Imagine it. She stands at the gateway to your home promotion. An outsider with a badass reputation. A judoka who turned the wrestling world on its head. She’s signed to wrestle you on the biggest wrestling card of its kind ever assembled. There you stand, a recently turned heel who after years of grinding out a following turned your back on the fans only to find that they love you even more for throwing their adoration back in their face. Committed one hundred percent to your role, to the company and a vital part of the lifeblood of your chosen profession.
Sound familiar? The thing is, you aren’t Becky Lynch, and your opponent is Ronda Rousey, and this defining moment won’t happen at WrestleMania. You are The Dangerous Queen Akira Hokuto, you’re going to face down Shinobu Kandori and it’s going to happen at Dream Slam I, on April 2nd, 1993, in front of 16,400 fans. This is the story of a match that defined a generation and would set a timeline in motion that would one day, we all hope, see two women headline WrestleMania.
Hokuto was a fan of Joshi before she was a participant. She headed up the Bull Nakano fan club as a teenager when she auditioned for the AJW Dojo in 1986. She had an affinity for the art form that few other possessed. Graduating from that Dojo Class, one of the best ever assembled she would be asked back a year later to join Jaguar Yakota as a trainer of the Class of ’87. The greatest collection of women’s trainees ever assembled and had a guiding hand in building a roster that would draw more money than any other product featuring women ever had done.
Disaster struck in 1987 when defending the WWWA World Tag Team titles with Yumiko Hotta, piledriven off the second rope by Red Typhoons (Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura), she would break her neck in the first fall. Not that slowed her down too much, she finished the match, it went three falls and was noticeably holding her head in place at times, but she finished the match. She took a year off to recover.
1990 was supposed to be her year and she was booked to win the GP single Elimination tournament. But diving off the top rope to the floor on Manami Toyota she tore her near on a guardrail in the first round. She had to be persuaded to stop. As a bemused Toyota looked on the company bosses stepped in and physically restrained Hokuto. It was the only time I ever saw her cry. Not because she was injured. Because she couldn’t wrestle.
Kandori was a different creature. Trained in LLPW, she was a street fighter with style. Her combat background and all around toughness gave her a different kind of aura. LLPW with its streetfight/shootfight mentality was made for her, indeed she’d been a key component of the companies success. As part of the wider JWP group, LLPW had emerged after a Dojo disagreement between the “Entertainers” and the “Shooters” LLPW were housed in the same organisation but changed their presentation to a much more aggressive mat-based style.
The match had been made as part of the Dream Slam series. All four of the big Joshi companies, AJW, JWP, FMW and LLPW, had come together to deliver a series of dream match scenarios, mainly matching like with like. Kandori and Hokuto were a different side of the same coin. Combat tough Kandori going up against the iron-willed Hokuto looked incredible on paper, however equally it could fall flat very easily. Kandori’s hook ’em offence wasn’t guaranteed to mesh with Hokuto’s streetfight/pure pro approach. When it came to the match, Hokuto’s pre-match promo made your skin crawl. She was as angry as I’d ever seen her, a cool detachment with a menace to her voice. She wanted to do damage, which is easy to understand in any language.
In an era were working stiff had become part of the environment, Hokuto and Kandori needed something to be different. They had a tough needle to thread. The hype machine had been in full working order and expectation was high. It couldn’t be a full on shoot fight as the major singles attraction, it needed to go the distance, and while Joshi fans were used to a shoot approach, AJW had a Martial Arts Champion in Bat Yoshinaga, they needed to work as close to realism as possible while still being able to go full tilt.
It was Hokuto who set the tone. After introductions, Kandori stalled. Hokuto walked straight up to as if to stare her down, instead delivered a brutal forearm to the face that floored Kandori. Grabbing the house mic while Kandori checked her jaw and picked herself up off of the floor, she implored her to try harder. Kandori responded a wrenching armbar, not dissimilar to the DisarmHer submission favoured by Becky Lynch and tore it up into a hammerlock.
Hokuto’s selling of this moment, with whimpering squeals of discomfort made the fans understand this was serious business. Kandori was on top now and wasn’t going to let go of that position easily. Kandori attacked like a woman possessed, Hokuto defended but it was a back and forth exchange with brutal strikes. Kandori trapped Hokuto with an armbar, and the furious pace settled. For Hokuto, it looked like a matter of survival.
It was Hokuto who took it to the floor, but Kandori reversed a Tombstone Piledriver on the announce desk. The crowd audibly sighed when they saw the dent she left in the table on the big screen. She came back to the ring bleeding like a stuck pig, the recently deceased Wally Yamaguchi had bladed her with the intent at Hokuto’s request. The result would become an iconic image of Joshi. Hokuto fired up and dragged Kandori to the stands. This time Kandori would come back bleeding. By the time she got back to the ring, Hokuto looked like something from a horror movie. Hokuto gave up on any semblance of wrestling for a while attacking Kandori’s cuts with fists and feet.
This was not the crisp picture perfect Joshi that the fans were used to, it was a back and forth street fight. Kandori was back on top and alternated between submissions and big moves, only to be countered time and again. The big moves piled up, as they went into what appeared to be a closing sequence, but nothing worked. Power Bombs and DDTs from Kandori. Cross Bodies Leg Lariats from Hokuto. A swinging choke from Kandori got the crowd on their feet, but her Power Bomb was countered. Frustration showed on her face, what would she have to do?
Hokuto reversed into a powerbomb of her own. That didn’t work so, going back outside, she delivered a Crack Smash from the top rope to the floor. Then a shotgun dropkick from the top rope to the floor with the help of the LCO, Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita. With the ref letting the count slide. Their urgency dissipated from exhaustion. This gave every big move impact from here on in, but still, neither of them could put each other away. Eventually, Hokuto planted Kandori with a Northern Lights Bomb, the finisher that ruled Joshi. A Body Slam Piledriver that smashed necks into the canvas with stunning velocity.
Unequalled in viciousness, it was a sure-fire winner, but Kandori kicked out. Hokuto tried again but Kandori blocked it and tried her own version of the move, another kick out from Hokuto. Throwing wrestling out of the window, Hokuto smashed Kandori with a straight right hand. Exchanging punches the floored each other time and again until purely out of exhaustion, Kandori collapsed from one last right hand. Hokuto crawled on top of her and the ref counted three.
Hokuto was covered in a sheen of sweat, her hair and white portions of her ring gear dyed red with blood. The crowd caught off guard by the finish were subdued until a low rumbling chant of Ho-Ku-To came from them. Kandori stalked away from the ring. Hokuto addressed the crowd, as she picked up the mic, they hushed to silence transfixed by her every word. They. Just seen the most ungodly match in women’s wrestling history, and they gave the Dangerous Queen her due and proper. She screamed defiantly into the microphone as she was physically carried from the ring.
The match itself was a calling card. Kandori and Hokuto reset the standard of effort required for a main event singles match. Not just in women’s wrestling, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi have been vocal about this and matches like it are what they set themselves by.
As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey find themselves in a similar position. The Wrestling Four Horsewomen have also been vocal about their influences from classic Joshi and her demeanour, attitude and mannerisms all scream of Hokuto’s influence. That stoic calm?
Working hurt, and that never-ending defiant smirk ring true of the wrestler they called The Mummy, for going above and beyond every night, bandaged up or not. WrestleMania will set a standard for women’s wrestling once again. It can’t be as violent or as much of a rough and ready ride, but it will show you exactly where emotions should be in Women’s wrestling, front and centre.