Joshi Spotlight: AJW Grand Prix ’92 (Finals)

-And now we FINALLY come to the end of the months-long AJW Grand Prix. The story thus far has been the dominance of Aja Kong & Manami Toyota (who shockingly BEAT the Ace-adjacent Kong in a big upset at Korakuen Hall), with Kyoko Inoue right behind them. Mariko Yoshida has also impressed very well, as despite being on the “lower rung”, sorta (she’s well below her rookie classmate Kyoko, who was given a mega-push first), she’s in high-profile positions all over the place, has been made to look good, took both Kyoko & Sakie Hasegawa to 30-minute draws in big showcases of her stamina, and more. It seems like she’ll be given a big push going forward. Toshiyo Yamada also did well enough in non-televised stuff, hitting the semis. All five women will wrestle tonight, with the winners hitting the finals immediately following. The rest of the matches are made up of other tournament wrestlers being paired up.

“TL;DR- Why Should I Watch This?”: One of the best multi-person matches I’ve ever seen is on this show, and you get to see just how much work everyone’s willing to put into their matches, as everyone goes to 15+ in the Grand Prix.

Wrestler: Points:——–Wrestler: Points:
Manami Toyota 9.0—–T. Yamada 8.0
Aja Kong 8.0————Mariko Yoshida 7.0
Takako Inoue 6.0——-Kyoko Inoue 7.0
Suzuka Minami 5.0—–Akira Hokuto 4.5
Etsuko Mita 5.0———Sakie H. 4.0
Mima Shimoda 5.0—–Yumiko Hotta 4.0
Bat Yoshinaga 4.0——Miori Kamiya 3.0
Tomoko W. 3.0———Debbie Malenko 3.0
Cynthia Moreno 1.0—-Terri Power 3.0
Bison Kimura 0.0——-Kaoru Ito 1.5

Semi-Finals: Manami Toyota (vs) Kyoko/Mariko; Aja Kong (vs) Toshiyo Yamada
Finals: Toyota/Kyoko/Mariko (vs) Aja/Yamada

So there’ll be a tiebreaker between Yoshida & Kyoko tonight, then the two Semi-Finals- Aja/Yamada & Toyota/(winner of Kyoko/Yoshida), then the Final match. Of interest here is how closely this mirrors the standing in the company of the girls, save Hokuto getting a low score (injury?), and Takako being unusually high compared to Minami.

* Tomoko & Bat, as part of Bull’s Gokumon-To stable, are wearing matching white pants and black shirts, while Rie’s in a red Jobber Singlet, and Moreno’s in white & purple. Rie is still an absolute rookie here, so her team is probably being crushed.

Tomoko stretches Rie in horrifying fashion, really cranking on the rookie, and Moreno dumbs down her offense on Gokumon-To’s behalf. Tomoko uses the hair & choking to come back. And more choking. Jesus, did Nailz agent this match? Tomoko hits her Slingshot Cross-Body & Judo Flip, giving Rie NOTHING. Thesz Press off the second rope while Tomoko’s holding her gets the pin broken up by Moreno. Bat uses THE CLAW, but Rie escapes and Moreno does 100 simple running moves, Rie uses a flurry of dropkicks, and a Moreno Rana on Bat gets two. A Powerbomb hits her the next time she tries it, and a pair of devastating-looking rolling kicks knocks her out for the pin at (12:08).

Rating: *3/4 (Dreadfully long for what the girls had for offense, with Moreno having to dumb it down, but the finish was killer)

* Debbie & Takako were on similar tiers around this time, and were often opposing each other or teaming up, and Ito’s in the rookie tier below them- Kamiya’s a veteran but has no push of any kind, and is gone by the end of this year. Debbie’s in the pink Steiner gear and Takako’s in white, while Ito’s in some white/yellow/pink thing (not nearly as ugly as her later gear) and Kamiya’s in a black & yellow singlet.

I swear to god they go THREE MINUTES of non-stop running moves from everyone until Takako slows things down with a hold. Debbie comes in with some fire and a Northern Lights Suplex then submissions, which swiftly becomes her specialty- a lot more “natural” than the lucha-esque stuff. Kamiya comes back with the ’80s Karate Punch & Ito spams running stomps, then everyone tries rollup-style pins. Kamiya’s crossbody gets caught by both opponents, and Ito pushes them all over, then hits stomps on both of them in succession to a great pop. Kamiya adds one of her own and sentons Takako for two. Ito adds a Flying Stomp for a close call, but a second try sees Takako Super Armdrag her off. Kamiya breaks up the pin, so Debbie dumps her and Takako nails the Aurora Special (Bridging Waistlock Backdrop) for the three (14:03).

