Joshi Spotlight: Hotta vs. Kandori & The ZAP Era Begins!
By Jabroniville on 9th October 2023
AJW IN MARCH 2008- THE ZAP ERA BEGINS:
* Yes, we’ve finally reached THE ZAPS. So, the ZAPs are Zap I & Zap T, aka Kaoru Ito (“I”) and Tomoko Watanabe (“T”). AJW, with its business destroyed, has gone to a once-reliable standby- the brawling “blood & guts” monsters. With Las Cachorras Orientales having quit for Neo Ladies, it’s perhaps inevitable that a new pair of heels arrives. So from what I understand, they just showed up one day in these masks and we like “WE ARE HEELS NOW!” They are wearing full face-masks and have some symbols of hooliganism- the Wikipedia page for sukeban says “sukeban usually wore surgical masks, and often carried with them razor blades, bamboo swords and chains, which could be concealed under their skirts” and in the very first match I see, indeed both ZAPs have wooden swords and chains. Medical masks would be rough to wrestle in, but they have full face masks. I guess that’s more standard “evil heel” stuff, though.
And oh my god the AJW ring is an atrocity at this point- the paint is all flecked off the ringposts in close-ups, and the ring mat gave me a staph infection just from looking at it.
AJW Roster (1998): Yumiko Hotta (Champion), Manami Toyota, Kaoru Ito (heir), Takako Inoue (idol, upper-midcard), Tomoko Watanabe (tag star, rising singles), Kumiko Maekawa, Momoe Nakanishi, Nanae Takahashi, Kayo Noumi, Jobbers: Miho Wakizawa, Miyuki Fujii, Nana Nakahara & Noriko Toyoda.
I asked on Reddit about the ZAPs, and BOD poster CommissionerBockwinkel had this to say:
“Whenever Zenjo ‘s business dips, they tend to go with brawling/monster heels/blood and guts. I think ZAPS was mostly an attempt to get back to the Gokuaku Domei/Gokumon type of monster heel that had worked in the past, although LCO’s departure as the top heels certainly played a role. “New LCO” no, but “new heel team in that upper card spot” yes.
I think you’re looking too deeply into (the sukeban thing), it’s not related to anything like that. They were just wearing cool/scary wrestling heel gear in the vein of past Zenjo heels. ZAPS was very much a throwback act (to the halcyon days of…the Dynamite Army!”). I think they kind of made some statements in kayfabe magazines or whatever but IIRC in reality it was mostly just like “THEY ARE HEELS NOW”. It was weird because it was two of their most popular babyfaces at the time and everyone obviously knew who they were, and they didn’t even really try to disguise it or anything. This was not a finely constructed heel turn angle, let’s just say that.
ZAPS had their moments, but it was certainly the wrong move at the wrong time. It was somewhat interesting and kind of got over at first, but quickly became like…corny masked heels wearing brightly colored purple/orange/green gear, taking off their masks frequently during matches, etc. Like … Purple Zap and Orange Zap aren’t exactly a terrifying gimmick.
One thing that always stood out to me is that while ZAP T was a standard masked heel, ZAP I was a complete maniac. Ito as ZAP I could be pretty terrifying at times”
YUMIKO HOTTA & TAKAKO INOUE vs. THE ZAPS (Zap I & Zap T, w/ Nana Nakahara):
(AJW, March 1st 1998)
* Oh yes, it’s time for THE ZAPS. Takako’s wearing Cutie Suzuki-esque frilly white & gold and Hotta’s in a black full-body singlet. The ZAPs are in matching green masks, with gold & black ones underneath and wearing their baggiest green street clothes, which is NOT gonna make recapping fun. Hotta & Takako attack on the floor to start and it’s on immediately. All the AJW wrestlers (including Manami) are on the floor, Kumiko Maekawa, Tomoko’s ex-partner, among them. The ZAPs have tall rookie Nana Nakahara as their goon.
