Joshi Spotlight: Bull Nakano

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“Bull Nakano” by NatashaS-13.

JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- BULL NAKANO:
Stats:
Real Name: Keiko Nakano (now Keiko Aoki)
Billed Height & Weight: 5’7″ 201 lbs. (fluctuated a LOT- she rarely looks the same twice)
Career: 1983-1997
Trained By: AJW Dojo (mentored by Dump Matsumoto)

Seriously, how is this not the best fighting game Boss Music ever?

-One of the biggest names in Joshi history, and probably one of the few known to a large number of Western fans, Bull Nakano has the record for the longest reign ever for the top belt in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling- the WWWA World Title. She was the Ace of the promotion for three years, holding the belt during the downturn between the “Crush Gals Era” and the “Interpromotional Era” boom periods, keeping AJW steady all the while, then doing the honors for the next generation. Along the way, she had an impressive resume in the WWF, blew minds with her Guillotine Legdrop, and then shocked everyone by turning up as a sweet-looking 50-something despite mostly wrestling as a Monster Heel in fright-makeup. Not a bad career, all in all.

Bull is probably most famous for her giant hair- putting 9-12 inches of it straight up using god knows what. It’d generally flatten out during the course of a long match, but HOLY SHIT that’s got to be one of the greatest looks of all time. A big part of wrestling is about being awesome and LOOKING awesome, and Bull easily has the greatest look in the history of women’s wrestling, and it’s not even close- blue lightning drawn across her face, great height (5’7″ is five inches taller than the average Japanese woman), strong makeup coming off like she’s a punk-rocker, American rock band t-shirts over a black leotard, and blue hair pointing to the sky- she was like a comic book super-villain come to life, and it made her an instant star when she developed it.

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Best cage-related move ever.

In-ring, she’s most known for her Guillotine Legdrop- a move that’s impressed for ages, and is probably best done by her. Scott Keith described it himself as looking like it decapitated her opponent, giving zero air between her leg and the opponent’s throat. It looked DEVASTATING, and it’s all the crazier than the “Arms Race” of finishers had rendered it a mid-tier move by 1992 or so, as it never scored falls against top wrestlers, and she often required another couple top-rope moves instead. But her most iconic finish ever remains the Guillotine Legdrop she did OFF THE CAGE to Aja Kong at Wrestlemarinepiad 1990– one of the craziest spots of all time.

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Backstage in the WWF with Yokozuna, Luna & Alundra.

Nakano has the rough luck of entering the twilight years of her career during the peak of most of the “legendary workers” of the ’90s, as she’d been hammered by injures and was more of a “special attraction”, but when she was on, she was ON. She didn’t wrestle the “Hyper-Paced” style of Kyoko Inoue & Manami Toyota, but could wrestle various styles very well, and adapt to nearly every opponent- a veteran skill that was lost on many later stars, even ones in “more ***** matches” than her. Bull could brawl with the best of them (her mentor was Dump Matsumoto!), trade holds with grapplers, wrestle a deliberate Main Event Style with escalating finishers, and even fit into some pretty devastating tag matches and trade bombs with the peak stars of the mid-90s. While I wouldn’t QUITE put her on the same mountain as Aja, Toyota & others, she was damn close, and did it while looking more awesome than any of them.

One of the more notable things Westerners will notice in her matches is that she would actually pull out friggin’ NUNCHUCKS to use against her opponents! A relic of the days when she was in the Atrocious Alliance and cheating was way more prevalent in Joshi, Bull brought the damn things to the ring with her, had a Ring Girl toss them to her in mid-match, and throw down on her unfortunate foes with them before casually tossing them back. A true highlight of any ’90s Nakano match features the damn things.

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CAREER TRAJECTORY:
-Keiko Nakano debuted in 1983 (three years ahead of Aja Kong’s class), quickly joining the violent heel stable of Dump Matsumoto- the legendary Atrocious Alliance. Here, she won the Junior Title at 16, and was rechristened “Bull Nakano” (most of Dump’s subordinates had names like this- Condor, Grizzly, Crane & Bison were others), and typically used as Dump’s #2. They even hit the WWF in this form, losing to Judy Martin’s team to the disgust of Lord Alfred Hayes! In 1985 she won the AJW Title (a third-tier belt), holding it for a record-breaking 917 days (losing to Yumi Ogura in 1988), and won the WWWA Tag Titles in August 1986.

