It’s been a hell of a month for wrestling, and, if I’m honest, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’m not even caught up on ChocoPro, which never happens! Still, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen enough to pack this with lovely treats for you all, so dig in, and if you do think I have missed anything brilliant, let me know below.
Best Bros (Baliyan Akki & Mei Suruga) vs Tag Team Destroyers (Minoru Fujita & Rina Yamashita), ChocoPro 123 (4/6/21), ChocoProLIVE!
I had big expectations for this title showdown. The first battle between these teams, which I wrote about last month, is a dark horse match of the year contender, and as a massive fan of everyone involved, I came in expecting the very best. Sadly, it didn’t quite hit those expectations. I still thought it was fantastic, but it was a more drawn-out affair than the first and lacked the inventive streak that it had in abundance.
However, let’s stop talking about what this match wasn’t and focus on what it was. Best Bros have recently been setting themselves up as the definition of excellence in tag team wrestling. They’re pushing themselves to face as many teams as possible and are having longer and tougher matches. Mei and Akki would actually defend their belts twice on this day, later going to Michinoku Pro and beating Beauty As Is (Emi Sakura and Yunamon) too. With ChocoPro’s intense schedule and their general brilliance, they’re establishing themselves as a slick, perfectly in sync pairing.
Rina and Fujita aren’t that. Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying they’re a bad team (they’re brilliant), but where Akki and Mei are polished, they are wild. It was only a rare intervention from Ref Emi that stopped them from taking this to the streets, and while Fujita didn’t have his taser, he did hit Akki with an umbrella a few times. There is not so much an air of chaos to the former FREEDOM champs as a full-blown tornado, ready to wreck havoc on all around them. It’s something that stands in nice contrast to the much more professional Best Bros.
And that was where the heart of this match lay. Akki and Mei had to contend with two nutters who wanted nothing more than to beat them up. Not only that, they’re both quite big, Rina even managing to match Akki in power. Best Bros spent a lot of it bouncing off the challengers, struggling to do the damage required to put down these battle-hardened badasses. It forced them to get inventive, pulling out a Double Tombstone (that amazingly saw Mei hit the Tombstone) and a Super version of Mei’s Propeller Clutch.
When you strip away the bells and whistles of this match, you’re left with simple, excellent wrestling. Emi Sakura presented her champions with two challengers who provided a very different test and dared them to overcome it. Of course, being Best Bros, they did exactly that, finding a way to defeat the wild force arranged in front of them. At this point, their brilliance is almost boring. It’s a good thing the matches aren’t.
Mio Momono vs Miyuki Takase, Catch The Wave 2021 Opening Round (1/6/21), Pro Wrestling WAVE
There are certain pairings in wrestling that you can rely on. I’m not necessarily talking about people who have wrestled a lot, but simply two names that you see on a card and instinctively know are going to create magic. Mio Momono and Miyuki Takase are some of those names. This was two of joshi’s very best, facing-off on the first day of a tournament and holy shit, did they go hard. On a show that had, until this point, been packed with quick bursts of wrestling, Mio and Miyuki came out and beat the shit out of each other for ten minutes.
What truly shone here, though, was the pacing. This match built perfectly, Mio attempting to blast through Miyuki in the opening minutes, only for Takase to grab control, slowing things down as she attacked Momono’s back and set up a bruising final act. That home stretch was incredible as well, with the thudding headbutt that Mio hit to give herself the advantage, pulling a genuine yelp out of me. Having failed at her attempt to goblin Miyuki into submission, she instead met her on her own hard-hitting, physical terms and proved she could play that game just as well.
This is one of those matches that has slipped slightly under people’s radar, caused probably by WAVE not being the easiest to watch, which has meant it’s missed out on the hype that it undoubtedly deserves. So, listen to me, and seek it out because it was fantastic. A fast, brutal, perfectly put together piece of wrestling that proved what I said at the top, Mio and Miyuki are the best.
