Japan Reviews Wrestling

ChocoPro 50 Preview: AEW Superstars Invade a Local Indie

“The two of you are weak!”

ChocoPro began at the end of March amid Covid restrictions as a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

ChocoPro 50 will take place one day short of six months from ChocoPro 1. In addition to the phenomenal wrestling featured, ChocoPro has had near constant daily streaming of discussions, watch parties, and all kinds of other random and fun content (all free to watch under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, see the end of this article for more information) .

ChocoPro 50 will again be a special one match show, and it’s loaded with significance and emotion…


Team AEW: Emi Sakura & Riho

Emi Sakura is a twenty-five year veteran of professional wrestling and one of the very best in the world. She’s founded numerous promotions, including of course Gatoh Move and its spinoff/sibling ChocoPro, and recently started to receive some more well deserved world-wide recognition as part of the AEW roster.

She’s also a world class trainer and has taught too many excellent wrestlers to count. Among those is another member of AEW’s roster and their first Women’s Champion, the incredible 14 year veteran at the age of 23, Riho.

Team ChocoPro: Mei Suruga & Yuna Mizumori

From an outside view, it’d be hard to tell that both Mei Suruga and Yuna Mizumori have under three years experience in wrestling. Their instincts and skills are far beyond their expected level, and Gatoh Move’s small roster combined with an influx of rookies in the wake of Riho’s departure to go freelance made both seniors within the company very early in their careers.

Yuna is already a two-time Asia Dream Tag Team Champion (with TropikaWild partner Saki) and held that title for more than half her career thus far. Mei has had a number of high profile matches and victories, and has already wrestled abroad to participate in Pro-Wrestling Eve’s SHE-1 tournament.


“Local Indie”

In May of 2019 AEW held their first PPV Double or Nothing, at which both Sakura and Riho made their US debuts. They were on opposite sides of an excellent six-woman tag.

Days later, and about a month out from the known imminent departure of Gatoh’s ace Riho, Sakura & Riho returned to Ichigaya Chocolate Square and teamed up in the main event to face Mei Suruga & Antonio Honda.

However it wasn’t Gatoh’s founder and ace who appeared for that match, but rather superstars waving the AEW flag. Sakura commented on the difference of appearing in from of a crowd of 80 after wrestling in front of 11,000 people and looked around her own home venue with curious interest commenting about the quaint “local indie.”

The various incarnations and moods of Emi Sakura are distinct, and have significant effect on her matches and what her opponents have to deal with. Emi Pencil is quite a different opponent from Hyakkin Thunder Emi Sakura or AEW Superstar Emi Sakura, etc. I expect at ChocoPro 50 the Emi Sakura Mei & Yuna will be dealing with will feature more than a bit of the attitude shown after Sakura’s first return from the US.

However Sakura & Riho should be on their guard too, as their Gatoh Move invasion was unsuccessful: Mei & Honda won that match.

Something to Prove:

In a lot of ways the confrontations in this match transcend the idea of AEW vs ChocoPro.

As mentioned above in July of 2019 Riho left Gatoh Move to go freelance. She had wrestled for companies Sakura founded since her debut at the age of 9, and perhaps needed to expand her reach a bit. She’s an incredible wrestler and natural star and has already held singles titles in both AEW and STARDOM, the two companies she’s primarily wrestled for since. She was the clear ace and star of Gatoh Move and her absence lead to a number of changes within the promotion.

Her last match in Gatoh Move was against her mentor Emi Sakura, but a month before that she had her final defense of the Super Asia Championship. Mei won a one day tournament to earn that title shot. She would come up short despite a great effort, and Riho vacated the title. It has remained vacant thus far ever since.

Riho returned to Ichigaya after a year at ChocoPro 29, and teamed with Yuna against Best Bros (Mei & her now regular partner Baliyan Akki). Despite another excellent showing from Mei, Riho would once again pin her to give Riho’s team the win.

Mei has pointed out that that everyone in this match has pinned everyone else in some way, except she’s never beaten Riho. Her determination and frustration in regards to her quest to surpass the ace that casts a shadow over Gatoh Move long after leaving could be the motivation that leads her to victory, or the distraction that seals her fate.

Yuna has undergone a lot of soul searching and transformation lately, and most of it was triggered by her extensive history throughout ChocoPro with her personal tormentor Emi Sakura. Their issues became a strong focus of season 1 (ChocoPro 1-19) and built to a head during season 2 when they had a last woman standing match at ChocoPro 28 (see The Ballad of Yuna and the Oni for more background on this intense feud). This issues have lingered and are never far from the surface when they cross paths in a match, and I expect Yuna would like to make a statement to Sakura specifically with her performance in this battle.

