Tokyo Joshi Pro 9/29/18 Live Thoughts

September 29, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Joshi Pro has grown into a really entertaining promotion with several excellent performers. This was my first time seeing TJP at a venue other than Korakuen Hall, and I was curious to see what one of their “smaller” shows would be like. Greenhall’s a great venue itself, so this looked to be a fun afternoon.

 

 

 

The Up Up Girls came out to dance to kick things off. I saw them debut against each other in a tag match to open TJP’s 1/4/18 show, so all four are still in their rookie year. Here the show proper once again opened with an inter-group match, in this case Hikari vs Raku in a singles contest.  A fine outing for both, although they’re still a bit tentative and have awkward exchanges at times. Hikari seemed just a touch more polished, and also picked up the victory. Decent for what it was.

 

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The 3 Way match of Yuu vs Yuna Manase vs Yuki Kamifuku was all story, revolving around Yuna and Yuki trying to seduce Yuu into helping them instead of the other. Yuki had the alliance advantage early on after giving Yuu a magazine featuring pictures of Yuki, but miscommunications and Yuna flaunting her body keep things switching around. No, I’m not joking about any of this. Eventually both screwed up often enough that Yuu had enough, so they teamed instead. Yuu of course eventually won, being quite a bit above either on the card. Some amusing bits, but overall the comedy fell a little flat with me and this was just kinda there.

 

 

 

Azusa Takigawa is winding down her career and back in her regular persona after her brainwashed “Azusa Christie” phase. Here she teamed with the Muscle Idol Reika Saiki against Hyper Misao & Shoko Nakajima. The latter team came out with signs apparently protesting Azusa’s retirement, and Reika joined in the protest for a bit. Seeing the tiny kaiju enthusiastically copying Misao was highly amusing. Azusa eventually attacked her opponents and slapped her partner upside the head to get things started.

 

 

 

This was really the best of both worlds of TJP’s match types. Reika and Shoko absolutely tore it down action-wise, then when things slowed down/stopped for the sake of the story it was well done. A lot of that was thanks to attention to detail and the wrestlers themselves being heavily invested, such as when Reika and Shoko got so caught up in Misao’s apparent selfless act in the ring that they stopped fighting on the outside and watched, as captivated as the audience.

Misao offered to take Azusa’s second rope elbow to end the match, giving the latter a win as a retirement gift. Then she kicked out instead. Reika, angered by Misao not following through on her word, got involved but Azusa begged off saying it was reflex and offered to do it again. This time Misao countered the elbow into a backslide for a close 2 to try and steal the match. At that point even Shoko’s pissed, and she joined her opponents in a series of finishers and a three person dogpile to put Misao away.

 

 

 

The way Azusa, Reika, and even the ref went ahead and celebrated with Shoko as if it was a 3 vs 1 all along and Shoko’s excitement at “winning” were fantastic. Everyone makes up afterwards, Misao tearfully congratulates Azusa, and they all leave together. Far and away the most I’ve ever enjoyed Misao’s antics, precisely because there was a strong framework for them and they were supported by an exciting match, with Reika and Shoko being their usual exceptional selves.  I talk a lot about Reika, Maki Itoh, and Yuka Sakazaki in terms of incredible presence and charisma, but Shoko is right up there too and is perhaps TJP’s most underrated performer. Loved this.

 

 

 

Up Up Girls member Hinano was outmatched in non-title action against TJP’s Princess of Princess champion Miyu Yamashita and knew it, resorting to bouts of fake crying, etc to try and throw her opponent off her game. Hinano managed to get a bit of back and forth going out of it, but Miyu dispatched her in short order once the champ got serious. Fine way to get the rookie some experience against TJP’s ace and let her look good while still telling a story that made sense for those involved. 

 

 

 

The main event was a 6-woman tag between Yuka Sakazaki, Mizuki & Maki Itoh and Nodoka Tenma, Yuki Aino & Miu. It’s interesting for me to see Yuka now tag champs w/ Mizuki given last time I saw TJP back in January Yuka defended those same belts (w/ Shoko) against Mizuki (w/ Gatoh Move’s Riho). Yuka’s a personal favorite and always a joy to watch, and Mizuki’s right up with her as one of TJP’s most consistently great workers. Add in the rising superstar with nuclear levels of fan support and charisma Itoh and their trio is a bit of a superteam.

