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.

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.

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. 🙂

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lulu’s Hat: The Tale of a Pencil’s Pride

“This is not me.”

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

In the relatively short seven months since its start, ChocoPro has already run 65 shows and counting, with each “season” being 18 episodes/shows. It features a variety of amazing guest competitors, incredible wrestling, and compelling performances. Recently, one of the most compelling stories in all of wrestling has perhaps incredulously revolved around a particular pink cap…

The Wrestler Who’s Too Weak to be a Wrestler

Lulu Pencil, along with five other rookies (Sayuri, Rin Rin, Chie Koishikawa, Tokiko Kirihara, and Sayaka), debuted on Gatoh Move’s 8/28/19 show and so has only a little over a year of experience in wrestling. Lulu’s also a freelance writer, and fully embraces her identity with her Pencil surname and signature attire of overalls and cap.

She’s quite unique in the world of wrestling… in that she’s really not that good at it. As a character, not a performer. That’s an incredibly hard line to walk and to describe. Everything Lulu does in the ring is a little off. Early in her career she grabbed the wrong hand when going for lockups, got herself hung up on the windowsill for seemingly no reason, etc. Her stances, way of attacking, and general body language are all a bit bizarre. Her build is slight and she’s always at the most extreme strength disadvantage no matter her opponent, leading to common situations such as hurting her own arm when forearming her opponents instead of hurting them. She’s lost a number of matches due to APPLYING a hold or pinning combination but getting stuck midway and having to tap out.

And it all came together instantly along with her never-ending determination to be a professional wrestler to make her one of the most beloved underdogs anywhere in wrestling. Her fans dubbed themselves the Pencil Army and Lulu’s support exploded.

The key to Lulu’s story is how she continually grows in subtle but measurable and logical ways while still remaining herself. Every match is a progression as she tries new things and becomes a little more effective while still approaching everything from a fundamentally different and weird perspective. She gets tougher each time out, and is absolutely impossible not to root for.

The Team No One Expected

At the end of 2019 Lulu had an opportunity to team with her trainer in an interesting matchup against one of Sakura’s regular partners Masahiro Takanashi & Masa’s CDK partner Chris Brookes. Lulu was thrilled to be teaming with her teacher and had herself introduced as “Emi Sakura’s student” and vice versa to Emi’s barely maintained patience. But as the match progressed Emi encouraged the struggling Lulu, and whenever she was tagged in herself she was in full bore no-nonsense mode.

In the end Chris attempted to apply an arm bar when poor Lulu, already immobilized by Chris’ legs and unable to withstand it, tapped out to give CDK the win. A confused (or perhaps just sadistic) Chris continued to pull the arm a bit as Takanashi tried to explain they’d already won and to please let Lulu go. The match was a joy, but at the time was a one off pairing of the odd couple teacher and student duo of Sakura & Lulu.

Looking ahead to the start of ChocoPro, Lulu appeared on ChocoPro 1 and 3 but was then was out for a couple of months and returned for episode 22 to much fanfare. She had a number of high profile matches against Kaori Yoneyama, Mitsuru Konno, and Baliyan Akki where she showed great fire and heart despite coming out on the losing end of all of them.

Then on ChocoPro 29 she once again teamed with her mentor… but this time “Emi Pencil” came out in place of “Emi Sakura” (in blue attire to match Lulu’s pink cap and overalls) and the Pencil Army tag team was born.

Similarly to Lulu’s start the Pencil Army of “Lulu Pencil, Emi Pencil, and YOU!” instantly became a much beloved team, but not a particularly successful one.

After struggling through their first few matches, in their fourth match as a team… they still lost. But a fired up Mitsuru (who was on fire at the time due to a multitude of channeled anger) pinned Emi Pencil for the win, and afterwards Lulu remarked that the fact that she wasn’t the one who lost this time meant she was getting stronger.

