Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful DreamsBeautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3 for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.

Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.

The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.

Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.  

One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.

Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.

I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.

Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.

Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.

I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.

SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.

The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.

Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).

Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.

Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.

The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time

Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.

Rest in Peace Hana.

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page.¬†I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. ūüôā

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.

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.

 

dsc_0296

 

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.

 

dsc_0151

 

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).

 

dsc_0222

 

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.

 

dsc_0237

 

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.

 

dsc_0244

 

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 ūüėČ )!!! 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.

 

dsc_0327

 

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.

SEAdLINNNG 12/28/18 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

dsc_0003

 

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.

 

dsc_0080

 

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.

 

dsc_0152

 

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.

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-J,¬†Wave, and Gatoh Move. Several wrestlers from those companies appeared on this show as well to see the Happy Maker off.

 

DSC_0343

 

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).

 

DSC_0065

 

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.

 

DSC_0112

 

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.¬†

 

DSC_0407

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

DSC_0360

 

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 РGatoh 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.

 

DSC_0220

 

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‚Äôs New Year‚Äôs show. They faced reigning tag champions Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takahashi, who displayed their versatility and showed they‚Äôre just as good at being silly as they are at precision wrestling, and these four were clearly having as much fun as the audience.

 

gm429181

 

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‚Äôs great to see a rare Mitsuru victory no matter the format. ūüėČ 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

DSC_0192

 

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.

 

DSC_0361

 

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‚Äôs 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

DSC_0126

 

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

DSC_0109

 

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

DSC_0092

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 ‚Äúproof of concept.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs always a treat to see them face off.

 

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

DSC_0442

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

DSC_0114

 

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.

 

DSC_0179

 

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. ūüôā Loved this all around.

 

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

IMG_0338_trim

 

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

DSC_0252

 

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.

 

DSC_0326

 

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‚Äôs assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls‚Äô 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.

 

Yokohama Festival: SEAdLINNNG 5/3/18 & Marvelous 5/5/18 Live Thoughts

May 3 and 5, 2018 in Yokohama, Japan

I saw four events in Yokohama during Golden Week, two each on May 3 and 5 (with¬†Mika Iida’s retirement show¬†and¬†Gatoh Move¬†on May 4 in Tokyo in between). Here I’ll be talking about the two later in the day shows I saw in Yokohama.

 

SEAdLINNNG Golden Go! Go! 5/3/18

In was great to see Nanae Takahashi return to competition after a scary neck injury in a hardcore match earlier in the year. She eased back into things with a five minute time limit exhibition match against Takashi Sasaki to open the show.

After that¬†Dragon Libre won a 4-way against (Wave’s) ASUKA, Nagisa Nozaki, and Shunsuke Wakayama which I primarily remember for¬†Nagisa trying to kick people’s heads off.

 

 

 

I’m mentioned Yoshiko’s not a favorite for personal reasons, but bias aside she’s good in general and admittedly excellent in the right role. As with the fantastic match I saw her have against Mio Momono¬†in August 2017, her playing the monster versus a determined smaller rookie is certainly the right role.

 

 

 

Asahi¬†is fast becoming a personal favorite of mine, and with all the opportunities she’s getting to wrestle veterans and champions from other promotions in singles matches she’s just going to continue to evolve and improve that much quicker. She played the fiery underdog perfectly and survived a bit under fifteen minutes before the larger, more experienced wrestler put her away. They drew me into a match I had some disposition to be disinvested in, and that speaks very highly of the skill of both.

 

DSC_0411

 

The last two matches of the card were part of the first round of the ULTRA U-21 tournament to crown tag team champions for Seadlinnng. In a nice, rare (for me) chance to see Kaho Kobayashi, she and Makoto advanced over the visiting Ice Ribbon team of Hamuko & Ibuki Hoshi. Solid tag action from everyone, with the less experienced of the four (Kaho and Ibushi) actually looking the best.

