AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Round 1 Live Thoughts

AEW’s sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship is underway. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner. That winner will face Shida at AEW’s Revolution PPV on March 7, 2021.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. See my preview of the first round for more information on the wrestlers as well as some thoughts on all four of these first time ever singles matches.

Now it’s time to see how they all turn out.

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga

All four of these matches are one fall with a twenty minute time limit.

The matches are taking place in Ice Ribbon’s home base, a venue I’m very familiar with (Ice Ribbon rents their dojo out for other events, and are not involved in this tournament).

This was one of the dream matches of the tournament and it’s great to see it happen. We’ve got two extremely quick and deceptively powerful wrestlers here. Yuka is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, and the former TJPW Princess of Princess champion has four and a half years experience over Gatoh Move’s prodigy.

Though Mei had been wrestling for TJPW the last few months, this is the first time she and Yuka are crossing paths in the ring at all. *

This was honestly not the match I expected them to have as a first time encounter to be seen by a lot of first time viewers. It was wrestled at a very fast pace and featured a ton of counters and dodges. It’s the type of match viewers like me who are familiar with the maneuvers of both competitors and can fully process every feint and counter-move love, and I adored it. But I wonder if fans unfamiliar with their moves got the same depth from it, especially when even commentary missed big things like Mei attempting but not completing her finishing submission Lucifer.

Both also have very unique and creative movesets, which led to a couple small moments of awkwardness as they got used to each other. It was noticeable enough to mention, particularly when Mei kind of fell off Yuka’s shoulders going for her trademark rollup out of victory roll position when Yuka turned the opposite way Mei expected, but the recoveries were spot on and overall they were just small blips.

Yuka took control late and broke out the jaw-dropping Magical Girl Chicken Dude (450 from the middle of the top rope) to put Mei away. The match was extremely good and served as a nice introduction for Mei before she was overwhelmed and defeated by who I believe is the Japan side favorite. As mentioned above, for me this hit all the right notes. Would love to see a rematch sometime.

* Japan has a strong, strange kind of quasi-kayfabe/willing suspension of disbelief that makes it a little difficult to discuss certain things sometimes. Wrestlers occasionally play different characters/personas in different companies, without masks and with no attempt to hide their identity, that they and fans will ham-fistedly pretend are unrelated. So when “Mei Saint-Michel,” the lost child found in a forest in France taken in by Saki-sama who’s clearly Mei in a maid outfit, appears in TJPW and Mei Suruga posts on Twitter wondering why people are tagging her in posts about “someone who isn’t me,” that’s what’s going on. Regardless, “neither” Mei has previous wrestled Yuka.

Emi Sakura vs Veny

Of note is that while she still came to the ring with cape, crown, and microphone, the Queen obsessed Emi Sakura wished to show more of the base of who she is and for the first time in AEW was not wearing her Freddie Mercury inspired gear. Big opportunity for Veny** to make a big impression on the international stage against the twenty-five year veteran, so both are coming in with something to prove.

This was the consensus best match of the first round, and opinion I’m in complete agreement with. Sakura lost a bit of weight in preparation for this match and showed off the resulting increase in speed and agility throughout. This had a bit of everything, with both wrestlers showing proficiency in strikes, submission holds, and anything else they could throw at each other. Short of full play-by-play I’m at a loss to convey the scope of this, so my best advice is simple to go watch.

After a lot of back and forth and fighting off each other’s signatures, Sakura was able to wear Veny down with a vicious looking under the arm dragon sleeper, then is finally able to nail the Tiger Driver to advance.

I expected (and wanted) Sakura to win, but a Veny upset was likely enough that this was particularly gripping down the stretch. Great showing by both, and it’s particularly nice to see AEW get a glimpse of what Sakura is truly capable of.

**Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh

The battle between two of the most charismatic wrestlers anywhere in the world was lighter fare than the rest of the opening round, but still featured two determined competitors due all they could to advance. Highlights included Itoh suckering Ryo in with fake crying to get an advantage only to blow it by charging the unmovable object and wiping herself herself out when Ryo didn’t budge, and Mizunami learning first hand that it’s unwise to underestimate how hard Itoh’s head is.

They wrestled a smart match and their styles worked well together. Ryo really can adjust to just about anything and is extremely underrated. Despite Itoh giving it her all, the veteran stayed one step ahead and after Itoh barely kicked out after a brutal spear Ryo used the momentum of Itoh’s kickout to apply an anaconda vice for the tapout victory.

While many newer fans expected Itoh’s immediate appeal with the unfamiliar fanbase to lead to a win here, this was the only way this was ever going to end. Even ignoring that the matches were likely taped before Itoh’s cheerful, curse filled introductory tweet went viral, her entire identity is the crass, defiant underdog continuing to be herself despite setbacks. Her immediately beating a stronger wrestler with 10+ more years experience is not the right story to tell with her. It’s the fight and doing things her way that matter with Itoh, and her battle here with the powerhouse was as good as a first impression as she could make.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura

“This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.”

That quote from my preview pretty much sums it all up. Kong dominated the youngster, but Rin took everything and kept fighting, earning her the immediate respect of everyone watching. At one point Kong spiked her with a particularly vicious piledriver, and Rin’s kickout had the chat going wild. Hanging in with Kong as long as she did made Rin look super tough, and she even got the monster down with a flurry of offense long enough to attempt the Ultra Rin (twisting senton).

Kong moved however, and absolutely planted Rin with a backdrop driver … for 2.999. I expected that to end it, and Rin looks super human for surviving it. Rin fights off the brain buster but gets leveled with a clothesline after a vicious right for another close 2, and the legend has had enough and finishes the upstart off with a monstrous top rope elbow drop. Exactly what this should have been.

——-

Expected strong showing all around from these intriguing, well chosen matchups showcasing several different styles. While I’d like to see a touch more research done, and things like getting the referee’s gender wrong are rather embarrassing mistakes, overall Excalibur did a decent job on commentary and sounded reasonably knowledgeable about and (most importantly) interested in the matches taking place.

No surprises in the results but that’s perfectly fine, especially with the awesome matchups that will result in the next round. Really good stuff, and a nice introduction to the new wrestlers regardless of their losses, who will all hopefully be brought back in the future. These matches are still available on their YouTube channel.

For more information on how to officially watch the home promotions of these wrestlers and a number of other Joshi companies see this thread.

The next round of the Japan bracket will air with two first round matches from the US side:

Emi Sakura vs Yuka Sakazaki
Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong
Nyla Rose vs Tay Conti
Britt Baker vs Madi Wrenkowski (subbing for the injured Anna Jay)

Check it out on AEW’s YouTube channel tonight at 7pm EST.

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Preview

AEW has begun a sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. Four of the eight (Emi Sakura, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, and Aja Kong) have competed in AEW in the past. The other four (Mei Suruga, Veny, Maki Itoh, and Rin Kadokura) are making their AEW debuts.

The champion herself has gone to Japan to oversee the matches, and the first round is absolutely stacked with four really interesting matchups. Furthermore, all four are first time ever singles encounters.

(Shida appeared as a special referee ChocoPro 89 which featured matches involving half of the Japan bracket participants, and also had a sit down talk with Emi Sakura after the show.)

Here is some more information on all eight participants, and a quick look at the first round contests:

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga




Nickname
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves






Twitter

Yuka Sakazaki
(坂崎ユカ)

Magical Girl
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 1, 2013
5’2″
24
Magical Girl Splash (middle of the top rope splash)
Magical Magical Girl Splash (MGS with horizontal rotation)
Magical Girl Chicken Dude (middle of the top rope 450)

YukaSakazaki

Mei Suruga
(駿河メ)

Apple Girl
Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
May 27, 2018
4’10”
21
Propeller Clutch
Lucifer (chicken wing Cattle Mutilation)




Mei_gtmv

Yuka Sakazaki is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, but also deceptively strong and more than capable of going strike for strike or hold for hold as well. The seven year pro has been Princess of Princess Champion twice (TJPW’s top singles title) and held their tag team titles with two different partners.

But for those unfamiliar with Mei Suruga: the term wrestling prodigy has perhaps never been more apt. She debuted in just twenty-one days of full training and wrestles with confidence and skill far beyond her two and a half years of experience. Mei’s had major upsets already in her short career, including singles victories over both Emi Sakura and Hikaru Shida. She recently won her first championship, Gatoh Move’s Asia Dream Tag Titles (with partner Baliyan Akki) and will no doubt be looking to ride that wave of momentum to victory here.

While I personally expect Yuka to win not only this match but perhaps the entire bracket, Mei’s the dark horse of the tournament and her adding Yuka’s name to her increasing list of upsets is not impossible. Either way this is a match between two extremely quick, skilled, and exciting competitors and is the first round match I’m most excited for.

Emi Sakura vs Veny




Nickname/Tagline
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Emi Sakura
(さくらえみ)

“She will chop you.”
AEW, Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
August 17, 1995
5’1″
44
La Magistral
Nyan Nyan Press (450 Splash)
Tiger Driver
and many, many more

sakuraemi

Veny
(朱崇花, Asuka)*

The Genderless Pro Wrestler
Freelance
August 9, 2015
5’9″
22
Moonsault
Shooting Star Press
Sitout Chokeslam


asuka10272140

The Queen obsessed eccentric wrestler who AEW audiences are most familiar with is only one facet of the incredible twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura. Capable of matching nearly any style and adapting to any challenge, the sole AEW contracted wrestler on this side of the bracket is one of the clear favorites. Beyond her significant wrestling prowess, Sakura is also a well renowned and highly respected trainer, having trained an incredibly long list of wrestlers including not only possible tournament opponents Mei Suruga and Riho, but the reigning AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida as well.

However among the favorites Sakura has perhaps the toughest draw of the round. It’s easy to forget how young Veny is, as at 22 and with just five years in she fits right in going toe-to-toe with the veterans and has already held the top singles title in two different promotions. With Veny’s strength and fiery offense a victory is not impossible, and if she does shock Sakura in round one she could become a good bet to continue on quite far.

*Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Ryo Mizunami
(水波綾)

Aniki

Freelance
November 3, 2004
5’4″
32
Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver)
Running Lariat
Diving Guillotine Leg Drop

mizunami0324

Maki Itoh
(伊藤麻希)

The Cutest in the World,
The Fired Idol
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 11, 2016
5’3″
25
Falling Headbutt
Itoh Special (Texas Cloverleaf)



maki_itoh

TJPW’s lovable misfit immediately captured the imagination of a whole slew of new fans when she happily cursed out a welcome message when retweeting AEW’s announcement of her participation in the tournament. Itoh doesn’t do much the way one is “supposed” to and everyone adores her for it. She is who she is unapologetically and is always ready to take on the world, which she often has to. Itoh’s a straight ahead brawler who uses her hard head for a good portion of her offense, and while she has more in her arsenal then some give her credit for she is generally overmatched in technique against wrestlers with similar or greater levels of experience. But she’s defiant to the last and will fight tooth and nail trying to defeat her opponents through shear strength of will.

Which she’ll need to do to have any chance against the sixteen year veteran Mizunami. This will be Mizunami’s first appearance for AEW since their first pay-per-view, where she teamed with Riho & Shida to defeat Aja Kong, Emi Sakura, & Yuka Sakazaki. The powerhouse is capable of, and perhaps used to, running right over her opponents and will be a real test of Itoh’s fortitude. Mizunami is also the only one in the tournament who even comes close to matching Itoh in terms of raw charisma, so this match should be a really fun spectacle.

