As I was compiling this report on the current state of the Joshi world news came of my current favourite wrestler announcing retirement after just 10 years in the grap game. While to many this is just another on the list of retirees this year has brought, it illustrated to me how deep the problems run with the world of Japanese woman’s wrestling.
At her anniversary show celebrating 10 years in the business The Bloody announced that she would retire early next year, possibly just after the retirement of her mentor Lioness Asuka. On the card Bloody wrestled against Asuka in a tag match, in what has become part of the course as far as her career goes the result saw Bloody get pinned by the veteran. That has been the problem not just for Naomi Kato (Bloody’s real name) but for many rookies who entered the wrestling world in the early to mid 90’s. With the old Zenjo rule of wrestlers over the age of 26 having a mandatory retirement being revoked the cycle of fresh faces replacing old with the fast track elevation required to keep the wheels turning was left by the wayside. The veterans of course wanted to stay at the top of the card and thought it was beneath them to do the job to the up and comers.
Bloody was a member of the last of the classes taught at All Japan Women by Jaguar Yokota and followed her trainer to Jd’ Yoshimoto Pro. Lioness Asuka was the other big name star to feature in the promotion and the big feuds centred around her and Yokota. While Bloody was mixed into the proceedings in tag matches neither her nor any other wrestler was given the push above Yokota or Asuka. When the veterans left Bloody was the one who had to carry the promotion without the legitimacy of big wins or passing of the torch.
The big news of the last few weeks has been the recent announcement that the GAEA 10th anniversary show on April 3rd next year will apparently be its last. Adding to the general feeling of Joshi being in a death spiral is the news that the former Crush Girls Lioness Asuka and Chigusa Nagoya will retire as GAEA closes its doors. This being Pro-Wrestling some are of the opinion that this may be a work, what with permanent retirement in wrestling being something of a rare beast, just ask Terry Funk or Onita or… you get the picture.
If it really is true however, the retirements of the Crush Girls will be a huge blow to the Joshi world which is struggling to stay on its feet in what has proved to be hard times. Chigusa Nagayo is probably even after all these years the biggest name in the sport as a draw and from the perspective of potential investors. The lack of suitable replacements for these big names is hardly comforting in the current climate although as I have already indicated the poor harvest of talent can be placed directly at the door of Asuka and Nagayo who played their part in not elevating any other girls when they had the chance.
Like most other wrestling promotions across the globe Joshi feds have seen a drop in popularity in the last few years. The booming fad years of the Crush Girls in the 80’s and astonishing work and cross promotional events of the early 90’s have given way to unmotivated aging stars clogging up cards and un-elevated younger workers toiling away thanklessly.
With the wrestlers who found fame in the 80’s still running the ropes while hitting the 40 mark can they still bring it to the ring and what has the effect been of an upper card that has stayed consistent for the best part of 20 years? In the “age being no detriment to work rate” column Asuka and Nagayo can quite clearly crank it up a notch when they feel like it. Dynamite Kansai on the other hand is way past it and Shinobu Kandori seemed to be far more interested in an attempt to get into the Diet – the Japanese parliament – earlier this year than giving more than a token effort in the squared circle.
There are some talented youngsters that hope can be pinned on for the future of the sport. Probably foremost on the list is Ayako Hamada who was born to wrestle, is talented in the ring and has “the look” that almost guarantees crossover appeal. Nanae Takahashi and Meiko Satamura are names that get thrown around as hopefuls to carry the torch towards a better Joshi future. However the biggest name in recent years has been Momoe Nakanishi. With seemingly plenty of years left in the tank Momoe was seen as the one to take Joshi back to the limelight. The announcement of her retirement next year through injury and marriage was the biggest shock this year before the GAEA announcement.
The mass exodus from Zenjo after ’95 when it seemed like every worker wanted to set up their own promotion has lead to a dearth of promotions of which some only put on infrequent and low drawing shows. This has lead to the majority of promotions being referred to as Zombie feds, literally feds that should really call it quits but keep on going regardless. None of these feds draw even remotely near the extent of the past and don’t match up with the top men’s promotions but they can still pull in a reasonable gate. Reasonable enough to keep going and going to the chagrin of Joshi followers who hope that some of these feds can consolidate and start to turn the tide.
So what is the future for Joshi? As with the men’s promotions, staying the current course and trying to draw interest back to shows through promoting the veterans that draw while pushing the younger stars seems to be the best option. Trying to get some good publicity would help too although the Japanese press largely ignores Joshi these days other than printing lurid claims of how some workers might supplement their income. Every promotion hopes for the return of the fad era and who knows, the fickle nature of Japanese youth may once again launch these ladies back into the publics eye.
Will April 3rd really see GAEA close its doors and two of the biggest names in Joshi history retire? It would be pretty remarkable for a whole section of the wrestling world to come to an end but this is what seems to be happening.