In her next match she took Akki nearly to the limit in a tough singles encounter where Akki won with a mere 15 seconds left. Sakura said Lulu almost pushed Akki to a time limit draw, and she thinks Lulu could win a rematch. To ensure it, Emi made it a handicap match featuring both members of Pencil Army vs Akki at ChocoPro 34.

The loss in that handicap match and a growing clash in philosophies led to a clash of the Pencil Army against each other in a singles match in the finale of season 2, ChocoPro 36. In a nod to how Emi had been messing with her partner (correcting Lulu when she answered “2” when Emi asked “what’s 1+1?” saying that the real answer was “infinity” because of the strength of the two of them together then the next show hitting Lulu upside the head with her cap when Lulu answered “infinity” to the same question saying “What?! 1+1 is 2!”), the match was subtitled the Pencil Infinity War.

The match appeared to be a milestone in the two working out their differences and Emi’s victory an indication that she still had reserves of strength for Lulu to learn from. But after they teamed together again on the season 3 opener only to lose a handicap match to Tokiko, Lulu decided maybe Emi Pencil was holding her back after all and refocused on singles competition for a time (while Sakura temporarily put the Emi Pencil character on hold). 

Lulu had a number of strong showings against high level opponents, but still searched in vain for her first singles victory. Then, in a match that wasn’t originally supposed to happen, everything changed.

A Simple Twist of Fate with Major Consequences

ChocoPro 44 was a milestone event: ChocoPro’s first ring event. Held at Shinkiba 1st Ring instead of Ichigaya Chocolate Square but still with all the ChocoPro hallmarks (no audience, camera work and other production aspects tailored to streaming, etc), this momentous show would be headlined by a long awaited tag team clash of Best Bros (Mei Suruga & Baliyan Akki) vs Mitsuru Konno & Chris Brookes.

However shortly before the show Mitsuru injured her leg and unfortunately has not been able to return as of yet. With her out, the card was reshuffled and Lulu received a huge chance to prove herself in the form of a singles match against Chris.

At the time Chris was the reigning DDT Universal Champion, and as such came out during the pre-show discussion and demanded to be in the main event. Sakura seemed inclined to agree… if the title was on the line. Chris laughed the idea off (“It’s Lulu! No, the title’s not on the line.”) but still insisted that as a reigning champion he should be in the main event. Lulu, characteristically unafraid of a challenge no matter her track record, said that if the match needed stakes to be a main event she would put her precious cap, the very symbol of her and the Pencil Army, on the line.

Lulu put up an incredible fight in an excellent match, but in the end Chris made her submit and left with her precious cap atop his head.

“This is Not Me.”

At first Lulu seemed determined to stay positive in the wake of her defeat, vowing to become stronger despite her disappointment and beat Chris one day to take her hat back. But the absence of her hat, and perhaps the contrast of getting some tag team victories alongside Tokiko including one against Sakura & Chie, seemed to be slowly undermining her satisfaction with the Pencil Army team.

Emi Sakura for her part seemed to start trying in her own way to be a surprisingly considerate partner. After their loss to Cherry & Chie on ChocoPro 52 Emi pointed out that they both have jobs, homes, etc and concluded that they had everything except victory, which they would achieve in time. When Lulu crossed paths with Chris again for the first time since losing her hat in a Pencil Army vs Chris and Tokiko match on ChocoPro 55 Emi had a blue hat for Lulu that matched Emi’s to try to cheer her up.

But Chris, reveling in being able to taunt his opponents with his trophy by chanting “Pencil. Army. Chris Brookes, pink hat, and none of you,” was having none of it. He knew Lulu wanted the hat he won from her and not the replacement Sakura provided, and tormented her throughout the match. After a bitter battle between the two teams Chris defeated Lulu again, this time by deadlifting her by her overalls and spinning her around until she gave up. In the aftermath Lulu concluded that she can learn to be stronger alongside Chris. An amused Chris agreed and they left together, with a shell shocked Emi Pencil in their wake.