This… wasn’t overly great. The first three minutes was all running with no psychology or story, and then it was “lay around in holds”. Some of which were fine, but others just resting. It felt like everyone was experimenting, as Debbie suddenly hit an STF & Surfboard perfectly, and Takako was doing all sorts of “jump at them and roll back for a hold” stuff that she’d later drop. Ito was also in “NOTICE ME!” mode, throwing out stomps with very good timing in inventive ways. They saved all their good stuff for the last 2-3 minutes, suddenly having a good match with some reversals, leading to Takako finishing off the junior.

Rating: **1/2 (pulled out a bit in the very end- was looking at ** before that)

* So with these two tied at 7 points apiece, they have to playoff to see who can move to the Semi-Finals! This means that to win, they’d have to win THREE matches in one night instead of two, which is nearly impossible- thus we have potential rematches set up over how these wins can be “tainted”. Also a wrinkle: these two wrestled a while back in the same tournament, going to a 30-minute draw because Kyoko hit her finisher seconds too late.

Kyoko stuffs Yoshida’s offense quickly, and follows with TEN MINUTES of slow, arduous back-holds at a snail’s pace. Kyoko hits a huge lariat over the ropes for a giant Yoshida bump, then insane Slingshot Backsplash from the apron to the floor, sending Yoshida crashing into piles of chairs! Yoshida reverses a suplex on the floor as the crowd chants for her to FINALLY get consistent offense, so she hits a Run-Up & then a Slingshot Cross-Body! Run-Up Splash on the inside gets two, so she goes for a German, and ends up hit by a Slingshot Backsplash, then a Run-Up Back Elbow for two. Niagara Driver is reversed for two, and Yoshida climbs for a splash… hitting knees! Two more Niagara Driver attempts get Kyoko rolled up, and it’s getting close- crowd chants “YO-SHI-DA!” as she goes for a superplex, but gets Missile Dropkicked instead. Another Niagara Driver sees Kyoko shoved into the corner, and a whip is reversed… Yoshida runs up yet again, then hits a surprise Sunset Flip… for the THREE (15:24)!! MARIKO YOSHIDA BEATS KYOKO INOUE! Crowd goes nuts for that upset, and Kyoko bawls in the ring while the crowd attempts to console her with her “Kyo-ko!” chant.

This is one of those matches that I enjoyed more having watched it than I did WHILE watching it. I mean, I figured out what they were going for- a serious Kyoko slowly tearing Yoshida apart, and only then going for her big stuff, not wanting to take the risks that cost her last time. But then she overdoes it going for her finisher and gets tagged. So while it was 90% crab-holds and back stuff, which was super-dull, it told a good comeback story. The crowd was right there with Yoshida when she came back after 12 minutes- the fans were legitimately into her. So it’s 11 minutes of holds, a few too many Run-Up moves (combined to about five), then four minutes of regular offense (with a pretty ugly Sunset Flip getting the pin), but eh- it’s a good story.

Rating: *** (more of a “story” than a proper competitive match, but it worked in the end)

* AJW’s newest stable is finally out in full-force on a major show, as Akira and her trainees now fight AJW’s Ace and a second-tier tag team! Bull’s team actually far outranks LCO at this point, so this’ll be interesting- will AJW start giving them a push and some big wins, or are they gonna lose again, as they have been recently? Hokuto’s in a white wig and Japanese theatrical gear, much more closely resembling her later look, and Bull’s got a SWEET U.S./Soviet Flag leather jacket as her ring gear. Hotta’s got a ludicrous “warning sign” singlet on and Minami’s in black. Mita’s got a black two-piece again with simplified eye-designs, and Shimoda at LAST debuts the “LCO Gear” she’d wear for much of the rest of her career- the red two-piece with all the light tassles on it. Combat Toyoda & Megumi Kudo from FMW are seen in the stands watching this, and they publicly stand up and walk out following the bout, too- leading to the first big Interpromotional Match.

HELL YES WILD BRAWL IMMEDIATELY! LCO charges right through the storm of ribbons and starts throwing chairs outside before the bell can ring. Shimoda  & Hokuto dive out into the melee again soon as the match starts, Hokuto using her Tope Con Hilo. Hotta finally controls Mita with a bunch of kicks, but going for the pin draws Hokuto in for a frenzied slap-attack, so Bull responds by coming in and decapitating Mita with a lariat. They drape her between Hotta & Bull so Minami can hit a FLYING SENTON onto her outstretched body, which is some Dragon Gate shit (in 1992!), and she adds a double-arm backbreaker for two. Mita finally slides out of something and Akira’s in, hitting her two roundhouse kicks that Minami sells like gunshots. A bunch of flying stuff and Shimoda’s snarl-fu keeps her on the defensive. LCO do simultaneous arm bites (+1/4* just for that) and then drape her between Shimoda and the top rope, sending Akira crashing down with her damn bokken staff across Minami’s ribs, and the poor girl goes neck first onto the canvas! Revenge spots AND huge bumping!

