Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo over the end of the year holidays for the last two years. This summer the stars aligned for a shorter, somewhat unexpected additional trip with a specific purpose. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from the 29 I saw that trip (across 5 shows from 5 different companies).

 

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tokyo Princess of Princess Title: Yuka Sakazaki(c) vs Reika Sakai –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

Yuka and Reika are two of my favorite wrestlers in the promotion, so I was thrilled to see this. Yuka is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and consistent performers on the roster, and also wows the crowd with her agility and rope walk spots, so was a great choice for champion. Reika seems their biggest rising star so this was exactly the right time for this confrontation. While I do have to admit I prefer and miss the Mil Clown persona, Yuka’s excellent in any incarnation.

The match was great, going back and forth and building well to a strong finish that saw Reika take advantage of a miss by Yuka with hard strikes and a sweet Shining Wizard, then hit the jackhammer (such a perfect choice of finisher for the Muscle Idol) to become the new Princess of Princess champion. Was awesome to be there for that moment, and Reika definitely deserves a chance to show what she can do as champ.

 

Team DATE (Nao, Hana, Nori, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Satsuki Totoro, Uno Matsuya, & Tequilia Saya – Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the beginning of this big blow off elimination match. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

5. Gatoh Move Title Tournament Semi-Final: Kotori vs Aasa – Gatoh Move 8/26/17

The main event of Gatoh Move’s 8/26 show was the second semi-final of their title tournament and would determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  It was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both.

 

4. Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs So On Flower (Aoi Kizuki & Moeka Haruhi) – Wave 8/30/17

 

This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

3. Meiko Satomura vs Miyu Yamashita –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

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This was fantastic and edged out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

She wrestled like someone with something to prove from the very first second and really took it to Meiko, believably smothering the veteran at points with relentless offense, but just couldn’t put the larger, more experienced wrestler. Meiko of course is an artist in the ring and always a joy to watch. Loved this.

Afterwards Miyu slaps Meiko a couple of times out of frustration (and apparently in a challenge for another match) and Meiko’s so impressed with Miyu’s fire she applauds her for it. Great stuff.

 

2. Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Mio Momono vs Yoshiko – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 

 

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I hate to admit it given my personal bias, but Yoshiko was awesome here and this was easily the second best match of the night. She was a perfect monster for Mio to attempt to outlast while just refusing to stay down under the larger, more experienced wrestler’s onslaught. The crowd was evenly split between heavy home promotion support for Yoshiko and visiting Marvelous fans (like me) going nuts for Mio. They went to time limit, then overtime where only a two count was needed. The heat for the nearfalls during that final portion was insane.

Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I mention often), and I continue to marvel at how incredible she is this early into her career.

 

1.  Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 and Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

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Ok, so this is a little bit of a cheat as I’m including both matches between these two teams in the #1 spot rather than take up two places and leave less room for other great matches.

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of the three. These two matches were the previously mention purpose for the entire trip, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series (due to the lack of finish and time spent on some comedy). The one at Ice Ribbon was neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping this series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story. Their entire record is now 2-1-1 in Best Friends’ favor (with Avid Rival’s sole victory coming at their home promotion of Wave in the one match between the teams I have yet to see).

One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

In my opinion these are the two best tag teams in all of wrestling, and seeing them face off is always a treat.

 

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Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.

Gatoh Move 8/26/17 Live Thoughts

August 26, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s Ichigaya shows are always unique and interesting given the venue (with small space and lack of ring) and how the performers use and adapt to it. For more detail see my previous reviews. Being summertime the building was a hotbox, but a slight cross breeze from the open window frames and cold packs handed out as the show began helped a lot (Gatoh Move is incredibly considerate and thoughtful of its fans in things like that).

As usual for Gatoh Move the show opened and closed with a song/dance, but Emi sat out this time. The opening was a solo by Aasa and the closing performed by her, Riho and Kotori. The card looked interesting, with a big tournament main event, a men’s match to open, and several “outside” guests (perhaps in place of Obi, who’s out injured, and Mitsuru, who couldn’t make this event – hope to see both back soon).

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.

