Yokohama Festival: Ice Ribbon 5/3 & 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

I saw these two Ice Ribbon shows earlier in the days of the Seadlinnng and Marvelous shows during Golden Week. They were all part of the “Yokohama Festival” and took place in the same venue, Yokohama Radiant Hall.

 

DSC_0261

 

5/3/18

Maika Ozaki vs Satsuki Totoro was a fun battle of Maika’s power vs Totoro’s size to open the show. Both are really learning how to use their particular strengths to great effect in the ring. Maika’s torture rack bomb is awesome, and picked up the victory for her.

 

DSC_0018

 

Watching live I wasn’t sure of the stipulation for Akane Fujita, Kyuuri & Mochi Miyagi vs Asahi, Giulia, & Ibuki Hoshi. When Akane pinned Asahi and things kept going I was thinking 2 of 3 falls or elimination. I found out afterward it was “Captain’s Fall” (a more common stipulation in IR I should have thought of) and the more veteran team won in a shutout when Kyuuri beat Guilia, who must have been her team’s captain. No idea who was captain on the other side, and the rookie team never seemed to have any real chance here. Decent match overall though.

 

 

Tsukushi had to win two #1 contendership matches for this opportunity at Hideki Suzuki’s championship (with no explanation why the first suddenly didn’t count), while “Freeze” was “handpicked” by the champ to be included. Tsukka being part of the prematch “ceremonies” might or might not have been part of the largely forgotten stipulation of her and Miyako supposedly becoming Suzuki’s assistants when he won the belt. His declarations of starting a “men’s division” in IR also came to nothing (thankfully, in retrospect).

 

 

So going into this match Suzuki had renamed the Triangle Ribbon Championship to the Sumo Battle Championship. The entrances, “pageantry,” and all other sumo aspects (which didn’t actually end up having any impact on the rules, match, or title mind you) lasted longer than the match. Tsukushi was defiant against her larger opponents, but was handled easily and pinned by Susuki in five minutes to retain while the Ice roster beat on Freeze on the outside. The ever changing/forgotten/ignored stipulations/conditions/rules for Suzuki’s title reign were beyond stupid, and while I originally had decent hopes for his involvement in Ice Ribbon it was pretty much a disaster and I couldn’t be happier that Akane now holds this title.

 

 

Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera)’s International Ribbon Tag Team Title defense against Uno Matsuya & Tequila Saya potentially seemed like the perfect spot to elevate the challengers, who would have been totally believable and deserving champs. Instead the veteran dominance continued with Azure Rev retaining, but it was still one of the best matches I’ve seen from them and a great showing from the challengers even in defeat.

 

DSC_0196

 

The main event was a first round match for Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament, and honestly seemed a bit of a forgone conclusion to me considering Hamuko Hoshi’s regular partner was waiting in the semi-final in a different trios team. Here Hoshi teamed with Ice Cross Infinity Champion Miyako Matsumoto & Tsukasa Fujimoto against TeamDATE (Hana DATE, Karen DATE & Nao DATE). Hoshi had designs on Miyako’s title, and Miyako isn’t the most reliable teammate at the best of times anyway.

 

 

Wasn’t thrilled with the story that arose from all that, seeing the supposed regular unit and actual trios team beaten by dysfunctional teammates who attacked each other accidentally and a few times ON PURPOSE throughout the match. It honestly made the DATES look a bit incompetent, which they don’t deserve. Quite good otherwise though, with a real sense of urgency maintained and good stuff from all six at various points. Special mention to Hana, who has some of the best facial expressions in all of wrestling and always really sells the emotions/atmosphere/etc of her matches wonderfully.

 

 

In a nice character touch, Saya sold dejection at her loss throughout post show cheer (similarly Nao stared some great holes through her opponents after her match), and Hana was again a bit of a riot making faces at Asahi conveying uncertainty how she felt about Freeze’s presence in the circle next to her.

 

 

Going into the “Major Army vs Young Ice” challenge series two days later all members of the Young Ice team lost here, further positioning them as massive underdogs.

