I’m tweaking the match of the month formula a bit for July, ditching the top ten list to do it in chronological order. Partly that comes about because I think ranking matches was always a bit silly and partly because there was a series this month that told a story, so writing about them out of order would be weird. Anyway, it was another strong month for wrestling, so here are ten matches I reckon you should check out.
I wrote extensively about this back when it happened, so I won’t get too into it here, but it served as a culmination for Saki. In the last year, her development has not so much accelerated as had a rocket strapped to it. That came to a head against the legendary Meiko Satomura, where she didn’t just hang with her, but at times looked her equal. Akai is on the cusp of being something truly special, and in a few years we’ll look back at matches like this as milestones on her path.
Unsurprisingly, this was utter nonsense from start to finish. People were being beaten with vegetables, Miyacoco was in a bin and Yoneyama was getting some extreme close-ups of Natsu. It isn’t a match that needs much in the way of analysis, you can guess what it was from the names involved, but I watched it multiple times and laughed more with every viewing.
Brookes has been pushing for this match since he faced off with Miyu in a tag, so it was no surprise to see it booked when he was handed the chance to put his own show together. Even less surprising was the fact it was good, with Brookes having a tendency to shine in this environment. His use of that tall skinny frame to frustrate is always a lot of fun, but the real crowning glory was Miyu proving that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, she will kick you in the head.
With two great wrestlers in the ring, this was one of those matches that is just a pleasure to watch. I also suspect they could do even better on a bigger stage with some fans in attendance and I hope DDT realises it.
You get popular on TikTok and suddenly everyone is throwing a belt on you. What is wrestling coming to?
Jokes aside, this was a match that played brilliantly to both Arisa and Yoshiko’s strengths. Arisa was the cocky champ through whom Yoshiko needed to bulldoze her way to victory. It was strong, simple storytelling backed-up by action that hit hard and went all out in its attempts to prove how badass these women are. If you want more thoughts, it’s another that I’ve talked about before, so here’s the link.
Mei Suruga loves wrestling. Spend five seconds watching her bounce around Ichigaya, and that becomes abundantly clear. For her, it is a chance to have fun. A way of unleashing all the pent up energy that she builds up eating excessive amounts of snacks.
Mitsuru Konno doesn’t love wrestling. She’s admitted on more than one occasion that for her it’s a challenge. It hurts, and it wears her down, but she looks at people like Mei, and she wants to understand the joy she gets from performing. Unfortunately, that’s a feeling she’s not very good at expressing. Instead, in the build-up to this match, she found herself lashing out at Suruga (a situation not helped by the meddling hands of Emi Sakura who had accused Mitsuru of not being serious right before she dressed up and declared herself Emi Pencil). Mitsuru found herself unleashing on Mei, describing the way she messes around as an embarrassment and accusing her of leading the Gatoh Move rookies down her path of nonsense. For Mitsuru, Mei and her actions became an insult to how hard she’d worked.
That was the situation that gave us this match. Fun vs serious, Appleism vs Konnoism, a battle that, in some ways, was set-up as being for the heart of both ChocoPro and Gatoh Move. Is Mitsuru and her desire to be taken seriously right? Or was your heart with Mei Suruga and her willingness to go for the smile before the punch?
Well, from a fan point of view, they can be both be right because we’re going to have to see a lot of fantastic wrestling for this not to be one of the best matches of the year. Moving away from that viewpoint, though, by coming into this match the way she did, Mitsuru insured that Mei had to move into her world. This wasn’t something she could smile and joke her way through, but a serious, hard-hitting affair. So hard-hitting in fact that Mitsuru slapped Mei with so much force her hand started bleeding (a situation that, amusingly, would lead to more sympathy for her hurt hand than Mei’s poor face). They went at each other, working a style that had more in common with the Arisa vs Yoshiko match described above than what we normally see within Chocolate Square. This had that big match feel as two people gave it their all to come out on top and eschewed all punchlines in the process.
Through that, though, an understanding was reached. The aftermath saw Mitsuru with a smile on her face as she got a glimpse, perhaps for the first time, at what it is like to fall in love with wrestling. She might not be about to subscribe to Appleism (yes, I’m sticking with that one), but they seem to have found a world where they could co-exist.
I think it’s almost scientifically proven that friends make the best enemies when it comes to wrestling. Earlier in the month, Kamiyu had made her move and attempted to boot her way into the title picture, leaving Mina on the sidelines, openly expressing her jealousy. For Kamiyu, though, this was just another example of her friend’s need to hog the spotlight, showing her up at every opportunity.
The only way they could figure it out was to beat the shit out of each other. I feel pretty confident saying this is the best match of these women’s careers so far, but it’s not one that will stay in that spot for long. They’re coming on at a ferocious rate, and there’s something really exciting about watching them do it together. Whether it’s Kamiyu finding her confidence and learning to use those long legs to her advantage or Mina’s galaxy brained thinking, they’re finding who they are as wrestlers.
As friends, they proved they were more than willing to dish it out, putting on a hell of a fight that saw Mina take the advantage but only by a hair. Afterwards, they carried each other to the back their differences figured out by the ancient art of a smack in the chops. They may be back to being buddies now, but I doubt this will be the last time they face-off, and I’m already excited about number two.
I wrote a lot about this match in my review, so I’ll keep this short. What I do want to say is that it was proof that wrestling doesn’t have to be perfect. Yes, there is beauty in incredible sequences executed immaculately, but there is also a falseness to it. Aino’s first title challenge felt like a fight, and it felt like a fight because these two didn’t find that perfect chemistry. They struggled through this match, but in a way that made it feel raw and real. I don’t know how much of that was intentional and how much was genuine struggle, but it worked for me.
