Categories
Japan Wrestling

Tropical Farewell For Now: Yuna Mizumori’s “Graduation” from Gatoh Move

During my first several trips to Japan, starting at the end of 2015, Gatoh Move became (and remains) one of my favorite promotions. It’s a wonderfully engaging experience built around a core roster of diverse wrestlers all fully embracing their own uniqueness.

And that’s been true throughout all the changes and transformations the company and roster has endured. Wrestlers that were there when I started watching like Kotori and Gatoh’s former ace Riho have retired and moved on to other opportunities (with occasional reappearances) respectively. In the wake of Riho leaving the company doubled in size with the debuts of Gatoh Move’s fourth generation. I’ve experienced the entire careers of Aasa Maika and Mitsuru Konno.

So it’s perhaps a little odd to realize that for me a certain wrestler has become such a core part of what Gatoh Move is today that her imminent departure might have the greatest impact of any change thus far.

In spring of 2018 I was lucky enough to catch Gatoh’s annual Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup mixed tag tourney show. In the (non-tournament) opening contest I’d get my only look that trip at their new rookie, as just two months into her career Yuna Mizumori faced visiting reigning Pure-J Champion Hanako Nakamori.

Yuna immediately impressed as a great addition to the Gatoh roster. She had such an exuberant personality that was already apparent and integrated in her rapidly developing wrestling style. Her particular blend of speed and power was already on display and to this day remains striking and distinctive. I couldn’t wait to see more of her in the future after her strong showing against another company’s top competitor so early in her career.

The tone set by that first impression would continue when I was back later in the year, particularly in a very special elimination match on SEAdLINNNG’s 12/28/18 show.

It was Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura, Yuna, & fellow rookie Mei Suruga against freelancer Sae, the reigning Regina di Wave champion Ryo Mizunami, & SEAdLINNG’s own champion (and founder) Nanae Takahashi.

The match was a blast, and seemed headed to a perfectly acceptable formula finish of Gatoh’s powerhouse rookie putting up a good fight in defeat against overwhelming experience and odds.

Instead Yuna, still within her first year of wrestling, overcame a 2-on-1 disadvantage to eliminate BOTH of the opposing reigning champions to secure the win for Gatoh Move (an achievement that would earn her a title shot at Nanae a couple months later).

As I wrote at the time: “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.”

Yuna became an absolute favorite of mine and was always a treat to see. She was put in important positions and given big opportunities to show what she could do and always delivered. Yuna & her TropiKawild partner Saki would hold and defend the Asia Dream Tag Team Championships for nearly a year during their second reign starting in March of 2019.

During Gatoh’s Golden Week shows that year she semi-main evented in great singles contests against TJPW’s Mizuki and visiting freelancer Hiroyo Matsumoto.

A couple of other matches of hers that stick out (among the many I was lucky enough to see live) that I particularly loved include her participation in a special  “Old Gatoh Move” vs “New Gatoh Move” variation on the the annual Gatoh roster 6-woman tag match they ran (available here), and a hard hitting battle she had against Yasu Urano.

The previously mentioned TropiKawild tag team title reigns meant that when Yuna hit her second wrestling anniversary she had been a reigning tag team champion for nearly half of her career. Between that, some of the things I’ve mentioned above, and other opportunities Yuna had a truly special start to her wrestling career.

Yet the dichotomy of Yuna being extremely strong and successful but still often seeming and feeling like the underdog would be a recurring theme and lead to some incredibly compelling stories and rivalries.

One place this is vividly apparent is in early ChocoPro.

ChocoPro is Gatoh Move’s twin promotion and arose out of Emi Sakura’s desire to do something specifically tailored to streaming when Covid hit and prevented them from continuing shows as normal in their small home base venue.

Yuna’s struggles, feelings, and insecurities explored and enflamed by her trainer, boss, and occasional partner Emi Sakura would be a driving force for the early seasons of ChocoPro. Yuna participated in the first ever intergender “ironman” match on ChocoPro 11  against Minoru Fujita (an incredible match itself well worth watching).

Sakura tore Yuna apart emotionally in an interview leading up to the match with Fujita, kicking off what I still believe is one of the greatest stories and feuds I’ve ever seen in wrestling (see The Ballad of Yuna and the Oni for full details).

One last thing that certainly has to be mentioned is Yuna’s camaraderie and rivalry with the only other member of her generation of Gatoh Move, Mei Suruga.

Mei debuted almost exactly three months after Yuna and the interplay between the two has always been interesting. Yuna has achieved more faster in traditionally measured ways and has been more successful overall in their singles encounters. She’s held the tag titles twice to Mei’s once, won them earlier on in her career, and holds a 6-3 victory advantage in their singles encounters.

But Mei has more unusual or intangible edges. She holds singles victories over high profile opponents like Hikaru Shida and Emi Sakura herself, she’s wrestled internationally, and her victories over Yuna came when it mattered most. She won a number one contendership tournament by beating Yuna in the finals and is up 2-1 when they faced each other in tag team title matches.

