Since its introduction in 2019, TJPW's International Princess Championship has had something of a curse on it, with the first two champions losing it in their first defenses. The third champion, Maki Itoh, successfully defended the belt twice before losing it to Thunder Rosa...in January of 2020, two months before the coronavirus pandemic first gripped the world and shut down international travel. Rosa would hold the belt for a record 276 days before being stripped of the title, not defending it a single time. Her successor, the Casual Beauty Yuki Kamifuku, held the belt for 176 days, defending it 3 times before losing it to the current champion, the Deathmatch Daisuki, Hikari Noa.
Hikari Noa's recent victory over Miu Watanabe on November 25th's All Rise show puts her at 4 successful defenses, the most in the belts history, and 212 days as of the time of this writing, the longest non-pandemic assisted reign. To celebrate their new winningest midcard champion, TJPW announced an interesting means of determining the next challenger: A "single entry battle royale", effectively a miniature Royal Rumble match, with 8 participants determined by fan vote. The votes have been tallied and the participants determined, so let's take a moment before the match this weekend to look at the participants and have some fun ranking them from least to most likely to win the match.
8. Hyper Misao
I love Hyper Misao. I wanna get that out of the way upfront, I think she's a wonderfully clever and funny person and her wrestling chops are honestly way higher than you'd expect from someone currently rocking what is extremely a comedy gimmick. The Champion of Love and Peace should definitely be involved in more championship matches because she is a delight.
But a comedy gimmick is still a comedy gimmick, and despite getting 3rd place in this poll I cannot imagine TJPW lets her squeak out a win here. In multi-person matches she frequently takes the fall, and unless facing someone pretty green in professional wrestling she rarely gets singles wins. She'll have some great moments, but ultimately her hubris will get the best of her and she'll get tossed out in embarrassing and humorous fashion.
7. Nao Kakuta
Since signing with TJPW in late 2020, Nao Kakuta has been a solid and reliable hand the company can count on. She's even challenged for the belt before, having an extremely good match against Yuki Kamifuku in April which was unfortunately predicated on Kamifuku believing the Rat Chaser was too "boring" to be International Princess Champion.
I don't think Kakuta is too boring to win the belt, but I also don't get the impression TJPW are especially interested in giving her a run with the belt any time soon. With all the incredible homegrown talent at their disposal, I wouldn't blame TJPW for mostly seeing Kakuta as a gatekeeper, a solid upper midcarder who can have good matches with anyone on a dime. I like Kakuta, but especially less than a year after her last challenge I don't see her winning this to get another one.
6. Yuki Arai
Yuki Arai is a member of the very popular Japanese idol group SKE48, and TJPW have had no qualms with using her mainstream appeal to sell tickets and Wrestle Universe subscriptions. Despite only working a part-time schedule and not even being signed for 6 months so far, she's been plastered on every show graphic they can work her onto and she's been pushed kind of ludicrously hard for her experience level. On the recent All Rise show, she nearly went to a draw with Rika Tatsumi, one of the pillars of the company, and of course she got a singles win back in July in her 4th ever wrestling match against Moka Miyamoto who, 5 months after putting over Arai and nearly a year and a half since joining the company, still has yet to get a singles win herself. The vote total definitely seems to support that decision, with Arai's 199 votes getting her second place and a wide margin between herself and 3rd. Whether or not she's popular with the wider TJPW audience (I honestly couldn't tell you either way), there's certainly a subset of fans who watch primarily for her. My only question is, assuming she sticks around in TJPW after she inevitably graduates from SKE48, how many of the mainstream fans she was bringing with her stick around? But I digress.
Despite TJPW pushing her very hard for her experience level, and make no mistake I wouldn't put it past the company to give her a title shot in the near future, I'm still putting her relatively low. Why? Despite my feeling she's overpushed, I can't exactly claim Arai's been made out to be the best wrestler on the roster or anything. She's always booked to look like a capable wrestler and gets a lot of featured spots, but unlike Jade Cargill in AEW for example, they're not having her get constant wins and looking like an unstoppable machine. If anything, they've been relatively restrained and haven't given her any singles wins since her match against Miyamoto (not that she's had many singles matches since then, but still). Especially considering this is a pretty stacked match, I imagine this battle royale ends up following a similar structure: she's made to look strong, maybe even lasts to near the end, but ultimately falls short.
