How are we at the end of July? Where the fuck is 2021 going? Anyway, I feel like I’ve watched less wrestling than usual this month, mainly because of my newfound love of 3×3 Basketball and Volleyball, but that’s a different round-up. And, even if I have been taking it a bit easy, I’ve still seen more than enough to give you all a round-up of my favourite stuff. So, what are you waiting for? Get reading.
Hibiscus Mii, Sakura Hirota & Yuki Miyazaki vs Mio Momono, Momo Khogo & Ami Miura, Catch The Wave Final (1/7/21), WAVE
While both the semi-finals and final of Catch the Wave were good to great matches, the last day of the tournament was stolen out from under their noses by this. If there were any doubts about what we were in for, they were gone when Mii, Hirota and Yuki walked out carrying peppers, posing dramatically on the stage with them clutched in their hands. Throw in the fact that Mii was not only wearing jeans and a t-shirt but had a bag that she gallantly wore for most of the action, and we were comfortably in full nonsense mode.
And honestly, I’m not sure you could have put six better people forward to fill that role. The veteran team are all masters, but the youngsters more than kept up with them. In Mio’s case, that’s no surprise, she’s had plenty of practice, but the AWG contingent deserves props. Momo getting excited to take part in Hirota’s classic spots was particularly endearing, especially as it turned out that for all her glee, she wasn’t that good at them. Miura, meanwhile, was a fantastic straight-woman, doing a particularly fine job of selling her confusion as Hirota charged around the ring desperately trying to set up some sort of ariel attack but falling off of everything she climbed.
It’s no secret that I love the nonsense, and this was nonsense at its very best. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what went down, and I don’t want to go any further because my retelling will, no doubt, be nowhere near as funny as the reality. If you like your wrestling to get a bit silly, this one is a must-see.
You could tell from the opening seconds that Arisu and Moka had the bit between their teeth, desperate to go out and show what they can do. The initial grappling, a part of the action that wrestlers so often breeze through, putting in minimum effort, felt like a real struggle. They battled for every hold as they tried to gain the slightest advantage against their closest peer on the roster. It instantly established that while this might be a fight between two rookies, it was important to them, making it important for everyone watching.
That was the beginning of an encounter that thrived off of little details. Moka, in particular, doing a fantastic job of using this rare opportunity to wrestle someone to whom she is senior. Her early control of the action came from her using Endo’s offence against her, constantly slipping out of her attempts to hit a Curb Stomp style knee to the back of the head, causing Endo’s knee to go crashing into the canvas. With each miss, that leg was weakened up a bit more, allowing Miyamoto to use it as an opening. There is nothing complicated about that, but it was done brilliantly and showed how much time and effort these two had put into constructing this rare opportunity.
It was also an opportunity to show why Inspiration is an inspired move from TJPW. This was only the second episode, but it’s already becoming an invaluable place for them to try stuff out. Moka and Arisu do not get to work this match on a standard TJPW show because there isn’t enough time, but Inspiration gives them that chance. It was one that they both grasped with two hands, having the best showing of either of their young careers and making me very excited to see what they end up doing together in the years to come.
Mirai Maiumi standing her ground, allowing Miyu to fire off with a barrage of kicks all to set up a single brutal lariat, was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a ring this year. It was Mirai taking a risk, one that ultimately didn’t pay off but which single-handedly justified Tokyo Joshi’s decision to throw them in this UWF-style match. Much like Inspiration let Moka and Arisu wrestle for 15 minutes, it allowed these two to try out something they would never get to do elsewhere. Tokyo Joshi isn’t about to become a shoot-style promotion, but if this was what Miyu and Mirai did on their first try, imagine what they’d do if they got to really work on it? Talent exchange with GLEAT incoming?
July 1st was a big day for anyone interested in shoot-style wrestling as the first proper GLEAT show featured several matches worked under UWF rules. That was doubly sweet for those of us who enjoy watching Big Hash murder people, as she was in full horror villain mode here, stalking Fukuda around the ring, walking through kicks and dishing out a battering. This was a match where both performers played their role to perfection, Hashimoto as a tank, trundling over everything in her way, and Fukuda as her terrified opponent, suddenly aware she was horribly out-gunned.
And while Hashimoto will get a lot of deserved praise for the way she repeatedly muscled Fukuda to the mat and into submissions, making something like a Boston Crab feel like a legit hold, I think her opponent deserves equal praise. She sold the terror of this wonderfully, and the most exciting moment came from one of her kicks sneaking through, stunning Hashimoto for a second and giving her just a hint of a chance. It wasn’t successful, and the murder was completed not long after, but it played to the shoot style perfectly and the flicker of hope on her face instantly flipped my allegiance into her corner. The best slasher films give us victims we care about and Fukuda winning my heart made this match even better than it already was.
