How long can you suppress the beast that is animosity before it tears its way free? That is the key question of the Maki Itoh and Miyu Yamashita story that’s slowly playing out.
Right now, the saucy, ponytailed spitfire Itoh and the head-kicking Yamashita are a united, powerful team. They are one of the most dominant duos in Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling today.
If you only count two-on-two tags, Itoh and Yamashita (aka 121000000) have won six straight matches. They knocked off Hikari Noa and the visiting Riho at Wrestle Princess III. They beat Hikaru Shida and Moka Miyamoto back in May.
Whenever Itoh and Yamashita get together, they look like bona fide tag team title contenders, a sonorous storm of headbutts, DDTs, knee strikes and boots to flesh. A trail of TJPW’s midcarders lie in their wake: Yuki Aino, Suzume, Arisu Endo, Pom Harajuku, Haruna Neko and more.
But that can’t last.
This partnership will eventually revert to what it was – an archrivalry. There is just too much bad blood, too much at stake for Itoh for all these harmonious vibes to hang around.
Yamashita has long been TJPW’s top dog. Even when she’s not holding the promotion’s top title, she feels like the wrestler to beat, the one who can change the course of your career should you best her.
And that’s something Itoh has never been able to do.
Go back as far as 2016, in the earliest stages of Itoh’s career, and you will find footage of her falling to Yamashita. In the 2018 Tokyo Princess Cup, in a 2019 Princess of Princess of Princess Championship match, at the DDT is Coming to America show in New York, anywhere and everywhere, Yamashita defeated Itoh.
Yamashita sat comfortably on the TJPW top tier; Itoh was fighting to climb up there with her.
It wasn’t until late 2020/early 2021 that it even seemed like Itoh had a chance to beat the bigger, bruising killer in pink. In that first-round match in the 2018 Tokyo Princess Cup, for example, Yamashita was on the offensive for a good chunk of the action. She cracked Itoh with all manner of kicks. She knocked her to the ground only to yank her up to continue the assault.
It was all reminiscent of some big cat toying with its half-dead prey.
There was a shift years later when Itoh’s in-ring skills were starting to catch up to her character work and buzzing charisma. TJPW seemed to know it had a potential star on its hands, featuring her more and more. She wrestled her number one adversary more competitively to match that rise.
Itoh took TJPW’s End Boss to a draw at their 2020 Christmas show.
It wasn’t just that The Cutest Wrestler in the World survived, either. She hung with Yamashita, going hold-for-hold with her on the mat, hurting her longtime rival with big shots. When the final bell rang, Itoh was in control with Yamashita face down, locked in Itoh’s version of the Lion Tamer.
Her time as champion, and ace even, felt imminent. She was closing in on that last hurdle, but Yamashita continued to stand in her way, a guard at the golden gates.
At the marquee January 4 show in 2021, Itoh lost to Miyu again. A kick to the temple knocked her out, and when she awakened, Yamashita offered a post-match fist-bump as a show of respect.
Itoh charged back in the summer with a star-making performance in the Tokyo Princess Cup. In the process of besting former Princess of Princess Champions Mizuki and Shoko Nakajima, the irreverent idol put on some of the best in-ring work of her career. She showed herself to be a storyteller, a complete package, a champion in the making.
The Wrestle Princess main event, a title match against Yamashita should have been a coronation, but it wasn’t. Itoh failed again. Yamashita overwhelmed her again. The challenger battled hard, but once more a barrage of kicks ended her. Before the bout was even over, Itoh knew history was repeating and wailed in the ring, a wounded and hopeless animal in a cycle of frustration.
Meanwhile, a secondary narrative was unfolding: Yamashita and Itoh had started teaming with each other. At first, you could dismiss it as a product of TJPW’s smaller roster and sometimes random pairings, but after Positive Chain ‘21 in February, following the rivals’ win over former champs NEO Biishiki-gun, Yamashita had a proposition for Itoh.
She said Itoh was amazing and she wanted to team with her in the upcoming Futari No Princess Max Heart tournament.
They did just that, going all the way to the finals. As contentious as their relationship had been, these enemies clearly respected each other. And beyond that, there was an affection further complicating things.
We saw that during their post-match comments at Wrestle Princess (translated by the DDT English account) when Yamashita screamed at Itoh how much she cared for her. Wielding a mirror in her hands, Yamashita said: “I’ve been telling you I love you. Do you understand?”
They have since marched forward with love and reverence and acrimony swimming in their hearts. They have since beaten a long list of teams, compiling double-digit wins in 2021, followed by victories in just about every tag bout this year.
There is a clear, strong chemistry between Itoh and Yamashita. They are having a blast in there. In the midst of battle they joke, smile, and buzz.
One of their most fun spots sees Yamashita lift Itoh up on her knees and then drop her down, a gleeful human weapon crashing down onto their foes.
You can count on plenty of continued success. There’s a great chance tag team gold is in their future. The good times have to end eventually, though.
Itoh cannot be content at her rival’s side.
Yamashita represents her failures, her limitations, her Sisyphean journey up the TJPW mountain. No amount of friendship and goodwill can erase that. No matter how much they succeed arm in arm, Yamashita is the antagonist in Itoh’s story.
They will remain intertwined, like rust and steel, until Itoh can finally conquer her friend and foe.