Joshi Spotlight- Grand Prix ’93 (Semi-Finals)

ALL JAPAN WOMEN’S GRAND PRIX SEMI-FINALS 1993:
-I actually wrote this like 2-3 months ago, before I even submitted major events, but since it wasn’t as “important” I didn’t post it. However, doing Big Egg Wrestling Universe is taking some time, so I’ll throw this down- it’s got a few matches I’ve reviewed prior, but it’s actually really great matches throughout.

TL;DR- Why Should I Care?: There are four ***1/2+ matches on here, a huge establishing moment for one of LCO, and some of the most interesting “filler” you’ll ever see, featuring Main Eventers going at each other, a great Rookie/Veteran tag team match, and an honest to God SQUASH MATCH, which in all my time watching Joshi, I’ve never truly seen before! This show is really just incredibly fascinating. Also, I threw in a match at the end that’s also ****.

So I found this just doing random searches for names, and the matches actually intrigued me a lot. The “Grand Prix” is like the G1 of New Japan, and other “Round Robin” tournaments, where wrestlers fight in blocks for points, with the two block winners fighting. Generally speaking, just looking at the match-lists for any of these shows indicates it’s also a time when the company pulls out all their biggest stars in matches against each other, even on non-GP matches. So the wrestlers end up working very hard- not “Big Egg” or “Dream Slam” hard, but harder than usual for TV tapings.

The Main Event is pure “Insane AJW Main Event Style” just from the names provided, there’s a “Monster + Rookie” Tag bout, and then a pair of midcard matches I find very interesting (because of the dynamics of people moving up and down the card and interpromotional dynamics, not because Etsuko Mita’s in it, honest!). Many of the participants sit around a round-table discussion in the middle of the ring to start, which is funny, as everyone keeps cracking wise and laughing. Manami Toyota being all stoic and unflappable before breaking composure and laughing like a dork is amazing (and truer to her actual personality, I think). Aja actually cracks up the entire group repeatedly (Takako straight-up plotzes, while Toyota just does the “polite hand in front of the mouth” laugh), which is odd considering how many times she’s tried to murder the assembled girls.

TOMOKO WATANABE & CHIKAKO HASEGAWA vs. MIMA SHIMODA & MASAMI WATANABE:
* This is an “Established Wrestlers + Rookie” bout. Mima looks positively GIGANTIC next to her newbie partner, almost a head taller, which is insane because she’s not even 5’6″. Evil Demon Waifu Shimoda is wearing an even tasslier version of her normal red & white tassled outfit. She’s still a part of LCO at this point, so this is just a random teaming. Masami is wearing a red & white Jobber Singlet, is itty-bitty, and has a bob haircut. And hahaha, THAT’S why she doesn’t sound familiar- she’s the future Chaparita Asari! Chikako is an undercarder on a lot of ’93-95 shows, looks like she was supposed to get a “Pretty Girl” push, has “hime cut” bangs and long hair, and is wearing a green & white Jobber Singlet. She… hey, she actually had a ten year career! She left AJW in two years to join Splinter Promotional Madness (in the Jd’ promotion), then JWP, then Osaka Pro of all places, retiring in 2001 as Chikako Shiratori. Tomoko is wearing a torn-up purple shirt over a neon yellow & orange singlet. Tomoko’s a JTTS at this point.

