Where do these months keep going? I swear I finish one of these bastards up and then two days later have to write another. Still, July continued what I think has been a strong year for wrestling delivering everything from exciting rookies to new champions to violent cage matches. Does that sound like your idea of a good time? Because it’s mine.
Riko Kawahata vs Haruka Umesaki, NAMI 1 (1/6/22), WAVE
Perhaps surprisingly, the reason Catch The Wave is my favourite tournament isn’t that they’ve put together a literal nonsense block where every match appears designed to delight me (although that does help). No, it’s because, unlike most wrestling round-robins, it doesn’t draw from a single roster backed up by one or two outsiders. Instead, it takes pieces from across the scene and throws them together.
2022’s Future Block is a perfect example of why that’s a great idea. It put five young wrestlers from Pure-J, Prominence, Diana, WAVE and T-Hearts (whatever that might be) and gave them a chance to see how their different backgrounds mesh together. I loved watching someone like Suzu Suzuki, who blends Ice Ribbon and deathmatches, take on the Nagayo disciple Cohaku. Or, as was the case here, Sareee pupil Haruka up against Hotta protege Kawahata.
And this match ruled. As you’d expect, these two didn’t hold back one bit, every strike coming with a sting in its tail. What was even more intriguing, though, was seeing how Riko and Haruka built the action. Early on, Kawahata got some impressive offence, only for Haruka to fight back by going after her legs with Figure Fours. It wasn’t perfect (Riko could have sold that damage better), but they did an impressive job of ramping up the excitement, and it felt like the first meeting between two people who could do this over and over. On this evidence, I certainly hope that will be the case.
Haruka and Riko both also had great matches with Suzu this month, which I’d recommend checking out.
Arisa Shinose vs Asahi, Ice Ribbon #1205 (4/6/22), Ice Ribbon
I’ve said it before, but my favourite thing about wrestling is watching people grow up. There are folk I first saw when they were literal children now flourishing in major companies, and it’s hard not to get the warm and fuzzies about that. However, sometimes, you don’t need to invest years. Arisa Shinose’s first ever appearance saw her develop in real-time.
Now, I’m not saying she went from green rookie to Chigusa Nagayo in this three-minute exhibition, but she did relax. In the opening seconds, Arisa looked (understandably) awkward and nervous, wrestling like someone trying to remember her lines. And yet, by the end, she was starting to get comfortable. You could almost see the nerves float away as she found it in her to give Asahi a bit of a fright.
Of course, this was only the first step on what will hopefully be a long old journey for Shinose, but it was an impressive one. If she can improve that much in three minutes, imagine how far she can go in the months and years ahead?
Miyu Yamashita vs Miyuki Takase, No Pressure (5/6/22), Deadlock Pro-Wrestling
Miyu Yamashita vs Miyuki Takase is not a showdown we’re likely to see anytime soon in Japan. TJPW wrestlers don’t tend to step out of their home promotion, and they’re very select about who they bring in, so there’s every chance this meeting in Deadlock Pro will be the only time they face off in their entire careers. It’s a good thing then that it was the definition of a lovely old time.
Not that there was ever any chance of it not being so. Miyu and Miyuki are Miyu and Miyuki, and it’s almost impossible to imagine them not being sublime together. What was interesting about it, though, was that it felt like a blend of two different match types. On the one hand, we got two foreign wrestlers playing the hits for fans who were simply delighted to see them. On the other, you had that one-off dream match feeling. That combo allowed them to deliver a blend of entertaining frothy fun-time wrestling (Takase doing a lap of the arena before trying to hit a lariat) and serious shit (the final few minutes).
It was a combination that, if anything, made this even more unique. If this were to happen in Japan, it would be a Korakuen main event or perhaps a title match, so any messing around would have to take a backseat. We’d get serious ass-kicking from minute one, and (don’t get me wrong) it would fucking rule. However, there was also something nice about seeing Miyu and Miyuki let loose together, have a great showing but not feel the pressure to go all out. The odds are, we’ll never see a match like this again, and that’s pretty damn cool.
Ai Houzan vs Takumi Iroha, Marvelous (12/6/22), Marvelous
I’ve never trained as a wrestler, and as an unfit thirty-year-old, the odds I ever will are becoming increasingly slim. However, that hasn’t stopped me from hearing veteran hands complain that the youngsters need to slow it down. It appears to be the go-to complaint about the inexperienced, and if you watch your standard nervous rookie, it makes sense. Everything they do tends to be frantic, limbs flailing as they rush about the place. They’re so worried about doing the next thing wrong that they don’t let the last one land before moving on to it. It’s something that Takumi Iroha must have noticed in Ai Houzan because this entire match was about her forcing Ai to put the brakes on.
And for all the praise I heap on Houzan, I don’t think anyone could deny that she’s made frantic her brand. Ai is a whirling dervish of a wrestler, and as much as I adore her for it, there are times when she needs to stop and think. So, Iroha made her do so. When she attacked before the bell, Takumi calmly stopped her, reversing her back to her corner and starting again. Then, whenever she looked to be building up a head of steam, Iroha was there to cut her off and slow her down, forcing Ai to work at her pace. It made this unlike anything else we’ve seen from Houzan and, dare I say it, was perhaps the best single match of her young career.
The best part, though, is that Takumi also realises that Ai’s frantic nature shouldn’t be eradicated. Instead, it’s something to be harnessed and used. Towards the end, when she came off the leash, Houzan got some of her loudest reactions as she refused to die, kicking out time after time and forcing Iroha to go big to put her away. It was brilliant wrestling, and while I hope we get that scrappy rookie for a long time yet, it gave us a hint of who Houzan could become, and, as I’ve been saying since day one, she’s going to be something special.
Yuka Sakazaki vs Shoko Nakajima, Cyber Festival (12/6/22), TJPW
I saw a few people complain when TJPW put this match together that it didn’t get any build, and Koda had thrown it together to get a couple of big names on the card at CyberFest. It’s a viewpoint I’d understand from anyone who only started watching TJPW recently. With Yuka over in America, their face-to-face time was limited, which might make you feel like this was a throwaway choice. However, when it comes to long-term fans, I assume anyone with that opinion is either being stupid or deliberately obtuse. Shoko and Yuka don’t need to have a few 50/50 encounters in tag matches to build a title match because their careers are inextricably intertwined. This couldn’t possibly have more build.
And that’s important because this was the kind of match that you get when two people have spent their wrestling lives together. Shoko and Yuka appear to have total faith in each other, and with that comes the freedom to ram their foot on the accelerator and go. It also means they’re ridiculously smooth, with moments like Shoko twisting to land on her feet from a Yuka suplex being so silky that I rewound multiple times to figure out what she’d done. They bring the best out of each other, and that’s always a pleasure to watch.
Perhaps more important than the quality of the match, though, was how much this felt like a big deal. From those ridiculously brilliant entrances to Yuka pulling out the Magical Chicken Bastard, this presented itself as the main event of a massive show. It might not have gone on last, but it could have done, and I don’t think it would have looked out of place even if TJPW doesn’t have the history and significance of NOAH or DDT. Shoko and Yuka’s past gave this its weight, and while I guess you might miss that if you’re not up to date on the promotion, that’s where Wrestle Universe comes in. You can now go and find it for yourself, then come back to this and fall in love with it all over again.
Saori Anou vs A~Min, Ice Ribbon #1208 ~ Yokohama Ribbon (18/6/22), Ice Ribbon
I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from hoss princess A~Min. As I said in my most recent Ice Ribbon review, a group of wrestlers deciding they are princesses and leaning into as far as they can, gets my full support. However, when you combine that with A~Min embracing her inner bulldozer, it becomes one of my favourite things. Her coming out in a frilly dress and chopping the shit out of Anou delighted me in every single way, and I hope those princesses continue to shine.
She-1 (18/6/22-19/6/22), Pro-Wrestling EVE
June was the first time I’d travelled to a wrestling show since I went to Japan back at the end of 2019/start of 2020. That’s a long time to go without a fix, and Eve’s She-1 was a fantastic way to get back into the mix. Not only were there plenty of great matches, but I met a whole load of people I’d previously only talked to on the internet, and not one of them tried to murder me, which is always a relief.
