Top row, l-r: Itoh, Mizunami, Sakazaki, Suruga. Bottom row, l-r: Kong, Kadokura, VENY, Sakura.
The PG Era Rant for the AEW Women’s Title Eliminator: Japan Quarterfinals (aka Andy PG Does Japan, Volume 2a), posted on February 15, 2021.
From Saitama, Japan.
Your voiceover host is Excalibur.
Here’s the Japan Bracket:
Tonight! The quarterfinals!
Opening match: Yuka Sakazaki (1-1) vs. Mei Suruga (debut). The matches are in an empty arena, with maybe two or three cameras. Riki Ashindo does ring intros. All matches are 1/20 in Japanese parlance. Suruga, 21, is the youngest contender in the tournament and looks like she’s so happy to be here, practically dressed like a pixie with wings. Sakazaki tops this with an over-the-top anime style music that Excalibur calls “the best music in AEW this side of Judas”. If their entrances are any indication, this will be a high-spirited opener. (Especially since both dance for the camera.)
Code of Honor to start. Sakazaki goes right to the hammerlock, switching to a headlock. She transitions to a wristlock, chaining all over the place on Suruga, but Suruga rolls out of it and fakes a jump at a startled Sakazaki. She grabs the arm and, after one fake-out, does a lucha armdrag and body scissors. Saitama Roll follows, over and over and over, until she gets a two count while posing like a schoolgirl. Sakazaki is dizzy, so Suruga goes for a bulldog only to get shoved off. Sakazaki with a headlock of her own, and we go International~!, turning into a trip by Sakazaki that Suruga bridges out of a cover from. Sakazaki with a suplex off a whip and she clubs away.
Excalibur mentions a team called the Magical Sugar Rabbits, and that’s the name of my new album.
Sakazaki climbs the ropes and gets a reverse guillotine hangman headscissors for a four-count. She goes back up, cartwheeling away from a charging Suruga, but both women miss dropkicks and Sakazaki with an STF out of a roll. Sakazaki blocks the near bottom rope, but Suruga reaches for a far rope… so Sakazaki reverses to a single-arm STS. Finally Sugura makes the ropes. Suruga tries to slug it out, but Sakazaki isn’t hurt until Suruga steps on her toes. Sakazaki is mad about that and tries a German, but Suruga escapes and does a flying… legsweep? Okay, sure, fine.
Suruga goes pillar to post on Sakazaki, even reversing a reversal on the third one, and a slam follows for two. Flipping facelock by Suruga, who decides instead to bridge out and get the legs into a back headbutt and butterfly Mutalock. Sakazaki gets her arms free and crawls to the ropes. Suruga goes up top and does a double axhandle for two. She goes for a tiger lock, but Sakazaki escapes and sends Suruga into the ropes for the gamengiri. Spinning back elbow off the top follows. Stalling brainbuster by Sakazaki and she goes to the apron, but Suruga is up fast and charges… into a boot. She charges again and gets Sakazaki to dive off, catching her with a crossbody… but Sakazaki reverses for two.
Things get a little awkward until Suruga gets a bodyscissors head vice into a Gedo Clutch for two. Suruga goes up again, but Sakazaki sends down only for Suruga to get a legscissors for two. Full nelson by Suruga, with a full bridge, but Sakazaki escapes and gets a rolling snapmare and head kick (Ivelisse Special) into a sliding lariat for two. Snow Plow variant by Sakazaki and she goes back to the apron, and the Magical Girl Splash (springboard 450) ends it at 10:13. Suruga tried to do a few things she couldn’t, but this was an incredible opener and very high-octane. **3/4
VENY (0-0) vs. Emi Sakura (3-4). Props to Excalibur for saying VENY is making “their” AEW debut. VENY is training under Ayako Hamada. They have five years or so of experience in Japan but have faced most of the field at some time. Sakura was at one time a #1 Contender and wants to get it again. She comes out in royal garb. Also, Sakura trained Riho, which came back to bite her when she lost the #1 Contendership to Riho in October 2019. Cool addition: VENY is wearing Hana Kimura’s kimono.
VENY with a dropstep and waistlock, and they take Sakura down to get a front facelock. Sakura reverses, getting a Gator Roll and standing guillotine out of it, and VENY goes to the ropes. VENY avoids a big kick and rolls to the corner, so Sakura delivers Mongolian chops to floor them. Hairpull slam follows, and Sakura adds a second one with VENY doing a full 360. Sakura stands on VENY’s calves and pulls their arms back in a Romero Special, twisting it into a chinlock before breaking. Sakura stands on VENY’s throat in the corner.
