1995- The year Toyota finally became AJW’s World Champion.
JOSHI IN 1995:
And now we’ve reached the end of what I can find for Joshi in 1995, so here’s my summation for the year!
This is a year of massive transitions for joshi as a whole, as everything is shifting in ways that wouldn’t be clear until MUCH later. This is both the year in which Aja Kong is finally unseated as Ace for good, cementing Manami Toyota at the top of the card… AND the gear GAEA Japan debuted, giving us what would eventually be the most popular joshi company in Japan! In addition to that, it’s the dominance of Double Inoue, the transition of Akira Hokuto from a top singles star to a tag wrestler, then the fading careers of Bull Nakano, Sakie Hasegawa & Suzuka Minami! Mayumi Ozaki becomes the insane “Dress Up Wild Fight” nutjob that would define the rest of her career (for better or worse), and things look strong going to the future… except there’s cracks all over the place, AND the Japanese economy is about to be destroyed for the next twenty-five years, and that alone would probably eighty-six a ton of plans! So let’s get to it!
1995- THE YEAR AJW WENT CRAZY:
* The booking of the Red Belt in 1995 was absolutely apeshit compared to any other year. AJW often had a very “static” company, full of very slow rises- wrestlers would often challenge and re-challenge for belts, coming a little bit closer each time before winning. It was a steady, reliable way to make new stars- Aja Kong defeating Bull Nakano after a massive feud lasting years was a great example of this. Manami Toyota had clearly been set up as a big star by the end of 1992, but spent two years coming closer to toppling the big stars, as she was a dominant tag wrestler at the time. Kyoko Inoue was clearly just a bit behind her.
So what was highly unusual was that 1995 was the year of crazy, desperate hot-shot booking, as suddenly Manami defeats Aja Kong, ending her 3-year WWWA Title reign and becomes champion out of nowhere! This was a complete shocker, especially as Manami only wrestles a 60-minute draw against Kyoko before Aja WINS THE TITLE BACK, becoming the first two-time champion in a decade. So Aja wasn’t “done” as Bull was before her- she was still supposed to be a dominant solo Ace.
Except a couple of months after THAT, after the Interpromotional Era was all but done, here comes Dynamite Kansai, JWP’s Ace, defeating Aja Kong to become new WWWA Champion! This actually culminates a multi-year story, in which Aja defeated Kansai three separate times and TKO’s her in the Thunder Queen Battle, proving she was “Best Ace”- Kansai had finally TKO’d Aja in revenge during the “Dangerous Queen Final Countdown” series in 1994 (leaving Akira helpless against Kansai & Hotta), and this was her final pay-off, after this extremely slow build- Kansai had won back her pride and defeated Aja fair and square, taking her beloved Red Belt a final time in the process. That in and of itself was a great story.
And now that a rival company owns AJW’s top belt, it’s a huge deal for AJW to try and win it back, and the winner of the Japan Grand Prix ’95 will get the shot. And finally, after all that hot-shotting, Manami defeats Yumiko Hotta to become the top contender, Hotta begging her to bring the Red Belt back home, and Manami successfully brings the WWWA Title back to AJW in a great moment. That probably would have been a bigger moment if she hadn’t had the belt thrown onto her and then stripped away so soon in early 1995. But oh well!
The reasoning behind all this has eluded many, and AJW’s bookers weren’t really talking. I kinda suspect that they saw diminishing ticket sales in early ’95 once Hokuto was often not there, and so panicked and decided to stun fans with a random show seeing a World Title switch. Make the fans regret not buying tickets to “another Kong/Toyota match” and juice ticket sales thanks to the “Hey, did you hear what happened?” word of mouth, maybe. And then it turns out that JWP’s willing to play ball and let their champ beat Aja but lose to Manami to finally put her over, and were like “Oh shit, let’s get it off Aja and do THIS story then”, probably again hoping for good ticket sales as now there’s more drama. It’s not really a perfect booking story, though.
THE INTERPROMOTIONAL ERA FADES:
* The Interpromotional Era… has largely slowed down. LLPW & JWP wrestlers are no longer on every AJW card, and people aren’t winning each other’s titles anymore. Mostly. See, the fans had apparently grown accustomed to those big “Dream Matches”, and a lacking of them has often been blamed for the end of the ultra-hot “Golden Era” of Joshi. And looking at the shows, it’s hard to deny this, as sales diminish steadily as we run out of big matches (there’s actually a TON left on the docket, but I’d imagine the politics of booking further ones would be a problem- by 1995 we still hadn’t seen Kandori vs. Aja or Manami, or Akira vs. Kansai solo). But this could also be because big star Akira Hokuto was gone for much of ’94 and was iffy around much of ’95, and she was a MUCH more popular star than Manami, whose box office appeal we’ll learn is not that great. And then all of a sudden JWP’s Dynamite Kansai is now the WWWA World Champion and we’re back in the Era again!
LCO finally drop the JWP Tag Titles to Ozaki & Hikari in January, ending an angle that lasted 2/3 of a year. This elevates Hikari greatly, but they don’t hold the belts for long. And when GAEA Japan forms later in the year, women from FMW, JWP & LLPW make frequent appearances, wrestling all over the card in unique matches, particularly involving Chigusa Nagayo, GAEA’s top wrestler and the biggest joshi star ever. So there’s still “Dream Matches” if you want to see them.