Japan’s “Senpai/Kouhai” thing with mentors and their students was very strongly emphasized here, as well as establishing the fear of Japanese gang culture (with leather & denim-wearing teens sitting around wearing makeup and scowling a whole lot being the peak of teen gang culture… Japan isn’t a really violent, scary place by foreign standards)- all the girls wore lots of makeup, facepaint, and cut their hair in wild forms. Bull herself had that “half-shaved, half-long” look that all human females were wearing a couple of years back in our time, and eventually adopted the iconic “straight-up” hairstyle. She won the vacant All Pacific Title, holding it for 148 days, losing to Noriyo Tateno (of Jumping Bomb Angels fame). Bull would win the WWWA Tag Titles twice more after Dump retired, as she took control of the Alliance (it became “Gokumon-To”) and led Condor Saito & Grizzly Iwamoto to the titles in 1987 & 1988, respectively. And when Lioness Asuka retired as WWWA Champion and the Title was held up, it was Bull Nakano who won it in 1990, becoming the new top star in AJW!

During this time, Bull entered the legendary feud with stablemate Aja Kong that would come to define her career. At the second, third, and fourth Wrestlemarinepiads, Bull had to defeat Aja in increasingly-close contests. In 1990, she had a murderous cage match with Aja that resulted in scissors being used before the bell even rang, brutal weapon shots, a chain, nunchucks, a freaking FLAIL, and Bull disabling Aja’s Uraken backfist by stabbing the shit out of her arm and permanently scarring it. Then Bull rose to the top of the cage, bowed her hands, and executed a perfect Guillotine Legdrop all the way from the top, escaping the cage to win- it’s as close to ***** as I’ll ever give a bloody brawl. The feud continued for two more years, Bull winning a Cage Match against Aja’s team, then defeating Monster Ripper (Rhonda Singh, a former Monster Heel for AJW in the early ’80s), and in 1992 beating Aja again in the closest call yet- not only did the Guillotine Legdrop fail, but her upgraded move, a Somersault Double-Legdrop, failed as well! Ultimately, she had to pull off a Moonsault to win, showing just how close Aja was getting to beating her.

Bull’s nearly three-year run with the WWWA Title finally ended at Dream Rush in late 1992, when Aja took her Guillotine & Somersault variants like before (the crowd literally covering their eyes before Bull hit the latter- it was that over), but was ready enough to dodge the Moonsault- she hit some Urakens and then killed Bull with her own move to win the Title, ending a 1,057 day run (I rated it ****1/2). Here, the two titans finally came to terms- crying their eyes out and repeatedly bowing to each other out of respect and admiration, they buried the hatchet and hugged in the middle of the ring, setting off Aja’s triumphant run. The kind of match ending you only saw in AJW.

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Sailor Moon R Episode 17: “Women Must Be Strong and Beautiful: Rei’s New Technique!” aired in July 1993, and featured Cooan of the Black Moon Clan infiltrating Sailor Mars’ grandfather’s martial arts class for women. Cooan used her Droid “Dumbull” as a partner, clearly inspired by the recently-dethroned Bull Nakano.

POST-ACE NAKANO:
-And here we see the new era of Bull’s career- it was customary back then for Aces to retire or be de-emphasized after losing the title, as they were entering retirement age (26). Bull was no exception, and was almost immediately taken away from challenging for gold and became an “Exhibition” wrestler (losing a lot of weight in the process), but in interesting ways. She briefly became CMLL’s first Women’s Champion in 1992. Dream Slam I & II followed the Dream Rush event, and Bull won a tag match with Aja as her PARTNER in the first show, then defeated former Crush Gal Chigusa Nagayo in Nagayo’s return match. At Wrestling Queendom 1993, she handily beats Hikari Fukuoka of JWP in a veteran/rookie match (giving a lot to the junior in the process), and at Wrestlemarinepiad 1994 & ’95, she was in throwaway tag matches that were about pushing Reggie Bennett more than her. Queendom ’94 saw one of her biggest “exhibitions”, as she & Aja took on Akira Hokuto & Shinobu Kandori, who had been feuding bloodily for a year, ending up in a ***** classic that told an epic story. And even so, it seemed clear Bull was on the downswing…

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Bull Nakano stretching Alundra Blayze with the move she calls “Bull’s Angelito”.

