Women’s Pro-Wrestling ASSEMBLE
October 1, 2020
Ueno Park

Watch: assemble.zaiko.io/_item/330419

A little under a year ago, the world of wrestling was rocked by the news that Bushiroad, parent company of New Japan, had acquired Stardom, one of the top Joshi companies in all of Japan. There were a number of questions surrounding the acquisition, but one of the biggest questions was how much of a threat this newly powerful Stardom would be to the numerous smaller Joshi promotions that operate on razor-thin margins and don’t have the capabilities to compete with a behemoth like Bushiroad.

In response, there were some rumors and brief mentions of a possible Joshi supershow, possibly as a way of helping the smaller promotions out, but nothing materialized. Bushiroad began their operations by controversially signing Giulia away from Ice Ribbon, seemingly indicating a possible hostile takeover of Joshi talent, but after a little while, things seemed to return to normal. Stardom largely operated the way they had before with a few more shows added to their schedule and a handful of new wrestlers.

Then, only five months later, Joshi, like the rest of the wrestling world, was forced to grapple with yet another threat – COVID. Promotions were forced to choose between running no-fan shows or running no shows at all. Some promotions saw their already tiny margins get even smaller, while some promotions chose to suspend operations entirely. Although there were no outward signs of struggle (no company was forced to ask publicly for money), it was clear that these promotions could not continue to run under these circumstances for much longer without something changing.

It is out of these circumstances that ASSEMBLE is born.

A brand new super promotion combining Sendai Girls, Marvelous, Oz Academy, Pure-J, and T-Hearts along with Stardom. Ice Ribbon and WAVE (more on that later), the promotion hopes to bring more exposure to these smaller groups as well as help them financially at a time when they have all been affected by COVID live event restrictions.

For such a seemingly large undertaking, it may be surprising that this was all announced mere weeks ago at a press conference led by Joshi legend Akira Hokuto. Although she won’t be wrestling, Hokuto hopes her involvement with the promotion helps to grow ASSEMBLE and the Joshi wrestling scene at large. There are still a number of questions to be answered about what exactly ASSEMBLE is, but hopefully, their first show will go a long way in letting the fans know what to expect from this brand new promotion.

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A lot of what the first show looks like is dictated by the still-present threat of COVID. The show is being hosted at the outdoor amphitheater at Ueno Park, and wrestlers will have minimal, if any, contact with wrestlers from other promotions. Each match on the card features wrestlers from the same promotion (which the exception of the freelancers match). It’s not clear if this will be the way ASSEMBLE will present their shows in the future, or if there are no interpromotional matches to prevent the spread of COVID between promotions. As mentioned before, Stardom, Ice Ribbon and WAVE were all announced as participants at the opening press conference, but will not be sending a representative match to the first show. When (or if) these promotions do join up is still unknown.

In any manner, ASSEMBLE has put together an exciting card for their first outing. If you are new to joshi, the card will give you a good sense of the width and breadth of joshi, as well as the numerous different styles that each company employs. Although the card features no singles matches, each company has put forth a strong match that I believe will give a good sense of exactly what they bring to the table.

For those interested in watching, the show will be available on PPV at https://assemble.zaiko.io/_item/330419. It will cost only 2,000 Yen (about $19 US), and can be watched live or on-demand through October 4. 

NOTE: The order in which the matches are listed below is most likely not the order the matches will be presented in. There will be a draw on the day of the show to determine the match order.

Marvelous 6 Person Tag Match
Takumi Iroha, Rin Kadokura and Maria vs. Mio Momono, Mikoto Shindo and Mei Hoshizuki

We begin with what I believe could be the match of the night. For my money, Marvelous is one of the most underrated wrestling promotions in the world with a group of rookies that I believe are the best young wrestlers anywhere in wrestling. Chigusa Nagayo, who runs the promotion and does all the training, has created a small, tightly knit group of wrestlers who have become incredibly talented very quickly.