AJW’S BIG STORIES:
* The famous multi-promotional show Bridge of Dreams happens in April- a show where every promotion drops in some talent, most having good-to-great matches. Joshi takes up the entire first hour, with LLPW having a fake shoot fight, AJW having a ****1/4 tag match, and yet the best match of the night (on a show with Misawa & Kobashi in it, mind you) went to JWP, who went all-out with an insane, non-stop spotfest in a ****3/4 match. AJW also shows up in the “Collision in Korea”, having probably the best match on either night when Akira & Bull defeat Manami & Yoshida. So Joshi looks AMAZING on a pair of beloved tape-trader shows and the future looks bright! … right?
* A year of transitions takes place, as some of the old guard begin doing jobs to set up the next generation. In particular, Aja Kong loses all over the place- though she quickly wins her Red Belt back, dropping the Title to Manami was a huge deal… and then she jobs clean to Dynamite Kansai after the summer. And before year’s end she jobs AGAIN, dropping to Kyoko Inoue, who also defeats her mentor Bull Nakano (in an incredibly-rare job for Bull)! So Aja, undefeated for a couple of years, does three prominent jobs in one calendar year, establishing that she’s being de-emphasized. There was thought she’d move to the WWF and be Alunda Blayze’s big opponent for months… but we all know what happened to THAT division.
Pictured: What happened to that division.
* AJW Destiny is arguably the promotion’s best card, completing an amazing August-Sept. run where Manami Toyota hits ****3/4, ***** and ****3/4 in quick succession, in a tag match against Double Inoue, and Grand Prix matches against Akira & Hotta. The latter two are incredibly on back-to-back nights- an achievement that’s pretty well never been touched.
* “Elevation” continues, but with some issues, as we’ll see with Sakie (see below). By the end of the year, Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe are being rapidly elevated instead. Reggie Bennett’s getting up there, too, as is Takako Inoue, but for various reasons others are faltering, and neither will ever end up actually getting a top push.
* Weirdness abounds as AJW invades the WWF AND WCW in the same week! Akira Hokuto & Bull Nakano defeat a jobber duo of JWP’s Mayumi Ozaki & Cutie Suzuki on Pay-Per-View and the next Nitro just to establish a women’s division where Hokuto is crowned queen. Meanwhile, the WWF brings in Aja Kong, Lioness Asuka, Tomoko Watanabe, Kyoko Inoue, Sakie Hasegawa & Chaparrita ASARI to shore up a Survivor Series match with Bertha Faye & Alundra Blayze. Alundra beats two women after being down 3-1, but is crushed by Aja- this sets up the new “Challenger of the Week” but when Alundra quits and then Aja beats the SHIT out of ASARI in a legendarily-stiff RAW match (yes, Aja/ASARI made RAW- life is weird), the division is tanked and none of that matters. Alundra soon hits WCW and I’ll be recapping THEIR joshi stuff too, lol.
* Ultimately, though, the biggest effect on the year wouldn’t even be all this great stuff… but the fact that the roster loses a ton of key players in both this year and early in the next- Suzuka Minami, Akira Hokuto, Bull Nakano and Sakie Hasegawa! And some of these are irreplaceable.
MANAMI TOYOTA- BEST BOUT MACHINE:
* Short of Hokuto in 1993, I don’t think any wrestler has ever had a year as good as Toyota had here. I count FOUR DIFFERENT ***** matches with four different opponents- a feat that’s never been achieved by anyone else. Plus she’s got the lion’s share of the ****-****3/4 matches up and down the year as well. She’s even in most of the best tag team matches! This is largely the year that cemented Manami with the “Best Ever” rep that she got- though there’s been some blowback (in part because Meltzer adored her style, so much so that there’s a direct line between Manami and today’s modern highspot wrestlers who grew up reading Dave and probably modified their styles to match what he likes)- though physically incredible, her matches weren’t as good at storytelling as others. Hitting such great heights with so much talent, while ALSO becoming the true Ace all in one year, though, is how you make a legend.
That feeling when you spend all year getting someone to the Main Event tier, and they get injured and retire.
SAKIE HASEGAWA- THE HEIR APPARENT… whoops:
* It’s clear Sakie is being super-elevated. She beats Bison Kimura in less than 11 minutes at WrestlingQueendom– a major show. Then she & Manami are set up as a new top-tier team- they lose to Double Inoue on two separate occasions in ****-ish matches at the beginning of the year, then again in the summer in one of the year’s best matches. As either herself or Blizzard Yuki, Sakie’s being treated as a major deal, often the “Odd Woman Out” in All-Main Eventer matches. She even gets to show up at the Tokyo Dome show Bridge of Dreams! But then tragically she gets a brutal injury in late ’95 has to retire in early 1996. This ruins YEARS of build-up- all of the credibility gained as Manami’s partner- all the ****-***** tag team matches. The fluke wins over big stars and the close calls against others. It all comes down to nothing as the last great rookie hire fades away. In general, you can blame the insane AJW style for this- Sakie was always one of the hardest working people on every card (often showing more effort than talent), and it probably wore her down way too quickly, as constant neck pain ends her career. Despite some limitations (often having to spam out her two only big moves for ages), she had a lot to offer… though it will never be known how credible she could have been as the top star (her crowd reactions were rarely THAT good).
