Last Song for You: Riho’s “Graduation” from Gatoh Move

Later today (7/2/19) Riho, Gatoh Move’s ace, will have her final match with the company. She will be “graduating” (the term used in Japan when someone leaves a company to move on, whether it’s for retirement or a case like this) to go freelance.

 

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Prior to my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015, I was primarily only had seen Joshi wrestlers that had come stateside for Shimmer. So, as I mentioned in my look back on Kotori’s career when she retired, I was largely unfamiliar with the professional wrestling company Gatoh Move and their wrestlers when I attended my first show of theirs on 12/22/15.

On that show freelancers Hikaru Shida and Makoto, who I knew from Shimmer, were on opposite sides from each other in a tag match paired with Gatoh Move roster members Kotori and Riho respectively.  It was quite good, and in particular Riho stood out with skills and instincts that seemed beyond what her 18 years of age would have implied.

 

 

And with good reason. “Young” in Joshi doesn’t necessarily correlate to experience, and Riho was in fact the most senior competitor in that match with nearly 10 years as a wrestler, incredibly starting at the age of just 9 years old. She grew and honed her craft under the training and tutelage of the incredible Emi Sakura, first in Ice Ribbon then following her mentor when Sakura split with the company in 2012 and started Gatoh Move.

 

 

So in my initial exposure to Riho, she was already an accomplished, polished veteran. And boy did it show. Particularly later that trip when I got a chance to see Gatoh Move in their home environment. The 12/22/15 show had been a “traditional” wrestling show with a traditional wrestling ring. The reason I specify is that Gatoh Move’s home venue, Ichigaya Chocolate Square, is 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.

It’s such a unique environment, that not only provides something special for the audience but also forces the wrestlers to push themselves and adapt to the unusual constraints. And Riho is an absolute master of it. Her athleticism, creativity, and precision always combined in fantastic fashion as she bounced around the confined space, often utilizing not only the windowsill but also her opponents and partners as platforms to launch herself off of in lieu of ropes and turnbuckles.

 

 

As such, some of the most memorable moments of Riho in Ichigaya for me came from Gatoh’s incredible 6-person tag matches, including  Riho, Kotori, & Aasa vs Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru on 12/31/16, a similar variation two years later of  Riho teaming with Emi & Obi against Mitsuru, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori in a special “Old Gatoh Move” vs “New Gatoh Move”  match on 12/31/18  (which is up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel!!!), and a fantastic match from just  last month  of Riho, Baliyan Akki, & An-Chamu vs Emi, Masahiro Takanashi, & Mei (also up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel!!!).

 

 

At the risk of getting overly cliched, Riho has the presence of a star. The audience reactions when she appeared at other promotions, such as in a pair of great tag team title challenges in back to back years in Tokyo Joshi Pro’s biggest events, was always incredible.

 

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Riho’s greatest strength may be her ability to make whatever story she’s telling in the ring accessible and convincing. She’s believable as a threat, even against far larger opponents and in the many intergender matches she’s had. A particular favorite of mine was her no-rope match against Yaso Urano at Basara’s 12/28/17 show.

 

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This Spring I was extremely lucky to be able to attend some of Riho’s last matches in Gatoh Move, and there have certainly been a lot of high notes to go out on. At the beginning of May she faced DDT wrestler and regular Gatoh Move guest Masahiro Takanashi in an incredible encounter that’s one of my top matches of the year thus far. A few days later she won Gatoh’s annual Go Go Green Curry Cup (a mixed tag team tournament).

 

 

And just a month out from her final match, in her second to last “traditional” show for Gatoh, she successfully defended her Super-Asia Championship against rising star Mei Suruga in a wonderful match, after which she relinquished the title.

Tonight Riho will wrestle her trainer Emi Sakura one-on-one in her final Gatoh Move match. I can’t think of a more fitting farewell.

