Top 25 Matches 2019 (Live) 25-16

Continuing on with my (overdue) look back on my favorite matches from 2019. In addition to still wanting to highlight and share these great matches, positivity and happy memories seem to be in great need at the moment.

Previous installments:
Prelude (with honorable mentions and a brief list for December 2018)

Special mention

Hana Kimura & Bobbi Tyler vs Brittany Blake & Britt Baker vs Bea Priestly & Konami – Stardom American Dream 2019 

Obviously with the tragic passing of Hana she’s been on everyone’s mind. This match was the last one I got to see her in, and was a fond memory in the first place so I wanted to share it here.

From my review of the show:
Hana was CRAZY over, but her & Bobbi were also able to get booed as needed for the story of the match. Excellent work by both. This was a bit rough in parts, but nicely energetic and chaotic in largely good way leading to a fun encounter overall. Crowd seemed to be waiting for a little more of a spotlight on Konami, but she looked good in what we saw of her. Hana picks up the win, and goes CRAZY and starts throwing things at the ring announcer when the wrong music plays. She was on point and in character every second she was visible (more on that later) and it’s really cool seeing how far she’s come as a performer since I last saw her in her rookie year.

Later on, at the end of the show, STARS called the entire the roster out to sign off with in a one time show of unity to represent Stardom and thank the fans. Hana alone remained lurking on the stage off to the side where she watched the main event from, dismissively staring at her various former compatriots. Nice touch and yet another example of all the wonderful nuance she brought to her performances.

Rest in Peace Hana.

25-16:

One might notice that since my prelude this has become a top 25. Even with the latitude I took in spotlighting shows or groups of matches in the prelude I still had a monster of a time narrowing this down. Since there is no set reason to strictly restrict it to 20 (and to avoid delaying any further), I decided to stop sweating the minutia of what to include and expand the list a bit. Even so, there is plenty of excellent wrestling beyond what’s here (and what I was able to attend) as 2019 was a phenomenal year.

Match reviews are copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate, although there’s a fair bit of new writing this time around from shows I didn’t have the chance to write up. As always the ordering was a bunch of close calls and could’ve been different – everything here is great.

Also, I’ve indicated and linked to matches officially available online from the companies that held them for those who would like to check them out.

25. Lulu Pencil vs Yasu Urano – Gatoh Move 12/7/19

(Available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube Channel.)

Yaso was involved in one of my favorite intergender matches of all time, a no-rope contest against Gatoh Move’s former ace Riho at Basara’s 12/28/17 show, and has faced Lulu before.

The story here was Lulu drawing inspiration from Emi Sakura and wanting to make use of certain counters she’d learned/copied… so she kept setting herself up for moves and holds. A confused and tentative Yasu didn’t know what to make of it, and kept putting on the “wrong” move, repeatedly preventing her plans from working.

It all eventually builds to a persistent Lulu finally executing one successfully into a rollup, but not having the power or weight to prevent Yasu from reversing into his own pin for the win.

This was different and silly in a way that enhanced the story told, and a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. Lulu’s gimmick of being a pro-wrestler who’s too weak and awkward to be pro-wrestler is rather genius in the way it’s being executed, and makes her a natural and easy to cheer for underdog.

24.  Reiwa Ultima Powers (DASH Chisako & Hiroyo Matsumoto) vs Twisted Sisterz (Thunder Rosa & Holidead) – Shimmer 3/30/19

Sendai Girls’ DASH Chisako is a 13-year veteran and one of the best high flyers in wrestling. She’s also a personal favorite of mine, and I had been dying to have her in Shimmer for years. Her Shimmer debut weekend was an impressive one, and she & Hiroyo make a fantastic team. RUP and Twisted Sisterz had the best match of the weekend (imho) in an energetic, captivating clinic on tag wrestling.

23. Signature Moves Match: Guilia & Suzu Suzuki vs Asahi & Tsukasa Fujimoto – Ice Ribbon 1/19/19

(Available with subscription to Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico Channel.)