 

 

 

The main event featured more Ice Ribbon talent as well as a visitor from Wave, as¬†Akane Fujita & Ryo Mizunami faced Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto).¬†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.

 

DSC_0442

 

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.

 

Three good to great matches out of five and nothing actively bad made this an easy watch and a fun time.

 

Marvelous 5/5/18

Marvelous’ offerings are often a “tale of two shows” within the show for me. I find about half the card fine but perhaps a bit bland, while a couple of key matches (usually involving Mio Momono, Takumi Iroha, and/or visiting wrestlers) blow me away. This show was that template personified.

 

DSC_0242

 

W-Fix¬†had pretty standard outings featuring the expected heel shenanigans as KAORU & Chikayo Nagashima¬†opened against¬†Super Momoe Chan (Aja Perara) & Sahara 7 and¬†Megumi Yabushita¬†later faced¬†Tomoko Watanabe.¬†W-Fix is ¬†a¬†good heel stable and these matches were fine, but their match quality does take a bit of a noticeable hit when Dash isn’t around. She brings out the best in the rest of them and elevates everything she’s involved in. Tomoko was fierce in trying to overcome the odds against her, and Momoe & Sahara looked good and clearly made a favorable impression on the crowd.

 

 

 

And to be perfectly honest I don’t recall anything about¬†Leo Isaka & MIKAMI vs Wild Bear & Tomohiko Hashimoto, which means nothing stood out as particularly exciting nor particularly bad.¬†Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota also brawled with each other throughout the show, leading to Chigusa putting straightening them out at one point and Yuki getting the better of Hirota in the middle of the show while Chigusa and others stood around them in the ring making comments.

 

 

 

Which brings us to the highlights of the evening in the form of a pair of excellent tag matches. The third match of the five match card saw¬†NEW-TRA (Rin Kadokura & Takumi Iroha)¬†against¬†Ibuki Hoshi & Tsukasa Fujimoto¬†from Ice Ribbon. I.e. each company’s ace paired with¬†one of their respective brightest rookies. Ibuki looked right at home here and kept up well, and they got a nice amount of time to play with. This was tons of fun and ¬†I’d love to see a rematch sometime.

 

 

 

In the main event  Kyuri & Mio Momono (accompanied to the ring by a bubble machine, which amused me to no end) faced off against LEVEL5 (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.

 

DSC_0361

 

The progress of all three in the passing couple years is fantastic. Maki looked great here, and I am beyond psyched to see her challenge Riho for her Super Asia Championship at Gatoh Move in a couple weeks. 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.

 

 

 

So solid shows from both promotions with some admittedly forgettable stuff yet also several highlights that definitely push into highly recommended territory. I had a great time, which is of course always the goal. ūüôā

 

SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18 Live Thoughts

April 18, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d have just enough time on the day I arrived in Japan for my Spring trip to catch this SEAdLINNNG show featuring numerous favorites of mine and headlined by Best Friends. Then a bit of rescheduling happened due to Arisa missing some shows because of a concussion (which thankfully wasn’t severe and she recovered quickly from), and my anticipation for this event shot even further through the roof.

 

1- Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio Momono

 

 

As referenced above, 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.¬†

 

DSC_0029

 

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. One of my favorite matches of the entire trip.

 

2- Sae Nomura & Saki Akai vs Rina Yamashita & Kaori Yoneyama 

 

 

There were a couple of cute spots in this based around Sakai’s height advantage, and watching Rina pound on people is always fun, but otherwise this was pretty much an inconsequential filler tag match. Nothing particularly great or bad here, and a bit long for what it was.

 

3- Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami 

 

DSC_0114

 

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.

 

DSC_0179

 

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. ūüôā Loved this all around.

 

 

Main Event- Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) vs YOSHIKO & Command Bolshoi

 

 

Earlier I called Avid Rival perhaps the best pair in wrestling, and it’s “perhaps” because if it’s not them it’s Best Friends. Tsukka and Arisa are both masters of their craft and make a truly incredible team that’s always a joy to watch. With their opponents here consisting of Arisa’s current rival as well as the head of the promotion she left to join Seadlinnng there’s a lot of added depth and tension.

