Joshi Spotlight: Sakie Hasegawa
By Jabroniville on 22nd November 2019
I love that stuff like this is part of Joshi, lol. It looks like something out of Tiger Beat.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT: SAKIE HASEGAWA
Billed Height & Weight: 5’7″ 154 lbs.
Career Length: 1989-1996
Trained By: Jaguar Yokota
-I find that for most Joshi reviewers, one of the big stand-outs on any AJW card you watch during 1992-1996 is Sakie Hasegawa. Debuting in only 1989, she was in the “plucky rookie” position during that peak era of Joshi, but she was so far beyond most of the people on her same level that it’s impossible not to notice her and be impressed- she had “Future Ace” written all over her, and the push she got indicated that in every way. Her Class of ’89 team included Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe, who both maxed out at “pretty good” in the same era, so Sakie going out there and having ***-**** matches was seriously impressive- like she wasn’t a “MOVEZ” wrestler, but a “little things” one- almost a proto-Chigusa Nagayo. And it was all the worse that she retired young, never having really attained her full potential.
So what made her stand out so much? Well, kind of EVERYTHING- she was tall and athletic, and wore a different kind of singlet than everybody else (the Steiner Brother Cut, with the long shorts), making her visually distinct. She didn’t fit the Tomboy or Girly-Girl looks that most of Joshi had as ironclad contrasts (she was almost evenly between Ito & Takako Inoue). And her wrestling style itself was very unique- she went for a more “amateur-style” bit with aspects of judo and karate- once a match REALLY got going, she would hit her two biggest moves- a rolling Savate-style kick (called a “Sobat”, which I assumed was Solebutt, but whatever) and a crazy Uranage- and do them repeatedly, desperately trying to wear her opponent down for a final fall. She also had a good “little thing” trick with the way she’d spit on her hands before clasping them for some Rolling Butterfly Suplexes.
Ultimately, Sakie was fun to watch. During much of the Interpromotional Era of 1992-95, she is a stand-out in matches by virtue of sheer passion. She desperately clawed for victory, trying to prove her worth to her AJW sisters against rivals JWP & LLPW. There’s a great running thing in 1993’s shows that Sakie constantly talks shit to the wrestlers challenging for her & Ito’s Japanese Tag Team Titles- during several matches, she slaps her opponents, SPITS on them, and gets outraged when they cheat and interfere during the bouts. Her wild, desperate, defiant selling actually reminded me of Chigusa Nagayo during her “Crush Gals” days. Her brawling with Yasha Kurenai was great to see, as was her triumphant final moments in many matches- she’d spike someone with an Uranage, and actually sit on their chests, hooking a leg and cheering with her free hand as the referee counts the three! It’s fantastic “Plucky Rookie” stuff- some of the best I’ve ever seen of it.
Sakie plants her Uranage on Aja Kong while a WWF audience watches.
Her Uranage was NUTS, too. I remember watching it in 2001 or so with my “Dream Slam” VHS collections and going full Puro Snob with “Wow, that’s WAY better that The Rock’s version”. Sakie did this insane back-arching suplex with it, constantly dropping the opponent on the back of their neck instead of the “pick up and drop” version Rocky did. It was vicious and awesome looking, and nearly always hit perfectly. Now obviously, there’s a good damn reason why the Rock never did his like that- WWE wrestlers at that point were enormously heavy by comparison to 130-lb. joshi, and a bump like that would be suicidal. But still- her Uranage is the best I’ve ever seen.
Tsugumi Sendo from a 3D “Fatal Fury” game. She has hair like Sakie, long shorts like Sakie, and one of her moves is Sakie’s “Sobat”. I can’t prove they were basing her off of Hasegawa, but there’s a “King of Fighters” game where a girl uses a Super called “Cachorras”, consisting of a bunch of lady fighters posing around someone’s prone body, so someone at SNK definitely watched some Joshi.
One of my favorite “Rookie vs. Veteran” matches is her bout with Dynamite Kansai at Wrestling Queendom 1994– Sakie acts the defiant, confident rookie, taking it to JWP’s Ace… until Kansai beats seven shades of shit out of her with those legendary kicks. By the time Sakie dumps Kansai and gets a moment’s respite, she has a look of PTSD on her face. The entire rest of the bout gives off this palpable sense of “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck STAY DOWN!”, as Sakie spams out her only big moves, dumps Kansai whenever possible, and even CHEATS, throwing on an illegal judo choke to try and kill her opponent- the crowd explodes and she comes off as SO desperate to win. Kansai ultimately kicks the fight out of her, as Sakie loses her strength and gets drilled with several big moves to end it. I loved the thing, and though Kansai was the vet, Sakie held her own remarkably well.
