October is over, and with it, another month of rather good wrestling. Between Wrestle Princess, the end of the 5STAR and who knows how many smaller events going on over the last thirty-one days, I had plenty to get my teeth into, and fingers crossed that there is something here that will entice you into checking it out too. Enjoy!
With Yunamon heading off to give freelancing a go, her Gatoh Move farewell was a heartwarming occasion. The love for everyone’s favourite pineapple was so all-encompassing that an old face couldn’t resist popping along, Mitsuru Konno standing in her former partner’s corner for the main event before joining in with the post-match sing-song. It was the kind of show that reminded me why I fell in love with this silly wee company, as this lovely, dysfunctional family came together to wish Yunamon well as she ventured out into the big wide world.
Before she went, though, she wanted one final crack at Emi Sakura. It’s fair to say that their pupil-teacher relationship hasn’t always been sparkling, with Emi often harsher on Yunamon than others. However, that tension has made for electric chemistry, with this showdown proving no different. Yuna is one of Sakura’s few trainees who can cut off her bullying ways with pure power. She is, in fact, the one who wrestles most like her, which I think has always played into the tension between them. Emi might have crafted Mei and Riho into the embodiment of Sakuraism, but Yunamon is the closest to the original, and Sakura knows it. The others couldn’t replace her, but Mizumori could.
And I went into this match unspoiled but working on the assumption that Yunamon would, as is tradition, go out on her back. However, as the final act thumped into gear and the tension rose, I began doubting that belief. In the past, Emi has beaten Yunamon by being nastier, but this time around, Sakura couldn’t find a way to halt Mizumori’s momentum. She was firing on all cylinders, matching the oni every step of the way, and on her final night in the company, she did what she’d never managed to do before, pinned Emi Sakura in a singles match.
What a moment that was. The emotional release of Yunamon finally getting that big win was brilliant, quickly followed by the realisation that Emi had put her over on the way out. If you need proof that Yunamon is going out into the world with her blessing, then you’ve got it, as (AEW aside) wins over Emi are a rare gift. That she chose to bestow it on someone’s final match under her eye for the foreseeable future speaks highly of the love she must have for her tropical pupil. One suspects that whatever Yunamon goes on to do next, Emi will be watching on proudly, even if she’ll never admit it.
I love retirement gauntlets, and this one had the added benefit of not ending with someone saying goodbye forever but with Dalys simply returning to Mexico, which helped take some of the emotional sting out of its tail.
It also reminded me of my affection for the Ice Ribbon roster. Yes, they’ve had a rough year or so, as most of the star power in the company either retired or went elsewhere (and the news Yuuki Mashiro will also be hanging up her boots is gutting), but that doesn’t change the fact that they are a special group. This match alone gave us Misa Kagura and Nao turning Dalys into a princess, Yuuki Mashiro challenging her to a boxing match, only to panic when she realised Dalys knew what she was doing, and a fantastic final showing from Kaho. It was a showcase for this wonderfully eclectic host of characters, all of whom had something unique to bring to the table.
And that’s where Ice Ribbon will always excel. It might be a long time since Emi Sakura was in charge, but they still have her magical ability to find the thing that makes each wrestler unique and nurture it. As long as they have that, there will always be something worth watching, no matter who comes and goes.
The first few seconds of this match were perfect. Kaori Yoneyama, standing across the ring from Aiger, is terrified. However, the fans are yelling her name, and for all her fear, she is still a wrestler, and she can’t ignore them. That knowledge manifests itself in her shuffling, not towards Aiger, but sideways, following the ropes and trying to pump herself up for what she knows she has to do. It’s an astonishing piece of physical comedy, as everything I’ve just said is condensed into one scared, clenched fist walk as Yone tries to find it in her to start the match against this creepy old ghost. The only thing I can think to compare it to is Pom Harajuku’s performance against Max The Impaler, and it made me realise that those two share more than a touch of comedic DNA. So, how do we get TJPW to book Yone and Pom vs Max and Aiger? I will fly to Tokyo to see that match (that’s not a binding promise, I am poor).
I’m starting to think Sakura Hirota is a bad influence on Haruka Umesaki. The more time they spend in the ring together, the more she’s rubbing off on the impressionable youngster, dragging her down into her nonsense. Wait, did I say a bad influence? I meant a wonderful one. Haruka is embracing the silly side of WAVE, and it turns out that she has a knack for it, which Hirota is doing everything in her power to nurture. There is no world in which I am not okay with that.
As for this match, it was the definition of a lovely old time. Not only was the silliness turned up, but the wrestling kept up with it. Whether it was Kurumi and Miyazaki doing big lass stuff or Hirota being a genius, it was perfect comfort watching, dancing by in a flurry of action and leaving me wanting to see these four together again ASAP.
I don’t think the perfect wrestling match is possible, but Saki Kashima pinning AZM on her birthday after 45 seconds when she’d debuted new gear is about as close as we’ll get. It wasn’t only the cruel deliciousness that made it perfect, though. The journey to that finish was also genuinely thrilling. AZM is one of the few people left in Stardom (if we’re not including Yone) who wrestles in a style that would be at home in Natsuki Taiyo’s High Speed division, and Kashima has always excelled at scuppering other people’s plans with a flash pin. It wasn’t a super clean, perfect back and forth but a scrappy fight to see who could get the other’s shoulders on the mat first, making it infinitely more interesting than any epic finisher dance. On a show where most of the hyped matches fell flat for me, these two gave me what I wanted, and I love them for it.
The world of TJPW is a weird one, but it does have its own internal logic, and, more importantly, everyone involved in it knows who they are. Raku, the train god who does magic and sorcery, can exist next to badass killer Miyu Yamashita because they both fully inhabit those roles, which makes them feel like real people. That allows TJPW to play with the joy of putting these disparate characters together and seeing what happens if you force them to co-exist, forming relationships and rivalries. It’s also why I suspect they are so selective with the outsiders they bring it. They want people who can slide into that world, existing alongside their characters and growing the wonderful family they’ve created. Thankfully, more often than not, they nail it, bringing in wrestlers who add rather than take away from what they have.
And yet, I don’t think they’ve ever got it more right than they did when they brought in Max The Impaler. Not only has Max shown themselves to be a good worker, but the second they stepped through the ropes, they got it. Like Raku or Miyu or Rika, Max is a fully-fledged character, and sure, it’s a very different one from everyone else in the company, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that when they’re out there, they embody that role, playing with what happens when a monster is in a ring with a Harajuku clown and a god who does not doubt that lying their head on a pillow and singing them a lullaby will send them to sleep. And so far, every reaction, every puzzled stare, has been perfect. Max doesn’t just fit in with TJPW; it’s like they were born to be there.
Then, to make all of this better, you have Aja Kong, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, not only playing these games but embracing them. Even after this match, in which she came up against someone who could match her for strength, Aja didn’t forget where she was. There was no vow to personally crush Max, but one to help Pom do so. Then, as the cherry on top, she promised to get in plenty of lullaby practice to aid Raku in getting them next time. Does it get any better than that? Because I’m not sure if it does.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that while I thought Yuka Sakazaki’s last run with the Princess of Princess title was fantastic, it probably wasn’t what she had in mind. She carried that belt through the height of the pandemic, cementing herself as one of the faces of the company but doing so while dealing with a period of uncertainty where no one knew what the next step was. It meant that while she held it for over a year, she only managed four defences, the same number that Shoko had over a significantly shorter period. A defining, dream-fulfilling reign it was not.
When you think about it like that, Yuka’s journey to Wrestle Princess III makes a lot of sense. Yes, she’s held that belt twice before, but there is still unfinished business, and with the rest of the roster levelling up around her, Sakazaki has to be aware that it’s only going to get harder to win. Having already failed to beat Shoko once this year, she had to battle her way through a gruelling Princess Cup to get this second opportunity, and there was no way she would let it slip through her fingers again. Yuka wants the chance to lay down the career-defining title run she’s watched Miyu Yamashita have.
And the match backs that theory up because Sakazaki was incredible here. In fact, they both were, putting together a bout that trampled all over their already brilliant showdown at CyberFestival. However, as wonderful as Shoko was, it was Yuka who stole the occasion, unleashing the bruiser style she’s made her own in recent years. Few wrestlers can tap into the relentless violence that she can, as, despite her relatively small stature, everything she does looks like it comes with the power of a brick smashing into your face. As talented as Shoko is, it was an onslaught that she had no answer to, and while she never gave up, Yuka’s victory became inevitable.
Who knows whether Sakazaki will now have the kind of title reign that Miyu had through 2021 and into this year. Personally, I suspect she won’t hold it long enough to make that a reality, but I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. Either way, after her unsettled previous run, Yuka deserves another shot, and whether it’s long or short, I have no doubt it will be spectacular.
The second Momoka clambered onto Tomoko’s stomach and called her Totoro, my affection for this match was guaranteed. That it caused Chigusa Nagayo to roar with laughter and everyone else involved in this double-header of Marvelous shows to refer to Tomoko as Totoro for the rest of the weekend was the cherry on top. Momoka has made a habit of wandering into promotions and stealing the show, but it was spectacular even for her.
Plus, the rest of the match was just as joyous. Tomoko has a beautiful ability to laugh at herself, proving time after time that she is happy to be the butt of every joke, and that is the perfect attitude to bring into a meeting with Momoka. Whether chasing her around the ring or smacking her with a flower, Watanabe was the perfect grumpy veteran foil to Hanazono’s relentlessly positive outlook, as these two had me giggling away throughout. It was the kind of wrestling I could watch all day and further proof (as if it were needed) that Momoka Hanazono is a gem that we should all treasure.
I love when wrestlers take something that seems inconsequential and then weave it into the narrative of the action. Rin and Ayame gave me a perfect example, as they opened by engaging in some very petty foot stomping, which appeared to be merely the silly comedy before we got into the meat of the matter. Except, that wasn’t the case. As the match peaked, they returned to the beginning, selling the pain of their poor crushed toes and using it to set up the finish. That’s the good stuff right there!
And I think moments like that separate a good wrestler from a great one. It’s one thing to sell an arm or a leg or pull out some ‘in-depth’ storytelling by reversing a move that you previously got hit with, but it’s another to come up with something light and frothy and transform it into something vital. That takes a level of inventiveness and wit that, quite frankly, most wrestlers don’t have, and it left me very glad that the ones I like do.
TJPW’s Wrestle Universe Members shows are Stardom’s Showcase events on a budget and infinitely more charming because of it. Whether it’s Miu and Yuka taking part in the now traditional cooking battle (which is wrestling’s answer to Ready Steady Cook) or a four-way game of werewolf, they are the perfect place for the roster to flex their imagination. The highlight of this most recent one was the finish to this series of matches between the roster’s cat owners and dog owners, where Haruna Neko beat everyone up after the supposed cat lovers failed to rescue her from a Hikari Noa catnapping. The wee cat doesn’t get many chances to be a badass, but this was her moment, and it was perfect.
Sayuri has always felt like the odd one out in her class of Gatoh Move rookies as she lacks the natural charisma of Chie and Lulu or the confidence of Otoki and Sayaka. It would be harsh to say she fades into the background because I don’t think she does, but she’s certainly quieter and more reserved than her immediate peers.
And yet, underneath that exterior, it’s become increasingly clear that Sayuri is a fighter. Rather than giving up or deciding wrestling is not for her, she’s worked her arse off, slowly improving and forging a niche for herself. Things might not come as quickly to her as the others, but she’s used that to her advantage, taking her time and crafting an unusual wrestling style that plays off her ninja persona. More importantly, she’s found small ways to make people care, her almost year-long quest to hit a bodyslam being the perfect example.
And then there’s this match, where Sayuri picked up her first-ever pinfall while putting on one hell of a showing. It was a masterclass in building sympathy, Chie and Masa ruthlessly isolating her and leaving Choun on the sidelines for the bulk of the action. There was more than one occasion where it looked like Sayuri couldn’t go on, but she refused to lose, battling on despite the pain. It was a perfect underdog performance, paying off in the emotional catharsis of her finally pinning Chie and bursting into tears when the ref counted the three.
All of which makes for the best kind of story. Yes, it’s mind-blowing when a wrestling prodigy wanders onto the scene, brilliant from the beginning, but watching someone figure this stuff out and fight towards those tiny victories is even better. One win might not feel like the most important thing in the world, but Sayuri toiled for three years to get there, which is worth celebrating. Whatever she does next, she earned that moment, and I hope she has many more.
Brookes and Masa’s ability to be the biggest bastards in the room continues to be unrivalled. Black Comaneci are a team famed for their cheating who, before the start of this title match, openly attempted to bribe the referee, yet by the final act, they were the defiant, underdog babyfaces, desperately trying to take the titles off CDK. It was thrilling, and while the big bads would retain their belts, Antonio Honda and Tokiko Kirihara came out of this looking brilliant.
That was particularly true of Otoki, who may have given a career-best performance. There was a strike exchange with Brookes, him throwing chops and her kicks, that had me gripped, Otoki having to pull herself to her feet after every blow, egged on by Honda and his guitar behind her. She thrives within the anarchic chaos of Black Comaneci, but she’s also a quietly great wrestler, capable of capturing your heart with her never-say-die attitude. I didn’t believe Black Comaneci would take the belts off CDK, but I wanted them to because Otoki deserves it.
It was also a match that captured why Gatoh Move is still a magical place. They’ve had a weird 2022, as while it’s had some incredible highs, various wrestlers (deservedly) disappearing off to travel the world has left the regular ChocoPro shows feeling a tad directionless. However, matches like this remind us what a wonderful place Ichigaya Chocolate Square can be. It’s a place where a main event title showdown can start with people dropping pans on each other’s heads before ending in desperate exchanges, everyone throwing their heart and soul into the action. There is nowhere else like it, and it will always have my heart.