AJW JAPAN GRAND PRIX 1996 (Part Two):
(July 28th & Aug. 4th, 1996)
* Another set of mostly-clipped matches! This time we get full clips of TWO Chaparrita ASARI matches, as the company focuses on her more and more- we see her take on Kyoko Inoue and Mariko Yoshida in separate “come from behind” matches! Also come see just how serious AJW was about pushing Reggie Bennett in 1996, as she gets some of the biggest matches of her entire career! Also a full-length “Class of 1987 Reunion” match between Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada vs. Las Cachorras Orientales!
Crazy upsets abound as AJW’s booking combines the “Flukes can happen in round robins” puro trope with panicked booking!
MIHO WAKIZAWA vs. YACHIYO KAWAMOTO:
* Good heavens, who are THESE two? I’ve never heard of them. Expecting rookies who retired early (common to AJW at this time) I was surprised to find Miho had an 18-year career, moving on to Stardom, mostly in tag success. Yachiyo lasted… two? I think? One match in ’94 and a bunch in ’96? Miho’s in yellow (and is quite tall) & Yachiyo’s in black.
Miho completely dominates with the usual dropkicks, snapmares & armlocks, then Yachiyo comes back with dropkicks until time expires (2:33 of 15:00) shown. Those poor people.
KYOKO INOUE vs. CHAPARRITA ASARI:
* Kyoko, in pink, takes on ASARI, in white & red.
Kyoko chooses to tease the diminutive ASARI with the old “holding the hand too high for a test of strength” spot, so ASARI climbs to the second rope in defiance. Kyoko grabs a fan’s chair to make it equal, so ASARI goes all the way up, nearly slipping, but just leaps off with a missile kick. ASARI tosses Kyoko and sits in the chair all “yeah that’s right”, leading Kyoko to try and laugh it off, then shove her down. ASARI keeps tossing slaps around, but Kyoko throws out a horrifyingly-fast giant swing for two and then tortures her in holds. Her backbreaker rack tossing them into a freefall backbreaker over her knee looks BRUTAL to take. ASARI finally makes Kyoko sell dropkicks through attrition, then hits a Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kick, but is caught on the second, only to armdrag Kyoko out of it.
ASARI sells every strike like death, but sticks & moves, shoving Kyoko out of her slingshot backsplash move and hitting a plancha. And when Kyoko’s stunned a bit, she follows with a Flying Rana to the floor! And she waits Kyoko out in the ring, hitting a version in there for two! She goes up for the Sky Twister Press (having to trip Kyoko, who’s too big to slam), missing most of one and landing a second for two. But she climbs again and Kyoko pops up like nothing happened, CRUSHING her with a motherf*ck of a German straight onto the head, All Japan-style. No wait, she bridged out of the pin- she ain’t dead! She scores some flash-pin reversals and even ranas Kyoko again out of another thing, but Kyoko catches her with a Perfect plex and run-up flying back elbow, then completely merks her with the Lariat, flipping her in a 1.2 Jannetty bump and sits on her for the easy pin (12:11).
Actually pretty good! Kyoko made her earn that selling, which fits their tiers and their size difference (Kyoko looked like Godzilla in there), but ASARI fought smart and did her “all flying moves” style to actually hold Kyoko at bay, which is the ideal way to use that style- when you have nothing else that works. Kyoko actually sold pretty well here, but pretty much arbitrarily stopped later and started hitting her stuff. ASARI took only a single Perfect plex and was so dead Kyoko easily hit a flying move with a lot of set-up. But the Lariat was a killer finish. The German onto the head looked lethal, as did the finale- ASARI’s turning into quite the little bump machine.
Rating: ***1/4 (good “big versus little” match- didn’t overstay its welcome and had a ton of great spots and bumps from ASARI)
AJA KONG vs. REGGIE BENNETT:
* Aja’s in red & black, Reggie’s in black & pink, as the two biggest girls in AJW square off.
