DRAGONGATE
RAINBOW GATE
JUNE 4, 2024
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

The show began with Dragon Kid, Kagetora, Naruki Doi, Susumu Yokosuka, & YAMATO cutting a promo in the ring. The fivesome noted that henceforth, they’ll be known as PARADOX. The unit, which follows a long lineage of veteran-themed units in the history of the company, will not have matching gear, although it does appear that they’ll be using red as a keynote color going forward. 

MADOKA KIKUTA DEF. LA ESTRELLA 

Estrella, who has been wrestling in North America as a representative of Dragongate for the last two years, returned on June 2nd as an entrant in the traditional Kobe Sanbo Hall-based Dragon Scramble Battle Royal. Estrella, to the surprise of many, ended up winning that match. 

Here’s the thing with Estrella: he’s ultimately a non-factor to the promotion. He’s a little bit like Darko Miličić with the Detroit Pistons of the early 2000’s. If Estrella was Dragongate’s only recent dojo export, the promotion would be in deep trouble. The 2004 Pistons were loaded with young, exciting talent, meaning that Miličić being a bust didn’t end up mattering. The same is true for Estrella. Dragongate has produced ISHIN, Mochizuki Junior, and Ryoya Tanaka, just to name a few, in the years that have passed since Estrella’s debut. They want Estrella to be good, but nothing about his performance is going to change the day-to-day of the promotion at this point. 

I always like to mention that prior to Estrella’s debut (a debut and gimmick that was designed by Ultimo Dragon), Estrella was a high-level grappler. People within the company were stunned when this kid was handed a “high-flyer” gimmick. If this match was any indication, it seems like this time around, they’re going to let Estrella play with a more grappling-intensive approach to see if he can garner any momentum. I was taken aback by some of the power moves that he threw in the direction of Madoka Kikuta. In particular, I liked the big backbreaker that he connected with. 

Sadly, even with Estrella’s new approach, Kikuta was too dominated. He cleaned the masked man’s clock with a hip attack and then planted him with the discus lariat for the win. **3/4 

EL CUCUY, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. DON FUJII, SHUJI KONDO, & TORU OWASHI 

The jury is still out on El Cucuy, but man, did I enjoy the visual of him, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Ultimo Dragon standing next to one another. It had the energy of a WAR six-man tag team. Given that Mocchy and Ultimo were in this match, it could’ve quite literally been a WAR six-man tag team. 

Cucuy is a humongous luchador who comes over by way of the California-based Pro Wrestling Revolution, had spent the last month working in MARVELOUS before making his DG debut in Korakuen Hall. There’s something inherently charming about Cucuy that makes me want to see more. We might hit a point where Cucuy is more “fun” than “good” and in Dragongate, that charm tends to wear off fast because nearly everyone on the roster is at least “good”, but for right now, I’m into it. 

In the opening moments of the match, Cucuy and Don Fujii traded offense, leading to Cucuy attempting a running senton on Fujii. The wily veteran moved out of the way, sending Cucuy back-first into the mat, which caused the ring to break. This issue was only made worse when later on, Cucuy attempted a moonsault from the top rope but was sent crashing into the mat again when Shuji Kondo moved out of the way. 

A broken ring is objectively the funniest thing that could’ve happened in Cucuy’s debut. 

His side ended up picking up the win, as Mochizuki submitted his ex-partner Fujii with the Bukogatame, a move that he hasn’t won a match with in over 20 years. 

This was an enjoyable car crash. ***

MOCHIZUKI JUNIOR RETURN MATCH
MOCHIZUKI JUNIOR DEF. YASUSHI KANDA 

After a four month excursion to the UK, Dragongate’s first second-generation wrestler is back home. With his return, Junior did something that perhaps no other Japanese wrestler in history has done: he returned from a UK excursion and didn’t get fat. 

With new hair, new gear, and a tremendous body, the Tokyo native reminded everyone in attendance why he’s thought of so highly by those in the know and his peers. While I’m a huge fan of the likes of Ryohei Oiwa, Kosei Fujita, and Yu Owada, I personally believe Junior has the highest upside within his respective promotion. He’s a monster. He’s so good at everything and he’s only 22. His strikes all look crisp, his offense is strung together perfectly, and his face is built for expression. He’s not only going to be a star, he’s going to be a big star and it’s going to happen sooner than people realize. In the two years since his debut, I’ve sent numerous notes to pundits with more sway and influence than me to try to get them aboard the Mochizuki Junior hype train before he’s carrying around the Dream Gate belt. I fear my notes have fallen on deaf ears. 

The Kanda match was not a great match, but it established Junior as a threat. It was the kind of no BS return match that we’ll look back on in six months as the start of something big. I expect Junior to be a feared and successful competitor in King of Gate and beyond. By this time next year, he could be headlining shows and challenging for the Dream Gate belt. 

