All Japan Women's Wrestling in 1997 is something I've been interested in from a far. It features many matches that have been favorably reviewed but there's something very different than '92-'96 AJW. The roster is pretty similar but they're finally pushing some of their younger wrestlers to the top. Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita (Las Cachorras Orientales) go full heel and become the chair swinging baddies. Kaoru Ito and Tokoko Watanabe were always great in mid card tags and 6 mans are elevated as the baby faces along with the youngster Kumiko Maekawa...under the leadership of Yumiko Hotta who goes from sometime main eventer to champion. AJW needed some invigorating and this was how they did it. Aja Kong was retiring, Kyoko leaving and both starting their own promotions (Arsion & NEO). Their departures were the catalyst for a mini exodus (most notably Mariko Yoshida) and others including LCO would opt to become freelancers. Zenjo gives a great summary on the [1997-09-21-AJW-Wrestlemarinepiad IX] Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda vs Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe (Cage) entry in the Match Discussion Archive/Yearbook.
So there's a little background and really the reason I was so hesitant to get into 1997 AJW. That's to say, hesitant to make the financial commitment to buy (and wait for) DVDs at the height of my Joshi interest. Unlike '92-'96 AJW, there weren't those blockbuster events with multiple great or classic matches. The last solid good-old-days chunk of AJW shows appeared to be the summer of 1997. With the magic of the internet and couple of the DVDs I did buy, I finally want to take a look.
The first few matches are from the 06/17/97 show. In some ways I'm not sure why I bought this DVD based on the above. I think I confused it for a commercial DVD that featured 06/17 & 06/18...
CMLL World Women's Title: Mariko Yoshida vs. Rie Tamada: Good match where the excitement really came from the near falls. It wasn't a long match or anything but they packed a good bit in.
Aja Kong & Takako Inoue & Momoe Nakanishi vs. Yumiko Hotta & Tokoko Watanabe & Kumiko Maekawa: Pretty good match but the quality took a little drop when Takako was in there. Aja and Momoe was a pretty cool team.Tokoko Watanabe is pretty darn underrated and this match is a good example of that. She put in a ton of effort and put on the best performance overall.
Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita vs. Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada: A violent chaotic match. It started and stayed in top gear all match. This was good because it felt like a real fight with actual stakes. As a con this didn't maximize the drama. I believe this was a decision match to challenge for the tag titles so in that regard they needed to hold back a little and not empty their tanks like you know they can. Nevertheless this was a really good match between two of the best tag teams in AJW history. Their '95 match (iirc) is a classic and features less of the weapons/brawling that LCO are known for.
Kyoko Inoue vs. Kaoru Ito: This is for the vacant red belt. And they definitely bring it for the big title. Ito is coming into her own and is not to be taken lightly which Kyoko does early on. Once Ito starts with her stomps Inoue is in real trouble. Her selling of the pain has got to be legitimate. This is what makes this great as the former champion is in danger wherever she goes. She has got to find a way to stop the upstart Ito. I'm not always high on Kyoko but this is a strong performance from her. As a Kaoru Ito fan, I dug this
Toyota & Yoshida vs. Hotta & Ito (06/18/97): Whew doggy! This was a great tag match. They just had such a good pace going. They kept building and building with great action. I felt Toyota vs Hotta was the very best stuff though. They were just so nasty with each other! Ito certainly tried her best to match her mentor. Mariko got better as the match went on as she didn't seem to gel with Ito this evening. Things eventually meshed and they were doing great stuff at the end.
Las Cachorras Orientales vs. Watanabe & Maekawa (06/18/97): What a first fall! 9 minutes of joshi perfection..just telling a brutal story. Everything was on the beat so to speak. 2nd and third falls keep it up. It looks like bedlam. The bottom rope is broken, the one corner padding is off, sections of the guardrail are missing, 3 of the 4 women are bleeding. It is just so competitive & intense. It is absolutely captivating. This Joshi tag title fight is classic that hasn't gotten the praise it deserves.
Seeing 06/18, I'm pretty sure I thought both nights were on the DVD. That would have been one of awesome no-doubt DVD purchases. I think my disappointment that 06/18 wasn't on there is what motivated me to pack the 06/17 DVD away for 7 years.
I'm not going to re-watch and review the following but, I highly recommend both as they are classics. The tag match is an all time classic to me. The singles match might be the best singles match of AJW '97. This was one of those must buy DVDs...
Kaoru Ito vs Manami Toyota (08/09/97)
Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda vs Aja Kong & Kyoko Inoue (08/09/97)
Aja Kong vs Manami Toyota (08/20/97): This starts out as a very good match that in some ways is a bit light hearted and nostalgic. Don't get me wrong. They are still going at it but there's moments of humor and it's just fun to see two great rivals in the ring. They aren't trying to top their 11/94 classic. However, shit kicks into high gear and this isn't Aja & Toyota phoning it in. It's a great match with a super strong final 3rd. That final portion really kicks this into that near classic territory. We get some down right "Holy Shit!" moments. This looks like Aja's final match in AJW, it's a worthy swan song.