I like Nodoka’s new gimmick (I am perhaps the only TJP fan thrilled to see her put Nodoka-Oneesan behind her) and her team with Yuki is clicking nicely. Miu’s generally considered the current top prospect of the Up Up Girls, and I understand why.

So with all the elements put together this was an engaging, solidly worked match with flashes of brilliance. Nodoka’s trio put up a good fight, but eventually came up short when Miyu fell to a high flying assault from TJP’s tag champs. The way Yuka in particular soars around the ring is amazing, and I honestly think she’s one of the best fliers in wrestling (right up with Dash Chisako at the top of the heap in my mind, and that’s saying a lot).

 

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Afterwards Nodoka & Yuki stake a claim for a shot at the tag titles, which I believe the champs eventually accepted. During the whole exchange a somewhat bored looking Itoh sat on the ropes patiently waiting for her partners’ business to be concluded. Her trying to be supportive while just barely being unable to hide a touch of disinterest was a great character moment.

 

 

 

So the card obviously wasn’t quite as stacked as the Korakuen shows, but was still quite good with enough here to satisfy and some really strong performances from the expected names.

In contrast the merchandise situation was fantastic, far better than the madness at Korakuen.  Post show there was more time and space, which made a ton of difference. Everyone stayed until their personal line was done, with staff announcing as someone was getting ready to leave so fans had one last chance to go over. I finally got to meet several wrestlers I’m a big fan of for the first time, and I appreciate all the effort and enthusiasm both the company and wrestlers put into it all.

Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to excel at emphasizing its strengths and nurturing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, to great effect. This was a different type of show than the previous ones I saw of theirs, but just as worthwhile and enjoyable.

Japan Trip Winter 2017: Top 10+ Matches (Live)

Long overdue since summer’s arrived and I’ve already been lucky enough to travel back Japan since the trip I’m talking about here (more on that soon), but I still wanted to highlight the best matches I saw among an incredible batch of shows I saw in the Tokyo area to close out 2017 / start 2018. Also check out my favorites from past trips.

During this trip I saw 16 shows from 7 promotions with 86 matches featuring 132 different wrestlers, and the vast majority of what I saw was excellent. So even featuring my top ten eleven matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

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

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 15 matches, Ice Ribbon: 30 matches, Marvelous: 7 matches, Sendai Girls: 5 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave (including Young OH! OH!): 12 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and Basara/DDT:  10 matches.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

 

Balloon Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE vs Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE)  – Ice Ribbon 12/23/17

The two teams each brought several balloons to ringside with them for their 6-woman tag match. It indicated another of IR’s special stipulation matches that highlight touches of comedy and amusingly absurd match conditions while still maintaining a strong sense of competition and the essential trappings of a wrestling match. IR is one of the best promotions there is at achieving that balance. In this case the balloons were legal to use during the match, and there were numerous clever spots involving popping the balloons on and around their opponents. From various splashes onto each other with balloons wedged in between people to hard kicks popping balloons on opponents’ chests and faces, etc there was so much amusement the fact that the competitors often had to hold balloons in place on themselves was easily overlooked. Another humorous highlight was “Merry Christmas Mama Mia,” in which Miyako laid out her three opponents in a line and had her partners Tsukka and Karen follow her around the ring posing while Miyako sang “we wish you a Merry Christmas.” Of course the entire opposing team got their legs up when Miyako’s trio went for the splashes at the end.

This was my first time seeing Novel Tornado team in any capacity, and they have great chemistry and nice double teams. Kyuuri fit in well with them and the opposing trio was an equally suitable pairing. Again what I liked best is that underneath all the comedic elements was a solid, well wrestled match. And of course seeing Miyako get a rare win with a Super Mama Mia (onto a balloon of course) was a nice bonus. This was a ton of fun.

 

Mitsuru Konno vs Gatoh Move’s veterans – Gatoh Move 12/29/171/1/18, and 1/2/18

 

 

I considered trying to pick one of these for inclusion, but I loved all of them and the general vibe so much I decided instead to discuss all three as a group here. Mitsuru Konno is a Gatoh Move rookie who had just a little over a year experience at the time of this trip and who immediately impressed me when I first saw her a year prior, instantly became a personal favorite. This trip was a particular treat as I got to see her in separate singles contests against Gatoh’s Super Asia Champion Riho, founder Emi Sakura, and Emi’s tag team champion partner Masahiro Takanashi. All three matches had the same general idea of Mitsuru trying to prove herself against a vastly more experienced, sometimes dismissive veteran, yet still all felt distinct and had their own unique variations on the formula. All three matches were great, speaking both to Mitsuru’s progress/potential and to the expertise of Gatoh Move’s ring generals.

