Ice Ribbon’s latest trip to Korakuen Hall would see the ICExInfinity title find itself a new champion. With Tsukushi Haruka retaining the belt upon her retirement, the tournament to determine her successor has come down to four names: Tae Honma, Saori Anou, Ibuki Hoshi and Yuuki Mashiro. Who is going to lead Ice Ribbon into a new era? Time to find out.
Yuuki Mashiro defeated Ibuki Hoshi in the ICExInfinity Title Tournament Semi-Final
You often hear people accused of refusing to do things the easy way, but when you’re talking about Yuuki Mashiro, I think you have to amend the old saying. Yuuki doesn’t do things the expected way. There was a prime example when she had Ibuki tied up in the ropes, in the perfect spot for that classic dropkick to the back. Yuuki took off as if she would deliver but instead slipped out of the ring, grabbed a roll of tape and jogged over to try and attach Ibuki to the ropes. It was pure Mashiro, subverting every expectation.
With that in mind, you’d think her winning wouldn’t have been a surprise, but (at least for me) it was. Ibuki is so clearly a future ICExInfinity champ that (whether she was going to win the whole thing or not) the idea of her losing to Yuuki almost didn’t occur to me. I expected Mashiro to put up a fight, maybe get a couple of close falls off a flurry of flash pins, but of the two semi-finals, this is the one where I’d have bet the house I don’t own on the result. Don’t get me wrong, Yuuki is brilliant, but Ibuki feels like a future champion.
And yet, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes because this is Ice Ribbon. Sure, they’ve leaned on natural champions like Maya Yukihi and Tsukasa Fujimoto, but they also count Miyako Matsumoto as a former two-time ICExInfinity holder. If there is any place where someone like Yuuki Mashiro can dream of winning the big belt, it’s here, and she’s as likely to be a future champion as Ibuki is. Whether that happens or not, her confounding of my expectations continues to delight me. So while this match was short and sweet, the combination of the surprise result and Mashiro’s antics made it a great watch.
Verdict: The Gacha King Is Going For The Big One!
Saori Anou defeated Tae Honma in the ICExInfinity Tournament Semi-Final
Sitting backstage, watching an upset occur in the other semi-final, must have convinced Tae that she needed to get this one done quickly. When Anou accepted her handshake, she betrayed that trust, dragging her to the mat and going to work on that arm. Saori would escape that initial submission, but we already knew how this match would go. Honma had found her target, and now it was up to Anou to stop her.
There’s a reason matches like this are a wrestling staple. It works. And it works particularly well when you have a wrestler as talented as Honma. She was fantastic here as every move she made focused on getting that arm into her possession and twisting it. Anou would kick out of a pin only to find Honma already transitioning to an armbar, never giving her a second’s rest. She also took good advantage of Saori’s ridiculous flexibility, twisting her up in ways that can’t be healthy.
And yet, while she struggled to get on the offensive, Anou never gave up. Even when she got twisted into knots, Saori made it to the ropes, escaping thanks to a desperately flailing foot. Their goal was to make her as sympathetic as possible as she held that arm limply by her side, struggling to do anything with it. Then, when the opening came, she grabbed it, and that flexibility came to her aid as she bundled Honma up with one of those ridiculous bridges and escaped with the win.
It all left us with a match that wasn’t only an entertaining tactical battle but placed a big question mark over the main event. In any other situation, Anou would be the clear favourite, but with her arm messed up, the Gacha King odds improved. Oh, this is good pro-wrestling, folks!
Verdict: I’m Having A Lovely Time
COLOR’S (SAKI, Hikari Shimizu & Yuko Sakurai) defeated Cherry, Yappy & Kiku
I can’t say enough about how impressive COLOR’S have been this year, as everywhere they pop up benefits from it. Whether they’re holding tag titles or having multi-person tags, you can guarantee they’ll deliver a fun match.
This was no different. When you open the card with two tournament matches, it can be hard to switch gears to a gentle tag because, as a fan, you’ve already settled into a certain mindset and, with this not meaning a whole lot, it’s easy to let your mind wander. That leaves the wrestlers needing to deliver light fun while also keeping everyone engaged, which is a complex balancing act.
Thankfully, they delivered. Not only did we get all the usual antics you’d expect from an opener, but we also got a bit of bite from moments like Kiku daring to get into a kicking competition with Hikari. They toed that line well, and while this isn’t going to be what anyone remembers from this show, they did what they had to do.
Verdict: Nailed It
Maika Ozaki defeated Arisa Shinose
Arisa Shinose only recently started having exhibition matches, but Ice Ribbon clearly think she’s ready because they’ve thrown her into the deep end. She’s a seventeen-year-old, and I’ve been quietly impressed by the snippets we’ve seen, so I was looking forward to this one.
But while I love watching debuts, I kind of hate reviewing them. It is a moment that Arisa’s been working towards for ages, and she should be incredibly proud to have gotten there. So, the last thing she needs is some idiot on the internet piping up with their uneducated opinion. If you can get through your debut wrestling match in Korakuen without breaking your or your opponent’s neck, you’ve done great.
And as no necks were broken, or even came close to being so, I reckon that’s my review. However, I will add that what we saw of Arisa’s attitude here made me a fan. Right from the start, she showed a streak of stubbornness, laying into the much larger Ozaki (who did a superb job of being the veteran hand) with a series of forearms that weren’t making much of a dent. If she can keep, and hone that, then the chances of her becoming one of my favourites are high.
Verdict: Welcome To Ice Ribbon, Arisa!
Maya Yukihi & NATSUMI defeated Ram Kaicho & Saran
Saran has been taken under the wing of Renemy, with Ram, in particular, taking a liking to the youngster. Unfortunately, she had to learn that just because the wee goth accepts you, it doesn’t mean you can get away with being a menace. Having tried to cute her way into Maya’s affection, she delivered a stomp to the foot and quickly received a beating in revenge. Poor kid.
Still, it helped continue the trend of Saran being one of the highlights of these undercard tags. She’s limited with what she can do in the ring, but her character work is constantly improving. The wee one has found her confidence and is now learning how to lean into being a wee terror. I’ve said it before, but the comparisons to Tsukushi are glaring, and there aren’t many better compliments than that.
Outside of that menace, I always come out of NATSUMI matches, hoping she gets the chance to wrestle more often. She’s got all the potential, but her limited schedule makes it hard to get to the next level. I’ve no doubt that if she does expand her schedule, she’ll get there, and her picking up the win suggests Ice Ribbon agree, but fingers crossed it happens sooner rather than later. Still, she was good, and when you throw in Ram and Maya, this was an enjoyable match.
Verdict: A Nice Time
Makoto & Hamuko Hoshi defeated Princess A~Min & Princess Misa Kagura
A group of wrestlers deciding that they’re all princesses is the kind of nonsense that I can’t help but adore. It’s joyous silliness that leaves me grinning from ear to ear, and the fact they’ve all fully embraced it makes me so happy. As a general rule, I’m pro guillotine, but these princesses can stick around.
It’s also true that if I were to pick a couple of veterans to join in with the princesses, Makoto and Ham would be up there as they’d be the perfect role models for the current trio. Sadly, that wasn’t the case here, but watching them all face off was still fun. It was a straightforward affair, but they kept it tight, getting in and out quickly, so the appeal of this combination never wore off, which was enough to keep me happy.
Verdict: Princess Are Great, The Match Was Alright
BIG DEKAI (Yuna Manase & Totoro Satsuki) defeated Asahi & Kaho Matsushita to retain the International Ribbon Tag Titles
As wrestling fans, it’s easy to become obsessed with finding the new and exciting. I think that is particularly true in joshi, where talent turnover is high and having young, exciting wrestlers is common. You only need to look at Asahi and Kaho, who are teenagers but already feel like credible challengers to the tag titles. At no point in this match did they look out of place even as they battled against wrestlers who were bigger, stronger and more experienced than them. It’s hard not to be thrilled about that.
However, on the other side of the ring, you have the perfect example of why patience is key. I would argue that it is only in the last few months that Totoro has clicked as a wrestler, and she’s now been doing this for over five years. That’s not to say she sucked before, she didn’t, but she’s flourishing now. In Yuna Manase, she’s found a partner who bolsters her confidence, helping her play to her size and prove the perfect opponent for these two youngsters looking to make their name at her expense. Totoro’s rise isn’t less exciting than Asahi and Kaho’s because it took a bit longer.
Most importantly, when put together, it made for an exciting match. These teams were a natural pairing, Asahi and Kaho darting around the ring, trying to find an opening to get past Totoro and Manase’s intimidating power. On the home stretch, Matsushita desperately battled Yuna, doing everything she could to keep her shoulders on the mat, but it wasn’t enough. Yuna’s strength and experience came to the fore, and these young’uns were sent packing. Still, their time will come. Right now, though, it’s a chance for Totoro to remind us that new isn’t always better, and she’s doing a great job of it.
Verdict: Power Beat Youthful Exhuberance
Our next challengers quickly made themselves known, Hamuko and Makoto coming out to stake their claim (complete with Ham singing a song which seemed to catch Makoto off-guard). BIG DEKAI may have seen off the kids, but this will be a very different challenge.
Saori Anou defeated Yuuki Mashiro to win the ICExInfinity Title
Now and then, a match will come along, which you watch not because you’re into the story or because you think the action will be great. In fact, all that stuff fades away, and you forget that what you’re watching is part of a bigger whole. It’s that moment where wrestling becomes (for lack of a better word) real. You’re perched on the edge of your seat, feeling every bump and living every near fall as you scream your hero onto victory.
Unfortunately, I tend to pick heroes who don’t win too often. If you haven’t guessed, I was firmly in Yuuki Mashiro’s corner, willing her on to win an unlikely title. Sure, the odds were long, and twenty seconds of stepping back and thinking about it would have told me that Anou was probably going to win, but fuck that. The fun comes from living in that moment, where everything is possible.
Which, I will accept, perhaps isn’t ideal for a review. If you don’t have the connection I have with Yuuki Mashiro, then you won’t feel the way I felt, and if you’re reading this, you presumably already know the result, so even if you do, the thrill is gone. However, I’ve never claimed to be a great reviewer, so why start now, and I loved how this match tore away a dream that I didn’t realise I had until Mashiro won her semi-final. The closing minutes, in which Yuuki pulled every trick out of her bag to try and bundle up Anou, were incredible. I was up and down, yelling and hollering, desperate for one of them to work. When she poked Saori in the eye and rolled her up, I genuinely thought she’d done it only for the kick out at the last millisecond to rip the dream away.
They played off that dream too. When Yuuki kicked out of Anou’s bridging German at one, I suddenly felt like she could take anything thrown at her. Today was her day, and this wasn’t just a desperate act of defiance. Of course, I was wrong, and Anou eventually slew the Gacha King and became the first ICExInfinity champion of a new era. She’s a brilliant choice, who has the potential to be an outstanding champion, but I’ll think about that tomorrow. Right now, I’m too busy enjoying mourning the loss of a previously unknown dream.
Verdict: Wonderful, But Heartbreaking
That’s how you do a great Korakuen. There was a brief dip in the middle of this show as it got a bit too caught up in meaningless tags, but they got over that quickly, and the tournament plus the tag title match was enough to make this a must-watch. I’m still sad that Yuuki lost but also excited to see where this new-look Ice Ribbon goes next.
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