The Future is Now 5

I’ve done a number of The Future is Now blogs featuring developing wrestlers I felt had big things ahead of them. In my latest one I specifically featured some of the young Joshi stars that made huge impressions on me during my first trip to Japan at the beginning of last year. Professional wrestlers can start (much) younger in Japan than the US, and though they were all 20 years old or younger (at the time) the wrestlers in that column ranged in experience from 2 years to over 10.

In a similar (but somewhat reversed) vein I want to spotlight wrestlers from the trip I took at the beginning of this year, but in this case I’m going to focus on rookies. Though ranging in age from 18 to 33, everyone here had less than a year in wrestling when I saw them (a few months ago). They all showed great potential and devotion to their craft, and I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds for them.

Aasa Maika

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The best way I can describe Gatoh Move’s Aasa is as a “pintsized powerhouse.” At first glance the 21 year old doesn’t seem suited to such a gimmick, but then she starts throwing herself at opponents like she’s Big Van Vader and it’s glorious.  The power style works surprisingly well for her, and the devotion to the gimmick and enthusiasm she brings to it give her a captivating presence. She really got a chance to shine during Gatoh Move’s Greenhall show on 12/24 in an interpromotional 6-woman match between Gatoh Move and REINA.

Mitsuru Konno

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Another impressive rookie in the Gatoh Move promotion is the 26 year old Mitsuru. Though only 3 months from her debut when I saw her, putting her at the least experienced of this group, she already projects a distinct no-nonsense aura in the way she carries herself in the ring that is a nice compliment for the intense strikes and smooth holds that form the base of her arsenal.

Mitsuru’s my personal favorite of the new wrestlers I saw this trip, and I look forward to seeing her skills further develop and seeing what she can do in longer and more challenging contests in the future.

Mio Momono

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Mio’s a special case here, as unlike the rest of this list I had seen her wrestle once before my trip. She made her wrestling debut in February 2016 in Queens, NY, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. She looked good in that first match, but even more striking is how far she’d come in just 10 months. Her confidence and comfort in the ring have clearly grown, and she was fantastic in both matches I had the opportunity to see her in this trip (a show stealing opener on Marvelous’ Christmas show and an incredible 7-way from Ribbonmania I’ll discuss more in a later entry).

From what I’ve seen, she’s the currently best of the bunch, which is high praise considering everyone on this list impressed in the few matches I’ve seen from each so far. At just 18 years old she certainly has a long, bright future ahead of her if she chooses to stick with wrestling.

Tequila Saya

The immediately striking thing about watching Saya is her infectious charisma. She seems to be having fun and excited about whatever she’s doing and there’s a engaging quality to her performances. Her expressions and body language are great in helping to tell the story of her matches, such as during Survival Ribbon when she entered the ring obviously confident and psyched up but crumpled in the corner in resignation when it was announced she’d be facing Ice Ribbon’s resident powerhouse in Kurumi. In 5 seconds with no words she completely put over the notion that Kurumi’s a monster. Saya’s decent in the ring if still a bit tentative (which is course perfectly normal at her experience level), but has a distinct style and personality that already make her a compelling performer.

Uno Matsuya

There’s something about the way Uno wrestles that thoroughly engages the audience. Little mannerisms, the way she sells, etc. She had the crowd absolutely rabid in support of her during the aforementioned 7-way at Ribbonmania, where she was thrown over the top and fought halfway around the ring apron valiantly trying to avoid falling to the floor and being eliminated. She showed similar ability to drawn support in the other matches I saw, which will be a huge asset to her going forward. Like Saya she’s still a little hesitant at moments and will benefit greatly from continued experience, but she’s already showing a very strong foundation.

Honorable mentions:

Model Nana Suzuki made her wrestling debut at Stardom’s year end show against Kairi Hojo and looked (perhaps surprisingly) great against the superstar, playing the “overmatched but determined underdog” role to perfection (and of course benefitting from being in the ring with someone the caliber of Hojo).

Mika Shirahime just barely missed the cutoff for this, being a tad over a year in the sport when I saw her wrestle Mio Momono in a the fantastic opener for Marvelous’s Christmas show I mentioned above.  Rin Kadokura is another good rookie wrestling for Marvelous. She honestly hasn’t gotten to show too much yet and is a little overshadowed by Mio, but has a solid foundation and a lot of potential.