This was one of IR’s weird and wonderful stipulation matches. Each team was assigned 3 moves from the repertoire of Tequila Saya or Uno Matusya respectively, who amusingly demonstrated their moves on each other before the match. All 3 moves on your checklist must be successfully completed on your opponents.

Giulia & Suzu had the “Tokuho” (Saya’s corner splash), “Submarine” (her reverse pedigree), and “Grand Maestro de Tequila” (her sideways rollup). Asahi & Tsukka needed to complete Uno’s schoolboy rollup, “Saber Chop,” and “Katsudon” (over the shoulder into a faceplant).

As an additional treat, Maya refereed this.

It’s particularly interesting to look back on this now, both in light of Giulia’s departure (more on that later) and since after Saya’s retirement Suzu has inherited the Gran Maestro de Tequila, one of her assigned moves in this match.

This was great, with fighting over the checklist moves providing an additional layer of storytelling and fun to the match. The thread of Asahi being desperate for victory and to prove herself continued, and she executed both the schoolboy and Katsudon to get her team within one move of winning after being behind as her opponents managed the Tokuho and Submarine early.

In a clever sequence once again bringing Asahi oh so close to victory without quite getting there, she hit everyone in the match with the top rope chop except who she needed to (her legal opponent at the time, Giulia, who kept dodging or pulling others in the way).

Eventually Giulia hits the Grand Maestro de Tequila to complete the checklist and get the pin simultaneously. This was a ton of fun.

22. Maya Yukihi, Maika Ozaki, & Kyuri vs Tsukushi, Tequila Saya, & Giulia  –  Ice Ribbon 1/5/19

(Available with subscription to Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico Channel.)

The newly crowned (at Ribbonmania, less than a week prior) Ice Cross Infinity and International Ribbon Tag Team Champions teamed together here against a group of likely forthcoming challengers. I was expecting a Tsukushi pin on someone to set her up in her traditional role as sacrificial first defense for the new singles champion, but Saya pinning Kyuri set up several interesting things post match and was a nice, intriguing call. I really liked the direction the booking took around that time overall, shaking things up a little in a believable way. This match was an exciting, face paced contest throughout with excellent work by all six.

21.  Maria vs Maika Ozaki – P’s Party 5/2/19

As great as all of Marvelous’ current crop of rookies are, Maria is my favorite. So I was extremely excited to see her get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of this show, particularly against another favorite in Maika Ozaki. This was all about the scrappy Maria showing no hesitation in facing Maika’s incredible power, and it completely clicked. They presented a good, well worked story in an exciting match that was exactly as long as it needed to be. Loved this.

20. Calamari Druken Kings (Chris Brookes & Takanashi) & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga, Saki, & Sayaka – Gatoh Move 12/7/19

(Available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube Channel.)

I’d been dying to see Brookes in Ichigaya, and as expected it was a lot of fun. His building feud with Mei is awesome, and the two have a ton of chemistry in the little things they do to egg each other on.

Rin Rin looked great and totally at ease, and the play off of what happened last time she teamed with CDK was highly amusing. She had gotten on Chris’ shoulder for a double team, and when he stood up her head banged on the ceiling. So this time when he and Takanashi tried to put her on Chris’ shoulder she freaked out, fought her way down and slapped them upside the head in admonishment. Awesome.

I have yet to see a trios match at Ichigaya that I didn’t love, and this certainly continued the streak. Innovative and fun, with the Gatoh regulars showing their usual mastery and the new faces fitting in well (in addition to Chris and Rin Rin this was also my first time seeing Sayaka since her Gatoh debut). Mei pinned Rin Rin to give her team the victory.

I absolutely adore the trio of CDK and Rin Rin and also loved the other match I saw them in against Mitsuru Konno, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori.

19. Makoto & Yoshiko vs Mikoto Shindo & Ryo Mizunami – SEAdLINNNG 5/29/2019

This tag team match of seemingly thrown together teams was surprisingly fantastic. The chemistry of the odd pairings was fantastic, particularly Mikoto & Mizunami. Fun from start to finish, and anchored by great action and INCREDIBLE in-ring storytelling where they built things to the point that they actually had the audience buying the idea that Mikoto might PIN YOSHIKO at a couple of key moments (which at this point in time was never going to happen). Excellent stuff all around.

