Joshi Spotlight: Yumi Fukawa
By Jabroniville on 2nd October 2023
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- YUMI FUKAWA:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’0″ 119 lbs.
Career Length: 1993-2001
-A somewhat notable name between the ’90s era and modern era of joshi is Yumi Fukawa, an “Idol Wrestler” (ie. does calendars and photobooks that I totally only ever saw on Google by accident) who turned into a helluva worker by the end of her career. She bounced from AJW to ARSION in the process and developed very well as a star before a bad injury caused an instant retirement. She’s also an interesting look at how SMALL wrestlers were starting to get- something joshi never quite reversed. Back in the day 5’5″ was virtually the minimum height requirement because they wanted top-tier athletes- even Takako Inoue (the preceding Idol of AJW) was pretty tall for a Japanese woman- Fukawa is only five feet tall! The pickings, shall we saw, had gotten slim enough that even short girls could get in without being super-athletes (like Jaguar Yokota).
Fukawa was like a lot of Idol Wrestlers- meant as a bit of a cute sympathetic “ideal pretty girl” for the fanboys and pervy uncles, and she had some good selling and moves. By the end of her run she’d actually developed really well into a full wrestler, being very carriable by others, if not a huge superstar on her own. Notably, she only ever held one belt, and it was the lowest-tier AJW Tag Title (meant for rookies) as part of TamaFuka, a fun underdog tag team with Rie Tamada that lasted a couple years.
Fukawa wasn’t a really big star, obviously. She honestly seems more prescient of what joshi would become- a thin, short pretty girl in a frilly outfit looks a lot more like what you see in a lot of joshi promotions today- she wouldn’t look out of place in Stardom. Hell, she pretty well debuted in the wrong era- 5-foot-nothing was way too small to be a huge star in the pre-2005 world of joshi.
But by 1999, Fukawa has actually developed into a heck of a worker! She’s easily able to have a great match with Mariko Yoshida that I rated ****1/4, matching her for grappling by using evasion, speed and desperation. Even against Candy Okutsu, she pulls off crazy-good reversals just by getting inside her opponent and slapping on stuff in desperation. “Grapplefuckery” is a very hard style to learn, but I felt she really pulled it off, despite not exactly looking or acting like a shooter. She’d do things like scramble out of any submission latched onto her, rally the fans behind her, slap Yoshida to piss her off and then use the resulting anger to roll her up, etc.- great character stuff. Great last-minute kickouts and the like, too- she really pulls off being an underdog well.
-Yumi Fukawa debuted for All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling in the Class of 1993, and is the only wrestler of her class worth any notes at all. She looks pretty much like it’s only real graduate! The year preceding her was Chaparrita ASARI & Yuka Shiina, and the one after her was Yoshiko Tamura, Misae Genki, Tanny Mouse & Saya Endo. Many/most of those turned out not so fantastic but ASARI was a hot deal for a bit and Tamura got really good. But it was overall a much weaker crop of rookies than in previous years, and it was very, very obvious to look at the generations prior (ending with the Sakie Hasegawa/Kaoru Ito/Tomoko Watanabe year) and these ones.
Fukawa actually fractures her right clavicle and misses the rest of 1993 and ALL of 1994 (clavicle injuries are a BITCH and take forever to heal), and has to re-debut in 1995. Fukawa starts getting a “Hey, here’s this up & comer” story around late 1995 or so, starting out on the undercard getting her ass kicked by any veteran, then the “token kickout of a third-tier move” stuff. She keeps beating the generation after her (Saya Endo, Mari Mogami), but loses to the ones before (plus Tamura starts beating her a bit).
The “TamaFuka” team develops around late 1995, as Rie Tamada from a class a couple years earlier has developed a bit and needs a regular partner, and they show up on a lot of undercards as a duo. Fukawa was still very green (and not physically credible- she was very short AND slender, unlike a lot of the tougher, fitter women before her), but put in a few good performances. In Dec. 1995, TamaFuka won the vacant Japanese Tag Team Titles in a match against hopeless jobbers Nobue Endo & Misae Watanabe and had a huge reign of 272 days (with only three defenses, like against Hiromi Yagi & Kanako Motoya from JWP) before losing to a GAEA Japan tag team- Chikako Nagashima & Sugar Sato. This would be Fukawa’s only title reign ever in an eight year career.
