JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- KAORU:
Real Name: Kaoru Maeda (aka Infernal KAORU, Dara)
Billed Height & Weight: 5’5/12″ 139 lbs.
Trained By: Jaguar Yokota
Career Length: 1986-2021
-One of those joshi whose career just lasted FOREVER (eclipsing Manami Toyota’s by quite a few years, and going well beyond Etsuko Mita, Akira Hokuto and others), Kaoru Maeda (usually called KAORU, Because Japan) was never a top star, but was a great utility player who was also an elite trainer judging by GAEA Japan’s first class (you can thank her in part for Meiko Satomura, for example), and is virtually the “Terry Funk” of Japan- constantly reinventing herself to match a new “thing”. She was a generic acrobatic wrestler, a luchadora, then a kinda lazy midcarder when she returned to AJW… then suddenly shows up in GAEA and got VERY good, then modified that into a career as a trashy hot girl brawler in OZ Academy and other places. Billed as the “Original Hardcore Queen” in one era, what kind of match you’re gonna get with her really depends on the year.
It’s really kinda funny- I decried her as a lazy do-nothing for much of her 1993 output, when she returned to AJW after a mysterious disappearance (word has it she broke the “No Boys” rule… and really, the notion of a guy wanting to date Kaoru doesn’t seem outlandish). She often had a really long, profoundly boring match with very little effort put into things, even in interpromotional matches. Often over-using her high Thesz press (which she seems absurdly proud of- apparently her introduction at the try-outs featured her doing that as her special skill). It seemed like she just didn’t care… and then GAEA Japan is announced, she prepares to form a company with Chigusa Nagagyo, and she lights a fire under her ass and is suddenly having spectacular matches left and right. A great 30-minute war with Mariko Yoshida, for instance, or one of Yasha Kurenai’s best matches once GAEA starts. Her style was very acrobatic- she had some of the prettiest springboard moves you’ll ever see in joshi- long and lithe instead of looking more muscular, she had a much more graceful approach to that kind of stuff- her Springboard Moonsault finisher is the best you’ll see.
Then after injuries and other stuff, she has to shift her style again, and fits in well with Mayumi Ozaki’s “Brawler” style, albeit usually as a subordinate partner in the D-FIX stable. Like a pair of evil Japanese Peg Bundys, they dressed like tramps and engaged in violent weapons-based brawls in various companies. They were dominate in both GAEA Japan & OZ Academy, ultimately splitting up and having a blood feud against EACH OTHER. She was even OZ’s Champion for 2/3 of a year, which is shockingly the only singles gold she ever won! So it seems like while people always wanted to push KAORU, nobody ever wanted to trust her with the top spot- she often shores up a tag team or something, using her as a subordinate member.
If she has flaws, it would be pacing, and a general “Upper Midcard” ceiling, which meant she was never THAT competitive with real stars. She was quick and graceful, but a lot of her matches just end with a bunch of flying moves in a row, as if all the prior damage didn’t matter once it was her turn to go (this could afflict a lot of joshi around this time- both Manami & Kyoko Inoue did that- but both typically at least sold prior damage. KAORU would simply just fly perfectly like nothing had happened). Also she REALLY used that damn Thesz press way too much, lol.
The amazingly-named Honey Wings.
-Kaoru Maeda debuted for All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling in 1986, as part of a rookie class that included future legends Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, Megumi Kudo & Combat Toyoda. It was a REALLY GOOD CLASS. She formed a team with Mika Takahashi, given the glorious name “Honey Wings”, and won the Japanese Tag Team Titles from Erika Shishido & Nobuko Kimura (the future Aja Kong & Bison Kimura) in Feb. 1988. They held them for 145 days before dropping them to Miori Kamiya & Reibun Amada. In Jan. 1990, the Honey Wings won the vacant Japanese Tag Titles back, holding them for 166 days before losing to the future LCO, Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda. Shockingly, this is the last time KAORU wins gold for FIVE YEARS.
She left AJW under the aforementioned mysterious circumstances in 1991, and joined Universal Pro-Wrestling (which helped introduce lucha to Japan) from 1991-93 as part of their women’s division. She began wearing a mask as Infernal KAORU, losing it to La Diabólica in 1993. UPW saw her return to AJW cards at the Dream Slam show in 1992, albeit having one of the worst matches on the card, spamming out endless Thesz presses and just not fitting in. A series of pretty lame performances followed, even when she seemed to have become a regular AJW wrestler again, until an unusually great match with a returning Mariko Yoshida (who had been injured for more than a year). The announcement of GAEA Japan forming seems to have lit a fire under her, as suddenly she’s putting on some of the biggest efforts on each card.
