Joshi Spotlight- All Star Dream Slam I (Part 1)

ALL STAR DREAM SLAM I (April 3, 1993):
The two Dream Slams are events that took place about a week apart, meant to be interpromotional shows between the top Joshi (women’s wrestling in Japan) companies around. All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling, or AJW, had been the top company for years, but several upstarts had gained a lot of traction (often using former AJW talent), and the rivalries brought on a surprising amount of working together- in this case, the sheer amount of money to be made from interpromotional “Dream Matches” was too good to turn down. So at the peak of the business, all the companies got together and put on a few Supercards, creating a new status quo that lasted a few years- AJW, the dominant promotion, actually being rather magnanimous, realizing that there was big money in continued shows, so everyone got to look competitive and strong (titles even change promotions!).

When I first got into puro stuff in the early 2000s, this was one of the “Holy Grail” shows in terms of “stuff that had to be seen”. Unfortunately, joshi was very hard to come by back then unless you had deep pockets, so it wasn’t until YouTube uploads became common that I saw much more of it.

Here, they’re in Yokohama Arena, drawing 16,500 to the show. Yes, women’s wrestling in Japan used to draw THOUSANDS to shows- now you’re lucky to draw 1,000.

HOW THIS IS SET UP:
I’m doing this in two parts, because I’m long-winded and it’s a five-hour show. There’s a handful of information up front about the nature of Joshi you can skip if you don’t care about it. Every match is prefaced with stuff in italics about who the performers are and their general gimmicks & careers, just so it’s not all “here’s some Japanese women you don’t know”.

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Joshi in a nutshell: A slender woman dressed like Jem & the Holograms’ ballerina friend getting folded in half by a giant monster cosplaying as one of the Misfits.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT (Short Version):
A legendary card featuring some of the greatest workers of all time, in rare “Dream Matches”, with two Meltzer ***** matches and perhaps the greatest brawl in wrestling history (the kind of match Triple-H THINKS he’s having). Multiple styles and types of wrestling showcased. A woman dresses like a purple swan with neon pink feathers. Another drinks a goddamn beer while on the ring apron. ’80s legends fight on the same show that has a nunchuck fight.

Joshi Notes: There’s a strong “general style” to Joshi- Backdrop, German, Tiger & Dragon Suplexes are universal parts of everyone’s offense, and the latter three can always score pins in addition to the ladies’ finishers. Almost everyone goes off the top rope. Many women are High Fliers, Kicker-types (with REALLY stiff kicks) or Powerhouse Monsters, with a few variances (Akira Hokuto is an insane brawler; Kyoko Inoue fights more like men do). Almost every single match starts with wild screaming, running around, strikes, and big moves in an attempt to get quick pins. The “big matches” usually last 18-30 minutes, with a slow-down period after that initial flurry, and usually a 5-8 minute stretch of Increasingly-Big Moves, much like New Japan’s Juniors around this time period. But, like, the moves are so insanely state of the art it looks like the best stuff of TODAY. Joshi is awesome.

Physical appearance is important, but not in the same way as it is in the West. While being pretty is definitely a big advantage (Cutie Suzuki got her own video game- an honor not bestowed upon Presentable Suzuki), you can also get by looking scary or tough. In fact, a lot of teams were set up with a “Beauty” one and a “Sporty” one, with just as many girls idolizing the less-cute, shorter-haired girl on a team (the famous Crush Gals were more “the girls who could be you!” than “What you wished you looked like!”). So look counts, but aren’t everything. Hell, half the girls go to the same barber, who apparently uses the same bowl to make their mushroom cuts.

The outfits they wear are INSANE, by the way. A few are in plain singlets, but for the most part, everyone dresses like a combination of Randy Savage and a Jem & the Holograms character. Tassles, fringe and random cut-outs in clothes are everywhere. Tons of girls decked out like Road Warriors, too- their “Monster Heel Special”.

