Joshi Spotlight: Yumiko Hotta

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JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- YUMIKO HOTTA:
Statistics:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’6″ 159 lbs.
Trained By: AJW Dojo
Career: 1985-today (still active!)

-One of the longest-serving Joshi still active, Yumiko Hotta was a great worker and a tough, credible name for decades, but is far less well-known than most wrestlers at her level, especially in the West. My best guesses as to why:

1) Spent most of 1992-1995 (generally considered the “Peak of Joshi” by most, including Dave Meltzer) as the lowest-tier Main Eventer around. So if she was in the Main Event, she was losing and “Looked good in defeat”. So she wasn’t as memorable as her contemporaries.
2) Didn’t get a true World Title run until 1997, after Joshi had fallen into a backslide, and was the Ace of a gutted AJW with a diminished roster. This hurt her credibility as a top name.
3) Was “skipped over” for a mega-push compared to many later talents (Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Manami Toyota, etc.).
4) Not as charismatic as her contemporaries.
5) A penchant towards no-selling and booking herself as dominant, making her a prominent case of the “Elder Joshi were Selfish” stereotype that plagued the industry.
6) A tendency to join companies just as they were dying.
7) Her overall milieu (a short-haired, powerful wrestler with lethal kicks, a martial arts background, and a Powerbomb finisher) was identical to that of her contemporary, Dynamite Kansai… who was better than Hotta in every possible way.

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Hotta’s Pyramid Driver finisher, executed on Etsuko Mita.

Hotta is, truth be told, somewhat underrated. Debuting earlier than pretty much everyone who was active in the “Peak Era” of Joshi (1992-95, mostly), she was skipped over for a push until after the peak had ended, and typically held open that “highly-credible lower-tier Main Eventer” slot, where she could challenge absolutely anyone on the card and hold her own, but anyone actively being pushed at the top would defeat her. But she had a lot of the tools of a great wrestler- she was physically credible (built a little thicker and stronger than most joshi), she kicked hard, she had a good “martial arts-inspired”-style like the UWF-ish wrestlers like Chigusa Nagayo, Toshiyo Yamada, and others, and she had a lot of terrific moves. Her kicks were among the best in joshi (along with Yamada’s & Kansai’s), and her Pyramid Driver, a vicious cross-armed Sit-Out Powerbomb, was lethal. Hell, she’s even had a ***** WON rating for a singles match- something Kansai can’t claim.

But still, I can kind of see why she didn’t get a major shot- AJW was an embarrassment of riches at the time. Aja Kong was the obvious “Ace” of the early ’90s, when Hotta was peaking. And then Manami Toyota after that. And Kyoko Inoue after her. So while Hotta was a “B+ Player”, AJW had a card full of “A”-tier workers. And then the aforementioned problem with Dynamite Kansai- she matched Hotta so well they were natural opponents at the first Dream Slam, but Kansai was so clearly better (and got a true “Ace” push in JWP), that Hotta always felt like the Sting to her Hogan at the same time. And you never want your top wrestler to look like the “#2 Best” to anyone.

Joshi: So friggin’ nuts that a German OFF THE TOP ROPE is only the set-up move.

Hotta was definitely good, though. Because of the Kansai situation, and her spot on the card, I feel I discounted her a bit too much at first. It wasn’t until I saw her in a score of **** matches that I realized that she was actually REALLY good; it’s just that Toyota, Kyoko, Aja, Hokuto and others were all throwing out ****1/2-***** bouts multiple times a year, while Hotta usually peaked around ****1/4. Like… that’s super amazingly-good. Few wrestlers ever hit that level. But AJW had a half a dozen stars higher than that, so Hotta got looked over until there weren’t many of them left.

I did notice a bit of botching, particularly in the final moments of her matches. I don’t think it was a cardio thing- more that her finisher, the Pyramid Driver, was really hard to apply properly. She ended up hoisting them into the Powerbomb position around the chest, not the waist, as was normal. And so this high grip left any taller wrestlers dangling way behind her, and it could create an “overshoot” situation where they’d tumble backwards. A penchant for “no-selling” was there, too- the Joshi City reviewer described her as having “a reputation as a selfish worker”, and I’ve heard that elsewhere- a particular spot was to stand there and take stiff shots from her opponent, screaming and going “OHHHHH!” in defiance. That kind of thing isn’t always appreciated, particularly among “smart” fans who still have Hogan/Taker nightmares. Though when I emailed said writer to ask him about Hotta, he pointed out that it had a purpose- it made the people who DID hurt her with strikes look much more impressive, especially as the match went on.

