Gatoh Move 12/29/17 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

My second Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square of my most recent trip was a particular blast for a multitude of reasons.

 

As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya 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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen seen there.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here 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).

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. Aasa was sick and missed all of the GM shows I saw this time. Hope she feels better soon.

For this show I was right outside the window the wrestlers usually use for “high risk maneuvers” and sometimes fight right out of, leading to a need to be ready to scramble out of the way at a moment’s notice. Of note for this show, there a was a couple with a baby seated right next to me. This will become highly relevant. 😉 During the opening dance and introduction the wrestlers were all (rightfully) infatuated with the baby and waving to her.

 

 

 

Mitsuru Konno is my favorite Gatoh Move wrestler (among an incredibly talented roster in the first place) so I was extremely excited to see her get a singles opportunity against Gatoh Move’s Ace, the reigning Super Asia champion Riho. Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20, and her smoothness in everything she does and general instincts properly reflect her experience and skills. This was fantastic, with both making full use of the environment and telling a strong story of Mitsuru getting aggressive in trying to prove herself but coming up a bit short against GM’s superstar. A lot of this happened near (or through) my window, which was a particularly fun bonus for me. Mitsuru’s spot where she spills out of the window then later propels herself back in to attack her opponent using an audience stool to launch from appears to be a regular part of her matches now, and is always awesome.

 

 

 

A flashback to last year for me saw Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa in a comedy skit match. Whenever someone got a 2 count they were allowed to take a prop from a provided basket and make a joke. The referee would then decide if a point was scored (based on whether it was funny, usually indicated by audience laughter). Most points at the end of the time limit wins. The previously mentioned baby’s presence had a big impact here, as Honda stopped a couple of times to reassure her when they were fighting, and during the comedy portions her booming, delighted laughter was absolutely contagious.

Overall this was probably my favorite comedy match ever in Gatoh Move so far, as the gist was usually easy to pick up despite not understanding the spoken portions of the jokes, as were other themes like Obi’s attempts generally not going over well (to the point where she stopped mid-joke once frustratingly declaring “it’s not funny!” and just went back on the attack). Fun stuff.

 

 

The main event was another great tag match from the Asia Dream Tag Team Champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi, with opponents Kazuhiro Tamura & Baliyan Akki who were totally up for the challenge. My first look at Akki was a really good one here, as he fit in well with his much more experienced compatriots and is adapting nicely to GM’s home venue’s unique environment and its constraints and strengths. Overall this was simply a well worked, highly enjoyable main event. Of special note was Emi amusingly reaching out to try to tag the baby when in a submission hold, as well as directly leading me in (successfully) trying to start a “Sa-ku-ra” chant at one point.

 

One of the best Ichigaya events I’ve seen here, with just enough that felt different from GM’s (admittedly awesome) usual formula, in addition to my personal experience being elevated by my lucky seat position and the antics around me.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2017! Part 2: Ice Ribbon 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

A week out from Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had another relatively major show at KFC Hall, headlined by the Ribbonmania challenger to Risa Sera’s Ice Cross Infinity Championship trying to take Risa’s other belt first as Kurumi Hiiragi & Akane Fujita challenged Azure Revolution (Risa Sera & Maya Yukihi) for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships.

This was my second of four Christmas shows this year, taking place on Christmas Eve. The first was an Ice Ribbon dojo show the day before, which did a lot to build up some of the issues going into this show.

 

This was my first time at KFC Hall for anything. It’s a really nice venue with a good atmosphere. The show started with the roster dancing out in Santa hats while Maya sang part of “All I Want for Christmas.”

 

 

 

The first match saw a developing rivalry between rookies take the stage in a singles match pitting Asahi against Ibuki Hoshi. They were on opposite sides of the main event tag match for the previous day’s dojo show, and showed a lot of aggravation and frustration with each other. That vibe continued here in a hard hitting encounter (wow did they lay into each other with forearms) that saw IR’s younger Hoshi get the better of her rival. Ibuki has looked good in everything I’ve seen her in so far, and I’ve been even more impressed with Asahi. Looking forward to seeing both continue to develop their skills.

