Wave Young OH! OH! 1/8/18 Live Thoughts

January 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My last show of this year’s holiday trip was my second Wave Young OH! OH! show, two years after I saw my first.

 

 

I imagine the opening match was more about Mika Iida’s upcoming retirement than her role working with upcoming talent, as Kaho Kobayashi doesn’t exactly fit my idea of a rookie anymore at four and a half years (and a full two after I saw her appropriately featured at my first Young OH! OH! show). That said, any extra chance to see Iida before she’s done is a treat, and Kaho is quickly working towards her full potential and is a joy to watch as she continually improves and refines her craft. This was a lot of fun. When it was announced I suspected it could be the main event, so it made for a somewhat surprising opener (which I liked as it allowed more of the spotlight to fall on newer faces later on).

 

 

DSC_0019

 

The wonderfully tense feud between Kyuuri and Tae Honma I’ve gushed about in my reviews of Ribbonmania and Ice Ribbon’s 1/6 show continued here in a 3-Way match. Their obsession with each other consumed their focus enough for Asuka to take the victory (standard disclaimer that this is of course Wave’s Asuka and not the former Kana).  This was the shortest match of the show, but they made the most of their six and a half minutes, provided good action, and hit all the story points they needed to.

After show I met Tae for the first time and mentioned I also saw her wrestle at Ice Ribbon. She reacted with understanding, then looked over to the Ice Ribbon table and said “Kyuuri” while frowning and shaking her head and looked back for me to commiserate with her difficulties. Fantastic little touch to sell the ongoing angle at all times.

 

 

Fairy Nipponbashi is admittedly not a wrestler I personally enjoy all that much, as I find her comedy largely unfunny and the fact that her somewhat heelish antics are delivered and received as if she’s a virtuous hero annoying. So I also have to admit that I took great delight in seeing Actwres Girlz’ Nao Kakuta eventually lose patience (after suffering at the hands of Fairy’s wand, then stealing it, but of course finding Fairy immune to her own magic for whatever reason) and just whack the HELL out of the Fairy with the wand and roll her up for the win.

Nao played a perfect heel all match to counter Fairy’s nonsense, including a great application of the old trick of breaking a choke at the count of 4 just to reapply it with the other hand, which honestly made her the face to me and that lack of preference for her opponent combined with an objectively strong performance by Nao in her role for a strong first impression. Hope to see more of her in the future. Action was solid and this was probably my favorite Fairy match ever, albeit likely not for the reasons intended.

 

 

I got a second look at Ami Sato (after seeing her in her home company of Sendai Girls a couple of days earlier) against one of Wave’s resident up and comers Hiroe Nagahama.  A little long for what it was but a decent showing for both overall.

 

 

The main event of Rina Yamashita & Maruko Nagasaki against Miyuki Takase & Totoro Satsuki was EXACTLY the type of stuff I want from shows like these. It had a nice mix of experience levels still incorporating mostly newer talent, ranging from former Regina di Wave champion Rina at just over 4 years (who like Kaho was on my first Young OH! OH! show, appearing  in both the announced and surprise main events of that show) to Miyuki and Totoro at around a year. It was cross promotional, gave a nice main event spotlight to some wrestlers who are usually in the undercard, the structure let them all shine, etc. Excellent way to cap off my trip.

Totoro continues to look like a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and I get more and more excited about her future every time I see her. This was also my first proper look at Miyuki, as she was kind of background in Thanksgiving Wave‘s opening 8-woman tag (the only other match I’ve seen her in so far). She looked good and I hope she continues to get more opportunities like this to develop.

 

 

I really enjoy these type of shows as both a glimpse of Joshi wrestling’s future and enjoyable shows in their own right. I’m extremely excited that it seems like there will be more in this vein coming, including Ice Ribbon’s intriguing variation on the concept called “P’s Party” starting soon.

Ice Ribbon 1/6/18 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

A week after Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had show at Yokohama Radiant Hall headlined by the Young Ice tournament winner challenging for the Ice Cross Infinity Title in a refreshing spotlight on new talent in the main event.

