Joshi Spotlight: AJW Grand Prix 1994 (Part Two)

The Main Event- another Toyota/Yamada match in their never-ending series of ****+ masterpieces!

AJW GRAND PRIX 1994 (Part 2):
* And it’s time for another edition of the yearly AJW Grand Prix. Since the first one isn’t on YouTube, I only have this second part here for review. We get a couple of matches from it, plus the return of MARIKO YOSHIDA, who has been out since just after *1992*’s Grand Prix, missing out on most of the Interpromotional Era due to a neck injury. The neat things about Grand Prix shows is that everyone has a huge fire lit under their ass to perform- like it’s as big as the “Arena Shows” or what-not, and they’re looking to show off and have the best match possible. The hard camera front row is pretty funny- two nerdy guys and a Skeevy Porn Dad, plus a bored-looking girl with dyed red hair.

This year’s edition worked slightly differently- it’s a ten-woman round robin tournament instead of featuring “blocks”. And a few big stars are out- Aja (the Champs are never in these, I think), Akira Hokuto (kinda maybe retired) & Kyoko Inoue. No interpromotional guests this time around, either.

“TL;DR- Why Should I Care?”: This is a remarkably epic show, with a FANTASTIC match between a returning Mariko Yoshida & KAORU, then another classic bout in the storied Toyota/Yamada rivalry. Plus a remarkable three midcard matches actually hit ***1/2, which is pretty rare for any show.

Yumiko Hotta——–13
Manami Toyota——12
Sakie Hasegawa—–11
Toshiyo Yamada—–10
Mima Shimoda——10
Takako Inoue——–10
Etsuko Mita———10
Suzuka Minami——8
Kaoru Ito————-6
Tomoko Watanabe–0

So it looks like they’re mostly tied up and trade wins, with Hotta edging out Toyota in the lead, with Sakie, Yamada, Mita & Shimoda close in. SAKIE outstripping YAMADA is a major deal, honestly- Yamada losing her All-Pacific Title to Kyoko Inoue and now this seems to mark her as being de-pushed (though that wouldn’t be for a bit). Sakie scored a shocker win over Manami in the last show, which is another case of her furthering push in 1994.

* Rookie Mayhem! Yoko’s making her debut tonight, and gets a good reaction for it- she’s a tall-looking girl with short hair who never went anywhere… until quitting wrestling for MMA, where she had a long career (her Wikipedia page is HUGE). She’s teaming with Rie against future star Kumiko and the future Misae Genki. Kumiko’s in blue & white, Misae black, Rie white & blue and Yoko in black & purple. This is super-clipped.

Everyone trades basic stuff and we’re clipped to Rie scoring a billion dropkicks on Misae, pinning her after a standing backdrop and holding her down (2:03).

Rating: N/A (almost all dropkicks with just some early “toss them around” stuff)

* A random tag match featuring the upper-mid vet teaming with the tiny rookie ASARI, while Shimoda’s with Tomoko. Minami’s in orange & pink, ASARI’s in red & silver, Shimoda’s in red & gold, and Tomoko’s in black & white. This is clipped pretty heavily, I imagine.

Tomoko hits the mother of all dropkicks on ASARI right away, and Shimoda tears her all over the ring. Clipped to ASARI’s Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kicks on Tomoko, but she slingshots onto both opponents. Shimoda stops a double-superplex and Tomoko lands on both of them, then barely wings ASARI with a Moonsault Press. Minami stops Shimoda’s Tiger Suplex and backbreakers both, but misses her senton. Shimoda dives onto both, but eats feet coming off the top. She manages a Tiger Suplex for two, but Minami powerbombs her for two (ASARI drags Tomoko out of the ring). A straightjacket German finishes at (3:53 of ??).

Rating: ** (actually a very frenetic match given the clipping- shitloads of double-team attempts and reversals. Obvious “early match on the card” ending, as someone hits a big move, then a follow-up for the easy win, instead of this giant series of counters)

* Two of the “Up & Comers” division, who are often even stevens in matches, despite Sakie being clearly higher up in the card. Sakie’s in the multicolored paintsplatter singlet, while Ito’s in the yellow Peter Pan gear with green shorts- man, I thought she’d retired that.

