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5-Star Match Reviews: Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue – May 7th, 1995, by Alex Podgorski

This is the one of the greatest women’s wrestling match of all time.

Twenty-five years have passed since this match took place, and nothing has come close to it. These two women did something incredibly special. They put on the endurance contests to end all endurance contests. They managed to wrestle for a full hour at virtually the same pace, and told one of the most exciting wrestling stories of all time.

A lot has happened in the past two decades, especially in women’s wrestling. The joshis had their time and their popularity dropped after peaking when this match took place. They’re still going strong today, but nowhere near the same level of popularity and mainstream appeal as the joshis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But in North America, especially in WWE and smaller high-profile companies, it took a ridiculously long time for women’s wrestlers to be taken seriously. Women like Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, Mickie James, Natalya, Jacqueline, Melina, Beth Phoenix and others had to drag the division through the mud with their teeth during the 2000s and early 2010s. Then came the ‘Total Divas’ era and women’s wrestling reaching a new low. Now, not only were the matches bad and the stories lazy at best, but there was no reason for anyone to care about any segments involving women.

After years of struggling, things finally started changing in 2015, and since then there have been a plethora of great women’s wrestling matches. But the big question that’s still unanswered is, has any of them been good enough to be considered the greatest ever, or does something from over two decades prior still carry the standard?

There was no real story in this match. Toyota held the World Women’s Wrestling Association (3WA) World Singles Championship and Inoue wanted it. Both were determined to win and would go to whatever lengths necessary to do so.

This match originally took place on May 7th, 1995. It was rated five stars by The Wrestling Observer and their voters named it the Wrestling Match of the Year in 1995. It’s for the WWWA World Single Championship, the top championship in All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJPW) and also a title that descended from the original Women’s World Championship that was established by Mildred Burke in 1937. In other words, it’s as prestigious a title as they come in women’s wrestling.

The match

Toyota lands a running dropkick as the bell sounds. A second one sends Inoue out of the ring. She ascends the top rope but Inoue cuts her off and throws her from the turnbuckle to the floor mats below. Wow, that’s a long fall. There was a huge move within the first 30 seconds of the match.

Back in the ring, Inoue lands two vicious clotheslines on Toyota against the ropes. She applies a camel clutch onto Toyota then arches her back to add more pressure. Inoue whips Toyota but Toyota tries a missile dropkick, only for Inoue to block it. She puts Toyota in a painful-looking Boston Crab, and then transitions it into a Liontamer. Inoue follows with a torture rack backbreaker then another camel clutch. The fans chant for Toyota, hoping she can escape. In response, Inoue transitions into a camel dragon sleeper to keep Toyota in place. Inoue continues her relentless assault with a torture rack slam and then locks in a sharpshooter/bow-and-arrow combination hold. Fantastic move combo.

We’re at the five-minute mark as Toyota screams in pain. After she relinquishes the hold, Inoue whips Toyota but runs into a gorgeous springboard crossbody from Toyota. But her attempt at a running dropkick gets blocked by Inoue and, who applies another Boston Crab to destroy Toyota’s back some more. After an incredible struggle, Toyota reaches the ropes. She whips Inoue, who goes for her springboard senton, but Toyota kicks her hard, sending her down. Great counter.

Toyota places Inoue against the ropes and lands two more hard dropkicks to Inoue’s back. Octopus hold by Toyota now. Inoue resists, so Toyota applies a legbar and keeps it cinched in for a long time until Inoue grabs the ropes. Toyota continues to attack Inoue’s legs as we reach the ten-minute mark.

Toyota applies a modified Muta Lock to target Inoue’s legs and back. Then she gets revenge for earlier by applying a bow-and-arrow hold of her own. After releasing it, Toyota attempts an abdominal stretch but Inoue throws her off twice in a row. Toyota reverses a back suplex from Inoue into a rolling cradle that gets a two-count.

