Joshi Spotlight: Tomoko Watanabe

One of those wrestlers who doesn’t seem great on most cards, yet will have one of the most buckwild brawls you’re ever going to see at random. Ever wanna see someone take a bump so insane in Korakuen Hall that I don’t even wanna spoil it? Look here!

JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- TOMOKO WATANABE:
Other Names: ZAP-T
Billed Height & Weight: 5’3″, 161 lbs. (it shifted a LOT, though- she was slender in the early ’90s, chubby later and really wide in the late ’90s)
Trainer: Jaguar Yokota
Career: 1989-today (still active)

-Tomoko Watanabe is one of those wrestlers who was quite good at times and has hit near-***** in multiple tag bouts, but has the bad luck of having some of the worst matches on the best Joshi cards of all time, owing to the Botchamania Highlight Reel that was the early part of her career. She was… very clearly the worst wrestler of the “Class of 1989”, with Sakie Hasegawa being the obvious future superstar, and Kaoru Ito being better than Tomoko and ending up the Ace when AJW ran out of stars- both were a lot more athletic than the squat Tomoko. But still, she was okay! Eventually! I mean, it took a while!

Tomoko Watanabe (Tomoko Watanabe) – Wiki, Profile | AllWrestlersList.com

Even pics of her online aren’t easy to find.

It kinda says a lot, though, that even a gutted AJW that had KAORU ITO as their Ace never bothered to push Tomoko above the level of “elite tag wrestler” or “IC-level competitor” in her fifteen years with the company. But man, she had a LOT of runs with the Tag Belts (five in total!), teaming with all sorts of different people. Jeeeeeeezus, those early ’90s shows, though… Tomoko had this weird thing where she wanted to wrestle like Kyoko Inoue (who had a similar stocky build), trying to copy slingshot moves (where you leap onto the second rope and spring back for your move) and general athleticism. Unfortunately… Tomoko was nowhere near as athletic as Kyoko was. She was actually a huge botch-machine, attempting to be flashy, but making hash of things constantly. You need a lot of coordination for that stuff, or it really doesn’t work- 1990s joshi wasn’t as precise a style as other types of wrestling, but you couldn’t just trip off the ropes and land on your face without the crowd going “OOOOOOOH!”.

Late ’90s Tomoko is a much different animal, though- now gaining a lot of weight, she became a squat, grumpy powerhouse, hitting brutal lariats that make her look like a nasty veteran, and doing great powerbombs and suplexes- a rare case where weight gain IMPROVED someone’s work. And when she hit running moves, she SPRINTED in- borderline unprofessional levels of stiffness, but still probably nothing compared to what Aja Kong did. Not the kind of person who has **** solo matches, but a pretty good “Hoss Wrestler”, despite being so short. She is often paired with elite martial-arts-themed wrestler Kumiko Maekawa during this part of her career, first teaming with her to win the WWWA Tag Titles (and holding them with Kumiko for three of her five runs), and then feuding at times, as Kumiko beats Tomoko for the All Pacific Title twice. She seems to have been a much bigger deal, but like with Kaoru Ito, I find her in the “pretty good” tier, and the notion that a company has either of them as a top star is… not a good sign of their overall health.

CAREER TRAJECTORY:

Tomoko Watanabe – Joshiresu

Tomoko’s early look, when she was teaming with Bat Yoshinaga.

-Tomoko debuted in 1989 alongside Sakie & Ito, and generally opened shows for a while until it came time for a mini-push here or there. In the 1992 shows, she appears is Bull Nakano’s stable along with Bat Yoshinaga, as an opening-match tag team in matching gear (black shirts and white pants, wrestling barefoot). Here, she was rather slender in addition to being short, and was the “worse” member of the team (in that “wrestling” way where it’s clear that one person often does the job and doesn’t score the pin).

Her first mini-push came at the end of ’92, defeating Sakie for the AJW Title (the “good rookie” belt), despite being way below her on the tier list by that point. She held it for only 48 days before dropping it to Ito, who was getting a bigger push, too- I wonder if this was just to throw the kid a bone and not make her look COMPLETELY terrible. At the end of the year, she & Bat defeat Mariko Yoshida & Takako Inoue for the Japanese Tag Titles (the lowest-ranked tag belts that usually go to juniors), holding them for 132 days before losing to Sakie & Ito. She spends what is arguably the peak of Joshi and the Interpromotional Era doing opening matches and tag bouts on some of joshi’s biggest cards, often jobbing out. She beat JWP’s Candy Okutsu in a good match at Wrestling Queendom ’93, at least. Queendom ’94 sees her & Ito lose to an LLPW team as well, failing to win the Japanese Tag Titles. Big Egg Wrestling Universe has her as Toshiyo Yamada’s partner against an LLPW team that beats them bad.

