Shimmer Weekend November 2017 Live Thoughts

November 11-12, 2017 in Berwyn, IL

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

 

Return of the Joshi

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Num-ber One!

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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Tremendous Tag Teams, and a Long Awaited Implosion

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

Everything Else and Then Some

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Fantastic depiction of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

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

 

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

 

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Another incredible rendition of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

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

 

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

January 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Ice Ribbon 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Sendai Girls 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My experience with Tokyo Joshi Pro has been an interesting journey. I had major criticisms of the first show of theirs I attended but felt that with some tweaks they could present a vastly more enjoyable product without losing any appeal to their core demographic. Subsequent shows pleasantly proved it, and now I eagerly await more opportunities to enjoy their offerings.

This card was a particularly exciting one for me, with one of my favorites defending TJP’s top title against their first champion, and Gatoh Move’s Riho participating in the tag team title match.

 

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After a fun opening bit of singing by Maki Itoh & Mizuki the show started up with a quadruple debut of members of the idol group Up Up Girls Hinano & Miu defeated Raku & Hikari in a fine outing that kept things appropriately basic but still allowed the participants to look good (despite a bit of awkwardness here and there).

 

 

 

After a pretty standard filler 6-woman tag between Yuu, Nodoka One-san, & Marika Kobashi vs Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, & Yuki Kamifuku, the visiting Veda Scott came out to face TJP’s resident zombie Maho Kurone. This was a touch short and I wish Veda had needed to do more to defeat Maho, but there were some great comedic elements that felt natural to the characters and didn’t detract from the competitiveness of the match. The highlight of which was Veda offering veggies to Maho as gift (in place of her brains), and Maho having none of it, knocking them away, and chasing Veda around the arena.

 

 

 

 

Maki Itoh impresses me more and more every time I see her. Her ability to naturally switch between humor and intensity is particularly great, and I still smile thinking about her chasing idol lumberjacks around the ring with gleeful menace during her match at the show I saw last August.

 

 

 

So she was really in her element against Danshoku Dino, going straight at him with ferocity while also matching his antics head on. There was a tangible sense of both dismissiveness and attitude from BOTH wrestlers towards their opponent, which is what made this work so well. Dino’s creepy approach was mitigated by the fact that Itoh fired right back in kind, and it made the match immeasurably more enjoyable. Dino’s style isn’t one I generally enjoy (although this was my first time seeing him personally), but this was extremely well done all around. Great match and my adoration of Itoh continues to grow.

 

Next up was a performance from opening match teams representing Up Up Girls. Tokyo Joshi Pro has gotten extremely good at mixing this aspect of their shows in with the wrestling at opportune times.

 

 

 

Since last I saw Azusa Takigawa she seems to have been reborn as Azusa Christie and is now the devoted follower of Saki-sama (Saki Akai). Here they teamed against Azusa’s ex-partner Nonoko & Yuna Manase (with Haruka Nishimoto). Nonoko kept trying to talk sense to her former friend, but it fell on deaf ears as Azusa nailed Nonoko with the book she carries to the ring and eventually emerged victorious alongside her new master. Match was ok. The story was more the focus anyway.

 

 

 

The Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers, Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima, defended their championships against MIZUKI & Riho. The visiting Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20 and received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

After a hard fought struggle to retain their titles Yuka and Shoko were confronted by Saki and Azusa, who issued a challenge for those selfsame belts.

 

 

 

In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

 

 

 

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

All the matches at the top of the card got proper time to build and breath, and the wrestlers certainly took advantage of those opportunities to show what they could do.

 

 

 

After Reika leaves a celebrating Miyu is issued a challenge by… Veda Scott?! Well, while that’s not the direction I in any way expected now we know why Veda survived the zombie apocalypse earlier in show. O_o

This was a really awkward promo, with Veda buttering Miyu up while the latter couldn’t understand her but switching to insults once she got a translator.  They should have just pretended Miyu could understand her, as Veda’s capable of much better on the mic than this. Still, at least Miyu’s first sacrificial lamb was set up for slaughter.

 

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Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to really excel at emphasizing its strengths and developing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, with great results.

Evolve 100 Live Review

February 17, 2018 in Queens, NY

Big milestone for Evolve as they had their 100th show last month in their recent home base of La Boom. Here’s a rundown of my impressions from seeing it live.

