AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Round 1 Live Thoughts

AEW’s sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship is underway. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner. That winner will face Shida at AEW’s Revolution PPV on March 7, 2021.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. See my preview of the first round for more information on the wrestlers as well as some thoughts on all four of these first time ever singles matches.

Now it’s time to see how they all turn out.

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga

All four of these matches are one fall with a twenty minute time limit.

The matches are taking place in Ice Ribbon’s home base, a venue I’m very familiar with (Ice Ribbon rents their dojo out for other events, and are not involved in this tournament).

This was one of the dream matches of the tournament and it’s great to see it happen. We’ve got two extremely quick and deceptively powerful wrestlers here. Yuka is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, and the former TJPW Princess of Princess champion has four and a half years experience over Gatoh Move’s prodigy.

Though Mei had been wrestling for TJPW the last few months, this is the first time she and Yuka are crossing paths in the ring at all. *

This was honestly not the match I expected them to have as a first time encounter to be seen by a lot of first time viewers. It was wrestled at a very fast pace and featured a ton of counters and dodges. It’s the type of match viewers like me who are familiar with the maneuvers of both competitors and can fully process every feint and counter-move love, and I adored it. But I wonder if fans unfamiliar with their moves got the same depth from it, especially when even commentary missed big things like Mei attempting but not completing her finishing submission Lucifer.

Both also have very unique and creative movesets, which led to a couple small moments of awkwardness as they got used to each other. It was noticeable enough to mention, particularly when Mei kind of fell off Yuka’s shoulders going for her trademark rollup out of victory roll position when Yuka turned the opposite way Mei expected, but the recoveries were spot on and overall they were just small blips.

Yuka took control late and broke out the jaw-dropping Magical Girl Chicken Dude (450 from the middle of the top rope) to put Mei away. The match was extremely good and served as a nice introduction for Mei before she was overwhelmed and defeated by who I believe is the Japan side favorite. As mentioned above, for me this hit all the right notes. Would love to see a rematch sometime.

* Japan has a strong, strange kind of quasi-kayfabe/willing suspension of disbelief that makes it a little difficult to discuss certain things sometimes. Wrestlers occasionally play different characters/personas in different companies, without masks and with no attempt to hide their identity, that they and fans will ham-fistedly pretend are unrelated. So when “Mei Saint-Michel,” the lost child found in a forest in France taken in by Saki-sama who’s clearly Mei in a maid outfit, appears in TJPW and Mei Suruga posts on Twitter wondering why people are tagging her in posts about “someone who isn’t me,” that’s what’s going on. Regardless, “neither” Mei has previous wrestled Yuka.

Emi Sakura vs Veny

Of note is that while she still came to the ring with cape, crown, and microphone, the Queen obsessed Emi Sakura wished to show more of the base of who she is and for the first time in AEW was not wearing her Freddie Mercury inspired gear. Big opportunity for Veny** to make a big impression on the international stage against the twenty-five year veteran, so both are coming in with something to prove.

This was the consensus best match of the first round, and opinion I’m in complete agreement with. Sakura lost a bit of weight in preparation for this match and showed off the resulting increase in speed and agility throughout. This had a bit of everything, with both wrestlers showing proficiency in strikes, submission holds, and anything else they could throw at each other. Short of full play-by-play I’m at a loss to convey the scope of this, so my best advice is simple to go watch.

After a lot of back and forth and fighting off each other’s signatures, Sakura was able to wear Veny down with a vicious looking under the arm dragon sleeper, then is finally able to nail the Tiger Driver to advance.

I expected (and wanted) Sakura to win, but a Veny upset was likely enough that this was particularly gripping down the stretch. Great showing by both, and it’s particularly nice to see AEW get a glimpse of what Sakura is truly capable of.

**Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh

The battle between two of the most charismatic wrestlers anywhere in the world was lighter fare than the rest of the opening round, but still featured two determined competitors due all they could to advance. Highlights included Itoh suckering Ryo in with fake crying to get an advantage only to blow it by charging the unmovable object and wiping herself herself out when Ryo didn’t budge, and Mizunami learning first hand that it’s unwise to underestimate how hard Itoh’s head is.

They wrestled a smart match and their styles worked well together. Ryo really can adjust to just about anything and is extremely underrated. Despite Itoh giving it her all, the veteran stayed one step ahead and after Itoh barely kicked out after a brutal spear Ryo used the momentum of Itoh’s kickout to apply an anaconda vice for the tapout victory.

