Ice Ribbon 10/8/18 Live Thoughts

October 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Stepping back a little to look at one of the last two shows I have to write up from my September-October trip. Big Korakuen show for Ice Ribbon here, the day after most of the roster appeared at Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show.

 

 

The show opened with a non-title 2 out of 3 falls contest with unspecified other stipulations between reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion Tsukasa Fujimoto and Risa Sera.

If any in story reason for this being the opener was given, I missed it. I generally dislike it when things happen unexplained because of how the match is going to play out and had that sinking feeling here, and sure enough this started the show so it could continue throughout the event.

First fall was a regular match, which seemed there to placate the live audience and be able to say that those who paid to attend the show live got to see some of Risa vs Tsukka. While it involving these two meant it was still decent, it wasn’t enough honestly. Eight and half minutes of them hitting their signature spots before they disappeared to wrestle elsewhere for hours.

To be clear I don’t blame them at all for pacing themselves, but given the majority wouldn’t be happening at the arena I would’ve liked to see something… more compelling at least from this first fall. The biggest problem with the angle they’re running of Risa’s character being much more effective/interested in hardcore matches than regular matches is it seems to be bleeding over into her work and her regular matches feel less interesting/engaging than her hardcore stuff now.

Tsukka won this clean as a whistle center of the ring (more on that later). Then the second fall was announced as falls count anywhere and they brawled through the crowd … and out of the arena, leaving the live audience behind. A referee and camera was sent after them, and the show moved on.

 

 

In a somewhat tough spot of being overshadowed by the match that just vacated the arena, Miyako Matsumoto, Tae Honma, & Uno Matsuya vs Tequila Saya, Giulia, & Makoto was a decent way to keep the energy in the arena up. Good match overall, and I really liked Tae’s increasing frustration with her own partner Uno as things went on. Little touches are so important.

On a side note, I think this was my first time seeing Saya’s entrance gear that riffs on Giulia’s militant look, with Saya’s version having a bandolier of shot glasses and a glass tequila bottle shaped like a gun. Fantastic.

 

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As Misaki Ohata’s career wound down this year I really enjoyed her involvement in P’s Party, particularly her matches / interactions with Asahi. So it was a real treat for me to see them team here against Arisa Nakajima & Karen DATE. I loved this, as beyond just great action it also had several interesting undercurrents being played off of throughout the match.

Arisa and Misaki’s mutual resentment was palpable, and Misaki’s strained patience with Asahi yet being rabidly protective when Arisa mocked the rookie was pitch perfect character work. Great stuff all around.

With all of the DATES currently absent from Ice Ribbon’s shows this seems like it was my last time seeing Karen live for the foreseeable future (if ever). A high note to go out on at least.

 

 

A year and change into her career, Ibuki Hoshi got the… opportunity… to face legend Aja Kong. Exactly as expected and warranted, as the defiant Ibuki fought her heart out but still eventually got wrecked by the veteran monster. Ibuki’s really solid in her storytelling, and this was quite good for this formula.

 

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Shortly before this show Maika Ozaki had temporarily broken up her GEKOKU team with Kyuuri in a case of tough love because she thought the latter wasn’t as upset by losing matches as she should be. Here they were pitted against each other in tag action, teaming with Nao DATE and Totoro Satsuki respectively.

I adore the fact that they were teaming with two wrestlers who were regular partners themselves (as Novel Tornado), as it created several interesting parallels between the team who was ok facing each other in a competitive environment and the team who was being torn apart by it. Kyuuri wanted NO PART of fighting Maika, looking absolutely miserable during the ring entrances and only lightening up when in the ring against Nao. She wouldn’t even lock up with Maika at first, but later in the match when pushed far enough she completely went off on her usual partner in spectacular, crowd popping fashion.

 

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Maika, perhaps partially proving her point about Kyuuri’s priorities, eventually prevails and pins her regular partner with the Muscle Buster. A dejected, depressed Kyuuri then slinks off with Totoro in tow as Maika desperately tries to call her back and explain. Great interweaving of stories in a great match. Between this and the ActWres feud Gekoku has been the center of some of the best storytelling Ice Ribbon did all year, and of course the story wasn’t over yet.

Like Karen, Nao has also apparently stopped wrestling for now (?) since I saw this show. She’s one of my absolute favorites among Ice’s rookies and I hope to see her back someday.

