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 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’s 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’s 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 Sakai –  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 – SEAdLINNG 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) – SEAdLINNG 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’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s 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 “upset” 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.

SEAdLINNNG 8/24/17 Live Thoughts

August 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

IMG_4035

 

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’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of those three starting with here at my first ever SEAdLINNG show.

Although despite it being my first show under the SEAdLINNNG banner, I had previously seen all but two of the wrestlers live before, and that includes several personal favorites. On the other hand, one of the new to me in ring competitors is someone I have a large issue with watching/supporting and I feel I need to say something here. I had (and still have) mixed feelings about attending shows Yoshiko’s on, and I’m even more conflicted on her return to wrestling after eerily similar recent events with Sexy Star. There are a number of different angles and components that get into this (that I won’t expand upon here because it’d be longer than the review I’m trying to write), but for now I’ve chosen not to skip shows/matches she’s on in favor of supporting the other wrestlers on the shows (and for admittedly selfish reasons of not wanting to miss certain matches).

 

Alright, on to the show:

 

1) High Speed Match: Manami Toyota vs Maruko Nagasaki vs Kaho Kobayashi 

 

 

This 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. Amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics. 

 

2) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Yoshiko vs Mio Momono 

 

 

I hate to admit it given my previously mentioned 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 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.

As I’ve previously gushed about, Mio is just incredible and shines even among the impressive crop of current Joshi rookies across all companies. Her timing, mannerisms, and technique are all well beyond normal for her experience level and she just keeps getting better every time I see her. Sky’s the limit if she keeps on this trajectory.

 

3) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Takumi Iroha vs Sareee 

 

 

The second semi-final also featured a Marvelous wrestler against a SEAdLINNG talent. Iroha’s incredible power eventually overwhelmed Sareee to send the former to the finals for another interpromotional match. This was quite good, but I do feel like they have a better match in them. I hope this rivalry continues and we get to see many more contests between the two.

 

4) TLC Match: Nanae Takahashi vs The Great Sasuke 

 

 

I found out about this match just a couple of days before the show, and what a treat it was to be there for. It exactly what it should have been: a spotfest featuring two honored veterans. I have to say even with all the crazy stunts and complicated ladder/chair spots, my favorite was a comedy one. Nanae was in the corner under a ladder and Sasuke essentially played whack a mole with a chair trying to hit her head whenever she poked it up between the rungs, only to have her duck back down and Sasuke hurt his own hands as the chair hit the ladder.

 

5) Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) 

 

21078519_1814983955193458_2722271398784659655_n

 

So here we are – the reason for this trip. Going into this match Avid Rival was up 1-0 in this series of 3 (having won at Wave on 8/12 in a match I haven’t seen), and things were tied between the teams overall if the first match in 2015 was considered.

 

 

As expected, this was excellent. The lack of finish (time limit draw) and time spent on some comedy put this just a touch below the other match I had seen from them, but that’s mild criticism. Best of the night and exactly what I was hoping for from two of the greatest teams in all of wrestling.

 

20992607_1814983015193552_2409883880817456131_n

 

Neither team was happy with the lack of resolution, and there was tension between the specific pairs of Ryo & Tsukka and Misaki & Arisa afterwards building to the final match at Ice Ribbon a few days later.

 

Main event) Ultra U-7 Final: Yoshiko vs Takumi Iroha

 

21032386_1814982738526913_8743616992595337969_n

 

It was fitting to have this main, given Best Friends vs Avid Rival didn’t have a finish and how over Yoshiko is in SEAdLINNNG. Her essentially being a heel who plays to the crowd is so uncomfortable. Don’t know if it was because of how engrossing Mio’s matches are or just the general structure, but I found it harder to look past my personal feelings on Yoshiko in this one. They still put on a hell of a match though. Good showing for Iroha in defeat in a back and forth power match. I wish Iroha had won for a multitude of reasons, one of the most relevant of which is a young outsider taking the tournament seems like a better story. Strong finish to the tournament regardless, and a large portion of the crowd was thrilled.

 

 

Great show overall, and an extremely good first impression made for SEAdLINNNG. Of course my favorite parts involved outside talent (and the resulting atmosphere, due to the rabid support of the Marvelous contingent), but the core roster members are also great wrestlers and a solid base to build around. Will be interesting to see more in the future.