I don’t trust people whose favourite wrestlers win all the time. I’m not saying you can’t like them. I love Miyu Yamashita and Takumi Iroha, but if they’re your absolute favourite? Nah, that’s sus. That leads me to also assume you’re the sort who decided late in life to support Man City, Real Madrid or Celtic because you believe football is about winning lots of trophies and not the pain and suffering of watching some useless bastards fail to kick a fucking ball around. We all know the type, right?
Those I do trust gravitate towards the oddballs, the weirdos and the losers. The wrestlers who plug away in the midcard, occasionally rising up to get a moment of joy, only to slip away again soon after. In other words, someone like Nodoka Tenma, a lover of fried rice with white rice on the side and one of my favourite people on the planet, who has graduated from TJPW to go grow the rice that makes her so happy.
In saying all that, I don’t actually remember the moment when I decided Nodoka was my favourite. It would have been early in my TJPW watching and may well have involved her having a snack on the apron or perhaps failing to be as tall as Chris Brookes even while hoisted up onto Yuki Aino’s (her sister) shoulders. Whatever it was that convinced me, though, it stuck. TJPW is one of the best companies around, and I adore most of the roster, but Nodoka sits above them, whether she’s winning tag titles with Aino or sneaking off to the hot tub in the middle of pool wrestling to hang out with some oranges. Regardless of circumstances or mood, she’s someone who never fails to make me smile.
A big part of that comes from Nodoka’s unusual blend of power and vulnerability. On the one hand, Tenma is a wee hoss. She and Yuki have often been compared to the Steiners, and she’s more than capable of throwing the bulk of the TJPW roster across the ring, despite her diminutive size. On the other hand, she’s positioned as a figure of fun – a target to be picked on and teased (in a loving way). Yuka Sakazaki has taken particular pleasure in tormenting her over the years, liking nothing more than pinning Tenma down and blowing raspberries on her stomach. While Nodoka is definitely strong enough to defend herself, you get the impression that she’s ultimately too gentle to do so. One of the few times we have seen her rack up the intensity was during a tournament with some Genghis Khan vouchers on the line, at which point the potential of free food had Tenma putting her game face on. She’s got her priorities right.
I haven’t even touched on Nodoka-Oneesan, Sanshiro Takagi’s plan to try and get more children into TJPW. Sadly, that part of it didn’t work, but it did earn her a legion of much older fans, excited to join in on her exercises. The character’s occasional revivals over the last couple of years have always proven a delight, whether it was her donning the costume herself at Ittenyon 2022 or her opponents doing so for the Universe Members Show back in 2020. I reckon Takagi could have thrown something ten times more ridiculous at Tenma, and she would have embraced it. She probably would have pulled it off just as well, too, that unending charisma and uncomplicated decentness carrying her through.
And yes, she dabbled with the tag titles. After falling short so many times, she and Aino finally won the belts at the end of 2020, and while I would have liked their reign to have been longer, I’m just glad they got them that one time. It was their reward for being one of TJPW’s most consistent tag teams, always ready to be dropped into a match and deliver. However, as I made clear at the top, she could have never laid a finger on a belt, and her career would have still been incredible because Nodoka was so much more than that. She was a brilliant wrestler who made me laugh, gasp and cry. I’m going to miss her a hell of a lot, but I’m delighted I got to see her before she went, and I’ve no doubt that the farm she’s off to will be a better place for her presence.
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