 

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First was Masahiro Takanashi  against Yamada Taro. This was a great example of the different styles that can work in Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s unique environment. It was near entirely grapple based, with the combatants trying to out power each other on the mat. Solid, interesting opener.

Up next was a tag match of Kaori Yoneyama & Emi Sakura vs Riho & Saki. Little touches like Emi’s glare as Riho was introduced as Gatoh Move’s Ace and somewhat of a heel edge shown by Kaori & Emi gave this additional depth. This was a hard hitting, back and forth encounter with some ref involvement in the finish as he was out of place and used to trip Saki into a pin by the crafty veterans, giving an out to Riho & Saki and seeming to set up additional angles during the roundtable.

 

 

 

The main event was the second semi-final of Gatoh Move’s title tournament to determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  Kotori vs Aasa was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both. Koroti vs Riho to crown a champion should be great.

 

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I enjoyed this from top to bottom as it had three diverse, very good matches. Fun time.

 

 

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 2 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from this year’s trip. See part 1 for some general info and stats about what I saw, honorable mentions for this top 10 list, and matches #6-10.

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

I’m pleasantly surprised at how many rookies made this top 10. I did a spotlight on several of them, all of which have bright futures ahead. Check it out here.

 

5. Mio Momono vs Mika Shirahime – Marvelous 12/25/16

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I mentioned this match when talking about Mio’s performance in the 7-way at Ribbonmania (#7 on this list, featured in part 1). It was a perfect storm of excellent chemistry between opponents and both performing at a level far beyond their experience levels. Incredible instincts and craft were shown by both rookies, who built drama expertly through the 15 minute encounter and had the crowd going crazy at the end. There were a couple awkward spots, such as an instance from each where they essentially forgot to roll up their opponent, forcing the other to kind of roll herself up and wait for the other to get in proper position. But otherwise this was smooth and well executed. And even in the places I mentioned the ability of the other wrestler to adapt and keep things on track was impressive.

I was at Mio Momono’s debut in New York, and it’s wonderful to see how much she’s capitalized on the potential she showed even then. Her progression in 10 months was incredible. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this extremely talented youngster.

 

4. International Ribbon Tag Championship: Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) (c) vs The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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Photo by Oliver Saupe.

 

I was a bit trepidatious headed into this match, as I generally don’t care for the Butchers’ gimmick, and signs seemed to be pointing towards them dethroning my current favorite tag team for IR’s tag team titles. Mizunami won Wave’s (her home promotion) singles title the night before, and Misaki was declared her #1 contender. Between the roll the Butchers had been on and the new status quo in Wave, it would have made sense for AR to begin dropping their tag titles here (they held the Wave tag titles too).

But I find Hamuko and Mochi vastly more entertaining when they get serious, which they did here to great benefit. They went toe-to-toe with Misaki and Ryo, leading to an excellent match. A particular highlight was an intense lariat exchange between Hoshi and Mizunami, who both throw them with incredible force.

In a pleasant surprise for me, Avid Rival persevered and retained their International Ribbon titles when Misaki hit her beautiful Sky Blue Suplex (bridging half wrist clutch tiger suplex) on Mochi. Kudos to all four here. Fantastic stuff.

 

3. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega – NJPW 1/4/17

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The so called “Six Star Match” was admittedly fantastic, if not quite what the hype suggests. Okada and Omega built to a tremendous crescendo while telling a solid story of the cocky Omega being assured victory if he could hit the One Winged Angel, with the champion avoiding it at every turn until he simply outlasted the challenger and beat down Omega until he just couldn’t continue. They had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear.

Again still excellent overall though (which should be an obvious opinion with it here at #3 of 71 matches I saw), it’s just I personally don’t think it was the best match of all time up to that point, considering I didn’t even think it was the best of that show…

 

2. World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs Mayu – Stardom 12/23/16

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In the main event of last year’s Climax Io Shirai claimed the World of Stardom title from  Meiko Satomura in one of my top five matches from that trip. In this year’s main she defended that same title against her former Thunder Rock partner Mayu Iwatani.