Itoh winning is not inconceivable, but make no mistake it would be a BIG upset. She has wrestled Aja Kong before though, and the possibility of a rematch in the second round here is intriguing.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves


Twitter

Aja Kong
(アジャコング)

N/A – the name “Aja Kong” speaks volumes all on it’s own
Oz Academy
1986
5’5″
50
Uraken (spinning back fist)
Brainbuster

ajakonguraken

Rin Kodakura
(門倉凛)

Cool Needlefish

Marvelous
May 3, 2016
5’1″
27
Ultra Rin (twisting senton)


Kazu_Marvelous

Aja Kong is a legendary thirty-four year veteran who is still going strong and still impressive and intimidating in the ring. Taking her out is going to be a tall task for anyone, and perhaps a near impossible one for Rin. Although I fully expect the talented, defiant spitfire from Marvelous to make the legend work for it, and Kong may find herself risking a disqualification if tempted to tee off on Rin with her ever present metal mini garbage can. This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.

——-

That wraps it up for now. AEW is premiering these first round matches on their YouTube channel Monday February 15 at 7pm EST.

For the first time ever I actually find myself rooting for all the favorites, as second round matches of Sakazaki vs Sakura and Mizunami vs Kong would be incredible and are legit dream matches. However as mentioned above nothing’s 100% here, and absolutely all of the possible second round matches look great. Really excited to see how this all plays out.

Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful DreamsBeautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3 for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.

Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.

The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.

Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.  

One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.

Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.

I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.

Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.

Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.

I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.

SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.

The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.

Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).

Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.

Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.

The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time

Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.

Rest in Peace Hana.

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂

P’s Party 65 Live Stream Thoughts

January 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

With Tequila Saya’s departure from Ice Ribbon and pro wrestling altogether last month, P’s Party has been under the new management of Tsukushi Haruka.

After a recent chorus of volunteers among the roster wanting to be in line for a shot at Tsukushi’s IW-19 Championship, a tournament was set up to decide who will get that opportunity.

P’s League 2021 is a round robin tournament with two five wrestler blocks. Each match will have a 19 count on the floor (as per IW-19 rules) and a 10 minute time limit. A win is worth 2 points, a draw 1, and a loss 0.

The winner of each block will face in the finals (no time limit), with the winner of that match receiving an IW-19 title match at Yokohama Party on May 4, 2021. In case of a score tie in a block, a tie breaker match will be held to determine who advances to the finals.

The field is a great mix of the P’s roster, both Ice Ribbon members, regulars, and guests.

Block A:
Itsuki Aoki (Shawn Capture)
Momo Kohgo (Actwres)
Yappy
Nao Ishikawa
Yuuki Mashiro

Block B:
Totoro Satsuki
Rina Shingaki (2AW)
Banny Oikawa
Madeline (Diana)
Honori Hana (SEAdLINNNG)

Looks like each week will have a match from each block, and it all kicks off here.

Ps Party is broadcast on Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico channel.

P’s Party 65

Tequila Saya made a special appearance to open to promote her new endeavor as part of the idol group Otonatic Romance.

Then Yuuki Mashiro and Tsukasa Fujimoto are brought out. Yuuki receives her ShuPro (Weekly Pro-Wrestling Magazine) Rookie of the Year Award. This is a big deal and a well deserved honor for our quirky, determined Gacha King. Tsukka is presented with the new issue of ShuPro that features her on the cover. Both give some thoughts and then Yuuki leads a “P’s Party Yay!” call to start off the show.

1) Suzu Suzuki & Yappy vs Banny Oikawa & Yuuki Mashiro

Suzu is not happy about the absence of her recently lost title belt, and seemingly takes a lot of her frustrations out on the Gacha King early on. Straightforward, decent tag match with a lot of amusing highlights. At one point Yuuki attempts to do a repeated sit attack on Yappy’s back but has no weight behind it so Yappy just relaxes on the mat. Yappy’s hip/butt attacks are now named / punctuated with a call of “Big Ass!” by Mio on commentary, which is always going to make me chuckle. Yuuki & Banny’s less than effective double team attempts were also a nice touch, and Suzu hit a wild sliding apron kick at one point.

In the end Suzu finished Banny with a great looking Tequila Shot (rollup slam from the side).

2) P’s League A Block: Itsuki Aoki vs Nao Ishikawa

This match was supposed to be Nao vs Momo Kohgo, but the latter was injured in practice and is temporarily out. With Aoki having a shot at a different singles title in Ice Ribbon impending, she’s the one to beat in Block A. Nothing would make me happier than a strong showing for Nao in this tournament, but the rookie with no wins’ chances don’t look good here.

This was even early, but shortly settled into Aoki slowly picking Nao apart while the latter remained defiant.

Around the halfway point Nao rallied, including a hard fought for scoop slam and sweet crossbody. I love the spamming of repeated pin attempts spot and it made a lot of sense as Nao tried to keep the monster down.

Aoki fought back late and had Nao in trouble with a crazy looking half crab. There was a really good story with Aoki being extremely confident, and Nao just flat out being tougher than she expected.

With under a minute left Nao dodged top double stomp and went for a bunch of rollups in the last minute, not keeping Aoki down but eating time. She laid in increasingly weaker forearms, and Aoki LEVELD her with a lariat with ten seconds left… for 2.999! Aoki went for a German but clearly wasn’t moving fast enough and time expires as she starts to lift Nao.

NAO DIDN’T LOSE! Definite shock here, but a well done and believable one. As mentioned I’m a huge fan of Nao, and starting the tourney with a surprise is an awesome choice. Aoki looking around as if wondering what just happened was great too. Aoki goes over to Nao after but gets slapped in the face for her trouble, as a draw clearly wasn’t satisfactory enough for the fiery rookie. I pretty much adored every thing about this.

3) Tsukushi Haruka & Madeline vs Thekla & Tsukasa Fujimoto

With the previously mentioned change to the card due to Kohgo’s absence, newly crowned ICE Cross Infinity Champion Tsukka is taking Aoki’s place in this tag match.

Maddie’s the greatest, and her cheerfully brandishing Fairy’s wand is highly amusing. Tsukushi showed little tolerance for her partner here even during the entrances.

Thekla has a title shot against Tsukushi coming up, so there’s additional tension between the teams.

Maddie vs Tsukka to start! Tsukka hit the reverse pedigree pretty early (love the move although I wish someone else had inherited from Saya that as it’s finisher worthy and Tsukka already has somewhere around 7).

The match continued at a great, fast pace. Tsukka and Tsukushi went full bore whenever they were in against each other, and one particularly amazing spot saw Tsukka kip up out of a wheelbarrow rollup. In the middle of the match there was also a lot of great grappling on the mat with Thekla and Maddie. Maddie’s unique holds and rollups are amazing.

Late in the match Maddie was way too amused to be doing Tsukka’s back kicks to Tsukka. Tsukka absorbed them, then kicked Maddie in counter when soccer kick and showed the poor rookie how they were really to be done.

Maddie hung in with the champ well, but eventually Tsukka used Maddie’s own kickout momentum to pull her into the stranglehold for the win (I always love transitions/reversals like that).

Really good match with a lot of interesting action.

4) P’s League B Block: Totoro Satsuki vs Honori Hana

We have a direct parallel of the Block A match here, with the most experienced wrestler in Block B facing a rookie with little success in singles matches.

Perhaps learning the lessons of the earlier P’s League match, this started off fast with the two just flat out charging at each other.

A bit in there was a really imaginative spot to highlight the tournament rules that saw them brawl to back area where Totoro locked Honori in and went back to the ring. After a couple of futile attempts to open the door, Honori realized she could go outside then enter back in through the audience door and she just beat the count reentering the ring at 18.

Totoro was relentless and pretty much in control all match until Honori took over with a great extended series of shoulder tackles. She later hit a spear and spammed pin attempts to wear Totoro down. Totoro fired back with several sentons for close counts, then went up to the second rope.

Totoro missed the second rope senton, but got up and charged Honori in the corner. Honori dodged and rolled Totoro into a deep schoolboy… for 3!

Another brilliant in ring story as Honori disrupted Totoro’s dominance with a flurry leading a rattled to over rely on her strongest move, and it led to an opportunity for the big upset.

——-

Can’t compliment the way things unfolded here enough. There were two very different upsets to kick off P’s League and make everything feel unpredictable. In one match the confident favorite wasn’t quite wrestling with the needed urgency to put her opponent away in time, and the other favorite couldn’t recover from having her well built momentum thrown off. Both Itsuki and Totoro still looked crazy strong without either upset feeling like a fluke. Well done all around.

Add in a pair of good tag matches and this was a really strong show. P’s Party continues to be a great showcase and playground for lesser experienced wrestlers and a ton of fun.

ChocoPro 85: Mitsuru’s Graduation Live Stream Thoughts

January 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

Important night for a variety of reasons, with a loaded card to boot.

ChocoPro is a unique effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.

This is one of their rare ring shows at Shinkiba 1st Ring. Masahiro Takanashi has been out with injury for nine months. His originally scheduled self-produced return show had to be cancelled due to renewed Covid restrictions in Tokyo. He gave the reserved venue spot to ChocoPro for this special show, and while he won’t be doing a full comeback match he will make his return in a five minute exhibition.

Emotional show for me as one of my favorite wrestlers is officially retiring (which in Japan is often referred to as “graduating” from the company or field). Check out my farewell piece for more thoughts and a personal look back on Mitsuru’s career.

ChocoPro 85

In a great touch, Mitsuru is out with Akki to open and handles announcing duties all show.

1) Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, & Chie Koishikawa vs Antonio Honda, Hagane Shinnou, & Ryuichi Sekine

As the veteran trio comes out Sekine is playing saxophone, Hagane guitar, and Honda is singing. They are apparently a regular band, and this was a cool way to have a little music in the show (entrance themes are generally not played for ChocoPro shows as any type of recorded music tends to flag YouTube’s overeager copyright algorithms).

This is a huge match for the gen 4 trio*, and the first time they’re teaming in six-person competition.

I love the way this progressed. The men’s team was joyfully heelish, while their opponents persevered and slowly built up momentum. Eventually after their powerhouse Tokiko ran wild they had established and maintained a small but definite advantage.

At which point Honda called the band in for a Mitsuru tribute to deflect from the trouble he was in. He suckered his opponents into dancing, then eye poked them all and finished Lulu with a fist drop from the second rope (while Hagane and Sekine were still playing their instruments).

Absurd in a pretty great way, this match combined comedy and action well and in a way that let the overmatched trio really shine even in defeat.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Emi Sakura & Sayaka Obihiro vs Sayuri & Sawasdee Kamen

Sayuri’s back! And with awesome new gear! Sawasdee was a regular partner of Mitsuru, so it’s really nice to see him on this show. They’ll make a good team against Gatoh Move’s most senior roster members.

Sayuri looked really good here. She always seems to somehow sharpen her skills and come back even stronger and smoother whenever she’s out for a bit. The match was largely about her tenacity, hanging in against Obi & Emi’s assault to set things up for her more experienced partner.

Late in the match Obi & Emi seemed not to be on same page, but it lead to suckering the other team in when they exaggerated their displeasure with each other. Little touches like this that build a bit throughout the match provide a lot of additional depth that’s often felt even more than it’s noticed, and Emi’s a master at it.

Emi pulled out the freaking 450 for the win (into a double knee drop on Sawasdee’s stomach/chest… ouch). My jaw always drops when I see her do it. I believe the last time we were treated to that amazing spectacle was at the retirement show of Aoi Kizuki, another of Emi’s trainees.

An emotional Emi speaks briefly to Mitsuru after the match, and Sawasdee hands Mitsuru her hero mask on his way out.

Exhibition: Masahiro Takanashi vs Choun Shiryu

Exactly the technical masterclass to be expected from these two. Fantastic to see Masa back from injury and looking to be in great shape/spirits/form. He was favoring the leg a bit by the end, but seemed ok overall. Masa set up his finish just as the five minute time limit ran out making this exhibition a draw.

UMA and Haru Miyako came out afterwards to present a congratulatory bottle to Masa. Masa shook hands with UMA but fell as UMA’s arm stretched out a couple feet.

