Ice Ribbon Special Challenge Match: Tsukka vs Broom Review

May 10, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

A very special no audience match up for free on Tsukka’s YouTube channel.

Suzu Suzuki is acting as referee, with Hifumi behind the camera.

In an impromptu scuffle last month during cleaning, Broom nearly pinned Tsukka after countering her trademark kicks. The incident isn’t mentioned here, but that’s where it all began.

We get video highlights of subsequent sneak attacks by Broom baiting Tsukka into this grudge match.

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Broom

Lockup to start. Tsukka struggles and is forced back towards the ropes, but reverses at the last second to push Broom up against them. No clean break as Tsukka kicks Broom then hits a “hair”-mare into the far corner and chokes Broom against the bottom turnbuckle.

Back to center and Tsukka converts a scoop slam into a power slam for 2, then works some crossfaces from Camel Clutch position. Broom holds on and does not give up. Tsukka calls for a brainbuster, but Broom reverses into a suplex on Tsukka and gets 2. Chinlock on Tsukka follows. She tries to break by biting the broomstick, but referee Suzu’s aggressive count breaks that right up and Tsukka remains in the hold. She struggles to the ropes for the break.

Back in the center of the ring they trade “head”-butts and forearms respectively, and Tsukka wins the exchange with a surprise enzuigiri that sends Broom right out of the ring. Tsukka follows up with a doublestomp off the apron, then rolls Broom back in and hits another from the top rope for 2.

All Tsukka at this point, but her flurry of kicks is countered with the same rollup Broom almost pinned Tsukka to set this whole rivalry off for a close 2. Tsukka lays in some more forearms and tosses Broom into the air but gets caught coming off the ropes with a crossbody and just barely kicks out to deny Broom the upset win.

The veteran is getting tired of the upstart cleaning implement, and whips Broom into the corner to hit a nice pair of dropkicks (one “standing,” one “seated”). World’s Strongest Slam only gets 2, but that kickout is all Broom has left and Tsukka nails a beautiful Venus Shoot for the 3 count and the victory. That broom will know better than to bother Ice Ribbon’s ace again.

Ok so this was ridiculous (as was my choice to do full play-by-play), but that was the point. One of the best wrestlers in the world today took the old “so good they could get a decent match out of a broomstick” cliche as literally as possible to produce five minutes of absolute absurdity that was just plain fun. The key of course is they played it totally straight within the confines of the silly premise, and while I certainly don’t need to see Broom become an Ice Ribbon regular this was a tremendously amusing.

Extremely well done too. Tsukka managed pretty long stretches in this, with only a few cuts (honestly I’m surprised there weren’t a lot more) that were noticeable if looking for them but pretty smooth overall. She only needed outside help with a single spot too, and the camera angle completely obscured Suzu holding Broom up for the Venus Shoot (the needed angle also made the move itself look particularly awesome).

Truly a match for the ages. Congratulations to Tsukka on her epic victory.

Watch it here.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 1037 Live Stream Thoughts

April 25, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Another special no audience show broadcasted from the Ice Ribbon Dojo for free on YouTube in addition to Ice Ribbon’s NicoNico channel.

Tequila Saya and Yappy are commentating. They made a great team throughout and the English explanations were much appreciated. Banny Oikawa refereed all the matches.

The IW19 Title Tournament starts here. The field has been announced but which matches happen on each show will be revealed day of.

A Block features participants in IW19’s previous incarnation:

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Hamuko Hoshi
Risa Sera vs Kurumi Hiiragi
Tsukushi vs Mochi Miyagi

B Block features newcomers to IW19:

Satsuki Totoro vs Thekla
Maya Yukihi vs Uno Matsuya
Suzu Suzuki vs Akane Fujita

All tournament matches have 19 minute time limits and a 19 count outside the ring. First round singles matches and the block semi-final triangle matches also have over-the-top eliminations in play (the final between block winners will not). In the case of a time limit draw internet fan voting via the live broadcast on Nico will determine the winners.

This show will feature one match from each block and a non-tournament tag team contest between them.

Side note: Ice Ribbon’s insisting that it’s “I-W juu-ku”, and is not to be referred to as “I-W nineteen” (yes, English letters pronounced as normal but insisting on Japanese pronunciation of the numbers). I imagine this is for consistency sake but it’s honestly rather awkward.

1) IW19 Tournament B Block: Satsuki Totoro vs Thelka

As I remarked about the previous shows, the energy for these is really impressive. Totoro in particular is quite loud in her vocals and it helps elevate the atmosphere in the absence of a crowd.

Both participants here are right around 3 years experience, and quite good for their level. This was a solid, mostly smooth start for the tournament with Totoro controlling with her size and power and Thekla countering as she could with speed and bursts of unique offense. Thekla makes a great addition to the roster and looked competitive even in defeat as Totoro’s onslaught proved too much to endure.

Totoro’s tope rope senton sends her on to the Block B semi-final.

2) Tsukasa Fujimoto & Risa Sera vs Hamuko Hoshi & Uno Matsuya

A little bit of a preview for Block A, as tournament opponents Tsukka and Hammy are on opposite sides of this tag match. Really fun, energetic contest. Ice Ribbon has done a particularly good job of pacing the matches on these internet shows to really draw in the virtual viewers and keep them engaged. Everyone’s putting in top notch effort and it shows.

Towards the end Uno gets some nice nearfalls on Tsukka to shine a bit before eventually being defeated with the Venus Shoot.

