Wrestling fans across the world will be on edge as Sasha Banks and Charlotte will compete in the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship. This match was made weeks ago when Sasha challenged Charlotte on Raw with Mick Foley as Raw General Manager approving the dangerous match in storyline. It was later met with excitement as Foley would announce in a Facebook post that the two women would be the main event match at the Hell in a Cell PPV, a first in WWE PPV history (Sasha Banks & Bayley headlined NXT TakeOver: Respect on the WWE Network exclusively). By all promotional indications, they are the main event match that WWE is using to attract customers to the Network and Traditional PPV. However, Foley had to walk back his words as he would later claim that he didn’t know if the match will be final bout on the show and that this show have a Triple Main Event as two other Hell in a Cell matches bolster the card.
But the weird aspects of this match parallel to a match that happened 20 years in Kawasaki, Japan. On May 5, 1996, Mick Foley found himself on another card with historical importance with two particular women in a first ever stipulation match that was billed as part of a Double Main Event of a show where Foley was technically under contract with that same Stamford organization when he wrestled literally minutes before this match occurred. (Foley had debuted as Mankind on Raw a month prior.) These women were about to take part in a match that people were wondering about the well being of each wrestler because of the history of the match stipulation. These women also trained together from early in their wrestling careers, became partners in a stable, broke up, feuded with each other, and exchanged title wins numerous amount of times afterwards. Sounds like Sasha and Charlotte …. but it’s obviously the two names you read in the title, Megumi Kudo and Combat Toyoda.
Their story dates back to 1986 where they were part of the class of new trainees for All Japan Women’s Wrestling that included Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, and “KAORU” Maeda. Kudo looked to have a promising future as she made it all the way to the finals of the AJW Junior Heavyweight Title Tournament on February 26, 1987 but was let go by the promotion on April 9, 1988. One year later, Toyoda and Reibun Amada left AJW under different circumstances. Atsushi Onita, leader of Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling, brought in the three former AJW wrestlers into the promotion on March 8, 1990 to run an NWO style invasion angle against the women’s division that currently existed in FMW and labeled them “the Outbreakers”. They would dominate in the upcoming months until Toyoda and Amada attacked Kudo after a match that Toyoda and Amada lost, which turned Kudo into a babyface. This sparked the on and off again in-ring rivalry between Toyoda and Kudo as they traded the WWA Women’s Championship (FMW’s original women’s championship) five times from 1991 to 1996.
They did team together in pivotal moments for Japanese Women’s Wrestling as interpromotional matches were big draws in the early 90’s. On September 19, 1992, Kudo and Toyoda took on AJW pillars Akira Hokuto and Bull Nakano in FMW’s Yokohama Stadium show in front of 30,000 people that pretty much stole the show. This lead to them going back to the AJW and being in the main event of the multi-promotional show in Yokohama Arena called All Star Dreamslam, which is a must see event. They faced Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada for the WWWA Tag Team Championship in a losing effort but it kept the door open for Kudo and Toyoda to be on future big AJW shows and had AJW talent come to FMW for certain shows to face to Kudo and Toyoda. The exposure elevated both women’s profiles but it put Kudo near the top of the FMW card as she became a fan favorite. She would soon become an integral part of the promotion when Onita retired in 1995, beating Hayabusa in his retirement match at FMW’s Anniversary Event in Kawasaki Stadium. The weight of FMW shifted to Hayabusa to attract houses but Kudo was right there with him as she sort of became the female Onita. Kudo’s career was trending towards more of the hardcore style that made FMW popular and competed with Toyoda to face Shark Tsuchiya, Bad Nurse Nakamura, and Miwa Sato in a Caribbean Barbed Wire Death Match on September 5, 1995 where two sides of the ring ropes were wrapped in barbed wire along with thin boards covered in barbed wire being in play. Kudo would up the ante in December as she faced Tsuchiya a No Rope Barbed Wire Match as the main event in Korakuen Hall for FMW’s sold out, second ever women’s only show. Both matches were first ever for each stipulation involving the women and solidified Kudo as the second biggest attraction in FMW. However, Combat Toyoda’s career came to a close shortly after in 1996. The stretch of her retirement matches consisted mostly of Toyoda going to different promotions to face off against the women she looked up to like Jaguar Yokota and Chigusa Nagayo and the women she came up in the 1986 AJW class. She faced KAORU, Aja Kong, Bison Kimora and finished with Kudo on FMW’s Anniversary Show at Kawasaki Stadium. On the March 15th FMW show in Sapporo, it was announced that Toyoda and Kudo would have the first ever women’s No Explosive Barbed Wire Death Match for Toyoda’s WWA Women’s and FMW Independent Title. Ten days later, FMW had a press conference where the now retired Atsushi Onita did what Foley just did on the Raw before the PPV and said that Toyoda shouldn’t compete in the match to put over how dangerous it was. Thus, the stage was set.
WWA Womens’ Title & FMW Independent Women’s Title: Combat Toyoda vs Megumi Kudo****1/2
Before the match, Kudo proclaimed in a pre tape that was translated:
“I want to make it a good fight for the both of us. I want us both to come at it with all of our experience and make it a match we’ll remember. I have a lot of fears, but it’s different than all the other deathmatches, where I’ve felt rage or hate or had a vendetta. There’s none of that today. It’s just me and Toyoda. And we want to fight a match that leaves us with no regrets. This one’s different. Up to now, I want to put everything I have into this; and lead the FMW into a new era.”
