The 1990s was a special decade when it came to pro-wrestling. Those that loved cartoonish, larger-than-life characters had the WWF/E. Fans that liked the more traditional, old-school approach to pro-wrestling had WCW. Those fans that wanted an alternative to those two had ECW and the tape trading circuit. Those fans that like martial-arts inspired realism had NJPW. If you wanted in-ring exceptionalism, there was AJPW. And if you wanted to see the most creative and innovative wrestlers anywhere, you turned to AJW.
The match we’re revisiting today is another joshi classic from a time when women’s pro-wrestling was taken a bit more seriously. These days it’s kind of hard to take most pure joshi companies seriously for a bunch of reasons. Despite having talented performers, there is a lack of badassery and menace in today’s joshis. Because of that, I decided to go back to a lost classic from the early 1990s when Japanese women’s wrestlers were as menacing as they were creative.
To that end, let’s look back at the first tag match between Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada and Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki from AJW’s Dreamrush 1992 event.
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 match is part of the larger ‘AJW vs. JWP’ feud that started earlier that year. JWP hoped to enter the market that was dominated by AJW. But instead of ignoring or seeking to crush the new company in town, AJW saw that money could be made in big company vs. company matches. That’s why they sent two of their finest wrestlers – Toyota and Yamada – to take on the two biggest wrestlers in JWP, Kansai and Ozaki.
This match originally took place on November 26th, 1992 at an All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) show called Dreamrush. It was never formally rated by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, but I’ve read a lot of praise for this match online. Let’s see how well this match holds up after almost thirty years.
This is a two-out-of-three falls match for Toyota & Yamada’s WWWA Tag Team titles. Both sides shake hands and the bell rings. Kansai and Yamada start things off with some stiff kicks and forearms. Kansai quickly takes control and tags Ozaki, who sends Yamada into the ropes. Yamada avoids a running attack and lands a big roundhouse kick and then tags Toyota. Toyota Irish whips Ozaki and lands a huge dropkick. She goes for another Irish whip but Ozaki just crumples against the ropes. She might be legitimately knocked out. But Toyota’s having none of that and stomps away and then lands a big slam. She pins but Kansai breaks it up. Toyota goes for another slam but Ozaki counters with a cradle for a one-count. Both women go into the ropes and Ozaki lands a running neckbreaker. Kansai tags in and lands a big kick to the chest and a vertical suplex for a one-count. She snapmares Toyota and locks in a dragon sleeper with Ozaki coming in and hitting ax handles to Toyota’s chest. Kansai drops Toyota throat-first on the top rope and tags Ozaki.
Ozaki applies an STF and then switches into a camel clutch. Then she transitions into a camel dragon hold as Kansai punts Toyota’s exposed sternum. Ozaki wrenches the hold tightly until Yamada breaks it up with a kick to the face. She faceplants Toyota and tags Kansai, who drops a leg onto the back of Toyota’s head and hits Yamada on the apron. She Irish whips Toyota but Toyota counters with a front dropkick and tags Yamada, who lands a massive kick to Kansai’s face. Yamada continues with different types of kicks and a camel clutch of her own as the five-minute mark passes.
Yamada lands a sidewalk slam into a dragon sleeper and drags Kansai to her corner. Toyota tags in and lands a missile dropkick so strong that it sends Kansai flying into the opposite corner towards Ozaki. Ozaki tags in and Toyota rushes her and lands a flying forearm. Toyota lands two running dropkicks but Ozaki catches on and dodges a third and pins for two. She lands a heart punch and a vertical suplex of her own for another two-count. The fans start chanting for Ozaki as she locks in a deep single leg crab and then a bow-and-arrow hold. Toyota flips over into a pin but Ozaki quickly escapes and drags her over to her corner to tag in a waiting Kansai.
Kansai kicks Toyota brutally hard and lands a clothesline for two. She applies her own single leg crab which she soon switches to a torture crab by placing her knee on the back of Toyota’s head. She and Ozaki take turns attacking Toyota’s back with different strikes and submission holds until Toyota counters a corner whip and lands s sunset flip pin for two. Yamada tags in and lands a flurry of corner kicks and a snap underhook suplex for two. Ozaki gets mauled with multiple consecutive slams from Yamada and a double dropkick combo from her and Toyota. Yamada goes for a top-rope double-team move but Ozaki counters. But that only lasts a brief moment as Yamada counters Ozaki’s counter with a backdrop suplex. Ozaki avoids another corner double-team as Kansai shoves Toyota off the top rope. Kansai and Ozaki double slingshot Yamada into the top rope, Ozaki skins the cat, and both women land stereo rope dives onto their opponents.
