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.

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.

The Future is Now 3

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 previously featured Timothy Thatcher, Dalton Castle, and Nicole Savoy in my first The Future is Now blog, and Su Yung, Leah Vaughn (then Leah von Dutch) and Takumi Iroha in my second.

Here’s a look at four more wrestlers who show signs of big possibilities down the road and all certainly have the potential to make that a reality.

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Courtney Rush 

I find myself starting yet another rising stars piece talking about an experienced wrestler (eight years), but Courtney Rush is not the same performer she was just a year or so ago. Her transformation into the demon assassin has been remarkable and made her one of the most compelling performers in all of wrestling. Her presence is absolutely captivating (and disturbing).

There isn’t anyone in wrestling more in command of their character than Rush (and only Dalton Castle and Su Yung even really come close). Her mannerisms are appropriately creepy and intimidating, and she blends it all seamlessly with her ring work. With Courtney now working for TNA under the name Rosemary the next step for her already seems to be underway.

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Matthew Riddle

I’ve never seen ANYONE develop as fast as Matt Riddle. His growth in the short year he’s been a part of pro-wrestling is incredible. He’s taken his MMA background and adapted it to the particularities of his new profession and gets better and better every time he gets into the ring. He’s still working on little details of character and the finer points of selling, but overall his level of performance, instincts, and charisma for his experience is unreal.

His time spent in Evolve has let him wrestle a variety of opponents and exposed him to many different styles, all of which can only help him continue towards fully becoming the star he already shows signs of being. Watching him wrestle fellow grapple based experts like Timothy Thatcher and Drew Gulak, as well as other world class stars like Chris Hero, Zach Sabre Jr., etc, has been an absolute treat.

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Shayna Baszler

Just about everything I just said about Matt Riddle also applies to Shayna Baszler. I only recently saw her for the first time so didn’t get to watch her progress over the course of her initial year like I did with Riddle, but she shows the same high aptitude and ability to incorporate her MMA skills into a pro-wrestling appropriate style. She’s more “dominant monster” where Riddle’s more “cocky but extremely dangerous,” which is awesome as they each are playing to their strengths and carving out their own niches.

Baszler already carries herself like a star and has the presence and in-ring charisma to match. The intimidating edge to her character is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see more from her recently formed team with Nicole Savoy and Mercedes Martinez.

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Rhia O’Reilly

O’Reilly has wasted absolutely nothing from any of her training and six years of experience and it shows in the way she continually evolves every time she gets in the ring. I feel she is sometimes underrated and it was wonderful to see her wrestle the some of the best Shimmer had to offer at the recent taping weekend, including Nicole Matthews, JWP Champion Arisa Nakajima, and the previously mentioned Shayna Baszler.

Rhia’s extremely adaptable and reminds me of an Arn Anderson type that can adjust to any style and make any opponent look their best. I hope she continues to get opportunities to really show what she can do, as she’s definitely capable of making the most of them.

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Hope everyone enjoyed my look at some more of the best on the indies, and definitely jump at the chance to see them if you get one.

The Future is Now 2

In addition to a high level of match quality and numerous talented wrestlers, I love watching independent wrestling to see people develop and get a glimpse of tomorrow’s stars today. I previously featured at Timothy Thatcher, Dalton Castle, and Nicole Savoy in my first The Future is Now blog, and here’s a look at three more wrestlers who show signs of big things down the road and all certainly have the potential to make that a reality.

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Su Yung: 

Similar to when I wrote about Timothy Thatcher it feels weird to include an eight year veteran of the ring like Su in a feature on “up and comers.” But as good as Su’s always been, she’s still shown new dimensions to her abilities in the last couple of years, and is becoming one of the most well-rounded wrestlers in the indies.

Most striking has been her exceptional character work, equally engaging as she’s varied from plucky babyface to her time as shrewish secretary Su to one of the most original and fascinating gimmicks I’ve ever seen – her Shine character which I refer to as “Psycho Su.” An insane character is extremely difficult to keep consistent, but Su does an excellent job of it. The reluctant, timid nature of her association with Valkyrie combined with a vicious, cruel edge once something sets her off is carefully and expertly executed and has tons of story potential. It’s something very different from anything else right now and Su keeps it on just shy of over the top, making her performance chilling and captivating rather than campy.

She also walks the line of having the character work integrated into the match without overdoing it or taking away from the action with a perfectly deft touch. The result is an engrossing, unique aura that makes her matches something special. Su’s excellent ringwork anchors said matches and brings everything together into a captivating whole. I’d love to see this character (or variations of it) outside of Shine, and in general I hope Su continues to get more opportunities to show the extremely well-rounded and versatile wrestler she’s become.

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Leah von Dutch

It’s been a treat to watch LvD rapidly grow and evolve over the course of her short career so far. Starting with good presence and solid ringwork already, she constantly improves every time I see her. She is one of the most driven young talents in the business, often talking in interviews about her desire to succeed and improve and always thinking about how to make herself useful and attractive to promotions to help her get future bookings. To that end she has produced numerous incredibly creative and impactful promos for her appearances for Shine and other wrestling organizations. Her imagination and willingness to experiment serves her extremely well and her promos are always memorable.

Her Dino Hunter character and crusade to “hunt” older wrestlers is taking off, and Leah’s shown great versatility in adapting what started as and really is more suited for a heel persona into a fan loved face role. Things are really clicking for her overall and she’s showing even more fire and determination in her return after missing several months with injury. I have no doubt she’ll quickly regain the momentum she was building and that the remainder of 2015 will be great for LvD.

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Takumi Iroha:

I haven’t seen nearly as much of Iroha’s ringwork yet as I’d like, but I’ve seldom been so impressed in a single appearance as I was with her. She’s in beyond incredible physical shape, and her wrestling ability and instincts are far above the two years she’s been in the business.She moves naturally and looks extremely comfortable in the ring. She held her own with much more experienced wrestlers wonderfully, including fantastic exchanges against legend Chigusa Nagayo.

As impressive were her sequences with Greek God Papadon. Mixed tag matches are tricky, as it takes a lot of skill to make opposite gender exchanges believable. Again Iroha showed presence and ability beyond her experience, finding ways to convincingly attack her much larger opponent and selling his offense logically and believably. Given what’s she already showing, Iroha’s potential is off the charts and I’d imagine she starts making the most of it sooner rather than later.

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Hope everyone enjoyed my look at some more of the best on the indies, and definitely jump at the chance to see them if you get one.

The Future is Now

One of the best things about following independent wrestling (besides all the awesome talent and matches) is watching people develop and discovering tomorrow’s stars today. Here’s a look at three wrestlers who haven’t quite fully “broken out” yet, but are tearing it up, are definitely ready for the next step in their careers and will soon.

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Timothy Thatcher:

It feels odd to list Evolve’s current champion and a ten year vet as an “up and comer,” but despite his status and experience I still don’t feel Timothy Thatcher’s as well known as he should be. He’s the most compelling in-ring performer I’ve seen in a long time. EVERYTHING is measured, executed carefully, and believable. He knows how to draw the crowd in to hold for hold wrestling, and the secret is that he’s always fighting. Each hold, strike, suplex, etc is clearly an attempt to get closer to winning the match. It’s a subtle but incredibly important thing that a lot of the Evolve roster understands and does well, but Thatcher’s perfected it. This ability has allow him and compatriots like Gulak and Biff Busick popularize a strong grappling based style that gives Evolve even more depth and variety to its cards.

It’s kind of hard for me to believe he’s only been in Evolve for a little over a year given what a year it was. Thatcher made an immediate impression against rival Drew Gulak and very quickly became I guy I ordered shows to see. He’s had a ridiculous number of matches that I thought were the best of their particular show, including phenomenal battles against Tommy End and Chris Hero earlier in 2015, and a title defense against Zach Sabre Jr. that was just unreal. Evolve has a great champion in Thatcher, and I can’t wait to see how much more he can accomplish.

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Dalton Castle:

“It’s about time someone came and made this world colorful!”

“The Party Peacock” own his character like no one else I’ve ever seen, making an absurdly over-the-top gimmick amusing and likable instead of annoying. It was an absolute treat seeing him live at an ROH tv taping this past June. He’s on from the moment he steps out of the curtain to the moment he goes back, including little things like giving the occasional male fan a back of the hand caress across the side of the face (like he does with his boys during interviews) instead of high fives. I unexpectedly earned that particular greeting myself by calling out “you’ll get them next time Dalton” as he walked back from an unsuccessful effort in a six-man match.

I also saw his expansive cape get momentarily caught in the stairs behind him on his way to the ring. Dalton noticed it tugging on him and spun around with an emphatic “what happened?!” Presented with no immediately apparent answer (as his boy had already released it) he gave a big sigh and looked puzzled with that half vacant stare of his. When greeted with a call of “don’t worry, it’s already fixed” from a fan he exclaimed “that’s right!” and went right back into strutting mode. It’s a ridiculously small thing, but to me the ten second exchange nicely highlights his complete commitment to staying in character every single moment.

I haven’t seen as much of his ringwork yet as I’d like, but what I’ve seen has been great. He knows how to incorporate his eccentric character and antics into matches without ruining them by going too overboard or missing the point of it being an athletic contest. Dalton Castle’s a strong wrestler with phenomenal charisma and I predict big things for his future.

Side note: Castle’s tweets are easily the highlight of my twitter feed. They’re generally in character and hilarious. My favorite so far was “Me in a hot dog eating contest at Coney Island… I don’t fully understand the rules” with a picture of him performing a German suplex.

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Nicole Savoy: 

I’ve seen Nicole Savoy at two Shimmer weekends now, and at both I and other Shimmer regulars came away talking about have impressive Savoy was and how much we wanted to see her come back. She has a natural presence that makes you take notice right away, which gives her an air beyond the relatively few years she’s been in the sport. But more than that, Savoy has amazing instincts and mannerisms. She’s friendly and appreciative outside of the ring, but when she’s “on” and in the ring she’s a complete, consummate heel. A friend of mine told her “you make me want to punch you in the face, and I mean that in the best possible way” (and of course she was thrilled, because it means she’s doing her job properly). She innately knows just how to act, move, and carry herself for maximum effect.

Beyond all of that, Savoy is also excellent in the ring. She’s more than held her own both against Shimmer mainstays like Evie, Heidi, Yim and Lufisto, and in opportunities to step into the ring with international superstars Misaki Ohata and Yumi Ohka. She gets better and better every time I see her. Nicole Savoy has all the tools so to speak, and right now it really looks like the sky’s the limit for her going forward.

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Hope everyone enjoyed my look at three of the best on the indies, and definitely check them all out if you get a chance. There are plenty of excellent wrestlers in the ranks right now, and I’ll be back to feature more soon.