AJW GRAND PRIX 1996 (Part One):
(July 14th 1996)
* It’s time for another Grand Prix show! Though sadly, this one is 90% clipped matches- AJW was really cheaping out on tapes as profits fell by this point, I think. We do get a full Yumiko Hotta/Aja Kong match and they’ve had some REAL bangers, and a Manami Toyota/rookie vs. Kyoko Inoue & Chaparrita ASARI match, as AJW gets serious about pushing ASARI, though!
The opening clip shows Manami Toyota’s two 1995 Title wins- against Aja Kong and against Dynamite Kansai, then clips of other women’s faces beside the 3WA World Title and a Manami promo. Finally, the entrants enter the ring wearing sashes to denote their entry- we have exclusively AJW wrestlers this time around, meaning there’s no fun Interpromotional stuff, sadly. This one drops the concept of “Blocks” and is now a single 12-woman round robin tournament.
* Kyoko Inoue: the heir apparent to the 3WA World Title and Manami’s longest rival. Probably gonna win, if AJW’s typical way of doing things holds true.
* Aja Kong: The dethroned champion. Was maybe gonna be pushed down the ranks like past champs, but is now just there again.
* Yumiko Hotta: Has now been training for shootfights for a while, but AJW wants to keep using her as a great “threat” to any top wrestler, despite never beating them.
* Takako Inoue: Amazing, underrated wrestler, but never QUITE pushed to the next level. Is All Pacific-level now, and if they’re smart, this should be a big run.
* Kaoru Ito: Now the highest ranked of the Class of ’89. Clearly meant for big things. Will probably earn middle ranks.
* Tomoko Watanabe: A rising star who is just now picking up some wins in tag matches. Has a bright future, and will probably score some suprise wins and earn middle ranks.
* Mariko Yoshida: Has been back from injury for a year, occupying an uncomfortable “middle ground” between pushed stars and midcarders. If they’re gonna push her, now’s the time (she’s easily better than either Ito or Tomoko at this point).
* Mima Shimoda: Now the current Tag Champion and has been in successful teams for a year now, but never quite does well in singles. They seem to see a future in her, so she should HOPEFULLY do well.
* Etsuko Mita: Now without Shimoda for most of a year, she’s floundered in the midcard, and has likely entered the “Suzuka Minami” role of being a gatekeeper. Probably won’t do well.
* Reggie Bennett: Foreigner powerhouse with some big title runs last year- again, a strong contender to do more, especially as she’s not as “tired” as the other stars yet. Her introductory interview, in English, was clearly not planned out ahead of time (“with the, uh, opposite belt and won the uh, six-man championship…”.
* Toshiyo Yamada: Gone are her All Pacific runs and now she’s just kinda ambling about the company. Injuries and motivation seem to have done a number on her.
* Chaparrita ASARI: No chance, but a stupendous acrobat they still wanna do things with. She has super-long hair now and no longer looks 13. Obviously gonna be in last place.
Quickly clipped matches will go unrated- there’s often less than 5 minutes visible.
AJA KONG & SAYO ENDO vs. YUMIKO HOTTA & CHIQUITA AZTECA:
(June 15th 1996)
* It’s Aja & a rookie vs. Hotta and Cynthia Moreno’s other identity. With the most blown-out image I’ve seen on YouTube in a WHILE. We’re joined in progress.
Hotta easily tortures the rookie in front of Aja, clearly taunting her about it- Azteca comes in for some beats before Aja gets sick of it and waffles both of them with her oil can- Azteca flops off it, while Hotta does a very slow sell, collapsing as the pain hits her. Endo finally grabs the ropes to avoid Azteca’s dropkick and tags out- Aja goes through her avalanche/suplex/piledriver series, measured as ever, and eggs on Endo to do running rookie dropkicks. But soon Hotta’s in and that’s the end of that- she either covers Endo’s botches well or is just stuffing her stuff, then flattens both Aja & Endo with a double-bulldog. Aja saves Endo after a Tiger Driver and uses the can to stun Hotta, then ducks an enzuigiri and hits a backdrop suplex for two.
