Joshi Spotlight: AJW Tag League THE BEST 1994 (Part One)

The best match of the show, BY FAR- Las Cachorras Orientales vs. Manami/Takako.


* And 3/4 through the year, we hit another Tag League THE BEST installment! This one features some established squads, plus weird random duos (Manami/Takako?). There’s also a “Junior League” of rookies between AJW & JWP, giving us Interpromotional Rookie Mayhem once more! At last! this one is highlighted by a TREMENDOUS LCO vs. Manami/Takako match, as well as showcases for Mariko Yoshida, Sakie Hasegawa, and the monster Aja Kong/Reggie Bennett team.

“TL;DR- Why Should I Care?”: LCO vs. Manami/Takako is another classic in a long line of great Toyota & LCO matches this year. The rest of the card is mainly about the rookies and some rising up the card for Sakie Hasegawa against an old standby “gatekeeper”, but the main is also very good.

* Rookie Mayhem! Ito & Tomoko lead squads of jobbers against each other. Everyone else is REALLY new, debuting in ’94- Kaneyama (kinda square and not very athletic-looking) doesn’t have a Cagematch profile and disappeared quickly. Shiina & Misae had long careers (2006 & 2008, respectively), the latter being pretty decorated with minor belts. Endo lasted eight years and held no gold. Ito’s in green & yellow (tights instead of Peter Pan gear), making her look like a jobber, and the other two are in black Jobber Swimsuits. Tomoko’s in black & white, and the other two… also black Jobber Swimsuits (Shiina with red & Kaoru with blue). Ya gotta EARN the next tier of garish gear in AJW!

Ugh, 2/3 of the ring has the same tomboy haircut and black gear- THIS is gonna be fun to recap. The rookies start, Shiina working on Endo. Tall, scrawny Misae takes a beating from Tomoko, stiff as always. After some stretching, Ito just LAUNCHES her ass right into Tomoko’s face as the “vets” square off. Ito does another and hits the Corner Senton for two, but Tomoko bulldogs her, and Shiina more or less forces Ito to sell after repeated dropkicks. Misae does a bunch of Moolah Whips to Shiina and Tomoko slingshot elbows Ito as the pace pretty much keeps up. Ito dodges a triple-dropkick and stomps two of them, then Tomoko slingshots onto all three from THEIR triple-team! Ito’s judo flipped twice for two, but gets Running Stomp Spam for two. She’s stalled and misses a Flying Stomp, but reverses a Rana to a Powerbomb for two. Tomoko finally gets the Rana, but climbs and BLINDLY moonsaults like an idiot, missing completely and eating the Flying Stomp for three (12:38). Wow, they had the elder take the fall?

Pretty good pace for a rookie bout, Ito & Tomoko occasionally putting “proper” offense in. Shiina spent by far the most time in the ring of the kids, as they seemed to want her better technical stuff to “center” the rookies. Kaneyama was barely in there at all- like 30 seconds, maybe?

Rating: ** (not flashy, but the Ito/Tomoko segments were good and nobody embarrassed themselves)

* Tamada is green as grass and in an orange Jobber Swimsuit (with a single orange sleeve), and Nouchi’s pretty good already, and in red & silver- much more elaborate gear, marking her as someone who didn’t debut yesterday.

Some hesitant rookie stuff starts us off, Nouchi missing a flying cross-body and Rie hitting her own. A dropkick gets an ovation, but they settle into stretching, fighting for stuff that either makes it look real or unpracticed. Rie scissorhold gets two. Cross-body and she SLAPS Nouchi, showing some character. Vicious-ass crab looks like it hurts like hell- Nouchi is Toyota-tier stretchy. She comes back with a victory roll for two, but Rie hits a pair of spinning cross-bodies for two, and two missile kicks nearly finish it. They try rollups and Nouchi hits a missile kick off the top for two. Rie drags her off the top and climbs, but gets caught with a Superplex for the three (10:09), struggling against the pin but can’t kick out.

Very basic and rookie-esque, with some ugliness, but Tamada brought the character stuff and some real fire, ultimately looking a lot better in defeat than Nouchi did in victory. She really showed off and is already better than Chikako Shiratori and other rookies.