 

 

 

Tequila Saya had been out of action for a bit, and returned to face the daunting opposition of Satsuki Totoro. Another solid contest, with Saya trying to persevere against the onslaught of her larger opponent but eventually being overwhelmed. Satsuki land hard on Saya for the finishing top rope senton, and Saya seemed knocked for a loop. She did stand and was helped out. I hope she’s ok.

 

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As befitting a team of Matsumoto & The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) their match against Hana DATE, Makoto, & Julia was a strong blend of action and comedy. Hammy’s reindeer costume was highly amusing. Like the day before Miyako busted out the “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” Mama Miya, and it was likewise hilariously unsuccessful. This was my first live look at both Hana and Julia. Julia looked decent, even if it was obvious she was in the match to be take the fall. Hana’s style of strike based wrestling is great, and I certainly understand all the buzz I’ve seen about her.  She had my favorite spots of the match, including a sequence where she tried to wear down Hammy’s impervious stomach with a serious of quick strikes, and an absolutely beautiful flying kick to her three opponents stacked in the corner.

Miyako constantly trying to steal the spotlight from her own partners was also highly amusing. And with her team’s victory, I believe this is the longest winning streak I’ve seen from her live, at two whole matches. 😉

Honestly Makoto was just kind of there. Not bad, but didn’t really add anything and I’ve seen better from her.

 

 

 

My most anticipated match of the card was up next as GEKOKU (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) got a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima). It started off interesting right away as after their entrance Kyuuri and Maika quickly had ref Mio check them (as would normally happen after both teams had entered) and snuck out of the ring back to the sides of the entrance. Then as Best Friends came out they ambushed them from behind to jump start the match. I really liked this, as it showed both aggression and perhaps a bit of desperation from a great team that unfortunately hasn’t had much success lately facing formidable opponents. Little touches like Maika shushing the crowd to not give away their intentions were great.

 

 

 

This was simply a great match. I really wish GEKOKU had pulled out the upset, as there were a lot more interesting ways to go with that result, but they had a strong showing against one of the best tag teams in the world regardless.

 

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The two semi-finals of the Young Ice Tournament (where the winner will be in line for a title match of her choice) were the last matches before the main event, starting with Nao DATE vs Uno Matsuya. Nao impresses me more and more the more I see her wrestle, and Uno is my favorite rookie in IR, so I was excited for this one. Hana had initially seemed a potential favorite for this tourney, so when Uno eliminated her in the first round it opened up the possibility of Uno as a dark horse candidate. I wish she had advanced here, as it would have kept a feeling of uncertainty alive and capitalized on the momentum of that first round victory instead of wasting it. The match was extremely good either way though and Nao certainly deserves the opportunity for a important match at Mania.

 

 

 

With Nao advancing to the finals, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki seemed even more like a forgone conclusion. Good match, with Karen doing really well against the most experienced participant in the tourney before Maruko put her away for the expected win. Maruko is very good, but I really wish someone else was winning this tournament. She’s already viewed at a slightly higher level than the rest of the field, and whatever title opportunity she’ll be pursuing could have easily been set up another way. In general IR needs to do more to elevate their undercard during tournaments, as they tend to have the favorites dominate. I will be absolutely (and pleasantly) SHOCKED if Nao wins at Ribbonmania.

Maruko and Nao have a tense staredown further setting up the finals as Nao comes out to check on her defeated sister after the match. If Maruko wins she will have gone through every member of Team DATE in the tourney except her former rival Hana.

 

 

 

 Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) vs Akane Fujita & Kurumi Hiiragi for the International Ribbon Tag Titles was good, intense match where Akane in particular shined. Watching her and Kurumi level people like wrecking balls is great. The champs retained with Maya’s “Snow-ton” Bomb on Akane, giving Risa bragging rights over her impending challenger without slowing Kurumi’s momentum as a threat to Risa. I wanted a title change here, but this makes a Kurumi victory at Mania more likely (I don’t see Risa having both belts going into the new year). Kurumi got in Risa’s face for a pull apart when the latter tried to cut a post match promo. Good build to the main event on their biggest show of the year.

