I’ve decided to make a couple of tweaks to my matches of the month round-up. The most obvious one is that this hasn’t been a top ten list for a while, so there is no real need to stick to ten entries. Some months it might be more, some months it might be less, and it’s silly to force myself into a corner for no reason. Secondly, I am going to make a tiny change to the kind of things I write about. There are often brilliant wrestling matches where I have nothing to say. That doesn’t take away from how good they are, but not everything requires analysis beyond saying it rules. On top of that, if they come from one of the promotions I write about regularly, I’ve often reviewed them before. So, rather than stretching myself to come up with something new, I’m adding an honourable mentions list to the bottom of each month, where I’ll round up all the stuff you should watch, but where I have nothing new to add to the conversation.
Apart from that, it’s business as usual! Here are a load of matches from the last month that I loved.
Veterans taking the title from younger wrestlers has become a bit of a theme in 2021. One can only assume all the others were following on from Tsukasa Fujimoto, who put an end to Suzu Suzuki’s first title reign back in January.
And honestly, I didn’t love this match on the first viewing. Don’t get me wrong. I thought it was great. Tsukka and Suzu are probably physically incapable of anything less, so that was no surprise, but it wasn’t incredible. And because I think Suzu and Tsukka are incapable of dropping below great, it not hitting incredible made it disappointing. I watched it, I enjoyed it, but I came away feeling like I wanted more.
It was on my second viewing that said feeling began to make sense. Not because it went away, but because when my expectations shifted, I realised that it was kind of the point. This match wasn’t a blow-off. It wasn’t Tsukka coming back, putting Suzu in her place and reigning supreme at the top of Ice Ribbon forevermore. Instead, it was the next chapter. It was the moment where young Suzu, who is so clearly a future ace of the company, stumbled. From the beginning of her reign, she’s been presented as a vulnerable champion, so it was no surprise that when the old ace turned up, she wasn’t able to overcome that hurdle.
That’s a storyline beat that I like because winning is boring. Of course, the fan in me, the person who loves the story of this young weirdo becoming an incredible wrestler, wants her to go on winning forever, but how long would I keep caring for if that were the case? When I sit down and look at my favourite wrestlers, they’re all people who lose a lot. Because the problem with winning is that winning means you stay still. If you win, there is no need to progress because you’re already the best. When you lose, though, you need to change something. To go on a journey and become better.
For Suzu her journey will see her live out her deathmatch dreams, as she’s already arranged a hardcore trial series that I have no doubt will be must-watch. She’s going out to scratch another itch, leaving the belt alone for a while as she learns from the bloodiest of wrestling styles. If I were Tsukka, that would probably worry me, but for now, she can rest easy. Her and Suzu have plenty of time to give me that conclusion which blows me away.
If certain brilliant matches have me struggling for words beyond simply saying they’re brilliant, then I have the exact opposite issue with Miyacoco’s efforts. The first Gake no Fuchi show of the year once again saw us delve into the somewhat unhinged mind of the genius behind that company, and I have no idea where to start. Do we go with Gold Karen’s pro-test, which saw her perform two songs only for Miyacoco to reject them both with the exact same words? How about Chris Brookes desperately trying to lose the match, attempting to trigger the stipulation Miyacoco put in that would see her disband the company and free him from being her tag team partner? Or maybe we could talk about the more standard Miyacoco nonsense, the Tetris and sumo and races that come together to spark Gake no Fuchi’s magic?
The truth is that while you can do extraordinary things with words, capturing one of these matches is beyond my powers. For well over an hour, a time that would send me running in the opposite direction if anyone else did it, the latest Gake no Fuchi extravaganza had me hooked, part through laughter, part through trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. Some of my struggles come from me not being able to speak Japanese, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the only problem. I can’t see a world in which there is a rational, logical explanation for the things that happen when Miyacoco is in charge.
