That is all.
That is all.
October 7, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan
As I mentioned before, this trip was largely based around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement and seeing this, her self-produced final show. In the week leading up to this show I was lucky enough to see her wrestle several times, at her final appearances for Ice Ribbon, Pure-J, Wave, and Gatoh Move. Several wrestlers from those companies appeared on this show as well to see the Happy Maker off.
The show opened with Hiroyo Matsumoto & Hanako Nakamori vs Totoro Satsuki & Saki. The Lady Destroyer Hiroyo’s a freelancer who wrestles most often for Oz Academy and was also in this year’s Mae Young Classic, Hanako is Pure-J’s reigning champion, and Totoro and Saki are from Ice Ribbon and Actwres Girlz respectively. All four are heavy hitters and this was a really good illustration of that style. I really liked the pairing of Saki and Totoro and would love to see them team again sometime.
Like Hanako from the opener, Haruhi Moeka is a former tag team partner of Aoi (they were called So On Flower, which I still don’t understand as a team name ^_^;) and it was nice to see her appear here. But she had the unenviable task of facing Oz Academy’s promoter and star Mayumi Ozaki, and this went pretty much as expected. Haruhi got some defiant offense here and there, while Ozaki countered by beating the hell out of her with a chain and of course eventually won.
The third match saw Gatoh Move rookie Yuna Mizumori & Seadlinnng founder Nanae Takahashi take on freelancer Kaori Yoneyama (who runs some shows under her own banner of YMZ) & Pure-J rising star Yako Fujigasaki in a decent tag encounter. Considering all the experience in match, Yuna looking the best here by just a tad says really positive things about her future (as well as my own personal taste/biases in wrestling styles I suppose).
Aoi spent the vast majority of her career in Ice Ribbon before going freelance in her last couple of years, so it was great to see a majority of the current IR roster wrestle on this show. In a huge 10 woman tag the Lovely Butchers (reigning International Tag Ribbon champions Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera), & Ibuki Hoshi faced ICE Cross Infinity champ Tsukasa Fujimoto, This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiragi), Asahi, & Miyako Matsumoto.
This was really fun, and Tsukka breaking out the “partners as steps” spot always make me wonderfully happy. In a cap to the running joke of Aoi not letting Tsukka do her “Youth Pyramid” pose because of her age, Tsukka finally managed to do it uninterrupted here and Aoi even did it with her during the after show ceremony.
The two rookies in the match (Asahi and Ibuki) became the focal point towards the end, end despite Asahi desperately struggling to prove herself she eventually fell victim to a trio of Hamuko Rolls from the Butchers & Ibuki and pinned by the latter.
It a perfect endcap to Aoi’s career, she teamed with Gatoh Move’s Riho, & Mei Sagura against Gatoh (and Ice Ribbon) founder Emi Sakura with freelancers Makoto & Hikaru Shida in the main event. It was 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. Aoi herself came out for this match in special white gear that included an incredible, light up version of her wings.
The match was fantastic and an appropriate goodbye to Aoi. The traditional spot with everyone one the show and more (including Aoi’s best friend Jenny Rose, who came to Japan to be ringside) splashing Aoi in the corner was of course a lot of fun.
Emi, 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, and an absolute privilege to be at live.
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, she had a great 13 year career and I’m really glad 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.
October 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan
Being the first Ice Ribbon dojo show of October makes this a Shutter Ribbon, with pictures allowed. Combined with the special Aoi Last Ribbon show a week earlier and it was an unusual two shows in a row that could be photographed.
This was two days before Oktober Ice Ribbon Fest at Korakuen Hall, and opponents in two key matches for that show would be on opposite sides of the ring in tag contests.
Things started out with Team DATE (Karen & Nao) vs Miyako Matsumoto & Uno Matsuya in a good match with some really amusing / great counter exchanges. The personalities of all four came through and made this a lot of fun. Little touches like Miyako getting a little more serious but still having to be herself (her going from the Mama Mia pose into a kick, for example) really add nice layers of depth. Still wish regular teams / groups losing to random pairings wasn’t such a theme in Ice Ribbon, but the match was great otherwise so it’s a minor complaint here.
