A Ray of Light Gone Too Soon

Before my first trip to Japan in late 2015, my initial exposure to most Joshi wrestlers I was familiar with came via Shimmer Women Athletes. In 2012 Shimmer announced Leon would be debuting at the company’s March tapings, along with her tag team partner Ray. I wasn’t familiar with either, so my first glimpse at their work was via highlight clips as I looked into Shimmer’s newest Joshi visitors. Both were impressive, talented veterans and fantastic additions to the Shimmer roster. But with all due respect to Leon, it’s Ray who immediately captured my attention and a few short clips were all it took to make her an instant favorite of mine.

 

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Ray combined innovative offense, like her fantastic Cartwheel-Bomb, with a crispness and smooth execution that made her an absolute delight to watch. Already being nearly a ten year vet when I started watching her, she was at the top of her game and incredibly precise in everything she did. She came to Shimmer twice, covering a total of eight matches taped over two different weekends set two years apart. I spotlighted her and Leon’s title match against Ayako Hamada & Ayumi Kurihara on volume 47 as a shining example of Shimmer’s tag division looking back during Shimmer’s 10th Anniversary, and they were always a treat to watch.

It was during Ray’s second trip in 2014 that I was lucky enough to attend live, seeing her & Leon tear the house down in tag matches against three different teams that all had or would hold Shimmer’s tag belts at some point (the Canadian Ninjas (Nicole Matthews & Portia Perez), 3G (reigning tag champs at the time Kellie Skater & Tomoka Nakagawa), and the Kimber Bombs (Cherry Bomb & Kimber Lee)), as well as a singles encounter for Ray against Mia Yim. Again, every match was a treat to see and Ray was incredible.

In December of 2015 I made my first trip to Japan and saw several excellent shows and matches. One of my most anticipated things was getting to see Ray again, and it was nice to get to talk to her again and see her tag with Alex Lee against Takako Inoue & Karou at Marvelous’ 12/20 show. Unfortunately this would turn out to be one of Ray’s final matches, as to start JWP’s Climax a week later she came out to announce she was pulled from the show due to illness. That illness would sadly later be revealed to be a malignant, inoperable brain tumor.

Ray fought her cancer emphatically, and there was always a tiny bit of hope and prayer in everyone’s minds of a recovery and comeback for her. Unfortunately Ray succumbed recently and passed away. In the ring and out she was an inspiration, and she will be greatly missed.

 

Wave 5/4/18 Live Thoughts

May 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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In addition to hosting the finals of this year’s Catch the Wave tournament this was Mika Iida’s retirement show. I already discussed some of it a bit in my look back on her career, but here I’d like to go into more detail / take a look at the rest of the card.

 

1. Mika Iida vs Hiroe Nagahama

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During the week leading up to her final show, amid numerous appearances scheduled across various promotions, Iida unfortunately dislocated her shoulder during a gauntlet match. She realigned it and managed one more portion of that match in a crazy display of toughness, but then had to acquiesce and withdraw from the match and most of her remaining appearances to recover. She always still intended to complete in this final show however, and twice in fact. In a 6-woman tag to close it, and this five minute exhibition to open.

In a wonderful sign for her recovery (and of course her fortitude and perhaps stubbornness), she took the microphone right away and declared she was ok and turned this into a full match to a large ovation. It was a good contest and a nice callback for me to the match between the two I had seen a few months prior. Unsurprisingly Iida put the up and comer over and the latter was particularly choked up.

 

2. ASUKA, Miyuki Takase & Sakura Hirota vs Moeka Haruhi, Arisa Nakajima & Cherry

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Of course as this is a Wave review hopefully it’s obvious I’m talking about their Asuka, and not the former Kana. With just four minutes to work with these six hit the comedy (a given with Hirota in there), ran through some quick action, and wrapped it all up in short order. It was fine, but there wasn’t much to it. Seeing Arisa on a card in any capacity is always a treat though.