This was a great, pedal-to-the-floor main event with tons of jaw dropping exchanges from two pros extremely familiar with one another. Highlights include Mayu hitting dragon suplexes on the apron and floor (ouch!), trying for one from the top rope only to have Io flip out and LAND ON HER FEET, and a trio of rolling Germans from Io that has to be seen to be believed. Strong back and forth contest and an incredible main event.

 

1. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuo Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW 1/4/17

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… so here it is. In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion I enjoyed the semi-main of Wrestle Kingdom 11 a bit better than the main. Naito and Tanahashi built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish. The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

 

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

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 1 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. During this trip I saw 12 shows from 7 promotions with 71 matches featuring 148 wrestlers.

Slightly less shows and matches than the first trip, but interestingly because of adding in NJPW Wrestle Kingdom (with it’s 11 matches and entirely filled with wrestlers I wouldn’t otherwise see during my Joshi-centric schedule) I actually saw a few more different wrestlers this time.

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon: 19 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, New Japan Pro Wrestling: 11 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 8 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and World Wonder Ring Stardom: 6 matches.

Happily, once again the vast majority of what I saw was extremely good. So it was VERY difficult to choose my favorite matches. In fact, things were so close this year I’m doing a Top 10 instead of 5. Even then there are still a lot of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

I’m pleasantly surprised at how many rookies made this list. I did a spotlight on several of them, all of which have bright futures ahead. Check it out here.

This entry will cover honorable mentions and #6-10.

 

Honorable mentions:

Survival Ribbon – Ice Ribbon 1/3/17 

Ice Ribbon’s entire 1/3/17 event gets a mention here, as everything was connected and the appeal was in the whole concept and execution rather than an individual match. Two teams of six were formed, split based on time in IR, with opposite team members randomly paired off in singles matches with the winners advancing to a tag main event. The atmosphere was incredible, with both teams at ringside cheering their side vocally and some fun pairings. Fantastic themed show.

 

Kairi Hojo vs Nana SuzukiStardom 12/22/16

In her debut match model Nana Suzuki got to get in the ring against one of Stardom’s aces, Kairi Hojo, in a singles contest. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good. Kairi rightly dominated most of this, but the story was well told and Nana got the crowd behind her comeback spots. Nana seems like she could make the transition and wrestle regularly if she wants to.

 

Misaki Ohata 10th Anniversary Match: Misaki Ohata & Mayumi Ozaki  vs Hiroyo Matsumoto & DASH Chisako – Wave 1/2/29/16

As no Sendai Girls shows fit my schedule, it was a real treat to see Dash chosen to be a part of this match (which I was already excited for as Misaki’s a favorite of mine) and thus give me one opportunity to see her wrestle. This was a fitting and fun “tribute” match.  All four wrestlers were clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Misaki having an absolute blast playing heel alongside Ozaki.

 

Top 10:

10. Ice Cross Infinity Title Tournament Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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Technically speaking, I thought this was a great match. It would likely be even higher on the list if not for the atmosphere and lack of crowd heat, as I thought it was pretty much the epitome of the “wrong match for the wrong crowd.” More specifically, it was the wrong match for the story they chose to tell.

It was instead exactly the match they should have had under the original trajectory of Tsukka’s title reign. This match would have been PERFECT as the end of Tsukka plowing through everyone else on a quest to best her own defense record just to run into a determined Risa dead set on proving she could reclaim her title from the woman who dethroned her.

However without Tsukka’s streak still in tact to add drama and uncertainty not one person in arena bought a Tsukka win here. The tournament was sold on the possibility of the unexpected, which made a back and forth contest between determined rivals the wrong framework for the finals. Both competitors should have been conveying desperation here (or better yet someone else should have advanced to face Risa, or the whole tourney been skipped). All that said, the wrestling itself again was great. And this will likely play better on disc.

 

9. Gatoh Move Tag Team Championship: Aoi & Obi (c) v Riho & KotoriGatoh Move 12/24/16

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Aoi is a personal favorite of mine, and this was unfortunately the only chance I had to see her wrestle this trip. Thankfully though it was a main event match in with three other excellent wrestlers, and as such was great.

