JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- MARIKO YOSHIDA:
Real Name: Mariko Morita
Billed Height & Weight: 5’4″ 139 lbs. (varies in body type considerably; translation: gets swole)
Career Length: 1988-2017
-One of the unsung heroes of Joshi would be Mariko Yoshida, probably most notable to Western fans for having almost the exact same name as Wolverine’s lady-love for about a decade, one Mariko Yashida. This is most likely a coincidence, though Yoshida’s real family name is apparently Morita. Her biggest contribution to Western wrestling might be the creation of the Air Raid Crash, an over-the-shoulder move where she drapes the opponent across her back, cradles a leg and their neck, and drops down in an Inverted DDT hold. It was swiped by Mike Modest, appearing prominently in Beyond the Mat (Jim Cornette marks out upon seeing it). This devastating-looking move is STILL a big maneuver, and is currently used by AEW’s Britt Baker, among others.
Yoshida was surprisingly one of the most interesting workers in 1992 AJW (with only four years in the biz at that point), using Lucha Libre-influenced stuff to great success- her sunset flips, quick runs up to the top rope, and more led to a very good “come from behind” rookie style that made flukes seem like a constant threat. Hilariously, she uses a friggin’ Super DDT as a mere “prelude to the big stuff” move, as it had zero credibility as a finisher. – Rookie Yoshida in 1992 was one of AJW’s top eight best wrestlers easily (possibly behind only Bull, Aja, Akira, Yamada, Manami & Kyoko). Her future seemed bright, before a horrible neck injury put her out for nearly two years.
This stalled her career badly, but by 1996 she’d developed a very cool Grapplefuckery style, and this led her to have some very good matches when she jumped from AJW to become the top star of ARSION, a grappling-themed joshi company. The style is very interesting to watch, though I’ll admit it’s taken me a while to get used to. I still remember watching her bout with Hiromi Yagi, going “Wow, very cool! I liked it!” and went ***1/2… and then the others on the blog here watched it and were absolutely floored by the same bout, giving it ****1/2+, and I discovered that Mike Lorefice and other reviewers had done the same. This gives credence to my reputation as a hater of technical/submission wrestling and it irks me! IRKS ME, I SAY!
I swear I think her style is cool, though! Her submissions actually seem important and desperate, and very realistic compared to what became the AJW type of submissions- typically in AJW someone would just haul a person down and magically hit a Boston Crab or armbar or something, but Yoshida FOUGHT for these moves. She wrapped somebody up, grappled close, and fought for each limb and hold, making it look more like UFC than “Hit A to do a Half-Crab and sit on their butt to kill one minute”. It was one of the better reimaginings of a wrestler’s style.
There’s this sense of… overwhelming offense to ARSION-era Yoshida- like you’re never safe from her. You try a hold and she’s spidered your arm into something. You hit your move and she wraps you up while she’s down. Come off the ropes and she catches you on the way down- it’s like if Geese Howard was a ripped chick in supervillain gear.
Also, HOLY SHIT that costume. Her “Evil Demon Spider” look is straight out of comic books, and may be the greatest all-time wrestling gear. The black top and red or grey leggings give a real super-villain vibe, and has kinda since been used by Marvel for the character Silk (a Spidey spin-off). The fact that she was friggin’ JACKED during this era really improved the overall presentation- even the tough girls of joshi were usually pretty soft-looking- Yoshida looked like she could tear your limbs off.
Yoshida and Marvel’s Silk. It even has a similar color scheme!
-Mariko Morita joined AJW for its 1988 class, debuting alongside Kyoko & Takako Inoue. Calling herself Mariko Yoshida, she did the “rookie thing” for a number of years, developing the highly-acrobatic style that was en vogue at the time- doing very quick runs up to the ropes. By 1992, she’d developed a very solid level of credibility, but wasn’t that close to Kyoko’s level- Kyoko had hit really big during her feud with Manami Toyota and was now a superstar. She & classmate Takako beat the Moreno Sisters for the Japanese Tag Titles (AJW’s lowest) in late 1991, holding them for 156 days before losing to Debbie Malenko & Sakie Hasegawa.
Yoshida did manage to have a very good match with Etsuko Mita (one of Mita’s better singles matches from the time), and had a very good feud with Sakie (who was a more nasty, competitive rookie who’d debuted a year after Yoshida did). She & Kyoko had a ****1/4 match against Manami & Sakie that came off like the fans absolutely recognized they were watching not only the style of the future, but the STARS of the future, too. Sometimes you can just tell what the fans are thinking, regardless of culture or language.
