JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- MANAMI TOYOTA:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’6″ 150 lbs.
-And now we come to another of the Great Pillars of Joshi: Manami Toyota!
It’s hard to describe Toyota’s abilities without using too many superlatives- she’s just so incredibly good at nearly every aspect of wrestling, and if you put a gun to my head, I’d probably consider her my favorite worker. Nearly every AJW show from 1991-1997 that I’ve seen has her in either the best or second-best match on the card, and she has more ***** matches than anyone I can think of. She’s the only wrestler I can think of who’s had ***** singles matches with five different people: Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Toshiyo Yamada, Kyoko Inoue & Mima Shimoda. Even Akira has probably only managed it against 2-3 opponents, and the latter three in Toyota’s list never hit that level with anyone else!
And I mean, how many workers have a match style named after them? The “Toyota Style Match” ended up being shorthand for AJW’s trademark “GO GO GO!” flashy, fast-paced style, full of epic moves and escalating finishers, dramatic near-falls, “how did THAT happen?” athletic moves, great selling, and frequent tag-outs in team matches.
The athleticism required to do this is preposterous.
Manami’s style is… frenetic. Her typical strikes are based around running dropkicks, firing them out like missiles planted into the chests of her opponents- spammed 3-4 in a row, followed by 1-2 off the second rope. Instead of a standard sunset flip, she ducks down and rolls UP her opponent’s body, flipping over them for the pin. She uses a Moonsault, but typically tries it 1-2 times before it hits. Oh, and she’ll also use a Quebrada off the top, various planchas, and the most insanely athletic move I’ve ever seen done with regularity- running from end to end, doing a leap straight onto the top rope, then springboarding off, either backwards into the ring or to the floor. It’s completely bonkers and I’ve never seen anyone else do it. Christ, I’ve seen her hit that 29 minutes into a singles match! I actually had to delete a thing I wrote about her “always doing that early” because SURELY nobody could manage doing that after more than 12 minutes of ring work, right?
The legendary Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex.
Her moves were insanely innovative- Dave Meltzer, a big fan of athleticism and innovation in the ring, considers her one of the best of all time, saying her best stuff was as good as Misawa’s or Shawn Michaels’, while her lowest-tier stuff was better than either of theirs. Just look at the descriptions I have to use in the “Moveset” list below- none of the shit she does can be explained easily or quickly. One famous match against Kyoko saw Dave give a *****++++ rating, as they let it all hang out and invented a ton of spots (walking up the ropes to reverse a submission), ending with Manami’s Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex- crossing the opponent’s arms in front of them, ducking down and hoisting them onto her shoulders, then bridging backwards for a trapping pin. It’s one of the coolest things ever, and you only see it in Joshi.
Manami is also a very good seller and bumper, you see.
She also wasn’t a “Move Hog”, either. If anything, she had short comebacks and tended to sell most of the match, even against lesser opponents. Nobody put over a rival’s moves as devastating quite like Toyota, as she’d wail in agony in even basic B.S. holds you know were never gonna score the win. She’d bump onto her neck, go sailing out of the ring, and throw back her head on kicks to make them look like killshots. Only Akira Hokuto sold as well.
She didn’t have the wild personality of Hokuto, Aja or say, Bull Nakano, and nearly all her interviews see her be humble and then start corpsing or something, but I think the “likable dork” thing is part of her character. Aja, Bull & Hokuto were like Gods, while Manami felt more like an “everywoman” who just happened to be the most athletic of them all, regardless of her Idol looks. But as soon as the bell rang, she wailed like a maniac, sold her ass off, and made the fans believe. She’s one of the only “Idol Wrestlers” to get the top push to being “Ace”- most of the women with the looks to pull off the Idol thing were given pushes, but very few were ever World Champion.
It’s probably easier to list the stuff she’s BAD at. Uncharitably, you could call her selling into question- while she’s one of the best in terms of making moves look legitimately painful (she & Hokuto are probably the best at making the often “filler” AJW stretching segments look like absolute agony), she’s prone to Rock-style Superman comebacks (… “Wonder Woman comebacks”?) that involves super-athletic moves even after she’s taken a horrible beating. Working her leg is pointless, because she’s still gonna do dropkicks and moonsaults later on anyways (while limping, at least). And sometimes you’ll see her be sloppy as all get-out- though she usually hit her Running No-Hands Springboard stuff, I’ve seen it fail more than once, she sometimes falls out of suplex bridges, and a few matches feature more than one prominent mess-up.
