Japan Trip Winter 2017: Top 10+ Matches (Live)

Long overdue since summer’s arrived and I’ve already been lucky enough to travel back Japan since the trip I’m talking about here (more on that soon), but I still wanted to highlight the best matches I saw among an incredible batch of shows I saw in the Tokyo area to close out 2017 / start 2018. Also check out my favorites from past trips.

During this trip I saw 16 shows from 7 promotions with 86 matches featuring 132 different wrestlers, and the vast majority of what I saw was excellent. So even featuring my top ten eleven matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT 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 by company: Gatoh Move: 15 matches, Ice Ribbon: 30 matches, Marvelous: 7 matches, Sendai Girls: 5 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave (including Young OH! OH!): 12 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and Basara/DDT:  10 matches.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

 

Balloon Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE vs Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE)  – Ice Ribbon 12/23/17

The two teams each brought several balloons 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.

 

Mitsuru Konno vs Gatoh Move’s veterans – Gatoh Move 12/29/171/1/18, and 1/2/18

 

 

I considered trying to pick one of these for inclusion, but I loved all of them and the general vibe so much I decided instead to discuss all three as a group here. Mitsuru Konno is a Gatoh Move rookie who had just a little over a year experience at the time of this trip and who immediately impressed me when I first saw her a year prior, instantly became a personal favorite. This trip was a particular treat as I got to see her in separate singles contests against Gatoh’s Super Asia Champion Riho, founder Emi Sakura, and Emi’s tag team champion partner Masahiro Takanashi. All three matches had the same general idea of Mitsuru trying to prove herself against a vastly more experienced, sometimes dismissive veteran, yet still all felt distinct and had their own unique variations on the formula. All three matches were great, speaking both to Mitsuru’s progress/potential and to the expertise of Gatoh Move’s ring generals.

 

GEKOKU vs ActWres feud  – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17 and 1/6/18Young OH! OH! 1/8/18

 

 

Like with the previous entry I considered picking one match here (eyeing the great tag match seeing Maika Ozaki & Kyuuri face Saori Anou & Tae Honma at Ribbonmania in particular) for inclusion but instead enjoyed all parts I got to see of this feud so much I wanted to spotlight them all here. Tensions between Ice Ribbon regular Maika and her tag partner Kyuuri and Maika’s former Actwres Girlz compatriots Tae and Actwres Champion Saori were palpable every time any of the four crossed paths. The three matches I saw involving them during this trip set up an impending title shot for Maika at Saori, and a time limit draw in a singles contest and nullifying each other long enough for Wave’s Asuka to beat them both in a triple threat left things completely unresolved between Kyuuri and Tae. The whole feud continued with twists and turns (and great in ring action) until just last weekend and was my easily one of my favorite rivalries in wrestling while it lasted.

 

 

Top 10 11:

 

10. (tie)  Nao DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17

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I spent a significant amount of time debating my tenth entry between two matches and finally decided it was a tie and I’d include both. The semi-main of Ice Ribbon’s biggest show of the year was their Young Ice Tournament final, and it was a great match made even better by an unexpected finish. I saw a Maruko victory as a foregone conclusion, with her vanquishing her third member of Team DATE in a row to win the tourney. So I was pleasantly shocked to see Nao take it and Ice Ribbon use the tournament to significantly elevate a new face. These are two of IR’s brightest rising stars and the match they put on certainly reflected that.

 

10. (tie) Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi Gatoh Move 12/31/17

Doing a six-person tag in such a limited space is undoubtedly difficult, but of course the Gatoh Move roster is extremely familiar with such a challenge and was more than up for it. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi was fantastic. Lots of great stuff centered around Emi’s team trying to avoid / deal with the larger Toru, as well as Riho and Mitsuru trying to take the attack to their opponents. I was at the window that’s used as one of the tag corners, and amusingly they spilled out of that one instead of the other for the first time I’ve ever seen during this match. This was exciting, a little different, and flat out fun. Emi continued her habit of pinning Mitsuru to win, something she jokingly teased me about after the show.

