This month started pretty quietly but then took off in the last week or so to the point where I am not caught up on all the wrestling. (Actually, I’m never caught up on all the wrestling, but hey, it’s nearly the Christmas holidays and who needs to spend time with the family?) The end of November has been a veritable feast, and there were all sorts of lovely treats to get my teeth into. So, as usual, I’ve put together a list of some of my favourites. Enjoy!
If this match wasn’t a deliberate tease for a Saki vs Hash battle somewhere down the line, then I’m going to be furious with DDT. Those two had instant chemistry, with even the visual of them standing across from each other, the tall and elegant Saki vs the short and powerful Hash, being enough to get me excited.
They lived up to it, too. Right from the bell, we got the lay of the land, Hashimoto trying to bring that power to the fight while Saki wanted none of it, preferring to stay back and tee off with kicks. It was an encounter built on the tension of knowing that if Hashimoto launched Akai across the ring, it was over. However, Saki (with a little help from Masa, who did a great job of running away from Hash and luring her into traps) was always too smart to get caught, depriving us of watching Big Hash do what she does best.
For the cherry on top, they looked like they weren’t done, squaring up afterwards in a very promising way. If that’s anything to go by, DDT won’t be letting me down, and that makes me happy.
When this result happened, I was hopeful it was a sign that Higuchi had a chance of winning the D王. Of course, we now know that wasn’t to be, but this was still the kind of performance that could have easily kicked off a winner’s campaign.
While that’s not me trying to suggest that Higuchi hasn’t pulled out great in-ring showings before, this was one of the more rounded performances I’ve seen from him. HARASHIMA came in with a plan, going after the big man’s leg and trying to take away his base. What was impressive was the way Higuchi sold that attack. It’s easy for someone with his physical presence to shrug off injuries, but he made sure to never let it go, remembering it all the way through the fight and up the ramp, as he got a helping hand from Eruption teammates Saki and Sakaguchi.
Even better than the selling was the last five or so minutes of the action, which was kicked off by Higuchi catching HARASHIMA mid-Somato, wrapping his giant arms around the Ace and slamming him to the mat. From there, this flew up the gears, as HARA sensed the monster was stirring and desperately tried to kill him. However, Higuchi was not to be stopped, delivering a horrific sounding headbutt and even managing to lariat away another Somato attempt. He was leaving this ring with the Ace’s head, and there was nothing HARASHIMA could do to stop him.
I’ve not been paying enough attention to DDT’s recent booking to know if Higuchi ever really had a chance of winning this tournament, but they’re going to have to push him sooner or later. The big man is getting far too good to ignore.
Anyone who has read one of these before will know how much I adore a rookie stubbornly throwing themselves at a veteran they know they can’t beat. YuuRi gave me a lot of that here, showing heart and determination as she desperately tried to take down Maya Yukihi. There was a moment that captured it perfectly, as she kicked out of a pin and flailed her body around as if desperate to get up but unable to do so. The battle was hard, but she was going out on her shield.
Importantly, though, I also thought Yuki was brilliant here. Her whole performance felt like she was testing YuuRi, even stepping into her first dropkick, accepting it to see what the rookie had. My favourite moment saw her challenge YuuRi to a game of oneupmanship, pulling out the classic trope of them taking it in turns to kick each other in the spine. However, when YuuRi obediently dropped to a seated position, ready to be booted, Maya taught her a lesson, dishing out much more of a kicking than the rookie expected. Key to it all, though, was that when YuuRi took it, clenching her fists and screaming, but never backing away, Maya returned the favour – retaking her seat and allowing the kid to get even. YuuRi had earned her respect, which is about as close to a victory as she was likely to get.
