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(ZION Semi-Finals 9/22/01 Tokyo):

Azumi Hyuga vs. Mariko Yoshida

 

Another matchup that you look at and go „hm... that should be good.“ But then, it's a semi final of a 1 night tournament, so there is a ceiling to it. This felt kind of like them doing a condensed epic. Yoshida rushes Hyuga early on and works over her a bit with her submissions, which Yoshida naturally does pretty well. Hyuga is a competent pro wrestler, can handle herself on the mat and knows to sell enough so you won't hate her, but her comebacks are weak. I really liked Yoshida's cut-off where she just grinded Hyuga down with a vicious headlock and got right back to the submissions. They bust out the stiff punches and knees for the finish and have some nice well timed moments. So yes, this was a fine match, but I couldn't help but feel I was waching a compressed versiont of a longer, much better match.

 

Mikiko Futagami vs. Mima Shimoda

 

Futagami assaults Shimoda with the dreaded paper fan early. Shimoda steals the fan and hits her back, intead of using her signature chair she brought to the ring. Negative aspects of this match: Shimoda can't be arsed to make her axe kicks look decent. Positive aspect: It was over in 3 minutes.

 

Mikiko Futagami vs. Azumi Hyuga (ZION Tournament '01 FINAL, 9/22/01 Tokyo)

 

For a 9 minute match that was pretty mailed in this was kind of fun. I liked Hyuga planting GAMI with a deadlift german suplex when she tried to block the german series, and there were a few nifty reversals. Still the match was probably too generic and sloppy to be considered good.

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Ayako Hamada/Michiko Ohmukai vs. Lioness Asuka/Mariko Yoshida (Twinstar of Arsion Tag Title, 10/21/01 Tokyo)

Okay, so this match. I like the Asuka/Yoshida team because it moves Yoshida into prominence. And there were lots of good exchanges between Yoshida and both Ayako and Ohmukai where she catches them in submissions and works Ayako over with punches. The Ayako/Lioness exchanges were good too, altough had kind of a funny feeling, as if Ayako was saying „Back off! I'm the ace of this company!“ and Asuka was going „But I used to be a huge star!“ and then neither would back down. I liked that, and Ayako even works some fun exchanges around Asuka's stupid table spots! The Ohmukai/Asuka section was fun too as neither has a problem trading stiff punches and kicks to the face. Then the match goes crazy! Ayako almost kills herself on a dive! Asuka gets pissed off and rampages about the place, hitting everyone with a piece of table and bloodying Ohmukai! I didn't expect the match would have an actual finish after Asuka's rampage, but it did have a finish and that was kind of great too! So yeah, I got the feeling that diehard ARSION fans hated this stuff at the time, but I liked it a lot. Good wrestling, good spectacle, blood and a satisfying ending.

 

Mima Shimoda/Etsuko Mita vs. Azumi Hyuga/Tsubasa Kuragaki (Tag League, 11/3/01 Tokyo)

 

Hm, I guess this would've been OK if I wasn't so deathly tired of LCO at this point. LCO dominate much of the early portion of this match, so much that it almost fees like a burial of the JWP crew. Hyuga got a bloody nose, but that didn't lead to anything. Kuragaki was fun probably simply by being a fresh face. I liked how she followed a torture rack up with a big splash to the back, and her no hands headbutt ruled. Hyuga kinda runs through her shit in all these matches and this was no exception. And what do ya now, brave Tsubasa falls to generic LCO bullshit. The lack of motivation is understandable.

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Picked up this set a few months ago and started going through it earlier.

 

Candy Okutsu v Yumi Fukawa, 2/18/98

- I figured this was heading toward "fun intro to the style" territory, but then it kept going and before I knew it I was thinking it was a bit more than that. It wasn't perfect -- some transitions were abrupt and they might've overreached on a few ideas, but it had flashes of the lucha and shooty influences early on before morphing into a highly competitive contest at the end. I was impressed with Fukawa, particularly the snap she'd get on flat back bumps for Candy's missile dropkicks. A couple of those moonsaults were pretty brutal as well, including that one where I think she was intending on landing on Candy's arm only to near enough crush her head like a spoiled grapefruit. For a match that I assume was to show the audience what to expect from the new promotion I thought they managed to strike a really nice balance between exhibition and struggle. Good match, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of both women.

