Gatoh Move 10/4 & 10/5/18 Live Thoughts

October 4 & 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s October 4th show was supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last appearance for them and thus the fourth and final in my quasi-tour of her final shows with various companies before her self produced retirement show.

 

However a typhoon intervened (which was quite the experience O_o ) and the big Gatoh Move show at Itabashi Greenhall on 9/30 that was supposed to run after the Pure-J show I saw at the same venue in the early afternoon was cancelled. Aoi’s planned match that night was a special one for her, and with her retiring just a week later there wasn’t much time available to reschedule it.

 

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But she and Emi Sakura managed to do it anyway. An entirely new Ichigaya show was added on 10/5 (in addition to the already full schedule for both Aoi approaching her 10/7 retirement show and Gatoh Move already having shows set for 10/4, 10/6, and 10/7), and Aoi wasn’t the only wrestler Gatoh would say goodbye to that night…

 

 

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).

 

 

10/4/18:

 

 

 

Things started off with my first look at Darcy Stone against one half of Gatoh Move’s tag team champions in Yuna Mizumori. Darcy’s good and a fun addition to Gatoh’s lineup of visiting wrestlers. She seemed to have a rivalry building with Yuna, and got in some good offense before Yuna eventually went into full wrecking ball mode and picked up the win. As with all of Emi’s trainees on the core Gatoh Move roster Yuna is insanely good for her level of experience.

 

 

 

I’ve mentioned before how impressive and fun it is when Gatoh Move regulars are involved in a 6-person tag match in Ichigaya’s enclosed space, and Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Balliyan Akki vs Mei Sagura, Saki, & Masahiro Takanashi certainly continued this trend. Everyone involved is a part of the core roster or regular visitor, and as such they all know how to use the Ichigaya environment wonderfully and tell a story within its confines.  It was particularly great for me to see Mitsuru get a rare pinfall victory on her two year anniversary in wrestling. 🙂

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Emi had prepared a special song for Aoi (with audience participation) that was sung for Aoi during the post-show festivities. The show was super sold out, which was great to see. Fantastic night all around.

 

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10/5/18:

It’s wonderful that this show was put together and added in so Aoi Kizuki’s scheduled match from the cancelled show could still take place before she retired. I’ll talk about that more when we get to the main event, but in the meantime she came out and issued a special challenge… to her former tag team champion partner Sayaka Obihiro!!!  This was a big deal as Obi was out with a knee injury. It was an extremely short match (under 2 minutes) since Obi was obviously still not fully ready to return, but was a wonderful way to say goodbye to her friend and former partner and was really special to be at.

 

 

 

Makoto vs Darcy Stone was the first scheduled match, and like the main event to come was rescheduled from the cancelled Greenhall show. Fine “opener” that gave Darcy a chance to wrestle a much more experienced opponent.

 

 

 

An-cham, Balliyan Akki & Riho vs Emi Sakura, Yuna Mizumori, & Cherry  was another really fun 6-person tag anchored by Gatoh regulars. An-cham looked decent in my first time seeing her, before eventually being defeated by the force of nature that is Mizumori. Emi and Cherry were clearly having a blast with their quasi-heel antics (and celebrating their victory).

Akki is so comfortable and adapt within Ichigaya’s unique constraints now and impresses every time out, on top of being an inspiration for the way he’s gone to a foreign country to pursue his dream and is making it all a reality. Riho is Riho, and if more needs be said you haven’t been paying enough attention. 😉

 

 

 

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

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

 

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But the night’s emotional goodbyes weren’t limited to Aoi. A few days before this show Aasa, who had withdrawn from wrestling at the end of December 2017 due to what turned out to be chronic illness, announced she would not be returning and her retirement became official. She appeared at this show to say goodbye and greet the fans one last time, and it was nice to be able to thank her for her time in wrestling and wish her well in whatever lies ahead.

 

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So this was a pair of heavily emotional shows, on top of being some of the best wrestling-wise I’ve ever seen in Ichigaya. A wonderful, special couple of nights.

