It’s tournament season, baby, and there’s nothing I love more than a series of matches where the stakes are easily defined! No need for arbitrary rankings: if you win, you move forward. You lose, and it’s the back of the line for you.
AEW’s upcoming Women’s Championship Eliminator Tournament is hitting the sweet spot that PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles has in my heart because not only is it a tournament full of good wrestlers, but it’s also one with a mixture of names that I’ve familiar with, names I’ve heard in passing, and names I’ve never heard before. In this case, we’re talking entirely about the Japanese side of the bracket.
There are some familiar faces like Yuka Sakazaki and Emi Sakura who haven’t been around for a while and were also holding back when they last appeared in AEW. There is a legend in Aja Kong, whose legacy may have gone unnoticed by American audiences since she spent most of her time in the Far East.
And then there’s Maki Itoh. Oh, there’s certainly Maki Itoh.
But why is VENY a trailblazer in Japan? Why do some fans seem so scared of Mei Sugura? Why does the word “Marvelous” follow Rin Kadokura around? And why have I been particularly fascinated with Ryo Mizunami for almost two years now?
Oh, and also, who do we here at AIPT think is going to win this tournament? Here’s a hint: most other people have the same pick, though the path to said pick might be a little wilder here than elsewhere.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the profiles!
Kong has been wrestling since 1986. She’s been a champion just about everywhere she’s been, she is the namesake of Awesome Kong, and she can beat up your dad, especially if your dad is Kota Ibushi.
Aja Kong has slowed down a bit over the years, which is to be expected, but she’s still a formidable monster in the sport, and you’d have to think that she’s out to avenge her 0-1 win-loss record in AEW, losing her debut match at Double or Nothing in a 6-man tag team match against Hikaru Shida, Riho, and Ryo Mizunami.
For an example of current Aja Kong in action, here is a match between Kong and Viper (NXT UK’s Piper Niven) in Pro Wrestling EVE.
Though she may appear on the surface to be nothing more than a goofball who loves the musical stylings and fashion choices of Queen, I’ve once heard Emi Sakura described as the Brock Lesnar of Pro Wrestling EVE. I have no idea if that fan was joking—Sakura does have the second shortest reign in EVE history—but there’s no doubt she can go in the ring.
The founder of Ice Ribbon and Thailand’s Gatoh Move, Sakura has actually been showcased pretty well during her time with AEW, even earning an AEW Women’s Championship match with one of her many trainees, Riho. She is master grappler, and not only will she fold you like a paper airplane, but she’ll scream so loud while doing so that it covers your own wails of pain — all while singing “We Will Rock You.”
Though Sakura vs Riho at Full Gear 2019 was a really great match, it is locked behind a $50 price tag in the U.S. Instead, I’ll recommend this match from the aforementioned Pro Wrestling EVE promotion, where she takes on current NXT UK Women’s Champion Kay Lee Ray.
This is probably the wrestler you’ve heard the most about without actually hearing anything substantial.
Maki Itoh has the gimmick of “The Cutest in the World,” taking the Japanese Idol culture that’s already weaved into her home promotion of Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling and cranking it to the max. She’s hot-headed and very self-centered, but despite it all, you’ve got to love her.
And, if you have heard about her at all, it’s probably because of the incredibly vulgar English tweets she puts out there at the behest of frenemy and British indie star Chris Brookes. Just take a look at the tweet she put out the night she was announced to be participating in this tournament.
I cannot in good conscience link to a match of Maki Itoh’s when I know that this 30-minute YouTube documentary does a better job introducing you to her than any match can. It’s a video I’ve personally watched more than once, and I definitely think JoShizzle is the channel to follow if you want to get into more TJPW wrestlers.
Suruga is equal parts cute and insane, and if she’s able to show off her full character during the tournament, she’s going to get incredibly over with the AEW audience (even if, spoilers, I don’t think she’s making it out of the first round).
“Apple Girl” Mei Suruga is a Gatoh Move regular who started in 2018 and quickly became one of Emi Sakura’s star trainees. Because Gatoh Move can be a little silly, one of my first introductions to Mei Suruga was Chris Brookes beating her up with an inflatable pool tube, but by all accounts, that’s the type of raw violence that you have to bring to the table if you want to hold Suruga down.
She is one of half of the “Best Bros.” tag team with Baliyan Akki, and the pair hold tag gold in Gatoh Move. Suruga also bears a resemblance to the very violent Mei Saint-Michel, but I have been informed that the two of them are completely different from each other, much like Sami Zayn and El Generico.
Here is a link to Suruga and Brooke’s violent battle in Gatoh Move. It’s obviously not for the faint of heart.
Rin Kadokura is the only wrestler in this list that I’d never heard of at all before the tournament was announced, but after seeing her dropkick and northern lights suplex some fools, I’ve learned to put some respect on the name.
Like Suruga, Kadokura is also a wrestler who is part of a reigning tag team championship unit, this time with Atsuki Aoki in Pro Wrestling WAVE, and she’s an all-rounder type of wrestler — less defined character and more action. She is a regular in WAVE and Marvelous (see?) and has been mostly successful with rotating tag partners, but this tournament could be a chance for her to finally shine on her own.
Though her opponent isn’t quite the BEST person in real life, one of the notable opponents Kadokura has faced on her own is Yoshiko in a match for SEAdLINNNG.
Mizunami is actually 1-0 in AEW, winning her one and only match at Double or Nothing 2019 in a 6-woman match with Hikaru Shida and Riho as her partners. And despite the obvious standouts of the match being Shida and Kong (with Riho’s bumps stealing the show as well), my favorite by far was Mizunami just from the swagger she exuded while walking to the ring.
Ryo Mizunami has been wrestling since 2004, making her the third most tenured wrestler on this side of the bracket. A former top champion in WAVE and a current regular of SEAdLINNNG and Gatoh Move, Mizunami has been very active in the women’s wrestling scene in Japan for the longest time, and at only 32 years of age, she’s still got tons of time to show the world what she’s made of.
For just a taste of what Mizunami can do, here’s a match she had with Yuna Mizumori in Gatoh Move.
More often wrestling as ASUKA in Japan (as WWE’s Asuka was known as “Kana” back in the day), VENY is Japan’s first transgender pro wrestler and is one of the more active wrestlers in the independent scene there. For an American comparison, they’re like the Warhorse of Japan (though hopefully with a little better of a showing in AEW).
They have been active in promotions like DDT, Marvelous, and Diana (yes, that’s the name of a promotion), and they are a homer from Pro Wrestling WAVE. In the ring, one of the coolest things about them is this cool Matrix-style duck they do that turns into a headstand. It’s like part Trish Stratus, part Bray Wyatt, all dope.
It was hard to find a match with them that didn’t lead back to WWE’s Asuka, but here’s a tag match where VENY teamed with former NXT star Zeda Zhang.
Nothing AEW has shown you so far could possibly tip you off to the fact that Yuka Sakazaki is one of the top Japanese wrestlers in Japan, but she absolutely is, especially now that she’s the top champion of Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling.
The “Magical Girl” has the catchiest theme tune in all of wrestling and a springboard splash where she risks it all. And though her AEW record is 1-4, I think that last victory over Britt Baker and a tournament taking place on her home turf will give her the room to show her skills.
Like with Maki Itoh, I’m also linking to a JoShizzle documentary here because he does a great job breaking down how Yuka Sakazaki rose to prominence in her home promotion.
Note: I made these predictions in the hours before last Wednesday’s Dynamite. Sure, the result of Rosa vs Hirsch was a “gimme,” but I do want to maintain that this whole thing was built off my true guesstimates.
So, for the first round, I have:
- Thunder Rosa def. Leyla Hirsch
- Riho def. Serena Deeb
- Tay Conti def. Nyla Rose (upset)
- Britt Baker def. Anna Jay
- Yuka Sakazaki def. Mei Suruga
- Emi Sakura def. Veny
- Maki Itoh def. Ryo Mizunami
- Rin Kadokura def. Aja Kong (upset)
I went with two upsets in this round because I feel like we need to shake things up and get some new blood in here. I’d love for Leyla Hirsch to get a win, but she’s not beating the white-hot Thunder Rosa, so why not give the upsets to Tay Conti and Rin Kadokura? I know that Aja Kong is a legend, but 1) she’s already 0-1 in AEW, so why not keep the ball rolling, and 2) if we’re already losing Mei Suruga in the first round, I’m down for more opportunities to see another new joshi talent who isn’t the already-money Maki Itoh.
Speaking of money, I think Tay Conti vs Nyla Rose is already a sleeper hit based off of the Women’s Tag Team Tournament, and having Tay win could add some intrigue to the otherwise obvious Anna Jay vs Britt Baker match.
For the quarterfinals:
- Riho def. Thunder Rosa (via Rebel/Reba shenanigans)
- Britt Baker def. Tay Conti
- Yuka Sakazaki def. Emi Sakura
- Maki Itoh def. Rin Kadokura
I would love a finals match where Rosa and Baker meet, but Rosa would likely win their second encounter, meanwhile I do have Baker winning the whole thing. The other three results just make sense, but I definitely feel like Rosa losing a great match to Riho, likely with some shenanigans, would be okay.
For the semi-finals:
- Britt Baker def. Riho
- Yuka Sakazaki def. Maki Itoh
Britt Baker defeating the first AEW Women’s Champion on her way to the finals is money. These last few matches are all about credibility for Baker, as this opponent is a super credible opponent while her next two (including Shida) are women who have beaten her during her heel run.
That match between Yuka Sakazaki and Britt Baker on Dynamite is part of the reason why I’d have Yuka go over, but I’ve also gone with Yuka because 1) she’s a top champion in TJPW, and 2) she’s kind of a better wrestler both in kayfabe and out than Maki Itoh. Maki’s story often includes her losing big matches, and while it could be tempting to have her go over Yuka here, lose to Baker, and still have a match lined up later for the TJPW title, I think Itoh and Baker is a little heel-heavy and it misses out on Yuka trying to get revenge for bloodied teeth.
And for the finals: Britt Baker def. Yuka Sakazaki
I think Britt Baker is the next AEW Women’s Champion, and I’ve thought that for months. She’s the biggest character in the women’s division, and she and Shida had that great match during the Georgia taping days of pandemic-era Dynamite, which would be great to revisit. If Baker wins all of this and goes on to beat Shida, then not only is the Women’s Champion already someone who’s booked on TV every week, but she also has built in matches with Thunder Rosa, Big Swole, and later Maki Itoh. Heck, you could even give her a “Michaels vs HHH European title-style” match with Rebel where they BS their way to the finish.
But as much as I enjoy Shida, I think it’s about time that the face of AEW’s women’s division finally gets the belt to back it up.
So, there’s a quick run-down of the competitors in the AEW Women’s Championship Eliminator Tournament and my personal predictions for how the tournament itself will shake out. Do you agree with my shockingly upset-heavy list? Do you think I’m bad and wrong for not going with Baker v Rosa II for the US Finals?
However you feel, tweet out your thoughts to us @AIPTwrestling on Twitter or bully me on our Patreon Discord!
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