Little Legacy

The most important tag match of 2023 happened on January 29th. 

Well, for me anyway. 

On January 29th 2023 DDT Tag champions ShunMAO, in between a hectic schedule appearances in the US, faced the recently reformed Ω/Omega team of Makoto Oishi and Shiori Asahi. At a basic level, the match is one pair of idiots (fond) trying to outdo another pair of idiots (also fond). That’s a compliment. ‘Idiots collide’ is high up on my list of favourite tag match genres. But even higher up is the other thing this match represents: a passing of the torch. In beating Omega, and earning their respect, ShunMAO solidified their position as innovators who can continue a creative legacy that spans companies, styles and genres.  

ShunMAO are the future of indie wrestling, both as tag and individual wrestlers. Again, I mean that as a compliment, not a suggestion of a ceiling or limitation. Nor am I suggesting that they have not already proven themselves. My point is this; Shunma and MAO embody the free spirit that a company like DDT supports and have approaches to wrestling that both place them outside the mainstream and give them potential to lead and inspire others. They have more to show us. 

Oishi and Asahi were once those wrestlers. 

If you haven’t watched either of them in their respective Independent Junior Heavyweight title periods, or generally causing trouble as part of Men’s Club, make yourself a promise to do so. Oishi’s arm drags alone are beautiful enough to make you cry. They are ridiculous, comedic menaces, pulling off unfeasibly smooth and stupid combinations. Things I could easily say about ShunMAO now. 

As opponents for ShunMAO’s first defence, Asahi-Oishi brought with them a considerable legacy. As tag partners over 18 years, they held the Strongest-K Tag championships 3 times, the WEW Hardcore Tag Team championships twice, the Tohoku Tag championship once, and, alongside Yuji Hino, the DDT 6-man Tag championship once. As individuals, both have held the Independent Junior Heavyweight title, the DDT Extreme title, and the UWA World Middleweight title. They have wrestled for DDT, BJW, NOAH, Michinoku Pro Wrestling, Osaka Pro Wrestling, Dragongate, Ice Ribbon, Freedoms…the list goes on. The mark they have made in each company is not huge, but their marks are everywhere. One facet of the Asahi-Oishi team has been that, despite long-periods where their team was inactive, they have maintained a freshness and connection in their teamwork. As noted by sometime DDT commentator Hirotsuga Suyama, some tag teams lead to the addition of talents, others lead to multiplication. Oishi-Asahi are the latter. So too are ShunMAO. 

This is not just a list of achievements though, it is also a list littered with parallels and inspiration for Shunma and MAO. Like Asahi, Shunma and MAO have competed in NOAH’s junior tag league and challenged (unsuccessfully) for the GHC Junior Tag titles. Shunma and MAO have spent time testing their skills in different settings, against different opponents, but have maintained a loyalty to their home promotion, much like the wanderings of Oishi and Asahi as singles wrestlers. Shunma made his own mark in BJW, though in a different genre to Oishi and Asahi, but also bringing something slightly different and a bit of comedic relief. Like Shunma and MAO, Asahi and Oishi have been teammates multiple times in different contexts – as well as the aforementioned Omega, which they formed together in 2006, they also worked alongside each other in groups Little Galaxy and in MEN’s Teioh’s collection of misfits, Men’s Club. There’s more than a little similarity between the bonds of friendship that underpinned those groups and the current configuration of The 37Kamiina. And in MAO’s own words “35% of MAO’s wrestling is from Men’s Club anyway”

Oishi and Asahi were part of a generation of wrestlers that make Shunma and MAO possible. In adapting to a variety of different companies and audiences, Oishi and Asahi absorbed and played with styles of indie wrestling as a team over nearly two decades. Exactly the sort of styles that now form part of Shunma and MAO’s repertoire, particularly in their combination of comedy, fluid roles, and technical precision. I can perhaps best explain it by saying that the part of me that loves Shunma carrying a lego-filled lighttube to the ring is equally smitten by Oishi’s cane dance routine. By their own admission (or perhaps more Asahi constantly referring to Oishi as ‘old man’), they are no longer able to push those ideas and styles in the same way. This match was the time to test and to acknowledge the skills of a new generation. 

For Shunma and MAO though, there was also another generational element to this match. They were out to surpass their former idol wrestler teammate and mentor. 

Shunma was teammate to Oishi in two groups – the dancing duo of KAT-TOO and the more impactful successor, the trio of NωA (New Wrestling Aidorou). In NωA, Shunma and Oishi were joined by Mao Inoue (later MAO) to form an ‘idol’ wrestling group. They sang, they danced, they had their own colours, they held concerts, and even released three singles. They really were idol wrestlers. The formation and membership of NωA wasn’t optional, being a decision of DDT President Sanshiro Takagi but, despite some visible uncertainty from MAO initially, it helped move Shunma and MAO from developmental talents to being a core part of DDT. Despite the idol overlay, both junior wrestlers also learned a lot from Oishi as wrestlers, particularly in working as a team and finding their place to shine in the multi-man tags that form a big part of DDT. They absorbed some of Oishi’s attitude to and enjoyment of the diversity of what wrestling can be.

When NωA disbanded in 2018, they did so explicitly to concentrate on developing as wrestlers, Shunma and MAO particularly wanting (and needing) to move beyond the idol-wrestler label. However, they separated with mutual support and respect, Oishi grateful for the connection he had built with two younger developing talents. Shunma and MAO soared after leaving the group, MAO with Mike Bailey in Moonlight Express and Shunma in All Out. ShunMAO’s relationship with Oishi was foundational to their development as wrestlers. It’s a relationship they have returned to since with both fondness and an increasing desire to prove how far they have come. Beating Oishi together, as ShunMAO, is particularly important, not only as a personal challenge but also as a mark of respect for what he taught them about being a team. 

Make no mistake though, Asahi-Oishi did not take it easy on their potential successors. Challenging ShunMAO gave them the inspiration to truly be the wrestlers who had inspired another generation. Teamwork, though in Omega’s case that included working together to distract the referee and rolling Shunma like meat over hot coals, was integral to this match. Although there were impressive individual moments, with both Shunma and MAO trying to get the better of Asahi’s trickery, it was a perfect showcase of teams that create multiplication, not simply addition.

There were touches throughout hinting that ShunMAO were the logical successors to Asahi-Oishi – both teams using the same sequences, ShunMAO anticipating some of Asahi and Oishi’s ‘greatest hits’, and, close to the finish, Shunma hitting Oishi’s Miracle Ecstasy, a move Oishi adapted himself from MEN’s Teioh. The finishing piece was an emotional Oishi making sure the tag belts were secured around the waists of his former teammates and students.

In the post-match comments, Asahi acknowledged that ShunMAO were ‘wrestling the perfect style we’ve wanted to do 18 years ago’. I’d argue MAO’s armdrags have a little way to go to match the beauty of Oishi’s, but there’s no debating that ShunMAO have the spirit, creativity and vision to continue Asahi and Oishi’s legacy. I can’t wait to see where they take it.

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