Every time I look back at the most recommended matches from the 1990s, this one keeps appearing. Even after almost thirty years, this is still hailed as not only one of the best women’s wrestling matches ever but one of the best matches ever, period. So I figured I’d sit down and see what the fuss was all about.
The best comparison I can make to today’s wrestling with this match would be if Becky Lynch wrestled Ronda Rousey one-on-one at WrestleMania. Except instead of Rousey training to wrestle in WWE’s style, she stuck to MMA for the most part and the only wrestling part of her offense was a few high-impact slams. Sounds like an interesting match-up, right? Now take that visual and imagine if there were basically no restrictions in terms of banned moves and both women hit each other as hard as possible and busted each other open badly. That’s the kind of insanity we have with this match.
Today we revisit the singles match between wrestler Akira Hokuto and shootfighter Shinobu Kandori from AJW’s first Dream Slam event in 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.
This is a match between a wrestler and a women’s MMA fighter (technically). In 1993, Hokuto was a member of AJW, the top women’s wrestling promotion in Japan. Meanwhile, Kandori was part of Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling (LLPW), which was a splinter promotion of Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling. A year earlier, the combatants working for Japan Women split into two groups: the ‘entertainers’/wrestlers went to JWP Joshi Puroresu while the ‘shooters’/fighters went to LLPW. Kandori was one of LLPW’s top stars and basically represented the promotion in big interpromotional matches, such as in this match.
Here, Kandori hoped to represent LLPW and her shootfighting style in the biggest match of her career. You see, this match took place at Dream Slam I, which commemorated AJW’s 25th anniversary. Not only that, Kandori’s opponent was Akira Hokuto, quite possibly the best and toughest women’s wrestler ever. She had an incredible reputation for toughness and wrestled through incredible pain and multiple injuries. Knowing that, Kandori had her hands full with Hokuto, but then again the opposite was also true. Hokuto was a great women’s wrestler, but she wasn’t an experienced shootfighter. Would her grit be her key to victory here, or would Kandori make her tap out? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on April 2nd 1993 at an event called ‘Dream Slam’, a.k.a. AJW’s 25th Anniversary Show. It drew 16,500 fans to the venue, and at the time was the most financially-successful women’s-only wrestling show in history.
Hokuto walks up to Kandori and just SMASHES her face in with an elbow. Kandori goes down like she just got knocked out for real. Hokuto grabs a mic and trash-talks her. Kandori tries to shake the cobwebs out of her head and slowly gets back up. Hokuto rushes her but she fires back with stiff slaps. Then Kandori slaps on a grounded armbar (Dis-arm-her). Hokuto thrashes around in extreme pain until the ref pulls Kandori off her. She falls to the floor and sells like her shoulder has been popped out of its socket. Several women and doctors check on her until they apply cold spray to her arm. But despite all of that, Hokuto sucks it up and goes back to the ring. Except Kandori is waiting for her and rushes in with kicks to that badly-damaged arm. Hokuto escapes to ringside once again to recover and then returns to confront Kandori.
Kandori rushes Hokuto and hits some brutal forearms to her face. Hokuto fires back with slaps and starts kneeing her nose. But Kandori catches Hokuto’s leg and goes for a kneebar. Hokuto reaches the ropes immediately. Kandori tries to Irish whip Hokuto but Hokuto tries countering, even with a badly-damaged arm. Kandori catches Hokuto in the act and counters her counter with a dragon sleeper. Hokuto escapes and kicks Kandori out of the ring. She goes for a quebrada to the floor. Kandori cuts her off and throws her back into the ring. Big scoop slam by Kandori. That’s followed by a real cross armbar. Hokuto blocks it, so Kandori wrestles into a front chancery. Hokuto escapes it and blocks more attempts at arm-targeting holds. Then Hokuto tries her own cross armbar on Kandori, only for Kandori to reach the ropes. She drags Kandori ringside and smashes her into the announcer’s table. Then Hokuto picks Kandori up for a tombstone. Wait, no, Kandori reverses it. Tombstone piledriver by Kandori. Hokuto hits the table so hard there’s a visible dent in it.