 

 

9. Chihiro Hashimoto vs Takumi Iroha – Marvelous 12/25/17

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Takumi Iroha, who I’ve also  wrote about as someone to watch in the past, also main evented Marvelous’ Christmas show last year and is clearly being groomed / built as the central star of the promotion. Here she got a one on one non-title opportunity with Sendai Girls’ Champion Chihiro Hashimoto.

This was my first look at Chihiro, and I was definitely impressed. It’s immediately easy to see why she holds Sendai’s title. This was an excellent, hard hitting contest with Takumi and Chihiro just beating the hell out of each other and throwing each other around. Iroha’s blend of power and high flying is just incredible.

They battled all the way to the third time limit draw of the evening, which wasn’t terribly surprising given the participants. I know there might be some criticism about half the matches ending that way (one I’d normally share), but each match it happened in unfolded differently, and logically, with varying post match implications and significance. So I was actually totally fine with it all myself.

 

 

7. (tie) Tokyo Princess of Princess Title Match: Reika Saiki (c) vs Miyu Yamashita – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

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In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

 

 

7. (tie)  Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match: Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima (c) vs MIZUKI & Riho – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

 

This Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers defended against TJP roster member MIZUKI and visiting Gatoh Move star Riho, a 12 year veteran at age 21 who received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

 

 

6. Gekoku (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) vs Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) – Ice Ribbon 12/24/17

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This contest seeing Gekoku getting a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends was one I was greatly looking forward to. 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.

 

5. Riho vs Yasu Urano  – Basara 12/28/17

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I went to this show primarily to see Riho, and as always she certainly didn’t disappoint. Her match against Yasu Urano was great, with Urano being a little dismissive but needed to take things seriously as Riho was unfazed at his 8 inch and 90 pound advantage and took the fight right to him.

I mentioned Riho’s extensive experience above, and she’s an expert at making the story of her match believable. In this special environment (all opening round matches of this tournament were no-rope matches with victory by pinfall, submission, or ring-out) against a larger opponent that meant using her quickness and aggressiveness to counter the size discrepancy. Her never say die approach here made this engrossing, and Urano was also perfect as the bully realizing he might have more bit off more than he could handle. They had some great exchanges around/near the ringposts and edges. My favorite finish of the night saw Riho hit a spinning sunset flip near the ring’s edge, and Urano emphatically kick out just before 3… sending himself out of the ring and giving Riho the win. Great stuff.

 

 

4. Regina di Wave Title Match: Misaki Ohata (c) vs Yumi Ohka Wave 12/29/17

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The main event of Wave’s biggest show of the year saw two favorites of mine battling for the Regina di Wave championship as Misaki Ohata defended against Yumi Ohka.

This was a fantastic, hard hitting match that went back and forth until Ohka just kicked Ohata in the face until she couldn’t get up. I was a little disappointed for Ohata since I hoped for a longer title reign, but I expect the title to change at Thanksgiving Wave, it was a nice moment for Ohka, and Ohata won it back in short order. Misaki really sold disappointment and dejection afterwards, a theme that would continue later when she came up just short of back to back Zan-1 fan vote victories, edged out by the retiring Mika Iida.

 

3. DASH Chisako & KAORU vs Chikayo Nagashima & Megumi YabushitaMarvelous 12/25/17

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Marvelous’ Christmas show this year had a theme of inter-faction matches, one of which saw W-Fix fight amongst themselves to determine a leader. The referee immediately explained given the tendencies of the people involved she wasn’t going to bother with silly things like rules and this became no DQ.

I’m a huge fan of Dash in general so it’s always a treat to see her, and the remainder of the participants are other veterans capable of magic on the right night. This was certainly it. The match was incredible, with the teammates going all out in a war using all of their trademark heel antics on each other and just flat out trying to win, which had the crowd giving them all big face reactions if just for one night. It totally worked in a way that will let them go right back to being booed as needed on the next show. And any match that ends with Dash’s picture perfect frog splash (the “Hormone Splash”) is even better. 🙂 My match of the night, and one of my favorites of the whole trip.

