The NXT Step for a Pirate

The signing of Stardom’s Kairi Hojo in early 2017 by the WWE created immediate buzz and excitement. It was wonderful to see that feeling build in anticipation as the Mae Young Classic and her debut as Kairi Sane approached.

 

Kairi is a masterful ring technician, measuring everything she does carefully and exerting expert body control for maximum visual impact. Her trademark diving elbow from the tope rope looks as beautiful as it does devastating. Her excellent selling draws the audience in and invests them emotionally in her matches, yet she always believably feels like a threat to her opponent no matter how much punishment she’s taken or how much bigger her opponent is. She brings something special and unique to WWE, and the hype surrounding her debut as it approached showed they realized it.

 

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My own perspective on Kairi’s pre-WWE career was bit different from when I wrote about Kana (NXT Step for a Legend) and Johnny Gargano (NXT Step for an Icon) heading to NXT, as I’d only seen her live on two occasions (though she essentially wrestled twice on each show). Even from that small sample it was easy to see the command she has of her craft.

 

My first time seeing Kairi live was under unique circumstances, as she was involved in Act Yasukawa’s retirement match at Climax 2015.

 

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Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Kairi teamed with Act & Haruka Kato vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf & Kyoko Kimura in a match that went on for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates, particularly Kairi, more and more at odds. Both Act and Kairi did a phenomenal job at portraying two people who thought they had reconciled but were just never meant to get along. Things eventually exploded and the two fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.

 

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Then the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa & Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato & Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. Kairi was clearly genuinely emotional as she helped bid farewell to her fellow wrestler’s career.

 

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The following year I was back for Climax 2016 and saw Kairi in a pair of equally impressive matches at opposite ends of the spectrum. In a special contest model Nana Suzuki made her debut in a singles match against Hojo, one of Stardom’s aces. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good, due in no small part to Kairi playing her own role of dominant veteran absolutely perfectly. She knew exactly how to rightly control most of the offense and avoid reducing her own standing yet still make her rookie opponent look strong. That takes an incredible amount of skill and a deft touch, and the two told a great story here.

 

 

Later that night Kairi told a completely different story as she and partner Yoko Bito looked to regain their Goddesses of Stardom Titles from Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu). This time Kairi was in some sense the underdog, as there was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring. The stacked odds and again excellent awareness of the story being told combined to generate quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. It was a treat not only seeing Kairi perform twice, but in such different (but complimentary and consistent) circumstances.

 

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Fast forward back to a few months ago and Kairi entered a WWE ring for the first time as part of the Mae Young Classic. It was certainly no surprise when she provided several of the best matches of the whole thing, including a show-stealing first round encounter with Tessa Blanchard, great bouts with Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm, and a fitting finale to the whole thing against Shayna Baszler. Seeing her joy at becoming the well deserved first ever MYC winner was wonderful. Since then she has become an integral part of NXT’s women’s division, and is likely to feud with Shayna Baszler and eventually progress to a one on one challenge to champion Ember Moon.

 

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Incredible art print depicting (and signed by) Kairi by Rob Schamberger.

 

Kairi Sane is the epitome of the cliche “a joy to watch,” and I wish her all the best as this exciting new phase of her career continues.

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 2 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from this year’s trip. See part 1 for some general info and stats about what I saw, honorable mentions for this top 10 list, and matches #6-10.

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

I’m pleasantly surprised at how many rookies made this top 10. I did a spotlight on several of them, all of which have bright futures ahead. Check it out here.

 

5. Mio Momono vs Mika Shirahime – Marvelous 12/25/16

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I mentioned this match when talking about Mio’s performance in the 7-way at Ribbonmania (#7 on this list, featured in part 1). It was a perfect storm of excellent chemistry between opponents and both performing at a level far beyond their experience levels. Incredible instincts and craft were shown by both rookies, who built drama expertly through the 15 minute encounter and had the crowd going crazy at the end. There were a couple awkward spots, such as an instance from each where they essentially forgot to roll up their opponent, forcing the other to kind of roll herself up and wait for the other to get in proper position. But otherwise this was smooth and well executed. And even in the places I mentioned the ability of the other wrestler to adapt and keep things on track was impressive.

I was at Mio Momono’s debut in New York, and it’s wonderful to see how much she’s capitalized on the potential she showed even then. Her progression in 10 months was incredible. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this extremely talented youngster.

