One name that keeps popping up in more recent great match lists is Shingo Takagi.
Ever since his NJPW debut in 2018, people have been praising him for his wrestling skill. However, it turns out that Takagi was a pretty damn good wrestler for much longer. I’ve seen at least one hidden gem match involving Takagi from 2010 that I think was fantastic. And five years after that (and three years before he burst onto NJPW’s junior heavyweight scene), Takagi had his first WON 5-star match. That’s the one we’re looking at today to see if it still lives up to that praise.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
This is a young vs. old story. Mochizuki is the older veteran and Takagi is the relatively-younger guy wanting to put the veteran out to pasture. Takagi thinks that Mochizuki’s too old for Dragon Gate and wants to break him to elevate his own stock. But Mochizuki won’t take that lying down and will do whatever he can to kick Takagi’s ass (literally, Mochizuki’s a former karateka and dabbled in more shoot-style wrestling before coming to Dragon Gate). But will Mochizuki’s veteran experience win, or will Takagi’s more explosive power put Mochizuki down for the three-count.
This match originally took place on November 1st, 2015.
The bell rings and Mochizuki boots Takagi in a corner right away. Mochizuki hits some stiff kicks and Takagi hits back with running sholderblocks. Mochizuki hits back with a spinkick to the head that sends Takagi to the floor. Mochizuki teases a running dive, stops, jumps onto the apron, kicks Takagi, and hits an Asai moonsault. Blistering start to the match.
Takagi takes his time getting back into the ring and when he does, Mochizuki rushes past the ref to kick Takagi’s head in. he rubs his boot in Takagi’s face and charges for a running facewash but Takagi blocks and catches Mochizuki’s boot. Takagi charges but once again Mochizuki shuts him down with a kick combo. Mochizuki gives Takagi some breathing room (I guess he wants to give Takagi a fair fight, or he’s just cocky) and Takagi takes advantage with a nasty chop. Takagi struggles with his comeback because Mochizuki blocks a chop and then kicks Takagi’s arm. Takagi gets his foot up to block a corner charge but Mochizuki fires back with another stiff kick to Takagi’s arm. Mochizuki lands more kicks and Tagagi tries fighting back but once again Mochizuki overpowers him and hits a snapmare/spine kick combo.
Mochizuki goes after Takagi’s weakened right arm with over-the-shoulder armbreakers. When Takagi tries countering one into a sleeper, Mochizuki throws him off and attempts a cross armbreaker. Takagi avoids it and deadlifts Mochizuki into a powerbomb. He goes for a Backdrop suplex but Mochizuki resists so Takagi lariats the back of Mochizuki’s head (with his weakened right arm instead of his 100% healthy left arm).
Takagi locks in a front chancery atop the turnbuckle but Mochizuki escapes with head-butts. His escape doesn’t last long as Takagi pulls a Stan Hansen and lariats Mochizuki from the top rope. Takagi teases a Death Valley Driver on the apron but Mochizuki knees and kicks his way out. He goes for a big wind-up kick…but Takagi catches him and lands the apron DVD.
Takagi tosses Mochizuki into the ring and stomps on his stomach. He traps Mochizuki in a corner and hits both kicks to his leg and elbows to his head. Mochizuki goes for a kick but Takagi catches his leg, avoids some punches, and nails a dragon screw leg whip. Seeing a new opening, Takagi smashes Mochizuki’s leg into a steel ringpost. Then he wraps of Mochizuki’s legs around the post, grabs a chair, and whacks his legs with it. Takagi follows with a diving back elbow and some kicking kicks to Mochizuki’s head. and when Mochizuki tries firing back, Takagi hits another dragon screw. Takagi starts working over Mochizuki’s leg ankle but Mochizuki kicks him back. But that angers Takagi and he retaliates with a front chancery and knees to Mochizuki’s face. Takagi gloats and no-sells as Mochizuki tries some kicks. Takagi slaps Mochizuki mockingly but Mochizuki retaliates with a really stiff slap back. Mochizuki goes for another kick but Takagi counters with a knee crusher. But Mochizuki no-sells it completely and goes for a suplex over the top rope. Takagi lands on the apron so Mochizuki trips him, hits a running kick, and a suicide dive to the floor.
Both guys eventually make it to the ring after quite some time. Takagi resists a corner whip at first but then reverses it and sends Mochizuki into a corner instead. Takagi blocks a boot and hits a lariat, but when he runs back to charge for another lariat Mochizuki chases him and hits a big corner yakuza kick. Takagi blocks another running kick and goes for a German suplex. Mochizuki resists so Takagi clotheslines the back of his head. Takagi goes for the German. Mochizuki lands on his feet and roundhouse kicks the side of Takagi’s neck. Takagi tanks a bunch more kicks and then ducks one before teasing another German. Mochizuki boots Takagi to block another corner charge. But when he sees Takagi constantly charging at him, he decides to sidestep and Takagi hits the corner hard. Mochizuki takes advantage and places Takagi in the tree of woe, and then lands another roundhouse to Takagi’s head. Then the two wrestlers trade suplex attempts until Mochizuki connects with one for a two-count.
Mochizuki teases a dragon suplex but Takagi resists it and then sends Mochizuki onto the apron. Mochizuki blocks an attack and hits a springboard dropkick. But instead of dropping Takagi, Takagi uses that kick to bounce off the ropes and hit his Pumping Bomber lariat. he follows with a big running shoulder tackle into a corner. Takagi recovers and goes for his Made In Japan finisher. Mochizuki resists to Takagi switches to a powerbomb attempt but Mochizuki powers out. The two wrestlers trade strikes bouncing off the ropes and then rush each other more. Mochizuki out-strikes Takagi with kicks as Takagi goes for elbows…but then Takagi hits a left-arm lariat. Takagi goes for a torture rack facebuster. Mochizuki lands on his feet and hits another roundhouse. Takagi no-sells, hits an elbow, absorbs two more kicks to the head, and lands another lariat. Both wrestlers collapse.
