Joshi Spotlight: Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue- 1995 WON Match of the Year

60 minutes of the AJW Workrate Style. Just insane.

(5/7/95, Tokyo Korakuen Hall)
* And now it’s time for Dave Meltzer’s favorite match of 1995! Manami is the WWWA Champion and having her first defense… and it’s against her old Workrate-Goddess rival, Kyoko Inoue! This one is pretty legendary in terms of what is possible for a wrestler’s cardio. AND it’s the 1995 Wrestling Observer Match Of The Year! And, on a sadder note, this show is the official retirement of Suzuka Minami, who spent most of last year in middling roles on the card and seems to have just called it quits when it’s clear there are no plans for her.

… wow, May already? AJW seems to be releasing only 1-2 VHS tapes a month at this point, so stuff is being skipped over I think. And also I have only two matches from this show on YouTube. But hey- 60 minutes in the *AJW* Workrate Style? Sign me up.

MIDGET DEATH MATCH: ATSUSHI OBUDDHA d. TSUNOKAKE (2:25): A parody of the FMW death match. They have little explosions and everything (*insert Omega/Moxley joke here*).

CHAPARRITA ASARI d. NOBUE ENDO (5:55): That seems pretty quick.

TAKAKO INOUE, TOMOKO WATANABE & KUMIKO MAEKAWA d. MARIKO YOSHIDA, KAORU ITO & RIE TAMADA (12:59): Classic “pair the spares” stuff, as everyone not actively doing something is set up for a trios match. Notably, each side is Midcard Vet/Up & Comer/Rookie, with Takako outranking everyone.

AJA KONG & REGGIE BENNETT d. LIONESS ASUKA & BISON KIMURA (15:32): Oh snap! Aja’s Monster Squad duo teams up to face her old tag team partner in Jungle Jack, Bison Kimura! Those two have had some WARS in the past, and were treated as best friends while they were active. And Aja is the dethroned champion at this point, so has a hell of a lot to prove. Apparently she refuses to even look at Bison, deciding that only Asuka was good enough for her.

* And now it’s the end of the road for midcard workhorse Minami. Here, she teams up with sometimes-ally Hotta against sometimes-allies LCO. LCO is uncharacteristically all in pink & white, which is odd to see. Hotta’s in a cool red & white singlet, and Minami’s in pink/orange & white. And she’s already crying as she’s making her way down the aisle and during introductions and god dammit, I’m gonna cry during the match now, aren’t I?

Crowd pops HUGE for Minami’s introduction, as you might expect. LCO shake hands with Minami to start, and show respect by having Mita helicopter-toss her by the hair all over the ring while shrieking, then doing a Bitch Pose while yanking her hair back and Shimoda claps to the beat of the crowd cheering Minami on. Oh, LCO. Minami comes back with her Backbreaker to a big pop (NOT easy on someone of equal height to her) and Hotta elbows Mita. In a cute bit, they do the “Kick them in the chest while camel clutch’d” spot… but with MINAMI doing Hotta’s kick spot! Mita Blazing Chops Minami down, but everyone trades off- there’s a cool bit where Hotta deflects another Blazing Chop with a kick and hits a butterfly lock, but is hit by Shimoda’s falling clothesline before she can hit a Tiger Driver.

Odd bit, as LCO switches their dives so that Mita’s Tope is first, followed by the Assisted Plancha of Shimoda’s. That leads to the Electric Chair Drop/Splash combo, and NOW we’re into the LCO Match Template. Minami comes back with a reversal, but Shimoda knocks them both down, then hits a missile dropkick and Tiger Suplex on Hotta. Hotta kicks Mita coming down from the top rope, but Minami’s Senton misses- Mita’s amazing Northern Lights Suplex gets two. But then in a great bit, Minami reverses the Death Valley Driver to a powerbomb, then plants an incoming Shimoda with a Tilt-A-Whirl Backbreaker! Big tope, and now Minami’s reveling in her biggest crowd reaction ever! Her splash hits knees, but a German gets two. Hotta’s Rolling Kick off the top nails Minami by mistake, but a regular one kills Shimoda for two. HUGE Assisted Powerbomb, but Mita saves. Hotta dumps her, allowing Minami to win her last match with a big Sit-Out Powerbomb at (12:00).

Great, fun match, albeit a quick one. LCO sold like nuts for the respected veteran, did their cool stuff, but ended up getting cranked by a few too many good Minami moves in a row, and that was that.

Rating: ***1/2 (pretty much every LCO match around this time is at least that, and this was a tad short)

Retirement Party Stuff: The real stuff, of course, starts quickly- Bull Nakano comes out (with her hair down!) and Hokuto immediately steals her thunder with a running hug to her former partner. But now it’s the MARINE WOLVES reunited against Bull & Hotta! Hotta gets the better of Minami, but Hokuto spin-kicks Hotta before eating an Overthrow Powerbomb. Minami trips up Bull, however, and the Marine Wolves then wishbone the shit out of her- Bull does the full splits! Bull uses her nunchucks to come back, but Stereo Missile Dropkicks nail Hotta. Crowd chants Minami’s name, but Hokuto’s in and she takes a Rolling Kick. Minami breaks up a double-team and the Wolves both hit dives and a Double German Suplex (with both bridging?) gets two before the bell rings at (4:10) for some kind of time expiring. The crowd’s disappointed, so Akira eggs them on and they hit a DOUBLE NORTHERN LIGHTS BOMB on Bull for an extrajudicial three-count.

