AEW’s sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship is underway. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner. That winner will face Shida at AEW’s Revolution PPV on March 7, 2021.
The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. See my preview of the first round for more information on the wrestlers as well as some thoughts on all four of these first time ever singles matches.
Now it’s time to see how they all turn out.
Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga
All four of these matches are one fall with a twenty minute time limit.
The matches are taking place in Ice Ribbon’s home base, a venue I’m very familiar with (Ice Ribbon rents their dojo out for other events, and are not involved in this tournament).
This was one of the dream matches of the tournament and it’s great to see it happen. We’ve got two extremely quick and deceptively powerful wrestlers here. Yuka is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, and the former TJPW Princess of Princess champion has four and a half years experience over Gatoh Move’s prodigy.
Though Mei had been wrestling for TJPW the last few months, this is the first time she and Yuka are crossing paths in the ring at all. *
This was honestly not the match I expected them to have as a first time encounter to be seen by a lot of first time viewers. It was wrestled at a very fast pace and featured a ton of counters and dodges. It’s the type of match viewers like me who are familiar with the maneuvers of both competitors and can fully process every feint and counter-move love, and I adored it. But I wonder if fans unfamiliar with their moves got the same depth from it, especially when even commentary missed big things like Mei attempting but not completing her finishing submission Lucifer.
Both also have very unique and creative movesets, which led to a couple small moments of awkwardness as they got used to each other. It was noticeable enough to mention, particularly when Mei kind of fell off Yuka’s shoulders going for her trademark rollup out of victory roll position when Yuka turned the opposite way Mei expected, but the recoveries were spot on and overall they were just small blips.
Yuka took control late and broke out the jaw-dropping Magical Girl Chicken Dude (450 from the middle of the top rope) to put Mei away. The match was extremely good and served as a nice introduction for Mei before she was overwhelmed and defeated by who I believe is the Japan side favorite. As mentioned above, for me this hit all the right notes. Would love to see a rematch sometime.
* Japan has a strong, strange kind of quasi-kayfabe/willing suspension of disbelief that makes it a little difficult to discuss certain things sometimes. Wrestlers occasionally play different characters/personas in different companies, without masks and with no attempt to hide their identity, that they and fans will ham-fistedly pretend are unrelated. So when “Mei Saint-Michel,” the lost child found in a forest in France taken in by Saki-sama who’s clearly Mei in a maid outfit, appears in TJPW and Mei Suruga posts on Twitter wondering why people are tagging her in posts about “someone who isn’t me,” that’s what’s going on. Regardless, “neither” Mei has previous wrestled Yuka.
Emi Sakura vs Veny
Of note is that while she still came to the ring with cape, crown, and microphone, the Queen obsessed Emi Sakura wished to show more of the base of who she is and for the first time in AEW was not wearing her Freddie Mercury inspired gear. Big opportunity for Veny** to make a big impression on the international stage against the twenty-five year veteran, so both are coming in with something to prove.
This was the consensus best match of the first round, and opinion I’m in complete agreement with. Sakura lost a bit of weight in preparation for this match and showed off the resulting increase in speed and agility throughout. This had a bit of everything, with both wrestlers showing proficiency in strikes, submission holds, and anything else they could throw at each other. Short of full play-by-play I’m at a loss to convey the scope of this, so my best advice is simple to go watch.
After a lot of back and forth and fighting off each other’s signatures, Sakura was able to wear Veny down with a vicious looking under the arm dragon sleeper, then is finally able to nail the Tiger Driver to advance.
I expected (and wanted) Sakura to win, but a Veny upset was likely enough that this was particularly gripping down the stretch. Great showing by both, and it’s particularly nice to see AEW get a glimpse of what Sakura is truly capable of.
**Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).
Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh
The battle between two of the most charismatic wrestlers anywhere in the world was lighter fare than the rest of the opening round, but still featured two determined competitors due all they could to advance. Highlights included Itoh suckering Ryo in with fake crying to get an advantage only to blow it by charging the unmovable object and wiping herself herself out when Ryo didn’t budge, and Mizunami learning first hand that it’s unwise to underestimate how hard Itoh’s head is.
They wrestled a smart match and their styles worked well together. Ryo really can adjust to just about anything and is extremely underrated. Despite Itoh giving it her all, the veteran stayed one step ahead and after Itoh barely kicked out after a brutal spear Ryo used the momentum of Itoh’s kickout to apply an anaconda vice for the tapout victory.
While many newer fans expected Itoh’s immediate appeal with the unfamiliar fanbase to lead to a win here, this was the only way this was ever going to end. Even ignoring that the matches were likely taped before Itoh’s cheerful, curse filled introductory tweet went viral, her entire identity is the crass, defiant underdog continuing to be herself despite setbacks. Her immediately beating a stronger wrestler with 10+ more years experience is not the right story to tell with her. It’s the fight and doing things her way that matter with Itoh, and her battle here with the powerhouse was as good as a first impression as she could make.
Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura
“This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.”
That quote from my preview pretty much sums it all up. Kong dominated the youngster, but Rin took everything and kept fighting, earning her the immediate respect of everyone watching. At one point Kong spiked her with a particularly vicious piledriver, and Rin’s kickout had the chat going wild. Hanging in with Kong as long as she did made Rin look super tough, and she even got the monster down with a flurry of offense long enough to attempt the Ultra Rin (twisting senton).