I liked this show overall and as I’ve alluded to the action was good but I could take or leave the booking.

If I only knew…

 

 

5/5/18

Before the show there was a 6-woman tag featuring trainees, with Tsukushi refereeing. It was quite a bit of fun and it will be interesting to see them all develop as/if they continue.

 

 

The opening match for the show proper saw Tequila Saya get a nice singles spotlight against the visiting Kaho Kobayashi. Kaho has really become excellent, Saya kept up nicely, and this was a solid showing for both that saw Kaho picked up the expected win.

 

 

With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

The remainder of the show was comprised of the 8 vs 8 “Major Army vs Young Ice” challenge that had been revealed to be a best of 5 series. The lineup for the series was set up during the post-show roundtable of Ice Ribbon’s dojo show on 4/28/18, and seemed an interesting selection. The “Major Army” comes out to the Imperial March, just to really hammer the point of who the underdogs are into oblivion.

 

First up saw the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) against Karen DATE & Hamuko’s daughter Ibuki Hoshi. Solid way to start that saw the regular, experienced team prevail over the determined rookies.

 

 

 Tsukasa Fujimoto than in their prior match, but still came up short and was beaten by Ice Ribbon’s ace in a bit under 7 minutes. The match fit the story they were telling and Giulia’s desire being greater than her skills for now.

 

At this point things seemed right in line with what I was expecting from the series …

 

DSC_0187

 

With Young Ice down 0-2 in a best of 5 series, Ice Ribbon’s fan voted rookie of the year and Young Ice Tournament winner Nao DATE faced former champion Risa Sera. They had a good match for the most part, although something about the structure felt a little odd to me. And sure enough, the uneasy feeling bore out in the finish as RISA won in a bit over 7 minutes. What. The. Hell?! There was NO CONCEIVABLY REASON for Nao to drop this. Risa didn’t need the win, Nao did, and more importantly Young Ice had now already LOST the series in match 3 of 5. You could hear the crowd deflate when the ref counted 3.

 

 

So the series was decided but the other matches anyway are happening anyway, and the crowd’s pretty much dead. Rightfully no one believes Uno Matsuya, Satsuki Totoro, & Hana DATE have any chance whatsoever against Akane Fujita, Kurumi Hiragi, & Maya Yukihi at this point (and it wouldn’t make any difference if they did win), so no matter what anyone in the match did the reaction was subdued. Magnifying the problem, this was the longest match of the night. O_o Dumb all around. I feel bad for the wrestlers involved being put into this position. This will likely play better on DVD, with less lingering impact from the booking decisions than there was live and more ability to just enjoy the work and effort all six wrestlers put into this.

 

DSC_0199

 

One match left in both the series and the show, and the only possible redeeming aspect of the story of having vets sweep so far would be the newest rookie Asahi upsetting the champ in non-title competition to give Young Ice their only win, and Miyako Matsumoto was the kind of champ who could conceivably lose this. As such the crowd was really behind Asahi, and the match itself was quite good and exciting for the nice length of a bit under 15 minutes it ran. Miyako amuses me greatly and Asahi is fast becoming a favorite so this was awesome to be at.

Of course Asahi lost, making the whole best of 5 series pointless in every way with the veterans, who also swept everything two days before and again came out to the Imperial March for goodness sake, winning every single match. I understand the concept of paying dues, the idea behind looking tough/getting over in defeat, etc, but consistently making half your roster look weak is something else.

Asahi spoke at length afterwards, possibly adding some more context to having come up short against the champ and/or the series that I missed.

 

DSC_0222

 

During the post show promos Saori came out and issued a challenge for tag belts, but then names Maika as her partner as Tae just smiles. Maika’s reluctant but eventually agrees, and Saori taunts Kyuuri (Maika’s regular partner at the time). Another interesting layer in what was easily one of the most compelling feuds in wrestling at the time.

