Welcome welcome, boys and girls. I’ve gathered you all here today for a very special history lesson very near and dear to my heart. That subject is Joshi (of Japanese Women’s) Wrestling, and the list is of the greatest stars of that particular wrestling genre. Now I know that Japanese wrestling isn’t everyone’s cup of sake, and women’s wrestling is much the same, so when you read the title of this list you might have thought to yourself “Ugh, another Puro review and now its about chicks?” or perhaps even sadly “Joshwhatnow?” Its a fair point that in North America, women’s wrestling still struggles on for credibility, especially among casual fans of WWE, but these are no Barbie dolls or models, my friends. These women represent some of the greatest wrestlers that the industry has ever beheld. These women showed that you could be beautiful (or not) and still not only be as good as the men, but could completely make them look silly by comparison. These women built a national sensation from scratch and made it so beloved that its stars are still revered in Japanese culture to this day. These women are absolute fucking badasses.
Don’t believe me? See how you feel after you’ve met the five best. So clear some time in your busy day of Angry Birds and masturbation, and pay some attention and some damn respect to the five greatest Joshi wrestlers of all time.
Its the eternal question. Would a hero be a hero without a villain? For every great hero in all forms of media, there always exists an ultimate foil for them, to challenge them in ways nobody else can. Batman has the Joker, GI Joe had Cobra Commander, Rocky had Apollo, Hulk Hogan had Roddy Piper and the Crush Gals had Dump Matsumoto.
Emerging from obscurity in the early 80s like a bat out hell, Matsumoto wasted absolutely no time in placing the entire AJW roster on notice, as she left a path of wanton destruction in her wake on her way to the top. By 1983 she had already become World Champion, but the feud that would truly define her wouldn’t roll around until the mid 80s when she became formally acquainted with Chigusa Nagayo and her partner Lioness Asuka and the sensation that was the Crush Gals. Throughout the rest of the decade Matsumoto would wage war against these incredible babyfaces with a number of partners (including a wet behind the ears Bull Nakano). To say that she was the perfect foil to them is to almost misunderstand the point entirely. She didn’t earn boos, she started RIOTS. Matsumoto utilized hardcore tactics and sadistic bullying techniques that were quite simply ahead of her time, including shaving the head of the most popular member of the most popular tag team in wrestling history; a move which nearly caused fans to rush the ring. At the peak of her fame, she even found herself in the WWE for a short while, completely turning the stereotypes that company demands of their women on their head and introducing Bull Nakano to American audiences for the first time.
Like many others, Matsumoto retired in the late 80s as the Joshi phenomenon began to wear itself out, and left behind a career filled with terror and pain for any who dared cross her or her rogue’s gallery of friends. And like all great heels everywhere, to this day she is remembered fondly by Japanese audiences for her skill and brass balls the size of a pickup truck. Its no surprise that when Sega wanted to release a wrestling game in Japan in the 90s, hers is the number they called. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Promotions Worked For: AJW, WWE
Championships Held: AJW Championship (1 time), WWWA Tag Team Championship (2 time)
To be perfectly honest with you, it would be irresponsible for me to even tell you about Aja Kong, as mere descriptions of her titanic badassery appearing on your computer may be enough to void its warranty. But Irresponsible is my middle name (possibly), so let’s get to it.
Now when looking at Aja Kong’s career, its important to realize exactly how earmarked for success she was right from the beginning. She was trained by Jaguar Yokota and the AJW wrestling school, and when she graduated she immediately began learning how to be a monster by joining Dump Matsumoto’s stable (the Atrocious Alliance) and staying by her side until Matsumoto’s retirement in 1988. Indeed, you could see Dump’s influence on Kong through the career that followed as Kong grew more and more into the role of an anti authoritative, punked out killer in the ring as times rolled on into the 90s, the decade that would prove to be hers as much as any other wrestler’s. After losing a tag match with her partner in 91 and having her head shaved, there was no looking back for Kong, and she began merking people with a fire never before seen among Joshi wrestlers.
Through the years she kept up her reputation for badassery, producing perhaps the most accolade filled career of any of her peers, and even being brought in by WWE to wrestle a match at Survivor Series 1995 (where she was the sole survivor and pinned every member of the other team, naturally).
She was even destined to face the Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze at the Royal Rumble, but unfortunately Blayze got fired before Kong could backfist her into the 8th dimension. So instead Kong came back to Japan, and just opened up her own promotion ARISON, which she presided over with an iron backfist until 2001 when one day on live television she just announced that she quit and wandered off in the middle of a match for her own company. Like a boss.
Since then she hasn’t done much. Except, you know, serving as the inspiration and head trainer for Awesome Kong and Ayako Hamada, who I hear turned out okay.
But even that wasn’t enough to sate the bloodlust, so just this year she made her return to the United States for CHIKARA’s Joshimania event, showing a whole new generation of women just what it means to tangle with the Rial Queen.
Aja Kong was a great wrestler, of that there’s no doubt. But more than that, she may be the best monster that wrestling has ever seen and might ever see. For many wrestlers, its hard to earn respect from their peers and fear from their fans. For Kong, it was Tuesday.
Like a boss.
Note: This match begins as a series of 5 singles matches between wrestlers from AJW (Kong’s team) and wrestlers from JWP to determine which company is superior, and then becomes a massive tag team match further into it.
Far back into the earliest days of Joshi, there was a tag team called the Beauty Pair (Jackie Sado and Maki Ueda) who really put the concept on the map on a national scale. There were beautiful and bad mamajamas and watching them inspired a young girl named Rimi Yokota to train to become a wrestler just like them. She was a such a natural talent that this took even less time than she expected, and by the time she was 19 she had already beaten her idol Jackie Sado for the WWWA World Heavyweight Championship and had become the top Joshi star in the world. For the next two years she broke faces and hearts as World Champion before losing the title ultimately to La Galactica who was actually just noted Marvel villain Galactus in a rhinestone wig. But this was only the beginning for Yokota who is the next few years made a name for herself as an unbelievably talented and charismatic wrestler in feuds with greats like Devil Masami and Lioness Asuka and was instrumental in putting over the Crush Gals.
Unfortunately in 1985 she retired due to injury at the ripe old age of 24, and for many people their story would stop there as another white hot career cut sadly short by injury, but the Jaguar doesn’t play like that. She tried to figure out what she could do to help Joshi and AJW and settled on opening a wrestling school for them which only turned out the majority of the greatest Joshi wrestlers of all time, including 2 other women on this list (Manami Toyota and Aja Kong). When that got too boring in the 90s, she decided to lace up the boots, doctors be damned, and kick people in the face for a living again in her own damn company named Yoshimoto Pro (or Jd’). Then she married a rock star, because honestly, why not?
Ultimately, she will be remembered as the first truly great wrestler that the Joshi movement ever had, and served as the bridge between the era of the Beauty Pair and the era of the Crush Gals, influencing everyone who saw her along the way. Other women did more, other women had more, but no other woman perhaps in wrestling history, has been as influential as Jaguar Yokota.
Quick! Name all of the wrestlers who became crossover pop culture superstars. Hulk Hogan? Yes, good. The Rock? Absolutely. Ludvig Borga? Where did that come from? Anyway, if you were making a list of such people who have achieved success on that level within the wrestling industry, it would not be a long list. But it certainly would feature the Crush Gals.
In 1983 two young up and comers named Lioness Asuka and Chigusa Nagayo joined forces together as the Crush Gals, and from that point forward the Joshi world would never be the same. Almost overnight the two become a national sensation, not just among wrestling fans, but among little girls all over Japan. They made Joshi wrestling into the coolest thing on the block and the fans responded, with record attendance and television ratings seemingly every week. Not only that, but they were also both incredible in ring performers and had a very rare natural chemistry together that led to some of the most exciting tag team matches in wrestling history against the Jumping Bomb Angels and more especially their arch rival Dump Matsumoto and her slew of monster partners. They tore things up across the country for nearly 7 years before finally imploding, leading to a classic feud between them that sent them both off of the road to singles wrestling superstardom.
Their relevance to pop culture can’t be stated enough here. There has never been a tag team anywhere in the world, male or female, that rivaled these two in terms of actual popularity on a mainstream level. They were goddamned everywhere in the 80s, from tv shows, to magazines, to actually releasing albums that, no shit, were actually enormous hits on their own.
These weren’t just wrestlers, they were superstars, and unbeknownst to much of the Western world, they were a Hulk Hogan phenomenon all on their own at the same time in history.
When speaking of many of the women on this list, it has frequently been a challenge just to condense their accomplishments and accolades in some kind of worthwhile summary. There have been others where it was a struggle to encapsulate exactly what it is about them that made them leap off of the screen and mark themselves as special. There have been still others for who are widely unknown, even among current fans of women’s wrestling, so it was difficult to get across exactly how significant they are in the context of history.
I hope you guys enjoyed the history lesson as much as I enjoyed watching back through the matches in order to bring it to you. Just remember these matches and these women the next time you watch TNA give their Knockouts about 8 seconds worth of screen time or the next time WWE signs a model to wrestle and contemplate on how just different things could be. Til next time, friends.