Joshi Spotlight: AJW Monday Night Sensation

Vintage Puroresu プロレス on Twitter: "On the short list of the greatest in-ring performers in the history of professional wrestling, Manami Toyota appeared in 13 WON ***** rated matches from 1992 -

Can Manami Toyota successfully come out on top of a year of World Title switches? Read on!

(Dec. 4th 1995)
* It’s time! JWP’s Dynamite Kansai won AJW’s WWWA World Title in August and has held the rival promotion’s World Title ever since! Takako Inoue took a shot at her, but had no chance and was beaten- but now Manami Toyota’s year-long storyline comes to an head as she takes one more shot at the Gold! So in the year preceding this, Manami Toyota lost a classic match to Aja Kong at Big Egg Wrestling Universe in the Tokyo Dome… but months later, she took another shot and actually won the Title! But then she went to a 60-minute draw against Kyoko Inoue and then failed her very next challenge, as Aja won her Title back. Along the way, Manami took several failed attempts at the WWWA Tag Titles with Sakie Hasegawa as her partner, then had an insane pair of matches against Akira Hokuto (a ***** classic) and Yumiko Hotta (possibly Hotta’s greatest match, nearly getting the same rating) in which Hotta tearfully insisted Manami bring their Gold back home.

The rest of the show is a bit peculiar, as it’s very rookie-focused, with the first three matches featuring them in prominent positions. Then we get a lot of “establishing” matches, as it’s Tomoko/ASARI, Sakie/Ito, Takako/Reggie, Hotta/Yamada & Aja/Kyoko in bouts that seem designed to showcase the bigger stars and where they are in the pecking order. This entire show honestly feels like “So Here’s Where We’re Going”, with a lot of potential up & coming stars. Of course the Ringstarfield account I’m getting these from spoils nearly every single result, making that even more clear, haha.

The other insane thing is the vast majority of matches here are SHORT- kept to about 9-11 minutes apiece, which is just over half the length bouts of great importance would be. Only two matches on the card are left going longer than that and it’s the top two. That’s very unusual for AJW in general and I wonder why that is.

A few matches do not appear on YouTube for some reason:

ALL PACIFIC TITLE: YUMIKO HOTTA d. TOSHIYO YAMADA (11:00): Another pretty quick result, again with Hotta defeating Yamada (which has happened more than once this year, also for this belt).
AKIRA HOKUTO d. MIMA SHIMODA (7:45): Ummmm… also not sure.

* Rookie Mayhem for the Rookie Title! Shiina’s in white & blue and Tamura’s in red & white.

Shiina throws 8 billion dropkicks and restholds, then Tamura does- Tamura’s figure-four headscissors is well-applied, at least. Shiina works two-counts out of some running facecrushers, but takes a sunset flip out of the corner for two (Tamura botched the first one and they imrovised a bit before repeating the spot). Tamura finally scores ANOTHER billion dropkicks, holding down a struggling Shiina for the three (6:35). Pretty basic rookie stuff- kept simple, but at least it was short.

Rating: 1/2* (always hard to really rate a rookie match- they’re so short and basic)

* Rookie Mayhem for the lowest-ranked Tag gold in AJW! TamaFuka become a recurring thing around this point, and Rie way outranks anyone here, so I think this is pretty obvious as results go. Gawky Misae’s in white/black, Endo’s in blue/red/white, Rie’s in an orange version of Manami’s gear & Yumi’s in blue/silver.

Yumi gets caught in Endo’s Boston crab, and Rie gets thrown into Misae’s when she interferes. Yumi eats rookie-fu, then Misae does when Rie’s in. Yumi headscissors out of the Rookie-Slaying Bodyslam of Endo’s, but Rie runs into the Samoan drop. Another & a slam gets two, and she keeps bridging out of bodyslams as if to establish that she is no longer a rookie, and need not fear such a lethal move. Misae does atomic drops and awful dropkicks on Yumi, then more rookie-fu as she keeps kicking out, then finally TamaFuka hit a dropkick sandwich on Endo and stereo tornado headlocks on their opponents. Rie keeps fishing for Germans, but the girls keep avoiding it- she settles for a 2nd-rope dropkick for two on Misae, and finally gets that German for three while Yumi deals with Endo (9:54). TamaFuka are the All Japan Tag Champions! Winning their comically-oversized black belts! Very jobbery, and Misae is still WAY too gawky, but I kinda liked Rie repeatedly going for the one move she knew a rookie couldn’t kick out of.