Her push as “Blizzard Yuki” didn’t really work out, though. I think the masked character just didn’t suit her- it takes a certain kind of pro to give off charisma while wearing a mask, and Yuki always came off as suddenly very introverted and quiet instead of the wild fighter Sakie was. And despite having spectacular matches every once in a while, injuries would derail her career. Thus, we never really figured out where she would have ended up- she never even won major Singles gold in AJW! Instead, the ’97 Exodus would lead to her classmates taking over the company for a while. And no offense to either of those ladies, as they were often quite good and did a few great matches, but if Kaoru Ito and Tomoko Watanabe are your top stars, then something has gone horribly wrong.
So what could have become of her? As Blizzard Yuki, she had a draw with Manami Toyota, which is a sure sign of a push. But she never even hit the All Pacific Title. With her overall “Plucky Rookie” demeanor, could she have shifted that to the attitude required of a Main Eventer? I’m thinking she could have- her venom and sympathy-getting stuff in the Interpromotional matches showed a lot of life, and her style was definitely good. She was better-looking than the “Sporty Girls”, but not as glamorous as the “Idols”- she had a “regular girl” look that would probably be a lot more endearing to a female audience than the glamor of Takako or Manami was. She just lacked a killer Big Finisher, in my opinion- something that could have developed later. If she’d lasted, she might have run into the “Nobody Retires, So We Want to Keep Our Spots” elder joshi, but I mean… Ito even got it by 2000.
Sakie with Debbie Malenko- I wasn’t kidding about the “Steiner Sisters” jokes.
-Sakie debuted in 1989 alongside Ito & Watanabe, and did the “slowly moving up the ranks” thing. Her first big push came in 1992- for about three months, she and Debbie Malenko were the Japanese Tag Champs (trading the belts with Mariko Yoshida & Takako Inoue). They had a fun bit where both dressed like the Steiner Brothers, all patterned tights in neon colors, even doing Steiner Spots like one hilariously running around the ring like Rick Steiner and crouching beneath the other. At AJW Dream Rush, she & Debbie beat an FMW team, in a bout that was quite sloppy, but featured so much hate and venom I still went ***1/2 on it. Debbie soon suffered a career-ending injury (Sid-level, don’t look), and Sakie was left on her own, quickly becoming AJW Champion– the “Up & Comer Belt”. She defeated Yoshida (from the class before her- 1988) for the title, losing it 86 days later to Tomoko. Curiously, she wouldn’t get it again- Tomoko would be stuck there for 4+ years.
In early 1993, she teamed up with Ito to win the Japanese Tag Titles again, beating Bat Yoshinaga & Tomoko. Holding them for 226 days, they defended frequently, and during that time, she wrestled in the first Dream Slam, in a losing non-title contest with Ito against JWP’s Plum Mariko & Hikari Fukuoka. The next week, at Dream Slam II, she wrestled her JWP counterpart, Fukuoka (who’d been set as a “Future Ace” very early, much like Sakie)- the two rookies put on a great opener, Sakie winning after spamming out her Sobat & Uranage until Hikari finally stayed down. Months later, she would take part in the Thunder Queen Battle, an 8-Woman Tag with the biggest stars in AJW & JWP against each other- here, Hikari got her win back in an opening five-minute bout.
At the Nagoya Super Storm event, she & Ito defended against an LLPW team, and had to deal with a lot of cheating before Sakie came roaring back with her two big moves and triumphantly scored the pin with the hold I mentioned above. She gets into it with Yasha Kurenai in another match against LLPW, actually resorting to spitting in her face out of anger, but Kurenai’s team would unseat them in late 1993, after a 295-day run with the belts. Unexpectedly, this would prove to be Sakie’s last belt. See, one of the unfortunate side-effects of all these great Interpromotional Bouts was that everyone was caught in a holding pattern between 1993 & 1995- they all sat at the same level to have matches with their equals or superiors without much moving up, when people like Sakie should have been building wins and moving to the next level by then. Case in point, she debuted only one year later than Double Inoue, one of whom was nearly a Main Eventer already, and the other in the tier below that- Sakie was still in the midcard! Joshi used to retire at 26; Sakie was 24 and her push was only barely getting started.
Manga character Blizzard Yuki, and Sakie in her “Yuki” identity.