 

 

 

 

Akane took the microphone for a second during the post match tensions and challenged Arisa Nakajima. It was accepted and announced for Mania. This answers the question of Arisa’s involvement with her tag partner busy in Tsukushi’s re-debut. Will be a good match and Akane totally deserves the spotlight of a singles match against a big name opponent (even if Arisa’s victory or a draw is a foregone conclusion).

 

 

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Great show overall, with not a bad match in the bunch and my only real criticism some of the booking choices.

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 3: Gatoh Move 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

For my third of four Christmas themed shows this year (and my second of the day on Christmas Eve) I saw Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

 

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The Ichigaya 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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen there.

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. This was the first show after the retirement of Kotori, who’s final show I unfortunately missed due to coming to Japan a day late to attend.

 

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here 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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Aasa wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t compete, so Sayaka Obihiro took her place and the show opened with her against Antonio Honda in a comedy match, something I’m very familiar with from previous trips. In this case it was a Christmas Deathmatch with weapons available to be taken out of a stocking such as a Santa hat, Rudolph nose and ears for a finger puppet rendition, and a croissant. There was also a coffee break scheduled five minutes in. This was ridiculous but on purpose, and while not quite all of the humor was to my tastes it was amusing enough overall. The highlight was Honda using the croissant as a mustache for an energetic, over the top Hogan impression, then opening it and splitting it in half for him and Obi to share during the calm, low key coffee break.

 

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Next up was a 3-way match featuring CHANGO, PSYCHO, and Hoshitango Imachi. Solid contest focused around Psycho flying about (often from the windowsill I was seated right outside, smoothly jumping up into it inches from my face) and he and Chango trying to deal with the larger Hoshitango.

 

The main event continued my string of seeing Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi against Riho and a different partner in the main of the first GM Ichigaya show I see each holiday trip. In 2015 it Kotori was her partner, and last year it was Aasa. This time she teamed with Mitsuru I’ve really enjoyed all the variations on this match I’ve seen, and this was no exception. They really used the environment to its fullest, and Emi and Takanashi played subtly heel to put even more sympathy on the relative rookie Mitsuru.

 

 

 

Being at the target window I had Mitsuru dumped across the windowsill right in front of me slingshot suplex style at one point, then late in the match she and Takanashi spilled all the way out of the window and brawled as I scrambled out the way. My favorite spot of the matched followed, as once Mitsuru neutralized Takanashi she pulled one of the audience stools back near the window, then ran towards it and used it as a platform to launch herself back inside through the window at Emi. Was so cool seeing that from a foot away. The tag champs eventually isolated the less experienced member of the opposing team and Emi pinned Mitsuru for the win. This was great.

 

 

 

The post show roundtable had a fun feel, with the core roster in different colored Santa outfits, Honda wearing reindeer antlers, etc. There was also a couple rounds of rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity to purchase special autograph boards, which was a fun touch.

 

As usual Gatoh Move at Ichigaya provided an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else in wrestling. While these shows can feel very similar to one another, they are always enjoyable. I had a lot of fun with this one, particularly the main event.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2017! Part 1: Ice Ribbon 12/23/17 Live Thoughts

December 23, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

I can’t believe it’s so close to the holidays, and that it’s already time for me to be back in Tokyo. My first show for this trip was Christmas Ribbon at the Ice Ribbon Dojo.

This wasn’t a Shutter Ribbon event, so I don’t have any pictures of the matches.

 

Right before the show got going Sato and Tsukka came out in suits with a formal announcement that a settlement had been reached and that Tsukushi will be returning to Ice Ribbon at Ribbonmania in a “career reset.” Tsukushi then came out for a few words. Her time away and working in the background was appropriate, but I’m glad things are going better and an arrangement was reached for her second chance. She’ll be facing Tsukka in her re-debut.

 

The start of the show was then announced and the roster came out in Christmas outfits (to Maya singing a version of “Jingle Bells”) and had a lengthy, light hearted segment of opening comments.

 

Maika Ozaki vs Nagasaki Maruko  was a great opener, with good, hard hitting action (man did they lay in those forearm shots) with an underlying sense of tension, and a real sense both were growingly frustrated with being unable to win. Maika has really evolved a lot since she first started wrestling in Ice Ribbon and I think both these wrestlers will have big things ahead of them. There was a brief pull apart brawl afterwards as neither was satisfied with the time limit draw, so a rematch seems likely. Looking forward to it.