Rating: *3/4 (competent match and didn’t overstay its welcome, but largely a bunch of hairtosses & dropkicks save for Rie’s stuff)

* A weird “Veterans & Rookies” match, with two young kids who have barely appeared on any AJW things thus far, with two elders who weren’t doing anything. The rookies are jobbery as hell, but at least have designs on their Rookie Swimsuits. Mita’s in red & white (in the two-piece design she’d wear for much of the next couple of years), Mogami’s in all blue (with the “ellesse” logo), Yoshida’s in white, and Tanny’s in blue & silver.

Yoshida sets up Mogami for a beating from Tanny, as rookie-fu abounds until Mita comes in and just launches Mogami around by the hair and half-assedly covers her from a slam, pulls her up at “2” and hits a PILEDRIVER, again not bothering to cover for the finish. Haha, no babying at all- she’s just hitting her top stuff. Tanny does the worst sell of Mogami’s flying axe-handle I’ve ever seen, selling it like a regular shot- you can almost see Mita’s disdain. More rookie-fu until Yoshida plants two Cartwheel Handspring Elbows on Mogami and starts doing power spots because these girls are just so smol. Yoshida & Mita FINALLY go at it and you can hear the crowd finally perk up, Yoshida getting her sunset flip for two but Mita PLANTING her with a Blazing Chop for a near-fall. Yoshida reverses a second backdrop toss for two, but Tanny comes in and Mita easily catches her cross-body to a crowd pop, then ignores her dropkick as if it didn’t hurt at all- Yoshida has to missile kick her down and hold her for a flying move for two.

HAHAHAHAHAH- Tanny tries another running cross-body and Mita just bootfucks her out of mid-air. Mita shoves over a Yoshida/Tanny double-team so Mogami can get two, then Yoshida goes for her Run-Up Flying Cross-Body and Mita shoves Mogami away from THAT and I’m loving it. Yoshida sets up the Run-Up Flying Plancha to the outside, but only hits her own partner! Mita tries the electric chair drop but gets German’d for two, and the Run-Up Sunset Flip does the same- she tries another, but Mita catches her with the SUPER Electric Chair Drop, but Yoshida bridges out at “2”! She goes for the DVD, but Yoshida reversers to La Majistral for 2! She tries to charge in, but Mita catches her! Blazing Chop leads to the Death Valley Driver for three (10:39)! Wow, I could have sworn they’d give Yoshida the comeback win.

Guys I think Mita murdering short people is my happy place. Her casual disdain for everything Tanny did was the only really good part about this match’s first 3/4, as the kids were just too new. I loved how she just fought smart like all these moves were stuff she’d seen, so she threw a spanner into the works and reversed Yoshida’s stuff via run-ins. Then we got Yoshida/Mita and the match got really good for a bit, as they’ve worked with each other a ton and have great offense. Eventually the rookies were just kinda tossed aside so the vets could do their cool shit, and we got a good match out of it in the end.

Rating: **1/2 (Mita/Yoshida is great stuff, as is the giraffe just wiping out Tanny Mouse like she’s not even there)

* Tomoko defends her low-tier (TV-ish? Kinda?) title against ASARI, who I can’t imgine has a real shot. Tomoko’s picked up some big wins this year, and seems to be the “new one to watch”. ASARI’s in red & white, Tomoko’s in white with red & white tassels everywhere. These two are kinda old enemies- Tomoko & Ito were the “bully rookies” when ASARI was just trying to move up the ranks as a baby, punishing her badly every show.

