AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Round 1 Live Thoughts

AEW’s sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship is underway. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner. That winner will face Shida at AEW’s Revolution PPV on March 7, 2021.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. See my preview of the first round for more information on the wrestlers as well as some thoughts on all four of these first time ever singles matches.

Now it’s time to see how they all turn out.

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga

All four of these matches are one fall with a twenty minute time limit.

The matches are taking place in Ice Ribbon’s home base, a venue I’m very familiar with (Ice Ribbon rents their dojo out for other events, and are not involved in this tournament).

This was one of the dream matches of the tournament and it’s great to see it happen. We’ve got two extremely quick and deceptively powerful wrestlers here. Yuka is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, and the former TJPW Princess of Princess champion has four and a half years experience over Gatoh Move’s prodigy.

Though Mei had been wrestling for TJPW the last few months, this is the first time she and Yuka are crossing paths in the ring at all. *

This was honestly not the match I expected them to have as a first time encounter to be seen by a lot of first time viewers. It was wrestled at a very fast pace and featured a ton of counters and dodges. It’s the type of match viewers like me who are familiar with the maneuvers of both competitors and can fully process every feint and counter-move love, and I adored it. But I wonder if fans unfamiliar with their moves got the same depth from it, especially when even commentary missed big things like Mei attempting but not completing her finishing submission Lucifer.

Both also have very unique and creative movesets, which led to a couple small moments of awkwardness as they got used to each other. It was noticeable enough to mention, particularly when Mei kind of fell off Yuka’s shoulders going for her trademark rollup out of victory roll position when Yuka turned the opposite way Mei expected, but the recoveries were spot on and overall they were just small blips.

Yuka took control late and broke out the jaw-dropping Magical Girl Chicken Dude (450 from the middle of the top rope) to put Mei away. The match was extremely good and served as a nice introduction for Mei before she was overwhelmed and defeated by who I believe is the Japan side favorite. As mentioned above, for me this hit all the right notes. Would love to see a rematch sometime.

* Japan has a strong, strange kind of quasi-kayfabe/willing suspension of disbelief that makes it a little difficult to discuss certain things sometimes. Wrestlers occasionally play different characters/personas in different companies, without masks and with no attempt to hide their identity, that they and fans will ham-fistedly pretend are unrelated. So when “Mei Saint-Michel,” the lost child found in a forest in France taken in by Saki-sama who’s clearly Mei in a maid outfit, appears in TJPW and Mei Suruga posts on Twitter wondering why people are tagging her in posts about “someone who isn’t me,” that’s what’s going on. Regardless, “neither” Mei has previous wrestled Yuka.

Emi Sakura vs Veny

Of note is that while she still came to the ring with cape, crown, and microphone, the Queen obsessed Emi Sakura wished to show more of the base of who she is and for the first time in AEW was not wearing her Freddie Mercury inspired gear. Big opportunity for Veny** to make a big impression on the international stage against the twenty-five year veteran, so both are coming in with something to prove.

This was the consensus best match of the first round, and opinion I’m in complete agreement with. Sakura lost a bit of weight in preparation for this match and showed off the resulting increase in speed and agility throughout. This had a bit of everything, with both wrestlers showing proficiency in strikes, submission holds, and anything else they could throw at each other. Short of full play-by-play I’m at a loss to convey the scope of this, so my best advice is simple to go watch.

After a lot of back and forth and fighting off each other’s signatures, Sakura was able to wear Veny down with a vicious looking under the arm dragon sleeper, then is finally able to nail the Tiger Driver to advance.

I expected (and wanted) Sakura to win, but a Veny upset was likely enough that this was particularly gripping down the stretch. Great showing by both, and it’s particularly nice to see AEW get a glimpse of what Sakura is truly capable of.

**Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh

The battle between two of the most charismatic wrestlers anywhere in the world was lighter fare than the rest of the opening round, but still featured two determined competitors due all they could to advance. Highlights included Itoh suckering Ryo in with fake crying to get an advantage only to blow it by charging the unmovable object and wiping herself herself out when Ryo didn’t budge, and Mizunami learning first hand that it’s unwise to underestimate how hard Itoh’s head is.

They wrestled a smart match and their styles worked well together. Ryo really can adjust to just about anything and is extremely underrated. Despite Itoh giving it her all, the veteran stayed one step ahead and after Itoh barely kicked out after a brutal spear Ryo used the momentum of Itoh’s kickout to apply an anaconda vice for the tapout victory.

While many newer fans expected Itoh’s immediate appeal with the unfamiliar fanbase to lead to a win here, this was the only way this was ever going to end. Even ignoring that the matches were likely taped before Itoh’s cheerful, curse filled introductory tweet went viral, her entire identity is the crass, defiant underdog continuing to be herself despite setbacks. Her immediately beating a stronger wrestler with 10+ more years experience is not the right story to tell with her. It’s the fight and doing things her way that matter with Itoh, and her battle here with the powerhouse was as good as a first impression as she could make.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura

“This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.”