 

 

The opening 6-woman tag match saw the recently re-debuted Tsukushi team with Karen DATE & Mio Momono against Giulia and the mother/daughter tandem of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. This was fun with several amusing moments woven into fast paced action. Tsukushi’s rebuilding from the bottom continued as she takes the fall from Hamuko.

As I mention often I adore Mio and both her ring skills and charismatic antics were on full display here. Her continued involvement in Ice Ribbon makes me very happy.

 

 

As completely expected from the wrestlers involved, Miyako Matsumoto vs Marvelous’ Miki Tanaka was all comedy, with dueling posing, dancing, and even singing throughout the course of the match. Both are quite good with the humorous style, so this was an amusing diversion that didn’t overstay its welcome. Miyako’s victory I believe puts the number of times I saw her win this trip higher than all other live shows I’ve seen combined.

 

 

 

After being across the ring at Ribbonmania in a tag match that seemed to did little to ease the issue between them, Kyuuri and Actwres Girlz’ Tae Honma wrestled to a ten-minute draw in an intense, appropriately heated contest that again left things unresolved between the two. This feud is fantastic and the match was great.

 

 

Another fun 6-woman tag for the show saw Satsuki Totoro, Akane Fujita & Maika Ozaki victorious over Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya & Maruko Nagasaki. I really enjoyed this, with the general story being Saya, Uno, & Maruko gradually being worn down by the relentless power of their opponents. Totoro in particular came out looking like a monster, including picking up the win with the same senton that knocked Saya loopy the last time they faced (poor Saya). Everyone looked good, and in particular I adore Maika’s awesome double torture rack.

 

Afterwards the issues between Maika’s former Actwres Grilz compatriots and her & Kyuuri continue as she challenges Saori Anou for a future match. Kyuuri appears to try to make it another tag or otherwise work her way in somehow, but Maika insists on a singles match (presumably with Saori’s title on the line). Kyuuri acquiesces but also pouts in the corner. Again, every little detail about this feud between the four has been fantastic.

 

 

In one of my most anticipated matches of the trip Hana DATE faced Ice Ribbon’s Ace Tsukasa Fujimoto in singles competition. While it’s obvious they have an even better match in them I’d love to see in the future this was still great and a strong spotlight for Hana. They worked a classic rising star versus veteran structure and, as Ice Ribbon in general and Tsukka in particular excels at, Hana was made to look quite strong even in defeat.

 

 

Riffing off of a dojo show where Mika Iida was a last minute replacement for a sick Maya Yukihi and took her place (ring gear and all) as part of Azure Revolution for a day, here similarly she took over for Risa Sera instead and teamed with Maya against said regular partner Risa & Mochi Miyagi. I enjoy Iida’s wrestling a lot and all the extra appearances she made for various companies this trip was a real treat for me as her retirement looms. Her happenstance third member status in Azure Revolution has been fun. Solid little tag match, if perhaps just a touch too long for what it was. I imagine this might be an odd/unpopular opinion to have of the reigning tag champs, but while they’re an ok team Risa and Maya continue to make much better opponents than partners.

 

 

I was beyond pleasantly surprised when Nao DATE upset Maruko Nagasaki in what previously seemed like a forgone conclusion final to win the Young Ice tournament at Ribbonmania. As a result she received this shot at new champion Kurumi Hiiragi’s Ice Cross Infinity Title.  They put on a great match featuring a establishing win for Kurumi and a nice spotlight on new face in the main event scene. Nao’s absolutely excellent for her experience, and I hope she remains a focal point in the promotion.

 

 

To close out there was a presentation for 2017 awards. On the heels of her first main event Nao was proclaimed Rookie of the Year. Risa took two with MVP and Best Tag Team (with Maya). Ribbonmania as Best Show, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki as Best Bout, and a for Best “Enemy” (outsider) between Maika and Manami Toyota rounded out the awards. Cute bit afterwards saw Hana continue to playfully try to claim her sisters’ glory (like when she posed with Nao’s trophy at Ribbonmania), briefly trying to grab Nao and Karen’s awards/envelopes.

