Hello! This is my first review for the beloved STVR, as I was asked to proliferate on the wonderful world of Japanese women's wrestling. I had intended to do recent stuff, and had 4 tapes of recent TV on the way from Japan, so I thought everything was fine. However, I forgot about Easter, which delayed everything. I checked the mail today and, nothing. Then around 5:00 I hear rattling at the door, and indeed tapes had arrived…at 5:00 PM. The mail was only 8 hours late, but I decided to do the new nevertheless. The show is the 2/28 AJW card at the 5,000 seat, pre-historic Ota-ku gymnasium in Tokyo. It was headlined by yet another Hotta - Kandori "shootfight", and managed to draw 4650 on the Tuesday in question. So…on to the show!
They begin by introducing everyone who's appearing, and the LCO based heel group no show to display their lack of respect for manners, or something along those lines. Champion Kaoru Ito gives a brief speech, thanking everyone for coming and promising to do her best. As we'll soon see…Kaoru Ito = prophet.
Nana! Momo! Miho! Kayo! Kiss no Sekai! YEAH!! It kicks off with a performance by said girl-group, who do the same two songs they've had for almost a year. While many might malign the singing thing, I'm glad they've stuck with it because it really helps with getting the four over with the key schoolgirl crowd, although there weren't many in attendance here, with it being a Tuesday night and so forth. They seem to go through the motions here, although Wakky has improved her singing considerably.
MIKA NISHIO vs MIYUKI FUJI
This opens the show, and as can be expected is typical rookie fare. Nishio has potential if she can get it together, as she's pretty and has a strong amateur background. Unfortunately, I've heard she's having a lot of problems with remembering even very simple spots, but she did better than usual here. This was probably Fujii's last match before she was put in the doghouse in Zenjo. She hasn't changed at all in 5 years, and apparently, a lot of people are sick of her lack of effort towards improving, and most of said people have stopped defending her to people in charge. Recently, she's been jobbing to everyone in under 5 minutes, so there's obviously a message being sent and/or a test being done. The match itself is all basic stuff, save Fujii doing a reasonably nice swinging hiptoss. Nishio's nose gets bloodied, and Fujii wins with a la majistral in 9:04.
EAGLE SAWAI & TAKAKO INOUE VS MIHO WAKIZAWA & KAYO NOUMI
Let me begin by saying that Eagle has the coolest entrance music going. I don't necessarily understand why Eagle uses breakbeat rather than, say, circus music, but I'm not complaining. BJ (Black Joker) intimidate the replacement Pirates at the announce table. I don't think it IS the Pirates, but they've changed their looks so much over time that I can't be sure. MihoKayo come out dressed as Indians, with some messed up 70's cop show music playing. Only in Japan. Wakky stares down down Takako, who's leg is taped heavily from an injury she received earlier in the month against Tomoko Watanabe.
MihoKayo double team Eagle to start, doing their camel clutch pose, and smearing their Indian war paint on her ample cheeks. Then Miho shoves a mirror in Eagle's face and hilarity ensues. Ok, not really, but the effort was there. It isn't long before the habitual beatdown of Noumi begins, and some crowd wandering disguised as brawling is the order of the moment. Wakky ties Eagle to the ringpost with her "lasso". I thought cowboys were the ones with lassos, but I guess I watch too much TV. Wakky gets on the mic and spiels about not taking crap from BJ anymore, but Kazama is lurking at ringside and starts fighting with her. Finally Takako and Noumi reappear and enter the ring, and some MihoKayo double teaming gets a couple of two counts before Eagle is freed. Stampeeeeeeeeeede! She bumps into the faces and they go flying. Wakky grabs the stungun, but Kazama jumps her from behind and the crowd shows some interest for the first time of the night. Takako stuns Eagle accidentally, and throws the stungun down in disgust. Noumi picks it up and stuns Takako, taking care to stun her bad leg. That's a nice touch I guess.
Wakky hits a plancha, and MihoKayo hit their finishers on Takako before Kazama breaks it up. Eagle is awake and goes berserk, hitting everyone including the ref. Takako stuns Wakky, and then stuns the ref by accident. This is just getting ridiculous…too many miscommunication spots, and now a ref bump. BJ wipe the floor with MihoKayo, but the ref is down. He comes to and DQ's Black Joker at 12:57. Eeegh this was completely aimless and everyone was below their usual level except Wakky (although Takako probably shouldn't have even been in the ring anyway). Post match, Wakizawa challenges Kazama to an All-Japan Singles Title match.
On the upside, after the match both Wakizawa and Noumi do really good interviews that showed their serious side, which is something they've needed to do for awhile.
