Aoi Kizuki’s Retirement Show 10/7/18

October 7, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

As I mentioned before, this trip was largely based around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement and seeing this, her self-produced final show. In the week leading up to this show I was lucky enough to see her wrestle several times, at her final appearances for Ice Ribbon, Pure-JWave, and Gatoh Move. Several wrestlers from those companies appeared on this show as well to see the Happy Maker off.

 

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The show opened with Hiroyo Matsumoto & Hanako Nakamori vs Totoro Satsuki & Saki. The Lady Destroyer Hiroyo’s a freelancer who wrestles most often for Oz Academy and was also in this year’s Mae Young Classic, Hanako is Pure-J’s reigning champion, and Totoro and Saki are from Ice Ribbon and Actwres Girlz respectively. All four are heavy hitters and this was a really good illustration of that style. I really liked the pairing of Saki and Totoro and would love to see them team again sometime.

 

 

Like Hanako from the opener, Haruhi Moeka is a former tag team partner of Aoi (they were called So On Flower, which I still don’t understand as a team name ^_^;) and it was nice to see her appear here. But she had the unenviable task of facing Oz Academy’s promoter and star Mayumi Ozaki, and this went pretty much as expected. Haruhi got some defiant offense here and there, while Ozaki countered by beating the hell out of her with a chain and of course eventually won.

 

 

The third match saw Gatoh Move rookie Yuna Mizumori & Seadlinnng founder Nanae Takahashi take on freelancer Kaori Yoneyama (who runs some shows under her own banner of YMZ) & Pure-J rising star Yako Fujigasaki in a decent tag encounter. Considering all the experience in match, Yuna looking the best here by just a tad says really positive things about her future (as well as my own personal taste/biases in wrestling styles I suppose).

 

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Aoi spent the vast majority of her career in Ice Ribbon before going freelance in her last couple of years, so it was great to see a majority of the current IR roster wrestle on this show. In a huge 10 woman tag the Lovely Butchers (reigning International Tag Ribbon champions Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi), Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera), & Ibuki Hoshi faced ICE Cross Infinity champ Tsukasa Fujimoto, This is Ice Ribbon (Tsukushi & Kurumi Hiragi), Asahi, & Miyako Matsumoto.

 

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This was really fun, and Tsukka breaking out the “partners as steps” spot always make me wonderfully happy.  In a cap to the running joke of Aoi not letting Tsukka do her “Youth Pyramid” pose because of her age, Tsukka finally managed to do it uninterrupted here and Aoi even did it with her during the after show ceremony.

The two rookies in the match (Asahi and Ibuki) became the focal point towards the end, end despite Asahi desperately struggling to prove herself she eventually fell victim to a trio of Hamuko Rolls from the Butchers & Ibuki and pinned by the latter.

 

 

It a perfect endcap to Aoi’s career, she teamed with Gatoh Move’s Riho, & Mei Suruga against Gatoh (and Ice Ribbon) founder Emi Sakura with freelancers Makoto & Hikaru Shida in the main event.  It was a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. The fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei on October 5th (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became.

In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious. Aoi herself came out for this match in special white gear that included an incredible, light up version of her wings.

 

 

The match was fantastic and an appropriate goodbye to Aoi. The traditional spot with everyone one the show and more (including Aoi’s best friend Jenny Rose, who came to Japan to be ringside) splashing Aoi in the corner was of course a lot of fun.

 

 

Emi, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell, and an absolute privilege to be at live.

 

 

The post show retirement ceremony was likewise emotional and a treat to be at. All in all it was a wonderful, bittersweet, and fitting show see Aoi off. Although I’m sad to see her go, she had a great 13 year career and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person and wish her well. Whatever the future after wrestling holds for her I hope life is happy for the Happy Maker. 

 

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Pure-J 9/30/18 Live Thoughts

September 30, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Like during my May trip, this was another case where I went to a to Pure-J primarily to see Aoi Kizuki as her career wound down. This was her final show for Pure-J, exactly one week before her self produced retirement show. It was my second of Aoi’s final company shows, as I saw Aoi Last Ribbon the day before.

 

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Despite Pure-J’s regular roster members being talented, there’s something missing for me when they wrestle one another. So I generally find the visiting wrestlers more interesting and that my enjoyment level of the show usually depends on who’s visiting and how they’re used.

 

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It’s been really cool to see Ice Ribbon’s Giulia develop and get opportunities to wrestle in other promotions, and was even cooler to see her picking up a victory over Mari Manji to open this show. Her character’s coming along, she’s solid in the ring, and she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as her experience grows. Manji seems decent enough in the couple of short looks I’ve had of her, although this was honestly Giulia’s spotlight.

