Joshi Spotlight: Zenjo is Dream- IGNITION!

(28.02.1993, Korakuen Hall)

* Gotta love those Japanese titles. This is one of two “Zenjo is Dream” shows taking place on the way to April’s Dream Slam dual-show. “Zenjo” is short for All Japan Women’s Japanese name (“ZEN Nihon JOshi Puroresu”)- it’s common to shorten it that way in Japanese, but doing so in English is too weird, because I’d have to keep explaining it every time I used it. Everyone comes out before the event starts, getting the “all in the ring at once” introduction, and the announcer goes over the Dream Slam card again- the crowd reacts well to the Toyota/Yamada vs. Combat/Kudo Main Event announcement, but the biggest reaction by far goes to the announcement of Chigusa Nagayo coming out of retirement against Devil Masami.

“TL;DR- What’s The Big Deal?”: I bet you think WWF’s Tori could never have a really good singles match, right? Seriously, watch this and be amazed. Oh also the Main Event completely kicks ass.

* I’m not sure what qualifies this as an “Exhibition”, given how often AJW shows feature established stars murdering rookies. Sakie looks like an absolute giant against the diminutive future Chaparita ASARI, being about eight inches taller. Seriously, ASARI looks like she’s 13 years old, here. Her Steiner Bros. singlet now has four different “sections” of color on it, while Masami’s in a Jobber Swimsuit with “CANADA” and the maple leaf across the front.

The match dynamic is interesting, as Sakie EASILY mauls her opponent, but has this “Hey, I don’t want to do this, but…” approach to it, just taking methodical kicks and working the arm. Though she hits one mother of a chest-kick, and then HOLY FUCK- a “GAEA Girls”-level dropkick flattens Masami and Sakie rolls over her body while putting on a Boston Crab, folding the poor kid right in half. Masami gets to her feet amidst applause, but Sakie shrugs off her dropkick and just sits on her for a submission. Masami slaps away, so Sakie swats her down, flattens her in the corner, then hits a long string of Rolling Butterfly Suplexes as time expires at (5:00). Ah, so that’s an Exhibition Match. This was the most odd squash I’ve ever seen- you could almost see how bad Sakie felt about killing this poor child, and did a perfunctory ass-kicking. Masami looked spirited in fighting back, and Sakie’s offense looks AWESOME against a tiny person who can sell all of it, so I liked it.

Rating: **1/4 (fun character stuff and great selling, even though it’s 100% one-sided)

* That’s two matches in a row featuring a Hasegawa versus a Watanabe. Are they being cute here? Chikako is “Goddess Shiratori” and still a terrible rookie, and is wearing a black & red Jobber Swimsuit. Tomoko herself is the worst of her class (1989), having some iffy performances throughout 1992. Here she’s in white pants and a silver & black shirt.

This one’s pretty much every Rookie/Established match you’ve ever seen, with Tomoko flattening Chikako with kicks, suplexes and crab-holds. Tomoko tosses her around outside with zero emotion whatsoever, as she just doesn’t connect at this point. Jobber Comeback with a long Indian Deathlock segment and Tomoko does running kicks to counter, then her Slingshot Elbowdrop. They fuck up Tomoko’s judo flip spot and she pastes the kid with kicks, and a slingshot cross-body gets two. Tomoko, annoyed, traps the arms and hooks the leg and MURDERS Chikako with a backdrop suplex out of that at (8:18), ending this absolutely dreary, emotionless match.

Rating: 3/4* (neither was any good at this point in time, with Tomoko somehow being both brutally stiff and 100% without effort or emotion)

More Midget Mayhem, with the flashiest of that 3-man division up against Tomezo the mohawked goon. Frankie does mule kicks with his extremely bow-legged limbs, but gets tossed around in your typical midget bout. Tomezo actually does a Tiger Feint and keeps up the punishment with a long Giant Swing, but eats an Overhead Belly-To-Belly for a fast-count (3:33).

Rating: DUD (just another filler comedy bout)

* This seems to be “preparation” for Dream Slam, as Minami & Mita were teamed up there. Interesting to see Las Cachorras Orientales split up, with Shimoda on the other side. Pairing Shimoda up with a total jobber seems to make this one-sided, though. Numata’s in a purple Jobber Swimsuit, while Shimoda’s in the red two-piece with white tassles. Mita’s gear is black and has a shoulder-pad on it this time, and she’s oddly wearing no visible makeup (which is actually a better look) and finally doesn’t have her hair bleached, while Minami’s in the most hideous ’80s floral print singlet ever. God, that is TERRIBLE.

