Top 25 Matches 2019 (Live) 15-6

Continuing on with my (overdue) look back on my favorite matches from 2019. In addition to still wanting to highlight and share these great matches, positivity and happy memories seem to be in great need at the moment. 

Previous installments:
Prelude (with honorable mentions and a brief list for December 2018)
25-16 

One might notice that since my prelude this has become a top 25. Even with the latitude I took in spotlighting shows/groups of matches in the prelude I still had a monster of a time narrowing this down. Since there is no set reason to strictly restrict it to 20 (and to avoid delaying any further), I decided to stop sweating the minutia of what to include and expand the list a bit. Even so, there is plenty of excellent wrestling beyond what’s here / what I was able to see as 2019 was a phenomenal year.

Match reviews are copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate, although there’s a fair bit of new writing this time around from shows I didn’t have the chance to write up. As always the ordering was a bunch of close calls and could’ve been different – everything here is great.

Also, I’ve indicated and linked to matches officially available online from the companies that held them for those who would like to check them out.

15-6:

15. Sendai Girls Junior Championship: Ayame Sasamura (c) vs Millie McKenzie – Sendai Girls 1/6/19

I was not familiar with rookie Ayame Sasamura prior to this trip, and was impressed with what I saw from her at SEAdLINNNG on 12/28 in a triple threat against Sakura Hirota and Ayame’s own reigning SEAdLINNNG Tag Team Championship partner Arisa Nakajima. That isn’t the only title she held either, and here she defended her Sendai Girls Junior Championship against Millie McKenzie (who I saw at Tokyo Joshi Pro two days prior). Excellent work here from two wrestlers with under a year and half experience each. Both have a lot of potential and bright futures ahead of them (not to dismiss what each has already accomplished of course). Millie scores a bit of an upset and becomes the new SG Jr Champion in a great match.

14. Riho & Mitsuru Konno vs Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi –  Gatoh Move 1/1/19

I adore the pairings involved as well as any chance to see Mitsuru in with Gatoh’s veterans, so was really excited for this one. In a great bit to start, Emi was dismissive of Mitsuru just before the bell rung, at which point a fired up Mitsuru beat Emi across the venue. Great intensity, and beyond the normal excellent tag work in Gatoh this had a good feel of varying things up a little to nice effect, including things like brawling through the crowd a bit. Loved it overall. Emi eventually isolated and pinned Mitsuru to give her and Takanashi the win.

Takanashi is currently out with injury. I hope he recovers as soon and as completely as possible. He’s incredible and this is not the last of his appearances in this list.

13. Wonder of STARDOM Championship: Momo Watanabe (c) vs Utami Hayashishita  – Stardom American Dream 2019 

(Available as an ippv replay on FiteTV.)

Excellent, and even more impressive once discovered that Utami chose to work through a broken thumb here. This completely lived up to expectations, while leaving room for the inevitable rematch to take things a step further. It’s also a nice illustration of Stardom following through on giving NYC an authentic, worthy show, as this was a big, important first time singles title match for them between their current reigning tag team champions. The hype around Utami seems justified, and it’s nice to see Momo excelling as (one of) Stardom’s ace(s). It took a lot, but Momo eventually prevailed with a clean pin over her rookie partner and retained her title. Just the start of the story though I’m sure. This was the match I was most hyped for, and it delivered big time. Crazy to imagine what it would have been without the broken bottom rope and Utami’s injury.

12. Chris Brookes vs Mitsuru Konno – Gatoh Move 12/30/19

(Available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube Channel.)

Chris has been such an awesome fit in Gatoh, and his singles match against one of my personal favorites in Mitsuru was a treat. This 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 it all lead to a great series of rollup reversals culminating in Chris locking in an arm bar for win.

11. Super Asia Championship: Mei Suruga vs Riho (c) – Gatoh Move 6/4/19 

Riho, Gatoh Move’s ace since the promotion’s inception and a twelve year veteran at age 21, was a month away from going freelance and still held the company’s top title. Here she defended against arguably their biggest rising superstar at the time with just a year and a half under her belt.

So there was a real feel of a title change being possible hanging over this match, especially with the build in the proceeding shows. It added a lot of drama to this excellent, fast paced match. Riho’s transitions and counters were so smooth, and Mei kept up with the master in fine form for a lot tense, gripping back and forth sequences.

A particular highlight of the match was Mei hitting her battering ram move on the apron, sending Riho headfirst into the ringpost.

FANTASTIC finish where Mei ducked Riho’s double knees finisher (as she had earlier in the match for a rollup and a close 2 count), but before she could do anything else Riho turned around and nailed Mei in the back with it. Riho then hit it again proper for the win. Riho then vacated the championship (which has not been reintroduced since). After leaving Gatoh Move she would become AEW’s first Woman’s Champion as well as winning Stardom’s High Speed title.

10. Ice Ribbon vs P’s Party: Maya Yukihi, Akane Fujita, & Risa Sera vs Tequila Saya, Giulia, & Asahi   –  Ice Ribbon 1/3/19

(Available with subscription to Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico Channel.)

As a big fan of what Tequila Saya’s being doing with P’s Party, I was thrilled to see “P’s Party vs Ice Ribbon” theme for the main event with Giulia & Asahi joining Saya to face Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) & Akane Fujita. This was an elimination match with each wrestler being assigned a finisher before the match via ladder game, which was the only way they could score pinfalls. Eliminations could also by going over the top rope to the floor.

They had fun with the assigned finishers, such as Risa repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) trying to rope-walk, the slim Giulia bouncing off of people when she tried to throw her assigned lariats, and a posturing Saya struggling in her attempts to perform a powerbomb. Maya got “diving headbutt” and attempted several Maki Itoh style ones, while Akane and Asahi got luckiest and had the appropriate for them “bodyslam” and “schoolboy rollup” respectively.

This was really well booked and executed, with a surprisingly strong showing for the “rookies” (in Japan that term generally covers any with less than three years experience). Despite everyone’s best efforts with their finishers, all the eliminations ended up being over the top rope. After Risa, Saya, and reigning Ice Cross Infinity Champion Maya were respectively eliminated, it was down to Akane vs Asahi & Giulia.

Eventually Asahi had Akane on the apron and delivered several running dropkicks to try to knock her off and win. As she set up for the (presumably) final one her partner Giulia shoved her out of the way and knocked Akane down herself to claim the victory and the glory. (Man, does this play a bit differently looking back now.) TEAM P’S PARTY WINS!!!

Asahi stares a HOLE through her so called partner, and then goes CRAZY trying to claw and scrape her way to at at Giulia requiring three others to hold her back and finally Tsukka comes in to calm her down. Fantastic fire from Asahi here, and there was more story and character conveyed in these 30 seconds than I’ve seen in entire shows. Which makes a bit mind-boggling that they cut the post match stuff out from the video releases. SHOW PEOPLE THESE AWESOME BITS OF EMOTION.

The match itself was creative and engaging, and done in such a way that made the rookies look good and competitive without taking anything away from the vets. Great stuff.

