Farewell to a Legend

On November 3, 2017, in an hour long match with 50+ opponents, Manami Toyota ended her incredible 30 year career in professional wrestling.

Toyota is a innovator and standard bearer whose impact on the sport will be felt long after her retirement. I haven’t watched nearly as much as I want / intend to of Toyota’s older matches, but am of course well aware of her impact on professional wrestling.

As my own personal goodbye to her legendary career, I’d like to focus on the fortuitous opportunities I’ve had to see Toyota wrestle live.

 

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The first was a complete surprise, and an incredible moment for me during my first trip to Japan. Toyota was not scheduled for any of the 12 shows I saw during my two week trip to Tokyo at the end of 2015.

On December 20 I attended a show show by Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous promotion. The main event was a 6 on 2 handicap match featuring Chigusa, Aki Shizuku, Chikayo Nagashima, Mima Shimoda, Takumi Iroha & Tomoko Watanabe vs Dump Matusmoto & Yumiko Hotta. Chigusa’s teammates were largely cannon fodder for Dump to  to hit with a kendo stick and other objects over and over. Hotta arrived wearing numerous pairs of handcuffs all over her gear, so it was obvious where things were eventually going. After the brawl spilled throughout the arena Chigusa’s team was eventually incapacitated by being handcuffed to the ropes.

The heat coming from sections of fans for both Dump and Chigusa was incredible, creating an electric atmosphere. If possible it intensified even more when Manami Toyota came out as surprise help for Chigusa. For me it was a jaw dropping moment, and I felt incredibly privileged to get to meet Toyota after the show.

 

Fast forward a year and I was back for the holiday shows again, including a personal favorite of mine in Ice Ribbon’s annual Ribbonmania. Toyota’s match this time was particularly interesting, as she was one of the challengers for Ai Shimizu’s Triangle Ribbon Title (along with Maruko Nagasaki).  This was a straight up slaughter, which might not have made for the most interesting of matches from the perspective of an completely overmatched champion, but Toyota plowing through both opponents and winning the Triangle title with a double pin after her moonsault was a strong spectacle and nice moment all the same. Toyota commented/joked afterwards about her winning a title in 2016, and it was again an honor to get to greet her in person and congratulate her.

Her Triangle Ribbon championship reign was a quiet one, as she successfully defended the title only once during her six month reign before losing it to her heir apparent Tsukasa Fujimoto. But a final championship before she retired was well deserved.

 

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My third opportunity to see Toyota wrestle live came during a shorter trip this past summer.  At SEAdLINNNG’s August 24 show she was again in a 3-way match with Maruko Nagasaki, this time under high speed rules with Kaho Kobayashi as the third participant. It was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. It was really amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics, and a fun format to see the veteran perform in. 

 

 

 

A few days later I saw what would be my final live Manami Toyota match at Ice Ribbon’s August 27 event. A somewhat poetic way to close things out, as Toyota was the opponent for the debuting Asahi. The rookie played the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against  the legend and the dynamic of the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi’s resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart was fantastic.

 

 

 

Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere, and short of being in attendance for Toyota’s actual last match I couldn’t have asked for a better note to say goodbye on.

 

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I appreciate everyone reading indulging me in my personal memories of interactions with one of wrestling’s brightest stars. I highly recommend seeking out anything and everything you can from her incredible career. Congratulations to Manami Toyota and best of luck with whatever’s next.

Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo over the end of the year holidays for the last two years. This summer the stars aligned for a shorter, somewhat unexpected additional trip with a specific purpose. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from the 29 I saw that trip (across 5 shows from 5 different companies).

 

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tokyo Princess of Princess Title: Yuka Sakazaki(c) vs Reika Sakai –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

Yuka and Reika are two of my favorite wrestlers in the promotion, so I was thrilled to see this. Yuka is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and consistent performers on the roster, and also wows the crowd with her agility and rope walk spots, so was a great choice for champion. Reika seems their biggest rising star so this was exactly the right time for this confrontation. While I do have to admit I prefer and miss the Mil Clown persona, Yuka’s excellent in any incarnation.

The match was great, going back and forth and building well to a strong finish that saw Reika take advantage of a miss by Yuka with hard strikes and a sweet Shining Wizard, then hit the jackhammer (such a perfect choice of finisher for the Muscle Idol) to become the new Princess of Princess champion. Was awesome to be there for that moment, and Reika definitely deserves a chance to show what she can do as champ.

