AJW TV (Jan. 3rd 1997):
* So we start off AJW’s darkest year with what turns out to be a pretty great TV show, actually, as most of the remaining top stars come out for some rare matches- Manami & Aja get to destroy up & coming rookies (with an all-timer stiff shot in the Aja/Tamura match), then a pair of long tag matches. So if you ever wanna see wrestlers fight like they don’t want to be the next midcarder to job to the rookies, or a rookie get KTFO’d with a full “fencer’s response” reaction and a glassy-eyed death stare, have I got the show for you!
TOSHIYO YAMADA & ETSUKO MITA vs. MIMA SHIMODA & CHAPARRITA ASARI:
* A weirdo grab-bag of a match sees Dream Orca revived again, with the now-midcarders Yamada & Mita going up against Mita’s old partner Shimoda and the rising star ASARI. The levels here are kind all over the place, as Yamada is higher-ranked but only sorta as she’s been tumbling, and Shimoda is a former Tag Champ yet never got a big singles run. Mita is delightfully now in her Giant Powder Blue Pirate era, but her outfit is a black & pink skirt & top. Yamada’s in a black suit with blue writing & lines on it, Shimoda’s in a rather fashionable white top & black skirt, and ASARI’s in white/red/gold.
They tease working Mita’s badly bandaged leg, but she brings me to my happy place- Mita demolishing short people- by whupping on ASARI. Yamada face-kicks Shimoda for two- Mita chokes her old partner, but Shimoda gets the hooking clotheslines and works the leg (pretty delicately- probably a legit injury). Mita tries to fight back on ASARI, but eats the Cartwheel Handspring Mule Kicks. Shimoda stuffs another comeback, but Mita finally tosses ASARI onto her and crashes into them with a dive. Back in, ASARI gets a nearfall from a powerbomb attempt and goes for the Sky Twister Press… and fails! Mita plants her with that powerbomb for two- Shimoda saves- and Yamada gets reversed a bunch with sloppy ASARI stuff, including a bad German. Shimoda runs into an enzuigiri and Yamada does her flying roundhouse (putting her ass into Shimoda’s head) & backdrop driver for two. Shimoda stops a double-team with a double clothesline and a missile kick, but Mita holds her for the Diving Brain Kick- ASARI saves.
They do a pretty sloppy reversal of the Reverse Gory Bomb, but Yamada kicks Shimoda in the head and then ANNIHILATES her with a spinkick to the face and ASARI saves again. That looked terrific with Yamada reversing the Irish whip for the boosted speed. Mita tries the Super Electric Chair Drop but sets up the reversal (actually elbowing Shimoda’s legs out so she can properly drop behind her) and ASARI shoves her to the floor so Shimoda can dive onto both opponents, then ASARI hits a plancha. Shimoda uses a somersault senton of all things for two on Mita, who ducks on a Tiger Suplex so Yamada can kick Shimoda- Electric Chair/Brain Kick gets reversed with Shimoda’s Tiger Suplex on Mita- Yamada saves it by taking out the bridging leg. Yamada stops the Death Lake Driver (tiger superplex) and Mita FINALLY nails that Super Electric Chair Drop for two- Shimoda stops the DVD twice and Tiger Suplexes her again for a really close call. They reverse on each other again as Shimoda gets the weakest kick I’ve ever seen in my life, but she leaps RIGHT onto Mita’s shoulders and Mita drives her straight into the Death Valley Driver in one motion, actually getting the pin and finally scoring a big win again (12:35 of 19:35 shown)!
Well this was pretty solid- a bit sloppy in parts (ASARI & Shimoda were STRUGGLING with stuff), but Mita was being a very reliable “base” and hitting her stuff properly, even setting up comebacks and reversals. She was in the whole first half of the match just about. It REALLY went on a while and kept ebbing and flowing though, with some really solid near-falls and endless reversals and “they know each other” stuff with Mita repeatedly going for the electric chair off the top and Shimoda relying on her Tiger Suplex whenever she gets a reversed move. Yamada’s stuff looked good but she was barely in what was shown, and ASARI tended to either miss or potato someone, but it was otherwise good. LOTS of effort from Mita in particular- the “Please don’t job me to Rie Tamada later this year!” fear factor at work, I bet!
