Kandori, looking humorously like a female version of Antonio Inoki. Especially with the Elvis hair.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- SHINOBU KANDORI:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’7″ 165 lbs.
Career Length: 1986-today
-Shinobu Kandori, Brock Lesnar before there was a Brock Lesnar (ie. the snide, arrogant, vicious shoot-fighter whose real-life cred is played into their wrestling character) is one of those very few wrestlers that has a match so good that it eclipsed the fact that she’s one of the only pro wrestlers to ever shoot on someone in a televised match! Her ***** showdown with Akira Hokuto at AJW Dream Slam in 1993 is heralded as one of the best matches of all time, and has an even shot at being the greatest women’s match of all time. And yet nearly all the praise went to Hokuto!
Overall, Kandori has an iffy reputation in joshi circles- people like Mike Lorefice have brushed her off as having been entirely carried to one of the greatest matches of all time- and it’s generally accepted that yeah, she was the lesser party there. She’s even ignored for holding the World Championships of TWO COMPANIES simultaneously! But I think having seen a bunch of her stuff, and great matches with a variety of opponents, proves that Kandori is in fact HIGHLY underrated and could definitely hang with the top stars. Like, I would say she was the lesser worker in every one of her great matches… but her opponents were people like friggin’ Hokuto, Kyoko Inoue & Manami Toyota, y’know? I mean, do we shit on Davey-Boy Smith because “he only had ***** matches with top wrestlers?” No- we certainly don’t put him in the Greatest of All Time lists or Mount Rushmores or whatever we classify wrestlers with these days, but he’s a well-respected worker!
Kandori after 1996 usually looks pretty much like this.
Kandori is actually a prelude to what Brock Lesnar was post-2010 in WWE- the “If this was real, they would win easily” character. This is something that’s generally used only sparingly (you kind of have to make it a top guy, or they “Ken Shamrock” out into the midcard and you lose that all-important credibility)… but it’s effectively like having the greatest look ever on somebody, because the fans immediately know this person could wreck people’s shit. Kandori, a legit judo fighter, has medaled in big-time Judo events (bronze medal in Vienna’s World Championships in 1984), and so everyone kinda knows deep down that in a shoot, she’d twist Manami Toyota or Akira Hokuto in half. And that kind of major credibility can’t be underestimated. If booked well, it makes that person a CONSTANT threat, and they do some really fun stuff with Kandori to pull that feeling off, and she and her opponents are clever enough to always play into that danger of her judo holds.
In essence, Kandori was so cool because she was this aloof, dangerous bad-ass who gave off the impression that every time she got a hold of you, she was going to twist one of your arms off. She was BRUTAL with them- and it was booked so well that as soon as she scored a takedown or grabbed a limb, the fans did that big “OOWWWWWOOHHHHHHHH!” thing that made them think a finisher was coming. For bullshit like armbars and other things that are glorified restholds when other wrestlers do them, too! But because of that judo background, Kandori just seemed so very dangerous by comparison. I mean, if you can make a kneebar or sleeper look like it could take out a World Champion, you’ve got something. It creates an interesting thing where she doesn’t really have a key “finisher” exactly- she’s ended nearly every big match with a totally different move, once beating Kyoko by largely improvising some Rings of Saturn thing. I think her coolest regular move is her Spinning Sleeper, grabbing a basic sleeperhold and just spinning around so the opponent’s legs swing out- she can keep this going for quite a while, too.
And her CHARACTER was beyond excellent. While everyone else was this wild cartoon or a vicious monster or a polite cute girl, Kandori was this snide, aloof “Yeah I could beat you all easily” shit-ass with a massive chip on her shoulder. She DARED other people to try and stop her. She boasted about her accomplishments, said pro wrestling was beneath her, and almost never lost her cool, coming off like she was disrespecting the very notion of her opponents having a chance. It was a great, aloof character, making everyone who opposed her come off as incredibly brave. There’s a great match with Kyoko where Kandori is doing all this judo stuff, and Kyoko comes back with all of these outlandish pro wrestling moves, and it’s a hilarious contrast that’s played up by Kandori, who you can practically see “This movie is BULLLSHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTT!” as Kyoko hauls her up in ultra-phony stuff like the Romero Special surfboard and the like- it’s glorious and the match has a fun story as a result.
-Shinobu Kandori was a trained judo fighter, getting a bronze medal in the 1984 Vienna World Championships, and trained for the first JWP (Joshi Women’s Pro-Wrestling) in 1986, debuting on their first show against JWP President Jackie Sato. She planned to compete for the 1988 Olympics, but “lost motivation for judo competition” and quickly segued full-time to a career in pro wrestling, where she made her name right away by openly boasting that she could make AJW’s big heel star Dump Matsumoto tap out in ten seconds. This was highly unusual in Japanese society to be so ungraceful and boastful, so she right away came off as cool. Her entire gimmick became that off a disrespectful shooter who thought puro was bullshit.