Shimoda gets the better of Mita, but the Giantess Squadron demolishes Numata. Like, four solid minutes of that before she tags out and Shimoda gets to be her hair-yanking self. Numata beamspams running attacks on Minami, which is really the best use of her, then Mita Blazing Chops her around. Numata shows some real fire in a submission, slapping Mita, who rewards the kid by FUCKING HER UP with brutal stomps and a running slap. haha, okay, that’s great. Shimoda takes Minami’s backbreakers, then Mita slickly ducks her hooking clothesline before falling to the next two. Flying clothesline, Perfect Plex & backdrop all have Mita on the ropes, but she no-sells three Numata shoulderblocks.

Shimoda actually gets a double hooking clothesline on both opponents, which is great. She steps up the ropes and flies off with a facecrusher, then a missile dropkick hits, but Numata hits knees on a flying splash. Mita nearly gets rolled up, but an Electric Chair/Flying Splash gets two! The crowd applauds Numata’s resilience, and she hits a facecrusher before Shimoda accidentally nails her coming off the top. Mita dives onto both, and a HUGE Assisted Powerbomb gets two on Shimoda- Numata runs in for the save. Shimoda drops out of another Powerbomb, but Minami catches her with a Tiger Suplex for the fall (17:14).

This had a really, really deliberate pace, probably for Numata’s benefit, as I think they wanted her to improve like the class before her had. As she was wearing a plastic construction helmet by the end of the year, it didn’t take. She took a beating from both 5’8″ juggernauts, then got to beat on Minami (the better carry-artist of the two). The rest of the match felt like exhibition filler, but was decently wrestled enough… and then they hit that extra gear at the end and got a good match out of it. I mean, it’s better to stick the landing than the beginning.

Rating: *** (Still way too long for what we needed, but the double-teams got pretty cool, and there were some good near-falls)

* Interestingly, Debbie defends her low-tier Title against the other gaijin in AJW, pointing out that doing so is a really big deal in the pre-match promo (and sporting a “Davey-Boy Smith/Mullet” combination). Terri’s in another all-black singlet with cut-outs, while Debbie’s in the blue & pink Steiner gear. This match is somewhat notable as a rare singles match from Terri, who was so hopeless that KYOKO INOUE could barely break ** with her.

This is fascinating immediately because Debbie & Terri immediately go “American Style” with a goddamn headlock reversal/criss-cross spot, which looks ancient in the futuristic world of AJW, but is like… something Terri can actually DO. Crowd is dead silent, but they’re keeping it simple- Cactus Clothesline from Terri puts them on the floor, but she lariats the post and Debbie goes to work on it. She hits Terri with chairs, the freakin’ ring bell, and a Fujiwara armbar, but Terri snags her with a snap powerslam on the FLOOR to finally wake up the crowd! She keeps selling the arm, but hits a sweet running bulldog in the ring, and a Vader Bomb gets two. Debbie reverses a suplex to another armbar, Terri misses a lariat, an Ace Crusher is reversed, and ANOTHER lariat ends up with Terri armbarred.

Debbie keeps up the pressure, but gets powerslammed in the ring for two. Terri lariats the shit out of her, still selling the arm (like a champ, I must say), then calls “FRANKENSTEINER!”… but Debbie catches her with a Powerbomb! She follows it up with a Northern Lights Superplex for two! Terri fights out and misses a 2nd-rope lariat, but hits a weird slow-mo Frankensteiner out of a piledriver position for two (there was like zero momentum there). Tilt-a-whirl slam gets two and the crowd finally gets kinda into it after being dead all match. Debbie floats over (well, stumbles over) a suplex from the apron and hits a German for two. Terri powers Debbie into a Superplex from a suplex attempt, and a double-clothesline puts both down. Terri lands a great elbow, but gets backslid and then armbarred again, selling absolute agony. She finally makes the ropes, then tries another tilt-a-whirl, but Debbie snaps her into a weird arm/neck thing from there, and Terri finally quits at (17:54)! Looks like that was supposed to be a chickenwing and they just kinda rolled with it.

This match is semi-notable in Joshi communities for being Terri Power’s best ever match (I mean, unless I’m missing a **** match against Sable somewhere), and it’s an interesting contrast to the match Terri had with Kyoko, who’s a better worker than Debbie. The Kyoko match was more about the AJW match structure (fast start, resting, escalating moves), using a really long runtime to make something that was outside of Terri’s limited abilities, whereas this one was actually build like an American-style bout, with simple technical stuff starting, then leading to an injury and then work on that limb. There being no language barrier here presumably helped as well. Terri also sold the arm the entire match, which is remarkable- in most ’90s AJW stuff I’ve seen (other than Hokuto, Aja & Bison), limbwork typically gets ignored after a point. So to see FRIGGIN’ TORI of all people do it is nuts. But wow this crowd was dead, only popping for some kickouts.