3) IW19 Tournament A Block: Tsukushi vs Mochi Miyagi

It’s mentioned that Tsukushi is coming up on her ten year anniversary in wrestling. Nice to be back to acknowledging her original debut.

So like the opener this is a match between wrestlers of similar experience levels. Although Tsukushi is the more decorated wrestler in terms of title runs, etc including being a former IW19 champion. Mochi is just returned from an injury absence and looking fully back to normal.

There’s a bit of brawling outside ring to illustrate the 19 count (which is unusual as Ice Ribbon matches are generally no-countout). Tsukushi sends Mochi at the wall with such force Mochi’s foot goes right through it when she blocks herself from crashing into it.

A couple of in-ring highlights saw Mochi dropping Tsukushi across the top rope from torture rack position in a vicious looking moment, and Tsukushi absolutely wiping Mochi out with thing like her against the ropes dropkick and corner hanging doublestomp. The nearfalls at the end had a real sense of urgency, including Mochi kicking out of the Denden Mushi and countering a Harukaze attempt for 2.999.

One of the best singles matches I’ve seen from Mochi and an excellent main event to cap off the first IW19 tournament show. Tsukushi wins with a second Harukaze to advance.

Tsukushi has no intention of waiting to be crowned champion, and shows off a cardboard version of the belt she’s sure she’ll be wearing soon.

——-

Another fantastic show from Ice Ribbon under the current difficult circumstances. The consistency of these shows and everything that goes into them is impressive and greatly appreciated.

If anyone is interested in / able to support the production of these shows (which with no crowd have no income from ticket sales) YouTube superchat and Nico Nico chat present system are available during the live streams, and Ice Ribbon has a Nico Nico subscription channel with a large library of older shows.

Note: The replays of the live stream of these shows are only available for free on YouTube for a short period. But they’re then replaced with the enhanced, multi-camera version through the first match with the full show available via subscription to their Nico Nico Channel. There have been some complaints about the frame rate during the live broadcasts (although it hasn’t been that bad for me personally) but to my knowledge the later uploaded versions have no such issues.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 1036 Live Stream Thoughts

April 18, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Another special no audience show broadcasted from the Ice Ribbon Dojo for free on YouTube in addition to Ice Ribbon’s NicoNico channel.

Tequila Saya and Ai Hara were hosting and commentating, and in a really great move for accessibility Yappy and Thekla were helping out with English translation for some of the pre-match comments, etc.

Banny Oikawa became referee for all matches after her planned match with Suzu Suzuki was cancelled due to Suzu sustaining an injury during training. That match was actually a change itself which came about after trainee Ishikawa’s exhibition match with Suzu was cancelled due to the former being sick during the week. Best wishes for a fast recovery for both Suzu and Ishikawa.

The prematch comments mention this so I will here as well as I don’t want to gloss over it by omission – Yappy’s grandmother recently passed away due to Covid-19 and she wrestled on these shows with the memory of her grandmother who always supported her in mind. My heart goes out to Yappy, I’m glad that returning to the ring is helping her a bit in this tough time, and I hope she does whatever she needs to take care of herself.

1) Tsukushi vs Yappy

As I remarked during volume 1035, the energy for these shows is really impressive. The wrestlers are vocal during their matches as are the rest from the outside cheering, giving a similar atmosphere and feeling to a regular dojo show. Quite cool and impressive under the circumstances.

Really good match to start things off. Tsukushi is quite excellent at bringing the best out of wrestlers with less experience, and Yappy’s improving and looking more comfortable and confident each time out. The veteran eventually prevailed with La Magistral.

Leading into the next match it was cool to get a translation of some of the explanation for Maya’s turn and joining Rebel x Enemy, with her being frustrated with a lack of urgency on the part of her fellow Ice Ribbon roster members. Uno’s judo background gets highlighted in respect to her group Joint Army of wrestlers who feature a style focused on joint manipulation. They (along with Thekla) are partners for the next contest.

2) Frank Sisters (Kurumi Hiiragi, Mochi Miyagi, & Akane Fujita) vs Maya Yukihi, Thekla, & Uno Matsuya

Nice to see Mochi officially back from an achilles tendon injury.

There were a lot of little details worked into the larger flow of the match that made this particularly fun. I loved the variety of creative triple teams from the Frank Sisters, and was cringing at Akane’s brutal overhand chops during a late match exchange.

Nice touches from the other team as well, ranging from Thekla trying to beg off by invoking social distancing, Uno tagging herself in at a key moment underscoring both her self-focused ambitions as well as Maya’s slight estrangement from her team given her new attitude, etc.

Fast paced, hard hitting 6-woman tag throughout that ended with Kurumi absolutely spiking Uno with a cradle tombstone for the pin.

3) 2 out of 3 Falls: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera

The main event was set up last show as the two battled after the time limit expired in their tag team match and a frustrated Tsukka snapmared Risa off the far ring apron.

Each fall will have a separate stipulation. They play rock-paper scissors to determine who will draw the one for the first fall. After two ties Risa wins and draws:

1st Fall: 4 Count Outside the Ring

Note that Ice Ribbon matches are normally no countout, but here a wrestler can win if their opponent fails to get back in the ring before the referee reaches a count of 4 (in addition to normal possible pinfall/submission victory conditions).

Tsukka ties Risa up early for dropkick in ropes and sent her outside to illustrate the stipulation, as Risa dove back in at the count of 3.

