Joshi Spotlight: Kaoru Ito

Kaoru Ito

I’ll be nice and not use the “Peter Pan” gear from 1993 as her image. Also I couldn’t find a good pic of it.

JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- KAORU ITO:

Real Name: Kaoru Ito (aka Black Blizzard, Makai Majo #1, ZAP-I)
Billed Height & Weight: 5’3″, 238 lbs. (was… MUCH lighter in her younger years)
Career: 1989-today (currently active)

-And now it’s time for a bio on Kaoru Ito, aka “The most terribly-dressed wrestler of all time” on any ’90s Joshi show you’ll watch, and the “wait, SHE became the top wrestler?” star of the same.

Kaoru Ito occupied a significant “up & comer” spot on many early ’90s All Japan Women’s cards, and was alternately the best or second-best wrestler of her “class”, which ended up having Sakie Hasegawa & Tomoko Watanabe as the other stars. Sakie had better looks, charisma and height, so was probably going to pushed a lot harder (she was definitely seen as a “Future Ace” from very early on), while Kaoru, being plainer but still physically very athletic, was secondary.

Ito is tricky for me to assess, as I mostly saw her in her “early phase” on the undercard, and she didn’t get a main event run until 1997 or so, when AJW went bankrupt and lost most of its good stars, so seeing her in the Main Events is like those mid-90s WWF shows where Davey-Boy Smith is Main Eventing the B-show PPVs. It’s not REALLY that much of a diss (both were good enough- Davey was an amazing worker with the right opponent), but at the same point, neither was set out to be a big star, so it’s a sign that business is faltering if THEY’RE all you have left for the big shows! I mean, I don’t wanna be mean, but when KAORU ITO is your Ace, something very seriously wrong has happened, you know?

Kaoru’s hideous Peter Pan gear in its full glory. There are also blue and yellow variants.

In the early ’90s shows, Ito usually stands out more due to her purely awful gear than her workrate (which was fine, but standard-issue in AJW). One of the first things you notice popping in Dream Slam 1, the big mega-interpromotional show that is most tape traders’ introduction to joshi, is this chick dressed like PETER PAN, flying around the ring using her ass as a weapon. It stands out, y’know? Then she dresses like a BLUE Peter Pan, then wears all sorts of other hideodious gear that both makes you shake your head and immediately find her memorable and entertaining because of it. When she starts dressing normally, it almost ruins the appeal!

Though she was hardly bad- she hit the “GO GO GO!” AJW style perfectly well, constantly ran about, and could bump or throw moves excellently. Looking plain and boyish (so much so that the Pan gear is a direct reference to her appearance), she had to get by on that, and it worked. Her key element was the “Double-Foot Stomp”- she would spam them out to a downed opponent, running off the ropes, and her finisher was a Flying variant. As matches drew longer, she’d use them off the ropes, off the apron, and more- this could get a bit tiresome, as Main Events saw her spam it out ad nauseum, and her moveset never really develop- she had a 20+ year career, and I barely managed to fill two lines in a Word document with her moveset. Translating comments on YouTube into English, I see a lot of “Ugh she does that foot-stomp too much”, too- I think it might be a big rep with her, and made her matches a lot more boring.

Ito had legit martial arts skills, so could adequately play “tough” and had great cardio. One particular thing I notice is that once she got a few years on her, she’d do this thing where the opponent would hit the mother of all MDK moves on her, and Kaoru would KICK OUT- this would normally be incredibly annoying, but almost every time I saw this spot, she would immediately be pinned by the follow-up move. Like she had this well of HP to draw on, but that one big kickout was all she had left.

As a Main Eventer, her style had shifted a lot- she’d gained a LOT of weight by the 2000s, looking like a Japanese Louie Spicolli, turning into a big, hefty brawler. This weight altered her style completely, and the less-frenetic AJW style (most of the veterans had slowed down by then) led to simpler, easier matches. I’ve heard reports that she got much lazier by that point, but it’s harder to find matches from then. The few Main Event matches I’ve seen of her from 1997-on consist of a LOT of half-crabs and camel clutches, to be sure- like she knew you had to work holds, but didn’t have the imagination to do anything but the 1-2 basics.

But it’s pretty clear she wasn’t great for business- she only stuck around at the top of a gutted AJW, almost appearing, like Yumiko Hotta, as “this was our last-ditch option, okay?” stars, and is still around, but in a diminished context.

