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.

 

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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 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.

 

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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.

 

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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 Sakai –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

Ice Ribbon Vol. 763 (Halloween Ribbon 2016) DVD Review

With October fast approaching this seemed a good time to look back and finally finish up my review of last year’s Ice Ribbon Halloween show.

 

Vol 763: October 26, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Ice Ribbon’s themed shows are always interesting, and this first Halloween show of theirs for me promised to be be highly amusing.

Everyone of course comes out in Halloween costumes to open the show. Nice variety, ranging from specific characters (Tsukka and Maruko as Mario and Luigi respectively, Maika as Asuka Langley, etc) to general Halloween costumes (Saya as a witch, Tsukushi and Maya as cops, etc) to Mizunami in a leopard suit, and so on. I’m sure I missed several specific references. Fun segment. Special mention to Miyako’s “Miyacoco in Wonderland!” costume, complete with Cheshire Cat hat.

 

 

1) Hiroe Nagahama & Maika Ozaki vs Tsukshi & Uno Matsuya **

The four wrestlers in this match are still in their Halloween costumes.

This was a basic match with a mix of really awkward exchanges and some nice, sharp spots and sequences. The main point was of course the wrestlers performing in their costumes and a couple of related jokes (like Hiroe’s samurai headpiece coming right off her head when Tsukushi tried a hairmare), so anything else was a bit of a bonus.

At one point Maika does a nice ripcord clothesline, which I really want her to keep and call the “RainMaika.” 😉

I understand it was tied into her costume and thus somewhat in the spirit of the match, but Tsukushi’s use of her toy gun and handcuffs as weapons to hit her opponents with (to cheers) took me out of the otherwise lighthearted nature of the match. Straight up heel tactics should only be used by heels, and booed. And I don’t understand the point of the ref checking people before the match for foreign objects at all if they’re going to watch wrestlers pick some up and beat their opponents with them later and say nothing.

After hitting Hiroe with the handcuffs and leaving her laid out in the corner Tsukushi follows up on a faceplant from Uno on Maika with the doublestomp from the top to win for her team.

 

 

2) Miyako Matsumoto vs Misaki Ohata vs Maruko Nagasaki ***3/4

These wrestlers have changed out of their Halloween costumes and this is a straight up triple threat. As always when in the ring with Miyako, Misaki has an air of barely restrained patience and general resigned exasperation at her antics. Misaki and Maruko completely ignore her early on to chain wrestle among themselves and swat her away when she approaches.  When they arrive at a stalemate Miyako celebrates with them, annoying them into join forces to attack her.

However Miyako reverses the double whip on just Maruko and sends her to the ropes, then grabs Misaki’s hands for an unintentional (on Misaki’s part) double clothesline. Misaki just stands there stoically as Miyako celebrates and double high fives her, then calmly catches the attempted cheap shot kick from Miyako we all knew was coming.

Misaki’s look of disdain as she half heartedly throws punches she knows will be ducked as part of Miyako’s posing routine is fantastic. She goes along with it in grudging fashion until Miyako gets to the forced pose part, then blocks it and levels Miyako with a forearm. Hairmares continue her abuse of the Dancing Queen. Standing choke in the corner follows, then a hard curbstomp.

As Misaki covers, Maruko tries a basement dropkick to Misaki’s face, but the vet moves and Maruko lands on Miyako, then Misaki double stomps the pile. A Camel Clutch variation has Maruko screaming. Misaki eventually releases it and slams Maruko to set up for a giant swing. Miyako comes in to encourage Misaki so she can spin and dance along with it in the corner. Misaki’s happy to oblige for a few rotations… then spins into Miyako with a forearm shot as she drops Maruko. Misaki stumbles to the corner dizzily as Miyako and Maruko try to recover, but then realizes the two are seated next to each other and wipes them both out with the running crossbody for a double 2 count.

