There’s something magical about seeing what you thought you knew was true of this world shift right in front of you. Your expectations crumble; your perception warps.
That’s what happened when Maki Itoh stood up to Miyu Yamashita at Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling’s marquee show to kick off 2021. After her clutch performance in Korakuen Hall against her longtime rival, you cannot look at her the same. Itoh exuded a top champion’s aura in addition to her usual carny vibes.
Itoh has always been an attention-grabber.
The 5’3” firecracker who calls herself ‘The Cutest Professional Wrestler in the World’, is a storm of cuss words and headbutts. She’s hilariously flippant on Twitter, sports a distinctive look, and is bursting with charisma. But she hadn’t yet shown herself to be at a top-level performer in the ring. She’s been solid but had yet to have that one true standout match.
Who better to help change that than Yamashita, the cold-blooded killer of TJPW?
For one, Yamashita is the standard bearer of the promotion, the ace even when she’s not holding the Princess of Princess Championship. If you want to see how good you have become, you step in there with the best. And that’s Miyu.
Secondly, their paths have long intersected, so there’s plenty of history to play with.
Throughout Itoh’s journey, she’s crashed into the bigger, stronger, head-kicking force that is Yamashita. It’s been a one-sided series. Itoh’s first singles match was a sub-10-minute loss to Yamashita back in 2016. She’s fallen to the same foe in the first round of the 2018 Tokyo Princess Cup, at a DDT show in New York, in a Princess of Princess title match in 2019. The nearest she’s comes to a singles win over The Momoiro Striker is a time-limit draw at the TJPW Christmas show to close out 2020.
Itoh seems to get closer to knocking off Yamashita each time, though. Her confidence grows. The gap between rivals shrinks.
It’s a metaphor for her career; her drawing ever nearer to tapping into all that potential coursing through her limbs.
Their latest meeting came in the semi-main event of Tokyo Joshi Pro’s big January show. The contrast of these two wrestlers shone sharply. Itoh grinned before the showdown; a stone-faced sneer hung on Yamashita’s face.
Yamashita offered a pre-match handshake, but Itoh would have none of that. She slapped the former Princess of Princess champ and smiled like The Joker afterward.
As has been the case throughout their history, Yamashita dominated. She attacked, overwhelmed, and kicked the very soul out of her smaller opponent. Itoh seemed to relish the punishment, looking up in defiance even while wincing.
As the fight rolled on, Itoh showed herself to be as ferocious as her rival. Her rope-hung DDT planted Yamashita into the mat like a tent stake. She was a blur as she battered Miyu, howling as she bent her foe’s boot backward.
The slugfest was a declaration of Itoh’s in-progress ascension. It was a showcase of her toughness.
Itoh went so far as to hold her arms down at one point to let Yamashita kick her in the chest, a move akin to a lion tamer putting his arm in the big cat’s mouth. She withstood an impressive amount of abuse, but eventually the boots brought her to her knees.
In the end, Itoh was wobbly-legged and barely able to even hold her head up. No matter, though. She was still obstinate; still the pig-tailed rebel. She held up a middle finger, one last in-your-face statement before Yamashita coldcocked and KO’ed her.
In defeat, Itoh earned respect. Yamashita fist-bumped her afterward. The announcers gushed over Itoh’s effort.
This was another notch in Yamashita’s belt and a reminder of her power, but the bigger story is the career performance from Itoh, one that gave us a glimpse of what she is capable of. We are watching a transformation: a career narrative-changing Itoh tear her way out of her cocoon before showing us whatever she is en route to become.