One ZAP has her mask torn off, but they reveal the masks underneath them and start throwing the babyfaces around the stands. Ito strangles Hotta with a chain in the ring and decks the ref for interfering, and Tomoko continues the assault. They go for another walk & brawl and Hotta ends up bleeding off a “wrapped around the head” chairshot and even Kumiko is hurt. Ito just beats down every ring girl at once with a shinai (those wooden swords) while their loyal goon Nakahara fights the others, and Tomoko smashes Hotta with it and then struggles to break it in half, shoving the edges into her cut, then (I think) spitting Hotta’s blood at Takako. Hotta reverses to an armbar but Nakahara runs in to stop it, but Hotta grabs the shinai and beats on both ZAPs and then fires off her rolling kicks, then hits two Pyramid Drivers (cross-armed ligerbombs) in a row on Tomoko before releasing and trying to cut off the mask with a pair of scissors!
Takako hits her Backdrop Suplex Hold on Ito for two- the Flying Knee is halted, but the ZAPs run into each other, only for Hotta’s rolling kick to nail her partner. Takako is glassy-eyed as the ZAPs remove their coats to reveal their identities via the distinctive gear, and Ito hits a backdrop suplex & Flying Stomp on her for two- the crowd’s still not that into it. Takako DDTs her but gets shinai’d after missing another Flying Knee attempt, but gets a spinkick of all things for two- Nakahara saves. Takako finally lands that Flying Knee, getting two, and another try has Tomoko run in and Ito springs to life, no-selling to hit a powerbomb and KUMIKO runs in to break it up and attack the ZAPs for the best reaction all match, tearing into her ex-partner Tomoko’s mask and it’s a donnybrook! Three rookies AND Manami gangbeat Nakahara at once while Kumiko won’t get off Tomoko, and the ref just calls for the bell at (13:05)- a very unusual Double-DQ in joshi.
It’s a pullapart brawl with all this chaos, and Manami ultimately has to hold Kumiko back to stop it from continuing- Takako looks like her feelings are hurt. Hotta & Ito (sounding a lot different- probably deliberately altering her voice) talk shit on each other and that sends TAKAKO in for some beats. Takako has to comfort some bawling rookie while Manami sympathetically pats a mourning Kumiko, and Hotta cuts an impassioned promo about how Zenjo nearly died and now THESE WOMEN (Tomoko & Ito, former Zenjo loyalists) are betraying them. One of the rookies (with gauze over one eye- probably Isozaki Tomoka) leaves the fold and sides with the ZAPs (ah, the old “heels recruiting via ring arguments” thing- Mayumi Ozaki did this with Chiguasa’s GAEA rookies, too. ALL the rookies end up weeping because of their loyalty to the company, now being ripped apart by the cruel ZAPs (thankfully some of them have names on their shirts so I can see Momoe, Nanae & Miho). well at least this will help me tell the rookies apart now.
This was… a very pedestrian kinda match, with endless brawling to start to set off the bleeding, but not a major heat sequence. Takako’s lack of credibility with her moves is an issue I’ve been noticing for a while, as none of them are put over very much anymore (she often hits 2-3 flying knees per match now) and it kills a lot of drama. Hotta’s maintained hers, but the ZAPs just aren’t mean enough just yet. They’re more standard cheating heels. The crowd was very quiet all match, having a hard time getting into it, though some near-falls got decent applause. But like, Kumiko Maekawa doing a run-in drew the only big reaction all match.
Rating: **1/2 (just a lot of punching and blood in lieu of a major contest- the mass brawl at the end was a lot of fun, though)
DOUBLE TITLE SUBMISSIONS/KO ONLY MATCH:
WWWA WORLD TITLE & LLPW TITLE:
YUMIKO HOTTA (AJW) vs. SHINOBU KANDORI (LLPW):
(LLPW, March 21st 1998)
* So the only singles match I can find for AJW for the first part of 1998 is THIS- to shake up slow ticket sales and a decimated roster, they let rival company LLPW book a TITLE VS. TITLE MATCH for the first time ever, pitting their Champion, Hotta the Super-Shooter, up against Kandori, the LEGIT actual shooter from LLPW. Sadly, it’s only a clipped version as far as I can tell. Kandori’s in that funny orange & yellow bodysuit with the shorts and the dyed-blonde hair (a look she kept for the rest of time), and Hotta’s in a black outfit of similar make.
They go Shoot-Style to start, Hotta fishing for a kimura, but Kandori ending up with a rear mount, where she slaps Hotta to be an asshole. She fishes for a choke, but Hotta pushes her off just using her head, then spikes her with a trio of headbutts that immediately busts herself open hardway. Kandori, from the ground, fights for a cross-armbreaker that draws some drama, and Hotta gets the ropes and demands Kandori fire away at her! Kandori messes her up with headbutts and running kicks while Hotta does her “come at me bro” stance with the crimson mask and boy she does know how to make memorable moments, huh? Kandori levels her with a clothesline but the ref waves off her pin attempt, letting Hotta twist up her arm and Kandori has to fight up, letting Hotta toss her to the corner and hit her Rolling Kick! She lights up Kandori’s guard with kicks, resulting in an “8” count, but Kandori suddenly springs to life in a fighting stance and barrels her down with a clothesline, then hits a DDT! Choke! But Hotta kicks her in the head to get out, and when Kandori tries the clothesline again, Hotta catches her arm and fights her into the Tiger Driver, then a cross-armbreaker!
Kandori’s grapple-defense is excellent, as she repeatedly pops her hips to take the pressure off, then gets the leg for the leghold, but Hotta just gets to her feet and punts her, then WIPES her with a big straight kick to the side of the head! Kandori’s up at “8” but still wobbly and unsteady, so a tired-out Hotta fires off what she can to bring her back down- another sweep kick to the head! Kandori crumples her face to sell it, and is again up at “8” and Hotta, now given a breather, pounces again- she keeps going to the knee, however, and Kandori catches her (on a second try) and fires off E.Honda’s Hundred-Hand Slap! Hotta, her momentum crushed, slowly gets up and Kandori immediately latches on a choke, but gets rushed to the corner- Rolling Kick #2! Hotta knows it’s her chance, so fires off a cross-armed piledriver (probably going for a Pyramid Driver but slipped back too far) and a regular Ligerbomb… holding it for too long cuz there’s no pinfalls! She’s like “oh fuck- right” and tries to slip out of the pinning combination, but she’s right in position- Kandori slaps on the TRIANGLE CHOKE, and Hotta struggles against the mat for a second (actually not really moving) while Kandori has to to all this twisting and turning to put over the effort… and Hotta taps!! SHINOBU KANDORI IS WWWA CHAMPION (7:22 of 12:02 shown)!! The crowd FREAKS, and immediately goes into a “KAN-DOH-RI!” chant as Kandori stomps around reveling in her victory. Kandori now holds both World Titles- the first double-champion in joshi history!
This was GREAT while it lasted- a short match, but they immediately hooked people by going for early submission wins and Hotta splitting herself open for an iconic image, and that made all the latter stuff better. I ended up impressed by how Kandori could just twist and roll out of EVERYTHING, repeatedly stopping Hotta’s attempts at submissions, but end up having to weather her storm of kicks- Hotta’s submission work was less effective but she was still the better STRIKER, and that paid off as she kept gaining the lead with that, taking every opening she could. The finish was a bit funny, as they already did the “oh right- pins don’t count” thing, but as Hotta’s big moves all end up in pinning combinations, I can buy that it’s a trained automatic thing- it costs her big-time, though the triangle choke is an iffy way to end a match given how you can’t see the face of the person taking it, and Hotta didn’t even sell pain so much as acting like it was a KO until the tap. But this is maybe the highest rating I can give a match this short- NOTHING was wasted and every move felt desperately important and like it could potentially win the match.
Rating: ***1/2 (maybe the best sub-8 minute match you’re ever gonna see- bloody, stiff and strategic)
So yes, almost immediately after the “ZAP” team comes in and shakes up the entire roster (adopting two rookies as goons to give us more match set-ups and diversify the roster), we get the World Title shift, as an LLPW wrestler (and one of joshi’s biggest, most credible stars at this point), Shinobu Kandori, becomes the World Champion of the promotion! The Kandori Era is long and… not terribly liked, but I know she has a great match with Manami half a year down the line at least.
So that’s what AJW was up to in Spring 1998! I hope I can find more stuff later on, but their YouTube content is swiftly becoming dogshit.