Misaki then goes up top for a double crossbody, which Maruko dodges but Miyako eats. Misaki ducks the follow up attack by Maruko and goes for the German, but Maruko escapes the waistlock and drops between Misaki’s legs. She then spins Misaki around for her trademark rollup, but Misaki steps aside. The spinning double sledge ducked, but Maruko’s uranage is countered into a DDT. The back and forth these two are doing is great.

Maruko catches Misaki off the ropes with a dropkick and goes for another uranage attempt, which is interrupted by Miyako. Maruko and Misaki again look to deal with the annoyance first and each other later by going for a double dropkick as Miyako hits the ropes. Miyako however holds onto the ropes, then does a double Miyacoco Clutch as her opponents land from the missed dropkicks for a close 2.

Miyako getting serious (well, as serious as she gets anyway) and calls for the Angels Wing’s on Misaki, but Misaki blocks and Maruko rolls Miyako up for 2. The three take turns with rollups until Maruko and Miyako (awkwardly) end up in the ropes, at which point Misaki just breaks it all up with a hard double slap.

Miyako fights for a backslide on Misaki, so Maruko kicks the legs out from under them and rolls them sideways to put both sets of shoulders down for another close 2. She then tries to stack both opponents up for a double uranage, but they fight her off. Misaki’s double sledge is ducked by both, so she does it again. This one’s ducked by Maruko, but caught by Miyako, who tosses Misaki’s hands back the other way and it levels Maruko as she stands back up. Nice bit. Miyako hits a stunner (O_o?!) on Misaki and the Shining Wizard gets 2.

Miyako hits the ropes but gets caught with a dropkick by a recovered Maruko and slumps back against them in a seated position. When Maruko hits the far ones to take advantage of Miyako’s predicament Misaki intercepts and knocks Maruko down against the ropes herself. Misaki runs across the ring and nails the seated crossbody on Miyako, but when she comes back to do the same to Maruko the latter moves and Misaki goes tumbling out of the ring. Maruko gets her trademark rolling clutch as Miyako charges and with Misaki out of the picture there’s no one to save the pinfall.  Strong, logical finish that gives Maruko a win over two veterans (with the caveat that she pinned the weaker competitor of the two).

This was great. The individual personalities and styles meshed well and they put together several clever three way spots, and it all made for a thoroughly engaging match. Misaki and Miyako are two favorites of mine and I love their interactions, particularly Misaki’s general attitude towards Miyako’s existence. The exchanges between Misaki and Maruko makes me really want to see a series of singles matches between the two.

 

 

 

 

Main Event) “Miyako Matsumoto” (Ryo Mizunami) & “Mochi Miyagi” (Tequila Saya) vs “Tsukasa Fujimoto” (Maya Yukihi) & “Ryo Mizunami” (Tsukasa Fujimoto) ***3/4

In one of my favorite absurd match concepts (and one that’s spot on for Halloween), the participants are dressed as other wrestlers and have to wrestle like person they are dressed as. Pinfalls will only be counted after doing a move the person being imitated is known for.

Maya gets off easy here, being roughly the same size / body type as Tsukka and similar in style means she won’t have much trouble copying her partner’s moveset. Tsukka herself is clearly having a blast imitating the opposing Mizunami. She shakes the ropes, intimidates the ref, and generally plays up trying to be a power wrestler, perhaps the one area Tsukka is not a master of.

Powerhouse Mizunami as “Miyako” is just fantastic. The crowd agrees it seems, as a big “Miyako” chant rings out in support in the early going. Miyako herself on outside shouting “pointers” to Mizunami adds further hilarity. Poor Saya is so much smaller than Mochi that she had to wear her own gear under Mochi’s to remain decent, and the slim Saya’s ineffectiveness when trying to do things like Mochi’s belly smother and Earthquake splash was a great running joke throughout the match. In one hilarious bit her giant swing attempt never saw Maya’s shoulders leave the mat so Saya just walked around her holding her legs instead. “Miyako” of course spun and danced in the corner along with the “swing.”

