“The pain of barbed wire matches is beyond imagination, but when I think of the harm that she has done to us- Tsuchiya bullying rookies and forcing Combat (Toyoda) to consider retirement, I could overcome the fear with anger and a sense of responsibility.”
-A very calm, placid all-timer of a babyface promo.
31 Days of Move Origins #5 – Megumi Kudo’s Kudo Driver (Vertabreaker) from SquaredCircle
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- MEGUMI KUDO:
Real Name: Megumi Kudo (married as Megumi Takayama)
Billed Height & Weight: 5’4″ 132 lbs.
Career Length: 1986-88 (retired/let go early), 1990-1997 (FMW)
-Interestingly, among the biggest stars in the history of women’s wrestling didn’t wrestle for All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling much at all, but was the superstar mega-babyface of Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, acting as a female version of their dominant Ace, Atsushi Onita. Kudo had actually started with AJW (the same graduating class as Aja Kong, in fact), but retired young and was later hand-picked to be the center of FMW’s women’s division, mostly made up of Kudo and fellow babyfaces against an army of evil, merciless heels right out of the ’80s- so it was “nice, normal girls” vs. “facepaint-wearing Nazi harridans”, which Kudo’s professional training backing up a division of mostly horrendous workers with the barest idea of what they were doing. And she was SO GOOD that FMW maintained a very nice run of ***-ish women’s matches at the top spot despite her & Combat Toyoda being the only two women in the company worth a damn in the ring.
And like… remember the Hurricane? And his crazy finisher the Vertebreaker? It was invented by Megumi Kudo- called the “Kudo Driver”. A convoluted spinning set-up into one of the more profound neck-bumps in wrestling.
Kudo is an interesting one to watch, as she lacks the physicality of most of AJW’s women, is of average size and speed, average carpentry ability, and isn’t acrobatic enough to be a high flier… but what she has is TIMING. More than almost anyone else in joshi, she has that Shawn Michaels-like precision timing for comebacks to maximize the crowd’s interest in a match. That and her likable personality and “humble regular person” nature, acting like an anime heroine against these cartoonish psychopathic opponents, builds the crowd into a frenzy even against useless opponents like Shark Tsuchiya. Like, I’ve seen a lot of **** matches and over in my years watching joshi, but I ain’t seen ONE starring Shark… except for one with Kudo. They had to smoke and mirrors the shit out of it and use all sorts of weapons and Kudo screaming and bleeding, but by God she did it and I can’t think of too many others who could have.
Kudo also had a great command of the ring itself- tactically she was incredibly gifted, like she knew exactly the right move to counter everything, knew how to position herself to avoid counters, and had a move for everything. It’s a really hard thing to “work” being great at tactics but she was a lot like CM Punk is in that regard- just came off as crafty and clever, and since her opponents were often thugs it worked out well. A good example is during an Aja/Megumi vs. Bison Kimura/Combat match, Kudo dekes out Bison using the ring itself, avoiding the bigger woman’s attacks and leaping back in to hit a Tornado DDT.
As FMW lacked great workers, most of Kudo’s best matches are with women from other companies. She has a god-tier match with Aja Kong that is utterly fantastic- perfectly working over Aja’s hand (her finisher is the Uraken backfist) and crushing it and just working out every possible move to counter the monster, until Aja’s as close to losing her beloved WWWA Title as she ever was until that moment. She & Combat Toyoda have a pair of great matches with Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada that headlined the first DreamSlam and then fit into an FMW stadium show- opinions vary (especially on the first- it’s sometimes criticized as just a collection of spots and that they weren’t getting along in the ring) but I loved both of them. And Combat Toyoda’s retirement match is an all-timer and the best Barbed Wire match of all time, scoring that easily as they nearly hit ***** in Combat’s send-off, perfectly timing the explosions and selling each one as not only absolute death, but something to be avoided at all costs. More than any other wrestler, she sold that barbed wire HURTS and you should do anything to avoid being put into it. So many other, lesser workers just revel in the gore (MOXLEY), but Kudo was like “NO NO NO GOD NO!” every single time she alllllllmost goes into the wire, and it makes the few times she DOES come off as absolutely epic.
So overall I don’t feel Kudo belongs in the true upper echelon of the Gods of Joshi, but she was damn close to it, and nobody did more with lesser opponents than her.
