After a weekend in which I got to witness a Marvelous match in person before drunkenly deciding that I needed to talk to Chigusa Nagayo about Team Eccentric and dogs, we’re back in the somewhat more familiar (and much soberer) surroundings of Shin-Kiba. It might not be as exciting as a trip to the UK (for them, being in the UK is an everyday hell for me), but big things are brewing in Japan, as we’re building towards a one-day tournament on December 4th where we will crown a new AAAW champion. Who is it going to be? Perhaps we’ll get a hint or two on this show.
Manami defeated Ai Houzan
Early in this match, Ai’s nose got smushed, so she spent the rest of it with blood staining her face, which was a damn cool visual. While it wasn’t quite pouring from the forehead levels of badassery, wee Ai heroically escaping submissions, hitting flurries of dropkicks and defiantly kicking out of pins while covered in the red stuff was a standout image. I don’t think she quite embraced it to the level Maria did when it happened to her, but she still pulled it off (fingers crossed, of course, that the damage wasn’t too painful).
Ai’s bleeding may have captured my attention, but it’s worth saying that Manami looked good. I always forget how young she is, as she seems to have been around for ages, but she’s really found her personality lately. Everything she does is turned up to eleven, bringing a faint air of ridiculousness to it all, but I don’t see that as a negative. Manami’s a character, and when you combine that with her solid base of Sendai training, she’s an exciting young talent.
As for the action, it was solid to good. For all I love Ai’s attitude, she’s perhaps at the stage where she could use having the reigns slackened, as these matches are getting a tad samey. However, that’s not to say I’ve stopped enjoying them, and quite frankly, who am I to tell Marvelous what to do with their rookies? I think they know what they’re doing.
Verdict: Ai Bleeds!
HANAOKA defeated Leo Isaka
HANAOKA is a sixteen-year veteran who has spent parts of his career in Mexico, but these days seems to float around the Japanese indies. He also wasn’t going to be trying too hard in this match, focusing on riling up the crowd, working them for boos and leaving Leo to do the flashy stuff.
None of which is an insult. Being a good heel is a skill, and HANAOKA was using it to help get Leo over, with the crowd chanting his name suggesting he succeeded. It also ensured this wasn’t just another Leo match, as Isaka is always at his best when he’s in the underdog position, fighting back against someone. By slowing the action down and being a bit of a dick, he forced Leo to do something different.
Despite all that, I still wouldn’t be telling anyone to rush out and watch this. It was a solid match that occasionally wandered into good but never stayed there. I enjoyed it as it was on, but I doubt I’ll remember it in a week.
Verdict: Decent, But Nothing Special
Itsuki Aoki defeated Tomoko Watanabe
I have so much respect for Tomoko Watanabe. She’s the rare example of a seemingly egoless wrestler, happy to wander out on Marvelous shows, be the butt of every joke and get pinned by whatever youngster Chigusa needs put over. Then, to make it even better, she can still fucking go when she needs to. If you doubt that, watch the home stretch of this match, where she and Itsuki start slamming into each other with lariats and exchanging power moves. She’s more than capable of keeping up and earned a massive hug from Aoki after the bell.
Talking of Aoki, watching this made me realise that she might be the natural successor to the Tomokos of the world. Like Watanabe, she is more than capable of playing for laughs, selling the hell out of being booted in the shin in the opening minutes. However, in recent months, the in-ring side of her game has taken a big step up, and she was already pretty good before that. Itsuki has a great blend of speed and power, making everything she does feel impactful.
It all meant this turned out to be a sneaky great match, as these two started with laughs and then built to a genuinely exciting final act where it felt like it could go either way. In the end, it was Itsuki whose arm got raised, and while people might spend a lot of time laughing at Tomoko, that still means something.
Verdict: Great Stuff!
Chikayo Nagashima defeated Unagi Sayaka to retain her AAAW Tag-Team Title and win an envelope of cash
I don’t want to sound too disparaging of Unagi Sayaka because she’s a wrestler I like, but I had no idea what to expect from her vs Nagashima. She might be a fair bit younger than Chikayo, but she was never going to keep up with her, and I couldn’t see them embracing the style that Unagi’s been working for the last few years (or at least hoped they wouldn’t, as none of that impressed me much). Thankfully, they took a turn I didn’t predict and made this a brawl, an idea that worked surprisingly well.
Leaning into that brawling style perhaps didn’t play to either wrestler’s obvious strengths, but it let them work well together. Nagashima could dictate the tempo, dragging Unagi around the floor and throwing her into chairs before giving her space to pull out those flashy, charismatic spots. It also didn’t require Unagi to try and get into any of those quick, technical sequences, allowing her to focus on pulling out the emotion of the action and making this feel like a grudge-fuelled showdown. A feat that was doubly impressive considering the build had been relatively short.
They also managed to make Unagi look like a threat, even in defeat. With the benefit of hindsight, her beating Nagashima was always unlikely, but there was a period towards the end where I thought she might pull off the upset, forcing Chikayo to give up her tag team title. Unfortunately for the eel (who had put an envelope full of cash up against the belt), Nagashima had a few more veteran smarts, bundling her up at the finish and keeping that title around her waist.
Still, if there were doubts about Unagi’s ability to hang with the upper echelons of the Marvelous roster (and I don’t think there were really), this ended them. She may not have beaten Nagashima, but she delivered a good match, and I’m very intrigued to see what they do with her in that tournament.
Magenta (Maria & Riko Kawahata) defeated Mio Momono & Rin Kadokura
In theory, this was a match you could see on any Marvelous Shin-Kiba card. However, it didn’t feel like that. More than anything else on this show, the shadow of the AAAW title tournament seemed to be hanging over them, and everything had an extra edge. For Mio and Rin, it was a chance to put these youngsters in their place. For Magenta, it was a chance to prove they were ready to take the step up.
And I love when you take one of these matches and spice it up a bit. These four already know each other incredibly well, so giving them something to get their teeth into was an excuse to go that little bit harder. Little things like Mio disrespectfully stomping on the back of Riko’s head came out of that feeling and meant this continually felt like it was ramping upwards. Yes, there was nothing on the line, but soon, there will be, and everyone wants to go into that with their best foot forward.
In the end, it was the person who, in recent months, has been getting closer and closer to earning that first big win who finally managed to get themselves over the line. With Mio taking herself and Riko out of contention, it was down to Rin and Maria, the time ticking down as they flew between roll-ups. Recent history would suggest the clock would run out before Maria could finish the job, but that wasn’t the case. She finally caught Rin in a submission, twisting and pulling and leaving her with no choice but to tap. It was a perfect ending not only to this match but a story that has been bubbling under the surface for the last few months.
In the aftermath, Mio made it very clear how much this all meant to her as she started attacking everyone who moved before standing over Rin and letting her know what she thought about her tapping out. In half a month, the AAAW Title will be on the line, and if this match is any indication, everyone is desperate to make it theirs. I’m starting to get excited.
Verdict: That Ruled
I’ve talked about it a lot, but the December 4th tournament hung over this in the best possible way. With only one more show between now and then, it gave everything a sense of urgency as those involved tried to make themselves the main character. As it stands, I think there are multiple different and interesting ways that Marvelous could go with this, so I’m very excited to see what they do next.
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