Ganbare Pro Wrestling
Ganbare Pro Sekigahara II
July 9, 2023
Ota City General Gymnasium
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: Wrestle Universe

For many, Ganbare Pro is that other promotion on Wrestle-Universe. While certainly not as popular as NOAH, DDT, or TJPW, it’s a promotion that’s been quietly raising its game over the years. Sekigahara is their annual big show from Ota Gym and a good place to start from.

Translated into English, the Japanese phrase Ganbare means “let’s go” or “you can do it,” and once you start watching the promotion regularly, it’s easy to see how this perfectly resonates with the vibe. Ganbare Pro is a babyface promotion. A group of wrestlers, most of whom didn’t fit in with bigger promotions, found their way here to this sort of last-chance saloon for wrestling careers. This is a place, then, with wrestlers who have something to prove; sometimes, this means winning matches, and other times, it means simply being able to hang with the bigger stars from other promotions. But this doesn’t mean that Ganbare is of a lower quality than other promotions. Sure, there are some matches where things are a little rough around the edges, but isn’t that true of any promotion? At the top end, though, there’s real quality here, and I’ve regularly added matches from the promotion to my Match of the Year list. It’s also a great platform to see some of the best indie wrestlers in Japan who regularly come in throughout the year for short runs.

Unusually for Japan, it’s a mixed-gender promotion, and when it comes to matches that feature an outsider taking on a core member of the Ganpro roster, the ringside becomes lined with both men and women roster members cheering their hearts out for their ‘team’ member. The vibes are good here.

Curious? Ganbare Pro Sekigahara II featured English commentary making this is a great place to start.

Masahiro Takanashi def. Munetatsu Nakamura 

Nakamura is a rookie, and he’s nice and crisp with his grappling, but holy shit, he almost died on a dive to the outside, landing on his face.

Mio Momono & Takumi Iroha def. Tomoka Inaba & YuuRI

“Stick that in your spreadsheets,” declares Chris Brookes on commentary at the end of this match. I won’t go that far, but this was good. The story here was all about Ganbare’s own YuuRI proving she could hang with the more established Joshi, and thus its a defeat. but an honorable one for her in the end, perfectly embodying the spirit of Ganbare.

Unagi Sayaka def. Riara 

I haven’t seen Unagi wrestle since she left TJPW, and there’s an aggression here that she certainly didn’t learn in the friendly girl’s promotion. Like a classic “Stone Cold” Steve Austin match, she begins this with some walk and brawl with Riara across the arena. In the ring, too, she brings attitude, with some emphatic leg drops and axe kicks. This was pretty much a squash of poor Riara, and hopefully, something that becomes character-building long term.

Miyuki Takase def. Yoshiko Hasegawa

Hasegawa, more commonly known as Yoppy, is the Ganbare Pro representative against the well-traveled Miyuki Takase. I was worried this was going to be another squash match, but thankfully Yoppy got enough offense in to make it a proper contest—an average match with nothing essential here.

Team Dream Futures (Keisuke Ishii, Shigehiro Irie & Soma Takao) def. Akito, Shinichiro Tominaga & Shota 

This was a fun sprint of a tag match with Team Dream Futures utilizing some innovative triple-team offense and using Irie’s (shoot?) hard head. Lot of moving parts here, but all six worked together like clockwork. A good match to start with if you’re short on time.

Spirit Of Ganbare World Tag Team Title #1 Contendership Four Way Survival Match
Hartley Jackson & HARUKAZE def. Sento Minzoku (Daiki Shimomura & Minoru Fujita) and Ken Ohka & Kuma Arashi and Tsuyoshi Okada & Yuki Kanzaki 

It’s one of wrestling’s greatest tropes—the odd couple tag team. A big bear of a man Hartley Jackson, and wee HARUKAZE follow proudly in this tradition, and you can’t help but root for them here as they put together tag moves that look almost cartoonish in execution. A good match that didn’t outstay its welcome despite the elimination stipulation. Throughout the match, Kuma Arashi kept accidentally hitting his partner Ken Ohka and then turned on him at the end, raising the question of whether it was accidental after all and opening the door to what should be a good match going forward, especially as Ohka, Ganbare’s totemic founder, is in amazing shape.

El Lindaman def. Yumehito Imanari 

I was quite disappointed to see the home promotion hero lose here, although that was really the story of the night. While this match featured the wild emotion that has become Imanari’s trademark, I felt like it didn’t really hit the epic beats that other matches of his have. For what it was, this was decent, and felt like a shift in quality as we approached the tail end of the card. An absolutely disgusting German suplex with Imanari landing directly on his head was among the memorable moments here and something I don’t really want to see again, to be honest.

Spirit Of Ganbare World Tag Team Title Match
Shuichiro Katsumura & Takuya Wada def. Hentai Punch Drunkers (Hikaru Sato & Tyson Maeguchi) (c) 

The story here is that everyone has a connection to the Hard Hit promotion. Suitably this began with some tentative grappling which eventually gave way to more open strikes. With a clear weight advantage, Sato gets the best of Katsumura, and Wada gets the best of the pitbull-like Maeguchi. This leads nicely to a Wada vs. Sato showdown, with Wada almost, but not quite, getting the armbar applied. It’s all relatively simple stuff but executed with an enthralling realistic intensity that makes you wonder what a real MMA tag match would be like.

As the match progresses, more standard pro wrestling tropes like dropkicks, clotheslines, and Irish whips begin to pepper the performance, giving the middle section a sense of forward momentum. The final stretch reverts to pseudo-MMA with Wada, Sato, Katsumura, and Maeguchi pairing off to exchange hard-hitting strikes and kicks. At one point, Tyson is flailing his arms and missing Katsumura completely, but unlike a regular pro wrestling match, this just adds to the realism factor, and the sense of desperation. It all ends with Katsumura mounting a huge comeback to win with a submission hold.

This was very good, and if you’re a fan of realism in pro wrestling, then I’d urge you to check this out. What elevated this was the story it told, with the opening exchanges clearly showing that the lighter Katsumura was no match for Sato and likewise with Maeguchi and Wada. These opening grapples then, were not perfunctory, but a process of two teams feeling each other out and finding a worthy fighting partner in the other team, which played into the finish. A notebook match (****+) for sure.

Spirit Of Ganbare World Openweight Title Match
Isami Kodaka def. Mizuki Watase ©

Following his loss, Watase was distraught and apologized to the faithful crowd, but fittingly enough, it’s Katsumura, one of the few Ganbare winners tonight, who takes the mic to remind Watase that Ganbare is a family and he need not apologize for having a great match. Watase’s matches have come to be defined by their heavy hits and jaw-dropping moments of brutality. It’s not really what you expect from looking at him, with his sleight frame, speedo trunks, and babyface. Oh, and the silly red hair too. But for those who know, Watase has been something of a revelation in Ganbare. which begs the question of what went wrong at DDT, a place he hung around for years without ever getting anything much that amounted to a push. The last year has felt like a classic ‘prove them wrong’ run, and Watase certainly has, and is, for my money, one of the best champions in the country.

I can’t deny that the result here was disappointing, but if you’re into match quality alone, this was pretty great, and the simple story here was Kodaka wearing down Watase’s right arm to the point where Watase’s forearm strikes could not break through. Fighting spirit, big moves, dives, all that jazz is here. Probably just missing out on the notebook, but well worth a watch.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Ganbare Pro Sekigahara II was a good show, and if you want to dip your toes into the waters of Ganbare, this is the perfect jumping-off point. It’s a long show, so if you’re pressed for time, then you can’t go wrong with the final three matches if you like hard-hitting matches; if you like to mix things up a bit, then the Women’s tag, the six-man tag are also well recommended. Chris Brookes and Mr. Haku were a delight on commentary, with a perfect amount of explanation versus play-by-play.

It isn’t Ganbare’s breakthrough show, but the company has been putting in effort and is gradually gaining plaudits in the English-speaking world. If you’d like to follow Ganbare, then the superlative Dramatic DDT is always your first port of call for DDT-related promotions, and a shout out to the Dramatic Dream Dragons podcast, who did a great review of this show in a recent episode.

On the downside of Sekigahara II, the meta-story of almost every Ganbare wrestler losing to an outsider was a sour note to finish on, especially when Watase didn’t succeed in his main event defense. It’s a strange path to take on their largest show of the year. Politically, Ganbare needs to balance bringing in outside wrestlers who can help them draw houses, while making sure their homegrown talent doesn’t come across as second-rate. That said, it’s part of the promotion’s unique charm that a loss can become a victory of sorts, and even the less interesting matches on the card were still infused with that Ganbare passion that really elevates the promotion for long-time viewers.