Joshi Spotlight- Thunder Queen Battle

* I remember hearing about this match, or another with the same rules, years ago, and I totally fell in love with the idea. It’s basically an “Iron Man Tag” with eight people, but with a twist: The match starts out with two people in the ring, going for five minutes. Then another two start a match. Then another two, and finally the two Team Captains wrestle for five. Any falls counted in there count towards the total. And then the remainder of the bout is a forty-minute tag team bout, all falls again counted.

It’s a really amazing idea- the four separate matches to start act as “filler” and give the audience something different to look at (a 60-minute multi-tag match would get tiring no matter how good it was- too many bodies), and the Joshi style LOVES “early pinfall flukes” in matches where it wouldn’t be a disappointment (2/3 Falls matches tend to have one fall last a very short amount of time), so there’s some real drama. And then it’s 40 minutes of balls-to-the-wall action. The Joshi tag style is all about pinning someone and dealing with their partners running in, so it gets some good psychology going (you can’t just MDK someone; you have to MDK them AND have your teammates hold off three other people). And this match features bragging rights, as it’s three top names from AJW and JWP (rival companies), with each one sporting a Good Young Rookie Future Star. This is only a few months after the legendary Dream Slams- huge interpromotional shows that saw AJW drop some pretty big losses to other companies’ stars, and forging a good working relationship with many.

Why You Should Watch It (Short, Non-Spoiler Version):
-Some of the smartest tag team psychology ever seen, from people actually focusing on preventing the other team from stopping pins to blocking for moves. An Iron Man match fixing the usual problem (dead spots; too long & boring) by having four distinct matches to start that still matter towards the end). A-class selling from Dynamite Kansai. Huge bumping from a ton of the girls. Big in-match injuries to Kyoko & Ozaki that both girls power through. Remarkable stamina from Kyoko during some big portions of the match. Incredibly booking and timing for the falls.

So yeah, the full review is probably a big recap-y. I mean, it’s a sixty-minute match and there’s a lot of cool shit in it.

First Attack 1: Sakie Hasegawa vs. Hikari Fukuoka:
* Hasegawa is AJW’s own “She is gonna be a huge star some day”, and slowly going to be moving up the ranks- she’s still in her rookie days here, but everyone can tell she’ll be big. She has a sporty haircut, but is way better looking than most “Sporty Girl” wrestlers (who tend to have masculine hairstyles and plain faces), and is wearing one of her big multicolored singlets, this one looking like 1980s wallpaper, all light blue with red pineapples all over it. Fukuoka is the #5 star in JWP at this point, being very Manami Toyota-esque- pretty, high-flying and impressive, but she’s still young. Her peak would come around 1997 or so, and she’d retire shortly thereafter. The idea is she was always going to be great, so it was kind of a “you grow up with her” thing, as she works her way up the card. She’s wearing a black bodysuit with a LOT of pieces cut out, making it look like shorts & garters. This marks the first part of the match as the “Rookies Go At It” portion, and a notable one because Sakie defeated Hikari at Dream Slam II, shaming the higher-tier star.

The two Young Girls trade the basic technical stuff, but also get a bit fight-y with each other. And then, in a great moment, Hikari just kinda small packages Sakie from a Random Bullshit Submission, and through sheer determination, manages to hold her down for the three count (2:33)!! This pays off the loss she suffered at Dream Slam II, and makes the “Rookie” portion of the match actually important!! (JWP 1-0).

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Best shot of Mayumi’s red “cut-out” costume I could find.

First Attack 2: Kyoko Inoue vs. Mayumi Ozaki:
* Kyoko Inoue is sort of the Ultimate Warrior if he was using AJPW moves, and one of AJW’s biggest stars- wildly popular and charismatic, she both gets the crowd into matches, and wrestles like a powerhouse without coming off as a bullying heel. She’s wearing an outfit with all the colors, and bright yellow tassles EVERYWHERE. Ozaki is the #2 name of JWP, and she fights with a high-flier/high impact move style, wrestling like she’s a standard Joshi even though she’s five feet tall. She’s had a crazy long career, and is still wrestling today, having been a dominant heel for years, and running her own promotion in Oz Academy! She’s wearing a red singlet with lots of pieces “sliced” out, and a big golden eagle on the front.

These two start off way more energetic than the last match, flying around and running everywhere. Kyoko tosses the tiny Ozaki all over the place, crabs her, and hits a Surfboard. Ozaki comes back with a good Backdrop Hold, but a Giant Swing puts over Kyoko as “the fun one to watch”.