Aja misses an avalanche and takes the rolling kicks for two, then Azteca missile kicks Aja for the same. Aja hits a cross-body on both for two, then a second-rope splash on Azteca for two, but Azteca knocks her off the top and hits an Asai Moonsault to both opponents on the floor. She scores a Lionsault press in the ring, but Aja catches her with a powerslam reversal next, both getting two. Humorously, Aja gets ENDO to copy the move, also getting two! But Endo badly misses a flying move and splatters, so Aja has to prevent a moonsault finisher, but comes off the second rope with the can and blasts Endo by mistake- the rookie topples like a tree. Hotta & Aja fight on the floor while Azteca hits a ludicrous three Moonsaults in a row to finish… but Aja breaks it up at the very last microsecond! Aja tries to have Endo climb (after three moonsaults?), but Hotta slugs Aja and Azteca Germans Endo from the top rope for the easy pin at (10:08 shown). LOL, to beat a rookie? That move quickly becomes a “once a show” cliche around this point, as you will note in my subsequent reviews no doubt.
Rating: **1/4 (A kind of filler, “House Show Match”, but Azteca brought some flying and Aja her usual methodical, stiff beatdown. Fun stuff with the oil can and Endo trying to copy Aja)
MOMOE NAKANISHI vs. NANAE TAKAHASHI:
* Oh damn! The rookies who dominate much of the title scene of the 2000s are here! Both in their rookie swimsuits. I think Momoe’s the one in red. Nanae’s in a grey/blue one. whatever- it doesn’t matter yet!
Nanae tosses Momoe around, but eats a bunch of running attacks. We’re clipped to Nanae doing her own, with both girls clearly being VERY tired, leading to the inevitable Time Over (2:13 of 15:00 shown) as Nanae’s Rookie Bodyslam of Death fails to work. The crowd gives them a solid reaction for working hard.
TAKAKO INOUE vs. TOMOKO WATANABE:
* Takako’s position is in flux at times, and she’s a tolerable star, so this might be interesting. Takako’s in black & Tomoko’s in the white & black tasseled gear.
Takako misses Takako*Panic (flying knee) and Tomoko gets vicious dragon screws (though it’s mostly Takako spinning) and a figure-four. Dropkicks work the knee, but Takako dodges a flying Thesz press and works the knee herself, throwing on a submission and then a Takako*Panic TO the knee. Clipped to Tomoko’s Blue Thunder Bomb (backdrop suplex to sit-out powerbomb) getting two, Takako selling death and has to be dragged up to her feet. She reverses another for two, then ducks a clothesline and hits a backdrop suplex and her chokeslam- she hops on one foot to the top rope and beans Tomoko in the head with Takako*Panic for two, and a second one finishes at (3:00 of 11:55 shown). Solid, standard-issue victory from Takako, but she sells the leg well.
MIMA SHIMODA vs. KAORU ITO:
* Ito’s in some new gear- a white/green singlet where the colors fade together One of her only good looks yet. Mima’s in black with yellow tassels.
Ito Germans Shimoda off a missed punch for two, and goes right to the Flying Stomp for the same. A fisherman’s superplex is fought off and Shimoda hits her flying headscissors for two- Ito counters the Tiger Suplex, but Mima tries again, getting two. But a third try and ITO reverses to one of her own, getting two! Another fisherman’s superplex is attempted, but Shimoda splats onto her for two- Death Lake Driver (Tiger Superplex)! But… it only gets two! Holy crap! Shimoda appears fine with this, and handily hits a Fisherman’s Buster for the pin (2:25 of 13:54 shown), doing the world’s most lackadaisical cover for three. Wow, wasn’t expecting that! She didn’t seem that upset to have her finisher kicked out of, and just finishes with some random thing that, near as I can tell, was not a regular move of hers. Though she seems to adopt it in the next few shows, at least.
REGGIE BENNETT vs. TOSHIYO YAMADA:
* Both have fought for the All Pacific Title, even last year, so this will be a good “figuring out someone’s ranking” match. Yamada’s in a black singlet with yellow linework on it, and Reggie’s in her black gear with pink sides.
Reggie promptly reverses The Finisher That Never Hits, but Yamada avoids the electric chair drop and takes maybe the weakest clothesline I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously, Reggie just jogged towards her with an arm out- that looks like it wouldn’t have broken an egg. Yamada scores her spinkick, but the flying version misses. Big second-rope splash gets two for Reggie, but Yamada spins onto her feet from the Ligerbomb attempt and ducks under a clothesline, only to end up in the tilt-a-whirl powerslam for two, and the Spinning Ligerbomb finishes handily at (1:41 of 12:29). Pretty significant win for Reggie, who doesn’t even look tired.
YOKO TAKAHASHI vs. KRISTIE BRAGARD:
* What th–?? Okay, this is from their shoot martial arts tournament thing- AJW’s interest in getting into real fighting like the UFC & Pride. The puro vets warned me about this thing, lol. I’ve never heard of either woman. Kristie, a decent-looking blonde girl, speaks with a Nordic accent and says “I’ve been fighting here in Japan- it’s p*ssing me off pretty much. There are too many things that make me angry here, so I’ll hit the f*cking sh*t out of her”. OKAY THEN. Yoko’s in a blue singlet & Kristie’s in black.