In late 1996, she & Takako Inoue are paired up for Tag League THE BEST 1996, and do pretty okay, but she spends most of 1996 jobbing on house shows. Fukawa’s looks got some attention, and she had a photobook released in 1997. In 1997, she jobs to JWP’s Mayumi Ozaki at a JWP Summer Festival show, in one of her bigger solo matches- it isn’t terribly great and she looks generic more than anything. Most of the year actually features her putting over even YOUNGER generations, dropping falls to Nanae Takahashi & Miho Wakizawa, among others! Manjiimmortal has pointed out that AJW squandered a lot of its best rookies, who blossomed elsewhere- this is what he was talking about.
That summer, however, AJW goes bankrupt and nearly the entire company quits. Fukawa is among them, and she is recruited by Hyper Visual Fighting ARSION, a company centered around AJW’s Aja Kong & Mariko Yoshida and headed by AJW office guy (and future idol-wrestling promoter) Rossy Ogawa. The company, with more of a focus on idol-type wrestlers (something Ogawa was INTENSELY known for and would only get more prominent to the point of dominating the industry), obviously had a role for the person AJW was grooming as the “New Takako”.
Fukawa in ARSION:
-In ARSION, Fukawa has a lot more success right away, defeating wrestlers like Jessie Bennett, Rie Tamada (her old partner) and others- she jobs to Yoshida and other top wrestlers, though. She’s even in the very first ARSION match, having an outstanding match with Candy Okutsu- one of either’s best, where Fukawa keeps going to lightning-quick submission holds and establishes herself as “next level” immediately. She & Michiko Omukai (later the top wrestler of the promotion) form a tag team and challenge for the Twin Stars of ARSION Tag Belts. And by 1999 Fukawa’s actually developed into a very good wrestler, and even gets Yoshida to TAP OUT that September! Yoshida really puts her over in the match, treating her nearly-impromptu submissions like a big deal and gets surprised and hurt and actually gives up. The rest of the year Fukawa seems to drop a lot more falls, however- jobbing to Ayako Hamada (who only debuted the year prior!), Mary Apache, Mikiko Futagami, Tamada and even Omukai- that big win seems like a real outlier.
She was paired up with Minoru Tanaka in an ARSION/Battlarts relationship… and adorably, this led to them getting married in real life.
2000 sees her in the same role as 1999, honestly- Ayako, Etsuko Mita, Mary, Aja Kong, Candy Okutsu, Yoshida… everyone in the midcard on up beats her. She really seems to peak as just a midcarder, able to give a top star a credible challenge before losing. And sadly her career ends in 2000 when after a match in June she visited a doctor who diagnosed her with an acute subdural hematoma and subarachnoid hemorrhage- brain bleeding, more or less. She promptly retires, officially having her last match in March 2001 with Yoshida. I’ve heard she was REALLY upset at this- more or less having to retire ahead of schedule and not even getting a “retirement tour” or anything.
She since found work as an actress and singer, appearing on TV and commercials “to this day” according to Wikipedia, and she married Minoru Tanaka in 2002- their daughter Kizuna Tanaka has debuted for Pro Wrestling WAVE in March 2023. She also mentored Mika Iida (debuted in 2013) and taught fitness in an MMA gym.
Hurricanrana, Cross Armbreaker, Backdrop Suplex Hold
JAPANESE TAG TITLE DECISION MATCH:
RIE TAMADA & YUMI FUKAWA vs. NOBUE ENDO & MISAE WATANABE:
(AJW Monday Night Sensation, Dec. 5th 1995)
* Rookie Mayhem for the lowest-ranked Tag gold in AJW! TamaFuka become a recurring thing around this point, and Rie way outranks anyone here, so I think this is pretty obvious as results go. Gawky Misae’s in white/black, Endo’s in blue/red/white, Rie’s in an orange version of Manami’s gear & Yumi’s in blue/silver.
Yumi gets caught in Endo’s Boston crab, and Rie gets thrown into Misae’s when she interferes. Yumi eats rookie-fu, then Misae does when Rie’s in. Yumi headscissors out of the Rookie-Slaying Bodyslam of Endo’s, but Rie runs into the Samoan drop. Another & a slam gets two, and she keeps bridging out of bodyslams as if to establish that she is no longer a rookie, and need not fear such a lethal move. Misae does atomic drops and awful dropkicks on Yumi, then more rookie-fu as she keeps kicking out, then finally TamaFuka hit a dropkick sandwich on Endo and stereo tornado headlocks on their opponents. Rie keeps fishing for Germans, but the girls keep avoiding it- she settles for a 2nd-rope dropkick for two on Misae, and finally gets that German for three while Yumi deals with Endo (9:54). TamaFuka are the All Japan Tag Champions! Winning their comically-oversized black belts! Very jobbery, and Misae is still WAY too gawky, but I kinda liked Rie repeatedly going for the one move she knew a rookie couldn’t kick out of.
