice Gate numerous times, it would appear that Dragongate is slowly building towards a match between Skywalker and Ishikawa, both of whom are tight with the LEC boss, who remains one of the biggest power players in Japanese wrestling. This angle felt very hot. 

REY DE PAREJAS 2024 SEMI-FINALS MATCH 

SUSUMU YOKOSUKA & YAMATO DEF. Natural Vibes (BIG BOSS SHIMIZU & STRONG MACHINE J)

No teams had two more distinct journeys throughout this tournament than that of the first-time team in YAMATO & Susumu Yokosuka and the Natural Vibes duo of Big Boss Shimizu & Strong Machine J. For the former, their lack of experience proved to be a non-factor. The pair breezed through block play, knocking off the more-experienced D’Courage duo to kick things off before eventually going 3-1-1 to win the block with 7 points. Their only hiccup came by way of ISHIN & Shun Skywalker, but they had already clinched a spot in the semi-finals by the time that loss had occurred. 

For Shimizu and SMJ, however, the journey to the semis was a bumpy one. 

For quite some time now, SMJ has expressed frustration with Natural Vibes. They haven’t been producing results in a pleasing way, and heading into this tournament, in-fighting was at an all-time high. While this heavyweight tandem made it this far, they had to deal with the distractions in the B Block as earlier in the tournament, Jason Lee turned on his partner Jacky “Funky” Kamei and joined Z-Brats. SMJ was irate as he had been promised a no-BS tournament from his unit. 

Unfortunately for him, on the day of his fifth anniversary in wrestling, he fell short of his ultimate goal. Despite their early jump on their opponents and the fact that the match quickly turned into a slugfest, which would usually favor the heavyweights, YAMATO & Susumu proved to be too crafty for a fracturing Vibes duo. 

The evolution of SMJ has been fascinating to witness, and on his fifth anniversary, I feel like it’s worth diving into. As I said in 2019 when he first stepped into the Dragongate ring, “Strong Machine J moves around the ring like he’s been wrestling for over a year. Not everything is perfectly dialed in, but his footwork has far surpassed what I expect for debut matches. Whereas the prior match started off slow and then built to a climactic closing stretch, this match stayed in the same gear the entire match, never peaking high, but also never being boring, which is incredible given the fact that J was in so much of the match.”

Outside of last September’s Takuma Nishikawa debut, SMJ’s first official match remains the most impressive in Dragongate history. I thought they had a genuine blue chip prospect on their hands. He was coming in at a time when the roster desperately needed fresh blood and he felt like a shock to the ecosystem while flanked by his two companions in Strong Machine F and Strong Machine G. For a brief moment in time, it looked like the company had fallen into a marquee act. 

That marquee act turned out to be a one-note act, however. Their brisk road to the Triangle Gate Championships turned out to be one where the chase for the belts was better than the actual reign. I was over The Machines by the time they had gold around their waist, three months after SMJ’s debut. His career would soon be plagued by a vicious, nagging shoulder injury that still bothers him to this day. This caused him to wrestle an extremely limited schedule, even while champion, in his rookie year. 2020 would feature more of the same, only this time it was made worse as he felt out of place on Team Dragongate during the generational war of that year. He would miss the first seven months of 2021 and looked like someone who had lost all confidence in the last 5 months of the year. 

It wasn’t until early 2022, when he was healthy enough to wrestle a full-time schedule, that he started wrestling like a well-oiled machine. This, of course, led to his inclusion in Natural Vibes, which has completely turned his career around. I wasn’t sure at this time 3 years ago if SMJ would be a Dragongate wrestler by 2024. Now, he wrestles with as much potential as anyone on the roster. 

The fire that he showed in this bout, both by himself going from move-to-move, then later as he berated Shimizu for being a step behind, was a joy to witness. He commanded the room and he did it while sharing a ring with some of the most decorated Dragongate wrestlers ever. He might not have won, but that didn’t stop this from being the SMJ show. It is so clear that not only is Dragongate paving the runway for something huge with the second-generation star, but that when it’s time to take flight, SMJ will have no issue soaring. 

His luck did end here, however, as their late-match momentum was thwarted when YAMATO countered Shimizu’s Shot-Put Slam with a Frankensteiner of the Almighty, stealing a win for his team. ***3/4 

REY DE PAREJAS 2024 SEMI-FINALS MATCH 

Team No Hug (DRAGON KID & NARUKI DOI) DEF. Big Hug (HYO & LUIS MANTE)

Hyo is very quickly developing a great resume of great matches. 