Rating: **1/2 (surprisingly good match between two rookies- kept simple and just active enough to not be boring)

* Oddly, I can only find the second part of this on YouTube- even though it’s just all on one person’s channel! So if this is a mat classic in the 8-9 minutes a 10-year old YouTube video would allow, I missed out! Yagi is “Best Rookie”, hitting judo stuff, and I have to think is above Kumiko in the pecking order, but that might just be the fact that JWP matches are 15 minutes long regardless of the tiers. Yagi’s in pink & black, and Kumiko’s in an ugly blue Jobber Swimsuit with a diagonal flashy bit.

We start with Yagi reversing a bodyscissors to a half-crab, and Kumiko gets a BIG reaction for powering out of it (!), then hits a REALLY good dropkick! Side kick and jobber offense follows, but Yagi uses a judo flip for two, then does a good crucifix reversal of a clothesline for the same. She does a couple of Argentine Backbreakers, dropping her from the submission for a two-count, Yagi rolls her up for two, and then Kumiko ducks a clothesline and knocks Yagi on her ass with a side kick to the face… for three (4:06 shown)! A fan on the hard camera completely marks out, and everyone has this “Wow- she BEAT her!” reaction. This has to be the start of the “Kumiko is a legit martial artist” push that’d bring her really far in joshi.

Rating: ** (not bad for what was seen- good counters and a surprise win)

* Each league’s flashiest wrestler is set for the next rookie bout. I’d have bet either one as the favorite for the whole thing, actually. ASARI’s in the yellow & silver thing, while Candy’s in black & white/silver.

ASARI jumps Candy the second she’s in the ring, busting open her lip with a dropkick into the corner and hitting a flying plancha to the outside! They try takedowns in the ring, ASARI hitting her jumping knees for one, but Candy powers out of a choke and hits Barbarian’s “Kick of Fear” for two. ASARI wins chain-wrestling for a pair of long restholds, but Candy tries Manami’s “Running No-Hands” move… and biffs it, landing on the back of her head. Ouch. ASARI hits dropkicks and adds more stretching (higher-tier this time), but Candy reverses to a choke. She hits the Run-Up Flying Cross-Body for two to pick up the pace, then ASARI hits a running victory roll for two. Rana out of the corner for the same, and they fight up top until Candy hits a big missile kick- “Fuck YOU!” bridge!

They trade backslides and ASARI reverses a second Kick to an ugly pin, then hits her Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kicks- Standing Moonsault gets two! She goes up, but gets kicked in the ass to a huge bump to the floor. Candy hesitates, but gets a plancha, missile kick, backdrop & Rolling Germans, but ASARI reverses the second German for two. Candy tries again, but ASARI Germans her as the time ticks down and the crowd starts to get really into it. They can’t hold the bridge at all, but ASARI hits the Sky Twister Press, splattering Candy’s head… for two! But nope, they reposition the pin and THAT’S the three at (14:33). The crowd goes nuts for that, tossing streamers into the ring and chanting ASARI’s name like this is a colossal victory.

This was a weird one- ASARI dominated the entire match, and rather than that resulting in Candy winning… ASARI just won. They also appeared to not be on the same page, repeatedly struggling to get into things, standing there while someone repositions their arm, etc. This mostly seemed to come from Candy’s end, as maybe the pace was a bit weird- they’re usually sprinting in these, and this felt more hesitant. Adding all that together, I’m wondering if Candy wasn’t stunned by that early attack (her face went into the corner)- like ASARI had to call the match while Candy was in rough shape (it’s weird for her to raise a shoulder off the finish, then get held down- without much of a struggle- for the final pin). The flow seemed fine, so it was just the application that was off.

Rating: **3/4 (standard good match from these two, but mostly on ASARI’s end- Candy seemed out of sorts)

* Oh now this is interesting. A rare singles match in the later part of the card, with rising star Sakie going up against the ultimate gatekeeper of AJW- given we’re starting Sakie’s mega-push here, it seems like Minami would be an ideal “first star jobbed” (like she was to Mita last year)… but Minami’s always credible enough to threaten anyone at this tier. Sakie’s in a banana-yellow & green singlet, while Minami’s in orange & yellow. Very color-clashy tonight.