Risa was using her mini-cam for “Sera’s eyes” footage, so Tsukka grabbed one of the outside photographers’ cameras and attacked Risa with it while taking pictures as Yappy wondered if they should be involving such expensive equipment and if IR’s budget could handle it. This was done well and as such was pretty great.

A bit of fighting over the top rope to the apron and trying to avoid falling to floor like they were in a battle royal provided both nice story elements and action.

Tsukka’s was eventually able to get into Ace Crusher position on the far apron and snapmare Risa to the floor to win the first fall by 4-count. Nice play off of the aftermath of last show’s main event that set this match up.

Winner got to draw the next stipulation. Tsukka pulled:

2nd Fall: 18 Revolutions

The stipulations do not carry over, so back to the normal no countout rule. This fall could be decided by the usual pinfall or submission means or by performing 18 consecutive revolutions with any appropriate spinning move.

Risa immediately realized this could favor her and called for the giant swing. Tsukka fought her off persistently and later gets and holds on to a rolling cradle for 17 rotations in a great sequence as Tsukka gradually lost momentum and energy as she did more and more turns. She couldn’t quite get Risa over for the last one, and the fall continued.

They were both quite dizzy kind of stumbled around each other as Yappy ponders it being the creation of a new Ice Ribbon dance. Her little additions to commentary were really fun.

Eventually Risa managed to get the giant swing going and managed the full 18 times around to win the second fall and tie things up.

3rd Fall: Double Knee

For the final fall some sort of double knee drop must proceed pin attempts. These moves are among Risa’s trademark offense, so she again presumably has the advantage.

After shaking off the remaining dizziness Risa started quick and trapped Tsukka in the corner for the running double knees, but after that it was all Tsukka for a while as she turned the tables and proceeded to do a long sequence of running double knees off the ropes to a prone Risa. I like the urgency early on and the way they embraced the stipulation and just kept going for the important move.

Just a bit in they fell out of sight as Risa hit an air raid crash off the apron on the far side of the ring to payback Tsukka a bit for how last week and the first fall ended. Everything went eerily quiet as commentary reminded viewers there are no mats on that side of the ring and speculated on Tsukka’s well being …

… and then one of the seconds started singing Star Wars themes while someone wearing Sera’s Yoda mask and robe jumped into the ring joined shortly thereafter by someone wearing a hoodie and a mask that says “Corona” (in katakana). Apparently their appearance was enough to make the match underway a draw and turn it into a tag match. Can’t say I was pleased.

At a guess it looked like Yoda was played by Uno and Corona by Kurumi.

A little back and forth and then the team of Tsukka and the person who drove her headfirst into the concrete floor minutes ago to hushed silence dispatched of Corona pretty easily with consecutive diving double knees from the top.

Probably won’t surprise anyone that the ending segment wasn’t to my tastes. I like my comedy wrestling more integrated and less of the type that grinds everything to a screeching halt, and the jarring nature, uncomfortable drama, and so-so payoff of how this was all done pretty much sent the match off the rails for me (although I can totally understand if other viewers found this fun/satisfying).

So honestly it was a flat end that dragged what was shaping up to be among the most engaging dojo shows I’ve seen down a touch, but the match before the nonsense was extremely interesting and well executed. Also this sidestepped the need for putting one of them over the other and if it was the price to pay for having the match at all so be it.

——-

Post show Tsukka brings out the Internet Wrestling 19 title and apparently announces a tournament for it (I’m unclear of the details as “tournament” is the only word I caught). Reintroducing a title from numerous years ago would have been a good spot to let Yappy translate, particularly as she was standing right there. Hopefully they’ll get better used to pausing for and integrating the translation in the future, although again it’s awesome and appreciated that they are doing it at all.

Like with volume 1035 Ice Ribbon again achieved something special in the presentation under difficult circumstances as this really felt like a normal dojo show in atmosphere. The effort and energy throughout was once again top notch and overall this was an extremely strong and enjoyable show.

Note: These shows are only available for free on YouTube for a short period, but they’re then replaced with the enhanced, multi-camera version through the first match. The remainder will presumably be available later with a subscription to their Nico Nico Channel.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 1035 Live Stream Thoughts

April 11, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Special no audience show broadcasted from the Ice Ribbon Dojo for free on YouTube in addition to Ice Ribbon’s NicoNico channel.

Tequila Saya and Chiharu are hosting and commentating. Mio is referee.

Nice video production with profile cards displayed featuring the participants for each match and a short Ice Ribbon video played before of each match (as a buffer to separate things and in place of entrances). This is being approached and produced like any of their big shows, which is not only a nice touch but also impressive given the circumstances. 

1) Maika vs Totoro

Lots of shouting from Maika and Totoro and cheering from the seconds around the ring, which really helps the energy for a no audience show.

I enjoy this pairing and this was a great little match. Both wrestlers have impressive power, making this a high impact affair.

Maika getting Totoro up in the torture rack late match was crazy impressive. She eventually transfers that into a slam and finishes with the senton from the middle rope in the corner.

Saya and Chiharu briefly interview both participants after the matches. This was another well done touch throughout the show, even if I couldn’t understand much outside of some comments in English from Yappy and Thekla.

2) Akane Fujita vs Thekla

The video, which was fine for the opening match, goes out of focus for this one. They can’t get it to refocus without going in close, so it alternates between being zoomed in just a little too much and being out of focus as they kept zooming in and out trying to fix it.

Hard to judge in full with the technical issues as I personally couldn’t really watched the blurred image for very long at a time, but this seemed solid with just a tiny bit of awkwardness here and there. Looking forward to seeing Thekla (who I was previously unfamiliar with) wrestle again sometime when I can better see. 

