The NXT Step for the Sun God

WWE and AEW have both signed a number of incredible wrestlers lately. But with all due respect to the rest, none are quite as exciting as the confirmation that Sareee is headed to the US as part of WWE.

My first time seeing Sareee was during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015. She was a few months under five years experience at the time, and featured in matches spotlighting young talent with fellow Diana rookie Meiko Tanaka against Rina Yamshita & Kaho Kobayashi at Wave’s Young Oh! Oh! 12/25/15 and against Yuuka at Ribbonmania 2015. She displayed great innate ability and instincts, and I was excited to see what the near future would hold for her.

Unfortunately, my opportunities to see Sareee for the next few years were sparse. In summer of 2017 I caught her during her brief tenure in SEAdLINNNG in hard hitting tournament semi-final against Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha. In spring of 2018 I lucked into seeing her at Pure-J in an interpromotional tag team main event alongside Actwres girlZ’ Mari against Manami Katsu & Rydeen Hagane. She was definitely showing all the hallmarks of fully capitalizing on her potential and was an obvious superstar in the making.

I was thrilled to get to see her regularly in 2019. Her tightly contested, visceral title match at Sendai Girls’ 1/6/19 show against Chihiro Hashimoto might have been my top match of that entire trip, yet was just a glimpse of how fully Sareee’s mastered a variety of aspects of her craft. She was wrestling’s next big thing, and it was only a matter of time before everyone noticed.

My best matches of 2019 list reads like Sareee’s resume, and I imagine I sounded like a bit of broken record last year repeating my belief that she’s one of the most compelling and impressive athletes and the biggest rising star in all of wrestling.

Her grasp of the nuances of technical skill, timing, etc is really amazing, as is the intensity she brings to it all. Similar to another personal favorite of mine recently signed (Timothy Thatcher), one of the keys making Sareee so incredible is that she fights over EVERYTHING. The smallest exchanges are still struggles towards getting an edge progressing to the ultimate goal of winning the match. It makes such a difference in believability, and Sareee’s one of the very best at it. Of course she can also hit just the right notes in lighter, more comedic matches, and that versatility will undoubtably also serve her well.

A clear indication that I’m not alone in my opinion of Sareee is the apparent and repeated shows of confidence in her from veteran Japanese wrestlers. During a chunk of 2019 she was simultaneously reigning champion of both Kyoko Inoue’s and Meiko Satomura’s promotions (Diana and Sendai Girls respectively). She even won the Diana title back from the person who took it from her, the legendary Aja Kong.

In my write up of Diana’s 5/12/19 show at Korakuen Hall that Kong vs Sareee main evented, I commented:

“Sareee is wrestling’s next big star, and everyone clearly knows it. She recently won said double title match so is currently a reigning double singles champion across two companies. On her way to the Sendai title she pinned their legendary owner Meiko Satomura, as well as DASH Chisako and other top competitors. And of course any sort of victory over Kong is a huge deal, let alone a singles pinfall. The important part of course is Sareee’s completely believable and natural in this role, with both the technical skills and charisma/mannerisms to pull it all off.”

The mentioned match against DASH Chisako happened a few weeks prior at Sendai’s 4/27/19 show and was yet another stunning display. This featured two of my absolute favorite wrestlers and I actually traveled out to Sendai specifically to see it. It was an incredibly hard-hitting, wonderfully escalating contest that was everything I hoped for. They would meet again in a title defense for Sareee at Korakuen Hall in a match that from all accounts was somehow even better.

I was also lucky enough to see Sareee in a variety of great tag matches that paired her up with unusual opponents and showed even more of her variety and skills. One fun one of note saw her teaming with Pro-Wrestling Eve’s Yuu against Meiko Satomura & Gatoh Move’s Mei Suruga at Sendai’s 5/18/19 show.