The pinfall gave Dash leadership of W-Fix, but she immediately ceded it to her partner Kaoru. Karou then presented the team with matching jackets as Christmas presents. In gratitude they swarmed her with a group hug declaring “Best Leader!” The whole sequence amused me to no end.

 

 

2.  Dangerous Wave: SAKI & KAORU vs Ryo Mizunami & Rina YamashitaWave 12/29/17

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This was an incredible hardcore brawl. Kaoru’s at her best in hardcore matches, and similar to the W-Fix match I just mentioned she was completely in her element here. Avid Rival (Mizunami & Misaki Ohata) is my favorite tag team in wrestling right now, but I have to admit the pairing of Mizunami and Rina is nearly as good and a team I really want to see more often. And the more I see Saki the more I think she’s generally underrated, and I am thrilled to see her wrestling more frequently recently.

This was pretty much INSANE, with Mizunami swinging a car tire around (and throwing it from inside the ring towards Karou when she was right in front of me), a bicycle getting involved, people flying off ladders, etc. I wish they would tone down things just a little, like the finish where Saki took a nasty powerbomb on chairs and seemed to come up a little loopy, but overall this was an amazing performance from all four and a definite highlight of the night as well as my trip.

 

 

1. Ayako Hamada vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 1/6/18

 

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The main event of my first ever Sendai Girls’ show featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one.

The preview of this in a tag match at Thanksgiving Wave was a perfect way to amp up anticipation, which was already through the roof considering who was involved. With the #1 contendership on the line there was even more urgency. Hamada seemed to be building up to a title shot, and indeed she eventually prevailed over Meiko after an absolutely brutal match. Totally the expected phenomenal showing from two masters, and it was a privilege to be there for it.

It’s bittersweet to look back on this given Hamada’s personal problems and Wave’s seeming erasure of her from their history, but this was the best match I saw this trip and I wanted to properly acknowledge it as such.

 

——-

 

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

 

Surrounded by Vibrancy

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is home to a variety of excellent exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve spotlighted several past showings, and two of my absolute favorites where the textile based Chika MacDonald’s “Mugen” and Nobuko Tsuruta’s “12 Years.”

Here I’d like to share my impressions of another wonderful textile exhibition, the currently showing “Our Road.”

 

 

The immediate visual impact of this exhibit is incredible. Japanese Dyeing Artist Ken Arai and Textile Artist Kiyo Masuyama’s exhibit, featuring collaborative pieces that span the length of their careers, showcases an amazing array of diverse tapestries in a variety of vivid, impactful colors and gorgeous patterns.

 

 

 

The opening reception was a fun, lively affair allowing guests to absorb the grandeur of Arai and Mauyama’s work amid a lovely background atmosphere enhanced by Indonesian Gamelan music provided I.M. Harjito and Anne Stebinger.

 

 

 

Beyond the inherent quality and beauty of the pieces themselves, the exhibit reaches further heights in it’s construction and brilliant use of space. Tenri Gallery, with it’s high ceilinged main area, large support pillars, and side area stretching to the front windows looking out on 13th street, provides great opportunity for exciting presentation and “Our Road” makes the most of its potential. Contrasting yet complimentary pieces placed side by side, impressive pieces stretched from floor to ceiling, gorgeous works draped above viewers heads, and all the other little details in placement and display choices combine to make the whole effect even more striking.

 

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Simply put, “Our Road” is absolutely wonderful. It runs until Tuesday July 3, and is well worth stopping by to experience in person.

 

 

Deep Inside Your Soul: Farewell to Mika Iida

Straight up: there are few wrestlers that give such an impression of having fun in the ring as Mika Iida. There was always a “spark” to her performances that held a captivating edge to it. I haven’t been a fan of hers for very long relatively speaking compared to the length of her career, but she made a strong impression in a short time to become a favorite of mine and it was a  privilege to be at her final show at Korakuen Hall on May 4, 2018.