While many newer fans expected Itoh’s immediate appeal with the unfamiliar fanbase to lead to a win here, this was the only way this was ever going to end. Even ignoring that the matches were likely taped before Itoh’s cheerful, curse filled introductory tweet went viral, her entire identity is the crass, defiant underdog continuing to be herself despite setbacks. Her immediately beating a stronger wrestler with 10+ more years experience is not the right story to tell with her. It’s the fight and doing things her way that matter with Itoh, and her battle here with the powerhouse was as good as a first impression as she could make.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura

“This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.”

That quote from my preview pretty much sums it all up. Kong dominated the youngster, but Rin took everything and kept fighting, earning her the immediate respect of everyone watching. At one point Kong spiked her with a particularly vicious piledriver, and Rin’s kickout had the chat going wild. Hanging in with Kong as long as she did made Rin look super tough, and she even got the monster down with a flurry of offense long enough to attempt the Ultra Rin (twisting senton).

Kong moved however, and absolutely planted Rin with a backdrop driver … for 2.999. I expected that to end it, and Rin looks super human for surviving it. Rin fights off the brain buster but gets leveled with a clothesline after a vicious right for another close 2, and the legend has had enough and finishes the upstart off with a monstrous top rope elbow drop. Exactly what this should have been.

——-

Expected strong showing all around from these intriguing, well chosen matchups showcasing several different styles. While I’d like to see a touch more research done, and things like getting the referee’s gender wrong are rather embarrassing mistakes, overall Excalibur did a decent job on commentary and sounded reasonably knowledgeable about and (most importantly) interested in the matches taking place.

No surprises in the results but that’s perfectly fine, especially with the awesome matchups that will result in the next round. Really good stuff, and a nice introduction to the new wrestlers regardless of their losses, who will all hopefully be brought back in the future. These matches are still available on their YouTube channel.

For more information on how to officially watch the home promotions of these wrestlers and a number of other Joshi companies see this thread.

The next round of the Japan bracket will air with two first round matches from the US side:

Emi Sakura vs Yuka Sakazaki
Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong
Nyla Rose vs Tay Conti
Britt Baker vs Madi Wrenkowski (subbing for the injured Anna Jay)

Check it out on AEW’s YouTube channel tonight at 7pm EST.

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Preview

AEW has begun a sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. Four of the eight (Emi Sakura, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, and Aja Kong) have competed in AEW in the past. The other four (Mei Suruga, Veny, Maki Itoh, and Rin Kadokura) are making their AEW debuts.

The champion herself has gone to Japan to oversee the matches, and the first round is absolutely stacked with four really interesting matchups. Furthermore, all four are first time ever singles encounters.

(Shida appeared as a special referee ChocoPro 89 which featured matches involving half of the Japan bracket participants, and also had a sit down talk with Emi Sakura after the show.)

Here is some more information on all eight participants, and a quick look at the first round contests:

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga




Nickname
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves






Twitter

Yuka Sakazaki
(坂崎ユカ)

Magical Girl
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 1, 2013
5’2″
24
Magical Girl Splash (middle of the top rope splash)
Magical Magical Girl Splash (MGS with horizontal rotation)
Magical Girl Chicken Dude (middle of the top rope 450)

YukaSakazaki

Mei Suruga
(駿河メ)

Apple Girl
Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
May 27, 2018
4’10”
21
Propeller Clutch
Lucifer (chicken wing Cattle Mutilation)




Mei_gtmv

Yuka Sakazaki is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, but also deceptively strong and more than capable of going strike for strike or hold for hold as well. The seven year pro has been Princess of Princess Champion twice (TJPW’s top singles title) and held their tag team titles with two different partners.

But for those unfamiliar with Mei Suruga: the term wrestling prodigy has perhaps never been more apt. She debuted in just twenty-one days of full training and wrestles with confidence and skill far beyond her two and a half years of experience. Mei’s had major upsets already in her short career, including singles victories over both Emi Sakura and Hikaru Shida. She recently won her first championship, Gatoh Move’s Asia Dream Tag Titles (with partner Baliyan Akki) and will no doubt be looking to ride that wave of momentum to victory here.

While I personally expect Yuka to win not only this match but perhaps the entire bracket, Mei’s the dark horse of the tournament and her adding Yuka’s name to her increasing list of upsets is not impossible. Either way this is a match between two extremely quick, skilled, and exciting competitors and is the first round match I’m most excited for.