 

 

Next up former Ice Ribbon wrestler and unwelcome invader Hikaru Shida faced Akane Fujita. Fine, if a bit perfunctory. Long for what it was as Akane never had a chance here and they didn’t do a great job of ever making it feel like she did. Tae Homna being the only corner person for Shida (since all of Ice Ribbon hates her in story) was a nice little touch. Shida was confronted by the entire batch of Ice Ribbon “rookies” afterwards, which led to nothing.

 

 

So an hour an ten minutes later we get the finish of fall 2 of Tsukka vs Risa, relayed via video clip on a screen directly behind me. Yay live wrestling. Risa wins, and they hop on a train to continue for fall 3. How is “falls count anywhere” and “falls count anywhere (WE’RE ON A TRAIN NOW!)” any logically different as a stipulation? No idea. And on to the next match we went.

 

In the supposed semi-main event Maya Yukihi faced Wave’s Rina Yamishita. Really good showing for Maya against tough competition in a hard hitting fifteen minute battle before coming up short. She’s gradually and continually improved over the three years I’ve been watching her wrestle and is at the level for the position they’ve been building her towards. Rina’s great and it’s always nice to see her come to Ice Ribbon in the few appearances she makes.

 

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It seemed possible that Tsukushi’s journey since her redebut would culminate here and lead to the vacated International Ribbon Tag Team Champions of This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiiragi) reclaiming the belts. But instead the team that claimed the belts in their absence, the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), had their reign legitimized in a decisive win. Solid match, with Mochi and Tsukushi’s simmering animosity that bubbled over in at the dojo show days before providing a strong central emotional core to build around. But once the dust settled in the aftermath of the heated battled all was forgiven.

 

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But of course that wasn’t really the main event, because we still have a fall left of our “opener” to check in on. Risa wins the train battle, and thus the “match.” This makes her the #1 contender to Tsukka’s title, and then they throw to another video which is an announcement/commercial for a variety show TV special Ice Ribbon had coming up.

I was really torn on this, because I like that Ice Ribbon does unusual promotional things exactly like having a match spill all over Tokyo. On the other hand, as a member of the live, paying audience having the majority of this, including both the falls that actually mattered in the end, happen away from the venue and relayed on a video screen directly behind me quite honestly sucked. And progressing throughout the show the way it did meant it became the focal point, and the wrestling actually happening in the building was in some sense second fiddle to off site action. Another smaller frustration is that as a result the champion and number 1 contender, arguably the company’s two biggest stars, ended up hours away from the venue and missing for post show photo ops, etc.

On top of that Tsukka, the champion facing her rival who’s being set up to challenge her mind you, won center of the ring in the non-stipulation fall. Why does Risa then winning gimmicked, brawling falls make her number one contender in the exact type of match she just lost clean in short order?

This should be fine and enjoyable on dvd, but from my personal perspective as a live audience member as well as how it was presented / booked I was honestly disappointed.

 

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Overall this show was clearly a mixed bag for me live, but the primary issues I had won’t be a problem on tape and there’s some really great gems hiding in the undercard, so this still gets a recommendation from me to check out.

Gatoh Move 12/21 & 12/22/18 Live Thoughts

December 21 and 22, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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Michinoku Pro 12/21/18:

Ok, this clearly wasn’t a Gatoh Move show, but at the risk of sacrilege the Gatoh Move 6-person tag was the reason I went. To be perfectly honest the rest of the card was incidental to me outside of the main event, and that’s a whole other story all together. So for now as I work through my significant backlog of shows I’d like to focus solely on the Gatoh match from this show.

 

 

The way this trip (and many of my others for that matter) fell I only saw Gatoh Move shows at Ichigaya, missing their larger, more traditional offers at places like Shinkiba 1st Ring that took place shortly before and after my visit. I adore Ichigaya and its unique environment (much more on that to come), but working and thriving in that space adds depth and versatility to their wrestling as a whole, not only what they can do there. So it’s also a treat to see them let loose in a traditional ring in general, let alone in a rare appearance at Korakuen Hall.

 

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Emi Sakura, Masahiro Takanashi, & Baliyan Akki vs Riho, Mei Sugura, & Greg Glorious was fantastic. Just non-stop, energetic fun for a straight eleven and a half minutes. It was my first look at Greg, who fit right in with the Gatoh crew and had a great showing in a victorious effort alongside Riho & Mei.

