Japan Trip Winter 2017: Top 10+ Matches (Live)

Long overdue since summer’s arrived and I’ve already been lucky enough to travel back Japan since the trip I’m talking about here (more on that soon), but I still wanted to highlight the best matches I saw among an incredible batch of shows I saw in the Tokyo area to close out 2017 / start 2018. Also check out my favorites from past trips.

During this trip I saw 16 shows from 7 promotions with 86 matches featuring 132 different wrestlers, and the vast majority of what I saw was excellent. So even featuring my top ten eleven matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 15 matches, Ice Ribbon: 30 matches, Marvelous: 7 matches, Sendai Girls: 5 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave (including Young OH! OH!): 12 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and Basara/DDT:  10 matches.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

 

Balloon Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE vs Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE)  – Ice Ribbon 12/23/17

The two teams each brought several balloons to ringside with them for their 6-woman tag match. It indicated another of IR’s special stipulation matches that highlight touches of comedy and amusingly absurd match conditions while still maintaining a strong sense of competition and the essential trappings of a wrestling match. IR is one of the best promotions there is at achieving that balance. In this case the balloons were legal to use during the match, and there were numerous clever spots involving popping the balloons on and around their opponents. From various splashes onto each other with balloons wedged in between people to hard kicks popping balloons on opponents’ chests and faces, etc there was so much amusement the fact that the competitors often had to hold balloons in place on themselves was easily overlooked. Another humorous highlight was “Merry Christmas Mama Mia,” in which Miyako laid out her three opponents in a line and had her partners Tsukka and Karen follow her around the ring posing while Miyako sang “we wish you a Merry Christmas.” Of course the entire opposing team got their legs up when Miyako’s trio went for the splashes at the end.

This was my first time seeing Novel Tornado team in any capacity, and they have great chemistry and nice double teams. Kyuuri fit in well with them and the opposing trio was an equally suitable pairing. Again what I liked best is that underneath all the comedic elements was a solid, well wrestled match. And of course seeing Miyako get a rare win with a Super Mama Mia (onto a balloon of course) was a nice bonus. This was a ton of fun.

 

Mitsuru Konno vs Gatoh Move’s veterans – Gatoh Move 12/29/171/1/18, and 1/2/18

 

 

I considered trying to pick one of these for inclusion, but I loved all of them and the general vibe so much I decided instead to discuss all three as a group here. Mitsuru Konno is a Gatoh Move rookie who had just a little over a year experience at the time of this trip and who immediately impressed me when I first saw her a year prior, instantly became a personal favorite. This trip was a particular treat as I got to see her in separate singles contests against Gatoh’s Super Asia Champion Riho, founder Emi Sakura, and Emi’s tag team champion partner Masahiro Takanashi. All three matches had the same general idea of Mitsuru trying to prove herself against a vastly more experienced, sometimes dismissive veteran, yet still all felt distinct and had their own unique variations on the formula. All three matches were great, speaking both to Mitsuru’s progress/potential and to the expertise of Gatoh Move’s ring generals.

 

GEKOKU vs ActWres feud  – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17 and 1/6/18Young OH! OH! 1/8/18

 

 

Like with the previous entry I considered picking one match here (eyeing the great tag match seeing Maika Ozaki & Kyuuri face Saori Anou & Tae Honma at Ribbonmania in particular) for inclusion but instead enjoyed all parts I got to see of this feud so much I wanted to spotlight them all here. Tensions between Ice Ribbon regular Maika and her tag partner Kyuuri and Maika’s former Actwres Girlz compatriots Tae and Actwres Champion Saori were palpable every time any of the four crossed paths. The three matches I saw involving them during this trip set up an impending title shot for Maika at Saori, and a time limit draw in a singles contest and nullifying each other long enough for Wave’s Asuka to beat them both in a triple threat left things completely unresolved between Kyuuri and Tae. The whole feud continued with twists and turns (and great in ring action) until just last weekend and was my easily one of my favorite rivalries in wrestling while it lasted.

