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

 

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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 her 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.

 

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4) Minoru Fujita vs Sakura Emi W

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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

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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

 

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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.

 

 

Progress NYC 8/7/18 Live Review

August 12, 2017 in Queens, NY

Progress’ NYC debut last year was a great show somewhat marred by a horrible venue. I was extremely pleased to hear they’d be running La Boom this time around, which one of my favorite places to watch wrestling.

Jim Smallman came out to open to thank NYC for a Tuesday night sellout, reminisce about how special it was to get a “please come back” chant for the promotion the previous year BEFORE THE SHOW STARTED, and generally soak in the excitement of the crowd. He comes across as genuinely appreciative and set the stage for a great night.

 

 

TK Cooper received a warm welcome for his return to New York from a crowd happy to see him competing again after his unfortunate injury at last year’s NYC show that left him out for 9 months. His opponent Eddie Dennis jumped all over this in some of the best heel promo work I’ve ever seen simply saying the injury is the only reason the crowd cares about Cooper at all and then throwing in that the only reason Cooper was booked is because it was too late for Progress to cancel his plane ticket once his tag team partner was injured. Dennis cut straight to the bone but, perhaps more importantly, expertly delivered everything with the needed pitch perfect tone that ensured the audience would take offense on Cooper’s behalf (instead of perhaps chuckling at the level of burn delivered). The sold out NYC crowd packing La Boom arrived ready to be loud and involved, and the show started right out with a story they could latch onto, fostering and elevating the electric atmosphere.

 

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Furthermore, the match itself was extremely well worked with Cooper trying weather Dennis’ calculated yet driven assault while the latter did everything he could to stay a step ahead. Cooper looked a little hesitant at points, which may have been an intentional attempt to sell trepidation after what happened during his last appearance here. If so I don’t think it came across quite the way it was intended. Otherwise though he looked good and it was great to see him back. Dennis was incredible, with his ringwork the equal of his character work, and made one of the strongest impressions of the night in my first time seeing him. His victory put him at 2 in the 3 and in challenge, meaning he’s one more consecutive victory away from being one of the challengers for the Progress title at their biggest event ever. I’d love to see it. Excellent way to start the show.

 

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Speaking of matches with title implications, Natalia Markova and Ashley Vox faced to earn a spot in an upcoming Progress Women’s Championship match. They each appropriately fought like they desperately needed to win and never let up. Highlights included them dropping everyone’s jaws with high impact dives to the floor (side note: for the love of god Progress PLEASE get real mats on the outside next time). I’d seen Vox once before in a good tag match on a Marvelous USA show a couple of years ago. She’s continue to grow as a performer since then and was fantastic here. After the only women’s match on the card Vox received one of the very few “please come back” chants targeted at an individual of the night. Great effort and performances from both in an excellent match that saw Markova prevail to move on to the tile match.

 

 

Something that’s so important but sometimes overlooked is making sure the live crowd knows what the rules and stakes of matches are. With the last match clarifying it was for a future title shot gave important context, and likewise here Smallman explaining before the match began that it was submissions only but rope breaks were still in force was a much appreciated little touch that allows the audience to understand the parameters from the get go and become immediately engaged in the match.

I’ve heard Flash Morgan Webster’s name often, but this was my first look at him. He has a striking look / gimmick, and had an intense match with Mark Haskins that had a strong, wonderfully told underlying story and made great use of the submission only stipulation.

 

 

Haskins kept at Morgan full bore while the latter took every shortcut he could and targeted a foot Haskins injured when he went for a kick and Morgan blocked it with a chair. Late match Morgan got the advantage using Haskins’ own helmet as a weapon, but when he tried to continue and use it to attack Mark’s wife Vicky things backfired, Vicky beat on Morgan a bit in what felt like retribution without me knowing anything at all about the story building up to this match, and Mark put Morgan away. Afterwards the couple towered over a prone Morgan, and in a wonderful bit of chickenshit heel character work he kept looking back and forth between them as if unsure who he needed to be more afraid of. Also of note: Haskins was giving a MASTERCLASS on selling if one paid attention, grimacing any time he had to put weight on the foot, letting it affect his actions in the ring, and selling it all the way to the back. This was fantastic.

