Joshi Spotlight: AJW Tag League THE BEST ’92 (Part 1)

* Yes, it’s really called “Tag League The Best”. This is pretty much the tag team equivalent of the “Grand Prix”, with multiple teams operating in a round-robin tournament that gets released over three VHS tapes. The shows operate very much like the Grand Prixs as well, with a few random bouts, one or two big fights, and then some tournament matches. In this tourney, the tag champions (Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada) are naturally expected to do well, but their challengers include top-tier squads like Aja Kong & Kyoko Inoue, plus Yumiko Hotta & Suzuka Minami. Also, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) throws in its own candidates, as a team of their lower-tier stars has entered! The Interpromotional Era debuting with FMW is always very odd to me. Up & comer Mariko Yoshida has been injured, leaving a big gap in the midcard- now who’s gonna leap up and fill that slot?

NOTE: YouTube is apparently missing Part Three, so I only have two parts to post. Looks like the YouTube set is missing the WWWA World Midget Title Match between Little Frankie vs. Tomezo Tsunokake. I can only assume Frankie defeats his foe, like in 900 other matches.

“TL;DR- Why Should I Care?”: Ever wanted to see a bad, uncoordinated brawl get the Rock/Hogan reaction? Look no further. Also some interesting combinations of wrestlers having some good matches.

* Very random-ass selection here, as up & coming rookie Kaoru (in white & yellow) is paired up with soon-to-be-gone Kamiya (in black & green), and they’re up against the Las Cachorras new hire Shimoda (in the red & tassles), and Takako Inoue (in a new black & white singlet with cut-outs).

Shimoda, naturally, doesn’t need to be asked to torture a rookie. Takako tries out some submissions she later dropped, but Kaoru finally USES THE ASS to come back- Kamiya does a very boring segment of ’80s offense and restholds before Ito uses Ass Beamspam again. Takako SCREAMS in a boston crab so loudly that the audience cracks up, but Shimoda uses those whiplash falling clotheslines and flies around on Kamiya, and Takako hits the Aurora Special (shoulder-seated backdrop suplex) on Ito for two. Ito’s frog splash misses and Takako “hits” a flying elbow for two (camera catches her whiff on it). Ito & Kamiya both do reversals on Shimoda for a bit before Kamiya lands her Karate Punch and more ’80s stuff. Takako gets whipped down off a rope-assisted armdrag, but hits an Aurora Special on Kamiya- Shimoda accidentally flies into her, but takes down both opponents with another falling clothesline, and uses a slingshot facecrusher on Ito. Flying Splash hits knees, setting up a Senton/Flying Stomp combo, but Takako breaks up the pin. Kamiya dumps her, allowing Ito hit a Rolling Senton off the 2nd rope for the “hold down a struggling opponent” win (15:32)!

Wow, that ended up being a real “coming out party” for Ito, who picks up another big win over someone more “established”. The intent is clear- “This is going to be someone getting pushed in the future”, as another Class of ’89 grad ends up slowly scoring upsets, and spent a lot of the match reversing pins and getting flurries of offense. The match itself was pretty pedestrian, starting off with ’80s stuff and stretching, but had some good reversals and see-sawing by the end, with Shimoda doing most of the selling & work.

Rating: **3/4 (simple, inoffensive tag match- probably just too long because it needed to “establish” someone)

* Not a tournament match, this one has LCO teaming against the Ace and a random low-level luchadora. Hokuto comes out sans Noh play gear, making this look like a “house show effort”. LCO’s in black, Moreno’s in white & purple, and Bull’s in black. LCO recently had that great bout with Bull’s team a while back, but has barely ever won any big matches so far, though Akira beat Bull in a cage match in the summer.

Bull lariats Mita around to start, but LCO soon takes over on Moreno, ripping into her hair and using the ropes to stretch her out. Moreno headscissors Mita out of that and tags in Bull for a revenge rope-choking spot. Mita tags out and Akira hits the Spinning Roundhouses on Bull, then a Missile Dropkick & Sharpshooter, and even SHIMODA is running into the ring to add kicks! Bull powers out of a crab-hold and locks in Bull’s Angelito to Mita, then Moreno knocks he around and hits a Northern Lights Suplex before Mita bites her way out of stretching and Akira works the arm before just tossing Moreno over to Bull and being all “COME ON, BITCH!”. Bull hits a great gorilla press on Hokuto, but a lariat’s caught and turned into an armbar that wrecks the limb- Bull tosses Mita to buy time with a floor brawl.

