Joshi Spotlight: ARSION ARS ’98 Tournament
By Jabroniville on 13th November 2023
HYPER VISUAL FIGHTING ARSION- ARS ’98 TOURNAMENT:
(May 5th 1998)
* Welcome back to Hyper Visual Fighting ARSION! I couldn’t find an April ARSION show on YouTube, but I did manage to get their May show- and it’s a one night tournament! This one has all the big stars of the promotion, most notably MARIKO YOSHIDA, who made her return from injury a couple weeks before! And in an all-new outfit, as she’s packed on a ton of muscle and looks like a comic book superhero in amazing Spider-Woman-esque gear (actually closer to Silk, but who’s counting?). The show, unfortunately, did a very poor house, getting only half full after some solid ticket sales for the earlier shows- the novelty wore off and people just weren’t into the style right away. WELL SCREW THEM THIS IS THE MOST FUN PROMOTION RIGHT NOW!
ARSION Roster: Aja Kong, Mariko Yoshida, Rie Tamada, Yumi Fukawa, Michiko Omukai, Reggie Bennett, Mikiko Futagami, Candy Okutsu, Jessie Bennett, Fabi Apache
ARSION ran a show on April 17th that featured Mariko Yoshida, one of their expected top wrestlers, making her ARSION debut- she beats Rie Tamada, the eternal midcarder, in (12:29). Also, Michiko Omukai & Yumi Fukawa, who just had a barnburner of a match in March, team up to beat Jessie & Reggie Bennett in (19:40), Faby Apache & Michiko Omukai beat Aja Kong & Lady Metal in (11:21) (long night for Michiko), and Candy Okutsu beats Mikiko Futagami, who is being built up as ARSION’s “Tough” wrestler, in (13:15) with the Kick of Fear in a surprise win. Mike Lorefice sings this one’s praises, giving it ****.
Other shows feature what looks to be smaller cards, though Cagematch could be missing stuff. I see Aja Kong, Reggie Bennett & Mikiko Futagami beating Yumi Fukawa in separate matches, Yoshida beating Jessie Bennett, and Aja Kong & Reggie going to a 15 minute draw.
JESSIE BENNETT vs. FABI APACHE vs. LADY METAL:
* … okay, who the hell is Lady Metal? She’s dressed like a shitty Dollar Store Wolverine with a Wolvie torso bit but a weird mask. She doesn’t have much of a Wiki bio but has a LONG-ASS career judging by CageMatch, going from 1992 to today. ARSION booking a three-way match (one person has to stand on the apron) on one of their first shows is definitely interesting- I’ve yet to see that in any joshi. Jessie’s in black with some airbrushed designs on it & Fabi’s in black with a metal chestpiece a la Psicosis. As Fabi is horrendous and Jessie is green, I don’t have high hopes for this one.
Jessie & Fabi start off with chops and running stuff as the commentator actually says “Three-Way Dance” regarding the stips- the luchadoras double-team Jessie, but she clotheslines them both down and nails a roundhouse kick & Pedigree of all things on Fabi for two- Metal saves, then takes the move herself and Fabi saves as this is already getting ugly with bad timing (Fabi’s late on the save and kinda awkwardly stands around). Jessie hits the floor and Metal assists Fabi in a plancha then they both just… stand there in the ring and only Metal hits a running dropkick despite Fabi backing up with her, and they sorta alternate attacks. Fabi hits a non-running lionsault and that pins Jessie at (2:40) with a meta-delayed three and late kickout that made it look like a screw-up.
The luchadoras can presumably at least work with each other aaaaaaand as I type that Metal just hits a running shove. Classic mis-timing as Fabi gets lifted to the apron and has to stand there for a sec until Metal remembers to turn around and get missile dropkicked. But Metal pretty well no-sells it and whips Fabi off for a lame release side-slam twice and builds her SmackDown! meter repeatedly, getting kicked to the floor & tope’d. A bad inside cradle gets two for Fabi, then a simply terrible powerbomb reversal has Metal accidentally slip off her “spinning armdrag” thingie and splat like a ton of shit. Fabi hits La Majistral and catches Metal’s rana with a powerbomb for two, but then Metal does the same thing and ties up Fabi in a straightjacket hold on the mat and sits on her flexing for the submission win at (6:20). Haha what the fuck was that?
