Sendai Girls 1/6/19 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

Because of the timing of my trips and usually staying in Tokyo I don’t get to see a whole lot of Sendai Girls shows. But I adore several members of the roster and the opportunities I do get to attend live are always great. This is my third show of theirs, after 1/6/18 headlined by a battle of legends and 4/19/18 featuring those two legends in separate singles matches against two of today’s hottest stars. This card looked a bit different than those on paper, but no less interesting.

 

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The show opened with a short match that saw Marvelous’ rookie Mei Hoshizuki against veteran DASH Chisako. Marvelous has a strong track record training up and comers, from Maria Takeda looking good the previous day at Ice Ribbon at only two weeks experience to the absolute star Mio Momono has become, among others. Sixteen year old Mei was at about a month and a half here, and looked decent against the aggressive, dominating veteran. Dash is a favorite of mine and one of the best high flyers in the world, and it’s always a treat to see her wrestle in any capacity.

 

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From a rough welcome for a visiting rookie we go to absolute ridiculousness in a 4-way between Eiger, Sakura Hirota, Hikaru Shida, and KAORU. Exactly the type of match one would expect from a pair of comedy wrestlers in with two weapon wielding opponents, and was quite amusing and held together with some creative spots and the occasional flash of wrestling prowess. Eiger surprisingly won by pinning everyone, including reigning Oz Academy champion Shida. Bonus amusement was had in the form of Eiger going over to the concentrated Chihiro cheering section (more on them later) a few times to spook them.

 

 

Aja Kong, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Alex Lee & Mikoto Shindo vs Meiko Satomura, Cassandra Miyagi, Mika Iwata, & Minami was an exciting 8-woman tag with a solid central story and various nice undercurrents.

 

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Minami was absolutely fed to wolves here, including a point at which she went for a tag and Meiko told her in no uncertain terms to get back to the center of the ring to face her monstrous opponents some more. It didn’t seem like she had been in for too short a time, but Meiko was clearly pushing the rookie (and perhaps teaching some match pacing at the same time). They all also played it up well (Meiko spun to the crowd and see to dare them to defy her judgement in a great moment), and with the specters of Hiroyo and Kong bearing down on the Minami throughout it ending up getting the crowd behind her even more. Which lead to a great finish that saw her eventually getting the win for her team to a strong pop. There was also tension between former partners Alex Lee and Mika Iwata, my last time seeing Cassandra Miyagi in Sendai Girls, and general strong work from all involved.

 

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I was not familiar with rookie Ayame Sasamura prior to this trip, and was impressed with what I saw from her at SEAdLINNNG on 12/28 in a triple threat against Sakura Hirota and Ayame’s own reigning SEAdLINNNG Tag Team Championship partner Arisa Nakajima. That isn’t the only title she held either, and here she defended her Sendai Girls Junior Championship against Millie McKenzie (who I saw at Tokyo Joshi Pro two days prior). Excellent work here from two wrestlers with under a year and half experience each. Both have a lot of potential and bright futures ahead of them (not to dismiss what each has already accomplished of course). Millie scores a bit of an upset and becomes the new SG Jr Champion in a great match.

Since this show Ayame was injured and required foot surgery (forfeiting her SEAdLINNNG tag title as a result). I really hope to see here recover in full and make a return to the ring when able.

 

 

I also tend to get too few opportunities to see DIANA’s Sareee wrestle, so I was really excited for this main event. She was particularly fantastic here, going tooth and nail with the dominant Sendai Girl’s Champion Chihiro Hashimoto in a surprisingly visceral title match. Incredibly impressed with the performances of both wrestlers here, which was no surprise. Chihiro is an incredible wrestler with equally incredible presence, and it’s a joy to hear her dedicated cheering section go wild for her during her matches. Sareee pushed the champs limits, but Chihiro persevered and kept her title. Would love to see a rematch down the line.

 

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Another really fun, engrossing show from Sendai Girls. My next opportunity to see them live can’t come soon enough.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/19 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro’s biggest show of the year helped start off 2019, and had three really intriguing matches scheduled for the top of the card.

 

 

A year to the day after their quadruple debut in a tag match against each other the Up Up Girls, sporting brand new gimmicks and names (kind of), teamed together in an 8-woman tag against Haruna Neko, Marika Kobashi, Mina Shirakawa & Pom Harajuku

The Up Up Girls are now Hikari Noa, Miu Watanabe, Pinano Pipipipi & Raku. The new names and looks were unveiled at a concert a few days prior. For the most part the new gear stuck to the established color scheme for each but now varies by their individual tastes and personalities. I kind of feel like the one who most needed a new direction changed the least (including leaving her name the same with just a different Japanese spelling), but overall all the new looks are good, nicely unique, and complimentary. The way Hinano fully embraced repackaging is great (she’s the only one who really changed her name, not just adding a last name or changing the spelling, and she also went multi color in her gear and changed her distinctive pigtails), and Hikari’s goth tendencies coming through is awesome.