Jesus, Tomoko just murders the future ASARI with Dropkick Beamspam, sending the poor girl flying all over the ring. That’s some kick-ass selling for a rookie, though. Shimoda bursts in and tears apart HER rookie opponent, too, shredding Chikako with kicks and a boston crab that has her at 0.5 Toyota bendiness (so only twice as bendy as any other human). These are actually interesting matches to watch, as the rookies just do their basic stuff, and the vets murder them every time they get in the ring, but Mima/Tomoko is the real “meat” of it, which creates an obvious “step-up” phase  when both are in the ring against each other. Shimoda actually gets her ass kicked in those exchanges, though, getting her leg worked over and then eating Tomoko’s Springboard Crossbody. OMG- poor Masami faceplants when coming off the top! Looked planned, but so humiliating! The vets torture the rookies outside for a bit, then Shimoda takes more of a beating. Her lack of “getting her shit in” makes me think she’s gonna score the pinfall. The rookies keep breaking up pins, so the strategy becomes “hurt the rookie; THEN pin the vet”, and Shimoda reverses a second Hurricanrana into a Powerbomb, then hits a Butterfly Superplex on Tomoko for the win (17:47).

Actually a really long match with some smart psychology, largely built around the rookies sucking. Their offensive portions were pretty dull (but necessary, in their own way), and you could see the veterans trying to figure out how to work a good match with such weak partners. Tomoko continues to JTTS her way around, as she’s often the job girl for LCO (who are slowly moving up) in 1993 matches.

Rating: *** (very interesting from a strategic standpoint, if not from a MOVEZ-based one)

KYOKO INOUE vs. SAEMI NUMATA:
* Numata’s a former AJW Junior Champion who acts as a rookie at this point still, having wrestled as such at Dream Slam II. Sporty and generic-looking, she’d become the comedy wrestler “Numacchi” after this, and retire the following year. She’s wearing a purple Jobber Singlet with yellow lines. Kyoko’s of course a big-time star, Tag Champion, and big name. She’s in her “Mega Maniacs” look here, with Warrior Facepaint and a red & yellow tassled outfit. This also makes it the only true JOBBER SQUASH MATCH I’ve ever seen in AJW.

Numata actually attacks before the bell, but Kyoko fights her off each time she gets anything going, often just ignoring the whole “selling” thing. She works a half-crab for a good while (Numata even getting applause for finally reaching the ropes), somewhat avoiding coming off as a bully for killing the rookie. There’s a great bit as Numata reverses an Irish Whip (the source of all joshi transitions) into a snap Russian Legsweep, and you see her go to that well again (“hey, it worked the first time…”) and immediately getting slammed out of it, as Kyoko’s too smart for that shit to work twice. Then it’s the Springboard Backsplash and Pop-Up Flying Elbow, but Kyoko’s feeling annoyed still, so she sinks in a deep Boston Crab for the quick tap out (6:23), paying off that previous work.

Rating: *1/2 (an easy blowout win for Kyoko, but smartly-wrestled, if 70% crab holds)

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This match ends up being Mita’s breakout as a star.

SUZUKA MINAMI vs. ETSUKO MITA:
* Minami and Mita are kind of in flux, here- Minami exists on the periphery of the upper-card, usually losing in tag matches, but being above the mid-tier for sure- she beat Harley Saito at Dream Slam II, and Harley was a real name in LLPW. Mita is part of Los Cachorras Orientales, who’ve been dominating the midcard, but have yet to receive major pushes at this point. Mita’s in her “1993 two-piece” set-up, with the halter top and the high-waisted trunks, this time all in red (she also has black & white variants). Suzuka’s in her 1993-era singlet, this one black with yellow trim.