 

Team DATE (Nao, Hana, Nori, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Satsuki Totoro, Uno Matsuya, & Tequilia Saya – Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the beginning of this big blow off elimination match. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

5. Gatoh Move Title Tournament Semi-Final: Kotori vs Aasa – Gatoh Move 8/26/17

The main event of Gatoh Move’s 8/26 show was the second semi-final of their title tournament and would determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  It was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both.

 

4. Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs So On Flower (Aoi Kizuki & Moeka Haruhi) – Wave 8/30/17

 

This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

3. Meiko Satomura vs Miyu Yamashita –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

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This was fantastic and edged out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

She wrestled like someone with something to prove from the very first second and really took it to Meiko, believably smothering the veteran at points with relentless offense, but just couldn’t put the larger, more experienced wrestler. Meiko of course is an artist in the ring and always a joy to watch. Loved this.

Afterwards Miyu slaps Meiko a couple of times out of frustration (and apparently in a challenge for another match) and Meiko’s so impressed with Miyu’s fire she applauds her for it. Great stuff.

 

2. Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Mio Momono vs Yoshiko – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 

 

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I hate to admit it given my personal bias, but Yoshiko was awesome here and this was easily the second best match of the night. She was a perfect monster for Mio to attempt to outlast while just refusing to stay down under the larger, more experienced wrestler’s onslaught. The crowd was evenly split between heavy home promotion support for Yoshiko and visiting Marvelous fans (like me) going nuts for Mio. They went to time limit, then overtime where only a two count was needed. The heat for the nearfalls during that final portion was insane.

Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I mention often), and I continue to marvel at how incredible she is this early into her career.

 

1.  Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 and Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

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Ok, so this is a little bit of a cheat as I’m including both matches between these two teams in the #1 spot rather than take up two places and leave less room for other great matches.

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of the three. These two matches were the previously mention purpose for the entire trip, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series (due to the lack of finish and time spent on some comedy). The one at Ice Ribbon was neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping this series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story. Their entire record is now 2-1-1 in Best Friends’ favor (with Avid Rival’s sole victory coming at their home promotion of Wave in the one match between the teams I have yet to see).

One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

In my opinion these are the two best tag teams in all of wrestling, and seeing them face off is always a treat.

 

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Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.

Mae Young Classic Finals Review

maeyoungclassic

 

After four previous rounds featuring thirty matches it’s all down to Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler to see who will be crowned the inaugural Mae Young Classic winner.

I watched this live, so while it’s taken a while to catch up on writing up the previous rounds to get here the thoughts are from the initial airing. I wasn’t sure who would win. I predicted this final with Baszler taking it before the tourney started, but going into the match were reasonable arguments for either outcome.

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

Semis: episode eight.

 

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“I want to prove size is not what it takes to be #1.”

“I wanted to send a message. Everyone knows now. If people weren’t shaking in their boots before, they definitely are now.”

Great video package hyping the final, both highlighting the competitors and making winning seem important. Why this wasn’t all over RAW and Smackdown is beyond me.

There’s a special guest feature with interviews focusing particularly on HHH, & Steph, WWE’s 4 Horsewomen, some of GLOW’s cast, and MMA’s 4 Horsewomen (well, Rousey). Did it’s job to make this seem like an important event, although the continued not-so-subtle use of the tourney as a backdrop building a feud between the two 4 Horsewomen factions is a bit heavy handed.

The final video packages with the two competitors specifically addressing each other were incredibly well done. Shayna talking about Kairi’s perseverance and wanting to finally break her will in front of her fans while Kairi acknowledged Shayna as a MMA star but said it doesn’t matter because wrestling is “my turf” was pitch perfect.

Lots of crowd shots of attendees such as Beth Phoenix, Alundra Blayze, prior round competitors, etc.

Around ten minutes of well done hype is over and it’s time for the match to start.

 

Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler ***3/4

Commentary highlights past accomplishments of both participants during entrances, including the fact that both have won important tournaments in their areas of expertise in a really nice touch. They’re walking a fine line of trying to make Shayna seem dangerous and dominant while still making it believable that Kairi has a legitimate chance against her, and doing it quite well. Specific mention of Kairi being a top star and multiple champion in Stardom.

