Joshi Spotlight: Reggie Bennett

Reggie Bennett - Imgur

Writing these columns about Joshi produces some great challenges: Finding information on incredibly obscure wrestlers; speculating on angles and wrestlers without the benefit of “being there” in context; and writing anything about Reggie Bennett without turning into a cartoon wolf.

JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- REGGIE BENNETT:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’8″ 249 lbs. (it, um, varies, though- she was very toned in her early career)
Career: 1986-2001

-Reggie Bennett is, in many ways, the perfect Upper-Midcard wrestler. Not credible enough to be World Champion, she’s just this big, powerful wrestler able to be a credible opponent for everyone from the technical geniuses to the strikers to the monsters, yet has a likeable charisma (she’s kind of endearingly cheery in pre-match promos, even against murderous opponents) and just enough cardio to both get the fans behind her and do the long matches that Joshi requires. She kind of came out of nowhere as a forgettable women’s wrestler in the US to become AJW’s new “Big Gaijin” (a role they sometimes utilized), and actually made a heck of a career of it, unlike weaker stars like Terri Powers.

While nobody thinks Reggie’s a great worker, she’s very good at her chosen style, which is “Being Big and Wrestling Big”. Not really athletic or quick, she was big and strong and fought like it. Like Andre the Giant, she wrestled like you thought a bear might wrestle- big bear paws, or just grabbing people and hauling them down. Being, um, top-heavy, she had a somewhat awkward motion, but it still looked like it hurt when she charged in like a rickety freight train. And her Splash is legit one of the best ones ever- just hauling off the ropes and doing a wicked Superman Dive and just SPLATTING people. Like, in a company with Tiger Superplexes, Electric Chair Suplex Holds and Sit-Out Razor’s Edges as finishers, that Splash still looked like it hurt like hell.

Reggie really just stands out in big contrast to sluggish Gaijin wrestlers (especially in Joshi)- she could really move, and her stuff looked great. Her main issues were things like match-planning and positioning- as the one foreign wrestler, it was perhaps inevitable that she’d have to be led through matches, and would sometimes be in the way, or just kind of awkwardly stumble into the proper spot. Her size would be a factor as well- only the true powerhouses could hit all their shit on Reggie. I’ve seen some pretty tough wrestlers fail to even get her up for powerbombs- Yumiko Hotta of all people couldn’t hit a Tiger Driver worth a damn, and Kyoko Inoue had to settle for a regular Ligerbomb instead of her over-the-shoulder variant. While that makes for good psychology if played up (in one Hotta match- Reggie’s best, I think- it was), oftentimes you saw the joshi stubbornly try to heft Reggie’s mass anyways, and it was often a mess.

Reggie Bennett | Official Site for Woman Crush Wednesday #WCW

Some random photo. Early ’90s, probably, since she’s a lot less big. I include it for Bible reasons.

CAREER TRAJECTORY:
-Reggie, being American, had a very different career path than most Joshi, being trained in the U.S.A. She debuted in the Independent Wrestling Federation in California in 1986, winning their Women’s Championship three times. She even wrestled for the original incarnation of JWP in 1991 alongside Terri Power, which might be how she got feelers out to show up in AJW later). Soon after, she joined the short-lived Ladies Professional Wrestling Association, wrestling on its one Pay-Per-View show in Feb. 1992. At this point, she had a bodybuilder-style physique- extremely toned and wearing tight leotards that didn’t exactly leave much to the imagination. She joined All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling in late 1993 with a rapid squash win over comedy wrestler Numacchi, and started decking herself out like a construction worker, via jean shorts, suspenders, bright tank top shirts (usually orange or pink) and a yellow hardhat. It was this weird quasi-comedy thing but she wasn’t just there for laughs. Her body by this point was DECIDEDLY different- instead of being a ripped fitness model she was a zaftig, extremely chesty powerlifter-looking woman (I believe my fellow kids refer to it as “thicc” these days). She looked like the love child of Scott Norton and Caroline Rhea.

Reggie Bennett in Japan 2 | Claudia Pintil | Flickr

Reggie powering around Suzuka Minami.

For much of 1994 & ’95, she wrestled in the upper-midcard, doing a very particular thing where she would crush lower-ranked wrestlers, but against top-tier stars like Bull Nakano, Kyoko Inoue or Yumiko Hotta she would fall short…. but only after weathering a huge storm of moves. Like Reggie’s size and durability would let her take a ton of finishers, but her lack of technique and experience would let the opponent just drain more and more of her HP away until she eventually fell. Bull Nakano throws a horde of finishers to beat her in less than ten minutes in March ’94- probably a sign that Reggie wasn’t getting the rocket push just yet. Her Kyoko match was fairly competitive, but ended through such attrition.

