Gatoh Move 12/29/17 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

My second Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square of my most recent trip was a particular blast for a multitude of reasons.

 

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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen seen there.

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).

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. Aasa was sick and missed all of the GM shows I saw this time. Hope she feels better soon.

For this show I was right outside the window the wrestlers usually use for “high risk maneuvers” and sometimes fight right out of, leading to a need to be ready to scramble out of the way at a moment’s notice. Of note for this show, there a was a couple with a baby seated right next to me. This will become highly relevant. 😉 During the opening dance and introduction the wrestlers were all (rightfully) infatuated with the baby and waving to her.

 

 

 

Mitsuru Konno is my favorite Gatoh Move wrestler (among an incredibly talented roster in the first place) so I was extremely excited to see her get a singles opportunity against Gatoh Move’s Ace, the reigning Super Asia champion Riho. Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20, and her smoothness in everything she does and general instincts properly reflect her experience and skills. This was fantastic, with both making full use of the environment and telling a strong story of Mitsuru getting aggressive in trying to prove herself but coming up a bit short against GM’s superstar. A lot of this happened near (or through) my window, which was a particularly fun bonus for me. Mitsuru’s spot where she spills out of the window then later propels herself back in to attack her opponent using an audience stool to launch from appears to be a regular part of her matches now, and is always awesome.

 

 

 

A flashback to last year for me saw Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa in a comedy skit match. Whenever someone got a 2 count they were allowed to take a prop from a provided basket and make a joke. The referee would then decide if a point was scored (based on whether it was funny, usually indicated by audience laughter). Most points at the end of the time limit wins. The previously mentioned baby’s presence had a big impact here, as Honda stopped a couple of times to reassure her when they were fighting, and during the comedy portions her booming, delighted laughter was absolutely contagious.

Overall this was probably my favorite comedy match ever in Gatoh Move so far, as the gist was usually easy to pick up despite not understanding the spoken portions of the jokes, as were other themes like Obi’s attempts generally not going over well (to the point where she stopped mid-joke once frustratingly declaring “it’s not funny!” and just went back on the attack). Fun stuff.

 

 

The main event was another great tag match from the Asia Dream Tag Team Champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi, with opponents Kazuhiro Tamura & Baliyan Akki who were totally up for the challenge. My first look at Akki was a really good one here, as he fit in well with his much more experienced compatriots and is adapting nicely to GM’s home venue’s unique environment and its constraints and strengths. Overall this was simply a well worked, highly enjoyable main event. Of special note was Emi amusingly reaching out to try to tag the baby when in a submission hold, as well as directly leading me in (successfully) trying to start a “Sa-ku-ra” chant at one point.

 

One of the best Ichigaya events I’ve seen here, with just enough that felt different from GM’s (admittedly awesome) usual formula, in addition to my personal experience being elevated by my lucky seat position and the antics around me.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2017! Part 2: Ice Ribbon 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

A week out from Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had another relatively major show at KFC Hall, headlined by the Ribbonmania challenger to Risa Sera’s Ice Cross Infinity Championship trying to take Risa’s other belt first as Kurumi Hiiragi & Akane Fujita challenged Azure Revolution (Risa Sera & Maya Yukihi) for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships.

This was my second of four Christmas shows this year, taking place on Christmas Eve. The first was an Ice Ribbon dojo show the day before, which did a lot to build up some of the issues going into this show.

 

This was my first time at KFC Hall for anything. It’s a really nice venue with a good atmosphere. The show started with the roster dancing out in Santa hats while Maya sang part of “All I Want for Christmas.”

 

 

 

The first match saw a developing rivalry between rookies take the stage in a singles match pitting Asahi against Ibuki Hoshi. They were on opposite sides of the main event tag match for the previous day’s dojo show, and showed a lot of aggravation and frustration with each other. That vibe continued here in a hard hitting encounter (wow did they lay into each other with forearms) that saw IR’s younger Hoshi get the better of her rival. Ibuki has looked good in everything I’ve seen her in so far, and I’ve been even more impressed with Asahi. Looking forward to seeing both continue to develop their skills.

