The year may be coming to a close, but November has proven a hell of a month for wrestling, giving me a tough time as I tried to trim my favourite matches down to a mere ten. I succeeded, so you can all be proud of me and hopefully enjoy my monthly round-up of all the action that’s been keeping me entertained over the last thirty days.
The main event of Ultimate Party was a battle between two friends who are also perfect enemies. For Endo, it was a chance to finally overcome the man who brought him into DAMNATION. In the eight times they’d faced off before this, he’d picked up a single victory, which came seconds after Sasaki had already defended his title against Takeshita in New York. Daisuke has stood over him for a long time, and this was his chance to pull him down.
It made for a great match, Daisuke’s bar brawling up against Endo’s elegance. They beat the crap out of each other, DAMNATION occasionally sticking their fingers in, but never enough to pull the attention away. These two were figuring this out together, settling their differences the old-fashioned way. When the smoke settled, Endo had done it, even taking the time to wrap Daisuke in a hug before claiming his victory.
The aftermath was somehow even better, Endo inviting Daisuke back into DAMNATION before Shuji Ishikawa serenaded them both, sealing their bond through a shared confusion. Why don’t all big shows end with a song?
At the start of the month, Lulu Pencil was questioning Emi Pencil’s ability to aid her quest to get stronger. So, in an attempt to find answers, she turned to Chris Brookes, the man who took her hat. In response, Emi said ‘fine, if you ditch me, I’ll get the kickiest person I know, and we’ll see how much you like that.’
That was a situation which Lulu didn’t love, although Hagane would prove to simply be a particularly painful aside. The focus of this was Lulu getting a taste of what Chris calls strength. Right from the start, where Brookes dismissed the Pencil Army, she looked uncomfortable, unsure how to respond. She’d committed, though, so she still threw herself into his plan, trying her hand at some heelish tactics as he encouraged her from the sidelines.
It was an experiment that would prove pivotal to Lulu’s recent development. Since losing her hat, she’s been on a quest to find power, but has remained determined to do it in her own way, and Chris’s style is most definitely not that. By teaming with him, and ultimately having him turn on her, mocking her as he always has, she learnt that lesson the hard way. There was to be a bright side, though, as in the end, his actions would push her back towards Emi Pencil, leading to a match that we’ll get to shortly.
Yuka vs Mizuki was never going to be anything below brilliant. They are not only two of Tokyo Joshi’s best, but they know each other inside and out. Those years spent teaming together plus the genuine love they seem to share made it impossible to ever doubt this match would rule.
My love for this isn’t purely down to the in-ring, though. For there is something special about big Tokyo Joshi shows. I, and many others, have talked about that roster’s dysfunctional family bond and it’s never more prominent that at moments like this. There is a real sense that everyone is pulling in the same direction, desperate to succeed, not individually, but as a group. It’s why Miyu, sitting in on commentary, was struggling to hold back the tears before the match even started. When you’re caught up in that, it doesn’t matter that you’re sitting on the other side of the world, you find yourself willing them forward towards success.
And this match, in fact, the whole show, caught me in that feeling. A feeling that transforms the great into the unforgettable. It’s one of those magical ingredients that makes pinning down what makes incredible wrestling so difficult. In another room, with another roster and another crowd this would have still been brilliant, but when everything comes together, it creates those memories that linger for years to come.
However, I want to touch on a different facet of it today, mainly the role of Emi Pencil. The second Emi Sakura donned those dungarees and started teaming with Lulu the ChocoMints (and Akki on commentary) smelt a rat. Since ChocoPro started, Emi has been the oni, the one stirring the pot and using others to advance her own means. The idea that she’d team up with Lulu Pencil without a plan to further her own goals seemed preposterous.
And maybe Emi Pencil did have a plan. There were hints of her corrupting Lulu early on, playing on the unbending faith she has towards her trainer, but one suspects that at some point, those plans were put to one side. Somewhere during this crazy run, the Pencil Army became a real tag team. One that’s a bit weaker than others, but which could come together and cut down bigger foes. Whether Emi Sakura intended it or not, she became Emi Pencil and began to believe the message she was peddling.
It’s that which makes the finish of this match so emotional. In the dying seconds, when she realised she couldn’t save Lulu from Chris, Emi Pencil quit so she could protect her partner. The oni who once stared down the camera and declared that she didn’t care if we didn’t like her, couldn’t stand to see Lulu in pain. That’s a hell of a twist, and while she’s since removed the dungarees, returning to being Emi Sakura and stirring that pot once more, we all saw what we saw. I’ve joked in the past that there is a bit of Sakura in Emi Pencil, but there’s a bit of Pencil in Emi Sakura too, and I’m intrigued to see if it rears its head again.
Most of the talk around this title change, including my review, has focused on Utami taking the spot she’s been destined for since day one. So, let’s look at it from the other side, the side featuring one Mayu Iwatani.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Mayu and her complex history with the Stardom World Title. Her first reign ended before it began, injury seeing her drop the belt to Toni Storm, and this was meant to be her redemption, a chance for one of the best to have a long run where she proves just how good she is. Then, well, the world happened. From COVID to the tragedy that will always hang over Stardom’s 2020, Mayu wasn’t given a clear path to sprint down and show who she is. Instead, she was attacked from every angle, unforeseen barrier after unforeseen barrier propped up in front of her.
And yet, she did stand up. Not just as a wrestler, but as The Icon of Stardom. She has carried that company, holding it together and providing a sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but. It’s her matches that grab people’s attention again and again and this, the defence in which she fell, was no different. She went out and put her heart and soul into making Utami look incredible as she made her step-up to the top. I wish she hadn’t had to deal with what she has, but she proved herself time after time in ways that she should never have had to.