 

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Back to the match, it was an ok affair with a fair bit of the expected awkwardness given seven of the eight competitors had a year or less experience. It went a bit too long for what it was, but the effort was there, a few wrestlers stood out, and the Up Up Girls felt like a nicely unified unit on their way to a victory.

I will admit that Pom’s wrestling tends to grate on my nerves a bit. For example I’ve never seen her even so much as feint anything other than the shin kicks when rushing people in the corner. So instead of Pom looking like she outsmarts her opponents or something by kicking the shins as a response when her opponents throw their hands up to block their faces, her opponents always look like complete morons for blocking their faces in the first place. She has potential and we’ll see how things go, but everyone has their own preferences and pet peeves and her act’s not coming together that well for me so far.

 

 

The second match was a triple threat “Queen of USA match” with Hyper Misao vs Yuna Manase vs Veda Scott. The three fought over a star spangled hat (which eventually became three star spangled hats), danced when they managed to wear the hats, and Veda won when she was able to dance long enough uninterrupted. Meh. Not my thing, but it was short enough and the rest of the crowd was highly amused.

 

 

With a bit of buzz about her departure from Actwres Girlz, Maki Natsumi made her TJP debut teaming with Millie McKenzie against the BAKURETSU Sisters (Nodoka Tenma & Yuki Aino). Really good match, with Maki and Millie both looking impressive and having great chemistry as a team. While I’m still waiting for a bit more momentum to be built for the repackaged Nodoka Temna, Maki & Millie going over here was definitely the right call.

 

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My first look at Saki Akai in a while was honestly a largely forgettable affair. She teamed with rookie YUMI to defeat Himawari Unagi & Yuki Kamifuku, and my only recollection of this match is leaving it wanting to see more from Yumi in the future.

 

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Ever since seeing Meiko Satomura come to TJP in August 2017 I’ve been dying to see my personal favorite from the promotion, the Muscle Idol Reika Saiki, get a shot at the legend. Reika just keeps getting better and better, utilizing her incredible power in wonderful ways and really strives to excel at everything she does. Meiko is quite simply the greatest wrestler in the world. I certainly wasn’t disappointed with this battle. Reika went toe-to-toe with the 23-year veteran at several points, and had an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth showing before Meiko put down the upstart. My match of the night.

 

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In an interesting parallel, the Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match involved the same four wrestlers as the prior year’s event, but in different pairs. Yuka Sakazaki now held the titles with Mizuki, and her former championship partner Shoko Nakajima challenged alongside Gatoh Move’s Riho (who teamed with Mizuki to challenge Yuka & Shoko the prior year).

I found the previous year’s match just a touch better overall, but that’s slight criticism and this was still an excellent, high energy example of tag team wrestling. Again all four’s jaw dropping athleticism was on display in innovative double teams and exciting action. Down the stretch this became about Shoko trying to prove herself against her former partner, and she looked absolutely emotionally wrecked afterwards about coming up short and being pinned by Yuka.

 

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The main event for the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship saw the company’s ace versus the overachieving rebel as Miyu Yamashita defended against Maki Itoh 

Itoh’s limitations in the ring meant this wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but that was never the point. She grown into being a decent wrestler through force of willpower, and that journey and her incredible charisma make her impossible not to root for. This was always going to be a battle of the champion outclassing the brash upstart punching above her weight, who would then either refuse to die long enough to wear down Miyu and score the upset, or eventually succumb to the champ’s assault.

 

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Between Itoh’s unique moveset (including spots like blocking an axe kick with a headbutt) and the story and limitations I mentioned, this match might not be terribly accessible to new viewers in isolation. But for those who have been following Itoh’s quest it was captivating and exactly what it should have been, and the crowd was into it the whole time. It was not quite Itoh’s time it seems, and Miyu would emerge with her title intact.

 

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Decent, crowd pleasing show from Tokyo Joshi Pro to kick off the new year. A little hit or miss in the undercard but still quite fun overall, with a pair of excellent matches plus an appropriately worked main event closing out the show in a strong way.