18. Yuka Sakazaki, Miu Watanabe, Rika Tatsumi, & Maki Itoh vs Hikari Noa, Miyu Yamashita, Nodoka Tenma, & Yuna Aino – TJPW 12/27/19

(Available with subscription to Wrestle Universe.)

A few days out from Tokyo Joshi Pro’s traditional January 4th show the champions and challengers faced off early in a 2 out of 3 falls 8-woman tag team match. Wonderfully exciting and fast paced battle between some of TJPW’s top wrestlers.

Somewhat surprisingly upcoming opponents were involved with each other in all the falls and it was impressive how well done it all was while also serving its purpose to build anticipation for the big show without feeling like too much was given away.

17. Sareee & Syuri vs Takumi Iroha & Mayu Iwatani – Sareee’s Special Night


This was billed as a dream match, and with reigning top champions from three different promotions that don’t all generally interact and a recently returned MMA competitor involved I’d say it fit the description.

With her time in MMA I hadn’t seen Syuri wrestle in years. And while Stardom’s NY show was quite good a crazy 8-woman tag with a broken bottom rope isn’t the same thing as a concentrated singles or tag team match, so this was also my first time seeing Mayu in this type of contest in about as long. Add in Marvelous’ ace and reigning Regina di Wave champion Iroha and Sareee herself and this was quite an exciting matchup on paper.

Of course again the benefit of dream matches is seeing these unusual combinations of wrestlers squaring off with a big fight feel, and this had it all in spades. Top notch work from all four for the full duration of the time limit draw without every feeling like it was headed that way, this was a treat on so many levels. Great way to wrap up a great show.

16. Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki vs Shoko Nakajima & Riho  – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/19

(Available with subscription to Wrestle Universe.)

In an interesting parallel, the Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match involved the same four wrestlers as the prior year’s event, but in different pairs. Yuka Sakazaki now held the titles with Mizuki, and her former championship partner Shoko Nakajima challenged alongside Gatoh Move’s Riho (who teamed with Mizuki to challenge Yuka & Shoko the prior year).

I found the previous year’s match just a touch better overall, but that’s slight criticism and this was still an excellent, high energy example of tag team wrestling. Again all four’s jaw dropping athleticism was on display in innovative double teams and exciting action. Down the stretch this became about Shoko trying to prove herself against her former partner, and she looked absolutely emotionally wrecked afterwards about coming up short and being pinned by Yuka.

——-

Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible. Be back soon with 15 though 6.

Heartbreaking

I barely know where to begin here. Part of me doesn’t want to write this. And part of me has to.

A short while ago it was confirmed that Hana Kimura has passed away.

Hana wrestled for Stardom and was the daughter of retired wrestler Kyoko Kimura. She had been wrestling for four years and was one of my personal favorites in the promotion. She always made an impression, and seemed to have all the potential in the world. The last time I saw Hana was at Stardom’s American Dream 2019 show in NYC. I commented about how over she was, how far she had come as a performer since I’d seen her in her rookie year, and how impressive her character work in particular was. Her charisma was striking and she always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time.

Earlier in the day Hana posted some worrying tweets indicating self harm. She had been the target of extreme cyberbullying, in part in relation to her appearances on the show Terrace House. Her tweets were shortly removed (possibly by Twitter, who has a reporting function for self-harm tweets to try to extend help) and numerous fans and others who knew Hana tried to reach out to those who could contact her as well as tweeting messages of love and support.

Further details about her passing have not been official released at the request of her family and I won’t speculate further, but felt it important to mention the circumstances briefly.

Her loss is beyond tragic, particularly so young. Underneath the rising wrestling superstar and reality tv personality was a 22 year old woman having a harder time than anyone knew. Please think of the person on the other side of the computer screen, and never wish or encourage harm on anyone. Words cannot express my anger and total lack of comprehension towards those who would wish such things on another. There are also important issues to look at in entertainment industries and the presentation of and support systems available to performers.