Toyoda said, “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. But this fight between me and Kudo is very symbolic.” Seeing those statements made me realize that even though it’s a retirement match (and they get super emotional in Japan), it meant a lot more to Kudo and Toyoda than just the retirement and having a good match. It was the crowing achievement for them as the FMW’s women’s division was put in a marquee spot. On a 12 match show that supposed to the biggest show of the year, they were second to last on the card. Onita had a rule that as long as the men are on an FMW show, the women were not allowed to be in the main event. That continued even when Onita sold FMW until the following year in 1997 when Kudo had her own retirement match.
This match was coming off the heels of Foley being his Cactus Jack persona and having a match with WING Kanemura in a Barbed Wire Barricade Spider Net Broken Glass Death Match which Dave Meltzer rated ****. The pressure was on as both women came through for their entrances. Combat Toyoda started to cry during her entrance as she came out to the band X’s cover version of “Wild Thing”, which was the theme song of Onita and the Charlie Sheen character Ricky Vaughn in the film series “Major League”. (Alright, let’s stop for second. This is getting eerier cause as I type this, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series right now.)
With Onita on the edge of his seat in the front row, Kudo and Toyoda start the match with various lockups that tease Kudo going into the barbed wire explosives. Kudo comes back with simple but effective strikes to get Combat reeling to the barbed wire herself. They go throughout the first part of the match masterly playing with the crowd’s emotions as they tease throwing each other into the barbed wire. One moment that gets the 30,000 plus audience gasping was when Kudo continuously kicks Combat towards the barbed wire but Combat keeps pivoting like a basketball player to avoid the explosives. A few minutes later, Kudo rolls under a clothesline only for Combat to dropkick her into the exploding barbed wire. Toyoda went for the cover after she gave her a one-armed power bomb but only got a two count. She started to work on her back using a reverse airplane spin that landed Kudo on her back and followed with a surfboard. Kudo came back with some offense and threw Combat into the exploding barbed wire that leaves Onita gritting his teeth in the next camera shot. Now, both are bleeding from the arms and the jitters from the audience have gone away as Kudo slaps on a rear naked choke in the middle of the ring.
Moments later, Combat mounts her own offense and clotheslines Kudo into the barbed wire but it does not explode. A groan comes over the crowd as Kudo is laying in the wire bleeding more until Combat gives her a German Suplex for a two count. Minutes later, Kudo gives Combat a Northern Lights Suplex for two and gets frustrated. She tries to punch Combat but Toyoda comes back with a nasty back drop driver that lands Kudo on her head for a two count. Combat tries to put her away with numerous powerbombs but that doesn’t work. Toyoda goes for another powerbomb but Kudo does a sunset flip for only two. Combat gets pissed, goes after Kudo but Kudo grabs her by the waist teasing a German Suplex into the barbed wire. Combat reverses it, Kudo gets out, tries for a diving hip attack and gets German Suplexed into the exploding barbed wire. My lord.
Onita has his head down and the fans start chanting “TOYODA” while both wrestlers are down on the mat with burn marks on their backs. Kudo gains the strength to give Toyoda a Tiger Driver for only two. Kudo then delivers a powerbomb where Toyoda lands on her head for a near fall. More chants of “TOYODA” come from the crowd but Kudo looks at the crowd and ends Toyoda’s career with the Kudo Driver for the win.
After the match, Onita jumps into the ring to pour water over both women and screams at everybody for them to get medical attention. Kudo was carried off on a stretcher and Onita carried Toyoda over his shoulder up the aisle halfway towards the dugouts that they came out of. They stop to acknowledge the crowd and Onita carries her to the back where both women are placed on tables. To add to this spectacle, Toyoda falls off the table to hug Kudo and they cry uncontrollably.
A great match to watch and highly recommend to watch this for the drama and the reactions these two get out of the crowd as they were able to get the crowd gasping every time they were heading toward the barbed wire. Kudo and Toyoda didn’t put on the best wrestling match by any means but they made the psychology the match so simple that they didn’t need complicated plot points or intricate move sequences to get this match over. Onita playing his role in being an absolute emotional wreck at ringside added to the match as the crowd bought every near fall towards the end. I’ve seen this been heralded as the best deathmatch of all time and it makes a compelling argument.
On Sunday night, we (as wrestling fans) will have something to complain about with the upcoming Hell in a Cell match. Whether it is the build up to this match not being the blow off match to what previous Hell in a Cell Matches were, if this match was too dangerous for the women’s division to be competing in, or complaining if the first women’s Hell in a Cell match was not the last match of the PPV, etc.
But this match will mean more based on the nature of matches between Sasha Banks and Charlotte where they will have you gasping similar to what Kudo and Toyoda put together in 1996 as that was more than just a retirement match. Whether or not Mick Foley is going to be at ringside like he and Stephanie McMahon have been for other matches on PPVs to play Onita with his face in his hands remains to be seen. However, this match has the potential to live years to come as these two women are attempting to be leaders of the company similar to what Kudo and Toyoda did in 1996. We should take a step back and applaud them for their effort in taking a risk like this but we should reserve judgment after the match is over. Hopefully after Sunday, their match will stand alone.