The group is led by the de facto ace of Marvelous, Takumi Iroha. Iroha started her career in Stardom, before departing for Marvelous in 2015, where she became Nagayo’s newest protege (a position formerly held by Joshi icon Meiko Satomura). Since her arrival in Marvelous, she has become one of Joshi’s best wrestlers, displaying a dizzying array of strikes and kicks that have helped her rack up win after win (including a February win over World of Stardom champion Mayu Iwatani). For those who have not seen her before, she is sure to be a highlight.

Next are Rin Kadokura and Mio Momono, two very different wrestlers personality-wise who find themselves in a similar circumstance of recently returning from long time injuries. Kadokura returned just this month from an injury that kept her out of action for fifteen months, and Marvelous fans are excited to have her back. Prior to her injury, she had been tagging regularly with Iroha as NEW TRA, a tag team that had been putting on great matches not only in Marvelous, but in promotions like Stardom and WAVE as well. Although she doesn’t quite have the out of this world talent that Iroha possesses, she is one of Marvelous’ many exciting young talents, and at still only 27 years old, has a lot of room to grow.

Mio Momono is in many ways the heart and soul of Marvelous. With a bubbly, outgoing personality, Momono’s antics are often the highlight of Marvelous’ shows, and her absence from in-ring activity over the past year has left a noticeable hole in the promotion. Luckily, she’s now healed and back to cause mayhem. Look for her to play the role of trickster in this match.

Rounding out this group is the young trio of Mikoto Shindo, Mei Hoshizuki and Maria. Shindo, the veteran of the group, has only 25 months of in-ring experience, but don’t let the low numbers fool you – this is a group of wrestlers who can GO in the ring. They employ the usual maneuvers of many young wrestlers – dropkicks, half crabs, strikes – but deploy them with such energy and ferocity that you would think that the moves were all finishers. It is rare to see a match with any of these three rookies where they don’t lay it all out in the ring, giving maximum effort to win the match.

OZ Academy Tag Team Match
Mayumi Ozaki and Saori Anou vs. Sonoko Kato and AKINO

For many people, OZ Academy is an acquired taste. Throughout its nearly twenty-five year history, OZ has always been dominated by a home army heel faction that causes chaos and wreaks havoc on every show they appear on. Although the faction has gone by many names (it currently goes by Seikigun), it has always been fronted by Mayumi Ozaki, the leader of the group whose followers will interfere liberally in her matches to secure her the victory. For some people, the interference is fun, a different style to the usual style of wrestling that frowns heavily on any kind of interference. For others, the interference is a step too far, ruining the matches and taking them out of the action.

With the previously mentioned COVID restrictions in place, it isn’t clear how much backup Ozaki will have in this match. Her usual cornerman, POLICE (a guy who wears a hat that says POLICE on it) hasn’t been announced for the show, and it’s not clear if he will be there. It’s also not clear whether Ozaki’s stablemates Maya Yukihi and Yumi Ohka will be there either (their home promotions are Ice Ribbon and WAVE respectively, two promotions who are technically part of ASSEMBLE but are not sending any talent to the first show). 

Whether there is interference or not, this match should be a lot of fun. Mayumi Ozaki is one of Joshi’s biggest names, and is one of the last bastions of a brawling hardcore style that has taken a back seat in recent years to a more athletic style of Joshi wrestling. She is joined by her Seikigun stablemate Saori Anou. Anou is sneaky good, and her more fast-paced style is a good counterbalance to Ozaki’s slower, more deliberate style. Ozaki and Anou had a vicious main event against each other at OZ Academy’s biggest show of the year at the end of August, but are now united again to cause chaos in ASSEMBLE.

But it won’t be an easy task, as standing across the ring from them will be the veteran MISSION K4 team of Sonoko Kato and AKINO. Kato and AKINO have a combined 47 years of experience in joshi, and their MISSION K4 team uses a more technical style to try and counteract the underhanded tactics of Seikigun. They may not be the flashiest wrestlers on the show, but their veteran know-how and experience facing off against Ozaki and Anou should make this a fun match.

SEAdLINNNG Tag Team Match
Yoshiko and Honori Hana vs. Arisa Nakajima and Riko Kaiju

The story of SEAdLINNNG is a fascinating one. Beginning five years ago, it started out largely as a vanity promotion. Nanae Takahashi, the head of the promotion, spent the first few years headlining shows against a variety of opponents from within and outside the company – Masato Tanaka, ODB, The Great Sasuke, Meiko Satomura, Rina Yamashita, Veda Scott, etc. etc. There wasn’t much to the promotion outside of the great matches they put on. 

Then, two years ago, the promotion introduced both tag team titles and a singles title, the first sign that the promotion was trying to be more than a glorified supershow. Then last year, the promotion introduced factions into the company, as well as running a long term storyline that culminated in a hair match between Nanae Takahashi and Arisa Nakajima that ended up on many Joshi fans’ match of the year lists (the match finished at #19 in VOW’s 2019 match of the year poll, the highest ever placement for a Joshi match). Finally, SEAdLINNNG ended 2019 by introducing their first rookie to the company, and it appeared that SEAdLINNNG had officially become a full-blown wrestling company. SEAdLINNNG didn’t waste any time in introducing a second rookie into the fold, and their match at ASSEMBLE is a mix of the veteran talent that has built the company up from its roots alongside the rookies that hope to lead it into the future.

In one corner is veteran Yoshiko and rookie Honori Hana. Yoshiko has become the star of SEAdLINNNG in 2020, in part due to the fact that she has accrued a huge fanbase on social media (to put it into context, Yoshiko now has more Twitter followers than every Joshi company combined). SEAdLINNNG responded to her newfound fame by making her the Beyond the Sea champion (SEAdLINNNG’s top singles title). At the same time, she is also one half of the Beyond the Sea tag champions along with Hiroyo Matsumoto. The company has positioned her front and center, in hopes of attracting more fans and rising up the ranks of Joshi. She has rewarded their faith in-ring by putting on a number of excellent matches, including her title victory from earlier this year against Arisa Nakajima.

Teaming with Yoshiko will be young wrestler Honori Hana. Hana (who I covered in VOW’s Hustlers and Heatseeker series), is SEAdLINNNG’s first rookie. She debuted in December of 2019, and now that SEAdLINNNG has returned to action, is getting ample opportunities to learn and grow against some of the best wrestlers in Joshi. It’s still not clear what her ceiling will be, but she is being trained by Takahashi and Natsuki Taiyo, who both spent a number of years in the early 2010s in STARDOM where they helped train the likes of Mayu Iwatani, Kairi Hojo, Arisa Hoshiki and many others. Performing on the big stage of ASSEMBLE will give Hana another opportunity to develop and show the world what she can do.

In the opposite corner is the veteran/rookie combination of Arisa Nakajima and Riko Kaiju. Nakajima is in some regards the most underrated wrestler in all of Joshi, if not the whole world. You’re not likely to find her name on an end of the year best wrestlers in the world list, but her list of in-ring masterpieces is longer than most and her tough as nails fighting style and ‘fuck you’ attitude create matches that are unique and stand out. She is another wrestler who is seemingly incapable of taking a night off, and I am certain that she will be a stand out of this first ASSEMBLE show.

Riko Kaiju is SEAdLINNNG’s newest rookie, having debuted in the middle of July at SEAdLINNNG’s Korakuen Hall show. Her first match shocked a lot of people, as Kaiju showed a skill level far above her experience, and many people walked away excited for what her future holds. She, like Honori Hana, will get the benefit of two great trainers, but the potential she has shown already means that she may be capable of being SEAdLINNNG’s first homegrown star. Hopefully wrestling on a show like ASSEMBLE will be the next step of Kaiju’s rise up the SEAdLINNNG ranks to the next phase of her career.

PURE-J Tag Team Match
Leon and Rydeen Hagane vs. Manami Katsu and Mari Manji

For many years, JWP was one of Joshi’s premier companies, employing a huge number of well-known names and putting on excellent matches. Names like Bull Nakano, Devil Masami, Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, Kana (WWE’s Asuka) and many more made appearances in the company, and the promotion even managed to survive the Joshi downturn in the mid-2000s.

Unfortunately, the company ran into some copyright issues in 2017 and were forced to change their name to Pure-J. A name change isn’t a huge deal, but it seemed for a time like the name change might spell doom for the company. A number of high profile wrestlers left the company or retired, and the newly christened Pure-J was forced to recalibrate and reload. Reload they have, and their ASSEMBLE match is a face-off between two great veterans and two rookies that are part of a group of young talent Pure-J has developed over the past few years.

Leon and Rydeen Hagane are the veterans, with Leon’s career dating all the way back to 2000 in ARSION. She’s been a staple of JWP/Pure-J since 2001, and is now a days the most recognizable star in the group. She recently won the Pure-J Openweight title, her second stint with the belt in the last two years. It feels a bit strange to call Rydeen Hagane a veteran at only 28 years of age, but she’s been around JWP/Pure-J since 2012 and has proven herself a steady hand as Pure-J tries to develop their undercurrent of young talent.

Manami Katsu and Mari Manji are an interesting pick for the rookie side of the team. Both have shown potential, but neither has gotten the kind of push in Pure-J that might indicate they would be chosen for this assignment. Neither has held titles in Pure-J, although they did challenge as a team for the the Daily Sports Tag Team Titles a few months back. This matchup should be an interesting one to watch, although it will most likely be the least flashy match on the card. Pure-J has developed a back to basics style, and hopefully their appearance on ASSEMBLE will help start Pure-J’s return to the heights they achieved under their previous name.

Sendai Girls 6 Person Tag Match
Meiko Satomura, DASH Chisako and Yurika Oka vs. Chihiro Hashimoto, Manami and Natsuho Kaneko

Sendai Girls’ match most closely resembles Marvelous’, with a mixing of top of the card veterans alongside young rookie wrestlers. Sendai Girls is led by Meiko Satomura, who almost needs no introduction here as one of the modern greats of Joshi wrestling and one of the few Joshi wrestlers of the last twenty years or so to break through to mainstream wrestling fans (and who also should be inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, wink wink). She is in charge of the promotion and heads up a team featuring veteran DASH Chisako and rookie Yurika Oka.

Chisako might be one of Joshi’s most underrated talents, and that includes being underrated by the very company she works in.  She has never held a singles championship, and although her resume includes a bevy of tag team championships, even those reigns tend to sink under the radar (she has been Sendai Girls tag champion for a year and has only defended the belt one single time). She’s been a solid veteran presence for Sendai Girls for years, and I’m happy to see her get an opportunity to shine on a bigger stage. I’m sure she will impress as always, but hopefully this time it will lead to some bigger opportunities for one of Sendai Girls’ best workers.

Yurika Oka is a fairly new wrestler to Sendai Girls, having debuted almost exactly one year ago, back on September 28th, 2019. Sendai was another promotion that ran no shows during the COVID lockdown, so Oka has gotten limited opportunities to shine in the past year (she’s only had 26 matches to date). It’s a bit tricky to get a read on Oka. She may have some potential, but she certainly doesn’t stand out in the way that people like Riko Kaiju and Mei Hoshizuki do. Hopefully, as she gets more work under her belt, she can start to work on the little things that will make her stand out in the crowded field of young Joshi wrestlers.

Meiko Satomura leads one side, and leading the charge against her is Chihiro Hashimoto. Hashimoto is the star of the Sendai Girls promotion, although I’m not sure you would quite know it looking at the way she has been booked. Hashimoto has been Sendai Girls champion five times in the past three years, which sounds impressive until you remember that to win the title five times, you have to lose it four. Hashimoto’s career over the past three years has been defined by a yo-yo of winning the title and then almost immediately losing it to someone else before gaining it back once again. It’s created a situation where it has become hard to invest in Hashimoto as champion knowing she is almost destined to lose it immediately once again. Luckily, where Hashimoto shines most is in the ring, and in a situation like ASSEMBLE, where the booking goes out the window, she is sure to impress.

Hashimoto’s veteran second is Manami, although Manami doesn’t quite have the chops of a DASH Chisako. Manami is a four year veteran with nearly 150 matches under her belt, but in many ways, she still feels like a rookie. Part of that may be due to the stagnant Sendai Girls booking which makes it hard for wrestlers to rise up the card, but Manami lack of true star-making performances mean that she seems to lag behind some workers younger than she is.

Their rookie is Natsuho Kaneko, the least experienced worker on the entire card. She debuted on Sendai’s last show before they shut down for COVID back in March and has only had ten matches total in her career. The path to her debut was reportedly fairly arduous, and it will be interesting to watch an essentially brand new wrestler on a card filled with a lot of very experienced workers and wrestlers trying to prove themselves to a new audience. It will be tough to stand out, but if there is any place to try and do it, it’s on a stage like this.

T-Hearts Presents 6 Person Tag Team Match
Yumiko Hotta, Saki Akai and ASUKA vs. Sareee, Riko Kawahata and Tomoka Inaba

Yumiko Hotta, who was associated with Actwres Girl’Z for a number of years, left the promotion a few months ago and has begun to carve out her own path, creating a new group, T-Hearts. While details of what exactly T-Hearts will be are scarce, the group is tasked here with presenting the freelance match – six wrestlers not currently signed to one of the other groups putting on a match on the show.

Hotta’s legendary career dates all the way back to All Japan in the ’80s and she has appeared in almost every major Joshi promotion that has existed over the past thirty-five years. She obviously has a lot of connections, and if the talent in this match is anything to go by, T-Hearts will be a company to look out for, as Hotta has brought together a number of Joshi’s best wrestlers in one match.

Saki Akai may be the most well-known wrestler in the match, regularly appearing for DDT. When Akai first started out in the business, she quickly gained a reputation for being a bit awkward in the ring, but as her career has gone on, she has improved leaps and bounds. This year especially she has turned in a number of excellent performances alongside her stablemates in DDT’s Eruption. Put in the ring with five other excellent wrestlers, she is more than capable of turning heads who may not have seen her since her awkward first days.

ASUKA (not to be confused with WWE’s Asuka) was for a long time considered to be an exciting prospect who needed some polish. She had the potential, but needed some time to figure out exactly how to excel. Hyper athletic and still only 21 years old, 2020 has been a breakout for ASUKA, as she has improved leaps and bounds in the ring and finally put it all together. She comes across as a star, and her inclusion here in the freelancers match is only a surprise because it seems wild to me that some company hasn’t come in and signed her away for big bucks.

The fourth worker in the freelance match is a bit of a surprise. Sareee had one of the best single years for any wrestler in 2019, and it was no shock when WWE came calling. Rumor had it that WWE had always been the final goal for Sareee, so when it was announced she would be leaving to go to America in 2020, fans were saddened, but not surprised. However, COVID struck, and Sareee got stuck in Japan, her dreams on hold. Most people assumed she would just wait things out and head to America when everything was clear, but in a surprising move, WWE gave her permission to return to Joshi and wrestle while she waited out the clearance. With everything going on in the world, nothing is certain, but it is very exciting to see Sareee back in a Joshi ring, at least for a little while longer. After eight months away, Sareee has returned with a bang, reminding everyone why her 2019 was so well regarded. Saree holds nothing back, and is sure to deliver another memorable performance for ASSEMBLE.

Rie Kawabata is a bit of an interesting story. An Actwres Girl’Z wrestler, she announced at the beginning of September that she would be leaving the promotion and going freelance. That was all well and good until Actwres Girl’Z came out and said she wasn’t allowed to leave the promotion. Regardless, she announced that she had in fact left the promotion and joined Hotta’s T-Hearts. With both Hotta and Kawabata outcasts from the same promotion, it will be interesting to see if any further members of AWG also opt to jump ship. Perhaps they’ll join in time for ASSEMBLE 2? Either way, it will be exciting to see Kawabata here, as prior to her departure from AWG, she had spent a lot of time on the injury list, so it will be good to see her in the match and healthy.

Tomoka Inaba is the final freelancer in the match, although she is barely a freelancer, having wrestled 19 of her 25 career matches for Just Tap Out, Taka Michinoku’s promotion. Just Tap Out recently lost their female ace, Maika, to Stardom, meaning there may be room at the top of the card for someone like Inaba. If she can use this match and matches like this to gain experience and in-ring proficiency, she could be someone worth watching in the future.