Rating: ***1/2 (they fought each other into a pretty reliably good bout, mostly with Shimoda & Mita fighting each other)
AJA KONG vs. YOSHIKO TAMURA:
* Hahaha jesus christ. Aja prepares to slaughter her “Discover New Heroine” tag partner- Tamura impressed a lot last year, and is now set up against a main eventer. The most brutal one in the world, too. Aja’s in white & black (or brown, if the transfer here is actually working out okay), Tamura’s in a black & red leotard with a lot of straps to show some skin.
Tamura holds out her hand for Aja to take it, insisting on a handshake, and a bored, annoyed Aja just casually does it without looking… and Yoshiko pounces with a Bridging German! Hah! I mean, death is certain, so why NOT get your early licks in? She stays on Aja with running & flying attacks, but grapples and is caught. She manages a sunset flip reversal, but Aja catches her coming off the top with a kick, then manages a Backdrop Driver for two. Aja then sets up the Uraken, slapping her to set it up, and then COMPLETELY KNOCKS HER THE FUCK OUT, absolutely hitting her for real as Tamura just stands there and takes it, immediately crashing to the mat with a concussion as you see her arm shoot up in the “fencer’s response”- a close-up of her completely lifeless eyes is absolutely horrifying as Aja scores the easy pin (2:02). You don’t see strikes like THAT very often!
Rating: 1/2* (just a handful of stuff before Aja demolishes her and legit knocks her out)
MANAMI TOYOTA vs. RIE TAMADA:
* This is Rie’s biggest singles match ever, taking on the recently-dethroned WWWA Champion. Toyota’s still a “name” and Rie has yet to prove herself, so this will be a good look at where she sits in the pecking order, and how far she’s come. Also it’ll be interesting to see if “Toyota the Rookieslayer” comes out- the one who laughs at her opponents and bullies the shit out of them. Rie now has really long hair and good, solid gear- a yellow leotard with a complex two-toned blue design on the front. The size difference here is immense, though- Manami effectively looks like a giant version of her opponent. Which is always weird for me, as I spent years thinking of Toyota as this slender, delicate high-flier because her typical opponents were so much beefier.
Straight away Toyota takes the Mulkey Bump to the floor, leading to Rie launching herself to the floor with a missile dropkick! Rie misses a splash, but so does Manami- Rie barely dropkicking her in mid-air. Rie tries to press the advantage but Manami just Godzillas her and acts like a bully, yanking the hair and dropkicking her in the spine while she’s tied in the ropes. Manami works a figure-four and taunts her, even pulling her back from a rope break. Manami yanks on the hair with her spinning grip and stands on her, but Rie gets a great reaction for doing the same hairpull to the star, whipping her around and throwing on camel clutches using the hair, Toyota sporting the most “HEY WAIT…” look on her face, like she’s almost emotionally hurt. Manami gives her a 30-second Rolling Cradle for that one, and Rie sells her ass off flying around off some missile dropkicks (a far cry from the usual “they get up immediately so Manami can speedblitz them” style). She nearly reverses on her but gets missiled kicked in the BACK of the head this time… but manages a JB Angels bridge-out and reverses a German for two! Rie keeps it up, but eventually takes the Mandatory 1996 (7 now?) German off the Middle Rope for two.
But when Manami tries a Moonsault, Rie tries the move to HER, but Manami resists and so Rie just shoves her to the floor in a very nasty-looking tumble. Rie follows with a plancha, but Toyota powers out of a Dragon Suplex, tries to deck Rie, then charges across the ring and boots HER straight off the top, hooking her leg on the top rope in a nasty stretch. Tope suicida! Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha! Missile Dropkick Suicida! Manami, SUPER proud of herself, now waits Rie out in the ring by sitting down cross-legged. And of course immediately misses a Moonsault and takes a huge bump on a Bridging German for two. Rie now missile kicks HER in the back of the head, and Toyota has to yank the ropes to avoid a Dragon Suplex. Manami Germans her to end that stuff, but in a great bit, she goes for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex and Rie leaps behind her and THEN hits the Dragon Suplex- two! Rie desperately tries another and Manami reverses to her own, but Rie manages yet another rollup for two- Toyota just boots her out of a charge and brings back her weird ’92 reverse-grip bridging butterfly suplex for two. Third try at the Moonsault finally hits, but Rie “F*ck YOU!” bridges out… and Toyota hauls her down to try again, getting the same result. Then does it AGAIN, getting frustrated. Don’t see THAT in joshi very often. Rie’s got the fight taken out of her though, so Toyota just hauls her into the Japanese Ocean Cyclone for the win at (14:21 of 18:37 shown). An emphatic victory, but Rie proved herself a durable kid out there, and made her use a real finisher.