DOUBLE INOUE- DOMINANT TAG CHAMPS:
* The Year of Double Inoue: Non-stop major title defenses, generally always hitting Toyota/Yamada levels with ****+ matches left and right. In one of the most “Boss” moves of all time, they declare that they’re giving up the WWWA World Tag Titles, since they’re the 99th champions… because they also want to be the ONE-HUNDREDTH Tag Team Champions. So we have a massive one-night tournament full of amazing matches just so they can crown themselves again! They go all the way to September, defeating the Manami/Sakie duo on 2-3 different occasions (having a classic each time) until Akira & Shimoda finally unseat them. This goes a long way towards elevating both of them- Takako gains a lot of credibility due to this.
Mima Shimoda- Frilly Demoness.
AKIRA HOKUTO & MIMA SHIMODA- THE NEW TAG STARS:
* So AJW now has their most popular star, Akira Hokuto, back, but what to do with her? Her injuries and personal life mean they don’t want her being World Champion, so now what? Well, they get a bit clever: they have a wonderful rising star in Mima Shimoda, and Double Inoue are the Tag Champs with a lot of credibility, but it’s time to drop the gold. So why not use your most popular act to put some heat on a younger act? And thus beings the huge “Mima Shimoda Push”, as out of nowhere, Akira Hokuto splits up LCO and Shimoda’s famous duo with Mita ends (Despite losing the JWP Tag Titles early on, LCO has a hell of a year, having a ton of ****-ish matches. They make it to the Semi-Finals in the WWWA Tag Title tournament, losing to Manami/Sakie in a **** match, then hit the same level in a 6-woman with Minami against the Raijin Army squad (Jaguar/Lioness/Bison). Well, that team had kind of jobbed out to all the top duos around this time, so I guess they wanted to split them up to see what they can get out of Shimoda, who had good looks and some of Hokuto’s demonic energy and fire.
And so suddenly Akira & Mima are a tag team, with the gimmick being that Akira disrespects her subordinate and doesn’t give her any credit at all. They win the WWWA World Tag Titles from Double Inoue, but Akira carts around BOTH Titles in a massive amount of shade-tossing at her partner. And Shimoda’s singles push starts in that very slow “AJW” kind of way, with a great run in the Japan Grand Prix, where she scores a win over Reggie Bennett in only 10 minutes, then goes a full thirty minutes in a draw with Manami, in what is easily Shimoda’s best singles match. Meltzer gave it *****, as did I. Though it’s criticized for lack of selling and move BeamSpam, I dig both wrestlers and so it’s rad, and also Dave agreeing means I’m right :P. Wrestlemarinepiad ’95 sees her have a ****1/2 bloodbath with former partner Mita, which puts a fine point on “Shimoda Is Getting A Push”, especially when Akira is so impressed by her partner’s victory that she walks out with both Tag Titles and drops one at Shimoda’s bloodied, victorious feet. NOW she sees Mima as a truly worthy partner!
Where’s Mita in all this? Well, she jobs to Shimoda to put her over, and appears to be kinda discarded. Which is too bad- she was a great match-leader and was in a ton of ****+ tag matches by this point. I think the idea here is for her to be the new “Suzuka Minami”- acting as a gatekeeper and JTTS to bigger stars, putting them over since she has some credibility and always has good matches. It’ll be another year before LCO reunites and she’s supercharged into a Main Event Tag Team Heel.
Oh, and I might as well point this out now, since it’s right at the beginning of 1996, but the team loses their Tag Titles back in January, and that’s Hokuto’s last-ever match for AJW as a featured performer- she bails to WCW and GAEA Japan after that. So all of the “Myth of Hokuto” stuff from 1993 and the Final Countdown/V*Top Tournament stuff in 1994 essentially leads to a Tag Title run in ’95 that’s there to elevate Shimoda, and then she’s gone. And ultimately Shimoda’s big push never really cements her, either.
THE OTHER STARS:
* Bull Nakano sticks around for the odd match. She even hits ****1/4 with Kyoko, defending the WWF Women’s Title at Queendom ’95. She’s fired from the WWF for cocaine use in the middle of the year, but returns to put over Kyoko in a HUGE “baton-tossing” moment, throwing every bit of her energy into the match (she hits Guillotine Legdrops and you can see it’s KILLING her). The match is ****1/4 as well and an amazing spectacle and the clearest I’ve ever seen someone having “that one last great match”. And then she has one MORE great one with Hokuto on Dec. 31st to close out the year.
* Yumiko Hotta is an “Odd Woman Out” after losing badly to Aja last year. Queendom ’95 sees her have a GREAT ultra-stiff brawl with Lioness Asuka (****1/4 or so), beating her in 23 minutes. She’s in both the match to determine who fights at the Tokyo Dome (losing quickly), then the match to determine who faces Aja Kong (She & Manami repeatedly attack each other, but Hotta gets stunned so Manami can win). She’s also in the match to determine who faces Kansai to bring the WWWA Title back home, but comes up short to Manami (****3/4- possibly Hotta’s best ever match). However, she FINALLY wins her first big singles gold in AJW, defeating Yamada for the All Pacific Title in September. It seems her destiny now is to be the “Last Big Challenge” many wrestlers have to face- kind of fitting, as she has a lot of bad habits but they’ve worked hard to keep her credible.