CAREER TRAJECTORY:
-Ito debuted in 1989 alongside Sakie & Tomoko, getting attention for her Double-Foot Stomps, but was otherwise pushed well below Sakie, who was a big part of shows even in 1992, while Ito didn’t start appearing much on TV until later in the year. She won the rookie AJW Title twice, first from Tomoko (1992 at Dream Rush, holding it for 76 days), losing to Debbie Malenko, and then again in 1994, winning a vacant title (the lineage here is missing from Cagematch). She & Sakie were the Japanese Tag Champions in 1993, beating Tomoko & Bat Yoshinaga, holding them for a good 226-day run against a lot of rivals from other companies (Sakie taking particular relish in feuding with them), but lost to LLPW’s Miki Handa & Yasha Kurenai.

By this point, she’d gotten Sakie’s old “Plucky Rookie” gimmick, doing well in losing contests against bigger stars, and being an important tag partner in many Star/Rookie tags. Her boyish looks gave her a “Peter Pan” nickname, which inspired the most awful gear in wrestling history in some very big shows. She & Tomoko lost their Japanese Tag Titles at Wrestling Queendom ’94, and she was demolished by Aja Kong at Wrestlemarinepiad ’94, in a show full of veterans “testing out” lower-ranked wrestlers and killing them. She was handily beaten by Bison Kimura at Queendom ’95 in a pretty weak match that saw her stuff a lot of Bison’s comebacks in a weird bit. She also went by “Black Blizzard” in a short feud with Sakie (as “Blizzard Yuki”), but this went nowhere except for a main event tag match.

She had a lack of title runs during this time, with a drought lasting until the late ’90s. However, by then she’d started getting a much bigger push, as the company’s finances were in the shitter and audiences were dwindling. She defeated MANAMI TOYOTA at Queendom ’97 in the first of AJW’s big attempts to see if Kaoru could catch fire in the Main Event, then got a huge push on her team with Tomoko- producing a ton of stuff, including a legendary *****-ish Cage Match against Las Cachorras Orientales as a big “cap-off” to the Boom Period of joshi, as AJW went bankrupt around that time. Ito stuck with AJW while most of the other girls bailed on the company, which is probably the result of her eventual big pushes (no way was she seeing that with LCO, Aja, Kyoko, etc. around).

She & Manami won the JWP Tag Titles for a short reign in 1998 (19 days), beating Devil Masami & Hikari Fukuoka, then losing to Hikari & Tomoko Kuzumi. But then she and Tomoko formed a weird masked heel stable called the “Zaps” and started calling themselves Zap I & Zap T (for “Ito” and “Tomoko”), and terrorized the company, holding the WWWA Tag Titles in a deathgrip for more than a year (454 days!) until they were finally-unseated by a returning, HEROIC version of Las Cachorras! They moved on to the JWP Tag Titles afterwards, holding them for 129 days after beating Command Bolshoi & Rieko Amano, but vacated them.

Finally, after a couple years of being a Zap, she got her Main Event Push in a gutted AJW- she ended Manami’s third WWWA Title reign, becoming the owner of the “Red Belt” in late 2000, holding the title for a MONSTER 525-day run (a huge length for the time- AJW had done mostly “year or less” reigns during most of the mid-to-late ’90s), probably to ensure her credibility as a top star. She finally lost to Toyota, but won it back in 2002, holding it for 106 days this time- Momoe Nakanishi, a newer star, defeated her for her own “Ace” run. Kauro had by this point gotten REALLY large, but could still move a bit.

AJW died in 2004, and Kaoru’s push went with it, I think- the rest of her run is as just another person on the card, from what I can see. She won the NEO Tag Titles with Ayako Hamada in 2007 (100 days), and the OZ Academy Tag Belts in a 28-day reign with Aja Kong (beating Carlos Amano & Manami, losing to AKINO & Ran YuYu). She seems to have moved full-time to Pro-Wrestling Diana, a small company that’s kind of part-“Retirement Home” (Ito, Kyoko & Takako Inoue, Yumiko Hotta) and part-newbie company (Sareee and others). There, she is a three-time Diana Tag Champion, with runs in 2013 (w/ Tomoko as inaugural champions- 91 days), 2016 (w/ Kyoko, beating CHRYSIS- 166 days), and is in fact currently one with Tomoko again (beating CHRYSIS in a new incarnation in 2019, and has held those belts for 451 days so far. She is also a two-time Diana World Champion (does that really qualify as a “World” title?), beating Manami in 2014 for a 267-day run (jobbing to Kyoko), then winning it back for a 105-day run, losing back to Kyoko again.

As a pro, her legacy is… pretty minor. I mean, she was an up & comer on some of the biggest shows of all time, and only got a World Title run in a completely gutted company, then did small-rent stuff after 2004 or so.

MOVESET:
Half-Crab (sooooooooo many half-crabs), Running Ass Attack, Powerbomb, Release Uranage, German Suplex while opponent’s on the 2nd Rope, Run-Up 2nd-Rope Turning Senton, Running Double-Foot Stomp, Double-Foot Stomp off the Apron, Super Fisherman’s Brainbuster, Flying Double-Foot Stomp to the Outside, Flying Double-Foot Stomp (Early Finisher), Screwdriver (backdrop suplex to kneeling powerbomb- Finisher)

THE MATCHES:
(Yeah, it’s a pair of Toyota matches. She was by far the best opponent to wrestle when Ito was getting her push)

WWWA WORLD TITLE:
MANAMI TOYOTA vs. KAORU ITO:
(19.07.2000):
* So the Kaoru push is well under way, as she challenges Manami Toyota for the WWWA World Title. Ito’s “t-shirt and shorts” look looks very “American Indies in the 1990s”, while Toyota’s in an epic red “Flair Robe”. At least Ito reveals it’s more of a two-piece outfit with “Bam Bam” fire designs on it afterwards, while Toyota’s in the black & gold gear she was wearing in the 2000s. The fans absolutely BURY the ring under streamers to start. This is well into the “Dark Ages” of Joshi, so it’s a quiet audience, despite being for the Red Belt.

They tear around the ring to start, typically AJW, until Ito hits a Super Samoan Drop when Manami climbs the ropes! We segue to the Ito Restholds of Eternity, but at least Manami’s bendy enough to sell them as agonizing. Toyota comes back with a 40-second Rolling Cradle and dropkicks Ito right in the spine, then fights with an octopus hold for a while, then a figure-four- they actually get a crowd pop when Manami drags her back from the ropes. I mean, that was a two-minute hold and it kinda worked! We see shots of Ito’s concerned mother sitting at ringside, but she comes back with a Release Uranage and a running attack- figure-four, but she eats a Manami Roll for two, then earns a missile kick to the back of the head. They fight up top, but Manami dropkicks her from there, flat-backing into the ring while Ito tumbles to the floor.

Missile Kick Suicida and Moonsault get two, and Ito’s mom looks more amused than anything. Straightjacket German gets two, but Ito stuffs the double-hammerlock version and MURDERS Manami with a lariat, and hits a huge Ligerbomb for two! Manami avoids another, but tries another Roll and eats a huge Floatover Powerbomb for a close call, then takes the Mulkey Bump out of the ring! Ito tries a Flying Stomp out there, but misses, and Manami hits the Japanese Ocean (double-hammerlock) Suplex on the floor! Then, in a crazy spot, she climbs a lightning rig up in the corner, and leaps off with a huge plancha from at least a dozen feet in the air! Weird cross-armed underhook German gets two, as does a Japanese Ocean Suplex. Japanese Ocean CYCLONE Suplex (straightjacket electric chair drop w/ bridge)… TWO! Manami tries another, but Ito reverses to a choke submission, then a Buckle Bomb (hitting low), but she’s exhausted and Manami more or less Hulks Up, recovering quickly, but takes forever for a flying splash, hitting feet.

Manami hits the floor to recover, and Ito follows with a HUGE dive, then a Ligerbomb on the floor! Murderous Flying Stomp (landing ass-first on Manami) to the floor! Flying Stomp in the ring gets two! Another one- two! They’re really milking these, so it’s not just BeamSpam. Super Fisherman’s Brainbuster for two- another two Stomps (okay, now it’s BeamSpam) but Manami dodges a third one, then catches Ito and tries the Sunset Flip Powerbomb… but Ito resists it, so Manami just spins around and hits the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex from there! Great counter! That gets two to the shock of the crowd. Ito gets a snap sleeperhold to fight Manami down, climbs, gets caught, but hits a SUPER RELEASE POWERBOMB, dropping Manami leg-first on the ropes, then follows with a Flying Stomp for the three (24:02)- ITO’S FIRST TITLE REIGN!!

See, watching this I was like “Hey, latter-day Ito is AWESOME!”, because she makes the most of her bits of offense, hitting brutal lariats and fighting like a Power Wrestler. Manami got to do all her flashy shit, interspersed with these devastating looking slams from Ito, mimicking an All Japan wrestler of all things- those Powerbombs and Uranages are TIGHT. The slow build leading to the great stuff outside the ring was epic, and I was veering towards ****1/2 territory until they hit this five-minute stretch of just spamming out a bit too much stuff. Like the AJW “GO GO GO!” style wasn’t made for people like Ito, with limited offense, and so they were just sacrificing MDK moves or spamming finishers because they “had to” hit 24 minutes instead of shaving off a few. Like, that JOCS reversal from the failed Sunset Bomb was AWESOME, but would have meant more if she hadn’t already hit the eight minutes ago. Never mind the eventual “you sell a move, then pop up and hit your own” stuff. I dislike it in wrestling today, so I gotta be fair here.