Takagi gets up first and hits a running corner lariat. He charges but runs into a kick to the chest. Then he ducks another kick and ties Mochizuki up so that he can lift him up with his MiJ finisher. One, two, Mochizuki kicks out. Takagi lands MiJ again. Mochizuki survives. Takagi hits a corner chop/elbow barrage and goes for a superplex. Mochizuki escapes and teases a powerbomb out of the corner. Takagi escapes but Mochizuki kicks him into place and lands his own superplex.
Takagi ducks one spinkick but can’t avoid another. He lariats Mochizuki but Mochizuki answers with a nasty kick combo for a two-count. Mochizuki charges but Takagi drills him with yet another lariat. both guys start straight-up no-selling each other’s signature kicks/lariats. Takagi even tries some punches but Mochizuki still kicks away until he drops Takagi for another two-count.
Takagi dodges a charge and tries a German but Mochizuki resists. Takagi traps one of Mochizuki’s arms, lands a head-butt, and runs into a kick. Mochizuki tries a diving kick but Takagi dodges and hits a sliding lariat. Takagi follows with a long one-two elbow combo attack and then lifts Mochizuki up to the top rope. Diving Death Valley Bomb. Mochizuki makes it to his feet, staggers, and eats another Pumping Bomber. Then Takagi hits yet another one. Mochizuki bounces right back up. Takagi hits him in the face as hard as possible. Mochizuki lands some defiant slaps and charges. Takagi hits first with two Pumping bombers against the ropes. Mochizuki kicks out at one! Takagi hits yet another lariat! Mochizuki kicks out yet again! Time for the super-finisher. Takagi hoists Mochizuki up…and smashes him with Last of the Dragon! One, two, three! There’s the match!
Winner after 24:55: Shingo Takagi
That was a very…bombastic match. It was one of those typical 2010s indy matches with hard-hitting offense and some absurd notions of selling but nothing else really special. There just wasn’t any depth here. Both guys scratched the surface with some interesting ideas and it looked like both of them were going to take the match in a more interesting direction. But I guess depth wasn’t the name of the game in Dragon Gate. This was like a 25-minute sprint without anything really interesting happening for the first twenty. It had a fun little conclusion, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, this is a solid match but also a very skippable one.
The match was a stereotypical smaller guys’ indy bomb-fest. Both Takagi and Mochizuki ran into each other like bulls locking horns. They threw hands and hit each other hard with the idea that both were trying to ignore pain and just keep fighting until one couldn’t move any longer. That seemed like a good idea on paper but in practice it just didn’t work. The match was too chaotic and lacking in focus. The high-impact bombs and strike exchanges were spread throughout the match without a clear sense of direction. It was as if these guys were trying to create the most unpredictable match possible. And while that’s generally a good idea, it doesn’t help if moves within a match are ordered in a way as to not give anything any real meaning.
The final five minutes was proof of that. Not only was it the most exciting part of the match, and not only was both wrestlers’ earlier limb targeting not returned to by that point, but that closing stretch is when things got really excessive. Mochizuki kicking out of multiple lariats and bouncing up right afterwards was too unrealistic. That sort of stuff works with a real hoss like Ishii or possibly Takagi later on during his New Japan run. But not a tiny man like Mochizuki. No matter how skilled of a karateka and natural combat athlete Mochizuki was, how he went through those last finishers made him look more like a cartoon character than it did make him look like the superhumanly tough fighter he was going for. Especially once the wrestlers bust out the clichéd “turn-based striking” gimmick that doesn’t look as good as they might think.
Another problem that showed itself was Takagi’s inconsistent arm selling. Mochizuki spent the opening minutes targeting Takagi’s left arm but Takagi attacked with that same arm to regain control. And when Takagi clotheslined Mochizuki from the top rope, he moved as if his arm wasn’t hurt at all. If you’re going to do that, why bother with the armwork in the first place? Why should Mochizuki waste his and the fans’ time with that strategy when it’s not even going to be sold and followed up on minutes later in the same segment of the match?
But Takagi wasn’t alone in the no-selling; Mochizuki was equally guilty on that front. Takagi spent the minutes after Mochizuki’s control segment working over Mochizuki’s leg. Takagi’s work seemed to slow Mochizuki down (as it should’ve), but then Mochizuki stopped selling right after a knee crusher that should’ve stopped him dead. Instead, the opposite happened; Mochizuki stopped selling and sprinted around and dove as if the match had just started. Again, if you’re going to not sell limbwork, then don’t bother putting it into the match in the first place. It’s better to not do something in a match than to do it and then ignore or forget about it.
Final Rating: ****
The star rating here is for both guys’ toughness and some mildly interesting bursts of speed and stiffness towards the end, but that’s all. There just wasn’t enough all that interesting here. The action was so generic and lacking in personal edge. Mochizuki was basically a Bryan Danielson wannabe here and didn’t show that much personality, whereas Takagi did. At least Takagi tried to tell a story with his actions. But it didn’t help that Mochizuki, despite executing his moves pretty well, had the emotion of a robot all throughout this match.
If you’re going to watch one pre-NJPW Takagi match, I suggest watching his match with Bryan Danielson in 2010. That one was almost identical to this one in almost every way, except that Bryan did a better job in control there than Mochizuki did here. But Bryan was a better opponent for Takagi because he was way more believable as a threat and was compelling both on defense and offense.
Dragon Gate can be very hit or miss, and this one was indeed a miss.