5-Star Match Reviews: Kyoko Inoue vs. Manami Toyota – AJW, April 25th, 1992
This is one of the most historically-significant and revolutionary wrestling history. When it happened, everyone was saying that this match was way ahead of its time, and this was all the way back in 1992. This match wasn’t just great; it was so awesome that the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer rated it ‘5+++’, so it was allegedly more than perfect.
Today we see if that still holds true almost thirty years later. This is the singles match between two joshi wrestling legends, Kyoko Inoue and Manami Toyota, that took place 28 years ago today.
Women’s pro wrestling in Japan, or Joshi, had its first major peak in the 1980s and 1990s. Women as young as sixteen were wrestling at an incredible level while enjoying historic popularity. The biggest joshi promotion during the golden decade of the 1990s was All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW). They had a solid roster of incredible performers who wrestled in different styles. Some of them were monster powerhouses, like Kyoko Inoue; while others were technical reversal masters and loved to fly, like Manami Toyota.
Like many top Japanese wrestling promotions, AJW didn’t feature many gimmicks, storylines, angles or other drama. Instead, everything was focused on competing in the ring. In this match, Inoue defended her women’s singles title against Toyota in the hopes of continuing her title run.
This is for the International Wrestling Association World Women’s Championship.The bell rings and they immediately double dropkick each other. Inoue ducks a corner clothesline from Toyota and smashes Toyota’s head into it. Inoue runs the ropes and Toyota kicks her off. Tilt-a-whirl slam by Inoue gets a one-count. Inoue whips Toyota but Toyota grabs the ropes, and when Inoue charges Toyota ducks and kicks her over the rope and out of the ring. Toyota hits a diving plancha out of the ring onto Inoue on the floor below.
Toyota tosses Inoue back into the ring and hits a running shotgun dropkick, followed by a flying crossbody that gets a one-count. Toyota follows that with a springboard arm drag into an armlock that grounds Inoue in the middle of the ring. She follows that with an insane flying scissor armbar-like move. This is great. Where do they come up with this stuff?
Toyota continues the onslaught with a rolling armbar clutch of sorts followed by another armbar but Inoue gets her feet on the ropes. So when Inoue gets up, Toyota wrenches Inoue’s arm and locks in a fujiwara armbar and then transitions into a camel clutch to keep Inoue grounded. A butterfly suplex by Toyota gets a one-count, so Toyota locks in a savage-looking double-arm submission hold and then locking in another armbar.
Inoue gets up and fires back with Mongolian chops and a dropkick of her own and a Boston Crab and then a half-crab that looks like it will split Toyota in half. Inoue continues to wreak havoc on Toyota’s back with a modified surfboard stretch so brutal it makes Jushin Liger’s look like something you’d want to take in a chiropractor’s office.
We’re at the five-minute mark as Inoue maintains control. She locks in a vicious camel clutch of her own followed by a strange move where she puts Toyota in the torture rack and tosses her off like a rag doll. Inoue continues with great psychology by locking the Boston crab in again, destroying Toyota’s back until she reaches the ropes. But Inoue will not relent as she locks in a sharpshooter/bow-and-arrow combination submission hold. Toyota tries to elbow her way out of that, so Inoue locks the arm. Seconds later, Inoue shows off her strength by locking in a double arm-and-leg submission hold and she swings Toyota back and forth like a pendulum. And here I thought I had seen every possible move in pro wrestling.
Inoue locks in another camel clutch and then throws Toyota off the top turnbuckle. She doesn’t relent as she whips Toyota into the ropes and hits a tabletop suplex followed by more Mongolian chops. Suddenly, Toyota crawls under Inoue’s legs and dropkicks her to the ropes. As Toyota charges, Inoue kicks her hard in the stomach, stopping her momentum. As Toyota runs again, Inoue has her scouted and moves as Toyota flies feet-first out of the ring and to the floor.
