Mae Young Classic Predictions

As a longtime fan of women’s wrestling I’ve been hopeful and excited with some of the developments over the last few years. Another potentially huge breakthrough is the currently taping Mae Young Classic tournament in the vein of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic. The participants represent a wonderful variety of styles, countries, and experience levels. The assembled level of talent is incredible.

I’m familiar with a majority of the field, and nearly half of them have previously wrestled in Shimmer (a fantastic Chicago based women’s wrestling promotion – find more information here).

The participants were not fully revealed until just before the first round was taped. As such there were no matchups to consider nor brackets to analyze until now, when half the competitors have been eliminated. Based on results from that first round there are now apparent brackets, and I’d like to take a shot at predicting how it will all turn out for fun. Given the circumstances however doing so will contain spoilers for last night’s round 1 matches. Here’s the place to stop reading to avoid them.

 

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I’ll be trying to predict what I think they’ll do, not necessarily my preferred results (although there really are no bad choices here).

——–

Edit 7/15/17: I’m not going to get into later round spoilers, but I will say the apparent brackets were not correct, so in retrospect this post is largely fantasy booking. Still interesting to see what I expected vs what came about though, so I’m leaving this up.

——–

Round 2:

1) Princesa Sugehit vs. Serena Deeb

This is a really interesting matchup, with an international veteran against a former WWE superstar coming out of retirement for the tourney. Either one is a solid pick to make someone look strong later by putting them over. I’m expecting a mini Brian Kendrick in the CWC story for Deeb, so will go with her.

Prediction: Deeb

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs. Piper Niven

The conversion Baszler’s made from MMA to pro wrestling has been incredible (as I’ve talked about here), and she has a great opponent here in the perhaps underrated Niven (who I know as Viper). The former’s MMA skills against the latter power and size should be a lot of fun. Seems too early for the MMA star to exit, so I expect Niven will come up short after a solid showing.

Prediction: Baszler

 

3) Mia Yim vs. Mercedes Martinez

This indie main event is perhaps the hardest to call. Both are excellent, experienced competitors, with Mercedes in the business longer and really on a roll lately but Yim also putting on the performances of her career and having perhaps a slightly higher profile due to her extensive time in TNA. It’s a coin flip really, so I’ll go with my personal preference.

Prediction: Yim

 

4) Rhea Ripley vs. Abbey Laith

I was originally thinking this would be an easy call in the former Kimber Lee’s favor, but as I research the newcomer Ripley she seems like exactly the kind of underdog that could go far (especially with Dobson and Kay Lee Ray gone already). And the solid Laith is destined to make someone else look good on her way out at some point…

Prediction: Ripley

 

5) Toni Storm vs. Dakota Kai

The former Evie is under contract and could really make a splash with a win here, but Toni’s a big enough name that her taking this one and putting Candice over in a big way and into the semis next would be a big deal. There’ll be time to build Kai (and get a match between her and Sane) later.

Prediction: Storm
6) Candice LeRae vs. Rachel Evers

Another tough call here. Evers is regularly in NXT and the daughter of Paul Ellering (although they’ve obviously chosen not to play that up much given the name change), while Candice is an indy darling and seems to be the Cinderella story outsider pick. I think there’s more upside to continuing Candice’s run.

Prediction: LeRae

 

7) Bianca Belair vs. Lacey Evans

Honestly no idea. Both are under contract, I’m not familiar with either, and whoever wins is fodder for Sane in the next round either way. I’ve heard slightly more buzz about Evans, so will go with her. This is a case where I think the opportunity and spotlight on both will matter more than the result.

Prediction: Evans
8) Nicole Savoy vs. Kairi Sane

This was one of my dream matches for the tournament, particularly after seeing Savoy wrestle a variety of Joshi talent in Shimmer. Savoy is another wrestler I’ve written about as a rising star and the sky’s the limit for her. But Kairi’s already there and there’s no way she goes out in round 2. The match should be incredible.

Prediction: Sane

 

Quarter Finals:

So these matches are of course all theoretical based on my predictions above.

 

1) Serena Deeb vs Shayna Baszler

Deeb will eventually make someone look like a world beater, and I think it’s Baszler right here.

Prediction: Baszler

 

2) Mia Yim vs Rhea Ripley

My gut and preference says the indie veteran should go over, but I think the upsets continue and Ripley shocks her way into the semis.

Prediction: Ripley

 

3) Toni Storm vs Candice LeRae

I think this is about Candice overcoming the odds and advancing to face Sane.

Prediction: LeRae

 

4) Lacey Evans vs  Kairi Sane

Kairi’s run won’t end before the semis at the absolute earliest.

Prediction: Sane

 

Semi Finals:

1) Shayna Baszler vs Rhea Ripley

The overachievement ends here, as Ripley fights valiantly but falls to Baszler’s ground game.

Prediction: Baszler

 

2) Candice LaRae vs Kairi Sane

The first match it feels like Kairi could realistically lose, but she won’t. To the finals she goes.

Prediction: Sane

 

Final

Baszler vs Sane

This is the match it seems the brackets are set up to give us, and it would be an appropriately fantastic end to the tourney. Either would make a great inaugural winner. As much as I’d love to see Kairi take it, I think like with TJP in the CWC WWE will go with someone signed during / as a result of the tournament, with the already contracted Sane coming up just short (which honestly won’t hurt her at all).

Prediction: Baszler

 

It’ll be fun to watch the result roll in and see how incredibly wrong I end up being. Hope every one enjoys the tourney!

WWE at MSG 7/7/17 Live Thoughts

July 7, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY

 

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Surprisingly enough this was both my first WWE House Show and first time ever in the main part of MSG (I went to The Theater for the first time for a NXT show in November).  The card looked pretty good, so I was looking forward to the show and several specific matches.

 

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Whoever set up the match order knew what they were doing, as the show opened with the vibrating sound of a violin and the crowd came unglued for Shinsuke Nakamura’s MSG debut. He went a good twenty minutes with Dolph Ziggler in one of the best matches of the night. They had time to tell a good story with strong action and Dolph looked better and more motivated than he has in a long time. Hopefully it wasn’t just for the one night. Shinsuke’s a superstar and had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

 

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Goldust vs R-Truth was kept short enough to be inoffensive, but I’ve never cared for Truth and this did nothing to win me over.

In light of Austin Aries being granted a release earlier in the day Neville defended his Cruiserweight Title against  Cedric Alexander instead. Great opportunity for Cedric, who wowed me in Evolve and is capable of much more than what he’s been allowed/able to show on Raw and 205 Live. Fun little encounter, with Neville cheating to win with a rope leveraged pin like a good heel.

 

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Miz was out next and my friend commented the match had oddly been announced as a tag encounter, not an Intercontinental title match (as advertised). Sure enough, Miz cut a promo explaining we don’t deserve a defense and goes into Rick Rude mode asking the “New York City Sweathogs” to keep the noise down for his partner, at which point  Samoa Joe came out and that’s two advertised matches we suddenly weren’t getting. Out come their advertised singles opponents Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins in another mini-reunion for the Shield.

 

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Joe vs Rollins was one of the matches I was really looking forward to so this change was disappointing, but the resulting tag match was admittedly solid. They put on a good, old school house show tag match, working the crowd up with strong character work and timing. Several nice false finishes lead up to Ambrose eventually catching Miz with the Dirty Deeds for the feel good victory.

 

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The US Title match seeing Kevin Owens (c) defend against AJ Styles was my most anticipated of the night, but I had no idea of what was in store for us. The match was as good as to be expected from these two, but it also found a new gear late and started raising some flags when Owens kicked out of a Styles Clash and AJ returned the favor on a pop-up powerbomb.

 

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After that my friend pondered about it maybe being one of the few times a title would change hands at a house show, but we laughed it off not really believing it possible. Even when AJ nailed the Phenomenal Forearm and had Owens laid out in the center of the ring my first thought was “huh, odd that Kevin will be kicking out of both of AJ’s finishers.” Instead the ref counted 3 and the crowd erupted. Great choice to bring back a little unpredictability to the house shows, and MSG was of course a perfect venue for it.

 

 

Bayley, Mickie James, & Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax, Emma, & Alexa Bliss seemed like it was meant to be a thrown together six woman tag to slowly get the show restarted after intermission, but the six of them made the most of the small amount of time they were given to put on a well structured, action packed match that engaged the crowd nicely. I would like to see more done with Emma, as she’s better than being the person in the match obviously there to take the fall.  I’m a huge fan of Alexa Bliss, so was great to see her live for the first time.

 

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Karl Anderson is more than capable of tearing the house down with Finn Balor, but here his role was to be cannon fodder for his super popular opponent. Balor got the jump on Anderson and tossed him out onto his partner Gallows, then hit a gorgeous summersault dive over the top rope onto them.

 

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That seemed to indicate this would be a short one, and indeed once Balor rolled Anderson back in it was slingblade, shotgun dropkick, Coup de Grace, goodnight. Balor victorious in under a minute. Would have loved to get a real match between the two, but it was still fun to see all Balor’s signatures and this got a big reaction.

 

 

Cesaro & Sheamus are really gelling as a team and have been revitalized with the full heel turn (especially Sheamus, who looks consistently motivated and crisp for the first time in a while). As such I was excited to see them live to defend their RAW Tag Team Titles against The Hardy Boys (Matt & Jeff).  Good semi-main with a fantastic ending that saw blind tags on both sides leading to Jeff hitting the swanton on the no longer legal Sheamus only to be immediately rolled up by Cesaro for the pin. In a great touch Cesaro fireman’s carried his loopy partner up the ramp after the victory while Sheamus had just enough energy to clutch his title belt.