Rating: *3/4 (competent match and didn’t overstay its welcome, but largely a bunch of hairtosses & dropkicks save for Rie’s stuff)
CANDY OKUTSU vs. YUMI FUKAWA:
(ARSION Debut Show, Feb. 18th 1998)
* We start out with the un-retired Candy (a Rossy favorite) going up against Fukawa, a Rossy fave from AJW. She was merely a JTTS in AJW before quitting, but I’ve heard ARSION gave her more of a shot (but not TOO much of one). Candy’s in black & white like usual, but in different gear (like… lacy thong-lingerie over long black shorts and an athletic top), and Fukawa’s in her blue two-piece again.
They start off perfectly for the new promotion by immediately blitzing each other, Fukawa hitting a headscissors into a cannonball and a JB Angels armdrag! This immediately sets the stakes that the kid is REALLY TRYING and is showing the veteran something. Candy reverses her to a submission and keeps on her, outsmarting the faster kid (like missing a charge but catching her with a dropkick to the knee), then hits a cool figure-four/butterfly-lock as they’re clearly doing lucha stuff. Fukawa can’t get anything going but they eventually start doing a pretty good equivalent of the “fake shoot” Grapplefuckery style, showing what ARSION’s point is, as they made every move look like it’s fought for and comes from needling yourself through someone’s guard rather than the AJW-style “just slap on a submission and it works immediately”. Candy eventually does a REALLY good one-armed lift out of a triangle attempt into a powerbomb. Candy gets into the zone, hitting a missile kick into the Kick of Fear, but gets cocky and now FUKAWA has the hold, rolling her forward for the legbar! Fukawa is incredibly persistent, dragging Candy off the ropes over and over again to apply more stuff.
After several minutes of that, a limping Candy catches Fukawa with a kick and missile kicks her again, then counters a German and finally just forearms the shit out of her. I’m liking how she doesn’t really start winning until she just plows forward on something, up-ending Fukawa’d careful strategy with the direct approach. Fukawa catches her roaring, but runs right into a Bridging German for two! But when she hauls her up, it’s a cross-armbreaker from Fukawa! Candy clinches to prevent the full move execution, but gets caught in it again! Fukawa roars up and hits a bizarre Lionsault while Candy’s parallel to her running, which ends up mashing Candy right in the face (lol, check the ref doing the “hey, are you dead?” check) in a painful-looking spot. Candy gets to shake it off for a while, then immediately counters a whip to a lariat, DDT, Moonsault and Straightjacket German… for two! Candy, fully in the lead, finishes her off with two missile dropkicks and a Brainbuster… but never mind! Again it’s two! Even a run-up superplex can’t do it, and time is running down as Fukawa reverses a move to the worst German ever and hits a Moonsault (AGAIN the knees hit the face) for two, then pounces with a cross-armbreaker again! She goes up, but flies right into a Ligerbomb! But Candy sells arm-death from that, too hurt ot capitalize, and when she finally tries something, Fukawa catches her a FOURTH TIME with that move… and it’s Time Over! Fukawa draws with Candy Okutsu at (15:00)!
This was FANTASTIC- the perfect way to start off an upstart promotion- with two low-tier wrestlers going all-out and having a great match. Fukawa in particular has the best match of her career to this point, and looks so good with this all-out effort and actually using SUBMISSIONS to harry the veteran and stronger wrestler. Candy ends up struggling hard and having to resort to just overpowering the kid and using careful timing. I liked Fukawa going for first the leg stuff, then the arm stuff, just trying to find any way to win. And she keeps going back to it as it’s reliable and she’s fast enough to pull it off, while Candy is slower and has to wait for her chances, going back to her own reliable stuff. Great ending with Fukawa desperately trying everything after eating a score of sure-fire finishers (I mean, almost TOO many for such a low-tier wrestler, but Candy was freshly back and it’s not like she hits MDKs in the first place), her two big moves failing but that arm injury acts up and that’s the ballgame. So it comes off like an upset to be a draw, and a rematch to settle things might be in order. A great match made better by the fact that all the technical stuff seemed to at least have a purpose (though Candy never sold the leg much).
