Joshi Spotlight: Plum Mariko

Image result for plum mariko

Plum always dresses like a giant cupcake.

JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- PLUM MARIKO
Stats:
Real Name: Mariko Umeda
Billed Height & Weight: 5’2″ 121 lbs.
Career Length: 1986-1997
Trained By: Kotetsu Yamamoto, Atsushi Onita, & Gran Hamada

A HUGE bio/description of Plum (the temptation to just “Caliber Winfield” it is enormous): http://www.quebrada.net/columns/old/30.htm

Among the saddest and most well-known stories in Joshi to Westerners is that of Plum Mariko, who is famous primarily for being one of the only wrestlers to die as a result of a wrestling move. While guys like Mike DiBiase and Gary Albright would suffer from heart attacks in the ring, and even more famous examples would take place later on (particularly Mitsuharu Misawa), Plum was notably the first time that’d ever happen to a Japanese wrestler. And it means that I repeatedly have to edit my reviews from saying moves killed her or she’s “dead” from an impact, like I am wont to do.

Plum’s death overshadows her career pretty dramatically, but she was good. She could even be VERY good. Her moveset was sort of a “Greatest Hits” of Joshi, with not too many unique or original moves, but a lot of basic high-flying, done at a good enough level that she could be taken to **** in a proper singles bout. Determining her place in JWP is a bit tricky, as you had Dynamite Kansai, Devil Masami, Mayumi Ozaki and Cutie Suzuki ahead of her, and Hikari Fukuoka behind her… but Hikari was so clearly getting the “Future Ace” thing that Plum was herself overshadowed and really the “#6” in the promotion. In fact, in most of the big shows I’ve seen, it’s Hikari who fights alongside her comrades in Interpromotional Mayhem, not Plum- Hikari got to fight Sakie Hasegawa in a singles bout at Dream Slam II, fight in the Thunder Queen Battle, and more- in nearly every other show, I either don’t see Plum at all, or I see her in a multi-person tag near the beginning of the card.

Plum was known for reversing stuff into snap submissions- a frequent situation was someone tossing a strike her way, and Plum hitting them with that leghook Goldberg always did, a Stretch Plum, or an Octopus Hold. Having watched a few of her matches while looking for that, I can see it- her “Stretching” segments are more entertaining and out of nowhere than other Joshi, who can sometimes lazily rely on half-crabs or something. Being a submissions specialist was pretty rare in the high-tempo arena of ’90s Joshi, and made her stand out a bit, despite the rest of her offense being “Generic Suplexes” and “Generic High-Flying” (to be certain… she was still GOOD at those things, and they’re great offense). It helps that the fans will treat it as a serious move that can score a fall- even against Manami Toyota! I dunno how many of these actually won her bouts, but they sure had credibility, and were treated as such. Her other stuff is very smooth- she’s definitely got better move application than Cutie (who had more charisma and “Idol Looks”… hell, even I’d have pushed Cutie ahead of her), and even more than Ozaki (who had much better timing & psychology), rarely coming off as sloppy.

Ultimately, she didn’t win many titles, even eleven years into her career- she spends 2-3 years surrounded by others getting bigger pushes, and then gets badly injured repeatedly between 1994 & 1996, missing out on her athletic prime. That bio up there indicates that Cutie was considered her inferior, but was pushed ahead because of her, well, cuteness, which makes a lot of sense. I ultimately see Plum as a very “Good Hand” kind of wrestler- someone who can have a decent match with anybody, and make her opponents look good.

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ALL HER OUTFITS LOOK LIKE THIS.

CAREER TRAJECTORY:
-Mariko Umeda debuted in 1986 for Joshi Women’s Pro-Wrestling, the rival outfit to the dominant AJW. Typically wearing a purple ring uniform (to the point where I’ve seen her wear another color exactly once) and calling herself “Plum Mariko”, she was a high-flying wrestler, and seated beneath most of the top names, but was solidly in the midcard or upper-midcard, depending on the year. She was pushed to the JWP & UWA Junior Titles very early into her run, in 1989, as seemingly the promotion saw something in her, but she’d win them only once more, and never wear gold again.

