In 2021, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling has been one of the highlights of professional wrestling. When people, particularly in the west, talk about Japanese women’s wrestling, they tend to mostly talk about Stardom, however, with all due respect to the talent in that promotion, TJPW looks like it’s culminating on a lot of hard work building not only skilled talent, but relatable and enjoyable characters that make people care about matches beyond the “oh these two are going to do wrestling moves very well.” They seemed poised to take the wider wrestling world by storm in the next coming years.
However, there was a bit of turbulence in the fandom recently and it’s all in the lead up to CyberAgent’s (TJPW’s parent company that also owns DDT Pro and Pro Wrestling NOAH) big Cyberfest show at Saitama Super Arena on June 6th. Each of the three companies top titles will be up for grabs, with DDT Pro stalwart HARASHIMA challenging KO-D Openweight Champion Jun Akiyama and NOAH’s Naomichi Marufuji challenging GHC Heavyweight Champion Keiji Mutoh. That only left one championship: TJPW’s Princess of Princess Championship.
The match would be dedicated from the results of two matches from the promotion’s 5.4.21 Korakuen Hall show: a Three-Way #1 Contender’s Match between Yuka Sakazaki, Mizuki and Shoko Nakajima and Miyu Yamashita challenging Rika Tatsumi for the PoP Championship. Now, before we go onto further discussion, it is worth stating that from a pure skill perspective, these are probably the five best in TJPW. Any combination would result in an -at worst- real good match.
So when the end result became Yuka Sakazaki challenging Miyu Yamashita, the response was interesting.
I won’t go into detail of the history behind Yuka and Miyu; we’d be here for a while. Instead, I’ll direct you to JoShizzle’s wonderful video detailing the rivalry. But to make a long story short: it is a feud well worthy of co-headlining one of the biggest shows under CyberAgent. But what was interesting was the somewhat divisive response of the results. It felt like there was a split among the fandom, not only in the international fanbase but was also sprinkled in the domestic crowd as well.
I couldn’t say I’m immune from it as well. As I said, any combination of the discussed five will produce a good match, but I would also say that Yuka vs Miyu feels like the most safe permutation. A pairing starring two of their most well-known and well-skilled combatants for a huge show makes sense from a business perspective. So what is the problem?
Rika Tatsumi’s reign felt like it had the goal of elevating her to that top tier scene that included Yamashita, Sakazaki, Shoko, etc. Her winning the belt off Yuka in January felt like a surprise but between that match and her defenses against Miu Watanabe and Maki Itoh (which sits as my current favorite match of 2021), she introduced herself to a bigger world that still had such opponents as Mizuki and Hyper Misao waiting in the wings.
So her losing it to the Ace, Miyu, felt like such a jarring record scratch.
Miyu Yamashita is the Ace of Tokyo Joshi Pro. She’s arguably their best overall talent (I say arguably because I think some underestimate Shoko Nakajima) and now holds the records for most reigns (3) and most days as champion. To put it simply, she’s a defining part of the company. Which is good, but I can see why people who may have just started in the last year or two would be a little annoyed.
I have seen some people say that international fans don’t get the concept of an Ace. I think that’s not true. I think they’re very familiar with Aces, just very badly constructed Aces. In a portion I like to call “WWE Has Ruined Everything For Everyone Forever:” I think there’s a lot of people so used to Aces being propped up for longer than their shelf date at the expense of so much talent (it not helped that WWE’s Aces have to project what a septuagenarian billionaire white conservative male thinks is “likeable”). They see Miyu and Yuka facing each other again in the “main event” when you have people like Rika and Mizuki who’d been long ready to be in that upper echelon.
What hasn’t helped the perception was the Bakuretsu Sisters losing the tag team championships to NEO Biishiki-Gun, the team of Sakisama and Mei Saint-Michel. Like Tatsumi, this also felt like cutting the legs out of a team that had been ready to be the frontrunners of the tag division for something safe (while Mei is new, the concept of Biishiki-Gun is also very ingrained in the promotion and it can be something where your mileage may vary). You have two divisions that feel forward moving taking a sputter.
So, I would like to ask fans who have a fear that the company is going to halt its momentum to just take a step back.
Yes, it does feel odd to see more familiar faces back in spots at the top of divisions. But I want you to take a look at the last year. You’ve had people challenging for that top title that have never dones so like Yuki Aino and Miu Watanabe and you’ve had them look like they’re worthy of the challenge. You have Maki Itoh, whose in-ring skill is rapidly catching up with her character and charisma. You have a crop of incredibly talented young rookies in Suzume, Mirai Maiumi and Arisu Endou (who you can hardly believe debuted this year).
And the title scenes are not bereft of freshness: in that you have Hikari Noa winning the International Princess Championship from Yuki Kamifuku (herself leveling up incredibly). The last year has seen TJPW invest in her, with high profile singles matches and willingness to allow her to explore the hardcore style of wrestling in her match against Rina Yamashita, and she’s matching that investment in spades. Alongside Rika and Kamifuku, she feels like one that has benefited so much from the last year.
So, I totally understand the trepidation from some when you see Miyu and Yuka in the main event again. But I need you to take a breath. TJPW are taking a long-form with their booking. Their stories tend to go on for years at a time, allowing one to build a universe of characters with interactions and relationships. I certainly think it’s a better booking philosophy than “let’s bum rush our chosen ones to the top at the expense of other, more skilled, talent” that another major joshi promotion does (a topic for another day). It may seem like forest for the trees, but within the next year or so, that main event and upper midcard scene is going to be absolutely robust and I for one cannot wait, even if I have periods where the tippy top isn’t setting my world on fire.