During the summer it was reported that Sareee had met with HHH, and the rumors started in earnest. With heavy indications that her time in Japan might be wrapping up, she held a special self produced show in early December entitled Sareee’s Special Night. And it certainly was. 😉

In addition to tearing the house down in the cross promotional main event dream tag team match (Sareee & Syuri vs World of Stardom Champion Mayu Iwatani & Regina di Wave Champion Takumi Iroha), Sareee also showed she could put together a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable card from top to bottom. There was a little bit of everything, with multiple match styles and stories being told, special significance to things such as Jenny Rose’s return to Japan to face Marvelous’ Hibiki (formerly Diana’s Meiko Tanaka) and the injured Natsumi Maki still appearing as the ring announcer, and generally great action all around.

In early January Sareee officially announced she’d be leaving Diana in February and going to the United States. Today it became official that she is indeed WWE bound.

So in what ended up being my last time to see Sareee wrestle live for a while, I attended my first Diana dojo show on 1/19/20. It was a blast and Sareee’s excellent tag encounter alongside her trainer Kyoko Inoue against Actwres girlZ’ Champion Miyuki Takase & Diana rookie Haruka Umesaki was a great note to go out on for now.

There’s some admittedly justified trepidation among fans when independent talent gets signed by WWE considering their less than stellar track record with using people to their full abilities, but I’m still extremely happy for Sareee and hopeful that she will excel in the all the ways she’s clearly capable of. Best of luck to the Sun God in the next phase of her career.

Chimes at Midnight (October Daye Book 7) Review

“When you decide to up the ante on getting in deep shit, you don’t mess around, do you? You’re just like, hey, what’s the worst that could happen? That’s the worst that could happen? Great. Let’s do that.”

As a changeling knight with a unique perspective and even more unique abilities, October Daye’s priorities have always been a bit different from many of the ruling purebloods of Faerie. But when a favorite treat of the purebloods’ that’s an addictive, deadly drug to changelings starts resulting in an increasing number of dead bodies October becomes even more confrontational…

Unfortunately for Toby, the Queen of the Mists has had enough.

This is the seventh book in the October Daye series, and several long running plotlines come together here. Start reading with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

There’s a lot going on in this one, and again I marvel at how wonderfully McGuire has laid in the foundations of her epic in previous books. The meaning and significance of past hints become illuminated in stages in each new book, and there’s a number of significant developments in this one.

“I can’t believe I just said those words, in that order, like they meant something.”

Toby is in WAY over her head this time and the actions she takes, willing and unwilling, will have long lasting effects. There are a number of big reveals as well, with a definite feeling of escalation beyond what has come before.

I adore the way people’s strengths and weakness go hand and hand and sometimes morph in McGuire’s books. This series has many wonderful examples of it, as does her engrossing Indexing stories. Toby and her allies are extremely powerful, but not infallible and within specific, and often dire, constraints.

October Daye has become perhaps my favorite urban fantasy series of al time, and Chimes at Midnight is another tense and gripping installment with big twists and far reaching implications.

Ashes of Honor (October Daye Book 6) Review

“Nothing is ever simple or easy when Faerie meets the mortal world. There are just times when I find myself wishing it didn’t have to be quite so hard.”

October Daye may have avoided a war, but the heavy personal costs continue to haunt her as time inexorably passes in the Summerlands. But she isn’t the only one with secrets and regrets, and she may be the only one who can help her friends find an overpowered missing changeling who’s existence could be a threat to the foundations of Faerie itself.

This is the sixth book in the October Daye series, and it addresses the aftermath of major events from the prior book, One Salt Sea. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

“We were winging it again. That’s my favorite way to deal with crazy.”

“Winging it” is the exact opposite of McGuire’s carefully layered stories, and Ashes of Honor is incredibly well balanced. It seamlessly progresses long running story threads underneath a tense and dire current story that itself deals with major implications from One Salt Sea while introducing new concepts and complications. The adventure presented here is intriguing and captivating in its own right, and both new and old supporting cast members really shine in the spotlight.

