I sit here, having watched 21 matches as part of the three JoshiMania events which took place at the start of December 2011. As I watched the three DVDs, I jotted down notes of the big moments and key incidents in the matches. I now have EIGHT pages of bullet points to go through, and one thing because blatantly obvious: doing a match-by-match review of JoshiMania would be incredibly laborious, repetitive and dull for you, the good reader.
So instead of going through JoshiMania chronologically, what this review will be about is the best matches, the standout stars and moments, and which shows were the best if you absolutely, positively can only by just the one DVD…
The shows had a bumpy road leading up to the first event in Philadelphia on December 2. Meiko Satomura, Madison Eagles and Command Bolshoi all had to pull out due to injury, leading to replacements such as Ayako Hamada, Kaori Yoneyama, GAMI and Portia Perez and a fair bit of rewriting to the matches, as the trio who didn’t make it would likely have been part of the matches at the higher end of the card. Hamada was the biggest beneficiary, as she ended up in two of the three main events (against Aja Kong on night 2, and taking on Sara Del Rey on the final show).
However, nothing can take away from the huge amount of organisation that took place to bring JoshiMania to fruition. As Mike Quackenbush revealed to us on the Women Of Wrestling Podcast the week before the shows, the introduction of Manami Toyota to CHIKARA came about thanks to retired Jumping Bomb Angel Itsuki Yamazaki. From there, it was thanks in part to Toyota’s reputation and contacts that facilitated stars from across Japan to come together for the shows, effectively closing down the joshi scene while tars from promotions like JWP, WAVE, OZ Academy, Union Pro and more came together for a series of interpromotional contests. Indeed, a lot of potential issues were circumnavigated and resolved to come to the point that these shows even took place. So how were they? Well, let’s see…
Arguably the star of the weekend was CHIKARA’s own Sara Del Rey, who was the only one of the three main-eventers of the weekend to win both of her top-line matches, and went undefeated overall for the three shows. Out of the three, I would say that her match with Tsubasa Kuragaki from night 2 was the best of the bunch. Starting off with chain wrestling, it then evolved into exchanges of strikes and Kuragaki focusing on Sara’s leg, while Del Rey worked on her opponent’s arm. She also had to – uncharacteristically – resort to speed in order to outfox her larger opponent, who took the advantage with suplexes and slams, though still managed to execute the Delrayzor as well as the Royal Butterfly for the pinfall.
When I say that was Sara’s best match, that’s not to discredit her others. While not as show-stealing as their original contest at SHIMMER volume 28, her contest with Hamada from night 3 was still a damn fine match, and differed from the no-DQ original by staying in the ring and was more about wrestling than brawling. Her match against Aja Kong on night 1 was the shortest, and suffered a little as a result, but given that Kong is in her 40s and weighs 230lb, it’s understandable why it didn’t go 20 minutes instead of the 11:50 that it actually did go.
The other undefeated wrestler of the weekend was GAMI. However, I wasn’t blown away by my first experience of the founder of WAVE. Like Kong, she is in her 40s, but I got the impression that she wasn’t as exuberant as I had hoped. Her night 1 match against Sawako Shimono felt pretty plodding, and her tag team match (teaming with Toshie Uematsu against Shimono and Cherry) on night 2 – while a spirited affair – still left me feeling somewhat flat. Having said that, her night 3 contest against Portia Perez was much better, with both playing heel and trying to out-cheat each other, but ended up getting the three after nailing the Canadian Ninja with an Adios Amiga and a fisherman buster.
As for Kong herself, she had a great return to American soil after a 16 year absence. As well as the aforementioned match with Del Rey, she shone during her night 2 main event where she defeated Ayako Hamada with a big backfist, and was a part of the match of the weekend on night 3 where she teamed with Kuragaki & Mio Shirai against Manami Toyota, Shimono & Hanako Nakamori.
Ah yes, this trios match. The semi-final match of the whole shebang was a 29 minute barn-burner that went at 100mph for the whole time, thrilled the audience and left them ecstatic at the end, rewarding the wrestlers with a well-deserved standing ovation. One of the great boosts to the match was the teaming of veterans like Toyota and Kong with grapplers who have less experience, such as Shimono, Nakamori and (to a certain extent) Shirai. Mio and Toyota started the match with the veteran drilling her with a dropkick before the rudos (loosely so, as Kuragaki shook hands with the tecnicos before the match while Kong and Shirai refused to) took over on Shimono and Nakamori, with Kong busting out with strikes, a piledriver and a suplex, and Shirai hitting a sweet axe kick and running boot. It didn’t all go in favour of the rudos though, as Shimono pulled off her most impressive move of the weekend by delivering a huge Samoan drop to Kong, and all three tecnicos performed figure fours at the same time to their opponents.
In the closing moments of the match, both Toyota and Kuragaki went for moonsaults on each other, but both countered by planting their feet in their opponents’ guts, with Kuragaki then delivering a double back suplex to Toyota and Nakamori at the same time, and then getting the win for her team after nailing Nakamori with the Metal Wing. It was an impressive weekend for Kuragaki too, as she caused the first jaw dropping moment of JoshiMania with her double torture rack on Archibald Peck and El Hijo del Ice Cream for the double tap out to give Team JWP (Kuragaki, Yoneyama & Nakamori) the victory.
