Japan Trip Spring 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

I ended up managing to write up thoughts on all the shows from Spring trip just before going back to Japan, but there is one last entry I’d like to share highlighting my favorite matches from those Spring shows before moving on to Fall.

During this trip I saw 14 shows from 8 promotions (considering P’s Party part of Ice Ribbon) with 68 matches featuring 118 different wrestlers, and as usual the vast majority of what I saw was great. So even featuring my top ten matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches I saw by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 19 matches, Kani King Produce: 4 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 6 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, Seadlinnng: 9 matches, and Sendai Girls: 6 matches.

 

Honorable mentions:

I saw a ton of excellent tag team wrestling (including an entire tournament) this trip and it was difficult to narrow down. In the end little things and the involvement of personal favorites determined what made the list, but the entire Go Go Green Curry Cup, New Tra vs Tsukka & Ibuki Hoshi, Best Friends vs Command Bolshoi & Yoshiko, Team DATE vs Tsukka, Miyako Matsumoto, & Hamuko Hoshi, etc were all great examples of well worked, engaging tag team wrestling.

 

 Iida’s retirement – Wave 5/4/18

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Mika Iida wrapped up her career in a pair of fun matches and a goodbye ceremony that all were infused with her enthusiasm, self aware personality, and a real sense of joyousness despite the emotional nature of the show. It was a privilege to be able to attend.

 

Honda brings the comedy – Gatoh Move 4/28/18 and 4/29/18

Antonio Honda’s brand of humor can be hit or miss with me, but at his best wrestling and comedy combine seamlessly in wonderfully entertaining spectacles. This time there were two wonderful examples, each also involving a personal favorite of mine in recently retired Aoi Kizuki and Gatoh Move rookie Mitsuru Konno respectively.

 

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Honda & Aoi teamed in Gatoh Move’s mixed tag tournament, a pairing that seemed pitch perfect after seeing them face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience.

 

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At Ichigaya Honda and Mitsuru had what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru used to routinely draw pictures on autograph boards that audience members could get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 She’d also later use the sketchpad from the match to reveal a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a Twitter account.

 

 

Catch the Wave Finals: Rina Yamishta vs Ayako Hamada

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When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took it instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Top 10:

10.  Mio & Kyuuri vs Maki & Yamagata Marvelous 5/5/18

 

In the main event of Marvelous’ show on 5/5/18, Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL 5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I was beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move (which didn’t end up happening as planned due to a typhoon O_o). Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

9.  Mio Momono, Kyuuri, & Tsukushi vs Saori Anou, Tae Honma, & Maika Ozaki- Ice Ribbon 5/5/18

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With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

8. Asahi vs Misaki Ohata – P’s Party 4/25/18

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This was almost a “Asahi vs veterans” entry under Honorable Mentions like with Mitsuru in my last list, but while they were all quite good with the booking context around the Miyako match and Yoshiko being Yoshiko I actually did like this match just a bit better than the others.

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans (including the previously referred to Miyako and Yoshiko matches). Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

 

7.  Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Mask — Gatoh Move 4/28/18

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Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: Gatoh Move’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team prevailed and moved on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho & Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

6. Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami – Seadlinnng 5/5/18

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This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

 

5. Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami  – SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

4. Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto – Ice Ribbon 4/28/18

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This interesting mix-and-match tag featured regular partners Kyuuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

3. Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio MomonoSEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

 

I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. The first match I saw this trip, and it was immediately recognizable that it’d be one of the best.

 

 

2. Io Shirai vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

 

1.  Sendai Girls Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Ayako Hamada – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end that show. This is bittersweet to look back on given Hamada’s troubles and exit from wrestling, but this was my #1 match of that trip and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

 

——-

 

That does it for this trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.

 

Final Happy: Farewell to Aoi Kizuki

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I had great interest in Joshi pro-wrestling but only a little familiarity.  Ice Ribbon is a favorite promotion of the friends I was traveling with (and would become one of mine as well), and as such we were scheduled to see several of their shows. I was already a big fan of Tsukasa Fujimoto via her appearance in Shimmer, but was unfamiliar with the rest of the roster. The very first show I saw in Japan was an Ice Ribbon dojo show on 12/19/15, and among a really fun night and a talented crew all around, reigning champion Aoi Kizuki made a particularly strong impression.