3) Asia Deam Tag Team Championship: Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) (c) vs TropiCalamari (Yuna Mizumori & Chris Brookes)

The main event planned for ChocoPro’s first ring show was Chris & Mitsuru vs Best Bros. However Mitsuru was injured during practice leading up to the show, and would not end up returning to the ring. This variation on that planned match is an incredibly suitable match to head up Mitsuru’s official retirement show.

This was an incredibly strong main event with a classic feeling tag formula at times. The tension was palpable between the Bros and Chris and the overall atmosphere electric.

They honestly never really got me to buy into the possibility of Best Bros losing the championship in their first defense, but there were some amazing close falls none-the-less and the match was excellent regardless. In the end Akki countered a lariat by Yuna into a tight rollup to escape with the titles. The Bros give their rapidly becoming usual equal mix smug and heartfelt post match thoughts.

Mitsuru Konno Retirement Ceremony

This was done really well as an abbreviated form of the traditional Japanese retirement ceremony. The usual departing gifts were represented by just Yuna and Chris, with the latter acknowledging that he was traditionally supposed to give flowers but felt alcohol was a more fitting gesture for Mitsuru (who certainly approved). Mitsuru gave a speech followed by the 10 bell salute and everyone came in for a joyful cheer to wish Mitsuru well to wrap things up. Mitsuru will be missed, but it’s awesome to see her leave largely on her own terms and with a smile.

Great show all around, and a wonderful way to wish Mitsuru well and welcome Masa back.

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As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their brand new merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available!

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Best wishes to Mitsuru with all that lies ahead. Beer Buddies forever.

Ice Ribbon 10th Anniversary Show DVD Review

May 4, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

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Been wanting to revisit and finally review this show for a long time, and while I was hoping to finish it up before the end of the year there’s something fitting about it being my first blog post to welcome the new year.

DVD opens with a nice year by year highlight package of the company’s history, which ends with Emi Sakura’s shocking return.

The landscape of joshi puroresu constantly changes, and I’ll be pointing out numerous wrestlers who have retired in the four and a half years since this show took place.

1) Maruko Nagasaki, Bete Noire & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs. Hiroe Nagahama, Ryo Mizunami & Makoto 

Bete Noire later became Jayla Dark, and retired in 2019 (against Tsukasa Fujimoto at Pro-Wrestling Eve). Wave’s Hiroe (now HIRO’e) retired in August 2020. Maruko was the only Ice Ribbon roster member at the time in this match. She has since left the promotion but still wrestles for Itabashi Pro.

Clips are shown of Hiroe and Maruko’s rivalry, including Hiroe pinning Maruko to win the opening 6-woman tag at Ribbonmania 2015. At it’s core their rivalry was what this solid, somewhat standard Ice Ribbon opening multi-woman tag was all about. With the four veterans in the ring with them anchoring the match (including a particularly striking moment when Bette near took Makoto’s head off with a discus lariat), Hiroe and Maruko were able to build up to an extended exchange between the two of them at the end. After a bunch of close calls Maruko tied Hiroe up tight with a great rollup variation for the win.

2) 235, Miyako Matsumoto & Kasako Ueki vs. Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto vs. Gentaro & Takashi Sasaki vs. Papillon Akemi & Kazunari Murakami 

The two Ice Ribbon wrestlers in this match are no longer with the company, as 235 retired in 2017 and Miyako left in 2019 to produce her own shows.

Miyako assembled her team by holding 235 at gunpoint. Really.

Falls apparently count either in the ring or on a mat setup on the stage.

This was a combination of all the wackiness expected from a Miyako match that didn’t really come together. Nearly from the get-go there was constantly action in three to five places at a time as all the various team broke off into pairs or groups to do battle. There were parts I found great, like the grappling going on on the stage and when they brawled up to the balcony, and those that didn’t hold interest for me personally like when the action ground to a halt for comedy and when Miyako started threatening people with firearms (done over the top or not it doesn’t work for me when she breaks out “real” weapons). The problem is there was no time to process the interesting parts because they constantly had to keep cutting to some of the other action. So this was somehow both chaotic and surprisingly flat. It’s the type of match I imagine was much more exciting live than it comes across on video.

Still it had its highlights, such as Miyako doing a balcony dive. Fun end too: Murakami interrupts Super Mama Mia and everyone else bails leaving him alone to destroy Miyako, but when he misses a kick and she tries to roll him up everyone comes back in to help and the dog pile gives Miyako a surprising pin.

3) Kurumi Hiiragi, Tequila Saya & Manami Toyota vs. Akane Fujita & The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi)

Just two months into Saya’s career here, and this show is the first use of the “Tequila Saya” name and her first time in the Mexican flag themed colors that would become a trademark of all her outfits (before this she had generic rookie gear). Saya ended her in ring career a year ago and just left wrestling altogether a few weeks ago. Toyota retired at the end of 2017 after a 30 year career. This match was Kurumi’s return from being out for 10 months with injury. She was 16 at this point, already a six year pro, and had held multiple championships.

So their team was a really interesting trio of the returning overachiever, the legend, and the rookie, and it was reflected nicely in the match structure. Generally when Kurumi was in she was throwing herself at her opponents in great power showdowns. When Toyota was in the Ice Ribbon stalwarts were trying to prove they could go toe to toe with her. When Saya was in she was getting extensively worked over by her more experienced opponents, but defiantly getting her own shots in and showing great fortitude. Throw in a few lighter moments here and there (like when they convinced Toyota to try the Butchers’ poses) and it really worked. All six wrestlers looked good, and overall this was an excellent little gem of a match.

Down the stretch things got intense as Mochi and Kurumi battled, with Mochi eventually hitting a huge top rope leg drop for the win. Did NOT expect Kurumi to take the pin here. Again, great stuff all round.

4) Triangle Ribbon Title: Cherry (c) vs. Kyuri vs. Misaki Ohata 

Cherry had pinned Kyuri to win the vacated championship (in a match that also included Makoto) after Neko Nitta retired as champion at Ribbonmania 2015. Kyuri was at a little under three years experience at this point, and determined to win that title.

Ohata, who had been wrestling in IR a lot around this time, was a high level threat and it was entirely possible she could walk out with the title over the highly competent but often comedic champion and the less experienced other challenger. She retired at the end of 2018.

There was a lot of cool use of triangle format, with some clever three person spots, reversals, etc. Ohata is an all time favorite of mine and had a couple of fantastic moments in this, including nailing both opponents at the same time with her seated body press against the ropes and a crazy spot where she German duplexed Cherry ONTO Kyuri. Cherry was generally opportunistic throughout, looking for ways to sneak out with her title intact, and Kyuri was fighting with everything she had to prove herself against the veterans.

Late in the match Cherry ducks a clothesline from Ohata and sends her to the ropes where Kyuri, who’s entering from outside, holds them open sending Ohata tumbling to the floor. Kyuri then immediately grabs a crucifix rollup on Cherry … to win the title before Misaki can get back in! Cherry kind of dropped into position for the finish for no reason after shoving Ohata, but it didn’t really detract from Kyuri’s big moment.

Having Misaki in this added a hard hitting element and made it even more of an impressive victory for the new champion. Happy to see Kyuri win her first title here and the match was quite good.

5) Maya Yukihi vs. Kyoko Kimura (Maya Trial Series) 

Kyoko retired about eight months after this show. She is the mother of the greatly missed Hana Kimura, passed six months ago, and my thoughts are with Kyoko as she continues to fight against the injustices that led to Hana’s death.

Maya was about a year and a half into her career and this is the middle match of her trial series against a series of high profile, difficult opponents. Highlights are shown of her first three matches of the series against Toyota, Mayumi Ozaki, and Dynamite Kansai (Hiroyo Matsumoto, Maya’s Azure Revolution partner Risa Sera, and Nanae Takahashi would finish out the series after this).

The Ozaki match was particularly significant, as after the match she invited Maya to join her and Dark Snow was born. In fact Maya is in Dark Snow form here and accompanied by Mayumi Ozaki.

This was essentially an Oz Academy style match dropped in the middle of an Ice Ribbon show. Constant interference and weapons use in full view of the referee, with Maya starting the match out just wearing out Kyoko with the whip she brought, Ozaki just coming into the ring in the middle of the match to attack Kyoko, and so on. Honestly this type of stuff is everything I don’t like about how heels are generally booked / handled in Japan. There are no enforced rules and the faces hardly ever respond in kind so it’s just a bunch of lopsided battles and defacto handicap matches with no real reason why the opponents put up with all the nonsense. Also, being Maya’s home promotion and early on for the Dark Snow persona, she was vigorously cheered no matter what.

All that said, there were some nice elements to this match in particular. Kyoko, being a natural heel herself, DID respond in kind at least a little by throwing Maya around by the hair and tossing Ozaki’s chain right back out of the ring whenever the latter tried to toss it to Maya while in Kyoko’s half crab. The base action was good and Maya showed great fire, including a bit where she just wears Kyoko out with a long series of hard slaps.

Late in the match Maya mishit Ozaki, creating an opening for Kyoko to hit a palm strike followed by the choke bomb for 2. Immediate sleeper after that finishes Maya.

Overall this was a fine example of the style for those who like it, but it’s so not my thing.

6) Tsukushi vs. Meiko Satomura 

Video package shows a flashback to Emi Sakura & Tsukushi winning the then vacant tag belts over Meiko & Sendai Sachiko in 2011. Nice bit of history to both as context going into this singles contest and in the overall theme of the show being a celebration of Ice Ribbonn’s anniversary.

Instead of locking up Meiko kicks Tsukushi in the head to immediately set the tone. I was only planning on doing full play by play for the top two matches, but screw it after that start we’re going full bore here as well.

Tsukushi tries to kick at Meiko’s legs but takes the worst of it as Meiko’s reach is longer and her counter kicks keep Tsukushi at a distance. Now a lockup happens and the two look like they’re putting every once of strength they have into it. Meiko slowly forces Tsukushi to back up into the ropes, but gives a clean break and they go back to center and lockup again.

Meiko transitions into a trip takedown. Tsukushi rolls through, but Meiko continues Tsukushi’s roll and holds on to the side headlock. Too close to the ropes though, and Tsukushi gets a foot over the bottom to break. Meiko tries to keep control of her opponent’s head as they stand up, but Tsukushi breaks free and defiantly slaps Meiko across the face. So Meiko kicks her to the mat, but Tsukushi pops back up and hits a dropkick.

Tsukushi tries a whip but Meiko has ahold of the top rope and is going NOWHERE. Tsukushi lays in one of her vicious forearms and tries again, but Meiko keeps hold of the rope, kicks Tsukushi back, then levels Tsukushi with a forearm of her own. Meiko whips Tsukushi to the ropes, but gets hit with a dropkick to the one on the rebound. Tsukushi jumps up for a hurricanrana, but Meiko shrugs her off and as Tsukushi lands in standing position Meiko nails her with another kick to the head for 2. Despite Tsukushi’s resistance Meiko turns her over into a crab, then transitions into an STF. Tsukushi scrapes her way towards the ropes with all Meiko’s weight on her but when she gets close Meiko floats into a front face lock, and pulls Tsukushi up. Scoop slam gets 2 and Meiko uses Tsukushi’s kickout momentum to apply a Fujiwara armbar. After a struggle Tsukushi inches close enough to get a foot on the bottom rope for a break. A pair of elbow drops gets 2 for Meiko.

Tsukushi floats over Meiko on a scoop slam attempt but Meiko blocks her ensuing forearm and uses an arm wringer to set up some hard kicks to the chest. Tsukushi catches the third though and a dragon screw leg whip gives her her first real advantage of the match. She ties up Meiko leg in the ropes in the corner and hits a kick and a dropkick to the leg, then backs up as Meiko falls into sitting position to hit the running dropkick in the corner. She drags Meiko out of the corner by the leg she’s been working over and covers for 2, keeping hold of the leg and transitioning into an ankle lock as Meiko kicks out.

