Having been freed from her ARSION contract, Hamada was free to move into open waters, and in the early 2000s the tide was flowing in all directions. The absolute glory days of Joshi Puroresu had started to fade. A diluting of the product, with so many promotions popping up all over the place outside of AJW, LLPW and JWP; the end of the FMW office and its hotbed for women’s talent; and an economic downturn that saw every wrestling company reduce its output.
However there were still big matches to be had for a main event player like Hamada. Her first major title victory would come in AJW, taking the legendary WWWA Championship from home grown ace Momoe Nakanishi in May of 2003. She would hold on to the belt until April of the following year before dropping the belt to AJW’s rising monster Awesome (or Amazing as she was known then) Kong. A year after her first reign her second would begin defeating Kong and reclaiming the title.
AJW had faith in their new freelance star, and she would keep the title for eight months in her first reign and another six months in her second. She would feed that into an on again/off again tag team with Nanae Takahashi. They would defeat Double Inoue Takako and Kyoko Inoue in January of 2004. With Hamada as singles champion, Takahashi had no qualms about challenging for her own partner’s singles gold and upended Hamada in May of 2004.
They would hold on to the titles until June, when mounting tension between the pair during a defence against Kumiko Maekawa and Yumiko Hotta finally blew them apart. Back in the old days, a wrestler could smash seven bells of out of their tag partner over a title, or shave them bald, and neither would bat an eyelid over their tag team’s fate. Hamada was not that honourable and turned heel, somewhat aggrieved at Takahashi’s affrontary. What was interesting though was that while all that was kicking off in AJW, Aja Kong had introduced her protege Hamada to her world in GAEA.
A week after Takahashi and Hamada lifted tag gold in AJW, Hamada would beat Dynamite Kansai for the AAAW Championship, at Wild Times Day 1 on the 11th of January 2004. While her reign was short at three months, it also involved the retirement match of Akira Hokuto. A true passing of the guard moment, Hokuto tagged with her long time nemesis Meiko Satomura against wrestle company founder and all-time Joshi draw Chigusa Nagayo, who was tagging with Hamada. It would be a breathtaking farewell and a night that enhanced the two younger wrestlers as future matriarchs of the scene.
Both GAEA and AJW would close their doors in 2005 and Hamada would move on again, this time in HUSTLE, eventually joining the Kaoru Ito Dojo. HUSTLE was a big old cartoon of a promotion that once featured Amazing and Aja Kong as sugar-obsessed pretty girls, who feuded with the Dudley Boys over the tag team belts. The insane storylines were making money hand over fist, and the dream matches they put together in that era stand the test of time – amazing when you consider that company also owned the Pride MMA company.
Hamada didn’t just spend all her time in Japan in her formative years. Her father and her sister had both made their name by travelling and developing their styles, and Hamada was not going to let this essential part of her studies slide. She would catch on with the UWA in its sadly dying days and would become UWA Women’s Champion in 2001 losing the title to Miss Janeth in 2002.
Her more serious foreign runs in North American would come much later in the decade. Her next title of note would be the WWA Championship out of Tijuana, a promotion that nurtured wrestlers like Psychosis and Rey Mysterio; a title once held by Monster Ripper, the pre WWF Bertha Faye. Hamada won the title in March of 2003 whilst juggling her time between AJW and GAEA.
Moving on again in 2007, Hamada headed to AAA which has been her on again/off again home in North America ever since. Her biggest win there would come a decade later, beating Taya Valkyrie for the Queen of Queens Championship in 2017. It was a title her sister Xóchitl Hamada had won in 1999. In fact, she was the inaugural champion.
Her next big move in North America was to TNA Wrestling – as it was then known – in 2009. Announcing her retirement from Joshi at Ito Dojo show, she debuted on August 27th as a face, defeating former ROH and WCW star Daffney in a No DQ Match. The fact that she debuted in a No DQ match will tell you the usual troubles TNA was going through at the time. Despite a vibrant women’s division with some top line workers, it was a promotion going through power struggles, to say the least.
Hamada shone in this environment though, and would become a two time Knockouts Tag Team Champion: firstly with former AJW Rival Awesome Kong, who promptly left the company. In a classic piece of TNA maths, they were stripped of the titles for not defending them within 30 days on the 21st day of their title reign. She would win the title back with Taylor Wilde in August of 2010 a year after her debut. She would request her release not long after. It was granted, and in October 2010 she was back on the Joshi scene.
In part three of this series we will move on to the last decade of Ayako Hamada’s career in Joshi, in Lucha, and beyond.