 

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Bray Wyatt vs Roman Reigns was a solid enough main event, hindered a bit by telling a standard face vs heel story when the NYC crowd was largely booing Reigns and cheering Wyatt. Good effort and action from both though. After Reign’s expected victory Braun Strowman made a surprise appearance to beat him down (with some help from Wyatt that provided great tentative interactions as Bray tried to subtly direct his former charge without angering him). Rollins made the save to a big pop and the former Shield allies cleared the ring.

 

 

With Reigns and Rollins alone in the ring celebrating the crowd got LOUD with a “we want Ambrose chant” to complete the reunion. After a few minutes with no Dean, Rollins got the mic and expertly handled the situation saying the bad news was Ambrose was probably already a few deep at a bar somewhere, but the good news is “we hear you NYC.” The acknowledgement, whether or not it leads to anything, that the crowd wanted to see the three of them together was a simple, perfect way to handle Dean not being able to come out without having the fans leave feeling disappointed. Nicely done.

 

 

Overall

I had a lot of fun at this show, and the surprise US Championship switch was icing on the cake.

Evolve 87 Live Review

June 25, 2017 in Queens, NY

Evolve returned to La Boom last weekend with a big card headlined by two of their most popular stars colliding for the WWN Championship.

Here’s a quick rundown of my thoughts from attending live.

 

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During the opening announcements Lenny Leonard shares that this will be the last time both the Evolve and WWN titles are defended on the same show. Silly to make that an actual policy instead of just moving that direction quietly, as the option to have both defended so when appropriate is now limited. Also considering what the WWN title is supposed to be this comes across as inconsistent and unnecessary if it’s still going to be defended on FIP shows when there’s a FIP title defense, etc.

 

1) Tracy Williams vs ACH 

Decent opener, continuing both Williams winning streak and ascension as a threat as well as ACH’s parallel losing efforts and rising frustration. ACH hit a pair of insane topes to Williams that broke the guardrail and wiped out several members of the front row. Given everyone seemed ok, the dives were pretty awesome. Something about Williams’ current style isn’t drawing me into his matches the way he used to, but this was still solid.

After the match ACH’s impending heel turn took another step as he snapped at the ref when asked if he was ok. “Are you serious?” Of course I’m not ok. This is the first match, and I’m better than the first match.”

 

2) Timothy Thatcher vs Jason Kincaid

I was extremely excited for this one, as Kinclaid’s gimmick is a fresh and interesting one and Thatcher is a personal favorite of mine. The advertised clash of styles led to a fantastic encounter, with Kincaid befuddling the vet just a little and trying to adapt to stay alive but eventually getting too much into Thatcher’s grappling game and falling short. Kincaid’s showing cracks in his zen outlook, which should be interesting.

 

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Thatcher’s relentless grinding down of his opponents is a treat to watch, and he’s downright despised as a heel in NYC so the heat was off the charts (overall the crowd was nicely loud and engaged all night). And the best part is he wasn’t done yet…

 

3) Fred Yehi vs Chris Dickinson 

This was a pretty by the books Yehi match. The crowd’s generally behind him so it was well received. I personally don’t enjoy his gimmick or ring style, so this was my least favorite of the night. Not knocking the effort of either though, and Dickinson looked great.

Yehi has now torn through both tag champs. It seemed to be setting up for a match with Catch Point’s leader (and Yehi’s ex-partner) rather than some sort of tag title match, but in fact it’s been since announced that the wins have led him to an upcoming Evolve title shot.

Jaka consoled his partner after the loss and says there’s no shame in the performance Dickinson turned in. He then polled the crowd about his chances of winning the Evolve title, takes exception to the lack of support, and calls out Sabre immediately. GREAT promo from Jaka to add bite to the match and reenforce his role as the heel despite some hometown support. NYC loves Zack, so this was exactly what was needed to get Jaka booed.

 

4) Evolve Championship Match: Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Jaka

This was a nice spotlight opportunity for Jaka, and he made the most of it. This was not the typical Sabre match (as good as they are), as Sabre responded to Jaka’s aggression with a fierce edge of his own and it added an extra level of wonderful intensity to everything as they beat the hell out of each other. Jaka was also made to seem every bit a threat to Sabre (before losing clean to keep the champ looking like a world beater), which was a well deserved spotlight on a wrestler who’s been extremely impressive during his time in Evolve. If anyone was in fact “sleeping on Jaka,” they aren’t now. Excellent match.

 

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After the match, Stokely and Thatcher came out to confront Sabre, but were interrupted by Darby. Thatcher lays into Allin with an incredible, scathing promo about how Darby’s an idiot who risks his health for a crowd of people who won’t care about him once he injures himself to the point where he can’t perform anymore. Man’s not wrong. He then turned to Sabre and challenged him to a No Holds Barred rematch for the Evolve Title.

 

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As Zack ponders it, Thatcher dropped him with a surprise headbutt, then DESTROYED Darby, ripping the cast right off his arm and applying an armbar as the crowd went CRAZY booing, eventually “re-breaking” the arm! This entire segment was Thatcher’s to carry, and he absolutely knocked it out of the park. EVERYTHING he did was pitch perfect. I really wanted the teased title match to happen at the next NYC show after this…

 

5) Ethan Page vs Thomas Sharp

Sharp is one of the former Gatekeepers, now with a name and an issue with his former employer. He looked good, winning the over crowd in short order with his athleticism and some good fire as he looked for revenge against everyone’s (second) favorite man to hate. Short and intense. I’d like to see more of Sharp going forward. Page got the better of him, which I’ve seen some complaints about but I think was the right outcome for the beginning of such a feud if Sharp’s sticking around.

 

6) Trent Baretta vs Austin Theory

Nice to see Baretta back, and he received a strong reception. This being in the semi-main spot was an interesting choice and provided a chance for the relative rookie Theory to shine. And indeed this was a great spotlight for him, as he pushed the veteran to the limit before falling prey to the Dudebuster. There were a couple of awkward moments as the two lost their balance during complicated spots, but in both cases they adjusted extremely well, kept things from turning disastrously dangerous, and kept the match going with little loss of momentum. Both looked really good overall, the match got better and better as it went, and like Jaka earlier Theory really capitalized on the opportunity he had here.

After a showing of mutual respect, Priscilla Kelly came out and distracted Trent for a Theory low blow. Apparently finally receptive to Kelly’s message and advances, Theory laid out Baretta to loud boos and Kelly followed with a gloating/taunting bite to Trent’s neck (ok then…). Evolve’s getting heel overloaded again, but this was really well done and should provide a good story for the newcomer.

 

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7) WWN Championship Match: Matthew Riddle (c) vs Keith Lee

Anticipation for this was of the charts, and it turned out as awesome as expected. Lee was presented as the champ’s equal, and these two just beat and beat on each other until they both literally fell over. Highlights included a huge pounce from Lee, a Fisherman’s buster on Lee (?!) by Riddle followed by a barrage of sentons, and an incredible nearfall where Riddle just gets his shoulder up by centimeters after a huge Spirit Bomb.  In a beautifully timed and executed finish, both collapse after a vicious Lee headbutt, and Riddle happens to fall on top of Lee for the pin and retains his title. A less than definitive win for the King of Bros, which maintains the tension between him and Lee and keeps the latter strong without having to take belt off Riddle. Incredible match with a extremely well done, appropriate finish.

 

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After the match Ethan Page took advantage of the situation to attack the already downed Lee and Riddle, rambling in wonderful fashion about hating the two “golden geese” of Evolve and vowing to destroy them. Stokely Hathaway and Tracey Williams joined the fun to berate Riddle as Page continued to choke Lee in the corner. Williams then announced he’ll be challenging Riddle for the WWN title at the next Queens show in August. The feud’s been building well and the match’ll be decent, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather have gotten Thatcher vs Sabre. Williams let Stokely slap Riddle to big boos, then they left. As Page continued to gloat the faces recovered and cornered him between them, but he managed to slink away to safety. Left alone, Lee was reluctant to fist bump Riddle, but eventually gave in and all is fine between Evolve’s heroes for now.

 

Overall

On par with the excellent Evolve 79 in February, which was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. Commitment and effort was apparent from everyone here, and even the things that weren’t to my personal tastes were solid and well received. Jaka and Theory had potentially star making performances, and I continue to adore pretty much everything Thatcher, Riddle, Sabre, and Lee do. Check this out on Floslam sooner rather than later.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 740 & 741 DVD Review

This is another disc where I don’t know much about the results and sought it out based on a few matches of particular interest. Should be interesting.

 

Vol 740: August 6, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

1) Miyako Matsumoto & Tequila Saya vs 235 & Maika Ozaki **1/2

Straight to the action this time, with no opening promo shown. Maika’s wrestling in red shorts and a yellow t-shirt that look like workout clothes, which leaves me wondering if she hadn’t established her regular gear this early into her time at Ice Ribbon or just didn’t have it for this show. 

Miyako was amusingly the theme for the whole match, as even when she wasn’t in the ring or on offense more often than not someone was doing something mimicking her. Early on Saya makes 235 do the Mama Mia pose in honor of her partner, but doesn’t know what to do next. Miyako yells instructions (or possible just complaints) at her while 235 gets free and slams her. Later 235 executes the Mama Mia on Miyako herself. Mio’s the ref here, and another amusing moment saw her refusing to help Miyako balance for the Super Mama Mia, leaving the Dancing Queen a sitting duck on the top rope for Maika to grab for a torture rack.

There was an interesting mini-story for Miyako and Saya here, as early in the match the usual theme of Miyako never quite being able to do teamwork right is prevalent, but near the end it’s their opponents who miscommunicate and they actually work well together to take advantage. 

After a shining wizard for 2, Miyako absolutely SPIKES Maika with Angel’s Wings for the win. That’s always been one of my favorite finishers, and Miyako winning is always a pleasant surprise.

There were a couple awkward exchanges, but this was solid overall. The action was kept pretty basic, particularly involving Maika, but everyone fit their roles and strong effort plus Miyako related antics made this fun.

