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Manchester Evening News Arena – TNA Maximum Impact IV

30 Jan

27th January 2012

Another ranty post! The target? Ticketmaster.

Last week, one of the highlights of my year occurred. The annual trip to watch the action of TNA Wrestling in Manchester. I’ve gone for the last 3 years, and this year would be special – we got aisle side seats as we had the option to buy them from Ticketmaster. We got tickets sat in Block A, Row H, seat 2. Which according to the Ticketmaster website was right by the aisle.

And here was our view.

Turns out the way that Manchester Evening News and Ticketmaster report the seats were different. After taking our seats we were ejected and moved. After complaining to customer services who were not particularly helpful, we took our seats far away from where we thought we’d be, surrounded by a bunch of pissed off people who believe they – like me – were misold tickets.

We had one escape, where during the end of the matches we could run around the back and go to the aisle, allowing us to get good photos, but the ring was awkwardly positioned, meaning we got a post in the way of all action photos. For £55 a ticket we were not happy, and I’m never booking with ticketmaster again. I urge you to do the same.

The show itself was brilliant. The crowd was rackus, and Samoa Joe vs Bobby Roode being a standout match, Doug Williams finally getting a reception he richly deserved in the UK, Bully Ray winding up the Manchester crowd by wearing a Liverpool shirt, and of course seeing Dixie Carter (getting a photo with her), Sting and Hulk Hogan. TNA does amazing shows on the road, especially in the UK.

I’m just annoyed that the M.E.N. Arena and Ticketmaster ruined our complete enjoyment of the day. Here are some pictures.

Liverpool Echo Arena – WWE Monday Night RAW

7 Nov

8th November 2011

So as I write this I am sat on the train home after an ace day watching WWE Monday Night RAW in my adopted home town of Liverpool.

Now I could talk about the matches (which were great) the atmosphere (which was electric) and the banter with fellow wrestling fans (which was fun and flowing). However as predominantly football blog, most people are here are interested in one thing – the possibility of one less that subtle fan.

Half way through the Justin Gabriel vs Curt Hawkins Superstars main event, which was taped before the show, a fan wearing a Mario Balotelli shirt walked past us. He had a gold chain, Mohawk and an earring. Except he wasn’t a City fan, he appeared to be a City player, Mario Balotelli.

Yes, what appeared to be the Premier League’s charismatic enigma was shown his seat (bottom tier, back row, ironically by the pyrotechnics), to take in quality wrestling.

He seemed approachable, smiling at the Balotelli chants (a first for Liverpool, sod being a Liverpool fan), and posing for photos.

Here are the photos, including the ones of actual wrestling. Watch RAW this Monday (8th November), particularly Alberto’s Del Rio’s entrance, as it was right in front of him, and the Divas Entrance (as he seemed to ditch his missus to film it).

However it appears that Yahoo! have confirmed it wasn’t him. As somebody who was there, it did appear to be a guy that really, really, really did his homework. Even the girl he was with looked similar to his missus.

Either way, watch RAW as – although Balotelli may or may not have been there, it was a great show!

Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA – WWE Monday Night Raw

27 Jun

I arrived in Richmond, VA with trepidation. This was Real America, off the tourist trail with smiley faces for a dollar tip. It was also humid. Chicago was also heat stroke inducing, but this was something else. The reason for my visit to this part of the world was to see WWE Monday Night Raw. It was slightly off the beaten track, but as I was over in the states anyway, a day or two out of my schedule for a trip to the famous Richmond Coliseum was essential. Growing up it was always such a famous name that stood out from the sponsored arenas, furthermore it was a famous venue for non-WWF wrestling in the 1970′s and 80′s, with Ric Flair being one of the leading names. I arrived midday Sunday and explored the town.

You'll Never Walk Alone in Richmond

Unfortunately, Richmond isn’t really that much to shout about in terms of a town. It’s got a few museums dedicated to the Confederacy, but whilst I’m sure it’s a great place to live, it isn’t geared to tourists. Fantastic. With that said though I did find a bar owned by a Brit and a Liverpool fan. Inside this bar the roof was decorated with scarfs from obvious and less than obvious teams. Between the Liverpool, United, Arsenal, Barcelona and Lyon flags were Hartlepool United, Luton Town and FC United of Manchester scarf. I explained the playoff finals to the bar owner, who seemed genuinely interested – when I explained exacltly what playoffs were.

