YAMATO (c) vs Masaaki Mochizuki
Open the Dream Gate Championship
Ota Ward Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 09/18/2017) Leading into this, these two have had eight singles match against each other. Each have won four and lost four of those matches. Each of them has defended the Dream Gate title against each other successfully once. They haven’t faced off in a singles match since Kobe World 2013, in which YAMATO came out victorious in a pretty middling no disqualification match. At this point, YAMATO is over a year into his record-tying fourth Dream Gate reign. Mochizuki hasn’t held the belt in five years (December 2011), hasn’t challenged for it in two years (November 2015), and has hinted that this might be his last shot at the title ever.
Mochizuki’s well known for being the best striker in Dragon Gate, among the best in the professional wrestling world, really. Of everyone on the roster, he’s got the most shoot style experience, having trained under Koji Kitao and having spent a considerable time in BattlARTS before joining Toryumon. Likewise, YAMATO actually was a fighter in Pancrase before joining the Dragon Gate Dojo, though mostly what this translates to in his matches is the occasional boring grappling sequence. On paper, these two guys who aren’t the best at doing mat wrestling for extended periods of time (with one being actively bad at it more often than not) doing dueling leg work for around 20 minutes in a Dragon Gate main event singles match sounds dire. In actuality, it comes out pretty ok. From the opening moments of the match, YAMATO is reaching for Mochizuki’s legs and striking at his legs and midsection, knowing that the veteran has deadly firepower on his feet. Before long, he baits Mochizuki into a strike exchange and stands toe to toe with him for a bit before slapping on ankle locks and knee bars. Mochizuki sees it coming and blasts down YAMATO before he can make any considerable progress in that field and returns the favor, going after YAMATO’s knee and ankle himself. This continues, as I said, for the better part of 20 minutes, taking up the brunt of this 24 minute match. It’s certainly not the most thrilling thing in the world, but they keep it pretty heated throughout, and Mochizuki’s great transitions that pop up every few minutes or so help to carry the weight. The transition into the finishing stretch, though, is pretty awkward, with YAMATO hitting a weird-looking Gallaria out of nowhere and Mochizuki kicking his way free of the subsequent pinfall. It doesn’t get nearly the reaction from Ota City that it’s meant to get, which is a major theme here throughout this match and the matches that preceded it. Despite showing lots of fire, Mochizuki’s fading after the first Gallaria and looks near death after a pair of great, gruesome Go to Hospitals from YAMATO. Nothing’s hitting quite as hard as these men would like due to the lengthy leg work, so while it’s enough to knock each other loopy, it’s not enough to put anyone away. Mochizuki survives a second Gallaria and is able to reverse a third into a Gallaria/Twister hybrid in a neat spot that leads to a strike exchange. YAMATO tries to hang like he did at the beginning but is totally outmatched in this field, and Mochizuki is able to string together a few kicks and cap it off with the Shin Saikyou High Kick.
You wanna know how I know that Mochizuki is way, way, way more over than YAMATO? Ota Ward Gymnasium fucking EXPLODES when he connects with the roundhouse and goes for the pin. YAMATO kicks out but Ota City is immediately chanting for their veteran hero as Don Fujii rushes the ring and NEARLY FISTFIGHTS THE REFEREE. Awesome stuff. They ride this wave and smartly capitalize on it immediately with Mochizuki hitting the Sankakugeri to the Face for the win, getting far and away the biggest pop of the night and maybe the biggest pop of the year in Dragon Gate.
As of yet, this is easily the best Dream Gate match of the year, maybe the best since Shingo/CIMA. Your mileage may vary with the lengthy leg work that runs the gamut for nearly the entire match, but I found it to be adequately compelling and way better than similar sequences in lesser matches in this promotion. And like, YAMATO’s horrid reign coming to an end at the hands of the best or second best singles wrestler in the company, this guy who is routinely awesome and super over and a 20+ year veteran fighting on his last legs, this guy who is barely able to stand after the match long enough to chant along to his theme song with the crowd before collapsing, this guy beating YAMATO feels fucking great. 2016/2017 Dragon Gate has so very, very rarely made me feel this great and it’s a delight to be able to feel this way at the end of a show again.