Joshi Spotlight: AJW Tag League THE BEST (Finals)

The Tournament Finals! Manami Toyota & Kaoru Ito vs. Kyoko Inoue & Tomoko Watanabe!

AJW Tag League THE BEST 1995 (Part Two):
* The second part of this tape (which starts off with an October show) sees the 1995 Tag League THE BEST Tournament end, as AJW tries desperately to put over some new stars. This is a very weird one, as we’re extra-close to the end for Lioness Asuka, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto & Sakie Hasegawa, which has severe repercussions for AJW. But hey, another ****+ Main Event! Good ol’ AJW!

The Standings:
Kyoko/Tomoko: 10
Manami/Ito: 10
Reggie/Hotta: 9
Aja/Takako: 9
Hokuto/Shimoda: 8
Dream Orca: 6
Yoshida/Sakie: 4
ASARI/Kumiko: 0

-As expected, ASARI’s team does poorly. But I’m shocked that Kyoko & Manami’s teams did the best, since they’re teamed with midcarders. The teams below them would seem to hold a bigger advantage… and then there’s Akira & Shimoda in the bottom half! Like, what the hell is THAT? They’re the Tag Champs! They manage to beat Dream Orca & Aja/Takako, but all the other top ranked teams wipe them out. Orca seems to start fine, beating Sakie/Yoshida, but loses to Manami/Ito as well. But they do beat Reggie/Hotta, who beat Kyoko/Tomoko for their only loss.

Of course, looking at this list knowing what’s to come… the REAL purpose of this year’s Tag League is to elevate both Ito & Tomoko. Makes sense, as AJW blew 1995 trying to get Sakie over, and she is now hurt and doomed to retirement. The company probably realizes it needs to elevate Ito & Tomoko NOW and this is their way of doing it. It’s kind of transparent, actually- like this palpable sense of “OSHIT we wasted all that time on Sakie and now we have to make do and act like the other two are on her level!”.

Now we hit the portion of the show from December! Two months later, the rankings have sorted out and we get a 3rd Place Match and the Finals.

* Two rookies face off in a Tournament Final. So, to really signify how slim the rookie pickings got for AJW around this time, both girls abandon AJW in March of 1996. Manjiimortal said it was a “sketchy” situation, and the Japanese YouTube comments here make mention of bullying- could that be why they were driven out? Noumi at least eventually is convinced to come back, and lasts until 2005, appearing to be an AJW homer the entire time, and ending up being All-Pacific Champion for 1.5 years. Mari’s in a blue “ellesse” Jobber Swimsuit, while Kayo’s in white with some light blue bits.

We’re joined in progress with Mogami dominating, unusually slow & silent about it. The crowd actually pops for Kayo’s bridge-outs when Mogami tries to hold her down for a pin, and she gets an OVATION for getting her toe on the ropes another time! Even the ref gives this “fatherly affection” impressed look, haha. Because they’re rookies, a mere trip is all it takes to halt four minutes of ass-kicking and shift the momentum, at which point Kayo just does all the same moves Mogami did. But Mogami quickly turns a pin around on her, getting two-counts until the Rookie-Slaying MDK, the Standing Backdrop Then Lie On Them For a While, gets the three at (4:46 shown). Wow, I was expecting Kayo to win the way she was being eaten alive out there.

Rating: 1/4* (A VERY slow-paced rookie match with an oddly hot crowd, though I dug Mogami’s frustration, frequently slapping Kayo for kicking out)

* An interesting one, as TakaFumi and the Sakie/Yoshida team are split up and put against each other in a filler match. Sakie’s in her white belly-shirt & shorts look again, Fukawa’s in blue & white, Yoshida’s in white, and Rie’s in a gold & white skirt-thing.

