Japan Trip Fall 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

This past Fall I was in Tokyo for a week and change in a visit largely planned around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement. I’d like to take one more look back and spotlight some of the matches that really stood out to me.

 

This time I saw 12 shows from 7 promotions (considering Aoi and Shida’s self produced shows on their own) with 53 matches featuring 96 different wrestlers. As usual the vast majority of what I saw was exceptional, and given the timing and impetuous for the trip there are trends and themes running throughout the list even more so than usual. So even there are still numerous of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches I saw by company: Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show: 5 matches, Gatoh Move: 13 matches,  Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show: 5 matches,  Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 16 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 5 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, and TJPW: 5 matches.

 

 

Honorable mention

 Aoi Last Ribbon – Ice Ribbon 9/29/18

DSC_0375

Aoi’s last Ice Ribbon match was a gauntlet style contest they occasionally do for special events. Aoi wrestled everyone previously on the card (twelve opponents) in a series of 1-minute time limit encounters. In order, she faced Tsukushi, Karen DATE, Nao DATE, Tequila Saya, Kyuri, Giulia, Totoro Satsuki, Miyako Matsumoto, Mochi Miyagi, Hamuko Hoshi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Ibuki Hoshi.

This was a suitable send off and there were plenty of great little touches. Tsukushi came out in Aoi’s old costume, Guilia’s section consisted of a full minute of running dropkicks, Aoi got the best of Miyako at her own game and pinned the Dancing Queen with her own version of the Mama Mia, Aoi and Hammy spent half their time crying goodbye, etc. The end which saw Aoi just barely outlast the current champion’s assault and be laid out as time expired by the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, then nearly picked off by rookie Ibuki in a frantic final period. Aoi survived though and ended with a record of 2-0-10 (she beat Miyako and Kyuri, and had time limit draws with everyone else). I love this type of special event match, and this was an emotional, engaging one.

 

 

Misaki Ohata, KAROU, & Sakura Hirota vs Yumi Ohka, Cherry, & Kaori Yoneyama Wave 10/1/18 

DSC_0104

This main event was focused around another upcoming retiree, in this case one of Wave’s top stars in Misaki Ohata. She’s engaged to DDT’s Makoto Oishi, and this match was a 6-woman tag that seemed to be a pro-marriage team of Ohata, Sakura Hirota, & KAROU against the anti-marriage team of Cherry, Yumi Ohka, & Kaori Yoneyama.

Now THIS was my type of comedy. Even without understanding the verbal exchanges the intent and attitudes of the participants came through and I was highly amused. There was also great action mixed in (particularly from Yumi & Misaki) to anchor the match and its humor. This was a blast.

 

 

Reika Saiki & Azusa Takigawa vs Shoko Nakajima & Hyper Misao Tokyo Joshi Pro 9/29/18

DSC_0121_trim

Azusa was winding down her career and back in her regular persona after her brainwashed “Azusa Christie” phase. Her opponents came out with signs apparently protesting Azusa’s retirement, and Reika joined in the protest for a bit. Seeing the tiny kaiju enthusiastically copying Misao was highly amusing. Azusa eventually attacked her opponents and slapped her partner upside the head to get things started.

This was really the best of both worlds of TJP’s match types. Reika and Shoko absolutely tore it down action-wise, then when things slowed down/stopped for the sake of the story it was well done. A lot of that was thanks to attention to detail and the wrestlers themselves being heavily invested, such as when Reika and Shoko got so caught up in Misao’s apparent selfless act in the ring that they stopped fighting on the outside and watched, as captivated as the audience.

Misao offered to take Azusa’s second rope elbow to end the match, giving the latter a win as a retirement gift. Then she kicked out instead. Reika, angered by Misao not following through on her word, got involved but Azusa begged off saying it was reflex and offered to do it again. This time Misao countered the elbow into a backslide for a close 2 to try and steal the match. At that point even Shoko’s pissed, and she joined her opponents in a series of finishers and a three person dogpile to put Misao away.

The way Azusa, Reika, and even the ref went ahead and celebrated with Shoko as if it was a 3 vs 1 all along and Shoko’s excitement at “winning” were fantastic. Everyone made up afterwards, Misao tearfully congratulated Azusa, and they all left together. Far and away the most I’ve ever enjoyed Misao’s antics, precisely because there was a strong framework for them and they were supported by an exciting match, with Reika and Shoko being their usual exceptional selves.  I talk a lot about Reika, Maki Itoh, and Yuka Sakazaki in terms of incredible presence and charisma, but Shoko is right up there too and is perhaps TJP’s most underrated performer. Loved this.

 

 

Top 10:

10. Asahi & Misaki Ohata vs Karen DATE & Arisa Nakajima – Ice Ribbon 10/8/18

dsc_0185

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.

 

9.  Tequila Saya vs Maya Yukihi – Ice Ribbon 10/6/18

DSC_0079

Maya vs Saya was incredibly well structured, with Saya fighting tooth and nail for her big move (a reverse pedigree) and Maya desperately countering several times before Saya finally hit it. Maya appropriately sold like it molten death. While I understand Saya was never winning this match, I wish they had at least done the foot on the rope escape for that. But Maya did kick out at the LAST possible second and made it look fearsome. This was top notch work from both, and a great example of how a simple focal point to build a story around can really enhance a match.

