Marvelous’s last Korakuen of the year wasn’t supposed to look like this, but after an injury to Takumi Iroha, they had no other choice. Not only would this show see Chigusa Nagayo return to the ring, but it would have a one-day tournament to crown the new AAAW champion. Who would earn that honour? If you’re reading this, you probably already know, but let’s find out!
Maria & Yumiko Hotta defeated Riko Kawahata & Chigusa Nagayo
Before the bell had even rung, I was in love with this match. I thought we were off to a strong start with Maria wearing one of KAORU’s entrance robes to the ring, but then Riko and Chigusa brought the fireworks, their entrance coming with an elaborate dance routine before the music transitioned into ‘Rolling Sabot’. GAEA superfan Riko was clearly in heaven, but even she wasn’t having as much fun as Nagayo herself, as she rolled back the years and conducted the fans into chanting along. It was pure spectacle, and if the show had ended there, I’d have felt like I got my money’s worth.
Thankfully, it didn’t, as I don’t know where to start trying to capture how much I loved this match. In the early stage, it was the Chigusa show, as she locked horns with Hotta before responding to Maria’s attempt to gnaw her way free from a hold by biting her right back. Chig might not be as light on her feet as she once was, but she’s still a master of controlling a crowd, every flourish drawing the desired response. She even gave Riko an early Christmas present, letting her take part in a familiar-looking double punch. However, as it went on, the attention shifted, moving away from the legends and toward their young proteges. We got Riko cutting away at Hotta with kicks before she and Maria took centre stage and started trading suplexes and boots to the head. However, all of that paled next to Maria, grabbing ahold of Chigusa Nagayo’s arm, refusing to let go and forcing her mentor to tap out.
It was a result I didn’t see coming in a hundred years. Yes, Chigusa doesn’t wrestle much these days, and they kept it short for a reason, but it never even crossed my mind that this would end with one of Maria or Riko getting the win. That just doesn’t happen. And sure, Chig played for laughs afterwards, grabbing Hotta and forcing her to join in with a grovelling request for a rematch (I couldn’t figure out if it would be the same teams or if we’re getting Hotta and Chig vs Magenta, but either would be fine with me), but it also had Maria and Riko gloating in the legends’ faces, revelling in what had happened. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a full-blown passing of the torch (if nothing else, Takumi has already got hold of it), but Maria just got a massive seal of approval, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.
With that madness over, it was time to finish our goodbye to KAORU. I completely missed that her original ceremony was only a five-bell salute, as she didn’t want to bow out without Chigusa, but it was a perfect touch, and I’m so glad they got this final moment together. It also allowed Nagayo to put another person over as she dragged KAORU onto her for a pin, ushering Tommy over to make sure her old friend went out on a win. I wouldn’t want to try and count how many people Chig has seen retire over the years, but there was a moment where she stayed crouched, hiding her face from the crowd, which suggested this might have been one of the harder ones. KAORU had one hell of a career, and we’ll all miss her a lot.
Gabai Ji-chan defeated Leo Isaka
As if this show wasn’t wild enough, Leo started his match by jumping Gabai Ji-chan and being a total bastard as he went after the old man. He then proceeded to get increasingly frustrated with his opponent, charging in to try and put him out of his misery, only to be caught off-guard by his wily old ways. You don’t survive in this business for as long as Gabai Ji-chan has without having a few tricks up your sleeve.
It gave us a match that wasn’t only very funny but was also what we needed at this point in the show. After the excitement of the opener and the emotion of saying goodbye to KAORU, it was a chance to reset with an entertaining but low-stakes affair. It also continued a trend that I’ve previously pointed out, with Leo being at his best when he’s outside of his comfort zone. Dealing with a confused pensioner couldn’t be much further from having flippy matches with Japanese indie guys, and this was a lovely time.
Verdict: Brilliant Card Construction
Mio Momono defeated Ai Houzan in the first round of the tournament
I love an early tournament sprint. Ai came into this with a plan, peppering Mio with dropkicks and trying desperately to get her counted out. It nearly worked, too, Mio sneaking back in at the last second, foiling her attempts. Then, Ai made a single mistake, stopping her onslaught to hit the ropes. That moment of calm was all Mio needed to recover as she shoved Ai’s next dropkick out of the air and followed up with a Yoshi Tonic for the win.
As well as being a genre I enjoy, this was also a great example of how to book one of these things. Yes, Ai lost quickly, but she still looked intelligent for how she approached the match, and getting pinned by Mio did her no harm. It also established Momono as someone who can win in a blink of an eye, planting that seed in your head for later rounds. Most importantly, though, the match was a thrill, every move important, and I had a great time with the minute and a bit we had of it.
