Heads up, this is a long one. For whatever reason, April has been a particularly great month of wrestling, and it was only when I sat down to edit this that I realised quite how unwieldy it had gotten. Still, that just means there is more exciting stuff to enjoy, and that’s no bad thing, right?
Luminous (Miyuki Takase & Haruka Umesaki) vs Yuki Miyazaki & Hibiscus Mii, NAMI 1 (1/4/22), WAVE
I love WAVE, and I love that they will put their tag titles on a veteran comedy team like Miyazaki and Mii. Not only that, but they’ll do it in a match where Miyazaki and Haruka vanished backstage, later returning on a trolley pushed by Sakura Hirota, with Umesaki in the Super Shy Hold. Perhaps more than any other company, they understand that the opposite of funny isn’t serious and do a brilliant job blending the two.
It helps, of course, that Miyazaki and Mii are more than capable of keeping up with Luminous. Yes, they muck around, going for laughs, but Yuki is also in the midst of an incredible year that she’s not getting enough credit for. She’s in her forties, twenty-seven years into her career, and she was absolutely brilliant in a gruelling homestretch that saw her and Takase go hard. It’s easy to dismiss anyone who does comedy, especially when it comes to supposedly serious matches, but Mii and Yuki are more than capable of holding their own.
And I get why people might be a bit put out by Luminous losing to them. Takase and Haruka are a brilliant team, and I’m not sure Yuki and Mii need the belts, but who needs anything? They’re on such a roll that I don’t blame WAVE for wanting to capitalise on it. It will certainly keep me tuning in.
Suzu Suzuki vs Cohaku, NAMI 1 (1/4/22), WAVE
I recently had a wee moan in a TJPW review about superfluous forearm exchanges and their overuse in current wrestling. However, in the interests of balance, it’s worth pointing to this match as to how it can still be done in a thrilling and exciting way. Not only did Suzu and Cohaku lay into each other, each blow thudding out, but they sold them, stumbling back and struggling to recover. Then, for the cherry on top, they threw the my-turn-your-turn formula out the window, Suzu coming forward for her go only to be met by a thudding strike when she did. It looked and sounded ferocious, turning a spot that often feels pointless into a vital part of the match.
It was also somewhat reflective of this contest as a whole. In her return to the ring, Cohaku (the former Mikoto Shindo) came out swinging, looking like she hadn’t missed a day. This whole thing felt crisp, as every strike and every suplex had a tangible oomph behind it. Even when they ended up scrapping on the mat (during which Suzu kept trying to roll over and take the mounted position only for Cohaku to keep rotating and stay dominant), it felt like a battle that neither was willing to lose. This was a first-time match-up, but you would have never known, so instant was their chemistry.
Most of all, though, it just made me happy that Cohaku is back. Sure, as a bit of a Marvelous superfan, I’m sad that it’s not there, but if she’s got to go elsewhere, then WAVE is an excellent choice. She’s a remarkable talent, and if she’s already performing at this level after months out, I’m very excited to see what we get from her in the future.
ASUKA & Yuji Hino vs Chris Brookes & Shunma Katsumata, April Fool (1/4/22), DDT
Yuji Hino is my favourite wrestler, who I don’t watch a lot of. That’s not a deliberate thing, I’m not choosing to slot him into that category, but I only bump into him every couple of months. Whenever I do, though? Oh, it’s a treat.
A big part of that love comes from him being hilarious. Whether it’s the enthusiastic wave he shared with ASUKA during his entrance or the look of disgust he gives anyone’s attempts to chop him, Hino always makes me laugh. To make it even better, he gets those laughs without breaking character. They’re generated by him being a ridiculously massive man, and it wouldn’t be funny if Brookes and ASUKA did that same thing. The joke comes from Hino looking like he could rip your head off.
Unsurprisingly, the action around the big man was also entertaining. Brookes and Shunma were the perfect foils for ASUKA and Hino as they’re great wrestlers who are willing to be made to look like fools, which you need when your opponents are that cool. Plus, as we found out in the finish, they’re surprisingly bouncy, which is always good to know.
Bianca Belair vs Becky Lynch, WrestleMania 38 Day One (2/4/22), WWE
WWE has a habit of sapping the star power out of people. Something about that madhouse grinds away at them, leaving them a shadow of their former selves, but I really hope that doesn’t happen to Bianca Belair. I can’t claim to have watched a whole lot of her (in fact, the last match I saw was against Sasha at WrestleMania 37), but that woman has got it. Just watch how she bounced out for this, a bright spark in a company that can often be a dreary slog.
She wasn’t alone in shining either. Becky deserves a lot of credit for the way she put Belair over. From the start, you could sense the fear she felt at wrestling someone younger, faster and stronger than her. Lynch wanted nothing more than to get this over and done with, using her ring smarts to get the win and as far away from Bianca as possible. Then, when it began apparent that wasn’t going to work, the panic started to set in, and she gave Belair the room to shine.
Together, they gave us one of those matches that reminds you of what WWE should be. It doesn’t resemble the wrestling I watch every week, but it’s a dream factory where people like Belair can reach a peak that few ever get the chance to stand on. Quite often, those they elevate to that position don’t deserve to be there, but in Bianca, they have found a special one, and if they let her stand tall, she has the potential to be extraordinary.
Johnny Knoxville vs Sami Zayn, WrestleMania 38 Day Two (3/4/22), WWE
There are several moments in the new Jackass film (which I loved, by the way) where you get a taste of what it must be like to be on one of those sets. It’s not just that you’re regularly being booted in the balls for the world’s entertainment, but that at any moment, Johnny Knoxville might pop out with a taser, or the toilet you’re sitting on will explode. It looks like hell. Chaotic, enjoyable hell, but hell all the same.
And there was a big pinch of that in this match. Sami Zayn came in wanting to prove that Johnny Knoxville didn’t have what it takes to exist in his world. But, instead, Knoxville and his Jackass buddies turned the ring into their world, as every time Sami turned around, his fingers ended up in mousetraps, pyro went off, or he was being smacked by a giant hand. For one match, WWE became an episode of Jackass, and for a certain generation (which I am part of), there isn’t a better crossover than that.
It worked, too. WWE is a famously unfunny company. They give it a go, but it’s hard when you’re working to the whims of a man whose idea of great humour is pushing someone into a swimming pool. This, though, was hilarious. Sami Zayn was the perfect slapstick villain, being buffeted from every direction, while Johnny Knoxville is Johnny Knoxville, a man who made a life out of this shit. Much like Belair vs Lynch, it gave us a glimpse of what WWE should be, but sadly never will.
Kaicho-gun (Tsukushi Kaicho & Saran Kaicho) vs Tsukasa Fujimoto & Asahi, RebelxEnemy Produce Show (8/4/22)
In a recent Ice Ribbon review, I prophesied that when Saran hit her rebellious teen stage, she’d be able to team up with Ram for a big goth/wee goth combination (I am also predicting she’ll end up being taller than Kaicho). However, I did not anticipate that prediction coming to fruition so early.
Because with Ram out injured, Saran got to unleash her inner Kaicho on Renemy’s produce show and clearly had a wonderful time doing it. She spent most of the match up at commentary, leaving Tsukushi to deal with Tsukka and Asahi solo so she could hurl what I assume was abuse towards their opponents. Then, after a fallout with Skoosh, we discovered she had an already made insult written on her arm, presumably scrawled there by the real Ram pre-match. This whole thing was essentially an excuse for Saran to do some swears, held together by the other three being their usual brilliant selves.
And what greater purpose can there be in life than letting a child swear? It proved, once and for all, that while Renemy might not be the best influence, they are the coolest.
Daisy Monkey (Suzume & Arisu Endo) vs The Magical Sugar Rabbits (Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki), Still Incomplete (9/4/22), TJPW
The dreamers in the Tokyo Joshi fanbase may have been hoping for a Daisy Monkey (a name that is vastly superior to the somewhat bland AriSuzu) title win, but we all knew that was never actually going to happen. MagiRabbi are an indestructible pairing that will need to be nuked from orbit to get the belts off them. Arisu and Suzume are great, and I don’t doubt they’ll hold those titles one day, but it wasn’t going to be on their first attempt.
However, that didn’t mean this match couldn’t be good. In fact, I loved the story we got. It showed that while Suzume and Endo aren’t ready now, they are starting to figure out how they could be. As pairings go, they are still in their infancy, certainly when compared with Mizuki and Yuka, but there’s something special about them when they find their groove. Moments like Arisu helping Suzume dodge a Yuka attack by pulling her back with a roll-up spoke to a level of invention and teamwork that perhaps could conquer the unconquerable. It meant that even though MagiRabbi would end up winning relatively convincingly, I came out of this fully believing that Daisy Monkey are on the brink of something.
And that’s one of my favourite things about wrestling. If a football team lose with spirit in a cup final, it’s better than getting hammered, but it doesn’t actually matter. It’s only in wrestling where a defeat can be as big a part of your success as a victory. In Daisy Monkey’s first shot at being near the top of a big TJPW show, they proved they belong, and I have no doubt we’ll be seeing them back in this spot sooner rather than later.
Marika Kobashi & Abdullah Kobayashi vs SAKI & Antonio Honda, Inspiration 4 (10/4/22), TJPW
I don’t have a lot to say about this match, but I wanted to highlight it because it was lovely. Marika got a chance to team up with one of her heroes before her graduation, and Abdullah went out of his way to make it special for her. Little touches like him wearing her shirt to the ring or the video he posted of him buying one of her portraits afterwards made my heart glad. Then, when the tag was over, he challenged her to a wee three-minute battle, in which he essentially encouraged Marika to stiff the fuck out of him, wrapping violence in a loving bow. Watching anyone get the chance to interact with someone they idolise is nice, but when it’s a gal wrestler pairing up with a big, scarred deathmatch lad, it does make it that little bit more special.
Suzu Suzuki vs Shunma Katsumata, King Of Street Wrestling Round One (10/4/22), DDT
Suzu Suzuki and Shunma Katsumata are a match made in heaven. They both exude chaotic vibes and seem to take as much pleasure out of hurting themselves as they do each other. It genuinely catches me off-guard every time I remember Shunma is ten years older than Suzu because it seems impossible that these two people haven’t lived identical lives, growing up stabbing each other with forks.
Thankfully, they don’t seem to have needed a lifetime of stabby stuff to find their chemistry. This was so much fun. Whether it was Suzu delighting at having crotched Shunma on a handrail or the two of them engaging in a staple battle (in which the staples were going into each other’s arms), every moment had something to make me smile. I enjoyed all of DDT’s King of Street Wrestling tournament, but this stood out as my clear favourite because of the pure glee coming off the two of them, as they delighted in being set loose to come up with inventive ways of hurting each other.
Which, it’s worth pointing out, has been common to Suzu’s wrestling ever since she left Ice Ribbon. I’m not trying to suggest she was miserable there, I don’t think she was, but Suzuki seems to relish the freedom of being freelance. It’s not just that she’s getting to live out her deathmatch dreams, but that she can turn up anywhere and have a match that ranges from the serious to the ridiculous. That deal seems to suit Suzu Suzuki, and it’s making me very excited about what she’s got coming.
Mystic Young Fox (Yurika Oka & Ai Hozan) vs Sexual Violet (Makoto & Maria), Marvelous (10/4/22), Marvelous
Everything that I love about wrestling is in this match. You had two plucky rookies coming up against what should be an impossible challenge, Ai going full pest (at one point, she chomped down on Maria’s arm) and a frantic final few minutes in which Mystic Young Fox put on the kind of last-ditch defensive performance that would make heroes of a third-division side clinging on against one of the big boys in the third round of the FA Cup. I am more than a little invested in the pairing of Oka and Ai already, but even if I wasn’t, I reckon I would have been yelping along with every near fall. As it was, my poor neighbours must have been trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
And isn’t that the best? Anyone who has read one of these before will have heard this spiel, but wrestling is never better than when you care. At that point, it doesn’t matter if it’s technically perfect or if someone’s timing is a bit off because you’re on the rollercoaster, and all that bollock becomes irrelevant. The narrative of this match, the rise and fall of the action, had wrapped itself so tightly around me that I was living and breathing every moment, and that was infinitely more important than Ai not quite nailing the timing for one of her desperate saves. The fact that the match wasn’t over and Mystic Young Fox were fighting on was all I cared about.
It’s also why Marvelous is one of my favourite promotions in the world. Because they’re the kind of company that will give Mystic Young Fox the space to figure out who they are as a team and have these big, impressive performances. I want to watch those two either pair up or face off forever, and if that dream comes to pass, I’ll always look back on matches like this as the start of something truly special.
Kiku vs Tsukasa Fujimoto, No Audience Match Live (12/4/22), Ice Ribbon
There is a moment towards the end of this match where Kiku is done. She’s lying on the ground, moaning in pain after being booted in the chest by Tsukka and should probably give up. However, she doesn’t do that. Instead, she pulls herself up to meet Tsukka’s boot once more. Then, she does it again. And again. She’s not stupid. She realises that each slow, painful crawl to her feet will only result in more agony, but she keeps going. Even when Tsukka climbs to the top and lines her up for a Dropkick, she keeps going, ready to take the pain.
Ultimately, that moment didn’t mean a whole lot. Kiku was wrestling on a single match show in an empty Ice Ribbon Dojo. Both in kayfabe and reality, it would have made no difference if she hadn’t taken a beaten, but she still did it, and I think that says a lot about her. When you put it alongside the fact that she’s 43 and debuted last year, having stumbled into training with Ice Ribbon because she took her daughter along to some of their classes, I think it tells you everything you need to know about her. Whether Kiku ends up being an incredible wrestler, an alright one or gives it up in less than a year, she’s proven that she is a fucking badass, and that’s more than enough for me.
Tsukushi Haruka vs Saran, 1192 (16/4/22), Ice Ribbon
I have referred to Saran as a child of Tsukushi before, but that has never been clearer than in what will probably be their final singles match. Sure, part of that might be that Saran was wearing Skoosh’s gear, but the manic glee she brought to proceedings was very recognisable. Tsukushi has installed in her the same utter lack of respect for her elders that has aided her. A fact which was wonderfully illustrated by Saran gleefully stamping on Haruka’s fingers, leading to a chase around the ring that filled my heart with joy.
And not to repeat a point I’ve made before, but you can tell that Saran adores Skoosh. She seems to be her hero, and the delight they get from facing each other is plain to see. The end of Tsukushi’s in-ring career will see plenty of focus on the numerous astonishing matches and moments she’s been part of as a wrestler. However, a young girl’s adoration of her and what that says about the person behind the scenes is equal to all of it. Tsukushi’s legacy is large, but if it was reduced to simply the inspiration she gave to one Saran, that would still be a hell of a thing to leave behind.
CDK (Chris Brookes & Masa Takanashi) vs UMA (Sayaka Obihiro & Kapa Kozo), ChocoPro 219 (17/4/22), ChocoProLIVE!
There was never any chance that I wouldn’t love this match. It was CDK fighting a literal gang of monsters and ended with Chris Brookes crushing Death Worm’s head with a double stomp. They delivered a pure nonsense fest that was always going to appeal to my sensibilities.
However, even beyond the nonsense, I think it deserves flagging up for the commitment of CDK. Any other team would have turned face in this match. They were not only outnumbered by UMA, but the ref (Mei Suruga) spent a good chunk of the action wearing said gang’s t-shirt. Everything was against them, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to lean into that and let their babyface colours fly.
And yet, somehow, CDK came out of this feeling like bigger heels than ever before. Every chance they got, they grabbed the heat back for themselves, somehow turning a group that features a Death Worm into the sympathetic babyfaces. A big part of that is that they don’t worry about being cool. Chris Brookes, in particular, is willing to be a total bastard and never feels the need to do it in a way that will appeal to, well, anyone. He’s a prick, and while I hate him for it, I also kinda love him.
Nippon Ganbare Union (Yuna Manase & YuuRI) vs Mezzoforte (Takumi Iroha & Hibiscus Mii), Marvelous (20/4/22), Marvelous
I already wrote a lot about this match (check out the review here), but some of you may have missed that, and YuuRI’s performance deserves another round of praise. Every time I see her, she has improved, and there are twenty-odd year veterans who can’t draw sympathy the way she can. She has been presented as the weak link of her team, but it’s done in a way that only highlights how good she is.
That was all key to the bulk of this, but what I loved most about it was the switch towards the end. Because in the final minutes, everything twisted, and YuuRI was suddenly the one saving Manase, diving into the ring at the last second to break up pins. She got the chance to be the hero rather than the weakness, and that was damn cool.
Hyper Misao vs Raku, Spring Tour (24/4/22), TJPW
It’s easy to overcomplicate wrestling when you write and talk about it as much as I do. To focus on picking apart grand narratives or trying to find something revolutionary in every match that I recommend. I love doing that and wouldn’t keep doing so if I didn’t, but I also try and force myself to remember that it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes, it’s just a superhero and a train god having a lovely wee match that made me smile. Raku and Hyper Misao are two of my wrestling happy places, people I can turn to for entertainment when the bad things in my brain are getting a bit too much, and this match was a perfect example of why that’s the case. They’re the best.
In saying all that, if you would like to read more about it, I did do a review, so click the link and away you’ll go.
Risa Sera vs Takashi Sasaki, The Scarlet Flame of the Beginning (24/4/22), Prominence
Damn, that’s how you lay down the gauntlet for your new promotion/unit/whatever Prominence is. On their first show proper, in their first big deathmatch, Risa Sera went out there and fucking killed it, putting on the kind of gutsy, determined performance that you’d have to be made of stone not to fall for. She has always excelled at taking a beating, but this felt like a step up, as she took everything Sasaki threw at her and just kept going, proving herself (if there was anything left to prove) by getting the shit kicked out of her.
I already wrote about this in-depth (check it out), so I’ll leave it there, but if you have your doubts about Prominence, go watch this match. If you’re still not sure, it’s probably not for you.
Mei Suruga vs AZM, Cinderella Tournament Final (29/4/22), Stardom
There are few people I have higher expectations for than Mei Suruga, but this match still blew me away. She and AZM blended the best of SEAd High Speed with what Stardom has been doing and created a masterpiece that it will be tough for anyone else in this division to match.
And while AZM was a big part of that, I want to focus on Mei. She’s someone I’ve been yelling about for a long time, and this is far from the first time she’s got me raving, but something about this match, in particular, captured the journey she’s been on in recent years. Before the pandemic hit, Suruga was already someone people expected great things from, but in a weird way, the world going to shit has ended up being the best thing that ever happened to her career. A combination of ChocoPro’s wild inventiveness (particularly in the early days when they were still figuring things out), and the fact she had to get used to heading up live streams and being entertaining without her wrestling, has only honed the already chaotically charming personality that she had. Combine that with her work in Oz Academy and that French maid she bears a striking resemblance to, and Suruga has been on a somewhat unorthodox but quite incredible wrestling boot camp over the last couple of years. It’s turned her from someone with all the potential in the world to a wrestler who is ready, right now, to take it over.
I don’t want to completely ignore AZM because she is brilliant, and while I don’t watch as much of her as I once did, she’s a special wrestler. This match wasn’t the Mei Suruga show but an example of two people who have clicked and are pushing each other to greater heights. I hope this isn’t the last time they’re in the ring together because if this is what they did in their first singles match, who knows what they could do with their fifth?
If you enjoyed my ramblings, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi. Even the smallest amount is appreciated.
Leave a Reply