5-Star Match Reviews: Chigusa Nagayo vs. Lioness Asuka – AJW, February 26th, 1987

chigusa lioness asuka feb 26 1987

It’s impossible to talk about women’s wrestling without talking about the biggest women’s wrestling stars from the last fifty years. Chigusa and Asuka – the Crush Gals – were quite possibly the biggest women’s draws of all time.

They were so popular and successful as partners that they inspired an entire generation of women’s wrestlers to follow in their footsteps. But could they live up to those same lofty expectations facing each other? 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.

The story

The Crush Gals reached their peak as wrestlers and as crossover stars between August 1983 and early 1986. During that period, they accomplished many things. They had three reigns as WWWA World Tag Team Champions, they released a single together (despite Chigusa having never sang in public before) which sold 100,000 copies, and their matches were ratings gold. Several tag matches between the Crush Gals and Dump Matsumoto’s Dangerous Alliance drew 12.0 ratings in Japan. By comparison, the highest-ever TV rating for any wrestling segment in the US and Canada was Undertaker vs. Steve Austin on the June 28th, 1999 episode of RAW, which did a 9.5 rating.

What’s more, Chigusa admitted that during this white-hot peak period, she had to change addresses several times because she’d be swarmed by fans when she’d be returning home.

The Crush Gals’ popularity cannot be overstated. They were so beloved by their legions of fans. As a result, the venues showcasing their matches sounded less like wrestling shows and more like boyband concerts. I’m including a link to this match’s video as I do for most of these matches; but for this one it’s best to turn the volume WAY down, unless you want to listen to forty minutes of high-pitched screaming.

The match

This match has a 30-minute time limit. Asuka has a taped-up right arm, but that doesn’t stop her from starting strong with some high kicks. Chigusa reverses an Irish whip and dropkicks Asuka against the ropes. Asuka ducks a big kick and dumps Chigusa to ringside. Chigusa comes back in and the two women grapple to the mat. she gets a ropebreak to free herself from an armbar and then does a knuckle-lock test of strength with Asuka. Asuka overpowers Chigusa and applies a chinlock but Chigusa counters with a leglock, only for Asuka to counter that with a cross armbreaker attempt. Chigusa wrestles into a leglock but Asuka fights out, leading to a stalemate.

Asuka takes Chigusa to the mat with a cobra clutch and then hits her with a flurry of kicks. There’s a quick waistlock exchange and then back to the mat they go. Chigusa escapes a crossface chickenwing but Asuka reapplies a similar hold right before Chigusa gets to the ropes. she eventually does and then takes Asuka down and locks in a Boston crab. Asuka pulls one of Chigusa’s legs to free herself but Chigusa adapts by locking in a bow-and-arrow hold instead. Asuka breaks free but Chigusa maintains control with her own kick barrage. Asuka tries blocking but Chigusa grabs her head and lands a snap headlock suplex for a two-count.

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Asuka blocks another crossface so Chigusa tries another armbar but Asuka blocks that too. Chigusa tries different positions but Asuka still manages to slither out and counter with another leglock. Then Asuka switches to a cross between a Figure-4 leglock, a double-arm stretch, and then a cross-arm chinlock/backbreaker. Chigusa breaks free again so Asuka hits a clothesline and a vertical suplex for a two-count. Asuka follows with a great knee breaker/heel hook combination. Chigusa tries kicking Asuka’s face with her free foot but it does nothing. Chigusa gets a ropebreak and then cleverly holds onto another side of the ropes to block a giant swing.

Then the fighting spreads to ringside and then return to the ring for another test of strength. Suddenly Chigusa lands an Irish whip into a spinkick and a butterfly suplex for a two-count. Asuka blocks a sharpshooter and the two women hold each other in simultaneous heel hooks. After a ropebreak, Chigusa locks in a full nelson and then lands what appears to be a backdrop suplex, only for Asuka to bridge out of some pin attempts. Then Asuka escapes a chinlock with a back suplex and gets a two-count, followed by another two-count off a spinebuster. Asuka grabs Chigusa’s leg, ducks an enzuigiri, and trades more kicks with Chigusa. Then she blocks another enzuigiri and locks in another sharpshooter. Chigusa gets a ropebreak so Asuka applies another bow-and-arrow. Chigusa gets another ropebreak and then bounces off the ropes with a running kick. Asuka kips up and the two trade strikes and waistlocks until Asuka takes Chigusa down by her arm. Asuka switches to a full nelson but Chigusa escapes to ringside so Chigusa dives onto her through the ropes.

