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

* And now the final VHS release of 1994 for Joshi, as we end the 1994 Tag League! It looks like tonight it’s a three-way “Playoff Final” for the top ranks, as Aja Kong & Reggie Bennett, Kyoko Inoue & Sakie Hasegawa and Manami Toyota & Takako Inoue all end up tied (aw man, poor LCO)! Tragically, we’ve missed Kumiko Maekawa vs. Yoko Takahashi in rookie mayhem, and some showing of their trip to Bali in mid-December. Last year’s show saw a legendary bout in which Manami Toyota & Akira Hokuto beat Kyoko Inoue & Toshiyo Yamada in a PAIR of ***** matches back-to-back (the only time in history this has been done), so this show has an awfully big pair of shoes to fill.

Tag League THE BEST 1994:
* Both teams are ranked at the bottom, making this a solid early match. Tomoko & Rie both look heartbroken for their low standing, while the other two are Deer-In-Headlights. Yoshida’s in that gloriously terrible blue/pink/yellow thing, ASARI’s in light blue & silver (hey, that’s a new one!), Tomoko’s in black & white, and Rie’s in white & orange.

Everyone goes at a good pace to start, Yoshida hitting her run-up cross-body on Rie immediately. Tomoko finally gets in and takes over on ASARI. Crabs, slingshot elbow and more bully the kid. After 4-5 minutes of that, Yoshida’s finally back in and they pay Rie back for some earlier cheating by doing a double-team. Tomoko gets a pair of running bulldogs, but ASARI bridges out. Ten minutes in, we finally get Yoshida/Tomoko- Yoshida’s jackhammer gets two, but Tomoko fires back with a slingshot cross-body and scores her judo flips. Rie flies in with Running Rookie Offense and gets a pop from Korakuen for it. ASARI comes in with her Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kicks and the standing moonsault gets two. Both tag out and Yoshida misses her run-up cross-body, but Tomoko also misses a moonsault. Yoshida Germans Tomoko for a close two, then they trade pin attempts- sunset flip from Yoshida & Rana from Tomoko, then Tomoko fires off a huge lariat for two. Yoshida cartwheel dodges out and tags ASARI, but Tomoko hits another slingshot on both- ASARI reverses a whip to a rana for another close two! But she tries a whip of her own, and Tomoko just ripcords her in with another big lariat, scoring the three (13:59).

Rating: **1/2 (A very, very simple “rookie match”, mostly full of stretching and running attacks from the juniors until the good Tomoko/Yoshida segment, and it had a good ending few minutes, saving the match)

Tag League THE BEST 1994:
* LCO have done pretty well so far, beating Manami & Takako, but are #4 in the rankings. Minami’s in orange & blue, Ito’s in green & yellow, and LCO are in black & gold.

Minami & Ito attack before the bell, but Ito misses a Flying Stomp to the outside and LCO take over, whipping her all over the place. They work her leg for a while, but she escapes and Minami tries to tear Mita’s face off in clutches. Ito USES THE ASS on Mita, then dropkicks her to the floor and hits the Stomp off the apron and buries her under chairs! Her corner senton gets two, then a figure-four/flying splash combo keep up the punishment. Shimoda finally missile dropkicks in to stop the stretching, but runs hilariously short on a kick to Minami once she’s tagged in. Falling clotheslines set up LCO’s own outside beatdown, Mita paying back Ito with a chair-pile of her own. She adds a hangman’s choke to Minami (Minami clearly holding herself up with one arm) and sleeper, but Shimoda takes the tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Mita Blazing Chops Ito and hits a Superduperplex for two- “Fuck YOU!” Bridge from Ito! Ito misses an ass attack out of the corner and Mita slickly goes for the pin, but Ito takes advantage of the overshoot and nearly gets her.

