Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
Queendom III 3/26/95 Continued
8. Yumiko Hotta vs. Lioness Asaka (UFC Rules) Those of you who know me will laugh at this, but I actually went to a really bad middle school. And I don't mean "The computer lab only had Tandy computers" - although it did - I'm talking about BAD. Seventh-grade girls skipping class to suck two guys' dicks in the bathroom, kids getting kicked out for selling pot and sneaking back in to SELL MORE POT, boys defacing the teacher's lounge bathroom mirror with semen, that kind of thing. One class - my sixth grade Geography class, IMSMR - went through like four teachers over the course of the year, with two of them leaving for fear of a nervous breakdown.
But what I mostly remember were the fights. Oh MAN did I ever see some fights; at my school it was pretty hard to NOT see fights. One day, we had seven fights on my hall...during first period. And these weren't just two-nervous-kids-circling-each-other-until-someone-breaks-it-up kinda deals either - these were fucking BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER fights that teachers were afraid to break up because of the overwhelming precedent of whoever breaks up the fight takes a couple of shots themselves. People would lose TEETH.
And that was just the guys' fights. Those didn't hold a CANDLE to the girls' fights.
I remember eating lunch one day in the cafeteria and this fucking BRAWL started like two rows over. These two girls were screaming, clawing, ripping, basically trying to fuck each other up permanently. My mom actually taught at the school a few years before I went there and was privy to the principal enacting the rule that girls weren't allowed to wear big-ass hoop earrings, because when they'd get in a fight, they'd RIP THEM OUT OF EACH OTHER'S EAR.
So I think unlike a lot of people whose comments I've read about this match - and it's a pretty famous match, too - I didn't go in totally oblivious to the fact that when girls fight, they tend to do it WAY more seriously than guys. It's like the observation JDW made about brothers wrestling - all of that sibling rivalry erupts into the most violent fights you'll ever see. Well women may not have sibling rivalry, but they've got their own societal pressures to deal with, and when it comes out, watching it's like lashing yourself to a post to watch the hurricane destroy the town.
And yet, even in possession of that knowledge, I think it's fair to say that this may well be the most brutally violent match I've ever seen. True, unlike a lot of people I don't necessarily go out looking for hardcore "wrestling", so I don't have a rubric topped by people hitting each other with cactuses and whatnot. But I have seen some ridiculously violent matches, and I can safely say that this tops them all.
This match - which goes probably a little over seventeen minutes if I had to guess - doesn't have a single pulled punch. No, wait, fuck that - from the very opening BELL they just uncork on each other, to the point where Hotta's mouth is leaking blood within the first two minutes. The very first move of the match is Asuka diving into the guard and just WAILING away with some of the sickest punches I've ever seen, and it only gets more ridiculously violent from there as they just start kicking, punching, headbutting, kneeing, swinging, WAILING on each others' faces. Seriously, at least ten times during the course of this match one of the two would land such a hellish strike that I had no choice but to murmer "Christ alMIGHTy!" to myself.
But once you get beyond that, there's an actual match here, too. It's actually pretty interesting; structurally, this match is as wild a spotfest as any I've ever seen, except instead of the spots being graceful aerial maneuvers, they're brutal kicks and submission attempts so wicked-looking you're surprised that limbs aren't falling off. And it is kinda disturbing how the moves get sold; at one point early on Asuka's got Hotta in a legbar, hanging over the side of the ring, and when Hotta finally gets out, she just starts walking around.
What holds the match together and deemphasizes flaws like that - hell, it integrates flaws like that - is the central purpose of the match: to prove that being a woman has nothing to do with how much punishment you can take or dish out. The match isn't held under UFC rules (i.e. standing ten-counts, no rope-breaks or pinfalls) for nothing; the stipulation forces the two women to fight. Nothing more, nothing less - just a fuckin' fight. The drama in the match, then, starts by playing off the audience's prejudices regarding the expectations of women, but by the time it winds up, the beating's been so intense that gender issues have gone out the window. Make no mistake: unlike a lot of the workrate joshi where you can just sit back and marvel at the amazing match being put on, this match forces the viewer - especially the male viewer - to acknowledge that he has some fundamental prejudices. Me, I was raised in the south, and despite the fact that I was raised to be a very liberal person, the south as an incubator just has some baggage which just gets transferred onto you. It's subtle, of course - I'm not saying that when you cross the Mason-Dixon line all women are barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen; rather that in my hometown there were still cotillions and such - but it's there. So when I saw these two women just tearing into each other, just like back in middle school, it's a big, big shock. And by the time the bell rang, I was more worn out by the spectacle than I was astounded at the gender of the combatants.
