Joshi is full of the wildest costumes designs you’ll ever see in wrestling, and wrestling’s most innovative moves… and then the crazy chick in red pants comes in and beats everyone with a stick.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- YASHA KURENAI:
Real Name: Rumi Yasuda (note: “Kurenai” is Japanese for “deep red”)
Billed Height & Weight: 5’3″ 143 lbs.
-One of the weirder “I don’t get it” things I find when I research joshi comments made back in the day is the whole “Yasha Kurenai SUCKS!” thing. I’ve mostly seen it from Mike Lorefice, but I’m sure I’ve seen it elsewhere, too. Her & Command Bolshoi got a lot of hate from old reviewers, arguing that they’re both horrible and ruin matches, and seeing their stuff I don’t get the hate. Bolshoi at least is a comedy wrestler, which has always been a controversial thing among “serious workrate” fans. But Yasha? Yasha seems FINE. Entertaining, even. Like, any healthy wrestling company has room for a Yasha Kurenai.
Yasha’s whole style, though, is a bit contrary to a lot of “MOVEZ!”-loving fans. Where most everyone else is doing “GO GO GO!” stuff and pulling out all these huge moves, here’s this squat, frowning brawler hitting people with a damn staff for a ton of her offense. Not just a “signature spot” like with Bull Nakano and her nunchucks, but using the weapon as a full-on part of her offense. Also, her brawling style is anathema to those who want more and more suplexes and/or flips. And granted it’s not MY preferred style, either, but if it’s only one wrestler, and she’s mostly a midcarder, I don’t mind it. It creates variety! Plus, it makes her look like a huge shitstain when she’s doing it to a babyface, and makes that wrestler seem a lot better for surpassing it and getting a win. And it’s not like Yasha was particularly dominant- she was never much more than a midcard worker!
Yasha’s legacy to most joshi fans. 4 million views on YouTube!
Yasha is still most famous among joshi fans for the infamous match where she wrestled Akira Hokuto in 1993, however. When Akira was running through all of LLPW on her way to fighting Shinobu Kandori in a rematch, Yasha was the one who got it the hardest- others got great matches from Akira, but Akira just smirked at Yasha, mimicked her pre-match squat, ate a bunch of her offense, then jumped up and hit her Northern Lights Bomb, finishing Yasha in less than three minutes! One of the most cold-hearted squashes in wrestling history. And this proved quite infamous, as it often showed up on “Best of Hokuto” tapes (many of which focused on 1993)- the bout has MILLIONS of views on YouTube, which is positively insane for a joshi match from the 1990s.
But as a worker, Yasha seems actually pretty good. She moved fast and had some pretty tight offense, in addition to a good character- she had a distinctive pre-match squat, crouching down with her staff over her shoulder like a total bad-ass, just seeming like a gangster in an All-Girl Yakuza Flick or something like that. Her big thing was just swinging that staff around all the time- often to halt someone’s momentum or just be an ass in the early part of the bout. And I mean, it’s brilliant- refs almost never DQ anyone in joshi, so why NOT use a weapon instead of all of that “reversing the Irish whip into a charge” or “German suplex” nonsense? This is MUCH easier! It’s kind of a throwback to the days of Dump Matsumoto and her Atrocious Alliance, really. Yasha’s other stuff was typically various ways of just hauling someone to the ground, like the X-Factor or chokeslams- a very short, vicious “pump-action” slam that just whipped the person to the ground. She also did a top-rope version! Nothing flashy, but just vicious things, too- a legdrop off the center of the middle rope, or that lethal-looking hangman’s choke in the corner, leaving someone’s feet dangling while she’s standing on the middle rope.
Yasha- also a motorcycle hooligan!
-Yasha Kurenai debuted for the original Joshi Women’s Puroresu (JWP) in 1989, but in 1992 switched off for the Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling offshoot, forming part of their midcard. Even by this point, she was depicted as a dyed-haired, frowning woman with a lot of make-up (a typical “Gangster/Ruffian” look for a woman in Japanese media), wearing a white tank top with baggy pants. This “regular clothes” approach to gear was a major stand-out in a company that specialized in some of the most hideous, eye-destroying gear in wrestling history.