 

 

 

Tequila Saya had been out of action for a bit, and returned to face the daunting opposition of Satsuki Totoro. Another solid contest, with Saya trying to persevere against the onslaught of her larger opponent but eventually being overwhelmed. Satsuki land hard on Saya for the finishing top rope senton, and Saya seemed knocked for a loop. She did stand and was helped out. I hope she’s ok.

 

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As befitting a team of Matsumoto & The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) their match against Hana DATE, Makoto, & Julia was a strong blend of action and comedy. Hammy’s reindeer costume was highly amusing. Like the day before Miyako busted out the “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” Mama Miya, and it was likewise hilariously unsuccessful. This was my first live look at both Hana and Julia. Julia looked decent, even if it was obvious she was in the match to be take the fall. Hana’s style of strike based wrestling is great, and I certainly understand all the buzz I’ve seen about her.  She had my favorite spots of the match, including a sequence where she tried to wear down Hammy’s impervious stomach with a serious of quick strikes, and an absolutely beautiful flying kick to her three opponents stacked in the corner.

Miyako constantly trying to steal the spotlight from her own partners was also highly amusing. And with her team’s victory, I believe this is the longest winning streak I’ve seen from her live, at two whole matches. 😉

Honestly Makoto was just kind of there. Not bad, but didn’t really add anything and I’ve seen better from her.

 

 

 

My most anticipated match of the card was up next as GEKOKU (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) got a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima). 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.

 

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The two semi-finals of the Young Ice Tournament (where the winner will be in line for a title match of her choice) were the last matches before the main event, starting with Nao DATE vs Uno Matsuya. Nao impresses me more and more the more I see her wrestle, and Uno is my favorite rookie in IR, so I was excited for this one. Hana had initially seemed a potential favorite for this tourney, so when Uno eliminated her in the first round it opened up the possibility of Uno as a dark horse candidate. I wish she had advanced here, as it would have kept a feeling of uncertainty alive and capitalized on the momentum of that first round victory instead of wasting it. The match was extremely good either way though and Nao certainly deserves the opportunity for a important match at Mania.

 

 

 

With Nao advancing to the finals, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki seemed even more like a forgone conclusion. Good match, with Karen doing really well against the most experienced participant in the tourney before Maruko put her away for the expected win. Maruko is very good, but I really wish someone else was winning this tournament. She’s already viewed at a slightly higher level than the rest of the field, and whatever title opportunity she’ll be pursuing could have easily been set up another way. In general IR needs to do more to elevate their undercard during tournaments, as they tend to have the favorites dominate. I will be absolutely (and pleasantly) SHOCKED if Nao wins at Ribbonmania.

Maruko and Nao have a tense staredown further setting up the finals as Nao comes out to check on her defeated sister after the match. If Maruko wins she will have gone through every member of Team DATE in the tourney except her former rival Hana.

 

 

 

 Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) vs Akane Fujita & Kurumi Hiiragi for the International Ribbon Tag Titles was good, intense match where Akane in particular shined. Watching her and Kurumi level people like wrecking balls is great. The champs retained with Maya’s “Snow-ton” Bomb on Akane, giving Risa bragging rights over her impending challenger without slowing Kurumi’s momentum as a threat to Risa. I wanted a title change here, but this makes a Kurumi victory at Mania more likely (I don’t see Risa having both belts going into the new year). Kurumi got in Risa’s face for a pull apart when the latter tried to cut a post match promo. Good build to the main event on their biggest show of the year.

 

 

 

 

Akane took the microphone for a second during the post match tensions and challenged Arisa Nakajima. It was accepted and announced for Mania. This answers the question of Arisa’s involvement with her tag partner busy in Tsukushi’s re-debut. Will be a good match and Akane totally deserves the spotlight of a singles match against a big name opponent (even if Arisa’s victory or a draw is a foregone conclusion).

 

 

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Great show overall, with not a bad match in the bunch and my only real criticism some of the booking choices.

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 3: Gatoh Move 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

For my third of four Christmas themed shows this year (and my second of the day on Christmas Eve) I saw Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

 

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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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen there.

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. This was the first show after the retirement of Kotori, who’s final show I unfortunately missed due to coming to Japan a day late to attend.