 

 

3. 3-Way Tag Match: BOSS to Mammy (Yumi Ohka & Mio Momono) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Fairy Nipponbashi & Yako Fujigasaki

 

This kind of had the opposite impression of the last match in some ways. Seven minutes isn’t a ton of time for a three way tag encounter, but they made the most of time allotted and format and this didn’t feel short or limited at all.

Light overtones and humor were well integrated, and Fairy actually amused me quite a bit for a change. She had a running bit where she was getting in Ohka’s face making motions to indicate she wanted a title shot, with Ohka reacting to her attitude in kind and ignoring the message. Of course Ohka lost the belt MONTHS prior back to Ohata, who helplessly tried to intervene and explain she was the champion.

There was also another funny section where Mizunami tried to “defend” Ohka and got herself into trouble with whatever she was saying (likely comments about Yumi’s age), with Misaki running over to cover her partner’s mouth to try to minimize the damage. Really well executed, where I understood what was happening even without understanding exactly what was said.

 

 

I saw the formation of Boss to Mammy last August but since Ohka was involved in the singles title picture during my holiday visit this was my first opportunity to seem them wrestle as a team. I really love the pairing and am thrilled they are now the reigning tag champions. This was before their push however, and with two of my favorite teams facing a thrown together team of two who honestly don’t usually impress me very much you can probably guess who came out on top. BOO! Jokes and personal preferences aside, this was an extremely good match and a lot of fun.

 

4. WAVE Tag Team Championship Match: Kuso Onna Night (Yuki Miyazaki & Nagisa Nozaki) (c) vs NEW-TRA (Takumi Iroha & Rin Kadokura)

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I saw these two teams face for these same titles at Thanksgiving Wave, in honestly what was a much better match. I was excited for this rematch with reversed roles, but the approach robbed it of the impact it should have had. The team stripped of their championship due to injury to Iroha were facing a team they previously beat who claimed the titles in their absence. There should have been a sense of urgency to reclaim the belts on one side and a desperation to prove themselves on the other. Instead this was heavy on antics early and never reached the level of tension it needed, ending up rather perfunctory. It wasn’t a bad match, but considering the situation and what the teams are capable of it was unfortunately a bit disappointing.

 

5. Catch the WAVE Final: Ayako Hamada vs Rina Yamashita

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When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took hit instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Afterwards awards were given for the whole tournament, including Misaki vs Shida getting best bout, Asuka getting a Technique award for competing with a broken ankle (O_o wow), Hiroe getting a special award for upsetting champion Misaki, etc.

Arisa walked out on her semifinalist medal, so Gami wore it instead in a picture with other semifinalists Nagisa and Misaki. Rina of course got the spotlight as the tourney winner, with runner up Hamada sitting in the corner to sell the grueling match and clapping for Rina’s victory from there.

 

 

6. Mika Iida Retirement Match: Rina Yamashita, Kaho Kobayashi & Natsu Sumire vs Mika Iida, Yumi Ohka & Hiroe Nagahama

 

After the ceremony it was time for the main event and Mika Iida’s last match. Rina wasn’t done, as she came right back out for this, visibly emotional the whole way. I’d seen her team here across the ring from Iida before in a 3-way trios from Thanksgiving Wave 2016. Natsu’s return for this saw her the biggest heel in building, getting massive heat and playing into it the whole way. Even her partners were joining in the crowd’s jeering at points and when she started flipping the audience off for their reaction her partner Rina flipped her off on the audience’s behalf. Amusing stuff. The outside brawling was a particular highlight for me, as my seat was wiped out (twice) by the woman of honor herself being whipped around ringside.

 

 

Iida was teaming with her opponent from the opener as well as one of Wave’s cornerstones. The match was the appropriately enjoyable spectacle, including “traditional” retirement spots like whipping all of the roster (and then some) into Iida in the corner with amusing variations like Rina interrupting Gami’s turn and allowing Iida to wipe out the boss instead. Special guests also got in on the action, including Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in to hit an Ace Crusher on Iida for a near fall at one point. Tsukka was one of the wrestlers who was supposed to face Iida in between her injury and this last show, so this was a nice way to work in a little of what that could have been. Just a ton of fun all around. Rina got a second huge honor in the same night as becoming the first ever back to back Catch the Wave winner, pinning Iida to end her career.

