I’m still not over 2021 being done and dusted, but we’re somehow already a month into 2022. However, the increasingly fast and unrelenting nature of time aside, January was a hell of a month for wrestling. A whole host of companies came out of the blocks quickly, and I had a lot of stuff to talk about. So, let’s stop jibber-jabbering and get on with it.
It didn’t even take Hirota a day to give us her first great moment of 2022 as she kicked off the year by engaging in a Go vs Fujita staredown with Kamen. In a rare twist, though, it wasn’t Hirota who stole this show. Instead, that honour must go to Tommy, whose increasing frustration at these two goofs refusing to wrestle was hilarious. Referee Tommy is one of those figures who is such a fixture of the scene that you often take her for granted, but a match like this would have been significantly worse without her presence. Hirota and Kuishinbo can be very funny alone, but a sprinkle of Tommy made it even better.
Right, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. This match ruled. I can’t imagine a world in which it didn’t rule, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that you should watch it.
However, on top of it being really good, it also got me excited. The end of 2021 was a nerve-wracking time to be a joshi fan, as every week seemed to bring with it another massive slab of news. Whether it was Prominence and Maya Yukihi leaving Ice Ribbon, Nanae stepping away from SEAdLINNNG or the end of AWG as we know it, it just kept coming. Quickly, we all came to realise that the scene was not going to look the same in 2022, and if, like me, you get anxious about the idea of change, that could be a problem.
And yet, watching this match killed off the remnants of those nerves. There was something about seeing these four, three of whom are no longer contracted to a traditional company, going out and putting on this hard-hitting, fun and brilliantly wrestled affair that made me realise that everything will be fine. It’s not that this couldn’t have happened last year (it easily could have), but that it showed the attitude that the former AWG people are bringing into this new stage of their career. They’re taking on the big world headfirst, and that’s really exciting. I came out of it not only pumped by the action but also desperate to see what these two teams could do with their newfound freedom.
Kaori Yoneyama is a treasure that must be protected at all costs. She came into this match as the reigning Queen Elizabeth champion but also fucking terrified at having to go through a hardcore bout with Yuki and Miss Mongol. With only a hard hat and a comedy toy hammer to protect her, she then tried as hard as she could to keep this as un-hardcore as possible, including pulling chairs and tables out of the way when other people were about to be thrown through them. Then, when Yuki and Mongol did get their hands on her, she took some truly horrifying bumps, including one onto a footstool that looked like it broke her. But that’s Yone. Not only is she one of the funniest wrestlers around, but she’s also one of the hardest working, and it’s no surprise that she continues to sacrifice herself when she really doesn’t have to. Whether it’s committing to a comedy bit or a bump, Yoneyama will always go ten steps further than the next person, and that’s why we love her.
Baliyan Akki has previously mentioned that he thinks every wrestler should be made to perform in Ichigaya Chocolate Square to see how good they are when stripped of the delights of a ring. Well, to add to that, I’d say every wrestler should also have to do the DDT nonsense gauntlet. They should have to face-off with your Pokotans and Yoshihikos (who Brookes also wrestled the month) and see how they can deal with getting in the ring with oversized or unresponsive foes who, quite frankly, aren’t about to make things easy for you. Wrestling someone whose head can’t even fit through the ropes is a complication most people don’t have to deal with.
And yet Brookes not only managed it but made a damn good showing of it. This match was a blast, centred around Chris having the time of his life hamming it up. At one point, Pokotan’s head flew off (as it is wont to do), and Brookes sold it to perfection, the pantomime shock only adding to the hilarity of the moment. Being Chris Brookes, though, and one of nature’s great bastards (more on that later), it would only inspire him. At the end of the match, he made sure to put the otter out of commission, caving in its skull with a horrifying Double Stomp.
I’ve said it before, but Brookes is living the dream. It’s unlikely now that I will ever become a wrestler (although the dream is never truly dead), but if I somehow did, I’d want his career. Since moving out to Japan, he’s won titles, wrestled the likes of Masato Tanaka, Jun Akiyama and Mecha Mummy, teamed with Minoru Suzuki and now crushed a giant otter’s massive head. What more could anyone want?
If you’d asked me just a few months ago what I expected Suzu Suzuki’s first match of 2022 to be, I reckon I’d have got through a few thousand answers before I came up with a deathmatch vs Chris Brookes in GakePro. And yet, here we are! Suzu’s going out into the big bad world and facing off with a man her extensive research told her is ‘very tall’. With a brain like that, she’ll go far.