The “releasing pop songs” portion of joshi’s careers is sadly under-reported in the west.
-Megumi Kudo debuted for All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) in the Class of 1986, alongside future stars Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, Noriyo “Combat” Toyoda, Kaoru “KAORU” Maeda and Miori “Cooga” Kamiya, having been trained by former ace Jaguar Yokota. Both she and Toyoda wouldn’t last that long, retiring pretty early- she was apparently released in 1988 and began working as a kindergarten teacher. However, she was recruited to Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) in 1990, acting as the center of their women’s division. Toyoda herself had left AJW as well, and was brought in as “Combat Toyoda”, Kudo’s key opponent. With her brutish looks, severe makeup and Guile haircut, Combat was a suitable monster for the pretty, slender “Girl Next Door” type Kudo represented.
Kudo headlined a ton of shows, and was a big star- I’ve heard that she was seen as easily the #2 most popular women’s wrestler in the world, sometimes surpassing Akira Hokuto herself. FMW doing big business always helped, though Kudo was rarely in the main events in their frequent stadium shows.
Kudo would defeat Combat, the inaugural WWA Champion (the initial top belt of FMW’s women) in March 1991, holding the belt for 142 days before dropping it back. She beat Shark Tsuchiya in May 1992 for her second WWA Title reign, holding it for her longest run ever, becoming the true Ace of the promotion for 426 days, dropping the belt in July 1993 to Combat.
Kudo & Combat were set up to represent FMW in the “All Star Dream Slam” in the spring of 1993- a huge dual mega-show set-up featuring all the joshi companies. They were set up against the WWWA Tag Team Champions, Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada, in the main event of Dream Slam 1. It was an amazingly long, hard-fought match with tons of crazy spots and bumping, with the champs barely winning when Toyoda accidentally hammered Kudo and set her into Manami’s Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex finisher. Apparently FMW was very, VERY hard to deal with in these shows (which is why they rarely got involved in future ones). At Dream Slam 2, her team beat Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda in a match featuring some ludicrous bumps by the AJW midcarders.
Near year’s end in 1993, Kudo faced Aja Kong in one of three immense matches at AJW St. Battle Final– for Aja’s “Red Belt”, the WWWA Title. Here, Kudo actually took the LEAD for most of the match, using her elite tactics and ring smarts to hammer Aja’s backfisting hand, getting a “ref’s out cold” visual pinfall (again, probably at FMW’s insistence- All the joshi I’ve ever watched, and I’ve never once seen a ref bump into a visual pinfall except for this), and only barely lost the match in the end. Both gave credit to their trainer, Jaguar Yokota, at ringside by match’s end. Notably, Kudo wasn’t FMW Champ at this point. Kudo would also wrestle Shark Tsuchiya, who took the role of “Dump Matsumoto”- the mean, nasty heel of the division (not an honored foe like Combat). Kudo would defeat her in barbed wire matches, bleed buckets, and more.
Other parts of Kudo’s career including releasing a music album and appearing in the action movie A Human Murder Weapon. The WWA Title is vacated in Feb. 1994, Kudo quickly winning it for her third reign, now combining it with the FMW Independent Women’s Title to make it permanently a double-crown belt. She holds it for 114 days before dropping it to Combat again. She wins the WWA/FMW Titles a fourth time in May 1995 against Bad Nurse Nakamura, holding them for 199 days until Shark defeats her. Combat defeats Shark only 20 days later, and Kudo wins back the WWA/FMW Titles in April 1996.
In early 1996, she wrestled Combat Toyoda in the latter’s retirement match (quickly following Onita’s own retirement)- an amazing No-Ropes Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match. They made maximum use of the gimmick, desperately trying to avoid going into the wire repeatedly, only doing so on a shocker reversal that saw Kudo trying to use her leaping ass-attack and being thrown BACKWARDS into the explosives for a monster bump. In the end, a bloodied Kudo defeated Combat with the Kudo Driver, and both women’s broken bodies were paraded before the fans and laid out in the back, both weeping as they said their goodbyes. One of wrestling’s perfect moments (even though Onita tried to make himself the center of a lot of it).
