Farewell to a Gran Maestro Part 2: An Emotional Two Months

Two months ago I wrote Farewell to a Gran Maestro, a look back on Tequila Saya’s career just before her planned retirement date of October 12, 2019. As I mentioned towards the end of that piece, things didn’t go as planned. A typhoon caused that show to be canceled, and the following day Saya’s regular tag team partner (who was scheduled to tag with Saya in her final match) abruptly left the company under unusual circumstances.

After the dust settled a bit Saya announced she was postponing her retirement until the end of the year and would be stepping in to honor her former partner’s previously scheduled commitments. This was a big gesture on her part, and visibly greatly appreciated by the company and fans alike.

No matter the circumstances surrounding Saya’s short career extension, she certainly made the most of it. One of the previously mentioned commitments she took over was a spot on Rising Slam, a free to attend event in Italy aimed at spotlighting Joshi Puroresu live for the first time in that country. Saya was joined by fellow Ice Ribbon roster member Tsukushi, Actwres Girlz’ Mari, Tae Honma, Misa Matsui, & Saki, and freelancers Makoto and Rina Yamashita in traveling to Italy for this unique show. It would be Saya’s first and only international expedition as a wrestler. She also ended up doing more matches outside of Ice Ribbon than she ever had before, including a singles match against Yumi Ohka in Wave among others.

Saya would also win her only career singles title during the overrun, taking the Triangle Ribbon Championship from someone who debuted shortly after her and was as often a rival as a partner, Uno Matsuya (the match also involved Tae Honma). It was well deserved and wonderful to see this opportunity seized out of unusual circumstances.

She was involved in a wild champions vs challengers 8-woman tag at the December 14th show, defended the belt against Uno and Satsuki Totoro at her final P’s Party show (as an active wrestler) on Decemeber 18th, and lost the title to Tae Honma on Ice Ribbon’s December 21st show at Shinkiba 1st Ring (in a match that also involved Kaori Yoneyama).

From a selfish standpoint I must admit to being happy that the extension would allow me to see Saya wrestle live few more times before she finished up. Her final dojo match against Tsukasa Fujimoto was all kinds of fun, including a particularly amusing section where she tried, rather unsuccessfully, to imitate the signature moves of all the other wrestlers at the show. Tsukka then invited them all in to demonstrate all the correct versions on Saya.

Her final match was earlier today, a special 38 (plus a few) person challenge that saw Saya face everyone consecutively in one minute time limit sections. A mix of some competitive sections, lighter comedic ones, and some old familiar faces just coming back to say goodbye, it was a perfect way to say farewell to the Gran Maestro.

The last two sections saw Saya gaining her only pinfall over Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukka with the “Gran Maestro de Tequila,” then falling to the rookie she’d given the moves to as Suzu Suzuki showed she also mastered Saya’s “Tequil Shot” variation.

The show drew 1,384 people, making it the largest crowd ever for Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall and their forth largest crowd ever.

It was an honor to be in attendance to wish Saya well, and I hope whatever future lies ahead for her after wrestling is a bright one.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2019: Gatoh Move 12/22/19 Live Thoughts

December 22, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

This was the go home Ichigaya show leading into Gatoh Move’s last big show of the year tonight at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.

As I’ve mentioned before, in a wonderful move to grow their visibility Gatoh Move has been uploading a significant number of matches with English play-by-play on their YouTube channel. two of the three matches I’ll be discussing here are impressively already up, and in such cases I’ll add a hyperlink to it in the match title.

And as I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

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

1) Cho-un Shiryu vs Sayuri vs Sayaka

Sayuri & Sayaka will be teaming tonight to face fellow rookies Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara, but here it was everyone for themselves in a 3-way also featuring regular visiting wrestler Cho-un.

This had amusing overtones, with the rookies insisting on working together to start but still largely unable to withstand Cho-un’s vast experience and strength advantage. And what momentum they were able to generate evaporated when they started getting in each others’s way and wanting the individual victory. Eventually Cho-un was able to pin both of his opponents simultaneously for an emphatic win after a double diving stomp.

With Sayuri & Sayaka going in to a battle with two other largely unestablished rookies the double pin bothers me less than it normally would, illustrating a bit of how far they all have to go. Cho-un’s enough of a force that it made sense, they did get to show some fire on the way, and this was a solid little 3-way that packed a fair amount of story into a short, energetic six minutes.

