Women’s wrestling is said to have come a long way over the past half-decade or so. When the 2010s began, the Divas in WWE were not given the time to have good matches. And in TNA – which was the #2 company in the US at the time and is somehow still alive in 2021 – they had talented women’s wrestlers but they were often relegated to lesser matches because that company’s booking was all over the place.
Things have improved to an extent over the past few years, but the truth is that women’s wrestling had its peak a long time ago. It happened in Japan during the 1990s because – surprise, surprise – women were treated like athletes and combat sports competitors. There was a sense of legitimacy and respect in their craft, which are two things that are only starting to be recognized stateside.
That’s why we’re looking back at another alleged wrestling classic here. It took place almost twenty-eight years ago during a year when All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling was in the midst of a golden age. Their wrestling product has long been lauded as being revolutionary and ahead of its time. And now that a lot of time has passed and another ‘revolution’ has taken place, let’s see if those classics still hold up.
For that reason, today we revisit the double feature between Manami Toyota & Akira Hokuto vs. Kyoko Inoue & Toshiyo Yamada from December 12th, 1993.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
This is a match featuring four of the best women’s wrestlers in the world at the time:
Manami Toyota was quite possibly the most revolutionary wrestler in the world at the time. She was innovative in the ring and unbelievably quick. Although she was mostly known for spamming dropkicks, she also threw crazy suplex variations that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Akira Hokuto was arguably the toughest woman to ever enter a wrestling ring. She fought in a brutal wrestling style and seemed to be a glutton for punishment. Three years earlier, she took a second-rope Tombstone Piledriver and broke her neck. But she didn’t end the match; she continued it as if nothing happened and simply held her head in place with her hands. She was that hardcore and dedicated.
Toshiyo Yamada was Manami Toyota’s regular tag team partner and someone with whom Toyota had a long and storied past. They were bitter rivals at one point and had some high-profile singles matches together. She was more of a martial arts-type wrestler, preferring to use simple kicks and realistic holds over flowery offense and high-flying.
Kyoko Inoue was the biggest woman in this match. She was both heavier and stronger than the other three in the match but she too could run around and land a dive out of nowhere. Oh, and she created the Burning Hammer.
This match took place during an annual December tag tournament called ‘Tag League The Best’. It featured random, thrown-together teams all vying to see which one of them was the best. That was exemplified by this match in particular. Toyota and Yoshida were AJW’s tag team champions, having won the titles together four days before this match took place. And yet, they were on opposing sides in this tournament.
The last two matches were scheduled for the same day. Both teams had the same number of points in the tournament and thus would face off to declare a winner. Why they decided to have two matches instead of one, I don’t know. It doesn’t add up and leaves the viewer confused if both teams score a fall since there’s no tie-breaker. I don’t make the rules, I just review the matches.
After shaking hands, Toyota and Inoue start off by dropkicking each other as the bell rings. Toyota sends her into her corner, Hokuto holds her in place and Toyota lands two massive running dropkicks. They double-team dropkick Inoue some more and Toyota applies an octopus stretch. Toyota rolls into a pin for a one-count and tags Hokuto, who lands a diving ax handle and a piledriver for a one-count. A second piledriver gets her a two-count and she applies a sharpshooter. Toyota tags in and lands a double knee crusher alongside Hokuto. Inoue counters an Irish whip with a fallaway slam and tags Yamada. She lands a flurry of high kicks and a snap butterfly suplex and works over Toyota’s leg. Toyota crawls over to Hokuto for a tag but misses by less than an inch as Yamada drags her away. She kicks Toyota hard in that now-weakened leg and tags Inoue, who lands a torture rack slam and applies a Boston crab. Toyota reaches the ropes but then gets booted in the face by both Inoue and Yamada. They continue double-teaming her with a double stretch muffler and Yamada works over the same bad leg as the five-minute mark passes.
Toyota gets a sudden counter off an Irish whip and gets two off a sunset flip. Yamada slams her hard and sends her into the ropes but Toyota counters with a huge front dropkick and tags Hokuto. Hokuto lands two massive spinkicks to Yamada’s head for a two-count. She gets another two-count off a back suplex and applies a camel clutch and holds Yamada in place as Toyota punks her in the collar. Toyota tags in and they do the same move but with the roles reversed and she also gets a two-count. Toyota dives from the corner with a dropkick but Yamada dodges and tags Inoue. She and Yamada then do the exact same camel clutch/kick combo to both Toyota and Hokuto. Toyota gets taken down with a back suplex as Inoue tags. She lands a running dropkick and goes for a back body drop but Toyota counters with a Manami roll for a two-count. Toyota goes for anther diving dropkick but Inoue counters into a giant swing. She ducks a clothesline and catches Inoue in the rolling cradle that goes on for a long time and gets another two once more.
