T-Hawk vs Naruki Doi
King of Gate 2017 Finals
taped 06/11/2017, aired 06/26/2017
Hakata Starlanes, Fukuoka, Japan
(reviewed 09/16/2017) A recurring theme in DG over the last three, four years has been T-Hawk building up to be a big main eventer, someone to base the promotion around in the coming years. It’s been slow going in some ways, and in others he’s been progressing rapidly. Coming into this match he’d already been the leader of one unit, was the number two guy in the best heel unit in a decade, and was about to walk into his second Kobe World main event in three years. No small list of accomplishments. Yet he still feels like a second rung star behind the Big Five, sitting alongside veterans who debuted before he was in kindergarten and who still regularly main event over him, and so much of that is due to DG not really giving him the ball to run with, instead yanking him around with teases of a long term main event spot before turning right back around to the guys who have been on top for a decade now. At points in this match, especially early on in the establishing grappling or later in the chop sequences, it feels like finally T-Hawk has made it, finally he’s on level with someone like Doi who had a record-setting Dream Gate run, a record-setting Brave Gate run, who is the most decorated tag champ in the promotion’s history. But the rest of this match, as well as the knowledge of what happens at Kobe World, makes me think that no, he’s still not there yet and maybe they’ll never let him be there. The match is a slow-moving affair, anchoring itself with a few “let’s see if you’ve got what it takes, kid” sequences and a lot of leg work, the former being pretty enjoyable and the latter being a terrible choice for a Doi match in Hakata Starlanes. Thankfully, T-Hawk sells it fairly well by Dragon Gate standards and they just have an average main event singles bout. They really tease that Doi is just barely clinging to the match late in the game, with T-Hawk already having kicked out of two Bakatare Sliding Kicks and with VerserK boxing and powdering him, and considering his history with YAMATO and his major role in the new hot unit, it’s not a bad route to take. But it’s sort of a foregone conclusion as they more than likely want a strong heel presence in the Kobe main event and Doi just main evented Final Gate with YAMATO, so all the desperate babyface drama feels pretty hollow. On a physical level, the match is enjoyable. These two match up better than I expected, as when they stick to trading chops, slaps, and leg-based strikes, it’s good stuff. There’s also a nifty reversal where Doi teases the Muscular Bomb and T-Hawk tries to reverse it into the Night Rider. But these elements only go so far when the thematic and emotional core isn’t there and when you’re already deep into a languid, leg work-based main event in, of course, Hakata Starlanes.