Back in with Moreno, Mita hits the Electric Chair Drop & Hokuto splashes in, but Moreno Ranas Hokuto for two. Bull nearly takes a Dragon Suplex, but she locks a nearby Mita’s head with her feet and spins both LCO members over to reverse. Now THAT’S not something I expected to see from Bull Nakano! Moreno adds her Double-Armdrag thing off the ropes, but Mita clobbers her with a 2nd-rope Blazing Chop for two. Mita whips he to the ropes, but Moreno uses an Asai Moonsault Press for two! But Akira tags in, smartly hits Bull off the apron, then locks Moreno in a weird submission in the Air Raid Crash position (that move hasn’t been invented yet, but that’s what it looks like) for the win (12:38).

Well that finish was totally out of nowhere, but not quite unexpected- they were having a short-ish bout and Moreno was obviously taking the fall, and nobody’d been worked over enough to justify the match ending on a pin. But… Hokuto hitting that weird Lucha-style thing was an odd finish. Unless you recall that in lucha, “weird submissions out of nowhere” are MDK match-enders… meaning it’s actually a brilliant masterpiece of psychology! Maybe. Nice, quick, “House Show”-ish match with everyone in second gear but still doing some fun stuff, so it was okay.

Rating: *** (about the best you’re gonna get when none of the four even bothers to hit their finisher or take a major-league bump)

* FMW’s team has their first bout, and it’s against AJW’s bottom-tier tag squad. I can only assume that AJW will “play nice” and let FMW’s team beat some lower ranked squads and earn a fluke here or there. But though the crowd will likely be intense because it’s one of the first Interpromotional matches ever, it’s got what are usually the four worst workers on any ’92-93 card on it. Though I’ve seen the FMW team have a good one before. Shark is in green, and Crusher’s in orange.

Things get wild immediately as the FMW team assaults Gokumon-To before the bell, tossing them around outside- at which point a fan THROWS A DRINK ON THEM (the most un-Japanese crowd reaction ever), Crusher whips a chair way over his head as he sits down, and a ring girl has to go into the crowd to help whomever it was got hit. Holy Jesus. The crowd is so into the feud that Bat Yoshinaga of all people gets a reaction like Hogan at WrestleMania X-8 for throwing some kicks at Shark. It’s a lot of uncoordinated brawling for several minutes, but the people are going absolutely batshit for all of it.

Shark stuffs Bat’s kicks with amateur-style rolling around and FMW dominates for a while (though another reviewer noted cardio issues on their end, and the announcers apparently mention their stamina flagging, so this is probably them resting), but Tomoko draws an ENORMOUS roar from the crowd with a great Bridging German. Crusher draws near-falls with a chokeslam & backdrop, but Gokumon-To hit a Hart Attack-style Flying Thesz Press- Shark breaks it up, and soon it’s another wild brawl outside. FMW’s heels grind on Tomoko with a chair, drawing blood and tremendous heat, then they sucker Bat into missing with a kick and take her out with a chair! Then they just collapse Tomoko’s skull with one, and hit an Assisted Powerbomb for the cheap win at (11:33). The crowd is fucking livid with that bullshit, giving them the most heated reaction ever.

This was the best bad wrestling match over- Shark had some interesting stuff going on with the psychology of “stuffing” Bat’s martial arts by hunkering down and holding her (or, y’know, resting), but mostly it was uncoordinated brawling with no flow… yet the crowd was so livid with FMW’s bullshit and so excited for the comebacks of AJW’s worst non-jobbers that it was amazing to watch regardless. It had a real In Your House: Canadian Stampede feel to how the rivalry was going, especially as Team FMW embraced the hate and worked heel. This was like one of those 1980s Joshi matches with the Atrocious Alliance- all cheating and one-sided crowds.