 

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Riho has already given fans a little glimpse of what’s to come after Gatoh Move, as she’s had a pair of good outings with AEW. She’s implied in a recent interview that she doesn’t intend to sign anywhere full time just yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if/where she wrestles in Japan in addition to continuing with AEW in the states (as of now nothing else has been announced/scheduled). It will also be interesting to watch Gatoh Move change and adapt after her departure.

I look forward to the continued success of both.

 

DIANA 5/12/19 Live Thoughts

May 12, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

It’d been a long time since my only previous DIANA show, but I’ve certainly been aware of their rising star. I had the privilege of seeing Sareee in person at Sendai Girls’ shows against Chihiro in January and against DASH Chisako just a couple weeks prior to this in a pair of fantastic matches, and anticipation for her vs Kong III was through the roof.

Beyond the general awesomeness of being at Korakuen and the huge main event, there were a number of interesting aspects to the undercard that had me particularly excited for this show.

 

1) Ayako Sato vs Madeline 

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I was really impressed with Madeline here. In fact, I was about to write “this was my first time seeing Madeline,” momentarily forgetting it had to be as it was in fact her DEBUT.

 

 

Sato’s assault was spot on for letting the rookie shine and get a good amount of offense while keeping things reasonable. Madeline has a distinct style already, with an expressiveness that really draws the audience into her match and strong fundamentals. Fantastic first impression made.

 

2) Emi Sakura vs Haruka Umesaki 

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As a huge fan of Sakura and her promotion Gatoh Move, this match seeing her face a former student from DareJyo (who I was previously unfamiliar with) was another big reason I made a point of attending this show.

 

 

This was really fun. Every little detail was on point, from even before the match started and Emi took issue to Haruka being presented with a gift before the match and her not. Emi’s a master, Haruka rose to the challenge, they got a decent amount of time to play with, and this was an extremely good match.

 

3) Queen Elizabeth Championship: Jaguar Yokota (c) vs Sakura Hirota vs Yumi Ohka 

 

Fine 3-way with Hirota being Hirota, Ohka holding everything together with liberal application of kicks, and Yokota picking her spots to capitalize and retain her title.

 

4) DIANA Tag Team Championship: Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe (c) defeat Double Inoue (Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue) 

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It was a treat to see Double Inoue, and in a title match to boot. Absolutely brutal at points, and admittedly got excessive at the end. Watching Kyoko take FIVE top rope doublestomps to the stomach from Ito was cringe inducing, and that many wasn’t needed to get the point across. That small criticism aside though, this was great.

 

5) DIANA World Championship: Aja Kong (c) vs Sareee 

I’d heard a lot about their previous encounters and have become a huge fan of Sareee in general, so as mentioned above the expectations were high for this one.

 

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It was A LOT more lopsided than I expected at first, with Kong largely wiping the mat with Sareee for the first third to half of the match. Then Sareee found a weakness to capitalize on when Kong missed a charge and “injured” her arm, and Sareee showed she could give as good as she got.

 

 

The back and forth battle raged on, with Sareee weathering the storm long enough to shock the monster with a rollup for the win and the title. This built to a moment, and was pretty excellent along the way. Chihiro Hashimoto comes out afterwards and appears to challenge Sareee to a double title match.

 

 

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.

 

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Wonderful show from top to bottom, with a variety of match styles and points of interest. DIANA delivered big time here.

 

Sendai Girls 4/27/19 Live Thoughts

April 27, 2019 in Sendai, Japan

 

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I’ve seen Sendai Girls’ shows a handful of times in Tokyo and their stars here and there in other promotions (including Dash’s debut for Shimmer a month before) and am a big fan, so am always wishing for more opportunities to catch their shows. This was the first time I was lucky enough to be able to go out to Sendai and seen them in their home base, and my first show of this trip to boot. Great way to start.

 

 

1) Mikoto Shindo vs Hiroyo Matsumoto 

Mikoto is from Marvelous and one of a trio of rookies there that have been making a strong impression as they wrestle for a variety of different companies gaining experience.