 

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With Kid Lykos unfortunately injured on a previous show, John Gresham subbed in as part of CCK to team with Chris Brookes to defend the Progress Tag Team Titles against LAX ( Santana & Ortiz). Easily the match of the night against a strong field, this was tag team wrestling at its finest. I was unfamiliar with everyone in the match except Gresham, who I’d seen every little of and nothing in years, and all four tore it up. Gresham in particular is an absolute gem, being super smooth and perfectly paced and precise in everything he did. They blew the roof off the place so much other wrestlers were constantly peeking out through the curtain to watch. Smallman came out after to call it one of the best matches in Progress’ history and commend all involved, and it was well deserved. Really hope to see more of these four in the future.

 

 

After an intermission to let everyone catch their breath, we had an entry in an ongoing tag team series that saw Sexy Starr (David Starr & Jack Sexsmith) vs Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake).  Gibson didn’t get quite the immediate nuclear heat he had last year, but he was still nearly booed out of the building when he tried to speak. The positive portrayal of and interactions between Starr and Sexsmith are something wrestling needs more of.

I will admit the immersion was broken for me by the presence of one of my personal pets peeves with the referee treating similar actions by the faces and heels completely differently. The ref’s supposed to be impartial, with the heels working around him and cheating behind his back for the advantage. Having a ref manhandle a face back to his corner then lamely shake his finger at a heel while watching him do the exact same thing the face just did really takes me out of matches. Fine match to restart the show with decent action otherwise leading to an eventual feel good win for Sexy Starr.

 

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If this was in fact Matt Riddle’s final La Boom appearance, he went out on an extremely high note against Mark Andrews. The two put on a hard hitting, glorious match in the semi-main spot that went shorter than I expected but made the most of every second in a way made it feel the perfect length. One INSANE spot saw Andrews counter the Bro-to-Sleep into a Canadian Destroyer. Riddle received a huge “thank you Riddle” chant after his victory.

 

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Given Pete Dunne was pulled from last year’s show due to getting busted open the night before and Mustache Mountain’s (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) match was cut short due to Cooper’s injury, it was a particular treat to see the three wrestle live in the main event as British Strong Style took on “The 3 Kings” in the debuting Eddie Kingston & Brody King with Progress star the King of the Goths Jimmy Havoc.

BSS were pretty much conquering heroes here, no matter what they did. And they reveled in it. The six brawled all over, and generally just fought and fought until someone didn’t get up. In this case it was Eddie Kingston falling victim to a Tyler Driver to end it.

 

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Amusing crowd interactions were also plentiful. King tried to throw Dunne’s cloak into the crowd a couple times then got pissed at the fan who just kept handing it back to Dunne. When he went out to stare down the fan, a “kiss!” chant rose, to which Havoc responded by going out and kissing the fan. A “one more time” chant was then met with “if he pays me.” After a series of crazy dives left everyone on the floor, Dunne solicited shoes from the audience to use as weapons, and after the resulting brawl Tyler Bate wrestled the rest of the match with one bare foot.

 

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Trent Seven’s performance particularly stood out to me in numerous little details and mannerisms. After an extended sequence where he played deadweight as various combinations of his partners and opponents tried to get him back to his feet, he fired off rapid strikes on all three of his opponents as Dunne and Bate mocked brawled with each other in the corner. BSS have this incredible ability to seem simultaneously ridiculous and dangerous in the best possible way, and it makes their matches something special. Everyone was spot on here. Just great fun all around.

 

 

Progress knocked it right out of the park with this truly amazing show featuring jaw dropping action, accessible stories even for non-regular viewers, and effort and passion up and down the card. I can’t wait until they come back this way someday.

P’s Party 2 4/25/18 and Kani KING Produce 4/27/18 Live Thoughts

April 25 and 27, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

P’s Party 2

This Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) focusing on talent with less than three years experience. I adore the concept (which is similar to what Wave sometimes does with Young OH! OH!) and with all the promising rookies in Ice and other Joshi promotions Saya chose a great time to start it up. Like with Young OH! OH! there are a few veterans sprinkled in but generally every match has at least one competitor that matches the promotion’s brief. This was their second official show (they had one preview show as well) and had a nice looking lineup with one match I was particularly psyched for.

 

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The crowd was about 50 people, feeling about half full for the dojo but still providing a good atmosphere and seemed a decent turnout for what’s in a lot of respects a developmental product that was just starting up.

