ChocoPro 3 Live Thoughts

April 7, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

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

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers.

The card was announced the afternoon of the show, and looked quite interesting to say the least…

ChocoPro 3

As usual Baliyan Akki is helping with translation of Sakura’s opening remarks and Antonio Honda is behind the camera.

Sakura explains that matches that might be held off of in Gatoh Move for special cases will be done in ChocoPro without hesitation because they don’t know how long ChocoPro will last… and also they don’t have many wrestlers. I love her frankness. So dream matches galore.  

1)  Lulu Pencil vs Antonio Honda

Akki takes over camera and Sakura is ref.

The opening sequence where they trade hammerlocks and alternately dramatically start to say “give up” and say things like “give and take” and do Abraham Lincoln impressions instead might be an immediate indication if this particular match and style is for you.

Everything is over the top and ridiculous here. Honda does a Rambo impression and other silliness using the bands of Lulu’s suspenders, then brutally flicks her forehead to firmly establish control.

Honda teases a chair shot and instead sets it down, sits in it, and eats a banana as Lulu acts horrified and Akki calls it like Mankind vs Undertaker. Once Honda is done playing with the banana peel he once again sets it conspicuously on the window sill. Then he attacks Lulu with a bag of green vegetables. Lulu manages so sustained offense but going to the window for the Pencil Splash allows Honda to get the legs up and take over again.

Honda tries the windup for the Dusty elbow and they go back and forth, but when they’re both doing it and Honda is distracted with his own dancing Lulu disappears under the ChocoPro banner. Honda gets lonely and scared because her thinks she’s become a nobody like in the Ghibli film Spirited Away (no, I’m not making any of this up). She sneaks behind him and sings as a ghost. She applies a sleeper and Honda’s arm goes down twice before he powers up and tries the fox strike. Lulu knocks it away towards Emi, who pushes it towards Mei, who bumps it volleyball style to Mitsuru, who sets it to Lulu, who spikes it back on Honda himself. This is perhaps the oddest paragraph I’ve ever had to write reviewing a wrestling show, and I’ve watched everything from hot dog eating contest matches to UFO deathmatches.

Lulu goes to the window and this time it’s her who slips on the banana peel Honda tries to capatalize but a stretch which Lulu reverses the stretch into her own… but it’s Lulu so Honda simply stands up to counter and Lulu ends up tangled around him. Honda closes his hands together to apply pressure and Lulu has to tap.

There were some really cool moments in this and I appreciate them (and Akki) going full in on the concept. Some of Honda’s stuff gets on my nerves personally but I found it fun overall and it was extremely good for what it was.

Honda resumes camera duties afterwards.

2) Mitsuru Konno vs Yuna Mizumori

I always really enjoy when these two get to face off. This is one of the matches Sakura was talking about as being rare normally, so was really excited to see it on the card.

Yuna starts in a fun mood but Mitsuru takes exception to Yuna’s saying she’ll win and is all business. Her intensity quickly catches on with Yuna and they lay into each other.

This was full throttle all the way and they absolutely battled at an impressive pace and energy level for every last second of the ten minute time limit. There was some great use of the lack of crowd format, like Mitsuru directing Honda over to the side for a proper view of her posing submission, a super closeup of poor Yuna’s face later in another hold, and Yuna using the wrestlers on the sidelines for running momentum in places of ropes.

One great sequence saw Yuna struggle to complete the bridge out of a pin spot, fail to quite stand all the way up… and fall back onto Mitsuru for a fortuitous consequence.

They were both still going strong when time expired on them, leaving the match a draw. I want a rematch ASAP.

I absolutely loved this match. Well worth going out of your way to see.

3) Emi Sakura & Baliyan Akki vs Apple Calamari (Mei Suruga & Chris Brookes) 

Mei & Chris is a hilariously awesome first time team here, as they’ve been constantly sniping at each other online and whenever they cross paths in Gatoh Move. So naturally Sakura pairs them up and puts herself opposite lol. 😉

Yuna takes over for Sakura as referee.

Chris says he came because he thought Masa would be there, and instead this.

Emi starts a Sakura chant among… well Mitsuru and Lulu. Mei tries to convince them to cheer for her instead, and when that doesn’t work attacks Sakura, which is probably more effective anyway.