Kairi showing no fear in the face of the 6 inch taller and about 50 pound heavier Baszler, raising her elbowpad defiantly into Shayna’s face during the ring announcements. Crowd is split and vocal.

The first exchange features Shayna going for submissions and Kairi reversing them into pin attempts. Great way to start. From there the story is Baszler’s strength, submission skills, and powerful strikes against Kairi’s speed, resiliency, and experience edge.

As I’ve stressed before Kairi’s selling is absolutely amazing. Little touches in the way she reacts to being hit and the pain she conveys when trapped in submissions makes everything Baszler does seem that much more lethal.

As the match goes on Shayna focuses her attack on Kairi’s elbow and Kairi targets hers on Shayna’s ribs. Nice strategy and psychology. It paid off in spades for Kairi in wonderfully logical fashion when she was able to land shots to Baszler’s ribs to become the first person to break out of Shayna’s deadly Rear Naked Choke. Great tease of a finish there as Baszler had reversed Kairi’s top rope forearm into the choke and it was a plausible end to the match.

Other highlights included them exchanging hard shots on the top turnbuckle leading to Kairi nailing a hanging double stomp, a beautifully targeted sliding forearm in the corner again to Shayna’s ribs, and of course the InSane Elbow connecting to give Kairi the win and the tournament.

 

 

Shayna accepted Kairi’s help to get to her feet afterwards and hugged Kairi in a gracious show of respect in defeat. It was the right call – Baszler’s heel persona can be reenforced later. Baszler sold the ribs constantly during the aftermath. HHH, Steph, and Sara Amato come in to congratulate Kairi and present her trophy, and we end on her celebrating her victory.

 

Winning the MYC put Kairi in the title picture for Asuka’s vacated NXT Women’s Championship, and Baszler has since been officially signed and I’d imagine is likely to show up directly on the main roster at some point to jumpstart a 4 Horsewomen feud.

Great endcap to a great tournament overall, and it was wonderful to see this spotlight on women’s wrestling featuring so many exceptional competitors.

Mae Young Classic Episode 8 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Here we go. These were the last matches that was taped over the July weekend and this the penultimate episode of the tournament.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

 

Semi Finals:

Opening video package spotlights recaps the quarter finals and shows how each of the four remaining wrestlers advanced.

Crowd’s still nicely fired up despite two long days of tapings.

 

1) Shayna Baszler vs Mercedes Martinez ***

These two are stablemates on the indies (along with Nicole Savoy) in Trifecta. Mercedes is also the reigning Shimmer champion. Shayna justifies her post match actions towards Candice LaRae in her quarter final as sending a message in the build up video, while Mercedes talks about her long path to get here. They reference Mercedes being Shayna’s mentor and show footage of them together without mentioning Trifecta by name. Really good build up stating winning is more important to both than their history and pitting the experienced veteran trying to culminate her journey against the hungry, dangerous protege willing to stop at nothing to claim this for herself. 

Camera lingers of course on Rousey and company in the front row as Shayna comes out. Handshake to open, which is more respect than Shayna’s given anyone else in the tourney. Mercedes is the first to go heavy with the strikes and the story seems to be seeing if Shayna can take as well as she gives. Good approach.

Nice spot early on sees Mercedes seemingly about to go for a running kick on a seated Baszler, who is ready to counter it. Mercedes instead slips around and applies a chinlock. Crowd oohs in appreciation of her outmaneuvering her opponent.

After more dominating offense from Mercedes Shayna’s finally had enough and takes over with a frustrated flurry of strikes. Now Baszler in firm control for a bit, but Mercedes eventually reverses a submission into the Regal stretch. When Baszler powers out they end up exchanging strikes on their knees. After more back and forth once they get to their feet Mercedes hits the Fisherman’s Buster, but takes too long recovering and only gets 2 when she finally covers Baszler.

Martinex just wears Bazler out with a pair of Saito suplexes and a German, then goes for the Fisherman’s again. Baszler fights it off once, then reverses another attempt into a suplex. At the top, she reverses direction and drop Mercedes right into the choke. Mercedes fights longer than anyone else has, but has to tap.

Good, hard hitting match here with another cool finish of Shayna smoothly transitioning into her finisher. Easily Shayna’s best match of the tourney so far. One half of the finals is set.

 

Baszler selling effects of the battle, furthering the story of this being her biggest test to date. Stephanie, HHH, and Sara Amato are in the ring to congratulate her. Martinez hugs Baszler in congratulations and HHH presents Baszler with a rose bouquet signifying her win. I understand the real emotion behind the way this played out, but after being built up as a cocky heel for three rounds Shayna should have continued that role here instead of playing mutual respect with her mentor. The crowd was already cheering her a little because of her deadly finisher and skills. This made her a full face going into the finals. Of course that said, her opponent will be a bigger face, so perhaps it doesn’t matter much.

 

2) Toni Storm vs Kairi Sane ***1/2

Kairi sites Storm’s “classic wrestling technique” as her strength, then we cut to footage of Storm’s swivel “hip” attack to a seated opponent’s face. Sigh. Kairi plays up her elbow drop as the equalizer, and both are determined to win. Short and to the point.

Kairi salutes the trophy with a determined look on her face on her way to the ring. Near everyone has been acknowledging it in some way as they come out, and again little things like that really do a lot to drive home that there’s value and prestige to what they’re all fighting over.

Great chain wrestling sequence to start with constant smooth reversals from both. Insert shows Bazler watching on from the back. The early going is about them feeling each other out and mostly having an answer whenever the other gets an advantage. Well done. A bit in, Kairi goes for a crossbody from the top to Storm on the outside and Storm doesn’t quite catch her flush, leading to Kairi taking a header into the steel mesh ramp as they land. This is no doubt where Kairi got the concussion she was out with in the weeks following the tournament, and it’s amazing she didn’t get knocked completely cold there.

She gets right up and rolls Storm into the ring to continue. She works Toni’s back for a while with crab variations, but then gets caught with a nice kick counter by Storm when she goes for a sliding strike. Storm follows with a nice release German that sends Kairi to the corner and hits the running hip attack, but Kairi explodes out with the spear to counter a second. Great sequence.

Kairi’s got a nasty welt forming on her face from hitting the ramp. They both struggle to their feet and exchange hard strikes for a while, which Kairi eventually gets the better of to put Storm down and go up for the elbow. Storm gets to her feet and catches Kairi on the top turnbuckle though, pulling her off in Muscle Buster position and dropping into a Fisherman’s suplex for an extremely close 2. Toni’s in shock. She sets up for Strong Zero but Kairi fights out. Kairi looks to capitalize with a back fist but it’s blocked and Storm takes her down into a bridging armbar on the arm Storm’s been working all match. Storm’s working of the hold combined with Kairi incredible selling and expressions makes this look deadly. Kairi toughs it out and eventually manages to turn onto her back beneath Storm and roll the latter up for 2.

A hard strike from Storm lays Kairi out and Storm hits the top rope legdrop that beat Viper to Kairi’s back, but Storm’s hurt too from the move and can’t cover. Kairi’s actually the first to crawl up. When both are on their feet Kairi nails the backfist this time to put Storm right back down and abuses Storm’s back some more. With Storm face first on the mat Kairi goes up again and this time her beautiful signature elbow drop connects to Storm’s back and the after that the pinfall is academic.

 

Perfect endcap to the pre-taped rounds and one of the best matches in the tourney. This is the performance I’ve been waiting for from Storm, and Kairi has just killed it all tourney long.

Kairi’s crying in joy as her hand is raised and gives Storm a huge hug as the latter congratulates her on advancing. As with Shayna, HHH, Steph, and Sara come out again to celebrate with the winner.

 

Baszler comes out to square up with Sane at the top of the ramp, Kairi offers a handshake with a respectful smile, but when Baszler ignores it to stare her down and place her fist under Kairi’s chin the Pirate Princess gets a deadly stare of her own in her eyes and simply returns the gesture. Great moment resulting in a fantastic visual to build anticipation for the final. Kairi shakes her head at Baszler to indicate she can’t be intimidated, then pulls her arm back only to present the other in her standard way of calling for the elbow drop. Shayna smirks slightly and they keep eyes locked as we fade out. That whole confrontation was pitch perfect.

 

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This is the final I expected, and Baszler’s strength and grappling against Kairi’s speed and explosiveness is a great pairing. Two extremely good matches here set it all up wonderfully. One match to go.

Mae Young Classic Episode 7 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

And round 2: episodes five and six.

 

Quarter Finals:

Opening video package spotlights all eight of the remaining wrestlers and who they each beat to get this far in a nice touch. Six of the eight (all but Storm and Sane) are former or current members of the Shimmer roster (including current champ Martinez), which is great to see.