Of note: There was a second camera being operated from the balcony, so this should not be an issue on the DVD or when eventually released in edited for on Ice Ribbon’s NicoNico channel. 

3) Dropkickers (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Tsukushi) vs. Mochi Miyagi & Risa Sera

Dropkickers are the reigning International Ribbon Tag Team Champions. This is non-title. 

They fixed the camera between matches. Still not perfect on wide shots, but much better than it was, being pretty crisp on medium to close shots and totally watchable. Still a lot of zooming in and out as they test the best distance though.

Early on all the camera problems are momentarily and amusingly solved as they fight to the outside and everything becomes a closeup. Really great energy from everyone as they brawl around.

Tsukushi goes wild with Mochi’s whip, attacking her opponents as well as poor Akane who was nearby. Then with Risa & Mochi laid out Tsukka runs them over with Mio’s baby stroller while Tsukushi gently restrains the referee’s protests. But Mio draws the line on Tsukka trying to swing it like a steel chair and forcibly takes it back. 

Back in the ring this settled into an extremely good, fast paced example of IR’s midcard tag matches. It was kept brisk and energetic, and had some added amusement as Risa kept grabbing a personal camera to use, often not to her own benefit. The video selfie footage as she was getting attacked should be interesting to say the least. 

This went the full 15 minutes for a time limit draw, keeping the intensity up the whole way. I think was my favorite match of the show.

Tsukka and Risa went crazy at the end trying to get falls before time expired. They keep at it a little afterwards and a frustrated Tsukka snapmares Risa off the far ring apron. During the post match interview a future singles match seems set up.

4) Kurumi Hiiragi vs. Yappy

The semi-regular tag team XL Breakers face off against each other in singles competition here.

Yappy is continuing to improve her skills and is coming across as more and more comfortable in the ring. It’s particularly cool to see her get a bit of a spotlight in this semi-main event singles match. Yappy also does a lot outside of the ring to try and make Ice Ribbon more accessible and understandable to foreign fans, which is always greatly appreciated.

Another good match, playing to the strengths of both combatants in a straight up power battle. Yappy hung in with Ice Ribbon’s dominate monster and fought back as she could, but Kurumi’s onslaught was eventually too much and she prevailed with the top rope splash.

5) Ibuki Hoshi & Maya Yukihi vs. Hamuko Hoshi & Suzu Suzuki

Suzu has retired the Chirin Chirin gimmick for an awesome new look and a more serious attitude and is headed for a title shot against ICE Cross Infinity Champion Maya. She vaulted into title contention by defeating IR’s ace Tsukka in a singles match, which is a huge deal considering Suzu’s been wrestling for less than a year and a half.

Maya recently kind of turned her back on Ice Ribbon to form the group Rebel x Enemy with outsiders Kaichow Ram & Rina Yamashita. It appears to be mostly an attitude thing, as she stills participates in tag matches like this teaming with other members of the Ice roster. Maya’s in colorful new gear, separating this from her Dark Snow character in Oz Academy (although her Oz stablemates Mayumi Ozaki and Police recently came to Ice to set up a tag title challenge for Ozaki & Saori Anou).

The other half of the participants in this match see a mother and daughter rivalry continuing to develop as Ibuki angrily slaps Hammy’s hand away in lieu of a pre-match handshake after shaking Suzu’s (Maya ignored Hammy’s offered hand, and Suzu didn’t offer).

Hamuko and Ibuki start hot, and Hammy brings her daughter outside to the camera in short order for an extreme closeup of her chomping on Ibuki’s arm. Back in Ibuki repays it a bit by stomping her mom during the sexy pose.

Lots of intensity in this one. Suzu looks right at home in with IR’s top wrestlers and I really like the dynamic of having two people who’ve recently added harder edges to their personas feuding.

Ibuki’s also constantly upping her game and looked great. She had some incredible near fall exchanges with Suzu down the stretch before the latter pulled out the win with the Gran Maestro de Tequila.

Strong finish to a strong show. Afterwards, birthday cakes are brought out for Chiharu and Kurumi.

Ice Ribbon achieved something special here, as it really felt like a normal dojo show in atmosphere, and an extremely good one at that (the card was more along the lines of one of their larger venue shows).

The technical issues were only really a big deal during one match, and that’s not bad at all with a reduced staff and people helping with things they don’t normally do (and as I mentioned above the second camera’s footage will be available to them to clean things up for the DVD).

Great effort, energy, and execution were there up and down the card, and everyone involved should be proud of putting on a show like this under tough circumstances.

Edit 4/21/20: Turns out these shows are only available for free on YouTube for a short period, so I removed the original link from the review. But the enhanced, multi-camera version through the first match is now there and the remainder is available with a subscription to their Nico Nico Channel.

Thank You Liger: Farewell to a Childhood Hero

I became enamored with professional wrestling as a kid, and while great many of my tastes have changed there have been some eternal constants. Wrestlers, styles, etc that transcend time in a sense.

When I was young I had only watched American wrestling, in the form of (then) WWF and WCW. Bret Hart, the Midnight Express, Mr. Perfect, and other wrestlers who combined athleticism and in-ring storytelling were among my favorites. I’d seen a little bit of the Great Muta in his WCW appearances, but that was largely it as far as non-North American talent went.

Then Superbrawl II started off with Jushin Thunder Liger vs Flyin’ Brian Pillman in a match (rightfully) still lauded to this day as perhaps the greatest opening match of all time. Liger was like nothing else I’d ever seen. Combining precision flying and hard strikes with uncanny psychology, and of course an incredible, striking presence, Jushin Thunder Liger was a superhero come to life (literally, as his persona was based off of an anime character). The match, and Liger, obviously left quite an impression on me and remains one of my all time favorites.

From there I would occasionally hunt down bits of his matches in Japan, and while I never quite saw as much as I wanted the sampling was invariably impressive. He was always captivating, and I have distinct memories of rewatching certain moves and sequences over and over in awe.

Flash way forward to 2015 and NXT Takeover Brooklyn would end up being my first time seeing Liger live, somewhat surreally in a WWE ring no less. His style had understandably changed over the years, but it still felt like a Liger match, and a very good one at that. Tyler Breeze was a great choice for his opponent and it was a treat to be there.

The following year at ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds 2016 I actually got to meet the legend, and then I was lucky enough to be able to attend Wrestle Kingdom 11 on 1/4/17 finally see him wrestle in Japan (albeit in limited fashion as part of a battle royal). As it happens it would end up being the only time I saw him wrestle live in Japan and the final time overall.

Throughout my changing tastes and focus on different parts of wrestling, I’ve remained a huge fan of Liger and am extremely happy he was able to keep wrestling for as long as he did, and for the times I was lucky enough to see him live.

Earlier this month Liger finished up his 35 year career. With Wrestle Kingdom 14 becoming a two-night event Liger’s farewell was unusually spread over three days, with his last two matches at the two WK shows on 1/4 and 1/5/20 and his retirement ceremony being held at a separate event than his final match at New Year’s Dash on 1/6/20.

I sadly was unable to attend the 1/5 show as planned due to illness, but watching online still conveyed the weight and emotion of the occasion. Liger wrestled with and against several of his compatriots on 1/4 in the star studded Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, Tiger Mask, & Great Sasuke vs Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Naoki Sano, & Ryusuke Taguchi, then put over the next generation in a tag match on 1/5 teaming with Naoki Sano against Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee. While many hoped he had on last singles match in him, these carefully chosen tag matches were a great, fitting way to say goodbye.

It’s almost as weird to see Liger go as it was to have him in wrestling at the level he was for so long. All that’s really left to say is thank you to the legend for everything, particularly the memories.

Farewell to a Gran Maestro Part 2: An Emotional Two Months

Two months ago I wrote Farewell to a Gran Maestro, a look back on Tequila Saya’s career just before her planned retirement date of October 12, 2019. As I mentioned towards the end of that piece, things didn’t go as planned. A typhoon caused that show to be canceled, and the following day Saya’s regular tag team partner (who was scheduled to tag with Saya in her final match) abruptly left the company under unusual circumstances.

After the dust settled a bit Saya announced she was postponing her retirement until the end of the year and would be stepping in to honor her former partner’s previously scheduled commitments. This was a big gesture on her part, and visibly greatly appreciated by the company and fans alike.

No matter the circumstances surrounding Saya’s short career extension, she certainly made the most of it. One of the previously mentioned commitments she took over was a spot on Rising Slam, a free to attend event in Italy aimed at spotlighting Joshi Puroresu live for the first time in that country. Saya was joined by fellow Ice Ribbon roster member Tsukushi, Actwres Girlz’ Mari, Tae Honma, Misa Matsui, & Saki, and freelancers Makoto and Rina Yamashita in traveling to Italy for this unique show. It would be Saya’s first and only international expedition as a wrestler. She also ended up doing more matches outside of Ice Ribbon than she ever had before, including a singles match against Yumi Ohka in Wave among others.

Saya would also win her only career singles title during the overrun, taking the Triangle Ribbon Championship from someone who debuted shortly after her and was as often a rival as a partner, Uno Matsuya (the match also involved Tae Honma). It was well deserved and wonderful to see this opportunity seized out of unusual circumstances.

She was involved in a wild champions vs challengers 8-woman tag at the December 14th show, defended the belt against Uno and Satsuki Totoro at her final P’s Party show (as an active wrestler) on Decemeber 18th, and lost the title to Tae Honma on Ice Ribbon’s December 21st show at Shinkiba 1st Ring (in a match that also involved Kaori Yoneyama).

From a selfish standpoint I must admit to being happy that the extension would allow me to see Saya wrestle live few more times before she finished up. Her final dojo match against Tsukasa Fujimoto was all kinds of fun, including a particularly amusing section where she tried, rather unsuccessfully, to imitate the signature moves of all the other wrestlers at the show. Tsukka then invited them all in to demonstrate all the correct versions on Saya.

Her final match was earlier today, a special 38 (plus a few) person challenge that saw Saya face everyone consecutively in one minute time limit sections. A mix of some competitive sections, lighter comedic ones, and some old familiar faces just coming back to say goodbye, it was a perfect way to say farewell to the Gran Maestro.

The last two sections saw Saya gaining her only pinfall over Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukka with the “Gran Maestro de Tequila,” then falling to the rookie she’d given the moves to as Suzu Suzuki showed she also mastered Saya’s “Tequil Shot” variation.

The show drew 1,384 people, making it the largest crowd ever for Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall and their forth largest crowd ever.

It was an honor to be in attendance to wish Saya well, and I hope whatever future lies ahead for her after wrestling is a bright one.

Sareee 12/3/19 Live Thoughts

Decmber 3, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Sareee’s been having an incredible 2019, and as the year heads towards a close she had her first self produced show, titled Sareee’s Special Night.

