May 3, 2022
I had a different opening planned for this, talking in detail about Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW) becoming one of my favorite promotions starting during my second trip to Japan with a show featuring numerous new-to-me wrestlers including a pair of idol rookies who impressed me in a singles match.
But as I refreshed my memory and prepared what I wanted to highlight in this retrospective, something jumped out at me that demanded a bit of attention.
Reika Saiki, known as the Muscle Idol, became one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. It feels like she was a centerpiece of my schedule planning during my trips to Japan alongside Tsukasa Fujimoto, Emi Sakura, Sareee, etc. I have strikingly vivid memories of some of her matches, and went to certain shows specifically because she was on them. It feels like she was one of the wrestlers I saw wrestle live constantly.
In actuality I never managed to see her wrestle more than twice a trip at most, and attended a grand total of eight of her matches. And while I would have loved to have been at more, clearly those eight alone were more than enough to leave a lasting impression.
Reika broke a fair number of stereotypes by defying the traditional mold for idols with her powerful physique. She was already becoming known as an idol, cosplayer, and for her Muscle by the time she decided to train as a pro wrestler.
(Note: In the US we’d colloquially say Reika was a bodybuilder, but in Japan they apparently use the term strictly for people who participate in competitions. Reika did not, so her muscle and fitness related activities and work are referred to as her “Muscle.”)
Part of the lasting impression Reika made in the wrestling ring was related to the same uniqueness that aided her success in her other endeavors: an infectious charisma powered by a cheerful and bubbly personality wrapped up in a seemingly paradoxical package of a short, beautiful young woman with arms that looked like she could bench press a house.
But in a lot of ways it was also all ancillary. Reika fully committed to being a wrestler as much as she did everything else and got crazy good crazy fast. She was already extremely solid when I first saw her a mere nine months into her career against Maki Itoh, another idol who would go on to big things in TJPW. At the end of the show she came out to challenge then reigning Princess of Princess champion Yuu, signaling major plans ahead for the Muscle Idol.
Reika would prove unsuccessful in that challenge, but would earn another shot at the title eight months later as a result of not only winning TJPW’s yearly tournament, but pinning the reigning champion in the finals to win it.
I was lucky enough to attend TJPW’s 8/26/17 show featuring Reika’s title shot in the main event against my other favorite in the promotion, defending champion Yuka Sakazaki. To say I was excited for the encounter would be a huge understatement, and the match easily lived up to expectations. Reika had built on the strong foundation of the first match of hers I saw, kept pace with Yuka the whole way, and was more than deserving of her victory and ensuing title reign as top champion of the promotion a mere year and a half into her career.
I think that’s a major part of the disconnect when I look back and feel like Reika was around much more and much longer than she was: she already didn’t wrestle like a rookie and her milestones felt as natural as they were quick to come. It’s insane that her whole career was effectively just three and a half years long.
Reika’s ring style combined appropriate power moves with strong fundamentals and bursts of speed in a way that made her a joy to watch. She was as comfortable leaving her feet for a dropkick or Shining Wizard or grappling on the mat as she was throwing people around in displays of her strength. She meshed with opponents in way that again was reminiscent of someone with much more experience. As a referred to in the beginning her matches were always thoroughly enjoyable and memorable.
Although for me there’s admittedly another likely factor to why the matches I saw of Reika’s stand out. I was incredibly lucky in many of the particular shows I got to attend. On TJPW’s 1/4/18 show Reika defended the title I saw her win against TJPW’s ace Miyu Yamashita in a wonderfully hard hitting match highlighting all the best things about each wrestler’s style.
Exactly one year later I got to see a dream match of mine as Reika battled the legendary Meiko Satomura. Once again it was exactly what I expected and hope for. Reika looked great against joshi wrestling’s Final Boss.
In addition to her singles title reign Reika had tag team success in TJPW alongside Muscle JK Strikers partner Marika Kobashi. In Spring of 2019 I got to see the team in action for the first and only time in one of Reika’s last matches for TJPW as she was leaving to concentrate on things in her home promotion of Wrestle-1 and freelance opportunities. In W-1 she was having a series of matches against veterans, and I had seen a fun encounter pitting her against Takako Inoue a couple weeks earlier.
The Muscle JK Strikers match was further special for me as another of my dream opponents for Reika, Gatoh Move’s (now AEW’s) Riho was opposite teaming with Raku. It was a lot of fun and always nice to see Reika victorious, particularly since in retrospect this would be the last time I’d see her wrestle live.
In mid-August 2019 Reika would again beomce a singles champion, dethroning Saori Anou to win the Actwres girl’Z title. Unfortunately Reika had to give up the title just a month later without ever having a chance to defend it, as she was diagnosed with a broken jaw and had to take an extended hiatus from wrestling for surgery and recovery. After the title victory she had a few more matches in W-1 and one tag match in AWG during the remainder of August before her injury.
During my winter 2019 trip I did get to see her at a Wrestle-1 show where she did a non wrestling appearance to greet fans. It was great to see her in good spirits, and at the time while it seemed like she would need an extended period to deal with everything a return was definitely something she was working towards.
But shortly after that the entire world dramatically changed, with big effects of course on the wrestling landscape. While a return for Reika still seemed eventually possible it was also more and more uncertain as time went by.
On March 26, 2022 Reika announced she was retiring both from wrestling and Muscle, having decided that what she wanted had changed and wishing to pursue acting and other things. Her retirement ceremony would take place at TJPW’s big 5/3/2022 show (available to view with subscription to Wrestle Universe).
While she wasn’t wrestling for TJPW when she got injured the majority of her career was there and they were extremely supportive of her while she was injured. Her going back there for her farewell was incredibly appropriate and great to see.
With two and a half years passed since her last match her retirement wasn’t a huge surprise, nor was the initial plan for her appearance to be purely ceremonial. However there would be one final surprise and treat for the fans.
During Reika’s absence another member of the Cheer-1 idol group she had come from debuted as a TJPW wrestler. Reika decided to get into the ring one final time in a special 3-minute exhibition match against that rookie, Arisu Endo.
It was truly wonderful to see one of TJPW’s rising stars get the opportunity to wrestle Reika in a situation that clearly meant so much to them both. And while it was technically an exhibition, they went full bore for the time they had and put on a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging display that ended all too soon.
An abbreviated version of the traditional retirement ceremony followed where Miyu and Yuka presented flowers and messages from the roster. Reika talked about that being the fastest three minutes of her life, thinking for just a moment about changing her mind about retiring, ultimately being happy with the decision she’s made, and how grateful she is to TJPW. The ten count gong and reading of her accomplishments officially ended her career, then everyone came in to bid her farewell. It was wonderfully done and great to see Reika get a proper send off.
The incredible impression Reika made in such a short career of course makes me wish it could have been longer, but I greatly appreciate all the time and toll spent entertaining us and wish the former Muscle Idol all the best in whatever lies ahead.
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