March 10, 2001/Heisei 13
In the short couple of years that I’ve been watching joshi wrestling the discussion about AJW for many usually falls off a cliff around the year 1997. The reason being that during the summer of 1997 several women left the AJW roster due to new contracts bringing in less money and the promotion was left with a few veterans and many fresh faces. Aja Kong left to form ARSION, Kyoko Inoue went to create Neo Japan Ladies Pro Wrestling, Toshiyo Yamada and others left to join Chigusa Nagayo in GAEA; in total over 10 people left making Yumiko Hotta and Manami Toyota the senior faces of the once all-mighty promotion. At Wrestle Marinepiad IX Yumiko Hotta referred to the group of young wrestlers as ‘Shinsei Zenjo’ which can have the meaning of ‘newborn Zenjo’ as was the case with the dramatically different roster. Due to their seniority among the group Hotta and Manami Toyota became known as the father and mother of the promotion, there’s your fun fact for the day.
After the exodus AJW saw its taped shows become a part of the ‘Fighting Goddess Athena’ program block on Fuji TV, a tv show that focused on women’s combat sports and became the new home of AJW televised matches. This shift led to lower production values, but in a way, the match looks like modern video of a random Ice Ribbon show in a small town’s community center. I personally haven’t watched a lot of AJW after the exodus, but to match the previous Ice Ribbon comparison, the smaller venue gives an intimate vibe to the crowd and makes the match more fun to watch as it’s easier to see the reactions from everyone in the audience. There are drawbacks due to the small venue size and it’s all at the expense of the camera work, spots are missed and some shots are too zoomed in so by the time the camera adjusts the wrestlers are already moving on to the next spot. One of the camera men is standing on top of one of the merchandise tents to capture the angle looking over one of the ring posts while the two guys are set up on the top bleachers opposite of each other. When the match begins the camera feels a bit frantic like a lot of indie wrestling camera work you can find from any promotion in North America over the last couple years.
Soon after the bell rings all the wrestlers go outside and start brawling by the sales tents and ring truck but return to the ring shortly with Hotta and Nakanishi sizing each other up. Hotta lets Nakanishi get in some offense before landing some hard kicks and tagging in Toyota to further rough her up; starting the match off with the standard veteran vs next generation match story but due to this match having a 15-minute time limit there isn’t a lot of stalling from no-selling dropkicks and we instead get a fun little match that does more to showcase Nakanishi’s and Watanabe’s wrestling ability and fighting spirit. Momoe Nakanishi is fighting a style a little similar to Toyota by jumping off the ropes and being more of a spitfire than her partner, Tomoko Watanabe, who’s trying to play Hotta’s game of strong strikes and power moves. Hotta and Toyota give their juniors plenty of shine in this match and that let’s the crowd really get into Watanabe and Nakanishi who has a very dedicated cheering section facing the hard cam. The last couple of pin attempts in the closing stretch are the best part of the match because each pin feels like an actual attempt at winning the match, not just another move to get closer to the time limit draw and it keeps the viewers engaged until the final bell. While Toyota and Nakanishi are battling it out Hotta and Watanabe are off to the side trying to hold the other off while making sure to break up any pins to prevent a loss.
This was a great little match from an era that many don’t view or think about at all, and that’s a shame considering that many of today’s veterans started off in the late 90s and became great around the early 2000s. You also see a couple of interesting things from the crowd like how it seems that half of them brought digital cameras along not unlike how many take cellphone pictures and videos today and that even with the loss of big stars the AJW audience has a lot more women in the audience than ARSION was, but that’s not coincidental on Ogawa’s part.