2) Calamari Drunken Kings (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) vs Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil

Clash of two teams both in action tonight against other opponents.

The structure of this one was particularly fantastic. Lulu was thrilled to be teaming with her teacher and had herself introduced as “Emi Sakura’s student” and vice versa to Emi’s barely maintained patience. But as the match progressed Emi encouraged the struggling Lulu, and whenever she was tagged in herself she was in full bore no-nonsense mode. Her first exchange with Chris had her going for a lockup and Chris LEVELING her with a big boot instead, and the war was most definitely on from there.

Another highlight saw Sakura pick up Lulu (in full pencil pose/mode) over her shoulder and charge Chris, who sold the hit like he’d been impaled by an actual spear. And of course Takanashi was his usual masterful self throughout as well.

End here saw Chris attempting to apply an arm bar when poor Lulu, already immobilized by Chris’ legs and unable to withstand it, tapped out to give CDK the win. A confused (or perhaps just sadistic) Chris continued to pull the arm a bit as Takanashi tried to explain they’d already won and to please let Lulu go.

This was great. Strong win for CDK (even considering Lulu’s weaknesses), and there was just enough to make one hopefully that Lulu might defy the odds and win with her mentor tonight.

During the post-show roundtable Chris said this victory (his first in Ichigaya) taught him that CDK’s previous troubles in 6-person tag matches were all Rin Rin’s fault. I feel he got lucky that the statement went by so fast Rin Rin and a good portion of the audience didn’t register it enough to be properly outraged.

3) Mitsuru & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga & Saki

In addition to having the two wrestlers facing in tonight’s main event across from each other, their partners here were one half of the reigning tag team champions and one half of the team that will be challenging them in tonight’s semi-main respectively.

Rin Rin continues to be impressive beyond her experience level, and was great here showing no fear against Saki before their title match. The interactions of Mitsuru and Mei were also a great preview for tonight as well as a solid anchor for this match to build around.

It all escalated wonderfully and was naturally paced to the point where I didn’t feel the time limit draw coming at all. Nicely done and a really strong lead in to tonight.

For one final awesome bit of fun, after Gatoh’s traditional post-show song Chris spoke up and suggested to Sakura that with a number of foreigners in the audience and the proximity to Christmas they should also do an English song, then led wrestlers and fans alike in singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

This was as usual a total blast, and I thought a particularly strong show all around. There really isn’t anything else quite like Gatoh Move and I can’t recommend checking it out live if at all possible.

Gatoh Move 12/7 and 12/14/19 Live Thoughts

December 7 & 14, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

As I’ve mentioned before, in a wonderful move to grow their visibility Gatoh Move has been uploading a significant number of matches with English play-by-play on their YouTube channel. Some of the matches I’ll be discussing here are impressively already up, and in such cases I’ll add a hyperlink to it in the match title (also, the 6-person tag from 12/7 is up on DDT’s subscription service).

As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

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

12/7/19

1) Lulu Pencil vs Yasu Urano

Yaso was involved in one of my favorite intergender matches of all time, a no-rope contest against Gatoh Move’s former ace Riho at Basara’s 12/28/17 show, and has faced Lulu before.

The story here was Lulu drawing inspiration from Emi Sakura and wanting to make use of certain counters she’d learned/copied… so she kept setting herself up for moves and holds. A confused and tentative Yasu didn’t know what to make of it, and kept putting on the “wrong” move, repeatedly preventing her plans from working.

It all eventually builds to a persistent Lulu finally executing one successfully into a rollup, but not having the power or weight to prevent Yasu from reversing into his own pin for the win.

This was different and silly in a way that enhanced the story told, and a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. Lulu’s gimmick of being a pro-wrestler who’s too weak and awkward to be pro-wrestler is rather genius in the way it’s being executed, and makes her a natural and easy to cheer for underdog. Perhaps most importantly, the comedy and weirdness of her matches still relate to the idea of her trying to win, and it all compliments a wisely chosen remaining card consisting of more competitive/serious matches.

