Wrestling titles are weird. You don’t need to work to make a football league or an Olympic gold medal feel important. In a pre-determined sport, however, a title only has as much value as the people competing for it give it. It means that in some companies, they are mere props, McGuffins to build stories around, but with no real value. In others, they are everything, the backbone of what they do and the conduits to incredible moments. That feeling you get when you watch your favourite scratch and claw their way to the top, finally winning the big one, well, there are few things like it. Rarely, though, and I do accept that it’s uncommon, those titles are hats.
Lulu Pencil’s hat probably wasn’t meant to become important. It was just her hat, the thing she wore as part of that classic Pencil Army get-up. However, at ChocoPro 44, their first show to take place in a ring, Lulu Pencil put it on the line. She and Chris Brookes wanted the main event, and when he was too much of a coward to put his title forward, she stepped up to the plate. Of course, being Lulu Pencil, she lost. Don’t get me wrong, she put up a fight, at one point pulling out a pair of chairs so she and Brookes could do the old Necro Butcher bar brawl spot, but she still lost. Her hat was handed to Chris, and in so many places, that would have been the end of it.
Not in ChocoPro, though. For over the weeks that followed, it became clear that the loss of her hat was bothering Lulu. Yes, it would have been easy for her to go and get another pink cap, something to stick on her head and replace the one she’d lost, but she showed no interest in doing that. Her partner and mentor Emi Pencil tried to help, presenting her with multiple alternatives. First, she gave her one of her blue caps, but that wasn’t right because it didn’t match the rest of Lulu’s gear. So, she wore Emi’s gear instead, which brought with it a whole new set of issues, as she had to hike up the dungarees that dwarfed her. There was even a ribbon, a lovely one, but one that failed to make a difference. It wasn’t her hat.
Except, at some point during all of this, Lulu’s hat stopped being just a hat. It became something more than that. Lulu Pencil’s hat became a symbol, a symbol of her progression as a wrestler. This is the rookie who on her first foray into Gatoh Move was beaten eight times in a three-minute exhibition with Yunamon. When she faced Chris Brookes in that aforementioned match, she lasted almost eighteen minutes. She’s come a long way, everyone can see that, but for Lulu, it wasn’t enough. At the end of the match, her hat was still gone. She needed to get it back not because it was the perfect hat for her, but because she needed to prove she could. To Lulu Pencil, professional wrestlers, the people she idolised, are strong, and she needed to show that she was too.
All of this came to a head at ChocoPro 63. Pencil Army vs Chris Brookes and Yunamon, the man who took Lulu’s hat and the person who dismissed her so easily over a year before. On the day, it was announced that it would be wrestled under I Quit rules, a move presumably inspired by Emi watching Jon Moxley vs Eddie Kingston a few days before. It made things simpler for Lulu. Chris Brookes was walking in with her hat, and if she wanted it back, all she had to do was not quit.
What followed is, I think, my match of the year. For over thirty minutes, Brookes and Yunamon tortured Lulu Pencil. She has her moments, fiery bursts of offence where she gives everything, but it’s never enough. The theme of the match is her being beaten down, Yunamon and Brookes overpowering her at every turn. Even Emi Pencil isn’t able to turn the tide, hints of Sakura escaping, but never enough to make a difference.
And yet, Lulu won’t say it. She’s beaten and bruised, has lights shone in her eyes and pencils snapped in-front of her. Brookes even brings the hat over to her, yelling at Lulu for refusing to quit and shoving it in her face, telling her to take it and give up. Lulu won’t, though. She wants it back, but not like that, so she slaps it away, pulling herself up to keep going.
Brookes and Yunamon don’t quit either, though. By the end, Brookes has Lulu tied up in knots, twisting and shifting between holds as she frantically taps out. Yet, while her body gives up, her heart keeps going. Mei Suruga, the referee, asks if she quits and she somehow screams no. She won’t do it, but Emi Pencil will. Trapped by Yunamon, she watches Lulu in pain and can’t take it any longer. She quits for them both, giving up to protect her partner. As Brookes releases the hold, Lulu turns to Mei, confused as to whether her mouth had failed her. Mei reassures her, she lost but didn’t say the words. Then, while Brookes walks away, he drops the hat next to her without a word.
I was already crying before that moment, I’d been crying since Lulu slapped the hat away, but that pushed me over the edge into what I’d guess you’d call weeping. Lulu Pencil is my favourite wrestler, a legitimate hero of mine and the moment where she got handed her hat, not because she’d won a match, but because she didn’t quit, felt bigger than any title change. The belts that wrestling puts value on are irrelevant. They’re not needed. What’s needed is something for people to care about. Now, that can be a gaudy piece of metal, but it can also be a hat or a piece of chocolate won via janken or just someone’s desire to prove themselves. ChocoPro gets that, and Lulu Pencil gets that, and together, they gave us something incredible.
Thanks to their No Pay Wall initiative, all Gatoh Move and ChocoPro content is available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2HtPsU4U7TNSv2mSbPkj0w