 

Aja Kong v Michiko Ohmukai, 2/18/98

- Man, what is Ohmukai? I mean, if you ever needed proof that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Slender, unassuming, superstar good looks...and she will kick your fucking head in. I thought this was ace. The opening with the slap, Ohmukai's brutal kicks and Aja's subsequent sell (loved her just collapsing after being Irish whipped) was awesome, then Aja came back like you knew she would and unleashed hell. Also liked how she'd sit in the mount position and shit talk Ohmukai while slapping her about the head. It made for a neat dynamic of heavyweight wrecking ball v skinny supermodel who'll kick you in the liver, particularly as skinny supermodel kicking you in the liver clearly had a point to prove (that she was every bit the wrecking ball Aja was, maybe). Where Candy/Fukawa was more along the lines of your lucharesu, this was straight out of Battlarts. And I'm fully on board with Ohmukai playing ARSION Takeshi Ono.

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Aja Kong/Michiko Ohmukai/Yumi Fukawa v Rie Tamada/Candy Okutsu/Mikiko Futagami, 2/18/98

- This was alright, albeit pretty sloppy. Sometimes that meant you got Fukawa hitting crazy moonsaults where she almost lands on her head or crushes Candy Okutsu's ribs, then at other points you got ropey powerslams and double teams where someone had to stand around waiting for others to get into position properly. If everyone was pulling double duty on the show then I guess it's understandable. Tamada was a lot of fun and probably my favourite girl in this. She'd often smack someone in the face as a cut off and the best spot was her punching an onrushing Aja right in the mouth. Mostly a go-go-go sprint, but the early cutting off of Fukawa gave us something to sink our teeth into and it's no surprise she looked satisfied picking up the victory. Her majistral cradle looked air tight.

 

Mariko Yoshida v Rie Tamada, 4/17/98

- Yoshida's first match in ARSION and fittingly it's a doozy. Some of her matwork in this was breathtaking, how she'd just yank Tamada into a hold and give her no peace whatsoever. One of my favourite things about her as a worker is how nothing against her comes easy, even if it's trying to gain side control or apply a routine hold, she makes you work for every little thing and we saw it in abundance here. Her dominance on the ground sort of created a story of Tamada being forced to try every other strategy possible in response, from taking to the air to attempting a bunch of DDT and suplex variations to straight elbowing Yoshida in the mouth. Not that she was a slouch on the mat, but if she was stubborn enough to keep the match there then it wouldn't be long before Yoshida hooked her in something she couldn't get out of. We saw this when she started going after Yoshida's leg, grabbing a few kneebars that forced her to scramble to the ropes, but then she got ahead of herself shooting in for the single leg and Yoshida tied her up in two seconds flat. I can't even describe how she did it, but man was it gorgeous. Classy match.

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Hey, I kinda forgot about this project. Looking forward to read more of your thoughts, KB8.

 

Lioness Asuka/noki-A vs. Ayako Hamada/Fabi Apache (Tag League, 11/3/01 Tokyo)

 

Aw lil Akino teams with Asuka now! This was a match that kind of suffered from too much hard work. Ayako and Akino were just bumping all over the place here, transitions out the ass, the whole enchilada... there just wasn't really a match going on to sink your teeth into. I like Asuka, she is a fun powerhouse who will kick you like a dog... I liked the noki-A vs. Fabi finishing section. Still for a 12 minute bout this had too much stuff crammed into it.

 

Mima Shimoda/Etsuko Mita vs. Mikiko Futagami/Rie Tamada (UWA Tag Title, 11/25/01 Tokyo)

 

Basic LCO match that stayed in the ring and didn't drag. GAMI bled, and also brought her paper fans wrapped in barbed wire (wow that gimmick got dark quickly). Some nice twists and turns, altough I've seen their spots too many times to care at this point.