2) Cho-un Shiryu vs Chris Panzer

Chris is his home promotion PWR (Phillipine Wrestling Revolution)’s Champion, and this is his first appearance in Gatoh Move.

Once they got going Cho-un heeled it up to provide the match’s backbone, and they had a really good, fast paced and hard hitting encounter. Chris prevailed in a strong Gatoh debut. Would love to see him back sometime.

3) Calamari Druken Kings (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga, Saki, & Sayaka  

I’ve been dying to see Brookes in Ichigaya, and as expected it was a lot of fun. His building feud with Mei is awesome, and the two have a ton of chemistry in the little things they do to egg each other on.

Rin Rin looked great and totally at ease, and the play off of what happened last time she teamed with CDK was highly amusing. She had gotten on Chris’ shoulder for a double team, and when he stood up her head banged on the ceiling. So this time when he and Takanashi tried to put her on Chris’ shoulder she freaked out, fought her way down and slapped them upside the head in admonishment. Awesome.

I have yet to see a trios match at Ichigaya that I didn’t love, and this certainly continued the streak. Innovative and fun, with the Gatoh regulars showing their usual mastery and the new faces fitting in well (in addition to Chris and Rin Rin this was also my first time seeing Sayaka since her Gatoh debut). Mei pinned Rin Rin to give her team the victory.

Side note: I need to see MUCH more of Rin Rin & CDK as a trio.

12/14/19

1) Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Tokiko Kirihara & Sayaka

This was incredibly fun, with lots of the little cool little touches Gatoh Move does so well to elevate each match and fully drawn the audience in.

Sayaka & Tokiko kind of kept outsmarting Sakura & Takanashi at times to stay in the match until the veterans’ experience got the better of them. Again, the rookies played their part really well and put on performances beyond their limited experience. Strong opener.

2) Lulu Pencil vs Taro Yamada

Lulu’s freelance writer name is Yamada, so it was explained that a battle of Yamadas (in a building where the landlord’s name was also Yamada). Everyone was encouraged to constantly chant for Yamada.

Every match Lulu gets a few more small successes and moral victories. When she’s eventually able to put it all together, perform more moves than not without hurting herself, and pick up a win the crowd is going to erupt. Until then this was another fun little chapter in one of the most unique and relatable acts in wrestling.

Taro’s taking/selling of Lulu’s rollup into the wall was particular impactful and got a huge pop as it felt like a real advantage for everyone’s favorite underdog writer. As is becoming a theme in this write up all the little details were really well done here.

3) Hagane Shinno & Mitsuru Konno vs Mei Suruga & Yuna Mizomori 

Yuna had handed out a few denden daikos in celebration of Tawara! 2’s DVD release and encouraged their use to cheer her during the match. Mitsuru looked offended by their their mere existence, which was a great bit of character work.

Hagane’s another Gatoh mainstay guest that really knows how to make the most of the environment. There were so many great counter variations and near falls in this one, really building the drama and captivating the crowd. This was an incredible little tag team match and a real testament to the skill of all involved and the potential of the Ichigaya environment.

With Mei vs Mitsuru main eventing the impending show at Shin-kiba, Mei’s pinfall victory over Mitsuru here gives her all the momentum.

Gatoh Move has a really good grasp of how to vary things enough to keep it all interesting while always capturing the aspects that draw people to their shows in the first place. These were two excellent efforts, and the general quality and enjoyment level of seeing Gatoh live never ceases to amaze me.

Sareee 12/3/19 Live Thoughts

Decmber 3, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Sareee’s been having an incredible 2019, and as the year heads towards a close she had her first self produced show, titled Sareee’s Special Night.

The whole show looked like a lot of fun, and with the added bonus of seeing a dear friend in Japan again I was extremely excited for the night.

In an awesome touch, since Natsumi Maki is currently out injured and thus unable to wrestle at the show Sareee instead included her as a special ring announcer.

1) Zap I & Zap T vs Madeline & Miyuki Takase 

In a heartbreaking bit of bad luck Marvelous’ Mio Momono, scheduled to team with Madeline here, required surgery on her elbow just a few short weeks after returning from knee surgery. On the positive side it went well, and she was in attendance (in a sling) helping sell tickets for her home promotion Marvelous’ upcoming shows.