Kong moved however, and absolutely planted Rin with a backdrop driver … for 2.999. I expected that to end it, and Rin looks super human for surviving it. Rin fights off the brain buster but gets leveled with a clothesline after a vicious right for another close 2, and the legend has had enough and finishes the upstart off with a monstrous top rope elbow drop. Exactly what this should have been.
Expected strong showing all around from these intriguing, well chosen matchups showcasing several different styles. While I’d like to see a touch more research done, and things like getting the referee’s gender wrong are rather embarrassing mistakes, overall Excalibur did a decent job on commentary and sounded reasonably knowledgeable about and (most importantly) interested in the matches taking place.
No surprises in the results but that’s perfectly fine, especially with the awesome matchups that will result in the next round. Really good stuff, and a nice introduction to the new wrestlers regardless of their losses, who will all hopefully be brought back in the future. These matches are still available on their YouTube channel.
For more information on how to officially watch the home promotions of these wrestlers and a number of other Joshi companies see this thread.
The next round of the Japan bracket will air with two first round matches from the US side:
Emi Sakura vs Yuka Sakazaki Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong Nyla Rose vs Tay Conti Britt Baker vs Madi Wrenkowski (subbing for the injured Anna Jay)
AEW has begun a sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner.
The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. Four of the eight (Emi Sakura, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, and Aja Kong) have competed in AEW in the past. The other four (Mei Suruga, Veny, Maki Itoh, and Rin Kadokura) are making their AEW debuts.
The champion herself has gone to Japan to oversee the matches, and the first round is absolutely stacked with four really interesting matchups. Furthermore, all four are first time ever singles encounters.
(Shida appeared as a special referee ChocoPro 89 which featured matches involving half of the Japan bracket participants, and also had a sit down talk with Emi Sakura after the show.)
Here is some more information on all eight participants, and a quick look at the first round contests:
Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga
Nickname Company Debut Height Age Signature Finishing Moves
Yuka Sakazaki (坂崎ユカ)
Magical Girl Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling December 1, 2013 5’2″ 24 Magical Girl Splash (middle of the top rope splash) Magical Magical Girl Splash (MGS with horizontal rotation) Magical Girl Chicken Dude (middle of the top rope 450)
Yuka Sakazaki is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, but also deceptively strong and more than capable of going strike for strike or hold for hold as well. The seven year pro has been Princess of Princess Champion twice (TJPW’s top singles title) and held their tag team titles with two different partners.
But for those unfamiliar with Mei Suruga: the term wrestling prodigy has perhaps never been more apt. She debuted in just twenty-one days of full training and wrestles with confidence and skill far beyond her two and a half years of experience. Mei’s had major upsets already in her short career, including singles victories over both Emi Sakura and Hikaru Shida. She recently won her first championship, Gatoh Move’s Asia Dream Tag Titles (with partner Baliyan Akki) and will no doubt be looking to ride that wave of momentum to victory here.
While I personally expect Yuka to win not only this match but perhaps the entire bracket, Mei’s the dark horse of the tournament and her adding Yuka’s name to her increasing list of upsets is not impossible. Either way this is a match between two extremely quick, skilled, and exciting competitors and is the first round match I’m most excited for.
Emi Sakura vs Veny
Nickname/Tagline Company Debut Height Age Signature Finishing Moves
Emi Sakura (さくらえみ)
“She will chop you.” AEW, Gatoh Move/ChocoPro August 17, 1995 5’1″ 44 La Magistral Nyan Nyan Press (450 Splash) Tiger Driver and many, many more
The Queen obsessed eccentric wrestler who AEW audiences are most familiar with is only one facet of the incredible twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura. Capable of matching nearly any style and adapting to any challenge, the sole AEW contracted wrestler on this side of the bracket is one of the clear favorites. Beyond her significant wrestling prowess, Sakura is also a well renowned and highly respected trainer, having trained an incredibly long list of wrestlers including not only possible tournament opponents Mei Suruga and Riho, but the reigning AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida as well.
However among the favorites Sakura has perhaps the toughest draw of the round. It’s easy to forget how young Veny is, as at 22 and with just five years in she fits right in going toe-to-toe with the veterans and has already held the top singles title in two different promotions. With Veny’s strength and fiery offense a victory is not impossible, and if she does shock Sakura in round one she could become a good bet to continue on quite far.
*Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).
Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh
Company Debut Height Age Signature Finishing Moves
Ryo Mizunami (水波綾)
Freelance November 3, 2004 5’4″ 32 Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver) Running Lariat Diving Guillotine Leg Drop
TJPW’s lovable misfit immediately captured the imagination of a whole slew of new fans when she happily cursed out a welcome message when retweeting AEW’s announcement of her participation in the tournament. Itoh doesn’t do much the way one is “supposed” to and everyone adores her for it. She is who she is unapologetically and is always ready to take on the world, which she often has to. Itoh’s a straight ahead brawler who uses her hard head for a good portion of her offense, and while she has more in her arsenal then some give her credit for she is generally overmatched in technique against wrestlers with similar or greater levels of experience. But she’s defiant to the last and will fight tooth and nail trying to defeat her opponents through shear strength of will.
Which she’ll need to do to have any chance against the sixteen year veteran Mizunami. This will be Mizunami’s first appearance for AEW since their first pay-per-view, where she teamed with Riho & Shida to defeat Aja Kong, Emi Sakura, & Yuka Sakazaki. The powerhouse is capable of, and perhaps used to, running right over her opponents and will be a real test of Itoh’s fortitude. Mizunami is also the only one in the tournament who even comes close to matching Itoh in terms of raw charisma, so this match should be a really fun spectacle.
Itoh winning is not inconceivable, but make no mistake it would be a BIG upset. She has wrestled Aja Kong before though, and the possibility of a rematch in the second round here is intriguing.
Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura
Company Debut Height Age Signature Finishing Moves
Aja Kong (アジャコング)
N/A – the name “Aja Kong” speaks volumes all on it’s own Oz Academy 1986 5’5″ 50 Uraken (spinning back fist) Brainbuster
Aja Kong is a legendary thirty-four year veteran who is still going strong and still impressive and intimidating in the ring. Taking her out is going to be a tall task for anyone, and perhaps a near impossible one for Rin. Although I fully expect the talented, defiant spitfire from Marvelous to make the legend work for it, and Kong may find herself risking a disqualification if tempted to tee off on Rin with her ever present metal mini garbage can. This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.
That wraps it up for now. AEW is premiering these first round matches on their YouTube channel Monday February 15 at 7pm EST.
For the first time ever I actually find myself rooting for all the favorites, as second round matches of Sakazaki vs Sakura and Mizunami vs Kong would be incredible and are legit dream matches. However as mentioned above nothing’s 100% here, and absolutely all of the possible second round matches look great. Really excited to see how this all plays out.
It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful Dreams, Beautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.
Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.
Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.
The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.
Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.
One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.
Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.
I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.
Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.
Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.
I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.
SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.
The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.
Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).
Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.
Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.
The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time
Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.
In the wake of Gatoh Move’s ace Riho leaving Gatoh Move to go freelance last summer, Emi Sakura ended up deciding to bolster the roster by seeing if anyone from her casual training programDareJyo (which strives to make pro-wrestling accessible to any woman, not matter age or background) wanted to try to debut as a pro.
Several members took her up on the offer and trained hard throughout the summer, leading to this extremely unique show with ALL the matches being someone’s first match with a total of six new rookies debuting.
Leading up to the show profiles of the entire expanded roster were released on Twitter, which (with a lot of help from a dear friend) I translated. Check them out for background information on all of the wrestlers appearing on this show:
This show was seen as a new beginning for Gatoh Move, and as such the “Japan tour” numbering was dropped and this became the first show of the new era of Gatoh Move. It was also one of their bigger venue shows, taking pace at Shinkiba 1st Ring with a more traditional ring setup than the mat only shows they have at Ichigaya.
Mei, Yuna, Mitsuru, and Obi did the opening song montage that’s typical of Gatoh’s bigger shows.
1- Rin Rin Debut Match: Rin Rin vs Emi Sakura
Rin Rin is the youngest debuting wrestler, being in junior high at this point, so it makes sense that Sakura herself is her first opponent.
Sakura starts the mocking early by ignoring Rin Rin’s handshake offer to instead gesture like she can’t see Rin Rin because the latter is too short.
Lockup and Sakura pushes her down hard. Rin Rin gets right back up and shoves Sakura into the corner. Sakura reverses and tries a heavy chop, but Rin Rin rolls out and gestures for a test of strength. Sakura accepts and forces Rin Rin down, but eats knees when she tries to transition into the splash. Sakura looks as impressed as in pain and again answers Rin Rin’s challenge to another test of strength. Rin Rin tries a heel trip but Sakura hangs on, so she goes into a schoolboy trip instead and is quite pleased with herself.
Sakura back up and they trade arm wringers and reversals, then Sakura works a full nelson. Rin Rin escapes and ducks behind for a schoolboy attempt. Sakura blocks by grabbing her arm and spins around to stand over Rin Rin for presumably a sit down splash, but Rin Rin bridges to throw her off balance and send her tumbling. I really like how Rin Rin has had a lot of answers for Sakura’s offense in the form of unique counters. She’s already showing innate instincts and seems to immediately feel at home in the ring.
Rin Rin celebrates a little too much though and Sakura grabs her hair from behind to boos. After the hair mare Sakura drags Rin Rin around the ring in Liontamer position until the rookie grabs the ropes to break.
Sakura tries an Irish Whip but Rin Rin grabs the top rope. Second attempt is blocked by Rin Rin grabbing the middle rope. Third by the bottom, with Rin Rin now dropping to a low kneeling position. Made for a neat variation and visual. Sakura’s fed up and does a fingernail rake across Rin Rin’s forearm to make her release the ropes to more boos and grabs Rin Rin’s legs, but the latter grabs the bottom rope again. Sakura responds by dropping the legs and just strutting around, walking over and standing on Rin Rin in the process.
Emi’s such a master at heeling it up and getting booed when she needs to during matches without turning the fans against her in general so when she needs to be cheered or talk about the company in general terms outside of matches it still feels natural to like her.
Rin Rin fights out of a slam attempt and forearms Sakura, who shoves her back. More forearms earn another shove, this one knocking Rin Rin down. It happens again, but this time Rin Rin rolls up from the mat and shoves Sakura down in turn in one smooth motion and then dares Sakura to come at her, which earns appreciative laughter and cheers from the crowd.
Sakura obliges and attempts Rin Rin’s roll, but as she completes it Rin Rin rolls at Sakura and knocks her over, then flips into a surfboard attempt.
Small detail that will come up in other matches: attempting to block moves like a surfboard by extending one’s arms straight out on the mat is a fantastic touch that needs to be used more. Little things like that make the person applying the hold work harder to lock it in, and generally makes everything feel more like the participants are genuinely trying to resist each other and want to win.
