Joshi Spotlight: AJW Grand Prix 1995 (Part One & Two)

Pretty much universally considered Shimoda’s best singles match. And it’s Manami’s THIRD ***** match of the year.

(July 1995)
* And the AJW Grand Prix is back! Last year’s was almost completely blown off and Hotta quietly won it for whatever reason, but this time it’s For Serious and it’s a big deal. Except I can only find a tiny handful of matches on YouTube of the first two shows. I managed to cobble together some other info on the tournament, at least. I’m posting this as an “extra” for Friday because it’s something I’ve reviewed before, plus just a summation of the goings-on at the time.

MANAMI TOYOTA vs. MIMA SHIMODA (AJW Japan Grand Prix- Round Robin, 23.07.1995)
* This is an interesting one, timeline-wise, as Manami is the top-tier girl at AJW at this point, and pretty much a living legend of Joshi (as what was generally accepted as the best worker), while Shimoda, who was a midcard tag team player in 1993, has now elevated herself to a higher level. Both have a history- they were a tag team coming up in the late 1980s before Toyota had better success with the sportier Toshiyo Yamada. Shimoda’s cheating will be an interesting counterpoint to Toyota’s hyper-graceful style. Their pre-match interviews show both women in good spirits- Manami looks so serious most of the time, but here she’s smiling a ton and laughing along with the interviewer. Hey, both these ladies aren’t bad looking- has anyone else noticed this? And HOLY GOD, Manami’s pre-match outfit- this giant, flowing white qipao dress with enormous, fluffy feathered sleeves. Now THAT is style. Manami’s in her black leotard with the arm cutouts, while Shimoda’s still in her black & red two-piece with all the yellow tassles.

Manami jumps Shimoda right at the bell, piledriving her on the floor and even tries to put her through a table! Um, I guess the “Tokyo Sweethearts EXPLODE!” gag is apropos here. Shimoda gets the better of her out there (I mean, LCO has +2 to melee & ranged attacks outside the ring), and even does the Bitch Pose in the corner, to the appreciation of Korakuen Hall. Then they have a literal hairpulling slapfight while trying submissions on each other- amazing, especially when Manami forms a nice ponytail in Shimoda’s hair just to make it easier to slap her in the face. Then uses some graceful martial-arts stuff to toss her around by it. THEN does a Bitch Pose of her very own- +1/4* just for using hairpulling as legitimate offensive moves. She hits her fantastic No-Hands Running Springboard Moonsault thing, kicks the shit out of Shimoda, and stretches her for a while, including the ol’ “pig-nose” stretch.

Shimoda comes back (putting a Boston Crab on so deeply that she literally rolls backwards over Toyota’s HEAD, to the horror of the crowd. And me. How is that even possible?), and like a pro, pulls Manami’s four feet of hair out of her face so she can properly stretch her nostrils and lips out while making kissy-faces at the crowd. ATTA GIRL. A Butterfly Superplex wows the crowd (they’re both standing right on the top turnbuckle!), but Toyota hits a Rolling Cradle, and makes it a LONG one because she’s still pissed off- Shimoda yelps with every revolution. Toyota hits a No-Hands Springboard Plancha, but Shimoda comes back with some murder on the floor- one backdrop suplex to each side of the ring. The big grin on her face the whole time just sells it. Manami “botches” her trademark “Roll up their body and sunset flip them” spot and just SPLATTERS herself on the mat, and Shimoda tastes blood. The crowd, sensing an upset, is clearly chanting “Shi-Mo-Da!”. And Mima, delighted at the Ace’s pain, just plops down in front of her, sitting cross-legged with the most amused smile ever while Manami writhes in agony. Perfection.

Haha- Shimoda throws a shit-fit when her Tiger Suplex (with beautiful bridge!) gets 2, slapping the ref and whining. Gee, maybe you shoulda hit that instead of gloating? And they keep reversing each other’s finishers (Manami tries three Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplexes, getting German’d twice and Victory Rolled for a GREAT near-fall another time; Death Lake Driver is also reversed), leaving the crowd going nuts! Every time they reverse something, somebody gets German’d! SUPER Backdrop Driver! How can Toyota even WALK these days? But she still pulls off the Bridging Kickout! And then does a Running No-Hands Springboard Somersault Senton! HOW THE FUCK DID SHE PULL THAT OFF?!?! IT’S 29 MINUTES IN!! Then she hits two Cross-Armed Suplexes (wisely choosing not to settle for just one- you can actually see the wheels turn in her head as she goes “no- one more is needed”), and goes up, but Shimoda hits a Superplex… and time is over (30:00)! Shimoda whining at the bell ringing, then STILL going for a pin and desperately begging for the ref to count, is such great heeling. And then she takes Toyota’s outstretched hand at the end… and slaps her in the face, stomping off with her arms raised triumphantly.