OH GOD THIS WAS SO BAD. This was straight-up “nobody knows how to wrestle” territory with Metal & Fabi mis-timing their shit against Jessie (who mostly just had to stand there and take it, giving nothing) and then trying to work a match with each other. Both had the “Diva Scamper” thing going, the classic “stall because someone forgot the next move or how to set it up to look natural” thing, and more. That powerbomb reversal straight-up looks like one forgot it was supposed to be reversed so of course because lucha is almost zero-contact Metal just slides off of her and lands hard. And nobody even SOLD- oftentimes the person who took the move would be the next one to try one.
Rating: DUD (simply terrible. Business-exposing. I could do an Anatomy of a Disaster on this shit easily)
ARS ’98 TOURNAMENT:
Aja Kong- ARSION’s top “get” and founder, more or less.
Mariko Yoshida- AJW midcarder now getting a big push. Has her usual amazing gear- this time a red sleeveless one with the spider-web on the upper right, not the center.
Candy Okutsu- JWP retiree suddenly returned for a midcard push… maybe to the upper card? Wearing what looks like white lingerie over a gold sports top & shorts.
Reggie Bennett- American powerhouse back in Japan. Wearing a spectacular white/grey outfit with shorts and black designs- a real “Main Eventer” look.
Mikiko Futagami- LLPW jobber turned into the “tough chick” wrestler with kicks & submissions. She’s in orange & yellow, with bleach blonde hair.
Michiko Omukai- LLPW jobber turned high-kicker with an underdog push. She’s in a frilly all-white variant of her gear this time. Very idol-like, especially with the mega-frill angel sports bra.
Yumi Fukawa- AJW jobber with a pint-sized idol thing and a big underdog deal. Wearing her usual blue & white two-piece thing with the very “90s” collar.
Rie Tamada- AJW midcarder turned ARSION midcarder. Back in the fatigue-colored singlet.
ARS TOURNAMENT- ROUND ONE:
CANDY OKUTSU vs. YUMI FUKAWA:
* Candy is humorously now the giant powerhouse of the match against teeny Yumi.
Fukawa takes off running to start, but charges right into the Kick of Fear for a close two! Yumi comes back with arm attempts and the spinning headscissors, but Candy taunts her with the Tiger Feint. Yumi nonetheless flattens her with more running attacks and uses technique to outwrestle Candy. It’s funny because it looks like only Fukawa knows how to wrestle this way, while Candy only knows how to do AJW/JWP-style cadence and instead just uses leverage to counter and basic restholds. She even does a TEST OF STRENGTH, then a dropkick & DDT. See, and then she proves my point further with a missile kick into a HALF-CRAB after Fukawa’s done all that interesting stuff fighting for cross-armbreakers. Yumi lands her own DDT and fights for the arm and some triangle chokes but Candy keeps rolling out. Candy manages her run-up flying cross-body reversal for two and then does a run-up missile kick, but misses a run-up moonsault and gets Majistral’d for two.
