Joshi Spotlight: AJW Tag League THE BEST 1995 (Part One)

(Oct. 1995-Dec. 1995)
* So the final AJW tape release of 1995 appears to be a compilation of the Oct. 10th show and the Dec. 10th show, where the round-robin of varied teams is played up for Tag League THE BEST. We start off with four tourney matches, two of which are VERY clipped, then a show two months later where they have the Tournament Finals, with complete matches and some undercard stuff. Most of which is also badly clipped. I’ll split this in two, since it’s two different shows entirely and this would be an immense review otherwise. I’ll post this part part when the matches actually fit into the timeline.

The teams this year are actually sort of bizarre, as nobody is with their regular partner except for Akira/Shimoda- everyone else is in these mish-mash teams. The roster this year: Akira Hokuto & Mima Shimoda (the WWWA Tag Team Champions); Manami Toyota & Kaoru Ito (at least they’re stablemates); Aja Kong & Takako Inoue (called “Beauty and the Beast” entertainingly enough- the team of a dethroned Champ and an up & coming upper-carder); Kyoko Inoue & Tomoko Watanabe (a rising star and her style-clone; former stablemates); Reggie Bennett & Yumiko Hotta (the strongest & best fighter in the company, respectively- both upper-level wrestlers who are a threat to anyone); Sakie Hasegawa & Mariko Yoshida (former feuding wrestlers, now stablemates); Toshiyo Yamada & Etsuko Mita (the reunited DREAM ORCA, though both now as midcarders, sorta); and Chaparrita ASARI & Kumiko Maekawa (jobbers, especially here).

Tag League THE BEST ’95:
* Ohhhhhhhhhhh my god someone is going to murder these poor girls. Stiff, unprofessional bully Hotta teaming with the powerhouse against poor diminutive ASARI and a rookie. Yikes. ASARI’s in red & gold, Kumiko’s in blue & white, Hotta’s in black (with much longer hair that any time previous) and Reggie’s in black & purple.

We’re JIP to Hotta setting up Reggie for a side-slam on ASARI. Another try sees her headscissored out and Kumiko brings her down with dropkicks. Reggie reverses a slam and Hotta enzuigiris Kumiko while calling her “bakayero!”. Rolling Kick annihilates her and Hotta pulls her up at “2”, but Reggie tries a powerbomb and Kumiko lands on her feet and wipes her out with a side kick! ASARI tries a whip but gets her head knocked off with a lariat, then tries a cross-body and gets caught… but Kumiko missile kicks them over for two! Double-team running corner dropkick/Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kicks and Reggie is just FLYING around trying to put over these kids. She nearly slugs ASARI but Kumiko flattens her with another kick for two, then they forget what they were gonna do after Reggie missed a double-clothesline- Reggie reverses a double-suplex attempt by suplexing both, a la Bull Nakano, but misses her big splash on ASARI (good thing- one of those MURDERED her in a previous match!). She helicopter slams Kumiko and hits the second-rope splash, but ASARI saves. Then we get an INCREDIBLE finish, as Hotta back bodydrops Kumiko and she smoothly flows into Reggie’s arms so Reggie can pull her up into a Ligerbomb, killing her at (4:56 of 10:39)! Holy crap that was slick.

Okay I was not expecting Reggie to go all-out in putting the new kids over, flat-backing off of Kumiko’s side kicks and even selling for ASARI a bit (dig how she just ass-bumped off the Mule Kicks!). Hotta was her usual self, acting like Kumiko wasn’t even there, but the finish was even bitching. I’ve never seen the “Backdrop Someone into a Powerbomb/Piledriver” spot look like anything but a mess, but Hotta kind of flipping Kumiko into Reggie’s arms then backing off seems like the best way to do it.

Rating: **1/2 (solid “Rookies vs. Powerhouses” match with great selling from Reggie and a great ending! Even with only half the match shown!)

Tag League THE BEST ’95:
* LOL I’m pretty sure Aja just indicated she’s the “Beauty” of the pairing, as Takako giggles off-camera- Aja’s in red & black and Takako’s in black, and their opponents are AMAZINGLY decked out not only in a Kyoko-colored version of her gear, but the same facepaint!