Are You Watching Manchester?

But yes, Sky Sports, good ales from proper glasses, great food and football. If you’re missing home and find yourself in Richmond, head to the Penny Lane Bar. Say the crazy Colwyn Bay fan sent you. After a beer & brisket sandwich lunch I headed back to the hotel to make my signs for the evening’s entertainment. The first sign was aimed at Zack Ryder, who’s satirical shot at Jersey Shore culture, who despite losing almost every match he’s been in recently is stupidly popular. My second sign was aimed at Mason Ryan, a kid from Gwynedd who is fluent in Welsh, and who I last saw in Llandudno‘s Extravaganza beating the living hell out of my mate (in the ring). Finally the last sign was aimed at Helen, who is the subject to a jokey hashtag amongst my mates.

Yes I know. I'm 27.

Unfortunately Helen had friends in high places and whilst a sign promoting one of the least promenant members of the roster and a borderline racist sign got through into the arena (I did have to explain what my Welsh sign said), my sign aimed at a friend wasn’t! Boo!

WWE Superstars

The show began with two matches taped for the international TV show WWE Superstars. The first match was between JTG and “The Masterpiece” Chris Masters. Interestingly both guys were considered “good guys”, which – if you read my previous post on TNA and how having good guys fighting good guys don’t work – you know I hate. However, JTG managed to get crowd to hate him, which worked well. Masters won with his Masterlock finishing move.

The second match featured Maryse and Melina against Kelly Kelly (one of the Maxim Top 100 women) and Gail Kim. Wrestling fans and Americans get bad rep for being rather stupid and low brow (a fact that me, a head of online marketing mate of mine, a doctor mate of mine and a lawyer mate of mine would strongly disagree with), but Gail Kim’s fans are not exactly numerous, but they make up for it with a combined high IQ with this wonderfully geeky sign.

Seriously my maths has gone downhill from my A-Levels. If somebody can please explain this, please pipe up in the comments!

Marvellous. Melina (who can do the splits), won with a split leg drop, which was a thing of beauty.

WWE Tough Enough

Onto WWE Tough Enough, which is WWE’s reality TV show where the winner wins a WWE contract. Unfortunately it’s not been on UK TV so had no idea what was going on. The two finalists – Andy (a straight edge boring individual, who’s big, and calls himself “The Silent Rage” like he’s a bloody ten year old), and Luke (a slightly obnoxious party boy), as well as the losing contestants were announced first, before the judges – Booker T (wrestling legend), Bill Demott (not quite as impressive but still good) and Trish Stratus (wrestling legend, and I would) we’re announced together. Leaving one judge left to announce, Stone Cold Steve Austin, probably one of my absolute favourites growing up, and I screamed like a schoolgirl at at Take That concert when the beer swilling redneck walked out on stage.

At this point, I was screaming like a schoolgirl.

This was known, what wasn’t known was that there was also an appearance from the WWE Chairman, long time Austin rival and the most powerful man in wrestling  – Vince McMahon. Marvellous!

After a brief back and forth action, and a few minutes of stalling about why each should win the contract (Andy stole one of The Rock’s lines, which Vince completely shot down) and Andy was eventually announced the winner, he was slapped in the face, and then dropped with the first Stone Cold Stunner of the night. With that, the show began.

WWE Monday Night Raw

The show began with Austin and Vince still in the ring, and were joined in the ring by the top bad guy at the moment, R-Truth. An amazing transformation from a rather dull good guy to a an interesting and rather shocking bad guy (he broke UK law by smoking openly on camera, for example), R-Truth has been a breath of fresh air. He wanted a title shot (and got it) which brought out another bad guy – The Miz. They argued back and forth until Alex Riley took exception to something The Miz said. Alex Riley has gone the other way, former Miz protege and bad guy, he has actually been getting some popularity. After aboout three words, John Cena – the guy in the WWE – came out to a rapturous reception. It’s easy to see why he’s popular, typical American GI Joe esque character. Doesn’t mean I like him.

Spot the individual who's "cool with da kidz" (or something)

Anyway, after a few minutes of back-and-forth talking, the main event was announced: R-Truth & The Miz vs John Cena & Alex Riley, with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the special guest referee.

Following the first two opening matches – Santino Marella beating Michael McGillicutty and Kelly Kelly & Beth Phoenix beating the Bella Twins, we were treated to the target of one of my signs – Mason Ryan, as he shadowed CM Punk in his match against Rey Mysterio.