 

 

Her natural charisma and unique moveset, including her impressive top rope moves where she spins on a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one, gave her an immediately engaging presence. She was naturally friendly when I got to talk to her post show too with an enthusiasm that’s infectious, and overall was one of the big parts of that first trip getting off to a great start for me.

I saw her wrestle five times during trip (including an appearance at Wave), with her biggest and best match being in the main event of Ribbonmania 2015 where she lost the Ice Cross Infinity title to Hamuko Hoshi. I was a bit disappointed at the switch, but clearly understood in retrospect a few days later at the 1/3/16 dojo show when Aoi announced her “graduation” from Ice Ribbon to go freelance after 10 years. The timing was pretty wild, as I just barely got introduced to her at Ice Ribbon before she left.

 

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Custom Funko Pop made of/for Aoi.

 

 

When I returned the following year Aoi was primarily wrestling at Oz Academy, who generally doesn’t run during the holidays, so my chances to see her were quite limited. Over that 2016/2017 holiday trip I was supposed to see her wrestle only twice times, and some unfortunate trouble finding the venue for a Diana show brought it down to a single time, at Gatoh Move’s Christmas Eve show at Itabashi Green Hall. The good news was that in that one match she was once again main eventing a show I was at with a title defense, and her & Sayaka Obihiro against Riho & Kotori was a great, quick paced and hard hitting contest. Although I did start joking at the time that I only ever seemed to come to see Aoi lose titles. :p

 

 

While that was the only match of hers I saw, Aoi also had a Christmas event that year I attended. It was a fun evening of singing and photos and me struggling to parse Japanese. ^_^;  One really cool thing was Aoi talking about her goals and expressing a wish to wrestle in the US, a wish that would come true the following November at Shimmer’s Fall weekend taping in Chicago.

 

 

I adore Shimmer and was really happy for Aoi’s debut. She had a strong debut match in a against the newly proclaimed “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim despite coming up short, showed off her aforementioned unique offense and enthusiasm in a pair of establishing wins over Veda Scott (who Aoi had worked with in Japan) 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. 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. Aoi seemed to be having a blast and was really excited about being there, which was wonderful to see.

 

 

During the 2017/2018 holidays I saw Aoi at Ichigaya for the first time in a amusing comedy match against Antonio Honda in which they were trying to “recreate” a Kagami mochi by getting a hat that looked like mochi onto Obi’s head (Obi was sitting apparently passively in a corner of the mat), then whoever placed an orange on top of the hat to complete it would win. As ridiculous as it sounds. I was then lucky enough to make a trip to back Japan this Spring for the wedding of two dear friends of mine. I’d see Honda and Aoi together again, this time as partners for Gatoh Move’s Go Go Green Curry Cup mixed tag tournament against Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi. These comedy heavy matches were a bit different than the previous matches I’d seen of Aoi’s (as was the unique and fantastic “high speed” 6 woman tag I saw her in at SEAdLINNNG), but were highly enjoyable none-the-less and it was cool seeing her clearly having a blast.

 

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During that Spring trip, and just a few days before fellow Joshi Mika Iida’s retirement show, Aoi announced her own retirement show titled “Final Happy” for October 7th. At the time I had no plans to be back in Japan until the December holidays, so managed to add in a Pure-J show on May 6th, to perhaps see Aoi wrestle one last time. She was involved in a surprisingly fun gauntlet battle royal, but as it turns out it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her after all.

 

 

I am extremely fortunate to have been able to arrange to come back to see Aoi’s final show, and the lead up was equally wonderful. Given how I initially became a fan of hers, it was particularly great to see her return to Ice Ribbon for a series of events this summer, and Ice Ribbon was among the companies that hosted a final appearance for Aoi during the week I was here before her retirement show. Not only was it a joy to see her last shows for Ice Ribbon, Pure-J, Wave, and Gatoh Move, but after some of the sparse appearance trips I’ve had the last couple years just seeing her wrestle so many times in general before she finished up was a special treat. I even missed a couple shows she was on due to other commitments, so Aoi’s schedule was certainly packed.

 

 

Aoi’s self-produced retirement show was on October 7th, 2018 at Shinjuku FACE. In the main event Aoi teamed Riho & Mei Sugura against Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, & Makoto. It was a perfect way to finish up and a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. The fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei on October 5th (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became. In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious.

