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Match Reviews: Current/Former WWE/AEW/ROH Stars in Japan (Hangman Page, Brock Lesnar, Tanahashi vs. Angle, More)

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Almost every top wrestler from the past forty years has had at least one match in Japan. Back in the territories era, it was common for wrestlers to travel all around the world into different companies to gain more experience and have fresh matches.

And even after that era ended, it was common for wrestlers to go to Japan to gain experience as workers since that country’s reputation for producing top-quality matches remains unchanged to this day.

As a result, I have once again picked five matches involving North American wrestlers in Japan to see how they fare with the style difference. Actually, one of them is a bit special since it involves two Brits, but one of them worked for an American company (ROH) so it makes sense to have his match showcased here.

5. IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar [c] vs. Giant Bernard – June 18th, 2006

Background: Lesnar left WWE in 2004 and joined New Japan in late 2005. His first match for the company was in October and in that match he won the vacant heavyweight title. And after successfully defending it against Shinsuke Nakamura and Akebono, Lesnar would have his first and only match against fellow WWE alumnus Giant Bernard, better known as (Prince)Albert/Balbo/(Lord)Tensai/A-Train. This was also the first foreigner vs. foreigner heavyweight title match in New Japan since Vader vs. Hansen in 1990.

The match: They lock up and Bernard powers Lesnar into a corner. Lesnar headlocks Bernard but Bernard easily powers out and tackles Lesnar to the canvas. He boots Lesnar out of the ring and throws him back into it with ease. Lesnar tries to take advantage with a running clothesline but Bernard barely even flinches. Lesnar tries again and Bernard moves only an inch or so. Lesnar tries again and this time runs into a big clothesline. Bernard then clotheslines Lesnar to the floor. Man, seeing Lesnar getting manhandled is such a weird sight.

Bernard drives Lesnar back-first into the barricade but Lesnar hits back by driving Bernard into the side of the ring. They go back and forth like that until Bernard charges at Lesnar but Lesnar sidesteps, causing Bernard to hit the ringpost. Lesnar sees Bernard’s taped up left arm and starts smashing it into that same post. In the ring, Lesnar suplexes Bernard and hits that same arm some more until Bernard blocks and double-legs Lesnar. Yes, Bernard double-legs Lesnar. Lesnar counters quickly and locks in an armbar. Bernard screams loudly as Lesnar drops some knees on it and keeps him grounded. Bernard gets a ropebreak and then blocks a belly-to-belly suplex. He hits some head-butts and charges but Lesnar blocks and lands the belly-to-belly anyway and gets a two-count. Bernard kicks out of a quick cradle and escapes to ringside but Lesnar gives chase and goes after his bad arm. Bernard gets into the ring and attacks Lesnar on the apron, sending him falling to the floor. He rushes Lesnar but Bernard rakes his eyes. Lesnar regains control with another armbar that goes on for a very long time until Bernard gets another ropebreak.

Both guys hit shoulder checks in the corner until Lesnar blocks a charge with an elbow. Lesnar charges but Bernard counters with a chokebomb. He doesn’t pin right away because he just used both arms and his left arm is causing him immense pain. Bernard tries a comeback with one arm using punches, forearms and a clothesline. He follows with a big boot, a corner body block, and a Vaderbomb press, all of which get him a two-count. he goes for a Bernard Driver but Lesnar escapes. Lesnar goes for the F-5/Verdict but Bernard escapes and hits a German suplex. Bernard follows with a bicycle kick. One, two, Lesnar kicks out. Bernard goes for another Vaderbomb but Lesnar cuts him off with a German suplex off the second rope. Lesnar follows with two DDTs, both of which get a two-count. Both guys trade punches until Bernard goes for a suplex. Lesnar lands behind him and connects with the F-5. One, two, and three! There’s the match.

Winner and STILL IWGP Heavyweight champion after 14:32: Brock Lesnar

Review: That was a good match that had a lot more tension than I expected. Bernard actually got to manhandle Lesnar early on, and got a few decent near-falls throughout the match. But outside of that, the rest of it was average. There was a very long heat segment in which Lesnar dismantled Bernard’s arm. But unlike most big matches in which such limbwork gets forgotten, it actually played a role in the finish here. Bernard became a one-armed man after hitting his chokebomb and so had to rely on other moves to try and win. That forced him to go to the corner for a Vaderbomb, which set him up to be countered by Lesnar, which in turn doomed him. Both guys were solid here and didn’t really disappoint given what they were working with.

