I was doing so well on keeping up with wrestling, and then we hit the summer months, which meant I started having to go outside and see other people, and now I’m behind again. Despite all that, there is plenty of action to get your teeth into from the last month with multiple returns, at least one goodbye and a special tribute show. Enjoy!
Veterans bullying rookies is a common trope and one that I have regularly professed my love for. What you don’t often see is a group of youngsters flipping the table, but then again, not every veteran team is Sakura Hirota and Yuki Miyazaki.
Riko, Suzu and Haruka brought a manic glee to this match. They sensed an opportunity to cause pain, putting Hirota and Miyazaki through their paces and showing little to no sympathy for them. Poor Hirota got slammed time after time and then, in the aftermath, was forced, while crying, to do her rope walking spot by GAEA superfan Riko Kawahata. She’s a human being, goddammit!
Mistreatment of legends aside, it was the perfect twist to push this match to the next level. With who was involved, it was a guaranteed good time (christ, Hirota could wrestle herself and deliver that), but they’re all too creative to be content with that. Instead, they had to catch us off-guard, offering up something different from what we expected and crafting a gem in the process.
There are few things better than a ten-minute sprint between two wrestlers who have you convinced that they hate each other. Every recent interaction between Maria and Riko has seen the tension bubbling up, and in this match, it boiled over.
Maria is probably the one to blame for that. They weren’t exactly friends before, but after the Korakuen Anniversary show (in which they wrestled to a ten-minute draw), Maria promised that she’d beat Kawahata in five minutes the next time they fought. It was a brag that Marvelous were only too happy to take her up on, not only booking this match but shoving a big old clock up on the screen to heap the pressure on. Unsurprisingly, when the five-minute mark passed, that decision did nothing to ease Maria’s frustration, and that’s when things moved from a simmer to a boil.
Still, from our point of view, that was no bad thing. The final minutes of this were frantic, the two of them desperately trying to get the win, but neither being able to push themselves over the line. It made for a thrilling watch and is also exactly what Maria needs. When Mei and Mikoto left the company, she lost her generational rivals, and it’s great that they’ve moved to have Riko step into that gap (a role she’s also playing in SEAd with Riko Kaiju). Plus, as an added bonus, Maria used the draw to set up her and Chigusa Nagayo vs Riko and Yumiko Hotta, which could fucking rule. We are definitely the winners here.
The Magical Sugar Rabbits are used to being the top dogs. They’re not only incredible singles wrestlers, but they dominate TJPW’s tag division, standing atop the mountain and booting anyone who dares challenge them over the edge. When you go after those tag titles, you play their games, and they will torment you with a smile on their faces.
Or at least, that’s usually the case. In Free WiFi, though, we had a pair of violent delinquents who refused to bow down before Sakazaki and Mizuki. Noa and Nao were more interested in braining them with a chair or introducing their foreheads to an exposed turnbuckle. They proved to be the rare pairing who could go out and knock MagiRabbi off their stride, unleashing their violence and daring to dictate what kind of match they had.
Unfortunately, Free WiFi learnt that when you raise the bar, Mizuki and Yuka tend to fly over it. As the match went on, the darkness crept into Sakazaki’s eyes, and when that happened, they didn’t stand a chance. Yuka is one of wrestling’s great, underappreciated psychopaths, and when she unleashed, she unleashed hard. Still, Free WiFi are early in their run as a team, and the fact that they’re already pushing MagiRabbi to dig deep is a sign of where they stand. There is every chance that the next time they challenge for those titles, even Yuka Sakazaki won’t be able to stand against the violence.
Gatoh Move is back, and my god, that makes me happy. I love ChocoPro, and it was a vital part of keeping me sane in the depths of lockdown, but Gatoh has an extra special place in my heart. It was pivotal in making me reconsider what wrestling can be, and I will always be thankful for that.
And while their return didn’t come from Ichigaya, it was still unmistakably Gatoh Move. In other words, a literal all-singing, all-dancing affair. Sure, the crowds can’t cheer and yell yet, but it was wonderful to see the gang back in front of people, especially when you consider that someone like Chie has now spent more of their career wrestling to a camera than she has fans. It was a chance for her and her fourth generation pals to show the Gatoh Move faithful how far they’ve come.
It was all capped off by this fantastic main event. You had three of my favourite young wrestlers in there with one of the great veterans of the scene, and they delivered everything you’d want from them. Whether it was intricate, beautiful sequences or Mei biting people, it was the kind of joyous wrestling that I have always associated with this company. I am so glad they survived the pandemic (because let’s face it, if we’d known what was coming, not many people would have bet on them making it out alive), and I’m ecstatic to have them back.
I think every rookie should get the chance to wrestle Aja Kong. Yes, the scene has plenty of legends, a few of whom even have careers to rival Aja’s, but there isn’t anyone with the presence of Kong. It doesn’t matter that she’s a bit slower and doesn’t move quite as smoothly because she’s Aja fucking Kong, and the second she steps into the ring, you know shit is about to go down. How a young wrestler responds to that tells you a lot about them.
In the case of Kaho Matsushita, she stepped up to that challenge. The opening act of this match was Kaho throwing herself at Kong, bouncing off her with dropkicks, forearms and every other attack she could muster. Kong, meanwhile, stood there, chewing her gum and looking on unimpressed at the fly buzzing around her. More experienced wrestlers than Kaho (somehow, this was only her 65th match) would have wilted under that dismissive look, but it only fuelled her fire. She was heroically persistent, presumably aware that she didn’t stand a chance but unwilling to show it to Aja.
She was rewarded for that, not with anything major, but by causing Kong to show a second of panic. After taking flight with a crossbody, Kaho took Aja off her feet and into a cover which the legend quickly scrambled out of, clearly caught off-guard that Matsushita had managed to get that far. It was enough to rile Aja up, and she saw off the pest not that long after, but that moment was more important than any victory. A wrestler like Aja Kong is protected because you don’t have to beat them to look like a million bucks. It’s enough to go out there, stand your ground and make them think for just a second. That’s a powerful thing and Kaho came out of this looking brilliant.
I assume certain internet types were up in arms about Tsukushi’s penultimate match, railing against retiring veterans burying youngsters on their way out. ‘How dare she beat Asahi and then take a fall to Hamuko Hoshi, someone Tsukushi has known since she was a tiny wee thing and has a lot of love for, in the main event?’ Does that sound about right? However, out of the two farewells Skoosh had on this show, it was the one that stuck with me.
Firstly because I don’t think she did bury Asahi. Actually, I thought the exact opposite. Tsukushi gave a young wrestler who has been back in the ring for less than a year an awful lot, making her look like she might have it in her to take the title from one of the best in the world. The action not only put over her toughness, as she managed to stand up to Tsukushi’s always violent offence, but saw her pull out some exciting moments of her own (that twisting splash thing is awesome) and come within a whisper of getting a win. In other words, it was the exact match she should have had. One that shows Asahi isn’t quite ready but leaves us with no doubt that one day she will be. Sure, you could have pulled the trigger and put the belt on her, but why take away the joy of that chase?
Secondly, it was a near-perfect send-off for Tsukushi. It’s not that long ago that Ice Ribbon made her start over, asking her to prove that she could still be trusted as the face of the company after an incident in her private life. Since then, she’s not only won the title but been given the honour of retiring with it, and what better final act could there be? I don’t believe Tsukushi had anything left to prove, but on her last day, Ice Ribbon made it clear (if they hadn’t already) that they think she is worthy of every accolade.
And it’s a belief that it’s hard to disagree with. Tsukushi is retiring in her early twenties, but she can look back on an unforgettable career. A product of Emi Sakura, Nanae Takahashi, Natsuki Taiyo and Manami Toyota, she is not only one of the best wrestlers in the world but a unique mix who is capable of doing everything from epics to High Speed capers. She’s given us some extraordinary years, and while I’m sad that I won’t get to watch her wrestle for the rest of her life, I’m also a little jealous. Tsukushi is leaving behind an immaculate legacy (and one she can return to in the future if she chooses) but has enough time left to go and live another couple of lives. If her wrestling career is anything to go by, she’ll be incredible.
I’m still a bit gutted about the end of Cohaku’s Marvelous career. Alongside Maria, Mei Hoshizuki and Hibiki, she was part of a generation of Marvelous wrestlers for whom I had a lot of love. However, if she had to end up somewhere else, WAVE was the perfect place to go, and she’s come out of the gates fast.
Because with her first few matches in WAVE, Cohaku has been wrestling like someone with a point to prove. There is a weight to her work, every strike and every move having an extra snap. Much like her first meeting with Suzu (which also ruled), this match felt like two people laying into each other, determined to leave their mark, win or lose.
And it’s continued into the other Catch The Wave matches I’ve seen from her so far (the one with Haruka Umesaki is well worth your time), as I don’t think she’s missed since she stepped through the door. Sure, I still wish she was scampering around with Mio and Mei, but Cohaku has forged a new path, and I’m starting to get over my sadness and get excited instead.
I’ve been almost cruelly determined recently to point out that I consider Shida a good wrestler rather than a great one. However, watching this match, I started to think I might have it wrong. It’s probably true when she’s wrestling an overblown main event style, but drop her into the nonsense, and it turns out she is great after all.
Of course, it helps that WAVE are the masters of the match that head backstage before popping out at various intervals throughout the show to continue what they’re doing. Others have done funny examples of it, but few have touched on the genius of the four of them reappearing during the five-way that followed, getting muddled up with the action and creating chaos in the process. In a moment like that, something as simple as Shida and Miyacoco taking a second or two to tag in and out got a big laugh.
But where I expect comedic genius from the other three in this match, I was caught off-guard by how great Shida was here. It’s possible I just haven’t seen enough of her in this environment, but she committed to it fully, descending into the nonsense with the other three and matching them laugh for laugh. You’ve got to be pretty damn good to keep up with these masters, and I’ll think twice before underestimating her again.
The conclusion of this match focused on Waka and her desperate quest to get her first victory in Stardom. That proved a bright decision, as Waka’s charisma and growing talent shone brightly while watching her try to overcome two bigger and stronger wrestlers was a solid hook. However, it wasn’t why this match stuck around in my head. The reason for that was one Momoka Hanazono.
Because while this match might have veered around to focus on the Stardom talent, it happened after we got a near-perfect performance from Momoka. Unless I’m missing something, it was the biggest platform she’s had yet in her career, and she skipped her way onto it and charmed the hell out of everyone watching. From her walking to the ring while clasping Waka’s hand to the bubble and flower related antics, Hanazono has become a master of stealing the show. It all reminded me of her MomoRingo tag partner, Mei Suruga, another wrestler who can seemingly walk onto any stage and instantly make anyone a fan.
And much like Mei, the reason it works isn’t just that Hanazono has a bubble gun and is a bit silly. It’s because she’s backed up both by an ever growing sense of inventiveness and exquisite timing. Every beat is in the right place, and when it’s time to put the bubbles away, she’s a brilliant wrestler. One suspects that this isn’t the last time we’ll see Momoka on a stage this big, and if I’m right, it will have been 100% deserved.
There was a moment in this match where Sakura Hirota, a wrestler who has spent countless years conducting nonsense, stood up, wandered over to Miyacoco and appeared to ask her what the hell she was up to. At that moment, Matsumoto was rope walking around the ring (on the second rope because her attempt to do the top hadn’t worked), and Hirota’s confusion made perfect sense because there was no real advantage to her doing so. Hirota had, in fact, been selling on the mat nowhere near where she started. Of course, not long later, Hirota was drawn into Miyacoco’s nonsense and attempted to walk the top rope solo before taking a painful tumble. I hope they never change.
If you hadn’t guessed, this match was nonsense wrapped up in silliness with a side plate of absurdity. Individually these two are probably my favourite purveyors of such, but together they are unstoppable. This match made little to no attempts to make sense but somehow wasn’t a total mess because I fully believe that this is what would happen if you put Miyacoco and Hirota together. They bounced off each other, prodding buttons and pushing each other to reach new depths of silliness because that’s the kind of people they are. Sure, they could go for a win, but isn’t it more fun to see which one can balance on the top turnbuckle for longer?
Most of all, though, it’s the kind of match that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Last year, I watched Hirota and Mio Momono’s battle for custody of the twins more times than I can count because, regardless of mood, it never failed to make me laugh, and this year hadn’t thrown up something like that yet. That’s not to say there hasn’t been great stuff, but nothing that had that instant healing effect. Well, until now anyway. This is now that I will revisit time after time, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever get bored of it.
NOMADS’ first show was exciting not only because they had a load of good wrestlers working together on something they were excited about but because it was executed brilliantly. The whole thing was a tonal delight, starting light and frothy with Momoka Hanazono vs Tae Honma and building to the start of something serious between Anou and ASUKA. On top of that, I got the misfit family vibe that I am always looking for, which is extra impressive when you consider this isn’t a company that works together every day. It’s a group that has chosen to do the exact opposite but still takes joy from each other’s presence.
And while there were probably more traditionally exciting in-ring moments than this five-minute exhibition (I’d highly recommend Kaho Kobayashi’s return against Hiroyo Matsumoto), I thought it perfectly set us up for what was to come. After over a year and a half out of it, Natsu Sumire stepped back into the ring and reminded me why she is one of my favourite wrestlers. It was a blast, with Miyuki Takase seemingly delighting in trying to exhaust her returning opponent while Natsu yelled at her to take it easy. They gave us an exhilarating reminder of Sumire’s charismatic genius and how missed she’s been.
To cap it all off, an exhausted Natsu grabbed the mic afterwards to cut what was essentially a show closing promo despite the actual show having technically not started yet. It, along with everything else NOMADS’ delivered, felt designed to appeal specifically to me, and if the future includes even more Natsu, you can count me in.
Can I tell you all a secret? I suspect that if ChocoPro had spent the last year or so building around Warm Caterpillars rather than Best Bros, I wouldn’t have cooled on it the way I have. Don’t get me wrong. Mei and Akki are a great team, deserving of their accolades, but for my tastes? It’s Warm Caterpillars all the way.
I think this match was a great example of why that’s the case. There is a delightful chaos to the pairing of Mei and Chie that I don’t get from Best Bros. It also captures the spirit that I have always most enjoyed in both ChocoPro and Gatoh Move. Those companies are passion projects, held together by love and sticky tape, and I want them to feel like that. Sadly, Best Bros are a little too slick.
It can also be seen in Yunamon and Otoki, two perfect opponents for Warm Caterpillars because they’ve never met some nonsense they wouldn’t run towards. This kind of anarchic, all over the place main event is my favourite thing, and while Best Bros can touch on them, they’ve chosen to walk a different, perhaps more successful, path.
I still struggle to talk about Hana Kimura. Thanks to being known among friends and family as the guy who likes wrestling, I’ve been asked about her a few times over the last couple of years. Whenever that happens, though, I find myself incapable of finding the words. I want to stamp on the perception of Hana as a tragic figure and instead celebrate her as the extraordinary person she was, but I can never do it. Instead, I end up croaking out a few platitudes, superficially talking of tragedy and loss, desperate to move on and hoping there won’t be any follow-up enquiries. For whatever reason, Hana’s death touched me more than I could have ever expected, and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve managed to process it.
However, watching BAGUS, I began to imagine a world where I could talk about Hana again. Where I could go back and watch her matches (which I’ve still never done) or relive my favourite moments. It hasn’t happened yet, but seeing her closest family and friends celebrate her and turn that awful day into one of joyful remembrance is a beautiful thing. For if last year’s Matane was an event overpowered by grief, this was one of celebration. The grief is still there, of course. It always will be. But Kyoko Kimura seems determined to celebrate her daughter’s life, and the people around her have taken up that challenge with gusto, giving us a show that provided as many laughs as it did tears.
And while I’m not sure when I will be able to talk about Hana, it’s reassuring to watch something like this and not feel like it was all totally pointless. What happened will never stop being a tragedy that shouldn’t have come to pass, but that doesn’t change the fact that her life had meaning. A show like this, with love pouring out of every second, wouldn’t have been possible if that wasn’t the case. My favourite author, Terry Pratchett, once wrote that ‘no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away’, and Hana’s ripple will keep going for a long time yet.
The Jericho Appreciation Society (Chris Jericho, Daniel Garcia, Matt Menard, Angelo Parker & Jake Hager) vs Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, Santana & Ortiz, Double Or Nothing (29/5/22), AEW
Sam Raimi once described the Evil Dead 2 as the Three Stooges, except with gore rather than custard pies. What does that have to do with the atrociously named but brilliantly executed Anarchy in the Arena? Well, this was nonsense wrestling with excessive bleeding.
Because while the mainstream wrestling masses, who usually turn their nose up at my beloved silliness, have embraced this, I’m not entirely sure why. This entire thing was ridiculous. Whether it was Mox peeking into a cooler and discovering it was full but launching it at Jericho’s head anyway or Kingston shuffling down the ramp, coated in blood and mustard and carrying a canister of gasoline, it was all hilarious. Which, in case you’ve missed the memo, is why I fucking loved it. It was proof of what you can do with nonsense wrestling if you have a massive budget and a giant arena to play in. I have no idea if AEW plans on making this a regular thing, but if they do, they could do a lot worse than bringing over a team of Sakura Hirota, Yuki Miyazaki, Hibiscus Mii, Miyako Matsumoto and Kaori Yoneyama. They’d show these amateurs how it’s done.