Verdict: Great Stuff
Queen Aminata defeated Maria in the first round of the tournament
I haven’t seen a whole of Aminata, and with this being a short match, I still hadn’t, but she looked pretty good here. Like most American wrestlers, she had a size and power advantage over Maria, which helped her impressively muscle her way out of a couple of submissions.
Unfortunately, the match did slightly suffer from the time constraints, as it felt like they were just starting to get into it, and then it was over, but that was always going to be the problem with cramming a whole tournament into one show. Still, a bit more urgency in the early going certainly wouldn’t have hurt and would have helped the finish feel a bit less sudden.
Anyway, with Maria having already wrestled once on this show (tapping out one of the greats in the process), it made sense for Aminata to go through. She’s come a long way and deserves the chance to show what she can do. However, that doesn’t stop this from being the Maria match that I will be forgetting from this show.
Verdict: Solid, But Slightly Flawed
Unagi Sayaka and Tomoko Watanabe fought to a time-limit draw in the first round of the tournament eliminating both of them
I did not expect this to be my favourite Unagi Marvelous match, but here we are. Tomoko went out there and reminded me that alongside her ability to make me laugh, she’s still got a bit of veteran badass cache, throwing Unagi around and giving her a bit of a beating. It was a brilliant way of heaping sympathy on The Eel and setting her up for the second half, in which a missed lariat saw Tomoko connect with the post and give Sayaka an opening to exploit.
And I don’t only think this was Unagi’s best Marvelous performance, but one of the best I’ve seen full stop. Not only did she take her beating well, but she reacted brilliantly to Tomoko’s arm thudding into the post, leaping on the opportunity with a touch of desperate aggression. She knew this was her opening to try and get something out of the action, and she came so close to doing so, as it felt like either one could get the win right up till the final seconds.
With the benefit of hindsight, though, this was the perfect way to end Unagi’s tournament. She’s incredibly entertaining, but having her wrestle multiple matches on the same show doesn’t play to her strengths. This result allows her to continue her loudmouth, braggart persona, as she can claim to have brought Tomoko to the limit while also allowing her to be the loveable loser she really is. As for Tomoko, she was never going to win the belt, and she’s well past the point where results affect her. So this wasn’t only my favourite tournament match so far, but it was pretty well booked, too.
Verdict: Lovely Stuff
Rin Kadokura defeated Riko Kawahata in the first round of the tournament
Perhaps emboldened by having teamed with her hero and kicked the shit out of her mentor, Riko came into this one ready to prod buttock. A minute or so in, she started laying into Rin with a series of kicks to the head, each boot looking a bit more violent than the last (apart from the one which very clearly missed, but we’ll be nice and pretend we didn’t see that). Not only was it badass, but it made it feel like she was going straight for the kill, an idea backed up by her following them with a German Suplex.
Unfortunately for Riko, that didn’t do the job, and when she missed her Moonsault, Rin capitalised, a Dragon Suplex proving enough to see Kawahata off. Again, it felt a bit sudden, but I think there is a logic there if you want to find it. Riko came into this fired-up from her previous match, but when Rin hit her hard, she was too beatdown and hurt to survive. All Kadokura needed was that one opening to go for the knockout blow, and she took it perfectly.
Now, you could easily dismiss that interpretation as my own headcanon, but fuck it, art is what you bring to it, and that’s what I saw in this match. Whether Rin and Riko planned it that way is irrelevant, and that reading meant I came out of it satisfied. Plus, even if it wasn’t, Riko had already lived out her fangirl dreams, so much like Maria, she had a free pass.
Verdict: Riko’s Badassery Wasn’t Enough
Chikayo Nagashima defeated Yuna Manase in the first round of the tournament
Something I didn’t consider in my preview was that this is a damn good pairing. Usually, with a wrestler as quick as Nagashima, you’d expect her opponent to be trying to slow her down. However, it was the exact opposite here. Yuna is so enthusiastic that it was up to Chikayo to try and grab a hold and take her to the ground. Otherwise, Manase threatened to bulldoze right through her.
Impressively, all that Manase bluster also led to me buying into the idea that she might win. Coming into the tournament, this was the first-round match where I was most confident of the winner, but there was a moment when I started to doubt that. Nagashima did a great job of selling being put on the backfoot while Manase kept coming, hammering her with lariats and inching closer to the win. Not only did I think she might do it, but I wanted her to, as I desperately hoped she might pull the upset off and get over the line.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. One moment of veteran savvy from Chikayo was all it took as she rolled through on a pin and transitioned into a hold to earn her victory. However, having come in without much in the way of high expectations for this match, I came out the other side very pleasantly surprised, and I wouldn’t mind seeing this pairing face-off again someday.