In Interpromotional Matches, Yasha was largely a jobber. Her most famous match by far featured her taking on legendary Akira Hokuto- a Main Event star. And rather than have the “gives a good showing” 12-15 minute match typical of Interpromotional stuff, Akira just smirks at Yasha like she means nothing (the exact opposite reaction you’re supposed to give people in pro wrestling), takes a bunch of her offense, then gets her knees up on a flying splash and eats her alive, hitting a Northern Lights Bomb and winning in seconds. To this day, nobody really has any idea why LLPW hung Yasha out to dry like this, but it made her look weak and stupid. TO BE FAIR, she was still actually pretty new to the business at this point- maybe 3-4 years in.
This continues at Nagoya Super Storm, a mixed LLPW/AJW show where Yasha is eaten alive by Takako Inoue, who avoids her Super Chokeslam, hits her own, then finishes her with a series of moves (rather than a “reverse the final move” ending typical of joshi at this point)- Yasha’s pinned clean in less than 12 minutes. The best spot of the whole thing is Takako taking away Yasha’s stick, and mocking her “squat” pose by sitting up on the top rope and hitting a supermodel pose with her legs crossed. She teams with Shinobu Kandori to beat Takako Inoue & Sakie Hasegawa at Wrestlemarinepiad ’93. And then at St. Battle Final Yasha & Miki Handa team up to beat Sakie & Kaoru Ito for the Japanese Tag Team Titles, meaning LLPW has some AJW gold! The match ended up very good- a ***1/2 nasty scrap, looking like they were disagreeing and being uncoordinated as hell, but in a way I felt added to the nastiness of the match. They hold the belts for a huge 226 days (beating Ito & Tomoko Watanabe at Wrestling Queendom ’94 in the process), before losing to Carol Midori & Michiko Omukai- themselves barely above rookies- in late 1994.
At Big Egg Wrestling Universe, she & Michiko Nagashima team up to face Las Cachorras Orientales, and are carried to a fairly good match, but lose pretty handily to the then-midcard AJW team. In 1995 she has one of her best matches- a **** affair vs. KAORU in one of GAEA Japan’s earliest cards.
Yasha seems to have “settled” by the mid-90s into a “Multi-Person Match” body, usually winning LLPW’s Six-Person Tag Titles repeated. She wins them three times in total- the inaugural run (June 1996), with Carol Midori & Mikiko Futagami, is only a 52-day run. They lose to Eagle Sawai, Michiko Nagashima & Shark Tsuchiya, then defeat them nearly a year later to win them back. This 93-day run ends at the hands of Eagle, Shark & Lioness Asuka! Later, she teams with bigger stars Noriyo Tateno & Rumi Kazama to win the LLPW Six-Person Tag Titles a third time in 1997. This 277-day run ends at the hands of the same team. 1998 sees her as LLPW’s representative to take on the JWP Champion, Hikari Fukuoka- this is possibly Yasha’s best match ever, along with the KAORU one.
The craziest, most “Wow, really?” bit of her career comes near the end of it- with more Interpromotional stuff happening between AJW & LLPW (as business is dying and AJW is post-bankruptcy and desperate to heat up ticket sales), Yasha defeats wunderkind Kumiko Maekawa for the All-Pacific Title in November 1998, holding AJW’s secondary championship for 89 days before losing it back! 1999 sees the end of her career, as she wrestles a small handful of matches early on.
Pre-Match Squat (w/ Kendo Stick), Hairtoss, Kendo Stick Shot, Spear With Kendo Stick, Hanging Choke in the Corner (standing on the bottom rope and dangling the person down towards the ring), Jumping Mat Slam (X-Pac’s X-Factor), Legdrop off the Center of the Middle Rope, German Suplex, Short Chokeslam, Super Chokeslam, Guillotine Legdrop, Standing Wristlock/Armbar (criss-crossing arms behind them and pulling an arm with each hand)
UWA WOMEN’S TAG TITLES:
LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES (Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda) (AJW) vs. MICHIKO NAGASHIMA & YASHA KURENAI (LLPW):
(Big Egg Wrestling Universe, Dec. 1993)
* LCO’s entrance, consisting of them using a horde of shirtless men as beasts of burden while defiantly holding the UWA Tag Titles in front of them, to Shimoda’s excellent “Superstar” theme, instantly makes them look like the hugest fucking superstars on the face of the Earth. No wonder they started getting their big push around this time. This match continues the angle that LLPW is repeatedly trying to take the UWA belts away from LCO. I saw Michiko only once before, but she didn’t impress, but Yasha’s fun with her crazy trashy girl act, whacking people with her short staff. And the LLPW team dress identically, like a WWF ’80s tag team, which I always love. LCO have their reverse-colored gear on, white & purple two-piece outfits.
