Somehow, we’ve finished up another month, which means it’s time for my favourite matches from the last 31 days. As usual, there is probably all sorts of cool stuff that I’ve missed, so if you have anything to recommend, pop it in the comments below and feed my disturbing wrestling habit. If not, enjoy the article, and if you have a few quid going spare, consider throwing it in the pot.
I long ago decided that the opinions of people who think Suzu Suzuki is wasting her career because she’s not choosing to align herself to their particular taste in wrestling weren’t worth the internet they take up. However, with Suzu in the midst of an extraordinary year, that view becomes more unhinged by the day. Not because I expect these people to stop thinking about themselves for a minute, but because it’s increasingly clear that doing deathmatches is making Suzu better.
Because while this match ruled for many reasons, the thing that stood out most was how physical it was. Umesaki trained with Diana specifically because she wanted to learn under Sareee, so you expect that of her, but Suzu matching her every step of the way was impressive. Suzuki’s never exactly been a weakling, but the last year or so has undeniably seen her power-up, finding it in her to go head to head with the hardest of hitters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that such a thing has coincided with her wrestling men twice her size in stabby environments.
Even if doing deathmatches did nothing to aid Suzu’s career, I’d still think it was awesome because she loves them, and that’s always going to be the most important thing. However, if you’re not a deathmatch fan, you not only don’t have to tune in when she decides to spill some blood, but you get the added benefits of enjoying how it’s improving her as a wrestler. Surely, when you put it like that, you’d be a fucking idiot to complain?
If Suzu impressed against Haruka by matching someone whose forearms sound like she’s hitting people with a club, then she impressed against Shimizu by getting kicked in the head. Yes, Suzu may have bulked up and become a wee tank, but that doesn’t mean she’s invincible, and she sold the hell out of Hikari’s kicks. There were times in this match where I found myself rewinding to enjoy watching Suzuki crumple to the ground from a perfectly thrown boot to the head, as she made every single one of them look like a potential killer. It fucking ruled.
At the start of 2019, TJPW brought Aja Kong in for a tag match and made the somewhat unusual decision to team her up with Raku and Pom Harajuku. I happened to be at that show, and back then, it felt like a throwaway gag. Aja was paired with those unlikely bedfellows and did the Goodnight Express (to the delight of all) but was actually there to set up her interactions with Mirai Maiumi, someone who, at the time, TJPW were slowly shifting into place for a big push. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that two and a half years later, Mirai would be gone, but Aja’s relationship with Pom and, in particular, Raku would still be going strong.
I’m delighted that it is, though. Kong is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but I’d be lying if I said she’d done much in recent years that I enjoy as much as these tags. I also get the impression that she would agree. Like Ram Kaicho, Chris Brookes and many others before her, Aja has been charmed by the wonders of Raku. Kong might be one of the scariest wrestlers of all time, but she still stopped for a hug on the ramp with the Train God before linking arms with her and appearing in no rush to let go. We even saw Raku hop on Kong’s back for a double Goodnight Express, a moment I will be smiling back on for years to come.
Alongside all that goofy delight, Kong uses her TJPW appearances to dish out rubs to all deserving. In the past, we’ve seen her give the stamp of approval to Miu Watanabe and Yuki Arai, while this match saw her bumping for Misao and handing Nao a moment in the sun. Aja Kong has always known the power of her reputation and masterfully works to get others over without giving it all away, but she seems extra generous whenever she steps into a TJPW ring, happy to help people out in exchange for having a blast.
Now, how do we convince her and Raku to go after the tag titles? Because that’s what we all want to see.
TJPW might have a reputation as the fun-loving, cutesy promotion, but as anyone who actually watches it can tell you, they have their fair share of killers. Miyu Yamashita will kick your head off, Yuka will drop you on it, and Mizuki will attempt to stomp your lungs out of your back. However, when it comes to being vicious and violent, one wrestler in TJPW stands above all others, Rika Tatsumi.