He won after planting his former unit mate with a Modified Driver. ***1/4 

KAGETORA, NARUKI DOI, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & YAMATO DEF. BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, KZY, STRONG MACHINE J, & U-T 

The first official match for PARADOX turned out to be a success. The unit rolled into Korakuen, destroyed Natural Vibes, and left without screwing around. Even though I think it’s inherently dumb that the unit isn’t going to have matching gear and seemingly wants to forgo any sort of memorable branding, I am all for this unit because it keeps Naruki Doi around and it keeps him busy. When Doi went freelance towards the end of 2022, I was afraid that he would slowly fade away from Dragongate (like Eita) or go to GLEAT (a fate worse than death). Doi, instead, has been reinvigorated and has been working his ass off for the promotion in 2024. I love that he’s once again been woven into the fabric of the promotion. I loved the way he went after U-T in this match. I have about a dozen King of Gate wishlist matches for this year, and Doi vs. U-T is absolutely on the list. 

I’m still struggling with this idea that this is a new era for Natural Vibes. I can’t tell if Strong Machine J “taking over” as the leader of the unit was meant to mean nothing from the jump, or if they’re failing to execute the idea and thus it’s meaning nothing. It’s hard to take SMJ seriously as the leader when they still do a dance centered around Kzy, Kzy recruited Flamita into Natural Vibes, and Kzy made a hot tag in this match after the long U-T beatdown. It’s not bad that it feels like Kzy’s unit still, because Kzy was very good at leading Natural Vibes, but I do feel like I’m missing something. 

The finishing stretch was super hot with Kzy and YAMATO going at it. Their chemistry remains some of the best in the entire promotion. YAMATO ultimately feels hot, and like he could win the belt at this year’s Kobe World. He planted Kzy with a Galleria to keep up his momentum. ***1/2 

MINORITA RETURN MATCH
HYO & JACKY KAMEI DEF. KOTA MINOURA & MINORITA 

Minorita was in the midst of a killer run last August when he ruptured his ACL and went on the shelf. He was forced to vacate his Triangle Gate belt and step away from a ring that had treated him incredibly well since his character changed from Takumi Hayakawa to Minorita. 

The bulk of his return match was spent testing his injured knee. He was forced to hit the ropes constantly as Big Hug goaded him into multiple chase-downs and fast-paced spots with the promotion’s two standout bantamweight stars. The good news for Dragongate is that outside of the built-in ring rust that would be there for anyone that missed this amount of time, Minorita looked like he’d be able to return to the greatness that he once wrestled at with ease. I was left feeling very encouraged about Minorita’s future after this match was over. 

I was not, however, encouraged by the look of Jacky Kamei. In-ring, he’s still one of the best wrestlers in the world and should be mentioned alongside the likes of Kaito Kiyomiya and Shun Skywalker, a tier below Bryan Danielson and Will Ospreay, but his Big Hug gear that he debuted on this show sucks. The haircut is fine, but the oversized overalls did him no favors. He took a step back in terms of coolness and it’s crucial that the company figure out a way to fix his gear immediately. He can’t go into World with ill-fitting gear. It distracted me the entire match. 

Minorita really turned it on down the stretch as Hyo and Kamei upped the intensity. It was great seeing Minorita land a Deadlift German on Hyo, but it wasn’t enough to put the Brave Gate Champion away. Nothing was, in fact. Minorita fell in his return by way of Hyo and his Samson Driver finish. ***1/4 




INTERNATIONAL DREAM EIGHT-MAN TAG TEAM MATCH
DRAGON DIA, DRAGON KID, FLAMITA, & NINJA MACK DEF. ISHIN, JASON LEE, KAI, & SHUN SKYWALKER 

Something I’ve come to love about Dragongate over the last five years is the ability they possess to do “special feature” matches – matches that are loosely in canon, but represent something larger within the professional wrestling world. I would point to Ultimo Dragon’s debut with the promotion as the best example of this, with Dragon Dia’s BOSJ sendoff last month being the most recent example of this. They have developed a way to pay tribute to the past while not having it be drenched in nostalgia. It’s refreshing and it’s something that only them and AEW seem to do. 

This didn’t have the emotional weight of Ultimo Dragon’s debut or in the case of AEW, Sting’s retirement, but God it was a lot of fun. Everyone played their part perfectly. 

A lot of eyes were on Ninja Mack, who made his first appearance in Dragongate since Gate of Origin 2022 where he teamed with Dragon Kid in a tag match against Diamante & Shun Skywalker. Mack did not impress me at all in that match. He is the textbook definition of “hit or miss” with me, and that match was a major miss. The good news is that he couldn’t have been a bigger hit in this match. He reminds me of young Shun Skywalker, circa 2017. Skywalker spent that year primarily wrestling in multi-man tags with his contemporaries Hyo and Yuki Yoshioka. Those two would do a lot of the difficult work in those tags while Skywalker would spend the entire match building to and then eventually landing a big moonsault to the floor. If Skywalker nailed his big dives, the match would be a good match. If he botched, which he did often in those days, the match would leave a bad taste in your mouth. The same goes for Ninja Mack. He happened to nail everything in this match – the Ninja Bomb, the Ninja Special, and a variety of seemingly unnamed, asinine acrobatic moves that only he could do; everything he did was perfect. 