 

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The gift presentation and final ceremonies were touched by humor, perhaps highlighted by Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota brawling around Iida as she stood in the center of the ring while her career highlights were read. Something noticeable was a sense of Iida really enjoying everything and having a joyous goodbye (despite of course it all being very emotional).

 

 

Strong show, and all in all everything came together in a way that really felt like the perfect farewell for Iida that reflected her unique, infectious charisma throughout. I’m sad to see her go but happy to have seen her wrestle during her time in the ring and wish her the best in whatever comes next.

NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV Live Thoughts

August 18, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY

NXT Takeover Brooklyn is a highlight of the year for me, and this show looked quite good going in.

 

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Before Takeover “proper” a pair of matches were taped for this week’s NXT (so these first two matches I’ll talk about are technically spoilers).

Taping for 8/22/18:

1) Bianca Belair vs Deonna Purrazo

 

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Nice way to start, and a very good showing for both competitors. Well structured match that ended with an important win for Belair as she perhaps gains momentum towards a title shot. There’s time to build up Deonna later.

 

2) UK Championship: Pete Dunne (c) vs Zack Gibson

 

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Gibson’s a fantastic heel and NYC loves the Bruiserweight, so this was heated from the word go. They viciously picked each other apart in between unique moments like getting their legs tied up, pushing into dual headstands, and then slapping each other. Dunne can do it all, as he demonstrated here with some beautiful arial offense. In the end they fought over Dunne’s mouthpiece, leading to just enough an opening for Dunne to hit the Bitter End and retain. Excellent match.

 

Takeover

1) NXT Tag Team Title: Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reily & Roderick Strong) vs Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate).

 

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With the recent trading of the titles and War Raiders on the horizon there seemed no chance of a switch here, but predictable is fine if done well, which this was. I’m not the biggest fan of UE, but they can rise to the level of their opponents reasonably well, and MM is one of the best tag teams in the business. Great match overall that saw a lot of changes in momentum and played off of their previous encounters in interesting ways. UE eventually retained with their version of Chasing the Dragon after a long sprint that kept pace throughout. Afterwards War Raiders send the champs packing to make a statement.

 

2) Velveteen Dream vs EC3

 

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EC3 is has a heel gimmick and attitude, wrestled like a heel here, and yet was cast in the babyface role storyline-wise. Unsurprisingly the NYC crowd was firmly in Dream’s corner. This was way too long for the styles involved and what they were doing, but had an extremely hot finish with Dream hitting the top rope elbow to EC3 on the outside apron then rolling him back in for a well deserved and needed win. Didn’t expect that outcome, but it was the right one.

 

Matt Riddle was the front row “surprise” plant, and I’m beyond happy for him and can’t wait to see him tear it up in NXT.

 

3) North American Championship: Adam Cole (c) vs Ricochet 

 

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Again not a big fan of Cole, and he was a bit limited here, but when it counted most he admittedly nailed things (like a beautiful superkick counter to an Asai moonsault) and he mostly committed to playing the proper heel role (outside his ridiculous crowd pandering for his catchphrase). Ricochet is so incredibly smooth with everything he does, and dropped the crowd’s jaws several times including an INSANE rope clear hurricanrana to the floor with Cole standing on the apron. 630 gives Ricochet the win and the title to counter Cole’s “you’re not special” claims and send the audience through the roof despite being split throughout the match. Extremely good match, and this was the right time for the switch.

 

4) NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baslzer (c) vs Kairi Sane

 

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Speaking of the right time for a switch, I was convinced coming in that because of the incredible way Shayna ran down Kairi leading into this, along with the likelihood of Shayna being called up soon, that Kairi had to be winning the belt. It’s a testament to the skill of both wrestlers and the wonderful escalating match they had that I doubted it at a couple of points. They both played their parts perfectly, building off their previous encounters as well as Shayna’s claims of Kairi lacking the killer instinct needed to win.

