When I looked at the card for the Bull Nakano EMPRESS retirement show, I was surprised at what I saw. Not the card itself, which looked very appealing, but the order in which the matches would take place. Unlike American shows which have a card, but barring the main event, you probably won’t know the exact order of the matches. When it comes to Japan, the match listing is usually the order in which those contests would take place. Surprisingly, the singles match featuring veterans and legends Ayako Hamada and Aja Kong would OPEN the show, while the final match on the card would be between two women with comparatively little experience – one had just three years under her belt, while the other had debuted just 15 months ago.
Having said that, the match between Ice Ribbon’s ICEx60 and International Ribbon Tag Team Champion Hikaru Shida and Wonder Of Stardom and one half of the Goddesses Of Stardom Yuzuki Aikawa put forth a hell of a contest, and proved that they were worthy of headlining the card. Even more surprisingly, 28-year old Aikawa won the match in front of 3000 fans at the Tokyo Dome City Hall – though that could be indicative of the potential influence that she could have on joshi in the future…
Despite being trained in taekwondo for ten years, Aikawa made her living before becoming a wrestler as a bikini model and a singer in a girl group, selling picture books, DVDs and CDs, mostly down to her beauty and curvy figure. However, she packed it all in just over two years ago to make the transition to becoming a professional wrestler – funny, in the western world, it usually works the other way around. A year after making the switch, she debuted on October 31, 2010 as part of her own card which she produced, taking on Nanae Takahashi. You would imagine that considering that it was her own card, it was her first match and that she is a pretty woman, she would be eased into the situation by a veteran of the business.
No such luck. Takahashi defeated her, and as part of the deal, beat the shit out of her.
Aikawa’s eye was swollen shut, her face and chest were scarred and she looked like she had just crawled out of a car accident. However, undeterred, she accepted the praise from critics for her match, and picked up her first win in her third outing the following February over Yumiko Hotta. Since then, Aikawa has won more than she has lost, getting her hand raised in more than half of her outings – most of which have taken place in Stardom, which is now her home promotion. She also became the first Wonder Of Stardom Champion in September by defeating Io Shirai, and followed it up by teaming with Yoko Bito to win the Goddesses Of Stardom Tag League and become the first doubles champions in the promotion in the process. No doubt, Aikawa is being pushed to the moon, partly because of her age – after all, 28 is relatively old to be a rookie female wrestler – but she has the ability to validate her booking inside the ring – though that is only half of her appeal.
I should reiterate – Yuzuki Aikawa is one attractive woman, and this is reflected in her character, and even how her opponents attack her, as many decide to attack her rather ample bosom as a means of offence. In addition, her past life as a mainstream model and performer mean that she has crossover value for fans who followed her before she decided to strap on some kickpads and step into the ring. Having that sort of crossover value could be useful to tempt people into seeing what she is all about, and then sticking around after seeing her and the other women on the card proving that as well as beauty, joshi is all about kicking bottom.
Others seem to see the potential in having Aikawa as a figurehead – or siren – of joshi, as Tokyo Sports named her the Joshi MVP (succeeding Takahashi, who won it in 2010, and joining the likes of Hamada and Emi Sakura, who had also won the award in the past), pulling in the lion’s share of the votes from the journalists who decide the winners. Should be become a massive star, it could benefit all of joshi as a result. Some longtime joshi fans may not be so keen, as she is as far away from names like Bull Nakano and Dump Matsumoto as you can imagine, but times move on, and joshi has to follow. And let’s face it, if Nakano is happy to put Aikawa in the main event of her own retirement show, who are we to argue?
While we’re here, Yuzuki Aikawa is proof that models can become great wrestlers, given the right dedication and training. Unlike in WWE where models become women who can reproduce spots and put together something OK as long as nothing goes wrong, Aikawa can go out there, wrestle, create drama and action, and axe kick people in the back of the head. Given time, she could be great.
Someone who is further along that road is her opponent in EMPRESS, Hikaru Shida. The 23-year old Ice Ribbon star finally ascended to the top of the promotion’s mountain at RibbonMania on Christmas Day, winning the ICEx60 title from former International Ribbon Tag Team Championship partner Tsukasa Fujimoto in the main event, and then won the tag straps with Maki Narumiya three days later, setting herself up to be the figurehead of the promotion in 2012.
