Coming into 2022’s Princess Cup Final, it felt like the focus was entirely on Miu Watanabe. With good reason, too. Miu going deep in the tournament, beating Shoko Nakajima and Miyu Yamashita on the way, felt like the stepping up of Tokyo Joshi’s next generation. Yes, they’ve made it to main events and battled for titles before, but no one had ever done it by going through two of the heads on TJPW’s Mount Rushmore. Miu was brute forcing her way to the top, breaking down walls for those who followed, and people were desperate for her to go the distance.
However, what that desperation has often missed, is that this match wasn’t solely about Miu. Yes, the chance for a young wrestler to unseat an established veteran is a classic hook, but that veteran standing their ground and refusing to go quietly into the night is just as big a story. Yuka had watched on from afar as Miu barrelled through two of her oldest rivals and had a bit of a scare of her own against Suzume in the semis, so she knew what was coming, and there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to step aside for Watanabe’s coronation. The world might have been screaming that it was the pink idol’s time, but in Sakazaki’s mind, her reign at the top was far from over.
And it’s those duel stories that make this match so exciting. You’ve got Watanabe giving her everything, that wonderfully expressive face making it clear she’s putting her heart and soul into the action, desperate to prove herself. In contrast, she’s coming up against Yuka in Terminator mode. People talk about Yamashita as a stone-cold killer, but when that switch goes in Sakazaki’s brain, Miyu looks like an excited puppy in comparison. While every emotion danced across Watanabe’s face, Yuka went blank, the closest to a flicker of emotion being the quizzical look in her eyes as she looked down at a tired and beaten Watanabe towards the end, pondering whether she was really done. It’s only when she wins, the referee counting the three after a hell of a Magical Merry-Go-Round, that Sakazaki lets it flow, the mixture of tears and exhaustion showing how far Miu had pushed her.
And while a victory for Watanabe would have been a huge thing, it was also massive for Sakazaki. Yes, she recently had a long title reign, but it happened in the depths of the pandemic, in front of empty rooms and quiet crowds, and had her rack of up a relatively small number of defences. The perfect run it was not, and coming into The Princess Cup, it’s safe to say that 2022 wasn’t making up for that. In the three months before this tournament, Yuka had travelled to America to lose a qualifying match for the Owen Hart Tournament, lost to Shoko at CyberFest and then only a week later lost her and Mizuki’s Princess Tag Titles to a team featuring a rookie. Miu wasn’t the only one coming into this match with something to prove, and if Sakazaki has something to prove, the odds are she’ll do it.
I want to finish this by talking about Miu Watanabe, though. Because yea, she lost, and I was fucking gutted about that. Miu is perhaps the most infectious wrestler in the world right now, her blossoming joy at discovering her own power making it impossible not to root for her. I wanted her to be the one to smash down the doors and start the revolution. However, this is one revolution that I am happy to wait a bit longer for. The story of this match was that she was brilliant, but that right now, she’s not as good as Yuka Sakazaki. However, the day will come when she will be, and now that we’ve watched her stumble at the last step, that victory be all the sweeter.
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