 

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).

 

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Aasa wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t compete, so Sayaka Obihiro took her place and the show opened with her against Antonio Honda in a comedy match, something I’m very familiar with from previous trips. In this case it was a Christmas Deathmatch with weapons available to be taken out of a stocking such as a Santa hat, Rudolph nose and ears for a finger puppet rendition, and a croissant. There was also a coffee break scheduled five minutes in. This was ridiculous but on purpose, and while not quite all of the humor was to my tastes it was amusing enough overall. The highlight was Honda using the croissant as a mustache for an energetic, over the top Hogan impression, then opening it and splitting it in half for him and Obi to share during the calm, low key coffee break.

 

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Next up was a 3-way match featuring CHANGO, PSYCHO, and Hoshitango Imachi. Solid contest focused around Psycho flying about (often from the windowsill I was seated right outside, smoothly jumping up into it inches from my face) and he and Chango trying to deal with the larger Hoshitango.

 

The main event continued my string of seeing Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi against Riho and a different partner in the main of the first GM Ichigaya show I see each holiday trip. In 2015 it Kotori was her partner, and last year it was Aasa. This time she teamed with Mitsuru I’ve really enjoyed all the variations on this match I’ve seen, and this was no exception. They really used the environment to its fullest, and Emi and Takanashi played subtly heel to put even more sympathy on the relative rookie Mitsuru.

 

 

 

Being at the target window I had Mitsuru dumped across the windowsill right in front of me slingshot suplex style at one point, then late in the match she and Takanashi spilled all the way out of the window and brawled as I scrambled out the way. My favorite spot of the matched followed, as once Mitsuru neutralized Takanashi she pulled one of the audience stools back near the window, then ran towards it and used it as a platform to launch herself back inside through the window at Emi. Was so cool seeing that from a foot away. The tag champs eventually isolated the less experienced member of the opposing team and Emi pinned Mitsuru for the win. This was great.

 

 

 

The post show roundtable had a fun feel, with the core roster in different colored Santa outfits, Honda wearing reindeer antlers, etc. There was also a couple rounds of rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity to purchase special autograph boards, which was a fun touch.

 

As usual Gatoh Move at Ichigaya provided an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else in wrestling. While these shows can feel very similar to one another, they are always enjoyable. I had a lot of fun with this one, particularly the main event.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2017! Part 1: Ice Ribbon 12/23/17 Live Thoughts

December 23, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

I can’t believe it’s so close to the holidays, and that it’s already time for me to be back in Tokyo. My first show for this trip was Christmas Ribbon at the Ice Ribbon Dojo.

This wasn’t a Shutter Ribbon event, so I don’t have any pictures of the matches.

 

Right before the show got going Sato and Tsukka came out in suits with a formal announcement that a settlement had been reached and that Tsukushi will be returning to Ice Ribbon at Ribbonmania in a “career reset.” Tsukushi then came out for a few words. Her time away and working in the background was appropriate, but I’m glad things are going better and an arrangement was reached for her second chance. She’ll be facing Tsukka in her re-debut.

 

The start of the show was then announced and the roster came out in Christmas outfits (to Maya singing a version of “Jingle Bells”) and had a lengthy, light hearted segment of opening comments.

 

Maika Ozaki vs Nagasaki Maruko  was a great opener, with good, hard hitting action (man did they lay in those forearm shots) with an underlying sense of tension, and a real sense both were growingly frustrated with being unable to win. Maika has really evolved a lot since she first started wrestling in Ice Ribbon and I think both these wrestlers will have big things ahead of them. There was a brief pull apart brawl afterwards as neither was satisfied with the time limit draw, so a rematch seems likely. Looking forward to it.

 

 

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The teams of Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE and Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE) each brought several ballons 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.

 

 

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Things went back to all business in the third match, an interesting non-title encounter between Ir’s Cross Infinity Champion Risa Sera and Uno Matsuya. Uno continues to be absolutely incredible at playing the underdog and getting the audience behind her, and with a little bit of dismissiveness thrown in from Risa they had the crowd fully invested and totally believing in a possible upset by Uno. Risa had a few close calls and eventually had to pull out several finishers to put the upstart down in another great contest.