 

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My first times seeing Iida wrestle were during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. I saw her in a pair of 6-woman tags, teaming with Cherry & Hiroe Nagahama against Hiroyo Matsumoto, Makoto & Maruko Nagasaki at Ribbonmania 2015 and with Fairy Nipponbashi & Hikaru Shida against Ayako Hamada, Yumi Oka & Yuu Yamagata at Thanksgiving Wave on 1/3/16.  Both matches were good but a bit limited by time and format. Even so Iida stood out among the several wrestlers that were new to me, and I remarked at the time that I was “particularly interested in seeing what Iida can do with more of a spotlight.”

 

 

A year later I was back for Thanksgiving Wave 12/29/16, and again saw Iida as part of a trios team. This time however it was in an elimination match against Kaho Kobayashi, Rina Yamashita, & Natsu Sumire and ASUKA, Kaori Yoneyama, & Sawako Shimono, and alongside two wrestlers I was well familiar with due to Shimmer (Yumi Ohka & Hikaru Shida). Despite being another trios type of match, it was also the opportunity to see more of what Iida could do I was waiting for. I found her team a lot of fun, and remarked at the time that Iida herself was particularly impressive.

After that show was my first opportunity to meet Iida, which was great. She speaks English fairly well and was friendly and approachable.

 

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In Spring 2017 Iida suffered a shoulder injury that would keep her out a majority of the year. She was still at the Wave show I attended in August (which she helped me reserve a ticket for) and it was nice to catch up with her. She was in great spirits and talked about getting better and returning to the ring.

 

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By my holiday trip Iida was back happily in action, but had also announced her retirement for the following May.  With it seeming unlikely (at the time) that I’d see her again after that trip it was wonderful to see her back in the ring and get to see her wrestle several times. At Thanksgiving Wave 12/29/17 she and Hiroe Nagahama had a packed five minute match that was well structured to let Hiroe look good before Iida put her away.  To end the show Iida would win Wave’s Zan-1 Championship for the year (determined by fan vote). It was a wonderful and fitting honor as her career wound down.

 

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During that trip I was also lucky enough to see her team with Maya Yukihi against Risa Sera & Mochi Miyagi at Ice Ribbon on 1/6/18 and in an excellent match against Kaho Kobayashi at Wave’s Young OH! OH! show on 1/8/18 to wrap up my visit. At the time I thought those would be my last opportunities to see Iida live.

 

Instead, I was extremely lucky to have a spring trip to celebrate the marriage of two dear friends of mine be close enough for me to extend my stay to attend Iida’s retirement show on 5/4/18. During the week leading up to her final show, amid numerous appearances scheduled across various promotions, Iida unfortunately dislocated her shoulder during a gauntlet match. She realigned it and managed one more portion of that match in a crazy display of toughness, but then had to acquiesce and withdraw from the match and most of her remaining appearances to recover.

 

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Custom Funko Pop I made of/for Iida.

 

She was still aiming to complete in her final show, twice in fact. In a five minute exhibition to open the show and a 6-woman tag to close it. In a wonderful sign for her recovery (and of course her fortitude and perhaps stubbornness) she took the microphone at the beginning of her exhibition match against Hiroe Nagahama and declared she was ok and turned it into a full match to a large ovation. It was a good contest and a nice callback for me to the match between the two I had seen a few months prior. Unsurprisingly Iida put the up and comer over and the latter was particularly choked up.

 

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Something already noticeable was a sense of Iida really enjoying everything and having a joyous goodbye (despite of course it all being very emotional). This would continue throughout the show and really highlights Iida’s wonderful personality and outlook, as everything from the opener to the main to the ceremonies seeing her off were infused with a sense of fun that made it all particularly special.

 

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The main event saw Iida’s chosen competitors for her final match face off in a 6-woman tag featuring Iida and her opponent from the opening contest on the same side along with Yumi Ohka vs Kaho Kobayashi, Natsu Sumire, & Rina Yamishita. The latter team actually was part of the 3-way trios contest I talked about earlier involving Iida from late 2016. Rina had won this year’s Catch the Wave earlier in the night in an incredible match against Ayako Hamada and had an additional honor here, pinning Iida to end her career.

