August 17, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan
Emi Sakura is one of the greatest professional wrestlers in the world and, as of this day, has been wrestling for 25 years. Normally a big celebratory event like this would be held at a larger location, but given current circumstances it was decided to have it as a ChocoPro with no audience in Ichigaya. As such this will be the biggest show they’ve ever held at Ichigaya, with six matches.
ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.
The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Ichigaya reviews, these events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.
Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.
In preparation for this anniversary event there were a number of excellent ChocoTalks featuring Emi Sakura telling stories from her long career with a variety of special guests. All are a lot of fun and contain numerous interesting and rare stories, and are well worth listening to.
Links to Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary Road ChocoTalks (listed by guest):
Aoi Kizuki, a trainee of Sakura, a bit of a mentor to Mei, and a thirteen year pro who retired a couple of years back will be serving as special referee for all matches.
Gatoh Move’s former ace Riho and Emi Sakura’s reigning tag team champion partner Kaori Yoneyama were originally scheduled to participate but had to be pulled due to someone from Stardom (where they had both recently wrestled) testing positive for Covid. They were missed but kudos to all involved for taking the appropriate precautions and their replacements were appropriate, excellent choices.
Aoi and Akki welcome everyone and run down the card. Again since this show has twice the normal number of matches for an Ichigaya show, they skip the traditional ChocoPro warmup squats and proceed straight to the matches.
1) Tokiko Kirihara vs Lulu Pencil
The ever struggling Lulu Pencil has been growing (ever so slightly) stronger and pushing herself both in singles and as a part of the Pencil Army alongside her mentor Emi Pencil. After Pencil Army lost a handicap match against Tokiko, Lulu decided maybe Emi Pencil was holding her back and refocused on singles competition (while Sakura temporarily put the Emi Pencil character back on hold).
Outside of that victory Tokiko had been struggling a bit herself as her aggressiveness and anger led to a number of quick losses. With the two just a couple of weeks away from their first anniversary in wrestling, they face off here in a hyped match that ha everyone wondering if Lulu will finally achieve her first win.
The two rookies paid off on all the build nicely, with a strong match centered around Tokiko’s ferociousness against Lulu’s tenaciousness. The way they’re both evolving a little bit each time out and really growing their characters alongside their skills is wonderful.
Tokiko counted the Pencil Splash into a Pencil Roll of her own then lifted Lulu right up into the Cobra Twist for the submission win. Lulu’s first win remains elusive, but she does better and better each time and eventually will lead the Pencil Army to victory.
In a great moment Tokiko shows respect to the exhausted Lulu by lifting her into piggyback position to carry her to the back.
Aoi is a joy and was great as ref, being both unassuming enough not to take away from the match and so charismatic she always adds a bit of fun to everything whenever she actual needs to be a focal point.
2) Tropikawild (Yuna Mizumori & Saki) vs Tokyo Heartbreak Academy (Antonio Honda & Minoru Fujita) vs CDK? (Chris Brookes & Masa?)
Really great to see Fujita back, and this lineup is great in general.
Shota is dressed up as and acting like Chris’ usual CDK (Calamari Drunken Kings) partner Masahiro Takanashi, who is currently out with injury.
Crazy energy in this one. As expected with some of the wrestlers involved, it got a little derailed at points with comedy, but everything was amusing enough and the majority of the match was full out action. All six really know how to make the most of the Ichigaya environment and this was reminiscent of Gatoh Move’s wonderful 6-person tags in all the best ways. Seeing Yuna and Fujita face off a bit in a couple of exchanges that harkened back to their amazing last man standing match at ChocoPro 11.
There was also a great series of rollup exchanges near the end, among numerous other cool sequences and fun doubleteams.
Eventually Chris got Honda in a sleeper, but Gon the Fox made an appearance to break the hold (Gon is Honda’s fox hand puppet… yes really). After a frenzy where Gon attacked nearly everyone, Yuna managed to save Saki from a final strike and stripped Gon off Honda’s arm. She then used the fox herself to knock Honda backwards over Saki into sunset flip position, and added her own Superman pin finisher FOR THE WIN! Nice finish to a really good match.
I’m pleasantly surprised TropikaWild won this, and it was 100% the right call. It not only kept the former tag champs strong but also gave a rare, much needed win to women over men in this intergender promotion.
3) Baliyan Akki vs Hagane Shinnou
ASUKA (the one also known as Veny, not the former Kana who wrestles in WWE) recently kind of called Akki out after beating Yuna on ChocoPro 40. Sakura dangled a possible match with her as a prize if Akki could beat Hagane here.