Barri Griffiths, to give Mason Ryan his real name, is the first Welsh wrestler to be employed by the WWE. From a village in Gwynedd, I last saw him wrestle at Llandudno Extravaganza. After getting to know a few local wrestlers in the UK scene, I found out that the guy was cherry picked from a crowed, help trained by a couple of good friends of mine, and then picked up by the WWE.

Anyway, he then spoke to the crowd in Welsh, which was “translated” by CM Punk. Unfrotunately, Big Bad Barri was hoping that nobody in the 18,500 fans in attendance were Welsh speakers. This was bullshit, as what was said and what was translated were two different things. Unfortunately Mason didn’t resort to swearing heavily (which was the hallmark of WCW wrestler Berlym, who’s interviews in German were boredering on the obscene), but still it was noticeable by me.

Barri's Gonna Kill You

The match was probably the best of the night, with CM Punk and Rey Mysterio having a great feud and complimenting each other well. Rey Mysterio won with a splash from the top turnbuckle.

Next followed a throwaway segment featuring Alberto Del Rio who proceded to call The Big Show fat over and over again. The next moment made up for it – the first appearance on Monday Night Raw in 2011 for Zack Ryder.

Fuck him up, Ryder, fuck him up.

Zack Ryder has been a  long time wrestler for the WWE with an abysmal win/loss record (more losses than wins). His career was floundering and nobody cared. However, he since started a show on Youtube called Z! True Long Island Story, which has become a cult sensation. In it he whinges how bad his wrestling career’s going, mentioning how his dad prefers fellow wrestler John Morrison over him, and a shed loads of inside wrestling jokes. As such he has become rather popular, with more and more Zack Ryder signs at the arena. Richmond was no exception, as well as mine, there were at least 30 or 40 signs dedicated to him, more than his opponent, United States Heavyweight Champion Kofi Kingston.

Unfortunately, Ryder lost in under 3 minutes, but it’s a step in the right direction for Long Island’s favourite son, and his ever growing number of fans. Furthermore, on his Web Show, episode 17, 1:05 minutes in, I was featured. Woo woo woo etc.

Following that match, we got the returning Booker T in his first match since the WWE Royal Rumble in January. His opponent was Jack Swagger, and after a minute or two of action Booker T won by count out. Considering it was a match with a returning legend, it was short and not very well promoted. Still, seeing Booker T in action was a nice surprise.

Boom!

The final match was the match made earlier in the evening – John Cena & Alex Riley vs The Miz & R-Truth. There was a lot of stalling before actually fighting, often this is due to ad breaks in the US. It was then I realised just how good The Miz was. That boy had the crowd eating out of his hand. In the end after a short match, The Miz & R-Truth won be disqualification after Steve Austin got physically involved. A classic way to end the show, the fans watching on TV were disappointed that the good guys lost but the fans in the arena were sent home happy, after another round of stunners, beer drinking and the good guys saluting the crowd.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first live Raw. It dragged in places when there were breaks, but was glad to attend. I also got a great show, with Steve Austin, Vince McMahon, Booker T, Trish Stratus and – best of all – Zack Freaking Ryder making an appearance, I left the arena a happy bunny. Looking forward to doing it again in Liverpool with a couple of mates. I should be able to drink more then!

TNA Maximum Impact Tour 2011 – Manchester Evening News Arena

21 Mar

TNA Wrestling

28th January 2011

I was a wreck.

Stupidly I went out the night before TNA’s tour date in Manchester.

This was beginning to be known as the tour from hell. Two injuries to a top talent, one of the replacements (Kurt Angle) having to leave the tour to be with his new baby, and Ric Flair deciding he liked Dublin so much that he didn’t want to go to Berlin meant that the tour was a little low when it rolled into Manchester (although with that said, it did include Ric Flair again – woooooo!!).

That being said, we weren’t much better. One of my few mates who are into wrestling yet not a participant had ticket problems, and another one had issues getting time off work meaning we were a few numbers down ourself. Couple that with a hangover, meaning I wasn’t too chuffed when I finally left the house.

In any rate, after meeting my mate at Manchester Picadilly Station, we headed to the traditional haunt of sad professional wrestling fans – the pub. Amazingly, we weren’t the only fans there, with a few more braving the sunshine to go to the pub. Wearing a British Invasion t-shirt (which is something I love about TNA – their tees are cool designs, not muscly men in swimming trunks), I was often the recipient of TNA banter – tickets, where the bogs were, when Desmond Wolfe will return – I must be very approachable.