 

Manami Toyota vs. Mariko Yoshida (11/25/01 Tokyo)

 

Big ol' dream match. The style contrast of Yoshida's shoot submissions vs. Toyota's car wreck style was pretty fun. Yoshida catching her higher ranked opponent repeatedly made for a solid layout. Toyota was bringing it too, laying in mean stomps and clobbering Yoshida, and her dropkicks and suplexes were on point. She may have had a more expressive performance than Yoshida, who was pretty much doing her thing. This had some of the ills of japanese big match wrestling, but the story was fun enough and the finish-off was a fine moment.

 

Ayako Hamada vs. Lioness Asuka (Queen of Arsion Title, 11/25/01 Tokyo)

 

The young ace takes on the big bad legend! This match is a rare Asuka singles match with no bullshit. For that alone it was interesting to watch. And they went for a full-blown EPIC too, putting on a fight that had wrestling exchanges, submission work, stiff moves, table spots, fire balls, the whole deal. If you are nostalgic for joshi stuff you may enjoy this, but others may call this match a poorly thought out mess full of blown spots and poor transitions. I'll say there were a few cool moments and they both threw some mean bombs, but overall the fight never came together for me.

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I had forgot about this show (well, no, but I wish), which was the blow-off of Lioness takeover. Well, the dream match between Yoshida & Toyota was a disapointment back then with Toyota (from my distant memories) being on auto-pilot. The main event was Lioness being Lioness and Ayako, like you said, throwing bombs and whatnot and this was kind of a mess. I think I checked out for good then, I believe I didn't buy more ARSION tapes after that point.

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Mima Shimoda/Etsuko Mita vs. Lioness Asuka/noki-A (Tag League, 12/8/01 Tokyo)

 

This match was pretty long and pointless. Previously, LCO were booked to look really strong, but they got dominated almost the whole match here. LCO added almost nothing to the match, sticking to their lazy chops and no-selling. I kind of like the Asuka/Akino Team and it was cool to see Akino showcasing her stuff. Still, need better opponents than LCO.

 

Mikiko Futagami/Rie Tamada vs. Michiko Ohmukai/Ai Fujita (Tag League Final, 12/8/01 Tokyo)

 

This was a sprint with a lot of no-selling and choreographed sequences, not all of which went well. Not a smart match, but atleast it wasn't dull like the previous LCO match. Ai Fujita is starting to become a pretty fun worker, being the next to do a Takeshi Ono tribute and combine punch combos with her fast junior wrestling.

 

Michiko Ohmukai/Mariko Yoshida/Ai Fujita vs. Lioness Asuka/noki-A/Rena Takase (Trios Tournament Final 12/23/01)

 

Finals of a trios tournament. ARSION sure is tournamentville. This was a match where everyone just runs in to do their stuff together, not really good, not bad, sort of nebulous, and your mind starts to wonder how you'd much rather watch a singles match between Akino, Yoshida or Fujita than these these girls doing hasty 40 second exchanges, but again, that's kind of the point. The highlight of the match was rooTkie akase stringing a serious of fun nearfalls together before getting caught by the big bad spider lady.

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I've been trying to make my way through these shows myself when I've had the time - about halfway through 1999 now, and it's been really enjoyable so far. Even not taking into account the in-ring style the promotion has a really vibrant identity and aesthetic (that's pure 1990s to its core), it's a very unique watch.
Yoshida is the obvious standout but I've been getting a lot of mileage out of FutaGAMI. Her as this surly, bullet-headed little punk is a great time, particularly against Yoshida where she's always out to prove something and knock the top girl off her spot. Works well with Omukai too. Both of them have their flaws but they generally just get straight to the business of kicking the hell out of each other and that does me fine.
On the negative side, no-one's fallen further and faster in my estimation than Candy Okutsu. Puts on a great performance in the first match of the debut show which set her up for high expectations, and she definitely has the ability to meet them, but she rarely seems to want to. Over time she's become more and more obnoxious and I'm starting to dread seeing her.