Meiko rolls forward while still in the hold and uses her free leg to kick Tsukushi in the head several times to force a break, but Tsukushi uses the momentum from the last kick to bounce off the ropes and return the favor. Tsukushi up top and hits a missile dropkick, which knocks Meiko down and against the ropes for Tsukushi’s vicious seated dropkick.

Back to their feet, Meiko breaks a double chicken wing with a back kick and then European uppercuts Tsukushi down to the mat. Several hard kicks to the chest as Tsukushi tries to sit/stand up keep her down until Meiko decides to pick her up. Meiko whips her to the ropes and just runs her over off the rebound. After a quick check from the ref that Tsukushi can continue Meiko attempts another whip, which Tsukushi beautifully counters into a knee bar. Meiko however uses her height and strength advantage to stand up out of it and reverse into one of her own. Tsukushi again holds on long enough to claw her way to the ropes for a break. Nursing the leg, she doesn’t get up right away so Meiko kicks at her on the mat, which enrages Tsukushi who stands up and nails a forearm. Trade of Meiko kicks to the leg and Tsukushi forearms follows until Meiko nails several forearms of her own in a row to take control. Tsukushi flips out of backdrop suplex position, lands another hard forearm, and hits the ropes but Meiko LEVELS her with another high kick.

Meiko calls for the end but Tsukushi looks out on the mat so the ref backs her up and starts a count. Tsukushi gets up at 5 with a look of pure determination, but Meiko grabs the backdrop suplex for 2. Meiko kicks Tsukushi down several times again as she tries to get up, but Tsukushi just roars in defiance each time and finally gets up and rocks the legend with a flurry of forearms. Beautiful bridging tiger suplex gets 2.

Harukaze countered … into Meiko just throwing Tsukushi aside. Another European kicks Tsukushi down, but she slaps Meiko across the face again as she gets up. High kick is ducked, more forearms put Meiko off balance, and the Harukaze is completed this time for a close 2. Tsukushi locks Meiko’s arms behind her and seems to be going for a wrist clutch tiger suplex, but Meiko breaks free and there’s the pele. Meiko’s had enough and the Death Valley Driver finishes the upstart.

What a great, hard hitting match. It featured a ton of the type of reversals and trade offs I adore, visceral, hard strikes from both, and a real sense of intensity. This was all about Tsukushi looking to prove she could hang with the legend, and despite the loss she totally did.

7) Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima vs. Emi Sakura & Nanae Takahashi 

Yuuka was my favorite rising star in wrestling at the time, and I understand wanting to headline with the company’s top title, but still can’t shake the feeling that founder Emi Sakura returning to Ice Ribbon for this tag match really should have been the main event.

Big, dramatic intro video for this one all about Tsukka as the current director of Ice Ribbon and the shock of Sakura’s return at a dojo show to be revealed as Nanae’s partner for this match. Sakura had not returned to Ice Ribbon at all since her departure years prior and her creation of Gatoh Move.

Full entrances shown, which is unusual for these DVDs (likely due to music rights and/or time considerations), but very important for a match like this and I’m really glad they did. Seeing Sakura showered in streamers in an Ice Ribbon ring for their monumental 10th Anniversary was a surreal, important moment and had to be included.

Best Friends are draped in belts, as they were the reigning tag team champions of both Ice Ribbon and JWP at the time, and Arisa was JWP’s top singles champion as well. A number of Ice Ribbon wrestlers got onto the ring apron to hold the ropes open for them as them came down the isle, and in the shadows (the arena is dark except for a spotlight on the entering team) Nanae & Emi briefly chasing them off the apron can be made out. Arisa shoves her JWP title right in Nanae’s face during her introduction. Nana formed SEAdLINNNG a month after the show, and Arisa would leave JWP to join SEAdLINNNG to start 2017.

This is going to be insane.

No handshake, to the surprise of no one. Arisa and Nanae start, being extremely tentative about locking up but fiercely grappling for an advantage the second they do make contact. A lot of groundwork with a variety of attempted holds where they are constantly in motion with neither getting any advantage for long ends in a stalemate.

Wholesale changes bring in Tsukka and Sakura, and the crowd is both hyped and split. After circling they lockup for all of a half second before Sakura knees Tsukka in the ribs to break and Tsukka responds with an immediate forearm. Sakura dares her for more so she obliges, and once Sakura’s against the ropes Tsukka whips her to the far ones and nails a dropkick off the rebound. Hard kick, double sledge to the back, then snap mare set uo the seated back kick. Sakura pops right back up and slaps Tsukka across the face so hard Tsukka drops to her knees. Whip to the ropes and a dropkick by Sakura follow. Scoop slam attempt by Sakura reversed by Tsukka. Any time there’s the briefest pause or opening between moves one takes a quick swing or kick at the other. Tsukka hits a forearm and Sakura again dares her for more, but she slaps Sakura across the face instead. They trade HARD slaps until Sakura switches to a chop across the chest that levels Tsukka.

Tag brings in Nanae, who presses the advantage with a backdrop suplex. She applies a half crab and Tsukka struggles to the ropes to break. Shotgun dropkick from the middle turnbuckle gets 2. Tag back to Sakura who lays in some stomps. In a nice touch a shot of a conflicted Makoto at ringside is shown (Makoto was trained by Sakura in Ice Ribbon but was part of Reina and wrestled occasionally for both Ice and Gatoh by this time). Sakura throws Tsukka across the ring by her hair then lays in a series of chops in the corner. Single leg trip sets up the surfboard, and Nanae runs across the ring to prevent Arisa from saving as Sakura completes the hold. Sakura pulls all the way back for a little while, then releases the hold. More stomps to the head just anger Tsukka and she pops up with a forearm in between each one, but Sakura gets a scoop slam to stop that and maintain control. Cover gets 2 then Nanane is tagged backed in. Close up on Tsukka seems to show her with a bit of a bloody mouth.

Nanae boots mockingly Tsukka in the head a couple times. The third is caught and a forearm exchange ensues, with Nanae largely getting the better of it due to being fresher and larger. Tsukka ducks the last a hits the ropes for a hurricanrana attempt, but Nanae holds on just able Tsukka’s knees to turn it into a modified crab. Tsukka crawls towards the ropes to break. Nanae pulls her up and hits three hard clotheslines against the ropes, then whips her to the far side. But Tsukka nails a dropkick off the rebound, hits the seated kick to the back for good measure, and tags in Arisa to finally get a reprieve.

Arisa was already on the top turnbuckle when she was tagged, and shotgun missile dropkicks Nanae all the way back into her own corner where Sakura tags in. Arisa ducks the charge and hits Nanae with a knee strike in the corner then keeps pounding on her with forearms while Sakura shrugs behind Arisa in an amusing bit. Sakura pulls Arisa back out of the corner by her gear and goes for a backdrop suplex, but Arisa flips out, ducks Sakura’s elbow… and runs back to the corner to waylay Nanae with more forearms to the face. This is great. Sakura shrugs again but obligingly finally succeeds in pulling Arisa off Nanae. They double whip Arisa to the ropes, but she ducks their attack, shoves Nanae into Sakura, then nails Nanae with a German suplex. With Sakura & Nanae laid out against opposing ropes, Arisa runs back and forth between them hitting face wash kicks for a bit. She’s certainly paying them back for the extended beating Tsukka took in spades so far.

Nanae’s still prone against the ropes so Arisa knees her in the face a bunch. Nanae eventually catches one and elevates Arisa into a faceplan, which is followed by a Sakura summersault to halt Arisa’s rampage. Arisa staggers into the corner and Sakura runs from the opposite to hit her awesome corner crossbody. Knee to the face keeps Arisa in the corner and Nanae is tagged in for some revenge. She clotheslines Arisa in the corner then UNLOADS with over twenty punches to the head. Then Arisa drops and slumps against the bottom turnbuckle when Nanae finally pauses, so Nanae drops to her knees and hits another five. Arisa picked up by the hair and whipped to the far corner to eat another pair of running clotheslines then brought to the middle where the backdrop driver gets 2. That would be only the third cover of the match. Crazy.

Nanae hits the ropes, runs right into Arisa’s Cutie Special, and is dropped right on her head as she wasn’t rotated quite enough before hitting the mat. Arisa takes a needed reprieve against the ropes as the ref checks on Nanae, and it seems she’s ok to continue. Arisa goes to the topes and hits the doubelstomp for 2. She picks Nanae up, kneeing her in the head along the way, and is looking for a dragon suplex as Tsukka sprints across the ring to cut Sakura off. Nanae breaks the full nelson so Arisa spins her around and lays in a long flurry of forearms, but Nanae just slaps her across the face hard enough to drop her to her knees in response.

Sakura in and they hit a spinning side slam / elbow drop double team of Arisa for a close 2. Nanae grabs a waist lock and Sakura tries to hit Arisa, but Arisa ducks and the enzugiri hits Nanae instead. Tsukka cuts off Sakura as Arisa hit an impressive straightjacket German, but Sakura gets free just in time to save the fall at 2. Flying kick from Nanae counters a charge, but Arisa gets right back up and kicks Nanae in the head. Hard headbutt by Arisa countered in kind, then Nanae levels her with a clothesline. Both are down.

Arisa crawls to the corner and tags in Tsukka, who runs along the apron to a neutral corner, hits a missile dropkick just as Nanae stands to knock her into the far corner, and follows immediately with her running corner dropkick. Scoop slam by Nanae slows things for just a moment as Tsukka gets up and hits a forearm. Nanae hits one of her own, but Tsukka uses the momentum to go into Nanae’s corner to nail Sakura on the apron before coming back and hitting her next one on Nanae. Incredible. Then Tsukka does it again. Third time Sakura ducks the forearm and ties up Tsukka, but when Nanae charges Tsukka gets free and Nanae knocks Sakura off the apron. Arisa in out of nowhere with a dropkick to Nanae’s back. Arisa hits another German and Tsukka does her awesome floatover pin for 2. Tsukka calls for the end but Nanae’s up before she can even scale the ropes and meets her up there to hit a superplex on Tsukka. Sliding kick gets 2.

Tsukka fights off a face lock, hits a couple strikes and comes off the ropes for a Tsukka-chan Bomb (code red), but Nanae stands up to counter. Tsukka fights out of backdrop suplex position and tries again, but gets face planted as a counter this time. Arisa in to break up another face lock, and they whip Nanae to the corner and charge, but she comes out and levels both in succession with clotheslines. Nanae grabs backdrop suplex position again and finally hits the modified Blue Thunder Bomb for 2.

Sakura tagged in. She butterflies Tsukka’s arms and lifts, impressively holding Tsukka suspended for a bit and turning to all sides of the ring before completing the backbreaker. Big smile on Sakura’s face with Tsukka in some much trouble. She does another variation of the butterfly backbreaker and adds a stomp for good measure, but when she wasitlocks Tsukka the latter counters with her roll through into a kick to a chest. Tsukka looks winded and worn out but had no intention of tagging just yet and hits three hard kicks to the back and the rebounding soccer kick to the chest. Sakura defiantly kicks out before 1, so Tsukka simply hits it again, for 2. And AGAIN, prompting a save from Nanae at 2.

Tsukka calls for the end and picks Sakura up into position for the Venus Shoot, but Sakura follows her into the corner and counter with a powerbomb, then hits a middle turnbuckle Vaderbomb for 2. Tigerdriver countered with Tsukka landing on her feet and Sakura still dropping to the mat in perfect position for Tsukka to hit another chest kick. EIGHT more kicks to Sakura’s back with audible thuds. Tsukka lets Sakura get to her feet and seems to dare her to respond in kind, but after Sakura snap mares Tsukka into position Arisa comes in to grab her leg and block the kicks. Hard forearm knocks Sakura back down and Best Friends hit the tandem kick to the back and face. They go up on adjacent turnbuckles (on the long side O_o) and hit the double missile dropkick as Sakura stands. Close 2.