9. Mitsuru Konno vs Mei Suruga  – Gatoh Move 12/26/19

In their last big event of the year, two of Gatoh Move’s top rising stars faced off in a battle of wrestlers trying to prove their place as the new ace in the wake of Riho’s departure. 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).

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 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. Awesome all around.

8. Ice Cross Infinity Championship: Maya Yukihi (c) vs Giulia – Ice Ribbon 5/28/19

(Available with subscription to Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico Channel.)

Maya was a triple champion in Ice Ribbon at this point, holding the Triangle Ribbon and International Ribbon Tag Team Championships in addition to her Ice Cross Infinity Championship that is on the line.

At the time this seemed to be a preview of Ice Ribbon’s future, with Giulia likely to be a center point of the promotion someday. Who knew. Whatever of the circumstances of Giulia’s sudden and contentious departure in the Fall, this was an absolutely excellent match. She fought tooth and nail to dethrone the person dominating Ice Ribbon only to come up a bit short when Maya absolutely spikes her with a butterfly package piledriver. Incredibly hard hitting and intense the whole way through.

7. Union Max Championship: Masahiro Takanashi (c) vs Isami Kodaka – Basara 12/28/19

(Available with subscription to Wrestle Universe.)

I’ve only seen a little of Basara here and there, but am well familiar with Takanashi from Gatoh Move. I went to this show primarily to see him defend his championship, and the match certainly didn’t disappoint. Great, gradual building war of counter wrestling and one upsmanship culminating with Takanashi retaining with one final Takatonic (his version of the Code Red) after a number of close calls.

6. Meiko Satomura vs Reika Saiki  – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/19

(Available with subscription to Wrestle Universe.)

Ever since seeing Meiko Satomura come to TJP in August 2017 I’d been dying to see my personal favorite from the promotion, the Muscle Idol Reika Saiki, get a shot at the legend. Reika just keeps getting better and better, utilizing her incredible power in wonderful ways and really strives to excel at everything she does. Meiko is quite simply the greatest wrestler in the world. I certainly wasn’t disappointed with this battle. Reika went toe-to-toe with the 23-year veteran at several points, and had an excellent, hard hitting, back and forth showing before Meiko put down the upstart. 

——-

Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible. Be back soon to finish up with the Top 5.

Top 25 Matches 2019 (Live) 25-16

Continuing on with my (overdue) look back on my favorite matches from 2019. In addition to still wanting to highlight and share these great matches, positivity and happy memories seem to be in great need at the moment.

Previous installments:
Prelude (with honorable mentions and a brief list for December 2018)

Special mention

Hana Kimura & Bobbi Tyler vs Brittany Blake & Britt Baker vs Bea Priestly & Konami – Stardom American Dream 2019 

Obviously with the tragic passing of Hana she’s been on everyone’s mind. This match was the last one I got to see her in, and was a fond memory in the first place so I wanted to share it here.

From my review of the show:
Hana was CRAZY over, but her & Bobbi were also able to get booed as needed for the story of the match. Excellent work by both. This was a bit rough in parts, but nicely energetic and chaotic in largely good way leading to a fun encounter overall. Crowd seemed to be waiting for a little more of a spotlight on Konami, but she looked good in what we saw of her. Hana picks up the win, and goes CRAZY and starts throwing things at the ring announcer when the wrong music plays. She was on point and in character every second she was visible (more on that later) and it’s really cool seeing how far she’s come as a performer since I last saw her in her rookie year.

Later on, at the end of the show, STARS called the entire the roster out to sign off with in a one time show of unity to represent Stardom and thank the fans. Hana alone remained lurking on the stage off to the side where she watched the main event from, dismissively staring at her various former compatriots. Nice touch and yet another example of all the wonderful nuance she brought to her performances.

Rest in Peace Hana.

25-16:

One might notice that since my prelude this has become a top 25. Even with the latitude I took in spotlighting shows or groups of matches in the prelude I still had a monster of a time narrowing this down. Since there is no set reason to strictly restrict it to 20 (and to avoid delaying any further), I decided to stop sweating the minutia of what to include and expand the list a bit. Even so, there is plenty of excellent wrestling beyond what’s here (and what I was able to attend) as 2019 was a phenomenal year.

Match reviews are copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate, although there’s a fair bit of new writing this time around from shows I didn’t have the chance to write up. As always the ordering was a bunch of close calls and could’ve been different – everything here is great.

Also, I’ve indicated and linked to matches officially available online from the companies that held them for those who would like to check them out.

25. Lulu Pencil vs Yasu Urano – Gatoh Move 12/7/19

(Available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube Channel.)

Yaso was involved in one of my favorite intergender matches of all time, a no-rope contest against Gatoh Move’s former ace Riho at Basara’s 12/28/17 show, and has faced Lulu before.

The story here was Lulu drawing inspiration from Emi Sakura and wanting to make use of certain counters she’d learned/copied… so she kept setting herself up for moves and holds. A confused and tentative Yasu didn’t know what to make of it, and kept putting on the “wrong” move, repeatedly preventing her plans from working.

It all eventually builds to a persistent Lulu finally executing one successfully into a rollup, but not having the power or weight to prevent Yasu from reversing into his own pin for the win.

This was different and silly in a way that enhanced the story told, and a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. Lulu’s gimmick of being a pro-wrestler who’s too weak and awkward to be pro-wrestler is rather genius in the way it’s being executed, and makes her a natural and easy to cheer for underdog.

24.  Reiwa Ultima Powers (DASH Chisako & Hiroyo Matsumoto) vs Twisted Sisterz (Thunder Rosa & Holidead) – Shimmer 3/30/19

Sendai Girls’ DASH Chisako is a 13-year veteran and one of the best high flyers in wrestling. She’s also a personal favorite of mine, and I had been dying to have her in Shimmer for years. Her Shimmer debut weekend was an impressive one, and she & Hiroyo make a fantastic team. RUP and Twisted Sisterz had the best match of the weekend (imho) in an energetic, captivating clinic on tag wrestling.

23. Signature Moves Match: Guilia & Suzu Suzuki vs Asahi & Tsukasa Fujimoto – Ice Ribbon 1/19/19

(Available with subscription to Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico Channel.)

This was one of IR’s weird and wonderful stipulation matches. Each team was assigned 3 moves from the repertoire of Tequila Saya or Uno Matusya respectively, who amusingly demonstrated their moves on each other before the match. All 3 moves on your checklist must be successfully completed on your opponents.

Giulia & Suzu had the “Tokuho” (Saya’s corner splash), “Submarine” (her reverse pedigree), and “Grand Maestro de Tequila” (her sideways rollup). Asahi & Tsukka needed to complete Uno’s schoolboy rollup, “Saber Chop,” and “Katsudon” (over the shoulder into a faceplant).

As an additional treat, Maya refereed this.

It’s particularly interesting to look back on this now, both in light of Giulia’s departure (more on that later) and since after Saya’s retirement Suzu has inherited the Gran Maestro de Tequila, one of her assigned moves in this match.

This was great, with fighting over the checklist moves providing an additional layer of storytelling and fun to the match. The thread of Asahi being desperate for victory and to prove herself continued, and she executed both the schoolboy and Katsudon to get her team within one move of winning after being behind as her opponents managed the Tokuho and Submarine early.