1992 saw her get a REALLY big push… and then ended in disaster. See, she & Takako won back the Japanese Tag Titles early in the year, and held them right until the end of it. And that April she won the AJW Title from Takako, holding it for a few months before dropping to Sakie. And then during the summer, she hit huge during the Japan Grand Prix round robin, getting a good miracle run against top wrestlers and a pair of 30-minute draws against Sakie (****1/4- a miracle given their combined experience was 7 years) and Kyoko, and made it to the Quarter-Finals, where it was expected that Kyoko would flatten her. However, after a long match involving Kyoko more or less crushing Yoshida at everything and completely wearing her down, Yoshida scored a shocker win! A bawling Kyoko had to watch Yoshida hit the Block Finals against Manami, where she gave a very solid performance (considering she’d literally just wrestled and had her ass kicked), but ultimately fell short to a spotfest assault from Manami in another ****+ match. But this was the big sign Yoshida was going somewhere, and was highly-thought-of.
Aaaaaaaand then she broke her neck. Very shortly after all this, Yoshida had a bad neck injury in September, and missed TWO YEARS of ring-time. During that span, Joshi hit a new Golden Age with AJW, JWP, FMW & LLPW engaging in interpromotional “Dream Matches”, and Yoshida missed all of it. Subordinate Sakie leaped up over her and probably got the push that Yoshida was due, and more, and when Yoshida finally came back it was late 1994 and she was back doing JTTS duties as Joshi’s ticket sales were falling and the Golden Age was fading away. She had a fantastic ****1/4 match against KAORU and put on another few good performances, but jobbed hard to Sakie’s “Blizzard Yuki” character at the big Dome show and was utterly SQUASHED by Kyoko & then Yumiko Hotta, both of whom treated her as a nothing with zero credibility beyond luck. In mid-95, she teams up with rookie Rie Tamada to win the Japanese Tag Titles (verrrry late in one’s career to be winning that, but… two-year gap, right?) for a third time, holding them for only two months before vacating them.
By 1995-96, Yoshida built up some credibility… and hella-body mass. Yoshida became Swoleshida, adding a ton of muscle and strength to her previously “slender rookie” body, started wearing makeup to drop the “schoolgirl” look entirely, and developed a new wrestling style to go along with it. Colloquially and amazingly referred to as “Grapplefuckery”, this style was based around hauling people down and stretching out the limbs in ways that came off as potentially match-ending and very painful, not the lazy “sit on someone’s butt” variety of resthold that weaker joshi wrestlers sometimes relied on to take a break or fill time. Yoshida would just latch on like an octopus and shred people.
Yoshida in ARSION.
This style would serve Yoshida well when, as AJW went bankrupt and stopped paying people, she jumped ship with Aja Kong to the new company ARSION… and shockingly became it’s Ace! Called “ARSION True Heart”, Yoshida was now the top star, winning its first Queen of ARSION Title and defining the company’s style, as submissions and grappling replaced the AJW “GO GO GO!” style as the dominant force. This led her to be a top star in a company at last, but apparently the style wasn’t that popular, as joshi fans had been “ruined” by said fast-paced AJW style, and hadn’t been properly trained to pop for submissions as much. So you saw a lot of matches involving people grappling to crickets and then pop for the rare high-flying moves.
As the inaugural champion, Yoshida becomes the Ace and exemplifies the company’s style by having great matches with all comers. She holds the belt for 231 days until finally dropping it to the promotion’s co-owner and booker, Aja (Aja generously “gave” during her run and wasn’t always the top star). Yoshida thus takes about four more years before winning it back- along the way, she holds the Twin Stars of ARSION Titles with Aja, beating Ayako Hamada & Mika Akino, holding them for 49 days before losing to Mima Shimoda & Michiko Omukai. When Las Cachorras Orientales reunites in ARSION during their “Travelling Monster Heels” act, they become champions and it’s Yoshida & Lioness Asuka who team up to beat them for her second Twin Star run. They hold the belts for 84 days before losing to Hamada & Omukai. Meanwhile, in 1997, she became the CMLL Women’s World Champion, holding the title for over two years, winning from and losing to Lady Apache.
Yoshida stretching some jobber in what looks to be America?
Her second Queen of ARSION Title happens with a quick run after Omukai bails on the company and vacates the Title (ARSION was a messssssssssss). This run only lasts 54 days before it’s hot-shotted to Mima Shimoda, and Yoshida is the final champion a couple months later, as ARSION closes its doors for good.
In June 2005, she launched “Ibuki”, which, according to Wikipedia, was a “bi-monthly event series, with her intention to provide opportunities for young, up and coming wrestlers from different promotions to compete with each other and to challenge senior wrestlers like Yoshida herself”. She had become a respected trainer of the new generations as well. She finally retired in 2017, losing to trainee Hiroyo Matsumoto in her final match.
