I swear it was only a week or so ago that I was putting together this list for the end of September, but here we are, the spookiest month of the year is in the bag, and alongside watching a shitload of horror films, I did find some time for wrestling. It ended up being quite a busy month, what with TJPW and Stardom running big events, the G1 ending (I didn’t watch it, but people still care) and AEW continuing to make things enjoyable in America. So, what did I watch and, more importantly, what did I enjoy? Time to find out.
While Bryan Danielson vs Kenny Omega was great, the thing that’s got me really excited about the return of American Dragon is the thought of him working five to ten-minute TV matches in that Danielson-style. I want to see him kicking the shit out of people before putting them away with a vicious flurry of elbows.
And while this match wasn’t quite that, Jackson is too important to be squashed, Danielson still dominated the bulk of the action. He’s being pushed as the killer he was pre-WWE, booting Nick around the ring and twisting him up in submissions. There’s nothing particularly complex about it, but there doesn’t need to be. That kind of wrestling has a simple, visceral thrill, as watching people’s chests slowly darken and turn red from stiff kicks and chops is something we can all understand. Even more so than the Omega match, this was AEW letting you know that Bryan Danielson was back, and he’s going to murder any fucker that stands in his way.
As a final note, because I don’t get many chances to talk about AEW, I wanted to point out that commentary selling Jackson as a tag-team specialist was a cool touch. It acknowledges that tags and singles are very different mediums, which play to different strengths and weaknesses, and in doing so, protected Nick Jackson. Yes, he ultimately lost this match, but he was also out of his depth, fighting one of the greats in a setting where he’s not at home. American TV wrestling has ignored touches like that for too long, so it’s nice to see a big mainstream company giving us them.
I love produce shows because they give people the opportunity to book matches like this. Who doesn’t want to see this bizarre, yet intriguing, combination of wrestlers together? It was almost a guaranteed lovely old time.
And, unsurprisingly, it ended up being precisely that. Whether it was Rina getting frustrated at Yunamon overpowering her or Saki and Mei showing surprisingly great chemistry for two people who had only been in the ring together once before (back in 2019 when they teamed in DDT), everyone clicked, and the action flew by in a flurry of good wrestling and laughs. They managed to make it look like anyone could walk out and be this entertaining, and while that’s clearly bollocks, these four are talented enough to trick you into thinking otherwise.
The main story of this match was the returning Maria managing to go the distance against Rin, making it to the time limit despite her four months out. However, I’m not going to talk about that (if you do want to hear more, you can check out my original review). Nope, I’m here to focus on wee Ai Houzan.
Because while Ai has been impressive since day one, this was a coming of age moment for her. She’s still very much a rookie, firing off with dropkicks and bloody-minded determination, but this was the first time I’ve seen her be confident enough to experiment in the ring and get her goblin juices flowing. I thought the peak of her match would be the moment she gnawed her way out of an Itsuki submission, but no, Ai one-upped that when she decided she couldn’t be arsed dancing around trying to stamp on Rin’s foot and instead booted her between the legs. That the cocky wee rookie then knowingly pointed at her head, celebrating her own genius, was the cherry on top.
It seems Chigusa has found another one, and I’m very excited to see where her career goes from here.
I was trying to figure out what matches I wanted to cherry-pick from this card, and I realised that isolating one or two wouldn’t work. Wrestle Princess II was a special show, so I want to talk about it all.
Because, while there has been some kickback against this online (mainly from people pissed that Itoh didn’t win), I thought it was perfect. Comparing this card to last year’s, you can see the growth that TJPW has gone through in that time. Nearly everyone has stepped up a level or two, from Raku and Pom being trusted to carry rookies to fun openers to Miu Watanabe getting to square-off against Aja Kong. One of the complaints from those who moan about TJPW’s booking is that they never elevate anyone, but I think the whole company has been elevated. Wrestlers like Kamiyu, Hikari Noa, Yuki Aino, Suzume and, yes, Maki Itoh have come on leaps and bounds. There was a time where Miyu, Yuka and Shoko seemed miles ahead of everyone else, but now, they’re surrounded by people capable of reaching their level.