Bull hugs Minami from below (KAYFABE!), and we end with a long set of Minami standing in the ring while various AJW heads and her fellow wrestlers give her stuff. Fewer than I’ve seen in other shows- it’s just Hotta, Takako, Aja, Bull & Akira, then Minami tearfully stands there in dead-center of the ring while a ten-count rings out, and everyone throws streamers at the end. I always like how they do these things- gives them their moment in the middle of the ring, with nobody able to “Bubba-Ray Dudley” it and make it all about them.

Sadly, the void Minami leaves in the midcard (that being “Gatekeeper” to the upper ranks for rising stars) is actually a tremendous one- a great worker like her who can have a good match with ANYBODY is hard to find, and they never again find a person with that combination of credibility, broomstick-carrying and the ability to job without being diminished.

* So Manami & Kyoko’s ages-long rivalry extends even to the World Title scene at last! They had the legendary “*****++++” match in early 1992, which is where Manami’s legend REALLY revs up, and have had several more great matches since then, including tag bouts hitting ****1/2 and up. Last summer, Manami beat Kyoko in a botch-y but still remarkable spotfest for the All-Pacific Title, but we’ll see if Kyoko can unseat her old rival after losing nearly every bout they’ve had for the past couple of years. I mean, she’s gotta be due, right? Kyoko, in yellow & neon-rainbow, actually gets less of a reaction than Manami (in black, as always), but soon leads the crowd in a “KYO-KO!” chant while pantomiming putting a belt on, which Manami tries to laugh off.

Of course the match would start immediately with Manami doing Dropkick Spam, then getting Flair Tossed off the top and to the floor. Kyoko spends several minutes working her over, including a crab that hits 1.5 Liontamer and a variety of back-bending holds and slams. Toyota manages her Running No-Hands Springboard reversal, but runs right into ANOTHER crab. Manami gets a good reaction desperately crawling to the ropes using her elbows, then dropkicks Kyoko square in the tailbone when she tries her Slingshot Backsplash. Kyoko literally rolls around in a circle, looking in complete agony. Two dropkicks are fired into her spine while she’s trapped in the ropes, then Toyota goes to the holds- leglocks, bodylocks and more. She gets a Rolling Cradle on her third try for two (Kyoko kept hiptossing her out), then takes a friggin’ SUPER GERMAN after climbing. That gets two, but Kyoko tries her Run-Up Flying Elbow and gets booted to the floor- Manami tries a No-Hands Plancha, but leaps back with exquisite balance when Kyoko bails. But she tries to catch Kyoko with a dropkick and takes the Mulkey Bump when she dodges!

A big running lariat outside sets up the Run-Up Flying Elbow in the ring for two. She can’t get the Niagara Driver and is dumped, and NOW Manami hits the No-Hands Plancha! Moonsault gets two. They’re way into their “3/4 in” moveset, now, and Manami fights Kyoko into a Japanese Ocean (double-hammerlock) Suplex for two! She tries the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, but climbs when she can’t get it- Kyoko charges up for the Super Headscissors- two! Lariat misses- Manami Roll for two! Crowd is INTO this as Kyoko holds a crab for a breather. Three minutes of back-breaking stuff follow, but Toyota does a FOURTH No-Hands move… eating mat and being locked in Kyoko’s Camel Clutch/Leglock finisher! And the fans respond accordingly to Manami’s desperate crawl for the ropes- all those holds didn’t bring them down. She scores a dropkick but eats feet on a splash, then climbs up after Kyoko and takes a MONSTER Front Superplex! Missile dropkick gets two for Kyoko, but she misses a Niagara Driver & lariat, then takes a German for two.

Moonsault misses and Manami follows Kyoko up for the Victory Star Drop, but Kyoko flat-out lands on her for the Double-KO spot. Both are up at “8” but collapse, and Kyoko lariats Manami over the top and crabs her on the floor. Manami gets caught trying a dropkick off the apron and it’s a GIANT SWING out there, and they finally take a breather- back in for some planning (they “lean in while their heads are together” is a dead giveaway) and Kyoko hits THREE Run-Up Back Elbows for two! Another Niagara attempt fails and Manami hits her ’92 Double-Underhook suplex, then does three MOONSAULTS to pay her back, getting two! Two Germans get two-counts, but she Manami Rolls right into a powerbomb. A dying Kyoko tries lariats but ends up on the floor, and a missile kick suicida flattens her! Then Manami hits a flying splash onto Kyoko on an Invincible Japanese Table, pulls up the mats, and piledrives Kyoko on the floor. Twice. Toyota climbs, but Kyoko runs up for another Headscissors, but Manami’s wise and missile kicks her head off for two! Another two- still no pin. Moonsault to the ass gets two. Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… NO! Two-count!