The show opened with Tsukushi & Ibuki Hoshi vs Giulia & Maika Ozaki. Tsukushi re-debuted in a “career reset” at Ribbonmania after a hiatus due to legal issues last summer. Ice Ribbon and Tsukushi herself have been fully behind the idea that she’s starting over, so she’s been routinely involved in things like this that feature rookies despite previously having eight years experience. I applaud all involved with how they are proceeding, and am happy Tsukushi’s both getting a second chance and taking it seriously.  I also personally think having a few veterans in these matches helps the others gain experience, so her not actually being under three years experience isn’t an issue for me.

 

 

The was a really fun tag match with Tsukushi being her usual bratty self (and I say that with respect and appreciation for the character), Maika looking wonderfully comfortable and confident in flashing her impressive strength to great effect, and their respective partners doing their best to counter and derail their opponents’ tactics.  Tsukushi’s partner Ibuki Hoshi, a second generation wrestler whose mother also wrestles for Ice Ribbon, already shows incredible instincts for her age and experience and gets better and better every time I see her. Maika’s partner Julia has a striking charisma and is nicely developing her own style in the ring and getting more and more comfortable as a performer. Strong start to the show.

 

 

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans. Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

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I was thrilled to see this match on the card, and it was exactly what I hoped for. Misaki was perfect in largely dominating the rookie while gradually selling getting more of a fight than she expected and showing just the right amount of vulnerability to make Asahi look good while keeping things believable within the story framework. Asahi showed great fire, knowing her role was to go full bore whenever an opportunity presented itself and as such she really succeeded in coming across as someone who knew she was outmatched but was determined to win anyway. Misaki of course eventually prevailed, but she made Asahi look great in the process. At seven minutes the match was just the right length for the story they were telling, and I adored this from start to finish.

 

 

The main event saw P’s Party producer Tequila Saya and her partner Uno Matsuya take on Satsuki Totoro and another visitor from Wave in Hiroe Nagahama. The grouping of Ice Ribbon wrestlers in this match was a treat. Saya and Uno’s alternating rival / partner relationship has been really interesting to follow as time goes on, and watching Totoro play wrecking ball is a joy.

 

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The match was a great proof of concept for P’s Party, with less experienced wrestlers getting a longer match time and more of a spotlight than they normally would on the main shows. It let them experiment with pacing and storytelling, pepper humor and playfulness in with the action, etc. Not everything’s going to work perfectly, but having the freedom to risk that is the entire point and given the talent level of Ice Ribbon’s rookies it will all come together more often than not. And it largely did here, resulting in a solid, enjoyable main event.

 

 

This show was exactly what it should have been, and Saya’s endeavor has a lot of upsides both for the wrestlers involved and Ice Ribbon as a company. I had a ton of fun and hope to see more of these in the future, although since they so far seem to be live only my opportunities to do so will likely be few and far between.

 

 

Kani K☆ING Produce

Two days after P’s Party I went to another somewhat unusual show in Ice Ribbon’s home base. Kani (Crab) King’s show featured a variety of Joshi from numerous promotions, and had an attendance similar to that of P’s Party.

 

 

The show opened with an “offer match” from Ice Ribbon, featuring two wrestlers I discussed at length above. Asahi had another good singles showing against a vastly more experienced competitor as she took on Tsukushi in a really fun match that was brisk and exciting for the full six minutes and change it ran. I’d love to see this matchup revisited periodically as Asahi’s career progresses.

 

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Two wrestlers I was familiar with in Makoto and Pure-J’s Yako Fujigasaki teamed in the next match to take on two I was seeing for the first time in Koharu Hinata & Shiori Akiba.

 

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This was pretty paint-by-numbers and did have a bit of awkwardness here and there, but also had some highlights and spots that really came across well and made an impact. Fine overall. I’d like to see more of Hinata in particular if I get a chance.

 

 

After that was another wrestler I was previously unfamiliar with in Actwres Girlz’ Hikari Shimizu facing another I knew from Pure-J in Raideen Steel (Raideen Hagane). This was fine on a technical level and I’d hope to see Shimizu again in the future. But while Raideen is quite capable of exciting matches against the right person, in cases like this where she’s in a dominating role against an overmatched opponent I find the results … well, a bit boring to be honest.

