Pure-J 9/30/18 Live Thoughts

September 30, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Like during my May trip, this was another case where I went to a to Pure-J primarily to see Aoi Kizuki as her career wound down. This was her final show for Pure-J, exactly one week before her self produced retirement show. It was my second of Aoi’s final company shows, as I saw Aoi Last Ribbon the day before.

 

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Despite Pure-J’s regular roster members being talented, there’s something missing for me when they wrestle one another. So I generally find the visiting wrestlers more interesting and that my enjoyment level of the show usually depends on who’s visiting and how they’re used.

 

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It’s been really cool to see Ice Ribbon’s Giulia develop and get opportunities to wrestle in other promotions, and was even cooler to see her picking up a victory over Mari Manji to open this show. Her character’s coming along, she’s solid in the ring, and she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as her experience grows. Manji seems decent enough in the couple of short looks I’ve had of her, although this was honestly Giulia’s spotlight.

 

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The next match was my first look at Gatoh Move’s newest rookie Mei Sagura, who I’d heard a LOT about, and it was all immediately validated as Mei clearly “gets it.” She already has uncanny instincts regarding how to incorporate her charisma into her ringwork, which is also ahead of her experience level. She really impressed me, and it was just a glimpse of what was to come. Her victorious opponent Kazuki is fine, but it was Mei’s exuberance and personality that made this fun and compelling.

 

 

Saki & Manami Katsu vs Raideen & Keiko Aono was centered on Aono as she approached her own retirement after a 23 year career (also a week away at the time). This was pretty paint by numbers, but was still fine, a deserved spotlight for Aono, and I always enjoy seeing Saki.

 

 

It was really nice to see Moeka Haruhi get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of her “So On Flower” partner’s Pure-J goodbye show. She looked good against one of Pure-J’s resident veteran’s in Leon before falling in defeat.

 

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In the main event Aoi Kizuki teamed with her regular partner from Pure-J, their reigning champion Hanako Nakamori, against Pure-J’s ultimate veteran and one of their most spotlighted rising stars in Command Bolshoi & Yako Fujigasaki respectively.

 

 

The chemistry between the four was quite good, and strong action was mixed with career tribute spots including the Joshi traditional corner splash sequence (with Giulia and Moeka amusingly giving Aoi hugs instead of strikes) for another cool, well done sendoff for the Happy Maker.

 

 

2 for 2 on fun overall shows capped of with Aoi’s last match with the company in question, with more to come.

 

As a side note, this was meant to be the first of a double header for me with a Gatoh Move show at the same venue later that day, but that’s a story for when I get to Gatoh’s 10/4 show…

Aoi Last Ribbon: Ice Ribbon 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

This particular trip for me was largely planned around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement, and I was extremely lucky to see her final appearances at several promotions in the week before her self produced retirement show.

Perhaps the most significant would of course be her final show with the company she spent the vast majority of her career with.

Considering I became big fans of both Aoi and Ice Ribbon during my first trip to Japan right before she left the company to go freelance I was thrilled she came back in the last months of her career, and being able to attend this special farewell show for her was a particular treat for me.

Since this was a special event, it was a Shutter Ribbon show and pictures were allowed despite not being the usual designated show for it (at the dojo, pictures are generally only allowed during the first show of the month).

 

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The show opened with a tag match between The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) and Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukushi. Pretty standard Butchers vs “rookies” match. At eleven minutes this was given the most time outside of the main and honestly other contests really could have used it more, but this was fine overall and there’s always extra fun to be had when Ibushi faces her mom. The vets of course won, with Mochi pinning Ibuki after the Metabolic Sand (Styles Clash).

 

 

Miyako Matsumoto vs Giulia was up next. A good portion of the match centered around silliness involving Miyako trying to use referee Bunny as an attack strategy (and it backfiring), and the rest was the two trying to strike and counter-wrestle their way to an advantage.

Speaking of matches that could have used more room to breath, this was decent for what it was and the scant 4 minutes they had to work with but could have been more. Giulia’s progressing nicely and I’d like to see her start winning more matchups like this, but Miyako prevailed with a cool reversal idea into the Miyacoco Clutch that was unfortunately a bit awkward in execution.

