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Japan Reviews Wrestling

Ice Ribbon 12/31/15 Live Thoughts

December 31, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

RibbonMania is Ice Ribbon’s big year end show, and one of the events I was most looking forward to. The biggest deals for me were Neko Nitta’s retirement match and ceremony and a tag tittle match involving three of my favorite wrestlers.

In addition to the usual bringing out the roster, the show started with a singing performance by Best Friends that fired up the crowd nicely.

Hiroyo Matsumoto, Makoto and Maruko Nagasaki vs Cherry, Hiroe Nagahama and Mika Iida was a fun opener with some nice six person spots, and an effective way to use numerous non-regular roster members to fill out the card. Yuuka vs Sareee was a nice spotlight on two young wrestlers with a lot of potential. Yuuka in particular really impressed me in her matches during my trip

The second musical performace of the show preceded the next match via Miyako Matsumoto’s band Black DPG. I enjoyed it and being only one song it was effectively just a longer than usual entrance for Miyako.

 Miyako and Jun Kasai vs Antonio Honda and Mochi Miyagi vs GENTARO and Yuji Hino was a great mix of Miyako’s unique and amusing antics and wild brawling. Although being her band remained ringside throughout and it was essentially no DQ they really should have gotten involved at some point.

I was unfamiliar with Buribato (SAKI and MIZUKI) before my trip, but will definitely be keeping an eye on them going forward as they’re great both individually and as a team. Their Number 1 Contendership match here against the likewise impressive Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) was good, but the exchanges seemed awkward when Maya was in the ring and I feel these teams could do much better against each other.

For her last match Neko Nitta chose to team with 235 against Akane Fujita and Kyuri. This was a decent send off for Neko and it was nice to see her highlight the younger talent during her farewell to her short career.

The ceremony was a treat to be at live. I feel honored to have been there to say goodbye and wish her well. More thoughts on that here.   

While Tsukushi vs Ayako Hamada wasn’t quite the blow away encounter I expected, it was still extremely good. Hamada’s shoulder was taped and whether from injury or not it seemed she’s lost a step since I last saw her a couple years ago. No complaints overall though, as she and Tsukushi put on a solid match here regardless.

I consider Tsukasa Fujimoto one of the best wrestlers in the world today and am likewise a huge fan of Misaki Ohata and Arisa Nakajima, so was VERY excited for the Best Friends (Fujimoto and Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Ohata and Ryo Mizunami) Tag Title Match. It didn’t disappoint, and this is neck and neck with Best Friends vs Jumonji Sisters as my favorite match of my entire trip.

I hadn’t seen Mizunami much before, but she fit in perfectly and this was just fantastic. Neither my memory nor words can do this proper justice. See it yourself if you get a chance.

The main event saw another favorite of mine defending her IcexInfinity Title as Aoi Kizuki (c) faced Hamuko Hoshi. I honestly am pretty “meh” on Hoshi, who had been just ok in previous matches I’d seen and had blown a couple spots I wouldn’t expect from someone of her experience. So I wasn’t thrilled with the outcome here, although with Aoi’s subsequent announcement of going freelance retaining wouldn’t have made sense.

Personal preference aside this match was a good main event. It had an unusual structure as they traded signature moves and attempted finishers early, which made things feel different and intense. Nice trick to use every so often. Hoshi looked like a monster by the end, largely due to throwing a billion lariats that Aoi sold like molten death. I hope we see more of this Hoshi and less of the one I saw on earlier shows as her title reign goes.

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When the biggest criticism I have of a show is that given the talent involved I know a few matches could have been even better I’d say things went well. Overall this was one of the best shows I saw, and a great year end spectacle for IR.

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Japan Reviews Wrestling

Nyah! Saying Goodbye to Neko Nitta

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During my trip to Japan I had the opportunity to finally see Neko Nitta. It was somewhat bittersweet as it was during her final matches before retirement, but I was still happy to wish her well in whatever her future after wrestling holds.