Everyone flies around with a billion running attacks in the most Standard Joshi Opening ever, then a couple of minutes of crab-holds and Ito literally stomping on Sakie’s ass. She comes back with more running stuff and works the arm, fighting for a cross-armbreaker for a solid minute in an interesting bit. She hits a German and finally gets the move for real. Ito finally gets out and USES THE ASS, and the rolling senton gets two. More crabs & chinlocks as we get the “Ito Problem” she never quite got out of, but hits Stomp Spam until missing a senton and Sakie locks in the death sleeper she usually pulls out in her matches against vets. Ito just pulls hair to escape, then fight up top for a superplex for half a minute, teasing monster bumps to an anticipatory crowd until Ito just fails a super facecrusher and lands on the floor, then Sakie dives out onto her. Good timing, there. Ito avoids the Uranage & Savate Kick, and they trade rollups for twos. Sakie finally fights her into a neck-dropping Uranage. Another couple, and she gets two, looking like a dominant wrestler, now- so much so that Ito gets a big ovation for the kickout.

Ito cannonballs her after a whip and hits a great sliding dropkick to the face. Ito fires off a ton of dropkicks & a DDT, then sends her vertical with another one, getting two. She blocks a Savate Kick reversal and absolutely TRUCKS Sakie with an elbow for two. The fans are getting into the near-falls now. Ito gets way too aggressive with a Flying Stomp Suicida, but just gets tossed off- Sakie dives off onto her, but now ITO reverses, dropkicking her in mid-air! And NOW it’s the Flying Stomp Suicida! She signals the end in the ring, but takes too long and Sakie springs to life- Savate Kick to the face! They do the “Rookie Pin” where Ito struggles and thrashes out, making the fans bite on it before she kicks out. Sakie, still selling the ribs from the stomp, is slow to capitalize and eats a Bridging German- two! She finally aims for the finish, going for the Flying Stomp… and Sakie rolls away, rolls her up, and gets the three (13:05)!

They actually had a hell of a match going by the end- usual “Early Match Pace” to start, with speedblitzing attacks until they sit on each other’s butts in restholds, but both of them brought the fire as the match went on. What I noticed was how dominating Sakie was- instead of fighting from beneath, she was doing the best stuff and leading the match. Like, as soon as she hit three Uranages in a row mid-match, the fans were into it, because they felt like the next move could be it from either one. Ito’s spirited comebacks got their attention, and they both kept getting ahead of themselves on the top rope stuff until Sakie finally got caught in a huge move. So the pace was logical, built to a finish, and there was good selling, as Sakie took that Flying Stomp to the outside and was just DONE, going from “dominant star” to “needs to win this quickly because she’s dying out there”. Also, going 13 minutes is an underrated benefit to their style- an extra 4-6 would have ruined the pace.

Rating: ***1/2 (I was ready to blow off Miki Lorefice’s *** rating because it seemed kinda plain at first, but they really impressed me out there)

* Yes, MARIKO YOSHIDA finally makes her TV return here, going up against Kaoru Maeda, whom you might have noticed me call out for lazy performances in the past- bouts against Bolshoi Kid & even Megumi Kudo made her come off as lazy to me. I swear I’ve seen her have great matches later on, though! And as she’s just been announced as part of Chigusa Nagayo’s GAEA Japan promotion… now’s the time to show off. Maeda, who’s on a middle tier and has lucha training, is a pretty solid opponent for a newly-returned act. Yoshida looks pretty much the same as when she left, with a yellow, blue & pink singlet. Maeda, now KAORU I guess, is now maskless (which, shall we say, is a better look for her) and in a black “Sakie Singlet” with gold designs on it.

