Joshi Spotlight: AJW Grand Prix 1993 (Part One)

AJW GRAND PRIX 1993 (Part One):
* So, um, yeah. Dream Slam 1 & 2 just happened the month before, and now we’re already into the Japan Grand Prix round robin. But things are different now, as the era of interpromotional matches results in LLPW’s Harley Saito & JWP’s Hikari Fukuoka joining the tournament! Bat Yoshinaga is clearly being elevated, while Terri Power is now gone from AJW (DS2 was her last match, apparently), and now almost every major show is topped by AJW fighting a rival company.

“TL;DR- What’s The Big Deal?”:  Two matches you’ll never seen anywhere else due to AJW vs. JWP and LLPW vs. AJW shenanigans, plus four of the top five stars in the company in a tag match.

* Rookie Mayhem, with Tomoko as the “elder” future ZAP-T teaming with tiny future Chapparita ASARI vs. the future Numacchi & Goddess Shiratori. Nobody in here is really good yet. Tomoko’s in a torn-up green shirt over orange gear, Masami’s in her black Canadian flag Rookie Swimsuit, Chikako’s in green, and Numata’s in purple.

Standard rookie stuff, as Tomoko easily beats the juniors, but both can beat Masami. I observe through the by-the-numbers match that Masami has REALLY muscular arms for someone so tiny. Numata actually gets a crowd pop for a running bulldog, then works Tomoko over. Man, Numata is just really ungainly in the ring- she doesn’t sell or do offense well. Tomoko wows people with vicious judo flips, but her slingshot moves still look like shit. Masami takes another beating (a good one, too), but Tomoko facepalms Numata off the apron in a funny bit, and finishes Chikako with an awful Moonsault at (15:47). This actually served Numata the most, as she got some shine on the elder Tomoko and bossed around Masami… but it’s very, very clear that Masami is gonna be the most memorable star, here.

Rating: *3/4 (way too long, with almost everyone’s offense being weak)

* Now this is a weird assortment, with the Hotta/Takako team allying with Sakie, an up & comer, against Hotta’s ex-partner Minami, Shimoda of LCO fame, and Bat, who teamed with Hotta only a while before. Hotta’s in purple (and gets the biggest reaction), Takako’s in white with turquoise lines, Sakie’s in the blue Steiner gear, Suzuka’s in a god-awful green swimsuit with floral print, Shimoda’s in red with a lot of small lines of silver tassles, and Bat’s in her yellow-lined shirt & baggy pants.

A million tags to start as everyone runs in and double-teams. Sakie gets her leg worked and Minami is REALLY vocal today. Bat & Hotta use their stiff kicks, too. Shimoda sells like nuts for Hotta & Sakie, who hits her Rolling Butterfly Suplexes, then Takako uses a Tombstone. Shimoda comes back with a falling clothesline, but Takako armdrags Bat around for trying her kicks, Hotta boots her, and Sakie & Takako try to sandwich her with kicks (given that Sakie has accuracy issues with the Savate Kick, that didn’t really work). Sakie takes a beating and leg stuff, but Minami bumps around for Takako and takes the Aurora Special (shoulder-seated backdrop) for two. Extended limbwork on Minami, now. Hotta adds a weak Corner Rolling Kick and an Overthrow Powerbomb.

Shimoda gets in and flies around on Sakie and hits a Perfect Plex, but Sakie Savate Kicks Bat. Three more catch her RIGHT in the head- good selling there! Bat comes back on Takako, but an Aurora Special hits Shimoda. Double-team backdrop/2nd-rope elbow gets two. Minami takes Sakie’s kick coming off the top rope, but dropkicks Hotta off the top, then gets a dive from Shimoda by accident- slick pace! Sakie hits some weak Uranages for two, then Bat’s Rolling Kick wipes her out! Sakie avoids a Powerbomb from Minami and Takako armdrags her off the top for two. Minami reverses a Tiger Driver for a CLOSE two. Hotta manages to hit it on Shimoda, but Minami saves. Shimoda dodges an attack, but Bat takes a Powerbomb for two and everyone pounces- Chokeslam/Backdrop by Hotta & Takako, and Hotta gets the Pyramid Driver (cross-armed Ligerbomb) for two on Bat (20:18).