 

 

2) Maruko Nagasaki vs Kaho Kobayashi ***

Should be a good contest here, as both wrestlers show skills beyond their experience (three years for Kaho and one for Maruko). QUICK, crisp exchange of leapfrogs, trips, and rolls to open that already has the crowd oohing and aahing. Kaho takes over with some hard strikes and keeps control for a while, including a sequence of whipping Maruko back and forth between opposite corners and following each time with a running dropkick five times. Kaho makes Maruko claw and scrape to get to the ropes to break a half crab.

Forearm exchange fires Maruko up, and she takes over with three consecutive running dropkicks. Boston Crab of her own transitioned into half crab and now Kaho has to pull all of Maruko’s weight to the ropes. She’s SCREAMING here to sell the pain and it really helps emphasis her struggle.

Ripcord elbow by Kaho for 2. Missile dropkick for 2. fisherman countered into a small package for 2. Kaho headlock takeover and has one of Maruko’s arms trapped with her legs. They’re both working this and making it seem like a legit submission attempt instead of the usual control opponent on the mat type of thing. Maruko strains and just barely gets a foot on the ropes. After some back and forth pinfall reversals, Kaho reverses Maruko’s signature rollup for the win.

They did a lot here with the time given. Both have a lot of natural ability and potentially big careers ahead of them.

 

 

3) Misaki Ohata vs Kyuuri ***1/2

It’s a long time favorite of mine here against my favorite rising star, so this is one of the matches I was most excited about when getting this DVD. Also interesting is the fact that these two were partners in main event of the previous volume.

Misaki dominates an opening mat wrestling exchange, constantly switching to a new hold whenever Kyuuri tries to free herself or reverse. When Kyuuri finally manages to tie Misaki up, the latter pulls her hair for leverage to reverse into a pinning combination for 2. They square up again to applause.

Collar and elbow tie up is immediately turned into a headlock by Misaki. Kyuuri fights out of this one with forearms instead of continuing the counter wrestling, but after she sends Misaki to the ropes she eats a shoulder tackle on the rebound. Misaki hits the ropes again and Kyuuri drops down, but Misaki holds on to stop herself then just stomps on Kyuuri’s back. Kyuuri gets up and Ohata charges with a clothesline. Kyuuri ducks then rebounds off the ropes with a crossbody for her first real offensive move of the match. It only gets 1.

Kyuuri follows with a snapmare then steps over Ohata’s shoulder with one leg and pulls back on both arms. Ohata seems trapped and in pain, which is an important detail. Odd bit follows where Kyuuri puts her foot on the rope for leverage (or possibly to keep her balance) and ref Mio counts, but when Kyuuri removes her foot she’s allowed to keep the hold on. A couple seconds later Misaki gets her foot on the ropes and this time Kyuuri has to completely break.

Back to the center, Misaki’s face down and Kyuuri gets on her back for a camel clutch. Misaki hides her arms beneath her to block it, so Kyuuri slaps her back hard and grabs an arm when Misaki flinches. Repeat for the other arm. Nice bit. Kyuuri signals for the cheek pinch taunt, but Misaki’s having none of it, as she frees herself by sliding backwards through Kyuuri’s legs, tripping her in the process into position so Misaki can apply her own camel clutch and execute the intended taunt on Kyuuri instead.

She smacks Kyuuri upside the head as she breaks, hits a couple strikes as Kyuuri gets up, then hairtosses her across the ring a couple times. Kyuuri’s seated in corner and Misaki stands on her to choke. Scoop slam in the center and Misaki covers for 2 with just one knee across Kyuuri’s chest. Hard curbstomp follows and Misaki sits on Kyuuri’s chest this time in another cocky cover for 2.  Mocking, dismissive kicks to the back of the head as Kyuuri tries to stand. Great arrogant touches being shown by Ohata that suit the story they’re telling. As mentioned she’s one of my favorite wrestlers and yet after these last couple of minutes I want to see Kyuuri kick her ass.

Misaki hits the ropes and charges Kyuuri but runs right into a beautiful judo takedown. Kyuuri capitalizes with a trio of slingblades for 2, and when Misaki kicks out Kyuuri uses the momentum to apply an armbar. I can’t stress enough how much I adore that spot. Misaki rolls through but Kyuuri hangs on and reapplies it, but they’re too close to the ropes and Misaki simply extends her leg to reach them for the quick break.

Fisherman attempt by Kyuuri countered with a knee to the gut followed by a DDT. Kyuuri’s down in the corner, which means it’s time for Misaki’s crossbody. It connects and Misaki goes up and sits on the top turnbuckle. Kyuuri clearly hasn’t scouted Misaki enough, as when the latter taunts Kyuuri she runs straight towards Misaki going for a forearm, which Misaki of course catches and leans back with Kyuuri’s arm for her trademark rope suspended armbar.

Mio reaches 4 on the count and Misaki releases, taking a moment while still upside down to start a clap to fire the crowd up. She then sits back up to a standing position on the middle turnbuckle and hits a missile dropkick. Misaki then goes right for a cross armbreaker. Kyuuri gets her hands clasped and tries to roll Misaki over, so Misaki slams Kyuuri’s arm into the mat instead. Both wrestlers trying to shake their arms out from the damage done so far.

Misaki hits the ropes and goes for the crossbody to the seated Kyuuri. Kyuuri rolls through though, and in a great move doesn’t stop once she’s in cover position but keeps rolling a little more until Misaki’s arm is exposed and applies a key lock. Misaki’s going CRAZY trying to get to the ropes and screaming in pain. She makes it but as soon as Kyuuri breaks she goes for the arm trap submission. Misaki counters with a rollup for 2. As they get up from that Kyuuri grabs a small package for 2.

Kyuuri ducks a clothesline and kicks at Misaki’s arm, then hits the ropes … and Misaki lands the spinning double sledge on the rebounding Kyuuri and the latter falls like a chopped down tree. Misaki covers for a close 2.

Misaki’s looking for the cross armbreaker again, which Kyuuri beautifully counters into a stretch muffler. Ohata’s screaming again and flailing around to try to escape, and ends up forcing Kyuuri down by getting a leg around her head. She uses it to get free, grabs an arm and rolls Kyuuri over and stretches out behind her shoulders.

That position can only mean one thing, and it’s bad news for Kyuuri. Indeed, one arm gets locked up by Misaki’s right leg, the other trapped and over extended by Misaki’s arms, Misaki’s left leg goes around Kyuuri’s head and that’s the Fairy Lock completed which quickly gives Misaki a submission victory.

 

This contest was all about Kyuuri being largely outmatched by the crafty veteran but resilient and still dangerous because of her submission skills. I wish she was portrayed more evenly in matches like this because she has the ability to be credible in that role, but her career is still relatively young so this is how it goes sometimes.

That said, despite me wanting this to be something a bit different the story was a solid one and as expected these two worked it wonderfully. Misaki was dominant early which gave her a reason to be cocky in the middle, but throughout Kyuuri still looked like a credible threat because Misaki completely freaked out every time Kyuuri got her in a submission. That was so important and kudos to both for hitting that point hard a few times during the match.

I’m also a big fan of good counter mat wrestling with cool submissions and they definitely provided that here. Great little match overall. Would love to see something longer between these two in the future.

 

 

4) Risa Sera & Tsukushi vs Maya Yukihi & Ryo Mizunami ***

Intriguing teams with normal partners Azure Revolution (Risa and Maya) on opposite sides, and they start against each other. Tentative counter wrestling to open, which eventually leads to a stalemate spot, but instead of giving room Maya kicks Risa in the face. Big “ooh” from crowd but Risa looks amused. That doesn’t last long though as Maya tags Mizunami and the latter just pounds on Risa for a bit, building up to wiping Risa out with one of her monster shoulder tackles.

On getting up Risa manages to push Ryo into the corner and tag Tsukushi. The little imp tries to hairtoss Mizunami, and when that doesn’t work due to Ryo’s short hair she grabs Mizunami’s EARS instead to throw her across the ring by. I hope Mizunami spears the brat out of her boots. Tsukushi tries to followup with a scoop slam, but the much larger Mizunami just set her weight to block, then picks up Tsukushi, holds her in the air with one arm, fires up the crowd, does a squat, walks around, and finally slams her. Go Ryo! Jumping legdrop gets 2.

Tag to Maya and after a few strikes Mizunami comes back in for a double submission. Once they break that Maya picks Tsukushi up but gets surprised with a scoop slam, Tsukushi runs over to land a shot on Mizunami on the apron for some retribution and then tags out to Risa. Hairtoss by Risa and then she chokes her regular partner in the corner while Tsukushi helps from the apron. That’s just mean.

Azure Revolution fight each other over a scoop slam until Maya finally gets it and tags Mizunami. She knocks Risa off the apron and has Maya hold Risa in the corner for her power up, “kiss the fist” shot, but spends so much time taunting Tsukushi recovers and dropkicks Mizunami as she starts to run. Maya tries to hold both opponents against the ropes for Mizunami, but they get free and Ryo knocks her own partner to the floor instead.

Risa and Tsukushi hit the far ropes and run at Mizunami, then Risa stops just shy of Ryo as Tsukushi hits a dropkick. Seemed like Risa and Ryo were too close together for Risa to do her half of a double dropkick and she decided against trying (or she was expecting to do a different doubleteam and stopped herself when Tsukushi jumped). Looked odd but much better than doing something haphazardly, and Tsukushi connected so it came off ok.

Back to just Tsukushi and Ryo, and the former ties the latter up in the ropes and abuses her for a bit. Ryo’s down in the center and Tsukushi and Risa alternate doing Tsukushi’s “run on opponent’s back” spot, but in a great moment when Tsukushi goes for her second turn Ryo stands up and sends Tsukushi flying. Then she wipes out Risa with a running forearm for good measure.