But even then those are often minor issues- I’ve seen a few matches where she sells the whole time, for example. And I can excuse “sloppy” high-flying- if anything, hitting a perfect bridge 26 minutes into a match is a PLOT HOLE, not a bonus. But Meltzer’s love of Toyota, plus the tendency of people to be contrarian, has created a bit of a “Manami Backlash”- Mike Lorefice and other wrestling critics have decried her for some of these drawbacks.
But like… nearly everyone in Joshi had their best match with Toyota. She hit ***** with Aja & Yamada twice, and at least once with Hokuto, Shimoda & Kyoko. I’d say she easily had Yamada, Shimoda, Kyoko & Aja’s best matches. Plum Mariko & Hikari Fukuoka had their best bouts with her, too. If anyone DIDN’T have ther best match with Toyota, it was with Hokuto. Hell, she even had ridiculous tag matches- the famous ***** three-match series she & Yamada had with Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki is good enough, but she did just as well in various other tag bouts, too.
In the end, her only real competition for “Best Joshi Worker of All Time” is Aja & Akira- it all depends on what you value. Akira had more charisma, and I doubt Toyota could have had a good match on a broken leg like Akira could… but Manami was such a physical marvel that she never broke her leg, so who’s to say who’s better? She certainly faltered a bit as she left her athletic prime- her style was so dependent on flash & jump-y stuff that it was inevitable. But during that 1991-98 era, she had a real shot at being “Best In The World”.
-Manami debuted in the same four-person class that had Yamada, Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda in it. Impressing very early and getting the first push of her class, she was put into a “Pretty Girl” team with Shimoda called the Tokyo Sweethearts (but would find much better luck later on with Yamada). She won the AJW Title (a rookie belt) in 1989, holding it for 287 days before vacating it after beating Bison Kimura for the All Pacific Title in 1990, holding it for 161 days before dropping to Suzuka Minami. In 1992, she got into an epic feud with Kyoko Inoue, finally defeating her at Wrestlemarinepiad ’94 for the IWA Title (an odd upper-mid trophy belt), holding it for more than three years. This was the bout Meltzer dropped all those plus signs for.
1991 saw her & Yamada form a great team, and in the next year they unseated Jungle Jack (Aja Kong & Bison) for the WWWA Tag Titles, now suddenly headlining nearly every AJW show with a tag title match that nearly always hit ****. During that same time, they also kept their legendary rivalry going, with Yamada finally scoring a surprise win after their last match was a 40-minute draw- Toyota, competitive as hell, demanded a rematch in a “Hair vs. Hair” match, and won. But then, with his great “Oh god- what have I done?” look, Toyota suddenly felt unable to go through with the stipulation. She tried to call it off, then when that was refused, she stole the scissors from the barber and began cutting off her OWN hair to the horror of the crowd (I mean, that’s a Nash/Helmsley-tier mane). And then, in one of wrestling’s greatest moments, she had to be held down, LITERALLY kicking and screaming, while Yamada was rendered bald. This was probably the true moment where Toyota got “made”- not only was she having the best matches, but she hit a major character moment at the same time.
She & Yamada held the titles for more than a year, defeating JWP’s Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki in the first of a trio of ***** matches at the first big Interpromotional Title Match at Dream Rush in late ’92. They later beat Megumi Kudo & Combat Toyoda at the legendary Dream Slam 1, but lost to their JWP rivals at Dream Slam 2, ending a 387-day reign. They would regain their titles at the end of the year, beating them back at St. Battle Final, in arguably the best match of the three. These bouts would pretty much make her legend in the West, as the Dream Slams were typically the most-shared Joshi events by tape-traders (they were how I got into Joshi in the early 2000s). Also in that year, Toyota gave Yamada her win back, losing a ****1/2 match at Wrestling Queendom I for the vacant All Pacific belt.