First Attack 3: Takako Inoue vs. Cutie Suzuki:
* Takako Inoue was never a top solo star, but was good enough to hang with anyone. A “Pretty Girl” wrestler, she didn’t wear the revealing outfits of most, and actually had a rather bitchy wrestling style. Here, she’s wearing one of her less-flowery outfits- a blue/green singlet with a lot of flowers and water designs on it. It honestly looks like a mom’s swimsuit but with armbands and kneepads. The aptly-named Cutie Suzuki is basically Japan’s “Kawaii Culture” as a person, looking like an adorable, tiny teenager in a flashy white ballerina outfit with lots of sheer fabrics. These two are paired up with each other A LOT in 1993, as both were known as the “Pretty Girls”, and Takako in particular seemed to be out for blood. Despite them being the same age, Takako looks much older and a more “mature” pretty, while Cutie has a younger look.

Haha- despite Takako’s “I’m gonna kill you” face, Cutie dominates the early part of the match, German Suplexing Takako and stretching her! She even pulls her hair in a camel clutch, and talks smack while doing so! Takako comes back with some Tombstones, and it ends up being pretty even.

First Attack 4: Aja Kong vs. Dynamite Kansai:
* Aja Kong is AJW’s top Monster Heel- a rude, overweight, aggressive brawler with lethal moves (the Uraken- Spinning Backfist) and a nasty attitude. She’s wearing a baggy purple outfit with silver lines on it. Kansai is the Ace of JWP, and her gimmick is that she’s O.P. as fuck- her kicks do more damage than anyone else’s, and her moves are super devastating. She’s wearing one of her weird Power Ranger/Fighting Game Character designs, a neon yellow suit with purple & silver stuff all over it.

So it’s the two Captains now fighting, and everyone’s expecting an epic brawl, so it’s top-tier amazing when Aja dodges a spin-kick and URAKENS HER FUCKING BRAINS OUT right in the opening seconds! And, in a brilliant bit, Aja picks Kansai up to do more damage, recognizes Kansai’s condition, and just tosses her to the ground, pointing to the ref like “No, you count her down! You count her down!” And sure enough- 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10!! Kansai is counted down as knocked out (16:10)!! The crowd goes nuts! And remember my notes in Dream Slam I about how Kansai is the best seller of strikes I’ve ever seen? All acting punch-drunk and fucked-up, like she can’t get her shit together and stumbles around? She does it AGAIN here, being unable to get anything going, and she spends the rest of their little match surviving and evading, aside from some weak submissions and kicks to hold Aja off. At one point, Dynamite has to kick while lying on the ground, and pauses between moves to hold her head. She’s so visibly messed up from the backfist that you can see her selling it TWENTY MINUTES LATER, holding her head on the apron and being all “fuuuuuuuuuuuucckk…”. Amazing booking. (TIED 1-1)

So now the match properly starts, with the teams tied- Captains and Rookies scoring and taking the only falls. And it’s a huge brawl outside, of course. Aja misses a Flying Elbow on Kansai, Cutie comes in with a Flying Cross-Body, but gets caught (naturally). Her teammates help dropkick her over, but Aja just Fallaway Slams her and hits THIS Flying Elbow (with Sakie flying in for a Splash, too), now with her team running interference to allow for the pinfall (23:06). Thus we know that teamwork & interference are keys now. (AJW 2-1)

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Takako Inoue, who acts like a giant bitch during the entire match. Pictured here in her… forties? Seriously?

And now it’s a series of REALLY fast tags and trading off, as everyone gets to show off. Sakie hits her Spinning Heel Kick on Hikari, who does an AMAZING Cartwheel dodge on Takako. Dynamite, still kneeling on the apron so far, finally comes in for some kicks. Sakie unwisely tags in and gets the shit beaten out of her- Kansai’s the Ace for a reason. Every time you think there’s a “heat segment”, somebody tags out and there’s new people in there, so it always stays interesting. Ozaki gets rammed into the corner by Aja, who then throws every member of her team into her before avalanching in herself- tremendous. Delayed Suplex & Package Piledriver set up a hideous submission hold, with all three JWP teammates running in- Aja no-sells them until Hikari’s cat-swipes piss her off enough to distract from the mauling. Ozaki finally escapes, then Kyoko & Kansai trade All Japan offense. Cutie gets destroyed next, taking a slingshot into an Aja lariat- her “slow motion plea for a tag” pose is captured perfectly by the camera. Kyoko gets tripped up, though, and takes a ton of chest kicks while in a camel clutch, paying back AJW for Aja doing that repeatedly so far- good booking.