Emi however refused the idea of Lulu teaming with Chris, and continued to book Pencil Army matches. She made repeated attempts to smooth things over and raise Lulu’s spirits, including trying out matching blue outfits and caps in place of Lulu’s usual pink one time and bows in the place of caps another. And Lulu tried each time, but each time Pencil Army continued to come up short and the issue between them grew. “I’m not ok. This is not me. I can become stronger than now.”

Emi even went so far as to order a new pink hat with “Pencil Army” written on it for Lulu in place of the one she lost. All of this was incredible in terms Emi’s arc over the course of the seasons. The temperamental oni who often messes with everyone else on the roster actually wanted to be supportive for once and tried her best, but kept missing the point by not listening to what Lulu actually wanted.

Upset but realizing they were at an impasse, after yet another Pencil Army loss on ChocoPro 61 (to An-chamu and Mei) Emi finally agreed to let Lulu team with Chris. However Lulu would have to prove her strength to Emi, as it would be against Emi Pencil and a partner of her choosing.

Pencil War

As the huge showdown loomed Chris said he sees untapped potential in Lulu and that Emi Pencil was holding her back. He pledged that they would achieve victory. However Emi chose Hagane Shinnou as her partner, making the task before Lulu a tall one indeed.

Throughout the match Chris pushed Lulu to attack and surpass her former partner, and they actually made a pretty solid team. The dream team of Emi and Hagane also gelled pretty well of course, but eventually Chris trapped Emi in a modified Rings of Saturn that put a lot of pressure on her back to force a submission for the win.

After their victory Chris says Lulu has become stronger, and he thinks she’s earned something… then he puts her hat back on his own head and says he was just joking and that she hasn’t earned anything. He further calls her weak and impressionable and mocks how he was able to get her to turn on her mentor. “Lulu, you are NEVER getting back this hat. You stupid little girl.” Lulu snapped and attacked Chris. He turned the tables quickly… but Lulu was not alone. Emi Pencil drug herself up, took her place by Lulu’s side, and started the Pencil Army chant.

The two present a united front as the Pencil Army and block Chris from leaving. “Lulu believed in you. You hurt us!” With Emi finally realizing that type of support Lulu truly needs from her and Lulu trusting in herself and her mentor to get stronger together, they press Chris until he accepts their challenge to a match for the hat. But he says that it’s only fair for it to be 2-on-2, and names Yuna as his partner. Needless to say with the history between Yuna and Sakura, the pineapple girl didn’t have any objections.

I Quit Match

So in a one match show for ChocoPro 63, Chris Brookes & Yuna Mizumori faced the Pencil Army (Lulu Pencil & Emi Pencil) in a desperate battle for the fate of Lulu’s pink hat. One final twist would be added: Emi admitted that Chris might be stronger than them but she knew Lulu would never give up, so she made the match an “I Quit Match.” Anything goes. No pinfalls, no tapouts, no DQs, etc. The match would continue until one of the four said “I quit.”

The Pencil Army gave it their absolute all in a crazy effort to finally achieve their first victory in a match that couldn’t possibly be more important to them. Yuna channeled all of her aggression into helping Chris torture the underdogs, and Chris taunted Lulu throughout. The Pencil Army is largely a comedy tag team yet the amount of raw emotion and depth to many of their matches, and this one in particular, is unrivaled. It’s must watch.

Chris pushed Lulu to her limits and late in the match screamed at her in frustration at her refusing to quit. He grabbed her hat, shoved it in her face, and told if that’s what she wanted to just take it and go. A defiant Lulu SLAPPED IT AWAY and refused to end things like that. She fought with every once of her being.