Another bit of great fun with Manami beating up a subordinate, just flattening Rie every chance she can, but getting caught with stuff and even eating some revenge spots, like Rie whipping her around by the hair or repeating the fantastic “Missile dropkick to the back of the head” spot. And she totally carried the kid to her best match ever, setting up revenge spots and Rie getting sudden reversals that bewildered the former Ace. Rie fought for most of her big moves, but took advantage of Manami’s arrogance and slack attempts at ensuring her opponent was actually beaten. It’s fun because you can see Manami slowing down physically since ’93-95 (she’s hitting her knees on the ropes trying her springboard now, and is about to start using her hand as well), but little things here show you she can add psychology at least a bit. Toyota looking like a giant brute against a child is an oddly fun vibe after years of her fighting from underneath.
Rating: ***1/2 (fantastic match by Rie’s standards with a good “Rookie vs. Asshole Veteran” vibe going through it)
KYOKO INOUE & TOMOKO WATANABE vs. TAKAKO INOUE & MARIKO YOSHIDA:
* Double Inoue on opposite sides of the ring again, as Takako teams with Yoshida in their now-regular duo against the WWWA Champion & her subordinate, Tomoko. Kyoko’s in like… blue & rainbow with yellow tassels, but with a jacket with half the front being white & gray-toned, Tomoko’s in white/black with tassels, Takako’s in black leather & Yoshida’s in white with the shoulder epaullettes.
Everyone does an uncoordinated scramble to start, Yoshida ultimately run-up diving onto Team Tassel on the floor. They quickly lose the initiative and Kyoko does the dancing deathlock and they work Yoshida’s leg till she escapes. Takako does her lighting-fast armdrags but slows the pace again- Tomoko facecrushers out and Kyoko hits a fallaway slam & corner DDT. Surfboard kills a minute and a half but Takako reverses a whip to her Aurora Special (shoulder-mounted backdrop). Takako does half-hearted running kicks and Kyoko lariats her as the pace is still REALLY slow. Tomoko does a sharpshooter THEN some dragon screws, and we hit our second figure-four of the match, but Team Tassel hit a good double-team with a double clothesline into stereo slingshot elbows on their follow-through. Takako super armdrags Kyoko for two and Yoshida adds a new run-up move to her repetoire via running up and kneeing Kyoko in the head- okay, that would make an AWESOME finisher if she really cranked on it.
More stretching, but Kyoko manages her slingshot backsplash and Tomoko judo flips Yoshida. She adds a clothesline & whoopie cushion, and ends a cartwheel dodge with another lariat for two and hits the Cannonball Buster (backdrop lift into yeeting them onto their head) for two- Takako saves. Yoshida avoids another but Kyoko stops her sunset flip and a second Buster gets two. Yoshida escapes but Takako misses her flying knee and gets rana’d for two. She chokeslams Kyoko and stops the run-up super belly-to-belly with her Super Chokeslam for two- Kyoko nets a German but Takako/Yoshida do twin dives on each side of the post, which is now one of their recurring team spots. Flying Knee gets two, but Kyoko charges into the Run-Up Super Belly-To-Belly on Yoshida for two. Takako’s Flying Knee ends a Niagara Driver (over-the-shoulder ligerbomb) attempt and a bad La Majistral gets two for Yoshida, but Kyoko spikes her with a German to halt another run-up and the Niagara Driver gets three (16:47 of 17:12 shown).
Wow this one was slow. Not the WORST concept, but given how no one was gonna submit to any of that, spending more than half the match lying around in holds was pretty weak after the preceding bouts, which were energetic and frenzied. And everything was just so slack that the fans weren’t into it, as you could tell the wrestlers were either sore or just not feeling it- they’d do proper things like teasing a move before hitting it, but the fans wouldn’t by the Flying Knee as a finisher to Kyoko, and barely even thought two Cannonball Busters could take out Yoshida.
Rating: **1/2 (they’re all fine wrestlers with good movesets, but it felt really long and lazy for most of it and fairly anemic until the end)
Overall, a pretty fine night of wrestling- you’d hardly think the company was in deep crap by this point. But boy, were they.