 

 

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The teams of Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE and Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE) each brought several ballons to ringside with them for their 6-woman tag match. It indicated another of IR’s special stipulation matches that highlight touches of comedy and amusingly absurd match conditions while still maintaining a strong sense of competition and the essential trappings of a wrestling match. IR is one of the best promotions there is at achieving that balance. In this case the balloons were legal to use during the match, and there were numerous clever spots involving popping the balloons on and around their opponents. From various splashes onto each other with balloons wedged in between people to hard kicks popping balloons on opponents’ chests and faces, etc there was so much amusement the fact that the competitors often had to hold balloons in place on themselves was easily overlooked. Another humorous highlight was “Merry Christmas Mama Mia,” in which Miyako laid out her three opponents in a line and had her partners Tsukka and Karen follow her around the ring posing while Miyako sang “we wish you a Merry Christmas.” Of course the entire opposing team got their legs up when Miyako’s trio went for the splashes at the end.

This was my first time seeing Novel Tornado team in any capacity, and they have great chemistry and nice double teams. Kyuuri fit in well with them and the opposing trio was an equally suitable pairing. Again what I liked best is that underneath all the comedic elements was a solid, well wrestled match. And of course seeing Miyako get a rare win with a Super Mama Mia (onto a balloon of course) was a nice bonus. This was a ton of fun.

 

 

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Things went back to all business in the third match, an interesting non-title encounter between Ir’s Cross Infinity Champion Risa Sera and Uno Matsuya. Uno continues to be absolutely incredible at playing the underdog and getting the audience behind her, and with a little bit of dismissiveness thrown in from Risa they had the crowd fully invested and totally believing in a possible upset by Uno. Risa had a few close calls and eventually had to pull out several finishers to put the upstart down in another great contest.

The timing of this was intriguing, as Uno is still a part of the Young Ice Tournament. She was despondent with the loss, and while I don’t think this is how the tourney will play out her winning it and using the prize choice of championship opportunity to demand a rematch from Risa with the title on the line is certainly one logical way they could go and would be a highly satisfying story to watch unfold.

 

 

The main event saw a nice combination of build for two different matches at the next big show as Maya Yukihi & Ibuki Hoshi faced Akane Fujita & Asahi. The very next day Akane and partner Kurumi would be challenging Azure Revolution (Maya & Risa) for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships, and Asahi and Ibuki would be facing off in a singles rematch. Akane started things off passive aggressively by shaking Ibuki’s hand but refusing Maya and from there all four kept up a good feeling of hostility and wanting to better their respective rivals here. This was best when the wrestlers were just trying to plow through one another and viciously striking their opponents. The sound of the impacts the smaller Asahi and Ibuki were managing when forearming each other was cringe inducing, and Akane playing wrecking ball is always a treat to watch.

There was some awkwardness during other sequences, such as Maya seemingly not being able to decide which corner to go up in at one point and repeatedly starting to go out just to come back in and think some more (given the sequence eventually ended with her partner getting involved I’d guess either someone was out of position or Maya momentarily lost track of where things were going and whether her choice of corner mattered). But they were minor things overall and the match was still quite a good main event to finish the show off  that provided some great build for the following day’s show. Maya eventually got Asahi isolated and kept hitting escalating moves until the rookie couldn’t kick out.

 

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Merry Christmas!

 

The post show roundtable was all about building up the next show, with a nice summary video package shown and several little scuffles and/or arguments between impending opponents. Asahi seemed quite broken up and was crying as she gave her portion, and Tsukka picked her to lead the show ending “Happy Ice Ribbon” cheer to the audience’s strong approval. Two new trainees were introduced as well.

 

I really enjoyed this. It had a diverse batch of matches and styles and was just generally good wrestling all around. The recent influx of talent is certainly having an effect, as having more power wrestlers such as Totoro, Nao, and Maika in addition to Akane and Kurumi and the MMA influence the Team Date women brought in to supplement mat technicians like Kyuuri and Tsukka adds significant depth and variability to the stories that can be told. This show was a perfect way to start my trip.

