Joshi Spotlight: The Beauty Pair

Beauty Pair’s signature song, aka “Every anime theme song during the 1970s”.

Real Name: Naoko Sato
Billed Height & Weight: 5’8″ 160 lbs.
Career Length: 1975-88

Real Name: Makiko Ueda
Billed Height & Weight: 5’6″ 136 lbs.
Career Length: 1975-79

-Now this is a really deep dive into the history of Joshi- many fans online have no doubt at least HEARD of the Crush Gals, and how big they were in Japan in the 1980s, but it’s much less-known that they were begat (begotten?) by the Beauty Pair- Jackie Sato & Maki Ueda. Both groups were Joshi tag teams who were also “Idols” of a sort- becoming icons to teenage girls and even selling their songs!

Of the two, Sato is by far the most famous and important, so this is largely a bio on Sato herself- she was the one whose career lasted longer, involved a push as AJW’s top star, and became central to another whole company (the first incarnation of Joshi Women’s Pro-Wrestling- JWP). Sato herself was a basketball player who turned to pro wrestling, and became the biggest star in joshi, though Ueda actually became WWWA Champion first.

From what I’ve seen of a handful of matches, both are good technical workers in that “1970s Style”- the catch-as-catch-can style where you fight for every hold, and spend most of the match on the mat working stuff. Ueda fought mostly technically, using a lot of speed and pretty slick counters, wrestling very precisely. Jackie, who was taller (5’8″ is VERY tall for a Japanese woman), would use her power and leverage more, moving out of things and blasting the opponent with big boots and knees before doing more holds, just LEANING on people and powering them into stuff instead of being as smooth technically.

It’s weird seeing them wrestle knowing that Jaguar Yokota was doing 1990s-style wrestling only 4-5 years later, but not everyone can see the future, y’know? But Jackie could be the “little guy”, too, fighting uphill against Monster Ripper (Rhonda Sing) and doing “plucky babyface” comebacks to rapturous applause from the teen fanbase. But if anything, Maki seems even more wildly popular, like the crowd saw themselves in her (possibly because she was shorter and cuter than the very athletic & strong Sato, I dunno).

They were OVER, though- the Retirement Match that caps off the duo has mad heat throughout, and teen girls are seen & heard being completely hysterical at ringside when it’s all over and we get the ten-ring salute and retirement- the Beauty Pair song that sees the loser off just hits perfectly, especially when both sing along. Like, THAT is how you send someone off to retirement!

Jackie Sato - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

Jackie Sato with the old-timey WWWA World Title.

-Jackie & Maki both debuted in 1975, and shockingly, won the WWWA Tag Team Titles only a year later, having already formed “The Beauty Pair”- AJW clearly pushed people to the moon more quickly back then (the Crush Gals’ mega-stardom came a few years into their runs, and their World Title reigns came after their tag stuff). Their title win actually came the day they formed the duo, in fact, defeating Mach Fumiake & Mariko Akagi for the belts. They released a top-ten hit single and used it as their theme song, and became the gold standard of mega-stars in joshi, with adoring fans throwing confetti and streamers into the ring- something later built upon by the Crush Gals. The Pair held the titles for only three months before losing them to Jackie West & Yukari Lynch, but won them back only 51 days later, now holding the belts for a huge 244-day run.

Oddly, despite Jackie ending up the bigger star, Maki was champion first- she won the WWWA World Title from Jumbo Miyamoto in 1976, holding it for 175 days before dropping it to Mariko Akagi, whom she defeated 241 days later for her last run- a 95-day one. In 1977, Jackie defeated Maki to win the WWWA World Title for the first time, and took on all comers, including Monster Ripper (Ronda Singh) and Nancy Kumi in a monster run that lasted 637 days- unprecedented in those times. The Pair relinquished their Tag Titles a few months later, but Jackie won them back with Nancy Kumi later that year, holding them for 95 days until vacating them yet again.