Both teams were sharp and this was exactly the quick paced, hard hitting main event it should have been. Kotori having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and something to prove was a nice undercurrent, and Riho and Aoi had some fantastic exchanges down the stretch.

 

8. Team REINA (Makoto, Mari Sakamoto, & Hirori) vs Team Gatoh Move (Emi Sakura, Aasa Maika, & Mitsuru Konno) – Gatoh Move 12/24/16

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This 6-woman tag was elimination style, with over-the-top rules in addition to pin/submission. Interesting set up here, with Gatoh Move’s founder and two of her trainees against Reina’s reigning Champion (who was also GM’s IWA Triple Crown Championship) and two of hers. I’d of course seen Emi and Makoto last trip, and also saw Mari when she came to New York with Syuuri last year. Hirori, Aasa, and Mitsuru were all new to me.

The story of the match was phenomenal, with both teams showing real desire to prevail in the inter-promotional contest. The seconds on the outside for each team were visibly engaged and cheering their promotion, which really added to the atmosphere and the sense of something important being at stake here, even if it was just bragging rights.

 

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The action was great too, with everyone looking sharp, things going back and forth nicely, building drama around the eliminations, etc. Makoto’s presence and mannerisms as a cocky heel were several levels better than what I saw of her in a babyface role last year. Aasa got a nice spotlight at the end being the last member of her team left trying to topple Makoto before coming up just short, and her ring style as a pint-sized powerhouse suits her extremely well. I’d like to see more of Mitsuru too in the future, as she looked quite good in the little time she had before being the first elimination.

 

7. 7-Way: Hiroe Nagahama vs Kyuuri vs Maika Ozaki vs Mio Momono vs 235 vs Tequila Saya vs Uno Matsuya – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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This was originally scheduled to be a six-woman tag match, but shortly before the event Mio Momono was added to the match and it became a 7-way contest where eliminations could happen by pin, submission, or being thrown over the top rope to the floor. I’d been at Mio’s pro wrestling debut in NYC as well as seeing her in a fantastic opening contest at Marvelous’ Christmas Eve show (more on that later 😉 ), so was quite excited for her Ice Ribbon debut.

It was an extremely fortuitous change, as they really made the most of the format and this was much more interesting than IR’s traditional random 6-man would have been. EVERYONE got a chance to shine at various points, including Ozaki showing off her strength with a double torture rack, innovative multi-person moves and pin attempts, and an incredible sequence where Uno was thrown to the apron and went crazy trying to stay in the match running halfway around the ring on the apron while everyone inside tried to knock her off. The effort from all seven wrestlers was phenomenal, and they really got the crowd fired up for several sequences.

Excellent match overall, and one of my favorites of my trip. In the end Saya got to look strong somewhat surprisingly hanging in until the final two competitors, but the expected (and rightful) wrestler won when Kyuuri pinned her with the Fisherman suplex. Great showings for all involved. Really hope to see Mio continue to wrestle in IR.

 

6. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru Konno vs Riho, Kotori, & Aasa Maika  – Gatoh Move 12/31/17

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This was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match of the trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

 

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I  was blessed to have such a great opportunity to visit Japan and see so much phenomenal wrestling. I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at some of the best of the best. Will be back with Part 2 featuring my top 5.

The Future is Now 5

I’ve done a number of The Future is Now blogs featuring developing wrestlers I felt had big things ahead of them. In my latest one I specifically featured some of the young Joshi stars that made huge impressions on me during my first trip to Japan at the beginning of last year. Professional wrestlers can start (much) younger in Japan than the US, and though they were all 20 years old or younger (at the time) the wrestlers in that column ranged in experience from 2 years to over 10.

In a similar (but somewhat reversed) vein I want to spotlight wrestlers from the trip I took at the beginning of this year, but in this case I’m going to focus on rookies. Though ranging in age from 18 to 33, everyone here had less than a year in wrestling when I saw them (a few months ago). They all showed great potential and devotion to their craft, and I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds for them.