As I’ve discussed before Yoshiko’s often hard to watch for personal reasons, but man she’s admittedly fantastic in certain roles. Everyone was great here in an aggressive, hard hitting match where the storyline issues and action were seamlessly integrated.

 

DSC_0213_trim

 

Phenomenal show overall, with numerous excellent talents from outside promotions shoring up Seadlinnng’s solid but minimal roster. First show of this trip, and was one of the best.

 

DSC_0194

 

 

Farewell to a Legend

On November 3, 2017, in an hour long match with 50+ opponents, Manami Toyota ended her incredible 30 year career in professional wrestling.

Toyota is a innovator and standard bearer whose impact on the sport will be felt long after her retirement. I haven’t watched nearly as much as I want / intend to of Toyota’s older matches, but am of course well aware of her impact on professional wrestling.

As my own personal goodbye to her legendary career, I’d like to focus on the fortuitous opportunities I’ve had to see Toyota wrestle live.

 

IMG_4705

 

The first was a complete surprise, and an incredible moment for me during my first trip to Japan. Toyota was not scheduled for any of the 12 shows I saw during my two week trip to Tokyo at the end of 2015.

On December 20 I attended a¬†show¬†by Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous promotion. The main event was a 6 on 2 handicap match¬†featuring Chigusa,¬†Aki Shizuku, Chikayo Nagashima, Mima Shimoda, Takumi Iroha & Tomoko Watanabe vs Dump Matusmoto & Yumiko Hotta. Chigusa’s teammates were largely cannon fodder for Dump to ¬†to hit with a kendo stick and other objects over and over. Hotta arrived wearing numerous pairs of handcuffs all over her gear, so it was obvious where things were eventually going. After the brawl spilled throughout the arena Chigusa’s team was eventually incapacitated by being handcuffed to the ropes.

The heat coming from sections of fans for both Dump and Chigusa was incredible, creating an electric atmosphere. If possible it intensified even more when Manami Toyota came out as surprise help for Chigusa. For me it was a jaw dropping moment, and I felt incredibly privileged to get to meet Toyota after the show.

 

Fast forward a year and I was back for the holiday shows again, including a personal favorite of mine in Ice Ribbon’s annual¬†Ribbonmania. Toyota’s match this time was particularly interesting, as she was one of the challengers for¬†Ai Shimizu’s Triangle Ribbon Title (along with¬†Maruko Nagasaki).¬†¬†This was a straight up slaughter, which might not have made for the most interesting of matches from the perspective of an completely overmatched champion, but Toyota plowing through both opponents and winning the Triangle title with a double pin after her moonsault was a strong spectacle and nice moment all the same. Toyota commented/joked afterwards about her winning a title in 2016, and it was again an honor to get to greet her in person and congratulate her.

Her Triangle Ribbon championship reign was a quiet one, as she successfully defended the title only once during her six month reign before losing it to her heir apparent Tsukasa Fujimoto. But a final championship before she retired was well deserved.

 

IMG_5959

 

 

My third opportunity to see Toyota wrestle live came during a shorter trip this past summer. ¬†At SEAdLINNNG’s¬†August 24 show¬†she was again in a 3-way match with Maruko Nagasaki, this time under high speed rules with Kaho Kobayashi¬†as the third participant. It was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. It was really amusing, particularly in watching Toyota‚Äôs protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics, and a fun format to see the veteran perform in.¬†

 

 

 

A few days later I saw what would be my final live Manami Toyota match at Ice Ribbon’s¬†August 27 event. A somewhat poetic way to close things out, as Toyota was the opponent for the debuting Asahi. The rookie played the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against ¬†the legend¬†and the dynamic of¬†the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi‚Äôs resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart was fantastic.

 

 

 

Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere, and short of being in attendance for Toyota’s actual last match I couldn’t have asked for a better note to say goodbye on.