Wave 10/1/18 Live Thoughts

October 1, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Third in my quasi-tour of Aoi Kizuki’s final shows with various companies as she approached her retirement was a weekday Wave. Smaller audience than I’m used to for shows I’ve seen from other companies at Shinkiba 1st Ring, but it was still an excited crowd and I also lucked into running into a friend and getting to watch the show together.

 

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First up was Miyuki Takase vs Yuki Miyazaki. Miyuki is a promising wrestler from the Actwres girlZ promotion who’s in her second year, and looked good when on offense here. To be honest, Miyazaki’s style of comedy isn’t really my style so as happens often with her matches this ended up in strictly inoffensive but unremarkable territory for me.

 

 

 

Next was Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto vs Shoki Kitamura. It was a basic match and honestly too long for what it was. They weren’t quite ready to fill time for a time limit draw (so many chinlocks…), and the result was a bit bland. Nothing actively bad though, and instincts for pacing, etc will develop with more experience.

 

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Rina Yamashita & Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave champion Asuka vs Ryo Mizunami & Nagisa Nozaki was a nice tag match wrestled at a good clip (as always this is a Wave review and as such I’m talking about their Asuka and not the former Kana). All four have high impact strike variations, so this was hard hitting and exciting.

 

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Aoi Kizuki‘s final Wave match was a singles contest against Hiroe Nagahama in the semi-main. In a bit of a parallel I also saw Hiroe wrestle Mika Iida on the latter’s retirement show  retirement show back in May. This was a really good match, and I was thrilled to see Aoi get a singles spotlight like this on her way out.

It’s also great in general how different each of Aoi’s final matches with the various companies were while all being highly enjoyable. Nagisa got involved late in the match on Aoi behalf, and Aoi won with her sideways rotating top rope splash (Twisted Bliss).

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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After a couple of so-so matches, everything kicked into gear and three very different, yet all extremely good, matches were presented that made this a really fun time live overall. And again, I’m a huge fan of both Aoi and Misaki and feel extremely lucky to be able to see them wrestle so many times as their careers wind down.

 

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Pure-J 9/30/18 Live Thoughts

September 30, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Like during my May trip, this was another case where I went to a to Pure-J primarily to see Aoi Kizuki as her career wound down. This was her final show for Pure-J, exactly one week before her self produced retirement show. It was my second of Aoi’s final company shows, as I saw Aoi Last Ribbon the day before.

 

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Despite Pure-J’s regular roster members being talented, there’s something missing for me when they wrestle one another. So I generally find the visiting wrestlers more interesting and that my enjoyment level of the show usually depends on who’s visiting and how they’re used.

 

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It’s been really cool to see Ice Ribbon’s Giulia develop and get opportunities to wrestle in other promotions, and was even cooler to see her picking up a victory over Mari Manji to open this show. Her character’s coming along, she’s solid in the ring, and she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as her experience grows. Manji seems decent enough in the couple of short looks I’ve had of her, although this was honestly Giulia’s spotlight.

 

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The next match was my first look at Gatoh Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura, who I’d heard a LOT about, and it was all immediately validated as Mei clearly “gets it.” She already has uncanny instincts regarding how to incorporate her charisma into her ringwork, which is also ahead of her experience level. She really impressed me, and it was just a glimpse of what was to come. Her victorious opponent Kazuki is fine, but it was Mei’s exuberance and personality that made this fun and compelling.

 

 

Saki & Manami Katsu vs Raideen & Keiko Aono was centered on Aono as she approached her own retirement after a 23 year career (also a week away at the time). This was pretty paint by numbers, but was still fine, a deserved spotlight for Aono, and I always enjoy seeing Saki.

 

 

It was really nice to see Moeka Haruhi get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of her “So On Flower” partner’s Pure-J goodbye show. She looked good against one of Pure-J’s resident veteran’s in Leon before falling in defeat.