Toyota tries climbing the top rope but Inoue cuts her off and hits a German suplex from the turnbuckle. Wow, what a crazy move. That gets a two-count for Inoue. Inoue slams Toyota in preparation for some diving move but Toyota gets up and kicks her off the turnbuckle, sending her to the outside. Toyota charges to the rope but Inoue moves, so Toyota balances herself on the ropes like a pro. Damn, her sense of control is amazing.

Toyota charges with a dropkick but Inoue moves so Toyota flies through the ropes. Inoue clotheslines Toyota ringside and they brawl into the crowd. Inoue then clotheslines Toyota over a barricade and tosses her back into the ring. Inoue slams Toyota down again at the fifteen-minute mark. A diving back elbow gets Inoue a two-count. She goes for a powerbomb but Toyota fights out of it. Toyota kicks Inoue out of the ring then lands a perfect plancha onto Inoue ringside. Amazing.

Back in the ring, Toyota slams Inoue and lands a snap moonsault for a two-count. She teases a Japanese Ocean Suplex but Inoue blocks it. Both blocks each other’s Irish whips until Toyota lands a JCS out of nowhere. Wow, what an unexpected sequence. Toyota bridges for a pin, but Inoue escapes at 2.75. Toyota then teases the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex but Inoue escapes again. Toyota ascends the top rope, but Inoue cuts her off with a hurricanrana for a two-count. The crowd has really come alive at this point as they chant Toyota’s name very loudly.

Inoue teases a Niagara Driver (sitting one-shoulder powerbomb) but Toyota escapes it and reverses a second one with a Manami Roll/Yoshi Tonic that gets another 2.5-count. Inoue’s up first and locks in another Boston Crab as the fans are firmly behind Toyota. She reaches the ropes, so Inoue pulls her back and applies a sharpshooter as we reach the twenty-minute mark.

Inoue continues the pressure with a brutal-looking camel clutch that goes on for a long time. She whips Toyota again, but Toyota ducks a clothesline and goes for a reverse plancha, but Inoue ducks it so Toyota eats the ring canvas. Inoue capitalizes on this mistake with a Romero special/camel clutch combo hold that sends the crowd into a frenzy.

Toyota eventually reaches the ropes and the crowd applauds. Inoue whips Toyota again but Toyota dropkicks Inoue hard. She goes for a splash but eats Inoue’s boot instead. Inoue goes for a diving splash, but Toyota tries to cut her off, only for Inoue to cut her off instead and drops her from the turnbuckle with a gourdbuster. Rough landing.

A diving dropkick from Inoue gets two. Toyota escapes another Niagara Driver and lands a picture-perfect bridging German suplex for another 2-5-count. Inoue avoids another moonsault from Toyota and ascends another turnbuckle but Toyota blocks her again. Toyota goes for a Victory Star Drop but Inoue lands badly. They get up slowly and Inoue brutalizes Toyota with hard clotheslines that send her careening against the ropes.

They both go out of the ring and Inoue applies a Boston Crab to Toyota on the ringside mats. After a struggle, Toyota recovers and tries a diving dropkick out of the ring, but Inoue catches her and nails a giant swing. Some of the other joshis come out to help Toyota and Inoue to make sure they can continue.

They get back to the ring and Inoue lands three diving back elbows for another two-count. Inoue teases a piledriver but Toyota reverses it into a bridging double arm suplex for yet another two-count. Toyota slams Inoue and lands two Muta-style snap moonsaults for a two-count yet again. Two German suplexes from Toyota also get a two-count.

Toyota goes for the Manami roll but Inoue drops her with a massive powerbomb. Inoue charges with a clothesline but Toyota blocks it and sends Inoue out of the ring. She then climbs the rope and lands a diving dropkick onto Inoue. Then she grabs a table and dives through it, but the table doesn’t break. That’s Japanese tables for you. Then she pulls the ring mats aside and drops Inoue with a piledriver onto the floor. Wow, what a big move. But she isn’t done because she does it a second time. Then Toyota tosses Inoue back in the ring and hits a huge shotgun dropkick to the back of Inoue’s head. That was brutal. The ref counts one…two…thr—no, Inoue kicks out at 2.9. Toyota hits two more diving dropkicks for another 2.5-count as we reach the thirty-minute mark.

