“AJA. Bull- you listen carefully, too. I have two lives left. If anyone wants them, come forward now!”
-Hokuto dropping a challenge during her retirement tour.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- AKIRA HOKUTO:
Real Name: Hisako Uno
Billed Height & Weight: 5’6″ & 132 lbs.
-This is one I’ve been dreading and anticipating for ages now- how does one make sense out of the career of Akira friggin’ Hokuto? Pro wrestling’s living embodiment of “die for your art”.
Akira is one of the “Big Three” of Joshi, arguably the “Big Two” with Manami Toyota- someone whose respect is well-earned and nigh-universal. Anyone who knows anything about wrestling has a deep respect for her work, and even people who aren’t major joshi fans have either seen or heard of her legendary ***** match with Shinobu Kandori at Dream Slam 1, and consider her a top-tier talent. At one point, she has an even shot for being the greatest wrestler ON EARTH, regardless of gender- 1993 was quite possibly the best year any wrestler has ever had- at least six solo matches over ****, more than double that if you count tags, and more. Any female wrestler of the ’90s whose best match wasn’t against Toyota was against Hokuto instead. NOBODY was better at playing through an injury or carrying someone else than Hokuto- Rumi Kazama hit **** with her, and never came close with anyone else, and Akira hit ****1/2 or so against Aja Kong while on a broken leg.
What made Akira so awesome? It was various things- raw, focused charisma. Dead-on timing. The perfect moment to turn to the audience and rhythmically clap to get them into her upcoming spot. A willingness to kill herself to do a move (who else does her suicidal Tope Con Hilo off the top rope to the outside?). An insane desire to work hurt. Some kind of awe-inspiring promo to drive the fans into a frenzy. She’s one of very few people who speaks a language I can’t understand whom I would say is 100% a “10” in Charisma. Imagine Hulk Hogan’s charisma with Misawa’s workrate and you could almost be underselling it. You can see it in the crowds- Toyota pulls off all the wild spots, but the crowd is ALWAYS louder for Hokuto. One of only a few joshi I’ve ever seen have matches only a minute or two long- once, she completely crushed Yasha Kurenai and no-sold all her stuff, and she has a 3-second match where she dodged Numacchi’s shovel-shot and hit her with the Dangerous Queen Bomb for the win.
d’awwwwwwwwww- it’s Akira and her husband, Kensuke Sasaki. You almost forget that both are violent psychopaths.
Hokuto’s moves also looked positively insane. She didn’t have the smoothness or athleticism of, say, Toyota, but her stuff just looked like MURDER. The Northern Lights Bomb hits in a way that makes you wonder why the victim isn’t dead- just a straight scoop slam onto the back of their neck- it’s like if someone botched a body slam in the most horrific, career-ending way possible, but on purpose and every time. The Dangerous Queen Bomb may be the most slickly-applied, quickly-done believable finisher ever (a Gutwrench Ligerbomb that hits inside of a second). Several of her moves are simply hurling herself at her foe at top speed- completely suicidal.
You like “little things” in wrestling? Hokuto was the master of them. Just the right smirk at the right moment as a way to blow off a foe’s challenge. A manner of falling like she was dead, or selling like one of her limbs had been shredded and is now useless. She can make a stretching segment come off as more than just “filler” all through smack-talk and defiance, too. Her feuds with Kandori and Toyota seemed based entirely around her disrespected them, and her tag team with Shimoda featured disrespect to her own partner, too- but there was a great ongoing thing with Aja Kong where it was clear the two saw each other as great equals and demanded the best from each other.
Don’t see a lot of people swipe THIS version.
Akira was hurt so often the fans started calling her “The Mummy”. Most of 1993- her all-star year of great matches- feature her with a bum knee, often taping it up like she’s Ron Reis, and she had God knows what else in terms of injuries at that point. Probably the most famous injury was literally breaking her freaking neck during a Tag Title match in the early ’90s, and continuing to wrestle the next fall, often seen holding her head in place with her hands. Nowadays we’d shit all over the refs and officials for allowing that to happen, but stuff like this making her a legend is probably why people still do that stuff today. To be perfectly honest, Akira was fragile as shit. She has at least three or four famous injuries in wrestling, many of which wrecked booking plans. But this just adds to the aura around her- this fragile yet unkillable legend. That she sold pain better than almost anyone ever just added to it- like “This hold is murder, but I’m too crazy to die”.