Extremely different feel to this match, with Akki and Hagane fighting over every inch with both their strike/block exchanges and their hold-for-hold grappling. Hagane brings out a visceral intensity in his opponents, and he and Akki kept upping that intensity throughout this battle.
In the end the veteran had one too many answers for the challenges Akki could pose, and Hagane won with a nasty looking stretch muffler variation.
4) Mei Suruga vs Yuu
Chris Brookes’ was on camera for this one, leading to a lot of amusing commentary about his friend(?)/rival Mei. I laughed myself silly when Chris turned the camera away and refused to capture Mei doing her “cute on purpose” pose.
Yuu is formerly of Tokyo Joshi Pro and know is contracted to Pro Wrestling Eve and wrestles a lot for Sendai Girls when in Japan. This was her ChocoPro debut. She has a judo background and a significant size and power advantage over Mei, and there were a ton of spots in this highlighting the difference and how Mei couldn’t quite get a lot of her normal moves on the larger, stronger Yuu. I adore it when things like that are well utilized in the story of the match, and they did a fantastic job of it here.
One particularly incredible moment saw Mei send herself flying when trying for her trademark Propeller Clutch rollup as Yuu was simply too solid and went nowhere when Mei tried to spin her over. Another nice tough was when Mei went for it again later in the match and visibly adjusted her approach to make sure to get Yuu over. It got a close 2.
Mei couldn’t overcome Yuu’s onslaught but withstood enough of it to force a 15 minute draw. Yuu offered a hand of respect but a frustrated Mei turns it into a rollup and Aoi (perhaps ever so biased in her former protege’s favor) counts an unofficial 2.
Would love to see a rematch, and to have Yuu back in general.
5) Mitsuru Konno & Makoto vs Ryo Mizunami & Hanako Nakamori
This is where Riho was originally scheduled, as Mizunami’s partner. Hanako was a lynchpin of Gatoh Move in its early days, wrestled Emi in a great main event on ChocoPro 40, and is a great replacement. Makoto and Mizunami have both also appeared in ChocoPro before.
Incredible, hard hitting match with everyone firing on all cylinders. The strike exchange in the middle between Mitsuru and Hanako was INSANE. Both teams had surprisingly great chemistry for being non-regular partners.
Mitsuru was always going to be the one taking the fall here, but she got to look awesome even in defeat and really felt like she belonged with all the veterans. I’d love to see her get a singles match against Mizunami in particular. Ryo pinned her with a hard lariat right after Mitsuru had barely survived her spear. Loved this.
6) Emi Sakura vs Sayaka Obihiro
“Twenty five years. I’m just getting started.”
This was originally scheduled to be reigning Asia Dream Tag Team Champions facing off, but again Kaori Yoneyama had to miss the show do to Covid exposure concerns. In an equally fitting, and perhaps more emotional, opponent choice for Emi’s 25th anniversary match Obi made her return from injury to face her trainer/mentor.
In a great touch Obi and Emi get streamers thrown from the other wrestlers.
This was appropriately great, emotional, and fun all the way through. At one point Obi gets the knees up for Sakura’s “We Will Rock You” seated splash and puts Emi in the position her opponent would normally be in, then whips everyone in the venue into her to deliver Sakura’s own move to her instead in an awesome variation of the traditional special event corner splash sequence. Further amusement: Fujita was trying to record with his phone when Obi decided to whip him and wiped out rather spectacularly.
Obi looked good in her return and mostly immediately back to form (except for clearly suffering from the brutal summer heat and being exhausted late in the match). The high level performances of these wrestlers in this small environment under tough conditions is amazing, especially for Obi after a long break.
Clever finish where Obi hunkered down to block Emi’s deadly La Magistral, so Emi simply pushed her forward and pinned her that way.
After the show came ChocoPro’s biggest janken tournament ever, and as such they were amusingly doing the match at high speed. A great surprise was in store when the real Masahiro Takanashi showed up to challenge his doppelgänger for his spot in the tournament… and then lost leaving Shota to continue his impersonating ways.
An emotional, crying Obi won her way through the brackets to the last match … then the boss who gave herself a bye straight to the finals won and steals the chocolate. I suppose it’s her party and all. Sakura enjoys her prize and explains it all away with “everything’s fair in love and war.”
A group photo, the normal ending song, and some special celebratory words (including a special video message from Sakura’s old boss) capped off the festivities.
This was a truly fantastic show, both as a celebration of Sakura’s career and as a well built, diverse escalating progression of matches in their own right.
As I like to reiterate I’m beyond grateful to Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro for doing so much to provide good natured content aimed at connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated.
Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their brand new merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available!