LCO, TOYOTA & MAEKAWA vs ITO, WATANABE, NANAMOMO
Ok, now we're talking. This is one of the hottest feuds currently in wrestling, and probably my favorite. Three days prior to this match, Toyota turned heel joined with her friends from the rookie days, LCO. This match is elimination, and I'm thankful for that because it would be even harder than it was to keep track of everything that was going on in this match, which was set up on last month's TV taped on 1/21, when an 8 man tag proved inconclusive. In that match, Maekawa went over Watanabe to win, but it had been stopped and restarted and was never in control.
Heels come out to Toyota's music, who is sporting a Shimoda-esque haircut that's looks pretty good on her. They all look tired for some reason too. During introductions, Nanae takes a potshot at Shimoda, just to remind her that they still aren't friends. Ito gives a Toyota a look of disappointment and resolve, and the heels jump the faces to kick this off. The heels' game plan is obviously to take out Ito first, and they maul her with a quadruple ass kicking before she's saved. The brawl spills to the floor, and Takahashi hits a tope, following by simultanous dives from Watanabe and Momoe. Watanabe hits a climp the ropes plancha, and Momoe takes out her partner Nanae with her run the corner springboard plancha. Ito's tope wipes out her partner Watanabe and the heels take over. This all happened in a 30 second span, to give you an idea of the speed they're dealing with.
Lots of LCO style brawling around, with Toyota reveling in her new heel persona, even shaking up a can of soda and spraying Nanae in the face with it! She's the meanest kid in 7th grade! Back in the ring, and an LCO rail drop on all four, setting up a Toyota JOCS (Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex) for a really close two. Everything is back and forth here, ending with Ito laying out Mita, and Momoe hitting a series of crazy dropkicks. Mita is on all fours, and Momoe is jumping almost vertically and just pasting her with them.
Maekawa is in and kills Momoe with various kicking attacks. Both sides take turns clearing the ring, but nobody can get an advantage. Lots of hit and run and dueling near falls here. Too much to keep up with in fact, but Maekawa manages to hit her kakoto-otoshi ax kick to eliminate Nanae at 11:20. This is smart because Nanae is the most limited worker in the match, so she can rest outside and still run in to do moves to keep her involved and in people's minds as the match goes on.
Watanabe is in and hits some big air on her springboard reverse bodyblock, and hits her awesome full rotation dragon screws. More working over of Maekawa, and Momoe is back in, hitting her corner run moonsault before getting completely BLITZED by a Maekawa back thrust kick. Maekawa is really really on tonight, and is getting most of the time so far. It really seems like Zenjo is commited to pushing her, and I couldn't be happier as she deserves it more than anyone else they have.
Momoe gets hit with a brutal chairshot, and Momoe bleeds, unfortunately. It must be something about bleached blond hair, because 95% of the bladejobs and chairshots are courtesy of Watanabe and Momoe. Heel miscommunication, and a Momoe Star Lock (like a rana spun into a victory roll, super cool move) puts Mita out at 15:26.
The pace just quickens here with the only slower workers out of the match, and there's an awesome sequence immediately occurring. Momoe goes for her backflip suplex (moonsault over opponent, landing in position for suplex), but gets nailed with a Toyota missile dropkick, which bounces her directly into a Shimoda tiger suplex for two. There's just a ton of back and forth nearfalls now, until Mita intereferes with a chair but hits Shimoda by accident, as Ito flies into the shot with a double footstomp off the top!! Nanamomo Driver! Shimoda is gone at 17:52. AJW has the best camerawork in the business, they have a sixth sense on what's going on and how to shoot really wild action to enhance the visual impact.
The heels are getting really fed up by this point, and a brutal looking spot results. Momoe is held in the ropes with a chair on her head, while Toyota does a running dropkick to the chair, which snaps Momoe's head back really violently. She shows her guts by kicking out at one though ;). Momoe is all over the place now, she's unquestionably the fastest moving wrestler for straight ahead speed that I've seen in a long, long time. She hits another Momo Star Lock, this time transitioned into a cross kneebar.
All hell breaks loose again, with the highlight being Ito maniacally and repeatedly slamming Toyota to mat, bouncing her head a good four inches each time. Toyota no sells a missile dropkick from Momoe, then reverses a victory roll into a perfect German Suplex bridge for a long two. Toyota goes for the JOCS, but Momoe reverses it to a cross-arm Momo Star Lock…. god damn! I hate to become a drooling fanboy here, but Momoe Nakanishi is IT. I used to think it was close, but she's better than Nagashima AND Satomura at this point in time. Toyota too is looking better than she has in a very very long time here…she's really crisp and unpredictable, two of the main things often held against her.
Watanabe and Maekawa do a bunch of exchanges next, and Maekawa eventually hits a rolling savate kick to eliminate her at 25:00. Now it's Momo/Ito vs Toyota/Maekawa, although everyone else is still running in at regular intervals.
