DRAGON GATE
DEAD OR ALIVE 2024
MAY 5, 2024
AICHI PREFECTURAL GYM, AICHI, JAPAN

Watch: Dragongate Network

MEET OUR PREVIEWER:

Case Lowe (@_InYourCase): The lead voice in Dragongate coverage for English speaking audiences for nine years. Co-host of the Open the Voice Gate Podcast, which specializes in both contemporary DG coverage, as well as detailing the history of the promotion. 

BEN-K, BXB HULK, & KOTA MINOURA VS. KAGETORA, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & YAMATO 

While this might feel like a match of the leftovers (mighty fine leftovers they would be, if that were true), this match will continue the ongoing battle of Gold Class, and specifically Kota Minoura, against the newly-appointed grumpy veteran, YAMATO. While unofficially a unit (they’ll decide their fate on the May 9 Korakuen Hall show), it would appear that Kagetora, Yokosuka, YAMATO, and Dragon Kid are en route to forming another old-guard unit that would strike a similar tone of 2012-2013’s Team Veteran Returns and 2013-2014’s We Are Team Veteran. 

Much like how We Are Team Veteran routinely picked fights against Dragongate’s Millennials, this quartet seems to take umbrage with Dragongate’s Reiwa Generation, specifically Kota Minoura. YAMATO has dominated the Gifu-native all year long. He’s choked him out on numerous occasions and at no point has it seemed like Minoura has had an answer for the continued onslaught from the five-time Dream Gate Champion. 

I don’t expect Dead or Alive to turn Minoura’s fortunes around, either. Gold Class got throttled in the company’s tag team tournament, Rey de Parejas, last month, and I see no chance for Gold Class to poke their heads above water on this show. Maybe when Minoura’s mini, Minorita, returns (which could be any day now) or if they pull the trigger on Ryu Fuda joining the unit (which I’m all for), Gold Class will start racking up wins again. Until then, Gold Class is going to lose and when they’re in the ring with YAMATO, that means YAMATO is going to torture Kota Minoura. PREDICTION: KAGETORA, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & YAMATO 

Match Recommendation: 

BIG BOSS SHIMIZU & TORU OWASHI VS. ISHIN & KAI 

Toru Owashi has decided to celebrate his last year as a full-time wrestler by splitting his schedule between DDT and Dragongate. For those unaware, Owashi was a product of the Toryumon 2000 Project, the same class that gave us the likes of Masato Yoshino, Milano Collection AT, and Naruki Doi. Owashi spent his formative years in the Italian Connection alongside the aforementioned Yoshino and Collection before turning heel in 2003 and joining the unit that would go on to be known as Aagon Iisou. For the last half of 2003 up until the split from Ultimo Dragon in July 2004, Owashi was one of the top heels in the company. At the end of 2004, Owashi, alongside “brother” YASSHI, Shuji Kondo, and the rest of Aagon Iisou, were dismissed from the company. As a part of Dragongate’s 20th Anniversary Celebration in 2019, Owashi returned to the company for the first time since his untimely exit. Since then, he’s appeared on special occasions, occasionally repping his Aagon Iisou past and other times, acting as a friendly, familiar face alongside his mentor, Ultimo Dragon. 

The nice thing about Owashi’s return is that at no point has he been presented as anything other than a fun blast-from-the-past. They aren’t relying on him to pop houses, nor has there been anything resembling a push for the former UWA World Trios Champion. Outside of a few hotly contested Rey de Parejas matches that over delivered, Owashi has been used as nothing more than undercard fodder, which is perfectly inoffensive. He’ll have a chance to team up with the man whom he did his best work against in the tag tournament, as well. 

Their opponents are “Actually Good” KAI and ISHIN, who has been doing the best work of his young career since the calendar flipped over to 2024. ISHIN has developed a beefy body-style that now provides glimpses of a Dick Togo-esque wrestler when he’s on. While he’s not getting a massive spotlight on this show, he’s absolutely a wrestler that you need to pay attention to. 