Hiroyo against rookies is always fun in general, as she knows how to rightfully dominate the match overall without making her opponent look weak. Mikoto showed good fire and determination before being put away by the veteran. Good opener.

 

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2) Alex Lee & Sakura Hirota vs Hikaru Shida & KAORU

Hirota and Karou on opposite sides of the ring means ridiculousness abound, and this was no exception. Entirely built around Hirota’s antics, specifically trying to get Shida to participate in posing, etc. Things never quite went as she wanted, and not being on the same page as partner Lee by the end caused Hirota to be rolled up and pinned by Karou. Amusing for what it was.

 

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3) DASH Chisako vs Sareee

This is the match that prompted me to go out to Sendai. Arguably wrestling’s biggest rising star against my personal favorite. Sareee challenged Sendai’s Champion in an incredible match at their 1/6/19 show in Tokyo, and while she came up just short there she defeated Meiko Satomura herself shortly before this match and seemed on course for another shot. Dash is another top veteran in Sendai Girls and was in position to play spoiler to those plans here.

 

 

This was everything I hoped for, and Sareee picked up another big singles victory on her way to another date with destiny against Chihiro in an awesome match. Sareee is on absolute FIRE lately, combining incredible in-ring work with real star presence, and it’s always something to behold when Dash gets the opportunity to go all out. They hit the hell out of each other here while build a logical, escalating flow to the match. Fantastic.

 

 

4) Beauty Bear (Chihiro Hashimoto & Mika Iwata) vs Minami & Yuu 

Beauty Bear were the Sendai Girl’s Tag Champions at the time, with Chihiro also holding Sendai’s top singles title. Yuu had recently signed with Pro Wrestling Eve in London after leaving Tokyo Joshi Pro, and was teaming with Sendai’s resident rookie.

This was surprisingly awkward early on, as Mika and Yuu was a styles clash and they took a while to get on the same page. To be honest they both need to work on their improvisation, as when things went a little off they didn’t cover very well and ended up drawing more attention to what should have been small, barely noticeable mistakes.

 

 

Interestingly, tagging the match’s least experienced wrestler in is what smoothed things out, as Minami is a Sendai trainee and as such has a lot of familiarity and comfort wrestling Iwata & Chihiro. Minami trying to put up a fight against more her experienced compatriots made a great anchoring story for the match.

And it was all on point from there on.  Chihiro vs Yuu was just a splendid spectacle of them trying to shoulder tackle each other into oblivion, and the next go around for Iwata and Yuu they concentrated on strikes and found a rhythm to great effect. This became really good after the awkward start. Really awesome to see Minami getting this kind of opportunity too. The champs eventually pinned Minami to win this non-title affair.

 

 

It’s impressive the level of show Sendai Girls was able to put on overall even with their legend missing (Meiko was absent from the show due to traveling to Europe), and a treat to see them out in their home area. Would love to go out there again.

 

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Gatoh Move 5/30, 6/1/19 Live Thoughts

May 30 and June 1, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Tonight Gatoh Move has a big show at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring. In her last month with Gatoh Move before going to AEW, Riho defends her Super Asia Championship in the main event on her birthday.

Special note: Gatoh Move continues to increase accessibility with the sharing of matches online with English commentary at an incredible turnaround. Five of the six matches I discuss here are ALREADY up on their YouTube channel.

 

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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).

 

5/30/19

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1) Masahiro Takanashi & An-Chamu vs Saki & Baliyan Akki

An came out in Sakura’s old costume again, which continues to amuse me to no end. This was just pure fun. An continues to get better and better the more she works with the incredible talent in Gatoh, Takanashi is a master, and their opponents are really gelling as a team and are solid every time out. Good start.

 

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2) Mitsuru Konno vs Yuna Mizmori

Important match for Mitsuru as she tackles one half of the reigning tag team champions she’ll be challenging tonight. Both kept the intensity high here, and added a lot of careful touches to elevate things. There was a particularly great sequence where Mitsuru set up the deathlock but Yuna kept scurrying her body sideways so Mitsuru missed her head while folding backwards. Mitsuru eventually head faked then zoomed right in on the moving Yuna to complete the hold. It’s the little details.

