Among the more identifiable joshi of all time is “The One Who Dressed Like The Ultimate Warrior For Some Reason”. And I mean, it’s an awesome look.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- KYOKO INOUE:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’5″ 238 lbs. (note: varies considerably- she was a skinny kid in 1991 and got bulkier as time went on, being noticeably heavy in 1996-97)
Career Length: 1988-today
Trained By: Jaguar Yokota
-I swear the Joshi Boys on the Blog all had the same realizations towards Kyoko Inoue: When we first started watching 1990s Joshi during livewatches, we were all blown away by Kyoko Inoue. 10 matches in, we were all thinking she was an underrated fourth pillar of all-timers alongside Manami, Aja & Akira. 30 matches in, we started seeing some cracks… and by 70 matches in, she was barely in anyone’s top ten. It’s the damndest thing.
So the deal with Kyoko is that she was a super-charismatic, likeable, popular mega-babyface in some of the best matches on any given year- ****-***** ratings abound. EXTREMELY athletic, and the only woman in joshi who could keep up with Manami Toyota at full-bore for limitless amounts of time (she’s actually a superior athlete all-around- less flippy but with even better balance and strength). Possibly the best-ever for cardio and hitting moves crisply an hour into a match. Absolutely brilliant at running up the ropes (harder than it looks), boomeranging off the middle rope, and even doing this insanely-precise little “skip to each side of the turnbuckles to lead the others on a merry chase” thing that I’ve never seen anyone else do and she made look easy. Her tag team stuff is much of the era’s best- with Takako Inoue, she had a TON of amazing 40+ minute tag bouts with false-finishes out the ass.
She did the “Manami/Jaguar Yokota Pace” but with power moves- hitting All Japan-esque pulverizing stuff in succession- her big finish was the Niagara Driver, an over-the-shoulder sit-out powerbomb that looked like death and whiplashed the person to the mat. Her early-match submissions were great fun- hanging people upside-down in a deathlock while pulling on their arms, or rocking people back and forth in a standing surfboard. Some of her set-up moves are high-tier “why isn’t THAT a finisher?” stuff like the Avalanche Powerslam, Run-Up Headscissors, etc. The crowds adored her, doing a distinctive *clapclapclap* KYO-KO!” chant in every match, no matter her opponent. And also she dressed like the Ultimate Warrior. An absolute mega-superstar, right?
-Buuuuuuuuuuuut then we just kept seeing little things creep up here and there. Like the fact that she never quite developed a “story” for most matches- she simply got the fans behind her, hit endless bit moves and comebacks, kicked out at 2.9 from all the MDKs thrown at her, then hit flawless power moves even though she’d taken tons of damage. There weren’t the bedraggled, desperate rallies of Manami (who, to be fair, did the “Superman Comebacks” too), nor the fatal determination of Hokuto. She wasn’t nearly as good a seller as either of them- she’s bad for just popping up or making moves look weak at times, and in matches where Kyoko eats 80% of the offense, it’s shockingly poor; she’s really only able to have good matches by dominating them. She didn’t have Aja’s ability to create a perfect story, nor how to be a dominant, aggressive powerhouse. It was just like of the four big AJW stars of the “Golden Era” (1992-95), she was the one most reliant on “hitting all the cool moves and doing tons of last-minute kickouts” or looking to the fans for a reaction. And I mean, these are GOOD ATTRIBUTES in a wrestler, but it seemed like it was all she had. She’s an all-time great, but probably the most “MOVEZ~~!” of any of AJW’s wrestlers. A Spot Machine with enviable cardio & athleticism, but still a Spot Machine.
Possibly the best way to assess her against her top-tier rivals was seeing who had the best matches with whom. Manami had ***** matches (in my opinion) with Aja, Akira, Kyoko and Toshiyo Yamada. Kyoko’s ONLY ***** matches are with Manami, and she has “merely” ****+ matches with the others (and a really disappointing one with Yamada). Most of the rest have managed near-perfect matches with others (Akira vs. Kandori; Aja vs. Hotta), but Kyoko’s best other match, for my money, is a ****1/2 Dynamite Kansai one. Almost all of them were better than carrying a lower-ranked wrestler- Manami has ****+ matches with Sakie Hasegawa, Plum Mariko & a young Hikari Fukuoka, while aside from some miracles (like against Bat Yoshinaga), Kyoko tended to just gobble people up and squash them. So she’s GREAT, but not AS great.
