That’s a wrap! My final round-up of the month for 2022 is a bit shorter than the others, thanks to Christmas, end-of-year stuff and probably a few too many beers. Still, there were a few matches that I wanted to shout out, so there is plenty to get your teeth into anyway. Plus, if you do want more, I’ve written about my wrestlers of the year, the best of the rest matches and my match of the year, so give those a read after you’re done with this.
Rika Tatsumi might be a main eventer, but you should never discount her talent for midcard antics. No matter who she is wrestling, Tatsumi will find a violent and deranged way to turn it into an entertaining wee match. If you pair her up with Pom (a fellow master), you know we’re getting at least a touch of genius. Here, that spark of inspiration burned brightest when they defiantly offered up their shins for a booting, showing all the cocksure arrogance that most wrestlers do when squaring up to throw some forearms, but replacing meaty blows to the chest with shin kicks. To take that spot, which is both overdone and often poorly executed, and turn it into something fresh and funny, is a hell of a thing, and I adore that Pom and Rika were the first people to make me care about such posturing in a long-time.
I typically only focus on whole shows when there has been a big event that I can’t pick one moment from, but ChocoPro 272 makes my list for the opposite reason. What I loved about this show was how small it felt, and having complained just last month that Choco had lost my attention in 2022, this came along a few days later to remind me exactly why I fell in love with them in the first place.
It didn’t take anything complicated, either, as you could argue that its simplicity is what made it great. This was three fast-paced matches with fun, creative hooks that you couldn’t help getting wrapped up in. Whether it was Chris Brookes mocking Shin Suzuki for being short, a World Cup three-way or Ken Ohka continuing to insist he is Mei Suruga, each match built off a simple idea but then sustained it in an entertaining way. It was the kind of wrestling I usually associate with the pre-pandemic era of Gatoh Move’s daily uploads onto YouTube, where each match felt like a self-contained treasure.
And for all the brilliance ChocoPro has created, which includes some of my favourite matches of all time, I think there is a simple beauty to that period of Gatoh Move, and I miss it. Is that partly early-onset nostalgia? Probably, it’s certainly weird to want less of a wrestling company, and it’s not like I have to watch every show, but there was a magic to watching those Gatoh matches. It’s the difference between loving the new Taylor Swift album and loving some unheard-of band you found in a bargain crate in your local record shop. They might both be brilliant, but one feels uniquely yours, while the other is there for everyone to find. That’s a special feeling, and it was nice to get it again from ChocoPro.
I’ve covered this tag in exhaustive detail, writing about it in my review and my matches of the year. So, today I’ll keep it short, and then if you want more, you can read those. However, this was joyous. It gave us the entrances, Chigusa biting Maria, Riko doing Crush Gals offence, the youngsters taking centre stage and, of course, Nagayo tapping out to a Maria armbar at the end. It was a thrill ride that left me exhausted and elated in equal measure. In other words, it was everything I want from wrestling, and if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend fixing that issue right now.
When someone inevitably decides to write a book about the Britwres boom, I’m sure there will be entire chapters dedicated to Billy Bird Boy, Butch and that guy who was supposedly better than a young Jun Akiyama but has now wrestled 38 matches in the last three years. There is less chance of chapters being dedicated to Chris Brookes and Drew Parker, but there should be. Looking back on all the shite that came out of that scene, Brookes and Parker are the two that catch my eye, not because they’re winning titles (although they are), but because they’ve put together the most interesting CVs.
That they chose to celebrate their 15th (Brookes) and 10th (Parker) anniversaries as wrestlers by holding a show in a tiny bar, on a mat measuring one Mei Suruga by one Chie Koishikawa, is a pretty perfect example of why. They’ve established themselves in Japan to the point where they could run a bigger venue than this, but I get the impression they don’t want to. The thing that excites them is the chance to do something interesting, and cramming a load of people into a minuscule room and unleashing chaos is always going to be more exciting than another show at ShinKiba.