 

 

I do recommend these shows for some interesting matchups and good wrestling, with of course the caveat that I also personally have never been more frustrated with IR’s tone deaf booking. Why bother making a series out of those matches for these results? Just book the same card without the “Major Army vs Young Ice” framing and it all plays a ton better. Ice Ribbon actually has deep talent roster, but makes some odd choices and often seems hell bent on never truly elevating anyone until it’s pretty much too late, which is a shame to see from one of my favorite promotions.

Still, I did enjoy going to these shows overall and as I mentioned they will probably play a bit better on DVD and the action was very good for the most part, so if any of the particular matches sound intriguing they are worth checking out.

Yokohama Festival: SEAdLINNNG 5/3/18 & Marvelous 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Yokohama, Japan

I saw four events in Yokohama during Golden Week, two each on May 3 and 5 (with Mika Iida’s retirement show and Gatoh Move on May 4 in Tokyo in between). Here I’ll be talking about the two later in the day shows I saw in Yokohama.

 

SEAdLINNNG Golden Go! Go! 5/3/18

In was great to see Nanae Takahashi return to competition after a scary neck injury in a hardcore match earlier in the year. She eased back into things with a five minute time limit exhibition match against Takashi Sasaki to open the show.

After that Dragon Libre won a 4-way against (Wave’s) ASUKA, Nagisa Nozaki, and Shunsuke Wakayama which I primarily remember for Nagisa trying to kick people’s heads off.

 

 

 

I’m mentioned Yoshiko’s not a favorite for personal reasons, but bias aside she’s good in general and admittedly excellent in the right role. As with the fantastic match I saw her have against Mio Momono in August 2017, her playing the monster versus a determined smaller rookie is certainly the right role.

 

 

 

Asahi is fast becoming a personal favorite of mine, and with all the opportunities she’s getting to wrestle veterans and champions from other promotions in singles matches she’s just going to continue to evolve and improve that much quicker. She played the fiery underdog perfectly and survived a bit under fifteen minutes before the larger, more experienced wrestler put her away. They drew me into a match I had some disposition to be disinvested in, and that speaks very highly of the skill of both.

 

DSC_0411

 

The last two matches of the card were part of the first round of the ULTRA U-21 tournament to crown tag team champions for Seadlinnng. In a nice, rare (for me) chance to see Kaho Kobayashi, she and Makoto advanced over the visiting Ice Ribbon team of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. Solid tag action from everyone, with the less experienced of the four (Kaho and Ibushi) actually looking the best.

 

 

 

The main event featured more Ice Ribbon talent as well as a visitor from Wave, as Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami faced Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto). This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

 

DSC_0442

 

They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

Three good to great matches out of five and nothing actively bad made this an easy watch and a fun time.

 

Marvelous 5/5/18

Marvelous’ offerings are often a “tale of two shows” within the show for me. I find about half the card fine but perhaps a bit bland, while a couple of key matches (usually involving Mio Momono, Takumi Iroha, and/or visiting wrestlers) blow me away. This show was that template personified.

 

DSC_0242

 

W-Fix had pretty standard outings featuring the expected heel shenanigans as KAORU & Chikayo Nagashima opened against Super Momoe Chan (Aja Perara) & Sahara 7 and Megumi Yabushita later faced Tomoko Watanabe. W-Fix is  a good heel stable and these matches were fine, but their match quality does take a bit of a noticeable hit when Dash isn’t around. She brings out the best in the rest of them and elevates everything she’s involved in. Tomoko was fierce in trying to overcome the odds against her, and Momoe & Sahara looked good and clearly made a favorable impression on the crowd.

 

 

 

And to be perfectly honest I don’t recall anything about Leo Isaka & MIKAMI vs Wild Bear & Tomohiko Hashimoto, which means nothing stood out as particularly exciting nor particularly bad. Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota also brawled with each other throughout the show, leading to Chigusa putting straightening them out at one point and Yuki getting the better of Hirota in the middle of the show while Chigusa and others stood around them in the ring making comments.

 

 

 

Which brings us to the highlights of the evening in the form of a pair of excellent tag matches. The third match of the five match card saw NEW-TRA (Rin Kadokura & Takumi Iroha) against Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukasa Fujimoto from Ice Ribbon. I.e. each company’s ace paired with one of their respective brightest rookies. Ibuki looked right at home here and kept up well, and they got a nice amount of time to play with. This was tons of fun and  I’d love to see a rematch sometime.

 

 

 

In the main event  Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

 

 

 

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

DSC_0361

 

The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I am beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move in a couple weeks. Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

 

So solid shows from both promotions with some admittedly forgettable stuff yet also several highlights that definitely push into highly recommended territory. I had a great time, which is of course always the goal. 🙂

 

Ice Ribbon 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Late in 2017 Shutter Ribbon (the one Ice Ribbon dojo show a month where pictures are allowed) was moved from last show of month to the first show of the month, so no action pictures for this one. This was a cool looking show on paper that I was hyped up for.

 

IMG_0340

 

Karen DATE vs Giulia was a really good opener, with both showing progression and skills beyond years in terms of experience. Karen picked up the win in a nicely competitive contest.

 

IMG_0338_trim

 

The second match was an interesting mix-and-match tag with Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto. It featured regular partners Kyuuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

The semi-final saw Ibuki Hoshi facing Maya Yukihi. The outcome was never in doubt, but with under a year of experience at the time Ibuki might have gotten the best match I’ve ever seen out of Maya. They clicked, and Ibuki’s portrayal of the fiery underdog was the perfect foil for Maya’s confidence. Maya’s ringwork has improved greatly since over time, particularly in last year, and she looks more and more comfortable in the ring and closer and closer to the top level competitor Ice Ribbon has been trying to make her.

 

 

The main event was a six-woman tag of Akane Fujita, Mochi Miyagi, & Risa Sera vs Uno Matsuya, Nao DATE, & Tsukushi. Good back and forth match with the expected trios based style that’s still quite satisfying. Formulas become formulas for a reason. Nao stood out to me, and Akane is quietly becoming a force to be reckoned with and is somewhat of an under-appreciated presence in IR.

 

The post show roundtable this time set up matches for a “Young Ice” (based on experience, not age) vs veterans series at the 5/5 Yokohama show. In absentia Asahi was chosen to face off against champion Miyako, first by Tsukka’s announcement then via rock, paper, scissors (with Kyuuri subbing for her) after Ibuki and Karen both objected, trying to get another shot at the champ for themselves. Karen and Ibuki then settled for challenging Ibuki’s mother Hamuko and her regular partner Mochi to a tag match. Giulia requested a rematch with Tsukka, who had destroyed the rookie in under three minutes the last time they faced, and perhaps the star of the rookie class and winner of the Young Ice tournament Nao Date wanted to go one on one with former champion Risa Sera. That left Uno, Totoro, & Hana vs Akane, Kurumi, & Maya to round out the series.

It was a solid, interesting lineup that seemed well structured at the time. I expected Giulia to give Tsukka more trouble but still come up short, the Butchers to dispatch the youngsters, Nao to continue her ascent by beating Risa, and the rookie trio to prevail leading to the series being on the line with Asahi vs Miyako, something that could go either way with the type of champ Miyako was. I’d get something different, but more on that when I review that show.

 

IMG_0343_trim

 

This is exactly the kind of fun show IR does best. The mix of spotlight on younger talent and interesting matchups featuring vets was excellent. Across the ring from me was a person at their first Ice show gasping and cheering whole night, which was great to see and a perfect reflection of how I felt myself.  Pro-wrestling should be fun and enthralling, and that’s precisely what we got here. 🙂

Gatoh Move 4/29/18 & 5/4/18 Live Thoughts

April 29 and May 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

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).

 

4/29/18:

With Aasa out indefinitely, Kotori retired, and Obi injured, Gatoh Move’s core roster was a bit depleted around the time of this show. Emi joked about welcoming the crowd to “Joshi Puroresu,” as this particular show featured seven men and just three women. Still, the heart of Gatoh Move is Emi’s approach and the atmosphere it creates, and this show was pure Gatoh Move.

 

 

 

Cho-un Shiryu, who I’ve seen at Ichigaya several times, opened the show with a victory over new-to-me Yu Iizuka. Pretty standard, decent opener.