That quote from my preview pretty much sums it all up. Kong dominated the youngster, but Rin took everything and kept fighting, earning her the immediate respect of everyone watching. At one point Kong spiked her with a particularly vicious piledriver, and Rin’s kickout had the chat going wild. Hanging in with Kong as long as she did made Rin look super tough, and she even got the monster down with a flurry of offense long enough to attempt the Ultra Rin (twisting senton).

Kong moved however, and absolutely planted Rin with a backdrop driver … for 2.999. I expected that to end it, and Rin looks super human for surviving it. Rin fights off the brain buster but gets leveled with a clothesline after a vicious right for another close 2, and the legend has had enough and finishes the upstart off with a monstrous top rope elbow drop. Exactly what this should have been.

——-

Expected strong showing all around from these intriguing, well chosen matchups showcasing several different styles. While I’d like to see a touch more research done, and things like getting the referee’s gender wrong are rather embarrassing mistakes, overall Excalibur did a decent job on commentary and sounded reasonably knowledgeable about and (most importantly) interested in the matches taking place.

No surprises in the results but that’s perfectly fine, especially with the awesome matchups that will result in the next round. Really good stuff, and a nice introduction to the new wrestlers regardless of their losses, who will all hopefully be brought back in the future. These matches are still available on their YouTube channel.

For more information on how to officially watch the home promotions of these wrestlers and a number of other Joshi companies see this thread.

The next round of the Japan bracket will air with two first round matches from the US side:

Emi Sakura vs Yuka Sakazaki
Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong
Nyla Rose vs Tay Conti
Britt Baker vs Madi Wrenkowski (subbing for the injured Anna Jay)

Check it out on AEW’s YouTube channel tonight at 7pm EST.

AEW Eliminator Joshi Bracket Preview

AEW has begun a sixteen woman Eliminator Tournament to determine the next contender for Hikaru Shida’s AEW Women’s Championship. Half of the tournament is taking place in Japan, and the winner of that portion will eventually travel to the US to face the winner of the US bracket to determine the tournament winner.

The participants in the Japan bracket are an incredible mix of styles, personalities, and experience levels. Four of the eight (Emi Sakura, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, and Aja Kong) have competed in AEW in the past. The other four (Mei Suruga, Veny, Maki Itoh, and Rin Kadokura) are making their AEW debuts.

The champion herself has gone to Japan to oversee the matches, and the first round is absolutely stacked with four really interesting matchups. Furthermore, all four are first time ever singles encounters.

(Shida appeared as a special referee ChocoPro 89 which featured matches involving half of the Japan bracket participants, and also had a sit down talk with Emi Sakura after the show.)

Here is some more information on all eight participants, and a quick look at the first round contests:

Yuka Sakazaki vs Mei Suruga




Nickname
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves






Twitter

Yuka Sakazaki
(坂崎ユカ)

Magical Girl
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 1, 2013
5’2″
24
Magical Girl Splash (middle of the top rope splash)
Magical Magical Girl Splash (MGS with horizontal rotation)
Magical Girl Chicken Dude (middle of the top rope 450)

YukaSakazaki

Mei Suruga
(駿河メ)

Apple Girl
Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
May 27, 2018
4’10”
21
Propeller Clutch
Lucifer (chicken wing Cattle Mutilation)




Mei_gtmv

Yuka Sakazaki is one of the best high flyers in all of wrestling, but also deceptively strong and more than capable of going strike for strike or hold for hold as well. The seven year pro has been Princess of Princess Champion twice (TJPW’s top singles title) and held their tag team titles with two different partners.

But for those unfamiliar with Mei Suruga: the term wrestling prodigy has perhaps never been more apt. She debuted in just twenty-one days of full training and wrestles with confidence and skill far beyond her two and a half years of experience. Mei’s had major upsets already in her short career, including singles victories over both Emi Sakura and Hikaru Shida. She recently won her first championship, Gatoh Move’s Asia Dream Tag Titles (with partner Baliyan Akki) and will no doubt be looking to ride that wave of momentum to victory here.

While I personally expect Yuka to win not only this match but perhaps the entire bracket, Mei’s the dark horse of the tournament and her adding Yuka’s name to her increasing list of upsets is not impossible. Either way this is a match between two extremely quick, skilled, and exciting competitors and is the first round match I’m most excited for.