The timing of this was intriguing, as Uno is still a part of the Young Ice Tournament. She was despondent with the loss, and while I don’t think this is how the tourney will play out her winning it and using the prize choice of championship opportunity to demand a rematch from Risa with the title on the line is certainly one logical way they could go and would be a highly satisfying story to watch unfold.

 

 

The main event saw a nice combination of build for two different matches at the next big show as Maya Yukihi & Ibuki Hoshi faced Akane Fujita & Asahi. The very next day Akane and partner Kurumi would be challenging Azure Revolution (Maya & Risa) for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships, and Asahi and Ibuki would be facing off in a singles rematch. Akane started things off passive aggressively by shaking Ibuki’s hand but refusing Maya and from there all four kept up a good feeling of hostility and wanting to better their respective rivals here. This was best when the wrestlers were just trying to plow through one another and viciously striking their opponents. The sound of the impacts the smaller Asahi and Ibuki were managing when forearming each other was cringe inducing, and Akane playing wrecking ball is always a treat to watch.

There was some awkwardness during other sequences, such as Maya seemingly not being able to decide which corner to go up in at one point and repeatedly starting to go out just to come back in and think some more (given the sequence eventually ended with her partner getting involved I’d guess either someone was out of position or Maya momentarily lost track of where things were going and whether her choice of corner mattered). But they were minor things overall and the match was still quite a good main event to finish the show off  that provided some great build for the following day’s show. Maya eventually got Asahi isolated and kept hitting escalating moves until the rookie couldn’t kick out.

 

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Merry Christmas!

 

The post show roundtable was all about building up the next show, with a nice summary video package shown and several little scuffles and/or arguments between impending opponents. Asahi seemed quite broken up and was crying as she gave her portion, and Tsukka picked her to lead the show ending “Happy Ice Ribbon” cheer to the audience’s strong approval. Two new trainees were introduced as well.

 

I really enjoyed this. It had a diverse batch of matches and styles and was just generally good wrestling all around. The recent influx of talent is certainly having an effect, as having more power wrestlers such as Totoro, Nao, and Maika in addition to Akane and Kurumi and the MMA influence the Team Date women brought in to supplement mat technicians like Kyuuri and Tsukka adds significant depth and variability to the stories that can be told. This show was a perfect way to start my trip.

 

Beautiful Dreams 2: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Juri Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work. Here I’d like to share and talk about more of it (as well as ramble a bit about the stories and inspirations behind certain pieces).

 

 

Juri continues to be heavily featured in Perna Studios excellent card sets. I’ve been lucky enough to get several diverse, beautiful sketch cards of hers from sets like Witchcraft, Elementals, etc, in addition to having the opportunity to commission some incredible Artist Proofs (APs) as well.

Juri’s also done promo and base card art for Perna’s sets, and special cards including metal and spot foil chase cards and variants.

 

 

Some particularly interesting pieces of my collection include unique original works, such as Juri’s original pencils underlying her Mistress of the Night piece (the final version of which I featured in Beautiful Dreams) and colored and original art versions of her page from Sarah “Sakky” Ruth Ford’s Magical Girl Coloring Book.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been more fantastic additions to my collection, with the great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements.

As always I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work, and like with her Perna sketch cards and APs above that aspect also really shines in her PSCs. Seeing her visions of some of my favorite characters come to life has been a real treat. I’m a diehard gamer, with particular preference to RPGs and fighting games over the years. With Juri’s pitch perfect confrontation between Kasumi and Ayane from Dead or Alive and jaw dropping melding of Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers joining the original sketches I got from her featuring Millia Rage, Jam Kuradoberi, and Dizzy from Guilty Gear, I now have incredible renditions of all of my favorite characters to play from each of my favorite fighting game series.

 

 

Valkyrie Profile is my single favorite RPG of all time, and Juri’s intricately detailed, soft yet strong interpretation of Lenneth Valkyire is exquisite. Favorite series honors go to Persona, and I adore Juri’s vibrant, striking depiction of a key supporting character from one of the series’ best entries.