 

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I adored Nao Kakuta in my only previous time seeing her as both she played a wonderful heel and defeated a character that annoys me in a wonderful application of poetic justice. So it was nice to see her challenge the “Crab World Champion” Yuiga for her title in the main event here.

 

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This was mostly played for comedy, and the action was kept pretty basic. But it was fine for what it was, and the character interactions were the main point. Nao sadly did not become the Crab World Champion.

 

 

Honestly the Ice Ribbon offer match overshadowed everything else a bit from the get go, and overall this wasn’t quite up to the level I’m used to from my Joshi shows. But that’s a relatively high bar and in some ways it wasn’t trying to be.  I got a nice look at some new wrestlers for me, thought the opener was great, and enjoyed just enough of the rest to call it a fun and worthwhile evening all in all.

SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18 Live Thoughts

April 18, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d have just enough time on the day I arrived in Japan for my Spring trip to catch this SEAdLINNNG show featuring numerous favorites of mine and headlined by Best Friends. Then a bit of rescheduling happened due to Arisa missing some shows because of a concussion (which thankfully wasn’t severe and she recovered quickly from), and my anticipation for this event shot even further through the roof.

 

1- Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio Momono

 

 

As referenced above, I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

 

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With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. One of my favorite matches of the entire trip.

 

2- Sae Nomura & Saki Akai vs Rina Yamashita & Kaori Yoneyama 

 

 

There were a couple of cute spots in this based around Sakai’s height advantage, and watching Rina pound on people is always fun, but otherwise this was pretty much an inconsequential filler tag match. Nothing particularly great or bad here, and a bit long for what it was.

 

3- Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami 

 

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

 

 

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

 

Main Event- Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) vs YOSHIKO & Command Bolshoi

 

 

Earlier I called Avid Rival perhaps the best pair in wrestling, and it’s “perhaps” because if it’s not them it’s Best Friends. Tsukka and Arisa are both masters of their craft and make a truly incredible team that’s always a joy to watch. With their opponents here consisting of Arisa’s current rival as well as the head of the promotion she left to join Seadlinnng there’s a lot of added depth and tension.

As I’ve discussed before Yoshiko’s often hard to watch for personal reasons, but man she’s admittedly fantastic in certain roles. Everyone was great here in an aggressive, hard hitting match where the storyline issues and action were seamlessly integrated.

 

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Phenomenal show overall, with numerous excellent talents from outside promotions shoring up Seadlinnng’s solid but minimal roster. First show of this trip, and was one of the best.

 

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Sendai Girls 4/19/18 Live Thoughts

April 19, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

As I mentioned in my discussion of favorite matches from my trip last winter, I was lucky enough to travel back to Japan shortly thereafter. While this Spring trip was primarily to celebrate a momentous occasion for two close friends of mine, I also took the opportunity to see a lot of excellent wrestling.

Although I’m a huge fan of several of Sendai Girls’ regular roster and have seen them often at other companies’ shows, this was only my second chance to see one of their shows live, and my first of theirs at Korakuen Hall. Their 1/6/18 show I saw at Shinjuku Face was fantastic, and the card for this one left no doubt that it would be equally impressive.

 

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In an interesting bit of symmetry for me this show opened with the same rookie matchup the 1/6/18 show did with Ami Sato vs Manami. Overall this mirrored that first match, with some awkwardness but a overall a decent showing both. They’re both showing progression and improvement, which is great. Again I’m a little more keen on Manami, but Sato also shows a lot of potential and she seems to be the one the company’s more behind as she again defeated Manami.

 

 

 

In another parallel opponents from my first Sendai Girls show, Sakura Hirota & Eiger, were teaming here against Solo Darling & KAORU. Of course with this line up it was all comedy. Hirota’s humor is hit or miss for me but when it works it’s truly wonderful, and it was spot on here. From creative sequences involving Karou’s trademark wooden board to Hirota being as afraid of her partner as she was her opponents, etc this was highly amusing. At one point Hirota got Karou in position for a POWERBOMB (?!)… only to slowly walk her across the ring and set her gently down on the opposite turnbuckle. Then of course Karou kicked her in the face.  The finish was wonderfully absurd as Karou tried to block Eiger by holding her board in front of her face, but the latter knocked on it and when Karou “opened” it like a door Eiger threw powder at her. Hirota rolled up the indisposed Karou and the unlikely duo of Hirota and Eiger were victorious. Ridiculous in a lot of good ways.