Kandori waits in the ring as Hokuto gets up and blood is just pouring out of her head. Hokuto can barely stand without help as the ref keeps asking her if she wants to give up. but she soldiers on like a boss as she returns to the ring, where Kandori drops her with a big right hand. Kandori lands some running strikes and demands Hokuto get up, which she does and she takes Kandori down following a kick counter. Hokuto gets a sudden second wind as she drags Kandori out into the stands. Hokuto smashes her into anything she can find as the brawling continues. There appear to be no count-outs in AJW so I guess this is fair game. Both women return to the ring and now Kandori’s face is also bloody.
The crowd rallies behind Hokuto as she drops Kandori with one running kick after another. Even with literal crimson mask upon her face, Hokuto charges with a kick. But this time Kandori blocks it and slams her down. Kandori fights back with more hard strikes. Then she suplexes Hokuto to the floor and hits a pescado onto her. Nice dive.
After a minute or so, Hokuto returns to the ring and fails to escape a back suplex from Kandori. But instead of pinning, Kandori goes for another grounded armbar. Hokuto tries to reach the ropes with her free hand. Kandori traps it and locks in a sleeper with bodyscissors. Hokuto responds by rolling to the ropes, which allows her to start firing up again. Hokuto lands a stiff slap and a sudden piledriver followed by a massive spinkick. Kandori slumps against the ropes as though she were knocked out. Both women struggle to their feet as the crowd grows louder. Kandori ducks a kick and goes for a kneebar again but Hokuto gets a ropebreak. Kandori follows with stiff punches and a DDT for two and then locks in some strange triangle/armbar combination hold. Hokuto counters into a single leg crab. No, Kandori counters into her own single leg as Hokuto gets another ropebreak. This is great so far.
Kandori lands more stiff punches until Hokuto fires back with some of her own. A snap suplex gets her a two-count so she goes to the top rope. She lands a diving splash but can’t pin because of the damage to her own body, so she tries another dive. But this time Kandori gets her knees up. Folding powerbomb. Hokuto kicks out. Kandori goes for a diving crossbody. Hokuto blocks it and lands a bridging German suplex for two.
Twenty minutes have passed as Hokuto goes to the top rope again. But this time Kandori cuts her off and drags her to the middle of the ring. Once there, she locks in a swinging sleeper. Kandori then drops to the ground and tries to make Hokuto submit, but Hokuto literally kicks out, to which Kandori answers with a grounded sleeper with bodyscissors. The fans rally behind Hokuto as she tries to find an escape. She sees the ropes and treaches out with all her might. Kandori tries trapping her arm. Hokuto powers through and gets a break.
The referee slaps Hokuto to make sure she’s lucid enough to continue and the match progresses. Kandori goes for a powerbomb. Hokuto counters with a hurricanrana and tries for a pin but Kandori escapes. Kandori tries to take advantage with an Irish whip. Hokuto counters, hits a kick, and smashes her with another powerbomb for a 2.6-count. Both wrestlers struggle to stay up. Hokuto lands a spinkick that sends Kandori to the floor. She balances on the top rope…and hits a flipping senton to the floor. But she’s not done. Hokuto climbs to the top rope…and lands a diving dropkick to the floor.
Both women struggle back into the ring but Hokuto gets up first. She teases the end with her finisher…no, it’s countered. Kandori keeps tries to roll into a cross armbar but Hokuto avoids it each time. She does get it in for a split second but Hokuto reaches the ropes. Kandori goes for a double-arm suplex but Hokuto resists. Kandori responds by rolling through into other submission holds, which Hokuto continues to block, until Kandori manages to and a Tiger Driver for two. Kandori gets up first and lands a stiff running lariat followed by a running slap. Kandori charges again as Hokuto gets up. Hokuto blocks an attack and connects with a huge bridging Backdrop suplex. One, two, Kandori kicks out. Northern Lights Bomb! Hokuto spikes Kandori on her head. One, two, thr – no, Kandori kicks out. Hokuto tries again. Kandori blocks and lands her own Northern Lights Bomb! Hokuto gets spiked with her own finisher. One, two, no, Hokuto kicks out.
The fans chant for Hokuto as fresh blood pours down her face. She drops Kandori with a stiff punch. Kandori tanks it like a boss and fires back with a punch of her own. Both women get up one more time. And hit each other with punches at the same time. Damn, you can hear them hitting each other over all the arena noise. Both women go down. Hokuto crawls over for a pin. One, two, three! There’s the match! What a war!
