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.
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 Suzuki – Stardom 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.
10. Ice Cross Infinity Title Tournament Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16
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 & Kotori – Gatoh Move 12/24/16
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
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.
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 Kyuri vs Maika Ozaki vs Mio Momono vs 235 vs Tequila Saya vs Uno Matsuya – Ice Ribbon 12/31/16
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 Kyuri 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 12/31/16
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.