Back in the ring, Kansai Tombstones Yamada and she and Ozaki land an opposite corner diving splash-head-butt combo. Ozaki pins but Toyota makes the save. Ozaki tries a powerbomb but Toyota breaks it up. Kansai tags in and tries her own powerbomb but Toyota breaks that up too, allowing Yamada to land a German suplex. Toyota tags in and lands a bridging German for two. She goes for a snap moonsault but Kansai rolls out of the way and then drills her with a massive running lariat. She pins but Yamada makes the save.
Kansai goes for a northern lights suplex but Toyota counters with a DDT. She doesn’t notice Ozaki climbing the top rope and Ozaki connects with a diving knee to the back of Toyota’s head. This gives Kansai the opening she needs. She lifts Toyota up and plants her with a Splash Mountain powerbomb. One, two, three!
Winners of the first fall after 14:38: Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki
Both teams are given water over the break and the second fall begins. Kansai and Ozaki rush their opponents and Kansai begins kicking the hell out of Toyota’s head. Kansai goes for another Splash Mountain but Toyota counters with a gorgeous Yoshi tonic/Manami roll for two. Yamada tags in and lands a dragon suplex, followed by six consecutive backdrop suplexes. She whips Kansai into her corner and Toyota lands a dropkick, which is followed by a German suplex from Yamada. Yamada knocks Ozaki off the apron and lands a diving 540 kick onto Kansai, and then clotheslines Ozaki again for good measure. Yamada lands a Reverse Gory Special slam onto Kansai and pins. Ozaki rushes in to break up the pin, but misses it by a fraction of a second. Just like that, the score is all tied-up.
Winners of the second fall after 16:22: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada
After about a minute, the bell rings for the third fall and Yamada lays into Kansai with stiff kicks. Kansai kicks from a grounded position and pulls Yamada into a cradle for a few one-counts and then tags Ozaki. Ozaki wrestles into an armbar but Yamada reaches the ropes, so Ozaki quickly out-grapples her back into the same hold. Ozaki maintains control over that arm until she sends Yamada into the ropes and Yamada answers with a big boot. Toyota tags in and lands four dropkicks, all for a two-count. She follows with a bridging butterfly suplex but Kansai breaks that pin up. Then she applies a deathlock and then switches to an under-the-arms Muta lock. Christ, how does she come up with this stuff?
Toyota follows that with a bow-and-arrow hold and a bizarre double-underhook neck hold that I’ve never seen before. She tags Yamada, who locks in a stretch muffler-type leglock but it’s quickly broken by Kansai. Those two women trade kicks and Yamada wins the exchange, and then kicks Ozaki before she can complete a tag to Kansai. Yamada lifts Ozaki up but Ozaki lands an amazing counter into a roll-up for two. She follows with a snap German suplex and tags Kansai, who sends Yamada into a corner and lands two corner lariats and a bridging northern lights suplex for two. Kansai applies a sharpshooter and Toyota comes in to break it up. But even after multiple kicks to the head, Kansai refuses to let go. That’s how you make someone look incredibly tough in pro-wrestling. The ref gets distracted by Toyota so Ozaki comes in and stomps on Yamada’s head quickly. Kansai switches to a single leg crab and Yamada begins crawling towards the rope. The fans cheer her on as Ozaki trash-talks her. Yamada reaches out to the ropes but Ozaki swats her hand away. Chaos ensues as Kansai drags Yamada out of the ring and suplexes her onto the floor while Ozaki brawls with Toyota.
Back in the ring, Kansai pretends Yamada is one giant soccer ball and punts her over and over. She follows with a type of bow-and-arrow submission hold, close to the ropes but far enough that Yamada can’t reach. She does that intentionally to show Yamada how much she’s in control, and then slams her hard as an exclamation point. Ozaki tags in and lands a diving senton for two followed by a vicious powerbomb. She pins again but Toyota makes the save.
Ozaki applies a sharpshooter/armbar combo, leaving Yamada with only one free limb. Soon after, she tosses Yamada out of the ring where a waiting Kansai smashes her into the barricade and launches a chair into her face. Kansai’s like a honey badger. Kansai don’t care. Toyota throws a chair at Kansai to save her partner but it doesn’t do much.