In a call back to the finish of one of my all time favorite matches, after having the Seven Seas (top rope diving elbow) countered into the Rear Naked Choke Kairi immediately rolled her weight back over Shayna’s shoulders for the pin and the championship.  It was a beautiful bit of storytelling. Kairi didn’t win with her trademark elbow, NOR her brand new submission finisher (which was still made to look threatening and dangerous). She beat the shoot fighter with a wrestling counter. Loved this, and it was probably my match of the night against some very high level competition.

 

5) Last Man Standing for the NXT Championship: Tommaso Ciampa (c) vs Johnny Gargano

 

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This feud is going on rather long and these two need some space from each other for a while after this. That being said, NXT made the most of being in a tough spot because of Black’s injury and Gargano and Ciampa’s battles are always interesting. They heavily played off of previous encounters, with the crutch and handcuffs being brought out, the ring mat being removed, etc.

The finish was clever to an extent with Gargano’s anger getting the better of him (again), causing him to taunt Ciampa by doing the latter’s move instead of his own which cost him the match when a near dead, handcuffed Ciampa simply rolled off the stage to “stand” and win. But the lead up to it was too drawn out and Ciampa’s position made it obvious what the finish would be. A little tightening and tweaking would have helped this, as would have the interference I honestly expected, but it was still an intense, engaging main event. As great Gargano is, Ciampa’s gone nuclear as a heel champ and I want to see what he can do in a different feud.

 

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Overall

Takeover Brooklyn is always great, and this year was no exception. Nothing actively bad and several excellent matches make this an easy recommendation. 

Gatoh Move 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

This promised to be an extremely interesting show for me as it held Gatoh Move’s 6th Annual Go Go Green Curry Cup from here abbreviated as GGGCC), a single day mixed tag team tournament, along with a handful of non-tourney matches. The tournament included several unique combinations, as well as the reigning tag team champions.

 

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Hanako Nakamori

 

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The show opened with the Pure-J champion against a Gatoh Move rookie with about two months experience. This was my first glimpse of Hanako’s newer look, and it helps her stand out as befitting Pure-J’s ace and champion.  Yuna had an extremely good showing here against the more experienced competitor, and she’s a great addition to the Gatoh roster. Well structured match that let the rookie shine a bit before the visiting champion put her down.

 

 

 

2)  GGGCC Round 1: Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen (Sawasdee Mask) 

 

 

Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my upcoming write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: GM’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team would prevail and move on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho and Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

 

3) GGGCC Round 1: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Saki & Ryuichi Sekine

 

 

In another case of one of the apparent tourney favorites drawing a first round match, Gatoh’s reigning tag champs were up next. Emi and Takanashi are absolute maestros in the ring and had an energetic back and forth match here in which Saki and Ryuichi got to take the champs to the limit and force a time limit draw. The tie breaker was amusingly a game of rock, paper, scissors, and Saki and Ryuichi’s corner woman Obi came in to do the honors for them. It didn’t work out so well, and Emi & Masahiro moved on.

 

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4) Minoru Fujita vs Sakura Emi W

 

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Minoru had no idea what to make of Emi Sakura’s doppelganger, and this was half action and half (intentionally) awkward comedy. The humor wasn’t really to my tastes, but this was fine light filler to break up the rounds of the tournament.

 

 

5) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Kaori Yoneyama & Baliyan Akki vs Riho & Golem Thai

 

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I’m running out of various ways to say “great, back and forth encounter,” so I’ll simply say this was another one. I will add however that while that general statement might make it sound like the tourney matches were similar, they were in fact all quite unique and tailored to the skills of the participants. Akki & Yone were another excellent, complementary team, and this built to a huge crescendo with Akki getting the upset pin on the One and Only champion to send his team on as well as putting himself in line for a future singles shot at Golem’s title.