 

 

Tsukasa Fujimoto & Karen DATE vs Novel Tornado (Totoro Satsuki & Nao DATE) was a great little tag match involving the reigning champion and three of IR’s impressive rookies. Early on Tsukka & Karen set up for Aoi Kizuki’s trademark pose, but continuing a running gag from Aoi around the time that Tsukka was too old to do the “Youth Pyramid” Aoi ran in, stacked Tsukka on top of the pile and did the pose with Karen herself. Tsukka would work the pose in here and there later on to boos, and even busted it out during photos ops after the show (which earned me a joking reprimand from Aoi from across the building when I did the pose with Tsukka). Amusing undercurrent that was fun without derailing the match too much or taking away from the excellent action.

Small gripe from me that they really didn’t need to use a regular team here if Tsukka was going to win with a random partner, but I loved it otherwise. Soccer kick finished Totoro.

 

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The semi-main was the definition of making the most of things as Kyuuri vs Saya packed a particularly fun, exciting contest into five minutes and change. They both have engaging ring personas and styles that shined here, and Kyuuri picked up solid win.

 

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Aoi Kizuki’s last Ice Ribbon match was a gauntlet style contest they occasionally do for special events. Aoi wrestled everyone previously on the card (twelve opponents) in a series of 1-minute time limit encounters. In order, she faced Tsukushi, Karen DATE, Nao DATE, Tequila Saya, Kyuuri, Giulia, Totoro Satsuki, Miyako Matsumoto, Mochi Miyagi, Hamuko Hoshi, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Ibuki Hoshi.

 

 

This was a suitable send off and there were plenty of great little touches. Tsukushi came out in Aoi’s old costume, Guilia’s section consisted of a full minute of running dropkicks, Aoi got the best of Miyako at her own game and pinned the Dancing Queen with her own version of the Mama Mia, Aoi and Hammy spent half their time crying goodbye, etc. The end which saw Aoi just barely outlast the current champion’s assault and be laid out as time expired by the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, then nearly picked off by rookie Ibuki in a frantic final period. Aoi survived though and ended with a record of 2-0-10 (she beat Miyako and Kyuuri, and had time limit draws with everyone else). I love this type of special event match, and this was an emotional, engaging one.

 

 

Aoi was presented with a gift from the roster after the show and then everyone sang with her. All in all this was an enjoyable show in itself, in addition to being a wonderful IR goodbye to Aoi.

 

 

Aoi and Ice Ribbon started my Joshi Puroresu adventures in Japan and it was a privilege to attend her farewell to the promotion live.

Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2

In Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art I talked about the the wrestling centric work of Rob Schamberger. Here, in addition to featuring more from Rob, I’d also like to spotlight another artist who specializes in wrestling related creations as well as an artist readers of this blog will be well familiar with who has entered the realm of drawing professional wrestlers as the result of commission requests from me. 😉

 

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A mix of originals and prints of Rob Schamberger’s striking work.

 

WWE’s Asuka (formerly Kana) is a longtime favorite of mine, and was the subject of first wrestling related commission request I ever made (top left above). She has remained central to collection (and will come up again later), particularly in terms of Rob’s wonderful mixed media creations which generally start with a framework from a photo of the subject and grow from there via Rob’s creativity, expert techniques, and incredible use of color. I’ve also added an original painting (as well as signed print) of current NXT Women’s Champion and Stardom alumni Kairi Sane (formerly Kairi Hojo) that nicely capture the unique presence and charisma of the Pirate Princess.

 

More information about Rob’s art can be found on his website.

 

 

 

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams and Beautiful Dreams 2, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work.

One of the more unique requests I made among a plethora of video game and anime characters was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. I thought Juri’s style would be perfect for this and it came out far beyond my high expectations. I specified only the subject here, and I adore the incredible way Juri captured and combined Mitsuru’s strength, determination, grace, and beauty in her remarkable hand drawn rendition. From there I got even more excited about having her draw more wrestlers. Asuka of course was on the list, and Juri wonderfully depicted her striking presence and style.

Aoi Kizuki is a personal favorite of mine who recently retired, so Juri’s fantastic rendition of her will be a treasured momento of a wrestler who will be greatly missed. The little details, like the patterns and textures on both Aoi’s and Asuka’s outfits and the highlighting use of metallics really make these incredible works come to life.