Emi Sakura vs Veny




Nickname/Tagline
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Emi Sakura
(さくらえみ)

“She will chop you.”
AEW, Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
August 17, 1995
5’1″
44
La Magistral
Nyan Nyan Press (450 Splash)
Tiger Driver
and many, many more

sakuraemi

Veny
(朱崇花, Asuka)*

The Genderless Pro Wrestler
Freelance
August 9, 2015
5’9″
22
Moonsault
Shooting Star Press
Sitout Chokeslam


asuka10272140

The Queen obsessed eccentric wrestler who AEW audiences are most familiar with is only one facet of the incredible twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura. Capable of matching nearly any style and adapting to any challenge, the sole AEW contracted wrestler on this side of the bracket is one of the clear favorites. Beyond her significant wrestling prowess, Sakura is also a well renowned and highly respected trainer, having trained an incredibly long list of wrestlers including not only possible tournament opponents Mei Suruga and Riho, but the reigning AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida as well.

However among the favorites Sakura has perhaps the toughest draw of the round. It’s easy to forget how young Veny is, as at 22 and with just five years in she fits right in going toe-to-toe with the veterans and has already held the top singles title in two different promotions. With Veny’s strength and fiery offense a victory is not impossible, and if she does shock Sakura in round one she could become a good bet to continue on quite far.

*Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Ryo Mizunami
(水波綾)

Aniki

Freelance
November 3, 2004
5’4″
32
Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver)
Running Lariat
Diving Guillotine Leg Drop

mizunami0324

Maki Itoh
(伊藤麻希)

The Cutest in the World,
The Fired Idol
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 11, 2016
5’3″
25
Falling Headbutt
Itoh Special (Texas Cloverleaf)



maki_itoh

TJPW’s lovable misfit immediately captured the imagination of a whole slew of new fans when she happily cursed out a welcome message when retweeting AEW’s announcement of her participation in the tournament. Itoh doesn’t do much the way one is “supposed” to and everyone adores her for it. She is who she is unapologetically and is always ready to take on the world, which she often has to. Itoh’s a straight ahead brawler who uses her hard head for a good portion of her offense, and while she has more in her arsenal then some give her credit for she is generally overmatched in technique against wrestlers with similar or greater levels of experience. But she’s defiant to the last and will fight tooth and nail trying to defeat her opponents through shear strength of will.

Which she’ll need to do to have any chance against the sixteen year veteran Mizunami. This will be Mizunami’s first appearance for AEW since their first pay-per-view, where she teamed with Riho & Shida to defeat Aja Kong, Emi Sakura, & Yuka Sakazaki. The powerhouse is capable of, and perhaps used to, running right over her opponents and will be a real test of Itoh’s fortitude. Mizunami is also the only one in the tournament who even comes close to matching Itoh in terms of raw charisma, so this match should be a really fun spectacle.

Itoh winning is not inconceivable, but make no mistake it would be a BIG upset. She has wrestled Aja Kong before though, and the possibility of a rematch in the second round here is intriguing.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves


Twitter

Aja Kong
(アジャコング)

N/A – the name “Aja Kong” speaks volumes all on it’s own
Oz Academy
1986
5’5″
50
Uraken (spinning back fist)
Brainbuster

ajakonguraken

Rin Kodakura
(門倉凛)

Cool Needlefish

Marvelous
May 3, 2016
5’1″
27
Ultra Rin (twisting senton)


Kazu_Marvelous

Aja Kong is a legendary thirty-four year veteran who is still going strong and still impressive and intimidating in the ring. Taking her out is going to be a tall task for anyone, and perhaps a near impossible one for Rin. Although I fully expect the talented, defiant spitfire from Marvelous to make the legend work for it, and Kong may find herself risking a disqualification if tempted to tee off on Rin with her ever present metal mini garbage can. This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.

——-

That wraps it up for now. AEW is premiering these first round matches on their YouTube channel Monday February 15 at 7pm EST.

For the first time ever I actually find myself rooting for all the favorites, as second round matches of Sakazaki vs Sakura and Mizunami vs Kong would be incredible and are legit dream matches. However as mentioned above nothing’s 100% here, and absolutely all of the possible second round matches look great. Really excited to see how this all plays out.

Sendai Girls 5/18/19 Live Thoughts

May 18, 2019 in Sendai, Japan

DASH Chisako opened with an apology that she would miss her first Sendai show in her career due to injury. She had a mild concussion, and has thankfully since recovered and returned.

1) Mikoto Shindo vs Manami 

Mikoto is from Marvelous and one of a trio of rookies there that have been making a strong impression as they wrestle for a variety of different companies gaining experience. Manami’s been honing her own skills here in Sendai Girls, and the two proved nicely complimentary foils for each other. Solid match between two rookies that should both have bright futures ahead.

2) Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Hikaru Shida vs KAORU

This was a fun triple threat, with good action and underlying issues playing up having Dash’s two regular partners against each other (she teams with Karou in Marvelous as Riot Crown and Hiroyo elsewhere as Reiwa Utima Powers). Dash was ringside and involved in some of the antics as much as she was able, which was nice to see.