Venus Shoot… and Sakura CATCHES THE KICK on the way down and transitions into a half crab. Nanae holds Arisa back and Sakura drags Tsukka to the center, forcing Tsukka to fight for every inch as she claws to the ropes for a break. But Sakura’s not breaking, so Arisa gets free of Nanae and kicks Sakura in the head. She then hits the ropes to continue the assault but Sakura completely wipes her out with a super kick and goes back to Tsukka. She tells Nanae to get up on the ropes, then does a top rope hurricanrana on her own partner to send Nanae crashing into the prone Tsukka on the mat. Sakura calls for the end and goes up to the top again for a sweet moonsault that gets 2 when Arisa saves at the last possible second.

Nanae drops Arisa with a backdrop driver and she & Sakura hit stereo splashes from opposite top turnbuckles on Arisa & Tsukka respectively. Tsukka powers her shoulder up at 2.9 to keep the match alive. Tiger driver (sitout butterfly power bomb) finally connects, but Tsukka kicks out at 2.999. Sakura’s face looks more annoyed than shocked in a nice touch. Sakura tries to pick her up for another but Tsukka is deadweight. Tsukka tries to fight up from her knees as Sakura just absorbs the shots, then pulls her up into a backdrop driver for another super close 2. Sakura signals for the 450, but Tsukka counters with a variation of the Venus Shoot with Sakura on the top turnbuckle and Arisa sprints in to bring Sakura down with a gut wrench superplex. Tsukkadora completed and Sakura could not have kicked out any closer to it being over. Strike combination stuns Sakura and the Tsukka-chan Bomb… DOESN’T finish as Nanae flies in out of nowhere to break up the pin. Totally bought that as the finish (as did the crowd) as it was clear Sakura wasn’t so much as twitching and wouldn’t be kicking out.

Nane forearms Arisa a bit and hits the ropes, but Arisa’s right behind her and knocks her right through the ropes as she hits them. Arisa follows her out and it’s back down to the legal participants. Sakura catches Tsukka off the ropes with a dropkick to the knee to put her into potion for La Magistral but Tsukka rolls out of it and hits an enzugiri. Venus Shoot connects and Sakura is out cold in the middle of the ring. Tsukka covers … FOR 3 AND THE WIN. Tsukka’s crying with emotion and is swarmed by members of the Ice roster in congratulations. Camera cuts just as the ring bell is stricken a few times, indicating somewhere off screen Arisa and Nanae must still be going at it.

Cuts to just a little bit later to show Sakura leaving with the Gatoh Move seconds (Riho, Sayaka Obihiro, Kotori, and Mitsuru Konno). Tsukka has the microphone and cuts an emotional promo to wrap up the clash of Ice Ribbon’s past and present.

As mentioned Sakura left with her compatriots so the post match backstage interview with her “team” is just Nanae.

Simply incredible. Seek this out.

This was everything one could want from this match and more, but it wasn’t the end of the story. More on that after the main event.

8) Ice Cross Infinity Title Match: Risa Sera (c) vs Yuuka 

Yuuka was a standout and really felt like the future of the company at the time. Highlight package shows her pinning Risa in a tag match leading up to this, as well as her training method of attaching a drawing of Risa to her punching bag. Another interesting thing shown is that when Emi Sakura made her surprise visit to the Ice Ribbon dojo as referred to above, Yuuka made to hold the ropes for her to enter the ring (before being told off by Tsukka).

Yuuka’s just staring a hole through the champ at every opportunity, even turning her head to keep looking at Risa as she walks around the ring for her intro. They do shake hands before the start, but Yuuka holds on extra long while staring His right in the eyes.

Bell rings and Yuuka dashes right at Risa, ducks under, and grabs her School Girl (120% schoolboy rollup – continuing to roll through a schoolboy rollup to end up bridging over the opponent’s legs for added leverage) for a close 2. So smart to start this off fast when having to follow the war that happened in the semi-main, and Yuuka immediately going for the move she’s pinned Risa with before puts the champ on the defensive and makes for a great underlying story for the match.

Yuuka does a matrix evasion of a Risa right (to the crowd’s delight) then pops back up with a forearm and tries the schoolboy again, but Risa twists into a pin of her own for 2.

Brief stalemate staredown then they start laying into each other with forearms. Yuuka stops that by grabbing Risa’s hair but the champ responds in kind and throws Yuuka across the ring by her hair then chokes her against the bottom turnbuckle. Scoop slam sets up the crab and the champ looks pleased to be in control. She grabs Yuuka arms and goes into her hanging crab, bouncing Yuuka’s head off the mat as she shakes Yuuka up and down.

Risa drops her out of the hold hard after a few moments and a double knee drop to the back gets 2. Running knee drop misses and Yuuka dropkicks Risa to the back and right out of the ring. Yuuka up to the top and hits a nice flying crossbody to Risa on the floor. Yuuka rolls her back in, goes back to the top, and hits another flying crossbody (inside the ring this time) for 2. Heavy forearm exchange leads to Risa hitting several in a row and then hitting the ropes, but Yuuka follows her in for one against the ropes. She then rebounds off the far ropes and knocks Risa down with a running one to set up her awesome Angel Thunder (diving “forearm drop”) on a prone Risa for 2.

Risa blocks when Yuuka tries to lift her, so Yuuka lands another forearm and hits the ropes. But Risa drop toeholds her and follows up with the upper leg hold crab. The torque on Yuuka looks vicious. She fights into better position then crawls to the ropes to break. Risa drags her into position and hits a double knee drop from the second turnbuckle for 2. Up into fireman’s carry but Yuuka struggles back down out of it. Forearm by Risa sends her into the corner, but when Risa tries to whip her out of it Yuuka reverses and lands another forearm. Tornado DDT follows then Yuuka finally completes the Angel’s Trumpet Suplex Hold (crossed-legged fisherman’s suplex), but it only gets 2.

Yuuka up top and nails a beautiful top rope Angel Thunder, and Risa just barely survives by getting her shoulder up by centimeters and her hand in the way of the ref’s coming down.

Risa’s essentially deadweight in kneeling position as Yuuka tries to pull her up so the challenger smiles briefly and kicks her in the head and chest until she stands up, at which point Yuuka slaps her across the face. Risa with a quick smirk of her own, responds in kind, then just unloads on the back of Yuuka’s head with elbows / forearms. Falcon’s Arrow gets 2.

Risa calls for the end and goes up to the top turnbuckle, but Yuuka’s to her feet and meets the champ up there to hit a top rope hurricanrana. She follows up with a crossed legged bridging backdrop suplex for 2. For the first time in the match Yuuka’s looking a little frustrated and disbelieving instead of determined and laser focused. Hard forearm to Risa, then she hits the ropes… but charges right into Ayers Rock.

However Yuuka kicks out at 1 (!) and gets up to swing at Risa. Risa tries to counter into the Sera Rhythm Buster (her swing around side slam), but Yuuka counters into a rollup for 2, which Risa counters for 2, which Yuuka counters for 2. Love that sequence, with each successive count being a closer call.

Risa kicks at Yuuka then whips her into the corner for the running elbow, trip, then running knees combo. Back to the middle and the Sera Rhythm Buster gets 2. Double knees from the top miss as Yuuka moves and the challenger applies a bridging backslide for another close 2. They both hit the ropes and Yuuka goes into the School Girl again for 2. She swings at Risa who counters into a full nelson, but Yuuka gets free and does a backslide into the School Girl as she’s trying and combining every rollup variation she can think of to try to keep Risa down. The champion gets a shoulder up in the nick of time.

Yuuka hits the ropes but runs into a right hand and Risa plants her with Ayres Rock II (sitout fireman’s carry slam). Bit shocked Yuuka kicks out. Spinning power bomb by Risa… also gets 2, and the crowd is very audibly, appreciatively shocked at Yuuka surviving that. Double diving knees from the top rope make the third finisher, and that’s finally enough for Risa to keep Yuuka down and retain her title.

This was great. Intense, quick paced, and incredibly well worked. It was exactly the right type of match to follow the huge semi-main if anything had to, and all the respect in the world to Risa and Yuuka to finishing such a monumental show on such a high note.

Epilogue

As I mentioned earlier it seemed like Yuuka was going to be a big part of the future of the company, and this performance seemed to further solidify that. As it turns out, she’d only have about 15 matches after this. She took a hiatus in July 2016 which she never returned to the ring from, and officially retired in 2019.

In the weeks following this event, Tsukka expressed a desire to visit Ichigaya Chocolate Square in the same way Sakura had shown up at the Ice Ribbon dojo. Risa Sera said she wanted to come too, but Sakura responded that Risa was not welcome but Tsukka could bring Yuuka because the later showed respect when Sakura was at the dojo. During that appearance Tsukka made a challenge for another match, which Sakura agreed to under the condition it would be the last Gatoh Move vs Ice Ribbon encounter. Thus far it has been, with the match on this show and the followup being the only two times the companies have crossed paths in the ring.

The match would take place at Riho’s 10th Anniversary event on June 22, 2016 at Korakuen Hall (a little under two months after this event). It was Emi Sakura and a young Gatoh Move wrestler with similar experience level as Yuuka, Kotori, against Tsukka & Yuuka. I really like the fact that two young yet already high level wrestlers were chosen as the partners in general, let alone how awesome the specific two chosen were in particular. The match was another intense, exciting encounter. As part of Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary festivities this past August, the match was included in a watch party of Sakura matches on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel. It is still available to watch and highly recommended.

Side note: Like Yuuka, Kotori was another excellent rising star that retired a bit early, and ended her career at the end of 2017.

Overall

Ok, so if you’ve stuck with me through to the end of this it really should be no surprise that I think this show was fantastic, particularly the last three matches. It’s both significant for a variety of reasons and just plain great as a wrestling show in its own right and is well worth making a point to see for not only Ice Ribbon (and/or Gatoh Move) fans but anyone who enjoys Joshi Pro-wrestling.

Available both on Ice Ribbon’s Nico channel (with subscription, show archived in three parts without video packages, etc) and as a DVD (as reviewed above).

“I really think… wrestling was fun” : Farewell to Mitsuru Konno

“Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine.”

I wrote the above words two years ago to open my look back on the career of Aasa Maika in the wake of her retirement, and they are perhaps even more fitting to preface this piece written in light of Mitsuru’s own retirement announcement.

I mentioned shortly after that trip that Mitsuru already projected a distinct no-nonsense aura in the way she carried herself in the ring that nicely complimented her intense strikes and smooth holds. She made an immediate impression through the few matches I saw of hers with under six months experience and became an instant favorite of mine, which she remained.

It was a treat to see her skills further develop and the following year I was lucky to see Mitsuru in longer and more challenging contests against veterans including excellent showings against Gatoh’s ace Riho, the incredible Masahiro Takanashi and Gatoh’s founder / Mitsuru’s trainer herself Emi Sakura. Mitsuru’s determination and fire in the face of stronger opponents was always apparent and made her matches truly engaging.

I was back in Japan during Spring of 2018 for the wedding of some dear friends of mine. During that trip I was able to see Gatoh Move’s annual mixed tag team Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup tournament for the first time. The show was a delight, with a field of excellent matches of different styles, great booking, and incredible action. The tone was set right away with the first match of the tournament seeing Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru & Sawasdee Kamen in a fantastic display of everything intergender wrestling can be. I adored the match and Mitsuru was continually pushing herself and wrested like someone with much more experience than she had.

For that first match teaming with Sawasdee as the Heroes, Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit and came to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif.

A few days before the 5/4/18 show Mitsuru had announced on Twitter that replica’s of her mask, made by the original mask maker (the incredible Demonio Blanco / Bacchanales Tokyo), were available for special order. I put in an order but expected to have to pick it up during my next trip (whenever that ended up being). In a wonderful, greatly appreciated gesture a point was made of finishing it so it could be delivered before I returned home and Mitsuru surprised me with it after the show. It’s a wonderful keepsake of amazing quality and a centerpiece addition to my collection, and will be a treasured memento.

As a final fantastic bit of amusement, Mitsuru had her own mask with her and had us both wear them when I got a pic with her later on, then signed with “we are heroes!” It was fun to a be a sidekick for a moment.

Mitsuru’s matches continued to be a highlight of the shows I saw, and constantly became more varied in both style and concept. I saw her in things such as Akki’s first intergender singles match (1/2/19), a delightful tag match that saw Riho & Hagane Shinnou play the villains to her Heroes team (1/13/19), a shot at TropikaWild’s Asia Dream Tag Team Championship, and so on. The intensity she brought to everything she did was amazing, and her holds kept looking more and more vicious and her strikes more and more brutal every time out.

For a majority of Gatoh Move’s existence, their clear ace and star was Riho. In Spring of 2019 it was announced that she would be leaving to go freelance in early July. The landscape of Gatoh changed dramatically after her departure and the subsequent debut of six rookies from Sakura’s casual training program DareJyo.

Mei Suruga and Yuna Mizumori, both with under a year and a half of experience, suddenly became senior to half the roster. In the same instant at around three years of experience Mitsuru immediately went from being fourth senior out of six on the roster to third out of eleven, and often effectively second after Gatoh’s founder and near twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura (as Sayaka Obihiro was sporadically out with injury).

Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

In addition to being great to see all the new rookies in action, it was interesting to see the effects of the new dynamics when I went back to Japan in December 2019. Gatoh Move had not only survived but thrived in new ways, and the importance of Mitsuru, Mei, and Yuna as pillars of the company were apparent. Mitsuru and Mei main evented Gatoh’s year end show at Shinkiba 1st Ring in a battle of wrestlers trying to prove their place as the new ace. This had been built to wonderfully, with Mei consistently having a bit of an edge on Mitsuru despite having less experience. A few days prior the two battled to a draw in an intense tag match (Mitsuru & Rin Rin vs Mei & Actwres Girlz’ Saki). 

The big match featured excellent work all around from both, and the underlying story of Mei trying to outlast and outmaneuver an angry, driven Mitsuru was pitch perfect. They took advantage of the spotlight and this was seen as a strong indication of a bright future ahead of Gatoh Move. I was thrilled (as well as a bit surprised) to see Mitsuru finally get a big win, and it felt every bit deserved.

Four days after her victory Mitsuru faced another big challenge in the form of a singles match against Chris Brookes. It was all about Mitsuru’s fire and defiance as a counter to Chris’ size advantage, including her unloading at various points with heavy, vicious strikes. I adored the inventive submissions and counters from both that anchored the match throughout, and Mitsuru got a chance to really shine against a stronger opponent and looked fantastic even in defeat.

Both Mitsuru vs Mei and her battle with Chris were among my favorite matches of the year and are well worth seeking out.

That trip got both derailed and extended a bit due to me coming down with the flu around New Year’s. I was lucky enough that after I recovered (and after Mitsuru herself returned from some time out sick) I was able to catch one last live Gatoh Move show with her on it right before I left. It was a tag match that saw Mitsuru team with rookie Tokiko Kirihara to face the dominant Hyakuen Thunders (Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi). Mitsuru & Tokiko were a good team featuring complimentary styles, and it was great seeing them get to mix it up with the veteran team. I of course didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see Mitsuru wrestle live. 

Mitsuru was always incredibly friendly and happy to meet with fans. She introduced new things like her “cheers chekis” as an add on for Gatoh Move’s usually available mini-polaroids with wrestlers where fans would receive a beer and all drink a toast together with Mitsuru (which could also be filmed, another cool unusual detail). While undoubtedly primarily driven by her love of beer, this was also another cool little way to connect and celebrate with fans.

Mitsuru also works at Swandive, one of the bars run by the wrestling promotion DDT (that Gatoh Move regulars Takanashi and Antonio Honda work for), and will continue to do so after her retirement from competition. Swandive is an awesome little bar and I had a great time there the couple of visits I was able to make.

In most cases, this would be around where I’d be wrapping up my personal look back with a quick look at the subject’s last match. But 2020 has been an unusual year, and while last January was the last time I saw Mitsuru wrestle live there’s still a bit to talk about along the way.

Covid restrictions obviously had an extreme effect on wrestling, as with the rest of the world. Faced with a home venue far too small to have a crowd under such conditions, Emi Sakura started ChocoPro at the end of March as a new effort to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience. It also varies from Gatoh Move in that it’s more a complete intergender promotion (as opposed to Gatoh being a Joshi promotion with frequent male wrestler guests).

In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 72 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. The shows are well designed to draw the viewer in, in a lot of ways feel like being there, and are all presented for free on YouTube (with various support options available if fans are inclined).

Mitsuru missed a majority of the first season with dental problems, then returned with a vengeance in season 2. She struggled at the start, winning against the rookies but having less success in big matches like her return against Antonio Honda and another great match against Chris Brookes. It led to a lot of anger to deal with at points and an intensity that couldn’t be matched. Her frustration and determination bubbled over in a crazy match teaming with Yuna Mizumori against Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil (Sakura) ) where she ended up pinning Sakura. She then had a string of impressive, intense singles matches against Mei, Yuna, and Akki that are all must watch. Her fire and ever increasing mastery of her skills was noticed and appreciated, and she was the fan-voted MVP of the season.

Mitsuru continued to impress during the early part of season 3 in a mix of different match styles. She had a strong showing in a tag match teaming with Makoto against Ryo Mizunami & Hanako Nakamori on Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary show amid wrestlers with much more experience.

ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru & Chris Brookes. Unfortunately Mitsuru injured her ankle while training for this match and has been out since, and recently announced that she will be retiring.

On ChocoPro 43 Mitsuru teamed with Yuna Mizumori against Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga. It was, as to be expected from four wrestlers who have so much chemistry and shared training, another fantastic encounter. And as in now clear, it was the final match of her career. Short of an actual, planned last match one with this particular group of wrestlers was perhaps the most appropriate sendoff she could have had.

Gatoh Move 6 card PSC “puzzle” by Juri H. Chinchilla.

While she will be unable to wrestle a farewell match, Mitsuru will have online stream sessions and other things planned to say goodbye during her official retirement date in January. During the announcement video she also said that she still plans to be connected to Gatoh Move, but she has decided to try something new from here on out and will not be returning to in ring competition.

Mitsuru has repeatedly said in the past that she’s never enjoyed wrestling itself, but was determined to stick with it and improve until she understood what everyone else said and finally found it fun. During the post announcement questions Minoru Fujita kind of surprised everyone by asking Mitsuru if she had any fun memories from pro wrestling (not knowing about Mitsuru’s previous statements). With some thought Mitsuru said that looking back, “I really think… wrestling was fun. 4, 5 years of it the whole way. Every moment of it was fun.” It’s wonderful to hear her say that, and Emi Sakura can be seen trying not to tear up with emotion next to Mitsuru.

I’ll really miss Mitsuru, and quite honestly Gatoh Move won’t be the same without her. But I’m happy she’s doing what’s right for her and wish her a speedy recovery and all the best in the future. Cheers.

Lulu’s Hat: The Tale of a Pencil’s Pride

“This is not me.”

ChocoPro began at the end of March amid Covid restrictions as a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 65 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. Recently, one of the most compelling stories in all of wrestling has perhaps incredulously revolved around a particular pink cap…

The Wrestler Who’s Too Weak to be a Wrestler

Lulu Pencil, along with five other rookies (Sayuri, Rin Rin, Chie Koishikawa, Tokiko Kirihara, and Sayaka), debuted on Gatoh Move’s 8/28/19 show and so has only a little over a year of experience in wrestling. Lulu’s also a freelance writer, and fully embraces her identity with her Pencil surname and signature attire of overalls and cap.

She’s quite unique in the world of wrestling… in that she’s really not that good at it. As a character, not a performer. That’s an incredibly hard line to walk and to describe. Everything Lulu does in the ring is a little off. Early in her career she grabbed the wrong hand when going for lockups, got herself hung up on the windowsill for seemingly no reason, etc. Her stances, way of attacking, and general body language are all a bit bizarre. Her build is slight and she’s always at the most extreme strength disadvantage no matter her opponent, leading to common situations such as hurting her own arm when forearming her opponents instead of hurting them. She’s lost a number of matches due to APPLYING a hold or pinning combination but getting stuck midway and having to tap out.

And it all came together instantly along with her never-ending determination to be a professional wrestler to make her one of the most beloved underdogs anywhere in wrestling. Her fans dubbed themselves the Pencil Army and Lulu’s support exploded.

The key to Lulu’s story is how she continually grows in subtle but measurable and logical ways while still remaining herself. Every match is a progression as she tries new things and becomes a little more effective while still approaching everything from a fundamentally different and weird perspective. She gets tougher each time out, and is absolutely impossible not to root for.

The Team No One Expected

At the end of 2019 Lulu had an opportunity to team with her trainer in an interesting matchup against one of Sakura’s regular partners Masahiro Takanashi & Masa’s CDK partner Chris Brookes. 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.

In the end Chris attempted 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. The match was a joy, but at the time was a one off pairing of the odd couple teacher and student duo of Sakura & Lulu.

Looking ahead to the start of ChocoPro, Lulu appeared on ChocoPro 1 and 3 but was then was out for a couple of months and returned for episode 22 to much fanfare. She had a number of high profile matches against Kaori Yoneyama, Mitsuru Konno, and Baliyan Akki where she showed great fire and heart despite coming out on the losing end of all of them.

Then on ChocoPro 29 she once again teamed with her mentor… but this time “Emi Pencil” came out in place of “Emi Sakura” (in blue attire to match Lulu’s pink cap and overalls) and the Pencil Army tag team was born.

Similarly to Lulu’s start the Pencil Army of “Lulu Pencil, Emi Pencil, and YOU!” instantly became a much beloved team, but not a particularly successful one.

After struggling through their first few matches, in their fourth match as a team… they still lost. But a fired up Mitsuru (who was on fire at the time due to a multitude of channeled anger) pinned Emi Pencil for the win, and afterwards Lulu remarked that the fact that she wasn’t the one who lost this time meant she was getting stronger.

In her next match she took Akki nearly to the limit in a tough singles encounter where Akki won with a mere 15 seconds left. Sakura said Lulu almost pushed Akki to a time limit draw, and she thinks Lulu could win a rematch. To ensure it, Emi made it a handicap match featuring both members of Pencil Army vs Akki at ChocoPro 34.

The loss in that handicap match and a growing clash in philosophies led to a clash of the Pencil Army against each other in a singles match in the finale of season 2, ChocoPro 36. In a nod to how Emi had been messing with her partner (correcting Lulu when she answered “2” when Emi asked “what’s 1+1?” saying that the real answer was “infinity” because of the strength of the two of them together then the next show hitting Lulu upside the head with her cap when Lulu answered “infinity” to the same question saying “What?! 1+1 is 2!”), the match was subtitled the Pencil Infinity War.

The match appeared to be a milestone in the two working out their differences and Emi’s victory an indication that she still had reserves of strength for Lulu to learn from. But after they teamed together again on the season 3 opener only to lose a handicap match to Tokiko, Lulu decided maybe Emi Pencil was holding her back after all and refocused on singles competition for a time (while Sakura temporarily put the Emi Pencil character on hold). 

