The year 1993 was a very interesting year for pro-wrestling because a lot of wild stuff was happening. WWE was involved in their steroid scandal. WCW was trying different things under the direction of Eric Bischoff. ECW was making waves in the Philadelphia region. AAA, a splinter promotion that broke away from Mexico’s giant CMLL, exploded in popularity.
All Japan Pro-Wrestling was firing on all cylinders. New Japan was in a strong position thanks to a solid roster of top draws and a growing junior heavyweight division. And women’s wrestling was in the midst of another golden age.
All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) had one of the craziest, most unforgettable runs in wrestling history. From 1985 to 1996 they showcased arguably the best women’s wrestling product of all time, thanks to its roster of incredible, time-tested wrestlers. Today we look back at another classic that, unsurprisingly, was rated as another 5-star affair. But was it really that good, or was it simply the result of being so different from everything else that was going on around the world at the time? There’s only one way to find out.
Let’s look back at the tag match between Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki and Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada from December 1993.
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.
Imagine the following scenario. WWE is the only wrestling company operating in the United States. They have a solid roster filled with talent, but the company also imposes some weird rules on them. All wrestlers must retire at age 40, they can’t smoke anything, and personal relationships must be kept to a minimum. Naturally, some wrestlers would say ‘f**k that’ and would go on and start their own company.
That’s exactly what happened here. AJW had those weird rules for their women and a bunch of them had enough and started their own promotion, JWP Joshi Puroresu. But AJW didn’t ignore the new company or pretend they didn’t exist. Instead, they saw that money could be made in big inter-promotional matches.
Central to the AJW vs. JWP feud were two women, Mayumi Ozaki and Dynamite Kansai. They were JWP’s top stars and Kansai was their top champion. They fought in two of the best women’s tag matches to ever take place, one of which involved their opponents here, Toyota and Yoshida. Eight months earlier, Ozaki and Kansai beat Toyota and Yoshida in an epic, monumental two-out-of-three falls tag match to win AJW’s top tag titles, the WWA World Tag Team Championships. Toyota and Yoshida had been champions for over a year and had to fight hard to earn another shot at those titles. It took them eight months to get another shot, which leads us to this match, on a show called St. Battle Final.
This is for the WWWA World Tag Team Championships held by Kansai and Ozaki. By the time the bell rings, Ozaki has whipped Toyota into a corner and Kansai has spiked Yamada with a German suplex. Toyota fights free of Ozaki and dropkicks Kansai before Kansai can do a repeat of their April match and land a Splash Mountain powerbomb. Ozaki Germans Toyota and lands a Doomsday Device with Kansai’s help. Yamada breaks up a pin so Ozaki lands two DDTs for a quick two-count. Kansai tags in, lands some stiff kicks and drops Toyota with a suplex for two. Ozaki tags in and whips Toyota but Toyota counters by jumping onto the top rope and landing a crossbody block. She tags Yamada and they drop Ozaki with a double-team sidewalk slam and a double-team tossing suplex.
Yamada lands some spine kicks and then does a stretch muffler giant swing and gets 20 rotations out of it. Impressive. Toyota tags in and goes for a dropkick but misses and Kansai tags in. She lands stiff kicks of her own followed by a piledriver for two. Toyota tries to escape a chinlock by rolling backwards into a pin but Kansai overpowers her and kicks out. Kansai switches to a seated dragon sleeper with bodyscissors and head-butts Toyota each time she tries to fight out and traps her arms as she tries to crawl to freedom.
Ozaki tags in and lands a diving corkscrew senton followed by an STF submission hold. She traps an arm so Toyota uses her feet to reach the ropes. Undeterred, Ozaki switches to a three-limb submission but Toyota reaches the ropes again. Ozaki followed with a nasty-looking powerbomb into a single leg crab and then switches into a full-on torture crab that looks like it’ll bend Toyota’s spine. Kansai tags in and punts Toyota in the spine, chest, and face. She whips Toyota but Toyota counters with a running dropkick. She tries to begin her comeback with corner dropkicks but Kansai sees her coming and dodges one and lands a leg drop. Kansai pins but Toyota bridges out at two defiantly.
