Where the fuck did August go? I probably say something like this every month, but Jesus Christ, the last thirty-one days have flown by. Still, there was plenty of wrestling to enjoy (although perhaps not as much as expected, thanks to COVID rearing its ugly head), so I have loads of great matches to tell you all about. Give it a read, and let me know if you think I’ve missed anything in the comments below.
Lulu Pencil vs Antonio Honda, ChocoPro 142 (1/8/21), ChocoProLIVE!
As this match descended into Antonio Honda performing a musical exorcism on Lulu and Ref Mei Suruga, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Fujita and Hagane title showdown that ChocoPro ran the day before. Now, I am aware that’s an absurd comparison, as those two matches were trying to do entirely different things, but one of them sums up what I’ve always loved about ChocoPro and the other the thing that’s caused my affection to waver at times this year. Hint, the sixty-minute draw is not the one I’m desperate to see.
Which is not to say that I don’t think ChocoPro can do big, serious wrestling matches. In fact, they do them better than most. Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen the likes of Yunamon, Mitsuru and Lulu Pencil build to career-defining moments where there wasn’t a fox puppet in sight. However, while all those stories got serious, they still retained that ChocoPro sensibility. It’s a different kind of creativity to Honda vs Lulu, but it’s born from the same source, the anarchic spirit that Emi Sakura cultivates in Chocolate Square. Hagane vs Fujita, on the other hand, was yet another epic match, the kind you can see in dozens of companies. This isn’t an issue unique to them either. I felt the same about Mei vs Fujita and several of Best Bros’ recent main events. While they’re all brilliant wrestlers, and those matches have things to praise about them, they’ve also felt like a shift towards a style that I have less love for.
Thankfully, even if the epics do continue, ChocoPro hasn’t left the things I adore behind (as you’ll see working your way through this list). They are still more than happy to send Lulu and Honda out there to have a match in which Gon (returning from hell, where Lulu had apparently sent him) unleashes his demonic powers on all and sundry. I might be in the minority with this (and I’m more than happy to be so), but while I’ll still watch the big matches, it’s the demonic fox that’s really keeping me around.
Hyakkin Thunders (Emi Sakura & Masa Takanashi) vs The 4th Generation (Chie Koishikawa, Tokiko Kirihara & Sayuri), ChocoPro 142 (1/8/21), ChocoProLIVE!
Sitting nicely with the point I made above, the second match on ChocoPro 142 was possession free and yet still had all the personality I crave. Here, it came about because Emi and Masa were teaming for the first time since Takanashi’s return from injury, and it quickly became apparent that they had some rust to work off.
Weirdly, it reminded me of going to see Barcelona vs Dundee United back in 2007 for a pre-season friendly. Now, even if you are clueless about football, you can probably guess who was expected to win that game. While Barca weren’t yet the Pep Guardiola led conquerors of Europe, it was still a team containing names like Xavi, Iniesta, Eto, Ronaldinho and a newly signed Thierry Henry. They were more than equipped to play Willo Flood’s Tangerines off the park and most people, including myself, were there to see a show and get a glimpse of some famous names first-hand rather than from any expectation of a competitive game.
Unfortunately, that show didn’t happen. You see, this was Barcelona’s first game of pre-season, so while we were hoping for silky smooth football, what we got was a disjointed performance from a group who weren’t quite in the groove. The new signings hadn’t settled, and while there were moments of class, Dundee United caused them a lot more problems than they should have. Barca would go onto win, but it needed Henry scoring a rebound from a penalty to get them that 1-0.
Similarly, Hyakkin Thunders were expected to beat the trio of Gatoh Move rookies in this match (there is a reason there was three of them), but it didn’t happen quite as quickly as they might have hoped. Early on, Masa and Emi spent more time getting in each other’s way and attempting double team moves that didn’t quite work at best or backfired at worst. In other words, they wrestled this like it was pre-season, giving the 4th Generation a rare chance to scare them. By playing into their time apart, Masa and Emi (and the three brilliant rookies) made this match so much more than it might have been, and that’s the kind of thing I will always associate with ChocoPro.
Rina Yamashita vs Suzu Suzuki, 15th Anniversary (9/8/21), Ice Ribbon
As this match went on, the sound of their footsteps morphed from the tinkling of the bells that Suzu has made her signature weapon to the crunch of the glass they’d smashed over each other’s heads. Whether deliberate or not, it felt like it nicely summed up Suzuki’s deathmatch journey. She’s gone from dipping her toe into the world of hardcore, testing out the waters, to embracing it fully, proving herself to be the perfect heir to the likes of Risa Sera and Rina Yamashita. While she wouldn’t win the FantastICE Title here, she and Rina went to war, and I’ve no doubt that somewhere down the line, that belt will be hers.