Lulu had a number of strong showings against high level opponents, but still searched in vain for her first singles victory. Then, in a match that wasn’t originally supposed to happen, everything changed.

A Simple Twist of Fate with Major Consequences

ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru Konno & Chris Brookes.

However shortly before the show Mitsuru injured her leg and unfortunately has not been able to return as of yet. With her out, the card was reshuffled and Lulu received a huge chance to prove herself in the form of a singles match against Chris.

At the time Chris was the reigning DDT Universal Champion, and as such came out during the pre-show discussion and demanded to be in the main event. Sakura seemed inclined to agree… if the title was on the line. Chris laughed the idea off (“It’s Lulu! No, the title’s not on the line.”) but still insisted that as a reigning champion he should be in the main event. Lulu, characteristically unafraid of a challenge no matter her track record, said that if the match needed stakes to be a main event she would put her precious cap, the very symbol of her and the Pencil Army, on the line.

Lulu put up an incredible fight in an excellent match, but in the end Chris made her submit and left with her precious cap atop his head.

“This is Not Me.”

At first Lulu seemed determined to stay positive in the wake of her defeat, vowing to become stronger despite her disappointment and beat Chris one day to take her hat back. But the absence of her hat, and perhaps the contrast of getting some tag team victories alongside Tokiko including one against Sakura & Chie, seemed to be slowly undermining her satisfaction with the Pencil Army team.

Emi Sakura for her part seemed to start trying in her own way to be a surprisingly considerate partner. After their loss to Cherry & Chie on ChocoPro 52 Emi pointed out that they both have jobs, homes, etc and concluded that they had everything except victory, which they would achieve in time. When Lulu crossed paths with Chris again for the first time since losing her hat in a Pencil Army vs Chris and Tokiko match on ChocoPro 55 Emi had a blue hat for Lulu that matched Emi’s to try to cheer her up.

But Chris, reveling in being able to taunt his opponents with his trophy by chanting “Pencil. Army. Chris Brookes, pink hat, and none of you,” was having none of it. He knew Lulu wanted the hat he won from her and not the replacement Sakura provided, and tormented her throughout the match. After a bitter battle between the two teams Chris defeated Lulu again, this time by deadlifting her by her overalls and spinning her around until she gave up. In the aftermath Lulu concluded that she can learn to be stronger alongside Chris. An amused Chris agreed and they left together, with a shell shocked Emi Pencil in their wake.

Emi however refused the idea of Lulu teaming with Chris, and continued to book Pencil Army matches. She made repeated attempts to smooth things over and raise Lulu’s spirits, including trying out matching blue outfits and caps in place of Lulu’s usual pink one time and bows in the place of caps another. And Lulu tried each time, but each time Pencil Army continued to come up short and the issue between them grew. “I’m not ok. This is not me. I can become stronger than now.”

Emi even went so far as to order a new pink hat with “Pencil Army” written on it for Lulu in place of the one she lost. All of this was incredible in terms Emi’s arc over the course of the seasons. The temperamental oni who often messes with everyone else on the roster actually wanted to be supportive for once and tried her best, but kept missing the point by not listening to what Lulu actually wanted.

Upset but realizing they were at an impasse, after yet another Pencil Army loss on ChocoPro 61 (to An-chamu and Mei) Emi finally agreed to let Lulu team with Chris. However Lulu would have to prove her strength to Emi, as it would be against Emi Pencil and a partner of her choosing.

Pencil War

As the huge showdown loomed Chris said he sees untapped potential in Lulu and that Emi Pencil was holding her back. He pledged that they would achieve victory. However Emi chose Hagane Shinnou as her partner, making the task before Lulu a tall one indeed.

Throughout the match Chris pushed Lulu to attack and surpass her former partner, and they actually made a pretty solid team. The dream team of Emi and Hagane also gelled pretty well of course, but eventually Chris trapped Emi in a modified Rings of Saturn that put a lot of pressure on her back to force a submission for the win.

After their victory Chris says Lulu has become stronger, and he thinks she’s earned something… then he puts her hat back on his own head and says he was just joking and that she hasn’t earned anything. He further calls her weak and impressionable and mocks how he was able to get her to turn on her mentor. “Lulu, you are NEVER getting back this hat. You stupid little girl.” Lulu snapped and attacked Chris. He turned the tables quickly… but Lulu was not alone. Emi Pencil drug herself up, took her place by Lulu’s side, and started the Pencil Army chant.

The two present a united front as the Pencil Army and block Chris from leaving. “Lulu believed in you. You hurt us!” With Emi finally realizing that type of support Lulu truly needs from her and Lulu trusting in herself and her mentor to get stronger together, they press Chris until he accepts their challenge to a match for the hat. But he says that it’s only fair for it to be 2-on-2, and names Yuna as his partner. Needless to say with the history between Yuna and Sakura, the pineapple girl didn’t have any objections.

I Quit Match

So in a one match show for ChocoPro 63, Chris Brookes & Yuna Mizumori faced the Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil) in a desperate battle for the fate of Lulu’s pink hat. One final twist would be added: Emi admitted that Chris might be stronger than them but she knew Lulu would never give up, so she made the match an “I Quit Match.” Anything goes. No pinfalls, no tapouts, no DQs, etc. The match would continue until one of the four said “I quit.”

The Pencil Army gave it their absolute all in a crazy effort to finally achieve their first victory in a match that couldn’t possibly be more important to them. Yuna channeled all of her aggression into helping Chris torture the underdogs, and Chris taunted Lulu throughout. The Pencil Army is largely a comedy tag team yet the amount of raw emotion and depth to many of their matches, and this one in particular, is unrivaled. It’s must watch.

Chris pushed Lulu to her limits and late in the match screamed at her in frustration at her refusing to quit. He grabbed her hat, shoved it in her face, and told if that’s what she wanted to just take it and go. A defiant Lulu SLAPPED IT AWAY and refused to end things like that. She fought with every once of her being.

After a desperate flurry by Lulu Chris leveled her and tied her up in a seated octopus hold. Emi Pencil tried to save but was neutralized in the corner by Yuna. With one leg around Lulu’s head and his other holding her leg, Chris grabbed her arm and pulled. Lulu tapped out of instinct from the pain, but when reminded there were no tapouts and she needed to verbally quit she refused. So Chris modified the hold with his leg fully around her shoulder and head. Still Lulu would not give up. Finally Chris grabbed her other leg and pulled back in yet another vicious modification of the hold… and Lulu still wouldn’t quit. But a tormented Emi Pencil, in no danger herself but unable to away from Yuna, can’t take watching her partner suffer anymore and is the one to quit. An incredibly powerful moment. They still haven’t won a match, but the Pencil Army are as real a team as it gets.

Chris, in a sign of respect for the person who refused quit to the end, puts Lulu’s hat back in her hand (while she’s still pretty much out cold on the mat) on his way out.

Emi helps her partner up, and the Pencil Army is finally whole.

In an incredibly appropriate epilogue, during the watch party for the show Lulu revealed one of the reasons the hat means so much to her is that it was a gift from Sakura from one of her trips to wrestle in Europe, and Sakura completely forgot that fact. So perfect.

A compelling, engrossing story told over several months supported by high level in ring action featuring a number of levels of character development for numerous people is a huge accomplishment in the first place. To achieve that when the entire thing centers on a ball cap is incredible. It’s been a treat to follow along for the ride.


Required viewing:
Lulu’s debut (my thoughts on the show)
Lulu Pencil & Emi Sakura vs CDK (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 29: Pencil Army debut vs Mitsuru & Tokiko (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 32: Pencil Army vs Mitsuru & Yuna (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 36: Pencil Infinity War
ChocoPro 44: Pink Hat Match – Lulu vs Chris
ChocoPro 51: Lulu & Tokiko vs Emi Sakura & Chie
ChocoPro 55: Pencil Army vs Chris & Tokiko
ChocoPro 61: Pencil Army vs Mei & An-chamu
ChocoPro 62: The Pencil War – Lulu & Chris vs Emi Pencil & Hagane Shinnou
ChocoPro 63 – I Quit Match: Pencil Army vs Chris & Yuna

Supplemental viewing:
ChocoPro 33: Lulu vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 34: Pencil Army vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 37: Pencil Army vs Otoki
ChocoPro 46: Pencil Army vs Yuna
ChocoPro 52: Pencil Army vs Cherry & Chie
ChocoPro 56: Pencil Army vs Obi & Mei
ChocoPro 57: Pencil Army vs Warm Caterpillars


Everything they are doing goes up for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store!

ChocoPro 59 Live Stream Thoughts

October 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

ChocoPro 59

Nothing outside of the main event had been previously announced. During the opening talk it was revealed there would be a singles match to start (participants still a mystery), followed by a Halloween Battle Royale.

Yuya Okada from Basara is on referee duties, presumably so no Halloween costumes are spoiled, etc by having participating wrestlers ref as usual.

1) Baliyan Akki vs Balliyan Akki

Out first is Akki, curiously dressed in a pre-ChocoPro style of his. His opponent is also announced as Baliyan Akki… and is Emi Sakura herself in Akki’s current gear. The way she mimicked his mannerisms throughout the match was incredible (and largely infuriating to Akki the original). Mei on camera and commentary debating which one was her true best bro only added to his ire.

A particular highlight was Emi failing spectacularly when trying to do the spider after being whipped to the wall, then again when she tried to slowly climb into it from one of the windowsills. So Akki forced her into position and held her stuck there for a bit before bringing her down into a backbreaker. Emi’s ridiculous attempts at the Namaste Press were likewise highly amusing.

Eventually Akki the original gets both Akki part 2 AND the referee in a triangle and gets the win off a double tap. I think fake Akki should have won by DQ for Akki’s transgressions against the official, but I suppose since Emi was forcing the referee to carry her into a splash attempt when Akki countered into the choke there’s a certain amount of karmic justice at work.

Extremely good match, which is no surprise with the participants involved.

2) Halloween Battle Royal

This match introduces a highly requested stipulation: in addition to pinfalls eliminations can also happen by being thrown out the window.

Red Riding Hood (Sayuri) and Snow White (Mei Suruga) start. The fairy tale heroines seem to be more interested in posing and cheerfulness than fighting, and Red Riding Hood seemed to be heading out on a journey before the referee and commentator Honda talked them into getting “out of fantastic world and into pro-wrestling” to start the match properly.

Once things got contentious they fought hard for long enough that people in the chat wondered if the match was gauntlet style, but they eventually notice (and the camera reveals to viewers) that a new contestant has secretly appeared. There was an unusually large piece of shrimp sushi huddled on the mat. Careful inspection eventually revealed it was Chie Koishikawa, somehow making shrimp sushi seem like the perfect costume for herself with her exuberant unveiling and masterful use of huddling up into sushi form during the match.

New entrants came fast after that, featuring Harley Quinn (Yuna Mizumori), a samurai (Akki), and a Zaku series Mobile Suit Gundam (Lulu Pencil).

There were a lot of fun interactions between the various characters and too many creative ways of working it all into top notch action to cover. Definitely check this one out.

The first elimination happened when everyone, including his partner Mei who had been working together with him moments before, piled on Akki for a pin after a series of strikes including the most effective lariat Lulu ever threw that knocked Akki over shrimp sushi Chie into schoolboy pin position.

Later Sayuri had an advantage on Yuna with a sleeper applied, but she climbed into the window and dropped back to slam Yuna’s back against the sill… eliminating herself. After ninja disappearing below the window she was shortly in the chat amusingly commenting “the windowsill was useless.”

Mei tried to attack people with her apple throughout the match, with everyone dodging safely until Yuna ducked while Lulu was holding her and Lulu was forced to bite Snow White’s apple. Lulu immediately fell to the mat asleep, and was declared eliminated.