LCO finally set up their Assisted Plancha/Dive combo- Electric Chair/Splash gets two on Ito. Minami stops a Tiger Suplex from Shimoda, but Shimoda hits her falling clothesline on both women as a counter. Missile kick gets two on Ito, and a Tiger Suplex hits- Minami saves. Ito reverses Mita’s DVD and escapes, and Minami reverses another electric chair drop with a victory roll for two- reversed back for two. Shimoda & Minami mess up something and resort to a backbreaker by Minami, and a powerbomb gets two. Ito’s Flying Stomp misses, but she gets Stomp Spam on Mita. Finishers are reversed again, but Minami hits a dive on LCO, and Ito FINALLY gets that Flying Stomp on her third try, getting 2 on Mita. Fourth and fifth DVD attempts fail, but Minami sets up a double team that proves disastrous, as Ito climbs and eats the Death Lake Driver (Tiger Superplex) from Shimoda, allowing Mita to FINALLY, on her sixth attempt, kill her with the Death Valley Driver for the win (18:56). LCO stays at #4 in the Tag League rankings!

Fine enough “filler” match, with Minami & Mita doing well in restholds, getting stuff like “double-fishhooking the mouth” and “trying to pry their fingers off” to make it mean something to the story. But there was a LOT of just lying around in the first half of this one, with people not really doing their full offensive flurries. They got a more solid match out the back half, Ito & Mita aiming for their finishers repeatedly being the “story”. A few mess-ups and Ito just being not that great yet, while Minami didn’t do much, didn’t help, putting this on the low end of “LCO Template” matches.

Rating: *** (mostly “just good enough” until a better final five minutes, but it was a bit too long and clearly not wrestled with full effort by anyone but Ito)

Tag League THE BEST 1994:
* Kyoko & Sakie were kind of an odd team at this point, but Near-Main Eventer & Future Star is a good combo, as is the “UWF-Style” Kick Demon duo. Sakie is notably also Blizzard Yuki by this point, but is sometimes just not. Sakie’s now in the most insane rainbow-colored singlet ever, just having vertical strips of every color running down it along with tassels, while Kyoko’s in the yellow with rainbow tassels. Hotta’s in white & silver and Yamada’s in yellow & silver.

Sakie gets ANNIHILATED to start, hung in the tree of woe while the Kick Demons light her up, then Yamada hits the snap suplex and plasters her with more kicks and Hotta adds an elbow off the second rope. Sakie tries to slap free of Yamada’s stretch muffler and gets a HUGE slap in return, but she struggles away and Kyoko hits a sloppy Slingshot Backsplash. She’s moving so clumsily I think her leg is legit hurt, and the Demons trade off on it for a few minutes. Once Sakie’s back in, she tries some sloppy kicks on Hotta and that doesn’t go her way at all. Hotta throws some very light face kicks to Sakie, but she gets a good “fired-up kid” comeback until Hotta stuffs her again. She tries to whip Yamada but gets kicked in the head- enzuigiri gets two.

Sakie finally fires back with a Savate Kick for two- Hotta saves. Kyoko helps her get another, but runs into a spinkick and now Sakie saves HER. Kyoko tries her Backsplash, but gets kicked by BOTH Demons, and Hotta lands a corner kick before Sakie charges in and eats another one- Hotta tries a Tiger Driver, but Sakie AGAIN charges in and takes her down. Yamada stops the Run-Up Flying Back Elbow so Hotta lands a low-angle Straightjacket German Superplex for two- Sakie saves. Tiger Driver gets two. Kyoko finally lariats out and Sakie hits Uranage Spam for two. Everyone then reverses stuff until Kyoko hits a huge Avalanche Powerslam on Yamada for two. Both get their finishers reversed and Yamada’s spinkick gets two, but she misses a Flying Enzuigiri and gets caught in Kyoko’s weird STF/Camel Clutch and gives up (13:43)- Team Neon wins!

Jesus, what a mess at first. Either they had no idea what kind of match they wanted to run or they were just feeding off each other’s clumsiness because they were staggering and slipping all over the place for several minutes. The Kick Demons were working very delicately for the most part, especially Hotta (compared to her usual, especially), probably because Team Neon had to fight later (I mean, they even found the safest way to German someone off the top rope- just kinda tossing her back at a low angle). And they did this weird thing where moves were treated like finishers after very little time, and the Kick Demons did EVERYTHING while the other two mostly just ate stuff until a quick comeback win because they had more matches to do. The reversal storms in the end were pretty good, but the audience was suuuuuuuper quiet for most of it because even they could feel the lack of effort and urgency here.