Sakie attacks right away, but Minami pulls out some reversals, always the clever veteran. Sakie works on the taped-up arm with some good submission stuff, but Minami makes the ropes and is more guarded, actually hiding the injured arm with her body before a lockup. She drops to avoid the Rolling Butterfly Suplexes, so Sakie just knees her in the face and hits it, bridging for two. Minami does some really nice counters to more arm stuff, including sweeping Sakie’s arms out to break a bodyscissors and get two, but Sakie keeps going to the arm, just legdropping it at one point. Minami finally comes back by simply tossing Sakie around, then hits restholds to slow her game. Sakie comes back with a hooking clothesline but misses a Savate Kick. She dodges a missile kick but takes a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker- Flying Senton misses, and Sakie hits three Uranages in a row for two. Minami reverses another, but her own powerbomb is reversed, and she boots Sakie off the top and hits a dive as the crowd has just DIED by this point. Like the pace just slowed and they went out like a light. She hits a huge missile dropkick to try and win them back… but Sakie reverses a whip to a Savate Kick- getting three (11:01)!

Except Minami CLEARLY threw her shoulder up before the ref’s hand touched down, setting off a chorus of boos as even Sakie is like “WUH- Did I really?” to him. The bell rings but everyone just kinda stands around- Minami argues the point and Sakie just crouches there, not knowing what to do, and the crowd chants for a restart and we FINALLY get one. Sakie machine-guns her with shots, but Minami hits a big running slap to a pop. They reverse on each other and Minami hits a Kneeling Powerbomb for two, Sakie reversing the pin for the same. Minami aims for another, but Sakie Kidmans out and hits a shock Savate Kick, holding down a flailing Minami… for three (1:14)! Sakie has this look on her face like “My big win… and THIS is what happens?”, not even bothering to act happy about the victory, but at least the crowd applauds, getting that this pin was fair.

Oh man, what a disappointment. They had a good match going at first, Minami continually impressing me with smart, practical reversals (her counter-wrestling remains the sharpest in AJW to me- like every move is “Hey, that was the perfect thing to do in that exact spot”), but they let the pace drop just a bit too long and lose the crowd, and are just starting to win them back when the ref overdoes his hand-slap to the mat, and everyone stands around in confusion so the girls can do their planned ending… but by this point they kind of lost the game and are too confused. Sakie doesn’t have the ring-smarts yet to react appropriately, so you can just read it all over her face that this was a botch (ordinarily she’d be SUPER-happy to have won an upset, as she has in the past), and then it’s awkward as hell until they restart it, and by then Sakie’s reacting to her victory like she just shot Old Yeller. Basically a big attempt at a coronation for Sakie’s rising star and it’s a wet fart.

Rating: **1/2 (good stuff with a few minor pacing issues, and then the ending just screws it all up)

Part Two, Part Three, Part Four (a previous version I reviewed cut out a couple minutes, apparently)

* I’m pretty sure that’s when this was- the timeline and result fits, and it’s clearly 1994-ish owing to Mita’s high-waisted outfit. She’s got the black & gold variant of the two-piece, while Shimoda’s in black & red with gold tassles. Takako’s wearing a very frilly white & black spackled thing, while Manami’s in the usual black leotard with cut-outs, and a silver front.

LCO tries to beat up Takako at first, but Manami flies in with a Missile Dropkick on both of them, then does another one to the outside! Then Takako holds Shimoda in Tombstone position and bumps her into the corners before hanging her in the Tree of Woe and casually flipping off Mita in her own corner. oh, Takako. But LCO gets them back, hurting Manami and doing multiple poses while strangling her on the ropes. Hangman choke in the corner, then the “Choke & Smile” bit from Mita, but Manami keeps coming back with those great, desperate claw-swipes. Mita then hits her Blazing Chops for two, and Shimoda attacks, but takes the Manami Roll. But she dares slap Shimoda and turn her back, so Mima grabs her ex-partner and it turns into a full-on hairpulling slapfight. Oh, these two. Mita adds a chair assault outside the ring, but Manami just defiantly grabs one and launches it at her ass! Mita gets a Northern Lights Suplex back in the ring for two. Manami does the Pop-Up Dropkick to come back, but Takako gets tossed around immediately. She comes back by tossing Mita off the top with her Super Armdrag and Tombstones her for two, and boy, if there’s one person who can match LCO’s attitude in the ring, it’s HER, because she’s soon choking away and taunting, including flipping off the crowd with what looks like a sarcastic “I’m just being cheeky” wink. And after some stretching and Toyota Dropkick Spam, she’s in there taunting an Octopus Stretched Shimoda. I wish I understood Japanese, because the whole crowd visibly cracks up at some of her shit-talk.