 

 

The match was the appropriately enjoyable spectacle, including “traditional” retirement spots like whipping all of the roster (and then some) into Iida in the corner with amusing variations like Rina interrupting Gami’s turn and allowing Iida to wipe out the boss instead. Special guests also got in on the action, including Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in to hit an Ace Crusher on Iida for a near fall at one point. Just a ton of fun all around. The gift presentation and final ceremonies were also touched by humor, perhaps highlighted by Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota brawling around Iida as she stood in the center of the ring while her career highlights were read.

 

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All in all everything came together in a way that really felt like the perfect goodbye for Iida that reflected her unique, infectious charisma throughout. I’m sad to see her go but happy to have seen her wrestle during her time in the ring and wish her the best in whatever comes next.

 

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Fuerza Bruta WA! Ice Ribbon Edition

April 26, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Fuerza Bruta shows are a unique experience that combines music, dance, and acrobatics and takes place around, above, and through a standing crowd. I saw their WAYRA show in New York a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. In addition to being excited to see their performance again in general and being curious about what would be different for their Tokyo offering Fuerza Bruta WA!, being able to attend one of the two nights that Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi from one of my favorite wrestling promotions (Ice Ribbon) would be appearing was a fantastic additional treat.

 

 

The show itself was of course a tremendous amount of fun. It featured the same basic ideas and setups as the NY show, but with distinct Japanese themes and enough differences to make it its own experience. It’s an energetic, contagious spectacle from start to finish, easily captivating the crowd and keeping them full of anticipation to see what’s next.

 

 

On top of that since I went through Ice Ribbon as a special thing a small group of us were brought over to watch the show with Tsukka and Maya (when they weren’t participating) by a attendant from Fuerza Bruta for the group who always made sure we knew where to go, etc. Afterwards we each also got to get a picture with Tsukka and Maya, a really nice momento of the evening. Their participation in the show was great too. Both were wearing harnesses when we first met up, and a bit into the show they were raised into the ceiling with some of the regular performers. Later they danced through the crowd to a stage that then itself moved through the crowd to the center of the space. Really fun stuff.

 

 

Another cool aspect of the shows is the use of water, with performers running against sprays, mist being used while acrobats are swinging over the audience, and an incredible sequence where a a large, clear pool is lowered from the ceiling to just above the crowd’s head as people splash/swim/dance around in it. At one particularly enjoyable point for me they essentially had a water curtain running through the center splashing on the audience, and Tsukka stated splashing it towards me (which I of course responded in kind to 😉 ), resulting in me having a short water war with her and Maya. So amusing/awesome.

 

 

Standing out a bit in a Japanese crowd I also found myself the center of the performers’ attention a couple of times. I was near the center of the room when the crowd was split to form a corridor for someone to repel from the ceiling into and march towards the stage. He keyed in on me and stalked right up to me staring until we went forehead to forehead (which I clearly and gladly played along with) and he pushed me back a bit. Later while I was taking video of Tsukka and Maya dancing on the center stage the wandering drummer took notice of my Ice Ribbon t-shirt and gently poked at all the faces on it with his drumstick. This was all of course fantastic, but even without these personal experiences I was lucky enough to have the general atmosphere of the show with the show taking place IN the audience at several times and the general high level of interaction is incredible.

 

 

Last night was Tsukka and Maya’s final appearance so that part is no longer an option, but as I’ve been gushing about the show is a wonderful time in its own right and if anyone happens to be in Tokyo from now until May 6th I highly recommend catching it as it finishes its run.

 

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The NXT Step for a Legend III: No One Was Ready

In Summer 2015 I wrote about my favorite wrestler’s Shimmer career and impending signing with WWE in NXT Step for a Legend. A year and a half later I looked at her impressive initial period during that new phase of her career in NXT Step for a Legend II. Here I’d like to share one last NXT Step piece featuring Asuka looking at the end of her time in NXT, being called up to the main roster, and the start of her main roster run culminating in her first Wrestlemania last night.