This was incredibly enjoyable, with the wrestlers’ commitment to the concept making all the difference. “Mizunami” vs Mizunami was particularly awesome, as the real Ryo (exaggeratedly) had trouble adapting to Miyako’s posing based offense but was doing well defensively because often when Tsukka tried to use Ryo’s own moves against her they tended to backfire (like a spear attempt that saw Tsukka just stop dead in her tracks as she hit Ryo’s midsection). The parts where wrestlers “lost patience” with the rules and acted like themselves for a move or two (to loud boos) were also great touches.

An amusing finishing sequence saw Tsukka essentially teaching Maya how to do one of Tsukka’s signature rollups as she did it. Once completed it was good to keep Saya down for 3.

This is the type of match that really has to be seen to be understood and appreciated. It’s ridiculous but awesome, not being a technical masterpiece overall but still staying focused on wrestling with some great action down the stretch while providing humor and showcasing Ice Ribbon’s particular blend of such elements perfectly.

 

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This show is an excellent example of Ice Ribbon’s ability to mix action and comedy / lighter elements into shows that are just flat out fun. Having a (somewhat) more serious match in the middle provided nice balance, and again the costume matches were both entertaining in their silliness and yet still competitive and wrestling based. Had a great time with this show.

 

Ice Ribbon 8/27/17 Live Thoughts

August 27, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Seeing Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall is always a treat, and one match in particular had me even more excited that usual for this event.

 

The International Tag Ribbon championships were in limbo at this point due to co-holder Tsukushi’s hiatus (legal trouble related, exact details withheld since she was a minor in Japan at the time). She’s since returned in a limited, non-wrestling role with a public apology and the titles have been vacated. Her partner Kurumi was scheduled to team with Manami Toyota on this show to face #1 contenders The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) in a match that was speculated to have title implications, but Kurumi was injured shortly before resulting in shuffling around of the card. Kurumi was at the event working the merchandise tables and in good spirits, and I hope she recovers/returns soon.

 

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Hamuko Hoshi’s new match ended up being against her recently debuted daughter Ibushi Hoshi, and they opened the show.  This was one of many matches on the show that were more about a less experienced competitor putting up a good fight in defeat than having a believable chance of winning. As such I was hoping that Ibushi would be allowed to show a little more against mom, but it was a fine opener all the same. I’d actually really like to see a longer, more competitive rematch in the future. 

 

 

A second match with the same dynamic followed as another new roster member Asahi debuted, playing the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against legend Manami Toyota. I thought this worked a little better, with 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. 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.

 

 

Miyako & Jun Kasai were involved in a triple threat tag, which of course meant plenty of shenanigans. Their opponents were regular team Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki and makeshift team of  Mochi Miyagi and the visiting Yoshiko from SEAdLINNNG. I could do without Yoshiko ever being in Ice Ribbon but, as I discussed a little in my review of SEAdLINNG’s show from a few days before this, I’ve hesitantly decided not to avoid shows she’s on or her matches. Her presence can provide an additional barrier for me to really get involved in a match though. I found it in mild effect here. She does play her role well and the story of her adopting Miyako’s antics to antagonize the latter gave the Dancing Queen plenty to play off of.

 

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The match was amusing, never talking itself too seriously but still providing a good deal of action in between things like water gun and aerosol can fights. One of my favorite things here was Kyuuri slinking off during said silliness and quietly taking a seat in the bleachers among the crowd (right behind me) and contently watching her opponents battle with a self satisfied expression on her face. Of course since this was a tag match she was kind of abandoning her partner, but sacrifices must be made in water gun wars I suppose. 😉

 

 

Eventually Miyako was Miyako and got annoyed with Kasai, unwisely provoking her partner physically and getting leveled by him. This left her easy pickings for Yoshiko and Mochi to finish off for the win. During this Kyuuri and Maika got on the apron and were casually knocked back down to take them out of the equation. I personally really like their team and wish they weren’t treated like cannon fodder for the other teams here (and in general). Regardless of that and my least favorite team of the three winning, this was again decent and fun overall.

