Joshi Spotlight: AJW Ota-Ward Champion Legend ’96

What If: Manami Toyota - The Overtimer

Manami Toyota: Now Ace of the promotion, but the fans are gonna let her have it on this one.

(Jan. 22nd 1996)
* Our first big AJW event of 1996, and it’s a doozy. Manami Toyota defends her newly-won WWWA World Title against longtime rival Yumiko Hotta, who set this up by beating Manami during the “Manami vs. 30 People” Gauntlet last month! There’s also a weird one as the former Dream Orca team up with Chaparrita ASARI to take on Mariko Yoshida, a rookie, and a random Mexican lady. Unfortunately I can only find those two matches.

The Rest of the Card:
ELIMINATION MATCH: KAYO NOUMI, KUMIKO MAEKAWA, MARI MOGAMI & YUKA SHIINA d. MINA TANIYAMA, MISAE WATANABE, NOBUE ENDO & YOSHIKO TAMURA (12:39): Mogami d. Taniyama (5:45), Tamura d. Noumi (7:02), Misae d. Mogami (8:02), Kumiko d. Misae (9:14), Kumiko d. Endo (10:19), Shiina d. Tamura (10:19). Kumiko & Shiina survive.

REGGIE BENNETT d. TOMOKO WATANABE (11:20): Tomoko’s getting a bit of a push, but not THAT big- Reggie way outranks her.

AJA KONG d. KAORU ITO (16:05): Wow- Aja should absolutely be beating Ito at this point, but it speaks wonders for Ito that the match goes 16 minutes.

SAKIE HASEGAWA d. BULL NAKANO (11:47): Sakie Hasegawa’s retirement tour continues as she takes on BULL NAKANO of all people in one of Bull’s final AJW matches! Shockingly, Sakie DEFEATS Bull, likely a parting gift from the former Ace.

WWWA TAG TEAM TITLE: DOUBLE INOUE (Kyoko & Takako Inoue) d. AKIRA HOKUTO & MIMA SHIMODA (29:47): Hokuto pins Kyoko at (10:30), Kyoko pins Shimoda at (19:53) and Kyoko pins Akira at (29:47). Thus ends the reign of Shimoda & Akira, the latter of whom actually leaves AJW after a very odd 1995. Seriously, she wins the V*Top Tournament at the Tokyo Dome in late ’94 and is then “just another wrestler” for 1995 until having a ***** match against Toyota and winning the Tag Titles for a run. Hokuto leaving the company kicks a MASSIVE hole in the match quality, too. Meltzer went ****1/2 for this, so I really wish it was on YouTube (looks like an older one was deleted).

* Interesting teams here, as Azteca (Esther Moreno; well-acquainted with joshi) comes from Mexico to join high-flying Yoshida & rookie Fukawa against the reunited Dream Orca and ASARI. I have to figure the latter team has way more of an advantage, in particular since Fukawa is so new. Azteca’s in silver/black and a mask, Yoshida’s in white, Fukawa’s in navy blue & white, Mita’s in blue & white (I have to say, her new gear doesn’t stand out at all and just looks like “generic joshi” stuff), Yamada’s in purple & silver and ASARI’s in her red & white gear. Crowd’s mostly quiet for the introductions. ASARI looks comically tiny next to both of her partners.

Azteca & ASARI start, immediately doing cool flips and reversals that involve flips, then Azteca & Yoshida “Eddie bump” her and hit a DOUBLE surfboard while Fukawa comes in for bootscrapes. Yamada hits some weird delayed backbreakers on Yoshida and tries her stretch muffler (but with no spin anymore), then Mita Blazing Chops her old rival for two and they work Yoshida over for a while. ASARI gets reversed on, but lands on her feet out of Fukawa’s slingshot and ohhhh you know MITA wants to grab some handfuls of that long idol hair, and so she helicopters Fukawa across the ring for a bit. Piledriver gets two, but Fukawa tries the worst small package ever on Yamada, who no-sells her dropkick and kills her with one, then her snap suplex. Fukawa O’Connor rolls ASARI and escapes- Azteca hits a missile kick and falls quite a bit short on a moonsault for two-counts. Azteca hits one of those fake-looking lucha double-armdrags off the top on Dream Orca, then ranas Mita for two (note Mita basically doing the splits so Azteca can reach, lol). Everyone trades off until Yamada starts getting her leg worked. Funny bit as she refuses to sell Fukawa’s stuff until the kid finally kicks and kicks at her, then forces an STF… and then Yamada just rips her head off with a clothesline and gets out of there.