Anyway, moving onto the actual show, and we were stupidly late arriving, getting there just before Jeremy Borash (the MC for the evening)  began his hyping spiel. It’s the same as always – we’ve backstage passes to give away, the bad guys (in this case Jeff Jarrett & The Hardy Boys) don’t want anybody backstage, but we’ll just have to cheer harder to get the passes. It’s the same as last year, but it still works getting the crowd worked up.

Haskins Flying & Ultimately Missing

From my time working in the wrestling business, I’ve always been told that the first match is vitally important. It helps warm up the crowd & a bad first match kills the crowd dead. So it was odd that the first individual out was an invitee on the European Tour – Oxford’s Mark Haskins. You pay £50 & the first guy out the casual fan wouldn’t have a clue with? The crowd responded with a “Who Are Ya?” chant. They could’ve been onto something though, the cheers for “The Prince of Punk” Shannon Moore was remarkably good. To their undying credit, both competitors went for it, with a high flying match that saw multiple leaps over the top rope, a Shooting Star Press by Haskins, and a couple of top rope hurricaranas, the last one was missed by Haskins, allowing Moore to hit his “Mooregasm” finisher for the win. Good match!

 

Mickie James leads Angelina Love out of her corner.

Second match & we got a couple of bonefide stars. Tara – formally Victoria – was a former multi-time WWE Women’s Champion, who was the referee  in the match between Angelina Love (a “good girl” leader of The Beautiful People) vs. the awesome, stunning & talented Mickie James – who has the second best music in wrestling today. Who also was a “good girl”. This match was for the #1 contender for the Knockouts Championship – which again was bad booking of the show as not only was it good girl vs good girl, the prize wasn’t going to be defended that night (I was convinced that the winner would’ve fought later that night – why have a #1 contenders match on the show if you don’t have the title match?), anyway Mickie James won, snogged Tara (all wrestling fans believe hot women snog each other, fact), and left. Was a good match again.

Sabin jumps onto Kazarian. I like this pic!

Third match was for TNA’s X Divison belt & it was between Kazarian & Chris Sabin. Finally we had a match that made sense! Sabin was the good guy & Kazarian was the bad guy, they’ve had matches in the past & they’ve always been awesome, and this was no different. Plenty of high flying moves, which saw eventually Kazarian landing his Impact Piledriver to win.

Legends

The fourth match, and the final before the break, was by far the best. The year before Beer Money – the best tag team at the time, fought The British Invasion. This was a rematch of last year’s main event, but with the roles reversed – The British Invasion were now the local heroes against the evil invaders Beer Money with their manager the legendary “Dirtiest Player In the Game” Ric Flair.

 

At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, because Beer Money are so good (and that’s not a shot at The British Invasion, as they are great too!), and because they have Ric Flair, Beer Money got cheered out of the building. Especially after Ric Flair called us all “wankers” as well. To the credit of the combatants, the match changed mid match with Douglas Williams & Magnus berating the crowd as traitors. Beer Money did win the match, with a Flair interference. I was hoarse screaming like a girl, so I had a welcome break, which involved buying an overpriced beer & t-shirt from the concession stands.

After the break there were two matches, including more bad booking. Rob Terry (a baddie) & Matt Morgan (a goodie) faced Jeff Jarrett (a baddie) & “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero (a goodie). I mean, what? Furthermore, Jeff Jarret made the mistake that all Americans make – they thing that because we’re in Manchester, everybody supports Manchester United – so slagging off the team ended in cheers. Furthermore, Rob Terry is arguably one of the least popular wrestlers in the world. He’s silly hair, he’s Welsh & he looks clueless at times. Unsurprisingly, he was booed out of the building, as well as a brilliant chant of “He’s On Steroids”. The match was short & ended up as a bit of a mess towards the end, with Morgan & Terry winning.

More aerial manouvers, that miss.