“I’ve stood by and watched you throw yourself against the walls of the world, because I hoped the impact might shake sense back into you.”

As I alluded to above the development of story threads across these books as a series really is fantastic. There’s growth and change in both characters and environment, with real effects of the fallout of past books. McGuire knows when to let her characters breathe a bit, and when the emotions and problems they’re dealing with are too urgent to avoid or ignore. The handling of the progression of time throughout the series is masterfully done, and even the most dramatic of changes are deftly built to and executed.

As usual I’m going to avoid specifics and spoilers (and believe me avoiding talking about some of my favorite characters and their actions/antics grows more difficult book by book), but I really enjoyed this installment of October’s adventures. It both calls back to several subplots from prior books and, as with the rest before it, lays a lot of groundwork for some major things to come.

Thank You Liger: Farewell to a Childhood Hero

I became enamored with professional wrestling as a kid, and while great many of my tastes have changed there have been some eternal constants. Wrestlers, styles, etc that transcend time in a sense.

When I was young I had only watched American wrestling, in the form of (then) WWF and WCW. Bret Hart, the Midnight Express, Mr. Perfect, and other wrestlers who combined athleticism and in-ring storytelling were among my favorites. I’d seen a little bit of the Great Muta in his WCW appearances, but that was largely it as far as non-North American talent went.

Then Superbrawl II started off with Jushin Thunder Liger vs Flyin’ Brian Pillman in a match (rightfully) still lauded to this day as perhaps the greatest opening match of all time. Liger was like nothing else I’d ever seen. Combining precision flying and hard strikes with uncanny psychology, and of course an incredible, striking presence, Jushin Thunder Liger was a superhero come to life (literally, as his persona was based off of an anime character). The match, and Liger, obviously left quite an impression on me and remains one of my all time favorites.

From there I would occasionally hunt down bits of his matches in Japan, and while I never quite saw as much as I wanted the sampling was invariably impressive. He was always captivating, and I have distinct memories of rewatching certain moves and sequences over and over in awe.

Flash way forward to 2015 and NXT Takeover Brooklyn would end up being my first time seeing Liger live, somewhat surreally in a WWE ring no less. His style had understandably changed over the years, but it still felt like a Liger match, and a very good one at that. Tyler Breeze was a great choice for his opponent and it was a treat to be there.

The following year at ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds 2016 I actually got to meet the legend, and then I was lucky enough to be able to attend Wrestle Kingdom 11 on 1/4/17 finally see him wrestle in Japan (albeit in limited fashion as part of a battle royal). As it happens it would end up being the only time I saw him wrestle live in Japan and the final time overall.

Throughout my changing tastes and focus on different parts of wrestling, I’ve remained a huge fan of Liger and am extremely happy he was able to keep wrestling for as long as he did, and for the times I was lucky enough to see him live.

Earlier this month Liger finished up his 35 year career. With Wrestle Kingdom 14 becoming a two-night event Liger’s farewell was unusually spread over three days, with his last two matches at the two WK shows on 1/4 and 1/5/20 and his retirement ceremony being held at a separate event than his final match at New Year’s Dash on 1/6/20.

I sadly was unable to attend the 1/5 show as planned due to illness, but watching online still conveyed the weight and emotion of the occasion. Liger wrestled with and against several of his compatriots on 1/4 in the star studded Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, Tiger Mask, & Great Sasuke vs Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Naoki Sano, & Ryusuke Taguchi, then put over the next generation in a tag match on 1/5 teaming with Naoki Sano against Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee. While many hoped he had on last singles match in him, these carefully chosen tag matches were a great, fitting way to say goodbye.

It’s almost as weird to see Liger go as it was to have him in wrestling at the level he was for so long. All that’s really left to say is thank you to the legend for everything, particularly the memories.

