Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo over the end of the year holidays for the last two years. This summer the stars aligned for a shorter, somewhat unexpected additional trip with a specific purpose. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from the 29 I saw that trip (across 5 shows from 5 different companies).

 

Match reviews copied/modified from my show specific blogs when possible/appropriate.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tokyo Princess of Princess Title: Yuka Sakazaki(c) vs Reika Sakai –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

Yuka and Reika are two of my favorite wrestlers in the promotion, so I was thrilled to see this. Yuka is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and consistent performers on the roster, and also wows the crowd with her agility and rope walk spots, so was a great choice for champion. Reika seems their biggest rising star so this was exactly the right time for this confrontation. While I do have to admit I prefer and miss the Mil Clown persona, Yuka’s excellent in any incarnation.

The match was great, going back and forth and building well to a strong finish that saw Reika take advantage of a miss by Yuka with hard strikes and a sweet Shining Wizard, then hit the jackhammer (such a perfect choice of finisher for the Muscle Idol) to become the new Princess of Princess champion. Was awesome to be there for that moment, and Reika definitely deserves a chance to show what she can do as champ.

 

Team DATE (Nao, Hana, Nori, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Satsuki Totoro, Uno Matsuya, & Tequilia Saya – Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the beginning of this big blow off elimination match. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

5. Gatoh Move Title Tournament Semi-Final: Kotori vs Aasa – Gatoh Move 8/26/17

The main event of Gatoh Move’s 8/26 show was the second semi-final of their title tournament and would determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  It was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both.

 

4. Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs So On Flower (Aoi Kizuki & Moeka Haruhi) – Wave 8/30/17

 

This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

3. Meiko Satomura vs Miyu Yamashita –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

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This was fantastic and edged out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

She wrestled like someone with something to prove from the very first second and really took it to Meiko, believably smothering the veteran at points with relentless offense, but just couldn’t put the larger, more experienced wrestler. Meiko of course is an artist in the ring and always a joy to watch. Loved this.

Afterwards Miyu slaps Meiko a couple of times out of frustration (and apparently in a challenge for another match) and Meiko’s so impressed with Miyu’s fire she applauds her for it. Great stuff.

 

2. Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Mio Momono vs Yoshiko – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 

 

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I hate to admit it given my personal bias, but Yoshiko was awesome here and this was easily the second best match of the night. She was a perfect monster for Mio to attempt to outlast while just refusing to stay down under the larger, more experienced wrestler’s onslaught. The crowd was evenly split between heavy home promotion support for Yoshiko and visiting Marvelous fans (like me) going nuts for Mio. They went to time limit, then overtime where only a two count was needed. The heat for the nearfalls during that final portion was insane.

Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I mention often), and I continue to marvel at how incredible she is this early into her career.

 

1.  Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 and Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

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Ok, so this is a little bit of a cheat as I’m including both matches between these two teams in the #1 spot rather than take up two places and leave less room for other great matches.

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of the three. These two matches were the previously mention purpose for the entire trip, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series (due to the lack of finish and time spent on some comedy). The one at Ice Ribbon was neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping this series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story. Their entire record is now 2-1-1 in Best Friends’ favor (with Avid Rival’s sole victory coming at their home promotion of Wave in the one match between the teams I have yet to see).

One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

In my opinion these are the two best tag teams in all of wrestling, and seeing them face off is always a treat.

 

——-

Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Episode 1 Review

“Traveling is fun, and even if I have to kill others, I still want to continue doing it.”

 

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I was admittedly a little trepidatious as I watched the premiere episode of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, wondering if it would live up to the heights achieved by its predecessor. The original Kino’s Journey anime is my favorite of all time, so I was both excited and anxious to see this what this new rendition 13 years later would have in store.

The opening two minute quasi-monologue establishing Kino’s philosophy and outlook, including the extremely odd quote I opened with, was a bit worrying. It did set the tone of the series though, somehow having both a touch more melancholy and whimsy at first glance. The scene also made more sense in retrospect once the rest of the episode’s story was told. It was thought provoking and intriguing overall, which is exactly what I want from Kino’s adventures. The joy as always is watching Kino’s visit unfold, so I’ll avoid specifics, but the story here and the country visited were good choices for an initial impression.