We’re JIP with Sakie hitting the Rolling Butterfly Suplexes on Rie- Rie does the “JB Angels” bridge-out but Sakie just kicks her in the face to stop her running, haha. Rie no-sells Yumi’s dropkick and spams out her own for two, and Yumi’s such a jobber that Sakie keeps having to save her from dropkicks, then shoves Yoshida off from a Run-Up attempt. She slaps Yoshida a bunch, who no-sells them, but is lured into being schoolboy’d for two! Hah! Then Sakie just comes in and Savate Kicks her in the face. Another three gets two, but Yoshida dropkicks her out and hits a Run-Up Plancha. But of course she tries another Run-Up in the ring and goes splat, but elbows out of an Uranage and dropkicks the s--- out of Sakie’s knee and La Majistrals her for 2.8! Sakie rolls through Rie’s cross-body, but Rie rolls through THAT, getting two. Rie gets a German for two, but Sakie Savate Kicks her- Yoshida saves. Sakie directs Yumi to hold Yoshida on the outside to make this academic, but Rie rolls through the Uranage for two! But Sakie just stomps her and tries it again, getting three at (5:00 of 13:56 shown). Sakie gets on the mic at the end to bid farewells or something- she doesn’t retire for a good bit- is this the last Korakuen show for a while?

Rating: **1/4 (pretty basic, academic match in its last five minutes- good action and the rookies tried hard, but it was fairly simple)

* Okay, THIS is a weird one- the Tag Champions plus a rookie up against the soon-to-be-gone Asuka and Dream Orca? Akira’s in black & gold, Shimoda’s in black & red and Tamura’s in red & white. Asuka’s in black, Yamada’s in purple & white and Mita’s in white & black. This is Asuka’s last match in AJW as a regular performer, near as I can tell- she joins Jd’ shortly.

We’re JIP with Yamada hitting a weak flying spinkick on Shimoda off Mita’s shoulders for two, then Mita chases Shimoda up the ropes and plasters her with a Super Electric Chair Drop for the same. Shimoda hits a German out of the DVD for two and escapes, but Mita just boots a charging Tamura out of mid-air. But when Asuka tries to crab the rookie, Shimoda flies in with a missile kick to the back! Hokuto immediately tries the Northern Lights Bomb, but Asuka elbows out and tries a powerbomb, but Akira lands on her for two, then knocks Mita off the apron and hits her Tope Con Hilo while Shimoda dives onto Asuka. Akira missile kicks Asuka for two, but Yamada stops Stranglehold Gamma- Asuka throws kicks, but gets German’d for two, then kicks Shimoda out of mid-air and hits a horrible powerbomb for two (almost bailing because she maybe forgot who was legal, lol)- Yamada stops to do her taunt and gets German’d, but she hits a face kick & Enzuigiri Spam for two.

Absolutely hideous bit sees The Finisher That Never Hits “reversed” to a rollup, then Tamura missile kicks Shimoda by mistake. Yamada hits her spinkick for two, and the dogpile saves Shimoda, but Yamada misses her Flying Enzuigiri, even after Mita electric chair drops Shimoda to stop her reversal attempt. Hokuto Superduperplexes Shimoda ONTO Yamada, her legs splattering Yamada’s face, and Asuka has to save, and Yamada is F----- UP by that. Shimoda dodges a reversal kick and hits a Tiger Suplex for, uhhhh… weirdly, Yamada doesn’t kick out so everyone’s like “WTF?” and so Shimoda hits it again (sloppily), getting three at (5:25 of 17:49). The ref clearly should have slapped the mat on the first one, as Yamada is just DONE and lies there for a minute afterwards.

This is a tough one to assess as we miss 11 minutes and everyone seems exhausted, just hefting each other around instead of hitting things smoothly. But they got INCREDIBLY sloppy at points, with some of the worst-looking move application ever. Never mind that Superduperplex thing just whipping Shimoda’s legs onto Yamada’s face and the weird botched finish. Also WTF is with Yamada taking the fall when there’s a jobber on the other team? Unless they were like “S---, we better end this fast”.

Rating: *1/2 (like there was more effort here than in the last match, but everything was just so UGLY, with Shimoda in particular just flopping around)

* For the first time in ages, there’s a “Third Place” match- the two teams faced each other earlier in the tourney to a 30-minute draw, apparently! Aja’s in orange & black, Takako’s in black, Reggie’s in black & red, and Hotta’s in black. Yeah, that’s some Attitude Era-level sameiness in gear, here.