And the reason that I can’t get on board with any of the complaints about TJPW’s booking is that I am in love with the journey. I don’t see Itoh losing a single match as some earth-shattering horror because we’ve all watched her fight to get there. I’ve witnessed her go from a charisma machine who couldn’t wrestle to this incredible, fully rounded performer, all while retaining her unique Itoh charm. The idea that a single defeat would somehow negate that is laughable. She’s not alone either. Only a year and a half ago, Raku couldn’t win a match. At last year’s Wrestle Princess, we watched Hikari Noa fall at the final hurdle, failing to win the International Title. This year, she successfully defended it, clinging onto it against Aino. Christ, even the Sugar Rabbits, one of the most protected acts in the company, came up against the team that always beats them, NEO Biishiki-gun, and finally bloodied their noses. I am invested in the story of nearly everyone on this roster, from the people opening the card to the main event, and that is why these big shows are so special.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that you have to like TJPW or Koda’s booking. At the end of the day, you like what you like, but for me, this company is doing something astonishing. It’s a project, one where every person involved is pulling in the same direction, and I want to be a part of that. I want to feel like I have a wee stake in helping these brilliant wrestlers get to the top. If you believe that a single result can derail that, it’s your prerogative, but I feel sorry for you. Because those of us who get it are on one hell of a path, and I’m consistently excited for what comes next.
The longer you go without paying attention to a promotion, the harder it can be to dip back into the big shows. Yes, you can always appreciate good wrestling, but it’s never going to be the same as when you’re watching every week, clinging to your favourites and willing them on. Thankfully, there are also exceptions to the rule, exceptions birthed by stories that haven’t been cooked up over a few months but from years of patient build. Stories that mean when someone like me pops by Stardom to say hello, I’m reminded why I love the likes of Tam and Mayu as much as I do.
Despite that, when I saw this went to a thirty-minute draw, I almost considered not bothering. Yes, I adore these two and love the story they’ve told of Nakano standing by Iwatani’s side as she’s given her attention to countless new toys (or returning old ones) only for Mayu to get frustrated when she did similarly. It’s one of those rare angles that rings true to real life, no goodies or baddies, but two friends who can’t quite figure out what they want from each other. However, a thirty-minute draw in a promotion where the house style has veered from my taste felt destined to be a chore.
Thankfully, I was wrong. I’d forgotten that few people are better than Tam Nakano when it comes to emotional storytelling. It’s why her white belt match with Arisa is one of my favourites of all time, and it’s a big part of what made this so great. From the bell, Nakano wrestled with a ferocity that we don’t often see from her, driving Mayu’s head repeatedly into the mat. You could almost see the frustration bubbling out of her as she tried everything to put her hero away, culminating in a final gasp where she hit suplex after suplex, desperately trying to kill Iwatani and rise above the woman she adored.
And that leads to the second thing that made this work, Mayu Iwatani is still really fucking good. She matched Tam’s intensity, the two of them shoving Daichi away when he tried to stop them fighting on the outside, as she once again faced a former friend who had turned her back on her. This time it was different, though. Whether Mayu openly admits it or not, Tam leaving STARS wasn’t entirely her own choice, and you could sense a bit of that in her performance. When facing Saki Kashima last year, Iwatani went cold and murderous, dispatching her former friend with brutal efficiency. She couldn’t do that against Tam. Nakano is such an outwardly emotional person that Mayu couldn’t turn it off, and she was forced to wrestle Tam’s match, coming so close to losing that you got the sense it was only the time running out that saved her.
It made for the kind of action that reminds me there is still plenty to love in Stardom, even if the general direction feels like it’s not for me. I’m unlikely to ever go back to watching every week, but I’ll always pop my head around the door to say hello to old favourites and remind myself just how special they are.
I know I raved about Hirata wrestling inanimate objects last month, but I’m going to need to do it again. This time, he was going solo against Yoshihiko, so the mad bastard only decided to do a fucking limb match.
What’s even crazier is that it worked. It worked because Hirata can wrestle anything. There was an extended period on the outside where Yoshihiko was driving Hirata’s arm into the railing and the ring post, and that shit should look ridiculous, but it doesn’t. Somehow Hirata has this gift for controlling that blow-up doll, making sure that it’s not only in the right place but that it moves eerily like a real wrestler, tricking your mind into forgetting that it is not a person. There was a moment where he kicked out of an Avalanche Hurricanrana, allowing Yoshihiko to flawlessly transition into a Fujiwara Armbar. Except Yoshihiko didn’t do that because he’s a fucking sex doll.