The match ended with a really cool double pin on Karou (Hiroyo in sunset flip position on Karou while Shida small packaged her). The ref awarded match to Shida, over Hiroyo’s protests.

3)  Sakura Hirota vs Alex Lee

Hirota, in honor of Dash, tried to be hardcore here. That worked about as well as one might expect. Alex picked up the eventual win in a fine for what it was encounter.

4) MeikoMei (Meiko Satormua & Mei Suruga) vs Sareee & Yuu 

I was excited about just about every aspect of this encounter: my first time seeing MeikoMei team, wrestling’s biggest rising star against one of its greatest established veterans AND one of its brightest rookies, another chance to see how Yuu is evolving her craft since going freelance, etc. This is exactly the type of unusual mix of wrestlers and styles I hope to see with all the cross promotion that has been happening lately.

And for a full twenty minutes they delivered. Everyone was one point, every matchup was different and interesting, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable, hard hitting affair right up until the time limit expired and the match was declared a draw. Would love to get to see any pairing of these four as a singles contest sometime.

5) Beauty Bear (Chihiro Hashimoto & Mika Iwata) vs Medusa Complex (Millie McKenzie & Charli Evans) 

I was previously familiar with and a fan of both Millie (from Sendai’s 1/6/19 show) and Charli (from Shimmer), but this was my first time seeing them as a team. Side note: I adore their team name.

Big match for them in the main event against Sendai mainstays and reigning tag team champions Mika & Chihiro (who was also Sendai’s reiging world champion). Solid tag team wrestling all around and a good main event. Medusa Complex’s (upset) victory in this non-title encounter and a resulting challenge set up Beauty Bear’s first title defense at a future date (despite holding the belts for over a year).

I always enjoy Sendai Girls, and this was certainly no exception. While I did miss seeing Dash in the ring I’m glad she took the time she needed to recover and am happy it wasn’t serious in the end. Really good show overall.

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.

Sendai Girls 4/27/19 Live Thoughts

April 27, 2019 in Sendai, Japan

 

DSC_0003

 

I’ve seen Sendai Girls’ shows a handful of times in Tokyo and their stars here and there in other promotions (including Dash’s debut for Shimmer a month before) and am a big fan, so am always wishing for more opportunities to catch their shows. This was the first time I was lucky enough to be able to go out to Sendai and seen them in their home base, and my first show of this trip to boot. Great way to start.

 

 

1) Mikoto Shindo vs Hiroyo Matsumoto 

Mikoto is from Marvelous and one of a trio of rookies there that have been making a strong impression as they wrestle for a variety of different companies gaining experience.

Hiroyo against rookies is always fun in general, as she knows how to rightfully dominate the match overall without making her opponent look weak. Mikoto showed good fire and determination before being put away by the veteran. Good opener.

 

DSC_0051

 

2) Alex Lee & Sakura Hirota vs Hikaru Shida & KAORU

Hirota and Karou on opposite sides of the ring means ridiculousness abound, and this was no exception. Entirely built around Hirota’s antics, specifically trying to get Shida to participate in posing, etc. Things never quite went as she wanted, and not being on the same page as partner Lee by the end caused Hirota to be rolled up and pinned by Karou. Amusing for what it was.

 

DSC_0093

 

3) DASH Chisako vs Sareee

This is the match that prompted me to go out to Sendai. Arguably wrestling’s biggest rising star against my personal favorite. Sareee challenged Sendai’s Champion in an incredible match at their 1/6/19 show in Tokyo, and while she came up just short there she defeated Meiko Satomura herself shortly before this match and seemed on course for another shot. Dash is another top veteran in Sendai Girls and was in position to play spoiler to those plans here.

 

 

This was everything I hoped for, and Sareee picked up another big singles victory on her way to another date with destiny against Chihiro in an awesome match. Sareee is on absolute FIRE lately, combining incredible in-ring work with real star presence, and it’s always something to behold when Dash gets the opportunity to go all out. They hit the hell out of each other here while build a logical, escalating flow to the match. Fantastic.

 

 

4) Beauty Bear (Chihiro Hashimoto & Mika Iwata) vs Minami & Yuu 

Beauty Bear were the Sendai Girl’s Tag Champions at the time, with Chihiro also holding Sendai’s top singles title. Yuu had recently signed with Pro Wrestling Eve in London after leaving Tokyo Joshi Pro, and was teaming with Sendai’s resident rookie.

This was surprisingly awkward early on, as Mika and Yuu was a styles clash and they took a while to get on the same page. To be honest they both need to work on their improvisation, as when things went a little off they didn’t cover very well and ended up drawing more attention to what should have been small, barely noticeable mistakes.