Kyoko also ruled over AJW during the time when ticket sales were falling and business was dying- while she almost always seemed to be AJW’s most-favored wrestler in every match, it didn’t translate to being a draw. And her style didn’t carry on as she aged- when she was merely stocky, she was great- a believable powerhouse and SUPER fast and precise. But as she got heavier and heavier as the ’90s wore on, her style suffered tremendously, probably owing to her lack of well-roundedness. And then she left AJW as it went bankrupt and formed NEO Ladies, a promotion pretty infamous for her booking herself as an unstoppable monster all the damn time. And later company Pro Wrestling Diana (a new “Joshi Retirement Home” with most of AJW’s still-wrestling dominant stars) is even worse for that, even though Kyoko’s in her 50s.
But Kyoko Still Rules!:
-But like… she was still friggin’ awesome. She’s had more ****1/2+ tag team matches than almost anyone I can name. Double Inoue (her team with Takako Inoue- no relation) is probably my favorite tag act in AJW next to Las Cachorras Orientales. She’s probably Manami Toyota’s best opponent, hitting ***** with her TWICE, and has had ****+ matches with all the greats- Akira, Bull, Kansai, Kandori, etc. She has what is easily limited worker Bat Yoshinaga’s best match ever (***3/4!). And really, it seems like everyone in Japan sucked as a draw by 1996- the economy was in the shitter, and it was the Mastsunagas who bankrupted the company with bad business deals, not Kyoko. And who’s to say that them failing to push Kyoko when she was starting to get over didn’t damage her too badly for when she finally got the “next level” push?
Kyoko’s legacy in Joshi is pretty assured- her 1992 match with Manami that capped off their long feud was rated *****++++ by Dave Meltzer, calling it the future of the business and going ga-ga over the innovation shown. Despite spending most of 1992-95 as “The one who jobs to the actual Main Eventers” (looking at the lights against all the aforementioned stars), she was incredibly over and usually had the #1-2 match on every card. Her credentials are assured. And she was AJW’s Ace for around a year, unseating Manami herself.
Various feuds and mini-stories she’s had are incredible, too- she had a massive rivalry with Manami, going right until 1992 and they still managed to fight each other many times afterwards in huge callback matches. Then with Double Inoue she was a dominant tag wrestler, making the incredibly boss move of vacating the Tag Titles since they were 99th champions… because they wanted to be the *100th* champions, too! And then won a one-night tournament to accomplish that very fact! Then 1995 caps off with her finally defeating her mentor, Bull Nakano, in a huge passing of the torch moment… I don’t speak Japanese at all, but even I can “read” all these stories easily watching the shows all in a row. It’s great stuff.
Kyoko in later years- even MORE colors!
Overall, I’d say she’s an extremely great wrestler- spot-heavy, but with IMPRESSIVE spots, doing tons of power moves and having endless cardio. Her storytelling abilities are weaker (a flaw Manami shared), and her big finish, the Niagara Driver, was often not the greatest, as she couldn’t heft larger wrestlers into it easily. Overall, I’d say better wrestlers of her era were Aja, Akira, Manami, Bull, Kansai, Devil Masami, and Mayumi Ozaki. But she’s still in the top ten.
-Okay, so Kyoko has wrestled longer than almost anybody in joshi, so this is a long one…
Kyoko debuted for AJW in 1988, in a class that included Takako Inoue & Mariko Yoshida. She pretty quickly joined Bull Nakano’s “Gokumon-To” stable of sorta-heels, eventually becoming Bull’s top subordinate by 1990-91, which gave her the first of her pushes. She won the vacant AJW Title (the low-tier one given to rising rookies) in Oct. 1990, losing it 209 days later to Takako. She won the weirdo trophy belt the IWA Title in Aug. 1991, holding it for 238 days, defeating Akira Hokuto in a great ****1/4 match before ultimately losing it in one of joshi’s most legendary matches- the *****+++++ WOR-rated match against hated rival Manami (the two were feuding CONSTANTLY in some shows I’ve seen, like being forced to wrestle as a tag team and fighting each other more than their opponents). It was a true spectacular, with them doing crazy stuff like walking up the ropes to break out of a hold (in 1992!) and ending with Manami unlocking a new finisher- the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex.
Kyoko would recover quickly, winning AJW’s secondary title, the All-Pacific “White” belt, in June, shockingly beating Bison Kimura (who was about to be retired). Kyoko had a pretty short run, losing in 174 days to Akira Hokuto, but it probably did a lot of good to cement her as a big star after that prominent loss. Her 1992 was also full of great tag matches- hitting **** in multiple occasions, usually with Manami on the opposite side of the ring (Manami/Sakie vs. Kyoko/Yoshida, Manami/Yamada vs. Kyoko/Hotta, Manami/Yamada vs. Kyoko/Akira, Kyoko/Takako vs. Bull/Akira, Aja/Kyoko vs. Sakie/Debbie). However, she also does prominent jobs- the aforementioned title losses, plus a heartbreaker in the Japan Grand Prix semi-finals, losing to Mariko Yoshida after dominating her for the entire match, getting rolled up in the end.
The Interpromotional Era:
-Kyoko is actually kinda/sorta damaged by this era, despite frequently having one of the best matches on the card. The problem was, AJW was serious about protecting the big stars (Aja, Akira, Manami as a rising star), and so it often fell to 4th-ranked Kyoko & Yumiko Hotta to do the job in interpromotional matches with other companies’ Aces. So while everyone’s top dogs didn’t have to do jobs, out comes Kyoko & Hotta to job to Shinobu Kandori or Dynamite Kansai. Kyoko in particular must have felt like a “safe” bet- she’s still a rising star and they must have felt she could be rebuilt whenever.
So in early ’93, Kyoko jobs to Aja in a WWWA Title match. At the summer Grand Prix, she defeats JWP’s Hikari Fukuoka but does a shocker job to Bat Yoshinaga! These upsets are common in the JGP, but it’s notable that it’s Kyoko. That said, both are ***3/4, which is miraculous given Bat’s limitations. At August’s Legacy of Queens, she jobs to LLPW’s ace Kandori in the main event- it’s a fantastic match, playing up the completely different styles as Kyoko fights like a puro star with goofy submissions like surfboards & dancing deathlocks against Kandori’s hardcore judo stuff. Arguably Kandori’s best match other than the Hokuto ones! But that September, Kyoko picks up a big win, as she beats JWP’s Devil Masami (a joshi legend) in another ****1/4 bout, pulling out a last minute win that even impresses Devil! That November, she loses to Kansai at another mixed show. Kyoko ends the year with more ****+ matches than anyone… except Manami & Akira, who both have even BETTER years. 1993 is, uh, PRETTY GOOD for joshi.
In early 1994, Kyoko loses to Bull in a ****1/4 match, then in March, she beats Toshiyo Yamada in a pretty lame match to win her second All-Pacific Title, using a new finisher- a weird kind of deathlock/camel clutch thing. She’d hold the White Belt for 150 days before having a somewhat infamous match with Manami- both wrestlers were clearly going ALL-OUT to have the best match possible, probably inspired by their 1992 classic… but they were botch-crazy all night long, Manami slipping off the ropes frequently and both women panicking as they tried to improvise a new finish. The match has been described as “immature”, with both just tossing out big move after big move with no rhyme or reason. Still an impressive spotfest but I probably/possibly overrated it by going ****.
However, it’s not all jobbing! In Oct. 1994, Kyoko & Takako Inoue form “Double Inoue”, with the rising stars quickly proving amazing as they defeat the legendary Manami/Yamada duo (who had pretty recently finally beaten JWP’s top duo for the tag titles, returning it to AJW!) for their first WWWA Tag Team Titles, becoming the 99th champions! At Big Egg Wrestling Universe, Kyoko enters the big V*Top Women’s Tournament, but is beaten in the first round by Kansai again, in a fantastic ****1/2 match that features the two so badly-beaten that they’re literally on their hands and knees throwing strikes at each other. Kansai has to unlock a vicious Super Splash Mountain to defeat Kyoko. Then, in the ballsiest, bossest move ever, Double Inoue VACATED their belts, then held a one-night tournament so they could become the *100th* champions, as well as the 99th! And THEY WON! They had another ****1/2 match, this time against Manami & Sakie Hasegawa, in the final bout of the evening.
