DDS ace photographer Gregory Davis was on hand for this year’s edition of CHIKARA‘s annual, massive, King of Trios weekend. 2012′s KOT was all about the Queens though, as seven Joshi came to CHIKARA and demolished preconceptions, gender barriers and, most enjoyably, Matt Classic. Tsubasa Kuragaki told me she’s looking forward to returning to America again soon. Until then you can enjoy Greg’s shots of three days of wrestling excellence. You can also order the shows via SmartMarkVideo.com.
When established Japanese Puroresu news outlets Tokyo Sports and Weekly Puroresu named Stardom’s Yuzuki Aikawa as the top Joshi in 2011, many foreign followers of the sport were a bit surprised. While Yuzupon gained lots of mainstream attention in Japan and helped make Stardom’s debut year a smashing success, looking purely at in-ring accomplishments there was a woman who stood head and shoulders above every other female wrestler in Japan in 2011. She won and defended multiple titles and multiple tournaments. She dominated her home promotion and conquered a growing list of outside companies. She had numerous great matches and was involved in some of the best feuds in recent Joshi Puroresu memory. She even made a highly successful excursion to the United States. This woman is, of course, Hailey Hatred. Or Kana, depending on who you ask.
Both Kana and Hailey have legitimate claims to being the best Joshi wrestler of 2011 (and the best wrestler in the world, period). 2012 begins with both eyeing more fame, more success, and more gold. It’s obvious and inevitable: these two women need to meet in the ring. In spite of wrestling in the same countries, and companies at times, Hailey and Kana haven’t crossed paths since 2009. As Aikawa enjoys her #1 trophies given to her by journalists, we hope to see #1a and #1b fight it out in the ring.
While Hailey Hatred is generally thought of as a power wrestler, in reality she’s always had a technical, multi-discipline martial arts basis. While in Japan she’s spent her time training extensively in one of the top MMA dojos in the world. Of course Kana has done much the same and her Fujiwara/BattlArts/Combat Sambo mash-up style is a most beautiful form of violence. When these two met back in August of 2009 on Vader Time 4, they stole the show with a 10 minute, non-stop, high-speed Strike/Suplex/Submission battle. Their technique made for a great bout then, but now both are harder, better, faster, and stronger.
What stands out most in that match is the constant aggression Kana and Hailey unleash upon one another. It wasn’t personal. They tried to end each other, for no other reason than the spirit of Joshi Puroresu competition. Since that time both Kana and Hailey have stated their respect for each others’ ability, and their desire to wrestle. However, recent events may have turned that professional admiration into some serious personal animosity.
Last December when Kaori Yoneyama chose to retract her retirement mid-ceremony, it caused quite a bit of controversy in the wrestling scene. Of course “controversy” plus “Joshi” meant that Kana would be involved. Kana used her weapon of choice, the keyboard, and wailed on both Yoneyama and JWP, going so far as to say actions like theirs are the reason she’s become the “Anti-Joshi.”
Besides being Triple-Crown Champion tag partners, Hailey and Yoneyama are extremely close outside of the ring. It’s safe to assume that Hailey did not take kindly to Kana’s harsh words for the woman she’s called her best friend, regardless of the reasoning. Even prior to that, Kana’s Triple Tails faction staged a brief, but successful, invasion of JWP while Hailey was champion. This did not go unnoticed. Although she’s technically a freelancer, there’s likely no person on the JWP roster with more motivation to defend the company’s honor from the Queen of Poison than Hailey.
CHIKARA’s three-day dream slam of Japanese Women’s Wrestling, JoshiMania, had its first show last Friday at the historic ECW Arena. The event delivered an authentic Joshi Puroresu experience to American fans, with the added bonus of bringing stars from several different Joshi promotions. CHIKARA advertised this event as being a “Once in a Lifetime” opportunity for fans to see this sort of action without having to fly to Japan first. CHIKARA didn’t lie. Here’s how the weekend started:
JoshiMania Night One
December 2nd, 2011 ECW Arena – Philadelphia, PA
Kaori Yoneyama,Hanako Nakamori, and Tsubasa Kuragaki defeated Archibald Peck and Los Ice Creams via submission as Kuragaki putting both Peck and El Hijo del Ice Cream in a Torture
GAMI defeated Sawako Shimono with Top Rope Elbow
Tim Donst defeated Green Ant with From Dusk ’til Donst
Ayako Hamada and Cherry defeated Mayumi Ozaki and Mio Shirai via AP Cross from Hamada on Mio
Manami Toyota defeated Toshie Uematsu via Japanese Cyclone Suplex
Campeonatos de Parejas Title Match: FIST (Johnny Gargano and Chuck Taylor) (c) defeated The Colony (Fire Ant and Soldier Ant) 2 falls to 1
Sara Del Rey defeated Aja Kong
The first thing, and perhaps only thing, you need to know about JoshiMania Night One is this: Tsubasa Kuragaki put Archibald Peck and one of the Ice Creams in a torture rack at the same time. The same time. Having the laws of physics challenged by one of the lesser known Joshi stars in the opening match set the bar fairly high for the rest of the evening. Japanese female wrestlers are known for their pride and competitive nature. The JWP women made it known from the outset they hoped to dominate this weekend (too bad the brilliant team of Peck and the Ice Creams were in the middle of that).