Inoue takes advantage and does a springboard back splash, driving her hips into Toyota’s face, and Toyota goes crashing down by the steel ring barricade. That looked brutal. Toyota gets back into the ring and Inoue smashes her with Kawada kicks and a crucifix backbreaker at the ten-minute mark.
Inoue goes for a pin but Toyota reaches the ropes, so Inoue hits a perfectplex for a two-count.. She whips Toyota again but Toyota hits a dropkick out of nowhere. Toyota continues with a flurry of running dropkicks in an attempt to wear Inoue out, and pins for a two-count after a diving dropkick. Inoue gets back up and Toyota hits a diving crossbody to the back for a two-count, followed by a bridging suplex that also gets a two-count. Toyota whips Inoue, who springboards and hits another flying hip attack that sends Toyota down.
It’s back to the Boston crab for Inoue as she looks like she’s trying to pull Toyota’s legs out of their sockets. Toyota escapes and tries a running dropkick again, but Inoue catches her and goes back to the Boston crab yet again. That’s what she gets for trying so many running dropkicks. Then, Inoue does something unique by applying a surfboard, but she rolls forward to apply it instead of lifting Toyota backwards. Damn, these women have some incredible skills.
Toyota reverses an Irish whip into a corner, but Inoue prepares for the diving hip attack aga—no, not this time. Toyota kicks her so hard she falls out of the ring. Then, Toyota hits a top rope plancha onto Inoue on the floor below. Toyota whips her onto the barricade, but this time Inoue’s springboard hip attack succeeds, sending Toyota down for a moment.
Toyota climbs back into the ring at the fifteen-minute mark, and tries to vertical suplex Toyota back into the ring. Toyota lands on her feet and teases a German suplex, but Inoue reverses and tries one of her own, but Toyota reverses that into a victory roll for a quick two-count. Great reversals from both of them.
Toyota ducks a clothesline from Inoue into an abdominal stretch, but Inoue tosses her off after two attempts at the same move. Inoue goes for a back suplex but Toyota uses the ropes as leverage to land on her feet and hit a rolling cradle that gets a 2.5-count. Toyota hits a four diving dropkicks from different turnbuckles and pins for another two-count. She scoop slams Inoue as the fans chant Kyoko’s name. She tries yet another dropkick but Inoue blocks it and locks in another half-Boston crab and then another camel clutch and another bow-and-arrow hold. It looks like she’s trying to span Toyota’s spine in half.
Inoue hits a snap suplex and pins, but Toyota not only kicks out but she bridges out, curving her back as if it wasn’t damaged at all. Talk about toughness. Inoue hits another Boston crab but Toyota doesn’t tap. So Inoue whips her into the ropes, but Toyota counters with the Manami Roll/Yoshi Tonic out of nowhere and gets a 2.5-count. That is such a gorgeous move. Toyota ascends the top rope for a diving splash, but Inoue gets her knees up at the twenty-minute mark.
Inoue hits a giant swing that gets another two-count and Toyota bridges out once more. In response, Inoue attempts a Texas cloverleaf but Toyota blocks that and hits a bridging German suplex for a two-count. Toyota hits a suicide dive and follows with a plancha from the top rope and then a diving moonsault off the top rope. Damn, this woman has incredible timing and skill.
Back in the ring, Toyota hits a bridging tiger suplex but that also gets a 2.5-count. Toyota then attempts a Muta-style snap moonsault, but Inoue gets out of the way at the last second and tries the surfboard again but Toyota reaches the ropes. Inoue climbs the top rope and hits a diving back elbow drop but Toyota kicks out at 2.8. Inoue tries to lift Toyota up for a powerbomb but Toyota escapes with the Manami roll for a 2.5-count yet again. Inoue hits a headscissors takedown and pins but gets a two-count once more. Inoue whips Toyota into a corner and after a brief struggle hits a superplex but Toyota bridges out yet again. Inoue lifts Toyota up and hits a devastating-looking spike powerbomb but Toyota kicks out of that at 2.8 as well. What is this woman made of? Wolverine’s bones?