 

4. International Ribbon Tag Championship: Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) (c) vs The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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Photo by Oliver Saupe.

 

I was a bit trepidatious headed into this match, as I generally don’t care for the Butchers’ gimmick, and signs seemed to be pointing towards them dethroning my current favorite tag team for IR’s tag team titles. Mizunami won Wave’s (her home promotion) singles title the night before, and Misaki was declared her #1 contender. Between the roll the Butchers had been on and the new status quo in Wave, it would have made sense for AR to begin dropping their tag titles here (they held the Wave tag titles too).

But I find Hamuko and Mochi vastly more entertaining when they get serious, which they did here to great benefit. They went toe-to-toe with Misaki and Ryo, leading to an excellent match. A particular highlight was an intense lariat exchange between Hoshi and Mizunami, who both throw them with incredible force.

In a pleasant surprise for me, Avid Rival persevered and retained their International Ribbon titles when Misaki hit her beautiful Sky Blue Suplex (bridging half wrist clutch tiger suplex) on Mochi. Kudos to all four here. Fantastic stuff.

 

3. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega – NJPW 1/4/17

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The so called “Six Star Match” was admittedly fantastic, if not quite what the hype suggests. Okada and Omega built to a tremendous crescendo while telling a solid story of the cocky Omega being assured victory if he could hit the One Winged Angel, with the champion avoiding it at every turn until he simply outlasted the challenger and beat down Omega until he just couldn’t continue. They had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear.

Again still excellent overall though (which should be an obvious opinion with it here at #3 of 71 matches I saw), it’s just I personally don’t think it was the best match of all time up to that point, considering I didn’t even think it was the best of that show…

 

2. World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs Mayu – Stardom 12/23/16

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In the main event of last year’s Climax Io Shirai claimed the World of Stardom title from  Meiko Satomura in one of my top five matches from that trip. In this year’s main she defended that same title against her former Thunder Rock partner Mayu Iwatani.

This was a great, pedal-to-the-floor main event with tons of jaw dropping exchanges from two pros extremely familiar with one another. Highlights include Mayu hitting dragon suplexes on the apron and floor (ouch!), trying for one from the top rope only to have Io flip out and LAND ON HER FEET, and a trio of rolling Germans from Io that has to be seen to be believed. Strong back and forth contest and an incredible main event.

 

1. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuo Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW 1/4/17

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… so here it is. In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion I enjoyed the semi-main of Wrestle Kingdom 11 a bit better than the main. Naito and Tanahashi built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish. The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

 

——-

 

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.

Japan Trip 2016: Top 10 Matches Part 1 (Live)

Like last year, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2016 / start 2017. During this trip I saw 12 shows from 7 promotions with 71 matches featuring 148 wrestlers.

Slightly less shows and matches than the first trip, but interestingly because of adding in NJPW Wrestle Kingdom (with it’s 11 matches and entirely filled with wrestlers I wouldn’t otherwise see during my Joshi-centric schedule) I actually saw a few more different wrestlers this time.

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 14 matches, Ice Ribbon: 19 matches, Marvelous: 6 matches, New Japan Pro Wrestling: 11 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave: 8 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and World Wonder Ring Stardom: 6 matches.

Happily, once again the vast majority of what I saw was extremely good. So it was VERY difficult to choose my favorite matches. In fact, things were so close this year I’m doing a Top 10 instead of 5. Even 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 possible/appropriate.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how many rookies made this list. I did a spotlight on several of them, all of which have bright futures ahead. Check it out here.

This entry will cover honorable mentions and #6-10.

 

Honorable mentions:

Survival Ribbon – Ice Ribbon 1/3/17 

Ice Ribbon’s entire 1/3/17 event gets a mention here, as everything was connected and the appeal was in the whole concept and execution rather than an individual match. Two teams of six were formed, split based on time in IR, with opposite team members randomly paired off in singles matches with the winners advancing to a tag main event. The atmosphere was incredible, with both teams at ringside cheering their side vocally and some fun pairings. Fantastic themed show.