Wow, Minami just hands Etsuko her ass to start, easily outwrestling her, working the leg, and even going “LCO” on her outside, smashing her with chairs! Someone lit a fire under her ass! The crowd is REALLY silent to start, probably because of the slow going, but once Mita’s taking bigger moves, they get more into it. She even sells the leg when doing a bridging kickout. Boston Crab, but Mita actually BITES THE FOOT to escape, which is amazing, and then she sells a leg-lock by screaming like the fucking Gummy Bear in that Robot Chicken episode. And after TEN MINUTES of this leg stuff (full of “they keep the hold for one minute, then move on” stuff that I recognize more and more), Mita lights a fire and starts screaming her head off like the wrestler I recognize, tosses Minami for a while (mandatory chair-tossing ensues), and then takes this huge bite of her shoulder her while holding a front facelock, then makes an insincere “oops, sorry” smile to the ref when he admonishes her. She does her dive out of the ring and some other stuff (thank god Joshi usually don’t have to sell submissions for long! Mita even uses a body-scissors with the same leg!), but gets caught with a German, barely surviving and getting her own. Then Minami reverses a fireman’s carry, dumps her, dives onto her, then hits two Powerbombs, looking to finish. She goes up for the Senton that beat Saito at DSII, but Mita moves! Minami STILL outwrestles her, however, but Mita gets lucky and hits the Electric Chair Drop out of the corner when Minami climbs again! And then, in an amazing move debut, Mita invents the DEATH VALLEY DRIVER right before our eyes, amazing the crowd and getting the pin (19:42)!! Mita defeats the veteran!

Wow, very interesting match. I mean, it was 80% Minami at least. She demolished the younger Mita for ten straight minutes of leg stuff (to a mostly silent crowd, and some FANTASTIC selling from the junior), with Mita getting only the occasional flurry afterwards- it was technically solid and the psychology was there, though. But overall, I really liked the story- Minami outwrestled Mita and reversed things… but then there’s the story on how her over-reliance on the Flying moves cost her- Minami has such a low-tier offense (a Powerbomb just doesn’t cut it, amazingly) that she needs to go high-risk to finish, and both times, Mita reversed. And Mita’s DVD is a MurderDeathKill move- the first attempt got rolled through, but when she hit the second, that was that- hers is easily the best I’ve ever seen, just SPIKING the other wrestler. As Suzuka was an established veteran and Mita was only just starting to be taken seriously, this was a huge win. The crowd DEFINITELY reacted as if this was a surprise, and the Death Valley Driver finalizes Mita’s offense- that thing gives her eternal credibility.

Rating: **** (Nothing was botched, all the moves looked good, and it had the “standard Minami Match” thing going for it- great selling from Mita, and her finisher was dynamite)

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I still have trouble believing that this is an actual thing that aging allowed to happen.

BULL NAKANO & KAORU ITO vs. AJA KONG & SAKIE HASEGAWA:
* AJW’s two Monsters team up with their two “Highest-Tier Rookies”, as Bull & Aja oppose each other with two newer girls to eat the fall. Ito & Hasegawa were teammates at the first Dream Slam, and are on the same general tier- they’re the best of the rookies, and clear “this person is going to be getting a major push 4-5 years down the line” characters. And… of god, Kaoru’s in that blue Peter Pan outfit again. Jesus. Bull’s wearing a black singlet with a Grateful Dead t-shirt over it (seems less hardcore than her usual heavy metal shirts). Aja’s in a purple outfit with yellow lines across it, and Sakie’s in her Dream Slam “Fido Dido” gear- a light blue singlet with a lot of designs on it. Great bit as Aja cuts her smiling, confident promo leading to Sakie’s “nervous, peppy rookie” routine, then startles her by smacking her on the back.

Sakie gets grabbed by Bull to start, but dumps Kaoru onto her… and then Aja & Sakie do the Steiner Brothers pose!! Hahahahaha- BEST! The crowd totally marks out for Aja doing Rick’s “run around and crawl through the legs” bit. Aja makes Sakie fight Bull, and that goes badly- the poor rookie’s still lying on the apron minutes after Bull makes her tag out! Fun bit as Ito hits Screaming Dropkick Spam on Aja, then desperately claws onto her for various attempts at stretching until Aja finally starts getting serious. Bull then tortures Sakie for a while, but Bull & Aja brawl outside and Kaoru gets cute by throwing chairs (there’s some guy in a suit LOLing during this match and the prior one when chair-tossing is involved), but Aja then kills her. Kaoru tries Running Double-Stomp Spam once Bull assists her… and then Aja kills her again, with Vader Attacks this time. Sakie’s Rolling Butterfly Suplexes on Bull impress the crowd, but she too takes a shot and dies. Bull does her “climb into both opponent’s arms and then flip them over by rolling forwards” thing, then it’s Stereo Foot Stomps off the apron! But then Aja rushes over both team members, and she & Sakie do their OWN Double-Stomps inside the ring! But they both miss their signature strikes (Uraken/Spinning Kick), and Kaoru hits a Flying Double-Stomp to Aja! So many stomps!