Hibiscus Mii vs Yuki Miyazaki, Catch The Wave 2021 Opening Round (1/6/21), Pro Wrestling WAVE
Yuki and Mii were handed the unfortunate task of following Mio and Miyuki’s barnstomer. Thankfully, these two veterans are smarter than most, so rather than attempting to go out and one-up them, they swerved in the opposite direction, having a comedy match that saw them, among other things, debate the merits of wearing boots (Mii had left her in Osaka). I couldn’t keep up with a lot of it, thanks to my limited Japanese, but even with that issue, it got more than a couple of laughs out of me as these two veterans had a lovely time messing around.
It also made me think back to all those G1 shows I used to review. Cards where match after match of similar wrestling blurred into one. I don’t know how many of those I’ve watched, but it’s a lot, and I can count the things that have stuck with me on my fingers. Yano aside (and we all know what ‘serious’ wrestling fans think about him), it’s a parade of beige, everyone out there trying to do the same thing to various degrees of success. In contrast, the opening night of Catch The Wave was all over the place, leaping from rookies upsetting veterans to sprints to hard-hitting wars to comedy. It looked like what I want a tournament to look like, a festival of different styles brought together to see what happens. Judging by this, I can’t see myself going back to the G1 anytime soon.
Team DDT (Sanshiro Takagi, Akito, Yukio Sakaguchi, Kazusada Higuchi, Naomi Yoshimura & Yukio Naya) vs Kongo (Kenohu, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Manabu Soya, Tadasuke, Hao & Nio), CyberFight Festival (6/6/21), DDT/NOAH
I adored how unashamedly DDT Takagi and his big sons were in their battle with NOAH. Walking to the ring carrying the tools of their trade, from giant hammers to Yoshihiko, this was the weirdos against the traditionalists, and the weirdos fought with pride. It was an idea that ran through into Kenoh mocking the likes of Sakaguchi for having a second job, something he responded to by turning up to the press conference in his construction workers uniform. That it would be Sakaguchi who held Kenoh in place, choking him out with the help of Yoshihiko while Takagi got the victory, made the finish a perfect moment. He and the rest of DDT fought without a hint of shame about who they are, and that’s beautiful.
Miyu Yamashita vs Yuka Sakazaki, CyberFight Festival (6/6/21), TJPW
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Miyu Yamashita and Yuka Sakazaki have never quite delivered the match they’re capable of. In a weird way, it’s a feeling that comes from how brilliant they are. Miyu and Yuka are number one and two in Tokyo Joshi, so you expect the incredible from their encounters. That, in the past, they’ve only managed to produce great stuff has felt like a disappointment. It’s a feeling that they seemed to share, and in the build-up to CyberFest, they gave off the impression that they were determined to blow everything they’d done before out the water.
And if Miyu and Yuka have the bit between their teeth, I wouldn’t bet against them, so it was no surprise to see them do exactly that. This match saw a shift in their dynamic, Yuka coming into it with the steely-eyed focus that became a hallmark of her title reign. She was trying to match Miyu, hitting her hard and aiming to put her down as violently as possible. Spots like the Superplex onto the apron (something I can’t remember seeing before) were a level of risk-taking and aggression that would have felt more at home in NOAH than happy old TJPW. Sakazaki wasn’t wrestling like a joyous, magical girl, but someone who wanted to defeat her rival once and for all.
All of which served only to make Miyu Yamashita look all the more badass. I spoke on last month’s round-up about much I adore the idea that Miyu’s opponents can have their best day, but it’s still no guarantee of success. The Ace is unstoppable, capable of turning a match in the blink of an eye. She gave Yuka a lot (it would take two Crash Rabbit Heats to get the win), but ultimately she was too fucking good. Miyu would avenge her loss from January 4th 2020 as she continues to look unbeatable. The person who eventually takes the belt off her will have to be better than perfect, and unless the match is a disaster (it won’t be), will come out not just with the title, but as a made woman.