 

15

 

I appreciate everyone reading indulging me in my personal memories of interactions with one of wrestling’s brightest stars. I highly recommend seeking out anything and everything you can from her incredible career. Congratulations to Manami Toyota and best of luck with whatever’s next.

Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo over the end of the year holidays for the last two years. This summer the stars aligned for a shorter, somewhat unexpected additional trip with a specific purpose. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from the 29 I saw that trip (across 5 shows from 5 different companies).

 

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tokyo Princess of Princess Title:¬†Yuka Sakazaki(c) vs Reika Saiki –¬† Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

Yuka and Reika are two of my favorite wrestlers in the promotion, so I was thrilled to see this. Yuka is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and consistent performers on the roster, and also wows the crowd with her agility and rope walk spots, so was a great choice for champion. Reika seems their biggest rising star so this was exactly the right time for this confrontation. While I do have to admit I prefer and miss the Mil Clown persona, Yuka’s excellent in any incarnation.

The match was great, going back and forth and building well to a strong finish that saw Reika take advantage of a miss by Yuka with hard strikes and a sweet Shining Wizard, then hit the jackhammer (such a perfect choice of finisher for the Muscle Idol) to become the new Princess of Princess champion. Was awesome to be there for that moment, and Reika definitely deserves a chance to show what she can do as champ.

 

Team DATE (Nao, Hana, Nori, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Satsuki Totoro, Uno Matsuya, & Tequilia Saya – Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the beginning of this big blow off elimination match. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

5. Gatoh Move Title Tournament Semi-Final: Kotori vs Aasa – Gatoh Move 8/26/17

The main event of Gatoh Move’s 8/26 show was the second semi-final of their title tournament and would determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show. ¬†It¬†was¬†appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The¬†outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both.

 

4. Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs So On Flower (Aoi Kizuki & Moeka Haruhi) – Wave 8/30/17

 

This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

3.¬†Meiko Satomura vs Miyu Yamashita –¬† Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

42

 

This was fantastic and edged out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

She wrestled like someone with something to prove from the very first second and really took it to Meiko, believably smothering the veteran at points with relentless offense, but just couldn’t put the larger, more experienced wrestler. Meiko of course is an artist in the ring and always a joy to watch. Loved this.

Afterwards Miyu slaps Meiko a couple of times out of frustration (and apparently in a challenge for another match) and Meiko’s so impressed with Miyu’s fire she applauds her for it. Great stuff.

 

2. Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Mio Momono vs Yoshiko РSEAdLINNG 8/24/17 

 

21077234_1814982591860261_5768976190590537467_n

 

I hate to admit it given my personal bias, but Yoshiko was awesome here and this was easily the second best match of the night. She was a perfect monster for Mio to attempt to outlast while just refusing to stay down under the larger, more experienced wrestler’s onslaught. The crowd was evenly split between heavy home promotion support for Yoshiko and visiting Marvelous fans (like me) going nuts for Mio. They went to time limit, then overtime where only a two count was needed. The heat for the nearfalls during that final portion was insane.

Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I¬†mention¬†often), and I continue to marvel at how incredible she is this early into her career.

 

1.  Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) РSEAdLINNG 8/24/17 and Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

1

 

Ok, so this is a little bit of a cheat as I’m including both matches between these two teams in the #1 spot rather than take up two places and leave less room for other great matches.

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon‚Äôs International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler‚Äôs home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of the three. These two matches were the previously mention purpose for the entire trip, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series (due to the lack of finish and time spent on some comedy). The one at Ice Ribbon was neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the ‚Äúupset‚ÄĚ victory and Avid Rival sweeping this series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story. Their entire record is now 2-1-1 in Best Friends’ favor (with Avid Rival’s sole victory coming at their home promotion of Wave in the one match between the teams I have yet to see).

One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

In my opinion these are the two best tag teams in all of wrestling, and seeing them face off is always a treat.

 

——-

Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.