 

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The next match was my first look at Gatoh Move’s newest rookie Mei Suruga, who I’d heard a LOT about, and it was all immediately validated as Mei clearly “gets it.” She already has uncanny instincts regarding how to incorporate her charisma into her ringwork, which is also ahead of her experience level. She really impressed me, and it was just a glimpse of what was to come. Her victorious opponent Kazuki is fine, but it was Mei’s exuberance and personality that made this fun and compelling.

 

 

Saki & Manami Katsu vs Raideen & Keiko Aono was centered on Aono as she approached her own retirement after a 23 year career (also a week away at the time). This was pretty paint by numbers, but was still fine, a deserved spotlight for Aono, and I always enjoy seeing Saki.

 

 

It was really nice to see Moeka Haruhi get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of her “So On Flower” partner’s Pure-J goodbye show. She looked good against one of Pure-J’s resident veteran’s in Leon before falling in defeat.

 

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In the main event Aoi Kizuki teamed with her regular partner from Pure-J, their reigning champion Hanako Nakamori, against Pure-J’s ultimate veteran and one of their most spotlighted rising stars in Command Bolshoi & Yako Fujigasaki respectively.

 

 

The chemistry between the four was quite good, and strong action was mixed with career tribute spots including the Joshi traditional corner splash sequence (with Giulia and Moeka amusingly giving Aoi hugs instead of strikes) for another cool, well done sendoff for the Happy Maker.

 

 

2 for 2 on fun overall shows capped of with Aoi’s last match with the company in question, with more to come.

 

As a side note, this was meant to be the first of a double header for me with a Gatoh Move show at the same venue later that day, but that’s a story for when I get to Gatoh’s 10/4 show…

Pure-J 5/6/18 Live Thoughts

May 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Pure-J is an interesting case for me. They have a reasonably talented core roster… most of whom I personally don’t really connect with for some reason. As such I wasn’t sure I was going to attend this show (and had originally planned to attend another running at the same time than had some Ice Ribbon wrestlers appearing), but once Aoi Kizuki announced her retirement I wanted to take advantage of possibly one last chance to see her wrestle (although as it turns out I will have a few more…). Other guests including Saori Anou, Sareee, Mari (in my only chance to see her this trip), and Saki also increased my interest in this show.

 

 

As honestly expected for me I found the opening two matches of Commando Boishoi vs Mari Manji and Leon vs Kazuki  fine but unremarkable.

 

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Yako Fujigasaki is hit or miss for me, so I wasn’t sure how the Visual Hunter Battle Royal (which was more like a gauntlet match for Yako than a everyone-for-themselves battle royal) was going to go. It ended up being great fun.  Saki, Koharu Hinata, Aoi Kizuki, Hanako Nakamori (Pure-J champion and my favorite of their roster), Saori Anou, and Makoto got the better of Yako frequently and there were several good story beats mixed into Yako’s attitude, perseverance, and eventual win. Hanako got in her face after the match and has every ringside cracking up with whatever was said. Yako’s definitely improving and growing on me, and she was pitch perfect in her role here both when getting her comeuppance and when it was time to turn on the attitude. Aoi always amuses me greatly, Saki is a vastly underrated talent, and the more I see Saori the bigger a fan of hers I become.

 

 

Mari & Sareee kept the main event tag contest against Manami Katsu & Rydeen Hagane energetic and exciting while allowing the Pure-J regulars to flash power and control portions as appropriate without bogging down the pace. Sareee’s a superstar in the making.

 

 

I liked this more than I expected, primarily on the strength of the later two matches. The highlights continue to be from guests (and again that’s not a knock on the talent of the core roster, but more reflection of my personal tastes), but as long as the show’s enjoyable that doesn’t matter in the least. Decent way to wrap up the wrestling portion of that trip.

 

Gatoh Move 4/28/18 Live Thoughts

April 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

This promised to be an extremely interesting show for me as it held Gatoh Move’s 6th Annual Go Go Green Curry Cup from here abbreviated as GGGCC), a single day mixed tag team tournament, along with a handful of non-tourney matches. The tournament included several unique combinations, as well as the reigning tag team champions.

 

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Hanako Nakamori

 

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The show opened with the Pure-J champion against a Gatoh Move rookie with about two months experience. This was my first glimpse of Hanako’s newer look, and it helps her stand out as befitting Pure-J’s ace and champion.  Yuna had an extremely good showing here against the more experienced competitor, and she’s a great addition to the Gatoh roster. Well structured match that let the rookie shine a bit before the visiting champion put her down.