Farewell to a Gran Maestro Part 2: An Emotional Two Months

Two months ago I wrote Farewell to a Gran Maestro, a look back on Tequila Saya’s career just before her planned retirement date of October 12, 2019. As I mentioned towards the end of that piece, things didn’t go as planned. A typhoon caused that show to be canceled, and the following day Saya’s regular tag team partner (who was scheduled to tag with Saya in her final match) abruptly left the company under unusual circumstances.

After the dust settled a bit Saya announced she was postponing her retirement until the end of the year and would be stepping in to honor her former partner’s previously scheduled commitments. This was a big gesture on her part, and visibly greatly appreciated by the company and fans alike.

No matter the circumstances surrounding Saya’s short career extension, she certainly made the most of it. One of the previously mentioned commitments she took over was a spot on Rising Slam, a free to attend event in Italy aimed at spotlighting Joshi Puroresu live for the first time in that country. Saya was joined by fellow Ice Ribbon roster member Tsukushi, Actwres Girlz’ Mari, Tae Honma, Misa Matsui, & Saki, and freelancers Makoto and Rina Yamashita in traveling to Italy for this unique show. It would be Saya’s first and only international expedition as a wrestler. She also ended up doing more matches outside of Ice Ribbon than she ever had before, including a singles match against Yumi Ohka in Wave among others.

Saya would also win her only career singles title during the overrun, taking the Triangle Ribbon Championship from someone who debuted shortly after her and was as often a rival as a partner, Uno Matsuya (the match also involved Tae Honma). It was well deserved and wonderful to see this opportunity seized out of unusual circumstances.

She was involved in a wild champions vs challengers 8-woman tag at the December 14th show, defended the belt against Uno and Satsuki Totoro at her final P’s Party show (as an active wrestler) on Decemeber 18th, and lost the title to Tae Honma on Ice Ribbon’s December 21st show at Shinkiba 1st Ring (in a match that also involved Kaori Yoneyama).

From a selfish standpoint I must admit to being happy that the extension would allow me to see Saya wrestle live few more times before she finished up. Her final dojo match against Tsukasa Fujimoto was all kinds of fun, including a particularly amusing section where she tried, rather unsuccessfully, to imitate the signature moves of all the other wrestlers at the show. Tsukka then invited them all in to demonstrate all the correct versions on Saya.

Her final match was earlier today, a special 38 (plus a few) person challenge that saw Saya face everyone consecutively in one minute time limit sections. A mix of some competitive sections, lighter comedic ones, and some old familiar faces just coming back to say goodbye, it was a perfect way to say farewell to the Gran Maestro.

The last two sections saw Saya gaining her only pinfall over Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukka with the “Gran Maestro de Tequila,” then falling to the rookie she’d given the moves to as Suzu Suzuki showed she also mastered Saya’s “Tequil Shot” variation.

The show drew 1,384 people, making it the largest crowd ever for Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall and their forth largest crowd ever.

It was an honor to be in attendance to wish Saya well, and I hope whatever future lies ahead for her after wrestling is a bright one.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2019: Gatoh Move 12/22/19 Live Thoughts

December 22, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

This was the go home Ichigaya show leading into Gatoh Move’s last big show of the year tonight at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.

As I’ve mentioned before, in a wonderful move to grow their visibility Gatoh Move has been uploading a significant number of matches with English play-by-play on their YouTube channel. two of the three matches I’ll be discussing here are impressively already up, and in such cases I’ll add a hyperlink to it in the match title.

And as I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).

1) Cho-un Shiryu vs Sayuri vs Sayaka

Sayuri & Sayaka will be teaming tonight to face fellow rookies Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara, but here it was everyone for themselves in a 3-way also featuring regular visiting wrestler Cho-un.

This had amusing overtones, with the rookies insisting on working together to start but still largely unable to withstand Cho-un’s vast experience and strength advantage. And what momentum they were able to generate evaporated when they started getting in each others’s way and wanting the individual victory. Eventually Cho-un was able to pin both of his opponents simultaneously for an emphatic win after a double diving stomp.