On the other side of things, if anyone is ever in trouble and things seem hopeless, please know that you are not alone and there is hope, and please reach out for whatever help and support you need.

I feel a terrible sense of loss and heartache for Hana and wish things had been different. My thoughts are with her family.

Rest in Peace Hana. You will be greatly missed.

Ice Ribbon Special Challenge Match: Tsukka vs Broom Review

May 10, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

A very special no audience match up for free on Tsukka’s YouTube channel.

Suzu Suzuki is acting as referee, with Hifumi behind the camera.

In an impromptu scuffle last month during cleaning, Broom nearly pinned Tsukka after countering her trademark kicks. The incident isn’t mentioned here, but that’s where it all began.

We get video highlights of subsequent sneak attacks by Broom baiting Tsukka into this grudge match.

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Broom

Lockup to start. Tsukka struggles and is forced back towards the ropes, but reverses at the last second to push Broom up against them. No clean break as Tsukka kicks Broom then hits a “hair”-mare into the far corner and chokes Broom against the bottom turnbuckle.

Back to center and Tsukka converts a scoop slam into a power slam for 2, then works some crossfaces from Camel Clutch position. Broom holds on and does not give up. Tsukka calls for a brainbuster, but Broom reverses into a suplex on Tsukka and gets 2. Chinlock on Tsukka follows. She tries to break by biting the broomstick, but referee Suzu’s aggressive count breaks that right up and Tsukka remains in the hold. She struggles to the ropes for the break.

Back in the center of the ring they trade “head”-butts and forearms respectively, and Tsukka wins the exchange with a surprise enzuigiri that sends Broom right out of the ring. Tsukka follows up with a doublestomp off the apron, then rolls Broom back in and hits another from the top rope for 2.

All Tsukka at this point, but her flurry of kicks is countered with the same rollup Broom almost pinned Tsukka to set this whole rivalry off for a close 2. Tsukka lays in some more forearms and tosses Broom into the air but gets caught coming off the ropes with a crossbody and just barely kicks out to deny Broom the upset win.

The veteran is getting tired of the upstart cleaning implement, and whips Broom into the corner to hit a nice pair of dropkicks (one “standing,” one “seated”). World’s Strongest Slam only gets 2, but that kickout is all Broom has left and Tsukka nails a beautiful Venus Shoot for the 3 count and the victory. That broom will know better than to bother Ice Ribbon’s ace again.

Ok so this was ridiculous (as was my choice to do full play-by-play), but that was the point. One of the best wrestlers in the world today took the old “so good they could get a decent match out of a broomstick” cliche as literally as possible to produce five minutes of absolute absurdity that was just plain fun. The key of course is they played it totally straight within the confines of the silly premise, and while I certainly don’t need to see Broom become an Ice Ribbon regular this was a tremendously amusing.

Extremely well done too. Tsukka managed pretty long stretches in this, with only a few cuts (honestly I’m surprised there weren’t a lot more) that were noticeable if looking for them but pretty smooth overall. She only needed outside help with a single spot too, and the camera angle completely obscured Suzu holding Broom up for the Venus Shoot (the needed angle also made the move itself look particularly awesome).

Truly a match for the ages. Congratulations to Tsukka on her epic victory.

Watch it here.

Golden Week Chocolate: ChocoPro 11 Live Stream Thoughts

May 5, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura and DDT’s Antonio Honda to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

This is a special show, even among ChocoPro’s usual unique atmosphere with no ring and no crowd in the small confines of Ichigaya Chocolate square. There will be only one match, no referee, and no rules. The only way to win is to have your opponent fail to get up by a count of 10.

LAST MAN STANDING MATCH: Yuna Mizumori vs Minoru Fujita

Baliyan Akki is acting as cameraman and providing commentary (as well as doing the 10 counts), and is the only person besides the participants at the venue.

He’s alone as the feed starts and sets the stage for the match, summarizing the long, emotionally charged talk the day before between Emi Sakura and Yuna where Sakura really pushed Yuna about her insecurities, both regarding wrestling and her other career as an idol.

“Somehow she’s winning and still feels like she’s losing.”