Eventually KAORU was just like “ya know what? I didn’t do all these crunches to HIDE my stomach” because every outfit started to look like this instead of the singlet.
GAEA Japan forms in 1994, with KAORU as its second-biggest star (the only other non-rookie was Bomber Hikari, a mediocre wrestler with minimal skills). KAORU was thus shoring up most GAEA cards, taking on another promotion’s midcarders most of the time. She has a really good match with LLPW’s Yasha Kurenai on GAEA’s debut card, for example. In Sept. 1995 she & JWP’s Hikari Fukuoka team up to defeat Dynamite Kansai & Cutie Suzuki for the JWP Tag Team Titles, having a very successful 211-day run until losing them back. In 1999, KAORU turned on GAEA in an angle and joined forces with Aja Kong, Lioness Asuka and Sonoko Kato to form the DorA (Dead or Alive) stable. The stable folded in early 2000 when she beat Toshiyo Yamada for the right to challenge Aja for GAEA’s AAAW World Title, but failed.
In early 2001, she formed a stable with Mayumi Ozaki and her minion Police called D-FIX. This shifted her into a hardcore, weapons-using brawler (which was probably easier as she aged). They had a ton of weapon brawls all over the place, including a great one with Las Cachorras that year- the “Moneyball Ladder Match”. She feuded with Meiko Satomura during most of 2002, and in the middle of the year, D-FIX defeats Chikayo Nagashima & Sugar Sato for the AAAW Tag Team Titles, holding them for 196 days before dropping them to Ayako Hamada & Meiko. In April 2003, D-FIX lost to Chigusa Nagayo & Sakura Hirota in a Hair vs. Hair Match, both being shaved bald.
She was injured for much of 2004 (being replaced in D-FIX by Takako Inoue), then broke her femur in 2005 and was out again. GAEA folded while she was injured after diminishing returns, and KAORU became a freelancer, often wrestling in the U.S., on other cards run by Chigusa, and in various joshi promotions. She joined Ozaki’s OZ Academy in 2007, soon reforming D-FIX for a while (man that must have had some diminishing returns)- they won the OZ Academy Tag Titles in Aug. 2008, beating Carlos Amano & Dynamite Kansai, holding them for 179 days until Aja Kong & Hiroyo Matsumoto beat them. In mid-2009, they won them back, beating Chikayo Nagashima & Sonoko Kato, holding them for only two months before losing them back. She was ultimately kicked out of the group by Ozaki after they failed to win the Tag Titles back- this set off a feud which culminated in a “Serial Killing Hardcore Match”, in which you had to score two falls back-to-back to win- KAORU & Oz alternated falls until Oz finished her twice in a row (ending with a brainbuster off a ladder through a barbed-wire board).
KAORU near the end of her career.
However, KAORU continued to have success, winning the OZ Academy Openweight Title, defeating Carlos (Rieko) Amano! Unfortunately, in a three-way match with Ozaki & Aja Kong, KAORU smashed her foot diving out of the ring and the ref had to stop the match, stripping her of the title after 273 days.
KAORU wrestled for Sendai Girls (Meiko’s promotion) in 2009, and Smash in 2010. She stopped wrestling entirely for three years after that. She won the Pro Wrestling Diana Tag Titles in 2014, teaming with Mima Shimoda to beat Kyoko Inoue & Tomoko Watanabe, losing after two months to Jaguar Yokota & Sareee. In 2015, she joined Marvelous, run by her old boss, Chigusa. She also worked for Sendai again, winning the Sendai Tag Team Titles with DASH Chisako in late 2016, being the inaugural champions, but lost only 38 days later to Hikaru Shida & Syuri. They won the Sendai Tag Titles again in late 2017, winning the vacant belts, holding them for 168 days before losing to Cassandra Miyagi & Heidi Katrina.
KAORU finally retired in 2021, ending a career spanning an incredible three decades. Having started out wrestling your ’80s stars and ending up trading belts with some of today’s biggest female stars is a hell of a career.