Verdict: Surprisingly Great
Mio Momono defeated Queen Aminata in the Tournament Semi-Final
In the ring with Mio, there was no worry about Aminata repeating the lack of urgency from her match with Maria. I might have argued beforehand that Momono shouldn’t win this tournament, but you can’t deny her brilliance. There isn’t another wrestler alive better at convincing me that everything they do in that ring is to get them the win, and it gave this match an almost frantic energy.
To Aminata’s credit, she coped well with being dragged along in Mio’s wake, keeping up with her and even having a moment where it looked like she might pull off the upset. Having booted Momono out of the air as she went for a Double Stomp (which looked awesome), she hit the Air Raid Crash that had gotten her the win over Maria. However, Mio’s early match hadn’t been as tough as battling Chigusa Nagayo, and she found it in herself to kick out.
Having survived that, Mio again proved that while you can hurt her, keeping her down is another matter entirely. Aminata looked to have everything under control, but Mio had enough savvy to roll through a cover, bundling her over and into a pin for the three (sadly, it took two attempts, as Tommy thought Aminata’s shoulder was up on the first one, but they reacted to the mistake well). It was another tasty little slice of Momonoism and a great way to continue the theme of Mio stealing a win out of nothing. The match, meanwhile, was good, and Aminata’s come out of this tournament with her head held high.
Verdict: Mio’s On A Roll
Chikayo Nagashima defeated Rin Kadokura in the tournament semi-final
At the start of our second semi-final, I was flagging a bit. It was a long old show with lots of matches, and (to give you a peek behind the curtain) I have not slept much recently. Even as Rin came flying out of the traps, keeping up the frantic pace that Mio had set in the previous encounter, I found my attention beginning to wander.
However, to give Rin and Chikayo credit, they won me back. Just as I thought I needed to stop and have a break, this match started to find its groove as they traded big moves, neither quite getting control of the action. They nailed the feeling of two tired wrestlers who knew this was too important to let it go without a fight, and while neither was quite able to formulate a plan, they were going to throw everything they had at the problem until they found an answer.
It turned out to be what I needed, a match that wasn’t much of a thinker but still proved a thrilling ride. In the end, Chikayo pulled out a Fisherman Brainbuster, spiking Rin right on her head and making sure that the person I’d pinpointed as the favourite before the tournament was at least going to the final. This match, meanwhile, was a lot of fun and a good one if you’re needing to be woken up.
Verdict: They Pulled Me Back In
Chikayo Nagashima defeated Mio Momono to win the AAAW Title Tournament
In the days leading up to the show, I may have argued that Mio shouldn’t win, but by the time the final started, I wanted nothing more than to see Momono take home the gold. I’m already a massive fan of hers, so that shouldn’t be surprising, but it caught me off-guard how much I wanted it for her. That same attitude that I talked about earlier, the one that makes it feel like Mio is always going for the win, also makes it very hard not to root for her. She’s a relentless force of nature, always coming forward and impossible to take your eyes off.
Unfortunately, when it came time to cross the line, Mio couldn’t pull herself over. She came roaring out the blocks, trying desperately to get the win in the opening minutes, but Nagashima’s experience proved vital. She cut Mio off and chose the perfect moment to go big, leaping from the top to the floor with a Double Stomp. It set the theme for this match, as the wild, desperate Mio smashed up against Chikayo’s composure. Even as Momono was flying into cover after cover, trying everything to keep Nagashima’s shoulders on the mat, you never got the impression that the veteran panicked. She always knew what she was doing, kicking out from every pin and waiting for her opportunity to strike.
And for all that my allegiance was with Mio by the end, I still think the story was perfect. Mio is close, so close she can taste it, but she can’t take that last step. She almost wants it too much, her desperation causing her to make mistakes. Where Nagashima was calm, Mio was frantic, and when push came to shove, she tried too hard to force it through, charging into an attack and being punished for it. This match left me with no doubt that Mio’s day will come but that Marvelous want her to walk the right road to get there.
It was also, alongside all of that, a great main event where, despite having already wrestled twice, Nagashima and Momono gave everything they had to the action. Chikayo is also a worthy winner, especially after her recent flirt with retirement. With her having decided to stick around, it’s heartwarming to see her climb back to the belt she last won twenty years ago, and she damn well deserves it.
Verdict: Brilliantly Done
After Nagashima’s celebratory speech, Queen Aminata asked for a title shot at the next show. I assume she’s only in Japan for a few weeks, so that makes sense, and it should be a fun match.
That was a packed show. Amazingly, it came in under three hours, but Marvelous had enough to fill nearly twice that. Thankfully, it was also brilliant. From the thrill of the opener to the tense excitement of the main event, this was easily their best show of the year and one of my favourites full stop. It might not have been what they had planned, but it was a fantastic time anyway.
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