KAORU gives Yoshida a friendly welcome back via a dropkick off the apron before she can even get in the ring, followed by a dive! The ref rings the bell as KAORU hits piledrivers while the ring girls desperately try to clear the ribbons out of the ring. The ref finally waves her off, concerned for Yoshida’s once-broken neck, but they settle into a long chain-wrestling sequence, KAORU taking the lead and coming up with good counters. Yoshida gets fired up and gives her some “Defiant Rookie” slaps, but KAORU lands a VICIOUS one while stuck in a leghold. Yoshida just powers through and stays on the leg for several minutes, switching up the holds, but KAORU flip-dodges out of a lariat once the pace quickens, and starts crushing Yoshida’s neck with a variety of painful-looking moves. Like, Yoshida is clearly straining (her face is squashed in a headscissors) and fighting, while KAORU makes sure to noticeably “dig” into moves. They even roll onto the floor in that and she STILL won’t break, just cranking that sucker on. They start smacking the shit out of each other to a great reaction, KAORU luring her into a wild punch and taking her down with a deathlock. Big cross-body misses and Yoshida snags her leg again.

Yoshida gets fired up again but gets dumped, then both have their dives stuffed until Yoshida misdirects and lands a cross-body out there. Superplex in the ring gets two. She does a half-crab, but gets annoyed and ties up KAORU’s arm and does a Toyota-style wishbone of her leg, then tries peeling off her kneebrace! KAORU bails to reapply it, but Yoshida charges her- chair fight! Yoshida stands on a chair to get a reaction and toss one, but gets hiptossed off it and thrown into a bunch more. Chair-choke and a posting have her reeling- piledriver on the floor! Absolutely PHENOMENAL Moonsault in the ring, but she hits knees! Yoshida works the ribs as the time counts down- Vertical Drop Pedigree! And one for the fans on the other side! Two-count, and she’s whipped to the corner- Run-Up Flying Cross-Body! But it misses! KAORU’s Hurricanrana gets two. Backslide and other flash-pins desperately try to score a win, but Yoshida hits a SUPER DDT! Two! Yoshida picks her up, but (30:00) hits and we’re done.

But wait! Both women argue for another shot! The crowd chants “Zenjo!” (AJW’s nickname) and we’re off in Sudden Death! They throw mirror image dropkicks four times, but KAORU catches her with a tombstone and dumps her. Quebrada!! She slams a stunned Yoshida and hits an amazing Moonsault- and another! And a third! And just to show that she’s in charge and this fucking punk bit off more than she could chew, she hauls her up and lands a Leg-Trap Backdrop Suplex Hold for the three (31:39). Poor Yoshida is sobbing in the back after this- she REALLY wanted to win.

Holy shit, where did THIS match come from? Yoshida’s back, and suddenly we get a whole new KAORU, fighting her ass off and proving her worth after months of “meh” performances. Like, they filled THIRTY MINUTES here and despite it almost all being technical stuff, at no point did it feel like they were wasting time or using restholds. They kept on limbs so it was consistent, the selling was good, and KAORU really cranked on some of that. And then it’s a three-minute brawl outside, and even THAT comes off as cool and not filler, because KAORU beats her ass and leaves her a wreck. And then we hit the “Escalating Finishers” with Yoshida hitting that damn Super DDT and just barely not getting the three. So she & KAORU get fighty and Yoshida tries to win in overtime… and gets absolutely wrecked, as KAORU suddenly flies like the best high-flier in wrestling, totally dominating her and looking like a champ. What a heartbreaker ending, making Yoshida look awesome in defeat for hitting 30:00 in her first match back.

Rating: ****1/4 (see? I TOLD you KAORU got good again!)

* I’m dreading Hotta just gobbling up Mita and no-selling her, but this is apparently pretty good. Mita’s in an orange & red splattered two-pieice I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, and Hotta’s in the yellow & blue swirl. Poor Mita looks like she’s marching towards her execution, but she gives her usual soft-spoken pre-match interview.