The challengers attack to start, but Michiko is swiftly beaten down, thrown around by her hair, and gets caught in the Bitch Pose. Mita of course makes sure to do Yasha’s “Hangman’s Choke” in the corner directly across from Yasha herself, then handily stuffs the hot tag by booting her down with those giraffe legs. Team LLPW comes back with some sloppy stuff and mimics the Bitch Pose, finally getting some consistent stuff on Shimoda, like Yasha’s own Hanging Choke and a Spike Piledriver. Mita comes in with a pair of overhead chops that Michiko sells as truly agonizing, and hits one on Yasha too, but they come back with stereo submissions and a DOOMSDAY DEVICE CHOKESLAM on Shimoda! Curiously, the crowd is just dead for LLPW’s segments- I think they lack visibility & credibility with this crowd.
Yasha uses her staff, goes to the eyes, and hits a weak release Super Chokeslam on Mita, who kicks out on her own. She throws Michiko into Yasha on the apron, thus setting up the Assisted Plancha/Tope combo, but the Electric Chair Drop/Splash combo ends with Shimoda eating mat on her dive! Mita plants Michiko with her Northern Lights Suplex, and Shimoda manages a Tiger Suplex on a second try. Butterfly Superplex gets a “Fuck YOU!” bridge from Michiko, impressing the crowd! Yasha calls for her staff, but Shimoda intercepts! She drills Yasha with it before taking a German upon missing a baseball-style swing. Then the girls rip off LCO’s Electric Chair/Splash combo! Hah! Mita gets Victory Rolled out of her own attempt at it, then takes a weird armlock superplex. A pair of Sentons get two, then both teams scrap over some stuff, Mita takes a Chokeslam, and then reverses a double lariat to a GREAT bridging German for two while Shimoda wipes out Yasha with a Missile Dropkick. And Mita’s finally able to set up the Death Valley Driver, executing Michiko at (15:36) for the win. LCO wins, and Michiko sells the DVD like it was a mortal wound.
Great, fun match overall, with both teams fighting with great nastiness and brutality, digging into each other. Kurenai’s an interesting wrestling to watch- easily dismissed as “sloppy”, I think it fits her character, much like Shimoda’s slapdash application. It’s Hokuto-esque in that it doesn’t need to be pretty if it WORKS- it comes off as scrappy and mean more than polished, like a lot of AJW stuff. Both get shit on a bit for this stuff in some places I’ve read, but I like it.
Rating: ***3/4 (great fun, and good character bits!)
JWP OPENWEIGHT TITLE:
HIKARI FUKUOKA (JWP) vs. YASHA KURENAI (LLPW):
* Okay, this is a big one. Hikari is the new Ace of JWP, having defeated old stalwart Dynamite Kansai- a combination Idol and Toyota-style high-flier, she’s become a big star is a time of dying business, and Yasha is sent as LLPW’s representative in a “Dream Match”. The two companies split up in 1992 under VERY ugly circumstances, and never wrestled each other even during the “Interpromotional Era”, so this is a pretty big deal. However, it’s been suggested it was a bit of an “insult” by LLPW (then led by Rumi Kazama) to send only a midcarder to take on Hikari instead of one of its top stars (like, say, Rumi). The JWP/LLPW split was UGLY, and the wrestlers were long kept apart even as joshi was running wild with “Dream Matches”, so even that seems nuts. But really, if you want to send a wrestler to job to the other’s champion, people like Yasha are perfect.
Yasha’s in the usual, while Hikari has maybe the greatest pre-match ring gear ever- gigantic oversized leather chaps and a leather jacket with blue frill in the front and shitloads of tassels all over it. It’s HORRIFYING. Her wrestling gear is naturally bizarre as well, being like a mix of white tiger-striped bits with bright blue. It looks like two different outfits fighting.