While certainly bringing a different style and energy to things than Mio would have, reigning Actwres girlZ Champion Miyuki Takase was a great replacement none-the-less.

This was my second time seeing Madeline (after catching her debut last May) and she’s a joy to watch. Her mannerisms are so expressive and she was a natural fiery underdog for the Zaps to push around.

I’m admittedly not a big fan of the way full heels are handled over here (with referees simply watching and making disapproving noises as they use weapons without any actual attempts to, you know, STOP THEM FROM CHEATING and the faces hardly ever responding in kind).

But outside of that particular common aspect of wrestling in Japan/pet peeve of mine this was a really fun battle between a pair of looming, dominating bullies and faces who just refused to stay down to the last. The assault of the masked veterans was too much in the end, but Madeline and Miyuki put up a hell of a fight. Great start.

2) Hibiki vs Jenny Rose 

Marvelous’ rookie Hibiki is the former Meiko Tanaka (of Diana). I was quite impressed with her when I saw her a few years back and it’s great to see her back in wrestling. Also beyond awesome to see Jenny back in Japan.

So this was a reunion of the former Diana rookie and a mainstay foreign wrestler of theirs at the time. The familiarity and chemistry showed, with a nicely competitive match wrestled at a good clip and a strong showing for Hibiki before losing to the veteran.

3) Aj Kong vs Nanami

Diana’s newest rookie, at 13 years old and having debuted just two months ago, draws the monster here.

There’s an art to having a much bigger, dominating veteran bait an upstart and have it remain interesting, and Kong’s a true master. She was never losing this match, but it was compelling all the same and Nanami’s infrequent advantages were perfectly done. In one extended sequence Kong egged Nanami on to deliver over TWENTY dropkicks, yelling at her to hit harder and higher each time. When Nanami later got Aja down to a knee and nailed her in the head with a dropkick the crowd erupted.

Excellent example of how to do this particular formula right (as always with Kong), and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Nanami in the future.

4) Haruka Umesaki & X vs CRYSIS (Jaguar Yokota & Ayako Sato)   

After everyone else was introduced Haruka called for X … and Sareee’s own music played. With the woman of the night already ringside something was clearly up, and sure enough after a moment out came Kyusei Sareee as played by the glorious mimic herself Sakura Hirota.

This was WAY over the top, but amusingly done and Jaguar’s barely strained patience awesome. The real Sareee eventually got involved, and this was just a well done bit of comedy supported by bursts of heavier action and continued the excellent pacing and balance of different styles on this show.

As with the opener the treatment of weapons took me out of the match at moments, but again that’s personal preference and otherwise this was exactly what it meant to be and should have been (I do have to mention a rather humorous whiff by Jaguar with a tray when Haruka hit the ropes and instead of hitting the rookie the tray went clear through the air/ropes next to her, which somehow kind of fit in with the kind of match this was 😉 ).

4)  Kaoru Ito vs Kyoko Inoue vs Chihiro Hashimoto 

My goodness this was an awesome little war. It featured three heavyweight Joshi competitors just laying into each other full force until one couldn’t kick out. Kyoko pinned Ito after one big lariat too many for the win, and all three of them looked great along the way.

5) Sareee & Syuri vs Mayu Iwatani & Takumi Iroha

This was billed as a dream match, and with reigning top champions from three different promotions that don’t all generally interact and a recently returned MMA competitor involved I’d say it fit the description.

With her time in MMA I hadn’t seen Syuri wrestle in years. And while Stardom’s NY show was quite good a crazy 8-woman tag with a broken bottom rope isn’t the same thing as a concentrated singles or tag team match, so this was also my first time seeing Mayu in this type of contest in about as long. Add in Marvelous’ ace and reigning Regina di Wave champion Iroha and Sareee herself and this was quite an exciting matchup on paper.

Of course again the benefit of dream matches is seeing these unusual combinations of wrestlers squaring off with a big fight feel, and this had it all in spades.

Top notch work from all four for the full duration of the time limit draw without every feeling like it was headed that way, this was a treat on so many levels. Great way to wrap up a great show.

This show was interesting matchups that were well booked and fun up and down the card. Stellar effort from Sareee, and a thoroughly enjoyable night.

