DRAGONGATE PRO WRESTLING
DEAD OR ALIVE 2024
MAY 5, 2024
AICHI PREFECTURAL GYM
AICHI, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

KAGETORA, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & YAMATO DEF. GOLD CLASS (BEN-K, BXB HULK, & KOTA MINOURA)

The woes continue for Kota Minoura. Still only 25, the Gifu-native seems to be in major trouble. Minoura has spent his entire year getting his ass kicked by YAMATO, who has openly mocked him and his generational comrades in the process. The focus of Gold Class last year saw Minoura shift into more of a background player as Minorita shined bright and Ben-K, under a new gimmick, became white-hot. This year, with Minorita out and Ben cooled off (something that was bound to happen), the focus has shifted back to Minoura, for better or worse. 

I remain skeptical that Minoura “overcoming the odds” and eventually beating YAMATO will do much good. It feels too telegraphed to work. To be clear, I remain incredibly bullish on Minoura’s future. He’s an above average wrestler who demonstrates main event potential often. As we venture into Gold Class’ second year, however, it’s become abundantly clear that he will need to escape his own unit in order to increase his star power. The highs of Gold Class will be defined by Ben, Minorita, and Naruki Doi, while the lows will unfortunately belong to Minoura. 

All of this is to say that Minoura, as he often is, was very good in this match, but it still ended with him getting his ass kicked by YAMATO. A lot of this match was spent tearing down Minoura. That worked out nicely, though, as Minoura’s comeback and near-victory with his Bevel Gear flash pin were executed nicely. Nothing the Reiwa Six member threw at YAMATO was going to be good enough, however, and the five-time Dream Gate Champion reminded him of that when he dropped Minoura on his head with the Galleria for the victory. ***1/4 

BIG BOSS SHIMIZU & TORU OWASHI DEF. Z-BRATS (ISHIN & KAI) 

This was disappointing. 

The work, while it lasted, was enjoyable. ISHIN, who has embraced the lifestyle of being large-and-in-charge, was particularly interesting. In a way, it’s a shame that ISHIN was relegated to this match and didn’t have a bigger spot on the card, because you can’t tell the story of 2024 Dragongate without noting the massive step up that ISHIN has taken. I also think it’s worth noting that Shimizu and Owashi have the chemistry to become a fun, undercard tag team if they decide to go in that direction. They would be the perfect team to have lose a Twin Gate match on a small show. 

Right as it looked like this match was about to “cook,” ISHIN brought in a box lid and beat up Shimizu with it right in front of the referee. Nothing about that DQ felt earned or necessary. It was merely a buzzkill. NR 

D’COURAGE (DRAGON DIA, MADOKA KIKUTA, & RYOYA TANAKA) & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. DON FUJII, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, PROBLEM DRAGON, & YASUSHI KANDA 

In my preview, I remarked that the only name you needed to pay attention to in this match was that of wunderkind Ryoya Tanaka. That preview was published before Dragon Dia was announced for New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors, however, which means that this became far more of the Dragon Dia Show than I suspect it was initially meant to.  

The only thing of note here is that not only did Dragon Dia win, but he did it with a new move that has simply been dubbed a “Modified Driver” by the official Dragongate results. He picked up Problem Dragon and put one of his legs behind his head (like a more advanced Fisherman Suplex), then picked up Dragon and then dropped him in a Sidewalk Slam-type position. It looked very cool. I would expect for him to use this in the upcoming BOSJ tournament. **3/4 

SPECIAL SINGLES MATCH 
U-T DEF. STRONG MACHINE J 

This year marked the ninth time in his career that U-T has competed at Dead or Alive, his hometown show. It’s only the third time that he’s been victorious, however. He won at his debut on this show in 2014, retaining the Triangle Gate belts with his partners Eita and T-Hawk. He would then lose every year up until 2022, with two of those matches being for the Open the Brave Gate Championship along the way. In 2022, he and Kzy would retain the Ryukyu Dragon Pro tag team championships that they held, but U-T would be back to his losing ways as he would drop a fall to Kagetora in the opening tag match. 

