Joshi Spotlight: The Crush Gals

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“Japanese crowds are usually respectful and quiet.”
-Chris Jericho (paraphrasing)

JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- THE CRUSH GALS:
CHIGUSA NAGAYO:
Stats:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’5″ 192 lbs. (lighter in the ’80s)
Career Length: 1980-today (still active; retiring shortly)
Trained By: Unknown

LIONESS ASUKA:
Stats:
Real Name: Tomoko Kitamura
Billed Height & Weight: 5’7″ 172 lbs. (lighter in the ’80s)
Career Length: 1980-2005
Trained By: Unknown

“She’s [Chigusa] the single most popular and arguably the most historically important female wrestler who ever lived. To this day, in pro wrestling or MMA, not Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Kerry Von Erich, Dusty Rhodes, or Chuck Liddell could match the reaction I saw that woman receive live in her heyday.”- Dave Meltzer, who LOVED to point out how big the reactions the Crush Gals got compared to Hulk Hogan. If you write a Gals article, you have to mention them equaling Hogan in popularity. I think it’s a rule.

The Crush Gals are pretty easily the most popular act in Joshi history, and Nagayo a clear choice for #1 solo star. They were the perfect “Teen Idols” for their time- a duo of girls who kinda/sorta resembled their audience (both looked fine, but were hardly Idol-level pretty, making it easier for the Joshi audience- then almost entirely teen girls- to identify with them). Throwing the two of them together proved to be a master-stroke, as was placing them against the Atrocious Alliance, an assembly of heavily made-up, punker-looking heels led by Dump Matsumoto. The feuds the women had with each other were the most popular ever, at one point drawing 12.5% of the television sets in Japan to the AJW TV show.

And while Dave’s “They drew reactions equal to Hulk Hogan” thing was a constant smug-ass point of his, and is repeated ad nauseum in every Joshi article ever… Jesus Christ he wasn’t just saying it to hate on the WWF. Watching any Nagayo match from the ’80s is INSANE. The absolute enormity of the volume of shrieks heard cannot be overstated. Her final Hair vs. Hair Match against Dump is probably the single loudest crowd I’ve ever heard in my life. Every time Chigusa seems in danger of losing, I fear we’re about to see 5,000 tiny heart attacks in the crowd.

Having looked at their matches, both had very similar styles in the 1980s- quick spin-kicks, Backdrops & Germans, and even Sharpshooters (though neither was especially great at them, lacking the deep sink-in of Bret’s and treating them more like rest-holds. They’re only about 20 times better than The Rock’s). It’s a very “1980s” style, as AJW back then seemed to be inspired by the NWA style, which involves a lot of fighting for holds, slick reversals, and chain wrestling, though it adds the Japanese penchant for martial arts-style kicks to the back and a few spin-kicks.

Comparing them as workers: What I’ve seen generally indicates that Asuka was the better worker of the duo, but Chigusa was MUCH more over- incredibly so. She either had “It” to a much higher degree or just came off better in promos (Asuka’s status as the “Tough One” may have made her come off less sympathetically as well). In the 1990s, Chigusa grew increasingly bulky and adopted a more powerhouse style, while Asuka stayed thin and acted as a wily, tough martial artist. Both were solid chain wrestlers, though- the ’80s had a lot of that.

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CAREER TRAJECTORY:
-Chigusa & Asuka debuted in 1980 as rookies, and after years of jobbing, formed a duo in 1983 after a match they fought against each other went well. The were named “The Crush Gals” for a nickname of Akira Maeda and “Gals”. Their popularity rose quickly, and by 1985 were drawing thousands of fans as they moved up the card, even selling records as the Beauty Pair (another “Idol Tag Team”) did before them, in the 1970s.

The Gals first won the WWWA Tag Titles in 1984, and started a rivalry with Dump Matsumoto and her stable the next year. Here, the Gals were seen as everything good about Japan (two dutiful, polite, humble, athletic young women) versus everything the Japanese hated (unlawful, brutal, vicious, heavily-made-up women with DYED HAIR- the horror~~!!). Dump and Crane Yu defeated the Gals for the Tag Titles in ’85, and then Nagayo brutally lost a Hair vs. Hair match to Dump, bawling as her head was shaved before a horrified, screaming crowd. This led to a famous rematch, in which Chigusa got her revenge, and a defiant Dump sat cross-armed while her own head was shaved. Eventually, the Gals won the feud and Dump was retired by AJW’s “Retire After 25” policy- her successors, Bull Nakano & Aja Kong, stepped in. Dump’s Retirement Show was the most-watched wrestling event in Japan in 1988- featuring Chigusa & Dump teaming in a five-minute exhibition at the end.

Nagayo & Asuka, still Tag Champions, would frequently wrestle during this time period, slowly rising up the card, which was dominated by Devil Masami, a Heel Ace, and others. Nagayo, however, would be the first Gal to win the WWWA World Title, defeating Yukari Omori for it in 1987 before Omori’s own retirement. She dominated the title scene until Aug. 1988, losing to Asuka, who vacated it because she only won because of Chigusa’s arm injury. Chigusa toured North America afterwards (the Gals even wrestled for the WWF! You can see them with Gorilla Monsoon on commentary!), and Asuka won their rematch in Jan. 1989. That year, they won the Tag Titles one last time, vacating them as Chigusa neared the retirement age- her final show was at the first Wrestlemarinepiad, featuring her jobbing to a ton of random opponents who came in and took their shots. An adoring crowd gave her a great send-off.

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Asuka back in the day. She typically wore darker tights than Chigusa, who was iconic in red.

THE END OF THE GALS:
Meanwhile, Asuka was able to run down her time as Champion without losing, beating Madusa Miceli at that same show Chigusa retired at, and retiring as champion. This directly led to a massive downturn in the business, as nobody could replace the Gals in the fans’ eyes. Bull Nakano was a good Ace during this time period, but it took a while for business to turn back up. And so Chigusa largely vanished from the public eye… until she made a big return to AJW in 1993, as they waived the Retirement Age thing in the midst of a new Boom Period. Her big return was in the middle of the card at the two legendary Dream Slams in ’93, losing to old rivals Devil Masami and Bull Nakano, as it’s kind of tradition for a returning wrestler to lose. Asuka herself returned in 1994, forming the “Rideen Army” with other freelancers like Jaguar Yokota (herself an Ace before the Gals) & Bison Kimura.

Despite her return matches being good, Chigusa went unused for much of the time- her cardio seemed noticeably poor in some of the matches I’ve seen, as she’s sweating like Shane McMahon and couldn’t keep up the pace to which Joshi had now been set. However, after that she doesn’t do much wrestling- AJW seemed to have its own stars to build and didn’t need her, and she was loaned out to JWP a few times, hardly ever appearing on big AJW shows again (she gets a quickie match at the Tokyo Dome show in 1994).

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Chigusa’s evil heel persona, Zero.

GAEA JAPAN (1995):
-Chigusa wrestled only a handful of matches until 1995, which saw her form her own Joshi promotion in GAEA Japan! While I’ve read that Chigusa was quite protective of her “Spot” and rarely jobbed (her company’s title was called the “AAAW Title”- what seems like a clear swipe at AJW’s WWWA Title- and she dominated its early years), GAEA became very successful, at one point becoming the top promotion in Joshi. She took Akira Hokuto and several others with her, and crossed over with WCW a few times (she wrestled as “Zero”). Her best trainee is almost certainly Meiko Satomura, the best Joshi of the Post-Boom Period.

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Lioness Asuka- Boss as FUCK.

Asuka herself left AJW during their financial struggles, and wrestled for Jd’ and Arsion before she joined GAEA in 1998 and became a heel, feuding with Chigusa in what was apparently a great bit of business, forming the “Super Star Unit” with Hokuto, Aja Kong, Las Cachorras Orientales, and other established vets. However, in ’99, the Crush Gals were reunited, drawing a ton of mainstream press- talk about a master-stroke of booking. GAEA became seen largely as a “Joshi Retirement Home”, with old-schoolers pushed ahead of the newbies, which hurt Joshi pretty badly, but to be fair, this was an industry-wide thing.

Asuka went on to book Arsion after Aja Kong quit, but would retire in 2005 due to neck injuries, and Chigusa would follow shortly thereafter, with GAEA folding as well. She largely vanished from the scene afterwards, save for a few random appearances, until announcing the start of a new promotion in 2015 called “Marvelous That’s Women Pro Wrestling”, and was its inaugural Blast Queen Champion for four months. She drew some headlines recently, for stopping a man from beating his wife (wisely not just kicking his ass- that’d actually net you legal trouble in Japan), and has just announced ANOTHER retirement.

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Chigusa Nagayo, who now looks more like Dump Matsumoto than Chigusa Nagayo.

Ironically, Chigusa now resembles the kinds of wrestlers she used to fight- heavy, scary-looking and even with TATTOOS (one of the biggest “cultural no-nos” in Japan, for a variety of reasons- Yakuza & American sailors being among the big ones). No longer the idol who looked like her audience, she’s a tough, scary-looking woman, but still an institution in Japan. Chigusa is much more popular and well-known than Asuka, but Asuka has equal credentials- WWE’s Asuka is named for her.

CHIGUSA’S MOVESET:
Kick to the Back, Brainbuster, Spin Kick, German Suplex, Moonsault, Sasori Gatame (Sharpshooter), Running Three Powerbomb (Falling Thunder Fire Powerbomb), Super Freak (Tilt-A-Whirl Powerbomb), Super Freak II (Spinning Doctor Bomb)

ASUKA’S MOVESET:
Giant Swing, Airplane Spin, Kick to the Back, Brainbuster, Spin Kick, German Suplex, Moonsault, Sharpshooter, K Driller (Reverse Piledriver), LSD (Fisherman’s Buster), LSD II (Fisherman’s Falcon Arrow), LSD III (Cross-Armed Falcon Arrow), Towerhacker Bomb (Argentine Backbreaker to Sit-Out Powerbomb)

ALL-PACIFIC TITLE:
CHIGUSA NAGAYO vs. DUMP MATSUMOTO
(05.04.1986):
* This and the following match are from the same show. Dump has blonde hair parted in the middle, and a black singlet with white leggings. And wears black samurai armor to the ring, which is AMAZING. Chigusa is wearing a black & red singlet, and came carrying a sword, though sadly puts it down before the Atrocious Alliance divebomb her before the bell rings.

So every time I see these two fight, this is how it goes: Dump controls the entire match, Chigusa sells, and the crowds shriek in horror. Dump will use weapons, her allies, and more, even beating on the Ring Girls, while our hero will only get the occasional comeback tease before Dump goes right back to beating on her. The crowd reactions in this era for the Gals really has to be heard to be believed- the sound mix here sucks, but it’s more sustained noise than you’ll ever hear for anyone else, with constant “CHI-GU-SA!” chants. Dump is… interesting to assess. She’s not what I’d consider a great “Skill” wrestler, the sense that her moves look great or she has a good variety. But she’s what WRESTLERS would consider a “Great Worker”- drawing huge reactions from simple little things and building crowd anticipation (or horror) for a big slam or a long submission hold. She’s probably a delight to wrestle, unless you don’t like having a fork shoved up your nethers.

Dump beats the shit out of Chigusa with a bokken (wooden sword) right away, grinding it into her face before Chigusa goads her into breaking it against a post. A VERY young Bull Nakano runs in to stop a Sharpshooter (Chigusa’s first offensive flourish!), then they do a Double Spike Piledriver with two Alliance members helping- sounds better than it looks (they flop off the top out of sync). Thankfully Piledrivers are transition moves in Japan so that’s not the end. Ringpost smash, and Dump reacts with anger at the crowd’s chants. Chigusa twice comes back from outside brawling, and manages to reverse Bull’s cheating, hanging Dump in the ropes! And Chigusa annihilates her with a pair of chairshots, but soon gets smoked by a giant black barrel, but goads Bull into missing a shot and holds Dump with a Backdrop Suplex Hold for the miracle win (18:59).

Interesting, if one-sided, brawl with tons of cheating and Chigusa taking all of the offense before staging a third or fourth miracle comeback for the win. Always comes off as a fluke but I don’t think these crowds care.

Rating: ***1/2 (great brawling with tons of weapons and character bits- one of the higher ratings you’ll get for an extended squash ending in a flash pin)

WWWA WORLD TITLE:
DEVIL MASAMI vs. LIONESS ASUKA:
* This one’s for the top title in Joshi, with Devil Masami as the Heel Ace- a woman with a scary face and a murderous physique, she’s wearing a purple tiger-striped singlet with matching lipstick. Asuka’s in a black singlet and has the “Sporty” haircut template later used by 50% of the women in Joshi.

Asuka nails the Giant Swing immediately, but Devil cranks her with a Bridging German right after. This ends up the polar opposite of the prior match, being straight “Catch-As-Catch-Can” wrestling, with fighter over holds, scrambling out of submissions, and more. Hard to recap, but pretty great, especially since Devil so clearly relishes causing unhappiness in others. Even wearing your mom’s swimming suit she looks dangerous. Asuka dropkicks Masami right in the ass, sending her off the top and to the floor- didn’t see THAT bump a lot in 1986! Referee counts them both out, but restarts the match after some deliberation. Asuka dominates from there, hitting a Sharpshooter and a German, fighting repeatedly for pins. Devil comes back with a Figure-Four and a Superplex, but starts taking a ton more offense- her selling is great, and her constant bridging out of EVERYTHING makes her look super-tough. Devil pulls out a goddamn GANSO BOMB, followed by a Fisherman’s Suplex, and a stunned Asuka still manages to kick out. She uses a big surge of energy for a Powerbomb, but Devil pulls off her Sit-Out version (in 1986!), with the time rapidly counting down. Asuka’s Backdrop Hold doesn’t work, and a desperate Enzuigiri and we’re OUTTA TIME as Devil bridges out (15:15).

Great little “catch wrestling” bout, replacing the chaos of the prior match with countering stuff, fighting for holds & pins, and then trading 1986’s version of MDK finishers until time runs out. Though a lot of the time it was “I hit you with a move, then you kick out and hit me with a move while I’m recovering”, rather than actual reversals. Kind of an effect of the time limit, I guess.

Rating: ***3/4 (got really good at the end, and was interesting throughout. You can see Devil was a top-tier wrestler for the time especially)

A link to the match: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=648767868641652

HAIR VS. HAIR MATCH:
CHIGUSA NAGAYO vs. DUMP MATSUMOTO:
(11.07.1986):
* This is the famous rematch to the one the year prior, which saw Chigusa’s head shaved. And uh, boy, this crowd is noisy. Imagine a Backstreet Boys concert during Hogan vs. Andre and you might get an idea how loud these teen girls are being. Dump has full monster-style facepaint and a rainbow-colored mohawk, with a shirt that says “Heavy Metal” on the front, just in case you wanted to know who the heel was. Bull & Aja? They’re disciples of Matsumoto, and learned from the best.

The referee admonishes Dump for bringing a chain into the ring, so of course she immediately beats the shit out of him with it, getting him to bleed all over the place. Shit, the bell ain’t even rung and I’ve already seen something I’ve never seen before. You ever wonder why Bull is just allowed to use nunchucks, and LCO allowed to use chairs? There’s a precedent set for when an official annoys a heel Joshi. Dump then beats on her. And beats on her. And beats on her. Seriously, the entire match is just Dump beating on Chigusa with her getting the occasional comeback to wild screams from a horrified audience. Dump plays “hidden weapon” while the ref gives her the slowest counts ever, and Chigusa hits a Missile Dropkick once Dump ignores her to beat the referee’s ass again, but is swiftly taken out with a fork to the face. Then bashes her face into the white ringpost, because that’ll make the blood show up better- VETERAN MOVE! Also a veteran move: dragging a bloodied Chigusa around with a chain into the stands, so her teenybopper fans can get a close-up look at their beloved idol bleeding.

Aw fuck, now Dump has scissors, but she drops them to make a cover, and the crowd FREAKS. Like, every time Chigusa’s covered, it’s complete pandemonium. Imagine if you slit the Backstreet Boys’ throats in front of 50,000 teenage girls in 1998, and that’s the sound I’m hearing. I think these girls are over. Chigusa trips Dump and hits a Sharpshooter for her first consistent stretch of offense yet, but Dump throws on her own leglock then goes for pins by simply holding the idol’s hands down- so simple, yet the crowd is mortified. Now Chigusa AND her #2 are sliced open by the fork, and they keep breaking the audience’s hearts with false comebacks, as Dump either doesn’t sell for long or powers out. Dump slowly pounds away with metal cans, punches, and kicks, and you physically see Chigusa’s spirit leave her broken body and nearly gets counted out… but Dump turns around to gloat and gets rolled up for the win as my ears fucking explode (16:36).

Dump freaks out and assaults the ref with a Singapore Cane (probably because she clearly kicked out at “2”, not that I’d blame the ref considered the three times Dump brutalized him during the match), Chigusa raises her arm in victory despite being dead, and Dump now gets plopped into the chair and has her big mohawk sliced off. The characterization here is great- Dump has lost, but is a defiant grump, crossing her arms and glowering to contrast Chigusa’s crying as she was shaved the year prior. Then she beats up Chigusa, her friends, the referee again, an official, and more.

Probably the best one-sided match you’re ever going to see- the entire thing was Dump brutalizing poor, innocent Chigusa, who would get an exhausted comeback for approximately 0.5 seconds before Dump avoids her weak punches.

Rating: **** (96% Dump on offense with simple moves and brawling, but magnificent carnage, the crowd adds a huge amount to it, and it’s great character stuff)

Link to the match: https://vimeo.com/265671868

WWWA WORLD TITLE
JAGUAR YOKOTA vs. LIONESS ASUKA:
(21.09.1986)
* Oh snap, I managed to find this one. So it’s a pretty big deal, being one of the biggest stars in Japan fighting the Ace of AJW for the 3WA Title. Asuka’s in a blue singlet with white details, and Jaguar’s got a pink one on. At 5’3″, Jaguar is itty-bitty, but she looks tough as fuck, with that classic “Heel Sneer”, Evil Mom Hair and gold teeth visible when she grimaces. Jaguar went on to train several classes of the AJW Dojo. Her students? Oh, Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Manami Toyota, Toshiyo Yamada, Etsuko Mita, Mima Shimoda, Kyoko & Takako Inoue, and a few others. Imagine if Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Kenny Omega had the same trainer- THAT GUY would look up to Jaguar Yokota as an idol. This match drew ***** from Meltzer when he saw it in the 1980s, so is somewhat nerd-famous.

Both girls immediately show crazy athleticism by smoothly sliding out of covers from snapmares. Then fight for holds in something that looks like Flair/Steamboat if you sped it up by two or three times- no WONDER Dave was so impressed by this. Jaguar works the leg for a good while, shaking up the moves often enough that it doesn’t get dull, tying Asuka in knots, hitting both a Hurricanrana (in 1986!) and a Jackhammer (in 1986!), completely dominating her while the crowd wildly chants for their heroine. Jaguar hits the Figure Four and they reverse that for a few minutes, Jaguar goes out to sell the leg, and Asuka pays her back with a ton more leg stuff.

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Jaguar does this! As a regular move!

And then, 17 minutes in, they shift into high-gear. Asuka hits a Powerbomb with a jacknife pin, but Jaguar comes back with a sick Vertical Pedigree, planting Asuka on her HEAD. It’s that one Triple-H accidentally did to murder that one jobber! Jaguar tries a Tombstone, but Asuka reverses it (!!) absolutely PLANTING her with a sickening OwenDriver that somehow doesn’t kill Yokota. Hell, she even bridges out (weakly). Asuka tries to finish her with kicks, then an Airplane Spin and Giant Swing! It’s Flair/Steamboat AND Moolah-style! She LAUNCHES Yokota out of the ring with a suplex, but misses a Tope. Both recover after a few, then Asuka brings her in the hard way- with a Slingshot Suplex, then hits a German as the counts get closer. She accidentally locks hands, allowing Jaguar to hit her Straightjacket Suplex for a near fall. Then, in a GREAT ending, Asuka reverses a Superplex to a vicious Front Superplex, misses a Flying Kneedrop to destroy her leg, and Jaguar nails a Leg-Trap (PSYCHOLOGY!) Backdrop Suplex Hold for the three (23:46).

Holy crap, that got awesome by the end. I can 100% see this earning ***** in 1986- it’s fast-paced, has great counter-wrestling, and the crowd is way into it. It matches the Flair/Steamboat stuff, but with more inventive offense, albeit the match is shorter. Their facial reactions are just perfect, and showcase so much character- Yokota is grimacing and snarling, while Asuka is agonized and looking tearful but strong- then Yokota gets it reversed and she’s all twisting her face into contortions, making sure you don’t find her too sympathetic in defeat. 17 minutes of technical stuff never got boring because they were usually moving around or switching it up, and then they revved up for 6+ minutes of attempting finishers, all of which looked amazing. Their move application was top-notch, and looked so good you could do this NOW and people would be impressed. Fucking awesome- Jaguar Yokota really IS one of the best workers of the ’80s- totally an unsung icon.

Rating: ****3/4 (got SO GOOD at the end! The finish even paid off all that leg stuff, and Lioness’s own youthful desire for a big ending!)

LIONESS ASUKA vs. JAGUAR YOKOTA
(14.04.1996):
* Lioness vs. Jaguar. I spent weeks trying to find a good “Catfight” joke, but alas, none ever materialized. These are two mega-legends of Joshi, with Jaguar being the Ace of early ’80s AJW, and Asuka being the Ace of late ’80s AJW. JD’ is the promotion we’re seeing here, which was Jaguar’s solo project, leaving AJW for whatever reason to try her own thing. It’s quite weird, because 3-4 Joshi did the same thing rather than band together, which to me seems like a much better, bigger idea. Too many cooks? Japan’s “Do Your Own Thing” mentality? I dunno. In any case, Asuka has browner hair here, and is ten years older, doing more of a martial arts style and wearing a white shirt and black pants, both with lines on them. Jaguar is short, ripped and scrappy (think AJ Lee if she looked tough). And… wearing a shiny silver diaper it looks like.

Despite this being ten years later, both women wrestle “1980s Style” very well, trading and fighting for holds at high speeds… then much slower ones. There are several instances of submission holds lasting for almost exactly one minute- a Jaguar Octopus Stretch, a leglock around Asuka’s neck, and an Asuka Sleeper. WEIRD. I’ve counted similar times before in Joshi matches (probably a deliberate attempt to avoid being too boring while also giving them a rest), but WEIRD. There’s so much of this the match ends up a bit of a bore, unfortunately, as no story develops and it’s way too slow going- though Jaguar does the slickest bridge out of a pinfall I’ve ever seen, sliding up and out like a cartoon character. Asuka hits a Sit-Out Powerbomb and Jaguar does a cool Straightjacket Suplex reversal- high spots five minutes apart, and then Jaguar drills her with that goddamn Triple-H Jobber-Killing Pedigree. But Asuka just comes back with a Backdrop Superplex- she heads up for another move, and then Jaguar pops up with this amazing roll-up off the top (spin-jumping up and throwing Asuka off with her legs into a pinning combination) and gets the pin (20:03).

Started out great, but wow, they went WAY too long without anything developing- their Finisher Series was just a tiny handful of moves spaced apart by a mile so they could lie in exactly-one-minute submission holds. Possibly owing to the match time, age, or lack of cardio. Their stuff was all well-applied, but it was this quiet little catch-wrestling exhibition with nary a justifiable finisher, ending in a roll-up, albeit a good one.

Rating: *** (what was there was good, but few crimes are as bad as “going too long” in my view, and it wasn’t interesting enough to justify 20 minutes, but some of the moves looked great!)

And that’s it for my Crush Gals bio! So with some careful research, I feel I can comfortably state that the Crush Gals were over.