A Good Decade for Wrestling, and a Good Few Years for Writing

A friend recently shared statistics on the companies and wrestlers he was able to see live most over the last decade. In addition to finding the idea of looking back intriguing, it also seemed a fitting topic for the 600th entry of this blog, itself largely growing out of my wish to share my thoughts and memories of wrestling events and other things I enjoy.

My tastes, viewing habits, and opportunities have changed a lot over 10 years. A five year examination of either half of the decade, or even going back a little farther, would feel quite different. Other limiting factors such as geography, etc have also contributed to a couple of curious omissions.

I didn’t keep careful track of shows as they happened at the beginning of the 2010’s so don’t have access to wrestler specific stats (nor do I have the incredible amount of time it’d take to retroactively compile such data). So I’ll only be looking at most seen promotions, not performers.

I’m counting the shows I’m fully expecting to see in the rest of this month, as it does change a couple of positions. Sub- or co-promotions will be grouped in with the associated promotion. Finally, I’m going to let this list largely stand on it’s own, providing the number seen and a favorite show from the company with no further commentary.

Now then, without further ado:

10- SEAdLINNNG
Live shows seen: 7
Favorite: Arisa Nakajima Produce 4/18/18

8 (tie)- Ring of Honor, Tokyo Joshi Pro
Live shows seen: 9 each
Favorite: ROH- War Of The Worlds 5/17/14, TJPW- 8/26/17

7- Wave (including Young OH! OH!)
Live shows seen: 10
Favorite: 12/29/17

6 – WWE/NXT
Live shows seen: 11
Favorite: Takeover Brooklyn II

5- Marvelous (including Marvelous USA)
Live shows seen: 12
Favorite: 12/25/17

4- Evolve/DGUSA
Live shows seen: 33
Favorite: Evolve 79

3- Shimmer
Live shows seen: 36
Favorite:  Volume 67

2- Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party)
Live shows seen: 38 
Favorite show: Ribbonmania 2015

1- Gatoh Move (including DareJyo)
Live shows seen: 45
Favorite show: 10/4/18 (special mention to 4/27/19, which likely would be the entry here if I hadn’t missed the first half live.)

——-

Here’s to another great decade, and perhaps another 600 crazy ramblings of mine. 😉

Big Japan 5/11, HEAT UP 5/19, & Wrestle-1 6/2/19 Quick Thoughts

May 11 & 19 and June 2, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Interestingly, in following certain joshi promotions and athletes I ended up going to three different men’s promotions for the first time this past spring.

In each case it was a last second decision and I was unfamiliar with most of the company’s roster, so it was interesting to see how things would go as a fan of wrestling yet with no specific frame of reference for the companies and wrestlers.

As such (and to try out a new format) I’m not going to try to do full match by match for these shows. I’ll talk in some depth about the joshi match that lead me to the show, and give general impressions and highlights for the rest.

On to the wrestling:

Big Japan Pro-Wrestling (BJW) 5/11/19

1- Ryuichi Kawakami vs Yuichi Taniguchi
2- Desukamo & Edogawa Rizin vs Kazuki Hashimoto & Yuki Ishikawa
3- Akira Hyodo & Takuho Kato vs Kazumi Kikuta & Kosuke Sato
4- Riho & Mitsuru Konno vs Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga
5- Barbed Wire Board Death Six Man Tag: Drew Parker, Josh Crane & Ryuji Ito vs Masaya Takahashi, Takayuki Ueki & Toshiyuki Sakuda
6- Yasufumi Nakanoue, Yuko Miyamoto & Yuya Aoki vs Abdullah Kobayashi, Kankuro Hoshino & Yoshihisa Uto
7- Daisuke Sekimoto, Takuya Nomura & Yuji Okabayashi vs Daichi Kakimoto, Hideyoshi Kamitani & Ryota Hama

In addition to the Gatoh Move tag team match on this show I’ll discuss momentarily, I was draw to this event by the related pre-show  DareJyo showcase, which was really unique and a treat to attend.

Gatoh Move and DareJyo’s founder/head Emi Sakura teamed with Mei Suruga to take on Riho and Mitsuru Konno in a fantastic tag team encounter. This was all kinds of fun, with a great pace. excellent build, and awesome double teams. They really made the most of the appearance, and the show’s already 100% worth coming to the show for this alone.