 

 

Top 10 11:

 

10. (tie)  Nao DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17

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I spent a significant amount of time debating my tenth entry between two matches and finally decided it was a tie and I’d include both. The semi-main of Ice Ribbon’s biggest show of the year was their Young Ice Tournament final, and it was a great match made even better by an unexpected finish. I saw a Maruko victory as a foregone conclusion, with her vanquishing her third member of Team DATE in a row to win the tourney. So I was pleasantly shocked to see Nao take it and Ice Ribbon use the tournament to significantly elevate a new face. These are two of IR’s brightest rising stars and the match they put on certainly reflected that.

 

10. (tie) Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi Gatoh Move 12/31/17

Doing a six-person tag in such a limited space is undoubtedly difficult, but of course the Gatoh Move roster is extremely familiar with such a challenge and was more than up for it. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi was fantastic. Lots of great stuff centered around Emi’s team trying to avoid / deal with the larger Toru, as well as Riho and Mitsuru trying to take the attack to their opponents. I was at the window that’s used as one of the tag corners, and amusingly they spilled out of that one instead of the other for the first time I’ve ever seen during this match. This was exciting, a little different, and flat out fun. Emi continued her habit of pinning Mitsuru to win, something she jokingly teased me about after the show.

 

 

9. Chihiro Hashimoto vs Takumi Iroha – Marvelous 12/25/17

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Takumi Iroha, who I’ve also  wrote about as someone to watch in the past, also main evented Marvelous’ Christmas show last year and is clearly being groomed / built as the central star of the promotion. Here she got a one on one non-title opportunity with Sendai Girls’ Champion Chihiro Hashimoto.

This was my first look at Chihiro, and I was definitely impressed. It’s immediately easy to see why she holds Sendai’s title. This was an excellent, hard hitting contest with Takumi and Chihiro just beating the hell out of each other and throwing each other around. Iroha’s blend of power and high flying is just incredible.

They battled all the way to the third time limit draw of the evening, which wasn’t terribly surprising given the participants. I know there might be some criticism about half the matches ending that way (one I’d normally share), but each match it happened in unfolded differently, and logically, with varying post match implications and significance. So I was actually totally fine with it all myself.

 

 

7. (tie) Tokyo Princess of Princess Title Match: Reika Saiki (c) vs Miyu Yamashita – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

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

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

 

 

7. (tie)  Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match: Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima (c) vs MIZUKI & Riho – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

 

This Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers defended against TJP roster member MIZUKI and visiting Gatoh Move star Riho, a 12 year veteran at age 21 who received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

 

 

6. Gekoku (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) vs Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) – Ice Ribbon 12/24/17

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This contest seeing Gekoku getting a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends was one I was greatly looking forward to. It started off interesting right away as after their entrance Kyuuri and Maika quickly had ref Mio check them (as would normally happen after both teams had entered) and snuck out of the ring back to the sides of the entrance. Then as Best Friends came out they ambushed them from behind to jump start the match. I really liked this, as it showed both aggression and perhaps a bit of desperation from a great team that unfortunately hasn’t had much success lately facing formidable opponents. Little touches like Maika shushing the crowd to not give away their intentions were great.

This was simply a great match. I really wish Gekoku had pulled out the upset, as there were a lot more interesting ways to go with that result, but they had a strong showing against one of the best tag teams in the world regardless.

 

5. Riho vs Yasu Urano  – Basara 12/28/17

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I went to this show primarily to see Riho, and as always she certainly didn’t disappoint. Her match against Yasu Urano was great, with Urano being a little dismissive but needed to take things seriously as Riho was unfazed at his 8 inch and 90 pound advantage and took the fight right to him.

I mentioned Riho’s extensive experience above, and she’s an expert at making the story of her match believable. In this special environment (all opening round matches of this tournament were no-rope matches with victory by pinfall, submission, or ring-out) against a larger opponent that meant using her quickness and aggressiveness to counter the size discrepancy. Her never say die approach here made this engrossing, and Urano was also perfect as the bully realizing he might have more bit off more than he could handle. They had some great exchanges around/near the ringposts and edges. My favorite finish of the night saw Riho hit a spinning sunset flip near the ring’s edge, and Urano emphatically kick out just before 3… sending himself out of the ring and giving Riho the win. Great stuff.