 

I got my hands on a couple of 1998 shows after the fact, one of which was Hamada's debut, so I went back and watched that over the weekend. The long promo package they played before her match was kind of unsettling in a way; seeing Kong and Ogawa present at her high school graduation (I assume that's what it was?) and things like that really enforced how much of a project she was for the promotion, which I found a vaguely uncomfortable way to view a 17-year old girl. Obviously wrestling is what she wanted to do, but man, something about how it's all presented...it doesn't help that she has a resting miserable face during all the pressers, etc.

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Mariko Yoshida vs. Megumi Fujii (ARSION 5/24/2003)

 

It's pro wrestling's female top grappler vs. her MMA equivalent. This was before Fujii made her MMA debut, but she was already a seriously great grappler. And thus a great matchup for Yoshida to test herself against. Yoshida is a worker and thus carried this nicely, and Fujii's grappling was just a trip to watch. For someone who was pushed as the top submission artist in her promotion for years, Yoshida had no qualms about putting her significantly smaller opponent over as an ultra dangerous force. Early on Yoshida was outmatched on the ground, so she quickly went to her feet and landed a big impact move to gain the advantage. Later she tried standing up again, only to be caught in a whacky twisting armbar. Yoshida looked credible grappling with Fujii and dished out some nasty boots to her face for good measure. Fujii had some ultra impressive counters and didn't have any hiccups for someone who's never done fake fighting before. I'm generally a fan of wrestler vs. MMA fighter matches and this went smoother than most. Last sequence was kind of ridiculous and awesome, like one of those Okada/Omega sequences if they knew how to fight.

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Candy Okutsu v Mikiko Futagami (ARSION, 4/17/98)

Really neat sprint, not too big on the extended selling but super scrappy and you had something cool happening literally every thirty seconds. Initially I figured they were going for a full on bombfest, but they pretty quickly developed a story of Futagami trying to take Candy's arm home with her. She was reversing all sorts of shit with all sorts of shit and constantly found ways to grab that arm, whether it be in kimuras, armbars, key locks, anything that was there to be grabbed she grabbed. Not all of it was completely smooth, but for the most part that scrappiness prevented it from coming off as an exhibition. Candy is always really fun and everything she did was at hyper speed, the parts where she'd sprint up turnbuckles, reel off several German suplexes in a row, everything with a real sense of desperation to it. In maybe the coolest spot of the match she bolted up to the top rope and hit a cross body to the outside, but as she landed Futagami somehow managed to transition straight into a cross armbreaker. Futagami's striking added another layer as well and she really came off like a pitbull. Some of those palm strikes were Liger-esque. I had to double check to see if there wasn't a clip job in here somewhere because no way did this feel like thirteen minutes. I guess if that's not the sign of a good sprint I don't know what is.

 

Candy Okutsu v Yumi Fukawa (ARSION, 5/5/98)

Pretty awesome little lucharesu/shoot style hybrid. For about fourteen of these seventeen minutes this kind of felt like an amalgamation of M-Pro and Battlarts. That's a fairly absurd amount of praise coming from someone who loves both of those promotions to death, but that was the vibe I was getting so fair fucks to them for pulling it off. They started out with a burst of rope-running and a fake out dive, then settled into a more mat-based contest with the lucha aspect in the background. Fukawa is a pocket rocket of a wrestler and I always dig her working the mat, but the eye-opener here was Candy. This might be the best I've seen her look working holds and that even includes her bouts with Yoshida. I don't know how Fukawa didn't end up paralyzed during this because she landed square on the top of her head off a whiffed Lionsault...and then she tried to just re-do the spot straight after and landed square on the top of her head AGAIN. It's hard to knock her and I thought Candy did okay covering for it, but it did take a wee bit of steam out of the last few minutes. Still, the fact she was even able to finish the match was impressive in itself and a few dodgy transitions towards the end wasn't the worst thing in the world. I liked this a ton. 

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Hey... I'm doing a best of 2002 project. That's an excuse to watch ARSION again, right?