 

Antonio Honda was up second, which always means comedy time at Ichiagaya. My favorite up and comer Mitsuru Konno was his opponent this time, in what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru routinely draws pictures on autograph boards that audience members can get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 The sketch pad would be relevant again later…

 

DSC_0009

 

As I’m mentioned before, it’s quite impressive that Gatoh Move can do six-person tags in such a limited space and unique environment. Even more so is the fact that they’re always great. In this one the Tag Team Champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi  teamed with One and Only Champ Golem Thai to face Baliyan Akki, Sawasdee Kamen, & Super Asia Champion Riho. Non-stop, exciting action with the all champ team coming out on top.

 

 

After the show Emi held another balloon drill in leiu of the regular talking/promos, likely as a nice consideration to having foreigners like me in the audience. The great part is that in addition to it being a fun thing to watch, they incorporated a couple of angles into it. Akki pinned Gatoh Move One and Only champion Golem Thai during the Go Go Green Curry Cup tournament the day before and tensions between them were high. Akki pointed at Golem and said “your face” before DESTROYING his balloon with a dropkick that also leveled poor Emi holding the strike pad. She got up complaining “His face?! MY face!!!”

When it was Golem’s turn he had Akki help Emi hold the pad, then instead of throwing a dropkick he simply ran through the balloon, pad, Emi and Akki with a shoulder tackle. Add in little things like Riho blocking her ears from the popping noises and playing with balloons that people failed to pop and this was a really cool little epilogue to the show.

 

gm429181

 

After the balloon drill and ending dance, Mitsuru took the pad from her match out again and revealed a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a twitter account. It’s a minor thing, but tying it back to the comedy match like that was a cool little touch.

 

 

5/4/18:

During my second (and only other) Ichigaya show of this trip Emi was traveling to appear for Pro Wrestling Eve in Europe so was unfortunately missing in action.

 

DSC_0402

 

It was fun to see Cherry at Ichigaya for my first time. Ok opener during which she played mind games with her opponent Taro Yamada and picked up the win by taking advantage of the ref (another wrestler) getting involved.

 

The second match was Baliyan Akki vs Emi Sakura W, and was bit more serious than the other Sakura W matches I’ve seen. As a result I really liked the feel of this one, with W’s antics still there but a little more controlled. Akki’s fantastic and is always a treat to see wrestle. Nice five minute match that didn’t feel short and, as expected with his feud with Golem ongoing, saw Akki pick up the victory.

 

 

The main event saw a match reminiscent of the Go Go Green Curry Cup first round with the team of Gatoh Move’s two singles champions Golem Thai & Riho facing Mitsuru and a partner, in this case Madoka. As usual with Gatoh’s tag main events this was fast paced, exciting, and a lot of fun. As I’ve mentioned before I adore seeing Mitsuru against Gatoh’s vets, and her and Riho have great chemistry. Golem’s a monster and was an imposing figure for Mitsuru and Madoka to try to overcome. But while they brought a strong fight, the pair of champions prevailed with Riho eventually getting the pin on Mitsuru. This was action packed and a great match to wrap up my Gatoh Move shows for this trip.

 

gm4291831

 

A few days before this show Mitsuru had announced on Twitter that replica’s of her mask from the Go Go Green Curry Cup, made by the original mask maker (the incredible Demonio Blanco / Bacchanales Tokyo), were available for special order. I put in an order but expected to have to pick it up during my next trip (whenever that ended up being). In a wonderful, greatly appreciated gesture a point was made of finishing it for this show so it could be delivered before I returned home and Mitsuru surprised me with it after the show. It’s a wonderful keepsake of amazing quality and a centerpiece addition to my collection.

As a final fantastic bit of amusement, Mitsuru had her own mask with her and had us both wear them when I got a pic with her later on, then signed with “we are heroes!” It was fun to a be a sidekick for a moment. 😉

 

 

I always enjoy my time at Gatoh Move, and these shows were no exception, with engaging matches as well as some additional cool moments and memories for me personally.

