Once in a while, I like to go back and watch these old and sometimes obscure 1990s joshi matches because of how crazy they were. It isn’t a cliché to say that these women, especially Manami Toyota, were so innovative and years ahead of their time.
The stuff that All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling and other smaller companies showcased during the first half of the 1990s was nothing short of ground-breaking. But was all of it so great, or did that style of wrestling have its fair share of overrated contests as well? Let’s look back at one of many 5-Star matches of that time to see how it holds up.
Today we look back at a singles match between Manami Toyota and Akira Hokuto from AJW Destiny 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.
This is something of a dream match between two of the most legendary women in pro-wrestling history. On one side there was Manami Toyota, possibly the most innovative and skilled women’s wrestler ever. Over a nine-year period, she took part in some of the greatest wrestling matches to ever take place and created some of the most unique moves ever seen, some of which haven’t even been used in other places. She became famous for her spitfire style and tenacity in the ring, as well as her incredible technique and creativity.
On the other side was Akira Hokuto, arguably the toughest woman to ever enter a wrestling ring. She had many nicknames during her career, one of which was ‘the mummy’ because she was constantly wrapped up in bandages from various injuries yet refused to stop wrestling. She suffered two particular injuries that elevated this reputation of hers. First, in 1987, she broke her neck after taking a second-rope Tombstone Piledriver, yet she continued the match by holding her head in place with her hands. Three years later, she hit a diving plancha to the floor and tore her knee open against the barricade. And even though she was unable to walk, she tried her best to continue the match by taping her own knee up like Sabu and returning to the ring.
So with this big singles match, it was anyone’s guess who would win. Would it be Toyota, the graceful technician that had countless tricks up her sleeve? Or would it be Hokuto, the hardnosed badass that refused to give up no matter what happened to her? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on September 2nd, 1995.
Toyota takes her coat off and charges Hokuto before the bell rings but misses and falls to the floor. Hokuto, still in her weird entrance get-up, climbs to the top rope and lands a diving somersault senton to the floor. Toyota limps back into the ring and Hokuto offers a handshake. Toyota reluctantly agrees and Hokuto pulls her in and lands a high-angle Backdrop suplex as the bell rings. And they’re off to the races. Toyota blocks being thrown out of the ring and lands a diving dropkick. She goes for a running springboard dive but Hokuto clotheslines her off the top rope. Hokuto climbs the top rope but Toyota boots her to the floor and lands a diving dropkick. Hot start to the match.
Hokuto gets back into the ring and they lock-up. She lands an underhook suplex into a cross arm stretch and then switches to a dragon sleeper. Toyota kicks out (literally) so Hokuto mounts her and slaps the taste out of her mouth. Toyota fires up and lands slaps of her own. Hokuto no-sells and locks in a sharpshooter. Toyota tries pulling Hokuto’s hair so Hokuto adds a headlock to the sharpshooter to worsen the pain. Hokuto follows with a camel clutch and pulls Toyota’s hair back as payback. She applies a dragon crossface and sends Toyota into the ropes but Toyota counters with a springboard crossbody out of nowhere. She follows by spamming shotgun dropkicks on the ropes and in a corner, and then lands a butterfly suplex for two.
Toyota’s in control as she throws Hokuto by her hair and stomps on her as the ref gives her warnings. She whips Hokuto into the ropes but Hokuto ducks a clothesline and lands a German suplex out of nowhere. She follows with some type of high-angle reverse Exploder and reapplies the sharpshooter. Toyota reaches the ropes so Hokuto lets go for a fraction of a second and then reapplied the same hold but also traps the arm. Toyota wriggles free and counters an Irish whip, sees Hokuto duck to dodge a clothesline, and boots her in response. A rolling cradle gets Toyota a two-count, as does a diving snap moonsault. Toyota sends Hokuto into the ropes. Hokuto counters and goes for a low-angle powerbomb. Toyota counters that with a Frankensteiner that gets two. Toyota charges for the Manami Roll/Yoshi Tonic. Hokuto counters with a vicious one-shoulder powerbomb and then lands a poisoned Frankensteiner for two. Yes, Akira Hokuto lands an inverted Frankensteiner in 1995. That’s how ahead of their time she and her fellow joshis were. Hokuto goes for a suplex. Toyota counters with a Japanese Ocean (double hammerlock) suplex for two. Toyota tries the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. Hokuto counters with a Dangerous Queen Bomb. One, two, Toyota kicks out.
Hokuto taunts the crowd and lands a vicious Fisherman Brainbuster, but Toyota doesn’t just kick out, she bridges out. Hokuto follows with a stepover armbar, the finisher of her then-fiancé Kensuke Sasaki. Toyota reaches the rope with her foot. Hokuto mocks Toyota by going for a moonsault. Toyota tries to cut her off but fails. Hokuto decides to switch to a diving dropkick but misses Toyota. Toyota tries the JOCS again. Hokuto counters with a victory roll for two. Snap moonsault by Toyota…connects…with Hokuto’s knees. Hokuto rushes Toyota. Toyota blocks and lands a lucha arm drag. JOCS connects. Toyota lands her ultimate finisher. One, two, thr – no, Hokuto kicks out.
Frustrated, Toyota throws Hokuto out of the ring and grabs the sturdiest table she can find. She places Hokuto onto it and goes to the top rope. She dives…and bounces off the table. Toyota hits Hokuto with full force, but the table supporting her doesn’t even bend, much less break. A few rookies check on Hokuto to see if she can continue. But just as she gets to her knees, Toyota charges, jumps onto the top rope, and lands a somersault dive onto her. Amazing move.
Hokuto somehow gets up first and drags Toyota over to the announce table, and then powerbombs her onto it. Not through the table as usually happens in WWE or AEW, but onto a Japanese table that won’t break. Hokuto repeats the same move a minute later and then climbs the top rope. She dives from the top rope to the table and onto Toyota, crushing her as, once again, the tables doesn’t break. The referee basically drags both women back into the ring by himself and checks to see if either can continue. They can, since Hokuto starts pulling Toyota’s hair. Both women slowly get to their feet. Suddenly, Toyota hooks Hokuto’s head. Northern Lights Bomb! Toyota steals Hokuto’s finisher. Then she follows with one more. Toyota plants Hokuto on the mat head-first a second time. One, two, three! There’s the match.
Winner after 20:43: Manami Toyota
This was one of the most unique joshi matches I’ve ever seen thanks to some great storytelling. As we’ve seen before, most of these old joshi matches are explosive and technical affairs with lots of insane action and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it transitions and reversals. That was the case here, but only for 2/3 of it. After Hokuto kicked out of Toyota’s ultimate super-finisher, the match turned ugly. It went in a more brutal direction with some insane table spots and powerbombs. But those weren’t done gratuitously or for the sake of popping the crowd; instead, they were done to tell a deeper story. Toyota realized her ultimate weapon wasn’t enough to keep Hokuto down for the three-count, so she resorted to desperate tactics like those table spots and stealing her opponent’s finisher. It was a much-needed change of pace from the typical blistering sprints that defined joshi wrestling from that era.
But just because I said the match was ‘unique’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s some kind of legendary encounter. Even though the wrestling was intense and exciting (especially with all the crazy and innovative spots like the poisoned rana and Hokuto’s sick Dangerous Queen bomb), the match never kicked into highest gear, despite the closing third act. Something just seemed…off…here. The wrestling was rather bland for a lot of it, especially with the submission holds. Hokuto tried many different holds to slow Toyota down but she just powered through and did the bare minimum in terms of selling those holds or incorporating them into her comeback.
As for the whole table sequence, it was a bit sloppy and hard to tell if what happened was intentional or not. Toyota smashed Hokuto onto the table twice and it didn’t break, and then dove onto it. I’m amazed she didn’t break any ribs with her landing, to be honest. This pencil-thin woman who was lucky if she weighed 150 pounds dove from the top rope onto a non-gimmicked table at an awkward angle and didn’t even make a dent into it. Poor Hokuto had to absorb that entire impact as well, which must’ve been an excruciating experience. But as the two women lay around the ring, it looked like they were trying to put together a new finish, which led to a rather rushed closing stretch and a deciding fall that came out of nowhere.
Final Rating: ****1/2
This is one of those matches that looked amazing in 1995, but doesn’t really hold up that well. It’s still pretty cool to see two women hitting such innovative offence way back then, but that was only a small fraction of the match. It would’ve been much better if there was a bit more consistent selling and a tenser closing sequence. Instead, the lack of selling leads to earlier stuff being inconsequential and the finish ended up lacking the necessary drama to make it feel like a genuinely-great match.
At least it had an interesting story that made it easy to understand. There’s this annoying trend in modern matches whereby wrestlers throw each other through and smash them with various weapons for the sole purpose of getting a big momentary pop. Here, that direction actually served a narrative purpose to tell a deeper story, which was refreshing because it made complete sense. If only they polished things up with that part of the match and went a bit further, then maybe this match would stand the test of time better than it does now.