LCO vs Maekawa & Watanabe (08/20/97): Super quick first fall. Fall #2 is the real start of the match. It's very good action. A good mix of LCO brawling/chair shots but mainly traditional joshi tag wrestling. Maekawa is off the hook with her kicks. And fall #3 has a similar vibe with some allusions to their awesome 06/18 bout. I've seen this rated in the classic ****1/2 range but it was a more tame version of the June match. I thought it was very good and if you've not seen 06/18 then I could see having a higher rating. Or maybe this is more your preference.
Kyoko Inoue vs Yumiko Hotta (08/20/97): This was a great match! They told an excellent story. Kyoko has her usual power & high energy moves where Hotta is all about her kicks and submissions. You' ve seen this match up but Kyoko really sells the hell outta everything. It may be her best sell job that I can remember. She is selling everything that hurts- arm, legs, back. And Hotta is just vicious but not in a sadistic way. Now she is focused and measured in her strikes. It reminded me of Hashimoto to an extent. Clocking in around 15 minutes, this was the perfect amount of time for Kyoko & Hotta. There's no filler - this is all quality wrestling. And all that put together, this is a great title fight. Shoot, it's probably a near classic. Maybe it was just a different style than the typical AJW title bout but I just really appreciated the storytelling and excellent action that went along with it.
08/20 was one DVD on my "maybe buy one day" list. 03/26/95 Aja vs Toyota was such a letdown for me, I think I was very wary of assuming it was a sure thing. And then you have Maekawa & Watanabe vs LCO which was an untested/unproven match up and finally Kyoko vs Hotta which on paper could be all wrong. I'm pretty darn happy that I finally saw these and my expectations were exceeded.
Manami Toyota & Kyoko Inoue vs Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita (08/22/1997): So from what I can tell this is Kyoko's final match as an AJW wrestler. And its a great one! Mima & Etsuko have their work cut out for them facing two former Red belt champions. They hold their own pretty damn well (those chairs seem to help!). As this is only one fall things do not get as crazy as it could (or its a non title match). It's a bit more of a match that Toyota would have... so no scissors or too much fighting in the crowd...but LCO still do their thing...I mean they have to try and put either Kyoko or Toyota down with something, right? The wrestlers don't go for broke and Toyota does kinda brush some stuff off a little too quickly, otherwise it could have been another classic. As it is though, it is a great match. 1997 Kyoko may renewed my good opinion of her.
Manami Toyota vs Yumiko Hotta (09/21/97): This is a great title fight that demands your patience and attention. It is slower paced, there are actual wrestling holds, and this is not just a long sprint or a few holds in the beginning then we run into fireworks. This reminded me almost of a shorter version of Inoki vs Fujinami 08/88..or maybe Inoki Strong Style. I think that's Hotta's style as champ. I can see not being down for that back in the late 90's when we all wanted the envelope to get pushed in terms of moves, stunts etc. But it's been 20+ years of that. Maybe because I am getting older but I appreciate these slower burning matches more. Here we have two with a history but not necessarily rivals fighting for the Red belt. It is sorta showing that the heart of AJW is still beating.
The culmination of the summer (of LCO) is the cage match vs Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe (09/21/97). This is one you definitely need to check out if only the last 5 minutes. I have like 70% of the match on DVD which I watched but was super bummed when the video from the VHS just runs out...not that I didn't know how it ends. To be honest,I am not a fan of this match as a whole however I think it's a fantastic way to blow off the feud plus the last 5 minutes are absolutely wild and worth you seeing. Some folks consider it an all time classic and you may too so don't just listen to me
I can't end it there though so we're going to dip into October '97. I believe this is the final LCO as AJW roster members.
Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita vs Kumiko Maekawa & Momoe Nakanishi (WWWA Tag Titles) 10/18/1997: You've got a great story baked into this match. Momoe is an underdog just based on her size but in '97 she's not made any big waves just yet. But never ever count her out. Momoe's speed and body control adds a whole new dimension to the LCO match formula. Maekawa on the other hand is very familiar with LCO and she's got a pin on one of 'em. She doesn't offer a ton of variety in her attacks but her kicks are absolutely dangerous. Someone in the YouTube comments said that they're no match for Mita & Shimoda but I disagree. And this match is the fucking' proof. This 2/3 falls match is a sneak peek of the awesome stuff they would do in 2000 & '01. Near classic match.
Here are my quick thoughts on some the wrestlers for the summer of 1997.
Aja Kong: Awesome as ever. 3 matches, 2 are must see.
Kaoru Ito: Absolutely agree with her getting pushed.
Kumiko Maekawa: Very surprised how good she was in 97. Maybe better in 97 than later?
Kyoko Inoue: Redeemed herself w/ these matches. The excesses of '96 tag matches are gone.
Momoe Nakanishi: Is already very exciting to watch. Surprisingly not squashed this early.
Tomoko Watanabe: Sort of a poor man's Kyoko yet no ego as a result. Just a ton of fight.
Yumiko Hotta: Perhaps Aja and Yamada had to leave to have the aura/match style she needed? Definitely feels like a champ.
In terms of big match quality, AJW could still deliver. The under card I can't speak much about. That in mind, a big thanks to the folks that have posted these online for everyone to enjoy. It has been really fun to finally be able to watch this stuff I've been wanting to see for well over a decade. If you're like "WTF dude!? It's not that hard to come by." Then I say "Screw Off buddy! I got my own way of doing things. " Maybe you're the same if you're reading about 26 year old Japanese women's wrestling
Thanks for reading!