As we previously announced a couple of weeks ago, Wrestling With Words is doing a review series of notable matches from Manami Toyota’s incredible career until her retirement in November. The goal of this review series to look back on through the matches, get different perspectives, and ultimately see if she stands the greatest women’s wrestler of all time and one of the greatest overall.
All Japan Women's Junior Championship: Reibun Amada vs. Manami Toyota**1/2
We jump to December 11, 1988 to see Toyota with a year’s worth of experience as she debuted on August 5, 1987. There is footage of Toyota in a rookie year but it is mostly in multi-person tag matches. You don’t get to see Toyota in the spotlight until you view this match as she faces Reibun Amada for the vacant All Japan Women’s Junior Championship in Korakuen Hall. The title was vacated because Toshiyo Yamada, who was in the same 1987 Class as Toyota, suffered an injury. Reibun Amada is an interesting case herself because the Chinese-born wrestler was part of the 1986 Class, which had Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, Megumi Kudo, Combat Toyoda and KAORU, but left to go to FMW with Kudo and Toyoda as detailed in this article.
The match starts off with both wrestlers giving each other chops similar to what you see in lucha libre. As the match goes on, you get to see the aspects that separate Toyota from her peers. The athleticism is definitely there as she displays the flying dropkicks that come from across the ring but also does a couple of twisting splashes from the top rope onto Amada when she got her down for position. With AJW matches involving the younger talent, the pace was going too frenetic but also the action wasn’t going to be the most polished. That was evident here as Toyota did running flying cross body chops that were on the weak side. However, the match turns from being an ok match to a good match when Amada throws Toyota to the outside. She bounces Toyota’s head off of both announcer tables and dumps her outside the guard railing near the crowd. As Toyota gets up, her head is busted wide open. As soon as that happened, the young girls in the crowd get behind Toyota. She bridges out on four pin attempts but Amada gets her on the fifth to win the All Japan Women’s Junior Championship. There was a little bit of clipping here because it was aired on All Japan Women’s Classics but it’s worth it.
Dream Orca (Etsuko Mita & Toshiyo Yamada) vs. Tokyo Sweethearts (Mima Shimoda & Manami Toyota)***
We fast forward to May 6, 1989, as this match is heralded as Toyota’s breakthrough performance. It took place on Chigusa Nagayo’s retirement show called WrestleMarinepiad at Yokohama Arena. Again, the irony here in this match is that both teams would not last long and they found success with each other partners (Mita & Shimoda being Las Cachorras Orientales while Toyota and Yamada being a great tag team in the early 90’s). This match was more technically sound than you would imagine with these four women as Shimoda and Toyota were working hammerlocks and armlocks on Yamada early on. Toyota was an almost different wrestler from December ’89 as she was very much grounded for most of the match until Dream Orca started to work on her. Towards the end of the match, Yamada and Toyota were spotlighted more with a surprise finish at the end. The match was solid as it can be with four wrestlers that were all under two years experience.
Manami Toyota vs. Akira Hokuto **3/4
A month off Toyota’s big tag match, she got to face Akira Hokuto on June 4, 1989, in the Japan Grand Prix Tournament (AJW’s annual summer tournament). This match was special to watch today cause of these two legends but also how the experience gap played out as Hokuto had been wrestling since 1985 and already went through hardship in the spotlight as recovered from a broken neck in 1987.
Toyota tried to jump Hokuto at the bell with a flying chop to the chest and they started to fly around the ring at a rapid pace. Once they got to the mat, Toyota held her own showcasing leglocks and reversals to what Hokuto was countering. This wasn’t the glorified squash that you would think given that Hokuto was so good in her career by 1989. Toyota got a lot of offense in and she was solid throughout this contest. The match did end a little too short but it helped get Toyota over as someone to look out for down the road.