 

Ice Ribbon 1/5/19 Live Thoughts

January 5, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

The first of two Ice Ribbon shows at Yokohama Radiant Hall. This was a “regular” Ice Ribbon show while the one later in the day … well, wasn’t. 😉

 

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The opening 6-woman tag of Asahi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, & Makoto vs Totoro Satsuki, Kurumi Hiiragi, & Miyako Matsumoto had a great story of Makoto and Tsukka trying to support a desperate Asahi looking to prove her worth and earn the win anchoring the action. Unfortunately their opponents were just a bit too much for the rookie to overcome and eventually pinned Asahi for the win.

 

 

Marvelous’ rookie Maria Takeda, just a couple of weeks after debuting against then Ice Cross Infinity Champion Tsukka, got to wrestle a former champion here in the form of Risa Sera. The arena, prompted by the cheering of the wrestlers at ringside and the quasi-heel antics of Risa, were firmly behind Maria. Risa isn’t quite as good at the “bell-to-bell turn” as Tsukka (see her title defense against Uno from Vol 741 for an incredible example of this formula), but still played her role well here in a decent match. Maria held up her end and looked really impressive for two weeks experience.

 

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Speaking of Uno Matsuya, she got to shine a bit against a visiting veteran as she and Akane Fujita took on Pure-J’s Command Bolshoi & Mochi Miyagi. This was a pretty straightforward, ok tag match overall.

 

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Another opportunity to see mother vs daughter clash graced the semi main as Hamuko Hoshi faced Ibuki Hoshi. They’re great as opponents and I look forward to these matches. In my opinion Ibuki brings out the best in her mother, and this was a nicely intense battle somewhat reminiscent of the opener with the rookie desperate to prove herself and coming up just a bit short.

 

 

In the main event the newly crowned (at Ribbonmania, less than a week prior) Ice Cross Infinity and International Ribbon Tag Team Champions teamed together as Maya Yukihi, Kyuri, & Maika Ozaki took on Tequila Saya, Giulia, & Tsukushi. I was expecting a Tsukushi pin on someone to set her up in her traditional role as sacrificial first defense for the new singles champion, but Saya pinning Kyuri set up several interesting things post match and was a nice, interesting call. I really liked the direction the booking took during this trip overall, shaking things up a little in a believable way. This match was an exciting, face paced contest throughout with excellent work by all six.

 

 

To close out there was a presentation for 2018 awards. The “Rookie” of the Year award had a bit of unfortunate hilarity, as it was announced as a tie between Saya and Uno. As they celebrated Sato quickly jumped in to correct the announcement, as it was actually a tie between Saya and Giulia. Poor Uno. It was pretty much a given that some form of Tsukka vs Maya would win Best Match, it was just a matter of whether the Ribbonmania main would eclipse their encounter in August in the fans eyes. Not quite it seems, as the August match won. Tsukka also won MVP, the Butchers took Best Tag Team, Ribbonmania was Best Event, and the absent Tae Honma won Best “Enemy” (outsider).

 

Another strong show from Ice Ribbon to start the day in Yokohama, and a few hours later I’d be back for something completely different.

Ice Ribbon 1/3/19 Live Thoughts

January 3, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

First show of 2019 for Ice Ribbon, a few days after a Ribbonmania that saw new champions all around.

 

 

After a successful effort in her debut at Ribbonmania Suzu Suzuki faced Mochi Miyagi to open this dojo show. Fine rookie vs established wrestler match, although honestly I would’ve liked something more interesting from the followup to Suzu’s debut win. Suzu actually looked a little more tentative/nervous in this smaller setting than at Ribbonmania. She’s a good addition to the roster and seems to have a lot of potential.

 

 

Three days after Uno Matsuya & Miyako Matsumoto were competing challengers for the Triangle Ribbon Championship (in a match that certainly didn’t go the way either wanted) they had more success as a team Totoro Satsuki & Tsukushi. Fine, run of the mill random tag team contest here with each wrestler playing their usual role.

 

 

In contrast, Tsukasa Fujimoto’s match with Hamuko Hoshi was anything but typical. At “random” intervals Mio Shirai would play music, signaling the wrestlers had to stop what they were doing and jump rope until it stopped. Ridiculously amusing, with the participants eventually getting tired being interrupted at key moments and jumping rope in general. They went after Mio together, but she somehow twisted it into being referee (and reigning Triangle Ribbon Champion) Banny’s fault, and they attacked her instead.

 

 

As a big fan of what Tequila Saya’s being doing with P’s Party, I was thrilled to see “P’s Party vs Ice Ribbon” theme for the main event with Giulia & Asahi joining Saya to face Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) & Akane Fujita. This was an elimination match with each wrestler being assigned a finisher before the match via ladder game, which was the only way they could score pinfalls. Eliminations could also by going over the top rope to the floor.