 

 

Another enjoyable offering from top to bottom from Ice Ribbon and a cool way for me to wrap up their shows for this trip.

Ice Ribbon 12/31/17 (RibbonMania) Live Thoughts

December 31, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

As always for my holiday wrestling trips, one of my most anticipated events was Ice Ribbon’s biggest of the year.

 

 

The opening contest was an unusual one, as in featured the re-debut of Tsukushi to in-ring action after her hiatus.  As announced at the dojo show on 12/23 this was to be a career reset for her, underscored by the fact that this was the opener and Tsukushi came out for it in a plain white swimsuit style outfit befitting a rookie instead any of her old gear. It was the right approach, committing to the idea of this being a new start for her and not any sort of “triumphant return.”

 

She had an extremely emotional match against company ace Tsukasa Fujimoto.  It was much more even than I expected, with Tsukushi going toe-to-toe with Tsukka in an extremely good contest before her inevitable defeat. They both bowed to all sides of the ring afterwards, and Tsukka carried Tsukushi to the back via piggyback.

 

 

A pair of 6-woman tags followed, starting with “another” debut as Mammoth Ikino made her first Ice Ribbon appearance teaming with Hana DATE & Ibuki Hoshi in an elimination match against Satsuki Totoro, Karen DATE & Giulia.

 

DSC_0408

 

This was energetic and fun. In general I do wish wrestlers still in eliminations matches  would get up on the apron. If they’re fighting with other active participants outside it’s one thing, but having them on the floor crouched next to the eliminated team members gets confusing. That minor point aside I really enjoyed this. It was a decent debut for Mammoth, everyone looked good. Totoro and Hana continue to be particularly impressive, including the latter’s flying kick that looks like something out of a video game.

 

 

What could have been essentially a throwaway catch all match between Uno Matsuya & The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) and Tequila Saya, Maya Yukihi & Makoto was a decent contest significantly elevated by the underlying story. Uno was briefly in good spirits coming out and dancing with the Butchers in a highly amusing attempted imitation of their entrance, but as soon as that was done she adopted the poise and posture of someone with something to prove. Throughout the match she was almost desperate in her quest to upstage her rival/frequent partner Saya, including things like knocking her own partner Mochi off the apron at one point so Hamuko would have to tag her in. It was a great thread to build the match around, and Uno’s aggressive, almost selfish attitude surprisingly paying off with her pinning Saya leaves several interesting ways to proceed from here.

 

 

At the Christmas Eve show at KFC Hall one week prior, Akane Fujita issued a challenge to SEAdLINNG’s Arisa Nakajima which was promptly accepted. This was a great showcase opportunity for Akane, who’s really been stepping up all parts of her performances over the past year. Arisa is simply one of the greatest wrestlers in the world, and this pairing was excellent.

A fantastic moment in this match happened when Akane dug into her recent hardcore tendencies to try to get the advantage. She hit Arisa with a chair repeatedly, but the latter got up and wrenched the weapon away from her. Arisa then seemed ready to return the favor, but at the last second tossed the chair away in a “I don’t need this” manner and WAYLAID Akane with forearms instead. Great character moment and a really strong sequence altogether.

 

DSC_0693

 

Miyako Matsumoto’s glorious overconfidence was in full force again as she had challenged Hideki Suzuki to a singles match for this event. I had just been introduced to Hideki Suzuki a couple days prior at a Basara tournament and had no doubts the unlikely winning streak I had seen from Miyako so far this trip was going to run into a brick wall. Indeed, the bell rung and Miyako ran towards Hideki, who swept her legs into a cover and pinned her in 6 seconds.

 

DSC_0713

 

Miyako would never let a little thing like losing rob her of her victory, so she challenged Hideki to an immediate rematch. He accepted, swept her legs in the same fashion again and won in 5 seconds this time.