Final Rating: ***1/4

 

4. World Junior Heavyweight Championship Match: Tsuyoshi Kikuchi [c] vs. Rob Van Dam – AJPW, October 12th, 1996

Background: Apparently All Japan had a junior heavyweight division. Who knew.

In all seriousness, many non-Japanese wrestlers went to work for Giant Baba during the 1990s because they had good reason to. The schedule was light, the pay was great, they had few in-ring restrictions, and they were treated with the utmost respect by Baba and the Japanese talent. As a wrestling-heavy company, All Japan had a well-deserved reputation; wrestlers that went through their tours left better than when they came in. And so, to fill out his undercard, Baba opened the doors to athletic talent from abroad. This led to one such a wrestler, a young Rob Van Dam, going on tour with All Japan and challenging for their version of the cruiserweight title. RVD’s opponent would be Kikuchi, a solid junior whose biggest claim to fame is wrestling alongside Kenta Kobashi in that legendary match against the Can Am Express in 1992.

The match: RVD gets a clean break on the ropes and does a backflip to show off. They lock-up and Kikuchi sends RVD into the ropes and lands a calf kick followed by a plancha to the floor. RVD hits first and sends Kikuchi into the barricade but Kikuchi fires back with a clothesline. He tries to capitalize but RVD counters an Irish whip and sends Kikuchi into the barricade again. Kikuchi then gets clotheslined over the barricade. RVD jumps onto the barricade to do some cool springboard move but he loses his balance so he smashes Kikuchi into the ringpost to compensate. RVD tosses Kikuchi into the ring but Kikuchi rolls out on the opposite side. He runs around the ring and does what he can to avoid RVD for a bit. Kikuchi recovers at ringside and returns to the ring once it’s safe. Kikuchi takes him down but RVD quickly counters and rolls over to a pin for a two-count. RVD works over Kikuchi’s left arm with some armbar variations but Kikuchi gets a ropebreak. Kikuchi escapes an armbar with a leglock, leading to a standoff.

RVD lands an ax kick followed by an early Rolling Thunder splash for a two-count and then applies a chinlock. Kikuchi gets a ropebreak and then countetrs a corner irish whip. He hits a running elbow and charges for another corner attack but RVD sidesteps and hits a corner wheel kick of his own. RVD followed with an implant buster for a two-count. he slams Kkuchi and tries a standing moonsault splash but Kikuchi rolls out of the way and goes for a quebrada, but RVD avoids that as well. RVD tries the same thing but lands on his feet, leading to another standoff.

Kikuchi flips RVD off so RVD sends him into the ropes but Kikuchi hits first with a high kick. He gets a two-count off a vertical suplex and then off a double German suplex into a bridge. RVD goes to the floor so Kikuchi goes for a dive. But RVD avoids it this time so Kikuchi hits the ringside mats instead. RVD whips Kikuchi into the barricade and then drops him on it for a jumping guillotine leg drop. RVD takes advantage with a quebrada using the barricade. RVD tosses Kikuchi into the ring and hits a springboard leg drop. One, two, Kikuchi survives.

RVD drags Kikuchi to the apron and hits another springboard leg drop. He continues this trend with a top-rope diving leg drop but only gets two. Suddenly Kikuchi reverses into a small package. RVD kicks out and continues targeting Kikuchi’s head. he sends Kikchi into a corner but Kikuchi counters and lands a running sunset flip that yields another two-count. RVD hits a high kick combo but Kikuchi ducks his follow-up spinkick. They trade waistlocks teasing big suplexes until Kikuchi gets to the ropes. Seeing as Kikuchi loves those ropes so much, RVD crotches Kikuchi on the top rope and lands a diving side kick. He crawls over for a pin. One, two, Kikuchi kicks out.