 

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The first half of 2017 saw Asuka continue her domination of the NXT women’s division. In May Asuka passed Goldberg’s legendary (recognized) 173-0 win record to obtain the longest such undefeated streak in wrestling history. Goldberg himself acknowledged the accomplishment on Twitter and commented that “‘the streak’ is in good hands.” WWE themselves seemed a little tentative to promote it at first though, possibly due to the possibility of wanting to end it before she was called up to the main roster. More on that later.

 

Even in light of the dominance described above, Asuka still consistently elevated her opponents in defeat through both the skills they further developed by being in the ring with the veteran and strong showings against her. One particularly strong example of such was an incredible Last Woman Standing match she had with Nikki Cross in July 2017, which was perhaps the best match of either’s NXT tenure. That match was a additional treat for me in being a rematch from one of the first few live matches I saw of either from back in Spring 2014 at Shimmer, and it was interesting to see the two face off again at very different points in their careers.

 

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Ember Moon was also a persistent rival for Asuka in NXT, and often it seemed the champion had to resort to shortcuts to fend off her challenges and keep the title. As NXT Takeover Brooklyn III approached it seemed conceivable that Ember would finally hand Asuka her first loss and take the NXT Women’s title, sending Asuka on to the main roster. Instead the champion prevailed once again in an excellent match I was extremely lucky to have seen live and that, unbeknownst to those watching at the time, would be Asuka’s farewell to NXT anyway. It was reported shortly after that she suffered a collarbone injury during the match, would be vacating the NXT Women’s championship, and when she returned to action it would be as a member of the RAW roster. She hold the longest title reign of any kind in NXT history, recognized as 523 days (through to the date when the segment with her vacating the title aired on TV). She was far from finished collecting records and accolades.

 

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Fantastic depiction of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

Asuka made her main roster debut at TLC 2017 in a match against one of her early NXT opponents in Emma. From there she carved out a path of success just as she had in NXT, continuing to build her undefeated streak (now fully emphasized by WWE at all opportunities) against top names like Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, and the woman Asuka had taken the NXT title from in the first place, Bayley. She also was the sole survivor in her Survivor Series debut, and won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble in January 2018, giving her the choice of champions to challenge at Wrestlemania. She was one of the obvious, and fitting choices for that honor, although the underlying disconnect that someone holding the longest undefeated streak in history and had pinned Raw’s champion in non-title competition needed to win the Rumble to earn a title shot was starting to convey the booking difficulties surrounding the streak. The Rumble match was excellent, and seeing Asuka victorious in a “PPV” main event (something curiously absent from her NXT run) was glorious. 

 

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Asuka would decide to challenge Charlotte for the Smackdown Women’s title in what looked on paper to be a setup for an excellent encounter giving Asuka her first main roster title. Instead at Wrestlemania last night “The Empress of Tomorrow” shockingly tapped to “The Queen’s” Figure Eight ending the streak at 914 days and making her record 267-1. Given the rumors swirling that WWE had Ronda Rousey penciled in to eventually end the streak down the road this was even more of a surprise. I have reservations about having the first ever Women’s Rumble winner fail in her title bid as well as having Asuka’s streak end as a challenger rather than have someone get the boost from taking a title off her to end it, but Charlotte was a fine choice (certainly preferable to the rumored plan) and the match was the expected fantastic contest that ends the streak on a high note. After the match Asuka embraced Charlotte in respect and admitted “Charlotte was ready for Asuka” in a show of humility playing off her “no one is ready for Asuka” catchphrase she used for the duration of the streak. 

 

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Another incredible rendition of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

What’s most amazing about all of the above though is that all of it has been accomplished with Asuka still just six months into her main roster career at WWE, with a great deal ahead of her. She’s one of the most charismatic and technically proficient wrestlers in all the world, and I of course look forward to seeing what her future holds.

 

Wave Young OH! OH! 1/8/18 Live Thoughts

January 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My last show of this year’s holiday trip was my second Wave Young OH! OH! show, two years after I saw my first.

