Even when you remove the start of WrestleMania Weekend (which came too late to make this list), March was a packed month for wrestling. TJPW ran their biggest venue yet, Gatoh Move celebrated their 300th show, Takumi Iroha returned to Marvelous and Ice Ribbon, well, Ice Ribbon did a lot of stuff. Good and bad, it was a busy old time, and there were plenty of great matches to get our teeth into.
Pom Harajuku vs Mizuki & Raku vs Yuka Sakazaki, City Circuit Winter ~ Yokohama ~ (4/3/23), TJPW
If you’re trying to understand why Tokyo Joshi is the company I make the most time for, you need to look no further than this pair of matches. A few weeks removed from their latest biggest show ever, they decided the best way to hype their main event was to send Yuka Sakazkai and Mizuki out to wrestle Pom Harajuku and Raku, the masters of the TJPW nonsense undercard. As I noted in my review for Marshmallow Bomb, I do not doubt that some people would find that idea infuriating, but it’s an approach to wrestling that I adore. Tokyo Joshi wouldn’t go as far as putting lullabies and shin kicks in an Ariake main event, but they are happy to let Yuka and Mizuki go out and play with them in the buildup.
And I don’t know if that’s more or less likely to sell tickets than the usual fare of putting opponents on opposing sides in a tag match (this show also had one of them with Rika Tatsumi and Miu Watanabe), but I’m not the one trying to sell tickets. What I do know is that I found this infinitely more memorable than 99% of those matches. Pom and Raku went out and challenged the Sugar Rabbits in a totally different way, and while there was no chance of either winning, it was fun to see Mizuki and Yuka being forced to overcome their antics. Sure, one could argue that Pom donning a turtle shell isn’t a particularly arduous challenge, but Mizuki was momentarily flummoxed when she stomped on her back. Besides, Raku’s magic and sorcery had Yuka on the run, her fear of being lulled to sleep forcing her to escape the ring. If that’s not being challenged, what is? Mizuki and Yuka’s match was destined to be incredible, so I think it’s okay if the buildup includes them taking it a bit easier and dealing with some good old-fashioned nonsense.
Ultimately, these matches represent what I want my wrestling to be: a blend of the ridiculous and the incredible. Mizuki and Yuka would go on to smash it in the Grand Princess main event, and that’s a massive part of why I love this shit, but watching Mizuki block a Pom shin kick with a turtle shell is equally as important. TJPW is willing to have them do both, and as long as that’s the case, they’ll have a fan in me.
Chie Koishikawa vs Masa Takanashi, ChocoPro #298 (2/3/23), Gatoh Move
Chie is a classic example of someone whose strength is also their weakness. When she’s happy, she’ll bounce her way to the moon. When she’s sad, she’ll cry like her heart is breaking into a million pieces. This is a lass who, not that long ago, burst into tears of frustration because Ken Ohka wouldn’t admit that he is not, in fact, Mei Suruga. Everything gets turned up to eleven when Chie is involved, which makes her incredibly likeable, but also means there are moments where she needs to slow things down. It’s what made her team with Shinno Hagane (Egg Tarts) effective. He used his experience to channel that enthusiasm (both in and out of kayfabe), producing some of Chie’s best performances.
Enter Masa Takanashi. In this match, which built up to Orepan (Chie and Sayaka) challenging CDK for their Asia Dream Tag Titles, Masa played the role of Hagane, but as an opponent rather than a friend. From the start, he looked to temper those aspects of Chie’s personality, slowing her down and going to work on her hand and arm. In turn, we saw another advantage of Chie’s emotions bubbling barely a millimetre under the surface as her selling ramped up the sympathy. By reining her in, he forced her to do something different, helping another aspect of her game to flourish and giving us a fascinating wee encounter where she tried to keep up with this more experienced, technically sound wrestler.
It slotted this firmly into the wee gem category, and I’d perhaps even put it up there with Chie’s best. She’s had a sneaky good start to the year, and while Mei Suruga tends to get all the Gatoh Move-related headlines, Chie might be the more interesting wrestler to watch at the moment. She was already good, but she’s starting to push past that and matches like this one (along with her vs Tae Honma, which is a good companion piece) show the wrestler she could become.
