Last Song for You: Riho’s “Graduation” from Gatoh Move

Later today (7/2/19) Riho, Gatoh Move’s ace, will have her final match with the company. She will be “graduating” (the term used in Japan when someone leaves a company to move on, whether it’s for retirement or a case like this) to go freelance.

 

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Prior to my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015, I was primarily only had seen Joshi wrestlers that had come stateside for Shimmer. So, as I mentioned in my look back on Kotori’s career when she retired, I was largely unfamiliar with the professional wrestling company Gatoh Move and their wrestlers when I attended my first show of theirs on 12/22/15.

On that show freelancers Hikaru Shida and Makoto, who I knew from Shimmer, were on opposite sides from each other in a tag match paired with Gatoh Move roster members Kotori and Riho respectively.  It was quite good, and in particular Riho stood out with skills and instincts that seemed beyond what her 18 years of age would have implied.

 

 

And with good reason. “Young” in Joshi doesn’t necessarily correlate to experience, and Riho was in fact the most senior competitor in that match with nearly 10 years as a wrestler, incredibly starting at the age of just 9 years old. She grew and honed her craft under the training and tutelage of the incredible Emi Sakura, first in Ice Ribbon then following her mentor when Sakura split with the company in 2012 and started Gatoh Move.

 

 

So in my initial exposure to Riho, she was already an accomplished, polished veteran. And boy did it show. Particularly later that trip when I got a chance to see Gatoh Move in their home environment. The 12/22/15 show had been a “traditional” wrestling show with a traditional wrestling ring. The reason I specify is that Gatoh Move’s home venue, Ichigaya Chocolate Square, is a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

It’s such a unique environment, that not only provides something special for the audience but also forces the wrestlers to push themselves and adapt to the unusual constraints. And Riho is an absolute master of it. Her athleticism, creativity, and precision always combined in fantastic fashion as she bounced around the confined space, often utilizing not only the windowsill but also her opponents and partners as platforms to launch herself off of in lieu of ropes and turnbuckles.

 

 

As such, some of the most memorable moments of Riho in Ichigaya for me came from Gatoh’s incredible 6-person tag matches, including  Riho, Kotori, & Aasa vs Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru on 12/31/16, a similar variation two years later of  Riho teaming with Emi & Obi against Mitsuru, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori in a special “Old Gatoh Move” vs “New Gatoh Move”  match on 12/31/18  (which is up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel!!!), and a fantastic match from just  last month  of Riho, Baliyan Akki, & An-Chamu vs Emi, Masahiro Takanashi, & Mei (also up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel!!!).

 

 

At the risk of getting overly cliched, Riho has the presence of a star. The audience reactions when she appeared at other promotions, such as in a pair of great tag team title challenges in back to back years in Tokyo Joshi Pro’s biggest events, was always incredible.

 

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Riho’s greatest strength may be her ability to make whatever story she’s telling in the ring accessible and convincing. She’s believable as a threat, even against far larger opponents and in the many intergender matches she’s had. A particular favorite of mine was her no-rope match against Yaso Urano at Basara’s 12/28/17 show.

 

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This Spring I was extremely lucky to be able to attend some of Riho’s last matches in Gatoh Move, and there have certainly been a lot of high notes to go out on. At the beginning of May she faced DDT wrestler and regular Gatoh Move guest Masahiro Takanashi in an incredible encounter that’s one of my top matches of the year thus far. A few days later she won Gatoh’s annual Go Go Green Curry Cup (a mixed tag team tournament).

 

 

And just a month out from her final match, in her second to last “traditional” show for Gatoh, she successfully defended her Super-Asia Championship against rising star Mei Suruga in a wonderful match, after which she relinquished the title.

Tonight Riho will wrestle her trainer Emi Sakura one-on-one in her final Gatoh Move match. I can’t think of a more fitting farewell.

 

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Riho has already given fans a little glimpse of what’s to come after Gatoh Move, as she’s had a pair of good outings with AEW. She’s implied in a recent interview that she doesn’t intend to sign anywhere full time just yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if/where she wrestles in Japan in addition to continuing with AEW in the states (as of now nothing else has been announced/scheduled). It will also be interesting to watch Gatoh Move change and adapt after her departure.