-Akira was born Hisako Uno, and was a HUGE Joshi fan in the ’80s, having formed the Bull Nakano fanclub (serious business in Japan- I shit you not). She joined AJW’s dojo after quitting high school, debuting in 1985 under her real name. She was AJW Rookie of the Year, then won the AJW Junior Title the next year, beating Condor Saito, losing in 70 days to Yasuko Ishiguro, and even got awarded AJW Match of the Year, teaming with Yukari Omari against Chigusa Nagayo & Yumiko Hotta. Her & Hotta would team up for the WWWA Tag Titles in 1987. The first step of her legend hit when they lost them 12 days later to the Red Typhoons, where a tombstone broke Uno’s neck- she wrestled the remaining falls of the match while literally holding head head in place with her hands at points. Rather than get the referee and arena doctor fired for dereliction of duty, this pretty much instantly this gave her a reputation for toughness. There’s one match on a Hokuto tape featuring her pinning CHIGUSA NAGAYO right at the opening bell of a 2/3 Falls match- that’s a sign of what they saw in her. Eventually, she took the name “Akira Hokuto”, naming herself after Akira Maeda.
She and Suzuka Minami formed the Marine Wolves, winning the vacant WWWA Tag Titles in 1989 after the Crush Gals retired, losing them in a month to Mitsuko Nishiwaki & Hotta. The next year, they’d win them again from Aja Kong & Grizzly Iwamoto, holding them for 305 days before Aja would team up with Bison Kimura to win them back. 1990 involved another bad injury, as she was supposed to win AJW’s Japan Grand Prix, but tore her knee after a bad landing on a plancha, and had to be removed from the match. And of course, when she returned, she was a totally different person. She was All-Pacific Champion in March 1991, beating Suzuka and holding it for 152 days before losing it back- their team was done by now. Her “Tomboy Rookie Hair” was replaced with longer hair dyed blonde, giving her a new look in 1992.
In 1992, she wrestled Bull Nakano in a pretty famous cage match, then formed Las Cachorras Orientales, bringing two subordinates up through the ranks- Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda (who begged to join their cool new rulebreaker group). By year’s end, she beat Kyoko Inoue at AJW Dream Rush, winning the All-Pacific Title for the second time in a **** match. In 1993, she led LCO into a rivalry with wrestlers from rival Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling– she would demolish every wrestler in LLPW she encountered, but would have a legendary feud with Shinobu Kandori, rival Ace.
Akira’s constant disrespect, mixed with Kandori’s arrogant “I could defeat all of you easily” judoka attitude, was a smash hit, and led to joshi’s most famous singles match (to American fans especially) at Dream Slam 1, in which the wrestled one of those perfect stories- Kandori was bigger, stronger, more physically fit, more durable, had better technical skills, and was a better legit fighter. But Hokuto was crazy. Akira’s defiance and shit-talking led to to slug Kandori down, talking shit about judo as weaksauce, and Kandori responded by trying to carry Akira’s limbs home with her. Akira’s “flailing like a three-year old” stuff was shockingly effective at stifling judo, and her rep was sealed when she got a full-on gushing wound on her forehead when she got tombstoned on a friggin’ table (the crack camera crew making sure to get a close-up of the dent her head left in it). The match ending was perfect, too- they had absolutely NOTHING left in the tank, leading to them only able to throw punches- Hokuto landed out of position for a pin, and so recovered and slugged Kandori down, landing on top of her to end it.
Now that’s how you finish a brawl.
Akira would beat most of LLPW’s wrestlers that year, carrying Rumi Kazama to a **** match and taking her hair in another good bout. She won that summer’s Japan Grand Prix, defeating Hotta. She vacated the All-Pacific Title and went against Aja Kong at Wrestlemarinepiad in a bout that was supposed to be for the WWWA World Title, but had to have knee surgery shortly before it. Respecting the title too much to attempt to win it in her condition, she demanded it be made non-title, and still wrestled a classic (in which Aja, not desiring to hurt someone she respected, had a guilt-ridden, angry expression the whole time she tore Hokuto’s body apart). And finally, at St. Battle Final‘s Main Event, Akira gave Kandori back her win in ANOTHER classic- after crushing all of LLPW’s stars, she made it look like she had almost ZERO chance against Kandori, being taken to pieces at nearly every step. A Northern Lights Bomb to the outside put her back in contention, but ultimately Kandori scored an emphatic win, killing Hokuto with an uppercut as her LCO subordinates bawled their eyes out at ringside and Aja looked like she had to put down Old Yeller. One of wrestling’s perfect stories.
Kandori uppercutting Hokuto’s soul out of her body.
