TJPW was back in Korakuen Hall, and if you’ve been paying attention recently, you’ll know that means we’re almost guaranteed a good show. The twist this time is that they were going back to back, finishing off the Princess Cup with a double-header. It meant there were no big title matches, and sadly Yuki Arai had to miss out after coming into contact with someone with COVID, but TJPW had called on some guests to flesh out the midcard, so their good streak looked safe on paper. Would that also be the reality? Time to find out.
Nao Kakuta & Kaya Toribami defeated Yuki Aino & Mahiro Kiryu
It’s not often you get old-school tag wrestling in Tokyo Joshi, but this was the rare exception to the rule, Aino and Mahiro working over Nao to build to a Kaya hot tag. The rookie hasn’t quite got to the point where she flows effortlessly into the ring, flipping the momentum, but the theory was good, as they held back Kaya’s high-flying for maximum effect.
That was a crucial part of a match where I thought everyone put in a good performance. Every month that passes sees Nao improve, as her confidence seems to be soaring, while I love her willingness to bend the rules in a company that doesn’t have many heels. Her work with Yuki was particularly impressive, as she tried to out-wrestle and out-cheat her to get around that strength. Mahiro, meanwhile, worked well in a more back to basics structure, her and Aino doing all the simple stuff well.
It all came together to give us a really impressive opener, which never strived to be anything other than a solid wee match but was all the better for that. They kept things simple, and sometimes that’s what you need to do.
Verdict: Good, Solid Wrestling
Suzume & Arisu Endo defeated Mirai Maiumi & Moka Miyamoto
I loved Mirai and Suzume (who was sporting new gear) stopping to let the fans react to them both tagging in. BeeStar are an established team, and while this match might not have had any major stakes, the teammates facing off made it mean something. The lowliest opener can feel like the most important match in the world if the people in it treat it as such.
It wasn’t only Mirai and Suzume either. Moka has hit a point in her career where she gets a little better every time I see her. While she’s never been as smooth as someone like Endo, she’s started ramping up the intensity, and that seems to be helping her in-ring. The feud with Arai has done wonders for her, and she brought that new experience to her battles against Arisu, as they’re developing good chemistry.
That all added up to a hell of a match. It would have been easy to make this all about Suzume and Mirai, whose chemistry as a team transferred across to them being opponents, but Endo and Moka made sure they were never pushed to the side. This felt like four young wrestlers going out and trying to impress, and they certainly impressed me.
Verdict: A Delight
Hyper Misao, Yuki Kamifuku & Nodoka Tenma defeated Aja Kong, Raku & Haruna Neko
It’s kind of hard to put into words how much I adored this. Not only did we get Raku and Aja Kong on the same team once more, but they brought along Neko! Aja Kong, the woman God made when the devil wasn’t enough, teaming with the train nerd and the cat. Does wrestling get any better than that? Yes, it does because we also saw Misao and co try to butter up the legend by telling her they were the TJPW Aja Kong fan club. That would have been a lot more believable if Kamiyu wasn’t there, someone who famously knows nothing about wrestling history.
And Aja’s interactions with everyone were incredible. From Misao and her spray cans to Tenma being unable to prevent herself from spanking the legend to Kamiyu being crazy enough to decide to start chopping her, Kong seemed to be having the time of her life. Plus, watching her do the Goodnight Express is never going to get old. It’s as genius now as it was the first time it happened.
It’s also worth noting that Aja Kong doesn’t need to do this. She could easily dismiss going out and doing these silly spots with younger wrestlers, but she doesn’t because she’s Aja fucking Kong, and she gets this stuff. She’s a legend for a reason, and while most people won’t note these as highlights of her career, I’m certainly not going to forget them anytime soon.
NEO Biishiki-gun (Sakisama, Mei Saint-Michel & Yukio Saint-Laurent) defeated Antonio Honda, Rika Tatsumi & Pom Harajuku
I don’t even know where to start with this one as Yukio Saint-Laurent and Antonio Honda made their returns to Tokyo Joshi in spectacular fashion. It gave us Saint-Laurent being forced to give Honda a medical check-up, MSM hiding her eyes from a Gon story and the sight of Pom on performance-enhancing drugs. It was a feast of nonsense, and I loved every second of it.
In among all that, there was even some wrestling, with Mei Saint-Michel continuing to have chemistry with everyone she faces, although she might have met her match in an enthusiastic Pom handshake. Sakisama and Rika, meanwhile, haven’t lost a step since the Misao feud, as they still showed themselves to be an exciting pair. I might often come across as someone who will praise nonsense for the sake of it (and that is true to an extent), but it’s at its best when it’s built on good wrestling, and this was good wrestling.