-Late 1994 saw a big change for Sakie: AJW finally set her up to be pushed to the next level. Like Satoryu Sayama (Tiger Mask) and Keiichi Yamada (Jushin Liger), she was given the costume and name of a manga character- Blizzard Yuki. She was given a HUGE entrance at the Tokyo Dome, featuring stunt doubles, theatrics, and more, as part of Big Egg Wrestling Universe– the biggest Joshi show of all time. This was intended to be the start of a BIG push, saying “no, THIS is the big star of the future”. This enormous introduction put her over huge… but the match ended up being a dud with the crowd. The reasoning as to WHY is hard to nail down- I’ve heard from two sources (ie. reviewers on the internet) that a stuntman was injured when falling, and that shook her and wrecked her motivation. You can absolutely see her with hard “jobbing face” as she enters the ring, and she acts completely disengaged in the match, which helps kill the crowd. Also, she was CLEARLY going to win- Mariko Yoshida, her opponent, was just back from injury, and Yuki getting this enormous push was very apparent… crowds in Joshi tend to not react when you go 18 minutes with the winner never in doubt. Even stranger, the match was largely dominated by Yoshida until Yuki put her away with just a couple of moves. I’ve seen reviews go from ** to **** on it, so it does different things for different people. It just wasn’t what that crowd needed, and kind of put a damper on the character- most Western reviews act like Yuki was a total failure.
However, they kept it going- she has a phenomenal match with Manami Toyota in the middle of the year, and teams with her for the remainder of it- they get to the finals of the WWWA Tag Title Tournament, losing to Double Inoue in a close one. It seems like they were ideal contenders, and would probably have won them later on- Toyota would win them with Mima Shimoda in 1996, after Yuki was done. She even wrestled for the WWF around this time, having arguably Alundra Blayze’s best match of her WWF run (a fancam of a Japanese house show), and going to the friggin’ Survivor Series of all things.
Unfortunately, injuries would pile up. I’m not sure exactly what happened, and when, but there’s a Wrestlemarinepiad at the end of 1995 that features her badly hurt and crying near the end of the bout, and that seems to lead directly to her retirement in early 1996. She seems okay in the ’96 matches I’ve seen, but at 26 years old and having to deal with the people above her not retiring or giving up their spots, maybe she figured enough was enough? I finally asked on Reddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/SquaredCircle/comments/r1gyc4/what_injuries_caused_sakie_hasegawas_early/) and it’s said that her neck was killing her, and she just couldn’t deal with the pain anymore, and decided to call it quits. The Joshi style was pretty lethal, so I’m shocked that hasn’t happened more.
In any case, she retired at AJW Wrestling Queendom 1996. I can hardly find anything about her post-retirement time, though she apparently joined ARSION, married AJW’s announcer of all people, and had two kids before they divorced! But in all the reunion stuff I’ve seen featuring Joshi from this era, she’s not there- most of the women seem to hang out together, but I never see Sakie anywhere.
What Could Have Been: Having to guess, I’d say she’d have been a 3WA Tag Champ in ’96, probably win the All Pacific around then, and then be a top star in 1997-98, depending on where she ended up after AJW went bankrupt and lost most of its stars. But we’ll never know.
Sakie’s legacy is quite small, as she retired very early and didn’t win many belts. Not a great deal of ****+ singles matches against tippy-top stars, as she wasn’t competitive with the best workers until much later. And let’s face it, standing out as a worker in the era of Toyota, Kong, Hokuto & Kyoko ain’t easy. But she still impresses- a lot of fans reviewing stuff always point her out as the highlight of a match (Ito, Fukuoka & Mariko were no slouches, but many matter-of-factly call her the best part of their Dream Slam match, for instance). The reviewer on Quebrada notes her a fair bit, and Herb Kunze’s Tidbits said she was showing “Superstar Potential” in 1994.
Sakie hitting her “Sobat”- a Spinning Savate Kick, on Bull Nakano.
Running Kick, Backdrop Suplex, German Suplex, STF, Rolling Senton, Butterfly (Double-Arm) Suplex, Rolling Butterfly Suplexes, Tope Con Hilo, Ax Kick to standing opponent’s head (set-up for final flourish), Twisting Flying Somersault Senton (Yuki’s Finisher), Sobat (Rolling Savate Kick/Solebutt- Psuedo-Finisher, typically spammed), Uranage (Back-Arching Rock Bottom- Finisher)
MANAMI TOYOTA vs. BLIZZARD YUKI:
(AJW WrestleMarinepiad Special, 04.12.1994)
* The previous year, a younger Sakie completely upset Toyota to win one of their GP matches, so even though the two are stablemates in Freedom Force (along with Blob, Spiral & Pyro), there’s real drama here. Especially with Sakie getting the “Yuki Push”. Joshi doesn’t really DO upsets from what I’ve seen (literally never watched one happen), but if they happen, it’s in the Grand Prix.