Takumi Iroha & Leo Isaka vs Chikayo Nagashima & Daisuke Sekimoto, Takumi Is Back! (10/3/23), Marvelous
Takumi Iroha’s return to the ring was notable not just for being a fantastic match but for what a neat piece of booking it was. As I noted in my Marshmallow Bomb review, I thought the decision to include Leo and Daisuke Sekimoto was a bit weird, but the second it started, it all began to make sense. Returning after a few months out, Takumi was always going to be cheered by the Marvelous fans, but they wanted to go a step further. The presence of Sekimoto turned her into an underdog, pitting her against a mountain of a man who even the Ace was in danger of being crushed by. While Big Daisuke might have lost a step or two in recent years (although he’s still very good), he still has that aura, and when Takumi and he first faced off, you couldn’t help feeling a little bit scared for her.
And it meant this match went down a road I wasn’t expecting, where Takumi’s primary opponent wasn’t Nagishma (who I think most people assume she will eventually be challenging for the AAAW Title), but Sekimoto. However, it worked. It worked because Iroha was great, brushing off the ring rust to be tossed around by the big man before firing back with kicks and desperation. As ridiculously talented as Takumi is, she’s not what I think of as a sympathetic wrestler. She’s too cool, too powerful, but against Daisuke, she couldn’t be anything else. He allowed her to play the perfect role for her return.
Honestly, this wasn’t my favourite Iroha performance this month. That was the three-way match with Maria and Riko Kawahata on the show after this one, where she stretched her Ace muscles and reminded those kids who they were facing. However, that’s something I expect from Takumi. It’s arguably what she does best. This was her being asked to switch that up and do something different, and on her return from injury, she nailed it. Now let’s hope she (and Mio) can stay fit because wrestling is a better place when Takumi Iroha is kicking ass.
Tae Honma vs Sayaka Obihiro, ChocoPro #300: Day 1 (11/3/23), Gatoh Move
Buried away in the midcard of ChocoPro 300 Day 1, this match felt like two old pros going out and finding some incredibly enjoyable middle ground. As I mentioned in my Marshmallow Bomb review, Obi is one of wrestling’s great underrated talents, and I always love when Gatoh Move give her the space to prove that. She’s not only a solid technical wrestler, but there is a streak of that Sakuraism weirdness running through everything she does, and she’s better than most at it. In the hands of another wrestler, something like Obi Magic wouldn’t work. With her, I’m always willing to go along with it.
And Tae is basically a perfect Obi opponent, as she allowed them to start on the mat before building up to some vicious chops. With the match barely sneaking over ten minutes, it was a pacey affair, with a tight structure that got in and out without ever feeling like it was wasting your time. In other words, it was exactly what I’d expect from two wrestlers as talented as them, and while it wasn’t the match on this show that got the bulk of the attention (Orepan vs CDK took that crown, and was brilliant in its own right), it’s the one that I can imagine myself going back to, revelling in two talented people doing what they do best.
Kaori Yoneyama & Momoka Hanazono vs Hiroyo Matsumoto & Ram Kaichow, Who Knows? (12/3/23), Oz Academy
Kaori Yoneyama and Momoka Hanazono do not get along. Their animosity was born from Momoka’s attempts to befriend Aja Kong, something Yone seems unwilling to forgive her for. Not that I’m in any rush to see them making up. In fact, the two of them spending most of this match bickering was a joy. They’re one of those pairings I would happily watch hang out in an empty room, comfortable in the knowledge that their nose for the silly will reward my time with something great.
That wasn’t the only thing that made this match shine, though, as both Yone and Momoka also stole the show whenever they got going in the ring. Watching them interact with Ram was fun, but it was with Hiroyo that things really took off, as they both gave an outstanding display of how to wee pest your way around a hoss. It was like watching two puppies chip away at a Great Dane, nipping at Matsumoto’s ankles and trying to bundle her up into a pin. Poor Hiroyo knew if she could get her hands on them, it would be over quickly enough, but it’s one thing to know that and another to do it – especially when they won’t stay bloody still!
It was a match that captured why your Yoneyamas and Momokas of the world are the wrestlers I tend to gravitate towards; people who can both be incredibly funny but also deliver in the ring when it’s called upon. Most versions of this throwaway opening tag are a solid yet unspectacular ten minutes, but when you throw them in there, they deliver something so much more, and I’ll never stop being delighted by that.