And, to be clear, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Rather than finding my lack of understanding frustrating, there is something about these matches that allows me to revel in it. I’m able to turn off the part of me that needs to know what’s happening and just go along with it, letting them sweep me up and take me away in the same way that the best experimental cinema does. Plus, for all that Miyacoco loves to break the art form, there are also parts of it that are wrestling 101. Shota turning on Gake no Fuchi because he hates the company is pure Attitude Era WWE, forcing Muenori Sawa to rush to Gake’s aid and turn this into an unofficial trios match. I might not have a clue how Miyacoco and Yuna ended up competing for likes on a dating app, but anyone who has ever watched wrestling understands the twists and turns of betrayal.
It’s that which I think lies at the heart of what Miyacoco does. Yes, this is a world that seems so detached from traditional wrestling that it would give certain sections of wrestling Twitter a heart attack, but on the other hand, it’s pure wrestling. For every rule it breaks, there is another that it strictly follows, using it to shape the narrative they build. There is a reason Miyacoco’s no person match worked. It’s because she understands this shit a hell of a lot better than 99% of wrestlers. That’s what holds all of this together, and it’s what will keep me coming back no matter how little of it I understand.
Chie is at that wonderful stage in a young wrestler’s career where every match feels like it has the potential to be her best yet. In a stroke of genius, Emi Sakura has decided to have her spend that period paired-up with Shinno Hagane, a man who could not be more different from her. Whether they’re teaming as Egg Tarts (a name that comes from Chie getting drunk and eating Shinno’s egg tart) or facing off, the contrast between the all-energy Chie and the silent brooding Hagane is delightful.
It was a factor in this match before the bell had even rung, Chie bouncing up and down in-front of him, possibly trying to psych him out, but more likely doing it for the love of the bounce. Whatever the reason, it set the theme for what was to come. Yes, Chie suffered in this match, those vicious low kicks and various submissions ripping apart her leg, but she also seemed to flap the usually unflappable Hagane. Whether it was her adopting a fencer’s stance as they danced around each other or the awesome flash pin that she pulled out, pressing him up against the Ichigaya wall, she caught him off-guard. A combination of bloody-minded determination and that streak of weirdness that every Sakura pupil employs proving effective.
Of course, Chie would eventually lose, but that’s irrelevant. Hagane is a big old fish, so the result meant nothing unless she won. The important thing was that it was another match which showed she has the potential to be something special. Best Bros have understandably hogged the spotlight in ChocoPro recently, but Chie is sneaking up behind them, impressing in all the right places. It’s beginning to look a little bit like Emi Sakura’s found another one.
Outside of all the important real-world stuff, certain wrestling fans’ attitude towards Giulia is one of the things that infuriates me the most about this weird little pocket of the world. There is a weird desire to rip apart everything she does, criticising it from all angles and attacking her like she’s some demon deliberately created to ruin their day and not just a young women trying to figure herself out. To be clear, that doesn’t make her exempt from criticism and some of her matches fucking suck, but she’s not the devil, folks.
Why am I bringing this up here? Well, in the build-up to this match, Giulia made some very obviously worked comments about Unagi which included a dig at TJPW. The dig was directed at Tokyo Joshi’s training, which didn’t make much sense from a Stardom perspective since Giulia didn’t come through their system, but whatever, it was harmless. Meanwhile, her comments dismissing Unagi played into her storyline of being an inexperienced wrestler who’s been thrown in at the deep end and is scared she’s not as good as everyone else. Except, apparently, that’s not what it was, and Giulia had gone on a hate-filled rant that showed how awful a human being she is. At least, that’s what I assume happened when I saw some of the reactions.
That was all made ten times sillier by those comments being part of what this match awesome. Giulia was a total bellend in this one. She wrestled like Unagi was shit on the bottom of her shoe, walking into the flurry of forearms that started things off and managing to push Unagi from one corner of the ring to the other, despite being the one who was getting hit. It was a deliciously evil performance, playing off the points that she made, that to her, Unagi isn’t good enough.