Ueda herself would win the All Pacific Title in 1978 from Chabela Romero, holding it for 202 days until vacating it- she would retire in 1979 in what Wikipedia calls a “Loser Must Retire” match, as Jackie defeated her- the two embraced at the end, and Maki never returned to the ring. Jackie then lost the WWWA Title to Monster Ripper, winning it back only 44 days later. Jackie had another reign before losing the title back 184 days later. She would win the vacant WWWA Title for her third reign in 1980, holding it for 71 days before losing to Jaguar Yokota in 1981- Jackie herself retired only a few months later.

beurre d'arachide on Twitter: "Starting with THE tag team of the era and major crossover stars, Jackie Sato & Maki Ueda from Beauty Pair.… "

God I love the 1970s.

I’ve heard tell that there was some chicanery here, as AJW forced Jackie to retire early (she would have only been about 24 at the time; AJW made people retire at 26/27) because they saw big money in the young Jaguar, and didn’t want Sato around to steal her thunder. This lends credence to the modern take that the “Mandatory Retirement” rule isn’t SO dumb after all, as in fact Jaguar DID become a big star, and the ability to cycle through your Main Eventers can allow you to refresh things and not lead to people just dominating on top for years at a time.

1986 created a big story, as Jackie not only came out of retirement, she did so founding an entirely new company- JWP! With a huge boom in women’s wrestling thanks to the Crush Gals peaking around this time, Jackie and some backers got together to create a rival promotion with a similar style- she would show up along with a few women forcibly-retired from AJW (including former Ace, Devil Masami), along with some rookies who failed in their bid to become AJW wrestlers (including future megastars Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki)… as well as Olympic-class judoka Shinobu Kandori.

Kandori was Sato’s first opponent in her return, but the two would have a much more famous incident in July 1987- Kandori shot on Jackie and humiliated her during a match. The Japanese Wikipedia and some YouTube comments tell the story that Sato hurt her eye legit in a match at some point, and that Kandori decided to “break her heart”- and if Wikipedia and YouTube comments say it, that’s basically fact, right?

Watching here, you can see when it happens- they do some basic stuff, and then Kandori pops up and ratatatats Jackie in the face, stunning her. Then she demands Jackie hit her back, and Jackie won’t. So they do a lot of uncomfortable grappling, Kandori quickly overpowering Jackie and even slapping her around while she’s helpless at one point. Jackie throws a few shots here and there, but clearly has no defense or ability to “finish” a choke, while Kandori appears to just be toying with her and making it very, VERY clear that she has Jackie beaten and in a real fight, she’d win easily. Unsurprisingly, the Olympic-caliber judoka is a superior grappler to the ex-basketball player turned puro star, no matter how athletic she is.

Sato was said to be so embarrassed that she retired (though that was in March 1988). She would never return to the ring, though stuck around JWP in the background- Kandori had an uncomfortable relationship with the company after that point (she tried to bail for AJW, but was told she couldn’t; she doesn’t show up regularly until some 1990 cards as far as I can tell), and four years later would leave in an exodus of wrestlers for form LLPW. Sato herself died of stomach cancer in 1999 at only 41 years of age, making her one of very few big joshi stars to die young.

Basic 1970s Universal Technical Offense, Running Big Boot, Running High Knee, Running Cross-Body, Flying Splash, Atomic Drop, Jackknife Hold, Backdrop Suplex Hold (Finisher, I think)

Basic 1970s Universal Technical Offense, Flying Armbar (jumping off the top while holding an armbar and keeping it on the landing), Double-Chickenwing, Flying Splash

* Okay, so despite this being a BEAUTY PAIR bio, I can’t find a single actual tag match on YouTube- just solo appearances! It’s very weird. Though it seems like Beauty Pair’s run is so old that it pre-dates any recordings you could find- the earliest AJW stuff I can find is from 1979- after their last Tag Title reign had ended.

* Here’s a Maki Ueda solo appearance, up against Lucy Kayama, who seems to be doing a “glamorous wrestler” gimmick, judging by the heavy eyeshadow and dark lipstick (really unusual for the joshi I see from the ’70s-80s). She’s a pretty big star, having two WWWA Tag Title reigns adding up to about two years between them! She’s in white, while Ueda’s in the color of 1970s upholstery. Wow, that’s a unique look.