While the existence of this match is surprising, the fact it ruled was nothing of the sort. Few people play the bellend as well as Chris Brookes, as he came out with a smug grin on his face, laughing at how short Suzu is (suggesting he didn’t do his research). Brookes then heeled it up to the max, mocking and belittling Suzuki at every opportunity and even pulling Drew Parker in to give him a helping hand. In turn, that allowed Suzu to do what she does best, playing that battling babyface role brilliantly.
It didn’t take long for the violence to ramp up either, as Suzu was busted open, and the ring became a mess of bells and thumbtacks. Brookes and Parker even introduced a coffin, which I assume is just a standard part of the Gake itinerary. Wherever it came from, all of it was put to good use, with Suzuki taking a beating but making sure to dish out some of her own, at one point stapling Brookes in the arse when he resisted her attempts to powerbomb him off the top. Most importantly, though, she pulled out her signature deathmatch move, a swift punt to the bas that was very satisfying indeed.
And I think this match gave us an insight into why Suzu left Ice Ribbon behind. It’s been said before, but when she’s wrestling this style, you can feel the joy pouring off her. Yes, Ice would let her do it occasionally, but it was never going to be the focus, but now it can be. She can turn up in Miyacoco’s brilliantly weird wee promotion and have matches like this whenever she wants. That’s exciting, not just for her, but for everyone because she is damn good at this stuff. Her 2022 might not have started the way we predicted, but it still started well.
As Miyacoco was once again whacked in the arse with a baseball bat because of her inability to stop laughing at Risa Sera’s impressions (none of which got past the stage of her staring blankly into the distance), I did begin to question why she’s created a match type that she is so terrible at. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that nothing could be more Miyacoco. She might have lost every single Gake No Fuchi rules match since the promotion’s return, but her belief that she is not only the main character in her life, but everyone else’s too, drives her forward, convincing her that the next one will be the moment it all turns around. Then, Risa Sera spins her round and round and round until she’s about to throw up, and the dream comes crashing down. Oh well, there is always next time, and at least they continue to be endlessly entertaining.
Wrestling’s relationship with titles is fucking weird. You can find people who believe they are crucial to this whole shebang and should be protected at all costs, while others view them as a mere prop, ready to be discarded at will. Wherever you sit, though, you probably believe that a title run should mean something. You should be able to look at the beginning and the end and plot a course between the two, showing how the wrestler has changed over that journey. I’m not sure there has been a clearer path in recent times than Hikari Noa.
Because while most would agree that Noa was more than ready to win the International Title, it looked like she wasn’t so sure. Her first defence, against Marika Kobashi, had Hikari looking nervous about the responsibility she’d been handed, and the match didn’t reach its full potential because of that. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think that hurt her reign at all. In fact, I think it made it what it was. Because since then, we’ve watched Hikari grow into that confidence, finding her feet and rising to meet the high bar that Kamiyu set with this belt. It was her own coming of age story.
And, in what was perhaps her most complete performance yet, it came to an end against Itoh. Not with trumpets and triumph, but with a knockback, as she came up against an opponent she couldn’t yet overcome. Now Noa needs to go out and lay the grounds for the sequel, and whether it’s with this belt or the big one, I can’t wait to see it.
There was a moment towards the end of this match where Miyu was about to take off for Crash Rabbit Heat, and Mizuki could only respond by desperately grabbing onto her leg. It looked less like a counter and more like a small child clinging to their parent in the hope they won’t leave. Only here, the consequence of letting go wasn’t Mum and Dad leaving you alone at school for the first time, but Yamashita driving her knee into your skull.
It was a spot that captured something that has run through a lot of Miyu’s defences, and that’s her opponent’s realisation that they just can’t do it. That even when they’ve done everything perfectly, Miyu is still that little bit better, and if you give her a single opportunity, she will kick your head into the last row. Mizuki was incredible in this match, but Yamashita always had an answer, and the challenger was as aware of that as we were. Finally, it got to the point where all she could was grab on and delay the inevitable.
I’d gone into this certain that Mizuki was going to be the one who dethroned Miyu, and they caught me off-guard once again. Now? I honestly don’t have a clue, but that’s what makes it exciting. Miyu has become a monster, and whoever takes that belt from her will have to be better than perfect, which is something I can’t wait to see.
