It’s the last one before the biggie, as Marvelous popped down to Hakata for their final show before the one-night AAAW Title tournament. Currently, it doesn’t feel like there is a clear favourite for the belt (although I might be influenced by my belief that Mio shouldn’t win it right now), so while I’m sure this show was a fun trip, it was also the last chance for people to pick up some momentum. Let’s see what went down.
YuuRI defeated Ai Houzan
There were a few great moments in this battle of the fiery rookies. The first saw YuuRI doing a dropdown right in front of Ai, forcing her to pull off exaggerated steps to get over her. Initially, I assumed their timing was slightly off, but then YuuRI used those steps to reach out and grab Ai’s ankle, tripping her up just as she thought she’d avoided the trap. It wasn’t anything spectacular or mind-blowing, but it was a lovely little detail, using a spot that everyone does (but few people think about) to do something a bit different.
My other favourite moments were more traditional but just as enjoyable as a screaming Ai rising from the mat to slap YuuRI (who was on the top rope) will always get a kick out of me. Then there was the frantic nature of the final few minutes, the crowd picking up as they battled between pins before YuuRI almost flew into the winning sleeper, leaping through the air to drag Ai to the ground and into the hold.
It gave me exactly what I’d want from these two, a fast-paced, fiery affair that had them both look good. Yes, they could perhaps use slowing down a bit and letting the impact of moves reverberate around the room, but they’re passionate wee rookies, and it’s not in their nature. They’ll figure that stuff out eventually, and until they do, I’ll continue to enjoy these matches for what they are.
Verdict: Great Rookie Opener
Leo Isaka defeated Batten Burabura
I don’t know anything about Batten Burabura (although I’ve since been told he’s Mio’s favourite wrestler, which makes sense), but his nonsense gauge has shot past eleven. He spent a decent amount of time before the match chattering to the crowd, which had them (and, more importantly, Chigusa) chuckling away. When he started eating poor Leo’s hair, a few were in full-blown hysterics as he made Hibiscus Mii look like a serious pro.
As someone who has long believed Leo is at his best when he is out of his comfort zone, this was always going to go down well with me. Isaka spent most of the match looking utterly bemused, unsure of how to deal with this weirdo, and that’s what I want from him. It pulled Isaka away from his perfectly executed sequences (that you can see in countless other places) and forced him to think a bit. He could still throw a few fancy moves in there, but he had to get past a forcefield of nonsense first.
The only downside was that most of the comedy relied on a better grasp of Japanese than I have. However, even with that issue, this might be the most memorable Leo match of the year, so well done, Batten Burabura.
Verdict: Great Fun
Riko Kawahata defeated Rina Amikura and Yurika Oka in a three-way
Damn, this one caught me off-guard with how good it was. Not because I don’t trust these three to have an impressive match, I do, but Marvelous gave Riko, Rina and Yurika the time and space to shine. Three talented young wrestlers got to let loose and showcase their abilities as creatively as possible, an opportunity they grabbed with both hands.
And it was that creativity which shone through here. Three-ways are difficult, as it’s easy to fall back on predictable tropes, but they found ways to keep it constantly interesting. Yes, there were periods when one person was selling on the outside, but they always returned to having everyone in the ring, working through some smartly put-together bits of action that played to their strengths. They even threw in plenty of roll-up exchanges, giving us a taste of that Marvelous staple even if they aren’t official members of the roster.
And while I think they all deserve credit, I want to single Kawahata out for a bit extra. She was the glue in this match, pairing off with Oka and Rina for extended periods while also playing a big part in the sections with all three of them. It’s yet another example of her development over the last year, as she’s become a wrestler you can rely on and is comfortable controlling a match against her peers. Fingers crossed that Marvelous continues to recognise how talented she is and put her front and centre as we head into 2023.
Verdict: A Lovely Creative Time
Unagi Sayaka defeated Maria
Since coming into Marvelous, Unagi Sayaka has faced a rookie (Ai Houzan) and a veteran (Chikayo Nagashima). Maria, however, was the big test. They debuted within a month of each other, and if she is to be worthy of the AAAW Title, she has to win matches like this one.
The action ended up playing into the strengths and weaknesses of Unagi as a wrestler. Maria had a plan, going for arm submissions at every possibility and finding them more often than not. When it came to selling those attacks, Unagi was great. There was a moment where I was worried she’d genuinely hurt herself, and you can see why she’s become such an incredibly popular wrestler. She’s a brilliant loudmouth character but is also adept at drawing sympathy and getting people to care.
The problem came when it was time for Unagi to go on the attack, which is when her weaknesses shone through. It’s not that she’s rubbish, she’s not, but that there is more sizzle than steak in a lot of what she does. Where Maria’s offence felt focused and determined, Unagi’s was a bit all over the place, often delivered with flair but lacking in the bite required to sell her as a genuine threat. It was a feeling that continued right through to the finish, which felt flat for the simple reason that I didn’t believe it was a move that could keep Maria down.
Still, there is no denying that Unagi is entertaining, and I am very intrigued as to what Marvelous’s plans with her are. I could imagine her doing everything from crashing out in the first round of the AAAW Title tournament to winning the whole thing, which is always interesting. Plus, while I did have issues with this match, it was far from awful, and Maria came out looking great, so my complaints are far from strident.
Verdict: Good, But Lacking What It Needed To Be Great
Mio Momono, Rin Kadokura & Tomoko Watanabe defeated ASUKA, Chikayo Nagashima & Yuna Manase
Matches like this one are perfect main events for a show of this size. On the base level, it’s a chance for the crowd to see a bunch of talented wrestlers who can have a decent showing in their sleep. However, there is a bit more to it than that. These six didn’t just turn up and go through the motions but were constantly moving and packed the action with the perfect blend of comedy and great wrestling.
You could pick out any of them to focus on, but let’s go with Mio, who did everything from run into Chikayo’s crotch (ASUKA and Manase had lifted Nagashima to do a dropkick, but Mio was too short) to get into an exciting game of oneupmanship with ASUKA. Momono thrives in the chaos of these matches, able to show off her creativity while also being one of the forces that keeps everything moving forward, as she never hesitates to throw herself into a situation.
By the end, the comedy had been put to one side, and we got an exciting finishing stretch between Rin and Chikayo, which ended with the upset result of Kadokura picking up the win. Having been beaten by Maria and chastised by Mio on the previous show, she redeemed herself here and picked up some momentum before the big one. Does it mean she’s going to win the AAAW Title? I have no idea, but I can say that this main event was a blast and as easy a watch as you can get. It comes highly recommended by me.
None of these matches had the venom of Magenta vs Mio and Rin from the last show, but with them being on the road in Hakata, that would have been a surprise. There was more of a focus on delivering a fun time for fans who don’t get to see them as often, which I have no complaints about, and it was incredibly watchable because of it. Korakuen is next, though, and one suspects that any fun will be put to one side when that big belt is on the line.