1995 AND ON- BULL IN THE WWF & WCW:

I will never not love that every Japanese person in the WWF had to use this theme.

-All of a sudden, Debbie Micelli, the WWF Women’s Champion (as “Alundra Blaze”), needed a new Challenger Of The Year (WWF only having room for one rival at a time), and Bull got the call. A slimmed-down, but still vicious-looking Bull ended up wrestling Alundra at various events (with Luna Vachon as her manager- Luna herself had failed to beat Alundra), showing some good stuff- German Suplexes and Guillotine Legdrops were DEFINITELY a rarity on WWF programming, and so she looked great in 9-10 minute bouts, even though Joshi Snobs like me definitely noticed her wrestling at half-gear compared to her AJW stuff. Bull lost at SummerSlam, but shockingly won the WWF Women’s Title at Big Egg Wrestling Universe in late 1995- a wrestling super-show at the Tokyo Dome, featuring her in the bout before the Main Event (a “cool-down slot” in a 10-minute bout that some fans mistakenly heard was a classic- I think that’s “It was in the Tokyo Dome!” talking and hearsay combined)! I remember this being mentioned on WWF TV at the time. That year, she had an EPIC match with Kyoko Inoue that I consider to be the best match ever wrestled for that title (****1/2). Ultimately, however, Bull would lose the title back, then get caught with cocaine and was immediately fired.

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Pictured: Shockingly, a drug user.

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“[North] Koreans are small, compact, understated, malnourished. Then you get these giant amazon women in tight-fitting wrestling suits throwing each other around the ring.”
“These female wrestlers were just completely from another planet. [Nakano] had hair dyed blue and it went straight up about six or eight inches. She was wearing this white sleeveless shirt over a leotard with calf-high boots. Another one was wearing a black leotard with partly opened arm coverings. She looked like a dominatrix from some S&M movie. And these North Korean men were sitting there staring. Whether they had any idea what this is about was completely beyond me.”
-Reporters Orville Schell & Mike Chinoy, regarding Bull Nakano & Manami Toyota’s appearance before a North Korean crowd of 200,000-plus.

Bull’s Post-WWF career is pretty short- she was in the famous North Korean “Peace Festival” show, wrestling in a tag match with Akira Hokuto against Manami Toyota & Mariko Yoshida. She then moved on to WCW’s nascent (and quickly forgotten) women’s division, being a Hokuto flunky- they beat Mayumi Ozaki & Cutie Suzuki at World War III & Monday Nitro, but Bull would job to Micelli again.

Bull ultimately retired from wrestling in 1997, owing to injuries, though didn’t have a formal retirement until 2012. She surprisingly moved on to professional golf of all things, becoming a ranking LGPA member, though was generally nearly dead-last in the ranks (something that’s probably more impressive than it sounds- like being the shittiest player in the NBA). She became a “facilitator” in RISE Wrestling in 2017- she eventually turned heel, reuniting Gokumon-To with some newbies and becoming a heel manager. Her day job is running her own bar in Japan, and she’s apparently been married for a few years to a very, VERY brave man (advice for this Aoki-San: If at any point you see nunchucks fly into her hand from across the room, RUN).

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Every time I look at it, this still blows my mind. THAT’S Bull Nakano?!?

What she’s MOST famous for these days, however, is suddenly turning up looking like someone’s attractive mother a few years back- absurdly-so, given how most people remember her as a fairly thick-bodied Monster Heel. But looking back, Bull had that kind of “Sensational Sherri” thing where she was a LOT better-looking than you remembered under all that makeup, and I kinda suspect that Bull’s weight as a top star was a deliberate attempt to look more physically intimidating- Dump Matsumoto was a heavy-set woman, and Bull got “thicc” (as the kids say) to match her- she would have been very lanky and less scary otherwise. She was huge as the Ace of AJW, but slimmed down almost immediately upon losing the Title to Aja, becoming quite a lot thinner in the WWF. So her appearing to be ludicrously thin later makes a bit of sense when you consider that closer to her “natural” size. It’s actually a fair bit difficult to gain weight eating Japanese food and serving sizes, anyhow.

MOVESET:
Swinging Lariat, Mat Atomic Drop, Inverted DDT, Tope Suicida, Rope-Hanging DDT, Double-Arm Choke, Flying Leg Lariat, Piledriver, Hitting with Nunchucks, Bull’s Angelito/Standing Sharpshooter (Sharpshooter w/ Body Turned & Full Nelson), Bull’s Poseidon (holding opponent draped across her back, chest-to-back, then dropping down for a head-spike), Kneeling Powerbomb, Guillotine Legdrop (Baseline Finisher), Somersault Guillotine Double-Legdrop (MDK Finisher), Moonsault (if the others don’t work)

MATCHES:

WWWA WORLD TITLE:
BULL NAKANO vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
(21.07.1990)
* Hahahaha OMG, it’s Baby Manami up against the monster WWWA World Champion. Oh god this is going to be a slaughter. Poor Manami looks terrified to be giving a pre-match interview, and we discover why when Nakano, straight out of a Misfits video (Phyllis Gabor’s, not Jerry Only’s), talks shit and punches the interviewer in the chest. Manami is in a white & pink jobbery outfit, and spends most of the match crouching in a battle pose, probably to give the illusion that Bull is much larger (they’re actually almost the same height).

Manami dares to offer a handshake before the match, getting it slapped away, and throws out Dropkick Spam at the bell in response, but that only infuriates the kaiju, who roars in mockery and engages in a shit-kicking, knocking Manami all over the place and going for pins with a single foot. Bull won’t sell a thing, and Manami bounces off from a cross-body attempt, giving us the “Thumbnail Shot” of her worried, yet determined face as Bull smirks at her. Bull goes down to a legscissors and a deathlock, but casually sits up out of it, arms at her sides, and then rises to her feet. Wild. Bull throws her around a bunch and locks on a Dragon Sleeper so the crowd can get behind Toyota, then kicks her in the face, repeatedly terrorizing her. Methodical beatdown follows, but Manami reverses a lariat and comes back with a Missile Dropkick and Cross-Body, FINALLY felling the beast! She can’t follow up, however, and gets murdered with a Dangerous Backdrop that looked horrifying given the difference in mass here. Leg Lariat off the top, but the Guillotine Legdrop MISSES, leading to Manami dumping Bull as the crowd goes nuts! Her dive sadly misses, and Bull mocks her before dragging her back in and slamming her when she tries to come back off the top. Northern Lights Suplex gets two, and Manami gets a German to come back, but can’t keep up the offense- every rollup or whatever leads to Bull throwing her around, and finally a lariat gets her to backflip straight onto her head. That’s not enough for Bull, who hauls up Manami’s corpse and spikes her with a Powerbomb for the pin at (13:46).

Brutal, horrifying beatdown of a match, with Bull giving up NOTHING at first, making sure it looked hopeless, but started selling more as the match wore on, making Manami’s comebacks look all the more impressive. She was just way too much to beat, though- a true Ace champion up against a three-year rookie with no chance. Manami’s stuff mostly looked good (though the rollups weren’t very smooth- Bull’s just too big), and her spirit really showed. It was one of those moments where even getting a match against the Champ counted as a push, and they let you know that she’d be a contender some day. But not today- Bull ate her alive out there.

Rating: **3/4 (great squash match- Bull killed her readily, but Manami had a ton of good comebacks)

BULL NAKANO vs. DEVIL MASAMI:
(JWP, 18.04.1993)
* And here goes a true clash of legends- Devil Masami was the top wrestler in AJW from 1985-86, while Bull was the Ace for 1989-92. Devil was forced to retire by AJW’s age limits, but moved on to JWP to become a top star there, while Bull has only recently been unseated as the WWWA Champion, and will spend the rest of her time as a “Legend” in all sorts of odd matches. And so two of the top stars in Joshi history meet in a rare singles match. Bull’s in her Dream Slam gear (a fiery shirt over a black leotard), while Devil’s in a purple & black bodysuit with one bare leg.

A pair of huge simultaneous lariats set the crowd on fire immediately, and Devil goes to work. Bull smashes her head into the turnbuckle and headbutts her, but Devil must be half-Samoan or something, because she just licks her lips and eggs her on. She tanks more strikes, then drops Bull with a headbutt- Bull choosing to sell like crazy. Devil throws on some restholds, grinning like a maniac at the notion of causing pain, but Bull fights back and they struggle for holds (always love to see that). Devil’s surfboard fails (possibly a botch) and she actually sells the failure as a pain in the ass, which is great- she then does Kyoko Inoue’s “Rock the Cradle” thing. Bull reverses and hits the Standing Sharpshooter, then more stretching, but Devil comes back with a Powerbomb on the FLOOR! She milks that, but Bull reverses a second one and stomps her off the apron. Devil fights back and Powerbombs her in the ring for two, and a huge Superplex gets the same. Bull tries to climb, but gets German’d off and Missile Dropkicked.

And then, in the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, Bull pulls out the nunchucks, but, admonished by the crowd, ashamedly puts them away. At which point Devil wags her finger at the crowd for being judgmental, gives Bull back her weapon, and DEMANDS TO BE HIT BY THE NUNCHUCKS. Okay fuck it, this is a ***** match now- I don’t even care what the rest of it looks like.

So Devil gets her requested beating, being bounced all over the ring, and Bull follows with a goddamn Moonsault, and Devil “Fuck YOU!” bridges out of the pin. God I love Joshi. Bull wraps Devil’s legs up with a painful-looking resthold, sold like crazy so it doesn’t suck, and then a couple other things that have the big veteran stretching like Manami- that’s nuts. A chair battle ends up going Bull’s way outside, and they milk that for a bit- the sight of all these nerdy guys in the crowd cheering for the scary witch lady is awesome. Devil comes right back with a knee-drop piledriver, dropping Bull on her head. HUGE lariat stops Bull’s comeback, but a Somersault Senton misses. She immediately fires off another lariat, but a third misses and Bull hits the Owen Hart Enzuigiri and a weak Powerbomb- Guillotine Legdrop! That gets a dramatic two count, so Bull tries a Slingshot Enzuigiri, but Devil reverses to a stepover toehold underhook, then a Dragon Sleeper, followed with a plancha! Bull smashes Devil into the posts to come back, following with a dive, but the Guillotine misses and Devil hooks a Bridging German for two! Devil then STEALS HER FINISHER and hits a Guillotine Legdrop of her own!

Lariat hits, but a Missile Dropkick is dodged and Bull nails her with a pair of lariats, and a Kneeling Powerbomb gets two! Another one gets two, but Devil flips the pin over, then blasts Bull with a lariat of her own. BIG Powerbomb gets two, and a Sit-Out version does the same, but Bull turns HER over for two. Devil goes for that huge Superplex again, but Bull falls on top for two in a huge bump! That sets up the Guillotine Legdrop… for two! Jesus Christ. Devil rises to her feet… but she’s out of HP, as she stumbles to her knees and collapses, allowing Bull to unleash her MDK- the Somersault Guillotine Double-Legdrop!! And THAT is definitely that at (36:37). The two cut promos and hug and shake hands because they love and respect strength and such, and even call out CHIGUSA NAGAYO from the crowd to raise both their hands.

I. Fucking. LOVED. This match! I adore how this came off as some giant War of the Gods- some of the best main events are like that. Two invincible titans throwing bombs at each other until one falls. They had a ton of clubbing forearms and swinging lariats, and took their TIME- so much Joshi is a sprint that I appreciate two women doing meticulous brawling and holds for fifteen minutes of a match. And they take their time through ALL of it, milking the moment, fighting for holds so it’s not just lying around, and selling big things like they hurt, never just leaping to their feet and All-Japaning it. Using lariats as “filler” strikes was great, as was the timing of everything, escalating to fighting outside, Powerbombs, and repeated finisher attempts- Devil getting caught trying her big Superplex again killed her, because it opened her up for the Guillotine, and that took out the remainder of her fight- I loved her using the last of her energy to stand up, then stumbling into position for the follow-up killshot- so much different than the usual “I lie arbitrarily at the perfect angle” stuff. This was two seasoned pros having a giant hurrah, and it was amazing.

Rating: ***** (even without that nunchuck spot, which I again state was the BEST THING EVER IN WRESTLING, it’s about perfect. 36 minutes breezed by like 17- I’ve almost never seen its like. Meltzer gave it the same rating, too)