 

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In the main event Aoi Kizuki teamed with her regular partner from Pure-J, their reigning champion Hanako Nakamori, against Pure-J’s ultimate veteran and one of their most spotlighted rising stars in Command Bolshoi & Yako Fujigasaki respectively.

 

 

The chemistry between the four was quite good, and strong action was mixed with career tribute spots including the Joshi traditional corner splash sequence (with Giulia and Moeka amusingly giving Aoi hugs instead of strikes) for another cool, well done sendoff for the Happy Maker.

 

 

2 for 2 on fun overall shows capped of with Aoi’s last match with the company in question, with more to come.

 

As a side note, this was meant to be the first of a double header for me with a Gatoh Move show at the same venue later that day, but that’s a story for when I get to Gatoh’s 10/4 show…

Aoi Last Ribbon: Ice Ribbon 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

This particular trip for me was largely planned around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement, and I was extremely lucky to see her final appearances at several promotions in the week before her self produced retirement show.

Perhaps the most significant would of course be her final show with the company she spent the vast majority of her career with.

Considering I became big fans of both Aoi and Ice Ribbon during my first trip to Japan right before she left the company to go freelance I was thrilled she came back in the last months of her career, and being able to attend this special farewell show for her was a particular treat for me.

Since this was a special event, it was a Shutter Ribbon show and pictures were allowed despite not being the usual designated show for it (at the dojo, pictures are generally only allowed during the first show of the month).

 

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The show opened with a tag match between The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) and Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukushi. Pretty standard Butchers vs “rookies” match. At eleven minutes this was given the most time outside of the main and honestly other contests really could have used it more, but this was fine overall and there’s always extra fun to be had when Ibushi faces her mom. The vets of course won, with Mochi pinning Ibuki after the Metabolic Sand (Styles Clash).

 

 

Miyako Matsumoto vs Giulia was up next. A good portion of the match centered around silliness involving Miyako trying to use referee Bunny as an attack strategy (and it backfiring), and the rest was the two trying to strike and counter-wrestle their way to an advantage.

Speaking of matches that could have used more room to breath, this was decent for what it was and the scant 4 minutes they had to work with but could have been more. Giulia’s progressing nicely and I’d like to see her start winning more matchups like this, but Miyako prevailed with a cool reversal idea into the Miyacoco Clutch that was unfortunately a bit awkward in execution.

 

 

Tsukasa Fujimoto & Karen DATE vs Novel Tornado (Totoro Satsuki & Nao DATE) was a great little tag match involving the reigning champion and three of IR’s impressive rookies. Early on Tsukka & Karen set up for Aoi Kizuki’s trademark pose, but continuing a running gag from Aoi around the time that Tsukka was too old to do the “Youth Pyramid” Aoi ran in, stacked Tsukka on top of the pile and did the pose with Karen herself. Tsukka would work the pose in here and there later on to boos, and even busted it out during photos ops after the show (which earned me a joking reprimand from Aoi from across the building when I did the pose with Tsukka). Amusing undercurrent that was fun without derailing the match too much or taking away from the excellent action.

Small gripe from me that they really didn’t need to use a regular team here if Tsukka was going to win with a random partner, but I loved it otherwise. Soccer kick finished Totoro.

 

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The semi-main was the definition of making the most of things as Kyuuri vs Saya packed a particularly fun, exciting contest into five minutes and change. They both have engaging ring personas and styles that shined here, and Kyuuri picked up solid win.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Aoi was presented with a gift from the roster after the show and then everyone sang with her. All in all this was an enjoyable show in itself, in addition to being a wonderful IR goodbye to Aoi.

 

 

Aoi and Ice Ribbon started my Joshi Puroresu adventures in Japan and it was a privilege to attend her farewell to the promotion live.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has grown into a really entertaining promotion with several excellent performers. This was my first time seeing TJP at a venue other than Korakuen Hall, and I was curious to see what one of their “smaller” shows would be like. Greenhall’s a great venue itself, so this looked to be a fun afternoon.