Mitsuru pushed Yuna to a time limit draw. Really good lead in to their impending tag title battle, and during the roundtable it was announced Mitsuru would get to wrestle Yuna’s partner in a singles match on 6/1.

 

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3) Riho & Emi Sakura vs Mei Suruga & Antonio Honda

Just back from their US debuts, Emi Sakura & Riho came out sporting AEW t-shirts with Emi complaining about the crowd size and dismissively calling her OWN promotion a “local indie.” She knows just how to present things like this, and the sheer absurdity of it (while being delivered deadpan) was pitch perfect.

Fun back and forth match, with Riho and Mei interacting a bit before their big title match. Honda eventually defeated Sakura to vindicate… well, Gatoh Move (lol) and potentially give Mei a little bit of an edge going into tonight.

 

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Many birthdays and a wrestling anniversary to celebrate.

 

As usual lately, Gatoh Move is really clicking and this show was a breeze and a joy to watch.

 

6/1/19

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1) Cho-un vs Tetsuya Izuchi

Two of the members of the Heat Up vs Gatoh Move 6-man tag tonight faced off in singles action to open this show. Technically sound if a bit slow, with Cho-un picking up the win and momentum.

They got heated during the roundtable (with Emi involved too), and while I couldn’t follow what was the said the atmosphere and reactions of those around them was pretty easy to read.

 

2) Mitsuru Konno vs Saki

After drawing with one half of the reigning tag team champions two days prior, Mitsuru got a singles opportunity against the other as she faced Saki going into her title shot (with partner Sawasdee Kamen).

This was a really hard hitting contest, with a desperate Mitsuru pushing herself as much as possible but Saki getting the expected win. The frustration is building in Mitsuru, and honestly I kind of feel like it’s the right time to have her shake it all off and pull out a huge victory tonight. We’ll see.

 

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3) Riho, An-Chamu, & Baliyan Akki vs Masahiro Takanashi, Emi Sakura, & Mei Suruga

Incredible main event, interweaving numerous stories in a fast pace, frantic battle with numerous creative double and triple team from all (particularly from Akki’s smaller teammates using him as a base).

At one point the small An tried to help push Akki into a run for momentum, and he didn’t budge. They amusingly started to argue in English (“What are you doing?” “How weak are you?”) then got back on the same page and got the better of Sakura when she tried to take advantage of their bickering. Later Riho tried Emi’s own “We Will Rock You” splash on her. The whole match was peppered with great little things like those.

In a little bit of a surprise after a relentless final onslaught Mei loses clean to Riho going into Tues, wiping out any momentum she had and stacking the deck majorly against her. This was the PERFECT build to tonight’s main, and let several other wrestlers shine as well. Incredible work.

 

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Absolutely everything on this show was set up to build to Tuesday, with to great effect. These two shows were both highly satisfying on their own while progressing the larger pictures for their participants. Really great stuff.

Ain’t No Party Like a Yokohama Party: P’s Party 5/2/19 Live Thoughts

May 2, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Last Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) initially focusing on talent with less than three years experience (although as time passes some of their core roster are obviously passing that particular hallmark), with some vets mixed in for them to work with. The concept is fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed the shows of theirs I’ve seen.

This was a part of Golden Week’s Yokohama Wrestling Festival, and a big deal for P’s Party as it was their first bigger, non-Ice Ribbon dojo show.

 

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The show opened with a 5-way elimination match featuring five of the six young wrestlers being spotlighted throughout the festival in matches against each other (one representative from each of the festival’s participating companies). Ibuki Hoshi vs Amazon vs Giulia vs Himeka Arita vs Shoki Kitamura was a short, fun match that made cool use of the over the top elimination elements. Ibuki and Shoki formed a bit of an alliance leading to the eliminated Shoki saving Ibuki from hitting the floor late in the match, then Ibuki edged out Giulia to pick up the victory.