 

 

The match was great and an appropriate end cap for Aoi’s career. Emi Sakura, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell.

 

 

The post show retirement ceremony was likewise emotional and a treat to be at. All in all it was a wonderful, bittersweet, and fitting show see Aoi off.

 

 

Although I’m sad to see her go, Aoi had a great 12 year career and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person and wish her well. Whatever the future after wrestling holds for her I hope life is happy for the Happy Maker. 

 

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Farewell to a Pintsized Powerhouse

 

Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

 

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Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine. The other was Aasa Maika, who lasted until the end against opposing team captain Makoto, got a nice chance to shine and show off her wonderful style which I always describe as “pintsized powerhouse.” I’ve said before said before that at 5’2″ she perhaps doesn’t seem suited for such a gimmick, but then she’d start throwing herself at opponents like she was Big Van Vader and it was GLORIOUS. The power style was surprisingly perfect for her, and her overall enthusiasm and devotion to the gimmick gave a thoroughly compelling layer to her performances.

 

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I saw three other matches of the riceball fanatic that trip, all at Ichigaya in Gatoh Move’s unique home environment. She definitely struck me as someone with vast potential who was developing her skills and personal style rapidly.

 

I was fortunate to make a short, unexpected trip back to Tokyo in August 2017, and was treated to seeing the now retired Kotori vs Aasa in the semi-finals of the Super Asia Championship tournament as the main event of the 8/26/17 Ichigaya show. Kotori’s win was a foregone conclusion with her en route to face partner Riho in the finals, but she and Aasa created tension and drama regardless in a fantastic match that felt like the big deal it should be. There was a sequence in the match in which Aasa chased Kotori out the window and around the building back inside the door, at which point Kotori tried to ambush Aasa and the latter just LEVELED Kotori with one of her vertical Vader splashes instead. It was so cool and a spot that has totally and vividly stayed with me among the ridiculous amounts of wrestling I watch.

 

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I didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see either of them wrestle live. Aasa was scheduled to compete at the Ichigaya shows I saw when I returned during the holidays, but couldn’t participate because she was sick. I would check back in with the other wrestlers when I could as time passed wishing Aasa well and hoping for her return. Just this week she announced her “graduation” (retirement) due to chronic illness and that she would be returning home to concentrate on her health.

 

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She will be greatly missed, but as someone well familiar with chronic illness myself I am happy that Aasa’s doing what she needs to to take care of herself. She was always friendly and a delight to talk to, as well as a unique, dynamic presence in the ring who made such an impression I feel like I saw far more of her matches live than the five I actually did. I wish her all the best in the future, whatever it holds.

 

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Addendum 10/5/18 11pm:

A few short hours after I posted this, Aasa made an appearance at a Gatoh Move show at Ichigaya to say goodbye. On an already emotional night featuring Aoi Kizuki’s final appearance for Gatoh (or anyone for that matter) before her retirement show in two days, Aasa coming out to talk about what everyone in Gatoh meant to her was both wonderful and heart wrenching. I am truly lucky to have seen her again and gotten a chance to wish her all the best in person, and I hope the warm welcome of the crowd and a chance to wrap things up will help her with whatever is next.

 

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Pure-J 5/6/18 Live Thoughts

May 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Pure-J is an interesting case for me. They have a reasonably talented core roster… most of whom I personally don’t really connect with for some reason. As such I wasn’t sure I was going to attend this show (and had originally planned to attend another running at the same time than had some Ice Ribbon wrestlers appearing), but once Aoi Kizuki announced her retirement I wanted to take advantage of possibly one last chance to see her wrestle (although as it turns out I will have a few more…). Other guests including Saori Anou, Sareee, Mari (in my only chance to see her this trip), and Saki also increased my interest in this show.

 

 

As honestly expected for me I found the opening two matches of Commando Boishoi vs Mari Manji and Leon vs Kazuki  fine but unremarkable.

 

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Yako Fujigasaki is hit or miss for me, so I wasn’t sure how the Visual Hunter Battle Royal (which was more like a gauntlet match for Yako than a everyone-for-themselves battle royal) was going to go. It ended up being great fun.  Saki, Koharu Hinata, Aoi Kizuki, Hanako Nakamori (Pure-J champion and my favorite of their roster), Saori Anou, and Makoto got the better of Yako frequently and there were several good story beats mixed into Yako’s attitude, perseverance, and eventual win. Hanako got in her face after the match and has every ringside cracking up with whatever was said. Yako’s definitely improving and growing on me, and she was pitch perfect in her role here both when getting her comeuppance and when it was time to turn on the attitude. Aoi always amuses me greatly, Saki is a vastly underrated talent, and the more I see Saori the bigger a fan of hers I become.