After a desperate flurry by Lulu Chris leveled her and tied her up in a seated octopus hold. Emi Pencil tried to save but was neutralized in the corner by Yuna. With one leg around Lulu’s head and his other holding her leg, Chris grabbed her arm and pulled. Lulu tapped out of instinct from the pain, but when reminded there were no tapouts and she needed to verbally quit she refused. So Chris modified the hold with his leg fully around her shoulder and head. Still Lulu would not give up. Finally Chris grabbed her other leg and pulled back in yet another vicious modification of the hold… and Lulu still wouldn’t quit. But a tormented Emi Pencil, in no danger herself but unable to away from Yuna, can’t take watching her partner suffer anymore and is the one to quit. An incredibly powerful moment. They still haven’t won a match, but the Pencil Army are as real a team as it gets.

Chris, in a sign of respect for the person who refused quit to the end, puts Lulu’s hat back in her hand (while she’s still pretty much out cold on the mat) on his way out.

Emi helps her partner up, and the Pencil Army is finally whole.

In an incredibly appropriate epilogue, during the watch party for the show Lulu revealed one of the reasons the hat means so much to her is that it was a gift from Sakura from one of her trips to wrestle in Europe, and Sakura completely forgot that fact. So perfect.

A compelling, engrossing story told over several months supported by high level in ring action featuring a number of levels of character development for numerous people is a huge accomplishment in the first place. To achieve that when the entire thing centers on a ball cap is incredible. It’s been a treat to follow along for the ride.


Required viewing:
Lulu’s debut (my thoughts on the show)
Lulu Pencil & Emi Sakura vs CDK (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 29: Pencil Army debut vs Mitsuru & Tokiko (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 32: Pencil Army vs Mitsuru & Yuna (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 36: Pencil Infinity War
ChocoPro 44: Pink Hat Match – Lulu vs Chris
ChocoPro 51: Lulu & Tokiko vs Emi Sakura & Chie
ChocoPro 55: Pencil Army vs Chris & Tokiko
ChocoPro 61: Pencil Army vs Mei & An-chamu
ChocoPro 62: The Pencil War – Lulu & Chris vs Emi Pencil & Hagane Shinnou
ChocoPro 63 – I Quit Match: Pencil Army vs Chris & Yuna

Supplemental viewing:
ChocoPro 33: Lulu vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 34: Pencil Army vs Akki (my thoughts on the show)
ChocoPro 37: Pencil Army vs Otoki
ChocoPro 46: Pencil Army vs Yuna
ChocoPro 52: Pencil Army vs Cherry & Chie
ChocoPro 56: Pencil Army vs Obi & Mei
ChocoPro 57: Pencil Army vs Warm Caterpillars


Everything they are 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 merchandise store!

ChocoPro 59 Live Stream Thoughts

October 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

ChocoPro is a new 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.

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

ChocoPro 59

Nothing outside of the main event had been previously announced. During the opening talk it was revealed there would be a singles match to start (participants still a mystery), followed by a Halloween Battle Royale.

Yuya Okada from Basara is on referee duties, presumably so no Halloween costumes are spoiled, etc by having participating wrestlers ref as usual.

1) Baliyan Akki vs Balliyan Akki

Out first is Akki, curiously dressed in a pre-ChocoPro style of his. His opponent is also announced as Baliyan Akki… and is Emi Sakura herself in Akki’s current gear. The way she mimicked his mannerisms throughout the match was incredible (and largely infuriating to Akki the original). Mei on camera and commentary debating which one was her true best bro only added to his ire.

A particular highlight was Emi failing spectacularly when trying to do the spider after being whipped to the wall, then again when she tried to slowly climb into it from one of the windowsills. So Akki forced her into position and held her stuck there for a bit before bringing her down into a backbreaker. Emi’s ridiculous attempts at the Namaste Press were likewise highly amusing.

Eventually Akki the original gets both Akki part 2 AND the referee in a triangle and gets the win off a double tap. I think fake Akki should have won by DQ for Akki’s transgressions against the official, but I suppose since Emi was forcing the referee to carry her into a splash attempt when Akki countered into the choke there’s a certain amount of karmic justice at work.