* We see the “Last Great Yamada Match” as Toshiyo Yamada, Reggie Bennett & Takako Inoue hit **** in a gauntlet-style match. She holds the title for six months, but Cagematch doesn’t list a single title match between that and her loss. Worse still, she jobs out the entire Grand Prix in the summer, then gets beat in only 11 minutes by Yumiko Hotta to drop the belt- her last in AJW. By December, she’s just some midcarder and they’ve completely given up on her. Yamada, who has hit ****-***** frequently against Manami, is now an also-ran and has been forgotten for some reason.
* Mariko Yoshida gets the new “This is the next Upper-Midcarder” push of sorts, as she’s almost always brought up as second-best to Sakie in matches, just barely jobbing out to her. A series of very strong showings against various top stars indicate we’re not supposed to forget about her.
* By the end of the year, Tag League THE BEST is now based entirely around Ito & Tomoko getting pushes- something that is transparently designed as an “OH SHIT we forgot to push these two while giving Sakie the Rocket Push!” course-correction. They are paired up with Manami (Ito) & Kyoko (Tomoko), the promotion’s two fastest-past and most credible workers, and are made to haul ass in tag team matches, kicking out of various finishers in a rapid-fire way to establish themselves. Tomoko Watanabe actually begins getting a solid push by the end of the year. She scored the pin in a Trios match featuring a ton of big stars for the company (Takako, Yamada, etc.) and wins the All Japan Title (TV/Euro equivalent, sorta). It’s clear she’s the new “One To Watch”, in that way that wrestling booking kind of lets you know such things.
-Raijin Array/Army, a trio made up of returning superstars, is now a feature… but a shockingly midcard thing. I mean, Jaguar Yokota & Lioness Asuka were Aces in the 1980s- Asuka part of the legendary Crush Gals (the biggest moneymakers AJW ever had) and Jaguar trained the biggest stars! Bison Kimura was a former dominant Tag Team & All Pacific Champion! But it’s mostly just Jaguar/Asuka as a midcard tag team and Bison as a high-end JTTS- she was chosen to put over Sakie in a big singles match, and lost to Aja Kong in an eight-minute bloodbath at AJW Destiny in September. Though it’s likely because the trio were just there to promote their upcoming company, JD’, which debuted in late ’95. AJW seems to have just let them work out the cobwebs on their shows so they could put over AJW’s rising stars, then let them slide.
* Rie Tamada & Yumi Fukawa, a rising rookie and a super-green one, actually pair up as “TakaFumi” and make a go of it on the undercard in a pairing that lasts for years. As Rie was a try-hard rookie (who had some skills but was never really super-impressive) and Yumi has idol looks, it seems like a perfectly good undercard duo. They don’t pick up many big wins and don’t show up on many major cards, though. They win the bottom-tier Japanese Tag Titles in December as a bit of a showcase, at least. Fukawa is very clearly “the new rookie now randomly tossed into big matches” that you see pop up every once in a while when you watch things in order (these people tend to just teleport in from nowhere).
* The rest of the rookies are pretty weak, though some would end up becoming something. Kayo Noumi, Mari Mogami, Mina Taniyama (the future Tanny Mouse), Yoshiko Tamura, Yuka Shiina… some would be okay. The big name is Kumiko Maekawa, who is still a gawky jobber at this point, but within a couple of years she’d look like the “Future of the Business”, hitting incredible martial arts moves, and she’d be a future Ace herself. Misae Genki herself would get pretty good, I think. Chaparita ASARI is already an amazing high-flyer, but was really jobbed out a bunch this year and looks hesitant going forward.
Sakie & Bull- Both not long for wrestling.
So, this ends up being the year’s REAL biggest story, though it happens piecemeal…
* Suzuka Minami actually retires in early May, ending a shockingly-great run where she had been largely reduced to “filler” despite being a fair bit better than most of the other wrestlers working then and now. She just had way too little charisma & energy- just seeming happy to be there, and her career had peaked with the All-Pacific Title runs in the early 1990s- all of which were incredibly short. She was just kind of THERE a lot of the time- a filler tag team with Tomoko or Mita. But her absence leaves a big hole in that midcard- she was the chosen “Gatekeeper” who would elevate someone like Mita or Sakie, showing they were ready for the “next level”, and there’s nobody as adequately set up for that level anymore. Yamada might seem like the next option, but they’re still trying with her, it seems. Honestly, it looks like Mita ends up in that role.
* As mentioned earlier, this is also the last full year for Akira Hokuto as a performer. As she was BY FAR the most over person on every card for about two years straight, this is a horrendous loss. She was still having *****-ish matches by this point, but has gotten married and eventually just bails to WCW & GAEA. AJW will never see her like again.
* And with the formation of Jd’ in December, we also say goodbye to Jaguar Yokota, Lioness Asuka & Bison Kimura! They’ll take rookie do-nothing Chikako Shiratori with them as well, but that trio were shoring up some of the under and midcards of AJW’s shows, so this is also a shame. Never mind that Jaguar & Asuka later prove they can still have the best matches in joshi.
