Monday, February 23, 2009

My Top Twenty for 2008

Below is my top 20 workers in joshi puroresu for 2008. WARNING: I'm a bit snarky and a bit mean, so if you don't like that, then go read something else.

1. Kayoko Haruyama (JWP) She's the singular example of a mid-career worker (she debuted in 98) stepping up and having a career year. It was a general down year with lots of workers feeling the effects of age or suffering from a major injury or just a malaise. Haruyama had great work all year with Kuragaki in the BARI BARI tag team and really stepped to the plate as the JWP ace. Haruyama had failed for years to knock Azumi Hyuga off her seeming near decade long reign as the Queen of Pure Heart, Pure Wrestling. This time, she did everything it took, including taking Hyuga's knee out (kayfabe; knee was already hurt) to take the belt and maintain it for the rest of the year, including facing down the Yumiko Hotta invasion.

2. Chikayo Nagashima (OZ Academy) She should be the ace of OZ Academy, but probably never will be. She was awesome in 07 as a heel in a feud with Sonoko Kato, trying to put the plucky girl with bad knees back on the shelf. 2008 saw these two team up and put up good matches with most of the other high-quality tag teams in joshi puro, including Mayumi Ozaki/KAORU (one of the tolerable Ozaki performances from 2008), Kayoko Haruyama/Tsubasa Kuragaki, Ayako Hamada/AKINO (rare Hamada in Japan match making tape), and Misae Genki/Yoshiko Tamura (although Tamura tried to ruin this match with her laziness).

3. Azumi Hyuga (JWP) She's not as flashy as a lot of wrestlers, but she's quietly the most effective joshi wrestler of the past 5 years and she had a good 2008 as well. An awful lot of people in today's scene have had their career best match against Azumi. The notable example this year was the singles match with Kayoko, which is my JMOTY. As a joshi fan, we need to see Hyuga vs Haruyama (the rematch) and especially Hyuga vs Satomura this year!

4. Misae Genki (NEO)-NEO's apparently the most popular joshi promotion left. I don't know why. Genki is one of the few bright spots in this group, as she is one of the best big girls around, isn't horribly over-the-hill yet (hi Kyoko Inoue & Etsuko Mita), and always puts in a good performance (something that can't be said about Yoshiko Tamura, who is infamous for wrestling down to the level of her opposition). Highlights included the Awesome Kong match at her retirement show, trading lariats with Satoshi Kojima, and some great big vs little work with Chikayo Nagashima in a tag match at an OZ show (that Tamura almost ruined with her half-assed attitude).

5. Kaori Yoneyama (JWP) OH MAH GAWD YER SO CUTE! OH MAH GAWD YER SO SPUNKY! I JUST LOVES ME SOME YONE-HONTAS! Kaori is JWP's pint-sized ever-dependable babyface in Native American fringe. Do you need someone to bump her ass off in the main event? Check. Do you need someone to play nice with the rookies? Check. Do you need someone to play multiple silly masked alteregos? Check. Do you need someone to make us think a heel faction led by Yumiko Hotta and including just lackadaisical workers as Keito and KAZUKI are people to be feared and hated? Check.

6. Sonoko Kato (OZ Academy) Her knees are gone daddy gone and her ass, while normal sized in the American south, is the biggest thing in Tokyo since Godzilla, but Kato is the great underappreciated sympathetic babyface in the land of OZ, where everyone else seems to be a heel or a face that we all suspect will turn heel next week (i.e. Chikayo, whom we all know is rotten inside and will eventually betray her current partner).

7. Kyoko Kimura (freelance, works mainly NEO and WAVE) I actually don't rank her as high as a lot of you seem to, but that's possibly because I dislike hardcore/deathmatches, where she seems to really shine. People who like that sort of thing really seemed to dig Kimura vs Miyamoto in their lighttubes match at the Hardcore Ladies show. She's doing another one this year and has issued a challenge to anyone, man or woman, to challenge her. I might rank her higher if the Revolucion Amandola tag team could ever really become today's version of Los Cachorrus Orientales (whom they lost to in a disappointing match). At least Kimura has some charisma; Atsuko Emoto uses what little personality she has on the stupid Bullfight Sora cow comedy character.

8. Carlos Amano (OZ Academy) Should be higher, but was saddled with the disappointing feud with Mayumi Ozaki, who has really deteriorated badly in just the past few years (and I know many of you have been sick of her schtick for longer than that!). Amano still managed to have good singles matches with Kong and youngster Ryo Mizunami and is a good tag worker when the situation calls for that. I wouldn't mind seeing Amano vs Chikayo as a feud; the match quality would definitely surpass Amano vs 2008 Ozaki.

9. Toshie Uematsu (freelance; works for EVERYONE) She's the best midcarder around. She's good on the mike and can work face or heel, comedy or straight, singles or tag. She can bump her ass off for your over-the-hill veteran or hold your shaky rookie's hand. I enjoy her best as chickenshit heel. She got rewarded for her long years of yeoman work (with Ran Yu-Yu, who was my last cut for this list) as JWP/Daily Sports tag champs and got the honor of pinning Devil Masami in her retirement match. She is the KING OF TAG TEAM and your next Super Heel.

10. Meiko Satomura (Sendai Girls) She's my favorite. I'm over-ranking her because she had only one notable match (her comeback match with Aja) after her long absence with a broken orbital bone. The only other match that made tape that I know of was the nostalgia match at Devil's retirement show. There she played a subsidiary role and her main contribution was trying and failing to lift Dump Matsumoto (who is really the female version of Abby the Butcher) for the Death Valley Bomb.