Aasa Maika

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The best way I can describe Gatoh Move’s Aasa is as a “pintsized powerhouse.” At first glance the 21 year old doesn’t seem suited to such a gimmick, but then she starts throwing herself at opponents like she’s Big Van Vader and it’s glorious.  The power style works surprisingly well for her, and the devotion to the gimmick and enthusiasm she brings to it give her a captivating presence. She really got a chance to shine during Gatoh Move’s Greenhall show on 12/24 in an interpromotional 6-woman match between Gatoh Move and REINA.

Mitsuru Konno

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Another impressive rookie in the Gatoh Move promotion is the 26 year old Mitsuru. Though only 3 months from her debut when I saw her, putting her at the least experienced of this group, she already projects a distinct no-nonsense aura in the way she carries herself in the ring that is a nice compliment for the intense strikes and smooth holds that form the base of her arsenal.

Mitsuru’s my personal favorite of the new wrestlers I saw this trip, and I look forward to seeing her skills further develop and seeing what she can do in longer and more challenging contests in the future.

Mio Momono

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Mio’s a special case here, as unlike the rest of this list I had seen her wrestle once before my trip. She made her wrestling debut in February 2016 in Queens, NY, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. She looked good in that first match, but even more striking is how far she’d come in just 10 months. Her confidence and comfort in the ring have clearly grown, and she was fantastic in both matches I had the opportunity to see her in this trip (a show stealing opener on Marvelous’ Christmas show and an incredible 7-way from Ribbonmania I’ll discuss more in a later entry).

From what I’ve seen, she’s the currently best of the bunch, which is high praise considering everyone on this list impressed in the few matches I’ve seen from each so far. At just 18 years old she certainly has a long, bright future ahead of her if she chooses to stick with wrestling.

Tequila Saya

The immediately striking thing about watching Saya is her infectious charisma. She seems to be having fun and excited about whatever she’s doing and there’s a engaging quality to her performances. Her expressions and body language are great in helping to tell the story of her matches, such as during Survival Ribbon when she entered the ring obviously confident and psyched up but crumpled in the corner in resignation when it was announced she’d be facing Ice Ribbon’s resident powerhouse in Kurumi. In 5 seconds with no words she completely put over the notion that Kurumi’s a monster. Saya’s decent in the ring if still a bit tentative (which is course perfectly normal at her experience level), but has a distinct style and personality that already make her a compelling performer.

Uno Matsuya

There’s something about the way Uno wrestles that thoroughly engages the audience. Little mannerisms, the way she sells, etc. She had the crowd absolutely rabid in support of her during the aforementioned 7-way at Ribbonmania, where she was thrown over the top and fought halfway around the ring apron valiantly trying to avoid falling to the floor and being eliminated. She showed similar ability to drawn support in the other matches I saw, which will be a huge asset to her going forward. Like Saya she’s still a little hesitant at moments and will benefit greatly from continued experience, but she’s already showing a very strong foundation.

Honorable mentions:

Model Nana Suzuki made her wrestling debut at Stardom’s year end show against Kairi Hojo and looked (perhaps surprisingly) great against the superstar, playing the “overmatched but determined underdog” role to perfection (and of course benefitting from being in the ring with someone the caliber of Hojo).

Mika Shirahime just barely missed the cutoff for this, being a tad over a year in the sport when I saw her wrestle Mio Momono in a the fantastic opener for Marvelous’s Christmas show I mentioned above.  Rin Kadokura is another good rookie wrestling for Marvelous. She honestly hasn’t gotten to show too much yet and is a little overshadowed by Mio, but has a solid foundation and a lot of potential.

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That all for now. Hope I’ve brought a new wrestler or two to attention. Everyone mentioned is well worth checking out and, perhaps even more importantly with the rookies, keeping an eye on in the future as they continue to learn and grow as performers.

Gatoh Move 12/30/16, 12/31/16, and 1/3/17 Live Thoughts

December 30 and 31, 2016 and January 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

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Awesome keychains featuring Gatoh Move’s core roster. Just missing Riho’s, as it was sold out before I got a chance to get one.

As I mentioned when discussing last year’s Ichigaya shows I was able to attend, these shows from Gatoh Move are unlike anything else I’ve been to, and a lot of fun. The unusual venue and unique atmosphere are something any wrestling fan should check out at least once (preferably more 😉 ).

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.

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, Aasa, and Obi.

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 of the great souvenirs I got).

12/30:

First was visiting veteran Kaori Yoneyama against Gatoh Move’s resident rising star in Kotori. Decent pairing, and the story of Kaori trying to dominate and Kotori fighting from underneath provided a nice showing for the developing youngster. Basic but solid. Kotori’s charisma, enthusiasm, and talent stood out during my last trip (as I spotlighted here) and she’s clearly continued to polish and expand her skills  in the intervening year.

Next up was a 3-way featuring Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa. This was a comedy match where after every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using a box of props off to the side. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after a set time won. Pretty much every move done led to a 2-count, as the jokes were squarely the focus here.

Although it’s fair to note that not speaking Japanese put me out of the target audience for this, between not understanding the spoken parts of the jokes and having seen these exact three wrestlers in a similar match last year this fell flat for me and honestly was my least favorite Gatoh Move match of the trip.

Speaking of similarities to last year, the main event of Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Riho & Aasa was amusingly close to the main event of the first show I ever saw at Ichigaya. It was the same except for having Kotori in Aasa’s place.

The rookie looked good here and fit in well among the more experienced competitors. Her pintsized powerhouse gimmick amuses me greatly and she already show flashes of brilliance in the way she uses it. Another solid match with exciting touches.

During the post show roundtable playing cards were drawn to determine teams for the next show’s main event, which ended up being tag team champions Riho & Kotori teaming with Aasa against Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru.

12/31:

Amusing side note: during the opening dance for this show Obi accidentally (and unknowingly) bopped Aasa on the head with her mic. She continued to dance unaware as Aasa rubbed her head and mock scowled for those of us in the window who could see her.

For this show I was sitting in front of the window most often used for jumping off of, etc, which ended up leading to quite a bit of ducking / moving out of the way as all three matches used the window heavily. Kept me on my toes. 😉

The undercard consisted of two mens matches, as all six of the core Gatoh Move roster were in the main event tag match. The opener of Madoka vs Toru Owashi vs Konaka Pehlwan was hard fought but with light touches of humor, mostly involving Toru. It was all kept in the context of everyone trying to win and everything clicked together pretty well. Case in point was the amusing finish. Toru was perched on windowsill (right above me) waiting for an opportunity to jump at one of his opponents who were fighting among themselves, but Madoka rolled Konaka up for the win and the match ended with Toru still in the window. Madoka and Konaka then left and a dumbfounded Toru eventually climbed down and headed out himself.

Masahiro Takanashi vs Cho-un Shiryu was a hard hitting match centered around the vicious strikes both men throw so well. Takanashi in particular thrives in this environment and knows how to make the most of it. Match went for the full ten minute time limit and ended in a draw, staying intense for the duration.

The main event of Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru vs Riho, Kotori & Aasa was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match this trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

This was a more serious show overall, as in contrast to all the other Ichigaya shows I’ve seen the middle match wasn’t a comedy match. I liked the variation, and actually would like to see this as the default rather than the exception.

1/3:

The final Gatoh Move show of my trip started with a singles contest between rookies Aasa and Mitsuru. This was a strong showing and overall I was extremely impressed with both during my trip (especially for their experience). They’re both developing individual styles that suit them and I’ve very interested in seeing them continue to evolve as performers going forward.

 

The formula of a competitive opener and main surrounding a comedy match was back for this show, and in some foreshadowing  Emi Sakura made comments about Antonio Honda and Kaori Yoneyama both being very hungry in her opening comments. This came into play in what I can only refer to as an “orange match,” where in addition to pinfall or submission one could win by placing an orange on a pedestal held by one of the audience members in the front row. Yes, really. There likely is significance I’m missing, but “mechanically” those were the effective rules.

Three oranges were tied up around the room. In between fighting  (which included the wrestlers selling getting hit with the oranges swinging on their ropes like getting punched straight in the face) the oranges were claimed one by one. But as either Yone or Honda went to place it on the pedestal to win, their hunger would get too great and they’d devour the orange instead.

