With Wrestle Princess III and big shows in Osaka, it feels like a long time since we’ve had a Tokyo Joshi Korakuen. With how consistently excellent these shows are, that’s never going to be a good thing, so it was lovely to be back in that familiar room. Throw in a packed card with a couple of big matches against foreign talent and a crowd that was allowed to be in full voice, and it was hard not to be excited for this one, so let’s see what went down.
Before the show, Wakana Uehara confirmed that she’s continuing in wrestling and working towards her debut. Welcome to the family, Wakana. Mizuki then announced a match for her 10th anniversary, booking her and Rika vs Yuka and Nao. I’m sure Mizuki teaming up with Tatsumi won’t cause any violent excitement. We still weren’t done, as Miu revealed her opponent for January 4th will be Trish Adora. She joins the long list of wrestlers I’ve never seen before, but she faced Miyu earlier this year, so I presume they’ve done their research. Finally, with Raku out thanks to COVID, Shino stepped in for Upper Kick and continues to be incredibly endearing, even when she’s making mistakes.
Suzume defeated Yoshiko Hasegawa
TJPW continue to slot Yoppy into their big shows, which is no bad thing. She impressed in her previous two appearances and gave another solid account of herself here.
However, it was the bee that caught my attention. We don’t often get to see Suzume dominate a match, so that was a nice treat, and I was pleasantly surprised with how she went about it. She opened by meticulously going after Yoppy’s leg, working a strong, technical style that looked good and saw both of them deploy some impressive counters. Then, in the second half, when the action picked up, we saw some meanness from Suzume as she fell back on trying to choke Yoppy out to set up the finish. It wasn’t what I expected from her, and I was genuinely impressed.
However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t reservations, not all of which were Suzume’s fault. I split the match into two halves above because it felt like that was what they’d done. While Suzume may have done a great job with the leg work in the first, it was largely forgotten in the second. Now, I don’t want to be too harsh on them for that, and I’m not usually bothered by this stuff, but it was particularly noticeable here. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop this being a good performance from both wrestlers, and with them both being young in their careers, I’m sure they’ll eventually find a way to knit those halves together.
Verdict: Good, But Flawed
Kyoraku Kyomei (Shoko Nakajima & Hyper Misao) defeated Mahiro Kiryu, Haruna Neko & Kaya Toribami
With Pom drafted in to replace Raku, this became a handicap match. Thankfully, Misao and Shoko had a plan, kidnapping a reluctant Tetsuya Koda, dragging him down to the ring and demanding he team with them. Unfortunately for him, when the other team started beating him up, they realised it looked like fun and joined in, and who could blame them? Any opportunity to beat up your boss is a good thing.
Once everyone was done kicking the shit out of Koda, this was one of those matches that reminded me how good Shoko Nakajima is. It’s not only how smoothly she moves around the ring but how she knits things together. She had three relatively inexperienced wrestlers across from her, and this match could have easily been disjointed. However, Shoko always finds a way to keep the action moving, even when things are (deliberately) breaking down. Watching her wrestle continues to be a delight.
She wasn’t alone, though, and everyone played their role well. That opposing trio all seemed to have a little extra pep in their step, the slightly bigger stage giving them that little extra drive, which made for a fun, fast-paced match that didn’t overstay its welcome. Sure, it’s not one you’ll remember in a month, but that didn’t stop it from being a nice time.
Verdict: Shoko’s Amazing
Daydream (Miu Watanabe & Rika Tatsumi) defeated Moka Miyamoto & Juria Nagano
There was a fantastic moment in this match where Juria tagged in and started trying to lay into Miu with kicks. Watanabe, who appeared to panic, responded by suddenly lunging forward, lifting Juria off the ground and bundling her over to the corner so that she could tag out and Rika could turn the tide. It was a perfect touch as not only did Miu’s response to being at the mercy of those kicks put Juria over as a threat, but Nagano getting caught off-guard by Watanabe’s next move showed how inexperienced she is. Yes, she’s got the ability to be a killer, but she’s not yet capable of controlling an opponent, blunting those lethal boots.
Jura’s inexperience didn’t do anything to stop this from being an impressive match. In fact, she and Moka gave a strong account of themselves, Miyamoto providing the glue and Juria the flash. It’s not just their shared karate background that makes them a perfect pairing, but that Moka is strong where Juria is not and fills the gaps that she’s unable to. Although, it’s worth saying Nagano’s selling and work on the backfoot have improved a lot.