Kikuchi reverses another corner whip and charges but RVD boots him. He ducks down assuming RVD’s going for a kick but RVD hits a split-legged moonsault instead. RVD follows up with a Romero special but Kikuchi flips over into a pin. One two, RVD bridges out. Kikuchi lifts RVD up and spikes him with a Tombstone Piledriver. RVD barely kicks out. Mofidied Blue Thunder Bomb. RVD kicks out again. Diving body press…connects…with RVD’s knees. RVD goes for a kneelift but Kikuchi counters with a roll-up and another two-count. He hits one German suplex and goes for a second but Kikuchi elbows out. They trade waistlocks. Kikuchi counters a German into a victory roll. One, two, three! Kikuchi wins!

Winner and STILL World Junior Heavyweight Champion after 16:20: Tsuyoshi Kikuchi

Review: That was a technically solid match that would fit well as a midcard match on any decent show. Kikuchi was the angry veteran while RVD did some flashy dives and martial arts-inspired kicks to try and both woo the audience and win the title. RVD wasn’t as crazy or as reliant on high-flying as he would be later on in ECW. Instead, he did some technical grappling as well and tried to keep Kikuchi grounded whenever he could. He did do some innovative stuff such as his many leg drop variations and several cool dives. But in the end, Kikuchi’s superior grappling skill won over RVD’s flashiness. The only problem with the match, though, was that the crowd was completely dead for the first half of the match. Even in the blandest curtain jerker matches, the AJPW fans would at least make some noise to break the tension. They did wake up by the end, but seeing wrestlers perform under dead silence in a pre-COVID setting is still weird.

Final Rating: ***1/2

 

3. IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi [c] vs. Kurt Angle – NJPW Resolution 2009

Background: Tanahashi won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the third time at Wrestle Kingdom 3. This was his definitive reign, his moment of being the new and unquestioned ace of New Japan. And after defeating Shinsuke Nakamura in his first defense, Angle came out to challenge him. Tanahashi accepted, leading to this genuine dream match that New Japan themselves promoted as a ‘world pro-wrestling classic’.

The match: They lock-up and go into a long technical chain grappling sequence. After a stalemate, Tanahashi goes for Angle’s leg but Angle counters easily and applies a rear waistlock. Tanahashi gets to the ropes. Tanahashi escapes another rear waistlock and headlocks Angle, applying it so tightly that Angle can’t shoot him into the ropes. Angle goes for the tried-and-tested back suplex counter but Tanahashi maintains the headlock anyway. Angle finally gets Tanahashi off but he knocks Angle to the ground and quickly reapplies the headlock. Angle powers out but Tanahashi arm drags him and goes for the grounded headlock yet again but Angle fights to his feet again. He sends Tanahashi into the ropes and lands an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. After recovering for a moment, he lands a snap suplex and pins for a one-count. he follows with some corner shoulder checks and a rib breaker for a two-count. Angle follows with a chinlock with a knee in Tanahashi’s back and then switches into a headlock of his own. Tanahashi elbows out and charges but Angle lands a kneelift to the gut for some two-counts. Tanahashi ducks some clotheslines and both guys go for simultaneous crossbody blocks. Both wrestlers collide in midair.

After fighting to their feet, Angle and Tanahashi start a strike exchange. Angle gets the upper hand and charges but Tanahashi knocks him down. Angle counters an Irish whip but eats a flying forearm for his efforts. Tanahashi follows with a senton splash combo that gets two and follows with a second-rope somersault senton that also gets two. Angle rakes Tanahashi’s eyes and goes to throw him out of the ring but Tanahashi skins the cat, ducks a clothesline, and connects with a slingblade. Tanahashi goes for another one. Angle blocks and goes for an Olympic Slam. Tanahashi escapes via arm drag and nails an enzuigiri. He slams Angle and goes to the top rope. Angle cuts him off and lands a top-rope Olympic Slam. One, two, Tanahashi kicks out.

Tanahashi goes for a clothesline but Angle ducks and lands two German suplexes. He goes for the third but Tanahashi counters into a release dragon suplex. Tanahashi goes back to the top rope. High Fly Flow…misses. Angle connects with another Olympic Slam but Tanahashi still kicks out. Ankle Lock applied. Tanahashi tries to kick him off but Angle rolls over and doesn’t let go. Tanahashi tries again but Angle readjusts and keeps it locked in. Angle looks like he’s in control…when suddenly Tanahashi counters with an inverted dragon screw leg whip. Tanahashi follows with a Texas cloverleaf hold. Angle quickly counters that into another ankle lock. Tanahashi has nowhere to go as Angle tightens the hold as much as he can. Suddenly Tanahashi flips over into a roll-up to counter. One, two, Angle kicks out.

