Assemble is back! It’s the third show for the joshi collective, although I’ve also seen it being billed as volume 4 because volume 3 was cancelled, which was confusing, so I decided to stick with three. Sorry, none of that is important. What’s important is that we have a whole load of wonderful companies in the same venue, all going out of their way to make me happy. Isn’t that nice of them?
I don’t know why the ceremonial draw for match order is as exciting as it is, but I love it. The highlight here was Big Hash, who was last in line, pumping everyone up for her choice even though we all knew they’d been confined to match number two. WAVE, meanwhile, picked up the coveted main event slot, something Ohka looked slightly anxious about. What do they have planned?
Marvelous: Mikoto Shindo defeated Ai Hozan
Early on, the camera flashed across to Chigusa, showing her watching on as her new rookie made her debut.
These matches are always fascinating. You can’t go out there expecting perfection, but, at least for me, I’m looking for a reason to care about this new face. A spark of personality that suggests they’re someone to get attached to. Hozan has come through the Marvelous Dojo and I’ve no worries about her being a good wrestler, but what else is she?
And what we got in this match hinted at a few things I like. Ai seemed to have a spark of willful fire, an early refusal to lock-up with Shindo, preferring to raise her arm for a test of strength, our first hint of it. We then saw her throw a barrage of forearms in the corner, responding to Shindo swapping positions with her by switching straight back and eventually needing to be pulled away by Tommy, even as her blows grew weaker. It was a lovely display of that rookie enthusiasm, of someone knowing they’re outgunned and out skilled but giving everything they can to close the gap.
It made for a debut that can only go down as a success, particularly as the wrestling between those moments was solid too. Ai has got a long old journey ahead of her, and I’m sure there are already a million things she wishes she could do differently (there was a moment where she seemed to trip, although she recovered well), but as starts go, this was a good one.
Verdict: Strong Start, Kid!
Sendai Girls: Chihiro Hashimoto & Manami defeated DASH Chisako & Kanon
There were almost two halves to this match, the veterans and the rookies. The easy side to review is the veterans’ one, as obviously every snippet of DASH vs Hash ruled. They’re two great wrestlers who have faced off a million times, and they can do that shit in their sleep.
That leaves us with the more interesting side, the two rookies. Manami has been around a while, and even as someone who doesn’t watch much Sendai, I’ve seen a fair bit of her. Kanon, though, was a new prospect for me, and I came away quietly impressed. There were moments in this match where her ambition almost seemed to outstrip her abilities. Her attempt to leap back over the ropes to meet a charging Hash not quite paying off on the timing, for example, but that’s not something I’d class as a problem. She’s still figuring stuff out, and it’s a good sign that she’s willing to try more complex things. Plus, when it pays off, such as when she slipped through Manami’s legs to set up a flash pin with an assist from DASH, it looks awesome.
As for Manami, she might only be 16, but she already seems like a solid hand. She’s not perfect. There is a touch of scrappiness to her wrestling, but I actually prefer that, and she’s still figuring herself out. If nothing else, she’s at an age where she’s still growing, which must require adjustment, but if she keeps going the way she is, I’ve no doubt Manami will be great.
As a straight match, it was the hard-hitting, fast-paced affair you’d expect from Sendai Girls, but it was the rookies who stood out for me, and I came away impressed.
Verdict: Very Good
All the winners seem to be getting gifts from the sponsors, and it looked awfully like Big Hash and Manami were handed a box of hand gel. I might be wrong, but it’s very funny if true.
T-Hearts: ASUKA, Makoto & Chiyako Nagashima defeated Yumiko Hotta, Tsubasa Kuragaki & Riko Kawahata
Part of this match was missing from the VOD as I believe the stream went down, but most of it seemed to be there.
As you’d expect with those involved, this was at its best when it dissolved into a fight. Whether it was Tsubasa single-handedly ploughing through Makoto and Nagashima or Riko being beaten by chairs, they ditched all sense of a nice, orderly wrestling match in exchange for battering each other. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be. I like watching these people beat each other up, and it was a nice change of pace from the previous matches.
T-Hearts (aka Hotta) have tended to put ASUKA front and centre, and this was no different, as she would pick up the win. Who can blame them either? She’s brilliant, and with her and Hotta getting into it afterwards, it’s probably a decent bet we’ll see them again.
Verdict: Good Fun
Afterwards, there was an advert for Hotta’s anniversary show on April 4th. There is every chance that had already been announced, but it was the first time I heard anything about it.
PURE-J: Hanako Nakamori & Akari defeated Leon & Rydeen Hagane
A recurring theme of Assemble is me coming out of PURE-J matches wishing I liked them more than I did. I’ve struggled to connect emotionally with what they’ve served up, and this was no different.
It’s not a slight on the quality because they’re always good wrestling matches. Leon and Hanako are great, and the bits and pieces I’ve seen of Hagane and Akari are decent. The problem comes from the fact that PURE-J focuses on simple wrestling done well, and while that is enjoyable to watch, it makes it hard to click with a singular match. There’s nothing immediate about it, so without any knowledge of these wrestlers’ arcs, I end up watching from behind a screen, never connecting with what’s happening.
I always say that I’m going to go away and give them more of a chance, but honestly, I struggle to keep up with everything I’m watching already, so it’s probably not going to happen. Still, as I said, this was a solid showing, and if you’re a PURE-J fan, I suspect you’ll enjoy it a lot more than I did.
Verdict: Solid Match, But I Felt Nothing
SEAdLINNNG: Arisa Nakajima & Riko Kaiju defeated Nanae Takahashi & Honori Hana
Removing a SEAd match from its regular home and dropping it onto another card highlights just how fast these women work. The bell rings, and they are off, at least two of them always on the move as they go straight into beating the shit out of each other.
It’s a style that, at its worst, is PWG. A group of people flying around the ring doing stuff, with no real thought about what that stuff has achieved. Thankfully, that’s not SEAd. Every move in this match had an impact. Each chop, forearm or dropkick thudded home, crashing into its recipient and making sure that even I winced, thousands of miles away. These four women are hard as hell, so to beat each other, they have to kill each other, and that’s why they work the way they do.
It all stands in direct contrast to something like the Pure-J match I spoke about before. While that’s slow and methodical, trying to draw you in, this beats you round the head with its brilliance. They give you no chance to worry about what’s happening because fuck someone just landed on their head. It’s a perfect showcase, and while I obviously do know who all these wrestlers are, if I didn’t, I’d be finding out straight away.
Verdict: Go, Go, Go!
Mavelous: Mei Hoshizuki & Maria defeated Mio Momomo and Rin Kadokura
I wish I could bottle up a fraction of the joy that Mei Hoshizuki seems to go through life with. I get the impression you could drop that lass down a pit, come back a day later, and she’d still be sitting there with a grin on her face, happy to see you. Maybe it’s because they have so many dogs in the Marvelous Dojo? I’d be happy if I got to hang out with lots of dogs all day.
One has to assume these four were sat backstage, watching the SEAd match and vowing to upstage it. Because after me wanging on about the speed they were working at, the Marvelous bunch came out and blew them away. This was the kind of wrestling that can only be done by people who have been in the ring together so often that it’s instinctual. It can’t be possible to think as quickly as these four moved, every sequence perfectly positioned as they fly about the place, always inches from colliding into each other but never coming close. Again, it’s a style that can lose all momentum, become so elaborately choreographed that you don’t care, but Chigusa only breeds wee tanks. When they deliberately crash into each other, they fucking crash and the impact is felt by everyone.
Fittingly, in a wee callback to the first Assemble show, it would end in an upset, Mio this time on the receiving end rather than the one dishing it out. Even better, it was set up by Mei and Maria’s realisation that throwing Mio into the waterless moat that stands between the ring and the audience was a great way to try and count her out. Despite their repeated attempts, she would escape, but by the time she got back to the ring, she was so disorientated/tired that Mei bundled her up, stealing a massive victory for herself and leaving Mio to have a temper tantrum. Wonderful.
Verdict: I’m Counting That As Victory Via Moat
Stardom: MK Sisters (Mayu Iwatani & Starlight Kid) defeated MOMOAZ (Momo Watanabe & AZM)
Coming off that brilliant Budokan show, Stardom didn’t skimp on sending their best to Assemble, MOMOAZ and MK Sisters getting a chance to throw down.
And considering they must have all been exhausted after the week they’d had, I thought this was a decent match. They weren’t doing anything particularly new or exciting, and it was kept short, but these four know each other well and were never likely to put on a stinker. While I think this combination could almost sleepwalk to a good match, and they could certainly do a lot more than this, I never got the impression anyone was going through the motions.
If there is a complaint, it’s that it almost drops into that ‘solid match that there’s nothing to say about’ category. The result was about what you’d expect, and there was nothing in the structure or make-up of it that was particularly new. That’s only a problem for idiots like me who want to write about it, though. If you’re just looking for some solid wrestling, you’ll have no complaints.
Verdict: All Good
WAVE: Nagisa Nozaki defeated Sakura Hirota, Yuki Miyazaki and Yumi Okha in a four-way match
Someone on Twitter pointed out that WAVE apologised for this match both before and after it, which explains Okha’s reaction to drawing the main event spot. It also guaranteed that they had my attention.
And it was everything I hoped it would be. We had a minute of slow-motion wrestling, Hirota teasing a dive from the ring to the moat (one of the few times where her inability to get through the ropes was a good thing for her) and more kanchos than you could imagine (including Hirota doing the robot between them). I’ve always suspected that Assemble main events were decided beforehand, but this suggests that is not the case. These four had planned to deliver nonsense, and my god, they were going to deliver nonsense.
It also helps that they can wrestle. I probably sometimes give off the impression that anyone going into the ring and doing silly things is enough to get me on-board, but it’s really not. It has to hang off something, to follow the internal logic of the promotion or match, and that’s what people like Hirota do better than anyone. Breaking into a minute of slow-motion wrestling isn’t enough to get me cheering. Everything else around it has to work too.
The finish would see Nagisa get a measure of revenge for Hirota taking her title, booting her into next week before picking up the victory. I’m not au fait with WAVE’s booking style, so that might lead to a rematch, or it might not, but I’d be happy if it did because their last one was great. Either way, this made me smile and was a perfect way to end the show.
Verdict: All The Nonsense
That was another great Assemble, but I’d be lying if it didn’t feel like it was missing something. The previous efforts have felt like a celebration. Like everyone was having a lovely time, hanging out, dancing and singing. This was much closer to just being a show, a group of promotions coming together and doing their thing on the same card. That shift in mood perhaps makes it less surprising that Hokuto announced it may well be the final one. I hope that’s not the case, as I think there is still so much that could be done with this format, but let’s not pretend that politics wasn’t always going to rear its head. There are too many relationships and too many egos to keep something like this healthy. Fingers crossed that we see another Assemble, preferably with even more promotions, all coming together to mix and match, but if we don’t, these three shows have all been a blast, and I think they did what they needed to do.