Holy shit- what a war. I was an absolutely hateful scrap from beginning till end, with even the REST HOLDS being great (both repeatedly kick the other every time they have a limb free), Manami going all Elphaba Thropp by hitting an insane THREE Springboard moves, and once she hit her head and Shimoda sensed victory, it’s Escalating Finishers and reversals (each ending in a head-drop suplex hold) until you wonder how either woman is still alive today. The act of bringing the former & future champ to a 30:00 draw is an epic achievement for the up & coming Shimoda, and should have set her off on a superstar push. But she definitely delivered here- great character bits to contrast Manami getting all her shit in and being unstoppably good in her prime.

Rating: ***** (easily Shimoda’s best solo match ever- nearly unseating the Ace. So much great nastiness and hate behind all the reversals)

I can’t find the second card, which featured a few JGP matches and:
GOKUMON-TO (Bull Nakano, Kyoko Inoue & Tomoko Watanabe) vs. AJA KONG, MIMA SHIMODA & REGGIE BENNETT (22:14): haha, okay, THAT’s interesting. Bull brings her old stable back together for one night, and takes on her old enemy along with two rising stars.

LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES (Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda) d. AKIRA HOKUTO & CHAPARITTA ASARI (15:19): This one definitely looks fun. LCO versus their mentor and a vulnerable rookie that they can murder?

The JGP Matches (ones I can’t find & non-televised ones):
* So I felt like digging through the results, especially as some of these aren’t available on YouTube despite being televised. It looks like AJW toured for two months with cards that came down to “two JGP matches, with a 6-woman tag main event”. Only a handful of these made the tapes or their AJW show, I think. Bison Kimura is the odd woman out, being only semi-featured and not really pushed for much of the year. She picks up a reasonably-good ratio of wins, but mostly draws against big stars. There are a LOT of jobbers- Rie, Kumiko & ASARI are all here to pad out others’ wins.

MIMA SHIMODA d. REGGIE BENNETT (10:02): BIG surprise here, and an indication of how hard the Shimoda push had started up. Reggie Bennett was usually only jobbing to the big stars, and had come close to the All-Pacific Title by this point. The JGP was big on flukes, which would explain the ten-minute loss, but still. Mike Lorefice gave this only **.

MANAMI TOYOTA d. TOSHIYO YAMADA (19:03): It’s really unfortunate I can’t find this one, as it’s probably the last big Toyota/Yamada match, as their age-old rivalry ends with Manami so far above her on the food chain that this couldn’t be in much doubt. Though Yamada WAS the All Pacific Champion at this point, and was at least given 19 minutes. Lorefice gave this one ***3/4.

KYOKO INOUE vs. TAKAKO INOUE (30 Minute Time-Over): This was never televised I think, but an impressive result for Takako, going 30 minutes with a Main Eventer and her tag team partner.

TAKAFUMI (Rie Tamada & Yumi Fukawa) d. KUMIKO MAEKAWA & YUKA SHIINA (12:00): Rookie mayhem sees an unexpected result, as Kumiko’s getting a push but her team still loses. Apparently Rie & Yumi make a go of being a team judging by this portmanteau name- checking CageMatch I see they made hundreds of appearances throughout their careers, so that was a real thing! They’re both way on the undercard at this point, though. Lorefice gives this *3/4.

AJA KONG & CHAPARRITA ASARI d. JAGUAR YOKOTA & KAORU ITO (15:36): Okay, this sounds AMAZING, but only 1/3 is shown. Aja was trained by Jaguar, and could not possibly be more different from her 90-lb. partner, so I would have loved to see this in full.

MANAMI TOYOTA d. BISON KIMURA (17:30): Said to be a “style clash” by Lorefice. Which is funny because they wrestled each other a billion times in 1990-92 during their tag feud.

BISON KIMURA vs. REGGIE BENNETT (Double KO- 13:28): Also non-televised. Interesting decision, though.

KYOKO INOUE d. SAKIE HASEGAWA (9:43): That seems incredibly quick, especially as their teams are feuding.

TAKAKO INOUE d. MARIKO YOSHIDA (12:49): Only half is shown.

TOMOKO WATANABE d. ETSUKO MITA (17:02): Mita jobbing to Tomoko at this point is a major upset.

SAKIE HASEGAWA d. TOMOKO WATANABE (19:47): A long match considering their different tiers, despite being classmates.

SAKIE HASEGAWA d. ETSUKO MITA (14:49): Mita jobs again and Sakie continues to rise.

TOSHIYO YAMADA d. MIMA SHIMODA (13:10): Yamada, who isn’t doing well this tourney, at least beats Shimoda.

MIMA SHIMODA vs. BISON KIMURA (30:00 Time Limit Draw): Another coast-to-coast one for Shimoda.

ETSUKO MITA d. KYOKO INOUE (13:09): Another surprising one- DEFINITELY a fluke. Makes up for the past jobbings here… and Kyoko once again loses an upset.

MARIKO YOSHIDA d. SAKIE HASEGAWA (15:22): Yoshida FINALLY picks up a win over her big rival of several years, humorously only being able to do so during the fluke-happy tournament.

THIRD PLACE MATCH: TAKAKO INOUE d. BISON KIMURA (9:02): That seems pretty quick. But an indication of how much they wanted to push Takako.

The final bout is Toyota vs. Hotta, and hopefully I can find that one. It doesn’t air for quite some time, though.