I love mixtapes. Unfortunately, they’re not really a thing any more, making it a love I rarely get to explore. So, in an attempt to scratch that itch, I’ve decided to introduce a new feature to Ramblings About, Wrestling Mixtape. Now and then, I’m going to pick a random wrestler, grab three of their matches off YouTube and have a (spoiler free) ramble about them (I appreciate a mixtape with one band on it would be rather limited, but shush).
To kick it off, I’ve gone with one of my low-key favourites, Kaori Yoneyama. It’s a doubly good choice because there happens to be a wealth of material to choose from. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Mei Suruga vs Kaori Yoneyama, Gatoh Move (8/11/2018)
If someone was going to compete with Kaori Yoneyama for the position of my current favourite, it might be Mei Suruga. In November 2018 she was roughly six months into her career, which amounts to about five years in non-genius wrestler terms.
Even with Mei’s remarkable development, she’s wrestling the rookie role in this one, going up against the veteran Yone. Suruga is pure energy, charging around the place and at one point even going on the run, scurrying away from Kaori on the apron. In contrast, Yoneyama is just trying to get a hold at her, at one point resorting to the simple tactic of sitting on this ridiculously enthusiastic child.
Where these two excel, though, is when they slip into their unique blend of gremlin wrestling. Right from the start, Mei tries to mock Yoneyama, suggesting she’s taller than her, so Yone stamps on her foot. That’s a tactic she returns to throughout the action, as she attempts to put this arrogant rookie in her place. It also plays into the fact they both have a brilliantly bratty side to their characters, a part that will poke at their opponent and stick their tongue out in defiance.
My main reason for picking this match is that I loved their recent ChocoPro encounter, a match that I’d actually suggest is far superior. That’s not to say this one is bad, it’s not, but within the confines of Ichigaya, these two were given the freedom to go all out with said gremlin wrestling. Plus, as quickly as Mei developed, she’s even better now, harnessing that boundless energy to even greater effect.
It means that while this is enjoyable, its biggest asset has got nothing to do with Yoneyama. Instead, when contrasted with said ChocoPro match, it provides a glimpse at the remarkable growth of Mei Suruga. Yoneyama’s role is to allow her to show it, a role that she excels in.
Kaori Yoneyama vs Rydeen Hagane, Pure-J (13/12/2019)
This was my first introduction to Rydeen Hagane, a Pure-J wrestler who has a cool Bull Nakano inspired look complete with face paint and a mohawk. The reason I was drawn to it is that it goes just over five minutes, and I’ve long believed that Yoneyama can do more in five minutes than most do in half an hour.
This is an excellent example of why that’s true, as Yoneyama plays the sneaky underdog to perfection. Hagane is bigger and tougher than her, but Yone knows it. Right from the start, she’s looking to stack the odds in her favour, cutting a pre-match promo to set-up a sneak attack. Hagane wants to get a hold of Yoneyama, beat her down and play with her food, but Kaori just wants to win, leaping into every roll-up she can in an attempt to sneak out in one piece.
While it’s a simple dynamic, it’s one I enjoy a lot. At one point, Kaori has Kaho Kobayashi (I think, the video quality is awful) enter the ring and drag her towards the ropes to escape a submission, more than happy to accept the cheap way out if it gets her arm raised and a moment that tells you everything you need to know about her. She’s a veteran of this game, and as a veteran, she knows that it’s better to live to fight another day than die honourably.
It also gives us a fun match. Honestly, if you’re going to look for Yoneyama high-speed action, it’s probably not the one you’d go to first, I’d recommend her 2016 encounter with Yumi Okaha, but I wanted something a bit different. It provides that and proves once again that when time is tight, turn to Kaori Yoneyama.
Kaori Yoneyama vs Hikaru Shida, Pro Wrestling Wave (10/5/2016)
Our final match shows us a very different side of Kaori Yoneyama. We’re going back to WAVE’s 2016 Catch the Wave tournament and watching Yoneyama get serious as she faces off against current AEW champion Hikaru Shida.
The opening minutes are designed to establish one thing: Shida is fitter and more athletic than Yoneyama. She handsprings out of a arm wringer, gracefully kipping up to her feet, a big grin on her face. It’s a grin that Kaori wants to remove and the first chance she gets, she goes right after Shida’s leg, presumably working off the theory that it doesn’t matter how athletic you are if you can’t walk.
What follows is a great working over, every move zeroing in on that leg. Limb work is only as good as the person selling it, though, and Shida is good here. She clenches and groans, shaking it out as she powers up for a Deadlift Superplex and keeping that injury in the spotlight. At one point, she hits a Backbreaker over the injured knee, letting out a yell as she does so, but willing to sacrifice a bit of pain to cause more to Yoneyama.
It also starts Shida side of the offensive narrative, as along with selling that leg, she begins to focus in on Yoneyama’s back. If Kaori’s attack aimed to take out the athleticism, Shida’s puts an end to those brutal Yoneyama Sentons, as each attempt leaves Kaori gasping in pain. We end up with two wounded wrestlers, throwing everything into this as they attempt to get the win.
And honestly, the selling I previously praised does go a bit out of the window in the final act, the focus switching to ramping up the excitement. It’s a bit of a shame, but it’s not enough to put a huge damper on proceedings. They fly through those closing sequences, every near fall drawings gasps as you don’t have a clue who is going to win.
It ends up being a match that shows off the badass side of Yoneyama, presenting her as a wrestler who has been doing this for a long time and knows how to hurt you. It’s a side of her we perhaps don’t see too often, but when it comes out, it’s a joy to watch.