Okay, so removing the ten-match limit for these lists has maybe caused me to go a bit overboard. In my defence, April was a hell of a month for wrestling, despite the event I was looking forward to most, GAEAISM, being postponed because of Japan’s COVID issues. Thankfully, plenty of other stuff was there to pick up the slack, and, well, scroll down to see how much I had to talk about.
There was a sequence in this match that I loved, and it revolved around a trope. Yuki and Tsukka were taking it in turns to Snapmare each other before following up with a swift kick to the back. That’s something we see all the time, as you get the satisfaction of watching two people kick each other really hard mixed with a competitive game of one-upmanship. What I liked about this particular example of it, though, was that Maya refused to play along. Having been kicked once, she decided she didn’t like that and started popping up from every Tsukka Snapmare to retake her turn, killing the one-upmanship element in favour of dishing out a beating. Then, when it looked like she was finally offering up her back, she caught Fujimoto’s boot and twisted it into an Ankle Lock. It was a beautiful example of how to be a prick without actually breaking the rules. Tsukka fell for the trope, and Yuki punished her for it.
Outside of that, this was, unsurprisingly, a fantastic match between two brilliant wrestlers. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch it right this second because you will see very few better. Unfortunately, that’s kind of all that it was. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by Suzu’s journey, where every title defence felt like the biggest moment of her career, but this never got its emotional hooks into me. I watched it and admired it but never fell for it. There is always joy to be found in great wrestling for the sake of great wrestling. However, when it comes to the matches that I will remember for the rest of my life, I need that extra hook. Of course, that’s a hell of a high bar to set, but Maya and Tsukka are that good. On this occasion, they fell slightly short of delivering a masterpiece, but it still fucking ruled.
Genius wrestler Raku was not the takeaway I expected to get from Tokyo Joshi’s first Inspiration show, but my god, this was wonderful. You can tell when Raku has a scheme. There’s a very particular mischievous smile that crosses her face when she’s pleased with herself, and it always comes around before she unleashes one of her plans. We recently saw it when she decided she was going to seduce Yuki Aino on a Tokyo Joshi PPV, and it was definitely there as she made her way to the ring with her part teddy, part pillow.
It was a smile that she’d most definitely earned, for that teddy was put to good use. Raku started the match by hiding, causing Rika to have to go off on a treasure hunt, before Raku finally emerged and taped teddy to the big champ’s diamond ass, negating the effects of that vicious hip attack and proving herself the smartest wrestler in the company. Everything about it was perfect, from the hiding to Rika’s ineffectual attempt to hit the hip attack once teddy had been put in place, and that alone would be enough to get on this list.
However, once the silliness was done, this still held up. Raku is never going to be a super worker, but I don’t think people give her enough credit for how much she has improved. In there against one of the company’s top wrestlers, she got to show that off. Watching her have a competitive back and forth match with Rika didn’t feel out of place, and when she hit that beautiful Slingblade, I was able to forget myself for a second and believe she might actually win. On top of all that, how can you not adore the train-loving genius idol wrestler? Raku and teddy are going right to the top!
Suzu Suzuki isn’t the only joshi getting to live out her deathmatch dreams. Inspiration aims to show the more experimental side of Tokyo Joshi, so what better way to main event the first show than by giving lover of all things stabby, Hikari Noa, the chance to try out some hardcore wrestling?
TJPW certainly stacked the odds in her favour, calling up Rina Yamashita to usher Noa into a world of weapons. If I were forced to have any wrestling match, Rina would be at the top of the list of people I would trust to make me look great, but in a deathmatch style? No one else comes close. She’s incredible and did a fantastic job of playing the role of supportive deathmatch mum, keeping Hikari safe and even pulling out the Splash Mountain onto a pile of chairs to see her off, which has to go down as a sign of respect.
I think Hikari earned it too. She didn’t flinch from getting involved in the violence here, and while they didn’t go full bloodbath, she took some hellish bumps. Whether it was her adopting the Pearl Harbour Splash or being driven through a table from the apron, this shit looked sore, and Noa seemed to relish it. There were even times where her deathmatch love tripped her up. When she got her hands on a ladder, she couldn’t resist placing it over her head and starting to spin, even if it made little to no sense. Rina would punish her for the mistake, smashing a chair into the ladder as she twirled around, but I somehow doubt that Noa gave a shit. She was too busy having the time of her life.
