Review: Bull Nakano Produce "Empress" (8 Jan 2012)

Legendary Bull Nakano returns on her 44th birthday to finally bid farewell to her fans, and shines a light on the current stars of joshi puroresu

1. Ayako Hamada beat Aja Kong (15:14) with an AP Cross.
2. Guillotine Drop Match: Kayoko Haruyama & Ryo Mizunami beat AKINO & Maki Narumiya (13:34) with a Diving Guillotine Drop from Mizunami on Narumiya.
3. 50s & 40s & 30s & 20s & 10s: Dump Matsumoto, Kyoko Inoue, Leon, Sawako Shimono & Tsukushi defeated Jaguar Yokota, Manami Toyota, Tomoka Nakagawa, Natsuki*Taiyo & Cherry (16:15) with a Powerbomb from Inoue on Cherry.
4. Kana beat Kagetsu (11:23) with the Kana Lock.
5. Nanae Takahashi, Meiko Satomura & Emi Sakura beat Ayumi Kurihara, Yoshiko & Tsukasa Fujimoto (21:41) with a 450 Splash from Sakura on Fujimoto.
6. Yuzuki Aikawa beat Hikaru Shida (15:11) with a Yuzupon Kick.
7. Bull Nakano Retirement Ceremony

Ayako Hamada and Aja Kong go from headlining at JoshiMania the previous month to opening the show here. Not that these two toned anything down for an opener.
• The Guillotine Drop match was four women (each from a different promotion) who all use the legdrop, as per Bull herself. Sendai Girls’ Mizunami eventually hit a top rope version on ICE Ribbon’s Maki Narumiya for the win.
• The concept for the ten woman tag match is genius. Each team has one competitor in their 50s, one in their 40s, one in their 30s, one in their 20s and one in their teens. Cherry is a bit of a cheat on her team, as she’s portrayed as a teenager, but otherwise the gimmick works very well.
Kana vs Kagetsu was a total change of pace – a grappling and striking clinic early, leading to suplexes and submissions later. Stuck between two multi-women tags, it’s a bit of an unsung gem.
• The six woman tag in the semi-main slot was my most anticipated match of the card, and it was the one I ended up enjoying most. Emi Sakura pinned Tsukasa Fujimoto to win, but more about this match below.
• The positioning of a match between Hikaru Shida and Yuzuki Aikawa as the main event on the show (or at least the last match before the extended Nakano retirement) showed a lot of faith in these two. Aikawa is limited in experience, while Shida has only just moved to the top of ICE Ribbon cards. That being said, they did a phenomenal job in delivering a quality main event, with Aikawa eking out the win.

Click through for observations, match of the night and overall impressions

• Hamada and Kong don’t subscribe to the idea of an opening match breaking the crowd in easily. They went hard, including a moonsault from Hamada to the floor and a brainbuster from Kong on a metal box. Both these women may be certifiable, but they can certainly have fun matches against each other.
• The Guillotine Drop match was based all around the legdrop, unsurprisingly. Ground based, double team, and eventually a couple of top rope versions.
• Despite having by far the least experience in the match (she is still in her first year), Maki Narumiya looked perfectly competent in her match. She took the loss for her team, as might be expected, but having seen her a few times recently, it’s becoming clear that she’s one to keep an eye on in 2012 in ICE Ribbon.
Dump Matsumoto is still a scary woman – from the swastika on her forehead to her predilection towards violence and hitting people with kendo sticks. She’s got that whole “Abdullah The Butcher” vibe going on, where even though she’s getting on a bit and even though she’s a bit pudgy, if she makes a move towards you, you’d better be prepared to move quickly
• The 50s/40s/30s/20s/10s match was all action though – everybody got in, hit their spots, got out. Toyota & Tsukushi had an extended run against each other in the middle of the match (they’ve worked in Ice Ribbon) that was unsurprisingly great. Natsuki*Taiyo did some impressive flying, and poor Cherry looked to be so scared of killing Kyoko Inoue with a senton that she basically missed her entirely. Kyoko powerbombed her for the pin in any case.
• I love watching Kana wrestle, so I was in my element with her match vs Kagetsu. I kind of worried that the match might just be “The Kana Show (featuring Kagetsu)”, but Kagetsu showed some good stuff here and got some good offence. Kana still utterly intrigues me as a wrestler. Love her style.
• The match between Hikaru Shida & Yuzuki Aikawa was interesting to watch. Shida carried the majority of it, and Aikawa (who, despite being named Tokyo Sports’ joshi award winner at the end of 2011 is still very much learning her craft) hit all her comebacks and spots very well. The one thing you can say about Aikawa is that she’s totally game and willing to take her lumps to prove she belongs in the ring. She may have been a little awkward at times, but she did good. Shida, who had most of the offence and led the match, looked as good as I’ve ever seen her. Very composed.