 

Glimpses of the Stars, the Past, and the Present

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is always home to a variety of incredible exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve spotlighted several past showings, including Chika MacDonald’s Mugen exhibit and Nobuko Tsuruta’s 12 Years.

Here I’ll be talking about last month’s Pseudoastronomy by Kiichiro Adachi and the currently ongoing The Art of Japan: NOW, with the Past by the
Alumni Association of Tokyo University of the Arts.

 

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Kiichiro Adachi sees his art as a way to explore the “distortion” of using made man things to “control or simulate nature.” His Pseudoastronomy exhibition (which ran from November 9th to the 22nd) sought to capture a small piece of the grandeur of  the universe via light reflections of off intricate, carefully constructed mirrored apparatuses.

 

 

 

The exhibit was tailored to the space available at TCI and the effect of the moving reflections through the darkened space and added light smoke effects was captivating. In comments about the exhibit Adachi mentions he likes “the absurdity of using mirror balls to simulate the sacred universe.” This perspective and his creativity created a striking piece of art with a thought provoking theme beneath it.

 

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Tokyo University of the Arts Alumni Association of New York’s “2nd Art and Music Collaboration Exhibition,” entitled The Art of Japan: NOW, with the Past, features an art collection by several artists, along with musical performances and workshops all focused on highlighting a combination of modern and traditional Japanese influences.

 

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The opening reception featured shamisen music by Yoko Reikano Kimura and tango/jazz by Machiko Ozawa (violin) & Ayako Shirasaki (piano). Both performances were excellent.

 

 

There are also workshops related to this event, including the still to come “NOH WORKSHOP: VOYAGE TO NOH” with sessions for both children and adults on December 10.

 

 

 

The varied and distinctive pieces that comprise The Art of Japan: NOW, with the Past exhibit can be viewed at TCI until Monday, December 11.

 

 

The NXT Step for a Pirate

The signing of Stardom’s Kairi Hojo in early 2017 by the WWE created immediate buzz and excitement. It was wonderful to see that feeling build in anticipation as the Mae Young Classic and her debut as Kairi Sane approached.

 

Kairi is a masterful ring technician, measuring everything she does carefully and exerting expert body control for maximum visual impact. Her trademark diving elbow from the tope rope looks as beautiful as it does devastating. Her excellent selling draws the audience in and invests them emotionally in her matches, yet she always believably feels like a threat to her opponent no matter how much punishment she’s taken or how much bigger her opponent is. She brings something special and unique to WWE, and the hype surrounding her debut as it approached showed they realized it.

 

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My own perspective on Kairi’s pre-WWE career was bit different from when I wrote about Kana (NXT Step for a Legend) and Johnny Gargano (NXT Step for an Icon) heading to NXT, as I’d only seen her live on two occasions (though she essentially wrestled twice on each show). Even from that small sample it was easy to see the command she has of her craft.

 

My first time seeing Kairi live was under unique circumstances, as she was involved in Act Yasukawa’s retirement match at Climax 2015.

 

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Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Kairi teamed with Act & Haruka Kato vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf & Kyoko Kimura in a match that went on for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates, particularly Kairi, more and more at odds. Both Act and Kairi did a phenomenal job at portraying two people who thought they had reconciled but were just never meant to get along. Things eventually exploded and the two fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.

 

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Then the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa & Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato & Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. Kairi was clearly genuinely emotional as she helped bid farewell to her fellow wrestler’s career.

 

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The following year I was back for Climax 2016 and saw Kairi in a pair of equally impressive matches at opposite ends of the spectrum. In a special contest model Nana Suzuki made her debut in a singles match against Hojo, one of Stardom’s aces. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good, due in no small part to Kairi playing her own role of dominant veteran absolutely perfectly. She knew exactly how to rightly control most of the offense and avoid reducing her own standing yet still make her rookie opponent look strong. That takes an incredible amount of skill and a deft touch, and the two told a great story here.

 

 

Later that night Kairi told a completely different story as she and partner Yoko Bito looked to regain their Goddesses of Stardom Titles from Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu). This time Kairi was in some sense the underdog, as there was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring. The stacked odds and again excellent awareness of the story being told combined to generate quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. It was a treat not only seeing Kairi perform twice, but in such different (but complimentary and consistent) circumstances.