Shida – like Aikawa – came from a martial arts background, learning both judo and kendo, and then found herself in the entertainment industry, working as an actress, most notably on the Muscle Venus show. It was during the shooting of a wrestling-based movie called Three Count that she met Ice Ribbon founder Emi Sakura, and then decided to take up wrestling along with fellow actresses Fujimoto and Miyako Matsumoto. However, unlike Yuzuki, she waited a long time until she won her first match – she debuted on July 20, 2008, didn’t win her first match until November and only began picking up regular victories in March 2009.
Nicknamed “The Future Ace Of Joshi Puroresu”, her momentum was slower than her colleagues who started out at the same time, but her steady growth has meant there has been less pressure on her. While Matsumoto left Ice Ribbon and wrestles more sporadically these days and Fujimoto has spent the last year being on top of the promotion as champion for the bulk of it, Shida is now poised to carve her own niche and live up to the lofty nickname that was bestowed upon her. It seems that Nakano believes the hype though, as she booked Shida to be in the main event of her own card, so the fans who were there – many of whom were reportedly there for nostalgic purposes and had not kept up with modern joshi – got a chance to see what the new generation was all about.
Shida is similar to Aikawa in that she is a future star, but the way they go about it is different. While still an attractive woman, the ICEx60 is less of a pin-up and more of a grappler – a wrestler who happens to be good looking rather than being a good looking wrestler – and is expected to have a great 2012, enjoying a long title reign, though when you study Ice Ribbon’s rapid and sometimes confusing title changes, this is no guarantee.
Either way, Bull Nakano set out to use her status as a star of the 80s and 90s to bring back fans who had dropped out of joshi and show them what’s in store for the future. Here’s hoping that many of them decide to stick around and see what’s what. The wrestlers currently plying their craft in Japan have certainly earned that opportunity.
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The best of the rest
Tara, Velvet Sky, Madison Rayne, Gail Kim and Mickie James will be on the TNA UK tour later this month. The promotion will also film an episode of Impact Wrestling at London’s Wembley Arena. Rosita was originally lined up to be part of the tour but was pulled – she’s now being re-advertised on the WrestleReunion shows in Los Angeles… Davina Rose, Fantasia, Sassy Stephie and Buggy will join Amber O’Neal, Angel Orsini, Allison Danger and Becky Bayless at the ArenaChicks table at WrestleReunion. GLOW stars like Hollywood, Queen Kong, Roxy Astor & Mt. Fiji will be also be part of the event… WWE considered introducing Divas Tag Team Titles for the Bellas, but dropped the idea… Divas Champ Beth Phoenix has not been on TV since Alicia Fox nearly sat on her head on December 19… Fresh off her retirement ceremony (and apparent unscheduled marriage), Bull Nakano has shaved off all that blue hair to leave herself bald. Presumably she will be losing all the weight she put on for the show too… April Davids will challenge Jenny Sjodin for the Pro Wrestling: EVE title on February 4. Should Davids win, the Sjodin/Alpha Female match on February 18 will become a triple threat with April defending… A tournament will take place over upcoming editions of 19 Pro… Serena Deeb has