Meanwhile, Unagi looked like a fucking hero. She was in the ring with someone who thought nothing of her and, to make matters worse, is the better wrestler. Yet, there wasn’t a second in this match where she backed down. She threw herself at Giulia, unleashing that desperation to prove herself into every move. Then, when Giulia started to crack, to suggest, even if just for a second, that Sayaka had hurt her, it felt like a victory. She’d made Giulia acknowledge her existence, and that was enough to get something from this match.
The cherry on top was the finish. Unagi refused to give up and forced the ref to decide for her, calling for the bell as Giulia choked her out. Then, in the aftermath, Giulia told her she was alright while making sure to get a dig in at Tam at the same time. It was simple wrestling, but it was done well, and there are few things I enjoy more than that.
Every now and then a match comes along that feels like it has been booked purely to please you. It might be two of your favourites being placed in the same tag-team, a stipulation that covers all your interests or a superhero fighting an evil, robot mummy. Bring on the nonsense!
I almost feel like I don’t need to describe this match. If you have any knowledge of the two people in it, I suspect you can already picture it. Throw in the nugget that it ended in a no-contest when Mecha Mummy and Mecha PaMi both short-circuited, and you can probably fill in any of the smudged parts of your mental image. We got bikes, ‘ancient’ magical swords and more nonsense than even I can shake a stick at. It was such an out-there match that Hyper Misao, yes, that Hyper Misao, declared in the post-show chat that Mecha Mummy was really weird.
It’s also no secret that this is the kind of wrestling I love. The kind that doesn’t so much ask you to suspend your disbelief, as wilfully chuck it out the window, requiring you to simply nod your head and accept what happens next. Yes, it has no respect for tradition or maintaining the integrity (lol) of professional wrestling, but that’s what makes it great. By removing the shackles, they can go out and do something that is, let’s face it, incredibly stupid, but also makes me laugh like a maniac.
I’d throw in the caveat that Misao vs Mummy isn’t for everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone who it isn’t for would still be reading something I wrote. If you are, bless you, and this is one you should skip. For those who embrace the nonsense, though, this is unmissable.
Lulu Pencil is on a quest. A quest to learn more about the world through the art of wrestling. She may not pick up many wins or be likely to hold many titles, but Lulu is learning. So, when Trans AM Hiroshi started this match by jerkily marching around the mat, making bizarre faces and being, well, Trans AM Hiroshi, there was only one thing that Lulu could do. She followed straight after him, matching his weirdness and raising him, showing once again that a pencil can always evolve.
With Lulu vs Hiroshi happening just a few hours after Misao vs Mecha Mummy, it’s safe to say the nonsense bar had already been raised quite high that day. Thankfully, these two are masters of the art. Whether it was Hiroshi’s skilful use of the dreaded yoga, Lulu’s apparent death or the now traditional ChocoPro duet (which considering its success rate, might be the most powerful play in the company), these two are hilarious. They fully embrace slipping into this weird alternate reality where wrestling is a bizarre hybrid of yoga and, well, whatever it fuck it is that goes on in their heads.
And to focus purely on Lulu, as much as I was kind of joking when talking about her quest, the truth is that she is learning. Having been caught off-guard on multiple occasions by being drawn into a sing-along, she was ready this time, making sure she was the one that struck first. That’s a tiny, insignificant thing and is only important to people like me, but it does matter. Even this weird, genius comedy character can grow as a wrestler, taking from what she’s done before and building on it.
Of course, Lulu would, as Lulu does, end up losing, Hiroshi surviving the dreaded duet and getting the win seconds later. However, the quest shall continue, with Lulu now armed with the yoga knowledge that she picked up in this match. With ChocoPro heading into season 6 and their 100th show, The Pencil will win! I believe, so you should too.
