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

 

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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 

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17 Live Thoughts

August 26, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

The difference between 2016’s 1/4 Tokyo Joshi Pro show I attended and this year’s was night and day, and I went into this third show of theirs for me pretty excited. I knew little of the card though outside of the fact that two of my favorites from the promotion, Reika Sakai and Yuka Sakazaki, would be fighting over the Princess of Princess title. I was in for at least one fantastic surprise… more on that later.

 

Before the first match the Tokyo Princess of Princess Tag Championship belts were unveiled, and there’s an upcoming tournament to crown the first champions.

 

 

The opener of MIZUKI & Nonoko vs Yuna Manase & Yuki Kamifuku was ok for what it was I suppose, but went too long and was my least favorite match. Nonoko’s heavily featured breast based offense just doesn’t amuse me, and the debuting Yuki Kamifuku was pretty awkward in the ring. Nice seeing Mizuki in TJP though, and Manase looked decent.

 

 

The Idol Lumberjack Death Match between Azusa Takigawa and Maki Ito was wonderful in its absurdity and an example of how the ridiculous stuff can really work. Each idol group serving as lumberjacks got an entrance number (with special referee Sanshiro Takagi coming out with the last) and were armed with plastic toy squeaky hammers.

 

 

Azusa sung her way to the ring, then when Maki’s music hit she cut it off and sang the same one as Azusa without music instead, with the latter getting more and more visibly furious until she attacked the still singing Itoh to jumpstart the match. This was over the top in the best way possible, didn’t overstay welcome, and played to the strengths and personas of the participants. At one point Itoh went up to the top seemingly to jump to the outside onto Azusa, but she got scared, gingerly climbed down to the apron, and attacked from there. It totally fit and even the apron dive was enough to get the crowd exited.

 

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My favorite moment was when the wrestlers got tired of being attack by the lumberjacks, pulled a couple hammers away from them and chased them around the ring. Maki got a HUGE ovation for her eventual victory. This was not great technical wrestling, but it was great amusement. In general I’m seeing continual improvement in the performances of both these wrestlers, which is wonderful.

 

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Even though things are always unpredictable when DDT’s Ironman Heavymetalweight Title is involved, Yu’s 3-way title defense against Marika Kobashi and Nodoka One-san still seemed like a foregone conclusion. Decent match regardless, with the challengers looking solid but Yu eventually dominating her way to the expected victory. The traditional match format / defense for this belt feel really odd, particularly considering shortly after the match was over the challengers resumed going for pinfalls under the title’s 24/7 rule. Yu kicked out, ran, and escaped with the championship intact.

 

 

The “International Match” (must every match have a subtitle?) saw a debuting Solo Darling get a pretty good showing against one of TJP’s most consistent performers in Shoko Nakajima. For a match likely booked based on them both wearing tails, they had good chemistry and Solo fits well with TJP’s style. Shoko’s a much bigger star though, and got the expected (and proper) victory with a nice Northern Lights suplex.

 

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The surprise I referred to earlier came in the form of the incredible Meiko Satomura appearing at TJP to face former (and first) Princess of Princess Champion Miyu Yamashita. This was fantastic and edges 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.

 

 

The semi main 6-person tag pitting Rika Tatsumi, Maho Kurone & Shiro Koshinaka against Akai Saki, Martha & Yukio Saint Laurent wasn’t really to my tastes, but it was fine for what it was and featured some good action in between the silly stuff. It was interesting to see the zombie Maho as a face (which worked surprisingly well), and the rivalry between Rika and Saki came across well. Akai denying the 3-count then fainting when her henchmen reluctantly confirm she lost to Rika was a nice touch. Well received by the crowd overall, so it did its job.

 

 

Reika Saiki stepped up as the next challenger for then Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion Yu at the last show I saw in January, and came up short in that attempt in March. Since then Mil Clown departed TJP and her “twin sister” Yuka Sakazaki returned to take the title from Yu. Reika recently won the 4th Tokyo Princess Cup tournament, beating the reigning champion in the finals to do it. She leveraged that into a title shot and it was the main event of this show.

 

 

As I mentioned 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.

 

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro has been a breath of fresh air for me (discounting my first experience with them having a rather poor show I saw two years ago). They fill a specific niche and do it well, strong effort and commitment is visible from everyone, and perhaps most importantly the development and improvement of the roster over time is wonderful to watch. While certain things can still use some work, in general TJP gets better every time I see them, improving the wrestling and pacing aspect of their shows while still retaining the idol edge and other aspects that make them unique and appeal to their core target demographic. Thoroughly enjoyed this show.

 

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Pleasure to meet and congratulate the new champion.