Winner after 30:39: Akira Hokuto
That was an outstanding match that still holds up very well today. It’s an absolutely must-watch contest. Not only does it have some incredible wrestling and storytelling for its era, but it’s also one of the most brutal contests ever. It’s incredibly rare for women’s wrestlers to bleed, even now, so these two went out of their way to put on a clash for the ages.
This was very different from the usual joshi matches of its day. Instead of a blistering sprint with insane counters and tons of high-spots, these two wrestlers had a nasty and bloody brawl. It was an interesting clash between Hokuto ‘the wrestler’ and Kandori ‘the fighter’. There was this perception that Kandori and the other LLPW women were tougher by virtue of being ‘shootflighters’ so Hokuto sought to prove that she was on their level by nearly breaking Kandori’s jaw with an elbow. But that only angered Kandori to the point of nearly destroying Hokuto’s shoulder. From there it was on. Hokuto had to fight from underneath with one bad arm against a smart technician that kept going back to that weakened arm throughout the match. Even though Kandori’s attacking that arm wasn’t as overt and relentless as in other smart wrestling bouts, she did do enough damage to keep both Hokuto and the audience worried. She didn’t need to slap on armbar after armbar because Hokuto adapted quickly and escaped any attempt to work that arm, which in turn forced Kandori to find other avenues to success. And yet, from the way she wrestled, Kandori knew that she could keep tying Hokuto in knots and go back to the arm when Hokuto’s guard was exposed. And when that didn’t work, Kandori simply switched into another submission hold, all of which were believable and could credibly end the match since she was such a proven submission specialist.
Scientific grappling aside, this match showcased plenty of toughness and grit, especially from Hokuto. She took a huge Tombstone onto the announce table and within a few minutes her face was as crimson as Ric Flair’s from his heyday. It made for an awesome visual and underscored how much suffering Hokuto was willing to endure to win. Not only that, but she was so desperate to find something, anything, to get the advantage that she resorted to high-risk dives to the floor. But when those proved useless, and after both women kicked out of insane spike Brainbusters, they resorted to throwing hands. All the scientific grappling and high-spots were thrown out the window in favor of a straight-up hardnosed fight. It came down to a simplistic tough-woman contest and somehow, after all that brutality, Hokuto won. Both women punched each other simultaneously, but Hokuto had just enough power in her to get the three-count.
And yet it wasn’t that decisive a victory. Hokuto barely survived here and Kandori recovered soon afterwards. But neither woman looked weak; instead, both of them left this match looking way better than when they entered. Kandori left with her reputation more or less intact and looked great because Hokuto had to almost kill her to win. And Hokuto came out of this looking even tougher than when she entered, as if that were even possible. She fought for thirty minutes against one of the most feared women’s grapplers in the country for thirty minutes, nearly had her shoulder torn from its socket, got spiked onto an announce table, bled like a stuck pig, could barely defend herself against a dangerous opponent, yet still came out on top. If that isn’t a surefire method of making someone into a top star, I don’t know what is.
The only real problem this match has is that it drags on in a few moments. Even with all the intensity, heat, excitement and tension, the match had a few moments of dead time during which nothing happened. And it wasn’t the ‘let’s-build-up-to-something-big’ dead time but more of the ‘we’re-stretching-this-out’ sort. Because of that, the match lacked a sense of urgency in the middle, which kind of weakened the overall atmosphere of the match. Two big examples of that were Hokuto’s second stall attempt that just dragged on forever and did little to ramp up the tension, and the other was the crowd-brawling spot that went too long. I know the latter was done so that Kandori could end up busted open too, but they could’ve accomplished this same feat in shorter time somewhere closer to the ring and it would’ve had the same dramatic impact.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Even though it’s not quite perfect, this match remains one of the most must-see matches of its day. It’s such a stark contrast to almost everything around it. Whereas most big Japanese matches of the 1990s (men’s or women’s) were centered on technical grappling and exciting spots, this match went in a different direction. It was a genuine wrestling brawl that blurred the lines between scripted and real in an awesome way.
If you like realistic pro-wrestling with incredible risks and non-stop ‘how-are-they-still-alive’ action, then this is the match for you. And yet, if you don’t like blood, then you’ll want to cover your eyes or watch with your head turned. Hokuto’s nickname was ‘the Dangerous Queen’ and she more than earned it here.