They had fun with the assigned finishers, such as Risa repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) trying to rope-walk, the slim Giulia bouncing off of people when she tried to throw her assigned lariats, and a posturing Saya struggling in her attempts to perform a powerbomb. Maya got “diving headbutt” and attempted several Maki Itoh style ones, while Akane and Asahi got luckiest and had the appropriate for them “bodyslam” and “schoolboy rollup” respectively.

 

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This was really well booked and executed, with a surprisingly strong showing for the “rookies” (in Japan that term generally covers any with less than three years experience). Despite everyone’s best efforts with their finishers, all the eliminations ended up being over the top rope. After Risa, Saya, and reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion Maya were respectively eliminated, it was down to Akane vs Asahi & Giulia.

Eventually Asahi had Akane on the apron and delivered several running dropkicks to try to knock her off and win. As she set up for the (presumably) final one her partner Giulia shoved her out of the way and knocked Akane down herself to claim the victory and the glory. TEAM P’S PARTY WINS!!!

 

 

Asahi stares a HOLE through her so called partner, and then goes CRAZY trying to claw and scrape her way to at at Giulia requiring three others to hold her back and finally Tsukka comes in to calm her down. Fantastic fire from Asahi here, and there was more story and character conveyed in these 30 seconds than I’ve seen in entire shows. The match itself was creative and engaging, and done in such a way that made the rookies look good and competitive without taking anything away from the vets. Great stuff all around.

 

 

A pair of ok matches followed by a pair of unique, engrossing ones with a perfect mix of humor and action made this show a blast overall to be at live. I also really enjoyed the increased emphasis on and spotlight for newer faces on the shows this trip, something I’ve wanted for a while from Ice Ribbon.

Beautifully Bloomed: Farewell to Misaki Ohata

On December 29, 2018 one of my favorite wrestlers said goodbye to the ring after twelve years. Here I’d like to take a personal look back on the career of Misaki Ohata.

 

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My first exposure to Misaki was via Shimmer DVDs, starting with her debut for the company on Volume 29 in April 2010. She showed a high energy, exciting moveset that took advantage of her small size in interesting ways, like with her trademark crossbody to an opponent seated in the corner. Misaki had been wrestling a little under four years at the time, yet already wrestled and came across like a well established professional. It was extremely interesting to see both her ring style and character evolve over the years, from the exuberant babyface character she had at this point to the additional variety of personas she developed later on to use as needed depending on match, company, and story. Her time in Shimmer was highlighted by a tag team championship reign with fellow regular Hiroyo Matsumoto as 3S (the Seven Star Sisters).

 

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Misaki stopped coming to Shimmer before I started attending (in 2013), so I didn’t see her wrestle live for the first time until her special one weekend return for Tomoka Nakagawa’s retirement weekend in April 2015.  It was a nice spotlight weekend for Misaki with great singles matches against Nicole Savoy, Heidi Lovelace (now WWE’s Ruby Riot), and Lufisto, as well as being part of a fantastic Joshi 8-woman tag in Tomoka’s second to last match reforming 3S (with Hiroyo Matsumoto) and teaming with 3G (Kellie Skater and Tomoka herself) against Joshi legends Aja Kong, Dynamite Kansai, Kyoko Kimura, & Mayumi Ozaki.

 

 

As it turns out later that same year I’d make my first trip to Japan, and among all the excellent wrestling and promotions I experienced for the first time, I was thrilled to see Misaki and others I was familiar with from Shimmer wrestle in their home promotions (and in some cases against each other).

During that trip Misaki and her Avid Rival partner Ryo Mizunami challenged Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) for Ice Ribbon’s International Ribbon Tag Team Championships at Ribbonmania 2015 in what ended up one of one of my favorite matches of all time. All four were masters of their craft, and this and every subsequent time they faced each other was magic. A year and a half later I’d make a special trip to Japan planned largely around seeing two of the three fantastic rematches they had.

I truly believe Avid Rival was one of the best tag teams in the world, with incredible chemistry as partners and an enthralling, evolving moveset that they seamlessly integrated into well built, captivating matches.

 

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I was also lucky enough to see glimpses of some of Misaki’s championship runs and other accomplishments live, including being crowned Wave’s Zan-1 fan voted champion at the end of 2016, an excellent defense of her and Mizunami’s International Tag Ribbon Championships against the Lovely Butchers at Ribbonmania 2016 just days later (while they also held Wave’s tag team championships), and defending Wave’s top singles belt against Yumi Ohka at their biggest show of the year to end 2017.