Rin Rin can’t complete the surfboard, so she adjusts into a nice death lock. She’s honestly doing quite a bit more in terms of both move complexity and variation than I’d expect from anyone’s first match, particularly someone so young. Sakura makes the ropes. As she gets up she catches Rin Rin’s charging crossbody, but Rin Rin drops back to her feet and takes Sakura down into a Fujiwara armbar (!!).
Sakura makes the ropes with her foot, but eats a dropkick as she gets back to her feet. Another follows and Rin Rin goes to the middle turnbuckle. Crossbody gets 2. Scoop slam attempt is countered into the Last Rites, and just like that Sakura’s in firm control.
Rin Rin staggers to the corner and Sakura nails her middle turnbuckle crossbody for 2. She calls for the end and gets Rin Rin into the butterfly, but it’s awesomely reversed into a backpack sleeper.
Rin Rin adjusts to a modified crossface to keep Sakura’s arm from reaching the ropes, then rolls into a cross armbreaker. Sakura flips over so Rin Rin simply adjusts the hold to match, then floats into a modified Fujiwara where her legs are wrapped around Sakra’s arms. Then she pulls back even further and pulls her feet onto Sakura’s back for leverage. Sakura gets a toe on the bottom rope to escape the only way she could.
Rin Rin comes off the ropes and blocks and attempted chop by Sakura, but the veteran has had enough and LEVELS Rin Rin with a double chop for 2. Butterfly backbreaker into a cross armbreaker and Rin Rin has to tap.
I wouldn’t have guessed this was Rin Rin’s debut if I didn’t already know. She looked really smooth and while she clearly benefitted from having Sakura as her first opponent, this was just a flat out great first showing from her. The story of the upstart flummoxing her teacher a bit until Sakura had to get more assertive towards the end was pitch perfect too.
2- Sayuri Debut Match: Sayuri vs Mitsuru Konno
Mitsuru has a size and power advantage and easily backs Sayuri up to the ropes with the opening lockup. A fiery Sayuri charges right back into lockup on the break, but the result his the same. Mitsuru goes for a double chop with Sayuri against the ropes this time, but the latter dodges then rolls out of the way of a wild Mitsuru strike and lands a forearm. It… doesn’t have much affect and Mitsuru looks annoyed.
She swings a heavy forearm shot in retaliation but Sayuri ducks and hits another of her own. This repeats a few times until Sayuri continues with several shots, but Mitsuru’s had enough and simply grabs Sayuri’s hair. She tries to twist to set up a hair mare across the ring, but Sayuri rolls with the attempt each time so while Mitsuru still has hold of her hair the grip isn’t tightening. Sayuri then breaks free of one of Mitsuru’s hands and manages to force an arm wringer while Mitsuru still has one hand in her hair.
Sayuri converts into a hammerlock. Mitsuru tries to reverse but Sayuri continues right through to reapply the hold. Mitsuru creates a little separation so Sayuri lets go in order to snap mare Mitsuru down and then apply a bodyscissors. Mitsuru is pulling at Sayuri’s legs to try to free herself so Sayuri grabs a sleeper while maintaining the bodyscissors. Now Mitsuru’s really annoyed, and she stands up to counter but Sayuri tenaciously hangs on to both the sleeper and the bodyscissors, so Mitsuru’s carrying all Sayuri’s weight as she struggles towards the ropes (granted Sayuri is rather light).
When Mitsuru’s almost there Sayuri abandons the holds and drops down into a schoolboy rollup attempt. Mitsuru blocks by grabbing the ropes, but Sayuri pulls her down anyway into sunset flip position for 2. Sayuri doesn’t even let Mitsuru get to a knee before laying in some forearms, then sends Mitsuru face first into the corner and tries another schoolboy. Mitsuru rolls through so Sayuri does it again, then again after the second roll through and holds Mitsuru down with this one for 2.
Mitsuru stumbles into the corner as she gets up and Sayuri comes charging from the far corner with a jumping kick. It gets 2. Sayuri tries to send Mitsuru into the corner again but Mitsuru puts a foot up to block and Sayuri kind of collapses backwards from the momentum. Mitsuru simply lays in a boot to the fallen Sayuri then sends her into the corner. Mitsuru hits her awesome launch into the corner and goes for the followup bridge pin, but Sayuri grabs the pad to prevent it. As Mitsuru continues to struggle to pull Sayuri back Sayuri hangs on and drops down until they’re both sitting, then shifts backwards to put Mitsuru’s shoulders down for 2.
They exchange waist locks and Sayuri gets a crucifix of sorts for 2. Mitsuru pulls Sayuri into her own body after reversing an Irish Whip and converts into a sleeper. She spins Sayuri around in it with the latter’s feet leaving the mat (!!) then goes down to the mat with Sayuri still in the sleeper and looking down, but Mitsuru releases. She goes to a neutral corner as the ref counts Sayuri down. Sayuri crawls to the ropes and pulls herself up at 8.
Mitsuru dashes in and gets in suplex position. Sayuri drops to a knee to hold her off, so Mitsuru twists into a Dragon Sleeper instead. Again Sayuri looks to be in deep trouble but her hand only drops twice. When she shows life Mitsuru drops the hold and drags Sayuri up, but the latter attacks with a flurry of forearms in the corner. She dazes Mitsuru and runs to the far corner to come charging with another jumping kick, but Mitsuru CATCHES it, elbows the leg down and then NAILS poor Sayuri with her trademark Sekai Volley (and Sayuri was in the corner so there was nowhere to go). Sleeper is reapplied and the rookie is done.