In a clever sequence once again bringing Asahi oh so close to victory without quite getting there, she hit everyone in the match with the top rope chop except who she needed to (her legal opponent at the time, Giulia, who kept dodging or pulling others in the way).

Eventually Giulia hits the Grand Maestro de Tequila to complete the checklist and get the pin simultaneously. This was a ton of fun.

22. Maya Yukihi, Maika Ozaki, & Kyuri vs Tsukushi, Tequila Saya, & Giulia  –  Ice Ribbon 1/5/19

(Available with subscription to Ice Ribbon’s Nico Nico Channel.)

The newly crowned (at Ribbonmania, less than a week prior) Ice Cross Infinity and International Ribbon Tag Team Champions teamed together here against a group of likely forthcoming challengers. I was expecting a Tsukushi pin on someone to set her up in her traditional role as sacrificial first defense for the new singles champion, but Saya pinning Kyuri set up several interesting things post match and was a nice, intriguing call. I really liked the direction the booking took around that time overall, shaking things up a little in a believable way. This match was an exciting, face paced contest throughout with excellent work by all six.

21.  Maria vs Maika Ozaki – P’s Party 5/2/19

As great as all of Marvelous’ current crop of rookies are, Maria is my favorite. So I was extremely excited to see her get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of this show, particularly against another favorite in Maika Ozaki. This was all about the scrappy Maria showing no hesitation in facing Maika’s incredible power, and it completely clicked. They presented a good, well worked story in an exciting match that was exactly as long as it needed to be. Loved this.

20. Calamari Druken Kings (Chris Brookes & Takanashi) & Rin Rin vs Mei Suruga, Saki, & Sayaka – Gatoh Move 12/7/19

(Available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube Channel.)

I’d been dying to see Brookes in Ichigaya, and as expected it was a lot of fun. His building feud with Mei is awesome, and the two have a ton of chemistry in the little things they do to egg each other on.

Rin Rin looked great and totally at ease, and the play off of what happened last time she teamed with CDK was highly amusing. She had gotten on Chris’ shoulder for a double team, and when he stood up her head banged on the ceiling. So this time when he and Takanashi tried to put her on Chris’ shoulder she freaked out, fought her way down and slapped them upside the head in admonishment. Awesome.

I have yet to see a trios match at Ichigaya that I didn’t love, and this certainly continued the streak. Innovative and fun, with the Gatoh regulars showing their usual mastery and the new faces fitting in well (in addition to Chris and Rin Rin this was also my first time seeing Sayaka since her Gatoh debut). Mei pinned Rin Rin to give her team the victory.

I absolutely adore the trio of CDK and Rin Rin and also loved the other match I saw them in against Mitsuru Konno, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori.

19. Makoto & Yoshiko vs Mikoto Shindo & Ryo Mizunami – SEAdLINNNG 5/29/2019

This tag team match of seemingly thrown together teams was surprisingly fantastic. The chemistry of the odd pairings was fantastic, particularly Mikoto & Mizunami. Fun from start to finish, and anchored by great action and INCREDIBLE in-ring storytelling where they built things to the point that they actually had the audience buying the idea that Mikoto might PIN YOSHIKO at a couple of key moments (which at this point in time was never going to happen). Excellent stuff all around.

18. Yuka Sakazaki, Miu Watanabe, Rika Tatsumi, & Maki Itoh vs Hikari Noa, Miyu Yamashita, Nodoka Tenma, & Yuna Aino – TJPW 12/27/19

(Available with subscription to Wrestle Universe.)

A few days out from Tokyo Joshi Pro’s traditional January 4th show the champions and challengers faced off early in a 2 out of 3 falls 8-woman tag team match. Wonderfully exciting and fast paced battle between some of TJPW’s top wrestlers.

Somewhat surprisingly upcoming opponents were involved with each other in all the falls and it was impressive how well done it all was while also serving its purpose to build anticipation for the big show without feeling like too much was given away.

17. Sareee & Syuri vs Takumi Iroha & Mayu Iwatani – Sareee’s Special Night


This was billed as a dream match, and with reigning top champions from three different promotions that don’t all generally interact and a recently returned MMA competitor involved I’d say it fit the description.

With her time in MMA I hadn’t seen Syuri wrestle in years. And while Stardom’s NY show was quite good a crazy 8-woman tag with a broken bottom rope isn’t the same thing as a concentrated singles or tag team match, so this was also my first time seeing Mayu in this type of contest in about as long. Add in Marvelous’ ace and reigning Regina di Wave champion Iroha and Sareee herself and this was quite an exciting matchup on paper.

Of course again the benefit of dream matches is seeing these unusual combinations of wrestlers squaring off with a big fight feel, and this had it all in spades. Top notch work from all four for the full duration of the time limit draw without every feeling like it was headed that way, this was a treat on so many levels. Great way to wrap up a great show.

16. Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki vs Shoko Nakajima & Riho  – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/19

(Available with subscription to Wrestle Universe.)

In an interesting parallel, the Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match involved the same four wrestlers as the prior year’s event, but in different pairs. Yuka Sakazaki now held the titles with Mizuki, and her former championship partner Shoko Nakajima challenged alongside Gatoh Move’s Riho (who teamed with Mizuki to challenge Yuka & Shoko the prior year).

I found the previous year’s match just a touch better overall, but that’s slight criticism and this was still an excellent, high energy example of tag team wrestling. Again all four’s jaw dropping athleticism was on display in innovative double teams and exciting action. Down the stretch this became about Shoko trying to prove herself against her former partner, and she looked absolutely emotionally wrecked afterwards about coming up short and being pinned by Yuka.

——-

Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible. Be back soon with 15 though 6.

Heartbreaking

I barely know where to begin here. Part of me doesn’t want to write this. And part of me has to.

A short while ago it was confirmed that Hana Kimura has passed away.

Hana wrestled for Stardom and was the daughter of retired wrestler Kyoko Kimura. She had been wrestling for four years and was one of my personal favorites in the promotion. She always made an impression, and seemed to have all the potential in the world. The last time I saw Hana was at Stardom’s American Dream 2019 show in NYC. I commented about how over she was, how far she had come as a performer since I’d seen her in her rookie year, and how impressive her character work in particular was. Her charisma was striking and she always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time.

Earlier in the day Hana posted some worrying tweets indicating self harm. She had been the target of extreme cyberbullying, in part in relation to her appearances on the show Terrace House. Her tweets were shortly removed (possibly by Twitter, who has a reporting function for self-harm tweets to try to extend help) and numerous fans and others who knew Hana tried to reach out to those who could contact her as well as tweeting messages of love and support.

Further details about her passing have not been official released at the request of her family and I won’t speculate further, but felt it important to mention the circumstances briefly.

Her loss is beyond tragic, particularly so young. Underneath the rising wrestling superstar and reality tv personality was a 22 year old woman having a harder time than anyone knew. Please think of the person on the other side of the computer screen, and never wish or encourage harm on anyone. Words cannot express my anger and total lack of comprehension towards those who would wish such things on another. There are also important issues to look at in entertainment industries and the presentation of and support systems available to performers.