 

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It’s great to see Akane Fujita back in full force from injury, and she seems to be carving out a nice niche in hardcore matches. Against the veteran KAROU from Marvelous in one here I expected this to be another “valiant effort in defeat” story, and while in some sense that’s exactly what we got Akane looked Karou’s equal and had the crowd primed for an upset at several moments.

 

 

The ending was a bit weird. Karou misted Akane in the eyes while they were fighting on a ladder then floated around to hit a powerbomb for the win, but Akane sold the mist by acting stunned instead of reacting much (which initially made it hard to tell what had happened). She then rolled right to her knees after being pinning instead of selling the effects of the powerbomb, making the whole sequence feel odd. Otherwise this was a very good hardcore match with strong work from both, including a gorgeous moonsault by Karou from the very top of the ladder and them brawling right through my seat on the outside.

 

 

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 I was lucky enough to see some of my favorite wrestlers battle for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania in a match that immediately became a favorite of mine and I consider the teams involved two of the very best in the world. Seeing some of the best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) between Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) and Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) was the impetus for this trip.

 

 

This was the last of the series, with Avid Rival up 1-0 (after winning at Wave on August 12 and wrestling to a time limit draw at SEAdLINNG on August 24) and the teams even overall counting the 2015 match.

This match being just prior to intermission and a little early in the card for its magnitude is likely due to Avid Rival needing to make it out to Osaka for a Wave show that evening. Both were out the door and on their way as soon as intermission started.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series. This one is 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 the 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.

 

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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.

 

 

Much like the first time Best Friends beat Avid Rival, they exchanged fantastic hard hitting offense with a lot of close calls until Tsukka and Arisa were finally able to just keep wearing someone down with a succession of their multitude of individual finishers. This time it was Mizunami that finally fell to Tsukka, and Misaki consoled her partner after the loss.

 

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In a nice touch for the way the feud had been built (with the opposing team members all being quite tense and in each others faces about who was better) there were no handshakes afterwards, just smug looks from Best Friends and grudging acceptance from Avid Rival from a distance. Can’t recommend this match (and the whole series) enough. Hope to see the one I haven’t (and the only one Avid Rival won) from Wave soon.

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the begining of the big blow off elimination match featuring Team DATE (Nao, Nori, Hanna, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya, & Satsuki Totoro. 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.

 

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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.

 

 

The main event saw Azure Revolution do battle as Risa Sera (c) defended her ICE Cross Infinity Championship against her partner Maya Yukihi. I’ve commented before that I think these two have better chemistry as opponents than as a team, and it continued here as they had a very good match overall.

 

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But Risa’s defenses always seem oddly paced to me, as if she just doesn’t quite know how to smoothly build matches once they get past a certain length (with the same opponent that is, her multi-opponent ironwoman matches are great). Also, with the story of Maya trying to prove herself by defeating her more decorated, respected partner this needed more urgency. Given the story (not to mention Maya’s new gear) I was surprised at the result, but I also think Maya’s not quite ready for a title run and she’ll certainly have future opportunities so Risa overcoming this challenge and continuing on as champ works just fine.

 

 

A lot of this show was a bit “by the numbers” booking-wise, but there were a couple of surprises and predictable is perfectly fine if done well, which pretty much everything was. Having an underdog (ideally Akane) win one of the “proving ground” story matches would have been so nice since there were several, but that’s a mild criticism. Overall this was excellent, and in addition to the tag match I will continue to gush about forever the whole show is well worth checking out.

 

SEAdLINNNG 8/24/17 Live Thoughts

August 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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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 those three starting with here at my first ever SEAdLINNG show.

