DRAGONGATE
HOPEFUL GATE
MAY 9, 2024
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

Big Hug began the show with a promo announcing again that Jacky “Funky” Kamei was in their group, and that going forward, he would be dropping the “Funky” from his name. 

HYO & LUIS MANTE DEF. MADOKA KIKUTA & RYOYA TANAKA 

In between finishing off my Dead or Alive review and writing this one, Dragongate sadly announced that two youngsters, Kaito Nagano and TN Revolucion, would be retiring effective immediately. Both men were a part of the 2022 DG Dojo Class, alongside Mochizuki Junior (excursion) and Yoshiki Kato (injured, but active on social media). The news about TN, in particular, came as a shock, because in the one month that he wrestled for Dragognate, he was pushed as hard as any rookie, ever. He headlined Korakuen Hall in his debut match, won the match, and then looked at YAMATO and then-Dream Gate Champion Madoka Kikuta and said that he thought the competition in Dragongate would be much better. Two weeks later, he hurt himself on a stomp and was never seen again. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s life. 

This is all relevant as our opening match saw Ryoya Tanaka, the sole graduate of the DG Dojo Class of 2023, look like a world-beater. He debuted at the end of May 2023 and in this match, he went nose-to-nose with both the Brave and Dream Gate Champions and looked like sooner rather than later, those titles would be his. 

It will be interesting to see what happens with D’Courage this month. With Dragon Dia in NJPW’s BOSJ and Yuki Yoshioka still on the shelf, Kikuta and Tanaka will become a more regular tag team. If this match was any indication, that’s a good use of their time. This was the type of hard-hitting, fast-paced opener that is always welcome in this promotion. 

A Samson Driver from Hyo put Tanaka away just before the 9 minute mark. ***1/4 

DON FUJII, TAKASHI YOSHIDA, & TORU OWASHI DEF. DAIKI YANAGIUCHI, & RYU FUDA 

The good: Daiki Yamaguchi. Everything he does continues to look really good. I wish Dragongate would put him in a unit, not because he needs to win a bunch of matches, but because he needs to be in different environments. I can’t imagine he can get much better at doing the “touch football” Korakuen match. He’s been doing that for a year and he’s routinely the highlight of it. If anything, he needs to get into a unit (let’s use Natural Vibes as an example), work a bunch of fast-paced opening tag matches, use his tope suicida as a signature move in every match, and then lose. That’s what Shun Skywalker spent his entire 2017 doing (swap out the tope for a moonsault to the floor) and things worked out well for him. 

The bad: This felt like a lot of Punch in a little amount of time. He wasn’t bad, really, it was just a lot of Punch in a match where I wanted to see Fuda and Yanagiuchi more. 

Owashi ended things with a chokeslam on Yanagiuchi. **3/4 

GIANNI VALLETTA & JASON LEE DEF. KENICHIRO ARAI & YASUSHI KANDA 

Dragongate was forced to right some wrongs with Gianni Valletta in this match. 

After an uncharacteristic clunker with Luis Mante at Dead or Alive, Valletta came into this match more pissed off than ever before. His entrance was longer than it usually was. He not only went through the main bleachers in Korakuen, but he went through the smaller set of bleachers on the side, as well. The four gren boys who have been victims of Valletta’s abuse for months now did everything they could to stop him from attacking…everything…yet they were unable to stop his rampage. 

Araken and Kanda, who were doing an unexpected Deep Drunkers tribute in this match, were merely fodder to get thrown around by the two members of Z-Brats. I particularly enjoyed when Kanda tried to run through his signature moves and Valletta no-sold all of them, including the John Woo. That was awesome. Kanda fell victim to the King Kong Knee Drop to put this match to an end shortly after it began. **1/2 

After the match, Valletta attempted to murder the green boys again, but this time, they fought back. He still got the upperhand, but it was the first time that any of them had put up a fight against him. After slaughtering the youngsters, Minorita made a surprise return to the ring and attempted to try to beat down the big man. He hasn’t wrestled since injuring his leg in August. He also looks like he ate the Minorita from August. 

Minorita challenged Valletta to a singles match, which is when GM Ryo Saito stepped in and informed Minorita that Valletta would soon be going home, but that they could do the match when he returned to Japan. 

