Joshi Spotlight: AJW St. Battle Day & Funto! (Hard Struggle!)

-This is a taped show at Korakuen Hall, largely centered around the Main Event. I’ll combine this with the following “Funto” event, since I only have the one match. These are largely intermediate cards of AJW, featuring their top-flight workers in major bouts, including the culmination of their Yamada/Toyota team’s push.

“TL;DR- Why Should I Watch?”: Most of these women are already at the point where they’re having **** matches in their sleep, and these cards do a good job of setting up what the peak of the Interpromotional Era will look like- Manami in particular is the worker of the future, with many wrestlers now openly mimicking her style, and this first bout is a major one for her career. Also, you can see just HOW GOOD Mariko Yoshida was until an injury derailed her career, and how good Sakie Hasegawa was at her “Plucky Rookie” style, which AJW shows by having her get murdered on every show.

* Jungle Jack are the reigning 3WA Tag Champs, while Toyota & Yamada hold the UWA Tag. I think at this point AJW had like four tag team titles running simultaneously, because Japan LOVES tag teams. Jungle Jack has been holding the belts, minus two vacancies, for about a year at this point. Bison’s in yellow & black, while Aja’s in the “Bubba Dudley” red camo gear. The challengers are both in black- Manami’s leotard and Yamada’s shirt & pants gear.

Fall One: Manami slaps Aja and scores a Bridging German immediately, and promptly gets the shit kicked out of her for it. Yamada gets slowly worked over for a LONG while, too, until Manami finally pops the crowd with Dropkick Spam and her weird Double-Arm Suplex thing on Bison. Then it’s her ’92 Double-Arm/Leglock thing and Yamada adds the Gory Special, and Bison’s in trouble- Aja draws boos by using her metal trash can, but accidentally wipes out Bison, who takes a Manami Roll for two. Double Backdrop, but the champs fire back with a double lariat on Manami, but Bison’s Flying Headbutt misses, and BOOM- just like that, it’s the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Straightjacket Electric Chair Drop Suplex) for three (11:13)! Dominating performance by the UWA Titlists!

Fall Two: Jungle Jack responds to losing the fall by dragging their juniors into the stands and beating the shit out of them with tables & chairs while the ref just gives up on trying to restore order. Bison FINALLY brings Manami into the ring, lighting her up with a couple of big slams and a Bison Chop for two, but Manami keeps “Fuck YOU!” bridging out. Aja hits a piledriver on a CHAIR, but the referee refuses to count, so Aja drives the side of it into her head and kills her for a while until tossing the weapon aside. Stuff Piledriver gets two, and they methodically kill and stretch her out, Aja even doing a full Surfboard at one point! Manami finally Germans out of a Bison Chop and Yamada’s in for some brutal kick-spam, sold beautifully by Bison flailing around and collapsing. Aja tags herself in, but gets knocked down, too, then her Body Attack is reversed with a HUGE running Roundhouse Kick with great timing. And in another great bit, Aja scores a big right hand, misses a charge, hits the Uraken (Spinning Backfist), jumps up at two to powerslam an intercepting Manami, then hits a German on Yamada for two- perfect timing. Jungle Jack then hangs the juniors on top of each other, upside-down in the corner, then hit some Avalanches to be awesome. And that’s academic- Bison hauls Yamada’s dead body onto Aja in the corner, and it’s a SUPER LIGERBOMB to finish (10:00). This was a massacre.

Fall Three: Yamada’s still dead, so Jungle Jack slowly beats on her, but she rolls out of some restholds, and Manami reverses a Superplex on Bison. DROPKICK SPAM! Stretch Muffler & Bridging Deathlock work her over, but Bison traps Manami in an STF, then chops her down repeatedly and Aja adds running stuff and a Mountain Bomb. Spinebuster and a two-minute chinlock kill time, then Manami takes a Chokeslam before escaping, and Yamada kicks the shit out of Bison again, but a trio of Bison Chops and a Flying Headbutt do damage. Double-team misses, and Yamada drives the Flying Enzuigiri into Aja’s head! Another one gets two! Manami Moonsault misses, but she lands on her feet (falling on her ass), then hits the abdominal stretch & Rolling Cradle for two! Aja blocks a Double Backdrop and a Cross-Body off the top, but an enzuigiri rolls her over for a close call. Yamada planchas out onto Bison while Manami hits two Bridging Germans for two! Double Backdrop fails to finish and they clothesline each other- Aja tosses them both into the same corner, but they counter her Avalanche by flipping her up top… but drop her. So they repeat it (with a more deliberate “suplex her into position” spot), and they MURDER her with an All Japan Bump off of their Double Super Flipover Backdrop- Aja lands right on her head in a horrifying landing and stays down for three (15:58)- NEW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS!!! An enraged Aja cuts a promo and defaces the Tag Titles, ripping them apart to a chorus of boos. What a heel.

