P’s Party 2 4/25/18 and Kani KING Produce 4/27/18 Live Thoughts

April 25 and 27, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

 

P’s Party 2

This Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) focusing on talent with less than three years experience. I adore the concept (which is similar to what Wave sometimes does with Young OH! OH!) and with all the promising rookies in Ice and other Joshi promotions Saya chose a great time to start it up. Like with Young OH! OH! there are a few veterans sprinkled in but generally every match has at least one competitor that matches the promotion’s brief. This was their second official show (they had one preview show as well) and had a nice looking lineup with one match I was particularly psyched for.

 

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The crowd was about 50 people, feeling about half full for the dojo but still providing a good atmosphere and seemed a decent turnout for what’s in a lot of respects a developmental product that was just starting up.

The show opened with Tsukushi & Ibuki Hoshi vs Giulia & Maika Ozaki. Tsukushi re-debuted in a “career reset” at Ribbonmania after a hiatus due to legal issues last summer. Ice Ribbon and Tsukushi herself have been fully behind the idea that she’s starting over, so she’s been routinely involved in things like this that feature rookies despite previously having eight years experience. I applaud all involved with how they are proceeding, and am happy Tsukushi’s both getting a second chance and taking it seriously.  I also personally think having a few veterans in these matches helps the others gain experience, so her not actually being under three years experience isn’t an issue for me.

 

 

The was a really fun tag match with Tsukushi being her usual bratty self (and I say that with respect and appreciation for the character), Maika looking wonderfully comfortable and confident in flashing her impressive strength to great effect, and their respective partners doing their best to counter and derail their opponents’ tactics.  Tsukushi’s partner Ibuki Hoshi, a second generation wrestler whose mother also wrestles for Ice Ribbon, already shows incredible instincts for her age and experience and gets better and better every time I see her. Maika’s partner Julia has a striking charisma and is nicely developing her own style in the ring and getting more and more comfortable as a performer. Strong start to the show.

 

 

Asahi is one of Ice Ribbon’s youngest and newest rookies. She debuted last August against Manami Toyota and immediately made a big impression on me. She plays a phenomenal underdog and makes the absolute most of her limited moveset, drawing the audience in and getting them behind her to the point where a simple dropkick garners a strong reaction. I’ve really enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had to see her and think she has huge potential as she continues to learn and refine her craft in the years to come.

It would seem that Ice Ribbon management hold similar opinions, as including her previously mentioned debut against a legend she’s been fairly regularly put in singles matches with decorated veterans. Here she faced Misaki Ohata, a twelve year vet and a personal favorite of mine who was Pro Wrestling Wave’s reigning Regina di Wave Champion at the time.

 

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I was thrilled to see this match on the card, and it was exactly what I hoped for. Misaki was perfect in largely dominating the rookie while gradually selling getting more of a fight than she expected and showing just the right amount of vulnerability to make Asahi look good while keeping things believable within the story framework. Asahi showed great fire, knowing her role was to go full bore whenever an opportunity presented itself and as such she really succeeded in coming across as someone who knew she was outmatched but was determined to win anyway. Misaki of course eventually prevailed, but she made Asahi look great in the process. At seven minutes the match was just the right length for the story they were telling, and I adored this from start to finish.

 

 

The main event saw P’s Party producer Tequila Saya and her partner Uno Matsuya take on Satsuki Totoro and another visitor from Wave in Hiroe Nagahama. The grouping of Ice Ribbon wrestlers in this match was a treat. Saya and Uno’s alternating rival / partner relationship has been really interesting to follow as time goes on, and watching Totoro play wrecking ball is a joy.

 

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The match was a great proof of concept for P’s Party, with less experienced wrestlers getting a longer match time and more of a spotlight than they normally would on the main shows. It let them experiment with pacing and storytelling, pepper humor and playfulness in with the action, etc. Not everything’s going to work perfectly, but having the freedom to risk that is the entire point and given the talent level of Ice Ribbon’s rookies it will all come together more often than not. And it largely did here, resulting in a solid, enjoyable main event.

 

 

This show was exactly what it should have been, and Saya’s endeavor has a lot of upsides both for the wrestlers involved and Ice Ribbon as a company. I had a ton of fun and hope to see more of these in the future, although since they so far seem to be live only my opportunities to do so will likely be few and far between.

 

 

Kani K☆ING Produce

Two days after P’s Party I went to another somewhat unusual show in Ice Ribbon’s home base. Kani (Crab) King’s show featured a variety of Joshi from numerous promotions, and had an attendance similar to that of P’s Party.

 

 

The show opened with an “offer match” from Ice Ribbon, featuring two wrestlers I discussed at length above. Asahi had another good singles showing against a vastly more experienced competitor as she took on Tsukushi in a really fun match that was brisk and exciting for the full six minutes and change it ran. I’d love to see this matchup revisited periodically as Asahi’s career progresses.

 

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Two wrestlers I was familiar with in Makoto and Pure-J’s Yako Fujigasaki teamed in the next match to take on two I was seeing for the first time in Koharu Hinata & Shiori Akiba.

 

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This was pretty paint-by-numbers and did have a bit of awkwardness here and there, but also had some highlights and spots that really came across well and made an impact. Fine overall. I’d like to see more of Hinata in particular if I get a chance.

 

 

After that was another wrestler I was previously unfamiliar with in Actwres Girlz’ Hikari Shimizu facing another I knew from Pure-J in Raideen Steel (Raideen Hagane). This was fine on a technical level and I’d hope to see Shimizu again in the future. But while Raideen is quite capable of exciting matches against the right person, in cases like this where she’s in a dominating role against an overmatched opponent I find the results … well, a bit boring to be honest.

 

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I adored Nao Kakuta in my only previous time seeing her as both she played a wonderful heel and defeated a character that annoys me in a wonderful application of poetic justice. So it was nice to see her challenge the “Crab World Champion” Yuiga for her title in the main event here.

 

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This was mostly played for comedy, and the action was kept pretty basic. But it was fine for what it was, and the character interactions were the main point. Nao sadly did not become the Crab World Champion.

 

 

Honestly the Ice Ribbon offer match overshadowed everything else a bit from the get go, and overall this wasn’t quite up to the level I’m used to from my Joshi shows. But that’s a relatively high bar and in some ways it wasn’t trying to be.  I got a nice look at some new wrestlers for me, thought the opener was great, and enjoyed just enough of the rest to call it a fun and worthwhile evening all in all.

SEAdLINNNG 4/18/18 Live Thoughts

April 18, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d have just enough time on the day I arrived in Japan for my Spring trip to catch this SEAdLINNNG show featuring numerous favorites of mine and headlined by Best Friends. Then a bit of rescheduling happened due to Arisa missing some shows because of a concussion (which thankfully wasn’t severe and she recovered quickly from), and my anticipation for this event shot even further through the roof.

 

1- Catch the WAVE Tournament Match: Arisa Nakajima vs Mio Momono

 

 

As referenced above, I was beyond thrilled when I found out this matchup from Wave’s annual Catch the Wave tournament was rescheduled to this show, and that I would make it to Tokyo just in time to see it. Mio’s incredible for her experience and, in my opinion, the brightest star among any rookies in the business (in an extremely strong field to boot). Arisa is simply one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

 

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With Arisa also scheduled for the main event I suspected this might be kept on the shorter side, resulting in a good back and forth match under 10 minutes. Instead these two waged war for just under 15. This had overtones of the dismissive veteran dealing with a cocky upstart who was perhaps more of a fight than expected. Both played their roles perfectly, and the action itself was the excellent affair expected from these two. One of my favorite matches of the entire trip.

 

2- Sae Nomura & Saki Akai vs Rina Yamashita & Kaori Yoneyama 

 

 

There were a couple of cute spots in this based around Sakai’s height advantage, and watching Rina pound on people is always fun, but otherwise this was pretty much an inconsequential filler tag match. Nothing particularly great or bad here, and a bit long for what it was.

 

3- Misaki Ohata, Aoi Kizuki, & Hiroyo Matsumoto vs Makoto, Nagisa Nozaki, & Ryo Mizunami 

 

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So every 3 minutes the rules of this 6-woman tag switched from a regular match to high speed rules, where pinfalls could only be attempted after hitting the ropes or specific kinds of quick rollups and high speed referee Natsuki counted such pin attempts super-fast. It initially sounded overly complicated, but they went long enough for several switches to really get across the format and take full advantage of it leading to a wonderfully enjoyable contest that was absurd in all the best possible ways. The level of talent involved was key in making everything click together smoothly. Avid Rival is perhaps the greatest pair in all of wrestling right now, either as partners or opponents, and Misaki’s trio here was somewhat of a dream team of favorites of mine. To be honest Nagisa and Makoto were slightly overshadowed by the others, but still fit in reasonably well and contributed to some highlights such as Nagisa regularly trying to kick peoples’ heads off.

 

 

Natuski’s tradition of getting involved in the matches she refs continued, with Hiroyo her frequent victim this time. The Lady Destroyer did a great job with selling resentment and annoyance at Natsuki’s antics, right up through the post match celebration with her partners accepting Natsuki raising their arms and Hiroyo eyeing her with distrust instead and threatening to strike her. Following through with little details like that is so important for achieving maximum potential and impact.

The action was excellent, including a particularly fantastic spot where 3 rollups were happening simultaneously and constantly being reversed during a high speed section with Natsuki counting everything, leading to all 6 wrestlers plus her eventually being wiped out on the mat with exhaustion.

 

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After the show I spoke briefly with four of the six wrestlers in this match. Amusingly all commented about being especially tired and a couple expressed a desire to never do high speed rules again. I made sure to thank them for their effort and express my sympathy for their sacrifice and appreciation for the match. 🙂 Loved this all around.

 

 

Main Event- Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) vs YOSHIKO & Command Bolshoi

 

 

Earlier I called Avid Rival perhaps the best pair in wrestling, and it’s “perhaps” because if it’s not them it’s Best Friends. Tsukka and Arisa are both masters of their craft and make a truly incredible team that’s always a joy to watch. With their opponents here consisting of Arisa’s current rival as well as the head of the promotion she left to join Seadlinnng there’s a lot of added depth and tension.

As I’ve discussed before Yoshiko’s often hard to watch for personal reasons, but man she’s admittedly fantastic in certain roles. Everyone was great here in an aggressive, hard hitting match where the storyline issues and action were seamlessly integrated.

 

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Phenomenal show overall, with numerous excellent talents from outside promotions shoring up Seadlinnng’s solid but minimal roster. First show of this trip, and was one of the best.

 

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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.

 

Deep Inside Your Soul: Farewell to Mika Iida

Straight up: there are few wrestlers that give such an impression of having fun in the ring as Mika Iida. There was always a “spark” to her performances that held a captivating edge to it. I haven’t been a fan of hers for very long relatively speaking compared to the length of her career, but she made a strong impression in a short time to become a favorite of mine and it was a  privilege to be at her final show at Korakuen Hall on May 4, 2018.

 

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My first times seeing Iida wrestle were during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. I saw her in a pair of 6-woman tags, teaming with Cherry & Hiroe Nagahama against Hiroyo Matsumoto, Makoto & Maruko Nagasaki at Ribbonmania 2015 and with Fairy Nipponbashi & Hikaru Shida against Ayako Hamada, Yumi Oka & Yuu Yamagata at Thanksgiving Wave on 1/3/16.  Both matches were good but a bit limited by time and format. Even so Iida stood out among the several wrestlers that were new to me, and I remarked at the time that I was “particularly interested in seeing what Iida can do with more of a spotlight.”

 

 

A year later I was back for Thanksgiving Wave 12/29/16, and again saw Iida as part of a trios team. This time however it was in an elimination match against Kaho Kobayashi, Rina Yamashita, & Natsu Sumire and ASUKA, Kaori Yoneyama, & Sawako Shimono, and alongside two wrestlers I was well familiar with due to Shimmer (Yumi Ohka & Hikaru Shida). Despite being another trios type of match, it was also the opportunity to see more of what Iida could do I was waiting for. I found her team a lot of fun, and remarked at the time that Iida herself was particularly impressive.

After that show was my first opportunity to meet Iida, which was great. She speaks English fairly well and was friendly and approachable.

 

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In Spring 2017 Iida suffered a shoulder injury that would keep her out a majority of the year. She was still at the Wave show I attended in August (which she helped me reserve a ticket for) and it was nice to catch up with her. She was in great spirits and talked about getting better and returning to the ring.

 

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By my holiday trip Iida was back happily in action, but had also announced her retirement for the following May.  With it seeming unlikely (at the time) that I’d see her again after that trip it was wonderful to see her back in the ring and get to see her wrestle several times. At Thanksgiving Wave 12/29/17 she and Hiroe Nagahama had a packed five minute match that was well structured to let Hiroe look good before Iida put her away.  To end the show Iida would win Wave’s Zan-1 Championship for the year (determined by fan vote). It was a wonderful and fitting honor as her career wound down.

 

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During that trip I was also lucky enough to see her team with Maya Yukihi against Risa Sera & Mochi Miyagi at Ice Ribbon on 1/6/18 and in an excellent match against Kaho Kobayashi at Wave’s Young OH! OH! show on 1/8/18 to wrap up my visit. At the time I thought those would be my last opportunities to see Iida live.

 

Instead, I was extremely lucky to have a spring trip to celebrate the marriage of two dear friends of mine be close enough for me to extend my stay to attend Iida’s retirement show on 5/4/18. During the week leading up to her final show, amid numerous appearances scheduled across various promotions, Iida unfortunately dislocated her shoulder during a gauntlet match. She realigned it and managed one more portion of that match in a crazy display of toughness, but then had to acquiesce and withdraw from the match and most of her remaining appearances to recover.

 

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Custom Funko Pop I made of/for Iida.

 

She was still aiming to complete in her final show, twice in fact. In a five minute exhibition to open the show and a 6-woman tag to close it. In a wonderful sign for her recovery (and of course her fortitude and perhaps stubbornness) she took the microphone at the beginning of her exhibition match against Hiroe Nagahama and declared she was ok and turned it into a full match to a large ovation. It was a good contest and a nice callback for me to the match between the two I had seen a few months prior. Unsurprisingly Iida put the up and comer over and the latter was particularly choked up.

 

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Something already noticeable was a sense of Iida really enjoying everything and having a joyous goodbye (despite of course it all being very emotional). This would continue throughout the show and really highlights Iida’s wonderful personality and outlook, as everything from the opener to the main to the ceremonies seeing her off were infused with a sense of fun that made it all particularly special.

 

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The main event saw Iida’s chosen competitors for her final match face off in a 6-woman tag featuring Iida and her opponent from the opening contest on the same side along with Yumi Ohka vs Kaho Kobayashi, Natsu Sumire, & Rina Yamishita. The latter team actually was part of the 3-way trios contest I talked about earlier involving Iida from late 2016. Rina had won this year’s Catch the Wave earlier in the night in an incredible match against Ayako Hamada and had an additional honor here, pinning Iida to end her career.

 

 

The match was the appropriately enjoyable spectacle, including “traditional” retirement spots like whipping all of the roster (and then some) into Iida in the corner with amusing variations like Rina interrupting Gami’s turn and allowing Iida to wipe out the boss instead. Special guests also got in on the action, including Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in to hit an Ace Crusher on Iida for a near fall at one point. Just a ton of fun all around. The gift presentation and final ceremonies were also touched by humor, perhaps highlighted by Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota brawling around Iida as she stood in the center of the ring while her career highlights were read.

 

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All in all everything came together in a way that really felt like the perfect goodbye for Iida that reflected her unique, infectious charisma throughout. I’m sad to see her go but happy to have seen her wrestle during her time in the ring and wish her the best in whatever comes next.

 

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Wave Young OH! OH! 1/8/18 Live Thoughts

January 8, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

My last show of this year’s holiday trip was my second Wave Young OH! OH! show, two years after I saw my first.

 

 

I imagine the opening match was more about Mika Iida’s upcoming retirement than her role working with upcoming talent, as Kaho Kobayashi doesn’t exactly fit my idea of a rookie anymore at four and a half years (and a full two after I saw her appropriately featured at my first Young OH! OH! show). That said, any extra chance to see Iida before she’s done is a treat, and Kaho is quickly working towards her full potential and is a joy to watch as she continually improves and refines her craft. This was a lot of fun. When it was announced I suspected it could be the main event, so it made for a somewhat surprising opener (which I liked as it allowed more of the spotlight to fall on newer faces later on).

 

 

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The wonderfully tense feud between Kyuuri and Tae Honma I’ve gushed about in my reviews of Ribbonmania and Ice Ribbon’s 1/6 show continued here in a 3-Way match. Their obsession with each other consumed their focus enough for Asuka to take the victory (standard disclaimer that this is of course Wave’s Asuka and not the former Kana).  This was the shortest match of the show, but they made the most of their six and a half minutes, provided good action, and hit all the story points they needed to.

After show I met Tae for the first time and mentioned I also saw her wrestle at Ice Ribbon. She reacted with understanding, then looked over to the Ice Ribbon table and said “Kyuuri” while frowning and shaking her head and looked back for me to commiserate with her difficulties. Fantastic little touch to sell the ongoing angle at all times.

 

 

Fairy Nipponbashi is admittedly not a wrestler I personally enjoy all that much, as I find her comedy largely unfunny and the fact that her somewhat heelish antics are delivered and received as if she’s a virtuous hero annoying. So I also have to admit that I took great delight in seeing Actwres Girlz’ Nao Kakuta eventually lose patience (after suffering at the hands of Fairy’s wand, then stealing it, but of course finding Fairy immune to her own magic for whatever reason) and just whack the HELL out of the Fairy with the wand and roll her up for the win.

Nao played a perfect heel all match to counter Fairy’s nonsense, including a great application of the old trick of breaking a choke at the count of 4 just to reapply it with the other hand, which honestly made her the face to me and that lack of preference for her opponent combined with an objectively strong performance by Nao in her role for a strong first impression. Hope to see more of her in the future. Action was solid and this was probably my favorite Fairy match ever, albeit likely not for the reasons intended.

 

 

I got a second look at Ami Sato (after seeing her in her home company of Sendai Girls a couple of days earlier) against one of Wave’s resident up and comers Hiroe Nagahama.  A little long for what it was but a decent showing for both overall.

 

 

The main event of Rina Yamashita & Maruko Nagasaki against Miyuki Takase & Totoro Satsuki was EXACTLY the type of stuff I want from shows like these. It had a nice mix of experience levels still incorporating mostly newer talent, ranging from former Regina di Wave champion Rina at just over 4 years (who like Kaho was on my first Young OH! OH! show, appearing  in both the announced and surprise main events of that show) to Miyuki and Totoro at around a year. It was cross promotional, gave a nice main event spotlight to some wrestlers who are usually in the undercard, the structure let them all shine, etc. Excellent way to cap off my trip.

Totoro continues to look like a wrecking ball in the ring in the best possible way, and I get more and more excited about her future every time I see her. This was also my first proper look at Miyuki, as she was kind of background in Thanksgiving Wave‘s opening 8-woman tag (the only other match I’ve seen her in so far). She looked good and I hope she continues to get more opportunities like this to develop.

 

 

I really enjoy these type of shows as both a glimpse of Joshi wrestling’s future and enjoyable shows in their own right. I’m extremely excited that it seems like there will be more in this vein coming, including Ice Ribbon’s intriguing variation on the concept called “P’s Party” starting soon.

Basara 12/28/17 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

At the last minute I decided to check out my first DDT / Basara produced show, which was their 3rd “Shinjuku Strongest Ground Budokai” tournament. It featured competitors from a variety of companies (including Gatoh Move’s Riho, a large part of why I found out about and was interested in this show).

The show opened with what were essentially qualifiers, with the winners joining the 6 competitors already in the quarterfinals. For those two matches plus the quarters, there were no ropes and matches could end by ring out in addition to the normal ways (pin, submission, etc). The wrestlers did a good job with the structure, and the finishes were varied and clever.

 

In the first qualifier Isami Kodaka defeated Naoki Tanizaki to advance to face Ayako Hamada by knocking him out of the ring with a knee strike. I don’t recall much about this extremely short match, but it served it’s purpose of introducing the concept and rules.

 

 

In the second Colt Cabana was sent flying out of the ring when Yuko Miyamoto kicked out of a Superman Dive to send Yuko on to face Hideki Suzuki. This was an amusing comedy match, with Colt using his towel in bull fighting fashion to tempt Yuko to charge, with the latter later returning the favor, but also trying to trick Colt into charging out of the ring.

 

 

Opening the quarters was an extremely good, more serious match in which Fuminori Abe beat Akito with a wonderful counter to being in a Figure Four where he rolled both himself and Akito out of the ring but grabbed the corner to support himself so Akito hit the floor first.

 

 

I mentioned I came to the 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.

 

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For those unfamiliar, Riho’s a twelve year veteran at age 20, and is an expert at making the story of her match believable. Here 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 exchanged 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.

 

 

Isami Kodaka followed up his qualifier win by becoming the apparent “Cinderella Story” representative to the semis by upsetting Wave’s Ayako Hamada with a well placed kick while they were fighting around the ringpost to send her to the floor. This was ok, but it was one of the shortest matches of the night (admittedly understandably given how many times Isami was wrestling) and I wanted to see more from a star like Hamada. Her going up for the moonsault despite there being no ropes was awesome though.

 

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The final quarterfinal match was my first look at Hideki Suzuki. I really like the no-nonsense aura he has that belies his versatility. After a solid, grapple based match he ended up defeating Yuko Miyamoto when the latter grabbed Suzuki’s tights to avoid falling to the floor. Suzuki broke the grip as his tights were pulled down and stood both victorious and mooning the crowd. He played the comedic moment perfectly for his character, not really caring about the exposure.

So the no rope round matches all ended with ring outs, but the matches and finishes were so different it was totally the right call to make the most of the stipulation.

 

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The ropes were added for the semis, but the ring out loss condition was still in effect. Fuminori Abe ended Isami Kodaka’s run in the first non ring out of the night as the two decided to just hit each other until one couldn’t get up. Isami failed to answer a 10 count after Abe’s Rabbit Punch and Abe was declared the winner by KO.

 

 

Which left Riho in the other semi final against Hideki Suzuki. I like the different approach in this one, as not only did the added ropes confine Riho more, Suzuki had even more of a size advantage at 14 inches taller and 150 pounds heavier than Riho. So she was appropriately much more tentative here, playing keep away in between flurries of trying to attack her massive opponent. Suzuki for his part just stalked her around the ring and shrugged off her strikes as intimidation. An amusing spot saw her offer a test of strength as Suzuki looked at her incredulously.

 

 

After a couple of minutes he did try to rush her, but her quickness let her get out of the way and send him crashing into the corner for her first real advantage. She wore him down a little with some high risk moves, then went for her Tiger Feint Kick (619) with Suzuki draped over the second rope. But she couldn’t adjust for his size and power as he pushed her as she connected making her fall to the outside giving Suzuki a ring out victory. They packed a lot of story into 3 minutes, and avoided having either look weak.

 

 

The only non-tournament match of the night gave a break between the semis and the main with a 10-man tag of Trans-Am Ryuichi, SAGAT, FUMA, Yusuke Kubo & Hagane Shino vs Takumi Tsukamoto, Ryuichi Sekine, Ryota Nakatsu, Daichi Kazato & Takato Nakano. Ten minutes of crazy brawling and chaotic spots. Good for what it was, although I imagine it would have been more compelling if I was familiar with the various teams and personalities coming facing off here and the underlying dynamics.

 

 

So for the tournament final the ring out rule is gone, so were back to regular match rules. Hideki Suzuki defeated Fuminori Abe in a suitably hard hitting main event with his Double Arm Suplex.

 

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I really enjoyed this show. It had a nice mix of comedic moments and serious wrestling, excellent use of the chosen stipulations, and a real feel that everyone cared about winning the tournament.

 

Wave 12/29/17 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Like last year, my only main Wave show this trip was luckily their big one: Thanksgiving Wave 2017. This was an extremely interesting card on paper, and I was looking forward to several of the matches.

 

 

The show opened with a 2 out of 3 falls match pitting Moeka Haruhi, Kyusei Sakura Hirota, Cherry & Mio Momono vs Hikaru Shida, Fairy Nipponbashi, Kaori Yoneyama & Miyuki Takase. As some of the talent involved indicates, there was a significant amount of humor in this one. The first two falls happened very quickly and were all comedy, centered around Mio not having her gear and trading pins with Fairy. Other shenanigans included regular partners Cherry and Yone teaming up for a moment despite being on opposite sides, the ref getting roped into applying a submission hold to help Mio’s team while she was missing to change once her gear “arrived,” and Hirota resisting the magic of Fairy’s wand because she was scared to be thrown off the top rope.

 

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This was ok. Some of the comedy worked, some fell flat. Several of the wrestlers were just kind of there, with a few being the main focus. On the plus side, one of those was Mio, one of wrestling’s best up and comers. The end came when Miyuki evaded Mio’s flying cross body and caused the latter to wipe out Hirota instead, leading to enough confusion for Fairy’s team to prevail. Mio didn’t look particularly broken up about it afterwards, and taunted her own team.

