Dragon Gate Kotoka Road to Final
February 7 2018
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall for my second Dragon Gate show of 2018. This one lured me in by pitting Dream Gate champ Mochizuki vs. Kzy. I’m intrigued enough to check it out.
Hyo Watanabe & Yuki Yoshioka vs. Over Generation (Mondai Ryu & Kaito Ishida)
This is the ‘dark match’ from the show. It astonishes me how many ‘dark matches’ make tape nowadays. One constant in Dragon Gate quality is that Mondai Ryu will never be any good. Everyone else looks pretty tidy. Ishida is a big prospect but Dragon Gate seem to have this constant stream of guys who are. Ishida picks up the pin in fairly rapid fashion. This was a basic bout for DG. Lots of lesser Dragon Gate-type spots without ever spilling over into something too fantastical.
Final Rating: **
Kagetora, Zachary Wentz & Bandido vs. Genki Horiguchi, Susumu Yokosuka & Jason Lee
Wentz has found it easy to assimilate into the Dragon Gate way of life. He can do the comedy, the flips and all the ridiculous trios stuff.
Bandido is equally at home, working hair spots with Genki. They actually work over Genki’s hair. I like how Dragon Gate welcomes foreigners into their midst and into their style and it seems to go over so effortlessly every time. Bandido brings some genuinely impressive stuff, including a head-stand where he flips into it. Also Wentz inserts a spot where he floats clean over into a cutter. Bandido fills in for Xavier on the standing SSP with mid-air push and they all do a bunch of dives. The finish is out of nowhere with Susumu just pinning Wentz but this was loaded with cool shit.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Big R Shimizu vs. Takashi Yoshida
Big R felt like he was going to be a big star for Dragon Gate but he’s probably not where the company wanted him to be. He’s at a stage of arrested development. Here he is mixing it up with the former Cyber Kong. It’s a battle of two big bruisers. I’d have enjoyed this a lot more a few years ago where Cyber Kong was a fun to watch joke and Big R was up and coming. Now the dynamic is different. They club at each other quite a bit and the big slams genuinely mean something, which is pretty cool. The issue here is that Yoshida has been a joke forever and yet he bullies Big R and pins him with a lariat. As if losing the mask has turned him into a badass veteran. I’m not buying into it.
Final Rating: **1/2
Kotoka, Gamma & K-ness vs. Don Fujii, Yosuke Santa Maria & U-T
Kotoka is retiring soon so he’s, sort of, the focus here. He missed three months with a knee injury in 2017 but the injuries have mounted up so he’s calling it quits. Don Fujii opts to show him absolutely no respect here, which is as it should be. Fujii is one of my favourite guys in Dragon Gate because he’s an asshole and he doesn’t care for all this high flying bullshit everyone else does. He’s 47 years old and he has this permanent look of ‘I’m too old for this shit’ about him. Kotoka in particular is bullied. One last opportunity for a shit-kicking before he’s retired. This is definitely a fun match but Don Fujii is the reason for that. The mixture of his surliness and the relative goofiness of his partners against Kotoka’s interactions. Santa Maria gives Kotoka a smooch and rolls him up for the win. The Santa Maria/Fujii “I’ll hold him, you hit him” stuff had me chuckling.
Final Rating: ***
Punch Tominaga & Ryo Saito vs. Shingo Takagi & Yasushi Kanda
Kanda is the Brave Gate champ and his next challenger is likely to be Punch. Speaking of whom; he attempts his usual ‘hands in pocket’ bullshit so Shingo kills him. If that was the entire match I’d be fine with that.
Instead the story becomes Punch trying to overcome Kanda. Punch and Saito have some fun double teams but as soon as Shingo is in there beating on him, it feels like the match is on borrowed time. This is why they switch to Punch going after Kanda in particular and he gets a fluke roll up pin for the win.
Final Rating: *3/4
Tribe Vanguard (YAMATO, BxB Hulk & Flamita) vs. MaxiMuM (Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino & Ben-K) vs. ANTIAS (T-Hawk, El Lindaman & Eita)
Jesus, would you look at the talent in this thing? It’s under elimination rules so there will be two falls.
This is the kind of match that Dragon Gate have always excelled at. Throwing together a bunch of great wrestlers and letting them go at high speed. Most of the promotions heavy-hitters are involved here, and most of them have been wrestling each other for years so the familiarity is there. For some reason YAMATO vs. Lindaman is one of the most fascinating duels. YAMATO unloads on the poor goofy little bastard. I dig when a more established guy beats the fuck out of a relative newcomer. Teach him the business! Yoshino and Flamita have some laughs too and there’s nothing like the sight of a wrestler, amused by the actions of a colleague, beaming from ear to ear. When the match hits a higher gear it’s bloody brilliant. Nobody does the one-in/one-out spot/spot/spot match like Dragon Gate. Not even CMLL, where the style came from. BxB Hulk has a few clunky spots but otherwise it’s balls to the wall. Ben-K spears Hulk out of the match, which feels like a pretty big deal.
Ben-K gets tripled teamed into oblivion soon after his pinfall, having had his moment in the sun. Eita does all the hard work with Yoshino and then T-Hawk strolls in and hits one knee strike for the pin. Is it me or did T-Hawk do next to nothing in this match? I can only assume that was deliberate. Anyway, this was a really fun trios match with lots of underlying storylines between the team members. If I could accurately remember what teams everyone has been on in the past I might have taken more from the match.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Open the Dream Gate Championship
Masaaki Mochizuki (c) vs. Kzy
Kzy challenging for the Dream Gate. What an age we live in. I remember being shocked when he won Brave Gate in 2015 and that felt like a huge fluke but he’s really come along as a wrestler since.
Dragon Gate has done a stellar job of elevating him and putting him in this spot, where people legitimately believe he can win. Two wins over Mochizuki in the build up attests to his abilities. However Mochizuki is in no mood to take any shit from Kzy here and goes after him from the opening bell. It’s insane that Mochizuki is 48 years old and can still compete at this level. Across the ring from him is a guy who’s never been seen as a big star but keeps fighting to overcome his natural obstacles in life to get the win he desperately wants. Both men are basically babyfaces but as Mochizuki punishes Kzy it becomes apparent the crowd want Kzy to actually win. To overcome this obstacle and break through the glass ceiling. It’s telling how the crowd react to him getting moves in and threatening the status quo. Fans are fickle but a) they usually stick by their absolute favourites and b) change is usually most welcome. This match is a collision of those two concepts. The crowd are keen on Mochizuki’s offence but are even happier when Kzy cuts him off. This run does feel like the ‘one last’ run for Mochizuki so maybe ending it early would be a mistake but you should also strike while the iron is hot. The hottest moments in this match come from Kzy almost winning. The reaction to the Skyade Schoolboy is enormous. In the latter stages it becomes apparent that Kzy is tiring, not accustomed to lengthy singles matches, and it gets a wee bit sloppy until Mochizuki catches Kzy in a flash pin. The very tactic that Kzy had employed!
Final Rating: ****
Mochizuki continues to have a fine run with the Dream Gate belt and this show featured a tremendous main event. The veteran champion vs. the young upstart. It’s perhaps the first step on a longer journey with Kzy swearing he wants to step up. To the point where he left Tribe Vanguard because he didn’t want to stand with YAMATO and BxB Hulk anymore. He wanted to fight them. Big show for Dragon Gate, with Kzy’s development front and centre. If they shake up their booking during 2018 they could become a regular haunt for me again.