She rose up the card in the early ’90s, joining JWP Project following the “JWP Split” between that and LLPW (oddly, Plum was more of a mat-worker, which was LLPW’s style). She won a submission-oriented battle royal in ’92 that seemed to be leading towards a push, but the working relationship with AJW began right around then, putting most of joshi into a “Holding Pattern” for a few years while companies threw out Dream Matches left and right. JWP’s much slower style (based around matwork, leading to a big finish) soon adapted to AJW’s fast-paced one, and Plum was able to hang. She was victorious in the opening match at Dream Slam I (beating rising AJW star Sakie Hasegawa in a tag match), but lost at the next week’s show in a 6-Woman Tag. However, on the same show as the famous Thunder Queen Battle, she lost to Yumiko Hotta in a “disappointing” match.

1994 seemed to be her year, as she wrestled a classic against Manami Toyota (pretty much the “You have your best match ever with her” wrestler), but got injured twice that year, breaking her nose and then her collarbone (YIKES), then breaking her OTHER collarbone in one of her first matches back! Now THAT is some shit luck. It also put her out of action for more than a year in all- June ’94 to Oct. ’96. That Quebrada article above says it best “This left her in a similar situation as Mariko Yoshida, missing the glory period of joshi that should have been her prime and then coming back and being ‘too old’ to give a big main event push to. Thus, Plum not only never reached her full potential as a star, she never reached her full potential as a worker.”

Over the years, she suffered many injuries, including concussions, apparently resulting in a brain abscess. Injuries would keep her out a lot, but she would also work hurt much of the time (which was a very common thing in all wrestling, particularly so in Japan). This would have dramatic repurcussions when on August 15, 1997, she teamed with Command Bolshoi against Mayumi Ozaki & Reiko Amano. During the match, Plum was hit by a Ligerbomb from Ozaki, took the pin, and never got up. When she was heard snoring (a sign of bleeding in the brain), they realized something was wrong, but she never woke up. Mariko died a few hours later, on Aug. 16th, at 29 years of age.

At her father’s request, there was no post-mortem done, preventing anyone from learning the extent of her accumulated injuries, and how they could have led to the tragedy. A lot of speculation thus sprung up surrounding whether or not she’d ever been properly checked on by a physician before she went out into the ring. I’ve read a thing or two suggesting that she’d been forgetting finishes and complex sequences.

Plum’s death was HUGE news. I remember hearing about it even in 1997, when I didn’t have the internet at home. Wrestling magazines reported on it, and if you checked the “net” at school, you’d hear about it on one of the Wrestle____ sites that swiped from the Observer. EVERYONE was talking about it- wrestlers simply didn’t just die of “fake moves” in the ring back then, you know? This was back before that happened to three OTHER people in Japan (two rookies, and most famously Misawa himself), and years before we’d see more examples of it in North America (and before “Wrestlers Dying Young” was anywhere near as common as it became in the 2000s). This is still thankfully rare, with most wrestlers finding other, more inventive ways of dying young than head and cervical spinal cord trauma, so her example still stands out.

Her death also coincided with the end of the boom period of joshi, as 1997 was the same year that AJW went bankrupt, several joshi made their own understaffed promotions at once, and the Japanese economy went into the toilet. JWP had lost Plum, Candy Okutsu and others in a short span as well, and never recovered. It’s hard not to equate this whole mess all together as “Why Joshi Died”.

JWP maintained “Plum Mariko Memorial Shows” until that promotion folded, and Ozaki, who hit the move that killed Mariko, continued them in her own Oz Academy. Ultimately, her story is a great tragedy, but puroresu in particular did absolutely nothing to prevent further tragedies from taking place, as “working hurt” and “hitting your opponent as hard as you can” are still commonplace today, which has made her cautionary tale just “the first of many”.

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I think this is the only outfit with no purple on it.