 

 

Mari & Sareee kept the main event tag contest against Manami Katsu & Rydeen Hagane energetic and exciting while allowing the Pure-J regulars to flash power and control portions as appropriate without bogging down the pace. Sareee’s a superstar in the making.

 

 

I liked this more than I expected, primarily on the strength of the later two matches. The highlights continue to be from guests (and again that’s not a knock on the talent of the core roster, but more reflection of my personal tastes), but as long as the show’s enjoyable that doesn’t matter in the least. Decent way to wrap up the wrestling portion of that trip.

 

Mae Young Classic 2018 Episode 4 Review

Former Shimmer champion’s up tonight, and Io makes her debut.

Oh, and MATSUMOTO. HIROYO. DESTROY.

 

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Previous episodes:

Episode 1

Episode 3

 

Round 1 continued:

13) Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Rachel Evers  **1/2

Cole puts over Hiroyo’s character in addition to her in ring skills. Loves wrestling because it makes her happy. Problem is Rachel’s familiar to the crowd, so Hiroyo’s a defacto heel whenever she gets aggressive and actual gets some booed at various points in the match.

Rachel’s the “One woman Minnesota Wrecking Crew.” Eh, as nicknames go there are worse, but it feel forced.

They run down Rachel’s power lifting history and other accomplishments.  “Does that make Rachel the favorite in this?” No. No it doesn’t.

This fed into the match being structured/presented as a power vs power contest, which is an interesting approach. Hiroyo actually displayed more speed and agility than Rachel overall as a result. They did everything they could to make Rachel seem Hiroyo’s equal (including Evers doing a strong style no sell of a German suplex), and it still didn’t quite feel right. Hiroyo eventual advances with the backdrop driver, which was a relief. Good match with some nice spots from both, although I thought they tried too hard to get Rachel over in defeat, and all it did was emphasize how far above her Hiroyo actually is.

 

14) Jessie Elaban vs Taynara Conti *1/4

“I just sort of throw my body at people.” Being a clumsy goof (her words) is certainly a unique gimmick for Jessie.

Jessie got a few flashes of offense, but this was all about establishing Conti’s new heelish attitude. She wins in pretty short order amid some pretty basic action. Effective for what it was, but the match itself had nothing to it.

 

15) Isla Dawn vs Nicole Matthews **3/4

Matthews is an ex-Shimmer champion, and was an alternate for last year’s MYC.  “If I wasn’t in that tournament your weren’t showing the best of the best.” Heel vet with a chip on her shoulder is a pretty perfect role for Matthews. 😉

Isla’s the new to me competitor I’m most intrigued by, and her look, the way she carries herself, etc all combine to make her immediately striking.

Handshake? From Matthews? O_o Ah, she is going dismissive/condescending to start: she pats Isla’s head on first break, etc. This becomes a story of Dawn’s strikes against Matthews using short bursts of offense to gain control and then just grinding Isla down. They worked the formula well, and this had markedly different style and pacing than other matches in tourney in an appreciated way. Nice showing for Isla and a well deserved win for Matthews (via the Liontamer).

 

16) Io Shirai vs Xia Brookside **3/4

They’re treating Io’s signing as big deal it is, which is great to see. I’m unfamiliar with Xia, but have heard good things. Clearly she’s well thought of since she’s getting the spot as Io’s opponent.

Kairi’s shown cheering Io. 🙂

Xia charges Io to start (in a show of determination, not as a cheap shot or anything), which is an awesome character moment. Io later counters a headscissors by landing on her feet, and the crowd is hers. Great point from Cole about Io being all smiles throughout but not in a mocking way, just because she’s enjoying what she does.

Xia makes enough of a fight of it to get chants herself at points. Io’s explosive offense, counters (that ducked strike turned into a crossface was a thing of beauty), and general star presence just wows the crowd. She wins with the moonsault of course, and helps Xia up post match. Can’t go higher on the rating do to the short length and dominant structure, but this great for what it was (a quasi-squash) and provided a hell of an emphatic intro for WWE audiences to one of the best in the world. Xia should be proud of her performance here as well.