* Oh, and Bull Nakano, badly-injured and fading out, is also leaving shortly. She still gets a win over Akira Hokuto on Dec. 30th, though! But you can see her body breaking down more and more with every match- hitting a Guillotine Legdrop clearly leaves her AGONIZED and she’s limping almost constantly.
So AJW, which was riding high from 1992-94, manages to lose FIVE major stars in the course of 1995, and is set to lose their “Future Ace” Sakie as well, plus one rookie. This is an absolute major gutting to a company that doesn’t really have THAT many wrestlers in it, and has already run out of fresh matches ages ago.
OTHER CRACKS FORMING?:
* The hot-shot booking of this time period does not indicate a healthy company, though there’s still thousands of people coming to shows and people are still incredibly over. Hokuto coming back seems great as she was the most popular star, though I think once it became clear she was “just tag wrestling” it diminished perceptions of her a bit. The whole “I’m retired to marry a luchador/oh no now I’m back/I’m marrying a New Japan guy!” thing probably made the bookers a bit squirrelly, too. So the new “Big Star” was Manami, but they’d also had her look at the lights a lot in much of 1994-95, so ehhhhnnn…
Things SHOULD look healthy. Manami is the triumphant champ. Kyoko is right behind her and still over. Shimoda is getting a major credibility boost by linking her to Hokuto. Mita is the new “Gatekeeper”. Aja is still dominant. Takako is both an idol AND a credible upper-midcarder should then not fuck around and waste her (Ron Howard: “They fucked around and wasted her”).
But the cracks in the foundation are huge: the last big generation of rookies was 1989’s, and by far the best one- Sakie Hasegawa- gets injured and has to retire. This ruins YEARS of build-up and tons of prominent spots on the cards, and there’s nobody to replace her. Kaoru Ito? PLEASE. Tomoko turns out pretty good but has a ceiling. Rie Tamada & Kumiko Maekawa are the “next tier or rookies to get pushes” but won’t cut it and are still super-sgreen (though Kumiko finds a niche as a face-kicker). And the last generations of rookies are all either tiny or terrible, too- Yoshiko Tamura, a complete forgettable nothing at this point who doesn’t even show up on TV, holds the AJW Junior Title for more than a year. When disaster strikes in 1997 and AJW goes bankrupt, they’re left with almost nobody but Manami, Hotta & Ito as top acts.
Mayumi Ozaki learns the alternative to the body-breaking “GO GO GO!” joshi style- long bloodbaths using weapons and bleeding over huge bumps. Shockingly, this is more survivable.
JWP IN 1995:
-JWP is in an interesting place at this point, as they go off on their own for a while, do a few interesting shows (like a mini-tour of China and then a fascinating “1-Count Pinfall Gauntlet”)… and then suddenly they’re back in the Interpromotional game and gunning for AJW’s Titles. I mean, they ended 1993 giving AJW their Tag Titles back, and AJW swiped JWP’s Tag Titles the next year with LCO’s run, but in January they’d won them back. And then that Summer we have DYNAMITE KANSAI winning the WWWA World Title, defeating Aja Kong!
* Kansai & Ozaki have an absolute CLASSIC with their “Dress-Up Wild Fight”, consisting of both women dressing in street clothes and beating the shit out of each other in a hardcore match. Vicious spots about as Kansai tries to strangle her opponent with the top rope (literally torn off and used as a weapon), them fighting down the stairs and onto the street, and Ozaki biting at Kansai’s bloodied forehead, then SPITTING KANSAI’S BLOOD at the referee just to be a shit.
* While AJW elevates Sakie, JWP elevates their equivalent, Hikari Fukuoka. But here they end up being far more successful, given that, well, she became the Ace in a couple years. She wins the JWP Tag Titles back as a “homer” for her promotion, alongside Ozaki, but lose those shortly. But by December, she & GAEA’s KAORU team up in an epic 26-minute match against Kansai & Cutie, which is virtually a Hikari Showcase, as she hits move after move on Kansai, flooring the Ace with two Rider Kicks, two Moonsaults, and two Moonsault STOMPS, then finishing off Cutie with a Moonsault Press onto Cutie, off KAORU’s shoulders, then finishes with a flying sunset flip to win back the Tag gold. Inventing tons of big-name moves goes a long way towards cementing her, never mind Kansai generously bouncing all over the place for the kid’s offense- a benefit Sakie only really got from Manami.
* While Hikari gets her push revved up, Cutie Suzuki seems to lose hers a bit. She hits the finals of the JWP Openweight Tournament and has a great match with Ozaki, but after this she starts fading.
* Candy Okutsu has been off-and-on since 1994, hitting some good stuff in one match, but being botchy in another, but she’s good at being carried. She tries the “Manami Toyota Running Springboard” thing a few times, and it doesn’t always work… but this is the year she hits a switch and is suddenly a major highlight reel, doing fantastic runs up to the top rope and assorted high-flying moves. She’s a big part of both JWP’s Bridge of Dreams match, doing a lot of great stuff, and they appear high on her… but I see a LOT of botching in other matches too, so she hasn’t gotten all of that out of her system. She is awarded the JWP Junior Title, a new belt, in mid-95, but loses it in December to Hiromi Yagi.