They stare each other down to start, hesitantly getting into a grapple and then just kicking ass, elbowing and booting each other, but Hikari quickly controls with mat stuff. They resists “toss off the ropes” spots until Yasha just hauls off and punches Hikari square in the throat, but the champ hauls her down again with a rear choke, grappling the leg. They get into a kickfight, just charging in with boots to the face, and Yasha takes the lead and just clobbers her- two minutes in and its VERY clear the “Story” is that Yasha can outbrawl Hikari, who needs to actually use wrestling to beat her, but keeps getting goaded into scraps. She manages a Manami-style dropkick, but charges into the corner and Yasha REALLY slickly grabs her stick and bashes away in one fluid motion. She bashes the shit out of Hikari to boos and hits a legdrop off the middle rope for two. Hikari gets some flash-reversals for two-counts and hits a big missile kick to the face, but tries her Moonsault too early and lands on feet. Yasha goes for the stick again, but the ref takes it and thus misses Hikari hitting a Bridging German. The ref is DEAD on the outside as Hikari now dominates, using the cartwheel handspring elbow and Moonsault. Sadly, the crowd is SUPER dead here, not even pissed off or anything- you can just hear random people shouting.
Hikari, infuriated, hauls Yasha to the floor, where incredibly she does the cartwheel handspring right into a CHAIRSHOT, but Yasha tries to tombstone her on the chair and Hikari reverses it! Haha, this is such a great examples of how piledrivers ain’t shit in joshi because this MDK in the West is here just some random bullshit on the outside. Like, Hikari attempts a cannonball off the apron and Yasha AGAIN puts a chair in her path, tosses it at her, then does her Hangman’s Choke in the corner. Yasha climbs, Hikari chasing her up like she forgot her big move is a Super Chokeslam and YUP- down she goes. That gets two, and Yasha hits Chokeslam Spam but misses a guillotine legdrop- Hikari pounces with a flash-pin for two then gets a Tiger Driver stuffed, then a top-rope move, only to retry and hit a Super Powerslam for two. Rana gets two, and Yasha reverses for two, then she gets her own “runs up, gets tossed off, then hits a Super move” as she nails a T-Bone Superplex to Hikari! Sit-out pumphandle slam gets two, and now she gets that Guillotine Legdrop- two! Another one, to the BACK of the head, gets the same and now the crowd’s biting on moves.
Yasha climbs, but Hikari manages a sunset flip powerbomb off the top to reverse for two, and stuffs Yasha’s submission finisher attempt and they both take a long breather- like, in-match this would be a breather, too. Yasha gets dumped and then booted off the top, and Hikari follows with a Moonsault to the floor! Once they’re back in the ring (about a minute later), they resist each other’s moves until Hikari hits a standing enzuigiri and her Tiger Driver for two. Hikari climbs- Rider Kick (somersault missile kick to the back of the head)! Yasha kicks out, so Hikari tries the Moonsault Stomp- Yasha dodges and immediately cranks Hikari on the shin with her stick and latches on her Submission finisher! The double-wristlock thing! Hikari makes the ropes and both are dead- like the accumulated damage just got to Yasha. They struggle to their feet and now mimic Akira/Kandori- SLAPS are all they can muster! Both stagger around with each paintbrushing, which should favor Yasha, but ultimately she misses a swing and Hikari blasts her with the enzuigiri again, and THAT puts her down long enough for the Moonsault Stomp to finish at (19:36). Hikari wins!
Excellent, EXCELLENT match that flies in the face of alot of Yasha-bashing, as she easily holds up her end and makes for a really fun match by being this disagreeable asswipe the entire time, talking shit, brawling and using the stick instead of fighting fair. Hikari, meanwhile, was telling this great story of being able to catch Yasha with COUNTER-HOLDS (rollups, powerslam, German, etc.) to reverse stuff, but if she got goaded into throwing hands, she’d get her ass kicked. A downside was a bit of people just popping up and doing stuff immediately after taking a big move- Hikari eats a bunch of chairshots, a Super Chokeslam and 2-3 regular ones and immediately dodges a guillotine and hits a jumping move and she’s right back on offense with huge shit. While “eats a finisher, but dodges the next and hits a big move” is common in joshi, they were both hitting a ton of stuff in a row and bouncing back- actually, this matches the Quebrada review, dismissing it as “You do your spots and I’ll do mine”, though that one was WAY low at **3/4 for this really fun match with all of Hikari’s best stuff on display).
Rating: ****1/4 (a fun match with good storytelling to start, then a fun “can you top this” element to the middle and back thirds)