It also made me laugh a lot, which, considering I was already laughing from the previous match, left me in a lovely mood. I could try and drill down into it more than that, but I’m not sure I want to. It was a blast of a tag that made me happy. What else does one need?
Yuka Sakazaki & Hikari Noa defeated Miyu Yamashita & Marika Kobashi
YUKA’S BACK! After spending a month in AEW doing some stuff (is it obvious I didn’t watch it?), the Magical Girl returned to TJPW and excitedly greeted Namba with a hug. She also seems to have been working on some double teams with Hikari, although I’m not sure when she’d have had the time. Either way, they were a surprisingly natural team, managing to do a double schoolboy to set up a suplex that looked like it really shouldn’t have worked.
Even if they’d shown zero chemistry, you could rely on this to be good anyway. Miyu and Yuka celebrated being back together by going surprisingly hard, while Hikari and Yamashita continue to prove themselves a brilliant pairing. While it would then be easy to view Marika as the odd one out, only tagging along to take the pin, she made sure that wasn’t the case. It really feels like she’s found her feet again recently, and I almost wish she and Hikari could get another go at their title match as I suspect they’re already capable of improving on it.
It all meant that a match I had very high expectations for somehow eclipsed them. I don’t know what they’ve been feeding the wrestlers lately, but this show has been incredible so far.
Verdict: Lovely Stuff
Shoko Nakajima defeated Miu Watanabe in the Princess Cup Semi-Final
The structure of this semi-final was immaculate. Shoko kicked things off by flying around the ring, attempting to run circles around Watanabe, only to be brought crashing down to earth by a Miu blow. However, rather than panicking, Shoko moved away from her speed and called on her experience instead. For the next chunk, she controlled Miu, not giving her a chance to breathe and, more importantly, preventing her from using that power.
Of course, you can only keep someone as powerful as Miu down for so long, and the real question here was whether Shoko could survive when she got up. Nakajima’s talent is well-documented, but if someone can transition from you hanging off their neck in a Guillotine Choke to spinning you around by your legs, you’re not in for a leisurely afternoon. That brute strength meant Miu was never out of this match, and there was always a chance she could flip it on its head.
And she almost did, twice deadlifting Shoko up to a backbreaker and getting an incredible two count off of it. Unfortunately, when she got Shoko up for the Teardrop, Nakajima’s experience kicked in, bundling her over with a Frankensteiner and kicking off the beginning of the end. Still, even if Miu lost here, this is yet another brilliant match in a year where she has been quietly fantastic. Experience won out this time, but one day that power will prove enough.
Verdict: That Ruled
Maki Itoh defeated Mizuki in the Princess Cup Semi-Final
Maki Itoh is desperate to beat Mizuki. At the start of the tournament, Itoh wasn’t talking about winning it to go on and face her partner Miyu Yamashita for the belt. Instead, she was talking about beating the first member of the Itoh Respect Army, the first person to befriend her in TJPW and the one she will always measure herself against. Mizuki is a hurdle that Itoh has to leap, and she saw this tournament as her chance to do so.
Unfortunately, Itoh’s build-up to this was far from ideal. She fractured her cheekbone against Suzume, and with only two weeks between that match and this, it couldn’t have been fully healed. Despite that, she came out hot, as, dressed in new gear, we saw a level of aggression from Itoh that she didn’t have even just a year ago. Maki even brought the fight to the outside, ripping up mats and throwing Mizuki into the barricade.
That injury was the problem, though. It gave Mizuki a target, and when you’ve got someone who loves to go flying in feet first, a busted face is not a good thing to have. Itoh missed a Big Head from the top rope, and Mizuki showed no remorse, attacking that face again and again. But it’s not just in her aggression that Itoh has grown. This is a tougher, braver Maki than we have ever seen before, and she fought fire with fire. It didn’t matter how much aggression Mizuki brought; Itoh gave it back twice as hard.
And that ultimately proved the difference. Itoh wasn’t going to lose this match. Too often, she’s got close and fallen short, but broken cheek or not, it wasn’t going to happen this time. She fought tooth and nail and finally beat the person she wanted to beat more than anyone else. Then, in the aftermath, she allowed herself to shake Mizuki’s hand and thank her, thank her for making her as strong as she is. Fuck, I love wrestling.
What a show! That started at a high level and then somehow kept getting better and better as it went along. Shout out to Chris Brookes and Balliyan Akki as well, who were on English commentary and proved a cracking pairing. As I said at the start, I didn’t expect this to be the show to break TJPW’s streak of fantastic Korakuens, but I also didn’t expect it to be one of their best. How do they keep getting better?
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