 

One of the more unique requests I’ve made is a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. Mitsuru’s already showing great potential and instincts even with only a little over a year in wrestling, and I adore the incredible way Juri’s captured and combined her strength, determination, grace, and beauty in this remarkable rendition.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last two pieces I’d like to talk about are anime/manga related. I’m using the word “favorite” a lot, but in explaining the inspirations for choosing these subjects across various mediums it has been appropriate and illustrative in every case. Gorgeous animation, thought provoking stories, and an incredible atmosphere come together to make Kino’s Journey my all time favorite anime. Juri perfectly related Kino’s cool, somewhat detached demeanor resting for a moment atop Hermes against a wonderful background horizon that evokes the show’s sense of traveling through a vast, intriguing world.

 

Rosario Vampire is an amusing, fan-service and action heavy harem style manga based around a high school for monsters where students regularly get into fierce battles with one another. It has solid story progression once it gets going, but is admittedly largely formulaic and trope ridden. However halfway through the second “season” of the manga there’s a side story,  introducing a relatively minor supporting character (who didn’t even make the anime adaptation), which embraces and upends cliches in equal measure to present a nuanced, emotional story that is easily at the top of the (long) list of things I’ve read. San Otonashi is a phenomenal character and (here’s that word again 😉 ) an absolute favorite of mine despite her relative obscurity. Even with being initially unfamiliar with San, Juri was able to create a gorgeous, spot on card of her, conveying both delicacy and strength and again really elevating the final work with her incredible coloring.

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her incredible creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

Rise 5 Rising Sun Live Thoughts

November 10, 2017 in Berwyn, IL

Rise is a relatively new promotion (associated with the well established Shimmer) that is built around holding training seminars taught by professional wrestling veterans from around the world and having participants earn a chance to perform on the related Rise shows.

 

Rise 5: Rising Sun was held the Friday night before Shimmer’s Fall 2017 taping weekend and followed a day long seminar featuring Madusa (Alundra Blayze) and an advertised Joshi legend who turned out to be Aja Kong. Kong would later wrestle on the show, teaming with two seminar participants against another trio featuring Joshi talent (and Shimmer regular) Hiroyo Matsumoto and another pair of seminar participants.

This was my first time seeing Rise (outside of a couple of dark matches before the November 2016 Shimmer tapings). I like the concept behind the promotion and the unique opportunities it presents for both the participants and the promoters.

 

 

 

A three match pre-show started things off and was broadcast free on youtube, which was a worthwhile way to try to generate buzz. It also allowed a significant number of extra participants to be featured in a fine 6-woman tag of Paloma Starr, Samara & Trixie Tash vs Londyn Ali, Robyn & Savanna Stone, had a great contest between Indi Hartwell and Hyan (which very well may have been the best seminar participants only match of the night), and ended nicely with Layne Rosario getting a shot at veteran LuFisto.

 

 

To open the main show Delilah Doom came out with an emotional, tearful explanation that she injured her wrist during the seminar and had to pull out of the main event. I remember thinking it was appropriate if legit, and manipulative and overdone if part of a story. And since it was a full blown in ring interview instead of just an announcement and the cameras were rolling…

 

 

 

Wrestling-wise the early part of the main show had four (what I think were) participant vs participant matches of  Heather Monroe vs Renee MichelleJewells Malone vs Hawlee LayneThe Sinister Sweethearts (Brittany Blake & Samantha Heights) vs Amanda Carolina Rodriguez & Valentina Loca, and Tasha Steelz vs Allie Kat.  All were pretty much exactly what they were intended to be: ok matches allowing the wrestlers an opportunity to perform and the audience a chance to see some new faces.

 

 

 

Things picked up with the tryouts vs veterans section, starting with an impressive showing for Zoe Lucas (who earned a chance to travel to the US and appear at Rise and Shimmer via Rise 4’s seminar in Great Britain) against Cheerleader Melissa. Melissa’s ring style has changed significantly since last I saw her, but she still played the bullying powerhouse well against Zoe’s arrogant upstart challenge. Zoe looked great all weekend and I hope she returns.

 

 

 

The best storytelling of the night was certainly in the Four Way Match between Saraya Knight, Karen Q, Miranda Salinas, and Ray Lyn. Ray and Karen did everything in their power to avoid Saraya at all costs, working over Miranda constantly and scattering whenever Saraya was tagged in, leaving her no choice but to bring the beaten down rookie back in and hope she lasted long enough for Saraya to come back in. It was an odd dynamic, and I generally don’t like when mulit-person matches become quasi-tag team matches, but it really worked here. Everyone played their roles perfectly, and Miranda couldn’t have looked any more sympathetic. I came out of this fun story really wanting to see Saraya and Miranda as a team.

 

After a solid contest in which Nicole Savoy defeated Kylie Rae, Hudson Envy came out and demanded a match with someone new to Rise and Shimmer. Of course instead of a rookie from the seminar she’s answered by the debuting Taya Valkyrie (who was a last minute replacement when the advertised Courtney Rush couldn’t make it). Good, hard hitting match.

 

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Another big debut, and one I’d really been looking forward to, saw Thunder Rosa face Heart of Shimmer Champion Shazza McKenzie in a non-title bout. Rosa looked fantastic and gave Shazza her best match in ages before the champ squeaked by with a rollup.

 

The semi main was the previously mentioned Joshi led 6-woman tag team match with The Blue Nation (Charli Evans & Jessica Troy) joining Aja Kong and Dynamite DiDi & Rachael Ellering on Hiroyo Matsumoto’s side. This was a ton of fun, with the two powerhouses pounding on each other in between really good showings from their partners.

 

 

 

The main event saw a 6-way “Incursion of the Phoenix” elimination match for the Phoenix Of RISE title featuring six original members of Rise roster (one year previous). Supposedly it was now a 5-way with Doom out injured. This was an ordered entry elimination match with pinfalls, submissions, disqualifications, and countouts in effect and increasing time intervals between entries (two minute first period, then three minutes after entrant #3 until entrant #4, etc).

The early going was decent, with Britt Baker and Deonna Purrazzo starting followed by Kikyo and the champion Shotzi Blackheart. No eliminations until four of the (supposed) five were in the ring, after which Kikyo cleared Baker and Purrazzo. The section with the four of them went on so long (seemingly much longer than the four minutes it was supposed to) that I was starting to think there was no one else when Dust finally came out.

 

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Dust did not seem at all interested in reclaiming her title, instead getting herself disqualified and attacking Shotzi with a barbed wire bat after help from the promoter Kevin Harvey, then leaving after being told by him “she” (Courtney Rush) says that’s enough. The dominant Kikyo then finished off the scraps of the defending champion to become the NEW …. hahahahaha. No. She finished off Shotzi then surprise surprise Delilah Doom comes out to “valiantly” cheat her way into the last spot. Er, valiantly defeat the “unfairly” crowned champ Kikyo, who had actually kicked ass so much the crowd was cheering for her.

As Doom celebrates a scratchy recording of Courtney Rush played and poor Doom has to pretend she can’t tell, that it’s live, and she’s trying to figure out where Rush is speaking from. I know things had to be changed since Rush couldn’t appear, but this was eye-rollingly cheesy. It all leads to Doom vs Rush in a cage for the title being set for Rise 6.

 

 

 

I was quite interested in the match concept and appreciate the attempt at trying something new and notable, but honestly this was disappointing. It just didn’t come together, with inconsistent enforcement/execution of the overly convoluted rules leading to crowd confusion and disinterest. The three eliminations practically made Kikyo a face, and a corrupted authority figure is the LAST thing a developmental federation needed. The increasing time periods for entry had no logical reason from a competition standpoint, and I’d be shocked if they were properly timed, leading to awkward pacing. Doom either got preferential treatment (by the promoter who just turned heel mind you) by being allowed to enter the match last after the random draw had happened, or she drew anyway despite supposedly not being in the match and just happened to get the last spot. One lessens sympathy for her and both strain credulity.

I apologize if it seems like I’m nitpicking, but I want to explain in full the issues I had here, as they did make what could have been an exciting match with compelling stories a bit of a mess instead. Let me be clear: the wrestlers all put in great effort and did the best they could here, providing a lot of good action. And a good chunk of the audience did get behind Doom’s win.  But I felt the booking and overall execution let the wrestlers down.