Another moonsault from Toyota gets a two-count. Toyota then goes for the JOCS again. She lands it perfectly. That’s it. The match is over. The ref counts one…two…thre—no, Inoue kicked out. She kicked out yet again. Toyota places Inoue on the top turnbuckle but Inoue pushes her away. Inoue tries a wrist-lock lariat (almost twenty years before Okada made it cool) but Toyota ducks it and attempts the JOCS again but Inoue escapes. These reversals, man.

Inoue lands a drop toehold and locks in that Romero camel clutch again. Toyota struggles until she reaches the ropes, so Inoue pulls her back and re-applies the hold but grabs the arm this time. Inoue even starts squeezing Toyota’s face and eyes, but Toyota still escapes as the fans chant her name. Inoue whips Toyota and charges but Toyota blocks her, but when she tries a moonsault splash Inoue moves out of the way and locks in the submission hold yet again. It looks like she’s trying to break Toyota’s spine as we reach the thirty-five-minute mark.

Toyota escapes again so Inoue tries a piledriver of her own. When that fails she drills Toyota in the head with a big lariat, sending her down. Inoue ascends the top rope but Toyota fights back. She tries for a superplex but Inoue reverses it and lands an avalanche Michinoku driver. Holy shit, what a move. That gets another two-count. Good God, these women are tough.

Inoue goes for another Niagara Driver, no, it’s reversed. Manami Roll! Another two-count for Toyota. Toyota climbs the ropes but Inoue cuts her off and lands a double-arm suplex for another two-count of her own. Inoue hits 2 short-range clotheslines in a row for another two-count. Then she picks Toyota up. NIAGARA DRIVER connects! The referee counts one…two…thre—NO, Toyota kicks out. Toyota escapes another Niagara driver and both women escape outside the ring at the forty-minute mark.

Both women recover ringside as the other joshis come to their aid. They’re both given water and get looked at to make sure they can continue. Inoue makes it in first and Toyota gets in at the count of 19. Inoue picks her up and drops her with a spinning backbreaker slam. But when Inoue goes for the pin, Toyota doesn’t just kick out but she bridges out. Damn, what endurance.

Inoue tries to whip Toyota, but she reverses this into a springboard flying sunset flip. My God, what an amazing counter. Yet Inoue also still kicks out. This is insane. Toyota isn’t done. Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex AGAIN! But Inoue still kicks out.

Toyota dropkicks Inoue out of the ring she charges but stops midway through. Her leg’s giving her problems, I’m not sure if it’s part of the match or genuine pain. That’s how crazy and well-executed this match has been.

Toyota tries a charge but Inoue clotheslines her down then suplexes her over the rope and outside. They brawl ringside briefly then they return to the ring. Inoue whips Toyota but she reverses it, so Inoue tries to land on the top rope Toyota-style, but Toyota dropkicks her in the ass and Inoue goes flying out of the ring. Suicide dive by Toyota followed by a diving knee from the top rope. This chick is nuts. Diving plancha by Toyota. And an Asai moonsault from the top rope! Toyota balanced herself on the top rope. How is she doing all of this?

Both of them get into the ring at the count of 18. Avalanche double-arm suplex from Toyota, but that gets a two-count. Suddenly Inoue gets a second wind, knocking Toyota down with clotheslines. Four brutal clotheslines in a row only get Inoue a two-count. Toyota escapes one powerbomb but can’t escape a second one. Inoue pins but Toyota bridges out at two once again.

They get up slowly at the fifty-five-minute mark. Toyota reverses an Irish whip into a sunset flip pin for another two-count. She places Inoue on the top turnbuckle and German suplexes her hard. Toyota lands one German suplex but Inoue reaches the ropes before she can land another. There are three minutes left as Toyota triers the JOCS but she’s too tired to land the move. Inoue kicks out at two after yet another German suplex. Toyota with a diving splash that gets another two-count. Inoue reverses a whip into the corner and lands a diving DDT, first in the ring and then again from the apron to the floor. Wow, yet another great move.

We’re down to the final minute as they return to the ring. They struggle. Toyota’s trying to avoid another Niagara Driver. But she can’t. Inoue lifts her and plants her with that devastating move. The ref counts one…two…thr—no, Toyota kicks out. Twenty seconds left. Toyota tries to place Inoue on the top rope for another big move. She’s going for some sunset flip powerbomb from the top rope. She has the legs hooked. She’s about to land the move, when the bell rings. Time’s up.

Match result: 60-minute draw. Toyota retains her title.

Post-match, the fans give both women a standing ovation and chant ‘Zen-jo’, meaning ‘AJW’

Review

Holy Shit! That was insane. It was epic. I’m almost at a loss for words on what an amazing feat of athleticism that was. Two women wrestling at virtually the same pace and speed for sixty full minutes. This wasn’t just an ironman (ironwoman?) match; it was a total war that combined incredible speed with unbelievable athleticism and a level of realism rarely seen in women’s matches.

These two women were so far ahead of their time. They did things in this match that haven’t been replicated anywhere else in over two decades. They kept reversing out of each other’s big moves so much that you couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen. Watching the match you had no idea how it was going to end and when. Even when it became obvious they were going the full hour, they were both so exhausted and weakened that any move could be enough to score the deciding fall. They kept you on the edge of your seat with so many quick pins, amazing reversals and twists and turns in the story they were telling.

What’s more, they added a level of realism that sold the brutality of the match incredibly well. Both Toyota and Inoue had to recover ringside more than once. And when they did, their fellow wrestlers swarmed them to make sure they were ok. They were given water and were checked on to make sure they could continue. This was especially true for Toyota. She had people checking on her leg more than once, and at one point even stopped a charge because her leg started hurting. It was a small detail but it told so much. It was impossible to tell whether that pain was part of the story or legitimate. That’s how well it was done. not only did it underscore how much pain both of them were going through to win this match, but it also added an additional layer of drama. Would Toyota be able to continue? And did she still have it in her to land enough offense to keep Inoue down for the three-count?

Some people might consider these high-speed joshi matches hard to follow because of their speed. But in this case, that speed was juxtaposed with an awesome level of psychology and storytelling that gave the match greater meaning. Inoue just destroyed Toyota’s back with brutal submission holds throughout the match, making it harder for Toyota to do any big suplexes. That’s why she relied so much on dropkicks, diving moves and reversing Inoue’s big moves instead of landing her own. She had to adapt to how Inoue had damaged a part of her body and had to make do with whatever she had left.

Final Rating: *****

Dave Meltzer says many things that are contentious at best, but there is one statement of his we can all definitely agree on: Manami Toyota is one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, regardless of gender. She and Inoue put on an incredibly epic match that set the bar so high for women’s wrestling that it hasn’t been reached in twenty-five years.

This is, hands down, one of the greatest women’s wrestling match of all time. It was so special and intense that it blows everything after it (and indeed, a lot of stuff before it) out of the water. Toyota and Inoue were just awesome in this match and they still managed to elevate themselves even further. They were so evenly-matched that going a full hour wasn’t enough to crown a decisive winner.

This is a must-see for any wrestling fan, not just fans of women’s wrestling. Toyota and Inoue built the match up in such a way that every pin attempt left you on the edge of your seat. They threw everything they had at each other and built the match around their moments of exhaustion instead of around their signature moves. Watching them try to push themselves up to keep going was downright heroic. They were both dead tired at the 45-minute mark but both of them still said to themselves, ‘I’m not done yet’.

Even after twenty-five years, this match is still as epic now as it was back then. It’s a true classic and a perfect way to enjoy the legendary joshi wrestling style.

You can check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Review series right here. Thanks for reading.