High Thesz Press (leaping up to face height), Hurricanrana, Springboard Missile Dropkick, Michinoku Driver, Moonsault (Finisher, often spammed), Springboard Moonsault (Finisher)
JAPANESE TAG TEAM TITLES:
DREAM ORCA (Toshiyo Yamada & Etsuko Mita) vs. THE HONEY WINGS (Kaoru Maeda & Mika Takahashi):
* So this is a weird mish-mash of people who ended up in wildly disparate careers- Yamadad ended up with major tag success as Manami Toyota’s partner, while Mita gained success as part of Las Cachorras Orientales and dominated cards in tags during the 1997-2000s era. The Honey Wings were an opening match duo of a pre-KAORU Kaoru Maeda and Mika Takahashi, who is one of the weird “lost wrestlers” to me, as she’s the only person here who wasn’t a ’90s star. She’s essentially just a Honey Wing and then retires, not even showing up in Class of ’86 Reunions (she shares a class with Aja, Megumi Kudo & others). Mita’s in white, Yamada’s in black, and the Honey Wings are in the most GLORIOUSLY 1980s neon-colored singlets. Like, vertical yellow/pink/blue stripes bad.
The Honey Wings attack at the bell to start, doing a do-si-do out of stereo Irish whips into stereo headlock takeovers & running attacks, then settle into basic rookie-fu, working Yamada’s arm. Weird bit as Kaoru dropkicks Yamada to the corner, fights Mita for a sec, then just grabs Yamada again to beat on her arm some more. I do like how they combine actual technical wrestling and holds with just stomping on the limb- shakes it up a bit, even though this is pretty dull and the crowd is dead. Yamada escapes but Mita’s tossed right off the ropes and nailed, and they work on her leg. She finally gets a rollup and escapes, Yamada spamming dropkicks all over Takahashi and hitting a side slam for two, but the Wings take over on her quickly. Takahashi throws knees to the arm, chickenwings her and just sits on the back, then takes her down with an overhand wristlock- Kaoru throws out an upside-down headscissors, but Yamada finally snapmares out and bringing Mita in for an airplane spin that FINALLY wakes up the fans!
Kaoru gets launched over top of her, but gets another headscissors and hauls in Yamada (AGAIN?). Kaoru drags her over to the corner, but Takahashi’s like “no, fuck off” so Yamada hits a good hiptoss for two, THEN brings in Takahashi for dropkicks and a slam, with Mika bridging out big-time but eating a Dream Orca double-dropkick. She gets her feet on the ropes at “1”, but Mita just starts using her power and height, doing a fireman’s toss, then propping Takahashi up on the top rope and one-arming her off. Yamada comes in but gets rana’d out of the corner for two, then the Wings hit stereo running attacks into a double-team Thesz press off the second rope from Kaoru- but Yamada “Fuck YOU!” bridges out! Butterfly suplex & Mita saves, then they hit Stereo Flying Headbutts… and Mita hip-checks the ref! Haha, the crowd APPLAUDS that strategy, especially when Mita’s like “Yeah, THAT’S right!”. And Takahashi grabs at the ref to protest, but gets a backslide from Yamada, and that’s the three at (11:34)- Dream Orca retains!! A furious Takahashi pleads with the ref and SLAPS Mita, who slaps her back and they do that a couple times, Mita just defiantly staring at her.
This is an interesting look at the baby versions of everyone, as they still have the “AJW Pace”, though not quite as breakneck as Jaguar or Toyota. It was a LOT of “up-down” spots and especially rapid-fire tags from the Honey Wings, who were almost never in for more than a minute each. 90% of the match consistent of work on Yamada’s arm, which gave the match a story but made it pretty same-y, though it says a lot that the 3rd-years were able to go the whole length without repeating spots on the limb. And that all seemed to save Mita for all the “big spots” at the end- I notice she got all the big crowd-pleasing moments, launching people around, only for Yamada to score the final pin (thanks to that amazing hip-check- great timing on that!). So I ended up being impressed by Yamada’s durability and spirit (even though she was never put in a serious armhold that would make her submit) and Mita’s power, which is probably the point of the match.
Rating: **1/4 (not bad! Very simplistic, and a little much with the “work over the arm for ten minutes and leave Mita on the apron” but they pulled it out in the end!)