Sakie throws out Spinkick Spam on Kaoru and nearly gets her, and even Bull takes her Uranage! A weak one, though. And finally Aja Superplexes Kaoru ONTO Bull, which is amazing. Sakie scores a wicked Uranage on Kaoru, but Aja Urakens her by mistake- Kaoru’s Flying Rolling Senton shockingly doesn’t score the fall! Bull holds off Aja while Kaoru does a Flying Double-Stomp, and THAT gets the pin at (21:49).

Wow- that started slow and very “Veteran/Rookie” (with the match dynamic changing with every tag, because the rookies and veterans are equal only to each other- everything else is one-sided), but turned into a great little match. The repetition of the Foot Stomps actually led to a terrific story where everyone kept trying variations of it (so it never got boring), the Monsters kept destroying the rookies, but the rookies got enough shine and showcasing that they ended up looking great against each OTHER, leading to Kaoru hitting one last Stomp at the end, after Aja screwed up and hurt her own partner. Everyone takes their bows at the end, all appreciative of each other and stuff.

Rating: **** (I was pretty shocked- this seemed like it was gonna be filler, but they really let loose with great stuff!)

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You’re, uh, not going to find two more different types of wrestler.

TAKAKO INOUE vs. HARLEY SAITO
* Saito is from LLPW, and their #3-ish star, though she sometimes jobs to AJW’s upper-tier people (like at the Dream Slams), and at other times wins (like in the Survivor Series-style matches I’ve seen), so against the “Upper Card… Kinda” Takako, there’s a lot of interest, because I have no idea who they’d let win. The other company’s invader, in order to play politics? Or will Takako’s kinda-push continue? They’re also polar opposites visually- the serious plain girl against the glamorous model. Saito’s also cheery and nice while Takako is evil. Both are in their Dream Slam gear, with Saito’s horrible “90s Spraypaint” pajamas and Takako’s white leotard with blue straps all over it.

Harley dominates a bit to start, with those great martial arts kicks, pissing Takako off, who uses some mean submissions (stepping on Harley’s back, then her HEAD, with a double-hammerlock on), then starts choking her while in a Dragon Sleeper. Her smack-talk wows the crowd, too. She starts openly strangling Harley, who eventually turns it around and starts choking HER! Of course, Takako is horribly offended by this, and flails around like crazy (contrasting the stoic Harley), really putting it over. Harley nails a head kick and suplexes, while Takako hits a Flying Armdrag that has Harley selling as pure agony, falling out of the ring and screaming like her ribs are broken.

An impatient Takako pouts while the ring girls & doctor check out Harley, eventually wrapping some kind of medical implement around her ribs so she can continue, a la DDP. So Takako “SCUM!” Inoue dives in on them like a vulture, stepping on them and grinding her foot in while she cheers herself on. How was this girl not a Main Eventer? She holds a body-scissors while Saito screams, grinds a chair into the ribs on the outside, and finally sarcastically allows Harley to get back into the ring… and promptly eats a Spin Kick to the face. Hah! German Suplex and a Leg Lariat, but she’s too hurt to capitalize. Takako gets some turnabout, as a vicious Cross-Armbreaker sets up two minutes of arm-stretching, and now SHE’S hurt.

They reverse each other’s big stuff, but a Backdrop Hold only gets 2 for Takako. A Straightjacket Suplex & Aurora Special (Waistlock Backdrop Suplex) get close calls, too. Two minutes left, so Takako moves to end it… but gets Superplexed (!!! Not reversed to a Super Chokeslam!), and a Saito Flying Headbutt gets two! Saito Tiger & Takako German Suplex get 2 each! ONE MINUTE LEFT, so Takako drops her biggest stuff- Super Chokeslam and Aurora Special! But only for two, and she’s like “Come the FUCK ON!”. Losing her composure, she’s caught with a German for a count so close I swear the ref had to hold himself back! And Saito starts spamming Backdrops, but AGAIN only for two, and that’s it for time (30:00), as both girls just collapse from exhaustion.

Holy Hell, that was not only good all the way through, but got OUTSTANDING by the end! The sense of growing desperation on the part of Takako to finally put Saito away was palpable, as was her frustration at not being able to get it done. And Harley looked like an indomitable fighter with a ton of spirit, whose smart counter-wrestling was key. I really liked how they made the “stretching” portion MEAN something- the majority of it took place over Saito’s ribs after they got injured, putting a lot of drama and character into the “stretching” portion” (which can often be boring in long matches). This match made them both seem like amazing stars who just happened to lack the moves required to finally put the other away- not bad for two who were overshadowed by Main Eventers for most of their careers.

Rating: ****1/2 (I was aiming for four until the final three minutes, when they just started throwing BOMBS at each other, working the crowd into a fever pitch)

MANAMI TOYOTA & YUMIKO HOTTA vs. AKIRA HOKUTO & TOSHIYO YAMADA:
* So curiously, Toyota & Yamada have been split up for this match (they just lost their WWWA Tag Titles at Dream Slam II). Akira is another main eventer, and wears her black two-piece thing with yellow trim. Yamada’s in an orange suit, with the tight shirt & baggy pants combo. Hotta is an up & coming star who’d be getting her main push a few years later, but was slotted into the uppercard here, with her purple & white-swirl singlet from Dream Slam.

Toyota & Yamada start us off, and Manami unfortunately blows the No-Hands Springboard right away, slipping off and ending up outside- Yamada’s stumble seems to indicate it was a legit botch, as does poor Manami’s attempt not to cry. They work Toyota over anyhow, with Hokuto torturing her with stuff that could only be done on someone that flexible. Yamada & Hotta go at it with strikes, creating one of those weird Mirror Matches. Both teams do the “camel clutch/devastating chest kick” spot that happens every time kicky people are in these matches, and then Toyota hits Dropkick Beamspam on Yamada. There’s a LOT of stretching going on, but it’s the good shit- Yamada’s Swinging Stretch Muffler (someone HAS to steal that spot), Hokuto’s arm stuff to Hotta, etc. Momentum shifts quite a lot, with Hotta usually getting the best of Yamada, but Manami gets reversed a lot (she does her “slide out with a missed dropkick” spot, but hitts Hotta at the same time).

Hokuto dives to the outside off of that last bit, then a Rocket Launcher on Toyota gets 2. Yamada kicks the bejeezus out of Hotta, who boots her out of a flying thing and hits a Tiger Driver for 2. Toyota misses a Moonsault, eats a Dragon Suplex, but reverses the Finisher That Never Hits (Reverse Gory Bomb) to a Victory Roll for a near-fall. Wicked Springboard Moonsault takes out Hokuto, and a Powerbomb/Moonsault almost finishes Yamada, but Hokuto recovers in time. Hotta finally deals with her, allowing Manami to hit the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Electric Chair Drop Suplex w/ Bridge) for the win (21:51).

Very interesting match from the perspective that it seemed like they were mostly wrestling in a “lighter gear”, doing a House Show Main Event… but all four were so incredibly good that they nearly hit **** anyways. Very few nearfalls on Toyota/Hotta, Hokuto never “got her shit in”, Toyota took a huge beating most of the match, and it felt like it was 50% stretching stuff, which keeps it out of that “upper echelon”, but everything looked great (aside from Toyota’s one botch at the beginning, though you never know when they’re deliberate).