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That all for now. Hope I’ve brought a new wrestler or two to attention. Everyone mentioned is well worth checking out and, perhaps even more importantly with the rookies, keeping an eye on in the future as they continue to learn and grow as performers.

Gatoh Move 12/30/16, 12/31/16, and 1/3/17 Live Thoughts

December 30 and 31, 2016 and January 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

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Awesome keychains featuring Gatoh Move’s core roster. Just missing Riho’s, as it was sold out before I got a chance to get one.

As I mentioned when discussing last year’s Ichigaya shows I was able to attend, these shows from Gatoh Move are unlike anything else I’ve been to, and a lot of fun. The unusual venue and unique atmosphere are something any wrestling fan should check out at least once (preferably more 😉 ).

The Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, Aasa, and Obi.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some of the great souvenirs I got).

12/30:

First was visiting veteran Kaori Yoneyama against Gatoh Move’s resident rising star in Kotori. Decent pairing, and the story of Kaori trying to dominate and Kotori fighting from underneath provided a nice showing for the developing youngster. Basic but solid. Kotori’s charisma, enthusiasm, and talent stood out during my last trip (as I spotlighted here) and she’s clearly continued to polish and expand her skills  in the intervening year.

Next up was a 3-way featuring Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa. This was a comedy match where after every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using a box of props off to the side. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after a set time won. Pretty much every move done led to a 2-count, as the jokes were squarely the focus here.

Although it’s fair to note that not speaking Japanese put me out of the target audience for this, between not understanding the spoken parts of the jokes and having seen these exact three wrestlers in a similar match last year this fell flat for me and honestly was my least favorite Gatoh Move match of the trip.

Speaking of similarities to last year, the main event of Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Riho & Aasa was amusingly close to the main event of the first show I ever saw at Ichigaya. It was the same except for having Kotori in Aasa’s place.

The rookie looked good here and fit in well among the more experienced competitors. Her pintsized powerhouse gimmick amuses me greatly and she already show flashes of brilliance in the way she uses it. Another solid match with exciting touches.

During the post show roundtable playing cards were drawn to determine teams for the next show’s main event, which ended up being tag team champions Riho & Kotori teaming with Aasa against Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru.

12/31:

Amusing side note: during the opening dance for this show Obi accidentally (and unknowingly) bopped Aasa on the head with her mic. She continued to dance unaware as Aasa rubbed her head and mock scowled for those of us in the window who could see her.

For this show I was sitting in front of the window most often used for jumping off of, etc, which ended up leading to quite a bit of ducking / moving out of the way as all three matches used the window heavily. Kept me on my toes. 😉

The undercard consisted of two mens matches, as all six of the core Gatoh Move roster were in the main event tag match. The opener of Madoka vs Toru Owashi vs Konaka Pehlwan was hard fought but with light touches of humor, mostly involving Toru. It was all kept in the context of everyone trying to win and everything clicked together pretty well. Case in point was the amusing finish. Toru was perched on windowsill (right above me) waiting for an opportunity to jump at one of his opponents who were fighting among themselves, but Madoka rolled Konaka up for the win and the match ended with Toru still in the window. Madoka and Konaka then left and a dumbfounded Toru eventually climbed down and headed out himself.

Masahiro Takanashi vs Cho-un Shiryu was a hard hitting match centered around the vicious strikes both men throw so well. Takanashi in particular thrives in this environment and knows how to make the most of it. Match went for the full ten minute time limit and ended in a draw, staying intense for the duration.

The main event of Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru vs Riho, Kotori & Aasa was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match this trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

This was a more serious show overall, as in contrast to all the other Ichigaya shows I’ve seen the middle match wasn’t a comedy match. I liked the variation, and actually would like to see this as the default rather than the exception.

1/3:

The final Gatoh Move show of my trip started with a singles contest between rookies Aasa and Mitsuru. This was a strong showing and overall I was extremely impressed with both during my trip (especially for their experience). They’re both developing individual styles that suit them and I’ve very interested in seeing them continue to evolve as performers going forward.

 

The formula of a competitive opener and main surrounding a comedy match was back for this show, and in some foreshadowing  Emi Sakura made comments about Antonio Honda and Kaori Yoneyama both being very hungry in her opening comments. This came into play in what I can only refer to as an “orange match,” where in addition to pinfall or submission one could win by placing an orange on a pedestal held by one of the audience members in the front row. Yes, really. There likely is significance I’m missing, but “mechanically” those were the effective rules.