Although despite it being my first show under the SEAdLINNNG banner, I had previously seen all but two of the wrestlers live before, and that includes several personal favorites. On the other hand, one of the new to me in ring competitors is someone I have a large issue with watching/supporting and I feel I need to say something here. I had (and still have) mixed feelings about attending shows Yoshiko’s on, and I’m even more conflicted on her return to wrestling after eerily similar recent events with Sexy Star. There are a number of different angles and components that get into this (that I won’t expand upon here because it’d be longer than the review I’m trying to write), but for now I’ve chosen not to skip shows/matches she’s on in favor of supporting the other wrestlers on the shows (and for admittedly selfish reasons of not wanting to miss certain matches).

 

Alright, on to the show:

 

1) High Speed Match: Manami Toyota vs Maruko Nagasaki vs Kaho Kobayashi 

 

 

This 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. Amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics. 

 

2) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Yoshiko vs Mio Momono 

 

 

I hate to admit it given my previously mentioned 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 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.

As I’ve previously gushed about, Mio is just incredible and shines even among the impressive crop of current Joshi rookies across all companies. Her timing, mannerisms, and technique are all well beyond normal for her experience level and she just keeps getting better every time I see her. Sky’s the limit if she keeps on this trajectory.

 

3) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Takumi Iroha vs Sareee 

 

 

The second semi-final also featured a Marvelous wrestler against a SEAdLINNG talent. Iroha’s incredible power eventually overwhelmed Sareee to send the former to the finals for another interpromotional match. This was quite good, but I do feel like they have a better match in them. I hope this rivalry continues and we get to see many more contests between the two.

 

4) TLC Match: Nanae Takahashi vs The Great Sasuke 

 

 

I found out about this match just a couple of days before the show, and what a treat it was to be there for. It exactly what it should have been: a spotfest featuring two honored veterans. I have to say even with all the crazy stunts and complicated ladder/chair spots, my favorite was a comedy one. Nanae was in the corner under a ladder and Sasuke essentially played whack a mole with a chair trying to hit her head whenever she poked it up between the rungs, only to have her duck back down and Sasuke hurt his own hands as the chair hit the ladder.

 

5) Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) 

 

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So here we are – the reason for this trip. Going into this match Avid Rival was up 1-0 in this series of 3 (having won at Wave on 8/12 in a match I haven’t seen), and things were tied between the teams overall if the first match in 2015 was considered.

 

 

As expected, this was excellent. The lack of finish (time limit draw) and time spent on some comedy put this just a touch below the other match I had seen from them, but that’s mild criticism. Best of the night and exactly what I was hoping for from two of the greatest teams in all of wrestling.

 

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Neither team was happy with the lack of resolution, and there was tension between the specific pairs of Ryo & Tsukka and Misaki & Arisa afterwards building to the final match at Ice Ribbon a few days later.

 

Main event) Ultra U-7 Final: Yoshiko vs Takumi Iroha

 

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It was fitting to have this main, given Best Friends vs Avid Rival didn’t have a finish and how over Yoshiko is in SEAdLINNNG. Her essentially being a heel who plays to the crowd is so uncomfortable. Don’t know if it was because of how engrossing Mio’s matches are or just the general structure, but I found it harder to look past my personal feelings on Yoshiko in this one. They still put on a hell of a match though. Good showing for Iroha in defeat in a back and forth power match. I wish Iroha had won for a multitude of reasons, one of the most relevant of which is a young outsider taking the tournament seems like a better story. Strong finish to the tournament regardless, and a large portion of the crowd was thrilled.

 

 

Great show overall, and an extremely good first impression made for SEAdLINNNG. Of course my favorite parts involved outside talent (and the resulting atmosphere, due to the rabid support of the Marvelous contingent), but the core roster members are also great wrestlers and a solid base to build around. Will be interesting to see more in the future.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo by Oliver Saupe.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

——-

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Honorable mentions:

Survival Ribbon – Ice Ribbon 1/3/17 

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

 

Kairi Hojo vs Nana SuzukiStardom 12/22/16

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

 

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

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

 

Top 10:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

——-

 

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