Megumi Kudo THEN / NOW : She lives in Osaka with her husband Hido and attends ZERO1's Super Fireworks big shows #FMWpic.twitter.com/wo1cWjHvsu
— Allan (@allan_cheapshot) July 28, 2016
Kudo now holds the belts for another huge reign- 320 days in total- before Shark defeats her. In 1997, Kudo retired, wrestling Shark in a “No Ropes Barbed-Wire Double Landmine Glass Crush Death Match”, barely winning in the end (even after Shark blew fire into her hair), winning the WWA/FMW Titles one final time. She vacated her titles in her retirement ceremony 45 days later. She has since appeared on various TV shows and as a color commentator in wrestling, and hosts a weekly radio show, and still does bikini photo shoots (which I have discovered TOTALLY BY ACCIDENT DAMN YOU). She married a professional wrestler named Hido in 1998- he apparently passed away in 2021. The FMW Women’s Division was doomed without her- Shark was the biggest star left, and she was the final champion, vacating them later that year.
Hip Attack (flinging herself ass-first into someone’s face), DDT, Running Elbow Smash, Bleeding, Thunder Fire Powerbomb (over-the-shoulder kneeling powerbomb), Northern Lights Suplex, Dragon Suplex (full nelson suplex), Tiger Driver (double-underhookd sit-out powerbomb), Kudome Driver (double-underhook powerbomb into a neck-first bump- often spammed three times), Kudo Driver (turning upside-down neck-first slam with all four limbs tangled- Shane Helms’s Vertebreaker)
Guess which one of these two is the experienced Deathmatch worker?
WWWA WORLD TITLE:
AJA KONG (AJW) vs. MEGUMI KUDO (FMW):
* The top dog of AJW faces the primary star of FMW’s women’s division? Holy crap, this is nuts. Aja is still the WWWA Champion, and the Ace of AJW, largely unstoppable in singles. But Kudo is a big star of an extraordinarily violent, brawl-happy promotion, and no stranger to bleeding, weapons, or brutal fighting- if anything, she’s got more experience than Aja at it. And another wrinkle to this match: Megumi Kudo and Erika Shishido are from the same Graduating Class of AJW trainees- the 1986 class. Kudo wrestled for only a few years before “retiring/was released”, before being handpicked among ex-wrestlers by Atsushi Onita for FMW’s forming women’s division. But Erika stuck around, became “Aja Kong” and the rest is history. So these two DEFINITELY know each other.
Aja is wearing an awesome white & gold variant of her “AJA” tights, with baggy pants and a tight shirt, plus her trademark facepaint. Megumi’s in her usual one-legged pink & white Power Ranger outfit. Megumi’s whole thing is being the unexpected Hardcore Warrior- a pretty girl with delicate features who slays dragons. But Aja is one fuck of a dragon.
The match actually starts out way more like men’s matches- slow, deliberate, and with chain wrestling, each not over-committing. Aja slowly beats on her for a bit, but Kudo can match her on the ground, surprisingly, working over Aja’s arm and actually getting the crowd into it- Aja actually bails to recover! Oh god, a front roll-up ends up smearing Aja’s facepaint into a brown smudge in the worst possible spot on Megumi’s white costume. Oh that looks bad- all Psycho Sid in this joint. And Kudo KEEPS GOING TO THE ARM! Aja’s almost at a loss (she notes to throw punches with the other arm, and when she “forgets”, she sells it like it hurts), and Kudo’s able to reverse almost everything to it! Aja fights back using raw strength, Vader Attacks, and the mother of all Corner Charges- with a FANTASTIC camera angle as she tears in at full speed, with an enraged, psychotic look on her face. Piledriver hits, but three Urakens (Spinning Backfist) in a row miss, Aja bails, and a TOPE SUICIDA nails her! Damn, Kudo’s controlling the pace and frickin’ dominating!
And now everything Aja tries sees it reversed- Kudo DDTs her out of a sunset flip, Germans her, then reverses a lariat into a great submission that traps the neck and BOTH arms, wowing the crowd. But then a Flying Crossbody takes out the ref, and he misses the count on her Super Frankensteiner! Holy shit, I haven’t seen a ref bump in ANY ’90s joshi stuff before! And there’s our “saving face” moment. Tornado DDT gets two, but Aja finally takes over with a chokeslam and a pair of devastating Backdrop Suplexes onto Kudo’s head. She tries another reversal, but it’s an URAKEN! Then another, Aja still selling the arm (I think only two Joshi bother to sell limbwork after five minutes: Aja & Hokuto). Kudo staggers up, but eats three more, Aja toying with her prey (and probably realizing her move’s been weakened). She tries to lift Kudo, but then the ref intercedes and starts counting her down!