Extremely good match, which is no surprise with the participants involved.

2) Halloween Battle Royal

This match introduces a highly requested stipulation: in addition to pinfalls eliminations can also happen by being thrown out the window.

Red Riding Hood (Sayuri) and Snow White (Mei Suruga) start. The fairy tale heroines seem to be more interested in posing and cheerfulness than fighting, and Red Riding Hood seemed to be heading out on a journey before the referee and commentator Honda talked them into getting “out of fantastic world and into pro-wrestling” to start the match properly.

Once things got contentious they fought hard for long enough that people in the chat wondered if the match was gauntlet style, but they eventually notice (and the camera reveals to viewers) that a new contestant has secretly appeared. There was an unusually large piece of shrimp sushi huddled on the mat. Careful inspection eventually revealed it was Chie Koishikawa, somehow making shrimp sushi seem like the perfect costume for herself with her exuberant unveiling and masterful use of huddling up into sushi form during the match.

New entrants came fast after that, featuring Harley Quinn (Yuna Mizumori), a samurai (Akki), and a Zaku series Mobile Suit Gundam (Lulu Pencil).

There were a lot of fun interactions between the various characters and too many creative ways of working it all into top notch action to cover. Definitely check this one out.

The first elimination happened when everyone, including his partner Mei who had been working together with him moments before, piled on Akki for a pin after a series of strikes including the most effective lariat Lulu ever threw that knocked Akki over shrimp sushi Chie into schoolboy pin position.

Later Sayuri had an advantage on Yuna with a sleeper applied, but she climbed into the window and dropped back to slam Yuna’s back against the sill… eliminating herself. After ninja disappearing below the window she was shortly in the chat amusingly commenting “the windowsill was useless.”

Mei tried to attack people with her apple throughout the match, with everyone dodging safely until Yuna ducked while Lulu was holding her and Lulu was forced to bite Snow White’s apple. Lulu immediately fell to the mat asleep, and was declared eliminated.

Chie continued to play the perfect shrimp sushi, hiding at opportune moments and letting Harley and Snow do battle. She got involved late and after some intense back and forth seemed to seesaw Yuna back in the window after Mei nearly dropkicked her out, but it was just to set up the fencing chop to knock Yuna completely out (head over heels to boot) and eliminate her.

So it came down to Snow White vs shrimp sushi, and while Chie put up a valiant effort including her huddled sushi pose being a great initial counter to the propeller clutch, she of the evil apple eventually prevailed by taking a bite of the shrimp to break Chie’s defense and securing the propeller clutch after all for the win.

This was everything I want out of a Halloween match, with great costumes, a nice mix of comedy and action, and most of all a ton of fun. One of the most enjoyable matches I’ve seen all year.

3) Sayaka Obihiro vs Antonio Honda vs Jaki Numazawa

This comedy prop “deathmatch” involving these three is an annual tradition for Gatoh Move around New Year’s. However this year it’s also being done as a special main event for this ChocoPro Halloween show.

Every time someone gets a 2-count, they get to perform a comedy skit with their choice of props from a provided basket. If the referee finds it funny, they receive a point. Most points at the end of the fifteen minute time limit wins.

This was exactly what was expected, including running themes that have persisted throughout the various versions of this match I’ve seen (such as Obi being kind of intentionally bad at the comedy). Between the language barrier and the nature of the match itself, I find these hit or miss. One year’s version was one of my all time favorite Gatoh Move comedy matches, while some other years’ just didn’t connect with me. But it generally has it’s charm and given how much fun they all were having with it this one was enjoyable.

It also fit the tone of the rest of the show well and I’m glad they got to do it for a wider audience than would normally see it in person at Ichigaya. The comedy was fairly accessible and I thought it a good introduction to the tradition for new viewers. Though everyone’s milage will vary greatly with these matches depending on how much they happen to enjoy the particular slate of jokes and the style in any given one.