I look forward to the continued success of both.

 

Farewell to an Angel: Yuuka’s Retirement

During my first trip at the end of 2015 to Japan I became a huge fan of Ice Ribbon, and follow them to this day. I had my first exposure to several would-become-favorites during that time, including the then reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion and recently retired Aoi Kizuki.

During my first Ice Ribbon show, which was also my first ever live show in Japan, there was another wrestler who really impressed me in the same tag match as Aoi. But in contrast to Aoi being a 10-year veteran, this was a relative rookie with just under 2 years in the sport.

 

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Yuuka, nicknamed the “White Angel of Ice Ribbon,” wowed me with her instincts and level of skill for her experience and 17 years of age. She presented herself in a way that made an immediate impact, including a ring style that showcased hard strikes and fierce determination in a thoroughly compelling manner.

Throughout the trip I got to see Yuuka in four other matches. On Neko Nitta’s Produced show she faced normal tag partners Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi in an interesting triple threat, and my final Ice Ribbon show of the trip saw her team with Hamuko Hoshi opposite Aoi again, this time in a 6-woman tag with Maruko Nagaski as their third and Akane Fujita & Mochi Miyagi on Aoi’s side.

 

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In between those shows were two matches I look back on particularly fondly. On Risa Sera’s 2nd Produced show Yuuka was part of a rather hilarious cell phone destruction match, and on Ice Ribbon’s biggest show of the year Yuuka got nice singles spotlight against fellow up and comer Sareee in perhaps my favorite of the live matches I saw with her.

 

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I wouldn’t return to Japan until the following holiday season, so those were my only opportunities to see Yuuka wrestle live. But the first half of 2016 held a number of other interesting things for her. She had a fun rivalry/partnership with another favorite of mine in Wave’s veteran Misaki Ohata (who also recently retired … been a rough year or so), won the Young Oh! Oh! portion of Wave’s annual Catch the Wave Tournament, then was built up to challenge Risa Sera for the Ice Cross Infinity Championship to main event Ice Ribbon’s 10th Anniversary show in what has to be considered her career highlight.

Yuuka had an energy and commitment to whatever story she was telling that was captivating. Little details in her matches, her body language and facial expressions, and the general way she carried herself added tons to her character and made her a joy to watch.

 

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Yuuka’s last match was in mid-July 2016, after which she went on hiatus for undisclosed reasons. But she was still listed as part of the Ice Ribbon roster on their webpage with an implied possibility of return until recently. On March 25, 2019 her retirement was officially announced. She was one of the young wrestlers who left a great impression on me, and I’ve mentioned before she certainly had the potential for a big career ahead of her if she continued.

 

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While it’s a shame that didn’t come to pass and I miss seeing her in the ring, I’m always happy and supportive of seeing people do what’s best for them and I wish Yuuka all the best in whatever’s next.

Beautifully Bloomed: Farewell to Misaki Ohata

On December 29, 2018 one of my favorite wrestlers said goodbye to the ring after twelve years. Here I’d like to take a personal look back on the career of Misaki Ohata.

 

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My first exposure to Misaki was via Shimmer DVDs, starting with her debut for the company on Volume 29 in April 2010. She showed a high energy, exciting moveset that took advantage of her small size in interesting ways, like with her trademark crossbody to an opponent seated in the corner. Misaki had been wrestling a little under four years at the time, yet already wrestled and came across like a well established professional. It was extremely interesting to see both her ring style and character evolve over the years, from the exuberant babyface character she had at this point to the additional variety of personas she developed later on to use as needed depending on match, company, and story. Her time in Shimmer was highlighted by a tag team championship reign with fellow regular Hiroyo Matsumoto as 3S (the Seven Star Sisters).