The whole show looked like a lot of fun, and with the added bonus of seeing a dear friend in Japan again I was extremely excited for the night.

In an awesome touch, since Natsumi Maki is currently out injured and thus unable to wrestle at the show Sareee instead included her as a special ring announcer.

1) Zap I & Zap T vs Madeline & Miyuki Takase 

In a heartbreaking bit of bad luck Marvelous’ Mio Momono, scheduled to team with Madeline here, required surgery on her elbow just a few short weeks after returning from knee surgery. On the positive side it went well, and she was in attendance (in a sling) helping sell tickets for her home promotion Marvelous’ upcoming shows.

While certainly bringing a different style and energy to things than Mio would have, reigning Actwres girlZ Champion Miyuki Takase was a great replacement none-the-less.

This was my second time seeing Madeline (after catching her debut last May) and she’s a joy to watch. Her mannerisms are so expressive and she was a natural fiery underdog for the Zaps to push around.

I’m admittedly not a big fan of the way full heels are handled over here (with referees simply watching and making disapproving noises as they use weapons without any actual attempts to, you know, STOP THEM FROM CHEATING and the faces hardly ever responding in kind).

But outside of that particular common aspect of wrestling in Japan/pet peeve of mine this was a really fun battle between a pair of looming, dominating bullies and faces who just refused to stay down to the last. The assault of the masked veterans was too much in the end, but Madeline and Miyuki put up a hell of a fight. Great start.

2) Hibiki vs Jenny Rose 

Marvelous’ rookie Hibiki is the former Meiko Tanaka (of Diana). I was quite impressed with her when I saw her a few years back and it’s great to see her back in wrestling. Also beyond awesome to see Jenny back in Japan.

So this was a reunion of the former Diana rookie and a mainstay foreign wrestler of theirs at the time. The familiarity and chemistry showed, with a nicely competitive match wrestled at a good clip and a strong showing for Hibiki before losing to the veteran.

3) Aj Kong vs Nanami

Diana’s newest rookie, at 13 years old and having debuted just two months ago, draws the monster here.

There’s an art to having a much bigger, dominating veteran bait an upstart and have it remain interesting, and Kong’s a true master. She was never losing this match, but it was compelling all the same and Nanami’s infrequent advantages were perfectly done. In one extended sequence Kong egged Nanami on to deliver over TWENTY dropkicks, yelling at her to hit harder and higher each time. When Nanami later got Aja down to a knee and nailed her in the head with a dropkick the crowd erupted.

Excellent example of how to do this particular formula right (as always with Kong), and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Nanami in the future.

4) Haruka Umesaki & X vs CRYSIS (Jaguar Yokota & Ayako Sato)   

After everyone else was introduced Haruka called for X … and Sareee’s own music played. With the woman of the night already ringside something was clearly up, and sure enough after a moment out came Kyusei Sareee as played by the glorious mimic herself Sakura Hirota.

This was WAY over the top, but amusingly done and Jaguar’s barely strained patience awesome. The real Sareee eventually got involved, and this was just a well done bit of comedy supported by bursts of heavier action and continued the excellent pacing and balance of different styles on this show.

As with the opener the treatment of weapons took me out of the match at moments, but again that’s personal preference and otherwise this was exactly what it meant to be and should have been (I do have to mention a rather humorous whiff by Jaguar with a tray when Haruka hit the ropes and instead of hitting the rookie the tray went clear through the air/ropes next to her, which somehow kind of fit in with the kind of match this was 😉 ).

4)  Kaoru Ito vs Kyoko Inoue vs Chihiro Hashimoto 

My goodness this was an awesome little war. It featured three heavyweight Joshi competitors just laying into each other full force until one couldn’t kick out. Kyoko pinned Ito after one big lariat too many for the win, and all three of them looked great along the way.

5) Sareee & Syuri vs Mayu Iwatani & Takumi Iroha

This was billed as a dream match, and with reigning top champions from three different promotions that don’t all generally interact and a recently returned MMA competitor involved I’d say it fit the description.

With her time in MMA I hadn’t seen Syuri wrestle in years. And while Stardom’s NY show was quite good a crazy 8-woman tag with a broken bottom rope isn’t the same thing as a concentrated singles or tag team match, so this was also my first time seeing Mayu in this type of contest in about as long. Add in Marvelous’ ace and reigning Regina di Wave champion Iroha and Sareee herself and this was quite an exciting matchup on paper.

Of course again the benefit of dream matches is seeing these unusual combinations of wrestlers squaring off with a big fight feel, and this had it all in spades.

Top notch work from all four for the full duration of the time limit draw without every feeling like it was headed that way, this was a treat on so many levels. Great way to wrap up a great show.

This show was interesting matchups that were well booked and fun up and down the card. Stellar effort from Sareee, and a thoroughly enjoyable night.

Farewell to a Gran Maestro: Tequila Saya’s Retirement

During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I became an immediate and big fan of Ice Ribbon. A few months later, on March 12, 2016, a wrestler called Tequila Saya made her debut for the company.

I saw Saya wrestle for first time when I returned to Japan the following December. She made strong positive first impression in a tag match teaming with Kyuri against Uno Matsuya & Maika Ozaki on 12/24/16 and a great 7-way at Ribbonmania a week later, with both matches involving several other rookie talents.

The immediately striking thing about watching Saya is her infectious charisma. She always seems to be having fun and excited about whatever she’s doing and there’s an engaging quality to her performances. Her expressions and body language are great in helping to tell the story of her matches, and a distinct style and personality make her a compelling performer.