The first fall was full of a lot of very basic stuff and submissions, with Manami scoring her big new finisher for the ending (so she DIDN’T debut it against Kyoko at Wrestlemarinepiad ’92– that was a month off!), but the second match was a completely one-sided beat-down, with Jungle Jack destroying the smaller wrestlers in the stands, brutalizing Manami in the ring, then squashing them with repeated big moves and slams until Yamada couldn’t answer. Bison’s selling here was just tremendous- the best I’ve seen from her, as she’s throwing her head back with every strike, swinging her hair around and making them look like death. They sped things up in the final fall before slowing them down again, then started hitting an incredible amount of Escalating Finishers. The botched finish (having to re-do the spot and leave Bison outside the ring FOREVER off that Plancha… but really, who books AJA KONG to do a flipping bump up onto the top turnbuckle from a run?) at least ended up looking like an absolute MDK. All in all, that was 36 minutes of a great “Fast Underdogs vs. Burly Power Wrestlers” story, all four playing their roles to great effect- even Bison, the worst of the four. Jungle Jack were done as the top team after this, with Toyota/Yamada going on to have an insane number of classics over the next year, feuding with JWP’s Kansai & Ozaki at the big Interpromotional Shows, and more.

Rating: ****1/4 (a great tag match where every fall was different, none were throwaway, and even the long restholds couldn’t hold it back)

The rest of the card:
Kaoru Ito & Miori Kamiya defeat Etsuko Mita & Shiho Nakamigawa (7:54)
AJW Junior Title Match
Yuki Lee (c) vs. Akemi Torisu – Time Limit Draw (10:00)
Tag Team Match
Suzuka Minami & Yumiko Hotta defeat Bat Yoshinaga & Tomoko Watanabe (10:38)
Singles Match
Akira Hokuto defeats Takako Inoue (6:17)
Tag Team Match
Debbie Malenko & Sakie Hasegawa defeat Mariko Yoshida & Mima Shimoda (23:15)
Singles Match
Bull Nakano defeats Kyoko Inoue (24:16)

-Dang, the last two look like they’d be pretty good, but Mike Lorefice of Quebrada describes the tag match as a “comedy of errors” botch-fest and Bull/Kyoko as only **1/2. Though he’s, um, REALLY critical of a lot of Joshi, though, ripping on Akira’s “sloppy” stuff and AJW’s tendency to treat submissions like “Restmission” as bullshit that means nothing (I mean, it DOES, but that’s usually very little of the top matches).

AJW FUNTO (Hard Struggle… Japan-America… New Generation Army, I guess?)
-More early 1992 AJW action! This is notable for taking place very shortly after Wrestlemarinepiad 1992, which featured a bloody Aja Kong/Bull Nakano Main Event that made it VERY clear that Bull was going to be defeated by Aja some day. But not that one. And also the famous Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue match that Meltzer gave “*****++++” and declared the best match of the year (and I don’t think he’s off-base on that at all- it was like watching pro wrestling itself being invented). This show is actually more about “pushing the next generation”, as 90% of the matches are about the company’s youngsters (it’s kind of established by the name), Bull & Akira Hokuto are nowhere to be found, and the Main Event features the obvious star of the future, Manami Toyota, in a prominent role.

Unfortunately, only three matches appear findable on YouTube (from a tape that was clipped in the first place). Wow this building is dark, with very poor sound. I mean, this is borderline “that In Your House where they all fought with only a spotlight on the ring” dark.

* So the two are rivals, but also tag team partners, having debuted at the same time. Yoshida’s gear is truly hideous yet again, with powder-blue and shoulder pads, while Takako’s in navy blue with silver armbands.

Mandatory “GO GO GO!” match to start, with a lot of screaming & kicking, working the legs (Takako takes a solid minute to fully apply a Figure-Four, which is interesting and unique), and Takako pulling out her armdrags to applause- man, she really leaned on those in her rookie years. Yoshida ends up dumping her and tosses a chair, killing time while Takako gets her ankle looked at for something. Despite that, she comes back for three minutes of leg-holds until Yoshida does her Cartwheel Dodge and they fight over pins for a bit, showing a lot of tenacity- the crowd is definitely into it, considering both are still juniors. Yoshida teases a pescado, switching to a slingshot cross-body to the outside (so, uh, that leg stuff didn’t appear to be very effective). Flying Splash gets two, but a cross-body’s rolled through for 2 and a leapfrog is countered to Takako’s Aurora Special (Bridging Shoulder-Seated Backdrop) for two. They’re moving quickly, but not with as much grace. Takako hits a German for two and both do the All Japan Sell for a while, then double-dropkick each other. Takako sells the leg again, but hits a Release Aurora Special but goes to a leglock for some reason- a double-arm suplex gets two and she goes up, but gets caught- Yoshida Butterfly Suplexes her all the way from the top rope for a terrifying bump (they slip and drop down vertically!) for the three (17:16).

One of those matches that’s more good because of effort and drive than skill, because both were very flaily and “AGH GOTTA GET THE WIN!”, overshooting stuff and being a bit sloppy, but it worked considering they’re desperate rookies in the biggest match of their lives. Too much leg stuff considering it never mattered (Takako killed time to get her ankle wrapped, but then they barely touched on it… yet SHE works YOSHIDA’s leg?), but the ending was okay.

Rating: **3/4 (perfectly-acceptable, decent Rookie Match)

Yes, this starts with an incredibly-long conversation on the grass.

* So this’ll be about Jungle Jack murdering their slender, rookie-level opponents, and might be fun. There’s like 20 minutes of the rookies doing an interview on the grass outside a building, and then Jungle Jack is interviewed in a tiny building in Saitama, Japan. Sakie’s oddly not wearing long shorts this time- it’s a standard white singlet with her name on the front. Debbie’s in splatter-paint black & white gear, and Jungle Jack’s in black & red.

The rookies attack first, but horribly botch something with Bison and Sakie gets her ass kicked. She fights back with that “more Fighting Spirit than actual ability” way that only she can, but the heels take her apart. This goes on for a WHILE, and Debbie gets the same when she comes in, Sakie left shivering and having her back massaged by Ring Girls on the apron. Oh, dear. And then while sitting there she gets knocked off accidentally and sells THAT. Debbie hits a Running Diamond Cutter out of the corner and Sakie hits some stuff, selling her back all the while. A Flying Savate Kick off the top misses so badly I’m shocked Bison even sold it, and a Butterfly Suplex & stretching keep the advantage. The heels easily come back, but Sakie grabs Bison’s signature tonfa rod and starts whaling away on Aja with it! Aja actually drops to her knees, but rises up and grabs the weapon, smashing Sakie in the head with it before grabbing her metal can and braining her with THAT- hilariously, Debbie runs in to fire away with the tonfa rod now, and Aja casually turns around and flattens her with the box, too. Piledriver & Bison Chop off the top look to get close, but Sakie runs to the corner and GRABS THE METAL BOX, firing away on both for the hottest thing all match! They work on Bison, but some Bison Chops end that flourish, and then Aja piledrives Debbie for a while and cross-bodies both rookies at once. Debbie reverses some stuff to great cross-armbreakers, and a Double Facecrusher is sold very well by Aja. Double Diamond Cutter gets two! Aja backdrop drivers Debbie to escape, and Bison flurries some Bison Chops, a Fallaway Slam and a Piledriver, but Debbie dodges Aja’s Flying Splash and hits a Northern Lights Superplex to Bison off the top! Sakie looks to finish, but Bison Chops her out of mid-air and tags out to Aja, who hits an Uraken, and that’s that- a short Chokeslam finishes at (22:45).

Obviously, the rookies had no chance- this was about showing their spirit, not their skill. But that went on WAY too long for what they needed, though I loved the back third, when they started firing out their comebacks, using weapons, and deftly dodging attacks. They almost looked like they had a chance, but the rest of the match was quite plodding and full of “five minutes straight of stomping and chinlocks”.