Standard AJW Opening to start (you know… screaming dropkicks) and a stand-off. Yuki takes the advantage with a ton of arm stuff, but Manami fights back with a great front dropkick to the face, missing a second, then hitting her No Hands Running Springboard move- Yuki smartly pausing while Manami struggles to catch her balance before jumping off. She deathlocks the legs and pulls off a series of moves, like a bridging double-armlock and just yanking on the nose like a rude heel. uh-oh, she’s working like LCO tonight. This causes a slapfight, Yuki winning with chops, and we play Bend Manami In Half for a while until she fights back with a Rolling Cradle that literally lasts half a minute. Ten minutes gone, and she misses a dropkick for her trademark “through the ropes” bump, and Yuki follows with a SWEET Tope Con Hilo! Twisting Somersault Senton eats mat, however, and they reverse stuff until Yuki decapitates her with a BRUTAL Ax Kick to the back of the head. Manami pulls her off the top and ends up German Suplexing her, and now it’s time for the Moonsault to miss, and she eats a Sobat to the face.
We hit one of those “exactly one minute” holds with a sleeper, rolling around the ring so it’s not just a simple resthold. Rolling Butterfly Suplexes pop the crowd and get two. One-minute chinlock (haha YouTube has RUINED ME for Joshi restholds) and she hits a backdrop, but Manami leaps out of another and hits a huge dropkick. Then she traps Yuki upside-down in the ropes and dropkicks the shit out of her back repeatedly until dumping her and hitting a Butterfly Suplex on the exposed floor! But that just fires Yuki up, so she drags Manami around, throws her into the stands, and even rifles a chair at her head before smashing her into the arena’s walls! When they finally get back into the ring, Manami spits water at her (!) and Manami Rolls her for two. She goes up, but Yuki hits her with a Superplex right into the center of the ring- and Manami “Fuck YOUUUUU!” bridges right out! Flying Splash misses and Manami hits a Bridging German for two. Another is reversed to Yuki’s own, but Manami dropkicks her right on the ass to send her off the top… but the Running No-Hands Springboard misses!
She tries to reverse a move to another Manami Roll, but this time she’s Powerbombed! A second Superplex attempt is turned into Manami dropkicking her head off from the top, but a lariat is turned into a Dragon Suplex for a close count! Manami reverses a strike to a German for the same… Moonsault hits knees! URANAGE SPAM! Yuki goes up, but gets brutally tossed off, then Manami hits a Missile Dropkick to the outside. One of those crazy “walk up the ropes to an Asai Moonsault even though 25 minutes have elapsed” things only glances Yuki. Moonsault FINALLY hits in the ring… for two! She signals for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex… VICTORY ROLL! Another try… Sobat! Another Sobat gets two, but Manami fails the Double-Hammerlock Suplex and Piledrives her, then hits a Moonsault Press for two. Missile Dropkick, and both are beat- they’re just trying for pins now as time is running out. Release German by Yuki, and a holding one gets two. She struggles to her feet, hits a Sobat for two, and then manages a spinning heel kick… and time runs out at (30:00). She drops her to knees, disappointed, while Manami looks stunned in the back- this look of “Why couldn’t I beat the kid?” etched in her body language. Tremendous.
Easily Hasegawa’s best singles match ever, and unsurprisingly it’s with Toyota. But Manami wasn’t selfishly grabbing up all the offense- Yuki dominated the first 25 minutes and hit the best moves, and Toyota didn’t even get all her shit in! Yuki’s Tope Con Hilo and Ax Kick looked AMAZING in particular, but Manami spent the entire match on the defensive, acting like Yuki had her number the whole time- she would get her big moves reversed after trying them too often, making only brief comebacks before getting trapped in another hold, etc. It took her right until the end to get a Finisher Surge going, and she’d only manage a couple big moves before getting drilled again. It put the youngster over like crazy.
These 30-minute draws are always somewhat interesting, in that you have to “fill time” with stuff- either extended selling or stretching. Here they did those 1-minute restholds, but I liked how they kept them mobile- a half-crab turns to a Boston Crab into another thing as they fight around. But once they were done those, it was all reversing stuff and keeping the match great. I liked Manami’s selling, too- she wasn’t just “oh I’m hurt but RUNNING BIG MOVE!”- she stumble-walked, stalled and took her time so it wasn’t just spammed out, and Yuki’s moves meant something.