Tsukushi tries to get the wheelbarrow roll, but the powerhouse just sets herself and holds Tsukushi in midair as the latter flails, then reverses into a gorgeous release German. Trio of rapid fire legdrops gets 2. Ryo calls for the lariat, which is ducked and Tsukushi looks really proud of herself for the hard forearm she lands… until Ryo responds in kind and she tumbles to her knees.

They continue in this vein and I love variations on the standard forearm exchange where like this they really emphasize the individuals involved. Tsukushi is hitting hard but can’t really budge the larger Mizunami, where every shot Mizunami lands knocks Tsukushi over. Tsukushi switches it up with seventeen in a row and a slap to the face, which Mizunami absorbs and levels Tsukushi again. ANOTHER fourteen and a slap from Tsukushi as Ryo just yells back at her in between. But she has worn down the monster a bit and Ryo’s up against the ropes for support.

Tsukushi’s whip attempt is reversed and when she rebounds off the far ropes Mizunami tilt-a-whirls her… up into a torture rack?! I’ve never seen that transition before, and it’s really sweet. Tsukushi reverses into a wheelbarrow and gets the roll into the doublestomp this time. Missile dropkick to follow and she gets 2, then tags Risa.

Mizunami fights off Ayers Rock, lands a few forearms, turns towards the ropes… then turns back around and hits Risa a few more times. Ryo covered well but I bet someone was out of position. After the extra strikes Ryo does go to bounce off the ropes she looked at earlier and wouldn’t you know it Tsukushi’s back up in her corner now and nails Mizunami with a kick to the back from the apron, then grabs her head and drops her across the ropes to set up a 619 from Risa. Risa’s suspended Boston Crab follows, then the double knee drop to the back for 2.

Mizunami whipped to the corner. Running hip check drops her down for the running double knees and another 2 count. As Risa picks Mizunami up the latter spins Risa up onto her shoulders but Risa drops behind into a waistlock. Elbows from Mizunami to break. Risa blocks a forearm and hits one of her own, then a running one, but Mizunami responds with a flurry of them ending with the fist kiss shot. Hard clothesline against the ropes. Risa catches her with a dropkick when she tries to follow up, but then charges into a powerslam for 2. Mizunami tags out and Maya hits a knee and a standing kick to Risa’s chest for 2.

Forearm exchange leads to Maya hitting several as Risa dares her for more, then when Maya hits the ropes Risa drop toeholds her into a pinning combination, then slickly goes right into an octopus hold when Maya kicks out.

Mizunami blasts by Tsukushi and attacks Risa to break it up. Risa takes exception and knocks Ryo off the apron as she exits, then hits the ropes but runs right into a leg lariat for 2. Maya kick blocked, Risa picks her up, swings her around to be across Risa’s back, and drops her down in a side slam for 2. Tag to Tsukushi. Corner dropkick, hits the ropes and runs into a tilt a whirl backbreaker by Maya. Sharpshooter, but Risa fights past Mizunami just enough to kick Maya in the head to break.

Another forearm exchange, rather lopsided this time as Tsukushi’s still laying them in so hard the audience gasps which makes Maya’s look a little weak in comparison. Tsukushi hits a stunner that send Maya backwards into the ropes. Risa double knees followed by Tsukushi dropkick to the seated Maya.

Risa up to the second turnbuckle. Tsukushi climbs the top behind her. Now up on Risa’s shoulders … double stomp from there to Maya. Mizunami saves at 2. Tsukushi hits the ropes and Ryo pushes Maya out of the way and levels Tsukushi with a lariat. Kick to the face from Maya for 2. Maya hits the chokslam but Risa saves at 2. Maya lifts Tsukushi up into lawn dart position but she wiggles free down Maya’s back, rolls through, and gets La Magistral cradle for a close 2. Maya rolls Tsukushi up, but Risa kicks out from where Ryo’s holding her to break it at 2.

Tsukushi overhand backslide position, jumps up into a sunset flip and floats over for a pin, but Maya immediately counters back the other way for 2. During this kickout Risa kicks at Maya and doesn’t quite connect so she kicks again, but by this time they’re already in a different position so Risa accidentally kicks her partner in the back and breaks up her own team’s pin. Tsukushi and Maya roll through that into another pin attempt for Maya for 2.

Risa and Ryo are completely wrapped up with each other in the corner. Maya hits the ropes and runs into a basement dropkick by Tsukushi. Tsukushi then stands behind Maya’s head and rolls her forward for a pin. She doesn’t get a hold of Maya’s legs and can’t reach them once they’re on the mat, so Maya essentially has to pull her own legs up into Tsukushi’s hands to be held down for the 3 count.

This was a good match that had some awkwardness but also some really great sequences. They generally covered pretty well for the imperfections and thus nothing was too jarring. All four had moments to shine, although the best sections featured Mizunami vs Tsukushi.

 

Roundtable features the usual promos and hype, plus Tsukushi being a brat to Avid Rival. She gives Misaki a hug but makes faces while she does, then offers one to Mizunami but slaps her in the face instead when she goes to accept.

 

Vol 741: August 13, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

1) Hamuko Hoshi & Maika Ozaki vs Mochi Miyagi & Tequila Saya **3/4

Like last volume this opens with Maika (again in t-shirt and shorts) and Saya on opposite sides of a tag team contest. The difference here (beyond just different partners) is their respective partners are themselves a regular tag team.

Early story was Hammy and Maika dominating Saya with their size and power, with spots of the latter countering with speed. Saya’s developing great instincts for playing the underdog babyface, and it suits her ring style and charisma too as she’s really able to fire the crowd up.

They had some fun with the Lovely Butchers’ trademark posing as Maika applied a camel clutch on Saya while Hammy poses in front of her to taunt, then it was reversed and repeated with Saya holding Maika and Mochi posing. Later on the one segment where the Butchers faced off against each other was pretty much all them doing their signature moves to each other.

Mochi really had her working boots on here so to speak. Everything she did looked impactful and crisp, particularly during an extended working over of Maika that included Alex Shelley’s thrusting pushup facebuster and a trio of HARD Earthquake splashes.

The finish came with the Butchers fighting outside. After fighting out of the torture rack and getting a rollup for 2, Saya blocks a clothesline and looks like she’s going to duck under and use Maika’s arm for leverage for a backslide. But Maika sells the block by going down backwards and takes Saya tumbling with her. Both roll through and right back up like it was exactly what they planned, and Saya grabs a tight inside cradle variation for the win. Nice save there by the (relative) rookies.

Again Maika largely stuck to the basics and looked fine. These outings almost felt like tryouts for her. Looking it up she had about 5 matches in Ice Ribbon prior to these. I’ve seen matches from her later in the year where she’s powering people around more and looking like a monster, so it’s interesting to go back a bit and see her development. Decent match overall, with Mochi and Saya standing out the most.

 

 

2) Tsukushi vs Kyuuri ***3/4

Counter wrestling to start with the veteran largely getting the better of Kyuuri, similar to her match with Misaki last volume. The difference here is even the small Kyuuri makes Tsukushi look tiny, so the visuals and general dynamic are different.

They do some nice back and forth with their signatures spots. First Tsukushi does her running on her downed opponent’s back sequence, but on the third attempt Kyuuri trips her and returns the favor. Then Kyuuri goes for a camel clutch and her pinching cheeks taunting, but like Misaki did Tsukushi backs out, trips Kyuuri, applies her own camel clutch and does it to Kyuuri instead. Then she transitions into her own standard taunt of pulling back on her opponent’s nose. Tsukushi then ties her up in the ropes but as she claps to get the crowd fired up Kyuuri breaks free, ties up Tsukushi instead, and finally gets the taunt. Kyuuri hits the far ropes and dropkicks the tied up Tsukushi.

The match continues in the same vein to great effect. At one point Tsukushi goes for her dropkick with Kyuuri sitting against ropes, but Kyuuri moves and Tsukushi lands across bottom rope half outside of the ring. Tsukushi does a similar crossbody to seated opponent as Misaki, and when she went for that Kyuuri countered same way she did Misaki by rolling through into a keylock.

In contrast Kyuuri connected with most of her signature moves when attempted. The judo throw, triple slingblades, the armtrap submission, etc. When she did the rolling Fishermans Tsukushi tried to counter the third into a rollup, but Kyuuri rolled right back the other way and powered her over to complete it.

So faced with an opponent that was largely countering Tsukushi’s moves and landing her own, the veteran was forced to get creative with rollups and holds, and wait for the right moments to try her trademarks again. In one great bit she backslides Kyuuri into position for a triangle choke that the latter spends a long time in before making the ropes. They also have a wonderfully fierce forearm exchange at one point. Both throw them with the force of someone several times their size.

Towards the end Kyuuri flashes her own deadly submission skills, with Tsukushi appropriately screaming when Kyuuri cranked on her arm.

Tsukushi eventually takes control by drop toeholding Kyuuri into the ropes and manages to NAIL the seated dropkick she missed earlier. Kyuuri looks done and Tsukushi goes up and hits a top rope double stomp, but Kyuuri barely kicks out to stay alive to a big ovation. Tsukushi goes for reverse triangle to put the upstart away, but the time limit expires and we have a draw.

 

This is exactly the competitive showing I wanted Kyuuri to get. It had a great story, and the time limit draw was a pleasant surprise as I expected a Tsukushi victory. Excellent ten minute match. Like with Kyuuri and Misaki, I’d love to see a longer rematch sometime.

 

 

3) Kurumi Hiiragi & Maya Yukihi vs Risa Sera & Maruko Nagasaki **1/2

Another match with Azure Revolution opposite each other. Risa’s team won last time, let’s see if Maruko’s as successful a partner for her as Tsukushi was. I’m guessing not, as of these four Maruko’s the most likely to take the pin.

Back and forth criss cross, arm drags, etc between Maya and Maruko to open, but Maruko quickly becomes face in peril after that. Kurumi and Maya have nice chemistry as team, and the sections of them in control were quite good.

There was an odd spot where Maruko tries to call Risa in to help once she has control on Kurumi, and Risa just moves down the ring apron and looks at Maruko instead (as if she thought Maruko just wanted her to stand in a different corner). I don’t get the joke there. I guess it seemed like a “Risa doesn’t understand what’s going on” joke (which is quite silly for someone of her experience). Maruko ends up attacking Kurumi without Risa and shoots the latter a look of disbelief as she tags out. Then Risa comes in, gets leveled by a couple shoulder tackles, and looks shocked and uncertain what to do next each time. Whatever character beat Risa’s trying to play in this match I’m not digging it. On the plus side, her more serious stuff was cool, including later getting the hanging Boson Crab on Kurumi in an admittedly cool show of strength.

Generally every time someone started to get better of Kurumi, she used her own strength to take back over. She’s really portrayed as a force of nature, and it suits her.

Azure Revolution had a nice sequence in middle against each other featuring good back and forth countering, etc. The more I see them in make-shift tag matches like these the more I think I like them as opponents much more than as partners. They have better chemistry when wrestling against each other than they do as a team.

Maruko did a good job getting the crowd behind her both with resilience in the face of Kurumi’s assaults and moves like a perfectly timed surprise rollup nearfall when getting beat on by Maya and a swank slingshot elbow from the apron.

Kurumi eventually wore Maruko down with summersault sentons and hit a top rope splash to for the win (although Maruko clearly got a shoulder up before 3, which was hidden from ref’s view by Kurumi’s body).

Fine match, despite a couple missteps. I left this wanting to see more of Maya and Kurumi as a team.

 

 

4) ICE Cross Infinity Championship Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) vs Uno Matsuya ****1/4

Tsukka was starting a fighting champion type angle, and this was her 2nd defense. Potentially a big opportunity to shine for the rookie Uno, who normally wouldn’t get a title match this soon into her career.

Uno quite fired up to start, to Tsukka’s amusement. Trade arm wringers and counters, then hammerlocks, then Tsukka moves to strikes to take over. Once she has the advantage, she keeps control for a while with a variety of holds. At one point she draws a chorus of boos for raking Uno’s shoulder with her fingernails. The rest of the Ice Ribbon roster is LOUD at ringside encouraging Uno, which gets the crowd involved too. Tsukka kicks at the ropes in irritation of the other wrestlers cheers for her opponent.

Tsukka gets more boos for something off camera (the shot was on Uno recovering in the corner) involving her and the ref. I was NOT expecting an almost heel Tsukka here, and the dynamic’s interesting. Now a choke in the corner, and the brilliance of the work done so far (and of Uno’s selling) materializes, as that spot is in every match I’ve seen in Ice Ribbon featuring a veteran against a rookie it’s generally treated as just part of the match, but here it gets more loud boos.

Uno tries to put on the brakes when whipped to the ropes, so Tsukka nonchalantly dropkicks her against the ropes instead of off the rebound. Uno tied up for the dropkick to the back, which gets 2. Uno counters a whip with a shoulder tackle off the rebound, then hits two more for 2. Uno tries a scoop slam but Tsukka sets herself to block then slams Uno instead for 2.

Tsukka locks in a crossface, which Uno eventually reverses into pin for 2 (the ref was a bit slow to notice it was a cover and start counting here). Tsukka kicks at Uno then hits the ropes, but Uno counters with a spear for 2 then applies a Boston Crab. Amusing bit follows as Tsukka motions for the crowd to cheer her efforts to get to the ropes and is met with silence. She then bangs the mat to start a clap and the crowd goes along with it, but chants for Uno. They’ve obviously done a superb job getting the audience into the story of the match.

Scoop slam for 2. Uno tries to pick Tsukka up over her shoulder but Tsukka fights it off and hits a dropkick in the corner, then the seated version. Scoop slam follows for 2, then Tsukka applies another crossface. Uno’s in for a long time and claws for the ropes, so Tsukka tries to convert into the stranglehold. In a great counter, Uno rolls over and over on the mat between Tsukka’s legs to prevent Tsukka from grabbing her, and as the champ frantically tries to figure out what to do Uno stops spinning and converts into a sunset flip for a close 2. Crowd’s going nuts. Fantastic sequence.

Tsukka kicks Uno and goes up for a missile dropkick, which is swatted away and Uno gets a schoolgirl rollup for 2. As Tsukka gets up after kicking out Uno gets another for another 2. A third for 2. A fourth for 2. A fifth for 2.999. Each was closer and closer to a finish, and the structure of this match is superb. Tsukka with a double chop to Uno’s back to stop her momentum.

Perhaps the most gentle snap mare I’ve ever seen sets up Uno seated on the mat for HARD kicks to the back. The rebound one to the chest gets 2. Tsukka signals for the end, but as she jumps to the top rope Uno’s already on her feet and intercepts. She tries to schoolgirl Tsukka from the top. Tsukka hangs on, so Uno supports herself sideways on the middle rope to put all her weight into it, eventually breaking Tsukka’s grip and completing the rollup off the turnbuckles for 2. But as Tsukka kicks out, Uno holds on and rolls her over again for another 2.999. Tsukka comes up with a great scared, “what on Earth is happening here” look on her face, and the crowd is SOLIDLY behind the underdog Uno’s effort.

Uno’s got Tsukka over her shoulder, and connects with the faceplant this time for 2. Uno hits the ropes, Tsukka on her back and pushes Uno back with her legs and spins around for her trademark rollup, but off the rebound Uno rolls forward onto Tsukka for a cover and another incredibly close 2. Uno whips Tsukka into the ropes and gets caught in a wheelbarrow rollup off Tsukka’s rebound. Instead of rolling through for the kick Tsukka cinches down for a tight cover using both her arms and legs to trap Uno’s legs over her shoulders … and gets the 3. Tsukka comes up looking extremely relieved, then cheerfully reclaims her belt.

 

This was a masterclass in storytelling. Tsukka, Uno, and the wrestlers outside did EVERYTHING they could to get the crowd behind the outmatched challenger. The dynamic of Tsukka working almost heel with literally the entire roster cheering against her was a refreshing way to add layers to what could have been a squash otherwise. Then the match structure of having a resilient Uno get closer and closer nearfalls as the match went on built wonderfully until the champ, who never should have been in any danger, felt vulnerable.

As I talked about in my spotlight on exceptional Joshi rookies, Uno has great natural ability to engage the crowd and was already showing flashes of that talent here, a mere couple of months and under 15 matches into her career. Most of her offense wasn’t anything more complicated than slams and rollups, and yet this was a fantastic match with a lot of drama. I’ve said many times I think Tsukka’s one of the best and most versatile wrestlers in the world, and performances like this only serve to strengthen that opinion.

 

Couldn’t understand much from the roundtable but Maruko was really emotionally choked up about something, and Risa and Kurumi had a bit of a face off.

 

Overall

I really enjoyed this DVD. Each show had about 40 minutes of wrestling, but as I often find myself saying about Ice Ribbon’s dojo shows the quality of action and pace are such that the shows never feel short. There was good variety with several visiting wrestlers on vol 40, the mix and match tag team encounters all had points of interest, and the four singles matches were a nicely diverse bunch and all varying levels of very good to excellent. Cap it all off with a sleeper hit of a title match and this disc is an easy recommendation.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 739 DVD Review

 

Vol 739: July 30, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

This is a theme show produced by Tsukasa Fujimoto and Mochi Miyagi celebrating their birthdays, which ties into some of the stipulations of the various matches. Tsukka and Mochi introduce the show and chat a bit to open.

 

 

1) Team Tsukka (Uno Matsuya, Maika Ozaki, & Risa Sera) vs Team Mochi (Maruko Nagasaki & Kurumi Hiiragi) **1/2

The participants are wearing various gear of Tsukka and Mochi respectively. Uno’s in Tsukka’s white gear, Maika the red and blue, and Risa the gold. Maruko’s in Mochi’s purple and black outfit and Kurumi in her orange one.  Participants must use a move of the person they’re dressed as for a pin or submission attempt count.

This match was interestingly pretty much split into three major phases. Early on Maruko and Maika “struggled” with the concept and went for invalid covers to get the idea over. In the middle Maruko and Risa were more in tune with the match, trying to mimic moves of their respective inspirations, but with little effect. Towards the end Kurumi and Uno went all out and were successfully channelling their inspirations. Interspersed throughout were other pairings and spots playing up the cosplay, like Maruko doing Mochi’s signature taunts and (ridiculously) trying the stomach smother spot in the corner and Risa getting booed for doing her double knees to corner spot when it seemed she was setting up Tsukka’s dropkick spot.

Other highlights included Team Tsukka playing janken to determine which two of them would attack their tied up opponents in Tsukka’s dropkick to the back spot, Risa being “unable” to do the Venus Shoot and getting “stuck” on the top turnbuckle, Risa’s rather ridiculous “Tsukkadora” attempt, etc.

Kurumi makes a really good Mochi, and picked up the victory for her outnumbered team after a Styles Clash and frog splash on Uno. Fine, lighthearted opener. I’ve seen IR do this concept better, but this was still amusing.

 

 

2) Loser of the fall reveals their age: Miyako Matsumoto vs Tequila Saya vs Maya Yukihi ***

Safe money’s on the rookie falling victim to this stip, although Miyako’s always a target in triple threats. Speaking of Miyako being a target, they start off with an amusing sequence of the three trading forearms except Saya only hits Miyako and whenever Maya’s forearms Saya she clearly and purposefully pulls back and “strikes” with the impact of a feather. After a little of that they drop the pretense altogether and just attack Miyako as a team. Amusingly Miyako outsmarts them (?!) and uses them against each other, just to tire herself out doing a giant swing to Saya and collapse to mat and allow them to take back over.