She certainly hasn’t learnt her lesson. The match was barely over before she challenged Rina again, even going so far as to ask if they could do it the next day, an invitation Yamashita politely declined. She wasn’t to be stopped, though, declaring she wants to go full deathmatch and get herself a back like Jun Kasai’s. Fingers crossed Tokyo Joshi let her live out all those dreams because, judging by this, she’ll be very good at it.
I have a tendency to file SEAd away as the ‘serious’ promotion. It’s not a criticism but a reflection on a company that builds its main event style around stiff, hard-working matches. However, it’s also total nonsense because SEAd has an entire division in which a group of goblins run riot under the tutelage of Natsuki Taiyo. A division which gives us matches like this one in which everyone had agreed to wear pink and dance their way to the ring. Or at least that was the plan. Nagashima was having none of it, leading to the rest jumping her and forcing a pink bikini over her gear. That’s the serious wrassling right there.
A lot of my love for the High Speed division comes from its embracing of chaos. Even in matches that are expertly put together, built around long, frantic sequences, everything manages to feel a bit unhinged. When you have a referee who is as likely to do something mind blowing as she is to make a count, it helps to retain the idea that things could come apart at any moment. Except, they don’t, the talent of the wrestlers keeping things on track even as they fly wildly around corners.
And this match was a perfect example of that, wrestled at a million miles per hour with multiple moving parts and more inventive moments than some manage in a career. It had incredible high speed sequences, a whole load of comedy and a brilliant section based around Tsukka and her two partners, making us all wish it was possible to clone her so we could get Dropkickers vs Best Friends. It’s the kind of wrestling that leaves me grinning from ear to ear, and what more can you ask for than that?
Ichigaya Chocolate Square has become such an integral part of ChocoPro’s identity that it’s hard to imagine them without it. Yes, they’ve done ring shows before, and they were good, but all the tricks they’ve picked up over the last year are related to that room. No one uses a venue better, so when they leave it behind, I’m always a bit worried about how it’s going to go. Thankfully, this show was here to remind me that I should have faith.
For ChocoPro 101 took place in the Heat-Up Dojo, and it was proof that the room does not make the promotion. Just look at the finish to the main event, Akki leaping over the top rope, falling through and out of the camera to eliminate both himself and Tetsuya Izuchi from proceedings and leave Mei free to get the win. That’s the kind of camera trickery we saw from them all the time in Ichigaya, so it got a big pop from me when I saw them pull it off in another venue.
Even better than that, was Lulu and TAMURA’s wander through the building, as TAMURA grabbed the opportunity to show off the facilities and get himself some free advertising. On the way, he tortured Lulu via various pieces of exercise equipment because it’s Lulu, and when else are you going to get a chance to potentially beat someone via treadmill? It was pure ChocoPro, injected with that wonderful sense of invention that they have which proved to be just as potent a jab when taken away from its home venue. Yes, not every ring will have a handy nearby treadmill for them to use, but it shows how adaptable this company has become, and I’ll never question them again.
Emi Sakura’s career behind the ChocoPro camera has been a short one so far. To the best of my memory, she did it once, and after missing a chunk of the match and proving somewhat awkward on commentary, she made sure she was never put in that position again. Unfortunately, fate felt differently, and when Emi hurt her shoulder at ChocoPro 101, her ability to referee was compromised. With her beloved Pencil Army leader Lulu in this match, she donned the dungarees and picked up a camera once more.
Why is all of that important? Well, for those paying attention, Emi used that previous mistake to slip a lovely hook into the action. Once again, Emi Pencil would miss parts of the match. This time, I think it’s safe to say it was deliberate as a mysterious magical pencil appeared in Lulu’s hand, and when the camera got back into place, said pencil had somehow found its way into Shinno’s back. How on earth did that happen?
Whatever went down, it brought Emi Pencil into the action, using the mirror covering one side of Chocolate Square to make sure we got to catch Hagane dishing out some very unjust punishment on those lovely pencils. This wasn’t simply the use of the camera person as a part of the action, but a callback to something that happened so long ago that I’ve no idea what show it was. That attention to detail is something you won’t see anywhere else and speaks to the power of Emi as a booker.