Aja resists Reggie’s powerbomb, misses an Uraken but gets the regular backfist in what might be a new recurring spot for her. That gets two, then the Flying Back Elbow misses, but Reggie’s 2nd-rope splash eats feet. Aja screams “REGGGIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!! SHI-NE (die)!” and hits a Backdrop Driver, then another right on the back of the neck, for two. But she tries the Uraken/backfist trick again and Reggie blocks it and clotheslines her down, impressing the fans by just slugging the monster to the mat, then hits a Flying Splash… for THREE!!! Reggie Bennett defeats Aja Kong (1:47 of 10:48 shown)! Okay, now THAT’s a surprise. Sure it’s in the JGP, but it wasn’t even treated like a fluke- Reggie just knocked her down and hit a big move for the finish.
YUMIKO HOTTA vs. TAKAKO INOUE:
* The former tag partners go at it, Hotta riding high off of submitting Aja. Both are in black.
Takako misses Takako*Panic, but scores an armbar, DDT, high kick and Backdrop Hold for two. Takako*Panic! And again! And again! For two- Hotta beans Takako with a kick to buy herself some breathing space (selling like death, just curled up on the mat), then kicks her again for a near-KO (Takako’s up to “9”). A pair of Tiger Drivers get two, but Takako reverses a piledriver to a leghold and Hotta has to make the ropes. A few flash-pin attempts tease a Takako victory, but Hotta ultimately pounces for a Fujiwara armbar for the quick tapout (3:24 of 20:25 shown)! Wow, that went TWENTY MINUTES? That must have given the fans a good showing.
MANAMI TOYOTA & MIMA SHIMODA vs. KAORU ITO & TOMOKO WATANABE:
* Class of ’87 vs. Class of ’89! The tag champs take on the stars of the future!
Shimoda lands on her feet from Tomoko’s backdrop, but Tomoko resists the Tiger Suplex & lariats her down. Another gets two, but Toyota helps and Shimoda gets a German for two. Tomoko gets a Screwdriver for two, but Shimoda rolls her up for the same, then the Sweethearts hit a Doomsday Device of all things for two- Ito saves. Toyota deals with her, and Shimoda finishes Tomoko with the Death Lake Driver (tiger superplex) at (2:32 of 17:31).
MARIKO YOSHIDA vs. CHAPARRITA ASARI:
* Another full ASARI match, as she takes on a pink-clad Yoshida, whose visual appearance has REALLY changed over the past few months, going from a plain-looking rookie-type look to a much more glamorous one. Better hair and make-up, maybe?
ASARI catches with with a Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kick at the bell, but Yoshida whips her into a cartwheel elbow of her own. She works the knee with stuff like a really slick spinning deathlock, avoids a crossbody, and hits a run-up knee to the face & Jackhammer for two as she modifies her moveset a little. She completely gobbles the kid up, putting extra stank on even little moves like the bow & arrow and butterfly suplexes, just snapping everything off. ASARI finally scores her kneelifts to end several minutes of that, then does a ton of holds of her own. Yoshida eventually cartwheels out of a move but ends up in MORE holds, but finally lands a run-up flying cross-body for two. ASARI counters again with a wheelbarrow armdrag, though, and Yoshida has to dodge a flying cross-body to finally stay on top, splattering ASARI with a falling Pedigree of sorts for two.
However, in a similar move from before, ASARI knocks her off the top, hits a plancha top the floor, then does a Quebrada off the top rope! Sky Twister Press in the ring! Yoshida gets her foot on the ropes and ASARI has to roll out, selling her arm- Yoshida lets everyone check on her before pouncing- she dumps chairs all over the kid, then hits a Run-Up Plancha to the floor. Run-up flying splash in the ring gets two, then ASARI gets SPIKED with a German for the same. ASARI catches the fans with a tease via a rollup out of another German, but Yoshida puts her up top to finish- ASARI shoves her off once, twice and then drives her into the mat with a Flying Rana… for the three (15:20)! ASARI scores an upset win!! Well that explains why there’s two of her bouts on here- she gets the Fluke Push!
Decidedly impressive performance from Yoshida here, putting extra “snap” into everything, but the story of the match might be ASARI “equalizing” herself with much of the roster. Controlling 3-5 minutes of stretching is pretty unusual, and we’re getting into a tempo where she can stick & move and hold people off via reversals, and even control strings of offense via 3-4 big flying moves in a row. Though the central part of the match was a LOT of standard-issue stretching, at least ASARI was in control of it instead of eating it. ASARI selling the arm was a bit odd (seeming like a legit injury), as it didn’t seem to matter much other than to stall things. But the come from behind win was a good one, not really telegraphed because they had so many other teases.