ASARI responds to Tomoko dissing her on a handshake by kicking ass, catching her with a headscissors out of a corner, then doing her flip-up out of a slingshot and getting a cross-body after the first one is caught. Tomoko no-sells some leg stuff and hits a facecrusher & some X-Factors before settling into stretching. Hiptoss, slingshot elbow & legdrop get two. ASARI ranas her out of the corner for two, then dropkicks Tomoko in the ass when she tries another slingshot, planchas out, and hits a Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kick off the RAILING, which is hella-cool. She tries another, but eats a lariat to the back of the head- she nearly gets counted out, but back in the ring, she ducks another lariat and hits a Bridging German for two! SKY TWISTER PRESS HITS PERFECTLY… Two! Crowd bought that one. Desperate, she tries another, but just ass-slams into the mat. Tomoko goes for the Screwdriver (backdrop to one-armed powerbomb), but ASARI rolls through for two! She climbs up, but Tomoko’s like “I don’t think so, kid” and Germans her right back to the mat, then crushes her with some lariats. ASARI actually “Fuck YOU!” bridges out, then lands on Tomoko from another Screwdriver for two! Then she ducks a lariat, but OHHHHHHHHHH shit that next one caught her on the follow-through, and she ded. That gets the pin at (7:30) in a very short Monster vs. Smol match.

Haha, that actually wasn’t bad! VERY short, but like… they used that pace well and hit a minimum of filler (an issue with the AJW style is they would default to “resthold-based filler” even in short matches), and the crowd actually bought all of ASARI’s comebacks and flash-pins like they could actually work. Yet Tomoko was still put over- all her stuff was sold well and treated like legit offense, and enough lariats just killed the kid in the end.

Rating: **3/4 (one of those fun matches where the size difference is played up perfectly- short by a great use of time!)

* So Manami’s “Freedom Force” stable appears to explode already, as Ito/Sakie continue their feud here. Sakie’s in a white belly-shirt & shorts combo (this may be the most ’90s gear ever), while Ito’s in black & silver. Both girls have robes like Dragon Ball Z characters, which is weird.

Great start, as they chop & forearm the shit out of each other until Sakie wipes Ito out with the Savate Kick, only to run into a run-up cannonball to the face. They scrap to a more tepid reaction, but Sakie hits her Locomotion Butterfly Suplexes and works the arms with some stuff, but Ito USES THE ASS to come back, then works Sakie’s back for a while. Her jumping stomps look particularly vicious, and Sakie only briefly comes back with facecrushers when Ito hit a charging knee to the chest. Another one hits, but she misses the Flying Stomp, only to roll through the Uranage for two, but hits the floor trying a lariat so Sakie can build up for her huge no-touch Tope Con Hilo (such a big move that Ringstarfield advertises the match by mentioning it). Uranage on the floor! She faceplants trying another Tope Con Hilo, however, and Ito hits a baseball slide into a springboard cannonball to the floor! Flying Stomp to the floor! Man they’re just going all-out here. And Sakie sells that appropriately, just dying on the floor for 50 seconds until she hits the ring… and catches a charging Ito with the Uranage! Three more get 2.8! Ito manages to German Sakie right on her head, but Sakie just completely ignores it and spikes her with another Uranage for two. Okay NOW she’s selling it- that’s an odd creative choice. Both are dead for a while, but Sakie gets her with a Tornado DDT, looking legit fucked up with every motion. Like her head AND her ribs are dead. Ito pulls her off a second try for two, then powerbombs her out of a Frankensteiner and nearly gets her- TWO Flying Stomps now get two. But Sakie has nothing left- Ito hoists her up to the top rope and hits a Super Fisherman’s Buster for the three (11:58)- Shocker win, especially given Sakie’s big push all year long. Sakie can’t even get up after the finish, and you see a single tear stream down her face as Ito even embraces her and the two make up. The feud is apparently over, but this doesn’t look good. Sakie is just about done- it was announced around this time she was retiring.

Actually a very good match, again using the time perfectly. Doing a slow build into this huge storm of moves to the outside made it look like they were pulling out all the stops to win, with huge bumps and big flying moves galore. The bits after the Flying Stomp to the floor were great, too, but the German in particular seems like it messed Sakie up, as she was hobbling around and holding her head. The rest of the match was all Ito, hitting move after move to a helpless opponent and finally put her away. The booking seems surprising, but might either be because of Sakie’s impending retirement, or an attempt to not be predictable, or a legit realization that Ito needs to be pushed as well.