Mei messes with Chris here and there. Early on she lets go of her opponent too soon while holding for a strike so Chris misses. When Honda & Emi have Chris immobilized and drag Mei on top for the pyramid pose she very quick gets over her surprise and goes along with it. Later Mei asks Chris to get in the window then goes into her rollup instead of holding Sakura in place for a strike. And so on. All it naturally folded into the match and executed without any loss of momentum or tension regarding two teams trying to win.

One really great part about Gatoh Move and ChocoPro in general is how seamlessly they can integrate story like that into matches without sacrificing pacing or action. This was on full display. Other examples include Mei panicking when getting on Chris’ shoulders for a double team because he’s so tall and has threatened to put her through the ceiling in the past, and Emi stoping for a moment to mock Mei’s height, Chris responding in kind, then Emi revealing she suckered them in just to elbow them both. It was all so well done.

The action was of course also top notch throughout, including really great spots with Emi and Akki grabbing Mei out of the air at points and a sweet doubleteam with Akki dropkicking Chris against the wall with Emi simultaneously splashing Mei at his feet.

Late in the match Chris repays Mei’s earlier antics by asking her to get in the window, then pushing her outside and closing it. I’m dying of laughter as Mei can be seen pressed against the window in the background trying to get in while Chris goes back to attack Akki.

The bickering pays off however when Akki goes to the other window for a splash and Mei is able to foil him from outside.

Mei & Chris keep pressing their advantage, leading to Mei going for the propeller clutch on Akki. Chris floats over into a jackknife for the double pin AND THEY WIN! Simply amazing.

During a post show chat with Chris and Akki, Akki says he’s been beating by Chris twice but is getting close and will win eventually. Chris says he’ll never get that close. Nice, good natured rivalry building.

Akki then turns to the team of Mei & Chris, and reveals a rumor that Chris actually requested the match. Chris claims maybe he and Mei got off on wrong foot and could get long better. Then presents Mei a gift… of a basketball, because he saw on her social media that she plays. Mei’s relly excited. Hmm, I was expecting a joke gift. Oh wait, they’re playing basketball with Chris as basket. Yep, there’s Mei hitting Chris in the face with the basketball. But they still seem ok. We’ll see how long it lasts.

We finish with A Chocolate Bit of Happiness Rock-Paper-Scissors Tourney 2! LULU WINS HER FIRST SINGLES MATCH EVER! Such as it is anyway. 😉 Then goes on to win the tournament!!! And devours her prize chocolate in short order. To the victor goes the spoils.

As I said before I’m really grateful for Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro to be doing so much to provide good natured content aimed connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed. 

This was another really fun show in general, but also continues to show what makes ChocoPro unique even compared to Gatoh Move. They are really embracing the no audience format and the unique characteristics and advantages it offers. Creative window spots, running commentary from whoever’s behind the camera, and being unafraid to use dramatic close ups, etc all really enhance the experience. Bravo.

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Watch the replay of ChocoPro 3 on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel.

ChocoPro 1 & 2 Live Thoughts

March 28 & April 1, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

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

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers.

There was a ton of immediate buzz and anticipation for the first event with the pre-announced participation of Minoru Suzuki!

ChocoPro 1

Baliyan Akki is helping with translation of Sakura’s opening remarks and Antonio Honda is behind the camera. There’s another angle being filmed from the side, which becomes an extremely fortuitous choice.  

1) Emi Sakura vs Rin Rin 

This immediately set the tone for ChocoPro as something fun and a bit unique, even compared to the shows Gatoh Move normally runs at Ichigaya. Sakura was playing quasi-heel, and little things like seeing booing in the YouTube comments for her dastardly actions made watching live particularly amusing. Good start to the show that saw a determined Rin Rin come up a bit short and lose to the Gatoh/Choco founder. 

2) Mitsuru Konno & Lulu Pencil vs Sayaka & Yuna Mizumori

This was incredible. They kept it extremely fast paced and frantic to adjust for the lack of crowd and it came across really well. There were cool, creative double teams in abundance and I laughed out loud a few times in the ways Mitsuru used poor Lulu as a weapon. Want to see them team again. However things still aren’t quite going Lulu’s way and she ends up being pinned by Mizumori to give Yuna & Sayaka the victory.

3) Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Suzuki 

What a fantastic opportunity for Akki and it’s so surreal (and awesome) to see Suzuki in Ichigaya. Akki had the homefield advantage as the rest of the roster was out and soundly on his side. Their cheering and Honda’s running commentary really made the atmosphere energetic (and I’m sure the small venue enhanced the effect. 

They hit the hell out of each other, and this was a great match with awesome back and forth as Akki held his own against the imposing outsider. Highlights included a gorgeous splash by Akki from the windowsill and Minoru confronting (ok, so kind of terrorizing) the defiant Gatoh roster. 

During the match the live feed cut out, then it happened again as soon as Suzuki won and mere notes of his music started. As such the replay up now, using footage from the previously mentioned second camera angle, has all the music silenced out. 

That small technical hiccup aside, which isn’t an issue with the replay anyway, this was simply great.

Originally planned for the next day, ChocoPro’s second effort would be delayed just a little bit due to weather. In the meantime there was a watch party of the first event with Mei (who missed the first show due to commitments to wrestle at Sendai Girls), Akki, and Sakura, as well as broadcast of footage from Mei and Lulu’s trip to London for Pro-Wrestling Eve. Each was preceded by watching Mei cook dinner (yes, really) which was highly amusing with Emi and Akki goofing around a bit and providing commentary (and the food looked delicious too 😉 ).

I’m really grateful for Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro to be doing so much to provide good natured content aimed connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. 🙂 It’s much needed. 

ChocoPro 2

Smaller crew this time around, with the participating wrestlers handling all the camera, refereeing, etc duties in turns. Akki once again translates Skura’s opening comments in a much appreciated touch, with Sakura tormenting him a bit by asking who was cuter between her and her opponent for today. The pre-show group exercise squats are done to the sound of Honda singing “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Antonio Honda 

No music this time, so Yuna and Honda both sing their own entrances. Akki’s behind the camera (in place of Honda) and providing running commentary and Sakura is ref.

This was pretty standard Honda ridiculousness, which again fits with the nature of what ChocoPro is trying to accomplish. I was generally amused, and bigger fans of his style of comedy will get even more out of this. He did a particularly funny sequence playing around making faces with an immobilized Yuna’s hair (although he wasn’t breaking at the count of 4 so I’m glad Emi stopped counting at all because her having to artificially pause so she wouldn’t have to DQ him was annoying) and the banana stuff was inspired. Solid action between the nonsense too. Despite being in trouble late Honda persevered to win with a rollup.

2) An-Chamu vs Emi Sakura 

Honda’s back behind the camera and Mei’s reffing.

Again, it’s nice to see An back regularly. Lots of posing from the gravure model to taunt Sakura and a bit of responding in kind here and there. Good match that kept picking up as it went leading to Sakura winning with La Magistral.

3) Ryo Mizunami & Mei Suruga vs Mitsuru Konno & Baliyan Akki

I can’t properly explain how happy I am to see Mizunami in Gatoh Move, and she of course fits right in. This was full speed ahead from the get-go, and a great main event. Mei and Akki taking advantage of having the windows in to try to crush each other is on cool, innovative example of how much thought is always being given to how to capitalize on the exact conditions of any given show.

Everyone was spot on here. Awesome to see Mitsuru continuing to evolve her sweet submission holds, as mentioned Mei and Akki were brining the creativity, and Mizunami barreling through everyone was a delight.

I correctly suspected I would have to see Mitsuru take the loss here, but the match was excellent and seeds were sown afterwards for her to use the loss as motivation for a singles match against Mizunami. YES PLEASE.

Akki translated after the show thoughts from Mitsuru and Miznami, and the latter’s miming of Akki’s translations was riot.

Things wrap up with a one-day rock-paper-scissors tournament. Sakura wins and throughly enjoys the piece of chocolate that is her prize. 🙂

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It’s amazing the atmosphere they created for the no crowd shows, enhanced by Honda’s energetic running commentary, cheering from the other wrestlers, and the wrestlers being aware of and playing to the camera without breaking the feeling that they were trying to win a match. Wonderfully done. As I said above I really enjoy and appreciate what ChocoPro is trying to do, and I can’t wait for more.

Replays of ChocoPro 1 (parts 1 and 2) and ChocoPro 2 are up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel.

Top 20 Matches 2019 (Live) Prelude

Going to be sharing a long overdue look at some of my favorite matches I was lucky enough to see in 2019. It’s been a while since my last list for Fall 2018, so there’s a ton of excellent wrestling to cover.

In essentially switching here to time periods (as opposed to my previous lists by trip) a gap was created omitting December 2018. The 2019 list is already incredibly difficult to narrow down so I didn’t want to expand the criteria, but December 2018 had a number of matches I really enjoyed. So I’d like to take a moment just to list those favorites briefly. Please check out the show links for more information.

December 2018:

Honorable mention: Reika Saiki vs Nadoka Tenma – TJPW 12/22/18
5. Gatoh at MP Emi Sakura, Baliyan Akki, & Masahiro Takanashi vs Riho, Greg Ho, & Mei Suruga – Michinoku Pro 12/21 
4. Emi Sakura, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori vs Nanae Takahashi, Ryo Mizunami, & Sae – SEAdLINNNG 12/28
3. Emi Sakura, Obihiro Sayaka, & Riho vs Mitsuru Konno, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori –  Gatoh Move 12/31
2. Ice Cross Infinity Championship: Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) vs Maya Yukihi – Ice Ribbon 12/31/18 
1. Regina di Wave Championship: Misaki Ohata vs Ryo Mizunami (c) – Wave 12/29/18 

Ok, on to 2019. The remainder of this entry will cover honorable mentions, including a number of instances where I wanted to talk about several matches together.

Honorable mentions

The Hot Dog Match Ice Ribbon: Frank Sisters Produce 1/5/18

DSC_0309

What better way to start than with a match that became immediately infamous. Ice Ribbon’s second show of the day on 1/5/19 at Yokohama Radiant Hall was produced by the Frank Sisters trio of Kurumi Hiiragi, Akane Fujita, and Mochi Miyagi. The “frank” theme was nowhere as apparent as in the tag team encounter of Tsukasa Fujimoto & Hamuko Hoshi vs Maya Yukihi & Tae Honma.

Music would randomly be played during this tag match, at which point any wrestler currently in the ring could eat hot dogs (brought in by the respective teams’ seconds). The team that had the most hot dogs eaten at the end of the match won (winning the fall to trigger the end of the match by pin or submission was worth five “virtual hot dogs” in the final count).

This was absurd in all the best ways. It was viscerally hard to watch them stuff their faces and then bump on their stomachs seconds later, and as usual with Ice Ribbon everyone was fully invested in making even the most ridiculous of situations wonderfully compelling. This was given proper time to emphasize the gimmick, with the match going almost twenty minutes, and the wrestling in between the eating was top notch. Fantastic in ways I can’t properly describe.

PS – TAE IS A MONSTER.

Gatoh Move 1/13/19

I debated what to do with this entry as sneaking a full show in is a bit of a cheat. But I really loved this as a complete show and wanted to highlight it as such, and this section seemed the right place to put it.

The opening match was a treat in the form of a rare singles match between Emi Sakura and Sayaka Obihiro, made even more special by Obi goading Sakura into putting her 3-Count Championship on the line. Mei Suruga wrestling like she thinks she can take on the whole world is AWESOME, and her 3-way against Baliyan Akki and Saki was a ton of fun. The main event was a case of being so-over-the-top-it-worked, as Riho & Madoka were in full villain mode against the hero duo of Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen with easily distracted referee Emi Sakura presiding over it all.

The show had a little bit over everything and just all came together into a wonderfully engaging whole.

DareJyo Showcase –  5/1/19

DareJyo is short for “Daredemo Joshi Puroresu” or Anyone’s Women’s Professional Wrestling. Run by Gatoh Move founder Emi Sakura, 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 the participants will 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.

It’s a wonderful concept, making wrestling extremely approachable while providing the right framework and support system to learn properly.

The approach to their shows is also wonderfully unique and engaging. They start with warm up drills and “competitive” practice sequences (two wrestlers locking up then trying to force each other into the ropes, etc), then proceeded to exhibition matches. As a wrestling fan the little deeper glimpse of preparation and training was really cool to see, and overall this was once of the most unique and fun events I attended all year.

