AJW AT HAKATA STARLANES (Feb. 15th 1997):
* It’s time for sheer joshi greatness, as AJW wrestlers GO BOWLING!!! This time it’s a bit of February TV and the great Hakata Starlanes building- this looks like such a fun dumpy bowling arena, haha. And eventually the AJW teams split up and bowl against each other.
So on this show, Tomoko & Kumiko are our hosts, visiting a temple/shrine and talking to the audience. They bump into Kyoko Inoue praying and they do some joking about, then we’re off to the Starlanes! And a happy Dump Matsumoto is on commentary!
YUMI FUKAWA vs. YUKA SHIINA:
* It’s a rookie fight! Fukawa’s been getting an “almost push/watch this rookie!” build for all of 1996, and Shiina’s on a tier below her- Shiina’s no longer ultra-jobbery though, sporting a serious face and gear with her name on it- a sporty orange top with white shorts. Fukawa’s in white/blue, with… wow that outfit is almost entirely blue ruffles. I dunno if this is clipped or what.
Shiina divebombs Fukawa immediately with a “NOTICE ME!” fury, but Fukawa uses speed and kicks her ass in turn. Fukawa works the leg and does an X-factor & hooking clotheslines for two but misses a flying splash and takes 2nd-rope dropkicks, one to the back of the head nearly killing her, but she dodges another and hits two Perfect Plexes in a row for the pin at (4:18 of 9:27 shown). Solid little “Rookie Fury” match, with both acting like they were angling for pushes, showing a lot of fight and scrappiness. Shiina has kind of a “Jaguar Yokota” look to her here, being a tiny athletic spitfire.
Rating: *1/2 (not much to it, but they had good energy)
OH MY GOD THEY SHOW THE ACTUAL BOWLING LANES! The sheer 1980s-style neon glory! And it’s Kyoko’s team (w/ Takako, Tomoko, Shiina, Genki, Tanny & others) against Manami’s team (w/ Yoshida, Ito, Kumiko, Fukawa & others). I love how almost everyone’s in horribly unflattering plaid and flannel (Manami with a three-sizes-too-big flannel sweatshirt but with S-tier hair & makeup is always a funny visual) except Takako, who actually looks stylish for 1997. Though it’s funny because you can tell she’s in crazy good shape and not this slender model. Manami is humorously a competitive dork during the bowling match, falling on the floor when her own team fails and doing thumbs-down and heckling her rivals.
YUMIKO HOTTA & MIMA SHIMODA vs. AJA KONG & MISAE GENKI:
* Okay, this is just a weird “someone hit random on Fire Pro” match- Hotta and SHIMODA of all people? And the former Champ teaming with a jobber? I have a feeling this might be Genki’s introduction to the “next level” (ie. “time to get your ass kicked for 20 minutes in a tag match”), same as Kumiko got the year before. Aja’s in pink & black, Genki’s in powder blue with her name on the front, Shimoda’s in red & gold, and Hotta’s in black.
Shimoda/Genki start, Shimoda dominating as expected, pretty sloppy about it (falling over while kicking once). Genki actually wisely goes after Hotta’s taped up leg and defiantly slaps away at her, and this time Hotta’s no-selling act is apt and Genki gets face-kicked. She manages an Oklahoma Stampede on Shimoda & escapes, leading to Aja’s usual beatdown. Shimoda hook-clotheslines out and the big guns go at it, Aja targetting the leg with her usual methodical brutality- Hotta fires back, but Aja no-sells and piledrives the hell out of her, so Genki’s rookie-fu can actually do damage. Hotta escapes and Shimoda hits a perfect plex, flying clothesline & piledriver, but takes some running boots for two. Everyone scraps for a bit but Aja accidentally nails Genki with her oil can, leading to Hotta’s Tiger Driver getting two (Aja saves). Genki escapes and Hotta manages a rolling kick on Aja for two, and Shimoda dumps the team and dives onto them. Shimoda tries to finish but Aja cross-bodies her & Hotta and splashes Shimoda off the 2nd rope for two. Aja goes for the Avalanche Waterwheel Drop but Shimoda hits the mandatory sunset flip powerbomb reversal for two. Shimoda runs into a Backdrop Driver, Hotta saving, and Genki actually deals with her so Aja can… miss the Uraken and get German’d for two! But Aja resists the Tiger Suplex and Genki adds a boot to set up the Brainbuster on Shimoda for the win (13:05 of 16:47 shown).
Actually a very solid tag match, despite the low priority and doing a “fun house show match” as much as anything. Genki did okay in her role as rookie, using the occasional bit of power for her comebacks (which fits such a gawky, athletic kid) and everyone else being in character, despite not shooting for the fences. Like they had false finishes, used their second-tier offense well, and kept the fans guessing with stuff like the “Aja left alone for the Uraken to hit, but Shimoda nearly gets her” thing, which leads to the actual finish.
Rating: *** (actually quite impressive considering they were giving a solid effort and nothing more)
KYOKO INOUE & TOSHIYO YAMADA vs. TOMOKO WATANABE & KUMIKO MAEKAWA:
* An interesting one, combining the World Champion and Yamada against the current Tag Champions in a non-title match. Kyoko’s in every color ever, Yamada’s in a plain red version of her normal singlet, Tomoko’s in white & black tassels, and Kumiko’s in a green two-piece sporty set.
Yamada/Kumiko start us off with a kick war, Yamada rapidly winning and working over Kumiko, who actually looks more annoyed by it that crushed like she would have been a year ago. Kyoko adds a lariat, corner DDT & Dancing Deathlock, then a rack/backbreaker drop. Stump puller & side suplex get two for Yamada, but they get into a great kick war, Kumiko actually bringing the vet down until a whip reversal into a pump kick blasts her! Spinkick gets two, Tomoko saving, then Kumiko avoids the Gory Bomb and hits a kick for two. Tomoko misses her flying Thesz press but scores a lariat and dragon screw reversal into a dramatic figure-four, and Kyoko has to save her partner. This gives us the Mirror Match of Kyoko & Tomoko, the latter hitting her rana for two. Tomoko climbs and of course gets launched off the top for two, but Kumiko sets up Tomoko’s Blue Thunder Bomb for two. Another gets a close two, and Kyoko does the same last-second kickout after a Doomsday Device Thesz Press. Yamada runs in for a kick to Kyoko’s German for two, and the Niagara Driver finishes Tomoko at (7:45 of 13:36 shown)- wow, not even Kumiko doing the job! Kyoko/Yamada pin the tag champions!
A pretty stacked, abridged match, with some good action between the two mirror matches- Yamada one-upping Kumiko and Kyoko overpowering Tomoko. The Tag Champs get some good stuff going but Kyoko is the Ace now and that holds some meaning, as she keeps doing her last-sec “throw the arm up” kickouts.
Rating: **1/2 (quick-paced match with some good bits, but not long enough to go higher)
Back to the bowling, and MANAMI ROLLS A STRIKE! Her screeching mark-out here is bigger than some of her Title wins, lol. Takako also lands a strike, but most of the others hit gutter-balls.
MANAMI TOYOTA & KAORU ITO vs. TAKAKO INOUE & MARIKO YOSHIDA:
* The Takako/Yoshida duo gets another match against an established star, as it’s Manami this time, with Ito backing her up. Team Toyota are in black, Takako’s in black leather idol gear, and Yoshida’s in her white gear as usual.
Manami grabs Yoshida from the apron to start, but Yoshida knocks both to the floor and hits her run-up plancha, then a cartwheel elbow and some clumsy early attempts at her grappling style. Takako uses an STF and stuffs Ito’s comeback with repeated charging kicks. Ito takes more punishment until finally escaping, and her team fires off big dropkicks on Yoshida- Toyota gets caught in an octopus stretch but actually lifts Yoshida from that position (!) and slams her into the corner, then dropkicks her square in the ass (lol she was tied in the ropes for the “spine dropkick” but that was low). Deathlock/bodylock set up Ito’s ass attack & corner senton for two, but Takako’s in for chokeholds and stuff. Yoshida misses a run-up move and Ito does Stomp Spam for two, but Takako/Yoshida do their stereo dives through the corner.
Back in, Yoshida Super DDTs Ito for two while Takako backdrops Manami. Ito backdrop suplexes Yoshida too, and Manami stops a double team with the classic “lure them into her missile kick” spot. Ito dives, then Toyota hits the Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha! But in a great bit, Manami moonsaults onto knees, eats the Takako*Panic flying knee to the head, and gets La Majistraled by Yoshida until Ito bowls them over! Takako runs into Manami’s rolling cradle and now that moonsault hits, but Takako kicks out and hits a Backdrop Hold out of the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex for two. Takako*Panic misses, Yoshida run-up knees Toyota and T*P hits for two! Takako powerbombs her out of a Manami Roll (possibly a correction of a botch), but Manami escapes and Ito hits an uranage after missing her Flying Stomp. Stereo Flying Headbutts get two! Doomsday Device dropkick sets up Flying Stomps for two-counts, but Yoshida catches Ito up top and a Doomsday Device Chokeslam gets two. Takako*Panic- Toyota saves, so Yoshida deals with her while Takako lands another for the three (16:08 of 20:04 shown). Big win for the duo, who finally manages to beat some established talent.
This started off a pretty basic tag match but started getting a lot better as they threw in some intricate reversal chains and really made something of it, with a lot of false finishes and big moves near the end. Takako & Yoshida are starting to pull off some double teams and trademark maneuvers that make them feel like a real duo, and I liked things like a move missing, the other immediately tagging the opponent and thus setting up their partner to complete the move after all. After a 1996 full of a lot of anemic matches, it was quite fun to see them do the old “Escalating Finishers” portion like the olden times, though it got a bit spammy, as Takako & Ito in particular don’t have deep movesets and so they repeat the same moves a ton.
Rating: ***1/2 (another one that got very good in the end)
We get everyone signing off (lol, dig the guy in “cool guy shades” with a Manami Toyota t-shirt) as I recall that Mita’s barely said a damn thing all show long. We get the ends of two jobber matches (one with the Body Slam of Death at 7:22, and another with the Back Body Drop of Horror at 11:06) then the final match times of the rest of the show. An interesting thing I notice is the unexpected wins- Aja’s teaming with a total rookie and her team still wins against a pair of established stars? The TAG CHAMPIONS job to a makeshift team that includes a washed-up veteran?
Overall, it was a pretty solid night of TV, with ***-***1/2 matches and some acts with potential. It’s still a very weakened company, but the people who are still around can bring it on occasion, even as injuries and body breakdowns probably diminish a lot of the peak.