 

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Dash Chisako PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

Sendai Girl’s Dash Chisako is my favorite high flyer in all of wrestling, and I’m amazed and ecstatic with how perfectly Juri captured Dash mid flight performing her trademark frog splash. Having Dash performing one of her flying moves is the most specific I got with any of my wrestler requests for Juri, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. The likeness, colors, sense of motion, etc are all pitch perfect.

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page.

 

 

 

Shining Wizard Designs is another artist who specializes in depictions of wrestlers, in this case wonderfully stark, hyper realistic black and white ink drawings he regularly shares on social media. I adore the striking assortment of pieces of his I’ve gotten, and have been lucky enough to get a few of them signed by the wrestlers. In addition to excellent versions of the previously mentioned Asuka and Dash, SWD drew the reigning Wave Pro Tag Team Champions Bossy to Mammy (Marvelous’ rising star Mio Momono and Wave veteran Yumi Ohka) as well as Ice Ribbon’s MMA trained rookies Team DATE (Hana, Nao, Nori, and Karen) for me.

Aoi isn’t the only wrestler I follow retiring this year, so in tribute I commissioned a combination piece featuring Aoi, Wave’s Mika Iida, and Tokyo Joshi Pro’s Maho Kurone, as well as a stand alone piece of Wave’s Misaki Ohata (who will retire in December) doing one of her gorgeous flying cross bodies. Of course later even more retirements were announced, which gives subjects for the future I suppose. 😉 I will miss all of these wrestlers greatly but wish them the best.

 

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Gatoh Move (Mitsuru Konno, Sayaka Obihiro, Emi Sakura, and Riho) by Shining Wizard Designs.

 

Finally, I had a piece done featuring some of the core members of Gatoh Move, a small, wonderful company run by the incredible Emi Sakura. In addition to Emi and Mitsuru (from Juri’s work above), Gatoh’s ace Riho and lynchpin Sayaka Obihiro are also pictured. I’m extremely happy with SWD’s work and greatly appreciate the opportunity to get these done.

 

More information about Shining Wizard Designs art can be found on Twitter.

 

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Thanks again to all three of these artists for their impressive creations.

Japan Trip Spring 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

I ended up managing to write up thoughts on all the shows from Spring trip just before going back to Japan, but there is one last entry I’d like to share highlighting my favorite matches from those Spring shows before moving on to Fall.

During this trip I saw 14 shows from 8 promotions (considering P’s Party part of Ice Ribbon) with 68 matches featuring 118 different wrestlers, and as usual the vast majority of what I saw was great. So even featuring my top ten 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 I saw by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 19 matches, Kani King Produce: 4 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 6 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, Seadlinnng: 9 matches, and Sendai Girls: 6 matches.

 

Honorable mentions:

I saw a ton of excellent tag team wrestling (including an entire tournament) this trip and it was difficult to narrow down. In the end little things and the involvement of personal favorites determined what made the list, but the entire Go Go Green Curry Cup, New Tra vs Tsukka & Ibuki Hoshi, Best Friends vs Command Bolshoi & Yoshiko, Team DATE vs Tsukka, Miyako Matsumoto, & Hamuko Hoshi, etc were all great examples of well worked, engaging tag team wrestling.

 

 Iida’s retirement – Wave 5/4/18

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Mika Iida wrapped up her career in a pair of fun matches and a goodbye ceremony that all were infused with her enthusiasm, self aware personality, and a real sense of joyousness despite the emotional nature of the show. It was a privilege to be able to attend.

 

Honda brings the comedy – Gatoh Move 4/28/18 and 4/29/18

Antonio Honda’s brand of humor can be hit or miss with me, but at his best wrestling and comedy combine seamlessly in wonderfully entertaining spectacles. This time there were two wonderful examples, each also involving a personal favorite of mine in recently retired Aoi Kizuki and Gatoh Move rookie Mitsuru Konno respectively.

 

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Honda & Aoi teamed in Gatoh Move’s mixed tag tournament, a pairing that seemed pitch perfect after seeing them face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed 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.

 

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At Ichigaya Honda and Mitsuru had 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 used to routinely draw pictures on autograph boards that audience members could 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. 😉 She’d also later use the sketchpad from the match to reveal a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a Twitter account.

 

 

Catch the Wave Finals: Rina Yamishta vs Ayako Hamada

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When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took it instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Top 10:

10.  Mio & Kyuuri vs Maki & Yamagata Marvelous 5/5/18

 

In the main event of Marvelous’ show on 5/5/18, Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL 5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I was beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move (which didn’t end up happening as planned due to a typhoon O_o). Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

9.  Mio Momono, Kyuuri, & Tsukushi vs Saori Anou, Tae Honma, & Maika Ozaki- Ice Ribbon 5/5/18

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With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

8. Asahi vs Misaki Ohata – P’s Party 4/25/18

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This was almost a “Asahi vs veterans” entry under Honorable Mentions like with Mitsuru in my last list, but while they were all quite good with the booking context around the Miyako match and Yoshiko being Yoshiko I actually did like this match just a bit better than the others.

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans (including the previously referred to Miyako and Yoshiko matches). Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

 

7.  Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Mask — Gatoh Move 4/28/18

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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 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: Gatoh Move’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 prevailed and moved on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho & 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.

 

6. Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami – Seadlinnng 5/5/18

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This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

 

5. Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami  – SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

4. Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto – Ice Ribbon 4/28/18

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This interesting mix-and-match tag featured regular partners Kyuuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

3. Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio MomonoSEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

 

I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. The first match I saw this trip, and it was immediately recognizable that it’d be one of the best.

 

 

2. Io Shirai vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

 

1.  Sendai Girls Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Ayako Hamada – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end that show. This is bittersweet to look back on given Hamada’s troubles and exit from wrestling, but this was my #1 match of that trip and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

 

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

 

Yokohama Festival: Ice Ribbon 5/3 & 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

I saw these two Ice Ribbon shows earlier in the days of the Seadlinnng and Marvelous shows during Golden Week. They were all part of the “Yokohama Festival” and took place in the same venue, Yokohama Radiant Hall.

 

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5/3/18

Maika Ozaki vs Satsuki Totoro was a fun battle of Maika’s power vs Totoro’s size to open the show. Both are really learning how to use their particular strengths to great effect in the ring. Maika’s torture rack bomb is awesome, and picked up the victory for her.

 

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Watching live I wasn’t sure of the stipulation for Akane Fujita, Kyuuri & Mochi Miyagi vs Asahi, Giulia, & Ibuki Hoshi. When Akane pinned Asahi and things kept going I was thinking 2 of 3 falls or elimination. I found out afterward it was “Captain’s Fall” (a more common stipulation in IR I should have thought of) and the more veteran team won in a shutout when Kyuuri beat Guilia, who must have been her team’s captain. No idea who was captain on the other side, and the rookie team never seemed to have any real chance here. Decent match overall though.

 

 

Tsukushi had to win two #1 contendership matches for this opportunity at Hideki Suzuki’s championship (with no explanation why the first suddenly didn’t count), while “Freeze” was “handpicked” by the champ to be included. Tsukka being part of the prematch “ceremonies” might or might not have been part of the largely forgotten stipulation of her and Miyako supposedly becoming Suzuki’s assistants when he won the belt. His declarations of starting a “men’s division” in IR also came to nothing (thankfully, in retrospect).

 

 

So going into this match Suzuki had renamed the Triangle Ribbon Championship to the Sumo Battle Championship. The entrances, “pageantry,” and all other sumo aspects (which didn’t actually end up having any impact on the rules, match, or title mind you) lasted longer than the match. Tsukushi was defiant against her larger opponents, but was handled easily and pinned by Susuki in five minutes to retain while the Ice roster beat on Freeze on the outside. The ever changing/forgotten/ignored stipulations/conditions/rules for Suzuki’s title reign were beyond stupid, and while I originally had decent hopes for his involvement in Ice Ribbon it was pretty much a disaster and I couldn’t be happier that Akane now holds this title.

 

 

While I knew it was unlikely, Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera)’s International Ribbon Tag Team Title defense against Uno Matsuya & Tequila Saya potentially seemed like the perfect spot to elevate the challengers, who would have been totally believable and deserving champs. Instead the veteran dominance continued with Azure Rev retaining, but it was still one of the best matches I’ve seen from them and a great showing from the challengers even in defeat.