It may have taken eight years, as the Aichi-native was long thought to be the runt of the 2016 class that also featured Ben-K, Shun Skywalker, and Yuki Yoshioka. His partnership with Luis Mante has turned him into the most popular act in the company, however, even surpassing his own partner, who holds the company’s top prize. The last six months of this promotion have been defined by the overwhelming greatness of Jacky “Funky” Kamei and the overwhelming star-power of Hyo, and we could soon be lumping together Hyo’s star power with his in-ring greatness if this tournament was a sign of things to come. 

This match could only be described as “Classic Dragongate Action”. The pacing was so beautiful. The work was so crisp. This is the type of thing that over the last 25 years, we’ve come to expect from Dragon Kid and Naruki Doi. Their entire careers have taken place in a company where the working standard is so high that most Dragongate fans can individually list the less-than-stellar moments that have taken place throughout the history of the company. As a duo, Mante and Hyo lived up to the standard that has been required of Dragongate’s top acts throughout its history. Mante, after what felt like a disappointing and poorly thought-out title win, has been a great champion, producing two tremendous Dream Gate matches and numerous high-level tag bouts in this tournament. In both of his outings in Korakuen, in particular, during this tournament, it felt like Mante was able to grab some of the spotlight back from his partner, who had largely been showing him up on big shows during their time as a team. 

It’s so crucial for Big Hug, given the positions that they’re in, to be consistently great. With Mante as an unproven, foreign Dream Gate Champion, and Hyo as a late-blooming, undersized yet burgeoning top star, there is no room for error now that they’re positioned where they are. If they were to lay an egg against a top of this caliber, it could have long-term ramifications in regards to their overall success. That’s why a match like this was so impressive. It wasn’t that either side did anything otherworldly, although both teams were admittedly bringing their A Game to the table, but a match of this caliber is not something that purely exists within a vacuum. This was a litmus test for Big Hug and they passed with flying colors. 

The finishing stretch was brilliant, fast-paced Dragongate action with Hyo doing everything in his power to survive the continued onslaught of Team No Hug. He was able to land a Samson Driver on Dragon Kid, but Kid reversed the pin and stole the win for his squad. 

This was sublime. ****

DON FUJII, KAGETORA, & MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA, SHUJI KONDO, & YASUSHI KANDA 

There have been thousands of “let’s all beat up Punch Tominaga” matches over the years, but this one was better than the usual bunch. Perhaps they were inspired by the hot two opening matches, because this match had some snap that the usual old man tags don’t have. In particular, Masaaki Mcohizuki looked like he was gearing up for another top-of-the-card run with his performance in this match. Of course, that’s not happening, but Mocchy showed glimpses that he still has the talent to be a break-in-case-of-emergency champion. 

This was brutal, but quick and to the point. Kagetora planted Punch with the Kurumakake in 9 minutes. ***1/4 

D’COURAGE (DRAGON DIA, MADOKA KIKUTA, & RYOYA TANAKA) & DAIKI YANAGIUCHI DEF. GOLD CLASS (BEN-K, BXB HULK, & KOTA MINOURA) & RYU FUDA 

Two things remain true: both Daiki Yanagiuchi and Ryu Fuda have the potential to be very good pro wrestlers. In fact, the more I think about Ryu Fuda, the more I think we could one day talk about him in the same way that we talk about Strong Machine J. Fuda has yet to have a period of prolonged health in this company, but that hasn’t hindered his growth as a performer. Fuda not only wrestles with such immense fire, but is wrestling with confidence like he knows he can break out if given the opportunity. 

Yanagiuchi continues to impress whenever he pops up. He’s a natural babyface, someone who could one day fill a void similar to what Shachihoko BOY was doing when he was in Monster Express a decade ago. He’s going to spend most of his career getting his ass kicked, but he has a chance to do it in the most thrilling way possible. He took a ton of offense from Gold Class, leading to a thrilling point in the match where he eventually fought from the clutches of Ben-K in order to make a hot tag. 

