365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Women’s wrestling in America is bigger currently than it’s ever been. In WWE, women main event pay-per-views, including WrestleMania. In All Elite Wrestling, the Unsanctioned Match between Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa has been praised by some as one of the best matches in the short history of that promotion. Ring of Honor has featured a slew of wrestlers who have gone on to be huge stars, but their women’s division has sputtered, ebbed and flowed (mostly ebbed) for the most part.

Ring of Honor’s level of commitment to its women’s division increased when it introduced a title for females — nearly 16 years after the promotion opened.

This match is available on Ring of Honor’s streaming service, Honor Club.

The Context

ROH announced the inception of this title at the end of 2017. The first champion was crowned in a tournament that culminated in April of 2018 at Supercard of Honor XII, with Sumie Sakai defeating Klein in the tournament final.

Klein, who debuted in wrestling in 2006, won the title at Final Battle 2018 in a Four Corner Survival match that also involved Madison Rayne and Karen Q. At this point, ROH had spent the last couple of years building Klein as a bully heel which included a two-year stretch where she was not pinned or submitted. That streak ended with her loss to Sakai at Supercard of Honor.

Iwatani is a product of the Stardom promotion in Japan, which was working as a partner with ROH and its women’s division at the time. Part of the first class of trainees out of Stardom’s own wrestling school, Iwatani reached the semifinals of the Women of Honor Title tournament in 2018. Prior to this match, one of her chief achievements was becoming the first Stardom wrestler to simultaneously hold that promotion’s World of Stardom and Wonder of Stardom titles.

The Match

There are certain stories that just work in wrestling, and for me, the scrappy underdog taking on the dominant heel is one of them. We see a version of that play out here, with Klein as the dominant and nearly unbeatable champion. Iwatami is the undersized challenger and shows a load and a half of fighting spirit. Some little touches help set the stage: Mayu is unable to execute a side headlock takeover in the early going, or Irish whip her bigger and stronger foe off the ropes.

What ensues is a war of attrition, with Klein trying to overwhelm Mayu with her strength and, at times, brute force. Mayu responds with fire. There’s a comeback by the challenger that strings together a flying headscissors, a basement dropkick to a seated champion, and then a crossbody off the top rope to a standing Klein on the floor after Klein powders out of the ring. Klein pops right back up and delivers a wicked German suplex on the floor. The 1-2 combination punch of these two big moves kicks the match into another gear and secures the interest of the crowd — impressive considering ROH crowds had a tendency to be indifferent at best for Women of Honor matches in the past, perhaps because they were relegated often to YouTube-only content or used as filler on live events.

The match is just over 11 minutes from bell to bell but because they are pulling out some major moves the level of punishment seems appropriate for a match double that length. Klein gets frustrated because she cannot put away Mayu. This opens the door for the challenger, who capitalizes. She hoists Klein with back-to-back Tiger suplexes, punctuated by a kick to the head. Iwatani heads to the top rope for a moonsault that the commentators (more on them in a bit) sell as her signature move, but Mayu lands on Klein’s legs and the champion kicks out. If this was a mistake that led to an audible, it only serves to make the champion seem more formidable, as a second moonsault seals the deal and the surprising title switch.

Random Thoughts

–Regular ROH play-by-play voice Ian Riccaboni wasn’t able to attend this show so NWA Worlds Heayweight Champion Nick Aldis joins Caprice Coleman on commentary. The combination is pretty fantastic. Coleman provides some insights on the mindset of a champion and starts teasing the upset hard in the final minutes. Meanwhile, Aldis does a fine job connecting the dots of the narrative, most notably when Mayu nearly lets herself get pinned after Klein catches her with a boot to the head.

–Sakai, the first WOH champion and the last person to pin Klein in ROH before this match, is in Iwatani’s corner.

–After the early “feeling-out process”, Klein hooks Mayu in a cravate and delivering repeated knees to the head. Big fan of that spot.

Final Rating: 6.3

This is the fourth match involving Klein and Mayu, and their third meeting in singles action. They display some impressive chemistry that makes me want to revisit those earlier contests and helps carry this title match. The two women combine for a logical, strong story that progresses as Mayu wears down and eventually conquers the dominant champion.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

Two of the most charismatic fan favorites of the 1980s join forces.

Now it’s your turn to let your opinion be heard. Send your feedback to me — good or bad — along with any match recommendations you have! Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

4 thoughts on “365 Wrestling, Day 41: Mayu Iwatani vs. Kelly Klein (ROH, 2/10/19)

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