This is best encapsulated in Yuna’s comments after she defeated Mei in a fantastic 30-minute “ironman” match and wondered why she still felt like she lost.

The mutual respect, parallel yet wildly different careers they’ve had and the rivalry that goes with it, and captivating chemistry they have together all built to an absolutely phenomenal encounter they had headlining Gatoh Move’s 10th Anniversary show. As the last singles match they’ll have against one another in the foreseeable future, they went out on a hell of a high note.

In a few short hours Yuna will wrestle Emi Sakura 1-on-1 one last time in her final match before “graduating” from Gatoh Move (the term used in Japan when someone leaves a company to move on, whether it’s for retirement or a case like this). Can Yuna finally topple the Oni as she bids Gatoh farewell?

I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything Yuna has meant to Gatoh Move and ChocoPro. She’s an amazing performer and though it seems like she’s been around forever her career is incredibly still under 5 years old. While her absence will be noticeable I wish her all the best and look forward to seeing what’s next for her in wrestling elsewhere.

Tropical thanks for everything.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Decade: 10 Years of Gatoh Move

Emi Sakura is one of the most incredibly multifaceted people in professional wrestling. The 27 year veteran can wrestle nearly any style, has trained a ridiculous number of other excellent wrestlers, and founded two different still running joshi promotions on the common idea that wrestling should be fun for both fans and wrestlers.

Gatoh Move, the promotion Sakura currently runs, is an absolute joy. In anticipation of their big 10th anniversary show this week (entitled Phoenix Rises) I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite wrestling promotions.

Of course 10 years is a lot to cover and this won’t be complete nor an attempt at a proper history of the promotion for various reasons (starting with the fact that I was introduced to it a few years in). Rather I hope to provide a personal look back at some of what’s made Gatoh Move so special to me while also highlighting a few key moments and points of interest in depth.

At the end of 2015 I was lucky enough to make my first trip to Japan. I was already a big fan of women’s wrestling in general and was familiar with several joshi via their appearances in Shimmer (including several who had been trained by Emi Sakura, although I had no idea of that at the time). I was extremely excited to see as much wrestling as I could, and my schedule was packed with shows by a variety of promotions.

Due to strong recommendation of a good friend who was already a big Emi Sakura fan at the time, on the third day of my trip my fourth overall show introduced me to Gatoh Move. The four shows at four different venues from four different promotions were all wonderfully unique, interesting, and fun. Gatoh Move however was perhaps the most different from any show I’d seen before, and this was one of their ring shows in Itabashi Green Hall.

From the opening song and dance numbers, to the intergender tag match, to marveling at the skill of the younger wrestlers (although I’d later discover one of them already had nearly a decade of experience and was the company’s ace apparent), and so on it was a unique and enthralling experience.

And course the wrestling itself was extremely good. I only knew three of the wrestlers going in (Hiroyo Matsumoto, Hikaru Shida, and Makoto) but nearly all the rest would become familiar faces as time went on both in and out of Gatoh Move. Looking back at the main event in particular of Emi Sakura & Nanae Takahashi vs SAKI & Mizuki is kind of mind blowing.

I had a lot of fun, and was eager to see more of the promotion. As the saying goes, I hadn’t seen anything yet. The following week I went to my first (and second) show at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

The venue has no ring and just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience (at the time) of about 70 people maximum including some watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere.

The quality of matches they’re able to perform in such an environment speaks volumes of the talent of all involved, and I was instantly hooked. The wrestling Gatoh Move presents is unlike anything I’ve seen before or since, and the live experience is something special. I attended at least one Ichigaya show, as well Gatoh ring shows when they happened to coincide with my trip dates, every time I went back.

Gatoh Move was about three years old at the time, and it already had a sense of identity and a lot of the same elements that persist to this day. Which is incredibly interesting since one of the promotions’ greatest strengths is Sakura’s willingness to innovate and try new things.

But the central concept and feel of a small core roster of joshi wrestlers supplemented by both men and women guests from other promotions putting on fun shows has remained throughout the years I’ve watched, and among the many things that gives Gatoh Move it’s appeal.

I’ve (rightfully) mentioned Emi Sakura often as the shaping force of Gatoh Move, but part of that is also her wonderful ability as a trainer to identify and accentuate her trainee’s personal charisma and skill strengths.

The resulting vast differences in personalities and styles of the roster determine what Gatoh looked and felt like in any given time period. Sakura’s genuine appreciation of fan support also carries through and everyone in Gatoh has always been an absolute pleasure to meet.

When I started watching Sakura, Riho, Sayaka Obihiro, and Kotori were Gatoh Move. A year later the addition of Mitsuru Konno and Aasa Maika and regular appearances of freelancer (and former Sakura trainee) Aoi Kizuki brought a different dynamic.

And so on through the debuts of Yuna Mizumori and Mei Suruga, the eventual retirements of Kotori, Aasa, Aoi, and Mitsuru, and Riho’s departure  and the resulting debut of Gatoh Move Generation 4 (Chie Koishikawa, Sayuri, Sayaka, Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, and Rin Rin (now Yukari Hosokawa of GLEAT)).