Emi Sakura vs Mei Suruga, ChocoPro Special Show (9/8/21), ChocoProLIVE!
Of course, just a few days after I wrote the above complaint about ChocoPro’s main event scene, they would drop this match on us and make everything I said sound a bit silly. However, there is a straightforward reason that this epic main event worked for me and the others didn’t. Mei vs Emi felt earned. For over a year and 150-odd episodes, ChocoPro has held off on doing Suruga vs Sakura. While they’ve faced off in countless tags, their last singles match was back in 2019, and yet, their teacher-student feud has never gone away. Every interaction between them is golden, their chemistry shining through as they slip into gears that few wrestlers have. With that history and their talent, they could have wrestled for two hours, and I would have loved every moment.
If you want my in-depth thoughts on the match itself, I’ve already written them, so click the link and away you’ll go.
Shoko Nakajima vs Miu Watanabe, Princess Cup (14/8/21), TJPW
Not to develop a theme, but if you want to understand why I think these epics are usually unnecessary, watch this match. Shoko and Miu went twelve minutes and twenty-seven seconds, and in that time, they did absolutely everything they needed to do and more. It was a perfect little story, captured by two people wrestling at the very top of their game as Miu is blossoming into a potential main eventer. Would I have watched them go longer? Of course, I thought the match was incredible, but that doesn’t mean it needed to. They knew the tale they wanted to tell, so to do any more than that would have overcomplicated it. Any artist knows that at some point you have to walk away or you risk ruining your own work, and by ending this match where they did, Nakajima and Watanabe made sure it was near perfect.
As a quick side note, I thought this entire show was incredible with a host of matches worthy of inclusion on this list, but I would have ended up repeating myself, so check out my original review here.
Aja Kong, Raku, Rika Tatsumi & Marika Kobashi vs The Magical Sugar Rabbits (Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki), Nao Kakuta & Pom Harajuku, Princess Cup (15/8/21), TJPW
Both of the Aja Kong matches on Tokyo Joshi’s Korakuen weekend were brilliant, but I wanted to pick this one out to give special praise to Pom Harajuku. Pom is one of these wrestlers who I have a massive soft spot for. There’s something about the way she bounces through life, being so incredibly Pom-like that I find particularly charming, and while she’s unlikely ever to win any match of the year awards, I’m glad she exists. I’m also ecstatic that she was willing to play the role of Aja Kong’s punching bag. The story here was that everything that could go wrong for Pom did, as she ended up being flattened by the legend on more than one occasion. It’s a particularly painful part to play, but Pom nailed it, selling everything wonderfully and never losing the optimism that bursts from her at all times. While everyone involved in this was great, and the snippet we got of Yuka vs Aja suggested they have a hell of a match in them, it was Pom getting beaten up that stole my heart, and she did a stunning job of it.
Maki Itoh vs Shoko Nakajima, Princess Cup (15/8/21), TJPW
Solely looking at it as a match, I probably preferred Itoh’s semi-final victory over Mizuki to her Princess Cup Final. However, I chose to include this one because of what it meant. Tokyo Joshi has been building to Maki Itoh breaking through and winning a big one for years. Her wrestling career up until now has been littered by nearly moments, and whether it be title shots or big showdowns with the likes of Miyu, Itoh has always fought hard but fallen short. Even when she won the International Title, she held it for a painfully short period, unable to keep a grasp on it when Thunder Rosa came calling. On this night, though, Itoh was as far from a failure as she could be. She beat Shoko Nakajima, won the Princess Cup and proved once and for all that she has found a world in which she belongs. After the well-documented struggles and pain that she has gone through to get here, Maki proved to be just as good as her bluster told everyone she was. That is a special moment, and whether she goes on to beat Yamashita for the Princess Title or not, she’s earned it a hundred times over. Congratulations, Itoh-chan, you did great.
(You can read my full review of this match and the rest of the show by clicking this link.)
Mio Momono vs Hibiscus Mii vs Sakura Hirota, Summer Camp in Korakuen (20/8/21), Marvelous
This match was pure unwatered down nonsense from start to finish, and it was wonderful. Hirota, Mio and Mii’s brains work in a way that I can’t even begin to comprehend, and I would pay a hell of a lot of money to see how they sat down and come up with something like this. I want to see them map out a journey that began with Hirota and Mii crawling to the ring, stuck in a battle that started at a WAVE show, and ended with Mio perched on the top rope, yelling at her chatting opponents as they refused to get into position for a dive that she was desperate to hit. The in-between was funny, surreal and all over the place, so it should be no surprise that I loved every second. Thank god for these fucking weirdos.
Chihiro Hashimoto vs Mei Hoshizuki, Summer Camp in Korakuen (20/8/21), Marvelous
There are certain matches that you can picture in your head, imagining how they’re going to go before they’ve even started. Mei vs Big Hash is one of those matches. We know Hoshizuki is going to scamper about the place, trying to avoid that incredible power, and we also know that eventually, she’ll probably get caught, at which point her defeat is inevitable.