Have I ever mentioned that I love Raku? Because I love Raku. One of the best side-effects of Tokyo Joshi ramping up their Korakuen schedule is that it allows matches like this to happen. The increased opportunity for big events letting these smaller ones be used to put forward bouts they might not have booked otherwise. It gives someone like Raku, who, despite my love, was never actually going to beat Hikari, the chance to challenge for the title and show how far she’s come in the last year and a half.
And she has come a long old way. In my original review, I talked about how brilliant it was to see Raku have a big title match but still retain her inherent Rakuness, and I stand by that. However, it’s also worth talking about how good she’s gotten. Her appearances are no longer just about the Good Night Express, and while she’s not going to be rivalling those at the top of the card, Raku can more than hold her own. In fact, they trusted her to control this challenge. Hikari is being established as a vulnerable champion, so Raku went out and took the fight to her, Noa desperately kicking out off the Hurricane Turn to save her belt.
So while Tokyo Joshi’s lover of trains might never headline a Korakuen (although I’m holding out hope), this was proof that when she gets the tap on the shoulder, she’s more than capable of stepping up. At the start of 2020, no one would have predicted that, so who knows where she’ll be a year from now.
There isn’t a better pairing in wrestling right now than Chihiro Hashimoto and Mio Momono. While this was their first singles match of 2021, it was the eleventh time they’d shared a ring, and not once has it felt stale. I could watch them fight for the rest of my life, and I don’t think I’d ever get bored of it.
A big part of that is that they’re both exceptionally talented wrestlers, trained by two of the greats and capable of doing incredible things. However, there is more to it than that. Mio and Hash work not only because of their talents but because of the way they click together. Momono is a wrestler who never stops coming forward, the very definition of a goblin, grasping at every opportunity to hurt her opponent. But, for all that she has that streak of frantic chaos running through her wrestling, she also feels like someone who has a plan. She attacked Hashimoto’s arm in this match, at times hanging off it because that was the best way to level the playing field. To take away Hash’s power and turn this into an even fight.
In contrast, Big Hash is a tank. She doesn’t have to overthink this shit because she can grab Mio and throw her through the air. Some of the Germans she hit nearly saw Mio land on her feet, not because she’d tried to reverse them, but because that’s how far she’d been thrown. There is a brutal brick wall simplicity to her style, and that is perfect for Mio. Hashimoto hands her a challenge and dares her to overcome it.
Eleven matches in these two somehow topped everything they’d done before and put together something that, despite me knowing the result going in, had me gripped to the edge of my seat, living and breathing everything they did. Whether this is the end of their feud or simply the latest chapter, Mio and Hash have created magic together, and it’s going to be tough for anything to top what they’ve done this year.
No one would have blamed these four if they’d gone out and taken this seven-minute exhibition lightly. Christ, Nanae had a fight with the literal devil later that night, so if she’d tagged in, hit a few forearms and then hung out on the apron, I’d have still thought she’d done too much. Of course, they did nothing of the sort. Instead, they went out there and decided to show off, flying through those seven minutes in a blur of motion which didn’t even hint that two of these wrestlers have been retired for years. It made this a joyous affair, celebrating everyone involved and their history together. They also left me with a massive grin on my face and the belief that if Nanae and Taiyo came out of retirement tomorrow, they’d still be two of the best in the world.
What is Nanae Takahashi thinking? Since returning from injury at the end of last year, she’s started getting pinned by everyone! Whether it’s Tsukushi or Arisa Nakajima, Nanae has become horribly giving, and I don’t like it. A legend like her should be battering all these wee scrubs and putting them in their place. Christ, the only person she’s beat in a singles match since returning is Momo Watanabe, and she’s like the tenth most important person in Queen’s Quest! How is Nanaeism meant to thrive with this unwarranted generosity? Sure, this match ruled, and they beat the shit out of each other, but the old guard needs to get more selfish and stop doing all they can to help elevate a generation of wrestlers who don’t deserve it.
The idea of taking NEO Bishiiki-gun and dropping them into the somewhat crude surroundings of Chocolate Square would have been enough to support a match on its own. So, to put Yunamon and Emi on the mat with them, two people who perhaps don’t carry their beauty with the same elegance as Sakisama (Emi literally ate one of their rose petals), was almost too much. With personality bursting out of every seam, all you could do was cling on, hoping not to be blown away.
And these new surroundings did cause Sakisama a few problems, not least her discovery of the mirror that covers one wall, leaving her bewitched by her own beauty. Thankfully, she overcame that and even survived the fainting fit caused by Yunamon and Emi popped up in the window, catching her off-guard. Luckily, Biishiki-gun’s recent run-in with Raku meant MSM has experience of waking her up, putting the Choco ring bell to good use.
It wasn’t just the beauty of Sakisama that was on show here, though, but the perfection of that room. Yes, this match would have been great in Shinkiba or any other venue, but having it in Ichigaya opened a dimension that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Sakisama and Mei Saint-Michel dropped into a world that couldn’t be more different from their Versailles’ mansion, and watching them adapt to it and the weird people who inhabit it made for one hell of a match.