Otherwise the only wrestler I was previously familiar with was Hama, from his appearances in Ice Ribbon.

To be honest BJW had a high hurdle to clear as their style isn’t really my thing (although I can and do appreciate a well done deathmatch), and I can’t say they were entirely successful in that regard. The deathmatch, a 6 man tag in the middle of the show, didn’t have much structure and a pure spotfest wasn’t going to draw me in much as an introduction to new wrestlers. Even in the context of “being good for what it was” I found the pacing and execution off.

On the plus side, the effort was there throughout the night and nothing was actively bad. The highlight for me was the main event, where Daisuke Sekimoto specifically stood out in a great showing.

So outside of the joshi stuff this was fine but largely unmemorable. Fans of the style and promotion will have gotten much more out of it than I did, and I certainly don’t regret checking them out. But there’s a ton of great wrestling vying for my attention when I’m in Japan, and overall this didn’t strike me as a promotion I’d choose to attend over other options.

HEAT UP 5/19/19

1- Hiroshi Watanabe & KAMIKAZE vs Mega Star Man & Prince Kawasaki
2- Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga vs Mitsuru Konno & Yuna Mizumori
3- Akira Jo & Kenichiro Arai vs Baliyan Akki & Tetsuhiro Kuroda
4- Hiroshi Yamato, Mineo Fujita & Yusaku Ito vs Keizo Matsuda, Yu Iizuka & Yuji Kito
5- Fuminori Abe vs Hiroshi Watanabe
6- HEAT UP Universal Tag Team Championship: TAMURA & Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs Daisuke Kanehira & Joji Otani

A week later Gatoh Move once again brought me to a new men’s company, with Emi Sakura again teaming with Mei Suruga to face Mitsuru & a partner, this time Yuna Mizumori. I love how different this felt from the previous while still retaining the core spirit of what Gatoh’s all about. Emi & Mei once again proved victorious in another energetic tag match.

I had more familiarity with the wrestlers this time, knowing Akki & Tamura from Gatoh Move, Arai from Wave, etc. This was a good show that I got into, with some big highlights. Seeing Tatsumi Fujinami live was incredible, and that main event was certainly a hard hitting affair.

The personalities involved in the 6-man were striking, and the match excellent. Of the new-to-me wrestlers I left with the strongest impression of them, particularly the trio of Yamato, Fujita & Ito, and wanting to see them all again.

Wrestle-1 6/2/19

1- Ryuji Hijikata & Shota Nakagawa vs Ganseki Tanaka & Ryuki Honda
2- El Hijo del Pantera & MAZADA vs Kenichiro Arai & Yusuke Kodama
3- Reika Saiki vs Takako Inoue
4- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Kuma Arashi vs Pegaso Iluminar
5- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Daiki Inaba vs Masayuki Kono
6- Ten Man Tag: Alejandro, Andy Wu, Jun Tonsho, Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo vs Strong Hearts (CIMA, El Lindaman, Seiki Yoshioka & T-Hawk) & Issei Onizuka
7- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Shotaro Ashino vs Seigo Tachibana
8- WRESTLE-1 Grand Prix 2019 First Round: Koji Doi vs Manabu Soya

W-1’s Reika Saiki (who is sadly out with a broken jaw for the time being) is a favorite of mine. During this trip she announced she’d be leaving Tokyo Joshi Pro, presumably to concentrate on her home promotion. W-1 brought in a series of legends for Reika to face, and I came to this show to see her wrestle Takako Inoue (in a rare, great opportunity to see her as well).

Solid match that went as expected, with some hard hitting back and forth and Reika taking it to Takako before coming up a bit short.

I was familiar with Cima and some of his Strong Hearts compatriots from DG-USA, and that was really it. It was cool to see Cima again, particularly doing such a different character, and their match was frantic and chaotic in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

The Wrestle-1 Grand Prix opening round matches had the advantage of having something specific on the line (which really does make a difference), but even beyond that I was surprised at how easy it was to get caught up in them without knowing the participants. That the matches throughout the show featured a nice variety of styles, pacing, etc also helped.

The semi-main was particularly incredible. I went from having no knowledge or investment in either man to DESPERATELY wanting Tachibana to win by the end. Just top notch work from both wrestlers to tell a compelling story in the ring with excellent action and psychology that transcended language and familiarity. One of the best matches I saw this trip, and a standout on a strong show.

