Eleven months down, one to go, and I’m quietly delighted that I’ve managed to get every single one of these out on the first day of the month in 2022. Fingers crossed that I can keep it up, but either way, I have plenty of good wrestling for you to check out, so enjoy!
I’ve mentioned this before, but I love it when Suzu plays the prick. She’s comfortable with turning the arrogance up to eleven and strutting around the ring with the assurance of someone who, at the age of twenty, has achieved everything they set out to do. It’s not just opponents who have to put up with it, either. Suzuki and Cohaku have been at each other’s throats since they met, and being put on the same team did nothing to change that. There were moments where that tension bubbled over, leading to them swinging at each other rather than Riko and SAKI. Importantly, though, it never strayed into contrived ‘can they co-exist’ nonsense, but felt like a genuine falling out between two people who can’t get along, and it added just the right streak of chaos to this match.
Even when Suzu isn’t being a bellend, these four are high up my must-watch list. Riko shines wherever she turns up, Cohaku has been brilliant since coming to WAVE, and SAKI is as reliable as they come. Throw the Suzuki firebrand in there, and there was no chance of this match letting me down.
In 2022, ChocoPro has gone from a promotion where every show was a must-watch to one that I stick on in the background when I’m doing something else. I don’t want to sound down on the talent (Mei Suruga is probably my wrestler of the year), but the combination of a small roster and the ridiculous number of shows they do has caused some magic to rub off. Gatoh Move was always the place I came to for wild invention, but you can’t expect people to reinvent the wheel when they’re doing at least two shows a week, and with all of those being broadcast live on YouTube, I’ve struggled to maintain my excitement.
There is an exception, however, and that’s Black Comaneci. The pairing of Antonio Honda and Tokiko Kirihara is the one thing in ChocoPro that still feels must-see, as they bring a level of anarchic chaos that I can’t help but love. On this show, to celebrate Otoki’s birthday, they faced off against each other, and it was just as wild as I hoped. They did an outstanding job of winding their usual nonsense through the action, but then climaxing in the two of them putting that all to one side as Otoki desperately tried to pick up what would be the biggest win of her career so far.
And while Otoki was brilliant, I want to finish by focusing on Honda, as it’s easy to take Anton for granted. He’s one of these wrestlers who always seems to be around, putting on entertaining matches in the DDT undercard and hitting every beat you want him to hit, but he is so much more than that. Honda has a real knack for bringing the best out of people, and the fire he drew from Otoki in the last act of this match was a perfect example of that. He is the ideal midcard gatekeeper, capable of leading you on a merry jig, but able to fly up the gears when the action calls for it. More often than not, it leads to fantastic matches like this one, and whether paired up or facing off, Black Comaneci are always must-see.
There is a lot of joy to be gained from bringing over Japanese wrestlers and pairing them up with a random local talent. It’s a chance for two people from different countries to test themselves, and often, the fans are content with seeing someone they didn’t expect to see. However, when a company brings someone over and truly gets them, it turns a fun occasion into a special one. I can’t think of many examples of a Western promotion getting a group of wrestlers better than DPW got it with this match.
The obvious one is putting Mei Suruga opposite a man who believes he’s a giant. Not only does wrestling Andrew Everett play into Mei’s own belief that she is a giant killer, but it is the ideal nonsense for her to play off. Suruga has spent this year cementing herself as one of the best at walking into a promotion, making herself at home and delivering a fun, action-packed match, and I reckon she could do that with a brick wall. However, the best stuff has been when there was an AZM or Momoka Hanazono for her to bounce off. Everett might not have much in common with those two, but he provided that same service, giving Suruga someone to rail against as she screeched her way through a Limp Bizkit soundtracked promo video.
And while Mei is the ideal opponent for Everett, Takase might be an even better partner. The Phoenix of Osaka doesn’t claim to be seven feet tall, but she wrestles like she is, throwing herself into the action like she’s the world’s hardest hoss. That pure, unbridled enthusiasm matched up wonderfully with Everett’s delusions, and the two clicked almost instantly. They were so good that I really hope this isn’t the last time they team, as I could see them having a lot of entertaining outings.
This was a match that left me grinning from ear to ear even as it remembered that I hate American indie commentary (it wasn’t the worst, to be fair). I’ve only dipped my toe into DPW in the past, checking out the big joshi matches they’ve booked, but if this is an example of the magic touch they have, then I might have to slip in and see what else they’re doing.
Emotion always plays a big part in how you respond to wrestling, but that’s particularly true when you’re talking about watching it live. The crowd’s reaction, the thrill of seeing a performer you love, and even something as simple as the noise of the ring all come together to make it a hundred times more exciting. It’s what turns a match like this one, which I have seen variations of countless times, into something special. Sure, Maria vs Rin probably wasn’t technically better than Emersyn Jayne vs Charlie Morgan or either Miyu Yamashita match from this brace of shows (all three of which I’d recommend), but it was for me.