It was starting to feel like Masa Takanashi’s return to the ring was cursed. Twice he’d booked shows in Shinkiba to announce his comeback only to be forced to call them off after Japan declared a state of emergency. On the second go around, he wasn’t willing to wait any longer, downsizing the card and switching the venue to Chocolate Square so he could finally get back to what he does best.
And this was a ballsy return to have after more than a year out. Masa didn’t go out there and take it easy but chose to work a highly technical contest that went nearly thirty-six minutes. With Abe attacking that previously injured leg, he was making sure the whole world knew he was back to full fitness, as these two battled for every hold. It was an intense chess game of a match, Abe controlling the bulk of it after Masa’s time on the shelf, but Takanashi’s technical excellence never letting him run riot.
However, what sold this match wasn’t just the brilliant wrestling but the love that filled Chocolate Square. It’s impossible to miss the affection everyone in that company has for Masa, and it was on full display. They were living and breathing every second of this, willing him on in his return. It meant that even if the match had stunk (and it most definitely didn’t), it would have been notable regardless.
I’m of the opinion that Marvelous has not only survived without their Ace but flourished, the forced decision to elevate Mio Momono turning out to be a blessing in disguise. Yet, as Takumi Iroha made her entrance, taking a second at the top of the ramp to savour the moment, it felt like all was right in the world. She’s coming back to a company on a high with the potential to push on and do something truly special. With her boundless talent added to the equation, it’s looking like the rest of Marvelous’s year will be unmissable.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Chris Brookes and Lulu Pencil, two people who have so little in common and yet who, for the last ten months, have been intrinsically linked. We’ve seen them fight, team and then fight again, Lulu desperately trying to learn from this arrogant Englishman who responds to her pleas for guidance with mockery. Yet, as big a bastard as Brookes is, what’s made this work is the sense that he does care about Lulu. That underneath the poison, he sees something in her and wants to help draw it out.
And it’s fair to say that Brookes’ methods have been cruel. He’s beat the crap out of Lulu, insulting both her and her friends, but it’s also fair to say that they worked. Less than two years ago, when Lulu faced Yunamon in an exhibition match, she lost eight times in three minutes. Now, in a thirty-minute iron person with Brookes, she only lost three times and took a fall of her own, pinning a wrestler who has held titles in Japan and the UK. She might not have won, but she got that three, and that meant something.
Which is the other thing I have been thinking about a lot. Like everyone, I desperately wanted this feud to end with Lulu beating Brookes while also kind of knowing that wasn’t going to happen. As wonderful as the moment would have been, I’m not sure it would have felt earned. It seems ridiculous to say it of someone who is nearly two years into her career and is my favourite wrestler, but Lulu hasn’t yet gotten to a place where I buy that victory. I did buy her getting the fall, though. I bought her sneaking away with a pin, nearly thirty minutes into a match against someone she’d chipped away at with her greatest ever performance. And that’s masterful booking. Emi Sakura, in all her genius, managed to give everyone what they wanted while holding so much back. Lulu still hasn’t won a match, that card is on the table, and yet I feel like we got so much from that simple three-count.
I already wrote about this match at length, so if you want more, please click the link and enjoy, but I’ll wrap it up by saying that this feud has been an example of people working at their very best. It’s not just Lulu and Chris, but every supporting player, from Emi Pencil to Baliyan Akki. They told one of wrestling’s great stories, and I’m not going to stop thinking about it any time soon.
I enjoyed nearly all of the early rounds of the Princess Cup, but this was the jewel in the crown, as these two old friends stole the show.
What made this special was the sense of how much it meant to them, particularly Misao. There were no antics here but instead a focused, aggressive superhero who went after Rika’s arm with violent intent. We don’t often get serious Misao, but that makes it all the more intriguing when she does show up, dropping the shenanigans to show off how good a wrestler she is. I mentioned it in my original review, but I was struck by how smoothly she transitioned between moves, dropping Rika with a DDT before twisting into an armbar. It’s not just the execution, but the elegance of it, each movement slipping perfectly into the next.
This match would work without that, though. It would work because Misao and Rika’s interactions are built on their shared history. It sparkles and pops through everything they do, as you believe these two know each other inside and out, but use that to motivate them rather than cause them to hold back. I find it impossible to watch them fight and not get swept up in the emotion of it, pushed along by how much they care. All the best wrestling has that, and when Misao and Rika are together, they are two of the best.
More Matches You Should Watch
Masa Takanashi vs Lulu Pencil (17/7/21)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1xHJe_ZZCQ – Lulu warmed up for her match against Chris Brookes with a brilliantly inventive showdown vs Masa.
Maki Itoh vs Raku (25/7/21) – Raku goes up against the woman that inspired her to break out of her shell.
Chie vs Chris Brookes (25/7/21) – Chie’s remarkable year continued with another standout performance.