With Sayuri & Sayaka going in to a battle with two other largely unestablished rookies the double pin bothers me less than it normally would, illustrating a bit of how far they all have to go. Cho-un’s enough of a force that it made sense, they did get to show some fire on the way, and this was a solid little 3-way that packed a fair amount of story into a short, energetic six minutes.

2) Calamari Drunken Kings (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) vs Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil

Clash of two teams both in action tonight against other opponents.

The structure of this one was particularly fantastic. Lulu was thrilled to be teaming with her teacher and had herself introduced as “Emi Sakura’s student” and vice versa to Emi’s barely maintained patience. But as the match progressed Emi encouraged the struggling Lulu, and whenever she was tagged in herself she was in full bore no-nonsense mode. Her first exchange with Chris had her going for a lockup and Chris LEVELING her with a big boot instead, and the war was most definitely on from there.

Another highlight saw Sakura pick up Lulu (in full pencil pose/mode) over her shoulder and charge Chris, who sold the hit like he’d been impaled by an actual spear. And of course Takanashi was his usual masterful self throughout as well.

End here saw Chris attempting to apply an arm bar when poor Lulu, already immobilized by Chris’ legs and unable to withstand it, tapped out to give CDK the win. A confused (or perhaps just sadistic) Chris continued to pull the arm a bit as Takanashi tried to explain they’d already won and to please let Lulu go.

This was great. Strong win for CDK (even considering Lulu’s weaknesses), and there was just enough to make one hopefully that Lulu might defy the odds and win with her mentor tonight.

During the post-show roundtable Chris said this victory (his first in Ichigaya) taught him that CDK’s previous troubles in 6-person tag matches were all Rin Rin’s fault. I feel he got lucky that the statement went by so fast Rin Rin and a good portion of the audience didn’t register it enough to be properly outraged.

3) Mitsuru & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga & Saki

In addition to having the two wrestlers facing in tonight’s main event across from each other, their partners here were one half of the reigning tag team champions and one half of the team that will be challenging them in tonight’s semi-main respectively.

Rin Rin continues to be impressive beyond her experience level, and was great here showing no fear against Saki before their title match. The interactions of Mitsuru and Mei were also a great preview for tonight as well as a solid anchor for this match to build around.

It all escalated wonderfully and was naturally paced to the point where I didn’t feel the time limit draw coming at all. Nicely done and a really strong lead in to tonight.

For one final awesome bit of fun, after Gatoh’s traditional post-show song Chris spoke up and suggested to Sakura that with a number of foreigners in the audience and the proximity to Christmas they should also do an English song, then led wrestlers and fans alike in singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

This was as usual a total blast, and I thought a particularly strong show all around. There really isn’t anything else quite like Gatoh Move and I can’t recommend checking it out live if at all possible.

Gatoh Move 12/7 and 12/14/19 Live Thoughts

December 7 & 14, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

As I’ve mentioned before, in a wonderful move to grow their visibility Gatoh Move has been uploading a significant number of matches with English play-by-play on their YouTube channel. Some of the matches I’ll be discussing here are impressively already up, and in such cases I’ll add a hyperlink to it in the match title (also, the 6-person tag from 12/7 is up on DDT’s subscription service).

As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).

12/7/19

1) Lulu Pencil vs Yasu Urano

Yaso was involved in one of my favorite intergender matches of all time, a no-rope contest against Gatoh Move’s former ace Riho at Basara’s 12/28/17 show, and has faced Lulu before.

The story here was Lulu drawing inspiration from Emi Sakura and wanting to make use of certain counters she’d learned/copied… so she kept setting herself up for moves and holds. A confused and tentative Yasu didn’t know what to make of it, and kept putting on the “wrong” move, repeatedly preventing her plans from working.

It all eventually builds to a persistent Lulu finally executing one successfully into a rollup, but not having the power or weight to prevent Yasu from reversing into his own pin for the win.