 

DSC_0708

 

But no one’s force of will and delusion is as strong as the Dancing Queen’s and as Hideki’s senior in the sports she demanded a third match. Miyako’s nothing (besides stubborn) if not consistent and charged the exact same way and fell victim to the same sweep and cover for the third time… but kicks out at 2.999 to a huge ovation. It’s the simple things that can be so effective when done right, and the third time’s always the charm.

 

 

From there they had a fun match with Miyako trying to do ridiculous things like Irish Whipping Hideki, but lucking into some actual offense here and there and pouring her heart into her efforts in her own Miyako way. This was well worked and fun, being ridiculous but on purpose and with reason.

It was cool to see a wrestler with a no-nonsense aura like Suzuki play his part in a humorous match so perfectly. Since then he’s been talking about being in Ice Ribbon’s “Men’s Division”  and has finagled his way into a title match against Tsukka (also including Miyako) where if he wins the belt Tsukka and Miyako become his assistants in expanding his division and if he loses he goes away and stops bothering them (I may have taken some liberties with that phrasing 😉 ). This was my favorite match(es) of Myako’s at Ribbonmania thus far and I’m finding the subsequent angle with Hideki highly amusing.

 

 

From comedy things progressed to palpable tension as GEKOKU (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) faced the visiting Saori Anou & Tae Honma from Actwres girl’Z. Tae and Kyuuri in particular seemed to want to tear into each other from the word go.

This was an excellent, heated tag match that ended with a too infrequent victory for Gekoku. A tense stare down between Kyuuri and Tae afterwards emphasized things weren’t over. I knew of Saori and Tae but hadn’t seen either wrestle before, and I definitely left this wanting to see more of both.

 

 

The semi-main was the Young Ice Tournament final, and it was a great match made even better by an unexpected finish. I saw a Maruko Nagasaki 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 DATE 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.

 

 

Amusing aftermath saw Hana absolutely giddy with excitement for her sister’s victory, celebrating with the trophy until Nao seemed to be shooting her “uhm, you know *I* won that, right?” looks.

 

DSC_0894

 

To close out the show Risa Sera defended her Ice Cross Infinity Title against a human wrecking ball in the form of Kurumi Hiiragi. This confrontation had been built to nicely, right up to Risa sucessfully defending her International Ribbon Tag Team Championship with partner Maya against Kurumi and Akane at KFC Hall a week prior.  This was a very good match and solid main event that suffered just a little in the pacing department. After a hard hitting affair Kurumi stood victorious as the new champion. It was time, and Kurumi was a suitable choice to dethrone Risa.

 

 

After Risa graciously congratulated the new champion, Nao Date came in to challenge Kurumi and that title match will headline Yokohama Ribbon!!! A main event shot for someone new in a fresh matchup is exactly what that type of tourney should build to, an this angle capped off an excellent show from top to bottom in a great way.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2017! Part 2: Ice Ribbon 12/24/17 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

A week out from Ribbonmania Ice Ribbon had another relatively major show at KFC Hall, headlined by the Ribbonmania challenger to Risa Sera’s Ice Cross Infinity Championship trying to take Risa’s other belt first as Kurumi Hiiragi & Akane Fujita challenged Azure Revolution (Risa Sera & Maya Yukihi) for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships.

This was my second of four Christmas shows this year, taking place on Christmas Eve. The first was an Ice Ribbon dojo show the day before, which did a lot to build up some of the issues going into this show.

 

This was my first time at KFC Hall for anything. It’s a really nice venue with a good atmosphere. The show started with the roster dancing out in Santa hats while Maya sang part of “All I Want for Christmas.”

 

 

 

The first match saw a developing rivalry between rookies take the stage in a singles match pitting Asahi against Ibuki Hoshi. They were on opposite sides of the main event tag match for the previous day’s dojo show, and showed a lot of aggravation and frustration with each other. That vibe continued here in a hard hitting encounter (wow did they lay into each other with forearms) that saw IR’s younger Hoshi get the better of her rival. Ibuki has looked good in everything I’ve seen her in so far, and I’ve been even more impressed with Asahi. Looking forward to seeing both continue to develop their skills.