It was then time for the main event – Rob Van Dam & Mr. Anderson vs. The Hardy Boyz. I am a massive fan of Jeff Hardy’s new persona as “The Antichrist”, it’s just a little bit original yet familiar, that I love. The match itself was an enjoyable main event, with Anderson & RVD winning. If you are wondering why the right up for the main event is short, it’s because the main event is often more about the people involved interacting on the microphone. Mr. Anderson being particularly funny referencing the Keys & Gray sacking from the week before. Thus, after getting a photo with the permatanned Jeremy Borash, we were sent packing – to The Grand Central (now that Jilly’s has shut down, The Grand Central seems to be the place for wrestling fans – it’s gothic, cheap & the colour of choice seems to be black – so it’s easy to see why. After a pint of rather unfulfilling Fosters, I said my goodbyes and headed home.

You and me love. Jeff Hardy makes me cry too.

I was a bit underwhelmed by this years TNA Tour. Whilst it was still relatively fun, it wasn’t as good as the year before. Too many people (read Jeff Hardy) looked like they didn’t want to be there, and half the time it didn’t make sense. If you’ve been keeping up with TNA recently you’ll know that often they do things that make no sense, and many of the people don’t want to be there.

With that said – it looks like we got an authentic TNA Experience. Just kinda wish I didn’t pay £50 for the privilege.

Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan – NEO Ladies Pro Wrestling

24 Jan

NEO Ladies May History ’09

May 5th, 2009

In my opinion, one of the best ways to experience a country’s culture is at sporting events, usually this for me takes the form of football, but occassionally I take in other sports. One such sport was wrestling in Japan.

No not Sumo Wrestling, Professional Wrestling. The group was NEO Ladies Pro Wrestling in the famous Tokyo Korakuen hall.

 

Korakuen Hall

I’ll level with you guys – I am a closet (well, rather proud) wrestling fan. To me it’s an art form – the same way a ballet is. Individuals, usually underpaid, gather in arenas to tell a story and bring emotion out of a crowd. But the real reason why it’s an art form is that if you don’t understand it, you’re unlikely to ever get the appeal. A lot of people don’t get it and dismiss it. I do, and I love it.

I had planned on watching wrestling in Japan, but I had planned on watching New Japan Pro Wrestling – one of Japan’s largest federations in Korakuen Hall but unfortunately the show was sold out. Instead I got tickets to NEO Ladies Pro Wrestling. Who are akin to your guys in leisure centres. Except with girls.

At this point I feel I should explain the scene a little bit. Every single combat sport in Japan (and yes, professional wrestling is considered to be a combat sport in Japan) is covered heavily over there, and every single year – as exposure – they are allowed to promote a show in the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, to get a little more exposure than simply in their regional bases. So whilst the largest Sumo, MMA, Boxing & Pro Wrestling promotions in Japan have a show in Korakuen Hall every few months, some of the smaller regional promotions get one slot a year.

NEO Ladies is one of the larger companies to only promote one show a year, they have TV shows (both wrestling shows & sitcoms featuring the wrestlers), celebrities (more on that later) & a large fanbase. With that said, they’re not that big – sometimes getting a few hundred people a show. The Korakuen Hall event – May History 2009 (which is their Wrestlemania) – sold out the venue (or as it was reported on their website – a “Super No Vacancy Full House!!”). Either way, I had no idea who they were.

I picked up a ticket the day before, and was looking forward to it. Was a bit of a highlight for my trip to Japan, even if it wasn’t the NJPW show later in the day. Nevertheless I was relatively clueless going into the event. All I know is that female wrestling is serious business in Japan (none of these hot oil matches seen in the USA feds). I arrived well in time to watch the preparation, which featured beautify designed banners hanging from the ceiling.

Those banners must've taken years!

The first match featured Ayumi Kurihara vs. Nozomi Dai. I feel I should explain Ayumi Kurihara. From my understanding, she’s a bit of a celebrity in Japan – imagine if you will if Davina McCall began wrestling training & you’d get her. To be honest, the match featured an abundance of drop kicks, with the finisher being a drop kick from the top turnbuckle. I wasn’t convinced.

 

Dropkick #2039: Top Turnbuckle Edition

The next match was comedic & bloody marvellous – Toshie Uematsu & Ran Yu-Yu vs Fuka & Nagisa Nozaki. Rules went out the window with a wierd spot where a hold was applied on a postage trolley & wheeled around. The Nozaki’s won, but this match got the crowd going.