 

 

There was a careful precision to everything Misaki did in the ring, with her incredible body control making her crossbodies, bridges, and numerous other key elements of her trademark moves particularly crisp and beautiful, greatly adding to the level of immersion of her matches. She was incredibly versatile, both in character and ring style. Misaki played comedy and intensity with equally adeptness, from hyper babyface to more crafty and controlled veteran, from a certain masked character in a certain promotion to often being the “straight man” of Avid Rival to Mizunami’s antics (or perhaps participating in said antics as need be), and so on.

 

 

It was really just a footnote in Misaki’s twelve year career, but a personal highlight for me as it wound down were her interactions with Ice Ribbon’s sub promotion P’s Party and specifically their rookie Asahi this year. Seeing what the newer generation can do in with an experienced wrestler can be quite interesting, and is also a great opportunity for them to learn and grow.

Asahi is an extremely promising young wrestler and Misaki clearly had fun in the both the singles contest I saw between them  in April and their teaming against Arisa Nakajima & Karen DATE in October. Misaki’s  final P’s Party appearance saw her face three opponents she had never previously wrestled in subsequent matches, and it was fun to see back to back matches with different styles from her against P’s Party’s producer Tequila Saya, Totoro Satsuki, and Maika Ozaki a little over a week before her career ended.

 

 

Misaki retired at Wave’s year end show for 2018 on December 29th. Her final match against regular partner Ryo Mizunami was phenomenal, as well as a bit different. Since it was for Mizunami’s recently won Regina di Wave title, it was (appropriately) a straight up, competitive title match missing a lot the “normal” retirement match touches (like non-participants splashing the retiree in the corner, for example). They clearly still had some fun with things though, such as when they brawled to the time keeper’s table and Misaki rang the bell directly in Ryo’s ear (ouch!). But it was all in the context of a match befitting the prestige of Wave’s top title.

As to be expected from two wrestlers of this caliber that know each other so well this was an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth encounter. Misaki eventually busted out a rolling variation of her Sky Blue Suplex (!!) and just wore the champion down until a final Sky Blue Suplex with bridge gave her the win and saw Misaki retire as Regina di Wave champion. Fantastic match and a well deserved honor Misaki on her way out.

 

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Misaki was in good spirits and joking around a bit during her retirement ceremony (even while her poor partner cried goodbye), a nice sign of her being satisfied with her career and ready to proceed to whatever’s next.

 

 

This was the third retirement show for the year for me after Mika Iida’s in May and Aoi Kizuki’s in October, and although it was a bit sad to say goodbye to them all I was extremely lucky to be able to attend their farewells.

I wish Misaki all the best in whatever life holds for her after wrestling.

Japan Trip Fall 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

This past Fall I was in Tokyo for a week and change in a visit largely planned around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement. I’d like to take one more look back and spotlight some of the matches that really stood out to me.

 

This time I saw 12 shows from 7 promotions (considering Aoi and Shida’s self produced shows on their own) with 53 matches featuring 96 different wrestlers. As usual the vast majority of what I saw was exceptional, and given the timing and impetuous for the trip there are trends and themes running throughout the list even more so than usual. So even there are still numerous 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 I saw by company: Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show: 5 matches, Gatoh Move: 13 matches,  Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show: 5 matches,  Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 16 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 5 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, and TJPW: 5 matches.

 

 

Honorable mention

 Aoi Last Ribbon – Ice Ribbon 9/29/18

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Aoi’s last Ice Ribbon match was a gauntlet style contest they occasionally do for special events. Aoi wrestled everyone previously on the card (twelve opponents) in a series of 1-minute time limit encounters. In order, she faced Tsukushi, Karen DATE, Nao DATE, Tequila Saya, Kyuri, Giulia, Totoro Satsuki, Miyako Matsumoto, Mochi Miyagi, Hamuko Hoshi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Ibuki Hoshi.

This was a suitable send off and there were plenty of great little touches. Tsukushi came out in Aoi’s old costume, Guilia’s section consisted of a full minute of running dropkicks, Aoi got the best of Miyako at her own game and pinned the Dancing Queen with her own version of the Mama Mia, Aoi and Hammy spent half their time crying goodbye, etc. The end which saw Aoi just barely outlast the current champion’s assault and be laid out as time expired by the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, then nearly picked off by rookie Ibuki in a frantic final period. Aoi survived though and ended with a record of 2-0-10 (she beat Miyako and Kyuri, and had time limit draws with everyone else). I love this type of special event match, and this was an emotional, engaging one.

