With two consecutive shows planned for 14th and 15th August in Korakuen Hall, the TJPW Princess Cup will be among us soon, and what better way to assess the runners and riders than using the prism of another sporting extravaganza, the still-ongoing UEFA Euro 2020? Okay, there are lots of better ways, but this is the sort of thing you end up talking about in the stream chat with the inestimable members of the *cue AJ Styles voice* I Maintain The Double Foot Stomp Is Silly community, and now here we are.
ITALY – Shoko Nakajima
I don’t know what’s happened to Italy, I really don’t. They’ve been…entertaining? The nation of catenaccio has, under the guidance of Roberto Mancini, transformed from a dour, cynical outfit into a counter-attacking force that thrusts forward with rapier-like élan while not sacrificing the defensive solidity that has long been the Azzurri’s hallmark. (Even the dreadfully disappointing first ninety minutes of their knockout match against Austria was followed by an extra-time period of such heady fervour that it made you forget the intense tedium of what went before, something that will be very familiar to regular watchers of New Japan.) Likewise, TJPW’s “Big Kaiju” Shoko Nakajima can always be relied upon to bring her vast arsenal of flashy moves and engaging personality to bear on any match. One of the company’s most popular stars, you’d never begrudge her flare-toting ultras a championship win (well, not the fash ones – stop watching joshi you fucking dangers).
SWITZERLAND – Raku
If there’s one thing we all know (and adore) about Raku, it’s her love of trains. She even has a Twitter alt for her train content! Hence, we need a Euro 2020 competitor known for its rail service, and having had the pleasure of experiencing theirs on a number of occasions in my life, I’m going for Switzerland. Swiss trains are so reliable that if one is so much as five minutes late you’ll get a message on the tannoy apologising profusely and all but begging for forgiveness (so quite like Japanese train companies in this respect), which stands in stark contrast to Southern Rail’s “your train to Epsom is cancelled and the next one’s not for another hour, fuck you” approach. And they’re state-owned, so Tory dickheads can’t even point to their quality as an argument for why we should privatise the NHS. Yes, they’re expensive as hell, but so is everything in Switzerland. A Big Mac will set you back nearly £9, and that’s not even with fries. You’ll be begging for the Korakuen Hall chicken nuggets.
WALES – Hikari Noa
Hikari Noa’s had quite the 2021 so far, so much so that I feel bad about likening her to Wales, as Hikari has at no point this year suffered an in-ring setback on the level of getting flattened 4-0 by the Danes in the last 16 (though getting pinned by Raku must come close). But Wales have had the bloodiest matches of the Euros, with battering ram forward Kieffer Moore donning the crimson mask in each of their first two fixtures. It was hardly even a 0.2 on the Muta Scale, but I like to think it would have met with the approval of TJPW’s resident deathmatch sicko. Now if only she could belt out Upper Kick with the gusto that the Welsh fans sing “Land of My Fathers”.
TURKEY – Moka Miyamoto
Everyone loves to pick a dark horse before a tournament starts. Those who fancy themselves freethinkers will always discount your Miyu Yamashitas and your Shoko Nakajimas and your Les Bleus in favour of a left-field pick that they can impress their friends with (especially if they go deep, though the main point is always the analytical heft implied by the pick itself). Look, they’ll say, jabbering excitedly as they present their evidence like an earnest new Queen’s Counsel. Moka Miyamoto’s not set the world on fire in terms of results since her debut, but she’s got a black belt in karate! Turkey took four points off France in qualifying, and Burak Yılmaz scored 16 goals in Ligue 1 this season! Then their pick gets papped out convincingly in the first round and the would-be Nostradamus spends the rest of the championship pretending they fancied Spain all along.
BELGIUM – Maki Itoh
It’s testament to how well TJPW has booked Maki Itoh and how hard she’s worked to improve what used to be her very limited in-ring skills that a Princess of Princess Championship reign now seems an inevitability for a performer who even a year ago seemed like she neither needed nor was going to win the belt. It remains to be seen whether she’ll get there by winning the Tokyo Princess Cup and seizing the title shot the winner gets as a reward, but there’s something that would just feel right about it, a happy combination of factors accrued over years of hard work and tribulation, bending towards a triumph that would seem like cosmic justice. As with the Cutest in the World, so too with Belgium, whose “golden generation” of Lukaku, De Bruyne, Courtois et al. seem to be peaking at the right time. Adding intrigue to the story is the sense that the pressure of finally making good on their potential for tournament success may weigh too heavy on the team and cause them to implode, as Itoh did when she petulantly chose to bite Rika Tatsumi’s extended middle finger rather than go for the win in her POP title challenge in April. (This caveat brought to you by my efforts not to look like a prat when they go out to a 119th-minute Cristiano Ronaldo penalty tonight.)