 

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Next Mystique defeated Chabela in another five minute encounter that honestly wasn’t much of anything until a spark of life towards the end (even despite getting a chair involved outside mid-match). They tried and it’s always good to finish strong, but I’d like to think both have better performances in them.

 

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It’s always a treat to see Marvelous’ rookies, as all three (including the later to appear Maria) have really great instincts and are developing into compelling, well rounded wrestlers extremely quickly. Here Mei Hoshizuki & Mikoto Shindo put on a strong showing before eventually being overwhelmed by the size and power of their opponents and defeated by Satsuki Totoro & Aoki Itsuki.

 

 

The ongoing rivalry between Asahi and Suzu Suzuki continued here as they faced off in a tag encounter with partners Rina Shingaki and Miyuki Takase respectively. Solid match all around here. Rina’s really been evolving over her time with P’s Party, which is great to see. Miyuki looks more and more like a superstar every time I see her. She weathered Asahi and Rina’s determination, slowly wore them down with help from her partner Suzu, and eventually picked up the win for her team.

Which also continues to have Suzu dominate her rivalry with Asahi. Personally I can’t wait until Asahi finally defeats her, and the way things have gone if Ice Ribbon does it correctly the moment will be something special.

 

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A day after her debut match, during which she lost the Triangle Ribbon Title she unexpectedly won as a referee at Ribbonmania, Banny Oikawa was in another 3-way as she faced Uno Matsuya and Tsukushi. Had she retained this was to be another title match. Decent, with the right person going over as Uno was being built up for Triangle Ribbon Championship contention. Awesome to see Banny get the opportunity to transition into a place on the active roster, and while they kept things basic for her she looked decent in her second match.

 

 

As great as all of Marvelous’ current crop of rookies are, Maria is my favorite. So I was extremely excited to see her get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of this show, particularly against another favorite in Maika Ozaki. This was all about the scrappy Maria showing no hesitation in facing Maika’s incredible power, and it completely clicked. They presented a good, well worked story in an exciting match that was exactly as long as it needed to be. Loved this.

 

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The main event featured the debut of Ice Ribbon’s newest roster member Yappy, as she teamed with regular guest Rina Yamashita with a tall task ahead of them in the form of Burning Raw (Giulia & P’s Party Producer Tequila Saya).

I was at Yappy’s first match in front of an audience as a trainee last spring and it was really awesome to see her progress to an official debut and be able to attend.

 

 

Yappy presents a contagious exuberance, and it’s pretty much impossible not to have fun right along with her as she wrestles. She looked good, showing some unique offense and … well, being convincingly empathetic while getting beat down by Burning Raw. ^_^; Rina’s a lovable bulldozer in the ring and I’m really happy to see her wrestling at Ice Ribbon more often recently. Finally, Burning Raw is developing incredible chemistry and is one of the top teams in Joshi to keep an eye on.

Great way to cap off P’s Party’s first big show.

 

 

Words I find that constantly come to mind when I think/write about P’s Party are “solid” and “fun.” And I think that’s exactly the target spot for a promotion centered on developing younger talent (and most others for that matter, to be honest). This was a big win as their first big show, both in terms of enjoyment as well as transitioning to a different / larger environment while still retaining the atmosphere/approach that defines the promotion. Congrats and kudos to Saya and all others involved.

 

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DareJyo 5/1 & 5/11/19 Live Thoughts

May 1 & 11, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

I had the opportunity to see DareJyo present a special showcase show at Itabashi Green Hall on May 1st, then again as a pre-show for Big Japan Wrestling on May 11th. Given the nature of DareJyo I won’t be trying to analyze things match by match here, but will still be giving thoughts in quite a bit of detail.

*Note: While I’ll be talking in length about both of the DareJyo shows I’ve seen so far here, pictures were only allowed at the May 1st showcase at a couple of key moments so the majority of the pictures are from the May 11th pre-show.