Rating: ***3/4 (they’re all so good they basically sleepwalked to that)

And because I reviewed this ages ago but didn’t find a place to put it…

LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES vs. MANAMI TOYOTA & TOSHIYO YAMADA (17.06.1997):
* Here’s a wicked brawl I found on YouTube! And it heavily features LCO doing cool shit against the former top team in Joshi!! Mita is wearing the most ridiculous, glorious feathered pirate hat ever as part of her ring gear (along with a powder-blue French courtesan’s dress), and both are carrying specially-colored chairs, embracing their gimmick fully by this point. Mita is wearing a bright orange two-piece with the skirt, and Shimoda has her later gear- black & red two-piece with a skirt and white lining. Toyota’s in her trademark black leotard with back and arm cut-outs, and a mesh cut-out on the front. Yamada is wearing a red singlet with white & black arrows pointing downwards- pretty sharp.

LCO of course jump the dream team and start choking away on Manami, hitting their Assisted Chokeslam already. Shimoda stomps on her hands with aplomb and then Mita just bites the forearm, because LCO are amazing. But then BOOM- No-Hands Springboard Crossbody, and now Yamada just kicks away at Mita. LCO chokes to take the lead again, and then… it’s chair time. Manami takes chair after chair to the head, with LCO doing this casual “swing down and release” thing so the pastel blue chair bounces off every time, and now… MANAMI IS BLEEDING! Holy crap, when have you EVER seen Manami Toyota blade? Her face ends up a mess for the majority of the match, creating a fairly iconic visual. And because Shimoda is an absolute pro, she makes sure to drag Manami to every side of the ring to show the crowd her handiwork, while the Flying Angel does her best “agonized hero” sell. Why must they all be so good at what they do?

And then, in a HILARIOUS bit, the poor girl on commentary gets so startled that she freaks out and tries to run away… so of course Shimoda drags Manami over there to get blood on the table and freak everyone out close-up. Mita & Yamada throw chairs at each other on the outside while Shimoda drags a table into the ring- Mita powerbombs Toyota straight onto it while it’s lying flat in the ring, flipping off the crowd while Manami looks near-death, gasping for air with dark red blood all over her face. And now Mita sarcastically claps along to the “To-Yo-Ta!” chants of the crowd, but Shimoda’s German Suplex doesn’t get counted (because the table was used to cheat), and she spazzes out and kicks the ref- LCO are amazing. Mita gets caught with a sunset flip and German Suplex, then a Moonsault, but Shimoda starts hammering at Manami with a bright pink chair, but accidentally nails Mita when she throws it. Yamada in and it’s a Double Super Backdrop! Manami is too beaten up, and hits the worst Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex ever, struggling repeatedly to lift Mita (who has a different center of gravity than most Joshi), who has to kind of… push herself up using the ropes and falling back. It fits the match, though. That’s broken up, and then Yamada takes a Death Valley Driver from Mita, and THAT pin is broken up! Yamada tries a Flying Kick, but a chair hits her in mid-air! Rolling Koppou Kick! That sets up The Finisher That Never Hits, but Mita swings out and hits ANOTHER Death Valley Driver for the win (14:28)! LCO defeat the former tag champs!

Damn- much shorter than the typical “Main Event Tag” these four usually end up wrestling, but it’s made up for by being a wild brawl with chairs being swung everywhere, and Manami/Yamada having no counter to the violence- they can barely hit their own stuff before getting overwhelmed by the cheating. Manami even BLEEDS, and Mita’s finisher once again looks dominant. Oddly, Yamada was only in the match for maybe 4 minutes.

Rating: ****1/4 (still feels only partial to what these four could create)

And that’s it for this one! Shockingly great matches considering I just found some random crap on YouTube- I’ll have to dig through all the Grand Prixs and Tag Leagues, because ALL the cards look like this!