DRAGON DIA BEST OF THE SUPER JUNIORS 31 SEND-OFF MATCH
BXB HULK, DRAGON DIA, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. DRAGON KID, GENKI HORIGUCHI, NARUKI DOI, & SHUJI KONDO 

This past week on Open the Voice Gate, I referenced the video floating around on social media that shows a giddy Ryo Saito reacting to Dragon Dia’s BOSJ announcement on an iPad backstage. It’s a small thing, but it feels so Dragongate. It’s why people who work within Dragongate constantly use the word “family”. No other company has the interpersonal relationships that DG has. The feel-good emotion of Saito reacting to Dia’s inclusion in BOSJ was then parlayed into this match, where Dia teamed with members of the roster who have also competed in the most prestigious junior heavyweight tournament in wrestling. He was backed by Mochizuki (1999), Ultimo (2004), and Hulk (2007). Other DG alumni who have participated in this tournament include YAMATO (2009), PAC (2012), and Ricochet (2014, winner). 

At no point did this match ever accelerate to any sort of great rate, but the work was consistently strong the entire time. They did a great job of making Dia look like a credible threat that could represent DG nicely throughout BOSJ. 

It should also be noted that Ultimo worked harder than he usually does. He had an excellent hot tag in this match. 

Dia pinned Horiguchi with his new Modified Driver finisher. ***

KZY DEF. JACKY KAMEI 

Dragongate does this every so often. At the end of 2018, after years of multi-man tags and a brief tag run with Masaaki Mochizuki, Shun Skywalker began working a bunch of singles matches. These matches were not short sprints. They were physical, drawn-out bouts that tested Skywalker’s ability. He became a better wrestler instantly by being put in those situations, and by the time the 2019 Rookie Ranking Tournament came around, Skywalker was clearly a head above the rest of his peers. In 2020, right after the pandemic pause, Kota Minoura was put in a similar situation.Both of those men were dramatically elevated as a result of simply working singles matches. 

Jacky Kamei is in a different spot than either of those men. 2024 Kamei is aggressively more popular than 2018 Skywalker or 2020 Minoura were, but this match felt like the same thing that both of those men went through in years prior. Of the 483 career matches Kamei had had up to this point, only 43 of them were singles matches and only 24 of those were on “broadcasted shows”, according to Cagematch. That means that for all of the great Jacky Kamei matches we’ve seen over the years, very few have been in this environment. His best work has been done in tags, not in matches like this. 

Of the 43 singles matches he’s had, only a few of them have been anywhere near this physical. This felt like a tryout for Kamei graduating to “Dream Gate-style matches”. Kzy slowed things down, stretched his former Natural Vibes batteringmate, and punished him with both strikes and submissions. 

Outside of a hot start by Kamei, this match was totally dictated by Kzy’s experience as a top player in Dragongate. Every chop that Kamei registered into the chest of Kzy was met with a strike by the man who founded Natural Vibes. These middleweights threw haymakers like they were world-class heavyweights. Each time Kamei looked to have titled the match in his favor, Kzy would come right back with something to tip the scales in the other direction. From the jump, this was Kzy’s match to win and he wasn’t going to let it slip. 

Kamei nearly stole the match a pair of times with his Jacky Knife flash pin, but Kzy managed to escape each time. He finally was able to grab a hold of the squirely Kamei and lock him in a hold – Kzy’s signature Spider Twist, to be specific, and force the newest member of Big Hug to tap. 

This match was right up my alley. I could see myself being higher on it than most, but I love when a match like this accomplishes so much in such little time. Kamei feels like a more credible main eventer coming out of this match. Kzy got a much-needed win. The chemistry between the two was sublime. The finish was great. This was GREAT. This is how it’s done. Great stuff. ****




SUSUMU YOKOSUKA & YAMATO DEF. BEN-K & KOTA MINOURA 

The saga between Kota Minoura and YAMATO has nearly reached its breaking point. This entire match was built around YAMATO no-selling Kota Minoura, nearly to an uncomfortable degree. A lot of the time, no-selling escalates into something explosive. Think about how many times Genichiro Tenryu ate a strike that didn’t hurt him, but rather perturbed him. What happened with YAMATO and Minoura was not that. Minoura drilled him with shots in the corner, but YAMATO looked bored each time that Minoura landed a blow. It was effective; it certainly made me believe that YAMATO truly detests Minoura, but it was so odd. 