 

 

It was so cool to see rookies Mei and Akki’s Korakuen debuts, and of course any opportunity to see ring masters like Emi, Riho, and Masahiro let loose is to be cherished. Call me overenthusiastic if you like, but this was fantastic and is will certainly be in the discussion when I put together my best of the trip list.

 

 

Gatoh Move 12/22/18:

A day later and I was had my first show of the trip in Gatoh’s home base.

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

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

 

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Kazuhiro Tamura is a familiar guest at Gatoh, and provided a strong test for Yuna Mizumori to open the show. As I’ve noticed and remarked often about Sakura’s trainees, Yuna has a very distinct personality and energy that’s worked well into her ring style. In her specific case, the impression is that of a friendly, hyper wrecking ball and I adore watching her wrestle. Tamura was victorious here, but it was a fight.

 

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I really love when Masahiro Takanashi teams with Gatoh’s rookies, and Mei Sugura’s exuberance is a particularly great compliment to his straight ahead style. It was absolutely wonderful to see Sayaka Obihiro, recovered from injury and fully back, across the mat from them teaming with another regular guest in Saki. Fun back and forth contest, with Mei managing to be just a more on the same page with her veteran teammate than Obi and Saki managed as time wore on, opening the door for Takanashi to pickup the win. Nice story underlying a good match.

 

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I adore the Riho & Mitsuru Konno pairing (and honestly wish Riho had won the tag belts with Mitsuru instead of Makoto, but I suppose it’s possible that’s my bias speaking), so seeing them main event against Emi Sakura & Baliyan Akki was great.

Akki has come so far in the year since he came to Gatoh Move, and he had already been pretty impressive in my first exposure to his work. He’s making the most of the unique and rewarding experience of training and wrestling at Gatoh Move, and seems really comfortable with his wrestling and as a result can push himself in new directions.

Mitsuru’s showing a nice aggressive streak as frustration with her losses builds, and of course with Gatoh’s ace and founder anchoring this everything came together in an engaging contest that had several nice layers lurking beneath the surface.

 

 

I always enjoy Gatoh Move a lot, but something clicked even more so than the already high usual standard throughout the batch of shows I saw this trip, and it was immediately noticeable starting right here.

Ice Ribbon 12/29/18 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

This was two days out from Ribbonmania, so it was interesting to see how it would build up to the larger show.

 

 

The opening tag match of Giulia & Totoro Satsuki vs Asahi & Tequila Saya was great fun. Giulia and Saya played mind games with each other continuing their rather heated feud (for IR) going into their big mixed tag match at Ribbonmania, while Asahi continued desperately trying to prove herself. The latter would once again come up just short, eventually falling victim to Totoro and Giulia’s relentless assault to give them the victory.

 

 

Ibuki Hoshi is insanely good at working the underdog formula and was in another great showing against a veteran, in this case Tsukushi. Since these two would be on opposite sides of an 8-woman tag at Ribbonmania this was in some sense another lead in, although there was no specific issue between the teams nor this pairing. The rookie who isn’t won this pretty handily.

 

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In a more direct preview of Ribbonmania the Triangle Ribbon title challengers faced each other in a singles contest as Miyako Matsumoto faced Uno Matsuya. This was ok overall and a fine build up for the Ribbonmania match, although as much as I adore Miyako she was having an off night here even for her which did detract a bit. Her transition from sitting straight down with her opponent into the Miyacoco Clutch is awesome in theory, but I’ve never seen her execute it properly. Here she botched it rather severely, leaving her somehow sitting on top of poor Uno for the pin.

 

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The champions vs challengers main event 6-woman tag of Tsukasa Fujimoto (Ice Cross Infinity champion) & the Lovely Butchers (International Tag Ribbon champions Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) vs Maya Yukihi & GEKOKU (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) was fantastic, filled with a real sense of aggression and rivalry all around. Somewhat surprisingly, Maya scored a clean pinfall victory over Tsukka for a huge boost of confidence and momentum going into Ribbonmania.

 

 

This is the type of show I like best leading into a big event. Everything had some connection to matches happening at Ribbonmania, intrigue was added going into said matches without “giving the upcoming match away” so to speak, and the action was great for the most part. Another really enjoyable visit to the Ice Ribbon dojo.