Mita comes in and starts feeding Fukawa comebacks- she lifts her up to take a headscissors and then gets rolled up for two, then eats a TRIPLE dropkick. Yoshida splashes onto her knees, but gets a German for two- Mita stretches wayyyyy out to make the ropes, and Yamada ends up assisting Mita so she can hit the Super Electric Chair Drop for two. Yoshida’s partners save her from Yamada’s Finisher That Never Hits, and she manages a run-up flying sunset flip for a close two. Yamada catches her with a belly-to-belly Superduperplex for two- Azteca saves. La Majistral almost gets Yamada, but she Germans Azteca onto her head and ASARI hits one Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kick, only to miss a second! Azteca sets her up for the big spot- a HUGE Moonsault to the floor, then one in the ring gets two- Yamada saves. Then Dream Orca prevents another triple-team, and ASARI sails out with a cross-body to all three women! ASARI sets up the finish with the Sky Twister Press— for two! Azteca kicked out as Yoshida tried to save! They try it again, but the other team pounces and ASARI’s left hanging- Azteca tries to build a crowd reaction (no dice) and hits a Super Victory Roll slam for the pin at (14:37). Yeah, that’s a logical finish to push the newbie- have her beat the most harmless person on a decently-strong midcard team.

This was kind of a messy one, as Fukawa was green and Azteca was foreign- this led to some ugly spots and “s---, what now?” moments. The losing team dominated the first half, then it’s random legwork on Yamada for a bit until we finally enter the “Mita Segment” and she starts actually making Fukawa look good by setting her up for s--- instead of no-selling or resisting lifts. Azteca was notably kept to only the beginning and the end of a match- probably fitting, as those were the parts they probably planned ahead and they wanted to showcase her (she sticks around a few months). So the final sequence was pretty good- a Quebrada/Moonsault combo then ASARI mimicking the cadence with her own flying, only for Azteca’s partners to save her and leave her alone with the tiny, vulnerable ASARI. Good way to do it, though Azteca was struggling getting reactions- randomly shouting her name at odd, nearly random times.

Rating: **3/4 (awkward and not great, but they fought themselves into a good match by the end thanks to Mita, then the good ending sequence)

* It’s Manami’s first defense! And she’s stuck up against one of her biggest challenges- Hotta the shooter! Except Manami’s beaten her like every time they fought for years, and Hotta even got demolished by Aja last year. So this is kind of a sign of weaker challenges with no interpromotional stuff going on. Though at least their last match was an all-time classic, with Hotta beating seven shades of s--- out of her before Toyota pulls the heroics out and finally wins. Hotta has her hair much longer (a look she’d pretty much keep for good after this) and is in an almost entirely red suit, while Manami’s in black & gold. Curiously, during intros Hotta gets a HUGE reaction and tons of streamers, while Manami gets almost nothing- she even looks uncomfortable.

Hotta throws Toyota into the corner during the pre-match handshake, so Manami tries her dropkick but just gets her leg kicked to death, then she’s “head-kicked” with the slowest shots ever- Hotta soon switches to the back and ass so she can actually put some force into them. Hotta gestures to the crowd and gets mad applause, and Manami has to slowly lock up again- she tries some cheeky leg-kicks of her own, but Hotta knocks her to the ground and wipes her out again. She calls out for a headbutt, and then laughs off Manami’s attempts at them, swatting her down and headbutting her on the mat, too. Toyota manages some more, but Hotta just shoves her off, but whips her right into the Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body! Toyota throws some angry stomps and pulls the hair to a scarily-quiet reaction- Hotta slams her down but eats the dropkick reversal, two missile kicks and the octopus stretch. Hotta is actually bleeding, showing it off a bit and defiantly headbutting the turnbuckles. She throws some stiffer kicks but now TOYOTA is smashing her head into the turnbuckles, defiantly showing Hotta she isn’t the only tough one around. And so Hotta knees her RIGHT in the f------ nose, then kicks her face in and basks in the applause! Jesus this crowd is one-sided. Don’t you dicks realize Manami has more ****+ matches from Meltzer? GEEZ!

Manami is pushed up against the guardrail upside-down and Hotta does her rolling kick there. Manami struggles back into the ring after a solid minute, exploding with head-kicks once she gets in, but Hotta AGAIN pulls the “doesn’t hurt, bitch!” act. Manami just gets right in her face, pulling the hair, and Hotta pretty well dares her to try something, so Manami machine-guns her in the nose with the knee and then drags her outside and uses one of the damn championship trophies to crush Hotta’s chest and face. Yeah, THAT’LL do it! Hotta’s now bleeding from the nose (probably hardway), but Manami tries the Irish whip and BAM! Rolling kick to Manami’s face! Another gets two on a collapsed Manami. Hotta tries the Tiger Driver, but it fails, Manami ducks a lariat, but tries her Manami Roll and gets powerbombed (falling sideways onto her ass)- the dreaded “Kick to the kneeling opponent’s face” fucks her up, but Manami manages ANOTHER Springboard, this time sunset-flipping Hotta for two. But she tries a Moonsault and Hotta gets the knees up and hits two Tiger Drivers for two. Manami avoids the Caribbean Splash (straightjacket super German) and actually dumps Hotta off of her kick, and hits the big game-changer from their last match- the Missile Dropkick to the floor!

