Before going any further, I feel it needs to be said that I, and by extension this website, believe that black lives matter. I am fully behind every protester in America or anywhere else in the world who is standing up for their right to live. This might not be the biggest platform, but it is one, so I implore that you provide support in whatever way you can and also to listen, listen to the people affected by this shit and learn from it. Someone like me can never fully understand it, but we can try.
Feels a bit trite to move from that into me spewing my nonsense about some matches I like, but oh well, here we go.
I am not a lover of ECW-style hardcore. Now and then I’ll dive into the gritty world of deathmatch, loving the shock and awe of blood spurting across a ring, but the slighter tamer tables and chairs of American wrestling have left me cold ever since I overdosed on ICW shows during their heyday. In fact, the week before this match, Shunma had another hardcore encounter with Chris Brookes, and it did nothing for me.
So, of course, the match in this style that I did like, was the one with the sex doll. In fact, I would almost go as far as saying this might be the best Shunma match I’ve ever seen. He took that adage of a great wrestler being able to have a brilliant match with a broom to heart, throwing himself around the ring and doing everything in his power to put Yoshihiko over as a killer. He managed it too, pulling twenty minutes out of an inanimate object and keeping me gripped as I sought to see what insanity he’d come up with next. Fair play.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Masato Tanaka’s style of wrestling is really fucking dumb. Yet, I love it. Sakaguchi was a perfect opponent for him, as these two beat the shit out of each other. Throw in a brilliant finish where the challenger ran out of steam, unable to keep going against the aged oak that is Tanaka, and you’ve got a cracking title match on your hands. This is the kind of fast-paced, hard-hitting match that flourishes in an Empty Arena setting, and a little part of me is going to be sad to see them go.
A match that perhaps won’t go down as one of ChocoPro’s most celebrated, but one that’s stuck with me. One lovely wee side-effect of ChocoPro has been it becoming a platform for Tokiko Kirihara to regularly get in the ring with experienced (or prodigiously talented) wrestlers. It’s, unsurprisingly, seen her leap forward in her development, as she uses a lovely blend of judo and Sakurisms to wrestle a style that few in ChocoPro are doing.
This was the best example of that so far, as she and Akki went out and had a technical, mat-based match that let the rookie show off her skill set. It was also a brilliantly selfless performance from Akki, who was out there to make her look good, even letting her pluck him off the wall when he went for his Spiderman-style athletics.
To put it simply, this was a well-wrestled match that showed an inexperienced wrestler taking a step forward. In other words, lots of stuff that I like.
The ballad of Yunamon is a fascinating one. From the outside, ChocoPro felt like a group of friends having fun. Yes, Emi called up a few of her more violent chums to beat on Akki, but it was a promotion built as much around laughs as big serious matches. Then, something snapped inside everyone’s favourite Tropical Girl. Emi pushed her too far, questioning why she wasn’t achieving what was expected of her. That would lead to a series of matches, most of which are on this list, where Yunamon became determined to prove herself, to show that she was so much more than Sakura gave her credit for.
The first of those matches was the Last Man Standing war with Minoru Fujita, a show that I will hold deep in my heart for introducing me to the coolest dude on the planet and my new style icon. Away from that, this was new territory for Yunamon. It’s hard to be bright and bubbly when you’re battling a deathmatch wrestler in an attempt to put him down for ten. As he beat on her, using a chain, she looked like she out of her depth. However, as they went on, Yunamon’s heart went all Grinch and grew bigger and bigger. She refused to die, pulling herself back up and even coming close to beating Fujita down, piling mats on top of him in a desperate attempt to get the ten.
Of course, she didn’t succeed. As those of us in the YouTube chat metaphorically (and in some cases literally, although I doubt she heard) screamed her on, Yunamon eventually had nothing left, falling to the ten-count. It was one of those perfect wrestling moments. A beautiful example of glorious failure as Yunamon earned more in failure than a million people have taken in victory. Yunamon made herself on that show, and it would lead to one hell of a month.
Saki Akai’s recent career path is fascinating. She’s someone who, when I first saw her, never quite looked comfortable in a wrestling ring. There was almost a touch of teenage awkwardness to her as if she hadn’t quite figured out where all her limbs were.
Over the last year or so, though, she has become one of my favourite wrestlers to watch. That long thin frame has turned her into an incredible bumper, someone who can be thrown around and crunched across knees in all sorts of interesting ways. Putting her in the ring with someone with the flexibility of Anou, was always likely to create something interesting.
And what we got felt like a coming of age for Saki. She took a beating, Anou feeling like the dominant force, but there is a toughness to Akai that wasn’t that before. The moment towards the end where she kicked out of a Bridging German was worth a million words. She is no longer that awkward teen, but a hell of a wrestler in her own right and, much like the Syuri match from last month, I hope we get the chance to watch this again in front of fans.
