OTA-KU CHAMPION LEGEND 1997:
(Jan. 20th 1997):
* The early months of 1997 have actually been pretty wild for AJW, because there was an Ota-Ku Champion Legend show in late January, and it featured a trifecta of impactful matches! It’s the first Red Belt defense of Kyoko Inoue, as she has to take on her partner, the sadist of beauty, Takako Inoue (no relation)! Also the WWWA Tag Team Champions (Manami Toyota & Mima Shimoda) take on the up & comer squad of Tomoko Watanabe & Kumiko Maekawa- the guardians of the new generation!
The show starts with three intensely-clipped tag matches. It seems like the average length of an AJW match has shortened because none of these go over ten minutes.
TANNY MOUSE & MIYUKI FUJII vs. MIHO WAKIZAWA & RUMI SEKIGUCHI:
* Rookie Mayhem! And oh god it’s all the names I don’t recognize, plus the mouse. Rumi goes nowhere (she has no Cagematch profile), Fujii lasts a long time (2009-ish!), and Wakizawa has two separate multi-year runs. Tanny Mouse of course ends up a long-time comedy wrestler. The non-Tanny team is in matching rookie swimsuits, one in yellow and one in pink. Tanny’s in yellow and recognizable by… *sigh*… by her TAIL, and Fujii’s in a blue rookie swimsuit.
We just get the highlights, the job squad double-dropkick Tanny, the rookie dropkicks the yellow one, and Tanny does her goofy running headbutt drops to pin the pink one at (3:20). Lol, pinned by THAT?
MISAE GENKI & NANAE TAKAHASHI vs. MARIKO YOSHIDA & MOMOE NAKANISHI:
* Yoshida is the only veteran here, teaming with one brand-new rookie against another, who is backed up by the sky-high Genki. Yoshida’s in white, Momoe’s in green/white, Genki’s in blue & Nanae’s in red. This one is also clipped big-time.
Genki taunts the diminutive Momoe with her height, but gets beaten up by Yoshida’s speedy moves. Genki actually kicks out of a German suplex, indicating that she’s getting the next “getting better” push. Run-Up Cross-Body gets two thanks to Nanae, but the Air Raid Crash finishes Genki at (1:34 of 7:50 shown).
RIE TAMADA & YUMI FUKAWA vs. YOSHIKO TAMURA & YUKA SHIINA:
* TamaFuka take on another rookie squad of girls on a similar tier to Fukawa- TamaFuka are in identical blue frilly outfits now, Tamura’s in a pink/black/multi thing out of AJW’s early ’90s & Shiina’s in her red top & white shorts. Again, it’s clipped.
Lots of rapid clipping show everyone doing quick stuff, Tamura adding a cool rolling headscissors to her repertoire. Fukawa (I think) eats a missile kick. Shiina also kicks out of a German (a head-landing, too)- Rie finishes her with a cross-armed Northern Lights suplex (1:57 of 8:25 shown).
YUMIKO HOTTA vs. TOSHIYO YAMADA:
* What was once a pretty good contest is now likely an “obvious win” as Hotta’s getting a push still and Yamada’s has died. Both are in black- Yamada has green lines in her usual pattern.
More clipping shows one throwing kicks, then the other- Yamada’s actually showing a ton of fire, including putting Hotta on her ass with one combo, then scoring her Kick of Fear. Hotta gets dumped, but gets an elbow and her rolling kicks, but takes the spinkick for two. Yamada scores two backdrop suplexes for two, but runs into a Tiger Driver for two. Hotta whips her off the ropes and… just stands there for another spinkick. Yamada tries The Finisher That Never Hits twice (Hotta eating another kick to the head in the meantime), but Hotta, MMA Super-Shooter, rolls her into a cross-armbreaker for the submission at (4:53 of 9:50 shown). Yeah, pretty much what was expected of Yamada at this point, but it looks like she got a lot of shine… and was trying to show effort so she didn’t end up the person jobbing to Rie Tamada in six months, probably.