 

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6) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Aoi Kizuki & Antonio Honda

 

 

I’m always thrilled with opportunities to see Aoi wrestle (particularly in light of her imminent retirement), and after seeing her and Honda face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show their pairing here seemed pitch perfect.

As expected, this was the comedy match of the tourney, with the exciting action and double teams all four are certainly capable of interspersed with over the top hilarity of the best kind. The tag champs displayed their versatility, proving they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience. Perfect point in the show for this style of match, and it was a blast. The champs persevered as things got serious near the end and advanced to face Akki & Yone in the finals.

 

 

7) Hikaru Sato vs Chikara

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The last non-tourney match provided another decent change of pace to separate the semis from the finals. Some hard strike exchanges highlighted this interlude, which Sato eventually won.

 

 

8) GGGCC Finals: Baliyan Akki & Kaori Yoneyama vs Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi

 

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So the quasi-heelish tag champs who keep finding ways to pull out the win faced the conquering heroes who overcame the tourney’s superteam in a fitting final in the main event of the show. Excellent way to cap off the day seeing the two teams engaged in spirited battle for a full 15 minutes (about double what most of the other matches ran). Paced and structured perfectly, this was a wonderful contest that saw Akki and Yone come just short of another spectacular upset as the champions took the tourney and basked in the feeling of being alone at the top (for now).

 

 

This show was a delight from top to bottom. Emi & Takanashi winning was actually a bit of a surprise for me, since I expected someone to upset them at some point to earn a future title shot. But it was a surprise that put the masters in a match in every round, and the champs reigning supreme leaves things open for a new team to emerge determined to knock them down.

I can’t stress how well booked and executed the whole tournament was. The teams were all fun and interesting, one team battled through three rounds to the finals while one of the bye teams capitalized on it, different styles were spotlit at different times, etc. The variety of course means not everything will appeal to everyone and of course not every match is meant to steal the show, but for me this was a fantastic show all around with tremendous effort from everyone and I adored it.

 

 

Remembering the Past to Avoid Repeating It

“Let us learn from the destructive past, and walk together towards a peaceful future.”

 

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is home to a variety of excellent exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve written about several past showings, and two of my absolute favorites where the textile based Chika MacDonald’s “Mugen” and Nobuko Tsuruta’s “12 Years.”

Here I’d like to spotlight an important and thought provoking exhibit, the annual and currently showing “Atomic Bomb Panel & Peace Art Exhibition.”

 

 

 

 

The Peace Exhibit is a wonderful combination of works, across numerous mediums, aimed at education and reflection. It includes posters created by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, calligraphy pieces, sculptures, origami, and more (please see the full list of works and artists). The message of examining past events, including horrific ones, to reach for understanding of how best to proceed in the future is a great one, and there is great significance and meaning to the various pieces and the insights, emotions, and messages of hope they contain.

 

 

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The opening reception was held on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and was a lively evening in celebration of peace, a meaningful reminder of the weight of the past, and perhaps most importantly a glimpse at how that weight can be turned into hope for a better future.

 

 

The reception added further depth to the already impressive exhibit, with a striking and captivating calligraphy and dance performance, prayers of remembrance given across several faiths, and a heartfelt musical performance to close the evening.

 

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“Atomic Bomb Panel & Peace Art Exhibition 2018” is running until August 14, 2018, and I highly recommend going to take in this collection and the meaning and messages behind it in person.

 

Incredibles 2 Review

“How do you balance the superhero stuff with the life stuff?”

 

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It’s been a long time coming, but Incredibles 2 was worth the wait. I found this to be an excellent sequel that captures spirit of the first film while progressing the story and characters’ personalities and situations nicely. It’s exceedingly precise in mostly the right ways, being carefully measured down to minutia in a way that only occasionally calls attention to itself. Admittedly there aren’t a lot of new ideas here with one main underlying plot thread being a light spin on the first film, and there are some issues with falling back on outdated stereotypes. But it’s what’s done with the various elements that matter most in the end, and everything is executed well. The stereotypes are played with and moved beyond, the plot structure is there to support the themes and emotions the movie’s truly about, etc. I found the key points being made and the conflicts and issues the family was working through relatable and genuine despite the fantastical setting, which is a wonderful accomplishment.