So, I’m 1,000 words in and I’ve barely mentioned Manami Toyota. That’s not because what she did over the weekend wasn’t great, but that the spotlight seemed to be passed over to other wrestlers – which is great, as it may have looked like a Toyota showcase if she headlined all the shows. The way that the cards were laid out meant that Toyota could indulge what excited her about wrestling in CHIKARA – wrestling the guys.
The filling in her JoshiMania adventure – sandwiched by her Ocean Cyclone Suplex win over Uematsu on night 1, and the trios epic on night 3 – was her teaming with Quackenbush and the Colony‘s Green Ant and Fire Ant to take on Perez and the trio of F.I.S.T. (Johnny Gargano, Chuck Taylor and Icarus), with her kicking it off early – literally – as she booted Icarus to start before the Colony worked on their male opponents before Quack and Toyota cleared the ring. While the guys regrouped on the outside, Portia took to the ring, and suffered a number of dropkicks from the joshi veteran, but was cut off and suffered a number of four-on-one attacks for the rudos to get the heat. However, she managed to get the hot tag to Fire Ant (pun intended) but he was cut off when he leg was worked on by all four of his opponents for a number of minutes.
As he managed to eventually struggle free, Green Ant began the closing sequence with Quack also getting involved, leaving Perez in the ring to fall to the match winning Ocean Cyclone Suplex from Toyota.
Multi-person intergender matches also produced a fun match on night 3, with all three members of the Colony (that includes Soldier Ant) teaming with Cherry to face Uematsu and the Batiri (Obariyon, Kodama & Kobald). In her final US match before her retirement, Uematsu really got into the spirit of the team by getting facepaint similar to Obariyon and Kodama to create a perfect fit – much like Perez was with F.I.S.T. On the opposite side of the ring, Cherry’s character, being so innocent and “inexperienced” meshed well with the fun nature of the Colony. And damn, the match was indeed fun.
For example, all the heels took turns biting Cherry’s arm at the start of the match, and was followed by a series of great multi-person spots. Eventually, the match boiled down to the two women in the ring with Uematsu getting win for her team with a top rope splash, having missed one earlier on in the match.
Which brings us to the other prominent biter of the weekend, Mayumi Ozaki. The OZ Academy founder was a brilliant heel all weekend, getting heat by endeavouring to use precisely zero legal moves in the opening minutes of her matches. For example, she and Shirai bit, clawed, scratched and choked Cherry and Hamada on night one; Ozaki followed suit in her match against Shirai on night 2 with Mio playing the underdog babyface role, and did the same against Yoneyama on night 3. Because of her cheap tactics, it made it easy for the tecnicos to get support from the fans, and each match built to frenzied conclusions to provide top quality contests all round.
So who came off well throughout JoshiMania and created a bigger profile for themselves as a result? No doubt, Ozaki was a hit with me, and Shimono came through on the final show. Mio Shirai had a great set of showings, and combined with her youth and great looks, she would be a strong choice for another US tour at some point. Perez’s work at CHIKARAsaurus Rex in the summer and here at JoshiMania should curry favour with the promotion and hopefully see her return in 2012. Kuragaki was great over the three shows and proved that she is a force in joshi, as illustrated by her winning the JWP Openweight Championship just before Christmas. Likewise, non-SHIMMER viewers got to rinse the unpleasant taste that TNA’s booking of Hamada may have left in their mouths, and Aja Kong proved that even though she is past 40, she still has plenty to offer.
However, the big winner was Sara Del Rey. As mentioned, she went undefeated, had strong top-line showings against new opponents and achieved her dream of wrestling her idol Kong. Considering the places that JoshiMania’s appeal on DVD may stretch – notably Japan itself, considering the unique set of circumstances that led to it all taking place – it is not inconceivable that there may be offers coming Sara’s way for her to wrestle in places like JWP this year. After all, she defeated the current JWP Openweight Champion three weeks before she took the title, so there is a story waiting to be told there, if the opportunity arises.
As for problems, there is a slight audio sync issue on the first disc of night one, though it is nowhere near as bad as some people have claimed it is. In fact, I tuned it out after about 5 minutes, so you won’t find it to be too much of an issue. The first disc on night 2 froze at the end of the first match, but a quick stop-start resolved it. I guess it’s an issue with DVD-Rs, but it’s hardly the end of the world to press stop and then start again. Also, it might be me, but the atmosphere on night 1 doesn’t come across as well as it probably was in the arena in Philadelphia, leaving me feel a little flat at the end of the show.
Aesthetically, night 1 looks the best. It has the full entrance set with lights, plasma screens and graphics while night 2 in Easton probably looks the cheapest, with it being a fully lit building and a simple curtain, coupled with the smallest crowd of the three and a lot of building to absorb the noise, it probably is the weakest to look at. As a middleground, night 3 in Manhattan is a good compromise, and having the fans elevated on the stage in the background looks great.
If you were to ask me which show was the one you absolutely, positively had to own, I would dodge the question and tell you to buy all three events. However, if you put a gun to my head or told me that Sweet Saraya was looking for me, I’d say go for night 3. It has the best match of the weekend in the trios contest, a great main event, a fun Atomicos match and Ozaki being the best heel against Yoneyama. All great stuff.
However, night 2 still has four great matches, and night 1 has three quality outings too. Whichever show you get, you will feel that you made a good purchase. If you’re a joshi expert, all the way down to being a novice, you will find something to enjoy and feel that your money has been well spent. So get over to Smart Mark Video and spend it.
- Lee Burton