Mitsuru’s month wasn’t finished after her battle with Mei, although she’d have been forgiven for wanting to kick back with a cold one. Unfortunately, in her quest to go after Suruga she’d kicked a hornet’s nest, dismissing her friend and tag-team partner Yunamon in the process. Konno may have found her smile, but there was a grudge still to be settled.
On the second time around, though, Mitsuru decided to do things differently. She had seen what her miscommunications with Mei had caused and had sat at home frustrated as Akki, Suruga and Sakura held watch parties discussing her while all she could do was shout into the chat. If she was going to wrestle her friend, she wanted to make sure there was no such anger. So, she arranged for the two of them to have a series of sit down conversations, half an hour each, where they discussed everything from their theories on chocolate stealing to the kind of wrestlers they wanted to be. Unfortunately, they also fell out, Yunamon not even turning up to the last one and leaving a crying Mitsuru frustrated at her inability to communicate with her peers.
With their relationship teetering, this became a match that tied together the two biggest arcs in ChocoPro so far. Emi Sakura’s infamous pot-stirring has been all over that company since day one, but it has been Mitsuru and Yunamon at the centre of most of it. They are the two who, if you were to listen to only her words, can do no right in the eyes of their trainer. The two she prods and pokes, ripping them apart and exposing them to the world. Of course, it’s not her they turned against, Emi is too smart for that, but each other, battling it out to see who was the stronger.
Thankfully, whether it was Sakura’s intention or not, that battle didn’t break them apart but brought them together. All the communicating they couldn’t do before was found in the ring, fighting it out in a contest to prove who the best was. The match almost played second fiddle to two friends figuring out their shit, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a wee cry when they hugged in the aftermath, proving themselves stronger than any Oni’s magic.
I joke about Emi, but this is what she does best, dancing a line that feels like it must draw from reality while never straying too far over it and making everything uncomfortable. Yunamon and Mitsuru have had a whole load of metaphorical shit thrown at them over the last few months, but they’ve both come out of it looking fantastic.
Mitsuru’s month STILL wasn’t done, though. Over the previous few weeks, Akki and her had exchanged various friendly barbs, Mitsuru frustrated that ‘some guy from India’ got to main-event shows over her and Akki declaring that when she’s not drunk or kicking people in the face, she’s boring. Hm, now I write those down; I’m not sure how friendly they are. Either way, the final straw came in the aftermath of the Yunamon match, Mitsuru dismissing Akki’s attempts to join in the show-closing hands in a circle thing (does that have a name?) because he was holding the camera. Emi Sakura, spotting an opportunity, set-up her next main event on the spot.
That wasn’t really what this was about, though. It very quickly morphed into a battle for the mythical ChocoPro Acehood, a title that Akki had jealously guarded since day one. Mitsuru, having pinned Emi (in a tag that I haven’t covered, but was also very good), Mei and Yunamon in the build-up, was his first serious challenger for the role, and he was determined, after spending several shows dealing with that troublesome Pencil Army, to put her back in her place.
The match itself was wrestled under submission rules and was fascinating. Akki and Mitsuru really played into the idea that it could be won or lost on the strength of a single moment, the two of them fighting for every hold. It quickly became clear that Akki was the dominant force, though. Mitsuru was great, and in a straight match she might have taken him, but that combination of a bit more technical prowess, superior strength and even small touches like him being that bit taller would come together to see the Ace retain his crown.
It was a result that could have been disappointing. Mitsuru had battled her way to the top, only to fall at the final hurdle. For me, though, it was perfect. Like Yunamon before her, this was an arc built around proving herself, showing that she was just as good as Emi and co. She did that, and a loss to Akki doesn’t change a thing. Whether she can grow to love wrestling or not, Mitsuru Konno has proven she is fucking good at it, earning her role as season two MVP and, at the very least, the honour of being my Ace.
While Emi Sakura’s transformation into Emi Pencil was pivotal in kicking off Mitsuru Konno’s run through July, it was also key to the latest chapter in the story of Lulu Pencil. With Emi’s back in agony following her Last Woman Standing match with Yunamon, she’d been relegated to a level that was much closer to Lulu, and Sakura-san decided this was the time to turn her trainer’s eye to The Pencil.
It was a plan that seemed to be working. Lulu made it through a tag match without being the one to take the fall before managing to push Akki dangerously close to a time-limit draw. With Emi Pencil by her side, chanting the Pencil Army mantra and declaring that 1+1 = infinity, Lulu was improving. There was only one test left, Pencil vs Pencil.
If you’ve read my ramble about how inspiring I find Lulu, then you know how I feel about this match. It was hilarious, the two of them unable to stop choreographing their taunts and joining in on the Pencil Army chants. However, underneath the nonsense, it was a match with real depth. Lulu’s continued evolution as a wrestler is a joy to watch as we see her take spots from early in her career and develop them. There was a moment where she went for a Backslide, stopping halfway through much like she did when she famously tapped out against Antonio Honda. This time, though, it wasn’t Lulu who was in danger of giving up, but Emi Pencil, her arching back in agony. It was a spot that, when I realised what they were doing, had me out of my chair, arms in the air at the pure delight of what I was seeing.
In the end, though, Lulu’s improvement wasn’t enough. She executed a picture-perfect La Magistral only for Emi to kick out before providing Lulu with a lesson on exactly how it was done with one of her own. The Pencil eventually fell, but she’d proven she was that little bit sharper than before and one step closer to her goal.