On the other side of things, if anyone is ever in trouble and things seem hopeless, please know that you are not alone and there is hope, and please reach out for whatever help and support you need.

I feel a terrible sense of loss and heartache for Hana and wish things had been different. My thoughts are with her family.

Rest in Peace Hana. You will be greatly missed.

Ice Ribbon Special Challenge Match: Tsukka vs Broom Review

May 10, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

A very special no audience match up for free on Tsukka’s YouTube channel.

Suzu Suzuki is acting as referee, with Hifumi behind the camera.

In an impromptu scuffle last month during cleaning, Broom nearly pinned Tsukka after countering her trademark kicks. The incident isn’t mentioned here, but that’s where it all began.

We get video highlights of subsequent sneak attacks by Broom baiting Tsukka into this grudge match.

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Broom

Lockup to start. Tsukka struggles and is forced back towards the ropes, but reverses at the last second to push Broom up against them. No clean break as Tsukka kicks Broom then hits a “hair”-mare into the far corner and chokes Broom against the bottom turnbuckle.

Back to center and Tsukka converts a scoop slam into a power slam for 2, then works some crossfaces from Camel Clutch position. Broom holds on and does not give up. Tsukka calls for a brainbuster, but Broom reverses into a suplex on Tsukka and gets 2. Chinlock on Tsukka follows. She tries to break by biting the broomstick, but referee Suzu’s aggressive count breaks that right up and Tsukka remains in the hold. She struggles to the ropes for the break.

Back in the center of the ring they trade “head”-butts and forearms respectively, and Tsukka wins the exchange with a surprise enzuigiri that sends Broom right out of the ring. Tsukka follows up with a doublestomp off the apron, then rolls Broom back in and hits another from the top rope for 2.

All Tsukka at this point, but her flurry of kicks is countered with the same rollup Broom almost pinned Tsukka to set this whole rivalry off for a close 2. Tsukka lays in some more forearms and tosses Broom into the air but gets caught coming off the ropes with a crossbody and just barely kicks out to deny Broom the upset win.

The veteran is getting tired of the upstart cleaning implement, and whips Broom into the corner to hit a nice pair of dropkicks (one “standing,” one “seated”). World’s Strongest Slam only gets 2, but that kickout is all Broom has left and Tsukka nails a beautiful Venus Shoot for the 3 count and the victory. That broom will know better than to bother Ice Ribbon’s ace again.

Ok so this was ridiculous (as was my choice to do full play-by-play), but that was the point. One of the best wrestlers in the world today took the old “so good they could get a decent match out of a broomstick” cliche as literally as possible to produce five minutes of absolute absurdity that was just plain fun. The key of course is they played it totally straight within the confines of the silly premise, and while I certainly don’t need to see Broom become an Ice Ribbon regular this was a tremendously amusing.

Extremely well done too. Tsukka managed pretty long stretches in this, with only a few cuts (honestly I’m surprised there weren’t a lot more) that were noticeable if looking for them but pretty smooth overall. She only needed outside help with a single spot too, and the camera angle completely obscured Suzu holding Broom up for the Venus Shoot (the needed angle also made the move itself look particularly awesome).

Truly a match for the ages. Congratulations to Tsukka on her epic victory.

Watch it here.

Golden Week Chocolate: ChocoPro 11 Live Stream Thoughts

May 5, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

ChocoPro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura and DDT’s Antonio Honda to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

This is a special show, even among ChocoPro’s usual unique atmosphere with no ring and no crowd in the small confines of Ichigaya Chocolate square. There will be only one match, no referee, and no rules. The only way to win is to have your opponent fail to get up by a count of 10.

LAST MAN STANDING MATCH: Yuna Mizumori vs Minoru Fujita

Baliyan Akki is acting as cameraman and providing commentary (as well as doing the 10 counts), and is the only person besides the participants at the venue.

He’s alone as the feed starts and sets the stage for the match, summarizing the long, emotionally charged talk the day before between Emi Sakura and Yuna where Sakura really pushed Yuna about her insecurities, both regarding wrestling and her other career as an idol.

“Somehow she’s winning and still feels like she’s losing.”

I love that Akki made sure to highlight Yuna’s accomplishments and point out that she’s overachieving despite her lack of self confidence. She is the only Gatoh Move roster member with three years experience or less to hold any title (and that covers 80% of the roster), and her TWO tag team title reigns with partner Saki encompass over half of her two year career thus far. It does feel like Yuna’s accomplishments get a little overlooked sometimes compared with her compatriots, and her opening up about her insecurities in such a real way put this match in a new light (and was a bit heartbreaking).

So going into this huge match with a wild stipulation against a bigger, vastly more experienced opponent, a picture is clearly painted of wrestler who is better than she thinks she is, too hard on herself, and desperate to prove something.

The intensity is high right away with energetic chain / submission based wrestling. They’re really cranking holds and fighting over every inch trying to get the advantage.

Submissions can’t end the match here, which Akki reminds Yuna when she instinctively calls for her opponent to give up at one point, but they’re using these holds to try to control / wear down each other and it’s being excellently done and actually fits really well with the type of match.

Yuna dropped the shutters over the door to lock them in before the match started … but Fujita goes out the window as Yuna whips him with an exercise rope and they brawl in the alley. Akki’s still inside with the camera and seeing things through / against the windows for a little bit is pretty awesome. They come fight back in over the windowsill shortly and relock the windows.

As the match goes on Yuna wisely focuses on immobilization, doing things like tying Fujita’s legs, putting a pool ring around him, and splashing him while he’s trapped underneath the ring mat. She even turns the Christmas tinsel still decorating Chocolate Square into a weapon at one point, and the milage everyone is getting out of using the basketball Chris Brookes gave Mei Suruga during matches is impressive.

Fujita of course gives as good as he gets and uses his size and striking power advantage to turn the tide whenever Yuna starts to gain momentum. There’s really great, creative use of the environment while keeping things brawl/wrestling based at every turn here.

Eventually Fujita hits the Sayonara Piledriver and Yuna is down for 10.

Simply incredible. This had escalating pace and flow, solid story undercurrents, and of course great action. There were weapons involved as appropriate for this type of match, but perhaps not as much as might have been expected. That was 100% to the match’s benefit. It meant when used they were well integrated, never overwhelmed the story and let the straight up intense, creative wrestling the two were doing shine.

An INTENSE post show talk continues to examine Yuna’s insecurities, and Fujita is brilliant here as he alternates a bit between antagonizing Yuna and being sympathetic / giving her advice. He talks about being in wrestling for 23 years and how he can relate to frustration, but points out the high level she’s at with only two years experience. He says if she were a baby she’d just be standing at two years, and she shouldn’t be so frustrated so early.

He says they have one more fight, and brings out a piece of paper with a single match bracket on it and a KitKat! He tells her to get up and the traditional post-show Chocolate Bit of Happiness Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament is on!

After to two increasingly tense ties … poor Yuna loses again. She is SO ANGRY and dejected as Fujita enjoys the KitKat, and even more so as he starts singing the traditional end song (but can’t help herself from joining in eventually).