At the time of writing, I’ve seen every match of Saya Iida’s career. She was the first joshi rookie I ever watched make their debut, and I instantly fell for her. Right from the start, she was a wee tank of determination, throwing herself into her battle with Natsuko Tora and eventually being welcomed into JAN. Yes, like all rookies she wasn’t perfect, and I think you could argue she’s only figured out what kind of wrestler she wants to be in the last six months or so, but none of that mattered. Saya is someone I’ve watched from the beginning, and as time passes, my affection for her has only strengthened.
And I appreciate that for nearly everyone watching, Saya was not the story of this match. This was a chance to see Momo in SEAd, to watch her smack it out with Arisa and Nanae and give us a taste of what we’re going to see at the Budokan. Iida was there to take the fall in a tag where no-one else was going to do so.
However, as fantastic as it was to see Momo interact with those two, Saya was the one I wanted to watch. I know Momo is brilliant, and there was never any doubt in my mind as to how she’d compare, but Iida has never left her comfort zone. When she got tagged in against Arisa for the first time, Nakajima hit her so hard it sounded like a gun had gone off. Watching how she reacted to that, how she responded to being in this new potentially scary situation, that was where I got excited.
Thankfully, she was brilliant. Yes, she was mainly there to get the shit kicked out of her, but she threw herself into every chance she got, raining elbows down and desperately trying to prove she belonged. While all eyes were focused elsewhere, Iida went into this and worked her arse off, sticking to what she’s good at, hitting people and giving 110%. She never tried to draw attention away from where it was supposed to be, but by the simple act of being good, she made sure that at least a bit of it landed on her.
Who knows how many chances like this Iida will get in her career. These kinds of things don’t come along too often, and Gori-chan is unlikely to be at the top of the pile when they do, but she proved that if more chances come, she’ll be more than ready to grab them.
Wrestling is often over-complicated. The current canon declares that good wrestling is built on the epic main events of New Japan. Matches in which the entire final act is so often dedicated to long, intricate reversal sequences where people dance around each other, every blow flyin wide. In that world, Mirai vs Kamiyu was a reminder of how exciting, simple, easy to follow wrestling can be.
For as fantastic as I believe these two are, this was not a complicated match. Kamiyu has built a fair chunk of her offence around big boots while Mirai is always ready to fall back on that vicious lariat. That obviously wasn’t everything, but it was the core of it, and that was all they needed. It was all they needed to tell the story of this young powerhouse going out and bringing the fight to the champion. Catching her off-guard by thundering into her again and again only to eventually be caught out, tied up and picked off because while Kamiyu doesn’t have that power, she does have a brain.
And that simple stuff was executed exquisitely. The timing in this match was near perfect, Kamiyu showing that she’s developed a veteran’s eye, as everything she does comes at the exact right moment. Mirai, meanwhile, wrestles like what she is, a raw, hungry rookie who is a few polishes away from being something extraordinary. On top of that, it went under ten minutes, showing that the very best wrestlers don’t need half an hour to make their point. I could have picked any of the four matches that topped this card to make my list, and they wouldn’t have been out of place, but this was the one that got me the most excited. I know all those other wrestlers are brilliant, but Kamiyu and Mirai are still at the start of their journey. If they keep improving at the rate they have, this won’t be the last match that blows me away.
Keiji Mutoh beating Go Shiozaki and winning the GHC Title was always going to cause a bit of debate. The man’s knees may not legally count as knees any more, so a part of the fanbase is perhaps justified in believing that putting him over shouldn’t be NOAH’s priority in 2021. However, as someone who hasn’t watched NOAH regularly in roughly two years, I’m here to tell them why they’re wrong.
Because yes, Mutoh ain’t out there doing the incredible. He’s beaten-up and within five minutes of the bell ringing was already breathing heavily. There were also a couple of scary moments where he and Go weren’t quite able to pull off what they were going for, and I can’t imagine being as broken down as he is helped. And yet, despite all that, I admired the hell out of this match. Go may have dropped the belt, but if anything, this put over his talents more than it did Mutoh’s, as he did a fantastic job of working around those limitations and dragging his opponent to an impressive showing. I don’t know if this was one of the best matches I’ve seen this year, but it was undoubtedly one of the smartest, as Mutoh did all the things he can still do and Go made him look great.