The finishing stretch of this match was brutal, with Kikuta and Fuda throwing huge bombs at one another. That sequence concluded with Kikuta plastering Fuda with a hip attack, which paved the way for Dia to land a DDDDT on Fuda for the win. ***3/4 

TORU OWASHI & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. Z-BRATS (GIANNI VALLETTA & KAI)

THEY HAVE SIRENS FOR GIANNI VALLETA’S ENTRANCE NOW TO WARN THE SPECTATORS OF THE INCOMING DANGER. 

Dragongate has proven that basic pro wrestling instincts are not dead with the way that they’ve handled Gianni Valletta. Valletta has been handled the way that all giants should be. When he came into the company in January, I said, “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.”

In the three months that have followed, Dragongate has elevated Valletta from a Brody cosplay act to someone that feels genuinely dangerous to not only the Dragongate roster, but the fan base at large. They have embraced all of Valletta’s quirks and as a result, he now feels like he’s crucial to Dragongate’s day-to-day. 

This was merely an angle disguised as a match. Valletta stormed through the crowd and attacked green boys during his entrance, as he’s prone to do, then minutes into the match, ripped Ultimo Dragon’s mask clean off. It was shocking to see how easily Valletta ripped off the legend’s mask. 

Luis Mante stormed the ring after the unmasking, who at this time last year was in a mask-related feud against Ultimo. This time, however, Mante stepped right up to Valletta, posing the most intense threat to Valletta in his Dragongate career. A brawl broke out between the two, which led to GM Ryo Saito booking a match between the two for the Open the Dream Gate Championship at Dead or Alive. 

This is not the first time that Dragongate has experimented with giants gunning after the promotion’s top prize. In 2009, Akebono challenged Naruki Doi for the Dream Gate belt, oddly enough at that year’s Dead Or Alive show. Two years later, Brodie Lee saw a Valletta-esque push, but fell short in a #1 Contendership Match against Masaaki Mochizuki. Then, of course, there are the 10 different Cyber Kong/Takashi Yoshida Dream Gate challenges over the years. 

Mante vs. Valletta is a more daring match than the sideshow attraction that was Akebono vs. Doi, more risky than anything Brodie Lee was ever involved in, and more of a shock to the system than anything Yoshida was ever involved in. Simply put, Mante vs. Valletta is the highest-risk Dream Gate match in history. Mante has made his living by being a Claudio Castagnoli-like base, aiding smaller wrestlers on the roster with their aerial maneuvers. He won’t be able to do that against Valletta. For the challenger, a new set of challenges will emerge. At press time, Valletta has worked 40 matches in the promotion, only 6 of which have gone over the 10 minute mark. Of those 40 matches, 16 have been singles matches, the longest of which was 7:04 against Takashi Yoshida. Valletta has no track record of working an “epic” singles match in Dragongate. 

A dud on one of the biggest shows of the year could kill Mante’s Dream Gate run in its tracks and destroy whatever aura Valletta had worked so hard to create. A great match, however, could position Mante as a conquering hero. A perfect match would accomplish that goal while also keeping Valletta as a feared killer. 

Whatever happens in Aichi will be fascinating. What happened at Korakuen was incredibly well done. NR

Z-BRATS (ISHIN, JASON LEE, & SHUN SKYWALKER) DEF. Natural Vibes (JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI, KZY, & U-T)

This was another match-turned-angle, just like the match prior, with a double countout being called between the two teams at 3:40, which led to a “no countout” restart which then ended in DQ when Jacky “Funky” Kamei attacked the referee with a chair. 

Dragongate has tapped into something excellent with the heel turn of Jason Lee. His new look, which brings a similar vibe to that of when MAKOTO joined Crazy MAX, brings an erratic injury to a unit full of bruisers. His work with Kamei has been executed perfectly thus far. These two aren’t locking up and trading grappling holds; they’re beating each other senseless every chance they get. It feels very similar to that of a Kaientai DX vs. Michinoku Pro Sekigun match from nearly 30 years prior. They’ve hit every beat as well as I would’ve hoped thus far. 

The brawl continued into the post-match as Skywalker immediately pounced on Kamei, which brought out Hyo, who attempted to save Kamei from the brutal Z-Brats post-match betadown. He tackled Lee, who had brought out scissors in an attempt to cut part of Kamei’s hair, and in return, gave the scissors to Kamei, who was able to snip off a small portion of Lee’s hair. 