This was different and silly in a way that enhanced the story told, and a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. Lulu’s gimmick of being a pro-wrestler who’s too weak and awkward to be pro-wrestler is rather genius in the way it’s being executed, and makes her a natural and easy to cheer for underdog. Perhaps most importantly, the comedy and weirdness of her matches still relate to the idea of her trying to win, and it all compliments a wisely chosen remaining card consisting of more competitive/serious matches.

2) Cho-un Shiryu vs Chris Panzer

Chris is his home promotion PWR (Phillipine Wrestling Revolution)’s Champion, and this is his first appearance in Gatoh Move.

Once they got going Cho-un heeled it up to provide the match’s backbone, and they had a really good, fast paced and hard hitting encounter. Chris prevailed in a strong Gatoh debut. Would love to see him back sometime.

3) Calamari Druken Kings (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga, Saki, & Sayaka  

I’ve been dying to see Brookes in Ichigaya, and as expected it was a lot of fun. His building feud with Mei is awesome, and the two have a ton of chemistry in the little things they do to egg each other on.

Rin Rin looked great and totally at ease, and the play off of what happened last time she teamed with CDK was highly amusing. She had gotten on Chris’ shoulder for a double team, and when he stood up her head banged on the ceiling. So this time when he and Takanashi tried to put her on Chris’ shoulder she freaked out, fought her way down and slapped them upside the head in admonishment. Awesome.

I have yet to see a trios match at Ichigaya that I didn’t love, and this certainly continued the streak. Innovative and fun, with the Gatoh regulars showing their usual mastery and the new faces fitting in well (in addition to Chris and Rin Rin this was also my first time seeing Sayaka since her Gatoh debut). Mei pinned Rin Rin to give her team the victory.

Side note: I need to see MUCH more of Rin Rin & CDK as a trio.

12/14/19

1) Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Tokiko Kirihara & Sayaka

This was incredibly fun, with lots of the little cool little touches Gatoh Move does so well to elevate each match and fully drawn the audience in.

Sayaka & Tokiko kind of kept outsmarting Sakura & Takanashi at times to stay in the match until the veterans’ experience got the better of them. Again, the rookies played their part really well and put on performances beyond their limited experience. Strong opener.

2) Lulu Pencil vs Taro Yamada

Lulu’s freelance writer name is Yamada, so it was explained that a battle of Yamadas (in a building where the landlord’s name was also Yamada). Everyone was encouraged to constantly chant for Yamada.

Every match Lulu gets a few more small successes and moral victories. When she’s eventually able to put it all together, perform more moves than not without hurting herself, and pick up a win the crowd is going to erupt. Until then this was another fun little chapter in one of the most unique and relatable acts in wrestling.

Taro’s taking/selling of Lulu’s rollup into the wall was particular impactful and got a huge pop as it felt like a real advantage for everyone’s favorite underdog writer. As is becoming a theme in this write up all the little details were really well done here.

3) Hagane Shinno & Mitsuru Konno vs Mei Suruga & Yuna Mizomori 

Yuna had handed out a few denden daikos in celebration of Tawara! 2’s DVD release and encouraged their use to cheer her during the match. Mitsuru looked offended by their their mere existence, which was a great bit of character work.

Hagane’s another Gatoh mainstay guest that really knows how to make the most of the environment. There were so many great counter variations and near falls in this one, really building the drama and captivating the crowd. This was an incredible little tag team match and a real testament to the skill of all involved and the potential of the Ichigaya environment.

With Mei vs Mitsuru main eventing the impending show at Shin-kiba, Mei’s pinfall victory over Mitsuru here gives her all the momentum.

Gatoh Move has a really good grasp of how to vary things enough to keep it all interesting while always capturing the aspects that draw people to their shows in the first place. These were two excellent efforts, and the general quality and enjoyment level of seeing Gatoh live never ceases to amaze me.