It’s finally time for Wrestle Princess. TJPW’s biggest show of what has been an incredible year for the company, no matter what some people on Twitter might have decided. This card was packed with special guests and amazing match-ups, so I’m going to stop with the boring bit, and get into it. Away we go!
One of the advantages of TJPW running these venues is that we get to see the Up Up Girls performing on a bigger stage. You could tell Miu was particularly buzzing to be doing so, and unlike last year, didn’t get overwhelmed in her excitement. They even treated us to an encore, making it a truly blessed day.
Ram Kaicho, Raku & Pom Harajuku defeated Mahiro Kiryu, Haruna Neko & Kaya Toribami
I can’t think of a better trio than Ram, Raku and Pom. If wrestling is brave enough, I’m pretty sure they could bring in a new period of joshi supremacy. Step aside, Crush Gals, god, the goth and the clown are here to surpass you.
And adding Ram to the gentle joy of a TJPW opener turned out to be an inspired move. Right from the start of the match, Baliyan Akki (who was on commentary) pointed out that she was standing on the apron yelling at Raku to shoot on Mahiro, and her middle finger flashing edge coming up against Haruna Neko was always going to make me smile. On top of that, Ram brought a bit of experience to an outing populated by people who are still relatively young in their careers.
Our new overlords would end up getting the win, Raku and Neko having a surprisingly gripping back and forth to close us out. There was even a Neko reversal where I bit on the idea that she would steal the upset, but thankfully, god was tougher than I gave her credit for. The Dr Yellow would do the job, and welcome to the era of Ram, Raku and Pom!
Nodoka Tenma defeated Rika Tatsumi and Hyper Misao in a Three-Way
Poor Misao. The Rika superfan was delighted to have her favourite wrestler back, bringing a home-made sign to celebrate her return to the ring. She then petitioned to have Tenma removed from the action, much to the dismay of Nodoka and the anger of Tatsumi, who interrupted the ensuing bickering by smacking them both across the face.
It was the setup for a fun three-way that had Misao desperately trying to team with Tatsumi while Rika was having none of it. Nearly every attempt saw the White Dragon turn on everyone’s favourite superhero, and when she did show some openness to the idea, things inevitably went wrong for Misao. It broke down to the extent that she tried to hit Rika with her loving sign, shouting her apologies even as she did so.
That all made for a quietly inventive wee match. These three found a whole bunch of ways to have Rika and Misao explode, while Tenma did a great job of being the frustrated (and often confused) third party who eventually capitalised on it. It was a great example of a point I’ve made before, as the strength of TJPW’s undercard comes from its well-defined personalities. Everyone here acted precisely the way you’d expect them to based on years of history. That makes it not only an enjoyable watch but a satisfying one for those in the know.
Verdict: A Blast
Venyu (ASUKA & Yuki Kamifuku) defeated Nao Kakuta & Marika Kobashi
ASUKA and Kamiyu’s entrance was so over the top brilliant that ASUKA was ready to go home after it was done. I don’t particularly blame them either, they went hard, but thankfully Marika was there to deliver a slap across the face and convince Venyu to stick around.
When they deigned to wrestle for our entertainment, Venyu would quickly prove to be such a perfect team that it feels crazy they haven’t been doing it for years. ASUKA and Kamiyu are both brilliant at beating people up in a dismissive, fuck you way. What makes it even more impressive is that they manage to do that while being stiff as hell. ASUKA, in particular, was giving no quarter, getting revenge for that earlier slap by delivering an elbow to Marika that I’m pretty sure should have killed her.
It wasn’t all the Venyu show, though. Nao (in new gear) seems to flourish when someone takes the fight to her. It’s not so much that she gets dragged up by better wrestlers, as it is that she pulls herself up to their level, ready to slap them in the face and prove she’s worthy of their time. It was the kind of quietly great performance that maybe didn’t steal the headlines, but made sure the match worked. Now, if TJPW isn’t already making setting Venyu up to be more than a one-time thing, I will be sorely disappointed in them.
