Sendai Girls 4/27/19 Live Thoughts

April 27, 2019 in Sendai, Japan

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Japan Trip Spring 2018: Top 10 Matches (Live)

I ended up managing to write up thoughts on all the shows from Spring trip just before going back to Japan, but there is one last entry I’d like to share highlighting my favorite matches from those Spring shows before moving on to Fall.

During this trip I saw 14 shows from 8 promotions (considering P’s Party part of Ice Ribbon) with 68 matches featuring 118 different wrestlers, and as usual the vast majority of what I saw was great. So even featuring my top ten matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches I saw by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon (including P’s Party): 19 matches, Kani King Produce: 4 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 6 matches, Pure-J:  4 matches, Seadlinnng: 9 matches, and Sendai Girls: 6 matches.

 

Honorable mentions:

I saw a ton of excellent tag team wrestling (including an entire tournament) this trip and it was difficult to narrow down. In the end little things and the involvement of personal favorites determined what made the list, but the entire Go Go Green Curry Cup, New Tra vs Tsukka & Ibuki Hoshi, Best Friends vs Command Bolshoi & Yoshiko, Team DATE vs Tsukka, Miyako Matsumoto, & Hamuko Hoshi, etc were all great examples of well worked, engaging tag team wrestling.

 

 Iida’s retirement – Wave 5/4/18

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Mika Iida wrapped up her career in a pair of fun matches and a goodbye ceremony that all were infused with her enthusiasm, self aware personality, and a real sense of joyousness despite the emotional nature of the show. It was a privilege to be able to attend.

 

Honda brings the comedy – Gatoh Move 4/28/18 and 4/29/18

Antonio Honda’s brand of humor can be hit or miss with me, but at his best wrestling and comedy combine seamlessly in wonderfully entertaining spectacles. This time there were two wonderful examples, each also involving a personal favorite of mine in recently retired Aoi Kizuki and Gatoh Move rookie Mitsuru Konno respectively.

 

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Honda & Aoi teamed in Gatoh Move’s mixed tag tournament, a pairing that seemed pitch perfect after seeing them face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed they’re just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience.

 

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At Ichigaya Honda and Mitsuru had what can only be properly described as a pictionary match. Whenever one of them achieved a count on the other, the referee gave them a person to draw and if they could get judge Obi to correctly guess who it was they’d get a point. After the 10 minute time limit elapsed the person with the most points would win the match. Totally ridiculous, and yet a lot of fun.

Both were pretty good with the sketches (Mitsuru used to routinely draw pictures on autograph boards that audience members could get the right to purchase via audience wide rock, paper, scissors games), and the subjects were a mix of famous people and wrestlers, which made this engaging even with me being unable to read the clues. And it’s great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. 😉 She’d also later use the sketchpad from the match to reveal a pre-drawn announcement of her starting a Twitter account.

 

 

Catch the Wave Finals: Rina Yamishta vs Ayako Hamada

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When the Violence Block came down to a three way playoff match I had expected Arisa to take it and continue her feud with Misaki. Once Hamada took it instead I fully expected her to win here. In retrospect Wave was quite lucky they made the other choice.

The match was a fantastic twenty minute battle, and since it seems to have been Hamada’s last it was a high note to finish on. I hope things improve for her and she’s able to put her demons behind her. The victory meant Rina won her second Catch the Wave in a row looked like an absolute world beater putting down the legend.

 

 

Top 10:

10.  Mio & Kyuri vs Maki & Yamagata Marvelous 5/5/18

 

In the main event of Marvelous’ show on 5/5/18, Kyuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL 5 (Maki Natsumi & Yuu Yamagata). Like with Saori Anou and Tae Honma last December I thought this was my first look at Maki when watching live, but I had actually seen all three of them in a random tag match at Reina early in their careers.

I remarked that the match was nothing spectacular but featured decent work from those involved. And I honestly promptly forgot about them among the incredible number of new wrestlers I was introduced to that trip (as they didn’t appear in other promotions I was watching at the time) and didn’t connect that match to the names when I later started hearing about rising stars in the ActWres promotion.

 

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The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I was beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move (which didn’t end up happening as planned due to a typhoon O_o). Great stuff, and the countout victory makes sense to put Mio & Kyuri over without being definitive. However I share Maki’s expressed confusion (pictured above) over losing by countout when people were rolling in and out of the ring during the count. As much as I adore Mio & Kyuri, Maki & Yuu were robbed here. Minor complaint though, and the match was excellent overall.

 

 

9.  Mio Momono, Kyuri, & Tsukushi vs Saori Anou, Tae Honma, & Maika Ozaki- Ice Ribbon 5/5/18

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With Maruko out with injury the planned ActWres vs Outsiders semi-final of Ice Ribbon’s Six Woman Tag Team Tournament was scrapped and ActWres received a bye to the final. However the match itself essentially still happened with Tsukushi swapped in for Maruko. So she teamed with Kyuri & Mio Momono vs Maika Ozaki, Saori Anou, & Tae Honma, and with ActWres proving victorious I don’t understand why this couldn’t have simply been the tourney match as planned.

That aside, this match was great fun and perhaps my favorite of the show. The bratty Tsukushi didn’t seem to appreciate being an Outsider for a night which made for an interesting dynamic, particularly when combined with all the issues surrounding Kyuri’s feud with Tae and Saori with Maika being caught in the middle.

 

 

8. Asahi vs Misaki Ohata – P’s Party 4/25/18

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This was almost a “Asahi vs veterans” entry under Honorable Mentions like with Mitsuru in my last list, but while they were all quite good with the booking context around the Miyako match and Yoshiko being Yoshiko I actually did like this match just a bit better than the others.

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans (including the previously referred to Miyako and Yoshiko matches). Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

 

7.  Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Mask — Gatoh Move 4/28/18

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Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit, coming to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif (more on the mask in my write up of Gatoh Move 5/4). They had a tall order in front of them in the form of a team of title holders: Gatoh Move’s Super Asia Champion Riho and their Thailand branch’s One and Only Champion Golem Thai.

As much as I adore Riho and was incredibly impressed with my first look at Golem, I find myself a bit biased towards Mitsuru and was really hoping for a stunning upset. It wouldn’t happen here however, and after an incredibly competitive, intense match the powerhouse team prevailed and moved on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho & Golem would move on to face one of the two teams who randomly drew a first round bye.

This was a great way to open the tournament and in some ways a “proof of concept.” Gatoh Move excels at intergender wrestling, and everything here was logical and believable, with the smaller athletes using speed and fire to counter the strength advantage and Golem periodically responding by bulldozing people. As expected with the close knit roster and unique environment they train and often perform in, Riho and Mitsuru have particularly great chemistry and it’s always a treat to see them face off.

 

6. Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami – Seadlinnng 5/5/18

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This was one person removed from Best Friends vs Avid Rival, my favorite tag rivalry of all time. And while Akane isn’t Misaki Ohata she’s an strong, underrated talent who fit right in with her more experienced compatriots. As expected with the four involved and a nice amount of time to perform in a main event role this was excellent.

They wrestled to a 15 minute time limit draw, and in Seadlinnng tournaments that meant they then continued under 2-count rules. I love that approach. It allows a lot of booking leeway, and the atmosphere and sense of desperation in the overtime is always palpable. Best Friends prevailed after another five minutes of intense action.

 

 

5. Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami  – SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

4. Hamuko Hoshi & Kyuri vs. Maika Ozaki & Miyako Matsumoto – Ice Ribbon 4/28/18

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This interesting mix-and-match tag featured regular partners Kyuri and Maika on opposites sides teaming with Hammy and Miyako respectively, who were trios partners at the time while Hammy was also gunning for Miyako’s Ice Cross Infinity title. This was my favorite match of a strong show. It had a wonderful feeling of escalation throughout and a real, palpable sense of desperation as time ran down and everyone became frantic to win. This was as fine a worked time limit draw as I’ve ever seen.

 

3. Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio MomonoSEAdLINNNG 4/18/18

 

I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. The first match I saw this trip, and it was immediately recognizable that it’d be one of the best.

 

 

2. Io Shirai vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

 

1.  Sendai Girls Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Ayako Hamada – Sendai Girls 4/19/18

Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end that show. This is bittersweet to look back on given Hamada’s troubles and exit from wrestling, but this was my #1 match of that trip and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

 

——-

 

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