About halfway into the match Aasa quietly came back out and crouched next to the front row, with a fourth orange tied to her head (and a hilariously neutral expression on her face). Later on Honda noticed and took that orange when Yone’s back was turned and stuffed it into his tights. With Yone thinking all the oranges were already eaten, she set Honda up for a splash and turned to get into the windowsill, at which point Honda pulled out the hidden orange and placed it on the pedestal for the win.

So this was BEYOND absurd, but somehow worked and ended up my favorite of all the matches I saw Honda in this trip. It wasn’t trying to be serious, and by embracing its own ridiculousness and being the only comedy match on the show it ended up quite amusing.

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The main event was Riho, Kotori & Madoka vs Emi, Obi & Guanchulo. The latter team was somewhat dismissive of their opponents as well as taking some cheap shots here and there. Guanchulo was a bit over the top, almost cackling with maniacal glee at joining in with the slight heel tendencies employed by Emi. It was a different dynamic than the other six person match with Emi & Obi opposite Riho & Kotori and helped set it apart. It did make the match feel a bit lighter in tone, but it was still suitably competitive and the touches of humor fit and didn’t detract from the action.

Particularly memorable about this match was its creative finish with Madoka and Kotori tying up their opponents in horizontal holds, who Riho then used as stepping stones for momentum to perform a jumping double knee drop on Obi for the win.

Issues between Emi and Kotori continued to build here, including Emi showing disrespect after the match. Their interactions in the two six person tags seems to be leading to a future one one one encounter.

During the post show roundtable Kotori and Riho filled in the eye on a large Daruma (I didn’t catch what goal was achieved), and Honda’s birthday was celebrated with a cake.

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These shows won’t be for everyone, and I understand some of the criticisms I’ve seen of these shows and their matches feeling “samey” due to format limitations and repeated opponents. But I continue to be impressed as to what the wrestlers can do within those restrictions of the venue / style, and for certain fans (like me) there will great appeal in the nuances of each match and strength of the performers to mitigate those potential downfalls and make repeated visits a joy.

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Wall display of some of my Gatoh Move souvenirs, including a sign board I won, polaroids with the wrestlers, signed pictures, and the previously shown keychains.

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 1: Gatoh Move 12/24/16 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I was lucky enough to see three Christmas shows, all with some celebratory elements.

 

First up on Christmas Eve was Gatoh Move at Itabashi Green Hall, where the first show of theirs I saw was at in 2015. Still one of my favorite venues. Unlike Gatoh Move’s home base shows their bigger events (like this one) are more traditional in some respect because they take place in a wrestling ring instead of the mats only environment at Ichigaya Chocolate Square. But Gatoh Move is still unique in it’s presentation, with opening and closing dance numbers by the core roster and a mix of comedy and competitive matches up and down the card. As appropriate for the holiday theme the wrestlers came out in different colored Christmas outfits for the dancing.

 

 

The opening match was a mixed tag pitting Hikaru Shida & Madoka against Kaori Yoneyama & Hikaru Sato. This was largely a straight up contest, although there were … “comedic” I guess …. overtones mixed in between Shida and Sato, with Sato creeping on Shida and her wanting nothing to do with him. He tried to refuse to tag in against Madoka but force tagged in whenever she entered the match, stalked around her and bent over to check out her behind instead of hitting her when Kaori held Shida for a double team, climbed on top of her instead of applying submission holds, etc. It did lead to a couple of funny moments, like Shida hitting Kaori with her flying butt attack, him asking for the same, then Shida kneeing him in the face instead. But mostly I personally found it creepy and unnecessary rather than funny. Also, Shida cowering away from him at points seemed really odd for her character, who I thought generally more likely to just haul off and knee him in the first place.

Past that the match was good. In particular when the men did actually face off they absolutely lit into each other with hard strike exchanges. Strong finishing exchanges as time expired too. The Sato / Shida stuff is obviously an ongoing angle, but not one I care for from what I saw here.