Mita pounces right away, but takes some kicks and they probably botch something so they square off more slowly this time- Hotta kicks her leg to drop her, then PLASTERS Mita with kicks to the back. Mita fights her ass off to avoid a Boston Crab, ending up in a half-one, Hotta leading the stretching segment. Mita slaps her way free of a bodyscissors and uses the hair-toss (not much hair on Hotta to pull that off, really). Long figure-four, with Hotta selling it mostly by grimacing and occasionally growling. More leg stuff, and a Northern Lights suplex gets two, but the Blazing Chop is countered with the Owen Hart enzuigiri! Hotta limps around, alternating with huge kicks to Mita, then hits the Rolling Corner Kicks- big reaction for the kickout. Her own leghold lasts two straight minutes, Hotta actually drawing a pop for cranking on the half-crab while Mita WAILS. Another plastering kick, this time while Mita’s hung upside-down in the corner, has Mita reeling, but she reverses a whip to a fireman’s slam- the crowd got excited, thinking it was her DVD, but she just dropped Hotta and deflated them- one of the issues with her offense having so many fireman’s-related moves.

Mita slaps on more leg stuff, but this time Hotta’s like “no no no no…” and taunts her, refusing to show pain… but then it’s REALLY cranked on. Blazing Chop gets two, but Hotta elbows her out of another. Hotta hits a backdrop suplex, but gets dumped trying a kick and Mita hits her dive. She goes for the Electric Chair Drop, Hotta backs out and throws a kick, but her leg gets hung up on the rope and NOW Mita gets it- clever. That gets two, but Mita flies off right into a kick. Tiger Driver fails, but an elbow blasts her and the second try works, getting two. Hotta goes up, but the Flying Rolling Kick misses (great timing on Mita’s “stumble”), she aims for the DVD as the fans go nuts- Hotta reverses and tries a piledriver, bit Mita reverses for the DVD again, and ultimately settles for a Blazing Chop. Another misses, Hotta misses a kick but locks the arms for another Tiger Driver, but a backslide… gets 2.99! Holy shit the crowd bit on that. Mita rollup & German get close calls, but Hotta reverses a whip to another Rolling Corner Kick for two. Straightjacket German off the top! Hotta pulls her up and two in a show of dominance and signals the end… but Mita falls back off of her powerbomb attempt, then they fuck up a tilt-a-whirl trying to make up for it. Hotta finally just kicks her and hits a Pyramid Driver (straightjacket powerbomb) for three (19:35).

A very unexpected match, almost all technical stuff like the last one, Mita not using brawling or power, and Hotta only sparingly getting her kicks. It was mostly “lying around”, but like… the best KIND of that, as they actually sold and told a bit of a story (Hotta refusing to act pained until she had to), after which they got into their usual stuff and actually worked some kickass reversals. That Electric Chair Drop reversal was cool as hell and the impact was GREAT, and all the Tiger Driver & DVD teases got the fans right into it. Mita scored a ton of great near-falls to have the fans expecting an upset (Sakie beat Manami at the last show- they know the JGP invites upsets), but Hotta finally just hit one last reversal to leave her helpless. Not sure what the deal was with the finishes (Hotta was doing a normal powerbomb lift- not her straightjacket), but perhaps Mita was just too tall and leggy for the typical flipping-lift stuff to work (I’ve seen Hotta mess up Pyramid Drivers on her more than once).

Rating: ***1/2 (they were gearing up for a fantastic match until the messed up ending- great near-falls and reversals, and stretching that wasn’t just a waste of time)

* A weird random tag team match, with the Ace & the Idol teaming up against the two peppy power-wrestlers. Aja’s in yellow & black, Takako’s in yellow & blue (that’s really striking, actually- a good Main Eventer-quality look that’s unique), Kyoko’s in pink & yellow, and Reggie’s in a pink shirt and jorts. Aja makes “air curves” to taunt Reggie’s zaftig physique, so Reggie jiggles it at the crowd deliberately.