Mid-1995 sees her win the AJW Title again (REALLY late in a career for a wrestler to be winning that one), but she dropped it some time in 1996 (maybe due to injury?). In 1997, she wins the vacant All Pacific Title (their IC-level belt), holding it for 133 days until Takako, who’d given it up, beats her. 1997 also sees the first of her many WWWA Tag Team Title reigns, with her & rising star Kumiko Maekawa defeating Manami Toyota & Mima Shimoda for the titles, holding them for 149 days before Shimoda and her old partner re-formed Las Cachorras Orientales to beat them. Tomoko & Ito would gain some revenge in a legendary Steel Cage match that saw everyone torn to pieces, but then she turned heel with Ito formed a weird masked heel stable called the “Zaps” in 1998 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 LCO! Along the way, she had a 14-day All Pacific reign (beating Takako and losing to Kumiko).

She & Kumiko re-formed in 1999 to win the titles back, holding them for 164 days until vacating them. In 2000, she beat Azumi Hyuga to win her third and final All Pacific Title, holding it for a huge 428-day run, losing to Kumiko again. The Zaps also won the JWP Tag Titles in early 2000 from Command Bolshoi & Reiko Amano, vacating them after 129 days. In 2001, she & Nanae Takahashi won her fourth WWWA Tag Titles from LCO, holding them for 181 days until Takako Inoue’s heel team “Black Joker” unseated them. She & Kumiko would win the Tag Titles again, this time from Nanae & Etsuko Mita in 2003, holding them for 106 days until Double Inoue beat them. In mid-2004, she & Takako Inoue won the Japanese Tag Titles– they were the final champions, holding them until AJW died.

She takes an almost five-year break from serious wrestling, near as I can tell, missing 2007 and doing only a few matches a year until 2012, where she becomes a regular for Pro Wrestling Diana. She goes to “Marvelous That’s Women Pro Wrestling” (yes, that’s the name) in 2015 and has stayed there to this day, still wrestling regularly, though she has been freelancing and appearing in just about every women’s promotion in Japan for the past several years.

She is a three-time Pro Wrestlig Diana Tag Champion, with two runs in 2013 (w/ Ito as inaugural champions- 91 days, and Kyoko Inoue- 315 days), and is in fact currently one with Ito again as of this writing (beating CHRYSIS in a new incarnation in 2019, and has held those belts for over 450 days so far.

MOVESET:
Lariat, Judo Flip, Dragon-Screw Leg Whip to Figure-Four Leglock, Frankensteiner (from being lifted up into the air), Slingshot Lariat, Slingshot Cross-Body, Slingshot Elbow Drop, Powerbomb, Screwdriver (Backdrop to Sit-Out Powerbomb), Hellsmasher (Double-Arm Suplex)

THE MATCHES:

I actually couldn’t find any highly-rated solo matches at all (says it all, don’t it?), but hey, two LCO matches! Tomoko was best in tags, anyways.

WWWA TAG TEAM TITLES:
TWO OUT OF THREE FALLS:
THE U*TOPS (Tomoko Watanabe & Kumiko Maekawa) vs. LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES (Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita):
(18.06.1997)
* So this brings us to the time when AJW had lost Akira Hokuto, fortunes were falling greatly thanks to bad investments, the Japanese economy, and more- Tomoko is now one of the tag champs, along with Kumiko, who was a completely green rookie four years prior, but was seen as the future. The U*Tops (stable and team name- Kaoru Ito was one as well) had won the belts from Shimoda and her partner Manami Toyota during the big Shimoda push that ended up petering out and leading to the reformation of the infamous LCO, now as a Main Event team instead of an upper-midcard one. So this was probably seen as a big deal. LCO are now in their full-bore wild costumes you often seen on Google Image Search, with cowboy hats and geisha gear with stuff hanging everywhere, in addition to PASTEL-COLORED STEEL CHAIRS~~, while Tomoko is dressed like Shredder and Kumiko like Rocky Balboa. This is amazing.

Shimoda’s in the red & black “main event” version of her gear, Mita’s in black & pink, Kumiko’s in a turquoise get-up that’s a combination of “Idol Skirt” and “Kick Demon pads”, and Tomoko’s in a funny white & black super-tassled outfit, looking like an indie comic version of Kyoko Inoue.