The Participants:
ALL JAPAN WOMEN’S: The top Joshi promotion in Japan. Has the TV time, the best trainers, and the biggest stars (Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Bull Nakano, Manami Toyota, etc.). Retired all its stars at 26 to better appeal to a fanbase of young girls.
JWP JOSHI PURORESU: The “entertainer” portion of the former JWP (Japan Women’s Puroresu), which split up. Pretty much always in AJW’s shadow, despite being made up of a lot of former AJW stars who’d hit the mandatory retirement age.
LADIES LEGEND PRO WRESTLING (LLPW): The “wrestler” portion of the former JWP, which got many of its top names. Has a more grappling-heavy style. Never really hit it big, but has a few stars, and produces one show a year even today.
FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING (FMW): Yes, the ultra-violent blood & guts promotion had its own women’s division. With some terrifying deathmatches of its own. Primarily based around Megumi Kudo and her enemies.
EMPRESS MEXICANA de LUCHA LIBRE (EMLL): The precursor to CMLL, which only threw in a couple of women for this show.

The tape starts with, I shit you not, an HOUR AND A HALF of ancillary garbage, such as introductions, opening ceremonies, interviews, etc. And this was released when fast-forwarding actually took a while.

HIKARI FUKUOKA & PLUM MARIKO (JWP) vs. SAKIE HASEGAWA & KAURO ITO (AJW):
* The JWP team looks like somebody threw a grenade in a fabric warehouse. Wearing all the neon colors, Fukuoka was in the “Manami Toyota” mold of pretty high-fliers, and did pretty well for herself, winning the JWP Title once and becoming their Ace after a long build-up… right before she retired. Plum Mariko (in a blue & red tye-dyed can-can monstrosity) is most famous for the most dreadful of reasons, being the first puro star to die from an in-ring injury. Tragically, she would not be the last, but was the only one for so long (she died in 1997 after a Powerbomb bump) that I remember reading about it when it happened, and her name stuck with me for all this time. Kauro Ito, dressed in a ridiculous Peter Pan get-up, hit her peak in the late ’90s in AJW, while Sakie Hasegawa, best known for her sporty haircut and line-covered singlets, would retire due to injuries before her planned push took place. All of these women became bigger stars later on, marking this as our “Young Rookies” portion of the evening.

The match is perfectly acceptable, albeit a bit “Generic Joshi”- they spam out screaming & running strikes (smacks, chops, kicks, Thesz Presses to the face…). Soooooooo much running (especially from Ito’s Running Ass Attack and Running Stomps), though they occasionally do random submissions as wear-down holds. And it says something when the rookies manage to nearly hit four stars, as they get long enough (just under 17 minutes), and throw enough great-looking stuff out there, that the occasional sloppiness can be forgiven. Most of them came off very same-y except for Sakie, who has much tighter offense, and good technical wrestling (like a Rolling Butterfly Suplex and a WICKED Uranage/Rock Bottom). Ito’s Flying Stomp lands RIGHT on Fukuoka’s ribcage, which is crazy, but in the end, Plum hits a Super Frankensteiner on Sakie for the win (16:32).

Kind of odd for an ending, as Sakie does some big moves, then just gets thrown into the corner, hops up there… and Plum kind of punches her and does the move. Fine enough wrestling, though never hit the next level- a bit too much spamming and running around with the only slow bits being pointless submission tangles. As an opener, though, it’s ideal- fast-paced and energetic. And it lets the audience know that the AJW girls aren’t just going to squash the competition- JWP not only won, but took out the “future hot star” in the fall.

Rating: ***1/2

TERRI POWER & SAKECHI NOBUE (No Promotion Listed) vs. ERIKO TSUCHIYA & YOSHIKA MAEDOMARI (FMW):
* Terri Power is in fact Tori of WWF fame, back when she was WAY more jacked, being halfway between Chyna and her WWF self. Um, damn. She’s nursing a bad shoulder injury here. I know nothing about Nobue, who’s wearing a bright purple singlet with neon green lines all over it (oh, the ’90s). Eriko would become better known as Shark Tsuchiya, the Monster Heel of FMW. Maedomari wouldn’t be as successful, but did okay there. Both are decked out more or less like Jobber Road Warriors, with facepaint and matching gear (Eriko in green; Yoshika in red).