 

——-

Most of today was story first, but that’s fine and there was enough great action sprinkled in to make it a breeze to watch. And we saw Hiroyo, Matthews, and Io in WWE, which alone is worth checking out. Fine end to the first round.

 

I’ll likely be unable to watch live (or possibly at all) the next couple weeks, so will hopefully catch up on the quarters (and maybe the round 1 episode I haven’t reviewed yet) after the fact.

Yokohama Festival: Ice Ribbon 5/3 & 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

I saw these two Ice Ribbon shows earlier in the days of the Seadlinnng and Marvelous shows during Golden Week. They were all part of the “Yokohama Festival” and took place in the same venue, Yokohama Radiant Hall.

 

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5/3/18

Maika Ozaki vs Satsuki Totoro was a fun battle of Maika’s power vs Totoro’s size to open the show. Both are really learning how to use their particular strengths to great effect in the ring. Maika’s torture rack bomb is awesome, and picked up the victory for her.

 

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Watching live I wasn’t sure of the stipulation for Akane Fujita, Kyuuri & Mochi Miyagi vs Asahi, Giulia, & Ibuki Hoshi. When Akane pinned Asahi and things kept going I was thinking 2 of 3 falls or elimination. I found out afterward it was “Captain’s Fall” (a more common stipulation in IR I should have thought of) and the more veteran team won in a shutout when Kyuuri beat Guilia, who must have been her team’s captain. No idea who was captain on the other side, and the rookie team never seemed to have any real chance here. Decent match overall though.

 

 

Tsukushi had to win two #1 contendership matches for this opportunity at Hideki Suzuki’s championship (with no explanation why the first suddenly didn’t count), while “Freeze” was “handpicked” by the champ to be included. Tsukka being part of the prematch “ceremonies” might or might not have been part of the largely forgotten stipulation of her and Miyako supposedly becoming Suzuki’s assistants when he won the belt. His declarations of starting a “men’s division” in IR also came to nothing (thankfully, in retrospect).

 

 

So going into this match Suzuki had renamed the Triangle Ribbon Championship to the Sumo Battle Championship. The entrances, “pageantry,” and all other sumo aspects (which didn’t actually end up having any impact on the rules, match, or title mind you) lasted longer than the match. Tsukushi was defiant against her larger opponents, but was handled easily and pinned by Susuki in five minutes to retain while the Ice roster beat on Freeze on the outside. The ever changing/forgotten/ignored stipulations/conditions/rules for Suzuki’s title reign were beyond stupid, and while I originally had decent hopes for his involvement in Ice Ribbon it was pretty much a disaster and I couldn’t be happier that Akane now holds this title.

 

 

While I knew it was unlikely, Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera)’s International Ribbon Tag Team Title defense against Uno Matsuya & Tequila Saya potentially seemed like the perfect spot to elevate the challengers, who would have been totally believable and deserving champs. Instead the veteran dominance continued with Azure Rev retaining, but it was still one of the best matches I’ve seen from them and a great showing from the challengers even in defeat.

 

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The main event was a first round match for Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament, and honestly seemed a bit of a forgone conclusion to me considering Hamuko Hoshi’s regular partner was waiting in the semi-final in a different trios team. Here Hoshi teamed with Ice Cross Infinity Champion Miyako Matsumoto & Tsukasa Fujimoto against TeamDATE (Hana DATE, Karen DATE & Nao DATE). Hoshi had designs on Miyako’s title, and Miyako isn’t the most reliable teammate at the best of times anyway.

 

 

Wasn’t thrilled with the story that arose from all that, seeing the supposed regular unit and actual trios team beaten by dysfunctional teammates who attacked each other accidentally and a few times ON PURPOSE throughout the match. It honestly made the DATES look a bit incompetent, which they don’t deserve. Quite good otherwise though, with a real sense of urgency maintained and good stuff from all six at various points. Special mention to Hana, who has some of the best facial expressions in all of wrestling and always really sells the emotions/atmosphere/etc of her matches wonderfully.

 

 

In a nice character touch, Saya sold dejection at her loss throughout post show cheer (similarly Nao stared some great holes through her opponents after her match), and Hana was again a bit of a riot making faces at Asahi conveying uncertainty how she felt about Freeze’s presence in the circle next to her.