MOVESET:
Lou Thesz Press to the Face, Flying Lou Thesz Press to the Face, Victory Roll, Reversing Move to Submission, Rolling Leg & Head Submission (that thing Goldberg always did and held for two seconds), Springboard Plancha, Reversing Cross-Body to Bridging Fallaway Slam (rarely hits clean), Straightjacket Suplex, Victory Roll to Cross-Knee Scissors, Frankensteiner, Super Frankensteiner

HIKARI FUKUOKA & PLUM MARIKO (JWP) vs. SAKIE HASEGAWA & KAURO ITO (AJW):
(Dream Slam I, 01.04.1993)
* So these two teams were chosen to start off the biggest event in Joshi History- the first Dream Slam. It’s oddly perfect, as they’re rookie enough to open the show, but also high-tempo enough to really get the crowd it. AND it’s a dream match between the “Late ’80s Debuting Class”, to boot! Mariko was the #5 JWP wrestling, with Fukuoka as the “Obvious Future Ace”. Hasegawa was Fukuoka’s AJW version, while Ito was a spunky ace-attack spammer at this point. The JWP team looks like somebody threw a grenade in a fabric warehouse. Wearing all the neon colors is Fukuoka, and in trademark purple (with pink) is Plum. Ito is in her ridiculous Peter Pan get-up, while Sakie Hasegawa has a line-colored singlet, as usual.

The match starts out at blazing speeds, before settling down a bit. It’s 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. Nobody maintains offense for more than a minute or two before it switches up and there’s more running around. Everyone hits their spots, like Hasegawa’s Rolling Butterfly Suplexes and Plum’s Goldberg Submission, but Ito interferes on that one and Sakie plants her with a perfect Bridging German. Plum comes back with an Assisted Dropkick & a Rana and Hikari hits a Moonsault for two, but her Rolling Cradle ends up in the ropes and she eats a Solebutt (after Sakie does a cool rolling dodge of a lariat) and an Ito Flying Stomp.

Ito hits another huge Flying Stomp on Hikari, but takes a Super Powerslam off of another try thanks to Plum’s interference. Plum does her “Bridging Fallaway Slam” reversal of a cross-body, but takes a Powerbomb from one too many High Thesz Press attempts and Stomp Spam from Ito. Sakie does Solebutt Spam and her SWEET Uranage, but goes up and takes a Super Frankensteiner from Plum, getting pinned (16:32).

Looking at this again, months after I started reviewing Joshi and wanting to take another look at it, was interesting. Some “pointless submission tangles” were actually Plum’s recurring submissions, so come off better, and the incredibly fast pace seems more impressive. There’s still some botching and awkward bits, and no match story beyond “Let’s do all of our moves at breakneck speed!”, but for a rookie tag bout, it’s awesome. 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: ***3/4 (woo! One 1/4* higher than before!)

PLUM MARIKO vs. CHIGUSA NAGAYO:
(11.02.1994)
* This is an interestine one-off. Chigusa, having returned to wrestling in 1993, was largely unused by AJW, and so she spent a while in JWP, wrestling a handful of opponents. Chigusa comes down to “Hearts On Fire”, which is amazing.

Plum attacks before the bell, tossing Chigusa outside in her ring gear, and “LCOs” the shit out of her, throwing chairs and even drawing blood! Okay, I wasn’t expecting THAT. Then she starts biting the cut! Shit, it’s Plum Matsumoto all up in here. Chigusa comes back with “Bullying Veteran Kicks” and her Sharpshooter, brains her with a chair, then gets on the arena mic and starts shit-talking the fans until she’s now the heel and Plum is the spunky babyface- god Joshi is nuts. Chigusa loudly signals that she’s gonna throw on a Crossface Chickenwing, so it’s hilarious when Plum reverses it immediately to one of her own, nearling dropping the icon after a long struggle (EXACTLY sixty seconds again!), hitting DDT Spam and a Release German before Chigusa bails for a while, then starts reversing the legend’s stuff to submission holds repeatedly. Chigusa finally comes back with a Powerbomb, and uses her bullying kicks to milk ten-counts, but has another couple of moves reversed into holds, dramatically selling all the while until she finally reverses a Flying Thing with a huge kick, then slaps on a Sleeperhold for a finish, as Plum slowly fades and the ref calls it (23:52). Chigusa talks shit after the match, resulting in CUTIE SUZUKI attacking her, and they’re finally pulled apart.