For me this was the best of the men’s shows, and I definitely left it actively wanting to go back to W-1 in the future.

Farewell to a Gran Maestro: Tequila Saya’s Retirement

During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I became an immediate and big fan of Ice Ribbon. A few months later, on March 12, 2016, a wrestler called Tequila Saya made her debut for the company.

I saw Saya wrestle for first time when I returned to Japan the following December. She made strong positive first impression in a tag match teaming with Kyuri against Uno Matsuya & Maika Ozaki on 12/24/16 and a great 7-way at Ribbonmania a week later, with both matches involving several other rookie talents.

The immediately striking thing about watching Saya is her infectious charisma. She always seems to be having fun and excited about whatever she’s doing and there’s an engaging quality to her performances. Her expressions and body language are great in helping to tell the story of her matches, and a distinct style and personality make her a compelling performer.

One of my favorite examples of the fantastic little details she adds to her matches is from Survival Ribbon during that same trip. Saya was drawn first for her random match and entered the ring visibly confident and psyched up. She then absolutely crumpled in the corner in resignation seconds later when it was announced her opponent was Ice Ribbon’s resident powerhouse Kurumi Hiiragi. In mere seconds with no words she emphatically and completely put over the notion that Kurumi’s a monster and the enormity of the task in front of her.

Saya continued to impress in all the subsequent times I’ve been lucky enough to see her wrestle, including some particularly fun matches this past January.

In Spring of 2018 Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party) initially focusing on talent with less than three years experience (although as time passes some of their core roster are obviously passing that particular hallmark), with some vets mixed in for them to work with. The concept is fantastic and I always enjoyed the shows of theirs I saw.

This Spring P’s Party had their first larger, non-dojo show as part of the Yokohama Wrestling Festival during Golden Week. Yokohama Party was a really enjoyable event, and it was great to see them get an opportunity in front of a larger audience. Saya wrestled in the main event alongside Burning Raw tag team partner Giulia again Rina Yamashita & the debuting Yappy.

Around the same time as starting up P’s Party, Saya also opened a bar close to the Ice Ribbon dojo. Continuing the theme it’s called After Party, and is a cool little place with a nice atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of bars back home, and Saya’s a great bartender in general in addition to it being awesome to have the opportunity to hang out with other fans and chat with them and Saya a bit. There were frequent guest events and other wrestlers helping out, and I always had a lot of fun when I went.

Both P’s Party and After Party have dates set for October post Saya’s final match, but it’s unclear how long either will continue (particularly the bar, which has already scaled back its open dates to solely post Ice Ribbon/P’s Party dojo shows).

I didn’t know it at the time, but from her announcement up until this week I thought the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) vs Burning Raw on 5/28/19 would be the final time I’d see Saya wrestle live. If so it would have been a great little opener and a fine note to go out on. I adored Burning Raw as a team (despite the nonsensical name lol) and this was really the start of their push to the International Ribbon Tag Team Titles, which they would win from Azure Revolution (Risa Sera & Maya Yukihi) in July and lose back to them a month ago. After the match Saya announced her impending retirement.

Of course in light of this week’s events that match becomes a bittersweet memory. Saya’s final match was scheduled to be on October 13, in which Burning Raw would face Uno Matsuya & Satsuki Totoro. That show was canceled due to a typhoon, and the expectation was that it would be rescheduled at a later date.

Instead the next day Giulia attempted to terminate her Ice Ribbon contract, and showed up at Stardom the day after that. There is a lot of turmoil and speculation surrounding her departure, which is of course outside the scope of this piece. Last night Saya announced she is postponing her retirement until the end of the year and will be wrestling in the previously committed matches Giulia was scheduled for. Whatever the situation this is a big, and appreciated, gesture on her part towards the company and the fans. Her new retirement date is set for Ribbonmania on 12/31/19.

Saya’s indicated that she planned to wrestle for three years from the start, and while I’ll miss her I’m glad she was able to realize her goal. Wishing the Gran Maestro de Tequila all the best in whatever’s next, though I do selfishly hope she’ll remain involved in Ice Ribbon in some capacity post her in-ring career.