Joshi Spotlight- Joshi in the WWF (1980s Edition!)

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This is a real bit of weirdness, and one that has largely been ignored by WWF history- the late 1980s run of the Jumping Bomb Angels (and other Japanese women’s wrestlers) in the WWF. The timing was odd, and I’ve never read a behind-the-scenes piece of this era, so it’s a tricky thing to put together.

Many wrestling fans, especially us “Workrate Snobs”, are aware of the Jumping Bomb Angels getting a terrific run in the WWF from 1987 to 1988, though you would actually see the occasional bit of guest-starring from AJW-trained women before that. There are a couple of Crush Gals matches on WWF TV from early 1986, in fact! I was REALLY shocked to see that, as I’d never heard of it before, and it’s not really talked about. Later, in 1987, the WWF was sort of re-emphasizing its women’s division, which had been faltering since Wendi Richter was double-crossed by Vince and bailed. The Sensational Sherri was now the Women’s Champion, with Rockin’ Robin being the top contender. The Fabulous Moolah was still around, too, as was her army of trainees (if you wanted to work in the US, you were in good with Moolah).

In any case, AJW’s former Tag Champions, Noriyo Tateno and Itzuki Yamazaki, joined the WWF in mid-1987, eventually getting a push and wowing audience with the kind of state-of-the-art offense that AJW was doing at the time. Joshi was one of the most innovative forms of wrestling in the ’80s and early ’90s, if not THE most, and it seems clear that the JBAs were meant to impress solely based off of workrate, because they didn’t run major angles, nor could they speak English. The Angels got a tiny handful of appearances on WWF TV in the summer of ’87, seemingly to prepare fans for them, and then they got a dramatic showing at the inaugural Survivor Series, in which the two completely flabbergasted the audience, Gorilla Monsoon and even heel commentator Jesse Ventura with the kind of insane stuff you wouldn’t see in the west until the mid-90s!

Despite being fairly new to the company, the Angels were heavily pushed- they were the survivors of the match (which saw even the Women’s Champion, Sherri, pinned), beating both of the Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and the AJW-trained Leilani Kai) in the final moments. The match featured a slide-out bridge by Tateno that got a huge reaction (with Ventura marking out on commentary), a flying armbar from Yamazaki and a series of insanely-quick double-teams that completely floored everyone watching, and immediately made them hugely over. They were then thrown into a feud with the Girls, who were managed by Jimmy Hart.

The WWF Women’s Tag Titles were brought out of the mothballs for the feud- formerly the NWA Women’s Tag Belts, they’d been held by the Girls for nearly three years (“won in Cairo, Egypt”, it says). The JBAs were obviously pushed hard against them, ultimately defeating the Glamour Girls at the first-ever Royal Rumble in a 2/3 Falls match that featured a fucking POWERBOMB as a fall finish, two years before Sid Vicious would popularize the move in the West (the commentators don’t even have a name for it!). Almost every Angel match clears ***, which was definitely a rarity in this era of the WWF, which was usually more about Vince’s giant characters come to life than impressing workrate fanatics.

And that was largely the peak of the Angels, as they didn’t make another big show, and soon went back to Japan, where the Girls would ironically win the titles in the Angels’ home country in June ’88, and the Titles would be swiftly forgotten. This weird bit of history is largely remembered only by us aforementioned snobs, especially the puro fans who saw people hitting Powerbombs, Sunset Flip reversals of Powerbombs, Enzuigiris, Stereo Missile Dropkicks and bridging kick-outs YEARS before any of that would be regularly seen. The big JBA/GG Rumble match features an OCTOPUS HOLD, for God’s sake! And this is while Hulk Hogan & Andre the Giant are Main Eventers, mind you. While I’d say guys like Savage, Steamboat, etc., were better overall than either Angel, none of them were anywhere near as innovative.

The problems with it were sort of obvious, and generally always the issue with women’s wrestling- a limited number of performers means you have a lot of repeated bouts, never-ending feuds, and show after show consisting of only a handful of wrestlers fighting each other until you exhaust all the potential combinations. I mean… how many times can you watch just the Jumping Bomb Angels and the Glamour Girls fight each other? That most matches had to feature an AJW-trained girl to take this kind of innovative offense didn’t help.

* So a year and a half before the Jumping Bomb Angels showed up, here are the CRUSH GALS of all people making time in the WWF, possibly as a show for AJW, who had cameras at ringside. They’re against Judy Martin of the Glamour Girls and Donna Christianello. Judy’s in blue and Donna’s in white & blue, with both having those “Moolah Looks”- broad backs, hunched posture, and that backless singlet. GORILLA MONSOON commentating a Crush Gals match is not something I ever thought I’d see. It takes him a bit to get word on which of the “Crush Girls” is “Lioness Ahsooka” and which one is “Chigooza Nagoya”. Lord Alfred Hayes is doing color, and Danny Davis, pre-heel turn, is the referee.

