Few women have had such a profound impact on women’s wrestling as Manami Toyota and Aja Kong.
In her prime, Toyota was showered with praise in the same way guys like Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay get praised now. Aja Kong has been wrestling nonstop since 1986 and is widely regarded as the closest thing women’s wrestling has ever come to having its own Vader.
Both women were outstanding on their own, but several of their matches together were considered revolutionary and game-changing when they first took place.
Much has changed since these two were in their primes, and in many ways, these two influenced an entire generation of pro-wrestlers to adopt their similar high-speed style.
But were these two always at the top of their game, or did they have hiccups like everyone else? Read on to find out.
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.
Aja Kong spent most of AJW’s second peak during the early-to-mid 1990s as WWWA World Single Champion. Her reign lasted 850 days as she went into this title defense against Manami Toyota.
Going into this match, Toyota and Kong had faced each other hundreds of times in tag matches, but when it came to singles matches Kong had history on her side since Toyota had never managed to beat her one-on-one. But could the spitfire Toyota change that here?
This match originally took place on March 26, 1995. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
This is for Kong’s WWWA World Single Championship. Toyota offers a handshake but Kong blows her off. Kong blocks a German suplex and hits a high-angle backdrop. Toyota blocks a superplex and hits a diving dropkick to the back of Kong’s head. Toyota charges but Kong cuts her off and hits an inverted powerslam into a corner followed by a running body splash. Kong follows with a running corner lariat and a drop suplex for a two-count. Toyota tries kicking her way out of a chinlock but Kong stops her with a head-butt. Toyota tries firing up by tanking kicks but Kong hits too hard and drops the champion.
Kong locks in a chinlock with bodyscissors and then switches to a camel clutch to keep Toyota grounded. Toyota gets a ropebreak as Kong arches backwards so Kong lands more kicks to the back and then hotshots Toyota onto the top rope. Kong follows with a delayed vertical suplex but Toyota bridges out at two. Kong follows with a bottom-rope guillotine and then drops her again after Toyota bravely tries fighting back.
Toyota screams in horror as Kong nails her with a piledriver for a two-count. Kong follows with a regular Boston crab and then a more punishing torture version. But despite those moves and more strikes to Toyota’s back, Toyota still bridges out of another cover so Kong catapults her into the ropes and she falls back-first onto Kong’s knees. Kong maintains the pressure with a single leg crab and then a modified sharpshooter, but Toyota screams something along the lines of “I will never give up”, which gets loud applause from the crowd and a walk-over double stomp to her back from Kong.
Kong hits a double-arm suplex and Toyota barely kicks out. Seeing that she’s no longer bridging, Kong goes back to the Boston crab and almost bends Toyota in half in the opposite direction. She goes for another piledriver but then turns it into a lunching powerbomb mid-move. That’s followed by a second higher-angle powerbomb and a falling head-butt to the small of Toyota’s spine. Kong lands another standard piledriver and then a spinning package piledriver but Toyota kicks out both times. She sends Toyota into the ropes but Toyota lands her incredible Manami roll powerbomb counter out of nowhere for a two-count. Kong kicks Toyota to stop her comeback and hits both a gourdbuster and a diving splash to Toyota’s back. One, two, Toyota bridges out. Kong signals the end and sends Toyota into the ropes. Toyota ducks a lariat and tries a cobra twist.
Kong throws her off and attempts a superplex. Toyota blocks it and dives but Kong catches her in a front slam for yet another two-count. Kong motions to Akira Hokuto at ringside and tries another suplex but Toyota counters with a rolling cradle for a two-count. Toyota misses a diving moonsault but she still manages to avoid a back suplex and hit a bridging German of her own. One, Kong kicks out.
Toyota tries a second moonsault and this it connects…with Kong’s knees. Kong slams Toyota and goes for a second-rope splash but Toyota boots her to the floor and hits a diving dropkick from the turnbuckle to the floor. Toyota places Kong on a table and dives but Kong kicks her in midair. Kong piledrives Toyota through the table which causes the crowd to chant Toyota’s name, but Kong gives them the bras d’honneur gesture. A back suplex gets Kong another two-count. Another high-angle Backdrop gets the same thing. A third even-higher-angle backdrop gets two-as well. Kong goes for a second-rope splash but Toyota gets her knees up. Kong blocks a German suplex. Toyota blocks an uraken backfist and lands a Japanese Ocean Suplex. One, two, Kong kicks out. Kong blocks another such a suplex and then answers a Manami Roll with a sick one-shoulder powerbomb. One, two, Toyota kicks out.