Aja, furious, slaps Kudo to wake her, then gets on the mic and DEMANDS she gets up, because fuck you, Aja wants to WIN THE RIGHT WAY, DAMMIT! She tries her Super Mountain Bomb (falling backdrop off the top with opponent draped behind her), but Kudo slips out for a Sunset Flip Powerbomb!! Holy fuck! VERY close near-fall, and the ref counts both down! They SLOWLY get up at 8, and Kudo grabs for her Tiger Driver ’91 (Double-Underhook Vertical Drop Powerbomb) finisher… but Aja slips out! URAKENNNNNNN!!!! And this time, in a beautiful moment, she DESPERATELY holds down Kudo for the three count, finally realizing the true threat (22:33). When they finally recover, Aja hugs her- one of my favorite “Aja Things” is how much she respects and admires toughness in others. Megumi’s clear heartbreak at realizing she lost? That’s why she’s the Ace of FMW.
Kudo works the arm all match long, throwing Aja’s usual match plan into disarray.
Haha, AWESOME!! Kudo did the perfect tactical way to take out an unstoppable powerhouse nemesis- no weapons, no cheating, no nothing! She wore down Aja with TECHNICAL HOLDS, and damn near beat her thanks to all the great art arm stuff she was pulling. Aja, used to just bullrushing people over or taking tons of MOVEZ, didn’t have anything to counter that, and it even weakened her Uraken! Fantastic psychology as Kudo can and will reverse anything, and Aja starts to become desperate, especially once a big finish gets reversed and nearly costs her the match. That final Uraken, and Aja’s “NO STAY DOWWNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!” pinfall, was perfectly timed and way into character. This match was actually more story than moves, but the moves were still awesome.
Rating: ****3/4 (can’t believe Meltzer only gave this ***3/4, but then he’s always been kind of a “MOVEZ” guy)
FMW WOMEN’S & WWA WOMEN’S TITLES:
NO-ROPES EXPLODING BARBED WIRE DEATHMATCH:
COMBAT TOYODA vs. MEGUMI KUDO:
* So this is it- Combat finally calls it quits after generously doing jobs for half a year to a ton of names. Atsushi Onita had barely retired a short while before this, too. This was Combat’s tenth year in the business, and she’d been dominant in FMW, and is currently the champion. Kudo does an interview beforehand, talking about how she usually fights Deathmatches with a lot of anger or hate, “but there’s none of that today”- simply a desire to both use all their experience and have a match they’ll remember forever. Combat cuts a simple babyface interview about wanting to give one hundred percent in her last match, which “I can’t lose”. She tells younger fans & wrestlers that she hopes they can feel her spirit and learn from it. Kudo comes down to some heavy metal in a nice robe, while Combat has her eyes closed in thought as her theme starts up… and then SWITCHES TO “WILD THING” HELL YES! Live for Onita’s spirit! What an epic tribute. Combat can barely hold it together as she walks down the aisle one last time.
Standard deathmatch psychology here as they repeatedly tease shoving people into the wire to get the fans into the notion of it and build anticipation- Kudo tries strikes but gets pummeled, and nearly gets chucked into the wire. They work a bloody HEADLOCK and get it over, because every reversal attempt nearly puts Kudo into danger, and the fans bite on it every single time. Kudo throws running kicks, each threatening to push Combat into the wire, but she positions herself away every time. Nobody can get the advantage (Kudo has speed, but Combat can shrug off the shots more easily) and Combat hits a powerslam reversal for two. Kudo avoids getting slugged into the wire by blocking a shot and dodging… but Combat charges and DROPKICKS her into the other side! BOOM! Even Combat and the ref roll away from the “force” of the explosion! Combat finally hauls Kudo up for the one-handed powerbomb for two, then keeps on the back with a spinning inverted torture rack into a drop-down, then slams the back with headbutts and surfboards her.
