Deep Inside Your Soul: Farewell to Mika Iida

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Custom Funko Pop I made of/for Iida.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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Fuerza Bruta WA! Ice Ribbon Edition

April 26, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Fuerza Bruta shows are a unique experience that combines music, dance, and acrobatics and takes place around, above, and through a standing crowd. I saw their WAYRA show in New York a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. In addition to being excited to see their performance again in general and being curious about what would be different for their Tokyo offering Fuerza Bruta WA!, being able to attend one of the two nights that Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi from one of my favorite wrestling promotions (Ice Ribbon) would be appearing was a fantastic additional treat.

 

 

The show itself was of course a tremendous amount of fun. It featured the same basic ideas and setups as the NY show, but with distinct Japanese themes and enough differences to make it its own experience. It’s an energetic, contagious spectacle from start to finish, easily captivating the crowd and keeping them full of anticipation to see what’s next.

 

 

On top of that since I went through Ice Ribbon as a special thing a small group of us were brought over to watch the show with Tsukka and Maya (when they weren’t participating) by a attendant from Fuerza Bruta for the group who always made sure we knew where to go, etc. Afterwards we each also got to get a picture with Tsukka and Maya, a really nice momento of the evening. Their participation in the show was great too. Both were wearing harnesses when we first met up, and a bit into the show they were raised into the ceiling with some of the regular performers. Later they danced through the crowd to a stage that then itself moved through the crowd to the center of the space. Really fun stuff.

 

 

Another cool aspect of the shows is the use of water, with performers running against sprays, mist being used while acrobats are swinging over the audience, and an incredible sequence where a a large, clear pool is lowered from the ceiling to just above the crowd’s head as people splash/swim/dance around in it. At one particularly enjoyable point for me they essentially had a water curtain running through the center splashing on the audience, and Tsukka stated splashing it towards me (which I of course responded in kind to 😉 ), resulting in me having a short water war with her and Maya. So amusing/awesome.

 

 

Standing out a bit in a Japanese crowd I also found myself the center of the performers’ attention a couple of times. I was near the center of the room when the crowd was split to form a corridor for someone to repel from the ceiling into and march towards the stage. He keyed in on me and stalked right up to me staring until we went forehead to forehead (which I clearly and gladly played along with) and he pushed me back a bit. Later while I was taking video of Tsukka and Maya dancing on the center stage the wandering drummer took notice of my Ice Ribbon t-shirt and gently poked at all the faces on it with his drumstick. This was all of course fantastic, but even without these personal experiences I was lucky enough to have the general atmosphere of the show with the show taking place IN the audience at several times and the general high level of interaction is incredible.

 

 

Last night was Tsukka and Maya’s final appearance so that part is no longer an option, but as I’ve been gushing about the show is a wonderful time in its own right and if anyone happens to be in Tokyo from now until May 6th I highly recommend catching it as it finishes its run.

 

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Shimmer Weekend November 2017 Live Thoughts

November 11-12, 2017 in Berwyn, IL

I’d like to share some (long overdue) thoughts on Shimmer’s fall 2017 taping weekend as we head into the first one of 2018. I’m going to change the format a bit compared to my previous write ups and approach this by topic and highlights rather than trying to go match by match.

 

Return of the Joshi

These tapings saw Joshi talent return to Shimmer for the first time in three taping weekends (about a year and a half). The Japanese talent bring a particular energy and various styles that are missed when absent, so it was great to see them back. Beyond that the lineup itself was a treat with three big returns and a debut.

 

 

 

Starting with the debut, Aoi Kizuki made her first US appearances as part of these shows. I’m familiar with Aoi from the tail end of her 10-year career in Ice Ribbon as well as her freelance work for companies like Wave and Gatoh Move the last couple of years. She’d talked about wanting to come overseas to wrestle and I was very excited to see her get the opportunity.