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- in another ***** match, Kandori slapping Hokuto’s hand and marching back to the dressing room at match’s end. Her “retirement” was supposed to be in Mexico, where she married Máscara Mágica, and took the name Reina Jabuki. She won the CMLL Women’s Title in July 1994. However, all of a sudden she divorces her husband (I’ve heard he was abusive) and ends up in AJW again at the end of 1994, winning the one-time V*Top Woman Tournament at Big Egg Wrestling Universe, defeating Aja in the finals at the Tokyo Dome- the biggest audience to ever watch a joshi event.
1995 continued her greatness, though oddly despite seeming ready to be pushed to the WWWA Title, she never won it. I’m not sure why, but a combination of injuries and flakiness (quitting then returning) probably didn’t help. Nonetheless, she had another classic bout against Manami at the Japan Grand Prix1995, losing in the final. She & her old teammate Shimoda would form a remarkable duo that same year, winning the WWWA Tag Titles in September, unseating the great Double Inoue team- they would hold them for 120 days before losing them back- along the way, the disrespected Shimoda would finally be treated by Hokuto (who wore both titles in a show of ego and shittiness towards her subordinate) as a worthy partner. Oh, and Akira would remarry, this time marrying Kensuke Sasaki- the two would adopt each other’s moves in an adorable twist, and are still married to this day.
In late November ’96, Akira suddenly became the centerpiece of WCW‘s nascent women’s division, as she & Bull arrived as heels managed by Sonny Onoo. She won the WCW Women’s Title in December, in a tournament final against Madusa Micelli- humorously, she fought as Reina Jabuki in that same tournament, and losing in an earlier bout to Madusa got her stripped of the CMLL Women’s Title. Oh, and then all of a sudden Akira quits AJW and joins GAEA Japan in 1996! I never quite figured out what the deal was there- I asked on Reddit, and one of the top joshi experts there said it was likely because she was too old- the retirement age may have still been in effect (if not universally or fairly applied). Others vociferously disagree, and in general it’s assumed it was a lighter schedule, AJW management bleeding money, and her wanting to have a kid.
In the summer of 1997, Akira defeats Madusa, who is then forced to retire… and then never reappears on WCW television again, WCW having gotten rid of their division entirely. It was the weirdest damn thing- who writes it off like THAT? In GAEA, Akira had a ton of phenomenal matches with Meiko Satomura, then a plucky rookie who had almost no chance- there was some awesome Rookie/Veteran stuff going on there (at least two bouts are around *****). Her final title win comes in Dec. 2000, as she teams with Mayumi Ozaki to defeat the OZ Academy kids (Chikayo Nagashima & Sugar Sato), holding the AAAW Tag Titles for 126 days before losing them back.
Akira wrestled until 2002, having been much more sporadic by then (I mean, she had a toddler at home). She has two children now, gave breast cancer a Northern Lights Bomb in 2015, and has a parental bond with her husband’s protégé Katsuhiko Nakajima- I’m told he even busts out Momkuto’s Northern Lights Bomb from time to time. She was in the news recently trying to gather together Japan’s more scattered women’s promotions under one roof for a “Dream Slam”-style mega-event, but I hear it failed due to egos, which must have been hilarious to someone who lived through the Golden Age of the ’90s.
Missile Dropkick, German Suplex, Dragon Suplex, Spin Kick (spins on one foot and swings the other leg- usually done twice in succession), Tope Con Hilo (forward-flipping dive off the top rope), Backdrop Suplex Hold, Inverted Brainbuster (one smooth motion- underhooks the thigh from the inside), Stranglehold Gamma (arm-twist with the neck pinched between her thigh & calf- her husband’s move in NJPW), Dangerous Queen Bomb (gutwrench ligerbomb in one smooth motion), Northern Lights Bomb (bodyslam into a vertical drop powerslam)
AKIRA HOKUTO (AJW) vs. SHINOBU KANDORI (LLPW):
(AJW Dream Slam 1, March 1993)
* Akira Hokuto is a wrestling legend with a ton of accolades and Titles… and all of those accolades start with this match. She’s one of the Aces of AJW, and her katana & Noh performer ring-gear is the best in wrestling, ever. Shinobu Kandori is the Ace of LLPW- a legitimate judoka whose muscular physique, martial artist’s stance, huge jawline and Elvis hair make her look hilariously like a gender-swapped Antonio Inoki. And she looks TOUGH- like she could absolutely wipe out anyone. Even though she’s wearing a singlet with leaves, Jimmy Graffiti paint-splatter and neon yellow trim.
So the story of the match is that Kandori is stronger, faster, more durable, a better technician & grappler, and smarter than Hokuto. But Hokuto is crazy. Hokuto starts us right off by punching Kandori in the face and taunting her on the mic (apparently telling Kandori to stop fighting like a judoka, because judo is bullshit), at which point Kandori beats the shit out of her. Then Hokuto does the greatest sell of a submission hold I’ve ever seen in my life- you would 100% believe that Kandori legitimately tore Hokuto’s shoulder right out of its socket, as Akira desperately claws at the ropes, tumbles out of the ring, and screams in agony as the ring attendants see to her. Amazing stuff, and we’re barely a minute in! Kandori keeps it up with a brawl outside, and then the legendary spot- a Tombstone Piledriver reversed ON A TABLE, turning Hokuto into a complete bloody wreck- the crack camera crew of course gets a choice close-up of the DENT Hokuto’s skull left in the table. Amazing. Hokuto is so messed up she can barely stand (you can see her deliberately dribble blood on the other ringside tables, though- what a pro), but through the Power Of Insanity, manages to bust Kandori open during the subsequent scrap.
Both girls are a mess as they hit the ring, with Hokuto a full crimson mask (her blonde hair turning red, too)- in more amazing stuff, she defends herself against the excellent judo holds by acting like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to sleep, squirming and thrashing maniacally instead of using her own (sub-Kandori) technical know-how- hairpulling, kicks, you name it. Kandori gets so fired up she’s repeatedly goaded into brawls when her submissions don’t work (though that Swinging Crossface Chickenwing was BITCHING), and gets close to winning with a judo choke, but Hokuto does a better “Desperate Underdog” act than anyone in wrestling, and keeps pulling stuff. Most of said stuff comes off as last-ditch kicks, Rana reversals, or moves off the top. By the time both are selling like death and trading Escalating Finishers (Backdrop Driver Hold! Tiger Driver!), the crowd is going fucking bananas with crazy sustained heat. A dying, completely wrecked Akira reaching for her foe’s hair to try another move looks SO amazing.
Finally, Hokuto pisses Kandori enough to take a swing, reverses to a Backdrop Driver, and manages her finisher- Northern Lights Bomb! For two! That failing, she does the standard thing and tries for another… but Kandori, with picture-perfect timing, blocks it, lifts Hokuto, and DOES HER OWN. Seriously, three or four years before the WWF would do Finisher Stealing, Kandori whips it out right here! Hokuto is FUCKED, but the crowd roars her name, and both women are so done that all they have left is the ability to throw hands. And in my single most favorite finish in wrestling history, Hokuto knocks down Kandori… Kandori slowly gets up and slugs down Hokuto, who falls away too far for a pin… and the Dangerous Queen just rears back and blasts the LLPW Ace, falling in JUST the right position to count as a pinfall (30:39).
The match was so devastating, and so full of insane moves, that a SINGLE PUNCH scored the fall. Some fools consider that anticlimactic, but it’s just too perfect for words- it was all they had left in the tank, and the last one who could stand, and was lucky enough to be in pinning position, won. One of the wildest, bloodiest, fuckingest brawls in wrestling history- thirty minutes of perfection.
Rating: ***** (This is the kind of match Triple-H always thinks he has)
THE DESTINY CLIMAX:
AKIRA HOKUTO vs. MANAMI TOYOTA:
(AJW Destiny, 02.09.1995)
* So this year featured Manami Toyota finally be the one to unseat Aja Kong for the WWWA Title, but lost it back, and was then charged with being the one to try and win it back from JWP’s Dynamite Kansai. Along the way, one Akira Hokuto kept talking shit to Manami about… I dunno, probably respect and stuff. That’s how Akira works. So this is the Main Event of a major AJW show. Akira’s wearing an outfit comprised entirely of black veils, while Toyota’s got this amazing white robe.
Toyota decides to get cheeky immediately, charging in with a dropkick, but she takes the Mulkey Bump out of the ring and Akira follows, still in her veil-covered outfit, with the Tope Con Hilo! And now a frustrated, humiliated Toyota has to limp into the ring while a smirking Hokuto is like “hey, shake my hand, bro”. And of course she backdrops Toyota onto her neck when she does. Manami manages to whip her to the apron and hit a dropkick off the 2nd rope, but tries her Running No-Hands Springboard and Akira leaps back to the apron and slugs her, completely blowing the crowd’s minds. The timing on that was NUTS. Akira hops to the top, but Toyota boots her off and then does the motherfuckingest missile dropkick to the outside I’ve ever seen.