Toyota tries a top-rope springboard back kick counter but Kong swats her out of the air. Kong ties a superplex but Toyota blocks it. Toyota tries a diving powerbomb but Kong holds onto the ropes and then does a Yokozuna-style sitting splash for another two-count. Kong goes back to the top rope but Toyota cuts her off and hits a VICTORY STAR DROP! One, two, Kong gets a ropebreak. Toyota charges again…and runs into an uraken. One, two, Toyota kicks out.
Kong tries another backdrop but Toyota counters into a crossbody press pin for a two-count. Toyota goes to the top rope but Kong cuts her off and hits a Jackhammer suplex from the second-rope. One, two, Toyota survives again. Toyota tries to counter Kong’s next move but Kong slams her backwards and gets another two-count. Toyota blocks another superplex but Kong hits another uraken. Toyota jumps over Kong and after a long struggle lands a second-rope electric chair suplex. She follows that with a successful Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. One, two, and three! Toyota beats Kong to win the title!
Winner and NEW WWWA World Single Champion after 23:22: Manami Toyota
Every single one of the best wrestlers of all time has an off day and this was Toyota’s. I’ve seen many outstanding matches of hers over the years and I’ve generally agreed with the common sentiment that she’s the shorthand for greatest women’s wrestler in modern times. But for whatever reason Toyota just struck out here. Despite having all the usual trappings of a great match – unpredictability, intense action, a sense of competition, and the kind of physicality that makes it really look like this is a difficult profession that not just anyone could pull off – there was one critical flaw that caused this match to fall apart: Toyota didn’t sell a single thing.
For all the praise she has gotten when on offense, here she showed her shortcomings when on defense. Kong spent the overwhelming majority of the match throwing Toyota around, hitting her full force, and bending her in ways other than that which God intended. Yet for all of that effort, Toyota just brushed it all off and pushed forward without any sort of underdog fight. She didn’t fight through pain; she didn’t persevere by making small pieces of progress with each passing control or heat segment; and she didn’t slow down or show that she was in danger. Instead, it was as if each time she was in control she was resetting the match to the beginning. Her body language, pacing, and expressions made it clear that she wasn’t selling or overcoming anything; she was negating all of it and treating it like it never happened. If I were Aja Kong in this match I’d be beyond frustrated that I was stuck doing all this exhausting stuff only for none of it to register with its target.
This is why pro-wrestling isn’t as easy as some people make it out to be. To do it well one has to know what to do on offense and on defense. Many people have shown that they’re decently capable in the former but few people really exceled at the latter as well. Toyota showed what can happen when one wrestler opts not to sell at all for her opponent: the action was rendered mechanical and emotionless despite Kong’s best efforts at making this into an emotionally-charges competition.
Despite getting strong reactions from the crowd, the match became an exercise in repetition. There was little in the way of plot progress or build towards a dramatic finish. It was the wrestling equivalent of being stuck in a difficult level in a video game and constantly pressing “restart” instead of trying to reach the end or watching the same sequence stuck in an endless and somewhat broken loop with little variation. Athletically it was fin but story-wise it was a disappointment.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Both of these women had better matches both before this one and after it. This was an underwhelming match despite the crowd noise, and part of that was how the match was structured. Kong was the ultimate monster heel: she tore Toyota apart, beat her down, and even got some begrudging respect from some people who couldn’t refuse to admit that she was doing a great job in the ring.
But Toyota, who was cast as the heroine in this match, didn’t have the kind of heroic performance one expects from these sorts of David versus Goliath match-ups. There was little flow, progress, or dramatic tension here. It was largely a robotic moves display. And while some of the moves were impressive, just hitting cool moves doesn’t a great match make. That’s all fine if you want a highlight video, but not a completely wrestling contest.