Kudo reverses another powerbomb with an armdrag, dodges a move, but THIS time she avoids Combat’s charge, and COMBAT goes into the wire for an explosion! BOOM! Caught the crowd with that one! Combat writhes in agony while we get a close-up of Onita himself with tears in his eyes like he’s watching Bret Hart in there- Kudo brings Combat down with a sleeper as both bleed from the arms. Enzuigiri & dragon sleeper keep it up, and Combat sells so hard she collapses on a whip, avoiding the wire because she’s already too dead. But she backdrops out of a Tiger Driver attempt and lariats Kudo into the wire! No explosions, but Kudo sells the stabbiness of the wire well enough, pulling off each arm one at a time- Combat drags her off, and Kudo takes a swing, ending up in a Bridging German reversal for two! Kudo lands on her feet from a powerbomb and DDTs Combat for two, then reverses a lariat for a Northern Lights suplex for the same. Kudo takes ANOTHER passionate wild swing and ends up backdrop drivered onto her head! Two! Huge Ligerbomb- 2.8! Combat’s exhausted disbelief and eye-roll as she pushes Kudo out of the pinning hold is great. ThunderFire Powerbomb (kneeling tiger driver) and she STILL can’t pin her!
Both sell like nuts, Combat trying to find her spirit so she can forge on, and she hits ANOTHER ThunderFire Powerbomb… for two! Crowd totally bought that- Kudo finally reverses out of another attempt for two, then both are down. Combat roars to life again, but nearly goes into the wire, and Kudo tries to GERMAN her into it, but Combat reverses, only for Kudo to run off, charge back in, and COMBAT CATCHES HER AND SMASHES BOTH OF THEM INTO THE EXPLOSION HOLY JESUS! BOOM! Kudo went in butt-first like she usually does, but Combat snagged her in a waistlock on the follow-through and practically shoved her neck-first into the explosives. That looked absolutely VICIOUS. Both women are absolutely DEAD as Onita buries his head in his hands- Kudo is glassy-eyed and both can only barely stumble up after two full minutes of selling, which is exactly how you handle that bump. They even use each other as braces to stand up (oh man, I love that sh*t), and Kudo slaps her into the Tiger Driver… and Combat kicks out! Kudo manages to do a waistlock version, but spikes Combat absolutely plumb the f*ck on her head in a TERRIFYING bump. And STILL she kicks out. I’m shocked she can even move. But that’s all her fight gone, and Kudo finally ends things with the Kudome Valentine (Vertebreaker) at (21:26), ending Combat’s career for good.
Combat gives a one-armed “good job, kid” pat, and Kudo gets her arm raised in victory, only to flat-back, completely spent. Onita himself drags Kudo, crying, over to Combat, and the two hold hands as they lie there selling death. Onita tosses some Phoenix Downs or some sh*t on them, Kudo gets stretchered out, and Onita (who is being a real attention whore here, I gotta say) carries Combat out so she can salute the fans from another position. The wrestlers, lying in agony in the back, finally congratulate each other, crying together to end the thing in a sign of ultimate respect.
These matches are a fascinating display- the first eight minutes would be NOTHING in any other kind of match, but here they serve the story and put over the match- nobody wants to go into the explosions, so everyone is super-careful and tries every advantage to put the other into the wire without taking too big a risk themselves. So all the headlocks and basic “do a strike then reposition” stuff sells it completely- like a battle royal where you’re TERRIFIED to take the big bumps- putting over the fear hardcore. And then Kudo finally hits the wire and it’s a huge game-changer- Combat works the back until Kudo’s speed puts COMBAT into the wire. Combat herself reverses after Kudo tries to wear her down and puts Kudo into the wire, then they trade bigger and bigger moves to try and score legit pins as the contest wears on, eventually just throwing out huge bombs like the backdrop driver & Ligerbomb into her ThunderFire finisher. A bit of the “Endless Kickout” stuff that fit the joshi style of the time, but more EARNED because it’s Combat’s final match and everyone was giving it their all, and earning the big bumps and kickouts. In the end the barbed wire bump just killed Combat too much to continue- Kudo could barely stand herself, but got up after 2 minutes and hit three big moves in a row, and that was that. And Combat becomes one of very few wrestlers to have wrestled their best-ever match in their swan song.
Rating: ****3/4 (an absolute classic and probably the best Deathmatch ever)