A Ray of Light Gone Too Soon

Before my first trip to Japan in late 2015, my initial exposure to most Joshi wrestlers I was familiar with came via Shimmer Women Athletes. In 2012 Shimmer announced Leon would be debuting at the company’s March tapings, along with her tag team partner Ray. I wasn’t familiar with either, so my first glimpse at their work was via highlight clips as I looked into Shimmer’s newest Joshi visitors. Both were impressive, talented veterans and fantastic additions to the Shimmer roster. But with all due respect to Leon, it’s Ray who immediately captured my attention and a few short clips were all it took to make her an instant favorite of mine.

 

IMG_4630_trim

 

Ray combined innovative offense, like her fantastic Cartwheel-Bomb, with a crispness and smooth execution that made her an absolute delight to watch. Already being nearly a ten year vet when I started watching her, she was at the top of her game and incredibly precise in everything she did. She came to Shimmer twice, covering a total of eight matches taped over two different weekends set two years apart. I spotlighted her and Leon’s title match against Ayako Hamada & Ayumi Kurihara on volume 47 as a shining example of Shimmer’s tag division looking back during Shimmer’s 10th Anniversary, and they were always a treat to watch.

It was during Ray’s second trip in 2014 that I was lucky enough to attend live, seeing her & Leon tear the house down in tag matches against three different teams that all had or would hold Shimmer’s tag belts at some point (the Canadian Ninjas (Nicole Matthews & Portia Perez), 3G (reigning tag champs at the time Kellie Skater & Tomoka Nakagawa), and the Kimber Bombs (Cherry Bomb & Kimber Lee)), as well as a singles encounter for Ray against Mia Yim. Again, every match was a treat to see and Ray was incredible.

In December of 2015 I made my first trip to Japan and saw several excellent shows and matches. One of my most anticipated things was getting to see Ray again, and it was nice to get to talk to her again and see her tag with Alex Lee against Takako Inoue & Karou at Marvelous’ 12/20 show. Unfortunately this would turn out to be one of Ray’s final matches, as to start JWP’s Climax a week later she came out to announce she was pulled from the show due to illness. That illness would sadly later be revealed to be a malignant, inoperable brain tumor.

Ray fought her cancer emphatically, and there was always a tiny bit of hope and prayer in everyone’s minds of a recovery and comeback for her. Unfortunately Ray succumbed recently and passed away. In the ring and out she was an inspiration, and she will be greatly missed.

 

Wave 5/4/18 Live Thoughts

May 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

DSC_0015

 

In addition to hosting the finals of this year’s Catch the Wave tournament this was Mika Iida’s retirement show. I already discussed some of it a bit in my look back on her career, but here I’d like to go into more detail / take a look at the rest of the card.

 

1. Mika Iida vs Hiroe Nagahama

DSC_0022

 

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. She always still intended to complete in this final show however, and twice in fact. In a 6-woman tag to close it, and this five minute exhibition to open.

In a wonderful sign for her recovery (and of course her fortitude and perhaps stubbornness), she took the microphone right away and declared she was ok and turned this 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.

 

2. ASUKA, Miyuki Takase & Sakura Hirota vs Moeka Haruhi, Arisa Nakajima & Cherry

DSC_0050

 

Of course as this is a Wave review hopefully it’s obvious I’m talking about their Asuka, and not the former Kana. With just four minutes to work with these six hit the comedy (a given with Hirota in there), ran through some quick action, and wrapped it all up in short order. It was fine, but there wasn’t much to it. Seeing Arisa on a card in any capacity is always a treat though.

 

 

3. 3-Way Tag Match: BOSS to Mammy (Yumi Oka & Mio Momono) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Fairy Nipponbashi & Yako Fujigasaki

 

This kind of had the opposite impression of the last match in some ways. Seven minutes isn’t a ton of time for a three way tag encounter, but they made the most of time allotted and format and this didn’t feel short or limited at all.

Light overtones and humor were well integrated, and Fairy actually amused me quite a bit for a change. She had a running bit where she was getting in Ohka’s face making motions to indicate she wanted a title shot, with Ohka reacting to her attitude in kind and ignoring the message. Of course Ohka lost the belt MONTHS prior back to Ohata, who helplessly tried to intervene and explain she was the champion.