 

1) Abbey Laith vs Mercedes Martinez **3/4

Commentary’s a little better here with the previous rounds to refer back to and provide structure for them. They focus heavily on Mercedes being the most experienced participant left, both in terms of the advantage it gives and the nagging injuries she may have hindering her.

This was all about the two just straight up striking at each other until one fell. Abbey had a nice dive from the tip onto Mercedes on the outside at one point, as well as a close near fall off of a sweet German suplex (one of her finishers on the indies). Their kick exchanges looked stiff as hell and were a highlight here. Mercedes planted Abbey with the Fisherman’s Buster to win this one. Solid.

In some ways I would have preferred Laith advancing, but she got a decent chance to shine in the tourney, I understand why Martinez won, and the competitor using Mae Young’s finish going out in the quarters instead of marching to the finals gives a nice appearance of unpredictability.

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs Candice LaRae **

The story here was Candice giving her overpowering opponent more than Shayna bargained for. Like in previous rounds, it wasn’t designed to allow Baszler to show her full range of skills, just flashes of dominance, power, and heel mannerisms. Another out of nowhere but pretty cool finish sees Baszler reverse Ms. LaRae’s Wild Ride in midair directly into the rear naked “sleeper” for a quick tapout.  Baszler viciously keeps it on after the match until Candice passes out. Then after having her hand raised Baszler goes BACK over to LaRae and literally kicks her while she’s down (to the consternation of Gargano, who was in the ring checking on his wife) in mocking fashion. Very well executed for what it was: a vehicle for making Baszler seem dangerous and callous. She’ll face her fellow Trifecta stablemate Martinez in the semis.

 

3) Toni Storm vs Viper ***

This had several fun exchanges and was a much better showcase for Toni than the first couple of rounds. Piper’s versatility was on full display here as she effortless alternated between chain wrestling, displays of her agility, and straight up power moves that made the most of her size. 

I had forgotten who won this so was a bit surprised when Storm pulled it out (with an unfortunately weak looking top rope leg drop to boot that didn’t seem like it would be the finish). I like Storm (and she looked the best yet here), but really wish Piper had advanced. She was extremely impressive in all her matches and more than earned a further look by the WWE. I hope she gets more opportunities in the future.

 

We get look at three of WWE’s Four Horsewomen (Charlotte, Bayley, and Becky) confronting Shayna’s three MMA Four Horsewomen stablemates backstage as the latter were being interviewed about Shayna’s success in the tournament. Rousey’s acting is not good, and the whole thing was surprisingly cheesy and awkward for a ten second posturing segment. The march of inevitability towards the two groups facing off continues.

 

4) Kairi Sane vs Dakota Kai ***1/4

It’s admittedly weird seeing Evie with the size advantage. This featured great strike battles and other highlights including a gorgeous cross run spear from Kairi, a vicious sliding kick in the corner by Kai, and Kairi following up a great double stomp dodge with her beautiful top rope forearm. Kairi’s selling is impeccable, and always does a lot to draw the viewer into her matches. Eventually Kairi lays Kai out and nails her deadly top rope elbow for the win. 

For me, this was the best of the quarters. I’ve heard some were disappointed and yes, they could have done more with a proper allotment of time, but they certainly made the most of what they had to work with and I liked the way this built as it went even within its limitations. Taping four rounds in two days (as well as the general structure WWE used for these tournament episodes) is going to impose some restrictions. I really enjoyed what we got though, and of course with both under contract a future rematch is definitely possible.

 

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Solid quarter final round, and we’re down to four competitors left. The pairings are interesting, and while everything’s building towards the final I expected all along getting there has been fun.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 763 (Halloween Ribbon 2016) DVD Review

With October fast approaching this seemed a good time to look back and finally finish up my review of last year’s Ice Ribbon Halloween show.

 

Vol 763: October 26, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Ice Ribbon’s themed shows are always interesting, and this first Halloween show of theirs for me promised to be be highly amusing.

Everyone of course comes out in Halloween costumes to open the show. Nice variety, ranging from specific characters (Tsukka and Maruko as Mario and Luigi respectively, Maika as Asuka Langley, etc) to general Halloween costumes (Saya as a witch, Tsukushi and Maya as cops, etc) to Mizunami in a leopard suit, and so on. I’m sure I missed several specific references. Fun segment. Special mention to Miyako’s “Miyacoco in Wonderland!” costume, complete with Cheshire Cat hat.

