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.