I don’t expect this match to be great given its positioning and for the simple fact that I don’t think anything on the undercard is going to get time, but I wish these men the best. PREDICTION: ISHIN & KAI 

Match Recommendation: 

DRAGON DIA, MADOKA KIKUTA, RYOYA TANAKA, & ULTIMO DRAGON VS. DON FUJII, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, PROBLEM DRAGON, & YASUSHI KANDA 

The only name you need to know in this tag team match consisting of leftovers is wunderkind Ryoya Tanaka. The 25-year-old is less than a year into his career and he’s already made quite a name for himself. He wrestles like a lab-created Dragongate wrestler. He’s handsome, he can fly, he projects well, and despite debuting at the end of May last year, he wrestles with a polish that most veterans across the world would be jealous of. 

Tanaka is still struggling to rack up consistent victories, however. While I would hope that he is the one to score the fall for his team, those honors will more than likely be delegated to one of his D’Courage battering mates in Dia or Kikuta. PREDICTION: DRAGON DIA, MADOKA KIKUTA, RYOYA TANAKA, & ULTIMO DRAGON 

Match Recommendation:

SPECIAL SINGLES MATCH
STRONG MACHINE J VS. U-T

Strong Machine J just celebrated five years in wrestling and there is no doubt that he is being primed for the biggest summer of his career. For two years now, SMJ has been a member of Natural Vibes, but in recent months, he’s grown tired of the unit that has brought him the most success of his career. 

During Rey de Parejas, SMJ was assured by his partners in Vibes that the unit would put their issues behind them and work together as a cohesive unit throughout the tournament. Needless to say, the second-generation standout was alarmed by Jason Lee’s sudden heel turn on Jacky “Funky” Kamei. Now, in an effort to get Natural Vibes back on track, he and U-T have agreed to duke it out in an effort to settle their differences before the cage match, which features Jacky “Funky” Kamei and Kzy of Natural Vibes. 

This match will almost certainly play into the main event, as KAI has attempted to recruit SMJ to Z-Brats, while U-T obviously wants to maintain the status quoin Natural Vibes. It seems impossible that U-T would win this match (even though it’s in his hometown), so the real question is how this will play into the cage match later in the evening. 

We could look back at this match a year from now as the last thing Strong Machine J did before he was a clear, top-of-the-line player in this company. PREDICTION: STRONG MACHINE J 

Match Recommendation: 

OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
ALEJANDRO & KAITO KIYOMIYA VS. DRAGON KID & NARUKI DOI 

I am elated about how the Twin Gate scene has played out over the last few months. 

In December, Alejandro and Kaito Kiyomiya showed up at Dragongate’s Korakuen Hall show and demanded a Twin Gate match against Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka. Kiyomiya wanted to test his ability against Yoshioka, who worked in a separate block from Kiyomiya in that year’s N-1 tournament. Due to an eye injury, however, Dia and Yoshioka were forced to vacate the Twin Gate belts before the match ever took place and Yoshioka hasn’t been seen since. At Final Gate, Dragongate’s last big show of the year, Alejandro and Kiyomiya shocked everyone by defeating Ben-K and Kota Minoura for the then-vacant Twin Gate belts. 

The NOAH duo have only defended the belts once, but that match was one of my single favorite matches of the year. At the inaugural Gate of Bayside event in Kanagawa, Alejandro and Kiyomiya put forth a sublime performance against Jacky “Funky” Kamei & Jason Lee. Alejandro is simply a Dragongate wrestler trapped inside of a NOAH contract, so I wasn’t surprised to see him rise to the occasion. Kiyomiya erased any fears I had of him thinking Dragongate was beneath him with this outing, however. He was brilliant. He wrestled with a confidence that he rarely wrestles with in NOAH. The Kung-Fu Masters brought out the best in someone who has routinely been driven into the ground by the worst offenders in wrestling. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. 