 

 

 

The Up Up Girls came out to dance to kick things off. I saw them debut against each other in a tag match to open TJP’s 1/4/18 show, so all four are still in their rookie year. Here the show proper once again opened with an inter-group match, in this case Hikari vs Raku in a singles contest.  A fine outing for both, although they’re still a bit tentative and have awkward exchanges at times. Hikari seemed just a touch more polished, and also picked up the victory. Decent for what it was.

 

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The 3 Way match of Yuu vs Yuna Manase vs Yuki Kamifuku was all story, revolving around Yuna and Yuki trying to seduce Yuu into helping them instead of the other. Yuki had the alliance advantage early on after giving Yuu a magazine featuring pictures of Yuki, but miscommunications and Yuna flaunting her body keep things switching around. No, I’m not joking about any of this. Eventually both screwed up often enough that Yuu had enough, so they teamed instead. Yuu of course eventually won, being quite a bit above either on the card. Some amusing bits, but overall the comedy fell a little flat with me and this was just kinda there.

 

 

 

Azusa Takigawa is winding down her career and back in her regular persona after her brainwashed “Azusa Christie” phase. Here she teamed with the Muscle Idol Reika Saiki against Hyper Misao & Shoko Nakajima. The latter team came out with signs apparently protesting Azusa’s retirement, and Reika joined in the protest for a bit. Seeing the tiny kaiju enthusiastically copying Misao was highly amusing. Azusa eventually attacked her opponents and slapped her partner upside the head to get things started.

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Up Up Girls member Hinano was outmatched in non-title action against TJP’s Princess of Princess champion Miyu Yamashita and knew it, resorting to bouts of fake crying, etc to try and throw her opponent off her game. Hinano managed to get a bit of back and forth going out of it, but Miyu dispatched her in short order once the champ got serious. Fine way to get the rookie some experience against TJP’s ace and let her look good while still telling a story that made sense for those involved. 

 

 

 

The main event was a 6-woman tag between Yuka Sakazaki, Mizuki & Maki Itoh and Nodoka Tenma, Yuki Aino & Miu. It’s interesting for me to see Yuka now tag champs w/ Mizuki given last time I saw TJP back in January Yuka defended those same belts (w/ Shoko) against Mizuki (w/ Gatoh Move’s Riho). Yuka’s a personal favorite and always a joy to watch, and Mizuki’s right up with her as one of TJP’s most consistently great workers. Add in the rising superstar with nuclear levels of fan support and charisma Itoh and their trio is a bit of a superteam.

I like Nodoka’s new gimmick (I am perhaps the only TJP fan thrilled to see her put Nodoka-Oneesan behind her) and her team with Yuki is clicking nicely. Miu’s generally considered the current top prospect of the Up Up Girls, and I understand why.

So with all the elements put together this was an engaging, solidly worked match with flashes of brilliance. Nodoka’s trio put up a good fight, but eventually came up short when Miyu fell to a high flying assault from TJP’s tag champs. The way Yuka in particular soars around the ring is amazing, and I honestly think she’s one of the best fliers in wrestling (right up with Dash Chisako at the top of the heap in my mind, and that’s saying a lot).

 

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Afterwards Nodoka & Yuki stake a claim for a shot at the tag titles, which I believe the champs eventually accepted. During the whole exchange a somewhat bored looking Itoh sat on the ropes patiently waiting for her partners’ business to be concluded. Her trying to be supportive while just barely being unable to hide a touch of disinterest was a great character moment.

 

 

 

So the card obviously wasn’t quite as stacked as the Korakuen shows, but was still quite good with enough here to satisfy and some really strong performances from the expected names.

In contrast the merchandise situation was fantastic, far better than the madness at Korakuen.  Post show there was more time and space, which made a ton of difference. Everyone stayed until their personal line was done, with staff announcing as someone was getting ready to leave so fans had one last chance to go over. I finally got to meet several wrestlers I’m a big fan of for the first time, and I appreciate all the effort and enthusiasm both the company and wrestlers put into it all.

Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to excel at emphasizing its strengths and nurturing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, to great effect. This was a different type of show than the previous ones I saw of theirs, but just as worthwhile and enjoyable.

Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2

In Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art I talked about the the wrestling centric work of Rob Schamberger. Here, in addition to featuring more from Rob, I’d also like to spotlight another artist who specializes in wrestling related creations as well as an artist readers of this blog will be well familiar with who has entered the realm of drawing professional wrestlers as the result of commission requests from me. 😉

 

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A mix of originals and prints of Rob Schamberger’s striking work.

 

WWE’s Asuka (formerly Kana) is a longtime favorite of mine, and was the subject of first wrestling related commission request I ever made (top left above). She has remained central to collection (and will come up again later), particularly in terms of Rob’s wonderful mixed media creations which generally start with a framework from a photo of the subject and grow from there via Rob’s creativity, expert techniques, and incredible use of color. I’ve also added an original painting (as well as signed print) of current NXT Women’s Champion and Stardom alumni Kairi Sane (formerly Kairi Hojo) that nicely capture the unique presence and charisma of the Pirate Princess.

 

More information about Rob’s art can be found on his website.

 

 

 

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams and Beautiful Dreams 2, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work.

One of the more unique requests I made among a plethora of video game and anime characters was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. I thought Juri’s style would be perfect for this and it came out far beyond my high expectations. I specified only the subject here, and I adore the incredible way Juri captured and combined Mitsuru’s strength, determination, grace, and beauty in her remarkable hand drawn rendition. From there I got even more excited about having her draw more wrestlers. Asuka of course was on the list, and Juri wonderfully depicted her striking presence and style.

Aoi Kizuki is a personal favorite of mine who recently retired, so Juri’s fantastic rendition of her will be a treasured momento of a wrestler who will be greatly missed. The little details, like the patterns and textures on both Aoi’s and Asuka’s outfits and the highlighting use of metallics really make these incredible works come to life.

 

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Dash Chisako PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

Sendai Girl’s Dash Chisako is my favorite high flyer in all of wrestling, and I’m amazed and ecstatic with how perfectly Juri captured Dash mid flight performing her trademark frog splash. Having Dash performing one of her flying moves is the most specific I got with any of my wrestler requests for Juri, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. The likeness, colors, sense of motion, etc are all pitch perfect.

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page.

 

 

 

Shining Wizard Designs is another artist who specializes in depictions of wrestlers, in this case wonderfully stark, hyper realistic black and white ink drawings he regularly shares on social media. I adore the striking assortment of pieces of his I’ve gotten, and have been lucky enough to get a few of them signed by the wrestlers. In addition to excellent versions of the previously mentioned Asuka and Dash, SWD drew the reigning Wave Pro Tag Team Champions Bossy to Mammy (Marvelous’ rising star Mio Momono and Wave veteran Yumi Ohka) as well as Ice Ribbon’s MMA trained rookies Team DATE (Hana, Nao, Nori, and Karen) for me.

Aoi isn’t the only wrestler I follow retiring this year, so in tribute I commissioned a combination piece featuring Aoi, Wave’s Mika Iida, and Tokyo Joshi Pro’s Maho Kurone, as well as a stand alone piece of Wave’s Misaki Ohata (who will retire in December) doing one of her gorgeous flying cross bodies. Of course later even more retirements were announced, which gives subjects for the future I suppose. 😉 I will miss all of these wrestlers greatly but wish them the best.

 

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Gatoh Move (Mitsuru Konno, Sayaka Obihiro, Emi Sakura, and Riho) by Shining Wizard Designs.

 

Finally, I had a piece done featuring some of the core members of Gatoh Move, a small, wonderful company run by the incredible Emi Sakura. In addition to Emi and Mitsuru (from Juri’s work above), Gatoh’s ace Riho and lynchpin Sayaka Obihiro are also pictured. I’m extremely happy with SWD’s work and greatly appreciate the opportunity to get these done.