 

GEKOKU vs ActWres feud  – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17 and 1/6/18Young OH! OH! 1/8/18

 

 

Like with the previous entry I considered picking one match here (eyeing the great tag match seeing Maika Ozaki & Kyuuri face Saori Anou & Tae Honma at Ribbonmania in particular) for inclusion but instead enjoyed all parts I got to see of this feud so much I wanted to spotlight them all here. Tensions between Ice Ribbon regular Maika and her tag partner Kyuuri and Maika’s former Actwres Girlz compatriots Tae and Actwres Champion Saori were palpable every time any of the four crossed paths. The three matches I saw involving them during this trip set up an impending title shot for Maika at Saori, and a time limit draw in a singles contest and nullifying each other long enough for Wave’s Asuka to beat them both in a triple threat left things completely unresolved between Kyuuri and Tae. The whole feud continued with twists and turns (and great in ring action) until just last weekend and was my easily one of my favorite rivalries in wrestling while it lasted.

 

 

Top 10 11:

 

10. (tie)  Nao DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17

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I spent a significant amount of time debating my tenth entry between two matches and finally decided it was a tie and I’d include both. The semi-main of Ice Ribbon’s biggest show of the year was their Young Ice Tournament final, and it was a great match made even better by an unexpected finish. I saw a Maruko victory as a foregone conclusion, with her vanquishing her third member of Team DATE in a row to win the tourney. So I was pleasantly shocked to see Nao take it and Ice Ribbon use the tournament to significantly elevate a new face. These are two of IR’s brightest rising stars and the match they put on certainly reflected that.

 

10. (tie) Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi Gatoh Move 12/31/17

Doing a six-person tag in such a limited space is undoubtedly difficult, but of course the Gatoh Move roster is extremely familiar with such a challenge and was more than up for it. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi was fantastic. Lots of great stuff centered around Emi’s team trying to avoid / deal with the larger Toru, as well as Riho and Mitsuru trying to take the attack to their opponents. I was at the window that’s used as one of the tag corners, and amusingly they spilled out of that one instead of the other for the first time I’ve ever seen during this match. This was exciting, a little different, and flat out fun. Emi continued her habit of pinning Mitsuru to win, something she jokingly teased me about after the show.

 

 

9. Chihiro Hashimoto vs Takumi Iroha – Marvelous 12/25/17

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Takumi Iroha, who I’ve also  wrote about as someone to watch in the past, also main evented Marvelous’ Christmas show last year and is clearly being groomed / built as the central star of the promotion. Here she got a one on one non-title opportunity with Sendai Girls’ Champion Chihiro Hashimoto.

This was my first look at Chihiro, and I was definitely impressed. It’s immediately easy to see why she holds Sendai’s title. This was an excellent, hard hitting contest with Takumi and Chihiro just beating the hell out of each other and throwing each other around. Iroha’s blend of power and high flying is just incredible.

They battled all the way to the third time limit draw of the evening, which wasn’t terribly surprising given the participants. I know there might be some criticism about half the matches ending that way (one I’d normally share), but each match it happened in unfolded differently, and logically, with varying post match implications and significance. So I was actually totally fine with it all myself.

 

 

7. (tie) Tokyo Princess of Princess Title Match: Reika Saiki (c) vs Miyu Yamashita – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

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In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

 

 

7. (tie)  Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match: Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima (c) vs MIZUKI & Riho – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

 

This Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers defended against TJP roster member MIZUKI and visiting Gatoh Move star Riho, a 12 year veteran at age 21 who received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

 

 

6. Gekoku (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) vs Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) – Ice Ribbon 12/24/17

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This contest seeing Gekoku getting a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends was one I was greatly looking forward to. It started off interesting right away as after their entrance Kyuuri and Maika quickly had ref Mio check them (as would normally happen after both teams had entered) and snuck out of the ring back to the sides of the entrance. Then as Best Friends came out they ambushed them from behind to jump start the match. I really liked this, as it showed both aggression and perhaps a bit of desperation from a great team that unfortunately hasn’t had much success lately facing formidable opponents. Little touches like Maika shushing the crowd to not give away their intentions were great.

