Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Decade: 10 Years of Gatoh Move

Emi Sakura is one of the most incredibly multifaceted people in professional wrestling. The 27 year veteran can wrestle nearly any style, has trained a ridiculous number of other excellent wrestlers, and founded two different still running joshi promotions on the common idea that wrestling should be fun for both fans and wrestlers.

Gatoh Move, the promotion Sakura currently runs, is an absolute joy. In anticipation of their big 10th anniversary show this week (entitled Phoenix Rises) I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite wrestling promotions.

Of course 10 years is a lot to cover and this won’t be complete nor an attempt at a proper history of the promotion for various reasons (starting with the fact that I was introduced to it a few years in). Rather I hope to provide a personal look back at some of what’s made Gatoh Move so special to me while also highlighting a few key moments and points of interest in depth.

At the end of 2015 I was lucky enough to make my first trip to Japan. I was already a big fan of women’s wrestling in general and was familiar with several joshi via their appearances in Shimmer (including several who had been trained by Emi Sakura, although I had no idea of that at the time). I was extremely excited to see as much wrestling as I could, and my schedule was packed with shows by a variety of promotions.

Due to strong recommendation of a good friend who was already a big Emi Sakura fan at the time, on the third day of my trip my fourth overall show introduced me to Gatoh Move. The four shows at four different venues from four different promotions were all wonderfully unique, interesting, and fun. Gatoh Move however was perhaps the most different from any show I’d seen before, and this was one of their ring shows in Itabashi Green Hall.

From the opening song and dance numbers, to the intergender tag match, to marveling at the skill of the younger wrestlers (although I’d later discover one of them already had nearly a decade of experience and was the company’s ace apparent), and so on it was a unique and enthralling experience.

And course the wrestling itself was extremely good. I only knew three of the wrestlers going in (Hiroyo Matsumoto, Hikaru Shida, and Makoto) but nearly all the rest would become familiar faces as time went on both in and out of Gatoh Move. Looking back at the main event in particular of Emi Sakura & Nanae Takahashi vs SAKI & Mizuki is kind of mind blowing.

I had a lot of fun, and was eager to see more of the promotion. As the saying goes, I hadn’t seen anything yet. The following week I went to my first (and second) show at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

The venue has no ring and just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience (at the time) of about 70 people maximum including some watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere.

The quality of matches they’re able to perform in such an environment speaks volumes of the talent of all involved, and I was instantly hooked. The wrestling Gatoh Move presents is unlike anything I’ve seen before or since, and the live experience is something special. I attended at least one Ichigaya show, as well Gatoh ring shows when they happened to coincide with my trip dates, every time I went back.

Gatoh Move was about three years old at the time, and it already had a sense of identity and a lot of the same elements that persist to this day. Which is incredibly interesting since one of the promotions’ greatest strengths is Sakura’s willingness to innovate and try new things.

But the central concept and feel of a small core roster of joshi wrestlers supplemented by both men and women guests from other promotions putting on fun shows has remained throughout the years I’ve watched, and among the many things that gives Gatoh Move it’s appeal.

I’ve (rightfully) mentioned Emi Sakura often as the shaping force of Gatoh Move, but part of that is also her wonderful ability as a trainer to identify and accentuate her trainee’s personal charisma and skill strengths.

The resulting vast differences in personalities and styles of the roster determine what Gatoh looked and felt like in any given time period. Sakura’s genuine appreciation of fan support also carries through and everyone in Gatoh has always been an absolute pleasure to meet.

When I started watching Sakura, Riho, Sayaka Obihiro, and Kotori were Gatoh Move. A year later the addition of Mitsuru Konno and Aasa Maika and regular appearances of freelancer (and former Sakura trainee) Aoi Kizuki brought a different dynamic.

And so on through the debuts of Yuna Mizumori and Mei Suruga, the eventual retirements of Kotori, Aasa, Aoi, and Mitsuru, and Riho’s departure  and the resulting debut of Gatoh Move Generation 4 (Chie Koishikawa, Sayuri, Sayaka, Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, and Rin Rin (now Yukari Hosokawa of GLEAT)).

Each person/roster had a distinct effect on the promotion and matches and stories emerged from each group that both felt unique to them and at the same time like it fit perfectly into what Gatoh Move was.

A (very) short highlight list of some of my favorite matches and moments include:
Riho vs Masahiro Takanashi (4/27/19 ),
– Sakura, Mei, and Aoi all having singles matches against each other during the week before before Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show,
– the annual Gatoh roster 6-woman tag (like Sakura, Obi, & Riho vs Mitsuru, Mei, & Yuna from  12/31/18),
– Mei vs Mitsuru (12/26/19),
Yuna and Sakura’s feud, and
Lulu’s quest to regain her hat.

The ability to change and innovate drastically while still maintaining a core identity is a recurring theme over the years I’ve watched Gatoh Move. A couple years ago it became more important than ever.

To me Gatoh Move’s intergender matches were always intergender done right. From the very first match I ever saw of theirs to the wonderfully fun annual  Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup annual intergender tag team tournament to the previously mentioned Riho vs Masa and so much more Gatoh has always known how to capture the proper feel of everyone in the match just being wrestlers competing.

This ended up playing a big part in one of most daring innovations Sakura had ever tried.

When Covid changed the world in 2020 Sakura’s small promotion with a home base unable to properly handle distancing requirements for an attending crowd was faced with a real question of how to survive.

Sakura embraced a rather crazy direction that could only have worked with her particular sense of innovation and risk taking, as well as an adaptable roster that was more than game for the challenges that would arise. Thus Gatoh Move’s twin promotion ChocoPro was born.

Not convinced that just doing Gatoh Move with no audience would be the right approach, Sakura envisioned a new presentation directly designed for streaming to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

While some might consider this philosophical premise a bit thin to differentiate a brand on, ChocoPro shows have developed their own feel and characteristics that make them distinct from Gatoh Move despite sharing a roster, creative forces, etc. One difference is that ChocoPro is a fully intergender brand, while Gatoh Move is technically a joshi company that has men wrestlers as guests (again a subtle but noticeable distinction).

But perhaps the biggest change to come from the creation of ChocoPro was the No Pay Wall philosophy. Every type of viewable content ChocoPro creates is put up on their YouTube channel for free, supported by optional sponsorship purchases, YouTube and Patreon memberships, etc as people choose and are able to contribute.

The commitment to make it work from everyone involved was incredible, and ChocoPro is as much a creation of Akki and Mei joining with or in place of Sakura on the live streams they started doing as added content to Gen 4 who all had to adapt to an extremely challenging situation in their rookie year to regular participants Masa, Choun Shiryu, Antonio Honda, Chris Brookes, and many more as it was Sakura’s. Seeing it succeed was both amazing and wonderful, as it really doesn’t seem like something anyone else could have pulled off.

