With the Marvelous roster fully recovered from their unfortunate encounter with COVID, they entered the post-KAORU era by booking the match I’ve wanted to see more than any other since Mio Momono’s return. Yup, they’re doing Mio vs Ai Houzan. It’s time to get excited!
Riko Kawahata defeated Tomoko Watanabe and Hibiscus Mii in a three-way
Chigusa Nagayo finding Hibiscus Mii hilarious and routinely allowing her to hijack bouts by unleashing her nonsense is a gift to me, another person who thinks Mii is wonderful. Our opener was less a match and more a Mii comedy special with guests Riko and Tomoko, a decision I was never likely to be upset with. Especially as it means we got to listen to Chigusa crack up on commentary, one of life’s great pleasures.
It also gave us a glimpse of the giddy Kawahata who got Chig and Sakura Hirota to sign her Team Eccentric t-shirt. She’s a brilliant straight wrestler, but you can’t help noticing that she leaps on every opportunity to slip into nonsense, and her delayed selling of some Mii forearms had a real whiff of the Hirota to it. Yes, she’s come through under the watchful eye of Yumiko Hotta, and you’re unlikely to forget that, but there is another side to Riko that it’s always fun to see sneak out.
A word that also sums up this opener, which had me giggling the whole way through. Even the bits I didn’t understand had that beautiful Chig laughter soundtrack, which is a stamp of approval I’m always happy to bow down to. Two thumbs up from me!
Verdict: Very Funny
Ricky Fuji defeated Leo Isaka
Ricky Fuji is 56 and manages to look simultaneously great for his age and awful. If I can still move around like that when I’m in my fifties, I’ll be doing alright, but I really hope I don’t dress like that. (Sorry, Ricky, you keep doing you, man.)
While Fuji is sprightly for his age, that’s not the same as being able to keep up with Leo, and they leaned heavily on the veteran slapping on a headlock and forcing Isaka to find a way out of it. I don’t necessarily believe that has to be a bad thing, there have been some great headlock battles over the years, but this wasn’t one of them. It was all rudimentary stuff, lacking the invention to keep me engaged and feeling more like an ageing veteran falling back on the basics.
Still, to give Fuji his credit, he bumped around for Leo’s comeback before quickly recovering when he stumbled mid-suplex. So while it wasn’t a performance that will have me looking up his 2022 matches, it wasn’t a total embarrassment either.
Verdict: Damning With Faint Praise
Mio Momono defeated Ai Houzan
Early in this match, having failed to pin Mio with a flurry of roll-ups out of the handshake, Ai raised her hand, challenging Momono to lock up with her. Everything about her demeanour and attitude screamed cocky wee menace, and Mio, someone who knows a thing or two about menacing, was well aware of what she was doing. So, she stamped on her foot… a lot. Then, when Ai had dropped to her knees in pain, she slapped her around the back of the head, making her message very clear. Don’t mess with the master.
I’ve long celebrated Ai as a child of Momono, and this match did a lot to vindicate that view. There was strong master vs pupil vibes throughout, as Ai tried to bring everything that Mio’s taught her to the fore, only to discover that she has a lot to learn. There were points where Momono was almost toying with her, letting her fire off with a series of ever weaker dropkicks only to reward the rookie with a perfectly placed one of her own. Then, towards the end, Mio was testing how far Houzan could go, seeing how hard she could be hit and still pull herself up with a roar of frustration.
Yet, even with that level of dominance, there were points where Ai caught Mio off-guard. Moments like her blocking a Mio strike with a headbutt before following up with one square to the chest. Houzan is still a long way from being on Mio’s level, but so are most wrestlers, and considering she only graduated out of her swimsuit for this match (her new gear looks fantastic), she’s got plenty of time. I’m certainly rooting for her to make it, and I know she has the sprinkle of magic required to get her over the line.
Verdict: The Pupil Will Get There
Rin Kadokura and Itsuki Aoki fought to a time-limit draw
Itsuki Aoki did not want to fight Rin Kadokura. She was so desperate to avoid going up against her tag-team partner that she was happy to lie down and give Rin the win. Kadokura, though, had different plans. She wanted a fight and did everything she could to convince Aoki to feel the same. It would take her a while to find something that worked, but when she did get under Itsuki’s skin, she might have regretted that decision.
Because when Itsuki started fighting, she did not hold back. I’m stealing a football cliche here, but this was a match of two halves. The first was heavy on comedy, as Rin tried to get Itsuki to play ball, and the second was a violent sprint packed with thudding blows and suplexes. Filling up so much time with messing around meant that when Rin and Itsuki went at it, they could slam their foot on the accelerator, stuffing that final act with the good stuff.
Which, it’s worth saying, is a somewhat genius way to put together a match. Marvelous’ fans love a bit of comedy, so they could rely on them to go with them for the first half, which allowed the second to hit all the harder. I’m not surprised these two have great chemistry (I’d have been more shocked if they didn’t), but that they came up with something like this makes me think that an eventual round two could be something special.
Verdict: Great Inventive Action
Takumi Iroha & Chikayo Nagashima defeated ASUKA & Maria
I think ASUKA and Maria are my favourite occasional Marvelous pairing. ASUKA doesn’t just encourage Maria’s attitude but revels in it, training her in the art of arrogantly dismissing an opponent. They were facing the Ace and a storied veteran, but you’d never have guessed as they showed them about as much respect as they would a couple of schlubs off the street.
Of course, it helps that ASUKA is one of the best wrestlers in the world right now, so watching her with people as brilliant as Takumi and Nagashima is bound to produce some magic. She occasionally does something incredible but in a way that suggests it’s the most normal thing in the world. Admittedly, I often complain about wrestlers doing that (this stuff shouldn’t look too easy), but ASUKA has so much style that it’s hard not to be impressed. Plus, when she does get into a fight, she’s more than happy to fall back on the simple stuff, like slapping someone full force across the face.
Despite the general brilliance of all involved, this did feel a touch or two below everyone going all out. There were good moments, I enjoyed Maria vs Chikayo, as I think Maria’s style draws a lot from Nagashima and gives them a great base to build off, but on the whole, it was a tad throwaway. Now, these four having a throwaway match is still better than most other things, so please don’t take that as me saying it was bad. However, it was lightweight when put up against the two matches that came before.
Verdict: It Was Still Good
In the aftermath, Nagashima revealed that she wouldn’t be going through with the retirement she’d previously announced, which is lovely news. Itsuki and Rin then came out so we can have another go at having Nagashima and Takumi challenge for the belts (Rin testing positive for COVID caused the previous one to be cancelled).
Any show that gives me Mio vs Ai will be in my good books, so the fact this also had a funny opener and a great, inventive showdown between Rin and Itsuki was a bonus. Throw in a solid main event, and they’ve buttered me up enough that I’m willing to forgive the unimpressive Leo match. If you’re picking and choosing, though, Ai vs Mio and Itsuki vs Rin is the way to go.