Inoue whips Toyota again, but this time Toyota reverses that into the Japanese Ocean Suplex which gets a 2.9-count. Toyota charges as soon as Inoue gets to her feet but Inoue hits a chokeslam on Toyota that gets a two-count as well. Inoue grabs Toyota by the arm to lift her up, but Toyota escapes and drills Inoue with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (wrist-clutch bridging straightjacket suplex). The referee counts one…two…three! That’s it. There’s the match.
Winner and NEW International Wrestling Association World Women’s Champion: Manami Toyota
I usually have some reservations about the old Joshi wrestling style. Many of the best matches ever feature a match structure in which things are layered carefully and the wrestlers take time after big moves to allow the fans to digest what just happened. You don’t usually get that in old joshi matches because the women are throwing ten thousand moves into ten minutes and run around like they’re on meth. A lot of those matches feel like they have no structure and the women are just throwing bombs at each other haphazardly without so much as a single lengthy pause, whether for the fans or for themselves.
This was not one of those matches.
It was, to put it lightly, insane. These two women put on one of the best examples of elite-level conditioning I’ve ever seen. It went by like a twenty-minute sprint. The pacing was just nuts, unmatchable by even the quickest of wrestlers today. Not even Will Ospreay or Rey Mysterio in his prime could move as quickly as these two.
But it wasn’t just about the speed. They actually told an awesome David and Goliath story. Inoue out-powered Toyota on so many occasions and used the size advantage to make it look like she was going to literally rip her smaller opponent in half. The way she wrenched and pulled on those submission holds made them look extra painful. But Toyota was just like the Energizer Bunny, she just kept going and going and going. She had a strategy to try and tire Inoue out and use her speed advantage to catch Inoue by surprise, which worked. Ultimately, Inoue couldn’t keep up the power game and lost to Toyota’s speed and fondness for bridges, pins and cradles.
But the best thing about this match comes down to the actual execution of moves. Inoue’s moves looked brutal and unimaginably painful. Whether it was that diving hip attack out of the ring, the spike powerbomb, or any one of her submission holds, she looked like she was in there not to win, but to punish Toyota for simply existing. And Inoue’s execution was on the opposite side of things: to say she was technically-graceful would be an understatement. She had picture-perfect timing and hit each move with flawlessly. She landed moves like the green dude in SmackDown Here Comes The Pain! The animations in that game were so smooth and perfect, and when playing that game I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if there’s a wrestler out there that hits moves this well as this game?’ Lo and behold, I’m pretty sure I found her.
Needless to say, this was indeed a revolutionary match in terms of women’s wrestling at the time. Inoue and Toyota did some truly incredible things in the ring, and some of what they did hasn’t ever been replicated anywhere else. Their pacing, conditioning, execution of moves and overall match structure was just so unique for the time that it set an incredible standard for not just women’s wrestling, but wrestling in general. Many of today’s women’s wrestlers should look to these two to see what defying expectations is really about.
Final Rating: *****
I’m not going to lie to you and say this was the best wrestling match ever. In terms of the joshi style, it was perfect and it told the story it was meant to. But I get the distinct feeling that matches of this style aren’t meant to be the deep, complex, carefully-layered in-ring masterpieces like the ones seen in All Japan nor the overt, character-and-narrative-driven ‘entertainment’ stories of WWE and North American wrestling.
They’re in a unique category all to themselves: this match and others like it are meant to be crazy endurance contests. You’re meant to watch matches like this and think to yourself, ‘damn, how are they not tired? How can they still keep going? How are they so tough?’ So if that’s your kind of wrestling, then this is a great example of that approach in action. It may not be the single-greatest women’s wrestling match of all time, but it’s much better than a lot of what would come in North America in the two decades that would follow it.
You can check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Review series right here. Thanks for reading.