Ramblings About’s Matches of the Month for March 2022

My champions. Credit: TJPW

Well, March was a busy old month, wasn’t it? With big shows happening all over the place, there was plenty to enjoy, and I’m not going to waste too much time blabbing on up here when there is more exciting stuff down there. Let’s get on with it.

Bonus: Hyper Misao & Nodoka Tenma vs The Magical Sugar Rabbits (Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki) vs Raku & Marika Kobashi vs Daydream (Rika Tatsumi & Miu Watanabe) vs Hikari Noa & Yuki Arai, TJPW Midwinter Pool Wrestling (28/2/22), TJPW

A lovely time was had by all. Credit: TJPW

I’ve written before about wrestling that exists purely for the joy of existing, but I’m not sure there has ever been a match that embodies that concept better than this one. TJPW’s trip to the pool is forty-odd minutes of pure joy, in which the wrestlers only very occasionally remember that they should probably do some moves.

And the playground that was the swimming pool birthed countless glorious moments. Whether it was Tenma sneaking off to sit in a hot tub with some oranges, Misao pulling a gun on Namba at the top of the waterslide or Raku and Marika hitting duel brain chops off a bridge, I never stopped grinning. I also suspect those involved felt the same way. Much like Chris Brookes and Drew Parker’s fight down the park with MAO and Shunma (check out last month’s round-up for more on that), this was soundtracked by the laughter of the wrestlers, everyone seemingly having the time of their life while creating chaos.

It also, much like that fight down the park, was incredibly relatable. Back in the day, getting into a swimming pool with some friends was a chance to do the kind of things to each other that would cause a lot more damage in the back garden. Okay, we maybe didn’t go quite as far as this lot, Yuka’s match-winning dive was terrifying, but we certainly did as much laughing and throwing each other in (although, sadly, we had to deal with things like lifeguards). I imagine that nearly every other young wrestling fan has done the same thing at least once, and watching these women play that on the largest scale possible (with the talent to take it to levels we never could) was incredible.

Now, how do we convince all the other companies to do one of these?

Sakura Hirota vs Haruka Umesaki, WAVE NAMI 1 (1/3/22), Pro Wrestling WAVE

It’s been a while since I reminded everyone that Sakura Hirota is one of the best wrestlers in the world, and this was the perfect match with which to do it. What I loved about this one was the feeling that Hirota was not only putting Haruka Umesaki through her paces as a veteran taking on a relatively inexperienced wrestler but was also testing out her nonsense credentials. At one point, Umesaki was laughing so hard that she couldn’t figure out how to put on a Figure Four, spending a good ten seconds trying to remember which way her legs were supposed to go. We also got an extended glimpse of her kancho dodging technique, the veteran realising that Umesaki would keep on wiggling away as long as she made a noise.

And everyone knows I’m a sucker for nonsense (if you don’t, you do now), but I specifically love getting to watch a young wrestler play in that world. We know Umesaki is a great worker, and she’s only going to get better, so this was a chance to see the other side. To learn that she’s also capable of being hilarious and is more than happy to laugh at herself. That’s no bad skill to have, and it will aid her (hopefully long) career well.

Tsukushi Haruka & Banny Oikawa vs Tsukasa Fujimoto & Saran, Ice Ribbon 1183 (5/3/22), Ice Ribbon

She was so sad she hid behind the ringpost. Credit: Ice Ribbon

I’m about to sound like a horrible human being, but I’m going to ask you to hear me out. With Tsukushi recently announcing her retirement, wee Saran got quite emotional in this match. In fact, before they’d even started, she was crying, having to duck out of the ring and let Tsukka kick things off while she tried to get control of it. She never really did, but she at least managed to calm down enough to wrestle.

And I think that made this. No, not because I find small children crying entertaining, but because it uncorked something that hadn’t clicked with me before. That wee lass clearly has an incredible amount of love for Tsukushi, and when I realised that, I also noticed how like her she is. From her gear to her toe stamping, Saran is so clearly a child of Skoosh, and the bond between them (even when they’re beating each other up) is clear to see.

It was a realisation that made me very happy. Like most people, I am gutted to see Tsukushi step away. She’s incredible, and I wanted to watch her for as long as possible, but I also get it. Haruka has been doing this for half of her life, and she’s only twenty-four. As much as I want her to go on forever, I also want her to do all the other things she wants to do. Hey, who knows, maybe she’ll even realise that she wants to come back to the ring one day. Whether that’s the case or not, though, this helped me realise that her legacy will live on. It will grow in people like Saran, who is already more talented than others twice her age. That’s a pretty cool thing to leave behind, and that wee lass’s love for her tells you everything you need to know about the person Tsukushi has become.