This was simply a great match. I really wish Gekoku had pulled out the upset, as there were a lot more interesting ways to go with that result, but they had a strong showing against one of the best tag teams in the world regardless.

 

5. Riho vs Yasu Urano  – Basara 12/28/17

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I went to this show primarily to see Riho, and as always she certainly didn’t disappoint. Her match against Yasu Urano was great, with Urano being a little dismissive but needed to take things seriously as Riho was unfazed at his 8 inch and 90 pound advantage and took the fight right to him.

I mentioned Riho’s extensive experience above, and she’s an expert at making the story of her match believable. In this special environment (all opening round matches of this tournament were no-rope matches with victory by pinfall, submission, or ring-out) against a larger opponent that meant using her quickness and aggressiveness to counter the size discrepancy. Her never say die approach here made this engrossing, and Urano was also perfect as the bully realizing he might have more bit off more than he could handle. They had some great exchanges around/near the ringposts and edges. My favorite finish of the night saw Riho hit a spinning sunset flip near the ring’s edge, and Urano emphatically kick out just before 3… sending himself out of the ring and giving Riho the win. Great stuff.

 

 

4. Regina di Wave Title Match: Misaki Ohata (c) vs Yumi Ohka Wave 12/29/17

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The main event of Wave’s biggest show of the year saw two favorites of mine battling for the Regina di Wave championship as Misaki Ohata defended against Yumi Ohka.

This was a fantastic, hard hitting match that went back and forth until Ohka just kicked Ohata in the face until she couldn’t get up. I was a little disappointed for Ohata since I hoped for a longer title reign, but I expect the title to change at Thanksgiving Wave, it was a nice moment for Ohka, and Ohata won it back in short order. Misaki really sold disappointment and dejection afterwards, a theme that would continue later when she came up just short of back to back Zan-1 fan vote victories, edged out by the retiring Mika Iida.

 

3. DASH Chisako & KAORU vs Chikayo Nagashima & Megumi YabushitaMarvelous 12/25/17

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Marvelous’ Christmas show this year had a theme of inter-faction matches, one of which saw W-Fix fight amongst themselves to determine a leader. The referee immediately explained given the tendencies of the people involved she wasn’t going to bother with silly things like rules and this became no DQ.

I’m a huge fan of Dash in general so it’s always a treat to see her, and the remainder of the participants are other veterans capable of magic on the right night. This was certainly it. The match was incredible, with the teammates going all out in a war using all of their trademark heel antics on each other and just flat out trying to win, which had the crowd giving them all big face reactions if just for one night. It totally worked in a way that will let them go right back to being booed as needed on the next show. And any match that ends with Dash’s picture perfect frog splash (the “Hormone Splash”) is even better. 🙂 My match of the night, and one of my favorites of the whole trip.

The pinfall gave Dash leadership of W-Fix, but she immediately ceded it to her partner Kaoru. Karou then presented the team with matching jackets as Christmas presents. In gratitude they swarmed her with a group hug declaring “Best Leader!” The whole sequence amused me to no end.

 

 

2.  Dangerous Wave: SAKI & KAORU vs Ryo Mizunami & Rina YamashitaWave 12/29/17

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This was an incredible hardcore brawl. Kaoru’s at her best in hardcore matches, and similar to the W-Fix match I just mentioned she was completely in her element here. Avid Rival (Mizunami & Misaki Ohata) is my favorite tag team in wrestling right now, but I have to admit the pairing of Mizunami and Rina is nearly as good and a team I really want to see more often. And the more I see Saki the more I think she’s generally underrated, and I am thrilled to see her wrestling more frequently recently.

This was pretty much INSANE, with Mizunami swinging a car tire around (and throwing it from inside the ring towards Karou when she was right in front of me), a bicycle getting involved, people flying off ladders, etc. I wish they would tone down things just a little, like the finish where Saki took a nasty powerbomb on chairs and seemed to come up a little loopy, but overall this was an amazing performance from all four and a definite highlight of the night as well as my trip.

 

 

1. Ayako Hamada vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 1/6/18

 

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The main event of my first ever Sendai Girls’ show featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one.