 

 

 

The next match was just fifteen minutes of chaos as DASH Chisako, Mio Momono, Hiroyo Matsumoto & Alex Lee faced Aja Kong, Sammii Jayne, Heidi Katrina & Cassandra Miyagi. The brawl through the crowd wiped out seats on all four sides of the ring. Particular highlights for me included seeing Dash and Mio (not to mention Hiroyo) on the same team, and scrappy, perhaps overconfident Mio facing off against the monster that is Aja Kong. Really fun match, and as I’ve mentioned before whenever I get to see Dash’s gorgeous Hormone Splash I’m extremely happy.

 

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Mika Iwata and Hana Kimura already had a myriad of issues between them when they faced off on opposites sides of a tag match on my 1/6 show. Things had apparently continued building in the meantime and they faced off in a big singles encounter here. This was solid and they told a good, heated story, although it went a little long for the level of experience of those involved. Both looked good overall though and this felt like a big win for Mika.

 

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

 

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

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Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end the show.

 

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Dash came out afterwards to challenge the new champion for a future championship match. Hamada had been on fire as of late, making that impending contest even more of a dream encounter. Which makes looking back on all of this even more heart wrenching. Shortly after I left Japan, and right before this scheduled match with Dash, Hamada relinquished the title due to legal issues and her home promotion of Wave fired her and scrubbed all of her matches from their online services. She was recently convicted on drug possession charges, an incredibly serious offense in Japan, and announced she will not return to wrestling. I wish her the best in recovering from this and getting the help she needs.

 

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Outside of the mix of emotions surrounding what subsequently happened with Hamada, this was incredible. Quite likely the best show of the fourteen I saw this trip, my latest experience with Sendai Girls just makes me even more excited to see more and more of their offerings.

 

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

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

During this trip I saw 16 shows from 7 promotions with 86 matches featuring 132 different wrestlers, and the vast majority of what I saw was excellent. So even featuring my top ten eleven matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

Match reviews copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate.

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 15 matches, Ice Ribbon: 30 matches, Marvelous: 7 matches, Sendai Girls: 5 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave (including Young OH! OH!): 12 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and Basara/DDT:  10 matches.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

 

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

The two teams each brought several balloons to ringside with them for their 6-woman tag match. It indicated another of IR’s special stipulation matches that highlight touches of comedy and amusingly absurd match conditions while still maintaining a strong sense of competition and the essential trappings of a wrestling match. IR is one of the best promotions there is at achieving that balance. In this case the balloons were legal to use during the match, and there were numerous clever spots involving popping the balloons on and around their opponents. From various splashes onto each other with balloons wedged in between people to hard kicks popping balloons on opponents’ chests and faces, etc there was so much amusement the fact that the competitors often had to hold balloons in place on themselves was easily overlooked. Another humorous highlight was “Merry Christmas Mama Mia,” in which Miyako laid out her three opponents in a line and had her partners Tsukka and Karen follow her around the ring posing while Miyako sang “we wish you a Merry Christmas.” Of course the entire opposing team got their legs up when Miyako’s trio went for the splashes at the end.

This was my first time seeing Novel Tornado team in any capacity, and they have great chemistry and nice double teams. Kyuuri fit in well with them and the opposing trio was an equally suitable pairing. Again what I liked best is that underneath all the comedic elements was a solid, well wrestled match. And of course seeing Miyako get a rare win with a Super Mama Mia (onto a balloon of course) was a nice bonus. This was a ton of fun.

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Top 10 11:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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This contest seeing Gekoku getting a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends was one I was greatly looking forward to. It started off interesting right away as after their entrance Kyuuri and Maika quickly had ref Mio check them (as would normally happen after both teams had entered) and snuck out of the ring back to the sides of the entrance. Then as Best Friends came out they ambushed them from behind to jump start the match. I really liked this, as it showed both aggression and perhaps a bit of desperation from a great team that unfortunately hasn’t had much success lately facing formidable opponents. Little touches like Maika shushing the crowd to not give away their intentions were great.

This was simply a great match. I really wish Gekoku had pulled out the upset, as there were a lot more interesting ways to go with that result, but they had a strong showing against one of the best tag teams in the world regardless.

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

——-

 

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

 

Deep Inside Your Soul: Farewell to Mika Iida

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Custom Funko Pop I made of/for Iida.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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