 

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Misaki stopped coming to Shimmer before I started attending (in 2013), so I didn’t see her wrestle live for the first time until her special one weekend return for Tomoka Nakagawa’s retirement weekend in April 2015.  It was a nice spotlight weekend for Misaki with great singles matches against Nicole Savoy, Heidi Lovelace (now WWE’s Ruby Riot), and Lufisto, as well as being part of a fantastic Joshi 8-woman tag in Tomoka’s second to last match reforming 3S (with Hiroyo Matsumoto) and teaming with 3G (Kellie Skater and Tomoka herself) against Joshi legends Aja Kong, Dynamite Kansai, Kyoko Kimura, & Mayumi Ozaki.

 

 

As it turns out later that same year I’d make my first trip to Japan, and among all the excellent wrestling and promotions I experienced for the first time, I was thrilled to see Misaki and others I was familiar with from Shimmer wrestle in their home promotions (and in some cases against each other).

During that trip Misaki and her Avid Rival partner Ryo Mizunami challenged Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) for Ice Ribbon’s International Ribbon Tag Team Championships at Ribbonmania 2015 in what ended up one of one of my favorite matches of all time. All four were masters of their craft, and this and every subsequent time they faced each other was magic. A year and a half later I’d make a special trip to Japan planned largely around seeing two of the three fantastic rematches they had.

I truly believe Avid Rival was one of the best tag teams in the world, with incredible chemistry as partners and an enthralling, evolving moveset that they seamlessly integrated into well built, captivating matches.

 

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I was also lucky enough to see glimpses of some of Misaki’s championship runs and other accomplishments live, including being crowned Wave’s Zan-1 fan voted champion at the end of 2016, an excellent defense of her and Mizunami’s International Tag Ribbon Championships against the Lovely Butchers at Ribbonmania 2016 just days later (while they also held Wave’s tag team championships), and defending Wave’s top singles belt against Yumi Ohka at their biggest show of the year to end 2017.

 

 

There was a careful precision to everything Misaki did in the ring, with her incredible body control making her crossbodies, bridges, and numerous other key elements of her trademark moves particularly crisp and beautiful, greatly adding to the level of immersion of her matches. She was incredibly versatile, both in character and ring style. Misaki played comedy and intensity with equally adeptness, from hyper babyface to more crafty and controlled veteran, from a certain masked character in a certain promotion to often being the “straight man” of Avid Rival to Mizunami’s antics (or perhaps participating in said antics as need be), and so on.

 

 

It was really just a footnote in Misaki’s twelve year career, but a personal highlight for me as it wound down were her interactions with Ice Ribbon’s sub promotion P’s Party and specifically their rookie Asahi this year. Seeing what the newer generation can do in with an experienced wrestler can be quite interesting, and is also a great opportunity for them to learn and grow.

Asahi is an extremely promising young wrestler and Misaki clearly had fun in the both the singles contest I saw between them  in April and their teaming against Arisa Nakajima & Karen DATE in October. Misaki’s  final P’s Party appearance saw her face three opponents she had never previously wrestled in subsequent matches, and it was fun to see back to back matches with different styles from her against P’s Party’s producer Tequila Saya, Totoro Satsuki, and Maika Ozaki a little over a week before her career ended.

 

 

Misaki retired at Wave’s year end show for 2018 on December 29th. Her final match against regular partner Ryo Mizunami was phenomenal, as well as a bit different. Since it was for Mizunami’s recently won Regina di Wave title, it was (appropriately) a straight up, competitive title match missing a lot the “normal” retirement match touches (like non-participants splashing the retiree in the corner, for example). They clearly still had some fun with things though, such as when they brawled to the time keeper’s table and Misaki rang the bell directly in Ryo’s ear (ouch!). But it was all in the context of a match befitting the prestige of Wave’s top title.

As to be expected from two wrestlers of this caliber that know each other so well this was an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth encounter. Misaki eventually busted out a rolling variation of her Sky Blue Suplex (!!) and just wore the champion down until a final Sky Blue Suplex with bridge gave her the win and saw Misaki retire as Regina di Wave champion. Fantastic match and a well deserved honor Misaki on her way out.

 

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Misaki was in good spirits and joking around a bit during her retirement ceremony (even while her poor partner cried goodbye), a nice sign of her being satisfied with her career and ready to proceed to whatever’s next.

