TJPW’s latest show saw us reach the quarter-finals of the Princess Cup, and our remaining competitors were an intriguing bunch. Miu is still my pick, but you could have convinced me that any of these eight would go the whole way. Despite that, there were clear favourites in each match, as Shoko, Yuka, Miyu and Rika are always hard to look past. The question was, would we see some upsets? Or would the established four march into the semis? Time to find out.
Maki Itoh & Arisu Endo defeated Moka Miyamoto & Juria Nagano
I appreciate this is hardly a new observation, but it’s remarkable how far Itoh has come over the last few years. Facing off against three relative rookies, Maki felt like a star, dropping down to their level. On top of that, she’s much more comfortable in the ring than she used to be. There was a moment where she whipped Juria into the corner, expecting her to bounce off into position for a bulldog, but the rookie wasn’t on the same page. It’s a tiny thing, but the calmness with which Itoh took a second, adjusted to the unexpected and got on with the match impressed me.
Outside of Itoh, I thought the various youngsters had a decent showing. Endo and Moka are about as reliable as someone who isn’t a prodigy can be at this stage, comfortable in the ring and slowly expanding into new ideas. Nagano, meanwhile, may have made the tiny mistake mentioned above but continues to hone her skills. She delivered some strikes to Itoh (ending in a kick to the head), which might have been her crispest-looking combination yet. When you’re legit capable of kicking someone’s head off, it takes a while to figure out how hard you should be hitting, but Juria is getting there.
It all made for a strong opening match. As usual with these things, it’s probably not one you need to go out of your way to see, but if you do, I can’t imagine you’ll have a bad time.
Verdict: A Strong Opener
Yuki Kamifuku defeated Mizuki and Haruna Neko
I’ve said this before, but the effort Neko puts into wrestling like a cat gets a lot of love from me. The opening exchanges saw Kamiyu and Mizuki try and attack her, only for Haruna to scamper around their feet, dodging every strike. It’s a level of commitment to the gimmick that helps her to stand out in these fun undercard matches.
Unfortunately, scampering wasn’t going to get her anywhere, as Neko got stuck between the devil and an eye poke. Kamiyu and Mizuki were delightfully mean in this one, Mizuki at one point using Haruna as something to stand on while she dodged Kamiyu’s attempts to go for the eyes. It felt less like a physical contest and more a battle as to who could be the most devious, which Kamiyu would end up winning when she broke up a Mizuki pin (with, yes, a poke to the eyes) and bundled up Neko herself.
TJPW three-ways rarely miss, and if Mizuki is involved, any chances of them doing so are essentially non-existent. It’s a shame her brief illness took her out of the Princess Cup, but at least we get to watch her have a lovely old time.
Verdict: A Fun Time
Raku, Yuki Arai & Pom Harajuku defeated Hyper Misao, Mahiro Kiryu & Kaya Toribami
It feels weird to describe master of nonsense Hyper Misao as a workhouse, but she kind of is, isn’t she? She spent a decent chunk of this match in the ring, and sure, part of that was so she could get her usual nonsense in, but she was still out there wrestling. Misao (like most people who skew comedy) will never get the credit she deserves, but I am always happy to make sure she gets some.
Misao aside, this was a fun match that wasn’t particularly exciting but had lots of wrestlers I like. That’s a simplistic way to review something, but it’s probably an underrated factor when it comes to this stuff. Did you know that if you like the people you’re watching, you’re more likely to have a good time? You learn something new every time you come to this site. So, if you’re a fan of Raku, Pom, Misao and co, I suspect you’ll enjoy this as much as I did, which is to say quite a bit, but not excessively. Christ, all that was rambling even for me.
Verdict: Did You Get All Of That?
Suzume defeated Rika Tatsumi in the Princess Cup Quarter Finals
Well, there’s our first upset, and it’s a biggie. I don’t think anyone expected Rika Tatsumi to go on and win this tournament so soon after her last title shot, but that doesn’t stop this from being a massive result for Suzume.
I thought they played it to perfection too. Rika was brilliant here, surviving an early flurry from the bee and then taking control with an evil grin on her face. At one point, she had the wings on Suzume’s costume tied to the ropes, leaving her an easy target for that Diamond Ass. Then, as they went on, she reverted to type, zeroing in on a leg and dropkicking it into the apron as Suzume’s chances slowly evaporated.
However, Suzume was never dead. Even as she sold the hell out of the attack on her, grimacing with pain at every movement, she kept grasping onto opportunities, pulling Rika into roll-ups and refusing to go down without a fight. When she pushed Tatsumi away from the Twist of Fate and hit a Ring-a-Bell out of nowhere, I thought that was it, but she couldn’t make it to the pin in time, giving Rika the time to recover. With that moment gone, hope seemed to vanish, cut off by Tatsumi’s flying hip and the following Dragon Sleeper.
Except it wasn’t dead, and Suzume would reverse a second Twist of Fate, bundle Rika up and steal away with a brilliant victory. It was a wonderful piece of wrestling as they made it feel like Suzume had fought valiantly without managing to get the ball over the line. Then, just as I gave up hope, someone else popped up in the box, squared it across and gave the bee another shot. That time, she didn’t miss, and this is easily the biggest win of her career so far.
Verdict: ‘Mon The Bee!
Miyu Yamashita defeated Nao Kakuta in the Princess Cup Quarter Finals
Nao Kakuta is a fighter. It’s not that she can’t wrestle, she’s good, but she excels when things are kept simple. She wants to be brawling outside the ring, ramming people into ring posts and, in this match, hammering away on Miyu’s leg. Of course, Yamashita is a brilliant striker, but TJPW doesn’t have many people who fight like Kakuta. Most of Miyu’s opponents keep things clean and fair, which Nao has no intention of doing.
It was a pairing that made for a fascinating match-up. Right from the start, Nao was on Miyu, trying not to give her a second to breathe. It felt like if Kakuta could keep it up that high intensity, the match would be hers. The problem is that she was wrestling Miyu. You can beat on her all you want, but there will be a minute or two in the match where she comes back at you, and if you can’t survive that, you’re done.
Sadly, Nao learnt that lesson the hard way. She did everything right, but when she hoisted Miyu onto her shoulders, Yamashita slipped off, countering into a desperation AA. Then, when Nao pulled herself to her feet, her head went flying. Like so many people before her, she learnt that you have to be better than your best to beat the Ace, and any hopes we had of a second upset joined Nao’s head in the back row.
Verdict: It Takes A Lot To Beat The Ace
Yuka Sakazaki defeated Hikari Noa in the Princess Cup Quarter Finals
Sitting backstage, watching Rika crash out and Miyu struggle, Yuka must have decided she was in no mood for any of that. Sakazaki has a ruthless streak a mile wide, and when she walked out for this match, she seemed determined to dispatch Noa as quickly as possible. For long stretches of the action, Yuka was dominant, suplexing Hikari nastily onto the side of the ring and no-selling a series of increasingly desperate kicks to the head.
And whether intentionally or not, parts of it played off the Suzume vs Rika match nicely. Yuka beats the crap out of people in a very different way to Rika, but the structure was similar, as she forced Hikari into finding tiny openings to try and get a grip on the action. So, when Noa hit the Blizzard Suplex or managed to catch Sakazaki in a roll-up, it helped me buy into the belief that history was about to repeat itself, and she’d sneak out with a win the same way Suzume did.
Unfortunately for Noa, it wasn’t to be. That evil light went on in Yuka’s head, and when it did, she dominated, to the point where I think it might have been a tad too much. Hikari is on the brink of breaking through, so while I have no issue with Yuka winning, I’d have liked the final minutes to be a tad more competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to suggest Yuka buried Noa, they were telling the story of Hikari crumbling under the onslaught of Yuka going full murder mode, but I wouldn’t have minded them ditching that to give me a bit of excitement. Even something like Sakazaki rushing to go from the Magical Merry-Go-Round to the Magical Girl Splash would have added a touch more panicked adrenaline to the closing stretch.
Still, it was a good showing that maybe didn’t quite hit the heights of the best of the tournament but did enough that I have no complaints.
Verdict: Good, But Not Brilliant
Miu Watanabe defeated Shoko Nakajima in the Princess Cup Quarter Finals
MIU! That’s how you do it!
Towards the end of this match, Shoko trapped Miu in a submission, and Watanabe started to fade, her head lolling back as she realised it would be so easy to give up. Then, that wee badass gave a shake of her head. No one would blame her for losing to the champ, but Miu wasn’t going to take it. She metaphorically slapped herself awake and battled her way to the ropes. It was a perfect example of fighting spirit and a momentous moment in the ever-improving career of Miu Watanabe
Because what stood out about this match wasn’t just that Miu went out and beat the champ, but that for long parts of it, she matched her. Shoko is brilliant, but no matter what she did, she could never pull away, Watanabe seemingly always having another counter or power move in her bag. Whether it was catching her in mid-air for a powerslam, clubbing a 619 out of the air or pulling out that incredible headlock swing, Miu was Shoko’s equal for most of the match, and at times, she was even her better.
And while I’ve said it a million times before, I’m going to shout it once again, Miu has earned the right to do that. She has become an extraordinary wrestler who is as capable of going out and grappling with Shoko as she is throwing her around. What makes her truly special, though, is her ability to plug into the emotion of the match. Miu has a wonderfully expressive face, capable of selling every tiny moment of the action, which makes it impossible not to fall for her. I not only picked her to win this tournament because I think it would make sense for the booking, but because I am desperate to see her do so. She has got me fully in her corner, and by the end of this match, I was jumping about the place, yelling at the screen as I realised she might be about to pull it off.
If a wrestling match can pull that reaction from me, everything else becomes irrelevant. Miu’s victory was a special moment, and seeing Watanabe burst with joy made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Miu is on her way to the semis, and I wouldn’t want to be the person facing her.
That was a fantastic show. The undercard was a load of fun, and even the weakest of the four tournament matches is still worth going out of your way to see. On top of that, we got not just one but two upsets, as Miu and Suzume earned themselves a spot in the semi-finals. Can either of them go on to win it? Well, we know where my money is.
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