A Look Back at Toryumon Japan: Climbing up the Dragon Gate

Toryumon was a professional wrestling promotion that operated in Japan until 2004 and in Mexico, where it is known as Toryumon Mexico. The name Toryumon is said to mean Fighting Dragon Gate or more literally climbing up dragon gate. The primary function of these promotions was to give students of Yoshihiro Asai, better known as Ultimo Dragon, who had graduated from his Gym an opportunity to gain their initial in-ring debuts and a place for them to develop and mature in front of a live audience.

The Ultimo Dragon Gym itself was based in Naucalpan, Mexico, set up by Ultimo Dragon during his tenure in WCW. He wanted to give fellow Japanese trainees the chance to learn the Mexican lucha libre that he had the opportunity to learn. Toryumon Japan would be the name for the first 4 terms of graduating talent, more details on that later.

The first Toryumon promoted show was in Naucalpan, Mexico, with co-promotion by Mexico’s International Wrestling Revolution Group. Toryumon Japan and IWRG would co-promote shows in Japan until 2001, with Toryumon Japan talent winning the IWRG championships on a number of occasions.

The in-ring style of Toryumon would feature a mix of Mexican lucha libre, Japanese Puroresu and the ‘sports entertainment’ style that Ultimo Dragon saw while working with WCW.

Dragon Gate Network – Toryumon Japan 31/01/1999 & 03/02/1999

Clear emphasis on high-flying, aerial movements in Genki Horiguchi vs Yasushi Kanda. Very much influenced by training in Mexico and under Ultimo. The control of the match goes back and forth between the two rookies, until Yasushi Kanda gets the win. Genki Horiguchi is a current champion in Dragon Gate, holding the Open the Triangle Gate title with Natural Vibes stablemates, Kzy and Susumu Yokosuka. Yasushi Kanda would retire early and take up refereeing, but would return to wrestling for Dragon Gate, he’s currently a member of heel unit Antias.

Susumu Mochizuki vs Kenichiro Arai, a much more intense start, very much mixing elements of strong style with locks and lucha that we see now in modern Dragon Gate. You can see the development of the the “Dragon System” here (the targeting of a body part), especially with Susumu Mochizuki (now known as Susumu Mochizuki) targeting Arai’s right arm with locks and stomping on it. Mochizuki was the more dominating of the two, so I was surprised when Arai got the win. Susumu Mochizuki, as mentioned earlier is now, Susumu Yokosuka and a champion with Natural Vibes, he’s also a 2x Open the Dream Gate champion. Kenichiro Arai hasn’t wrestled for Dragon Gate since 2016, currently he mainly performs for Wrestle-1.

Yoshikazu Taru vs Stalker Ichikawa 1999, knowing what Stalker Ichikawa is now, a comedy gimmick, he usually misses simple manoeuvres and any meaningful offensive against his opponents. Yoshikazu Taru is the TARU of the Voodoo Murders group that are in Zero1 and have also been in AJPW. It pretty much starts as expected, Ichikawa shadow boxing and Taru looking perplexed and bemused. Stalker evading the bigger Taru to the amusement of the crowd, with the bigger man getting angry. Stalker Ichikawa nearly gets a pinfall, but Taru gets the win after a Taru Driller. Not really a good match in terms of wrestling as Stalker Ichikawa was probably still green at the time.

The show quickly cuts from the Korakuen to Kobe Sambo Hall and Yoshikazu Taru is in a painful looking armbar that’s being applied by Takashi Okamura. Taru appears isolated from a partner as there is no sign of them on the apron. Keichii Kono is tagged in. While Kono & and future Dragon Gate president Takashi Okamura look to be in control, at times they do look a bit new, their tagging isn’t crisp and some of their movements look a bit robotic. It was very messy at the end as there was a lot of interference from Crazy MAX which helped Taru get the win, his partner was Masaaki Mochizuki, the as of now, former Open the Dream Gate champion who was defeated by Masato Yoshino on the 10th of June for the title.

The main event is back at Korakuen Hall for a trios match seeing Crazy MAX (Judo Suwa, Shiima Nobunaga & Sumo Fuji) take on Dragon Kid, Magnum TOKYO & Super Nova in an elimination match. Shiima Nobunaga became CIMA, who is a 12x Open the Triangle Gate champion, 5x Open the Twin Gate champion and 3x Open the Dream Gate champion, he is now in OWE in China. Sumo Fuji is now Don Fuji and still appearing for Dragon Gate and Judo Suwa went onto become SUWA and wrestled primarily for Noah, only appearing for Dragon Gate a handful of times. Dragon Kid is the current Open the Brave Gate champion, the secondary singles title in Dragon Gate. Super Nova, I believe is Saito who became Super Shisa. Magnum Tokyo had wrestled in WCW in between stints with Toryumon and would go on to work for Dragon Gate until 2006. This is the best match on this archival show of Toryumon Japan on the Dragon Gate Network, CIMA and Dragon Kid, in my opinion, particularly shine. The Crazy MAX team lost in a match that Dave Meltzer gave 4 stars, with Magnum Tokyo pinning a young CIMA to get the last elimination and win for his team. CIMA would be built strongly in Toryumon Japan and in the early years of Dragon Gate.

Overall, it’s a decent show for a debuting promotion, granted it shows two days as one, with one match heavily cut perhaps (the tag match with TARU). As a Dragon Gate fan who hasn’t seen the early career of the likes of CIMA and Susumu Yokosuka, it’s great seeing how far they’ve come along.

Sadly, Toryumon Japan would end in 2004 after Ultimo Dragon left and would take the naming rights with him. Dragon Gate was born when officials and wrestlers wanted to continue on the traditions of Toryumon Japan, Dragon Gate itself is a reference to the old name.

It’s clear that Dragon Gate is proud of its association with Toryumon Japan and former teacher, Ultimo Dragon.

Dragon Gate, with the arrival of its streaming service, and the transitioning period it’s going through with its corporate restructuring due to the departure of CIMA and others to OWE in China, has its eyes on its future, forever climbing up the Dragon Gate.

By Luke Hickey

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