JIP with Takako tagging out and Aja murdering Tomoko with a piledriver, then booting her coming off the top when Kyoko helps out. Second rope splash gets two to a BIG pop- crowd was expecting Tomoko to bite it. Takako hauls Kyoko off the apron so SURELY Aja’s Flying Back Elbow will finish, but NO! Monsoon would be all over that cover- Aja only has herself to blame for that one. Tomoko lands on her feet from the Dangerous Backdrop and hits her rana for 2.7, and there’s a great bit where Aja roars to fight through a couple of Tomoko’s lariats, only for KYOKO to come in and blast her down with one. Tomoko hits the Flying Thesz Press for two, then Kyoko missile kicks in and tries to finish- Aja counters out, misses the Uraken and takes another lariat, then a Ligerbomb gets two. Kyoko actually gets Aja RIGHT up onto her shoulder, but they kind of wreck the timing on a Dangerous Backdrop reversal by Aja. Takako comes in with a chokeslam and climbs up- Aja halts Kyoko’s run up the ropes and Takako hits the Super Chokeslam for two. Takako Panic (flying knee) gets two as well, then Takako holds Kyoko for Aja’s Uraken… but Kyoko dodges, Takako grabs her AGAIN, then Aja clobbers her partner with it by mistake- that gets two for Kyoko when Aja saves, then Kyoko finishes with the Niagara Driver (over-the-shoulder Ligerbomb) at (4:28 of 16:48).

This seems very much like “Elevate Tomoko Through Grit” as she gets to avoid pins from AJA moves to establish her rising star. But then of course the last couple minutes are ALL Kyoko, as she more or less wins the thing by herself, taking advantage of Aja’s mistake.

Rating: ** (a bit short and abridged, but it seems like a decent final few minutes- the fans never bought Kyoko as being in danger, though- just not enough done to her)

Tag League THE BEST ’95:
* All four members of Manami’s Freedom Force stable (which I’m not sure is a thing anymore) are here. Sakie & Mariko now look like a WWF tag team with matching gear- Sakie in the Survivor Series outfit (white with black and white dots), while Mariko has a white & blue version of the same thing. The other two are in black, with Ito now sporting a torso-covering set of tights with shorts.

OH S--- matching dives to FF when they walk to ringside! Manami getting launched around and chaired while wearing her big feathered robe is always funny. Ito actually reverses on Sakie outside and does her Stomp off an upper level on the floors. Back in, they dropkick Yoshida around and Manami actually hammers both opponents up with butterfly suplexes. FF works Yoshida’s back (Toyota has the worst submission application ever, lol) until she finally hits her run-up cross-body after Ito stomps her spine, and escapes. Ito just starts no-selling Sakie’s attacks, however, and stuffs her with submissions, but Sakie facecrushers Manami to come back and they elbow the s--- out of her. Sakie pulls hair but Yoshida tosses Manami right into the Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body- BRUTAL corner dropkick follows, and Manami stretches her out. Ito gets reversed on, though, and Sakie throws some Savate Kicks as the pace seems somewhat… off and on. Like people just aren’t placing stuff at the right times. Sakie’s bridging suplex & Superduperplex both get two-counts, and Ito blocks an armhold and USES THE ASS to come back.

Manami’s in with missile kicks for two, and now they repay that chair s--- from the beginning. Then she  missile kicks Sakie in the back of the neck. But Sakie actually does the bridge-out (reminder: she’s retiring via neck injuries), so Manami figure-fours her and Ito flies in with her Stomp while Sakie’s in the hold! Manami just lets her up and stomps her, so Sakie responds to that disrespect with a slap-flurry, so Manami absolutely PAINTBRUSHES her. This brings Sakie to her knees, but when Manami whips her to the ropes, Sakie hits a RUNNING SLAP, completely flattening her- hah! And then they copy the Figure-Four/Flying Stomp from earlier! Yoshida tries Manami’s own Octopus stretch, to which Manami responds by actually deadlifting her into a Samoan drop, which is some crazy strength given they’re the same size. Manami whips her to the ropes, but just SLAMS into her while trying a Manami Roll- yowch was THAT ever misaimed- she more or less speared Yoshida right in the leg. Sakie runs into the Rolling Cradle but clotheslines Ito and both girls plaster her with backdrop suplexes. Ito hits a flying ass out of the corner, but Yoshida swats her down and runs in place on her stomach- she tries her sunset flip but gets tossed down and Ito criss-crosses the ring doing Stomp Spam for two. But Yoshida cartwheel dodges Freedom Force and FF are dropkicked to the floor, and hit with the Run-Up Plancha and Sakie’s great Top Con Hilo!

Yoshida tries her Run-Up Splash back in the ring and misses, but Manami Moonsaults right onto Yoshida’s feet and the world’s most hideous La Majistral gets 2.9! haha that was just her kinda grabbing the waist and hauling her over. Sakie runs in and eats a Bridging German right on the head, then a Moonsault for two. Sakie reverses the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex to a Savate Kick for two, but tries another and Manami just… runs into her, then hits a Straightjacket Suplex for two, Yoshida saving. Ito misses a Flying Stomp, but avoids the Uranage only to run into another Savate Kick for two. Ito stops a double-team and Manami flies out- Running No-Hands Springboard Tope Con Hilo to the floor! Ito follows with an ugly cross-body suicida, but Sakie hits a tornado DDT in the ring for two. Manami runs her over so everyone comes in and Yoshida hits a Super DDT to Manami & Sakie Uranages Ito for two! Ito reverses a second for two and the fans sense it’s ending soon- and sure enough, Sakie leaps up for the Calf-Trap Rana on Ito for the three at (21:49)- the kids win! I actually wasn’t expecting that given how the tourney went down.

