Old ARSION and new ARSION collided when Lioness Asuka and Mariko Yoshida used the ring - and ringside area - as a battlefield of ideas.
July 3, 2001
Hyper Visual Fighting ARSION
When ARSION debuted in 1998, it was a huge breath of fresh air on both the Joshi landscape and the overall pro wrestling landscape. In the late 90s, wrestling all over the world was starting to drown in its own excess with ever-lengthening finishing stretches, bigger bumps, and unnecessarily long matches. This was every bit as true, possibly even more true, for women's wrestling in Japan. Suddenly, ARSION showed up to suggest return to basics -- similar to how the late 70s punk rock movement made restraint something radical.
If ARSION was 1970s punk, they turned Korakuen Hall into CBGB's and the cards were like Ramones set lists. The wrestlers weren't getting paid by the hour and they were in and out quickly, which felt like a return to early JWP in many ways, a Joshi promotion that was a misfit congregation for women who dared to be older than 25 years old (and thus, were required to retire under All Japan Women rules) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara trainees. One of the most dramatic reinventions came from Mariko Yoshida.
Yoshida was always a very good worker, and she was a midcard mainstay in AJW during the glory years of the 1990s interpromotional era. She worked the house style in AJW, but in ARSION, she would create it herself, transforming into one of the greatest mat wizards in wrestling history. Others followed suit and we saw an interesting and sometimes new side of wrestlers working the mat. If you can imagine an all women's promotion of nothing but Steven Regal WCW TV title defenses from TBS up and down the card, you can probably get pretty close to what ARSION was.
Like any big attempt at change, there was resistance. It came in large part from Etsuko Mita and Mima Shimoda, who teamed as Las Cacharros Orientales, usually called the LCO for short. The LCO had a reputation as an all-time great tag team, and rightfully so, but they also popularized around-the-arena brawling and long bloated matches to a fault wherever they went, which was pretty much everywhere. Phil Schneider of Death Valley Driver once called them "the Public Enemy of Joshi" in a scathing review.
Lioness Asuka had success in wrestling as both a minimalist and maximalist, but on the issue of the day, she sided with the LCO. She was brought in as company booker and reformed everything in her image. As arguable the number two star of 1980s AJW, Asuka had some capital as one of the biggest draws on the scene, and suddenly ARSION, while still producing good matches, was more conventional.
That struggle played out in how the match was worked, with Yoshida repeatedly taking Lioness to the mat, only to be countered by brawling on the outside. Art further imitated life when Asuka won the match, just as she won the battle. Call it a pyrrhic victory, as ARSION sadly only lasted a couple more years, which made the whole scene Pretty Vacant.