After more ringside brawling, Chigusa brings Asuka into the ring and lands a palm thrust to her stomach. Chigusa gets a two-count off a vertical suplex and then applies a triangle choke. Asuka breaks free and tries pinning Chigusa but only gets a two-count. piledriver by Asuka. Chigusa kicks out again. Diving crossbody. Yet another kick-out. Chigusa counters into a bridging German suplex out of nowhere for yet another two-count. Tombstone Piledriver. Asuka kicks out. Diving wheel kick. Asuka kicks out at one. Another German suplex and another kick-out. Asuka lands another knee crusher and goes for a Figure-4 leglock. Chigusa blocks the full application with her forearm at first but then Asuka finishes the hold. Chigusa gets a ropebreak but Asuka’s in no hurry to let go. Then literally a second later, Asuka whips Chigusa into the ropes and Chigusa has enough leg strength to jump over Asuka and try a monkey flip. So all that pain and selling was for nothing. Anyway, Asuka avoids the flip and lifts Chigusa onto the top turnbuckle and hits a super back suplex. One, two, Chigusa kicks out.

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A strike exchange ensues and then Chigusa tries a Boston crab and a third sharpshooter. Neither move accomplishes anything so Chigusa hits a superplex but Asuka bridges out of a pin. Asuka kicks out of a backslide pin and then lands an 11-rotation giant swing out of nowhere for yet another two-count.

Three minutes left.

Diving dropkick. Two-count. bridging dragon suplex. Two-count. high-angle back suplex. Two-count. Chigusa counters an Irish whip with a spinning wheel kick. Two-count. bridging pin. Two-count. Tombstone Piledriver by Asuka. Yet another two-count.

Two minutes left.

Another superplex and another two-count. Chigusa counters a suplex with a small package and gets, of course, a two-count. She gets the same off a running forearm and a bridging butterfly suplex.

One minute left.

Asuka dropkicks Chigusa and does another giant swing but Chigusa kicks out again.

Ten seconds left.

An uranage likewise gets Asuka a two-count, as does another bridging German.

Five seconds left.

Chigusa does another small package counter when the bell rings. Time has run out.

Match result: 30 minute DRAW we’re not done here!

The referees and the company officials watching from ringside discuss the decision as rookie women clean the ring a bit and the two wrestlers recover. A MASSIVE pop erupts as the commentator announces that the two wrestlers will go for at least one more round five-minute round.

Five-minute overtime round

The next round starts the exact same way as the first: with a kickboxing exchange. The two grapple until Chigusa gets a two-count off a back suplex. She gets another two-count following a piledriver but then misses a top-rope crossbody. Asuka hits a big suplex of her own for another two-count. Then she hits a big spinebuster but Chigusa kicks out again. Asuka follows with a second-rope elbow drop to Chigusa’s head but somehow Chigusa pins Asuka instead of the other way around. Chigusa follows with a bridging double-wrist suplex for another two-count. This whole ‘move then two-count’ pattern continues with many different things: a backbreaker, another piledriver, another German suplex, some kicks, and another backslide. Chigusa holds onto the ropes to avoid a kick but then Asuka does the very same. Asuka lands another giant swing for a two-count and hits an enzuigiri. The two start trading suplexes but then the bell rings to signal the end of this next round.

The referees deliberate with the company’s top official and then the announcer comes in to make the decision. I don’t know the exact reason, but based on what little I could gather from this, the referees award the victory to Lioness Asuka! So there’s the decision, I guess.

Winner after 35:00 total time: Lioness Asuka


That was easily one of the most overrated matches I’ve ever seen. It might’ve been impressive because it had a great crowd but that doesn’t mean much anymore. And even if the action was creative and exciting for its day, hitting cool moves is only half the equation. And this match was so bereft of plot, structure, psychology, and build that it felt like a never-ending exhibition match. Moves were executed in such a haphazard and meaningless way that it made me wonder if this was some sort of terrifying pre-Inoki attempt at mixing pro wrestling with real fighting. While I can’t call this an outwardly bad match, it’s definitely a plodding, meaningless, and entirely skippable one.

There was simply no structure or flow to this match. It was like a freestyle match with both women trying the first thing that came to mind in the moment and going with it. There was no progression from one segment to the next. Stuff that happened early on had no impact on the larger story. Sure, the match had ‘cool moves’; but as I’ve said before, just showing cool stuff is simple eye candy, and the best matches are full of eye protein instead. There were a few attempts at submission holds and limb targeting but those went nowhere. At one point both women were hurting each other with a Figure-4 leglock and then both were sprinting and jumping seconds later. Even guys like Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay, whom I’ve criticized before for being spotty sellers and having inconsistent match layout, have never done anything this bad in their alleged 5-star matches.

There was no sense of distinction or transition here. Both women just switched control and hit moves on each other back-and-forth without there being any reason why the other person was suddenly in control. Because of that, the moves ended up being meaningless and lacking in substance. Why would any fan want to sit through something like this when there’s no sense of scale? Why would anyone believe that any of those moves would lead to anything beyond a two-count when there’s no sense that one or both women is actually getting weaker or running out of gas? This match was so deeply flawed in its execution that it would make a viewer ask, “Where is this going?” Granted, unpredictability is usually a good thing in wrestling matches. But if there’s no roadmap of any kind whatsoever, then what viewers are left with is two competitors hitting moves blindly without any sense of direction.

And speaking of hitting moves blindly, these two went WAY too far with the two-counts. They were spammed so much that they lost all meaning. Neither woman sold like she was getting tired or that kicking out became more difficult later on. It was pure overkill. Even the most diehard indy wrestling fan that loves wacky or crazy matches would see this match and find its action excessive. These two could’ve slowed down and halved the number of near-falls and this match would’ve been far more compelling.

As for the crowd, if there’s one thing that this Match Reviews series has taught me, it’s that crowd reactions don’t matter as much as they used to. If the crowd was the be-all-and-end-all for wrestling, then the entire industry would’ve collapsed and died during the COVID lockdowns. But as we’ve seen already, great matcheshavetaken place in front of either minimal or nonexistent crowds. And even though some matches before that have had truly magical crowds and special atmospheres, the matches taking place in front of them weren’t always the best. Add to this the trend of ‘smarky’ crowds getting too involved in matches with silly and distracting chants or cheering stuff that’s only popular in one small region or promotion (*cough *PWG* cough*) and we can conclude that crowd reactions aren’t as central to a match’s success as they once were. This is an important conclusion, because there’s no way this match deserves 5-stars, with the white-hot crowd or without it.

Final Rating: **3/4

This one definitely doesn’t live up to the hype. I think a lot of praise for this match comes from two sources. First, the deafening crowd noise. That isn’t surprising given that these two women were basically pop culture icons for teenage girls in Japan. But let’s be real here. If something’s quality was judged solely based on its ability to make teenage girls scream, then the entire National Archives would be filled not with important pieces of historical media, but with Justin Bieber merchandise.

Secondly, the match might’ve looked innovative back then but cool moves mean nothing without a sense of escalation or structure. These two threw bombs at each other like machines and kept going for pins, but nothing mattered. All the near-falls had the same level of drama to them, so nothing was built on. And they kept repeating a lot of the same big moves, and sold for even the most dangerous spots thirty minutes into the match as they did thirty seconds into it.

Although it was cool seeing these two women wrestle like machines for such a long match, this was a challenge to get through. This was like an early-2000s Triple H promo converted into a wrestling match: so many words were spoken but so little was actually said.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.