Great structure and story to this, and while not everything was super smooth Sayuri more than held up her end of the match and was already showing a good bit of character and personal style. Mitsuru looked like a monster down the stretch, which is always a treat because her aggressiveness comes off really well.
3- Tokiko Kirihara Debut Match: Tokiko vs Mei Suruga
Tokiko, now frequently referred to by the nickname “Otoki,” has become a cornerstone of ChocoPro (Sakura’s no audience initiative that’s specifically developed for streaming that arose due to Covid restrictions). She has a judo background that gives a wonderful layer to her wrestling style and impressively was 44 years old at the time of this debut match.
In contrast to the previous matches, the more experienced competitor is the aggressor here as Mei blasts Tokiko with a dropkick as soon as the bell rings. She does her rope jump arm drag then nails another and fires up the crowd a bit with self congratulations as Tokiko recovers in the corner.
Back to center, and arm wringer into a drop toehold puts Tokiko down, then Mei runs the ropes a bit stepping on Tokiko with each pass. On her last go she jumps over Tokiko, rolls back over her, then applies a surfboard. After a bit she releases and converts into a bodyscissors, then does her roll around the ring into the cute pose pinning combination for 2.
Tokiko angrily breaks away from Mei grabbing her head so Mei does her cute pose. Swing and a miss by Tokiko, Mei snap mares her down and applies a modified sleeper. This has been ALL Mei this far. Tokiko forces them up and her height advantage makes it difficult for Mei to keep the sleeper so she goes attempts an abdominal stretch. They keep blocking and reversing on each other until Mei uses a different counter going through Tokiko’s legs and gets the hold. Tokiko stands up and rams Mei into the turnbuckle to break, then goes for a scoop slam. Tokiko gets her up on second try and holds her one-handed, then completes it for her first offensive move of the match. It gets 2.
Tokiko uses the kickoff momentum to put Mei right into a Fujiwara armbar. She has all her weight on Mei, who has to claw and scrape to get a foot on the rope to break. As Tokiko goes for abdominal stretch Mei slides through her legs again into a waist lock, which is then reversed by Tokiko. Mei breaks the grip, then turns while still holding an arm, forearms Tokiko, then pulls her into a wheelbarrow roll for 2.
Mei’s battering ram into the corner and a scoop slam get 2. Mei grabs a full nelson and tries to force Apple Mutilation, but Tokiko stands up so Mei jumps on her back to keep the full nelson applied. Tokiko back into corner to break, then snap mares Mei to the center. Big forearm exchange follows until Mei ducks one then steps on Kirihara’s foot. Forearm is blocked though, and Tokiko hits one of her own then nails the judo throw for 2. Love that.
Mei gets up and defiantly tries her own throw, but she can’t budge Tokiko. Mei is lifted momentarily but fights her way down. Tokiko grabs a single leg to lift Mei again and rams her into the corner. She then backs up, then charges in with a single leg takedown and turns it into a pin for 2. Tokiko goes for an abdominal stretch again and locks it in (with a face lock). Mei struggles for the ropes but when she gets close Tokiko converts and rolls backwards to put Mei’s shoulders down for 2.
Arm twist into another judo throw but Mei turns it into a crucifix pin for a really close 2. She hits the ropes and lands a dropkicks then applies an octopus stretch with 2 minutes left. Tokiko forces Mei’s leg off her head, so Mei rolls them both forward and holds Tokiko down for 3 to get the win.
Another really strong debut in another completely different feeling match.
4- Lulu Pencil Debut Match: Lulu vs Yuna Mizumori
With a truly unique presence and character Lulu has garnered a huge following in her first year with her fans dubbing themselves the Pencil Army. The “wrestler who is too weak to be a wrestler” gimmick and Lulu’s highly unusual way of doing things has really captured everyone’s hearts and imaginations and makes her the ultimate underdog.
Lulu is an actual freelance writer and has worked it into her wrestling character extremely well.
Yuna starts a Yunamon chant, but Lulu gets the crowd to chant Lulu instead. Yuna backs Lulu ip to the ropes pretty easily on the lockup, then gives a light tap and breaks. As she turns her back on Lulu to go back to the center Lulu marches up to her and pushes her toward the far ropes for a rollup attempt. Yuna holds on to the ropes and Lulu goes flying. Lulu charges again and they lockup… and Lulu gets thrown down to the mat in short order. Lulu’s a little more aggressive in general here then she would become, but otherwise the character is pretty well fully formed already here.
Yuna picks Lulu up but a simple arm wringer send her crashing back down. Lulu back up and a trio of rolls let her reverse the arm wringer, but she twists Yuna’s arm too fast and too many times and makes herself collapse in a dizzy heap. Yuna grabs Lulu’s legs and tries to turn her over into a crab, but Lulu spreads her arms straight out to block. Yuna eventually just powers Lulu up far enough to start to turn her, but Lulu fights enough to get her arms around the bottom rope.
Yuna manages to drag Lulu to the center of the ring and now signals for a giant swing. It’s amazing, as Lulu just lets her arms flail and looks completely at Yuna mercy. Yuna releases after four revelations and Lulu lands hard (nicely tucking her head to protect herself on impact).