I wrote in my review of that show, “I can’t get over how good Kaito Kiyomiya is in this environment. The man who didn’t want to be just any pro wrestler, but rather a superstar in Pro Wrestling NOAH, is so much better when he’s not wrestling in NOAH. Never in my life have I seen someone’s baggage removed off of their shoulders in the way that I’ve seen it with Kiyomiya, whether he’s wrestling in New Japan or in Dragongate. His home promotion has all but tortured him throughout his time there and it shows in every aspect of what he does. He’s playing pro wrestler while he’s there. More specifically, he’s playing “NOAH Ace”. 

In New Japan, he’s an asshole with something to prove. In Dragongate, he’s an athletic force with no ego to be found. I am simply stunned at how hard Kiyomiya has worked in his two Dragongate outings. He’s wrestling as if he’s wrestling for a job. I expected him to look down on Dragongate in an awkward and uncomfortable way. Instead, not only has he embraced Dragongate’s heavyweights like Ben-K and Kota Minoura, but he had no problem mixing it up with world-class juniors like Kamei and Lee.”

Now the pair of NOAH renegades will be forced to compete against two of the most decorated Dragongate wrestlers in history who are fresh off of a Rey de Parejas victory. 

Dragon Kid and Naruki Doi, Team No Hug (a play on Hyo and Luis Mante’s Big Hug, and also a play on the fact that Dragon Kid, in storyline, annoys everyone with his friendliness) dominated Rey de Parejas. They finished first in their block before eventually knocking off Big Hug and then YAMATO & Susumu Yokosuka. Outside of a brief stint in MaxiMuM at the end of the 2010’s, this is the first real chance that Doi and DK have had to team with one another, but their chemistry is unreal. Even if No Hug lose, I hope they spend more time teaming with one another. 

If No Hug do win, it keeps Doi doing important things through Kobe World. That would be huge as Doi, who went freelance in September 2022 but remains an active participant of the Dragongate roster, will not fall by the wayside for the biggest show of the year. I personally find the last two years of Doi’s career to be some of his best, if not the absolute apex of his career. At 43-years-old, the Nara native is shockingly dialed in. He’s doing great work all across the country, with his best work taking place in Dragongate. For as much as I’m enjoying this NOAH duo, I wouldn’t complain about Doi working a title match at World, instead of a meaningless multi-man. 

To me, Alejandro and Kiyomiya’s story is one defined by Yuki Yoshioka. Until he returns and takes the belts off of them, they’ll continue to wear Dragongate gold. I am pumped for this bout. PREDICTION: ALEJANDRO & KAITO KIYOMIYA 

Match Recommendations: 




OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
LUIS MANTE VS. GIANNI VALLETTA 

This is one of the riskiest Dream Gate matches in company history. 

If you’ve been a casual viewer of Dragongate since the pandemic, you’re probably familiar with Luis Mante, even if that name sounds a little off to you. Luis Mante is the former Diamante, who came into this company in 2019 as a masked Mexican warrior. In his initial months, conversations were had among the Dragongate intelligentsia as to whether or not Mante was the worst foreigner that had ever been brought over. 

Then, the pandemic happened. 

Instead of flying home to Mexico, Mante stayed in the dojo, worked every day at getting better, and quickly progressed from bad to “sneaky good” to “shockingly great”, which is where he resides on the talent spectrum today. 

He won the Dream Gate belt at Final Gate 2023, joining PAC and Ricochet as the only foreigners to ever win this title. I hated the way Mante won the belt. He won it in a flat, unnecessary three-way that saw him take down both then-Dream Gate Champion, Madoka Kikuta, and his eternal rival, Shun Skywalker. For as content as I am with the main event scene in Dragongate right now, I still think Skywalker should’ve beat Kikuta at Final Gate, and Mante should’ve beat at this year’s Kobe World. But, I digress. 