There was also another funny section where Mizunami tried to “defend” Ohka and got herself into trouble with whatever she was saying (likely comments about Yumi’s age), with Misaki running over to cover her partner’s mouth to try to minimize the damage. Really well executed, where I understood what was happening even without understanding exactly what was said.

 

 

I saw the formation of Boss to Mammy last August but since Ohka was involved in the singles title picture during my holiday visit this was my first opportunity to seem them wrestle as a team. I really love the pairing and am thrilled they are now the reigning tag champions. This was before their push however, and with two of my favorite teams facing a thrown together team of two who honestly don’t usually impress me very much you can probably guess who came out on top. BOO! Jokes and personal preferences aside, this was an extremely good match and a lot of fun.

 

4. WAVE Tag Team Championship Match: Kuso Onna Night (Yuki Miyazaki & Nagisa Nozaki) (c) vs NEW-TRA (Takumi Iroha & Rin Kadokura)

DSC_0150

 

I saw these two teams face for these same titles at Thanksgiving Wave, in honestly what was a much better match. I was excited for this rematch with reversed roles, but the approach robbed it of the impact it should have had. The team stripped of their championship due to injury to Iroha were facing a team they previously beat who claimed the titles in their absence. There should have been a sense of urgency to reclaim the belts on one side and a desperation to prove themselves on the other. Instead this was heavy on antics early and never reached the level of tension it needed, ending up rather perfunctory. It wasn’t a bad match, but considering the situation and what the teams are capable of it was unfortunately a bit disappointing.

 

5. Catch the WAVE Final: Ayako Hamada vs Rina Yamashita

DSC_0175

 

When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took hit instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Afterwards awards were given for the whole tournament, including Misaki vs Shida getting best bout, Asuka getting a Technique award for competing with a broken ankle (O_o wow), Hiroe getting a special award for upsetting champion Misaki, etc.

Arisa walked out on her semifinalist medal, so Gami wore it instead in a picture with other semifinalists Nagisa and Misaki. Rina of course got the spotlight as the tourney winner, with runner up Hamada sitting in the corner to sell the grueling match and clapping for Rina’s victory from there.

 

 

6. Mika Iida Retirement Match: Rina Yamashita, Kaho Kobayashi & Natsu Sumire vs Mika Iida, Yumi Ohka & Hiroe Nagahama

 

After the ceremony it was time for the main event and Mika Iida’s last match. Rina wasn’t done, as she came right back out for this, visibly emotional the whole way. I’d seen her team here across the ring from Iida before in a 3-way trios from Thanksgiving Wave 2016. Natsu’s return for this saw her the biggest heel in building, getting massive heat and playing into it the whole way. Even her partners were joining in the crowd’s jeering at points and when she started flipping the audience off for their reaction her partner Rina flipped her off on the audience’s behalf. Amusing stuff. The outside brawling was a particular highlight for me, as my seat was wiped out (twice) by the woman of honor herself being whipped around ringside.

 

 

Iida was teaming with her opponent from the opener as well as one of Wave’s cornerstones. 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. Tsukka was one of the wrestlers who was supposed to face Iida in between her injury and this last show, so this was a nice way to work in a little of what that could have been. Just a ton of fun all around. Rina got a second huge honor in the same night as becoming the first ever back to back Catch the Wave winner, pinning Iida to end her career.

 

DSC_0360

 

The gift presentation and final ceremonies were 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. Something noticeable was a sense of Iida really enjoying everything and having a joyous goodbye (despite of course it all being very emotional).

 

 

Strong show, and all in all everything came together in a way that really felt like the perfect farewell 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.

Gatoh Move 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

This promised to be an extremely interesting show for me as it held Gatoh Move’s 6th Annual Go Go Green Curry Cup from here abbreviated as GGGCC), a single day mixed tag team tournament, along with a handful of non-tourney matches. The tournament included several unique combinations, as well as the reigning tag team champions.