Everyone was in a very “show-off” mood for this one, and it made the early part of the match work- lots of fast tags and screaming on offense. Bat still really only has kicks, and for some reason EVERYONE was doing Butterfly Suplexes for “filler”, but it was fine, especially as things geared up. The heat segment on Minami seems to be more of her “teach others to wrestle” role, I think- she’s often in there putting over others now, using her careful selling to make stuff look good. I think my favorite part was just the random pairings, though- most of these girls don’t interact with each other that much.

Rating: ***1/2 (standard “Good Joshi Tag” with fairly few dead spots, despite the “House Show Effort” for much of it and a lack of big moves)

* Hikari, of JWP, joins the rival company’s Grand Prix. As an up & comer, she has a very “spunky and tries hard, but can’t beat top-tiers” thing, and is Manami Toyota Lite, wearing black leotards and hitting the same moves. Kaoru Ito is on a similar tier but probably lower, and now dresses like Peter Pan but in blue, playing on her boyish appearance. They were on opposite teams at Dream Slam 1, where the JWP team won. Hikari gets a noticeably bigger response from the crowd, despite being an invader.

Slow start, with a lotta slams and chinlocks, plus sleepers. Oh, that’s not a good sign this early. Hikari does some flash pins after Ito tries some stomps using the ropes, then works the leg. She uses the ropes herself to dig into the back, then works that. Ito works a series of slow-ass holds interspersed with dropkicks, then Hikari does some holds, then does our first impressive move 12 minutes in, with a Cartwheel Elbow in the corner. Backdrop & Missile Dropkick get two each. Leg stuff leads to a “toss to the railing & stand-off” time-killer outside. Ito USES THE ASS and does her Corner Senton, then finally acts out, tossing chairs at Hikari outside.

Hikari reverses a Tombstone and does some headscissors, then avoids another Senton and does her POPEYE PUNCH for two. One flying cross-body hits, but another misses, so Ito does her Running Stomp Spam, but a Flying one misses and Hikari does the Rolling Cradle. Ito dropkicks her to the floor and hits a Stomp off the apron, but tries a flying version out THERE, but misses. Flying Stomp in the ring gets two, but another ass attack is reversed to a release German! Kaoru does the “punch drunk” stagger-sell, and that sets up the finish- she’s too stunned to climb right, so Hikari gets her a Super Powerslam for two, and finishes with the Moonsault at (23:44).

I really don’t get the booking mentality here, short of “long matches = impressive” being a part of the impression. Sitting around in holds is incredibly boring if they never lead to anything, you know? You’d figure an impressive 12-15-minute bout that’s more action-packed would be better. At least Japanese crowds are too polite to boo- ECW or WWF fans would have eaten them alive for this shit. It’s all the sadder since the final stretch is good stuff- Ito going through her usual, getting stunned by a reversal, and then doing her “Kicks out of a finisher, but the next move pins her” thing. A few too many Stomps, as is usual for her (that’s like half her offense), but I dug the ending. Which makes the 18 minutes of restholds all the more annoying.

Rating: *1/2 (18+ minutes of chinlocks and half-crabs. I can’t even)

* LLPW also enters the Grand Prix, on the other side of the thing so they can’t fight JWP wrestlers (their split was HARSH). Harley is on the second tier of LLPW’s stars, and should be above Mita, who is still kind of in that “Midcarder who jobs to elites” zone. Both jobbed twice at the Dream Slams, so I’m curious as to what happens here. Mita’s in her black gear, while Harley’s dressed for a Nickelodeon game show, as usual.

Harley uses a bunch of spin-kicks right away, but Mita soon overpowers her on the mat and claws away at her face to take over. She alternates digging into the face illegally and just standing on Saito, then tosses her into chairs outside- Saito naturally comes back the second she’s in the ring, peppering Mita with kicks. Mita sells some arm-work like CRAZY, sliding all over the ring in a Fujiwara Armbar and needing help outside while the seconds administer Water Of Healing. Staring daggers at Harley on the way back in, Mita catches a kick and dumps her out, then hits a dive! More outside ass-kicking! They work a figure-four well enough to get the crowd into the reversals, and Mita hammers the Blazing Chops and an Electric Chair Drop! And another! They trade leg stuff (Mita wailing like crazy), and Harley pescados out.