His reign as Dream Gate Champion can be labeled as “somewhat successful”. He and Skywalker drew a respectable house for Gate of Bayside, which marked Mante’s first successful defense of the belt. He then went on to defend the title successfully against Susumu Yokosuka at Champion Gate in Osaka. He and Hyo, who is one of the three most over guys in the company right now (I would label it 1. Kamei 2. YAMATO 3. Hyo), had a phenomenal Rey de Parejas, which gave Mante some much-needed momentum in the leadup to this match. 

Valletta, for the lapsed fan or even the hyper-casual, might not be a familiar name. The Maltese export appeared in Dragongate in January and immediately stood out from the rest of the pack with his Bruiser Brody-inspired persona. After his debut, I wrote, “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.”

After a squash match two weeks later against U-T at Gate of Bayside, I noted, “Despite the fact that they seem to be doing everything “right” with him, I’m not sure he’s ever going to get over.”

I’m so happy I was wrong. 

Dragongate has leaned into Valletta’s best qualities and Valletta, in return, has excelled when the lights have shined brightest. His act has become less of a “Bruiser Brody tribute act” and more of a unique entity that doesn’t have a hint of irony in it. The experience of Gianni Valletta’s entrance has become one of the most exciting things in Dragongate. They’ve added a siren to his entrance, as well as a quick excerpt from the ring announcer warning people to move if Valletta comes near them, and it has struck fear into the Dragongate fanbase. After years of COVID crowds where wrestlers weren’t allowed to get near the fans, Valletta has been a welcome, albeit stark contrast. 

Despite Dragongate putting together a match between a champion with a healthy amount of momentum and a challenger that feels fresh and unique, this match poses a tremendous risk to the overall state of Dragongate’s main event scene, as well as the careers of Mante and Valletta. 

At press time, 18 of Valletta’s 47 Dragongate matches have been singles matches, so it’s not like Dragongate is throwing him into the deep end and asking him to work a singles match without prior experience. However, none of those matches have surpassed the 10 minute mark and only 3 have been longer than 5 minutes. This isn’t inherently an issue. There’s no rule saying that Dream Gate matches have to go a certain length. In fact, at this very event in 2015, BxB Hulk worked an 8 minute Dream Gate match against Cyber Kong. 

However, the stakes in Hulk vs. Kong were far less than they are here. Hulk was an established Dream Gate Champion who was winding down his run. Kong, by that point in his career, was no longer a feared commodity. He had been beaten senseless time and time again. There was no threat in him losing his aura. 

There’s a few different things that could happen here: 

  1. Mante wins but it kills Valletta’s aura. The match quality is irrelevant in this scenario. 
  2. Mante wins, but Valletta’s aura is salvaged. The match and the finish, specifically, have to be great in order for this to happen. 
  3. The match ends in a no contest due to disqualification/interference/count out, leading to the Dream Gate belt being vacated and as a result, Mante gets cooled off considerably. 
  4. The match sucks, everyone loses, and everyone is worse off. 

Scenario #4 is the recurring nightmare that I can’t escape. There’s a chance that Dragongate is flying too close to the sun with a match like this. The risk could be far greater than the reward. I have a very hard time believing that a promotion as snake-bitten as Dragongate has been over the last few years that they can dance around all of the landmines that they themselves have set out. 

This match could be great. It’s so much more interesting than, say, Mante vs. Masaaki Mochizuki or even Mante vs. a Kota Minoura-type. Dragongate has done a good job rehabbing Mante from a weird December and they’ve quite frankly done a brilliant job in presenting Valletta as a feared killer. 