Here’s a shocker, a non-Japanese match on one of these lists! That doesn’t happen often, does it? However, Stadium Stampede is truly deserving of its placing as this was a riotously good time. Whether it was that brilliant bar-room brawl between Hangman and Hagar, Jericho’s wonderful willingness to make himself the butt of every joke or Sammy Guevara continually proving that while he’s an annoying wee shite, he has something special going for him. It was made even better by watching it alongside the ChocoPro viewing party, as Emi, Mei and Akki’s reactions were almost as much fun as watching the action itself.
I don’t particularly want to go into it any deeper. It made me smile, and as I’ve said recently, that’s all I really want from wrestling.
Yunamon’s rage eventually earned her a match with Akki, the man she dismissed as Sakura’s dog. It was a statement that he was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not too impressed with, and this got personal very quickly.
It was a feeling that burst through into the action, Yunamon ditching her fun-loving persona to attack Akki before the bell (although they do occasionally forget to ring it, so maybe the match had started). They brought a fierceness to Ichigaya, driving home with strikes and elbows, as it became clear these two were unleashing their frustrations on each other. Yunamon’s problem wasn’t actually with Akki, but he’d come to symbolise the things she hated, so she was going to take it all out on him.
The finish was pretty perfect too, the two of them unable to be separated as the time ran out. Yunamon had proven she could stand beside the person Emi had chosen to be her right hand. Now she just had to beat the left hand, and, well, we’ll get there.
There are a lot of ChocoPro matches on this list, and while this isn’t number one, I think if I was going to introduce someone to what that promotion is, I would give them this match.
For it is packed with everything I love about ChocoPro. The brilliant use of Antonio Honda as a living, breathing cameraman, as involved with the action as the wrestlers, Fujita and Mei fighting out the window and into the street before disappearing down the elevator that they’ve apparently built there since I visited in January, or Mei, unleashing that violent streak we’ve all seen her display, the wrestlers around the ring desperately trying to stop her from driving Fujita’s head through various parts of Ichigaya. It was hilarious, exciting and basically perfect.
Do I need to say anything else? I doubt it.
The most recent verse in the ballad of Yunamon saw her face-off with Mei Suruga, the person who she felt had stolen her spotlight. After a series of draws blighted ChocoPro, Emi decided that there had to be a winner and this was made an Iron Man match with sudden-death overtime. The battle was on.
And this fight, more than any other, is the epitome of what has made ChocoPro so unique. The in-ring wasn’t the only thing that built to this. It was as much born in the live streams and every moment where Yunamon stormed the YouTube chat, demanding that she be heard. Many wrestling companies have used YouTube over the years, Christ you could argue that it birthed AEW, but I don’t think any of them have got it the way this company has. They build to this using it to its full extent, and it paid off in one of the best half hours of wrestling you’ll see this year.
Because, of course, you can have all the clever uses of the internet, but at the end of the day, you need the wrestling to pay-off, and this paid off. Mei vs Yunamon is a classic battle, power vs speed and guile, as Suruga danced around her bigger opponent, trying to stay out of her reach. After taking the lead, she literally locked her in the bathroom, stopping to have a drink before inviting Yunamon out (and making sure to slam the door into her after doing so).
The final minutes were electric, Yunamon taking a 3-1 lead only for Mei to chip away at it, rolling her up time after time, eventually drawing level as the seconds ticked away. In the end, though, the Tropical Girl got her moment, five seconds after the official time had ended and we’d entered sudden death Yunamon got her pin, proving she was just as capable of leading this company as Suruga. It would be a fitting pay-off to a brilliant story, but I can’t be the only one who thinks there is still some beef with a certain Sakura.
I thought long and hard about where to put this match on the list. Truthfully, while I think it was a brilliant in-ring (or on mat) performance, it probably wasn’t the best in May. What it was, though, was a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. Everyone knows by now what had happened in the build-up to this show, and the fact that ASUKA, a close friend and tag-team partner of Hana’s, went out and put on that performance was awe-inspiring. It is one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen, and it made so many people smile on a day where all I had been doing was crying.
Those smiles were built on the fact that this was ridiculously fun. Whether it was Mei’s attempt at sexy dancing, a Head Scissors via the pulley thing hanging from the roof of Chocolate Square (how have I never noticed that?) or ASUKA’s general badassery, it was a match that burst with memorable moments. ASUKA was so clearly made for ChocoPro, pulling the best out of Mei and using that incredible athleticism to adapt to those wonderfully unique surroundings. She even drew a bit of the violence out of Suruga, as ChocoPro’s Apple Girl got her hands on a kendo stick and smashed it across ASUKA’s face, a moment that brought a bit of edge to a match that had focused on joy. Fingers crossed it’s also a hint that these two will do this again because I would watch a hundred more of them.