Mita it’s a fireman’s carry slam for a close two, but Harley Germans her for the same. Mita reverses a flying cross-body for two, and gets a Bridging German of her own! Huh- don’t see that from Mita very often- good form, too (right on the toes!). Northern Lights Suplex! Mita looks for an ending… and uses a SUPER Electric Chair Drop! Saito was standing on the top rope, too! Flying shoulderblock gets two, but she’s Germaned again, and a Flying Headbutt from 2/3 across the ring gets two for Harley- Tiger Suplex finishes at (19:38)! Harley, tired, bows out of respect, so Mita walks right up and slaps her, and they need to be separated. Now THAT’S putting the “C” in “LCO”, Mita! Akira taught you well!

A fine TV match that turned out VERY good by the end, with a bit of “Hold-itis” but not as bad as the previous bout. Mita using a ton of clawholds is a new one (she’s either trying new stuff out or trying to keep the match unique), and both sold well. Enough so that a two-minute figure-four spot that had no hope of “mattering” was still drawing the people in. The two minutes of leg stuff after more moves was a tad much, but escalating from Germans to a Northern Lights to a HUGE bump from a Super Electric Chair- that’s good stuff. And I liked how it worked that Mita did a great Finisher Surge, but when that didn’t work, she tried another whip, which led to the reversal that let Harley do her OWN surge to win the bout. Mita’s missing just one more big move to become a bigger star… but she’d find it next show.

Rating: ***1/4 (was leaning below *** until the last few minutes, but they knew their finish and built to it well)

* Akira cuts the single-most subdued promo of her entire life here, having a casual conversation with the interviewer instead of screaming, declaring she’ll sacrifice her life to beat Yamada, etc. But she’s over as FUCK, having just beaten Shinobu Kandori in one of the most legendary joshi matches of all time. Hokuto’s in her black two-piece gear, while Yamada’s in a rad lime-green shirt & pants combo. Damn, why didn’t she use THAT more often?

Akira dumps Yamada to block her kicks and then grabs her ears to block a submission- this is why she rules. They feel it out for a bit before Akira hits those nasty-ass Jumping Piledrivers of hers, and she works the neck before she gets a kick to the face and the snap suplex. Yamada follows with more kickery and works the arm, leading to Akira bailing and needing bandages on her arm, really putting over the often-meaningless mat work. She immediately gets a pair of Spinning Roundhouse Kicks and a missile dropkick to set off her own stretching, with the Sharpshooter and other leg stuff. Yamada comes back (STOP IRISH WHIPPING HER, AKIRA!) with a spin kick and an absolutely insane number of backdrop suplexes, but Akira ducks a kick and Germans her for two. She goes up, but gets whipped off for two, but Yamada climbs and gets knocked to the floor, aaaaaaaaand there’s that Tope Con Hilo.

Yamada tries to get back in, but is Superplexed for two, but avoids the Northern Lights Bomb by lighting up the Dangerous Queen with some kicks. DRAGON SUPLEX!! That gets two as the crowd is going nuts, sensing the end-game. They milk the moment perfectly, and BAM!- Flying Enzuigiri. That gets two, so naturally we go to The Finisher That Never Hits… which doesn’t hit and gets her Victory Rolled for two. She looks shocked, but goes for it again, and Akira drops her out of it, and THERE’s the Northern Lights Bomb for the three at (17:55). She slaps Yamada around after the bell, which of course earns her a lariat to the back of the head, and she tosses Yamada into the railing outside the ring before taking her leave. Good old Akira- instead of the Joshi Sprint, it’s a quick start, 10+ minutes of stretching but interspersed with some big stuff and selling so it’s not just laying around, and then they upgrade to the final moments and the crowd gets way into it.

Rating: ***3/4 (So it wasn’t quite a “PPV Effort” but a very good use of a TV Main Event, I would say- good match that sniffed greatness)

Apparently there’s “Digest” versions of JGP matches Harley Saito (vs) Tomoko Watanabe & Manami Toyota (vs) Yumiko Hotta, but they’re not shown on YouTube.

* !!!! Okay, so it’s the two most recent WWWA Champions up against the Heirs to the Throne! Like seriously, the lineage is right here, minus Dynamite Kansai. I imagine this will be good. This was taped 04.05.1993, so I guess only a day later. Aja’s in an unusual green variant of her gear, while Bull’s got a different shirt than usual. Manami’s in the black leotard with back cut-outs and her name on the arms, while Kyoko’s in the usual pink & yellow.