Kristie rocks Yoko with a spinning backfist immediately and takes her down in a facelock, but Yoko scores a billion kidney punches to take over. They end up practically 69-ing and there aren’t many rope breaks, so it’s pretty ugly. Yoko takes her down and it’s nothing much, but she does sorta step up and down on Kristie. Another ugly takedown and AGAIN Yoko dances in place on her torso after a ground & pound doesn’t work. Kristie gets up after a tangle in the ropes and screams “Get your arm out of my mouth you stupid b*tch!” She keeps trying a front facelock, but Yoko has her down and headbutts her extended arm until the ref interjects and says she can’t. Yoko can’t get a ground & pound, nor a keylock, nor a cross-armbreaker, but finally just stands up and starts kicking Kristie in the face until the ref calls it at (10:14). The two shake hands and are like “Yay, good fight!” despite Kristie’s words.
Well… it’s better than a Bat Yoshinaga match. Fantastically ugly fight, with both fighters flailing, stomping on the head and neck, and more. Clearly there weren’t a lot of rules.
AJA KONG vs. YUMIKO HOTTA:
* Two top contenders meet almost immediately, with both in a similar position- faltering against the top 2 performers, but beating everyone else. Hotta’s in black (and has her hair much longer now), and Aja’s in white & black.
They trade thigh-kicks to start, but charge into a ground & pound-fest, drawing applause on the break. Aja peppers Hotta with knees & kicks, sending her out for a breather, and when she gets taken down and punched, she has to clinch up. I like the slow, methodical way they’re moving in on each other here- it puts over both as careful, dangerous opponents. Aja finally gets in a vulnerable spot and Hotta throws a ton of kicks, just angering her until she catches one and throws on a leghold. Hotta now gets the knee smashed repeatedly- Aja shoves a chair into it and they do the “Run & Toss” outside the ring. Aja finds a bunch of metal crap to throw into the knee, too, and Hotta’s REALLY selling. Aja finds a hundred different wants to kick the leg, selling Hotta’s desperation enzuigiri but just staying on the offense, even splashing the knee from the second rope! Hotta manages her rolling kick and swipes at Aja from the mat, but misses a second kick as Aja is STILL killing her, but Aja charges in and gets CRANKED with another rolling kick!
Hotta tries for her Tiger Driver, but hasn’t done enough yet- she snaps on a Fujiwara armbar instead, but Aja makes the ropes, dodges another enzuigiri and throws another hold on the knee- Aja hits a Backdrop Driver, but Hotta immediately latches on a vicious chokehold that Aja sells like death. She only barely lands her shaking arm into the ropes, collapsing the rest of the way. Aja’s face is really messed up and bleeding by this point- that Rolling Kick REALLY landed. A superplex fails but Aja dodges a Flying Rolling Kick and tries to finish off the leg. Hotta makes the ropes, then tries to throw Aja off the top, but Aja powerbombs her on the way down and AGAIN goes for the knee. Aja misses the Uraken but gets a regular backfist for a close two, then scores a real one, but Hotta just pushes her down from the mat and throws on a keylock… AND AJA TAPS at (14:06), the pain just too much! She tapped out almost the second Hotta got it on! And Aja loses cleanly to someone she used to crush all the time! Hotta’s prideful jaunt followed by an exhausted collapse is great.
Really surprising match here, as you don’t normally see Hotta eat all the offense, then pull off a desperation win. Aja was REALLY good as the insurmountable monster, just tearing into that knee every chance she got- even with very basic submission holds her menace and aura make it look like a basic “grab the knee and pull” hold could really finish it. But Hotta’s selling carries the day- I’m so used to seeing her no-sell that I get shocked by how good she can be when she wants to- just howling with pain and getting good sympathy heat. The finish was interesting- snap-submissions aren’t usually an AJW thing at this point, so it’s different to see a limb that’s been fresh all match suddenly be targeted and the only way out is to give up right away or see it broken.
Rating: ***1/4 (almost entirely one-sided and never hits a “Finisher Surge” but just a good, smart wrestling match with a good come-from-behind win)
MANAMI TOYOTA & YOSHIKO TAMURA vs. KYOKO INOUE & CHAPARRITA ASARI:
* Okay, WTF? Toyota’s gotta team up with a complete nobody rookie and Kyoko gets ASARI? Like, ASARI’s smol, but she’s way more elite than one of the “Jobber Swimsuit” crew. Though Yoshiko is a big-time follower of Kyoko (she’d follow her to NEO Ladies and become a top star there), so maybe that’s why she gets to be elevated in this match (and to be fair, she is the rookie “AJW Title” champion). Manami’s in black & gold, Tamura’s in black & pink, Kyoko’s in splatter/tassel tights and ASARI’s in red & white.