11. Aja Kong (OZ Academy) Should really be ahead of Meiko, as she was a great sadistic heel trying to rip Meiko's eye out. Aja told everyone in Sendai to buy tickets for Satomura's return show, as she billed it as "Meiko's Retirement". She also had a nice singles match with Carlos Amano and was interesting in her new role as "Angry Mama Bear" to youngster Hiroyo Matsumoto in the Jungle Jack 21 team. I thoroughly enjoyed Aja beating the shit out of Police when he tried to interfere in a Hiroyo-Hiren match.

12. Arisa Nakajima (JWP) Best female worker under the age of 20 in Japan (she'll turn 20 in 09). Started the year as brash young bitch seeking to regain the junior title from girl next door Tyrannosaurus Okuda, which included a wonderful tag with Kana against Okuda & Miz that featured all sorts of teenaged estrogen charged hate (well, Kana's not a teen, but she's still bitchy). She had an interlude as out-of-her element babyface as she shows up to her first barbed-wire boards match (against Ozaki & Bambi) wearing a backless halter top and mini-skirt and then takes back bumps on the wire. Points for bravery and stupidity! There's no reason a girl should dress frumpy just because she's working her first hardcore match! She then morphed away from the mean girl persona into one of JWP's stalwarts against the Yumiko Hotta-led invasion.

13. Tsubasa Kuragaki (JWP) She's someone that can be easy to forget about, but she moves wonderfully for a wide-bodied lady and is a stalwart of the upper-mid card. The BARI BARI team with Kayoko is great fun and it was a bit sad to see them break up, but Kayoko's making a run at the main event scene. Broke her leg late in the year.

14. Awesome Kong (TNA) One match in Japan, on 12/31 against Misae Genki. It was a great superheavyweight battle, including a tables spot that was just crazy. Genki apparently wanted to go out of wrestling on a stretcher, but did survive this match. AK should wrestle in Japan more and Orlando less.

15. Nanae Takahashi (Passion Red) Formed the Passion Red faction after she (along with Natsuki*Taiyo) left SUN/ZERO1. I'm not a Nanae mark, but I do appreciate both her work as a credible big girl babyface (she's always come off as the protective big sister back to her days with Momoe) and as a mentor to workers like Natsuki & Kana. She'll hopefully liven up the NEO main event scene as their champion.

16. Kana (Passion Red) Her ass is sponsored by X-Box. Her ass is an offensive weapon, as the Billiken (ass attack) is one of her finishers. Her ass is spectacular. She's got a nice rack too, along still probably not big enough to cut it in the WWE without enhancement. She can really turn up the bitchiness, as we saw in her tag with Nakajima against Okuda and Mizunami. Kana really was the first to bring out any sort of personality out of Miz, as she wanted to kill Kana after this match and the post-match disrespect. Oh, and she got bitten by the Battlartus stiffus bug late in the year and loves to kick people now.

17. Natsuki*Taiyo (Passion Red) Sat out the first few months of 2008 with her mentor Nanae Takahashi after they fled the sinking SUN ship. She's toned down a bit on her youthful spazziness and has introduced a mean streak with her newfound love for Battlarts style wrestling. She was probably a bit too stiff with her kicks to Ayumi Kurihara's head. Maybe someone gave her a Yumiko Hotta or Kumiko Maekawa comp for her birthday.

18. Tyrannosaurus Okuda (Sendai Girls) Still too dependent on her so-so jumping knee (better than Noriyo Tateno's but won't make you forget about Jumbo Tsuruta). Seemingly born to play the wholesome babyface underdog heroine role (well, until she quit Sendai Girls in early 2009). She had some nice matches with Arisa Nakajima, but then got hurt against Hiroyo Matsumoto (a near miss, getting a nice push but still a bit too awkward), as Hiroyo dumped her on her head/neck/shoulder on a botched backdrop which necessitated year-ending shoulder surgery.

19. Ryo Mizunami (Sendai Girls) The former Ayane Mizumura, who was GAEA's final rookie. After a hiatus, she returned to joshi in Sendai in 2007 and she's got a nice emerging blend of power and mat-skills. She's either a big little girl or a little big girl; I'm not sure which. I loved her performance against Mio Shirai, where Mio was doing her faux-MMA schtick, then Miz just took her to the mat and put her in a rolling shoulder lock that Mio had no answer for. She's not high on charisma, but I think she'll be a good secondary ace eventually, sort of like the roles people like Misae Genki or Tsubasa Kuragaki play.

20. KAORU (free-lance, mostly OZ Academy) A year ago I would have laughed out loud at
including KAORU on a list that didn't include the likes of Mayumi Ozaki (old, terrible haircut choices, watches too much WCW and TNA for booking ideas), Manami Toyota (still serviceable, but needs to phase out parts of her offense that she can't pull off anymore, like the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex that she now does about as well as a random U.S. indy chick ripping off 1995 Toyota), or Ayako Hamada (too much time in Mexico, virtually nothing in Japan in our hands). Actually, laughing was the main reason she made the list. KAORU's mocking of Dynamite Kansai after Kansai got her head shaved after the 1st fall of a best 2/3 falls tag match was so awesome. KAORU's like the meanest twelve-going-on-forty old going on forty in the world and she really made you wish that she'd get what she deserves. She didn't that day, as Kansai lost the 2nd fall as well, but no one is better at teasing you in your moment of distress than KAORU. She didn't even get hurt this year, as she's moonsaulting off of ladders less and spraying mist more.

Close misses were Ran Yu-Yu (needs more booking love), AKINO (ditto), Hiroyo Matsumoto (still a bit too clumsy, but is getting there as an effective young big girl), Tojuki Leon, and Command Bolshoi.

EDIT: If I had seen Haruyama vs Tojuki Leon from 12/28 before writing this list, I would have included Leon and bumped someone.

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