 

 

Interestingly, tagging the match’s least experienced wrestler in is what smoothed things out, as Minami is a Sendai trainee and as such has a lot of familiarity and comfort wrestling Iwata & Chihiro. Minami trying to put up a fight against more her experienced compatriots made a great anchoring story for the match.

And it was all on point from there on.  Chihiro vs Yuu was just a splendid spectacle of them trying to shoulder tackle each other into oblivion, and the next go around for Iwata and Yuu they concentrated on strikes and found a rhythm to great effect. This became really good after the awkward start. Really awesome to see Minami getting this kind of opportunity too. The champs eventually pinned Minami to win this non-title affair.

 

 

It’s impressive the level of show Sendai Girls was able to put on overall even with their legend missing (Meiko was absent from the show due to traveling to Europe), and a treat to see them out in their home area. Would love to go out there again.

 

IMG_4051

Sendai Girls 1/6/19 Live Thoughts

January 6, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

Because of the timing of my trips and usually staying in Tokyo I don’t get to see a whole lot of Sendai Girls shows. But I adore several members of the roster and the opportunities I do get to attend live are always great. This is my third show of theirs, after 1/6/18 headlined by a battle of legends and 4/19/18 featuring those two legends in separate singles matches against two of today’s hottest stars. This card looked a bit different than those on paper, but no less interesting.

 

DSC_0009

 

The show opened with a short match that saw Marvelous’ rookie Mei Hoshizuki against veteran DASH Chisako. Marvelous has a strong track record training up and comers, from Maria Takeda looking good the previous day at Ice Ribbon at only two weeks experience to the absolute star Mio Momono has become, among others. Sixteen year old Mei was at about a month and a half here, and looked decent against the aggressive, dominating veteran. Dash is a favorite of mine and one of the best high flyers in the world, and it’s always a treat to see her wrestle in any capacity.

 

DSC_0039

 

From a rough welcome for a visiting rookie we go to absolute ridiculousness in a 4-way between Eiger, Sakura Hirota, Hikaru Shida, and KAORU. Exactly the type of match one would expect from a pair of comedy wrestlers in with two weapon wielding opponents, and was quite amusing and held together with some creative spots and the occasional flash of wrestling prowess. Eiger surprisingly won by pinning everyone, including reigning Oz Academy champion Shida. Bonus amusement was had in the form of Eiger going over to the concentrated Chihiro cheering section (more on them later) a few times to spook them.

 

 

Aja Kong, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Alex Lee & Mikoto Shindo vs Meiko Satomura, Cassandra Miyagi, Mika Iwata, & Minami was an exciting 8-woman tag with a solid central story and various nice undercurrents.

 

DSC_0063

 

Minami was absolutely fed to wolves here, including a point at which she went for a tag and Meiko told her in no uncertain terms to get back to the center of the ring to face her monstrous opponents some more. It didn’t seem like she had been in for too short a time, but Meiko was clearly pushing the rookie (and perhaps teaching some match pacing at the same time). They all also played it up well (Meiko spun to the crowd and see to dare them to defy her judgement in a great moment), and with the specters of Hiroyo and Kong bearing down on the Minami throughout it ending up getting the crowd behind her even more. Which lead to a great finish that saw her eventually getting the win for her team to a strong pop. There was also tension between former partners Alex Lee and Mika Iwata, my last time seeing Cassandra Miyagi in Sendai Girls, and general strong work from all involved.

 

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I was not familiar with rookie Ayame Sasamura prior to this trip, and was impressed with what I saw from her at SEAdLINNNG on 12/28 in a triple threat against Sakura Hirota and Ayame’s own reigning SEAdLINNNG Tag Team Championship partner Arisa Nakajima. That isn’t the only title she held either, and here she defended her Sendai Girls Junior Championship against Millie McKenzie (who I saw at Tokyo Joshi Pro two days prior). Excellent work here from two wrestlers with under a year and half experience each. Both have a lot of potential and bright futures ahead of them (not to dismiss what each has already accomplished of course). Millie scores a bit of an upset and becomes the new SG Jr Champion in a great match.

Since this show Ayame was injured and required foot surgery (forfeiting her SEAdLINNNG tag title as a result). I really hope to see here recover in full and make a return to the ring when able.

 

 

I also tend to get too few opportunities to see DIANA’s Sareee wrestle, so I was really excited for this main event. She was particularly fantastic here, going tooth and nail with the dominant Sendai Girl’s Champion Chihiro Hashimoto in a surprisingly visceral title match. Incredibly impressed with the performances of both wrestlers here, which was no surprise. Chihiro is an incredible wrestler with equally incredible presence, and it’s a joy to hear her dedicated cheering section go wild for her during her matches. Sareee pushed the champs limits, but Chihiro persevered and kept her title. Would love to see a rematch down the line.