Rating: **3/4 (what happens when great wrestlers have to restrain themselves because they’re wrestling later)

Tag League THE BEST 1994:
* And now it’s The Idols vs. Team Big, as rivals Aja & Manami square off once more. Aja’s in orange & black, Reggie’s in pink construction worker gear, Manami’s in black & Takako’s in white & blue.

Aja disses Manami’s handshake to start, and a furious Manami kicks her in the ass, dumps her, then hits a Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha! First move of the match! Reggie dodges her missile kick… but stumbles right into Takako’s Flying Knee! She barely kicks out at two, and the Idols work over her leg for a bit until Manami just charges in with a HUGE kick straight to the mouth. Jesus Christ. Takako comes in with bitchy abandon and Aja actually has to save Reggie by cheating, then starts kicking some ass. Reggie gets the big splash & delayed suplex for two-counts, but Takako escapes- Manami tries clotheslines like a complete idiot and so Reggie wipes her out after no-selling two of them. Aja’s in, and counters a Manami Roll with a powerbomb for two. They keep working Manami over for a while, and her comeback just results in her eating a spinning slam from Reggie for two. She gets a dropkick out of the corner and whips Reggie using her hair (!!), but Reggie easily comes back on Takako.

Takako manages her armdrags on Aja, but the champ won’t give her anything else, easily resisting everything (Manami helps her get a crab, for example, but Aja just flings the idol off) until the idols just start double-teaming- but Aja just flattens them with a cross-body. Manami ducks the Uraken and gets a Bridging German for two, but Takako misses a follow-up Flying Knee and eats Reggie’s lariat on the landing, then Team Big just sandwiches her with a double-charge. Reggie puts Takako up top but takes an ugly Super Chokeslam coming down for two. Reggie batters them for a bit and Aja comes in, shoving both Idols into the corner and whipping Reggie in… but they both leap out of the way and Manami schoolboys her… for the three (11:32)!! The idols get a flash-pin! haha, WHAT? Korakuen explodes for the upset and Takako damn near adds a full * just for dismissively patting an angry Reggie on the head as she walks by.

Another kind of weird match- the AJW style isn’t really the proper “cadence” for tag matches under 15 minutes, because you see all kinds of mix-ups with the style and things tend to look like they end way too early, but this was the best possible kind of “hey, that wasn’t long enough”. It’s kind of important to make flash-pins score the fall once in a while, so fans bite on them in other bouts, too. And this serves the dual purpose of putting us into a three-way-tie in the Tag League.

Rating: ***1/4 (good quick bout- everyone left a HUGE amount in the tank for a highly abridged match, nobody even getting close to a finisher save Takako’s first move of the bout, but they still made it kinda fun)

* And now, with everyone tied in the rankings, they have to have a Three-Way Playoff to determine the Tag League’s actual winners!

* Aja & Reggie never leave the ring, and a nonplussed Kyoko & Sakie, not their usual selves at all, enter to no music nor announcing. Kyoko’s still limping, too.

Kyoko hits two lariats on Reggie right away, and they trade stretching until Sakie comes in and Aja wrecks her and takes her knee apart. Sakie finally escapes and Kyoko headscissors Reggie and has the audacity to try a surfboard, but Reggie pops out of it like a balloon under too much pressure in a funny bit that disappoints the crowd. Kyoko works the knee and is so f’d up that she literally CRAWLS across the ring in agony so Sakie can come in. Sakie takes a side slam but headscissors out of a second, then gets slammed and splashed for two. She makes a comeback on Aja but eats a Bubba Bomb, then Reggie’s helicopter slam for two. She falls out of the Reggie Rack and hits Savate Kick Spam for two, then Kyoko comes in and hits the worst Slingshot Backplash ever (just lightly stepping onto it with one foot and falling back). Powerbomb fails but she manages her run-up DDT to Aja, then ducks the Uraken and hits a BIG lariat! Another gets two, but Sakie runs into a chokeslam for a near-fall. Vader Attac- no! Savate Kick! Sakie scores a wicked Uranage that Aja sells amazingly (you can see the lights out in her head as she flops down). Another gets two and Sakie pounds the mat in frustration before aiming for another move, but only eats a Backdrop Driver- Kyoko saves. Oh God… SANDWICH ATTACK! Aja hits another Driver… two! This great “you FUCKIN…” look comes over Aja’s face and she kills Sakie with the Uraken for the emphatic three (10:44).