But even in the face of Yuna’s anger Fujita says we’re not done yet… and after praising Yuna and pondering why they had to be the ones to go through this emotional journey at Sakura’s pushing challenges Emi Sakura to find a partner to face him and Yunamon as a TEAM. I adore the way all of this was done so much.

In the stream comments Sakura makes a SuperChat donation to her own company to announce she accepts and on May 9 it’ll be Yunamon & Fujita vs Sakura & Akki.

Fujita leaves and Yuna echoes what he said: “why was it only me that had to show my emotions?” She’ll express her grievances to Sakura on May 9. My word this is going to be fantastic.

——-

Golden Week is a huge time for wrestling in Japan, and to be honest one particularly disappointing parts of quarantine is knowing I’d be there watching shows now if not for the pandemic. I can’t express how much I appreciate all the effort my favorite promotions are putting into providing content for everyone to enjoy during this tough time (while taking precautions to be safe themselves).

This show was incredible from start to finish, including all the buildup and heart wrenching context to the interviews as well of course as the excellent match itself. Must watch.

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.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 1037 Live Stream Thoughts

April 25, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Another special no audience show broadcasted from the Ice Ribbon Dojo for free on YouTube in addition to Ice Ribbon’s NicoNico channel.

Tequila Saya and Yappy are commentating. They made a great team throughout and the English explanations were much appreciated. Banny Oikawa refereed all the matches.

The IW19 Title Tournament starts here. The field has been announced but which matches happen on each show will be revealed day of.

A Block features participants in IW19’s previous incarnation:

Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Hamuko Hoshi
Risa Sera vs Kurumi Hiiragi
Tsukushi vs Mochi Miyagi

B Block features newcomers to IW19:

Satsuki Totoro vs Thekla
Maya Yukihi vs Uno Matsuya
Suzu Suzuki vs Akane Fujita

All tournament matches have 19 minute time limits and a 19 count outside the ring. First round singles matches and the block semi-final triangle matches also have over-the-top eliminations in play (the final between block winners will not). In the case of a time limit draw internet fan voting via the live broadcast on Nico will determine the winners.

This show will feature one match from each block and a non-tournament tag team contest between them.

Side note: Ice Ribbon’s insisting that it’s “I-W juu-ku”, and is not to be referred to as “I-W nineteen” (yes, English letters pronounced as normal but insisting on Japanese pronunciation of the numbers). I imagine this is for consistency sake but it’s honestly rather awkward.

1) IW19 Tournament B Block: Satsuki Totoro vs Thelka

As I remarked about the previous shows, the energy for these is really impressive. Totoro in particular is quite loud in her vocals and it helps elevate the atmosphere in the absence of a crowd.

Both participants here are right around 3 years experience, and quite good for their level. This was a solid, mostly smooth start for the tournament with Totoro controlling with her size and power and Thekla countering as she could with speed and bursts of unique offense. Thekla makes a great addition to the roster and looked competitive even in defeat as Totoro’s onslaught proved too much to endure.

Totoro’s tope rope senton sends her on to the Block B semi-final.

2) Tsukasa Fujimoto & Risa Sera vs Hamuko Hoshi & Uno Matsuya

A little bit of a preview for Block A, as tournament opponents Tsukka and Hammy are on opposite sides of this tag match. Really fun, energetic contest. Ice Ribbon has done a particularly good job of pacing the matches on these internet shows to really draw in the virtual viewers and keep them engaged. Everyone’s putting in top notch effort and it shows.

Towards the end Uno gets some nice nearfalls on Tsukka to shine a bit before eventually being defeated with the Venus Shoot.

3) IW19 Tournament A Block: Tsukushi vs Mochi Miyagi

It’s mentioned that Tsukushi is coming up on her ten year anniversary in wrestling. Nice to be back to acknowledging her original debut.

So like the opener this is a match between wrestlers of similar experience levels. Although Tsukushi is the more decorated wrestler in terms of title runs, etc including being a former IW19 champion. Mochi is just returned from an injury absence and looking fully back to normal.

There’s a bit of brawling outside ring to illustrate the 19 count (which is unusual as Ice Ribbon matches are generally no-countout). Tsukushi sends Mochi at the wall with such force Mochi’s foot goes right through it when she blocks herself from crashing into it.

A couple of in-ring highlights saw Mochi dropping Tsukushi across the top rope from torture rack position in a vicious looking moment, and Tsukushi absolutely wiping Mochi out with thing like her against the ropes dropkick and corner hanging doublestomp. The nearfalls at the end had a real sense of urgency, including Mochi kicking out of the Denden Mushi and countering a Harukaze attempt for 2.999.

One of the best singles matches I’ve seen from Mochi and an excellent main event to cap off the first IW19 tournament show. Tsukushi wins with a second Harukaze to advance.

Tsukushi has no intention of waiting to be crowned champion, and shows off a cardboard version of the belt she’s sure she’ll be wearing soon.

——-

Another fantastic show from Ice Ribbon under the current difficult circumstances. The consistency of these shows and everything that goes into them is impressive and greatly appreciated.

If anyone is interested in / able to support the production of these shows (which with no crowd have no income from ticket sales) YouTube superchat and Nico Nico chat present system are available during the live streams, and Ice Ribbon has a Nico Nico subscription channel with a large library of older shows.

Note: The replays of the live stream of these shows are only available for free on YouTube for a short period. But they’re then replaced with the enhanced, multi-camera version through the first match with the full show available via subscription to their Nico Nico Channel. There have been some complaints about the frame rate during the live broadcasts (although it hasn’t been that bad for me personally) but to my knowledge the later uploaded versions have no such issues.

ChocoPro 7 Live Stream Thoughts

April 25, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Choco Pro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura and DDT’s Antonio Honda to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya 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.

With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

Big singles match in the main event topping a strong card all around.

ChocoPro 7

As usual Akki is helping with translation, as well as sharing camera duties with Honda. Yuna and Mei split referee duties.

1) Mei Suruga vs Antonio Honda

Rematch from ChocoPro 4, and we’re “warned” with such a small roster we’ll potentially be seeing lot of rematches. Totally fine with me, and it’ll be interesting to see how they keep things fresh from match to match..

Honda won that prior encounter, although Mei has a victory over him in Gatoh Move in their 500 Count match. In a bit of a surprise we don’t have normal apple-themed Mei, but Lettuce Mei the Vegetable Girl in a light green costume.

Standard in-every-match Honda spots to start, but nice variety later with a lot of gags and spots revolving around Mei’s cape including a bull fighting bit, Honda putting it on as a skirt and pantomiming Marilyn Monroe, and the cape taking the place of the banana peel in Honda’s recurring unfortunate experiences slipping out of the windowsill. Yuna proves to be a very passive referee largely letting them do whatever they want with minimal token protests.

In the end Honda reverses a rollup for another victory to keep his undefeated streak intact. This was fine, with some nice variations among the usual Honda formula.

2) Yuna Mizumori vs Baliyan Akki

Yuna gets in the window behind Akki as he makes his pre-match comments and nails a dropkick from there for a hot open. From there they’re just throwing themselves at each other with high speed, high impact moves and it’s fantastic.