Yet here we are two and a half years later with ChocoPro firmly established as a beloved sub brand of Gatoh Move to the point where it has and will continue even once Gatoh Move shows were able to start up again. Here’s hoping it will continue to prosper for a long time to come.

One last thing I’d like to talk about that I think perfectly underscores what Gatoh Move brings to the wrestling world is their casual trading program, Darejyo.

Darejyo is short for “Daredemo Joshi Puroresu” or Anyone’s Women’s Professional Wrestling. Started by Sakura and currently run by Mei (herself a former participant), the idea is to offer a suitable environment for any woman, regardless of age, experience, etc, to learn the basics of pro wrestling in a casual manner within a professional, safe environment. There are limits on the types of things they learn and try (avoiding more difficult and potentially dangerous aspects like certain types of strikes, etc) while still giving a strong introduction and base to build off of.

Darejyo’s had participants ranging from under 10 years old to women in their forties, and several participants have gone on to train and debut as full wrestlers including Mei herself and Gen 4 in Gatoh Move and even some in other promotions such as Diana’s Haruka Umesaki and Madeline.

There’s a ton more details that could be shared and praises to be sung about Gatoh Move, but I hope what’s here has been interesting and enjoyable. Here are the details on the 10th anniversary show, and it’s an extremely exciting and suitable card for such an event.

Phoenix Rises:
(7pm JST on 9/15/22, to be aired on YouTube at a later date)

  1. Toru Owashi & Sayuri vs Tokio Kirihara & Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro & Sawasdee Kamen
  2. Emi Sakura vs Miya Yotsuba (pro-wrestling debut)
  3. Riho, SAKI, & Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Fujita, Kid Lykos, & Kaori Yoneyama
  4. Orange Panna Cotta (Sayaka & Chie Koishikawa) vs Daisy Monkey (TJPW’s Suzume & Arisa Endo)
  5. Asia Dream Tag Title match: CDK (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) (c) vs Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto
  6. Yuna Mizumori vs Mei Suruga

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of their content. As previously mentioned everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, visit their store and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Thanks to everyone in Gatoh Move for a wonderful 10 years and I wish them all the best for many more.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Joshi Odds and Ends: Exhibition Matches, Ichigaya Chocolate Square

Been a while. I hope to have the blog off its long hiatus and back to regular updates sometime in September. In the meantime there are a couple of things I though it would be useful to have reference for and decided to do a quick write up.

Exhibition Matches

Exhibition matches are matches that generally have short time limits and are happening for some sort of special reason or circumstances, including special events, return matches, or occasionally for retirements (such as with Reika Saiki’s retirement earlier this year).

Here I want to specifically talk about pre-debut exhibition matches, like the ones new Gatoh Move trainee Miya is currently having (and that I’ve seen wrestlers in other companies go through as well).

These exhibitions are “unofficial” semi-practice matches for a trainee to face an established wrestler (usually a roster member of the company they are training to join). In the past these often happened as a pre-show of sorts only for the live audience, but more of them are being broadcast the last few years (still generally before the show officially starts though).

There are a few special things about these matches to take note of. Both the trainee and her opponent wear training clothes/sweats as opposed to full wrestling gear, underscoring the nature of the match.

The matches are short, generally with a three to five minute time limit with unlimited falls (although occasionally exhibition matches can end with a single decision).

Finally, again these matches do not count towards the career of the trainee in that the trainee is not considered to have debuted as a wrestler by having exhibitions. They are exactly as described: a chance to get a look at someone preparing to be a wrestler and an opportunity for them to challenge themselves a bit in an actual match environment before they debut. There is no set number of exhibition matches or timing for them before a debut. It can vary greatly from trainee to trainee.

It’s really cool to be able to see these, and Miya’s been impressive in the ones she’s had thus far. I’m extremely excited for her official debut at Gatoh Move’s 10th Anniversary show on September 15 and happy for her. Good luck Miya!

Ichigaya Chocolate Square

Gatoh Move and its alter ego of sorts ChocoPro (which was specifically designed with the strengths and limitations of a streaming based wrestling show in mind and often runs shows without a live audience present) have a unique home base in Ichigaya Chocolate Square. It’s a venue that just barely holds a rectangular mat to wrestle on, and when an audience is present its maximum is about 50 people nowadays (including spectators watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley).

Chocolate Square’s peculiarities as a space to train and wrestle in not only lead to a great deal of innovation and adaptability among the participating wrestlers, but also give rise to some unusual rules and conventions.

Here’s a brief overview:

  • The edge of the mat and the wall it’s pushed up against act as a “rope break” for submission holds only (when there is a crowd the crowd is essentially the rope break marker).
  • For pinfalls, as long as the shoulders of the person being pinned are on the mat the pin counts. There is no “rope break” for pinfalls in Chocolate Square.
  • There are no countouts: action can (and typically does during ChocoPro shows) spill outside the windows.
  • The referees in Gatoh Move/ChocoPro (perhaps even more than elsewhere in puro) are very lenient about DQ’s. There have been maybe five total DQs or no contests in all 250 ChocoPro shows, and they were only when things got particularly blatant and/or out of hand.
  • Double teams and double pins are allowed in tag team matches. As long as the legal person is being pinned and the legal member of the other team is involved the pin counts.

There is a lot more to the special environment and atmosphere in Ichigaya Chocolate Square to discover by watching, but I just wanted to give a little bit of context and reference here for newer viewers.

—-

That’s it for now. Hope this can be helpful.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

No Way To Go But Forward: The Tale of a Pencil’s Strength

“I don’t think I’m wrong. But just because I’m not wrong doesn’t mean that Chris is wrong.”

Lulu Pencil’s tale in ChocoPro took an unexpected and difficult turn when she ran headlong into Chris Brookes and put her beloved pink cap on the line. She fought tooth and nail through the resulting bitter feud and journey of self identity until she finally reclaimed her cap not by beating Chris, but by earning just enough of his respect for him to choose to give it back.

In their big I Quit tag match at ChocoPro 63, Lulu refused to give up as Chris tortured her and only lost because Emi Pencil (Emi Sakura’s Lulu-like “persona” she adopts when teaming with Lulu) finally became a truly selfless partner and quit herself to prevent more pain for Lulu. The fact that Lulu never gave up was enough for Chris, who shoved her hat under her hand as she lay exhausted after the match.

(See Lulu’s Hat: A Tale of a Pencil’s Pride for a larger, in depth examination of the above events.)