Yuna goes over and after a moment of deciding what to do she cover Lulu, who defiantly kicks out at 1. Yuna picks her up and sends her into the corner for her trademark elbows, but Lulu collapses after the first and Yuna bounces off the turnbuckle pad in an amusing spot. Yuna pulls Lulu up for it again. Lulu collapses before the first connects but Yuna’s able to stop her momentum when she realizes it and chokes Lulu in the corner out of frustration. Yuna pulls her up one more time and puts her arms over the top rope to keep her in place, then hits the elbows and backs up for the Papaya, Mango, Coconut headbutt. Lulu jumps up and avoids it, making Yuna crash headfirst into the turnbuckle pad. Lulu then hits the world’s strangest sunset flip out of corner for 2.
Lulu can’t quite get enough power going to snap mare Yuna and gets lifted into the air, but she fights down … only to get lifted into Tropical Yahho (Yuna’s signature backdrop) position. Lulu “swims” through the air to get ahold of the rope, but Yuna is too strong and just walks back towards center to break the grip. Tropical Yahho is countered with a sunset flip, but Yuna rolls through. Lulu lays prone to dodge a forearm, so Yuna tries a splash. Lulu pencil rolls out of the way, so Yuna tries another and is ready when Lulu rolls again, but Lulu keeps rolling right out of the ring and Yuna hits the mat again anyway.
Lulu then runs away through the crowding the bleachers and hides behind the hard camera, leading to almost ChocoPro like close ups as Yuna chases her. By the time Yuna gets around the cameraman Lulu is back down the other side of the bleachers. Yuna catches her up on the stage and rolls her back in the ring. Lulu pencil rolls as Yuna comes in. Yuna jumps the trip attempt twice, but falls prey to the third. Lulu summersaults over Yuna twice but one arm is all it takes for Yuna to stop the third and hold Lulu down for 1. Lulu goes for the Pencil Splash but Yuna gets up and Lulu crashes. Lulu gets her knees upto block the Tropical Splash and perhaps hurts herself more than Yuna.
Lulu recovers first though and crawls over Yuna as the crowd heavily cheers her on, then hits the Pencil Splash for 2. Lulu goes up to the top turnbuckle in the wrong corner, then even when she corrects to the correct corner she’s too scared and comes down to bottom rope to set up her splash. By now Yuna has recovered, forearms Lulu, and brings her out of the corner in scoop slam position. Lulu counters into a small package for 2.
Lulu struggles for a backslide with two minutes left, but can’t get Yuna over. Yuna reverses the arm positions and flips Lulu over her head, putting Lulu in position for Yuna to hit the Tropical Yahho. Tropical Splash follows and Lulu is a pancake. The 3 is academic.
It’s incredible how well this whole show has been laid out, as well as how good the opponent pairings have been. Like Mei earlier Yuna looked every bit the veteran in this match, despite the fact that neither really was (both had been wrestling only a year and a half or less).
5- Chie Koishikawa Debut Match: Chie vs Sayaka Obihiro
Chie’s so locked into attendant mode that she starts to clean up her own streamers and it’s such a great, earnest moment.
Obi kind of does too … by spinning until her streamers are tangled around her legs. Then she falls over while trying to get out of them.
Chie and Obi both have the same kind of energy and this is a great choice for Chie’s debut. They lockup and Obi forces Chie into the ropes, but Chie reverses into the corner and hits a trio of forearms. Obi tries to reverse but they end up trading reversals across the ropes and into the next corner where Chie has the advantage again and hits another trio of forearms. Chie attempts a whip into the far corner but Obi reverses then comes charging in with a hip attack, then trips Chie down and does a standing choke in the corner.
Side note: in the US this choke would be a very heelish move, but in Joshi seniors in a match with rookies often use moves like this to taunt the newcomers (ro simply out of frustration, etc like Yuna did earlier) and while it will often get booed and make people cheer the rookie more vigorously it’s not seen as a indictment on the senior’s character and doesn’t necessarily indicate or turn someone heel. The relatively few full blown heels that exist in Joshi are generally characterized by more blatant and constant rule violations, usually involving weapon use.
Obi rolls Chie out of the corner to the center and works a hold pulling back on both Chie’s arms with Obi’s knee or feet in her back for a while before transitioning into a seated bodyscissors. Chie rolls back for a 2 count a few times but can’t get Obi to break the hold, so she changes tactics and fights to the ropes instead. She shakes the ropes vigorously to fire herself up so Obi simply kicks her in the back.
Chie blocks a whip attempt by Obi and turns it into a schoolboy for 2. Another gets 2. Yet another gets 2. Chie whips Obi into the corner and darts in and out with chops, then backs up for some running space to hit a dropkick for 2. Obi reverse a whip into the far corner and hits a rather more forceful dropkick of her own. Chie bridges up at 2 to the crowd’s delight, but time is short for the rookie and Obi finishes things off with a sweet through the legs rollup for the win.
Shortest match of the night but that’s not a bad thing. It was the perfect length for what it was and like everything else on this show played to the strengths of the participants. They made the most of the time they had too.
6- Sayaka Debut Match: Sayaka, Mitsuru Konno, & Sayaka Obihiro vs Emi Sakura, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori
Although there might or might not be a ton of overlap in the fanbases, Sayaka is the one rookie who was previously known a bit due to her cosplay and modeling.
For her debut she gets her own entrance, then her partners Obi & Mitsuru come out together to Obi’s music. Sakura’s team comes charging out together to Sakura’s music. Nice way to spotlight the rookie for her first match.