It's no accident, then, that this match took place on an AJW show rather than a shootfighting show; it's literally the women transcending the expectations of their gender, not an insignificant consideration in the male-dominated world of pro wrestling (for christ's sakes, AJW was run by the Matsunaga brothers). But the venue then creates a whole new set of expectations: in addition to whatever the match wants to be, it's got to be a good wrestling match as well. And fortunately, thanks to the absolutely masterful performance put on by Asuka, it's all that and more.
The story of the wrestling match occurring here isn't an unfamiliar archetype to the world of pro wrestling - it's another dialectic between the world of shootfighting and the world of professional wrestling. It's just that it's pretty hard to pull off the story correctly; if a match gets too realistic, it usually devolves into a lame shootstyle match, but if it gets too stylized, the dialectic is lost. Here, it falls upon Asuka not just to walk the line, but to bring along Hotta, a good wrestler who requires a great deal of direction in order to get something TRULY great (those who seek proof need look no further than Hotta's meandering 52-minute streetfight with Kaoru Ito from last May). The way she does it reminded me a lot of the way Ultimo Dragon worked with Rey Misterio Jr. in their match at World War III '96 - a match which I rewatched recently and liked a WHOLE lot more - namely by staying in control and allowing Hotta up every so often for a vicious flurry of strikes, or a brutal kick to the head. They incorporate pro wrestling gradually; Asuka sets the course of the match to key on strikes early, and then eventually allow Hotta to attempt a Tiger Driver - which she then runs like hell from. It's not insignificant that the move Asuka's so afraid of is a powerbomb variation, nor is it insignificant that the pro-wrestling move SHE builds to is executed by grabbing Hotta's thighs rather than her waist; in doing so, they're playing up the aesthetics of the move first and foremost, making sure that everyone sees that it's the embellishment of the move that makes it more dangerous (as compared to the regular powerbomb, which sometimes happens by chance in actual shootfights). But that's just the obvious way the story is told. There's also an undercurrent of no-selling moves that would be instant death in an actual shootfight - such as the aforementioned Dangling Hotta Legbar, or the rear naked choke later on. And it's there where Asuka's genius becomes so evident: she knows that Hotta's not the best seller in the world, so she gives the match a structure which not only enables Hotta to no-sell moves which would be ludicrously important in a traditional match, but in fact demands it.
I'm having an honest-to-goodness struggle trying to find things to critique in this match; I suppose that one of its biggest strengths - its simplicity - could be percieved as a weakness, since if a viewer isn't able to hook into the concept that you're supposed to be shocked that these are women beating the shit out each other in the beginning, he or she is probably going to be really put off by this match. It's also viable to complain about the match's length; to me it did feel like they could have expanded on the build to the pro-style moves rather than just have Hotta try for one every so often had they been given, say, five more minutes. But I don't really want to find fault here; this match had so much to say, both in political terms and in wrestling terms, that the flaws only magnify how great the whole is. I will say that as a match it doesn't feel as big as a lot of the Greatest Match of All Time candidates, like 6/9/95 or Hokuto/Kandori or the first Cibernetico. But it's got so much meat and so little fat that failing to recognize it as a great fucking match seems downright imposible. ****1/2
9. Bull Nakano vs. Kyoko Inoue (WWF Women's Title Match) And we move from stunning simplicity to the workrate joshi equivalent of The Great Stroke-Off. Whereas the biggest spots in the last match was either a straightjacket powerbomb or a tiger driver, here you get lariats, Bull falling from the top rope to the floor, Inoue doing a run-across-the-arena lariat, and Inoue doing a jumping back elbow off the guardrail - all high-end spots - in the first five minutes of the match. I'm certainly not saying that it's not aesthetically pleasing to watch - moves like Bull's somersault legdrop are flashy for a reason - but as a wrestling match, especially one following up a GREAT wrestling match, it just plain sucks.
I honestly don't think I could point to a single part of the match and say "That's a well-planned exchange", mostly because it's arguable that there really isn't an "exchange" at any point in the match. Spots come flying at you at a breathtaking clip, but blink and you'll miss a transition - they aren't rooted in any internal match logic, just opportunistically thrown in whenever it seems like it would pop the crowd. And that's all well and good for an indy undercard match, but you get the point here.
I put most of the blame on Inoue, who seemed here like she had absolutely no sense of pacing whatsoever. The opening of the match: she charges at Bull with a lariat, Bull ducks and gives Inoue a lariat, Inoue gets up, runs forward, and leans into another Bull lariat. Nitpicky? Yes. But it makes the move look a lot more deadly - a lot, like Nakano was trying to force Inoue into selling it with a somersault. It's a perfect summation of the whole match, because like I keep saying, everything looks cool, but after a while you get sick of the gymnastics.
I won't even get into how badly they kill finishers here. I mean, the first move of the match is a move which has been used as a finisher time and time again all over the world, and it's not even good enough here to warrant a second on the ground. The most egregious killing of a finisher, of course, is Inoue taking Bull's diving legdrop finisher about eight or nine minutes into the match and kicking out at one, made even worse by the fact that she'd just been kicking out of a whole bunch of lesser finishers at two. Worse, she did it again later on in the match; I'm kinda surprised she didn't kick out of the somersault legdrop at the rate she was going. To a lesser extent, Bull was doing the same thing by refusing to submit to a bunch of Inoue's wacky submission moves or staying down for the German Suplex (arguably the most built spot in the match), but really they were both at fault; from bell to bell, they pretty much only used moves that would have been quite credible as finishers.
To their credit, as far as the moves go, execution was pretty good; even the more ludicrous spots like Inoue's arena lariat looked fairly convincing once they actually got around to it. But you can't judge a wrestling match just on execution - or at least I can't. I mean, I'd like to think that wrestling is more than the sum of the moves being done. This sure wasn't. **3/4
10. Aja Kong vs. Manami Toyoda As you may have noticed by now, I tend to be most in my element when rambling on and on about the psychosocial implications of a match, trying to "place" it in some sort of literary hierarchy. You also may have inferred that I kinda suck butt at actually finding stuff to talk about when a match is "just a wrestling match". Well, here's a match that's pretty much "just a wrestling match"...but as long as you're not looking for anything in the meta-level, it's pretty great.
I for one thank Aja Kong, who's one of those wrestlers that every time I see one of her matches I immediately start saying "DAAAAAAAAAMN, why don't I ever bring up Aja Kong when I'm talking about the greatest wrestlers in the history of the universe?" Aja's one of those wrestlers who's got so much obvious ring presence that it actually becomes an archetype for her matches. Really, the best contemporary I can think of for her is Vader in his prime; when Leon White hit the ring, he just had such an imposing presence that inevitably, unless both workers were really committed to having a shitty match that day, there would always be an element of "Christ almighty, that guy's a fucking BEAST".
None of this is in any way news to anyone who's ever seen Vader or Aja :) Nor should it be news that what distinguishes the pair from their contemporaries is their willingness to play a far more active role in their matches than simply showing up and being big motherfuckers. What was surprising to me about Aja - and what sets her apart from Vader - is how totally conscious of the match she is at all times. Here, for instance, there's a couple of times when she looks like she's going to hit a move sloppily - notably a piledriver early on which Toyoda sorta kinda leaned up for a little - so she adjusts the move to become something else entirely (in the case of the piledriver, it became a low-release powerbomb).
Moreover, Aja Kong pays attention to the build of the moves in the match. Unlike Bison Kimura - her former tag-team partner - her offense is expansive; she's got suplex variations, powerbomb variations, matwork and shootstyle skills, even highflying moves, and she's not afraid to turn them out early in the match to get the crowd involved. But she doesn't just throw out like a billion brainbusters in a row; she paces herself, hitting a brainbuster here, then stretching the bejesus out of Toyoda on the mat, then picking her up, giving her a simple bodyslam, and WHAM! you've got a nearfall a thousand times more effective than the Look What We Can Do Air Show of the last match ever had. Throughout the match, Aja demonstrates a grasp of basic wrestling logic that escapes an awful lot of people - that a move by itself means nothing.
She's also fully competant of the relationship between moves and her appearance. I've always been of the opinion that Aja Kong as a wrestling opponent is like a wild bear (the real kind, not the Fujiwara kind); she looks big, primal, and out to hurt her opponent, and as a result her moves do too. It's because she's conscious of her appearance that she's able to pull this off; obviously she knows that a piledriver looks more vicious if she - a Giant Ogress of the True Cloth - sits out on it, so she incorporates the spot into her arsenal. Smartly, it's an attitude that she's adopted into her selling strategies, or rather her no-selling strategies. It's like rather than not sell the move a la the Rock wherein he just forgets the damage to jump on offense, she just chooses to overlook it; she still feels the effect of the move, but it comes out in different ways. Early on, for instance, when Toyoda hits a missile dropkick on her and Aja essentially shrugs it off, watch how she attacks with a little more renewed purpose; she's not "selling the move" in the classical sense by showing pain and staggering around, but she's altering the way she wrestles. In the same vein, when Toyoda gets a nearfall by ducking a strike (a uraken? I forget) and hitting a German Suplex for two, Aja selling the move classically by standing a little shakily and failing to have the wherewithal to get her hands up in time to block Toyoda's attack is all the more effective - it's still acknowledging the damage, but simply by showing the effects of the move at this point gets it over BIG.