Each person/roster had a distinct effect on the promotion and matches and stories emerged from each group that both felt unique to them and at the same time like it fit perfectly into what Gatoh Move was.

A (very) short highlight list of some of my favorite matches and moments include:
Riho vs Masahiro Takanashi (4/27/19 ),
– Sakura, Mei, and Aoi all having singles matches against each other during the week before before Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show,
– the annual Gatoh roster 6-woman tag (like Sakura, Obi, & Riho vs Mitsuru, Mei, & Yuna from  12/31/18),
– Mei vs Mitsuru (12/26/19),
Yuna and Sakura’s feud, and
Lulu’s quest to regain her hat.

The ability to change and innovate drastically while still maintaining a core identity is a recurring theme over the years I’ve watched Gatoh Move. A couple years ago it became more important than ever.

To me Gatoh Move’s intergender matches were always intergender done right. From the very first match I ever saw of theirs to the wonderfully fun annual  Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup annual intergender tag team tournament to the previously mentioned Riho vs Masa and so much more Gatoh has always known how to capture the proper feel of everyone in the match just being wrestlers competing.

This ended up playing a big part in one of most daring innovations Sakura had ever tried.

When Covid changed the world in 2020 Sakura’s small promotion with a home base unable to properly handle distancing requirements for an attending crowd was faced with a real question of how to survive.

Sakura embraced a rather crazy direction that could only have worked with her particular sense of innovation and risk taking, as well as an adaptable roster that was more than game for the challenges that would arise. Thus Gatoh Move’s twin promotion ChocoPro was born.

Not convinced that just doing Gatoh Move with no audience would be the right approach, Sakura envisioned a new presentation directly designed for streaming to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

While some might consider this philosophical premise a bit thin to differentiate a brand on, ChocoPro shows have developed their own feel and characteristics that make them distinct from Gatoh Move despite sharing a roster, creative forces, etc. One difference is that ChocoPro is a fully intergender brand, while Gatoh Move is technically a joshi company that has men wrestlers as guests (again a subtle but noticeable distinction).

But perhaps the biggest change to come from the creation of ChocoPro was the No Pay Wall philosophy. Every type of viewable content ChocoPro creates is put up on their YouTube channel for free, supported by optional sponsorship purchases, YouTube and Patreon memberships, etc as people choose and are able to contribute.

The commitment to make it work from everyone involved was incredible, and ChocoPro is as much a creation of Akki and Mei joining with or in place of Sakura on the live streams they started doing as added content to Gen 4 who all had to adapt to an extremely challenging situation in their rookie year to regular participants Masa, Choun Shiryu, Antonio Honda, Chris Brookes, and many more as it was Sakura’s. Seeing it succeed was both amazing and wonderful, as it really doesn’t seem like something anyone else could have pulled off.

Yet here we are two and a half years later with ChocoPro firmly established as a beloved sub brand of Gatoh Move to the point where it has and will continue even once Gatoh Move shows were able to start up again. Here’s hoping it will continue to prosper for a long time to come.

One last thing I’d like to talk about that I think perfectly underscores what Gatoh Move brings to the wrestling world is their casual trading program, Darejyo.

Darejyo is short for “Daredemo Joshi Puroresu” or Anyone’s Women’s Professional Wrestling. Started by Sakura and currently run by Mei (herself a former participant), the idea is to offer a suitable environment for any woman, regardless of age, experience, etc, to learn the basics of pro wrestling in a casual manner within a professional, safe environment. There are limits on the types of things they learn and try (avoiding more difficult and potentially dangerous aspects like certain types of strikes, etc) while still giving a strong introduction and base to build off of.

Darejyo’s had participants ranging from under 10 years old to women in their forties, and several participants have gone on to train and debut as full wrestlers including Mei herself and Gen 4 in Gatoh Move and even some in other promotions such as Diana’s Haruka Umesaki and Madeline.

There’s a ton more details that could be shared and praises to be sung about Gatoh Move, but I hope what’s here has been interesting and enjoyable. Here are the details on the 10th anniversary show, and it’s an extremely exciting and suitable card for such an event.

Phoenix Rises:
(7pm JST on 9/15/22, to be aired on YouTube at a later date)

  1. Toru Owashi & Sayuri vs Tokio Kirihara & Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro & Sawasdee Kamen
  2. Emi Sakura vs Miya Yotsuba (pro-wrestling debut)
  3. Riho, SAKI, & Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Fujita, Kid Lykos, & Kaori Yoneyama
  4. Orange Panna Cotta (Sayaka & Chie Koishikawa) vs Daisy Monkey (TJPW’s Suzume & Arisa Endo)
  5. Asia Dream Tag Title match: CDK (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) (c) vs Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto
  6. Yuna Mizumori vs Mei Suruga

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of their content. As previously mentioned 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, join as a member of their YouTube channel, visit their store and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Thanks to everyone in Gatoh Move for a wonderful 10 years and I wish them all the best for many more.