 

 

 

2)  GGGCC Round 1: Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen (Sawasdee Mask) 

 

 

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 upcoming 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: GM’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 would prevail and move on. There were six teams in the tournament, so Riho and 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.

 

 

3) GGGCC Round 1: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Saki & Ryuichi Sekine

 

 

In another case of one of the apparent tourney favorites drawing a first round match, Gatoh’s reigning tag champs were up next. Emi and Takanashi are absolute maestros in the ring and had an energetic back and forth match here in which Saki and Ryuichi got to take the champs to the limit and force a time limit draw. The tie breaker was amusingly a game of rock, paper, scissors, and Saki and Ryuichi’s corner woman Obi came in to do the honors for them. It didn’t work out so well, and Emi & Masahiro moved on.

 

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4) Minoru Fujita vs Sakura Emi W

 

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Minoru had no idea what to make of Emi Sakura’s doppelganger, and this was half action and half (intentionally) awkward comedy. The humor wasn’t really to my tastes, but this was fine light filler to break up the rounds of the tournament.

 

 

5) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Kaori Yoneyama & Baliyan Akki vs Riho & Golem Thai

 

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I’m running out of various ways to say “great, back and forth encounter,” so I’ll simply say this was another one. I will add however that while that general statement might make it sound like the tourney matches were similar, they were in fact all quite unique and tailored to the skills of the participants. Akki & Yone were another excellent, complementary team, and this built to a huge crescendo with Akki getting the upset pin on the One and Only champion to send his team on as well as putting himself in line for a future singles shot at Golem’s title.

 

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6) GGGCC Semi-Finals: Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Aoi Kizuki & Antonio Honda

 

 

I’m always thrilled with opportunities to see Aoi wrestle (particularly in light of her imminent retirement), and after seeing her and Honda face off in a ridiculously amusing match at Gatoh Move’s New Year’s show their pairing here seemed pitch perfect.

As expected, this was the comedy match of the tourney, with the exciting action and double teams all four are certainly capable of interspersed with over the top hilarity of the best kind. The tag champs displayed their versatility, proving 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. Perfect point in the show for this style of match, and it was a blast. The champs persevered as things got serious near the end and advanced to face Akki & Yone in the finals.

 

 

7) Hikaru Sato vs Chikara

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The last non-tourney match provided another decent change of pace to separate the semis from the finals. Some hard strike exchanges highlighted this interlude, which Sato eventually won.

 

 

8) GGGCC Finals: Baliyan Akki & Kaori Yoneyama vs Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi

 

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So the quasi-heelish tag champs who keep finding ways to pull out the win faced the conquering heroes who overcame the tourney’s superteam in a fitting final in the main event of the show. Excellent way to cap off the day seeing the two teams engaged in spirited battle for a full 15 minutes (about double what most of the other matches ran). Paced and structured perfectly, this was a wonderful contest that saw Akki and Yone come just short of another spectacular upset as the champions took the tourney and basked in the feeling of being alone at the top (for now).

 

 

This show was a delight from top to bottom. Emi & Takanashi winning was actually a bit of a surprise for me, since I expected someone to upset them at some point to earn a future title shot. But it was a surprise that put the masters in a match in every round, and the champs reigning supreme leaves things open for a new team to emerge determined to knock them down.

I can’t stress how well booked and executed the whole tournament was. The teams were all fun and interesting, one team battled through three rounds to the finals while one of the bye teams capitalized on it, different styles were spotlit at different times, etc. The variety of course means not everything will appeal to everyone and of course not every match is meant to steal the show, but for me this was a fantastic show all around with tremendous effort from everyone and I adored it.

 

 

P’s Party 2 4/25/18 and Kani KING Produce 4/27/18 Live Thoughts

April 25 and 27, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

P’s Party 2

This Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) focusing on talent with less than three years experience. I adore the concept (which is similar to what Wave sometimes does with Young OH! OH!) and with all the promising rookies in Ice and other Joshi promotions Saya chose a great time to start it up. Like with Young OH! OH! there are a few veterans sprinkled in but generally every match has at least one competitor that matches the promotion’s brief. This was their second official show (they had one preview show as well) and had a nice looking lineup with one match I was particularly psyched for.

 

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The crowd was about 50 people, feeling about half full for the dojo but still providing a good atmosphere and seemed a decent turnout for what’s in a lot of respects a developmental product that was just starting up.

The show opened with Tsukushi & Ibuki Hoshi vs Giulia & Maika Ozaki. Tsukushi re-debuted in a “career reset” at Ribbonmania after a hiatus due to legal issues last summer. Ice Ribbon and Tsukushi herself have been fully behind the idea that she’s starting over, so she’s been routinely involved in things like this that feature rookies despite previously having eight years experience. I applaud all involved with how they are proceeding, and am happy Tsukushi’s both getting a second chance and taking it seriously.  I also personally think having a few veterans in these matches helps the others gain experience, so her not actually being under three years experience isn’t an issue for me.