Now lest you think this is going up simply because it's International Love Aja Kong Goddammit Day, it should be noted that while the match is technically good, it's transparent. There's nothing really innovative here; it's an adaptation of the classic Big Wrestler vs. Little Wrestler storyline, and outside of the Aja Kong show it's really pretty unspectacular. It's not even that it's flawed - most wrestlers should be thrilled to have a match this flawless - it's just that once the match got underway, it became pretty clear how they were going to wrap it up: heel beats on face, face gets in a few flash rollups or surprise moves (it would be right about here that I figured out the formula), heel takes back over control, face stages a gutsy comeback after finally getting a nearfall, and then things are pretty much even until the face hits a big move for the win. None of this is unfamiliar to anyone who's ever watched an episode of WCW TV. Predictability can be a good thing...if you do something with it. This was pretty much by the books, albeit with a then-high end table piledriver spot thrown in for good measure.
Usually in matches where the expectations don't live up to the hype (I've seen this match rated as high as ****1/2) featuring Manami Toyoda, she takes a lot of the blame, and based on what I've seen of her, it's not an unfair practice. Toyoda's spotty as a pair of cheetahs; she's really unafraid to jump right up, ignore loooooooong stretches of body-part-specific work, and hit her spots. Here, though, I wasn't offended by it thanks to my years of conditioning myself to the structure this match took; I mean you can only watch so much Sting before hearing yourself complain about no-selling stuff conjures up images of dead horses (and continuing with the Aja = Vader analogue, there's probably a REALLY apt comparison to be made regarding the Aja/Toyoda series vs. the Flair/Sting series by more learned personages than I). And Aja did a most excellent job of keeping her on a fairly tight leash; when Toyoda dragged out the table, draped Aja on it, and took about fifteen seconds to climb to the top turnbuckle I was groaning like a motherfucker, but Aja getting her feet up in time to block turned my frown upside down. Basically, Toyoda's role was kept pretty simple; she'd hit her big moves to pop the crowd and make it look like she had a chance against the monster. And this being one of the nights when Toyoda's execution was pretty much spot-on across the board, she worked really well in the role.
So why was this match so unfulfilling? Speaking for myself, I can say that coming four months on the heels of their match at the V*TOP tournament (one of my favorite alltime matches, by the way) didn't do this match any favors; that's a really high pole to vault right there. The only discernable concrete difference as far as I can remember is the crowd; for the V*TOP match they were RABID IMSMR, and here they popped for the spots and didn't do much else. Actually, come to think of it, IIRC the V*TOP match had a much more concentrated beatdown section by Kong, which could be a byproduct of that match only being 17 minutes. Come to think of it, that seems as good an answer as any: here, there was too much time, and I was able to pick out the formula much quicker, whereas with the V*TOP match they kept me struggling to match strides with what they were doing (in a good way).
All of that is basically the scenic route of me explaining why I didn't find this ***3/4 match overly fascinating. Pray for your souls when I do become interested by something, I guess :)
Well, outside of the shootboxing match, there's nothing really BAD on this show, just a lot of stuff that looks better on paper. It's an interesting historical document; 1995 was when AJW first started slipping in terms of people just calling it the best fed in the universe as the Japanese wrestling market started to diversify big-time and people found niches they could crawl into. This show, highly regarded by just about everyone, is one of the last AJW cards considered to be must-see shows before the Rage in the Cage show in 1997; the Hotta/Lioness match ranked fifth in the DVDVR Best Joshi Matches of the 90s poll, and the main came in 17th. (and the Nakano/Inoue match recieved votes as well). And at least with the first two, I can't fault them; the UFC Rules match is fucking GREAT and you NEED to see it, and I can certainly appreciate the match that Aja and Toyoda put on, although I can't love it like I do some other ones. And fuck, if you're into individual performances, there's plenty on here; Yokota, Yoshida, Felina, Bison, and Yamada put in exceedingly worthwhile performances in matches that weren't quite as exemplary. Worst comes to worst, laugh at the "Jeeeeeeeesus Christo" call :)
But as a caveat, this card really did look a lot better on paper. When it flounders, it flounders spectacularly; matches that aren't so great devolve into brainless spot-a-thons at the drop of a hat, and things aren't afraid to get really irritating. And outside of the UFC Rules match, I wouldn't say anything here is must-see stuff.
Nevertheless, this is a solid card with a really good main event and a jaw-dropping Festival of Brutality, so I can't help but reccomend it. Just don't go in expecting the kind of world-beating show that I did, and you'll be cool.
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