Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
Women Queendom III - 3/26/95
Yes, AJW. Yes, joshi. Feel my presence. Be in the ring.
And this is really really long, so you might think about ordering a pizza.
1. Rie Tamada vs. Kumiko Maekawa The last time I went to Spielberg class, we had this guest lecturer in who said - among other stuff...an awful lot of other stuff - that someone once told Robert Zemeckis "You're very predictable in retrospect". And while about %99 of the rest of what he said went in one ear and out the other, that phrase stuck with me, because it's been coming up a lot lately.
As I write this, Tarzan Boy is having the RUN OF HIS LIFE in CMLL, becoming in the span of like a month and a half one of my ten favorite workers to watch...after being a very competant but boring worker for like all of his career leading up to it. Thinking about that phrase, I realized that hey, if you go back and actually look at the matches he had in 2000, it's all there; he's got charisma, he's got athleticism, he's got a certain degree of ring-smarts...in retrospect, of course he'd put it together.
I mention that because in terms of current AJW, Kumiko Maekawa is probably my favorite wrestler to watch. It's not even that her matches are so great; it's just that her performances in them is just captivating. She just plain knows how to be a great, cocky heel, even if she doesn't know how to sell.
So the first couple of minutes of this match were kind of a shock to me, since essentially it's just Kumiko Maekawa in a Ugly Bathing Suit doing some Pretty Ugly Stuff. Her execution - especially of strikes, her current calling-card - was all over the place; one minute she'd be bridging out of a pin attempt beautifully, the next she'd be telegraphing her next move from a mile away.
Then, all of a sudden, watching in retrospect, it became clear that no, she didn't come out of nowhere to be a really entertaining wrestler. She and Tamada had this really hesitant matwork reversal sequence where Maekawa - slowly but surely - transitioned from working Tamada's arm to working her shoulders and back, and from there went into an extended Argentinian backbreaker sequence, leading up to what had to be the most intelligently-worked transition I've ever seen in a rookie match - Tamada made a quick comeback, got a tornado bulldog, went for another, and Maekawa blocked it and dropped her right on her back.
That's the kind of smart work that makes me believe that a wrestler's got what it takes to be an entertaining worker. I'm not saying that stuff like that's good enough to make her a good worker, because you can see the roots of her current selling deficiencies pretty plainly here, too - but awareness like that is really all it takes to make a match watchable. And when you put her in the ring with a great worker - a Momoe Nakanishi, say - you win the game of life.
Hell, even when she's in the ring with a not-too-spectacularly-smart wrestler like the Tamada who showed up on this night the end results are pretty good. Tamada does everything in her power to subvert what little flow is here; the transitions between offensive segments - thanks to the precedent she sets when she just leans back in from a Maekawa kick and takes over with strikes early on - are pretty much just there; with the exception of the afore-mentioned tornado bulldog sequence they're all pretty much changes in the wind. Moreover, considering that she's wrestling Kumiko Maekawa, She Who Gets Shit For Not Selling Too Well, TAMADA'S selling isn't all that much to write home about; she's ALLLLLL about jumping right back up, including from the whole everything -> Argentinian backbreaker sequence, whereafter she jumps up, does a dropkick, and immediately seems essentially fine.
And yet, in spite of all that, this match is Perfectly Acceptable Wrestling. It doesn't have a meta-level; it's just there - but that never hurt anyone, did it? And hell, in retrospect, it says so much that if you're a fan of the contemporary stuff it's probably worth watching. *1/2
2. Candy Okutsu vs. Chapparita ASARI UGH. Sometimes it's interesting to see how a match functions without a heel-face structure; here, it just makes the match feel like BUTT.
I mean, it's not like they didn't have the pieces right there; it wouldn't have been anything new if they'd built a structure out of Candy slapping away ASARI's hand before the bell, or alternatively on ASARI giving Candy a surprise German suplex right at the bell. They built on neither. As a result, the match was virtually heatless; the only time the crowd popped at all - well, above the Mild Appreciation level, anyway - was whenever ASARI would go up top for the Skytwister Press, and given that they didn't start going that route until like the last two minutes of a twelve-minute match, you can just imagine how exciting this was.