One of my favorite examples of the fantastic little details she adds to her matches is from Survival Ribbon during that same trip. Saya was drawn first for her random match and entered the ring visibly confident and psyched up. She then absolutely crumpled in the corner in resignation seconds later when it was announced her opponent was Ice Ribbon’s resident powerhouse Kurumi Hiiragi. In mere seconds with no words she emphatically and completely put over the notion that Kurumi’s a monster and the enormity of the task in front of her.

Saya continued to impress in all the subsequent times I’ve been lucky enough to see her wrestle, including some particularly fun matches this past January.

In Spring of 2018 Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party) initially focusing on talent with less than three years experience (although as time passes some of their core roster are obviously passing that particular hallmark), with some vets mixed in for them to work with. The concept is fantastic and I always enjoyed the shows of theirs I saw.

This Spring P’s Party had their first larger, non-dojo show as part of the Yokohama Wrestling Festival during Golden Week. Yokohama Party was a really enjoyable event, and it was great to see them get an opportunity in front of a larger audience. Saya wrestled in the main event alongside Burning Raw tag team partner Giulia again Rina Yamashita & the debuting Yappy.

Around the same time as starting up P’s Party, Saya also opened a bar close to the Ice Ribbon dojo. Continuing the theme it’s called After Party, and is a cool little place with a nice atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of bars back home, and Saya’s a great bartender in general in addition to it being awesome to have the opportunity to hang out with other fans and chat with them and Saya a bit. There were frequent guest events and other wrestlers helping out, and I always had a lot of fun when I went.

Both P’s Party and After Party have dates set for October post Saya’s final match, but it’s unclear how long either will continue (particularly the bar, which has already scaled back its open dates to solely post Ice Ribbon/P’s Party dojo shows).

I didn’t know it at the time, but from her announcement up until this week I thought the Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) vs Burning Raw on 5/28/19 would be the final time I’d see Saya wrestle live. If so it would have been a great little opener and a fine note to go out on. I adored Burning Raw as a team (despite the nonsensical name lol) and this was really the start of their push to the International Ribbon Tag Team Titles, which they would win from Azure Revolution (Risa Sera & Maya Yukihi) in July and lose back to them a month ago. After the match Saya announced her impending retirement.

Of course in light of this week’s events that match becomes a bittersweet memory. Saya’s final match was scheduled to be on October 13, in which Burning Raw would face Uno Matsuya & Satsuki Totoro. That show was canceled due to a typhoon, and the expectation was that it would be rescheduled at a later date.

Instead the next day Giulia attempted to terminate her Ice Ribbon contract, and showed up at Stardom the day after that. There is a lot of turmoil and speculation surrounding her departure, which is of course outside the scope of this piece. Last night Saya announced she is postponing her retirement until the end of the year and will be wrestling in the previously committed matches Giulia was scheduled for. Whatever the situation this is a big, and appreciated, gesture on her part towards the company and the fans. Her new retirement date is set for Ribbonmania on 12/31/19.

Saya’s indicated that she planned to wrestle for three years from the start, and while I’ll miss her I’m glad she was able to realize her goal. Wishing the Gran Maestro de Tequila all the best in whatever’s next, though I do selfishly hope she’ll remain involved in Ice Ribbon in some capacity post her in-ring career.

SEAdLINNNG 4/28/19: The Last Arisa Nakajima Produce Of The Heisei Era Live Thoughts

April 28, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

Last year’s Arisa Nakajima produce show was awesome, and with her wrestling in three of the five scheduled matches this one looked to be great as well.

It’s going to be impossible to talk about this show without addressing the atmosphere, so let’s start there. There was a trio of loud, obnoxious foreign fans being rather disruptive throughout. Among other things, they were CONSTANTLY trying to start American style chants, which really aren’t done in Japan. I understand wanting to have fun and be a fan in your own way, but there is a level of respect that needs to be given to the fact that we are visitors in another culture with different norms and expectations. The problem was how incessantly they were doing it and the complete lack of awareness (or caring) that they were disturbing other fans (not to mention the wrestlers). After the first few times of literally no one in the arena joining in one would think they would have stopped, but instead they got increasingly louder.

Summarizing the whole fiasco was their insistence afterwards (when people tried to point out how poorly received their behavior was) that “the wrestlers loved us” and “what we were doing wasn’t illegal.” Yeah, they literally argued if they couldn’t get arrested then their actions must be ok. They actually were annoying enough to make a Japanese veteran wrestler pause in her post show comments to tell them to shut up, which is kind of insane given the culture over there.

I hate having to bring all this up at all, but it did impact the show so is unfortunately highly relevant.

1- Beyond the Sea Tag Title: Arisa Nakajima & Sae (c) vs Miyuki Takase & Himeka Arita

Ok, on to the wrestling. This was a fine opener, shining whenever Arisa was in. To be honest Sae just isn’t at the level of the others (including Himeka, who similarly has only been wrestling about a year and a half) and it did show at times. It was also tough to get into things here with the aforementioned disruptive fans at their worst, literally unsuccessfully trying to start “Let’s Go Arisa” chants TWENTY TIMES IN A TEN MINUTE MATCH. The wrestlers did their best to overcome it though and this ended up a nicely energetic opener, featuring what felt like a big title change. Takase has gotten incredibly good really quickly.