 

I was impressed with all five matches I saw Neko in, and got to see a nice variety from her. From a Triangle Ribbon Title defense at the 1/19 IR dojo show to comedy matches at her and Risa’s events to a hardcore war main eventing her last dojo show to her last match highlighting some of IR’s younger talent, everything was compelling and entertaining. Her ability to adapt such a unique character to numerous different match styles and still make it work perfectly is incredible.

Japanese retirement shows are interesting events, full of ceremony and tradition. I was privileged to be able to attend three such shows while in Japan. Having been lucky enough to meet Neko at a couple of IR shows before Ribbonmania, it was particularly nice to be at her send off.

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While I don’t have the history of watching Neko I have with some of the other wrestlers I’ve said goodbye to in this blog, I am still a big fan and it was an honor to be able to meet her and witness her final matches live.

All the best.

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Japan Reviews Wrestling

Ice Ribbon 12/28/15 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

This was Risa Sera Produce 2 and felt quite different than the other Ice Ribbon shows I’ve been to. All the matches had heavy comedic overtones, but it was done very well and surrounded by excellent action. The main event also got more and more serious and dramatic in tone the longer it went.

Maruko Nagasaki, Tsukasa Fujimoto and Tsukushi vs Akane Fujita, Maya Yukihi and Mochi Miyagi  started the show. The announcers (including retired wrestler Mio Shirai) did live commentary through most of the show, which worked well given the lighter tone. I was a bit lost here, as they was some stipulation affecting when pinfalls could be counted I didn’t follow since I can’t speak Japanese. But it was easy to catch the gist thanks to facial expressions and body language of the wrestlers (particularly Fujimoto). Good action too, making this a strong opener.

Next up was a Cell Phone Destruction Tag Match with Miyako Matsumoto and Neko Nitta vs Hamuko Hoshi and Yuka. Yep, a match where the loser of the fall has their cell phone destroyed. See what I mean about comedic overtones. A second stipulation was added shortly before the show that if the match went to any kind of no contest, it was Risa Sera’s phone that would be destroyed. I had been questioning why the four involved wouldn’t just agree to a double countout or to run out the clock to save their own phones at Risa’s expense, and to my delight the always entertaining Miyako Matsumoto seemed to propose just that to start the match. All four began posing and stretching for a couple of minutes, until Risa came out to plead her case. Again I didn’t catch what was said, but the general effect was turning everyone on Miyako and the match began in earnest.

This was a highly entertaining back and forth match, with a nice underlying story of Miyako increasingly getting on her partner’s nerves and causing Neko grief until the latter breaks up Miyako’s apparent pin victory and feeds her to their opponents.

Injured wrestler Kurumi was brought out with hammers for the destruction ceremony, complete with ten bell salute for Miyako’s phone. Miyako suitably freaked out as her beloved phone was destroyed, including her opponents getting a couple of hammer shots in when Kurumi was finished. Although I generally prefer straight up wrestling, the humorous stuff can be fantastic when done right. It was done perfectly here. Miyako in particular is a master of it.

The main event was a 60-minute Four Seasons Ironman Match featuring Risa Sera. Her opponent changed after each decision, and they all brought some sort of season related weapon with them. This match had everything, including numerous intense brawls through the crowd (and outside the building a couple times).

Risa’s opponents were Tsukushi, Isami Kodaka (twice), Hamuko Hoshi, Yuko Miyamoto (twice), Neko Nitta, Akane Fujita, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Mochi Miyagi. Weapons ranged from pollen filled balloons to buckets of snow to a barbed wire baseball bat. One of the more amusing sequences was Akane Fujita dumping igakuri all over the ring as her “weapon,” then Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in next with a broom and calmly using it to sweep all the igakuri away before attacking Risa.

The first half or so of the match was heavy comedy, but still emphasized Risa’s resiliency and had good wrestling related spots worked in. As the match went on the live commentary dropped away and things got a lot more serious, leading  to a great finishing sequence with Risa fighting off Isami Kodaka as time wound down.

It’s been an adjustment to me to have some match types where the results aren’t meant to matter, and this was ridiculously lopsided. But it wasn’t meant to be serious until the end, when it became a testament to Risa’s toughness anyway. As a friend told me, “It’s not about the winning and losing, it’s about the journey.” This was a hell of a journey for Risa, and she had numerous bumps and bruises (including a nasty one on the left side of her face) illustrating it.