Rating: ***3/4 (absolutely outstanding performance- one of the best matches from either)
MARIKO YOSHIDA vs. YUMI FUKAWA:
* Fukawa was an undersized worker who got over in part because of her looks, and was an early jump to ARSION as kind of a rising underdog. This is from a “Sayonara” VHS that details her retirement and best matches, and shows clips of her jobbing to Yoshida in 1998-99. Fukawa’s in teeny blue shorts and a top, while Yoshida’s in the usual.
Yoshida with her arms at her sides, just circling Fukawa, who is ready to go, is a pretty cool “veteran move”- like a total confidence thing of “prove to me I need my guard up, kid”. They both spin out of armholds, but Yoshida RE-spins, but she rolls right into a leghold, but scores a mount and spins around to feint Fukawa out and then starts controlling the arm until Fukawa scrambles out of that and a headscissors to applause. Damn, I love shit like that. Except for a bit of “I’ll lie here until you decide to try your hold” that felt REAL. Fukawa blasts her, but gets caught in a snare (armscissors/bearhug) then eats a double-arm Dominator. Fukawa scores a Rana for two, and hits a hooking clothesline and shouts out to rally the fans (soooo many kids forget stuff like that), but holds her arms out way too far and gets snared again. She rolls and bridges away until she hits a cool ankle-lock with her legs in Yoshida’s arms, but Yoshida schools her again with cool shit. Fukawa keeps trying to pick the ankle but can’t cinch it in. Fun bit as Fukawa throws defiant kicks, which lures Yoshida into grabbing one and getting rolled into a cross-armbreaker. But Yoshida knees her in the nose and hits the waistlock/pumphandle Taz/Steinerplex.
Yoshida tries the Air Raid Crash, but gets caught in a trio of pumphandle backdrop suplexes, the last one being bridged for a two-count. But then she tries to grapple again and Yoshida eats her alive with a vicious keylock, trapping the leg, too- Fukawa even gets a big pop just for getting her leg free! Yoshida transitions to a front facelock with her other hand and Fukawa finally makes the ropes. She counters another Air Raid Crash attempt and they fight over a cross-armbreaker for a while, and once it’s cinched in, Yoshida sells it as complete agony- the crowd gets into it when she starts kicking, and there’s audible disappointment when she rolls over. Fukawa transitions to a crossface, back to the cross-armbreaker, but Yoshida finally escapes… then catches a charging Fukawa with the Air Raid Crash! Yoshida’s shocked to get only two, and locks on the Henkei Sleeper, but Fukawa won’t angle herself right, so they struggle around- a frustrated Yoshida hits a Rings of Saturn to switch it up, and looks FURIOUS when Fukawa makes the ropes- she aggressively drags her to the middle for a powerbomb, but Fukawa slips out and grabs the ankle! Yoshida’s “Oh shit this actually hurts!” face is great, and she has to make the ropes, unable to fight free. Fukawa then SLAPS HER, then brilliantly catches her on the payback by rolling her up- 2.9! Yoshida collapses due to the leghold, then tries an Air Raid Crash but gets caught in ANOTHER leg thing, struggles for the ropes, looks completely agonized… and fucking TAPS (14:20)! YUMI FUKAWA WINS!! Fukawa is just bawling with glee, which is such an awesome bit.
See, now THIS is how you prevent Snare-Demon Yoshida from just eating you alive- Fukawa struggled, rolled, growled and wrenched out of every hold, trying her own stuff (her grabbing and twisting the ankle was legit). Much better than Candy’s stuff, even if Candy had “big moves” to use for her own offense. And Fukawa just had a counter for EVERYTHING, refusing to be pinned down, even trying her own stuff. And Yoshida was better at grappling, but you felt Fukawa could squirm out of any hold. That “slap” bit was brilliant- Fukawa knew Yoshida would do the “pissed veteran” thing and swing back, and thus CAUGHT HER, nearly getting the pin. And when Yoshida got too cocky trying another Air Raid Crash, her leg gave out from prior legwork, and Fukawa snares her again, and that’s the ballgame! The fans didn’t expect that either, and totally mark out for the ending.
Rating: ****1/4 (holy shit, now THIS is the “Grapplefuckery” I can get behind! Fukawa was legitimately awesome in my first real look at her with some experience)
Here’s “Yumi Fukawa Sayonara” released by ARSION when she retired- largely a series of clips from various matches.