Lulu was whole, and her long war with Chris apparently over. But of course her larger story would continue…

Expanded Pencil Army

Chris wasn’t the only person whose respect Lulu would earn. Minoru Fujita, a deathmatch legend, has become a mainstay in ChocoPro and is currently the reigning Super Asia champion. But even before he won that particular title, he made a completely unexpected choice.

On ChocoPro 72 then reigning BJW Deathmatch Champion Fujita faced Lulu in a singles match. In a stark contrast to the match with Chris that started everything back on ChocoPro 44, Fujita insisted on putting his title on the line (unofficially at least). So Lulu faced Fujita on his terms: deathmatch style with all manner of weapons involved.

She put her heart into the match and as always fought in her own unusual style, using all manner of items she could get her hands on in wonderfully weird ways that forced Fujita to adjust and up the intensity. He prevailed of course, and Lulu being Lulu he did so by causing her to trip on a bunch of marbles he threw under her feet, but the quirky writer turned wrestler had left her mark. On ChocoPro 77 Fujita surprised everyone by coming out for his match teaming with Lulu against Best Bros in overalls. Mino Pencil was born and the Pencil Army had grown stronger.

It became official after his match with Emi Sakura on ChocoPro 78 where the two of them battled each other to exhaustion and an inconclusive double pin, then bonded over their shared … well, leader.

On ChocoPro 82 the full Pencil Army (Lulu, Emi, & Mino) united as a trio for the first time facing Best Bros & Yuna. The match was an excellent, intense affair. And Mino Pencil brought a chaotic energy to the group that elevated them beyond what they previously were.

But of course, they weren’t any more successful a team as a whole or in these other iterations than the original Pencil Army. But veterans like Fujita and Sakura believing in Lulu was clearly helping her progress, ever so slowly, towards unlocking more of her potential match by match.

The Unthinkable

At ChocoPro 95, four months and 32 episodes after Lulu was given her hat back after the tag team I Quit match, Chris and Lulu crossed paths once more. Chris teamed with Chie Koishikawa to face the new version of the Pencil Army, Lulu & Mino.

Chris & Chie prevailed in a great match, but that wasn’t the story. After the match things took an unbelievable turn when Lulu reached up from the mat and put her formerly reclaimed hat back in Chris’ hand.

“Do you understand why I gave you my hat back? Do you know what my hat means?”

“I do understand. What do you want from me? You said before you wanted me to make you stronger, and I did that. I did it by lying to you, admittedly. And I betrayed you. And I made you angry. And I took your hat. And because of that, you got strong. What more do you want from me eh? I did everything I could for you why are you giving me your hat? Leave me alone.”

“Yeah. You made me strong. It means you are Pencil Army.”

It took a lot of convincing to the person who says there’s nowhere he belongs in ChocoPro. But Lulu talked about how she knows why Chris came to Japan, how Pencil Army loves wrestling, and how they share the same passion. Her words reached him, and Chris reluctantly put on the cap. Chris Brookes joined the Pencil Army and the whole world was upside down.

Little Brother

Chris Pencil would have his first match as part of the Pencil Army on Day 1 of the big ChocoPro 100 festivities, teaming with Lulu against Black Comaneci (Antonio Honda & Tokiko Kirihara). He showed up as committed as he could be, wearing matching pink overalls with Lulu and the vaunted cap that they had once fought over.

Chris countered Black Comaneci’s dastardly antics with some of his own, with Lulu firmly along for the ride. They acted like real partners, but the more frequent team was a little too much for them and Honda eventually pinned an isolated Lulu with a small package. “Almost Lulu, almost. Next time.”

Despite the loss Lulu tried to do her best to be a proper leader for who she called the “Little Brother” of Pencil Army, including mending his overalls herself in between matches.

The duo gave it another go at ChocoPro 106, against even tougher, more experienced, more brutal competition in the form of Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango). After another hard fought loss, with Chango making Lulu submit to a vicious torture rack, Chris was not as understanding as he was the first time.

“I never lose in Ichigaya. I win. (…) Next time you call me to be in Pencil Amy, be ready to win.”

The next time would be the biggest challenge yet: the full Pencil Army in an 8 person tag against Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) & Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) at ChocoPro 110. But at full strength, and with Chris’ stern words as motivation, Lulu was determined to lead the four to their first victory.

And they fought for everything they were worth. But in the end, Chie caught Lulu in the stretch muffler as her partners held the rest of the Pencil Army back.

Lulu tapped, and it all went to hell.

Sakura tried to console the group afterwards and told Chris they were just starting. “Baby steps.” Chris was having none of it.

“You lost. You lost, again. And you didn’t just lose Lulu. After everything we went through together (…) where you didn’t give up. (…) I stupidly thought that there was something in you. I thought there was something more to you than a stupid joke. After all that, today not only did we lose, we lose because you quit. Do you have any idea how insulted I feel right now?”

That was the last straw for Chris, and it was always intended to be. After further verbally laying into Lulu and saying he had enough, he revealed he had brought scissors concealed in his overalls. He cut half the brim off of the prized pink hat he and Lulu had fought over and stormed out, leaving a devastated Pencil Army in his wake.

Renewed Hostilities

To Chris, Lulu was living in a dreamworld. To Sakura and Fujita, what he did to Lulu was unforgivable. A conflicted Lulu felt a measure of brutal truth in Chris’ words about her weaknesses, but believed deep down that she had merit as a wrestler as she was.

She persevered, taping the destroyed hat back together and continuing on in her own way.

Chris was invited to gather two partners of his choice and face the remaining Pencil Army in a 6-person tag.

As with the tag team I Quit match, Chris had no trouble recruiting Yuna Mizumori to his side. Their partner was to be Chris’ close friend Drew Parker, making his “in-ring” ChocoPro debut.

However Drew was injured shortly before the match and it was postponed. In its place ChocoPro 115 ended up being headlined by Chris vs Emi Sakura in a singles contest. Or rather Chris vs Emi PENCIL.

Sakura’s devotion to Lulu and representation of the Emi Pencil persona just enraged Chris even more, and after a brutal twenty minutes of battle he lost all patience and wiped out referee Mei Suruga when she tried to pull him off Sakura. He then pulled off his belt and starting whipping Emi with it, leveling Lulu when she tried to intervene. Yuna stepped in to help Chris when Fujita subsequently attacked, but he ended up laying even her to waste when she tried to prevent him from choking Fujita with the belt. When all was said and done Chris walked out of the chaos with bodies strewn all about the mat behind him, and Mei pulled herself up just long enough to declare the match ChocoPro’s first no contest.

With all the tension overflowing and Drew’s recovery time uncertain, the trios tag was rescheduled for ChocoPro 120 with Chris bringing in Asuka (Veny) in Drew’s place.