 

 

 

She had a strong debut in a really good match against the newly proclaimed “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim despite coming up short (keeping Mia strong for an important match announced for later in the day), showed off her unique offense and enthusiasm in a pair of establishing wins over Veda Scott and Chelsea Green in decent affairs, and teamed with a returning Joshi (and Shimmer mainstay) Hiroyo Matsumoto against Chelsea and her tag partner Britt Baker (known as Fire & Nice) to finish the weekend. I wasn’t surprised to see Aoi work with Veda given both card placement and their familiarity with each other from Veda’s time in Japan. The tag match was largely comedy, allowing the four to play around a bit with a lot of antics centered around Hiroyo’s Godzilla mask. The established duo of Fire & Nice pulled this one out with a pin on Aoi to have her go 50-50 over her debut weekend.

 

 

It’s always great to see Hiroyo back in Shimmer and her other matches saw her facing off with (comparatively) newer Shimmer talent in Hudson Envy and Kellyanne. Both matches were excellent with great work from all involved, and Kellyanne’s upset victory over Hiroyo likely signals a strong push for one of Shimmer’s brightest up and comers. Hiroyo also appeared on Rise 5: Rising Sun the previous Friday night in a fun 6-woman tag teaming with Dynamite DiDi & Rachael Ellering against The Blue Nation (Charli Evans & Jessica Troy) & Aja Kong.

 

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Hikaru Shida made a lasting impression and was strongly pushed when she appeared in Shimmer in 2013-2014, so her return has been long anticipated. She had a large role in stories over the the course of these volumes which I’ll talk about a little later, then finished the weekend with a big victory over two-time Shimmer Champion Cheerleader Melissa.

 

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The biggest news as far as returns was of course the legendary Aja Kong, who had only appeared in Shimmer in a one match prior as part of Tomoka Nakagawa’s retirement weekend in an 8-woman tag, coming back to Shimmer. Seeing her in a singles match live was a treat, and having it be the previously mentioned match for “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim was even better. The two put on a PHENOMENAL back and forth, “David vs Goliath” style contest that claims match of the weekend honors against a tough field. Can’t say how lucky I feel to have seen this live and had the opportunity to meet Kong and get a picture the following day.

Also, like Shida, Kong had a large role in stories over the the course of these volumes which I’ll talk about… right now:

 

 

Num-ber One!

Early on in Volume 96 Mercedes Martinez & Nicole Savoy came to the ring to discuss Shayna Baszler has gone on to greener pastures (she had signed with WWE in between tapings), but that Trifecta was recruiting a new member……Aja Kong! This was a quite a surprise and a perfect use of the legend for the weekend. Subtle dissension starts as Mercedes declares Kong the new #2 in Trifecta, which Savoy shows some resentment towards.

 

 

Later on the same volume Savoy would face Shida in what seemed likely to set up a challenge to Shimmer Championship. Indeed, after prevailing in an excellent match Shida would go on to face Mercedes for the title on Volume 97. Post match Savoy showed respect to Shida and offered a handshake, drawing the ire of her new teammate Kong who came out and dragged Savoy to the back.

On Volume 97 Savoy got a huge victory of her own over former champion Saraya Knight (in what was a bit of a dream match for me and was every bit as great as I hoped). The main event was interesting, with the structure being more about Mercedes dominating by attacking Shida’s bad knee and wanting a reluctant Savoy to cheat and help her cripple her opponent. It was very well done and a great story, but I was honestly surprised Shida never felt like a threat and this wasn’t the match I was expecting between the two. But again, that’s not a bad thing.