Manami can’t believe this shit, and tries the Victory Star Drop again, but gets elbowed off, then fails the JOCS, only to get tripped and locked in that Clutch again! But Kyoko’s grip is too weak from all the damage and it can’t be locked in- Toyota hits the ropes. Another attempt lasts a solid minute and draws a “TO-YO-TA!” chant- again no. Manami tries a moonsault press but gets caught AGAIN. Kyoko finally tries the Niagara Driver again, but STILL can’t get it, only for Manami to climb up the ropes after her and eat the SUPER POWERSLAM- two! Niagara D– Manami Roll for two! Manami climbs like a doof, and of course Kyoko RUNS UP again- Overhead Belly-To-Belly Superplex for two! A few strikes later and finally… FINALLY… the Niagara Driver hits! But she spent too much time getting it into pinning position- two! Both do the All Japan Sell, tumbling to the floor after another ND attempt. They tease a count-out, but Manami ends up in a Helicopter Release Razor’s Edge… and “Fuck YOU!” Bridges out! Kyoko whips her and… ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! A Running No-Hands Springboard Sunset Flip for two! Fifty minutes in! That’s it- Manami is a literal deity.

Manami puts her in the Cyclone Suplex again, and walks her to the middle of the ring, but AGAIN gets only two. They take another long breather-walk around the ring, leading to Kyoko attempting another Backsplash, but again being dropkicked in the ass, hitting the floor for a Manami dive! Flying kneedrop suicida! Oh, and then another Running No-Hands move because she’s insane. And a Top-Rope Quebrada, too. Butterfly Superplex and Kyoko is DYING, but she suddenly springs to life after a delayed pin attempt and hits a quartet of lariats (Manami doing 1.2 Jannetty on the fourth). She signals for another Niagara Driver, but can’t pick Manami up and goes for weaker moves. Manami comes back with Germans & dropkicks, unable to really get a big last move, and Kyoko hits an awful DDT out of the corner, then one off the apron. One minute left. Kyoko barely manages a release ThunderFire-style powerbomb instead of her Driver, getting two. And with ten seconds left, Manami tries some crazy Sunset Flip Powerbomb, hanging Kyoko upside-down as time expires (60:00). Her first title defense is a success, but a draw. The crowd gives them a rousing ovation, chanting both their names, then AJW’s (“ZENJO! ZENJO!”). And after the trophy is awarded and Toyota somehow stands under her own power, out comes Aja Kong to be the next challenger.

Holy SHIT- now this? This was them making a STATEMENT. They went too long and too fast a year ago and the match had a lot of botches at the end because of it, so this time they learned from their mistakes and let every move “breathe”, not just spamming stuff out like crazy. And yet they still put like 18 finisher-level moves into the match, carefully laying them out so it’s not too nuts.

Very slow, steady match for the first bit- 15 minutes is mostly submissions, their great selling (Kyoko actually more vocal than Manami for once, possibly since Manami is now the Champ) and great application keeping the fans into the back-bending stuff. Then there’s that Super German and we’re into a bit where bigger moves can be hit, both women selling the exhaustion and damage so moves are interspersed. And they actually got into a damn good “Finisher Trading” series around the 20-minute mark, only to go back to holds, moving around just enough to keep fans into the story- Kyoko reversing a No-Hands reversal into her finisher was a great psychological trick to make all that stuff “count” to the story. Crazy how they’d pull off stuff like the Victory Star Drop 30 minutes in, but it added to the story as Manami either botched it or the deliberate hara-kiri nature of it just put them both out anyhow. I’m amazed that this match didn’t get more self-indulgent, given what I heard about the pace, but even the “triple flying move” bit was part of the psychology, as Manami paid Kyoko back for that shit in a hurry!

Then we get some outside stuff that both kills time and gives us some good spectacle, and Toyota’s finisher fails, leading to Kyoko reversing on her with that finishing submission of hers. Turning that Clutch/Leglock into a resthold for three minutes was a master-stroke- letting the ladies “rest” while also giving fans a real sense that it mattered, given how big stars had tapped to it before. But Kyoko was given an “out” in that she was clearly too tired and F’d up to apply it properly- she’d lose her grip, shift to a crossface chickenwing, lose that, roll to her side, etc.- all showing not only the toll the match was taking, but how “technique counts”. And then their cardio was back and they could hit MDKs again. Manami hitting a Springboard move with no hands 50 minutes in is one of the most unrealistic things I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring… except she did it- it’s right there. The last ten was a lot of “dying people hitting one more thing”, with Manami having to resort to flying stuff & Germans because she’d exhausted her other moveset and couldn’t get any of her big lifts anymore- Kyoko, too. So just when you thought they might have over-done it, they cycled back to “okay, we’re dead” until time ran out.

RATING: ***** (fuck it- Meltzer was right)