Hayes LOLs at Chigusa trying for a handshake with Martin (“she’s in for a RUDE AWAKENING!”), then suggests that the WWF is the “number one in ladies wrestling”. haha, I know they HAVE to say that, but part of me wants to just Meltz Out with the sass, like “oh yeah, Jaguar Yokota’s okay, but she’s got nothing on ROCKIN’ ROBIN!”. Judy does some Memphis Stalling, then gets PO’d at the fans for losing patience with it. The American girls do some cheating and slug down their opponents, who are played up as technically superior, doing a lot of quick counters that Judy in particular sells like nuts. Judy’s strong enough to catch Chigusa on a cross-body, but Lioness dropkicks them both over, popping the crowd, and the heels bail again. Monsoon cracks up at what they might be saying to the fans in the front rows (“I’m glad we didn’t pick any of that up”), which is great. The heels dominate with cheap stuff, but Chigusa comes back with an illegal tag (Monsoon notes that it might be “part of the Japanese rules” and indeed it is- Chigusa was tagged in while standing on the inside turnbuckles, as tags are free-wheeling in Joshi) and a Flying Elbow, hitting a Sharpshooter, then-unseen in the U.S. (a “Crab-like maneuver”, Monsoon calls it). They double-team Martin like nuts while Danny Davis is just like “hey, come on” and the commentators give him shit for losing control- haha. Martin gets a lucky shot to tag out, but Donna’s IMMEDIATELY hit with a Double Dropkick, then takes Asuka’s Giant Swing… for the pin (15:00)? Damn, a GIANT SWING as a real finisher?

It was a bit too long, with a lot of heel stalling, but they sold it as “wily, nasty vets beating on plucky technical stars”, and the Crush Gals offense impressed the audience, who probably wasn’t used to seeing women hit high dropkicks and spinning reversals of stuff. It’s easy to note Martin being in the ring for most of their offensive flurries, as she had the Japan experience to handle it, while Donna was left doing the job and only doing brief bits.

Rating: **1/2 (Perfectly Acceptable Wrestling, as Scott would say. Too long, but decent heeling and good comebacks)

* …. BLACK VENUS? Well at least she’s an athletic, attractive-looking black woman and not a racist sideshow from the turn of the century. She’s Jean Kirkland, who actually fought in AJW during the 1980s, so both she & Kai have AJW experience. Monsoon is back on commentary, but gets Asuka & Chigusa mixed up right from the start and is never corrected.

They start slow, with the Gals knocking the heels around- a big kick is sold despite missing by a mile, and because Monsoon is AWESOME, he actually calls it out and is like “the momentum carried her over” and “she was scared to death of it, I guess”, noting how the boot “really didn’t touch her”. Venus has some good presence and an amazonian physique, but moves stiffly and isn’t very good- the heels use “Moolah Offense” to come back. Chigusa gets a pair of spin kicks (patented “Reverse Crescent Kick” from a solo Monsoon there), Asuka hits a Flying Clothesline on Venus (neither was legally tagged in), then the Gals hit a Double Karate Punch, and Chigusa nails a GREAT Bridging German Suplex for the pin (7:43). Didn’t see THAT move a lot in 1986 WWF! It was borderline a squash for the Gals, albeit with a couple minutes of heels controlling.

Rating: ** (not much to rate, but the Gals’ stuff looked good, even with Venus stiffly going around)

THE DEVILS OF JAPAN (Dump Matsumoto & Bull Nakano) vs. VELVET McINTYRE & DAWN MARIE:
* WHAT THE SHIT?!?! DUMP MATSUMOTO and BULL NAKANO made WWF TV in the late ’80s? This is friggin’ crazy. Dump is swinging around a chain and dressed like a dark samurai, while Bull has her hair in its mid-80s phase, blonde and shaved on one side, which is hilariously prescient to the hairstyle that 50% of all human females seemed to have a year or two ago. They look like a Japanese, female version of Demolition or the Road Warriors, and I’m amazed somebody didn’t try to push them over here. The barefoot McIntyre had traded the WWF Women’s Title with Moolah in ’86 (and had a SPECTACULARLY bad match at WrestleMania 2). Dawn Marie (not that one) is a Moolah-style woman who was largely a JTTS. Velvet’s in white, and Dawn’s in pink/purple.