 

Asuka & noki-A vs. Ayako Hamada & Ai Fujita (ARSION 1/6/2002)

This wasn't anything great, but they wrestled a straight match without any bullshit or awrygoings an that alone is noteworthy. Match was going along fine altough there were no moments in the 1st half that made me ge „this is GOOD“. It does pick up nicely for the end run which had some well timed spots and both Ai Fujita and noki-A getting to look good, with Ai looking especially funky hitting cool submissions, rollups and punches. Will be interesting to see what these two are able to do in dying days ARSION.

Michiko Ohmukai vs. Lioness Asuka (ARSION 1/13/2002)

Both these two can be good, but they are also prone to bullshit and taking lazy shortcuts. The first few minutes of this were actually inspired, as they hit eachother hard and Ohmukai actually tried preventing Asuka from just getting her shit in. A couple minutes in the match Asuka started going for her lazy crowd „brawling“. Ohmukai took some huge double stomps in this, what a weird way to celebrate your lengthy pro wrestling career. It was pretty fun to watch these two kick and punch each other in the face, on the other hand there was also some goofy/blown looking stuff. Asuka being so non-expressive while rumaging around with her tables doesn't help. I guess this was good overall.

Mariko Yoshida vs. Michiko Ohmukai (1/25/2002)

It was fun watching Yoshida hit the mat and this had some cool punches. Ohmukai was lazying it up in this match though making this nearly a 1 woman show, which sours me because this could've been real good with Ohmukai caring. Also, it's kind of painful how no one is buying Yoshidas submissions anymore.

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Michiko Ohmukai v Rie Tamada (ARSION, 5/5/98)

This had a few cool moments, a few weird moments, a few rubbish moments. It wasn't the best. Ohmukai starting out by using a handshake to yank Tamada into a tiger suplex was great, but then they went and did a bunch of suplex-trading and no-selling and nobody has time for that shit. Ohmukai has some killer strikes but hardly any of them looked good here. Her kicks were all over the place, the ones that connected often looking light, the ones that missed looking like that was always the plan anyway. She did throw one punch to the jaw that kind of ruled, though. Tamada was just as sloppy and some of the miscues between them were glaring, resulting in awkward fumbling with neither seeming to know who was supposed to be hitting a move and who was supposed to be taking it or moving out the way or what. When she's on her game Ohmukai can be a pretty great Battlartsy shitkicker, but this was not that. I don't know what this was.

 

Mariko Yoshida v Mikiko Futagami (ARSION, 5/5/98)

What a cracking little bout. Where the last match started with a minute of ropey fighting spirit guff, this started with a minute of sprawling and scrambling for limbs that ended in a stalemate. Yoshida was an absolute marvel in this. She mostly works dominant and it's because she's such a dynamo on the mat. Futagami is the more accomplished striker, but most of her big hits land almost surprisingly. She has to get tricky with them because Yoshida seems to have them largely scouted, and once or twice, probably out of frustration, she throws a couple that could be considered cheapshots. Early on they engaged in a knuckle lock and Futagami started throwing kicks, thinking she'd keep hold of Yoshida's hands so she wouldn't be able to block. Except Yoshida used her arm and managed to corral a body kick anyway, which she then turned into a rolling kneebar. On the couple rare occasions it looks like Futagami might have Yoshida in a dangerous spot, Yoshida will spring a counter and apply an ankle lock with her own feet or a kimura to escape a choke (and I love that she coughed and spluttered a bit afterwards to sell it). I'm not sure what prompted it specifically, but at some point Yoshida started selling her taped up wrist and it gave Futagami something to target in times of need. Some of her hits started landing a little more flush as well and they had me convinced she was winning after the brutal koppo kick. But really, Yoshida did about five things on the mat that I don't think I've seen before. There was one point where Futagami tried to pull some Manami Toyota neck bridging out of a pin shenanigans so Yoshida grabbed a choke with her legs. A couple beats later Yohida hit a folding powerbomb, and as Futagami kicked out Yoshida instantly transitioned into an ankle lock. The way she wound up with a gogoplata out of a gutbuster at the end was absurd. ARSION had such a cool house style and this was a superb ten minutes of it.

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