Then Double Inoue lost their Tag Titles to Akira Hokuto & Mima Shimoda- the team would win the WWWA Tag Titles back 4 months later. This run would last 152 days before Shimoda would win them back, using MANAMI as her partner this time! Kyoko would have a ton more ****+ matches all over the year, often in tags in random combinations (Bull/Sakie vs. Kyoko/Manami, Bull/Kyoko vs. Aja/Manami, Manami/Kyoko vs. Takako/Yamada).
1995- Kyoko Finally gets Pushed:
-So after all that time of being “The one who jobs to the Main Eventers”, 1995 finally sees Kyoko’s push rev up. Not only are her & Takako still dominant for most of the year, but Kyoko takes on top wrestlers and stops being pinned all the time! Manami’s first defense as WWWA Champion is against her old rival, but the bout is a legendary 60-minute sprint, ultimately ending in a Time Limit Draw, despite them throwing hurricanes of offense against each other! The longest “Joshi Pace” solo match ever. Also notorious for being Meltzer’s pick for “Match of the Year” over some all-timer All Japan stuff. Then Kyoko ends the year with two huge solo victories- she defeats her old senpai, Bull Nakano, in another ****1/4 match, finally taking a huge step forward as a wrestler- the two embrace after the bout ends as Bull symbolically passes the torch. And as if to emphasize that she’s ready, Kyoko also defeats Aja Kong within months, beating the former Ace! This gears up Kyoko to be Manami’s big challenger for 1996.
In Dec. 1996, Kyoko finally makes the big leagues, as she defeats Manami to become the WWWA World Champion for the first time! In Jan. 1997, Kyoko also beat Takako for the All-Pacific Title & IWA Title one last time each, becoming a TRIPLE Champion! She retired the IWA Title mid-run, however, ending that belt. For some reason, she vacates both the red & white belts after 154 days, but is the next WWWA Champion anyhow. This run is only 64 days long, however, as she jobs to Yumiko Hotta, who becomes the new top star. Apparently business took a huge hit during this time, owing to the Japanese economic slowdown, plus a lack of fresh matches in AJW (crowds had become accustomed to fancy Dream Matches and were not interested in seeing the same five people fight in main events all the time; business also sucked after Hokuto left). She would also drop the All-Pacific back to Takako after 111 days, and leave a bankrupt AJW, forming NEO Ladies– a wrestling promotion based around herself. She took a handful of other AJW wrestlers with her- Yoshiko Tamura, Tanny Mouse and Yuki Miyazaki.
Kyoko invades the JD’ promotion in 1998, trading the TWF World Title with Lioness Asuka- beating her in April & losing ten days later, then winning the TWF Title back for a 175 day run until Asuka beats her again. These are apparently among the best matches of the year, but I haven’t seen them yet. In June 1999, Kyoko wins the WWWA Title one last time, defeating Hotta and holding it for 103 days before dropping it back- seems like there’s a lot of short runs between them around this time. She becomes an unexpected intergender champion in FMW, winning the WEW Tag Titles with Kodo Fuyuki from H & Mr. Gannosuke that February, losing to Gedo & Koji Nakagawa after a month, then teaming with Fuyuki & Chocoball Mukai to win the WEW Six-Man Tag Titles from Gedo, Jado & Koji, losing them back after 8 days, but winning them back 25 days later. The lose to H, Hisakatsu Oya & Tetsuhiro Kuroda after 29 days.
(aka the era where most people seem to stop caring about Kyoko and the weird lineages of non-GAEA or Stardom titles)
In NEO Ladies, Kyoko wins the top belt, the NWA Women’s Pacific Title/NEO Title from Mima Shimoda in March 2001, holding them for 82 days before losing to Misae Genki. She beats Yoshiko Tamura for the NEO/NWA Titles again on Feb. 2003, holding them for a month before losing to Azumi Hyuga.