To say this result shocked me would be an understatement. Not only is it the most success that U-T has had in front of his hometown crowd, but this is likely the single biggest win in U-T’s career. He’s been in bigger moments – the aforementioned Brave Gate matches on this show, as well as his Brave Gate challenge in the smaller Nagoya venue in 2021 against SB KENTo are all worth mentioning – but U-T lost all of those matches. He’s won three titles in his career, all of them either tag or trios belts, and at no point was U-T the focus of any of those partnerships. This was U-T’s moment and he seized it. 

SMJ has been wrestling like a freight train this year, working matches with high-energy and a ton of speed. This was a shift in another direction. His approach in this match was far more methodical. He did little things like jamming U-T’s head in between the ring post and the steel post just beyond the ring post meant to hoist up the steel cage later in the evening. He caught the hometown kid with a number of short, stiff lariats that appeared to weaken U-T greatly. He never managed to fully lose control of the match. Up until the finish, U-T’s offense was primarily done in short bursts. The entire match looked like it was going to lead to an SMJ victory. 

Right when it looked like that the masked man had done enough to put the match away, U-T shocked us all. He ate one of SMJ’s signature powerslams, but rolled through and then attempted to lock in his signature submission, the Bienllave. He failed to fully lock it in at first as SMJ put up a tremendous fight, but U-T used his momentum to roll over and place SMJ in the center of the ring. When that happened, U-T used one last burst of adrenaline to lock in the hold, which forced his fellow Natural Vibes member to give up. 

There is probably a “better” version of this match out there, one that is a tad shorter and features a tad more offense, but I thought these two absolutely delivered to the level that they should have. SMJ continues to be a thoroughly compelling wrestler; someone who at one point in his career only had one speed and one way of doing things who now has proven that he can adapt and thrive in a variety of settings. He’s been a standout in 2024. U-T, as has been the case for his decade-long career now, will not be defined by the time that he spends in the ring, but sadly by the time that he spends away from the ring due to injury. He showed once again that when he’s healthy, he’s an upper tier worker on this roster. ***1/2 

After the match, U-T challenged Strong Machine J to stand with Natural Vibes in the main event. SMJ exited without saying anything, leaving through the crowd instead of the entryway. 

OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH 
TEAM NO HUG (DRAGON KID & NARUKI DOI) DEF. ALEJANDRO & KAITO KIYOMIYA ©

The NOAH duo of Alejandro & Kaito Kiyomiya failed to make their second successful defense of the Open the Twin Gate Championships. As a unit, Dragon Kid & Naruki Doi, Team No Hug, became the 66th Open the Twin Gate Champions with this reign. It’s the fourth reign for Dragon Kid and the eighth reign for Naruki Doi. 

It is a travesty that Kaito Kiyomiya has spent a majority of his career in NOAH. A travesty. For nine years, the promotion that Kiyomiya calls home has neutered him at every chance they’ve gotten. He’s been eaten alive by relics of a bygone era and now, even with the promotion’s top prize around his waist, forced to cosplay as someone who had no affiliation with NOAH prior to his embarrassing retirement tour that did much more harm than good. When you watch Kiyomiya outside of NOAH, whether it be in New Japan or here in Dragongate, it is so clear that NOAH is doing this man no favors. He wrestles with so much confidence and poise outside of his home promotion. I worried when his foray into Dragongate began last December that he would turn his nose up at a promotion who has never had the mainstream approval that NOAH was grandfathered into, but the opposite occurred. Kiyomiya embraced Dragongate. He was so giving with each of his opponents. He was brilliant here, just as he was in January when he defended the belts against Kung-Fu Masters. He wrestles more like an ace in Dragongate than he does in NOAH, and he’s spent nearly a decade fighting to be NOAH’s undeniable ace. I’m not saying in the long run that Kiyomiya would be more effective here than in his home promotion (I would say that about his partner Alejandro, however), but it’s a shame to think that this might be the last time that we see this version of Kiyomiya. 