 

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Another really fun, engrossing show from Sendai Girls. My next opportunity to see them live can’t come soon enough.

Wave 12/29/18 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Wave’s big year end show ended up even more significant than usual for the company. Not only was it Misaki Ohata’s retirement show, but also the final “phase 1” show for Wave as they prepared to go on hiatus for four months to then relaunch under new management.

 

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Hiroyo Matsumoto is a force of nature in the ring, and the formula of seeing how much an up and comer can withstand against Lady Godzilla is a good one. Hiroe Nagahama put up a good fight in this opener before Hiroyo’s relentless onslaught gave her the victory.

 

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Next up was a 9-woman battle royal, somewhat surprisingly unthemed since this was a retirement show. Cherry outlasted Fairy Nihonbashi, Hikaru Shida, Himeka Arita, Kaori Yoneyama, Miyuki Takase, Natsumi Maki, Rin Kadokura, and SAKI to win in about ten minutes.

 

 

 

Considering the talent level and interesting names involved, some of the early eliminations and the spotlight coming down to Cherry and Fairy at the end was a bit underwhelming. Still there were a number of amusing spots (including a rather well done slow motion sequence), it didn’t overstay its welcome, and this was reasonably entertaining overall.

 

 

 

In my review of Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary show I remarked how well Wave’s Rina Yamashita and her partner that night Mio Momono executed the resentful tag partners story and won without making their opponents look weak. Men’s Wave featuring Keisuke Goto & Kenichiro Arai vs Koju Takeda & Onryo was pretty much the opposite.

Goto & Arai (opponents in the  previous year’s Men’s Wave tag) were at each others throats all match, leading to occasional advantages for their opponents, but in the end Goto tired of Arai, shoved his partner away, did his own thing, and won the match single handedly. Which earned him Arai’s respect after the match. Basic ringwork and meh story here (and I don’t quite get the point/appeal of Onryo’s gimmick of coming to the ring saturated with powder and essentially being a human dust cloud to the point the ring needed cleaning before the next match).

 

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In what I considered a rather surprising upset, Nagisa Nozaki defeated a former Regina di Wave champion in Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha in singles competition.  This was a well worked, exciting little match and a huge yet believable win for Nagisa.

 

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After a preview seeing them on opposite sides of a tag encounter the night before at SEAdLINNNG, that company’s estranged former tag team champions Rina Yamishita and Yoshiko continued their feud in singles competition. The two waged war and beat the hell out of each other for a full 15 minutes, going to a time limit draw. There was silliness around Rina’s insistence in covering *herself* in a trash can for a couple of (failed) attacks, but in general this heated brawl was intense and relentless. Great match for what it was.

 

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Speaking of SEAdLINNNG, their founder and current champion Nanae Takahashi, defeated ASUKA (a former Regina di Wave champion in her own right) next in a match with a few nice flourishes that was a bit paint-by-numbers otherwise.

 

 

 

So with Mio Momono pulled from every other show leading up to this due to impending knee surgery she rightfully took it easy here and … BWAHAHAHAHA. Yeah, no. While I really hope she didn’t push herself too hard the self proclaimed BOSS as always gave everything she had (including a dive to the floor minutes into the match O_o), with her WAVE Tag Team champion partner Yumi Ohka and opponents Sakura Hirota & Yuki Miyazaki doing a remarkable job of protecting Mio without anyone ever making it look obviously like they were protecting Mio.

Boss to Mammy would eventually drop those titles to the Hirota & Miyazaki after a near twenty minute battle that was much better than I honestly expected with Mio injured and the challengers largely a comedy team. Sakura busted out the working boots in a major way here, reminding everyone how much skill actually goes into her type of comedy by transcending it at points with spot on technical displays. She even hit the dive to the outside (well, after two failed attempts of course 😉 )!!! She’s still Sakura Hirota of course though, and won by collapsing into a pin on Ohka after a collision.

Mio has since had her knee surgery, and I wish her a speedy recovery and return.

 

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In the main event Misaki Ohata challenged her Avid Rival tag team partner Ryo Mizunami for the Regina di Wave Title in Ohata’s final match.

This was a different kind of retirement match than I’ve seen for others. Since it was a championship match they had a straight up contest befitting the prestige of the title and traditional “retirement spots” were completely absent. They clearly still had some fun with things though, such as when they brawled to the time keeper’s table and Misaki rang the bell directly in Ryo’s ear (ouch!).

 

 

 

As to be expected from two wrestlers of this caliber that know each other so well this was an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth encounter. Misaki eventually busted out a rolling variation of her Sky Blue Suplex (!!) and just wore the champion down until a final Sky Blue Suplex with bridge gave her the win and saw Misaki retire as Regina di Wave champion. Fantastic match and a well deserved honor for the twelve year veteran.