Hokuto walks it off and turns a lockup into a suplex & straightjacket hold as we finally slow the pace, but they immediately start BITCHSLAPPING each other, defiantly refusing to back down. Hokuto uses her sharpshooter as a wear-down- Toyota yanks her hair back, but Hokuto does the same and segues to the STF, then Gumbyfies her with a camel clutch and finally just uses the hair and stretches back. Crossface & dragon sleeper follow, but she whips Toyota to the ropes and it’s the Running No-Hands Springboard Cross-Body! The greatest running dropkick in the history of wrestling follows, and Manami just starts laying waste, giving a receipt for all that shit before. But she gets too careless and eats a German and that sick Inverted Brainbuster. Hokuto slows it down again with a torturous sharpshooter with extra-wrapping. Toyota finally gets out and does a Rolling Cradle- Moonsault gets two. Akira reverses a whip to a DQ Bomb, but Manami Ranas out for a two- don’t see THAT very often. She tries a Manami Roll, but gets squashed with a powerbomb for two.
Akira dives onto her and hits an Inverted Rana for two- well that wasn’t pretty, but it looked like it hurt. She goes for the NL Bomb, but Toyota reverses to the Japanese Ocean (double-hammerlock) Suplex for two. She aims for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, but Akira leaps back and hits the Dangerous Queen Bomb for two- crowd didn’t bite on that- it’s only 11 minutes in. NASTY Fisherman’s Buster- “Fuck YOU!” bridge! The fans bit on THAT. And then Akira hits STRANGLEHOLD GAMMA- her husband’s finisher! Toyota scrambles for the ropes, and Akira gets cute and announces her own Moonsault- Manami responds to that finisher-stealing by nearly hitting the Ocean Cyclone from there (the move that won her the Title), but Akira fights out and… misses a missile kick! Ocean Cyclone… no- victory roll from Akira for two! Manami’s up first, but another Moonsault hits knees. Akira charges in with a punch, but Manami JB Angels her around and… hits the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex!! 1…2… NO!! Manami can’t believe it.
So Toyota’s out of shit and she knows it, so she dumps Akira and gets a table- HUGE flying splash onto Akira… and the table doesn’t break! Akira’s broken, and Toyota presses her luck with a Running No-Hands Springboard Tope Con Hilo… and splatters on the floor! Toyota sells this like it was fatal, and Akira struggles to her feet (they clearly have a chat here) and drags her to the table- POWERBOMB ON THE TABLE! She hauls the table to ringside and hits ANOTHER one, then a Flying Seated Senton onto it! That shit STILL won’t break! Unlike the women, who are just absolutely dead, flat-backed on the floor from the effort. The ref just pushes their corpses into the ring because it’s the main event I guess, and half a minute later, they literally haul themselves up using each other’s bodies, and Manami… hits the NORTHERN LIGHTS BOMB! Akira’s own finisher! The crowd frickin’ jumps for that one, but Manami’s selling too hard to capitalize. But finally, she finds the energy to get up, signals for another one, and a SECOND Northern Lights Bomb finishes at (20:43).
Holy shit- absolutely perfect, epic match between two superstars at the top of their game. Now THIS is how you lay out a match with a ton of great spots- you blow a ton out in the early going to get it going hot, and then you slow it down with some vicious stretching and good character bits, and then you rev it up every so often with increasingly-finsher-y moves. There’s a bunch of great teases as the crowd gets more and more into it (a Fisherman’s Buster out of nowhere had them), and finally Manami’s finisher FAILS 15 minutes in. And so they go completely suicidal with a series of big moves on an invincible table, Manami turning into a shattered doll by this point. I mean, that table wouldn’t even BUDGE, and they hit it full-on more than once. And this wasn’t just some spotfest- most of the moves had to fail before they would work, there was an escalation of moves (even the table stuff built), and the big bumps all got sold huge- the Seated Senton on the table had them both on the floor for a full sixty seconds, and they were barely moving by the end of it. The ending was fascinating, because Manami’s OWN finisher didn’t work, and Akira was the last one to do a move- but just that surge to hit everything possible was the end of her- she never hit another move after the last suicide dive onto the table. And Manami’s body is too broken to hit her own flashy stuff, so she swipes Akira’s simpler finisher for the win. This sets up that Manami, not Hokuto, is the true “Ace” of the promotion, I would think.
Rating: ***** (one of those moments where the effort matched the application- perfect bout all the way. Amazing selling and the throwing of megaton bombs for offense, but it never felt “too much” or like the moves didn’t matter)