Thanks to Triple H, Sara Del Ray and a simple twitter hashtag #GiveDivasAChance, the WWE have taken women's wrestling seriously over the last few years. They've dropped the idiotic term of Divas, in favor of calling them Superstars (as equal to the men). They've replaced that hideous pink butterfly Diva's Championship and given them the Women's Championship back (with a design equal to the main men's titles). No longer are they treated as eye candy wrestling in 30 second matches, they've even been given PPV main events and are about to get their own, all women's PPV.
Sure, they were 20 years late to the party, but at least they've gotten there. All Japan Women (AJW) had been around since 1968, but the popularity exploded in the 1980's, they drew huge crowds and TV ratings thanks to the tag team of The Crush Gals. They were pop culture sensations with multiple top 10 hits in Japan, and also inspired a lot of young Japanese women to become wrestlers. The amount of promotions skyrocketed from just one in 1986, to at least eight by 1998.
AJW had incredible wrestlers through the 80's and 90's, and they were putting on the best wrestling matches in the world, regardless of gender. Manami Toyota is arguably the greatest wrestler of all time, between 1991 and 1995 she was awarded 17 five star matches in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and was awarded match of the year in both 1993 and 1995. She was one of the most innovative wrestlers ever (and I'd have to put her at number one on that list). Not only was her athleticism a thing of beauty, with picture perfect high flying and being able to bridge seemingly any suplex, but she was also one of the best ever when it came to selling for her opponents.
My personal favorite was Bull Nakano, she was absolutely incredible, a monster heel who brutalized her opponents. She had the perfect look with long spiked up hair and her face half painted, she looked like a demon that was going to kill you. She wrestled for the WWF and WCW as well, working almost exclusively with Alundra Blayze/Medusa. They were just undercard wrestlers in the states and, while they had good matches, they were very rushed and didn't do any special spots. Nonetheless it was my introduction to Bull and I thought she was amazing and wanted to see her at her best, I was able to do that years later thanks to YouTube.
So let's take a look at a few matches.
Manami Toyota vs Bull Nakano (July 21, 1990)
This seems like a good place to start. These two didn't have many matches together and this is the only match between these two I could fine. It's their first one, I know they had at least two others, one in 1993 and another in 1994 but I can't find footage of either. This was early in Toyotas run, and I believe her first shot at the WWWA Title.
Toyota cheap shots Bull, oh that's a bad idea. She starts fast with a series of dropkicks but they don't phase Bull who knows her down with a vicious lariat and arrogant cover for 2. She kicks away and hits a choke bomb for 2. Toyota tries to quicken the pace again but Bull doesn't give a shit about any of it. Toyota is outmatched and she's starting realize she needs to try something else. Toyota eventually gets her down with a leg scissors but Bull doesn't give a shit about that either. Suplex gets 2, and she stretches Toyota on the mat. Manami kicks her away but Bull swats her down and kicks the crap out of her. Backdrop attempt is reversed for 2. Bull goes for the legs now but Toyota makes the ropes. Lariat gets 2, followed by a powerbomb for 2. Toyota finally takes her down with an armbar, and hits a missile dropkick and reverse crossbody for 2. Bull bridges a back suplex for 2 and goes up herself and takes Toyota down. Up top again she misses a leg drop and Toyota rolls her up for 2. Toyota dumps her outside and tries a plancha, but misses. Bull casually gets back in the ring while Toyota in struggling outside. On the apron Bull takes her up top but Toyota fights out. Dive off the top is reversed for 2. Nothern Lights Suplex gets 2. Toyota reverses a lariat into a german for 2, she tries to quicken the pace again but gets a lariant. She counters Bulls powerbomb for 2 but Bull reverses. Brutal lariat kills Toyota and Bull finishes with a Powerbomb at 9:08.
Bull was a total unstoppable monster here, shrugging off Toyota at the start with the attitude, 'is that all you've got? You're gonna have to do way more than that', and Toyota does, and ends up taking her down a few times, but ultimately she was no match for Bull and never had a chance. This was just really just a glorified squash, but a damn entertaining one, and one of the better sub 10 minute matches you'll ever see. (****1/4)
Bull Nakano vs Akira Hokuto (January 4, 1991)
I couldn't find this match on YouTube anymore, I guess it's been removed, but I did find it on Veoh. Bulls about a year into her run as WWWA Champion here and to say she was a dominant champion would be an understatement.
Watch the full match HERE.
Hokuto starts fast with a german suplex, she goes for a splash off the top but misses. Bull catches her with a press slam and shows how strong she is. After a quick exchange of near falls Bull takes her outside and brutalizes her, eventually finding a hammer and smacking Hokuto in the face with it. She goes back in and casually takes a drink while Hokuto struggles back in. Bull controls but Hokuto fights back with a lariat and slaps, Bull doesn't give a shit about that strikes her down and brutalizes her some more. She chokes her on the mat, pulls her up and takes her the ropes and bites her, drawing blood. Hokuto fights back and gets a cover for 2, but Bull catches her in a head scissors. She lets her out of that and moves to a rear naked choke. Hokuto fights out of it and catches Bull in a Crab, she tries to turn it into a Surfboard but that's not happening, she goes to a Camel Clutch and Bull bites her hand and rolls back into a cover for 2. Bull takes over with her own Crab. I love how casual she is about it. She just lets her out of it and pulls her up so she can knock her down again. Scorpion death lock is next and she pulls the hair for good measure. This time Hokuto comes back and catches an armbar. Bull kicks her in the head a few times and she releases it, Hokuto pulls her and whips her into a dropkick for 2. Awesome Piledriver from Hokuto gets 2 and she goes to a Sleeper. Bull again, kicks her in the head to get out of it. A pair of nice suplexes get 2. She kicks Hokuto out of the ring and climbs to the top rope and dives outside on her in an awesome spot. She goes back in and looks dominate while Hokuto struggles back in. Bull goes up to the turnbuckle and drops a legdrop, and follows that with piledriver. She goes and misses another leg drop and Tiger Suplexed for 2. Now it's her turn to go up top and she nails Bull with a great looking front dropkick. She follows it up with 3 more but it only gets 2. She puts her head down too early off a whip and gets caught in a DDT. Bull to the second rope with a springboard leg lariat, she tries it again and gets kicked out of the ring. Hokuto up top and hits a somersault plancha to take Bull down. She goes back in, but she's exhausted. Bull struggles back in. Hokuto goes up but gets taken down. Bull goes up to the second rope, someone (I think it's Kyoko Inoue) comes in and helps, she lifts Hokuto onto Bull and Bull hits an insane second rope tombstone piledriver and Hokuto is dead, holy shit. The referee won't count due to the interference, so pulls her up and Powerbombs her, now he'll count but it only gets 2. Bull goes up but Hokuto somehow gets up and gets a superplex for 2. She pulls Bull up but misses a leg lariat and Bull suplexes her and that's enough for the 3 count at 18:33.
Incredible, every move they did was crisp and the high spots were fantastic, that second rope tombstone was absolutely insane. They told the classic monster vs pluckly babyface story with a level of intensity you rarely see. Hokuto kept up with Bull right to the end and pulled out all the stops, but in the end, the monster proved to be too big to slay. (****3/4)
Manami Toyota vs Toshiyo Yamada - Hair vs Hair (August 15, 1992)
This is the blow off to their long feud, not only for the IWA title, but also hair vs hair.
They start kicking away looking for an advantage, none get one so they start again and Yamada takes her down with an armbar. Snap suplex gets 2. On the mat and Manami gets the advantage. Slam and leg drop, but Yamada rolls her up for 2. Toyota off the tops with a drop kick and follows it with an underhook suplex for 2. The reverse submission holds on the mat and Yamada gets the better of it. She pulls her up and kicks away in the corner. Sideslam gets 2 and she goes for a stretch muffler and ends up standing her up in that position, spins her and drops her for 2. Back up Toyota takes her down and goes for a surfboard. Yamada rolls back to break. Back up, powerbomb by Yamada gets 2. She whips Toyota but gets reversed and rolled up for 2. Off the ropes and Yamada takes her down with a kick, she keeps her down with some more kicks to the leg and the back. Snap suplex and she just kicks the crap out of her back. The final blow is a big leg lariat for 2. Back to the submissions this time with a half crab. Toyota looks like she in complete misery but won't give up. Yamada pulls her up, backbreaker gets 2 and she continues kicking Toyotas back. Another half crab but Toyota won't give up. She goes for something off the second rope but misses. Toyota follows up with a succession of missile dropkicks, crazy. In the corner and she hits a suplex off the second rope and bridges the cover for 2. Another bridged suplex gets 2. She goes up again and hits a moonsault for 2. Yamada comes back with a German suplex for 2. Toyota goes up but gets pushed off, Yamada goes for her but gets her rammed into the turnbuckle. Toyota goes up again but misses and Yamada gets 2 out of it. Dragon suplex gets 2. Backbreaker attempt is reversed and Toyota hits her own Dragon for 2. Yamada rolls her up for 2 and goes up but gets kicked outside. On the apron and Toyota kicks her down and hits a springboard moonsault to the outside. Back in with a German suplex for 2. Dragon suplex gets 2 and she can't believe it. She goes up and hits a moonsault for 2. She pulls her up and whips her but Yamada gets a leg lariat and fires up. She hits about 5 saito suplexes to kill Toyota, but the cover only gets 2. Leg lariat is missed, Toyota goes for a roll up and it's countered for 2. Yamada goes up and scores a leg lariat. Toyota goes out and Yamada goes up and hits a cross body to the outside. Toyota slowly gets back to apron but gets pulled to the top and arm dragged down for 2. A crazy series of reversals with Yamada trying to hit her Reverse Gory Bomb and Toyota trying to hit the Ocean Cyclone Suplex follows. No one wins that battle, but Toyota rolls her up for 2. Yamada is done with nothing left and Toyota hits the Ocean Cyclone Suplex to finish at 19:45. We're not done yet, Yamada sits in the chair and waits for the haircutting and Toyota has a change of heart and doesn't want it to happen. She grabs the scissors and cuts a chunk of her own hair, both are brought to tears and she begs them not to shave Yamada. She tries to stop it but it's to avail, she gets held back and the head shaving goes ahead. After it's done both of them hug and bow to each other.
This was everything I love about pro wrestling. A masterpiece from beginning to end. The methodical start with all the vicious kicks and submissions and when these two hit top speed they are just insane. Beating the shit out of each other and suplex after suplex and high flying moves. Eventually culminating with a great finishing sequence of desperate counters and Toyota finally finishing the exhaused Yamada off. You can't ask for more, but we got it in the post match, which is one of the most emotional and heartwarming moments you'll ever see in wrestling. (*****)