Perhaps wanting to add stakes and suspense to the match given the streaming format, Sakura changed the point value during the last minute to 10 points for a successful skit. As time expired with no one having taken advantage of that bonus and Honda having earned on last skit chance yet being considerably up in the scoring 4-2-1, she further up the stakes saying he’d lose all his points if he didn’t score. Honda failed to amuse the referee for the first time all match, going down to zero and making Jaki the winner with 2 points to Obi’s 1 and Honda’s 0. Jaki didn’t seemed thrilled with the rule roulette and was waving off his victory. I didn’t mind Sakura screwing with the rules for drama here as it’s not a match to take too seriously anyway.

As always post-show had a janken tournament, which came down to the starting entrants in the battle royal against each other again. Sayuri had a good chance at winning her first Dark Choco Tournament after powering through a tough field, but it was truly the poison apple’s day all around as Mei proved victorious and gleefully ate her prize chocolate throughout the photo op and closing song.

This show was a blast overall. Highly recommended.

——-

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 merchandise store with international shipping!

ChocoPro 50 Preview: AEW Superstars Invade a Local Indie

“The two of you are weak!”

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

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

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

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

Team AEW: Emi Sakura & Riho

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

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

Team ChocoPro: Mei Suruga & Yuna Mizumori

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

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

THE STORY THUS FAR:

“Local Indie”

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

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

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

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

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

Something to Prove:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart of Rivals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conspicuous in Her Absence: Mitsuru Konno

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gatoh Move 8/28/19 DVD Review

August 28, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan

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 program DareJyo (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:

Gatoh Move 2.0: The Present
Gatoh Move 2.0: The Future

There have also been a series of great interviews with some of the rookies (by Sakura and translated by Akki) leading up to their first anniversary:

Lulu Pencil
Sayuri
Tokiko Kirihara

GTMV 1: Gatoh Move Juice 100%

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.

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of ChocoPro’s content. Everything new 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!

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. 

ChocoPro 41 Live Stream Thoughts

August 17, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Emi Sakura is one of the greatest professional wrestlers in the world and, as of this day, has been wrestling for 25 years. Normally a big celebratory event like this would be held at a larger location, but given current circumstances it was decided to have it as a ChocoPro with no audience in Ichigaya. As such this will be the biggest show they’ve ever held at Ichigaya, with six matches.

ChocoPro is a new 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.

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square. As I like to mention to start my Ichigaya reviews, these events are held in a small room with no ring. The edge of the mat and the wall are essentially the “rope break” point for submissions, but do not interrupt pinfall attempts.

Without an audience and thus not having anyone trying to watching outside, the two large sliding windows on the “back” wall are left in but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers performed from the windowsill.

In preparation for this anniversary event there were a number of excellent ChocoTalks featuring Emi Sakura telling stories from her long career with a variety of special guests. All are a lot of fun and contain numerous interesting and rare stories, and are well worth listening to.

Links to Emi Sakura’s 25th Anniversary Road ChocoTalks (listed by guest):

Makoto
Aoi Kizuki
Hanako Nakamori
Koda Testuya
Nanae Takahashi
Sayaka Obihiro & Masahiro Takanashi

ChocoPro 41

Aoi Kizuki, a trainee of Sakura, a bit of a mentor to Mei, and a thirteen year pro who retired a couple of years back will be serving as special referee for all matches.

Gatoh Move’s former ace Riho and Emi Sakura’s reigning tag team champion partner Kaori Yoneyama were originally scheduled to participate but had to be pulled due to someone from Stardom (where they had both recently wrestled) testing positive for Covid. They were missed but kudos to all involved for taking the appropriate precautions and their replacements were appropriate, excellent choices.

Aoi and Akki welcome everyone and run down the card. Again since this show has twice the normal number of matches for an Ichigaya show, they skip the traditional ChocoPro warmup squats and proceed straight to the matches.