Mita wows the crowd by folding Manami in half backwards with some sickening submissions, but then Manami hits the No-Hands Springboard Crossbody on Shimoda and Takako takes over, but LCO keep finding ways to reverse stuff- Takako makes the mistake of pointing to her head after dodging a Shimoda move, then gets her Aurora Special attempt reversed to a near-fall as a result. Shimoda even stops a double-team with her falling clothesline on both. And Toyota hits the Rolling Cradle, but Mita pulls her off the top and dumps both girls, setting up the Assisted Plancha/Tope combo. Manami takes a HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE bump off of a Super Electric Chair Drop, barely sliding out after 2. Jesus, she went right onto her neck and folded over. But she STILL manages a Manami Roll from a Powerbomb attempt, then (after landing on knees from a splash) a No-Hands Springboard to BOTH LCO members!

Doomsday Device Aurora Special/Dropkick, but they screw up which one was legal, and that allows Mita to avoid a Moonsault, then Shimoda takes a German, but reverses the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex to a Tiger Suplex for a near-fall. Mita in, but the DVD is reversed to a German, and she takes a Moonsault for a near-fall! Takako in for a Backdrop Hold and a Super Chokeslam for more close calls! Poor Etsuko is taking a BEATING! Slick timing as Mita does a Flying Knee from Takako, but takes teleporting Missile Dropkick from off-camera Manami, but the No-Hands Springboard Plancha only hits Takako! That sets up the Electric Chair/Splash combo on her! The DVD is teased again (the crowd loses their shit every time it’s applied), Manami runs in, but finally Shimoda’s able to hold her back long enough (and German Suplexes Takako in the meantime) to allow Mita free reign- Death Valley Driver!!! And that’s good enough for the three (23:28).

hahaha, holy CRAP- I was leaning towards “yeah, this is probably gonna be **** just because of the participants and nice moves”, and the clever ways LCO kept finding their way back from any momentum shift, but then the last five minutes was non-stop bombs as they desperately tried for whatever they could- Manami hitting TWO Springboard moves, that Tiger Suplex reversal, the multiple double-teams and huge moves to Mita, and she FINALLY hits the DVD after numerous teases- that move sets up so much drama in these bouts, and Mita really took a pounding like a champ in this one, selling her ass off and going up for everything. Great showcase for her and her offense, as well as her durability. Taking a Springboard Crossbody, Doomsday Device Dropkick, German, Moonsault, Backdrop Hold & Super Chokeslam all in succession is some grade-A badass shit.

Rating: ****1/2 (expected to be great because of the participants, and it STILL surprised me!)

* Yoshida’s “Re-Challenge” continues, as she takes on the woman she scored a shocker-win over in the 1992 Grand Prix, shortly before an injury stalled her career. Kyoko’s only grown in credibility since then, while Yoshida’s obviously got work to do to level up. Yoshida’s in a hideous powder-blue singlet with a big sun on the belly, while Kyoko’s in the usual pink & yellow.

Fast pace to start as they trade blows, Yoshida getting put up top for trying her monkey flip, but doing an armdrag off there anyways. Kyoko stuffs her with technical stuff, using her power, but Yoshida reverses a few things. They spin each other’s arms a bit, Yoshida hitting her Run-Up Flying Cross-Body for two. Monkey flip gets two now, and she dropkicks Kyoko out and hits a Run-Up Plancha! Flying splash in the ring gets two, and she knocks Kyoko out again, following with a dive through the corner! Yoshida lands a three-limb submission for a bit, then dodges Kyoko’s Run-Up Flying Back Elbow and teases an upset with La Majistral. A whip from Kyoko sees another Run-Up move, as a sloppy sunset flip gets 1, then another flash pin gets two. Kyoko finally rears up and levels her with a Lariat… getting three (9:41). Well that was weird.

