Ice Ribbon finished up July with a trip to Korakuen, and while it took me a bit longer than usual to catch up with what went down, I am always in the mood for an Ice Ribbon show. They were dishing up a number one contender match, another visit from Hikaru Shida and a tag-title bout, so let’s get on with it.
Nao Ishikawa & Saran defeated Yuko Sakurai & Kiku
Princess Nao was returning from injury (although she’s now caught COVID as that poor lass continues to have no luck), and Saran seemed unimpressed at being teamed up with her. After sulking through their entrance, she grabbed the chance to leap on Ishikawa’s back when Kiku and Sakurai had her in a double submission and gleefully joined in on giving her a bit of a kicking afterwards. Even when the two pulled out a double-team, Saran found a way to inflict a bit of pain on Nao, which isn’t very princess.
Outside of Saran being a delightful pest, a role she continues to excel in, I came out of this impressed by Yuko and Nao’s interactions. They’re not two people you’d peg as particularly physical wrestlers based on first impressions, but they both have a bit of that in their game, and watching them bounce off each other was fun. Nao’s career has been very stop-start, but she’s still turning into a good wrestler, so fingers crossed she can stay healthy and start to build some momentum.
Whatever had annoyed Saran at the start was forgotten after Nao got the win, as she leapt into Ishikawa’s arms and let her carry her backstage. It was a sweet ending to a fun opening match with a strong return from Nao.
Verdict: Welcome Back, Nao!
Tae Honma defeated Kyuri
Kyuri was making her return after over two years out of the ring, and it gave this match a real celebratory vibe. Tae wasn’t even bothering to hide her delight about it, excitedly greeting her and joining in with the clapping fans.
Honma might have been regretting her warm welcome when, shortly after, Kyuri had her trapped in a hold and decided to make it a little bit worse by clamping her hand over Tae’s mouth. Two years is a decent chunk of time to be out of the ring, but she looked good here, settling into the action quickly and putting on a lively and entertaining performance.
As the match went on, Tae regained control, and while Kyuri had a couple of hope spots, Honma was too much for her to handle. Of course, this was never actually about the result. What was important was that Kyuri delivered a promising comeback, which she did. Sure, it played into a fairly common trope (returning wrestler catching someone off-guard but not having enough in the long run), but it’s a good one, so you won’t hear any complaints from me.
Verdict: Welcome Back, Kyuri!
Stephanie Vaquer & Dalys defeated Hikari Shimizu & Kaho Matsushita
Poor Kaho and Hikari were cast in the role of sacrificial lambs on this show, sent out to welcome CMLL’s Vaquer and Dalys to Japan by getting beat up. Still, they performed that task admirably, and wrestling is one of the few industries where getting beat up with style is a positive.
And the point of them getting that kicking was to introduce Vaquer and Dalys to anyone who hasn’t seen them before, a camp I had one foot in (I’ve seen a bit of Dalys on previous Japan trips). In that sense, this match nailed it, the two of them striking an imposing picture across from the much smaller Shimizu and Matsushita. They were a dominant force, as the only way the Japanese team could get any offence going was with quick double teams, and even those were limited in their effectiveness.
It wasn’t perfect, Vaquer and Shimizu had an exchange that ended with them both going for dropkicks at the same time, and it looked pretty awful, but that’s me nitpicking. This match did everything it wanted to do, and I’m intrigued to see what Ice Ribbon has planned next.
Verdict: Welcome, Dalys And Stephanie!
KISSmeT Princess (A~Min & Misa Kagura) defeated Ram Kaicho & Sumika Yanagawa
Ram and the princesses are one of those combinations where one look is enough to tell you it will deliver gold. Who doesn’t want to see the wee goth hang out with some people in frilly dresses? When you throw in KISSmeT Princess’s recent quest to recruit Princess Jasmine (Sumikawa), this match had the potential to be a lot of fun.
Potential that it lived up to. Sumikawa has never stood out to me in the past, but I thought she was great here, with her kicks looking much crisper than they did before. Combine that with the always reliable Ram and my favourite hoss princess pairing of Misa and A~Min, and it was a blast to watch. They delivered fun, smile-inducing wrestling that flew by in a warm fuzzy glow of contentment.
Plus, it built to Yanagawa embracing her inner princess and betraying Ram, breaking a pinfall and leading a three-on-one attack that was only going one way. Normally, I’d quibble about someone waiting till the end of a match to do that, but hey, when the princess feeling hits you, it just hits you. Plus, to add to the fun, the post-match saw Ram wearing A~Min’s hat, perhaps embracing a little bit of her inner princess. Her wife would approve.