 

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Mika Iida is an excellent wrestler who’s coming up on her retirement in spring (likely due to accumulated injuries). She wasn’t wrestling for the August show I was at, so it was wonderful to see her back in the ring and get to see her wrestle several times this trip, perhaps for the last time live. Here she had a short match against the very game Hiroe Nagahama which packed a lot into five minutes while still having good flow and allowing the less experienced competitor look competitive before Iida put her away. Iida’s victory would not be her last spotlight moment of the night…

 

To be honest, I wish they had taken some time from the Men’s Wave match that saw Kenichiro Arai & Mitomi Masayuki vs Keisuke Goto & Koju Takeda and given it to the prior one. This was decent, but the main point of the match was the nonchalance of Arai eventually allowing him to get the better of his opponent’s temper and win, which could have been achieved in a shorter, tighter match.

 

 

Dangerous Wave was next, and was an incredible hardcore brawl between teams SAKI & KAORU and Ryo Mizunami & Rina Yamashita. Kaoru’s at her best in hardcore matches, and similar to the W-Fix match at Marvelous’ Christmas show 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 was thrilled to see her wrestle 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. After their victory Rina and Ryo are greeted with the news that they will get another Dangerous Wave match at the next show, against Nanae Takahashi and Yoshiko from SEAdLINNG. Rina’s thrilled, Mizunami not so much.

I was not at that show/match, but heard it was cut short when Nanae suffered a serious injury off a bad ladder fall. Hoping for a speedy and full recovery for her.

 

 

The tag team title match seeing NEW-TRA (Takumi Iroha & Rin Kadokura) defend against Yuki Miyazaki & Nagisa Nozaki was an action packed contest with a clever finish. Yuki kept kissing her opponents to momentarily stun them (just go with it). Rin temporarily blinded her by spitting water into her face, and Yuki unknowingly grabbed her own partner Nagisa, kissed her, and rolled her up. Takumi took advantage of the moment and counted a pin, making Yuki think they won. New-Tra then capitalized on the confusion and put away the challengers to retain. The whole match was fun, and the strides Rin has made in developing her persona and ring style are highly impressive. I really like the pairing of her and Iroha. This was my first decent look at Nozaki (her match at the August show I attended was short and inconsequential), and I left it definitely wanting to see her more often.

 

 

The semi-main was a huge tag match pitting Wave against Sendai Girls, with legend Ayako Hamada and someone who’s being built as a top contender in Asuka against Sendai’s own legend Meiko Satomura and their champion Chihiro Hashimoto. This should be obvious in a Wave review, but for clarity this is Wave’s Asuka and not the former Kana who uses that name in WWE. Chihiro made a strong initial impression at Marvelous’ Christmas day show, and looked great here as well showcasing an impactful, no-nonsense style.

 

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The whole match was quite good, but in particular the highlight was seeing the two opposing legends interact, which really built anticipation for their impending singles match at Sendai Girls. The Sendai duo won this one with Meiko putting Asuka away. Everyone in the match seemed to designs on Chihiro’s title, which left a lot of interesting directions open going forward.

 

 

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

 

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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 at this point Ohata’s already won it back. Misaki really sold disappointment and dejection afterwards, a theme that would continue later.

 

 

After the show proper there was a musical performance, then the Wave roster came back out for the announcement of the Zan-1 rankings. It was determined by fan vote, the top 10 are called into the ring in reverse order, and #1 wins the Zan-1 belt for the year and becomes the #1 contender for the Regina di Wave championship.

There were several amusing moments. Miscommunication between Gami and the ring announcer lead to Mizunami’s picture being displayed too early, after which Mizunami, Hamada, and Rina huddled up “hoping” to be the next called. Rina’s excitement over her own placement was great. Best of all, the somewhat surprising winner turned out to be Mika Iida, a fitting honor for her as her career winds down.

 

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Ohata, last year’s winner who relinquished the belt to open the ceremony, came in second and stared an absolute hole through Iida, the belt, and Ohka (who placed third) as she looked at the two championships she lost by inches in the same night. Fantastic touch and consistency by Ohata, which I assume added desperation to her effort to regain the Regina di Wave title in her rematch with Ohka.

 

 

Excellent show overall, and I think the best I’ve seen from Wave yet.