Ten minutes have passed as Toyota goes to the top rope but gets kicked off by Yamada. She and Inoue land a dropkick/German suplex combo for another two-count and Inoue goes for a slam. But Toyota wrestles out and goes for a Japanese Ocean Suplex. Inoue escapes so Toyota goes for a running dropkick on the ropes. But Inoue dodges and Toyota goes flying out of the ring. Yamada goes to the top rope instead. Hokuto knocks her off climbs up, but then decides against it. As her opponents circle the ring, Toyota jumps onto the top rope, balances herself on it, and lands a springboard plancha to the floor. Hokuto follows that with a diving senton of her own to the floor. These women are insane.
In the ring, Toyota and Hokuto dropkick Inoue from opposing corners and pin. Yamada breaks it up so Toyota goes for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone (bridging electric chair) suplex. Inoue escapes and spikes Toyota on her head with a German suplex. Hokuto tags in and knocks Yamada down. She goes to slam Inoue but Inoue counters into a cradle. Hokuto barely kicks out. Yamada tags in and starts hitting running kicks. Toyota holds her on the ropes on the third one for Hokuto but Yamada dodges at the last moment and Hokuto boots Toyota instead. Yamada and Inoue climb the same corner and hit diving dropkicks to Hokuto. One, two, Hokuto kicks out.
Yamada goes for the vertebreaker but Toyota dropkicks her first. Hokuto comes in and spikes Yamada with a nasty powerbomb. One, two, no, Yamada kicks out. Hokuto slams Yamada and tags Toyota. Snap moonsault, wait, no, Yamada gets her knees up. Inoue drills Hokuto with a lariat before she can attack Yamada. Yamada tags Inoue and she lands another lariat. She goes for a powerbomb. Toyota counters into another Manami roll for two. Inoue counters into a pin of her own. Two-count once again. Inoue and Yamada go to double-team Toyota. Hokuto holds them against the ropes. They still manage to boot Toyota as she comes charging over. Toyota fights out of a double-team powerbomb. Inoue escapes a JOCS and smashes Toyota with a Niagara Driver. One, two, three! There’s the match.
Winners after 15:36: Kyoko Inoue and Toshiyo Yamada
After about a minute or so of recovery time, the second match begins.
Inoue rushes Hokuto into a corner and then dropkicks Toyota as hard as possible. Yamada tags in and lands five backdrop suplexes before Hokuto breaks up her pin. Inoue attacks Hokuto and drags her into the crowd as Yamada lands another backdrop for a two-count. But Toyota doesn’t kick out; she bridges out. Inoue leaves Hokuto for dead way back in the concession area as Yamada suplexes Toyota more and more. Inoue tags in and goes for an Irish whip, Toyota reverses, Inoue jumps onto the top rope for a counter, but Toyota catches her and lands a German suplex. Great sequence. Here comes Hokuto, just in time for the hot tag. German suplex. Inoue kicks out. Northern lights suplex. Inoue kicks out again and somehow takes over with a single leg crab. Hokuto reaches the ropes so Inoue drags her to the middle of the ring and applies another leglock. Yamada tags in and does the stretch muffler swing. She looks like she’s trying to tear Hokuto’s leg out of its socket as she applies the full stretch muffler hold. Hokuto reaches the ropes so Yamada tags Inoue, who applies an ankle lock. Hokuto reaches out for a tag but she’s still too far away. Inoue pulls her back and applies a Romero special that’s locked in for a while until Yamada tags back in.
Five minutes have passed as Yamada puts Hokuto in the corner upside down and kicks at her bad knee. The fans chant for Hokuto as Yamada puts her in another single leg crab hold. Hokuto fights and fights, and eventually reaches the ropes and tags Toyota. Toyota answers an Irish whip from Yamada with a running dropkick. Two more diving dropkicks get her a two-count. bridging front suplex. Yamada kicks out. Bridging butterfly suplex. Yamada gets a shoulder up before the pin can be counted. Toyota answers with a back suplex. Another kick-out. Hokuto tags in and Irish whips Yamada, but Yamada fires back with a jumping 540 kick. She lands one more and follows with a top-rope shoulder tackle. Inoue drags Toyota off the apron as Yamada pins Hokuto. One, two, kickout. Yamada and Inoue go to double-team Hokuto. She ducks them and Toyota lands a missile dropkick on both of them. Toyota Tombstones Inoue. Hokuto tries the same but Yamada reverses it and spikes her instead. Toyota and Hokuto recover ringside. Inoue decides ‘f**k it’ and lands a diving ax handle onto both of them and tosses Hokuto into the ring. Yamada goes for the vertebreaker. Hokuto counters into a victor roll for two. Yamada connects with her finisher this time. One, two, Toyota makes the save.
Inoue tags in and lands a top-rope diving back elbow for two. She goes for a powerbomb but Hokuto fights out and tags Toyota. Inoue reverses an Irish whip, Toyota counters by jumping onto the top rope and lands a moonsault body block. That’s followed by a top-rope diving moonsault block that gets her a very close two-count. Snap moonsault press by Toyota. Inoue kicks out. Hokuto dives onto Yamada at ringside. Japanese Ocean Suplex. Inoue somehow kicks out. Toyota and Hokuto attempt the double diving dropkicks. Inoue dodges and tags Yamada, who lands a diving 540 kick to Toyota. One, two, Toyota bridges out. Yamada and Inoue go for another double-team. Toyota answers with a springboard crossbody onto both of them and tags Hokuto. Hokuto goes for the Northern Lights Bomb. Inoue cuts her off. She and Yamada go for a two-woman superplex. Hokuto counters into a crossbody press for two. Toyota moonsaults off the top rope onto Inoue on the floor. Hokuto goes for her finisher again. Yamada counters into hers. Hokuto counters into a backslide. One, two, Yamada kicks out. Yamada reverses an Irish whip. Hokuto ducks a kick and lands a clothesline. Northern Lights Bomb connects! One, two, three! There’s the match.
Winners of the 1993 Tag League The Best Tournament after 14:49: Manami Toyota & Akira Hokuto
I’ll review both matches together since there’s no reason to distinguish them from one another.
I don’t see how either match could possibly considered 5-stars given the setup and circumstances behind them. This match should’ve been either a two-out-of-three falls match given how it was laid out, or combined into a longer single match with a decisive finish at the end. Instead, it was two short matches – at least by 1990s joshi standards – and neither one really accomplished much in the end.
Both matches were hamstrung by being divided into two separate contests with opposing outcomes. The first match was more even with both sides landing big moves in equal amounts while the second one saw Toyota and Hokuto fighting from beneath. In that sense, the first match was more about pure competition while the second one centered more on drama and story. But by splitting the matches up in the way they did, neither one felt particularly special or unique.
The first match was a more technical affair centered on Toyota battling both Inoue and Yoshida. It was a non-stop counter fest with lots of lightning-quick escapes and transitions that made the women come across as almost superhuman. They packed twenty-five minutes’ worth of action into just over fifteen minutes and they made it look easy. These women really were ahead of their time. Toyota was the centerpiece of the first half as she hit big move after big move on both Yoshida and Inoue while reversing out of almost everything her opponents threw at her. But Inoue and Yoshida’s strategy of isolating her and keeping Hokuto at bay as much as possible proved itself a superior strategy. Despite her legendary motor, Toyota couldn’t handle two opponents that kept double-teaming her so much and she ended up taking the fall off a massive Niagara Driver.
Once the second fall began, things became even more chaotic and hard to follow. Toyota, despite being virtually immobile for two minutes following that Niagara Driver, started bridging out of pins. That direction flew in the face of the story of the match. How was Toyota supposed to come across as a believable face in peril when she was kicking out of big moves with authority and had enough strength left to bridge out? That paradox muddied the match’s story and made it hard to follow, in spite of the rabid crowd that never quieted.
The second match also suffered from a lot of inconsistency from Hokuto. Most of the match centered on her being thrown around like a ragdoll and having her leg worked over. Yet once Toyota came in for the hot tag, Hokuto’s leg problems disappeared. It made sense for this to apply to Toyota since she had the benefit of rest from being on the apron for most of the match. But it made no sense for Hokuto to go from limping around like a one-legged woman to diving from the top turnbuckle to the floor in the span of less than one minute.
This isn’t to say that these aren’t good matches; far from it. Even with all those flaws and the fact that the matches were all over the place, they were still terrific. I’m surprised no one wrestles like this anymore. If you wanted to make an argument about women’s wrestling being on an equal level to men’s, this is better evidence than anything ‘modern’. Even though both matches veered way into the realm of excess and impracticality, they both featured fantastic in-ring action. All four women had their moments to shine. Both teams demonstrated solid tag-team psychology and worked together. There were many great sequences filled with clever counters and impressive technical wrestling. All in all, there were many good moving parts in both these falls; it’s just that when they were all combined together the end result wasn’t as airtight and sound as expected.
Final Rating for the first fall: ****1/2
Final Rating for the second fall: ****1/4
It’s a shame that we have to go almost thirty years back in time to another country to truly experience the best women’s wrestling of all time. I’ve heard a lot of talk and read a lot of arguments on how things have changed for the better in North America since 2014. But the sad truth is that nothing in women’s wrestling that has been showcased in North America over the past decade comes close to what the joshis did back in the 1980s and 1990s. In terms of pure, exciting, unpredictable and sound pro-wrestling, the stuff from AJW and other companies from that era set the bar and have yet to be surpassed. And even though these two matches didn’t really live up to their original hype as perfect 5-star matches, both were still incredibly solid.
With the fandom of pro-wrestling either stagnating or shrinking, depending on who you ask, wrestling companies should do more if they hope to survive. The biggest companies have tried different things to bring in new viewers and the results thus far have been mixed at best. So why not try introducing stuff like what took place in these matches to see if they’ll draw in viewers? It might work, it might not. But I think that trying something new and taking a small risk is better than recycling the same ideas over and over again and expecting different results.
Thanks for reading.