Of course, it's not like there was really any work to build off of either; when you're getting psychologically outworked by a bathing-suited rookie in the first match, you need to sit the fuck down and have a conversation with Aja for a while. Here, they just kinda did...stuff...until they deemed it fit to switch roles. The transitions pretty much consisted of either ASARI kicking Candy or Candy running up the ropes and hitting a dropkick (which, posterity and gentility forces me to point out, took WAY TOO LONG to set up; every time they did the spot ASARI would just kinda stand there with a dumb look on her face while Candy turned around). And of course since they weren't doing anything in particular, there wasn't really any selling - and I'm talking ANY selling; they'd both be jumping up after minute-long caballo variations to go on offense.
The only reason to even watch this match in my estimation would be if you haven't seen either of ASARI's signature spots, namely the Londart Kick (handspring, another handspring, and while flying back do a dropkick. It really does look cool, and she did it well) and the Skytwister Press, which for once she doesn't seem to botch from here to consarnity. And really, they were just TLC spots; you could tell the match didn't have another function other than to show off what she could do in the air. And worse yet, this was a title match, so it's not like there was any absence of preordained structure; just have Candy get the better of ASARI on the mat (again facilitated by ASARI being ridiculously bendy - at one point Candy had a half-crab on her where she was almost kicking herself in the back of the head) at the WRESTLING, seeing as how she was the champ, and have ASARI gut it out and hit the Skytwister for the end. Maybe then the match would have been something worth seeing. As it was, this was absolutely nothing. 1/2*
3. Kaoru Ito vs. Noriko Tsunoda This is a shootboxing match, and HOLY CRAP IS THAT ACTUALLY KAORU ITO? Jesus, she looks like she's got like a third of her current weight and muscle-mass. Guess someone found out about Steak and Shrimp Night at Golden Corral.
action, which is a Good Thing, but it's not exactly what anyone should
call Good Boxing. Both Ito and Tsunoda are just kinda flailing (although
Tsunoda lands a couple of urakens, which surprises ME at any rate). Toward
the end, Ito starts landing a few solid blows to Tsunoda's face, but if
I were judging on points it'd have to go to Tsunoda; her offense felt
more controlled compared to Ito's flurries, and it's not like she didn't
stick Ito in the face a whole bunch.
I dunno. With just about ever Golden Age AJW show, you're going to get a shootboxing match - presumably to help out with the legitimizing the women workers in the eyes of the men. It's just that not infrequently, they eat butt. This ate butt.
4. Jaguar Yokota/Lady Apache vs. Felina/Mariko Yoshida Christ, Yoshida looks weird with that Gigantic Blue Pillbox hat. I mean CHRIST. And Felina looks like a Christina Aguilera backup dancer from hell in that getup.
Ah, screw you, you'll see what I mean eventually.
The match itself is this very weird...thing. It's certainly not bad; in a lot of ways it's cathartic; it's as over-stylized as the shootboxing match was oooooglay, and for the most part it's as crisp as the ASARI/Candy match was pedestrian. But midway through, it just sort of degenerates into this sort of weird hybrid of lucha libre (an obvious nod to Felina and Apache, both of whom work in AAA to this day IMSMR) with everyone doing a multi-part dive sequence and deciding to not tag in and synchronized all-sorts-of-stuff. And it's perfectly fun, but it's just...off.
The first part of the match - before they go Lucha Crazy - there's some really interesting stuff going on; in fact I kind of like that there's two distinct parts of this match (Yoshida and Jaguar going Old School Zenjo being part one, Apache and Felina doing this highly lucha-flavored Zenjo style being part two). The ultimate result of all of it is just a good old-fashioned workrate joshi spotfest; neither style being represented in the match really builds to anything, but they hit big moves and space them out so that they don't feel gratuitous. And the moves are at times really state-of-the-art; I, for one, marked out like a CHILD when I saw Yokota do Excalibur's Tiger Driver '98 a full six years before he did. Mostly, though, it works in this context because they execute everything well. Nothing gets blown, until Apache fucks up a bodyscissors after like ten minutes, and everything looks pretty...good. It's just an effective match.