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Overall this was another fantastic show from Ice Ribbon, and Risa really outdid herself. That the roster can put on numerous shows with such different feeling and atmosphere speaks volumes about the level of talent involved.

 

 

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Japan Reviews Wrestling

Ice Ribbon 12/26/15 Live Thoughts

December 26, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

This was Neko Nitta’s last dojo show before her retirement, and most of the matches related to her in some way. Also, since it was the last dojo show of the month photographs were allowed during the show (unlike at my previous IR dojo show).

Neko opened the show with a promo consisting of Akane reading from prewritten notes and Neko emphasizing as needed with her standard “nyahs.” Pantera Rosa interrupted and started whipping Neko. After they were separated she cut a promo, presumably about the main event. After she left Neko stunned the remaining wrestlers by dropping the nyahs and responding directly to Pantera’s threats.  

The first two matches were triple threats, likely building up to something with Neko’s vacated Triangle Ribbon Championship. Risa Sera vs Maya Yukihi vs Yuuka had an interesting dynamic with Yuuka having to fight off the cooperating teammates to start but things eventually devolving as Risa and Maya each tried to win. Some consequences of Risa’s win at her regular partner’s expense were teased as everyone kind of walked out on Risa afterwards and left her looking concerned in the ring. Solid opener.

The second triple threat was a bit  of a mess. 235, Kyuri and Akane Fujita never seemed to get on the same page and there were several obviously blown spots. I’ve seen all three of them in good matches, it just seems they still need a veteran in there with them to hold things together at this point.

Neko’s first match of the night was the Cats vs Dogs Captain’s Fall Elimination Match. Akane Fujita, Leon and Maruko Nagasaki joined Neko to face HAYATE, Rabbit Miyu, Mochi Miyagi and Miyako Matsumoto. As far as I could tell it was elimination style, except that the match would end immediately if a captain was eliminated. Captain’s were chosen by rock, paper, scissors, and neither team was particularly happy with the appointments of Miyako and Maruko. This was a fun match with comedic overtones, such as Mochi getting distracted by Neko bringing out dog treats and Miyako causing most of her team’s eliminations.

The combatants in the upcoming title match at Ribbon Mania faced off again as Aoi Kizuki and Tsukasa Fujimoto faced Tsukushi and Hamuko Hoshi. Hammy continues to not impress me, as she blew an ARM DRAG during this match. I’m going to cry if she beats Aoi for the title. Was an excellent match otherwise, with several awesome spots of the wrestlers stealing each other’s trademark moves.  

The last match was a crazy brawl between Neko Nitta and Pantera Rosa.  that was unlike anything else I’ve seen from IR. Pantera dismissively ignored Neko to start, and once Neko had enough and slapped her Pantera responded by grabbing her whip and beating the hell out of Neko for several minutes. They went into the crowd, Neko ended up bleeding, and it was general mayhem from bell to bell. A victorious Pantera Rosa finally showed some compassion and embraced Neko after the match.

They went to the back together, then Neko came out a few minutes later with Rosa’s mask and a “goodbye letter.” Didn’t understand it of course but the gist of the promo seemed to be Pantera Rosa is gone and Neko also announced her retirement match for Mania.

The show closed with the roster joining Neko in the ring to present some gifts. Neko came out to meet fans and was in good spirits despite the dried blood still all over her face. And the opportunity to get polaroids with the wrestlers inside the ring is still awesome.

A bit of a departure from the usual for Ice Ribbon and not without its rough spots, but overall this was a fantastic stop on the way to Neko’s retirement.

 

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Japan Reviews Wrestling

Ice Ribbon 12/19/15 Live Thoughts

December 19, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

Bit of a surreal experience for me, as I’m making my first ever trip to Japan and this was the first show I saw once I got here. I’d heard a lot of great things about Ice Ribbon and had seen the fantastic Tsukasa Fujimoto in Shimmer so was extremely excited for this. It lived up to expectations and then some.