 

 

I imagine the opening match was more about Mika Iida’s upcoming retirement than her role working with upcoming talent, as Kaho Kobayashi doesn’t exactly fit my idea of a rookie anymore at four and a half years (and a full two after I saw her appropriately featured at my first Young OH! OH! show). That said, any extra chance to see Iida before she’s done is a treat, and Kaho is quickly working towards her full potential and is a joy to watch as she continually improves and refines her craft. This was a lot of fun. When it was announced I suspected it could be the main event, so it made for a somewhat surprising opener (which I liked as it allowed more of the spotlight to fall on newer faces later on).

 

 

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The wonderfully tense feud between Kyuuri and Tae Honma I’ve gushed about in my reviews of Ribbonmania and Ice Ribbon’s 1/6 show continued here in a 3-Way match. Their obsession with each other consumed their focus enough for Asuka to take the victory (standard disclaimer that this is of course Wave’s Asuka and not the former Kana).  This was the shortest match of the show, but they made the most of their six and a half minutes, provided good action, and hit all the story points they needed to.

After show I met Tae for the first time and mentioned I also saw her wrestle at Ice Ribbon. She reacted with understanding, then looked over to the Ice Ribbon table and said “Kyuuri” while frowning and shaking her head and looked back for me to commiserate with her difficulties. Fantastic little touch to sell the ongoing angle at all times.

 

 

Fairy Nipponbashi is admittedly not a wrestler I personally enjoy all that much, as I find her comedy largely unfunny and the fact that her somewhat heelish antics are delivered and received as if she’s a virtuous hero annoying. So I also have to admit that I took great delight in seeing Actwres Girlz’ Nao Kakuta eventually lose patience (after suffering at the hands of Fairy’s wand, then stealing it, but of course finding Fairy immune to her own magic for whatever reason) and just whack the HELL out of the Fairy with the wand and roll her up for the win.

Nao played a perfect heel all match to counter Fairy’s nonsense, including a great application of the old trick of breaking a choke at the count of 4 just to reapply it with the other hand, which honestly made her the face to me and that lack of preference for her opponent combined with an objectively strong performance by Nao in her role for a strong first impression. Hope to see more of her in the future. Action was solid and this was probably my favorite Fairy match ever, albeit likely not for the reasons intended.

 

 

I got a second look at Ami Sato (after seeing her in her home company of Sendai Girls a couple of days earlier) against one of Wave’s resident up and comers Hiroe Nagahama.  A little long for what it was but a decent showing for both overall.

 

 

The main event of Rina Yamashita & Maruko Nagasaki against Miyuki Takase & Totoro Satsuki was EXACTLY the type of stuff I want from shows like these. It had a nice mix of experience levels still incorporating mostly newer talent, ranging from former Regina di Wave champion Rina at just over 4 years (who like Kaho was on my first Young OH! OH! show, appearing  in both the announced and surprise main events of that show) to Miyuki and Totoro at around a year. It was cross promotional, gave a nice main event spotlight to some wrestlers who are usually in the undercard, the structure let them all shine, etc. Excellent way to cap off my trip.

Totoro continues to look like a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and I get more and more excited about her future every time I see her. This was also my first proper look at Miyuki, as she was kind of background in Thanksgiving Wave‘s opening 8-woman tag (the only other match I’ve seen her in so far). She looked good and I hope she continues to get more opportunities like this to develop.

 

 

I really enjoy these type of shows as both a glimpse of Joshi wrestling’s future and enjoyable shows in their own right. I’m extremely excited that it seems like there will be more in this vein coming, including Ice Ribbon’s intriguing variation on the concept called “P’s Party” starting soon.

Ice Ribbon 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

A week after Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had show at Yokohama Radiant Hall headlined by the Young Ice tournament winner challenging for the Ice Cross Infinity Title in a refreshing spotlight on new talent in the main event.

 

 

The opening 6-woman tag match saw the recently re-debuted Tsukushi team with Karen DATE & Mio Momono against Giulia and the mother/daughter tandem of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. This was fun with several amusing moments woven into fast paced action. Tsukushi’s rebuilding from the bottom continued as she takes the fall from Hamuko.