Yumi goes for a heel hook, but Candy eventually clotheslines the shit out of her, only to try Rolling Germans and eat a rolling heel hook. Candy is badly damaged, but Fukawa utterly fucks up a Lionsault and lands right on her head after catching her knees on the top rope. JEEZ. AND THEN DOES IT AGAIN. Despite a slow standing start-up this time! Candy’s thankfully a veteran so knows how to fuck around and waste time while they check if Yumi is deceased (though maybe standing on her isn’t great if she IS hurt). Fukawa is put up top but gets another cross-armbreaker, but takes a German, DDT & Bridging German… for two! Fukawa counters with an awful Buff Blockbuster, but goes up again and Candy gets what she was trying in the first place- a Northern Lights Superduperplex… again for two! Man some girl is SHRIEKING for these kickouts. So Candy hits a DDT, Moonsault (slipping first) and Brainbuster… again for two! Okay this is excessive, lol. Yumi counters a NL suplex by completing the cross-armbreaker at last, but Candy quickly rolls through- Candy hits an ugly German but gets caught in an STF, dragging herself to the ropes, but finally hits sloppy Rolling Germans into a big snap Powerbomb for the pin at (17:57).
Okay this started out good but then just kinda fell apart. It was clear Candy wasn’t really into the “ARSION Style” right here as she kept defaulting to shitty JWP submissions (ie. restholds and not serious stuff) as her usual offense to deal with Fukawa, making it look like two people each wrestling a different match. And then poor Yumi BADLY messes up two Lionsaults in humiliating fashion and they probably just have to skip stuff and do the next sequence. The sad thing is the match’s basic story is a good one- Yumi is so good she’s hampering the veteran and Candy needs to power her down and hit her best stuff, but still has trouble putting her away. It’s just there’s bad execution throughout and it’s WAY too freaking long. And the length causes more execution issues with slips and “Shit, what was this move?” stuff, probably not at all helped by Yumi probably concussing herself twice in a row. Plum Mariko died in the ring LAST YEAR and they of course had to hit 5-6 neck and head bumps after these frightening landings.
Rating: ** (they had a good ***+ match going until they just kept screwing stuff up and going 5 minutes longer than they should have- too sloppy and poor by the end)
RIE TAMADA vs. MICHIKO OMUKAI:
* Omukai keeps surprising people with her ability, and Rie is probably the perfect rank to showcase her “new tier”.
Omukai pounces with a tiger suplex for two, but misses a kick and gets dragon suplexed. They do some uncoordinated brawling, but Omukai gets a good backdrop driver and Rie pops up for a German. And both do it again! Okay, now they start selling, both lying around for a bit to put that over. Omukai hits a superplex and some kicks and starts fishing for submissions- Rie dodges some sweeping kicks and they badly butcher a dragon screw spot as Omukai sorta collapses inwards the wrong way the bump is supposed to go. Rie improvises a leghold and does a missile kick, then fights for a cross-armbreaker before charging into a palm strike. Michiko wins an elbow war, but charges into one and has to catch Rie off the top with a Fujiwara armbar. Springboard Roundhouse Kick gets two for Omukai, then she attempts the cross-arm again. Nice bit where she blocks Rie’s Dragon suplex with a kick, but Rie blocks the kick and catches her with a rana for two. Rie counters a kick with the perfect plex for two. Omukai manages a big kick that’s sold… only for Rie to pop up and both of them trade lame strikes and no-sell each other. Rie just runs Omukai off the ropes and meets her with a Rolling Elbow for the three (7:56)- quick match for this promotion.
Man, this was pretty weak. There were a couple good bits, but it was largely 4-5 separate matches all riveted together. Like the “fast start with sudden suplexes” is a great idea, ending with a double-down. And there’s a bit with elbow trading. And the slick counters with the dragon suplex-to-kick-to-rana. But they’re all just kinda slotted in at random instead of building to anything, like “match one” is just done with and no longer matters as they’re onto their other idea. Made more obvious when it’s things like “Omukai keeps going for her big kicks” early on, only to end up just trading them like nothing later as Rie no-sells and charges in with her own. Then Omukai takes a big arm submission on a taped-up limb but immediately swings that same arm like popeye for a palm thrust. And Rie ending a match with a Rolling Elbow gives a new finisher, but looks like ass as she keeps doing these “flails” with it so they’re imprecise and fly way off-target. Omukai ends up not looking nearly as good as in the past two shows, as soon as they put her up against an opponent who’s not great (Aja) or trying her absolute hardest (Yumi).