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Ice Ribbon Dojo shows are really interesting. The atmosphere is unlike anything else I’ve been to. It’s a small venue but packs a decent crowd. Seating is open but the earlier you bought a ticket the earlier you get to choose your seat. After the show everyone comes back to the ring for a “roundtable discussion” where they all give thoughts on the show and share their upcoming schedule and matches. Not speaking Japanese I obviously didn’t understand this portion, but I still got the general idea and it was still interesting to be at. Photography isn’t allowed at the dojo shows so I don’t have any match / action shots, but I will share pics of the awesome souvenirs I was able to get. The entire roster is available after the show to meet fans and sell merchandise, and they were all very friendly and approachable. 

One interesting thing about the shows I’ve been to so far over here is they have all been 3-4 matches long, which is much shorter than what I’m used to in the US (I know I’ll be at some longer shows later in this trip). They have all felt like full shows though, with great matches that are allowed to develop as needed and they definitely didn’t FEEL short. Pretty awesome.

The opening match was a six-woman tag featuring The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi and Mochi Miyagi) and Pantera Rosa vs. Akane Fujita, 235 and Kyuri. This was a fun all-out war, with Pantera Rosa playing a full blown dismissive heel and really working over and antagonizing Akane and 235 during the match. It’s going to take me a while to get used to refs ignoring cheating and foreign object over here and train myself not to constantly mentally ask why the faces don’t retaliate with weapons sooner, but it did pay off late in the match here with Rosa finally getting nailed with her own chain (although she later snuck out the win regardless). The Butchers are an odd act. They have an over-the-top dancing entrance that’s great and get a lot of cheers, but wrestle like heels. Akane Fujita left the strongest impression on me here. Everything she does connects with the force of a freight train. She seems to be an amazing power wrestler so far. Great match to serve as my introduction to wrestling shows in Japan.

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Up next was Maruko Nagasaki and Miyako Matsumoto vs Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi. Heard a lot about Risa before coming over so was nice to finally get to see her wrestle. Great showing from all four. Miyako is officially an instant favorite of mine. She’s not a technical wizard in the ring, but her act is pitch perfect. She’s shameless about doing what’s best for her at the expense of her partner, celebrates the least little thing (even such as being picked up for a slam) with hilarious flourishes and posing, in general was just amusing as hell as a quasi-coward, full of herself heel. Wrestling needs various styles, and she’s the epitome of hers.

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Hamuko  made a second appearance of the night in a preview of sorts for her upcoming title match in Aoi Kizuki and Tsukushi vs Yuka and Hamuko Hoshi. Honestly Hamuko is ok but seemed the weakest of the bunch in both matches to me so I’m really hoping she shows more in said impending title match. Yuka and Tsukushi were both impressive, with particularly smooth reversals. I’m a big fan of the champ so far too. Aoi’s “swivel” diving moves (splashes and body presses when she rotates horizontally instead of vertically) are something I’ve never quite seen before and make for great visuals as signature & finishing moves. 

 

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The show ended with Neko Nitta defending her Triangle Ribbon Championship against Tsukasa Fujimoto and Kyuri. Excellent main event. Kyuri played a great role as the totally overmatched youngster trying to hang with the two veterans, Tsukasa was just as amazing as I remember from Shimmer, and it was real treat to see Neko before her impending retirement on 1/3. Neko’s character and mannerisms are great, and she’s a phenomenal wrestler to boot.

 

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As I mentioned earlier the roundtable to close out the show was interesting even though I couldn’t understand what was being said. The wrestlers shook hands with fans at ringside afterwards and everyone hung around for quite a while afterwards. I love the opportunity to get polaroids with the wrestlers, as it provides a nice memento in general but you can also get them signed (unlike having pics taken with my own camera). The opportunity here to get a polaroid in the ring with the ENTIRE ROSTER was cool in ways I can’t properly describe.

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My first Ice Ribbon show was everything I had hoped and the perfect way to kick off my Japan trip. Right up there with Shimmer in terms of enjoyment. Really can’t recommend this promotion enough.