 

 

4. Regina di Wave Title Match: Misaki Ohata (c) vs Yumi Ohka Wave 12/29/17

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The main event of Wave’s biggest show of the year saw two favorites of mine battling for the Regina di Wave championship as Misaki Ohata defended against Yumi Ohka.

This was a fantastic, hard hitting match that went back and forth until Ohka just kicked Ohata in the face until she couldn’t get up. I was a little disappointed for Ohata since I hoped for a longer title reign, but I expect the title to change at Thanksgiving Wave, it was a nice moment for Ohka, and Ohata won it back in short order. Misaki really sold disappointment and dejection afterwards, a theme that would continue later when she came up just short of back to back Zan-1 fan vote victories, edged out by the retiring Mika Iida.

 

3. DASH Chisako & KAORU vs Chikayo Nagashima & Megumi YabushitaMarvelous 12/25/17

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Marvelous’ Christmas show this year had a theme of inter-faction matches, one of which saw W-Fix fight amongst themselves to determine a leader. The referee immediately explained given the tendencies of the people involved she wasn’t going to bother with silly things like rules and this became no DQ.

I’m a huge fan of Dash in general so it’s always a treat to see her, and the remainder of the participants are other veterans capable of magic on the right night. This was certainly it. The match was incredible, with the teammates going all out in a war using all of their trademark heel antics on each other and just flat out trying to win, which had the crowd giving them all big face reactions if just for one night. It totally worked in a way that will let them go right back to being booed as needed on the next show. And any match that ends with Dash’s picture perfect frog splash (the “Hormone Splash”) is even better. 🙂 My match of the night, and one of my favorites of the whole trip.

The pinfall gave Dash leadership of W-Fix, but she immediately ceded it to her partner Kaoru. Karou then presented the team with matching jackets as Christmas presents. In gratitude they swarmed her with a group hug declaring “Best Leader!” The whole sequence amused me to no end.

 

 

2.  Dangerous Wave: SAKI & KAORU vs Ryo Mizunami & Rina YamashitaWave 12/29/17

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This was an incredible hardcore brawl. Kaoru’s at her best in hardcore matches, and similar to the W-Fix match I just mentioned she was completely in her element here. Avid Rival (Mizunami & Misaki Ohata) is my favorite tag team in wrestling right now, but I have to admit the pairing of Mizunami and Rina is nearly as good and a team I really want to see more often. And the more I see Saki the more I think she’s generally underrated, and I am thrilled to see her wrestling more frequently recently.

This was pretty much INSANE, with Mizunami swinging a car tire around (and throwing it from inside the ring towards Karou when she was right in front of me), a bicycle getting involved, people flying off ladders, etc. I wish they would tone down things just a little, like the finish where Saki took a nasty powerbomb on chairs and seemed to come up a little loopy, but overall this was an amazing performance from all four and a definite highlight of the night as well as my trip.

 

 

1. Ayako Hamada vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 1/6/18

 

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The main event of my first ever Sendai Girls’ show featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one.

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

It’s bittersweet to look back on this given Hamada’s personal problems and Wave’s seeming erasure of her from their history, but this was the best match I saw this trip and I wanted to properly acknowledge it as such.

 

——-

 

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

 

Basara 12/28/17 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

At the last minute I decided to check out my first DDT / Basara produced show, which was their 3rd “Shinjuku Strongest Ground Budokai” tournament. It featured competitors from a variety of companies (including Gatoh Move’s Riho, a large part of why I found out about and was interested in this show).

The show opened with what were essentially qualifiers, with the winners joining the 6 competitors already in the quarterfinals. For those two matches plus the quarters, there were no ropes and matches could end by ring out in addition to the normal ways (pin, submission, etc). The wrestlers did a good job with the structure, and the finishes were varied and clever.

 

In the first qualifier Isami Kodaka defeated Naoki Tanizaki to advance to face Ayako Hamada by knocking him out of the ring with a knee strike. I don’t recall much about this extremely short match, but it served it’s purpose of introducing the concept and rules.