Sloppy scrap to start, as Takako avoids the Reggie Rack but Reggie clotheslines both women (Aja thinking she was intercepting with a kick). Side suplex & big splash get two-counts, but Takako armdrags her and escapes as the commentary discusses “Alundra Blayze” and “WWF”. But then it gets awesome fast, as we get my favorite spot- FAT GUY NO-SOLD SHOULDERBLOCKS, then belly-bashes, then Reggie misses a clothesline but hits the other, then gets cocky so Aja walks up and machine-gun slaps her and hits her chop & pose. Hotta easily beats up Takako, who literally sounds like she’s CRYING in basic half-crabs, Reggie adding more. Takako finally DDTs Hotta & escapes, but Aja’s repeating kicks are stopped by an Owenzuigiri. But then they get into a brutal kick & headbutt war (close your eyes and listen to the “CLUNK”), Aja ending with a piledriver & DDT to a bloodied Hotta. Takako works the cut like a good serial killer beauty queen, and goes full “Dump Matsumoto” by showing the fans the cut and rubs Hotta’s face on the mat to ensure it gets a good dose of it. Aja comes in with her damn OIL CAN (damn, been a while since I’ve seen that), but Hotta no-sells three shots in a row! Headbutts have her roaring awake and NOW the crowd’s into it (“HO-TTA! HO-TTA!”).

I actually like how Hotta’s trying to do her “No-Sell” bit, but is wobbly-legged and clearly f----- up so it’s this thing where she’s trying to tough it out and be defiant but is dying on her feet- very bad-ass. And of course Aja chairs her in the head for daring to no-sell her. Hotta finally comes back with a kick out of a Vader Attack, bootfucking Aja down and tagging out. Aja & Reggie trade “can you lift me?” spots while Hotta gets checked out (that cut is NASTY), Reggie eating a piledriver but landing a clothesline & second-rope splash for two. Aja get a BRUTAL backdrop driver for two, but Reggie clotheslines B&B down and tags in Hotta for a great reception. Rolling Kicks for Aja, but Takako slows her momentum and they hit a double-DDT for two. But Takako flies off right into a kick and eats a Tiger Driver gets two! Reggie tilt-a-whirl slams Takako for two, but misses a Vader Bomb and eats a Super Chokeslam trying to stop the flying knee. Aja gets knocked off the top trying a double-team, so Reggie tries to finish- Takako lands on her feet from a Ligerbomb attempt, and ducks a clothesline to hit a Backdrop Hold for two. Takako*Panic (flying knee) gets two, but another sees her miss and Hotta wipes her out with a rolling kick, and Reggie hits a huge Ligerbomb for two- Aja saves! That finally has the fans reacting to a possible finish. Hotta deals with Aja outside by dumping chairs on her, leaving the two lookers alone- Reggie annihilates Takako with the Flying Splash for the three at (16:54)- Hotta/Bennett win third place!

This was going pretty slowly and gingerly until Hotta’s face got opened up- one of those times that hardway blood does manage to enhance a match, as unsafe as doing REAL HEADBUTTS is. That turned the match into quite a bit of fun, but again it had that thing where the pace just wasn’t up to the dramatic shows of old where people are trying EVERYTHING, as Hotta was mostly on the sidelines after she got f----- up. You know it’s not QUITE working when the fans are predicting all the kickouts because nothing that drastic has happened yet. It finally sorta happened near the end, at least. The finish puts over these two strongly, as they’ll be all over the company the next year, and gives challengers for Takako.

Rating: ***1/2 (took ’em a bit, but they got there- not a bad use of time, since it didn’t feel quite that long)

* So the reasoning for this weird Tag League becomes clear to me here- The Two Stars Of 1995, and they’re teaming up with The Two Rookies We Need To Push. So AJW looks to the future and REALLY wants these kids to get over. Manami & Ito are in black, and Kyoko/Tomoko are in matching purple & silver gear with tassels.

Ito & Tomoko run into each other a bunch while screaming, then Manami works over Tomoko, who slingshots onto Ito to escape- Kyoko throws a couple of big tossing backbreakers onto her & Tomoko’s knee. Kyoko blasts her with a couple lariats, then Tomoko works her over with a variety of stuff at a methodical pace. Bridging suplexes get two-counts, then Kyoko dodges Ito’s “ass out of the corner” reversal and hits a Giant Swing! Ito keeps getting dumped, looking like she’s taking a HUGE shellacking, and this actually gets her over- Kyoko merely beats her ass again, but she rolls up Tomoko and finally escapes. Manami comes in and BAM! Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body and Dropkick Spam! Flying headbutt & bridging bodylock punish Tomoko in revenge, and they double-team her to death for two. Tomoko buggers a facecrusher but they hit a good double-clothesline into a double-slingshot back elbow, leading to some torture on Manami, but she slickly hits that Manami Roll for two! Ito screams in and knocks Kyoko silly with dropkicks, buffeting her all over the place, then hits a DDT & her corner senton for two, then a figure four so Manami can hit TWO flying splashes on Kyoko’s prone body!

