Happy Birthday, ChocoPro!

I love these goofs. Credit: ChocoPro

The last year is a hard one to reflect upon. On the one hand, it feels like nothing has happened, and yet, at the same time, everything has. The world has twisted and turned, changing in ways that will reverberate for a long old time. In the middle of all that, we’ve all had to find things that keep us going. The stuff that makes getting through each day that little bit easier. For me, that’s been ChocoPro.

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Baliyan Akki vs Konosuke Takeshita

The seal of approval. Credit: DDT

One of my favourite happy/sad feelings is being stood in a music venue, watching a band I’ve seen play to ten people in a pub, ingratiate themselves to an audience a hundred times that size. Even as someone who has played little to no part in their success, it’s a moment that fills you with pride, as you watch something you’ve been a part of break out of its bubble. However, there is also a small, selfish part of yourself, that feels sad. Sad that the thing you love is about to become bigger and more successful than ever before and you’ll never again see them in those tiny venues, feet from the stage as they play directly to you. It’s a feeling similar to the one I got watching Baliyan Akki take on Konosuke Takeshita.

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Emi Sakura vs Sayaka Obihiro: Winning Isn’t Everything

Emi is not impressed.

Emi Sakura and Sayaka Obihiro had one of my favourite matches of 2020, and while it would be unfair to compare their showdown on ChocoPro 87 to the main event of Sakura’s anniversary, I enjoyed it for the exact same reasons. The bouts between these two mean very different things to those involved. Obi may now be ten years into her career, a decorated wrestler and a veteran in her own right, but when she faces off with Emi, she reverts. She becomes, once more, a young trainee desperate to impress her sensei and prove she’s worthy of stepping onto the mat with her. It doesn’t matter if it’s the main event of Emi’s 25th anniversary, or second on the card, she throws her heart and soul into the action, fighting until she’s exhausted, stumbling around the ring and barely able to stand.

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Farewell, Mitsuru

Mitsuru finding great pleasure in her bleeding hand after slapping Mei across the face.

When Gatoh Move announced that Mitsuru Konno was retiring, it was both a blow and somehow entirely unsurprising. The storyline that defined Mitsuru’s 2020 and pushed her to the MVP award in ChocoPro’s second season was built around her bizarre relationship with wrestling. On more than one occasion, she’d expressed that it wasn’t fun for her, and that what kept her going was the need to figure out what exactly it was that made the likes of Mei Suruga fall wildly in love with it.

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Ramblings About’s Match of the Year: Pencil Army vs Tropical Calimari

A well-earned hat. Credit: ChocoPro

Weakness isn’t something you often find in professional wrestling. When you think of its icons, American superstars like Stone Cold or Japanese aces like Mitsuharu Misawa, everything about them screams strength. In a world defined by macho posturing, to be weak, and even worse to show that weakness, is not only not done, but actively discouraged. You need only go onto certain Twitter accounts to see what old-school wrestling types think of anything that might make a performer not look like a hard bastard.

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Lulu Pencil’s Hat

Before the storm. Credit: ChocoPro

Wrestling titles are weird. You don’t need to work to make a football league or an Olympic gold medal feel important. In a pre-determined sport, however, a title only has as much value as the people competing for it give it. It means that in some companies, they are mere props, McGuffins to build stories around, but with no real value. In others, they are everything, the backbone of what they do and the conduits to incredible moments. That feeling you get when you watch your favourite scratch and claw their way to the top, finally winning the big one, well, there are few things like it. Rarely, though, and I do accept that it’s uncommon, those titles are hats.

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Tokiko Kirihara: ChocoPro’s Success Story

Don’t mess. Credit: ChocoPro

ChocoPro might not have been around long, but it can already lay claim to a success story or two. Both Yunamon and Mitsuru have benefited from long arcs that have seen them grapple with who they are as a wrestler (while season three has hinted at a similar role for Mei). Meanwhile, Emi ‘Oni’ Sakura stirs the pot, looking on as the likes of Lulu Pencil grow in confidence, finding themselves in the ring. Nearly everyone involved has had something for fans to grasp hold of, and yet, ChocoPro’s greatest success story is none of that. Instead, it’s been the growth of one Tokiko Kirihara, known to fans as Otoki.

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Hyper Misao vs Jun Kasai

The first attempt did not go to plan. Credit: TJPW

You don’t have to dig deep to see the differences between Hyper Misao and Jun Kasai. One is a crazed lunatic, dealing out violence with an increasingly bizarre collection of weapons and the other is Jun Kasai. Jokes aside, it’s safe to say that the superhero antics of PaMi and the scarred deathmatch torso of Kasai don’t look like they belong in the same world. And yet, it was Kasai that inspired Misao to become a wrestler. To push off from a life where she was wasting away, living on bags of chocolate cream puffs, and become the superhero we now know and love.

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Emi Sakura: The Perfect Wrestler

‘You hate me? That’s okay.’ Credit: ChocoPro

Emi Sakura has been wrestling for twenty-five years. That’s longer than some of modern-day joshi’s biggest stars have been alive and covers a period where the scene has changed in countless ways. In that time, Emi has been an erratic constant. Despite having worked for some of the biggest companies and alongside the biggest stars, Sakura-san has ultimately ploughed her own path, doing things in a way that only she could.

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I Believe In Lulu Pencil

Credit: ChocoPro

Lulu Pencil probably shouldn’t be a wrestler. All those people who claim they could snap Kenny Omega over one knee would be telling the truth if they made the same claim about The Pencil. Her long, skinny frame does not look like it should be involved in physical sport, appearing much more suited to the world of a freelance writer, the job she does when she’s not prowling the mats of Ichigaya. However, Lulu Pencil is a wrestler, and an inspiring one at that.

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