Chigusa’s Return – Marvelous 12/8/19

At Marvelous’ 12/8/19 show at Korakuen Hall Chigusa Nagayo returned to the ring for a pair of special matches. Chigusa wrestles infrequently nowadays and had not competed in her company for some time.

First was a exhibition match where Chigusa teamed with Maria, Mikoto Shindo, & Mei Hoshizuki vs Nyla Rose, Tomoko Wantanabe, KAORU, & Hibiki. After five minutes Chigusa and Nyla would switch sides, with the remaining five minutes being wrestled with the revised teams. It was all about the participants, and often their seconds, interacting with Chigusa. It was a lot of fun and clearly emotional for everyone involved.

After that, it was founder against ace as Chigusa faced Takumi Iroha. This was a deliberately paced, epic encounter that told a story that could only be told between the two of them. The packed Korakuen crowd was electric for it all, and it was a special day all around.

 Tequila Saya’s retirement – Ice Ribbon 9/29/18

After her originally planned last show in October got canceled due to the typhoon, Ice Ribbon’s Tequilia Saya ended up postponing her retirement to cover the commitments left by Giulia’s sudden departure from the company. It would be a great couple of months for her, seeing her first and only overseas match and first and only singles title run. Selfishly it was also nice that it all meant I would get to see Saya wrestle a few more times.

Her final dojo match on 12/28 was a great singles encounter with Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukasa Fujimoto, and she ended her career with an incredibly fun 36 (plus a few) person gauntlet match in the main event of Ribbonmania. I loved both matches and it was a great way to see Saya off.

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That does it for this intro. Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches/shows. More to come soon.

The NXT Step for the Sun God

WWE and AEW have both signed a number of incredible wrestlers lately. But with all due respect to the rest, none are quite as exciting as the confirmation that Sareee is headed to the US as part of WWE.

My first time seeing Sareee was during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015. She was a few months under five years experience at the time, and featured in matches spotlighting young talent with fellow Diana rookie Meiko Tanaka against Rina Yamshita & Kaho Kobayashi at Wave’s Young Oh! Oh! 12/25/15 and against Yuuka at Ribbonmania 2015. She displayed great innate ability and instincts, and I was excited to see what the near future would hold for her.

Unfortunately, my opportunities to see Sareee for the next few years were sparse. In summer of 2017 I caught her during her brief tenure in SEAdLINNNG in hard hitting tournament semi-final against Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha. In spring of 2018 I lucked into seeing her at Pure-J in an interpromotional tag team main event alongside Actwres girlZ’ Mari against Manami Katsu & Rydeen Hagane. She was definitely showing all the hallmarks of fully capitalizing on her potential and was an obvious superstar in the making.

I was thrilled to get to see her regularly in 2019. Her tightly contested, visceral title match at Sendai Girls’ 1/6/19 show against Chihiro Hashimoto might have been my top match of that entire trip, yet was just a glimpse of how fully Sareee’s mastered a variety of aspects of her craft. She was wrestling’s next big thing, and it was only a matter of time before everyone noticed.

My best matches of 2019 list reads like Sareee’s resume, and I imagine I sounded like a bit of broken record last year repeating my belief that she’s one of the most compelling and impressive athletes and the biggest rising star in all of wrestling.

Her grasp of the nuances of technical skill, timing, etc is really amazing, as is the intensity she brings to it all. Similar to another personal favorite of mine recently signed (Timothy Thatcher), one of the keys making Sareee so incredible is that she fights over EVERYTHING. The smallest exchanges are still struggles towards getting an edge progressing to the ultimate goal of winning the match. It makes such a difference in believability, and Sareee’s one of the very best at it. Of course she can also hit just the right notes in lighter, more comedic matches, and that versatility will undoubtably also serve her well.

A clear indication that I’m not alone in my opinion of Sareee is the apparent and repeated shows of confidence in her from veteran Japanese wrestlers. During a chunk of 2019 she was simultaneously reigning champion of both Kyoko Inoue’s and Meiko Satomura’s promotions (Diana and Sendai Girls respectively). She even won the Diana title back from the person who took it from her, the legendary Aja Kong.