There were a lot of great little touches throughout. At one point Akki does his wall hang into a body press when Yuna tries the Papaya, Mango, Coconut headbutt in a great counter, then tries his own variation (Katsu! Pineapple! Curry!) to about as much success as Yuna had. Later Yuna tries to make him Yahho but he forces her into a Namaste pose instead.

The counters and pace got crazy towards the end, and Akki ties Yuna up completely and she has to submit to what Honda dubs the Namaste clutch. Excellent match.

Like Yuna Mei’s proving to be a rather overly-tolerant and uninvolved ref, but their reactions to what’s happening around them more than makes up for it. 😉

3) Emi Sakura vs Ryo Muznami 

First time singles match between two Joshi wrestlers who have worked in AEW. Sakura has an AEW logo in the corner of the ChocoPro banner and is generally trying to do everything she can to promote them while she can’t travel over to wrestle here in the US.

I’m a long time fan of Mizunami from seeing her in Shimmer and her Avid Rival tag team with the retired Misaki Ohata so was extremely excited when she started wrestling for Gtoh Move and ChocoPro. She fits in so well and the potential for great matchups like this one is limitless.

This was an absolute treat as two masters fought tooth and nail. Elevating things even further were several close ups and extreme camera angles, epitomized by knocking Honda over at one point and brawling directly above the camera.

I was cringing at their chop exchange, and poor Sakura had visible welts around her neck post match. Such is the price of victory however, as Emi wins with La Magistral in a bit of a surprise.

Post-show sees the newly named AEW Dark Chocolate Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament! Honda powers through this one with mind games and in the finals he avenges his loss last time to Yuna when she tells the truth about what she’ll throw and Honda wins the chocolate. For insult to injury, Honda teases giving it to Yuna then eats it. An annoyed Emi (who Honda beat in the semis) declares it’s no longer allowed to announce what you’ll throw in future tournaments. Janken is so intense.

ChocoPro 8 is announced for April 29 back at their normal times. It’ll be a celebration of Obi’s 10th Anniversary and she’ll face Honda in the main event.

——-

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 it all out, including the replay of this show.

Another great offering from ChocoPro. The main event in particular is must-see.

ChocoPro 6 Live Thoughts

April 20, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

OBI’S BACK!!!

Choco Pro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura and DDT’s Antonio Honda to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya’s unique environment to fans all over the world. 

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya 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.

With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

Before going further I’d like to spotlight an incredible fan made video by CheeZeFX that really highlights all the fantastic aspects of Gatoh Move and ChocoPro I keep rambling on about. Check it out here!

ChocoPro 6

As usual Baliyan Akki is helping with translation, as well as sharing camera duties with Honda. Sakura usually referees, except her own matches when someone else on the card steps in.

1) Sayaka Obihiro vs Antonio Honda

Really great to see Obi wrestle again after being out injured for six months, and fitting that she returns against an old rival of sorts in Antonio Honda.

Although I have to admit I am personally at a bit of a loss when it comes to Honda’s ChocoPro singles matches. 75% or so of every one of them is all the same spots and jokes with minor variations. I understand all the reasons for it. Building humor based on subverting expectations requires a degree of repetitiveness to establish the expectations in the first place. It just doesn’t have much impact or interest for me when most of the bits involved are nonsensical and disjointed. Most of it feels like being silly for sillinesses sake with nothing connecting it all, and I tire of it quickly.

Some of the little things he does are inspired, and there are always a few high points in each match I really enjoy. Here they included things like Honda exclaiming “I’m ruined!” when Obi blocks his T-strike only to calmly strike her with his other hand and their dueling Gongitsunes in slow motion. His opponents’ reactions to his antics can also be a treat, and whenever the action actually picks up it tends to be great.

But it’s really not enough to keep me engaged while waiting through the majority of the match for these moments. I often talk about how ChocoPro has something for everyone, but the flip side is that some things won’t be to any individual person’s tastes, and show by show it’s becoming clear Honda’s current formula is not for me.

So instead of rehashing the same things I don’t care for every time I wanted to mention this in context and going forward I’ll focus more about how these matches relate to each other. One match one this type should generally be enough to judge how much you’ll enjoy the others. If something significant changes in the approach then I’ll likewise adjust how I talk about the matches.

This one was pretty standard, and Honda eventually wins with a rollup to continue to be undefeated in ChocoPro.

Afterwards a frustrated Obi demands a rematch, and after some convincing Sakura agrees to it whenever Obi comes next.

2) Yuna Mizumori vs Tokiko Kirihara

This is Tokiko’s first match in ChocoPro, and she starts off with quite the memorable moment by attacking during Yuna’s Tropical Yahho pose and slamming Yuna into the camera in a fantastic visual. Again it’s things like truly this creatively taking advantage of the no audience format that makes ChocoPro particularly unique and special.

This was a really solid, exciting and enjoyable match that was the perfect pace and length given the participants. Tokiko looked sharp, and Yuna’s totally been on fire lately. Yuna hits her wall launch splash to win a hard fought, fun contest.

3) Baliyan Akki vs Mei Suruga 

Interesting framing here as they push the idea of this being a battle between two possibilities for face/ace of ChocoPro. I understand given how central both are, the main events they been in, etc. On the other hand it’s a bit odd angle to take as Akki came into this without a single win in ChocoPro. However the match itself makes quite the case that these two are in fact prime choices for that distinction.

This was an incredible, fast paced main event with a lot of creativity. The theme of one-upmanship was prevalent throughout and done so well.

Things like Akki doing Mei’s off the windowsill armdrag and Mei countering with a cartwheel, only to have Akki respond in kind when Mei hit the armdrag herself were pitch perfect.

Akki used some wonderfully inventive, really painful looking submissions. Mei responded by trying a Figure 4, which she couldn’t quite lock in due to the disparity in length of their legs. Referee Sakura “helped” Mei apply it by pulling her leg into position over Akki’s, but Akki’s leg are so long Mei screams in pain herself as this is done so Emi undoes it and Mei goes on with her variation.

Later on in one of the funniest moments I’ve seen Mei tries to do Akki’s counter across the wall grabbing at opposite windowsills but she’s too small so she splats against the wall and then the floor and gets SO ANGRY. Then Akki “helps” put her into position and ends up stranding her on the wall as she can barely reach and can’t get down once put there. So he takes the opportunity to taunt her by doing her own face in hands pose behind her back.

These are just a few of the awesome moments in this excellent match. Definitely one of the (many) highlights of ChocoPro so far.

In the end Akki gets the better of an extended rollup and reversal sequence for his first non-janken win in ChocoPro.

Afterwards it’s time for A Chocolate Bit of Happiness Rock-Paper-Scissors Tourney 4!

These are a really fun way to wrap up. Sakura’s participating so there’s one bye in round 1, which goes to Yuna. Both Akki and Honda again defeat their opponents from earlier in the show and Sakura continues to deny Tokiko her first ChocoPro win leading to Yuna vs Honda and Akki vs Emi in the semis.

Yuna amusingly beats Honda when Honda’s mindgames backfire as he truthfully tells her what he’s going to throw and she simply counters.