Misa Kagura vs Totoro Satsuki, Ice Ribbon #1264 (11/3/23), Ice Ribbon
We’ll dive into Totoro later, so let’s focus on Misa Kagura, who has been really impressing me recently. She’s on one of those runs where it feels like everything is coming together for her, and this seven-and-a-half-minute match that was, on the surface, to warm Totoro up for her title shot was a prime example. Because it doesn’t matter if the focus isn’t on Misa, she’s in the kind of form where you can’t stop yourself from paying attention to her. She’s become a seemingly endless supply of bubbly hoss energy, and watching her and Totoro bounce off each other was exciting.
And it’s possible Misa has always been like this, and I haven’t been paying attention, but now she’s got to the point where you don’t have to be looking to notice. It feels like she is committing to everything she does 110%, throwing herself into lariats like there is no tomorrow. She’s not quite at the stage of her career where she’s bulldozing through people, putting the world on notice, but it’s starting to become possible to imagine, and just a few months ago, I wouldn’t have made that prediction. Kagura’s become one to watch, and while this match was setting up Totoro for bigger things, it also convinced me that we should be expecting something similar from Misa Kagura.
ASUKA, Risa Sera & Toru Sugiura vs Yuki Miyazaki, Tetsuhiro Kuroda & Rina Amikura, Brand New WAVE (12/3/23), WAVE
Wow. There were a lot of things going on here, but let’s be honest, it was all about one person. Rina Amikura. Within minutes of this starting, she was stumbling around in floods of tears as blood poured out of her head. She’s been dipping her toe in the world of hardcore wrestling since being taken under Yuki Miyazaki’s wing, but it’s safe to say this was her diving into the deep end, and she was extraordinary.
And what made this performance incredible was that it wasn’t perfect. Rina was a mess for most of this match, barely able to help her teammates as she couldn’t stop crying, but that’s exactly how she should have been. ASUKA cut open her head and bit the wound! Are we supposed to believe she could take that all in her stride? No, she was upset, and she was scared, and that made her so incredibly sympathetic. Then, to turn that sympathy into respect, she kept going. She fought through the pain and the blood dripping into her eyes to return to the fight, proving that she deserved to be there.
Amin has been having something of a breakout year, and this is far from her only standout performance of recent times, but it was the one that felt special. It was about so much more than good wrestling. It showed guts, determination and a willingness to be vulnerable. That’s something not many wrestlers have, and if Amin can continue to harness that to produce matches like this, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for people to ignore her.
Mio Momono vs Chihiro Hashimoto, Marvelous (15/3/23), Marvelous
For match three of Mio Momono’s trial series, Marvelous returned to the best feud of 2021 with an outing that, let’s be honest, wasn’t as good as any of those matches.
However, this is Mio Momono vs Big Hash that we’re talking about, and when they’re not at their best, they’re still better than 99% of wrestlers. In fact, it’s wrong to say they weren’t at their best because it was more that this was a different type of match. As I’ve covered in my reviews, Mio is in the midst of being taken apart before being built up again, and that’s the important thing for Marvelous right now. It wasn’t the time or the place for these two to go out and try to blow everyone away.
Yet, even with the breaks on, they’re still so fucking good together. Big Hash is an unbreakable wall, and Mio is the wee pest who is going to have it a go anyway. The extended sequence towards the end built around Momono trying to avoid the German, frantically clawing away from it, summed up what makes them so special. Mio never stops feeling like she is battling for her life, giving her heart and soul to the action, but there is an inevitability to Hashimoto. To get past her, you have to already be really fucking good and also have your best day, and Mio just wasn’t on that level (at least in kayfabe, she very much is in reality).
Hashimoto vs Momono is one of those feuds that they can go back to this again and again, and I can’t imagine ever getting bored of it. If, as I’ve been predicting, Mio’s current story is building to her winning the AAAW Title, then this is a match that they have to return to on the biggest stage possible.
Grand Princess ’23 (18/3/23), TJPW
Grand Princess was a resounding success for TJPW. I don’t think I’d have it as their best show ever, but it was a perfect summation of what they are. Whether it’s Shoko and Misao stabbing a giant panda in the arse with a lightsaber, Miu and Rika putting on a match-of-the-year contender or Mizuki and Yuka having an epic, emotional main event, it gave you everything you could ask for. It felt special.
And I’ve chosen to talk about all of it because there was a touch of genius to its construction. Not just in the variety, although that definitely helped, but also in the escalation. It built from the tight, intense opening match between Suzume and Arisu, through rookies debuting, panda antics and Arai testing herself against Kong before venturing into those title matches, where everything was on the line. TJPW were taking you on a journey, not just focusing on the story of those individual matches but exploring the promotion as a whole. Showing you what they represent, but also how they’ve grown. They wanted to prove that they could rely on Suzume and Arisu to put on a banger, Mahiro and Kaya to carry some rookies or even Miu and Rika to put on a match that could have been the main event in any other building. There was pride in the way that card was constructed, like Koda and co were standing tall and bragging about how far they’ve all come.
While recent turmoil behind the scenes elsewhere has once again reminded us all that getting too emotionally involved in a promotion always has the potential to lead to hurt, it’s hard not to with TJPW. They feel different, and who knows if that’s actually true or not, but following them as they grow is fresh and exciting. Shows like Grand Princess make me incredibly excited about where they’re going to end up.
Totoro Satsuki vs Saori Anou, Ice Ribbon #1267 (19/3/23), Ice Ribbon
When Saori Anou won the ICExInfinity title, the big question was always who would beat her for it. That’s not slight on Anou, who was what Ice Ribbon needed at that time and has been a good champion, but this reign was always ending with someone from within taking back that belt. Asahi, Yuuki Mashiro, Ibuki Hoshi, the list of young and talented wrestlers who could step up and win it off her seemed long, but, well, history hasn’t exactly been kind to that. Of the three mentioned, one is retired, and another has been shipped out on loan. The issues behind the scenes at Ice Ribbon have continued to cause havoc, and one has to assume they’ve been forced to rip up the plan on more than one occasion. And yet, even when they announced this match was happening, I never once considered that Totoro could be the one.
Which, to be clear, is no fault of Totoro’s. She wasn’t my choice to win this belt, but the more I’ve thought about it since it happened, the more I like it. As Ice Ribbon has descended into turmoil, Totoro has become a stable presence. She’s someone who, for six years, has been plugging away, rarely missing a show and seemingly never wavering in her determination to improve. That’s not a slight on those who have chosen to leave, who all have very valid reasons, but if you had to pick a new champion during a time of chaos, that makes her a very tempting choice. More importantly (at least as a fan), that improvement has come. Quietly, over the last year or so, Totoro has begun to realise her potential, becoming the powerhouse force she’s always threatened to be.
And this match showed that off, thanks in part to a selfless performance from Anou. She bumped around like a maniac, folding herself up after every lariat. Totoro, meanwhile, still retains a degree of likeable vulnerability, balancing those hoss tendencies with the feeling that anyone on the roster could beat her. At a time when the average experience level is low, that is so important, as if you were to drag Tsukasa Fujimoto back from maternity leave and shove the belt on her, I don’t think I’d believe that anyone could beat her. Totoro sits on that dividing line between being a beast and being beatable, which gives this reign all kinds of potential.
If we were to go back a year and a half, I doubt this was anyone in Ice Ribbon’s plan. Things have fallen apart, but in that chaos, an opportunity appears. It gives someone like Totoro the space to shine, and while there is still a lot of stuff that needs to be fixed in that company (and I’m still not entirely sure how much I’ll be watching in the future), I am looking forward to seeing what she does with it.
Pom Harajuku & HIMAWARI vs Daydream (Rika Tatsumi & Miu Watanabe), Live Tour In Spring ’23 (26/3/23), TJPW
I don’t have a lot to say about this one, but can we get more Pom and HIMAWARI, please? Sometimes you get a tag team that just works, and the Powerful Cheeky Chap pairing with my favourite Pom was 100% that. These two have huge mischievous energy, and I’m already picturing the antics they could get up to with Raku. It screams lovely time, and let’s face it, we could all use as many lovely times as we can get. Let these menaces loose, and let’s see what they can do.
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