Rating: **** (it was like a 4.5 star match they let go on too long, lol- so frustrating!)

WWWA WORLD TITLE:
KAORU ITO vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
(24.02.2002):
* This is from WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY later than I usually review these things, but it’s Ito against one of joshi’s legends again. So Ito is now kind of the Ace, but Manami’s still kicking around before she runs out of stuff to do. Ito’s got light brown hair and a black outfit on, with “D-Bag Tattoo” designs on her shirt, while Manami’s in a black & gold leotard. Manami looks like a softer, possibly stronger version of her lithe ’90s self, while Ito is now looking even bulkier than in 2000.

Because Joshi, Kaoru hits two Powerbombs immediately after the bell, then a Flying Double Stomp to Manami’s spine. She works the back but misses a Stomp off the apron and eats a German on the floor- they both sell for a minute, then a German & Moonsault get two for Manami in the ring. Missile kick and Octopus Hold try to wear Ito down, but she comes back with power stuff, restholds, and release Uranages. They’re… doing some solid spots, but at a much slower pace than the ’90s and interspersed with a LOT of generic mat-holds from Ito, here. Like, she even does a half-crab on the frickin’ floor- who does restholds out THERE? Manami gets pissed off and hucks a table, but Ito just shrugs it off- a few rope-assisted dropkicks and the bridging deathlock keep her down in the ring, though. Ito hiptosses her out of the Rolling Cradle twice, but finally gets caught in it, and Manami gets knocked off the top and does a Mulkey Bump through the ropes trying a dropkick on Ito, who follows with a LADY TRUCKER TOPE! Kaoru finally brings the awesome by climbing the lighting rig around the ring and dropping down into the Double-Stomp on Manami from there! I mean, it’s only a 6-7 foot drop, but it looked cool as fuck and the crowd got LOUD when they saw her climb!

Manami reverses a powerbomb in the ring and actually pulls off a Manami Roll. Moonsault misses, but a Japanese Ocean Suplex gets two. Sunset Flip Powerbomb gets two- the crowd doesn’t even buy that spot anymore, sadly. Oh man, and she hits the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex immediately after, and the crowd doesn’t even bite on THAT, either! Ito just slaps on a submission while prone, barely selling it. Manami climbs, but gets brought down by a Powerbomb and it’s resthold time again! Manami dumps her and tries a suicidal Tope Con Hilo that leaves her splatting on the floor. She hits a Missile Dropkick Suicida, then another JOCS in the ring, not getting Ito’s hands locked- it gets two and Ito goes to that submission again. Ito gets a Powerbomb, tosses Manami off the top and hits a HUGE Flying Double-Stomp. And another! But Manami “Fuck YOU!” bridges out. Lariat & Ligerbomb both get two, so she hits a SUPER FISHERMAN’S BUSTER— but AGAIN earns a “Fuck YOU!” bridge! She whips Manami to the ropes, but they stumble over a Manami Roll and the challenger hits a pair of Queen Bee Bombs (leg-hook arm-trap Northern Lights Bomb, sorta) for the win and the title (27:02)! Manami wins!

Oh, MAN. They did a bunch of “greatest hits” spots in the first minutes of the match, then sat in restholds for 15 minutes, interspersed with Manami doing a few moves at half the speed of her ’90s self, and Ito kinda just… lazily reversing some. Then it looked like Manami was trying to have the best match possible with a sluggish opponent, hitting some good moves but showing the wear of the road as she did so (understandable- it was 10 years after her peak began)- it was too obvious a carry-job to rate highly. Interestingly, the Quebrada reviewer favored Ito here, saying she had good psychology with the endless crabs and back stuff, but Manami was still doing all her regular moves despite the back-work. The Finisher Escalation ending was very “AJW in the ’90s”-like, but missed the stuff around it that makes you bite on those finishes, and the crowd was responding as if they’d killed one-time big finishes like the Ocean Cyclone Suplex quite badly. But even 50% Manami is still pretty good, so ehn.

Rating: ***1/4 (hard to hate Manami matches, even in 2002 and against a lummox of an opponent)