Into the Indies 03.23.10: SHIMMER's Japanese Invasion
Posted by Ryan Byers on 03.23.2010
Four of Japanese professional wrestling's young, up and coming women are headed to the United States for a set of indy dates in the midwest and northeast. Who are they and where are they headed? Read on to find out!
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Into the Indies, the column that is decidedly not Wrestlicious.
Early on in the run of this column, one of the complaints that I got was that I was supporting foreign independent wrestling when, according to that particular reader, I should be giving exposure to American independent wrestling so that more American fans would hopefully go out and watch their local minor league shows. I didn't give in to that demand, because, quite frankly, there's already enough coverage of the US indy scene out there on the internet. I wanted to cover something that wasn't already being covered on a website the size of 411mania.
Well, this week, I'm going to give a little bit of love to the US indy scene, for one simple reason: Next month, the US indies and Japanese indies are going to collide in a way that we rarely if ever see in professional wrestling.
The American pro wrestling companies at the heart of this unusual crossover are SHIMMER Women Athletes and Jersey All Pro Wrestling. SHIMMER, as the majority of this column's readers are probably already aware, is THE place to go for high impact, hard hitting women's professional wrestling in North America and has been for over four years now. JAPW, though it does not get nearly the press on websites like 411mania as other indy groups do, is one of the longest-running independent promotions in the country, existing for over a decade. Jersey All Pro has recently begin to run its own all-female shows, featuring many of the same competitors who regularly wrestle in SHIMMER, albeit in a separate set of storylines and matches and with a handful of exclusive talent.
Earlier this year, it was announced that SHIMMER and JAPW entered in to a bit of a unique working agreement. The two promotions have combined their resources to bring a troupe of four young Japanese female wrestlers to the United States for a miniature tour of sorts. The wrestlers will be appearing on April 10 and 11 for SHIMMER in Berwyn, Illinois, during which time the promotion will tape the next four editions of its DVD series. Those dates will be followed up by a JAPW women's show for the Japanese girls on April 17 in Jersey City, New Jersey. As of this writing, tickets for the SHIMMER shows are currently available on the company's website, while details will be available soon for the JAPW card.
The women's names have already been made available: Ayumi Kurihara, Tomoka Nakagawa, Misaki Ohata, and Hiroyo Matsumoto. However, even though there is a small subculture of fans who are thrilled to have these women setting foot on American soil, there are many, many more who do not have the first clue who they are aside from the fact that they are Japanese and that, from time to time, they wrestle. I've designed this column to provide a little bit of background on the four women through text, through video, and through reviews of their matches. So, let's take a look, one at a time, at the four young ladies who you will be able to experience live if you've got a little bit of extra money in April.
We'll kick it all off with this excellent highlight reel prepared by YouTube user HybridDolphinELPS which spotlights all four women:
Tomoka Nakagawa is a five year veteran of professional wrestling who, in a bit of an oddity for joshi, was originally trained by male wrestlers. Specifically, she got her start as part of TAKA Michinoku's Kaientai Dojo training facility and competed there for two years before it was determined that she would move on from K-Dojo to compete in IBUKI, a promotion run by veteran female grappler Mariko Yoshida. Ultimately Nakagawa, like many of joshi's biggest names these days, left that promotion as well and became a true freelancer, able to appear in whatever promotions she likes whenever she likes. We've seen her previously here in I2I when we took a look at OZ Academy.
Now let's take a look at Nakagawa as she competes not in OZ Academy but rather in another promotion, this one known as NEO, where she will be pitted against Kyoko Inoue. Inoue, for the uninitiated, is a major star from the peak of joshi puroresu's popularity in the early to mid 1990's. She is one of the few stars from that period who is still active in the wrestling game today, and, even though she has lost a step or two, she remains an intimidating opponent for a wrestler on the level of Nakagawa.
Tomoka Nakagawa vs. Kyoko Inoue (NEO, 08/23/2008)
We get a pre-match handshake, but Nakagawa attacks with a series of dropkicks as soon as the bell rings. She manages to get Inoue down to her knees with those and follows with a diving clothesline to get the legend all the way off of her feet, but the smaller woman has difficulty suplexing Kyoko. She tries to soften her up further with a version of the rocker dropper but still can't hit the suplex, settling for a bulldog instead. Then, in an awesome spot, Tomoka runs the ropes and does a flip in to a Mutoh lock, which is apparently a regular part of her arsenal. She voluntarily relinquishes the hold after a rather long time (at least in comparison to the rest of the match) and then connects with a headscissors out of the corner. Nakagawa's next trick is a kick to the gut, which allows her to finally hit that suplex. It's a fisherman, and it gets two . . . as does a second version of the same move. Then, completely out of the blue, Inoue lands a thunderous lariat for a nearfall of her own. Kyoko tries to come off of the ropes, but Nakagawa, ever resourceful, pulls the referee in front of her. Inoue stops short to avoid plastering the ref, and that's the setup for Tomoka getting some two counts off of various rollups and cradles. Nakagawa is not long for this world, however, as Inoue connects with a second lariat and then a big delayed powerbomb to pick up the victory.
Match Thoughts: This was a quick, five minute match, but, as far as quick, five minute matches go, it was about as good as you were going to get. Somewhat surprisingly, about ninety percent of the offense went to the less experienced Nakagawa, which went a long way to making her look like a credible threat to the former WWWA Champion. Everything that Tomoka did was executed flawlessly and at an impressive rate, proving to me that she can at least go very well in quick bouts. Nakagawa is on my good list after this battle, and I will severely mark out if I see her hit that rolling Mutoh lock in person when she shows up at SHIMMER. **
Ohata is one of the smallest wrestlers currently active in joshi, standing only 5'1" and weighing in at less than 120 pounds for most matches. She is also remarkably young for a wrestler who already has three and a half years of experience, debuting when she was only eighteen years of age. Ohata's style consists of a frenzy of rollups and tight submission holds, most of which she hits from odd angles or as a result of intricate reversals aided by her agility and small stature. Having been trained by Mariko Yoshida and having wrestled both in Yoshida's JD Star promotion and her later IBUKI project, Ohata has definitely been kept among a stable of wrestlers that will allow her to develop into a fine little performer. If you're interested in a prior review of one of her matches, check out my SENDAI Girls column, and, if you're interested in seeing Ohata in video form, click below.
This week, we'll be taking a look at a match from JWP between Misaki and Pinky Mayuka. Pinky, who debuted in 2007 at the tender age of fifteen, wrestled her entire career in JWP before retiring in late 2009 due primarily to asthma which prevented her from wrestling full-time.
Misaki Ohata vs. Pinky Mayuka (JWP, 07/19/2009)
It's an awkward lockup to begin the bout, after which the two women go back and forth peppering each other with forearms. Pinky gets the upper hand with a hair beal but misses a dropkick and gets bealed herself before Ohata's dropkick connects. We clip ahead a bit, and Misaki comes off of the top rope with a missile dropkick before climbing the ropes again for a superfly splash. That only gets two, as does a rollup that Ohata gets when she blocks Pinky's attempt at a victory roll. Mayuka, not to be outdone, catches her opposition in a version of the dragon sleeper, which Misaki valiantly fights before ultimately making the ropes. Ohata catches her woman with a backslide and then a crucifix, but she won't take the nearfall off of the crucifix, instead opting to roll through into a leglock. Pinky absolutely screams her head off before making the ropes, and she has the presence of mind to roll through a second attempt at the same leglock, turning it into a pinning combination for two. A cradle also gets two for Pinky, but, before she can mount any other offense, Ohata gives her a German supelx. Misaki looks for an air raid crash, but Pinky rolls through it and in to a seated position. Ohata won't let her get the advantage, though, as she rebounds off of the ropes and catches Mayuka with a low-elevation cross body block. Seconds later, a fisherman buster earns a three count for Misaki Ohata.
Match Thoughts: Remember Mortal Kombat, in which your character would periodically have to fight in a "mirror match," doing battle with a clone of him or herself? That's what I felt like I was watching here. Misaki and Pinky were so close to one another in size that it was almost uncanny, and they even wore similar gear. Making things all the more eerie is the fact that they were wrestling very similar styles, relying primarily on submission holds and unique pinning combinations, either hoping to get the other woman to tap out or to score a flash three count. I liked the vast majority of what I saw, though I have to say that some of the trading of submissions and cradles came off as a bit disjointed, as they just went from hold to hold to hold with no real clear, logical transitions in between. This was still quite fun for the amount of time that it was given, though. *1/2
I2I first encountered Ayumi Kurihara during our previously mentioned look at OZ Academy. On that particular show, she put together a match with veteran Dynamite Kansai, which I rated at ***1/4, putting it well ahead of the majority of the matches that I have rated while doing this column. During that installment of I2I, I related perhaps the most significant story about Kurihara's career there: Despite the fact that she has, on two occasions, broken her collarbone during in-ring competition, she continues to work to this day. That's in part due to a healthy dose of fighting spirit and in part due to a fairly radical surgery which transplanted portions of her hipbone to her clavicle in order to strengthen the damaged bone. She is also daughter of restauranters who are huge professional wrestling fans, which is what got her into the business. To see some of Kurihara in action, check this out:
We've got two Kurihara matches to take a look at this week, the first one pitting her against Nozomi Dai, a twenty year old wrestler who had her first match during the summer of 2008, and the second against Kana, a very stiff freelance wrestler who began in the joshi promotion AtoZ in its dying days and who has recently announced that she will be attempting to promote her own show for the first time in late April of this year.
Ayumi Kurihara vs. Nozomi Dai (NEO, 05/05/2009)
Kurihara very quickly reels off a dropkick and a clothesline before going into the bow and arrow submission. She misses a double kneelift in the corner, however, and is hit by some dropkicks from Dai. Five of them to be precise. Seriously, if there's a more overused maneuver in joshi, I'd like to know what it is. Ayumi shows virtually no ill effects from the dropkicks and connects with her double knees, which she follows with three dropkicks of her own. The first one is from a standard elevation, and the next two are off of the second rope. A fourth dropkick from Kurihara connects when she rolls through a rollup attempt by her opponent, and then she finishes off Dai with – you guessed it – a missile dropkick from the top rope.
Match Thoughts: Dai had less than a year's experience when this match took place, and a year's experience in joshi these days means that you've worked a lot fewer shows than somebody who has a year of wrestling with one of the American or Japanese big leagues. As a result, I feel bad knocking this match. However, even though I'm not a huge mark for MOVEZ~!, I start getting a little bit bored when I see eleven different dropkicks in a three minute match. I'm going to have to give this one the rare DUD rating.
Ayumi Kurihara vs. Kana (NEO, 09/20/2009)
We are joined in progress with Kana hitting a series of knees to Kurihara and then a sick kick to the head once the knees cause her to collapse. Kurihara ducks the next kick, though, hitting an overhead exploder suplex and following it up with a forearm and a series of BRUTAL dropkicks which connect as Kana lays against the bottom rope. Ayumi goes up for a missle dropkick, and that gets two. The two women do various reversals at center ring, culminating in Kana's German suplex. Kurihara answers with another forearm but gets kicked in the head again for her trouble, though she still has the presence of mind to catch Kana with a quick rollup off of the ropes for a nearfall. Ayumi turns a second German suplex attempt into a rollup, and that sets up a miniature fish out of water spot. Kurihara hits a version of Chris Jericho's codebreaker for a series of two counts, followed by a head and shoulders suplex that dumps Kana right on her noggin. It only gets two, though, and Kana connects with another high kick. Kana kicks away some more and hits a diving ass attack of some sort, again going for the pinfall . . . but the bell rings. It's a time limit draw, folks.
Match Thoughts: I don't think that I can rate this one in good conscience given that a fair amount of it appears to have been left on the cutting room floor, but I will say that, in terms of execution of moves and the timing of the finish for the draw, both women looked rather good. Unfortunately, in this match that I picked out to get a look at Kurihara, even though she looked good, Kana looked about ten times better. Everything that she did had an intensity and a snap that you very rarely see in professional wrestlers nowadays, and I now have a strong desire to track down more of her stuff . . . even though I'm not going to completely rule out the possibility that Kurihara is awesome given the solid match that I watched her in against Dynamite Kasnai a couple of weeks back.
Though she's not the most experienced of the wrestlers that we're profiling this week, Matsumoto is perhaps the one that has had the most success and who has proven to be the most proficient in-ring performer. Hiroyo, like Nakagawa and Ohata, has called IBUKI her home promotion, though she's traveled to every major joshi promotion in the country during her career, winning three different tournaments in 2008 alone as well as capturing championships for four different companies. This week, we'll be taking a look at Matsumoto against Hiren, a young SENDAI Girls trainee, and then against Kyoko Inoue, who we're seeing for the second time in this little column.
Hiren vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto (OZ Academy, 06/03/2009)
We are joined in progress slightly after the beginning of the match, as the two women brutalize one another with boots, Matsumoto getting the edge and attempting to run the ropes before Hiren pulls her down by the hair. Hiren follows up with a series of three really weak clotheslines and goes to an ankle lock. Matsumoto makes the ropes and fires back with a backbreaker, though she hurts her bad leg in the process. Hiroyo slaps on a full Boston crab before switching the half version more commonly seen in Japanese professional wrestling. Hiren eventually gets the ropes and then scores a nearfall off of a cradle before hitting a version of the Yakuza kick for another two count. Now Hiren ascends the ropes, where she somehow gets ahold of a cable and uses it to stage a mock hanging of her opponent. With that dirty trick out of the way, Hiren hits a missile dropkick for two before rolling through on a victory roll attempt to return to the ankle lock. Matsumoto makes the ropes once more, though the damage has obviously been done. This time after the ankle lock, Hiren runs into a sidewalk slam and then a wacky suplex/slam variant of some kind. Now it is Hiroyo's turn to climb the ropes, and she hits her own missile dropkick for a nearfall. One of these days, I will train a joshi wrestler, and I will never teach her how to throw that damn move. The world will be a better place for it. Matsumoto looks for her torture rack at this point, but Hiren grabs the referee to avoid going up. This somehow ends with Hiren tricking the ref into holding Matsumoto's leg, allowing Hiren to grab a chair and throw it at the outstretched limb. Matsumoto gets her up in to the torture rack anyway, but Hiren finds a way to reverse it in to the third ankle lock of the match. Hiroyo again avails herself to the rope break and again catches her opponent in a MOVE as she follows up off of the ropes, this time a gutbuster. Matsumoto looks for the backdrop driver but has it blocked. A second, post-clothesline version connects, but a woman runs in out of Hiren's corner to break up the fall. Matsumoto doesn't particularly care, deciding she'll just hit a powerbomb before attempting another backdrop. Hiren changes this suplex into a roll-up in mid-move. It only gets two, as does her next big boot. Matsumoto responds with a roaring elbow of sorts for two and then another backdrop driver to pick up the three count.
Match Thoughts: One of the things that annoys me about OZ Academy is that, from time to time, there is more of hardcore wrestling and "relaxed rules" environment in their matches, which can lead to bouts build around goofy run-ins and weapon spots when all you really wanted to see was two women going up against one another in a straight professional wrestling match. I've seen Hiren in two different OZ matches now, and it appears necessary for her to have relied on that style in both of them, which doesn't exactly earn the young lady points in my book. However, this particular matchup wasn't as bad as it could have been, as Matsumoto avoided the hardcore gaga and responded to it with standard professional wrestling fare, which aided the match and turned it into a heel versus face story as opposed to the trite hardcore encounter that it could have devolved into. Two big thumbs up to Matsumoto here for staying the course with traditional wrestling, and two stars as well. **
Kyoko Inoue vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto (NEO, 03/08/2009)
In a cute spot, Inoue uses the pre-match handshake to crush her opponent's hand, which actually lasts for a minute or so. Clipping ahead, it's a battle of the shoulderblocks, with neither woman going down despite Inoue's distinct size advantage. That segues into forearm trading, again with neither woman getting a decided advantage. Matsumoto opens up the offense with her version of an axe bomber, but that just goes straight back in to pointless forearms. This time Inoue's arm is more dangerous, or at least it appears that way until she runs straight into a sidewalk slam from Hiroyo, who then applies a half Boston crab. The veteran makes it to the ropes after a good long while, after which Matsumoto gives her opponent a body attack while she is tied to the top strand. Matsumoto then wedges Inoue's body in between the top and middle ropes so that it is parallel to the cables and gives her another body attack. Matsumoto continues the beating with a missile dropkick and a neckbreaker before once again wedging Inoue between the ropes, this time turning it into a brutal bow and arrow submission that is applied while standing on the ring apron. The referee forces a break due to the illegal positioning of the hold, and then Matsumoto goes airborne again, this time for a double stomp to the small of her opponent's back. Hiroyo takes Inoue into the human torture rack before dropping her, no small feat given the large size difference.
The tide starts to turn at this point, with Matsumoto looking for a piledriver, only to get flipped up and over Inoue's back. Hiroyo gives Inoue a similar treatment, though, then going to the top once more. This time, Inoue is prepared to meet her there, and the result is a massive superplex, followed by a powerbomb attempt. Matsumoto blocks it and catches Inoue with a quick clothesline, looking for a backdrop driver but not being able to get it as Kyoko finds the ropes. Inoue's powerbomb connects but only results in a two count, and now we're back to the forearms. Inoue wins and takes Matsumoto off of her feet with a WILD clothesline, though Hiroyo is waiting for her as she comes off of the ropes and lands the backdrop driver for two. A second attempt at the move is blocked, but a back fist isn't. Inoue still manages to kick out at two, though she's shaken enough that Matsumoto sneaks in another backdrop for another nearfall immediately thereafter. It only gets two, as does Inoue's next lariat. Another backfist from Matsumoto also fails to end the match. Then, out of nowhere, Kyoko Inoue gets a sudden burst of energy and jumps up to catch a weird leaping victory roll variant on her opponent for the three count.
Match Thoughts: This was a fun match which was a perfect example of how to put a veteran up against a younger wrestler and give the veteran a victory while still making the younger wrestler look like somebody who can hang with a top star. Matsumoto was booked as competitive throughout the body out of the bout and only lost because she was caught off guard at the last moment by a flash pin, giving the impression that the result very well could have been different on any other night. I'm also really beginning to dig Matsumoto's style of wrestling, in which she uses a lot of power based offense to demonstrate the fact that she's stronger than her opponents even though she might not be that much bigger (and in some cases may even be smaller) than her opponents. Of course, it was no surprise that Inoue more than held her own and knew exactly what she needed to do in order to bring out the high points of Hiroyo's style of wrestling. Aside from the fact that I had to watch some of the forearm exchanges that I am so horribly tired of in Japanese professional wrestling, this was a fun little bout all around. ***
As many of my long-time readers are no doubt aware, I'm a big SHIMMER fan and have been for quite some time. Because of this, I was going to their April tapings before I even knew that the Japanese women were heading in. Now that I've had an opportunity to watch the matches and videos included in this column, I have to say that I'm significantly more excited to see these April shows than I was before watching the joshi wrestlers compete. Don't get me wrong, it's not like this is 1995 when Japanese female wrestlers were the best wrestlers in the world and news of four of them crossing the Pacific Ocean would have caused me many excitement-induced sleepless nights. These are younger wrestlers in an era where joshi has dropped off significantly. As such, based on what I've seen, no member of the foursome flying in is any better than the existing main event level wrestlers in SHIMMER. However, I see Matsumoto and Kurihara as being very close to that level, meaning that they'll probably be able to field some high quality semi-main event matches against the likes of Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, and MsChif while Ohata and Nakagawa put up competent yet not classic matches on the undercard against the Jessie McKays and Kelly Skaters of the world. The nice thing about the joshi participation on the American independent scene coming to us in just a few weeks' time isn't that we're going to be getting a crew of wrestlers who are significantly better than what we're used to seeing. The nice thing is that, out of nowhere, we're going to be seeing four brand new wrestlers who are talented enough to immediately step right into the established mix. It'll freshen up the scene significantly and give this set of shows a unique flavor that will make them more than worth checking out, whether you are able to attend live or whether you have to pick them up later on DVD.
Once again, tickets for the SHIMMER shows are currently available through SHIMMERwrestling.com, while details about the JAPW show are still forthcoming on JAPW.net
Looking forward to the next instalment of Into the Indies? Keep an eye on 411's Twitter accounts, and you just might see it pop up!