Sakura, clearly with the advantage after not wrestling this time around continues her roll and makes short work of both Akki and Yuna to win her second Chocolate Bit of Happiness tournament. The AEW superstar glefully enjoys her chocolate as Akki asks the gods why they would do this.

Post show they have ChocoTalk with Emi and Obi talking about their past internet wrestling experience with 19 O’Clock Wrestling.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m really grateful for Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro to be doing so much to provide good natured content aimed connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed and appreciated. 

Another top notch effort and show in a series of them. Watch the replay of here.  ChocoPro is just plain fun.

In another greatly appreciated gesture ChocoPro 7 will be on at a special time to be a little more accessible to foreign viewers: April 24th 9pm EDT (April 25th 10am Japan time). This is in addition to all the watch parties and other fantastic content they provide every day at 8pm Japan time. Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check it all out.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 1036 Live Stream Thoughts

April 18, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Another special no audience show broadcasted from the Ice Ribbon Dojo for free on YouTube in addition to Ice Ribbon’s NicoNico channel.

Tequila Saya and Ai Hara were hosting and commentating, and in a really great move for accessibility Yappy and Thekla were helping out with English translation for some of the pre-match comments, etc.

Banny Oikawa became referee for all matches after her planned match with Suzu Suzuki was cancelled due to Suzu sustaining an injury during training. That match was actually a change itself which came about after trainee Ishikawa’s exhibition match with Suzu was cancelled due to the former being sick during the week. Best wishes for a fast recovery for both Suzu and Ishikawa.

The prematch comments mention this so I will here as well as I don’t want to gloss over it by omission – Yappy’s grandmother recently passed away due to Covid-19 and she wrestled on these shows with the memory of her grandmother who always supported her in mind. My heart goes out to Yappy, I’m glad that returning to the ring is helping her a bit in this tough time, and I hope she does whatever she needs to take care of herself.

1) Tsukushi vs Yappy

As I remarked during volume 1035, the energy for these shows is really impressive. The wrestlers are vocal during their matches as are the rest from the outside cheering, giving a similar atmosphere and feeling to a regular dojo show. Quite cool and impressive under the circumstances.

Really good match to start things off. Tsukushi is quite excellent at bringing the best out of wrestlers with less experience, and Yappy’s improving and looking more comfortable and confident each time out. The veteran eventually prevailed with La Magistral.

Leading into the next match it was cool to get a translation of some of the explanation for Maya’s turn and joining Rebel x Enemy, with her being frustrated with a lack of urgency on the part of her fellow Ice Ribbon roster members. Uno’s judo background gets highlighted in respect to her group Joint Army of wrestlers who feature a style focused on joint manipulation. They (along with Thekla) are partners for the next contest.

2) Frank Sisters (Kurumi Hiiragi, Mochi Miyagi, & Akane Fujita) vs Maya Yukihi, Thekla, & Uno Matsuya

Nice to see Mochi officially back from an achilles tendon injury.

There were a lot of little details worked into the larger flow of the match that made this particularly fun. I loved the variety of creative triple teams from the Frank Sisters, and was cringing at Akane’s brutal overhand chops during a late match exchange.

Nice touches from the other team as well, ranging from Thekla trying to beg off by invoking social distancing, Uno tagging herself in at a key moment underscoring both her self-focused ambitions as well as Maya’s slight estrangement from her team given her new attitude, etc.

Fast paced, hard hitting 6-woman tag throughout that ended with Kurumi absolutely spiking Uno with a cradle tombstone for the pin.

3) 2 out of 3 Falls: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera

The main event was set up last show as the two battled after the time limit expired in their tag team match and a frustrated Tsukka snapmared Risa off the far ring apron.

Each fall will have a separate stipulation. They play rock-paper scissors to determine who will draw the one for the first fall. After two ties Risa wins and draws:

1st Fall: 4 Count Outside the Ring

Note that Ice Ribbon matches are normally no countout, but here a wrestler can win if their opponent fails to get back in the ring before the referee reaches a count of 4 (in addition to normal possible pinfall/submission victory conditions).

Tsukka ties Risa up early for dropkick in ropes and sent her outside to illustrate the stipulation, as Risa dove back in at the count of 3.

Risa was using her mini-cam for “Sera’s eyes” footage, so Tsukka grabbed one of the outside photographers’ cameras and attacked Risa with it while taking pictures as Yappy wondered if they should be involving such expensive equipment and if IR’s budget could handle it. This was done well and as such was pretty great.

A bit of fighting over the top rope to the apron and trying to avoid falling to floor like they were in a battle royal provided both nice story elements and action.

Tsukka’s was eventually able to get into Ace Crusher position on the far apron and snapmare Risa to the floor to win the first fall by 4-count. Nice play off of the aftermath of last show’s main event that set this match up.

Winner got to draw the next stipulation. Tsukka pulled:

2nd Fall: 18 Revolutions

The stipulations do not carry over, so back to the normal no countout rule. This fall could be decided by the usual pinfall or submission means or by performing 18 consecutive revolutions with any appropriate spinning move.

Risa immediately realized this could favor her and called for the giant swing. Tsukka fought her off persistently and later gets and holds on to a rolling cradle for 17 rotations in a great sequence as Tsukka gradually lost momentum and energy as she did more and more turns. She couldn’t quite get Risa over for the last one, and the fall continued.

They were both quite dizzy kind of stumbled around each other as Yappy ponders it being the creation of a new Ice Ribbon dance. Her little additions to commentary were really fun.

Eventually Risa managed to get the giant swing going and managed the full 18 times around to win the second fall and tie things up.

3rd Fall: Double Knee

For the final fall some sort of double knee drop must proceed pin attempts. These moves are among Risa’s trademark offense, so she again presumably has the advantage.

After shaking off the remaining dizziness Risa started quick and trapped Tsukka in the corner for the running double knees, but after that it was all Tsukka for a while as she turned the tables and proceeded to do a long sequence of running double knees off the ropes to a prone Risa. I like the urgency early on and the way they embraced the stipulation and just kept going for the important move.

Just a bit in they fell out of sight as Risa hit an air raid crash off the apron on the far side of the ring to payback Tsukka a bit for how last week and the first fall ended. Everything went eerily quiet as commentary reminded viewers there are no mats on that side of the ring and speculated on Tsukka’s well being …

… and then one of the seconds started singing Star Wars themes while someone wearing Sera’s Yoda mask and robe jumped into the ring joined shortly thereafter by someone wearing a hoodie and a mask that says “Corona” (in katakana). Apparently their appearance was enough to make the match underway a draw and turn it into a tag match. Can’t say I was pleased.

At a guess it looked like Yoda was played by Uno and Corona by Kurumi.

A little back and forth and then the team of Tsukka and the person who drove her headfirst into the concrete floor minutes ago to hushed silence dispatched of Corona pretty easily with consecutive diving double knees from the top.

Probably won’t surprise anyone that the ending segment wasn’t to my tastes. I like my comedy wrestling more integrated and less of the type that grinds everything to a screeching halt, and the jarring nature, uncomfortable drama, and so-so payoff of how this was all done pretty much sent the match off the rails for me (although I can totally understand if other viewers found this fun/satisfying).