And while I’m not going to single out any particular moment here (although seeing Takumi Iroha, ASUKA/Veny and Chigusa Nagayo kick ass was fantastic), I did want to talk about the joy of live wrestling. I get a lot out of sitting at home watching on my laptop (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t go on about it quite so much), but spending a weekend at shows reminded me that it is a pale imitation of being there in-person. It’s not just getting close to the action or trying to explain to Takumi in bad Japanese that Marvelous is my favourite promotion, but the feel of a live show. There’s something about being in a room with a ring that makes my heart beat a little bit faster, while the sound of someone hitting the mat never fails to make me grin from ear to ear. There’s a visceral side to wrestling that can’t be conveyed through a screen, and it’s only when you’re feet from the ring, in danger of being taken out by a wild dive, that you can appreciate it.
Somehow, this was my first ever EVE show, as my general lack of interest in British wrestling has never tempted me south before. However, after that weekend, I’d be shocked if it was my last.
The Magical Sugar Rabbits (Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki) vs Kyoraku Kyomei (Shoko Nakajima & Hyper Misao), Additional Attack (19/6/22), TJPW
I am having a lovely time with the current MagiRabbi tag title run. Not only because it’s MagiRabbi, and they consistently put on brilliant matches, but because they’re also delivering a wide range of styles. Whether they’re coming up against plucky rookies, hardcore delinquents or, as was the case here, nonsense merchants, Yuka and Mizuki have faced the challenge, adapted to it and overcome it.
All of which feels doubly important when you have a team like the Sugar Rabbits on top. I’ve made the point before that they’re not so much the Aces as the unbeatable gods of TJPW’s tag division, so to convince anyone that they’re under threat, you need to do something different. It wasn’t even enough that Shoko had beaten Yuka at CyberFest because everyone knows that when you put her with Mizuki, she’s a different beast. No, Nakajima and Misao needed to try and ride a bike into them after covering them in silly-string to convince the world they had a chance.
On top of the nonsense, you had four brilliant wrestlers who are more than capable of holding their own. With the antics stripped away, this was about Mizuki helping Yuka to push through and survive the things that beat her at CyberFest, avoiding the killer Senton, isolating Misao and managing to get the win. It was like they were dishing up two separate stories, the nonsense for some and the deeper psychology for others. They came together to make this the latest in a long line of great MagiRabbi matches, and I’d be happy if they never ended.
Mayumi Ozaki vs Momoka Hanazono vs Rina Yamashita, Noise, Noise, Noise (19/6/22), Oz Academy
I only keep half an eye on Oz Academy these days, nipping in to check out the matches that appeal to me, which, more often than not, tend to involve Momoka Hanazono. Having had a brilliantly entertaining outing with Aja Kong last month, June saw her get in the ring with Mayumi Ozaki, and the results were predictably brilliant.
Momoka brings a gleeful innocence to wrestling, which isn’t me suggesting she’s an idiot, she knows it’s a fight, but she’d also quite like to hug Aja Kong. Mayumi Ozaki, meanwhile, can be described in many ways, but gleeful and innocent are not two of them. Before the bell even rang, Momoka was hopping around the ring, a giant grin on her face, and you could almost hear Ozaki’s blood starting to boil.
The secret ingredient, however, was Rina, who is used to making every match she is part of at least 30% better but did a particularly stellar job here. Her role was to go to war with Ozaki (they would eventually brawl (alongside their seconds) to a double countout, leaving a knocked-out Momoka to clinch an unlikely victory) while also enabling all of Hanazono’s antics. She was delighted to egg this giddy youngster on, aiding her in winding Ozaki up as much as possible.
As a final note, Momoka, having won, not only continued to sell being knocked out but stayed there through quite a long post-match angle, seemingly forgotten by everyone else in the ring. It was an outstanding commitment to the bit and would have been enough to make me love this all by itself.
Takumi Iroha & Chikayo Nagashima vs Mio Momono & Rin Kadokura, Marvelous (24/6/22), Marvelous
MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK! MIO’S BACK!
I did consider making this section a block of text saying only that, but it would be lazy, and I wouldn’t wish anyone to accuse me of that. However, it’s hard to talk about this match without simply screaming that the best wrestler in the world has returned from injury, and everything is better because of it. There’s a lot of horrible shit happening right now, so you’ve got to take your pleasures where you can get them, and Mio Momono being back in a Marvelous ring will keep me smiling on some dark days.
To expand beyond that, though, what shocked me about this is how clearly Mio is back. There was no easing in or testing the waters. Momono came out flying, going into battle with Takumi and bumping around the ring like nothing had been wrong. Then again, maybe that shouldn’t have been surprising. Mio might not look like the toughest wrestler at first glance, but she fights like someone for whom losing isn’t an option. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her go out and take it easy, so the idea that she would on her return is ridiculous. Momono never stops coming forward, and that’s a big part of what makes her so brilliant.
Of course, everyone else was also fantastic, and Takumi probably wouldn’t have let Mio take it easy even if she had wanted to. However, no matter how much I might try to focus on something else, this was all about Mio’s return. She’s back, she’s still brilliant, and I’m so happy to see her.
Emi Sakura vs Sayaka, ChocoPro 239 (25/6/22), ChocoProLIVE!
The opening blow of this ChocoPro main event was Sayaka hitting Emi Sakura with a single forearm that sent her crumpling to the mat. It was a simple move, but it meant a lot. Because while Sayaka would, unsurprisingly, go on to lose, it showed us how far she’s come in the last few months. Emi walked into this in full-oni mode, brimming with haughty arrogance, and with one strike, Sayaka made it clear that if Sakura thought she was going to bulldoze through her pupil, then she had another thing coming. The match would go for nearly fifteen minutes, but everything we needed to know was in that opening blow. Sayaka is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and her future gets a little more exciting with every match.
Yuuki Mashiro vs Saori Anou, After the Rain (26/6/22), Ice Ribbon
I already wrote about the feelings this match inspired in me, so if you want a bit more of that, click here.
Right now, though, I want to talk about where Ice Ribbon is. Over the last year or so, they’ve lost most of their main event scene (present and future) alongside a decent chunk of their upper-midcard. As much as I’ve never lost faith in their ability to get through it all, there’s no doubt it’s been a blow. Bloody hell, if the only people who had left were Suzu Suzuki and Tsukushi Haruka, we’d probably still have been worrying about where they go next.
And yet, coming out of the show, Ice Ribbon feels like a company heading in the right direction. Anou is an exciting and reliable ICExInfinity holder, perfect for steadying the ship while building up their next homegrown star. As for who that star will be, they’re spoiled for options. Out of the youngsters, Ibuki Hoshi, Yuuki Mashiro, Asahi, and Kaho Matshushita already look like future champions. Then you have Maika Ozaki, Totoro Satsuki and even Hamuko Hoshi, all of whom have recently been performing at a high level. That’s before we even touch on other regular freelancers who could be called upon in a pickle, with everyone from Makoto to Tae Honma feeling like a legitimate option.
Most importantly, though, the last few months have shown that Ice Ribbon is still Ice Ribbon. Whether it’s Yuuki being in main events, Saran’s development into a menace or the brilliant gauntlet series they did not long back, it’s still a world I love. I never really worried about them finding wrestlers to replace those who were gone, but the idea that these changes might shake the culture around the company did pop into my mind. Thankfully, those worries were unfounded, and we can finally put the chaos behind us and get excited about the future.
Tam Nakano vs Natsupoi, Fight In The Top (26/6/22), Stardom
Holy shit, these two beat the crap out of each other. With Stardom seemingly deciding to do a cage match out of nowhere (although I don’t watch a lot of their shows, so maybe that’s unfair), they turned to Tam to provide a big emotional feud worthy of the stip. Tam being Tam, she delivered, diving into her history with Natsupoi (which extends back to her short-lived time in AWG) to bring a match worthy of taking place in one of wrestling’s classic gimmicks.
And like most wrestling fans, I have seen a lot of cage matches, but I’ve seen few that made me wince as often as this one. Yes, there have been bloodier brawls (AEW delivered one very recently), but Tam and Poi seemed determined to throw each other into and off that cage in a whole host of inventive ways. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone do a suplex from the ropes into the steel, but they pulled it off, and it looked brutal. Then there was the visual of Tam choking Poi out while dangling her off the top of the cage, only letting go when she’d passed out, at which point she dropped lifelessly to the mat below. It was a hell of a finish.
But then that’s what we’ve come to expect from Tam, isn’t it? Certain sections of Stardom’s fanbase seem to have turned against Nakano, but as a casual viewer, she is one of my favourites. Few wrestlers can deliver an emotional rollercoaster of a match like Tam, and the way she builds to these epic conclusions always hooks me. I usually swear away from this overblown, big show style of wrestling, but Nakano has a talent for drawing me in, and this was no different.
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