Toyota & Yamada would ultimately hold the Tag Titles for 307 days before losing to Kyoko & Takako Inoue at Wrestlemarinepiad ’94. That year, she beat Kyoko for the All Pacific, holding it for 214 before vacating. But at Wrestling Queendom ’95, one week after wrestling in a grueling WWWA Tag Title tournament, she unseated the Ace of AJW Aja Kong, in a ***** match to win the WWWA World Title for the first time, ending an 800+ day reign in the process! Shockingly, she would lose the title back only three months later, but then victoriously bring the belt back to AJW by defeating JWP’s Dynamite Kansai in an match after Kansai had herself unseated Aja. This largely capped off the “Interpromotional Era”. This reign would last about a year (370 days) before Manami traded it off to the next Ace, Kyoko Inoue.
And she FINALLY lost that IWA Title in 1995 to Reggie Bennett. 1996 saw her team up with Shimoda once more, and the Tokyo Sweethearts defeated the Inoues for the WWWA Tag Titles again, holding them for 212 days, losing to Tomoko Watanabe & Kumiko Maekawa. She & Kaoru Ito won the JWP Tag Titles for 19 days in the middle of ’98, too. This seems to be part of an era of “Giving Back” by Toyota, as she hoists up a lot of other wrestlers during this span, and actually stays away from the title scene all the way to the year 2000, beating Yumiko Hotta for her third WWWA Title! She would win it for the fourth and final time in 2002, beating Kaoru Ito and holding it for 132 days. Both times, she would drop it to Ito.
Manami Toyota in the ring following her retirement gauntlet match.
Toyota’s Later Years:
Manami finally quits AJW in the early 2000s, and entered the next phase in her career- moving from company to company in the “Joshi Dark Age”. Now sporting a more muscular look (like a lot of aging Joshi), she won GAEA’s AAAW World Title in ’02, beating Chikayo Nagashima and holding the belt for 406 days before losing to old rival Kansai. She & Carlos Amano beat Aja & Amazing Kong for the AAAW Tag Titles in 2004, holding them for 195 days until losing to Ran YuYu & Toshie Uematsu. 2006 saw a run with the JWP Openweight Title of all things, beating Tsubasa Kuragaki & losing to Azumi Hyuga after 113 days. Then she holds the Oz Academy Title in 2009, beating Aja Kong once more, and drops it to Amano three months later. She & Amano would nonetheless win Oz’s Tag Titles twice in 2010 & 2011. She was the third Pro Wrestling Diana Champion in 2013, holding it for 261 days. A run in Ice Ribbon ended up with a title run there as well, with the Triangle Ribbon Title being held for 193 days.
Manami finally hung it up for good in 2017, ending things with a very long gauntlet match, wrestling a series of legends, comedy gimmicks, AJW promoters and others in one-minute bouts. She retired far past her prime, but she was still very good in the early 2000s.
Toyota’s classic running-style dropkick.
MOVESET (*deep breath*):
Running Dropkicks (usually 2-4 in a row), 2nd-Rope Dropkicks (usually 2 in a row), Missile Dropkick, Missile Dropkick Suicida, German Suplex, Butterfly-Lock While Trapping Their Legs With Hers, Muta Lock (indian deathlock w/ bridging neck crank), Indian Deathlock w/ Bridging Bodylock, Dropkick Reversal (tossed into air and uses dropkick while coming down), Plancha, Rolling Cradle (abdominal stretch into side cradle that rolls around the ring), Manami Roll (running sunset flip after rolling up & over opponent), Double-Overhook Bridging Suplex (kinda leans over a bent-over opponent and threads her arms through from the back and flips them over into a bridge), Running-No Hands Leaping Springboard Plancha, Running-No Hands Leaping Springboard Sunset Flip, Running-No Hands Leaping Springboard Moonsault, Running-No Hands Leaping Springboard Tope Con Hilo, Quebrada (walks to the top rope and flips off), Sunset Flip Powerbomb (reverses Aja Kong’s Mountain Bomb), Victory Star Drop (puts opponent on top rope & backflips with her legs underhooking their arms- suicidal move that hurts them both), Moonsault (rarely finishes; usually missed first or after one hits), Japanese Ocean Suplex (Double-Hammerlock Bridging Suplex), Queen Bee Bomb (Arm-Trap Brainbuster/Northern Lights Bomb), Japanese Ocean Bomb (Straightjacket Reverse Powerbomb), Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (Cross-Armed Electric Chair Drop Suplex w/ Bridge)
(there’s a clipped version, and this one, which is in four parts)
WWWA WORLD TITLE:
DYNAMITE KANSAI (JWP) vs. MANAMI TOYOTA (AJW):
* So 1995 was a hell of a year- Manami defeated Aja Kong to become WWWA World Champion, but lost the belt back only three months later, so Aja was still “Ace”… but then Aja lost to JWP’s Kansai. So JWP owns the top title of their rival company, right at the end of the Interpromotional Era! So now Manami’s got one more shot at the gold, and it’s the chance to bring it back to home territory. Manami’s in the usual black gear (but with GOLD trim- symbolism!), while Kansai’s in a bright yellow & white bodysuit this time, and her GLORIOUS tube-covered monstrosity of a jacket.