Rating: ** (more “just okay” stuff, but with a pretty disjointed, sloppy match)
Best. Gear. Ever.
MARIKO YOSHIDA vs. MIKIKO FUTAGAMI:
* This is an interesting one, as they’re building Gami up a lot with strong showings against top stars, and now they have Yoshida, who they REALLY want to showcase. Interestingly, GAMI is still noticeably bulkier than Swoleshida, who is built more like a comic book super-heroine.
They grapple to start as the commentary keeps mentioning Spider-Man- Gami gets a pop just for repeatedly spinning out of Yoshida’s grappling. She takes the lead in their next grapple but can’t get anything and Yoshida ties up the leg from beneath. Yoshida shoots in but eats a front facelock (just like in UFC! Never carelessly shoot in!), but pops a hand free and suddenly Gami’s in a painful hammerlock. Yoshida has to defend herself from kicks while still selling the throat, and spends a while trying to get on a cross-armbreaker, only to get kicked and Northern Lights suplexed for two. Yoshida hits an overhead belly-to-belly, but takes the same move herself and gets clotheslined for two. Yoshida pops her with a German for two, but eats a big slap (still called a shotei) for the same. Yoshida keeps selling the wrist, so Gami tries for arm stuff and ends up getting a pumphandle Ligerbomb for two. Gami tries to get too fancy and gets sleeper’d, and Yoshida copies the big slap for two and hit a big powerbomb, releasing after the kickout for an anklelock. She tries again after the rope-break and gets heel hooked for it, then takes a bunch of kicks and does a last-second rope-grab at two. Gami tries to charge in, but gets lifted into a stomachbuster and Yoshida threads IMMEDIATELY to her finisher, the Henkei Sleeper (double-arm pulling the person’s neck against her thigh) until Gami can’t escape and submits at (10:56). She slaps on a leghold on Yoshida after the bell and they have to be separated.
This is the first time I see Yoshida using her “Grapplefuckery” style on this watchthrough, so it’s a good one for that, with everything feeling important and “fought for”. Though the selling was iffy in this one, with people repeatedly doing the “hit a big move, but then the other person snaps up and hits their own thing” deal.
Rating: *** (very solid without hitting extreme heights)
AJA KONG vs. REGGIE BENNETT:
* The two biggest women in the tournament meet in the first round- Aja’s the top star of ARSION but Reggie got brought over from the US again for this promotion.
oh hell yes THEY START OFF FAT-GUY STYLE!! They run straight into each other and no-sell! Reggie ducks the Uraken but Aja ducks a lariat and backdrop drivers her, only for Reggie to no-sell and bowl her over! But now Aja no-sells and they’re back to square one. They pepper each other with shots but Reggie manages a big powerbomb, getting backhanded by Aja from the ground. Both are finally selling the impacts, and Aja catches an incoming kick, only for Reggie to DDT her and roll through into a vicious front facelock with an underarm on the other side. Reggie cranks the SHIT out of that as Aja sinks lower and lower to the mat… and the ref calls it at (2:03).
REGGIE BENNETT BEATS AJA KONG IN TWO MINUTES!!!! Yes, it happened! I’ve heard Aja was exceptionally generous in ARSION but holy buckets. The biggest star in ARSION jobs in the first round, making it clear that anything goes here. Aja appears almost amused by her early loss, flipping Reggie off and cutting a post-match interview with a “well what can ya do?” expression.
Rating: *1/4 (I mean it’s barely a match as-is, but all of it was good and the ending hold looked nasty as hell)
Rossy Ogawa was sweet on Candy. Which probably explains the “undies over her gear” look.
CANDY OKUTSU vs. RIE TAMADA:
* Candy & Rie are kind of in the same “zone” so to speak- both were on equal footing in their respective companies as midcarders who couldn’t beat the stars but could bring the fight to them.