 

 

 

Tequila Saya had been out of action for a bit, and returned to face the daunting opposition of Satsuki Totoro. Another solid contest, with Saya trying to persevere against the onslaught of her larger opponent but eventually being overwhelmed. Satsuki landed hard on Saya for the finishing top rope senton, and Saya seemed knocked for a loop. She did stand and was helped out. I hope she’s ok.

 

DSC_0109

 

As befitting a team of Matsumoto & The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) their match against Hana DATE, Makoto, & Julia was a strong blend of action and comedy. Hammy’s reindeer costume was highly amusing. Like the day before Miyako busted out the “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” Mama Miya, and it was likewise hilariously unsuccessful. This was my first live look at both Hana and Julia. Julia looked decent, even if it was obvious she was in the match to be take the fall. Hana’s style of strike based wrestling is great, and I certainly understand all the buzz I’ve seen about her.  She had my favorite spots of the match, including a sequence where she tried to wear down Hammy’s impervious stomach with a serious of quick strikes, and an absolutely beautiful flying kick to her three opponents stacked in the corner.

Miyako constantly trying to steal the spotlight from her own partners was also highly amusing. And with her team’s victory, I believe this is the longest winning streak I’ve seen from her live, at two whole matches. 😉

Honestly Makoto was just kind of there. Not bad, but didn’t really add anything and I’ve seen better from her.

 

 

 

My most anticipated match of the card was up next as GEKOKU (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) got a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima). 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.

 

DSC_0279

 

The two semi-finals of the Young Ice Tournament (where the winner will be in line for a title match of her choice) were the last matches before the main event, starting with Nao DATE vs Uno Matsuya. Nao impresses me more and more the more I see her wrestle, and Uno is my favorite rookie in IR, so I was excited for this one. Hana had initially seemed a potential favorite for this tourney, so when Uno eliminated her in the first round it opened up the possibility of Uno as a dark horse candidate. I wish she had advanced here, as it would have kept a feeling of uncertainty alive and capitalized on the momentum of that first round victory instead of wasting it. The match was extremely good either way though and Nao certainly deserves the opportunity for a important match at Mania.

 

 

 

With Nao advancing to the finals, Karen DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki seemed even more like a forgone conclusion. Good match, with Karen doing really well against the most experienced participant in the tourney before Maruko put her away for the expected win. Maruko is very good, but I really wish someone else was winning this tournament. She’s already viewed at a slightly higher level than the rest of the field, and whatever title opportunity she’ll be pursuing could have easily been set up another way. In general IR needs to do more to elevate their undercard during tournaments, as they tend to have the favorites dominate. I will be absolutely (and pleasantly) SHOCKED if Nao wins at Ribbonmania.

Maruko and Nao have a tense staredown further setting up the finals as Nao comes out to check on her defeated sister after the match. If Maruko wins she will have gone through every member of Team DATE in the tourney except her former rival Hana.

 

 

 

 Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) vs Akane Fujita & Kurumi Hiiragi for the International Ribbon Tag Titles was good, intense match where Akane in particular shined. Watching her and Kurumi level people like wrecking balls is great. The champs retained with Maya’s “Snow-ton” Bomb on Akane, giving Risa bragging rights over her impending challenger without slowing Kurumi’s momentum as a threat to Risa. I wanted a title change here, but this makes a Kurumi victory at Mania more likely (I don’t see Risa having both belts going into the new year). Kurumi got in Risa’s face for a pull apart when the latter tried to cut a post match promo. Good build to the main event on their biggest show of the year.

 

 

 

 

Akane took the microphone for a second during the post match tensions and challenged Arisa Nakajima. It was accepted and announced for Mania. This answers the question of Arisa’s involvement with her tag partner busy in Tsukushi’s re-debut. Will be a good match and Akane totally deserves the spotlight of a singles match against a big name opponent (even if Arisa’s victory or a draw is a foregone conclusion).