Kansai aims for a test of strength, but Manami lashes out and dropkicks her out of the ring to rapturous applause from the pro-AJW crowd- first blood Manami! But she gets cute trying her Running Springboard Plancha, and is kicked in mid-air. She aims for Splash Mountain (Sit-Out Razor’s Edge), but has to settle for a backdrop driver! Manami gets plastered with methodical, lethal kicks, even getting tied in the ropes- her selling makes this look absolutely agonizing. Boston Crab, but Kansai’s lariat gets reversed to the Rolling Cradle, and then Manami ties HER in the ropes and slaps her around, kicks her, then hits a running dropkick to the base of the spine- HAH! She drapes Kansai on the ropes and dropkicks her from there, but runs into the corner kick and we’re back to JWP in control as Kansai blows Manami’s vertebrae apart with kicks. And her face. She wears Manami down with Sharpshooters and an STF, then brains her with several more killshots, stifling an attempt to Hulk Up. Jesus, this is brutal.
A sleeper is sold dramatically, and Manami’s flattened with lariats as soon as she makes the ropes. Kansai readies another one, but BOOM- Bridging German reversal gets two! Fired up, she goes for dropkicks and… lariat kills her. She counters Kansai’s backdrop, but tries the Manami Roll and gets POWERBOMED, and she just can’t win today. She keeps countering minor stuff but getting drilled, and then Running No-Hands Springboard Sunset Flip! Holy GOD that looked close- super-tight move, there! That gets two, she gets tossed off the top, and she boots Kansai off the top herself, scoring a Missile Kick to the floor! Two Moonsaults in a row get two, and she readies the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… and gets kicked in the eyeballs. Manami teases a TKO at “8”, but gets backdrop drivered for two. Kansai signals Splash Mountain, but Manami kicks off the ropes for a safer landing (ie. a Razor’s Edge). Another backdrop gets two, and she aims for a SUPER Splash Mountain, but Manami elbows her off the top and missile kicks her in the head for two.
Japanese Ocean Suplex attempt, but Kansai kicks free, then Manami counters a whip to land it for two! Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… for two! Manami can’t believe it! With no other ideas, she tries another, but gets her leg swept out and she’s drilled again. One of the best Splash Mountains I’ve ever seen, milked like crazy so the crowd is screaming in horror, and now MANAMI kicks out! Kansai pulls off a few token kicks, then readies another Splash Mountain, but NOW we see the Manami Roll- close two! A frustrated Kansai kicks her around and signals the end of this shit- she readies Super Splash Mountain again, but in the famous finish, Toyota slides back and RANAS her to the ground, leaping onto her back-first for the three and the WWWA World Title (22:37)! The title comes home!!
Another great Manami (vs) Monster match, with Kansai absolutely dominating her rival with slow submissions and strikes for a long middle portion (Manami has low toughness, but tons of HP, and specializes in the “Reversal Game”, so keeping her slow and steady is a good bet), and still being able to wreck her on counters later on. As Manami kind of depends on counters for her offense, it was interesting to watch someone stifle her at her own game. Manami could just never maintain consistent offense, usually being drilled in the face after a couple moves, and so this became a tremendous showcase for her durability and heart. Ultimately, both women’s top finishers failed in a great bit, and so things escalated- but that very escalation was Kansai’s undoing, because the higher-risk you go, the greater the chance that Ms. Reversal will finish you- that Rana (which, if you look carefully, didn’t “hook” Kansai and Kansai slickly sold it anyways) came out of nowhere and gave us a distinctive, memorable end.
Rating: ****1/2 (slow period in the middle, but a true test of bravery and heart from AJW’s top star, with a great ending sequence)