When you strip it down to its bare bones, Maki Itoh’s journey through the world of wrestling has been a desperate quest for acceptance. She entered this weird and wonderful form of entertainment feeling like idol had rejected her, chewing her up and spitting her out. To recover, she sought to prove herself in a different medium, one that bore similarities but allowed Itoh to be a lot more, well, Itoh.
It’s a journey that has been a struggle but reached some sense of catharsis when she won the International Princess Title back in October. After that long fight, Itoh had hit a point where she was able to go against a respected wrestler in Yuna Manase, and come out victorious, proving that not only did she belong, but she could be one of the best. In a perfect world, that would have been the end of the film. Itoh would have stood in the centre of the ring, confetti pouring down around her as the credits rolled. Unfortunately, wrestling, by its very nature, doesn’t have endings. You win the belt, and the next challenge is to defend it.
And to begin with, Itoh did that well. She put away Nightshade, a wrestler much bigger than her who she was undoubtedly the underdog against. Then, on January 4th a year removed from her soul-crushing defeat to Miyu Yamashita in Korakuen Hall, Itoh was able to take back a bit of pride, defeating Hikari Noa in a match where she not only came in as champion but as the favourite. She was the more experienced wrestler, and while Noa gave her a fight, Itoh looked the bigger star.
Unfortunately, after that match was done, there was a larger fish ready to swallow her up.
Thunder Rosa is not only a fantastic wrestler, but she’s someone who has the acceptance (at least on the surface) that Maki so desperately craves. She carries herself like a winner, the Day of the Dead inspired face paint striking fear into her opponents. On top of that, she’s wrestled all around the world, a goal that Itoh set herself when she won the title. In many ways, Rosa is everything Itoh wants to be, and before Maki could even celebrate her January 4th victory, she was standing across from her, issuing a challenge.
Of course, it was a challenge that Itoh was always going to accept. Not only did she accept it, but she demanded it happen the next day. Maki Itoh is the kind of person who can’t say no to a fight, even when it would probably be better for her to do so. Emotions catch her up, and she finds herself bursting into tears or screaming in someone’s face, all common sense removed as the very act of asking for a match strikes her as someone questioning her abilities.
And, when it happened, Itoh lost. Not only did she lose, but she lost badly. All the heart in the world couldn’t combat the power and experience of Thunder Rosa. At one point, Itoh pulled herself to her feet using the ropes, staggering forward in an attempt to continue the fight only for her legs to collapse out from underneath her. Rosa, meanwhile, mocked her, calling her a little girl and suggesting she wasn’t worthy to be champion. In fifteen minutes, the confidence that had flown into Itoh since October was ripped out of her. She was no longer the victorious champion standing in Korakuen Hall but was back to being the kid who wasn’t good enough.
What was more interesting, though, was Maki’s post-match interview. With tears flowing down her face, she didn’t give up or make excuses but instead vowed to win it back. She claimed that ‘all Itoh has to do is quit being a quitter’, before saying she would make that belt synonymous with her. She even hoped that Rosa would do well with it in America so that when she won it back, it would be more widely known. Maki Itoh’s first hint of acceptance had been taken away from her, but she wasn’t about to give up. Instead, she promised to fight harder, and that’s a much more exciting story than a confetti filled ring.
If you want a fantastic in-depth look at the trials and tribulations of Maki Itoh, I’d recommend checking out The Miracle Apricot Podcast’s episode on her, which does it a lot better than I ever could.
Watch Tokyo Joshi Pro: https://www.ddtpro.com/universe/videos?teamId=tjpw