Saya and Maya tie Miyako up in the ropes and give her 40 double chops on Miyako in ropes as ref stands to side (apparently also not a big fan of the Dancing Queen). The crowd seemed a little confused as they blew through the 30’s, perhaps expecting them to stop at someone’s age (which would come into play later).  With that Miyako collapses to floor and Maya and Saya legit attack each other for first time in match.

It continued back and forth in that vein, with Miyako occasionally interjecting to face the ire of both opponents and powdering back out. One great moment saw Miyako lay them out and go up for the Super Mama Mia, only for both of them to simply stand up and continue fighting amongst themselves with Miyako stranded on the top turnbuckle posing.

Eventually Miyako lands the Shining Wizard on Maya to take her out of the equation and gets the better of a rollup exchange with Saya with the Miyacoco Clutch … for the win! YAY!

Honestly this was better than I initially expected, with them making the most of the triple threat format for some really fun spots. The flow could have been a little better, but Saya showed good fire, Maya’s improved a lot and displayed sharp offense here with some nice double pins and holds on both opponents, and Miyako was classic Miyako, so this ended up quite entertaining.

 

Afterwards, as per losing the fall, Saya’s license is shown and she tearfully reveals she is 32 while Maya and Miyako mock her from the corners. Crowd was laughing and clapping, so whatever Saya was saying seemed to have the intended effect.

 

 

3) Hardcore Ribbon: Mochi vs GENTARO *

 

There’s a ladder already in one corner and a stack of chairs in the opposite to start, with the competitors in opposing open corners. Great visual.

They engage in the most hardcore of exchanges, the pose-off, to open. Gentaro eventually tires of it and knees Mochi in the back of the head, then goes right for a chair. That didn’t take long afterall. Mochi takes a boatload of chair shots for a long while, eventually throwing the ladder at Gentaro to take control. She wears her whip out on him on the outside and through the crowd, but he quickly regains control and it’s time for more chair shots. Mochi’s attacked and choked with a spike of some kind, takes over with whip again and then chokes him with a chair of her own. Earthquake splash with chair on the outside and she’s finally getting a bit of sustained offense.

Back in, Vader Splash on chair on Gentaro, but Mochi’s clutching her arm and Gentaro takes over again with the whip. And back to the chair. Actually two, and he hands one to Mochi and they duel. Odd choice. He eventually knocks hers away and hits her in the throat. More chair. Fisherman Buster. He lifts up the half dead Mochi and does another on the chair. One handed cocky cover, and Mochi kicks out at 2.

Gentaro sets up the ladder and goes up, and it’s so rickety Risa comes in to steady it from underneath. Mochi gets up and dumps it so Gentaro lands on the chair. Mochi collapses the ladder and rides it down onto him. Styles Clash teased, but Gentaro backdrops out of it. He gets the chair again but Mochi counters with a running splash that sends it back into his face. She piles chairs on him and climbs the ladder (with Risa and Maruko in to hold it), standing on the very top step and nearly hitting the ceiling. Leg drop onto chairs on Gentaro for 2 (although his shoulders were never actually down).

Styles Clash attempt reversed into a sharpshooter. Gentaro breaks inexplicably, gets a chair, and chokes her with it for the submission. And then the ref and several wrestlers had to pull him off her after the bell as he continued to choke her. Ugh.

Cut to an interview afterward with Gentaro lounging in a chair showing no effects while Mochi sells on the canvas. I didn’t understand what was said, but the audience was laughing and clapping at points. Handshake to end it and Gentaro carries Mochi to the back piggyback style. Given the post match this makes no sense to me (although again I acknowledge I’m obviously missing the context of their promo).

 

I can’t fault the effort, but this was pretty much everything I dislike about both hardcore wrestling and intergender matches (both of which can be incredible when done right). 80% of the match was a larger, stronger male wrestler attacking his female opponent with a weapon, with little in the way of transitions or a story. Again he’s so dismissive of her he hands her a weapon at one point, and still kicks her ass. I know the idea is “look how tough Mochi is for lasting this long before being beat,” but it wasn’t done well and that story alone wasn’t nearly enough for me here.

 

Risa (still dressed as Tsukka) and Miyako come in for a seated promo segment while the ring ropes are taken down around them for the main event. It’s fairly amusing to watch the two of them bicker/banter even without understanding what they’re saying.

 

 

Main Event) No rope match: Misaki Ohata & Kyuuri vs Tsukasa Fujimoto & Tsuksuhi ****1/4

The only no rope matches I’ve seen previously are hardcore grudge matches from Dragongate USA. This one seems to be set up in the spirit of competition, which makes it quite interesting. Three of my favorite wrestlers are involved with it (plus another extremely talented one) so my expectations are high. This match is what I got this DVD to see.

Misaki and Tsukushi start (with their partners crouched near the posts in opposite corners) with some mind games, then a few strikes. They jockey back and forth trying to whip each other towards the ropeless edges of the ring then transition into counter holds and come up with a stalemate. Nice, fast sequence to open.

Wholesale changes. Collar and elbow lockup, then Kyuuri and Tsukka take turns rolling out of arm wringers, then back to standing counter wrestling. Kyuuri whips Tsukka towards an edge and Tsukka stops just in time (making baseball’s “safe” sign as the audience chants the word with her). Now the reverse with Kyuuri being whipped to opposite side of ring and coming up just “safe” herself, and they go back to the counter wrestling and an eventual stalemate. Loving what they’re all doing here already.

Knucklelock tie up this time and they fight over a test of strength. Tsukka wins and forces Kyuuri into a bridge then tries to use her body weight to break it. Kyuuri shows great neck strength and maintains the bridge, so Tsukka gets off her and just kicks her instead. Figure 4 by Tsukka. Kyuuri rolls over immediately, Tsukka returns the favor, repeat for each and they’re right near the edge of the ring with the crowd ooh-ing in anticipation of them falling to the floor. Tsukka uses Kurumi (crouched outside as a second) to brace herself, and just before Kyuuri falls Misaki comes over to push her back towards the center (which also saves Tsukka, as their legs are still tangled). Nice tease.

Kyuuri applies a figure 4 this time and Tsukka immediately scoots backwards towards an edge trying to pull herself over to break in a nicely different counter from what they just did. Misaki stops her just shy though and applies a figure 4 style headscissors on Tsukka and leans over the edge herself, with Tsukka now being stretched between Misaki’s headscissors and Kyuuri’s figure 4. The ref counts and Kyuuri hilariously releases first, sending Tsukka and Misaki tumbling to the floor.

Tsukka’s dragged back “in” and Kyuuri tags Misaki. Hair toss into the corner and Misaki presses a seated Tsukka against the post. Looks really painful without the turnbuckles there, as Tsukka’s back is being pushed into the eyelets. Back to the center and Misaki slams Tsukka’s head into the mat as the crowd counts, slowing down with each slam until she stops around 20, acts tired, and calls for Kyuuri to bring her a drink of water. After receiving said drink, she continues reenergized and completes a full 33 head slams in honor of Tsukka’s 33rd birthday. Yes, that rest break in the middle was an (good natured) age joke.

Misaki tags out to recover from that exhausting experience, and Kyuuri puts Tsukka in a camel clutch to do funny / mocking poses (pinching Tsukka’s cheeks, pulling back on her nose, etc). They’re having a lot of fun at the birthday girl’s expense.

Tsukka fights off the fisherman buster, then in a great spot runs towards the edge and Tsukushi acts as proxy “ropes” (putting her hands out and pushing Tsukka back towards the center) to give Tsukka momentum to run back at Kyuuri and land a wheelbarrow rollup for 2. Tsukka finally tags out for a breather and Tsukushi comes in with a hard dropkick to Kyuuri, but Misaki comes running in to save her partner. Double team suplex attempt (mostly) converted by Tsukushi into a double neckbreaker, then she scoops slams each opponent in sequence. Misaki rolls out and we get a nice forearm exchange from the legal combatants.

Kyuuri ducks Tsukushi’s last forearm attempt, monkey flips her to the mat, and tries to convert into a cross armbreaker, but Tsukushi reverses into a surfboard. Kyuuri flips out of it and into a cover for 2, which Tsukushi bridges out of then runs for the “ropes.” She realizes just in time there’s no ropes to bounce off of and stops herself, but Kyuuri kicks her from behind and sends her off the edge anyway onto Kurumi (who needs to find a safer spot to crouch 😉 ).

A followup kick puts Tsukushi down on the floor and Kyuuri cartwheels over the edge into a doublestomp.  Nice. Back to the center of the ring Kyuuri gets a judo trip for 2 then tags out to Misaki. Misaki takes Tsukushi down with a dropkick, but as she tries to hit more to a seated Tsukushi the latter keeps rolling out of the way of 3 attempts so Misaki finally abandons that plan and grabs a facelock. Scoop slam attempt off the edge, but Tsukushi floats out to save herself and tries to dropkick Misaki off the edge. Ohata moves though and ties up Tsukushi as she lands in curb stomp position right on edge of ring. She completes the curb stomp and sends Tsukushi face first to the floor. That looked vicious.

Tsukushi stumbles back in and is seated against the ringpost. Misaki’s signals for the crossbody (?!) but Tsukushi moves and Misaki goes flying stomach first into the eyelets/post. Tsukka comes in for a double suplex, then puts her partner into Crossfire powerbomb position then flips Tsukushi up into essentially a spinebuster onto Misaki for 2. Tag to make Tsukka official and she kicks at Misaki’s back, then comes around for the chest kick. It’s ducked, but as Misaki comes back up Tsukushi catches her with the crossbody. Great use of having no ropes in the way of people going in and out there.

