JOSHI IN 1992:
* So here’s a thing I came up with to kind of sum up a bunch of Joshi Spotlights starting with the 1992 stuff- having seen everything I could find on YouTube (aside from a fancam or two). After reviewing almost all of the “Famous big shows”, I figured the next thing to do would be like Bayless, Tommy, Logan & the others, going year-by-year. With Joshi, being less-known to Westerners and with less backstage secrets known, I kinda had to gather what I could and infer some of the angles that were going on, but with some help from other Joshi & Puro experts, I’ve come up with a summation for the year.
THE RISE OF AJA KONG:
-Aja’s feud with WWWA Champion Bull Nakano had been going for ages, but here it reached its fevered pitch. At Wrestlemarinepiad ’92, Aja faced Bull in a huge epic move-fest that saw Bull not only fail to pin Aja with the Guillotine Legdrop, but the Somersault version, too! She managed to pick up the win with a Moonsault, but as one reviewer put it, “Bull had a look on her face like she suddenly knew how she was going to die, and who was going to do it”. You just knew the Ace was on borrowed time. And Aja made it clear as things went on that she was unstoppable- she defeated her own tag team partner, Bison Kimura, in a horribly-violent bloodbath that saw Bison lose the use of her arm, tons of weapon shots, and then Aja using a freaking SUBMISSION MOVE for the win. Aja slaughtering her own tag partner and then finishing her with a technical hold of all things was a huge part in building Aja’s mystique, I felt.
And then that mystique builds- she fails to regain the Tag Titles, and she loses a fluke to Manami Toyota in the AJW Grand Prix, but then easily walks over Toshiyo Yamada & Toyota in one night to win in the end. And then Bull’s time was up at Dream Rush near the end of the year. Aja finally dodged the Moonsault, then ended Bull’s three-year WWWA Title reign, pinning the champion with her own move and becoming the new Ace. And then, in a nice bit, the two titans (who’d been in a blood feud for years, but they’d learned to love teaming with each other that summer in a tag tournament) embraced tearfully in the ring, thanking each other sincerely. Bull happily stepped aside for the “Jungle Emperor”.
THE YEAR OF MANAMI TOYOTA (and also Yamada):
-Manami Toyota was always thought of as having potential, and this was the year her big push REALLY revs up- already holding a trophy belt (the IWA Title), she has one of the best matches in history with Kyoko Inoue at Wrestlemarinepiad ’92 (the one Meltzer went *****++++ for), inventing new moves constantly, such as her Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (a crazy cross-armed electric chair drop ending in a bridging suplex). Their feud mostly settles down after that. And then Manami & Toshiyo Yamada win the WWWA Tag Titles, becoming the top team in the promotion. And nearly every month thereafter they have one or two matches that hit **** or better, knocking the ball out of the park with their signature style- Toyota selling a lot, Yamada hitting credible strikes, and Escalating Finishers seeing more and more big moves and great double-teams.
The rivalry between the two hit a new level as well- they’d been quiet rivals for years, but suddenly, after a 40-minute draw, Yamada WON a match! This sent Manami into a frenzy, as she demanded a Hair vs. Hair Match to settle things- she was victorious (reversing the move that’d pinned her last time- the Reverse Gory Bomb)… but suddenly realized what her competitive streak had cost her, and was horrified to watch her best friend receive the humiliating stipulation. In a classic angle, she fought the haircut, attacked the frickin’ barber himself, tried to cut her OWN hair instead of Yamada’s, and finally had to be held down, kicking and screaming, while Yamada proudly went through with it.
Manami also reached the Finals of the All Japan Grand Prix, scoring a huge upset win over Aja Kong, but was emphatically slaughtered in the final bout. So the message here is clear- Toyota is getting a big push, but she’s nowhere near Aja. Yamada herself has cred from beating Manami clean, and even her rematch loss has an asterisk (Yamada had finished a **** tag match only minutes earlier). If anything, it comes off that Yamada is the more credible wrestler, but Toyota is having too many good matches with too many people (often being chosen to Main Event, even over the champion) not to be the one who gets pushed more.
THE END OF JUNGLE JACK:
-Jungle Jack (Aja Kong & Bison Kimura) was the dominant tag team to start the year, but very quickly lost their tag titles to Toyota & Yamada. Then things spiraled- Bison lost her All Pacific Title to Kyoko Inoue, then gets a bad injury during a match with Aja in the Grand Prix, which leads to her retirement for a couple of years.
Kyoko Inoue- one of the most consistently high-performing and popular acts in Joshi.
KYOKO INOUE’S PUSH:
-Kyoko was in an odd place in AJW after failing to beat Manami for the IWA Title. She was credible, but kept losing the big bouts- she even went after Manami’s tag gold, teaming up with many different partners in attempts at getting it. Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong… nothing worked. But then she suddenly up-ends Bison Kimura and now she’s the All Pacific Champion. Despite being a rival to babyface stars, Kyoko is one of AJW’s most popular acts, drawing mega-babyface reactions and the distinctive “*clapclapclap* KYO-KO!” chant.
LCO in their early form.
LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES:
-Akira Hokuto starts the year as a Sub-Main Eventer with a lot of cred but little gold. With a “Sporty Girl” short-haired look and no make-up, she has a pretty typical appearance by AJW standards… but then a trip to Mexico changes everything. As often happens in Japanese wrestling, she went abroad and came back with bleach-blonde hair and a vicious streak. Now sporting blue lipstick and a punk-rock attitude, Hokuto forms “Las Cachorras Orientales”, or “The Oriental Bitches”, with subordinate Etsuko Mita (looked like a floundering midcarder to me). LCO ended up being nasty, snarling, cheating heels, but curiously enough actually lost almost all of their big matches. This would seem like total destruction in the U.S., but I guess wasn’t a big deal in Japan because of how their tiers work (Mita was low-level and usually jobbed, and nobody can just magically improve overnight in Japan).
While Hokuto builds solo credibility, however, an interesting thing happens when Mima Shimoda, another floundering midcarder (below even Mita, despite years of experience), suddenly comes out and BEGS to join LCO. All “you think you can handle this?”, Akira reluctantly lets her in, and suddenly BOOM- we have a trio of vicious heels. A few matches later, and Mita & Shimoda have formed an excellent partnership- having seen their later stuff first and coming back to this, one night I just suddenly saw that “Spark” and they were completely different wrestlers. Hokuto beat Bull Nakano in a cage match that featured another “off the top of the cage” move (an AJW signature), and by the end of the year, she beats Kyoko for the All Pacific Title, gaining major gold.
BULL NAKANO- UNSEATED ACE:
-This was Bull’s final year as Champion, though she was prominent the whole time, and only dropped the WWWA belt in November. Along the way, she beat Aja once, handily beat Yumiko Hotta on TV, carried the CMLL Women’s Title, lost to Akira Hokuto in a Cage Match, and won a quirky Tag Team Tournament in the summer… with Aja Kong as her partner! This turned them into friends once more.
MARIKO YOSHIDA- FUTURE SUPERSTAR:
-Yoshida seems geared up for a huge push, and is wildly popular- crowds nearly always side with her, even against higher-end talent. She’s featured prominently on nearly every card, wrestles to thirty minute draws TWICE during the Grand Prix, and not only draws with Kyoko Inoue, she actually pulls off an upset, BEATING HER on the final show! This is treated as a fluke and luck, but still was a major deal. Tragically, however, she gets a bad neck injury in September or so, and is DONE- she spends almost all of 1993 on the shelf, and effectively has to start all over again when she returns to the company. This robs AJW of a really popular supporting player, but opens the field for…
THE OTHER WRESTLERS:
-Suzuka Minami & Yumiko Hotta were mere “Card Filler” at this point- once they lost in their shot at the WWWA Tag Titles, the writing was on the wall, especially for Minami. They kinda floundered and just sat around in multi-person matches. By 1993, they’d be split up, Hotta still challenging Main Eventers (always losing, but she gives off this “legit tough” aura that makes her a consistent challenger), and Minami in a “credible but not really pushed” kind of a thing.
Short of Yoshida & Sakie, none of the undercard has really been earmarked for major success. Sakie Hasegawa seems right behind Yoshida, getting a tainted win for her AJW Title (Yoshida had just wrestled earlier), and obviously being in a lesser position and is less popular, but is having very good matches already. Takako Inoue is the “Idol Wrestler” pretty one, and seems to be improving steadily, especially after going from “The Pretty One” to “The Pretty One Who Will Also Torture You”.
Debbie Malenko is a total Jobber To The Stars, but shows promise with her submission work (um, don’t get too attached, though). Debbie was heavily featured in the first part of the year, but appears much less as time goes on until her team suddenly builds momentum by getting a 30-minute draw with the champs during the Tag League. Cynthia Moreno is another JTTS, using lucha libre, which AJW seemed to want to feature a lot (Shimoda & Debbie were made to wrestle that style early on, but gave up on it). She wouldn’t stick around- I think she’s gone by ’93.
Terri Power is the new “Big Gaijin”, but won’t last long- A few REALLY bad performances (borderline exposing the business) probably hurt her. Even hooking up with Aja Kong’s “Jungle Jack” stable isn’t helping- being carried through a 15-minute bout by Kyoko Inoue was all she got and I think it was clear she was hopeless. Below her are acts like Miori Kamiya, a lifelong undercarder JTTS who retires by the end of 1992, as well as Bull’s subordinates Bat Yoshinaga & Tomoko Watanabe, who are really unimpressive, squat brawlers. Kaoru Ito, from the same class as Sakie & Tomoko, was a total nothing all year until suddenly doing well and showing promise- it’s clear we’ll be seeing more of her. Below them are the jobber rookies, some of whom (ASARI!) will make it.
* The offense was a bit different, here. One thing I noticed was a few moves that were later dropped: Mita was using a Straightjacket Perfect Plex for a bit, but quit using it. Manami hit a bizarre Inverted Full Nelson Front Suplex (butterflying both arms behind the head, but leaning forward and flipping back like a Northern Lights Suplex) and a weird Snap Double-Arm Leglock submission. I saw these a bit in 1993, too, but eventually I stopped seeing them.
* The offense is a bit simpler and finishers haven’t “leveled up” yet: Mita doesn’t have the Death Valley Driver, Hokuto hasn’t invented the Dangerous Queen Bomb, Hotta’s not using the Pyramid Driver, etc. So while the matches can be amazing, you’re often wondering “where are their big moves?”.
JWP IN 1992:
* AJW’s rivals JWP and LLPW split up in 1992, leaving both promotions with skeleton rosters, so you won’t find a whole lot of shows on YouTube or anything. Really, JWP had something like 9 active wrestlers and should have died… but then the interpromotional stuff starts happening, and their high level of work impressed people. Ironically, both of these companies (though in different forms) are around today, while *AJW* is the one that died. The “Midnight Special” show over the summer showed what they could do, while the “I Know You” show was main evented with a match against two AJW stars (Hotta & Takako).
The company set-up at this point is that Dynamite Kansai is the Ace & JWP Openweight Champion, with Devil Masami being her equal and a frequent opponent who tends to put over the top star to justify her position. Mayumi Ozaki acts as a bullying, nasty second-tier wrestler, while Cutie Suzuki is a popular “Pretty Idol Wrestler” who often teams with or jobs to Kansai in prominent spots. Plum Mariko is below them with a good technical game, and Hikari Fukuoka is the “Try-Hard Rookie” with great offense but a lot to learn. Diminutive Command Bolshoi is a Comedy/High-Flyer and not credible yet, and Sumiko Saito is below all of them, but has great potential as a rookie, as she’s 2-3 years into the business and is already good. Unfortunately, she’d retire the next year.
THE INTERPROMOTIONAL ERA BEGINS:
* This era started off in the middle of the year, with FMW laying down a challenge for their anniversary show- Bull Nakano & Akira Hokuto defeated Megumi Kudo & Combat Toyoda in the first official “Interpromotional Match”. FMW send a pair of goons to AJW’s Tag League, creating a huge stir as this scrappy, uncoordinated brawl got MEGA-HEAT on AJW’s home turf. The spectacle over all these “Dream Matches” created a sensation, helping start the peak of 1990s Joshi. The Dream Rush show, featuring the WWWA Tag Champions defending against JWP’s Ace (Kansai) and her rival (Ozaki) was so big it Main Evented over the World Title bout!
(kinda/sorta in order of how I liked them)
Manami Toyota (vs) Kyoko Inoue (Wrestlemarinepiad ’92)
Manami Toyota (vs) Toshiyo Yamada (AJW Midsummer Typhoon- Hair vs. Hair Match)
Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (vs) Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki (AJW Dream Rush)
Bull Nakano, Yumiko Hotta & Suzuka Minami (vs) Las Cachorras Orientales (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Manami Toyota (vs) Toshiyo Yamada (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (vs) Yumiko Hotta & Suzuka Minami (March 7th)
Bull Nakano (vs) Aja Kong (AJW Dream Rush)
Yumiko Hotta & Takako Inoue (vs) Mayumi Ozaki & Hikari Fukuoka (JWP I Know You)
Bull Nakano (vs) Aja Kong (AJW Dream Rush)
Kyoko Inoue (vs) Akira Hokuto (Korakuen Super Charge, Jan. 4th)
Bull Nakano (vs) Aja Kong (Wrestlemarinepiad ’92)
Bull Nakano & Aja Kong (vs) Akira Hokuto & Toshiyo Yamada (AJW Midsummer Typhoon)
Manami Toyota & Sakie Hasegawa (vs) Kyoko Inoue & Mariko Yoshida (April 29th)
Jungle Jack (vs) Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (St. Battle Day, March 20th)
Dynamite Kansai & Hikari Fukuoka (vs) Mayumi Ozaki & Cutie Suzuki (JWP- April 24th)
Mariko Yoshida (vs) Sakie Hasegawa (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (vs) Akira Hokuto & Kyoko Inoue (June 27th)
Manami Toyota (vs) Mariko Yoshida (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Manami Toyota (vs) Toshiyo Yamada (Korakuen Super Charge, Jan. 4th)
Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (vs) Yumiko Hotta & Kyoko Inoue (April 29th)
Aja Kong (vs) Bison Kimura (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Kyoko & Takako Inoue (vs) Bull Nakano & Akira Hokuto (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Kyoko Inoue (vs) Akira Hokuto (AJW Dream Rush)
Plum Mariko vs. Bolshoi Kid (JWP Midnight Special)
Submission Battle Royal (JWP Midnight Special)
Bull Nakano (vs) Toshiyo Yamada (May 24th)
Mariko Yoshida (vs) Etsuko Mita (June 27th)
Manami Toyota (vs) Aja Kong (AJW Grand Prix ’92)
Aja Kong (vs) Manami Toyota (AJW Grand Prix ’92- Finals)
Kyoko Inoue, Mariko Yoshida & Takako Inoue (vs) Las Cachorras Orientales & Cynthia Moreno (AJW Midsummer Typhoon)
Sakie Hasegawa & Debbie Malenko (vs) Mariko Yoshida & Takako Inoue (Wrestlemarinepiad ’92)
Dynamite Kansai & Cutie Suzuki (vs) Devil Masami & Mayumi Ozaki: ***3/4 (JWP Midnight Special)
Dynamite Kansai (vs) Cutie Suzuki (JWP I Know You)
-Some things become immediately apparent: I’m a pretty huge mark for Manami Toyota, with Yamada right behind her- their tag team generally featured in the 20-minute Main Event of two shows a month, making it an easy stretch for the two of them to dominate here. After them, Kyoko & Akira have a ton. Mariko Yoshida oddly has one of the largest totals of great matches in the company, too- even more the shame she went out hurt. And I apparently don’t use “****1/2-****3/4” ratings very often. Picking a “Favorite” ***** match is too hard- for pure story & angle, it’s the Hair Match by a country mile. But Manami/Kyoko felt like a better match by itself- truly an innovative masterpiece. And then there’s the legendary Dream Rush tag match.
WWWA WORLD TITLE: Bull Nakano (since Jan. ’90), Aja Kong (Nov.)
ALL PACIFIC TITLE: Bison Kimura (since Oct. ’91), Kyoko Inoue (June), Akira Hokuto (Nov.)
IWA WOMEN’S TITLE: Kyoko Inoue (since Aug. ’91), Manami Toyota (April)AJW TITLE: Takako Inoue (since April ’91), Mariko Yoshida (April), Sakie Hasegawa (July), Tomoko Watanabe (Oct.), Kaoru Ito (Nov.)
AJW JUNIOR TITLE: Yuki Lee (March- wins tournament), Akemi Torisu (April), Rie Tamada (Aug.), Kumiko Maekawa (Sept.)
AJW MARTIAL ARTS TITLE: Bat Yoshinaga (since ’91)
AJW MIDGET TITLE: Little Frankie (since ’91)
WWWA WORLD TAG TEAM TITLES: Aja Kong & Bison Kimura (since April ’91), Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (March)
AJW TAG TEAM TITLES: Mariko Yoshida & Takako Inoue (since Aug. ’91), Sakie Hasegawa & Debbie Malenko (Jan.), Takako & Yoshida (April), Tomoko Watanabe & Bat Yoshinaga (Dec.)
And now I’m happy to be moving onwards to 1993! But first- a Spotlight on the most evil person in puro history… the lethal Dump Matsumoto!