At Wrestling Queendom ’94 she’s in a forgettable midcard match, but teams with LLPW’s Eagle Sawai, beating Hotta & Takako Inoue (Reggie submitting Takako). At a Budokan show in August, Reggie actually carries a match against LLPW wrestlers, though her partner (Kaoru Ito) falls to Eagle. At Wrestlemarinepiad ’94, she crushes Sakie Hasegawa in less than ten minutes- an irregularity in Sakie’s push. Big Egg Wrestling Universe sees a disappointing match, as Reggie is beaten handily by a very selfish, disrespectful Chigusa Nagayo (Chigusa is the only person I’ve heard Reggie talk shit about, saying she dissed American wrestling in general)- via a rollup that draws boos from the crowd. And then during the Tag League THE BEST 1994 tournament, Reggie forms a “Monster” duo with Aja Kong, tearing apart most of their competition and hitting the round-robin finals against Toyota/Takako & Kyoko/Sakie- they job to the “Over the Idol” squad twice, Manami schoolboying Reggie in a fluke for the first one.

Intro: Reggie Bennett vs Bad Girl by All Women Wrestling

Reggie mimicking Bam Bam Bigelow a little bit, against Hikari Fukuoka, I think.

In early ’95, Reggie, Takako & Toshiyo Yamada wrestle a ****-ish All Pacific Title gauntlet match where each replaces the losing wrestler until someone gets a win over both opponents- it’s essentially everyone tossing out only finishes in desperate attempts to win it quick. Reggie does well with her power stuff, but Yamada ultimately wins the belt. In May 1995, she wins her first AJW Title, actually defeating Manami Toyota for her trophy IWA Women’s World Title! As Manami was the Champion at this point, I’m really curious about this one- the champ typically doesn’t lose even non-title matches. At AJW Destiny (Sept ’95), Reggie lost a very hard-fought match to Hotta that I’d rank as Reggie’s best (****1/4). Reggie defends the IWA Title against Etsuko Mita twice before losing it to Takako in December, ending a 203-day reign.

In June 1996, Reggie at last wins the All Pacific Title in a tournament (beating Ito & Mariko Yoshida), holding it for 152 days before losing again to Takako- effectively, it seems like she’s an Upper-Mid JTTS in a sense- she can beat almost anyone, but she can also do the job to rising stars. Sadly, AJW’s fortunes fade by this point, and Reggie stops being booked as they approach bankruptcy. In 1997, she made an appearance as part of Raven’s Nest in ECW of all places, but was short-lived. In Nov. 1997, Reggie joins old partner Aja Kong’s ARSION promotion (recruited by Mariko- who was her travel buddy and roommate- and Rossy Ogawa, who bankrolled it), and becomes a major star there, sorta fitting in to their “shoot-submission” style through sheer power. She formed a villainous faction of American wrestlers, with Jessica Soto billed as Reggie’s younger sister “Jessica Bennett”. She seems very dominant, winning almost every match including tags, doing jobs to only Yoshida (the Ace), Aja (in less than ten minutes) and Candy Okutsu of all people in ’98.

I’m actually a little shocked Reggie didn’t get a look in 1998 WWF. A good-looking woman with assets that the Vinces appreciate, who can work AND fit in as a Monster Heel? She seems like a natural opponent for Sable. I mean, Vince doesn’t go for thicc girls, but he frequently used Luna Vachon and others in the same role.

In any case, in March 2001, Reggie wrestled her retirement match against Manami Toyota. A curious example of an American wrestler wrestling virtually her entire career in Japan.

Jordynne Grace paying tribute to women's wrestling legend Reggie Bennett: SquaredCircle

Jordynn Grace, Reggie’s spiritual successor, paying tribute.

MOVESET:
Charging Body Attack, Running Lariat, Spinning Powerslam (opponent’s running off the ropes), Running Splash, Second Rope Splash (semi-finisher), Vader Bomb, Falling Powerbomb, Reggie Rack (spinning lift into a torture rack), Flying Splash (MDK- usually misses badly), Spinning Sit-Out Powerbomb (later finisher)

THE MATCHES:

The first match in.

THE DESTINY STRONGEST:
YUMIKO HOTTA vs. REGGIE BENNETT:
(AJW Destiny, Sept. 2nd 1994)

* An interesting high-level match, as Hotta’s a top-tier “gatekeeper” to the Main Event, while Reggie’s a high-end power wrestler who’s yet to pick up a really major win. Like, I could see them either keeping Hotta at that “always a threat” tier, or deciding this is when Reggie finally picks up a big win. Reggie’s now FINALLY dropped the “construction worker” get-up for a tight black & pink singlet. Hotta’s in white. Poor Reggie nearly biffs it tripping on the mats right in front of the cameraman, lol.