When they DO go to the lucha match, however, it all kinda falls apart; Yoshida and Yokota are as versatile a pair of joshi workers as to ever come down the pipe, but back in the nine-five Yoshida was too young to keep up and Yokota was too old. They seem to work best at matches centered around build, so naturally when the lucha match comes along and basically it's just everyone showing off (especially Apache, who suddenly seemed to be doing the whole thing where she leapfrogs one wrestler and dropkicks another a WHOLE lot), well, you know what happens.
The lucha match is also frustrating because it denies the world the chance to see Yokota and Yoshida RIP IT UP like they were doing for a second. I'm not positive if they had a feud, or even any prior history (although with Yokota it's usually wise to assume that there's a trainer/trainee thing going on, as she's the Best Trainer in the History of Wrestling and trained essentially everyone good. But I'm not sure if she trained Yoshida.), but there was a palpable fire behind all their moves - so palpable, in fact, that it almost made it not matter that they weren't really building to anything. Yoshida would just tag in, stomp the crap out of Yokota, get the crap stomped out of her, and then in come the AAA ladies.
I dunno. Like I said up top, this is Perfectly Fun Wrestling, and I'm more than satisfied with what I got. It's not even offensive; it's just that you get the feeling that they could have done something more than a masturbatory spotfest. But hey, I just saw the world's most boring shootboxing match, so I'm a happy camper. **1/2
5. UWA Tag Titles Match: Etsuko Mita/Mima Shimoda vs. Suzuka Minami/Tomoko Watanabe Those of you wondering precisely how stacked AJW was at this time, consider this: this match comes two hours into the show, is a title match, features one of the most important joshi tag teams of the 1990s if not EVER in the LCO (Mita & Shimoda), is QUITE good...and there's still FIVE matches left. Try THAT on for size.
As with the first match, it's kinda weird seeing this AFTER seeing all the contemporary LCO stuff that I've seen. They've gained the reputation from being VERY MUCH in possession of "the LCO match" - i.e. get in, chairshots, Mima bleeds, double teams, near-fall extravaganza, and bring it home. This match, then was arguably the first time I've ever seen them carry a match in such a way that deviated big-time from their match (which is less a note of surprise than a grudging admission of how little joshi I've actually watched).
The match, you see, centered around the fallacy that since these were tag team titles being defended, they should obviously go to the superior team working as a unit, which if I had to guess is probably why they had the LCO, clad in matching outfits and looking All Kinds of Hot, face off against Watanabe (in an outfit that looks like she dived into an alpaca) and Minami (looking like the progeny of Giant Silva and the long-lost sister of Joey Ramone). From the opening bell, then, it's all about teamwork, and the LCO dominates thanks to their mastery of it - both offensively (i.e. their Cavalcade of Doubleteams) and defensively (tagging in and out to keep the fresh woman in). The challengers, of course, essentially split up, with Minami staying in the ring for an awful long time. In fact, the only way this match even stays competitive is through Watanabe and Minami getting together to start wrestling like a team after a *very* long period of Minami getting her ass beat. From that point forward, it's just a full-on sprint to the finish - nearfalls, reversals, and MID-90s MIDCARD ZENJO FIREWORKS. N'joy it.
What makes this match a million times more interesting is how multilayered it is, because on top of all that goodness about Working As A Team and such, you get plenty of substories - most notably the whole totem-pole story where Watanabe's on top and Minami's on the bottom, but unlike in most totem pole stories where the person rising (in this case Minami) gains stature by inflicting a beating, here she goes up the ladder thanks to her resiliency, as toward the end she's eaten wagonloads of LCO Deth and she's STILL able to dish out high-angle powerbombs to Mita. There's also the story of Mita finally building toward the DVD once Watanabe and Minami start working as a team, a cool inversion of the earlier psych and a continuation of the totem-pole story since Mita eventually uses it to remind Minami that she was/is/always will be dead last in this match.
But here's the thing about this match. You may have noticed that reading the last three paragraphs was kinda boring. That's my fault - well, it is and it isn't. See, this match was technically good, it had multiple layers, the selling was consistent if not spectacular, it flowed really well, it was dramatic...but it just wasn't exciting like a good match should be. Wrestling as art should have something to say; all this really said was "Look at what we can do". It was textbook wrestling, but I'll read something more involving any day of the week, even if it's not even in the same league in terms of quality.