When the dust settled, GM Ryo Saito made it official that the Dead or Alive cage match would return for the first time since 2021 with Hyo, Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Jason Lee, Kzy, & Shun Skywalker battling in a Mascara contra Cabellera five-way steel cage match. 

It’s hard to summarize with words just how chaotic and heated this was. It’s impossible to rate, but it still needs to be deemed essential viewing. NR

REY DE PAREJAS 2024 FINAL MATCH 

Team No Hug (DRAGON KID & NARUKI DOI) DEF. SUSUMU YOKOSUKA & YAMATO 

Dragongate has a new match of the year. 

Worked as if they were wrestling in the Tokyo Dome and not its much smaller counterpart next door, these four Dragongate veterans whipped the Korakuen crowd into a frenzy with a brilliantly built and delightfully dramatic tag match, reminiscent of a Summer Adventure Tag League classic from 15 years ago. 

It was amazing to me just how patient these guys were in the early going. The prior tournament matches had a 20 minute time limit, and even though this match just ended up going slightly past 21 minutes when things were all said and done, you could feel a sense of relief in the early goings that neither team had to focus on sprinting to the finish line. No Hug fell behind early as the combined seven-time Dream Gate Champions went to work on the knees of Dragon Kid. This is where Yokosuka shines. For 25 years now, he’s been able to weaken the part of Dragon Kid that he needs the most. His attack in this match was calculated and effective as Dragongate’s all-star team led the way for the first half of the match. 

The single best spot of this match didn’t involve Yokosuka’s calculated beatdown, but rather YAMATO’s forceful, jaw-dropping attack towards Dragon Kid while he was on the apron. YAMATO sent Dragon Kid from one buckle to the other, but as he often does, Dragon Kid went up and over into the corner and onto the apron. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t phase the five-team Dream Gate Champion, who charged full-speed at his former partner in HIGH-END and cleaned his clock with his Go To Hospital II kick. I have never seen YAMATO throw a kick so vicious. Korakuen reacted like Dragon Kid had been gunned down in a motorcade in Dallas. That spot alone was five stars.

This paved the way for Naruki Doi to make his presence felt in the match. Doi, who will celebrate 25 years in wrestling next year, is somehow doing the best work of his career in the 2020’s. He’s been brilliant over the last 15 months or so. You feel his energy pulsate through the screen when he gets on a big run of offense now. He’s someone who when I was thinking about the 100 greatest wrestlers of all-time a few years ago, I wasn’t sure if I could justify a spot for him. Now, I can’t imagine having a list that doesn’t prominently feature Doi. He is a genius. There’s no other way to put it. In a match with 4 all-time greats, he was the one I gravitated to most. Everything he did felt like it was a level above his contemporaries, all of whom were tremendous in their own right. 

Going into this, I didn’t know if these four were still capable of having a “movez” match with a “z” at this stage in their careers, but they absolutely did that here. Once the ball got rolling with big, hard-hitting moves, it never stopped. The final 8 minutes were move after move after move after move, each of them hit the precision and each of them done in a way to keep the momentum of the match flowing. It was really just a masterclass in tag team wrestling. 

In the end, the uneasy pairing of Dragon Kid and Naruki Doi proved to be too much for the thrown-together all-star team. Doi and Susumu traded bombs, with Doi nearly stealing one with his infamous V9 flash pin. Yokosuka escaped and responded in kind with his brutal Mugen finisher, but Dragon Kid broke up the pin. No Hug scored big with a Bakatare Sliding Kick/Bible combo, but YAMATO broke up the pin. Then, in a shock to everyone, Doi put Dragongate’s most decorated wrestler on his shoulders and delivered a Doi 555 from inside the ring to the apron, leaving YAMATO for dead. Oddly enough, the last time I recall Doi doing this was in the 2008 Summer Adventure Tag League Finals and he did it to Dragon Kid. 

With YAMATO permanently out of the picture, Yokosuka was forced to eat another Bakatare Sliding Kick and then an Ultra Hurricanrana for the win. Beautiful stuff. ****3/4 

Final Thoughts

This may very well be the best Dragongate Korakuen Hall show of the 2020’s. It had everything you would want. Not only did the show produce a number of excellent tag team matches, but the angles on this show were executed tremendously and have me waiting with bated breath to see what comes next. This has my highest seal of approval and my fullest recommendation.