While both Alejandro and Dragon Kid added positively to this match, it was undeniably elevated by Kioymiya and Doi, respectively. 

At the risk of making historians uncomfortable, it is time we have the conversation about Naruki Doi being the single greatest tag team wrestler of all-time. Doi has had great (4 stars or higher) matches with the following partners: 

  • Masato Yoshino 
  • Naoki Tanizaki 
  • Gamma
  • Ricochet
  • YAMATO 
  • Shingo Takagi 
  • Kaito Ishida 
  • Dragon Kid 

Doi has been involved in two historically significant tag teams in SpeedMuscle and YAMADoi and has put forth some of the strongest tag team matches in history (w/ Ricochet vs. Hulk & Tozawa, etc.). He has done it all and he’s done it against everyone. 

If we were consuming Doi’s 24-year-career with the benefit of hindsight, meaning that we put his output in 1975-1999 instead of 2000-now, we would look at Doi as the second coming of Christ. He would so obviously be considered an all-time great (which he is) and it would be commonplace to marvel at the work he’s done in his various tag teams, specifically. Kenta Kobashi was a brilliant tag team wrestler who also had iconic teams and iconic matches, but Doi has a stronger output. Ricky Morton speaks for himself, but Doi has remained at “peak” performance far longer than Morton did. His competition comes down to Matt and/or Nick Jackson, who have a stronger resume as a tag team than any singular Doi team, but lack the variety that Doi brings to the table. 

His partnership with Dragon Kid is already comfortable in the upper echelon of Doi partnerships, and it comes at a time in which Doi is doing the best work of his career. The amazing thing about his two-and-a-half decade run is that he’s consistently gotten better at every step in his career. There’s a clear difference between T2P Doi in 2002 and Second Doi in 2003. The gap between Second Doi and 2005 Blood Generation Doi is humongous. He only upped his game when Blood Generation turned to Muscle Outlawz before finally proving he could be an effective babyface when he linked up with WORLD-1. This isn’t to say that Doi hasn’t stumbled along the way. His first Dream Gate reign in 2009 stunk. He wasn’t a super compelling member of Blood Warriors. He would learn from these things, however. His second Dream Gate run, while short, was brilliant. His time in Mad Blankey and VerserK was far more compelling than his time in Blood Warriors. He’s never stopped improving, and that story remains true in 2024. 

It can’t be understated that Doi, a product of the Toryumon 2000 Project and a lucharesu lifer, went nose-to-nose with the GHC Heavyweight Champion and no one batted an eye. In fact, my only thought while watching him and Kiyomiya spar was “what took so long?” Doi has been doing the best work of his career over the last 18 months. His hit rate is remarkably high and he’s doing it at a shockingly consistent rate. 

The best spot of the match, without question, was when Doi connected with Doi 5’s on Kiyomiya, only for Kiyomiya to pop up and hit a Jumbo Tsuruta-esque Knee on Doi before he could hit his Bakatare Sliding Kick. That knee sent Doi back into the ropes, where he responded with a Bakatare that actually connected. Kiyomiya’s momentum sent him rolling back to his feet, however, and he came back at Doi with a Shining Wizard. Sublime stuff. 

Kiymoya was eliminated from the action shortly after that when Dragon Kid spiked him on his head with an Ultra Hurricanrana, leaving Alejandro to fend for his life against two Dragongate legends. He nearly got Doi with a Yoshi-tanic, then a roll up that prevented him from eating a Muscular Bomb, but neither attempt put Doi away. By this point, Dragon Kid was back in the fray, and a 619 to Alejandro led right into the Doi-ble, Team No Hug’s finishing move of choice. 

It took 17:27, but Doi and Dragon Kid managed to ride the wave of momentum they received from winning Rey de Parejas into winning the Twin Gate belts. The pacing of this match was remarkable. At no point did it seem like anyone needed to slow down and take a breath. There was a constant feeling of momentum from the opening bell until the finish. Excellent stuff. Required viewing. ****1/2 




OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP 
LUIS MANTE © DEF. GIANNI VALLETTA 

This win marks the third successful defense for Luis Mante as Open the Dream Gate Champion. 

