December 24, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan
Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I was lucky enough to see three Christmas shows, all with some celebratory elements.
First up on Christmas Eve was Gatoh Move at Itabashi Green Hall, where the first show of theirs I saw was at in 2015. Still one of my favorite venues. Unlike Gatoh Move’s home base shows their bigger events (like this one) are more traditional in some respect because they take place in a wrestling ring instead of the mats only environment at Ichigaya Chocolate Square. But Gatoh Move is still unique in it’s presentation, with opening and closing dance numbers by the core roster and a mix of comedy and competitive matches up and down the card. As appropriate for the holiday theme the wrestlers came out in different colored Christmas outfits for the dancing.
The opening match was a mixed tag pitting Hikaru Shida & Madoka against Kaori Yoneyama & Hikaru Sato. This was largely a straight up contest, although there were … “comedic” I guess …. overtones mixed in between Shida and Sato, with Sato creeping on Shida and her wanting nothing to do with him. He tried to refuse to tag in against Madoka but force tagged in whenever she entered the match, stalked around her and bent over to check out her behind instead of hitting her when Kaori held Shida for a double team, climbed on top of her instead of applying submission holds, etc. It did lead to a couple of funny moments, like Shida hitting Kaori with her flying butt attack, him asking for the same, then Shida kneeing him in the face instead. But mostly I personally found it creepy and unnecessary rather than funny. Also, Shida cowering away from him at points seemed really odd for her character, who I thought generally more likely to just haul off and knee him in the first place.
Past that the match was good. In particular when the men did actually face off they absolutely lit into each other with hard strike exchanges. Strong finishing exchanges as time expired too. The Sato / Shida stuff is obviously an ongoing angle, but not one I care for from what I saw here.
Next was a special stipulation “Drunk Match” between DJ Nira and Masahiro Takanashi, during which the competitors had to stop wrestling to imbibe at random times. Beverages escalated from beer to shochu to champagne. Gags included Nira sneaking more than he was required to drink, both wrestlers getting increasingly wobbly as time progressed, etc. Takanashi begging off from the required drink at one point while Nira ran up to down his was a great little touch. Near the end Takanashi kept trying for a superkick, but Nira couldn’t stand long enough to be hit with it. Nira eventually decided to call a bunch of people out from the back to form a human pyramid, and once he made his way to the top Takanashi finally had Nira in position to hit the superkick for the win. Absolutely ridiculous from start to finish, but that was the point here and it was amusing.
Team Reina (Makoto, Mari Sakamoto, & Hirori) faced Team Gatoh Move (Emi Sakura, Aasa, & Mitsuru) in a 6-woman elimination tag (with over-the-top rules in addition to pin/submission). Interesting set up here, with Gatoh Move’s founder and two of her trainees against Reina’s reigning Champion (who also holds GM’s IWA Triple Crown Championship) and two of hers. I’d of course seen Emi and Makoto last trip, and also saw Mari when she came to New York with Syuuri last year. Hirori, Aasa, and Mitsuru were all new to me.
The story of the match was phenomenal, with both teams showing real desire to prevail in the inter-promotional contest. The seconds on the outside for each team were visibly engaged and cheering their promotion, which really added to the atmosphere and the sense of something important being at stake here, even if it was just bragging rights.
The action was great too, with everyone looking sharp, things going back and forth nicely, building drama around the eliminations, etc. Makoto’s presence and mannerisms as a cocky heel were several levels better than what I saw of her in a babyface role last year. Aasa got a nice spotlight at the end being the last member of her team left trying to topple Makoto before coming up just short, and her ring style as a pint-sized powerhouse suits her extremely well. I’d like to see more of Mitsuru too in the future, as she looked quite good in the little time she had before being the first elimination.
Antonio Honda, who I saw several times last year and is always good for a chuckle, had a special “Christmas Deathmatch” against Cho-un Shiryu. This was VERY strange, surprisingly even more so than the drunk match, but still pretty humorous somehow. I do feel it ran long though and would have benefitted from a few less sequences/gags.
Santa made repeated appearances to bring Honda gifts such as a dirty magazine, nunchaku, and a coal miner’s glove, all of which factored into the match eventually. Kaori Yoneyama and DJ Nira were sitting near the “stage” seats and whenever Honda or Cho-un would go up to the top rope one of them had some sort of medical emergency they needed assistance with, forcing the combatant to nobly chose to give up his advantage over his opponent to leave the ring and assist the person in “jeopardy.” Nothing even remotely serious about this match, and the crowd ate it up.
The main event featured Riho & Kotori challenging Aoi Kizuki & Sayaka Obihiro for the Gatoh Move Tag Team Championships. Aoi is a personal favorite of mine, and this was unfortunately the only chance I’ll have to see her wrestle this trip. Thankfully though it was a main event match in with three other excellent wrestlers, and as such was great.
Both teams were sharp and this was exactly the quick paced, hard hitting main event it should have been. Kotori having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and something to prove was a nice undercurrent, and Riho and Aoi had some fantastic exchanges down the stretch.
It was a shame to see Aoi and Obi lose (I somehow only seem to get to see Aoi drop titles in big matches live) but it wasn’t a surprise the way the buildup was going and with Riho’s role as ace of Gatoh Move. Also, Riho and Kotori are a great team and deserving champions themselves.
Afterwards there was another song and wrestlers went around the venue shaking hands with the fans and thanking everyone for coming.
I really liked the feel and flow staggering the comedy matches with the more serious ones gave the show, and when it was time for action everyone gave it their all. As I generally find in Gatoh Move I loved the humor in the straight up comedy matches, and found it fell flatter when they tried to integrate it into a regular contest. The fully competitive matches here (6-woman tag and main event) both had a fantastic sense of urgency and stakes and were simply great.