 

 

DSC_0454

 

 

Great show overall, with not a bad match in the bunch and my only real criticism some of the booking choices.

Merry Joshi Christmas 2017! Part 1: Ice Ribbon 12/23/17 Live Thoughts

December 23, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

I can’t believe it’s so close to the holidays, and that it’s already time for me to be back in Tokyo. My first show for this trip was Christmas Ribbon at the Ice Ribbon Dojo.

This wasn’t a Shutter Ribbon event, so I don’t have any pictures of the matches.

 

Right before the show got going Sato and Tsukka came out in suits with a formal announcement that a settlement had been reached and that Tsukushi will be returning to Ice Ribbon at Ribbonmania in a “career reset.” Tsukushi then came out for a few words. Her time away and working in the background was appropriate, but I’m glad things are going better and an arrangement was reached for her second chance. She’ll be facing Tsukka in her re-debut.

 

The start of the show was then announced and the roster came out in Christmas outfits (to Maya singing a version of “Jingle Bells”) and had a lengthy, light hearted segment of opening comments.

 

Maika Ozaki vs Nagasaki Maruko  was a great opener, with good, hard hitting action (man did they lay in those forearm shots) with an underlying sense of tension, and a real sense both were growingly frustrated with being unable to win. Maika has really evolved a lot since she first started wrestling in Ice Ribbon and I think both these wrestlers will have big things ahead of them. There was a brief pull apart brawl afterwards as neither was satisfied with the time limit draw, so a rematch seems likely. Looking forward to it.

 

 

IMG_9766

 

 

The teams of Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE and Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE) 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.

 

 

IMG_9764

 

 

Things went back to all business in the third match, an interesting non-title encounter between Ir’s Cross Infinity Champion Risa Sera and Uno Matsuya. Uno continues to be absolutely incredible at playing the underdog and getting the audience behind her, and with a little bit of dismissiveness thrown in from Risa they had the crowd fully invested and totally believing in a possible upset by Uno. Risa had a few close calls and eventually had to pull out several finishers to put the upstart down in another great contest.

The timing of this was intriguing, as Uno is still a part of the Young Ice Tournament. She was despondent with the loss, and while I don’t think this is how the tourney will play out her winning it and using the prize choice of championship opportunity to demand a rematch from Risa with the title on the line is certainly one logical way they could go and would be a highly satisfying story to watch unfold.

 

 

The main event saw a nice combination of build for two different matches at the next big show as Maya Yukihi & Ibuki Hoshi faced Akane Fujita & Asahi. The very next day Akane and partner Kurumi would be challenging Azure Revolution (Maya & Risa) for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships, and Asahi and Ibuki would be facing off in a singles rematch. Akane started things off passive aggressively by shaking Ibuki’s hand but refusing Maya and from there all four kept up a good feeling of hostility and wanting to better their respective rivals here. This was best when the wrestlers were just trying to plow through one another and viciously striking their opponents. The sound of the impacts the smaller Asahi and Ibuki were managing when forearming each other was cringe inducing, and Akane playing wrecking ball is always a treat to watch.

There was some awkwardness during other sequences, such as Maya seemingly not being able to decide which corner to go up in at one point and repeatedly starting to go out just to come back in and think some more (given the sequence eventually ended with her partner getting involved I’d guess either someone was out of position or Maya momentarily lost track of where things were going and whether her choice of corner mattered). But they were minor things overall and the match was still quite a good main event to finish the show off  that provided some great build for the following day’s show. Maya eventually got Asahi isolated and kept hitting escalating moves until the rookie couldn’t kick out.

 

IMG_9761

Merry Christmas!

 

The post show roundtable was all about building up the next show, with a nice summary video package shown and several little scuffles and/or arguments between impending opponents. Asahi seemed quite broken up and was crying as she gave her portion, and Tsukka picked her to lead the show ending “Happy Ice Ribbon” cheer to the audience’s strong approval. Two new trainees were introduced as well.

 

I really enjoyed this. It had a diverse batch of matches and styles and was just generally good wrestling all around. The recent influx of talent is certainly having an effect, as having more power wrestlers such as Totoro, Nao, and Maika in addition to Akane and Kurumi and the MMA influence the Team Date women brought in to supplement mat technicians like Kyuuri and Tsukka adds significant depth and variability to the stories that can be told. This show was a perfect way to start my trip.

 

Farewell to a Legend

On November 3, 2017, in an hour long match with 50+ opponents, Manami Toyota ended her incredible 30 year career in professional wrestling.

Toyota is a innovator and standard bearer whose impact on the sport will be felt long after her retirement. I haven’t watched nearly as much as I want / intend to of Toyota’s older matches, but am of course well aware of her impact on professional wrestling.

As my own personal goodbye to her legendary career, I’d like to focus on the fortuitous opportunities I’ve had to see Toyota wrestle live.

 

IMG_4705

 

The first was a complete surprise, and an incredible moment for me during my first trip to Japan. Toyota was not scheduled for any of the 12 shows I saw during my two week trip to Tokyo at the end of 2015.

On December 20 I attended a show by Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous promotion. The main event was a 6 on 2 handicap match featuring Chigusa, Aki Shizuku, Chikayo Nagashima, Mima Shimoda, Takumi Iroha & Tomoko Watanabe vs Dump Matusmoto & Yumiko Hotta. Chigusa’s teammates were largely cannon fodder for Dump to  to hit with a kendo stick and other objects over and over. Hotta arrived wearing numerous pairs of handcuffs all over her gear, so it was obvious where things were eventually going. After the brawl spilled throughout the arena Chigusa’s team was eventually incapacitated by being handcuffed to the ropes.

The heat coming from sections of fans for both Dump and Chigusa was incredible, creating an electric atmosphere. If possible it intensified even more when Manami Toyota came out as surprise help for Chigusa. For me it was a jaw dropping moment, and I felt incredibly privileged to get to meet Toyota after the show.

 

Fast forward a year and I was back for the holiday shows again, including a personal favorite of mine in Ice Ribbon’s annual Ribbonmania. Toyota’s match this time was particularly interesting, as she was one of the challengers for Ai Shimizu’s Triangle Ribbon Title (along with Maruko Nagasaki).  This was a straight up slaughter, which might not have made for the most interesting of matches from the perspective of an completely overmatched champion, but Toyota plowing through both opponents and winning the Triangle title with a double pin after her moonsault was a strong spectacle and nice moment all the same. Toyota commented/joked afterwards about her winning a title in 2016, and it was again an honor to get to greet her in person and congratulate her.

Her Triangle Ribbon championship reign was a quiet one, as she successfully defended the title only once during her six month reign before losing it to her heir apparent Tsukasa Fujimoto. But a final championship before she retired was well deserved.

 

IMG_5959

 

 

My third opportunity to see Toyota wrestle live came during a shorter trip this past summer.  At SEAdLINNNG’s August 24 show she was again in a 3-way match with Maruko Nagasaki, this time under high speed rules with Kaho Kobayashi as the third participant. It was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. It was really amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics, and a fun format to see the veteran perform in. 

 

 

 

A few days later I saw what would be my final live Manami Toyota match at Ice Ribbon’s August 27 event. A somewhat poetic way to close things out, as Toyota was the opponent for the debuting Asahi. The rookie played the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against  the legend and the dynamic of the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi’s resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart was fantastic.

 

 

 

Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere, and short of being in attendance for Toyota’s actual last match I couldn’t have asked for a better note to say goodbye on.

 

15

 

I appreciate everyone reading indulging me in my personal memories of interactions with one of wrestling’s brightest stars. I highly recommend seeking out anything and everything you can from her incredible career. Congratulations to Manami Toyota and best of luck with whatever’s next.

Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

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

 

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

42

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

21077234_1814982591860261_5768976190590537467_n

 

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

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

 

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

 

1

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

——-

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