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Deathmatch Ghost of Hiroshima: A Tale of Risa Sera

1 year ago

Deathmatch Ghost of Hiroshima: A Tale of Risa Sera

By: Ilias A.

Joshi wrestling, despite its growing popularity, is still a niche area of wrestling. Deathmatch wrestling is controversial among the community. But when you combine those two things, it gets even more niche and divisive; in fact, joshi deathmatch wrestling is what you would call “niche within the niche”. Obviously, there was an extremely popular Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), founded by legendary Atsushi Onita, in the 90s where Megumi Kudo, Combat Toyoda, Mayumi Ozaki and Shark Tsuchiya were the sparks of joshi presence in the deathmatch scene (in the case of Mayumi Ozaki and later Kyoko Kimura, they even appeared few times in BJW), but it didn’t last for long as they were exceptions rather than the rule.

And yet, in the last two years, it’s becoming more prominent and notorious. Partially it’s thanks to Rina Yamashita, who is a regular in deathmatch-focused promotion Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS and who made waves in GCW by participating in its deathmatch tournaments and even becoming GCW Ultraviolent champion.

However, there is an unsung hero who started all this. A legend who began the renaissance of joshi deathmatch wrestling and someone who has the unique opportunity to prove to everyone that joshis are able to compete on the same level as men. Her name is Risa Sera, leader of a women-only unit of former Ice Ribbon wrestlers called “Prominence”, also one of the most notorious figures in joshi wrestling. In 8 years, she managed to turn over the fans’ attitude towards deathmatches in Ice Ribbon, and later outside of it, breaking the stereotypes about women in deathmatches.

Ironically, this is something she never dreamed about.

An inspiring actress who found her way into pro wrestling

Risa Okuda (her real name) was born on November 19th, 1991 in Sera, Hiroshima prefecture. Her father was then-mayor of her hometown, Masakazu Okuda. She wanted to be an actress, which led to her leaving her hometown and travelling to Tokyo after high school in order to get a degree in voice acting at Amusement Media Group. However, her first movie was also the last, and the one that propelled her way into pro-wrestling.

The movie, “Tayo Kara Plancha”, was being made in cooperation with Ice Ribbon. Sera applied for an audition, not knowing the conditions she had to accept in order to receive it: make a debut in pro-wrestling (another wrestler who got the role in this movie is Sareee). Training was hard for her. In one of the interviews, Sera admitted that in the first few weeks she wasn’t even able to  forward roll. In time it became fun for her, and eventually, on November 10th, 2012 , she made her debut in Ice Ribbon and took her hometown as the last name for wrestling alias and a gimmick of Azure Mermaid (because of hometown location). Her trainers were two Aces of the company at that time, who were also a tag team called “Muscle Venus” – Tsukasa Fujimoto and Hikaru Shida.

Photo c/o @rohmaru0905

When we talk about Ice Ribbon, you should keep in mind that when a younger wrestler makes her debut, seniors usually team up with them. Sera was no exception. After a few months, she formed a tag team called .STAP with another Ice Ribbon star, Maki Narumiya. Instantly it was imminent they would be the force to be reckoned with in a tag team division. The results didn’t take long. In March 2014, 17 months since Sera’s debut, they won the vacant Ice Ribbon tag titles in a match against the team of Kurumi Hiragi and Tsukushi Haruka (“This is Ice Ribbon”), and then went on a journey to match the record of title defenses Muscle Venus achieved.

There is another reason why Maki Narumiya has been important to Risa Sera. In 2015, Maki left Ice Ribbon to join REINA, and before she retired from pro-wrestling. she took part in training another future star of joshi wrestling – Maya Yukihi, with whom Sera founded a tag team called “Azure Revolution”. Interestingly enough, Maya later said in an interview that Risa was like a sister and mentor to her. She encouraged her to try something new and was a huge support for the start of her career. In fact, Azure Revolution’s entrance theme “Azure Sky” – sung by Maya Yukihi herself – reflects on how Sera played a huge part in Yukihi’s career.

But the story of Yukihi and Sera deserves a separate article. Around that time, Risa Sera’s career path took an unexpected turn.