pulled out of 2CW’s Girls Grand Prix on February 24 due to her concussion. Alexxis Nevaeh is also out. They have been replaced by Veda Scott and Mia Yim… Speaking of Scott, she is the new backstage interviewer for Ring Of Honor… Sassy Stephie became number one contender to Melanie Cruise’s Resistance Pro Women’s Title by beating Cheerleader Melissa… Nikki Storm placed 10th in a fan-voted poll of the top 20 Scottish wrestlers. She was the only female in the list… The Cauliflower Alley Club’s revealed that the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award will go to a woman this year. Penny Banner is the only female recipient so far, given the honour in 1997… Australia’s Niki Nitro will be travelling to India to wrestle next month for a 5-day tour with Extreme Professional Wrestling. It will be her first overseas tour. The UK’s Erin Angel will also be part of the tour… Mia Yim became the final female to wrestle at the ECW Arena before its renovation and wrestling promotions are priced out of booking the venue. She lost to Greg Excellent on the CZW card… AJ was the integral part of the SmackDown main event last week. As part of accompanying Daniel Bryan, she was rolled over by the Big Show as he chased the World Heavyweight Champ. She was carried out on a stretcher… Athena lost the ACW American Joshi title to Angel Blue in a 3-way that also featured Lillie Mae at Guilty By Association 6 on Sunday… Get well soon to Portia Perez, who suffered an ankle injury during her loss to Robert Evans at ACW. Lillie Mae apparently suffered an “undisclosed” injury too.. Big thumbs up to Crossfire Entertainment. With nothing more than strong local promotion, they drew 1,400 fans. Jessicka Havok and Allysin Kay wrestled on the card… Ayumi Kurihara successfully defended her CMLL World Women’s Championship against Hailey Hatred on Sunday. It’s only Hatred’s second defeat in Japan… LuFisto will face Jazz at Femmes Fatales VIII… We already knew about it, but Madusa has revealed that she is releasing her autobiography soon… Maria Kanellis was backstage at Raw last night… Jewells Malone won the vacant PWA Women’s Championship by defeating Seleziya Sparx at the promotion’s show in Listowel, ONT, Canada on Saturday night… Christina Von Eerie wrestles Santana Garrett in the first match of NWA Ring Warriors’ women’s division tomorrow. Meanwhile, her TNA character of Toxxin has been removed from the promotion’s roster page, as has her fiance Jesse Neal and Jackie Moore, whose contract expired late last year… Mercedes Martinez has been cleared to wrestle at Women Superstars Uncensored’s 5th Anniversary on March 3 against Jessicka Havok… Speaking of WSU, Rick Cataldo is out of this weekend’s card, so replacing him against Jessie “Bonesaw” Brook will be Jenny Rose, who has spent the bulk of last year in Japan wrestling for the Diana promotion.
January 11: Ice Ribbon (Saitama, Japan) – Dorami Nagano b Neko Nitta; Hailey Hatred b Meari Naito; Tsukasa Fujitmoto & Miyako Matsumoto b Hamuko Hoshi & Sayaka Obihiro; Hikaru Shida b Maki Narumiya
January 11: International Wrestling Australia (Mount Pritchard, Australia) – Shazza McKenzie b Harley Wonderland & Aurora; Harley Wonderland & Mikey Lord b Shazza McKenzie & Adam Hoffman
January 11: WWE NXT (Laredo, TX) – Alicia Fox b Maxine
January 12: WWE Superstars (Laredo, TX) – Brie Bella b Kelly Kelly
January 12: Florida Championship Wrestling (Tampa, FL) – Audrey Marie & Kaitlyn b Raquel Diaz & Sofia Cortez; Raquel Diaz b Audrey Marie