 

 

Misaki Ohata, KAROU, & Sakura Hirota vs Yumi Ohka, Cherry, & Kaori Yoneyama Wave 10/1/18 

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This main event was focused around another upcoming retiree, in this case one of Wave’s top stars in Misaki Ohata. She’s engaged to DDT’s Makoto Oishi, and this match was a 6-woman tag that seemed to be a pro-marriage team of Ohata, Sakura Hirota, & KAROU against the anti-marriage team of Cherry, Yumi Ohka, & Kaori Yoneyama.

Now THIS was my type of comedy. Even without understanding the verbal exchanges the intent and attitudes of the participants came through and I was highly amused. There was also great action mixed in (particularly from Yumi & Misaki) to anchor the match and its humor. This was a blast.

 

 

Reika Saiki & Azusa Takigawa vs Shoko Nakajima & Hyper Misao Tokyo Joshi Pro 9/29/18

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Azusa was winding down her career and back in her regular persona after her brainwashed “Azusa Christie” phase. Her opponents came out with signs apparently protesting Azusa’s retirement, and Reika joined in the protest for a bit. Seeing the tiny kaiju enthusiastically copying Misao was highly amusing. Azusa eventually attacked her opponents and slapped her partner upside the head to get things started.

This was really the best of both worlds of TJP’s match types. Reika and Shoko absolutely tore it down action-wise, then when things slowed down/stopped for the sake of the story it was well done. A lot of that was thanks to attention to detail and the wrestlers themselves being heavily invested, such as when Reika and Shoko got so caught up in Misao’s apparent selfless act in the ring that they stopped fighting on the outside and watched, as captivated as the audience.

Misao offered to take Azusa’s second rope elbow to end the match, giving the latter a win as a retirement gift. Then she kicked out instead. Reika, angered by Misao not following through on her word, got involved but Azusa begged off saying it was reflex and offered to do it again. This time Misao countered the elbow into a backslide for a close 2 to try and steal the match. At that point even Shoko’s pissed, and she joined her opponents in a series of finishers and a three person dogpile to put Misao away.

The way Azusa, Reika, and even the ref went ahead and celebrated with Shoko as if it was a 3 vs 1 all along and Shoko’s excitement at “winning” were fantastic. Everyone made up afterwards, Misao tearfully congratulated Azusa, and they all left together. Far and away the most I’ve ever enjoyed Misao’s antics, precisely because there was a strong framework for them and they were supported by an exciting match, with Reika and Shoko being their usual exceptional selves.  I talk a lot about Reika, Maki Itoh, and Yuka Sakazaki in terms of incredible presence and charisma, but Shoko is right up there too and is perhaps TJP’s most underrated performer. Loved this.

 

 

Top 10:

10. Asahi & Misaki Ohata vs Karen DATE & Arisa Nakajima – Ice Ribbon 10/8/18

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As Misaki Ohata’s career wound down this year I really enjoyed her involvement in P’s Party, particularly her matches / interactions with Asahi. So it was a real treat for me to see them team here against Arisa Nakajima & Karen DATE. I loved this, as beyond just great action it also had several interesting undercurrents being played off of throughout the match.

Arisa and Misaki’s mutual resentment was palpable, and Misaki’s strained patience with Asahi yet being rabidly protective when Arisa mocked the rookie was pitch perfect character work. Great stuff all around.

With all of the DATEs currently absent from Ice Ribbon’s shows this seems like it was my last time seeing Karen live for the foreseeable future (if ever). A high note to go out on at least.

 

9.  Tequila Saya vs Maya Yukihi – Ice Ribbon 10/6/18

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Maya vs Saya was incredibly well structured, with Saya fighting tooth and nail for her big move (a reverse pedigree) and Maya desperately countering several times before Saya finally hit it. Maya appropriately sold like it molten death. While I understand Saya was never winning this match, I wish they had at least done the foot on the rope escape for that. But Maya did kick out at the LAST possible second and made it look fearsome. This was top notch work from both, and a great example of how a simple focal point to build a story around can really enhance a match.

 

8.  Hikaru Shida vs Naomichi Marufuji – Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show

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In the main event of Shida’s 10th Anniversary show she seemed to be setting out to exorcise a personal demon. She’d faced Marufuji had faced earlier in the year, with Shida getting knocked out in under two minutes. I could feel the pressure weighing on her as she looked to prove herself by at least putting up a better fight here. The right story, well worked, makes all the difference and they built off of that feeling of insecurity to craft an excellent match in both story and action.

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

 

7.  Kyuri & Totoro Satsuki vs Maika Ozaki & Nao DATE – Ice Ribbon 10/8/18

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Shortly before this show Maika had temporarily broken up her GEKOKU team with Kyuri in a case of tough love because she thought the latter wasn’t as upset by losing matches as she should be. Here they were pitted against each other in tag action, teaming with Nao DATE and Totoro Satsuki respectively.

