April and the start of May are the busiest months of the year for me, so I haven’t watched anywhere near as much wrestling this month. However, I consume a stupid amount of the stuff on average, so let’s not pretend I haven’t still spent a lot of time watching people pretending to fight. With that in mind, here are my favourite matches from April of 2023.
Honoka vs Kitzuna Tanaka, Reboot 4th ~ NAMI 1 (2/4/23), WAVE
WAVE introduced their latest rookies to the world via a debut with some bite. Honoka and Kizuna (the daughter of Minoru Tanaka and Yumi Fukawa) had no interest in easing themselves in, wildly throwing forearms at each other from the bell. While those exchanges are exhaustingly overdone, it coming from two fired-up rookies freshened it up, getting the crowd on their side and setting the tempo for a match that zipped along at a fair old pace.
The most impressive part was that they kept it up, clearly intent on showing off everything they could do. If anything, they could have used slowing down a touch and taking some time to savour the bigger moments. Then again, they were drawing decent reactions from the crowd, something as simple as a Honoka crab inspiring them to yell Tanaka on as she crawled to the ropes, so you can’t blame two rookies for getting carried away. And if you’re getting that response, why shouldn’t you lean into it?
These two have a long way to go, and there’s a big difference between wrestling the person you’ve trained with every day and getting booted in the head by a stranger, but this was an impressive start. As I always say, if you can get through your debut without bursting into tears and hiding under the ring, it’s a job well done. These two did that and more, so they can be damn proud of how they started their careers.
Yuki Kamifuku vs Haruna Neko, Live Tour In Spring (8/4/23), TJPW
Matches like this are why I love TJPW’s undercard. On paper, a six-minute and change showdown between Kamiyu and Neko isn’t something you’d go out of your way to see, even if (like me) you are a big fan of the wee cat. It feels like the epitome of filler, thrown together because Raku got ill and mainly designed to pass the time. However, what TJPW (and these two wrestlers) excel at, is turning that filler into something worth watching.
It doesn’t take much, either. The simple hook for this match was that Kamiyu is a tall dog lover, and Neko is, as mentioned, a wee cat. That’s not some great revelation (apart from the dog lover part, you could figure it all out just by looking at them), but it was a hook that worked. From Neko gleefully scratching Kamiyu’s eyes, giggling to herself as she did so, to Kamiyu locking on a manji-gatame where she was close to having both feet on the floor, those minutes were packed with entertaining moments that I found infinitely charming.
Of course, part of why it worked is my affection towards these wrestlers, and I have no idea what you would think about this if you were watching TJPW for the first time. It’s possible that stripped of context, it would revert to being some six-minute filler, but context is a vital part of what makes wrestling special. Christ, it’s what makes any sport special. I can’t imagine I’d take any pleasure from an Aberdeen match if I weren’t a fan (although being a fan has also made watching so many of them miserable over the years). Caring makes all the difference in the world, and they made me care about this match.
Sakura Hirota vs Sakura Hirota (Hikari Shimizu), Happy Birthday Wave ~ Sakurasaku (8/4/23), WAVE
If you come for the master, you better not miss.
Challenging Sakura Hirota to a nonsense battle is a bold move for any wrestler, but doing so while cosplaying Sakura Hirota? That’s foolish. Yet, Hikari Shimizu did exactly that, pulling out an inspired display of Hirota mimicry. Hirota’s antics have become legendary because of her attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile. She doesn’t just dress up as an opponent but studies their facial expressions and how they move. Here, Shimizu followed suit, inhabiting Hirota completely and giving her a taste of her own medicine.
It was also a reminder that most of Hirota’s regular bits are fucking hard. Whether it’s head standing on the turnbuckle or rope walking, it ain’t shit just anyone can do (as Shimizu found out), yet Hirota will chuck it all away for a punchline. She doesn’t only make the complicated look easy, but incredibly silly and fair play to Shimizu for pulling off what she did. Hikari committed to this impersonation, which paid off with a match that produced some glorious nonsense. If she aspires for Hirota’s crown, she’s got a long way to go, but Shimizu’s proved she’s worthy of competing.
Kyoraku Kyomei (Shoko Nakajima & Hyper Misao) vs Yuki Arai & HIMAWARI, Stand Alone ’23 (15/4/23), TJPW
Outside of its occasional crossover with wrestling and a few bands that I think are kind of cool, I know fuck all about idol culture. With that in mind, I wasn’t particularly excited about Shiori Aoki (affectionately known as Oshirin) popping up in TJPW as a special guest referee. It seemed like a good way for them to continue their relationship with SKE48, but beyond that, it was rather far down my list of priorities coming into this Korakuen. And yet, this match turned out to be a delight.