Rating: **3/4 (not as great as the typical Yoshida match thanks to all the restholds, but had good bits)
AJA KONG vs. TOMOKO WATANABE:
* Both are in white & black here.
Tomoko hits dragon screws into a figure-four, Aja howling in agony for a full minute until the break. Clipped to Aja’s Uraken missing, but she gets a powerslam for two. Great brainbuster hits and Aja executes her with the Uraken (full on “pick them up and slap them awake for it first” routine, too). Tomoko does the full “falling tree sell” and Aja pins her dead body at (2:43 of 14:56 shown), still selling the knee.
KYOKO INOUE vs. REGGIE BENNETT:
* The hosses of AJW take on each other- Kyoko has beaten Reggie ages ago, but Reggie just pinned AJA, so this is now interesting. Kyoko’s pink & purple outfit is garish, even for her.
They hoss it up immediately, trading off on grapples, strikes & power moves, Reggie backdropping Kyoko to the floor but failing a dive and going for a ride into seas of chairs. Kyoko taunts “Come on, Reggiiiieeeee” in English, and fights her into a surfboard that has the crowd roaring for the 1.2 seconds it’s applied before they job to gravity. Like a pro, Kyoko revels in the cheers and holds one finger up to the crowd, doing it again (but more slowly, so it works). A LONG tease sees Kyoko hit a vertical suplex and get a pop for it (see- the simple spots can still draw big reactions if you lead up to them!), but Reggie hits a lariat & legdrop for two. Reggie hits an avalanche, but Kyoko reverses another to a run-up flying back elbow smash, which is CRAZY cool but was done so slowly the fans barely reacted. She does a camel clutch but gets Samoan dropped, then splashed for two. Kyoko charges up twice, finally hitting a crazy Superduperplex (!!), leading to her Run-Up Flying Back Elbow getting two. Kyoko can’t get the Niagara Driver, but does a lariat only to get pushed over the top trying her Slingshot Backsplash. And then Reggie HITS THAT DIVE!
Back in, Reggie hits a pretty bad Ligerbomb (going too high on the grip and Kyoko falls off to the side) for two, and Reggie tries the Flying Splash on a glass-eyed Kyoko- and misses! Bridging German gets two for Kyoko! Folding Powerbomb for two. Kyoko cries “Shi ne!” and scores two huge lariats against the ropes, but misses a third and gets CRANKED with a Ligerbomb for 2.8! Damn those last-second kickouts, haha. The crowd chants her name, and she responds by landing on her feet from another Ligerbomb attempt, ducking a lariat and hitting her headscissors takeover for two! Reggie reverses a whip and gets her spinning powerslam for two, and THAT lets her finally hit that Flying Splash… for the three (12:05)! REGGIE PINS KYOKO!! Another huge win for Reggie this tournament! They must have had some kind of plans for her, even with Kyoko trying to show her up in defeat.
Very interesting, if slow-paced match, like they were saving themselves and working a bit “light” and measured to avoid screw-ups, thus telegraphing some stuff and occasionally deflating the crowd because they were being SO careful. But that leads to a lot of fun “lead up to a simple thing” bits, and moves that’d otherwise not work (a run-up superduperplex is insane for anyone, much less a BBW like Reggie taking it). Ya don’t ALWAYS have to try for the “Manami Pace” (which invites screw-ups, then and now). And they did smart build-up to spots- Reggie doing things like failing one dive, then a flying splash, only to hit both moves later. Her reversal game has gotten a lot smarter, as has her timing, turning her into a much more well-rounded (um…) performer.
