WRESTLE-1
Pro Wrestling Love in Yokohama
September 2, 2017
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium

WRESTLE-1 drew 1,812 fans for this show with Shotaro Ashino and Jiro Kuroshio in the main event, slightly down from the number they drew last August with KAI and Daiki Inaba.

NOAH, who run the building about twice a year, generally do between 2,100 and 2,600, OZ Academy, one of the more popular joshi promotions, did 2,330 in November for Hiroyo Matsumoto vs. Sonoko Kato and Big Japan did 1,850 in May for Abdullah Kobayashi vs. Masaya Takahashi.

Not a tremendous number by any means but considering WRESTLE-1 attendance this year, 1,812 has to be considered a victory from a business perspective. Beyond that, this show was a massive win in terms of quality and created a ton of interest for the promotion moving forward.

Hajime Def. Tugutaka Sato

An intense match between two young boys, both of whom have awkward looks and are in that awkward stage of development, but both of whom showed potential as workers if nothing else.

Considering WRESTLE-1 opened this show with a meaningless multi-man that no one cared about last year, this was a nice change and is what they should be doing anyway. As I talk about with the next two matches, they have a ton of rookies on this roster, super talented rookies at that, so giving them a chance to grow by having them wrestle in at least somewhat meaningful matches on their biggest show of the year should be a no-brainer. Hajime won with an STF in about seven minutes. **1/4

Jun Tonsho & Soma Sumeragi Def. Masayuki Mitomi & Ken Ohka

Add Jun Tonsho and Soma Sumeragi to the list of great rookies WRESTLE-1 has coming up. Between them, Takanori Ito and Seigo Tachibana who I will obviously get to, Ganseki Tanaka, Koji Doi, Kumagoro and the two young boys in the previous bout, this company is in great shape should they all stick around, all so talented and some bursting with charisma.

Both Tonsho and Sumeragi worked rough, aggressive and cocky here as they tried to prove themselves to the veteran Ohka and to the fans on the biggest stage they will perform on all year, and both coming away looking great in defeat as they jumped their opponents in the post-match and refused to go down without bringing it to their elders. Fun tag match that gave us a good look at what could potentially be some future stars as Mitomi pinned Tonsho with a Salty Splash in about eight minutes. **1/4

WRESTLE-1 Result Championship
Takanori Ito Def. Seigo Tachibana

Takanori Ito is a mirror image of Kevin Owens and yet works like KENTA, an unusual combination but one that works so well for him as he brings something unlike anything else we see in wrestling to the table.

Barring any serious injury, WRESTLE-1 would have to consciously hold him back in order to prevent him from becoming a star. He has the charisma, he has the presence, he has the work, the man is a star, and the company knows it.

Him and Tachibana worked an intense match here centered around the clash between the two styles in which they practice, Ito and his karate, Tachibana and his jiu-jitsu, though he may not have a formal background like Ito does from what I can tell. Ito would get ahead, Tachibana would take over with a submission. Tachibana also tried using some shenanigans to ensure the victory but Ito eventually took control and won with a German suplex in another strong showcase match for the future stars of WRESTLE-1.

Impressive performance by both and something we could possibly look back on in a few years when Ito is one of the biggest stars in the country. WRESTLE-1 clearly trusts him, which is a good sign. 15 minutes for a singles match between two rookies in the third spot on the card is telling. ***1/2

A New Era: The Wrestle-1 Primer

UWA World Trios Championship
Ganseki Tanaka, Manabu Soya & NOSAWA Rongai (c) Def. Masayuki Kono, MAZADA & Yuji Hino

Yuji Hino was out with injury for several months and made his return late last month without losing a single step. It was in those several months that he was out and upon seeing him return that I realized just how special this man is and how much he means to WRESTLE-1.

While the company has had a great in-ring year up to this point, the shows have never felt complete, and maybe that goes beyond the absence of Hino, but his absence was one of those things missing for sure. With Shotaro Ashino rising to prominence with his new group and the younger guys controlling the top of the card, having Hino back and throwing him into the mix should spice things up even more, and one could only hope he gets a shot at Ashino here soon. His chop exchange with Soya in this match was great, him no-selling NOSAWA was great, everything he did here was great. Everyone else worked hard, Ganseki Tanaka, another rookie, looked good, and so this was a fun trios match.

NOSAWA pinned his buddy MAZADA with an abrupt Ultra High School Class La Magistral.

In defeat, Masayuki Kono announced that his old Desperado group will be reforming. With all the former members either no longer being with the company or doing something else at the moment, it will essentially be a new unit with the same name. ***1/4

Daiki Inaba Def. Yusuke Kodama

Daiki Inaba headlined this show last year against champion KAI, where he won the title in which he then lost to Masayuki Kono in November. Kodama returned from excursion at this show last year and took on cruiserweight champion Kotaro Suzuki, where Kodama won the title in which he then lost to MAZADA in November. Inaba and Kodama from there joined the NEWERA group, which as the name would indicate was made up of the younger guys on the roster. Jiro, Yoshioka, Koji Doi, Kumagoro, Kohei Fujimura, Wu, Kodama and Inaba, the idea of the group being to take down the veterans and win all of the titles.