 

 

1) Hiroe Nagahama & Maika Ozaki vs Tsukshi & Uno Matsuya **

The four wrestlers in this match are still in their Halloween costumes.

This was a basic match with a mix of really awkward exchanges and some nice, sharp spots and sequences. The main point was of course the wrestlers performing in their costumes and a couple of related jokes (like Hiroe’s samurai headpiece coming right off her head when Tsukushi tried a hairmare), so anything else was a bit of a bonus.

At one point Maika does a nice ripcord clothesline, which I really want her to keep and call the “RainMaika.” 😉

I understand it was tied into her costume and thus somewhat in the spirit of the match, but Tsukushi’s use of her toy gun and handcuffs as weapons to hit her opponents with (to cheers) took me out of the otherwise lighthearted nature of the match. Straight up heel tactics should only be used by heels, and booed. And I don’t understand the point of the ref checking people before the match for foreign objects at all if they’re going to watch wrestlers pick some up and beat their opponents with them later and say nothing.

After hitting Hiroe with the handcuffs and leaving her laid out in the corner Tsukushi follows up on a faceplant from Uno on Maika with the doublestomp from the top to win for her team.

 

 

2) Miyako Matsumoto vs Misaki Ohata vs Maruko Nagasaki ***3/4

These wrestlers have changed out of their Halloween costumes and this is a straight up triple threat. As always when in the ring with Miyako, Misaki has an air of barely restrained patience and general resigned exasperation at her antics. Misaki and Maruko completely ignore her early on to chain wrestle among themselves and swat her away when she approaches.  When they arrive at a stalemate Miyako celebrates with them, annoying them into join forces to attack her.

However Miyako reverses the double whip on just Maruko and sends her to the ropes, then grabs Misaki’s hands for an unintentional (on Misaki’s part) double clothesline. Misaki just stands there stoically as Miyako celebrates and double high fives her, then calmly catches the attempted cheap shot kick from Miyako we all knew was coming.

Misaki’s look of disdain as she half heartedly throws punches she knows will be ducked as part of Miyako’s posing routine is fantastic. She goes along with it in grudging fashion until Miyako gets to the forced pose part, then blocks it and levels Miyako with a forearm. Hairmares continue her abuse of the Dancing Queen. Standing choke in the corner follows, then a hard curbstomp.

As Misaki covers, Maruko tries a basement dropkick to Misaki’s face, but the vet moves and Maruko lands on Miyako, then Misaki double stomps the pile. A Camel Clutch variation has Maruko screaming. Misaki eventually releases it and slams Maruko to set up for a giant swing. Miyako comes in to encourage Misaki so she can spin and dance along with it in the corner. Misaki’s happy to oblige for a few rotations… then spins into Miyako with a forearm shot as she drops Maruko. Misaki stumbles to the corner dizzily as Miyako and Maruko try to recover, but then realizes the two are seated next to each other and wipes them both out with the running crossbody for a double 2 count.

Misaki then goes up top for a double crossbody, which Maruko dodges but Miyako eats. Misaki ducks the follow up attack by Maruko and goes for the German, but Maruko escapes the waistlock and drops between Misaki’s legs. She then spins Misaki around for her trademark rollup, but Misaki steps aside. The spinning double sledge ducked, but Maruko’s uranage is countered into a DDT. The back and forth these two are doing is great.

Maruko catches Misaki off the ropes with a dropkick and goes for another uranage attempt, which is interrupted by Miyako. Maruko and Misaki again look to deal with the annoyance first and each other later by going for a double dropkick as Miyako hits the ropes. Miyako however holds onto the ropes, then does a double Miyacoco Clutch as her opponents land from the missed dropkicks for a close 2.

Miyako getting serious (well, as serious as she gets anyway) and calls for the Angels Wing’s on Misaki, but Misaki blocks and Maruko rolls Miyako up for 2. The three take turns with rollups until Maruko and Miyako (awkwardly) end up in the ropes, at which point Misaki just breaks it all up with a hard double slap.

Miyako fights for a backslide on Misaki, so Maruko kicks the legs out from under them and rolls them sideways to put both sets of shoulders down for another close 2. She then tries to stack both opponents up for a double uranage, but they fight her off. Misaki’s double sledge is ducked by both, so she does it again. This one’s ducked by Maruko, but caught by Miyako, who tosses Misaki’s hands back the other way and it levels Maruko as she stands back up. Nice bit. Miyako hits a stunner (O_o?!) on Misaki and the Shining Wizard gets 2.