Maya Yukihi vs Tequila Saya was incredibly well structured, with Saya fighting tooth and nail for her big move (a reverse pedigree) and Maya desperately countering several times before Saya finally hit it. Maya appropriately sold like it molten death. While I understand Saya was never winning this match, I wish they had at least done the foot on the rope escape for that. But Maya did kick out at the LAST possible second and made it look fearsome. This was top notch work from both, and a great example of how a simple focal point to build a story around can really enhance a match.
With a special challenge match against each other set to open the 10/8 show, reigning ICE Cross Infinity champion Tsukasa Fujimoto and Risa Sera faced off in tag action here teaming with Akane Fujita and Maika Ozaki respectively. I liked these teams and the chemistry between the four a great deal. Fast paced, exciting action from this one with several really cool counters worked in. Tsukka’s team picked up the win and momentum going into 10/8.
In the main event, Mochi Miyagi & Kyuuri faced Tsukushi & Giulia. International Ribbon tag team champions The Lovely Butchers (Mochi & her regular partner Hamuko Hoshi) would be defending in the main event of the 10/8 show against This Is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiiragi, who vacated the belts when Tsukushi had her hiatus and career reset last year). There was a lot of tension between the impending tag title opponents, with Kyuuri and Giulia’s involvement breaking things up a bit to let the anticipation grow.
Everyone looked good and this was a solid way to cap off the show. Tsukushi built some momentum going into her title shot with a victory, but she beat Kyuuri, not Mochi. Kyuuri losing also progressed the issue with her own regular partner Maika temporarily splitting their team because she thought Kyuuri wasn’t serious enough about winning.
During the post show roundtable Mochi and Tsukushi got in each others faces, and Mochi pissed Tsukushi off so much she bailed to the back and never came back out for merchandise/photos or anything after the show. Really nice job building the feud going into an important title match.
I’d have to watch again on DVD to be sure, but live this felt like one of the best dojo shows I’ve ever seen from Ice Ribbon. Interesting matchups, great psychology and ringwork, and well done build for ongoing feuds and the upcoming big show at Korakuen.
October 4 & 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan
Gatoh Move’s October 4th show was supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last appearance for them and thus the fourth and final in my quasi-tour of her final shows with various companies before her self produced retirement show.
However a typhoon intervened (which was quite the experience ) and the big Gatoh Move show at Itabashi Greenhall on 9/30 that was supposed to run after the Pure-J show I saw at the same venue in the early afternoon was cancelled. Aoi’s planned match that night was a special one for her, and with her retiring just a week later there wasn’t much time available to reschedule it.
But she and Emi Sakura managed to do it anyway. An entirely new Ichigaya show was added on 10/5 (in addition to the already full schedule for both Aoi approaching her 10/7 retirement show and Gatoh Move already having shows set for 10/4, 10/6, and 10/7), and Aoi wasn’t the only wrestler Gatoh would say goodbye to that night…
As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.
Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).
Things started off with my first look at Darcy Stone against one half of Gatoh Move’s tag team champions in Yuna Mizumori. Darcy’s good and a fun addition to Gatoh’s lineup of visiting wrestlers. She seemed to have a rivalry building with Yuna, and got in some good offense before Yuna eventually went into full wrecking ball mode and picked up the win. As with all of Emi’s trainees on the core Gatoh Move roster Yuna is insanely good for her level of experience.
I’ve mentioned before how impressive and fun it is when Gatoh Move regulars are involved in a 6-person tag match in Ichigaya’s enclosed space, and Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Balliyan Akki vs Mei Sagura, Saki, & Masahiro Takanashi certainly continued this trend. Everyone involved is a part of the core roster or regular visitor, and as such they all know how to use the Ichigaya environment wonderfully and tell a story within its confines. It was particularly great for me to see Mitsuru get a rare pinfall victory on her two year anniversary in wrestling. 🙂
In what was originally supposed to be Aoi Kizuki’s last Gatoh Move match, she faced her trainer and mentor Emi Sakura in the main event. This was another great match in Aoi’s goodbye tour, and at the time I would have been hard pressed to imagine a more appropriate way for Gatoh Move to say goodbye to her. Aoi defeated her mentor after thirteen minutes of back and forth, emotional, captivating wrestling with the Happy Clutch.
