I'm trying to cram in a bunch of stuff for the GWE poll before the deadline, and over the last week and a half I've dived back into a style I figured I had already closed the book on: joshi. I'll level with you; I'm not much of a joshi fan, but my ballot looked kind of weird with only Aja Kong from the joshi workers being on it, so I got my shit together (motivated to do so by reading Dylan's awesome rundowns of a number of joshi workers on PWO) and just motored through a ton of joshi to make sure I wasn't shortchanging anyone. Turns out I was definitely shortchanging Shinobu Kandori. Turns out Aja Kong is still what I remembered her being. Turns out Mayumi Ozaki is still just about my least favourite wrestler ever. Turns out I'm still whatever on Akira Hokuto, even if great Hokuto is pretty fucking great. Turns out I still won't rank Manami Toyota, but I like her more than Ozaki. Turns out I also never realised how great Mariko Yoshida was. I thought I was long past the point of being excited about the joshi puroresu, but I'll be damned if Yoshida hasn't grabbed me in a big way (mostly for the funky out ARSION run, but she was good before that as well).
Yumiko Hotta, Toshiyo Yamada & Mariko Yoshida v Bull Nakano, Aja Kong & Kyoko Inoue (AJW, 9/15/92)
This seemed to be geared more towards "fun" than "epic," which I was perfectly fine with. It's 2/3 falls and the last 2/3 falls joshi match I watched went fifty minutes and they went into the finishing stretch after about seven of those minutes. It was not enjoyable. This wasn't like that and they never went overboard at any point. Maybe it's because I was focusing mostly on her, but I thought Yoshida was really good in this and my favourite girl in it. She's young and scrawny and rookie-ish so of course she gets steamrolled, but she had some awesome bumping for fat lady offence. She was also SPUNKY and stuff, so whenever she fired back with some offence it felt really scrappy and desperate, which is exactly what you want out of a four year pro against a couple monsters like Bull and Aja. She was very fun in this match is what I'm saying. Hotta and Aja really smack the crap out each other like you'd expect. Aja drills her with an absolutely fucking ungodly spinning back fist and it looked like Hotta's molars flew out a hole in her cheek. Good start for Yoshida.
Mariko Yoshida v Aja Kong (ARSION, 6/21/98)
I'm not sure why this had a fifteen minute time limit, but either way it was kept relatively short and compact as a result. First half was solid enough but never had a ton going on. There was one cool moment where Aja hit the deck and tried to goad Yoshida into grappling, but Yoshida just strolled into the corner and crossed her legs. This was actually a pretty cool and different look at Aja. I'd never really seen her hit the mat before, and while it's not her game it did make for a fun dynamic. Second half picks up and really builds to a nice finish. Yoshida didn't get TOO tricky on the mat, but she did start rolling out some super neat stuff, and that forced Aja to go back to what she knows. What she knows is how to back fist people in the gub and holy lord did she back fist Yoshida in the gub. Yoshida's KO sell of it was fucking spectacular as well. This kind of almost stripped back style of joshi is far, far more my thing than the go-go-go bombfests, so I'm not sure why I've never really taken a closer look at ARSION in the past.
Mariko Yoshida v Candy Okutsu (ARSION, 12/18/98)
Yoshida is the same age here as I am now. She's probably younger by a few months, actually. We share similar career paths, her and me. She's almost as pretty as well, though she definitely wears the hot Spiderman outfit better than I could. I'll admit that, much as it pains me. This was pretty damn terrific and I think I love her, which really ought to be enough to get her on my ballot. Right? She was really awesome in this and came across as being totally unique, at least in comparison to all the other joshi I've seen personally (I haven't bothered with any joshi post-2004 or so, but I don't doubt plenty of girls are aping her these days). Okutsu isn't on the same level on the mat, but she holds her own fairly well when they take it down there. Some of the sprawling and grappling actually felt a bit like low-to-mid-level RINGS, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment because even low-to-mid-level RINGS can mean really damn good matwork (and when you talk about high-level RINGS you're talking about the level of Tamura, Han, Yamamoto, Kohsaka, etc., and only a handful of wrestlers in history reached that level). Yoshida herself will burst into super quick submissions by grabbing limbs and working them into angles limbs shouldn't be worked into. Her speed on the mat is pretty Tamura-esque, but she's not always grabbing shoot holds as such; more like something Trauma II would throw on someone. So, you know, I never expected a kind of Tamura/Trauma II mash-up from a joshi worker. She will also blast you in the face with a knee Ikeda-style so there's your Battlartsian influence to REALLY make me gush with praise. There was one bit where she literally monkey flipped Okutsu into a cross armbreaker and it just about blew my mind. Eventually the match takes on a grappler v flyer dynamic of sorts, which builds to a big climax that never feels overblown. I'm sold on Yoshida already, and not just because she's purrdy.
Mariko Yoshida v Yumi Fukawa (ARSION, 9/26/99)
I probably should've watched their May match before checking this one, but this felt like it was still pretty easy to follow on its own. I don't think I've seen Fukawa wrestle before, but she can handle herself on the mat. She's not as quick as Yoshida though, and it kind of leads to a few moments during the early exchange where Yoshida has to leave herself open or feed Fukawa in semi-obvious fashion. It's not massively glaring or anything, though. Thought Yoshida was really awesome in this, particularly as the match goes on and she can't seem to put Fukawa away. Fukawa kicks out of an air raid crash and Yoshida has this great look of almost shock before quickly gathering herself to go in again for the kill. Then Fukawa somehow makes the ropes when it looks like Yoshida has her Volk Han'd in the middle of the ring and Yoshida's "fuck sake, this should not be taking this long" expression was awesome. Fukawa sort of targets Yoshida's knee towards the end and I dug Yoshida's selling of it. It's pretty subtle, but at one point she tries to stand up and the leg buckles briefly, so Fukawa just launches herself at that leg like a shark smelling blood. Finish got an audible "What?!" reaction out of me as well. This was really good. I feel like I need to see every single thing Yoshida did in 1999, and I can't say I've ever thought that about any other joshi worker for any other year ever.