Chigusa Nagayo, KAORU & Sakura Hirota vs Meiko Satomura, Chikayo Nagashima & Toshie Uematsu, Decade Of A Quarter Century (13/6/21), GAEAISM
Give me even the slightest opening, and I will wax lyrical about how much I enjoy watching old friends have a lovely time together in a ring. Yes, it could be dismissed as self-indulgence, and there are whiny twats on Twitter who think every wrestler over the age of thirty should be taken out back, but I don’t care. I like watching legends celebrate their past, and this match was pure celebration. From the second Sakura Hirota nervously made her entrance in her rookie swimsuit (which would later draw a spectacular double take from Chigusa), I was in heaven, a big old grin on my face as I relaxed into what was coming. These six leaned into their history wonderfully, giving us student vs teacher battles between Meiko and Chig, Team Eccentric spots and KAORU being the nutter she’s always been. It was a match made for those who have loved these wrestler’s careers, and while I haven’t been around the whole time, it left me feeling like I’d seen something special.
Team Sendai Girls (Chihiro Hashimoto, DASH Chisako & Mika Iwata) vs Team Marvelous (Mio Momono, Rin Kadokura & Mei Hoshizuki), Decade Of A Quarter Century (13/6/21), GAEAISM
I so desperately wanted Mio to win this match. It’s been a while since I’ve been this emotionally invested in a feud, and it’s easy to forget how massive that can be when it comes to your enjoyment. Much like watching Scotland vs England, I was hanging onto every second of the final battle between Sendai Girls and Marvelous, and by the time it came down to Mio vs Big Hash, any attempt at critical thought was long gone. That Mio didn’t win felt like one of the worst things that could have happened, a moment of shocked silence ringing out across my room as the disappointment settled in. It sucked, and I loved it.
Because that’s what wrestling should be. I saw someone on Twitter recently claim that reviewers should only talk about matches that they knew the result of beforehand because that’s how you get a objective opinion. Now, not only is that bollocks because of the laughable idea of anyone ever being objective about art, but it also ignored a massive part of what wrestling is. Yes, there is good and bad, but so often that becomes irrelevant. What matters is how the people in that ring make you feel. It’s why a Lulu Pencil match will always mean more to me than an epic like Syuri vs Utami (which I don’t mean as an attack on two wrestlers I like) and I refuse to put that to one side. It is part of the experience, and while not everyone will feel the way I do, trying to get across why I feel that way (which I can’t always claim to be successful at) is more important than any subjective account of what happened.
So while it would be quite easy to sit and tear bits of this match apart (although I think even the most cynical prick could find few faults in Mio vs Hash’s section), I have no desire to do so. What I want to do is rave about something that had me balanced on an emotional edge, ready to tumble off either way. To help people understand why watching Mio, forced to step up to this position after Takumi’s injury, take the fight to Hash was as thrilling as wrestling can be, every inch of her struggle shown in that incredible performance before her hopes were ripped away from her. We reached the end of the Road to GAEAISM, which ended up being much longer than it was meant to be, and it lived up to what was already one of my favourite feuds of the last who knows how many years. Now, imagine how I’d have felt about it if Mio had won?
Arisa Hoshiki vs Anemone, Action Ring Girls (16/5/21)
Right, I don’t want any of you sitting around, calling this a wrestling match! Act Ring have made it very clear that what they do isn’t wrestling, and Arisa has been at pains to say that this wasn’t a comeback. It was an acting performance that took place in a wrestling ring and used, among other things, wrestling moves to tell a story. That’s nothing like wrestling!
Ignoring all that silliness, few performances have made me smile as much as this one. The sudden way that Arisa’s career was brought to an end, at a time when there was no chance for her to say goodbye, sucked, and anyone who follows her on social media will be aware that she appeared to struggle with it. So, seeing her in a ring, with a giant smile on her face, booting people’s heads into the back row filled me with joy. Hoshiki was a favourite of mine, so whether this was a one-off, the start of a potential comeback or the first of several ‘acting’ gigs, it at the very least provided a degree of closure. I hope she feels the same way.
Mirai Maiumi vs Yuki Arai, Additional Attack (17/6/21), TJPW
For a while now, it’s been obvious to anyone with eyes that Mirai Maiumi will be something special. She had that near-perfect blend of raw power and wrestling passion, which with a little bit of chiselling, felt like it would be ready to explode and take Tokyo Joshi by storm. Or at least it did. After several standout performances with BeeStar, a title match with Kamiyu and now this showing, I think it’s safe to say that Mirai is no longer potential. She’s here and is already doing it.
And the reason this match felt like such an important part of that journey is that it’s the first time we’ve seen Maiumi being asked to lead the action in a prominent spot. For most of her career, she’s been in there with people senior to her, but this time, she was one on one with someone having only their third match. Arai has proven to be surprisingly good and has the advantage of being comfortable in front of a crowd, but Maiumi is the wrestler. If this was going to work, she was going to have to perform.
What stood out about the performance was the confidence. Mirai was happy to give Yuki a lot, letting her show off that Finally Axe Kick and get a brilliant two count off a backslide, but at the same time take moments for herself, using that combination of power and technical ability. It was a perfectly balanced outing, one that made this exciting young rookie who has the potential to get a lot of attention on Tokyo Joshi look good, but which also made it clear she isn’t on Maiumi’s level. That’s what you’d expect from a veteran, and it made Mirai look like someone who had been wrestling five times longer than she has. Funnily enough, in making Arai look amazing, Mirai was able to prove how fantastic she is. Long may it continue.
Miyako Matsumoto vs Tanomusaku Toba, Tsuki Ni Saku Hana No Yo Ni Naru No (19/6/21), Ganbare Pro
Miyacoco believes she can do anything. After all, she’s already shown herself to be good at singing, wrestling and being psychotic, so why wouldn’t she be able to add a few more strings to her bow? While having a kick-boxing fight with a former kick-boxer might seem like a bad idea, there was every chance she’d be a natural.
Not that I need much convincing to follow Miyacoco down any road, but the second she started doing little warm-up kicks pre-match, her foot barely reaching the second rope, I was sold on this endeavour. Miyako has the ability to make the most straight-laced, serious situation, inherently ridiculous, so the simple act of her wearing a pair of slightly too big boxing gloves was enough to have me giggling. By the time she connected with her first (very light) punch and then ran away, terrified she’d get one back, I was ready to accept her as a kick-boxing genius. By which I mean the kind of genius who doesn’t win many matches.
The final jewel in this match’s crown is that (as much as I love her and accept her brilliance) watching Miyacoco get beat up is a lot of fun. Every punch and kick that landed on her sent her crumbling to the canvas, and she spent at least one of the periods between rounds sat in the corner, crying in pain, and while that doesn’t sound funny, trust me when I say it was. She takes a beating like no one else, but also fires up and tries to come back from it like no one else, dipping into her unending well of determination even when facing inevitable defeat. She would eventually fall here, but I reckon a few more fights, and she’ll have it figured out. If all else fails, she can just stab the bastard.
Risa Sera vs Rina Yamashita, After The Rain, Ribbon ~ Goodbye Our Matsuya Uno (27/6/21), Ice Ribbon
I already did a pretty big dive into this match earlier this week, but I wanted to spend a second reiterating how fucking badass Risa Sera and Rina Yamashita are. At one point, this list also featured the final of the deathmatch tag tournament Risa put together, in which Yamashita beat the living shit out of her to earn this match, but this made it somewhat irrelevant because she did the same here times ten. By the end of this main event, where they were coated in blood, Rina’s back ripped to shreds by the glass she’d been bumping in, all I could do was sit back in awe. Every time they face off, they find new ways to elevate the brutal forms of violence that they revel in, pushing themselves to new extremes, and while deathmatch isn’t going to be for everyone, I think that has to be respected. I don’t watch enough of it to say this for definite, but from what I do see, Rina and Risa are near the top of that world, and with wars like this, it’s a spot they deserve to be recognised in.
More Matches You Should Watch
The 37KAMIINA (Konosuke Takeshita & Yuki Ueno) vs Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura (6/6/21) – A battle of the golden boys that showed why they’re all in that spot.
Sakura Hirota vs The Great Sasuke (10/6/21) – Two masters of nonsense revel in it.
12100000 (Miyu Yamashita & Maki Itoh) vs NEO Biishiki-gun (Sakisama & Mei Suruga) (17/6/21) – The one person Miyu can’t beat gives her a kicking.
Miyu Yamashita vs Sakisama (26/6/21) – Well, we thought she couldn’t beat her.
Suzu Suzuki vs Yuko Miyamoto (27/6/21) – Suzu finishes her trial series in style.
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