Mystic Young Fox (Yurika Oka & Ai Hozan) vs Gohkai Red (Yuki Miyazaki & Riko Kawahata), Marvelous (5/3/22), Marvelous

I think she was enjoying herself. Credit: MArvelous

I’ve already gone into this match in-depth (check out the review here), but I needed to reassert how excited I was when Dump Matsumoto came to Mystic Young Fox’s aid. It was a perfect moment, as everything from the evil grin on Dump’s face to Chikayo Nagashima jumping up and down with joy at having recruited a legend to Team Yellow added to it. The general perception around interference in wrestling is that it instantly makes a match bad, no matter the context, but this, right here, is why it can be brilliant. Dump still being a brilliant murderous bastard in 2022 makes me incredibly happy, and her doing it in aid of Mystic Young Fox only makes it better.

CM Punk vs MJF, Revolution (6/3/22), AEW

A lot of blood. Credit: AEW

This was a bloody, grimy brawl, and I loved it for that. It felt like something that would have been more at home in a smokey old room with two burly men stumbling around, bleeding over the punters as they wildly swing at each other.

Punk and MJF also managed to make their feud feel important for someone who isn’t invested in AEW at all. I only parachute in for the big shows, and yet, right from the entrances, with MJF teasing the crowd with ‘Cult of Personality’ only for Punk to one-up him by pulling out some AFI (a moment that was promptly over-discussed by the wrestling bores of Twitter), they made this feel vital. It didn’t matter that I have no relationship with that song (I know it as a casual AFI fan, but I haven’t seen a lot of Punk’s ROH run) because its presentation told the story. Punk was digging deep, looking for something to get inside MJF’s head, and that was everything I needed to know.

It’s all doubly impressive because I generally think MJF is a bit shit and that Punk often fails to live up to the hype (although at his best, he is extraordinary). I was the guy at the hardcore show, waiting for an excuse to cross my arms and look disapproving, and yet they were too good to let me do so. I felt like Punk and MJF had dragged me into the dirt with them, watching them scrap it out to see who could survive, and while I might not care about what they did the week after, on this night, I was more than happy to go there with them.

Yuka Sakazaki vs Arisu Endo, Universe Members Show – Pure Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling 6 (6/3/22), TJPW

The big match aprons were on. Credit: TJPW

While watching this ‘match’, I described it as an evolved form of Ready, Steady, Cook, and I’m honestly not sure I can do better than that. It involved Arisu and Yuka competing for ingredients in a selection of games (including musical chairs and something that involved a blindfold and crisps). Then, once they’d assembled their various items, they went backstage to get cooking before later emerging so that Referee Kiso could taste both concoctions and decide on a winner. In other words, there was zero wrestling in this wrestling match, and I was delighted by that.

Because yes, I fucking love watching folk pretend to fight, and I don’t want to get rid of it, but I also love wrestlers. I love the fact they’re all fucking mental nonsense merchants, and I don’t have to be watching them fight each other to take pleasure from that. In fact, sometimes it’s nice to see them do something completely different. Big match Yuka rules, but how is chef Yuka? Does Arisu have the natural flair for cooking that she does for wrestling? These are the questions this match asked, and I wanted to know the answers.

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Hifumi Saito, Ice Ribbon 1185 (12/3/22), Ice Ribbon

Ahead of her retirement, referee Hifumi Saito got to have her first and last wrestling match. In what was originally scheduled to be an exhibition, Tsukka pulled a fast one on Saito and switched it to a regular bout, saying afterwards that it was a gift to someone who had wanted to be a wrestler but couldn’t.

Not only was that a lovely moment, but it turned out to be really entertaining. Yes, Saito isn’t the greatest wrestler in the world, but it would have been quite the shock if she was, and it was also irrelevant. Because with the Ice Ribbon roster surrounding the ring, pounding the apron and cheering her on while Tsukka slipped into the role of party ruining villain, her one match turned out to be incredibly memorable regardless of skill. She even got to show a touch of defiance, refusing to give up when faced with Tsukka’s dropkick into the corner and even kicking out of a PK. It was perfectly put together and gave Saito her moment before she steps away from wrestling for good, which is a pretty cool thing to do.

While you’re checking this one out, you should also watch Tsukushi vs Asahi, which happened on the same show and was great.

Grand Princess ’22 (19/3/22), TJPW

I’ve got a lot of love for these goofs. Credit: TJPW

When considering what to talk about from this show, I realised that what made it special wasn’t the individual matches (although nearly all of those were great) but the experience as a whole. Grand Princess felt like Tokyo Joshi moving into their next stage, placing new pieces on the board and shifting old ones around to set themselves up for whatever comes next, and I loved it.

It was also a show that perfectly judged its peaks. Whether it was Misao getting her hero moment against Takagi, Nodoka vs Aino, or Shoko knocking Miyu off her perch, big emotional moments were scattered throughout, but they never felt exhausting. TJPW is fantastic at maintaining that balance, slipping in Raku and Ram getting married and wrestling the French aristocracy or the chaos of MagiRabbi vs Daydream as buffers between the tears and the hope. Even with it being a long old marathon of a card, I never found my attention wavering. Instead, each match came at the exact right moment, ready to pep me up or give me something meaty to get my teeth into.

And I think that’s true of Tokyo Joshi’s long-term storytelling too. I know some people get annoyed at them for being too conservative, but I think the path they’ve walked the last few years has slotted together perfectly. It’s not just one or two people who are levelling up, but the whole company, as everyone behind Miyu, Yuka and Shoko inch closer to them with each passing month. That’s also why I think putting the title on Nakajima is exciting because while she might be one of the few people who has Miyu’s number, she’s also more beatable than her. I could see a Hikari Noa or a Miu Watanabe or a Maki Itoh defeating Shoko for the belt, as she’s the near-perfect bridge between the old guard and the new.

Ultimately, Grand Princess gave me everything I wanted from a big show. We got exciting new rookies, extraordinary entrances, special guests, spectacle matches and a hint of where the future is going without discarding the past. TJPW continue to be one of the most exciting promotions going, and this show left me desperate to see what happens next.

WAVE (Nagisa Nozaki, Sakura Hitora, Yuki Miyazaki & Yumi Okha) vs Prominence (Risa Sera, Suzu Suzuki, Mochi Miyagi & Miyako Matsumoto), Detras De Lazona Vol. 3 (20/3/22), WAVE

Suzu got in trouble for being silly. Credit: WAVE

I’m going to use this WAVE vs Prominence gauntlet match to go off on a bit of a tangent, so I’ll start by pointing out that was a shitload of fun, features Suzu at some of her weirdo best and has one of my favourite Miyacoco based finishes of the year. Anyone who has bothered to seek out my opinion probably doesn’t need much more than that.

Because while I loved this as simply a match, I also feel like it’s a great representation of how exciting the joshi scene is right now. I know some people have floated the idea that everyone going freelance suggests it is in trouble, but I’m happy to call that utter nonsense. Instead, what we’re seeing is wrestlers realising there are enough good promotions out there that they can take their future into their own hands, choosing where or how they want to work. A group like Prominence can simultaneously conduct a ridiculous feud with WAVE while trying to destroy Donna del Mondo over in Stardom, and that’s perfectly fine because there is no home base requiring them to stay strong or work a certain number of dates. That’s not to say those home bases aren’t great (I love Ice Ribbon), but certain wrestlers flourish with freedom, and in Suzu, Risa and co, you have those wrestlers.

It’s only getting more exciting, too. Not only do we have Prominence and COLORS, but Nomads are joining the fray, and that’s before we even touch on long-term freelances like ASUKA, Yuu and Saori Anou. The scene is filled with talent who can rock up anywhere at any time and make an impact. If that doesn’t get you excited, what does?

Rina Amikura vs Totoro Satsuki, Ice Ribbon 1187 (20/3/22), Ice Ribbon

HOSS FIGHT!

God, I loved this match. It was the kind of performance that instantly raised these two in my internal rankings (that’s an entirely nebulous concept and not something I keep track of) as they bounced off each other brilliantly. Before this, Totoro has always felt like someone who wants to be a badass but isn’t quite there. However, in this match, I suddenly saw that wrestler come alive. She was holding herself like someone who knew she could beat anyone up, even if it was Rina, one of the few wrestlers who could perhaps match her physically.

As for Amikura, her performance here was the perfect balance between a hoss who could match Totoro’s strength and someone who isn’t quite on her level. She got to have her own big lass moments, but in comparison to Satsuki, her offence was a chaotic and wild. Totoro felt like the veteran (even though the two aren’t that far apart in experience), which ultimately allowed her to power through to the victory.