Back in the ring, Ozaki applies a camel clutch and then tags Kansai, who dropkicks Yamada across the ring. This allows Toyota to tag in but she immediately gets sent into the ropes and eats a lariat from Kansai for two. Kansai gives a big middle finger to Yamada by hitting Toyota with three consecutive backdrops, but Yamada breaks up the subsequent pin. Kansai applies a sharpshooter of her own on Toyota and Toyota reaches the ropes but Ozaki stomps on her hand. Kansai slams her and Ozaki tags in and lands a twisting splash from the top rope for another two-count. Ozaki sends Toyota into the ropes but Toyota counters with a dropkick and some diving forearms. She goes to the top rope and lands a quebrada for two as Ozaki reaches the ropes.
Yamada tags in and lands a suplex and a leg drop for two. Then she whips Ozaki into Kansai and the two kickboxers go at it once again. Kansai gets the upper hand and drills Yamada with several kicks to the head. The referee makes her back off as he starts counting to ten. Yamada has to answer the count before he stops or she’ll lose. Toyota and the rest of the arena rally behind Yamada. She starts stirring so Kansai continues kicking her. Kansai sends her into the ropes and goes for a high roundhouse kick. But Yamada ducks it and unleashes her own barrage of kicks. The fans start screaming. Kansai counters an Irish whip but eats another 540 kick. Yamada continues her own kick barrage and pins. One, two, no, Ozaki makes the save.
Toyota tags in and lands a bridging German suplex for two. Another bridging German and another two-count. She lands a third one and Kansai still kicks out. She runs to the ropes but gets hit with a sidewalk slam and Kansai tags Ozaki, who lands a bridging Tiger suplex. One, two, Toyota kicks out. Ozaki follows with a sick Ligerbomb. Toyota kicks out again. She goes for some ruining kicks but Toyota dodges them and then Ozaki dodges Toyota’s attempts at the same. Toyota kicks out of another pin and then finds herself being double-teamed by Ozaki and Kansai. Kansai tags in and locks in a Figure-4 leglock while Ozaki locks in a cross armbreaker. Toyota crawls over to the ropes and reaches out. But Ozaki stomps down hard onto her hand. The crowd boos loudly. Ozaki tries this a few more times but eventually Toyota breaks through. A frustrated Kansai answers this ropebreak with some sickening kicks that echo throughout the arena. Ozaki drags Toyota out of the ring and smashes her into the barricade. But here comes Yamada with another diving kick. She drags Ozaki all the way out into the fans and throws her into some stairs. Yamada rushes back and she and Toyota double-team Kansai until Ozaki comes back.
Back in the ring, Ozaki whips Toyota into a Kansai boot and then locks in a guillotine choke. Toyota escapes with a flurry of slaps and tags Yamada. She drops Ozaki with a kick and Kansai with a sidewalk slam. More running kicks from Yamada. She pins but Kansai kicks out. She whips Kansai into the ropes and goes for a spinkick. Kansai ducks and goes for a backdrop. Yamada counters into a pin in midair but Kansai kicks out. Toyota tags in and goes for a diving dropkick but Kansai catches her and lands a norther lights suplex. Kansai pins but Yamada breaks it up. Toyota escapes a backdrop and lands a rolling cradle for two. She tags Yamada and they go for a double-team lariat but Kansai ducks. Then Kansai and Ozaki double German suplex both Toyota and Yamada. Kansai pins but Yamada kicks out.
Ozaki pins and lands a bridging backdrop suplex but only gets two. Yamada fights out of a German and lands a bridging roll-up but Ozaki escapes quickly. Ozaki goes to the top-rope but Toyota traps her, allowing Yamada to land a top-rope underhook suplex for another two-count. Stereo diving head-butts by Toyota and Yamada. Toyota rushes to stop Kansai from breaking the pin. One, two, no, Ozaki kicks out.
Kansai breaks up another double-team as Ozaki German suplexes Toyota. Ozaki tags Kansai and then dives from the top rope onto Yamada on the floor. Ozaki holds Yamada in place as Kansai charges for a dive. But Yamada escapes at the last moment and Kansai decks her own partner. This allows Toyota enough time to setup and lands a picture-perfect quebrada to the floor. In the ring, Toyota and Yamada drop Ozaki with a double-team swinging slam. Snap moonsault press by Toyota. Ozaki kicks out. Toyota follows with a clothesline. Ozaki kicks out again. She whips Ozaki into the ropes but Ozaki kicks a waiting Yamada as Kansai attacks an unsuspecting Toyota. Kansai and Ozaki attempt the same slam/splash combo but Toyota avoids Ozaki’s diving splash. Toyota follows with the Japanese Ocean Suplex (arm-trap German suplex). One, two, three! There’s the match!
Winners and STILL WWWA Tag team Champions after 40:24: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada
Another fantastic match. This was early 90s joshi at its finest. It was forty minutes of fast-paced, wild and unpredictable wrestling. It had pretty much everything you want out of a great match: solid psychology, a great big fight atmosphere, lots of back-and-forth momentum shifts, amazing near-falls, a simple yet believable story, and incredible brutality. But the best part was the pacing. That was easily one of the fastest 40-minute matches to ever take place. And it would’ve reached that higher level of historic greatness had these wrestlers not lost the plot towards the end.
The first fall was awesome with Yamada and Kansai fighting as the no-nonsense kickboxers in a big game of one-upmanship while Toyota and Ozaki acted as their more technical and artistic counterparts. But despite Toyota’s spitfire personality and Yamada’s speed and agility, they were no match for Kansai and Ozaki at first. The JWP duo were more of a well-oiled machine and delivered much stronger tag team psychology. They double-teamed Toyota and Yamada far more early on and that approach gave them a huge advantage once Kansai smashed Toyota into oblivion with her finisher. But that lead was short-lived as Yamada hit a surprise finisher out of nowhere less than two minutes later to even the score.
And that pinfall was a perfect example of something that’s largely lost in some places today. AJW was very much the wild west of pro-wrestling at this point as they were few rules, if any, on tag team interference. It was a delightful change of pace to see tag partners interfere to save their partners way more than once without worrying about a potential disqualification. As such, the match gained a much-needed sense of urgency and so each pinfall and submission actually meant something beyond simply looking food. Ozaki was literally a fraction of a second away from saving her partner from a pin but came too late. That was enough to give Toyota and Yamada a win and it underscored the need for better timing, quicker reactions, and even more interference.
Once the third fall began, things got really intense. All four wrestlers brought out their A-game at that point. Toyota dug as deep as she could to keep her legendary motor running at full speed and to counter everything that was thrown at her. Kansai and Yamada hit each other so brutally hard it might as well have been a shoot fight. And Ozaki became the match’s star heel. I loved the way she tried to create barriers for her opponents. She stomped on Toyota’s hand to prevent a ropebreak. She taunted Yamada as Yamada crawled to the ropes. She interfered whenever possible to make Kansai’s job of ripping her opponents in half much easier. It was a great example of ‘showing over telling’ in wrestling that I think gets lost in today’s promo and oversimplification-ridden environment.
My only real issue with this match is how things became a bit too chaotic towards the end. It was a case of too much happening all at once and it became a bit hard to follow. Had I not been taking notes above, I wouldn’t’ve known who was legal. The crowd brawling didn’t really accomplish much, the weapons did very little, and the final sequence lacked cohesion. I couldn’t help but compare this match to these four women’s April 1993 match. That was a significantly better match compared to this one in basically every way, but mostly because of a more cohesive ending. In that match, moves built on top of each other until Kansai and Ozaki murderdeathkilled Toyota with a Doomsday Razor’s Edge. Here, the action was all over the place until Toyota landed a random JOS out of nowhere. Sure, it got the job done, but it didn’t have the same level of satisfaction that a finish with a gradual buildup would’ve had.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Despite some minor flaws towards the end, this was an amazing wrestling match. This was a brutal contest between two teams of women that clearly respected but at the same time didn’t like each other. That came through in how they wrestled. All four of them channeled what looked like genuine hostility and desire to prove themselves better than the other side, which translated into one hell of a rollercoaster of a match. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was pretty fun to watch all the same.
If you like your wrestling fast-paced with lightning-quick reversals and momentum shifts that can happen in seconds, you’ll be happy with this match. If you like seeing creative and insane-looking moves, this match has that too. And if you like pure tag team chaos, this match has that in spades. It might not be the cleanest or most polished match, but it’s still better than a lot of what’s shown on a regular basis these days.