Joshi Spotlight: AJW Grand Prix 1995 (Part One & Two)
By Jabroniville on 8th October 2021
Pretty much universally considered Shimoda’s best singles match. And it’s Manami’s THIRD ***** match of the year.
AJW JAPAN GRAND PRIX ’95- PART ONE & TWO:
* 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)
AJW GRAND PRIX ’95:
MANAMI TOYOTA vs. BLIZZARD YUKI:
* The previous year, a younger Sakie completely upset Toyota to win one of their GP matches, so even though the two are stablemates in Freedom Force (along with Blob, Spiral & Pyro), there’s real drama here. Especially with Sakie getting the “Yuki Push”. Joshi doesn’t really DO upsets from what I’ve seen (literally never watched one happen), but if they happen, it’s in the Grand Prix.
Standard AJW Opening to start (you know… screaming dropkicks) and a stand-off. Yuki takes the advantage with a ton of arm stuff, but Manami fights back with a great front dropkick to the face, missing a second, then hitting her No Hands Running Springboard move- Yuki smartly pausing while Manami struggles to catch her balance before jumping off. She deathlocks the legs and pulls off a series of moves, like a bridging double-armlock and just yanking on the nose like a rude heel. uh-oh, she’s working like LCO tonight. This causes a slapfight, Yuki winning with chops, and we play Bend Manami In Half for a while until she fights back with a Rolling Cradle that literally lasts half a minute. Ten minutes gone, and she misses a dropkick for her trademark “through the ropes” bump, and Yuki follows with a SWEET Tope Con Hilo! Twisting Somersault Senton eats mat, however, and they reverse stuff until Yuki decapitates her with a BRUTAL Ax Kick to the back of the head. Manami pulls her off the top and ends up Germaning her, and now it’s time for the Moonsault to miss, and she eats a Solebutt to the face.
We hit one of those “exactly one minute” holds with a sleeper, rolling around the ring so it’s not just a simple resthold. Rolling Butterfly Suplexes pop the crowd and get two. One-minute chinlock (haha YouTube has RUINED ME for Joshi restholds) and she hits a backdrop, but Manami leaps out of another and hits a huge dropkick. Then she traps her upside-down in the ropes and dropkicks the shit out of her back repeatedly until dumping her and hitting a Butterfly Suplex on the exposed floor! But that just fires Yuki up, so she drags Manami around, throws her into the stands, and even rifles a chair at her head before smashing her into the arena’s walls! When they finally get back into the ring, Manami spits water at her (!) and Manami Rolls her for two. She goes up, but Yuki hits her with a Superplex right into the center of the ring- and Manami “Fuck YOU!” bridges right out! Flying Splash misses and Manami hits a Bridging German for two. Another is reversed to Yuki’s own, but Manami dropkicks her right on the ass to send her off the top… but the Running No-Hands Springboard misses!
She tries to reverse a move to another Manami Roll, but this time she’s Powerbombed! A second Superplex attempt is turned into Manami dropkicking her head off from the top, but a lariat is turned into a Dragon Suplex for a close count! Manami reverses a strike to a German for the same… Moonsault hits knees! URANAGE SPAM! Yuki goes up, but gets brutally tossed off, then Manami hits a Missile Dropkick to the outside. One of those crazy “walk up the ropes to an Asai Moonsault even though 25 minutes have elapsed” things only glances Yuki. Moonsault FINALLY hits in the ring… for two! She signals for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… VICTORY ROLL! Another try… Solebutt! Another Solebutt gets two, but Manami fails the Double-Hammerlock Suplex and Piledrivers her, then hits a Moonsault Press for two. Missile Dropkick, and both are beat- they’re just trying for pins now as time is running out. Release German by Yuki, and a holding one gets two. She struggles to her feet, hits a Solebutt for two, and then manages a spinning heel kick… and time runs out (30:00). She drops her to knees, disappointed, while Manami hangs her head in the back- this look of “Why couldn’t I beat her?” etched in her body language. Tremendous.
Easily Hasegawa’s best singles match ever, and unsurprisingly it’s with Toyota. But Manami wasn’t selfishly grabbing up all the offense- Yuki dominated the first 25 minutes and hit the best moves, and Toyota didn’t even get all her shit in! Yuki’s Tope Con Hilo and Ax Kick looked AMAZING in particular, but Manami spent the entire match on the defensive, acting like Yuki had her number the whole time- she would get her big moves reversed after trying them too often, making only brief comebacks before getting trapped in another hold, etc. It took her right until the end to get a Finisher Surge going, and she’d only manage a couple big moves before getting drilled again. It put the youngster over like crazy. These 30-minute draws are always somewhat interesting, in that you have to “fill time” with stuff- either extended selling or stretching. Here they did those 1-minute restholds, but I liked how they kept them mobile- a half-crab turns to a Boston Crab into another thing as they fight around. But once they were done those, it was all reversing stuff and keeping the match great. I liked Manami’s selling, too- she wasn’t just “oh I’m hurt but RUNNING BIG MOVE!”- she stumble-walked, stalled and took her time so it wasn’t just spammed out, and Yuki’s moves meant something.
Rating: ****1/2 (the peak of Sakie’s wrestling career, and the surest sign of how good she was- leading a 30-minute match against the best wrestler in the world?)
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.