Look, there isn’t anything particularly complex about this, but if you love a good hoss fight, you owe it to yourself to see it.

Maya Yukihi vs Saki Akai, Judgement (20/3/22), DDT

Charisma-off. Credit: DDT

This match came about because Maya Yukihi feels like Saki Akai took the spot in DDT that should have been her’s. Simple, right?

And that’s why it works. There is something brilliant about a well-built, fiercely contested mid-card match where two people try to steal away as much of the show as possible. Maya and Saki didn’t need to overthink this. A basic tale of one trying to prove themselves better than the other was enough to build up a match that felt important, undoubtedly aided by the two of them oozing star power at every turn.

There is not a whole lot more to say about it. Akai and Yukihi are two great wrestlers who had a great match where they laid into each other. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend fixing that now.

Saya Iida vs MIRAI, World Climax – Day One: The Best (26/3/22), Stardom

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still a little bitter about MIRAI leaving TJPW. Not because I think she should care what I think, but because she’s a great wrestler, and I don’t have the time or the willpower to keep up with Stardom anymore. Selfishly, I want her to be in the company I love because it makes my life easier.

However, if she is going to go to the Stardom, I’m very glad she’s wrestling the giantest Saya. It’s no coincidence that the period where I’ve paid the least attention to Stardom occurred while Iida was out injured, and I am delighted to have her back. In MIRAI, she also happens to have found the perfect foe, as these two went out there with the simple goal of taking each other’s heads off.

And while that would have probably been enough, I also loved how much of a struggle this was. Iida and MIRAI hit hard, and it took its toll on both of them, each sequence feeling a little bit tougher than the last. By the final act, their desperate attempts to block each other’s lariats only seemed to cause more damage, as every blow was taking it out of both the recipient and the dealer. It was a fight, one where neither would come out in one piece.

It’s a point I’ve made a million times, but that’s all I want from my serious wrestling. Convince me that it’s a struggle, which the two people involved care about more than anything, and I’m probably going to follow you anywhere. Iida and Mirai both sold me on it long ago.

Bakuretsu Sisters (Nodoka Tenma & Yuki Aino) vs Miyu Yamashita & Shoko Nakajima, Spring Tour (26/3/22), TJPW

I miss her already. Credit: TJPW

SO MANY TEARS!

I’ve already written at length about Nodoka Tenma’s retirement, first in an article specifically about that and then in the review of this show, so I’m going to keep it short. Nodoka was the kind of wrestler who made dark days a little bit brighter, and while I am gutted that we have lost her, the farming world has picked up a good one, and I’m sure she’s going to grow some fantastic rice.

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Tsukushi vs Ibuki Hoshi vs Yuuki Mashiro vs Totoro Satsuki vs Asahi vs Kaho Matsushita vs Saran, Club Ice Ribbon Vol. 2 (30/3/22), Ice Ribbon

‘What are you doing, girl?’ – Yappy. Credit: TJPW

Fucking hell, this was brilliant. Ice Ribbon gave us a seventy-two match show, where everyone essentially ran a gauntlet of one-minute matches against everyone else. That meant they all faced off twice, and that utter chaos ruled.

And yes, that chaos was a massive part of why I loved it. We had Yuuki running around poking people in the eyes and demanding boxing matches, Ibuki chopping everyone who dared get near her and Tsukushi taking great pleasure in being, well, Tsukushi. There wasn’t a single pause in the action as match after match entered the ring, the poor wrestlers slowly being worn down by these one-minute sprints.

However, what was more suprising were the little stories that developed throughout. Things like Asahi establishing herself as the wildcard by attacking the ref on multiple occasions or Nao desperately trying to prove herself against her peer Mashiro. Most importantly, we got wee Saran putting on one of the gutsiest performances I’ve ever seen. She was only able to compete on this show because it was spring break, and by the time her gauntlet came around, she was already so tired that she was in tears. However, did that stop her? Of course not. Saran battled on, giving it everything she had and looking brilliant in the process. With every performance, I’m a little more convinced that lass is destined to be a special wrestler if she sticks with it, and this might have been the best indicator of that yet.

In the aftermath, Tsukushi got emotional, happy both to have made some more great memories before her retirement and that the future of Ice Ribbon is in safe hands. Watching this, it’s hard to disagree.

If you enjoyed my ramblings, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi. Even the smallest amount is appreciated.

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