 

 

 

Misaki was in good spirits and joking around a bit during her retirement ceremony (even while her poor partner cried goodbye), a nice sign of her being satisfied with her career and ready to proceed to whatever’s next.  I’ll miss her but wish her well.

Likely because of Wave’s hiatus, there was no Zan-1 champion crowned this year. To end the night a video hyping Wave’s return in April was played, hinting at Hirota signing with Wave among other things.

 

 

 

Wave’s year (and “phase 1”) end show was missing some of the elements I’d usually associate with a retirement show, but it still felt a fitting and suitable goodbye for Misaki. The matches were mostly decent with a few exceptional ones, making the show enjoyable even beyond it’s significance and emotional notes.

Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show 10/9/18

I’ve been long familiar with Hikaru Shida from Shimmer, as well as here and there after I started coming to Japan. When I was planning my Fall trip (largely around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show, which featured Shida in the main event), I noticed I could catch this special anniversary show the night before I returned, and decided to check it out. Looked decent on paper, with a variety of match types and surrounding intrigue featuring wrestlers from various promotions, although I honesty wasn’t 100% sure exactly how well it would all come together.

 

 

Things started out interesting right away with a pairing of two incredible wrestlers who clearly weren’t entirely thrilled to be teaming together. Mio Momono & Rina Yamashita walked the fine line of maintaining a certain level of disrespect for each other throughout their match against Kaori Yoneyama & Koharu Hinata while still remaining competitive and properly recognizing their opponents as a threat.

Mio continues to be particularly fantastic, and I hope she recovers quickly and completely from her recent knee surgery and is able to return to wrestling. Great spots like Mio playing jump rope with their opponent during a Rina giant swing and her “helping” Rina during a submission hold by pulling Rina’s hair for “leverage” were made even better by the charisma and ttitude she brings to them. Really well done overall, with Mio & Rina staying serious enough despite their egos and issues that their eventual victory was still believable and didn’t make their opponents look weak.

 

 

So Misaki Ohata, Hiroyo Matsumoto, & Buffalo vs Yako Fujigasaki, Gabai Ji-chan, Toru Owashi was that good balance of ridiculousness and action that I desperately look for in most of my comedy matches. While not all of the humor was to my personal tastes (I tend to find Ji-chan amusing and annoying in equal measure), this turned out quite fun overall.

The foil cone “weapon” being aimed at people’s backsides was a focal point several times, as was Misaki’s engagement. Her partners sacrificed themselves to an attack with it to protect her at one point, and later when Misaki herself stole and wielded the weapon Toru put on a mask of Misaki’s fiance Makoto Oishi to dissuade her from attacking. Toru’s strategy was unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

It was really nice to see 3S together one last time before Misaki retired, and I enjoyed a lot of this. Also, seeing Misaki absolutely SPIKE Ji-chan with her crucifix bomb for the win was really satisfying.

 

 

In what may have been my personal most anticipated match of the night, Ice Ribbon regular Maika Ozaki got a chance to face reigning Sendai Girls’ champion  Chihiro Hashimoto (in non-title competition of course). It’s not a pairing that would normally be likely given the lack of crossover between the two companies at the moment, and one I was extremely excited to see. This was a great showcase for Maika against one of the very best power wrestlers in the world, and she pushed the beast that is Chihiro to the limit before Sendai’s champ finally put down the upstart.

 

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I swear I’ve seen Madoka announced under like five different names in various matches, and a quick search shows he has like ten. Here, as Hagane Shinnou, he teamed with Risa Sera against Aja Kong & TARU. No illusions about what kind of match this would be, as Risa was bloody in under two minutes. They fought all over, inside and outside the ring and right by me a few times, spreading chaos all over the arena.

This was all about Risa & Madoka trying to survive the monsters, and as such it had a fire absent from some of the other hardcore matches I’ve seen recently. Easily the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Risa all year. Risa can be incredible in this kind of match, often in my opinion when she’s more the underdog, and was both here. This was a “the journey is as important as the destination” type of match, and going to a draw with the monsters made Risa & Madoka look like stars.

 

 

In the main event Hikaru Shida seemed to be setting out to exorcise a personal demon against Naomuchi Marufuji. They had faced earlier in the year, with Shida getting knocked out in under two minutes. I could feel the pressure weighing on Shida as she looked to prove herself by at least putting up a better fight here. The right story, well worked, makes all the difference and they built off of that feeling of insecurity to craft an excellent match in both story and action.