The animation doesn’t have the “softness” of the original, but absolutely has the right feel and is beautiful in its own right. Likewise so far I don’t feel the music is quite up to level of original, but again it’s still good.

Overall I’m extremely happy with Kino’s return, and this first episode has a lot of what made the original so special.

 

 

 

Hellequin: Scorched Shadows Review

This is Nathan Garret’s seventh adventure, and the last book in the Hellequin series. Do not start here – go back to the beginning.

 

My reviews:

Crimes Against Magic (book 1)

Born of Hatred (book 2)

With Silent Screams (book 3)

Prison of Hope (book 4)

Lies Ripped Open (book 5)

Promise of Wrath (book 6)

 

This is going to be short, and free of any plot details. It will contain sentiments that in some sense qualify as general spoilers, so consider this a quasi-warning.

 

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The good:

  • McHugh’s writing continues to be excellent.
  • Several major mysteries of the series are addressed.
  • The book was engaging and interesting.

 

The less so:

  • A couple of the reveals were what I least wanted.
  • I despise bait and switch.
  • I feel like I just read a seven book fucking prologue.

 

I still adore the series and highly recommend it, but I’m admittedly a bundle of mixed feelings on where things ended up right now. I found this book excellent and infuriating in equal measure.

 

Hinges: Clockwork City Review

“Clockwork City” is the first collected volume (of three) of the webcomic Hinges.

 

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I originally started reading Hinges without any foreknowledge, based solely on randomly coming across the wonderfully haunting opening image of the main character, Orio. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was very intrigued, and was incredibly impressed as I began her unique tale.

Orio wakes up with no memory in a strange clockwork town called Cobble. While disorienting to Orio it’s apparently not unusual as and administrator immediately begins her initiation. It’s a wonderful way to start as Orio is in the same limited information state as the reader, but with other characters already on hand to provide a little framework we get a nice, seamless introduction to world. It’s delightfully imaginative, from it’s doll and marionette citizens to the “ODD” companions they all have to the general design of their surroundings. Little hints and details about how Cobble works are unobtrusively given as the comic progresses while the main focus stays firmly on the characters.

And what delightful characters we’re given. The silent Orio is a strong lead, possessing something that makes her immediately endearing. The reader feels for her confusion, admires her determination and cheers her strength. The lovably mischievous Bauble is a source of humor, trouble and mystery in equal measure. Add in several strong yet diverse personalities around them and Hinges has an excellent cast all around.

One of the unusual things about Hinges is the use of numerous sections without dialog. Authors that are confident enough to get out of the way and let the story proceed at its own pace and its own manner make me very happy. When used right it really enhances pacing and impact. One of my favorite manga, A Bride’s Tale, is a great example of this and I love it in Hinges too. The plot moves at a perfect pace and good use of this technique is a big reason why.

The art is exquisite. It has a soft feel that occasionally “hardens” a little when tension or danger are present. The subdued color palette helps establish a great atmosphere for the comic and subtly changes in different locations. In general the coloring is among the best I’ve seen in comics.

Clockwork City is a great start to a comic that became an instant favorite of mine. I couldn’t wait to learn more about Orio, Bauble and their strange little world.

Hellequin Series Finale Predictions

“The pen might be mightier than the sword, but it’s probably not going to end well for you if you bring one to a gunfight.”

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Hellequin series, and the release of the final book chronicling Nathan Garrett’s adventure is imminent. There’s a ton left to address in the last installment, and I’d like to ramble a bit to get my thoughts in order and share some speculation.

Obviously there are going to be all kinds of spoilers for the previous six books here. Go read them first!

My reviews:

Crimes Against Magic (book 1)

Born of Hatred (book 2)

With Silent Screams (book 3)

Prison of Hope (book 4)

Lies Ripped Open (book 5)

Promise of Wrath (book 6)

 

 

——-

Edit 10/18/17: well, this blog was based off of several false premises. All of this would have been much different if the advertising hadn’t been so misleading.

None the less, it was still an interesting bit of brainstorming and I’m leaving it up.

My review of the final book can be found here.

——-

 

The four biggest plot points that need to be addressed in the final volume seem to be Arthur’s return, Nate’s past and the true nature of his magic, the mysterious villain known so far only as “My Liege,” and the Fates’ prediction for Nate.  There are several related underlying story threads tied to each, and of course.

 

“Arthur’s not the man everyone thinks he is.”

 

Arthur’s return will likely be a framework for the answers to everything else. Avalon’s rule and the benefits and problems with it provide the backbone for several conflicts and ongoing story threads. I don’t think Nate will be entirely happy with the new status quo and will have words with Arthur and Merlin at some point, but he’ll defend Avalon all the same when push comes to shove.

 

“Eventually you’ll discover the truth, eventually you’ll learn exactly who you are. But there’s going to be an awful lot of pain and death between now and then.”

 

Likewise Nate’s final dealings with his nightmare Erebus, Nate’s missing pieces of his past, and the true nature of magic will be important points but largely wrapped up in other happenings. I of course expect the remaining blood curse marks to fade, releasing Erebus, restoring all of Nate’s memories, and giving Nate his full range of abilities. There’s also the possibility of a second form of Omega magic for Nate looming (matter or mind, my bet’s on the latter), which could be key in how everything plays out. I’m expecting power on the level of Merlin, but with Nate unable to fully control it at first due to whatever traumatic events lead to its release.

The biggest mysteries around Nate’s memories are why everything before age eight was sealed and who his father is, and I expect both to be addressed. Arthur or Zeus seem prime candidates for his father, but it could be a yet unnamed mythological figure too. I feel like it will end up being “My Liege” (more on that to come), explaining that Nate’s mother sealed his memories to protect him from his own father.

 

“They might have been insane, but they didn’t appear to be stupid.”

 

Here’s where things get really interesting. Someone who definitely needs to have been previously identified in some way is the true identity of the nebulous villain referred to as “My Liege” that’s been casting a shadow over half the series. His/her plans will come to fruition with Hera now in control of London, and Nate will find himself in the center of a civil war intent on overthrowing Arthur and Avalon.

Arthur or Merlin would be anticlimactic as well as a bit nonsensical (although I have enough faith in McHugh’s writing at this point that I’m sure he’ll find a logical way to explain whatever the reveal is). A long shot is Galahad (which would also tie into the final major mystery), but the way he and Nate were estranged for years make this unlikely. Modred would be so groan inducing and counter to the intriguing developments in Promise of Wrath I don’t even want to entertain that possibility. Zeus, presumed dead and mentioned in a noble context throughout the series, would make nice twist as the ultimate villain. That’s the one I’m hoping for, but I think “My Liege” may be tied to missing Norse Gods and/or the identity of Nate’s father. So Odin’s my guess for both, although I don’t really know. There is a bit in the latest book about Odin being extremely upset about the identity of Nate’s father, which I think is a misdirect. If not, someone like Zeus or Loki could still fit my theory of “My Liege” being Nate’s father.

The fact that there’s enough to form theories on but several legitimate ways for this all to play out is a testament to the great job McHugh’s done layering all his stories together.

 

“We need to have a good long talk, you and I. And frankly I can think of no better time than when you’re helpless and about to be crushed by a falling building.”

 

The resolution of the Fates’ prediction for Nate’s future, one way or the other, definitely needs to be resolved. Which means someone close to Nate is going to betray him in spectacular fashion. Modred, Merlin, Arthur, etc aren’t close enough to him anymore to send him into “end of the world” type rage. Galahad and Serene are possibilities, but it’d be a bit of a retread as he had issues with each previously. Somewhat minor supporting characters that he trusts such as Elaine, Diana, Lucy, etc are possible, but unlikely I think.

Which really leaves only two possibilities as far as I can see, and either will rip readers’ hearts out. Tommy or Hades (and/or his family, Persephone and Sky) betraying Nate would certainly shove him in the direction of “dangerous to the continued existence of the world.” Tommy actually seems more likely to me from a plot perspective, as it would explain a lot about what happened with Gilgamesh. Character-wise it doesn’t seem like any of them would take the actions or work with the people “My Liege” has, but I CAN see one of them being disillusioned enough with Avalon to take drastic measures and/or doing something they think is for the best for the world at large that betrays Nate as a side consequence. Mordred’s role of needing to stop Nate actually seems pretty likely to me of coming true, but in an unexpected way such as at Nate’s own request and/or by doing something that only metaphorically kills Nate (helping him merge consciousnesses permanently with Erebus, perhaps…).

 

“You’ll wish you finished the job.”

 

There are several significant, subtle things hanging about that might or might not get mention/development, such as Ares’ grudge against Nate for what happened to his son, Hope’s desire for vengeance on anyone involved with Pandora’s creation, Lucie’s pronouncement that “we” will ask Nate to do something in the future that he will not refuse, etc. I expect a handful to tie in and a few to be left unresolved.

In addition to all the major players from previous books that should be included in the finale, I’m also hoping for a lot of cameos of near-forgotten characters from early in the series, and I trust McHugh to work them in seamlessly.

 

“You don’t scare me.”
“Then clearly you haven’t been paying attention.”

 

I’m sure I’ve missed some details and musings bouncing around in the back of my mind but this is a decent summary of the mile-a-minute anticipation I going though as I wait to read the ultimate installment of McHugh’s urban fantasy epic. Needless to say, I’m quite looking forward to it. 🙂

Mae Young Classic Finals Review

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After four previous rounds featuring thirty matches it’s all down to Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler to see who will be crowned the inaugural Mae Young Classic winner.

I watched this live, so while it’s taken a while to catch up on writing up the previous rounds to get here the thoughts are from the initial airing. I wasn’t sure who would win. I predicted this final with Baszler taking it before the tourney started, but going into the match were reasonable arguments for either outcome.

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

Semis: episode eight.

 

Mae Young Classic Final

 

 

 

“I want to prove size is not what it takes to be #1.”

“I wanted to send a message. Everyone knows now. If people weren’t shaking in their boots before, they definitely are now.”

Great video package hyping the final, both highlighting the competitors and making winning seem important. Why this wasn’t all over RAW and Smackdown is beyond me.

There’s a special guest feature with interviews focusing particularly on HHH, & Steph, WWE’s 4 Horsewomen, some of GLOW’s cast, and MMA’s 4 Horsewomen (well, Rousey). Did it’s job to make this seem like an important event, although the continued not-so-subtle use of the tourney as a backdrop building a feud between the two 4 Horsewomen factions is a bit heavy handed.

The final video packages with the two competitors specifically addressing each other were incredibly well done. Shayna talking about Kairi’s perseverance and wanting to finally break her will in front of her fans while Kairi acknowledged Shayna as a MMA star but said it doesn’t matter because wrestling is “my turf” was pitch perfect.

Lots of crowd shots of attendees such as Beth Phoenix, Alundra Blayze, prior round competitors, etc.

Around ten minutes of well done hype is over and it’s time for the match to start.

 

Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler ***3/4

Commentary highlights past accomplishments of both participants during entrances, including the fact that both have won important tournaments in their areas of expertise in a really nice touch. They’re walking a fine line of trying to make Shayna seem dangerous and dominant while still making it believable that Kairi has a legitimate chance against her, and doing it quite well. Specific mention of Kairi being a top star and multiple champion in Stardom.

Kairi showing no fear in the face of the 6 inch taller and about 50 pound heavier Baszler, raising her elbowpad defiantly into Shayna’s face during the ring announcements. Crowd is split and vocal.

The first exchange features Shayna going for submissions and Kairi reversing them into pin attempts. Great way to start. From there the story is Baszler’s strength, submission skills, and powerful strikes against Kairi’s speed, resiliency, and experience edge.

As I’ve stressed before Kairi’s selling is absolutely amazing. Little touches in the way she reacts to being hit and the pain she conveys when trapped in submissions makes everything Baszler does seem that much more lethal.

As the match goes on Shayna focuses her attack on Kairi’s elbow and Kairi targets hers on Shayna’s ribs. Nice strategy and psychology. It paid off in spades for Kairi in wonderfully logical fashion when she was able to land shots to Baszler’s ribs to become the first person to break out of Shayna’s deadly Rear Naked Choke. Great tease of a finish there as Baszler had reversed Kairi’s top rope forearm into the choke and it was a plausible end to the match.

Other highlights included them exchanging hard shots on the top turnbuckle leading to Kairi nailing a hanging double stomp, a beautifully targeted sliding forearm in the corner again to Shayna’s ribs, and of course the InSane Elbow connecting to give Kairi the win and the tournament.

 

 

Shayna accepted Kairi’s help to get to her feet afterwards and hugged Kairi in a gracious show of respect in defeat. It was the right call – Baszler’s heel persona can be reenforced later. Baszler sold the ribs constantly during the aftermath. HHH, Steph, and Sara Amato come in to congratulate Kairi and present her trophy, and we end on her celebrating her victory.

 

Winning the MYC put Kairi in the title picture for Asuka’s vacated NXT Women’s Championship, and Baszler has since been officially signed and I’d imagine is likely to show up directly on the main roster at some point to jumpstart a 4 Horsewomen feud.

Great endcap to a great tournament overall, and it was wonderful to see this spotlight on women’s wrestling featuring so many exceptional competitors.

Mae Young Classic Episode 8 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Here we go. These were the last matches that was taped over the July weekend and this the penultimate episode of the tournament.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

 

Semi Finals:

Opening video package spotlights recaps the quarter finals and shows how each of the four remaining wrestlers advanced.

Crowd’s still nicely fired up despite two long days of tapings.

 

1) Shayna Baszler vs Mercedes Martinez ***

These two are stablemates on the indies (along with Nicole Savoy) in Trifecta. Mercedes is also the reigning Shimmer champion. Shayna justifies her post match actions towards Candice LaRae in her quarter final as sending a message in the build up video, while Mercedes talks about her long path to get here. They reference Mercedes being Shayna’s mentor and show footage of them together without mentioning Trifecta by name. Really good build up stating winning is more important to both than their history and pitting the experienced veteran trying to culminate her journey against the hungry, dangerous protege willing to stop at nothing to claim this for herself. 

Camera lingers of course on Rousey and company in the front row as Shayna comes out. Handshake to open, which is more respect than Shayna’s given anyone else in the tourney. Mercedes is the first to go heavy with the strikes and the story seems to be seeing if Shayna can take as well as she gives. Good approach.

Nice spot early on sees Mercedes seemingly about to go for a running kick on a seated Baszler, who is ready to counter it. Mercedes instead slips around and applies a chinlock. Crowd oohs in appreciation of her outmaneuvering her opponent.

After more dominating offense from Mercedes Shayna’s finally had enough and takes over with a frustrated flurry of strikes. Now Baszler in firm control for a bit, but Mercedes eventually reverses a submission into the Regal stretch. When Baszler powers out they end up exchanging strikes on their knees. After more back and forth once they get to their feet Mercedes hits the Fisherman’s Buster, but takes too long recovering and only gets 2 when she finally covers Baszler.

Martinex just wears Bazler out with a pair of Saito suplexes and a German, then goes for the Fisherman’s again. Baszler fights it off once, then reverses another attempt into a suplex. At the top, she reverses direction and drop Mercedes right into the choke. Mercedes fights longer than anyone else has, but has to tap.

Good, hard hitting match here with another cool finish of Shayna smoothly transitioning into her finisher. Easily Shayna’s best match of the tourney so far. One half of the finals is set.