Rating: ***1/2 (absolutely insane to get TERRI POWER above three stars- consistent limbwork, good psychology, good reversals, and more. Terri looked good the whole way through!)

* This is two teams of “Established Main Eventer & Undercard Worker”, with the Champ teaming with stable-mate Ito. Bat’s in a yellow/black shirt and baggy black pants, while Kyoko’s in the regular pink & yellow tassled gear. Kaoru’s wearing a white & yellow Jobber Singlet with her name on it, and Aja’s in the purple & white gear. Around this point, Etsuko Mita joins us for commentary, but is so quiet and soft-spoken (always a thing with her, even as an evil heel) that I always forget she’s there. Kaoru & Bat have been gaining XP all year, so we’ll see what becomes of them.

Kyoko does her crazy “run the corners” dodge to start, pokes the eyes, but runs right into Aja’s Vader Attack. She & Bat thump Kaoru, though. That goes on for like a thousand years, but Aja’s in and her & Bat have a great forehead-to-forehead stand-off that makes the crowd excited, since Bat’s legitimately a good fighter and they know it. Aja headbutts her around, but then Bat CATCHES A KICK and then whacks her, drawing hoots and hollers from Korakuen Hall! Kyoko then takes on Kaoru, and Bat starts in on some good stuff there, suplexing Ito on the ropes and kicking her in the back while she dangles. She finally fights out and Aja kills Bat with a Mountain Bomb and spams piledrivers. Bat gets powerbomed and backdrop drivered, then Ito lands the running stomps, but misses the Flying version and gets nailed by an AMAZING Spinning Heel Kick! Ito’s ass-over-teakettle sell was perfect, too. Another gets two.

Kyoko does the Run-Up Flying Back Elbow, but Aja powerslams Kyoko for two. Kyoko lands the “Sunset Powerbomb out of the Super Mountain Bomb” spot, and then we get a SWEET double-team, as Bat spinkicks Aja in the face so Kyoko can German Suplex her! Aja sells death while Kyoko signals the Niagara Driver (over-the-shoulder Ligerbomb)… URAKEN!! Bat walks in and URAKEN!! Kyoko actually kicks out at two, but Aja hits the Super Mountain Bomb… Bat saves! Aja directs Ito into two Flying Stomps… for two! Aja has Ito ready Kyoko for the Uraken- so of course Ito gets leveled by an ultra-stiff one. Kyoko Niagara Drivers her, but now AJA saves! Bat finally holds onto the champ outside so Kyoko can finish off Ito with a weird shoulder-grabbing version of the Surfboard at (18:43). Well she was pretty done, but submission wins are so out of nowhere in AJW sometimes.

This one started out boring as hell, but then turned into an ultra-stiff match with some fun diversion spots, and then we hit the “Escalating Finishers” portion and they got great mileage out of the Vet/Rookie set-up, with the top dogs setting up spots and the psychology come from “partner-saving”, as is usual in AJW. It’s such simple stuff (where even a weak partner can save you, and you have to deal with interference), but it’s top-notch stuff that makes for easy-to-like matches. I mean, Bat & Kaoru were hardly great at this point, but they made the last 15 minutes just breeze by.

Rating: ***1/2 (great use of time with some fun spots and great saves)

* The push of Hotta’s new team comes up with a title shot against the top duo, who have been kind of 50/50 in most of the recent shows- failing a bunch in the ’92 Tag League (THE BEST), beating JWP’s top stars, then losing to Aja & Bull. This is also a “Mirror Match” of sorts, with Long-Haired Idol teaming with Short-Haired Kick-Warrior… and also sets up the next Dream Slam match, as Ozaki is a Pretty Sadist like Takako and Kansai is “Hotta +5”. Takako’s in pink & white again, while Hotta has a really ugly look, with padding looking like a t-shirt underneath a purple singlet. Toyota’s in the usual black leotard, with Yamada in the dark peach shirt & pants again.