They immediately start in the “workrate style” going with speed as Rie dropkicks Candy out of mid-air and planchas her. Candy comes back and Rie does a dramatic sell of an “arm injury” to set Candy off on it, and Candy does her best “well all I know is restholds but okay” with that. Rie goes to the leg to counter, going to a crab, leg-hump, figure-four, etc. They awkwardly run into each other in a mistimed bit, then Candy gets a bit of a reaction for knocking Rie down. They take turns clobbering each other with elbows, sometimes missing entirely but usually selling it and bouncing around for them, and Rie catches Candy with a missile kick to the top of her head after stopping a run-up move. Another one hits, but Rie gets cocky and ends up taking a Run-Up Northern Lights Superplex for two- they badly mess up some powerbomb stuff, then Rie gets a DDT & spinning DDT out of the corner for two. Rie clobbers her and ax kicks her to death, but Candy still kicks out. Rie goes for the Dragon Suplex but gets powerbombed big-time for two- Rie snaps off a German but charges into the Kick of Fear, then they trade big shots- Rie staggers her with a big elbow, but Candy snaps off a small package for the three at (11:51).
Man, this was okay, but it’s your everyday average AJW/JWP match, albeit with midcarders and it’s super-sloppy for the most part. Candy spamming her run-ups and Rie being her usual vanilla self. It’s FINE and better than some stuff you see on this show, but it doesn’t stand out at all. These two undersized wrestlers getting into a strike war is NOT credible with their loosey-goosey swings, especially with Candy doing the “WWF Fat Guy Teeter-Totter” sell on some of them.
Rating: **1/4 (a fine basic everyday TV match- a bit too sloppy and spammy but fine)
REGGIE BENNETT vs. MARIKO YOSHIDA:
* I actually reviewed this one a year or so ago, so it’s fun to see the actual context.
An interesting dynamic arises, as Yoshida keeps going for stuff, but Reggie’s able to counter any submissions through sheer strength and mass, just forcing Yoshida’s grip apart with raw power. Reggie, meanwhile, has her stuff countered by Yoshida’s speed and technique. They trade legholds along those lines, Reggie escapes a cross-armbreaker attempt, and then she hits a tilt-a-whirl, catching Mariko with an inverted DDT when she lands on her feet. Reggie tries to follow up with a lariat, but gets caught in a Fujiwara armbar attempt, then a keylock until Yoshida gives up and tries a whip, ending up reversed and hit with a Samoan drop. Big Splash gets two! Notably, Reggie’s power stuff is the only stuff getting pops.
Reggie follows with the second-rope splash, but misses! Yoshida immediately tries the cross-armbreaker again but Reggie just wrap up her leg. Yoshida stuffs a German, but Reggie just deadlifts her straight back to complete the move! Second-rope splash now hits, Yoshida bridging out so far at “2” she almost rolls onto her head! She reverses a powerbomb to the Million Dollar Dream, then hits an interesting arm-assisted figure-four, then a regular one. Reggie lands a BIG Powerbomb for two, then immediately snaps on a huge front facelock, nearly putting Yoshida out. Fans really got into the fight on that one, too! And now I realize why, because that’s what beat Aja! Yoshida tries a last-ditch Fujiwara after making the ropes, but Reggie just snaps her right into a SPINNING LIGERBOMB, pinning her at (12:24). So Yoshida unexpectedly loses on her first big outing.
Weird sorta match, as Yoshida keeps fishing for that damn cross-armbreaker, Reggie always having an answer for it and just powering her around. You can see sorta the ARSION problem immediately when the fans are popping for Reggie’s AJW spots but none of the counterhold stuff. Defeating both Aja Kong & Mariko Yoshida- the top two ranked women in ARSION- in a single night goes a long way towards putting Reggie over as a threat. Yoshida just had no technical answer for all that power stuff, and Reggie just hit bigger and bigger things to finish her.
