If the Wrestling Observer is to be believed, women’s wrestling peaked in the 1990s in Japan. As athletes, the women of the 1980s and 1990s joshi scene were considered the best of the best. That time period produced more historically-great matches than anything before or since. While The Fabulous Moolah was teaching women stateside to do very basic things like hairpulls and simple throws, the joshis were wrestling at such an elite level that they were being compared positively to the best male wrestlers in the world at the time.
Today we look back at one of the top matches from that era. It’s a rare treat: a joshi match with an actual story and important stipulation. 99% of these matches are pure athletic contests without much in the way of nuance or characters. But this particular match was an exception. It was the culmination of a long rivalry and included one of the most dramatic post-match sequences in wrestling history.
It’s time to revisit the hair vs. hair match between Manami Toyota and her rival Toshiyo Yamada from August 15th, 1992.
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.
Toyota and Yamada involved in a deep and bitter feud that had been going on for two years. As wrestlers they were worlds apart. Toyota was a speedy technician that loved to spam dropkicks, dives, suplexes and other artistic and aesthetic moves. Yamada was a slightly built martial artist that liked to kick people hard. And despite that styles clash, the two of them had many bitter and brutal battles over the years. Determined to put an end to their feud once and for all, it was announced that they’d face off in a hair vs. hair match for Toyota’s world title.
This is a hair vs. hair match for Toyota’s IWA World Title, a prestigious women’s wrestling championship. The winner keeps her hair and wins the belt while the loser gets her head shaved. Toyota is the one in long black hear wearing black while Yamada has short hear and is wearing a purple karate outfit. Also, Toyota and Yamada were 21 and 22 years old here, respectively.
The bell rings and the two women rush each other immediately. Toyota goes for a dropkick and Yamada goes for a wheel kick at the same time with neither one connecting fully. Toyota escapes a grounded armbar but eats a suplex for a one-count. Yamada gets another one-count off a scoop slam and locks in a guillotine choke but Toyota floats over into a headlock and gets a two-count. Toyota lands a Hogan leg drop but Yamada cradles her before she can capitalize. Toyota lands two running dropkicks and a butterfly suplex for a two-count. She tries to slow the match down with a bodyscissor but Yamada reaches the ropes. Yamada counters an Irish whip and lands a judo takedown for another two-count. She locks in a sleeper hold and then switches to a camel clutch as Toyota writhes around the ring like a snake trying to reach the ropes. Yamada then whips Toyota into a corner and lands a ton of karate kicks and a sidewalk slam for another two-count.
Yamada applies a stretch muffler and lifts Toyota by her leg and swings her around like a toy for another two-count. Toyota escapes a Boston crab and counters a kick with a takedown and applies a Romero stretch. She sends Yamada into the ropes but Yamada kicks her in the head. Yamada whips Toyota, Toyota goes for a Manami roll but Yamada counters that with a powerbomb for two. Toyota counters a corner whip and lands a sunset flip for another two-count. Yamada regains control of the match with a karate kick and then proceeds to kick Toyota all over to keep her grounded. That’s pretty smart considering Toyota’s famous for her motor and speed.
Yamada suplexes Toyota and lands more stiff kicks, with one particularly brutal roundhouse kick hitting Toyota right in the face for a two-count. Yamada continues the punishment with a brutal-looking single leg crab but Toyota doesn’t give up to Yamada whips her and lands a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for two. Yamada continues to target Toyota’s spine with kicks and then applies a single leg crab to Toyota’s other leg. After letting go, Yamada goes for a second-rope dive but Toyota ducks it. Toyota begins her comeback with a shotgun dropkick from each of the four corners for a two-count. a bridging butterfly suplex from the top rope gets her another two-count, as does some kind of bridging cross-arm suplex that I’ve never seen before. This woman keeps coming up with new and exciting moves. Moonsault press. Yamada kicks out. Arm-trap Japanese Ocean suplex. Yamada stays alive. Toyota sends Yamada into the ropes and charges. Yamada counters with a bridging German suplex for two.
Both woman avoid corner clotheslines. Toyota lands a rolling cradle for two. Toyota goes for another moonsault. Yamada cuts her off and goes to smash her into the turnbuckle. Toyota counters and goes for a top-rope splash but misses. High-angle German suplex. Toyota kicks out. Bridging dragon suplex. Toyota kicks out again. Yamada whips Toyota into the ropes. Toyota counters into a bridging Tiger suplex for a VERY close two-count. Yamada lands a roll-up out of nowhere. Toyota kicks out and dropkicks Yamada off the turnbuckle and to the floor. She goes for a quebrada but Yamada kicks her back into the ring. Toyota bounces back and dropkicks Yamada back down. Quebrada connects. Gorgeous move by Toyota.
Back in the ring, Toyota lands another bridging German suplex for a close two-count. That’s followed by another JOS but Yamada kicks out once more. Snap moonsault. Yamada kicks out. Toyota whips Yamada but Yamada lands a wheel kick and a backdrop suplex. Yamada signals the end and lands five more Backdrop suplexes. She pins…but Toyota kicks out. Toyota desperately tries to wrestle into another suplex attempt. Yamada breaks free and goes for another karate kick. Toyota ducks it. a reversal sequence ensues. Toyota goes for a roll-up but Yamada counters it on her. One, two, Toyota narrowly escapes. Yamada ascends the corner and lands a diving kick followed by a diving crossbody to the floor. Toyota struggles onto the apron but Yamada cuts her off and lands an avalanche underhook suplex for yet another two-count. She pins but Toyota doesn’t just kick out; she bridges out. She’s still as defiant as ever.
Yamada goes for the vertebreaker but Toyota escapes and goes for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex (armtrap electric chair suplex) but Yamada escapes. Yamada tries the vertebreaker again. Toyota counters into a victory roll. One, two, no, Yamada’s still in this. Toyota tries again…and connects with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. One, two, three! Toyota wins!
Winner and STILL IWA World Women’s Champion after 19:45: Manami Toyota
Toyota is initially swept up by the excitement of retaining her title. But as she sinks into a corner to recover, reality sets in. She realizes that Yamada has to have her head shaved and she’s actually upset about it. Fans in the audience are screaming as Yamada dutifully cuts the first strands of hair herself. The referee gives Toyota the electric razor. Yamada tells her to do it. But she doesn’t. Instead, Toyota, overcome with respect and admiration for Yamada, grabs the scissors and cuts her own hair instead. Screams echo throughout the arena and are soon drowned out by thunderous applause. Both women bow to each other in respect.
A barber grabs the electric shaver and approaches Yamada to begin. But Toyota pushes him away. Other joshis swarm her to stop her interfering. Toyota shoves the barber one more time, but that only delays the inevitable. The barber finishes his work and Yamada is left with almost no chair. She accepts her fate and says something to Toyota. The two women hug and bow deeply to each other. The show ends with Toyota celebrating her title win and cutting a post-match promo, although it’s clear that she’s overcome with emotions other than elation over her victory.
This is one of the strangest matches I’ve reviewed to date. Unlike most of the ones I’ve already seen, this match couldn’t be separated from its post-match events. They went hand-in-hand with each other, which made sense given the stipulation. As such I looked at both and…well…it was all over the place. The match had plenty of action but no soul because they saved all the actual emotion for the post-match segment.
This was typical 1990s joshi wrestling, meaning it was a blistering sprint with both women going at 100% from bell to bell. There were no peaks and valleys, just two women wrestling as fast as they can with only a few brief moments when the pace slowed down ever so slightly. The wrestling itself was incredible, as both Toyota and Yamada landed some incredible offense on each other. But everything came across as so…mechanical.
I’ve seen some of their other matches and there was something lacking in this match. Not only was there very little selling or breathing room in terms of pacing, but none of the biggest moves felt like they mattered. While both women put on some crafty sequences and believable near-falls, there was no emotion in the match itself. I never got the impression that they actually cared about the stipulation. Even though they were both laser focused as they wrestled, the match just happened without telling much of a story. If this were an ordinary title match, that would make sense. But this was a hair-vs-hair match. Both women were fighting for more than just a title, but you wouldn’t know that if you saw this match without context or ignored the post-match events.
Maybe that was by design, because the actual hair-cutting sequence was actually more emotional and told a better story than the match itself. It was the polar opposite of the actual wrestling match; both Toyota and Yamada were emotional and expressive. I understand very little Japanese but these two women told an amazing story through their actions. Toyota beat Yamada, who had been a bitter rival of hers for two years. She retained her title, but that came at too steep a price for her. Yamada accepted the stipulation and took her head shaving like a champ, but it didn’t come without Toyota being overcome with emotion. They told an amazing story of Toyota having so much respect for Yamada that she didn’t want to see her shaved and Yamada accepting the stipulation out of honor and pride. In the end, both women told their story masterfully and received a standing ovation.
Final Rating: ****1/2
This match is more remembered for what happened after the bell than what happened during the actual match. While it featured the tremendous in-ring action that was typical of 1990s joshi, there was something robotic in the match that made it come across as soulless and uninspiring. Luckily, the post-match segment was filled with emotions and storytelling that, in all honesty, should’ve somehow been incorporated into the match itself.
It’s definitely a strong match, but far beneath the standard these women had for themselves. Moving forward, Toyota and Yamada would become regular tag partners and would compete in some of the greatest tag team matches of all time. So really, this contest is best remembered for the non-wrestling story more than the in-ring stuff.