Ice Ribbon Ribbonmania (31/12/22) Review

Credit: Ice Ribbon

I may have written up all my end-of-year lists and put a cap on 2022, but the year isn’t over until we talk about Ribbonmania, Ice Ribbon’s annual year-closing show. It might have only been a six-match card, but with two title matches and Yuuki Mashiro’s goodbye (which doubles as Suzu Suzuki’s return), there were plenty of things to get us talking.

We opened with Tsukasa Fujimoto warming up the crowd and introducing a new trainee, Amu Yumesaki. I couldn’t pick up much about the new rookie, but she is from an idol background and seemed comfortable speaking to the fans, which is a promising sign.

Momo Tani, Tsukina Umino, Sumika Yanagawa, Yuko Sakurai & Yura Suzuki defeated RebelXEnemy (Maya Yukihi, Rina Yamashita & Ram Kaicho), Kiku & Saran

Our opener was something of a smorgasbord of wrestlers, a situation that always has its ups and downs. On the positive side, these matches are nearly always fun, as there is invariably a fresh wrestler ready to be tagged in, so the action never needs to pause for breath. However, in that go, go, go nature, it is easy for everything to blur into one, preventing people from standing out. If nothing else, when ten wrestlers are involved, and the match doesn’t go much over ten minutes, there isn’t time for everyone to make an impact.

However, some of the group did manage to steal a bit of the spotlight, as it felt like the experienced trio of Renemy were there to make others look good. Sumika Yanagawa (whose improvement I’ve previously pointed out) continues to look much more comfortable in the ring than she did not that long ago. Meanwhile, Rina Yamashita gave Yuko Sakurai all the shine, as she sold a surprising amount when they started banging into each other. Then there’s Tsukina Umino (the former Shizuku Tsukata), who, despite taking more than a year out, looked better than she ever did in WAVE. Like Yanagawa, there is a confidence there that wasn’t around before, and Ice Ribbon clearly agree as they had her upset Kiku for the win.

It made for an easy opener to like, which set the tone nicely for the show and was a lot of fun. Am I ever going to watch it again? Probably not, but I don’t think that’s what they intended anyway.

Verdict: A Good Start

Makoto & Hamuko Hoshi defeated Hikari Shimizu & Kaho Matsushita

It’s easy to forget how hard Makoto hits. Yes, she opened this match by messing around with Ham, pulling sexy poses and so on, but when Kaho (wearing cool new gear) delivered a stiff kick to her spine, she was only too happy to return the favour tenfold. If you bring the fight to her, she will beat the shit out of you.

That summed up the tone of this match, as we had two young, kicky speedsters going up against the veteran Ice Ribbon pairing of Ham and Makoto. At times, Kaho and Hikari would take off, running rings around their older opponents, but Ham and Makoto always found a way to bring them crashing back to earth. It was one of those matches where the younger wrestlers didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. They just lacked the right tools to push them through to victory.

In saying that, the finish did feel a bit sudden, as it could have used a minute or two to breathe before a Hoshi Splash got the win, but it was still a decent wee match. That prevented it from pushing to that next level, which was a shame because I reckon these four could have got there, but I enjoyed what we had.

Verdict: Needed A Bit More To Be Great

Maika Ozaki, Tae Honma & Kyuri defeated KISSMeT Princess (Nao Ishikawa, A~min & Misa Kagura)

Tae, Maika and Kyuri’s entrance saw them pull out the Gekokujo music, but more importantly, it ended with Honma and Kyuri being held aloft on Maika’s shoulders, which was a hell of a cool way to kick this match off. When you combine it with the general joy that is KISSmeT Princess, I was on board before the bell even rang.

It was a fitting image for this match, as it would be the strong lasses who stole the show. Maika and A~min got a good chunk of the action to do their thing, and that thing was brilliant fun as they bounced off each other. Both have made real improvements in how they deploy their power, and when you have them battle each other, that only becomes more apparent. I would have happily watched them play human conkers for at least a few more minutes. 

However, they weren’t the only people involved in this match, as the others played their part, including a very impressive Kyuri. I think this was the best performance I’ve seen from her since her return this year (I have to admit I haven’t seen everything), as she and Nao were a handy pairing. Whether Kyuri was menacing the princess with a dirty rag or they were going back and forth during an exciting finishing stretch, they both impressed, and it’s a fight that I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

Verdict: The Hosses And Kyuri Impress

Suzu Suzuki defeated Yuuki Mashiro in Mashiro’s Retirement Match

I don’t want to say goodbye to Yuuki Mashiro, but if we have to, I am overjoyed that Ice Ribbon invited Suzu back to help us do so. They always had magical chemistry, Yuuki playing the annoying younger sister (despite being older than Suzuki), who Suzu occasionally tolerates and, more often than not, wants to punch in the face. The fact they hadn’t wrestled in over a year had done nothing to dull that connection, as the opening test of strength saw Mashiro somehow end up lying on her front, still clinging on but overwhelmingly overpowered, much to Suzu’s delight/bafflement.

And the joy of that pairing made it possible to forget the sad aspects of this match, at least while it was going on. These two aren’t only a blast to watch as a fan, as Yuuki stamped on Suzu’s foot and poked her in the eyes, but they clearly love wrestling each other. For all that big sister annoyance, Suzuki gets a kick out of this weirdo and enjoys giving Mashiro the space to be herself. Plus, don’t forget that Yuuki Mashiro is ending her career as a damn good wrestler. She pulled out a couple of perfectly executed flash pins towards the end that had me bite, believing for a second that she was going out on a high.

Of course, she wasn’t, and Suzu eventually put the Gacha King down, Mashiro kicking out of the Tequila Shot but then succumbing to a German. In the retirement ceremony that followed, the tears flowed from Yuuki, her peers and me, as it doesn’t matter how many of these things I watch, they will never stop being hard. However, as goodbyes go, this is a happy one. Not only did we get the moment of pure Mashironess, where she waved goodbye and tried to leave the ring before the ten-bell salute, but we can rest happy that Yuuki is heading off to follow her dreams. They might be slightly different from ruling over the Gacha Kingdom, but they are still pretty damn cool. If anything, we should be glad that we got three years of her genius before she did, and while her career was short, those of us who were there will remember Yuuki Mashiro for a long time.

Verdict: We’ll Miss You, Gacha King

Hikaru Shida & Ibuki Hoshi defeated BIG DEKAI (Totoro Satsuki & Yuna Manase) to retain the International Tag Titles

You could split this match up into three distinct acts. In the first, BIG DEKAI isolated Ibuki, as they worked her over and kept Shida out of the equation. The second, perhaps unsurprisingly, saw that plan fall apart as Shida entered the ring and levelled the playing field. Then, the third saw Hoshi redeem herself, get a bit of momentum in her sails and come roaring back, battling it out with Totoro and Manase and putting on a brilliant performance as she picked up the win.

And that’s probably how this match should have been because as much as the temptation is to build it around Shida, Ibuki is the star here. She’s still got a touch of that rookie vulnerability, but she hits as hard as anyone, and watching her go thud it out with the hoss pairing was great fun. The final act of this match was all about her, but it never once felt like she was outstaying her welcome as she slugged it out with BIG DEKAI, delivering plenty of those massive chops and managing to maintain the sense that anyone could win right up to the final Good Ibuning.

All of which made the post-match (in which Shida went full Fergie in the aftermath of the ’83 Scottish Cup Final and gave Ibuki a bollocking despite her winning) a bit weird, but I guess we’re building to those two facing off again. Before we get there, they’re defending against Makoto and Ham at Korakuen in March, or at least they will be if Ibuki wins every singles match between now and then. If she doesn’t, Shida will forfeit the title. In the present, this was the Ibuki show, and if Shida is going to start whining about that, maybe she should be in for a chopping.

Verdict: The Ibuki Show

Saori Anou defeated Asahi to retain the ICExInfinity Title

Despite having declared that focusing on booking is the dullest way to talk about wrestling, I must admit that I find the future of the ICExInfinity title fascinating. After the turmoil at the top of their roster, Ice Ribbon turned to a reliable freelancer to carry the belt, and Saori Anou is doing a fantastic job of keeping things alive. However, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that she’s holding that title until they can build someone up from within to take it off her. The interesting question is, who is it going to be?

And I think some came into this match expecting it to be the coronation. Since returning to the ring, Asahi’s looked like a future champion, and this could have been the moment to crown her, but I don’t think losing to Anou derails that journey. In fact, coming out of this match, I think she’s more likely than ever to win that belt. It just wasn’t her time yet, as this was the classic story of a younger wrestler giving it their all but not having enough to get over the line. Towards the end, Asahi dug as deep as she could, repeatedly roaring up to her feet, only to be sent crashing back down. It wasn’t that she was unlucky or even that she fucked up. It’s that she wasn’t good enough.

Which you could read as a damning inditement of her, but she was close to being good enough, very close. Asahi was brilliant here, convincing me she gave it everything she had and then some. It was such a strong performance that I got past an early feeling that these two weren’t quite gelling, which had left the match a tad disjointed as a result (something I still think is true but turned out not to be important). I was left feeling like Asahi wasn’t good enough, but that it was the last time that will be the case. She will go away and learn from this, so whether it be in 2023 or 2024, her time will come again. When it does, whether it’s Anou or someone else across the ring from her, I suspect she’ll be taking that belt home. Right now, the Ribbonmania main event was a flawed but great match, and Anou’s time with that title isn’t over yet.

Verdict: Asahi Will Get There

Overall Show

That was a strong Ribbonmania. Coming in, I was a bit worried this card would struggle to live up to this show’s history, but with a fun undercard, an emotional retirement and two strong title matches, I think it held its own. The only downside is that it marked the end of the Gacha King, but that is one departing monarch that will live on in my heart for a long time to come.

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