Rating: ***1/2 (a good, smart Hoss Match, building up to the spots and letting the crowd respond. No major “Finisher Surge” or crazy stuff, but solid the whole way through)
CLASS OF 1987 REUNION:
MANAMI TOYOTA & TOSHIYO YAMADA vs. LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES (Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita):
* !!!!! And now we have the two most successful Joshi tag teams of the ’90s! But it’s a Class of ’87 reunion, as Mita & Shimoda are reunited just for this (as Mima is Tag Champions with MANAMI right now). Despite LCO not being a thing right now, they are decked out like it, with Shimoda’s mega-geisha gear and Mita’s marching band uniform and insane super-tan. There’s this REALLY long preamble listing accomplishments and giving everyone duotangs and flowers and what-not, Shimoda being a giant ham about it as I marvel at what Manami’s hair-care routine must be (like, 1995 Triple-H would be jealous of that sheen). The fans BURY the ring with streamers during the intros. Manami’s in black & gold, Yamada’s in white, and LCO are in matching green & white outfits.
And of course after all that, LCO attack from behind before the bell, helicopter Manami around by her hair and hit the LCO Pose. But Manami catches Mita with the Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body off a whip and her team hits a double backdrop suplex. Missile kick gets two and Yamada adds the snap suplex & stiff kicks to the back. Shimoda comes in with piledrivers and self-cheering, really coming into her own, but Mita gets kicked in the head and Manami takes over, throwing on a figure-four and demanded Yamada add THREE flying splashes in a row. Haha, YOU show them! Mita gets her legs worked, defiantly talking smack the entire time, but she finally Blazing Chops out. Yamada catches her, but she dodges a dropkick that hits Yamada, only for Yamada to trip up LCO and Manami flies off with a Running No-Hands Springboard Tope Con Hilo to both of them! Yamada adds a plancha. Back in, Manami climbs, Mita aims for the Super Electric Chair Drop, but Manami falls back and hits the Mandatory 1996 German off the second rope (LOL I’ve been noticing that’s in every freakin’ show in 1996 lately, and now it’s here again!)- Mita avoids the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex but takes the Rolling Cradle for two, but Shimoda runs interference and NOW she hits that Super Electric Chair when Manami tries the Moonsault again.
Manami gets out of a fireman’s carry and Manami Rolls out of a powerbomb attempt, and Yamada smokes Mita with a running boot, but Mita’s up in AEW-time and shoves her into a Shimoda missile kick and hits a Northern Lights suplex for two. Shimoda falling clotheslines both opponents, then ducks Yamada’s roundhouse so Mita Blazing Chops her, but eats a spinkick anyways. Yamada kinda buggers The Finisher That Never Hits, but turns it into a Doomsday Device cross-body with Manami for two. Stereo Flying Headbutts- their old finisher- for two. Mita stops their other finish- the Double Flipover Superplex- and Shimoda flies off with the flying headscissors for two. Yamada lures LCO into Manami’s double missile kick, but Shimoda dodges a Moonsault and hits a German for two, then LCO dump their rivals for the old classic- Assisted Plancha & Dive! Electic Chair Drop/Flying Splash! Shimoda lands a Tiger Suplex after a second try for two. Manami reverses her, but eats feet on a Moonsault and lands badly on her foot, but charges Mita in the corner and hits a Missile Dropkick Suicida from there and and they hit their finisher- the Double Flipover Backdrop Superplex- Mita saves (weakly). Shimoda victory rolls out of the Japanese O.C. Suplex, then rolls Manami up out of a German, but Manami rolls back… for the three (13:12)! A “Bret Hart Finish”!
Very fun “Greatest Hits” match, with most doing their signature spots and doing some callbacks in the match. Yamada looked crisp at first but wasn’t as good later, and Mita seemed to shore up most of the match, being in the majority of it. They were trying, but weren’t swinging for the fences (I mean, it’s only 13 minutes and nobody hit their solo finishes at all!), but the match was still fun because they’re too good to go below ***1/2. I did like the ending, though- Joshi is so used to Finisher Escalation and Super MDKs that it’s neat how you can “Bret Hart” your way into a leverage pin and still get it done.
Rating: ***1/2 (sort of a “House Show Match” effort when everyone’s a **** worker and has been working together for a decade with a ton of signature spots)
Overall, a decent show full of ***+ matches. Not the greatest AJW thing (and not really a great sign when they’re releasing VHS tapes without **** matches on it), but quite good, and it showcases ASARI well, and kind of makes it look like they’re treating Reggie VERY seriously as a threat for the year.