Gatoh Move 4/29/18 & 5/4/18 Live Thoughts

April 29 and May 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

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).

 

4/29/18:

With Aasa out indefinitely, Kotori retired, and Obi injured, Gatoh Move’s core roster was a bit depleted around the time of this show. Emi joked about welcoming the crowd to “Joshi Puroresu,” as this particular show featured seven men and just three women. Still, the heart of Gatoh Move is Emi’s approach and the atmosphere it creates, and this show was pure Gatoh Move.

 

 

 

Cho-un Shiryu, who I’ve seen at Ichigaya several times, opened the show with a victory over new-to-me Yu Iizuka. Pretty standard, decent opener.

 

Antonio Honda was up second, which always means comedy time at Ichiagaya. My favorite up and comer Mitsuru Konno was his opponent this time, in what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru routinely draws pictures on autograph boards that audience members can get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 The sketch pad would be relevant again later…

 

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As I’m mentioned before, it’s quite impressive that Gatoh Move can do six-person tags in such a limited space and unique environment. Even more so is the fact that they’re always great. In this one the Tag Team Champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi  teamed with One and Only Champ Golem Thai to face Baliyan Akki, Sawasdee Kamen, & Super Asia Champion Riho. Non-stop, exciting action with the all champ team coming out on top.

 

 

After the show Emi held another balloon drill in leiu of the regular talking/promos, likely as a nice consideration to having foreigners like me in the audience. The great part is that in addition to it being a fun thing to watch, they incorporated a couple of angles into it. Akki pinned Gatoh Move One and Only champion Golem Thai during the Go Go Green Curry Cup tournament the day before and tensions between them were high. Akki pointed at Golem and said “your face” before DESTROYING his balloon with a dropkick that also leveled poor Emi holding the strike pad. She got up complaining “His face?! MY face!!!”

When it was Golem’s turn he had Akki help Emi hold the pad, then instead of throwing a dropkick he simply ran through the balloon, pad, Emi and Akki with a shoulder tackle. Add in little things like Riho blocking her ears from the popping noises and playing with balloons that people failed to pop and this was a really cool little epilogue to the show.

 

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After the balloon drill and ending dance, Mitsuru took the pad from her match out again and revealed a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a twitter account. It’s a minor thing, but tying it back to the comedy match like that was a cool little touch.

 

 

5/4/18:

During my second (and only other) Ichigaya show of this trip Emi was traveling to appear for Pro Wrestling Eve in Europe so was unfortunately missing in action.

 

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It was fun to see Cherry at Ichigaya for my first time. Ok opener during which she played mind games with her opponent Taro Yamada and picked up the win by taking advantage of the ref (another wrestler) getting involved.

 

The second match was Baliyan Akki vs Emi Sakura W, and was bit more serious than the other Sakura W matches I’ve seen. As a result I really liked the feel of this one, with W’s antics still there but a little more controlled. Akki’s fantastic and is always a treat to see wrestle. Nice five minute match that didn’t feel short and, as expected with his feud with Golem ongoing, saw Akki pick up the victory.

 

 

The main event saw a match reminiscent of the Go Go Green Curry Cup first round with the team of Gatoh Move’s two singles champions Golem Thai & Riho facing Mitsuru and a partner, in this case Madoka. As usual with Gatoh’s tag main events this was fast paced, exciting, and a lot of fun. As I’ve mentioned before I adore seeing Mitsuru against Gatoh’s vets, and her and Riho have great chemistry. Golem’s a monster and was an imposing figure for Mitsuru and Madoka to try to overcome. But while they brought a strong fight, the pair of champions prevailed with Riho eventually getting the pin on Mitsuru. This was action packed and a great match to wrap up my Gatoh Move shows for this trip.

 

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A few days before this show Mitsuru had announced on Twitter that replica’s of her mask from the Go Go Green Curry Cup, made by the original mask maker (the incredible Demonio Blanco / Bacchanales Tokyo), were available for special order. I put in an order but expected to have to pick it up during my next trip (whenever that ended up being). In a wonderful, greatly appreciated gesture a point was made of finishing it for this show so it could be delivered before I returned home and Mitsuru surprised me with it after the show. It’s a wonderful keepsake of amazing quality and a centerpiece addition to my collection.

As a final fantastic bit of amusement, Mitsuru had her own mask with her and had us both wear them when I got a pic with her later on, then signed with “we are heroes!” It was fun to a be a sidekick for a moment. 😉

 

 

I always enjoy my time at Gatoh Move, and these shows were no exception, with engaging matches as well as some additional cool moments and memories for me personally.

Gatoh Move 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

This promised to be an extremely interesting show for me as it held Gatoh Move’s 6th Annual Go Go Green Curry Cup from here abbreviated as GGGCC), a single day mixed tag team tournament, along with a handful of non-tourney matches. The tournament included several unique combinations, as well as the reigning tag team champions.

 

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Hanako Nakamori

 

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The show opened with the Pure-J champion against a Gatoh Move rookie with about two months experience. This was my first glimpse of Hanako’s newer look, and it helps her stand out as befitting Pure-J’s ace and champion.  Yuna had an extremely good showing here against the more experienced competitor, and she’s a great addition to the Gatoh roster. Well structured match that let the rookie shine a bit before the visiting champion put her down.

 

 

 

2)  GGGCC Round 1: Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen (Sawasdee Mask) 

 

 

Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my upcoming write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: GM’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team would prevail and move on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho and Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

 

3) GGGCC Round 1: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Saki & Ryuichi Sekine

 

 

In another case of one of the apparent tourney favorites drawing a first round match, Gatoh’s reigning tag champs were up next. Emi and Takanashi are absolute maestros in the ring and had an energetic back and forth match here in which Saki and Ryuichi got to take the champs to the limit and force a time limit draw. The tie breaker was amusingly a game of rock, paper, scissors, and Saki and Ryuichi’s corner woman Obi came in to do the honors for them. It didn’t work out so well, and Emi & Masahiro moved on.

 

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4) Minoru Fujita vs Sakura Emi W

 

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Minoru had no idea what to make of Emi Sakura’s doppelganger, and this was half action and half (intentionally) awkward comedy. The humor wasn’t really to my tastes, but this was fine light filler to break up the rounds of the tournament.

 

 

5) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Kaori Yoneyama & Baliyan Akki vs Riho & Golem Thai

 

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I’m running out of various ways to say “great, back and forth encounter,” so I’ll simply say this was another one. I will add however that while that general statement might make it sound like the tourney matches were similar, they were in fact all quite unique and tailored to the skills of the participants. Akki & Yone were another excellent, complementary team, and this built to a huge crescendo with Akki getting the upset pin on the One and Only champion to send his team on as well as putting himself in line for a future singles shot at Golem’s title.

 

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6) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Aoi Kizuki & Antonio Honda

 

 

I’m always thrilled with opportunities to see Aoi wrestle (particularly in light of her imminent retirement), and after seeing her and Honda face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show their pairing here seemed pitch perfect.

As expected, this was the comedy match of the tourney, with the exciting action and double teams all four are certainly capable of interspersed with over the top hilarity of the best kind. The tag champs displayed their versatility, proving they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience. Perfect point in the show for this style of match, and it was a blast. The champs persevered as things got serious near the end and advanced to face Akki & Yone in the finals.

 

 

7) Hikaru Sato vs Chikara

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The last non-tourney match provided another decent change of pace to separate the semis from the finals. Some hard strike exchanges highlighted this interlude, which Sato eventually won.

 

 

8) GGGCC Finals: Baliyan Akki & Kaori Yoneyama vs Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi

 

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So the quasi-heelish tag champs who keep finding ways to pull out the win faced the conquering heroes who overcame the tourney’s superteam in a fitting final in the main event of the show. Excellent way to cap off the day seeing the two teams engaged in spirited battle for a full 15 minutes (about double what most of the other matches ran). Paced and structured perfectly, this was a wonderful contest that saw Akki and Yone come just short of another spectacular upset as the champions took the tourney and basked in the feeling of being alone at the top (for now).

 

 

This show was a delight from top to bottom. Emi & Takanashi winning was actually a bit of a surprise for me, since I expected someone to upset them at some point to earn a future title shot. But it was a surprise that put the masters in a match in every round, and the champs reigning supreme leaves things open for a new team to emerge determined to knock them down.

I can’t stress how well booked and executed the whole tournament was. The teams were all fun and interesting, one team battled through three rounds to the finals while one of the bye teams capitalized on it, different styles were spotlit at different times, etc. The variety of course means not everything will appeal to everyone and of course not every match is meant to steal the show, but for me this was a fantastic show all around with tremendous effort from everyone and I adored it.

 

 

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. 🙂