Maki tosses Lucy all over the ring to start, but Lucy wins a test of strength and outgrapples her. Lucy has this really unique, “dainty” way of moving, swaying her arms to the side- really pulling off the “I’m a glamorous heel” thing. She yanks on the arm to work that, but Maki comes back with speed and a bodyscissors, then does a rolling version! Lucy bails, but gets her leg worked a ton back in the ring, selling desperately and constantly scrambling to the ropes. Now Maki’s just standing on the ankle and STOMPING the leg, with Lucy’s selling coming off very heelish- like “Come on ref, help me!” or like LCO’s selling in the ’90s.

After literally five minutes of this, Lucy finally kicks her off and puts on a figure-four. Maki sells that for a bit, but eventually just punches the leg to break free, then chases her outside the ring and mauls the leg out THERE, too, stomping on it on the floor. Lucy trips her up in the ring and hits running attacks and a gutwrench suplex for two, and a backbreaker for the same. An atomic drop and whip send Maki outside, and Lucy starts smashing her into tables and chairs (in 1979!). Maki nearly gets counted out after being launched over a table, but sunset flips back in and hits a swinging neckbreaker & butterfly suplex, but misses a blind flying attack and Lucy fires off a bunch of wimpy-looking strikes- gutwrench suplex, but Maki punches her, throws her, and hits a Surfboard just as time seems to expire at (20:50 aired).

Well 1970s matches are hard to judge, haha- light technical wrestling and adequate working of holds, and some great “wailing in agony” selling from Lucy, but her strikes looked super weak even compared to other ’70s stuff and the match was just all Maki until Lucy’s short comeback there.

Rating: **1/4 (not bad I suppose, but it’s a bit too old-school for me)

* So this is Rhonda “Bertha Faye” Sing, way WAY back in the late ’70s as a brutish Gaijin Champion. She looks unrecognizable here- no makeup, a ’70s perm and built more like Mantaur than her ’90s self- squat and wide like a football player. She’s in black & white. Jackie’s got a perm of her own and is in blue.

Ripper powers Jackie around and gloats to the crowd, so Jackie sneaks up on her and hits a leaping headscissors, pissing off the champ! But Ripper keeps acting like an ass, pushing Jackie around and even daring her to try a pin, hefting her off and gloating again- good heelin’. Jackie sells a one-handed test of strength like Luke selling for Palpatine, while Ripper keeps turning to the crowd and flexing, taunting Jackie “COME ON!” She locks an armbar over the ropes and slugs Jackie around and stomps her till she bails to regroup. She tries a comeback in the ring, but Ripper grabs the leg and beats on it, finally just dropping onto Jackie and BITING it. Fireman’s carry drop and release vertical suplex and Jackie needs that leg checked on by the medics.

Girls are seen crying at ringside and then Ripper just barges in and starts laying waste again, hitting an ass attack- Jackie dodges another one and leads her on a chase around ringside that lasts a full minute, then trips her. An annoyed Ripper charges, ending up outside the ring… and then Jackie cross-bodies her while she’s on the apron, sending them both down! Ripper sells this like absolute death (though it was a safe, controlled fall right down), and Jackie works the injured neck with a pair of hooking clotheslines, and a sunset flip out of the corner gets two. Fireman’s carry drop, suplex and Flying Splash… gets two! The crowd goes nuts as Jackie hits a Backdrop Suplex Hold and the ref counts three at (clipped to 13:03)! Ripper clearly got her shoulder up at “2”, though- she calls bullshit and interrupts the celebration, but Jackie is crowned WWWA Champion. Interestingly, the title is way different from the one used in the ’90s and beyond- I think it’s Mildred Burke’s original.

Interesting watching Ripper matches in the context of the ’70s- she confesses to being green as grass when she hit AJW, but here she at least has her heel mannerisms down, and Jackie plays the “Sting” to her “Vader” well, buzzing around and hitting stuff when she can, selling every shot like death. Like, Ripper didn’t do a single thing in there *I* couldn’t do, but she did it with timing and charisma, so it worked. Jackie finally hitting a comeback came off well, as that bump to the floor took all the fight out of the champ.

Rating: **1/2 (simplistic stuff, but it worked and had a good babyface comeback)

* So it’s the Beauty Pair, each with a belt (Jackie is the WWWA Champion, Maki is the All Pacific Champ), fighting for the top title in Joshi, in a Retirement Match! I doubt it gets any bigger than that for 1979 AJW. Notably, the teen girls in the crowd are going FUCKING BERSERK immediately, literally hanging off of Sato & Maki as they each head down the aisle. Sato is tall, athletic-looking and has a big 1970s perm and a blue swimsuit, while Maki is shorter, with short hair and a turquoise/flowery singlet.