I think the big contributing factor there was just how cut-and-dried it felt. The thing about the LCO's that's always bothered me is how...superficial they feel to me. I mean, as far as heel acts go, they've got all the mannerisms and moves down pat; all they need are opponents with nuts to kick and they'd have all the tools to work as heels anywhere. But everything they do, it's so...obvious. There's no pleasure in discovering the layers of their matches, because they're all right there. Even stuff that seems subtle, like this match's story about the need for teamwork...it's intellectually satisfying to get it, but there's no challenge; the LCO does tag-team moves out the wazoo - hell, they friggin' DRESS alike just in case you don't get it. Stack them up next to the Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue), for instance - a team centered BIG-TIME around their intercompatibility - you get the feeling that you're comparing an onion (as the HDA's teamwork is subsumed by layers of shared character traits and moves) to a pond full of lily-pads (since the LCO doesn't really bury anything). (Holy crap, I think I'm the first person in the history of time to compare wrestlers to lily-pads.)
All of which is basically me straining to do some explaining as to why I found this particular ***1/4 match not too exciting. It's certainly good, it's definitely accessible, and it's not without depth...it's just that well, for me, a big part of the fun is in trying. Your mileage may vary, of course.
6. Sakie Hasegawa vs. Bison Kimura And all of a sudden I'm a big fan of Bison Kimura :)
As you may or may not have noticed, transitions are important to me. And while my specific views on what make a good transition differ from like %99 of the rest of the world, basically it all comes down to one key question: Does this transition make logical sense given what the match is doing?
The last match, for instance, had Minami finally go on offense toward the end of the match following Watanabe's breaking up of a LCO pin attempt, and saw her hit all of her high-impact offense, notably the high-angle powerbomb. I could argue that as being a good transition, talking about how it's rooted in the story of the match being all about how important it is for tag teams to be on the same page - but I could just as easily call it bad, pointing out that it's kinda silly for her partner's interference to suddenly revive her to the point where within a minute she goes from very nearly getting pinned to throwing around high-angle powerbombs.
Here, however, the transitions are very subtle, and it's all thanks to Bison Kimura. The key, I think, lies in her ultra-simple moveset - or at least ultra-simple in terms of this match. Her offense is almost entirely composed of strikes, usually either wicked chops to the chest or some nice right crosses, and while on the surface that would seem like it would make for boring transitions, in reality it makes for very, very intense, nuanced ones - if the moves are that simple, SOMEONE has to make them count.
THAT is why I enjoyed the bejesus out of Kimura's performance here; basically she found a whole bunch of ways to make strikes individually exciting. Sometimes, for instance, she'll scream bloody murder; sometimes she'll REALLY uncork on Hasegawa; sometimes she'll get in a little flurry. Fundamentally, all of these are the same move, but thanks to her attention to detail, they make individual moments of a match stand out - like when she's just dumped a row of chairs over on Hasegawa and just starts drilling her with rights, or when she's standing in the ring after just beating the bejesus out of Hasegawa for like five or six straight minutes and starts chopping her chest in this very un-Flair, unfamiliar way.
Then of course there's also how intelligent it is in terms of "tiered" movesets. One of the things that AJW's famous for is having a whooooooole lot of moves come out of it - Jaguar Yokota invented like a squillion moves, Etsuko Mita invented the Death Valley Driver IMSMR, Toyota came up with all sorts of crazy crap, the list goes on and on. The problem, then, is when the sheer volume of moves starts to overwhelm the match. That's why people tend to complain about the so-called "workrate joshi" of the time, saying that not infrequently - especially with Toyota - matches are no more than the sum of their moves, since moves that should have been finishers would frequently get treated as nothing more than mid-match stuff to pop the crowd.
By going with such a stripped-down moveset - and again, I have no idea if this is Kimura's actual moveset, being the Joshitard that I am - and forcing herself to add texture, Kimura arguably amplifies her versatility; she's in total control of how the move comes across. In contrast, you've got the moveset of Sakie Hasegawa, which once they get up from the mat in the first three or four minutes consists almost entirely of spinning solebutts or WIIIIIIIIIICKED Exploders. All fine and good; juniors throw solebutts around all the time, and by this point Jun Akiyama has desensitized me to Exploders to the point of apathy...but in the context of this match, they just don't fit. Given the movesets that have been displayed so far, these moves seem very out of place; they feel like high-end moves being done out of nowhere following up a series of what could be interpreted as early-match strikes (translation: too much, too soon). It also has the distinct effect of throwing off any build to the finish that was coming; the match ends on a Hasegawa running solebutt out of NOWHERE...which makes SENSE I GUESS because it's a high-end move in terms of what gets thrown around in the match...but really doesn't, because of the fact that she'd been using plenty of similar moves - hell, moves which she'd done more effectively minutes ago! - within very recent history.
So the $64,000 question is whose fault is it? Obviously, the blame's gotta fall on Hasegawa; she took a perfectly serviceable brawl and injected needless flashy wrestling into it. And judging by how Kimura manipulates her moveset, you've gotta believe that she was able to adapt, which is code for "Hasegawa couldn't adapt". And her inability to keep up is really all that keeps this match from ***1/2; she downright chokes the flow to death with her admittedly awesome exploders, and that's enough for me to dock the half-star. But Bison Kimura made a fan today. ***
7. Toshiyo Yamada vs. Takako Inoue vs. Reggie Bennett Oh WORD, they do this in the Best Possible Way, which is to have three separate singles matches. I WEEP WITH JOY, despite knowing that I'll have to see Reggie Bennett twice.
a. Toshiyo Yamada vs. Takako Inoue On paper, this is the best match on the card so far. Of course, paper and practice are two entirely different things; Inoue - one of the most highly-regarded AJW workers of the time - seems hell-bent to hit ALL her spots despite whatever Yamada has planned. At one point, I swear to god, Yamada - a woman whose offense is LARGELY made up of wicked kicks - comes off the top rope with a diving back brain kick. It looked QUITE sick, and I figured it would have made a Perfectly Acceptable finish - or at least significant part of the build to the finish. But Inoue has other plans; she doesn't even drop to her knees before swooping in to snag Yamada in a leg grapevine. And it's not like that's the only example; there's probably four examples that just aren't quite that egregious waiting for someone to pick them out when it's not 2:25 AM :)
Aside from selling, the match is also paced very badly; they're hitting GIANT moves right out of the gate and they never look back. I mean, Inoue gets a (horrible) top-rope nodowa otoshi within like the first two minutes, AFTER Yamada's already broken out a German suplex and a BEEEEEEASTLY front chancery. Again, I think it's just a case of the wrestlers wanting to show off; I will say that with the exception of her nodowas, Inoue's execution is pretty unilaterally great. But hell, if I want a spotfest, I've got hours and hours of unwatched MPro; this is Toshiyo Yamada - one of the few joshi workers who I've seen a diverse few matches of - and Takako Inoue. I want SUBSTANCE. **1/4
b. Takako Inoue vs. Reggie "You're not gonna finish them cloves, are ya?" Bennett OH SWEET HEAVENLY GOD, this is the greatest thing ever (albeit in a very this-match-really-massages-donkey-choad kind of way). As a match, it sucks; I think it goes like four minutes, and it's ALLLLL Reggie Bennett - the woman who looks like she ate Martha Dumptruck. This is not a Good Thing, because basically all it means is Torture Racks, Splashes, and A Few Random Things. And ironically, Yamada sells more for Bennett - the woman who makes you wonder if that goth chick from your eighth grade art class discovered a love for stuffing - than she ever did for Yamada. Wrestling-wise, the best thing here is one pretty-good lariat...ish...thing that Bennett does toward the end.