The match is pretty poor for much of it, with Terri being too jacked to move around much, and too hurt to do moves well. Her lariat is wicked, though- which is good, as it’s the only move she can do. Nobue wrestles like a 1980s WWF Jobber, just using running stuff & small packages, and looks nervous and hesitant about everything. Her big spots are a flying splash, two sloppy sleepers, and fucking up a flying sunset flip. Not good. The FMW girls just use choking and brawling until they start some pretty good double-teams on Nobue. An assisted clothesline, a Flying Hart Attack-style clothesline, and a Powerbomb from Tsuchiya puts her down as the other holds off Terri (7:41).

The babyfaces looked terrible- Terri couldn’t do much, and Nobue was sloppy- the heels did nothing until a handful of okay moves near the end. Terri’s enduring legacy in wrestling, as this is by far her most famous non-WWF thing, is thus “X-Pac’s floozy”, “Raven’s ninja friend”, and “the chick in the worst match at Dream Slam”.

Rating: ** (A glorified Jobber match)

ULTIMA TIGRITA & KAORU (EMLL) vs. MIMA SHIMODA & TOMOKO WATANABE (AJW):
* Ultima Tigrita is an itty-bitty lucha star in what looks like a way more epic, full-body Aztec Tiger Mask costume. She is better known as Esther Moreno, part of a lucha family in Mexico, and she held this name for so short a time that I can barely find evidence of its existence. KAORU is Kaoru Maeda, who jumped from AJW to a ton of other promotions during her career (including in Mexico), peaking in the late ’90s and winning a ton of belts. She’s dressed up in a blue antennaed mask and wears a sombrero to the ring, which is awesome. Shimoda is part of a different tag team entirely, and would be pretty much a “Tag Team Specialist” who never moved out of that realm (like an incredibly-rad, bitchy Billy Gunn)- her signature “look” is a highly-tassled one or two-piece, and her “kimono & hair-pins” pre-match gear is some of wrestling’s best. Watanabe won a solid amount of gold, but mostly after this (and largely in tag teams), as she’s a midcarder here. She’s wearing a tassled mask and a pretty ugly blue/orange tassled outfit. As this is the only match featuring EMLL stars, and their opponents aren’t even a regular team, it’s pretty clear who’s going to be going over.

The match is… pretty not great for most of it. It’s REALLY sloppy in parts, with Tigrita needing so much assistance and being so clumsy out there that I’d be throwing around Super Calo jokes if I wasn’t afraid of ripping off the Uproxx guy. It’s a lot of jumping and flipping around (to be fair, Moonsaults to the outside were pretty huge in 1994). And Tigrita falling on her ass a couple of times. They spam that Face-Targetted Thesz Press to the point where it gets ridiculous, too. Use another move already! Most other reviews corroborate that AJW’s team really doesn’t know how to sell lucha well, which isn’t helping. Mima’s doing a lot of cackle-screaming and running kicks. She’s always fun to watch- she’s so slender and good-looking you’re expecting a graceful flier and she’s out there scrapping like a Canada goose. Watanabe looks okay, but is throwing out very generic stuff with no character to it. KAORU moves like she’s… heavy. Just not very graceful, and doesn’t go up for stuff well. Odd for someone who spent time in Mexico. Case in point, Watanabe misses a Springboard Splash and KAORU kind of just… dumps over her in a La Majistral right near the ropes and scores the win out of nowhere (14:42).

Shimoda looked like a star, despite her offense being mostly kicks (and a good Underhook Perfect Plex). Everyone else looked like they were in their first year of training and didn’t quite get how wrestling worked yet. And the ending really had no build, and the brawls to the outside lacked the usual chaos of Shimoda’s tag stuff. But it was high-end flying for 1994, so would have impressed at the time, and the match ran long enough to put some good stuff out.

Rating: *** (Reviewers from back in the ’90s were more glowing in their praise)

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Japan: Where being 5’8″ renders Etsuko Mita a giantess.

SUZUKA MINAMI & ETSUKO MITA (AJW) vs. RUMI KAZAMA & MIKI HANDA (LLPW):
* The ultra-tall Mita is typically Mima Shimoda’s partner- as Los Cachorras Orientales (“The Oriental Bitches”), they would terrorize Joshi during much of the ’90s. Her pre-match gear is typically fantastic, making her look like an Anime Kunoichi, and her wrestling gear is typical- a black halter top & trunks. Suzuka Minami was an older vet, and retired only a couple years after this, never having won more than midcard stuff- I seriously can’t find much about her, and I’ve never heard of her, but she was usually in prominent enough positions on the card, albeit not with serious runs or pushes. Manjimortal says she was an upper-mid vet who was generally the lesser member of any team. She’s wearing a plain bright green singlet with some black trim. Miki Handa barely has any gold at all through her career- she’s in a plain black & white singlet, and looks like the typical “cute girl” sort. Rumi’s done quite well for herself, peaking in the late ’90s in LLPW. She has some of the worst hair I’ve ever seen here- this wild, frizzy mess of a lion’s mane mixed with a poodle cut. And MY GOD, those tights- a dumpy, blue & black striped suit with puffy sleeves. Only her serious expression keeps her from looking totally ridiculous. Again, these are midcard girls at the time.

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Rumi Kazama: Perhaps the embodiment of 1980s fashion. In 1993.

This is our first great match of the evening, as they go all-out and really start trying to impress people. Mita in particular is fully into her Evil Giraffe Bitch Goddess mode, throwing in all kinds of extra flourish that makes even restholds and filler stuff look great, liking digging in with elbows or screaming whenever she can. She always just looks kind of… amused by everything. Like hurting people is genuinely fun for her. Mita sitting on her opponent’s chest, choking with one hand while wearing the most delighted smile on her face, may be my favorite thing in wrestling. Her partner Minami comes off like a nervous Rookie Babyface, I guess (though she’s not). Mita actually hits what looks like most heels are trying when the do a Flying Nothing off the turnbuckles and land on the babyface’s foot. It’s sort of a falling chop to a downed opponent. She claws at Rumi’s face, and then DRINKS A FUCKING BEER WHILE ON THE APRON, which is absolutely amazing. I mean, what else could that be? It’s in a longneck brown bottle!

Handa is exceptional at selling- screaming in agony while in a Boston Crab. Rumi does some good strikes (and they’re sold a ton, despite her being a dwarf). Every time Suzuka’s in there, she gets killed, which seems to be our “story” of the bout’s first half- it’s funny seeing screaming heel Mita keep having to save the white-meat babyface. Eventually, the two start gelling and Suzuka starts holding her own. And then, in a moment of BRILLIANT timing, Mita ducks down the SECOND Minami runs in with a clothesline on Handa waistlocking her from behind. Like, that was picture-perfect. Rumi blows a few things with Mita, trying way too much difficult stuff with such a tall person (a Powerbomb? Really?), but recovers nicely with desperate pinfalls. But seriously- Mita has to put her head almost on the floor to get into Powerbomb position like that- not a great idea. Rumi recovers with two REALLY good German Suplexes, the final one (with a great bridge) getting the win as Minami can’t get into the ring (22:25). The LLPW girls win!!

A really good, hard-fought match with a solid story- the smaller LLPW girls having to use teamwork to deal with Mita, usually via double-teams and good reversals instead of her partner, especially once the AJW girls started to gain momentum. This was The Mita Show through and through, though, with her doing all the great character stuff (though not many big moves). The LLPW girls were fast and hit some nice stuff, while Minami just came off as generic, to be honest, but good enough in that role (her Powerbombs and Tilt-A-Whirl Backbreakers were awesome).

Rating: ****1/4

WWWA MARTIAL ARTS CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH-
BAT YOSHINAGA (c) vs. SUSAN HOWARD:
-This is an actual SHOOT FIGHT (proving women can put on boring shoot fights years before UFC would even prove that MEN could! Now THAT’s progressive!), and basically the thing every tape trader in the business said to skip about this show. Seriously, it’s DREADFUL- both women just slug it out, get blown up right away, hit a bunch of weak garbage, and do nothing. It lasts three whole rounds, with Bat winning a decision. Susan complains about Bat spamming leg-kicks, though she got hit in the face a bunch of times, and missed all her stuff. Pretty much every wrestling fan skips this match.

Rating: DUD (awful by any standard)

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Vintage Crush Gals!

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“I imagine she wouldn’t smell bad but she’d smell…weird. Like her hair would have the faint aroma of the ocean or something.

She seems like a goddamn mythological witch sent to the world because she can’t stand the thought of little girls being happy.”
-Phrederic, about Devil Masami

CHIGUSA NAGAYO (AJW) vs. DEVIL MASAMI (JWP):
* This is the biggest match so far- Nagayo is one half of the Crush Gals, the biggest tag team in the history of Joshi, being immense crossover stars (selling out pop albums as well as arenas during the 1980s), and drawing the most insane crowd reactions you’ll ever here, anywhere. Seriously, check out the girls fighting the evil Dump Matsumoto and her Atrocious Alliance and you’ll get the most sustained, extraordinarily loud fans you’ll ever see in wrestling. AJW’s fortunes rose wildly with the Gals, but the mandatory retirement age of 26 finished them off, leading them into a slump they didn’t get out of until the early ’90s. And now AJW has waived the retirement rule, allowing Nagayo to come out of retirement to face her old foe, Devil Masami. Nagayo has a fairly sporty look, being a lot more squat, athletic and bulky than you’d imagine a “1980s Pop Star” to be- it’s interesting to see how someone with a style that reads so clearly as “queer” can still be a popular idol in Japan, which is typically more open to that in their media. She’s wearing a pretty plain red singlet over a black top.

Masami has a solidly-muscled body and a VERY strange face (a bit too long and wide on each side), and a natural heelish charm. She seriously just looks evil, even in her sparkly silver strap-outfit.

The match is actually FANTASTIC, wrestled in a totally different style than every other one- instead of high-flying or crazy stuff, the women just do All Japan-style “basics, but done well”, with some great character bits (Chigusa’s just got this “I’m too wise for your shit” attitude about Masami, and Masami will do things like land moves, then pause, adjust her gear, and smirk at Chigusa rather than follow-up). I mean, one hasn’t wrestled in four years, and the other is quasi-retired, so they have to keep it simple and slow-paced- none of the Shrieking Running Leaps of the other matches. Devil has the BEST heel mannerisms, straight-up mocking and taunting the crowd’s persistent “Chi-Gu-Sa!” chants with these sarcastic-ass looks.

Nagayo appears to have not lost a step (hitting suplexes & stuff), but the Japanese have a thing where you always lose your return match- “Ring Rust” is practically enforced, so she just can’t get it together against her foe for the most part, as she has no answer once the “Final Stretch” starts and she misses a kick into the corner, allowing Devil to just increase the damage of her moves. And the bout even escalates like AJPW- moves to the outside, three Powerbombs (Masami gets a psychotic look on her face and screams “POWAHHHHBOMBU!”), and finally Devil hits a freakin’ Northern Lights Superplex for the win (17:27). And in a great bit, the two rivals just kind of laugh and pose together in the post-match interviews. Like this was FUN for them, reliving the old days and killing each other.

Rating: ****1/4 (Great veteran-style, classic match-up. Probably even better if you’re a fan of their ’80s stuff)

And That’s Part 1!! We leave off with two ****+ matches, and the show  hasn’t even gotten GOOD yet! Just me next time for more!