Maekawa immediately goes after Ito, killing her with all kinds of stiff kicks. Maekawa is one of the only workers who throws really flashy movie kicks that actually CONNECT at near full force. To add to the madness, Shimoda hits a flying somersault ax kick on Ito. Maekawa gloats and goes for the final blow, but her kakoto-otoshi is caught and Ito drops down into a smooth reverse kneebar for the tap at 26:24.
Toyota takes advantage with her missile dropkick to the floor, and a moonsault. Yet another absolutely awesome spot follows, when Toyota hits the JOCS on Momoe, and her bridge is broken by an Ito flying footstomp to the ribs! I've wanted to see that for a long long time, and sweet, merciless Kaoru Ito delivered it all the way from Tokyo. Two more footstomps get a two count, and everyone is back in the ring trying desperately to help their team. Ito takes a chairshot and dueling ax kicks, and Toyota dusts off the old Japanese Ocean Cyclone Backdrop Hold for two! Holy sweet mercy. Chaos is still swirling around in the ring, and Watanabe emerges to just destroy Toyota with a screwdriver. Ito hits a flying footstomp, and a second to end the match at a gruelling 30:27.
A great, great stare down follows, with Maekawa and Ito getting into it a bit. I really really hope that's a precursor to a match between the two down the line, because Maekawa is great and this match benefitted her more than anyone. Maekawa, Momoe, and Ito were the best here, and Toyota wasn't far behind. I don't know what to say…I'm sorry for all the play by play here, but it wasn't even half of what they did in this match, plus the pacing and workrate ARE what sets AJW apart from everything else more than anything. I might have rated this even higher, like MOTYC style, but it just fell short of the 11/23/00 cage match that was one of my picks for 2000. This match definitely had better work, but nowhere near the level of drama.
One of the real joys to watching monthly AJW is that the psychology becomes apparent. It's reminiscent of AJPW style, in that everything builds off the previous matches. For example, Watanabe still can't find a way to get around Maekawa's foot speed. Nanamomo are slowly becoming equals of LCO and show it by avoided spots that they fell victim to in previous matches. Also, the fact that all of the heels keep trying to find a way to put Ito away, but just can't seem to do it yet. It's really low key stuff that makes it that much more enjoyable.
This was 30 minutes of absolute breakneck action, I'll even say on a par with 1995 and 1996 AJW tags. What these workers lack in pure skill, they make up for with selling, intensity, and subtle storytelling that was often lacking in the great matches of the past.
SHINOBU KANDORI vs YUMIKO HOTTA
This is the main event, that doesn't seem like a main event after what just took place. It's yet another chapter in the ongoing rivalry between these two, and yet another worked shoot. I didn't have high hopes for this match, as they generally have disappointed in the past.
Interestingly, Kandori gets most of the crowd support. She's one of the few cross-over into mainstream society stars in joshi, so I guess it isn't that suprising. Kandori's music brings back so many memories, and she's still in great shape. Hotta looks serious coming out, while Kandori is a lot more laid back. K-1's fight producer introduces the match and presents the flowers to each, interestingly enough.
The match starts with a lot of dancing, before Kandori shoots in and backs Hotta to the corner, hitting a weak looking flurry of punches. They go to the ground, and exchange positions a lot. There's a few submission attempts, but nothing really exciting. Hotta manages rear mount and hits some medium level punches, but lets Kandori up, hits some leg kicks and shoots into Kandori's guard. That looked really bad. They were pausing and hesitating to see what the other was going to do. Hotta gets back to her feet and throws some kicks to Kandori's legs while she's on the mat.
Kandori gets up, and they clinch at the ropes, with Kandori going for what could vaguely be a guillotine choke. Hotta is selling it way more than Kandori is putting into it. Hotta gets a takedown, still in a loose guillotine. Hotta breaks it with a headbutt (I know, it doesn't make sense at all) and Kandori goes for a triangle, reversed into an anklelock by Hotta. Kandori taps ?!?. Yup, 7:20
This was about as good as expected, only with absolutely no stiffness to make it passable. Kandori just wanted to job and go home, as is her style when losing unfortunately.
Well, it would have been disappointing if the tag match hadn't been completely assrockingly awesome. I was disappointed in MihoKayo more than anyone, as they've been steadily improving every month, but took a step down on this night. I'm also thinking of how someone was debating to me about how AJW doesn't do anything to push new stars…this show is irreversible evidence to the contrary of that. MihoKayo got a lot of attention, and time to inject a more serious side of theirselves. Momoe and Maekawa benefited from the elimination tag more than anyone else. Sometimes it seems like AJW is doing too many things right to be true, after such a long drought of doing jack shit. If this trend continues, their future is going to be tremendous. I highly recommend getting this show, as well as the Jan. and Dec. AJW's TV's, because if you haven't seen them, you're really missing something special.