And I’m going to keep shouting about Hirata’s ability to do this because he will never get enough credit. The man is one of the most inventive workers around today, but because he does comedy, the mainstream will never be willing to pat him in the back and let him into the huddle. Thankfully, there are plenty of us who appreciate his genius, and I will happily watch him wrestle whatever and whoever for as long as he’s willing to do so.
How many matches must I have seen in which a determined rookie throws herself repeatedly at a badass veteran? It’s too many to count, and yet, I’ve never once grown bored of it. Riko charging across the ring at the bell to hit Saki with a dropkick is joshi rookie 101, but it still got me excited. I love watching these fired-up kids give their all in a fight that they can’t win.
It worked even better than usual here because of how this match was set up, Kawahata asking for a chance to prove herself, much to the anger of her mentor, Yumiko Hotta. Thankfully, Sanshiro Takagi was impressed by the youngster and let her get in there with Saki, giving her one opportunity to show what she could do. That was an opportunity she wasn’t going to let pass her by, as she started on the attack and did everything she could to stay there. It wasn’t so much that she no-sold offence as she (kayfabe) pretended it hadn’t happened, aware that it would eventually catch up with her but using adrenaline to keep going until it did. Kawahata wrestled like someone who needed every one in that arena to go away remembering her name, and I can’t imagine watching this and coming out not wanting to see more.
As for Saki, she delivered another flawless performance. In many ways, this was similar to her match with Yuna Manase from last month, where she got the rare chance (in DDT) to play the dominant, dismissive force. She had no qualms about booting Riko around the ring but also gave her those slivers of hope, letting her show off that boundless will to impress. It’s weird to think of Saki Akai as a veteran, but that’s where she is, and this performance showed that it’s a role she has down.
I believe that makes it too many to count plus one, and I’m not bored yet
Three things guaranteed to put a smile on my face: Mei Suruga, Momoe Nakanishi popping up for a cameo and SEAd High Speed shenanigans. Put it all together, and you’ve got a lovely evening planned. Thank fuck for Nanae, eh?
I wasn’t the only one hyped about this match-up. Mei Suruga is part of a generation of wrestlers who would have assumed that the chance to share a ring with Momoe was gone. And sure, she was technically the ref here, but Nakanishi took after her biggest fan, Natsuki Taiyo, and got involved at every opportunity. There was a moment where Suruga practically dragged her around the ring, forcing her to join in on as many Mei Jumps as possible and grinning with joy after every single one. It was a lovely snippet of pure fangirl enthusiasm, and it was hard not to get caught up in it.
Plus, alongside all that joy, it was a damn fine match. When she first started doing them, Akari seemed an odd fit for the High Speed division, but she looks at home there now while Leon is as reliable a wrestler as you can find. Throw in Momoe still looking like one of the world’s best and Mei being her usual chaotic self, and even if you stripped all the uniqueness away, it would still have been a great time. That coming together of two generations of outstanding goblins was what made it special, though, and while we can all still dream of Momoe vs Mei, at least we got this taste to show us what it could have been.
There was a moment in this match where I started laughing, not because something funny had happened, but because it was so fucking violent. Hanako and Arisa were hitting each other so hard that I either had to laugh or scream, and the first was easier to explain to my flatmate. SEAd main events are hardly known for going easy, but holy shit, these two took that to the next level.
And there were loads of big moments you could pick out to illustrate that. They repeatedly headbutted each other, Hanako at one point driving the back of her head into Arisa, while every slap sounded like it must have dislodged a tooth or two. However, I think what made it stand out in a company with plenty of stiff matches is that even the little digs were hard. There was a moment where Arisa booted a selling Hanako square in the face. It wasn’t a big spot, or even something that most have the live audience would have been able to see properly, but Arisa still made sure it hurt. She wanted to do a few random acts of violence, dished out because these two like hitting each other.
In many ways, it’s wrestling at its simplest. Two stiff fuckers laying into each other until one of them can’t take any more. However, I don’t want that to be mistaken for wrestling at its easiest. Arisa and Hanako are great at this shit, pacing the match to perfection, so the escalation of the violence felt earned. You feel the tension simmering between them as they push each other to go deeper and deeper, drawing out bigger and bigger blows. Any two pricks could wander in off the street and hit each other hard, but it takes brilliant wrestlers to make it mean something. Hanako and Arisa are those wrestlers.
