AJW Throwback: AJW Classics Episode 20 Review

Sad goodbyes.

I’m not sure I’ve ever kept up one of these wee projects for as long as this. The ROH one was barely out the blocks before the racism and homophobia had me banging my head against a wall, and while I’m planning on continuing my run through Stardom, it’s been a little bit stop-start. Then again, not everything is cherry-picked AJW, which does make it a little bit easier. Episode 20 was filmed over two shows in 1987, the first taking place on the 16th of June in Okinawa and the second on the 28th in Korakuen. Let’s get into it!

Dump Matsumoto defeated Condor Saito in a Grand Prix League match (13/6/87)

If Saito was hopeful that her hard work helping Bull and Dump to beat the shit out of the rest of the AJW roster would convince the boss lady to go easy on her, she was mistaken. It didn’t take long for Matsumoto to get stabby, grabbing a fork and leaving Condor’s face coated in blood. Dump didn’t have things all her own way, though. It seemed Gokuaku Domei was split as to who they were choosing to support, part of the team coming to Saito’s aid and part Dump’s. With the help of, among others, the young Aja Kong, Saito was able to get revenge, drawing some blood of her own as a somewhat familiar metal bin made a dent in Matsumoto’s head.

The brawling aspect of this match was fun as, by now, Dump and co have that nailed. On top of that, there is always pleasure in seeing Dump get a taste of her own medicine, and Saito made for a solid underdog. Unfortunately, she’s also a step down from the standard of wrestler that we’re used to seeing Dump go to war with (which is no insult, those wrestlers are some of the greatest of all time). She worked hard, and the interference helped to hide her weaknesses, but with a quiet crowd choosing not to root for either heel, this ultimately fell a bit short.

Verdict: It Had Its Moments

Lioness Asuka defeated Chigusa Nagayo in a Grand Prix League match (13/6/87)

The first proper move in this match was Asuka hitting Chigusa with a Brainbuster on the floor. Chig, of course, shrugged that off to avoid the dive Asuka had followed it up with. People who claim that wrestlers back in the day were more interested in selling and putting over moves weren’t watching Crush Gals’ matches.

Unsurprisingly, it set the tone for what was to come. When Chigusa and Asuka get in the ring together, they tend not to worry about taking their time or slowing down. It’s much more of a slam the foot on the accelerator and see what happens situation. Of course, that will annoy some. The two of them popping up after numerous big moves isn’t going to go over well with the usual crowd, but when you’re having this much fun, who is going to complain?

It also continued the theme of Chigusa not being able to get past her former partner. In the last match we saw between them, a judge’s decision gave it to Asuka, but she didn’t need that this time. Chigusa came close, using Asuka’s own swing against her, but whenever it looked like she was about to get over the line, Lioness was there to cut her off.

Honestly, I don’t think Chigusa and Asuka are perfect opponents as I prefer both against other people. On top of that, this was a relatively subdued crowd for a Crush Gals match, the Okinawa fans not providing the rabid enthusiasm that we’re used to. However, neither of those things stopped this from being good. Chigusa and Asuka going all out and dropping each other on their heads will always have a place in my heart, so I’m more than happy to watch it.

Verdict: Crush Gals Gonna Crush Gal

Gokuaku Domei (Kumiko Iwamoto & Drill Nakamae) defeated Mitsuko Nishikawa & Kyoko Asoh to win the AJW Tag Titles (28/6/87)

When The Red Typhoons won the WWWA Tag Titles, they vacated the AJW Tag Titles, bringing us to this match between lots of people who are making their first appearance on AJW classics. First up, Drill Nakamae, who there isn’t a whole load of English material on. She’d been around since ’85, and with her badass mohawk, she is one of the Gokaku Domei members we often see beating people up at ringside. Her partner, Kumiko Iwamoto, is perhaps better known as Grizzly Iwamoto and is another one of Dump’s aggressive gang. Again, there isn’t much information about her, but I’ve heard the name, so she’s presumably the better known of the two. There is even less information about Kyoko Asoh out there, as I can find practically nothing about her. Mitsuko Nishikawa perhaps has the biggest legacy, though, as she would team with Yumiko Hotta as The Fire Jets. Right, we got everyone? Excellent, on with the match.

Sadly, this is one of the weaker AJW tags that we’ve seen. The Gokaku Domei team are fun, wrestling like, well, a Gokuaku Domei team. They go straight to brawling, although it has to be said that Iwamoto’s scarf isn’t quite as brutal as Bull Nakano’s nunchucks. The two of them are a solid, bruiser pairing who have learnt to cheat from some of the best. Unfortunately, Nishikawa and Asoh appear to be overwhelmed by that. They have moments, going after Iwamoto’s leg, for example, but on the whole, they’re a bit of a non-entity. Their parts of this match go past in a yawn, nothing grabbing the attention as they don’t have enough about them to impose themselves on the action.

My favourite moment actually came after the bell, Iwamoto desperately trying to hide the fact she was in tears before Dump comes in and wraps her arms around her two kids. Yea, they’re the big scary bad guys, but for a second, the masks slipped, as we saw a veteran wrestler have a genuine moment with those beneath her. We don’t get that side of Dump and Gokuaku Domei a lot, so it made me smile a lot.

Verdict: Meh Match, Lovely Aftermath

Kanako Nagatomo and Mika Komatsu fought to a time-limit draw in Nagatomo’s retirement match (28/6/87)

We haven’t seen much of Kanako Nagatomo on AJW Classics, but she wrestled Yukon Erika, so she’s a legend. Fittingly, she’d see out her career in a match with her old tag team partner, Mika Komatsu.

You could tell these two were working their arses off. Towards the end, they both looked tired, but they kept getting up, flying into the next move as Nagatomo gave everything she had to go out on a high. We got a trimmed version (or it had a very weird time limit), so that might account for the non-stop nature, but you don’t need to see it all to figure out that these two were leaving everything in the ring.

And it worked, making for a blast of a match that had the fans screaming for Nagatomo as she bowed out. We haven’t seen enough of her over these twenty episodes for me to have a strong emotional attachment, but as I’ve said before, retirements always make me cry, and this was no different. If anyone knows any good Nagatomo gems, feel free to send them my way.

Verdict: A Fitting Goodbye

Dump Matsumoto defeated Yumiko Hotta to advance to the ’87 Grand Prix Final (28/6/87)

Okay, I think I’ve figured out what was going on here. The ’87 Grand Prix ended with Dump, Chigusa and Hotta on the same number of points. Therefore, to decide who went to the final, AJW had everyone grab the end of a piece of rope and the two who had gone for the same rope wrestled. In a stroke of luck for Chigusa, she was left to watch on while Hotta and Dump went at it.

And this was not the match I was expecting it to be. It’s five minutes long, and when I saw that, my thoughts went towards a blood bath, a big violent brawl to close us out, but while this is undoubtedly stiff and brutal, it’s not that. Okay, Dump does grab one kendo stick, but it’s a tiny part of the action, as she seems determined to show Hotta up as a wrestler as well as a fighter. Matsumoto was hitting moves I’ve never seen her use, from Sunset Flips to Enziguris.

It was a switch that made me feel a little bit vindicated. I don’t think Dump needs to do that stuff to prove she’s a fantastic wrestler. Stabby, brawler Dump is one of the greats, but it’s a friendly reminder that even if you don’t like that style, calling her bad merely proves you know nothing. She was perfectly capable of going out and working a more aesthetically pleasing way, looking light and agile on her feet as she got a rare chance to go against someone who was of a similar size and strength to herself. But why would she bother doing that when she could simply stab Chigusa with a fork?

It made for a great five-minute curio that caught me off-guard and delivered something I wasn’t expecting. Matsumoto and Hotta beating the shit out of each other would have been incredible, but every now and then, it’s nice to be surprised, and this was one of those times.

Verdict: Dump Can Do It All!

Overall Show

Episode 20 might be one of the weaker episodes of AJW Classics from an in-ring perspective. Which, considering there was an all-action match between Chig and Asuka, a blast of a retirement bout and Dump showing off, says something about the quality we’re used to. Even with a slight drop in standards, this is still well worth a watch as AJW Classics continues to be a near-perfect hour of wrestling.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi, even the smallest amount is appreciated.

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