Miyako hits the ropes but gets caught with a dropkick by a recovered Maruko and slumps back against them in a seated position. When Maruko hits the far ones to take advantage of Miyako’s predicament Misaki intercepts and knocks Maruko down against the ropes herself. Misaki runs across the ring and nails the seated crossbody on Miyako, but when she comes back to do the same to Maruko the latter moves and Misaki goes tumbling out of the ring. Maruko gets her trademark rolling clutch as Miyako charges and with Misaki out of the picture there’s no one to save the pinfall.  Strong, logical finish that gives Maruko a win over two veterans (with the caveat that she pinned the weaker competitor of the two).

This was great. The individual personalities and styles meshed well and they put together several clever three way spots, and it all made for a thoroughly engaging match. Misaki and Miyako are two favorites of mine and I love their interactions, particularly Misaki’s general attitude towards Miyako’s existence. The exchanges between Misaki and Maruko makes me really want to see a series of singles matches between the two.

 

 

 

 

Main Event) “Miyako Matsumoto” (Ryo Mizunami) & “Mochi Miyagi” (Tequila Saya) vs “Tsukasa Fujimoto” (Maya Yukihi) & “Ryo Mizunami” (Tsukasa Fujimoto) ***3/4

In one of my favorite absurd match concepts (and one that’s spot on for Halloween), the participants are dressed as other wrestlers and have to wrestle like person they are dressed as. Pinfalls will only be counted after doing a move the person being imitated is known for.

Maya gets off easy here, being roughly the same size / body type as Tsukka and similar in style means she won’t have much trouble copying her partner’s moveset. Tsukka herself is clearly having a blast imitating the opposing Mizunami. She shakes the ropes, intimidates the ref, and generally plays up trying to be a power wrestler, perhaps the one area Tsukka is not a master of.

Powerhouse Mizunami as “Miyako” is just fantastic. The crowd agrees it seems, as a big “Miyako” chant rings out in support in the early going. Miyako herself on outside shouting “pointers” to Mizunami adds further hilarity. Poor Saya is so much smaller than Mochi that she had to wear her own gear under Mochi’s to remain decent, and the slim Saya’s ineffectiveness when trying to do things like Mochi’s belly smother and Earthquake splash was a great running joke throughout the match. In one hilarious bit her giant swing attempt never saw Maya’s shoulders leave the mat so Saya just walked around her holding her legs instead. “Miyako” of course spun and danced in the corner along with the “swing.”

This was incredibly enjoyable, with the wrestlers’ commitment to the concept making all the difference. “Mizunami” vs Mizunami was particularly awesome, as the real Ryo (exaggeratedly) had trouble adapting to Miyako’s posing based offense but was doing well defensively because often when Tsukka tried to use Ryo’s own moves against her they tended to backfire (like a spear attempt that saw Tsukka just stop dead in her tracks as she hit Ryo’s midsection). The parts where wrestlers “lost patience” with the rules and acted like themselves for a move or two (to loud boos) were also great touches.

An amusing finishing sequence saw Tsukka essentially teaching Maya how to do one of Tsukka’s signature rollups as she did it. Once completed it was good to keep Saya down for 3.

This is the type of match that really has to be seen to be understood and appreciated. It’s ridiculous but awesome, not being a technical masterpiece overall but still staying focused on wrestling with some great action down the stretch while providing humor and showcasing Ice Ribbon’s particular blend of such elements perfectly.

 

——-

This show is an excellent example of Ice Ribbon’s ability to mix action and comedy / lighter elements into shows that are just flat out fun. Having a (somewhat) more serious match in the middle provided nice balance, and again the costume matches were both entertaining in their silliness and yet still competitive and wrestling based. Had a great time with this show.

 

Mae Young Classic Episode 6 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Continuing to (slowly) work my way through.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

And part 1 of round 2: episode five.

 

Round 2 (continued):

Video packages are getting better and better in hyping up the impending matches.

More clips of MMA’s Four Horsewoman coming to support Baszler. It would not end there…

 

5) Lacey Evans vs Toni Storm *3/4

Hoping to see more from both of these wrestler than what they showed in round 1.