LLPW IN 1995:
-This one has very little stuff on YouTube at the moment, and as the Interpromotional Era dies down, they stop showing up on AJW cards. As they were a distant #3 promotion (and #4 if FMW is counted), they are invisible, and it gets worse when GAEA debuts in the spring. Their top title is in transition, as oddly the Ace Shinobu Kandori is unseated by Noriyo Tateno late in ’94, and subsequent champs are Eagle (the former heir) and Harley Saito as a “Karula” character. I don’t know if they realized the flaw in making a promotion based around only one dominant wrestler or what.
FMW’s WOMEN’S DIVISION IN 1995:
-Yeah again, not much is on YouTube. But their traded their top belt around a lot- it was vacant, then went to Bad Nurse Nakamura to Megumi Kudo to Shark Tsuchiya to Combat Toyoda. Shark is getting increasingly over and credible as a modern-day Dump Matsumoto, but is such a legendarily bad worker that even TODAY people speak about her in Dino Bravo-esque terms. But Kudo has the first-ever women’s Barbed Wire Death Match in December and is still possibly the biggest female star in wrestling.
GAEA Japan- founded & booked by Chigusa Nagayo, is the shocker new promotion and gets over in a BIG way.
GAEA JAPAN- A NEW CONTENDER!:
-GAEA Japan finally begins running shows in the spring of ’95, and they immediately turn the world of joshi on its ear, despite being made up primarily of Chigusa Nagayo, AJW midcarder KAORU, and random chick Bomber Hikaru. Everyone else is a green-ass trainee in their first year. The trick, however, is that EVERY ONE OF THEM is insanely good for a rookie, hitting great offense, having tons of stamina, and already knowing a lot of the “little things” in how to get a match over. They can run 10-20 minute matches that, despite having repetitive offense, aren’t nearly as bad as when other companies try that with their rookies. One, Meiko Satomura, is a legend nowadays, and we also have Sonoka Kato & Toshie Uematsu who turned out great.
GAEA also centers its shows around fresh “Dream Matches”, cleverly setting up random wrestlers from all over against combinations of their stars. Rookies from JWP & LLPW are thrown against GAEA’s, Chigusa takes on weirdo FMW acts like Bad Nurse & Shark, and JWP’s Mayumi Ozaki in Crush Gals-style bloodbaths, we get Chigusa/Devil as a legends match in various combinations, etc. There’s even a shockingly good **** KAORU/Yasha Kurenai match. So despite filling 70% of the card with the Angry Teenager Division hitting a million running attacks, GAEA shows feel somewhat fresh and different.
* Chigusa, of course, is the top star, and makes sure she gets some wins. However, she is rather generous at first, giving her interpromotional rivals a ton of offense and even doing some jobs right away. She bleeds well, is great at “Sympathetic Babyface” stuff, and more. She has turned her offense into kind of a Proto-MMA thing, doing the UWF style she used to do and modified it so that she’s this “Shoot-Kicker” who fishes for KOs on her opponents, or choking them out. She has a much sloppier, more “real” style than a lot of her contemporaries.
* KAORU has a major career resurgence here, having co-trained the rookie class and suddenly starts pulling off the smoothest springboards in all of wrestling, hitting BEAUTIFUL springboard moonsaults and the like. Having a **** match with Yasha was a great sign at how good she was getting, and she was having a fantastic year from the get-go. Weirdly, she & JWP’s Hikari Fukuoka end up being JWP Tag Champs by year’s end.
JD’- Wait, Another Contender?:
* JD’, which had its first show in Dec. 1995, never really became a big name in wrestling- despite Jaguar Yokota’s legendary skills as a trainer, a company made up of ’80s stars Jaguar & Asuka, plus Bison Kimura and Miori Kamiya, was probably never gonna be huge. They also poached Chikako Shiratori at some point, but she never got any good. Chikako, in fact, barely ever made any AJW TV cards at all, and spent most of 1994 jobbing- I just see a few wins against Rie Tamada and one against ASARI, and barely wrestled at all in ’95 (no AJW matches, according to Cagematch).
Honestly, the existence of this company is just kinda weird to me. GAEA was obviously a big hit right away. LLPW was a thing and JWP was doing okay. AJW was faltering but still had big shows. Why a FIFTH company? Seems like some money marks just saw the “Golden Era” money and wanted some of their own, creating a splinter promotion. Like, you can see how the “Fuck y’all! I’ll do what I want!” aspect and the “Japanese splinter promotions” concept was hurting everybody, because a combined JWP/LLPW/GAEA/JD’ company would have been enormous and could potentially crush AJW. Instead you just had all these tiny companies and the big boys only failed because of shitty restaurants, haha. Granted every one of these companies had a different money mark so it was probably impossible to work together.
-Joshi is in a really tricky spot here- AJW gets absolutely gutted as the year drives on, losing both Main Event talent and important utility players and future stars at the same time. Splinter promotions pop up and take away other talent, too. Manami FINALLY wins the World Title, but this ends up fizzling a tad due to the weird booking. And the Japanese economy dies around this point, which would damage every company no matter HOW good the booking was!
1996 is apparently a year of diminishing box office returns, and Manami and later Kyoko are the Bret & Shawn of the era- big rivals who are great workers but just not as popular as their predecessors. Hopefully the year doesn’t get too depressing with the hampered cards!