Rating: ***1/2 (seems like a very good match that got a bit hobbled at the end- would have been a great “1997 Nitro” match, though)

* Okay, now this one seems interesting- Reggie won Manami’s trophy belt many, many months ago, but Takako’s also rising up the card- these two were part of the All-Pacific Gauntlet Match in spring as well, so it’s anyone’s ballgame and they’ve had a thing for a while. Reggie’s in the black & red singlet with the shorts, looking like a huge star, while Takako’s in ultra-shiny silver.

Takako seems unusually agreeable and kind to start, using two hands to Reggie’s one in a test of strength… and then gets sick of it and just bites Reggie’s arm. THERE SHE IS. Reggie knocks her on her ass and tosses her around a bunch, hitting a side suplex for two. Takako rolls her up from a bodyslam for two, but Reggie clobbers her again and actually throws her into the Reggie Rack! But she releases early, slamming her down and hitting a Vader Bomb for two. Takako catches her with a rollup out of another one for two, then suckers her into chasing her up top and hits the Super Chokeslam for two. One minute in the STF stretches out Reggie, but she powers out of a Boston crab easily, then windmill slams Takako off the ropes for two after taking some armdrags.

Takako dodges an avalanche and hits a DDT & some kicks, but gets clotheslined- she hits the floor and they toss each other around out there, Takako hitting a backdrop suplex to put them both down. She climbs the ropes but gets blasted off and Reggie hits the second-rope splash for two! Reggie seems to want a flying move but changes her mind and hits a HUGE Ligerbomb for two! Reggie finally climbs, but Takako does this great “stagger-walk” to the corner and armdrags her off the top for two. Takako goes for the Flying Knee, but Reggie catches her with a Samoan drop for two! And so she tries the Flying Splash, but Takako immediately bolts away- to the top for a Flying Knee! Another! And another! But she only gets two, and Reggie reverses a whip to the Reggie Ra– no! Takako rolls forward and flash-pins her (10:13)! Takako wins the IWA Title! Shockingly, she & Reggie have this laughing embrace as if they agreed it was the greatest thing ever.

Another quick, abridged match that actually kinda suits the pace a little bit, as they largely cut out “aimless stretching” and move to the final stretch 5 minutes in. Bouts this short can’t go much over ***, but they’re certainly not boring. The psychology was pretty sound here, as Reggie kept having her shit countered by Takako’s speed and craftiness, ultimately paid off with one more flash-pin reversal getting her. While winning a belt with a rollup isn’t exactly the most spectacular way to do it, making Takako the “clever” one probably helps her get some credibility she loses by being Aja’s punching bag so often.

Rating: ***1/2 (very solid, hard-worked match with a great ending surge- just short)

* Another big one, as Aja & Kyoko have one more battle. This one is a bit more up in the air that past ones (which usually feature Aja crushing her opponent)- Aja has been dethroned as champion and might be leaving for the WWF soon, and Kyoko is Manami’s biggest rival and is being set up as a new challenger. Aja’s in her white & black gear and HOLY SHIT WHAT IS KYOKO WEARING? Its a pinstriped yellow and red bodysuit- it’s HIDEOUS. She at least takes it off to reveal a… purple superhero get-up with the same pinstripes on random parts of it. Fun bit as Kyoko asks for a pre-match handshake, and Aja has this great “Yeah sure- Put ‘er there, kiddo!” smirk to her face as she does it.

Aja kicks Kyoko half to death, but a whip to the ropes sees her eat the Slingshot Backsplash immediately. Aja flattens her with a clothesline in the corner, though, but misses a second and takes the corner DDT. But Aja hits a Vader Attack as they’re just reversing each other’s momentum endlessly. Aja tries her methodical beatdown portion, but Kyoko AGAIN reverses, hitting a slingshot dropkick. They do a LONG fight into a surfboard, but of course Aja pops out as soon as Kyoko tries to lift her, disappointing the crowd. Like, she’s just way too big to surfboard. Kyoko settles for a camel clutch, then a one-minute chinlock, but Aja soon drops her on her ass and hits her “chop & pose” move. Kyoko bails, but that just leads to an ass-kicking outside- they set up the trademark “run from a mile away” lariat into the gate, but Kyoko just stumbles through the gate a bit to nullify the bump. Suplex, piledriver, sleeper, second-rope splash & another sleeper wear Kyoko down, milking two counts methodically, then she kicks Kyoko straight in the back when she tries another Backsplash reversal. Kyoko FINALLY manages a comeback by dropping down from a Dangerous Backdrop for two, then hits the Run-Up Flying Back Elbow after a delay- why was Aja so hurt she stayed down for THAT?

Aja swats away a missile kick, though, and climbs up- this obviously sets up Kyoko’s Run-Up Belly-To-Belly, but Aja just shoves her off and then SHE hits a missile kick, wowing the crowd & commentators. Yikes. She climbs up again, but Kyoko gets a mega-sloppy Run-Up Headscissors reversal that doesn’t connect at all- Aja’s good enough to sell it anyways, but Kyoko pounds the mat. Aja whips her to the corner and Kyoko tries another run-up, but Aja just shoves her off- she’s really playing that she’s too wise for Kyoko’s bullshit…. and then hits a fucking tope suicida! Aja gears up the Uraken as the *clapclapclap* “KYO-KO!” chant starts, but Kyoko ducks it, then they lariat each other, and then both hit the ropes- Aja catches her with a powerslam for two. Kyoko really needs to get something going, and so thankfully she hits the sunset-flip powerbomb reversal out of the Super Mountain Bomb. Aja easily stuffs the Niagara Driver (over-the-shoulder ligerbomb), though, but Kyoko completely mows her down with her Lariat. And another! And another! Kyoko’s finally revved up! Ligerbomb gets two! Aja roars herself awake but Kyoko hits another for two. She finally tries the Niagara, but Aja lands on her feet and URAKENS her! But can’t cover because both are down!

Both sell that Double-KO like nuts, but Kyoko recovers first and charages in with a Lariat for two. Aja reverses the Niagara Driver, so Kyoko gears up the lariat, misses, then ducks an Uraken and goes for another lariat, only to be Backdrop Drivered! And another! And another! 2.8! The crowd ROARS for that last-ditch Kyoko lurch out of the pin. Aja’s trying to pump herself up but can barely stand- she manages the Super Mountain Bomb! But again 2.8! Aja is moving soooooo slowwwww now as this is just wiping her out, and when she tries to climb up, Kyoko Germans her off! Both are dead, Kyoko hauling Aja up by her tights and attempting Germans- Aja keeps elbowing free, but spins into an Uraken, only to have it blocked- Bridging German gets two! And that’s that- Kyoko hauls her up for the Niagara Driver– THREE (19:56)!!! Kyoko finally topples the former Ace!

Aja/Kyoko have an interesting dynamic, with Kyoko’s “All Offense/Barely-Selling” style getting squashed by Aja’s dominance, so she’s essentially playing Manami Toyota all bout, desperate for comebacks. But her wild offense and power style is actually kind of ideal for that, too. Aja, despite losing, was REALLY good here, just shoving Kyoko down and playing the wily veteran, not falling for stuff and then blowing minds with big flying moves! And that Uraken reversal of the Niagara Driver was PERFECT, as despite being like 240 lbs. and built like Vader, Aja can land on her feet from being flipped over Kyoko and just mows her down with her big finisher, but rolls dead onto the mat on the follow-through with picture-perfect timing. This was a total carry-job by Aja, setting up but then squashing all of Kyoko’s comebacks until the end when it REALLY counted, selling all the accumulated damage like Kyoko just had too much impact in the end for her to ignore. Like, every time she hit a big move or took a big landing, she’d get up EVER more slowly until Kyoko finally just cranked her. Though it’s funny that sit-out powerbombs are just not quite as awesome as the Niagara Driver, which is only slightly more highly-angled, but puro is big on technique.

Rating: **** (it was somewhat slow and meandering for a while, but Aja pulled together an incredible story and Kyoko had some great comebacks neutralizing her)

(All 4 Parts)

* So now Manami’s got one more shot at the gold, and it’s the chance to bring it back to home territory. Manami’s in the usual black gear (but with GOLD trim- symbolism!), while Kansai’s in a bright yellow & white bodysuit this time, and her GLORIOUS tube-covered monstrosity of a jacket.

Kansai aims for a test of strength, but Manami lashes out and dropkicks her out of the ring to rapturous applause from the pro-AJW crowd- first blood Manami! But she gets cute trying her Running Springboard Plancha, and is kicked in mid-air. She aims for Splash Mountain (Sit-Out Razor’s Edge), but has to settle for a backdrop driver! Manami gets plastered with methodical, lethal kicks, even getting tied in the ropes- her selling makes this look absolutely agonizing. Boston Crab, but Kansai’s lariat gets reversed to the Rolling Cradle, and then Manami ties HER in the ropes and slaps her around, kicks her, then hits a running dropkick to the base of the spine- HAH! She drapes Kansai on the ropes and dropkicks her from there, but runs into the corner kick and we’re back to JWP in control as Kansai blows Manami’s vertebrae apart with kicks. And her face. She wears Manami down with Sharpshooters and an STF, then brains her with several more killshots, stifling an attempt to Hulk Up. Jesus, this is brutal.

A sleeper is sold dramatically, and Manami’s flattened with lariats as soon as she makes the ropes. Kansai readies another one, but BOOM- Bridging German reversal gets two! Fired up, she goes for dropkicks and… lariat kills her. She counters Kansai’s backdrop, but tries the Manami Roll and gets POWERBOMED, and she just can’t win today. She keeps countering minor stuff but getting drilled, and then Running No-Hands Springboard Sunset Flip! Holy GOD that looked close- super-tight move, there! That gets two, she gets tossed off the top, and she boots Kansai off the top herself, scoring a Missile Kick to the floor! Two Moonsaults in a row get two, and she readies the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… and gets kicked in the eyeballs. Manami teases a TKO at “8”, but gets backdrop drivered for two. Kansai signals Splash Mountain, but Manami kicks off the ropes for a safer landing (ie. a Razor’s Edge). Another backdrop gets two, and she aims for a SUPER Splash Mountain, but Manami elbows her off the top and missile kicks her in the head for two.

Japanese Ocean Suplex attempt, but Kansai kicks free, then Manami counters a whip to land it for two! Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… for two! Manami can’t believe it! With no other ideas, she tries another, but gets her leg swept out and she’s drilled again. One of the best Splash Mountains I’ve ever seen, milked like crazy so the crowd is screaming in horror, and now MANAMI kicks out! Kansai pulls off a few token kicks, then readies another Splash Mountain, but NOW we see the Manami Roll- close two! A frustrated Kansai kicks her around and signals the end of this shit- she readies Super Splash Mountain again, but in the famous finish, Toyota slides back and FRANKENSTEINERS her to the ground, leaping onto her back-first for the three and the WWWA World Title (22:37)! The title comes home!!

Another great Manami (vs) Monster match, with Kansai absolutely dominating her rival with slow submissions and strikes for a long middle portion (Manami has low toughness, but tons of HP, and specializes in the “Reversal Game”, so keeping her slow and steady is a good bet), and still being able to wreck her on counters later on. As Manami kind of depends on counters for her offense, it was interesting to watch someone stifle her at her own game. Manami could just never maintain consistent offense, usually being drilled in the face after a couple moves, and so this became a tremendous showcase for her durability and heart. Ultimately, both women’s top finishers failed in a great bit, and so things escalated- but that very escalation was Kansai’s undoing, because the higher-risk you go, the greater the chance that Ms. Reversal will finish you- that Rana (which, if you look carefully, didn’t “hook” Kansai and Kansai slickly sold it anyways) came out of nowhere and gave us a distinctive, memorable end.

Rating: ****1/2 (slow period in the middle, but a true test of bravery and heart from AJW’s top star, with a great ending sequence)