Takako tries to charge in like a dum-dum, but she’s whipped into Aja and it’s a double-avalanche in the corner! Team Pep double-press-slams Takako, but she gets a German on Kyoko and Aja flattens Reggie with a Vader Attack. Double flip-off! Kyoko hits the Slingshot Backsplash to come back, and it’s the dancing deathlock- Takako scowls when Aja mimics the dance instead of helping. She finally chokeslams out, and Aja & Kyoko reverse running attacks until Kyoko does a weird legdrag (like an armdrag with her leg) off Aja’s shoulders. Aja soon thumps her, then mimics Kyoko’s dancing deathlock! Takako’s super armdrag gets two, but she eats a slingshot dropkick right to the chest! Reggie hits huge legdrops, but Takako is like “SQUIRREL TACTICS!” to escape, drawing more laughter. Aja & Reggie finally hit the ring, taking their time, and Aja goes flying back off a lockup, and they do FAT MAN STAND-OFF charges! Takako tries to get the crowd to chant for her in a funny bit, while Reggie no-sells chops and BLASTS Aja down with a swinging shot! Aja fires back with kicks, but Reggie flattens her with avalanches, practically Flair-Flopping her.

Kyoko fires away on Aja, but takes a Bubba Bomb (pretty much), landing on her ass, and Takako & Aja fly in with avalanches (Aja’s does more damage, obviously). Takako’s crab & STF stretch Kyoko out, but she Backsplashes onto both opponents! Aja saves Takako from the Reggie Rack, but they hit a Doomsday Device off the 2nd rope onto her for two. Huge splash from Reggie, but Takako gets her with a shocking Backdrop Suplex Hold (Reggie taking a huge bump in the process) for two! Reggie follows her up top, but you know what that means- Super Chokeslam! Reggie kicks out at 2, then double-lariats both women- Aja splashes both HER opponents to come back, but eats a superplex into Reggie’s 2nd-Rope Splash! Kyoko hits some MONSTER lariats for two. Aja reverses a charge to a powerslam and hits her own 2nd-rope splash for two- Backdrop Driver gets two, but she goes up… Sunset Flip Powerbomb reversal from Kyoko for two! Aja backdrops out of the Niagara Driver and tags Takako, who goes up for her Flying Knee- Kyoko ducks, but Aja lariats her. Takako goes up again, but Kyoko hits an INSANE Run-Up Belly-To-Belly Superplex, just LAUNCHING her. Aja tries to stop it, so Kyoko moves and she splashes Takako by mistake, then Reggie tackles Aja and holds her down- Kyoko hoists Takako up, switching to Splash Mountain for the three (15:38).

Fun little match that seemed to understand it was in a cooldown spot while all the solo wrestlers were showing off. Aja got to show off her comedy chops as she teased stuff with Reggie again. Takako did good selling and there was goofy stuff throughout, but they still did a ton of great hard-hitting spots. Reggie was used perfectly- all her stuff looks like dynamite when she’s used sparingly like this.

Rating: ***3/4 (good, fun, unpretentious match that honestly got really awesome- no resting hardly at all and tons of action)

* And now it’s a rematch of one of Joshi’s most legendary rivalries! The two are meeting in the 1994 Grand Prix while still WWWA Tag Team Champions, giving this a lot of drama. Notably, Manami’s never beaten Yamada without an “out”- in their famous Hair vs. Hair Match that Toyota won, Yamada had JUST wrestled a brutal tag team match. Toyota’s in the usual black gear, while Yamada’s in her more plain look- this time with a black & white motif and her name across the chest.

Yamada takes the lead right away with a pair of snap suplexes and some kicks, then a series of headlocks and facelocks that send them all over the ring for a very mobile bit of “filler”. Manami talks trash and throws slaps, but gets killed with kicks before finally making her Dropkick Reversal comeback and spamming more out. Delayed Butterfly Suplex actually spins into Toyota tossing her partner out of the ring and it turns into a NASTY slap-fight back in- yikes! Yamada catches her with a belly-to-belly and plasters her with more strikes, though, then leglocks slow things down (Toyota barking “NO!” defiantly makes it better). Whip turns into a Manami Roll to pop the crowd, but she eats a kick, blocks a kick, then takes a kick, but then BOOM- Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body for two! Damn, she has the best “Reversal Game” in history, I swear. She ducks a kick and hits a German, but a missile dropkick gets her locked into the Stump Puller. More stretching eventually leads to some missile-kick comebacks, then Manami locks Yamada in the ropes and kicks her square in the face a couple times! Damn, this is ugly.