* Okay, so the booking for 1995 was weird as hell. And it’s easy to criticize, but harder to say “but here’s how I’D fix it”, so I’ll take a crack at it. Now, like most Fantasy Booking, this assumes a lot, but I’ll keep the same pieces in place if I can.
If you’re gonna push Manami, PUSH MANAMI. Don’t have her win the gold, then lose it back. The whole Aja-Manami-Aja-Kansai-Manami thing is weird. What I’d do instead is push the Aja/Kansai WWWA Title switch to EARLIER in the year (like Jan-Feb., when Manami first won it for real), then run the angle where Manami saves the day and brings the title back to AJW, cutting out that weird double-switch. Her legendary 60-minute draw against Kyoko can maybe be before the title bout, but Manami wins the gold triumphantly. THEN you run the “Manami Wins the Grand Prix” thing… but maybe this time have Akira goad her into putting the Belt on the line! So the ***** Hokuto/Manami JGP match becomes for the Red Belt! The Hotta match, too- this puts over Manami having two Title defenses in a short period of time. You can then keep the tag stuff all the same. Leave Kyoko’s run as it is, as she was picking up big wins here (Aja, Bull, the big Tag Titles run). I mean, ideally the fans probably wanted Akira to win the Title, but that’s probably just not gonna happen even in fantasy-land since I’m pretty sure it was clear she was gonna leave and start a family some time.
The White Belt seems mis-used a lot of the year, with Yamada not doing much with it. Why not run a similar angle, but with say Ozaki from JWP coming in and getting it, so both the Red AND White Belts are JWP property? This gives AJW even more impetus to get better, and this can lead to either eventual champ Hotta, or even throw a shocker out there with TAKAKO. I mean, they want to push her anyways, and she can hit nearly ***** with Oz anyhow, so why not?
With “Pushing Future Stars”, you can still try Sakie (though she’d still break everyone’s hearts when she calls it quits), but Yoshida being wasted on the undercard is inexcusable, especially with the Class of ’89 surpassing her. She’s a better worker than either Ito or Tomoko, and should have been elevated big-time. Splitting LCO is fine, but Shimoda’s push seems squandered- they should have put more into that as well. Or just push Mita (he says, not being biased at all)! Meanwhile, Yamada can have that “Suzuka Minami” position as gatekeeper to the upper card- you always need that role. But see how far you can push everyone you can, ya know? Too many people just seemed to be spinning their wheels in a time where you needed new faces moving up so it wasn’t just Manami/Kyoko and Manami/Hotta all the time.
(kinda/sorta in the order of how I liked them… the ***** matches are anyone’s ballgame, though)
Manami Toyota vs. Akira Hokuto (AJW Destiny- Sept)
Aja Kong vs. Manami Toyota (WWWA Title: Wrestling Queendom- Victory)
Manami Toyota vs. Mima Shimoda (Japan Grand Prix- Summer)
Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue (WWWA Title: Korakuen G*Top)
Manami Toyota vs. Yumiko Hotta (Grand Prix Finals)
Dynamite Kansai vs. Mayumi Ozaki (Neo Street Fight- JWP Jazz & Soul)
Dynamite Kansai, Hikari Fukuoka, Candy Okutsu & Fusayo Nouchi vs. Devil Masami, Mayumi Ozaki, Cutie Suzuki & Hiromi Yagi (Bridge of Dreams)
Double Inoue vs. Manami Toyota & Sakie Hasegawa (AJW Queen’s Holy Night- August)
Double Inoue vs. Manami Toyota & Blizzard Yuki (Wrestling Queendom- Success)
Manami Toyota vs. Dynamite Kansai (WWWA Title- Monday Night Sensation)
Mima Shimoda vs. Etsuko Mita (Wrestlemarinepiad ’95)
Double Inoue vs. Manami Toyota & Sakie Hasegawa (Jan. 4th)
Manami Toyota vs. Blizzard Yuki (Japan Grand Prix ’95)
Bull Nakano vs. Kyoko Inoue (Wrestling Queendom- Victory)
Manami Toyota & Kaoru Ito vs. Kyoko Inoue & Tomoko Watanabe (Tag League THE BEST Finals)
Manami Toyota & Sakie Hasegawa vs. Aja Kong & Kyoko Inoue (Bridge of Dreams)
Yumiko Hotta vs. Reggie Bennett (AJW Destiny- Sept)
Lioness Asuka vs. Yumiko Hotta (Last Woman Standing: Wrestling Queendom- Victory)
Manami Toyota, Yumiko Hotta, Takako Inoue & Sakie Hasegawa vs. Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue, Toshiyo Yamada & Mariko Yoshida (Rumble Elimination Match- AJW Queendom ’95)
Double Inoue vs. Manami Toyota & Yumiko Hotta (WWWA Title #1 Contenders Match- March)
Bull Nakano vs. Kyoko Inoue (AJW Destiny- Sept)
Aja Kong vs. Dynamite Kansai (AJW Queen’s Holy Night- August)
Devil Masami, Hikari Fukuoka & Candy Okutsu vs. Mayumi Ozaki, Cutie Suzuki & Hiromi Yagi (JWP- Nov. 11th)
Dynamite Kansai & Cutie Suzuki vs. Hikari Fukuoka & KAORU (Dec. 9th- JWP Tag Titles)
Las Cachorras Orientales vs. Mayumi Ozaki & Hikari Fukuoka (Jan. 8th- JWP Tag Titles)
Manami Toyota vs. Aja Kong (Sapporo Best*One- WWWA Title- July 26th)
KAORU vs. Yasha Kurenai (GAEA First Gong)
Raijin Army (Bison/Jaguar/Asuka) vs. Suzuka Minami & Las Cachorras Orientales (AJW Queendom ’95)
Las Cachorras Orientales vs. Manami Toyota & Blizzard Yuki (Wrestling Queendom- Success)
Aja Kong vs. Kyoko Inoue (Monday Night Sensation)
Chigusa Nagayo vs. Mayumi Ozaki (Dress Up Wild Fight- Sept.)