 

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SEAdLINNNG 12/28/18 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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This SEAdLINNNG show at Shin-kiba 1st Ring had three matches and three stipulations announced, but which match would get which stipulation was to be decided by “random” draw day of. High speed rules seemed of most debate/interest, with the SEAdLINNNG roster wanting it for their matches and the visiting Emi Sakura of Gatoh Move desperately wanting anything else.

 

 

1- High Speed Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Ayame Sasamura vs Sakura Hirota

So the opening triple threat got the coveted high speed stipulation, and comedy wrestler Hirota found herself in rather dire straights against both of SEAdLINNG’s reigning tag team champions.  This was really fun and well done, with Hirota severely overmatched but able to take advantage of her opponents teamwork faltering at points due to competitiveness in this singles contest. Also, Hirota showed more of her own expertise in the ring, which enhanced and elevated her humor spots. This being high speed rules in SEAdLINNNG referee Natsuki Taiyo of course became involved in the action at points.

This was my first time seeing Ayame, who’s INCREDIBLE for her experience level. Arisa is of course Arisa, and never fails to impress. Things ended up with the tag champs getting a double pin of sorts on Hirota, and while the announcer initially proclaimed Arisa the victor the referee credited Ayame with the pin, giving her the win. The vet was not pleased, but kept things civil and supportive with her partner… for now, I’d imagine.

 

 

In between matches we got in ring interview segments. I likely would have felt different if I fully understood Japanese, but this really felt like overly long padding to make up for there only being three matches on the show. Especially when the second such segment went right into intermission. The second was slightly more amusing than the first (again, from a non-speaker’s perspective), as Hirota came out in costume and her guests were her opponents from the first match, so some of the emotions / reactions could be understood regardless.

 

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2- No Pinfall: Yoshiko & Himeka Arita  vs Rina Yamashita & Yuina

Yoshiko and Rina were SEAdLINNNG’s first tag team champions, and now apparently want each others heads on a platter. The stipulation here allows the match to end with anything other than a pinfall, including normal things like submission and countouts as well as by knockout (determined by not answering the referee’s count). Honestly it was half heartedly used, with only one attempt at a knockout count and a couple instances of the silly spot where wrestlers “forget” pinfalls don’t count and go for covers (funny how they hardly ever have their instincts take over and ignore the stipulation in ANY other kind of match/situation). For the match they wrestled this should have just been submission rules. The Rina versus Yoshiko sections had good fire and built to their impending singles contest at Wave, and the rest was ok, but overall this didn’t really draw me in as a whole.

 

 

3- Elimination Match: Emi Sakura, Yuna Mizumori, Mei Sagura vs Ryo Mizunami, Sae, Nanae Takahashi

So for the main event we have Gatoh Move’s founder with two of her rookies against SEAdLINNG’s champion, Wave’s champion, and a visiting freelancer rookie in an elimination 6-woman tag. Eliminations could happen by over the top rope to the floor in addition to the usual match ending conditions. 

This was excellent, with great use of the stipulation to structure the story of the match and draw the audience in, on top of awesome ringwork. There were a lot of parallels to the REINA vs Gatoh match from my second trip back in 2016, and I honestly expected this to end the same way, with a rookie from one team toughing it out against the other team’s “captain” at the end only to come up just short and look valiant in defeat. And that formula seemed in full effect throughout the majority of the 25 minute contest. There was a nice spotlight on Mei in the early stages and the expected precision work from Sakura (as a side note I desperate need more matches involving Emi vs Mizunami) as the Gatoh team seemed to be a little more cohesive in their teamwork before experience shifted the tide and things eventually came down to Yuna vs both of the reigning champions involved in the match.

 

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But in a wonderful subversion of expectation, Yuna would eliminate BOTH Ryo and Nanae to claim the upset win for the Gatoh trio in a frantic, wonderfully executed final section. Yuna is a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and her digging deep and powering her way through the odds was captivating, as well as totally believable. This was the PERFECT way to make the most of the stipulation, as Yuna looked incredibly strong, but without the champions looking weak (as the eliminations were over the top rope instead of pinfall, etc). Just incredibly well done from start to finish, including Sakura’s delight in her pupil’s win and the way she and Mei danced around Yuna in celebration / taunting fashion towards their opponents afterwards.

 

 

So I could have done with shorter talking segments, but the matches delivered overall which is what really matters, making this a strong show and an easy recommendation.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 12/22/18 Live Thoughts

December 22, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Second time seeing Tokyo Joshi Pro at Itabashi Greenhall, and the first back in September was a lot of fun.