MARIKO YOSHIDA RE-CHALLENGE:
MARIKO YOSHIDA vs. KAORU:
* Yes, MARIKO YOSHIDA finally makes her TV return here, going up against Kaoru Maeda, whom you might have noticed me call out for lazy performances in the past- bouts against Bolshoi Kid & even Megumi Kudo made her come off as lazy to me. I swear I’ve seen her have great matches later on, though! And as she’s just been announced as part of Chigusa Nagayo’s GAEA Japan promotion… now’s the time to show off. Maeda, who’s on a middle tier and has lucha training, is a pretty solid opponent for a newly-returned act. Yoshida looks pretty much the same as when she left, with a yellow, blue & pink singlet. Maeda, now KAORU I guess, is now maskless (which, shall we say, is a better look for her) and in a black “Sakie Singlet” with gold designs on it.
KAORU gives Yoshida a friendly welcome back via a dropkick off the apron before she can even get in the ring, followed by a dive! The ref rings the bell as KAORU hits piledrivers while the ring girls desperately try to clear the ribbons out of the ring. The ref finally waves her off, concerned for Yoshida’s once-broken neck, but they settle into a long chain-wrestling sequence, KAORU taking the lead and coming up with good counters. Yoshida gets fired up and gives her some “Defiant Rookie” slaps, but KAORU lands a VICIOUS one while stuck in a leghold. Yoshida just powers through and stays on the leg for several minutes, switching up the holds, but KAORU flip-dodges out of a lariat once the pace quickens, and starts crushing Yoshida’s neck with a variety of painful-looking moves. Like, Yoshida is clearly straining (her face is squashed in a headscissors) and fighting, while KAORU makes sure to noticeably “dig” into moves. They even roll onto the floor in that and she STILL won’t break, just cranking that sucker on. They start smacking the s*** out of each other to a great reaction, KAORU luring her into a wild punch and taking her down with a deathlock. Big cross-body misses and Yoshida snags her leg again.
Yoshida gets fired up again but gets dumped, then both have their dives stuffed until Yoshida misdirects and lands a cross-body out there. Superplex in the ring gets two. She does a half-crab, but gets annoyed and ties up KAORU’s arm and does a Toyota-style wishbone of her leg, then tries peeling off her kneebrace! KAORU bails to reapply it, but Yoshida charges her- chair fight! Yoshida stands on a chair to get a reaction and toss one, but gets hiptossed off it and thrown into a bunch more. Chair-choke and a posting have her reeling- piledriver on the floor! Absolutely PHENOMENAL Moonsault in the ring, but she hits knees! Yoshida works the ribs as the time counts down- Vertical Drop Pedigree! And one for the fans on the other side! Two-count, and she’s whipped to the corner- Run-Up Flying Cross-Body! But it misses! KAORU’s Hurricanrana gets two. Backslide and other flash-pins desperately try to score a win, but Yoshida hits a SUPER DDT! Two! Yoshida picks her up, but (30:00) hits and we’re done.
But wait! Both women argue for another shot! The crowd chants “Zenjo!” (AJW’s nickname) and we’re off in Sudden Death! They throw mirror image dropkicks four times, but KAORU catches her with a tombstone and dumps her. Quebrada!! She slams a stunned Yoshida and hits an amazing Moonsault- and another! And a third! And just to show that she’s in charge and this f*ckin’ punk bit off more than she could chew, she hauls her up and lands a Leg-Trap Backdrop Suplex Hold for the three (31:39). Poor Yoshida is sobbing in the back after this- she REALLY wanted to win.
Holy sh*t, where did THIS match come from? Yoshida’s back, and suddenly we get a whole new KAORU, fighting her butt off and proving her worth after months of “meh” performances. Like, they filled THIRTY MINUTES here and despite it almost all being technical stuff, at no point did it feel like they were wasting time or using restholds. They kept on limbs so it was consistent, the selling was good, and KAORU really cranked on some of that. And then it’s a three-minute brawl outside, and even THAT comes off as cool and not filler, because KAORU beats her down and leaves her a wreck. And then we hit the “Escalating Finishers” with Yoshida hitting that damn Super DDT and just barely not getting the three. So she & KAORU get fighty and Yoshida tries to win in overtime… and gets absolutely wrecked, as KAORU suddenly flies like the best high-flier in wrestling, totally dominating her and looking like a champ. What a heartbreaker ending, making Yoshida look awesome in defeat for hitting 30:00 in her first match back.
Rating: ****1/4 (see? I TOLD you KAORU got good again!)