In recent years, we’ve seen Rika approach all her big matches with the same tactic. She will twist and kick and punch away at your leg until you can barely stand, leaving her free to pick you off in whatever way she chooses. There’s no denying that it’s worked in kayfabe (ask Yuka Sakazaki), but what’s impressive is how it’s also worked for those of us watching at home. It would be easy for that ploy to get stale, but Rika excels at finding new and violent ways to work her magic.
Up against Shoko, we saw her dropkick Nakajima off the top, catching her leg painfully in the ropes, hip attack it into the side of the ring and flawlessly reverse a 619 into a Dragon Screw. Every time it felt like Nakajima was figuring this match out, Tatsumi was there to rip her leg out from under her and send her back to square one. It was a masterclass of wrestling, delivered, more often than not, with a smile on her face.
Of course, working a limb is only effective if the person selling it holds up their end of the bargain, and Shoko did exactly that. There was a subtleness to her performance, as she ignored the temptation to go for big dramatic gestures and instead worked the match like someone trying to hide the pain they were in. It was never about punching her leg back into action but instead pausing at key points to let the adrenaline push her on.
Put those two different but equally brilliant performances together, and you had TJPW’s best main event of the year so far. It got to the point where Rika had convinced me she was going to win, only for Shoko to roar back, proving that she’s a fighting champion, capable of taking everything thrown at her and still clambering to that top for that massive senton. It was a near-perfect match to end a near-perfect show, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m begging you fix that right now.
Calling someone the best wrestler in the world is a bit silly because it suggests there is one kind of wrestling that we can objectively rank. Can we definitively say that your big main eventer is any better than someone who consistently delivers fun openers? (Yes, this is my way of arguing that Raku is better than Okada.) So, instead of trying to quantify Mio Momono that way, let’s stick to saying that every time I watch her, I come away amazed by how good she is. She has an approach to wrestling that I 100% buy into, and I almost didn’t realise how much I missed it until it returned.
Mio is doubly important for Marvelous because she makes other wrestlers better. She teamed with Ai on both nights of this mini-tour, and you could already see the rookie racing to keep up with her, pushing herself to maintain that standard. It’s no different for her opponents either. Wrestling Mio looks exhausting because she never stops coming, so you better have a plan about how to deal with her, or she will bulldoze straight through you. Flupke (a brilliant wrestling writer whose newsletter you should subscribe to) has previously pondered whether Mio knows this stuff is fake, so committed is she to pushing people to their very limit.
My initial review of this match focused on three moments, which probably added up to about a minute of wrestling, and that’s the power of Mio Momono. She does things worth analysing in the finest detail possible, and I’m so glad I’m getting more chances to do so.
Before this match began, it was changed to be a Wasabi Cream Puff Deathmatch, causing me to sit back and relax. Honda and Obi unleashing the nonsense? That’s my idea of a good time. Well, I was right about it being fun, but not in the way I expected.
Because yes, there was nonsense. We got robots, duets and everything you’d expect from these two, but what I didn’t anticipate was them laying the fuck into each other. Sure, they have some history in that regard (there was a stiff match on Obihiro’s 10th anniversary), so it’s perhaps not entirely out of the blue, but that was a big occasion. This time, it was a nonsense opener of another ChocoPro show.
And yet, it happened, and it fucking ruled because, for all that these two are known for their comedy work, they can flick the switch and go. It might have only been for a couple minutes, but for that period, every blow came hammering in, and the crowd packed around the mat in Ichigaya was going wild. Suddenly, Obi and Honda were wrestling like they were in the main event, giving their all to force the other to eat that spicy treat. It was awesome.
One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed pop up again and again in my writing about wrestling is the importance of weaknesses. Inspired by New Japan matches where someone who had previously displayed basic grappling skills develops the ability to trade holds with Zack Sabre Jr, I’ve repeatedly yelled about how important it is for people to be bad at stuff. Flaws make us human, and while wrestlers often try to present themselves as bigger than that, they’re also what makes watching someone’s journey exciting. If they can develop the ability to match the so-called best overnight, why should I ever worry that they might lose?