Very abridged lil’ match with a DEAD Kyoko adding very little aside from two lariats. The crowd got into Sakie’s comebacks, and her kicking out of repeated big moves is another sign of her climbing up the ranks. Loved the finish- Aja had an arrogant “count along with the ref” pin going, Sakie KICKS OUT, and Aja’s like “!!” and immediately segues to her killer finisher and hooks the leg- a great “okay this kid actually has to be taken seriously now” moment. If you can make Aja actually try, that means something.

Rating: **3/4 (short match that was quality mostly thanks to Sakie & Aja carrying things)

* Literally the third match in a row for Team Big, aka “They have an out for losing”. But there’s still a brawl on the floor before the match starts, with Manami getting cranked with chairs.

The match arbitrarily starts at some point, and Manami gets bludgeoned by Aja, then hit with a brutal running Dominator- “Fuck YOU!” bridge! They do that sick “slingshot them across Aja’s knees” spot and Reggie adds a SECOND-ROPE SPLASH whiles she’s draped there. Jesus FUCK! Some horrifying stretching follows as they pretzel her, Reggie seemingly inventing new stuff as she thinks of it (“Huh, I wonder what happens if I pull this leg in THIS direction…”). Aja adds a piledriver and combines a deathlock with a chinlock as Manami dies before our eyes, but she FINALLY escapes by playing Hotta for a sec and booting away. Takako gets chinlocked right away, but fires back with leg stuff, hitting a leglock on the floor while Manami dives off the top with a kneedrop! Manami eats a second Bubba Bomb tonight but immediately latches on a sleeper to wear Aja down. Reggie legdrops her ass right onto Toyota’s face (which couldn’t have been fun), but Aja takes a Manami Roll for two.

The Idols avoid Aja’s double-crossbody this time, but try a double sunset flip and she just sits on them. Manami hits a missile kick to come back, but the Moonsault eats feet! Reggie crushes the idols with a double-lariat, and Manami DESPERATELY saves Takako after the Second-Rope Splash. She foils a double-team and then flies off with a double missile kick to Team Big on the outside! But Manami gets caught in the ring with a Backdrop Driver, barely kicking out, and when she’s put up top and tries the Sunset Flip Powerbomb… she slips off, so Aja Banzai Drops her like in their Tokyo Dome match! Manami gets a foot on the ropes, and when Aja climbs again, she’s caught- VICTORY STAR DROP!! The absolute bugfuck “kill both of them” flip where Manami backflips with her legs under Aja’s arms, flipping both of them into a double-headdrop that is clearly fatal except both yet live. The crowd goes insane as Manami PINS AJA KONG (17:44), freaking out and tearing all over the ring in glee, having finally pinned the Ace again. “TO-YO-TA! TO-YO-TA!” chants break out across Korakuen Hall as we have a new top contender on our hands, if we hadn’t already.

Interesting little match, as Manami gets murdered like nobody else, and TAKAKO carries the comeback, largely through snapping leglocks on Aja constantly. Team Idol played it smart, though, wearing down Team Big through basic holds until they were outta gas in their third bout in a row- you saw them getting slower and slower (probably a shoot AND a work) until they got to use their speed in a series of comebacks. Takako honestly did almost NOTHING here but leg stuff, while Manami took all the offense and got all the big moves. The finish was absolute perfection, though- at the Tokyo Dome, Manami used that same murder-suicide pact death-drop, but Aja was tied up in the ropes and so she couldn’t score the pin. Here, she finally hit it dead-on, and was able to recover quickly enough hook her for three.