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/17 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Last year’s Tokyo Joshi Pro show I attended was admittedly my least favorite of the trip, with mediocre wrestling, poor pacing, and the general feeling that I was not their target audience. There were bright points and most of the crowd adored it, but I felt with some tweaks the show could have been significantly better without losing any of the appeal to their dedicated fanbase.

So my expectations weren’t high for this, but I was interested to see if there had been any growth in the promotion / performers.

 

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The undercard featured a nice assortment of match styles, including Nodoka Oneesan (who debuted in last year’s opener) opening against her trainer Cherry, a 3-way between Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, and Maho Kurone, and Ai Shimizu & Laura James vs Azusa Takigawa & Nonoko with special guest referee Joey Ryan.

The opener was decent and while still developing Nodoka was clearly more comfortable in the ring than last year. The three way had a overriding story of super-creepy Maho Kurone going after TJP’s resident ring announcer Minami Momochi (who was seconding Misao) and Misao or Rika running interference. Maho’s vampire/zombie character, complete with a severed limb she wears around her neck to the ring and gnaws on,  is a great addition to the idol heavy promotion to provide a different feel. All story over action here, but fine for what it was.

 

 

The tag match was all comedy, but it was good comedy. They found a story that fit Joey Ryan’s ridiculously over-the-top style, and having him as highly biased ref in favor of his wife’s team ended up quite amusing. The pairing of Azusa and Nonoko benefits both as they have good comedic chemistry. They played off each other well, with Azusa getting angry with Joey’s blatant favoritism while Nonoko instead chose to try to sway the King of Sleeze their way using flaunting her body.

The contrast of Joey and Laura’s overtly sexual interactions and the more reserved and demure relationship of Ai and her fiance was also fun. Everything was absurd but entertaining. This match was also the best Ai looked in the ring of the three times I saw her this trip.

 

 

A couple of matches in things paused for idol performances, with two different groups performing a couple of songs apiece. I actually liked isolating them instead of having the singing as part of certain wrestlers’ entrances like last year. It also allowed them to set up speakers/proper equipment in the ring for them (which is impractical when doing one song at a time throughout the show). I understand criticisms of this breaking the flow of the show, but I thought it was fine and fit well with TJP’s general theme/appeal.

 

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It also tied directly into a later match between two members of the respective groups as Reika Saiki faced Maki Itoh. I was familiar with Reika via social media but never saw her wrestle before. She’s got an incredible physique and uses the power to great effect in the ring, looking quite impressive in her victory over Itoh. It was kept pretty basic (understandable given both wrestlers debuted in 2016), but they put on quite a clean, solid match considering their experience level.

In a rematch of sorts of one of last year’s highlights, Candice LeRae faced Yuka Sakazaki’s “masked twin sister” Mil Clown. I absolutely LOVE the crazy clown gimmick. The mannerisms, moves, etc. were all pitch perfect. Another strong showing between the two, and a touch better than last year’s I think.  Mil gets a victory to avenge “her sister’s” loss last year.

 

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Saki Akai is clearly TJP’s star, and received the biggest reactions of the night by far. She was in full dominant heel mode, but still heartily cheered regardless as she faced Miyu Yamashita in the semi-main. Saki’s personal maid / manager / henchman played to the crowd a little too much when interfering, but Miyu did a decent job of trying to rally the fans behind her despite it being an uphill battle.

 

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I still kind of feel like Miyu’s capable of a bit more than I’ve seen from her, but she was good here regardless. Akai played the arrogant heel to the end, including mockingly offering a handshake after defeating Miyu only to pull it back and continue the abuse. I like the total commitment to the character she showed and that she didn’t let the cheers tempt her to play hero to the audience.

 

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The main event was quite an interesting matchup. Reigning and defending Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion Yu made her wrestling debut in the opener of last year’s show. In contrast, her opponent Shoko Nakajima wrestled in last year’s main event in the finals of the tournament to crown the first champion, coming up short against Miyu Yamashita.

 

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This started slow, but once they built momentum it turned into a nice example of a grapple heavy and judo influenced style I unfortunately didn’t really see otherwise this trip.

Shoko’s parallel challenge to last year added a bit of depth, and Yu looked natural as champion despite her short amount of experience. It ran a bit long and Shoko was clearly carrying things at times, but overall this had a strong story and good action and was a fitting main event.

 

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After Yu’s successful defense, Reika comes up to apparently stake her claim as the next challenger. Good choice I think. It’ll be interesting to see if the two relative rookies can elevate each others’ performances in a main event slot.