I fear that all the good they’ve done will be washed away with this match, however. PREDICTION: LUIS MANTE 

Match Recommendations: 

MÁSCARA CONTRA CABELLERA 5-WAY STEEL CAGE MATCH
HYO VS. JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI VS. JASON LEE VS. KZY VS. SHUN SKYWALKER 

This match will be contested in a steel cage with four flags atop the cage. To escape the cage, you must scale to the top of the cage and retrieve one of the flags. There will be four winners, with the sole loser being the person that is unable to capture a flag. If Hyo, Jacky “Funky” Kamei, or Jason Lee lose, they will lose their hair. If Shun Skywalker loses, he’ll be forced to unmask. If Kzy loses, he’ll not only lose his hair, but per the stipulation that he set for himself, he’ll also resign as the leader of Natural Vibes.

The origins of the Dragongate cage match date back to 2001, which the promotion, then Toryumon, put their five of their biggest stars (CIMA, Darkness Dragon, Dragon Kid, Magnum TOKYO, and Masaaki Mochizuki) in a cage where each man either wagered their hair or their mask. This would set the tone for two decades of high-risk, high-reward cage matches. Throughout history, names like CIMA, Genki Horiguchi, and Masato Yoshino have wagered their hair and lost. Most recently, at Kobe World 2023, current Dream Gate Champion Luis Mante put his mask on the line and lost. 

Throughout most of the 2010’s despite the serious storyline implications that these matches had, these cage matches were known for being “wacky”. Lots of odd weapons, lots of off stipulations, and a general throughline of “zanninness” throughout. 

2024 will be nothing like that. 

While it’s safe to assume that some of the Dragongate cage match hallmarks will still be there, this should go down as one of the most heated cage matches in company history, rivaling 2023, 2016, and 2011 as prior incarnations of blood feuds-turned-cage matches. 

Each person in this match will risk their hair (or mask, in the case of Skywalker), but the issues between these men run far deeper than any haircut could symbolize. 

There are two primary conflicts that you need to be aware of before you watch this match. The first is the ongoing issue between Kzy and Shun Skywalker. Kzy, as the leader of Natural Vibes, has been the sworn enemy of Skywalker, the leader of Z-Brats, who has promised for years to erase Natural Vibes from existence. While there is no guarantee that Vibes as a unit will cease to exist if Kzy loses this match, it would be hard to envision Vibes existing without Kzy at the forefront. 

The other issue is that of Jacky “Funky” Kamei and Jason Lee, the former tag team partners who compiled a stunning resume of great tag matches this year  before their breakup at the end of March. 

Lee, a Hong Kong import who debuted towards the tail end of 2017, had been an unapologetic babyface for his entire run in DG before his shocking heel turn in March. Lee progressed through the ranks of the company rapidly, being added to the MaxiMuM unit alongside Masato Yoshino and Naruki Doi shortly after his debut, representing Team Dragongate in the generation wars of 2020, and then asserting his status as one of the most talented junior heavyweights in Japan during his time in Masquerade in 2021. He would join Natural Vibes in 2022 and very quickly link up alongside Kamei. Together, the two quickly became a standout tag team. 

During their final block match of this year’s Rey de Parejas tournament, Lee shocked everyone by betraying Kamei and Natural Vibes. Lee’s heel turn and alliance with Z-Brats has given Kamei his first natural rival since the untimely departure of his classmate, SB KENTo. Their interactions ever since the heel turn have resembled street fights far more than they have Dragongate matches. 

That leaves us with Hyo, who is in the match to protect Kamei. Despite his longtime allegiance to Natural Vibes, Hyo has made it clear that he and Luis Mante want Kamei to represent Big Hug. Kamei has resisted time after time, but that hasn’t stopped Hyo from attempting to lure Kamei over to his unit. 

It also can’t be ignored that Hyo was subservient to Skywalker in Z-Brats, up until Hyo’s face turn in November. 

Kamei should have more allies than anyone else in this bout thanks to Kzy and Hyo. Kzy should have the help of Kamei, at least initially, but not Hyo. In theory, Lee and Skywalker should team up, but as we saw with Skywalker and Mante in the last cage match, Skywalker has no issue turning his back on someone in the same unit as him. 

There is no chance that Skywalker loses. I find it very unlikely that Lee would lose this soon into his run as a heel. Hyo’s entire character right now is largely the equivalent of 1995 Shawn Michaels. He’s reached full himbo-status. Having him lose his hair would be a massive mistake. That leaves Kamei and Kzy, the two members of Natural Vibes. Kamei seems poised for a huge summer. He not only has the built-in feud with Lee, but he scored a clean win over Mante in Rey de Parejas and one would assume that there will be a follow-up there, as well. If I were Dragongate, I’d want Kamei doing show opening and show closing promos, radio show appearances, and whatever other media their top stars usually do, and I wouldn’t want him doing that bald. 

That leaves Kzy, who has dutifully served as the leader of three different incarnations of Natural Vibes (2018 Vibes, which was largely mediocre, 2021 Vibes, which was a slight improvement, and 2022-now Vibes, who have been nothing short of miraculous). For as good as this version of the unit has been, there’s an undeniable elephant in the room with their current status. If Vibes were to go away, it would immediately give Kamei and SMJ chances to elevate themselves, Kzy would likely fall into the veterans unit with YAMATO & company, and Shimizu & U-T would have plenty of opportunities to make linear transitions to other units, as their statuses within the company are likely solidified. 

For as much good as Vibes has done, there’s a chance that if they continue to exist, they’ll be harming certain careers. 

If Kzy falls by the wayside, I would imagine that Kamei and SMJ would split shortly thereafter, and neither Shimizu nor U-T would be equipped to lead this specific unit going forward. There’s always a chance that U-T, the one yelling the loudest about keeping Vibes together, could turn on Kzy, too. 

How they get there is still up in the air, but as we approach this event, I feel more and more confident that Kzy will be the big loser in the grand scheme of things. PREDICTION: KZY LOSES HIS HAIR 

Match Recommendations: 

Further Cage Match Viewing: 

Diamante vs. Dragon Kid vs. Strong Machine J vs. Shun Skywalker vs. Ultimo Dragon: Dragongate Kobe World Pro Wrestling Festival 2023 

This is the most recent cage match from Dragongate. The match was built around Shun Skywalker trying to take Strong Machine J’s mask, Diamante trying to take Ultimo Dragon’s mask, and Dragon Kid trying to protect Ultimo Dragon. Take note of how Skywalker treated his then-partner in Diamante. Jason Lee could suffer a similar fate this year at Dead or Alive.

https://dragongate.live/title/?program=comp_EC_Tournament&episode=78

Cyber Kong vs. Kotoka vs. Naoki Tanizaki vs. Naruki Doi vs. Shingo Takagi vs. YAMATO: Dragongate Dead or Alive 2016 

The consensus pick for the best cage match in Dragongate history. The six participants in this match made up the heel unit at the time, VerserK. At the time, Shingo Takagi was still the top dog in the company, but there was growing tension between he and YAMATO, who had spent the last year as the 1B to Takagi’s 1A. This match kicked off the final angle from Dragongate’s glory period.

https://dragongate.live/title/?program=comp_BigEventsFeature&episode=11

Akira Tozawa vs. BxB Hulk vs. Cyber Kong vs. Kagetora vs. Shingo Takagi vs. YAMATO: Dragongate Gate of Destiny 2011 

This was in the thick of Dragongate’s Blood Warriors vs. Junction III feud, which divided the company into two rival factions. 3 members from each unit were represented in this match. The most important thing about this match is that Kagetora escaped first for JIII, then shortly after that, YAMATO had a chance to escape. Right before YAMATO grabbed the flag that would’ve freed him from the cage, however, he looked back and saw his partner Shingo Takagi being brutalized by all three members of Blood Warriors. Had YAMATO left the cage, he would’ve left Takagi to fight 3-on-1, and he likely would’ve lost the match. YAMATO sacrificed himself, dove back into the cage, and the rest is history.

https://dragongate.live/title/?program=comp_BigEventsFeature&episode=58

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