1) Tokiko Kirihara vs Lulu Pencil

The ever struggling Lulu Pencil has been growing (ever so slightly) stronger and pushing herself both in singles and as a part of the Pencil Army alongside her mentor Emi Pencil. After Pencil Army lost a handicap match against Tokiko, Lulu decided maybe Emi Pencil was holding her back and refocused on singles competition (while Sakura temporarily put the Emi Pencil character back on hold).

Outside of that victory Tokiko had been struggling a bit herself as her aggressiveness and anger led to a number of quick losses. With the two just a couple of weeks away from their first anniversary in wrestling, they face off here in a hyped match that ha everyone wondering if Lulu will finally achieve her first win.

The two rookies paid off on all the build nicely, with a strong match centered around Tokiko’s ferociousness against Lulu’s tenaciousness. The way they’re both evolving a little bit each time out and really growing their characters alongside their skills is wonderful.

Tokiko counted the Pencil Splash into a Pencil Roll of her own then lifted Lulu right up into the Cobra Twist for the submission win. Lulu’s first win remains elusive, but she does better and better each time and eventually will lead the Pencil Army to victory.

In a great moment Tokiko shows respect to the exhausted Lulu by lifting her into piggyback position to carry her to the back.

Aoi is a joy and was great as ref, being both unassuming enough not to take away from the match and so charismatic she always adds a bit of fun to everything whenever she actual needs to be a focal point.

2) Tropikawild (Yuna Mizumori & Saki) vs Tokyo Heartbreak Academy (Antonio Honda & Minoru Fujita) vs CDK? (Chris Brookes & Masa?)

Really great to see Fujita back, and this lineup is great in general.

Shota is dressed up as and acting like Chris’ usual CDK (Calamari Drunken Kings) partner Masahiro Takanashi, who is currently out with injury.

Crazy energy in this one. As expected with some of the wrestlers involved, it got a little derailed at points with comedy, but everything was amusing enough and the majority of the match was full out action. All six really know how to make the most of the Ichigaya environment and this was reminiscent of Gatoh Move’s wonderful 6-person tags in all the best ways. Seeing Yuna and Fujita face off a bit in a couple of exchanges that harkened back to their amazing last man standing match at ChocoPro 11.

There was also a great series of rollup exchanges near the end, among numerous other cool sequences and fun doubleteams.

Eventually Chris got Honda in a sleeper, but Gon the Fox made an appearance to break the hold (Gon is Honda’s fox hand puppet… yes really). After a frenzy where Gon attacked nearly everyone, Yuna managed to save Saki from a final strike and stripped Gon off Honda’s arm. She then used the fox herself to knock Honda backwards over Saki into sunset flip position, and added her own Superman pin finisher FOR THE WIN! Nice finish to a really good match.

I’m pleasantly surprised TropikaWild won this, and it was 100% the right call. It not only kept the former tag champs strong but also gave a rare, much needed win to women over men in this intergender promotion.

3) Baliyan Akki vs Hagane Shinnou

ASUKA (the one also known as Veny, not the former Kana who wrestles in WWE) recently kind of called Akki out after beating Yuna on ChocoPro 40. Sakura dangled a possible match with her as a prize if Akki could beat Hagane here.

Extremely different feel to this match, with Akki and Hagane fighting over every inch with both their strike/block exchanges and their hold-for-hold grappling. Hagane brings out a visceral intensity in his opponents, and he and Akki kept upping that intensity throughout this battle.

In the end the veteran had one too many answers for the challenges Akki could pose, and Hagane won with a nasty looking stretch muffler variation.

4) Mei Suruga vs Yuu

Chris Brookes’ was on camera for this one, leading to a lot of amusing commentary about his friend(?)/rival Mei. I laughed myself silly when Chris turned the camera away and refused to capture Mei doing her “cute on purpose” pose.