 

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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.

 

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It’s a wonderful concept, making wrestling extremely approachable while providing the right framework and support system to learn properly. And it works particularly well because the philosophy and experience of one of the greatest trainers in wrestling, Emi Sakura, is behind it.

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.

 

 

Mei Suruga, an incredible rookie roster member in Gatoh Move “proper” who started via DareJyo, was heavily involved in the showcases both helping to run the drills and participating in matches (two on 5/1 and one on 5/11).

On the longer 5/1 standalone show there was also a period of dropkick practice, where the participants attempted dropkicks to a kickpad held by Mei. They were judged by a panel including several wrestlers as well as the visiting promoters of Pro Wrestling Eve in England. Afterwards the participants who performed the best dropkicks in the judges’ eyes were recognized.

 

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The exhibition matches were a couple of minutes apiece, and in a lot of ways were a breath of fresh air for someone like me who watches so much wrestling.

The participants ranged in age from 8 to 48, and along with their exceptional effort Emi Sakura’s measured and brilliant approach to wrestling in general is what really made it all shine.

The showcase show featured seven exhibition matches:

  1. Mei Suruga vs Hime
  2. Sayuri vs Rin Rin
  3. Yokochin vs Megumi
  4. Hotaru vs Tokiko
  5. Kaori vs Yamada
  6. Sayaka va Erimo
  7. Mei Suruga & Blue vs Aitama & Pyon

 

Each match was clearly well designed to stay within each individual’s limitations while making the absolute most of their skills. Things were understandably kept basic, but an incredibly solid foundation of learning was evident and everyone got a chance to shine a bit.

From the playful opener seeing Mei facing an 8 year old to a match centered around one wrestler’s double jointedness, and so on, each short contest was a captivating example of being able to tell an engrossing story in clever ways by utilizing individual strengths.

 

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As I mentioned on May 11 DareJyo also presented a preshow before Big Japan, which was similar in format but abbreviated compared to the standalone show.

In this case there were three exhibition matches:

  1. Blue & Pyon vs Aitama & Tokiko
  2. Saito vs An-Chamu
  3. Hime, Rin Rin, & Etsuko vs Yokochin, Erimo, & Mei Suruga

 

This time around was a nice chance for the participants to push themselves a little farther, and it included another Gatoh Move “proper” regular who has ties to DareJyo in An-Chamu. Again I was impressed with how everything was structured and approached, and it was a lot of fun.

 

 

DareJyo is the type of thing wrestling needs a lot more of. I think it’s both a fantastic way for interested women to give pro wrestling a try and an extremely fun thing to have experienced as an audience member. I wish all the participants the best whether they choose to keep training on a casual level or pursue wrestling in a professional capacity.

 

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Gatoh Move 5/6/19 Live Thoughts

May 6, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Last Monday’s Gatoh Move show had a lot of important developments, most centered around a one-day, four person tournament to name Riho’s next challenger for her Super-Asia Championship at Riho’s birthday show on June 4th.

 

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In a wonderful step that increases the accessibility of one of the most unique and fun wrestling companies anywhere, Gatoh has started uploading matches with English play-by-play. Currently new matches are being uploaded daily, and in an awesome move they shared the entire tournament yesterday. Short version: it’s great. Head over there now to watch without spoilers. Then/or continue reading for my thoughts and match results (including from the one non-tournament match one the show, which made this a rare four match show for Ichigaya).

This tournament came about after the May 1st Go Go Green Curry Cup show (more on that in a later post) where Mitsuru, Yuna, and Mei all expressed a desire to challenge Riho before she leaves Gatoh Move to go freelance in July. A reluctant Emi, enduring a particularly bad day with her ever present back problems, eventually accepted her spot as the fourth participant.

 

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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).