As the match hit the finishing stretch, the action picked up and YAMATO was forced to put on his game face in order to not get beat by the Gold Class leader. He escaped a flash pin attempt and survived long enough in Minoura’s signature crossface that it forced Minoura to hit his breaking point. He attacked the referee, leading to a DQ. NR 

Afterwards, Minoura challenged YAMATO to a hair vs. hair match. That match will take place in Korakuen on June 5. 

OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, STRONG MACHINE J, & U-T DEF. ISHIN, KAI, & SHUN SKYWALKER (C)

Z-Brats failed to make their first successful defense of the Triangle Gate belts after winning them in March. This is the fourth different Natural Vibes trio and fifth overall Vibes reign with these titles since their original incarnation in 2018. 

When Dragongate is good, there is no one better, and right now, Dragongate is really, really good. 

Hot off the heels of losing Jacky Kamei at Dead or Alive, Natural Vibes showed in this match that they weren’t ready to roll over and die. This lineup of bruisers and U-T proved to be the perfect foil for what Z-Brats brought to the table. This wound up being one of the best Dragongate matches of the year. 

Before breaking down what made Vibes click in this match, the work of Z-Brats must be noted. KAI once again fell into the background of this match as his lingering arm injury is preventing him from working at 100%. I fully believe that once Yoshiki Kato returns from injury, KAI will go on the shelf to get his arm worked on. That left a chance for ISHIN to shine bright, which he did. Bulky, heavy-ass, Dick Togo-looking ISHIN has been an utter delight. He’s become a wrecking ball for Z-Brats who has made the most of the aforementioned Kato going on the shelf. At this time last year, I wasn’t sure if ISHIN was going to figure it out in a real way. I thought he was going to turn into more of a Problem Dragon heel than a, say, Naruki Doi heel. I am happy to report that I was wrong. ISHIN feels like he is ready to break out in this year’s King of Gate tournament. He’s a horse waiting to bust out of his stable. I thought what he did here, not only with the much smaller U-T, but with the big, bold Big Boss Shimizu, was sublime. He’s starting to show that he can really do it all. 

I continue to be taken aback by the growth of Strong Machine J on the Natural Vibes side. This is a dangerous comparison to make – and by no means is he on this level – but the fact that he’s able to emote the way that he does underneath his mask reminds me a lot of El Generico. He’s become a natural leader over the last year, as well. I want to follow SMJ into battle. When he gets fired up, I get fired up. He was brilliant from beginning to end. 

The real star of this match, though, was U-T. He was the perfect person to get his ass kicked and then come back from said-Shun Skywalker ass-kicking. Everywhere Skywalker went, U-T was right there, ready to get in his face, get hit, and hit right back. If I had one complaint about this match, it’s that U-T didn’t score the eventual win for his team. Korakuen would’ve come unglued had U-T pinned Skywalker. It’s especially sad because as the match went along, U-T ate a chokeslam from ISHIN with the ensuing pinfall being broken up by SMJ. Later on, Skywalker hit a super-charged BT Bomb on U-T, but Shimizu broke up the pin. Then, finally, KAI landed the Meteor Impact on U-T, and with no one on his team to help break up the pin, U-T kicked out on his own. 

It wasn’t U-T who got the final fall in the end, though, it was Strong Machine J, who planted KAI with his Wrist Clutch Suplex to win the match for his unit. 

Dragongate answered my prayers of making the Triangle Gate belts matter more, at least for one night. It’s amazing what happens in these matches when they aren’t crammed into the middle of a PPV. This was old-school Dragongate: plenty of heat, plenty of moves, and a super satisfying finish. ****1/2 

After the match, just days removed after nearly betraying the unit, Kzy anointed Strong Machine J as the new leader of Natural Vibes. He essentially went through Dragongate Couples Counseling and has come out a better man. I want to run through a wall for SMJ. 

Final Thoughts

Pro Wrestling NOAH continues to be sneaky good and All Japan Pro Wrestling continues to deliver high-end matches, but no promotion in Japan feels as hot as Dragongate does right now. When things work in this promotion, they work to an astonishing degree, and things are working right now. The latter half of this show is worth carving out time for. Thumbs up for Hopeful Gate 2024.

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