December is a weird month for wrestling as it both feels quiet and busy. We’re building up to the New Year buzz in Japan, but at the same time, everyone is going back and looking at the past twelve months as a whole, picking out their favourite matches and moments. Still, wrestling never sleeps, so there was plenty of stuff to get your teeth into, and these were the ten matches that I particularly enjoyed.
Madeline adores Fairy Nipponbashi. In fact, she was so enamoured by her opponent that she seemed to have reverted, introducing herself as Madeline, aged eight from the fairy kingdom. All she wanted from this match was to see some magic, while all Fairy wanted was to hit Madeline with the spiked baseball bat that she’d brought with her.
What followed was nonsense at an elite level, and I am so grateful for it. Madeline was an MMA fighter! I’ve never watched her fights, so I’ve no idea how good she was, but it’s a pretty safe bet that she could take nearly everyone she steps into the ring with. And yet, she chooses to go out there and flop around for Fairy’s magic, indulging in the hyper childlike joy that she seems to draw from wrestling. In a world where nearly every MMA fighter crosses over and becomes a super serious, killing machine, Madeline has embraced wrestling as wrestling, which is just the best thing.
It also makes her incredibly endearing. You can tell that Madeline is a fan, a fan living her dream as she gets to have the best time. That love she has for this wacky world is something I can relate to, and that makes getting behind her easy. If she can continue to walk this line between becoming a master wrestler and a master purveyor of nonsense, then there is a good chance she’ll be one of the best.
When Balliyan Akki returned from his shoulder injury, Emi Sakura held off on putting him and Mei Suruga back together. Before Akki went down, Best Bros had become the centrepiece of ChocoPro, an exciting tag team formed by two extraordinary young wrestlers with fantastic chemistry. When they brought them back, they clearly felt like it needed to be a match that was worthy of the moment. Step-forward Reset.
For if Best Bros are that young, exciting team, then Reset are the old hands. Emi Sakura and Kaori Yoneyama have been doing this for a combined 46 years, which is a hell of a lot of experience. Whether they’re on the same side or facing-off, you know that when they get together, you’re going to get something great. If you needed the perfect pair to reunite Best Bros back, then Yone and Emi were the ones to do it.
And yet, what made this match so intriguing was that you got the feeling Emi wasn’t sure she could win. In the build-up, the mind games were out in force, a couple of, let’s say suspect, referring moves in Mei’s matches proving pivotal at key moments. Not that Best Bros were innocent, Akki is making a habit of kicking his boss in the face. The truly fascinating moment came in the ChocoTalk Reset did before the match, though. There, on camera, the oni admitted she didn’t want to face Mei in a singles match because she thought she’d lose. Emi Sakura seemed worried that Best Bros have passed her by.
It was a worry that proved to be well-founded. What made this match remarkable was just how dominant Akki and Mei were. From the first bell, they controlled the action, particularly when it came to working over Emi. Reset would have their moments, those years of experience clicking into gear, but they never properly switched the momentum. Whenever they looked to be getting up to speed, Best Bros cut them off, taking back control and looking not so much a step but a leap ahead of them, right up to the moment when they combined, pinning Emi together.
That made for a match that felt like a turning point. It was a passing of the torch, right down to Emi’s desperate attempts to get a cheap shot in afterwards, all of which were effortlessly thwarted, the two young pretenders laughing in her face as her plans crumbled around her. In her frustration, she declared that the next match would be for the titles, a match that would end up taking place on New Years Eve. I shan’t spoil the result, but it was another cracker, and if you’re watching this one, I’d recommend checking it out too.
Deathmatch Pencil. Do I need to say anything else? The second Lulu made her entrance carrying a tiny stepladder I knew I was going to love this. It was Lulu Pencil taking on the BJW deathmatch champion, and if that isn’t the greatest thing that will ever happen, I don’t know what is. Maybe taking on the BJW and Freedom champ at the same time? I’d watch it.
Of course, this was deathmatch through a pencil blender, so it wasn’t your standard fare. When the table came out, it wasn’t so Lulu could be put through it, but a chance for Fujita to hold her hand in place and play the knife game with a pencil. By the end, the pencil wasn’t even coming down anywhere near Lulu’s hand, but as she was looking in the other direction and screaming, it didn’t matter.
People bumped in generic toy bricks, slipped on beads and Fujita did a ridiculous splash onto some stools that looked agonising. Oh, and there was a whole section in the dark, lit up by Fujita wielding a torch and Lulu a lightsaber. Sure, there were no light tubes or glass shards, but Lulu and Fujita still found ways to push the boat out, coming up with new and inventive ways to hurt each other. And isn’t that what deathmatch is all about?
Right, homework time. Before watching this match, I want you to go back and check out Yunamon vs Chie from ChocoPro 56. In case you aren’t accepting demands, I will quickly say that it was a match where Chie’s rookie-hood was exposed dramatically. She caused Yunamon a couple of issues, but ultimately it was a chance for Yuna to show just how much of a badass she is, as she disposed of Chie and left her in tears.
Fast-forward to ChocoPro’s fifth season and Chie was granted another chance to get into the ring with Yunamon and what I loved about this was the sense of progression. Yunamon is still bigger and badder than Chie, but with another fifteen matches under her belt, Too Much Energy has closed the gap. It was actually a shorter match (it wasn’t the main event for one thing), but Chie’s frantic charging around the ring was able to put Yunamon on the back-foot this time around and force her to stretch her muscles that little bit more.
And there is something incredibly satisfying about that. I’ve often said that watching wrestlers improve is one of life’s great joys, but it’s rarely as obvious as this. Chie is still only 44 matches into her career, but ChocoPro’s tiny roster forces her to be involved in ways a rookie never would be in a bigger company. It makes it that much easier to chart her progress, watching her improve on all those little things and to get emotionally invested in where she goes next. One day, there’s every chance she’ll surpass Yunamon, and I’ll be sending people back to watch this match in preparation for that one.
There were three matches on this show that could have made my list, namely this one, the opener and the main event, but I chose AZM vs Mei because of all of them, it was the one that made me happiest. Stardom has a handful of outstanding High Speed wrestlers, but there are only so many times you can do a combination of AZM, Starlight Kid and Gokigen Death before the excitement begins to wear off. So, having Mei wander in and put on this outstanding display was a moment that felt fresh and exciting in the same way that Iroha coming in and beating Mayu at the start of the year did.
And sadly, Mei didn’t win, but what a showing she had in defeat. Clad in her fantastically colourful new outfit, she and AZM went all out to blow everyone out of the water. The very best High Speed wrestling is exciting because there is a sense that the match could be over at any minute. It’s what differentiates it from the overly-choreographed displays that have become so popular in certain circles of indie wrestling. Every roll-up and every submission has the potential to be the finish, which is a really hard tension to maintain. Everything has got to be crisp as hell because the fans need to believe that the tiniest mistake by either wrestler will spell the end.
Thankfully, in AZM and Mei, you have two people who are brilliant at this stuff. Once again, it left me craving Stardom opening up and being happy to send their wrestlers out to work with other companies because AZM could be having these matches with so many people. Sadly, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, but this Marvelous and Stardom relationship is giving us a taste of what it could be, and with SEAd joining the party too, we might have even more fun ahead of us. I can’t wait to watch it.
This show’s main event obviously ruled as four brilliant wrestlers hit each other very hard for nearly half an hour. It would be an easy addition to this list and probably should be on it, but I’m not sure how much I have to say beyond the words above. So, instead, I picked out this match, which was also brilliant and a hell of a lot more interesting.
Because from the second that Kaiju charged across the ring to hit a dropkick at the bell, this did everything it wanted to do and more. That dropkick wouldn’t connect, ASUKA stepped out of the way so calmly that you’d have thought they were out for an evening stroll. Honestly, if they’d yawned and pulled out the paper to catch up on the day’s news, it would have only made it a tiny bit more dismissive. In one simple step to the side, they let the entire world know that these rookies were beneath them.
And, as I’ve said in the past, that’s one of my favourite kinds of matches. Hana and Kaiju were fantastic here, throwing themselves into every move and selling their frustration as they failed to rock ASUKA and Makoto. It didn’t matter if it was a Kaiju dropkick or Hana slapping ASUKA across the face, they couldn’t make a dent as both strawberries portray arrogance to perfection. Not that it stopped them coming, they were going to give their all no matter what. Unfortunately, those damn strawberries would shrug it off, eventually picking up the win everyone knew they were going to get before the bell even rang.
There would be some intrigue, though, the aftermath sering Kaiju step over to ASUKA and Makoto’s side, leaving with the pairing and, presumably, setting up a future match with her fellow rookie. If Beast Kid is off to be corrupted, then that could be a whole lot of fun.
Lulu Pencil + Antonio Honda * Christmas = the best times.
Even if the infinite universe theory is true and every decision we make creates countless new universes, there isn’t a single one of them in which I don’t like Lulu Pencil vs Antonio Honda in a Christmas Deathmatch. I don’t care if I’m dead or was never born, there would still be some tiny molecule of me, lingering around and making sure that they spent their Christmas Day watching this match.
Because it gave me everything that I wanted, whether it was Honda’s banana making its return, or Lulu Pencil adopting a tiger, it was a match that was packed to the gills with beautiful, perfect nonsense. What other wrestling company would hide Sayaka Obihiro in a box, dressed as Winnie the Pooh, so that she could emerge and batter everyone with a toy hammer? Not only that, but her doing so was the setup to the latest Honda and Lulu musical number, a touching rendition of ‘So This Is Christmas’. Every time I hit the point where I think these two must have run out of ideas, they pull another stroke of genius out of nowhere.
When Lulu and Honda wrestle, they slip into a different world, one where toy foxes and toy tigers do indeed go to war. I understand that said world isn’t for everyone, and that to a lot of people, this barely counts as wrestling, but for me it’s everything. Nothing makes me happier than watching them face-off, and it was a blessing that I got to spend my Christmas Day with them.