So honestly it was a flat end that dragged what was shaping up to be among the most engaging dojo shows I’ve seen down a touch, but the match before the nonsense was extremely interesting and well executed. Also this sidestepped the need for putting one of them over the other and if it was the price to pay for having the match at all so be it.

——-

Post show Tsukka brings out the Internet Wrestling 19 title and apparently announces a tournament for it (I’m unclear of the details as “tournament” is the only word I caught). Reintroducing a title from numerous years ago would have been a good spot to let Yappy translate, particularly as she was standing right there. Hopefully they’ll get better used to pausing for and integrating the translation in the future, although again it’s awesome and appreciated that they are doing it at all.

Like with volume 1035 Ice Ribbon again achieved something special in the presentation under difficult circumstances as this really felt like a normal dojo show in atmosphere. The effort and energy throughout was once again top notch and overall this was an extremely strong and enjoyable show.

Note: These shows are only available for free on YouTube for a short period, but they’re then replaced with the enhanced, multi-camera version through the first match. The remainder will presumably be available later with a subscription to their Nico Nico Channel.

ChocoPro 5 Live Thoughts

April 14, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Choco Pro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura and DDT’s Antonio Honda to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya 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.

With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

Another big dream match for Akki in the main event as Masato Tanaka makes his ChocoPro debut.

ChocoPro 5

As usual Baliyan Akki is helping with translation, as well as sharing camera duties with Honda. Sakura usually referees, except her own matches when someone else on the card steps in.

New banner with the ChocoPro logo in the background. Sakura explains it’s pink to represent strawberry chocolate, and with it being paper instead of cloth there will presumably be less in match shenanigans involving it than the prior one.

The replay is not up yet so no screen caps for this review.

1) Emi Sakura vs Antonio Honda

Usual opening sequence of Honda’s matches here where they trade hammerlocks so Honda can pretend to say “give up” and say things like “give apple pie” instead. I have to admit it’s one of my least favorite things he does and I’m glad it was kept to one instance here.

Honda keeps pretending to attack with various items, doing silly pantomimes, then often hits Sakura with them anyway in the confusion. No DQ for things like volleyball spiking a basketball into his opponent, which I can’t say is the best reflection on Mei’s refereeing skills.

Late in the match Emi does the We Will Rock you lead in to her signature splash, but Honda sings the song in English to interrupt her charge. He tries to get her to continue it, but she tries to deflect by humming then switching songs. As he grows more insistent she tearfully admits she can’t speak English (in English of course). Honda points out Queen has a song in Japanese and they sing together. However Honda savagely uses their handshake to attack Emi’s arm and proceeds into a cross armbreaker for the submission victory.

I can’t really evaluate this as a wrestling match, but I enjoyed it overall as a character piece. And bigger fans of Honda’s style and signature bits will get even more out of it than I did.

2) Yuna Mizumori vs Mei Suruga

Like Yuna vs Mitsuru from ChocoPro 3 this is one of the matches that would normally be more rare. These two haven’t faced in each other in singles competition in over a year. Let the fierce battle of apple vs pineapple begin.

This is honestly mush more my speed than the opener. High energy, fast paced wrestling with the humorous antics and pauses for posing blended into the action and largely delivered in the form of taunting the other wrestler.

At one point Mei hilariously tries her version of Yuna’s “Papaya! Mango! Coconut!” cheer (“Karage! Tonkatsu! Katsu curry!”) which backfires spectacularly as she realizes she was just making Yuna angry. Mei hides behind cameraman Honda and they chase each other around the camera in a cool moment unique too ChocoPro and its environment.

Later Mei closes the window on Yuna’s hair resulting in a humorous bit as Emi tries to shush Yuna’s screams so as not to disturb the neighbors while Yuna protests about being trapped.

Mei’s been breaking out her take on cattle mutilation lately, and here Yuna does a stunning handstand counter then falling onto Mei to break it. It was one of a series of excellent counters and move variations throughout the match. It all leads up to Yuna doing her wall run splash to Mei’s back for the win.

Really great stuff.

3) Baliyan Akki vs Masato Tanaka 

This is Tanaka’s first non-ring match, which is presented as perhaps evening out his general experience edge over Akki. Indeed Tanaka needs to adjust to the environment, as he doesn’t quite understand why he has to break his holds when Akki grabs the edge of the mat at first.

The confusion doesn’t last long however, and the veteran shortly establishes an extended assault on Akki. There’s a serious, intense atmosphere to this match that’s absolutely captivating.

Tanaka adapts further and takes the action “outside the ring” so to speak by ramming Akki into the table against the wall. He then attacks Akki with a chair. Mei shouting “referee” in protest is pretty amusing considering what she let Honda get away with. Sakura considers it all for a moment and audibly decides it’s ok for Tanaka to use the chair.

I think from now I’ll just proceed under the assumption that all ChocoPro matches are relaxed rules. And to be fair, Tanaka involving tables and chairs in his matches isn’t exactly a surprise.

The carnage continues, as Tanaka sets up a pile of chairs but Akki reverses a powerbomb attempt into a back drop onto them. However Akki then gets DDT’d on them for a close 2

They go into a HEAVY forearm exchange, which Akki eventually gains advantage of with a variety of fast strikes. The pace keeps picking up the longer this goes. Akki opens the windows and later takes advantage of it for a wall grab counter into a Frankensteiner off the windowsill.

He later reverses a powerbomb into a brainbuster across the knee, and the following Namaste splash gets 2. Akki perhaps unwisely grabs a chair for a second one, and eats the chair as Tanaka moves out of the way. Tanaka puts a chair on Akki and goes to the window with another for an assisted elbow drop… for 2! He gets a table but Akki dropkicks it into him and goes into a series of rollups for several close near falls.

However Tanaka counters into a powerbomb counter for 2, then presses the advantage leading to the Sliding D for the win. This was fantastic.

Post-show sees A Chocolate Bit of Happiness Rock-Paper-Scissors Tourney 3 take place!

Emi gives herself the first round match with Tanaka, Mei and Akki get the first round byes (since there are only six participants), leaving Yuna vs Honda to round out the bracket.

Poor Yuna has no luck in these tourneys, and Akki’s redemption quest ends early as Honda wins two in row to go to the finals.

Tanaka gets into it and beats Emi in the first round. A trepidatious Mei ties him, then WINS!

Riding unbeatable momentum after upsetting Tanaka, Mei defeats Honda to claim the whole tournament. This is her first win but second piece of prize chocolate after being given Chris’s last show.

Then Sakura and Tanaka sit down for a half hour of ChocoTalk. Mostly untranslated so I couldn’t follow what they were discussing, but still awesome that they do this type of thing.

——-

As I like to reiterate I’m really grateful for Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro to be doing so much to provide good natured content aimed connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. It’s much needed. 

These shows generally contain something for everyone, and it was epitomized here. The opener was full-on story and emotion based humor, the second match a masterful technical sprint, and the main event an incredible brawl. Add it all together with them fully embracing the things they can do only under the no audience format and I really can’t recommend ChocoPro enough.