A History of Joshi in the WWE – Part One of Two
In this latest installment of the history of Joshi Puroresu I’d like to discuss an interesting twist, that of Joshi wrestlers who appeared in a WWE/WWF/WWWF ring. Many wrestling fans are surprised by how extensive the list is since most WWE fans, if they are old enough to remember, only really think of either the Jumping Bomb Angels in the late 1980’s and Bull Nakano a few years later. The list actually is longer and if you include those women who really made their names in Japan first the list is quite deep. So I will focus on two segments: Japanese and other Asian women who ‘came to America’ and North American women who first became big names while wrestling in Japan.
Dump Matsumoto and Bull Nakano (pre-WWE title)
The first appearances in a WWE ring by top Joshi wrestlers that I could find were a few spot shows for Dump Matsumoto and a very young Bull Nakano, as they appeared twice in the Northeast in 1986 (as the Devils of Japan). These were not meant to be part of something long-term because they were far too valuable to the AJW promotion at the time to spend much time away from Japan.
As you can see from this match they were almost treated as a side show since no one really knew anything about them (a common theme for most of the Joshi appearances over the years):
Note that Gorilla Monsoon and Jessie Ventura announced the match without really taking the Japanese team seriously. What a contrast to Jesse’s later commentary when the Jumping Bomb Angels came to the WWE a year later. Dump and Bull won both matches and went back home, leaving no real impact.
Right after Nakano and Matsumoto appeared in America their main rivals in Japan, the Crush Girls also appeared. The Crush Girls were quite the phenomenon in Japan at the time, both as wrestlers and pop singers. Their popularity was particularly strong among teen and pre-teen girls, and was so widespread that the AJW TV show was among the highest ranked shows for viewership even though the show aired Saturday morning! The two wrestlers were Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka. Both eventually went on to also have great success as singles wrestlers.
In America they also wrestled at least twice, including this one from Boston Garden:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvX_LyPri2g (Part 1 of 2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9xc3PurK5E (Part 2 of 2)
One thing that you notice when you watch this match is how different the two main schools of women’s wrestling really were; the Moolah school as wrestled by Christanello and Martin, which favored punches, kicks and slow mat work versus the Jaguar Yokota taught style of speed, flying and faster transitional mat work. It must have been very difficult for Joshi wrestlers to wrestle American talent as they were basically stuck with wrestling the American style more.
Jumping Bomb Angels
Interestingly, the biggest impact by any Joshi performers was also the first pushed team from Japan, the Jumping Bomb Angels. In the mid 80’s the JBA were main event faces in All Japan Wrestling (AJW), feuding off and on with the stable of Dump Matsumoto (Gokuaku Domei).
The team was pretty young when they first appeared in WWE (Tateno was 22 and Yamazaki was 21). One has to wonder why AJW lent JBA to the WWE at this time. JBA and the Crush Girls were also wrestling each other at the time in Japan (Chigusa and Asuka were a few years older than the JBA wrestlers) and maybe they were deemed more expendable while the Crush Girls were working on top in Japan? JBA pretty much got over right away in the U.S. although they weren’t really marketed before appearing. The style appealed right away with WWE fans, probably because it seemed so much different from what the WWE fan was used to seeing out of its Moolah-trained female wrestlers.
On November 24th, 1987, two days before the JBA would make their WWE PPV debuts they were matched with the reigning WWE tag team champs, Judy Martin and Lelani Kai (for those who aren’t aware, Lelani spent quite a lot of time in Japan before she became well known in the U.S., partly as a part of Gokuaku Domei and Judy toured Japan a number of times so the two team’s members had worked together enough in Japan to be familiar with each other).
The match took place at MSG and was broadcast on MSG cable with Gorilla, Jessie and Nick Bockwinkle on the microphone. Nick knew JBA from Japan tours and let the cat out of the bag a little before the match started. It was a terrific match!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8GMRm7S-_E (Part 1 of 2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptOUWKheqSk (Part 2 of 2)
When you watch this match it is arguable that it might be the best women’s tag match in the history of the WWE. The crowd really got into it. And at the end you can see that the JBA picked up the American style pretty well.
Two days later the JBA appeared in the 1987 Survivor Series, which they won for their team:
In January 1988 JBA took the tag titles from The Glamour Girls, only to lose them back in June 1988. At that point the JBA returned to Japan, but their influence never went away. Most WWE fans, even today, think of them first when they think of Joshi performers.
Winning the Title:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzU0uUrJXbU (Part 1 of 2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFSAuKLylkI (Part 2 of 2)
After the pin fall note how much the crowd pops; it’s pretty rare to see that for a women’s match. It was a testament to how popular the JBA had become so quickly.
As a side note, I think Itsuki Yamazaki might have been the most under-appreciated female wrestler of all time. I’ve never seen her have a bad match and you can find plenty of them on YouTube. In addition, she ended up retiring from wrestling and opening a Japanese restaurant with her husband (Go Restaurant) in Manhattan. It finally closed a few years ago.
In Part 2 of this feature I will focus on the 1994-95 period, when the WWE allowed a title change to happen on the biggest card in women’s wrestling history, AJW’s 5 Star tournament in the Tokyo Dome, followed by the title switch back in 1995, as well as the short period of time when some of Joshi’s top performers were utilized on Monday Night Raw in 1995. We will also look at the American women who worked in AJW in the same time period.