If that match was comedy, the next match wasn’t, as it was a title match for the vacant NEO High Speed Championship, featuring Rei vs. Natsuki*Taiyo. Rei was geuinely incredible, as this athletic encounter had featured double sunset flips, hurricaranas and a cartwheel on the top rope – which is probably the most incredible thing I’ve thing in my life. Fuck the Northern Lights. Natsuki*Taiyo kept her end up, with her own collection of maenouvers – eventually winning the match with a backflip slam from the top rope. I was gobsmacked, genuinely jumping up and down & cheering the staple wrestling chant of those who are impressed with the effort. It was then I observed that my fellow Japanese puro fans weren’t cheering, instead watching with respect.

Easily the most impressive thing I've seen live. Trust me.

One of the bigger matches on the card featured Haruka Matsuo, a petite pink wearing Japanese lady. Haruka, you see, was retiring from professional wrestling, and this was her last match – a tag match feating Matsuo & Aya Yuki against Tanny Mouse & Yuki Miyazaki. One of the quirks of the Japanese crowd is the throwing of streamers when impressed. US & UK have a similar, but noticably different habit – the throwing of trash when unequivocally unimpressed. All of a sudden, on the announcement of “Haruka Matuuuusssssooooo!!!” by the female Michael Buffer, streams of pink, white & gold flew over my head, aimed for the ring. It was truly a sight to behold. Japanese fans don’t cheer, they throw streamers, and they streamed the fuck out the place.

When I walk to the ring people used to throw things at me. Not as a sign of respect though.

Whilst retirement matches in the US are serious things (but rarely lead to an actual retirement), in Japan they are rather frivolous – but did lead to an actual retirement. The entire roster (including the referee & Aya Yuki) came out & each hit a move on this poor girl, giving Tanny Mouse & Yuki Miyazaki the win. Haruka, being the tough girl she is, picked herself up, was given a hug by the entire roster (the same one that kicked her arse a minute ago) and a video package was played with the Japanese Michael Aspel leading a “This is your Life” ceremony – with gifts shared by people she knew. It was all in Japanese, but is was touching. Following this, her theme music was played one more time (the marvellous “Girl Power” by 90′s crap UK bubblegum pop duo Shampoo) & she was carried out on wrestlers shoulders, akin to Bobby Moore after the 1996 world cup final.

Health & Safety May Have Words

After the break was a 6 women No Disqualification match – Kyoko Kimura, Atsuko Emoto & Tomoka Nakagawa vs Kyoko Inoue, Etsuko Mita & Hiroyo Matsumoto – this was absolutely brutal & I didn’t like it much: blood, diving off ladders & me having to vacate my seat at least three times due to large Japanese women being thrown in my general direction. The match ended when Hiroyo Matsumoto was hung – yes hung – from the ring. Genuinely scary moment that look planned, but still was concerned enough not to enjoy the rest of the show & the main event.

The main event was for the NWA Pacific Ladies heavyweight championship. Imagine the scene. It’s Wrestlemania 17. It’s Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock for the WWF Championship. It’s been built up for absolute year, could the champion The Rock beat the challenger Stone Cold Steve Austin? But 3 days before the event, during a match in front of 100 people, The Rock suffers a neck injury, meaning that the individual who caused the neck injury became champion due to forefit. That man was Steve Blackman. So the match at Wrestlemania 17 is now Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Steve Blackman.

Makes sense? Good. Because that what happened.

This match fell a bit flat I'll be honest

The champion going into the event – Emi Sakura – only became champion because the original champion – Nanae Takahashi – was injured. Her oppponant – Yoshiko Tamura – looked confident & like she should be there. Emi, bless her, did not. The match itself was great, with Emi in control for large swathes, but Yoshiko won the match, became champion & everybody left promptly.

Except they didn’t. Korakuen Hall is tiny and there was only one way out, plus there was a meet & greet session with the girls, so with a few 1000 yen (about £15) in hand, I had signed photos, shook hands & blank stares with my incomprehensible English.

Except one. Rei, who I developed a little crush on. Despite being able to kick my arse 10 ways on Sundays, she spoke pretty good English. She asked me what my name was so she can personally sign a picture. Which she did & I asked her to pose with it. She was only happy to oblige.

<3

That picture, along with all the other polaroids & a few pictures you see above (although they are a bit over exposed, sorry), take pride of place on my wall. Yes, I know it’s scripted, and yes I know it’s a bit silly at times, but if you’re ever in Japan, head to the Korakuen Hall & watch some wrestling – bonus points if it’s NEO Ladies – you’ll be bloody glad you did.