Hotta starts with kicks, but the two clothesline each other and Reggie’s so worked up she mounts for the friggin’ ground and pound! Hotta dodges a splash and threatens the same thing, but is like “… naw” drawing applause for sportsmanship. Hotta keeps knocking Reggie down with kicks to the back of the leg, so Reggie just sweeps her with a bear-paw and works HOTTA’s leg. I like how she’s the one wrestler who can weather those kicks by virtue of THE THICCNESS. Hotta manages an Owenzuigiri but can’t get a piledriver- frustrated, she grabs the hair and peppers Reggie with knees and slaps until she just hulks out and swats her down with a roar. They scrap on the mat until Reggie hits a monster Samoan drop & that splash for two. Vader Bomb! That gets two. They forearm the hell out of each other until Reggie just hauls them both over the top rope on purpose. Hotta gets whipped into the railing, ducks a lariat, then gets floored by another one on the follow-through. Then Reggie grabs a table, but in a terrifying spot, goes for a piledriver and the table collapses on one side! Holy shit that could have been bad- thankfully, Reggie barely avoids Ganso Bombing Hotta on the edge of the table by a narrow margin.

Reggie & Hotta wisely sell the disaster spot there, and Reggie slowly brings Hotta into the ring- she tries a powerbomb, but Hotta sits out on her! Infuriated, Hotta lights Reggie up with slaps and a million headbutts, then lands her Rolling Kicks for two. Tiger Driver fails, so she settles for a brutal face-kick (the Kawada-style “they’re bent over” one) and a Flying Rolling Kick for two. Tiger Driver… Tiger Driver… NO! Reggie’s still resisting it, then lariats the shit out of a charging Hotta! Big splash gets two, but the lariat’s blocked for a Tiger… falling underhook piledriver. Hotta tries a proper Driver, but again fails, and Reggie hits the spinning powerslam for two. Reggie climbs, so Hotta just palm-thrusts her a dozen times in the ass cheeks- Reggie manages to toss her off twice over, but Hotta manages one more climb, and HOLY FUCKING SHIT- a Straightjacket Superplex right onto the fucking head! Reggie HOWLS in pain, but it only gets two! Reggie backdrops out of the Pyramid Driver (straightjacket ligerbomb), hits a lariat, then plasters Hotta with a huge Second-Rope Splash- 2.7! Ligerbomb! 2.7! Reggie, running out of shit and she knows it, screams “Top ROPE-ahhhh!” and sure enough- a FLYING Splash… 2.9! She freaks on the ref and climbs again, but this times she misses- Hotta pops up and pretty much ignores the prior damage, throwing two kicks to the face and a rolling kick while Reggie’s downed, and that gets the surprise three at (14:23)- fans did not expect that to do it.

Okay, I LOVED this one- it had such an awesome dynamic, with the Best Striker in AJW going up against the one person with enough mass to weather those strikes. Reggie had zero technique- just bear-like power, and that gave her the credibility to take on Hotta, who for once couldn’t bully someone. I loved how there were two major fuckups (the table spot and Tiger Driver-piledriver), but both looked so vicious they were arguably more effective than the actual moves would have been. Like, a near-Ganso bomb on the floor from a table. Reggie’s final surge there was one of the coolest strings of power moves I’ve seen, too. The only thing I didn’t love was the finish- Hotta just popped up like she was fine, then hit a trio of loose kicks and that was it? I get that she couldn’t hit a real powerbomb on Reggie, but that’s weird. Improvisation, maybe?

Rating: ****1/4 (hoss as fuck and I loved it)

ARS ’98 SEMI-FINAL:
REGGIE BENNETT vs. MARIKO YOSHIDA:
(ARSION, 5/5/1998)
* Reggie follows Aja Kong & others to ARSION, where submission matches are kind of the theme, which is an odd fit for her. Her gear in this match is TREMENDOUS- a singlet with shorts and black mesh- it’s this white/silver thing with black designs on it, and makes her look like a real main eventer. Yoshida also has her usual amazing gear- this time a red sleeveless one with the spider-web on the upper right, not the center. This is actually a one-night eight-woman tournament semi-final, meaning both have wrestled already (Yoshida beat low-level Mikiko Futagami, while Reggie beat Aja herself in only two minutes!). And the winner wrestles later.