 

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I was pleasantly surprised to discover most of the issues I had last year had been addressed. While a lot of the action was still basic, significantly higher average in ring performances in terms of execution and a better array of stories and characters made this a vastly better show while keeping all of the elements that appeal to their core fanbase. The effort was strong up and down the card, paired competitors extremely well, and perhaps most importantly the pacing was much improved, with nothing really overstaying its welcome.

This is a very different product than the other promotions I watch, but it’s growing into its niche and I found this show quite enjoyable. Looking forward to seeing if they’ll continue in this vein going forward.

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/16 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

The last show I saw before returning to the US was by Tokyo Joshi Pro. It wasn’t exactly my ideal way to end the trip.

I will start by admitting I am definitely not their target audience. The show was generally more about extra curricular activities and angles than the wrestling, and a good chunk of the action was extremely basic. The rest of the crowd was quite into the show, but even judging it on what it’s meant to be I personally felt they could have done better in a lot of respects. That said, there were also highlights and sparks of potential.

After a lengthy period of announcements, introductions, and angle advancement, the show started with Yu vs Nodoka Onesan. Well, after singing and dancing ring entrances that is. The match itself was kept very short, which probably wasn’t a bad idea for a double debut. They did ok, but did obviously miss a couple of spots.

I’m going to be brutally honest here – the second match felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life. The 3-Way Match between Nonoko, Hyper Misao, and MIZUHO went 9:45 minutes in match time, but the first third of it consisted of Misao on the mic seeming to stress heroic virtues while her opponents flaunted their respective chosen best features (Nonoko’s breasts and MIZUHO’s rear) behind her back. It just went on and on and on.

When she noticed and got angry the “wrestling” started, which consisted of offense exclusively based around ramming people’s heads into the aforementioned body parts. I don’t mind fanservice or sexual overtones when used well and sparingly, but by the third or forth variation each with little else it lost any humor and/or effect it had. Misao swinging Nonoko headfirst into MIZUHO from behind with MIZUHO on all fours and making aroused faces upon impact also goes a bit too far for me. Their audience enjoyed it, but I feel they could have chopped this whole thing in half without disappointing the fans who liked it and spared fans like me some eye rolling repetitiveness.

Rika Tatsumi and Marika Kobashi vs Erin and Azusa Takigawa was up next, and featured an array of easily identifiable stereotypical characters. We break again in the middle of the match for Azusa Takigawa to get a mic and decide to do running commentary from the apron. At least it fit her reporter character and seemed somewhat amusing. Action was good, if generally basic, but again as I was getting into things a spot would be noticeably blown taking me right back out. Rest of the crowd didn’t mind though. They reacted to a sequence of weak machine gun chops in the corner like they were watching Kobashi.

NOTE: at this point we were closing in on an hour and a half into the show with less than 25 minutes of match time (and keep in mind “match time” included lengthy impromptu promos and posing). Felt like I was suffering through a RAW taping.

Candice LeRae and Yuka Sakazaki took things up a bit during their match. There was still some goofiness, and a somewhat clever spot on the stage involving a string of balloons took them WAY too long to set up, but this was decent. Candice is solid and it was nice to see her in Japan, and Yuka did well and showed potential.

KANNA looked good in a short match against Ai Shimizu. It was my first time seeing either and I’d like to see what they could do with more time.

The semi-main was Saki Akai vs Poison Akane Miura, and it was easily the match of the night. This was a perfect example of how to do unrealistic elements and goofiness right, while still having great action. Muira’s manager, Poison Julie, has incredible presence and charisma and makes the absurdity of him using MAGICAL POWERS to distract / hinder Muira’s opponent enjoyable. Intense battle and good work from all parties, and a glimpse of what the whole show could have conceivably been with tightening and tweaking. Akai in particular was excellent, and I’d love to see more of her work.

In the main event Miyu Yamashita faced Shoko Nakajima to determine TJP’s first Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion. The video package shown hyping the match seemed to decently build up both contenders, but it was longer than any match outside of the one it was promoting. Simply ridiculous. Also, given the idol presentation and nature of the promotion, I thought only having one of the two participants sing and dance during her entrance pretty blatantly gave away the winner.

I’m glad they gave proper time to the main event, but I found the early part boring. They were trying hard but the sense of competition was missing and it felt like a sequence of moves rather than a match. It picked up significantly about halfway through though and ended up a suitable way to crown their inaugural champion.

 

This is a hard show to review. Their audience LOVED it. They were hot throughout, throwing steamers for nearly everyone, and excited. However I think that all could have been preserved while improving the show dramatically by addressing pacing issues. And some of the wrestlers just need more polish, which they’ll get with time.

Tokyo Joshi Pro knows it niche and plays to them extremely well, but there’s a lot of untapped potential they could also capitalize on if they wanted. I would certainly enjoy their shows more as a whole if they did.