Rika Tatsumi (c) vs. Maki Itoh for the Princess of Princess Championship - TJPW 04/22/2021

when did Maki Itoh get so good

This match was a perfect example of how puroresu (and joshi specifically) are the best forms of wrestling in terms of blending kayfabe and legitimacy.

When we fans tune into a match and we’re trying to pick a winner, we’re essentially guessing the business instincts of the promoter and booker of said match. As such, Rika Tatsumi’s third Princess of Princess Title defense felt completely wide open. Tatsumi is still in the process of entrenching herself among TJPW’s elite; a loss to Maki Itoh would have cut off her momentum and sent her crashing back down the card.

On the other hand, Itoh is far and away TJPW’s biggest international star, fresh off appearances in AEW and maintaining a passionate fanbase around the globe. The massive CyberFight show was a little over a month away. How could TJPW not jump at the chance to make Itoh their world champion?

That story may as well have been the story of the match. Itoh’s relentless, almost crazed insistence that she would “take TJPW to the Tokyo Dome” could only have come from her among members of the promotion’s roster. But fans are still waiting for Itoh herself to take that next step, from cute, charismatic former idol to somebody who can elevate wrestling matches to greatness.

Incredibly, that was Tatsumi’s angle as well heading into the match. She said that Itoh had lost her edge, that “the facade of fake confidence is no longer necessary because she has gained experience and true confidence after fulfilling her dreams.” And we saw that in Itoh’s booking: palling around with Miyu Yamashita, the promotion’s ace, isn’t exactly a recipe for ensuring you stand out at the top of the company.

Once the bell rang, the match followed that story to a T. Early on, Itoh ripped up the ringside padding, explosing the hard Korakuen floor. But her subsequent body slam was as safe and protected as it gets, further establishing that Itoh was unwilling to go to that next level to win. The first act of the match followed Itoh’s complete domination of Tatsumi’s midsection.

The match’s second act featured Tatsumi turning the tables with a targeted attack on Itoh’s leg. This was classic pro wrestling, Figure Four and all, alongside a “they BETTER have done this” spot with Itoh’s iron head meating Tatsumi’s unstoppable hip attack.

Itoh’s application of the Boston crab signaled this contest’s final act. For once, Itoh’s signature moves weren’t utilized for comedy or for “getting her spots in” –– no, the Kokeshi and the diving headbutt had meaning this time. But when Itoh was about to apply the crab once more, she was met with a middle finger from the champion, a reversal of roles.

This time, it wasn’t Itoh baiting her opponent into something; it was Tatsumi desperately manipulating the situation to avoid tapping out. But this version of Itoh was different, not taking the bait and subsequently killing Tatsumi with a headbutt. Itoh may have lost her edge, but she’s a better wrestler for it.

But just like in real life, being a better wrestler than ever doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better than your opponent. And that was the case here; Tatsumi was just better than Itoh, who went to the well one too many times and met a final hip attack in return.

***

Rika Tatsumi’s final words to Itoh after the match were as follows:

“Itoh, I don't know why, but for some reason I could never acknowledge you and your efforts, and I might not fully know you yet even after this match, but now I think you're FUCKING AMAZING.”

If you follow this author’s tweets or content, you know how dubious I am of Maki Itoh and how grating I find her gimmick. And considering my review, you probably know that Tatsumi may as well have ripped the words out of my mouth.

Itoh came into the match with the idea of selling out the Tokyo Dome; by the night’s end, she didn’t even manage to sell out a pandemic-limited Korakuen Hall. There are still miles to go.

But now, those goals don’t quite seem like the pipe dream kayfabe match promotion they appeared to be at the start.

This was the best match of both women’s careers and perhaps the second-best match in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling history.

(****¼)