 

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After Mercedes successfully fended off Shida’s bid she decided she wasn’t done trying to cripple the Joshi and she and Kong held Shida down while demanding Savoy attack with a chair. In a nice bit of story telling Savoy was even more reluctant because they were targeting Shida’s knee, and Savoy herself had gone through a knee injury and had no desire to inflict it on someone else. To a thunderous audience reaction she attacked Trifecta instead (including an amusingly soft chair shot on Kong you could almost tell Savoy didn’t want to be giving). In a show of how well everything was set up, the crowd jumped right on the (admittedly obvious) cues and would continually taunt Mercedes and Kong by chanting “NUM-BER ONE!” for Savoy for the remainder of the weekend. Veteran Kong had to be thrilled with how much nuclear heat she was able to generate just by responding “THREE!” repeatedly.

 

 

The next day it all exploded with a tag match pitting Mercedes & Kong against Savoy & Shida on Volume 98. They hit all the right story notes and had the expected excellent encounter that ended with Kong WAYLAYING Savoy behind the refs back with a thunderous shot from Kong’s trademark mini garbage can leading to the win. Lexi Fyfe comes out (amid fantastic “what did I do wrong?” shrugs and facial expressions from Kong), declares the ref incompetent, and gives Savoy a shot at revenge, and her former mentor’s title, at Shimmer 99.

 

 

That resulting match was the perfect culmination of the story and Savoy’s well deserved ascent up Shimmer’s card as she overcame Mercedes’ relentless assault (and Kong’s interference) to become Shimmer Champion. The whole thing was another example of the incredible weekend long stories Shimmer does so well, and might have been the best they’ve ever done.

 

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Tremendous Tag Teams, and a Long Awaited Implosion

Shimmer’s tag team scene grew wonderfully during this weekend, featuring duos like Hottest Free Agents (Ashley Lane & Deonna Purrazzo), LuFisto & Hudson Envy, Sinister Sweethearts (Brittany Blake & Samantha Heights), Paradise Lost (Courtney Rush and Dust), the previously mentioned Blue Nation (Charli Evans & Jessica Troy) and Fire & Nice (Britt Baker & Chelsea Green), etc (including more on the preshow I hope get a main show look in the future). They all looked good, with Blue Nation impressing me the most of the new to me teams/ wrestlers and the new pairing of LuFisto & Hudson being particularly fantastic.

But the biggest impact of a new team was Totally Tubular Tag Team (Delilah Doom & Leva Bates) taking the Shimmer Tag Team Titles off of Mt. Tessa (Tessa Blanchard & Vanessa Kraven) on Volume 97. To be perfectly honest I’m not a huge fan of the new champs, as I don’t find their wrestling or act holds my personal interest, but their win was well received and I’m happy for them.

 

 

The cracks started to show in earnest for Mt. Tessa during the match, teasing a payoff to the long simmering underlying friction between the two. Afterwards things FINALLY exploded with the crowd rabid for Kraven to get her hands on Tessa. The two would face on Volume 98 in a match Tessa would bail on, giving Kraven an unsatisfying countout victory, then Vanessa would fully vanquish her former partner in a Lumberjack match on Volume 99. Another well told, satisfying overarching story built on top of strong ringwork. This felt like a goodbye for Tessa, but she’s back for this Spring’s Shimmer weekend.

 

 

Everything Else and Then Some

 

 

I’ll touch on a few other things that stand out before wrapping this up. Seeing Shotzi Blackheart back was great. As I alluded to earlier Kellyanne had a big weekend, winning a 6-way on Volume 96 then defeating two big names in Hiroyo and Jessicka Havok even after coming up just short in a Heart of Shimmer title shot against Shazza McKenzie on Volume 97. She’s got a ton of potential and I hope her rise continues. Havok looked great this weekend too, including in a title match against Mercedes on Volume 96. Shazza continues to drive me crazy with her frequent lack of selling, but otherwise had decent title defenses.

One was unfortunately cut short by an injury to Allysin Kay on Volume 98 in which Kay was severely busted open. She got patched up, and came back out to open Volume 99 trying to get a rematch, then was out meeting fans after the show. The AK-47’s as tough as nails. Pinkies up!  Fallen Flower Kikyo, who’s fast becoming a personal favorite, also suffered an injury during the weekend but has thankfully been back in action.