On top of all that, I want to throw some love towards beautiful, awkward Hagane, whom I don’t think I’ve given enough credit to. When he first came into ChocoPro, I didn’t click with him, but in the last couple of months, I realised this cold-blooded killer is actually an awkward emo, and for some reason, I now find him very relatable. From his unsure big brother energy when teaming with Chie to the flicker of a smile that we saw here, there is a warmth hidden away under that icy facade. Even if you take out Emi’s camera trickery, this was a riot of a match, and anyone willing to go out and give Lulu as much as he did gets the thumbs up from me!
Another beautifully nonsensical Mecha Mummy match as Chris Brookes continues to use his Produce Shows to book all the nerdy dream matches he can come up with. It’s no surprise that I would enjoy a mech being defeated via child’s paddling pool, and that will tell everything you need to know as to whether it’s for or you not, but I think it’s also worth reflecting on how much cool shit Chris Brookes has got to do over the last year. He’s wrestled with Onita, faced off against Jun Akiyama and is now using these produce shows to both put together wonderfully weird matches and give a platform to the likes of Baliyan Akki (more on which in a minute). Whether you are a fan of him as a wrestler or not (I am), the guy is continually involved in awesome things and seems to make an effort to pull others up with him. I’ve got a lotta respect for that, and I hope that he keeps getting those chances, be it in Japan or elsewhere.
Most of my thoughts about this match are similar to the ones I’ve already shared about Akki vs Takeshita. Once again, Akki went out and proved to be as good as those in the know believe him to be, and I hope that each of these performances opens up another handful of opportunities for him. However, I also wanted to point to the other side of the ring and applaud how selfless HARASHIMA and Takeshita were on these shows. Akki isn’t a new DDT guy that they need to get over. He’s an outsider from a tiny company, yet they both went out of their way to allow him the time and space to show how brilliant he is. Most of my favourite wrestlers have that spirit of generosity, and it’s great to see two of DDT’s best show it too.
I think Momo might be a little bit pissed off. To call her wrestling in this match stiff would be doing it a disservice, with murderous feeling like a much more appropriate word. She seemed determined not just to leave a mark on Mina but to go right through her, all the frustration that came from being spoken down to by people like Nanae Takahashi and Emi Sakura bubbling up to the surface and caving Shirakawa’s chest in.
Which is awesome, and I fucking love pissed off, kicking the shit out of people, Momo. However, the thing that made this match was Mina. When she left Tokyo Joshi, it felt like she was right on the verge of a big push. Winning that intensely personal feud with Kamiyu should have been the start of something, but she dropped out and went to a company where it was always going to be harder for her to stand out. If you go back to my reviews of her first few matches in Stardom, you can see me worrying about that. And yet, watching Momo beat the shit out of her, I couldn’t help feeling overjoyed as I realised she was going to be just fine.
Because yes, this probably wasn’t a very pleasant match for Mina, but the story was all about her surviving. About her taking her beating, not giving up and even managing to give Momo a bit back. It didn’t matter that she lost; Mina came out of this looking like a hero for fighting when it would have been so much easier to give up. That was no accident, as both she and Momo knew what they were doing. I might have preferred that she stayed in TJPW and found her path there, but I’m glad that it appears she’s not going to get lost in the woods of Stardom.
Mei Suruga complained in the build-up to this match that Sayaka never gets nervous. That despite being a rookie who recently had a year out and had only had two singles matches before this, she was acting like it was just another day at the office. There was no open criticism in that statement, but you could sense Mei’s frustration. That for her, Sayaka taking everything in her stride, sat somewhere between a little bit annoying and downright infuriating.
And watching this match, you can see the confidence that Mei was talking about. Sayaka is still green, but the way she carries herself makes that less important. Her going out and bringing the fight to Mei, hitting her with everything she had, didn’t feel remarkable because Sayaka didn’t treat it like it was. She looked like someone who had been doing this ten times longer than she has, and that’s a hell of a skill.
