I’ve decided I’m not quite done with saying goodbye to Arisa Hoshiki. Having already said my thanks, I now want one more chance to sit back and appreciate her, and if I’m going to do that, there is only one match that I’m going to watch. Tam vs Arisa might not be one of Meltzer’s Classics, but it is a Stuart Classic, and while that lacks the SEO benefits, it’s just as big an honour.
The month before this Arisa had dethroned Momo Watanabe, ending a record-breaking run with the Wonder of Stardom Title. With the belt in her hand, there was only ever one person who could step up to be her first challenger, enter Tam.
And while this was a title match, it was never about that. This was all about Tam’s insecurities. To understand that, you have to remember Tam being dropped from Oedo Tai, kicked out not because it was anyone’s choice, but because of a stipulation that Kagetsu couldn’t stop herself accepting. Then, when she was at her lowest, Mayu Iwatani appeared, dragging her up and standing her by her side. Mayu became her hero and her best friend wrapped into one, so when Arisa Hoshiki, a former partner of Mayu’s, returned and took her place back at Iwatani’s side, Tam could never view her as a new friend, but only as a rival.
It was a rivalry almost made worse by the fact that Arisa didn’t seem to understand that it was one. She wanted nothing more than to be friends with Tam, greeting her with hugs and desperately trying to win her affection. The more Tam pushed her away, the harder Arisa tried, and in turn, the more suspicious Nakano was. She couldn’t bring herself to accept that this smiley kicker wanted to be her best friend. So, when Arisa won a title, it was only natural that Tam would step-up, demanding the chance to take it from her. As they both said in their pre-match interviews, they had never been very good at communicating, so they were going to do it in the ring.
The actual match starts slow with both women stood in their corners, staring each other down. There is a feeling out period, during which Tam goes after Arisa’s leg in an attempt to take out her biggest weapon. It’s not a game-plan that lasts long, though. When they start trading strikes, you get the impression that the emotion takes over, Tam slapping Arisa across the face in response to her forearms.
That’s the moment the tap opens and from there this feels like two wrestlers purging their frustrations. They take every opportunity to lay a strike in, delivering two where just one might suffice. Tam, in particular, is ruthless, kicking Arisa around the head again and again. It’s like she wants to draw the hate out of her, to turn her into the enemy that she believes she is.
Arisa takes that beating like a champ. She is kicked, dropped on her head and has more than one moment where it would have been the easiest thing in the world to stay down, but she refuses. Then, when the time comes, she dishes out everything Tam gave her and more, knees and feet crashing in, showing that she can be as violent and stiff as her opponent.
It’s an onslaught that leaves them both lying on the ground, Arisa reaching out for Tam’s hand, pulling her in, not to go all NXT and ponder how violent they are, but so that she can hit her again. They drag each other to their feet, exchanging blows until Tam takes control, kicking Arisa ruthlessly, but unable to kill her. Hoshiki has one last throw of the dice, two of the most brutal knees you’ll ever see and that beautiful Brazilian Kick for good measure. Tam is actually still standing when it hits, but she’s dead on her feet, all Arisa has to do is bundle her to the floor for the three.
What happens next is a big reason this match lingers. After Tam has unleashed all that frustration and anger, she pulls herself up and sees Arisa sitting there, her hand outstretched. Rather than reaching for it, she lunges forward, grabbing Arisa’s face, almost as if she’s shocked to see her still there. What she said as she held her, I don’t know, but it felt like the moment where she realised Hoshiki was for real. If she could sit there and offer Tam her hand after going to war, then maybe they could be friends after all.
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