January 12: Impact Wrestling (Orlando, FL) – Mickie James b Madison Rayne; ODB b Winter
January 13: WWE SmackDown (Laredo, TX) – Tamina b Natalya
January 13: 19 Pro (Saitama, Japan) – Aoi Kizuki b Kurumi; Tsukasa Fujimoto, Tsukushi & Sayaka Obihiro b Maki Narumiya, Hamuko Hoshi & Dorami Nagano
January 13: Resistance Pro (Chicago, IL) – Melanie Cruise b Serenity; Sassy Stephie b Cheerleader Melissa
January 13: TNA (White Plains, NY) – Gail Kim b Velvet Sky
January 13: CMLL (Mexico City, Mexico) – Dark Angel, Dallys la Caribena & Marcela b Amapola, Princesa Blanca & Zeuxis
January 13: NWA Houston (Cypress, TX) – Barbi Hayden & Jen Alise b Angel Blue & Pink
January 14: Ice Ribbon (Saitama, Japan) – Hamuko Hoshi b Sayaka Obihiro; Neko Nitta b Miyako Matsumoto; Hailey Hatred & Dorami Nagano b Hikari Minami & Maki Narumiya; Tsukasa Fujimoto & Tsukushi b Hikaru Shida & Kurumi
January 14: Dynamite Championship Wrestling (Farmington, DE) – Kimber Lee b Jessie Kaye
January 14: Millennium Pro Wrestling (Simi Valley, CA) – NY Knockout Nikki b Thunderkitty
January 14: Combat Zone Wrestling (Philadelphia, PA) – Greg Excellent b Mia Yim
January 14: WWE (Vancouver, BC, Canada) – Alicia Fox b Natalya
January 14: AULL (Tlalnepantla, Mexico) – Chik Tormenta, Keira & Vanely b Felina Metalica, La Vaquerita & Yuki Star
January 14: WWE (Sacramento, CA) – Beth Phoenix b Eve Torres
January 14: Insane Championship Wrestling (Goulburn, Australia) – Kandi Luv b TJ Star
January 14: Pure Wrestling Association (Listowel, ONT, Canada) – Jewells Malone b Seleziya Sparx to win the Elite Women’s Championship
January 14: World Xtreme Wrestling (Minneola, FL) – Kimberley Maddox b Mercedes Martinez
January 14: Crossfire Entertainment (Nashville, TN) – Jessicka Havok b Allysin Kay
January 14: United States Wrestling Organisation (Nashville, TN) – Jessie Belle Smothers b Miss Rachel
January 14: Tulalip Championship Wrestling (Marysville, WA) – Malia Hosaka b Su Yung
January 14: All-American Pro Wrestling (Marion, IL) – Stacy O’Brien b Rebecca Raze
January 14: Acclaim Pro Wrestling (Greely, ONT, Canada) – Addy Starr b Jodi D’Milo to win the APW Women’s Championship
January 15: Newcastle Pro Wrestling (New Lambton, Australia) – Harley Wonderland b Mighty Mel
January 15: WWE (Oakland, CA) – Beth Phoenix b Eve Torres
January 15: World Power Wrestling (Costa Mesa, CA) – Lil’ Cholo & Amanda b Infernal & NY Knockout Nikki
January 15: Anarchy Championship Wrestling Guilty By Association VI (Austin, TX) – Rachel Summerlyn b Jessica James; Robert Evans b Portia Perez; Angel Blue b Lillie Mae & Athena in a 3-way to win the American Joshi Championship
January 15: REINA 24 (Tokyo, Japan) – Saori b Mika Iida; Silueta b Saya; Yumiko Hotta, Manami Toyota & Mamoru Ishibashi b Mima Shimoda, Kellie Skater & Cassandra; Ayumi Kurihara b Hailey Hatred
January 15: OZ Academy (Tokyo, Japan) – Nao Komatsu b Mika Iida; Mayumi Ozaki & Hiroyo Matsumoto b Tomoka Nakagawa & Ayumi Kurihara; Takako Inoue b Yumi Ohka; AKINO & Tsubasa Kuragaki b Chikayo Nagashima & Ran YuYu; Aja Kong & Sonoko Kato b Carlos Amano & Manami Toyota to win the OZ Academy Tag Team Championship
January 15: JWP (Tokyo, Japan) – Hailey Hatred & Moon Miduki b Miu Rabbito & Nana Kawasa; Hanako Nakamori b Manami Katsu; Kayako Haruyama & KAZUKI b Kaori Yoneyama & Morley; Sachie Abe b Leon; Leon b Sachie Abe; Tsubasa Kuragaki & Kaori Yoneyama b Command Bolshoi & Hanako Nakamori
January 16: WWE Raw (Anaheim, CA) – Kelly Kelly & Alicia Fox b Nikki & Bria Bella