Rating: ****1/2 (the peak of Sakie’s wrestling career, and the surest sign of how good she was- leading a 30-minute match against the best wrestler in the world?)
SAKIE HASEGAWA RETIREMENT MATCH:
SAKIE HASEGAWA vs. MICHIKO NAGASHIMA, KAORU ITO & TOMOKO WATANABE:
(Wrestling Queendom- Highest Wars, 31.03.1996)
* This is actually Sakie’s retirement match. Before the bout, they show clips of her announcing her retirement to a horrified crowd, jobbing in a ton of matches on her way out (Manami Toyota hugs her goodbye after pinning her), and then greeting a camera crew on the AJW bus (which, interestingly, advertises all the prettiest stars on the side panel, alongside Kyoko). The Class of 1989 is all represented- even Michiko, who quit early but ended up in LLPW! She wrestled until 1998. I’ve only seen her at Big Egg Wrestling Universe, teaming with Yasha Kurenai against LCO. And yes, Sakie is wrestling all three of them at once, because Joshi is weird.
Hasegawa is seemingly having the time of her life out there, all smiles, which is an interesting contrast to the usual. They all shake hands and hug before the match starts… and all three jump her, Ito Double-Stomps her off the apron, and Tomoko slams her on a table, and Nagashima SPLASHES her through it! Oh, Joshi. Sakie fights back for a bit, then she & Tomoko chop the shit out of each other until Tomoko hits the Slingshot Elbow. Ito spams dropkicks, but Sakie comes back with her Rolling Butterfly Suplexes before running into the Ass Attack. Tomoko tosses her around like she hates her, then Michiko pulls out a fucking SINGAPORE CANE for a beating. Jesus, what is this, ECW? She avoids both of Sakie’s finishers, then hits a Rocket Launcher for two. Tomoko drills her off the top and cranks on some Dragon Screws… but then Ito TURNS ON HER, joining her stablemate Sakie by hitting a Flying Double-Stomp on Tomoko while she’s stretching Sakie’s leg, then helping Sakie up and laying some boots! And now it’s an impromptu tag match- oh shit, this IS ECW!
Sakie draws the biggest reaction so far by hitting a Tope Con Hilo, but only hits Ito. They catch Michiko in mid-dive, but Tomoko defiantly crushes her partner to get all three of them in one Plancha in a cute bit. Michiko’s screams of horror when she realizes what’s going on makes it. Michiko’s Flying Senton gets two in the ring on Ito, but Ito spams Running Knees into Tomoko and hits a German for two. Sobat gets two, but Tomoko murders Sakie with lariats until a fourth one is caught- URANAGE! Michiko in- she gets an Uranage! Then Sakie calls out Ito… and drags HER in for an Uranage! Sure, why not? Tomoko takes three more, but Michiko saves. Stereo Diving Headbutts only get two! Uranage/Flying Double-Stomp, but Michiko brings in the cane again… and Tomoko takes it away, not wanting Sakie to take more weapon shots! But she hits her One-Armed Powerbomb- Ito saves. Blue Thunder Powerbomb finally ends Sakie’s career at (14:25). We then get a full half hour ceremony, with Toyota, Aja Kong and others coming out to honor Sakie, tons of flowers and an honorary belt, and a full “ten-count” while she’s alone in the ring to count down her career. She holds it together, mostly laughing, until she has to do her “goodbye interview” to the fans, then Manami & Takako get her going again (is she close with Takako? She was tearing up with Manami, but Takako got a full “ugly cry” from her!).
Joshi Retirement Matches are some of the weirdest things ever. Like, you get the Crush Gals beating two tag teams, then immediately Asuka beats up Chigusa and a bunch more people job her out, too. Or Bull Nakano laying down for Suzuka Minami. Or this weird Handicap Match where Ito turns on her partners to make it a tag, but Sakie gets cute and starts spamming Uranages anyhow (cuz when’s she gonna throw another one, right?). It’s almost more of an exhibition that borderline exposes the business, but it’s cute fun to send someone off.
Rating: *** (hard to rate when they’re sometimes just goofing off, but most of the moves looked good, and Sakie took a hell of an ass-kicking)
And that’s it for Sakie Hasegawa- the ultimate “shoulda-been” that never was. Next up, the full Wrestling Queendom 1996 show (realizing that was Sakie’s retirement match when I was almost done reviewing it was a bit of serendipity). Followed by, I dunno- Spotlights on Bull Nakano, Dynamite Kansai or Devil Masami?