The preview of this in a tag match at Thanksgiving Wave was a perfect way to amp up anticipation, which was already through the roof considering who was involved. With the #1 contendership on the line there was even more urgency. Hamada seemed to be building up to a title shot, and indeed she eventually prevailed over Meiko after an absolutely brutal match. Totally the expected phenomenal showing from two masters, and it was a privilege to be there for it.

It’s bittersweet to look back on this given Hamada’s personal problems and Wave’s seeming erasure of her from their history, but this was the best match I saw this trip and I wanted to properly acknowledge it as such.

 

——-

 

That does it for this trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My experience with Tokyo Joshi Pro has been an interesting journey. I had major criticisms of the first show of theirs I attended but felt that with some tweaks they could present a vastly more enjoyable product without losing any appeal to their core demographic. Subsequent shows pleasantly proved it, and now I eagerly await more opportunities to enjoy their offerings.

This card was a particularly exciting one for me, with one of my favorites defending TJP’s top title against their first champion, and Gatoh Move’s Riho participating in the tag team title match.

 

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After a fun opening bit of singing by Maki Itoh & Mizuki the show started up with a quadruple debut of members of the idol group Up Up Girls Hinano & Miu defeated Raku & Hikari in a fine outing that kept things appropriately basic but still allowed the participants to look good (despite a bit of awkwardness here and there).

 

 

 

After a pretty standard filler 6-woman tag between Yuu, Nodoka One-san, & Marika Kobashi vs Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, & Yuki Kamifuku, the visiting Veda Scott came out to face TJP’s resident zombie Maho Kurone. This was a touch short and I wish Veda had needed to do more to defeat Maho, but there were some great comedic elements that felt natural to the characters and didn’t detract from the competitiveness of the match. The highlight of which was Veda offering veggies to Maho as gift (in place of her brains), and Maho having none of it, knocking them away, and chasing Veda around the arena.

 

 

 

 

Maki Itoh impresses me more and more every time I see her. Her ability to naturally switch between humor and intensity is particularly great, and I still smile thinking about her chasing idol lumberjacks around the ring with gleeful menace during her match at the show I saw last August.

 

 

 

So she was really in her element against Danshoku Dino, going straight at him with ferocity while also matching his antics head on. There was a tangible sense of both dismissiveness and attitude from BOTH wrestlers towards their opponent, which is what made this work so well. Dino’s creepy approach was mitigated by the fact that Itoh fired right back in kind, and it made the match immeasurably more enjoyable. Dino’s style isn’t one I generally enjoy (although this was my first time seeing him personally), but this was extremely well done all around. Great match and my adoration of Itoh continues to grow.

 

Next up was a performance from opening match teams representing Up Up Girls. Tokyo Joshi Pro has gotten extremely good at mixing this aspect of their shows in with the wrestling at opportune times.

 

 

 

Since last I saw Azusa Takigawa she seems to have been reborn as Azusa Christie and is now the devoted follower of Saki-sama (Saki Akai). Here they teamed against Azusa’s ex-partner Nonoko & Yuna Manase (with Haruka Nishimoto). Nonoko kept trying to talk sense to her former friend, but it fell on deaf ears as Azusa nailed Nonoko with the book she carries to the ring and eventually emerged victorious alongside her new master. Match was ok. The story was more the focus anyway.

 

 

 

The Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers, Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima, defended their championships against MIZUKI & Riho. The visiting Riho is a 12 year veteran at age 20 and received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

After a hard fought struggle to retain their titles Yuka and Shoko were confronted by Saki and Azusa, who issued a challenge for those selfsame belts.

 

 

 

In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

 

 

 

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

All the matches at the top of the card got proper time to build and breath, and the wrestlers certainly took advantage of those opportunities to show what they could do.

 

 

 

After Reika leaves a celebrating Miyu is issued a challenge by… Veda Scott?! Well, while that’s not the direction I in any way expected now we know why Veda survived the zombie apocalypse earlier in show. O_o

This was a really awkward promo, with Veda buttering Miyu up while the latter couldn’t understand her but switching to insults once she got a translator.  They should have just pretended Miyu could understand her, as Veda’s capable of much better on the mic than this. Still, at least Miyu’s first sacrificial lamb was set up for slaughter.

 

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Tokyo Joshi Pro continues to really excel at emphasizing its strengths and developing a roster that’s fully committed to improving every time they go out, with great results.

Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

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

 

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

——-

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 Saiki 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.