 

 

Several new to me and/or debuting talents had impressive showings, including but not limited to Zoe Lucas, Indi Hartwell, Rachel Ellering, Charli Evans, and Miranda Salinas. I hope they all become regular parts of Shimmer’s roster.

Finally it’s always a pleasure to see Saraya destroy people, and I took particular delight in her victory over a specific opponent.

 

I’m going to finish there, but of course there was of course a lot more going on over the course of the weekend. My apologies for the things I didn’t touch on. Overall as always Shimmer was an incredible time, and while I unfortunately can’t attend this spring I hope everyone has a blast.

 

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The NXT Step for a Legend III: No One Was Ready

In Summer 2015 I wrote about my favorite wrestler’s Shimmer career and impending signing with WWE in NXT Step for a Legend. A year and a half later I looked at her impressive initial period during that new phase of her career in NXT Step for a Legend II. Here I’d like to share one last NXT Step piece featuring Asuka looking at the end of her time in NXT, being called up to the main roster, and the start of her main roster run culminating in her first Wrestlemania last night.

 

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The first half of 2017 saw Asuka continue her domination of the NXT women’s division. In May Asuka passed Goldberg’s legendary (recognized) 173-0 win record to obtain the longest such undefeated streak in wrestling history. Goldberg himself acknowledged the accomplishment on Twitter and commented that “‘the streak’ is in good hands.” WWE themselves seemed a little tentative to promote it at first though, possibly due to the possibility of wanting to end it before she was called up to the main roster. More on that later.

 

Even in light of the dominance described above, Asuka still consistently elevated her opponents in defeat through both the skills they further developed by being in the ring with the veteran and strong showings against her. One particularly strong example of such was an incredible Last Woman Standing match she had with Nikki Cross in July 2017, which was perhaps the best match of either’s NXT tenure. That match was a additional treat for me in being a rematch from one of the first few live matches I saw of either from back in Spring 2014 at Shimmer, and it was interesting to see the two face off again at very different points in their careers.

 

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Ember Moon was also a persistent rival for Asuka in NXT, and often it seemed the champion had to resort to shortcuts to fend off her challenges and keep the title. As NXT Takeover Brooklyn III approached it seemed conceivable that Ember would finally hand Asuka her first loss and take the NXT Women’s title, sending Asuka on to the main roster. Instead the champion prevailed once again in an excellent match I was extremely lucky to have seen live and that, unbeknownst to those watching at the time, would be Asuka’s farewell to NXT anyway. It was reported shortly after that she suffered a collarbone injury during the match, would be vacating the NXT Women’s championship, and when she returned to action it would be as a member of the RAW roster. She hold the longest title reign of any kind in NXT history, recognized as 523 days (through to the date when the segment with her vacating the title aired on TV). She was far from finished collecting records and accolades.

 

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Fantastic depiction of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

Asuka made her main roster debut at TLC 2017 in a match against one of her early NXT opponents in Emma. From there she carved out a path of success just as she had in NXT, continuing to build her undefeated streak (now fully emphasized by WWE at all opportunities) against top names like Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, and the woman Asuka had taken the NXT title from in the first place, Bayley. She also was the sole survivor in her Survivor Series debut, and won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble in January 2018, giving her the choice of champions to challenge at Wrestlemania. She was one of the obvious, and fitting choices for that honor, although the underlying disconnect that someone holding the longest undefeated streak in history and had pinned Raw’s champion in non-title competition needed to win the Rumble to earn a title shot was starting to convey the booking difficulties surrounding the streak. The Rumble match was excellent, and seeing Asuka victorious in a “PPV” main event (something curiously absent from her NXT run) was glorious. 