The six of them waged war in 40 minutes of pure chaos, but eventually Chris isolated Lulu on what was left of the mat and applied a continually evolving and more vicious version of the very hold Lulu refused to give up in during the I Quit match. She held out as long as she could, with Akki on commentary screaming to her that it was alright and she needed to quit and save herself all the while, but eventually had no choice but to tap and give Chris, Asuka, & Yuna the win.

Chris forced Mei to raise his hand and Akki to announce him as the winner multiple times. ” Everything is as it should be again. The universe is healing. This isn’t a fairy tale. This isn’t a dream. This is real life, and in real life when reality comes to play Chris Brookes wins and Lulu Pencil loses.” He berated Sakura and Fujita about hanging out with Lulu to make themselves feel better.

“Don’t take this as motivation Lulu (…) Take this as a lesson, ok. You don’t belong here. You’re not a professional wrestler. You are a writer. And that’s all you’re ever going to be.”

Emi and Mino stood firm in their support and told Lulu they believe in her. But Lulu was at an impasse. She believed neither her nor Chris were wrong…

Everyone but Emi left without having the traditional post show janken tournament, and Emi said she will keep that chocolate until the day Lulu puts Chris down for a 3 count. The show ended without ChocoPro’s usual smiles as a somber Akki said he finally believes in Lulu Pencil and that someday she’ll give everyone the happy ending they deserved that day.

True Strength

“They’re not supporting you, they’re mocking you.”

One of Chris’ main points of contention about his time in the Pencil Army was the feeling that Sakura and Fujita were not giving Lulu their best.

On the very same night Chris teamed with Lulu as an official Pencil Army member for the first time their stablemates were challenging for the tag tam titles. Fujita & Sakura had defeated Best Bros in non-title competition on ChocoPro 99, SPECIFICALLY wrestling as Emi Sakura & Minoru Fujita and not Emi & Mino Pencil so that Best Bros would be facing their “strongest versions.”

They came up short in the title challenge but once again forwent their alternative Pencil personas in a hellaciously hard hitting affair. The Emi and Mino that show up for Pencil Army matches are completely different in approach and applied abilities than when they compete under other circumstances.

“You’ve got two of the best wrestlers to ever come out of this country in dungarees, dicking around with you pretending you’ve got a chance when all you do every time is screw up and lose.” To Chris, Lulu’s partners weren’t giving her their best efforts.

In Sakura and Fujita’s eyes their Pencil personas aren’t weaker versions per se, it’s that they concentrate on trying to slowly lift Lulu up and not leave her behind. Fujita commented after the six man war that they were fighting as a team. “What if I beat him? It’s nothing. YOU will beat him. And I believe that you will.”

She’ll Just Keep Coming

Things were quiet for a few weeks after the big trios showdown, then it was announced that a singles match between Lulu and Chris was forthcoming at Lulu’s request.

Chris, wanting to be done with it all, said he knew Lulu wouldn’t stop no matter how many times he beat her or tried to talk sense to her. So he wanted to get the next “ten to fifteen gos” out of the way at once. He demanded it be a 30 minute ironman match.

“I promise you, after the ironman match she won’t want to come at me again.”

Lulu’s path went through Chris’ CDK partner, a returning Masahiro Takanashi, on ChocoPro 135. The veteran went quite hard on Lulu, and while she put up a good fight in true Lulu fashion she lost by being unable to release a hold she herself applied and was disqualified on a 5 count after Masa reached the edge of the mat. It was a worrying sign that Lulu had yet to overcome her own failings going into the big showdown with Chris.

Chris had different kind of trial to overcome with one of Lulu’s partners, as he sat down for a ChocoTalk with Emi Sakura the day before the match.

They needled each other a little, but they largely remained civil overall in what was a fascinating, must watch interview about Chris’ side of the journey.

His previously mentioned frustration with the very concept of Emi and Mino Pencil bubbled to the front when discussing the very beginning of things and how Emi had proposed the tag team I Quit match be a handicap match.

“What? Why is two vs one not ok? (Because) You’re supposed to be Emi Sakura. Emi Sakura needs handicap matches?”

“Pencil Army. Emi Pencil.”

“But why are you Emi Pencil?”

“Emi Pencil is very important friend.”

“Emi Pencil is very easy for you.”

Chris also walked through what motivated past choices and actions, but was clear that it was all different now. He felt Lulu’s very continued existence in ChocoPro was a sign that mediocrity was ok.

“She can’t climb any wall. She can’t beat anyone. (…) Everyone’s telling her that she’s doing her best and she’s clearly not.”

“Today, the dream dies.”

Chris put up no pretenses. He came into this match to make sure Lulu never bothered him again. He dominated early on, antagonizing and belittling Lulu at every turn. At one point he used his height and strength to press her against the ceiling and tried to demand the referee count her shoulders pinned there. Later he mocked the fan support messages on the wall while holding Lulu in a headlock and ripped some down to stuff into her mouth. He gained a fall on her at one point by wrapping her up in the ChocoPro banner and slamming everyone in arms reach on her.

Even in the face of overwhelming odd against a much bigger and stronger opponent Lulu was determined to do all she could, and fought with an edge she’d never shown before. Some of it admittedly backfired, as when she got a table involved and it led to Chris suplexing her onto it to get the first fall.

But other things like using her full body weight to reverse Chris’ whip outside to send him instead into the metal shutters, then dropping them on his arm (!!), did major damage and worked more in her favor.

Chris had taunted Lulu in the past by taking pencils from her trademark pencil-shaped case and snapping them in half. The first time he tried it here Lulu looked right at him and said “you can’t break me!” while picking up one of the pencils and snapping it in half herself, then stabbing Chris in the knee with the pieces.

Later when she grabbed the other case Chris took it from her, only to find out Lulu had planned far ahead and that one was full of powder. Lulu hit it into Chris’ face, nearly gaining a fall with the subsequent submission she was able to lock in.

Lulu got on Chris’ nerves so much Masa had to intervene at one point to pull Chris off of her as Chris rained forearms down on Lulu as she was flat on the mat.

With time running down Chris lifted Lulu with a double underhook but couldn’t complete the move due to the damage Lulu had done to his arm. She transitioned into an octopus stretch and seemed to finally have Chris in trouble. He powered out however, and in standing position with Lulu across his back he swung her around presumably going for some sort of slam to put her down for good. Lulu continued swinging all the way back around behind Chris into a beautiful 120% schoolboy rollup… FOR 3! With 8 SECONDS left in the match, Lulu Pencil handed Chris Brookes his first lost pinfall in ChocoPro, ever.

And remembering everything they went through she had refused to give up, not even once, throughout the full 30 minutes.

A stunned Chris confirmed that he didn’t kick out in time with Masa as Emi Pencil and referee Mei Suruga tended to Lulu (who had taken a hard bump on the back of her head off a shotgun dropkick right before the end when her head cleared the mat and hit the wood floor). Chris won the match 3 falls to 1, but the one was really all it took. Lulu beat Chris, in the only way that truly mattered.