In the dying days of AJW, Double Inoue reformed, winning the WWWA Tag Titles back in Sept. 2003 against Kumiko Maekawa & Tomoko Watanabe, holding them for 110 days before jobbing them to Ayako Hamada & Nanae Takahashi. She & Etsuko Mita win something called the NEO Kitazawa Tag Titles in Sept. 2003, beating Tanny Mouse & Yuki Miyazaki, holding them for 386 days before losing them back. They then became the NEO Tag Team Title holders in Sept. 2005, beating Amazing Kong & Haruka Matsuo- they hold them for 302 days before losing them to Kong & Kyoko Kimura. In May 2008, she wins the NWA/NEO Titles one last time, beating Haruka Matsuo and holding them for 152 days before losing to Nanae. She wins the DDT Iron Man Title twice in one day in 2009 as well- this is a belt held by a man’s underwear at one point, so I’m assuming this is a comedy belt. In Oct. 2009, she & Hiroyo Matsumoto team up to win the NEO Tag Titles, beating Atsuko Emoto & Kyoko Kimura and holding them for 195 days before losing to Nanae & Kana (WWE’s Asuka!). NEO soon closed after many of its former wrestlers left- Etsuko Mita, Tamura, Tanny Mouse and Miyazaki all quit in succession. NEO never really got much respect, widely being seen as a “vanity promotion”, with Kyoko’s booking around herself being particularly mocked. Her being seen as an “AJW enemy” didn’t help.
Kyoko eventually founded Pro Wrestling Diana, which seems like a new “Joshi Retirement Home” looking at the roster, in 2013- here, she is the inaugural PW Diana Title holder, winning both that and the PW Diana Tag Titles in Dec. 2013 (with Tomoko Watanabe as her partner), and holding the belt for 244 days before losing to Mask de Sun. They lost the Tag Titles after 315 days to KAORU & Mima Shimoda. She & Yumiko Hotta win the PW Diana Tag Titles in Aug. 2015 (vacating them after a month), and she beats Kaoru Ito in Sept. 2015 for the PW Diana Title again, holding it for *424* days before losing it back. She wins the PW Diana Title back 110 days later, having ANOTHER massive reign, this one 511 days before losing to Sareee. She & Kaoru Ito win the PW Diana Tag Titles in July 2017, beating CRYSIS (Chikayo Nagashima & Megumi Yabushita) and holding them for 166 days before losing to Takako & Hotta. Finally, Kyoko beats Ayako Sato for the PW Diana Title in April 2021, and vacated it only in November. So, uhhh… she kind of dominates that company. Apparently her rep WITHIN joshi is as kind of a dictator, and the endless title reigns make her seem like kind of a belt snob or mark for herself, just on the surface at least.
The Victoria Driver. Which sounds awesome but is more or less John Cena’s FU/Attitude Adjustment but inverted.
Mongolian Chops (double-arm swinging chops to the shoulders), Slingshot Backwards With Arms Out (often hits 2 opponents), Surfboard/Romero Special, Indian Deathlock w/ Opponent Hoisted Up & Hanging Upside Down (claps and dances for the fans first), Run 1-2 Wrestlers on a Chase- Stepping Up the 1st & 2nd Rope on Each Side of the Corner, Run-Up The Ropes Flying Back Elbow (mid-match crowd-pleaser), Missile Dropkick, Running Lariat (psuedo-finisher; can also reverse stuff for a big pop later in the match), Run Up the Ropes Belly-To-Belly Superplex, Super Powerslam, Run Up the Ropes Somersault Headscissors (often threads into pin- can pin top wrestlers), Sit-Out Powerbomb (used if opponent is too big for Niagara Driver, or if she starts failing it mid-move), Indian Deathlock w/ Camel Clutch (finisher), Niagara Driver (over-the-shoulder sit-out powerbomb- Finisher), Victoria Driver (inverted fireman’s carry to a side-toss drop- MDK Super-Finisher)
KYOKO INOUE (c) vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
* Kyoko, the ultimate super-babyface of AJW, looks more like herself here, being thicker and sporting the facepaint she’d pretty much always wear after this. Spunky and excitable, she gets cheered against EVERYONE- even Toyota! She’s got a neon yellow top and purple pants with yellow tassles, looking like the Ultimate Warrior merged with Kona Crush. Toyota is clearly a future superstar here, though a ways away from her eventual push- she’s wearing a black leotard I’ve never seen before- covering her entire upper body except her face and just her shoulders. It’s got spackled silver stuff on the front.