5. Nodoka Tenma
It absolutely breaks my heart to only put Nodoka Tenma in the #5 spot on this list. I absolutely adore Tenma; her powerful style sets her apart from a lot of the roster, she's extremely funny when the situation calls for it, she's great at playing the face in distress during tag matches, and if you'll forgive me for being a bit shallow, I also just think she's extremely cute. She's one of my favorite wrestlers in the world.
Regardless, I don't especially think she's likely to win this match, and if I'm being completely honest putting her even this high is a bit optimistic of me. Nodoka Tenma is primarily a tag wrestler, being a former Princess Tag Champion alongside her sister, Yuki Aino, in the Bakuretsu Sisters. Aino has been getting a bit of a singles push lately, and I certainly don't think it's out of the question for Tenma to get one as well. You could also argue that her being short and stout would benefit her in a battle royale, in-kayfabe at least. But with her 65 votes barely squeaking her into this match in 8th place, combined with the fact that TJPW haven't shown much interest in a non-tag specialist Nodoka Tenma in the past, and I don't expect her to end up winning this. I'd love that! But I don't expect it.
4. Maki Itoh
Maki Itoh has a huge fanbase in the west, relatively speaking, and she's had one hell of a 2021 up to this point. Even ignoring the excellent story between her and Miyu Yamashita, which eventually led to her main-eventing TJPW's biggest show of the year in October, Itoh has had two Princess of Princess Championship challenges, two Princess Tag Championship challenges, and an excursion into the US this year, exposing her to a new fanbase in AEW. Combine that with the fact that Itoh hasn't challenged for the belt since losing it to Thunder Rosa in January 2020, and it's not at all out of the question that she's got a strong shot.
That said, Itoh's fanbase isn't quite as large in her native Japan as it is here in the states, something Itoh herself has talked about in the past. Even with a story that seemed tailor-made to end with her being the top champion of the company, Itoh fell short, and indeed a large part of the story of Itoh in general is her falling short when the chips are down. After nearly a full year of being one of the most focused-on wrestlers in TJPW, and her recently deciding to take a break from the 121000000 tag team with Miyu Yamashita, I wouldn't be surprised if TJPW wanted to put Itoh on the backburner for a little bit. It's entirely possible Itoh wins this one, and Itoh VS Noa would be a great match, but there are others I think are more likely.
3. Rika Tatsumi
Rika Tatsumi started the year on a high note when she won the Princess of Princess Championship from Yuka Sakazaki at TJPW's annual January 4th show. After a good but relatively short reign, she lost the belt to Miyu Yamashita in April and has proceeded to mostly stay in the background, so to speak, being a constant mildly-psychotic presence in TJPW's upper card, often alongside her tag partner Miu Watanabe, outside of a roughly 1 month break in September.
So why is she ranked so high? Simple: she's one of the "Four Pillars of TJPW", a group of TJPW lifers (so far) who have been around since near the company's inception and are typically in positions of prominence. It's not a 100% rule, but if you ever have to bet on a TJPW match, especially a singles match, mark my words: avoid betting against the pillars. There's also another aspect that makes Tatsumi a compelling choice, but it also applies to...
2. Shoko Nakajima
Okay so, full disclosure: Shoko Nakajima is my absolute, no question, tippy-top, 100% favorite wrestler. In my former comment signature (remember when we still had those?) I made the claim that Shoko Nakajima is the best wrestler in the world, and I stand by that. The way she moves, her excellent mat skills, her fast-paced and unique offense, she is the reason I got as into wrestling as I currently am. She's also another of the four pillars of the company, so whenever she's in a match it's fairly safe to expect her to win
As I alluded to earlier, there's something else that makes Nakajima (and Tatsumi) tantalizing choices: Nobody in TJPW has had title reigns with all 3 belts before, but three have held 2 of them in the past: Yuka Sakazaki (who wasn't eligible for this vote as she's currently Princess Tag Champion), Rika Tatsumi, and Shoko Nakajima have all held both the Princess of Princess and Princess Tag titles in the past. If Tatsumi or Nakajima won this battle royale, they would be fighting to be the first ever Grand Slam champion in TJPW history, the first person to have held all three titles. It's a tantalizing possibility for either competitor, but I put Shoko Nakajima over Tatsumi for a couple of reasons. The first, and most apparent, is that I am a huge fan of Shoko Nakajima, and would like to see her win more. Second, and also fairly apparent, is that Shoko Nakajima got more votes than Tatsumi did. More votes, more fan support, more likely to win. Third, Shoko Nakajima has been lower on the card for much longer than Tatsumi has been. Nakajima lost the Princess of Princess Championship in late 2019, had a tag team championship challenge earlier this year alongside Hyper Misao, and otherwise has mostly been in the backseat or putting other people over. She's made it to the Tokyo Princess Cup finals the last two years before ultimately losing to the person who would go on to main event Wrestle Princess, she's taken multiple falls to set up contenders for other belts, so on and so forth. Considering she was supposed to challenge Thunder Rosa for this very belt on TJPW's first ever US show during Wrestlemania weekend in 2020 before the world shut down, it's well past time for her to get put back in a position of prominence, even if only for a show or two.
There's one other aspect of Shoko Nakajima that I think makes her an excellent choice to win this battle royale. She's excellent at putting over her opponents and bringing out the best in them, as seen in just about every single goddamn match she has. It's one thing to be able to wrestle a broom to a good match; I sincerely believe Shoko Nakajima could have a match with a broom and convince you the broom is a future champion. She's that damn good. Ultimately, I don't think the winner of this battle royale will end up defeating Hikari Noa for the belt; after nearly a year in the hands of someone who couldn't defend it, I imagine TJPW wants a very solid reign for this belt, and more importantly a record-long reign that didn't have an asterisk on it. With Hikari Noa already holding the record for most successful defenses and only about 2 months out from passing Rosa's record length, I'm guessing they stick with Noa for at least a little longer. If they want someone guaranteed to get the absolute best match possible to really put over Noa, Shoko Nakajima would be my choice. But she'd be my choice in a lot of situations, so take that for what you will.
But even with all of that gushing, I don't think Shoko Nakajima is the most likely choice. That honor goes to...
Suzume is one of the least experienced members of the TJPW roster. She's actually the second least-experienced wrestler in this match, only being beaten in that regard by Yuki Arai. Despite this, she's a fantastic talent and someone who you wouldn't guess has barely over 2 years of experience in the business. Fast, technically sound, and a joy to watch wrestle, Suzume is someone who's definitely going somewhere in professional wrestling whether she sticks around in TJPW or decides to branch out to other companies.
Still, she's not the most experienced, so why is she my #1 pick? A couple of reasons. First and foremost is the absolutely huge amount of votes she received, making her a clear fan favorite for this match. The only person even within spitting distance was Yuki Arai, who's mainstream fame bolstered her numbers with people who would likely never vote for anyone else or even be paying attention if she wasn't on the roster. I had no idea Suzume was so popular!
Second, Suzume has been kind of adrift at sea, so to speak, since the departure of her long-time tag team partner Mirai Maiumi, who left the company back in September. If TJPW want to establish Suzume as a singles star in her own right, getting her a win in this battle royale would be a great place to start, since the gimmick of the match would let her get a big win over opponents who would be almost certain to win against her otherwise without feeling like they're pushing Suzume too quickly. Even the low-card wrestlers have beaten pillars with the help of weird stipulations, after all.
Not to mention, TJPW clearly trust Suzume as a wrestler, since she was chosen to be the opponent of then-new recruit Arisu Endo in Endo's first-ever wrestling match in January of this year. That's not a responsibility given lightly, and is it out of the question that TJPW would also think Suzume could hold her own in a singles championship match? Hell, if I'm wrong about them not wanting to take the belt off Hikari Noa, giving Suzume a chance to really show what she's capable of with a run as champion would be perfect for her.
When I first saw who was in this match, I didn't think very highly of Suzume's chances. She's great, but she's not one of my personal favorites, and her lack of experience would normally disqualify her from having much of a chance. But when I saw she actually won the fan vote, I started thinking about the possibility more and more, and it started to make more and more sense. For these reasons, I think Suzume is the most likely choice to win it all.
What do you guys think? Of these 8, who's your favorite to go on to face Noa? Did you vote in the poll, and if so who were you hoping for? I know this is kind of an odd pick to write about considering this match is only in like, two days, but I'm actually really excited for it! TJPW doesn't do stipulation matches very often, so I'm excited to see how this one goes!