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    Sunday, October 10, 2021

    Cafe Puro: Why You Should Watch Maki Itoh vs. Miyu Yamashita (Wrestle Princess 2)

    Wrestle Princess 2 is Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW)'s biggest show to date and was held at the Ota-Ku Gymnasium in Tokyo yesterday, October 9. After an eventful afternoon, many fans hoped that their favorite disgruntled idol Maki Itoh would finally win TJPW's top title, the Princess of Princess Championship. Miyu Yamashita and her deadly kicks said otherwise as "The Pink Striker" defeated Maki Itoh to retain the title in her third successful defense.

    What is TJPW?

    TJPW is the sister promotion to DDT Pro-Wrestling. The latter is most known for its brand of Rojo or "street pro wrestling," which involves matches in unusual venues ranging from bathhouses to conference halls and beyond. DDT was also the home of Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi before they made their full-time transfer to NJPW in the late 2010s.

    Maki Itoh embraces Miyu Yamashita after their match at Wrestle Princess 2. (Wrestle Universe)

    Unlike DDT, which books matches between male and female wrestlers—and sometimes, even inanimate objects—TJPW is all about growing women's wrestling or Joshi, as it is known in Japan. TJPW is also notable for its clearly told narratives.

    Take Maki Itoh, for example. She's the disgruntled idol (read: entertainer/pop star) who wants to show the world that she is more than just a failed pop star deemed ugly by her own management. She is the ultimate underdog because she isn't the best wrestler, but she has more heart than any wrestler on the roster.

    There's also Shoko Nakajima, who is tiny at 4 feet, 9 inches (1.47 m). However, her character is that she believes she descends from kaiju or giant monsters like Godzilla. She's a huge Godzilla fan in real life, so this makes the character more believable, and her commitment to the character makes me suspend my disbelief and accept that Shoko is indeed a kaiju.

    The two wrestlers I mentioned are just examples of how deep the profiles of each wrestler go in TJPW compared to other promotions. Now, I want to look at one specific match you have to watch, and that's the main event between challenger Maki Itoh and the champion Miyu Yamashita.

    Who are Miyu Yamashita and Maki Itoh?

    "The Pink Striker" Miyu Yamashita

    Miyu Yamashita makes her way to the ring for her match against Maki Itoh (Wrestle-Universe)

    Miyu Yamashita grew up in Fukuoka, Japan, and dreamed of becoming an idol like most young Japanese girls do but she had a hard time joining an idol group. Her fate would change when then-DDT wrestler Kyohei Mikami invited her to join TJPW. There, Miyu became one of the pioneer members of the company alongside Shoko Nakajima in 2013. TJPW initially started out holding shows in venues that didn't even have a wrestling ring. Think of it like Emi Sakura's ChocoPro

    Before becoming known as the "Pink Striker," Miyu was still doing idol-like gestures during her entrance. As a pro wrestler, she could now live out her dream of becoming an idol in her own way. It would take a few years before she became the company's "Ace" or top wrestler. Once that happened, the idol-like actions were no longer there. All you could see was one of the deadliest strikers in wrestling today. Even the likes of Malakai Black admit that Miyu has a better kick than him! 

    Today, Miyu is the wrestler relied upon to carry the company into the future and holds the company's top belt, the Princess of Princess Championship.

    "The Fired Idol" Maki Itoh

    Maki Itoh gives Miyu Yamashita one last one-fingered salute before losing at Wrestle Princess 2. (Wrestle-Universe)

    AEW fans might be familiar with Maki Itoh as Britt Baker's surprise tag team partner at AEW Revolution earlier this year.

    Before becoming a wrestler, Itoh used to be part of a Japanese idol group—think of them as boybands or girl bands—called LinQ. As an idol, she took part in a DDT show before becoming a full-time wrestler. Soon after that, she'd have one of her first singles matches was against Yamashita, a fellow Fukuoka native. That match was one of the catalysts for Itoh to join wrestling full-time. 

    That's because Maki Itoh struggled to stay relevant during her time as a member of LinQ. The cutthroat world of idol culture forced her to convince passersby to buy tickets to a LinQ show or else she would be dropped from the group. Very few clips of this promo exist, but the internet is powerful. Here's what Maki Itoh's promo looked like as she convinced passersby to buy tickets to the event.

    That's right, Maki Itoh cut a promo on a ticket list. She would be cut from the group not long after this ticket promo. After being dropped from her label, Maki Itoh became a full-time wrestler and went on to have one of the most compelling stories of any performer. She became the "Fired Idol" with a foul mouth. Her character was so appealing to audiences that she even gained notoriety in the U.S. 