Manami & Yoshiko attack immediately, setting up Manami to hit the Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha, but Kyoko & ASARI bail leaving Yoshiko to eat the bump, then ASARI gets press-slammed onto the duo from the ring to the floor. ASARI then tosses the rookie into every chair in Korakuen, Yoshiko doing comedy bumps and getting an ovation for getting back to ringside. Manami plays the “let’s do a test of strength- aw shucks, you’re too short!” bit with ASARI, who simply calls Kyoko in and sits on her shoulders as we get increasingly comedic. ASARI bites, but Manami bites back and drags her around using only the mouth- see, Heel Manami would rule. ASARI takes a beating, Yoshiko doing a headscissors, then Kyoko does one to her, then Manami to Kyoko (sadly not making it a chain). Manami even figure-fours ASARI in Yoshiko’s headscissors! But ASARI does her “flip out of a slingshot” move and cross-bodies to escape, then Kyoko does the “no-selling veteran” thing to Yoshiko… but Yoshiko actually hauls her down with a running attack! Yup- this is Kyoko’s kouhai, alright.
Yoshiko HOWLS when she’s put in the Dancing Deathlock and other submissions by the vet, but after taking some stuff by ASARI she bridges out and sunset flips her to escape. Manami destroys ASARI with a dropkick out of the corner for two, but Kyoko prevents a superplex and ASARI hits a flying hurricanrana really badly (more or less landing directly on Manami, causing them to tumble down in a pile) for two. Manami gets whipped to the ropes by both opponents, but hits the Running No-Hands Cross-Body to them! And then they set up STEREO Dancing Deathlocks to screw with them, Manami hilariously having to wait for Yoshiko to set it up, then correct her application! Then their opponents get out anyways, and Manami growls with fury and slaps her partner! The crowd LOVES that. And then Kyoko hits them both with the Slingshot Backsplash, sets them beside each other, then front superplexes ASARI off the top onto them, and instructs ASARI so they can do stereo surfboards! ASARI ducks two double-clotheslines, but gets caught on a cross-body (Yoshiko stumbles but Manami hauls them all up), but Kyoko shoves them over. ASARI hits the Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kick, but on the second, Manami boots her in the… um, that hit low, let’s just say. But Kyoko runs in and sets up the Super Frankensteiner from ASARI- that gets two. Kyoko tries the Lariat but eats the Rolling Cradle for two.
Manami climbs, but gets whipped off with a German, but she reverses the Niagara Driver to a bridging German for two. Moonsault gets two, but Kyoko victory rolls out of the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex for two, only to get Manami Rolled for the same! Yoshiko gets tagged, but Kyoko launches her off the top with the Run-Up Belly-To-Belly for two- Manami saves! ASARI takes her, but Yoshiko actually KICKS OUT after the run-up flying back elbow! Yoshiko & Kyoko resist Germans (Yoshiko rolls her up for two), but Kyoko crushes her with a series of lariats against the ropes- Manami saves. Yoshiko finally escapes, leading them into a double missile kick from Manami, who missile kicks Kyoko on the floor! Stereo missile kicks to ASARI in the ring! Yoshiko hits a Northern Lights suplex for two- Kyoko saves. They do some crazy damn thing where Yoshiko climbs up on Manami’s shoulders and they hit a tandem Flying Splash/Headbutt combo, but ASARI bridges out! She knocks Manami off the top and hits a flying splash to both women out there. Kyoko bails out on trying a run-up plancha and settles for a cannonball off the apron, and they single out Yoshiko- ASARI hits the Sky Twister Press (mostly hidden on camera by Kyoko) for the three at (20:32).
Okay, this one was oddly PACKED- half comedy match, half serious contest with big moves. These always take forever to recap, haha. Manami directing Yoshiko and getting frustrated with the rookie was great, though. And damn, check out Yoshiko! Two years in the business and she’s already very solid, doing good moves and being treated like she can hang just a tiny bit, with Kyoko generously giving up offense to her. They ended up doing a series of “veteran controls and directs the rookie” flying moves, too, capping off with ASARI finishing off Yoshiko.
Rating: ***1/4 (fun match, but half-speed for the veterans and mostly a showcase for Yoshiko- a bit too long but never really slowed down all the same)