And yet this is still the reason I got into reviewing tapes at the same time. There is SO MUCH RIDICULOUS STUFF on here that it will make your head hurt. You cannot imagine, for instance, how amusing it is to see Reggie Bennett - the woman who finds unopened packs of Oscar Meyer Turkey Sausage hidden in the folds of her backfat - do a "running" frogsplash; she just sorta flails and lands. Nor can you really imagine a *bad* torture rack, but yep, there you go. And of course the KING-MAKING, WORLD-BEATING, LORD AND MASTER OF YOUR MOTHER moment - the moment that had me rewinding twice and still has me laughing as I punch the keyboard - would be Reggie Bennett - the woman who gets letters stuffed in her mouth when she wears red and blue and sits down on the curb - doing a diving splash off the second rope. I mean, that's funny enough by itself, but when first, as she dives, either the ref or the announcer or the color guy screams a very concerned "AAAARGH!" and then second - GOD ALMIGHTY, second - after she lands when the announcer says INTO THE MICROPHONE - and this is a direct quote - "JEEEEEEEEESUSUH CHRIST!" in a voice full of wonder, well, you are watching the Lord's work be done. Greatest Thing in the History of Time. 3/4*
Note to self: Your new mantra is "I am not Dean Rasmussen". BE IT. BE IN THE RING.
c. Toshiyo Yamada vs. Reggie "God made dirt, and dirt don't hurt. God also made pie." Bennett Well, obviously there's no way that this can compare to the last match's snot-rocketting hi-larity, but as a match this really isn't all that bad. It's the culmination of all the spots they've had so far - Yamada's diving back brain kick, Bennett's splashes and racks, Inoue's use of power moves to win, all that kind of thing - and it's all based around the concepts that (a) Yamada's vulnerable to power moves, and (b) Yamada's going to have to pull something off BIG to beat Bennett. Naturally, they make (b) into a red herring; Yamada repeatedly goes for either the Gory Special or the Kudoh Driver but SHOCKINGLY fails to get the elephantine Bennett in position every time - yet this is sufficient to trick Bennett into believing that the finish is going to come from some ludircrously impossible move, leaving her open for a flash rollup.
And you gotta love how Yamada sells like death for Reggie. Reggie's offense looks like TOTAL crap here; I mean, at least in the last match she had that one lariat/shotay/whatever. Here she has NOTHING. Her torture racks look ludicrous here; she doesn't even try to bend Yamada once she gets her in position, just sort of holds her sideways. But Yamada, trooperess to the end, fights like crazy to get out of it; she weakly gets to her feet whenever Bennett hits her with a big move, and she screams bloody murder whenever she's taking a beating. Effective, simple, and it makes Bennett look like a monster, which I guess was the point - give Yamada the rub before putting her over. *
d. Toshiyo Yamada vs. Takako Inoue Odd, I always thought that the Japanese three-way was three singles matches. Nevertheless, I won't complain about the prospect of these two wrestling again, especially when the quality is SO much higher. Here, for instance, Inoue goes back to a theme she sorta touched on in the first match - working over Yamada's leg, ostensibly to neutralize the kicks although Inoue didn't put them over any differently - with a VENGANCE, attacking Yamada's leg like a shark who smells blood. Similarly, Yamada is trying to sprint to her finisher - not, in actuality either a Kudoh Driver or a Gory Special, but a bridged back suplex thing - which has already been put over as death by Bennett, the woman who beat Inoue in the first place (and is also really fat). So basically the match becomes a focused sprint: whose strategy will pay off first?
Well, that's the theory, anyway. About 2/3rds of the way through, Inoue drops the leg for a few moves, and the match never really recovers; it goes back to Two Women Doing Spots Theater in a heartbeat. Really, Yamada's selling is the only thing keeping this match semi-on track; the flow of the match is such that it only makes sense for her to use her kicks a lot, which she compensates for by staggering around a lot after hitting one. And for her part, Inoue does a workman's job of keeping away from Yamada's finisher; early on she establishes that she could feasibly counter it with an Electric Chair suplex (possibly a throwback to another match? Christ I need more AJW), planting the seed for the notion that this match will end in precisely that fashion.
But really, what they're saving isn't all that great to begin with. It's just a sprint match, and I don't think it goes ten minutes; I still think that there's an actual Good Match out there between these two, and I *will* find it, but this was just there. Not as there as their first match in this series, but there nonetheless. **
Overall this wasn't really anything you need to see. But for the record, that Bennett/Inoue match made me laugh in great festive peals. Take that as you will.
Right. Gotta break this up into two parts for the last three matches. Click here for part two.
All content contained herein is © & ® by the author.
Website designed by James Cobo, © 2002. And c'mon, if I can do something this simple, there's really no reason for you to copy it. But just in case, don't. At least without permission.