 

 

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

 

 

I’m honestly kind of surprised how great this was from top to bottom. Everything clicked, being really well booked an executed in terms of stories and action within each individual situation and avoiding potential pitfalls. Generally everyone just made the most of their opportunities, and this was a high note to end this particular trip on.

 

 

 

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Ninja Mio sees you…

 

 

SEAdLINNNG 12/28/18 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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This SEAdLINNNG show at Shin-kiba 1st Ring had three matches and three stipulations announced, but which match would get which stipulation was to be decided by “random” draw day of. High speed rules seemed of most debate/interest, with the SEAdLINNNG roster wanting it for their matches and the visiting Emi Sakura of Gatoh Move desperately wanting anything else.

 

 

1- High Speed Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Ayame Sasamura vs Sakura Hirota

So the opening triple threat got the coveted high speed stipulation, and comedy wrestler Hirota found herself in rather dire straights against both of SEAdLINNG’s reigning tag team champions.  This was really fun and well done, with Hirota severely overmatched but able to take advantage of her opponents teamwork faltering at points due to competitiveness in this singles contest. Also, Hirota showed more of her own expertise in the ring, which enhanced and elevated her humor spots. This being high speed rules in SEAdLINNNG referee Natsuki Taiyo of course became involved in the action at points.

This was my first time seeing Ayame, who’s INCREDIBLE for her experience level. Arisa is of course Arisa, and never fails to impress. Things ended up with the tag champs getting a double pin of sorts on Hirota, and while the announcer initially proclaimed Arisa the victor the referee credited Ayame with the pin, giving her the win. The vet was not pleased, but kept things civil and supportive with her partner… for now, I’d imagine.

 

 

In between matches we got in ring interview segments. I likely would have felt different if I fully understood Japanese, but this really felt like overly long padding to make up for there only being three matches on the show. Especially when the second such segment went right into intermission. The second was slightly more amusing than the first (again, from a non-speaker’s perspective), as Hirota came out in costume and her guests were her opponents from the first match, so some of the emotions / reactions could be understood regardless.

 

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2- No Pinfall: Yoshiko & Himeka Arita  vs Rina Yamashita & Yuina

Yoshiko and Rina were SEAdLINNNG’s first tag team champions, and now apparently want each others heads on a platter. The stipulation here allows the match to end with anything other than a pinfall, including normal things like submission and countouts as well as by knockout (determined by not answering the referee’s count). Honestly it was half heartedly used, with only one attempt at a knockout count and a couple instances of the silly spot where wrestlers “forget” pinfalls don’t count and go for covers (funny how they hardly ever have their instincts take over and ignore the stipulation in ANY other kind of match/situation). For the match they wrestled this should have just been submission rules. The Rina versus Yoshiko sections had good fire and built to their impending singles contest at Wave, and the rest was ok, but overall this didn’t really draw me in as a whole.

 

 

3- Elimination Match: Emi Sakura, Yuna Mizumori, Mei Suruga vs Ryo Mizunami, Sae, Nanae Takahashi

So for the main event we have Gatoh Move’s founder with two of her rookies against SEAdLINNG’s champion, Wave’s champion, and a visiting freelancer rookie in an elimination 6-woman tag. Eliminations could happen by over the top rope to the floor in addition to the usual match ending conditions. 

This was excellent, with great use of the stipulation to structure the story of the match and draw the audience in, on top of awesome ringwork. There were a lot of parallels to the REINA vs Gatoh match from my second trip back in 2016, and I honestly expected this to end the same way, with a rookie from one team toughing it out against the other team’s “captain” at the end only to come up just short and look valiant in defeat. And that formula seemed in full effect throughout the majority of the 25 minute contest. There was a nice spotlight on Mei in the early stages and the expected precision work from Sakura (as a side note I desperate need more matches involving Emi vs Mizunami) as the Gatoh team seemed to be a little more cohesive in their teamwork before experience shifted the tide and things eventually came down to Yuna vs both of the reigning champions involved in the match.

 

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But in a wonderful subversion of expectation, Yuna would eliminate BOTH Ryo and Nanae to claim the upset win for the Gatoh trio in a frantic, wonderfully executed final section. Yuna is a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and her digging deep and powering her way through the odds was captivating, as well as totally believable. This was the PERFECT way to make the most of the stipulation, as Yuna looked incredibly strong, but without the champions looking weak (as the eliminations were over the top rope instead of pinfall, etc). Just incredibly well done from start to finish, including Sakura’s delight in her pupil’s win and the way she and Mei danced around Yuna in celebration / taunting fashion towards their opponents afterwards.

 

 

So I could have done with shorter talking segments, but the matches delivered overall which is what really matters, making this a strong show and an easy recommendation.

Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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Dash Chisako PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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