Sakie & Fukuoka are ready to go, but then Aja’s in and Fukuoka dies for our pleasure, getting mauled alive and hit with a head-drop Backdrop Driver, then three Piledrivers. Yikes. She escapes Kyoko with a slick backflip, however, and Ozaki hits two Powerbombs. Aja saves, but you’ll notice her stomp Ozaki’s head INTO Kyoko’s, which busts her open hardway and leaves her a bloody wreck for a great accidental visual. Ozaki’s eye swells up, too, while they slow the match down for a minute. Then Fukuoka tosses every member of her team at Kyoko (who’s in again ALREADY), but Kyoko ducks under Kansai’s clothesline and charges Fukuoka, who wraps her up for a Rolling Cradle instead! AJW keeps interfering in top-rope stuff… and then, in one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, Team JWP begins throwing out top-rope moves to Kyoko, while BLOCKING HER like a football team! Kansai blocks for Ozaki’s splash, then Ozaki blocks for Cutie’s stomp, then both block for KANSAI’s stomp, and finally all three stand there, arms spread out, trying to keep Team AJW from interfering as Fukuoka Moonsaults in- finally everyone is pushed down on top of the pinning combination. What a freaking cool use of team psychology. Once the crowd picked up on what was happening, they started losing it, too.

Kyoko hits her “Springboard Backsplash” reversal to come back, then goes up top… and planchas out onto Team JWP while Sakie flies in with a splash on Ozaki! Then Fukuoka dives onto Aja! Then Ozaki tries a dive… but gets caught by kicks from Takako & Sakie! Kyoko Germans Ozaki as the crowd chants for JWP’s mini-sized star, and she finally comes back and JWP starts wiping the floor with Sakie, who requires a lot of saving (usually from Takako, who relishes taunting the fans over it). Then it’s Kyoko & Kansai trying their Powerbomb variants on each other, but EVERY TIME their teammates get involved, breaking it up! And so in a great bit, everyone cycles through saving and then getting attacked until finally it’s just the two in the ring, and Kansai is able to hit Splash Mountain (Sit-Out Razor’s Edge Powerbomb) while Cutie AND Hikari hold back the huge Aja on the outside (50:09)!! Absolutely spectacular sequence, and it makes up for Kansai losing for her team earlier. (TIED 2-2)

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It takes TWO members of the opposing team to hold back the monstrous Aja Kong.

With it all tied up and ten minutes left, they all desperately try stuff- Sakie gets targeted as the weak link. Aja murders Ozaki while the others run interference, but she kicks out. Even from a German Superplex and Super Powerslam! I notice Takako & Aja sat out a ton of time, probably because Kyoko has Cena-level cardio for a match like this. Then it’s finally the two Captains in the ring, with Aja eating a bunch of lariats until Aja Urakens her out of desperation and bails immediately. Then the AJW girls start going through their Finisher Sequences on Kansai- Spinning Heel Kicks & Uranages from Sakie! Aurora Special (Backdrop Hold) from Takako! One minute left as Kansai tags out! Cutie hits a pair of Dragon Suplexes on Kyoko, and Takako Aurora Specials Cutie, but interference prevents any pins. And with that, AJW dives in on JWP while Takako hits a Cross-Arm Backdrop Suplex Hold on Ozaki for a very close two! The big mass of bodies pushing around in the corner trying to break up that pin was a great visual. But it BACKFIRES, as Ozaki’s able to get a quick reversal and Dragon Suplexes Takako (who remember, has been a giant bitch to the fans all match long) literally SECONDS before the bell rings (59:55)!!! TEAM JWP WINS!!! (JWP 3-2)

Holy Hell, what an amazing match. Absolutely perfect booking throughout, with only a couple of slow spots over an hour (with arguably less “filler” stretching than a normal 30-minute singles match). Fukuoka the rookie makes up for her Dream Slam disappointment on Sakie, while her Captain fails in her own bout and is utterly screwed up. Then AJW (as heels/invaders in JWP territory) score the first fall thanks to interference. That becomes such a “thing” that teams repeatedly send out people to interfere with the interlopers, until Team JWP is standing in the ring with their arms out just to prevent anything from happening, while later holding Aja back on the floor. Kansai makes up for her fall by stopping Kyoko (who’s bloodied so badly she looks like an Austin-level warrior), and then they pull out some insane timing as invulnerable Ozaki kicks out of everything and luckily manages a shot on Takako for the win. Remarkable cardio from Kyoko & Ozaki, and Fukuoka looked fantastic. Amazing timing and spots throughout, often involving a half-dozen people. One of the most fun, fast 60 minute matches you’ll ever see.

Rating: ***** (another perfect score from me & Meltzer- some of the best in-match booking & team psychology I’ve ever seen)