A brawl outside soon turns on Manami, and a BRUTAL kick to the mouth leaves her bloodied. The crowd is unnerved and she takes her sweet time getting back into the ring… and immediately brains her partner with a shitload of Yamada-style kicks to the side of the head! hahahahah- that’s great! The crowd gives her an ovation while Yamada’s eyes roll back into her head on the sell-job- tremendous. Toyota hits the ropes, SCREECHING for Yamada to get up, then boot-fucks her square in the mouth from a running start. Elevated stomp to the face using the ropes ramps up the brutality, then we get a bridging suplex & perfect flying splash for two-counts. Yamada lands on her feet from a backdrop and gives a receipt for those kicks, then ties her in the ropes for a revenge spot on THOSE, too! She climbs after a long chinlock, but gets booted off and it’s a Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha! Manami, this is 20 minutes in- stop being insane. Rolling Cradle in the ring gets two, and she climbs, but gets German’d off from there.

Yamada tries a Superplex but gets missile dropkicked, but Manami’s Moonsault misses! Lariat turns to a German into a rolling pin by Yamada, but then she climbs and takes a Bridging Double-Underhook Suplex off their for two! She tries a Manami Roll again, but gets Powerbombed, then takes a Belly-To-Belly Super-Duperplex… and does a “Fuck YOU!” Bridge out of it! Yamada’s finisher is reversed to Toyota’s finisher into Yamada’s finisher, but Manami drops to end it- Yamada puts her in it again, revealing it was a botch, and she successfully rolls back to reverse- Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Straightjacket Electric Chair Drop w/ Bridge)! 1…2… KICKOUT! Jesus Christ, AGAIN that one fails in a big match! A fading Manami goes for a Moonsault… and hits knees! They do a dramatic double-K.O. out of that, leading to Yamada’s spin kick reversal, and she hits a Flying Enzuigiri after a fight in the corner, for ANOTHER bridge-out! Yamada’s finisher gets reversed to a Victory Roll for two, but Yamada gets a Dragon Suplex for the same! Manami dropkicks her off the top with an insane flat-back bump into the ring (she did that in the Kyoko match recently, too), then misses a Missile Dropkick Suicida- Yamada FINALLY lands her Reverse Gory Bomb in the ring, but Manami slides out after two! Yamada, desperate, tries it again, but Manami slides out and eats a kick for two. Yamada signals a big kick, but the Joshi Irish Whip of Transitions rears its ugly head, and she’s caught in a reversal- Bridging Double-Hammerlock Suplex- the Japanese Ocean Suplex- gets the win at (29:02)!

Slow match to start, but of course these two have amazing chemistry and it turned into a hot bout with a ton of near-falls. These two really do some of the best “early stuff/filler” in wrestling, too, as the opening minutes have a lot of character, great selling, and people moving around even in basic submissions that obviously won’t lead to anything. It makes a match constantly interesting to watch. The story of the match is that the partners once again get so riled up with competitiveness that they start fighting ugly, taking liberties, and getting just plain mean. The revenge-spots over the kicks were a thing of beauty, especially when Yamada got her back. In the end, the match really only suffered from a bit of “long for the sake of long” syndrome and maybe a few too many kickouts of MDKs (going five minutes after the Japanese Ocean Cyclone? Really?)- a tad self-indulgent, I guess. But still, incredibly awesome performance by both.

Rating: ****1/2 (they have chemistry like few others)

Match Ratings:
Kumiko/Misae vs. Rie/Yoko: N/A
Minami/ASARI vs. Shimoda/Tomoko: **
Sakie Hasegawa vs. Kaoru Ito: ***1/2
Mariko Yoshida vs. KAORU: ****1/4
Yumiko Hotta vs. Etsuko Mita: ***1/2
Aja/Takako vs. Kyoko/Reggie: ***1/2
Toshiyo Yamada vs. Manami Toyota: ****1/2

-So, ummm… yeah, this show kicked all kinds of ass. Two “very good” matches, and two matches above ****, including a Match of the Year contender from Toyota & Yamada. AJW pulling this off without having to rely on other companies is a great sign, and to be honest, having their midcarders and solo stars pump out ***1/2-****1/2 matches is probably more important for long-term health than anything.