In my write up of Diana’s 5/12/19 show at Korakuen Hall that Kong vs Sareee main evented, I commented:

“Sareee is wrestling’s next big star, and everyone clearly knows it. She recently won said double title match so is currently a reigning double singles champion across two companies. On her way to the Sendai title she pinned their legendary owner Meiko Satomura, as well as DASH Chisako and other top competitors. And of course any sort of victory over Kong is a huge deal, let alone a singles pinfall. The important part of course is Sareee’s completely believable and natural in this role, with both the technical skills and charisma/mannerisms to pull it all off.”

The mentioned match against DASH Chisako happened a few weeks prior at Sendai’s 4/27/19 show and was yet another stunning display. This featured two of my absolute favorite wrestlers and I actually traveled out to Sendai specifically to see it. It was an incredibly hard-hitting, wonderfully escalating contest that was everything I hoped for. They would meet again in a title defense for Sareee at Korakuen Hall in a match that from all accounts was somehow even better.

I was also lucky enough to see Sareee in a variety of great tag matches that paired her up with unusual opponents and showed even more of her variety and skills. One fun one of note saw her teaming with Pro-Wrestling Eve’s Yuu against Meiko Satomura & Gatoh Move’s Mei Suruga at Sendai’s 5/18/19 show.

During the summer it was reported that Sareee had met with HHH, and the rumors started in earnest. With heavy indications that her time in Japan might be wrapping up, she held a special self produced show in early December entitled Sareee’s Special Night. And it certainly was. 😉

In addition to tearing the house down in the cross promotional main event dream tag team match (Sareee & Syuri vs World of Stardom Champion Mayu Iwatani & Regina di Wave Champion Takumi Iroha), Sareee also showed she could put together a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable card from top to bottom. There was a little bit of everything, with multiple match styles and stories being told, special significance to things such as Jenny Rose’s return to Japan to face Marvelous’ Hibiki (formerly Diana’s Meiko Tanaka) and the injured Natsumi Maki still appearing as the ring announcer, and generally great action all around.

In early January Sareee officially announced she’d be leaving Diana in February and going to the United States. Today it became official that she is indeed WWE bound.

So in what ended up being my last time to see Sareee wrestle live for a while, I attended my first Diana dojo show on 1/19/20. It was a blast and Sareee’s excellent tag encounter alongside her trainer Kyoko Inoue against Actwres girlZ’ Champion Miyuki Takase & Diana rookie Haruka Umesaki was a great note to go out on for now.

There’s some admittedly justified trepidation among fans when independent talent gets signed by WWE considering their less than stellar track record with using people to their full abilities, but I’m still extremely happy for Sareee and hopeful that she will excel in the all the ways she’s clearly capable of. Best of luck to the Sun God in the next phase of her career.

Thank You Liger: Farewell to a Childhood Hero

I became enamored with professional wrestling as a kid, and while great many of my tastes have changed there have been some eternal constants. Wrestlers, styles, etc that transcend time in a sense.

When I was young I had only watched American wrestling, in the form of (then) WWF and WCW. Bret Hart, the Midnight Express, Mr. Perfect, and other wrestlers who combined athleticism and in-ring storytelling were among my favorites. I’d seen a little bit of the Great Muta in his WCW appearances, but that was largely it as far as non-North American talent went.

Then Superbrawl II started off with Jushin Thunder Liger vs Flyin’ Brian Pillman in a match (rightfully) still lauded to this day as perhaps the greatest opening match of all time. Liger was like nothing else I’d ever seen. Combining precision flying and hard strikes with uncanny psychology, and of course an incredible, striking presence, Jushin Thunder Liger was a superhero come to life (literally, as his persona was based off of an anime character). The match, and Liger, obviously left quite an impression on me and remains one of my all time favorites.

From there I would occasionally hunt down bits of his matches in Japan, and while I never quite saw as much as I wanted the sampling was invariably impressive. He was always captivating, and I have distinct memories of rewatching certain moves and sequences over and over in awe.

Flash way forward to 2015 and NXT Takeover Brooklyn would end up being my first time seeing Liger live, somewhat surreally in a WWE ring no less. His style had understandably changed over the years, but it still felt like a Liger match, and a very good one at that. Tyler Breeze was a great choice for his opponent and it was a treat to be there.

The following year at ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds 2016 I actually got to meet the legend, and then I was lucky enough to be able to attend Wrestle Kingdom 11 on 1/4/17 finally see him wrestle in Japan (albeit in limited fashion as part of a battle royal). As it happens it would end up being the only time I saw him wrestle live in Japan and the final time overall.

Throughout my changing tastes and focus on different parts of wrestling, I’ve remained a huge fan of Liger and am extremely happy he was able to keep wrestling for as long as he did, and for the times I was lucky enough to see him live.

Earlier this month Liger finished up his 35 year career. With Wrestle Kingdom 14 becoming a two-night event Liger’s farewell was unusually spread over three days, with his last two matches at the two WK shows on 1/4 and 1/5/20 and his retirement ceremony being held at a separate event than his final match at New Year’s Dash on 1/6/20.

I sadly was unable to attend the 1/5 show as planned due to illness, but watching online still conveyed the weight and emotion of the occasion. Liger wrestled with and against several of his compatriots on 1/4 in the star studded Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, Tiger Mask, & Great Sasuke vs Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Naoki Sano, & Ryusuke Taguchi, then put over the next generation in a tag match on 1/5 teaming with Naoki Sano against Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee. While many hoped he had on last singles match in him, these carefully chosen tag matches were a great, fitting way to say goodbye.

It’s almost as weird to see Liger go as it was to have him in wrestling at the level he was for so long. All that’s really left to say is thank you to the legend for everything, particularly the memories.

Farewell to a Gran Maestro Part 2: An Emotional Two Months

Two months ago I wrote Farewell to a Gran Maestro, a look back on Tequila Saya’s career just before her planned retirement date of October 12, 2019. As I mentioned towards the end of that piece, things didn’t go as planned. A typhoon caused that show to be canceled, and the following day Saya’s regular tag team partner (who was scheduled to tag with Saya in her final match) abruptly left the company under unusual circumstances.

After the dust settled a bit Saya announced she was postponing her retirement until the end of the year and would be stepping in to honor her former partner’s previously scheduled commitments. This was a big gesture on her part, and visibly greatly appreciated by the company and fans alike.

No matter the circumstances surrounding Saya’s short career extension, she certainly made the most of it. One of the previously mentioned commitments she took over was a spot on Rising Slam, a free to attend event in Italy aimed at spotlighting Joshi Puroresu live for the first time in that country. Saya was joined by fellow Ice Ribbon roster member Tsukushi, Actwres Girlz’ Mari, Tae Honma, Misa Matsui, & Saki, and freelancers Makoto and Rina Yamashita in traveling to Italy for this unique show. It would be Saya’s first and only international expedition as a wrestler. She also ended up doing more matches outside of Ice Ribbon than she ever had before, including a singles match against Yumi Ohka in Wave among others.

Saya would also win her only career singles title during the overrun, taking the Triangle Ribbon Championship from someone who debuted shortly after her and was as often a rival as a partner, Uno Matsuya (the match also involved Tae Honma). It was well deserved and wonderful to see this opportunity seized out of unusual circumstances.

She was involved in a wild champions vs challengers 8-woman tag at the December 14th show, defended the belt against Uno and Satsuki Totoro at her final P’s Party show (as an active wrestler) on Decemeber 18th, and lost the title to Tae Honma on Ice Ribbon’s December 21st show at Shinkiba 1st Ring (in a match that also involved Kaori Yoneyama).

From a selfish standpoint I must admit to being happy that the extension would allow me to see Saya wrestle live few more times before she finished up. Her final dojo match against Tsukasa Fujimoto was all kinds of fun, including a particularly amusing section where she tried, rather unsuccessfully, to imitate the signature moves of all the other wrestlers at the show. Tsukka then invited them all in to demonstrate all the correct versions on Saya.

Her final match was earlier today, a special 38 (plus a few) person challenge that saw Saya face everyone consecutively in one minute time limit sections. A mix of some competitive sections, lighter comedic ones, and some old familiar faces just coming back to say goodbye, it was a perfect way to say farewell to the Gran Maestro.