Kandori made headlines during an infamous bout with Sato- Jackie had apparently “stiffed” her in a previous match according to Japanese Wikipedia, and so Kandori sought to “break her heart” in the next one. This led to a dramatic bout where Kandori suddenly lunged in and hit Sato (whose athletic background consists of un-judo-like activities such as basketball left her woefully unprepared) with a flurry of shoot punches. A stunned Sato clearly didn’t know how to react as Kandori easily smacked her around and tossed her about… then refused to finish. What clearly goes on is that Kandori egged Sato on, demanding she try to fight back, which Sato did incompetently (to be fair, she had to be shaken, probably scared shitless, and was untrained for that). And so Kandori humiliated her completely, effectively proving “I could finish this any time I wanted!”, and took her leave. Sato never wrestled again.
Kandori’s controversial actions sparked a lot of blowback, and she apparently tried to go to All Japan Women’s Pro Wreslting (AJW), but wasn’t let out of her contract. Much of the next bit is under-reported, but she stuck around JWP (winning Mexico’s UWA Women’s Title for an indeterminate amount of time) until joining Rumi Kazama (RIP Rumi 🙁 ) and others in a big promotion split, founding Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling as its uncontested Ace. She defeated Harley Saito & Eagle Sawai in a tournament to become the first LLPW Singles Champion, holding it for 390 days. Along the way, she got into a rivalry with AJW’s Akira Hokuto- after Hokuto’s team beat some LLPW wrestlers as an Interpromotional Show and talked shit, Kandori talked some right back, and the two got into a dramatic feud. At AJW Dream Slam, they wrestled, with the wildly-charismatic Hokuto throwing a punch to Kandori’s jaw and saying that it was JUDO, in fact, that was bullshit. A stunned Kandori soon recovered, murdering Akira’s shoulder and tombstoning her on a table for a gruesome blade-job. Akira fought back with flailing and a lot of aggressive brawling, avoiding technical stuff. Eventually, both women were covered in blood, and both used Akira’s Northern Lights Bomb finisher on the other. Only luck kept them from scoring the pin, as neither could even stand properly… until Akira just happened to score a last-ditch punch that bowled Kandori over, leaping onto her for the three. Like the match was so epic that punches were all they had.
Kandori got her heat back the next week in a tag match by shredding Akira’s arm again and leaving her unable to continue. And the feud went on- Akira defeated most of LLPW’s wrestlers until St. Battle Final, about eight months later, where Kandori got her revenge. Having been beaten in brawling vs. wrestling, Kandori was PREPARED for just such a bout, throwing big punches and uppercuts that left Akira mostly defenseless, losing a fairly one-sided match aside from a few hope-spots. Akira’s soul was uppercutted out of her body as she was pinned as her subordinates bawled at ringside. One of wrestling’s perfect stories. Akira had promised to retire if Kandori beat her, and it seemed like she was serious- she announced the “Dangerous Queen Final Countdown”, having a series of Dream Matches with rivals. She & Kandori earned each other’s respect in a tag match where they defeated AJW’s top monsters- Aja & Bull- the shot of Kandori slapping her partner’s hand in gratitude and stomping off with her LLPW cohorts was amazing.
Kandori lost in a shocker to Noriyo Tateno (a former Jumping Bomb Angel who is featured on almost none of the LLPW shows I’ve found), dropping the LLPW Title in Sept. 1994- this oddly ended her reign as Ace for three years. In 1995, she got to the finals in a shootfighting tournament, defeating two opponents before losing to a judo medalist Svetlana Goundarenko. In Nov. 1997, she beat Eagle Sawai for her second LLPW Title. Then, shockingly, a post-bankruptcy AJW appears desperate for some talent and Kandori invades the company, beating Yumiko Hotta for the WWWA World Title in March 1998, becoming a double champion! She held it amost an entire year before dropping it back to Hotta the following March (354 days in total). Later, she dropped the LLPW Title to Harley Saito, ending a massive 683-day run. She even got revenge on Svetlana in ’98, tapping her out after engaging in more training. In 2002, she became the president of LLPW. In Jan. 2004, she & Takako Inoue team up to beat Amazing Kong & Eagle Sawai for the LLPW Tag Titles, losing them 126 days later later to Eiger & Sayuri Okino.
Garcia misses weight and Kandori just can’t even with this bullshit.