 

 

In the second Colt Cabana was sent flying out of the ring when Yuko Miyamoto kicked out of a Superman Dive to send Yuko on to face Hideki Suzuki. This was an amusing comedy match, with Colt using his towel in bull fighting fashion to tempt Yuko to charge, with the latter later returning the favor, but also trying to trick Colt into charging out of the ring.

 

 

Opening the quarters was an extremely good, more serious match in which Fuminori Abe beat Akito with a wonderful counter to being in a Figure Four where he rolled both himself and Akito out of the ring but grabbed the corner to support himself so Akito hit the floor first.

 

 

I mentioned I came to the show primarily to see Riho, and as always she certainly didn’t disappoint. Her match against Yasu Urano was great, with Urano being a little dismissive but needed to take things seriously as Riho was unfazed at his 8 inch and 90 pound advantage and took the fight right to him.

 

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For those unfamiliar, Riho’s a twelve year veteran at age 20, and is an expert at making the story of her match believable. Here that meant using her quickness and aggressiveness to counter the size discrepancy. Her never say die approach here made this engrossing, and Urano was also perfect as the bully realizing he might have more bit off more than he could handle. They had some great exchanged around/near the ringposts and edges. My favorite finish of the night saw Riho hit a spinning sunset flip near the ring’s edge, and Urano emphatically kick out just before 3… sending himself out of the ring and giving Riho the win. Great stuff.

 

 

Isami Kodaka followed up his qualifier win by becoming the apparent “Cinderella Story” representative to the semis by upsetting Wave’s Ayako Hamada with a well placed kick while they were fighting around the ringpost to send her to the floor. This was ok, but it was one of the shortest matches of the night (admittedly understandably given how many times Isami was wrestling) and I wanted to see more from a star like Hamada. Her going up for the moonsault despite there being no ropes was awesome though.

 

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The final quarterfinal match was my first look at Hideki Suzuki. I really like the no-nonsense aura he has that belies his versatility. After a solid, grapple based match he ended up defeating Yuko Miyamoto when the latter grabbed Suzuki’s tights to avoid falling to the floor. Suzuki broke the grip as his tights were pulled down and stood both victorious and mooning the crowd. He played the comedic moment perfectly for his character, not really caring about the exposure.

So the no rope round matches all ended with ring outs, but the matches and finishes were so different it was totally the right call to make the most of the stipulation.

 

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The ropes were added for the semis, but the ring out loss condition was still in effect. Fuminori Abe ended Isami Kodaka’s run in the first non ring out of the night as the two decided to just hit each other until one couldn’t get up. Isami failed to answer a 10 count after Abe’s Rabbit Punch and Abe was declared the winner by KO.

 

 

Which left Riho in the other semi final against Hideki Suzuki. I like the different approach in this one, as not only did the added ropes confine Riho more, Suzuki had even more of a size advantage at 14 inches taller and 150 pounds heavier than Riho. So she was appropriately much more tentative here, playing keep away in between flurries of trying to attack her massive opponent. Suzuki for his part just stalked her around the ring and shrugged off her strikes as intimidation. An amusing spot saw her offer a test of strength as Suzuki looked at her incredulously.

 

 

After a couple of minutes he did try to rush her, but her quickness let her get out of the way and send him crashing into the corner for her first real advantage. She wore him down a little with some high risk moves, then went for her Tiger Feint Kick (619) with Suzuki draped over the second rope. But she couldn’t adjust for his size and power as he pushed her as she connected making her fall to the outside giving Suzuki a ring out victory. They packed a lot of story into 3 minutes, and avoided having either look weak.

 

 

The only non-tournament match of the night gave a break between the semis and the main with a 10-man tag of Trans-Am Ryuichi, SAGAT, FUMA, Yusuke Kubo & Hagane Shino vs Takumi Tsukamoto, Ryuichi Sekine, Ryota Nakatsu, Daichi Kazato & Takato Nakano. Ten minutes of crazy brawling and chaotic spots. Good for what it was, although I imagine it would have been more compelling if I was familiar with the various teams and personalities coming facing off here and the underlying dynamics.