Rating: ** (this looked kicky)
AJA KONG vs. KAORU ITO:
* It’s time for the “Kaoru Ito Push” to begin, and who better than the resident monster who can still hang with the main stars? Ito’s green unitard with the silver dragon on it is basically advertising “YES THIS IS A NEW STAR”, while Aja’s in pink & black, and starts assaulting fans and tossing chairs around before the match begins.
Aja easily stuffs Ito to start and dominates to stretch her out, doing clutches, crabs and no-selling, but Ito finally forces her to sell. She brains Ito with a chair in the stands, then drags her over by concessions and knocks her into a post, then grabs a piece of guardrail, taunting Ito to get up, then smokes her in the head with it and waits her out in the ring. And of course Ito immediately USES THE ASS and dumps Aja, and the entire crowd murmurs because they know there’s some instantaneous payback. Ito tosses rows of chairs at a time and now waits Aja out… but the vet actually sneaks in her oil can and bashes Ito and goes to work once more. See, fifteen minutes have gone by already and it feels like NOTHING because they’ve used the time wisely. Ito flop-sells in Aja’s piledrivers and actually gets a reaction for kickouts (and those NEVER pin anyone), then bridges out of the 2nd-rope splash and Aja’s immediately like “YOU FUCKIN’–” and hits the flying back elbow- for two! Like she immediately got pissed off and escalated her moves in response.
And then Ito finally counters her and puts Aja on the defensive, smashing her knee and doing Running Stomps and her senton to it, Aja yelling in pain with each one so we know it hurts. Figure-four has Aja scrambling, but the Flying Stomp to the knee misses and Aja mountain bombs her to stop the comeback, but gets knocked off the top and has to backdrop Ito to finally get some breathing room. Aja hits backdrop drivers & Germans her out of an Ass Attack, then attempts a Flying Stomp of her own like an asshole, but Ito dodges and Bridging Germans her for two! Flying Stomp to the knee! Ito adds figure-fours and won’t let go- Flying Stomp misses and she’s Uraken’d! But Aja can’t cover in time and it gets two!
The crowd gets into Ito’s chances as she goes to the knee again to avoid an Uraken and adds an uranage to her moveset for two. Ito is relentlessly on that knee as time ticks down, but Aja shoves her off the top and hits a stomp from Bret’s rope, again collapsing in pain so she can’t cover in time. Big powerbomb gets two as Aja needs to uncork a real finisher. She tries her Brainbuster but Ito DDTs out, and gets a flying variant for two. Flying Stomp misses and an Uraken kills her, but Aja’s down, too! Aja can’t get three again, and goes for the Avalanche Waterwheel Drop, Ito reversing to the Sunset Flip Powerbomb… and it’s Time Over at (30:00)- Ito DRAWS with Aja Kong! A huge push in credibility for Ito, and Aja gives her props as they recover, even namedropping the “3WA” Title.
Great, GREAT use of time here, as Aja has some of the best time control in the business- doing her standard methodical beatdown but then whups Ito outside the ring, but in a more epic way than the usual time-wasting (not a lot of matches end up out in the concession area with people going into posts), yet it actually kills MORE time. Then some immediate payback and half the match-time is over with and we can go to the “real” stuff, which ends up being Aja getting a hurt knee and the match refocusing onto that, as Ito can manage to kick out of the increasing pre-finisher stuff (back elbow, backdrop driver) and then really punish the knee. Aja even uses the Uraken but the match psychology itself explains why she can’t pin (her leg is hurt and she’s using the move to recover). Ito worked well with her comebacks, though her high-pitched shrieky voice is a bit too quiet and pitchy as of now. But her legwork was good, and sold very well by Aja. Not as dramatic as other 30-minute draws, though, which often had wrestlers desperately grabbing flash-pins every chance they could muster- here, the game was that Ito had worn down Aja too much to capitalize and so it was slower.