I adore the fact that they were teaming with two wrestlers who were regular partners themselves (as Novel Tornado), as it created several interesting parallels between the team who was ok facing each other in a competitive environment and the team who was being torn apart by it. Kyuri wanted NO PART of fighting Maika, looking absolutely miserable during the ring entrances and only lightening up when in the ring against Nao. She wouldn’t even lock up with Maika at first, but later in the match when pushed far enough she completely went off on her usual partner in spectacular, crowd popping fashion.

Maika, perhaps partially proving her point about Kyuri’s priorities, eventually prevails and pins her regular partner with the Muscle Buster. A dejected, depressed Kyuri then slinks off with Totoro in tow as Maika desperately tries to call her back and explain. Great interweaving of stories in a great match. Between this and the ActWres feud Gekoku has been the center of some of the best storytelling Ice Ribbon did all year, and of course the story wasn’t over yet.

Like Karen, Nao has also apparently stopped wrestling for now (?) since I saw this show. She’s one of my absolute favorites among Ice’s rookies and I hope to see her back someday.

 

6.  Risa Sera & Hagane Shinnou vs Aja Kong & TARU – Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show

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I swear I’ve seen Madoka (here Hagane Shinnou) announced under like five different names in various matches, and a quick search shows he has like ten. No illusions about what kind of match this would be, as Risa was bloody in under two minutes. They fought all over, inside and outside the ring and right by me a few times, spreading chaos all over the arena.

This was all about Risa & Madoka trying to survive the monsters, and as such it had a fire absent from some of the other hardcore matches I’ve seen recently. Easily the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Risa all year. Risa can be incredible in this kind of match, often in my opinion when she’s more the underdog, and was both here. This was a “the journey is as important as the destination” type of match, and going to a draw with the monsters made Risa & Madoka look like stars.

 

 

5. The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera), & Ibuki Hoshi vs Tsukasa Fujimoto, This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiragi), Asahi, & Miyako Matsumoto –  Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show

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Aoi spent the vast majority of her career in Ice Ribbon before going freelance in her last couple of years, so it was great to see a majority of the current IR roster wrestle on this show. This 10-woman tag was really fun, and Tsukka breaking out the “partners as steps” spot always make me wonderfully happy.  In a cap to the running joke of Aoi not letting Tsukka do her “Youth Pyramid” pose because of her age, Tsukka finally managed to do it uninterrupted here and Aoi even did it with her during the after show ceremony.

The two rookies in the match (Asahi and Ibuki) became the focal point towards the end, end despite Asahi desperately struggling to prove herself she eventually fell victim to a trio of Hamuko Rolls from the Butchers & Ibuki and pinned by the latter.

 

4. Aoi Kizuki vs Emi Sakura – Gatoh Move 10/4/18

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In what was originally supposed to be Aoi’s last Gatoh Move match, she faced her trainer and mentor Emi Sakura in the main event. This was another great match in Aoi’s goodbye tour, and at the time I would have been hard pressed to imagine a more appropriate way for Gatoh Move to say goodbye to her. Aoi defeated her mentor after thirteen minutes of back and forth, emotional, captivating wrestling with the Happy Clutch.

 

3. Aoi Kizuki vs Mei Sugura – Gatoh Move 10/5/18

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Aoi Kizuki facing her recent tag partner and protege of sorts in Gaoth Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura in a match that was supposed to happen the previous Sunday at Gatoh’s cancelled Greenhall show was the main reason this show happened at all. In a bit of a parallel with Aoi’s mentor Emi putting her over in their final singles match the day prior, Aoi put Mei over here giving the rookie a huge win.

The match itself was excellent, and I certainly understand all the hype arising around Mei. As I mentioned about the very first time I saw her wrestle (at Pure-J days prior to this), she very clearly “gets it” and seems to have natural instincts for wrestling in terms of drawing the audience into her matches and making maximum use of her skills and charisma. This was just as fitting a Gatoh Move goodbye to Aoi as her match with Emi would have been, and was a wonderful “passing the torch” moment.

 

 

2. Aoi Kizuki, Mei Sugura, & Riho vs Emi Sakura, Makoto, & Hikaru Shida –  Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show

It a perfect endcap to Aoi’s career, she teamed with Gatoh Move’s Riho, & Mei Sagura against Gatoh (and Ice Ribbon) founder Emi Sakura with freelancers Makoto & Hikaru Shida in the main event.  It was a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. As mentioned in the previous entry the fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became.

In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious. Aoi herself came out for this match in special white gear that included an incredible, light up version of her wings.