Of course, as everyone who has read our articles on her over at Diva Dirt knows 1, Manami Toyota is not satisfied unless she has put on the very best match on the show. That probably went double this Friday as Toyota was presented with the Diva Dirt Legacy award before her match with Toshie Uematsu. Toyota showed not only that she deserved the award for her past achievements, but also for her continuing performance and growth as a wrestler. Toyota has said that she felt invigorated by her trips to CHIKARA over the past year, and the new maneuvers she flaunted during JoshiMania were an example. Toshie, on her final tour of the US before her retirement early next year, was amazing as well. She showed once again that her larger than life character never overshadows her pure wrestling ability. It was an excellent match, perhaps the best either had had in the US.
Hoping not to be outdone by their guests, CHIKARA’s FIST and The Colony put on an exciting title bout. The ants showed off some JB Angels-esque fire while FIST resorted to L.C.O.-esque dickery. Dick won out, FIST retained, and Stargano remains a top champion in two of the United States’ finest wrestling promotions.
And then there was the much anticipated battle between Aja Kong and Sara Del Rey. As the most terrifying forces on their respective continents, the two death queens had been on a collision course for years. Somehow, Philadelphia managed to survive the inevitable crash.
Kong showed a lack of respect for Sara early on, refusing to shake hands. Sara returned the favor by barreling head first at her idol when the bell rang. The match was dark and unyielding. Sara kicked Kong as hard as she’s kicked anyone. Kong delighted in leaving handprints on the Death Rey’s chest, her thudding chops shaking the Queen to the core. After several minutes, but before either pulled out their MDK-level moves, Sara was able to dodge a Uraken and score a surprise pin on Kong to take the huge victory. A hard-fought battle for both, but each faced even tougher ones as JoshiMania went on.
It was the tag team contest between the team of Ayako Hamada and Cherry against the team of Mio Shirai and Mayumi Ozaki that proved to be the best of the night. While all women were familiar with one another,they don’t share any extensive history2. Still The beautiful and devious team of Mio and Ozaki worked very, very well together. The veteran Ozaki brought out her top shelf stuff this weekend, not that Ayako Hamada gave her a choice in the matter. Ayako was excited, and a bit nervous, about her CHIKARA debut. Of course, she performed to her usual standard of excellence.
The match also contained a revelation: Mio Shirai is a fucking star. Her mix of personality, style, humor, and sadistic violence won over the crowd. She helped make this semi-random tag flow gracefully. Mio showed she could keep up with two all-time greats in Oz and Hamada, and here’s hoping her success in the US pays dividends for her when she returns to Japan.
And that was Night One. A fantastic night of wrestling, no doubt, but JoshiMania was just getting started. You can already purchase the DVDs for all three nights at Smart Mark Video. While you wait on those to ship, enjoy the rest of the photos below the cut.
But just one more thing! Dig, if you will, this picture of The Beautiful One, Veronica, as she lays into a fan that she felt was a bit too bold. Maybe she’s just too demanding? She’s never satisfied with those in attendance. I took the photo as I wondered, “Why do they scream at each other?”
From LPWA to FMW to JWP to AJW to ECW to ARSION, Reggie Bennett did it all as a female professional wrestler. The top foreigner during the very best years of AJW, Bennett cemented herself in the history books as one of the best during the absolute peak of women’s wrestling. We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to talk with this legend, especially now as a new age of women’s wrestling dawns in the US, due in no small part to the foundation Bennett and her colleagues laid out in AJW and ARSION. We hope all of our readers enjoy this special interview as much as we do.
Why did you decide to become a wrestler and how did you get started?
I was never a big fan of wrestling when I first started. As a matter of fact, the first match I saw I was in . It all started in Venice, California when I met Mondo Guerrero. He was training my now ex-husband for a wrestling movie. He asked me if I wanted to make some money with my body. At the time I was a Bodybuilder I thought he was propositioning me, haha. The next thing I knew I was getting my face and body rubbed all over the mat.
There was a big show going to Hawaii and then down the coast of California and they needed a girl to be in a 10 women Battle Royal because they were one short. Mondo taught me how to go over the top rope and that’s all I really knew. What a trip! We didn’t have much money as a matter of fact I lived for a week off a bag of change because they didn’t pay us like they said they would.
Welcome to the world of wrestling! I was bit. You have to understand, I’m one of 9 kids and I thought, “Wow! I can fight, get paid for it and not get in trouble? Whoo hooo!”
You wrestled in the Ladies Professional Wrestling Association (LPWA) in the late 80′s and early 90′s. Please share any thoughts on your time there.
In the late 80′s women’s wrestling was at an all time high here in the states with the LPWA. By this time I had gotten some training in with Mondo and went off to Las Vegas and met up with Brad Reinghans of Minnesota where they sent me and Terry Powers to train (god almighty damn it was freezing up there). We also met up with Dangerous Denise Storm, she is from there. We trained every day and it was great met a lot of the Boys up there.
Shortly afterwards, you went to Japan for All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling. How did that opportunity come about?
Back in LA I went out for a commercial that was being shot in Japan . I landed it. It was for a vitamin sports drink named DaDan1 when I went there I remembered that Despina Montagas was up there and she and I went shopping, and she took me to meet her husband Tarzan Tiger Goto with FMW Oh my god, that was some crazy shit. I had never seen more blood in a ring in my life, I worked with them for 2 weeks. On my first tour we traveled to Hokkaido . I couldn’t speak the language and the American guys on the tour didn’t talk to me.
Well, my commercial hit about the same time and it was a huge hit. I did every talk show, game show, newspaper; you name it and we did it . I became the Hottest thing in Japan (Rock Star status), and I kept being asked to go back. My commercial became the #1 commercial for 1990-91.
When you went to Japan, what was it like? Where did you stay? How did the wrestlers and promotion initially respond to you?
Needless to say everyone responded to me very well. I stayed in some really nice Hotels and everyone was so nice to me I really enjoyed Japan. I still miss my life over there. Everyone started a bidding war to get me to go to their company. Eventually I chose to start working for JWP so I could work on the same card with Terry Powers since we became fast friends at LPWA . After she left that promotion I went to work with AJW because they were a bigger company.
With so many all time greats, what was the AJW locker room like? Who were the leaders that you learned the most from?
AJW was great! Bigger shows and a lot of legends. Bull Nakano was impressive as well as Aja Kong , Akira Hokuto, Yumiko Hotta, Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita. But there was a language barrier so I didn’t get to know them as well as I would have liked, but we all ate together and partied when we went out with promoters. We did that a lot. Though when you don’t know the language, [it can] get a little boring when you don’t know what everyone is talking about.
You were part of some of the greatest Joshi Puroresu cards in history. What was in like being on those huge shows with tens of thousands of fans?
It was great, and a lot of hurry up and wait. Get dressed, take photos, meet and greet the fans, do interviews. Fumi Saito helped me through most of it. He became a great friend. It was nice having a friend that could speak English and translate everything to me and teach me the language. When I thought I would go crazy on the road I would call and talk with him. We would do 200 matches a year. Not a lot of down time.
Those supershows often had inter-promotional matches. In general, how did you and the other AJW wrestlers feel about the competing Joshi companies?
It was cool. They all knew each other, so it was like a family reunion, We watched each others matches to see their style . We felt that we had the best company because AJW has been around the longest.
You wrestled Chigusa Nagayo at the Big Egg Universe show. The two of you went toe-to-toe in a pretty violent battle. What were your feelings going into this match, knowing that you were facing arguably the most popular Joshi pro wrestler ever? How do you think she viewed you?
Chigusa Nagayo came out of retirement for that match and wanted to make a major comeback. That was a huge arena to do a show and the entire card lasted 12 hours . Just getting to the ring took no less the 6
minutes. Waiting for her to come out seemed to take forever. When she did, she started to put me and all American wrestlers down. I was not going to put up with that crap and neither were the fans and the press tore her up about that. After that match she got a lot of bad press because of her attitude. Did she like me? No, I don’t think so, and I wasn’t that impressed with her either! Manami Toyota, Aja Kong , Kyoko Inoue and most of our girls were 10 times better than she was.
Akira Hokuto was one of the bigger stars at the time and you two wrestled a bit. What were your thoughts on her?
I have a lot of respect for Akira Hokuto that woman was impressive we had a lot of matches against each other and as Tag Team partners. We even traveled to Korea and did some matches there. She had a lot of power for such a small woman. It was a blast working with her.
On May 15, 1995, you won the IWA Women’s championship from Manami Toyota. At that time, she was also the WWWA Champion. What do you remember about that win?? How did it feel that the promotion had faith in you to match you up with the top wrestler in the company at the time?
Manami Toyota was one of my favorites. She had style and grace in and out of the ring. To be put in for a title match against her was such a trip, I was ecstatic about it. I had been in Japan for 5 years and had paid my dues, so to speak. And when they offered, I took it! Turned out I won! Whoo Hoo!
Whom do you feel that you had your best matches with in AJW? Did you have a favorite tag partner?
I had great matches with all of them! Stand out matches though would have to be with Yumiko Hotta and Aja Kong. We were the big girls. As far as favorite Tag Team partner, Mariko Yoshida hands down.
1996 and 1997 saw many top wrestlers leave AJW. Toshiyo Yamada left for GAEA, Aja Kong left, and eventually Kyoko Inoue left. At the time, what were the thoughts of the lockerroom? Were there any meetings held by the promotion, or by the wrestlers themselves, to address the situation?
When all that went down I took a break from Japan. I wanted to come home to the States to try to get something started here . See, I really wanted to become famous here in America that didn’t pan out. Everyone knew that I had worked in Japan and they didn’t want to wrestle me. ECW gave me a bit of a try and I guess I could have worked with the boys, but I wanted to fight against women. So when Rossy Ogawa and Mariko came out to California and told me what happened they offered me a spot with ARSION.
So how exactly did you become involved with the first ECW pay-per-view “Barely Legal?”
I had met Raven in Japan like I did most of the Boys when they came out to do matches in Japan. He was nice enough to invite me to the show where I could see my buddy Terry Funk, whom I did Over the Top with, and used see whenever he was in Japan. They just worked me into that show. It was fun! How often do you get a chance to power bomb a legend?
Why did you ultimately choose to go to ARSION Hyper Visual Fighting?
It was fresh. The idea of pushing submission and ‘ultimate’ style fighting appealed to me. I had already done an ultimate tournament and placed 3rd, and that was done one month after dislocating my collar bone from my sternum.
You worked with Mariko Yoshida in both her AJW and ARSION days. Tell us about her and your matches together 2.
She was my best bud. We spent a lot of time on the road together and whenever we were on the road everyone would be crashed out. When we stopped at rest areas and there was a beach I would wake her up and we would take off and check it out. We were roommates on the road too.
Do you watch any current joshi wrestling? Have you seen any of the modern American women’s promotions such as SHIMMER or WSU?
No, I haven’t since I retired. I have lost touch with my wrestler-self. I’m sad to say this interview has brought out a lot of feelings that I thought I have lost. Wow. I didn’t even know that they had any all women companies in the states.
Thanks to the internet, recent years have seen an explosion in interest in Joshi Puroresu amongst American fans. In December, there will even be a “Joshimania” with women like Aja Kong and Manami Toyota coming.
Oh my god, that will be great! I would love to see that let me know when it will be and where! I want to come this, normal life is just boring!
After a lengthy drought of foreign talent, several American women have been brought to Japan recently. Based on your extensive experience, do you have any advice for these women?
Yes, I do.#1 Never give up your dream for anyone. If you want something bad enough go for it. #2 It will only hurt for a minute, sell the hell out of it. No pussy shots, make it snug!
Please tell us what you have you been up to since leaving wrestling?
Before and after I retired I bartended and was a bouncer in some of the best clubs in Tokyo. After that I started teaching English to Japanese pre-schoolers. I divorced my Japanese husband and moved back to New Orleans. I needed work so I managed a furniture warehouse. Needed insurance ,so I started working for The Home depot as a supervisor. Moved to Mississippi and bought a house. And I have now come to find out, I don’t like normal. I have done a lot of fun things in my life and you can too if you follow your dreams.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the people you worked with in Japan?
I just got back on-line and I’ve gotten in touch with a few friends and it has been great .
Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans, and is there any way that they can contact you, or write to you?
All my fans are the best! Thank you for all your support and you can reach me through Facebook or e-mail me (email). God bless all of you!
Thank you very much for the interview!
Thank you for this chance to do this. I didn’t know how much I needed to say this and how good it feels that people know who I am here. Please let me know more about the other companies here!
Check out this new upload of Reggie Bennett’s infamous match with Chigusa Nagayo below! Also, be sure to visit the LPWA’s AllWomenWrestling.com as they’ve uploaded a ton of their classic matches for digital download.
Some have asked how many and what shows I’ll be seeing. I’ve finally narrowed it down to about 15. I’m most looking forward to the SMASH and New Year’s Eve Indie show, as they feature some of the best of both genders in the pro wres world. I’m also interested in seeing LLPW for the first time, and can’t wait to catch up with Hamada and Toyota at the Ito Dojo show. Note: This only represents a fraction of all the wrestling going on as I’m skipping out on Dragon Gate, DDT, New Japan, Zero One, Big Japan, and All Japan shows: