A bit of a weird one this, I’ll grant you. Considering earlier this year, the 28 year old joshi puroresu standout announced her retirement from the sport due to nagging injuries (citing her 2007 clavicle injury in particular), you’d think Kurihara would be as far away from a discussion like this as it is possible to be – and while, yes, seeing a superb young talent being struck down in the prime of her career is a terribly sad thing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody go on a more joyful final retirement road. Kurihara’s last six months in the business have seen her experience so much, achieve so much and do it all with a huge smile on her face. If she’s leaving wrestling, she’s packing an entire career’s worth of memories into 2013.
Ayumi started 2013 as one half of the OZ Academy Tag Team Champions alongside one of her senpai, AKINO – although the duo lost their titles on February 10th to Mayumi Ozaki & Yumi Ohka before Kurihara announced that she was suffering from a broken orbital bone and had to pull out of WAVE’s ‘Regina de Wave’ tournament at the semi-final stage. After only a month out, Kurihara returned to WAVE on March 17th, but it wasn’t long before her retirement announcement on March 28th. When reporting the news at the time, we made mention of a blog post by Kurihara, promising to “continue to fight with all her strength and all her heart until August 4th”, and that’s exactly what she’s done.
Her final US match was at SHIMMER Vol 53 on April 6th – and encapsulates what has made her last few months in wrestling so tremendous. She got to wrestle someone she’d never previously wrestled (Mercedes Martinez) and she showed amazing heart and determination. If you watched the iPPV (still available on demand on WWNLive.com and soon to be released on DVD) you’d have seen a young woman going 100% – throwing herself around the ring with reckless abandon. Suplexes, dives to the outside, those punishing signature dropkicks – all there. For someone on the verge of retirement, she didn’t show it – and the fans loved her for it.
From there it was back to Japan, and with all roads leading to her final performance on August 4th in Korakuen Hall, Ayumi indulged herself. During her extended goodbye tour, she’s defeated Mayumi Ozaki in a “Dress Up Wild” streetfight in OZ Academy on April 24th (one of Ozaki’s signature matches), went one-on-one with legendary Aja Kong in a losing effort on May 12th in OZ Academy, main evented a Sendai Girls show vs the awesome Meiko Satomura on May 19th and fought in a losing one-on-one match to Ayako Hamada in WAVE on June 2nd. She’s having a hand-picked selection of matches that she will never forget. Case in point was June 9th where she wrestled her old friend Hiroyo Matsumoto in OZ Academy (the first and only time they’ve wrestled a singles match since their rookie year in 2006 – Kurihara won) and then worked Pro Wrestling WAVE later that same day in a losing battle to Regina de Wave champion Yumi Ohka.
She and her friend and tag partner Kana produced a show on 15 June which saw the two take on the joshi dream team of Ayako Hamada & Meiko Satomura (which ended with Hamada submitting to Kurihara), and she’s also taken one or two diversions off the beaten path to star for DIANA (defeating Saree on May 3rd) and for Emi Sakura’s Gatoh Move promotion on June 5th, pinning Riho in a tag team match. Even just last week we’ve even seen her indulge her inner Akira Hokuto for WAVE, dressing up like her idol and inspiration. On her twitter after that match, Kurihara explained that the first time she ever stole her mother’s makeup was to paint her face like Akira Hokuto.
She’s still not done. We’re about a month off from her final match in Korakuen Hall – and in the coming month she will main event against AKINO on a special AKINO produced show, Kana & Ayumi will co-produce another show where they will work a mixed tag with two Dragon Gate guys (Kurihara & Mochizuki vs Kana & Horiguchi), have a final singles match with Tomoka Nakagawa for WAVE, and she will re-enter ICE Ribbon for the first time in a while, teaming with Tsukasa Fujimoto to take on Aoi Kizuki & Risa Sera. Kizuki, as you may know, was the wrestler whose apparently errant clothesline broke Kurihara’s clavicle seven years ago. Every career thread is getting tied up, and there’s not a loose end to be seen. As for her final performance? We still don’t know who she’ll face, but I have a hunch she’ll work more than once on her final card. Could Mariko Yoshida be tempted out of retirement to put on one more match to honour her student?
The experiences, the special matchups, the final singles bouts with friends, trainers and idols – any joshi competitor would be lucky to achieve that across an entire career – and here is Kurihara packing them into a half year she’ll never forget. Maybe it’s good that she’s keeping busy, because if she stopped now she’d realise how sad she’s going to be when she wakes up on the morning of August 5th.
For having one of the most exciting, intense and emotional extended sendoffs we’ve ever seen, and for doing it all with such positivity, we can’t help but remember the first half of this year as one of the most shining periods in Ayumi’s all-too-short career.
— Stew Allen
— Photos by Youji Kawauchi & Hiroyo Matsumoto