 

8.  Hikaru Shida vs Naomichi Marufuji – Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show

DSC_0316

In the main event of Shida’s 10th Anniversary show she seemed to be setting out to exorcise a personal demon. She’d faced Marufuji had faced earlier in the year, with Shida getting knocked out in under two minutes. I could feel the pressure weighing on her as she looked to prove herself by at least putting up a better fight here. The right story, well worked, makes all the difference and they built off of that feeling of insecurity to craft an excellent match in both story and action.

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

 

7.  Kyuri & Totoro Satsuki vs Maika Ozaki & Nao DATE – Ice Ribbon 10/8/18

dsc_0288

Shortly before this show Maika had temporarily broken up her GEKOKU team with Kyuri 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. Kyuri 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.

Maika, perhaps partially proving her point about Kyuri’s priorities, eventually prevails and pins her regular partner with the Muscle Buster. A dejected, depressed Kyuri 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.

 

6.  Risa Sera & Hagane Shinnou vs Aja Kong & TARU – Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show

DSC_0223

I swear I’ve seen Madoka (here Hagane Shinnou) announced under like five different names in various matches, and a quick search shows he has like ten. No illusions about what kind of match this would be, as Risa was bloody in under two minutes. They fought all over, inside and outside the ring and right by me a few times, spreading chaos all over the arena.

This was all about Risa & Madoka trying to survive the monsters, and as such it had a fire absent from some of the other hardcore matches I’ve seen recently. Easily the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Risa all year. Risa can be incredible in this kind of match, often in my opinion when she’s more the underdog, and was both here. This was a “the journey is as important as the destination” type of match, and going to a draw with the monsters made Risa & Madoka look like stars.

 

 

5. The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera), & Ibuki Hoshi vs Tsukasa Fujimoto, This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiragi), Asahi, & Miyako Matsumoto –  Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show

DSC_0112

Aoi spent the vast majority of her career in Ice Ribbon before going freelance in her last couple of years, so it was great to see a majority of the current IR roster wrestle on this show. This 10-woman tag was really fun, and Tsukka breaking out the “partners as steps” spot always make me wonderfully happy.  In a cap to the running joke of Aoi not letting Tsukka do her “Youth Pyramid” pose because of her age, Tsukka finally managed to do it uninterrupted here and Aoi even did it with her during the after show ceremony.

The two rookies in the match (Asahi and Ibuki) became the focal point towards the end, end despite Asahi desperately struggling to prove herself she eventually fell victim to a trio of Hamuko Rolls from the Butchers & Ibuki and pinned by the latter.

 

4. Aoi Kizuki vs Emi Sakura – Gatoh Move 10/4/18

IMG_1962_trim

In what was originally supposed to be Aoi’s last Gatoh Move match, she faced her trainer and mentor Emi Sakura in the main event. This was another great match in Aoi’s goodbye tour, and at the time I would have been hard pressed to imagine a more appropriate way for Gatoh Move to say goodbye to her. Aoi defeated her mentor after thirteen minutes of back and forth, emotional, captivating wrestling with the Happy Clutch.

 

3. Aoi Kizuki vs Mei Sugura – Gatoh Move 10/5/18

IMG_2013

Aoi Kizuki facing her recent tag partner and protege of sorts in Gaoth Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura in a match that was supposed to happen the previous Sunday at Gatoh’s cancelled Greenhall show was the main reason this show happened at all. In a bit of a parallel with Aoi’s mentor Emi putting her over in their final singles match the day prior, Aoi put Mei over here giving the rookie a huge win.

The match itself was excellent, and I certainly understand all the hype arising around Mei. As I mentioned about the very first time I saw her wrestle (at Pure-J days prior to this), she very clearly “gets it” and seems to have natural instincts for wrestling in terms of drawing the audience into her matches and making maximum use of her skills and charisma. This was just as fitting a Gatoh Move goodbye to Aoi as her match with Emi would have been, and was a wonderful “passing the torch” moment.

 

 

2. Aoi Kizuki, Mei Sugura, & Riho vs Emi Sakura, Makoto, & Hikaru Shida –  Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show

It a perfect endcap to Aoi’s career, she teamed with Gatoh Move’s Riho, & Mei Sagura against Gatoh (and Ice Ribbon) founder Emi Sakura with freelancers Makoto & Hikaru Shida in the main event.  It was a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. As mentioned in the previous entry the fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became.

In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious. Aoi herself came out for this match in special white gear that included an incredible, light up version of her wings.

The match was fantastic and an appropriate goodbye to Aoi. The traditional spot with everyone one the show and more (including Aoi’s best friend Jenny Rose, who came to Japan to be ringside) splashing Aoi in the corner was of course a lot of fun.

Emi, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell, and an absolute privilege to be at live.

 

1. Emi Sakura vs Mei Sugura  – Gatoh Move 10/7/18

DSC_0509

In a bit of a completion thematically of the main events from 10/4 and 10/5 (as well as being appropriate for the day), Aoi’s two opponents from those days, her partner protege Mei and her trainer Emi, faced off here. This was incredible, with the fiery Mei rising to the challenge and giving Gatoh’s lynchpin everything she could handle until Emi weathered the storm long enough and experience won out. Fantastic.

Even more impressively, Sakura had to be helped out of the ring during Aoi’s show and limped into this one, but you’d never know it from her work during the matches. Her performances were amazing, and a admittedly a little worrisome as I really hope she’s not overdoing it. She’s one of the very best in the world.

 

——-

 

That does it for this time. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s