Battle for deathmatch wrestling presence in Ice Ribbon

In 2014, Risa Sera and Ice Ribbon president Hajime Sato helped BJW with selling tickets for BJW’s Korakuen Hall event on-day – and after that, Sato allowed Sera to stay and watch the show. The main event was a tag team deathmatch with light tubes, which the team of Kankuro Hoshino and Masato Inaba – Hensei Gokudo – took part of (most likely it was the BJW event of October 30th, 2014, where Hensei Gokudo wrestled against the team of Isami Kodaka and Yuko Miyamoto, Yankee Two Kenji, in a Scaffold and Light Tubes Deathmatch – author’s notation). Because of its violence, and the fact that Yankee Two Kenji beat their opponent with light tubes, but every single time Hoshino and Inaba stood up and continued to fight, Sera was impressed. So much so that, later, she wanted to wrestle in a similar match too and came up with this idea to Ice Ribbon’s management.

However, her enthusiasm wasn’t shared neither among Ice Ribbon management, nor even her own family: Sera recalled that her mother was legitimately frightened and said that there are other ways to impress in pro-wrestling than this. As for Ice Ribbon, at that time the company’s vibe and feel was very accessible, and the core audience were families with children. Obviously blood and violence were never a part of its shows. Which comes as no surprise: when the Fukushima nuclear disaster happened, Ice Ribbon travelled to those areas and made the shows on mats in order to cheer up people and let them distract from the tragedy that happened to them – by the way, it was a huge success!

So when Ice Ribbon said no to her, Sera didn’t back down as well. The arguing lasted for some time, and there were even rumours about her leaving the company to do what she wanted. Eventually, thanks to BJW’s involvement and a prominent deathmatch figure Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, they found a middle ground.

If she’d do a real deathmatch straight away, Ice Ribbon fans would only be disgusted by it, so before bringing up light tubes and real deathmatches, they need to be persuaded that it can be as fun as classic wrestling. With that, on June 24th, 2015, Ice Ribbon had its first deathmatch – but not the one you’d expect. Instead, it was a Human Hair Deathmatch: around the ring, there were two big boxes of human hair collected from barbershops, and instead of a button in the corner which would activate an explosive bat, it was launching a virtual wheel of fortune on a screen that brought something new to the match. For this match, Risa tagged with two people she was inspired by – Kankuro Hoshino and Masato Inaba – and her opponents were Maki Narumiya and the team of Isami Kodaka and Yuko Miyamoto.

This match was a total success in all ways: while it being an obvious parody of FMW-style explosives deathmatch, there was a certain sense of violence (who would love to be thrown into the box filled with human hair?), and the fans accepted the idea that deathmatches can be enjoyable to watch – if you know what you’re doing.

With that, she began forging her experience and skills in deathmatch wrestling to spread the ideology of joshi deathmatches.

Iron Woman

It’s one thing to change the fans’ attitude towards deathmatch wrestling, but finding suitable opponents is an even bigger challenge. Even though the Ice Ribbon roster and management accepted the inclusion of deathmatches in their cards, there were still very few people who would be able to wrestle with Sera in this environment.

Photo c/o @lin_jongnam84

However, Sera managed to kill two birds with one stone. In order to continue persuading fans about the deathmatches and to gain experience herself, Risa came up with the idea of a 60-Minute Gauntlet Deathmatch. The idea was in facing multiple people under different environments and using different weapons: Light tubes, tacks, bamboo sticks, barbed-wire boards, Legos – you name it. From 2015 to 2017, and also in 2020 and 2022, such matches were made in special Sera Produce events. Her opponents were the prominent figures of deathmatch wrestling: Takashi Sasaki, Isami Kodaka, Yuko Miyamoto, Jun Kasai, Abdullah Kobayashi, Takayuki Ueki, Violento Jack, Daisuke Masaoka, Minoru Fujita and Toshiyuki Sakuda. The goal was not only to gain experience in deathmatch wrestling and show that it can be enjoyable, but to also show that no matter how these deathmatch experts beat her down, Risa will continue to stand up and fight. On top of that, she brilliantly mixed deathmatch wrestling with completely hilarious comedy sequences and intertwined them impeccably into the story. This approach made Ice Ribbon fans embrace the deathmatch content within the promotion and support Risa, when more experienced opponents were beating her down.