 

Kairi Hojo vs Nana SuzukiStardom 12/22/16

In her debut match model Nana Suzuki got to get in the ring against one of Stardom’s aces, Kairi Hojo, in a singles contest. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good. Kairi rightly dominated most of this, but the story was well told and Nana got the crowd behind her comeback spots. Nana seems like she could make the transition and wrestle regularly if she wants to.

 

Misaki Ohata 10th Anniversary Match: Misaki Ohata & Mayumi Ozaki  vs Hiroyo Matsumoto & DASH Chisako – Wave 1/2/29/16

As no Sendai Girls shows fit my schedule, it was a real treat to see Dash chosen to be a part of this match (which I was already excited for as Misaki’s a favorite of mine) and thus give me one opportunity to see her wrestle. This was a fitting and fun “tribute” match.  All four wrestlers were clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Misaki having an absolute blast playing heel alongside Ozaki.

 

Top 10:

10. Ice Cross Infinity Title Tournament Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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Technically speaking, I thought this was a great match. It would likely be even higher on the list if not for the atmosphere and lack of crowd heat, as I thought it was pretty much the epitome of the “wrong match for the wrong crowd.” More specifically, it was the wrong match for the story they chose to tell.

It was instead exactly the match they should have had under the original trajectory of Tsukka’s title reign. This match would have been PERFECT as the end of Tsukka plowing through everyone else on a quest to best her own defense record just to run into a determined Risa dead set on proving she could reclaim her title from the woman who dethroned her.

However without Tsukka’s streak still in tact to add drama and uncertainty not one person in arena bought a Tsukka win here. The tournament was sold on the possibility of the unexpected, which made a back and forth contest between determined rivals the wrong framework for the finals. Both competitors should have been conveying desperation here (or better yet someone else should have advanced to face Risa, or the whole tourney been skipped). All that said, the wrestling itself again was great. And this will likely play better on disc.

 

9. Gatoh Move Tag Team Championship: Aoi & Obi (c) v Riho & KotoriGatoh Move 12/24/16

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Aoi is a personal favorite of mine, and this was unfortunately the only chance I had to see her wrestle this trip. Thankfully though it was a main event match in with three other excellent wrestlers, and as such was great.

Both teams were sharp and this was exactly the quick paced, hard hitting main event it should have been. Kotori having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and something to prove was a nice undercurrent, and Riho and Aoi had some fantastic exchanges down the stretch.

 

8. Team REINA (Makoto, Mari Sakamoto, & Hirori) vs Team Gatoh Move (Emi Sakura, Aasa Maika, & Mitsuru Konno) – Gatoh Move 12/24/16

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This 6-woman tag was elimination style, with over-the-top rules in addition to pin/submission. Interesting set up here, with Gatoh Move’s founder and two of her trainees against Reina’s reigning Champion (who was also GM’s IWA Triple Crown Championship) and two of hers. I’d of course seen Emi and Makoto last trip, and also saw Mari when she came to New York with Syuuri last year. Hirori, Aasa, and Mitsuru were all new to me.

The story of the match was phenomenal, with both teams showing real desire to prevail in the inter-promotional contest. The seconds on the outside for each team were visibly engaged and cheering their promotion, which really added to the atmosphere and the sense of something important being at stake here, even if it was just bragging rights.

 

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The action was great too, with everyone looking sharp, things going back and forth nicely, building drama around the eliminations, etc. Makoto’s presence and mannerisms as a cocky heel were several levels better than what I saw of her in a babyface role last year. Aasa got a nice spotlight at the end being the last member of her team left trying to topple Makoto before coming up just short, and her ring style as a pint-sized powerhouse suits her extremely well. I’d like to see more of Mitsuru too in the future, as she looked quite good in the little time she had before being the first elimination.

 

7. 7-Way: Hiroe Nagahama vs Kyuuri vs Maika Ozaki vs Mio Momono vs 235 vs Tequila Saya vs Uno Matsuya – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16

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This was originally scheduled to be a six-woman tag match, but shortly before the event Mio Momono was added to the match and it became a 7-way contest where eliminations could happen by pin, submission, or being thrown over the top rope to the floor. I’d been at Mio’s pro wrestling debut in NYC as well as seeing her in a fantastic opening contest at Marvelous’ Christmas Eve show (more on that later 😉 ), so was quite excited for her Ice Ribbon debut.