DENMARK – Mirai Maiumi
Mirai chose her ring name (meaning “future”) as tribute to the victims of the Tohoku earthquake that devastated the area where she grew up in 2011, as if you needed another reason to cheer the dynamic young power wrestler who has “company ace by the mid-2020s” written all over her. Denmark’s own underdog story, borne from the on-pitch heart attack that very nearly cost the talismanic Christian Eriksen his life in his country’s opening game, has weighed heavy on this Euros, with the result that the Danes, previously thought of as a dreary, functional unit, have become every neutral’s dream winner for the sheer romance of it. Like Denmark, you feel like Mirai probably won’t go all the way in a field full of strong opponents, but there won’t be a dry eye in the house if she does.
FINLAND – Yuki Kamifuku
Finland hardly thrilled spectators during their now-completed Euro 2020 run, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have wanted to beat rivals Denmark under such appalling circumstances, but there’s always something very likeable about a team making their major tournament bow, regardless of their performances. Likeability has always been something Yuki Kamifuku has had in spades, thanks to her winning personality, entertaining social media presence, public advocacy for social justice and her adorable dog Zac, but it’s only been recently that she’s managed to put it all together in the ring. It’s not going too far to say that her run with the second-tier International Princess Championship single-handedly established the strap as a prestigious prize in the world of TJPW, with Kamiyu turning out a string of expertly worked and perfectly formed ten-minute matches against a variety of opponents. If she can improve to that degree in such a short time, then so can Finland, and with a little more ambition I could see them not only gracing another Euros but lighting it up.
RUSSIA – Haruna Neko
Some teams come into the Euros knowing they’re among the contenders and acting like it, others rock up knowing they don’t have much hope of reaching the knockouts but determined to do their best. Then you get outfits like Russia, who get annihilated by anyone half-decent and spend much of their time on the pitch looking confused as to what they’re even doing there. Which makes them perfect as the international football equivalent of Haruna Neko, who gives off much the same vibe, only with approximately 40,000% greater likeability.
NETHERLANDS – Rika Tatsumi
The Netherlands’ preparations for the Euros were somewhat fraught, with rancour over the switch from the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system to a 5-3-2 reaching such a fever pitch that a group of supporters went so far as to charter a plane to fly over the training ground trailing a banner demanding that manager Frank de Boer switch back to the old formation. However, performances in the group stage suggested that de Boer’s methods were paying off. It seemed that, after two consecutive missed qualifications for major tournaments, something had clicked for the Oranje, much as it did for TJPW mainstay Rika Tatsumi this January when she won the Tokyo Princess of Princess belt for the first time in her seven-year career by ruthless executing a gameplan in which she grounded the high-flying Yuka Sakazaki by targeting her legs, before making her pass out in the figure four. The story the company told with her title reign centred around getting across her tactical nous, beating all comers with the same strategy until she came up against an inspired Miyu Yamashita, whose deadly kicks put paid to her chances like Matthijs de Ligt’s red card flattened those of his country. Hey, it wouldn’t be the Euros without the Dutch fucking it up somehow, right?
AUSTRIA – Yuki Aino
Yuki Aino isn’t the strongest or the quickest or the slickest inside the ropes, but she’s a good all-round talent with no appreciable major defects to her game, and you’re always happy to see her and cheer on her improvement, for no tangible reason you can name. Austria aren’t the strongest or the quickest or the slickest on the pitch, but they’re a good all-round team with no appreciable major defects to their game, and you’re always happy to see them and cheer on their improvement, for no tangible reason you can name.
UKRAINE – Kaya Toribami
Kaya Toribami, TJPW’s newest rookie, has only had a few matches to date, but she’s already shown enough to suggest she has the potential to develop into a good worker or even a great one. She’s – understandably – rough around the edges at present, her impressive flips and whirls countermanded by the hesitancy and occasional lack of co-ordination that you expect from any greenhorn grappler. Such inconsistency has been present in Ukraine’s Euro 2020 performances so far, with the spectacular (Andriy Yarmolenko’s 25-yard screamer against the Dutch) sitting uneasily alongside the clownish (Georgiy Bushchan’s goalkeeping, which I would diplomatically describe as idiosyncratic). A last-16 exit surely beckons.
NORTH MACEDONIA – Yuki Arai
If I could jointly sum up Yuki Arai and UEFA Nations League D champions North Macedonia in one epithet, it would be “happy to be there”. Arai’s matches so far have mixed spectacular kicks (cf. Ezgjan Alioski’s offensive play) with a palpable lack of positive results (cf. Ezgjan Alioski’s defensive play), as you’d expect from a promising but raw rookie. Additionally, as a member of the popular idol group SKE48, Arai will be very used to interacting with men of Goran Pandev’s advanced years, and with similar hairlines.
ENGLAND – Miu Watanabe
I really hate to say it, because I’m a fan of hers, but Miu Watanabe is the England of TJPW. Pick up your pitchforks if you must, but let’s look at the evidence. She loves flexing her strength, she has a very loud voice, and as a self-confessed idol otaku she has an abiding love of musical acts of questionable quality, which chimes with the Englishman’s affinity for Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian. Yet if you’re an England hater (which you should be, even – or perhaps especially – if you’re English yourself), console yourself with the fact that Watanabe is almost certainly not going to win the championship, and what could be more English than that? Three and a half years of hurt, Tokyo Princess Cup still gleaming.
SCOTLAND – Pom Harajuku
It’s become a running joke amongst my fellow Double Foot Stompers and I that Pom Harajuku is Scottish, on account of the tartan outfit she has taken to wearing to her matches. Yet the parallels between Pom and the Tartan Army go deeper than the merely aesthetic. The habitual opening-match jobber is known for her ineffectual offence, with her signature move being a very light kick to the shin. And seeing as Scotland only managed one goal in three games at the Euros, the tactic of playing Lyndon Dykes up front can be considered in similar terms.
CROATIA – Yuna Manase
Former TJPW wrestler Yuna Manase is now with Ganbare Pro, another DDT offshoot, but she’s competed in the Princess Cup before and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the bracket. A relative veteran who’s been with all the main idol-type joshi companies at various points in her career, you could definitely see Manase using all her experience and wiliness to make a run to the final (as she did in 2019). Croatia, while not the force they were a few years ago, have that experience in spades in the form of Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, and consequently can never be dismissed out of hand as a contender, as Scotland found out to their cost in the final group game. Class is permanent, as they say.
CZECH REPUBLIC – Suzume
Suzume is a weirdly effective wrestler, and perhaps effective because of that weirdness. Her gear has a bee motif, which is hardly the most terrifying animal unless you’re Nic Cage in The Wicker Man. Her form on her signature cross body is simply bizarre, with her arms locked to her sides in the manner of a child taking an awkward formal photo at a wedding. Yet she’s already challenged for the tag belts at an early stage of her career, and stands out amongst the current lower-midcard crop for her athletic ability and bubbly personality. The Czech Republic shouldn’t be as good as they are, either. The star names in the squad comprise a striker who flopped at Roma and two men who are currently managed by David Moyes. And yet here they are in the quarter finals, having scored what will undoubtedly be the goal of the tournament and making you wonder if this might finally be the year they lay the ghosts of 1996 and 2004 to rest.
SPAIN – Marika Kobashi
Spain have been engaged in a period of rebuilding after losing – either through retirement (Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol) or omission from the squad on account of being a dirty wee wank (Sergio Ramos) – the core of the team that swept all before it between 2008 and 2012 with its tiki-taka terror. Having returned to the ring last October after an 18-month hiatus to concentrate on her studies, you feel like Marika Kobashi still hasn’t managed to regain the place on the card she held before her absence, which included a run with the TJPW tag belts alongside Reika Saiki. Partially this is because she still looks a little rusty, partially it’s because the rest of the roster have really stepped it up (in the same way Spain became a lot less effective once other teams figured out how to soak up the pressure and hit them on the counter). But sometimes you see glimpses of the old greatness shine through, and it just remains for Kobashi to find her version of a 5-0 battering of Slovakia.
SWEDEN – Mahiro Kiryu
Mahiro Kiryu seems an intellectual sort, with her Tokyo University degree, deep love of the great game of mahjong and convincing triumph in the now-notorious TJPW Academic Ability Challenge, in which Natsumi Maki famously offered “the Dominican Republic” as the answer to the question, “Which is Japan’s smallest prefecture?” She’s also a big football fan, being a die-hard supporter of Schalke 04 for some reason, and this combination of cerebrality and footy hipsterdom leads me to suggest Sweden as the Kiryu-est team in the Euros. With their briskly functional Scandi style that enables them, as the situation dictates, to attack or to park the bus to the extent that they manage a 0-0 draw with 15% possession, the Swedes are surely dearly beloved of yer bf, who owns half a dozen Jonathan Wilson books, retweets Mundial and David Squires cartoons and has strong opinions on Sassuolo’s xG in relation to other Serie A teams. It’s me, I’m yer bf.
SLOVAKIA – Nao Kakuta
TJPW aren’t known for raiding other joshi companies for talent in the same way that, well, Stardom like to do to TJPW, which is why I was surprised to see them hire Nao “Gael” Kakuta from Actwres Girl’Z last year. They haven’t done much with her yet apart from stick her in six-woman tag matches and give her a shot at Kamiyu’s International Princess title, but she’s solid and dependable in that role, and that’s okay. You need midcarders who’ll do the job of a cog in the machine well. You need teams like Slovakia.
POLAND – Nodoka Tenma
I always think Nodoka should do better in singles matches than she does. I mean, look at what a unit she is! She’s given Chris Brookes the fall away slam! She should be literally impossible to knock off her feet! And yet she’s never won a singles belt and never gone beyond the semis of the TPC. In this respect, she has much in common with Poland, who have been deeply disappointing in every major tournament they’ve qualified for in my lifetime. They’re always talked up as one to watch because they have Robert Lewandowski up front, who’s an absolute goal machine for Bayern Munich, but to liken the service he gets at club level to what his Poland teammates are capable of is like comparing HBO and Hallmark as producers of original drama.
FRANCE – Miyu Yamashita
Definitely legit French aristocrat Saki-sama would be a shoo-in for this one, but she hasn’t competed in the TPC since a shock defeat to Hyper Misao in 2018 and will probably give this year’s a miss as well, so with that in mind, current Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion Miyu Yamashita seems the next best fit. Yes, she’s the best competitor by a scary margin, but she has historically had an awful record in tournaments. With pre-Euros favourites France having looked less than imperious in their final two group stage matches and clearly a couple of championships overdue for the usual player strike/training ground brawl/sex tape blackmail scandal that invariably ends up scuppering their chances of glory, a shock defeat in the knockouts is no doubt in the offing. You heard it here first.
GERMANY – Mizuki
Mizuki, the winner of the last two Tokyo Princess Cups, is a top performer both in terms of her kayfabe power level and in-ring skill, but often seems to be unfairly left out of the conversation when people talk about TJPW’s Big Four/Five/Delete as Appropriate. The joshi equivalent, if you will, of that hoary old cliché: “Never write off the Germans”. No matter what form Mizuki has been in come tournament time, she’ll be in the mix come the sharp end, and so will ball-sniffer extraordinaire Joachim Löw’s boys, by hook or by crook. Sure hope England aren’t playing them soon or anything.
PORTUGAL – Hyper Misao
I was thinking about putting Yuka Sakazaki in this slot, but she’s scheduled for an excursion to the bright lights of AEW Dark: Elevation while the TPC is going on, doing to her company’s most prestigious tournament what Man United did to the 1999-2000 FA Cup. Having given it some more thought, Hyper Misao, whose (super)heroic exterior belies her true nature as an inveterate rotter, is a much better fit for Portugal, an ineffably unlikeable team for reasons only partially related to the presence up top of Cristiano Ronaldo. Having shithoused their way to victory at Euro 2016 despite only managing to win one game within ninety minutes and playing a striker who was coming off the back of a season in which he’d scored 1 goal in 13 games for Swansea City, Portugal, despite being much more entertaining this time round, are only ever going to be heels for me. Olá, crianças grandes!
HUNGARY – Arisu Endo
(Note: I am in no way wishing to impugn the reputation of Arisu Endo by associating her with a national football team with an obvious and seemingly unaccountable contingent of fascists amongst the support. Once again, stop watching joshi/football you fucking dangers.)
Arisu Endo clearly has all the talent in the world, and made a lot of people stand up and pay attention with her impressive debut match on January 4th. The only thing that can stop her reaching the top of TJPW is not anything to do with her own abilities, but the efforts of her colleagues. TJPW has been, for my money, the best wrestling company in the world this year, and anyone still trotting out the line that the characters are fun but the in-ring isn’t up to much are more stuck in the past than your average #FBPE dullard. You may term the roster a Group of Death, of a sort, and there’s always going to be a Hungary, who perform well but just not as well as others. A good problem to have, though.