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Sareee-ISM Is Bringing The Light Back to Joshi Puroresu

6 months ago Masahiro Kubota | Monthly Puroresu

Masahiro Kubota | Monthly Puroresu

Sareee-ISM Is Bringing The Light Back to Joshi Puroresu

The Sun Goddess’ return to Japan has only reinvigorated the joshi puroresu scene, and the scene is better off because of it.

By: James Carlin

Rejuvenated by her big love for the sport of professional wrestling after her short tenure with WWE, Sareee returned to Japan and started to run produce shows under the name Sareee-ISM, a branding that reflects her vision for joshi puroresu, similar to that of Inoki-ism in the early 2000’s.

Since her first edition of Sareee-ISM in May 2023, multiple produce shows have emerged once more such as Unagi Sayaka running a packed-out Korakuen Hall just this month.

“Sareee-ISM has been evolving from the fans getting to understand what Sareee-ISM is about – it’s an event that showcases fighting spirit.
I think the fans understand what it’s meant to be, because the speed of ticket sales has gotten faster and faster every time, leading to a complete sell-out and even selling out the standing space at the venue. The media reporters that are in attendance are always packed in the backstage area too.”

In a little under twelve months, Sareee has made Sareee-ISM a can’t miss event within the joshi puroresu landscape. The shows highlight not only some of the best performers that the scene has to offer, but also puts a spotlight on up-and-coming talents who are still developing themselves, surrounding themselves with more experienced names that can help them along the way.

The event also features veteran names that have contributed to the joshi scene over the years, either pitting them against upcoming names or seeing them taking on some of the more well-developed and well-rounded names that regularly perform across the country.

Multiple different promotions are represented across the matches, with wrestlers from Sendai Girls, SEAdLINNNG, JTO, Pro-Wrestling WAVE, Marvelous, Ice Ribbon and more having a presence in one way or another, as well as international companies being repped by their Japanese champions who come to the ring wearing their titles.

With Giulia holding the NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship and traveling to-and-from America to defend the gold as well as Saori Anou stating she’ll defend the Wonder of Stardom title anywhere if challengers arise, the possibility of STARDOM performers appearing at Sareee-ISM looks to slowly be becoming a possibility too, meaning that many joshi companies top-to-bottom will be united under one banner.

“I mentioned several times before, in 2023, that I wanted to face Mayu Iwatani and Giulia. I just hope that they and STARDOM will let it take place.
I’ve said before that I’m ready any time. I hope that this year that I can have a match with them.”

Miyuki Takase makes her entrance at Sareee-ISM Chapter 3 with the DPW Women’s World Championship.

Sareee-ISM Chapter 1 and 2 had four matches but this time around Chapter 3 had five matches on the card. Every match uses their time wisely to provide the best of joshi puroresu outside of the lens of Bushiroad and CyberFight. The opening match is frequently a showcase of wrestlers still looking to shine and evolve, with Riko Kaiju and Yurika Oka going to a time-limit draw at Chapter 1, Ibuki Hoshi defeating Chi Chi at Chapter 2, with Mio Momono and Riko Kawahata defeating the Inaba Sisters to open Chapter 3, the most recent event.

The benefit of allowing these newer talents to participate on the first and second matches of the show is that they get more exposure to a new crowd through Sareee’s name alone. While her time in WWE was not what she had hoped, The Sun Goddess is quite thankful for her time in the company, and those that have followed her from there have now been exposed to these new names. Kizuna Tanaka, the daughter of Yumi Fukawa and Minoru Tanaka, has been given the opportunity to be seen by a new audience as she nears her first year as a wrestler. Her 2023 saw her ability increase rapidly since debuting in April of that year, and her match at Sareee-ISM Chapter 3 teaming with Chi Chi against Aja Kong and Jaguar Yokota only shows positive signs as she continues to develop even further.

Sareee could have very easily stacked all three shows with high level talent top-to-bottom, but the conscious decision to highlight those who are still in the process of getting to the upper echelon is what makes Sareee-ISM’s undercard such a joy, you get to see them evolve in real time with every match and appearance.

The recent success of Momono and Kawahata in the last few years being put against the ring against a team with the same potential with the Inaba Sisters makes for an interesting match-up. Momono is more akin to Sareee’s own hard-hitting style, whilst Kawahata fits in as a high-speed talent. Neither of the Sisters fit into that category, giving them a challenge to overcome women of two completely different styles in order to win. The two, of course, show a plethora of tag team tactics centered around their martial arts style but aren’t enough to take down their much more experienced foes across the ring.

Yet the two were elevated by the presence of just fighting against Momono and Kawahata, who have both become standout names in Marvelous and well-beloved in the United States with West Coast Pro and Kitsune Women’s Wrestling. Azusa and Tomoka have been featured in STARDOM multiple times, both as part of the NEW BLOOD brand and mainline STARDOM events.

It’s clear that the two have something special about them, with their in-ring performances that are like hybrids of old STARDOM talents Yuhi and Natsumi Showzuki. Showzuki ended up returning to wrestling as Natsumi Sumikawa, now with undoubtable starpower behind her as leader of The Royal. It’s not impossible to find out what that special thing is, but the Inaba Sisters will find it soon enough, just as Sumikawa had done after eight years away from being an active performer.

Azusa Inaba (left) and Tomoka Inaba (right) take down Mio Momono.

Having been trained by Kaoru Ito and Kyoko Inoue, Sareee has admitted that she embodies the spirit of the long-defunct All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, a company famous for its hard-hitting in-ring style that pushed the boundaries of women’s professional wrestling in the 80’s and 90’s well beyond what was being shown in the United States.