Rating: **1/4 (too long and slow, but a good final third)

* So Toyota & Yamada recently beat Hotta & Minami, and took the top belts from Jungle Jack, but now Minami’s been swapped out with Toyota’s big rival, Kyoko Inoue. Everyone’s in a VERY similar place in the company at this point, with the champs rising up the card with Kyoko (they debuted in 1988-89), while Hotta’s an old guard person but has remained in that “Threat to everyone” position of the upper-midcard for pretty much every show between 1991 & 1998. The champs are in their matching black gear, while Hotta’s in a blue & white jobber-y outfit, and Kyoko’s in the now-standard yellow & pink she’d wear for most of her career.

Kyoko takes a ton of kicks to the face and some very “Bomb Angel” offense from Manami (the Flying Armdrag & Butterfly Suplex!), and has to tag out right away, then Yamada & Hotta do their “UWF-style” kick-fest, as they’re the sole practitioners of that style left. The champs kick Hotta’s ass (again, that’s so weird given how dominant she is later on), then KYOKO gets taken down with kicks and the Stretch Muffler, as this match is incredibly one-sided until she hits a bridging fallaway slam and her Rock The Cradle surfboard on Toyota. Chinlocks segues to the strangest lift I’ve ever seen for a Tiger Driver, and they work the back and Hotta hits the Overthrow Powerbomb. Hotta kicks her in the T-5 vertebra a couple of times and adds a dragon sleeper and butterfly suplex, but Kyoko walks into the Rolling Cradle. Yamada kick-spams her, but Toyota runs into the Slingshot Backsplash and takes a Helicopter Slam, but comes back with DROPKICK SPAM on Hotta! Hotta manages to reverse on Yamada and brains her a few times, leading to Kyoko’s Run-Up Flying Back Elbow, bridging suplex and an ugly release Ganso Bomb (more like “awkwardly drop her after the lift”). Yamada tags out after a beating, but Manami gets stretched out in the way only she can until hitting a sunset flip for two. Manami BARELY kicks out after Hotta’s Tiger Driver, though- she Germans out of a double-lariat for two. Yamada slips off the top and they rapidly improvise so it’s completely forgotten, Kyoko doing a Giant Swing on Toyota but getting caught in a Manami Roll, then the champs dump her when she tries her Backsplash again. Walk-Up Asai Moonsauyt by Toyota to both challengers! Moonsault is barely avoided by Kyoko (she sits up instead of rolls out so Manami awkwardly lands on Kyoko’s back and bends at a sick angle, making the miss look MORE painful), who tags out, but Hotta misses an enzuigiri and walks straight into a Double Side Suplex & a Missile Dropkick into a backdrop for two. Flying Enzuigiri gets the three count at (18:33), a struggling Hotta kicking out at 3.1.

Another very good match from all these wrestlers, following the template of that Hotta/Minami one: Minimal “restmissions”, tons of UWF-style kicks, constant tags and good double-teams. There was less of a “story” having developed, though, with momentum changing so many times, and the move application wasn’t as tight. But still, no wonder the “Toyota Style” match took over Joshi after 1992.

Rating: **** (another bout that’s a lot of fun, yet still feels like half of what the assembled stars were capable of- they all left their FINISHERS in the tank, for God’s sake!)

The Other Matches:
Saemi Numata vs. Akemi Torisu (1:33 aired of 6:54)- result not listed
Kaoru Ito vs. Miori Kamiya (only the ending aired)- result not listed, but probably Ito.
Suzuka Minami & Mima Shimoda beat Bat Yoshinaga & Tomoko Watanabe (3:43 aired of 13:36)

Overall, these early 1992 shows are really interesting to me, as they’re setting the stage for the peak of Joshi a short while later- we’re about to see the debut of LCO, the retirement of Bison Kimura, and the rise of Aja Kong as “Ace”, and that REALLY alters the promotion of AJW, and Joshi as a whole.

Next up, I have another Korakuen show, plus the AJW Grand Prix and then a Spotlight on Dynamite Kansai, as I like to intersperse the history lesson with those individual bios, as they shake things up a bit.