Ozaki tags in and goes for another senton but Toyota dodges so Ozaki hits Kansai instead. Yamada tags in and cleans house with martial arts kicks. She lands a combo of suplexes and strikes for a two-count and puts on a deep chinlock. Ozaki struggles but eventually gets to the ropes, and then counters an Irish whip with a neckbreaker and tags Kansai. The two shirt-haired woman start kicking each other incredibly hard until Yamada kicks Kansai so hard she goes out of the ring.
Kansai returns and slows the pace down with a Greco-Roman knuckle lock and then lands a piledriver at the ten-minute mark. Ozaki tags back in and applies a deep chinlock as Toyota screams encouragement from the apron. Yamada gets a ropebreak so Ozaki lands a bridging backdrop suplex for two. She follows with a Camel clutch and Kansai rushes in, knocks Toyota off the apron, and punts Yamada in her exposed collar. Ozaki pins but only gets two.
Ozaki tightens the camel clutch but Yamada still gets to the ropes. Kansai tags in and goes back to martial arts kicks, but Yamada out-kicks her and blasts her in the back of the head. Yamada gets a measure of revenge when Toyota puts Kansai in the camel clutch and Yamada lands a ton of kicks to Kansai’s collar as the crowd applauds loudly.
Yamada lands a backdrop and tags Toyota, who stomps away but soon runs into a sidewalk slam from Kansai. Toyota kicks out once again but eats a corner clothesline for her defiance. She goes to counter another corner whip with a diving splash but Kansai catches her and lands a northern lights suplex for two. Kansai goes for a super back suplex. Toyota counters into a moonsault body block for two. Ozaki lands a sudden diving dropkick to give Kansai control. Kansai goes for a splash mountain bomb. Toyota counters with a Manami roll/Yoshi Tonic for two and goes for the rolling cradle. Kansai powers out and tags Ozaki. They try to double team Toyota but Yamada kicks Kansai down and Toyota lands the rolling cradle for another two-count.
Yamada tags in at the fifteen-minute mark and goes for a double-team slam. Ozaki escapes allowing Kansai to double clothesline both Yamada and Toyota. Powerbomb by Ozaki. Toyota kicks out. Kansai tags in and lands more stiff kicks. She goes for a powerbomb, Toyota lands on her feet, and Kansai spikes Toyota with a Backdrop, only for Toyota to bridge out once again.
Kansai signals the end as Ozaki rushes to keep Yamada on the apron. She gets Toyota in position for the splash mountain but Yamada escapes and kicks her hard. Ozaki and Toyota overpower Toyota allowing Kansai to land a diving foot stomp. Oh God, that looked painful. Yet somehow Toyota still bridges out. Kansai says it’s over. Splash Mountain bomb connects. Ozaki knocks Yamada away. One, two, Yamada makes the save. Kansai and Ozaki go for a doomsday bulldog. Toyota counters with a roll-up at the last second to dodge Ozaki. Kansai kicks out and Ozaki faceplants Toyota, only for her to keep kicking out again. Super back suplex by Kansai. Toyota counters into a crossbody in midair.
Ozaki tags in and Irish whips Toyota, Toyota counters but Ozaki flips over the rope and kicks Yamada off the apron. Ozaki lands a corkscrew senton onto Yamada out of the ring as Kansai kicks the crap out of Toyota. They attempt the Doomsday Razor’s Edge on Toyota. Toyota kicks Ozaki off the turnbuckle and tags Yamada. Yamada brawls with Kansai, Kansai ducks a kick and goes for a backdrop, but Yamada counters into her own crossbody for two. Kansai blocks one running 540 kick but can’t block a second one. Yamada lands seven backdrop suplexes in a row and tosses Kansai into Toyota. Toyota boots her in the face, allowing Yamada to land a German suplex. They knock Ozaki off the apron and Yamada lands a diving 540 kick to Kansai’s head. one, two, Kansai kicks out. Yamada goes for the vertebreaker but Kansai power out, only for Toyota to dropkick Kansai in the head. Doomsday 540 kick by Toyota and Yamada. One, two, Ozaki makes the save.