 

 

This was the third retirement show for the year for me after Mika Iida’s in May and Aoi Kizuki’s in October, and although it was a bit sad to say goodbye to them all I was extremely lucky to be able to attend their farewells.

I wish Misaki all the best in whatever life holds for her after wrestling.

Hikaru Shida’s 10th Anniversary Show 10/9/18

I’ve been long familiar with Hikaru Shida from Shimmer, as well as here and there after I started coming to Japan. When I was planning my Fall trip (largely around Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show, which featured Shida in the main event), I noticed I could catch this special anniversary show the night before I returned, and decided to check it out. Looked decent on paper, with a variety of match types and surrounding intrigue featuring wrestlers from various promotions, although I honesty wasn’t 100% sure exactly how well it would all come together.

 

 

Things started out interesting right away with a pairing of two incredible wrestlers who clearly weren’t entirely thrilled to be teaming together. Mio Momono & Rina Yamashita walked the fine line of maintaining a certain level of disrespect for each other throughout their match against Kaori Yoneyama & Koharu Hinata while still remaining competitive and properly recognizing their opponents as a threat.

Mio continues to be particularly fantastic, and I hope she recovers quickly and completely from her recent knee surgery and is able to return to wrestling. Great spots like Mio playing jump rope with their opponent during a Rina giant swing and her “helping” Rina during a submission hold by pulling Rina’s hair for “leverage” were made even better by the charisma and ttitude she brings to them. Really well done overall, with Mio & Rina staying serious enough despite their egos and issues that their eventual victory was still believable and didn’t make their opponents look weak.

 

 

So Misaki Ohata, Hiroyo Matsumoto, & Buffalo vs Yako Fujigasaki, Gabai Ji-chan, Toru Owashi was that good balance of ridiculousness and action that I desperately look for in most of my comedy matches. While not all of the humor was to my personal tastes (I tend to find Ji-chan amusing and annoying in equal measure), this turned out quite fun overall.

The foil cone “weapon” being aimed at people’s backsides was a focal point several times, as was Misaki’s engagement. Her partners sacrificed themselves to an attack with it to protect her at one point, and later when Misaki herself stole and wielded the weapon Toru put on a mask of Misaki’s fiance Makoto Oishi to dissuade her from attacking. Toru’s strategy was unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

It was really nice to see 3S together one last time before Misaki retired, and I enjoyed a lot of this. Also, seeing Misaki absolutely SPIKE Ji-chan with her crucifix bomb for the win was really satisfying.

 

 

In what may have been my personal most anticipated match of the night, Ice Ribbon regular Maika Ozaki got a chance to face reigning Sendai Girls’ champion  Chihiro Hashimoto (in non-title competition of course). It’s not a pairing that would normally be likely given the lack of crossover between the two companies at the moment, and one I was extremely excited to see. This was a great showcase for Maika against one of the very best power wrestlers in the world, and she pushed the beast that is Chihiro to the limit before Sendai’s champ finally put down the upstart.

 

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I swear I’ve seen Madoka announced under like five different names in various matches, and a quick search shows he has like ten. Here, as Hagane Shinnou, he teamed with Risa Sera against Aja Kong & TARU. No illusions about what kind of match this would be, as Risa was bloody in under two minutes. They fought all over, inside and outside the ring and right by me a few times, spreading chaos all over the arena.

This was all about Risa & Madoka trying to survive the monsters, and as such it had a fire absent from some of the other hardcore matches I’ve seen recently. Easily the most compelling performance I’ve seen from Risa all year. Risa can be incredible in this kind of match, often in my opinion when she’s more the underdog, and was both here. This was a “the journey is as important as the destination” type of match, and going to a draw with the monsters made Risa & Madoka look like stars.

 

 

In the main event Hikaru Shida seemed to be setting out to exorcise a personal demon against Naomuchi Marufuji. They had faced earlier in the year, with Shida getting knocked out in under two minutes. I could feel the pressure weighing on Shida as she looked to prove herself by at least putting up a better fight here. The right story, well worked, makes all the difference and they built off of that feeling of insecurity to craft an excellent match in both story and action.