 

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The stipulation of the opening 3-way specifying Darby Allin would lose his spot in the next day’s major 4-way if he lost to either Jarek 120 or Jason Kincaid was likely meant to add intrigue, but instead it made it made Allin’s win feel like a forgone conclusion. The whole “prelim” (pre-show) concept with wrestlers who don’t win enough having to earn their way back to the “main card” also isn’t really working because it’s regulars stuck there and with it also being broadcast as part of the ippv it’s actually just the opener. Also, by calling it preliminary a lot of people were still filing in during the match instead of being in their seats paying attention. Action was decent. I really like Kincaid and have been impressed with Jarek the couple times I’ve seen him, and both deserve better opportunities. Allin’s not a favorite of mine, so him being a centerpiece always seems to end up with the match capping out at decent for me. He’s over in general though, so I certainly can’t blame Evolve for pushing him.

 

Fred Yehi reigned in his normal mannerisms and “unusual” offense a bit against Dominic Garrini, which was a big plus for me. But unfortunately I thought these two didn’t mesh well and this was my least favorite match of the night. Making matters worse, Yehi’s after match promo was honestly awful, with him rambling about being better than a second match wrestler (which is a direct rehash of ACH’s angle last year, who did it better) before somehow spinning that into calling himself a “savage-weight.” I have no idea what that was supposed to accomplish, but Yehi apparently leaving Evolve shortly after this due to stalled contract negotiations I suppose I don’t need to.

 

Things picked up with Anthony Henry vs Tracy Williams, who put on a solid match that really played to the strengths of each to good effect. The angle of Williams struggling as Catch Point’s leader continues to build here too with Henry’s upset victory.

 

The End (Odinson & Parrow w/ Drennen) then came out to brawl with Williams’ stablemates Chris Dickinson & Jaka, and the tag title match was on. This went about five minutes before being thrown out and was an absolutely crazy brawl. Live this was totally satisfying, with neither the short length nor inconclusive finish mattering because of the intensity and atmosphere. But I imagine watching through a screen it could have been disappointing for such an anticipated title match. Still, no complaints from me and was one of the highlights of the night.

 

Amazingly though, the match that had to follow all that chaos was actually the best of the show, as Matt Riddle and James Drake beat the HELL out of each other in a star making performance for Drake. His chops drew blood from Riddle’s chest early, and Riddle turned Drake’s bright red in turn, and they just kept upping the ante as things went. Also, most importantly, there was a logical, well executed structure underlying the match and all the impressive violence. Riddle also continued his angle of asking for no rope break matches (which Drake agreed to), and they used it well without belaboring the point. Just fantastic stuff all around.

 

Two huge singles title matches ended the show in a double main event, starting with Keith Lee defending his WWN LIve title against the first Evolve champion AR Fox. The latter had his “crew” with him who ran interference several times to give the larger champion some additional problems to solve and also added a fair amount of energy to things with their vocal support of Fox. Impressive size vs speed battle that escalated nicely and provided opportunities for Lee to show his own agility as well. Although while I understand how impressive it is for someone Lee’s size to take a Canadian Destroyer, really he shouldn’t unless it’s going to be the finish. Or at the very least do the leg on the rope thing to break it instead of a full kickout. That minor gripe aside, this was great.

 

Finally the Evolve title was on the line as Austin Theory challenged Zack Sabre Jr. Theory’s fully embraced heel character, and was a credible threat to Sabre in another great match until the champion just tied him up one time too many and forced him to tap.

The after match stuff got kind of odd. Riddle came out during Sabre’s post show speech to challenge him, and was essentially told “sure if you become the #1 contender.” The lack of logic behind when Sabre just accepts random challenges and when he tells the hottest star of the promotion “not yet” is lazy booking. Riddle’s happy response of “so you’re saying there’s a chance” was awesome though.

After Sabre leaves Theory jumps Riddle (after a distraction from Priscilla Kelly) and leaves him lying. He then calls himself the future of Evolve, and was really left out to dry by the progression because the crowd just drowns him out with a “you just lost” chant. Theory wasn’t able to react well to crowd’s heckling, leaving him in awkward spot as he tried to continue with the script and the crowd was having none of it. Not his fault. They really should have switched him and Fox or something if they needed him to give this kind of promo after jumping Riddle, instead of having him act confident and like a killer and calling himself a legend literal seconds after tapping out in a title match.

As Theory leaves Riddle picks himself up really none the worse for wear and gives the usual thanks for coming speech. I appreciate the thought and adore Riddle but could have done without this if it meant actually selling the effects of Theory’s beating.

 

Although I did have some issues with the logic and booking, overall this was an extremely enjoyable show with strong action and an incredible atmosphere.