I’ve always enjoyed AEW’s big shows but very rarely loved them. I know why too, it’s because they’ve failed to tell stories that connect with me emotionally. There was Emi Sakura vs Riho, but that’s not really their story, and they put so little effort into it that Emi had to enlist the Gatoh Move roster to help fill in the gaps on Twitter. Full Gear, however, had two tales that I cared about. Foremost among them was Hangman Page’s ascent to the title, completing the path he’s been on since day one. Sadly, while I loved the moment, the match didn’t live up to it. So, I’m going to write about Eddie Kingston, a man who is quickly becoming one of my favourites.
And there are a few reasons for that. It’s partly Eddie’s badass 90’s AJPW-inspired style, partly his openness about his struggles with mental health issues and partly because he seems to have been really nice to Lulu Pencil. That’s a heady combination and one that’s almost guaranteed to get you in my good books. It also doesn’t even touch on the fact that he’s been incredible lately. Whether battling Danielson on Rampage or going face to face with CM Punk, everything Kingston touches turns to gold, and he is rightly being rewarded for it. You’d have to be made of stone not to love watching a man who thought he’d missed his chance not only get a second one but knock every ball thrown at him out of the park.
His Full Gear performance was no different. With tensions high after the aforementioned face-to-face, Punk and Kingston went out and had the exact match they needed to have. If there is an easy criticism of AEW’s house style, it’s that bouts are often overblown and overlong. Giving wrestlers the freedom to express themselves is a good thing, but you also need someone to reign them in a bit and make sure they’re not getting carried away. Thankfully, Kingston and Punk are smart enough to figure that out for themselves. They knew that no one wanted to see them have a wrestling match. The world was craving a fight, and they delivered it, keeping things short, sweet and violent. It made them both look great as they hammered away on each other, and while I would have probably had Eddie win, I’m not sure he needed it. The man got this crowd to boo CM Punk even after King cheap-shotted him with a Uraken before the bell. You don’t get much more over than that.
It’s tough to pay off long, sprawling storylines successfully. So often, these things lose steam, trailing away into nothingness. It’s even harder when those stories aren’t entirely of a company’s creation. Tsukushi’s journey back to the top of Ice Ribbon is as much about her real-life as it is wrestling. She went through some shit, but the company rallied around, looked after her and made sure she came out the other side. That was the most important part of it all, so it would be no surprise if the stuff happening in the ring fell away, coming second to looking after the real person.
And yet, Ice Ribbon managed to do both those things. Tsukushi has battled both behind the scenes and in front of them, pulling herself back up that level and proving she belongs at the top of the card. Last year’s title challenge against Suzu was outstanding, while her first attempt to take the belt from Tsukka is one of my favourite bouts of that reign. Meanwhile, she took over from Tequila Saya in the running of P’s Party, nurturing a new generation of Ice Ribbon wrestlers and proving she was ready for the responsibility. It has been an incredible blending of real-life and fiction, and it all built to this moment, her second challenge against Tsukka and her winning the ICExInfinity Title for the first time since 2013.
It’s a special thing that Ice Ribbon has done here. Not just because of the in-ring (in case you didn’t know, this match was fantastic), but because of the way they’ve acted as a company throughout. They looked after someone who grew up in their care when it would have been very easy to push her away. It was the right thing to do, and it’s paid off in the long run because Tsukushi Haruka deserves this and will be one hell of a champion.
I enjoyed the first round of Sendai’s rookie tournament a lot as the scene is in fantastic health when it comes to the number of talented young wrestlers coming through. Kaiju vs Kanon was my favourite match, though, because it perfectly summed up how varied and exciting this new generation is. These two are still pulling from mostly the same playbook of moves, aka lots of dropkicks, but they execute them in such different ways. Kaiju is a wee tank, built from that SEAdLINNNG go, go, go style that saw her nearly decapitate her 15-year-old opponent with the first dropkick of the match. In contrast, Kanon is a smaller, more technical wrestler, flying through the air for a springboard version of joshi wrestling’s favourite move. (Except, of course, when she starts pulling out Jackhammers, but we’ll ignore that for the point of this comparison.) They’re already putting their own stamp on these simple, basic techniques, and that makes me incredibly excited for what they’re going to do as they begin to figure out their careers.