And while Mutoh isn’t as young as he once was, you’d be a fool to think he didn’t bring anything to this. He has been around the block more than once, and he knows how to put a match together. There was the big stuff, the tease of him going for the Moonsault before backing down, something that I’m sure will pay off at some point in this reign. Yet, that’s almost less important than the aura he brought with him. He gave this entire thing a sense of gravitas, making it feel like a main event worthy of NOAH’s return to the Budokan. There is a reason someone like me bothered to watch it. He’s Keiji fucking Mutoh, a legend and now one of the few men to have held the big belts in NOAH, AJPW and NJPW.
I also think the idea that this was some burial of the younger talent is an example of people looking at their nose rather than the road ahead. Yes, Mutoh won, sneaking out the victory with a slightly unclean Frankensteiner into a pin, but that is only part of the story. When they went off the air, you could argue that he wasn’t the one people were looking at, as it was Kaito Kiyomiya, standing in the ring glaring a hole through the new champion that grabbed the eye. Wrestling fans are quick to declare that the world is ending, but you have to be deliberately blinkered not to realise the end goal here is Mutoh putting someone over, be that Kaito or another.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that the feeling I have for this match is respect. I’m no lover of NOAH, and while I might dip my toe in a bit more in the months ahead, I’m not about to become a devotee. However, when the bell rang, and Mutoh won, this match left me feeling satisfied. I felt like I’d watched two people who had figured out their shortcomings and worked around them to the best of their abilities. That’s maybe not as flashy and exciting as some big main events, but it’s a display of great pro-wrestling, and that makes it worthy of your time.
If Gake no Fuchi is Miyako Matsumoto’s art house project, then this is her dipping into the world of high school comedies. Saki, Maya and Saori are the coolest kids in school, but somehow they’ve ended up tied together with this weirdo, and she doesn’t quite seem to understand that they want nothing to do with her.
It made for a delightfully odd dynamic. Because while Saori was more than happy to wrestle against Saki and Maya, she also had a lot more in common with those two than she did her partner. Miyacoco was more an annoyance than an aid, and you got the impression she’d have preferred to ditch her and go solo. The problem is that Miyako was proving incapable of grasping that idea. In her mind, she is as cool as the other three, so there was no reason they wouldn’t want to join in on her antics.
Of course, it was only so long before that was going to breakdown, and the finish was suitably shenanigan filled. It was the perfect way to end a match that was a shitload of fun and can be summed up by the moment afterwards where the three cool kids posed together only for Miyacoco to crawl through them and take her place in-front, causing them to turn away in disgust. Is there anything that lass can’t do?
I planned to write out a big old ramble about this match, but then I read Sarah Kurchak’s Twitter thread on it and realised there was no way I could better that, so instead, I’m going to point you in her direction.
What it plays into, though, is something I’ve talked about before. Too often, wrestling sees people acquire incredible skills out of thin air to overcome obstacles. Kota Ibushi will wrestle Zack Sabre Jr and have the ability to match him on the mat, despite having never shown that ability before. This match was the opposite of that. Instead of magically discovering new talents, Ueno has gone out and learned one very particular skill from an expert, which he felt would give him the edge. He’s not a better grappler than Sakaguchi because to get to that level would take years of practice, but he learnt enough to survive and catch him off-guard. That’s such a smart, simple story that you’d think it would be commonplace, but it’s really not, and the fact these two took the time and effort to tell it says everything you need to know about their talents.
There was a moment in this match where Iwata got her foot on the rope to break a Rin submission. Rather than accepting that outcome, though, Mio decided this was the perfect time to stand on it, bending it around the steel cable as Iwata escaped the hold, but not the pain. It was some classic goblin offence, and it told you everything you need to know about this Sendai vs Marvelous feud. These two groups of women do not like each other, and they’re desperate to prove who the better wrestlers are.