Riho & Shoko Nakajima defeated Suzume & Arisu Endo
Putting these four together was a tremendous bit of booking. Not only did it add Riho to a big show, bringing with her a smidge of star power, but TJPW put their most promising youngsters up against a pairing of two of the smoothest wrestlers in the game. This match didn’t only give Shoko and Riho a chance to show off their stuff but was basically guaranteed to make Arisu and Suzume look great.
It also had the benefit of being an outing that no one expected the younger pairing to win, meaning Endo and Suzume simply having to impress to get out with their heads held high. Unsurprisingly, they were up to that task. They’ve become a nifty wee team themselves, showing a lot of chemistry, and they made sure this was a contest. Suzume, in particular, looking right at home in there with the veterans, refusing to be outdone in the crispness stakes, and leaving a lot of people craving her vs Riho.
In the end, though, things went as you’d expect, Riho bringing out her vicious side to get the job done and remind everyone that she is not the bubbly babyface she’s often mistaken for. It meant this match did what it was supposed to, putting the young talent over and letting the vets shine. That perhaps wasn’t as naturally eye-catching as some of the fun that came before it, but if you’re looking for pure wrestling, it was the match of the night so far.
Verdict: Good Stuff
Aja Kong & Moka Miyamoto defeated Miu Watanabe & Yuki Arai
I’ve never been more sure that Yuki Arai was made for wrestling than when she was being taken to school by Aja Kong. The way she sold that mixture of fear and determination, stepping up to the legend even as she realised there was nothing she could do to hurt her, was perfect. Yes, she got booted so hard in the back that I felt it, but she survived, and even dropped one of those Axe Kicks on Aja’s head towards the end.
Her partner was doing more than surviving. Sadly, the Giant Swing didn’t work out, but for a second, Miu got Aja off the ground, and she did manage to hit a slightly sloppy bodyslam. That was enough, and I adore that Aja Kong’s last match before she takes a few months off to rest her knees saw her working so hard to put over this team of young, bubbly idols. Moka, meanwhile, continues to show fantastic chemistry with Arai, the two of them always shining when they get in the ring together.
Aja would eventually see this off, but she gave Arai one last gift, letting her kick out of the Backdrop Driver before finishing her off with the Elbow Drop. That Yuki was able to drag herself back to her feet afterwards, earning a ruffle of the hair and a shove to the mat from Kong, was hella impressive. She and Miu may have lost this match, but they got the rub from one of the greats, and that means more than any win could.
Verdict: Kong Gives Her Blessing
Hikari Noa defeated Yuki Aino to retain the International Princess Title
The thing that draws me to both Hikari and Aino is their scrappiness. Neither of them is a perfect, smooth wrestler, but they have grit. The problem with pairing them up is that said scrappiness usually sees them fighting from underneath, so they had to figure out a way to play to both of their strengths without getting in each other’s way.
Thankfully, they proved more than capable. This whole match felt like a struggle. Every submission, every Noa dropkick and every move felt like it had to be battled for. One submission from Aino was enough to hurt Hikari’s back, grinding her down and insuring that when she managed to hit a surprise Blizzard Suplex, she couldn’t holding onto the bridge, giving Aino a reprieve. The champ, meanwhile, was using those dropkicks to perfection, not going as relentless with them as usual but peppering them between her offence. While she was still the Noa we love, you got the impression this was her levelling up, showing that touch more maturity.
In the end, that might have been the difference between the two. Aino hit the Reverse DDT, but she wasn’t comfortable that it was enough, choosing to go for the UBV to get the job done. That was the opportunity Noa needed, and when she slipped out and hit that second Blizzard Suplex, there was no escape. The International Title still has a chance to be bathed in Noa’s victims’ blood, but Aino’s day will come. This ruled.
Verdict: A Proper Fight!
Magical Sugar Rabbits (Yuka Sakazaki & Mizuki) defeated Neo Biishiki-gun (Sakisama & Mei Saint-Michel) to win the Princess Tag Titles
I can only assume Sakisama saw Venyu’s entrance and instantly called upon a team of minions to construct a throne for her. That seems like something she could do, and it made for one elegant and incredibly gay introduction.
If our last match felt like a fight, this was a rollercoaster. There wasn’t a moment in the action where something exciting wasn’t happening, be it MagiRabbi popping Sakisama on the tray and Mei on her shoulders before taking them for a spin or MSM hitting a Double Kneedrop from the top while riding a broom. It did mean they occasionally ditched things like structure, but it never feel without meaning. I bought into the idea that Yuka and Mizuki were fed up of being foiled by Bi-gun at every turn, and were going to match every piece of scheming to reverse their fortunes.
Also, you might not know this, but rollercoasters are fun, and so was this. Both these teams are stupidly inventive, so watching them fly through these ridiculous ideas was a blast. I was willing to get over the fact that Kiso was required to ignore numerous people being bopped on the head with a tray or that no one was bothering to stand on the apron. If it had been boring, those touches might have started to bother me, but because I was having a lovely time, I didn’t care.
On top of all that, the final sequence between Mizuki and MSM was as good as you’d expect it to be. They were left alone to see us home and pushed the action to a thrilling level, Mei Saint-Michel eventually falling victim to her overwhelming desire to pull an elegant pose, which allowed Mizuki to finally break the curse. The Sugar Rabbits got one over on Sakisama and her partner of choice, and let’s face it, a world in which they’re tag champions is a world that makes sense.
Verdict: A Thrill Ride
Miyu Yamashita defeated Maki Itoh to retain the Princess of Princess Title
There was only one question coming into this match, could Itoh leap that final hurdle? Maki’s biggest opponent has always been herself, so having won the Princess Cup, could she now, on the largest stage, against the Ace, take the final step.
The early signs were strong. From the start, Itoh was aggressive, driving Miyu into the ring post before dumping her on the floor. We all know that’s not necessarily enough, though. Miyu is on a level so far above everyone else that even being at your best isn’t enough. Itoh could DDT her onto the apron, and only minutes later, Yamashita was back hitting an Avalanche AA. She could survive the Crash Rabbit Heat to the back of the head, but there was always another kick just around the corner. Maki fought so fucking hard, but Miyu Yamashita is inevitable.
I am sure people are annoyed about that because people are always annoyed, but it is worth saying that Itoh wasn’t alone in being incredible here. Miyu was outstanding, as she always is. While Itoh’s arc was a battle, Miyu’s was one of acceptance. At the start of the match, she seemed unsure of herself, worried about facing her partner. As it went on, though, she found her groove and let her inner Ace breath. By the end, this was Yamashita at the peak of her powers, and while there was a hint of hesitation before the final blow, she inevitably went for the kill and saw her partner off.
And that brings us back to the start. Because unlike her title match against Rika, where Maki was drawn in by a raised middle finger, this wasn’t Itoh beating herself. She lost to the best wrestler on the planet because she’s the best wrestler on the planet. Maki battled with all her heart, but the second the first Skull Kick connected, she knew it was the end, the heartbreaking scream of resignation as she pulled herself up, signalling it far and wide. However, for the first time, Itoh reached a level where she faced Miyu as an equal. As someone who wasn’t just delaying the inevitable but had a genuine chance of getting the win. Itoh’s day will come, but if she wants to take it from Miyu, she’ll have to be better than the best.
Big show TJPW never misses. This was an outstanding outing from the joys of Raku, Ram and Pom through Aja Kong putting over idols to Miyu booting heads. Yes, there is a tinge of disappointment in not seeing Itoh grab that belt, but I have faith in this company, and I am happy to walk the road they’re laying down. If you haven’t seen this, then what are you waiting for?
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Although it would have been heartwarming to see Maki win, I think the real takeaway is that Maki is now “made” as a top wrestler in TJPW. Before last year, the idea of her being a serious contender in any wrestling promotion would have been questionable, nevermind her being in the conversation to beat MIYU. She was huge on personality but only competent in the ring. She’s now rectified that and has put together an escalating series of excellent main event wrestling matches. I couldn’t help noticing that when the roster came out for their “curtain call,” wrestlers like Rika and Yuki Aino were going up to Maki and looked like they were saying nice things. I suspect they were congratulating her on her efforts, but whatever they said it was a very sweet image.