 

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The main event was a first round match for Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament, and honestly seemed a bit of a forgone conclusion to me considering Hamuko Hoshi’s regular partner was waiting in the semi-final in a different trios team. Here Hoshi teamed with Ice Cross Infinity Champion Miyako Matsumoto & Tsukasa Fujimoto against TeamDATE (Hana DATE, Karen DATE & Nao DATE). Hoshi had designs on Miyako’s title, and Miyako isn’t the most reliable teammate at the best of times anyway.

 

 

Wasn’t thrilled with the story that arose from all that, seeing the supposed regular unit and actual trios team beaten by dysfunctional teammates who attacked each other accidentally and a few times ON PURPOSE throughout the match. It honestly made the DATES look a bit incompetent, which they don’t deserve. Quite good otherwise though, with a real sense of urgency maintained and good stuff from all six at various points. Special mention to Hana, who has some of the best facial expressions in all of wrestling and always really sells the emotions/atmosphere/etc of her matches wonderfully.

 

 

In a nice character touch, Saya sold dejection at her loss throughout post show cheer (similarly Nao stared some great holes through her opponents after her match), and Hana was again a bit of a riot making faces at Asahi conveying uncertainty how she felt about Freeze’s presence in the circle next to her.

 

 

Going into the “Major Army vs Young Ice” challenge series two days later all members of the Young Ice team lost here, further positioning them as massive underdogs.

I liked this show overall and as I’ve alluded to the action was good but I could take or leave the booking.

If I only knew…

 

 

5/5/18

Before the show there was a 6-woman tag featuring trainees, with Tsukushi refereeing. It was quite a bit of fun and it will be interesting to see them all develop as/if they continue.

 

 

The opening match for the show proper saw Tequila Saya get a nice singles spotlight against the visiting Kaho Kobayashi. Kaho has really become excellent, Saya kept up nicely, and this was a solid showing for both with Kaho picking up the expected win.

 

 

With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

The remainder of the show was comprised of the 8 vs 8 “Major Army vs Young Ice” challenge that had been revealed to be a best of 5 series. The lineup for the series was set up during the post-show roundtable of Ice Ribbon’s dojo show on 4/28/18, and seemed an interesting selection. The “Major Army” comes out to the Imperial March, just to really hammer the point of who the underdogs are into oblivion.

 

First up saw the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) against Karen DATE & Hamuko’s daughter Ibuki Hoshi. Solid way to start that saw the regular, experienced team prevail over the determined rookies.

 

 

Giulia lasted longer against Tsukasa Fujimoto than in their prior match, but still came up short and was beaten by Ice Ribbon’s ace in a bit under 7 minutes. The match fit the story they were telling and Giulia’s desire being greater than her skills for now.

 

At this point things seemed right in line with what I was expecting from the series …

 

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With Young Ice down 0-2 in a best of 5 series, Ice Ribbon’s fan voted rookie of the year and Young Ice Tournament winner Nao DATE faced former champion Risa Sera. They had a good match for the most part, although something about the structure felt a little odd to me. And sure enough, the uneasy feeling bore out in the finish as RISA won in a bit over 7 minutes. What. The. Hell?! There was NO CONCEIVABLY REASON for Nao to drop this. Risa didn’t need the win, Nao did, and more importantly Young Ice had now already LOST the series in match 3 of 5. You could hear the crowd deflate when the ref counted 3.

 

 

So the series is decided but the other matches are happening anyway, and the crowd’s pretty much dead. Rightfully no one believes Uno Matsuya, Satsuki Totoro, & Hana DATE have any chance whatsoever against Akane Fujita, Kurumi Hiragi, & Maya Yukihi at this point (and it wouldn’t make any difference if they did win), so no matter what anyone in the match did the reaction was subdued. Magnifying the problem, this was the longest match of the night. O_o Dumb all around. I feel bad for the wrestlers involved being put into this position. This will likely play better on DVD, with less lingering impact from the booking decisions than there was live and more ability to just enjoy the work and effort all six wrestlers put into this.