 

 

Marufuji looked great, and it was nice to see him wrestle live again many years after seeing him in ROH. While testing Shida he certainly wasn’t holding back, and his onslaught of chops left Shida’s chest a painful to look at vivid red bruise.

This was really well done, and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from Shida. She gave Marufuji a real challenge in a believable way and battled for eighteen minutes, but eventually came up short and Marufuji emerged victorious.

 

 

I’m honestly kind of surprised how great this was from top to bottom. Everything clicked, being really well booked an executed in terms of stories and action within each individual situation and avoiding potential pitfalls. Generally everyone just made the most of their opportunities, and this was a high note to end this particular trip on.

 

 

 

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Ninja Mio sees you…

 

 

Final Happy: Farewell to Aoi Kizuki

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 I had great interest in Joshi pro-wrestling but only a little familiarity.  Ice Ribbon is a favorite promotion of the friends I was traveling with (and would become one of mine as well), and as such we were scheduled to see several of their shows. I was already a big fan of Tsukasa Fujimoto via her appearance in Shimmer, but was unfamiliar with the rest of the roster. The very first show I saw in Japan was an Ice Ribbon dojo show on 12/19/15, and among a really fun night and a talented crew all around, reigning champion Aoi Kizuki made a particularly strong impression.

 

 

Her natural charisma and unique moveset, including her impressive top rope moves where she spins on a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one, gave her an immediately engaging presence. She was naturally friendly when I got to talk to her post show too with an enthusiasm that’s infectious, and overall was one of the big parts of that first trip getting off to a great start for me.

I saw her wrestle five times during trip (including an appearance at Wave), with her biggest and best match being in the main event of Ribbonmania 2015 where she lost the Ice Cross Infinity title to Hamuko Hoshi. I was a bit disappointed at the switch, but clearly understood in retrospect a few days later at the 1/3/16 dojo show when Aoi announced her “graduation” from Ice Ribbon to go freelance after 10 years. The timing was pretty wild, as I just barely got introduced to her at Ice Ribbon before she left.

 

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Custom Funko Pop made of/for Aoi.

 

 

When I returned the following year Aoi was primarily wrestling at Oz Academy, who generally doesn’t run during the holidays, so my chances to see her were quite limited. Over that 2016/2017 holiday trip I was supposed to see her wrestle only twice times, and some unfortunate trouble finding the venue for a Diana show brought it down to a single time, at Gatoh Move’s Christmas Eve show at Itabashi Green Hall. The good news was that in that one match she was once again main eventing a show I was at with a title defense, and her & Sayaka Obihiro against Riho & Kotori was a great, quick paced and hard hitting contest. Although I did start joking at the time that I only ever seemed to come to see Aoi lose titles. :p

 

 

While that was the only match of hers I saw, Aoi also had a Christmas event that year I attended. It was a fun evening of singing and photos and me struggling to parse Japanese. ^_^;  One really cool thing was Aoi talking about her goals and expressing a wish to wrestle in the US, a wish that would come true the following November at Shimmer’s Fall weekend taping in Chicago.

 

 

I adore Shimmer and was really happy for Aoi’s debut. She had a strong debut match in a against the newly proclaimed “Joshi Gatekeeper” Mia Yim despite coming up short, showed off her aforementioned unique offense and enthusiasm in a pair of establishing wins over Veda Scott (who Aoi had worked with in Japan) and Chelsea Green in decent affairs, and teamed with a returning Joshi (and Shimmer mainstay) Hiroyo Matsumoto against Chelsea and her tag partner Britt Baker (known as Fire & Nice) to finish the weekend. The tag match was largely comedy, allowing the four to play around a bit with a lot of antics centered around Hiroyo’s Godzilla mask. Aoi seemed to be having a blast and was really excited about being there, which was wonderful to see.

 

 

During the 2017/2018 holidays I saw Aoi at Ichigaya for the first time in a amusing comedy match against Antonio Honda in which they were trying to “recreate” a Kagami mochi by getting a hat that looked like mochi onto Obi’s head (Obi was sitting apparently passively in a corner of the mat), then whoever placed an orange on top of the hat to complete it would win. As ridiculous as it sounds. I was then lucky enough to make a trip to back Japan this Spring for the wedding of two dear friends of mine. I’d see Honda and Aoi together again, this time as partners for Gatoh Move’s Go Go Green Curry Cup mixed tag tournament against Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi. These comedy heavy matches were a bit different than the previous matches I’d seen of Aoi’s (as was the unique and fantastic “high speed” 6 woman tag I saw her in at SEAdLINNNG), but were highly enjoyable none-the-less and it was cool seeing her clearly having a blast.

 

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During that Spring trip, and just a few days before fellow Joshi Mika Iida’s retirement show, Aoi announced her own retirement show titled “Final Happy” for October 7th. At the time I had no plans to be back in Japan until the December holidays, so managed to add in a Pure-J show on May 6th, to perhaps see Aoi wrestle one last time. She was involved in a surprisingly fun gauntlet battle royal, but as it turns out it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her after all.

 

 

I am extremely fortunate to have been able to arrange to come back to see Aoi’s final show, and the lead up was equally wonderful. Given how I initially became a fan of hers, it was particularly great to see her return to Ice Ribbon for a series of events this summer, and Ice Ribbon was among the companies that hosted a final appearance for Aoi during the week I was here before her retirement show. Not only was it a joy to see her last shows for Ice Ribbon, Pure-J, Wave, and Gatoh Move, but after some of the sparse appearance trips I’ve had the last couple years just seeing her wrestle so many times in general before she finished up was a special treat. I even missed a couple shows she was on due to other commitments, so Aoi’s schedule was certainly packed.

 

 

Aoi’s self-produced retirement show was on October 7th, 2018 at Shinjuku FACE. In the main event Aoi teamed Riho & Mei Suruga against Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, & Makoto. It was a perfect way to finish up and a nice tribute to her trainer (Sakura) and other wrestlers she had a long history with. The sole exception was Mei, a rookie who became Aoi’s tag partner and seemingly something of  protege since her debut this spring. Mei’s already incredible for her experience level and seems to have big things ahead of her. The fact that Aoi ended up having her final singles match against Mei on October 5th (and put the rookie over to boot) and included her in this main event illustrates how close they became. In a particularly sweet gesture, Aoi gave Mei her rainbow “wings” from her entrance gear. Mei’s excitement about it as she wore them not only for this match but at Gatoh Move later in the day was clear and contagious.

 

 

The match was great and an appropriate end cap for Aoi’s career. Emi Sakura, bad back and all, gave 110% to give her former trainee a proper farewell throughout the match and busted out a freakin’ 450 to pin Aoi to end it. All of Aoi’s trademarks were also on display, including one more glimpse of her rare, incredible spinning top rope splash. Fun, emotional stuff from bell to bell.

 

 

The post show retirement ceremony was likewise emotional and a treat to be at. All in all it was a wonderful, bittersweet, and fitting show see Aoi off.

 

 

Although I’m sad to see her go, Aoi had a great 13 year career and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person and wish her well. Whatever the future after wrestling holds for her I hope life is happy for the Happy Maker. 

 

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Farewell to a Pintsized Powerhouse

 

Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

 

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Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine. The other was Aasa Maika, who lasted until the end against opposing team captain Makoto, got a nice chance to shine and show off her wonderful style which I always describe as “pintsized powerhouse.” I’ve said before that at 5’2″ she perhaps doesn’t seem suited for such a gimmick, but then she’d start throwing herself at opponents like she was Big Van Vader and it was GLORIOUS. The power style was surprisingly perfect for her, and her overall enthusiasm and devotion to the gimmick gave a thoroughly compelling layer to her performances.

 

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I saw three other matches of the riceball fanatic that trip, all at Ichigaya in Gatoh Move’s unique home environment. She definitely struck me as someone with vast potential who was developing her skills and personal style rapidly.