The last two sections saw Saya gaining her only pinfall over Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukka with the “Gran Maestro de Tequila,” then falling to the rookie she’d given the moves to as Suzu Suzuki showed she also mastered Saya’s “Tequil Shot” variation.

The show drew 1,384 people, making it the largest crowd ever for Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall and their forth largest crowd ever.

It was an honor to be in attendance to wish Saya well, and I hope whatever future lies ahead for her after wrestling is a bright one.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2019: Gatoh Move 12/22/19 Live Thoughts

December 22, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

This was the go home Ichigaya show leading into Gatoh Move’s last big show of the year tonight at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.

As I’ve mentioned before, in a wonderful move to grow their visibility Gatoh Move has been uploading a significant number of matches with English play-by-play on their YouTube channel. two of the three matches I’ll be discussing here are impressively already up, and in such cases I’ll add a hyperlink to it in the match title.

And 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.

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).

1) Cho-un Shiryu vs Sayuri vs Sayaka

Sayuri & Sayaka will be teaming tonight to face fellow rookies Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara, but here it was everyone for themselves in a 3-way also featuring regular visiting wrestler Cho-un.

This had amusing overtones, with the rookies insisting on working together to start but still largely unable to withstand Cho-un’s vast experience and strength advantage. And what momentum they were able to generate evaporated when they started getting in each others’s way and wanting the individual victory. Eventually Cho-un was able to pin both of his opponents simultaneously for an emphatic win after a double diving stomp.

With Sayuri & Sayaka going in to a battle with two other largely unestablished rookies the double pin bothers me less than it normally would, illustrating a bit of how far they all have to go. Cho-un’s enough of a force that it made sense, they did get to show some fire on the way, and this was a solid little 3-way that packed a fair amount of story into a short, energetic six minutes.

2) Calamari Drunken Kings (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) vs Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil

Clash of two teams both in action tonight against other opponents.

The structure of this one was particularly fantastic. Lulu was thrilled to be teaming with her teacher and had herself introduced as “Emi Sakura’s student” and vice versa to Emi’s barely maintained patience. But as the match progressed Emi encouraged the struggling Lulu, and whenever she was tagged in herself she was in full bore no-nonsense mode. Her first exchange with Chris had her going for a lockup and Chris LEVELING her with a big boot instead, and the war was most definitely on from there.

Another highlight saw Sakura pick up Lulu (in full pencil pose/mode) over her shoulder and charge Chris, who sold the hit like he’d been impaled by an actual spear. And of course Takanashi was his usual masterful self throughout as well.

End here saw Chris attempting to apply an arm bar when poor Lulu, already immobilized by Chris’ legs and unable to withstand it, tapped out to give CDK the win. A confused (or perhaps just sadistic) Chris continued to pull the arm a bit as Takanashi tried to explain they’d already won and to please let Lulu go.

This was great. Strong win for CDK (even considering Lulu’s weaknesses), and there was just enough to make one hopefully that Lulu might defy the odds and win with her mentor tonight.

During the post-show roundtable Chris said this victory (his first in Ichigaya) taught him that CDK’s previous troubles in 6-person tag matches were all Rin Rin’s fault. I feel he got lucky that the statement went by so fast Rin Rin and a good portion of the audience didn’t register it enough to be properly outraged.

3) Mitsuru & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga & Saki

In addition to having the two wrestlers facing in tonight’s main event across from each other, their partners here were one half of the reigning tag team champions and one half of the team that will be challenging them in tonight’s semi-main respectively.

Rin Rin continues to be impressive beyond her experience level, and was great here showing no fear against Saki before their title match. The interactions of Mitsuru and Mei were also a great preview for tonight as well as a solid anchor for this match to build around.

It all escalated wonderfully and was naturally paced to the point where I didn’t feel the time limit draw coming at all. Nicely done and a really strong lead in to tonight.

For one final awesome bit of fun, after Gatoh’s traditional post-show song Chris spoke up and suggested to Sakura that with a number of foreigners in the audience and the proximity to Christmas they should also do an English song, then led wrestlers and fans alike in singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

This was as usual a total blast, and I thought a particularly strong show all around. There really isn’t anything else quite like Gatoh Move and I can’t recommend checking it out live if at all possible.