 

 

Going into the “Major Army vs Young Ice” challenge series two days later all members of the Young Ice team lost here, further positioning them as massive underdogs.

I liked this show overall and as I’ve alluded to the action was good but I could take or leave the booking.

If I only knew…

 

 

5/5/18

Before the show there was a 6-woman tag featuring trainees, with Tsukushi refereeing. It was quite a bit of fun and it will be interesting to see them all develop as/if they continue.

 

 

The opening match for the show proper saw Tequila Saya get a nice singles spotlight against the visiting Kaho Kobayashi. Kaho has really become excellent, Saya kept up nicely, and this was a solid showing for both with Kaho picking up the expected win.

 

 

With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

The remainder of the show was comprised of the 8 vs 8 “Major Army vs Young Ice” challenge that had been revealed to be a best of 5 series. The lineup for the series was set up during the post-show roundtable of Ice Ribbon’s dojo show on 4/28/18, and seemed an interesting selection. The “Major Army” comes out to the Imperial March, just to really hammer the point of who the underdogs are into oblivion.

 

First up saw the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) against Karen DATE & Hamuko’s daughter Ibuki Hoshi. Solid way to start that saw the regular, experienced team prevail over the determined rookies.

 

 

Giulia lasted longer against Tsukasa Fujimoto than in their prior match, but still came up short and was beaten by Ice Ribbon’s ace in a bit under 7 minutes. The match fit the story they were telling and Giulia’s desire being greater than her skills for now.

 

At this point things seemed right in line with what I was expecting from the series …

 

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With Young Ice down 0-2 in a best of 5 series, Ice Ribbon’s fan voted rookie of the year and Young Ice Tournament winner Nao DATE faced former champion Risa Sera. They had a good match for the most part, although something about the structure felt a little odd to me. And sure enough, the uneasy feeling bore out in the finish as RISA won in a bit over 7 minutes. What. The. Hell?! There was NO CONCEIVABLY REASON for Nao to drop this. Risa didn’t need the win, Nao did, and more importantly Young Ice had now already LOST the series in match 3 of 5. You could hear the crowd deflate when the ref counted 3.

 

 

So the series is decided but the other matches are happening anyway, and the crowd’s pretty much dead. Rightfully no one believes Uno Matsuya, Satsuki Totoro, & Hana DATE have any chance whatsoever against Akane Fujita, Kurumi Hiragi, & Maya Yukihi at this point (and it wouldn’t make any difference if they did win), so no matter what anyone in the match did the reaction was subdued. Magnifying the problem, this was the longest match of the night. O_o Dumb all around. I feel bad for the wrestlers involved being put into this position. This will likely play better on DVD, with less lingering impact from the booking decisions than there was live and more ability to just enjoy the work and effort all six wrestlers put into this.

 

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One match left in both the series and the show. The only possible redeeming aspect of the story of having vets sweep so far would be the newest rookie Asahi upsetting the champ in non-title competition to give Young Ice their only win, and Miyako Matsumoto was the kind of champ who could conceivably lose this. As such the crowd was really behind Asahi, and the match itself was quite good and exciting for the nice length of a bit under 15 minutes it ran. Miyako amuses me greatly and Asahi is fast becoming a favorite so this was awesome to be at.

Of course Asahi lost, making the whole best of 5 series pointless in every way with the veterans, who also swept everything two days before and again came out to the Imperial March for goodness sake, winning every single match. I understand the concept of paying dues, the idea behind looking tough/getting over in defeat, etc, but consistently making half your roster look weak is something else.

Asahi spoke at length afterwards, possibly adding some more context to having come up short against the champ and/or the series that I missed.

 

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During the post show promos Saori came out and issued a challenge for tag belts, but then names Maika as her partner as Tae just smiles. Maika’s reluctant but eventually agrees, and Saori taunts Kyuuri (Maika’s regular partner at the time). Another interesting layer in what was easily one of the most compelling feuds in wrestling at the time.

 

 

I do recommend these shows for some interesting matchups and good wrestling, with of course the caveat that I also personally have never been more frustrated with IR’s tone deaf booking. Why bother making a series out of those matches for these results? Just book the same card without the “Major Army vs Young Ice” framing and it all plays a ton better. Ice Ribbon actually has deep talent roster, but makes some odd choices and often seems hell bent on never truly elevating anyone until it’s pretty much too late, which is a shame to see from one of my favorite promotions.