 

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Rising Sun had a nice mix of veterans brought in to work with the new / tryout talent, with a couple of matches between themselves to spice up the card. I understand the reason for having such matches as a draw and they were some of the best of the night. But from start to finish this was WAY too long at 14 matches, so I wonder if going with more tag matches involving participants and veterans would be better. I’d also cut down or out the pre-show and possibly just show the first match of the “main” show online for promotion.  But again, I’m explaining my criticisms in detail in hopes that Rise continues to refine itself and grow as a promotion. And the length of the show is less of an issue while watching on video versus live anyway.

Despite some issues this was a good show overall that I would recommend checking out, with a variety of new and experienced wrestlers all putting in incredible effort and a number of standout performances. There’s just room for improvement, and I’m sure Rise will iron out the rough spots as it progresses.

The NXT Step for a Pirate

The signing of Stardom’s Kairi Hojo in early 2017 by the WWE created immediate buzz and excitement. It was wonderful to see that feeling build in anticipation as the Mae Young Classic and her debut as Kairi Sane approached.

 

Kairi is a masterful ring technician, measuring everything she does carefully and exerting expert body control for maximum visual impact. Her trademark diving elbow from the tope rope looks as beautiful as it does devastating. Her excellent selling draws the audience in and invests them emotionally in her matches, yet she always believably feels like a threat to her opponent no matter how much punishment she’s taken or how much bigger her opponent is. She brings something special and unique to WWE, and the hype surrounding her debut as it approached showed they realized it.

 

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My own perspective on Kairi’s pre-WWE career was bit different from when I wrote about Kana (NXT Step for a Legend) and Johnny Gargano (NXT Step for an Icon) heading to NXT, as I’d only seen her live on two occasions (though she essentially wrestled twice on each show). Even from that small sample it was easy to see the command she has of her craft.

 

My first time seeing Kairi live was under unique circumstances, as she was involved in Act Yasukawa’s retirement match at Climax 2015.

 

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Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Kairi teamed with Act & Haruka Kato vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf & Kyoko Kimura in a match that went on for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates, particularly Kairi, more and more at odds. Both Act and Kairi did a phenomenal job at portraying two people who thought they had reconciled but were just never meant to get along. Things eventually exploded and the two fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.

 

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Then the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa & Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato & Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. Kairi was clearly genuinely emotional as she helped bid farewell to her fellow wrestler’s career.

 

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The following year I was back for Climax 2016 and saw Kairi in a pair of equally impressive matches at opposite ends of the spectrum. In a special contest model Nana Suzuki made her debut in a singles match against Hojo, one of Stardom’s aces. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good, due in no small part to Kairi playing her own role of dominant veteran absolutely perfectly. She knew exactly how to rightly control most of the offense and avoid reducing her own standing yet still make her rookie opponent look strong. That takes an incredible amount of skill and a deft touch, and the two told a great story here.

 

 

Later that night Kairi told a completely different story as she and partner Yoko Bito looked to regain their Goddesses of Stardom Titles from Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu). This time Kairi was in some sense the underdog, as there was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring. The stacked odds and again excellent awareness of the story being told combined to generate quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. It was a treat not only seeing Kairi perform twice, but in such different (but complimentary and consistent) circumstances.

 

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Fast forward back to a few months ago and Kairi entered a WWE ring for the first time as part of the Mae Young Classic. It was certainly no surprise when she provided several of the best matches of the whole thing, including a show-stealing first round encounter with Tessa Blanchard, great bouts with Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm, and a fitting finale to the whole thing against Shayna Baszler. Seeing her joy at becoming the well deserved first ever MYC winner was wonderful. Since then she has become an integral part of NXT’s women’s division, and is likely to feud with Shayna Baszler and eventually progress to a one on one challenge to champion Ember Moon.

 

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Incredible art print depicting (and signed by) Kairi by Rob Schamberger.

 

Kairi Sane is the epitome of the cliche “a joy to watch,” and I wish her all the best as this exciting new phase of her career continues.