 

 

So for the tournament final the ring out rule is gone, so were back to regular match rules. Hideki Suzuki defeated Fuminori Abe in a suitably hard hitting main event with his Double Arm Suplex.

 

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I really enjoyed this show. It had a nice mix of comedic moments and serious wrestling, excellent use of the chosen stipulations, and a real feel that everyone cared about winning the tournament.

 

Farewell to a Rising Star

 

I was largely unfamiliar with the professional wrestling company Gatoh Move, and completely unfamiliar with 17 year old competitor Kotori, when I attended my first show of theirs on 12/22/15. Kotori was on opposite sides from another new to me competitor named Riho in a tag match also featuring wrestlers previously familiar in Hikaru Shida and Makoto. It was a very good match, and I left impressed with both of the younger participants and wanting to see more of them.

 

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Of course “younger” in Joshi doesn’t necessarily correlate to experience, and the 18 year old Riho was the most senior competitor of the match with nearly 10 years as a wrestler. So it’s understandable that she overshadowed the least experienced a touch as far as first impressions go. But Kotori more than held her own against the veterans, and immediately showed well honed skills beyond her 3 years.

 

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Once I got a chance to see Gatoh Move in their home environment the true depth and ability of the talent on their core roster became even more apparent. The 12/22/15 show had been a “traditional” wrestling show with a traditional wrestling ring. The reason I specify is that Gatoh Move’s home venue, Ichigaya Chocolate Square, is 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.

And it was increasingly clear under such constraints that Kotori was already a fantastic wrestler who was only going to get better. Complimenting her excellent instincts and skills benefiting from being trained by one of the very best in the world in Emi Sakura, Kotori brought an exuberance and enthusiasm to her wrestling that was downright contagious. I called her match with SAKI “pretty much as good a 7 minute match as you’ll ever see,” and I couldn’t wait to what she’d achieve going forward. Kotori’s infectious positive attitude also came across in her roundtable discussion, where she practiced her English by doing some translation for us visiting foreign fans.

 

 

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The following year I had the privilege of seeing Kotori (now teaming with Riho instead of across the ring from her) crowned GM’s tag team champions in an excellent match main eventing the 12/21/16 show against Aoi Kizuki and Sayaka Obihiro. The undercurrent here was a more stern Kotori having something to prove as the least experienced competitor and being extremely aggressive in pursuit of the titles. She played the role perfectly and her emotional reaction to victory was genuinely moving.

It was great to see her development during the intervening year, becoming a little more focused and honing her skills even further. She was equalling impressive in the three other matches I saw her in that trip, including a fantastic 6-woman tag including the entire expanded core Gatoh Move Roster (Kotori teaming with Riho & Aasa against Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru).

 

 

 

I was fortunate to make a short, unexpected trip back to Tokyo in August 2017, and was treated to seeing Kotori vs Aasa in the semi-finals of the Super Asia Championship tournament as the main event of the 8/26/17 Ichigaya show. Kotori’s win was a foregone conclusion with her en route to face partner Riho in the finals, but she and Aasa created tension and drama regardless in a fantastic match that felt like the big deal it should be. Kotori was beyond proud with her victory when talking to her after the show, and it was great to be able to share that excitement with her.

 

 

 

I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last opportunity I got to see Kotori wrestle live. Her “graduation” (retirement) from wrestling was announced on 10/26/17 due to graduating from high school and needing to move away for family reasons. A hiatus was considered, but Kotori wanted to try different things and chose to wrap up her wrestling career. Her last match was on 12/21/17, unfortunately a single day before I’d be arriving in Tokyo for my winter trip. While I am sorry to have missed that, I was lucky to have seen her wrestle as often as I did. I was also able to pick up the wonderful commemorative booklet produced looking back on her great, short career.

 

 

 

While I will always wonder what she may have achieved if she had continued and am sad to see Kotori go, I wish her all the best in whatever her future holds.

 

Gatoh Move 1/2/18 Live Thoughts

January 2, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My final Gatoh Move show of my most recent trip was another great one with three intriguing matches and something special in place of the normal roundtable discussion afterwards.

 

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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).

 

 

I mentioned in other reviews how big a fan I am of Mitsuru Konno in particular and how wonderful it was this trip to see her in singles matches against incredible veterans like Riho and Masahiro Takanashi. This show had potentially the biggest treat in that vein, as she faced Gatoh Move founder Emi Sakura in a match I was beyond excited for. Unfortunately with this show being super sold out I ended up off to the side a bit with a less than ideal viewing angle looking through the window and couldn’t see about half of this.

It was still great though, as Mitsuru continued to play the perfect fiery underdog trying to prove herself against an opponent who’s an absolute expert in the field. They spilled out of the window by me towards the end leading to Mitsuru’s fun “using an audience stool to launch herself back through the window into a kick on her opponent” spot. Emi eventually prevailed, but both looked extremely good from what I witnessed. Hope to be lucky enough to see this matchup again.

 

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Happy Birthday Honda-san!

 

In a variation on a match I saw last yearAntonio Honda faced Aoi Kizuki in a special match for New Year’s involving trying to “recreate” a Kagami mochi. This time the goal was to get a hat that looked like mochi onto Obi’s head (Obi was sitting apparently passively in a corner of the mat), then whoever placed an orange on top of the hat to complete it would win. This was absurd in the best way, and one of my favorite comedy matches I’ve seen in Gatoh Move.

There was a slow bit it the middle where Aoi was inches away from winning but kept stopping for some reason as Honda begged off (obviously understanding Japanese might have helped me here), but otherwise everything really came together and was highly amusing. Particular high points included Honda and Aoi having to temporarily join forces to get the hat on Obi when she started striking whoever got close to her, and a fantastic ending that saw Honda and Aoi get more and more exaggerated and ridiculous doing dueling dances building up to Honda’s tribute to Dusty Rhodes’ trademark elbow, but when it came time to hit the elbows as Honda reared back for it Aoi turned and calmly put an orange on Obi’s head for the win instead. This was my first time seeing Aoi at an Ichigaya show and my only opportunity to see her this trip, so her involvement in this was particularly awesome for me.

 

 

During the roundtable following the New Year’s Day ShowBaliyan Akki formed a new tag team with Saki, and Emi set up a unique challenge for them if the form of her own tag team champion partner Masahiro Takanashi and Gatoh Move’s singles champion Riho. Both teams had great chemistry and I loved this match. The unusual pairing of champions prevailed here in an excellent main event.

 

 

 

After the show in lieu of the normal roundtable of conversation Emi changed things up a little, in part to be more accessible to the decent number of visiting foreigners. So this time they ran cool practice drill where Emi had balloons taped to a kickpad she was holding and other wrestlers took turns trying to pop them via dropkicks. Mitsuru, Baliyan, Aoi, and Riho all popped their balloons first try. Poor Saki came very close on two attempts, but only managed to knock the balloon off the kickpad. Guest referee for the day Hikaru Shida walked up to Emi before her attempt and took the balloon off the pad and made Emi hold it instead (to the latter’s consternation), then just took the balloon away altogether and blasted Emi with the dropkick instead.

This was so much fun to watch and another excellent touch from a promoter completely committed to making her shows enjoyable.

 

 

 

This was a pretty much perfect way to wrap up my Gatoh Move shows for this visit to Japan, and as always I had a fantastic time.

Gatoh Move 12/31/17 & 1/1/18 Live Thoughts

December 31, 2017 and January 1, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My third and fourth Gatoh Move shows this trip fell on consecutive days over New Year’s.

 

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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).

 

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Mitsuru passing out hot tea for the roundtable on a cold day. 

 

 

12/31/17:

The New Year’s Eve show opened with a contest between CHANGO and Baliyan Akki. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from each previously, and this was decent. Chango was in full on over the top heel mode here though, which was little much and almost seemed out of place. He took advantage of the ref’s (another wrestler) position and won after a cheap shot on Baliyan.

The second match saw Masahiro Takanashi and Cho-un Shiryu go to a draw that was pretty predictable from the pace they were wrestling, beyond even considering the fact that I saw this same pairing with the same result last year. Fine for what it was.

 

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Toru Owashi and Baliyan Akki. 

 

Doing a six-person tag in such a limited space is undoubtedly difficult, but of course the Gatoh Move roster is extremely familiar with such a challenge and was more than up for it. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi was fantastic. Lots of great stuff centered around Emi’s team trying to avoid / deal with the larger Toru, as well as Riho and Mitsuru trying to take the attack to their opponents. I was at the window that’s used as one of the tag corners, and amusingly they spilled out of that one instead of the other for the first time I’ve ever seen during this match. This was exciting, a little different, and flat out fun. Emi continued her habit of pinning Mitsuru to win, something she jokingly teased me about after the show.

 

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Emi and Obi during the roundtable.

 

Also after the show, I received an unexpected gift from another fan of Riho’s keychain, which completed my collection from last year when I got everyone else’s but hers was sold out before I could get it. I can’t say how much I appreciated the kind gesture and thoughtful gift.

 

So the undercard might have suffered just a touch with all the core roster members being in the main, but everything was still fine and the main event was incredible. Another easily enjoyable show from GM.

 

 

1/1/18:

 

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I was back the next day, which started out in fine fashion with me getting to see Mitsuru getting another singles match against a veteran, with it being Takanashi this time. Like Riho vs Mitsuru from the 12/29/17 show, this told an excellent story of the overmatched, determined Mitsuru against a formidable, vastly more experienced opponent. Was really excited for this and it was great.

Baliyan Akki vs Yusuke Kubo was ok but honestly a little bland. Kubo didn’t seem like he could take full advantage of the environment. Still fine overall though, and getting to wrestle a variety of guests can only help the relative rookie Baliyan develop during his stay in Japan. Interestingly, Takanashi came out to watch this one from the doorway.

 

 

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A running theme of these Ichigaya show reviews from me is how good GM’s main event tag matches tend to be, and Riho & Hikaru Shida vs Emi & Saki was no exception. It was my first time seeing Shida in this environment, and her style fit in well. It’s been really great to see Saki as a regular, and of course Emi and Riho are masters of their craft, particularly in their home base. Emi created some crowd murmurs to open by participating in the pre-match handshake. She explained to us visitors that it indicated a “clean fight,” but of course that didn’t last long once the match got going and her pseudo heel antics emerged. This (somewhat expectedly) went to a draw, staying action packed the whole way.

 

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Completed keychain collection, won signboards, and other GM souvenirs. 🙂

 

After the show there were rounds of rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity to purchase special autograph boards, and I was lucky enough to win an Obi one draw by Mitsuru.

 

I always enjoy my time at Gatoh Move, and these provided the usual fun times. 🙂

 

 

Gatoh Move 12/29/17 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

My second Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square of my most recent trip was a particular blast for a multitude of reasons.

 

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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen seen there.

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).

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. Aasa was sick and missed all of the GM shows I saw this time. Hope she feels better soon.

For this show I was right outside the window the wrestlers usually use for “high risk maneuvers” and sometimes fight right out of, leading to a need to be ready to scramble out of the way at a moment’s notice. Of note for this show, there a was a couple with a baby seated right next to me. This will become highly relevant. 😉 During the opening dance and introduction the wrestlers were all (rightfully) infatuated with the baby and waving to her.

 

 

 

Mitsuru Konno is my favorite Gatoh Move wrestler (among an incredibly talented roster in the first place) so I was extremely excited to see her get a singles opportunity against Gatoh Move’s Ace, the reigning Super Asia champion Riho. Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20, and her smoothness in everything she does and general instincts properly reflect her experience and skills. This was fantastic, with both making full use of the environment and telling a strong story of Mitsuru getting aggressive in trying to prove herself but coming up a bit short against GM’s superstar. A lot of this happened near (or through) my window, which was a particularly fun bonus for me. Mitsuru’s spot where she spills out of the window then later propels herself back in to attack her opponent using an audience stool to launch from appears to be a regular part of her matches now, and is always awesome.