As I mention often I adore Mio and both her ring skills and charismatic antics were on full display here. Her continued involvement in Ice Ribbon makes me very happy.

 

 

As completely expected from the wrestlers involved, Miyako Matsumoto vs Marvelous’ Miki Tanaka was all comedy, with dueling posing, dancing, and even singing throughout the course of the match. Both are quite good with the humorous style, so this was an amusing diversion that didn’t overstay its welcome. Miyako’s victory I believe puts the number of times I saw her win this trip higher than all other live shows I’ve seen combined.

 

 

 

After being across the ring at Ribbonmania in a tag match that seemed to did little to ease the issue between them, Kyuuri and Actwres Girlz’ Tae Honma wrestled to a ten-minute draw in an intense, appropriately heated contest that again left things unresolved between the two. This feud is fantastic and the match was great.

 

 

Another fun 6-woman tag for the show saw Satsuki Totoro, Akane Fujita & Maika Ozaki victorious over Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya & Maruko Nagasaki. I really enjoyed this, with the general story being Saya, Uno, & Maruko gradually being worn down by the relentless power of their opponents. Totoro in particular came out looking like a monster, including picking up the win with the same senton that knocked Saya loopy the last time they faced (poor Saya). Everyone looked good, and in particular I adore Maika’s awesome double torture rack.

 

Afterwards the issues between Maika’s former Actwres Grilz compatriots and her & Kyuuri continue as she challenges Saori Anou for a future match. Kyuuri appears to try to make it another tag or otherwise work her way in somehow, but Maika insists on a singles match (presumably with Saori’s title on the line). Kyuuri acquiesces but also pouts in the corner. Again, every little detail about this feud between the four has been fantastic.

 

 

In one of my most anticipated matches of the trip Hana DATE faced Ice Ribbon’s Ace Tsukasa Fujimoto in singles competition. While it’s obvious they have an even better match in them I’d love to see in the future this was still great and a strong spotlight for Hana. They worked a classic rising star versus veteran structure and, as Ice Ribbon in general and Tsukka in particular excels at, Hana was made to look quite strong even in defeat.

 

 

Riffing off of a dojo show where Mika Iida was a last minute replacement for a sick Maya Yukihi and took her place (ring gear and all) as part of Azure Revolution for a day, here similarly she took over for Risa Sera instead and teamed with Maya against said regular partner Risa & Mochi Miyagi. I enjoy Iida’s wrestling a lot and all the extra appearances she made for various companies this trip was a real treat for me as her retirement looms. Her happenstance third member status in Azure Revolution has been fun. Solid little tag match, if perhaps just a touch too long for what it was. I imagine this might be an odd/unpopular opinion to have of the reigning tag champs, but while they’re an ok team Risa and Maya continue to make much better opponents than partners.

 

 

I was beyond pleasantly surprised when Nao DATE upset Maruko Nagasaki in what previously seemed like a forgone conclusion final to win the Young Ice tournament at Ribbonmania. As a result she received this shot at new champion Kurumi Hiiragi’s Ice Cross Infinity Title.  They put on a great match featuring a establishing win for Kurumi and a nice spotlight on new face in the main event scene. Nao’s absolutely excellent for her experience, and I hope she remains a focal point in the promotion.

 

 

To close out there was a presentation for 2017 awards. On the heels of her first main event Nao was proclaimed Rookie of the Year. Risa took two with MVP and Best Tag Team (with Maya). Ribbonmania as Best Show, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki as Best Bout, and a for Best “Enemy” (outsider) between Maika and Manami Toyota rounded out the awards. Cute bit afterwards saw Hana continue to playfully try to claim her sisters’ glory (like when she posed with Nao’s trophy at Ribbonmania), briefly trying to grab Nao and Karen’s awards/envelopes.

 

 

Another enjoyable offering from top to bottom from Ice Ribbon and a cool way for me to wrap up their shows for this trip.