Still, I did enjoy going to these shows overall and as I mentioned they will probably play a bit better on DVD and the action was very good for the most part, so if any of the particular matches sound intriguing they are worth checking out.

Yokohama Festival: SEAdLINNNG 5/3/18 & Marvelous 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Yokohama, Japan

I saw four events in Yokohama during Golden Week, two each on May 3 and 5 (with Mika Iida’s retirement show and Gatoh Move on May 4 in Tokyo in between). Here I’ll be talking about the two later in the day shows I saw in Yokohama.

 

SEAdLINNNG Golden Go! Go! 5/3/18

In was great to see Nanae Takahashi return to competition after a scary neck injury in a hardcore match earlier in the year. She eased back into things with a five minute time limit exhibition match against Takashi Sasaki to open the show.

After that Dragon Libre won a 4-way against (Wave’s) ASUKA, Nagisa Nozaki, and Shunsuke Wakayama which I primarily remember for Nagisa trying to kick people’s heads off.

 

 

 

I’m mentioned Yoshiko’s not a favorite for personal reasons, but bias aside she’s good in general and admittedly excellent in the right role. As with the fantastic match I saw her have against Mio Momono in August 2017, her playing the monster versus a determined smaller rookie is certainly the right role.

 

 

 

Asahi is fast becoming a personal favorite of mine, and with all the opportunities she’s getting to wrestle veterans and champions from other promotions in singles matches she’s just going to continue to evolve and improve that much quicker. She played the fiery underdog perfectly and survived a bit under fifteen minutes before the larger, more experienced wrestler put her away. They drew me into a match I had some disposition to be disinvested in, and that speaks very highly of the skill of both.

 

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The last two matches of the card were part of the first round of the ULTRA U-21 tournament to crown tag team champions for Seadlinnng. In a nice, rare (for me) chance to see Kaho Kobayashi, she and Makoto advanced over the visiting Ice Ribbon team of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. Solid tag action from everyone, with the less experienced of the four (Kaho and Ibushi) actually looking the best.

 

 

 

The main event featured more Ice Ribbon talent as well as a visitor from Wave, as Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami faced Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto). This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

 

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They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

Three good to great matches out of five and nothing actively bad made this an easy watch and a fun time.

 

Marvelous 5/5/18

Marvelous’ offerings are often a “tale of two shows” within the show for me. I find about half the card fine but perhaps a bit bland, while a couple of key matches (usually involving Mio Momono, Takumi Iroha, and/or visiting wrestlers) blow me away. This show was that template personified.

 

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W-Fix had pretty standard outings featuring the expected heel shenanigans as KAORU & Chikayo Nagashima opened against Super Momoe Chan (Aja Perara) & Sahara 7 and Megumi Yabushita later faced Tomoko Watanabe. W-Fix is  a good heel stable and these matches were fine, but their match quality does take a bit of a noticeable hit when Dash isn’t around. She brings out the best in the rest of them and elevates everything she’s involved in. Tomoko was fierce in trying to overcome the odds against her, and Momoe & Sahara looked good and clearly made a favorable impression on the crowd.

 

 

 

And to be perfectly honest I don’t recall anything about Leo Isaka & MIKAMI vs Wild Bear & Tomohiko Hashimoto, which means nothing stood out as particularly exciting nor particularly bad. Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota also brawled with each other throughout the show, leading to Chigusa putting straightening them out at one point and Yuki getting the better of Hirota in the middle of the show while Chigusa and others stood around them in the ring making comments.

 

 

 

Which brings us to the highlights of the evening in the form of a pair of excellent tag matches. The third match of the five match card saw NEW-TRA (Rin Kadokura & Takumi Iroha) against Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukasa Fujimoto from Ice Ribbon. I.e. each company’s ace paired with one of their respective brightest rookies. Ibuki looked right at home here and kept up well, and they got a nice amount of time to play with. This was tons of fun and  I’d love to see a rematch sometime.

 

 

 

In the main event  Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

 

 

 

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I am beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move in a couple weeks. Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

 

So solid shows from both promotions with some admittedly forgettable stuff yet also several highlights that definitely push into highly recommended territory. I had a great time, which is of course always the goal. 🙂