Double-Arm Suplex, Cartwheel Dodge (once per match), Cartwheel Elbow in the Corner, Sunset Flip, Flying Splash, Fisherman’s Suplex, Run-Up Flying Cross-Body, Run-Up Flying Sunset Flip, Run-Up Flying Splash, Double-Arm Superplex, Super DDT
Knee to the Nose, Jujigatame, Cross-Armbreaker, Oklahoma Roll into Cross-Armbreaker, Running Big Boot, Triangle Choke, Lifting Double-Underhook Facebuster, Spider Twist (headscissors shoulder-lock w/ choke), Air Raid Crash (over-the-shoulder held Inverted DDT), Henkei Sleeper (squeezing the throat against her own thigh with two hands while her leg traps their head)
About 1:33:00 in here.
QUEEN OF ARSION TITLE:
MARIKO YOSHIDA vs. CANDY OKUTSU:
(ARSION Carnival, Dec. 18th 1998)
* This is credited as the first great ARSION match, and both are good wrerstlers, so let’s take a look. Candy was a good up & comer in JWP, but lacked much upward mobility there. Here she’s wearing Diesel’s pants and a silver top, which isn’t your typical high-flier gear, and has her hair dyed brown. Yoshida’s in her full Spider Lady gear already- red leggings, black bodysuit, stomach cut-out, etc.
They take wide-stances into matwork to start, Yoshida mounting with a keylock and more precision stuff, but Candy repeatedly twisting with simpler grabs to take control. Yoshida gets a DDT, chinlock & tries a cross-armbreaker, but Candy’s blocking most of it, getting hot and turning it into a slugfest and her Run-Up Cross-Body! Yoshida throws her off but eats a DDT, but Candy’s flying splash misses- Yoshida leaps on with a nasty-looking thigh-choke (figure-fouring her legs around Candy’s throat), Candy making a good show out of desperately rolling around and finally hitting the ropes. Candy resists a knee so Yoshida drills her in the nose, and Candy is PISSED, missing a lariat but hitting a big one on the follow-through. But she tries a move and Yoshida turns the grip into another arm-thing, and Candy squirms out and hits a release German to escape. Yoshida reverses a whip, causing Candy to fly off with ANOTHER Run-Up move, but now Yoshida’s wise and destroys the arm with a Fujiwara armbar from a mid-air catch! She turns it into a back-mounted Rings of Saturn, but Candy sells it like a basic resthold and hits the ropes.
Double-whip-reversal leads to Yoshida hitting a nasty pumphandle backdrop suplex for two (somehow trying to pin Candy on her side at first). Yoshida keeps hitting sleepers, resisting Candy’s comebacks, and transitions to the Henkei Sleeper before Candy escapes and lariats her in the nose. Brainbuster! That gets two- Candy fights her way into a Superduperplex, then hits DDTs and a Moonsault! Another one! Corkscrew Moonsault now! Yoshida barely kicks out, really selling those impacts, but reverses Candy’s German to an anklelock, threaded into a figure-four when she rolls out. Candy hits a Jackknife Powerbomb (omg, she IS Nash!), then showboats and hits the Rolling Germans for two! That was close, and Candy tries a suplex, but Yoshida rolls into a Fujiwara, and rolls through a reversal to put Candy over her back- AIR RAID CRASH! Candy kicks out at two but Yoshida IMMEDIATELY clamps on a headscissors/armlock, then threads that to her Henkei Sleeper. Candy nearly escapes, so Yoshida lets go, drags her to the middle, and reapplies- a blank-faced Candy finally taps at (16:05). An emotional Yoshida accepts the champion’s trophy and stuff at the end.
Another very interesting ARSION match, as it’s played like Yoshida is dominant and calling all the shots on the mat, but whenever Candy escapes she can hit her shit. But every time she grapples, there’s Yoshida spidering her into some damn thing. Candy sold the submissions… OKAY-ish. A couple she made a big show of kicking her feet to move about, but other times there’s this big armbar and she can barely be bothered to scream, so to me (and the audience) it reads as a resthold no matter how hard Yoshida is cranking the shit out of it. Same with those sleeperholds, and even the FINISHER, where she doesn’t even flail her arms! Never mind how she’d just make the ropes and not even sell the limb or neck- makes it feel like those holds are “filler” when in ARSION they’re supposed to be the actual match. Though it’s interesting to see AJW-style transitions (which almost always happen from Irish whips) mixed with Grapplefuckery-style ones (grabbing a limb when someone tries something on you). Yoshida did really good in carrying this, though- she did all the matwork (you could tell Candy didn’t know heads from tails there and it was Yoshida wrapping her up) and then opened herself up for flashy comebacks to put Candy over.