Yuna herself of course also strives to test herself against and surpass Riho and Mei has a lot of competitive spirit towards her mentor, but I think the above two pairings/ rivalries will be more prominently apparent in this particular match.

The Heart of Rivals:

Speaking of rivals, while Riho & Sakura have extensive history both teaming and facing each other in various forms over their long careers, Mei & Yuna are not an established team in any sense. Quite the opposite.

While Yuna has had arguably more success than Mei as she’s held a championship for most of her career and defeated Mei in more singles matches, Mei beat Yuna when it mattered most and has more high profile singles victories. In the previously mentioned one-day tournament for determine Riho’s final championship opponent Mei pinned Yuna in the finals to earn that shot. She also holds singles victories over Sakura (in the first round of that same mini-tournament), Aoi Kizuki, and Hikaru Shida. Yuna has defeated both Sakura and Riho in championship situations, but never in singles.

Yuna has constantly felt behind Mei, even when she shouldn’t. After her victory in their incredible ironman match at ChocoPro 17, she wondered “Why do I still feel like I lost?” It was a huge victory for Yuna, but it wasn’t enough. Something was still gnawing at her, which made Mei (who actually lost) irate and led to tension all around.

The competitiveness between the two would again boil over in a time limit draw between Apple Queens (Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga) and TropikaWild (Yuna Mizumori & Saki) at ChocoPro 48. Sakura set up a singles match between the two for ChocoPro 49, which took an interesting intensity when Yuna finally seemed to have conquered her self doubts and said she felt Mei was beneath her. Mei in contrast approached the match as a way to see if the way she was going was appropriate or if she needed to change her approach to wrestling. Mei won with her recently refined and named Lucifer submission (a variation on Cattle/Apple Mutilation), and expressed relief that she was ok as she was. The effect of the loss on Yuna after finally seeming to leave her self confidence problems behind her remains to be seen.

Sakura set them up for an immediate rematch of sorts in the traditional post show rock-paper-scissors tournament, which a tearful Yuna won. Seemingly at peace with each other, Mei and Yuna both looked satisfied with the day. They should have suspected that wouldn’t sit well with the resident oni, and afterwards Sakura said watching them made her realize something: “The two of you are weak!” She then dropped the bombshell that the special one match ChocoPro 50 would be AEW vs ChocoPro: Sakura & Riho vs Mei & Yuna.

Mei & Yuna are fighting to defend the promotion that they love and has given them a lot of personal growth, but their opponents are vastly more experienced and whether Mei & Yuna can truly function as a unit remains to be seen.

The match has since been announced as a 60-minute time limit affair, the first match in ChocoPro to have a time limit past a half hour. It’s an incredibly fitting way to celebrate the progress of ChocoPro thus far and the big milestone of their 50th show.

Conspicuous in Her Absence: Mitsuru Konno

One last thing to mention in the consideration of this match is how things might have been different. With AEW recently having a women’s tag team tournament that most of their Japanese talent could not participate in due to travel restrictions, Sakura had the idea for a AEW vs ChocoPro themed match for her 25th Anniversary show ChocoPro 41. It would be Riho & Ryo Mizunami against Makoto (another veteran trainee of Sakura and current freelancer) & Mitsuru Konno.

After missing a chunk of ChocoPro season 1 due to a dental issue, Mitsuru returned with a vengeance in season 2. She had a lot of anger to deal with at points and an intensity that couldn’t be matched. She had an incredible run where she pinned Emi Sakura in tag team competition (ChocoPro 32), then beat both Mei and Yuna in incredible singles matches (ChocoPro 33 and ChocoPro 34 respectively). Sakura said Mitsuru represented ChocoPro at that point, which is why she was in that match.

But it didn’t happen. A member of the Stardom roster, where Riho had recently wrestled, came down with Covid so Riho was unable to appear at ChocoPro 41. She was replaced in the match with Hanako Nakamori. Mitsuru looked fantastic even in a losing effort among the veterans in a wonderful match, but it was not the AEW vs ChocoPro match Sakura had planned.

So now that Riho can come back for another special occasion an AEW vs ChocoPro match will happen, but Mitsuru unfortunately injured her ankle during practice shortly after ChocoPro 41 and cannot compete for at least a couple of months. One wonders what ChocoPro 50 would look like if she was healthy, and what will happen upon her return.

Tune in to ChocoPro 50 at 9pm EDT on September 26 (10am September 27 JST).

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. 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!