Is there a wrestler working right now that understands their role better than Minoru Suzuki? It would be easy for him to be big-headed (he’s achieved enough in his career), but it doesn’t matter where he is; Suzuki works the match that the company and his opponent need from him. Here, he was ready to be a snarling, vicious bastard, out to remind Bryan Danielson exactly how hard you can be hit after his years of playing pro-wrestler for WWE.
And this was obviously great. I mean, it’s Minoru Suzuki vs Bryan Danielson. What else was it going to be? They were smart enough to keep it simple, going for a gurning, grunty, stiff match backed up by some great mat-work. It’s also one of those moments that makes me appreciate AEW. I’m never going to be someone who tunes in every week and gets excited about Cody or the Bucks, but if they can keep putting together cool shit like this while giving the wrestlers the time and space they need to deliver, I’ll never have an issue with them.
I say it all the time, but mischievous Raku is one of my favourite things. She spent most of this match convincing Pom to gang up with her on Shoko, and then running away when the consequences came knocking, leaving Pom to meet them solo. It didn’t matter how many times she did it either, every single one delighted me and left me wanting more. I get such a kick out of this train loving idol in her yellow frilly dress being a sneaky wee menace. It’s genius! Raku is god, and this god is a hell of a lot better than any of the other ones we have lying around.
Munny vs Wild was the first live wrestling match I’d seen in something like 21 months. So, if it had been total shite, the odds are I’d have still had a lovely time. Thankfully, it wasn’t. They played this to perfection, easing people into the show with some gentle humour before taking off, turning it into two big lads bouncing off each other. It was a blast of an opener and a lovely way to come back to this wacky world after so long without it.
What really stood out, though, were all those things that are unique to a wrestling show. I didn’t realise that I missed the sound of a ring squeaking, the slap of a chop or the satisfying thump when someone is slammed, but I did. I missed looking around at the various t-shirts, trying to spot someone into the weird stuff I am, and being too polite to point out to the guy who complimented me on my Maki Itoh shirt that it was a Miyacoco one. I missed cheering on a Viking called Caleb as he faced off against a young, pasty goth chap who was billed as being ‘Pure Evil’ but also spent most of the match whining to the ref. Watching wrestling at home is amazing, and I love it, but it’s even better in the building.
When Wild won, a small kid sitting in front of us leapt into his mum’s arms, cheering for his new hero. That’s another thing you don’t get at home, and as cynical and jaded as it is possible to be about the wrestling scene, that wee one’s pure joy was a heart-warming thing. It was great to be back.
With Marvelous’s one-day tag tournament seemingly designed to get Takumi and Nagisa in as many matches as possible, we got this showdown twice on the same day. Thankfully, it ruled both times, so you don’t have to figure out what one I’m talking about and can watch them both. YAY!
And no one needs me to point out that Nagisa and Takumi are great. They’re an all-star team that will never let you down, but the real standouts of these matches were Oka and Ai. The two rookies were brilliant, showing the kind of bloody-minded determination that I can’t help but fall in love with. In the opening match, they tried to get Nagisa counted out, Ai clinging onto her waist even as Takumi pulled her off her feet in an attempt to get her to let go. Anyone else would have accepted defeat long ago, but you were going to have to kill this rookie to get her to give up.
As for Oka, I have to continually remind myself that she’s 18. She already wrestles like someone with years and years under her belt, showing no fear as she took the fight to Iroha and Nozaki. Ai is still very much a rookie, all blood and thunder to make up for her unrefined technique (and I love her dearly for it), but Yurika feels like a pro. Sendai have something exceptional on their hands with her, and I’m already getting excited to see what her next few years are going to be like.
Finally, while I said that Takumi and Nagisa need no praise, it is worth pointing out that they gave those kids a lot. Not only did they let them get to the time limit draw in the first match, but they followed that up with a competitive final, one that tricked me into believing they might just use the fact our all-stars had wrestled five times to pull the upset. Even the finish served as a mark of respect, Iroha having to pull out the Running Three to keep Ai down for good. One of my favourite things in wrestling is the ability to get somewhere over in defeat, and they worked their arses off to make sure that was the case. Ai and Oka might not come out of these matches ready made stars, but it was clear to anyone paying attention that their companies have big plans for them, which makes me very happy.