 

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Fast forward back to a few months ago and Kairi entered a WWE ring for the first time as part of the Mae Young Classic. It was certainly no surprise when she provided several of the best matches of the whole thing, including a show-stealing first round encounter with Tessa Blanchard, great bouts with Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm, and a fitting finale to the whole thing against Shayna Baszler. Seeing her joy at becoming the well deserved first ever MYC winner was wonderful. Since then she has become an integral part of NXT’s women’s division, and is likely to feud with Shayna Baszler and eventually progress to a one on one challenge to champion Ember Moon.

 

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Incredible art print depicting (and signed by) Kairi by Rob Schamberger.

 

Kairi Sane is the epitome of the cliche “a joy to watch,” and I wish her all the best as this exciting new phase of her career continues.

Farewell to a Legend

On November 3, 2017, in an hour long match with 50+ opponents, Manami Toyota ended her incredible 30 year career in professional wrestling.

Toyota is a innovator and standard bearer whose impact on the sport will be felt long after her retirement. I haven’t watched nearly as much as I want / intend to of Toyota’s older matches, but am of course well aware of her impact on professional wrestling.

As my own personal goodbye to her legendary career, I’d like to focus on the fortuitous opportunities I’ve had to see Toyota wrestle live.

 

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The first was a complete surprise, and an incredible moment for me during my first trip to Japan. Toyota was not scheduled for any of the 12 shows I saw during my two week trip to Tokyo at the end of 2015.

On December 20 I attended a show show by Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous promotion. The main event was a 6 on 2 handicap match featuring Chigusa, Aki Shizuku, Chikayo Nagashima, Mima Shimoda, Takumi Iroha & Tomoko Watanabe vs Dump Matusmoto & Yumiko Hotta. Chigusa’s teammates were largely cannon fodder for Dump to  to hit with a kendo stick and other objects over and over. Hotta arrived wearing numerous pairs of handcuffs all over her gear, so it was obvious where things were eventually going. After the brawl spilled throughout the arena Chigusa’s team was eventually incapacitated by being handcuffed to the ropes.

The heat coming from sections of fans for both Dump and Chigusa was incredible, creating an electric atmosphere. If possible it intensified even more when Manami Toyota came out as surprise help for Chigusa. For me it was a jaw dropping moment, and I felt incredibly privileged to get to meet Toyota after the show.

 

Fast forward a year and I was back for the holiday shows again, including a personal favorite of mine in Ice Ribbon’s annual Ribbonmania. Toyota’s match this time was particularly interesting, as she was one of the challengers for Ai Shimizu’s Triangle Ribbon Title (along with Maruko Nagasaki).  This was a straight up slaughter, which might not have made for the most interesting of matches from the perspective of an completely overmatched champion, but Toyota plowing through both opponents and winning the Triangle title with a double pin after her moonsault was a strong spectacle and nice moment all the same. Toyota commented/joked afterwards about her winning a title in 2016, and it was again an honor to get to greet her in person and congratulate her.

Her Triangle Ribbon championship reign was a quiet one, as she successfully defended the title only once during her six month reign before losing it to her heir apparent Tsukasa Fujimoto. But a final championship before she retired was well deserved.

 

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My third opportunity to see Toyota wrestle live came during a shorter trip this past summer.  At SEAdLINNNG’s August 24 show she was again in a 3-way match with Maruko Nagasaki, this time under high speed rules with Kaho Kobayashi as the third participant. It was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. It was really amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics, and a fun format to see the veteran perform in. 

 

 

 

A few days later I saw what would be my final live Manami Toyota match at Ice Ribbon’s August 27 event. A somewhat poetic way to close things out, as Toyota was the opponent for the debuting Asahi. The rookie played the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against  the legend and the dynamic of the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi’s resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart was fantastic.

 

 

 

Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere, and short of being in attendance for Toyota’s actual last match I couldn’t have asked for a better note to say goodbye on.

 

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I appreciate everyone reading indulging me in my personal memories of interactions with one of wrestling’s brightest stars. I highly recommend seeking out anything and everything you can from her incredible career. Congratulations to Manami Toyota and best of luck with whatever’s next.