Yuu is formerly of Tokyo Joshi Pro and know is contracted to Pro Wrestling Eve and wrestles a lot for Sendai Girls when in Japan. This was her ChocoPro debut. She has a judo background and a significant size and power advantage over Mei, and there were a ton of spots in this highlighting the difference and how Mei couldn’t quite get a lot of her normal moves on the larger, stronger Yuu. I adore it when things like that are well utilized in the story of the match, and they did a fantastic job of it here.

One particularly incredible moment saw Mei send herself flying when trying for her trademark Propeller Clutch rollup as Yuu was simply too solid and went nowhere when Mei tried to spin her over. Another nice tough was when Mei went for it again later in the match and visibly adjusted her approach to make sure to get Yuu over. It got a close 2.

Mei couldn’t overcome Yuu’s onslaught but withstood enough of it to force a 15 minute draw. Yuu offered a hand of respect but a frustrated Mei turns it into a rollup and Aoi (perhaps ever so biased in her former protege’s favor) counts an unofficial 2.

Would love to see a rematch, and to have Yuu back in general.

5) Mitsuru Konno & Makoto vs Ryo Mizunami & Hanako Nakamori

This is where Riho was originally scheduled, as Mizunami’s partner. Hanako was a lynchpin of Gatoh Move in its early days, wrestled Emi in a great main event on ChocoPro 40, and is a great replacement. Makoto and Mizunami have both also appeared in ChocoPro before.

Incredible, hard hitting match with everyone firing on all cylinders. The strike exchange in the middle between Mitsuru and Hanako was INSANE. Both teams had surprisingly great chemistry for being non-regular partners.

Mitsuru was always going to be the one taking the fall here, but she got to look awesome even in defeat and really felt like she belonged with all the veterans. I’d love to see her get a singles match against Mizunami in particular. Ryo pinned her with a hard lariat right after Mitsuru had barely survived her spear. Loved this.

6) Emi Sakura vs Sayaka Obihiro

“Twenty five years. I’m just getting started.”

This was originally scheduled to be reigning Asia Dream Tag Team Champions facing off, but again Kaori Yoneyama had to miss the show do to Covid exposure concerns. In an equally fitting, and perhaps more emotional, opponent choice for Emi’s 25th anniversary match Obi made her return from injury to face her trainer/mentor.

In a great touch Obi and Emi get streamers thrown from the other wrestlers.

This was appropriately great, emotional, and fun all the way through. At one point Obi gets the knees up for Sakura’s “We Will Rock You” seated splash and puts Emi in the position her opponent would normally be in, then whips everyone in the venue into her to deliver Sakura’s own move to her instead in an awesome variation of the traditional special event corner splash sequence. Further amusement: Fujita was trying to record with his phone when Obi decided to whip him and wiped out rather spectacularly.

Obi looked good in her return and mostly immediately back to form (except for clearly suffering from the brutal summer heat and being exhausted late in the match). The high level performances of these wrestlers in this small environment under tough conditions is amazing, especially for Obi after a long break.

Clever finish where Obi hunkered down to block Emi’s deadly La Magistral, so Emi simply pushed her forward and pinned her that way.

After the show came ChocoPro’s biggest janken tournament ever, and as such they were amusingly doing the match at high speed. A great surprise was in store when the real Masahiro Takanashi showed up to challenge his doppelgänger for his spot in the tournament… and then lost leaving Shota to continue his impersonating ways.

An emotional, crying Obi won her way through the brackets to the last match … then the boss who gave herself a bye straight to the finals won and steals the chocolate. I suppose it’s her party and all. Sakura enjoys her prize and explains it all away with “everything’s fair in love and war.”

A group photo, the normal ending song, and some special celebratory words (including a special video message from Sakura’s old boss) capped off the festivities.

This was a truly fantastic show, both as a celebration of Sakura’s career and as a well built, diverse escalating progression of matches in their own right.

——-

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!