Tsukushi and Tsukka double whip Misaki towards corner. She stops herself but turns around into a Tsukushi dropkick that sends her back first into the eyelets. She drops down to her knees and it seems she’ll be double dropkicked against the post but she charges out and catches both with a crossbody instead. Tsukka ends up seated against the far ringpost and Misaki HITS THE CROSSBODY AGAINST THE POST. Ouch! Tsukka turns around to accusingly point at the eyelet as she sells to make sure everyone knows what just happened and appreciates the pain she’s in. Cover by Misaki gets 2.

Misaki whips Tsukka towards the edge and she jumps off it and SCALES THE PILLAR ON THE WALL to save herself. So. Awesome. At the top of the pillar is a fan, so Tsukka hangs out up there for a moment enjoying the breeze in her face. Once she comes down she soaks in a well deserved round of applause (including from her opponent), but then Misaki hits her with a kick to the gut and a stunner as she gets back in the ring.

Misaki then pulls Tsukka to another edge and grabs a waistlock, teasing a German to the floor. Tsukka appropriately sells like her life is in danger and counters with a wheelbarrow roll, which they keep reversing in turn until they almost go off the far edge, then they reverse direction and eventually roll  (sideways) off the original edge they were perched on. Fun sequence there that made the most of the unique match type, teased danger, and ended with something that paid off the sequence but was reasonably safe for the two of them.

They eventually get up and celebrate surviving with a cheer, then shake but Misaki kicks Tsukka and sends her towards the post. Then she dropkicks Tsukka and the latter’s head visibly bounces off the post. Misaki back on the apron, and dives off to the floor (presumably onto a laid out Tsukka, but it was on the far side of the ring from the camera so I didn’t see the landing). She drags Tsukka back in and tags Kyuuri.

Three slingblades in rapid succession get 2, and Kyuuri does her cool conversion where she uses Tsukka’s momentum from the kickout to lock in an arm bar. Tsukka tries to roll out but Kyuuri hangs on and reapplies it. Tsukka claws to the edge for a break.

Tsukka counters the Fisherman, but her enzugiri is ducked and Kyuuri rolls into armbreaker. Tsukka counters that into leglock, then floats into a headlock, which Kyuuri counters into a Rings of Saturn. Great counter wrestling from both. Tsukushi comes in to break the hold. Misaki chases her off and Kyuuri goes for arm trap submission on Tsukka but gets rolled up into position for the kick to the back. Kick to the chest followup gets 2.

Tsukka locks in the stranglehold but Misaki saves. Everyone in now fighting. Tsuksuhi goes up on Tsukka’s shoulders, STANDS, and hits a missile dropkick on Misaki (which was so cool I’ll forgive it taking so long Misaki had to stand there selling being out of it for a bit waiting for it).

Tsukushi tries to return the favor to her partner by bending over to make a platform for Tsukka to get on and attack Kyuuri from, but as soon as Tsukka puts weight on Tsukushi’s back the latter collapses face first and they both go down in a heap. Intentional or not that was amusing and fit in with the match nicely.

Kyuuri takes advantage with the rolling Fishermans on Tsukka as Misaki intercepts Tsukushi and gets 2. Armtrap submission tried again, but Tsukka counters again into a rollup for 2. Kyuuri ducks a Tsukka clothesline and Misaki nails Tsukka with the spinning double sledge. Kyuuri with a butterfly roll, then rolls back the other way for a pin attempt that gets another 2. Tsukushi saves Tsukka by dropkicking Kyuuri right out of the ring. Misaki dropkicks Tsukushi, then Tsukka dropkicks Misaki. Kyuuri climbs back in and Tsukka tries one on her, which Kyuuri swats away.  Kyuuri tries a rollup, which is reversed for 2, but Kyuuri reverses that for 2, but Tsukka reverses again for 2. Love those kind of sequences.

Tsukka hits a seated dropkick as Kyuuri starts to get up for 2, then calls for the end. She climbs the POST (with steadying help from Tsukushi) and hits a missile dropkick for 2 as Misaki saves. A double dropkick from Tsukka and Tsukushi takes Misaki out, and another on Kyuuri gets 2. Tsukka’s looking for the Infinity but Kyuuri fights it off, lands a judo trip, and goes for the arm trap for a third time. Tsukka escapes, slides under Kyuuri’s legs, and stands up. Uh-oh, not a good development for Kyuuri as Tsukka’s got her in electric chair position, and indeed there’s the Ocean Cyclone suplex for 3.

 

Talk about making the most of a stipulation. The psychology, teases, and drama were all excellent and I absolutely loved seeing these four work a technical, competition based match within such a unique format.

 

There’s a fairly extensive roundtable afterwards which ends with birthday cakes and a surprise appearance by Arisa, who comes in, hands her partner flowers without saying a word or breaking a smile, then turns around and marches back out.

 

Overall

So I really didn’t like the Hardcore Ribbon match, but the opener and the triple threat were decent, and the main excellent, so this show still gets an easy recommendation. The main in particular is a wonderful example of what can be done when approaching constraints as a chance to be creative.

Match Review: Jumonji Sisters vs Best Friends 12/27/15 (DVD)

I’ve finally gotten the DVD containing one of the very best matches I’ve ever seen live, and am excited to revisit it and do a review of here. The entire event (JWP Climax 12/27/15) was quite good, but I’d like to focus on just the tag title match for this entry (both as a spotlight and because I intend to due full play-by-play).

 

JWP Tag Title Match: Jumonji Sisters (c) (Dash Chisako and Sendai Sachiko) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima) ****3/4

 

 

 

This was tied for my favorite match of the eighty-four I saw the first time I went to Japan, so as mentioned I’ve really been looking forward to rewatching it.

Handshakes all around. Arisa and Dash start. Knuckle-lock tie up, Dash kicks out of it and grabs a headlock which Arisa reverses into a waistlock, then a front facelock. Dash tries to twist out but Arisa keep hold of the arm and arm drags Dash down into a headlock on the mat, but the latter gets a headscissors. Arisa kips out and we have a stalemate. Smooth counter wrestling sequence from two pros and we’re off to a great start.

Collar and elbow this time, mutually broken after some jockeying, Dash emphatically swings at Arisa with a clothesline attempt which is ducked, and Tsukka comes in with a kick to Dash to give her team the advantage. I always find it interesting in Joshi tag matches that partners come in regularly for double teams unbothered by the ref but when actual tags happen people generally just switch and head right out to the apron. Almost the opposite of what’s expected over here.

Dash sent to the ropes and caught with a double dropkick, but she flips to counter the following double arm ringer and drags both opponents over, setting up stereo shotgun dropkicks as Sachiko comes in to help out.

Rapid fire offense from the champs on Arisa: Dash whips Arisa into the ropes and drops down, Sachiko kick off the rebound, Dash knee to the face, Sachiko faceplant, Dash basement dropkick. The Jumonis are so quick and fluid with this type of offense it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Dash nails on last kick to Arisa’s face before tagging out. Then Sachiko hits one and sends Arisa into the corner. As fast as Dash left the ring she’s back in for the double team, and is alley-ooped by Sachiko into a beautiful shotgun dropkick in the corner. Tsukka’s knocked off the apron by Dash as Sachiko hits a bridging suplex on Arisa for 2.

 

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An angry Tsukka comes in to kick away at Sachiko, but the latter ducks ducks a clothesline and Tsukka eats a Dash forearm and rolls right back out of the ring. Scoop slam on Arisa by Sachiko and Dash just stands on her for a bit. Awesome way for the confident champs to both taunt and damage the challenger at the same time.  Sachiko gets her own partner in suplex position and slams Dash down on Arisa facebuster style. Dash walks over Arisa again and then Sachiko hits a gorgeous summersault senton off the ropes for 2.

Sachiko up top with a shotgun missile dropkick for 2.  I didn’t remember Arisa taking this much of a beating so early on. Sachiko hits the ropes and Tsukka with a cheapshot kick to the back to give her partner a chance to nail a couple of kicks and tag out, which brings Tsukka in officially for the first time. She goes up to the top turnbuckle and hits her own missile dropkick, knocking Sachiko back into the far corner which allows Tsukka to follow up with her running seated dropkick. Tsukka looks for a suplex, but Dash is in to break it up and the Jumonji’s whip Tsukka into the ropes, but she catches them both with a dropkick on the rebound (nicely landing one foot on each opponent, even if the shot was glancing on Dash).

Trio of hard kicks to a seated Sachiko’s back by Tsukka, then she hits the ropes for one to the chest but Sachiko ducks and rolls her up for 2. Savate kick to Tsukka’s face then Sachiko hoists her up for a suplex, but Tsukka adjusts midair to escape, lands on her feet, returns Sachiko to a seated position with some kicks, then hits the ropes and nails the kick to the chest afterall for 2.

Tsukka back to the top, but Dash delays her from the apron and Sachiko uses the second rope for a sweet handstand headscissors to bring Tsukka back into the ring. Knucklelock Northern Lights suplex with a bridge gets 2.

Tag to Dash, who goes up and hits a missile dropkick sending Tsukka into the far corner. Sachiko whips Dash at Tsukka, but Tsukka ducks Dash’s clothesline, then ducks one by Sachiko, then turns and throws one at Sachiko (which is ducked), and ducks another by Dash. But she turns right into a double dropkick by the champs and is back in the corner. Sachiko goes outside and Dash rebounds off the far corner super quick to hit a shotgun dropkick on the seated Tsukka.  The counters and strikes are coming so fast it’s taking me a paragraph to describe ten seconds of action.

 

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Dash pulls Tsukka up and climbs to the second rope with Tsukka trapped between her and the corner and hits a rope assisted shotgun dropkick to Tsukka’s chest for 2. Back up for a double stomp but Tsukka rolls out of the way and Arisa attacks, but Dash ducks the clothesline attempt and sends Arisa crashing into Tsukka. Sachiko in and the champs each hit a running forearm on their double stacked opponents in the corner.

