Truthfully, I cannot with one hundred percent certainty say that Yuka Sakazaki vs. Arisu Endo wasn’t something my brain concocted in the throes of a fever dream.
My memory is full of images of two wrestlers playing musical chairs in the ring, of a mid-match chip-tasting contest, of a battle for the right to choose groceries from a bag. But, I walked away from this match not fully trusting my mind and those memories.
Let’s assume it’s all real. Let’s assume that Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling did in fact put on a show exclusively for Wrestle Universe members on March 6th at Itabashi Green Hall.
The event, filled with a grab bag of goofy gimmick matches, began with “The Magical Girl” Yuka Sakazaki taking on Arisu Endo in a Cooking Match.
Sakazaki is a former Princess of Princess champion and one of TJPW’s top in-ring performers. She wears genie pants and has a big, cheesy grin all the time, but can kick some serious ass. Her forearm shots look like they do some serious damage each time.
Endo is a rising star, a young promising wrestler who has looked good in tag team action alongside Suzume.
These two would not be doing any lockups and reversals on this night. They were tasked with kicking off a ridiculous night with a curious amalgam of gameshow-like competitions. Every win in these mini-games earned the wrestlers the right to pick items from a grocery bag.
In the end, Endo and Sakazaki would take the ingredients they nabbed and cook a dish like something out of a bizarre episode of Cutthroat Kitchen. The best tasting one would win.
Yes. You read all of that right. A wrestling match with no wrestling. Cooking instead of kickouts.
As I took in this show on the couch, my nine-year-old daughter slid into my arms.
“What are you watching?” she asked.
I told her it was a wrestling match, and she looked up at me unsure, untrusting, perhaps wondering if she misheard. All she saw was two women walking in circles around a chair.
My daughter has next to no interest in regular wrestling. This bout, despite borrowing from kid birthday parties, didn’t snag her attention, either. Within seconds, she tabbed it as too weird for her taste before scampering off to go do something else.
Who can blame her?
A good chunk of the early part of the match is a few rounds of musical chairs. I kept expecting Sakazaki to pop Endo with a right hand or for things to devolve into a brawl. They never did. The game played on with each winning turn netting one of the wrestlers an ingredient from a bag of groceries.
Endo earned herself some eggs. Sakazaki grabbed sausage. And so on.
A musical chair match would have been weird enough, but TJPW is often not satisfied with one layer of strange. The foes followed up their race to sit in a chair first with a blind tasting of potato chips.
Sakazaki and Endo had to guess the brand of each chip.
I’ve been watching wrestling a long time, and this was a first for me. I’ve seen wrestlers leap off ladders or spray each other with green mist, but I’ve never seen anyone use snack food knowledge as a means to gain an advantage in a bout. Points to TJPW for entering uncharted territory.
The next stage of their battle featured a mini-quiz show. Endo and Sakazaki had to guess wrestlers’ theme music.
As a non-Japanese speaker, I had to guess at a lot of what was happening. I’m sure I missed some of the humor, but I understood Sakazaki’s excitement about being spot on. I understood that this was meant to be another leg of a most peculiar race.
I found myself often wondering why I was still watching, if I liked this, if you could accurately call this wrestling.
As my brain spun in an existential whirlwind, Endo and Sakazaki were onto the next stage of competition. They were done winning goodies from the grocery bag and now had to cook backstage.
Sakazaki’s dish was a meaty pile of something with ketchup. Endo made a mound of omelet.
A referee ate both dishes, deliberated, and awarded Endo the win.
The battle was done. Endo had one by way of flavor.
The opener, a spot historically given to a fast-paced, crowd-pleasing match, had instead been more of a performance art piece.
This is where star ratings fail us. How do rate this on the same scale as Omega vs. Okada? It’s like trying to judge The Godfather the same way you would Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.
The cooking match is not good by any traditional metric. I don’t know if it’s good by any metric. Some folks are going to enjoy this bit of pure, uncut dumb fun. Others will do as my daughter did and throw up their hands at it.
Maybe she’s the smart one.
I, on the other hand, watched it from bell to bell. Now here I am writing about, thinking about it, holding onto these images of chip-eating and Sakazaki stirring meat.
Sakazaki vs. Endo is a match I thought about long after it was done, and that alone says a lot. There are countless traditional wrestling matches that I quickly forgot every second of. You can call this Cooking Match a lot of things (undeniably dumb, for example), but you cannot call it forgettable.
It is bad and interesting, unique, and highly memeable, a work of art that sits somewhere between avant-garde and batshit insane.
That’s why the Cooking Match is an apt representation of TJPW at its weirdest. TJPW is Mizuki vs. Yamashita. It’s emotional journeys in search of championship gold. But it is also whatever Sakazaki vs. Endo was.
For better or worse. Like it or not. Amen.