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Ring of Honor Episode #461 – ‘Hana Kimura Tribute’ Review

While I find it exciting that Ring of Honor are highlighting Joshi talent, here it is unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Hana took her own life on May 23rd 2020 after a barrage of cyber-bullying resulting from a reality television show. Hana made history in her short time as a wrestler, being one of very few to perform in both the Tokyo Dome and Madison Square Garden. Most notably a member of the roster in Stardom, Hana had an infectious personality, inventive offense and a generally exciting in-ring presence. Her final match was an eight minute ripper with Mayu Iwatani in which she eliminated Stardom’s top star from the Cinderella Tournament in February 2020.

Wrestling is a spectacularly odd form of entertainment. A notable characteristic of wrestling is how it exists in real time. It’s certainly a reason I am so drawn to it. In terms of live events, last week for the wrestlers on television is also last week for us; last night, etc. We spend so much of our free time with these people that, for some, lines of reality become blurred. Criticizing a performance is wildly different from criticizing the person. Wrestling is art, and art is mostly subjective; everyone has a preference. What isn’t subjective is that every single performer has feelings. They do not exist to entertain us; they entertain us for a specified amount of time once a week. Social media at its worst can be majorly toxic, but it has become an unfortunate necessity in the 21st century in regard to the wrestling business. If you are the type of person that follows individuals on twitter solely to troll because that is how you get your rocks off, either go away or learn to be a better person.

That being said, Ring of Honor is celebrating the life of a fantastic performer that left us far too soon. If there is any potentially positive outcome of Hana’s passing, perhaps she will lead even more western wrestling fans to a sub-genre that deserves far more attention and praise.

Hana’s ROH Debut: Hana Kimura vs. Sumie Sakai (Las Vegas, NV – March 9, 2018)

It has taken me literal hours to get five minutes into this episode. I spend a lot of time with young people because I am a high school teacher. To think this girl is no longer in existence due to the unabashed cruelty of others cuts extraordinarily deep. Nonetheless, this is a first round match in the inaugural Women of Honor Championship Tournament. If you are familiar with the current iteration of Ring of Honor, you are well aware of Sumie Sakai. The longest-reigning Women of Honor Champion, Sakai has been involved in MMA and wrestling for nearly two decades across Japan and the United States. It is a classic battle of youth and vigour against experience.

An important aspect of performance that younger wrestlers may struggle with is charisma. This obviously comes naturally to Hana Kimura. Hana is playing with Sakai like an anime villain, snubbing the show of respect Sumie was attempting to show before the match begins. According to commentary, Hana had been in the Stardom Dojo since she was fourteen years old. If you know anything about the Japanese dojo system, one would literally eat, sleep and breathe wrestling. Hana was only twenty years old at this point and she looks like an absolute veteran. Not to mention, Hana is an obviously gifted athlete. This is illustrated by the purity of the wrestling match; by that I mean there are relatively few strikes being thrown on either side. Where the match lacks purity is with Hana’s Goddess of Stardom Champion partner, Kagetsu. Kagetsu is constantly involving herself on the outside, even in front of the official. To be fair, commentary explains that such things are up to the official’s discretion in Japan and that rule has carried over into the Women of Honor Tournament.

After Kagetsu is accidentally knocked out by Hana, the women in the ring start attempting to drop bombs on each other, with Sakai eventually getting the upper hand in the end.  For a relatively short bout, it is a brilliant illustration of the Joshi style. Highly technical, hard hitting and rounded off by fantastic characters. Quite the ROH debut for Hana.

Highlights of an Eight Woman Tag Match at ‘Best in the World‘ (Baltimore, MD – June 29, 2018)

The following is simply a highlight package as opposed to an actual match. This involved some of the most prominent stars in Stardom, including Hana’s three-woman group, Oedo Tai, as well as Stardom ace, Mayu Iwatani. I mean, it is pretty obvious these women went all out on their ROH pay per view debut. If nothing else, this served as a strong advertisement for purchasing Ring of Honor’s Honorclub streaming service.

Oedo Tai (Kagetsu/Hana) vs. Jenny Rose & Mayu Iwatani (Fairfax, VA – June 30, 2018)

ROH Hana Kimura and Kagetsu vs. Mayu Iwatani and Jenny Rose title card

All of these women have some history together, either in Ring of Honor or in Japan.  While this begins as a basic tag match, there are some very obvious standouts, Hana being one and Mayu being the other. These women are the living examples as to why wrestling fans speak of Japan as though it is some magical final bastion of pure wrestling magic. wWhen you learn Japanese wrestling IS a special type of magic and those rumors are confirmed, there is a very specific warm and fuzzy feeling that forms deep within your gut.

This match is perfect for what it is. These women beat the absolute snot out of each other, the heels got the victory using dastardly tactics, and the babyface performer that deserves protection did not take the pin. Not to bash the work of Jenny Rose, but my goodness did Mayu do all of the work for the faces, or what? There is a reason Mayu is one of the few Joshi names that has never been on cable television but is still well known among certain circles of wrestling fandom. As an educational piece, this match gets the job done.

Jenny Rose & Oedo Tai vs Sumie Sakai & Stella Grey & Hana Kimura (New York City, New York – April 6, 2019)

Man… how incredible was April 2019 for a wrestling fan? Well, this episode annoyingly made me cry again. This match was all about the history these women were making. Beyond these women, history was made by the combination NJPW and ROH selling out Madison Square Garden, a WWF/WWE stronghold for literal generations. Only a few months prior we had seen the initial AEW press conference. The same night there was one of the best NXT matches ever between Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano. The next night, Kofi Kingston won the WWE title and the women were in the main event of WrestleMania. I hate 2020.

Hana Kimura had already separated from Oedo Tai by April 2019. Hana was officially the leader of her own stable, Tokyo Cyber Squad. One thing I’ve repeatedly noticed throughout this episode is I find myself cringing every time Hana throws a big boot in the corner, or a dropkick. I cringe in the best sort of way. The magic of professional wrestling is our ability to suspend disbelief, and when Hana throws her feet around, my belief is fully suspended.

This match was very early in the card and I’m not even sure if it aired on NJPW World. Therefore, this was a short, explosive spot-fest with the stand-out performers getting their chance to shine in the world’s most famous arena. The objective importance of this match, regardless of time given, cannot be overstated. It was a night that will go down in the annals of wrestling history as an absolute triumph. Nobody will ever be able to take that away from every single performer involved.

Final Thoughts

It is difficult to wrap up this episode with any level of measurable positivity. What positivity can be drawn from the previous fifty minutes centers on the type of person Hana was. Since the tragedy, I have not seen nor heard any level of negativity from the men and women she worked with. Everyone who knew her described her as someone that would light up the room with her magnificent smile and bubbly personality. Yes, wrestlers are performers and are subject to critical analysis. Wrestlers are also human beings with feelings; as fans, we need to do a better job of understanding that we can legitimately hurt their feelings. This doesn’t only apply to wrestling, obviously, but as a fan that is fairly active on social media, these are the circles in which it is most visibly present to me. Enjoy what you enjoy and don’t watch what you don’t enjoy. Be nicer. Until next time.

Written by Andrew Stewart

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