 

More information about Shining Wizard Designs art can be found on Twitter.

 

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Thanks again to all three of these artists for their impressive creations.

Japan Trip Spring 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

I ended up managing to write up thoughts on all the shows from Spring trip just before going back to Japan, but there is one last entry I’d like to share highlighting my favorite matches from those Spring shows before moving on to Fall.

During this trip I saw 14 shows from 8 promotions (considering P’s Party part of Ice Ribbon) with 68 matches featuring 118 different wrestlers, and as usual the vast majority of what I saw was great. So even featuring my top ten 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 I saw by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 19 matches, Kani King Produce: 4 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 6 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, Seadlinnng: 9 matches, and Sendai Girls: 6 matches.

 

Honorable mentions:

I saw a ton of excellent tag team wrestling (including an entire tournament) this trip and it was difficult to narrow down. In the end little things and the involvement of personal favorites determined what made the list, but the entire Go Go Green Curry Cup, New Tra vs Tsukka & Ibuki Hoshi, Best Friends vs Command Bolshoi & Yoshiko, Team DATE vs Tsukka, Miyako Matsumoto, & Hamuko Hoshi, etc were all great examples of well worked, engaging tag team wrestling.

 

 Iida’s retirement – Wave 5/4/18

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Mika Iida wrapped up her career in a pair of fun matches and a goodbye ceremony that all were infused with her enthusiasm, self aware personality, and a real sense of joyousness despite the emotional nature of the show. It was a privilege to be able to attend.

 

Honda brings the comedy – Gatoh Move 4/28/18 and 4/29/18

Antonio Honda’s brand of humor can be hit or miss with me, but at his best wrestling and comedy combine seamlessly in wonderfully entertaining spectacles. This time there were two wonderful examples, each also involving a personal favorite of mine in recently retired Aoi Kizuki and Gatoh Move rookie Mitsuru Konno respectively.

 

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Honda & Aoi teamed in Gatoh Move’s mixed tag tournament, a pairing that seemed pitch perfect after seeing them face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed 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.

 

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At Ichigaya Honda and Mitsuru had what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru used to routinely draw pictures on autograph boards that audience members could get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 She’d also later use the sketchpad from the match to reveal a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a Twitter account.

 

 

Catch the Wave Finals: Rina Yamishta vs Ayako Hamada

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

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

 

 

Top 10:

10.  Mio & Kyuuri vs Maki & Yamagata Marvelous 5/5/18

 

In the main event of Marvelous’ show on 5/5/18, Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL 5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

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

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I was beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move (which didn’t end up happening as planned due to a typhoon O_o). Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

9.  Mio Momono, Kyuuri, & Tsukushi vs Saori Anou, Tae Honma, & Maika Ozaki- Ice Ribbon 5/5/18

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

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

 

 

8. Asahi vs Misaki Ohata – P’s Party 4/25/18

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This was almost a “Asahi vs veterans” entry under Honorable Mentions like with Mitsuru in my last list, but while they were all quite good with the booking context around the Miyako match and Yoshiko being Yoshiko I actually did like this match just a bit better than the others.

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 (including the previously referred to Miyako and Yoshiko matches). 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.

 

 

7.  Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Mask — Gatoh Move 4/28/18

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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 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: Gatoh Move’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 prevailed and moved on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho & 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.

 

6. Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami – Seadlinnng 5/5/18

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This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

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

 

 

5. Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami  – SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

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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.

 

4. Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto – Ice Ribbon 4/28/18

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

 

3. Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio MomonoSEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

 

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. 

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. The first match I saw this trip, and it was immediately recognizable that it’d be one of the best.

 

 

2. Io Shirai vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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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.

 

 

1.  Sendai Girls Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Ayako Hamada – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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 that show. This is bittersweet to look back on given Hamada’s troubles and exit from wrestling, but this was my #1 match of that trip and deserves to be acknowledged 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.