 

 

The was a really fun tag match with Tsukushi being her usual bratty self (and I say that with respect and appreciation for the character), Maika looking wonderfully comfortable and confident in flashing her impressive strength to great effect, and their respective partners doing their best to counter and derail their opponents’ tactics.  Tsukushi’s partner Ibuki Hoshi, a second generation wrestler whose mother also wrestles for Ice Ribbon, already shows incredible instincts for her age and experience and gets better and better every time I see her. Maika’s partner Julia has a striking charisma and is nicely developing her own style in the ring and getting more and more comfortable as a performer. Strong start to the show.

 

 

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. 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.

 

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I was thrilled to see this match on the card, and it was exactly what I hoped for. Misaki was perfect in largely dominating the rookie while gradually selling getting more of a fight than she expected and showing just the right amount of vulnerability to make Asahi look good while keeping things believable within the story framework. Asahi showed great fire, knowing her role was to go full bore whenever an opportunity presented itself and as such she really succeeded in coming across as someone who knew she was outmatched but was determined to win anyway. Misaki of course eventually prevailed, but she made Asahi look great in the process. At seven minutes the match was just the right length for the story they were telling, and I adored this from start to finish.

 

 

The main event saw P’s Party producer Tequila Saya and her partner Uno Matsuya take on Satsuki Totoro and another visitor from Wave in Hiroe Nagahama. The grouping of Ice Ribbon wrestlers in this match was a treat. Saya and Uno’s alternating rival / partner relationship has been really interesting to follow as time goes on, and watching Totoro play wrecking ball is a joy.

 

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The match was a great proof of concept for P’s Party, with less experienced wrestlers getting a longer match time and more of a spotlight than they normally would on the main shows. It let them experiment with pacing and storytelling, pepper humor and playfulness in with the action, etc. Not everything’s going to work perfectly, but having the freedom to risk that is the entire point and given the talent level of Ice Ribbon’s rookies it will all come together more often than not. And it largely did here, resulting in a solid, enjoyable main event.

 

 

This show was exactly what it should have been, and Saya’s endeavor has a lot of upsides both for the wrestlers involved and Ice Ribbon as a company. I had a ton of fun and hope to see more of these in the future, although since they so far seem to be live only my opportunities to do so will likely be few and far between.

 

 

Kani K☆ING Produce

Two days after P’s Party I went to another somewhat unusual show in Ice Ribbon’s home base. Kani (Crab) King’s show featured a variety of Joshi from numerous promotions, and had an attendance similar to that of P’s Party.

 

 

The show opened with an “offer match” from Ice Ribbon, featuring two wrestlers I discussed at length above. Asahi had another good singles showing against a vastly more experienced competitor as she took on Tsukushi in a really fun match that was brisk and exciting for the full six minutes and change it ran. I’d love to see this matchup revisited periodically as Asahi’s career progresses.

 

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Two wrestlers I was familiar with in Makoto and Pure-J’s Yako Fujigasaki teamed in the next match to take on two I was seeing for the first time in Koharu Hinata & Shiori Akiba.

 

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This was pretty paint-by-numbers and did have a bit of awkwardness here and there, but also had some highlights and spots that really came across well and made an impact. Fine overall. I’d like to see more of Hinata in particular if I get a chance.

 

 

After that was another wrestler I was previously unfamiliar with in Actwres Girlz’ Hikari Shimizu facing another I knew from Pure-J in Raideen Steel (Raideen Hagane). This was fine on a technical level and I’d hope to see Shimizu again in the future. But while Raideen is quite capable of exciting matches against the right person, in cases like this where she’s in a dominating role against an overmatched opponent I find the results … well, a bit boring to be honest.

 

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I adored Nao Kakuta in my only previous time seeing her as both she played a wonderful heel and defeated a character that annoys me in a wonderful application of poetic justice. So it was nice to see her challenge the “Crab World Champion” Yuiga for her title in the main event here.

 

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This was mostly played for comedy, and the action was kept pretty basic. But it was fine for what it was, and the character interactions were the main point. Nao sadly did not become the Crab World Champion.

 

 

Honestly the Ice Ribbon offer match overshadowed everything else a bit from the get go, and overall this wasn’t quite up to the level I’m used to from my Joshi shows. But that’s a relatively high bar and in some ways it wasn’t trying to be.  I got a nice look at some new wrestlers for me, thought the opener was great, and enjoyed just enough of the rest to call it a fun and worthwhile evening all in all.