She made some headlines in 2016 when she was set to fight Gabi Garcia in Saitama, Japan, but got injured, and then a rematch was cancelled when Gabi missed weight by 28 pounds, leading to a furious Kandori to talk shit and cut a promo in front of the assembled journalists. Like many wrestlers, she went into politics- she ran unsuccessfully for House of Councillors in 2004 but was allowed to join the house in 2006 when a member of the house resigned. She wrestlers occasionally even now, as she & Takako Inoue appear to be travelling around Japan running the modern “LLPW-X” with a lot of older and newer stars, doing small-time stuff. Nearly every Facebook update of Takako’s features Kandori in it, it seems- they must be REALLY, REALLY good friends.
(note: All submission attempts are treated like potential finishers- even bullshit resthold stuff)
* European Uppercut, Lariat, Wind-Up Headbutt, Any Armbar, Sleeperhold, Swinging Sleeperhold, Fujiwara Armbar, Folding Powerbomb, Tiger Driver (double-arm sit-out powerbomb), Jujigatame (cross-armbreaker- Finisher)
* Just two for this one- the famous “Sato Match” and a WWWA Title defense against Manami Toyota. I posted the Hokuto/Kandori fight not too long ago.
THAT TIME THEY FOUGHT FOR REAL:
SHINOBU KANDORI vs. JACKIE SATO:
(JWP Handheld Footage, 07.18.1987)
* So here’s the infamous shoot match- previously, Sato had apparently hit Kandori in the injured eye, REALLY pissing her off. Her mission now: to “break Jackie’s heart” so the story goes. Kandori’s ripped to shreds and has a black Jobber Swimsuit on, while Jackie’s in white tights and a tank top.
It starts out pretty basic, with go-behinds & armlocks, with plenty of rope-breaks as Jackie leads Kandori through stuff. Then, about two minutes in, Kandori releases a cross-armbreaker resthold and just throws a couple of jabs right into Jackie’s face, 100% legit. Jackie is just like “…” and holds her face where she was hit, as these were clearly stiff as hell, and Kandori eggs her on, finally dropping into all fours (an amateur wrestling position) and daring Jackie to come take her on. Jackie, as noted, is a BASKETBALL PLAYER, and is now stuck trying to wrestle for real, and of course the judoka easily makes a full side mount and locks in a kimura, letting go just to slap Jackie in the face, as if to say “See? I can do this any time I want to”. I’m not sure if the crowd really picks up on anything as they’re not responding AT ALL- not even the “uuuwooahhhhhhh” of excitement from stiff shots.
Jackie holds her face (looking swollen even on this bad fancam) and bails for a minute as Kandori taunts her. Poor Jackie braves it and gets back in, throwing weak grapples and jabs that are easily deflected- Kandori manages a triangle choke-ish lock but they keep going into the ropes, and Jackie throws a few sucker shots in while Kandori’s bent over (I mean, why follow puro rules if you’re ACTUALLY FIGHTING, right?). We get a long half-crab from Kandori (I think they’re literally using a resthold in a real fight here) to a DEATHLY silent crowd, and a tangle of limbs sees Jackie finally throw more punches- she appears unable to “complete” a front facelock (after all, why would she know how?). Multiple tangles happen and Jackie throws a headbutt when they lock hands, but Kandori cranks on a front facelock and then tries a kimura from a side-mount, putting on as tightly as she can until Jackie finally says “Give up” at (11:17). Kandori’s hand is raised and some light applause occurs.
Not really a match you can rate, as it obviously has no “flow” and is mostly confusing. I question the sanity of the referee who HAS to know something’s up and isn’t stepping in, and why both are breaking holds during rope-breaks when they’re ACTUALLY FIGHTING? Like, that’s a rule in real MMA, but this isn’t real MMA- it’s just two people having a real fight.
Rating: N/A (I mean, it’s an actual fight. By those standards it’s a pretty dull one, as one could easily win and chooses not to- even puncher’s luck wasn’t on Sato’s side)
WWWA TITLE MATCH:
SHINOBU KANDORI vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
* Kandori is now WWWA Champion, and two-time champ Manami has come to bring the title back to AJW! Oh hey, I’ve seen this arena before- it was home to a lot of those “House Show”-tier AJW matches… now it’s hosting a World Title match. Yup. Manami’s now in her red gear, which showed up a lot more in the late ’90s & early 2000s, while Kandori has her hair bleached blonde and is wearing one of those ultra-garish, super-detailed LLPW singlets, this time all purple, orange, white & gold. Like, who PICKS these color schemes? In any case, the two get into it as soon as Kandori hits the ring, with their ultra-flashy robes still on. Always like to see that.