 

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1) Super-Asia Championship #1 Contender Tournament Round 1: Mitsuru Konno vs Yuna Mizomori

The previous Saturday Mitsuru was pulled from Gatoh’s show due to an injury to her right arm suffered during practice earlier in the day. Here she had it wrapped, was favoring it heavily, and seemed unable to really straighten it fully. I really hope she wasn’t pushing herself too hard taking part here.

That said, this was the usual masterclass in Gatoh Move on making the most of what’s available and woking within constraints. Mitsuru’s arm became the story of the match, with Yuna continually targeting it and taunting Mitsuru in ways like refusing to shake her good arm and insisting on the injured one (which of course caused Mitsuru to angrily slap the hand away). This was top notch story telling by both, with a gutsy performance by Mitsuru and excellent work by Mizumori to take care of her injured counterpart while putting on an exciting, engaging match. Mizumori’s onslaught was eventually too much and she pinned Mitsuru to advance to the finals.

Would have liked to see what this would have been without the injury of course, but instead of letting it hamper things they capitalized and built around it to produce an excellent match. And Mitsuru did not let her arm slow her down at all, which as with her mentor is both incredibly impressive and a little worrisome long term.

 

 

2) Super-Asia Championship #1 Contender Tournament Round 1: Mei Suruga vs Emi Sakura

This was a rematch of the best match I saw during my trip last fall.  Speaking of Mitsuru’s mentor and not letting anything stop her, Emi Sakura, who was using a cane to move around, once again put on a clinic while nursing a bad back. Again making a potential weakness a strength Sakura’s back was the story here, with her unable to lock in certain moves, Mei targeting it, and Sakura even resorting to getting her cane involved. More great stuff for Gatoh’s regulars. Mei eventually tied Sakura up just enough to keep Gatoh’s founder down for 3 and move on to the finals.

 

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3) An-Chamu & Riho vs Baliyan Akki & Cherry 

While giving the tournament participants a break before the main event, this match was also a ton of fun on its own. Riho embraced teaming with the gravure idol, and there was a lot of posing and playfulness going on. Cherry played full heel here, drawing an initially confused Akki along into full on antics by the end. Light and entertaining yet of course anchored with strong wrestling. Cherry pinned An-Chamu to prove underhanded tactics sometimes do pay off. 😉

 

 

4) Super-Asia Championship #1 Contender Tournament Final: Mei Suruga vs Yuna Mizomori

So Gatoh’s two super-rookies faced off to see who would challenge for the company’s top singles title. They are both amazing, particularly given both have under a year and a half experience. It’s interesting that with all the (rightful) buzz about Mei that I think that Yuna’s equally impressive start in pro-wrestling gets overlooked a little, even though she’s already a two-time tag team champion in Gatoh.

This was a blast, with a hyper aggressive Yuna repeatedly charging and trying to overpower the hyper quick Mei. While Mei seemed the favorite for the tournament did eventually best Yuna to become Riho’s next challenger, this really could have gone either way and was gripping right up to the end. Great stuff.

Yuna was crying in frustration after and during the roundtable, a feeling that clearly extended to Mitsuru as well.

 

 

Special guests Dann and Emily Read, who were a joy to meet and talk to, appeared after the roundtable (with translation help from Akki) to talk about being in Japan and taking in around fourteen shows scouting talent. They said one wrestler impressed them more than anyone else, and would be getting a straight shot into their SHE-1 tournament without needing to go through a qualification match, something they only ever did before with Meiko Satomura. There seemed two possibilities and with that lead up I was leaning towards Riho, but it was in fact the other and Mei is going to London this fall! Huge, well deserved opportunity. Big day all around for her.

 

 

During the roundtable Gatoh talents wear t-shirts over their gear. When Dann finished the announcement he gave Mei an Eve t-shirt and she quickly and excitedly took off the one she was wearing to put it on in a really cute moment.

 

 

Great show, perhaps one of the best I’ve seen at Ichigaya, with a ton of significant things happening around excellent wrestling, And in a somewhat unusual case for Gatoh I can recommend going online right now to check out a majority of the show, so do so. 😉