 

I was fortunate to make a short, unexpected trip back to Tokyo in August 2017, and was treated to seeing the now retired Kotori vs Aasa in the semi-finals of the Super Asia Championship tournament as the main event of the 8/26/17 Ichigaya show. Kotori’s win was a foregone conclusion with her en route to face partner Riho in the finals, but she and Aasa created tension and drama regardless in a fantastic match that felt like the big deal it should be. There was a sequence in the match in which Aasa chased Kotori out the window and around the building back inside the door, at which point Kotori tried to ambush Aasa and the latter just LEVELED Kotori with one of her vertical Vader splashes instead. It was so cool and a spot that has totally and vividly stayed with me among the ridiculous amounts of wrestling I watch.

 

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I didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see either of them wrestle live. Aasa was scheduled to compete at the Ichigaya shows I saw when I returned during the holidays, but couldn’t participate because she was sick. I would check back in with the other wrestlers when I could as time passed wishing Aasa well and hoping for her return. Just this week she announced her “graduation” (retirement) due to chronic illness and that she would be returning home to concentrate on her health.

 

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She will be greatly missed, but as someone well familiar with chronic illness myself I am happy that Aasa’s doing what she needs to to take care of herself. She was always friendly and a delight to talk to, as well as a unique, dynamic presence in the ring who made such an impression I feel like I saw far more of her matches live than the five I actually did. I wish her all the best in the future, whatever it holds.

 

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Addendum 10/5/18 11pm:

A few short hours after I posted this, Aasa made an appearance at a Gatoh Move show at Ichigaya to say goodbye. On an already emotional night featuring Aoi Kizuki’s final appearance for Gatoh (or anyone for that matter) before her retirement show in two days, Aasa coming out to talk about what everyone in Gatoh meant to her was both wonderful and heart wrenching. I am truly lucky to have seen her again and gotten a chance to wish her all the best in person, and I hope the warm welcome of the crowd and a chance to wrap things up will help her with whatever is next.

 

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A Ray of Light Gone Too Soon

Before my first trip to Japan in late 2015, my initial exposure to most Joshi wrestlers I was familiar with came via Shimmer Women Athletes. In 2012 Shimmer announced Leon would be debuting at the company’s March tapings, along with her tag team partner Ray. I wasn’t familiar with either, so my first glimpse at their work was via highlight clips as I looked into Shimmer’s newest Joshi visitors. Both were impressive, talented veterans and fantastic additions to the Shimmer roster. But with all due respect to Leon, it’s Ray who immediately captured my attention and a few short clips were all it took to make her an instant favorite of mine.

 

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Ray combined innovative offense, like her fantastic Cartwheel-Bomb, with a crispness and smooth execution that made her an absolute delight to watch. Already being nearly a ten year vet when I started watching her, she was at the top of her game and incredibly precise in everything she did. She came to Shimmer twice, covering a total of eight matches taped over two different weekends set two years apart. I spotlighted her and Leon’s title match against Ayako Hamada & Ayumi Kurihara on volume 47 as a shining example of Shimmer’s tag division looking back during Shimmer’s 10th Anniversary, and they were always a treat to watch.

It was during Ray’s second trip in 2014 that I was lucky enough to attend live, seeing her & Leon tear the house down in tag matches against three different teams that all had or would hold Shimmer’s tag belts at some point (the Canadian Ninjas (Nicole Matthews & Portia Perez), 3G (reigning tag champs at the time Kellie Skater & Tomoka Nakagawa), and the Kimber Bombs (Cherry Bomb & Kimber Lee)), as well as a singles encounter for Ray against Mia Yim. Again, every match was a treat to see and Ray was incredible.

In December of 2015 I made my first trip to Japan and saw several excellent shows and matches. One of my most anticipated things was getting to see Ray again, and it was nice to get to talk to her again and see her tag with Alex Lee against Takako Inoue & Karou at Marvelous’ 12/20 show. Unfortunately this would turn out to be one of Ray’s final matches, as to start JWP’s Climax a week later she came out to announce she was pulled from the show due to illness. That illness would sadly later be revealed to be a malignant, inoperable brain tumor.

Ray fought her cancer emphatically, and there was always a tiny bit of hope and prayer in everyone’s minds of a recovery and comeback for her. Unfortunately Ray succumbed recently and passed away. In the ring and out she was an inspiration, and she will be greatly missed.