Three oranges were tied up around the room. In between fighting  (which included the wrestlers selling getting hit with the oranges swinging on their ropes like getting punched straight in the face) the oranges were claimed one by one. But as either Yone or Honda went to place it on the pedestal to win, their hunger would get too great and they’d devour the orange instead.

About halfway into the match Aasa quietly came back out and crouched next to the front row, with a fourth orange tied to her head (and a hilariously neutral expression on her face). Later on Honda noticed and took that orange when Yone’s back was turned and stuffed it into his tights. With Yone thinking all the oranges were already eaten, she set Honda up for a splash and turned to get into the windowsill, at which point Honda pulled out the hidden orange and placed it on the pedestal for the win.

So this was BEYOND absurd, but somehow worked and ended up my favorite of all the matches I saw Honda in this trip. It wasn’t trying to be serious, and by embracing its own ridiculousness and being the only comedy match on the show it ended up quite amusing.

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The main event was Riho, Kotori & Madoka vs Emi, Obi & Guanchulo. The latter team was somewhat dismissive of their opponents as well as taking some cheap shots here and there. Guanchulo was a bit over the top, almost cackling with maniacal glee at joining in with the slight heel tendencies employed by Emi. It was a different dynamic than the other six person match with Emi & Obi opposite Riho & Kotori and helped set it apart. It did make the match feel a bit lighter in tone, but it was still suitably competitive and the touches of humor fit and didn’t detract from the action.

Particularly memorable about this match was its creative finish with Madoka and Kotori tying up their opponents in horizontal holds, who Riho then used as stepping stones for momentum to perform a jumping double knee drop on Obi for the win.

Issues between Emi and Kotori continued to build here, including Emi showing disrespect after the match. Their interactions in the two six person tags seems to be leading to a future one one one encounter.

During the post show roundtable Kotori and Riho filled in the eye on a large Daruma (I didn’t catch what goal was achieved), and Honda’s birthday was celebrated with a cake.

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These shows won’t be for everyone, and I understand some of the criticisms I’ve seen of these shows and their matches feeling “samey” due to format limitations and repeated opponents. But I continue to be impressed as to what the wrestlers can do within those restrictions of the venue / style, and for certain fans (like me) there will great appeal in the nuances of each match and strength of the performers to mitigate those potential downfalls and make repeated visits a joy.

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Wall display of some of my Gatoh Move souvenirs, including a sign board I won, polaroids with the wrestlers, signed pictures, and the previously shown keychains.

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 1: Gatoh Move 12/24/16 Live Thoughts

December 24, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I was lucky enough to see three Christmas shows, all with some celebratory elements.

 

First up on Christmas Eve was Gatoh Move at Itabashi Green Hall, where the first show of theirs I saw was at in 2015. Still one of my favorite venues. Unlike Gatoh Move’s home base shows their bigger events (like this one) are more traditional in some respect because they take place in a wrestling ring instead of the mats only environment at Ichigaya Chocolate Square. But Gatoh Move is still unique in it’s presentation, with opening and closing dance numbers by the core roster and a mix of comedy and competitive matches up and down the card. As appropriate for the holiday theme the wrestlers came out in different colored Christmas outfits for the dancing.

 

 

The opening match was a mixed tag pitting Hikaru Shida & Madoka against Kaori Yoneyama & Hikaru Sato. This was largely a straight up contest, although there were … “comedic” I guess …. overtones mixed in between Shida and Sato, with Sato creeping on Shida and her wanting nothing to do with him. He tried to refuse to tag in against Madoka but force tagged in whenever she entered the match, stalked around her and bent over to check out her behind instead of hitting her when Kaori held Shida for a double team, climbed on top of her instead of applying submission holds, etc. It did lead to a couple of funny moments, like Shida hitting Kaori with her flying butt attack, him asking for the same, then Shida kneeing him in the face instead. But mostly I personally found it creepy and unnecessary rather than funny. Also, Shida cowering away from him at points seemed really odd for her character, who I thought generally more likely to just haul off and knee him in the first place.

Past that the match was good. In particular when the men did actually face off they absolutely lit into each other with hard strike exchanges. Strong finishing exchanges as time expired too. The Sato / Shida stuff is obviously an ongoing angle, but not one I care for from what I saw here.

 

 

Next was a special stipulation “Drunk Match” between DJ Nira and Masahiro Takanashi, during which the competitors had to stop wrestling to imbibe at random times. Beverages escalated from beer to shochu to champagne. Gags included Nira sneaking more than he was required to drink, both wrestlers getting increasingly wobbly as time progressed, etc. Takanashi begging off from the required drink at one point while Nira ran up to down his was a great little touch. Near the end Takanashi kept trying for a superkick, but Nira couldn’t stand long enough to be hit with it. Nira eventually decided to call a bunch of people out from the back to form a human pyramid, and once he made his way to the top Takanashi finally had Nira in position to hit the superkick for the win. Absolutely ridiculous from start to finish, but that was the point here and it was amusing.

 

 

Team Reina (Makoto, Mari Sakamoto, & Hirori) faced Team Gatoh Move (Emi Sakura, Aasa, & Mitsuru)  in a 6-woman elimination tag (with over-the-top rules in addition to pin/submission). Interesting set up here, with Gatoh Move’s founder and two of her trainees against Reina’s reigning Champion (who also holds GM’s IWA Triple Crown Championship) and two of hers. I’d of course seen Emi and Makoto last trip, and also saw Mari when she came to New York with Syuuri last year. Hirori, Aasa, and Mitsuru were all new to me.

 

 

The story of the match was phenomenal, with both teams showing real desire to prevail in the inter-promotional contest. The seconds on the outside for each team were visibly engaged and cheering their promotion, which really added to the atmosphere and the sense of something important being at stake here, even if it was just bragging rights.

 

 

The action was great too, with everyone looking sharp, things going back and forth nicely, building drama around the eliminations, etc. Makoto’s presence and mannerisms as a cocky heel were several levels better than what I saw of her in a babyface role last year. Aasa got a nice spotlight at the end being the last member of her team left trying to topple Makoto before coming up just short, and her ring style as a pint-sized powerhouse suits her extremely well. I’d like to see more of Mitsuru too in the future, as she looked quite good in the little time she had before being the first elimination.

 

 

 

Antonio Honda, who I saw several times last year and is always good for a chuckle, had a special “Christmas Deathmatch” against Cho-un Shiryu.  This was VERY strange, surprisingly even more so than the drunk match, but still pretty humorous somehow. I do feel it ran long though and would have benefitted from a few less sequences/gags.

Santa made repeated appearances to bring Honda gifts such as a dirty magazine, nunchaku, and a coal miner’s glove, all of which factored into the match eventually. Kaori Yoneyama and DJ Nira were sitting near the “stage” seats and whenever Honda or Cho-un would go up to the top rope one of them had some sort of medical emergency they needed assistance with, forcing the combatant to nobly chose to give up his advantage over his opponent to leave the ring and assist the person in “jeopardy.” Nothing even remotely serious about this match, and the crowd ate it up.

 

 

The main event featured Riho & Kotori challenging Aoi Kizuki & Sayaka Obihiro for the Gatoh Move Tag Team Championships. Aoi is a personal favorite of mine, and this was unfortunately the only chance I’ll have to see her wrestle this trip. Thankfully though it was a main event match in with three other excellent wrestlers, and as such was great.

 

 

 

Both teams were sharp and this was exactly the quick paced, hard hitting main event it should have been. Kotori having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and something to prove was a nice undercurrent, and Riho and Aoi had some fantastic exchanges down the stretch.

It was a shame to see Aoi and Obi lose (I somehow only seem to get to see Aoi drop titles in big matches live) but it wasn’t a surprise the way the buildup was going and with Riho’s role as ace of Gatoh Move. Also, Riho and Kotori are a great team and deserving champions themselves.

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Afterwards there was another song and wrestlers went around the venue shaking hands with the fans and thanking everyone for coming.

 

 

I really liked the feel and flow staggering the comedy matches with the more serious ones gave the show, and when it was time for action everyone gave it their all. As I generally find in Gatoh Move I loved the humor in the straight up comedy matches, and found it fell flatter when they tried to integrate it into a regular contest. The fully competitive matches here (6-woman tag and main event) both had a fantastic sense of urgency and stakes and were simply great.

The Future is Now 4

In addition to excellent matches and an incredible number of highly talented wrestlers, I love watching independent wrestling to see people develop and grow and get a glimpse of tomorrow’s stars today. I’ve previously featured Timothy Thatcher, Dalton Castle, and Nicole Savoy in my first The Future is Now blog, Su Yung, Leah Vaughn (then Leah von Dutch) and Takumi Iroha in my second, and Courtney Rush, Matt Riddle, Shayna Baszler, and Rhia O’Reilly in my third.

This time I’m going to narrow the focus a bit, doing a feature on some of the young Joshi stars that made huge impressions on me during my trip to Japan at the beginning of this year.

Professional wrestlers can start (much) younger in Japan than the US, leading to some interesting situations with standout young talent already being established and accomplished veterans while still in their teens, in addition to young rookie talent getting an early chance to develop into fully rounded performers. All of the wrestlers in this column are 20 years old or younger.

This column is long overdue and in some ways outdated, but I decided it’s still worth it to share my impressions as they were when I saw these athletes live. I’ve added some further context where needed, but for the most part the following information and opinions are rooted in the beginning of 2016.

Kyuuri

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It’s easy to tell that the (seemingly) diminutive Kyuuri already has an extensive understanding of her craft. She’s an amazingly smooth, masterful submission wrestler who always seems the equal to her often larger and more experienced opponents. Even in her frilly, bright green gear (that reminds my niece of Tinkerbell) Kyuuri conveys a sense of being a competent threat to her opponents in a way beyond several wrestlers I’ve seen with far more time in the business.  If she continues to acclimate and excel as much as she has so far in her 3 years in wrestling, this 18 year old is easily going to be a huge star by her mid-twenties despite her size. An ICE Cross Infinity Championship reign for her sooner rather than later would be entirely justified.

Yuuka

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Yuuka is another young star whose instincts far outshone her 2 years of experience and 17 years of age. She carried herself in a way that made an immediate impact, including a ring style that showcased hard strikes and fierce determination in a thoroughly compelling manner.

Unfortunately Yuuka has spent the latter half of this year on hiatus for undisclosed reasons. But is still listed as part of the Ice Ribbon roster on their webpage, so here’s hoping she will return at some point. Of the wrestlers I was previously unfamiliar with she left perhaps the greatest impression, and she certainly has the potential for a big career ahead of her if she continues.

Kotori

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Kotori is a 18 year old wrestler based in the Gatoh Move promotion who has an exuberance and enthusiasm to her wrestling that’s downright contagious. She’s a captivating performer and more than held her own in all the matches I saw, usually against opponents with a great deal more experience. Her unique charisma and already well honed skills and instincts will certainly only continue to develop and expand as her career goes on beyond its current 3 years.

Riho

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I’d like to finish this feature talking about two wrestlers who are on the other end of what I mentioned in the opening than those discussed so far. In contrast to showing poise and skill beyond their experience, these wrestlers already HAVE an incredible amount of experience at an extremely young age.

First is Riho, who like Kotori currently works for the Gatoh Move promotion. She began wrestling an the age of 9 and thus has an astonishing 10+ years in the business at only 19. A natural, likable underdog, Riho effortlessly rallies the crowd behind her with a bright personality and expert timing and execution in her wrestling. She is so masterful at her role I actually get the impression branching out a bit in terms of style and opponents would be good for her, as she comes across as someone who has all the tools to succeed at anything she wanted to.

Tsukushi

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Finally we have Tsukushi , another example of the unique situations in which a very young wrestler can already be a long established veteran. At 19 years old she’s already been wrestling for over 6 years, and it shows in her instincts, polish, and overall performance.

Tsukushi’s extremely smooth in the ring and knows how to make her offense look believable, even though she’s usually smaller than her opponents (often quite significantly). Her ring style is generally strike and high-flying based, so she approaches the size disadvantage in a distinctly different way than what I mentioned about Kyuuri. She comes across as a threat even when at first glance it seems she should be horribly outmatched, which is both a result of and a testament to her experience and devotion to her craft.

She’s always a stone’s throw from Ice Ribbon’s main title and is an invaluable utility player that can help the less experienced wrestlers, elevate others into title contention, or challenge the reigning champion herself to establish their worthiness. Tsukasa Fujimoto is the ace of Ice Ribbon, but Tsukushi is just as important to the promotion at present. And given her age they could build the promotion around her (and others mentioned here) for a long time to come.

Honorable mentions: 

Narrowing this list was tough, as I saw numerous young talents with bright futures.

Maruko Nagasaki might have been the most surprisingly impressive wrestler I saw relative to her experience. She was clearly still “earning her stripes” so to speak, but was solid in the ring and held up her end of matches so well I was shocked to learn she had debuted only 3 months prior to my seeing her wrestle. Also, Kurumi was recovering from injury during my trip, so I haven’t seen her wrestle yet. From what I understand if I had she would have been a certain inclusion in this list.

There are some excellent young wrestlers outside of my favorite promotions that I didn’t get to see as much of as I would have liked, so hopefully my path will cross more with wrestlers such as Sareee, Meiko Tanaka, etc going forward.

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That all for now. Hope I’ve brought a new wrestler or two to attention, and everyone mentioned is well worth checking out.

Japan Trip 2015: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo to close out 2015 / start 2016, during which I saw 17 shows from 8 promotions with 84 matches featuring 144 wrestlers. The vast majority of it was extremely good, so it was VERY difficult to cull down to 5 or so matches. There are a lot of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here.

Match reviews copied from my show specific blogs when possible.

Honorable mentions:

Paksa and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi

This was another great main event in a series of them from Gatoh Move. What helped set this one apart is that it was at their Ichigaya location. I’m incredibly impressed with what they can accomplish wrestling-wise in such a small space with no ring. This held its own with some of the best matches I saw my entire trip.

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Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yuhiki

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This match was scheduled to be Miyako Matsumoto and Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Azure Revolution (Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi). I was looking forward to seeing two of my favorites team against an established duo, but it wasn’t to be (and I have no complaints about how things turned out). As the match started Miyako got the mic and apparently had some complaints about teaming with Tsukka. She grabbed Risa and rebooked the match herself through force of will and it became Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi. Classic Miyako and it led to a ton of amusing moments. Tsukasa’s face when Miyako offered her the traditional pre-match handshake after ditching her was priceless. Tsukka’s incredible in every aspect of pro-wrestling and it was a treat to see her so many times during my trip.

There was an ongoing stipulation where the ring announcer would state a letter, and pinfalls could only be attempted after a move starting with it. One of the highlights of it was Tsukasa and Maya pulling out Miyako’s own Mama Mia on her, then an irate Miyako retaliating with Super Mama Mia once the letter changed. Miyako was easily one of the most entertaining parts of my trip, as she knows exactly how to work her gimmick for maximum effect and amusement. Her running laps around the ring in excitement as a victory celebration (with Tsukasa trying to trip her on each pass until successful) was magnificent.

 

Top 5:

 

5. Stardom Title: Meiko Satomura (c) vs Io Shirai

This was fantastic, with highlights that included Io performing an INSANE moonsault off of a staircase overhang, and of course the end which saw Stardom’s biggest star capturing their main title from an outsider.

 

4. REINA World Women’s Title Match between Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) and Maki Narumiya

This was originally advertised as the main event of its show, and honestly should have been. Even the ring announcer seemed to be going off old notes, as it was announced as the main instead of the semi-final. Tsukasa Fujimoto is incredible, and easily one of my favorite wrestlers in the world. She can do comedy, but is at her best when going all out in no-nonsense competitive wrestling.

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Thankfully that’s what we got here, as she and Maki went to war for the REINA title (after some early mind game attempts by the challenger). This was my first (and likely only) time seeing Narumiya, who definitely impressed. She kept up with Fujimoto brilliantly and it’s a shame she’ll be retiring soon.

 

3. Arisa Nakajima vs Kayoko Haruyama

Simply phenomenal. They beat the high holy hell out of each other, with forearm shots that thundered through the crowd. Haruyama’s guillotine leg drop from the top rope with Arisa standing on the second is one of the most brutal looking moves I’ve seen, and I was totally marking out for every German suplex variation they threw at each other. Was extremely lucky to have seen a few of Haruyama’s last matches, and Arisa was everything I’d heard and more.

 

 

1 (tie). JWP Tag Title Match: Jumonji Sisters (c) (Dash Chisako and Sendai Sachiko) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima)

This was perhaps the most anticipated match of my trip, and it did not disappoint.

I’d only seen the Jumonjis and Arisa once before, but that was enough to know how good they are and what they’re capable of. As I’ve mentioned incessantly, Tsukasa Fujimoto is one of the most consistently incredible wrestlers on the planet. Put the four of them together and you get magic.

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They threw everything they could at each other for fifteen action packed minutes, including a variety of innovative and impressive double teams. This was exactly the fantastically worked, logical, and wowing spectacle I wanted, ending in a huge title change to boot. Would have easily been alone on top as my favorite match of the trip, if not for Best Friends tearing it up in another title match on a later show.

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1 (tie). Ice Ribbon Tag Title Match: Best Friends (c) (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata and Ryo Mizunami)

In addition to my adoration of Best Friends I am likewise a huge fan of Misaki Ohata, so was VERY excited for this tag title match at Ribbonmania.  It was as excellent as expected, and is neck and neck with Best Friends vs Jumonji Sisters as my favorite match of my trip.

 

 

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I  was blessed to have such a great opportunity to visit Japan and see so much phenomenal wrestling. I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at the best of the best.

Gatoh Move 12/30/15 and 1/1/16 Live Thoughts

December 30, 2015 and January 1, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s Ichigaya shows are unlike anything I’ve seen before, and a lot of fun. I highly recommend taking advantage of any chance you get to attend one.

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The Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere. The quality of matches they are able to perform in this environment speaks volumes on the talent of all involved.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken during the roundtable discussion afterward (during which they hand out tea for everyone).

I was outside the venue looking in through one of the large windows for both shows I attended here, but it was still a good view and a lot of fun.

The 12/30 show opened with Daichi Kazato vs Paksa. It was a solid contest that served as a good example of how the matches were worked with no ring. Hard strikes and careful counter-grappling were the focus.

Next up was a 3-way match featuring “Kokutenshi” Jaki Numazawa vs Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro. This was a comedy match with specific rule and theme, which was explained ahead of time and helpful translated for us by Honda. There was a box of props off to the side. After every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using the props. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after 15 minutes won. This was extremely absurd and silly, but done well and still entertaining.

The main event was Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi vs. Kotori and Riho. Great match. They made excellent use of the venue, with whips into the wall between the windows, splashes from the windowsill, etc.

 

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They had some fun recognizing foreigners in the crowd and had Kotori practiced her English with a speech to us at the end of the roundtable portion.

To both open and close the show there’s a song (with dancing) performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, and Obi. It’s a nice touch that adds to the fun feel of Gatoh Move.

 

SAKI vs Kotori opened the 1/1 show. This is pretty much as good a 7 minute match as you’ll ever see. I was unfamiliar with both wrestlers before my trip but thankfully saw each several times during and they’re both fantastic. They did an amazing job within the constraints of time and venue.

The second match was again comedy based and again involved Antonio Honda and Sayaka Obihiro. This time after a 2-count the winner would essentially play charades to try to get guest judge SAKI to guess a phrase/person/etc from a pre-written batch of them. Honda was once again incredibly kind and helpful to us foreign fans by quickly writing an English translation for us before each attempt. I liked this a little more than the other one. Amusing stuff. This isn’t the type of match I want to see all over cards, but used sparingly and done well (like it was here) comedy matches can be a lot of fun and provide a nice change of pace.

Paksa and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi was another great main event. I’ll say again how impressed I am with what can be accomplished wrestling-wise in such a small space with no ring. This held its own with some of the best matches I saw my entire trip.

After both shows was an opportunity to buy merchandise and polaroids with the core roster. There was also a special surprise mini-celebration for Antonio Honda’s birthday after the 1/1 show.

To cap things off, for New Year’s there was a signboard passed around during the roundtable that the whole roster signed, then it was given away to the winner of an audience-wide game of rock, paper, scissors. I was lucky enough to win this awesome souvenir (which Emi Sakura added my name to afterwards). 🙂

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I can’t say enough about how unique and fun Gatoh Move’s shows at this venue were. Definitely a highlight of my time in Japan.

Gatoh Move 12/22/15 and JWP 12/23/15 Live Thoughts

December 22 and 23, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

I continued to have a nice variety of wrestling shows during my Japan trip as I checked out two more promotions I hadn’t previously seen (with more to come).

Gatoh Move is the first promotion I’ve been to with some emphasis on other entertainment as part of the wrestling show. It opened with three song and dance numbers. Two were performed by a foursome of various wrestlers consisting of founder Emi Sakura and three of the younger member of the roster. The last was by the tag-team Buribato (SAKI and MIZUKI), who would face Emi Sakura and Nanae Takahashi in the main event. It was interesting way to start out, and was reasonably entertaining.

The opening match was a mixed tag pitting Hiroyo Matsumoto and Cho-un Shiryu vs Sayaka Obihiro and Antonio Honda. This was as well worked a mixed tag as I’ve ever seen. When a story is being told and they play to the strengths of the format these can be excellent. Having four wrestlers in there with distinct personalities and including a great powerhouse like Matsumoto also helps. Fun start.

The midcard men’s matches were a good mix of styles, from a MMA type contest to a comedy match to a straight up sprint (which was excellent outside of some annoying ignoring of leg work). Most of it wasn’t quite on par with the women’s matches, but was a decent way to fill out the show. I will note that Brother YASSHI has incredible charisma. He was amazing on the mic even without me understanding a word of it.

Makoto and Riho vs Hirkaru Shida and Kotori was a solid tag team contest with a lot of interesting and impressive exchanges. It was great to see Shida wrestle again after a couple of years. Was my first time seeing the younger wrestlers in this match. Both showed a lot, particularly Riho.

The IWA Triple Crown title match between DJ Nira and Kaori Yoneyama was VERY strange, but highly amusing somehow. After appearing normal in the last match, Riho came out bound in the title belts as Nira’s second, acting subservient and getting up on the apron and repeating phrases in monotone to distract Yoneyama whenever she gained control. Nira’s offense consisted of lunging double punches, which missed as often as they worked. Somehow the comedy did come together and Yoneyama’s perseverence and eventual victory made this odd spectacle entertaining.

The main event featured Emi Sakura and Nanae Takahashi vs Buribato (SAKI and MIZUKI). Looked like a mismatch initially, but the younger duo quickly established themselves as a viable threat and this was a spectacular main event. Nearly twenty full minutes of excellent back and forth tag team wrestling.

The show ended with more singing and dancing from the same group that started the show, and the wrestlers made their way around the crowd shaking hands and thanking us for coming. Nice touch and this was a great, fun show overall.

 

 

The next day I saw JWP in the same venue. It’s a perfect place for wrestling shows with good lighting and a decent setup for seating.

After a press conference type intro that hyped the huge upcoming tag title match at JWP’s Korakuen show, Commando Boishoi faced KAZUKI. I was honestly expecting comedy from Boishoi given her attire, but in fact she’s a fantastic no-nonsense wrestler (and did an amazing mini-demo with nun-chucks as part of her entrance). Strong opener.

Leon and Meiko Tanaka vs Hanako Nakamori and Makoto was a great little tag match. Nice chemistry from both teams. I’ve seen Meiko a couple of times now and she’s very impressive for her age and experience.I have a feeling she’s just going to keep getting better and better. Her offense was a perfect fit with that of veteran Leon. I liked the pairing of Hanako and Makoto, and hope they team again.

I’d heard a lot about the Jumonji Sisters (DASH Chisako and Sendai Sachiko), and they certainly didn’t disappoint against Raideen Hagane and Yako Fujigasaki. JWP’s tag champs are incredible, and I am beyond excited to see them against two of my favorites in team Best Friends at JWP Climax. Their opponents here looked good too, playing to their strengths and making the most of Raideen’s size for fun spots.

Rabbit Miu vs Tsukasa Fujimoto was next. Miu is one of the favorites of a friend of mine, so even though she was yet another wrestler I hadn’t seen previously to this I knew a fair bit about her. She looked extremely good here and totally kept up with (as I’ve mentioned a time or ten) one of the best in the world. Miu has great instincts and is able to much more in the ring than you’d guess by her size. Excellent semi-main.

The main event of Arisa Nakajima vs Kayoko Haruyama was phenomenal, and the best match I’d seen on my trip so far. They beat the high holy hell out of each other, with forearm shots that thundered through the crowd. Haruyama’s guillotine leg drop from the top rope with Arisa standing on the second is one of the most brutal looking moves I’ve seen, and I was totally marking out for every German suplex variation they threw at each other. Lucky to be seeing a couple of Haruyama’s last matches, and Arisa is everything I’ve heard and more.

So these were two more awesome shows on my trip. 🙂 The JWP was the best yet, with five top notch matches on a card that just got better and better as it went. It’s been really cool that my first several shows have been all different promotions, as the contrast is really interesting.