5-Star Match Reviews: Manami Toyota vs. Mima Shimoda – AJW Grand Prix 1995

manami toyota ajw 1995

As I write this in April 2022, the shroud of WrestleMania 38 is finally passing by. That show was a mixed bag, but the general consensus appears to be that Bianca Belair put on the best match of the entire two-night event. It’s hard for me to disagree with that; that match was so different from typical WWE women’s matches.

It had more pinfalls, high-risk moves, stiffer offense, and far more raw tension. In other words, it came across less like a WWE match and more like a joshi match.

I’ve said it many times before; the women that wrestled in Japan during the 1990s were something special. More times than not, the joshi matches of the 1990s put pretty much everything seen in modern WWE to shame. Those 1990s women were lightyears ahead of their time and their matches still hold up amazingly well today.

But is that the case with all 90s joshi matches. Are all of them still head-and-shoulders above what has come in their wake? Let’s find out.

Today we revisit the singles match between women’s wrestling legend Manami Toyota and Mima Shimoda from July 23rd, 1995.

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.

The story

Toyota and Shimoda were part of the same graduating class of AJW wrestlers. They both debuted on the exact same day: August 5th, 1987. But that’s largely where the similarities between them end. Toyota went on to have a glorious and highly successful career. She won multiple women’s singles and tag titles, multiple tournaments, and was basically showered with praise both within Japan and without. To this very day, Toyota is still widely considered one of the best women’s wrestler of all time.

Shimoda, on the other hand, accomplished much less. She was basically a lower midcarder in AJW and achieved far less success. In fact, these two women were once a tag team called the Tokyo Sweethearts when they were rookies. But after they split, Toyota went on to achieve significantly greater success, both as a singles wrestler and as a tag team alongside new partner Toshiyo Yamada. In that sense, Shimoda became the Jannetty to Toyota’s Shawn Michaels.

Determined to turn her career around, Shimoda sought to beat Toyota one-on-one. But that was a monumentally difficult task, especially in 1995. Toyota was on fire that year and had already put on two of her best career best performances. Not only that, but going into this match she was also the defending WWWA World Single Champion. That was arguably the most prestigious and respected women’s title in the world, especially since it was descended from the original Women’s World Championship won by Mildred Burke in 1937.

So Toyota carried the weight of history around her waist going into this match, even though it was non-title. But could she put down Shimoda like she had put down so many other women? Or would Shimoda’s desire for revenge and redemption carry her to victory over arguably the best women’s wrestler to ever live?

The match

Toyota rushes Shimoda before the bell has rung and throws her to the floor. She piledrives Shimoda onto the ringside mats and sets her up on a table. Toyota climbs to the top rope as the bell rings and goes for a diving splash. But Shimoda kicks her in midair and then scoop slams her from the apron onto the table. Shimoda takes over with some brawling into the crowd, then throws chairs at Toyota and lands a ringside piledriver of her own.

Back in the ring, Shimoda rushes Toyota and whips her across the ring. She does a corner standing foot choke which gets lots of applause and then snapmares into a chinlock. Toyota sits out but Shimoda keeps her legs wrapped around Toyota and tries to pull her hair. Toyota twists around and slaps Shimoda around and then hairpull throws her across the ring. Toyota then does the same foot choke on Shimoda to get revenge for earlier, and then does another one that involves snaking Shimoda through the ropes. Toyota follows with a delayed butterfly suplex and pins for a one-count and Shimoda hits back with arm-flailing slaps. But those only manage to tick Toyota off as she hits back just as hard. Shimoda goes for some rope-assisted choke but botches it, then hits a top-rope crossbody for a two-count.

Five minutes have passed as Shimoda locks in a Boston crab. But this isn’t a normal Boston crab; Shimoda sits way back and stretches Toyota more than pretty much anyone else I’ve ever seen in this hold. She uses one leg to kick Toyota’s ribs and then switches to a single leg crab, and then decides to smash Toyota’s face into the canvas. Shimoda follows with another piledriver for another two-count and applies a chinlock but Toyota escapes by kicking Shimoda’s face in. Shimoda answers with kicks to Toyota’s spine and then sends Toyota into the ropes. But Toyota counters by jumping onto the top rope and hitting a springboard crossbody. Damn, this woman was nuts back in her prime.

Toyota hits some running big boots to keep Shimoda down and then locks in a camel clutch. She sits back to bend Shimoda’s back in a very unnatural way, but then again these women were trained to withstand this sort of thing. Shimoda tries escaping by elbowing Toyota’s thighs and knees but Toyota resists and tightens the hold. Shimoda eventually escapes but Toyota answers with brutal Kawada-style spine kicks, followed by an equally-painful-looking underhook Muta Lock. The ref makes her release the hold so she switches to a bow-and-arrow hold but Shimoda escapes. In response, Toyota sends Shimoda into a corner but Shimoda hits a second-rope crossbody press for a one-count at the ten-minute mark.

Shimoda chokes Toyota on the ground and then applies a hangman’s choke in the corner. That’s followed by a diving shotgun dropkick that gets a two-count and then a choke using the ropes. Shimoda tries clawing and stretching Toyota’s face and then hits a backdrop suplex for another two-count. Toyota gets a ropebreak to escape another chinlock and then counters a corner whip with a second-rope dropkick. She follows with a second one and pins for two. Shimoda holds onto the ropes off an Irish whip and ducks and sends Toyota to the floor. Suicide dive through the ropes by Shimoda.

Toyota eventually makes it to the ropes and kicks Shimoda on a charge. Shimoda blocks another diving dropkick and lands an avalanche double-underhook suplex for another two-count. Toyota blocks a second Backdrop suplex and goes for a rolling cradle but Shimoda gets to the ropes. they reverse each other’s Irish whip and then Toyota counters into a successful rolling cradle for two. Toyota slams Shimoda and goes for a snap moonsault. Shimoda goes for a block but Toyota cuts her off. diving moonsault…misses. Shimoda lands a missile dropkick for yet another two-count. Toyota ducks a clothesline. Shimoda elbows out of a German suplex and tries another Irish whip. Toyota counters into a Japanese Ocean Suplex (bridging double hammerlock suplex). One, two, Shimoda survives and tries to block another diving dropkick. But she fails and Toyota hits it, sending Shimoda careening across the ring. One, two, ropebreak by Shimoda.

Toyota sends Shimoda into a corner and dropkicks her in the back as she tries to land another springboard counter. Shimoda falls to the floor and Toyota gets a running start. She charges, balances herself on the top rope, and lands a picture-perfect plancha to the floor. Toyota takes over as she slams Shimoda onto the exposed floor. The crowd chants for Shimoda as Toyota plants her with a bridging German suplex in the ring. One, two, Shimoda kicks out. Toyota tries again. Shimoda counters into a German of her own for another two-count. Another missile dropkick from Shimoda bends Toyota in half but she still kicks out at two. Boston crab. Toyota survives so Shimoda back suplexes her on the ringside mats. Four times, once for each side of the ring so the fans can get a perfect view of Shimoda destroying Toyota.

Shimoda waits for Toyota to recover and teases the Greco-Roman test of strength and then cheap-shots her with an elbow when she gets close. Irish whip by Shimoda. Toyota counters with a Manami Roll/Yoshi Tonic. Both women collapse but Shimoda pins first. One, two, kick-out. Backdrop suplex. Toyota kicks out again. Another Backdrop suplex. Shimoda waits for Toyota to get back up by sitting down like CM punk. She goes for a lariat. Toyota ducks and lands another bridging German for a close two-count. Running tree of woe dropkicks. Then Toyota lands a Backdrop of her own for a two-count. Shimoda reverses an Irish whip and Toyota tries to counter that with another Manami Roll but Shimoda counter that counter with a Thunder Fire Powerbomb. One, two, and th – no, Toyota kicks out at 2.9! Shimoda tries a diving ax handle. Toyota kicks Shimoda under her chin and she falls to ringside.

Five minutes left.

Toyota hits a facebuster followed by a snap moonsault. One, two, Shimoda kicks out. Toyota goes for her Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex but Shimoda escapes. Toyota ducks a clothesline and hits another bridging German. One, two, and thr – no, Shimoda kicks out again. Then she reverses an Irish whip and lands a bridging Tiger suplex. One, two, yet another kick-out. Frustrated, Shimoda puts Toyota on the top rope and tries an avalanche Tiger suplex. But Toyota holds onto the ringpost for dear life. So Shimoda smashes her face into it and Toyota falls to the floor. Another suicide dive by Shimoda.

Three minutes left.

Shimoda tries the avalanche Tiger suplex but Toyota counters with an arm drag into a pin for two. JOCS. No, Shimoda counters into a victory roll. One, two, Toyota kicks out again. Another JOCs attempt. Shimoda escapes once more and lands a bridging German. One, two, yet another kick-out by Toyota.

Two minutes left.

The crowd chants for Shimoda as she lands an avalanche Backdrop suplex. One, two, Toyota bridges out. After all that punishment, she still has the willpower to bridge out. Then Toyota rolls to the floor. Shimoda drags her back into the ring and goes for a full-power running clothesline but Toyota blocks.

One minute left.

Japanese Ocean suplex by Toyota. Shimoda survives. Toyota kicks Shimoda to the floor, charges, balances herself on the top rope again, and hits a senton splash to the floor.

Thirty seconds left.

Toyota drags Shimoda into the ring and lands another German suplex.

Twenty seconds left.

Another JOS. Shimoda kicks out yet again.

Ten seconds left.

Both women fight to the top turnbuckle. Shimoda lands a superplex. Then the bell rings. The match is a draw!

Match result: 30-minute DRAW


Man, these women were crazy. They just tore into each other with absolute lunacy for thirty minutes straight. If you enjoy seeing two wrestlers, regardless of size, pushing the limits of what’s humanly possible, you’ll enjoy this match. And yet, this match’s frenetic pace, coupled with a lack of overall structure and story, make this one of the more questionable supposed 5-star matches from the 1990s.

The match started off hot with some crazy exchanges, but it wasn’t long before the match lost any sense of story. Moves were traded back and forth without rhyme or reason. And while that’s common to many 1990s joshi matches, there’s usually a sense of story and direction hidden within all the bedlam. That wasn’t so here. It was just move, move, move. There wasn’t such a thing as a transition or a clear and distinguishable sense of control for the most part. Because of that, the match was hard to follow. If one were to look away for twenty seconds, they’d lose track of what has happened and wonder how the match had progressed. Some people enjoy that sort of frenetic nonsense; personally I think they went a bit too far with that mindset here.

In terms of how these women wrestled, it was a good showing from both women. Toyota was her usual self here with her legendary conditioning, lightning-quick speed, and uncanny counter abilities. I haven’t seen many Shimoda matches prior to this one, but here she wrestled well enough. That said, there was nothing about her that really stood out as an individual. She didn’t have the monster presentation of Aja Kong, she wasn’t sadistic or merciless like Akira Hokuto, she didn’t focus on martial arts like Toshiyo Yamada, she didn’t have the power game of Kyoko Inoue, and she lacked the speed and fluidity of Mayumi Ozaki. She was, well, bland. But even with a bland presentation and personality, Shimoda still brought her A-game. She tried to match Toyota’s previous opponents by trying to stop Toyota dead in her tracks. But that didn’t work. Shimoda, like many others, struggled to keep up with Toyota’s legendary motor and perseverance. Shimoda did try a particularly sadistic strategy that saw her spike Toyota on her head with countless high-angle suplexes. With each move, Toyota slowed down and seemed to struggle to land any of her own signature moves. And once the German and Backdrop suplex spam reached its peak, it looked like Toyota was done. But once she bridged out, all was lost for Shimoda. Toyota not only survived so many brutal suplexes, but still had tons of energy left in the tank. From that point on, all Shimoda could hope to do was survive. Which she did.

Even though Shimoda was relentless on offense, she was just as good on defense. She knew all of Toyota’s and had counters prepared for them. One by one, Toyota tried to put Shimoda away but Shimoda either countered them or kicked out. That left Toyota with one weapon left: the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, her ultimate, 99.99% effective super-finisher. But just like Kenny Omega’s One-Winged Angel, the JOCS’s convoluted setup caused it to be escaped or blocked easily. Toyota tried and tried but couldn’t land the move. Once that avenue was closed off for her, she and Shimoda just tried anything to win. But time ran out for both of them in the end. But even with that ending, this wasn’t one of those draws that made me want to see more. This was a very clear case of once-and-done. Despite having great chemistry and amazing offense the likes of which you’re not likely to see anywhere in North America (at least from women’s wrestlers), this match just doesn’t hold up to the same 5-star standard.

Final Rating: ****

If you like 30 minutes of nonstop wrestling action, you’ll enjoy this match. there was basically no room to breathe here as these two women wrestled at such a blistering pace. They were like cruiserweights on speed spamming Irish whips, bridging suplexes, and insane dives. There’s some charm here from that frenetic craziness, that’s for sure.

And yet, there are better joshi matches out there. Other matches do a better job of showing off the same style while also telling a story. The drama is so much better in other matches as well. And even though this match saw proper use of a time-limit gimmick to build up to a tense finish, that positive was overshadowed by a murky middle portion that was just too nonsensical and chaotic to follow.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.