Rating: ***1/4 (very good use of time and a great showcase of how good a worker Aja was- Ito held up her end but it wasn’t as amazing as other Time Overs have been)
WWWA TAG TITLES: TOMOKO WATANABE & KUMIKO MAEKAWA vs. MANAMI TOYOTA & MIMA SHIMODA:
* A very unexpected one for me, as KUMIKO MAEKAWA is now challenging for the World Tag Team Titles! She was a Jobber To The Stars the previous summer, and has now already been elevated to this tier? Never mind Tomoko herself has only barely been elevated to “impresses people by hanging with the top stars”. They show clips of the “Discover New Heroine” Tournament in Summer ’96 where Tomoko/Kumiko went to the 2nd round, then another match where Tomoko loses to some newfangled Manami Toyota move (an inverted fireman’s carry to ligerbomb). Tomoko’s in white/black tassels, Kumiko’s in pastel blue/white, Manami’s in black & Shimoda’s in the white & black “business casual” bellyshirt/skirt combo, which always looks out of place in this era.
FALL ONE: The challengers divebomb the champs to start, Tomoko hitting two Cannonball Busters (backdrop suplex to ligerbomb) on Shimoda for three (0:35)! Well THAT gets fans into it! The kids hug in a nice outpouring of emotion while Manami looks like she’s seen a ghost.
FALL TWO: Shimoda recovers fast, diving out on Toyota’s set-up, and Manami adds the Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha. Toyota springboard dropkicks Tomoko in the back of the head, but Kumiko superplexes Shimoda, only to eat a Bridging German for two. Shimoda takes a face kick and gets a dramatic desperation kickout, and Manami lures the kids into a double-missile kick & Moonsaults Kumiko for two- Tomoko saves. Kumiko avoids the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex but Tomoko accidentally lariats her, allowing a second Moonsault… to earn a “Fuck YOU!” bridge! But a Doomsday Device Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex is absolutely the killer at (2:54) and now we’re tied. See, that’s decent enough use of the booking- everyone knows it’s going 1-1 to start, so build drama by getting that out of the way!
FALL THREE: A badly-beaten Kumiko struggles and is immediately pounced on, the champs throw chairs onto the kids outside the ring- Kumiko eats a missile kick to the face for two. They do two figure-four/splashes, then add a “kick while in a clutch” heel spot, but Kumiko gets her feet up when Manami flies again and uses her Pump Kick for two. And yup- REVENGE clutch kick spots for Manami! Toyota gets an ugly springboard reversal on Tomoko (pretty much flipping backwards after falling short) and escapes, but Shimoda gets dragon-screwed & figure-foured, naturally leading to KUMIKO’s flying splash! Tomoko brutally judo flips her for two. Shimoda escapes & Manami does Dropkick Spam, then they work Kumiko over until she boots Shimoda and Tomoko adds whoopie cushions for two.
A resthold sharpshooter has Shimoda growling, but Manami comes in with a Rolling Cradle, misses a moonsault, and does a Manami Roll for two (the first good one in a while- the crowd marks out for it), but Tomoko lariats her and hits the one-armed backdrop to powerbomb toss for two. Manami reverses another to a Bridging German & Shimoda clotheslines both kids, ending with Manami missile kicking Kumiko to set up the Tiger Suplex for two. Manami saves after a Pump Kick, and a Shimoda superplex sets up a Missile Kick Sandwich for two. DEATH LAKE DRIVER (tiger superplex)! Tomoko saves. Kumiko tries her Ax Kick but gets caught on the rope and Shimoda tries another DL Driver, but Tomoko snags her and they hit a combo Cannonball Buster/Pump Kick from there for… two, which the crowd barely reacts to. But then Kumiko lands that Ax Kick, and THAT’s the three at (15:58)! Even she doesn’t believe it! The crowd’s in shock, too. Never mind nothing has been done to Manami all match to really prevent her from just getting in, but TOMOKO AND KUMIKO ARE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS!!!