Then there is Rika and Miyu, who will always shine when given the space to do so. Whether it’s Miu popping people up into Giant Swings or Rika choking them, they’re an endlessly entertaining team whose differences only work to make them better. There isn’t much I wouldn’t watch them do, so putting them in there with a strong performance from the Karate Girls was a guaranteed lovely time.
Verdict: Two Very Good Teams Have A Sneaky Banger
Mizuki defeated Arisu Endo
Arisu came into this match with a point to prove, flying into Mizuki at the bell. It’s been clear for a while that Endo is an exceptionally talented rookie, but she’s still looking for that big, statement win against a senior member of the roster. While getting it against Mizuki was always a tall order, you could taste her desperation to make a mark. Not only did she dive into the match head first, but she pulled out moves I don’t think we’d seen from her before, springboarding up to dropkick Mizuki from the top to the floor before following up with a knee to the back of the head from the apron.
That desperation gave this match an edge I did not see coming. Endo was relentless here, constantly coming forward and catching everyone up in her onslaught. Even the most optimistic fan wouldn’t have expected her to win, but by the time she was wrenching back on a Camel Clutch, Korakuen was firmly in her corner, willing her to get over the line. To get that reaction against Mizuki (probably the most popular wrestler in the company) is impressive, and this was as strong an underdog babyface performance as you are likely to see.
I do want to give some credit to Mizuki, who was brilliant here. She let Arisu put her on the back foot, selling brilliantly for the onslaught but knowing exactly when to cut it off and draw sympathy. Of course, she went on to win, but she played her part in what might have been the best performance of Arisu’s career so far. In other words, this was a banger, and you should go out of your way to see it.
Verdict: A Career Best From Arisu
Yuki Kamifuku & Nao Kakuta defeated Maki Itoh & Hikari Noa
We had a partner shuffle in this one as Free WiFi and MakiYukiHappy were jumbled up together. That meant we started with some comedy, as Kamiyu convinced Itoh to take a selfie and used the opening to poke her in the eyes, only then to be caught out by Maki bursting into tears. Shortly after, Nao forgot who her partner was and tagged in Hikari, leading to a bit of confusion.
Once they remembered what teams they were on, this match gave those pairs of friends plenty of time to compete. We got a chunk of action between Itoh and Kamiyu, which was pretty good, but Nao and Hikari stole the show. Those two are a great tag team, but it does rob us of watching them face off regularly, where they also excel. They have that perfect kind of wrestling friendship which clearly allows them to go a little bit harder with each other than they would anyone else, and with both being at a somewhat similar level on the roster, there is genuine tension about who could win.
And yet, it still caught me off-guard when Kakuta did. Nao’s slotted into the lower card gatekeeper role since joining TJPW, the occasional elevation aside, so even with what I said, I expected her to take the fall. That she didn’t was a pleasant surprise, and the fact she pinned Hikari has me thinking they might have something planned there. Either way, this match wasn’t on the level of Arisu vs Mizuki, but it was still a good time, and a strong example of why mixing things up sometimes can pay dividends.
Verdict: More Hikari vs Nao, Please
Miyu Yamashita defeated Millie McKenzie to retain the EVE Title
With the EVE belt on the line, our first title match was under Spirit of EVE rules, which means no count outs and a thirty-minute time limit. It’s also the third encounter between these two, as Millie won one in Spain before Miyu levelled things up in England.
And I think this match was a good example of why holding off on things can elevate their impact. TJPW aren’t a company that does a lot of fighting on the outside (although, there would also be some in the main event), so when Millie hit a German Suplex to Miyu on the floor, it felt match-changing. Yamashita, who is almost mythical levels of unbeatable in big TJPW matches, suddenly looked vulnerable, and it instantly raised the odds of Millie winning this match. You could tell the fans bought it, too, rallying behind their Ace as the action went on, willing her to overcome.
It also played into action that felt physical. There were a couple of slightly awkward moments, but it didn’t matter because everything they did looked like it hurt. The dull thuds that filled Korakuen made it feel like a big deal and worked perfectly with the flow of the action. By the final act, where Miyu survived everything Millie had, I bought into the idea that McKenzie had given it her all but was too beaten down to keep going when Yamashita got up.
I did have some minor quibbles. Millie hitting a big dive to the outside only to return to the ring and wait for Miyu to recover and come back in made no sense within the rules, especially when she pinned Yamashita the second she rolled under the rope. It’s probably not the biggest fault, but it took me out at an important moment, and it was a minute or two before I clicked back in. Still, this was a great match and one you should definitely watch.
Verdict: Minor Flaws, But Overall Really Good
Reiwa AA Cannon (Saki Akai & Yuki Arai) defeated Yuki Aino & Pom Harajuku to retain the Princess Tag Team Titles
Pom Harajuku was not only competing in her first-ever title match but doing so after being called in at the last second to replace her friend Raku, stepping up when she caught COVID. I can’t imagine that’s how she wanted this to go down, but either way, she delivered a flawless performance, and not for the first time. 2022 is the year TJPW figured out who Pom is, and the opening seconds, where she was fired up by the crowd, ready to take her moment, only to run straight into an Akai Big Boot, was a perfect representation of that.
That combination of spirit and haplessness has made Pom one of my favourite wrestlers. I never expected her to win, but I still hung on to every moment of this match, desperate for the slightest hint that she could. She was out-gunned at every turn, but Pom bursts with heart, and with her and Aino drawing on the power of Raku (the was a Goodnight Express and a Brain Chop in there), I wanted to believe. When she hit the Pom de Justice, there was a second where I bought that the fairytale could come true, a feeling that all the best wrestlers inspire.
Pom wasn’t alone either, as Yuki joined her in the heroics, standing up to Akai and taking her vicious blows. It was also another impressive showing from the champs, Arai picking up the win with the Finally and continuing to show she is more than just the junior teammate. However, this day was about Pom, who got an opportunity she didn’t expect to receive and stepped up to deliver. Harajuku has had a hell of a year, and while I would have loved to see Raku go for those belts, it’s fitting that she got this opportunity before it was over.
Verdict: That’s Our Pom!
After the match, Heidi Howitzer and Max the Impaler popped up on the screen, making a challenge for January 4th. I’ve never seen Heidi wrestle, but if she’s half as great as Max, that will be brilliant.
Yuka Sakazaki defeated Billie Starkz to retain the Princess of Princess Title
I liked the layout of this match a lot. For most of it, Yuka was in control, using her experience to dictate the tempo and keep the explosive Billie under wraps. However, she couldn’t do that forever, and when Starkz did get a bit of momentum, she went straight to the high impact. Starkz rightly realised she couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with Yuka for long, so she took every chance she got to go for a killer blow, including delivering a wild-looking Sugoi Driver on the apron.
However, while I think that was the right formula, it did highlight some of Billie’s weaknesses. She’s exciting in those bursts of offence, but in between, she never managed to grab my sympathy. After a show where Arisu and Pom were perfect underdogs, Billie couldn’t get to that level, and the Korakuen reaction showed. It’s not a huge surprise, she’s seventeen, for christ’s sake, and if she’s already willing to fly halfway around the world to get this opportunity, I do not doubt that stuff will come. However, alongside a few sloppy moments, it took some of the fire out of this match, as Sakazaki’s control section didn’t have the effect it should have.
Still, this was a good showing, especially when you take the fact Billie is still literally a child into account. In those big moments, she was an exciting, dynamic wrestler who showed ridiculous promise. She has a lot of time to improve, and I would love to see these two run this back three years down the line because if she’s already that good, it could become something truly special.
Verdict: It Was Still Very Good
After the match, Miyu came out, which did not impress Yuka. It started a long back and forth about what dessert Miyu could buy her to convince her to accept her challenge for Ittenyon, with the two of them eventually coming to an agreement. It means TJPW are returning to the big one for their traditional year-opener, and I have no doubt that will lead to some whining online, but I’m going to ignore that and enjoy the ride.
That was a brilliant show. A strong undercard, including a perhaps career-best performance from Arisu Endo, plus a bunch of big title matches, all of which had at least something interesting about them, meant the TJPW run of outstanding Korakuens continued. We’ve also now got our three title bouts for Ittenyon, with some intriguing foreigners and perhaps the biggest match TJPW can do. It’s hard to complain about that, right?
Watch Tokyo Joshi Pro: https://www.wrestle-universe.com/en/videos?labels=-tjpw.