Part 9 of an in depth look at the growth of women’s wrestling, from noted ring historian The Phantom of the Ring.
The Phantom of the Ring
Lipstick, Dynamite and Glowworms Part 9
The REAL Queen of Extreme
Before I begin this article, I wish to extend an apology to Francine Fournier, who is known among wrestling fans in this country as “The Queen of Extreme.” I will detail her career in a later article and how the supposed genius Vince McMahon completely missed the boat in not only keeping her on the roster but also expanding her role. She could have been a real asset to a promotion that is sorely in need of one, especially on the women’s side.
But while Francine took her share of bumps, she never took the kind of bumps Akira Hokuto took. Hokuto still has the scars to prove it.
She was also, in my opinion, the greatest woman wrestler ever to step into a ring. And because of this, this is a rare article in this series that will be devoted to just her.
At her height of fame she stood 5’6” and weighed a compact 132 pounds. Called “The Dangerous Queen” (though her greatest danger was to herself as this article will bear out), she never gave less than her all, witnessed by her many injuries. However, let me emphasize that she was no klutz; far from it. Many of her injuries were the result of sacrificing herself to either a great bump or to make sure her opponent was not harmed.
Now some will say that if she were that great, then why didn’t she ever hold the WWWA Title, the crown jewel of AJW? I will answer that ability is one thing, determined by how one moves in the ring and the accompanying acceptance or refusal of the fans. Politics, however, is another, decided by management; and it was a management decision not to give Hokura the WWWA title, for reasons that will become clear in the course of this article.
Akira Hokuto was born Hisako Uno on July 13, 1967, the oldest of three sisters in Yoshikawa, a farming town in Saitama Prefecture. She grew up in a large country house surrounded by farmland and plenty of fresh air. Nevertheless, the televised Joshi matches (especially her favorites, the Crush Gals) made a huge fan out of her (she organized the Bull Nakano fan club) and made her want to become a wrestler. She applied to the AJW Dojo in late 1984 and was accepted, where she was trained by Jaguar Yakota and Jackie Sato. She made her debut one day short on her 18th birthday, on June 12, 1985, losing to Kumiko Iwamoto. However, her progression during the next few months was such that she was given the AJW’s Rookie of the Year award for 1985.
The next year (March 20, 1986), she defeated Condor Saito for the AJW Junior Championship; as mentioned before a stepping stone to greater glory. (She would lose the strap shortly thereafter on May 29 to Yasuko Ishiguro in Saitama Prefecture – one way AJW used to test a wrestler’s loyalty was to have her lose in her hometown or close to it.)
On October 10, 1986, she teamed with Yukari Omori to make it to the finals of the annual Tag League Tournament in Tokyo, losing to Chigusa Nagayo & Yumiko Hotta. The match was deemed so good it was named as the 1986 AJW’s Match of the Year.
In those days, Hokuto still wrestled as Hisako Uno and, as was the usual babyface tradition (with rare exceptions), declined any face paint or otherwise garish make-up. She and Yumiko Hotta defeated the Glamour Girls (Judy Martin & Leilani Kai) on April 15, 1987 to capture the vacant WWWA World Tag Team Title defeating the at the age of 19. Their reign was a short one, losing the straps to the Red Typhoons (Kazue Nagahori & Yumi Ogura) in a 2/3 Falls match on April 27, 1987. The match went down in the annals of AJW for sheer determination and intestinal fortitude as Ogura gave Uno a tombstone piledriver off the top rope for the second fall finish. Uno broke her neck in the fall. Rather than retire, she got up off the mat and amazingly held her head in place with her hands as she worked the third fall, including doing all the required high spots. The only thing I have ever heard to rival it was when Danny Hodge broke his neck in a car accident and walked five miles to the nearest town holding his neck up with hands. But Hodge wasn’t in the midst of a wrestling match. This was the first, and last, time in AJW that the tombstone piledriver would be allowed. (The tombstone is much more dangerous than the regular piledriver since the victim cannot protect himself as he can in the normal piledriver. Steve Austin damaged his neck after Owen Hart applied this hold, albeit not from the second rope.)
She needed a year to fully recover. Fearing the fans had forgotten her, it was decided to re-image her with dyed blonde hair along with black lipstick (the sure sign of a heel) and a new name: Akira Hokuto, the Akira in tribute to Akira Maeda, whose style Hokuto hoped to emulate. To test the new waters, she was teamed with Suzuka Minami as the Marine Wolves (AJW always pushes a team with a name). On June 18, 1989, they won the WWWA tag belts that were vacated by the Crush Gals when Chigusa Nagayo retired. They held the belts for exactly a month losing them on July 18, 1989 to the Fire Jets (Yumiko Hotta and Mitsuko Nishiwaki).
