Manolo Has Pizzazz
AEW’s women’s world championship eliminator tournament is in full swing. We already witnessed Thunder Rosa advance against Leyla Hirsch on Dynamite. Now, it is time for the YouTube special featuring the opening round for the Japanese side of the bracket. The winner will earn a shot at Hikaru Shida and the AEW Women’s Championship.
Full disclosure, I don’t know much about any of these wrestlers apart from an occasional match here and there. In regard to the title, it is not a negative reference. It is more intended to express a state of confusion. Let’s light the fuse, bring the boom, and go on a wild ride.
Watch the show here.
Excalibur was solo calling the action. The ring announcer spoke in Japanese. The venue was a closed set with just enough room for the ring.
Mei Suruga vs Yuka Sakazaki
The recap for this bout is going to be choppy. The stark contrast in wrestling style was a shock to the system. It left me in a sense of bewilderment. The action was a bit cartoonish but still featured serious moves.
Suruga had moth wings as part of her entrance outfit. Sakazaki used her familiar magic girl genie attire.
Dramatic sequences involved submissions. Sakazaki locked in an STF. As Suruga inched close to the ropes, Sakazai grabbed an arm to make the hold a straitjacket STF. Suruga was able to reach the ropes with her free arm though. When it was Suruga’s turn for a submission, she focused on folding the legs in a pretzel with style.
Sakazaki was able to reach the ropes for a break.
Sakazaki erupted for a running knee to the face, flying back elbow, and delayed vertical suplex. She hopped onto the ropes for her 450 splash finisher, but Suruga saw it coming and came back with a running crossbody. Sakazaki rolled over the momentum for a pin, but Suruga kicked out.
Sakazaki scored another blitz of offense with a snapmare rolling through to kick Suruga in the face. A low lariat was followed by an ‘oh ho ho ho’ slam. Excalibur clarified his excited outburst to mean Northern Lights bomb. Sensing victory, Sakazaki finished Suruga with a 450 splash off the ropes.
Veny vs Emi Sakura
Veny entered wearing a kimono previously belonging to Hana Kimura. It was gifted to Veny by Hana’s mother. Sakura wore a skirt with a royal crown and robe. In my opinion, this look was much better than her Freddie Mercury tribute fishing trousers.
Sakura opened with ferocious Mongolian chops to the neck and ears. The physicality continued with hair whips and a surfboard submission. Veny came back with chops, a diving crossbody, and a moonsault down to the floor. Back in the ring, Sakura took charge with a rope-hung backbreaker, flipping senton, and a double underhook backbreaker.
The match progressed as an extremely competitive affair. Veny was first to almost secure victory on big kicks and a shotgun dropkick, but Sakura got her shoulder up before 3.
Veny struck again by blocking a magistral pin to maintain top position. 1, 2, Sakura escaped. Veny kept at it with a leg lariat and chokeslam. Sakura kicked out at 2.
Veny aimed to finish with a moonsault, but Sakura moved. Sakura hooked a magistral cradle only for Veny to kick out. Sakura swiftly transitioned to a dragon sleeper. She wrenched hard as Veny was close to passing out. Sakura let go of the submission to end the match with a tiger driver.
Afterward, the two shook hands, then Veny slapped Sakura across the face.
Maki Itoh vs Ryo Mizunami
Itoh was billed as the cutest in the world. She rocked her way to the ring with song and dance. Itoh is definitely a star.
Mizunami wore sunglasses and a long feathery coat. She had charisma as well, in a badass way.
In the early going, Itoh demanded with bravado to receive a strike, so Mizunami obliged. Itoh dropped to the mat upon contact crying as a ploy to play possum. She surprised Mizunami with a foot stomp. The start of the bout featured a slower pace with these type of theatrics.
When the wrestling picked up, Itoh struck with a hammerlock DDT, running back elbow, running bulldog, falling headbutt to the midsection, and a Boston crab. Mizunami smirked before powering out to hit a powerslam. Both women exchanged vicious forearm blows back and forth. Itoh fired away with fury.
However, the end result was Mizunami pounding Itoh down to the mat.
Itoh’s claim to wrestling fame is her notoriously hard head. She rallied back with a series of headbutts as Mizunami crumbled. Itoh was on the attack with a DDT and swinging DDT out of the corner. Mizunami kicked out of the pin. Itoh went high risk with a flying headbutt, but Mizunami rolled out of the way. Mizunami charged for a spear. Itoh got her shoulder up on the pin, so Mizunami transitioned to a head and arm triangle. Mizunami rolled around the ring with force to make Itoh tap out in pain.
Aja Kong vs Rin Kadokura
Kadokura came out wearing a Pro Wrestling Wave tag team title around her waist. Kong had a towel over her head with a stool in hand. It appeared as a prizefighting gimmick. On Kong’s way to the ring, she eyed Shida at the Japanese commentary table.
Once the ball sounded, Kadokura charged in with a dropkick and strikes. The attack had no effect on Kong as she shrugged it off. Kadokura ran the ropes into a clothesline. Kong followed with a standing elbow drop. Kong commenced pummeling Kadokura with heavy strikes. Kong tried to finish it early with a sitdown piledriver, however, Kadokura remained alive with fighting spirit.
Kadokura popped back with a DDT off the ropes, running dropkick, and a flying dropkick to put Kong on her back. Kong grabbed the ropes to break the pinfall. Kong blocked a Northern Lights suplex to unload knees. Kadokura used her speed for a roll-up attempt, however, Kong dropped her rear load onto Kadokura’s chest.
Kong crushed her adversary with another clothesline. She climbed the corner to end it, but Kadokura popped up to pull Kong off the turnbuckles crashing to the mat. Kadokura hit a running DDT and a cannonball in the corner. She went up top for a mariposa. Kong anticipated the flying feat and rolled out of the way. Kong crushed Kadokura with a back drop driver and one more clothesline. An avalanche elbow drop extinguished Kadokura’s flame. Kong had her hand raised in victory.
The show closed with an updated bracket.
Well, that was certainly something. It was an odd and unique viewing experience, but I’m glad I had the chance to watch a style I would likely never seek out on my own.
A few minutes in, it felt like like I was watching a foreign language children’s show with all the high pitched squealing and saccharine music. The opening bout threw me for a loop as it felt more like play wrestling with overly dramatic reactions. Emi Sakura and Veny drew me back in with a great match. I recommend that as the one to watch. Maki Itoh contained mesmerizing charisma, but that bout was a little too much fun and games. The closing contest was a classic story of plucky underdog against powerful force of destruction. As a fan of the that style, it was satisfying.
Now that we know the winners, it seems like the right call to have veterans prevail. There’s plenty of time to let the youngsters improve their craft before bringing them in the mix. Itoh is going to be a huge star in AEW as long as her ring work meshes well with the American style.
I’m really looking forward to Aja Kong versus Ryo Mizunami in the second round. Kong was perfectly set up as an unstoppable monster, and Mizunami is the type to take no guff. I can’t wait for Mizunami to pop Kong right in the mouth and see what happens next.
The parting thought is that the ring announcer is awesome. I have no clue what he was saying, however, his eruptions of emotion were great to build excitement.
For those that understand Japanese, Hikaru Shida will be on commentary for a replay Tuesday morning at 9 am ET.
Share your reaction to the Japan opening round matches of the women’s tournament. Which match stole the show? Which wrestlers made you eager to see again in AEW?