Rating: *** (actually it was barely **, but that crowd and the playing up to them was awesome; screw it)

* And now it’s one of the top ranked teams versus a low-ranked one, with Aja & Kyoko as Main Eventers up against rising star Sakie, and undercarder Debbie. They’re in their Steiner Sisters gear, with Sakie having blue/yellow, and Debbie pink/purple. Kyoko’s in the usual pink & yellow, while Aja’s in a black & white striped top and red pants. Of course I’d expect a blowout, but the YouTube video is 27 minutes long.

Kyoko runs circles around the kids to start, but they catch her on the ropes and dump the vets, then dive onto them! They run into the ring to do their Steiner Brothers stance, drawing cheers, so Kyoko knocks Sakie around and Aja runs in to imitate Rick beneath Kyoko’s legs. This is such a great way to spend some early match time, and the crowd just eats it up. Aja has so much charisma at this point that her BODY SLAMS get the crowd into it, and Sakie takes a monster bump off Kyoko’s shoulders and suffers through tons of restholds, selling well enough to make it fun. They avalanche her in the corner a bunch and keep up the torture with a crazy-ass leg-trap release powerbomb from Kyoko- Sakie’s selling here is amazing, and she finally escapes so Debbie hits a snap chokeslam/uranage, flying turning elbow, Northern Lights Suplex, and a crossface chickenwing- well hell. She keeps up the punishment with a neckbreaker, and a double-bulldog gets two. Kyoko finally escapes and Aja’s in for the machine-gun slaps and Vader Attacks, then flattens Debbie with piledrivers and such. She slaps on a revenge crossface, but Debbie comes back and now Sakie’s finally back in.

Sakie lands the Rolling Savate Kick and Debbie hits a Hart Attack-style flying back elbow for two. Kyoko attempts her Slingshot Backsplash attack… but Sakie’s scouted it, taking out the leg! Another double-bulldog and now Savate Spam, and Kyoko is getting her ASS kicked out here. Some of those shots are hitting her right in the face- it looks incredible. Aja breaks up a superplex and drags Sakie onto her shoulders, so the kid VICTORY ROLLS her while Debbie hits a Northern Lights Superplex for a CLOSE two. Vicious STF while Sakie blocks Aja, but Kyoko makes the ropes and finally Backsplashes the two of them. Aja powerslams Debbie, but gets caught in an STF too before hitting both rookies with a cross-body. Sakie eats a Moutain Bomb & Dangerous Backdrop, but lands on her feet from another one, misses the Savate, and takes the URAKEN! Debbie barely saves- I thought that was the end. That just pisses off the beast, who splashes BOTH of them off the second rope, but gets launched off when they kick out at 2. Kyoko’s Run-Up Flying Back Elbow also gets the pin broken up, so the vets are like “Fuck THIS” and do Stereo Helicopter Slams for the emphatic three count (21:57)- yeah, they were done with that shit.

Really, really fun match. I mean, it was the “pad the first ten minutes with holds” variety, but the comedy spots to start, and Sakie’s tremendous selling, really made the first half fun despite what can often be “laying around”. Debbie being oddly dominant over Kyoko looked great, as the rookies were made to seem like they belonged. Debbie in particular looked like a huge star, hitting all of her stuff perfectly and doing several finisher-level moves and some great submissions. The elders eventually overwhelmed them and hit a ton of stuff, but the kids snuck out a lot of saves until it was just too much- notably, Aja never looked remotely weak, but the kids nearly scored some fluke wins all the same.

Rating: **** (very fun “Main Eventers versus Plucky Kids” match)

* This is a rematch from much earlier in the year, as Toyamada scored a win in an amazing match against this very same team. Minami’s in light blue & yellow, and Hotta’s in white & black stripes. Yamada’s in yellow, and Toyota’s in black… and has a kneepad on today.

Yamada & Hotta do a cool “feeling out” period to start, as they have similar styles, then Toyota “Bomb Angels” Hotta round with her stuff before Suzuka makes like Ric Flair on Toyota’s bum leg. Hotta adds in about fifty kicks to the knee, thigh and ankle, so yeah- they’re ready to take that limb home with them. Yamada gets in and lays waste to Suzuka, but she fights out and then oddly Hotta dumps Yamada and it’s a chair-swinging brawl on the outside out of nowhere! Yamada sells death, but finally gets into the ring for an MMA-style slugfest and takes the Rolling Kicks in the corner, Suzuka’s Flying Knee, and the “kick to the chest in a camel clutch” spot. Toyota manages to get in and throws out Dropkick Spam on Suzuka, then goes for what looks like a Canadian Destroyer of all things, but rolls back and does a weird upside-down double-arm stretch hold. Hotta in, but the champs get a revenge spot for the camel clutch spot.