Chie continued to play the perfect shrimp sushi, hiding at opportune moments and letting Harley and Snow do battle. She got involved late and after some intense back and forth seemed to seesaw Yuna back in the window after Mei nearly dropkicked her out, but it was just to set up the fencing chop to knock Yuna completely out (head over heels to boot) and eliminate her.

So it came down to Snow White vs shrimp sushi, and while Chie put up a valiant effort including her huddled sushi pose being a great initial counter to the propeller clutch, she of the evil apple eventually prevailed by taking a bite of the shrimp to break Chie’s defense and securing the propeller clutch after all for the win.

This was everything I want out of a Halloween match, with great costumes, a nice mix of comedy and action, and most of all a ton of fun. One of the most enjoyable matches I’ve seen all year.

3) Sayaka Obihiro vs Antonio Honda vs Jaki Numazawa

This comedy prop “deathmatch” involving these three is an annual tradition for Gatoh Move around New Year’s. However this year it’s also being done as a special main event for this ChocoPro Halloween show.

Every time someone gets a 2-count, they get to perform a comedy skit with their choice of props from a provided basket. If the referee finds it funny, they receive a point. Most points at the end of the fifteen minute time limit wins.

This was exactly what was expected, including running themes that have persisted throughout the various versions of this match I’ve seen (such as Obi being kind of intentionally bad at the comedy). Between the language barrier and the nature of the match itself, I find these hit or miss. One year’s version was one of my all time favorite Gatoh Move comedy matches, while some other years’ just didn’t connect with me. But it generally has it’s charm and given how much fun they all were having with it this one was enjoyable.

It also fit the tone of the rest of the show well and I’m glad they got to do it for a wider audience than would normally see it in person at Ichigaya. The comedy was fairly accessible and I thought it a good introduction to the tradition for new viewers. Though everyone’s milage will vary greatly with these matches depending on how much they happen to enjoy the particular slate of jokes and the style in any given one.

Perhaps wanting to add stakes and suspense to the match given the streaming format, Sakura changed the point value during the last minute to 10 points for a successful skit. As time expired with no one having taken advantage of that bonus and Honda having earned on last skit chance yet being considerably up in the scoring 4-2-1, she further up the stakes saying he’d lose all his points if he didn’t score. Honda failed to amuse the referee for the first time all match, going down to zero and making Jaki the winner with 2 points to Obi’s 1 and Honda’s 0. Jaki didn’t seemed thrilled with the rule roulette and was waving off his victory. I didn’t mind Sakura screwing with the rules for drama here as it’s not a match to take too seriously anyway.

As always post-show had a janken tournament, which came down to the starting entrants in the battle royal against each other again. Sayuri had a good chance at winning her first Dark Choco Tournament after powering through a tough field, but it was truly the poison apple’s day all around as Mei proved victorious and gleefully ate her prize chocolate throughout the photo op and closing song.

This show was a blast overall. Highly recommended.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Assemble 10/1/20 Live Stream Thoughts

October 1, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Pro-Wrestling Assemble is new collaborative Joshi endeavor, with several promotions contributing to make each show a supershow of sorts.

The total list of participating promotions are:
Ice Ribbon
Marvelous
Oz Academy
Pure-J
SEAdLINNNG
Sendai Girls
Stardom
T-HEARTS (Yumiko Hotta’s new group)
Wave


Freelancers are also able to appear.

**Side note: There’s understandably not much public information on the reasons behind the promotions that aren’t participating, but on a ChocoPro livestream Emi Sakura did mention that Gatoh Move was invited and while interested she decided it just wasn’t the right time for them to be involved in such a project for a variety of reasons.**

It was announced that there would be no inter-promotional matches due to Covid considerations (likely as well as potential booking difficulties). Each participating company provided a match for the show, and the match order would be determined by random draw the day of.

The participating promotions and their announced matches for this big first show were:
Freelancers: Sareee, Tomoka Inaba, & Riko Kawabata VS Yumiko Hotta, Saki Akai, & Asuka (Veny)
Marvelous: Takumi Iroha, Rin Kadokura, & Maria vs Mio Momono, Mikoto Shindo, & Mei Hoshizuki
Oz Academy: Mayumi Ozaki & Saori Anou vs Sonoko Kato & AKINO
Pure-J: Leon & Rydeen Hagane vs Manami Katsu & Mari Manji
SEAdLINNNG: Yoshiko & Honori Hana vs Arisa Nakajima & Riko Kaiju *Referee: Natsuki Taiyo
Sendai Girls: Meiko Satomura, DASH Chisako, & Yurika Oka vs Chihiro Hashimoto, Manami, & Natsuho Kaneko

The abundance of tag matches makes sense for each promotion to be able to feature as many wrestlers as possible as well as allowing any match to be potentially suitable for any position on the card.

The draw for card order happened right before the show started, with lots also being drawn to determine who would draw for position first. Chigusa Nagoya got the prize pull putting Marvelous’ offering in the main event.

1) Freelancers: Sareee, Tomoka Inaba, & Riko Kawahata VS Yumiko Hotta, Saki Akai, & Asuka (Veny)

“Freelance” is apparently covering people from promotions not on this show as well as actual freelancers. Smart considering the flexibility it gives and the resulting match here is quite strong.

Opening the show with Sareee’s music hitting is pretty perfect. So awesome she’s being allowed to wrestle over there until it’s safe to come over to the states. I’m not previously familiar with her partners, but she’s alongside two rookies here against a trio of veterans. This is underscored when Hotta shakes everyone’s hand, but her partners Akai & Asuka ignore the rookies and only shake hands with Sareee.

This was all about the veteran heel team being dominant and the rookies getting to show some fire here and there (particularly against Asuka). They built to Saree’s involvement, with her first tag in ten minutes into the match. Solid match that set the stage nicely for the rest of the night.

Great finish saw Hotta & Saki push Sareee & Inaba into the orchestra pit and played guard so they couldn’t get back up to stop Asuka from finishing Riko.

Multiple cameras were used and the somewhat unusual angles combined with the uniqueness of the Ueno venue (which is like a concert stage as opposed to venues where the audience can be on all sides of the ring) gave a pretty cool and distinct feel. Shots were tight because of the setup and occasionally action started or finished out of frame, but overall the presentation was really good and striking.

Although in the first match they were clearly still getting used to the setup, and a camera in one of the corners with a potentially cool angle had to be largely ignored because it was largely blocked by the backsides of the wrestlers standing on the apron. They moved it to the middle of the far side of the ring for the rest of the show.

The various referees were wearing face shields, the audience was spaced out, and the ring was disinfected between matches. Really awesome to see reasonable precautions be taken and enforced.

2) Oz Academy: Mayumi Ozaki & Saori Anou vs Sonoko Kato & AKINO 

Pretty huge offering from Oz here. This match features four of their top stars and could easily main event one of their shows.

This match involved several wrestlers I really enjoy… mostly when they wrestle elsewhere. Oz Academy is often the epitome of heels over running everything in a way I really don’t care for. True to form, Police got involved three second in using chairs. During the match he repeatedly entered the ring to attack Sato or Akino. Ozaki & Anou also repeatedly used weapons themselves. All in full view of the referee. It’d be marginally better for me if the faces at least fought fire with fire, but they NEVER respond in kind.

The good news though is the action was solid in between all the nonsense, and this presented a spot on idea of what Oz Academy is all about. It’s not my thing, but was a genuine portrayal of the company and the style and should be highly enjoyable for fans of such.

There was a small amount of retribution late as Akino low blowed Police, but Ozaki rolled her up in the resulting chaos for the win.

3) Sendai Girls: Meiko Satomura, DASH Chisako, & Yurika Oka vs Chihiro Hashimoto, Manami, & Natsuho Kaneko 

I’m a big fan of Sendai Girls (and Dash Chisako in particular) and their 6-woman tags are always fire, so this had show stealer written all over it for me. And it was as fun and awesome as expected.

It’s been great to see Manami grow as a wrestler over her three year career thus far, and she looked really good here teaming with Sendai’s champion Chihiro and rookie Kaneko. Opposite them was veteran Dash, rookie Oka, and the legendary Meiko Satomura.

The match built nicely and the timing on everything was pitch perfect, particularly the double and triple teams. All the exchanges between Chihiro and the opposing vets (Dash & Meiko) were particularly intense. One of my favorite spots of the night saw Dash viciously headbutt her way out of a power bomb attempt.

Everything led to a long sequence with Chihiro and Oka at the end. Oka hung in, got several close falls, and even survived a lariat, but eventually Chihiro hit the bridging German for the victory.

4) SEAdLINNNG: Yoshiko & Honori Hana vs Arisa Nakajima & Riko Kaiju 

Similar to what Sendai Girls did, SEAdLINNNG went with a solid formula of putting their top two stars across from each other paired with two of their rookies.

The rookies, Riko and Honori, started with a nice exchange and the match just kept escalating from there. I’ve seen Honori a couple of times prior, but this might have been my first exposure to Riko. Both looked good and held up their parts of the match nicely.

This was quick paced and exciting, and there was palpable tension every time Arisa and Yoshiko got anywhere near each other which made for a gripping, excellent match.

Yoshiko won with her senton on Riko, and continued to fight with Arisa after the bell.

5) Pure-J: Leon & Rydeen Hagane vs Manami Katsu & Mari Manji 

I’ve struck through this match title because I unfortunately didn’t watch it. I couldn’t catch this show live and was watching the archive, and was running up against the time limit (it was only available for a few days after the original broadcast). I had to skip something, and this was the least interesting match to me personally.

Interestingly, just a few days after this show Katsu and Manji announced they will be leaving Pure-J.

6) Marvelous: Takumi Iroha, Rin Kadokura, & Maria vs Mio Momono, Mikoto Shindo, & Mei Hoshizuki 

This isn’t the match I imagined as the main event, but it was suitable and the participants more than capable of tearing the house down.

It’s awesome that Rin was able to be back for this. I haven’t seen Shindo’s new gear much before, and it looks great.

Mio’s team tried a bum rush to start but Iroha was ready and just turned and stared them into stopping. Such an awesome little character moment for Iroha, which immediately established Marvelous’ ace as the badass in the match.

The match was the kind of controlled chaos Marvelous does really well when they’re firing on all cylinders. I love Maria’s attitude and the little mannerisms she has during matches, and in general everyone in the match (and the show for that matter) was on point and giving their all to make the best impression possible.

Rin seemed to be pretty much immediately back to form. Her arm kind of gave out on her at one point, but it was a small thing and she recovered well enough.

A big portion of the match was rising star against ace as Mio battled Iroha. One incredible moment saw Mio looking done after Iroha hit the stout power bomb, but Shindo DOVE through her opponents to get a hand on Iroha to save the fall.

Late Mio did a beautiful code red reversal to another Iroha power bomb. But Iroha took back over and kicked Mio in the head three times then hooked a deep cover… so deep Mio rolled it around into a tight cover of her own, and WON!

EVERYONE was shell shocked, including Mio’s partners who seemed to take a few moments to realize they won.

Huge statement here by Marvelous by having Mio beat their ace in the main event of cross company show. Mio’s incredible and just really getting some momentum going after coming back from injury, so it’s fantastic to see her get a big spotlight victory here.

——-

Overall this was an extremely strong initial offering for Assemble. Good action all around with some big highlights, and each match was a bit different in style highlighting the promotion presenting it. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more of the numerous new-to-me rookies from this show.

Assemble’s second show will be November 20. I expected the companies missing from the first show to be cycled in, but Ice Ribbon and Wave will still not appear yet.

All the companies from the first show (minus the freelance match) will be back, meaning the full slate of participating companies will be Marvelous, Oz Academy, Pure-J, SEAdLINNNG, Sendai Girls, Stardom, and T-HEARTS.

There will also be a “Hall of Fame Special Edition” match, and three “Up and Coming Edition” dark matches for a pre-show. The match order for both the pre-show and main show will be randomly determined (separately).