I think this is probably the most diverse match of the month list I’ve put together yet. In the past, I’ve had star ratings to work by when figuring this out and, honestly, I think that was restricting the way I did it. Now, I’m just pulling out the notebook and picking the ten that have stuck with me the most. So, welcome to a rather different, but certainly not worse, round-up of my favourites matches from last month.
10. Leo Onozaki and Saya Iida vs Jungle Kyona and Itsuki Hoshino, New Years Stars (16/2/20), Stardom
It’s the retirement match that no-one was talking about, but it’s one that’s stuck with me. Leo Onozaki was a wrestler who I liked. She was never going to be a star, and in two years a lot of fans won’t even remember her name, but she made me smile and watching her get to go out with Saya and Jungle one last time both continued that trend and also made me weep. The match’s defining moment was Leo unleashed on Jungle with elbow after elbow and her old unit leader standing and taking them, giving Onozaki her moment. That’s the kind of emotion you can’t fake, and I’ll remember that spot for longer than a million incredible moves.
9. Hiromu Takahashi vs Ryu Lee, The New Beginning In Osaka (9/2/20), NJPW
When Hiromu and Lee get in the ring together, you know that you’re going to get something breathtaking. The opening of this match where they chopped the shit out of each other was that moment for me. It felt like a test of wills, as both men would have their moments where they faltered only to pull themselves up once more, determined not to be beaten. The last time they faced-off, Hiromu broke his neck, and this was his chance to come back and prove he could still hang with a man he’ll be wrestling forever.
8. Masato Tanaka vs MAO, In The Fight (23/2/20), DDT
MAO vs Tanaka was the grizzled old veteran vs the weirdo. Having barrelled his way through some of DDT’s more traditional wrestlers, this was the first time Tanaka was introduced to the fare that made their name, and he rose to the challenge in a match that played off both men’s strengths. MAO had rubber ducks, Tanaka had Lariats, and while on this day the Lariats won, one suspects the ducks will be back on this stage in the future.
7. Kagetsu’s Gauntlet Match, New Years Stars (15/2/20), Stardom
Retirement matches are going to be a theme on this list. On Kagestu’s final Stardom appearance, she faced the traditional joshi gauntlet, taking on the entire roster in one-minute matches. What was incredible was how hard she worked during it. Their old trainer decided this was her last chance to give them all the rub, and whether it was a fourteen-year-old rookie or Mayu Iwatani, she was going to hand them everything she had. It was a beautiful display of selfless wrestling and a fitting way for her to say goodbye to Stardom.
6. Chris Brookes, Masahiro Takanashi and Emi Sakura vs Mei Sugura, Rin Rin and Tokiko Kirihara, Gatoh Move #36 (23/2/20), Gatoh Move
The ongoing sage of Brookes vs Sugura took its next step on his return to Ichigaya Chocolate Square. Those two have flawless chemistry, and there were umpteen moments in this match perfectly calculated to get a smile, a laugh or a gasp (the prime example being Brookes’ counter to Mei’s Propeller Clutch which earned all three). It’s the kind of match where listing all the magic is only going to spoil it, but whether it’s Rin Rin’s great betrayal or the frantic final few minutes, it showed off everything that makes Gatoh Move as wonderful as it is.
5. Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Yuji Nagata vs Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi and Hirooki Goto, Manabu Nakanishi’s Retirement Show (22/2/20), NJPW
Yup, it’s another one. If you’d asked me a month ago what I expected from Manabu Nakanishi’s retirement, the answer would have been not much. However, on his final run the hard old bastard dove deep into that well and pulled out every last bit of energy he had to see himself home in style. Aided by his generational pals standing by his side, they went out against the cream of modern-day New Japan and rolled back to the years to show why they’re the legends they are. The fact those pillars of the current scene were happy to play the bad guys and eventually used all four of their finishers to put him down says it all. He might not have been the wrestler he once was, but he’ll still be missed.
4. Raku, Maki Itoh and Pom Harajuku vs Miu Watanabe, Rika Tatsumi and Suzume, Winter ~wonderful harmony~ (11/2/20), TJPW
I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but the result of this match probably earned the biggest pop from me this year that wasn’t Naito winning at the Dome. In the last month or so, Tokyo Joshi and Raku did a stunning job of building to her first win, as this seemingly mild-mannered idol got fed-up of being the Up Up Girl who wasn’t any good. Normally, following in the footsteps of Maki Itoh might be considered unwise, but taking her inspiration from another idol who struggled to wrestle and letting that push her towards this match and what followed was incredible simple storytelling. It all came together perfectly, and this is another one of those moments that will linger with me for a long old time.
3. Natsumi Maki vs Miyu Yamashita, Winter ~wonderful harmony~ (8/2/20), TJPW
It’s only March, but Miyu Yamashita is having a stunning year. While she’s not been in the main event since January 4th, it hasn’t stopped her doing something near genius with nearly every match she’s been a part of, and the jewel in her crown is this rivalry with Natsupoi. Having being dispatched handily in January, this was Maki’s second chance, as she was desperate to prove herself to Miyu. That desperation took over before the bell even rang, as she charged Miyu to get the first blow in before wrestling what, against many, would have been a perfect match. Unfortunately, Miyu is not the many, and Maki would once again be kicked in the head. This time, though, she’d proven herself to Yamashita, and the moment in the ring afterwards suggested they’d go once more. If it’s as good as the first two, you might as well hand every best feud award to them now.
2. Kagetsu vs Meiko Satomura, Kagetsu’s Retirement Show (24/2/20)
Our final retirement match and it was a big one at that. Kagetsu climbed into the ring for the last time against her old sensei and damn did she go out in style. What I loved about this was the feeling that they were both putting it all out there. The fighting spirits and the kick-outs in the final minutes might have felt dumb in another setting, but for Kagetsu’s last run they made perfect sense. If Meiko were going to beat her, she’d have to fucking kill her. Of course, that’s a challenge that Meiko Satomura has risen to semi-regularly over the years, and the final boot did eventually came crashing down. But fuck me, if you’re going to go out, go out like that.
1. Mayu Iwatani vs Takumi Iroha, The Way To Major League (8/2/20), Stardom
A match that wasn’t even supposed to happen. Originally, this was going to be Mayu vs Sareee, which I have no doubt would have been special. Would it have been as good as this, though? For Marvelous’s Iroha stepped up and stepped through the Stardom champ. This was domination through excellence, as she chopped away at Iwatani with brutal kicks and neck crunching Suplexes. Few people take a beating the way Mayu does, and she always has that sprinkle of magic to throw-in at the exact right moment. It felt like a match made in heaven, and with Iroha getting the win, we can all merely hope that their tease to do it again comes to pass. Sareee who?
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