 

Baszler selling effects of the battle, furthering the story of this being her biggest test to date. Stephanie, HHH, and Sara Amato are in the ring to congratulate her. Martinez hugs Baszler in congratulations and HHH presents Baszler with a rose bouquet signifying her win. I understand the real emotion behind the way this played out, but after being built up as a cocky heel for three rounds Shayna should have continued that role here instead of playing mutual respect with her mentor. The crowd was already cheering her a little because of her deadly finisher and skills. This made her a full face going into the finals. Of course that said, her opponent will be a bigger face, so perhaps it doesn’t matter much.

 

2) Toni Storm vs Kairi Sane ***1/2

Kairi sites Storm’s “classic wrestling technique” as her strength, then we cut to footage of Storm’s swivel “hip” attack to a seated opponent’s face. Sigh. Kairi plays up her elbow drop as the equalizer, and both are determined to win. Short and to the point.

Kairi salutes the trophy with a determined look on her face on her way to the ring. Near everyone has been acknowledging it in some way as they come out, and again little things like that really do a lot to drive home that there’s value and prestige to what they’re all fighting over.

Great chain wrestling sequence to start with constant smooth reversals from both. Insert shows Bazler watching on from the back. The early going is about them feeling each other out and mostly having an answer whenever the other gets an advantage. Well done. A bit in, Kairi goes for a crossbody from the top to Storm on the outside and Storm doesn’t quite catch her flush, leading to Kairi taking a header into the steel mesh ramp as they land. This is no doubt where Kairi got the concussion she was out with in the weeks following the tournament, and it’s amazing she didn’t get knocked completely cold there.

She gets right up and rolls Storm into the ring to continue. She works Toni’s back for a while with crab variations, but then gets caught with a nice kick counter by Storm when she goes for a sliding strike. Storm follows with a nice release German that sends Kairi to the corner and hits the running hip attack, but Kairi explodes out with the spear to counter a second. Great sequence.

Kairi’s got a nasty welt forming on her face from hitting the ramp. They both struggle to their feet and exchange hard strikes for a while, which Kairi eventually gets the better of to put Storm down and go up for the elbow. Storm gets to her feet and catches Kairi on the top turnbuckle though, pulling her off in Muscle Buster position and dropping into a Fisherman’s suplex for an extremely close 2. Toni’s in shock. She sets up for Strong Zero but Kairi fights out. Kairi looks to capitalize with a back fist but it’s blocked and Storm takes her down into a bridging armbar on the arm Storm’s been working all match. Storm’s working of the hold combined with Kairi incredible selling and expressions makes this look deadly. Kairi toughs it out and eventually manages to turn onto her back beneath Storm and roll the latter up for 2.

A hard strike from Storm lays Kairi out and Storm hits the top rope legdrop that beat Viper to Kairi’s back, but Storm’s hurt too from the move and can’t cover. Kairi’s actually the first to crawl up. When both are on their feet Kairi nails the backfist this time to put Storm right back down and abuses Storm’s back some more. With Storm face first on the mat Kairi goes up again and this time her beautiful signature elbow drop connects to Storm’s back and the after that the pinfall is academic.

 

Perfect endcap to the pre-taped rounds and one of the best matches in the tourney. This is the performance I’ve been waiting for from Storm, and Kairi has just killed it all tourney long.

Kairi’s crying in joy as her hand is raised and gives Storm a huge hug as the latter congratulates her on advancing. As with Shayna, HHH, Steph, and Sara come out again to celebrate with the winner.

 

Baszler comes out to square up with Sane at the top of the ramp, Kairi offers a handshake with a respectful smile, but when Baszler ignores it to stare her down and place her fist under Kairi’s chin the Pirate Princess gets a deadly stare of her own in her eyes and simply returns the gesture. Great moment resulting in a fantastic visual to build anticipation for the final. Kairi shakes her head at Baszler to indicate she can’t be intimidated, then pulls her arm back only to present the other in her standard way of calling for the elbow drop. Shayna smirks slightly and they keep eyes locked as we fade out. That whole confrontation was pitch perfect.

 

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This is the final I expected, and Baszler’s strength and grappling against Kairi’s speed and explosiveness is a great pairing. Two extremely good matches here set it all up wonderfully. One match to go.