 

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Asuka would decide to challenge Charlotte for the Smackdown Women’s title in what looked on paper to be a setup for an excellent encounter giving Asuka her first main roster title. Instead at Wrestlemania last night “The Empress of Tomorrow” shockingly tapped to “The Queen’s” Figure Eight ending the streak at 914 days and making her record 267-1. Given the rumors swirling that WWE had Ronda Rousey penciled in to eventually end the streak down the road this was even more of a surprise. I have reservations about having the first ever Women’s Rumble winner fail in her title bid as well as having Asuka’s streak end as a challenger rather than have someone get the boost from taking a title off her to end it, but Charlotte was a fine choice (certainly preferable to the rumored plan) and the match was the expected fantastic contest that ends the streak on a high note. After the match Asuka embraced Charlotte in respect and admitted “Charlotte was ready for Asuka” in a show of humility playing off her “no one is ready for Asuka” catchphrase she used for the duration of the streak. 

 

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Another incredible rendition of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

What’s most amazing about all of the above though is that all of it has been accomplished with Asuka still just six months into her main roster career at WWE, with a great deal ahead of her. She’s one of the most charismatic and technically proficient wrestlers in all the world, and I of course look forward to seeing what her future holds.

 

Wave Young OH! OH! 1/8/18 Live Thoughts

January 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My last show of this year’s holiday trip was my second Wave Young OH! OH! show, two years after I saw my first.

 

 

I imagine the opening match was more about Mika Iida’s upcoming retirement than her role working with upcoming talent, as Kaho Kobayashi doesn’t exactly fit my idea of a rookie anymore at four and a half years (and a full two after I saw her appropriately featured at my first Young OH! OH! show). That said, any extra chance to see Iida before she’s done is a treat, and Kaho is quickly working towards her full potential and is a joy to watch as she continually improves and refines her craft. This was a lot of fun. When it was announced I suspected it could be the main event, so it made for a somewhat surprising opener (which I liked as it allowed more of the spotlight to fall on newer faces later on).

 

 

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The wonderfully tense feud between Kyuuri and Tae Honma I’ve gushed about in my reviews of Ribbonmania and Ice Ribbon’s 1/6 show continued here in a 3-Way match. Their obsession with each other consumed their focus enough for Asuka to take the victory (standard disclaimer that this is of course Wave’s Asuka and not the former Kana).  This was the shortest match of the show, but they made the most of their six and a half minutes, provided good action, and hit all the story points they needed to.

After show I met Tae for the first time and mentioned I also saw her wrestle at Ice Ribbon. She reacted with understanding, then looked over to the Ice Ribbon table and said “Kyuuri” while frowning and shaking her head and looked back for me to commiserate with her difficulties. Fantastic little touch to sell the ongoing angle at all times.

 

 

Fairy Nipponbashi is admittedly not a wrestler I personally enjoy all that much, as I find her comedy largely unfunny and the fact that her somewhat heelish antics are delivered and received as if she’s a virtuous hero annoying. So I also have to admit that I took great delight in seeing Actwres Girlz’ Nao Kakuta eventually lose patience (after suffering at the hands of Fairy’s wand, then stealing it, but of course finding Fairy immune to her own magic for whatever reason) and just whack the HELL out of the Fairy with the wand and roll her up for the win.

Nao played a perfect heel all match to counter Fairy’s nonsense, including a great application of the old trick of breaking a choke at the count of 4 just to reapply it with the other hand, which honestly made her the face to me and that lack of preference for her opponent combined with an objectively strong performance by Nao in her role for a strong first impression. Hope to see more of her in the future. Action was solid and this was probably my favorite Fairy match ever, albeit likely not for the reasons intended.

 

 

I got a second look at Ami Sato (after seeing her in her home company of Sendai Girls a couple of days earlier) against one of Wave’s resident up and comers Hiroe Nagahama.  A little long for what it was but a decent showing for both overall.