And it made for a fantastic spectacle, as we got a fun Gatoh Move exhibition, Death Worm and MAO battling out to the streets and Mei Suruga continuing to be my favourite commentator. However, the two people everyone came to celebrate were the ones who stole the show, as Brookes and Parker put on a brilliant main event. It felt like a signature performance from them, cementing who they are as wrestlers, as it was half a surprisingly violent encounter between two friends and half a wildly creative use of the venue. In a room where Brookes was in danger of banging his head off the ceiling just by walking around, they still somehow managed to incorporate a ladder, as they crammed so much into so little.
While those other Britwres names I mentioned are almost certainly making more money and getting thousands of more Twitter followers, nothing they’ve done has excited me like this chaotic nonsense show. I get it’s not to everyone’s taste, and that’s fine, but it’s weird and interesting, which appeals to me more than a million Tokyo Dome or WrestleMania matches. So if I had to pick something to represent the rare good parts of that scene, these two idiots would be the ideal choice.
Look, there was a lot of fun stuff in this match, including Miyu Yamashita’s rather unflattering portrayal of Mizuki, which was only made funnier by her having to wear her own debut gear because she couldn’t fit into any of Mizupon’s. However, there is only one thing that I want to talk about: Pom’s attempt at a Whirling Candy. That wonderful moment where everyone’s favourite Pom (and one of my wrestlers of the year) went spinning through the air with seemingly little to no idea of where she would end up. It was so chaotic and out of control that it almost became graceful, with Suzume and Misao’s little twirls to avoid it only adding to that feeling. It also, rather perfectly, summed Pom up. Yes, things don’t always go her way (okay, they never go her way), but even if it’s not what she was hoping for, it’s always incredible. That’s why we love her, and this is one GIF I will be watching on repeat for years to come.
With Itsuki Aoki coming down with COVID, this match got changed from a tag to a three-way, but someone forgot to inform Magenta of that. They not only made their entrance together but quite happily took up residence in the blue corner, unbothered by Mio’s protests. As far as they were concerned, this wasn’t unfair; it was an opportunity for a scalp.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t only an opportunity for them. This match set us up for some prime Mio genius, as she grabbed the chance to try and break Magenta apart while showing off her comedic chops. I love main event Momono, but this is the wrestler I adore, as she did everything from breaking out her new lariat (it was somewhat ineffectual) to sneaking a breather at ringside, grabbing a chair and watching on as the now bickering partners fought. When she’s in this mood, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her, as you have no idea what she’ll do next.
It’s also no slight to Maria and Riko that they ended up not being the focus of this match because more experienced wrestlers than them will struggle to stand out next to Mio on this form. When she is this brilliant, all you can do is keep up, and to be fair to them, they did a solid job of that.
Rina Yamashita and Yuuki Mashiro aren’t obvious friends. It’s hard to imagine the grizzled deathmatch fighter and the wee weirdo having a lot to talk about, and yet, somewhere along the line, they found each other, and something beautiful happened. Whether out of curiosity or bafflement, Rina took Mashiro under her wing, and their big pal, little pal act, was born. Although, with Mashiro retiring and this being their last match, the number of tears they shed suggested there was little to no acting going on.
And I think what made their friendship work is that Rina seemed to look at Yuuki the way we all did. Yes, she can be confusing and hard to figure out, but you always got the impression that there was some genius underneath it all, and you desperately wanted her to have the chance to show it. Rina was the muscle that gave her that opportunity, encouraging Mashiro to find herself and Lariating anyone who got in her way. Even in this match, when she was supposed to be competing against Yuuki, she couldn’t stop herself from being dragged into some of the antics, unable to resist the pull that is the Mashiro galaxy brain.
To be honest, though, what happened here was irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, it was great fun, but if Rina and Yuuki had fucked every spot up, it would still have made this list because of the pure emotion on display. There aren’t many places where you say goodbye to your friend by repeatedly lariating them and demanding they get up, but wrestling is one of them, and it is incredible how touching that can be. There was a sense at the end that Rina still wanted Yuuki to prove herself. That, or she didn’t want it to end, as she realised that if Mashiro kept clambering to her feet, they could go on forever. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but these two put on one hell of a show to cap off a remarkable friendship.
Throughout the final act of this match, Miya Yotsuba couldn’t hide that she was having the best time. It starts around the point she and Honda go for simultaneous Dusty Elbows, pulling out their best dance moves, and continues right through the strike exchange that Anton pulls her into, despite him laying down some meaty blows in the process. It was clear she was having a blast out there, which led to what was probably the best match of her young career so far.
And it’s not a coincidence that it happened against Honda. Since day one of ChocoPro, Anton has been a reliable source of these, and that combination of nonsense and solid wrestling tends to bring the best out of Emi Sakura (or, in this case, Mei Suruga) students. Sure, these matches usually build around the same comedy spots, but there is always a twist, with Miya proving she was wise to Honda’s game, covering her throat when he called for a timeout. Unfortunately, she wasn’t prepared for the second phase of that particular bit and got caught in a deadly yoga attack. It was all very classic Honda, but also became a chance for Miya to show off her own comedic chops.
And sure, you could argue Miya probably shouldn’t have been grinning away, but I’d think you were a bellend if you did. It was a young wrestler finding their groove against an old pro, and the fact that she could already keep up with Honda during the frantic closing stretch says a lot about her talents. One suspects this won’t be the last great Miya singles match we see, but it might have been the first, which is a pretty big moment for any youngster.
Mahiro Kiryu is the one TJPW wrestler I don’t love. That’s not to say I dislike her. But having created (hopefully relatively healthy) parasocial relationships with everyone else on that roster, Kiryu is the one I’ve never got. Now and then, she has a match that I think is decent, but I’ve never clicked with her emotionally. Or at least, that used to be the case.
Because during this match, something came-together. I don’t know if it will be a permanent thing or a one-off, but for perhaps the first time in Kiryu’s career, I was actively rooting for her. And while I don’t want to take anything away from that, a big reason for it was Kamiyu. She came into this and bullied the hell out of her regular partner, demanding she let her win, taking the piss out of her constant apologising and calling her a loser. It turned Kiryu into the ultimate underdog and (having been at her best before when teaming with Kamifuku) proved that those two should always be linked at the hip.
However, this wasn’t all about Kamiyu. Sure, she was brilliant, but what made it really work was how Kiryu reacted to it. For the first time, Mahiro said ‘fuck you’ right back at her pal and brought the fight to her. Sure, that mainly occurred through somewhat weak insults (her big hitter was suggesting Kamifuku’s vocabulary was rubbish), but that only added to the charm. It was the nerd lashing back at the cool kid, and that’s where Mahiro is at her best, and it’s also where she convinced me that she could be a wrestler I love.
I sometimes feel a bit bad for how I dismiss Leo Isaka’s matches. As I’m always at pains to point out, it’s not that I think the lad sucks. It’s that he’s not why I watch Marvelous. With no peers to measure himself against, Isaka exists in a vacuum, unable to move up or down. Unfortunately, that makes caring about his matches kind of hard.
However, now and then, Leo makes me care. This main event was one of those rare occasions. I might go as far as saying that this underdog performance against Big Daisuke, in which Leo’s chest turned a grizzly red colour before he was sent spinning through the air with a lariat, was the best performance of his career. Marvelous plopped a mountain in front of him, daring him to try and climb it, and he faced it down while the fans yelled him on.
Credit also has to go to Sekimoto, the perfect brick wall. Not only did he get those fans behind Leo by chopping his chest raw and bloody, but every Isaka comeback or defiant kick-out was perfectly placed, gaining the maximum reaction as people dared to dream the young lad could do it. Of course, he couldn’t, but that didn’t matter. The journey was the important part, and Leo came out of this looking a hell of a lot better than he did going in.