Mio Momono vs. Mayumi Ozaki (Marvelous Korakuen Hall 8/7/23)

Match Reviews

First reviewed here.

Featured image by @oochan_0407

Originally published as “In Defense of Mio Momono vs. Mayumi Ozaki” in The Atomic Elbow: Issue 39

Doom and gloom surrounded the initial reception to the AAAW Championship match from the most recent Marvelous show in Japan. Even before I saw the match itself, I found out why. Mio Momono, considered by many to be among the best women’s wrestlers in the world, had lost her AAAW Championship in her first defense to thirty-six-year veteran Mayumi Ozaki.

On the surface, all the causes for concern are transparent. It’s always disheartening when an exciting talent gets a major opportunity cut short by a much older veteran who’s already had every chance in the world to display their skill. In Ozaki’s case here too, there’s a very fair criticism to make that the woman’s long past the peak of her abilities and likely has no business being the top champion for any promotion outside of appealing to 90s joshi nostalgia.

These frustrations are exacerbated by Marvelous’ track record with Mio Momono’s booking in recent years. For many fans, Momono truly came into prominence during the 2021 Marvelous/Sendai Girls rivalry. In that rivalry, she was able to showcase her abilities as a fiery babyface against the likes of noted bullies and dominant forces such as DASH Chisako or Chihiro Hashimoto. However, as great as the work she put in was, Momono’s two biggest matches from the rivalry notably end in her loss. In the six-woman elimination tag at the GAEAism main event, she’s the last hold out for Marvelous before Hashimoto puts her down. A month later, Hashimoto would repeat her success in singles victory when Momono challenged for the Sendai Girls World Championship.

Even Momono’s path to winning the AAAW Championship at all was fraught with setbacks. Notably she failed to capture the title in a tournament final back in December 2022. From there, despite being a central figure of the Marvelous roster, her year is filled with high profile losses to some of the biggest names of joshi past and present. Her year’s been littered with great matches against the likes of Arisa Nakajima, Chihiro Hashimoto, and ASUKA, but she doesn’t hold a victory over any of the names listed, and that’s just the start of it. By the time she finally did beat Chiyako Nagashima on May 3rd, it felt more like the company shrugging and giving in as opposed to the pinnacle of a successful climb back to the top.

All of this definitely colors the reception to having Momono drop the title to Ozaki. For more tenured joshi fans than I, there’s even more to it than that. The smaller joshi companies in Japan often revolve around central figures from past generations that can stifle the shift of focus at the top of the card. Ozaki’s victory here seems an extension of similar criticisms leveled at many other top names who are often the owners of or directly booking smaller joshi companies.

What none of this takes into account though, is that the match whips a metric ton of ass.

Fact is that I was actually eagerly anticipating this matchup. There was a build up tag held in OZ Academy back in June that painted a very enticing picture of what Momono and Ozaki could do together. The tag was violent, heated, and exciting with Momono and Ozaki being the key focus of it all. The only thing holding it back was a dragging interference-laden crowd brawl segment in the second half of the match.

The title match has all the positives of the tag and none of the flaws. This is in large part thanks to Mayumi Ozaki’s performance. Is Ozaki at the peak of her physical capabilities in this match? Of course not. But the intangible aspects that made Ozaki so great at her peak are still out in full force in this late stage of her career. Really, what’s always made her such a captivating performer to me is that she is one of the all-time nuisance heels of professional wrestling. And boy, she commits to just being the absolute dirt worst in this match.

Ozaki doesn’t earn a goddamn thing in this match. She attacks Momono before the bell rings with the title belt, and that sets the entire tone of the match. Ozaki’s just pure evil in this match, reveling in all the foul ways she attacks the champion. It’s not just the fact that she cheats, but how flagrantly she does that really defines her performance here.

It would be one thing if Ozaki just constantly used weapons to brutalize an unsuspecting champion. That would have rocked on its own, but it’s all the hateful ways that Ozaki bullies Momono that truly elevate things. I’m a big fan of Ozaki’s hand work, not only viciously stomping on Momono’s hand before wrenching on it, but also slamming her dog collar chain repeatedly into the champ’s hand. Even without weapons, there’s a hateful pettiness to the way Ozaki paintbrushes Momono with slaps while gripping her by the hair. Perhaps her most infuriating action though is wrapping the dog collar about Momono’s neck and walking the bleeding champion like a pet through the stands of Korakuen Hall. Humiliating for our hero, but in all the best ways. The crowd’s firmly on her side—“Mio! Mio! Mio!”—and all I want is to see her make a comeback.

Speaking of the champion, she is excellent in this as well. That’s honestly to be expected from the best women’s wrestler in Japan today. Extending that accolade even further, she has a real argument to be the very best babyface in the world as well. The champion spends most of the match on the sell. She takes a beating from Ozaki, gets walloped by a variety of weapons, and mostly just spends the match just trying to survive. Structurally, I can understand why the match might read as some kind of burial of Momono, but I’d argue that it paints her in the perfect light. Mio Momono showed up to wrestle a clean wrestling match and was instead dragged into a street mugging.

If anything, the relentless nature of Ozaki’s attacks only serve to better highlight Momono’s eventual comebacks. The emotion it brings out feels so genuine. After taking a massive beating for much of this, every time Momono gets on the offense, it’s a breath of fresh air. The heart pounds and the blood rushes in the hope that she’s able to get the better of her challenger. And the disappointment when she gets cut off? Devastating. Again though, all exactly to the effect that the match aspires to.

It helps a lot that Mio Momono has revealed herself to be a natural blader. Both in this match and the June build up, she gets a lovely crimson mask on her. The blood loss combined with the blatant cheating, and the concerned reactions of Marvelous roster members at ringside gives this the vibe of a Crush Gals/Atrocious Alliance match. Leave it to the promotion run by Chigusa Nagayo herself to reclaim the sensations of peak Dump Matsumoto matches in what is typically a very bloodless modern joshi scene.  

Is it upsetting that Ozaki has the audacity to raise Momono’s shoulders off the mat before finally putting her away? Yes. But this is far from the humiliation that a similar moment was for Kaito Kiyomiya in the Tokyo Dome. In that match, Kiyomiya gets destroyed in a fair, one-on-one setting. Here, Ozaki is smug in victory, yes. But she’s only reveling in a victory that she’s unfairly stolen at every single turn.

There’s still room for all this to go wrong. It would sting if Mio Momono never got her revenge, especially if she was cast aside for something like a legacy Chigusa title reign. I don’t know Marvelous enough to trust them to follow up on this properly.

But between the bells, Mio Momono vs. Mayumi Ozaki might just be the best women’s match of the year.

Rating: ****1/4

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