“I really think… wrestling was fun” : Farewell to Mitsuru Konno

“Gatoh Move is a company I enjoyed a lot and immediately became a big fan of during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. When I returned a year later the first show I saw of theirs had an interesting interpromotional 6-woman tag team match featuring respective veterans of REINA and Gatoh Move Makoto and Emi Sakura teaming with rookies from their promotions.

Emi’s partners were both new to me, and made an immediate positive impression. One was Mitsuru Konno, just a couple of months from her debut, who was eliminated first yet had a striking aura about her and has since become an absolute favorite of mine.”

I wrote the above words two years ago to open my look back on the career of Aasa Maika in the wake of her retirement, and they are perhaps even more fitting to preface this piece written in light of Mitsuru’s own retirement announcement.

I mentioned shortly after that trip that Mitsuru already projected a distinct no-nonsense aura in the way she carried herself in the ring that nicely complimented her intense strikes and smooth holds. She made an immediate impression through the few matches I saw of hers with under six months experience and became an instant favorite of mine, which she remained.

It was a treat to see her skills further develop and the following year I was lucky to see Mitsuru in longer and more challenging contests against veterans including excellent showings against Gatoh’s ace Riho, the incredible Masahiro Takanashi and Gatoh’s founder / Mitsuru’s trainer herself Emi Sakura. Mitsuru’s determination and fire in the face of stronger opponents was always apparent and made her matches truly engaging.

I was back in Japan during Spring of 2018 for the wedding of some dear friends of mine. During that trip I was able to see Gatoh Move’s annual mixed tag team Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup tournament for the first time. The show was a delight, with a field of excellent matches of different styles, great booking, and incredible action. The tone was set right away with the first match of the tournament seeing Riho & Golem Thai vs Mitsuru & Sawasdee Kamen in a fantastic display of everything intergender wrestling can be. I adored the match and Mitsuru was continually pushing herself and wrested like someone with much more experience than she had.

For that first match teaming with Sawasdee as the Heroes, Mitsuru got fully into the superhero spirit and came to the ring in a great mask styled like Sawasdee’s but incorporating her crane motif.

A few days before the 5/4/18 show Mitsuru had announced on Twitter that replica’s of her mask, made by the original mask maker (the incredible Demonio Blanco / Bacchanales Tokyo), were available for special order. I put in an order but expected to have to pick it up during my next trip (whenever that ended up being). In a wonderful, greatly appreciated gesture a point was made of finishing it so it could be delivered before I returned home and Mitsuru surprised me with it after the show. It’s a wonderful keepsake of amazing quality and a centerpiece addition to my collection, and will be a treasured memento.

As a final fantastic bit of amusement, Mitsuru had her own mask with her and had us both wear them when I got a pic with her later on, then signed with “we are heroes!” It was fun to a be a sidekick for a moment.

Mitsuru’s matches continued to be a highlight of the shows I saw, and constantly became more varied in both style and concept. I saw her in things such as Akki’s first intergender singles match (1/2/19), a delightful tag match that saw Riho & Hagane Shinnou play the villains to her Heroes team (1/13/19), a shot at TropikaWild’s Asia Dream Tag Team Championship, and so on. The intensity she brought to everything she did was amazing, and her holds kept looking more and more vicious and her strikes more and more brutal every time out.

For a majority of Gatoh Move’s existence, their clear ace and star was Riho. In Spring of 2019 it was announced that she would be leaving to go freelance in early July. The landscape of Gatoh changed dramatically after her departure and the subsequent debut of six rookies from Sakura’s casual training program DareJyo.

Mei Suruga and Yuna Mizumori, both with under a year and a half of experience, suddenly became senior to half the roster. In the same instant at around three years of experience Mitsuru immediately went from being fourth senior out of six on the roster to third out of eleven, and often effectively second after Gatoh’s founder and near twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura (as Sayaka Obihiro was sporadically out with injury).

Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

In addition to being great to see all the new rookies in action, it was interesting to see the effects of the new dynamics when I went back to Japan in December 2019. Gatoh Move had not only survived but thrived in new ways, and the importance of Mitsuru, Mei, and Yuna as pillars of the company were apparent. Mitsuru and Mei main evented Gatoh’s year end show at Shinkiba 1st Ring in a battle of wrestlers trying to prove their place as the new ace. This had been built to wonderfully, with Mei consistently having a bit of an edge on Mitsuru despite having less experience. A few days prior the two battled to a draw in an intense tag match (Mitsuru & Rin Rin vs Mei & Actwres Girlz’ Saki). 

The big match featured excellent work all around from both, and the underlying story of Mei trying to outlast and outmaneuver an angry, driven Mitsuru was pitch perfect. They took advantage of the spotlight and this was seen as a strong indication of a bright future ahead of Gatoh Move. I was thrilled (as well as a bit surprised) to see Mitsuru finally get a big win, and it felt every bit deserved.