All of this was done not just to prove herself though. It was also a hope that one day, other women will be inspired by her to do the same thing. And in 2018, one 16-year old girl was inspired enough to join Ice Ribbon explicitly because of Sera – the one called Suzu Suzuki, who regards Sera as her idol. She was Suzu’s sole reason to join Ice Ribbon, and eventually to leave the company alongside her.

However, at that time it was still far too long for Suzu to become a key figure in deathmatch wrestling. Around 2020, a new deathmatch rival emerged and was prepared to spill as much blood as Sera did.

Her name was Rina Yamashita.

Photo c/o @luke_the_3

While Rina’s incursion into deathmatches began 4 years later than Risa’s independently from her and Ice Ribbon, it was imminent that they would clash under the deathmatch rules somewhere. In 2020, Ice Ribbon created a new championship called FantastICE, whose rules were similar to DDT’s Extreme title. Champion chooses any stipulations for her title defence. Sera and Yamashita were the ones who would decide the inaugural champion – and they agreed with a deathmatch stipulation. It took place in the final show at Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium in 2020. It was bloody and messy, and with usage of different weapons. Sera won the title, but it was clear they would cross paths again. Especially with Rina gaining even more precious and valuable experience by fighting against men in Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS and joining the UNCHAIN unit, led by Jun Kasai.

Thus, it happened one year later at another Sera Produce event. But unlike her previous ones, this one involved a hardcore

wrestling tag tournament. For this tournament, Sera teamed up with her husband and former BJW wrestler Orca Uto. Rina tagged with Jun Kasai. In the finals of this tournament, they clashed once again. This tournament was important for Rina to win, and earn more respect from Kasai himself. Eventually, Rina and Jun won the match and the tournament, thanks to Rina pinning Risa in the finals. And since Yamashita pinned then-FantastICE champion, she made another title challenge. This time, Sera finally said the type of match she wanted – Light Tubes Deathmatch – without any objections from Ice Ribbon management.

It took place at the After the Rain Ribbon event at Korakuen Hall on June 27th, 2021, and it was a total war. Both women sacrificed their bodies, spilled copious amounts of blood, broke dozens (if not hundreds) of light tubes. All this to prove that women belong in the deathmatch scene, and they’re on the same level as men. Closer to the end of the match, the ring looked like a true battlefield. Clouds of fluorescent dust around, women throwing everything they can against each other to prevail.

Photo c/o @Namjunkzone

In the end, Yamashita won the match and title, and finally avenged her previous loss, but Sera was the winner of the night. Because after six years of hard work and persistence, despite others saying “that is worthless” or that women should not wrestle in deathmatches, Sera finally managed to turn over people’s views on this genre.

At the end, instead of the classic “Be Happy with pro wrestling!” slogan that Ice Ribbon is known for and which is used for the ending of each show, Sera and Yamashita made an exception and shouted “Be Happy with Deathmatches!”.

The Ice Ribbon audience witnessed a deathmatch, and they were truly happy with it.

Prominence: Female FREEDOMS?

From that point, what is the milestone that would completely solidify your legacy in joshi wrestling? The answer is to establish your own deathmatch-focused promotion with women up front! And in order to achieve that goal, Sera made the bold decision to leave Ice Ribbon, along with Suzu Suzuki, Mochi Natsumi, Akane Fujita and Kurumi Hiragi.

The fact that those five women (and especially young prodigy Suzu) became freelancers was a huge attraction for other promotions. In 2022, they made their mark in DDT, Pro Wrestling WAVE, STARDOM, Sendai Girls, etc., and all women left a positive impression in every single company – sometimes even exceeding expectations. However, I believe the most important achievement was what they aimed for: Prominence promotion. They immediately managed to get a deal with CyberFight to help with organization, production and filming of their three pre-launch events and the launch event itself. After the deal expired, they kept producing monthly shows, focusing on hardcore wrestling and constantly improving upon past shows. This is where Sera had to show not only her wrestling, but leadership and management skills – and this is where another deathmatch figure stepped up.

In 2009, Takashi Sasaki and a few other deathmatch wrestlers, suddenly departed BJW, after years of performing and being prominent figures in their deathmatch division. They founded their own promotion: Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS, with Sasaki becoming the official leader, manager and booker. It was a crazy decision for them, considering BJW’s fantastic quality in deathmatch wrestling, wider popularity and much bigger resources. But because of FREEDOMS’ great quality of deathmatch wrestling in opposition to BJW’s, and the latter’s poor booking decisions, FREEDOMS surpassed them over the course of the last three years to become the top deathmatch promotion.