It’s a feeling aided by the contrast between the teams. I do not doubt that both these pairs are perfectly capable of adapting and working the other’s style, but they don’t do that. Instead, we have Rin and Mio flying around the ring, throwing themselves into moves and trying to slide into intricate pinning combinations. In contrast, Mika and DASH are much blunter weapons, Iwata kicking the shit out of everyone and DASH dishing out a beating. By embracing their differences, these companies are finding an edge that they’re using brilliantly.
The final few minutes were perfection, Mio desperately trying to get a pin on DASH and letting out a scream of frustration when Iwata broke one that she was sure had it. It would be the second pin she broke that sealed the victory, though, as she escaped Rin’s clutches long enough to deliver a perfect kick to Mio’s face, opening her up for DASH to finish her off. The one downside to it all was that Iwata suffered a broken nose, which will have her on the sidelines for a while, but hopefully not too long. This feud gets stronger with every outing, so the quicker she’s back and kicking, the better for all involved.
In Chie’s first-ever title shot, it would have been very easy to make her a secondary story. Akki and Mei have both feuded on and off with Hagane, and having Chie occupy the role of enthusiastic rookie would have almost made sense. I’ve also no doubt that if that had been the structure, it would have been pretty awesome. Those feuds were called upon to carry chunks of the action regardless, and those moments ruled, but that’s not the way ChocoPro do things. Instead, they took the story of Chie and her boundless reserves of energy and placed that centre stage, building to the showdown between her and Mei that closed this out.
And the way they built to that showdown is yet another example of ChocoPro’s incredible ability to construct a match. They needed to take someone who has boundless energy and find a way to hold her back, so the moment where she went one on one with Mei could be all the sweeter. How did they do it? Well, they threw her out the window. Not just once, either. It happened on multiple occasions as her own partner kicked off the match by locking her outside, trying to hold her at bay so he could unleash her at the exact right moment.
It made for a contest that managed to be built around Chie, even when she wasn’t there. Hagane and Akki would be wrestling, but in the background, you could still see her, trying to get through the locked window or bouncing away, hyping herself up. At one point, Mei had Hagane in a submission, only for Chie’s hand to appear from off-screen, her body half in, half out of the room, but still desperately trying to reach for a tag. She was the least experienced wrestler in the match, the one no-one expected to win, and yet she was central to everything about it.
Then, when the final showdown with Mei occurred, it felt electric. In those moments, Chie became a focused killer, unleashing with chops as she threw herself at the person she sees as a wall that she must climb. It was an enthralling last act, one that had the ChocoPro chat biting on every nearfall as people dared to believe she could do it. Chie has long been a favourite of nearly everyone watching, but this was the moment where she rose to be so much more than a plucky underdog who loves to bounce.
Much like the match against Hagane at the start of the month, Chie wouldn’t win. Again, though, that was almost irrelevant. The two faces of ChocoPro and one of their most prestigious outsiders went into this match and did everything in their power to make Chie the star. More importantly, when handed that opportunity, she grabbed it gleefully. The potential to be something special? She already is.
- Emi Sakura vs Sayaka Obihiro – I already wrote about this one at length.
- Baliyan Akki vs Konosuke Takeshita – same as above.
- Best Bros (Baliyan Akki & Mei Suruga) vs Emi Sakura & ASUKA/VENY – an extraordinary display of skill.
- Rika Tatsumi vs Miu Watanabe – Miu steps up to the main event level and proves she’s more than ready.
- Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Rina Yamashita – two of the best have an awesome match, how surprising.
- Mio Momono vs Sakura Hirota – I reviewed this yesterday, so probably don’t need to repeat myself, but it was my everything.
- Emi Sakura & Aja Kong vs Yuna Mizumori & Chie Koishikawa – Aja Kong in ChocoPro!