I can’t help but feel like in a prior era of the promotion, Mack would’ve been a highly sought after import for Dragongate. While he isn’t the natural fit that NOAH’s Alejandro is, this match made me intrigued by what else Mack could accomplish within Dragongate. 

Mack wasn’t the only masked man that crushed it in this match, though. I don’t know what’s gotten into Flamita, but he is back and he’s back in a really big way. His return to Dragongate at the end of May couldn’t have gone better. He fits like a glove in Natural Vibes and he seemingly fits like a glove against everyone on the roster. Flamita is wrestling with speed and precision that I haven’t seen him wrestle with in nearly a decade at this point. He’s well aware that he has a golden opportunity to be back with DG and he’s making the most of it. 

The discourse over the last six years of this promotion’s history has been largely dominated by doomsdayers who have reacted harshly to every departure that the company has been hit with. In the long run, Dragongate got the upperhand on CIMA and Stronghearts. Shingo Takagi needed to move on and his post-DG run has been immaculate. Names like Kaito Ishida and Kazma Sakamoto have failed to capture any of the magic that was there in their DG run. It’s apparent that the promotion has been more than okay when faced with all of these departures, but it’s undoubtedly a nice feeling that Dragongate has been able to restore a small piece of their history with Flamita coming back into the fold. Had he remained in GLEAT, matches like his classic vs. Susumu Yokosuka in 2014 would spiral away into the void. He’s back, he feels like family, and he’s wrestling at possibly the highest level of his career. His chemistry with Shun Skywalker made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. That’s the kind of stuff that I want more and more of. 

In the end, Flamita drilled ISHIN with a superkick and then a Flam Fly for the win to keep the momentum rolling before his Brave Gate match against Hyo. ****

OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
BEN-K DEF. LUIS MANTE (c)

Luis Mante failed to make his fourth successful defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship in this bout. Ben-K now joins the likes of CIMA, Masaaki Mochizuki, Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi, Shun Skywalker, Susumu Yokosuka, and YAMATO as multi-time Dream Gate Champions. 

For Luis Mante, it was all about the chase, and Dragongate unfortunately ended his chase long before it was time to end it. When Mante lost his mask at last year’s Kobe World, many speculated that he would chase the Dream Gate belt into the winter and through the spring before finally winning the belt at this year’s rendition of Kobe World. Instead, Dragongate put together a sloppy, illogical three-way that had a sloppy, illogical finish. Mante had two great defenses during his time as champion with his first defense vs. Shun Skywalker (who he should’ve beat to win the title) and his second against Susumu Yokosuka, but Mante felt like second fiddle in his own unit next to Hyo and second tier in this company compared to the likes of Skywalker, Kamei, and Jason Lee. Mante was a fine Dream Gate Champion. That’s the apt word. He was “fine”. Historically, it was better than Naruki Doi’s first reign or Jushin Thunder Liger’s time with the belt, but nowhere near what fellow foreigner PAC did during his time as Dream Gate Champion. 

Mante worked his ass off in this match and did what he could to help foster in what could wind up being a historically significant run, as Ben will now go onto headline the 25th Kobe World. He drilled Ben with a barrage of huge head-drops that Ben came away from each move looking stronger and more unstoppable. He also sold his ass off for the new champion, notably taking a huge bump on the final spear that eventually won Ben the gold. 

The story of Ben-K is seemingly different based on who you ask. Some look at him still as the muscle-head freak who turned heads as a young boy and rose up the ranks of Dragongate faster than nearly anyone else in history. Others consider him to be a failure given his odd reign with the Dream Gate belt in 2019 and his subsequent start/stop pushes. I’m not sure there’s a right way to define Ben’s career as he enters his eighth year. He’s a confusing wrestler who has lived a confusing life. Jae did a brilliant job explaining how Ben’s behavior outside of the ring had affected his career inside the ring, and how getting his life together led him to being in this match. 

It can’t be overstated how different this version of Ben-K is compared to the guy who won the title in 2019. Anyone with a more-than-basic understanding of Dragongate will tell you just how important the show closing promo is and what that means to the promotion, and when Ben first won this belt, he was doing a gimmick in which he only said his name because he couldn’t cut promos. In the five years since, he’s become a charisma machine who quite frankly can’t stop cutting promos. The fact that he was able to end this show with a coherent and exciting go-home promo shows incredible growth compared to where he was at when he ended PAC’s reign of terror. 

Ultimately, the title change feels like the right move. While I still have an issue with anyone not named Shun Skywalker holding the title (because all main event programs seem to run through Skywalker), Ben is a fitting champion who felt like a hot commodity through the month of May and into this title challenge. Mante had peaked as a champion and would’ve been a notable risk to headline World. 

Ben is now a grown up and he’s doing grown up things. 2019 saw Ben-K playing champion, 2024, if he’s given the opportunity, could be where Ben finally acts like a champion. ***3/4 

Final Thoughts

I’m never going to tell you not to watch a show with a great match and a big title change. While most of their Korakuen outings this year have been stronger than this one was, this was still a worthwhile show that could pave the way for a huge summer.

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