Photo c/o @sit026df

So it came as no surprise when Sera announced she wanted to face Sasaki in the Light Tubes Deathmatch for their first official event at Shinkiba. She sees herself as Takashi Sasaki 13 years later: Leaving a comfortable place in Ice Ribbon to create something new and much riskier. This match wasn’t just about Sera proving how tough she is – it’s about proving she is a capable leader who takes care of her stablemates. And who fits the mentor’s role better than the deathmatch legend who created another deathmatch promotion?

After the match, Takashi shared his leadership theory with Sera. For him, being a leader means taking responsibility not just for yourself as a wrestler, but for everyone else within the organization, as well as representing it everywhere else and making sure your own shows are popular enough. All things considered, you also need to have the guts to go out and fight for your life in deathmatches, and be grateful to everyone who helped and supported you all along.

Learning theory is one thing, but putting it in practice is another, and the question at that time was: Does Sera have what it takes to be a great manager and a solid booker for their own shows? The numbers say it for themselves: Only twice the attendance number for their shows went below 150. It is impressive for such a niche area of wrestling, considering FREEDOMS has similar numbers for their Shinkiba shows too. Eventually, Sasaki and Sera crossed paths once again in 2022 – this time at the 10th anniversary of Risa’s career, where she had probably the best 60-Minute Gauntlet Deathmatch in her career. The best part came afterwards, when Sasaki announced a present for Sera: Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS will hold a Korakuen Hall show on April 24th. However, he’s booked the venue for this date specifically for Prominence 1st Anniversary and will give it up for them. Which means it’s up to Prominence to produce the event and run it without having to worry about paying the cost of renting the venue.

Photo c/o @sit026df

After 10 years of career, and almost eight years of doing hardcore and deathmatch wrestling, Risa Sera managed to do something people would never expect – run women deathmatch-focused events in one of the most iconic venues in the Japanese wrestling scene.

On top of that, Takashi Sasaki finally saw himself in Sera 14 years ago.


To finish this, allow me a small lyrical digression.

What is the ultimate goal for a pro-wrestler? Certainly, people will have different views on this – and wrestlers themselves too. Some will say it’s about how many titles the wrestler won, or the victory percentage. Others will say it’s about best matches and how many 5+ stars they got. There may be a measurement in how many great feuds wrestlers had in their careers.

For me, it is neither of the above. It’s about doing something so memorable that it will push others to continue what they started. So that person who saw a wrestler, either on TV or live in a venue, would love to become a pro-wrestler themselves because of their work. To be inspired to follow in their footsteps, by taking its philosophy and modernizing or changing it in a way people would appreciate. I believe this is why the wrestling industry still exists; I’m pretty sure that lots of wrestlers, if asked who were their heroes or idols in their childhood, have such a person, who motivated them to achieve their goals.

In that way, Risa Sera certainly achieved that ultimate goal. Both in changing the way joshi deathmatches look, increasing their relevance, and by leaving someone who will continue her work even after retirement (looking at you Suzu!). After 10 years in pro-wrestling, and entering her 11th year, Risa managed to grab people’s attention and create a legacy that will live on and motivate others to get into pro-wrestling. Truly, “from undesirable to undeniable”.

Will she be able to do what people found previously unimaginable and make joshi deathmatches as relevant as men’s deathmatches through her Prominence promotion? It can’t be told for certain right now. This is something only time will tell. But if she does, this will completely solidify her as the reformer of joshi wrestling. And any joshi deathmatch fan, should undoubtedly root for it.

Because this is a true revolution.

Photo c/o @Ryoh85647337

Written by:

Based in the UK, I started watching wrestling in 2009. In 2014 I got my first introduction into Japanese wrestling when I watched AJ Styles vs Kazuchika Okada, as someone being an AJ Styles fan. My interest at that time wasn't big enough, but two years later, once AJ Styles' match (against Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10) has changed my perception about wrestling and rediscovered my love for it. After several years of watching different Japanese promotions and learning about their style, right now I prefer to watch and write about joshi and deathmatch wrestling, especially in small promotions.