“Oh I’m not gonna lose. No.” Geez Toni, watch the spoilers. 😉

The ref checks Lacey’s gloves and then Lacey removes them, which bothers me much more than it should. Toni’s move of powering herself back to the mat in a wristlock in order to counter it is more weird than unique. And her “hip attacks” (butt butts to her opponent’s face) are not my cup of tea. Lacey countering one into a schoolgirl for 2 was pretty nice though.

Lacey looked much more comfortable with her offense than in round 1, landing some unusual strikes pretty smoothly and controlling most of this short match. Storm was again very limited on offense, doing nothing she didn’t in the first round (butt based offense, a couple of strikes, lungblower, and a Northern lights suplex) except debuting her finisher Strong Zero (Air Raid Crash across the knee) for the win.

This was fine for what it was. With time and polish (and a new gimmick) Lacey has all the tools to succeed. Storm plays the ragdoll underdog well and I can tell she’s skilled, but honestly she hasn’t been able to show much and so far I’m unimpressed compared to her hype.

 

6) Shayna Baszler vs Mia Yim **1/4

“All it’s going to take for me to beat her is just to exist.” Baszler’s playing the heel well (and that was a great line), but the problem with the message is she’s conceivably RIGHT about having combat experience over everyone else and having an edge because of it. Heels should be talking sideways, not stating truth.

This was interesting, as there was a disconnect between the in ring story and what the announcers / producers were stressing. It was played just right for the story the WRESTLERS were telling (the bragging Shayna found Mia was more than capable of giving her an even fight) but not for the story the ANNOUNCERS were force feeding (Shayna dominantly plowing through her opponents).

The match was good within its constraints, including a gorgeous dive by Mia, nice back and forth striking, and a fantastic finish that saw Mia’s 450 countered into the “Rear Naked Sleeper” for a Shayna victory. On the other hand the compressed length hampered certain aspects, like a tease of Mia’s first round finisher getting no reaction due how early it was done, and having to go to the finish so quickly after Shayna’s legwork leading to a noticeable and unusual lack of selling from Mia as she did a powerbomb and the 450. I enjoyed this overall, but like Mercedes vs Sugehit it was a snapshot of sequences from a longer, better match.

As expected, the focus here was again as much (or more) on the two groups of four horsewomen as the match, particularly afterward when Shayna celebrated with her friends and got into a staring contest with the carefully placed Charlotte, Bailey, and Becky directly across the aisle.  Well, the angle will likely be a success so I’ll keep my complaints minimal, but Shayna’s better than a way to pull Rousey in.

 

7) Dakota Kai vs Rhea Ripley **1/2

Looking forward to this battle of strikers. The mini story of Kai having to go through much bigger, more powerful opponents so far is a nice touch.

Ripley looked a tad lost at moments but in general seems to have good instincts. Better pacing will come with time, and she’s already showing unique touches in her ringwork.

This was a nice little back and forth match with a couple of clever counters and big impact moves to draw the crowd in. Kai eventually moves on with her hanging double stomp, which was 100% the right call. Since they’re both signed, a longer rematch down the road is definitely possible and something I’d like to see.

 

8) Candice LeRae vs Nicole Savoy *3/4

Billed as the “Queen of Suplexes” vs the “Modern Day Mighty Mouse.” Not really digging either nickname to be honest.

“Can Mrs. Johnny Gargano win this one?” I can’t even.

I’ve seen a lot of both competitors (including against each other), and they’re both capable of much more than they achieved here. So the match was disappointing in that regard. It’s like they were going at half speed and the pacing was odd. A very awkward and contrived setup to get to Candice’s Wild Ride for the finish didn’t help. Of course with these two even on an off night there was some solid action mixed in. Most of the criticism I’ve seen has been leveled on Savoy (and no doubt she wasn’t at her best and unfortunately had a lackluster tournament), but it’s more Candice that felt not her usual self to me here.

 

——-

This was definitely the weaker batch of matches of the second round, although there are still highlights. The action isn’t quite what it could be (and the commentary is still driving me insane) but things are unfolding nicely and despite my criticisms the tournament has been interesting and enjoyable. Best of all it’s shining a light on numerous deserving, talented wrestlers and giving them something to fight for that’s portrayed as important. It really makes a difference in getting the viewer involved.

On to the quarter finals with a couple of unexpected names still around and several intriguing matchups.