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.

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.

 

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Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.

Wave 8/30/17 Live Thoughts

August 30, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

The final show of my week long trip I caught was “Weekday Wave” at Shinjuku Face.

 

 

The opener was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. I was glad to see a favorite of mine, Aoi Kizuki, added to this show a few days before as I wouldn’t have seen her otherwise. I was even more excited to see her put in the ring opposite my favorite tag team (whose matches with Best Friends were the reason I made this trip) as So on Flower (Aoi & Moeka Haruhi) faced Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami).

 

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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.

 

 

 

Kaori Yoneyama & Cherry were the obvious heels in mannerisms and anctics in their match with Yuki Miyazaki & Nagisa Nozaki, but were too amusing for crowd to boo. This wasn’t bad per se, but there was nothing to it really. As opposed to the opener this felt every bit it’s short length (under three minutes).

 

 

 

The next match was another surprise for me, and another extremely pleasant one. I knew Yumi Ohka would be on the show (and was happy I’d get to see her), but didn’t have any idea Mio Momono would be. What a great pairing. Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I’ve mentioned many times), and Yumi’s a consummate veteran and the perfect opponent for her.

 

 

I’m noticing Mio working in nice touches of humor into her matches lately too. For example she has one “playing mind games” spot where she goes outside and under the ring, then appears on the opposite side to mock her opponent (who of course was looking for her on the original side). The key is she does it a second time, and “smartly” Yumi decides to ambush the youngster on the far side instead of following. So Mio goes out the side instead and again gets into the ring and mercilessly mocks the vet.

 

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It’s silly but amusing and adds a nice bit of cleverness and attitude to Mio’s act. I’ve seen her do it in two matches so far and it will get old eventually, but I trust she’ll find a way to mix things up and keep it entertaining. Best of all, Mio does this to annoy her opponent into leaving an opening for Mio to attack, making a logical part of the match that enhances rather than derails the action.

 

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They got a decent bit of time here (a little under ten minutes I think) to tell the story of upstart Mio giving Yumi all she could handle until the more experienced wrestler could only just keep leveling Mio with kicks until she stayed down. This was exactly what I hoped for from them and tied with the opener for my favorite of the show. The tension and hostility between the two continued after the match.

 

 

 

Sometimes comedy in wrestling can be overdone, and honestly that’s how I generally feel about both Fairy Nipponbashi’s and her partner Sakura Hirota’s ring styles. Their match here, with Fairy’s magic malfunctioning due to not having her regular wand and Hirota’s usual offense based around striking at her opponents’ backsides, did little to change my mind (though admittedly the rest of the audience seemed entertained).

 

 

What was amusing however was Hirota’s impersonation of her opponent Saki’s usual partner Mizuki, which led to great impatience from Saki’s partner here Rin Kadokura at Saki’s hesitance to attack “Mizuki.” Both Saki and Rin are quite good in the ring, so this did have periods of solid action when they went on offense and things got more serious.

 

 

Afterwards the announcer had a rather lengthy statement to deliver to Fairy and then someone came out afterwards who had Fairy’s wand and tossed her around with her own magic before making his escape. Sure whatever.

 

 

 

This probably goes without saying in a Wave review, but this semi main event features Wave’s Asuka, not the former Kana who’s using the name “Asuka” in WWE. Here she faced Hikaru Shida in a decent contest that served as good way to build up Asuka as a threat. She’ really hitting her stride and kept up with the more experience and polished Shida nicely, and they wrestled to a draw that made both look good.

 

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The main event was and interesting tag title match featuring champions Kaho Kobayashi & Hiroe Nagahama defending against Wave’s singles champion Rina Yamishita and her partner Natsu SumireKaho is another extremely good wrestler that just keeps improving, and it’s wonderful to see her in the spotlight and a champion in several companies. I’m also a big fan of Rina and it’s a joy to see her come out with the Regina di Wave belt. 

 

 

Sumire’s still a bit awkward at times (including not completely tucking her head when taking a Northern Lights suplex and coming within inch of being spiked in a scary moment), but she has has improved and played a fine role in what ended up being a solid match. This was rightfully the longest match of the show and suitable both as a main event and a title contest.

 

 

To close the show there was announcement of the Dual Shock Wave tag team tournament with various teams from the show excitedly volunteering for spots. The tag champions were involved too and the titles were announced as on the line. In addition to established teams, Yumi Ohka wanted to be involved and begged her earlier opponent Mio Momono to team with her.

 

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Mio was initially have none of it, and as far as I could tell she essentially called Yumi washed up and old enough to be her mother (to the howling amusement of everyone else in the ring as Yumi crumpled to the mat in shock at the scathing words). She eventually agreed, but only if she was the “the boss.” Yumi’s exaggerated delight and trying to placate Mio with nods and flattery was amusing. The gist of it all was pretty easy to follow even without understanding Japanese, which is a testament to the wrestlers’ delivery and reactions.