The year 1990 had its high points and its low points. The high point came on February 7, 1990, when she and Minami defeated Aja Kong and Grizzly Iwamoto for the WWWA tag titles. The low point came in that June’s AJW Japan Grand Prix, where Hokuto was booked to win the tournament. However, in the quarterfinals against Manami Toyota, Hokuto attempted a plancha (a jump over the top rope to the outside), but missed Toyota, instead crashing her knee into the ringside metal barrier and tearing it open. Clearly distraught and unable to walk, she tied an ersatz bandage around the knee, somehow got back into the ring, and attempted to continue the match. The referee, seeing her distress signaled for the doctor, who had her removed on a stretcher. As there was no major damage, her recovery lasted only a few months. To take it easier on her recovery, she found herself once again in tag action with Manami. But as she still had trouble moving at full speed, she an Manami lost the belts to Jungle Jack (Aja Kong and Bison Kimura) on December 9, 1990.
In 1991 she was given the green light for singles action again. On April 29, 1991, a feud between her and Manami led to her capturing the All-Pacific belt. She dropped it back to Manami on October 4 of that year after being hobbled by an injury. Again, the injuries healed and Hokuto came back on November 26, 1992 to win the belt once again, this time from Kyoko Inoue. Hokuto by this time was wearing a thick bandage on her knee (which she would keep for the rest of her career). This led to the tried and true angle of having the opponent use illegal tactics on her injured knee, an angle that never failed to connect. Meanwhile, she was busy finding new parts of her body to injure, including her forearm, shoulder, back, and, one again, her neck (though in this case it was a small bone that was broken and she was able to work through it.
More dangerous stunts in further title defenses compromised her ring ability. (One was when she missed a moonsault off the top rope and landed awkwardly on her injured knee, putting her out of commission for a couple of weeks. Of course, when she returned, she was up to her old tricks.) This would lead to the sight of fans seeing her coming down the aisle wrapped in various bandages. This led to many nicknames among the fans, such as “the Walking Wounded,” and “The Mummy,” (and these were the ones I could print).
It looked as if 1993 would be her year, and is considered by many wrestling fans to be the best year of her career. The highlight was her feud with Shinobu Kandori of the LLPW promotion during the inter-promotional period.
Long story short, this was a time during which Japan’s top Joshi promotions attempted to work together to inflate a sagging gate, giving the fans dream match-ups they wouldn’t ordinarily see. It worked for a while, drawing some of the largest crowds ever seen at Joshi matches. But internecine fighting killed that golden goose a short while later. A major factor was that the women didn’t receive any higher pay for these cards.) At Dreamslam I (April 2, 1993) Hokuto defeated Kandori in a match I believe was the greatest Joshi match I ever saw. (It was worked stiff and contained lots of blood, unusual for that time.) Dave Meltzer obviously agreed with me, since he rated it five stars.
It was also in 1993 that Hokuto went on tour in Mexico as part of the Inter-promotional cooperation. It was here that she made her biggest political mistake. She became engaged later that year married a Mexican wrestler named Mascara Magica (Magical Mask). She announced her intention to permanently relocate to Mexico at the end of the year.
Kandori was given her props by pinning Hokuto in a tag match at Dreamslam II nine days later and later in a singles match (another wild and stiff affair) held in December, though it must be stated for the record that Hokuto was clearly in no shape to go over in that match. On May 3 she was booked to win the AJW Japan Grand Prix. This time she stayed healthy until the final, where she defeated Yumiko Hotta (August 21, 1993). A week later she suffered yet another leg injury that did not fully heal in time for her title match against Aja Kong, At Hokuto’s request, the match was declared non-title because Akira “felt” that wrestling in her injured state would insult the prestige of the belt. I don’t know if I’m buying that one. I feel it was an invention of the AJW publicity department since Hokuto was so badly injured, she couldn’t give her all. In any event Aja pinned her to win the match.
She continued her career in her new home, where she adopted the masked persona Reina Jubuki. (Actually she began using that persona while still in Japan, but I’m sure fans knew who it was when they saw that hugh knee bandage.) Since she now lived in Mexico and married a Mexican, AJW decided her reputation was tarnished beyond their repair and dropped plans to have her return, or even get another championship shot. On July 30, 1994, she went over La Diabolica to win CMLL World Women’s Championship, a belt she would hold for over two years. In yet another political move, she didn’t lose the belt, but was stripped of it by CMLL on November 4, 1996 for an appearance on WCW Monday Night Nitro against Madusa. She was probably relieved to be rid of the belt, and soon her husband, whom she divorced over rumors of domestic violence (supposedly he was jealous of her fame and his lack of it) and homesickness.
Akira returned to Japan that month. She was to do a retirement show at the Tokyo Egg Dome show on November 20, 1994, but because of a combination of her continued popularity and the struggling finances of AJW, it was decided to let her work special one-shot cards. The show’s feature attraction was the V*Top Woman Inter promotional Tournament. The show drew 42,500 fans, even considering the $300 ringside seats. The gross gate was $4 million, with souvenir sales alone were $612,000. (Thanks James Phillips.) Because of the intense fan pressure Akira Hokuto won the final of the tournament over Aja Kong. Despite the political fallout, she was still popular enough with the fans to win the AJW MVP in both 1993 and 1994.
1995 found Akira competing on the big New Japan North Korea show in April. She tagged with Bull Nakano to defeat Manami Toyota & Mariko Yoshida. On September 2, 1995, Manami Toyota pinned Akira in a classic match with Hokuto’s own finishing move: the Northern Lights Bomb. On October 1, 1995, Akira took time off to marry New Japan’s Kensuke Sasaki, whom she had met on the earlier tour and who proposed to her on their first date. (Obviously, the man knew quality when he saw it.)
Honeymoon over, it was back to work In November 1995, Hokuto and Bull Nakano defeated Cutie Suzuki & Mayumi Ozaki at WCW’s World War III PPV. In 1996, Hokuto left AJW and signed with Chigusa Nagayo’s GAEA Japan promotion.
Hokuto returned to WCW to compete in a tournament that would crown a new WCW Women’s World Champion. WCW decided to go all out for this affair as Hokuto was joined by fellow GAEA members Chigusa Nagayo, KAORU, Meiko Satomura, and Sonoko Kato. Her decision to work as both herself and as Reina Jubuki was what gave CMLL the excuse to strip her of their world title. Hokuto could probably have cared less. She defeated Madusa Miceli to win the tournament final to become the first WCW Women’s World Champion on December 29, 1996 in Nashville, TN. Hokuto later defeated Madusa at WCW’s Great American Bash on June 15, 1997, in a stipulation match wherein Madusa would be forced to retire if she lost. This was the last time Hokuto ever appeared in WCW, as an injury combined with her pregnancy caused her to relinquish the belt on September 8, 1997 due to injury as well as her pregnancy. WCW subsequently dropped the Women’s Championship, feeling it wasn’t worth the trouble to maintain it.
On November 6, 1998, Akira gave birth to her first son, Kennosuke Sasaki, who came into the world at 6 pounds, 6 ounces. Most Joshi wrestlers retire when they marry and start a family, but not Hokuto. She still felt there was still some life left in her, and she returned to the ring in 1999. On May 14, 2000, Hokuto and Devil Masami lost to the reunited Crush Gals in the main event of GAEA’s fifth anniversary show at Tokyo’s Ariake Coliseum. On December 17, 2000 she and Mayumi Ozaki won the GAEA AAAW Tag Championship from Sugar Sato and Chikayo Nagashima on Osaka. They returned the favor by dropping the belts on April 22, 2001 at the same venue.
Her retirement match on April 7, 2002 was what could loosely called a blowout. Hokuto, sporting two broken ribs (so what else is new) teamed up with Meiko Satomura to defeat Ayako Hamada and Chigusa Nagayo. Hokuto fought through the pain, and pinned Hamada with the Northern Lights Bomb. In the retirement ceremony that followed, many of Hokuto’s colleagues entered the ring, gave her flowers, hugged her, and bowed to her. She even slapped a few of them (including her partner Satomura and Sakura Hirota) In Japanese Bushido culture, slapping is considered a way to transfer part of one’s fighting spirit. Dick Hutton once told me of being with Freddie Blassie at a Japanese dojo where that same thing was done to a line of new rookies. Hutton asked Blassie what they had done wrong and Blassie explained the ritual to him.) This was followed by a ten-gong salute, after which Hokuto was showered with streamers. She then walked up the aisle to the dressing room where she was hugged and kissed by husband Kensuke Sasaki and their son.
Finally retired from active competition, Hokuto has been enjoying life raising her family (she gave birth to a second son, Shinnusuke, in March 2003) and running husband Kensuke’s Kensuke Office promotion. She also makes occasional appearances on Japanese radio and television, appearing on women’s and cooking shows. (I don’t know how good a cook she is, but if wrestling talent is an indicator, she could give Iron Chef Morimoto, also a former athlete, a run for his money.) She has also made the occasional wrestling-related appearance, serving as the figurehead chief executive officer of Hawaii Championship Wrestling for a brief time during a Japan vs. Hawaii feud and becoming the first woman to appear in a match in All Japan Pro Wrestling, against Kendo Ka Shin. She won in less than three minutes, thanks to outside interference.
In 2006, Kensuke Sasaki and Akira Hokuto were voted one of Japan’s leading celebrity couples. She has also assisted her husband in various publicity and charitable activities pertaining to his position as Japan’s Friendship Ambassador to Fiji for the year 2007.
– The Phantom of Wrestling
You can write to the Phantom care of Karen Belcher