An exhausted, emotionally spent Lulu crawled over to Chris, who gently cradled his adversary and held the ice to her head. She had finally proven him wrong. She belonged. As much as anyone else. She always had, but now Chris knew it too.

“I’m a prowrestler.”

“Yes you are Lulu. Yes you are.”


Required viewing:
ChocoPro 82: Pencil Army (Lulu, Emi, & Mino) vs Best Bros & Yuna
ChocoPro 95: Chris & Chie vs Lulu & Fujita
ChocoPro 100 Day 1: Pencil Army (Chris & Lulu) debut, Sakura & Fujita Tag Title Match
ChocoPro 106: Pencil Army (Chris & Lulu) vs Melt Brain Dancing
ChocoPro 110: Full Pencil Army vs Best Bros & Egg Tart
ChocoPro 115: Emi Pencil vs Chris Brookes
ChocoPro 120: Pencil Army vs Chris, Yuna, & Asuka
ChocoTalk with Chris Brookes
ChocoPro 137: 30 Minute Ironman – Lulu Pencil vs Chris Brookes

Supplemental viewing:
ChocoPro 72: Minoru Fujita vs Lulu Pencil
ChocoPro 77: Lulu & Fujita vs Best Bros
ChocoPro 78: Emi Sakura vs Minoru Fujita
ChocoPro 99: Fujita & Sakura vs Best Bros
ChocoPro 135: Lulu vs Masa

While Lulu’s been on the winning side of a few tag matches with her partner securing the fall, neither Pencil Army nor Lulu herself have ever won a match. But Lulu’s done so much more than that.

Besides, “Lulu Pencil, Emi Pencil, Mino Pencil, Chris Pencil … and YOU” all know it’s only a matter of time. Time, pride, strength, and heart. And the freelance writer turned pro-wrestler has them all in spades.

The nature of Lulu’s journey will undoubtably drastically change again as she’s following Emi Sakura to the US. But as always her Pencil Army will support her every step of the way.


Everything ChocoPro is doing goes up for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their international merchandise store!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Knocking Out the Champs? : ChocoPro 130 OOAK Tag League Preview

June 29, 2021

ChocoPro/Gatoh Move’s One-of-a-Kind (OOAK) Tag League is half over and things are quite interesting heading into ChocoPro 130.

The matches have been fantastic and I highly recommend checking out the first half of the tourney:

ChocoPro 127
Block A: Best Bros vs TropiKawild
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs Egg Tart

ChocoPro 128
Block A: Best Bros vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Egg Tart vs White Comaneci

ChocoPro 129
Block A: TropiKawaild vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Mi*Sayaka vs White Comaneci

(note: from here on I will be discussing the current standings heading into ChocoPro 130, which will necessarily include spoilers for the above shows)

ChocoPro 130 (June 30 9pm EDT)
Block A: Best Bros vs Wasshoi Aniki
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs White Comaneci

There’s a lot of significance to this lineup, with two teams having their final matches of the tournament and another having their first.

Block A:
Best Bros (Mei & Akki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
TropiKawild (Yuna & Saki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
Wasshoi Aniki (Ayumi & Mizunami) – 0 pts (0-0-0)
Dragon Ninja (Choun & Sayuri) – 0 pt (0-2-0)

The schedule has shaken out in a curious way for Block A. Wasshoi Aniki has not had any matches yet (and have never teamed before). It not only leaves them an unknown quantity going into the second half of the tourney, but also means every Block A match in the second half has them in it. However this match could end their hopes as soon as they begin.

Reigning Asia Dream Tag Champions Best Bros have 3 points. If they beat WA they will end with an incredibly impressive 5 out of 6 possible pts, and the one loss will automatically put WA out of the running (their max score by winning their remaining matches would be 4 pts). Only TropiKawild could catch BB in this scenario, by also beating WA and forcing a tiebreaker match with the champs.

But WA isn’t the only team in danger. As I explained in my analysis going into ChocoPro 129, Dragon Ninja’s loss against TW eliminated them from contention. An interesting side note is that also renders the possibility of a block-wide tie at the end nil, meaning 3 points is not enough to stay in contention.

A WA win would mean BB finish their run in the tournament with 3 pts. It’d be quite an upset for a team to beat the champions in their first ever outing, but it certainly isn’t impossible with this superteam of ChocoPro fan favorites. So the flip side of WA possibly being eliminated in their first match is they could instead eliminate the champs.

This places ALL the intrigue of ChocoPro 130 in Block A’s match, because it’s surprisingly become a loser-is-out situation. The only way both teams will both still have a chance to win the block after this match is if they wrestle to a draw.

Block B:
Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
White Comaneci (Honda & Otoki) – 0 pts (0-2-0)
Egg Tart (Chie & Hagane) – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Mi*Sayaka (Fujita & Sayaka) – 2 pt (1-0-0)

Speaking of new teams with successful first outings, Mi*Sayaka scored a huge and somewhat surprising victory against White Comaneci on ChocoPro 129 to eliminate the latter from contention in Block B.

This means WC’s match against Melt Brain Dancing is purely a matter of pride, but trying to avoid ending the tournament completely defeated might be the motivation they need. Since it’s only MBD’s second tournament match (and they won their first) the result can’t put them out either way, but their stranglehold on Block B as the dominant favorites would clearly be much better served with a win.

(If MDB do win the pressure is really on Egg Tart, who would then need to beat MS but also have MDB lose to that same team to force a three-way tiebreaker match.)

Summary

DN and WC have been eliminated from contention in their respective blocks.

BB, WA: Eliminated from winning their block with a loss.

Good luck to all. This’ll be a wild one.

——-

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

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

Underdogs Assemble! : ChocoPro 129 OOAK Tag League Preview

June 27, 2021

It’s pretty crazy that Emi Sakura’s ongoing effort from to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world in a format that takes full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery is over a year old and 128 episodes in. But ChocoPro is still going strong and continues to push boundaries in every way they can. Which has once again lead to something special, as ChocoPro/Gatoh Move’s first ever tag league has begun.

Called the One-of-a-Kind (OOAK) Tag League, it’s certainly set yup to live up to its name. Not only is it taking place in Ichigaya Chocolate Square’s unique ringless environment, but it goes even beyond Gatoh’s formerly annual Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup inter gender tag team tournament in being a fully integrated tourney where men’s, women’s, and integer gender teams would all compete.

The lineup adds to the specialness, as the eight participating teams include the reigning tag champions (all league matches are non-title), former champions, previous top contenders, and a couple of brand new teams to boot.