 

 

There was also a promo clearly setting up Asuka as Rina’s next challenger, building off the spotlight match she had with Shida earlier in the night.

 

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Fun show overall, although it did feel like they tried to cram a little too much in. Shorter promo segments and slightly longer undercard matches would have been nice. But they used the format they chose well, with generally engaging angles integrated with the matches. Even the super short early tag matches ended up having important significance in setting the stage for Dual Shock Wave. Add in good effort and a pair of matches I adored and this was a nice way to wrap up my trip.

 

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Photo with Msiaki Ohata while wearing her awesome new Sky Blue Suplex t-shirt.

SEAdLINNNG 8/24/17 Live Thoughts

August 24, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

 

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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 those three starting with here at my first ever SEAdLINNG show.

Although despite it being my first show under the SEAdLINNNG banner, I had previously seen all but two of the wrestlers live before, and that includes several personal favorites. On the other hand, one of the new to me in ring competitors is someone I have a large issue with watching/supporting and I feel I need to say something here. I had (and still have) mixed feelings about attending shows Yoshiko’s on, and I’m even more conflicted on her return to wrestling after eerily similar recent events with Sexy Star. There are a number of different angles and components that get into this (that I won’t expand upon here because it’d be longer than the review I’m trying to write), but for now I’ve chosen not to skip shows/matches she’s on in favor of supporting the other wrestlers on the shows (and for admittedly selfish reasons of not wanting to miss certain matches).

 

Alright, on to the show:

 

1) High Speed Match: Manami Toyota vs Maruko Nagasaki vs Kaho Kobayashi 

 

 

This was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. Amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics. 

 

2) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Yoshiko vs Mio Momono 

 

 

I hate to admit it given my previously mentioned 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 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.

As I’ve previously gushed about, Mio is just incredible and shines even among the impressive crop of current Joshi rookies across all companies. Her timing, mannerisms, and technique are all well beyond normal for her experience level and she just keeps getting better every time I see her. Sky’s the limit if she keeps on this trajectory.

 

3) Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Takumi Iroha vs Sareee 

 

 

The second semi-final also featured a Marvelous wrestler against a SEAdLINNG talent. Iroha’s incredible power eventually overwhelmed Sareee to send the former to the finals for another interpromotional match. This was quite good, but I do feel like they have a better match in them. I hope this rivalry continues and we get to see many more contests between the two.

 

4) TLC Match: Nanae Takahashi vs The Great Sasuke 

 

 

I found out about this match just a couple of days before the show, and what a treat it was to be there for. It exactly what it should have been: a spotfest featuring two honored veterans. I have to say even with all the crazy stunts and complicated ladder/chair spots, my favorite was a comedy one. Nanae was in the corner under a ladder and Sasuke essentially played whack a mole with a chair trying to hit her head whenever she poked it up between the rungs, only to have her duck back down and Sasuke hurt his own hands as the chair hit the ladder.

 

5) Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) 

 

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So here we are – the reason for this trip. Going into this match Avid Rival was up 1-0 in this series of 3 (having won at Wave on 8/12 in a match I haven’t seen), and things were tied between the teams overall if the first match in 2015 was considered.

 

 

As expected, this was excellent. The lack of finish (time limit draw) and time spent on some comedy put this just a touch below the other match I had seen from them, but that’s mild criticism. Best of the night and exactly what I was hoping for from two of the greatest teams in all of wrestling.

 

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Neither team was happy with the lack of resolution, and there was tension between the specific pairs of Ryo & Tsukka and Misaki & Arisa afterwards building to the final match at Ice Ribbon a few days later.

 

Main event) Ultra U-7 Final: Yoshiko vs Takumi Iroha

 

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It was fitting to have this main, given Best Friends vs Avid Rival didn’t have a finish and how over Yoshiko is in SEAdLINNNG. Her essentially being a heel who plays to the crowd is so uncomfortable. Don’t know if it was because of how engrossing Mio’s matches are or just the general structure, but I found it harder to look past my personal feelings on Yoshiko in this one. They still put on a hell of a match though. Good showing for Iroha in defeat in a back and forth power match. I wish Iroha had won for a multitude of reasons, one of the most relevant of which is a young outsider taking the tournament seems like a better story. Strong finish to the tournament regardless, and a large portion of the crowd was thrilled.

 

 

Great show overall, and an extremely good first impression made for SEAdLINNNG. Of course my favorite parts involved outside talent (and the resulting atmosphere, due to the rabid support of the Marvelous contingent), but the core roster members are also great wrestlers and a solid base to build around. Will be interesting to see more in the future.