Credit must also go to Mei, though, who clearly decided that if Sayaka wasn’t going to show any nerves, then she would ratch her own arrogance up a few notches. Since becoming the champion, we’ve slowly seen that cocky side of Mei Suruga become more and more prevalent, but this was her at her scheming, apple goblin best. At one point, she even put on her entrance wings, using them to torture Sayaka a little bit more and forcing Ref Akki to take them off her. It is those little touches that makes Mei so special. If you hadn’t seen the live stream with those comments, then she was simply a cocky senior putting a rookie in their place. Having seen them, though, it brought an extra layer of storytelling to this match that made it all the richer.
Sasha Banks vs Bianca Belair, WrestleMania 37 Night One (10/4/21), WWE
It’s been a long old time since I watched anything WWE, which could have made this a difficult match to drop back in on. I was wandering in for the film’s final act, having enjoyed the one Sasha made five years ago but then never getting round to anything she’d done since. The historical significance of it was self-evident, but significance doesn’t necessarily equal emotional weight. So it speaks highly of the two wrestlers involved that I got as caught up in this as I have any title match this year. Sasha and Bianca went out there and rode that wave of emotion perfectly, even turning the parts where it overwhelmed them (the two of them burst into tears before they’d even started) into positives, playing them into the arc of the match.
And while I haven’t watched Sasha in years, I know she’s incredible. Her matches with Bayley were the first time I cried while watching wrestling, as they hooked me into their story like nothing had before. That meant it was Bianca who blew me away here. I might have seen a bit of her back when she was breaking through, but nothing that stuck in my mind, so I can only assume she’s come a long way since then. Her performance here was remarkable, telling the story of someone on the edge of the incredible but who has to desperately keep themselves in check, not letting themselves be overwhelmed. Then there was the much more straightforward badassery, the rolling through a Sasha dive to hoist her up and carry her back to the ring, the kind of spot you can’t help but pop for.
One of the many reasons that WWE has become so stale and unwatchable is their insistence that everything has to be a moment, to the point where nothing is a moment. Even when locked in that world, though, this felt special. Two young women reached a platform that not that long ago it would have felt impossible for them to get to. That they did it and lived up to the pressure and expectations that were placed on their shoulders is incredible. Well done them.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been this fascinated by a match that contained the possibility of seeing literally all of Dieno before, but this one has weirdly wormed its way into my head. It wasn’t so much a clash of styles, as two people existing on opposite sides of the same planet. Yes, they both do pro-wrestling, but Dieno and Akiyama couldn’t get much further apart in the way they approach it.
And yet, this was also two people going out and accepting the other for what they are. Akiyama might not have pulled down his trunks and shoved his arse in Dieno’s face, but he went along with his games, selling the nonsense alongside the piledrivers. Dieno, meanwhile, dropped in a reminder that he can wrestle. No one will be comparing him favourably to the likes of Endo, but that’s one of his strengths. There is a scrappy edge to him, the Moonsaults he hit in this match feeling like a man genuinely throwing himself backwards and hoping for the best.
It gave us something that I can’t pretend I loved as a singular experience, but which did symbolise why I love a company like DDT. People create walls and genres, declaring that something can either be serious or funny. Well, Akiyama and Dieno wrestled a serious match where the big climactic sequence had one of the members bollock naked, protected from exposing himself by the trunks clutched between his thighs. So, where does that sit? Or is it possible that those things have never been separate and that Jun Akiyama is merely the latest grizzled badass to show more awareness of that fact than the people who claim his style of wrestling is the ‘right’ one?
There was a moment fairly early into this match where Akki climbed onto the window sill, setting up for his Namaste Splash. By the time he’d got into position, though, Chie was up, coming towards him and eliciting what was almost a groan from the Ace as he realised the wee pest wasn’t dead yet. It was a spot that perfectly captured the beauty of Chie Koishikawa and showed why she was the well-deserving recipient of ChocoPro’s Season 6 MVP award.
And it feels like we get a match every month that serves as a checkpoint in Chie’s career, as she gives yet another performance that shows off how far she’s come in such a short time. In fact, I’d argue that she had two this month, her battles with Akki and Fujita both serving that purpose. What we’re seeing is Chie experimenting and figuring out who she is in real-time, maturing as a wrestler, but all while keeping that wild, relentless energy that made her who she is. She might not yet be on the level of an Akki or a Fujita, but she’s getting closer, and it makes me so happy to see her do so while maintaining her essential Chieness. Odds are I’ll be back here a month from now, once again proclaiming her brilliance when she does it again.