She twists VENY in the ropes and pulls their hair, adding a stomp when asked to break. Big chop as VENY stands up. VENY blocks a Hammer Throw, so Sakura chops them again for insolence before trying again. VENY reverses and adds a handspring elbow, then hops to the top rope to flip over Sakura before catching her with a springboard crossbody. Sakura escapes to the outside, so VENY goes to the apron. They then scale the ropes with an orihara moonsault onto Sakura (off the turnbuckle, as opposed to a quebrada off the ropes – and now you know).
Back in, VENY tries to springboard in, but Sakura cuts them off and gets a draping butterfly into a backbreaker. Second rope senton bomb connects, but no cover. Tiger backbreaker by Sakura and she goes up, but VENY somersaults over with a big slap to stop her. Flying headlock takedown by VENY and a running shooting star gets two. Suplex try, but Sakura switches it to a dragon sleeper out of nowhere. VENY fights to their feet, so Sakura with an inverted Shake Rattle and Roll. Diving crossbody into the turnbuckles, then a Vader Bomb, but a second one hits the knees. VENY with a fireman’s carry into a double armbar, but Sakura barely makes the ropes.
Big slap by Sakura and she strikes down VENY before going for a backdrop driver. VENY escapes and gets a roundhouse kick for two, then a running soccer kick to the head for two. Straitjacket German is tried, but Sakura escapes and gets Angel’s Wings… but she’s too tired to cover. VENY and Sakura slug it out, going from punches to forearms to headbutts and all over the map, with a brutal elbow by VENY dazing Sakura. Big boot and SUPERKICK follows, then a spinning heel kick but Sakura still won’t go down. Shotgun missile dropkick by VENY gets two. Rock Bottom try, but Sakura escapes and cross chops VENY down for two.
Backslide by Sakura into La Majistral, but VENY stacks her for two. Sakura chops the bejabbers out of VENY, but they catch Sakura with a spinning leg lariat into the Nick Gage choke bomb for two. They go up top, but the moonsault misses. La Majistral for two by Sakura, into an inverted LeBell Lock. VENY is almost out, so Sakura lets go and gets the Tiger Bomb for the pin at 12:32. Not sure why the submission didn’t end it – do a TKO if you have to – but VENY looked very good for their big American debut. **1/2 VENY slaps Sakura as they leave.
Sakazaki/Sakura is a second-round matchup.
Maki Itoh (0-0) vs. Ryo Mizunami (1-0). Itoh is singing her own music on the way to the ring, and thankfully for everyone’s sake I don’t hear any English naughty words. Excalibur explains the reason: Itoh used to be in a Girl Group before entering wrestling. And you know what – Itoh’s pretty good. The acoustics aren’t doing her justice. Mizunami is wearing her own merch – specifically the “I heart ANIKI” sunglasses. Excalibur says Mizunami is one of the hardest hitters in the tournament… emphasizing “one of”, because, you know, Aja Kong. Mizunami beats up the ref while being checked for weapons.
Code of Honor turns into a test of strength. Lockup, and Itoh backs Mizunami into the ropes and adds a forearm. Itoh asks for a receipt, so Mizunami delivers and Itoh regrets that. In fact, Itoh… starts crying? Mizunami tells her to stop, so Itoh steps on Mizunami’s foot and gribds it in before taunting her. She tries a shoulder tackle, but just bounces off of Mizunami. Mizunami goes CLUBBERIN, THEY BE CLUBBERIN and runs over Itoh again. Mizunami does the Warrior rope shake and slams Itoh, adding a legdrop for two, brother.
Big chops to Itoh in the corner, turning into the Kojima machine gun, ending with one last big chop. Hammer Throw and running forearm, and Mizunami bows before pulling in the lariat, flooring Itoh for two. Itoh’s forearm does basically no damage, but she keeps firing away until a kick to the gut. Itoh slides out of a slam and gets a hammerlock DDT for the double-down. Itoh gets a back elbow in the corner, then a Jericho running facejam. Now she’s pumped up and goes for the ten punch count-along. Does Japan know to count along?
Snapmare and FALLING HEADBUTT OF DOOM gets two. Boston Crab follows, but Mizunami smiles while in it and powers out. Itoh charges into a powerslam for two. Running lariat against the ropes by Mizunami and another legdrop gets two, brother. Rock Bottom try, but Itoh elbows out only to run into a forearm. Itoh has had enough of this and fires back as we get a slugfest. Itoh seems to win, but Mizunami wants more and receives it in abundance. Mizunami boxes Itoh’s ears in return, adding an elbow to the face to floor Itoh. Big chop and lariat by Mizunami, but she runs into a Maple Leaf Crab. Itoh tries to drag Mizunami to the middle, but Mizunami breaks.
Itoh headbutts the lariat arm of Mizunami (apparently she’s an honorary Samoan) and Itoh is fired up, getting a wind-up headbutt to stagger Mizunami. Mizunami tries to give one back and gets the worst of it. They have a FOREHEAD BEAM WAR for lack of a better term, and Itoh ends it with a leaping DDT and Tornado DDT for two. Itoh goes up top, but the diving heabutt misses. Spear by Mizunami gets two, and Mizunami gets a triangle and rolls Itoh all over the ring for the tapout at 10:45. I’d have to call this an upset, chief. Itoh’s antics were great in a sports entertainment way, and Mizunami is doing nothing for me, so I think the wrong woman won. *3/4
Main event: Aja Kong (0-1) vs. Rin Kadokura (0-0). Kadokura trained at MPW and has about four years experience. She is one half of the WAVE Tag champs with Itsuki Aoki, but this is her highest-profile match. Aja Kong has been around forever – she was going to be a WWF Women’s Champion way the heck back in 1995 had Alundra Blayze not dumped the title. In fact, according to Excalibur, Kong has been wrestling for two-thirds of her life, debuting in 1986. About the only thing she hasn’t done is win an American women’s title, and here’s the chance to fix that. And yes, Kong still has the Ultimate Warrior facepaint.
Kadokura jumps the gun and dropkicks Kong before adding forearms to no effect. She can’t whip a practically bored Kong, so she forearms away some more before running into a lariat. Kadokura with more forearms that do nothing, and Kong with a single right and cross chop (with Great Kabuki pose) leads to an elbowdrop for two, two, and two. Kong stands on Kadokura’s hand and stomps it before toying with Kadokura. Kadokura keeps firing forearms to see if something will hurt Kong (hint: no), and Kong follows with chops in the ropes. A big right and Kong gets a warning about a closed fist. Overhead palm strike floors Kadokura, and Kong picks her up for a huge piledriver for two. That would’ve been the finish on Dark.
Kadokura with a leaping DDT out of nowhere to get Kong off her feet (finally), then a running Shanna dropkick in the ropes. Kadokura goes up, and a shotgun missile dropkick gets one before Kong’s in the ropes. Excalibur chalks that up to experience. Kadokura wants a Northern Lights suplex, but Kong blocks with ease and goes to the knees. Kadokura keeps firing away on Kong and runs in, catching a lariat to try a crucifix. Kong sits on her for two. Big kick to Kadokura’s midsection as Excalibur is feeling sympathy pains.
Backdrop driver attempt, but Kadokura blocks and uses elbows to escape. Kong comes in with a pair of clotheslines and covers with one foot for two. Kong goes for the Vader Bomb, but Kadokura pulls herself up and keeps firing away, yanking Kong off the ropes onto her back. Now Kadokura goes up, and a Tornado DDT and cannonball connect for two. Kadokura goes back up top, but a twisting senton bomb airballs. Kong with the Backdrop Driver for… two. Don’t ask how. Kong has said enough of this garbage and tries a brainbuster, but Kadokura blocks. Kong with a stiff right and lariat for two. Kong goes all the way up, and the diving back elbow finally ends it at 7:02. That, my friends, is how you do a 1 vs 16 matchup in wrestling. **1/4
Aja Kong vs Ryo Mizunami is the other semifinal.
Wednesday, it’s Serena Deeb vs Riho!
Well, I shouldn’t be disappointed with four matches that would be fun and high-end on the AEW Dark scale. Sakazaki is now the one I hope gets out of this, because she got an incredible performance out of Suruga, the youngest and least experienced of the eight. Kadokura’s “I am in deep trouble but I’m going down fighting” was something more wrestling should do (and the indies often try). Itoh is the most US-ready, being a legitimate singer and having comedy quirks, but it seems inevitable in hindsight she’d lose.
Which brings me to a rather unfortunate observation: all four new names lost. Look, I get it, the four winners are people AEW fans have seen before and are the ones you’re hoping to bring back from Japan, but this seems like a lost opportunity. Suruga looked great, but needed to lose. VENY would’ve been a gutsy choice, and putting them against Sakazaki while keeping Sakura as a Japanese trainer is what I would’ve done. Itoh over Mizunami felt like it would make more sense, especially since Kadokura had no chance against Kong. I’ll admit that’s a style preference – we’re going to get a wild stiff brawl in Mizunami/Kong, whereas Itoh/Kong would’ve been “plucky underdog against force of nature”… which we got in Round 1.
I wasn’t able to make much of a deal out of it while typing moves furiously, but Excalibur was incredible on commentary. It’s hard to call the match while filling in an audience seeing most of the people in the show for the first time, but Excalibur was able to switch back and forth without much trouble. I admit he did better than I ever could, and probably better than most.
I kind of hope we get a tag match with the four quarterfinal losers. VENY/Kadokura vs. Itoh/Suruga would be tons of fun, especially if Shida has them use a US formula for the tag match and Suruga gets that hot tag.
See you tomorrow for AEW Dark, everyone! Here’s where we stand in the Japan Regional: