Emi Sakura and Sayaka Obihiro had one of my favourite matches of 2020, and while it would be unfair to compare their showdown on ChocoPro 87 to the main event of Sakura’s anniversary, I enjoyed it for the exact same reasons. The bouts between these two mean very different things to those involved. Obi may now be ten years into her career, a decorated wrestler and a veteran in her own right, but when she faces off with Emi, she reverts. She becomes, once more, a young trainee desperate to impress her sensei and prove she’s worthy of stepping onto the mat with her. It doesn’t matter if it’s the main event of Emi’s 25th anniversary, or second on the card, she throws her heart and soul into the action, fighting until she’s exhausted, stumbling around the ring and barely able to stand.
In contrast, Emi Sakura acts like she could not give less of a fuck. If Obi reverts to being a pupil, Emi gives the impression that, to her, she’s never stopped being one. While Obi’s pre-match promo was a lengthy impassioned speech about their history, Emi’s focus was entirely on the future and the AEW Women’s title. Then, when the bell rang, Obi flew forward with a dropkick only to miss, Emi laughing as she does so. There are moments where Obi is on the offence, but Emi is barely flinching, somehow managing to look down her nose even as she’s attacked.
And I love that dynamic. I love that Sakura is simply better than Obi. That Sayaka Obihiro can go out there and give her all, but she doesn’t stand a chance unless Emi is having her worst day. That doesn’t change my support for Obi. It’s the same mentality that causes me to root for the non-league side that’s bundled their way through to the later rounds of the cup. I’m going to cheer her on in the hope of the impossible, but I’m not anticipating success. The joy comes from those moments of defiance, not from the expectation of victory.
It’s a feeling that is often missing in wrestling. While it is a fixed sport, there is still an obsession among fans with wins and losses. When someone loses, they are instantly being buried, and anyone who hasn’t held a title is obviously not a star. I guess, in theory, you could say these matches are burying Obi. That by having Emi go through her again and again, you diminish her, but that’s such a boring way to look at it as it ignores everything apart from the result. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t want Obi to win, you should scream and shout and cheer her on till your throat is hoarse, because that’s what makes this fun, but at the end of the day, win, lose or draw, that joy is still there.
Some of wrestling’s greatest moments have been created by the right person winning the right match at the right time; I don’t deny that. However, the joy of wrestling is so rarely wrapped in wins or loses. It’s in (apologies for the WWE speak) moments. It’s in a plucky wee rookie getting their chance or a grizzled veteran rolling back the years one more time. It’s in a group of people coming together and creating something that means everything to vastly different people scattered around the world. It’s in Sayaka Obihiro throwing herself at her mentor again and again even if she knows she’s never going to win (she has one victory in twenty singles matches). That’s why I love watching these two wrestling, and while I’ll keep hoping for Obi to get that win, if she never does, that love will still be there.
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