Emi Sakura vs Veny




Nickname/Tagline
Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Emi Sakura
(さくらえみ)

“She will chop you.”
AEW, Gatoh Move/ChocoPro
August 17, 1995
5’1″
44
La Magistral
Nyan Nyan Press (450 Splash)
Tiger Driver
and many, many more

sakuraemi

Veny
(朱崇花, Asuka)*

The Genderless Pro Wrestler
Freelance
August 9, 2015
5’9″
22
Moonsault
Shooting Star Press
Sitout Chokeslam


asuka10272140

The Queen obsessed eccentric wrestler who AEW audiences are most familiar with is only one facet of the incredible twenty-five year veteran Emi Sakura. Capable of matching nearly any style and adapting to any challenge, the sole AEW contracted wrestler on this side of the bracket is one of the clear favorites. Beyond her significant wrestling prowess, Sakura is also a well renowned and highly respected trainer, having trained an incredibly long list of wrestlers including not only possible tournament opponents Mei Suruga and Riho, but the reigning AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida as well.

However among the favorites Sakura has perhaps the toughest draw of the round. It’s easy to forget how young Veny is, as at 22 and with just five years in she fits right in going toe-to-toe with the veterans and has already held the top singles title in two different promotions. With Veny’s strength and fiery offense a victory is not impossible, and if she does shock Sakura in round one she could become a good bet to continue on quite far.

*Veny is known as Asuka in Japan (not to be confused with the former Kana who changed her name to Asuka when she joined WWE, who uses a different Japanese spelling of the name).

Ryo Mizunami vs Maki Itoh




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves




Twitter

Ryo Mizunami
(水波綾)

Aniki

Freelance
November 3, 2004
5’4″
32
Hot Limit (fireman’s carry into kneeling tombstone piledriver)
Running Lariat
Diving Guillotine Leg Drop

mizunami0324

Maki Itoh
(伊藤麻希)

The Cutest in the World,
The Fired Idol
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling
December 11, 2016
5’3″
25
Falling Headbutt
Itoh Special (Texas Cloverleaf)



maki_itoh

TJPW’s lovable misfit immediately captured the imagination of a whole slew of new fans when she happily cursed out a welcome message when retweeting AEW’s announcement of her participation in the tournament. Itoh doesn’t do much the way one is “supposed” to and everyone adores her for it. She is who she is unapologetically and is always ready to take on the world, which she often has to. Itoh’s a straight ahead brawler who uses her hard head for a good portion of her offense, and while she has more in her arsenal then some give her credit for she is generally overmatched in technique against wrestlers with similar or greater levels of experience. But she’s defiant to the last and will fight tooth and nail trying to defeat her opponents through shear strength of will.

Which she’ll need to do to have any chance against the sixteen year veteran Mizunami. This will be Mizunami’s first appearance for AEW since their first pay-per-view, where she teamed with Riho & Shida to defeat Aja Kong, Emi Sakura, & Yuka Sakazaki. The powerhouse is capable of, and perhaps used to, running right over her opponents and will be a real test of Itoh’s fortitude. Mizunami is also the only one in the tournament who even comes close to matching Itoh in terms of raw charisma, so this match should be a really fun spectacle.

Itoh winning is not inconceivable, but make no mistake it would be a BIG upset. She has wrestled Aja Kong before though, and the possibility of a rematch in the second round here is intriguing.

Aja Kong vs Rin Kodakura




Nickname

Company
Debut
Height
Age
Signature Finishing Moves


Twitter

Aja Kong
(アジャコング)

N/A – the name “Aja Kong” speaks volumes all on it’s own
Oz Academy
1986
5’5″
50
Uraken (spinning back fist)
Brainbuster

ajakonguraken

Rin Kodakura
(門倉凛)

Cool Needlefish

Marvelous
May 3, 2016
5’1″
27
Ultra Rin (twisting senton)


Kazu_Marvelous

Aja Kong is a legendary thirty-four year veteran who is still going strong and still impressive and intimidating in the ring. Taking her out is going to be a tall task for anyone, and perhaps a near impossible one for Rin. Although I fully expect the talented, defiant spitfire from Marvelous to make the legend work for it, and Kong may find herself risking a disqualification if tempted to tee off on Rin with her ever present metal mini garbage can. This will be a mauling, and the question is what Rin will do to endure it and how hard she will be able to fight back.

——-

That wraps it up for now. AEW is premiering these first round matches on their YouTube channel Monday February 15 at 7pm EST.

For the first time ever I actually find myself rooting for all the favorites, as second round matches of Sakazaki vs Sakura and Mizunami vs Kong would be incredible and are legit dream matches. However as mentioned above nothing’s 100% here, and absolutely all of the possible second round matches look great. Really excited to see how this all plays out.

Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful DreamsBeautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3 for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.

Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.

The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.

Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.  

One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.

Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.

I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.

Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.

Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.

I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.

SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.

The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.

Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).

Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.

Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.

The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time

Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.

Rest in Peace Hana.

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