I’m not sure there is a wrestler in the world better at this kind of match than Miyu Yamashita. One where she’s sent out against someone below her in the pecking order (which, admittedly, is nearly everyone in TJPW) and handed the job of making them look incredible, even in defeat. From Pom Harajuku to Haruna Neko to Rika Tatsumi, there aren’t many wrestlers on the roster whose best match isn’t with Miyu.
And while I’m not entirely confident in declaring this Noa’s best match (she’s had a few great ones), it is certainly up there. In the same month that she got to live her deathmatch dream, this felt like a breakthrough performance, much like Poi’s series against Miyu did a year ago. Yes, Hikari’s head was eventually sent flying towards the back row, but she had Yamashita on the back foot for a minute or two. The Blizzard suplex followed by a series of roll-ups having me biting on every pinfall. At that moment, she was Miyu’s equal, and that’s a hell of a platform to get yourself onto.
It all took less than ten minutes, making this a perfect wee match. One that confirmed Yamashita’s status as one of the very best, but also hinted that Hikari is picking up momentum, buzzing away in the background looking for that one opportunity that will push her to the next level. It was a masterclass in wrestling, and I can’t wait to see what these two end up doing together in the future.
I spoke about Itoh’s role in this match at length in my original review, so if you’re more interested in that side of things, click the link and away you go. Today, I want to focus on Rika, whose title reign has been one of the highlights of the first third of 2021.
One of the many reasons for that is that Tatsumi feels like a wrestler who has a plan. Much like a football team has a tactical system that they will generally stick to, Rika enters every title defence with the same approach. She’s going to attack your leg, whipping at it with Dragon Screws and working it over with that Figure Four. It doesn’t matter if that is ultimately responsible for her getting the win, it wasn’t against Itoh, but it’s going to be the path she takes to get there, weakening you before the rest of her offence takes over. And so far, no one has been able to stop her from doing it.
Which has to be the perfect situation to be in for a wrestler, right? The match to match storytelling of Rika’s title reign is established. She’s set up a challenge, and now someone simply has to come along and knock it down. It might be in the next match against Miyu, or it might be in a year, but it seems certain that the person who beats her will be the person who manages to stop her attacking their leg. Of course, it’s not as simple as just that, but I will eat my hat if it isn’t a narrative that plays into the way she loses the title, and it should be. Because much like every iconic football team eventually gets figured out as tactics evolve, Rika should be forced to change it up. Christ, if they want to stretch out this reign, TJPW could have her do so while clinging onto the belt. Have her realise that it’s no longer working and adapt accordingly, setting up the new plan for people to overcome.
That my mind is already running away with the various directions Tokyo Joshi could go with this says it all. Rika is putting together a run where every match is connected, the narrative moving through them and building to whatever the end goal is. It’s a combination of fantastic booking and brilliant wrestling, which is going to make sure that whenever Tatsumi’s reign comes to an end, it’s already confirmed as one I’ll remember fondly.
I already waxed lyrical about this match in my original review, so excuse me while I go on a rant because it has brought out the worst in some people. In fact, that’s being too nice. If you are the kind of person who goes after an eighteen-year-old lass to tell her she shouldn’t do the kind of matches that she loves, then that’s probably not the worst of you. I’m willing to bet you’re a pretty shite human being all-around.
And all this plays into the ever-growing rise of what I’ve seen referred to as the ‘safety police’. People who panic and think wrestlers shouldn’t be allowed to do anything even slightly dangerous in case they get hurt. Now, to state the obvious, no one wants to see anyone get injured. It’s horrible watching a wrestler miss time because of it, and like most fans, I’ve known the heartbreak of seeing favourites forced to retire. However, panicking and throwing your toys out of the pram every time someone does something slightly dangerous isn’t the answer. Wrestling is a dumbass thing to do to your body, whether you’re taking a simple bodyslam or being dropped on your head. If we’re going to engage with it, we have to trust that those involved know what they’re doing.
