It’s fair to say that we at Ringbelles have become quite the fans of Ice Ribbon – on the back of their weekly, free to air 19pro Ustream show, the easily accessible English information about the product (on twitter, tumblr and facebook) and the fact that their wrestlers are just really fun to watch – so when I got the chance to watch Ice Ribbon’s most recent Korakuen Hall show a mere two weeks after it happened, I jumped on it. Ice Ribbon usually run shows at their small Warabi Dojo in the Saitama area, but every so often they run Korakuen Hall in Tokyo (one of seemingly hundreds of promotions that run there regularly), and this most recent edition, entitled “Ice’s Adventures in Wonderland” promised the most enticing IR lineup at Korakuen this year.

The ethereal intro video introduces the main stories running into the show – Manami Toyota mentoring and encouraging Tsukushi, Sayaka Obihiro returning to face the challenge of JWP’s Kaori Yoneyama, Makoto’s final appearances (for now) with the company before heading off to SMASH, the feisty Riho challenging SMASH’s head man TAJIRI and the ICEx60 Title defense of Tsukasa Fujimoto against the dynamic Hikari Minami.

I note with interest that the show has surfaced on YouTube, conveniently split into match by match videos, so I shall link you to each match following my review.

First up was the legendary Manami Toyota, taking on Tsukushi. The emphasis here is that Toyota sees something in the teenage Tsukushi, and is encouraging and opposing her to help bring out her potential – and for Tsukushi, Toyota represents her biggest challenge ever – the challenge of a lifetime against the greatest joshi who has ever walked. Tsukushi shocked her teacher Emi Sakura with a quick dropkick and pin earlier in the year, but the same doesn’t fly for Toyota, who absorbs Tsukushi’s early offense. It was interesting to see some of the IR girls ringside briefly attacking Toyota on the floor. It didn’t come across as a heel move at all – just that they were so invested in Tsukushi’s battle that they wanted her to win so badly. A couple of observations… Tsukushi’s strikes are pretty great, considering her tender age, and Toyota really worked well with her young opponent. Too often I’ve seen puroresu veterans smother younger opponents, but Toyota went out of her way to take a lot of Tsukushi’s offense (including several Toyota-esque flying dropkicks), and gave her some credible near falls. Tsukushi even got to kick out of a moonsault and reverse a Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex attempt. Toyota eventually won with a Queen Bee Bomb, as expected – but the story of the match was told in Toyota’s face, both during and especially after the bell, as Toyota leaned over the beaten Tsukushi for a good ten seconds, whispering something in Tsukushi’s ear that left the youngster overcome with emotion. Toyota beamed with pride at a job well done. Excellent opener.

Watch Manami Toyota vs Tsukushi on YouTube

Next up was an elimination match featuring Hikaru Shida, Maki Narumiya & Dorami Nagano taking on Kurumi, Neko Nitta & Meari Naito. Best action of the short match was between Shida and Kurumi, who were the final survivors on each team. Shida hit Kurumi with a number of pretty impressive moves towards the end, finally getting the win after a running brainbuster. Not a lot to really talk about here. Short match, with some of the lesser names in the promotion, with Shida (the biggest star of the bunch) getting the win.

Watch Hikaru Shida, Maki Narumiya & Dorami Nagano vs Kurumi, Neko Nitta & Meari Naito on YouTube

Sayaka Obihiro returned in the next match to take on the soon-to-be-retiring Kaori Yoneyama. Obihiro is one of IR’s big hopes for the future and was the original choice to be the face and star of the Ustream 19pro show – unfortunately, the former baseball player had all sorts of shoulder injuries which have kept her out for basically the entire year. If there’s one thing you notice about Obihiro immediately, it’s that the girl is hyper and looks super excited to be back in the ring. Well, until Yoneyama starts working on her shoulder. The match is very basic, and Obihiro’s exhuberance give her a quirky and rough-around-the-edges ring style. It doesn’t take too long for Yoneyama to crush Obihiro with a diving senton for the pin. Typical Japanese booking. The youngster coming off an injury doesn’t beat the veteran.

Watch Sayaka Obihiro vs Kaori Yoneyama on YouTube

Mixed tag action next with Chii Tomiya teaming with FREEDOMS’ Takashi Sasaki to take on the masked duo of Ray and SMASH’s Mentallo. Cards on the table, Tomiya and Ray are probably my favourite two IR competitors, so I’m fine with this. Actually, I’d be even happier if Sasaki and Mentallo weren’t involved at all, but I’ll take what I can get. Chii, the little heelish dynamo, uses a skateboard in the match, and the huge smile on her face is a joy to behold (even if she can’t quite ride the skateboard). In fact, the footage of this match is clipped mostly to emphasise wacky spots – but they’re all done with such a sense of fun, you just can’t help but smile. The tiny Tomiya even gets to deliver a clothesline to Mentallo, who does a 360 degree rotation, then make the most bizarre cover I’ve seen in some time. The finish came when the masked team put masks on their opponents and moonsaulted them for the double pin. Quite heavily clipped, but everything shown here looked amazing. In fact, just watch this… and fall in love with Chii Tomiya.

Watch Chii Tomiya & Takashi Sasaki vs Ray & Mentallo on YouTube

From fun to serious in the next match, as Makoto wrestles her last official Ice Ribbon match, taking on her mentor Emi Sakura. They are laying the emotion thick with this, with Makoto and Sakura talking about Makoto’s career to date, and showing footage of Makoto training and wrestling (back when Ice Ribbon didn’t even have a ring – including footage of Makoto taking on indy sleaze legend Mecha-Mummy). She’s leaving to wrestle for SMASH as part of her long term goal to eventually make it to WWE. Makoto and Sakura are actually the co-holders of the IR Tag Titles at this point too. The looks on both faces at the start of the match are amazing… Makoto is practically weeping. They get down to business pretty quickly though, with Sakura taking an opportunity to give Makoto her final test. Makoto showed good fire throughout, fighting from underneath. She squeezes *every single ounce* of emotion out of an extended chop battle, despite appearing to suffer from a hand injury, and I’ve never seen anybody write around on the canvas whilst in a knucklelock like Makoto does here. Both women get some near falls, but it is an absolutely SWEET 450 splash from Sakura that gets the win. We’re just getting ready for the inevitable tears and hugs when…

Riho runs down and jump starts her match with TAJIRI. I like Riho a lot, but this didn’t really seem to be much of a match, as TAJIRI handled the teenager easily – walking through some chain wrestling, but never really allowing Riho to get the upper hand. Riho rallied a couple of times, but eventually fell victim to one of TAJIRI’s kicks and was pinned via cradle. The commentator expresses the thoughts of the viewer here, with a disappointed “Ohhhhh” when Riho stays down for the three count. Match lasted under five minutes, and TAJIRI didn’t break a sweat. Quite a symbolic moment post match, as Sakura picks up Riho and takes her to the corner to console her, while Makoto slides over to TAJIRI’s corner for some words. Post match, a tearful Riho speaks on the mic (causing Sakura to break down in floods of tears). TAJIRI congratulates Riho, and Makoto and Emi share one final hug before she walks her to TAJIRI and bows to him, leaving her in his care. I wish I understood the words, but the emotion of this whole scene transcends language.

Watch Makoto vs Emi Sakura, followed by Riho vs TAJIRI on YouTube

Interpromotional fun next as The Lovely Butchers (Hamako Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) take on the team of DASH Chisako & Sendai Sachiko. Chisako & Sachiko are sisters from the Sendai Girls promotion (and therefore students of one of my favourite joshi stars ever, Meiko Satomura). The Sendai team have been wrestling and teaming longer than The Butchers, but with the accelerated learning in Ice Ribbon (where trainees can wrestle several times a week on shows in front of an audience), even the rookie Miyagi is able to hold her own in a pretty fun match. The Lovely Butchers are competent in what they do, but the Sendai Girls are just a step better. The finish comes when DASH Chisako hits a frong splash on Miyagi, allowing Sendai Sachiko to get the pin. Nothing to get overexcited about, but a fun match.

Watch The Lovely Butchers vs DASH Chisako & Sendai Sachiko on YouTube

Main event time next, as Tsukasa Fujimoto defends the ICEx60 Title against former champion Hikari Minami. Minami has altered her look – going from polka dot dress to shorts and a top, with a funky new hairstyle. I can’t say the hair (which is shaved to a design on one side) does anything for me, but I may be too old to know what’s cool with the kids in Japan these days. In an age where WWE’s Divas Champion can’t even run the ropes, it’s quite interesting to see how both girls use the ropes in this one – coming off at unique angles and looking for new ways to make things interesting. Minami has a pretty amazing Blockbuster hold pinning combination, and Fujimoto (who looks utterly composed throughout) uses a fantastic running cradle technique. Minami gets a near fall from a Blockbuster followed by a splash, then follows up with another Blockbuster for the win. That was kind of unexpected. The actual finish looked very good, but I was still taken aback that Fujimoto’s record setting title reign ended so suddenly. Fujimoto was the ideal champion, for my money – so it’ll be interesting to see how Minami can fill those boots. Fun match, if a little short for my taste.

Post match, Minami does a microphone performance, and the entire locker room go around and thank everybody for coming… which I still think is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen in wrestling.

Watch Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Hikari Minami for the ICEx60 Title on YouTube

I really enjoyed this show, and a big part of it was the better use of outsiders. I thought the “Golden Ribbon” show back in April had way too much outside participation (it featured an eight team mixed tag tournament), so this show (which just featured one mixed tag match, along with TAJIRI, a couple of Sendai Girls and two joshi legends in Toyota & Yoneyama) had a better mix. Although I don’t think Fujimoto’s title match was as good as the Korakuen defense against Ray from March, there was nothing bad on the show at all – and with both Makoto and Chii Tomiya leaving the regular IR roster, it might be a struggle for the promotion to put on as strong a card as this for some time. Given that it’s free to view on the links above, I’d urge you to check out at least a few of these matches… and for those of you in the UK, make sure to grab some tickets for the EVE vs Ice Ribbon shows next month in Nottingham.

Stew Allen