Minami desperately tags out to Hotta, who gets shredded in the LCO corner before ruining Mita’s day with more head kicks. Bull adds a lariat off the 2nd, and when LCO interferes again, she just fucks them both up and drops Mita on her ass- hah. Bull lands a dragon sleeper, with Minami flying in off the top when Mita goes for the hair, then Hotta does her “Kick ’em in the camel clutch” spot. She mugs for the crowd to a great pop, so Hokuto punches the shit out of her, so Bull & Minami lay a wicked beating on Mita, whose selling is just top-notch here. Hotta crushes Mita with a rolling kick off the top and a brutal backdrop, sitting on her while she’s ass-over-teakettle for two. Mita gets COMPLETELY slaughtered outside as Bull’s team wrecks LCO with chairs- Mita staggers to her corner after that, but Bull responds to Shimoda’s biting by folding her in half with a lariat and locking on Bull’s Angelito. Hokuto then bludgeons her with the staff, slaps a sharpshooter on Minami, then gets brained by HOTTA- this is insane. Shimoda adds stomps to Minami for that, then MITA does, and Shimoda clotheslines Minami around, Hotta comes in for Mita’s Blazing Chop, then manages to avoid Hokuto’s kick and does the Overthrow Powerbomb on her. Another one, and Minami adds her Powerbomb finisher- LCO breaks up the pin. Ligerbomb gets two!

Bull misses a lariat, but manages simultaneous ones on Mita & Shimoda, then suplexes both of them SIMULTANEOUSLY, because why the fuck not? Northern Lights Suplex & Powerbomb on Mita get two. Mita manages a goddamn airplane spin on the Ace to come back, but Hokuto lands right in a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker from Minami. Mita runs in… and gets another one! And Shimoda… another! STEREO DIVES! When Hotta’s doing planchas you know a match is great. Bull misses the Guillotine Legdrop on Akira and gets German’d with a perfect bridge for two, though. Mita gets caught with a brutal Powerbomb, but Hotta tries a Tiger Driver and Akira comes SAILING off the top from off-screen to wipe her out. That nearly gets two, but Hotta finally lands the Driver- Shimoda breaks up the pin and hits a German for two. She goes up… and Hotta kills her with a Straightjacket German off the TOP! Akira saves, and Shimoda sits on Minami from a Powerbomb attempt, Bull breaks up an Akira move, and Minami rolls up Akira from a Norther Lights Bomb attempt! Arm-Trap German Hold gets two, but a top-rope thing misses and Akira snaps off a German. Tope Con Hilo gets two and it’s broken up, then Shimoda eats feet coming off the top- Bull lariats her right into Minami’s arms for a modified German Suplex Hold while her teammates deal with LCO, and that FINALLY gets the pin at (17:54)!!!

THIS IS EVERYTHING I LOVE ABOUT WRESTLING- Insane brawling, inventive & incredible moves, fantastic character stuff, constant interference, and even good SELLING- too often a match can devolve into “just a spotfest”, but here you had Mita & Minami in particular selling like death, and it puts the moves tremendously. The double-teaming was just awesome, and I loved how they used CHEATING with good psychology, often counter-cheating or repeating spots out of spite. Almost all the big moves had the pins broken up so it wasn’t just endless kickouts that devalued moves, and that even played into the finish, as they FINALLY hit a big enough move and could deal with both teammates long enough to get a pin.

Rating: ***** (I don’t know if I’m overrating this or what, but it was just too fantastic, like they just had the best plan with the best people, and decided to steal the show)

Image result for aja kong

Aja Kong, past and future challenger to Bull Nakano, the Ace of AJW. Winning the tournament would be a hell of a boost for a future shot at the title.

* This is I think the very first Yamada bout in the GP to be shown on an AJW tape, which is weird, as it’s the Semi-Finals. She just got her head shaved after losing to Manami Toyota, too. And Aja Kong probably has the biggest solo push in the company right now, so this’ll be interesting. Aja, in purple & white, gives only very short answers to the interviewer, while a head-stubbled Yamada is more sheepish, and is in black & yellow.

Yamada gets the first kick, so Aja hits her with the machine-gun slaps her and beats her ass all over the ring. And it just goes on like that, with a methodical ass-kicking, dropping wicked elbows, using restholds, and even STANDING on Yamada for an age. Then Aja hits Yamada with every metal object in the arena for several minutes, just absolutely tearing her apart. Yamada, bloodied and dazed, finally staggers into the ring and then makes her comeback, kicking Aja in the head like FIFTY TIMES, which is hilarious and kind of a receipt for all that other stuff. A turning kick has some MUSTARD on it, and a flying elbow knocks her down again. Yamada, running out of gas, tries a Stretch Muffler, but Aja powers out, bowls her over, and uses the METAL CANS, but a fourth shot misses and Yamada runs up for a Flying Kick to the head! Enzuigiri Spam, but Aja stops selling and throws punches, but gets caught up top, and Yamada hits the same Backdrop Superplex that pinned Aja last time they met! This time, however, Aja gets her foot on the ropes. Yamada kicks her, ducks an Uraken, the hits her OWN, getting two. Aja stuffs her next two moves, though, and crushes her with an Uraken when she goes for another running kick. Aja, furious, kills her dead with the Super Mountain Bomb… but doesn’t even go for the cover, capping her off with a superfluous Flying Back Elbow for the three (17:18).

Wow, that was kind of the same match as the Kyoko/Yoshida one… except the latter “person fights back” bit was extended by a ways and it turned into more of a regular match. It suffered a bit from the usual one-sidedness, but once that ended, it started getting REALLY good, with Yamada’s comebacks being well-timed. Aja kind of did the “pop up and hit moves just fine” kind of no-selling in the end, though, which is probably part of her big Monster Push.

Rating: ***1/2 (was looking to be another ** squash affair, but suddenly turned good in the end)

* Yoshida just had to beat Kyoko, and took a huge ass-kicking in the process, and now she’s up against a fresh Toyota, who’s being given a mega-push this year as well. It’s unlikely Yoshida can win TWO upsets in one night, but we’ll see- AJW REALLY seems eager to push her this year! These two have VERY similar styles, so this will be interesting. Manami is wearing an odd leotard thing with an open back an a collar on it- much plainer than her usual gear.

Yoshida calls dibs on “Dropkick Spam” straight away, then hits the Handspring Elbow in the corner- Manami counters with running stuff and her run-up flying armdrag. She works the arm, while Yoshida goes to the leg after her cartwheel dodge. Finally after nine minutes of half-hearted, undersold limb-work, Manami gives her a receipt for all those dropkicks. Weird ’92 Inverted Full Nelson Suplex Hold gets two, then takes a HUGE bump off of missing a dropkick. Like, it looked to be her “miss a dropkick and slide through the ropes” spot, but she hit ass-first and whiplashed her head right into the mat, looking a hundred times as devastating as the proper “miss” would have been. Yoshida just dumps her and hits a Run-Up Plancha, but gets elbowed off the top and Manami fires off a Moonsault Press- don’t see THAT variation very often from her. Rolling Cradle gets two, but Moonsault gets air, so Yoshida dumps her and dives… and misses! Manami does the Super Asai Moonsault, showing crazy balance as you can see her wobble and nearly botch it, and that folds up Yoshida in SICK fashion.

Back in, Manami gets a German & Straightjacket Suplex, then ’92 Suplexes Yoshida off the top for two. Moonsault AGAIN misses, so Yoshida gets a sloppy La Majistral, then does the Handspring Elbow again before hitting a Super DDT (JESUS, THAT MOVE!) for two. So weird how that’s treated like some wear-down near-fall move in AJW. An increasingly-desperate Yoshida throws everything she can- a Perfect Plex, a German, a flying splash, and her run-up version, all getting two! Manami reverses a whip to a Manami Roll and fires off a ton of 2nd-Rope Dropkicks, but gets caught in the Run-Up Sunset Flip that beat Kyoko… for two! They each reverse that pin for close near-falls, too! Japanese Ocean (Double-Hammerlock) Suplex is reversed to a bunch of Yoshida pinning attempts, but she goes for another Perfect Plex and BAM!- Manami reverses to a picture-perfect Japanese Ocean (Double-Hammerlock) Suplex for the pin (17:35). Toyota’s going to the finals!! In… five minutes. Oh god, she’s dead.