Yes! This is the Danielson I’ve been looking forward to seeing, someone who doesn’t give a fuck about having great matches and is only interested in kicking your teeth in. This wasn’t quite a squash as Bryan made sure not to completely bury his old pal Colt. However, the Danielson we got here was a killer focused on nothing more than beating the shit out of his opponent. The repeated stomps to the head that set up the finish were the perfect summation of it, and I just love watching that man hurt people. If I were in charge of AEW, he wouldn’t just beat Hangman Page, he’d destroy him, and I genuinely believe that would be the best move going forward.
This match, right here, justifies everything TJPW has been doing over the last few years. Not that I feel like it needs to be justified, I love 95% of what they do, but the fact they’ve got Miu and Noa to this point proves to me that it is working beyond purely my enjoyment. TJPW are building a group of wrestlers who have the potential to be very special.
And I’m not trying to claim it’s news that Miu and Noa are great; they’ve been great for a while now. But this match, this fucking match. They went out there and nailed it, every single section slotting into place. However you want to describe it, five stars, ten out of ten, two thumbs up, it was that. Moments like Miu battering a Hikari dropkick out of the area or that immaculate bridge on the final Blizzard Suplex were perfect. I loved it so goddamn much, and it signified that these two aren’t just good. They’re incredible.
For a long time, TJPW was seen as a fun promotion, not a wrestling promotion, but they have been chipping away at that perception over the last few years. Now, two of the members of the idol group that opens their shows are putting on blow-away matches. That’s not surprising with Hikari, she’s a wrestling nerd who wanted this, but Miu isn’t. She admits she knew nothing about wrestling, the idol stuff was what attracted her, yet TJPW has turned her into a force of nature. Miu’s not just a good wrestler, but someone who has the potential to be extraordinary. That’s a hell of a journey, and it says all the right things about what they’re doing, no matter what some people on Twitter might claim.
Watching this match, I realised that one of Tsukushi’s greatest strengths is her inelegance. A lot of wrestlers of her size and stature make everything they do look effortless, but Skoosh doesn’t. That’s not to say she can’t be a beautiful performer, she can, but so often, she chooses to be a flailing ball of anger. When she’s selling, limbs fly out in every direction, and on offence, she’s more interested in stomping your head in than looking pretty. Of course, when the match is over, you get the impression that Skoosh would love to be one of those wrestlers, all frilly gear and prancing steps. However, when she’s mid-violence, that thought is the furthest thing from her mind. The contrast between those two ideas is one of the many things that make her incredible, and this match fucking ruled.
Jesus Christ, where do we start? This match, this beautiful, chaotic mess of a match. I watched the entrances three times before I even got started on the action, revelling in the utter insanity. People were dancing (some of them happier about it than others), Hibiscus Mii only had one shoe on, and Miyacoco was there, realising that it was kinda possible to sing her name to ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’.
It was chaos, but it’s the exact kind of chaos that wrestling should sometimes be. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think big matches need Miyacoco momentarily wondering if she too can dance like former dancer Riko Kawahata, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be injected into a show here and there. A lot of wrestling companies aim to project an air of professionalism. They want you to believe that everyone is there to fight and win and nothing else, but this was a match built on the idea of having fun, both in and outside of kayfabe. And crucially, for me, it never actually broke kayfabe. I believe that Takumi Iroha decided to go along with it for a laugh, that rookies Oka and Ai weren’t given much choice about doing a dance routine for veteran Nagashima’s entrance and that Miyacoco, hearing that such chaos was about to be unleashed, turned up because that’s her wheelhouse. In my mind, this can exist perfectly happily alongside something like the GAEAISM feud. Not every day needs to be a serious fighting day.
Most importantly, it shows why Marvelous is a company that you should be supporting. Chigusa Nagayo has fostered an environment that allows for both brilliant wrestling and beautiful nonsense, and if that isn’t something worth putting your money into, what is?