 

 

The main event of Rina Yamashita & Maruko Nagasaki against Miyuki Takase & Totoro Satsuki was EXACTLY the type of stuff I want from shows like these. It had a nice mix of experience levels still incorporating mostly newer talent, ranging from former Regina di Wave champion Rina at just over 4 years (who like Kaho was on my first Young OH! OH! show, appearing  in both the announced and surprise main events of that show) to Miyuki and Totoro at around a year. It was cross promotional, gave a nice main event spotlight to some wrestlers who are usually in the undercard, the structure let them all shine, etc. Excellent way to cap off my trip.

Totoro continues to look like a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and I get more and more excited about her future every time I see her. This was also my first proper look at Miyuki, as she was kind of background in Thanksgiving Wave‘s opening 8-woman tag (the only other match I’ve seen her in so far). She looked good and I hope she continues to get more opportunities like this to develop.

 

 

I really enjoy these type of shows as both a glimpse of Joshi wrestling’s future and enjoyable shows in their own right. I’m extremely excited that it seems like there will be more in this vein coming, including Ice Ribbon’s intriguing variation on the concept called “P’s Party” starting soon.

Ice Ribbon 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

A week after Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had show at Yokohama Radiant Hall headlined by the Young Ice tournament winner challenging for the Ice Cross Infinity Title in a refreshing spotlight on new talent in the main event.

 

 

The opening 6-woman tag match saw the recently re-debuted Tsukushi team with Karen DATE & Mio Momono against Giulia and the mother/daughter tandem of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. This was fun with several amusing moments woven into fast paced action. Tsukushi’s rebuilding from the bottom continued as she takes the fall from Hamuko.

As I mention often I adore Mio and both her ring skills and charismatic antics were on full display here. Her continued involvement in Ice Ribbon makes me very happy.

 

 

As completely expected from the wrestlers involved, Miyako Matsumoto vs Marvelous’ Miki Tanaka was all comedy, with dueling posing, dancing, and even singing throughout the course of the match. Both are quite good with the humorous style, so this was an amusing diversion that didn’t overstay its welcome. Miyako’s victory I believe puts the number of times I saw her win this trip higher than all other live shows I’ve seen combined.

 

 

 

After being across the ring at Ribbonmania in a tag match that seemed to did little to ease the issue between them, Kyuuri and Actwres Girlz’ Tae Honma wrestled to a ten-minute draw in an intense, appropriately heated contest that again left things unresolved between the two. This feud is fantastic and the match was great.

 

 

Another fun 6-woman tag for the show saw Satsuki Totoro, Akane Fujita & Maika Ozaki victorious over Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya & Maruko Nagasaki. I really enjoyed this, with the general story being Saya, Uno, & Maruko gradually being worn down by the relentless power of their opponents. Totoro in particular came out looking like a monster, including picking up the win with the same senton that knocked Saya loopy the last time they faced (poor Saya). Everyone looked good, and in particular I adore Maika’s awesome double torture rack.

 

Afterwards the issues between Maika’s former Actwres Grilz compatriots and her & Kyuuri continue as she challenges Saori Anou for a future match. Kyuuri appears to try to make it another tag or otherwise work her way in somehow, but Maika insists on a singles match (presumably with Saori’s title on the line). Kyuuri acquiesces but also pouts in the corner. Again, every little detail about this feud between the four has been fantastic.

 

 

In one of my most anticipated matches of the trip Hana DATE faced Ice Ribbon’s Ace Tsukasa Fujimoto in singles competition. While it’s obvious they have an even better match in them I’d love to see in the future this was still great and a strong spotlight for Hana. They worked a classic rising star versus veteran structure and, as Ice Ribbon in general and Tsukka in particular excels at, Hana was made to look quite strong even in defeat.