Four days after her victory Mitsuru faced another big challenge in the form of a singles match against Chris Brookes. It was all about Mitsuru’s fire and defiance as a counter to Chris’ size advantage, including her unloading at various points with heavy, vicious strikes. I adored the inventive submissions and counters from both that anchored the match throughout, and Mitsuru got a chance to really shine against a stronger opponent and looked fantastic even in defeat.

Both Mitsuru vs Mei and her battle with Chris were among my favorite matches of the year and are well worth seeking out.

That trip got both derailed and extended a bit due to me coming down with the flu around New Year’s. I was lucky enough that after I recovered (and after Mitsuru herself returned from some time out sick) I was able to catch one last live Gatoh Move show with her on it right before I left. It was a tag match that saw Mitsuru team with rookie Tokiko Kirihara to face the dominant Hyakuen Thunders (Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi). Mitsuru & Tokiko were a good team featuring complimentary styles, and it was great seeing them get to mix it up with the veteran team. I of course didn’t know it at the time, but that match would turn out to be the last time I got to see Mitsuru wrestle live. 

Mitsuru was always incredibly friendly and happy to meet with fans. She introduced new things like her “cheers chekis” as an add on for Gatoh Move’s usually available mini-polaroids with wrestlers where fans would receive a beer and all drink a toast together with Mitsuru (which could also be filmed, another cool unusual detail). While undoubtedly primarily driven by her love of beer, this was also another cool little way to connect and celebrate with fans.

Mitsuru also works at Swandive, one of the bars run by the wrestling promotion DDT (that Gatoh Move regulars Takanashi and Antonio Honda work for), and will continue to do so after her retirement from competition. Swandive is an awesome little bar and I had a great time there the couple of visits I was able to make.

In most cases, this would be around where I’d be wrapping up my personal look back with a quick look at the subject’s last match. But 2020 has been an unusual year, and while last January was the last time I saw Mitsuru wrestle live there’s still a bit to talk about along the way.

Covid restrictions obviously had an extreme effect on wrestling, as with the rest of the world. Faced with a home venue far too small to have a crowd under such conditions, Emi Sakura started ChocoPro at the end of March as a new effort to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world, specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience. It also varies from Gatoh Move in that it’s more a complete intergender promotion (as opposed to Gatoh being a Joshi promotion with frequent male wrestler guests).

In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 72 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. The shows are well designed to draw the viewer in, in a lot of ways feel like being there, and are all presented for free on YouTube (with various support options available if fans are inclined).

Mitsuru missed a majority of the first season with dental problems, then returned with a vengeance in season 2. She struggled at the start, winning against the rookies but having less success in big matches like her return against Antonio Honda and another great match against Chris Brookes. It led to a lot of anger to deal with at points and an intensity that couldn’t be matched. Her frustration and determination bubbled over in a crazy match teaming with Yuna Mizumori against Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil (Sakura) ) where she ended up pinning Sakura. She then had a string of impressive, intense singles matches against Mei, Yuna, and Akki that are all must watch. Her fire and ever increasing mastery of her skills was noticed and appreciated, and she was the fan-voted MVP of the season.

Mitsuru continued to impress during the early part of season 3 in a mix of different match styles. She had a strong showing in a tag match teaming with Makoto against Ryo Mizunami & Hanako Nakamori on Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary show amid wrestlers with much more experience.

ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru & Chris Brookes. Unfortunately Mitsuru injured her ankle while training for this match and has been out since, and recently announced that she will be retiring.

On ChocoPro 43 Mitsuru teamed with Yuna Mizumori against Emi Sakura & Mei Suruga. It was, as to be expected from four wrestlers who have so much chemistry and shared training, another fantastic encounter. And as in now clear, it was the final match of her career. Short of an actual, planned last match one with this particular group of wrestlers was perhaps the most appropriate sendoff she could have had.

Gatoh Move 6 card PSC “puzzle” by Juri H. Chinchilla.

While she will be unable to wrestle a farewell match, Mitsuru will have online stream sessions and other things planned to say goodbye during her official retirement date in January. During the announcement video she also said that she still plans to be connected to Gatoh Move, but she has decided to try something new from here on out and will not be returning to in ring competition.

Mitsuru has repeatedly said in the past that she’s never enjoyed wrestling itself, but was determined to stick with it and improve until she understood what everyone else said and finally found it fun. During the post announcement questions Minoru Fujita kind of surprised everyone by asking Mitsuru if she had any fun memories from pro wrestling (not knowing about Mitsuru’s previous statements). With some thought Mitsuru said that looking back, “I really think… wrestling was fun. 4, 5 years of it the whole way. Every moment of it was fun.” It’s wonderful to hear her say that, and Emi Sakura can be seen trying not to tear up with emotion next to Mitsuru.

I’ll really miss Mitsuru, and quite honestly Gatoh Move won’t be the same without her. But I’m happy she’s doing what’s right for her and wish her a speedy recovery and all the best in the future. Cheers.