It was an extremely fortuitous change, as they really made the most of the format and this was much more interesting than IR’s traditional random 6-man would have been. EVERYONE got a chance to shine at various points, including Ozaki showing off her strength with a double torture rack, innovative multi-person moves and pin attempts, and an incredible sequence where Uno was thrown to the apron and went crazy trying to stay in the match running halfway around the ring on the apron while everyone inside tried to knock her off. The effort from all seven wrestlers was phenomenal, and they really got the crowd fired up for several sequences.

Excellent match overall, and one of my favorites of my trip. In the end Saya got to look strong somewhat surprisingly hanging in until the final two competitors, but the expected (and rightful) wrestler won when Kyuuri pinned her with the Fisherman suplex. Great showings for all involved. Really hope to see Mio continue to wrestle in IR.

 

6. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru Konno vs Riho, Kotori, & Aasa Maika  – Gatoh Move 12/31/17

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This was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match of the trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

 

——-

 

I  was blessed to have such a great opportunity to visit Japan and see so much phenomenal wrestling. I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at some of the best of the best. Will be back with Part 2 featuring my top 5.

Stardom 12/22/16 Live Thoughts

December 22, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

I was lucky enough to also be at Stardom’s big year end show in 2015, which was quite unique as it featured Act Yasukawa’s retirement. I was curious to see how this year’s would be different being perhaps a more “typical” year end show for them.

The show started just a couple hours after my arrival in Japan, so while I made decent time from the airport I still unfortunately missed the first two matches of Azumi vs Arisu Nanase vs Ruaka and Konami vs Hiromi Mimura.

So the first match I saw was a three way tag between Oedo Tai (Kris Wolf & Hana Kimura), Jungle Kyouna & Natsuko Tora, and Kaori Yoneyama & Saori Anou. One member of each team (Hana, Tora, and Saori) was new to me.

There was some comedy early on as the teams taunted each other, then things progressed into back and forth between the three teams and some multiple person spots. Wolf is so charismatic the crowd popped for her surprise win despite her heel status.They kept it short and energetic here, leading to a decent, if unremarkable, triple tag.

The NWA Western States Tag Team Titles were on the line next as Twisted Sisterz (Thunder Rosa and Holidead) (c) defended against Queens Quest (HZK and Momo Watanabe). With Queen’s Quest being a new big heel faction associated with Io, I was honestly was hoping for more from them. All four wrestlers were clearly giving good effort and there were some bright spots, but the chemistry between the teams as opponents just generally seemed poor and there was a lot of awkwardness and things not connecting / coming across quite right. I feel like these teams are capable of more. The heel vs heel dynamic also kept the crowd rather tepid, and QQ’s puzzling loss seems to cut off the relatively new team’s momentum.

A pair of dark matches featuring models/actresses against career professional wrestlers were next.

In her debut match Nana Suzuki got to get in the ring against one of Stardom’s aces, Kairi Hojo, in a singles contest. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog quite well and the match was good. Kairi rightly dominated most of this, but the story was well told and Nana got the crowd behind her comeback spots. Nana seems like she could make the transition and wrestle regularly if she wants to.

Stardom’s reigning champion Io Shirai teamed with the other visitor, Mariko Seyama,to face Hiroyo Matsumoto & Jungle Kyouna. To be honest, Mariko did not come across nearly as good as Nana did, seeming awkward in the ring. The vets held it together well enough, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the previous match. Also, dark match or not, it was odd seeing Io try to play face here and her normal heel character later. The result was the crowd just cheered her in both matches, which perhaps took a little away from the story she was telling with Mayu.

In the semi-main Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu) defended their Goddesses of Stardom Titles against former champions Kairi Hojo & Yoko Bito. There was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring, which generated quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. Really good match.

In the main event of last year’s Climax Io Shirai claimed the World of Stardom title from  Meiko Satomura in one of the top five matches I saw my entire trip. In this year’s main she defended that same title against her former Thunder Rock partner Mayu Iwatani.

This was a great, pedal-to-the-floor main event with tons of jaw dropping exchanges from two pros extremely familiar with one another. Highlights include Mayu hitting dragon suplexes on the apron and floor (ouch!), trying for one from the top rope only to have Io flip out and LAND ON HER FEET, and a trio of rolling Germans from Io that has to be seen to be believed. Strong back and forth contest and an excellent main event.