They start off very “1970s”, slowly circling and trying basic stuff and reversing it, but it’s funny to hear the crowd go absolutely nuts for armdrags and missed elbowdrops. Ueda works a hammerlock and you’d think all the fans were in the hold from the sound. Jackie comes back with knees and a half-nelson, then works the arm & neck on the mat for a few minutes, doing that “counter-wrestling” thing like Flair/Steamboat, where they move to one side, then the other, then stand up in the hold, then fight back down, so it’s not just lying around. Jackie uses her size to come back with big boots and high knees, then bends Ueda’s arms the wrong way in all sorts of positions. She actually works the Million Dollar Dream, but from the side so it’s an arm-hold, and teens in the crowd scream and cover their eyes. She actually turns that into a ripcord-style slap, but Ueda fights back and they tumble into the ropes each trying abdominal stretches or cradles. Jackie works a straightjacket hold for a minute, but Ueda reverses to the same- Jackie powers out into the corner, but Ueda climbs and hits the flying armbar! JB Angels-style!

We pause for credits and return with Ueda still working the arm while Jackie bridges to avoid the pain, then starts an Indian deathlock- Jackie finally hits the ropes after two solid minutes. Jackie tries to force her over into a pin, and now tries to actively avoid Ueda’s grapples, keeping her distance. Ueda throws her to the ropes and hits a butterfly suplex, but Jackie slides to her side at 1. Ueda fights her into another one… and goes up! The entire audience gets to their feet at once in an epic move, but Ueda’s Splash MISSES! Jackie gets a backdrop suplex (that won her the Title) for two and now HER Flying Splash misses! Since this is 1979, that causes the “All Japan Sell” from both- Jackie’s up first and hits a big running boot, but Ueda snags the next one and they scrap & tumble around. They circle again, and Ueda goes for a TOMBSTONE, but Jackie stuffs two shots of it and they brawl outside the ring! Jackie beats her ass out there, slams her around the ring, and hits a running cross-body, but she can’t get a count- a couple atomic drops hit, but Ueda no-sells, grabs a punch and whips her, but Jackie double-legs her into a Boston Crab attempt, but slowly just leans on her, scoring the jacknife pin at (24:38)! Size and leverage wins again!

Teen girls are seen BAWLING at ringside, but the Beauty Pair tearfully embrace after the title ceremony (which has a doll in a glass case for some reason), and Maki says goodbye to the fans with an interview and a parade of wrestlers & AJW staff giving her flowers. The arena goes dark save for a spotlight on Ueda as the ten-bell salute goes as girls WAIL into the arena mics. And then the Beauty Pair embrace as THEIR SIGNATURE SONG comes over the speakers! Big-time wrestling moment- right here is classic storytelling that works everywhere.

Interesting match- a bit before my time, and using a highspot-less style that’s hard to rate using my sensibilities, but I picked up on some psychology, I think. It was largely holds and counter-holds, but Ueda seems to be the better grappler, countering Jackie’s height and strength advantage- like she was grounding the powerhouse, and Jackie was left doing big strikes or using leverage moves to make up the difference, often just forcing Ueda over or leaning on her to break things. Her actively trying to get out of Ueda’s grabbing range “read” well to me, and then BOOM- she wins the match by beating her up outside the ring, and uses a leverage move to fight for the pin! So her superior physical advantages won her the day!

Rating: ***1/2 (this kinda stuff isn’t very “action-intensive” by comparison to what I like, but I read the psychology, it had tremendous heat, and they both fought hard for EVERYTHING)

Also, this is TREMENDOUS- a one-hour Autobiographical MOVIE about Jackie Sato- they do a match shot like a movie would be (lots of close-ups and exaggerated sound effects), Jackie hurts her leg, and then we do a “backstory flashback” about how she got into Joshi Puroresu and becomes a big star. And also she and some other chick take on a gang of hoodlums, and she jogs to the Beauty Pair’s signature song:

I love the “movie sound effects” during the match they show, like “rubber stretching” for a foot facewash in the corner.