Rating: ***3/4 (largely a “they get murdered all match and then come flying in with comebacks” thing, but using the Victory Star Drop to pin someone in a way that actually reflects past matches pushes the rating up)

* So with Aja & Reggie losing, they can’t win, and so we have ANOTHER bout, as a sad-looking Kyoko & Sakie come down for another match. If they win, they’ll probably have to wrestle Team Big again.

Double Inoue EXPLODES, as the Tag Champs take turns no-selling DDTs and getting defiant until Kyoko gets her corner one. Now everyone’s throwing DDTs to everyone else until Manami hits the Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body (after TWO BIG MATCHES?) to Sakie for two. And a DDT. Rolling Cradle gets two, then Takako’s Knee-Smasher Tombstone gets the same. Sakie escapes, but Takako uses a chokeslam on Kyoko, who’s too slow to take Manami’s dropkicks and Manami slips anyways. Double-DDT on Manami, and Sakie spits on her hands to set up the Rolling Butterfly Suplexes for two. Kyoko misses her Backsplash on the idols, but does her “leads them on a chase” spot and finally hits it, then her Run-Up Back Elbow on Toyota for two (pretty impressive on that bad leg). Manami avoids a Niagara Driver & lariat but eats a powerbomb on a Manami Roll. Sakie misses a flying nothing and eats Takako’s Backdrop Hold for two, but gets a rollup for a close call. Two Uranages get two.

Manami missile kicks Team Neon and Takako chokeslams Kyoko off the apron, then awkwardly set them up on a table and Manami hits a cross-body suicida on them! Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex in the ring on Kyoko- TWO! The crowd chants Kyoko’s name as she lariats out of a second one, then hits another- Niagara Dri– Manami Roll reverses for two! Manami climbs, but it’s a Run-Up Super-Belly to Belly for two! Kyoko tries her finish again, but Takako flies off with the Flying Knee to stop her- Manami Moonsault… misses! Kyoko locks on her submission finisher, stopped by Takako, but she attempts the Niagara Driver again, and DODGES Takako’s Flying Knee this time, but Manami uses the delay to charge in with a Bridging German for a CLOSE call. They attempt a Doomsday Device Aurora Special/Cross-Body, but Kyoko dodges Manami and hits the corner, climbing up… and gets caught with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex for the three (13:22)- second time’s the charm! Manami & Takako win the Tag League! They accept their trophies with Manami looking like an absolute wreck, while Takako looks like she just took a brisk jog because she has some kind of magical superpower where she always looks glam.

Very solid match, kind of cutting off the “weardown” period since everyone was already worn down. Kyoko FINALLY shook off most of that injured leg, as if she was babying it right for this moment, as the last 6-8 minutes was all Finisher Spam until someone finally fell. Thankfully they left in a bit of psychology with Kyoko repeatedly attempting her own finishers and failing, then learning from Takako’s interference the second time through. Also the “fuck you” DDTs were great to start the match- like everyone was getting into just flattening each other with those. Manami’s JOCS fails to score the pin AGAIN in a recurring trend for ’94, too.

Rating: ***1/2 (sort of a great match that got cut off at the beginning and largely just turned into trading finishers)

Final standings:
Manami & Takako: 10
Aja & Reggie: 10
Kyoko & Sakie: 10
Las Cachorras Orientales: 9
Yamada & Hotta: 9
Minami & Ito: 5
Rie & Tomoko: 2
ASARI & Yoshida: 1

-So this show ended up really weird. Taking a bit from last year’s Tag League Finals, they ran the same match twice in one night, but did so with a roundabout playoff in the end. The final result is actually a much poorer series of matches (hard to beat two ***** matches one after the other), but I feel like the same goal has been achieved, but with six workers- putting over their physical conditioning and resilience. Aja, Reggie, Sakie, Kyoko, Manami & Takako all wrestled in three hard-fought matches adding up to 30+ minutes of ringtime, even with a couple of abridged bouts in there. Kyoko’s injury really held back her matches, though, and the abridged pace kind of messes with most AJW stars, so the matches hovered around ***-***1/2 for the most part. But hey, MANAMI TOYOTA PINS AJA KONG, and there’s your new mega-push.