 

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One match left in both the series and the show. The only possible redeeming aspect of the story of having vets sweep so far would be the newest rookie Asahi upsetting the champ in non-title competition to give Young Ice their only win, and Miyako Matsumoto was the kind of champ who could conceivably lose this. As such the crowd was really behind Asahi, and the match itself was quite good and exciting for the nice length of a bit under 15 minutes it ran. Miyako amuses me greatly and Asahi is fast becoming a favorite so this was awesome to be at.

Of course Asahi lost, making the whole best of 5 series pointless in every way with the veterans, who also swept everything two days before and again came out to the Imperial March for goodness sake, winning every single match. I understand the concept of paying dues, the idea behind looking tough/getting over in defeat, etc, but consistently making half your roster look weak is something else.

Asahi spoke at length afterwards, possibly adding some more context to having come up short against the champ and/or the series that I missed.

 

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During the post show promos Saori came out and issued a challenge for tag belts, but then names Maika as her partner as Tae just smiles. Maika’s reluctant but eventually agrees, and Saori taunts Kyuuri (Maika’s regular partner at the time). Another interesting layer in what was easily one of the most compelling feuds in wrestling at the time.

 

 

I do recommend these shows for some interesting matchups and good wrestling, with of course the caveat that I also personally have never been more frustrated with IR’s tone deaf booking. Why bother making a series out of those matches for these results? Just book the same card without the “Major Army vs Young Ice” framing and it all plays a ton better. Ice Ribbon actually has deep talent roster, but makes some odd choices and often seems hell bent on never truly elevating anyone until it’s pretty much too late, which is a shame to see from one of my favorite promotions.

Still, I did enjoy going to these shows overall and as I mentioned they will probably play a bit better on DVD and the action was very good for the most part, so if any of the particular matches sound intriguing they are worth checking out.

Yokohama Festival: SEAdLINNNG 5/3/18 & Marvelous 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Yokohama, Japan

I saw four events in Yokohama during Golden Week, two each on May 3 and 5 (with Mika Iida’s retirement show and Gatoh Move on May 4 in Tokyo in between). Here I’ll be talking about the two later in the day shows I saw in Yokohama.

 

SEAdLINNNG Golden Go! Go! 5/3/18

In was great to see Nanae Takahashi return to competition after a scary neck injury in a hardcore match earlier in the year. She eased back into things with a five minute time limit exhibition match against Takashi Sasaki to open the show.

After that Dragon Libre won a 4-way against (Wave’s) ASUKA, Nagisa Nozaki, and Shunsuke Wakayama which I primarily remember for Nagisa trying to kick people’s heads off.

 

 

 

I’m mentioned Yoshiko’s not a favorite for personal reasons, but bias aside she’s good in general and admittedly excellent in the right role. As with the fantastic match I saw her have against Mio Momono in August 2017, her playing the monster versus a determined smaller rookie is certainly the right role.

 

 

 

Asahi is fast becoming a personal favorite of mine, and with all the opportunities she’s getting to wrestle veterans and champions from other promotions in singles matches she’s just going to continue to evolve and improve that much quicker. She played the fiery underdog perfectly and survived a bit under fifteen minutes before the larger, more experienced wrestler put her away. They drew me into a match I had some disposition to be disinvested in, and that speaks very highly of the skill of both.

 

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The last two matches of the card were part of the first round of the ULTRA U-21 tournament to crown tag team champions for Seadlinnng. In a nice, rare (for me) chance to see Kaho Kobayashi, she and Makoto advanced over the visiting Ice Ribbon team of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. Solid tag action from everyone, with the less experienced of the four (Kaho and Ibushi) actually looking the best.

 

 

 

The main event featured more Ice Ribbon talent as well as a visitor from Wave, as Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami faced Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto). This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

 

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They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

Three good to great matches out of five and nothing actively bad made this an easy watch and a fun time.

 

Marvelous 5/5/18

Marvelous’ offerings are often a “tale of two shows” within the show for me. I find about half the card fine but perhaps a bit bland, while a couple of key matches (usually involving Mio Momono, Takumi Iroha, and/or visiting wrestlers) blow me away. This show was that template personified.

 

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W-Fix had pretty standard outings featuring the expected heel shenanigans as KAORU & Chikayo Nagashima opened against Super Momoe Chan (Aja Perara) & Sahara 7 and Megumi Yabushita later faced Tomoko Watanabe. W-Fix is  a good heel stable and these matches were fine, but their match quality does take a bit of a noticeable hit when Dash isn’t around. She brings out the best in the rest of them and elevates everything she’s involved in. Tomoko was fierce in trying to overcome the odds against her, and Momoe & Sahara looked good and clearly made a favorable impression on the crowd.