I love that Akki made sure to highlight Yuna’s accomplishments and point out that she’s overachieving despite her lack of self confidence. She is the only Gatoh Move roster member with three years experience or less to hold any title (and that covers 80% of the roster), and her TWO tag team title reigns with partner Saki encompass over half of her two year career thus far. It does feel like Yuna’s accomplishments get a little overlooked sometimes compared with her compatriots, and her opening up about her insecurities in such a real way put this match in a new light (and was a bit heartbreaking).

So going into this huge match with a wild stipulation against a bigger, vastly more experienced opponent, a picture is clearly painted of wrestler who is better than she thinks she is, too hard on herself, and desperate to prove something.

The intensity is high right away with energetic chain / submission based wrestling. They’re really cranking holds and fighting over every inch trying to get the advantage.

Submissions can’t end the match here, which Akki reminds Yuna when she instinctively calls for her opponent to give up at one point, but they’re using these holds to try to control / wear down each other and it’s being excellently done and actually fits really well with the type of match.

Yuna dropped the shutters over the door to lock them in before the match started … but Fujita goes out the window as Yuna whips him with an exercise rope and they brawl in the alley. Akki’s still inside with the camera and seeing things through / against the windows for a little bit is pretty awesome. They come fight back in over the windowsill shortly and relock the windows.

As the match goes on Yuna wisely focuses on immobilization, doing things like tying Fujita’s legs, putting a pool ring around him, and splashing him while he’s trapped underneath the ring mat. She even turns the Christmas tinsel still decorating Chocolate Square into a weapon at one point, and the milage everyone is getting out of using the basketball Chris Brookes gave Mei Suruga during matches is impressive.

Fujita of course gives as good as he gets and uses his size and striking power advantage to turn the tide whenever Yuna starts to gain momentum. There’s really great, creative use of the environment while keeping things brawl/wrestling based at every turn here.

Eventually Fujita hits the Sayonara Piledriver and Yuna is down for 10.

Simply incredible. This had escalating pace and flow, solid story undercurrents, and of course great action. There were weapons involved as appropriate for this type of match, but perhaps not as much as might have been expected. That was 100% to the match’s benefit. It meant when used they were well integrated, never overwhelmed the story and let the straight up intense, creative wrestling the two were doing shine.

An INTENSE post show talk continues to examine Yuna’s insecurities, and Fujita is brilliant here as he alternates a bit between antagonizing Yuna and being sympathetic / giving her advice. He talks about being in wrestling for 23 years and how he can relate to frustration, but points out the high level she’s at with only two years experience. He says if she were a baby she’d just be standing at two years, and she shouldn’t be so frustrated so early.

He says they have one more fight, and brings out a piece of paper with a single match bracket on it and a KitKat! He tells her to get up and the traditional post-show Chocolate Bit of Happiness Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament is on!

After to two increasingly tense ties … poor Yuna loses again. She is SO ANGRY and dejected as Fujita enjoys the KitKat, and even more so as he starts singing the traditional end song (but can’t help herself from joining in eventually).

But even in the face of Yuna’s anger Fujita says we’re not done yet… and after praising Yuna and pondering why they had to be the ones to go through this emotional journey at Sakura’s pushing challenges Emi Sakura to find a partner to face him and Yunamon as a TEAM. I adore the way all of this was done so much.

In the stream comments Sakura makes a SuperChat donation to her own company to announce she accepts and on May 9 it’ll be Yunamon & Fujita vs Sakura & Akki.

Fujita leaves and Yuna echoes what he said: “why was it only me that had to show my emotions?” She’ll express her grievances to Sakura on May 9. My word this is going to be fantastic.

——-

Golden Week is a huge time for wrestling in Japan, and to be honest one particularly disappointing parts of quarantine is knowing I’d be there watching shows now if not for the pandemic. I can’t express how much I appreciate all the effort my favorite promotions are putting into providing content for everyone to enjoy during this tough time (while taking precautions to be safe themselves).

This show was incredible from start to finish, including all the buildup and heart wrenching context to the interviews as well of course as the excellent match itself. Must watch.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon.