Joshi Spotlight: Toshiyo Yamada

Toshiyo Yamada

Billed Height & Weight: 5’6″, 154 lbs.
Career Length: 1987-2004
Trained By: Jaguar Yokota

-Toshiyo Yamada is one of those weird wrestlers who’s usually the least-memorable part of some of the best matches of all time.

Yamada has an absolutely stacked list of ***** matches, yet all of them seem to have the peculiar caveat that they involve Manami Toyota, either as a partner or an opponent. I dunno what it is, but Toyota’s presence brings this incredible thing out of Yamada, who is never a hindrance in any of these matches, and never looks like she’s being carried. She’s a very stable, centered wrestler, which lets Manami fly around like a maniac and the match never feels like a “Spotfest” or anything. It’s peculiar because while both are obviously great, of the two, only Toyota has ***** matches with other top-tier opponents- Yamada’s ceiling felt much lower for whatever reason.

Yamada & Toyota are obviously linked- they debuted together, were set up as rivals quickly, and they had a legendary run as opponents AND partners in the early 1990s, culminating with their famous Hair vs. Hair Match in ’92. The two dominated the tag ranks in 1992-94 and both also got singles runs. However, Toyota was pushed much harder, while Yamada stalled at the All Pacific level (about IC-tier in WWE) and eventually got de-emphasized. Toyota ended up with the much better rep, though you’ll find various sources claiming that Yamada was the superior worker- Mike Lorefice at Quebrada seems to feel that way, and I’ve seen a couple others. While I personally disagree, she’s pretty awesome- I think I rate her higher than a lot of people do. Very, very close to the “Kyoko Tier” of people who were right near the peak of Mount Olympus, where the Gods reside, ya know?

Yamada had a style somewhat similar to that of the Crush Gals and Yumiko Hotta- what I’ve heard called the “UWF Style”- very solid basics, lots of wrestling-style kicks to the back, to the thigh, and to the head. Watching commentary in English (one of the two regular commentators speaking to Debbie Malenko), a commentator explained that she wrestled like Chigusa, looked like Chigusa, and even TALKED like Chigusa (I wonder if this is part of why she tended to be favored by the crowd in many Toyota matches). She tended to throw out a lot more high-speed stuff and high-flying than any of the other women with that style, though- regular offense included the Flying Enzuigiri (often spammed out) and a whole lot of running. Her Snap Suplex is top-tier- as good as Dynamite’s or Benoit’s.

Overall, it was a combination of super-speed and credible martial arts stuff. She frequently engaged in kick-spam, did an awesome Flying Enzuigiri as a mid-match move, and her finisher is the Reverse Gory Bomb, which involves hooking someone into Vertebreaker (“Kudo Driver”, to us puro snobs) position and then twirling them upside-down so they’re on Yamada’s shoulders and angled out parallel to the ground, ending in an Electric Chair drop with a bridge. It’s pinned Toyota before so it’s legit, but it’s routinely reversed so many times that I called it “The Finisher That Never Hits”- she’ll often try it 2-3 times before it works, or even fail to hit it at all!

Toshiyo yamada Tumblr posts -

Yamada’s excellent “Great Muta” gear.

Her gear could be pretty rad, too. Her singlet look was kind of weak, and made her look like Hotta’s “Mini-Me” (just kickpads and a plain leotard thing with one or two designs on it), but the shirt & pants combo was great- the baggy pants made her look like a Bruce Lee-type fighter, and the shirt said “this is still wrestling”, to me. Plus she’d come to the ring dressed like Kwang, with the big mask and spiky-shouldered gear.

Her status on the card seems to be in flux- she rises alongside Manami, and even beats her quite often (even during Manami’s BIG push), but you’ll see her trade wins with the “Hotta Tier” and always lose to Aja or Kyoko when I see them matched up, and she’s always below her partner in the Grand Prix round-robins- getting to the semis or something, sure, but still losing out. To me, she comes off as the “Eternal Upper-Midcarder”- someone who can potentially beat a top star if she has their number, but is usually just there as a “highly-credible person who puts the real Main Eventer over”. When she retired, she had a list of **** and ***** matches as long as just about anyone’s, yet didn’t have the legacy of many, and was usually the worst person in that match, if I’m being uncharitable.

So why didn’t she get a bigger push? It’s been suggested she had a lack of charisma, which I’ll buy. She seemed fine and friendly enough in promos, and had some good energy in matches, but no major “It” factor like Kyoko, Bull, Aja, etc. Toyota, her partner, was a noticeably bigger “actor” in matches, particularly when selling- all Yamada does is the “yeahhhhh!”-type yell before a kick. I suspect she was also more fragile in terms of injuries. Which is ironic, as the famous Toyota/Yamada tag matches usually involve Manami playing “Ricky Morton”, screaming in agony and being far more breakable (usually she’s the one taking the fall in the ’92 or ’93 stuff) while Yamada has to come to her aid with her physical credibility. And then that weird thing I mentioned that whenever Manami isn’t around (as opponent or partner), the bouts fall in quality by a full star. It’s really weird. She just has top-tier chemistry with only one person.

And really, Yamada was clearly the 4th or 5th best person in one of the most stacked promotions you’ll ever see, never mind when you add other promotions’ wrestlers into the mix.

Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada | Pro wrestling, Champion, Wrestling

The WWWA Tag Champions during much of the “Boom Period” of the ’90s.

-Yamada debuted in the famous “Class of 1987” alongside Manami Toyota, Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda, all of whom became stars. She was the Rookie of the Year for ’87 (holding the AJW Junior Title briefly), and her & Mita, as the two “sporty” ones (as opposed to Toyota & Shimoda’s “Pretty Girl” group, the Tokyo Sweethearts), were paired up as “Dream Orca”- truly a wonderful name. In 1989, the two teams had a stand-out match at the first Wrestlemarinepiad, with Yamada losing the fall to Toyota and getting really upset over it. Their rivalry was a big thing- frequently, their matches would go to Time Overs, with neither able to score a true win over the other one. Dream Orca won the 2nd-tier Japanese Tag Titles in the Summer of ’89, holding them for 274 days.

A big cervical hernia injury in 1990 put her on the shelf (Dream Orca vacated their titles), and a ’91 feud against Yumiko Hotta was a thing, and she failed to take the All Pacific Title from Bison Kimura at Wrestlemarinepiad ’92 (doing one of those “she dominates most of the match but the heel throws out Finisher Spam and wins it” things). But the Toyota rivalry went to the forefront… just as the two also discovered they made an excellent team! As a duo, they beat Jungle Jack for the WWWA Tag Team Titles in March of ’92, becoming the top team in the promotion, and had endless ****-ish matches all the time, against every combination of main eventers possible (Aja, Hokuto & Kyoko all joining in). And yet they’d have a dramatic scrap in a 30-minute draw, attacking each other after the bell and demanding more time, then MORE time, until they had a 40-minute draw! Seemingly deadlocked, Yamada managed to win the next one, causing an ultra-competitive Toyota to put her IWA Title and her HAIR on the line for a rematch!

And the result from that was an epic ***** match that saw Toyota realize what her competitive spirit had cost her, and attempt to save her friend from humiliation. She tried to cut her own hair instead, then fight the barber himself in order to try and prevent Yamada from getting her head shaved. The dramatic scene (and final victory by Toyota) put a cap on their feud and made both bigger stars, but seemed to really MAKE Toyota in particular (she not only won, but got a big “character moment” out of it).

The two would have a trio of legendary matches with rival promotion JWP‘s Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki, with a big win at Dream Rush, but they shockingly lost the Tag Titles at the second Dream Slam in 1993 (ending a 387-day reign)- it took until the end of the year at St. Battle Final for them to finally get their win back! Around this time, Yamada seemed fairly “settled” in a role- she could have a great match with anybody, but would usually be the loser against any top star. Kansai gave her a lot in a solo match, for instance, but the JWP Ace came out on top with her finisher. In 1993, she was a mere 6th place in the AJW Grand Prix round robin. However, she still could have Manami’s number- she won her partner’s All Pacific Title at Wrestling Queendom 1993! March ’94 saw her lose it to Kyoko after 119 days in a match I found disappointing, and October saw her team finally lose their Tag Titles to Double Inoue (Kyoko & Takako)- this spelled the end of the Toyota/Yamada team after a 307-day run, as they stood aside and formed new partnerships while the Inoues became the top squad.

Toshiyo Yamada | Pro Wrestling | Fandom

Latter-era Yamada, now dressed like a Mad Max football player.

Yamada was jobbed out pretty hard at the huge Big Egg Wrestling Universe show at the Tokyo Dome, submitting to Shinobu Kandori in a tag match against LLPW wrestlers. Her last big run was in early 1995, as she won the All Pacific Title back in a match with her, Reggie Bennett & Takako alternating singles matches until somebody beat both- this is considered the “Last Great Yamada Match” by many. She held the title for 182 days, finally losing to Hotta in late ’95. At this point, she seems to tumble down the card (beating her old partner Mita in a throwaway early Wrestling Queendom ’96 match that barely went ten minutes), doing little until quitting AJW in 1997, along with numerous wrestlers who’d stopped getting paid as the owners’ fortunes fell. Losing one last match to Manami that July, she left for Chigusa Nagayo’s GAEA Japan. There she wrestled until 2004, suffering a major spine injury and promptly retiring. This made her the earliest of her class to give it up- as part of a pretty long-lasting era of wrestlers, it was actually pretty unusual for someone to wrestle for “only” 17 years.

Thigh Kick, Back Kick, Running Face Kick, Running Spin Kick, Some Kicks Only Bischoff Could Name, Legdrop Using The Opposite Leg Most Use, Stretch Muffler (bending opponent’s leg over her neck), Standing Spinning Stretch Muffler (used to pop the crowd), Enzuigiri (kick to the back of the head), Enzuigiri Spam, Leaping Enzuigiri, Running Enzuigiri, Flying Enzuigiri (often used twice in a row), Backdrop Suplex (occasionally spammed out rapidly), Snap Suplex (Dynamite Kid-style), Reverse Gory Bomb (Vertebreaker-style lift into Bridging Electric Chair Drop- Finisher that’s usually reversed)

* Looking for long solo matches against top stars, I found this one- the round-robin tournament leads to Hokuto (a top-tier Main Eventer by this point) against Yamada. Akira cuts the single-most subdued promo of her entire life here, having a casual conversation with the interviewer instead of screaming, declaring she’ll sacrifice her life to beat Yamada, etc. Hokuto’s in her black two-piece gear, while Yamada’s in a rad lime-green shirt & pants combo. Damn, why didn’t she use THAT more often?

Akira dumps Yamada to block her kicks and then grabs her ears to block a submission- this is why she rules. They feel it out for a bit before Akira hits those nasty-ass Jumping Piledrivers of hers, and she works the neck before the Joshi Irish Whip of Transitions earns her a kick to the face and a Snap Suplex. Yamada follows with more kickery and works the arm, leading to Akira actually selling it by leaving the ring and using Joshi Bandages Of Healing on her shoulder! Man, I swear she’s the only one to sell basic stretching like this. She milks re-entering the ring, and of course because she’s awesome she catches Yamada with her pair of Spinning Roundhouse Kicks and a missile dropkick to set off her own stretching, with the Sharpshooter and some leg stuff. Yamada comes back (STOP IRISH WHIPPING HER, AKIRA!) with a spin kick and an absolutely insane number of backdrop suplexes, but Akira ducks a kick and Germans her for two. She goes up, but gets whipped off for two, but Yamada climbs and gets knocked to the floor, aaaaaaaaand there’s that Tope Con Hilo.

Yamada tries to get back in, but is Superplexed for two, but avoids the Northern Lights Bomb by lighting up the Dangerous Queen with some kicks. DRAGON SUPLEX!! That gets two as Korakuen is going nuts, sensing the end-game. They milk the moment perfectly, and BAM!- Flying Enzuigiri. That gets two, so naturally we go to The Finisher That Never Hits… which doesn’t hit and gets her Victory Rolled for two. She looks shocked, but goes for it again, and Akira drops her out of it, and THERE’s the Northern Lights Bomb for the three at (17:55). She slaps Yamada around after the bell, which of course earns her a lariat to the back of the head, and she tosses Yamada into the railing outside the ring before taking her leave. Good old Akira- instead of the Joshi Sprint, it’s a quick start, 10+ minutes of stretching but interspersed with some big stuff and selling so it’s not just laying around, and then they upgrade to the final moments and the crowd gets way into it.

Rating: ***3/4 (So it wasn’t quite a “PPV Effort” but a very good use of a TV Main Event, I would say- good match that sniffed greatness)

(Gaea Japan)
* Okay, so here’s something totally different- a GAEA Japan match between these two stars- Ozaki’s bully act has modified into her being literally the worst person ever, while Yamada is now blonde and dressed like someone Kenshiro from “Fist of the North Star” used to have to kill, with a torn, padded shirt, camo gear and “fuzzy boots” made out of shredded fabric.

Ozaki’s carrying a freakin’ bo staff straight away for some reason, but Yamada deflects it with a kick and goes to a cross-armbreaker before Ozaki starts choking her with it, then does an LCO-style pose in the ropes to the booing fans. They scrap for a bit, leading to Yamada booting Ozaki in the face and a backdrop suplex, but Ozaki turns it around outside, throwing chairs and such. But then Yamada fights back and smashes Ozaki’s forehead into the ringpost like seven times, leading to her bleeding and taking an even BIGGER ass-kicking out there! She grinds an elbow into the cut while Ozaki embraces the official for help, then goes into a football stance and runs the length of the stands for a huge screaming lariat- hah! Back in after four minutes, Yamada plays to the crowd that’s cheering for Ozaki now, but her Flying Turn Kick is blocked and a Kneeling Powerbomb gets two for Ozaki. She actually does a Buckle Bomb into that tall corner pad, but another Powerbomb only gets a one-count.

Attempting to pick Yamada up earns Ozaki a dramatic armbar, but she escapes and takes another couple kicks, including a huge Flying Enzuigiri, but kinda no-sells and just pops up for a big swinging punch for two. I’m guessing that’s an actual move of hers, because the crowd & commentator popped. Uraken (backfist) is ducked, but she hits a Dragon Suplex for a close call. Tequila Sunrise (Half-Nelson/Tiger Suplex) is blocked and she’s kicked, but another punch gets two. Yamada reverses a whip to a Spin Kick for two, but her finisher fails twice and she settles for a big armbar. Damn, this crowd is hot. Ozaki is such a pro she makes a show out of getting only three fingers on the rope, which doesn’t count as a break, making it extra-meaningful when she finally DOES grab it. Yamada takes an Uraken but manages an Ax Kick, then FINALLY hits her Reverse Gory Bomb for a dramatic two-count! Ozaki’s up first and manages a quick Uraken for a near-fall, then lands several more while Yamada keeps bursting up after “one” only to stumble into another- Ozaki tries a running one. That’s blocked, but she swings with the other hand, then does two more (the first one whiffed so she repeated it) for the three (12:21).

Wow, seeing the match length I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, but they used the crowd brawl as a shortened version of a “feeling out” period and went right into dramatically trading stuff. My only problem was the sorta-no-selling thing going on, where someone would hit a killer finisher and the person who TOOK the move is up first, doing their own thing- it felt like kind of a cheat just to have a shorter match have more “momentum-shifting drama”. It makes for an exciting match, sure, but hurts the “story” if I may be so snobbish. Ozaki spamming out Urakens like Aja Kong was weird, but I could buy them not scoring falls since she’s like six inches shorter than Yamada. It made for a peculiar finish, though I liked Yamada kind of kicking out on instinct and being too “punch-drunk” to recover properly.

Rating: ***1/2 (So I liked it, but it was short and had holes)

(28.08.1994, Korakuen Hall)
* And now it’s a rematch of one of Joshi’s most legendary rivalries! The two are meeting in the 1994 Grand Prix while still WWWA Tag Team Champions, giving this a lot of drama. Toyota’s in the usual black gear, while Yamada’s in her more plain look- this time with a black & white motif and her name across the chest.

Yamada takes the lead right away with a pair of snap suplexes and some kicks, then a series of holds that send them all over the ring for a very mobile bit of “filler”. Manami talks trash and throws slaps, but gets killed with kicks before finally making her Dropkick Reversal comeback and spamming more out. Delayed Butterfly Suplex actually spins into Toyota tossing her partner out of the ring and it turns into a NASTY slap-fight back in- yikes! Yamada catches her with a belly-to-belly and plasters her with more strikes, though, then leglocks slow things down (Toyota barking “NO!” defiantly… makes it better). Manami Roll reversal pops the crowd, but she takes one kick, blocks the second, then eats the third, but then BOOM- Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body for two! Damn, she has the best “Reversal Game” in history, I swear. Manami ducks a kick and hits a German, but a missile dropkick gets her locked into the Stump Puller. More stretching eventually leads to some missile-kick comebacks, then Manami locks Yamada in the ropes and kicks her square in the face a couple times! Damn, this is ugly.

A brawl outside soon turns on Manami, and a BRUTAL kick to the mouth leaves her bloodied. The crowd is unnerved and she takes her sweet time getting back into the ring… and immediately brains her partner with a shitload of Yamada-style kicks to the side of the head! hahahahah- that’s great! The crowd gives her an ovation while Yamada’s eyes roll back into her head on the sell-job- tremendous. Toyota hits the ropes, SCREECHING for Yamada to get up, then boot-fucks her square in the mouth from a running start. Elevated stomp to the face using the ropes ramps up the brutality, then we get a bridging suplex & perfect flying splash for two-counts. Yamada lands on her feet from a backdrop and gives a receipt for those kicks, then ties Manami in the ropes for a revenge spot on THOSE, too! Long chinlock and she climbs, but gets booted off and it’s a Running No-Hands Springboard Plancha! Manami, this is 20 minutes in- stop being insane. Rolling Cradle in the ring gets two, and now SHE climbs, but gets German’d off from there.

Yamada tries a Superplex but gets missile dropkicked, but Manami’s Moonsault misses… and Yamada takes a Bridging Double-Underhook Suplex when SHE climbs! Manami Roll attempt leads to a Powerbomb, then a Belly-To-Belly Super-Duperplex… and Manami does a “Fuck YOU!” Bridge out of it! Yamada’s finisher is reversed to Toyota’s finisher into Yamada’s finisher, but Manami drops to end it- Yamada puts her in it again, revealing it was a botch, and Manami successfully rolls back to reverse- Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Straightjacket Electric Chair Drop w/ Bridge)! 1…2… KICKOUT! Jesus Christ, that nearly ALWAYS got the pin, even then! A fading Manami goes for a Moonsault… and hits knees! They do a dramatic double-K.O. out of that, leading to Yamada’s spin kick reversal, and she hits a Flying Enzuigiri after a fight in the corner, for ANOTHER bridge-out! Gory Bomb gets reversed to a Victory Roll for two, but Yamada gets a Dragon Suplex for the same! Manami dropkicks her off the top with an insane flat-back bump into the ring, then misses a Missile Dropkick Suicida- Yamada FINALLY lands her Reverse Gory Bomb in the ring, but Manami slides out after two! Yamada, desperate, tries and fails again, signals a big kick, but she whips Manami and is caught in a reversal- Bridging Double-Hammerlock Suplex- the Japanese Ocean Suplex- gets the win at (29:02)!

Slow match to start, but of course these two have amazing chemistry and it turned into a hot bout with a ton of near-falls. These two really do some of the best “filler” in wrestling, too, as the opening minutes have a lot of character, great selling, and people moving around even in basic submissions that obviously won’t lead to anything. It makes a match constantly interesting to watch. The story of the match is that the partners once again get so riled up with competition that they start fighting ugly, taking liberties, and get just plain mean. The revenge-spots over the kicks were a thing of beauty, especially when Yamada paid Manami back. In the end, the match really only suffered from a bit of “long for the sake of long” syndrome and maybe a few too many kickouts of MDKs (going five minutes after the Japanese Ocean Cyclone? Really?)- a tad self-indulgent, I guess. But still, incredibly awesome performance by both.

Rating: ****1/2 (they have chemistry like few others)

… and I just realized that all three matches used to showcase her feature her losing, and being the second-best worker. Toshiyo Yamada, everyone!