 

 

 

And to be perfectly honest I don’t recall anything about Leo Isaka & MIKAMI vs Wild Bear & Tomohiko Hashimoto, which means nothing stood out as particularly exciting nor particularly bad. Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota also brawled with each other throughout the show, leading to Chigusa putting straightening them out at one point and Yuki getting the better of Hirota in the middle of the show while Chigusa and others stood around them in the ring making comments.

 

 

 

Which brings us to the highlights of the evening in the form of a pair of excellent tag matches. The third match of the five match card saw NEW-TRA (Rin Kadokura & Takumi Iroha) against Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukasa Fujimoto from Ice Ribbon. I.e. each company’s ace paired with one of their respective brightest rookies. Ibuki looked right at home here and kept up well, and they got a nice amount of time to play with. This was tons of fun and  I’d love to see a rematch sometime.

 

 

 

In the main event  Kyuuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

 

 

 

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I am beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move in a couple weeks. Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

 

So solid shows from both promotions with some admittedly forgettable stuff yet also several highlights that definitely push into highly recommended territory. I had a great time, which is of course always the goal. 🙂

 

Ice Ribbon 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Late in 2017 Shutter Ribbon (the one Ice Ribbon dojo show a month where pictures are allowed) was moved from last show of month to the first show of the month, so no action pictures for this one. This was a cool looking show on paper that I was hyped up for.

 

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Karen DATE vs Giulia was a really good opener, with both showing progression and skills beyond years in terms of experience. Karen picked up the win in a nicely competitive contest.

 

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The second match was an interesting mix-and-match tag with Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto. It featured regular partners Kyuuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

The semi-final saw Ibuki Hoshi facing Maya Yukihi. The outcome was never in doubt, but with under a year of experience at the time Ibuki might have gotten the best match I’ve ever seen out of Maya. They clicked, and Ibuki’s portrayal of the fiery underdog was the perfect foil for Maya’s confidence. Maya’s ringwork has improved greatly since over time, particularly in last year, and she looks more and more comfortable in the ring and closer and closer to the top level competitor Ice Ribbon has been trying to make her.

 

 

The main event was a six-woman tag of Akane Fujita, Mochi Miyagi, & Risa Sera vs Uno Matsuya, Nao DATE, & Tsukushi. Good back and forth match with the expected trios based style that’s still quite satisfying. Formulas become formulas for a reason. Nao stood out to me, and Akane is quietly becoming a force to be reckoned with and is somewhat of an under-appreciated presence in IR.

 

The post show roundtable this time set up matches for a “Young Ice” (based on experience, not age) vs veterans series at the 5/5 Yokohama show. In absentia Asahi was chosen to face off against champion Miyako, first by Tsukka’s announcement then via rock, paper, scissors (with Kyuuri subbing for her) after Ibuki and Karen both objected, trying to get another shot at the champ for themselves. Karen and Ibuki then settled for challenging Ibuki’s mother Hamuko and her regular partner Mochi to a tag match. Giulia requested a rematch with Tsukka, who had destroyed the rookie in under three minutes the last time they faced, and perhaps the star of the rookie class and winner of the Young Ice tournament Nao Date wanted to go one on one with former champion Risa Sera. That left Uno, Totoro, & Hana vs Akane, Kurumi, & Maya to round out the series.

It was a solid, interesting lineup that seemed well structured at the time. I expected Giulia to give Tsukka more trouble but still come up short, the Butchers to dispatch the youngsters, Nao to continue her ascent by beating Risa, and the rookie trio to prevail leading to the series being on the line with Asahi vs Miyako, something that could go either way with the type of champ Miyako was. I’d get something different, but more on that when I review that show.

 

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This is exactly the kind of fun show IR does best. The mix of spotlight on younger talent and interesting matchups featuring vets was excellent. Across the ring from me was a person at their first Ice show gasping and cheering whole night, which was great to see and a perfect reflection of how I felt myself.  Pro-wrestling should be fun and enthralling, and that’s precisely what we got here. 🙂