Las Cachorras Orientales vs. Jaguar Yokota & Lioness Asuka (AJW Destiny- Sept)
Takako Inoue vs. Toshiyo Yamada vs. Reggie Bennett (All-Pacific Triangle Match: Wrestling Queendom- Victory)
Dynamite Kansai, Devil Masami, Hikari Fukuoka & Hiromi Yagi vs. Mayumi Ozaki, Cutie Suzuki, Candy Okutsu & Sumio Toyama (1-Count Fall Gauntlet Match- JWP)
Las Cachorras Orientales vs. Suzuka Minami & Tomoko Watanabe (Wrestling Queendom- Victory)
Akira Hokuto vs. Bull Nakano (Dec. 30th)
Mayumi Ozaki vs. Cutie Suzuki (JWP Title Tournament- Oct.)
Aja Kong & Megumi Kudo vs. Combat Toyoda & Bison Kimura (FMW- Dec. 21)
Megumi Kudo vs. Shark Tsuchiya (FMW- Barbed Wire Deathmatch- Dec. 22nd)
Akira Hokuto vs. Mima Shimoda (Queen’s Holy Night- August)
Toshiyo Yamada, Takako Inoue & Tomoko Watanabe vs. Freedom Force (AJW Destiny- Sept)
Dynamite Kansai & Devil Masami vs. Hikari Fukuoka & KAORU (GAEA- Sept.)
-1995 is clearly Manami’s best year- FOUR goddamn ***** solo matches and ****-****1/2 matches up and down the year with all manner of opponents. Like, who the frick hits ***** FOUR TIMES in one year? With four different people? Never mind her also dominating the tag ranks with great matches as well, having six bouts up there. LCO are nearly as good, with multiple **** tag bouts. The year feels otherwise a tad diminished from 1993, but also 1994 a bit- fewer matches above ****1/4. And again I rated almost nothing at ***3/4 for some reason. Like people either shot for the fences or nothing at all. Or I just have no idea what truly belongs there.
WWWA WORLD TITLE: Aja Kong (since Nov. ’92), Manami Toyota (March ’95), Aja Kong (June), Dynamite Kansai (August), Manami Toyota (Dec.)
ALL PACIFIC TITLE: Manami Toyota (Aug. 1994), Vacant (Toyota wins WWWA Title- March), Toshiyo Yamada (March), Yumiko Hotta (Sept.)
AJW TITLE: Kaoru Ito (May ’94), Vacant (mid-1995?), Tomoko Watanabe (June)
IWA WOMEN’S TITLE: Manami Toyota (April 1992), Reggie Bennett (May ’95)
AJW JUNIOR TITLE: Candy Okutsu (Nov. ’93), Chaparrita ASARI (March ’95), Vacant (May- ASARI ages out of the belt), Yoshiko Tamura (June, beats Kumiko Maekawa in a decision match)
AJW MIDGET TITLE: Little Frankie (since ’91)
WWWA WORLD TAG TEAM TITLES: Double Inoue (Oct. ’94), Vacant (Jan.- so they can win the belts again), Double Inoue (March), Akira Hokuto & Mima Shimoda (Sept.)
UWA TAG TEAM TITLES: Las Cachorras Orientales (March ’94), Vacant (Sept. ’95- LCO splits up)
JAPANESE TAG TEAM TITLES: Carol Midori & Michiko Omukai (Sept. ’94), Mariko Yoshida & Rie Tamada (March ’95), Vacant (July?), Chaparrita ASARI & Kumiko Maekawa (Sept.), Vacant (Oct.?), Rie Tamada & Yumi Fukuwa (Dec.)
JWP OPENWEIGHT TITLE: Vacant (Oct. ’94- Devil Masami injured?), Dynamite Kansai (Oct. ’95)
JWP JUNIOR TITLE: Candy Okutsu (June ’95- beats Hiromi Yagi to become inaugural champion), Hiromi Yagi (Dec.)
JWP TAG TEAM TITLES: Las Cachorras Orientales (March ’94), Hikari Fukuoka & Mayumi Ozaki (Jan. ’95), Cutie Suzuki & Dynamite Kansai (March), Hikari Fukuoka & KAORU (Dec.)
LLPW TITLE: Noriyo Tateno (Sept. ’94), Eagle Sawai (March), Karula/Harley Saito (Nov.)
FMW & WWA WOMEN’S TITLE: Vacant- ?? (Dec. ’94), Bad Nurse Nakamura (March ’95), Megumi Kudo (May), Shark Tsuchiya (Nov.), Combat Toyoda (Dec.)