January 17: WAVE (Tokyo, Japan) – Kellie Skater & Mika Iida v Kana & Mio Shirai
January 18: NWA Ring Warriors (Ft Lauderdale, FL) – Santana v Christina Von Eerie
January 19: SMASH (Tokyo, Japan) – Tomoka Nakagawa v Kana
January 20: HQ Pro Wrestling (Yuciapa, CA) – Terra Calaway v Lucky O’Shea
January 20: Lucha Britannia (London, England) – Major D v Janey Britannico
January 21: Dungeon Championship Wrestling (Newhall, CA) – Morgan v Thunderkitty
January 21: Women Superstars Uncensored (Stirling, NJ) – Amber, Lexxus, Sassy Stephie, Allysin Kay & Tina San Antonio v Marti Belle, Brittney Savage, Alicia, Jana & Luscious Latasha; Jillian Hall v Traci Brooks; Mercedes Martinez v Jennifer Cruz; Jessicka Havok v Becky Bayless; Jessie “Bonesaw” Brooks v Jenny Rose
January 22: Stardom (Tokyo, Japan) – Io Shirai v Natsumi Showzuki; Arisa Hoshiki & Mayu Iwatani v Eri Susa & Saki Kashima; Hiroyo Matsumoto & Yuuri Haruka v Natsuki*Taiyo & Yuu Yamagata; Nanae Takahashi & Miho Wakizawa v Yuzuki Aikawa & Kairi Hojo; Yoko Bito v Yoshiko
January 22: Insane Championship Wrestling (Glasgow, Scotland) – STIs & Sara Marie Taylor v Bucky Boys & Lambrini
January 27: ArenaChicks (Los Angeles, CA) – Angel Orsini & Amber O’Neal v Shelly Martinez & Becky Bayless
January 27-28- Lucha Vavoom!! (Calgary, AB Canada) – Kaos & NY Knockout Nikki v The Crazy Chickens
January 28: Melbourne City Wrestling (Thornbury, Australia) – Eliza Sway v Shazza McKenzie v Savannah Summers
January 28: Pro Wrestling Xtreme (Orlando, FL) – Jillian Hall v Leva Bates
January 29: FutureShock (Stockport, England) – The Artiste Formerly Known As Becky James v April Davids
January 29: Absolute Intense Wrestling Girls Night Out 5 (Cleveland, OH) – Mickie Knuckles v Sara Del Rey; Allysin Kay v Cherry Bomb; Marti Belle v Mia Yim; Gabby Gilbert v Angel Dust; Kimber Lee v Veda Scott
February 1: WAVE (Tokyo, Japan) – Toshie Uematsu v Tsukasa Fujimoto
February 4: World Wrestling Fan Xperience (Quezon City, Manila) – April Hunter v Jillian Hall
February 4: XWA (Morcambe, England) – Jenny Sjodin v April Davids
February 10: UNION (Tokyo, Japan) – Mio Shirai v Sexxxy Eddy
February 18: Pro Wrestling: EVE (Sudbury, England) – Jenny Sjodin v Alpha Female
February 19: Anarchy Championship Wrestling (Live Oak, TX) – Angel Blue v Mia Yim
February 22: Joshi4Hope (Tokyo, Japan)
February 24: Squared Circle Wrestling “Girls Grand Prix” (Binghamton, NY) – Rachel Summerlyn v Veda Scott; Portia Perez v Cherry Bomb; Courtney Rush v Sara Del Rey; Nikki Roxx v Mia Yim
February 25: Family Wrestling Entertainment (New York City, NY) – Tara v Maria Kanellis
March 3: Women Superstars Uncensored (Deer Park, NY) – Mercedes Martinez v Jessicka Havok; Sassy Stephie & Allysin Kay v Brittney Savage & Alicia; Annie Social v April Hunter; Gabby Gilbert v Athena
March 3: Southside Wrestling Entertainment (St Neots, England) – Nikki Storm v Erin Angel
March 10: nCw Femmes Fatales (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) – Kalamity v Mercedes Martinez; LuFisto v Jazz
March 10: IndyGurlz (Lebanon, PA) – Shazza McKenzie v Simply D’Vyne
March 17-18: SHIMMER Women Athletes (Berwyn, IL)
March 24: World Association of Women’s Wrestling (Norwich, England)
March 24: IndyGurlz (Boonton, NJ) – Simply D’Vyne v Veda Scott
March 30: Stardom (Tokyo, Japan) – Nanae Takahashi v Meiko Satomura
March 31: Adrenaline Unleashed (Las Vegas, NV) – Ny Knockout Nikki v Michelle Morgan; Allison Danger v Davina Rose
April 4: Purely Obsessed Wrestling World (Onley, IL) – Sassy Stephie v Nikki St John
– Lee Burton