Emi had prepared a special song for Aoi (with audience participation) that was sung for Aoi during the post-show festivities. The show was super sold out, which was great to see. Fantastic night all around.
It’s wonderful that this show was put together and added in so Aoi Kizuki’s scheduled match from the cancelled show could still take place before she retired. I’ll talk about that more when we get to the main event, but in the meantime she came out and issued a special challenge… to her former tag team champion partner Sayaka Obihiro!!! This was a big deal as Obi was out with a knee injury. It was an extremely short match (under 2 minutes) since Obi was obviously still not fully ready to return, but was a wonderful way to say goodbye to her friend and former partner and was really special to be at.
Makoto vs Darcy Stone was the first scheduled match, and like the main event to come was rescheduled from the cancelled Greenhall show. Fine “opener” that gave Darcy a chance to wrestle a much more experienced opponent.
An-chamu, Balliyan Akki & Riho vs Emi Sakura, Yuna Mizumori, & Cherry was another really fun 6-person tag anchored by Gatoh regulars. An looked decent in my first time seeing her, before eventually being defeated by the force of nature that is Mizumori. Emi and Cherry were clearly having a blast with their quasi-heel antics (and celebrating their victory).
Akki is so comfortable and adapt within Ichigaya’s unique constraints now and impresses every time out, on top of being an inspiration for the way he’s gone to a foreign country to pursue his dream and is making it all a reality. Riho is Riho, and if more needs be said you haven’t been paying enough attention. 😉
The main event was the reason this show was added, with Aoi Kizuki facing her recent tag partner and protege of sorts in Gaoth Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura in a match that was supposed to happen the previous Sunday at Gatoh’s cancelled Greenhall show. In a bit of a parallel with Aoi’s mentor Emi putting her over in their final singles match the day prior, Aoi put Mei over here giving the rookie a huge win.
The match itself was excellent, and I certainly understand all the hype arising around Mei. As I mentioned about the very first time I saw her wrestle (at Pure-J days prior to this), she very clearly “gets it” and seems to have natural instincts for wrestling in terms of drawing the audience into her matches and making maximum use of her skills and charisma. This was just as fitting a Gatoh Move goodbye to Aoi as her match with Emi would have been, and was a wonderful “passing the torch” moment.
But the night’s emotional goodbyes weren’t limited to Aoi. A few days before this show Aasa, who had withdrawn from wrestling at the end of December 2017 due to what turned out to be chronic illness, announced she would not be returning and her retirement became official. She appeared at this show to say goodbye and greet the fans one last time, and it was nice to be able to thank her for her time in wrestling and wish her well in whatever lies ahead.
So this was a pair of heavily emotional shows, on top of being some of the best wrestling-wise I’ve ever seen in Ichigaya. A wonderful, special couple of nights.
October 1, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan
Third in my quasi-tour of Aoi Kizuki’s final shows with various companies as she approached her retirement was a weekday Wave. Smaller audience than I’m used to for shows I’ve seen from other companies at Shinkiba 1st Ring, but it was still an excited crowd and I also lucked into running into a friend and getting to watch the show together.
First up was Miyuki Takase vs Yuki Miyazaki. Miyuki is a promising wrestler from the Actwres girlZ promotion who’s in her second year, and looked good when on offense here. To be honest, Miyazaki’s style of comedy isn’t really my style so as happens often with her matches this ended up in strictly inoffensive but unremarkable territory for me.
Next was Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto vs Shoki Kitamura. It was a basic match and honestly too long for what it was. They weren’t quite ready to fill time for a time limit draw (so many chinlocks…), and the result was a bit bland. Nothing actively bad though, and instincts for pacing, etc will develop with more experience.
Rina Yamashita & Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave champion Asuka vs Ryo Mizunami & Nagisa Nozaki was a nice tag match wrestled at a good clip (as always this is a Wave review and as such I’m talking about their Asuka and not the former Kana). All four have high impact strike variations, so this was hard hitting and exciting.
Aoi Kizuki‘s final Wave match was a singles contest against Hiroe Nagahama in the semi-main. In a bit of a parallel I also saw Hiroe wrestle Mika Iida on the latter’s retirement show retirement show back in May. This was a really good match, and I was thrilled to see Aoi get a singles spotlight like this on her way out.
It’s also great in general how different each of Aoi’s final matches with the various companies were while all being highly enjoyable. Nagisa got involved late in the match on Aoi behalf, and Aoi won with her sideways rotating top rope splash (Twisted Bliss).
The main event was focused around another upcoming retiree, in this case one of Wave’s top stars in Misaki Ohata. She’s is engaged to DDT’s Makoto Oishi, and this match was a 6-woman tag that seemed to be a pro-marriage team of Ohata, Sakura Hirota, & KAROU against the anti-marriage team of Cherry, Yumi Ohka, & Kaori Yoneyama.
Now THIS was my type of comedy. Even without understanding the verbal exchanges the intent and attitudes of the participants came through and I was highly amused. There was also great action mixed in (particularly from Yumi & Misaki) to anchor the match and its humor. This was a blast.
After a couple of so-so matches, everything kicked into gear and three very different, yet all extremely good, matches were presented that made this a really fun time live overall. And again, I’m a huge fan of both Aoi and Misaki and feel extremely lucky to be able to see them wrestle so many times as their careers wind down.
September 30, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan
Like during my May trip, this was another case where I went to a to Pure-J primarily to see Aoi Kizuki as her career wound down. This was her final show for Pure-J, exactly one week before her self produced retirement show. It was my second of Aoi’s final company shows, as I saw Aoi Last Ribbon the day before.
Despite Pure-J’s regular roster members being talented, there’s something missing for me when they wrestle one another. So I generally find the visiting wrestlers more interesting and that my enjoyment level of the show usually depends on who’s visiting and how they’re used.
It’s been really cool to see Ice Ribbon’s Giulia develop and get opportunities to wrestle in other promotions, and was even cooler to see her picking up a victory over Mari Manji to open this show. Her character’s coming along, she’s solid in the ring, and she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as her experience grows. Manji seems decent enough in the couple of short looks I’ve had of her, although this was honestly Giulia’s spotlight.
The next match was my first look at Gatoh Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura, who I’d heard a LOT about, and it was all immediately validated as Mei clearly “gets it.” She already has uncanny instincts regarding how to incorporate her charisma into her ringwork, which is also ahead of her experience level. She really impressed me, and it was just a glimpse of what was to come. Her victorious opponent Kazuki is fine, but it was Mei’s exuberance and personality that made this fun and compelling.
Saki & Manami Katsu vs Raideen & Keiko Aono was centered on Aono as she approached her own retirement after a 23 year career (also a week away at the time). This was pretty paint by numbers, but was still fine, a deserved spotlight for Aono, and I always enjoy seeing Saki.
It was really nice to see Moeka Haruhi get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of her “So On Flower” partner’s Pure-J goodbye show. She looked good against one of Pure-J’s resident veteran’s in Leon before falling in defeat.
In the main event Aoi Kizuki teamed with her regular partner from Pure-J, their reigning champion Hanako Nakamori, against Pure-J’s ultimate veteran and one of their most spotlighted rising stars in Command Bolshoi & Yako Fujigasaki respectively.
The chemistry between the four was quite good, and strong action was mixed with career tribute spots including the Joshi traditional corner splash sequence (with Giulia and Moeka amusingly giving Aoi hugs instead of strikes) for another cool, well done sendoff for the Happy Maker.
2 for 2 on fun overall shows capped of with Aoi’s last match with the company in question, with more to come.
As a side note, this was meant to be the first of a double header for me with a Gatoh Move show at the same venue later that day, but that’s a story for when I get to Gatoh’s 10/4 show…
September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan
This particular trip for me was largely planned around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement, and I was extremely lucky to see her final appearances at several promotions in the week before her self produced retirement show.
Perhaps the most significant would of course be her final show with the company she spent the vast majority of her career with.
Considering I became big fans of both Aoi and Ice Ribbon during my first trip to Japan right before she left the company to go freelance I was thrilled she came back in the last months of her career, and being able to attend this special farewell show for her was a particular treat for me.
Since this was a special event, it was a Shutter Ribbon show and pictures were allowed despite not being the usual designated show for it (at the dojo, pictures are generally only allowed during the first show of the month).
The show opened with a tag match between The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) and Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukushi. Pretty standard Butchers vs “rookies” match. At eleven minutes this was given the most time outside of the main and honestly other contests really could have used it more, but this was fine overall and there’s always extra fun to be had when Ibushi faces her mom. The vets of course won, with Mochi pinning Ibuki after the Metabolic Sand (Styles Clash).
Miyako Matsumoto vs Giulia was up next. A good portion of the match centered around silliness involving Miyako trying to use referee Bunny as an attack strategy (and it backfiring), and the rest was the two trying to strike and counter-wrestle their way to an advantage.
Speaking of matches that could have used more room to breath, this was decent for what it was and the scant 4 minutes they had to work with but could have been more. Giulia’s progressing nicely and I’d like to see her start winning more matchups like this, but Miyako prevailed with a cool reversal idea into the Miyacoco Clutch that was unfortunately a bit awkward in execution.
Tsukasa Fujimoto & Karen DATE vs Novel Tornado (Totoro Satsuki & Nao DATE) was a great little tag match involving the reigning champion and three of IR’s impressive rookies. Early on Tsukka & Karen set up for Aoi Kizuki’s trademark pose, but continuing a running gag from Aoi around the time that Tsukka was too old to do the “Youth Pyramid” Aoi ran in, stacked Tsukka on top of the pile and did the pose with Karen herself. Tsukka would work the pose in here and there later on to boos, and even busted it out during photos ops after the show (which earned me a joking reprimand from Aoi from across the building when I did the pose with Tsukka). Amusing undercurrent that was fun without derailing the match too much or taking away from the excellent action.
Small gripe from me that they really didn’t need to use a regular team here if Tsukka was going to win with a random partner, but I loved it otherwise. Soccer kick finished Totoro.
The semi-main was the definition of making the most of things as Kyuuri vs Saya packed a particularly fun, exciting contest into five minutes and change. They both have engaging ring personas and styles that shined here, and Kyuuri picked up solid win.
Aoi Kizuki’s last Ice Ribbon match was a gauntlet style contest they occasionally do for special events. Aoi wrestled everyone previously on the card (twelve opponents) in a series of 1-minute time limit encounters. In order, she faced Tsukushi, Karen DATE, Nao DATE, Tequila Saya, Kyuuri, Giulia, Totoro Satsuki, Miyako Matsumoto, Mochi Miyagi, Hamuko Hoshi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Ibuki Hoshi.
This was a suitable send off and there were plenty of great little touches. Tsukushi came out in Aoi’s old costume, Guilia’s section consisted of a full minute of running dropkicks, Aoi got the best of Miyako at her own game and pinned the Dancing Queen with her own version of the Mama Mia, Aoi and Hammy spent half their time crying goodbye, etc. The end which saw Aoi just barely outlast the current champion’s assault and be laid out as time expired by the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, then nearly picked off by rookie Ibuki in a frantic final period. Aoi survived though and ended with a record of 2-0-10 (she beat Miyako and Kyuuri, and had time limit draws with everyone else). I love this type of special event match, and this was an emotional, engaging one.
Aoi was presented with a gift from the roster after the show and then everyone sang with her. All in all this was an enjoyable show in itself, in addition to being a wonderful IR goodbye to Aoi.
Aoi and Ice Ribbon started my Joshi Puroresu adventures in Japan and it was a privilege to attend her farewell to the promotion live.