Each of the six shows featuring the block matches has one match from each of the two four team blocks. I highly recommend watching the two shows that have happened so far. They were excellent as expected and I highly recommend checking them out:

ChocoPro 127
Block A: Best Bros vs TropiKawild
Block B: Melt Brain Dancing vs Egg Tart

ChocoPro 128
Block A: Best Bros vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Egg Tart vs White Comaneci

(note: later in this piece I will be discussing the current standings heading into ChocoPro 129, which will necessarily include spoilers for the above shows)

Halfway There

With two blocks of four teams each team will face all opponents in their block after just three matches. In addition to making every match vital, it means that after today’s show the tourney will be halfway over. Both matches will have a big impact on the shape of things going forward. The lineup is:

ChocoPro 129 (tonight 9pm EDT)
Block A: TropiKawild vs Dragon Ninja
Block B: Mi*Sayaka vs White Comaneci

The matches will be extremely good and interesting in their own right, but of course the current state of their blocks adds further dimensions to these battles.

Block A:
Best Bros (Mei & Akki) – 3 pts (1-0-1)
TropiKawild (Yuna & Saki) – 1 pts (0-0-1)
Wasshoi Aniki (Ayumi & Mizunami) – 0 pts (0-0-0)
Dragon Ninja (Choun & Sayuri) – 0 pt (0-1-0)

All the matches in Block A feature totally new matchups, giving a real challenge for all involved.The clash between the two block favorites to open the tourney was inconclusive, leaving both teams in decent but tentative positions. While unable to vanquish the former champions, reigning champs Best Bros didn’t lose to them either and subsequently solidified their position with a victory over Dragon Ninja.

TropiKawild will be looking to duplicate that achievement to stay neck and neck with Best Bros so that they are on equal footing when both teams go into their matches against the wildcard team of crowd favorites Ryo Mizunami & Ayumi Hayashi. Washhoi Aniki will have all three of their matches in the second half of the tourney and have never teamed before, so are still a real unknown quantity.

A defeat here means the only way TW can win the block would be beating WA and hoping for an unlikely 4-way tie in the block. So the two-time former tag team champions will be going full throttle for sure.

Which puts Dragon Ninja in even more of an extremely tough spot. One of the teams that looked like a potential breakout before the tourney was fully formed, a challenging block placement instead positioned them as the ultimate underdogs. They gave the champs a hell of a fight on ChocoPro 128, but regardless that defeat makes today a must win. A loss eliminates them from contention, and a tie means their only chance is a 4-way block tie. Dire circumstances but perhaps the ninja will find a way.

Block B:
Melt Brain Dancing (Psycho & Chango) – 2 pts (1-0-0)
White Comaneci (Honda & Otoki) – 0 pts (0-1-0)
Egg Tart (Chie & Hagane) – 2 pts (1-1-0)
Mi*Sayaka (Fujita & Sayaka) – 0 pt (0-0-0)

ChocoPro 128 saw the return of Antonio Honda & Tokyo Kirihara as a team, but purportedly as the angelic, reformed “White Comaneci” (they were previously known as “Black Comaneci”). Their match with Egg Tart indicated their old tricks have not been forgotten. Egg Tart foiled them however, and the loss puts them in the exact same must win situation as Dragon Ninja. However while White Comaneci is a tournament underdog at the moment, Black Comaneci was a dastardly force that has previously worked their way into title contention. If they can focus properly it’s not impossible for them to turn things around, particularly against the team thought to be the block’s overall underdog.

Minoru Fujita’s choice of Sayaka as his tag league partner over either of his Pencil Army brethren leaves a lot of questions open. Today will be their first match as a team, and with Met Brain Dancing’s emphatic win over a strongly established team like Egg Tart making the block look like theirs for the taking Mi*Sayaka should be looking to start strong if they intend to go far in this tournament.

Summary

No one has been eliminated from contention yet.

DN, WC: Eliminated from winning their block with a loss. Put into dire straights with a tie.

TW: Put into dire straights with a loss.

(“dire straights” in the above instances means the ONLY way to make the finals is needing the entire block to tie at the end, then winning the tiebreaker match)

I really enjoy league tournaments when done well, and OOAK certainly fits the bill. The lineup is stacked, the matches have been excellent, and there’s a lot more great stuff to go. Hope everyone enjoys.

——-

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

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping!

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Year: ChocoPro 100 Preview

One year ago, amid a rapidly changing global situation and the restrictions it brought, Emi Sakura decided to go all in on a chance to do things in a drastically different way in hopes of keeping her wrestling promotion afloat.

Gatoh Move is a small wrestling company whose home base is Ichigaya Chocolate Square, a venue that just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience of about 70 people maximum (including spectators watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley). Not only would they be unable to run shows during lockdowns, but the logistics of the space make it impossible to host socially distanced crowds even as restrictions slowly started to lift.

Years earlier, long before internet streamed events were common and while she was with a previous company she founded, Sakura experimented with an online only wrestling show. This time she took things even further, with daily streams supplementing the wrestling shows and EVERYTHING being put up for free on YouTube.

And so ChocoPro was born. The new name was honestly confusing at first. Was this not just Gatoh Move without a crowd? But making ChocoPro its own “promotion” signified Sakura’s approach: this would be a completely new effort to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square. ChocoPro is DESIGNED to be an online experience, where Gatoh Move (like most wrestling shows) feeds off having a live audience in attendance.

It’s been an amazing ride. Featuring a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances, ChocoPro has powered through 99 episodes. From an incredible start featuring Minoru Suzuki in their first main event, to long running stories like Yuna and Sakura’s feud and Lulu’s quest to regain her hat, to momentous single match shows and handful of special events at Shinkiba 1st Ring, it’s amazing how much significance and surprise has been packed into the promotion’s short history. Riho’s return happened in ChocoPro. Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary show happened in ChocoPro. Mitsuru’s retirement happened in ChocoPro.

This weekend, in a special two day event that includes the actual one year anniversary of ChocoPro 1, ChocoPro will mark 100 episodes with a huge lineup that celebrates everything the promotion has become.

ChocoPro Day 1

(9pm 3/26 EDT / 10am 3/27 JST – watch here!)

1) Asia Deam Championship: Best Bros (Baliyan Akki & Mei Suruga) (c) vs Emi Sakura & Minoru Fujita

Taking a cue from western wrestling shows, Sakura decided to open and close Day 1 with main event worthy title matches. Best Bros have become a dominant force in ChocoPro and taking Gatoh Move’s tag titles from Reset (Sakura & Kaori Yoneyama) made a strong statement. However they hit a giant roadblock on ChocoPro 99 when Sakura & Fujita, in their strongest forms with no trace of Emi or Mino Pencil to be found, defeated the champions in non-title competition. Mei & Akki are desperate to hold onto their titles (Mei in particular has a near unhealthy obsession with her physical belt), but will need to beat the team they couldn’t less than a week ago.