Verdict: There’s No-One To Welcome, But The Match Was Fun
Maika Ozaki defeated Asahi in an ICExInfinity Number One Contender Match
In the opening minutes of this match, I worried these two weren’t clicking. Everything felt a bit stilted as it looked like their chemistry was off. Thankfully, it seemed they just needed a bit of time to warm up because once this got going, they quickly put my worries behind them.
And I know it’s wrestling 101, but I always enjoy a match where someone is aiming to overcome a powerhouse. Ozaki was the one who took control, attempting to snap Asahi over her knee as that strength came to the fore. Maika’s improvement over the last year or so shines in those moments, as she’s got much better at imposing herself on the action. Asahi, meanwhile, felt like the underdog, but never one that was out of the fight. She’s got a scrappiness that works in a match like this, helping you to believe she might chip away at her intimidating foe.
Most of all, this was another sign that Ice Ribbon’s future is in good hands. Yes, it might take a bit of work before these two are drawing larger crowds at Korakuen than the one Ice had here, but from an in-ring point of view, they’re already capable. Ozaki won the right to challenge Anou, but these wrestlers have plenty of title challenges in their future.
Verdict: Power Wins The Match, We All Win In The Long-Run
Hikari Shida defeated Ibuki Hoshi
I’ve been somewhat of a Shida sceptic in the past, but I tell you what, she’s been great recently. Regardless of what you think of AEW, and I’m hardly a super-fan, you can’t deny it’s given her a bigger platform, and she seems determined to use that to lend as many people a hand-up as possible. Against Ibuki, she nailed the role of the out-of-town badass coming in to teach a youngster a couple of lessons.
More importantly, Ibuki put in another fantastic performance. Whether it was the fiery defiance of laying into Shida with chops or the desperation at the end when she grabbed onto her leg, preventing her from taking off to hit the Running Knee, Ibuki wrestled this like someone who knew this was a chance to prove herself. We’re all comfortable in her position as Ice Ribbon’s future, but she still hasn’t got that big, signature win, and the chance to put down someone like Shida drove her to give her all in this one.
It came together to give us a classic joshi-style match, as the veteran got the win, but it’s a classic for a reason. With Ibuki not in either title picture right now (and I’d put at least a few quid on her being the person to dethrone Saori somewhere down the line), this was the perfect match to keep her busy, and she delivered strong.
Verdict: Classic Tropes, Done Well
Makoto & Hamuko Hoshi defeated BIG DEKAI (Yuna Manase & Totoro Satsuki) to win the International Ribbon Tag Titles
Ham and Makoto are the last of a dying breed in Ice Ribbon (which makes 32-year-old Makoto sound much older than she is). With the company entering a new era, they represent the past, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ice has decided to belt them up at this time. While they start to position younger wrestlers as their next stars, it’s not a bad idea to have two established faces that can be called upon to headline with the tag belts.
Despite that understanding, I am sad to see BIG DEKAI’s reign end. They’ve felt like an important team for Totoro, as she’s blossomed in the last few months with Manase by her side. She’s another one, like Ozaki, who has got more comfortable embracing her inner hoss and watching her tee off on Ham was incredibly satisfying. Towards the end of the match, there were a couple of times where I thought she had Hoshi, as she now feels ready to pick up that win.
Of course, it wasn’t to be, and I’ll never begrudge Ham or Makoto for winning a title. They’re two wrestlers who will never let you down, and it’s nice to see Hoshi taking up the top veteran role in the company (she’s the only current active Emi Sakura trainee on the roster). It’s a role she deserves, as she’s been an easy person to take for granted in recent years. Plus, we know they’re more than capable of delivering a good match, as they proved here with a really fun main event. The future might be coming, but that doesn’t mean we should ditch the past entirely.
Verdict: Good Stuff
In the aftermath, Ibuki came out to make her challenge for the belts, naming a somewhat surprised Shida as her partner. That’s an intriguing pairing.
I’m really enjoying this new era of Ice Ribbon. They’re currently moving pieces around and trying to get them into position, but that’s part of what’s making it fun to watch. Yes, a lot of star power has stepped away, but that’s left gaps, and we’re seeing the likes of Ozaki, Ibuki and Totoro step up to take those spots. Who knows where they all end up a year or two from now, but I’m excited to see.
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Or you can watch old Ice Ribbon shows on niconico: https://ch.nicovideo.jp/iceribbon
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