Hideki Okatani following Suzu Suzuki to the ring with a barbed wire baseball bat reminded me a lot of when I decided to get into emo because a pretty girl who I had a crush on was a fan. Suzu’s only been freelance for a month, and she’s already proving a bad influence on youngsters from all walks of life. But hey, maybe it will lead to Hideki discovering himself. While I haven’t talked to that girl in a long time, I still listen to ridiculous amounts of emo for a man who sadly turned 30 last week. So perhaps we just saw the birth of a future deathmatch legend?
If we get even a handful of moments this year that make me as happy as the one where Ai Houzan bundled up Tomoko Watanabe, then we will have twelve brilliant months of wrestling. Oka and Ai, as Team Yellow’s resident pests, have quickly become my favourite pairing, and I was in love with this match even when I assumed it was going to end with them being squashed by the veterans. When they won, though? The last moment that got that reaction out of me was Yuuki Mashiro eliminating Tsukasa Fujimoto by putting her over the top rope in that joint AWG and Ice Ribbon show. It’s a combination of shock and joy that only comes around every so often.
And that, friends, is why people like Tomoko and Ito should still be protected. Not only are they figures who deserve respect (and bring in a lot of fans), but if they don’t get beaten every week, the moments where they do are a million times more impactful. Oka and Ai have already captured magic together, but now they’ve received a rub from elsewhere, and it seems those in high places have big plans for these brilliant rookies.
The overwhelming response to this match on my Twitter timeline appeared to be one of disappointment. It’s not that people hate it. In fact, they come away thinking it was good, but just not on the level that you might expect from two wrestlers of Hash and Iroha’s talents. I can see why that would be the case, too. Compare their matches with Chihiro’s wars against Mio, and it isn’t much of a competition. Momono and Big Hash were outstanding, while Big Hash and Iroha have really good wrestling matches. And yet, I still loved this.
I loved it because it felt like the final act in that extraordinary feud between Marvelous and Sendai. For the last year, Big Hash has been the thorn in Marvelous’s side. If I remember correctly, the only time they managed to pin her was in the gauntlet match, and since then, she’s been on a rampage, smashing through Marvelous’ wrestlers in tags, singles and handicaps. It didn’t matter how many people they threw at her because Hash was always ready to drop them on their heads with a German.
Then along came Takumi, and in her, Marvelous finally had someone who could toe to toe with Sendai’s Ace. Iroha could not only take her down with vicious kicks but hoist her up for the Running Three and finally put this monster to bed. Yea, that’s a simple story, the Ace coming back to save the day, but it’s a good one, and it works. Plus, if, as we all suspect, the end goal of this is to have Takumi put over Mio, then it’s the perfect setup for the best wrestler in the world taking her crown.
Prominence’s first solo effort was more of a taster of what is to come than a fully fleshed out show, and it took place with the four fit members of their roster wrestling on what looked like a slightly padded big bag wedged between a stage and a cage. And it was perfect.
It wasn’t perfect because the wrestling was brilliant, but because it showed that this gang of women are determined to chase their dreams. They will rock up and fight wherever they have to because this isn’t about massive crowds or selling out stadiums (although I’m sure they won’t say no to either). It’s about them getting to do the stuff they love, and if that means adapting to odd circumstances, then they will goddamn adapt.
This gave me a lot of the same feelings as Luminous vs galaxyPunch! because it wasn’t only a fun watch but a statement of intent. Prominence are going out into the wider world of wrestling to do things their way, and I can’t wait to watch them do it.
If TJPW doesn’t find a way to give us ASUKA vs Miyu, I will do a complete 180 and declare their booking is total bollocks. The teases we got here just weren’t enough, and the thought of ASUKA, who is unlike anyone else in Tokyo Joshi, going after that title is ridiculously exciting. Give it to us. NOW!
Yes, this is an excuse to talk about Ai Houzan again. No, I won’t stop doing that.
Because watching this match, it struck me for the first time (and it really should have occurred to me earlier) that Ai is a true disciple of Mio Momono. It’s not just her rabid goblin antics (she both started calling Yuki granny in this match and screamed down a phone at Hirota), but also the bloody-minded determination that she approaches wrestling with. Houzan will happily gnaw her way out of submissions, and you can’t tell me she didn’t learn that from training with Mio? That all-consuming desire to keep going is pure Momonoism, and watching Ai bring it out into the world is a blessing.