2- High Speed Match: Mei Hoshizuki vs Amazon vs Tsukushi

Ice Ribbon’s super-brat was in her element here, creating chaos and eventually settling on a shared victory with Mei as they double pinned their larger opponent (which liberal involvement from referee Natsuki). Perfectly acceptable in a high speed match, and a good way to keep Amazon looking like a threat even in defeat. These high speed triple threats tend to be quite enjoyable in general, and this one was no exception.

Mei had some of the coolest moments in the match, and how impressive she and her compatriot Marvelous rookies always are is definitely going to be a recurring theme in my reviews.

Amazon was decent here and utilized her size and power advantages well. She was a little off at times but actually noticeably evolved and improved over the course of the different shows I saw her at in the short time I was there, which was actually really cool to see. She’s got a lot of potential.

3- Best Friends (Arisa & Tsukasa Fujimoto) & Takumi Iroha vs Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) & Yoshiko

Just a ton of fun all around with this one. Yoshiko did the full dancing Butchers entrance with her teammates, and after teasing reluctance Iroha sang along with Best Friends during theirs.

It’s always a treat to see Best Friends together, and everyone was on point in a high octane, exciting contest. Neck and neck with the main for best of the night, with Arisa and team proving victorious to make her 1-1 for the night going into the main event.

4- Tequila Saya & Mima Shimoda vs  Maria & Tomoko Watanabe

I’m a big fan of both Saya and Maria and their sections against each other were a treat. Would love a singles match down the line. Fine but somewhat unmemorable match otherwise, with Shimoda & Saya picking up the win at the rookie’s expense.

Main Event- Nanae Takahashi vs Arisa Nakajima

SEAdLINNNG owner Nanae was their top singles champion at the time, but this was non-title. I have mixed feelings on her in general (both in and out of the ring), but she’s certainly capable of great matches and this was an excellent, hard hitting war.

My instinct is that she honestly didn’t need to go over Arisa here, and a time limit draw would have served better in a variety of ways, but it was Arisa’s third match of the night and again Nanae was the reigning champ so I do understand the decision. Great match to end the show with.

Outside factors aside this was a really good show overall, and kudos to the wrestlers for performing at a high level regardless and constantly reengaging the crowd.

DIANA 5/12/19 Live Thoughts

May 12, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

It’d been a long time since my only previous DIANA show, but I’ve certainly been aware of their rising star. I had the privilege of seeing Sareee in person at Sendai Girls’ shows against Chihiro in January and against DASH Chisako just a couple weeks prior to this in a pair of fantastic matches, and anticipation for her vs Kong III was through the roof.

Beyond the general awesomeness of being at Korakuen and the huge main event, there were a number of interesting aspects to the undercard that had me particularly excited for this show.

 

1) Ayako Sato vs Madeline 

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I was really impressed with Madeline here. In fact, I was about to write “this was my first time seeing Madeline,” momentarily forgetting it had to be as it was in fact her DEBUT.

 

 

Sato’s assault was spot on for letting the rookie shine and get a good amount of offense while keeping things reasonable. Madeline has a distinct style already, with an expressiveness that really draws the audience into her match and strong fundamentals. Fantastic first impression made.

 

2) Emi Sakura vs Haruka Umesaki 

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As a huge fan of Sakura and her promotion Gatoh Move, this match seeing her face a former student from DareJyo (who I was previously unfamiliar with) was another big reason I made a point of attending this show.

 

 

This was really fun. Every little detail was on point, from even before the match started and Emi took issue to Haruka being presented with a gift before the match and her not. Emi’s a master, Haruka rose to the challenge, they got a decent amount of time to play with, and this was an extremely good match.

 

3) Queen Elizabeth Championship: Jaguar Yokota (c) vs Sakura Hirota vs Yumi Ohka 

 

Fine 3-way with Hirota being Hirota, Ohka holding everything together with liberal application of kicks, and Yokota picking her spots to capitalize and retain her title.

 

4) DIANA Tag Team Championship: Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe (c) defeat Double Inoue (Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue) 

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It was a treat to see Double Inoue, and in a title match to boot. Absolutely brutal at points, and admittedly got excessive at the end. Watching Kyoko take FIVE top rope doublestomps to the stomach from Ito was cringe inducing, and that many wasn’t needed to get the point across. That small criticism aside though, this was great.

 

5) DIANA World Championship: Aja Kong (c) vs Sareee 

I’d heard a lot about their previous encounters and have become a huge fan of Sareee in general, so as mentioned above the expectations were high for this one.

 

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It was A LOT more lopsided than I expected at first, with Kong largely wiping the mat with Sareee for the first third to half of the match. Then Sareee found a weakness to capitalize on when Kong missed a charge and “injured” her arm, and Sareee showed she could give as good as she got.

 

 

The back and forth battle raged on, with Sareee weathering the storm long enough to shock the monster with a rollup for the win and the title. This built to a moment, and was pretty excellent along the way. Chihiro Hashimoto comes out afterwards and appears to challenge Sareee to a double title match.

 

 

Sareee is wrestling’s next big star, and everyone clearly knows it. She recently won said double title match so is currently a reigning double singles champion across two companies. On her way to the Sendai title she pinned their legendary owner Meiko Satomura, as well as DASH Chisako and other top competitors. And of course any sort of victory over Kong is a huge deal, let alone a singles pinfall. The important part of course is Sareee’s completely believable and natural in this role, with both the technical skills and charisma/mannerisms to pull it all off.

 

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Wonderful show from top to bottom, with a variety of match styles and points of interest. DIANA delivered big time here.