Also, this match will have extremely intriguing implications leading into Day 2…

2) Sayaka Obihiro & Sayaka vs Dragon Ninjas (Choun Shiryu & Sayuri)

Sayaka has been on a break from wrestling and last wrestled on ChocoPro 1. Her returning one year later on ChocoPro 100 is wonderfully fitting. With her return (and another key appearance on Day 2) the entire current Gatoh Move roster will be appearing during ChocoPro 100.

Her teaming with Gatoh’s other Sayaka here is interesting, as she and Obi will be on opposite sides on Day 2. Dragon Ninjas are a recently formed, impressive team with extremely complimentary styles. They got their first victory (over Chie & Sakura) on ChocoPro 97 and will no doubt be looking to spoil Sayaka’s return and keep their own momentum going.

3) Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) vs Psycho & Chango

Originally scheduled to face Reset here, Chie is coming into this match annoyed about the change and with a big chip on her shoulder as she gets more and more desperate to prove herself. She and her sometimes reluctant, sometimes supportive partner Hagane have just as big a challenge ahead of them in their replacement opponents, who have been teaming for the better part of a decade. Psycho & Chango are the first of some big returns, and were last seen in Gatoh Move over three years ago.

4) Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Chris Brookes) vs Black Comaneci (Antonio Honda & Tokiko Kirihara)

There’s something special about Lulu Pencil that draws people to her side. Even after a bitter betrayal and long feud with Chris Brookes, Lulu recently reached out to him and gave him back the hat she had fought so hard to reclaim in a gesture to invite him into the Pencil Army. Chris accepted and here the only iteration of Pencil Army tag teams ever to be successful is reunited. They’re facing another reuniting tag team, as the outrageous Black Comaneci duo hasn’t teamed since ChocoPro 72, nearly four months ago. This one will be extremely weird in all sorts of wonderful ways.

5) Pure-J Open Class Championship: Kaori Yoneyama (c) vs Yuna Mizumori

Kaori Yoneyama winning Pure-J’s title and declaring all of her singles matches would be title matches threw a wrench in the original plans for this show in a way that was none-the-less appreciated by pretty much everyone (except Chie). Always one to seize an opportunity, Sakura called off the planned Egg Tart vs Reset match and set up a title defense for Yone in the main event. Based on a number of strong performances Yuna was given the opportunity, and what an opportunity it is. Win or lose a tough fight by Yuna could increase her spotlight significantly, and of course in the unlikely case of an upset she’d immediately be the one to beat in a promotion she’s never even set foot in. Wild, awesome way to wrap up Day 1.

Day 2

(9pm 3/27 EDT / 10am 3/28 JST – watch here!)

1) Sayaka Obihiro & Yuna Mizumori vs Sayaka & Rin Rin

Rin Rin has only been appearing during school breaks, and it’s great that she’s able to return for this. The gen 4* team will have their hands full with the powerhouse (and possible new Pure-J champ) Yuna and the second most experienced wrestler on the Gatoh roster Obi. Emi Sakura certainly isn’t taking it easy on the returning duo, but Sayak & Rin Rin are certainly up to the challenge.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Egg Tart (Hagane Shinno & Chie Koishikawa) vs Dragon Ninjas (Choun Shiryu & Sayuri)

The complexion of this match will certainly be influenced by the success, or lack there of, of the two participating teams on Day 1. With the men on each team having over fifteen years experience and their partners less than two, this will be an interesting encounter that will likely come down to how well each team works together. One of my most anticipated matches of the weekend.

3) Pencil Army (Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil) vs Gabai Ji-chan & Kuishinbo Kamen

Possibly a day removed from regaining the tag team championship, Emi Sakura will be back into Emi Pencil mode as the original Pencil Army duo faces an old man with a cane and a candy obsessed clown (and will still be the underdogs). This will be as ridiculous as I make it sound, and in all the right ways.

4) Mizuki vs Mei Suruga

Mizuki is a top star in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, and regular partner of Yuka Sakazaki (who Mei faced in the ). Mizuki last wrestled in Gatoh Move in April 2019 against Yuna (available to watch here). Her last match before that was at the end of 2018… against Mei (available here). Both competitors have continued to improve and evolve their craft, and it will be great to see how this time is different. This is a huge challenge for Mei, although Mizuki could have her hands full facing an extremely surly and angry Apple Girl if the Best Bros are unsuccessful in their title defense on Day 1.

5) Super Asia Championship (currently vacant): Minoru Fujita vs Baliyan Akki

When Gatoh Move’s ace Riho left to go freelance in early July 2019, she vacated the Super Asia Championship (a title she won in the original crowning tournament and never lost). Emi Sakura shocked EVERYONE when she pulled the belt out on ChocoPro 99 and announced that this match would determine a new champion. This match highlights one of the other key differences between ChocoPro and Gatoh Move. Gatoh features frequent male guests and a lot of intergender wrestling, but it is still a joshi company. The main events always featured at least one woman wrestler and the singles titles were women’s championships. From the very start when Akki vs Minoru Suzuki main evented the first show ChocoPro has been a fully intergender promotion, or more precisely there is no distinction made in ChocoPro. Anyone can wrestle anyone else in any circumstances (resident boss and oni Emi Sakura permitting). Reintroducing Gatoh’s top title in this way really makes it a ChocoPro title now, which is an incredibly cool and exciting thing to do.

With both competitors being involved in Day 1’s Asia Dream Tag Title match, someone will be coming into this match with the opportunity to leave it as a double champion. This is a going to be an intense battle, and whoever wins will be a fitting successor to Riho’s run.

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, and I’m extremely happy to see them still going strong after a year and 99 shows. ChocoPro 100 looks to be an excellent representation of what they’ve done so far as well as a lead in to the future, and I hope everyone enjoys the shows.


Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. As previously mentioned everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Also check out their merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available, including sponsorship packages for ChocoPro 100 including special digital photos. Finally a ChocoPro 100 t-shirt, along with numerous other awesome designs (including Mitsuru Konno’s retirement shirts), is available on their PWTees store

Categories
Wrestling

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Round 1 Live Thoughts

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)

Check it out on AEW’s YouTube channel tonight at 7pm EST.