    Check out her Twitter account, and you'll see lots of profane language being used. Her transparency about her personal life and plastic surgery makes her much more appealing than your typical Japanese idol who has to build up a facade that they're everyone's dream partner.

    Maki Itoh is the total opposite. She's a foul-mouthed disgruntled pop star who doesn't care what people think. She may not be the best wrestler on the TJPW roster, but she has more heart than everyone else, and that's what makes her character so captivating to audiences. After all, everybody loves an underdog.

    Why should I watch the match?

    You should watch the match if you want to see a compelling underdog story.

    Maki Itoh became the contender for the Princess of Princess Championship after winning the Tokyo Princess Cup. This tournament is the TJPW equivalent to NJPW's New Japan Cup, a single-elimination tournament with the winner challenging for the company's top prize.

    Maki and Miyu have a long history of competing against each other in singles matches. As mentioned above, they faced each other in Itoh's first singles match in 2013. The two would face each other again multiple times, including once in the U.S. and another time at TJPW's January 4 show this year before the start of NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom.

    Maki Itoh places Miyu Yamashita in a gut-wrenching leg stretch. (Wrestle-Universe)

    What made this match at Wrestle Princess 2 different was that Maki Itoh suddenly had a ton of momentum going into the event. The "Fired Idol" was no longer the bridesmaid. She had earned her right to face the champion. Maki Itoh's run to the Wrestle Princess 2 main event could even be compared Tetsuya Naito's run to becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom 14

    As the challenger, Maki Itoh was already confident after nearly losing the Princess Cup due to an injury. However, the "Fired Idol" would fight back and make it all the way to the finals and win. She then called out Miyu Yamashita and challenged her to a match at Wrestle Princess 2. Sadly, Maki Itoh did not win the belt. Itoh's loss at the event may have been her best chance to win; however, there is still a lot to learn for the "Fired Idol." 

    From here, it appears Maki Itoh's arc is to learn from her losses and use these lessons to fulfill her destiny and become champion. Every challenger must use their losses and turn them into building blocks, right? Tetsuya Naito had to wait years before he became IWGP Heavyweight Champion again. He had to learn to appreciate the Intercontinental Championship before finally realizing the value of the Heavyweight title.

    The same goes for Maki Itoh. She has to learn to lose to Miyu Yamashita before being deemed worthy of becoming Princess of Princess Champion. She could counter several of Miyu's moves, but she could not counter the rest of Miyu's arsenal. Maki Itoh will have to wait another day to become Princess of Princess Champion.

    What other matches should I look out for?

    The Wrestle Princess 2 card was so loaded, and it was difficult to choose which matches to watch out for. I'll try to list down some of my favorite matches besides the main event here.

    International Princess Championship
    Hikari Noa wants to show the world that she's more than just an Idol. She's a brawling, deathmatch-lover, too! Yuki Aino is out to prove that she can hang as a singles competitor with an already proven tag team record alongside her sister Tenma Nodoka.

    Princess Tag Team Championship: NEO Biishiki-Gun: Sakisama and Mei St. Michel (c) vs. Magical Jumping Rabbits: Yuka Sakazaki and Mizuki.
    The reign of the French Aristocrats Sakisama and her assistant Mei St. Michel ended after a chaotic tag affair against the long-running team of "Magical Girl" Yuka Sakazaki and her tag partner Mizuki.

    Moco Miyamoto & Aja Kong vs. Yuki Arai & Miu Watanabe
    Part-time idols/wrestlers Yuki Arai and Miu Watanabe show that they can hang with a legend like Aja Kong and her partner Moco Miyamoto.

    Riho & Shoko Nakajima vs. Arisu Endo & Suzume
    The veteran team of Riho and Shoko Nakajima show young upstarts Arisu Endo and Suzume how to win wrestling matches with their high-speed techniques.

    What events should I look out for?

    After the amazing Wrestle Princess 2 show, Miyu Yamashita announced one last thing: TJPW will be holding a show on March 2022 at the legendary Ryogoku Sumo Hall!

    Not only will TJPW hold a show at Ryogoku, but they will also hold their annual January 4 show, which has become like WrestleMania Weekend in Japan at this point. On top of that, the next Tokyo Princess Cup will be held in August next year, to be followed by Wrestle Princess 3 on October 9. Every time I see TJPW hosting shows in bigger venues, the more I feel like we could get a TJPW event at one of Japan's domed stadiums in the near future.

    Images from TJPW

    Steven Tan (@steviesaidyup) works for an e-commerce company by day and operates The Geeky Juans podcast and blog by night. He's a fan of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, comic books, and the Moomin franchise. You can find more of his geeky thoughts on Twitter.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro: Why You Should Watch Maki Itoh vs. Miyu Yamashita (Wrestle Princess 2) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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