Kyoko manages a slingshot dropkick on Manami and Tomoko hits her sweet judo flips, the champ selling them like crazy. A figure-four lets them rest, but Manami quickly hits a Rolling Cradle for two. Tomoko judo flips Ito when she comes in- Manami runs in, but avoids a double-team and Kyoko & Tomoko lariat them down. Ito rolls Kyoko up for 2, but Kyoko halts her stomps, only to have her Slingshot Backsplash blocked by Toyota so Ito can release German her off the ropes. But Ito tries her own corner-reversal and gets the same treatment by Tomoko & Kyoko! Both missile kick Ito for two, but Tomoko misses her Flying Thesz Press and lands straight into MANAMI’s missile kick and NOW Ito gets her Stomp Spam! But her Flying Stomp misses and KYOKO runs in with a lariat! But Manami dumps both and flies out with a missile kick, tagging both in the face- Ito tries to follow up, but BADLY botches a springboard and completely flat-backs right to the floor. Jesus christ. Poor Ito has to struggle into the next spot, lifting Tomoko for a Doomsday Device Missile Dropkick in the ring. Flying Stomp- two! Ito hits another- Kyoko saves! She tries her Backsplash again but gets four feet right in the ass- Manami preps her Running No-Hands move, but now SHE botches the springboard- at least Kyoko was supposed to move anyways.

And so Kyoko immediately tears into the ring and launches Ito off the top with her Run-Up Belly-To-Belly, so Tomoko hits the Flying Thesz Press… for two! She hits the Screwdriver (backdrop to powerbomb) while Kyoko triumphantly holds Manami off and celebrates… but again it’s two! Tomoko tries another, but Ito lands on her feet, only to eat Tomoko’s Rana! Again two! Good double-switch there. Kyoko tags in to try and finish, and seems to get held off, but oh s---! Avalanche Powerslam! But Ito kicks out on her own! Kyoko calls for the finish, but as she preps the Niagara Drive– JESUS! Manami missile kicks her with a teleportation move right in the f------ spine! Moonsault gets two, then Kyoko avoids the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex only to get cannonballed by Ito and hit with the Stereo Flying Headbutts for two! Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex- Tomoko saves! Manami signals another, but Kyoko hits a snap German for two! Niagara Driver- two! Holy s--- these counts are getting fast- this ref was Hebnering it before! Ito runs in to stop another, but Tomoko Screwdrivers her and Kyoko hits a second Niagara driver- three (22:01)! Kyoko & Tomoko win the Tag League!

The whole first part of the match was two main eventers punishing the rookies brutally, and the middle bit was the rookies hammering on the vets, and don’t think THAT’S done by chance- it puts the rising kids over and establishes that we need to watch them going forward. They looked out of their league, but not out of place, know what I mean? The middle phase saw a lot of revenge spots, like the “partner assist into a German off the ropes” and the “misses a flying move and eats a charge from the veteran”. Then they start revving things up with 6 minutes to go, which means flying to the floor, finisher attempts, and more- curiously, Manami & Kyoko were holding WAY back at this point, either to let the rookies show off or just because they’ve been beat to s--- all year. In any case, both Tomoko & Ito now start kicking out of big finishers, even without a vet to save them, until finally the vets start throwing out the REAL heavy-hitters. Kyoko’s Avalanche Powerslam may be the greatest move I never see score any pins, short of Hotta’s Caribbean Splash. After this point it’s false finish after false finish, and that old AJW Tag Magic comes into play once more- like I was thinking “***1/2” at best until they let it all hang out- it’s crazy in just how few minutes these ratings can change.

Rating: ****1/4 (The pace was a BIT slowed compared to the “Prime AJW Tags”, and some spots weren’t that fluid, but the “Rising Stars Rise to the Challenge” story rang through loud and clear… and then they blew the roof off the place with endless false finishes)

So overall, the tournament seemed disappointing to me in terms of star ratings, but the final match definitely delivered in a big way. Notably, the World Champion jobs in her first big match after being crowned, which definitely sets up future stuff. Never mind Ito & Tomoko proving they can hang and kick out of big stuff from the veterans.