 

 

 

A flashback to last year for me saw Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa in a comedy skit match. Whenever someone got a 2 count they were allowed to take a prop from a provided basket and make a joke. The referee would then decide if a point was scored (based on whether it was funny, usually indicated by audience laughter). Most points at the end of the time limit wins. The previously mentioned baby’s presence had a big impact here, as Honda stopped a couple of times to reassure her when they were fighting, and during the comedy portions her booming, delighted laughter was absolutely contagious.

Overall this was probably my favorite comedy match ever in Gatoh Move so far, as the gist was usually easy to pick up despite not understanding the spoken portions of the jokes, as were other themes like Obi’s attempts generally not going over well (to the point where she stopped mid-joke once frustratingly declaring “it’s not funny!” and just went back on the attack). Fun stuff.

 

 

The main event was another great tag match from the Asia Dream Tag Team Champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi, with opponents Kazuhiro Tamura & Baliyan Akki who were totally up for the challenge. My first look at Akki was a really good one here, as he fit in well with his much more experienced compatriots and is adapting nicely to GM’s home venue’s unique environment and its constraints and strengths. Overall this was simply a well worked, highly enjoyable main event. Of special note was Emi amusingly reaching out to try to tag the baby when in a submission hold, as well as directly leading me in (successfully) trying to start a “Sa-ku-ra” chant at one point.

 

One of the best Ichigaya events I’ve seen here, with just enough that felt different from GM’s (admittedly awesome) usual formula, in addition to my personal experience being elevated by my lucky seat position and the antics around me.

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 3: Gatoh Move 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

For my third of four Christmas themed shows this year (and my second of the day on Christmas Eve) I saw Gatoh Move at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

 

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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. I’ve greatly enjoyed the previous events I’ve seen there.

 

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by the core roster, in this case Emi, Riho, Mitsuru, and Obi. This was the first show after the retirement of Kotori, who’s final show I unfortunately missed due to coming to Japan a day late to attend.

 

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).

 

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Aasa wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t compete, so Sayaka Obihiro took her place and the show opened with her against Antonio Honda in a comedy match, something I’m very familiar with from previous trips. In this case it was a Christmas Deathmatch with weapons available to be taken out of a stocking such as a Santa hat, Rudolph nose and ears for a finger puppet rendition, and a croissant. There was also a coffee break scheduled five minutes in. This was ridiculous but on purpose, and while not quite all of the humor was to my tastes it was amusing enough overall. The highlight was Honda using the croissant as a mustache for an energetic, over the top Hogan impression, then opening it and splitting it in half for him and Obi to share during the calm, low key coffee break.

 

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Next up was a 3-way match featuring CHANGO, PSYCHO, and Hoshitango Imachi. Solid contest focused around Psycho flying about (often from the windowsill I was seated right outside, smoothly jumping up into it inches from my face) and he and Chango trying to deal with the larger Hoshitango.

 

The main event continued my string of seeing Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi against Riho and a different partner in the main of the first GM Ichigaya show I see each holiday trip. In 2015 it Kotori was her partner, and last year it was Aasa. This time she teamed with Mitsuru I’ve really enjoyed all the variations on this match I’ve seen, and this was no exception. They really used the environment to its fullest, and Emi and Takanashi played subtly heel to put even more sympathy on the relative rookie Mitsuru.

 

 

 

Being at the target window I had Mitsuru dumped across the windowsill right in front of me slingshot suplex style at one point, then late in the match she and Takanashi spilled all the way out of the window and brawled as I scrambled out the way. My favorite spot of the matched followed, as once Mitsuru neutralized Takanashi she pulled one of the audience stools back near the window, then ran towards it and used it as a platform to launch herself back inside through the window at Emi. Was so cool seeing that from a foot away. The tag champs eventually isolated the less experienced member of the opposing team and Emi pinned Mitsuru for the win. This was great.

 

 

 

The post show roundtable had a fun feel, with the core roster in different colored Santa outfits, Honda wearing reindeer antlers, etc. There was also a couple rounds of rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity to purchase special autograph boards, which was a fun touch.

 

As usual Gatoh Move at Ichigaya provided an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else in wrestling. While these shows can feel very similar to one another, they are always enjoyable. I had a lot of fun with this one, particularly the main event.