Fall One: Takako starts off the match with the kindness and fair play we’ve come to recognize from her, but they recover from a botched Manami Roll by getting into an incredible slapfight, immediately winning back the crowd as Toyota lands a kick square to the face. Takako bounces all over the ring while Hotta does her “no-selling” act, then gets kicked square in the nose in a funny bit- no-sell THAT. She manages a rolling corner kick on Toyota, misses the second, Yamada misses a lariat, and Hotta hits the kick on HER in a slick bit. A bunch of interference spots now occur, setting up Manami hitting Yamada off the top by mistake. Backdrop Hold gets two for Takako. The champs block a Doomsday Device, but Takako Super Armdrags Yamada, then Hotta’s Tiger Driver gets blocked and she’s Double Backdropped, but dodges stereo elbows, then hits a Tiger Driver on Yamada for two! Pyramid Driver… Toyota breaks up the pin! They set up a goddamn SUPERBOMB, but they’re too weak to hoist Yamada, so they kinda just weakly drop her from 2nd-rope height. I am disappoint. But that sets up a second Pyramid Driver for the pin (11:48). Very even pace so far.

Fall Two: The champs have to win two in a row, now. Kick War to start, but Toyota accidentally does her running dropkick to Yamada. Takako PUTS UP THE DUKES, so Yamada just beats the shit out of her in a funny spot. Toyota fares more poorly against Hotta, but actually holds her off with high-kicks in a fun spot, before Hotta overwhelms her and hits the Overthrow Powerbombs. They milk the “assisted chest-kick” spot, then of course earn their own. A long Stretch Muffler buys time, but Toyota hits Yamada with a missile kick by mistake… then slips off the ropes on a second attempt. They hit a missile kick/German combo on Takako to recover, then Sandwich Roundhouse Kicks, Yamada’s Flying Enzuigiri, Manami’s Assisted Moonsault (overshot but counted as a strike), then a Japanese Ocean (double-hammerlock) Suplex for the pin (10:53). Well, they recovered from the botch okay.

Fall Three: Manami’s Dropkick Spam, Weird Underhook Suplex & Rolling Cradle whittle away at Takako, but tempers flare and everyone’s outside for a brawl. Yamada now lands Enzuigiri Spam on Hotta, then two flying attacks bounce her into Takako, who hits her armdrag on Manami and winds up her fist like a cartoon character for a punch off the ropes- hee. Her SWEET Tombstone Piledriver gets two. Toyota gets a German for two, but Yamada cranks Manami in their THIRD miscommunication spot off the top this match, but they recover and hit a double-dropkick and the Stereo Flying Headbutts for two. Manami splats on a Moonsault, but hits another. Takako breaks that up, and Hotta Tiger Drives Yamada for two. A series of reversals end up with Takako diving onto her partner, and Manami does her nutjob Quebrada off the top onto both. The champs drop Hotta RIGHT on her fucking head with a vicious Super Double Backdrop Suplex, absolutely crushing her. Manami deals with Takako breaking up Yamada’s finisher, and the Reverse Gory Bomb finishes at (10:41).

A dejected Takako talks shit on the mic afterwards, but Yamada belts some words into her face, drawing a huge reaction from the crowd and actual TEARS from Inoue, who just stomps off after a big ol’ closeup.

The first fall was a lot of fun, with a good pace and a lot of reversals playing into things. A full Superbomb would have been fun, but they recovered enough for a decisive first win for the challengers, setting up some drama. Takako sold like a CHAMP and is just looking better and better out there- she looks more like the worker I saw at the Dream Slams a couple months later. She was just bouncing around like a ping-pong ball, shooting across the ring from dropkicks. The second fall had all the resting, with two long submissions, but had the “Chest-Kick” and “Takako being a goof” portions so was fine. It ended with a LOT of “Manami would rather do things fast than properly” slipperiness and botching, but ended okay with a flurry of moves. We ended up with a lot of miscommunication spots between the champs, which makes me think they were doing that as a story here- like they were just struggling for some reason. The OTHER story was Hotta’s remarkable durability- she scored the first fall and withstood two of the champ’s finishers in the third. They had to essentially murder her with an All Japan Bump to finally put her down.

Rating: **** (they kinda struggled to get to that level, but had a solid story and threw a ton of good stuff out there, despite the occasional botch- great ending, too)

Match Ratings:
Sakie Hasegawa vs. Masami Watanabe: **1/4
Chikako Hasegawa vs. Tomoko Watanabe: 3/4*
Little Frankie vs. Tomezo Tsunokake: DUD
Minami/Mita vs. Shimoda/Numata: ***
Debbie Malenko vs. Terri Power: ***1/2
Aja/Kaoru vs. Kyoko/Bat: ***1/2
Toyota/Yamada vs. Hotta/Takako: ****

-Overall, a very good night of wrestling, with three filler matches and the rest all being good to very good in quality! It felt like more of a “Big TV Show” event than a major one, but that’s fine for people who are touring, and the main was your typical Toyota/Yamada “Casually hit ****” affair. The most shocking thing, of course, is TERRI FREAKING POWER hitting ***1/2 in any context, but of course, neither wrestler would be long for AJW.