Hotta keeps checking her nose even as she’s selling, so I think Toyota gave her a well-deserved potato right up the nose there. Back in- Moonsault gets two. She tries another but Hotta catches her- Caribbean Splash! Okay that’s the safest version I’ve ever seen- a mere back-bump off the top (Manami half flipping onto her ass). That gets a close two (the fans pop for it), but Hotta builds her SmackDown! meter and Toyota captures her with a German for two. Hotta recovers first, but Manami catches her with the Straightjacket German for two. Great bit as a struggling Hotta is nearly put in the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, but she kicks back, punts Manami in the face and IMMEDIATELY jumps for the Pyramid Driver (straightjacket ligerbomb), and that gets 2.8! Hotta gets herself up, but is out of s---- she tries a backdrop superplex thing but Manami leaps back and hits the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex from there! Another last second kick-out! Toyota tries the regular JOCS but Hotta just… flops onto her ass or the grip breaks or something. Hotta tries her Pyramid Driver again but fucks up her grip and it’s almost a German, but a regular Ligerbomb just has Manami flopping back. Another try (signaled as the finish) and Manami falls down again so floppily that it looks almost like it was meant to happen. Rolling Kick… misses by a mile and Manami can’t even sell it. Then Hotta tries another Ligerbomb thing and NOW we get the actual finish, as Manami lands on her feet, awkwardly turns around, tries a few times to grapple Hotta right, and hits a weird Underhook (with the arms hooking from the underside) Ligerbomb, finally holding Hotta down for the pin (17:47). What the hell was THAT?

This was super, SUPER weird and I wonder if it’s a big thing people used in the “Hotta is Selfish” debate, as she sold NOTHING for the first half, basically daring Toyota to throw something hard enough to be worth acting hurt about, so Manami stiffed the s--- out of her and finally used weapons. In a sense, I can kind of sense some booking- probably re-heating Hotta as an “invincible” fighter who can resist just about anything (note: she gets a big “Shooter” push later in the year), and ensuring we’ll see Manami as tough for taking out such an opponent. But MAN it’s tough to really like a match where someone’s just “Nah, doesn’t hurt” for most of it, and the rest was kind of sloppy shop, with nothing really hitting flush until Hotta’s Tiger Drivers. And then it looks like Manami f----- Hotta up with that missile kick to the floor, or Manami herself splattered on the fall and couldn’t get it together, and they were getting sloppy again (at least this time fitting the match, as they were beat up). The drop-down from the corner into the JOCS seems to have messed up Manami’s knee, which might be which it kept being bent when she was supposed to be landing on her feet. But damn, the story of the match seems to be “Wildly Popular Hotta gets cocky and loses the match because she’s an idiot” because she took Manami lightly the entire time and got punished once the real heavy shots and trophy got pulled into things, and then she couldn’t maintain and advantage after that.

But HOLY S--- the finishing minutes were ugly and all kinds of awkward- like as soon as that missile kick hits Hotta can’t hit ANYTHING well and they either botch the finish twice and finally shove themselves into position, or they legit forgot it and were just improvising. Like, Manami doesn’t seem like she’s supposed to be landing on her feet on the second one- was she supposed to be doing a Manami Roll? Twice Hotta covers by throwing “filler kicks” before trying it AGAIN and Manami lands on her feet, but it’s such an awkward shuffle into position and no one gets it. Though hitting a Weirdo Powerbomb to pin Hotta (whose finisher is a Weirdo Powerbomb) is kind of a Boss Move, at least.

Rating: *** (seemed pretty mid-tier, then ramped up to ***1/2, then just started sucking again as I’m not sure if they just couldn’t get it together and clearly botched several things)

This bout ends up kind of helping two of the big “Puro Theories”, though- “Hotta Is Selfish” (selling almost NOTHING until forced to) and “Toyota Isn’t A Big Draw” as she gets basically the “Jacqueline/Ivory Reaction” in there next to Hotta of all people. An inauspicious start to her 3WA Title defenses and 1996 as a whole for AJW.