Angle gets up first and goes for another Olympic Slam but Tanahashi escapes and lands behind him. Angle kicks him and charges but runs into another slingblade. One, two, another kick-out. Tanahashi hobbles over to the corner and goes for another HFF. But he’s too slow and Angle cuts him off again. But Tanahashi fights back and hits a diving crossbody. Then he goes back to the top rope. Tanahashi connects with not one but two High Fly Flows. One, two, and three! Tanahashi retains his title!

Winner and STILL IWGP Heavyweight Champion after 15:11: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Review: Technically solid and impressive yet at the same time disappointing given the names involved. Both Angle and Tanahashi were widely considered to be the best grapplers of the last twenty years, yet they didn’t deliver that much here. It felt like something was missing from the match. It started off incredibly well with some great technical grappling and the finish was pretty solid too. But the changes in control were so jarring since they came out of nowhere. They went from trading holds on the mat to trading finishers without much build. And speaking of holds, it made no sense for Tanahashi to spend such a long time in the ankle lock, only to then run, jump and dive without showing any ill effects. And Angle also looked a bit weak at the end as Tanahashi’s comeback was so sudden and relatively undeserved. He managed to knock Angle off so easily whereas Angle looked like he had to go through utter hell just to get close to winning. This is one of those rare cases where the match would’ve benefitted by being longer. Doing so would’ve allowed Tanahashi to sell Angle’s legwork longer and put him over as a more credible threat. It would’ve also improved the match’s pacing as Tanahashi would’ve had more time to dismantle Angle instead of hitting a lightning-quick closing sequence out of nowhere.

Final Rating: ***3/4

 

2. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hangman Page – NJPW G1 Climax 2018

Background: Ever since Okada lost the title to Kenny Omega at Dominion, he had been on a losing streak. Not only that, but his personality changed in a major way. He changed his attire, dyed his hair weird colors, started bringing balloons to the ring, and generally started acting like a lunatic. He tried to be all smiles, but deep down he wasn’t the same Rainmaker as before. That in turn bled into his G1 record in 2018. Okada, usually a favorite to win the tournament, started off with two straight losses, one to Jay White and one to Bad Luck Fale. Meanwhile, Page was still very low on the totem pole in NJPW at the time. And yet, he wanted to prove that he could hang with the best of the best. Except that’s not what Page got here; when this match was announced, Page knew he was getting ‘balloon boy’ Okada and not ‘ace’ Okada, which frustrated him to no end.

The match: Both guys trade some armlocks until Page overtakes Okada with a snapmare. Okada counters with a hammerlock and Page gets a ropebreak, which leads to Okada’s typical open mockery. Okada shoves Page away on some charges and mocks him some more with a silly grin, only for Page to clothesline him to the floor. Page follows with a suicide dive out of nowhere.

Page tosses Okada into the ring, deadlifts him, and lands a bridging wrist-clutch fallaway slam for two. He lands some chops and locks in a chinlock but Okada fights out and lands a big boot. Page dodges a senton and lands a shooting star splash and pins for two again. Then he pulls something out of Okada’s playbook with a scoop slam/slingshot senton combination, followed by a Rainmaker pose. Page follows with a neck crank but Okada escapes and hits a counter DDT. Okada begins a comeback with some running strikes. Page hits back but runs into a flapjack that gets Okada a two-count. Both guys dodge corner charges and Okada dropkicks Page to the floor.

At ringside, Okada sends Page into the barricade and then boots him over it. Page fights out of an elevated DDT attempt and then uses the barricade for his Buckshot lariat. Huge move for Page. He drags Okada into the ring and goes for a moonsault…and misses. And yet Page still gets up before Okada. He charges but runs into another boot. He avoids both Okada’s reverse neckbreaker and his trademark standing dropkick. Page goes for a powerbomb. Okada blocks and tries a Tombstone. Page blocks that and hits a wheelbarrow piledriver. Shades of Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi. One, two, Okada kicks out.