An interesting dynamic arises, as Yoshida keeps quickly going for stuff, but Reggie’s able to counter any submissions through sheer strength and mass, just forcing Yoshida’s grip apart with her bare hands. Reggie, meanwhile, has her stuff countered by Yoshida’s speed and technique. They trade legholds along those lines, Reggie escapes another cross-armbreaker attempt, and then she hits a tilt-a-whirl, catching Mariko with an inverted DDT when she lands on her feet. Reggie tries to follow up with a lariat, but gets caught in a Fujiwara armbar attempt, then a keylock until Yoshida gives up and tries a whip, ending up reversed and hit with a Samoan drop. Big Splash gets two! Notably, Reggie’s power stuff is the only stuff getting pops. Reggie follows with the second-rope splash, but misses!

Yoshida immediately tries the cross-armbreaker again but Reggie just wrap up her leg. Yoshida stuffs a German, but Reggie simply deadlifts her straight back to complete the move! Second-rope splash now hits, Yoshida bridging out so far at “2” she almost rolls onto her head! She reverses a powerbomb to the Million Dollar Dream, then hits an interesting arm-assisted figure-four, then a regular one- Reggie always making the ropes. Reggie lands a BIG Powerbomb for two, then immediately snaps on a huge front facelock, nearly putting Yoshida out. Fans really got into the fight on that one, too! Yoshida tries a last-ditch Fujiwara armbar after making the ropes, but Reggie just snaps her right into a SPINNING LIGERBOMB, pinning her at (12:24).

Weird sorta match, as Yoshida keeps fishing for that damn cross-armbreaker, Reggie always having an answer for it and just powering her around. You can see sorta the ARSION problem immediately when the fans are popping for Reggie’s AJW spots but none of the counterhold stuff that’s supposed to define the “ARSION Style”. Defeating both Aja Kong & Mariko Yoshida- the top two ranked women in ARSION- in a single night goes a long way towards putting Reggie over as a threat- shockingly, she’d job to CANDY OKUTSU later that night. Yoshida just had no technical answer for all that power stuff, and Reggie just hit bigger and bigger things to finish her.

Rating: ***1/4 (solid match with great power stuff from Reggie. The technical stuff wasn’t great)

ZION ’98 FIRST ROUND:
REGGIE BENNETT vs. MARIKO YOSHIDA:
(ARSION, 8/31/1998)
* So Mariko attempts revenge, this time in a first-round match-up. Reggie’s in similar gear as last time, but it’s now got an unzipped front with a black shirt underneath, revealing a Janice Soprano tattoo. Yoshida’s in the more familiar black & red gear.

They hit the mat to start, Reggie resisting chokes and getting a keylock stuffed. They both trade leglock attempts, Reggie eventually grabbing Yoshida’s ankles and twisting them with raw strength, which seems to equalize technique. She puts a big twist on that leg, but Yoshida eventually chokeholds her and tries for a cross-armbreaker repeatedly, Reggie usually hauling out of it or turning her over or something. Yoshida tries a single-leg but nearly gets powerbombed, Reggie doing a slick trip into a leglock, and Yoshida claws for the ropes to escape. Reggie tries another powerbomb, Yoshida leaping back and landing a REALLY deep head & arm sleeper, Reggie making the ropes.

Yoshida throws out some desperation stuff, but ends up whipped off the ropes and into the Reggie Rack! Yoshida hooks a choke to escape, but Reggie spins her right into that falling Powerbomb again! That gets two, and Reggie adds a front facelock and some loud chops, Yoshida collapsing when whipped to the ropes. Reggie does that tilt-a-whirl inverted DDT again for two, then hits that Spinning Ligerbomb again! But in a move that Monsoon would eviscerate her for, she doesn’t go for the cover, instead trying a FLYING Splash, and misses! Yoshida SHRIEKS as she tears into the ankle, but Reggie growls as she makes the ropes- they reverse on each other for a bit before Yoshida goes for a cross-armbreaker, twisting into some judo-style elevated armlock for the tap-out at (10:49).

Kind of similar to the first match, but with less time, flow and precision- Reggie did more or less the same moves, but made a bad mistake in not going for the pin on last match’s pinning maneuver, and got caught as a result. The flow was kinda garbled when Reggie misses, and Yoshida just goes to a couple of holds instead of the winning lock, and they have to trade off ankle-picks for a second before Yoshida can reverse a waistlock and swirl around for that cross-arm thing. To be fair, though, this is Yoshida’s first match of three- she ends up winning the ZION ’98 tournament that night.

Rating: **3/4 (a bit short, but pretty decent)