Of course this never worked out as planned and so Kodama became increasingly more fueled with hatred, eventually turning on Inaba and joining up with Shotaro Ashino, a young member of the roster who decided to do his own thing instead of running around with a unit. Inaba was given a chance to redeem himself on this show.

Inaba, from an in-ring perspective, has been a bit dry as of late and is lacking the passion that he once had. He just comes across as a guy in his matches now as opposed to a star. It could be a motivation issue, it could be that he needs the right opponent, or it could be that he is simply not the wrestler he was thought to be at this time last year. I have hope that he does become a star and does become a great wrestler, but for right now Kodama is the one who comes across like a star and is clearly more polished in the ring. He was good in this match if nothing else, his work was clean, he sold well and the crowd does like him, he just seems to be missing a thing or two where as Kodama has it all down from the work, the heel charisma, the character, the facial expressions, right down to the way he carries himself.

Kodama was excellent here and he should have won. Now was not the time to give Inaba the win. It felt rushed and like it could have been stretched out for another six months or so. Regardless, this was a solid bout between the two. ***1/2

Great Mucha, Keiji Mutoh & Shingo Takagi Def. Naoki Sakurajima, Naomichi Marufuji & Tatsumi Fujinami

I have no idea what this was supposed to be, but seeing Shingo is always nice. He and Marufuji tried as hard as they could to make this good and they succeeded in such, I just have no idea what exactly the goal was or how Naoki Sakurajima and Great Mucha got booked.

Mutoh, god bless him, is in rough shape and watching him has become increasingly tougher. He tries hard and wants to be good but his knees are completely gone and he looks like he should be in a wheelchair.

Fujinami is nine years older than him and moves around like a spry youngster in comparison. Nevertheless, this was fun and weird and had Shingo vs. Marufuji so I enjoyed it for what it was. Sakurajima, the geek, ate the pin of course. **1/2

WRESTLE-1 Cruiserweight Championship
Seiki Yoshioka Def. Andy Wu (c)

WRESTLE-1 has the same problem a lot of promotions have with their junior divisions in that nothing that happens in it ever really means anything and is just happening because they remembered they had a junior division to book.

MAZADA, of all people, beat Yusuke Kodama for the title in November and has been involved in the title mix all year, which is ridiculous but is the only choice they had since their roster is so shallow. For nine months him and the two guys in this match  have been trading the title to the point where you forget who the champion is. I was glad to see them put Wu and Yoshioka on this show instead of MAZADA, being that Yoshioka is my favorite guy in the company and has tremendous chemistry with Wu, I just wish it was built as something more special and wish I could have faith in Yoshioka holding onto the thing coming out.

With that said, this was everything a cruiserweight match should be, two dudes doing crazy shit and going balls-to-the-wall to get a reaction and stand out from the rest of the matches on the card. It was unique, it was energetic, it was fast-paced, it was reckless but in all of the right ways, and stylistically it was exactly what you think of when you think classic cruiserweight matches. WRESTLE-1 needs to keep this title on Yoshioka for a while, whether it be by bringing in new people to defend against so they can break the cycle between the same three people or by sending him away to defend it. Either way, this guy is something special and needs to be someone they build around. If not then I hate to say it but he needs to pack his bags and go somewhere else because he has too much talent to not be doing something meaningful. And the same goes for Wu. Both deserve to be doing big things, both were incredible in this match and proved that they have a lot to give WRESTLE-1, so I really do hope this was the end of that cycle of nothingness. ****1/4





WRESTLE-1 Tag Team Championship
Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo Def. Koji Doi & Kumagoro (c)

Shuji Kondo and Kaz Hayashi are two of the most underrated pro wrestlers of their time, Hayashi now 44 and Kondo 39, both top-notch performers when they need to be even to this day.

On the other side you had Koji Doi and Kumagoro, two guys who made their sudden rise to the top of the card this year and have established themselves as one of the best tag teams in the country. Kumagoro can best be described as a mix between Big R Shimizu of Dragon Gate and, funnily enough, Kondo, a bulky power junior who can toss the smaller guys around, bump shoulders with the bigger guys and do cool looking shit every now and again such as the lucha sequence he did with Kondo at the beginning of this match. Koji Doi is more of the straight-man and is presented as the bigger of the two for right now but Kumagoro clearly has more potential as a future star.

Both were excellent here, working like total pros against wrestlers with nearly 40 years of combined experience over them. 2017 has been their year in this tag division, winning the titles from Hayashi and Kotaro Suzuki in March, winning them again from Masayuki Kono and Takanori Ito in June, successfully defending against Kono and Kondo last month and now dropping them to the veterans Hayashi and Kondo. Normally I would have a problem with this, but just in terms of personal enjoyment, I can get behind Hayashi and Kondo, who never do anything otherwise, having a run with the belts. It gives them something to do, it allows Doi and Kumagoro to collect themselves, move onto something else for now, come back better than they were here and then the next match between the two teams will have more juice. Doi and Kumagoro are future stars regardless and will have a longer run, so I have no problem with WRESTLE-1 telling the story of them just not being able to hold onto their titles due to inexperience for now.

In a year with so many incredible tag matches in Japan, this was another one to add to your list, right up there with all of the great NOAH tags, the Kono and Ito vs. Kumagoro and Doi matches, the Peter Pan semi-main event, the All Japan Sumo Hall tag, right up there with whatever you want to name. Kumagoro especially brought this to another level, which is not to take anything away from the other three as they were all fantastic, but Kumagoro took it from being merely a good match and he made it special, with a performance we can look back upon in the coming years when he really hits it big. My only gripe is that they had him take the pin instead of Doi, but like I said Doi is presented as the bigger of the two for right now so I got it. Maybe that will chance soon. Hopefully it does.

Before Doi and Kumagoro get their rematch, Kondo and Hayashi will defend against Kono and Ito while Doi and Kumagoro will team with Jiro to take on Soya, NOSAWA and Tanaka for the UWA six-man titles at the September 18th Korakuen. Looks like this run of awesome tag title matches is not going anywhere. ****1/4

WRESTLE-1 Championship
Shotaro Ashino (c) Def. Jiro Kuroshio

Ever since WRESTLE-1 was formed in 2013 following the exodus of Keiji Mutoh and the All Japan roster, the company has been unable to latch onto anyone long-term.

Seiya Sanada was sent on excursion and immediately went to New Japan upon return, Mutoh is an old man, Masayuki Kono is simply not main event material, KAI was a complete failure, their best option for a long time was to give the title to everyone and anyone and see what sticks. Yuji Hino was a good champion and should have had a longer run, Manabu Soya is a guy they can always run back to but is not a long-term answer, Daiki Inaba beat KAI at this show last year and lost to Kono a few months later so who knows what happen there, etc. WRESTLE-1 has always been unsure of what exactly they want or what exactly is best for them, but at last, they may have found themselves a guy who could possibly solve all of their problems.

Shotaro Ashino, for a guy only two and a half years into his career, is already comparable to the other great aces in wrestling in terms of presentation and is the guy this company has been in desperate need of for so may years. His charisma, his cockiness, his personality, his in-ring, he looks like an ace, he wrestles like an ace, he presents himself like an ace, Ashino is the answer. In the biggest match of his career he came across like the biggest star the company has ever seen, like a true champion.

What he did in this match was brutal, nasty, yet calm, intelligent and scouted. He worked like he wanted to win while also coming across like he knew what he was doing. Jiro on the other hand worked with pride, with guts, like a classical babyface willing to do whatever it takes to beat the heel champion. Not a heel in the way most wrestlers are heels, Ashino is merely a heel because of his cockiness, his swagger, almost a Conor McGregor-type heel in a way. Even so, the crowd is into him, they wanted Jiro to win but it was never because they hated Ashino. It was a testament to how good Jiro was.

Jiro for years now has been working his way up the card all the while building a reputation as someone who can never get it done in the big spot. Whenever put in a big match he ends up on the losing end, whether it be to Keiji Mutoh, Yuji Hino, Kota Ibushi or now Shotaro Ashino, he  always manages to come close but never manages to come out on top. It appeared as though this would be his moment, the moment he established himself as a main eventer once and for all and as someone who can hang with whoever the company throws at him, but again he failed to get the job done despite throwing everything he had at the champion. Maybe his big win will come or maybe he makes a career out of never being able to win the big match. Either way, this was a strong performance, one unlike we have ever really seen out of him. He showed guts, he showed pride, he showed passion, he showed emotion, aggression, you got the sense that he knew this was the biggest match of his career and that he needed to win because of all his previous failures.

In many ways, this was the best match WRESTLE-1 has ever produced. It had the drama, it had the emotion, it had the heat, it had two world-class performances, it was 40 minutes of compelling pro wrestling and everything that makes Japanese main events so special. If you stuck it on a New Japan show it would not feel out of place in the slightest. Daiki Inaba gets a shot at Ashino at the next Korakuen show and you can safely assume Ashino will retain, as he should. He needs to hold this title for at least another 8-12 months. If they want Jiro to win eventually, I would wait until around this time next year. You have a guy who can make you serious money, has created interest for your promotion, can headline any show you want him to in Ashino, run with him as far as you can for as long as you can. Jiro is a made man now as well. People are invested in his story, invested in his character, invested in seeing him get that big win should it ever come.

WRESTLE-1 is alive, WRESTLE-1 has some juice for once, and it was because of this match, because of this show, and because of these two men. An outstanding job by them. ****1/2

Final Thoughts:

WRESTLE-1 knocked it out of the park here with a nice, compact, well-paced show that featured good matches up and down the card and nothing even remotely bad. Save for Kodama vs. Inaba which was not even all that egregious, I would have booked everything on this show exactly how WRESTLE-1 did, so from that perspective and from a pure in-ring perspective, this show was an absolute hit.