Yamada tries the vertebreaker again but Ozaki lands a facebuster and then tags herself in. she dives off the top rope but eats a kick to the stomach. Double diving body presses from opposite corners. Ozaki kicks out. Toyota tags in and goes for a snap moonsault. Ozaki rolls out of the way. Kansai clotheslines Toyota and Ozaki lands a bridging half-and-half suplex. One, two, Yamada makes the save. Ozaki dives with a Twisted Bliss-style press. Toyota gets her feet up. Toyota goes for the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. Ozaki counters with a victory roll. Toyota barely escapes. Ozaki whips Toyota into a corner but Toyota sees Kansai there and dropkicks her to the floor. Yamada chases both of them and holds them in place for Toyota. Diving moonsault press from the top rope to the floor. Yamada and Toyota continue with a double top-rope backdrop suplex on Ozaki. One, two, Kansai saved her partner. JOCS connects. The referee counts one, two, no, Kansai saves Ozaki again. What a close call.
Yamada drags Kansai ringside and Toyota lands a diving shotgun dropkick to the floor. What an insane move.
Yamada keeps Kansai at bay as Toyota prepares some new move. She locks both wrists and drops Ozaki with a double-wristlock Alabama Slam. One, two, three! There’s the match. New champions are crowned.
Winners and NEW WWWA World Tag Team Champions after 25:32: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada
Once again, the women of AJW deliver with some historic greatness. This was another classic, an insane war with some of the most high-octane action you’ll ever see in a wrestling ring. These two teams had such phenomenal chemistry. They crafted such a complex and unpredictable tapestry of a match. And while it doesn’t match up to their April encounter, it’s still an outstanding tag match that helped define a golden era for women’s wrestling.
From the opening bell, it was a blistering sprint with all four women moving so unbelievably quickly and reaching such incredible highs. And yet, they still managed to build the match up in a way that makes me question whether they were actually human. All of them but Kansai were tiny wrestlers that were lucky if they weighed 150 pounds, yet they spent 25 minutes slamming each other with incredible force. Yet all four of them soldiered on and like the Energizer Bunny, just kept going and going and going, no matter what was thrown at them. They showed a different kind of tenacity that most of us are used to. Instead of selling realistically and slowing down when overcome with pain, each one did their best to stay at the same speed.
Toyota and Ozaki were perhaps the best examples of this. They didn’t sell their struggles by clasping a limb or moving sluggishly; they did so by making mistakes. The pain Toyota and Ozaki suffered as the match progressed caused them to overcompensate on hot tags and led to them making rash decisions that their respective opponents capitalized on. It was a different psychology but it made perfect sense. Toyota tried to fluster her opponents with her unrelenting pace but they took advantage of her when she got too gung-ho on her comebacks. Ozaki was the same and kept trying to use her own speed to confuse both Toyota and especially Yamada, only for those plans to become less successful as the match went on. And while Toyota and Ozaki brought the technique and speed, Kansai and Yamada brought the brutality. They hit each other incredibly hard and gave their segments a real fight feel.
So when all four of these women came together, the whole ended up being far greater than the sum of its parts. The match was equal parts unpredictable, brutal, aesthetically-pleasing, and technical. They crafted such an incredible tale that kept the viewers guessing. That’s the beauty of this 1990s joshi style; on the surface, their matches might come across as rudderless or void of structure. But when you sit down and actually watch one, you see the logic behind what they do. There was a structure beneath the chaos; any one of the constant near-falls could’ve ended the match because of how intense they were. There was no gradual build-up over time; these women started spiking each other and going for finishers right away in the hopes of winning the match as soon as possible. That gave the match an unbelievable edge-of-your-seat tension that lasted until the final, match-ending move.
Final Rating: *****
This is one of the most satisfying tag matches you will ever see. These four women open the match white-hot and hardly ever slow down. They fought so hard and went to such extremes to win that their standard has yet to be surpassed. They kept everyone guessing and put so much effort into each and every sequence that it was impossible to predict how the match would end. It wasn’t like other joshi matches that are purely chaotic and rudderless; it was a match with a clear focus and game plan that masqueraded as a rudderless one.
The more I watch these joshi matches, the more I understand why there’s so little outright praise for modern women’s wrestling. It just doesn’t compare to what happened almost thirty years ago. While today’s women’s wrestlers are basically trying to make up for years of questionable booking, the joshis involved in matches like this one were setting the standard so high that few, if any, have been able to match them.
Thanks for reading.