This show featured six special Christmas matches (mostly just in name), with the pairings of the twelve participants decided by random fan draw at a previous event and a 10 minute time limit on each contest. A pair of tag encounters rounded out the card.

 

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As usual, the Up Up Girls came out to dance to kick things off. I saw them debut against each other in a tag match to open TJP’s 1/4/18 show, so they’re coming up on their one year anniversary and all four will be repackaged with new gimmicks at 2019’s 1/4 show.

 

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The first of the X-mas matches was Yuki Aino vs YUMI.  It was my first look at Yumi, who actually seemed more comfortable in the ring than her slightly more experienced opponent (while they’re both in their rookie year, Yuki’s been wrestling since May and Yumi debuted less than a month ago). Basic and a bit bland contest that saw Yuki pick up the win.

 

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Raku & Veda Scott vs Hinano x & Yuki Kamifuku was built around alternating sequences of the Up Up Girls squaring off and Veda getting in each other’s faces about Yuki pretending not to understand English (she eventually went off on Veda fluently when her hair was touched, then reverted back to feigning lack of comprehension). Good character work from Hinano elevated this a bit, and I hope she keeps a lot of her mannerisms, etc with her repackaged character. The rest honestly struggled a bit to tell an interesting story ringwork-wise, and this was just ok as a result.

 

Next up for the the X-mas matches saw Yuna Manase defeat Mina Shirakawa. This was  bit odd, centered around breast based attacks from both that somehow still felt like part of a competitive match instead of comedy. Mina looked good in my first exposure to her work, and seems to have decent potential.

 

 

 

In contrast comedy was largely the focus of the third X-mas match between Hyper Misao and Miu, and it was reasonably amusing. Misao came out in a Christmas tree costume, and Miu was at a loss with what to do with her eccentric opponent. Fine all in all, although I honestly wouldn’t have had Miu lose to a comedy act.

 

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The fourth X-mas match was just past the midpoint of the show, and where things took off and never looked back. In what was very possibly the best match of the night, Reika Saiki battled Nodoka Tenma in a fast paced, exciting contest. Reika eventually wore down Tenma to the point where she could hit her jackhammer for the win. Reika’s gotten so great and I absolutely can’t wait to see her wrestle the legendary Meiko Satomura. Nodoka continues to benefit from the gimmick change, and kept pace with the Muscle Idol nicely.

 

 

 

Itoh Respect-gun (Maki Itoh & Mizuki) against Neko Haruna & Pom Harajuku was a way to feature a promising pair of rookies against two of TJP’s top level stars. It was a really fun tag match, with both Haruna and Pom looking decent before their inevitable defeat. Itoh’s on another level charisma-wise and is captivating to watch, and Mizuki’s one of TJP’s lynchpins from a work rate standpoint.

 

 

 

The semi-main and fifth of the X-mas matches featured reigning Princess of Princess champion Miyu Yamashita against the sole remaining member of the Up Up Girls she had yet to face in singles competition, Hikari.

 

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Hikari looked really good against the champ, portraying a tenacious aura and really seeming like she belonged in the ring with TJP’s ace. Miyu eventually prevailed, but only after a well done in ring story that benefitted both wrestlers. Would love to see a rematch down the road.

 

 

 

The main event and last of the X-mas matchups was Yuka Sakazaki vs Shoko Nakajima. This was a fantastic choice to end the show with going into the big 1/4/19 show at Korakuen. Last 1/4, Yuka & Shoko were the defending tag team champions against Mizuki & Gatoh Move’s Riho. This time, Yuka is now champions with Mizuki instead and Shoko has chosen to partner with Riho to challenge them. Beyond the really interesting dynamic this creates, the match itself last time was amazing and there’s no reason to expected anything else from these pairings.

 

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I’ve said it before and will say it numerous times again I’m sure: these are two of TJP’s most consistently great performers. As such this was excellent, with perfect pacing for a time limit draw and was structured such that the draw didn’t feel anticlimactic nor inevitable, which is difficult. Great preview for the upcoming tag title contest.

 

 

 

Overall this show was a great lead in to 1/4. The early matches were a bit lackluster, but there wasn’t anything horrible and the effort was there for the most part. The second half was excellent, and has really got me excited for Korakuen.