Plus, to return to the original point, Suzu being stabbed in the head with a pair of scissors is a hell of a lot less dangerous than her taking a suplex bump. Christ, the most wince-inducing moment in this match was a German, a move she takes regularly. I suspect that 90% of this panicking is generated not because people are worried about Suzu’s health but because this isn’t what they want to see a pretty young lass doing. You don’t have to like deathmatch wrestling, I don’t give a fuck if you do or not, but don’t you dare put that on her and tell her that she’s not allowed to do it because of your hang-ups.
To at least end by focusing on something other than dickheads, this fucking ruled. On her third go-around, Suzu went deeper into the hardcore bubble than she had previously, and Takeda was the perfect person to bring that intensity. They ramped everything up, and if this doesn’t end up being the best match of her trial series, then we are in for a treat.
It’s Miyacoco’s birthday, and she has very strictly informed the world that she is 26, threatening legal consequences against anyone who claims differently.
The latest Miyacoco Fes was a suitably all over the place night of extravagance. Before we got to the match, we had everything from Matsumoto interviewing Go Yoshida to an incredible karaoke performance from ASUKA and Jun Kasai. The wrestling is just one part of these shows, and while not speaking Japanese means you miss out on some of the fun, there are always delights to be found.
Ramblings About is primarily a wrestling website, though, so we’ll move beyond that and get to the action, which left me feeling somewhat vindicated. Since I first discovered Miyacoco at the start of last year, I have repeatedly compared the kayfabe version of her to a spoilt child who grew up in a house where she was allowed to win every game and was continually told how smart she is. Unfortunately, she’s now having her first birthday with friends from school and is discovering that they’re not willing to play along. Well, this match was the ultimate test of that theory, as it was literally Miyacoco’s birthday party, and not to blow my own horn, but I think it held together. From the second it began, Matsumoto was desperate to be the centre of attention, and didn’t quite seem to realise that no one else wanted her to be there.
That made for another dose of Gake no Fuchi mayhem featuring everything from her being tortured with balloons to getting a lapdance from a bare-arsed Keigo Nakamura. At this point, I don’t even feel the need to go into details because I know I can’t do it justice. If you’re aware of her madness, then you know what you’re getting yourself into, and if you’re a newbie, I can only suggest diving in head first. However, I want to briefly touch on how great Miyacoco is at choosing the right people for her nonsense. She excels at surrounding herself with the coolest, badass wrestlers, making it not only a joy to watch them interact with each other, but creating a perfect contrast with what she is doing. ASUKA and Miyako could not be more different, which is what makes dropping them both into this environment such a brilliant idea.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll do so again, but Miyako Matsumoto is on the list of wrestlers who I will watch do anything. She should be handed the keys to the kingdom and left alone to see what genius she can come up with next.
No one gets me emotionally involved in a match the way that Sayaka Obihiro does. Her battle with Fujita marked her eleventh anniversary, and much like last year’s incredible effort against Antonio Honda, they put on a hell of a show.
However, it was a very different match-up from that one, as last year felt like Honda challenging Obi physically, chopping the shit out of her and demanding that she show him her ten years. This time around, Fujita and Obi focused on the wrestling, Minoru reminding people that he is not simply a deathmatch guy and has been well-lauded for his technical ability both by fans and peers. He was pushing Obi in a different way, seeing what she could do and daring her to keep up, which, being her, she gave her all in an attempt to do so.
And that’s what keeps me invested in Obi’s matches. She’s not someone who wins a lot, and in recent years she’s worked a reduced schedule around her other job as a chef, but when she does turn up, she leaves her heart and soul in that ring. Everything feels like a challenge, but it’s a challenge that she throws herself at, desperately trying to overcome. It doesn’t matter if she’s beat-up or exhausted; Obi keeps pulling herself up, fighting on until she has nothing left. That’s the kind of wrestler I love, and it means that even if she did once again fall short, I didn’t for a second consider the idea that I won’t be there again the next time, cheering her on once more.
Best Of The Rest
Risa Sera vs Thekla (11/4/21) – Thekla going full weirdo is a gift that keeps on giving.
Best Bros vs PSYCHO & CHANGO (18/4/21) – Best Bros run of excellence meets a team willing to bend the rules.
Hikari Noa vs Sena Shiori – Hikari sees her friend out in a perfectly judged match.
Best Bros vs Black Comaneci (29/4/21) – a wonderful combination of great wrestling and beautiful nonsense.