 

 

Progress NYC 8/7/18 Live Review

August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY

Progress’ NYC debut last year was a great show somewhat marred by a horrible venue. I was extremely pleased to hear they’d be running La Boom this time around, which one of my favorite places to watch wrestling.

Jim Smallman came out to open to thank NYC for a Tuesday night sellout, reminisce about how special it was to get a “please come back” chant for the promotion the previous year BEFORE THE SHOW STARTED, and generally soak in the excitement of the crowd. He comes across as genuinely appreciative and set the stage for a great night.

 

 

TK Cooper received a warm welcome for his return to New York from a crowd happy to see him competing again after his unfortunate injury at last year’s NYC show that left him out for 9 months. His opponent Eddie Dennis jumped all over this in some of the best heel promo work I’ve ever seen simply saying the injury is the only reason the crowd cares about Cooper at all and then throwing in that the only reason Cooper was booked is because it was too late for Progress to cancel his plane ticket once his tag team partner was injured. Dennis cut straight to the bone but, perhaps more importantly, expertly delivered everything with the needed pitch perfect tone that ensured the audience would take offense on Cooper’s behalf (instead of perhaps chuckling at the level of burn delivered). The sold out NYC crowd packing La Boom arrived ready to be loud and involved, and the show started right out with a story they could latch onto, fostering and elevating the electric atmosphere.

 

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Furthermore, the match itself was extremely well worked with Cooper trying weather Dennis’ calculated yet driven assault while the latter did everything he could to stay a step ahead. Cooper looked a little hesitant at points, which may have been an intentional attempt to sell trepidation after what happened during his last appearance here. If so I don’t think it came across quite the way it was intended. Otherwise though he looked good and it was great to see him back. Dennis was incredible, with his ringwork the equal of his character work, and made one of the strongest impressions of the night in my first time seeing him. His victory put him at 2 in the 3 and in challenge, meaning he’s one more consecutive victory away from being one of the challengers for the Progress title at their biggest event ever. I’d love to see it. Excellent way to start the show.

 

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Speaking of matches with title implications, Natalia Markova and Ashley Vox faced to earn a spot in an upcoming Progress Women’s Championship match. They each appropriately fought like they desperately needed to win and never let up. Highlights included them dropping everyone’s jaws with high impact dives to the floor (side note: for the love of god Progress PLEASE get real mats on the outside next time). I’d seen Vox once before in a good tag match on a Marvelous USA show a couple of years ago. She’s continue to grow as a performer since then and was fantastic here. After the only women’s match on the card Vox received one of the very few “please come back” chants targeted at an individual of the night. Great effort and performances from both in an excellent match that saw Markova prevail to move on to the tile match.

 

 

Something that’s so important but sometimes overlooked is making sure the live crowd knows what the rules and stakes of matches are. With the last match clarifying it was for a future title shot gave important context, and likewise here Smallman explaining before the match began that it was submissions only but rope breaks were still in force was a much appreciated little touch that allows the audience to understand the parameters from the get go and become immediately engaged in the match.

I’ve heard Flash Morgan Webster’s name often, but this was my first look at him. He has a striking look / gimmick, and had an intense match with Mark Haskins that had a strong, wonderfully told underlying story and made great use of the submission only stipulation.

 

 

Haskins kept at Morgan full bore while the latter took every shortcut he could and targeted a foot Haskins injured when he went for a kick and Morgan blocked it with a chair. Late match Morgan got the advantage using Haskins’ own helmet as a weapon, but when he tried to continue and use it to attack Mark’s wife Vicky things backfired, Vicky beat on Morgan a bit in what felt like retribution without me knowing anything at all about the story building up to this match, and Mark put Morgan away. Afterwards the couple towered over a prone Morgan, and in a wonderful bit of chickenshit heel character work he kept looking back and forth between them as if unsure who he needed to be more afraid of. Also of note: Haskins was giving a MASTERCLASS on selling if one paid attention, grimacing any time he had to put weight on the foot, letting it affect his actions in the ring, and selling it all the way to the back. This was fantastic.