This is an odd match, as I like all four wrestlers, but it was more a collection of cool spots than a really great match, as it had no real flow at all. Like they just plotted out the cool s--- but didn’t know how to do the rest so someone would hit a bunch of spots and then just get tossed or clotheslined and then the next person would be in to shift the momentum. And the reversals were UGLY, too- stuff like just running into a boot to the gut and turning around so you can be German’d. Or whatever the hell Manami was going to do before that Straightjacket Suplex (they just sorta stopped and Manami turned her around, kicked her, then turned her around again). All four were good enough that the match was still fine, but these folks should be able to hit ****+ easy for a 20 minute TV match.

Rating: ***1/4 (like it was OKAY for most of it, but a disappointment overall)

Tag League THE BEST ’95:
AKIRA HOKUTO & MIMA SHIMODA vs. DREAM ORCA (Toshiyo Yamada & Etsuko Mita):
* Double-fascinating, this match pits the Tag Champions up against Shimoda’s ex-partner Mita, and Mita’s old parter Yamada. Mita has remained stuck in the card for a while, and Yamada’s tumbled down since losing the White Belt earlier in the year, so this will be interesting. Shimoda’s very sad, thoughtful and pensive in the pre-match interview, feeling complex about the match, while Hokuto never looks up from brushing the plume on her ring gear. Dream Orca by contrast look pretty dorky and smiley, Mita now having lighter hair and a blue/white outfit, while Yamada’s in red & white. Shimoda’s in black/red/gold and Hokuto’s in teal & white.

Amazingly, it’s DREAM ORCA that attacks before the bell, hitting Stereo Germans! But they eat double Kicks of Fear and double bitchslap-flurries in response! The Orcas get taken outside the ring for a mandatory beating, but Hokuto actually stands up on some chairs and powerbombs the F--- out of Yamada through a table, shocking the crowd! Then they tear the s--- out of Mita in the ring, Hokuto hitting piledrivers and her roundhouse, then they stretch the back until she gets a shot in on Shimoda, launching her around by the hair before tagging out. Yamada runs through her usual on Shimoda, looking about 80% as crisp as she used to, but Shimoda soon escapes Mita and Hokuto’s in with repeated sleepers. Mita finally kicks free but they brutalize her with double-team kicks in chinlocks, but Mita just plasters Shimoda with the Blazing Chop off of a whip, then hits two more for two. Yamada comes in and gets her enzuigiri blocked, but drops Shimoda out of her falling clothesline, only to do a taunt and end up German’d. Yamada does her kick reversal but misses a flying thing, only to throw a kick at a flying Shimoda! That’s like seven reversed moves in a row!

Mita tries the DVD & Shimoda the Tiger Suplex, but both moves are stuffed and Mita just tosses Shimoda out, and Yamada holds both women for Mita’s power dive! Akira stops another double-team and Shimoda reverses the DVD for two. Mita settles for another Chop but Shimoda reverses a whip to a Tiger Suplex- Yamada kicks her bridging leg out. Yamada stops Akira’s Northern Lights Bomb, so Akira settles for a big backdrop suplex and climbs, but Yamada holds her for Mita’s Super Electric Chair Drop, then comes in for a kick- she misses, but hits an enzuigiri, but Hokuto victory rolls out of The Finisher That Never Hits for two! Yamada handily spinkicks her down, though, but Shimoda tears across the ring and dropkicks her in the ass off the top, then Akira hits her Tope Con Hilo to the floor! Akira does a missile kick and tries Stranglehold Gamma, but Mita bodychecks her and Shimoda’s missile kick ends up hitting Akira! Yamada’s Flying Enzuigiri gets two, then they try a Doomsday Device version of it, but Akira gets Mita to take the Flying Enzuigiri and snags Yamada with the Northern Lights Bomb for the three at (15:01)- the Tag Champs win!

This was “good” the whole way through and never really elevated itself, though there were cool bits like the endless reversals between Yamada & Shimoda and the powerbomb through the table to start. Everyone was trying but not TOO hard, you know? Also the ending, where Hokuto completely deals with everyone by herself, runs contrary to typical AJW booking of the frantic final minutes with everyone flying around to stop pins or interfere with each other. Which sort of suits the “Hokuto is the dominant member” story, but makes the ending fall a little flat for me.

Rating: ***1/4 (another match on a similar tier, but it had a decent flow- just never quite hit the last gear)