Ito, as well as Nanae Takahashi, featured on the show in the penultimate match against Kurumi Hiiragi and Unagi Sayaka. Takahashi, the very last WWWA World Champion, has been a continuous presence in joshi puroresu for almost thirty years, with her most acclaimed performances being in matches where she elevated younger talent as an impassable veteran roadblock to be overcome. Yuzuki Aikawa, Mayu Iwatani, Io Shirai and many others have found themselves better off than before after a “passion injection” from Takahashi. For Sayaka and Hiiragi, it was no different.

Unagi Sayaka has already faced the hardest roadblock of all by becoming a freelancer, yet the timing was almost too perfect for her as freelancing in the scene has become much more viable than it was just six years ago, with better opportunities to be seen through the power of the online world, Unagi cultivated a hardcore fanbase along with friendships across the country with the end result being a sellout crowd at Korakuen Hall attending her produce show.

Hiiragi was trained by Emi Sakura, having debuted at just the age of twelve. But like Unagi, she’s had to put herself out there as a part of freelance group Prominence in order to be able to show the world the talent she has. Surrounded by the talents of Risa Sera, Akane Fujita (and formerly Suzu Suzuki), it would’ve been easy to have fallen behind, but she never did, and in doing so proved herself worthy of her place.

The two never particularly do any tag team moves, but their ability to cover for each other’s weaknesses is what allowed them to hold on for so long as Ito and Takahashi overpower them every step of the way. Takahashi and Ito aren’t known for being technical wizards, but they pull out some submissions in their arsenals to keep their opponents at bay. In the end, it takes two consecutive moves from Takahashi and Ito to put down Hiiragi for good yet even in loss Hiiragi and Unagi come out looking like stars.

Unagi Sayaka and Kurumi Hiiragi team together against Kaoru Ito

Where Sareee-ISM truly shines is through the contests of the best unsigned wrestlers in the scene looking to be better than the other.

Miyuki Takase vs. Takumi Iroha is one of those encounters. Iroha has been wrestling since 2013, trained by Fuuka and Nanae Takahashi as part of STARDOM and then going under the tutelage of Chigusa Nagayo when she transferred to Marvelous partway through 2015; it’s easy to see why she is the star of the show in Marvelous and how she stole the show two years in a row in her former company upon her return, against Mayu Iwatani and then again against Syuri in the 2021 5STAR GP. Her training makes her a completely unique figure in the independent scene as most, if not all, initially trained through the STARDOM system are not active in the independent scene.

Takase is someone that fits the “freelance” label perfectly. For her match at Sareee-ISM Chapter 3 she came out to her old entrance music of Gurenge by LiSA, which is one of those songs that fit a performer so well that you can’t imagine them using anything else. She works a lot of companies too, many of which are represented by other wrestlers performing on the show, and it’s evident that her hard work is beginning to pay off as the last year has seen her move up into more prominent positions on shows, now on equal footing to some of the best women in the country.

The two have a very similar style of wrestling that makes them perfect for each other, so this being just their second one-on-one match made it an attraction match, though not at the level of the main event. Different parts of joshi have somewhat softened up from the physical hard-hitting style that was present only a decade ago, and people like Miyuki Takase, Takumi Iroha, Syuri, Arisa Nakajima, Mio Momono, Ibuki Hoshi, Chihiro Hashimoto and Sareee are just a few of the names that keep that flame alive.

Sareee and Hashimoto running it back is no surprise. The Sun Goddess wants revenge for the loss that she took on her return match in Japan, and Hashimoto is always hungry for competition.

It’s one of those matches that you simply cannot explain to someone why it is a must-watch. Really, that goes for a lot of high-level joshi contests, yet there is something so seemingly special about these two that you can never take your eyes off them. The atmosphere of Shinjuku FACE that allows every crowd reaction, every chop and every kick to be heard is why sound plays such an important part of the structure of matches, and smaller venues are able to replicate that one-of-a-kind atmosphere of joshi puroresu like no other.

Sareee-ISM is doing what many would say is “restoring the feeling” – the phrase has become parodic in nature and has become seemingly like a signpost of recognition that the times before were better than they are now, yet the phrase demonstrates a rather profound statement when used properly. The “feeling” in joshi puroresu, so to speak, has always been there –in many different forms– and as the world has resumed to life prior to the pandemic, that feeling, that emotion, the things that make it what it is – is returning to its roots as a physical display of strength, perseverance and accomplishment that molded the late 2000’s Japanese women’s wrestling scene.

“When Sareee-ISM is ready, it might be possible to run events at Kourakuen Hall – or at even bigger venues. But we’ll have to see what the future holds.”

More and more talents are taking the opportunity to run their own shows and express their own vision of professional wrestling —Sareee-ISM, Unagi Sayaka, COLOR’S, Prominence— but with Sareee-ISM, it’s extremely clear what it wants to become: a return to what made the last big boom period and what made the late 2000’s era so special. That’s a positive sign as The Sun Goddess uses the talent of now to create a version of the past that will continue to pave the way for the future of Japanese women’s pro-wrestling.

Q&A with Sareee, on her return to Japan and goals with Sareee-ISM

Written by:

Initially hired for social media management and Joshi coverage, I lead the coverage of joshi between May 2023 and March 2024, and worked behind the scenes in multiple roles since August 2022 that allowed Monthly Puroresu to smoothly operate.