I was slightly surprised at the outcome, as once Queen’s Quest lost earlier in the evening I figured we’d get Mayu victorious here to culminate her redemption / revenge story before the heels regrouped and established dominance at a later date. Of course, cocky Io seeming unbeatable is also a compelling story hook.

 

This was an interesting show for Stardom. There were some issues with storytelling, blurry face-heel dynamics, and occasional missed spots and clunky ringwork. Yet there was also some excellent action and overall things came together and I found the show fun and entertaining despite those weaknesses, which is what really matters. Top two matches in particular are well worth seeking out.

Japan Trip 2015: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2015 / start 2016, during which I saw 17 shows from 8 promotions with 84 matches featuring 144 wrestlers. The vast majority of it was extremely good, so it was VERY difficult to cull down to 5 or so matches. There are a lot of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here.

Match reviews copied from my show specific blogs when possible.

Honorable mentions:

Paksa and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi

This was another great main event in a series of them from Gatoh Move. What helped set this one apart is that it was at their Ichigaya location. I’m incredibly impressed with what they can accomplish wrestling-wise in such a small space with no ring. This held its own with some of the best matches I saw my entire trip.

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Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yuhiki

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This match was scheduled to be Miyako Matsumoto and Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Azure Revolution (Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi). I was looking forward to seeing two of my favorites team against an established duo, but it wasn’t to be (and I have no complaints about how things turned out). As the match started Miyako got the mic and apparently had some complaints about teaming with Tsukka. She grabbed Risa and rebooked the match herself through force of will and it became Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi. Classic Miyako and it led to a ton of amusing moments. Tsukasa’s face when Miyako offered her the traditional pre-match handshake after ditching her was priceless. Tsukka’s incredible in every aspect of pro-wrestling and it was a treat to see her so many times during my trip.

There was an ongoing stipulation where the ring announcer would state a letter, and pinfalls could only be attempted after a move starting with it. One of the highlights of it was Tsukasa and Maya pulling out Miyako’s own Mama Mia on her, then an irate Miyako retaliating with Super Mama Mia once the letter changed. Miyako was easily one of the most entertaining parts of my trip, as she knows exactly how to work her gimmick for maximum effect and amusement. Her running laps around the ring in excitement as a victory celebration (with Tsukasa trying to trip her on each pass until successful) was magnificent.

 

Top 5:

 

5. Stardom Title: Meiko Satomura (c) vs Io Shirai

This was fantastic, with highlights that included Io performing an INSANE moonsault off of a staircase overhang, and of course the end which saw Stardom’s biggest star capturing their main title from an outsider.

 

4. REINA World Women’s Title Match between Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) and Maki Narumiya

This was originally advertised as the main event of its show, and honestly should have been. Even the ring announcer seemed to be going off old notes, as it was announced as the main instead of the semi-final. Tsukasa Fujimoto is incredible, and easily one of my favorite wrestlers in the world. She can do comedy, but is at her best when going all out in no-nonsense competitive wrestling.

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Thankfully that’s what we got here, as she and Maki went to war for the REINA title (after some early mind game attempts by the challenger). This was my first (and likely only) time seeing Narumiya, who definitely impressed. She kept up with Fujimoto brilliantly and it’s a shame she’ll be retiring soon.

 

3. Arisa Nakajima vs Kayoko Haruyama

Simply phenomenal. They beat the high holy hell out of each other, with forearm shots that thundered through the crowd. Haruyama’s guillotine leg drop from the top rope with Arisa standing on the second is one of the most brutal looking moves I’ve seen, and I was totally marking out for every German suplex variation they threw at each other. Was extremely lucky to have seen a few of Haruyama’s last matches, and Arisa was everything I’d heard and more.

 

 

1 (tie). JWP Tag Title Match: Jumonji Sisters (c) (Dash Chisako and Sendai Sachiko) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima)

This was perhaps the most anticipated match of my trip, and it did not disappoint.

I’d only seen the Jumonjis and Arisa once before, but that was enough to know how good they are and what they’re capable of. As I’ve mentioned incessantly, Tsukasa Fujimoto is one of the most consistently incredible wrestlers on the planet. Put the four of them together and you get magic.