Interesting psychology here, as Kyoko would stuff Yoshida’s enthusiastic stuff and technical skill not with her own, but just from raw power, often simply pushing her down or wrenching a headlock to reverse. Then Yoshida got a huge surge of moves, flying all over the place and doing flash pins everywhere, until Kyoko trucks her for the academic win. The finish felt very out of nowhere, though, because little work was done beforehand. Yoshida’s still weak from her return, but one move knocks her out after KAORU fought her for a half-hour?

Rating: **1/2 (some good stuff, but the finish wasn’t in much doubt and it was pretty short)

* So it’s the Monster Squad vs. The UWF-Style wrestlers, with Hotta perhaps renewing hostilities with Aja after their brutal WWWA Title match in January (they’re also having a rematch in November). Aja’s in red & gold, and Reggie’s in a pink shirt. Yamada & Hotta are wearing near-identical types of gear- Hotta in black & silver, and Yamada in yellow & silver.

Reggie catches Yamada’s kick immediately, then clotheslines down both Kick Demons. Aja slaughters Yamada with kicks and Reggie chinlocks her, then hits a belly-bash in the corner. Yamada avoids another, but gets her leg tied in the ropes after a kick and Reggie just yanks on it. Aja puts her full body weight on the leg in a series of restholds and just KILLS the knee at points- Yamada bails to recover, and Aja divebombs it AGAIN. She drags Yamada to the corner by her damn kneepad, but she finally spinkicks Reggie a couple times to escape. Hotta & Reggie collide, but Reg suplexes both Kick Demons and hits the big splash for two. They get into a fun scrap, trading elbows and refusing to back down. Reggie gets a crab and Aja’s in, dominating with methodical offense.

Reggie’s spinning powerslam gets two on Yamada, and she gets a fun sequence where Yamada tries to get her to sell and she won’t, blocking and reversing stuff. Yamada finally gets Enzuigiri Spam for two, but Reggie reverses a whip and avalanches her, then Team Big squashes Yamada between them. 2nd-Rope Splash- Hotta saves. Yamada gets a lucky Spinkick for two on Aja, but Hotta’s killed with a Backdrop Driver. Yamada halts a Super move, letting Hotta use a Flying Rolling Kick for two. Aja reverses a powerbomb but Hotta dodges Reggie’s next 2nd-Rope Splash, then kills Aja with the Straightjacket Superplex! She signals the Pyramid Driver, but no way- Aja reverses, Hotta puts her arms up to block the Uraken… and Aja spins the OTHER way, hitting her in the back and opening her up for the REAL Uraken, finishing at (18:13). Smart finish there.

Slowwwwwwwwwwwww match to start, and never really jacked up the pace until the last couple, which was odd to see- it ended up being total domination from Team Big, as Yamada in particular sold her ass off and got completely destryoed, and even Hotta didn’t turn the tide. This, this was insanely one-sided, to the point where Yamada was a jobber. Some of the exchanges were kinda ugly, especially involving Reggie, but that almost made them fun- like it wasn’t so choreographed and was two people legit trying everything they could to win. Then Hotta gets that last surge and you almost by a comeback win until Aja NOPES her by avoiding a big finish and hitting her own.

Rating: ***1/4 (I liked it! Solid psychology and dominance and a good finishing stretch)

Match Ratings:
Ito/Misae/Endo vs. Tomoko/Shiina/Kaneyama: **
Rie Tamada vs. Fusayo Nouchi: **1/2
Kumiko Maekawa vs. Hiromi Yagi: **
Chapparita ASARI vs. Candy Okutsu: **3/4
Suzuka Minami vs. Sakie Hasegawa: **1/2
LCO vs. Manami/Takako: ****1/2
Kyoko Inou vs. Mariko Yoshida: **1/2
Aja/Reggie vs. Hotta/Yamada: ***1/2

A pretty mediocre card aside from a FANTASTIC LCO/Idols match, as it’s more about giving newbies some experience and testing out the next gen, with Sakie scoring a big win (that was ultimately disappointing) and Yoshida getting bounced by a veteran. Only two matches above *** would be disastrous for AJW normally, but like… these matches had a purpose beyond star-ratings, ya know?