There are a few different layers to why it was my favourite, the most basic one being that I love Marvelous, so watching two of their wrestlers face off in person was always going to be special. Then there was the excitement of seeing a crowd realise what I already knew, that they’re both brilliant. I don’t know how many people in that room had seen Maria or Rin work before, but I’m guessing at least a chunk hadn’t, and they won them over instantly. While I can’t claim even the tiniest genuine connection to that, having spent a decent amount of time writing and talking about Marvelous, means watching them win others over still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
Finally, and most importantly, the match was still really fucking good. Maria and Rin got ten minutes to showcase their talents, and with Chigusa sitting in the corner of the room, watching on, they did her proud. Those two are ridiculously young and ridiculously talented, and while Rin had to cancel her post-wedding plans to be there, you could tell they were delighted to show their skill in front of a foreign crowd and adjust to their whims. Maria, in particular, was revelling in being booed, taking advantage of a reaction that she won’t often get in her home promotion. I can only assume there were at least a few people in that room who came away wanting to see more, and lucky for them, I know the perfect place to catch up with what they’ve been up to in Marvelous.
I’ve seen quite a few cool things in my wrestling-going lifetime, but the curtains opening at 229 The Venue to reveal Hyper Misao posing on the stage next to a pyramid of chairs is right up there. Throw in the Boris Bike version of the Hyper Misao Mobile, and this match was always going to have a fan in me. It was Misao at her nonsense best, with all the bells and whistles, and witnessing that in person will never fail to delight.
And it is a match type that is best witnessed live. You can appreciate it at home, even love it, but when you’re in the venue, having perhaps drank a beer or two, the sense of chaos is multiplied tenfold. Misao has a talent for tricking you into thinking she is making it up as she goes, so when she’s dragging her bike around or setting up various items of furniture, you feel like it could go wrong at any moment. I do not doubt that she knows what she’s going to do next, but her general air of ‘fuck it, I’ll try this’ helps you to forget that.
Some credit also has to go to Nightshade, a wrestler I’ve only seen bits and pieces of but who was very good at playing the over-the-top villain for Misao to overcome. This match wasn’t about her, and it would have been easy for her to try and force it into being so, but she didn’t. She was happy to let Hyper Misao flourish, and I was very grateful for that.
With the AAAW Title Tournament on the horizon, there was a crackling tension in the air for this match that elevated it from a standard Marvelous main event to something must-see. Nowhere was that clearer than in the performance of Mio Momono, who approached it with the fire of someone desperate to prove they were ready to win the big one. Whether it was stamping on the back of Riko’s head or losing it at Rin after she tapped out, you could tell this meant the world to Mio, which made it hard not to care.
And yet, no matter how much passion she showed, Momono wasn’t the one who stole the headlines. For a fair old time now, I’ve been predicting that Maria was on the cusp of getting that first big win, and this was the rare moment where I was proven right. After a thrilling back and forth between her and Rin, in which the time was running down, she finally managed to twist Kadokura up and push herself over that line. It was the perfect ending, as it wasn’t only a thrill for those like me who were waiting for that moment, but it threw another element into the tournament. Maria has levelled up, and who knows what will happen next.
On top of all that, these four are great wrestlers, and watching them go at it will always be a thrill. They all know each other like the back of their hands, allowing a match like this to take off and find levels they perhaps wouldn’t with people they aren’t as used to working with. It left me very excited for that one-day tournament, and I can’t wait to see what twists and turns are in store.
SAKI was a dick in this match, and I loved it. She didn’t simply heel it up but revelled in it, rejoicing in the boos of the Ichigaya crowd as she put this rookie through her paces. It’s a trope as old as time, but it’s one that nearly always works, and SAKI brings a brute-force physicality to it that makes it all the more effective. She bullied Miya, forcing her to work for every tiny opening and putting the fans firmly in her corner. There was never any chance that the rookie would win, but that didn’t matter. That she stood up and took the abuse, refusing to go down without a fight, was enough.
We’re often told that winning a belt or headlining a particular show is a wrestler’s dream, but the emotion doesn’t always follow behind. It’s an easy thing to say but a much harder one to sell, as you have to convince the fans this person has worked their entire life to get to that moment. Thankfully, convincing fans to believe in him is Eddie Kingston’s speciality. He’s worn his heart on his sleeve since he stepped foot into a ring, all while yelling loudly about the wrestling that inspired him. No one can doubt that getting in there with Jun Akiyama meant everything to him.
So while it quickly became apparent that a sizable chunk of the fans at Full Gear didn’t know who Akiyama was, this match still felt big. Eddie sold it by the force of his passion, fuelled by his desire to get in the ring with his hero and prove he belonged. It didn’t matter if the crowd reacted or not (and they eventually did) because Eddie was the driving force, bringing the fight to Akiyama and turning it into a stiff, bruising encounter that allowed him to show he could stand toe-to-toe with Uncle Jun.
And while those gruelling blows were a big part of this match, the thing that really stood out to me was Eddie’s selling. He’s a wrestler who is unafraid to look hurt, stumbling back, bleary-eyed from a hard hit. Perhaps because he was in there with someone he respected so much, Eddie seemed particularly focused on making everything look like it put him through the wringer, helping his victory feel all the more inspiring. He didn’t go out there and shrug off Akiyama’s best but felt every second of it and came back for more anyway. Across the ring from a stoic Japanese legend, it emphasised his humanity and why we all love him as much as we do. If there is any wrestler who deserves to live their dream, it’s him, and it was a pleasure to watch him do so.
The best part about Stardom opening the doors and welcoming outside talent has been AZM being allowed out to play with all her high speed friends. Her match with Mei Suruga was already one of my favourites of the year, and now it was time for her to go up against Mei’s MomoRingo partner, Momoka Hanazono, which had equally delightful results.
And delightful is the appropriate word here. There’s a giggly glee to these matches, as you can feel AZM and Momoka’s brains whirring away, building to their next intricate sequence or laugh. It’s not only that they can do this stuff, but that the timing of it is exquisite, every part of the action clicking into place like an elaborate puzzle box. I always feel like I could sit back and unpick it, finding the seams, but I don’t want to. There is too much joy to be found in watching it unfold naturally, each section bringing another smile.
Despite all that, I don’t think it quite reached the level of Mei vs AZM, but that is a mighty high bar to leap over, so you can’t hold it against them. They still left me grinning from ear to ear and hopeful that now all AZM’s friends have been to her house, she’ll get the chance to pop over to some of theirs in the future.
Watching this match, I realised that it, more than anything else, captures what I will miss about Yuuki Mashiro. There wasn’t anything new or different about it, but she doggedly went for (and missed) every single shortcut. It’s impossible not to delight in that brilliant combination of arrogance and naivety, her over-the-top selling of every blow working perfectly alongside her iron-willed belief that everything she does is right. At one point, she got into a strike exchange with Tani, encouraged by the returning referee Mio Shirai, and ended up selling her own forearm more than Momo did the blow it had just delivered. It was pure, 100% Yuuki Mashiro, and over the last three years, there have been few things better than that.
Sadly, her retirement is the way of joshi wrestling, but there is beauty to be found in Yuuki’s too-short career. Yes, we all appreciate the lifers. Aja Kong and Chigusa Nagayo will be around till they die, and I love them for that, but there is much to be said for those who burn bright and fast. In the three years that she’s given us, Yuuki Mashiro has shown more wit and invention than some do in entire careers. Wrestling isn’t everything to her, which allowed her to step outside the box and create something unique. I’ll miss her when she’s gone, but I’m mostly glad we had her at all.
2022 is the year that TJPW realised what they had in Pom Harajuku. I’m not suggesting she is about to headline big shows and win titles (although I would be okay with that), but there should always be a spot on the roster for people like her. A midcard wrestler who can be relied upon to make everything you ask them to do entertaining, be it getting squashed by a monster or dressing up as a superhero and claiming the world doesn’t need Hyper Misao anymore. Pom can make the tiniest details hilarious, and sneaking through the crowd with a cape over her head to escape Misao was the perfect example. She is a treasure, and now that TJPW has figured that out, I hope we get as many brilliant Pom matches in 2023 as possible.
I love matches that capture the moment a wrestler levels up and reaches that next stage in their career. Arisu Endo has had a quietly brilliant year, but this was her best performance yet, as everything seemed to click at once. She didn’t just show that fiery fighting spirit that is a prerequisite for all rookies but backed it up with an edge as she went out and tried everything to take Mizuki out. There were moments when Arisu managed to convince me she could win this, as she pushed that psychotic rabbit as far as she could.
It was also a reminder of how brilliant Mizuki is. That’s not really something we need, she’s rarely anything other than exceptional, but she played a big part in making Arisu feel like a threat. It wasn’t just the selling, although that was good, but the timing of the action, as she knew exactly when to cut Endo off and let her loose. I don’t want to take the credit away from Arisu because this was a big moment for her, but it takes two to tango, and Mizuki at least deserves an assist for this performance.