 

 

Next was a special stipulation “Drunk Match” between DJ Nira and Masahiro Takanashi, during which the competitors had to stop wrestling to imbibe at random times. Beverages escalated from beer to shochu to champagne. Gags included Nira sneaking more than he was required to drink, both wrestlers getting increasingly wobbly as time progressed, etc. Takanashi begging off from the required drink at one point while Nira ran up to down his was a great little touch. Near the end Takanashi kept trying for a superkick, but Nira couldn’t stand long enough to be hit with it. Nira eventually decided to call a bunch of people out from the back to form a human pyramid, and once he made his way to the top Takanashi finally had Nira in position to hit the superkick for the win. Absolutely ridiculous from start to finish, but that was the point here and it was amusing.

 

 

Team Reina (Makoto, Mari Sakamoto, & Hirori) faced Team Gatoh Move (Emi Sakura, Aasa, & Mitsuru)  in a 6-woman elimination tag (with over-the-top rules in addition to pin/submission). Interesting set up here, with Gatoh Move’s founder and two of her trainees against Reina’s reigning Champion (who also holds GM’s IWA Triple Crown Championship) and two of hers. I’d of course seen Emi and Makoto last trip, and also saw Mari when she came to New York with Syuuri last year. Hirori, Aasa, and Mitsuru were all new to me.

 

 

The story of the match was phenomenal, with both teams showing real desire to prevail in the inter-promotional contest. The seconds on the outside for each team were visibly engaged and cheering their promotion, which really added to the atmosphere and the sense of something important being at stake here, even if it was just bragging rights.

 

 

The action was great too, with everyone looking sharp, things going back and forth nicely, building drama around the eliminations, etc. Makoto’s presence and mannerisms as a cocky heel were several levels better than what I saw of her in a babyface role last year. Aasa got a nice spotlight at the end being the last member of her team left trying to topple Makoto before coming up just short, and her ring style as a pint-sized powerhouse suits her extremely well. I’d like to see more of Mitsuru too in the future, as she looked quite good in the little time she had before being the first elimination.

 

 

 

Antonio Honda, who I saw several times last year and is always good for a chuckle, had a special “Christmas Deathmatch” against Cho-un Shiryu.  This was VERY strange, surprisingly even more so than the drunk match, but still pretty humorous somehow. I do feel it ran long though and would have benefitted from a few less sequences/gags.

Santa made repeated appearances to bring Honda gifts such as a dirty magazine, nunchaku, and a coal miner’s glove, all of which factored into the match eventually. Kaori Yoneyama and DJ Nira were sitting near the “stage” seats and whenever Honda or Cho-un would go up to the top rope one of them had some sort of medical emergency they needed assistance with, forcing the combatant to nobly chose to give up his advantage over his opponent to leave the ring and assist the person in “jeopardy.” Nothing even remotely serious about this match, and the crowd ate it up.

 

 

The main event featured Riho & Kotori challenging Aoi Kizuki & Sayaka Obihiro for the Gatoh Move Tag Team Championships. Aoi is a personal favorite of mine, and this was unfortunately the only chance I’ll have to see her wrestle this trip. Thankfully though it was a main event match in with three other excellent wrestlers, and as such was great.

 

 

 

Both teams were sharp and this was exactly the quick paced, hard hitting main event it should have been. Kotori having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and something to prove was a nice undercurrent, and Riho and Aoi had some fantastic exchanges down the stretch.

It was a shame to see Aoi and Obi lose (I somehow only seem to get to see Aoi drop titles in big matches live) but it wasn’t a surprise the way the buildup was going and with Riho’s role as ace of Gatoh Move. Also, Riho and Kotori are a great team and deserving champions themselves.

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Afterwards there was another song and wrestlers went around the venue shaking hands with the fans and thanking everyone for coming.

 

 

I really liked the feel and flow staggering the comedy matches with the more serious ones gave the show, and when it was time for action everyone gave it their all. As I generally find in Gatoh Move I loved the humor in the straight up comedy matches, and found it fell flatter when they tried to integrate it into a regular contest. The fully competitive matches here (6-woman tag and main event) both had a fantastic sense of urgency and stakes and were simply great.