Damn. I’m bummed. I’m sitting on my couch watching a wrestling match and I’m embarrassed how dejected I feel.
It’s the night of the Tokyo Princess Cup finals and Miu Watanabe is on her back crying, her eyes closed, her chest heaving. Same, Miu, Same.
Heading into this, I was so juiced up. There was something electric in the air. Watanabe was going to complete a momentous tournament run. Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling was finally going to push this uber-talented star. We’d finally get to see a newcomer join the company’s elusive top-tier.
But that’s not how it went down.
Much like in her bout against Miyu Yamashita on the night prior, Watanabe took Yuka Sakazaki’s best shots in the tournament final before slowly standing up on wobbly legs. Yuka would clock her with a right hand, and after shaking off the force of the blow and righting herself, Miu would strike back with some ferocious shots of her own.
It looked as if we were getting another display of Watanabe’s heart en route to victory. Insert a “my body is ready” meme. Then the ending came, all the air coming out of the balloon.
Sakazaki spun Watanabe in the air, smashed her on the mat, and broke her heart open with a three-count.
Miu winning would have been the obvious move. The buzz was there. It made sense logically. This was the perfect time to have Watanabe win.
The story couldn’t have been better. The up-and-comer is ready to prove she belongs in TJPW’s elite class. She knocks off the Princess of Princess Champion in Shoko Nakajima in the quarterfinals. Next, she outlasts the ace Miyu Yamashita in a tremendous match. Then in the finals she faces a third company cornerstone in Sakazaki.
That trilogy of wins, along with the Princess Cup victory, would have made Miu. She delivered on her side with a star-making run. She hooked the crowd. She generated the emotion. She looked like a main eventer throughout.
TJPW, though, said: Nope. Back to what’s familiar, what’s comfortable.
This company’s strength is its emotional connection. It will never deliver bell-to-bell as consistently as STARDOM or AEW. It simply doesn’t have the roster to be a workrate promotion nor does it want to be. It is a character and story and vibes kind of place.
It offers the kooky and the likable, the girl band member diving into the physicality of wrestling with big enthusiasm, the twirling, grinning fighter in a frilly dress, a wrestler dressed like a bee who is brimming with glee. You can’t help but find one of these characters endearing.
You watch them grow and improve and deepen their connection with the TJPW faithful. Then the company rips your heart out.
If you are a Hikari Noa fan, a Maki Itoh follower, or a Miu Watanabe supporter, you’re going to be out of luck. TJPW simply will not stray from its three cornerstones. It depends on Yamashita, Sakazaki, and Nakajima, heavily and fully.
That’s been the case for the bulk of the company’s existence. Click around on TJPW’s title history on Cagematch.net to see the evidence. There have been 10 total Princess of Princess reigns ever. Only three of those were not by a person named Yamashita, Nakajima, or Sakazaki.
TJPW, like just about every Japanese wrestling outfit, has a major show on January 4. That’s traditionally been their biggest event. Look at the main event for it over the last four years and see if you can spot a pattern.:
- 2019: MIyu Yamashita vs. Maki Itoh
- 2020: Miyu Yamashita vs. Yuka Sakazaki
- 2021: Yuka Sakazaki vs. Rika Tatsumi
- 2022: Miyu Yamashita vs. Mizuki
There has never been a January 4 TJPW show without Yamashita, Nakajima, or Sakazaki in the main event.
The very first Princess of Princess match was Nakajima vs. Yamashita. The big title match they gave us at Grand Princess this year? Nakajima vs. Yamashita.
With Yuka’s win over Miu in the Princess Cup, we’re now set to get Nakajima vs. Sakazaki for the top title. Again. That’s the bout TJPW gave us for this year’s Cyberfight Festival. It’s the same matchup the company presented when DDT brought on the promotion for the supershow of sorts, DDT Ultimate Party in 2019.
Those three ol’ reliables are great wrestlers, and you have to showcase your best talent, but it isn’t healthy to not open the door to new greatness. Going back to the same three stars over and over again is beyond conservative, it’s counterproductive.
Be patient. Make the upper level of the card feel special. Sure. But Lord Jesus, you have to make new stars.
Everything points to Watanabe being fully capable of that role. She’s charming and athletic, a superb storyteller in the ring and increasingly popular. To not pull the trigger with her here was a mistake.
If not her, push Hikari Noa, make Maki Itoh your number one, give Suzume a chance. Something. It can’t be Yuka, Shoko, and Miyu until the world burns. You can’t keep letting fanbases down. Eventually, they will have had enough and go seek their wrestling thrills somewhere else.
For now, to watch TJPW is to drive around on a racetrack hoping that on the next turn you will head somewhere new.
Despite knowing that, I’m sure I will let it happen again. I will believe in someone climbing up the mountain, sucked into their trek, rooting for them to reach the top and plant their flag.
Just like all the Watanabe fans this time around, I’m going to buy in. Maybe it will be Suzume. Maybe it will be Juria Nagano.
I will see the signs and think a genuine push is coming, tell myself the time is now. I will walk in the same circle until the next heartbreak.