Manami goes for the handshake against an intense Kandori to start, but suckers her into a sleeper, which is normally Kandori’s game. She misses her dropkick, but counters a whip with the Running Springboard Cross-Body (alas, by ’98, she’d lost the ability to go “No Hands” with it), only for Kandori to swat another dropkick away. But Manami hops up and actually knocks her flat with a flurry of palm strikes, blowing the crowd’s minds! Manami nearly ruins it by going all “woah yeah” and doing some air-palm strikes like a dork (reminds me of Laura Dern always saying “pew pew!” when she shot her laser in Star Wars). This actually gets a “KO” count going, but Kandori flashes up at “8” acting like nothing happened. So Toyota just slaps her, hits a dropkick and a Running Springboard Plancha, missile kicks her in the back of the head, and hits a Moonsault for two! She goes for the J.O. Cyclone Suplex, but Kandori drops down and uses Manami’s rolling cradle- it’s hideous, but the crowd is wowed by it, even as Manami escapes. Kandori’s armbar is reversed to a big deadlift German for two, and then the Spine Dropkick hits! Another German gets two, but Kandori wrestles Manami to the ground to counter a suplex.
Manami counters a headscissors to a figure-four and is doing MUCH better at grappling Kandori than I would have expected. Kandori makes the ropes and they square off with slaps and some pretty intense character bits, playing up that neither wants to make a mistake, and pretty soon they’re borderline catch-wrestling, just tangling around, getting in the ropes, etc. Kandori throws some straight punches to boos, then hits the Spinning Sleeper, dropping it quickly. Manami’s flattened with headbutts, but manages a rolling cradle to counter a backdrop, getting two- she tries a Moonsault again, but of course lands on Kandori’s feet- La Majistral of all things gets two for Kandori. An arm-thing stretches her, setting her up for the Folding Powerbomb for a near-fall. That and Kandori’s calm walk to follow up gets the “To-Yo-Ta!” chants started, and sure enough, another Powerbomb is countered with a struggling Manami Roll for two. Manami charges in like a doofus and gets murdered with a lariat, doing the 1.2 Jannetty bump onto her front. That gets two, but another lariat is countered to the Japanese Ocean Suplex (double-hammerlock German) for two. Damn, Kandori hit head-first.
Manami tries a wrist-clutch backdrop, but Kandori mimics her palm-flurry and wipes Manami out, mocking her stance too- hah! Manami gets up at “9”, right into a cross-armbreaker, but stuffs the hold twice. Kandori whips her, but Manami actually hits a real Running No-Hands Springboard, but Kandori’s so far away Manami just SPLATS onto her while she’s bent over (that was supposed to be a sunset flip), so Kandori rolls her into a cross-armbreaker, segueing to a triangle choke! But Manami rolls out, dumps her, and hits a MONSTER missile dropkick to the floor, plastering Kandori! Kandori ends up on a table, and Manami charges over the ropes- Springboard Tope Con Hilo! But she practically trips over the rope so her smooth flip is kind of a miracle- still, the table won’t break so that looks like it HURT. Like a flipping ass-slam to the gut. Back in, Manami looks to finish- Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex- 2.8! She tries the corner version to finish, but Kandori punches out and hits a triangle choke- but Manami floats over for 2.9! Wrist-Clutch Backdrop Suplex Hold… 2.9 again! Toyota, exhausted, is ready for one last thing, but tries the JOCS again, but Kandori victory rolls forwards and segues it right into an arm & leghold! Manami struggles, but her arm is strapped between hers & Kandori’s legs! She’s completely spidered here, and she can’t go anywhere- she taps out at (18:08). Kandori retains!
Manami looks absolutely devastated at her loss, forehead furrowed and squinting in agony and shame. Yumiko Hotta, the dethroned champion, is right there to console her and to stand up to Kandori- oh yeah, they’re gonna go again.
Verrrrrrry interesting match-up, as it wasn’t this “submission blowout while Toyota flies” match like it would have been in 1993-95, but is instead more Toyota dominating in the early bit before Kandori muscles her down, using dirty tactics, refusing to break in the ropes, and more to wear her down. There was also a lot of catch-wrestling type stuff, with them doing some very ugly “grab whatever limb you can” stuff that makes a match look more “real”- something puro does, but not part of Manami’s usual forte, which is what makes it so surprising. Them struggling into a Manami Roll would look like a botch in most matches, but here fit the style they kept using so I think it might have been legit. The botching of the two Springboards is kinda too bad, but also looks like it fits the match given how scrappy it was (also, just splatting onto someone’s back when they’re bent over would HURT). But it also kind of showed how there athleticism was faltering even a couple years removed from their primes. But overall, I liked it- it was a scrappy, angry match, full of stuff you didn’t normally see, and Manami controlled the beginning (where her speed excels) and the end (where her never-ending list of big moves helps her score near-falls), but ultimately it was like those Kobashi vs. Hansen matches where you throw everything you can at the best but all they need is one move and you’re done- Manami goes to that well one too many times and is caught in a dangerous submission and has nowhere to go.
Rating: ****1/4 (not the best I’ve seen from either, but still very good with a great ending surge)