This is the match Meltzer said was “*****++++”, saying they were ten years ahead of everyone else in the world, so let’s see if he was right. They start out lightning-fast to start, chasing each other around and doing splashes- Manami already monkey flips Kyoko out and does a No-Hands Springboard Splash to the outside! And then it’s some state-of-the-art matwork, with Manami throwing out a flying armscissors and a Rolling Hammerlock (like her Rolling Cradle!), while Kyoko surfboards her and puts her in a backbreaker rack before throwing her out of it. Then throws on a Sharpshooter/Bow & Arrow Hold and that “Rock the Cradle” submission (which the crowd responds to like they’ve never seen it before). Oh yeah, this is INSANE for 1992. I mean, twenty days before this, Hulk Hogan fought Sid Justice in the main event of WrestleMania.
Toyota does her “dropkick herself out of the ring” spot, and wow, the close camera angle makes it clear how that’s controlled- fascinating and insanely-difficult-looking to pull off (she grabs the top rope, lands on the middle one, and controls her descent, landing on her feet). Kyoko hits an Asai Ass Attack that slams her head into the steel guardrail! Kyoko gets a Helicopter Slam & a Perfect Plex, but Manami uses Dropkick Spam to come back, hitting a crazy number of Running & Missile Dropkicks to excite the crowd. Flying thing & Butterfly Suplex Hold, but Kyoko hits the Springboard Backsplash. Kyoko wears her down with Boston Crabs (in a clever bit, Manami tries a dropkick from an Irish Whip, putting her right back into another Crab), but Manami dropkicks her off the top, Planchas her to the outside… but eats a Springboard Backsplash from the GUARD RAIL, which I’ve literally never seen before.
Manami then walks up the ropes to backflip out of a backdrop, hitting a Rolling Cradle. In 1992. FOUR Missile Dropkicks, but Kyoko blocks the fifth and stretches her again, as this is the only way to slow Manami down. But then Manami pokes her way out of one, hits a German, then a Tope! And a Plancha Suicida. And a “Walk Up The Ropes” Asai Moonsault. SHOW-OFF. Tiger Suplex gets two, but a Moonsault misses. Kyoko attempts a desperation Surfboard, but can’t keep Manami held up, and a Flying Back Elbow… gets two! She goes for a Niagara Driver (Over-The-Shoulder Powerbomb), but Manami rolls her up! Overhead Belly-To-Belly Superplex… MANAMI BRIDGES OUT! Niagara Driver… TWO! Manami reverses an Irish Whip with a Japanese Ocean Suplex (Bridging Double-Hammerlock German) for two! Kyoko reverses a running move with a throw-down Chokeslam! She picks Manami up, but Manami gets behind her and crosses the arms! She sticks her head under Kyoko’s legs for an Electric Chair Drop! Lifts her… struggles to hold her… BRIDGING PIN! It’s the first-ever JAPANESE OCEAN CYCLONE SUPLEX!!! Manami wins (24:38)!!!
Holy s---, what an absolute classic. The entire story came down to Kyoko’s superior submissions and strength, up against Manami’s sheer speed and crazy ability to pull moves out of EVERYWHERE, innovating stuff on the fly and being impossible to keep down. Kyoko kept going to the crab and other stretches just to slow her down and negate the flying, and pummeled Manami’s spine, but it just wasn’t enough- Manami kept reversing stuff to both Japanese Ocean Suplexes, and the Future Ace finishes with the first-ever use of her MDK move. It was like… practicality versus MOVEZ, but Manami had one more big move than Kyoko did, and that was that. AMAZING match, like you could see them blowing the crowd’s minds further and further the more stuff they pulled off. I was worried this wouldn’t live up to Meltzer’s insane Toyota Fanboyism and hype… but f--- me, it’s THAT GOOD. They were years ahead of everyone else, creating the future of wrestling right here.
Rating: ***** (what watching someone invent pro wrestling feels like)