Match of the Night:
Nanae Takahashi, Meiko Satomura & Emi Sakura vs Ayumi Kurihara, Yoshiko & Tsukasa Fujimoto.
As noted, I think this match was the one that most interested me on the show. The combination of characters and styles really spoke to me, and even though there wasn’t a babyface/heel dynamic in the match (Yoshiko is the only one who works heel regularly), the personalities and wrestling carried it through really well. Sakura was the heart and soul of the match, being wantonly silly on occasions – but it was interesting to note what appeared to be a couple of subtle but definite snubs from Sakura towards her former ICE Ribbon colleague Tsukasa Fujimoto. Sakura subtly walked away rather than shake hands at the start, and again quietly moved down the apron when Nanae Takahashi was looking for a tag whilst in there with Fujimoto early in the match. The two worked fine later in the match, but the earlier moments were definitely curious. Everybody had their chance to shine in the match. Yoshiko stepped up her game, Sakura was so silly that even Meiko couldn’t help but smile, Ayumi looked like she killed Takahashi with a combination of a headbutt, running dropkick and top rope dive, but it was Fujimoto who blew my mind when she jumped off the back of Takahashi, then skipped off Sakura’s back in order to hit a one-footed dropkick to Satomura who was seated on the top rope. An audacious move for a big occasion. Well done her. For what it’s worth Sakura ended up pinning Fujimoto, but like most of the results on this show, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things – but this was a pretty fine microcosm of what I love about Joshi. Determination, fun, heart and skill.

Overall Impressions
The strongest impression I had on the card is that while there was deep nostalgia in the air, it was a very forward facing card. This wasn’t your joshi equivalent of one of the million ECW “reunion” type events. Sure, the likes of Dump Matsumoto, Jaguar Yokota and more were on the card, but rather than focus on the stars of the past, Nakano put the spotlight on what she perceived as the next generation of talent out there – notably Aikawa & Shida in the main, but also starring spots during the show for the likes of Fujimoto, Kurihara, Kana, Tsukushi and more. If this show attracted a lot of lapsed joshi fans (and by all accounts it did), then Bull gave these girls the shop window to display themselves in and encourage old school fans that there still is a vibrant joshi scene. OK, it isn’t – and will never be – what it once was during the heydey of the Crush Gals, but the talent is still coming through.

As for Nakano’s extended retirment ceremony… well… it was strange. Nakano came out and recreated spots from three of her most famous matches – then the lights would go out and some of the match would play on the big screen – then it would go back to the ring for a further bit of recreation. All quite wacky. That being said, Nakano entering in full regalia in her robe, blue veins on her face and hair spiked up, to her old “Jyotei” entrance theme? Still fantastic. It sure was a shame that Nakano didn’t feel capable of having a proper match, but the fact that the stuff she recreated “live” didn’t involve any bumping suggests that she’s probably right not to come back for a proper match.

For the record, the matches recreated were
Dump Matsumoto & Bull Nakano vs Chigusa Nagayo & Lioness Asuka (1985) – with masked stand-ins playing the Crush Gals
Bull Nakano vs Shinobu Kandori – Chain Death Match (1992)
Bull Nakano vs Aja Kong – Cage Match (1990)

Definite recommendation to check out. A showcase of nostalgic joshi fun with an eye for the future.

– Stew Allen

Photos via Youji Kawauchi


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