Tag League The Best '89: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada vs Akira Hokuto & Etsuko Mita**
This looks more familiar to AJW fans as Toyota and Yamada come together on September 14, 1989 for the 1989 Tag League The Best Tournament against Hokuto and Mita (who go on to form Las Cachorras Orientales officially in 1992). Toyota and Yamada are pretty decent tag team as they isolated Mita from her veteran partner for half of the match. Once Mita got a mini comeback, Toyota becomes the one isolated as Hokuto and Mita pummeled Toyota. However, Toyota continued to show her flying dropkicks and her bridging out of pins. The critical moment of the match comes when Toyota goes to the top rope and Hokuto dropkicks her to the outside. Hokuto would then go to the top rope herself and dive over the corner post onto Toyota and several ringside attendants (keep that in mind for later in 1990). Hokuto started to show her brawling side as she threw Toyota into the crowd and into the guardrails. As Hokuto and Mita were coming back to the ring, Toyota and Yamada held them from going back and the referee declared a match a double count out with both teams receiving 0.5 points. Afterward, Toyota offers a handshake to Hokuto but Hokuto walks away. The match itself was decent but not memorable by any means.
Tag League The Best '89 Semifinals: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada vs Akira Hokuto & Etsuko Mita**1/2
Our luck is that we get to see the rematch as it is back in Korakuen Hall for the Tag League Final and both teams get matched up in the semifinals on October 8, 1989. It follows the same formula as the previous encounter as Toyota and Yamada double team Mita early but Hokuto inserts herself early to add balance to it. A lot of the same spots were mixed in from the last match including Hokuto dropkicking Toyota to the outside with the follow-up dive over the post afterward. Also, it’s clear that Hokuto is the best wrestler in this match because she’s in control of the tempo when she comes in the ring whereas Mita, Toyota, and Yamada sort of rush things at times. Hokuto knows how to accelerate but slow it down. An example of this is when Hokuto unleashes a series of suplexes on Toyota but stops to walk over to smack Yamada across the face to get the crowd to pop. (Sidebar, this Korakuen crowd is extremely loud). On two separate occasions, Toyota and Yamada shotgun dropkicked the referee to break up a pin being counted which caught me off guard. The finish came when Yamada caught Mita with a surprise german suplex for the win. This one was more entertaining then the last match and the crowd was losing their collective minds throughout.
Tag League The Best '89 Finals: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada vs Mitsuko Nishiwaki & Madusa**
Coming into this match, Toyota and Yamada were the massive underdogs as Mitsuko Nishiwaki & Madusa (WWE Hall of Famer and current Stardom Commissioner) were a fairly pushed tag team in 1989 as they would appear on the Fuji TV weekly show doing vignettes called “I’m Sorry” where it resulted with Nishiwaki making fun of Madusa adjusting to the Japanese culture (language, eating food, etc.) Toyota and Yamada tried to get the jump on Nishiwaki and Madusa but it resulted in Toyota being isolated for most of the match playing Ricky Morton. I realized that Yamada was the star of the tag team as the crowd erupted every time she got to break up a pin or get some offense in that included judo throws. But this was mostly a Toyota sell job throughout the match as there was a stretch she was screaming in pain while Nishiwaki had her in the Boston Crab for five minutes straight. Once Yamada came in down the stretch, the action picked up but she took the fall for the finish as Nishiwaki and Madusa won with Madusa holding Yamada for a Nishiwaki dropkick for the win. Fine match that had some lulls but nothing really bad.
All Japan Women's Championship: Manami Toyota (c) vs. Toshiyo Yamada***
We fast forward to December 9, 1989, as Manami Toyota has won the All Japan Women’s Championship (a lower mid-card title) in November and Yamada is her first challenger. This match had the makings of being really good the moment that Toyota jumped Yamada before the bell. With the Crush Gals in the audience at Korakuen Hall, Yamada and Toyota wrestled to an entertaining 30-minute draw. It might have been recency bias but this match won the 1989 Best Match at the AJW Year End Awards. This match was not as good as I thought it would be because the two lost steam towards the last ten minutes of the match as they were worn out. Having a 30 minute draw is hard to pull off by itself but doing it in the second year of your career is even harder. Nevertheless, Toyota and Yamada did a decent job of having a back and forth fast paced match to show the precursor to what we would see in the 1990’s.