Arisa whipped to the far corner, but dumps a charging Sachiko to the apron as Tsukka kicks Dash to take over. Tsukka and Dash fight for a suplex as Arisa jumps down to the outside from the top rope, grabbing Sachiko in a DDT on the ring apron on the way down (ouch!!). Tsukka fights off the suplex, ducks a clothesline, hits the ropes, then hits her wheelbarrow rollup into a seated chest kick. Arisa comes in and they hit a double kick on Dash for 2. Arisa up top, now tagged in officially, and a connects with a missile shotgun dropkick.

 

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Dash fights off a waistlock with back elbows, but Arisa knees her into the corner in response to keep the challengers in full control. Whip to the far corner, charging knee strike, Dash drops to seated position and Arisa lays in more knee strikes, then breaks off to knock Sachiko down and Tsukka comes in for a running dropkick to the still seated Dash. Another running knee strike by Arisa follows, then she rolls Dash to the center of the ring and as the latter stands up Arisa and Tsukka go up in adjacent corners for a double missile dropkick. Gets 2.

Full nelson by Arisa (presumably for a dragon suplex). Dash powers out and eats a forearm for her trouble.  She throws a clothesline in response, but Arisa ducks and   finally nails a snap German and then holds on for two more. Dash tries to block the fourth so Arisa just headbutts her in the back of her head and hits a deadlift version with a bridge. Sachiko saves at 2. Arisa signals for the dragon to end it, but in a beautiful bit of teamwork Dash calls for her partner to superkick at her and ducks at the last second so Arisa eats the shot. Dash hits the ropes and lands a diamond cutter, Sachiko with a basement dropkick that sends Arisa into the ropes, Dash with one against the ropes, then drags Arisa out to the center for a 2 count. Again, all the rapid fire double teaming the champs do is just so smooth.

Dash kicks at the downed Arisa but the latter avoids it and gets up, then the two trade yakuza kicks to the face. Unreal. Arisa hits the ropes and runs into Dash basement dropkick to make her faceplant (the crowd felt that one), then another right to Arisa’s face as she tries to get up. Gets 2. Tag to Sachiko. She hits a shotgun dropkick followed by a backdrop suplex, then another of her swank summersault sentons for 2.

Dash in and whips Arisa into Sachiko (who’s seated on the turnbuckles in a corner). She catches Arisa with a boot, tornado DDT, Arisa rolls up after the hit towards the far corner and Dash is waiting with a missile dropkick, which knocks Arisa back into a Sachiko German with a bridge for 2. They knocked Arisa back and forth like a ping pong ball in that sequence, which was incredible.

 

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Dash up top with Sachiko preparing to climb the same corner for their sequential frogsplash finish, but Arisa gets the boots up as Dash comes down (man that looked brutal) and Tsukka attacks Sachiko to hang her up in the ropes. Arisa climbs and nails Sachiko with a double stomp to the midsection to bring her down hard. Arisa up again, and another double stomp to the prone Sachiko gets 2.  Arisa drags her out to the center of the ring. Sachiko tries to fight back but a hard forearm ends that and Arisa hits a release German suplex, then Tsukka joins in for another double kick for 2. Arisa up top again but Dash intercepts, goes all the way up with her and lands a diamond cutter off the top!

 

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Arisa’s in major trouble. As Sachiko hits a beautiful release German of her own, Dash is already in position in the corner and nails an immediate frog splash. Sachiko goes up for hers, also nails it, and Arisa looks dead. 1, 2, and at the very last second Tsukka DIVES from out of sight on the floor outside the ring through the ropes and gets by Dash to save the match. Phenomenal sequence from the champs (and Arisa), and flawless timing for maximum drama from Tsukka on the save.

 

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Sachiko looking for another German. Arisa claws at the ropes and reverses into a waistlock of her own when Sachiko pulls her away, but the champs counter again as this time Dash charges at her own partner and Sachiko ducks in the nick of time for Arisa to eat the kick to the face. The precision of all four competitors is unbelievable. Superkick from Sachiko to follow up but Arisa’s still standing. Sachiko hits the ropes … and runs right into a bridging Cutie Special for 2. Arisa with a series of knee strikes to the face to continue momentum as Tsukka and Dash tie each other up in the corner.

German attempt which Sachiko tries to roll forward to counter. Tsukka hits the sliding kick through Arisa legs to Sachiko’s face to seemingly set up the completion of the German (I so adore that spot), but as Arisa lifts Sachiko back up Dash comes out of nowhere to land a dropkick to Arisa’s back sending her forward and Sachiko rolls her up for 2.999. They were both struggling like mad during that cover and the audience erupted for the kickout as that was totally buyable as the finish.

Sachiko just waylays Arisa with a trio of superkicks to the face as the latter tries to stand, then follows with a German suplex with a bride for 2. Arisa’s suffering a lot at the hands of one of her own signature moves this match. Dash in and the champs go for an assisted Shiranui, but Tsukka dropkicks Sachiko as she tries to boost Dash and Arisa uses the opportunity to hit a release German on Dash that sends her rolling out of the ring. Tsukka with an enzugiri on Sachiko followed by a FLURRY of forearms by Arisa. Sachiko ducks the big one, but Arisa spins around and nails it anyway for a close 2.

Sachiko struggles to her feet and tries to create some distance between her and Arisa, but she stumbles towards the corner and Tsukka’s waiting to scramble up the ropes and hit the Venus Shoot, which knocks Sachiko back into a picture perfect bridging German by Arisa. 1, 2, 3 and new champs.

 

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Just a phenomenal match from start to finish by four masters of the craft. It kept going back and forth in glorious and captivating fashion. In addition to feeling incredibly lucky to have seen this live in general, it was privilege to see Sachiko wrestle before her retirement shortly after this match.

I wrote the following about it live, at I totally feel the same on the rewatch: “They threw everything they could at each other for fifteen action packed minutes, including a variety of innovative and impressive double teams. This was exactly the fantastically worked, logical, and wowing spectacle I wanted, ending in a huge title change to boot.”

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

During my first trip to Japan I had to travel back during Wrestle Kingdom, so I was extremely excited to actually be able to attend this year. While I generally prefer shows where I can get reasonably close to the ring and really enjoy the benefits of being there live, stadium shows are unique and different experiences in their own right and attending Japan’s biggest wrestling show of the year (at a venue like the Tokyo Dome no less) was definitely a bucket list item for me.

I was happy to have an opportunity to check it off, and had a great time. The atmosphere was unlike any event I’ve been to before and it was a good show with several great highlights.

 

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That said I have to admit I don’t necessarily feel any need to do it again, despite having a lot of fun and enjoying the show. It’s simply too long and the novelty of being at a 27,000 person show won’t be as strong the second time around. As mentioned I enjoy experiencing the energy of live wrestling much closer to the ring. If I have the chance in the future I think I’d rather try to catch their follow up Korukeun Hall show instead next time around.

I’m not going to try to run down or separate thoughts on all 11 matches and do a full review here. My memory’s simply not up to it, and watching from the very top of the Tokyo Dome seats meant I was getting more general impressions than details at certain points anyway.

The pre-show New Japan Rumble was amusing mostly due to the lineup, ranging from Jushin Thunder Liger to Scott Norton to Billy Gunn to Cheeseburger (seriously…). Michael Elgin is extremely over in NJPW, so having him come in and destroy some guys to win it was a good call.

 

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The undercard was the appropriate mix of styles and stories. I don’t recall anything being actively bad, but to be honest I found both Cody Rhodes debut and the ROH title match flat. Both would have benefitted from having Japanese talent involved, although I do acknowledge I’m in the minority of the audience in that Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly in particular is a match I can (and have) see repeatedly in the states. Still, I don’t think it had the impact intended. I understand the benefit to ROH of changing their title at such a big international event, but as one of eight title matches (and one of six title changes) it got lost in the midcard and fell flat. It was also seemed a rather average outing from the two regular opponents to me.

The midcard in general was good but blended together a bit. Standout moments in my memory are a strong finish to the Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice match, and being annoyed with Yano’s antics and thus disappointed when his team won the tag team championship.

 

At an event like this the top of the card is always where the strongest matches belong, and NJPW pulled that off in spades. The top four contests were all singles title matches filled with wrestlers the crowd went wild for.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title match between Kushida (c) and Hiromu Takahashi was good but spotty, with way too many dangerous looking head drops for my tastes. The story here was escalation, and I think they overdid it. Both competitors looked a bit loopy at times, and it was hard to enjoy this while more and more afraid for the wrestlers’ safety the longer this went. The rest of the crowd was hot for it though, so your milage may vary.

I felt the three matches that followed walked the line better, building increasing drama without going overbaord (ok, the main gets more of a pass on that for being the main). Katsuyouri Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto’s NEVER Openweight title match was a tense, hard hitting affair. I’ve heard some comments that it wasn’t the best match the two have had as opponents, but it was the first time I personally was seeing that pairing and I was impressed.

 

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In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion best of the night honors from me go to the semi-main between Tetsuya Naito (c) and Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title, who built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish.  The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

So of course if Naito vs Tanahashi is my match of the night then (in my opinion) the main event IWGP Heavyweight title match isn’t the the industry redefining match it’s been described as, and certainly not the greatest match of all time. That’s not to take anything away from Kazuchika Okada (c) and Kenny Omega: it was fantastic. It’s just the hyperbole has been out of control regarding this match. The semi main built more smoothly  in my opinion. Here they had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear. Again, still excellent though.

 

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Overall

Great show that was just too long for me to enjoy to the fullest extent live. The top of the card hit it out of the park though and reenergized me, and it’ll be easier to watch on replay (with the ability to watch in pieces) anyway. Easy recommendation on the strength of the top 3 matches alone, which are all well worth going out of your way to see.