Monsoon & Lord Alfred Hayes are just flabbergasted by the looks of Bull & Dump, Gorilla bringing up having seen beautiful girls during his tours of Japan, but “neither of these ladies resembles that remark”. Dump is of course snarling and growling at the crowd already, while an 18-year-old Bull is taller, yet subordinate. Bull sells the arm for a bit, but Dump comes in and immediately no-sells everything (LITERALLY brushing off Velvet’s dropkick), doing what Gorilla calls a “Japanese salute” to the crowd (ie. the “up yours” sign), and the “Devils of Japan” trash the faces (… I guess?) for several minutes, which the crowd doesn’t really appreciate. A couple guys bellow out “BORINGGGGG!”, and it’s a lot of simple brawling and “running body attack” stuff, with Dump posing a lot and the commentators making a bunch of fat and ugly jokes at their expense (“Bull looks like she hasn’t missed too many bowls of rice”). Velvet does a bit of stuff, gets run over by Bull, but manages to hit a Victory Roll out of the corner for a shocking three count (8:04)! The Devils specialized in mayhem more than ’80s-style “thumping” stuff.

Rating: * (Not a great match, and it was more or less a Jobber Squash until Velvet suddenly won, as the middle seven minutes was all the Joshi girls)

LEILANI KAI & JUDY MARTIN vs. THE JUMPING BOMB ANGELS (Itzuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno):
(Prime Time Wrestling, 10.08.1987)
* Huh, I didn’t even realize the JBAs had fought earlier than the Survivor Series. The Glamour Girls don’t have their team name yet, nor matching gear or blonde hair- Kai has straight black hair and dresses like a Hawaiian, while Martin’s in a blue singlet. Tateno’s in a pink leotard, and Yamazaki’s in a dark one. And Craig DeGeorge & “Leaping” Lanny Poffo are on commentary?!? And Craig GETS THEIR NAMES RIGHT!?!?

The JBAs start off at a million miles an hour, hitting more double-team moves in 20 seconds that most teams do in an entire match, especially in 1987. They fly all over the ring, then hit Stereo Figure-Fours, with Kai getting her knee murdered for a while. Man, Poffo is just AWFUL on commentary, doing his fake “bellow” voice while Tateno rips into Martin with a body-scissors as we take a break to Monsoon & Heenan at the desk (Heenan suggests DiBiase pay to send the Angels “packing”)- Kai viciously drops Tateno out of the scissors with a double-arm chokeslam, then press-slams her onto Martin’s knee! They cheat to dominate her until Kai axehandles Martin by mistake, sending Yamazaki in with a ton of running moves, slamming Kai on her ass repeatedly then letting Tateno hit her Flying Kneedrop. Yamazaki hits a Flying Turning Cross-Body, but Martin breaks up the pin, then hits a fucking JACKNIFE POWERBOMB (in 1987!), killing Yamazaki dead and letting Kai get the pin (10:15-ish with the break). Good Lord.

These matches are just insane for the time period. Sid introduced the Powerbomb to most American audiences in 1989, and here these women are sneaking it in a couple of years earlier! The Angels were flying around like 1995 Cruiserweights, too, smoothly leaping all over the place and being insanely quick. This was actually the “AJW-iest” of their bouts, as they barely ever rested and hit their “15 big moves in a row” offensive flurries- their later stuff is much more slow-paced in order to let the fans breath.

Rating: *** (short, but fun)

(WWF Survivor Series, 26.11.1987)
* So a couple of years after Wendi Richter became one of a LONG series of women who decided that she was underpaid for her spot on the card, to a promoter who thought she was replaceable… women were really de-emphasized. But then suddenly The Fabulous Moolah (here only a spry 64) was a babyface and jobbed to Sherri in the latter’s debut, losing the Women’s Title. Sherri was now a Heel champ, but would have by far more success as one of the all-time great heel managers (who was so good that there was zero chance of even RANDY SAVAGE earning cheers while she managed him). Donna & Dawn were JTTS wrestlers, as was Martin, though she had tag credentials with Kai, and was once AJW All-Pacific Champion. Kai was a former Richter enemy and Women’s Champ, and had beaten Chigusa Nagayo herself in AJW, trading that same “White Belt” with her! Sherri’s in a black & white unitard, the Glamour Girls are in black with gold trunks, Donna’s in black, and Dawn’s in blue.

Moolah is of course a legend, also notorious for kinda/maybe pimping out her charges and controlling their careers. To give you a hint at how incestuous women’s wrestling was in the US, Moolah trained the entire heel team. haha, she gets noticeably offended at being announced at “160 lbs”. Rockin’ Robin was the attempted replacement for Richter, who it turns out… wasn’t that replaceable after all, because Robin didn’t do great. She was the Women’s Champ for about a year until the WWF just dropped the whole division in 1990. The Bomb Angels are of course a duo from AJW, with Tateno in particular going on to become a huge singles star. The JBA would have most of their success in Japan, though held the WWWA Tag Titles only once, for a couple months- this was the era of the Crush Gals, after all. They have “CRAZY LOVER” bedazzled onto the backs of their denim jackets with handkerchiefs sewn onto them, just in case you forgot this was 1987. Moolah’s in black, Robin’s in red, Velvet’s in pink tiger-stripe, Yamazaki’s in stripes, and Tateno’s in black.

So this match is rather famous in wrestling snob circles, despite being on a card with the huge “Hogan’s Team vs. Andre’s Team” and “10 tag teams in one bout” matches on it. I remember either renting this or watching a special showing of it on TV as a teenager and going “WTF?” for half the damn thing. Donna Christianello, who looks hilariously like Rachel Dratch, is pinned all of thirty seconds after she hits the ring, Armscissor/Victory Rolled by McIntyre (2:00). Dawn Marie, dumpier than even Moolah, gets pinned after a tiny flurry of offense, with Rockin’ Robin hitting a weak cross-body on her at (4:34), leaving the heels two down. And then, after four minutes of “Moolah Offense”, in comes Tateno, who slide-bridges out of a pin like nothing ever seen before in the US, wowing the entire crowd. Jesse Ventura straight up marks the fuck out on commentary as the Angels hit a Jumping Bodyscissors, a Flying Armdrag, and a Butterfly Suplex in short succession! Monsoon of course mixes them up, but I recognize Tateno’s “Molly Holly” physique. Robin in again, and they fuck up a monkey flip in the corner before Sherri pins her with… a Vertical Suplex (6:52)? Holy shit, I think that makes this the first “Pin By A Shitty Move” in Survivor Series history!

Moolah, who actually gets the most shit from the crowd of anyone in this match (1987’s “X-Pac Heat”?), does some basic stuff but gets beaten by a cheap double clothesline by the Glamour Girls (with one running on the apron and the other in the ring) and pinned at (10:54), which is clever. Then there’s some stuff, including the first ever “Fuck YOU!” bridge seen on WWF TV, and Velvet pins Sherri at (14:57) with a proper Victory Roll after getting worked over for a bit. Some brief JBA/GG stuff, and then Velvet’s tagged in prematurely, and she wisely sells the back before aiming for a THIRD Victory Roll, this time getting caught with a Slingshot Electric Chair Drop by Leilani Kai (17:22). And then we get the REAL meat of the bout, as the Bomb Angels slingshot one Glamour Girl into splashing the other! Martin knees Tateno from the apron (Ventura of course loves that), but takes too long setting up a Flying Splash, eating mat and taking Yamazaki’s Flying Cross-Body (18:39). Martin brawls a bit and drops Yamazaki out of a fireman’s carry, but gets dropped on her butt and eats a Flying Knee from Tateno, drawing Jimmy Hart onto the apron. Yamazaki then DROPKICKS HIM OFF, drawing a huge reaction from the crowd while Tateno Flying Clotheslines Martin for the win (20:17). Haha, that was terrific!

Really interesting match, as the other girls are tossing out “Moolah Offense”, but Velvet, who was trained elsewhere, is doing some semi-solid high-flying, while the Bomb Angels are throwing out state-of-the-art stuff that was barely seen in JAPAN, much less 1980s WWF. And the booking was very clever- the Glamour Girls had the “AJW Training” (Kai even went to their notoriously-tough dojo, saying it was leagues beyond Moolah’s in intensity), and so they were in the ring for 90% of the Bomb Angels’ offense, as it’s likely everyone else would have been lost. The match had a lot of bad workers in it, but was kept at such a high tempo that nobody was ever able to muck anything up for long, the eliminations were well-paced, there were no shitty count-outs or anything, and even the Mouth of the South got knocked on his ass (taking a great bump, landing on the bottom rope and sliding upside-down to the floor), to the delight of the crowd (you can see all the men on the hard camera laughing their ass off while one kid TOTALLY marks out). The Bomb Angels were put over like NUTS, leading to the great Royal Rumble match.

Rating: ***1/2 (very fun, fast-paced bout, not hampered by dumpy brawlers with ’60s offense)

THE GLAMOUR GIRLS (Leilani Kai & Judy Martin, w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. THE JUMPING BOMB ANGELS (Itzuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno):
* This is from the first inaugural Royal Rumble, back when it aired on TV and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan of all people won it. And it seems this is the WWF culmination of the JBA/GG feud that had been going since the Survivor Series. Curiously, this is 2/3 falls, same as how AJW’s WWWA Tag Titles are usually decided, as well as the Islanders/Stallions match on this same show. The Girls are in reverse-colored gear, with a black top/gold bottom (Martin) and gold top/black bottom (Kai), while the Angels have black tops with red bottoms for Yamazaki & pink for Tateno.

Fall One: Tateno does her fancy bridge-up out of a pin right away, impressing Vince & Ventura, who are still giving each other shit over Jesse helping out Dino Bravo in his “record-setting benchpress” earlier on (“First off, a man of your stature knows NOTHING about weightlifting- NOTHING!”), then Ventura bugs McMahon over not knowing the names of either Bomb Angel, suggesting “I might want a DATE later- what do I call them? A Bomb Angel?” The Angels do some pretty quick stuff, but mostly stick to AJW-style stretching (with an Octopus Hold impressing) while the GGs brawl and cheat. Martin yanks a dropkicking Yamazaki out from the corner, Kai knees her from the apron, then Martin wows the crowd by overthrowing Yamazaki from a Powerbomb position, launching her over Martin’s back, and that gets the first pin (6:00)! Yes, a VARIATION of a Powerbomb gets a win in 1988 WWF.

Fall Two: The Girls start beating on Yamazaki, but she bridges out of a pin impressively, and the Girls clothesline each other. Leilani uses her weight to her advantage, but ANOTHER Powerbomb is reversed to that Joshi-style rolling Sunset Flip reversal, which scores the quick pin (1:50). Haha, even in the WEST, Joshi Tags always gotta have that one quick fall. Good veteran move by Kai, as Yamazaki overshot the roll-up, but Kai sold it like she was off-balance, so she backed up into the pin anyways.

Fall Three: The Girls cheat a whole lot, working over “Izooki” and “Norino” (Vince has been given the names during a commercial break… and screwed them up) in turn, but a Flying Knee lands on Martin, and Tateno’s Bridging Butterfly Suplex gets two because Marella’s slow on the count (Ventura: “It’s a good thing the count only goes to three, because I don’t think Marella could MAKE it to four!”)- Yamazaki misses a Senton from the 2nd rope, but Stereo Missile Dropkicks plant Martin after Kai runs in and gets admonished, getting the win and the titles at (5:47)! The crowd goes nuts while Ventura disputes the count (Martin got her arm up around the three). New Women’s Tag Team Champions!

Fun little match, though not quite at the speed of their Survivor Series stuff, given they only had four wrestlers to fill 13+ minutes. But there was smart psychology, a ton of speed, phenomenal bridges, and the kind of stuff we wouldn’t see regularly in the West for half a decade- the Bomb Angels were just nuts, and good on the Glamour Girls for being able to keep up with them and take their offense (no way Moolah or even Sherri could). There were some awkward bits while the Girls got into position as the Angels were going at 100 mph, and some “Moolah Offense” at points, but it was good stuff.

Rating: ***1/4 (fun match with state-of-the-art stuff)

THE JUMPING BOMB ANGELS (Itzuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno) vs. THE GLAMOUR GIRLS (Leilani Kai & Judy Martin, w/ Jimmy Hart):
* Yeah sure, why not? It’s not like there’s any OTHER teams around, I guess. Monsoon & Hayes are on commentary again.

The Angels dominate to start, Yamazaki hitting an incredible “walk-up” short arm-scissors, with Lord Alfred needling Gorilla (“I think you used to do something like that in your day, didn’t you, Gorilla?” “Boy, I didn’t apply it QUITE in that manner, but…”). The Angels control almost literally everything, with even Hayes marking out for Tateno’s bridge-out, and they hit a BIG delayed waistlock suplex and a Flying Knee on Martin, who barely tags out. They beat on Yamazaki with Moolah Offense and some impressive hair-whips, then start cheating with the tag rope- I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone actually untie it and use it for free-range choking like that. Long heat sequence on Yamazaki, complete with two false tags, but Tateno’s finally in, uses some Knee/Ass Attacks, then Yamazaki blasts Martin with a Missile Dropkick, setting up an eventual backslide for the pin (11:50). Not bad, but not as innovative or mind-blowing as your typical JBA/GG match.

Rating: **3/4 (perfectly fine stuff, and nobody looked bad)

So like I said, the Tag Titles later went to Japan, where the Glamour Girls won them back, and we wouldn’t see Joshi in the WWF again until 1994. The Jumping Bomb Angels remained a minor, impressive footnote in WWF history, mainly for the crazy innovation they showed in a much simpler business, but have barely been talked about since.