Weakness is also essential in crafting matches like this one, in which Big Hash, a wrestler with a strongly defined set of skills, came up against someone who seemingly has the answer to all of them. Hashimoto is a powerhouse backed up by brilliant technical ability, who will out-wrestle you and then dump you on your head, which is a deadly combination. However, in ASUKA, Hash found the rare wrestler who could match her. Not only did she keep up on the mat, but she threw her around, even Powerbombing her off the apron. Combine that with ASUKA’s ridiculous speed, and there were long periods where Hash looked in trouble and started to make mistakes in an attempt to escape it. She got pushed into territory where she’s uncomfortable, climbing to the top and taking a second or two to steady herself, giving ASUKA time to respond.
And damn, was it exciting. I watched this long after it had aired, but had missed seeing any definitive spoilers. My assumption was that Hashimoto won because I imagined I would have seen people celebrating ASUKA’s win, but as it went along, I began to doubt myself. ASUKA seemed to be a step ahead, forcing the champ to do things she wasn’t comfortable doing. It seemed she’d found Hasmioto weaknesses right until Big Hash stopped messing around and started dumping ASUKA on her head in the most horrific ways possible. The final act of this was violence personified, including a powerslam that I had to rewind several times to convince myself that ASUKA had managed to tuck her chin at the last second and wasn’t now dead. When Hashimoto got shoved into a corner, her first instinct was to try new things, but her second was to do the things she does harder, and it turns out that fucking rules.
Now, there are flaws in that presentation when it comes to storytelling. Traditionally, Hashimoto should have lost this match, forcing her to go away and find what she needed to do to beat ASUKA (or, you know, maybe allow someone else to) and I do think an ASUKA win would have been more exciting. They made her feel like the future, someone quicker, stronger and more skilled than what came before, so having her knock Hashimoto off the perch she’s made her own would have felt momentous, even if it was simply to build back to Hash winning again. However, this is Sendai, we all know how the booking goes there, and I loved this match too much to hold it against them.
I can’t think of a better piece of storytelling than Yoneyama and Hirota managing to take a surprise 2-0 lead in this gauntlet/iron man match, only for Miyacoco to enter proceedings and get pinned by the same counter three times in roughly a minute. If you’d never seen Miyacoco wrestle before, you would have learnt everything you needed to know within that period, especially when Yone and Hirota sent her to pose on the turnbuckle in punishment.
That was only one of many moments of genius in a match that I loved. WAVE might be the only company brave enough to have the semi-main-event of one of their biggest shows of the year be an epic, 30-minute plus nonsense tag. Of course, it helps that they have some of the best purveyors of nonsense around. Anyone can go out there and be very silly, but it takes the Hirotas and Miyazakis of the world to put together this much silliness and not have it be an incoherent mess. There is a reason most comedy matches aim for short and sweet as, in anyone else’s hands, this would have collapsed under its own weight, unable to deal with the sheer amount of nonsense.
The cherry on top of the cake came when the original thirty minutes were up, and we entered sudden death. Incredibly, Team Nonsense took control and looked like they were heading towards an unlikely victory. At that point, Miyacoco convinced Hirota to try something out, and I’ll give you one guess how that ended.
Got time for one more chat about Suzu?
This wasn’t the final Catch the Wave was supposed to have. An injury to Nagisa Nozaki caused Takase to step in and guaranteed that WAVE would crown a new champion. Against any other wrestler on their extended roster, I’d have probably been rooting for Miyuki, who is well overdue a run with that belt, but after the tournament she’d had, it felt right that Suzu would cap it off with a big win.
In saying that, it was a very different match from the rest of Suzu’s CTW. Having been placed in the Future block and paired up with Shimizu and Umesaki in the second round, Suzuki spent it wrestling people with a similar level of experience to herself. Takase, however, felt like a different proposition. She hasn’t really been going that much longer than Suzu (5 years to Suzuki’s 3), but she’s been around the few block a few more times and still feels a level or two above her. It gave this a completely different feel and actually reminded me of the kind of encounter Suzuki would have had with a Tsukasa Fujimoto or a Maya Yukihi at the end of her Ice Ribbon run. Yes, she’s now a top star in her own right, but against those people, she’s always an underdog.
It certainly made for an exciting final. Takase had the edge for most of it, but Suzu never looked beaten. Alongside that bruiser style I noted above, Suzuki has picked up the ability to absorb punishment, as one would when regularly competing on a bed of broken glass. She took what Takase could give, sucked it up and pushed through to get the win and her first big non-Ice Ribbon belt just over six months after she walked away from her home base. I’m sure for the larger wrestling landscape, the proof Suzuki did the right thing is in her upcoming 5STAR appearance, but for me, this felt more important. She’s not only thriving in the larger companies but becoming a central figure in the smaller, freelance-reliant ones. Suzu has made herself part of the landscape, and that’s an exciting place for her to be.
The best part of it all, though? I reckon they can do even better. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but Suzu and Takase are at the very top of the ladder, and while I thought this was a great match, they have an incredible one in them. Fingers crossed that they get a chance to prove me right.
There was a period where Raku felt like the Up Up Girl who wasn’t going to make it (we’re excluding Pipipi for the sake of the point). Hikari loved wrestling, Miu had discovered she loved muscles as much as idols, and Raku was just, well, Raku. When I first started watching TJPW, she felt like the odd one out. Then, between the quest for her first win, the expansion of her trickster personality and the wider audience’s discovery of this idol wrestler who also happened to be a massive train nerd, Raku began to flourish. She was still perhaps the weakest wrestler of the three, but she became everyone’s favourite because it’s almost impossible to know anything about Raku and not love her.
And whether it’s related to that switch or not, over the last couple of years, Raku has developed the confidence and freedom to become the person who comes out for a single match with the Ace wielding a pillow. Actually, that doesn’t go far enough because she not only had that pillow but decided to lie it down in the centre of the ring and have a wee nap while Miyu made her entrance. Are you hard enough to pull that off? I’m not.
And while Raku would end up losing, what stood out was the balance of in-ring ability and personality. She could go out and fill these matches with her antics, and I would come away happy, but she’s proven to be more than capable of backing it up between the ropes. When the time comes, Raku can deliver a final stretch that will keep you on your toes, convincing you that she might have Yamashita’s number. The odd-one-out? Fuck that. She might be the best one.
CDK heeling it up in Gatoh Move is one of my favourite things. It’s been remarked upon before, but Chris Brookes is a perfect heel because he has no qualms about being an utter bellend. He’s never worried about looking cool and will happily fake out on a dive before threatening to Gorilla Press Sayuri out off the ring and onto those at ringside instead. It also helps that they’re a wonderfully in-sync team, their rather sweet real-life friendship paying off in their ability to seemingly read each other’s minds.
As brilliant as CDK were, though, the stars of this match were Ohka and Yunamon. Because while a great heel team is all well and good, they’re nothing without a pair of fiery babyfaces, and they brought all the fire to this one. Yunamon can sometimes feel like the underappreciated member of the Gatoh roster, but anyone who watched her feud with Emi Sakura at the dawn of ChocoPro has to have a significant spot in their heart reserved for the Tropical One. Plus, she fucking rules, taking all that fiery babyface bluster and unleashing it in a powerful tropical blast.
Most of all, this was brilliantly good fun. The two teams clicked perfectly, with everyone involved in top form. It’s what I’ve described in the past as a match you can relax into, safe in the knowledge that you’re in good hands.
Through no fault of her own, Chie Koishikawa has had a strange career. When COVID hit, she’d wrestled seventeen matches. Now, she’s wrestled 204, but the vast majority of those took place behind closed doors. Chie came of age in ChocoPro, and while that had its disadvantages, it might just have been the best thing for her. Those who have been watching Choco since the start have seen her flourish, gaining confidence with every strong performance and figuring out who she is without the pressure of a live audience. Perhaps even more importantly, COVID kept Mei Suruga locked away in Ichigaya, presenting her with a natural rival to chase.
It’s a chase that Chie has taken up with gusto, with this being the fifth one-on-one encounter between the two since the pandemic struck (they had a match and an exhibition back in 2019, too). On top of that, Chie and a partner have wrestled Best Bros 24 times, including three separate attempts to take the Asia Dream Tag Titles off them. That’s before we even touch on the numerous times they’ve faced off in other forms or even teamed up as Warm Caterpillars. Chie and Mei’s careers are intertwined, but the one thing every encounter has in common is that Chie still hasn’t beaten Suruga.
Sadly, she didn’t beat her in this match either, but it did feel like she was a step closer than the last time. In fact, Chie was dominant at times, wrestling with a smile on her face as she took the fight to Mei. Too Much Energy has a tendency to get caught up in her own emotions, bouncing around with excitement or bursting into tears, but this was a more focused version of her, closer to the one that Egg Tarts’ partner Shinno Hagane has managed to channel in the past. It said a lot that the only way Mei could beat her was a counter to a counter, Chie reversing the Propeller Pin only for Mei to have one more trick up her sleeve.
And sure, the one-sided rivalry has been done a million times, but I still love it. I also believe finding a forever rival is one of the best things that can happen to a young wrestler. Whether a more experienced foe or a fellow rookie, having someone to chase and measure yourself against is always a good thing, and you can tell Chie is desperate to prove she’s on Mei’s level. The two of them are close friends outside the ring, but that only adds to the tension and that desperate need not to be left behind. Judging by this, Chie won’t have to worry about that anytime soon.
My god, this was wonderful. With In Showcase designed to be a place where Stardom can unleash the kind of gimmick matches they typically avoid, I went in hoping for all sorts of silliness. Sadly, what I’d got at this point in this show was some alright matches and a Cosmic Angels’ thing that took three people who could deliver brilliant nonsense and buried them under a horny sea of meh. Then, just as I was beginning to give up, these four came out and delivered a masterpiece.
This gave us AZM chasing Momo backstage and stealing Oedo Tai’s dinner, a bouncy castle and a bouncy slide, Tam and Koguma magically swapping gear and Ref Daichi getting very close to pulling off a dive. It was chaotic and all over the place, but most importantly, it had that streak of childish inventiveness which makes for the very best nonsense. Who didn’t spend every birthday party with a bouncy castle hitting moves on their friends? Watching that same thing but with people who actually know what they’re doing provides a similar magical feeling to the DDT and TJPW pool matches. It’s taking childhood fantasy and making it real, which is all I’ve ever wanted from wrestling.
Injuries and illness suck, and no one ever wants to see someone drop off a show because of them. However, it’s also true that they create opportunities. For example, they might give a bee and a wonderful weirdo the chance to headline a Shinjuku show.
And this match was a perfect example of why I love TJPW. In most companies, a comedy or lower-card wrestler getting a chance at the main event is part of a storyline where they get serious. They might vow to show everyone they’re not a joke or suddenly display hitherto unseen skills. On another show, we might have seen Pom Harajuku cutting back on her wonderful weirdness to prove she belonged.
Thankfully, TJPW is not that company and Pom came out for this match armed with a net, ready to catch herself a bee. Did she have a plan for after she’d got the bee? Well, only she can say, but I’m sceptical. However, that’s not the point. The point is that Pom had her first ever singles main event and chased Suzume around with a net before working over her shins. It was a beautiful display of Pomness, which unsurprisingly, delighted me. Someone like Pom, particularly after her improvement over the last year or so, shouldn’t have to change to get these opportunities because she’s perfect the way she is. Everyone cross your fingers and hope this isn’t the last time we see this because I want as much PomTime as I can get.