There are usually at least a few ChocoPro matches on these lists, but they don’t tend to come from their daily live streams. December proved an exception to that rule, though, as Chie and Mei engaged in a gripping match of, em, Jenga. So, how did this earn a spot? It’s not like there was a lack of wrestling this month, so surely there was something else I could have fitted in? Probably, but it wouldn’t have been anything that made me as happy as this impromptu showdown did.
For, like many others this year, my Christmas kind of sucked. Rather than going home to see family or friends, I was stuck in my flat, by myself. Don’t get me wrong it could have been worse as I had good food and beer aplenty, but despite doing my traditional watching of It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve, I was struggling to tap into the festive spirit. Christmas is about being sat in a warm pub or at home in front of the fire, surrounded by people you love, and I didn’t get that this year.
Weirdly, though, the one time I did catch a little bit of that feeling was watching this stream. A stream in which Chie and Mei, dressed in incredibly cosy looking hoodies, made crepes and devoured them with all the enthusiasm of a stoned student raiding the fridge at 2 am before breaking into what is now one of my matches of the month, a game of Jenga. It was gentle and funny, and despite the fact they spent 95% of the time talking in a language I barely understand, it made me feel safe and content.
Plus, the actual game of Jenga ruled. With the loser having agreed to drink Tabasco, it was tense as hell, with the two of them slowly edging bricks out while doing everything they could to distract their opponent. They’d had two previous games that ended within seconds, neither Mei nor Chie being particularly known for their gentle movements, but this one went on and on, the tension and the giggles rising as it did. In the end, it was Chie who caused the tower to tumble and her Tabasco sauce encounter made for an instant classic moment, her writhing around in pain while Mei roared with laughter, taking nothing but joy from her friend’s misery.
So yea, this wasn’t a traditional wrestling match, and I’m sure some will scoff at its inclusion, but it gave me everything that a wrestling match does. At the end of the day, while I’ve yet to hear anyone put forward that Jenga is wrestling, everything else is, so why can’t it fit in too?
If I were to devise a one wrestler litmus test to determine if someone else’s taste aligned with mine, Sakura Hirota would be the perfect person to put forward. She’s not someone I’ve written a lot about in the past, primarily because I don’t tend to review her primary companies, but it probably won’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to learn that I’m a bit of a fan.
And if you wanted to understand why I’m a fan, this might be the perfect match to watch. In a big-time main event, where she would end up winning the Regina di WAVE, Hirota gave us a taste of everything she could do. Whether it was the opening few minutes of light comedy, enticing Nozaki into doing her falling headbutt routine, the intense mat work or the brilliant closing stretch, it was the perfect introduction to Hirota. She’s someone who proves that it is perfectly possible to drop a smattering of laughs into a big-time main event and that doing so should 100% not exclude a wrestler from being in said matches. For one thing, she could school any of your favourites on the mat.
Plus, what isn’t awesome about a 42-year-old mother who regularly brings her kids to shows winning a company’s top title? Sadly, the YouTube video WAVE uploaded cuts off right at the finish, but pictures are going round of her celebrating in the ring with the twins and how can that not warm your heart? Hirota being brilliant isn’t a new thing, she’s been doing it for over twenty years, but her still being recognised for that is a lovely thing to see, and whether it’s a long or short reign, you can guarantee it will be a fun one.
Risa Sera vs Akane Fujita, Ribbonmania (31/12/20), Ice Ribbon
Fucking hell. I’ve written before about the way Risa Sera approaches deathmatches and how much respect I have for her undeniable love for the genre, but bloody hell, this whole thing just looked painful.
And it raised an interesting point because Ice Ribbon isn’t FREEDOM or BJW. It’s not a company which people come to for deathmatches, and you’ve got to assume there is at least a portion of their fanbase that actively doesn’t want that. So, when Risa and Akane are sitting in the back, planning how to beat the living shit out of each other (seriously, spiked baseball bats, concrete blocks, they had it all), they have to be aware of not crossing that line. Of not going too far and doing something that will annoy those who have come along to Ice Ribbon because they want to watch Suzu vs Anou.
It’s that which I think makes this so incredible. Because, as I said, it all fucking looks like it hurts. Every second of this match made me wince and groan, but it was never gross. It was bloody, but it never crossed over into the grimy, glass-crunching stab-fests that some deathmatch embraces (no insult intended to that stuff, I like a decent amount of it). Instead, Risa and Akane found a way to put together a brilliantly paced match that worked within the confines of that extreme genre without ever going too far. Everything made me wince, but nothing made me gag.
In the end, Risa would establish her dominance, using all that experience she’s built up to put a violent end to Fujita as this outstanding FantastICE reign continues. Honestly, at this point, I’ll watch her do anything, be it deathmatch or comedy nonsense as she continues to prove her genius every time she defends that belt. We’re into what she once said was going to be her final year as a wrestler, so we’ve got to enjoy this stuff while we have it.