Rating: ***3/4 (a very, very good exhibition of grappling by Yoshida, with Candy’s comebacks being well-timed, but it’s hard to take submissions seriously when the person taking them is just kinda kicking her feet a little, you know?)
MARIKO YOSHIDA vs. YUMI FUKAWA:
* Fukawa was an undersized worker who got over in part because of her looks, and was an early jump to ARSION as kind of a rising underdog. This is from a “Sayonara” VHS that details her retirement and best matches, and shows clips of her jobbing to Yoshida in 1998-99. Fukawa’s in teeny blue shorts and a top, while Yoshida’s in the usual.
Yoshida with her arms at her sides, just circling Fukawa, who is ready to go, is a pretty cool “veteran move”- like a total confidence thing of “prove to me I need my guard up, kid”. They both spin out of armholds, but Yoshida RE-spins, then rolls right into a leghold, but scores a mount and spins around to feint Fukawa out and then starts controlling the arm until Fukawa scrambles out of both that and a headscissors to applause. Damn, I love shit like that. Except for a bit of “I’ll lie here until you decide to try your hold” that felt REAL. Fukawa blasts her, but gets caught in a snare (armscissors/bearhug) then eats a double-arm Dominator. Fukawa scores a Rana for two, and hits a hooking clothesline and shouts out to rally the fans (soooo many rookies forget stuff like that), but holds her arms out way too far and gets snared again. She rolls and bridges away until she hits a cool ankle-lock with her legs in Yoshida’s arms, but Yoshida schools her again with cool shit. Fukawa keeps trying to pick the ankle but can’t cinch it in. Fun bit as Fukawa throws defiant kicks, which lures Yoshida into grabbing one and getting rolled into a cross-armbreaker. But Yoshida knees her in the nose and hits the waistlock/pumphandle Taz/Steinerplex.
Yoshida tries the Air Raid Crash, but gets caught in a trio of pumphandle backdrop suplexes, the last one being bridged for a two-count. But then Fukawa tries to grapple again and Yoshida eats her alive with a vicious keylock, trapping the leg, too- Fukawa even gets a big pop just for getting her leg free! Yoshida transitions to a front facelock with her other hand and Fukawa finally makes the ropes. She counters another Air Raid Crash attempt and they fight over a cross-armbreaker for a while, and once it’s cinched in, Yoshida sells it as complete agony- the crowd gets into it when she starts kicking, and there’s audible disappointment when she rolls over. Fukawa transitions to a crossface, back to the cross-armbreaker, but Yoshida finally escapes… then catches a charging Fukawa with the Air Raid Crash! Yoshida’s shocked to get only two, and locks on the Henkei Sleeper, but Fukawa won’t angle herself right, so they struggle around- a frustrated Yoshida hits a Rings of Saturn to switch it up, and looks FURIOUS when Fukawa makes the ropes- she aggressively drags her to the middle for a powerbomb, but Fukawa slips out and grabs the ankle! Yoshida’s “Oh shit this actually hurts!” face is great, and she has to make the ropes, unable to fight free. Fukawa then SLAPS HER, then brilliantly catches her on the payback slap by rolling her up- 2.9! Yoshida collapses due to the leghold, then tries an Air Raid Crash but gets caught in ANOTHER leg thing, struggles for the ropes, looks completely agonized… and fucking TAPS (14:20)! YUMI FUKAWA WINS!! Fukawa is just bawling with glee, which is such an awesome bit.
See, now THIS is how you prevent Snare-Demon Yoshida from just eating you alive- Fukawa struggled, rolled, growled and wrenched out of every hold, trying her own stuff (her grabbing and twisting the ankle was legit). Much better than Candy’s stuff, even if Candy had “big moves” to use for her own offense. And Fukawa just had a counter for EVERYTHING, refusing to be pinned down, even trying her own stuff. And Yoshida was better at grappling, but you felt Fukawa could squirm out of any hold. That “slap” bit was brilliant- Fukawa knew Yoshida would do the “pissed veteran” thing and swing back, and thus CAUGHT HER, nearly getting the pin. And when Yoshida got too cocky trying another Air Raid Crash, her leg gave out from prior legwork, and Fukawa snares her again, and that’s the ballgame! The fans didn’t expect that either, and totally mark out for the ending.
Rating: ****1/4 (holy shit, now THIS is the “Grapplefuckery” I can get behind! Fukawa was legitimately awesome in my first real look at her with some experience)