Sakura’s team all offer handshakes then pull back when their opponents go to accept. We’ve clearly established which will be the bratty team in this encounter.
Mei starts with Sayaka, who immediately turns the opening lockup into a schoolboy for 2. She follows with two for for another pair of 2 counts then attempts a face lock on Mei. They quickly, repeatedly counter each other’s face lock attempts until Sayaka tries a cover and Mei bridges out, then rolls Sayaka up for 2.
They separate, then tag out bringing in Mitsuru and Yuna. The latter gets the better of the lockup and goes into a side headlock, holding on even as Mitsuru tries to whip her off the ropes to break. A second attempt works and as Yuna runs the ropes Mitsuru drops down, then dodges, then lands an arm drag. Yuna returns the arm drag when Mitsuru tries to pick her up, but Mitsuru holds on and arm drags Yuna right out of her own arm drag in an awesome spot. They square up from across the ring then switch out.
Sakura forces Obi into a corner quick and lays in a chop, then whips Obi to the far corner. Obi jumps up to the middle turnbuckle then leapfrogs a charging Sakura, hits the ropes in a diamond pattern to confuse her then nails a running double chop to put Sakura down.
Sakura lands an overhand double chop as she gets up and calls her partners in. Obi sent to the rope and a triple Mei jump stalls her, then Mei drop toeholds her into Sakura’s knee and Yuna follows with a splash. Sakura & Yuna hold her in seated position for Mei to jump over, then dropkick as Sakura & Yuna hit the ropes. Sakura summersaults onto Obi as Yuna cartwheels over her, and Emi’s team all hits a pose. Awesome triple teaming there.
Obi manages to force Sakura into the corner as Mei & Yuna leave and tags in Sayaka. Looks like Sayaka pulls back for a forearm then changed her mind and snap mares Sakura instead. Sakura pops right back up and takes another snap mare, and it all happens again then Sayaka applies a body scissors.
Sakura is only mildly inconvenienced by this and turns around, breaks the leg scissors, and appears to be setting up a surfboard, but instead stands up and has Sayaka hanging in the air in a rather painful looking hold. Sakura drops her after a few seconds and applies a front facelock. Sayaka reverses, pulls Sakura to the corner, and tags Obi back in.
Obi lands a few strikes to Sakura’s back and a series of running dropkicks, then covers for 2. Tag back to Sayaka. That was brief. Suplex position but Sakura frees her head and back rakes Sayaka, then lifts Sayaka over her shoulder and unceremoniously drops her to the mat. Tag to Mei.
Mei hits a pair of snap mares then covers for 2. She applies an arm wringer, which is eventually reversed in kind, then Sayaka arm drags Mei forward but Mei rolls back into a handstand and takes snake down with a head scissors. The ever sportsmanlike Mei stomps Sayaka while she’s down then grabs a front face lock to drag Sayaka to the corner and tags Sakura back in.
Sakura rakes the back then steps on Sayaka’s legs to set up the bow and arrow, but Mitsuru comes in and breaks that up with a hard kick. Mei takes Sakura’s place and likewise setups up the bow and arrow, but she’s dispatched by an Obi dropkick. Not to be left out Yuna comes in to try. There’s no one left to save Sayaka so she struggles towards the ropes to avoid the hold getting applied, but Sakura steps on her hands to end that effort to loud boos. Yuna leaves the ring and Sakura picks Sayaka up, sends her headfirst into the corner and tags Mei, who goes back to the front face lock.
Sayaka eventually fights out with a scoop slam and tags Obi, who darts across the ring to knock Sakura & Yuna off the apron. Summersault and splash to Mei’s back then she picks Mei up for a chop combination that knocks her right back down. Mei fights out as Obi brings her off the mat again, and the Mei jump startles Obi enough for Mei to hit a kick to the gut and grab a headlock. She calls for her battering ram but Obi gets loose and sends Mei towards the corner alone. Mei jumps of the turnbuckles to switch momentum then hits a dropkick for 2. Arm wringer sets up the leg sweep rollup for 2, then Mei tags Yuna.
Yuna mows Obi down with a shoulder tackle then tries the Tropical Yahho, but Obi fights free and goes for several knife edge strikes. Yuna frantically dodges, then catches both of Obi’s arms and makes her do the Tropical Yahoo cheer, but Obi spins right into the throat strike. The advantage is short lived as Obi hits the ropes and charges right into the Tropical Yahho. Tropical Splash is countered into a rollup for 2. Yuna forearm is countered into a bit of Obi Magic ending with a sweet single arm bridging butterfly suplex for 2. Tag to Mitsuru, who comes in charging.
Yuna dodges the kick and forearms Mitsuru, who return the favor and hits the ropes, ducks Yuna’s attempted counter spin kick, bounces off the far ropes and levels Yuna with a chest kick. Snapmare put Yuna into position for Mitsuru’s sweet bridging submission over a seated opponent (newly named the Oni-Goroshi after one of Mitsuru’s ChocoPro encounters with Sakura). Yuna powers up but Mitsuru grabs her arms and applies a variation. Obi comes in to block Mei, but Mei gets the better of her and breaks the hold with a dropkick. Mei grabs a headlock on Mitsuru and uses Yuna to jump off of into a side headlock takedown.