Plus there’s the whole thing with how she booked herself whenever she got put in charge. But more on that later:

Hotta, Manami Toyota and assorted AJW wrestlers.

CAREER TRAJECTORY:
-Hotta debuted in 1985, right during the peak of the “Crush Gals” era, giving All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling record crowds. With a karate background, she was very credible to start, and by the late ’80s, was doing very well- she won the WWWA Tag Titles in only 1987, albeit for a short run with the future Akira Hokuto. Another short reign in 1988 with Mitsuko Nishiwaki led nowhere, but as the “Fire Jets”, they had a 144-day reign in 1989, beating Hokuto & Suzuka Minami and losing to Aja Kong & Grizzly Iwamoto. She later began teaming with Minami and had a lot of success- I’ve seen a ****1/4 match against the Toyota/Yamada team that would dominate the early ’90s tag ranks. With her UWF-inspired style, she got a slow, steady push to the uppercard ranks, being lapped by Aja Kong (debuted in ’86), but about level with Toyota (’87) and Kyoko (’88). It was common for slightly newer wrestlers to move up more quickly if they were really good, so this wasn’t out of the ordinary, nor were total flameouts who never got a push at all. By Wrestlemarinepiad ’92, she was still hovering in that zone of “great, but not there yet” wrestlers, wrestling in a 6-Woman Tag, and at next year’s event, she & Minami were jobbing to Bull Nakano & Reggie Bennett.

When the Interpromotional Era happened, it was probably one of those things that killed Hotta’s forward momentum. Like I’ve detailed before, the influx of JWP & LLPW wrestlers into these promotional wars led to everyone going into “stasis” for the duration of the era, so the Main Eventers were on level, the mid-tier wrestlers on level, etc… but nobody moved AHEAD. This meant that everyone stalled and Main Event pushes were delayed. Hotta in particular was in an ugly position- she was just coming into the Main Event… which made her the lowest-tier one. Which meant that she was the PERFECT person to job to anyone else’s top-tier wrestlers, “looking good in defeat” (which is typical for Japan), but still looking at the lights by the end of the show.

This was notable at Dream Slam I, in which she was up against the aforementioned Kansai, the Ace of JWP. As they had similar looks, sizes and styles, it was a natural bout, and Kansai sold her ass off to make Hotta look credible. Kansai was rendered glassy-eyed by numerous kicks, and teased many Knockout falls, but still ended up fighting back and scoring a dominant, impressive win. At next week’s Dream Slam II, she was in a 6-Woman Tag again. She & Takako Inoue won the UWA Tag Titles in mid-1993, holding them for 206 days- at Wrestling Queendom ’93, the defended against an LLPW team, focusing on their weakest member, Miki Handa instead of the Ace, Shinobu Kandori. They ultimately lost to Las Cachorras Orientales for their legendary run. In 1994, she lost to Aja Kong in a legendarily-brutal match, possibly her best ever, won the AJW Grand Prix (a big honor), and near the end of the year, she was a first-round loser in the V*Top Tournament at Big Egg Wrestling Universe, losing to Combat Toyoda in the most “bullshit finish” of the show, as the ref yanked her away when she got too aggressive in the ropes, leaving her open for a flash pin. This let her have some credibility, but Toyoda (the sole entry from FMW, and thus she needed a “push”) lost the next round anyhow.

You can see the match where this goddamn hand thing occurred down below.

Hotta completely gobbled up a returning Mariko Yoshida at Wrestlemarinepiad ’94 (which kinda pissed me off, even though it’s customary to book that way), but lost in ’95 to Kyoko Inoue, who was going to be the next WWWA Champion. But at Queendom ’95‘s “Success!” tournament, she and Yamada lost in the first round to Aja Kong & Yoshida. Next week’s “Victory!” show was much better, however, as she & Lioness Asuka had one of the most brutal, stiff martial arts-approximation matches I’ve ever seen, beating the hell out of each other. She scored a win over the ’80s legend, looking like one of the toughest people alive in the process. Around this time, she won her first singles title, ten years into her career (!!), beating Yamada for the All Pacific Title (around the IC Title-tier), but would vacate it after a half-year run to chase the WWWA Title.

YUMIKO HOTTA- MAIN EVENTER & ANGEL OF DEATH:
-And then, FINALLY, Hotta would be allowed to be a main eventer. But of course it took the near-dissolution of AJW to do it- the bankrupted company lost all but seventeen of their wrestlers, Hotta doing a big interview at Wrestlemarinepiad ’97 to cut a defiant “AJW WILL NEVER DIE!” promo. Unsurprisingly, she would finally win the WWWA World Title in 1997, beating Kyoko (who was quitting) for it, and holding it for 213 days, dropping to Shinobu Kandori (of LLPW fame). She would herself unseat Kandori a year later, holding it for 123 days, losing to Kyoko (who was still active in NEO Ladies). She won her third and final time in 2000, beating Kyoko back for the title, and holding it for 74 days, losing to Manami Toyota. And with that, she was done at the top of AJW.

Right before AJW finally gave up the ghost in 2004, Hotta joined the former ARSION, renaming it “Major Girl’s Fighting AtoZ” (ARSION to Zenjo- the latter a nickname for AJW), eventually installing herself as their champion for a two-ish year run, until the beleaguered, mismanaged company finally died as well- after this, she became a freelancer off-and-on, like most of the Joshi Legends of the ’90s. In 2009, she’d win the twin JWP Tag Titles alongside Keito, and then entered Reina as a regular, winning their inaugural championship in 2011 and holding it for… 707 days (dammit, Hotta), losing to Syuri and the promotion soon died. Along the way, she nicknamed herself “Passion Hotty”, despite being the last person in all of wrestling I would expect to have that name. Like, Minoru Suzuki I would expect before a serious grump like HOTTA. Apparently it’s because the stable was named “Passion” and she modified her last name. In 2013, she joined Pro Wrestling Diana for a few years, holding their Tag Titles three times- a 230-day reign with Keiko Aono, once with Kyoko Inoue in 2015 for a month, and then a 226-dady reign with Takako Inoue in 2017. So kind of a bunch of random stuff in smaller companies, as Joshi splintered further. She was practically an Angel of Death to promotions for a second there. She still seems to have a great deal of credibility, and actually still wrestles!

Starting in 1995, Hotta entered a few Vale Tudo (ie. MMA before MMA) competitions, doing pretty okay. Unsurprisingly, she was less successful in her 40s, being knocked out by Gabi Garcia in 41 seconds at one point. She’s now a 34-year veteran, having lasted longer than most of Japan.

Typical Hotta offense.

MOVESET:
Knee Smash, Forearm Smash, Running Lariat, No-Selling Strikes, Palm Strike, Chest Kick, Chest Kick to Opponent in Camel Clutch, Rolling Koppou Kick (Falling Spin Kick), Running Roundhouse Kick, Enzuigiri, Flying Enzuigiri (big-time set-up move), Powerbomb, Cross Armbar, Kansetzu-waza (Joint Lock), Tiger Driver (Double-Underhook Sit-Out Powerbomb), Caribbean Splash (Straight-Jacket Superplex), Pyramid Driver (Straight-Jacket Sit-Out Powerbomb- Finisher)

WWWA WORLD TITLE:
AJA KONG vs. YUMIKO HOTTA:
(24.01.1994)
* This is easily Hotta’s most famous match- a challenge against the Ace of AJW, Aja Kong, in the midst of the Interpromotional Wars. Hotta’s in red & black- a very “Chigusa Nagayo” look, which was probably not lost on anyone. Aja, in red & gold this time, just saunters up and drops the Big Red Belt at the feet of the ref, then talks shit on the mic, and the two get in each other’s faces about it. Aja doesn’t do her “running fist-pump” pre-match thing, either- she just does the “your’e dead” motion across her throat and then flips Hotta off. I sense this will be ugly.

They divebomb each other right away to start, spamming out the “jab” button as they pieface the shit out of each other with open hands, Aja cramming Hotta into the corner and throwing the ref out of the way when he wants to stop it. He finally holds her off for a second… so she spinning backfists her in the opening goddamn minute- Uraken! Hotta’s obviously staggered, so Aja kicks her in the face a bunch and takes her outside, where Hotta’s piledriven on an Invincible Japanese Table. The ringside furniture is turned into projectile weapons, but Hotta comes roaring back in the ring, defiantly no-selling thigh-kicks and blocking another Uraken! And now they’re just slapping each other as hard as they fucking can, with everything looking like a killshot as the crowd goes nuts, until Aja takes some kicks and fires back with headbutts as her mouth bleeds. Hotta counters a kick with a MONSTER slap and they end up in a clinch to finally slow things down. Hotta gets out and starts kicking like someone forgot to tell her wrestling was fake, turning Aja into a mess, but the champ grabs a camel clutch and makes sure to pull Hotta’s hands out of the way for an unobscured kick to her face. See, this is why Aja is the best- who else would think to break the guard?

An example of the strikes we’re seeing in this match.

Aja’s about to start her “methodical beatdown” but eats an Enzuigiri when a foot gets caught, and a Flying Heel Kick gets two. Aja lands a couple of restholds for a few minutes while her blood ends up smeared all over Hotta. She hits the trademark corner avalanche (*running in* “HOT-TAAAH!!”), then starts working the hand of all things, spreading out the fingers and punching the palm. The ref calls the ring doctor over to look at it, while Aja keeps on the attack, finally getting on the mic to talk more shit while Hotta has the hand wrapped… so Hotta just whips the bandages at her! And now Aja demands a test of strength using that exact hand, because she’s evil and awesome, then stomps on it. And flips off the booing fans. Okay, I think leaving a literal bloody handprint on the mat from a double-stomp upgrades this match a star or something- someone tweet Meltzer and ask.

Aja tortures the hand some more, even BITING IT, but when she goes up… Hotta snaps her into the Straightjacket German Superplex!! Aja takes a sick head-bump off of that and it gets two, so Hotta blasts her with a brutal kick to the mouth, but can’t manage the Pyramid Driver. Rolling Kick hits, but she gets caught in a Mountain Bomb after trying the Pyramid Driver again. Flying Rolling Kick misses, so Aja hits a Dangerous Backdrop for two. Uraken misses, but another Driver hits. Aja then acts like a TRUE shitbag, stealing the Pyramid Driver to boos… and Hotta gets out and URAKENS her!! Hah!! Best! And she signals for the Pyramid Driver… which results in Aja landing on her. Damn. Both do the “All Japan Sell” for a good bit, but Hotta’s up first… and eats a vicious Uraken. She prepares the Super Mountain Bomb, but Hotta fights her- Aja has to pull out the “Dynamite Kansai Killer” move, the Uraken to a seated opponent, and gears her up… but Hotta threatens a fucking SUPER TIGER DRIVER, Aja luckily backdropping her from the double-underhook, squashing her in the Bomb for the three (19:34). She flips off the heartbroken crowd as she gets up to accept her belt.

Amazing match. I’m in awe of Aja’s ring smarts and character work- not a lot of wrestlers would know how to base a match around working someone’s HAND, but here you have this big, squat brawler doing it and making it work. Aja had a kind of “we respect her power” vibe and was rarely booed, but here she was drawing tremendous heat for these unsavoury actions, and Hotta was at her best as this defiant warrior, now in the odd position of underdog (she typically dominates all of her matches, even against Aces like Kansai & Kandori!). Hotta’s attempts to fight back made her look awesome, the hand stuff was horrifying to watch (Aja trying to separate the fingers and occasionally dropping her full 240-ish pounds on the palm), and Aja still looked dominant because she can resist everyone’s grappling-based moves by sheer strength and weight.

Rating: ****3/4 (I’m not even a “brawl fan” and I was way into their lethal shots to the face, the character work, the slap-war, and the escalating finisher attempts)

AJW JAPAN GRAND PRIX 1995 FINAL:
YUMIKO HOTTA vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
(03.09.1995)
* These two always felt like diametrical opposites, with Toyota as the glamorous, long-haired high-flier, while Hotta was short-haired, tough and a fighter. Toyota’s more famous rivalries are with Yamada (a similar style to Hotta’s) and Aja Kong, but there’s a bunch of Hotta matches in there, too. And to make them look even more different, Hotta’s in all white, with joint pads and kickpads to contrast Manami’s standard black gear. The winner of this bout gets the WWWA Title Shot against Dynamite Kansai, who took it to the rival promotion, JWP, so these are big, big stakes. Meltzer rated this one *****.

Hotta jumps Toyota before the bell and kicks away in the corner, so Manami grabs a leg and dumps her, then hits a Missile Dropkick to the outside! Then ties her up in the ropes and kicks HER in the head a bunch- haha! But getting into a strike war with Hotta proves to be a very bad idea, and soon she’s being wiped all over the mat, and takes a few HARD shots to the back. She yuks it up and gives Toyota time to recover, but eats a ton of wrestling-style boots right to the face, contrasting Hotta’s karate kicks. Hotta fires back with a backdrop driver, but Toyota slingshots off the ropes to knock her down (was probably supposed to be off the top one, but they improvised) and Missile Dropkicks get two, but Hotta soon takes over with stretching. I love her weird crab variant, doing the “Jericho Arrogant Pose” while still bending the back. Manami’s shoved into the Tree of Woe and kicked a few times, and then Hotta fucking GANSO BOMBS HER to the horror of the crowd and commentators. Jesus- Manami barely slides over after two. Her bendiness made that look like a deathblow. Hotta uses a resthold, sensing more weakening is required.

Manami pops the crowd with her dropkick reversal, but Hotta IMMEDIATELY drills her in the head to put a stop to that. She laughs off Toyota’s weak strikes and piefaces her repeatedly before dumping her. Interesting how Hotta’s using a lot of time to recover between moves- like she realizes that cardio is an advantage of Toyota’s, so she’s conserving her strength (or Hotta is legitimately concerned about her own and is using it as cover, but I choose the way that makes the match better, lol). She kicks Toyota in the face during a test of strength, but FINALLY Toyota manages a comeback with a Rolling Cradle, getting two off that… but Hotta immediately dodges the Moonsault and kills her with a Rolling Kick into the corner. Manami dodges the second one and fires off a Missile Dropkick for two, but gets Powerbombed out of a Manami Roll! She backslides out of a Tiger Driver for a VERY close count, but of course eats a leg to the chest trying a flying thing, and THEN takes a full Tiger Driver- a great one, too. Shockingly, Hotta actually pushes her over after two, demanding another one. A second one folds Manami… but she kicks out! Manami reverses a backdrop superplex and tries a Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Straightjacket Electric Chair Drop w/ Bridge) while Hotta’s on the top, but has to give up and just kicks out out of the ring instead, and… RUNNING NO-HANDS SPRINGBOARD TOPE CON HILO! Twenty minutes in! Still badly hurt, she sets up a table to follow up… but Hotta boots her as she comes off the top! She drags Toyota in by her hair, then kills her with a Straightjacket German SUPERPLEX… but Manami kicks out!

A flurry of kicks leads to Toyota’s first “Fuck YOU!” bridge of the night, too! A frustrated Hotta then puts Manami up top and comes off with ANOTHER Straightjacket Superplex, this time standing right on the top rope! That’s an INSANE bump to take unprotected (even though you could see Manami deliberately put her arms across her chest in “position” first). Manami still kicks out! Hotta can’t believe this shit, and the pretty-noisy crowd is now blaring out “TO-YO-TA!” repeatedly in awe of Manami’s durability. Hotta calls for her finisher, but Manami rolls over and tries ther Japanese Ocean (Double-Hammerlock) Suplex, but Hotta sits down and head-kicks her. Another Powerbomb is reversed to the Manami Roll, and a whip results in Manami just leaping straight onto the top rope… readying herself… and launching off with a sunset flip for two! J.O.C.S. is stuffed, so Manami settles for a bridging German for two. Hotta almost tilt-a-whirls her into a Pyramid Driver, but Manami slides up and finally hits the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex- but loses the arms! That lets Hotta kick out at two! The crowd’s on HER side now, but the Pyramid Driver only gets two! It was more of a “lift & drop” instead of the high-angle version it usually is, so maybe that’s why. Hotta can’t believe this again, so she attempts a last-ditch THIRD Straightjacket Super… but Toyota actually BACKFLIPS OFF behind her, and when Hotta climbs… she gets caught in the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex again! Bridge right off the top rope, and she’s done (23:40)!! Manami wins! In the post-match festitivites, Hotta shakes a crying Toyota’s hand, imploring her to bring back the Big Red Belt to AJW. Tremendous stuff.

Hotta can dish it out to anybody, and Manami can TAKE it from anybody, so these two are a very natural pairing- Hotta dominating virtually the entire match, almost to the point where you can’t believe Manami can come back. It’s less flashy than a Yamada/Toyota bout, and not as “Dragon-Slaying” as a Kong/Toyota match (Aja’s slower so eats a lot of offense), but definitely it’s own deal. I mean, she didn’t have more than two moves in succession for twenty minutes! Hotta was a great shitpile in here, too, frequently making faces, dragging Manami around by her hair (literally wrapping it around her hand a few times to help), and more. But then Manami FINALLY gets a series of big moves in the end after repeatedly attempting her finisher, and finally Hotta can’t kick out. This came off like both had “upgraded” so far that even two Germans off the TOP couldn’t finish one, and Manami’s finisher needed to be done perfectly to finish the other (Japan is big on proper technique- Hotta unfolding the arms probably makes it worse or whatever). Ultimately I didn’t QUITE feel the full five stars (not quite as uber-stiff and felt a bit TOO one-sided for most of it), but it’s as close as you can get- it never slowed down and the crowd went nuts by the end of it. It’s either the worst ***** match ever, or the best ****3/4 one. I dunno, what do you think?

Rating: ****3/4 (… though really it’s just because I didn’t like it QUITE as much as all the other matches I’ve rated five, so this is arbitrarily 1/4* lower)