In my preview, I laid out four possible scenarios for what could happen in this match, which I dubbed the riskiest Dream Gate match in history. 

  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. 

Unfortunately for Dragongate, we saw Scenario #1 play out right before our eyes. Mante scored a win with an Inside Cradle in a match that reminded us that Valletta is a small room act and that Mante does his best work with men considerably smaller than him. If Valletta returns to Dragongate, is he dead in the water? No. Will he come across far less scary than he did going into this match, though? Absolutely. 

It’s a testament to Dragongate’s booking that they were able to get Valletta prepared for a match of this caliber in only four months time. No one could’ve seen this coming in January when he entered the company, but Dragongate nailed every beat along the way to where Valletta felt like a viable Dream Gate challenger by the time this match was booked. 

They missed badly with two things in this bout. For starters, they had Valletta come down the entrance ramp and not through the crowd. His entire act is predicated on scaring the audience. He taunted people in the front row once he got down to the ring, but it was nothing like what he had done in Korakuen or Kobe Sanbo Hall or KBS Hall. That was a huge mistake. Second, they worked this match shockingly straight. I expected a brawl, a car crash, or even a disaster, but they just had…a match. While there were far more catastrophic scenarios at play, this was the most boring outcome possible. 

I think they could’ve gotten to their desired outcome in half the time and it would’ve been twice as effective. Mante should’ve gone into survival mode after eating a chokeslam on the apron early in the match. In that moment, Valletta should’ve taken it as a sign that the champion could be mauled and Mante should’ve been terrified at the thought of losing the belt that he worked so hard to get. The urgency never increased, however, only the amount of chinlocks performed. 

The notable, albeit faint pop in the match came when Mante kicked out of the King Kong Knee Drop. No one had done that yet during Valletta’s time in Dragongate. In fact, every person that was on the receiving end of that moment had sold it like death. That almost made this entire affair worth it. 

Had Mante won with the Super Tigre, the rollup maneuver that has brought him so many victories over the last six months, I would’ve been far more tolerant of the efforts in this match. That would’ve been a definitive win and would’ve put a nice bow on this story. Instead, he won with an Inside Cradle, giving me the impression that Valletta will be back in Dragongate at some point. I would’ve much preferred Mante come out of this with a dominant win. 

As a whole, the Gianni Valletta Experiment has to be considered a success. This match, however, exposed Valletta and left Mante with a lame duck defense. ***

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

They’ve done it again. 

It’s hard to put into words just how amazing Dragongate cage matches are when they’re done right; I’ve now had this issue on-and-off for nine years while writing about Dragongate for this website. While this didn’t reach the in-ring peaks of 2016 or have the drama of Diamante getting left in the cage last summer, this, without question, was one of the best Dragongate cage matches ever. 

The only way to parse through this epic is to go person-by-person, in order they escaped. 

Jacky “Funky” Kamei was the first person out of the cage, even though Hyo had a chance to escape long before him. Kamei’s allies were clear in this match; not only did he have his Natural Vibes partner, Kzy, to fight alongside him, but Big Hug’s Hyo was there simply to make sure that Kamei didn’t get his head-shaved. This was yet another ongoing attempt to get Kamei to go to Big Hug. Very early on in the match, Hyo stood atop the cage with a flag in hand, but before he pulled the flag out of its holster to secure his escape, he looked back at Kamei, who was being brutally double-teamed by Jason Lee and Shun Skywalker. Hyo, realizing that his escape would leave Kamei with a disadvantage, hopped off the cage and continued fighting. 

It came as no surprise that Kamei, in his first-ever cage match, seamlessly adapted to the environment. This is what he’s done in whatever situation has been thrown his way for the last four years. I feel very comfortable claiming that from a purely in-ring standpoint, the only two people on Earth that have had a better 2024 than Kamei are Bryan Danielson and Will Ospreay, and neither of those men would be able to duplicate the Kamei performance on this night. 

Early in the match, Z-Brats introduced two humongous wooden planks into the fold. These were initially used by KAI and ISHIN in an effort to swat away the babyfaces trying to escape before they were slid into the ring and used as weapons by Z-Brats themselves. With a plank resting up against a turnbuckle, Skywalker whipped Kamei into the corner, and in a moment of brilliance, Kamei used the plank as a ramp and scaled to the top of the cage. Sadly, his parkour-inspired effort was thwarted by the rest of Z-Brats. 

Despite a whirlybird spot with the plank soon after, things began to look bleak for Kamei as Z-Brats regained control in a real way. Kamei looked incapacitated, Kzy looked helpless, and Hyo looked overwhelmed by the carnage in the ring. 

Luckily for Kamei, his fortunes would soon change. 

Hyo, while battling against Z-Brats in a two-on-one attack, used the rope that they had brought into the match to catapult Kamei up over the crossbar and to the top of the cage. This is the first time anyone has ever done anything like this in one of these cage matches. 

Kamei, thanks to the help of Hyo, was a free man. 

Skywalker wasted no time leaving the cage after Kamei got out. Unlike Hyo, who had a chance to escape but then looked back and decided against it, Skywalker never looked back to see if his unit-mate Jason Lee needed help. Skywalker quite literally stepped over Kzy, who was also going for a flag, and kicked him away en route to grabbing the flag. 

Kzy was quick to recover, however, as he soon found himself atop the cage. His fate was also determined by an unsuspecting partner. Whereas Kamei had Hyo, who was not in his unit, Kzy was eventually freed by Strong Machine J, who, at times, has been a reluctant member of Kzy’s unit. Despite already having escaped the cage, Skywalker climbed back to the top to thwart Kzy’s attempt at grabbing a flag. He knocked him down a rung, then attempted to brain Kzy with a metal tray. While the two were jockeying over the tray, SMJ came out of nowhere and scaled the cage, meeting the two at the top. SMJ chopped the chest of Kzy and then signaled to Skywalker that they would be aligned going forward. He was handed the metal tray, but instead of sending it into the skull of Kzy, he attacked Skywalker, which led to a thunderous ovation. Skywalker fell from the top of the cage as Kzy ascended to the flag, pulling it and escaping with the help of SMJ. 

That left Hyo in there with Jason Lee. The man who inserted himself into the match to protect Jacky Kamei had done just that, but now he was at risk of losing it all. It all hit me at this moment, the growth of Dragongate’s Panther. I always saw potential in Hyo. I likened his earliest days in the company to that of a pre-CIMA, Shiima Nobunaga. He had the same agility and a similar build. Unfortunately for Hyo, he was one of the five graduates in what has turned into the most competitive Dragongate Dojo Class in history. Ben-K, Shun Skywalker, and Yuki Yoshioka developed boldly and quickly, leaving the late-bloomer in the dust. 

He became a vital part of the company when he turned heel in 2019. In R.E.D., he was primarily a loss post, but he was shit stirrer. He became a mouthpiece to create big matches with big stakes. The infamous Final Gate 2020 Losing Unit Disbands match wouldn’t have happened without him. His time in R.E.D. felt like an unbridled joyride. He was getting attention – real, actual attention – for the first time in his career. It seemed like each time he cut a promo, something bigger and more destructive than the time before would occur. 

By the time R.E.D. turned to Z-Brats, Hyo took an elevated place within the unit. He won his first singles title and for a brief period, it looked like he and SB KENTo were going to be a dynamic pair that the rest of Dragongate was going to have to deal with for a long time. Alas, decisions were made. 

In the year-and-a-half that Hyo spent representing Z-Brats, we saw him mature. He became more and more integral into the daily fabric of Dragongate. His match quality improved. His look got better. Everything about his game was improving to a point that by the time he decided to link up with Luis Mante and turn his back on Z-Brats, he hit the ground running. 

We saw this man mature before our eyes. He was no longer burning rubber without thinking of the consequences. Hyo became a thoughtful wrestler and a lovable character. His time in Big Hug has seen him become one of the most beloved wrestlers on the entire roster. For the final few months of 2023, he was the beating heart of the promotion. Everything that mattered, mattered because it involved him. 

His effort against Jason Lee was a valiant effort, but it was doomed from the beginning. The longer the beatdown went, the more Kamei got emotional on the outside. Grief fell over him as he realized Hyo’s inevitable fate was something he was going to be responsible for. As Lee beat Hyo with chairs and Kamei whimpered on the outside, this match entered a very special, emotional zone. 

In order to know what’s good, you have to understand what’s bad. There’s not a bigger plague on this Earth than people who force positivity for the sake of positivity, which includes those who don’t have the guts to properly analyze what art unfolds in front of them. Perhaps part of the reason that I am so perturbed by the winning side in the American wrestling landscape is that they are routinely praised for things that I know are bad. Objectively, they are bad. They, however, speak to a large demographic of people that don’t know it’s bad. I truly, deep down, in my heart of hearts, believe that what they are doing is bad. Forget the stomach-turning morale issues that anyone should be faced with when giving money to those vile cretins, but I genuinely believe that the “art” that they produce, for lack of a better term, sucks. It’s for a lesser kind. It’s for dummies. It’s for people who I do not want to be associated with. If Dragongate didn’t exist, I still wouldn’t be a fan of what they do, but Dragongate does exist, and it is in these moments, when Kamei is sobbing as Lee is climbing to the top of the cage, that proves how inferior most other forms of wrestling are. 

I’ve watched Hyo and Luis Mante try to recruit Jacky “Funky” Kamei into their group for six months now. At no point did I have an idea of where things were going. I thought it would be awkward for Kamei to leave Vibes, but I also thought it would be awkward for Kamei to not end up in Big Hug, given how committed they were to recruiting him. 

It was here when everything fell into place. Lee escaped the cage after a series of brutal, chair-driven attacks. Hyo was covered in powder (thrown by ISHIN), sweat, and shame as he came to the realization that he would be forced to have his head shaved by the other participants in the match. 

Skywalker and Lee took glee in chopping off locks of Hyo’s hair, but they took more glee in forcing Kzy and Kamei to do the same. Watching Kamei cut Hyo’s hair was one of the most emotional things in the history of this promotion. It is up there with Naoki Tanizaki winning the Brave Gate belt in front of his kid, Uhaa Nation’s tearful goodbye, and K-Ness’ retirement. 

Silence can be a dangerous thing in wrestling, but there is a certain amount of comfort I get when silence falls over a Dragongate crowd. It is a thing unique to this company, unique to their stories, that makes certain moments all the more uncomfortable. The only sounds coming from the crowd as Kamei was chopping off some of Hyo’s hair were that of stifled sniffles from an audience that was watching the public humiliation of the Open the Brave Gate Champion. As one person who attended the show told me in a Twitter DM, 

The match itself was 37 minutes with the post-match easily adding another 15 or so. When you combine it all together, it’s so clearly one of the most emotional things to take place within the confines of a wrestling ring. The tears shed by all, the gravitas of the haircut, and the ending, with Kzy encouraging Kamei leave Vibes to team with Big Hug was all perfectly executed. The emotion displayed was earned. Nothing about it felt contrived. It was all, for lack of a better term, beautiful. 

Kamei began to leave the ring with Big Hug, but before the show came to a close, Kzy called him back in the ring to do one final Natural Vibes dance. It was perfect. ****1/4 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

You are doing a disservice to yourself as a wrestling fan if you do not watch the main event. It was a spectacle, a genuine display of “storytelling” that far exceeded what we usually see from the rest of the wrestling world. Dragongate can now charge forward with Hyo, Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Jason Lee, and Shun Skywalker at the helm. If it wasn’t obvious before this show, it is abundantly clear that now Dragongate is in good hands. A full thumbs up for Dead or Alive. 

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