The match was fantastic and an appropriate goodbye to Aoi. The traditional spot with everyone one the show and more (including Aoi’s best friend Jenny Rose, who came to Japan to be ringside) splashing Aoi in the corner was of course a lot of fun.

Emi, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell, and an absolute privilege to be at live.

 

1. Emi Sakura vs Mei Sugura  – Gatoh Move 10/7/18

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In a bit of a completion thematically of the main events from 10/4 and 10/5 (as well as being appropriate for the day), Aoi’s two opponents from those days, her partner protege Mei and her trainer Emi, faced off here. This was incredible, with the fiery Mei rising to the challenge and giving Gatoh’s lynchpin everything she could handle until Emi weathered the storm long enough and experience won out. Fantastic.

Even more impressively, Sakura had to be helped out of the ring during Aoi’s show and limped into this one, but you’d never know it from her work during the matches. Her performances were amazing, and a admittedly a little worrisome as I really hope she’s not overdoing it. She’s one of the very best in the world.

 

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

 

Gatoh Move 1/1 & 1/2/19 Live Thoughts

January 1 and 2, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Third and fourth days in a row (and my fourth and fifth shows of the trip) for Gatoh Move at Ichigaya to ring in the new year (also see my thoughts on 12/30 and 12/31).

 

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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).

 

1/1/19:

Gravure model An-cham had another decent showing in singles action to open against Yuna Mizumori until the latter’s size and power led her to victory. Yuna looks like a monster when she gets serious in the best way and combines it with an infectious charisma. She wrestles quite a bit beyond her experience level.

 

 

Next up was an amusing tag team match between Antonio Honda & Mei Sugura and Saki & Baliyan Akki. Mei trying to copy Honda’s mannerisms and moves was hilariously awesome, and watching  Aoi Kizuki’s protege of sorts team with Honda after enjoying “Happy Rhodes” as a team in 2018’s Go Go Green Curry Cup was fun. Saki & Akki complement each other well and it’s always nice to see them team.

 

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In the main event Riho & Mitsuru Konno faced Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi. I adore the pairings involved as well as any chance to see Mitsuru in with Gatoh’s veterans, so was really excited for this one. In a great bit to start, Emi was dismissive of Mitsuru just before the bell rung, at which point a fired up Mitsuru beat Emi across the venue. Great intensity, and beyond the normal excellent tag work in Gatoh this had a good feel of varying things up a little to nice effect, including things like brawling through the crowd a bit. Loved it overall. Emi eventually isolated and pinned Mitsuru to give her and Takanashi the win.

 

1/2/19:

This show opened with Mitsuru Konno vs Baliyan Akki in Akki’s first ever intergender singles match (although the two had been on opposite sides of several tag matches). Good match with a well told story, with a steady stream of aggression from the smaller Mitsuru forcing the slightly overconfident Akki to dig a bit deep to pull out the win. While Akki has been wrestling longer overall, Mitsuru is his senior both in Gatoh Move and in experience in this kind of match, and they both played their roles well.

 

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Like Cho-un vs Takanashi on 12/31, another yearly tradition around this time has become seeing Antonio Honda v Sayaka Obihiro v Jaki in a comedy deathmatch. Every time someone gets a 2-count they get to perform a “comedy routine” using  provided box of props and are awarded a point by the referee if it’s funny. Most points at the end of the fifteen minute time limit wins.

I’ve seen this four years in a row now and between the language barrier, Obi doing intentional poor comedy for effect, and the “wrestling” sequences being pretty much just a bridge to the jokes, I personally find these really hit or miss. Honestly this year’s didn’t really connect with me, and was my least favorite of the four.

 

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The main event was a 6-person tag of Emi Sakura, Masahiro Takanashi, & Yuna Mizumori vs Mei Sugura & Gatoh Move’s reigning Tag Team Champions Riho & Makoto. At the beginning of the show Emi mentioned she was annoyed with Mei today, and tension between the two provided a strong undercurrent to build certain elements of the match around. This was yet another of Gatoh’s excellent 6-person tags in Ichigaya, with a ton of fun triple teams. Riho of course is a master of the environment, and had a particularly jaw dropping spot here from the window vaulting off other wrestlers to deliver her diving knees. Great work from all involved.

 

 

I always enjoy Gatoh Move at Ichigaya and its unique atmosphere and environment. But this time if possible I was even more impressed with what felt like an extra layer of creativity on display in a lot of the matches. The rookies are all coming along quickly and developing incredible instincts, and seeing Gatoh back at “full strength” so to speak with said rookies all mixing it up with Gatoh’s ring generals was a real treat. This was another pair of fantastic shows over all.