Page lifts Okada up but Okada grabs the ropes in desperation. Page cuts him off in the corner and goes for a superplex but Okada elbows out. Page cuts him off again. Top-rope diving neckbreaker. Okada rolls to the floor but finds no safety there. Page follows with a moonsault onto Okada on the floor. Okada gets tossed back into the ring. Another Buckshot Lariat. One, two, no, Okada kicks out again. Page signals the end but Okada counters into a sunset flip for two. He charges but Okada ducks and goes for a German suplex. Page lands on his feet and nails a running corner dropkick. Page lifts Okada up but Okada counters with a Tombstone piledriver out of nowhere.

Both guys fight to their feet and trade forearms. Okada boots Page and taunts him to attack, which Page does. But Page eats an uppercut but goes for a superkick right away. Okada blocks that but can’t block Page’s follow-up elbow smash. Page goes for an Irish whip but Okada reverses and lands a dropkick. He goes for the Rainmaker. Page ducks and hits a superkick. He charges but ends up on the apron and tries a third Buckshot lariat. Okada counters into a Rainma – no, Page counters into a folding powerbomb. Okada barely kicks out and Page lands a Misawa rolling elbow. Page is so close to winning. Rite of Passage – no, Okada counters with a spinning Rainmaker. Okada follows with a second Rainmaker. One, two, three! There’s the match.

Winner after 17:31: Kazuchika Okada

Review: Great match with Page doing a tremendous job of playing the underdog that wants to be taken seriously. Page took the fight to Okada right away and tried to end things early with some Buckshot Lariats, which forced Okada to shift gears. He started off acting cocky and aloof, but once he recognized that Page was actually a serious threat he flipped the switch and became the deadly Okada that he had been for years. Okada was mechanical here, hitting basically the same moves he always did. But that wasn’t a hindrance here; instead, it showed just how smooth and skilled a pro-wrestler he was. Everything he landed he hit with picture-perfect timing and smooth execution. His moves all looked deadly. And once again, he created a tense and exciting closing counter-sequence with his opponent. In this case, Page did a great job counter-wrestling with Okada until the very end. And Page looked great here as he came incredibly close to winning. It would’ve been the biggest upset of his career had he won. Sadly, he came so close only for it all to come crashing down once Okada hit his Rainmaker. The fact that this was just ‘another day at the office’ for Okada shows exactly how amazing he is as a wrestler.

Final Rating: ****

 

1. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Tournament Semi-Final Match: Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed 2018

Background: Hiromu Takahashi had to vacate the junior heavyweight title after suffering a nasty neck injury that would leave him sidelined for over a year. In his absence, a tournament was created to crown a new champion. In this semi-finals match, two of Britain’s top wrestlers squared off with the winner facing KUSHIDA in the tournament finals. This was a big deal to many fans considering that Scurll and Ospreay had faced each other many times before on the British wrestling scene.

The match: The bell rings and Ospreay lands a Spanish Fly on a charging Scurll. One, two, thr – no, Scurll kicks out. Scurll escapes to the floor but Ospreay follows with a Sasuke Special moonsault splash to the floor. He tosses Scurll into the ring and hits a top-rope shooting star press. One, two, Scurll kicks out again. Christ, what a fast start. Ospreay goes for his springboard Os-cutter but Scurll bails to the floor, only to be hit by Ospreay as he dives through the ropes. Standing ovation for Ospreay as he throws Scurll back into the ring and lands a springboard forearm. Scurll asks for a time-out but gets kicked in the chest Danielson-style instead. But on Ospreay’s third kick Scurll catches his leg and slaps him in the face. Ospreay answers with a kick and then charges, only to run into an uppercut. Another uppercut sends Ospreay to the floor and Scurll goes to the apron. Superkick right to the face. Standing ovation for Scurll this time.

Scurll smashes Ospreay’s collar into the ring apron as the crowd chants ‘Marty’. Ospreay goes for a kick but Scurll catches his leg, ducks the enzuigiri, and stomps onto Ospreay’s head. Scurll lands stiff chops and then locks in a cravate hold while kneeing Ospreay’s head. He follows with a snapmare/dropkick combo and pins but only gets two.

Scurll lands more knees and chops and gets Ospreay in a corner. Ospreay starts firing up but Scurll shuts him down with a neck snap and then stands on his head as its pushed theough the ropes. Even though he’s being a clear villain, this crowd is going nuts cheering for Scurll. He sends Ospreay into the ropes but Ospreay counters with a handspring enzuigiri out of nowhere.

Ospreay goes for a corner dropkick but Scurll dodges that but can’t dodge Ospreay’s follow-up enzuigiri. Ospreay follows with a top-rope 619 and goes for a springboard but Scurll cuts him off and kicks him to the floor. Scurll smashes Ospreay into the barricade and drags him to the apron, where the two start trading strikes. Ospreay gets the upper hand with kicks and goes for another Spanish Fly but Scurll blocks by trapping his arm. Ospreay flips over Scurll and into the ring and then charges. Suicide sunset flip powerbomb to the floor. Crazy move by Ospreay.

Ospreay tosses Scurll into the ring and lands a Robinson Special (corkscrew kick to the head). He goes for the Os-cutter. Scurll counters with a backslide into a superkick. Both men go down and then struggle back to their feet. Scurll tries a double underhook slam but Ospreay powers out and goes for his Stormbreaker finisher. Scurll escapes that and hits back with a chop. Ospreay fires back with a running boot and a rebound lariat.

Ospreay places Scurll on the top rope and then goes to the second rope next to him. Suddenly Scurll drops down which causes Ospreay to crotch himself on the top rope while Scurll is unharmed. Scurll follows with a super hurricanrana and a massive lariat of his own. One, two, no, Ospreay kicks out. Scurll hits more stiff chops but Ospreay fights through the pain and tanks them. Both guys hit each other hard. Scurll ducks a kick and hits an uppercut. Ospreay hits back with a step-up kick and an enzuigiri. Ospreay goes for a suplex into a stunner. Scurll counters into a crossface chickenwing. Ospreay flips over to pin while still in the hold. One two, Scurll survives and rolls over into another pin. Ospreay kicks out but gets powerbombed for his efforts. One, two, kick-out. Scurll goes for a double-arm DDT. Ospreay spins out and goes for a dragon suplex. Scurll blocks but eats a hook kikck for his efforts. Both men collapse.

Ospreay goes for the Stormbreaker but Scurll powers out and carries Ospreay to the corner on his back. Ospreay counters and lands a superkick through Scurll’s legs and hits his head. Ospreay goes for another dive but Scurll hits the ropes to cut him off. Scurll smashes Ospreay’s face into the steel ringpost and tries a top-rope crossface chickenwing but Ospreay fights out. But Scurll counters back and hooks both arms. Top rope Tiger suplex! One, two, and th – no, Ospreay kicks out. Scurll charges and drills Ospreay with a lariat. But he’s not done. Package side piledriver! Scurll follows with his Graduation double Underhook corkscrew slam for the pin and the win! Scurll advances to the finals of the tournament!

Winner after 16:38: Marty Scurll

Review: I usually dislike Ospreay matches because he emphasizes acrobatics at the expense of realism. But while that’s usually a hindrance to his matches, that wasn’t the case here. Instead, he and Scurll had an intense cruiserweight-style war that was as exciting as it was gravity-defying. It was like a video-game match with both sides rushing each other and button-mashing to hit as much as they could in a short amount of time. And for once, Ospreay’s suicidal tendencies actually made sense when he rushed Scurll at the beginning. He spammed a bunch of crazy and convoluted moves early on because he was fresh and uninjured. He still maintained his blistering speed throughout the match, which forced Scurll to play the role of technically-sound foil to counterbalance Ospreay’s blistering acrobatics. Thankfully, Scurll embraced that role with gusto and did a fantastic job of countering Ospreay and using a bit more of a ‘traditional’ approach to wrestling to keep Ospreay down. Scurll’s counter from a stunner into a chickenwing was by far the best part of the match as it showed just how quickly Ospreay’s momentum could be turned against him. And in the end, Scurll was forced to blast Ospreay with a flurry of high-impact bombs to keep him down long enough for the pin, creating a logical conclusion that made both guys look strong in the end.

Final Rating: ****1/2

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.