Things turn into an outside brawl immediately, with the monsters eating the tinier team alive, and Manami does a 1.5 Jannetty flip off of a Bull lariat and takes a HUGE ass-kicking in the ring, culminating in a Kneeling Powerbomb! They clubber her, but she gets a Manami Roll on Aja (failing the grip and switching to a sunset flip in a great “save”), and Kyoko actually gets the better of Aja in a brawl. Bull catches her with a Northern Lights Suplex off the ropes, however, but eats a slingshot dropkick. She reverses a double-team by leaping onto both girls and flipping them, then catches Kyoko in her “tie them in the ropes and lariat them” bit, then catches TOYOTA, and then does it to both of them at once, but they duck and Aja takes it. Okay, that was clumsily-done, but pretty funny.

Manami commits suicide by doing her Dream Slam “moonsault from the inside second rope to the floor”, but trips and goes straight down onto her head. Oof- yeah, that’s probably why she dropped it. Kyoko misses her Flying Run-Up Back Elbow, then everyone misses moves until Bull lands a double-tope on Manami & Kyoko- the latter takes a beating until headscissoring away and Manami hits Dropkick Spam on Bull, but takes a vicious Inverted DDT for two. Manami wails away in holds for a while, as Bull puts on stuff that could only be done to Manami (a BROCK LOCK??), then Aja does her Corner Avalanche to BOTH opponents. Aja hits a suplex but whips Manami and earns the Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body! Bull uses her nunchucks on Kyoko, but she leads the monsters on a chase around the ring and backsplashes them both out of the corner.

Manami messes up a Manami Roll (just flopping down), but gets a Rolling Cradle after three tries. Moonsault meets mat, though, and Aja uses the Chokeslam that beat Manami at last year’s Grand Prix for two- Kyoko saves. GUILLOTINE LEGDROP! Kyoko saves again, Bull takes Aja’s Uraken by mistake, and Kyoko lands the Run-Up Back Elbow this time, getting two. Niagara Driver fails and Kyoko takes Aja’s powerslam & 2nd-rope splash, but now SHE does Manami’s “Sunset Powerbomb to reverse the Mountain Bomb”! But now SHE slips up, falling out of the corner after running up the ropes. Kyoko manages a Bridging German for two, but gets German’d out of another Backsplash attempt. Aja German gets two, with Manami sweeping her leg out to break the bridge. Bull deals with her and Aja finishes with a Flying Back Elbow at (20:09)- the Monster Team wins again.

Eeeeeesh- a lotta botches tonight. This match was one of those “Fun, Yet Sloppy” kind of things where the move application was often very loose and ugly, but the intent behind the spots was there- Manami buggering that moonsault looked pretty bad, though, and messing up a Manami Roll along with Kyoko’s screw-up near the end made it look like the whole bout was kinda messy. I can excuse sloppiness when it’s an intense bout with high-risk moves (since they’re high-risk because they might FAIL), but doing so repeatedly throughout just makes it an off night, you know? The pace was good, but you felt like this was obviously a “TV Show Effort” from people on the first leg of a multi-month tour, despite how good everyone was- neither of the losing team used their finishers, Bull only used her first-tier one, and Aja’s Uraken only hit her partner. I feel like these four have an easy ***** match in them if they ever got “Main Event of a Major Show”, but I don’t think that ever happened.

Rating: ***1/2 (fun but extremely sloppy repeatedly, and with an obvious “House Show Finish” with a lot still left in the tank)

I reviewed Part II of the event here: (Mita debuts the Death Valley Driver!)

In retrospect, I could have waited until here, but this was more of an “I’ll find whatever I can get and review the good shows” era, and didn’t know how to search out this other stuff in order. The YouTube account associated with much of the Joshi I’ve reviewed in the past has been terminated, as usually befalls wrestling uploaders, but you might be able to find cut up matches by ringstarfield (who uploaded the videos above).

Match Ratings:
Tomoko/Masami vs. Numata/Chikako: *3/4
Hotta/Takako/Sakie vs. Minami/Shimoda/Bat: ***1/2
Hikari Fukuoka vs. Kaoru Ito: *1/2
Etsuko Mita vs. Harley Saito: ***1/4
Toshiyo Yamada vs. Akira Hokuto: ***3/4
Aja/Bull vs. Manami/Kyoko: ***1/2
-A night of mostly “very good” wrestling, if not great stuff. It felt more like a “TV Show Effort” throughout, though a few girls were really putting in their A-game. But it’s hard not to be disappointed in that Main Event, which I feel could be *****, but today nobody was feeling it. HOLY GOD that Hikari/Ito match, though.