This seems out of nowhere and a pretty bad sign for Manami, the former WWWA Champion- she was the top dog only months ago, but has now lost both of her titles, and this one to a midcard squad (I’m told this was an old-school way to elevate wrestlers, however). The match itself seemed fine, though the abridged nature, while helping it be less predictable, hurts the rating because it’s mostly a single 16-minute fall with some extended selling and nobody quite going full-tilt. The revenge spots were some nice psychology, especially as the champs fought dirty first and got repaid. Manami did some okay stuff, but showed the least fire of the three- Shimoda seems to have been showing off her character a fair bit, as if to say “NO I ALSO DON’T WANT TO JOB TO RIE TAMADA THIS YEAR!”, snarling and growling constantly, adding more cheating than before, etc., and she sold her ass off. Most of the transitions were pretty basic- just someone running into a foot- and the sequences weren’t that intricate compared to other 3WA Tag Title matches, nor were the near-falls as profound- even things like the Death Lake Driver weren’t popping the fans as much because they knew “that couldn’t be it” owing to past matches and the the partner being close by. Which kind of doesn’t help the finish, as it’s so out of nowhere (the near-fall preceding it doesn’t even draw a reaction).
Rating: ***1/2 (not the lofty heights of other Tag Title Matches, but quite good in parts- Shimoda is the MVP while Tomoko & Kumiko did their job well- Manami was a bit lazier except for her offense)
WWWA WORLD TITLE vs. ALL-PACIFIC & IWA TITLES:
KYOKO INOUE vs. TAKAKO INOUE:
* So now it’s a wild match for all the marbles in AJW, as the Red Belt holder takes on the White & Purple belt holder, the winner getting ALL THREE belts, forming AJW’s “Triple Crown”- seemingly a way to cement the new Ace. As the winner here could not possibly be more obvious (Kyoko isn’t losing her first defense for one, but against TAKAKO? Takako couldn’t even beat Hotta or Aja at this point, much less Kyoko), it’s maybe something to add more drama to the result. This is a perfect chance to show that Takako can “hang” with the upper tier, which AJW is gonna need to do as the champs have cycled out again- Kyoko’s already beaten Manami & Aja. Takako has a bandaged knee, while Kyoko’s got a bandaged shoulder- Takako’s in the leather dominatrix get-up she’s worn ever since, while Kyoko’s in the rainbow gear again. Kyoko denies Takako the pre-match handshake, so Takako insists… then goes “psyche!” and walks away, haha.
Takako hits DDT Spam immediately, but gets caught in the Slingshot Backsplash & Dancing Deathlock. Kyoko dominates in methodical fashion, but Takako’s selling and facial expressions are pretty great- the torture rack-to-backbreaker drop hammers her, but we’re then in a chinlock. Kyoko hits her run-up flying back elbow, but gets armdragged off the top for two, then tosses Takako off next. We’re ten minutes in, here- the pace has been REALLY slow and deliberate. Takako avoids a powerbomb & hits her Backdrop Hold, but Kyoko gets a Lariat & Niagara Driver (over-the-shoulder ligerbomb) for two-counts, and then flops over, suddenly selling death. Kyoko’s shoulder was apparently hurt by her Driver, so Takako sadistically pounces on it, countering another Driver in ugly manner and stomping away on it. Kyoko actually bails, sobbing in agony, as this seems to be their way to get heat on Takako. Kyoko begs to be let back in the ring, but Takako boots her in the face over and over until Kyoko lariats her down using the injured arm.
But Kyoko keeps trying lariats and gets Fujiwara armbarred- these are normally great “flash submission” holds but nobody is buying it and the crowd is just “random guys yelling”. They seem to sense this and HERE WE GO- Takako brings in a chair and annihilates the shoulder like the psychopath we know and love. Crowd isn’t even booing or shocked though, and Kyoko isn’t yelling at the impacts- she’s just kinda lying there. Takako hits the chokeslam off the apron and revels in the crowd finally getting more into it. Kyoko lies dead on the outside, finally getting in at “18”, but Takako just dumps her and starts throwing chairs around for a minute or two, filling the ring with them. Takako finally starts chokeslamming Kyoko on them like crazy, hitting four in a row, but Kyoko just walks over to Takako up top, but eats the Super Chokeslam and NOW the Flying Knee beans her. Another one gets two and the crowd is starting to get into it- Takako’s confident, but misses another and Kyoko release Germans her. Takako charges in for a rana (… ya know, like she always does!) and gets powerbombed and is DEAD- it wasn’t even that big a bump but she’s selling it like it killed her.
Kyoko revs herself up and lariats Takako when she finally awakens, getting two, but Takako pops up after avoiding a Niagara Driver and starts smashing her again, hitting another Flying Knee for a close two. Kyoko is so beaten she won’t even get up, so in a weird bit Takako just drops off the top and goes for another pin. A Backdrop Driver of all things gets two, and Takako puts her up top- this leaves her vulnerable to the Super Powerslam reversal, but cleverly Takako keeps blocking it, and when Kyoko settles for a lariat off the top, Takako hits the FUJIWARA on her! Kyoko barely makes the ropes, and Takako pounces with a fifth Flying Knee… but Kyoko pops up and no-sells, hitting a Bridging German for two, then a Niagara Driver! And then immediately bursts up and hits another, for… two? Takako didn’t even budge but the ref counted to two, WTF? Total botch, there. And so Kyoko just does a third one in a row for the pin at (24:03), just completely ignoring all prior damage for the last four moves in a row in the most egregious example of Hulking Up I’ve ever seen in Joshi. Even if she didn’t think the knee hit (a big issue with that move, which hits from behind), what’s she doing just bolting up like nothing had hurt her at all?
Well this was certainly an anemic match until the last few minutes- the crowd wasn’t even close to buying a Takako victory, to the point where it really hurt potential near-falls like all the armbars- in every joshi match I’ve ever seen, a Fujiwara armbar to an injured arm is an “OOHHHHHHHHHHHH SHIT she’s gonna win!” and a near flash submission, but here the crowd is like “…” and Kyoko isn’t even desperately going to the ropes. The match construction was really weird, too- the first 8 minutes were extremely slow. Takako kept it a bit interesting with her aggravation/selling, but largely Kyoko dominated. Weirdly, they went right from restholds and basic stretching into their late-game offense, scoring the Backdrop Hold, Run-Up Belly-To-Belly (sorta- the application on that has gotten REALLY loose), Lariat & Niagara Driver with 13 more minutes to go.
The shoulder injury was kinda random and ill-used, too- Takako was working the taped arm earlier, but Kyoko ignored it to hit her usual stuff… then just flops over and cries? Kyoko’s sympathy heat gathering was usually the best in joshi, so her plain “no I’m dead” selling was odd to see here, especially after she seemed to be bawling earlier on. Honestly it just felt lazy or “oh god my cardio” for the most part, especially as she milks a count-out and then Takako wastes two minutes piling up chairs. Takako essentially wrestled the whole match herself for 5-7 minutes until things started getting going again- Kyoko hits the comeback, Takako nearly finishes with another Flying Knee and a Backdrop Driver, but then Kyoko just pops up and ignores the prior 23 minutes of damage and hits a ton of unanswered big moves in a row (including a pin that just wasn’t counted for some reason) and then wins.
Rating: *** (a fairly placid, weak match for the first half, then Takako wrestles herself into a better match, then some good reversals like the Kyoko powerslam into a Fujiwara armbar off the top, then some total no-selling and the end- a bit of good stuff but not enough)
This match forms thus AJW’s very own “Triple Crown” with Kyoko as the dominant ultra-champion. The useless IWA Title (which was initially a Chigusa Nagayo prop, then a Manami Toyota one before Takako used it as a trophy), always a “Trophy belt” for an up & coming upper midcarder they wanted to push, is seemingly killed off by this unification. The result feels like maybe them stemming the falling ticket sales by making their most popular wrestler the uber-queen of the promotion or something? Or just cementing her reign, as she demolishes her former partner & best friend to take her belt.
Overall, this show ends up a “positive” in the sense that the three matches we get are all good… but they peak at ***1/2 and most are too long, and the main event under-delivers in a big way and is quite boring for most of it. So this is a sign of ill portends for sure.