And a big part of that was who they put her in there with. Arai had to be part of it all, and HIMAWARI was a fun person to team her up with, but the choice of Kyoraku Kyomei was inspired. TJPW has a lot of nonsense masters, but dealing with Raku and her pillow is a tad easier than Shoko and Misao constantly trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They didn’t have to do anything different to draw Oshirin into the action. Their usual shtick was enough.
However, to give all the credit to Kyoraku Kyomei is to miss out on how fantastic Oshirin was. As I said, I knew nothing about her, but by the end of this match, she’d made a fan out of me. Whether it was her embarrassment at forgetting to ring the bell or the outstanding spot where she was so intent on informing the crowd of two counts that she kept missing the next pin, every moment won me over that little more than the last. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that an idol is a naturally charismatic and likeable presence, but her comic timing was sublime and she hit every cue, stealing the show away from four wrestlers I adore. Once again, the idols prove that they know what they’re doing, and I hope this isn’t the last time we see Oshirin don the black and white stripes.
You can find my full review of Stand Alone on Marshmallow Bomb.
Baka Gaijin + Friends Volume 4 (18/4/23), Baka Gaijin
With their fourth show under the Baka Gaijin + Friends label, you could tell that Chris Brookes and Drew Parker have got their feet under the kotatsu. These things have always had a touch of chaos to them, but with each one, that touch gets a bit firmer, and even with Lingerie Mutoh wrestling a fan on the previous show, this was the most chaotic yet. We had people going flying as wrestlers crashed into the fans, a bizarre game involving randomly chosen (and blindfolded) participants having to keep their hand on a chair as all sorts of weird stuff went down around them, and Brookes literally plucking unsuspecting victims out of the audience to slam them on opponents in the main event. We’re at the point where if you sit in the front row of one of these shows, you should probably expect to participate.
And that touch of chaos is a huge part of what makes these so much fun. You’re never quite sure where it’s going next, as a tag match involving four Chies was one of the less out-there parts of this one. Even the main event, usually the ‘work rate’ portion of the evening, had the already mentioned fans being weaponised and Brookes bumping on firecrackers, which seems like an insane idea for a venue that size. Yet, that’s part of what makes it work. I’ve no doubt they’d put on something equally enjoyable in a bigger room, but that tiny mat in the middle of a bar is a huge part of the appeal. You can’t be in a space that small without everyone there getting involved, as they’re constantly trying to dodge what’s coming next, and the whole thing is partly reliant on them working with the wrestlers. It’s all a bit late-night Gatoh Move, as Brookes experiments with things Emi would shout at him for doing in Ichigaya.
I think we need wrestling like this. In the same way that we need Gatoh Move and SEAdLINNNG, companies that offer a true alternative to whatever is most popular. There are so many people out there determined to make wrestling into a homogenised blob that looks exactly how they want it to, and while stuffing a handful of people into a pub in Japan is probably not going to stop that, it’s important that it exists on the outskirts. It’s a space where Brookes, Parker and their friends can pull off all the wacky shit they want, and I hope they keep going for as long as possible.
Magical Sugar Rabbits (Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki) vs Max The Impaler & Pom Harajuku, Climb Over ’23 (22/4/23), TJPW
The pictures TJPW have got up for this match do a better job of telling the story than I ever could. Of the ten they have chosen, five of them capture Max in the process of throwing Pom at MagiRabbi. Our team of misfits managed to get on the same page in the build-up to this title shot, but the words written on that page were mainly about Max using Pom as a human weapon.
And I loved poor Pom’s performance, as she was batted between her partner and MagiRabbi, taking abuse from all sides before going down heroically when left alone with Yuka. I’ve talked about her being a wrestler with huge (or nonsensical) ideas that rarely (if ever) go right. However, on this occasion, she also had a huge pal, and I think, for the first time, Pom really believed she had a chance. Max had taken her under their wing, and her tears in the post-match spoke of someone genuinely devastated that she couldn’t get the job done. Either that, or she was scared Max would beat her up again.
We’ve got to talk more about Max, though, who wasn’t only fantastic at throwing Pom at people but looked like a monster the whole way through. There was a moment where they lifted Mizuki into the air with one arm, holding her aloft like a child before bringing her down with a thump that would definitely lead to child services getting a ring. Perhaps even more impressive was how they bumped around for MagiRabbi. Max is a tank, so it’s easy to focus on that, but they’re also more than willing to help others look good, and while Yuka’s attempt at the Magical Merry-Go-Round didn’t quite go to plan, Max being willing to give it a go says a lot. They know when to be unselfish, which is one of my favourite qualities in a wrestler.
And sure, Pom and Max didn’t win, but in that tearful post-match interview, Max wiped the tears off Pom’s face, seemingly perturbed by the water leaking from her eyes. It was a beautiful moment and a sign that perhaps this wonderful pairing isn’t done yet. Pom and Max vs Aja and Raku, please!
Mio Momono vs ASUKA & Mio Momono vs Tomoko Watanabe, Marvelous (22-23/4/23), Marvelous
Unsurprisingly, the final two outings of Mio Momono’s Trial Series joined the rest of it in being fantastic. Even with this run of five matches aiming to play the beats of Mio’s story as much as create great action, it has been an opportunity for her to reestablish herself as perhaps the best wrestler in the world. Whether she’s being squashed by Kaoru Ito, writing the next chapter of her feud with Chihiro Hashimoto or launching chairs at ASUKA, Momono has been picking up pace, and in doing so, she’s pushed herself straight into a title match against Chikayo Nagashima at Korakuen Hall.
And, to be brutally honest, I don’t think that’s ideal. I think it’s time for Mio to win that belt, but she should do it by beating Takumi Iroha, and as great as Chikayo is, it won’t feel like she’s reached the summit of the mountain until she has. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the way Marvelous have built to this has been fantastic. They have slow-burned it to perfection, cutting Mio down and putting her back together again, getting her to the point where she doesn’t just feel like a worthy challenger but is wrestling at a level few people can compete with. It’s even more impressive when you remember how easy it would have been to put the belt on her back in December after Iroha’s injury, making the switch to try and salvage some excitement from a shit situation. Even then, though, they held off, intent on building to this moment.
Of course, there is every chance you’re reading this after the May 3rd Korakuen and Momono has already lost, sending us back to the drawing board to figure out what the fuck’s next. However, even if that is the case, this trial series has been a masterclass. From the Tomoko Watanabe defeat that inspired it through having had the shit-kicked out of her by Arisa Nakajima to her revenge against Watanabe at the end, it’s felt like a genuine period of growth for a wrestler who isn’t some fresh-faced rookie looking to break through. I bought into every second of it, and even if Mio’s not wrestling Takumi on the third, I’ll still be staring into my laptop, cheering her on and praying it’s time.
Rika Tatsumi vs Arisu Endo vs Hyper Misao vs Miu Watanabe vs HIMAWARI, Wrestle Universe Members Show (23/4/23), TJPW
I adore TJPW’s Wrestle Universe Members Shows. It’s a chance for the roster to fully submerge themselves in nonsense, be it Yuka’s cooking match (which is becoming a tradition and is basically a bastardised version of Ready Steady Cook) or the costume-change shenanigans that typically make up the main event. This, however, was a new addition to the canon, the first-ever Tetsuya Koda SUWA-OH match.
The rules were a simple merging of musical chairs and wrestling, as the person who didn’t get to a chair in time had to choose one of the stipulations written on them and face the person who had claimed it in that match. Understand? You better have. It took me ages to figure out how to write that down. We got drawing contests (somehow Miu lost), a quiz and an outing where the wrestler who got cheered the loudest would win (Rika managed to get booed during that). However, my favourite was the ‘no-touch rope’ stipulation, which you won by getting your opponent against the ropes for a three. It produced a brilliant wee battle between Miu and HIMAWARI, which masterfully bounced off those rules.
Mostly, this rules because of all the little character moments. Something as simple as how they approached the Musical Chairs (Rika gleefully skipped around the ring while HIMAWARI awkwardly shuffled, constantly on edge) told you so much about these characters. That’s before we even get to the fact that Rika chose to attack Misao in the final round rather than go for a chair, something that probably doesn’t tell us anything new but confirms what we had already figured out. My affection towards the TJPW roster is strong enough that I’m happy to watch them mess around, which is what these shows deliver, and I love them for it.
Mei Suruga vs Tokiko Kirihara vs Miya Yotsuba, ChocoPro #306 (23/4/23), Gatoh Move
It’s safe to say that this wasn’t the big match Mei competed in on the 23rd of April. That took place in Yokohama and was a whole load of fun. However, that show was huge, and everyone has been talking about it, so I suspect no one reading this needs any prompting to go and check it out. Although I will mention that I was delighted to see the artist formerly known as Mei Hoshizuki return. It had been far too long.
The Mei Suruga match that captured my imagination on the 23rd was the one that took place a few hours earlier in Ichigaya, where Mei kicked off ChocoPro #306 by dragging her suitcase on to the mat, panicking about missing the train to Yokohama. What followed was a frantic sprint in which Suruga tried desperately to get this over with as quickly as possible while Otoki and Miya clung on, doing everything they could to keep up. It was pure ChocoPro and pure Mei Suruga, as it felt like chaos while actually being a beautifully put-together piece of wrestling.
It’s matches like this that make Mei special. She has an astonishing mind for nonsense and the ability to take something simple (being in a rush) and turn it into magic. At the time of writing, ChocoPro #306 has 2,231 views, a significantly smaller number than was packed into Yokohama Arena, but if you liked that opener, and I can’t imagine anyone didn’t, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It will give you another look at what Mei Suruga can do, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
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