Yamada uses the Million Dollar Dream as a resthold, but Suzuka hits three Tilt-A-Whirl Backbreakers on Toyota, and they work the leg again. Hotta adds two Overthrow Powerbombs, then a Flying Rolling Kick gets two, but when they whip Toyota into the ropes, and she hits an Asai Moonsault Press to both of them! That looked like it was supposed to be her No-Hands Springboard thing, but she corrected it partway when she was falling short. Toyota climbs the ropes, but gets dropkicked and her leg gets caught in a SICK-looking move, so Suzuka blasts away at her knee then dumps her. They blast away at the knee with chairs outside, then a Perfect Plex gets two. Front Suplex hurts the knee, then a Manami Roll gets buggered (Suzuka’s just too tall and Toyota was overthrown)- Toyota takes a Powerbomb, then Hotta’s flying splash for two.

Toyota finally sits on Suzuka out of a Powerbomb attempt, but Yamada takes the backbreaker before firing off a rolling kick from the apron and throws a bunch of kicks to Hotta. Suzuka takes Toyota’s Rolling Cradle, then a vicious Double Backdrop, but they AGAIN fuck up their “Backdrop to the top rope” spot (thank god they eventually dropped that) and have to haul Suzuka up and give her their Double Flipover Backdrop finisher. Hotta saves, and then Yamada accidentally hits Toyota with the Flying Enquigiri! She manages to German Hotta when she runs in, but then eats the Pyramid Driver (Straightjacket Ligerbomb) for two- Yamada saves! They do the Stereo Flying Headbutts, but Hotta kicks out. Toyota does the Moonsault, but Hotta gets the feet up (um, not really- Toyota was too high and missed them entirely, but they sold it as a reversal), Suzuka nails a Flying Senton, and Hotta finishes Toyota with the Straightjacket German Superplex at (23:40)! The champs lose again!!

Oddly, the first half of this match felt very tepid- it was fine, but came off as perfunctory and “this is our plan” rather than an emotional war- not sure if it’s just me, but even the audience seemed to be more “random person screaming” than heated. Possibly because Toyota & Yamada had been so dominant this year, and the other two had been de-emphasized. The knee stuff near the end started getting the story over much more, and Toyota’s selling was perfect- stumbling even during Irish whips. But then there was a series of botches (including for big moves), a “phantom reversal” moonsault (the key spot of the match), and more. The bigger story here, however, is Manami Toyota losing AGAIN, showing herself as the “weaker” of her team- this story would build during the Interpromotional War, and consistently be a thing in their tag matches.

Rating: ***3/4 (the match got to nearly four stars, but kind of… slowly fought its way there rather than stayed consistently good all the way through. Too many botches and tepid pacing)

Match Ratings:
Kamiya/Ito vs. Takako/Shimoda: **3/4
Hokuto/Mita vs. Bull/Moreno: ***
Shark/Crusher vs. Gokumon-To: ***
Aja/Kyoko vs. Sakie/Debbie: ****
Toyota/Yamada vs. Hotta/Minami: ***3/4

-Still a very solid show, but weaker than a lot of “Big Match Shows” tend to be. Several people were in “House Show Mode”, with Toyota being a bit sloppy, the pacing in the Main being off, and both Bull & Hokuto kind of doing a casual tag bout and withholding all their big moves. However, the heat in that FMW/AJW Tag match was INSANE, turning it into a great spectacle, and the Veterans (vs) Rookies match ended up surprising me by being so fantastic. And Toyota/Yamada losing in the main kind of affects the promotion going forward, as they’re defending AJW’s honor and their Titles at Dream Rush in a little over a month- can they beat Kansai & Ozaki if even the subordinate team and Aja/Sakie can beat them in non-title matches?