1993-94 Chigusa matches are an… interesting look at “Smoke & Mirrors”. Her charisma & status are so top-shelf that they can carry the day, even as her cardio isn’t great. Here, she sells for the first third of a bout, then taunts Plum for another while, and there’s a lot of standing around and posturing, bailing, and sitting in long submission holds. But it kind of WORKS, as much as it’s against the “90s Joshi Style”. The match story was interesting as well, as from what I could see, Plum deliberately wrestled like Chigusa’s ’80s foes in hopes of stopping the veteran, and when Chigusa came back, she had to rely on her old standby- snapping on submission reversals. It worked because Chigusa was too slow to keep up with her… but then she tried a high-risk move and she was caught. Chigusa was fascinating, as she was instantly treated like a mega-star by the fans, but worked like a heel to boos… until she was in a submission hold, and then it was 1985 all over again and she was a face because HOLY CRAP she is good at selling agony. Plum did her best to work around an “Undertaker-like” foe (legendary and credible, but past their prime and not fast-paced), and it worked, despite the long run-time and TONS of “outside the ring selling” & restholds.

Rating: ***1/2 (solid and interesting, despite the “Smoke & Mirrors”)

IWA WORLD TITLE:
PLUM MARIKO vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
(Wrestling Queendom II, 27.03.1994)
* One of the matches on a big event (Queendoms replaced the Wrestlemarinepiads as the big thing in AJW), this was more in the middle of the card. I feel like this is part of the mandatory “Give Manami some room to show off” thing, with Plum being used because she’s good, but not actively being pushed far at the moment so it’s okay if she loses. Manami has her black leotard with some puffy sleeves for the shoulders now, while Plum’s in that ridiculously-detailed purple, pink & blue outfit with the leggings attached to the sides and ruffles everywhere- she looks like a fanciful cupcake.

Plum jumps Manami during her entrance and slams her outside, earning her a death glare during the introductions, which is great. Manami powerbombs the shit out of her from that Running Thesz Press thing and then throws some STIFF kicks into her ass before slamming her on the concrete over and over again- Manami doesn’t usually hit THAT hard. And they get NASTY, pulling hair, gouging faces, and Manami hangs her upside-down for show before she drops Plum with a suplex. Plum hits a good Rana and works on stretching, which results in tons of slaps instead of screaming agony from Manami, like is usual. She comes back with her crazy No-Hands Springboard move, which is something I type so often I forget that she’s one of maybe five wrestlers ever physically capable of doing that insane spot, then blasts her with dropkicks, including a second-rope one right to the back of the neck until Plum comes back by reversing stuff, then luring Manami into diving to the outside and hurting herself.

Manami sticks her feet up to prevent a Splash, but misses her own Moonsault after a Rolling Cradle. But soon as Plum tries something, Manami buries her feet directly into her spine with a Missile Dropkick, then plants her with a PERFECT bridge on a German Suplex. Plum snaps on a Stretch Plum (hey…) out of a lariat and hits a Straightjacket Suplex afterwards. Manami gets her own, then finally lands that Moonsault. Two attempts at a Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Straightjacket Electric Chair Drop w/ Bridge) fail and Plum snaps on that “Goldberg Submission”, setting off a desperate struggle, and she goes for a Super Frankensteiner… and Manami DESTROYS her with a Super Ligerbomb! Jesus CHRIST! Oh shit, now she’s history- Manami hits a Flying Splash to the outside, ANOTHER No-Hands Plancha (Manami, it’s 20 minutes in!), then a Missile Dropkick out there! Dogpile it on, why don’t ya? Toyota then sits on the top rope and milks the count with a smarmy-ass pose, showing great character. And then… she just grabs Plum by the head, throws in her, and goes for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. Plum drops from the first attempt, just slumping forward, so a pissed off Manami hoists her up in it again, walking her around the ring to show off, then and plants her with it (20:34), finishing her emphatically.

Manami + Big Event + Singles Match + Opponent Who Can Go = Insanity. Toyota gets so much of her shit in that all her matches end up being great fun to watch, but when she REALLY has something to prove, and her opponent can hang, it’s truly excellent. Plum Mariko is good, but something like THIS was probably never equalled by her again. What’s interesting too is that there was a ton of hate & venom at first, and a much slower pace, as Plum would sell for a while instead of just popping back up for more dropkicks or something. It actually kind of forced Manami into a more sensible bout as a result, especially since Plum would also reverse things. It reminded me of Jean Pierre-Lafitte vs. Bret Hart from that “In Your House” where he had all of Bret’s stuff scouted and was reversing it all- you could see Plum repeatedly break Manami’s offensive flurries that way. The ending was a bit interesting, because you got the sense that Toyota was well and truly pissed off from being frustrated all match long, blasting three huge, unanswered flying moves in a row, then dragging Plum in and putting an exclamation point on it with her finisher. Dropping her the first time coulda been a botch, but honestly looks like Plum was just too beaten to stand. So Manami was put over like gangbusters, but Plum looked strong for taking one of AJW’s top wrestlers to 20 minutes in a great, competitive match.

Rating: ****1/2 (Plum’s best match)

PLUM MARIKO vs. BOLSHOI KID:
(03.04.1992)
* This is heavily clipped and from way early in Command Bolshoi’s career (she’s wearing more of a full clown uniform, with baggy clothes and a pom-pom on her head), but I feel it’s a fun showcase of Plum in a rarely-dominant performance.

Plum is all smiles while chasing a mischievous Bolshoi around the ring, but hits the sweetest version of her “Bridging Fallaway Slam from a Cross-Body” I’ve ever seen, planting Bolshoi to the mat from a Flying Cross-Body. She nails the Goldberg Submission, a great running Victory Roll, a Missile Dropkick and more, but Bolshoi comes back with flying and reverses a Tombstone on the outside (I keep forgetting that’s a mere “backdrop”-level hold in Japan… while their backdrops are like our Tombstones). Plum easily avoids a Moonsault and comes back, even reversing a Tiger Feint (619 with no kick) by just running in and booting the clown. Some over-choreographed stuff with a hesitant Bolshoi (an early issue with her; she got better) leads to Plum following her up top and hitting a nice SUPER Perfect-Plex for the win (15:51- 5:04 shown). Wow, they cut that into a third? Now that’s editing for TV.

Rating: ** (Fine squash match with some great moves from Plum- nothing like a 90-lb. opponent to make one’s offense look amazing. The full match could either be great or WAY too long and awful)

PLUM MARIKO vs. YUMIKO HOTTA:
(Thunder Queen Battle- 31.06.1993)
* So while AJW & JWP were engaged in the legendary one-hour Thunder Queen Battle with many of their top stars (and a rookie on each team), these two were in an “Upper-Midcard Dream Match” earlier in the card. Yumiko’s in her white & black singlet, and Plum’s in her more pastel-colored leotard with the garter-belt leggings, making her gear look like frilly ice-cream-colored lingerie.

Hotta powerbombs her right out of her High Thesz Press thing right away, then blasts her in the back with a kick. Plum comes back with her speed, Hotta brutalizes her some more, but finally Plum locks on her submissions and takes advantage. Hotta returns fire with a pair of Rolling Koppou Kicks and a Piledriver, then dumps Plum after a botched attempt at a slingshot from the corner. Hotta starts pulling her “No-Selling” act, even against running dropkicks, which seems kinda shitty, but a Missile version puts her down. Plum takes more kicks, but throws a bunch of Release Germans, then reverses a running boot to a Heel Hook Leglock, dramatically exciting the crowd! DAMN those moves have credibility with her. She hits two Missile Dropkicks, but gets dropped into a Powerbomb from a third. Hotta fails to hit her Pyramid Driver (Cross-Armed Powerbomb) twice- one mighta been a botch and the other’s reversed- and takes a Straightjacket Suplex, but reverses the Goldberg Submission with a kick to the face, and drops her with the Pyramid Driver for the win (14:19).

An interesting, odd bout, with Hotta being a bit unprofessional/selfish with the bullying kicks and treating Plum like a Jobber, but with Plum doing those fun reversals and getting the crowd into it, even though she didn’t hit any of her big moves. There was some botching & clumsiness you can chalk up to nerves, unfamiliar co-workers and Hotta having that tendency in big matches (MAYBE because she insists on no-selling her opponent’s stuff…), but it was good overall.

Rating: *** (not great, but good enough)

And that’s it for my bio on Plum Mariko! A fun wrestler taken way before her time- her submission hold stuff was great fun and added a different element to various matches, making even high-end wrestlers take notice. It’s kind of sad she’s best known for her death, because her in-ring talents were very good as well.

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Takako Inoue, via her Facebook, at Plum’s gravestone on the 22nd anniversary of her death, asking her if she’s having fun with Harley (Saito, who died of cancer in 2016). I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING.