Manami Toyota is the greatest women’s wrestler of all time.
From 1989 to 1996, Toyota was at the forefront of an explosion in women’s wrestling that trumps WWE’s ‘Women’s Evolution’ in every way. She performed at such a high standard that people were comparing her positively to some of her male peers at the time. Toyota’s name was being used in the same conversation as men lauded for being some of the best workers ever: Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mitsuharu Misawa, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Kenta Kobashi, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, among others.
She was both a critical and commercial success for joshi (women’s) wrestling in Japan. She was a main fixture in several top joshi shows, and headlined many sold-out venues across Japan. For a time, All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) competed directly with both NJPW and AJPW in selling out wrestling venues across the country. And Manami Toyota was critical to their success, and she took part in famous shows like this one:
Big Egg Tokyo Universe was the biggest and longest women’s wrestling show of all time. It was a ten-hour event in the Tokyo Dome and featured 23 matches. There were joshi wrestlers from several companies all wrestling each other, and even featured some amateur shootfights as well.
Central to this event was a single-elimination tournament called the V*TOP Five Star Tournament. In the first round, Toyota took on then-AJW Champion Aja Kong, who was notable for being one of the most brutal women’s wrestlers on the planet.
Toyota hits a running dropkick to Kong as soon as the bell rings. Kong reverses an Irish whip but Toyota reverses that into a Manami Roll (modified Yoshi Tonic powerbomb reversal) that gets a one-count. Toyota ascends the top rope incredibly fast, but Kong tries to stop her and fails, and Toyota hits a diving Rolling Powerbomb for a 2.5-count. Just to give you an idea of the match’s pacing, all of this happens in the span of 24 seconds.
Toyota jumps on the top rope and hits another diving move, but Kong catches her and hits a suplex for a two-count. Irish whip to the corner by Kong followed by a stiff clothesline and some equally stiff kicks to the back. Kong with a running shoulder tackle and pins Toyota, who not only kicks out at two, but bridges out at two. I should point out that Aja Kong is a ‘big’ woman and Toyota looks like she barely weighs 120 pounds, so it’s a lot for her to show that much strength.
Boston Crab by Kong and Toyota starts shouting what I presume are Japanese obscenities. Kong then applies a Camel Clutch, and then arches backwards, applying even more pressure onto Toyota’s lower back. Toyota head-butts and kicks Toyota in the lower back, keeping her grounded, before hitting a drop suplex for two as Toyota bridges out again.
Kong hits a backbreaker that sends Toyota into the ropes and back onto Kong’s knees, and then rolls back into a Single Leg Crab. She then slingshots Toyota into the corner and then hits a vertical suplex and pins, but Toyota bridges out once more. Kong whips Toyota, but Toyota lands on the top rope and hits a springboard crossbody onto Kong. Toyota goes for another move off the top rope, but gets kicked hard in the gut by Kong as she lands. Kong hits a brutal-looking piledriver but Toyota kicks out at two. Toyota reverses another Irish whip and hits a dropkick, and starts kicking Kong while she’s down. Of course, this is Aja Kong, who starts no-selling Toyota’s kicks and gives Toyota a death glare. The two of them exchange hard kicks as we reach the five-minute mark.
That’s right: all of this crazy action happened within only five minutes.
Toyota kicks Kong some more, but gets her leg smashed with an elbow. Superplex by Kong but Toyota bridges out at 2.5. Kong applied the Boston Crab again, and Toyota wails in agony. Toyota crawls to the bottom rope and the hold is broken, and she gets lifted onto Kong’s shoulder and thrown into the turnbuckle. Kong hits a running body splash, pushing Toyota into the corner even more.
Kong carries Toyota on the entrance ramp (which is elevated and connected to the ring), and plants her on the ramp with a move that looks like a cross between a Dominator and a Powerbomb. She hangs Toyota in the ropes, and hits a running spear into Toyota’s torso. Kong with another brutal-looking piledriver, but Toyota kicks out at 2.75. A third piledriver also fails to keep Toyota down as we pass the ten-minute mark.
Kong hits another overhead suplex-like move and Toyota bridges out at two yet again. Kong with a scoop slam and climbs the turnbuckle but Toyota kicks her off, sending her to the floor. Toyota runs, lands on the top rope and hits a diving plancha onto Kong, much to the crowd’s delight. Toyota climbs the turnbuckle again and hits a missile dropkick that hits Kong square in the face.
Toyota then channels her inner D-Von and gets a table, places Kong on it, and hits a splash from the top rope onto Kong. Unfortunately, the table, like Toyota, is Japanese, and therefore doesn’t break. But that doesn’t stop the crowd from giving Toyota a standing ovation and cheering her name.
Back in the ring, Toyota slams Kong and hits a Muta-like snap moonsault that only gets two. Toyota goes for a German suplex, but Kong blocks it and attempts her Uraken finisher (a stiff spinning backfist), but Toyota blocks that and hits a bridging Japanese Ocean Suplex (double-hammerlock suplex from behind) that gets 2.75. Toyota charges Kong, but eats a German Suplex from Kong for her troubles. Kong whips Toyota and Toyota tries the Manami Roll again, but Kong reverses it into a VICIOUS Powerbomb for another 2.75-count.
Kong with a diving body splash and Toyota powers out. Kong climbs the turnbuckle again but Toyota catches her and starts wailing on her with punches as they both straddle the top rope. Toyota shows her own brutality by nailing Kong with the VICTORY STAR DROP! HOLY SHIT!! THAT WAS INSANE! Kong got dropped straight on her head and neck from the top rope. That savage move only gets a 2.5-count, which shocks Toyota (and everyone else).
We’re now 15 minutes into the match as Toyota goes for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex but Kong powers out. Toyota tries another moonsault but Kong gets her knees up. Kong gets up and tries to hoist Toyota onto the top rope, but Toyota blocks that and hits a missile dropkick to the back of Kong’s head for another two-count. Toyota tries to hit another Rolling Powerbomb from the top rope, but Kong sits on her Yokozuna-style for another close two-count. Toyota blocks a back suplex, and Kong smashes her face in with a brutal URAKEN, but can’t capitalize on it because she’s so tired. Kong lift Toyota up and drills her with a Brainbuster-style Falcon Arrow and the referee counts one…two…three.
Winner after 17:39: Aja Kong
This match was absolutely nuts. Just phenomenal wrestling. It had so much good stuff going for it: crazy moves, high-spots, amazing reversals, stiff brutality. The pace wasn’t just lightning-quick; the match played out like this was on fast-forward. They just threw bombs at each other and wrestled at an unmatchable level.
But this wasn’t just random wrestling without any forethought. They put on a classic David vs. Goliath story, only Goliath won this time. Toyota tried to use her speed to her advantage but Kong was just too much for her. Kong decimated Toyota with one power move after another, but Toyota showed just how much guts she has with each escape. It was yet another brilliant match out of the joshis of Japan, who set a standard for women’s wrestling that has yet to be matched.
Joshi wrestling is a unique experience for most wrestling fans because there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. This isn’t like women’s wrestling in WWE (now or in the past) because even nowadays with the Women’s Evolution being in the forefront, the women still wrestle in the same style as the men (they just get better presentation and more ring-time than before). It isn’t like New-Japan’s product, which traditionally was more submission-oriented and emphasized realism over anything else. It isn’t even like 1990’s All Japan, with its deep, multi-layered storylines and masterfully-crafted wrestling masterpieces that build-up slowly and carefully.
Joshi wrestling is based on the concept that women (on average) are quicker and more flexible than men and are therefore capable of putting their bodies through greater extremes. So what we have here – especially with All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) stars like Toyota and Kong – is a group of women’s wrestlers performing at the highest standard possible and pushing themselves to the furthest limits possible.
Why else would Toyota drop Kong on her freaking neck from the top turnbuckle with the Victory Star Drop? And why would Kong lock in a camel clutch and then arch backwards at such a brutal angle, unless she knew Toyota’s spine could curve much more than a standard heavyweight wrestler’s?
Final Rating: *****
This was off the charts good. It was the kind of women’s wrestling match you’d hope would become commonplace stateside. By today’s standards, it’s a truly unique sight to see two women hitting each other with some of the riskiest moves imaginable. But that’s the mentality of joshi wrestlers: they push themselves so much and their efforts lead to gems like this. This is a must-watch for anyone wondering what kind of heights women’s wrestling could achieve.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.