I hope Mayu still gets that run, the chance to just be a champion and not worry about anything else, but I also hope she’s proud of this one because she was a light on some fucking dark days.
Wrestling’s bizarre relationship with the real world is a huge part of what makes it fascinating. It has the potential to blend reality and fiction, playing with them in ways few mediums do. That occasionally means you get a match that, while impressive in a bubble, is elevated even further by the outside context in which it exists. For Suzu vs Tae, that context was Suzu losing the belt. Not in a match, but on a train.
Which, no matter how you look at it, is a horrifying situation. Suzu is a fragile champion, not just in a kayfabe but as a young wrestler who Ice Ribbon have put a lot of stock in. I can’t imagine what was going through her head when she realised what has happened and the idea of having to take that news to Tsukka makes me sweat, so fuck knows how she felt. It’s a nightmare.
A nightmare that made this match all the more exciting. Before the train incident, I would have gone into this expecting Suzu to retain. Tae’s great, but she’s not someone Ice Ribbon has put that much behind recently, so it would have been a real shock to give her the title. After Suzu fucked-up, though? Suddenly, the idea of them pulling the trigger and putting faith in a professional, safe pair of hands seemed like a real possibility.
And whether intentionally or not, the match played on that. Tae’s style of tying people up in submissions or pins danced around the idea that Suzu could lose at any second, aided by her impressive selling. It took what would have already been a fantastic showing and bumped it up a notch or two, keeping you on the edge of your seat as our young champ danced on a precipice. It was the perfect blend of reality and fiction, and it made for a hell of a showing.
Was this a match? Part of it certainly was, a pretty good one between Misao and Rika, but that isn’t really why it makes my list. It was the insane roller-coaster ride of emotions that hooked me as Misao threatened to retire, changed her mind and then ended up getting engaged. Dango even found time to put together a Bachelorette spin-off that saw Misao judging various roster memebers’ haikus. It was incredible.
What made it perfect is that it was so wonderfully Hyper Misao. I said it before, but she’s set herself a hell of a task for her actual retirement because I don’t know how you top this. There was nonsense here to fill an ocean and yet, like so much of Misao’s career, it was backed up by very real emotion. Rika slapping Misao across the face for daring to retire without talking to her first sat perfectly next to Miu gifting her with one of her extraordinary drawings.
And that’s what has always made Misao so great. Some people seem to believe that if something is silly, it can no longer convey emotion, but she has repeatedly proven that to be rubbish. This was yet another arrow in that particular quiver, as even going in spoilt, knowing that she didn’t actually retire, I sobbed my way through it, caught on every word I didn’t understand. Misao is one of a kind, and it’s fitting that her engagement/non-retirement would be one of a kind too.
The strand of joshi wrestlers who fucking love deathmatches is such a wonderfully bizarre clash of worlds and Risa Sera sits proudly on top of that group. What it also means it that we’re now getting wrestlers who are inspired by those same wrestlers, one of whom is Ice Ribbon’s title losing champion Suzu Suzuki, who as a young Suzu (because she’s very old now) fell in love with Risa and her hardcore ways.
It’s a backstory that only adds to the utter joy that was the main event of Risa’s birthday show, for this was two wrestlers going out and having an absolute blast. There was a good chunk of the match that revolved around the two of them trying to figure out the best way to hit a move from a snowboard, Risa attempting to slide down a ladder before Suzu went for a run and jump technique. It was chaos, the kind that can only come when two friends take this dumb pseudo-sport and use it to have fun.
Let’s not pretend they didn’t go hard, though. We all know Risa is willing to take a horrendous bump or two, but Suzu wasn’t far behind, showing a willingness to follow her idol into the pain. Maybe one day she’ll take up the mantle fully, embracing the hour-long gauntlets of death, but for the moment this will have to do, and I don’t have too many complaints about that.
The old trope of a match disappearing backstage only to return later in the show is nothing new. What I don’t think I’ve seen before, is a match returning while the traditional moment of respect between a champion and a freshly defeated challenger goes down. The sight of Nagisa Nozaki talking very seriously to Rina Shingaki post-match was somewhat marred by Hirota being forced to do her rope walk, without a helping hand, by Fairy Nihonbashi’s wand.
Even without that genius touch, this was very much a bit of me. I mean, look at it, how is that going to be anything except a lovely time? It was packed full of the kind of unique, wonderful silliness that makes any day that little bit brighter. I don’t need anything more than that.
Generally, I wouldn’t expect to compare a ChocoPro match to a horror film as that’s more the wheelhouse of FREEDOM or BJW. However, this had more horror influences that most deathmatches. We’re not talking about weapons or gore, but the fear of being forced to do something you don’t want to do. Yunamon wanted nothing to do with yoga, and yet Hiroshi was ready to draw her into his web.
It was a ridiculous conceit that even climaxed in a classic horror trope, Yunamon being dragged out a window, forcing Akki to run out the door and round to the alley where he found her doing the very thing she was fleeing from. Hiroshi chipped away at her and drew her into his flexible world, leaving her with no choice but to pull a Warrior’s Pose at his side.
Okay, it may not have been that scary, but the influences were there whether they were intended or not. Plus, they also found time for a toilet gag and a musical number, so they were hitting all the genres. I may not have expected to find it in ChocoPro, but they’re also the only place that could have pulled it off. God, I love them so much.