And in what is sadly set to be Mei’s last Marvelous match, they didn’t pull out any surprises. I couldn’t have told you how it was going to go beat for beat, but I could have given you the basic structure and flow, and I would have been right. Yet, I still fucking loved it. I loved it because sometimes you don’t need to be shocked. You’re happy to see wee Mei try her best, charging about and looking to upset the odds, but you’re also happy to see the ending where she gets creamed because both of those things are brilliant. Hashimoto’s 2021 has seen her wrestle Marvelous goblins time after time, and the matches almost always play out the way I expect them to. Yet, I’ve never once grown bored of it, and I can’t see myself doing so anytime soon.
Hibiscus Mii vs Takumi Iroha vs Yuki Miyazaki, Summer Wars 14th Summer (22/8/21), WAVE
Let’s talk about Hibiscus Mii. Until this summer, she wasn’t on my radar. I caught a couple of her Colega matches (when that was a thing everyone was talking about), but that was about it. Then, she rocked up for Catch The Wave without her boots, and ever since, she’s been blowing me away with her brilliant comedic performances. WAVE has responded by pairing her up with Miyazaki and Hirota and seemingly just leaving them to it, letting them see how far they can push a joke. The answer? As far as they want.
For this one, Iroha joined the party, and while she’s not generally a comedic wrestler, she has proven to be a brilliant foil in the past. Takumi would end up the centre of attention, Yuki and Mii squabbled over her affection and Mii at one point turning a simple spot into a quick dance move that saw her getting somewhat flustered at being in Takumi’s arms. It was wonderful, with Yuki and Mii bouncing off each other while Iroha sold her bafflement to perfection. I may not know where Hibiscus Mii has been all my life, but I am very glad to have found her now.
CDK (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) vs Warm Caterpillars (Mei Suruga & Chie Koishikawa), ChocoPro 147 (22/8/21), ChocoProLIVE!
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better hot tag than Mei Suruga kicking her way out of a cupboard armed with a basketball disguised as an apple and a confetti gun. What’s incredible is that it was only one of the multiple moments in this match that I will look back on and chuckle at for years to come.
Because ChocoPro decided to celebrate Chris Brookes’ birthday by reuniting CDK and giving them a couple of goblins to wrestle, and Chie and Mei lived up to that goblin billing. They were on superb form, running rings around Brookes and Masa and even spiking a beer or two with tabasco. CDK, meanwhile, were the perfect bullies to try and wrangle them into some sort of order, locking Mei in the aforementioned closet before ganging up on poor Chie and forcing her to fight with her back against the wall. It all made for a wonderfully chaotic match that felt like ChocoPro at its very best.
With Emi Sakura on the other side of the world, those left behind have been leaning into the chaos (see also their summer special/the flooding of Ichigaya), and while I’m sure Sakura-san would disagree, it’s been a lot of fun.
Chie Koishikawa vs Sayaka, ChocoPro 148 (28/8/21), ChocoProLIVE!
August has been a big month for these two. First of all, they were both handed singles main events, Chie vs Yoneyama and Sayaka vs Makoto. Perhaps more importantly than that, though, they were given the honour of closing the 4th Generations’ second-anniversary show. This time, there were no veterans to bring name value or guide them through the action. It was Chie vs Sayaka in a moment that could have been sink or swim.
I don’t think there was any chance of these two sinking, though. The growth in Chie over the last year or so has been extraordinary, her confidence flourishing as she gets handed more and more responsibility. Sayaka, meanwhile, seems unflappable. She’s barely wrestled since the start of the pandemic, missing large chunks of action, but whether it’s a couple of weeks or a year, none of it makes a difference. She returns with the same big smile and vicious forearms that she left with. While Chie’s confidence had to be nurtured to get her to this point, Sayaka has always looked ready for the main event.
And what made this the match I chose to write about is that the opponents shaped those previous main events. If you wrestle Makoto or Yone, their characters are going to take centre stage, but this was all Chie and Sayaka. It felt like something crafted by them, and they told a remarkably mature, well-paced story. We saw Chie working over Sayaka’s knee but never quite finding a way to negate those killer strikes. In fact, the turning point came almost from a moment of weakness, a brilliant spot where Chie seemed to be grabbing onto Sayaka’s leg in desperation, but then managed to bundle her over into the Stretch Muffler that would eventually get the win.
With Emi heading over to America, August has felt like a reset for ChocoPro. They’ve gone back to what they do best as they figure out where they go next, and part of that has been giving people like Chie and Sayaka a chance to shine. It’s a opportunity they’ve grabbed with both hands, and while Emi will always be missed, there are people waiting to step into the gaps left behind.
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