 

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With Kid Lykos unfortunately injured on a previous show, John Gresham subbed in as part of CCK to team with Chris Brookes to defend the Progress Tag Team Titles against LAX ( Santana & Ortiz). Easily the match of the night against a strong field, this was tag team wrestling at its finest. I was unfamiliar with everyone in the match except Gresham, who I’d seen every little of and nothing in years, and all four tore it up. Gresham in particular is an absolute gem, being super smooth and perfectly paced and precise in everything he did. They blew the roof off the place so much other wrestlers were constantly peeking out through the curtain to watch. Smallman came out after to call it one of the best matches in Progress’ history and commend all involved, and it was well deserved. Really hope to see more of these four in the future.

 

 

After an intermission to let everyone catch their breath, we had an entry in an ongoing tag team series that saw Sexy Starr (David Starr & Jack Sexsmith) vs Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake).  Gibson didn’t get quite the immediate nuclear heat he had last year, but he was still nearly booed out of the building when he tried to speak. The positive portrayal of and interactions between Starr and Sexsmith are something wrestling needs more of.

I will admit the immersion was broken for me by the presence of one of my personal pets peeves with the referee treating similar actions by the faces and heels completely differently. The ref’s supposed to be impartial, with the heels working around him and cheating behind his back for the advantage. Having a ref manhandle a face back to his corner then lamely shake his finger at a heel while watching him do the exact same thing the face just did really takes me out of matches. Fine match to restart the show with decent action otherwise leading to an eventual feel good win for Sexy Starr.

 

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If this was in fact Matt Riddle’s final La Boom appearance, he went out on an extremely high note against Mark Andrews. The two put on a hard hitting, glorious match in the semi-main spot that went shorter than I expected but made the most of every second in a way made it feel the perfect length. One INSANE spot saw Andrews counter the Bro-to-Sleep into a Canadian Destroyer. Riddle received a huge “thank you Riddle” chant after his victory.

 

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Given Pete Dunne was pulled from last year’s show due to getting busted open the night before and Mustache Mountain’s (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) match was cut short due to Cooper’s injury, it was a particular treat to see the three wrestle live in the main event as British Strong Style took on “The 3 Kings” in the debuting Eddie Kingston & Brody King with Progress star the King of the Goths Jimmy Havoc.

BSS were pretty much conquering heroes here, no matter what they did. And they reveled in it. The six brawled all over, and generally just fought and fought until someone didn’t get up. In this case it was Eddie Kingston falling victim to a Tyler Driver to end it.

 

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Amusing crowd interactions were also plentiful. King tried to throw Dunne’s cloak into the crowd a couple times then got pissed at the fan who just kept handing it back to Dunne. When he went out to stare down the fan, a “kiss!” chant rose, to which Havoc responded by going out and kissing the fan. A “one more time” chant was then met with “if he pays me.” After a series of crazy dives left everyone on the floor, Dunne solicited shoes from the audience to use as weapons, and after the resulting brawl Tyler Bate wrestled the rest of the match with one bare foot.

 

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Trent Seven’s performance particularly stood out to me in numerous little details and mannerisms. After an extended sequence where he played deadweight as various combinations of his partners and opponents tried to get him back to his feet, he fired off rapid strikes on all three of his opponents as Dunne and Bate mocked brawled with each other in the corner. BSS have this incredible ability to seem simultaneously ridiculous and dangerous in the best possible way, and it makes their matches something special. Everyone was spot on here. Just great fun all around.

 

 

Progress knocked it right out of the park with this truly amazing show featuring jaw dropping action, accessible stories even for non-regular viewers, and effort and passion up and down the card. I can’t wait until they come back this way someday.