 

 

Riffing off of a dojo show where Mika Iida was a last minute replacement for a sick Maya Yukihi and took her place (ring gear and all) as part of Azure Revolution for a day, here similarly she took over for Risa Sera instead and teamed with Maya against said regular partner Risa & Mochi Miyagi. I enjoy Iida’s wrestling a lot and all the extra appearances she made for various companies this trip was a real treat for me as her retirement looms. Her happenstance third member status in Azure Revolution has been fun. Solid little tag match, if perhaps just a touch too long for what it was. I imagine this might be an odd/unpopular opinion to have of the reigning tag champs, but while they’re an ok team Risa and Maya continue to make much better opponents than partners.

 

 

I was beyond pleasantly surprised when Nao DATE upset Maruko Nagasaki in what previously seemed like a forgone conclusion final to win the Young Ice tournament at Ribbonmania. As a result she received this shot at new champion Kurumi Hiiragi’s Ice Cross Infinity Title.  They put on a great match featuring a establishing win for Kurumi and a nice spotlight on new face in the main event scene. Nao’s absolutely excellent for her experience, and I hope she remains a focal point in the promotion.

 

 

To close out there was a presentation for 2017 awards. On the heels of her first main event Nao was proclaimed Rookie of the Year. Risa took two with MVP and Best Tag Team (with Maya). Ribbonmania as Best Show, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki as Best Bout, and a for Best “Enemy” (outsider) between Maika and Manami Toyota rounded out the awards. Cute bit afterwards saw Hana continue to playfully try to claim her sisters’ glory (like when she posed with Nao’s trophy at Ribbonmania), briefly trying to grab Nao and Karen’s awards/envelopes.

 

 

Another enjoyable offering from top to bottom from Ice Ribbon and a cool way for me to wrap up their shows for this trip.

Sendai Girls 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

The timing of my previous trips along with scheduling issues meant that while I’ve seen several of their stars elsewhere and am a huge fan of Meiko Satomura and Dash Chisako in particular, I had never gotten a chance to see a Sendai Girls show live. I was extremely pleased to finally change that.

 

 

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The show opened with a short match that saw Ami Sato defeat Manami. There was some awkwardness, but overall it was a decent showing for the two rookies (both debuted in the previous summer). Manami impressed me slightly more personally, but the rest of my group thought Sato looked a bit better. Both have a lot of potential and I hope to see more of them.

 

 

In my first look at the rather curious Eiger, she had a curious contest with Sakura Hirota. Of course with Hirota this was comedy based and was decent, with enough framework to follow even if I didn’t catch all the nuances. Eiger ran off with an amusingly content daughter of Hirota after winning.

 

 

There was an incredible amount of star power in the 6-woman tag featuring Sendai’s Champion Chihiro Hashimoto teaming with Hiroyo Matsumoto & Hikaru Shida against Aja Kong, Cassandra Miyagi & Heidi Katrina. I’m more and more impressed ever time I see Chihiro, and I’ll NEVER get tired of seeing Kong and Hiroyo across the ring from each other. The enigmatic Cassandra also had a strong showing here, until accidentally eating a trash can shot from her own partner leading to Chihiro’s team emerging victorious. Fun stuff.

 

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In a tag match that seemed to be featuring intertwining feuds Strong Style Rush (Alex Lee & Mika Shirahime) faced Hana Kimura & DASH Chisako. Was great to see Hana here as I unfortunately did not make any Stardom shows this time and she looked really good in almost a babyface role against apparent rival Alex Lee.

 

 

Dash has a “controlled” charisma that is so unique and fits in with her incredible ring work perfectly to make her one of the most compelling wrestlers in the world, and she was once again spot on in this match. Also her music kicking in while she brawled outside was new to me and completely awesome.

After she and Hana put down Strong Style Rush in a great tag match Dash pointedly taunted Mika before leaving.

 

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The main event featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one with Ayako Hamada facing Meiko Satomura.

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

 

 

Two shorter opening contests that served their purpose followed by three well paced, increasingly excellent 15 minute plus matches in the second half made this an absolute breeze (and a joy) to watch. One of the best shows of my trip against a strong field, and what an incredible way to finally be properly introduced to Sendai Girls.

 

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