Rating: ***1/4 (solid match with great power stuff from Reggie. The technical stuff wasn’t great)
REGGIE BENNETT vs. CANDY OKUTSU:
* Reggie’s beaten the two top-ranked women in ARSION so far, Aja in TWO MINUTES, while Candy’s beaten two undersized kids, and in LONG matches that took a ton out of her.
Candy wisely uses speed to harry Reggie, but gets swatted down and a delayed suplex gets two. Reggie works basic stuff, and Candy escapes and grinds her knee on Reggie’s head but gets caught in a headscissors. I like how Reggie’s stuff is simple but practical- stomp the leg, grab a headlock, etc.- just use her power to stuff Candy and haul her to the ground. Candy finally does a run-up move, but moonsaults WAY short because she slipped- Reggie sells it like a knee drilled her, but recovers and climbs up, naturally eating a run-up move, in this case a dropkick knocking her to the apron and then to the floor. I mean, what was Reggie expecting? Climbing the ropes when your opponent’s entire offense is running up the corner- seriously. Run-Up plancha… except Reggie just catches Candy and sets her down so she can crank on the leg out there! Candy sells that for a bit, and tries running attacks like a dumbass, getting tilt-a-whirl slammed for two. Candy nonetheless gets some missile kicks and a DDT, then a Moonsault. And another! And another! Candy charges in like a doofus again and nearly gets powerbombed to death, but does the over-roll and gets a close one. And then Candy tries yet ANOTHER charge, getting spun up into the Reggie Rack… but she slaps on a choke sleeper from there! And hauls Reggie down and Reggie TAPS OUT at (9:35)!! CANDY WINS THE TOURNAMENT!!
Clever little match- Candy’s had a lot taken out of her, so Reggie just stuffs her and works her over methodically, making very few mistakes. Candy gets bounced around a lot, but fires back with her standard run-up moves. Though it’s weird that Reggie would work the LEG all match and Candy can just effortlessly pop up and hit all that offense repeatedly no matter what, despite “limping” between moves. Hardly unusual in joshi for limbwork to just be a “health drain” instead of sold all match, but considering it was almost all Reggie was doing, and we’re in a more grapple-heavy promotion, it makes all that work look like it didn’t have any effect, or was just arbitrarily sold since Candy could hit her moves without effort despite the limp (aka “The Test Sell”). I will say I did like the story of Candy repeatedly making the same dumb mistake (charging right into the monster’s frontal arc and getting caught), only to turn it around in the end by turning the counter to her OWN move, and a simple choke bringing down the giant. It puts over ARSION’s style and makes Candy look a bit more clever and versatile than just spamming her flying moves.
Rating: *** (sorta sloppy and the leg-selling bugged me but a solid little story and even Reggie did good work on the mat)
So this tournament has some really clever booking- Aja is unbeaten in ARSION and the expectation is it could easily be a “Vanity Federation” with her as the top star… so after putting over some up & comers in matches where she wins but has tons of trouble on the previous shows, here she LOSES- in only two minutes to Reggie Bennett! Reggie then beats Yoshida, who was expected to be another top star, but then loses to CANDY OKUTSU, who was probably expected to just be “filler” for the most part, like in JWP. So Candy, whose career was over in the middle of last year, is now the winner of ARSION’s first tournament and is presumably getting a big push. This puts both Reggie & Candy in elevated positions, gives Yoshida something to fight for, and makes sure that Aja isn’t the unconquerable champion- as much as “Aja as Ace” had legs in Zenjo years ago, it’s not 1993 anymore.
A peculiarity of the ARSION style is popping up here, as instead of fishing for lots of submissions, everyone’s just fishing for the SAME submission- four matches in a row with people repeatedly trying for the cross-armbreaker. It’s same-y to a ridiculous extent (like those early AEW shows where four matches had Canadian Destroyers in them). It gets dull, and makes you think they were all trained by the same guy who just LOVED that move and it’s all most of them know how to spam.