Another one of those matches where they do the “pointless holds for 9 minutes” then, then turn it into an AMAZING spot-fest. They couldn’t have demonstrated harder how little they card about the limbwork- there was no urgency nor effort put into and of it, nor did they keep selling those limbs. Once they started the “proper” match, they threw selling to the wind and just did every big move they could muster, hitting running move after running move, which was great but has a “ceiling” of quality, y’know? Yoshida’s desperate surge of huge moves to counter was also great and made her look like she had a chance, though Moonsault Spam is a LITTLE crazy. Though hitting all that insane stuff right before another long-ish bout is proof of just how amazing a physical specimen Toyota is. Overall, the match came off like two people desperate to win, throwing everything they could at the other to hold them down, with Yoshida wrestling from underneath. Lots of reversals and callbacks is totally my jam, too.

Rating: **** (like a plodding rest-fest in front of a 10-minute MOVEZ match- remarkable athleticism, if little selling)

* I actually reviewed this match around when I FIRST started doing the Joshi Spotlights, planning an “Aja/Manami” feud Spotlight, but kind of gave up searching for just those bouts. So this is one of my oldest reviews and I finally have a spot for it, lol. This would also explain why the bout was so one-sided, as I didn’t realize at that time that Manami had literally just wrestled a 19-minute match. Aja’s is wearing baggy red pants with a white & black shirt.

Aja beats up Manami outside to start, then pounds on her as soon as she gets into the ring- Manami tries her Manami Roll, but either screws it up or Aja no-sells it, and continues squishing her with a Mountain Bomb & avalanche. Uraken hits WAY early, knocking Toyota for a loop, and it’s more abuse. Manami doesn’t really get any offense until seven minutes in, doing her dropkick reversal and Dropkick Spam. Aja swats one aside & backdrops her, but a Flying Cross-Body to the outside & Missile Dropkick hit her, but Aja just Vader Attacks Manami to put an end to that. Package Piledriver, but Manami hits her THIRD “Fuck YOU!” Bridge of the match! Rolling Cradle is effortlessly blocked twice, but Manami hits a surprise Bridging German! Moonsault misses, but she recovers and FINALLY hits that Rolling Cradle, then rolls through when Aja catches her cross-body. A second Moonsault hits knees, and then they do the counter from their last meeting- Manami counts the Super Mountain Bomb with a Sunset Powerbomb, but Aja hangs on & squashes her with a Banzai Drop. Flying Back Elbow misses and NOW Toyota hits the Moonsault! That gets two, and the both reverse Germans, but Aja soon just swats Manami down and DESTROYS her with a Chokeslam onto the back of the neck for the pin (13:01). Aja is triumphant in the Japan Grand Prix!! And her targeting Bull Nakano for one last Title shot now looks all the more clear.

This started out as the same extended squash the other matches were, but that made sense in context (Manami’d just fought), and it got more competitive sooner, making for some fun. The clipped version I saw I only rated **3/4, because it clipped out the two moonsault attempts and the sunset-reversal spot, which were quite important in context. Also, timing is everything- I liked it more the second time around- it ends up being an abridged version of the contest style they’d turn into ***** matches, though they weren’t quite there yet (Aja was too far above Toyota for it to be so competitive, and both were tired).

Rating: ***3/4 (only a handful of moves and a minute cut out made all the difference in a +* rating, but it was a lot of big stuff that really helped the bout overall. And that Chokeslam looked BRUTAL)

Aja is crowned in the middle of the ring, declares again her challenge to Bull Nakano for the WWWA Title, and then Yoshida re-enters the ring to get a smaller trophy. Aja actually does a “good job, kid!” thing, aweing the crowd, and Yoshida appears stunned. Toyota can only bow to Aja as her superior and then slink out of the ring. But wow- Manami did two missed Moonsaults against Yoshida, then a Press version, and one right off the top rope and too the floor… and against Aja, she missed TWO MORE before finally hitting one. Seven moonsaults in a single night. How in hell did the woman make it to 2017 still wrestling, and how is she not crippled today?

Match Ratings:
Tomoko/Bat vs. Moreno/Tamada: *3/4
Debbie/Takako vs. Kamiya/Ito: **1/2
Mariko Yoshida vs. Kyoko Inoue: ***
Bull/Hotta/Minami vs. LCO: *****
Aja Kong vs. Toshiyo Yamada: ***1/2
Manami Toyota vs. Mariko Yoshida: ****
Aja Kong vs. Manami Toyota: ***3/4

-A lot of matches between top-tier stars probably hindered a bit by the fact that they wanted long matches AND they had to wrestle later, so everyone was laying around half-heartedly a lot of the time, but HOLY CRAP that LCO match. That’s one of the wildest fights I’ve seen in Joshi, and I loved every minute of it. Overall, this show establishes once more that Aja is the Next Big Star, as she topples two of joshi’s best on her way to meet Bull Nakano.