 

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Hanako Nakamori

 

DSC_0029_trim

 

The show opened with the Pure-J champion against a Gatoh Move rookie with about two months experience. This was my first glimpse of Hanako’s newer look, and it helps her stand out as befitting Pure-J’s ace and champion.  Yuna had an extremely good showing here against the more experienced competitor, and she’s a great addition to the Gatoh roster. Well structured match that let the rookie shine a bit before the visiting champion put her down.

 

 

 

2)  GGGCC Round 1: Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen (Sawasdee Mask) 

 

 

Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my upcoming write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: GM’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team would prevail and move on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho and Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

 

3) GGGCC Round 1: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Saki & Ryuichi Sekine

 

 

In another case of one of the apparent tourney favorites drawing a first round match, Gatoh’s reigning tag champs were up next. Emi and Takanashi are absolute maestros in the ring and had an energetic back and forth match here in which Saki and Ryuichi got to take the champs to the limit and force a time limit draw. The tie breaker was amusingly a game of rock, paper, scissors, and Saki and Ryuichi’s corner woman Obi came in to do the honors for them. It didn’t work out so well, and Emi & Masahiro moved on.

 

DSC_0139

 

4) Minoru Fujita vs Sakura Emi W

 

DSC_0144

 

Minoru had no idea what to make of Emi Sakura’s doppelganger, and this was half action and half (intentionally) awkward comedy. The humor wasn’t really to my tastes, but this was fine light filler to break up the rounds of the tournament.

 

 

5) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Kaori Yoneyama & Baliyan Akki vs Riho & Golem Thai

 

DSC_0172

 

I’m running out of various ways to say “great, back and forth encounter,” so I’ll simply say this was another one. I will add however that while that general statement might make it sound like the tourney matches were similar, they were in fact all quite unique and tailored to the skills of the participants. Akki & Yone were another excellent, complementary team, and this built to a huge crescendo with Akki getting the upset pin on the One and Only champion to send his team on as well as putting himself in line for a future singles shot at Golem’s title.

 

DSC_0178

 

 

6) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Aoi Kizuki & Antonio Honda

 

 

I’m always thrilled with opportunities to see Aoi wrestle (particularly in light of her imminent retirement), and after seeing her and Honda face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show their pairing here seemed pitch perfect.

As expected, this was the comedy match of the tourney, with the exciting action and double teams all four are certainly capable of interspersed with over the top hilarity of the best kind. The tag champs displayed their versatility, proving they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience. Perfect point in the show for this style of match, and it was a blast. The champs persevered as things got serious near the end and advanced to face Akki & Yone in the finals.

 

 

7) Hikaru Sato vs Chikara

DSC_0240

 

The last non-tourney match provided another decent change of pace to separate the semis from the finals. Some hard strike exchanges highlighted this interlude, which Sato eventually won.

 

 

8) GGGCC Finals: Baliyan Akki & Kaori Yoneyama vs Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi

 

DSC_0250

 

So the quasi-heelish tag champs who keep finding ways to pull out the win faced the conquering heroes who overcame the tourney’s superteam in a fitting final in the main event of the show. Excellent way to cap off the day seeing the two teams engaged in spirited battle for a full 15 minutes (about double what most of the other matches ran). Paced and structured perfectly, this was a wonderful contest that saw Akki and Yone come just short of another spectacular upset as the champions took the tourney and basked in the feeling of being alone at the top (for now).

 

 

This show was a delight from top to bottom. Emi & Takanashi winning was actually a bit of a surprise for me, since I expected someone to upset them at some point to earn a future title shot. But it was a surprise that put the masters in a match in every round, and the champs reigning supreme leaves things open for a new team to emerge determined to knock them down.

I can’t stress how well booked and executed the whole tournament was. The teams were all fun and interesting, one team battled through three rounds to the finals while one of the bye teams capitalized on it, different styles were spotlit at different times, etc. The variety of course means not everything will appeal to everyone and of course not every match is meant to steal the show, but for me this was a fantastic show all around with tremendous effort from everyone and I adored it.