Tropical Splash gets 2. Handstand splash eats the canvas as Mitsuru moves, and her leg drop split gets 2. Sekai Volley ducked, but a second catches Yuna as she rebounds off the ropes. Then Mitsuru hits the ropes but eats a dropkick and both are down. Yuna rolls into a tag to Sakura and she comes in just as Mitsuru is standing. Sakura forces Mitsuru into the ropes and hits a trio of HARD chops. Mitsuru is whipped to the far ropes where Sayaka manages to tag herself in. She tries a dropkick but Sakura sidesteps. Sakura puts Sayaka in the corner, hits a chop, then backs up for her “We Will Rock You” corner splash, but Sayaka charges out while she’s singing and nails the dropkick. Sakura grabs a headlock to block a suplex attempt then butterflies Sayaka’s arms. Obi comes in and grabs a waist lock on Sakura to stop her, which frees Sayaka but Obi doesn’t let go of the wasitlock during poor Sayaka’s scoop slam attempt. Sakura’s anchored by Obi’s waist lock, tries a scoop slam of her own so Mitsuru comes in and grabs a waist lock on Sayaka to block. Keep in mind three of these four are on the same team. Mei & Yuna are just on the apron kind of perplexed by what they’re seeing.
Mei comes in and waist locks Obi, then changes her mind and waist locks Mitsuru, then just goes to the middles and tries to pry Sakura and Sayaka apart. Yuna’s lost all patience and charges from the opposite side and wipes out the whole pils, but Mei had ducked and is unscathed. They celebrate with a high five and Mei acts like job well done and yells at Sakura (who’s getting up from being kicked silly with everyone else) to take care of Sayaka now. Ridiculous but highly entertaining sequence.
Forearm exchange and Sayaka gives as good as she gets with Sakura, which is really impressive. Sakura surprises her with a reverse STO then applies a crossface. Sayaka finds the ropes with her foot to break. Sakura drags her to the center and applies it again as Mei & Yuna block Mitsuru & Obi, but Mitsuru breaks free and breaks the hold. Emi’s trio sets up triple battering rams, but it’s all reversed it triple Mitsuru style launches. Mei and Obi start reversing on each other thought as Mitsuru & Sayaka hold Yuna & Sakura, respectively, in position. Mei gets the advantage and pushes Obi forward as Mitsuru & Sayaka launch Yuna & Sakura so as they all approach the middle Obi hits a double throat strike. Mei’s all alone now and Mitsuru & Sayaka double whip her, but she goes for a triple crossbody off the far ropes. She’s caught, but Yuna come back to add so force and Obi, Mitsuru, & Sayaka all go down. Sakura starts the clapping again as Sayaka staggers into the corner and everyone else powders out and hits the corner crossbody.
Sakura calls for the finish (the Japanese cry of “owari”) and hit the butterfly backbreaker, but Sayaka kicks out at 2. Sakura on the middle turnbuckle but Mitsuru pulls Sayaka out of the way of the Vader splash. Mitsuru launches Sakura into an Obi throat strike then rolls her backwards but doesn’t hold the bridge so Sakura keeps rolling into a rollup by Sayaka for 2. Running dropkick gets another 2. Sayaka trying to pull Sakura up and looks just a little lost for a second so Mitsuru rushes over and kicks Sakura and directs Sayaka to the corner with Obi, and the two of them hit a nice double dropkick.
Sekai Volley by Mitsuru sets up a middle rope flying crossbody by Sayaka but Mei saves at 2. Mei holds Sayaka for a second trying to give Sakura a breather but Obi nails Sakura with a shotgun missile dropkick from the top. Sayaka charges with another dropkick for a close 2 as Mitsuru & Obi holds Mei & Yuna back. Sakura fires up with a couple strikes but Sayaka ducks the third and rolls into a sweet bridging rollup for 2.
Sayaka hits the ropes but Yuna cuts her off and lifts her in Tropical Yahho position, then converting into the corner splash. She drops down to all fours to be used by Mei as a launchpad, but Mei slips when trying it and just lands on her feet in front of Sayaka. She gives a great look of frustration and then just hits Sayaka with a forearm. Great recoveries like that make all the differences between something being a small mistake that ends up making the match feel more real and a full blown botch that derails it. The in character acknowledgement also allows Mei to try the spot/attack again with looking it silly or overly scripted. Which she does, and lands a beautiful launch dropkick on Sayaka in the corner this time.
Mitsuru & Obi are held back by Yuna & Mei as Sakura hits the Vader splash, but they break free just in time to save Sayaka before the 3 count. Mei & Yuna dispatch them however as Sakura goes up again, and a Mei assisted Sakura senton puts Sayaka away to give Sakura’s team the win.
Seventeen minutes of all out action and the usual high quality Gatoh Move 6-woman tag from a rookie and five wrestlers who had all already wrestled once before this show. Bravo.
Sakura, Obi, Mitsuru, Mei and Yuna sing the closing song.
What impressed me the most here was the variety of stories they managed to tell with the rookies both pushing to do interesting things and staying within their capabilities. Sakura is so amazing at bringing out her trainees’ unique strengths and personalities and no two matches here felt the same. Little bit of awkwardness here and there, but that’s to be expected and overall these were all really strong debuts with everyone pushing themselves. The level of show this was with six debuts and about three quarters of all involved wrestlers having less than two years experience is mind boggling.
Really fun first look at the rookies, and it’s been great to see how all six have progressed during their first year. Happy Anniversary!
Chocopro 43 will happen on their anniversary, although due to current circumstances not all of them will appear. Lulu will continue her quest towards her first win against Antonio Honda in the main event, and Otoki will face Minoru Fujita the night before his big title match in BJW.
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