Categories
Wrestling

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Preview

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






Twitter

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)

YukaSakazaki

Mei Suruga
(駿河メ)

Apple Girl
Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
May 27, 2018
4’10”
21
Propeller Clutch
Lucifer (chicken wing Cattle Mutilation)




Mei_gtmv

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




Twitter

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

sakuraemi

Veny
(朱崇花, Asuka)*

The Genderless Pro Wrestler
Freelance
August 9, 2015
5’9″
22
Moonsault
Shooting Star Press
Sitout Chokeslam


asuka10272140

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




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Ryo Mizunami
(水波綾)

Aniki

Freelance
November 3, 2004
5’4″
32
Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver)
Running Lariat
Diving Guillotine Leg Drop

mizunami0324

Maki Itoh
(伊藤麻希)

The Cutest in the World,
The Fired Idol
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 11, 2016
5’3″
25
Falling Headbutt
Itoh Special (Texas Cloverleaf)



maki_itoh

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




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves


Twitter

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

ajakonguraken

Rin Kodakura
(門倉凛)

Cool Needlefish

Marvelous
May 3, 2016
5’1″
27
Ultra Rin (twisting senton)


Kazu_Marvelous

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.

Categories
Art Comics Japan Manga Video Games Wrestling

Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

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 DreamsBeautiful 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 3 for 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.

Rest in Peace Hana.

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

ChocoPro 85: Mitsuru’s Graduation Live Stream Thoughts

January 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan

Important night for a variety of reasons, with a loaded card to boot.

ChocoPro is a unique effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world and take full advantage of the unique particulars of wrestling without a crowd / specifically for online delivery.

This is one of their rare ring shows at Shinkiba 1st Ring. Masahiro Takanashi has been out with injury for nine months. His originally scheduled self-produced return show had to be cancelled due to renewed Covid restrictions in Tokyo. He gave the reserved venue spot to ChocoPro for this special show, and while he won’t be doing a full comeback match he will make his return in a five minute exhibition.

Emotional show for me as one of my favorite wrestlers is officially retiring (which in Japan is often referred to as “graduating” from the company or field). Check out my farewell piece for more thoughts and a personal look back on Mitsuru’s career.

ChocoPro 85

In a great touch, Mitsuru is out with Akki to open and handles announcing duties all show.

1) Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, & Chie Koishikawa vs Antonio Honda, Hagane Shinnou, & Ryuichi Sekine

As the veteran trio comes out Sekine is playing saxophone, Hagane guitar, and Honda is singing. They are apparently a regular band, and this was a cool way to have a little music in the show (entrance themes are generally not played for ChocoPro shows as any type of recorded music tends to flag YouTube’s overeager copyright algorithms).

This is a huge match for the gen 4 trio*, and the first time they’re teaming in six-person competition.

I love the way this progressed. The men’s team was joyfully heelish, while their opponents persevered and slowly built up momentum. Eventually after their powerhouse Tokiko ran wild they had established and maintained a small but definite advantage.

At which point Honda called the band in for a Mitsuru tribute to deflect from the trouble he was in. He suckered his opponents into dancing, then eye poked them all and finished Lulu with a fist drop from the second rope (while Hagane and Sekine were still playing their instruments).

Absurd in a pretty great way, this match combined comedy and action well and in a way that let the overmatched trio really shine even in defeat.

* The six wrestlers who debuted on August 28, 2019 (Lulu, Chie, Tokiko, Sayaka, Sayuri, and Rin Rin) are being referred to as the fourth generation of Gatoh Move. Making up over half of the roster and the unusual circumstances of 2020 have challenged them harder and faster than normal. Even though they all still have under two years of experience, in recognition of their progress they are no longer being referred to as rookies by their seniors.

2) Emi Sakura & Sayaka Obihiro vs Sayuri & Sawasdee Kamen

Sayuri’s back! And with awesome new gear! Sawasdee was a regular partner of Mitsuru, so it’s really nice to see him on this show. They’ll make a good team against Gatoh Move’s most senior roster members.

Sayuri looked really good here. She always seems to somehow sharpen her skills and come back even stronger and smoother whenever she’s out for a bit. The match was largely about her tenacity, hanging in against Obi & Emi’s assault to set things up for her more experienced partner.

Late in the match Obi & Emi seemed not to be on same page, but it lead to suckering the other team in when they exaggerated their displeasure with each other. Little touches like this that build a bit throughout the match provide a lot of additional depth that’s often felt even more than it’s noticed, and Emi’s a master at it.

Emi pulled out the freaking 450 for the win (into a double knee drop on Sawasdee’s stomach/chest… ouch). My jaw always drops when I see her do it. I believe the last time we were treated to that amazing spectacle was at the retirement show of Aoi Kizuki, another of Emi’s trainees.

An emotional Emi speaks briefly to Mitsuru after the match, and Sawasdee hands Mitsuru her hero mask on his way out.

Exhibition: Masahiro Takanashi vs Choun Shiryu

Exactly the technical masterclass to be expected from these two. Fantastic to see Masa back from injury and looking to be in great shape/spirits/form. He was favoring the leg a bit by the end, but seemed ok overall. Masa set up his finish just as the five minute time limit ran out making this exhibition a draw.

UMA and Haru Miyako came out afterwards to present a congratulatory bottle to Masa. Masa shook hands with UMA but fell as UMA’s arm stretched out a couple feet.

3) Asia Deam Tag Team Championship: Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) (c) vs TropiCalamari (Yuna Mizumori & Chris Brookes)

The main event planned for ChocoPro’s first ring show was Chris & Mitsuru vs Best Bros. However Mitsuru was injured during practice leading up to the show, and would not end up returning to the ring. This variation on that planned match is an incredibly suitable match to head up Mitsuru’s official retirement show.

This was an incredibly strong main event with a classic feeling tag formula at times. The tension was palpable between the Bros and Chris and the overall atmosphere electric.

They honestly never really got me to buy into the possibility of Best Bros losing the championship in their first defense, but there were some amazing close falls none-the-less and the match was excellent regardless. In the end Akki countered a lariat by Yuna into a tight rollup to escape with the titles. The Bros give their rapidly becoming usual equal mix smug and heartfelt post match thoughts.

Mitsuru Konno Retirement Ceremony

This was done really well as an abbreviated form of the traditional Japanese retirement ceremony. The usual departing gifts were represented by just Yuna and Chris, with the latter acknowledging that he was traditionally supposed to give flowers but felt alcohol was a more fitting gesture for Mitsuru (who certainly approved). Mitsuru gave a speech followed by the 10 bell salute and everyone came in for a joyful cheer to wish Mitsuru well to wrap things up. Mitsuru will be missed, but it’s awesome to see her leave largely on her own terms and with a smile.

Great show all around, and a wonderful way to wish Mitsuru well and welcome Masa back.

——-

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

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content, including the replay of this show. Everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, and/or donate directly via their PayPal. Also check out their brand new merchandise store with international shipping for most physical goods as well as a variety of e-merch available!

——-

Best wishes to Mitsuru with all that lies ahead. Beer Buddies forever.