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.

 

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. 🙂

 

P’s Party 2 4/25/18 and Kani KING Produce 4/27/18 Live Thoughts

April 25 and 27, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

P’s Party 2

This Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) focusing on talent with less than three years experience. I adore the concept (which is similar to what Wave sometimes does with Young OH! OH!) and with all the promising rookies in Ice and other Joshi promotions Saya chose a great time to start it up. Like with Young OH! OH! there are a few veterans sprinkled in but generally every match has at least one competitor that matches the promotion’s brief. This was their second official show (they had one preview show as well) and had a nice looking lineup with one match I was particularly psyched for.

 

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The crowd was about 50 people, feeling about half full for the dojo but still providing a good atmosphere and seemed a decent turnout for what’s in a lot of respects a developmental product that was just starting up.

The show opened with Tsukushi & Ibuki Hoshi vs Giulia & Maika Ozaki. Tsukushi re-debuted in a “career reset” at Ribbonmania after a hiatus due to legal issues last summer. Ice Ribbon and Tsukushi herself have been fully behind the idea that she’s starting over, so she’s been routinely involved in things like this that feature rookies despite previously having eight years experience. I applaud all involved with how they are proceeding, and am happy Tsukushi’s both getting a second chance and taking it seriously.  I also personally think having a few veterans in these matches helps the others gain experience, so her not actually being under three years experience isn’t an issue for me.

 

 

The was a really fun tag match with Tsukushi being her usual bratty self (and I say that with respect and appreciation for the character), Maika looking wonderfully comfortable and confident in flashing her impressive strength to great effect, and their respective partners doing their best to counter and derail their opponents’ tactics.  Tsukushi’s partner Ibuki Hoshi, a second generation wrestler whose mother also wrestles for Ice Ribbon, already shows incredible instincts for her age and experience and gets better and better every time I see her. Maika’s partner Julia has a striking charisma and is nicely developing her own style in the ring and getting more and more comfortable as a performer. Strong start to the show.

 

 

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. 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.

 

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I was thrilled to see this match on the card, and it was exactly what I hoped for. Misaki was perfect in largely dominating the rookie while gradually selling getting more of a fight than she expected and showing just the right amount of vulnerability to make Asahi look good while keeping things believable within the story framework. Asahi showed great fire, knowing her role was to go full bore whenever an opportunity presented itself and as such she really succeeded in coming across as someone who knew she was outmatched but was determined to win anyway. Misaki of course eventually prevailed, but she made Asahi look great in the process. At seven minutes the match was just the right length for the story they were telling, and I adored this from start to finish.

 

 

The main event saw P’s Party producer Tequila Saya and her partner Uno Matsuya take on Satsuki Totoro and another visitor from Wave in Hiroe Nagahama. The grouping of Ice Ribbon wrestlers in this match was a treat. Saya and Uno’s alternating rival / partner relationship has been really interesting to follow as time goes on, and watching Totoro play wrecking ball is a joy.

 

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The match was a great proof of concept for P’s Party, with less experienced wrestlers getting a longer match time and more of a spotlight than they normally would on the main shows. It let them experiment with pacing and storytelling, pepper humor and playfulness in with the action, etc. Not everything’s going to work perfectly, but having the freedom to risk that is the entire point and given the talent level of Ice Ribbon’s rookies it will all come together more often than not. And it largely did here, resulting in a solid, enjoyable main event.

 

 

This show was exactly what it should have been, and Saya’s endeavor has a lot of upsides both for the wrestlers involved and Ice Ribbon as a company. I had a ton of fun and hope to see more of these in the future, although since they so far seem to be live only my opportunities to do so will likely be few and far between.

 

 

Kani K☆ING Produce

Two days after P’s Party I went to another somewhat unusual show in Ice Ribbon’s home base. Kani (Crab) King’s show featured a variety of Joshi from numerous promotions, and had an attendance similar to that of P’s Party.

 

 

The show opened with an “offer match” from Ice Ribbon, featuring two wrestlers I discussed at length above. Asahi had another good singles showing against a vastly more experienced competitor as she took on Tsukushi in a really fun match that was brisk and exciting for the full six minutes and change it ran. I’d love to see this matchup revisited periodically as Asahi’s career progresses.

 

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Two wrestlers I was familiar with in Makoto and Pure-J’s Yako Fujigasaki teamed in the next match to take on two I was seeing for the first time in Koharu Hinata & Shiori Akiba.

 

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This was pretty paint-by-numbers and did have a bit of awkwardness here and there, but also had some highlights and spots that really came across well and made an impact. Fine overall. I’d like to see more of Hinata in particular if I get a chance.

 

 

After that was another wrestler I was previously unfamiliar with in Actwres Girlz’ Hikari Shimizu facing another I knew from Pure-J in Raideen Steel (Raideen Hagane). This was fine on a technical level and I’d hope to see Shimizu again in the future. But while Raideen is quite capable of exciting matches against the right person, in cases like this where she’s in a dominating role against an overmatched opponent I find the results … well, a bit boring to be honest.

 

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I adored Nao Kakuta in my only previous time seeing her as both she played a wonderful heel and defeated a character that annoys me in a wonderful application of poetic justice. So it was nice to see her challenge the “Crab World Champion” Yuiga for her title in the main event here.

 

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This was mostly played for comedy, and the action was kept pretty basic. But it was fine for what it was, and the character interactions were the main point. Nao sadly did not become the Crab World Champion.

 

 

Honestly the Ice Ribbon offer match overshadowed everything else a bit from the get go, and overall this wasn’t quite up to the level I’m used to from my Joshi shows. But that’s a relatively high bar and in some ways it wasn’t trying to be.  I got a nice look at some new wrestlers for me, thought the opener was great, and enjoyed just enough of the rest to call it a fun and worthwhile evening all in all.