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They threw everything they could at each other for fifteen action packed minutes, including a variety of innovative and impressive double teams. This was exactly the fantastically worked, logical, and wowing spectacle I wanted, ending in a huge title change to boot. Would have easily been alone on top as my favorite match of the trip, if not for Best Friends tearing it up in another title match on a later show.

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1 (tie). Ice Ribbon Tag Title Match: Best Friends (c) (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata and Ryo Mizunami)

In addition to my adoration of Best Friends I am likewise a huge fan of Misaki Ohata, so was VERY excited for this tag title match at Ribbonmania.  It was as excellent as expected, and is neck and neck with Best Friends vs Jumonji Sisters as my favorite match of my trip.

 

 

——-

I  was blessed to have such a great opportunity to visit Japan and see so much phenomenal wrestling. I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at the best of the best.

Stardom 12/23/15 and Wave Young OH! 12/25/15 Live Thoughts

December 23 and 25, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

I’ve been lucky to see a huge variety of different promotions so far during my trip. Here’s two more with shows that were both unique in their own way

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Stardom’s year end show was good, although with over half of it devoted to Act’s retirement I’m not sure I have any idea of what their shows are normally like. It opened with a fair amount of ceremony and a big dance number. Once the show proper got underway the three undercard matches were all 5-10 minutes long and it certainly felt like they were moving things along quickly to get to the last two matches.

Azumi vs Starlight Kid was a nice spotlight for two very young wrestlers who both clearly have potential. Azumi’s mannerisms and character in particular shined. Kaori Yoneyama and Mayu Iwatani vs Alex Lee and Datura was good, but the outcome never seemed in any doubt which took a bit away from the short encounter.

Hyper Destroyers (Evie, Hiroyo Matsumoto and Kellie Skater) (c) vs Hiromi Mimura, Jungle Kyouna and Momo Watanabe for the Destroyers’ Artist of Stardom titles was a mix of action and comedy, with the Destroyers’ various confetti shooting implements teased and used throughout. Was quite entertaining, but it was also clear the combined talent in that match could have done a lot more given proper time.

Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Act Yasukawa, Haruka Kato and Kairi Hojo vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf and Kyoko Kimura went for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates more and more at odds. Things exploded and Act and Hojo fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.

The the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa and Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato and Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. The traditional spot of the entire roster (and then some) splashing the retiree in the corner was amusing to see.

After the match was a ceremony where numerous people came in and presented with gifts / congratulations. At the end was a ten bell salute, a ton of streamers, and a lap of Act being carried around the ring. It was extremely interesting to experience a Japanese retirement match live for the first time. Best wishes to Act in the future.

After intermission was the main event, a huge World of Stardom title match that saw Io Shirai challenging Meiko Satomura (c). This was fantastic, with highlights that included Io perform an INSANE moonsault off of a staircase overhang, and of course the end which saw Stardom’s biggest star capturing their main title from an outsider.

 

On Christmas Day I was back at the Ice Ribbon Dojo, but for a Wave Young OH! show featuring newer talent. Veteran Yuki Ohka was at the show working the ticket table, but the actual matches were (almost) entirely young wrestlers.

The first 3 matches were about what I would have expected – rookie talent getting a chance to work each other and gain more experience in matches that weren’t great but weren’t bad either. I could definitely tell the difference in performances here compared to when I’ve seen these same wrestlers in the ring with veterans. They have a lot of potential though and matches like these are important chances for them to continue to grow and hone their craft.

Side note: I still don’t know exactly how I feel about the lightsaber vs feather fan duels in Akane Fujita and Natsu Sumire vs Fairy Nipponbashi and Yako Fujigasaki.

The main event was a different story, as the Young OH! Tournament Final of Meiko Tanaka and Sareee vs Kaho Kobayashi and Rina Yamashita was phenomenal. All four looked great, and like they have far more experience than they do.

The night didn’t end there however, as the “almost” I mentioned above showed up in a bonus match seeing Rina Yamashita pulling double duty against the soon to retire Kayoko Haruyama. This was a real treat and was just as good as the announced main. Excellent performance by Rina against the much more experienced Kayoko. Got a variation on the roster run in spot again, and poor Rina’s chest was bright red from all the hard chops she took. Nice surprise addition to the card.

 

 

Another fun pair of diverse shows. I’ve been really lucky with both the variety and overall quality of what I’ve seen on this trip. 🙂

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