FALL #1: LCO completely brutalizes Kumiko to start, countering martial arts with insanity and Greco Roman choking. Kumiko fires back with some kicks on Shimoda but Tomoko gets the best reaction for just avalanching into the corner at full speed. She tries a resthold and so Mita just whips a pink chair at her from off-screen- LCO rules. The U*Tops are bludgeoned and strangled in the crowd and are bleeding five minutes in. Tomoko threatens to bring a chair in to counter Mita’s, so Mita drops hers and demands Tomoko does the same… then Shimoda wallops her from behind when she does. Lariat counters the DVD but she runs into a Blazing Chop and Shimoda’s German gets two, but Mita pink-chairs Shimoda by mistake- Tomoko goes up, but misses and eats a Tiger Suplex for two. She avoids the Death Lake Driver (Tiger Superplex) and they hit a Doomsday Device Thesz Press for two! SCREWDRIVER! Mita breaks it up, but a lariat and second Screwdriver get the three (8:36 of 9:02 shown). Hell of a first fall- *** all by itself!

FALL #2: Tomoko actually looks more disheveled, but Shimoda slaps her awake and she hits a brutal lariat with a “desperate pin” that nearly gets three! Kumiko tries restholds, but LCO uses the “assisted chest kick” spot… but with a blue chair. I love how Kumiko is treated like she’s a physical marvel, but LCO just bite and strangle their way out of all her stuff. Mita shreds her and Shimoda brings in a pastel BATTERING RAM, and the Assisted Plancha & Mita Dive lead to LCO tearing apart the entire ringside area and throwing GUARDRAILS into the ring, powerbombing Kumiko on a stack of chairs and doing the “Shawn Michaels Ladder Drop” with a guardrail onto her from there! Mita deals with Tomoko, but Kumiko gets FIRED UP, and divebombs Shimoda for the ground & pound, wiping her out while the frantic ref tries to drag her away… leading to the “Kicking Too Much Ass” disqualification at (9:14). Yes, LCO threw half of goddamn Korakuen Hall at her and she gets DQ’d for PUNCHING. Complete nonsense and clearly there to justify a fall while protecting them. Just job her to the guardrail spot!

FALL #3: Shimoda’s now bloodied and beaten to shit, but the U*Tops are pissed like you’d expect, and Shimoda collapses on a whip and flops around, taking an Ax Kick that Mita barely saves her from. Mita has to chairshot Kumiko, then Tomoko, then hit a DEATH VALLEY DRIVER on her, just to take the lead again. Shimoda then grabs scissors and digs into Tomoko while Mita carries off Kumiko for an ass-kicking all over Korakuen, leading to the most insane spot I’ve ever seen from Joshi- she drags her to the upper balcony, struggles to throw her off, then ACTUALLY FUCKING SUCCEEDS, Kumiko taking a 12-foot drop straight down onto the floor. Jesus fucking Christ. Shimoda merely settles for a piledriver on a table.

Shimoda tosses a chair as Mita is now strangling Kumiko with a giant rubber hose that she draped down to the floor, but Tomoko catches Shimoda in the Screwdriver. No ref! Mita saves with a chair just before the three. Mita tosses chairs, but misses and does the greatest dragon screw legwhip bump ever, just corkscrewing around and screaming in agony as the injured leg is hit with a figure-four. Kumiko, still selling her head, scores a HUGE running face kick for two. Shimoda flies in with an off-camera missile kick to slow her, but Kumiko knocks Mita all over the place with more lethal shots and climbs… but Shimoda catches her with the Death Lake Driver! She grabs Tomoko while Mita finishes with the Death Valley Driver (7:31 of 8:29 shown), LCO scoring their first-ever WWWA Tag Team Titles!

LCO get awarded the tag titles in a ceremony while a furious Tomoko keeps trying to attack them, then cut a great promo in the back, with Shimoda posing like a queen bee despite caked with her own blood, while Mita is glazed with “biggest workout ever” sweat. Absolutely tremendous.

This was three falls of mayhem, with a very good “they pull out a win” match to start with the U*Tops, then LCO dominating the second with restholds, bitchiness and finally extreme cheating, and then ending with the completely wild stuff, with Mita having to save Shimoda from Kumiko’s assaults, then committing homicide to pull out a win. The second fall ending with punches seemed like total bullshit considering Shimoda used SCISSORS and drew no DQs, never mind all the other stuff, but I gotta think dumping someone off the balcony of Korakuen is one of the craziest bumps I’ve ever seen in wrestling. Kumiko’s kick surge at the end was tremendous, with Mita throwing her head around violently with every shot- LCO’s selling was so perfect here, acting like the U*Tops were just so physically superior that they had to cheat to win. It was interesting how you can see Kumiko’s rookie nature because she’s barely in it, but she’s used perfectly, selling most of the second fall and being totally justified in losing to the death-drop and a wicked double-team of LCO’s finishers.

Rating: ****3/4 (completely wild match that makes the best possible use of time, giving nearly thirty minutes of all-out action with the “resting” well-timed, one “Iconic Spot” with Kumiko’s mega-bump, and LCO scoring a win due to being so insanely nasty)

WWWA TAG TEAM TITLES:
TWO OUT OF THREE FALLS:
LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES (Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita) vs. THE U*TOPS (Tomoko Watanabe & Kumiko Maekawa):
(20.08.1997)
* Wow, they ran a rematch very quickly! Tomoko’s in shiny black with tassles now, and Kumiko’s in black and blue. LCO are in their matching purple & white gear, and still in their Pirate Queen/Geisha Demon ring outfits. Sadly, this version appears to be missing about eight minutes.

FALL #1: Tomoko misses a lariat, pink chair, Death Valley Driver, goodbye at… no! TWO!! Oops- second DVD finishes at (0:57).

FALL #2: A woozy Tomoko avoids a third DVD, but gets piledriven and they do the Bitch Pose on her. Shimoda tears away and Mita tosses her around, but they repeat the dragon-screw-to-figure-four spot from the previous match and now Mita’s in agony! Kumiko works her own, so Shimoda just tosses a pastel chair at her. Kumiko recovers enough to COMPLETELY redmist Mita’s head with a kick, but misses the corner one, is dumped, and boom- it’s “LCO Crowd Brawl” time. Kumiko is piledriven on the Invincible Japanese Table, but back in the ring, she manages her thrust kick for two. Shimoda clotheslines both U*Tops and missile kicks Tomoko for two, but Tomoko counters the Tiger Suplex with lariats. She tries the Screwdriver, but now Shimoda hits the Tiger Suplex for two. Tomoko does her frankensteiner on Mita and Kumiko hits her Corner Axe Kick, then parries the BLAZING CHOP and wipes Mita out with a roundhouse for two! Shimoda chairs her, so Mita hits the Super Electric Chair drop- Tomoko saves. Chair & Powerbomb gets two, but Kumiko kicks free of the DVD, Tomoko runs in with a HUGE Screwdriver (Mita takes an All Japan Bump), and the Axe Kick gets three (11:22 of 15:45 shown)!

FALL #3: The U*Tops have used LCO’s tactics against them, now we’re tied. Mita is SO good at selling Kumiko’s kicks, despite being such a power wrestler- Shimoda chairs her by accident and a running face kick gets two. Axe Kick & Shimoda saves! Mita hits a Blazing Chop but Tomoko lariats her, then Kumiko’s Axe Kick misses and the DVD gets two- Shimoda kicks the referee for not counting three! DVD fails again, so Shimoda tries the Death Lake Driver but gets German Superplexed by Tomoko and lariated for two! Screwdriver, but Mita saves. Doomday Thesz Press gets two, as we’re getting close.

Great bit as Mita tosses the pink chair, so Tomoko grabs it and just MURDERS Shimoda with it, and Kumiko’s Running Face Kick gets two! And she repeats the Ground & Pound spot from the last match, the ref desperately dragging her off, and Tomoko accidentally lariats both of them! This sets off another LCO Crowd Brawl, and leads to them dumping the pink chair on Kumiko and doing the guardrail spot on her again! Death Lake Driver… TWO! Tomoko flies in with a lariat and Kumiko’s Axe Kick gets two- Shimoda kicks out under her own power! Kumiko climbs to try and finish, but Mita charges in from across the ring, fireman’s carrying her right off the top and into the Death Valley Driver! Another Death Lake Driver from Shimoda finishes her at (7:31 of 10:14 shown)- LCO retains!

Another hell of a match here, though I felt it suffered in the middle from the U*Tops only having a few moves each- having to spam out Axe Kicks, Running Kicks, lariats & Screwdrivers made it a lot more same-y than it should have been, and Mita ignoring almost all of her offense for Death Valley Drivers was the same sorta deal. I get that it was her big crowd-pleasing bit and her only legit killer move, but still. The match booking was good, though, with LCO double-teaming and interference being key to the first and last fall, and Mita sold like nuts to put over Kumiko’s flashy kicks. Kumiko’s still kinda bad here for just fighting through everything and hitting stuff the same no matter how beaten up she’s supposed to be, but this was a banger. I’m sorry so much is missing.

Rating: **** (another fantastic brawl, though not as wild as the last match)

And that’s it for Tomoko Watanabe! A weak singles wrestler but somehow just an AMAZING tag team one!