Part 11 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 11
Double Inoue – Double Trouble
Another shining star in the final years was Kyoko Inoue. And what a shining star she was – at times. Kyoko was like the butterfly she painted on her face. She could be be as quick and graceful as a butterfly at times, and at others, especially as she grew older and really packed on the pounds, as slow and uninteresting as a caterpillar. She was noted for her all-out style, which made her matches a pleasure to watch. Ratcheting up her game against fellow superstars, she produced almost more must-see matches than any other Joshi superstar of her era. Born on April 22, 1969, in (1969-04-22) in Nan’y®?, Yamagata Prefecture, she excelled in both judo and track and field in school. Accepted at an AJW audition, she was trained by Jaguar Yakota and made her debut on October 10, 1998, against Takako Inoue (no relation). Naturally charismatic despite her size (5’3” and around 165 lbs., going up over the years to about 210), she was the first Joshi wrestler to use face paint. (Although I’m sure some dotty academic will say that Kyoko was doing this in line with the tradition of Noh Drama. Forget it, if that were truly the case, the Joshi wrestlers would have been doing it from the start.)
After serving her apprenticeship mainly in televised matches and mid-card battles, it was decided that she had star quality. Her first title was the All Japan Singles title which she won from Takako Inoue on October 2 1990. Following form, she lost it back to Takako on April 29, 1991.
But that was just the beginning. On August 31, 1991, she defeated Debbie Malenko for the vacant IWA World title. She held it until April 25, 1992, when she lost it to lost it to Manami Toyota, a nemesis with whom she would later have many great matches.
Kyoko was not without a title for long. On June 5, 1992, she defeated Bison Kimura for the All Pacific title, later losing it to Akira Hokuto on November 26 of that year. She got it back a second time when she defeated Toshiyo Yamada at Yokohama on March 27, 1994, only to lose it a few moths later to old rival Manami Toyota on August 24 in Tokyo.
As the tradition in AJW was not only to work as a single but also in a tag-team, she and Takako Inoue were paired as Double Inoue. On October 9, 1994, at the super card Wrestlemarinpiad VI, held in Kawasaki (Kawasaki City Gym) in front of a crowd of about 4,200, they won their first of four WWWA Tag Team titles from Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada, as Takako pinned Yamada in an exciting third fall. On January 3, 1995, they vacated the belts in honor of the upcoming tournament to decide the 100th champions. No matter, for they prevailed once again in the tournament, defeating Manami and Blizzard Yuki in the finals on March 21, 1995. They lost the titles to Akira Hokuto and Mima Shimoda in Kawaski on September 24, 1995, only to regain them on January 22, 1996, in Tokyo. Five months later to the day (June 22, 1996), they dropped the belts to Mima Shimoda and her new partner, Manami Toyota.
Her other highlight (of sorts) occurred when she visited America at the behest of the WWF. She appeared at the 1995 WWF Survivor Series, where she was a member of Alundra Blayze’s team.
By this time, the only bauble that eluded her was the WWWA Championship itself. She finally overcame that hurdle when she defeated Manami Toyota on December 8, 1996, in Tokyo. On January 20, 1997, Kyoko achieved the triple crown of AJW when she defeated Takako Inoue, who held both the All-Pacific and IWA Singles titles. Knowing that she could not possibly defend all three titles, an angle was developed and played out on May 11, 1997. After Kyoto worked a 60-minute time limit draw in Sapporo against Kaoru Ito, she claimed to be dissatisfied with the outcome and vacated all three titles. (A piece of trivia: for someone of her weight, she was able to work 60 minute draws also with Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada. If anything, this increased her already outstanding charisma.) Actually Kyoko was dissatisfied with AJW. A temporary truce was maintained, and she regained the WWWA belt in a rematch with Ito, but she reached her limit in August, 1997, and left to form the Neo Japan Ladies’ Wrestling promotion. Before leaving, however, she kept the lines of communication solid by jobbing the title to Yumiko Hotta on August 20, 1997. This was no pushover contest, but a hotly contested one that almost made the fans think that Kyoko just might be staying put.
Neo Ladies held its first card on January 9, 1998, but the promotion suffered rough financial times. So rough, in fact, that Kyoko began freelancing.
Her first successful stop was in Jaguar Yakota’s JD* Promotion, where she began a feud with the legendary Lioness Asuka and the two of them started playing “swap the belt” with the promotion’s Trans-World Wrestling Federation World Women’s Title. Kyoko won it from Asuka in Tokyo on April 26, 1998. Asuka got it back at the same venue on May 6; then Kyoko won it for the last time in August 2, 1998, again in Tokyo. Asuka then got it back on January 24, 1999, in Tokyo. There, is it all clear, or are you now suffering from vertigo? The feud was necessary to put money the promotion’s coffers, and there’s nothing like seeing two legends go at it, even though the best days of both were behind them, and Kyoko’s weight gain slowed her ring work considerably.
Fans of AJW had to be surprised when Kyoko showed up on their doorstep in 1999. Remembering her past success, AJW quickly placed her in a feud with then-champion Yumiko Hotta. Kyoko captured the WWWA Title for the third and last time when she defeated Hotta on July 11, 1999, in Tokyo. Hotta took it back on October 22 in Fukuoka.
The feud pretty much died after that and Kyoko returned to freelancing. The highlight of Kyoko’s last title reign was a unification match (TWF and WWWA) with Lioness Asuka. Predictably, it went to a draw, but, on the bright side for the fans, it was a one-hour draw. But the next year got off to a rocky start when, on January 6, 2000, Neo Ladies held their final show. Kyoko Inoue, as was usually the tradition with a retirement ceremony, wrestled in all six matches.
On February 25, 2000, Kyoko made history of sorts in Tokyo in a most bizarre manner. She became the first woman ever to hold a major men’s title with a promotion when she and Kodo Fuyuki won the WEW World Tag Championship from Mr. Gannosuke (Masashi Honda) and H (Eiji Ezaki aka the masked Hayabusa).
A little history her would help, WEW (World Entertainment Wrestling) had its roots in the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) promotion founded ay Atsuhshi Onita in 1989. FMW specialized in hardcore (sometimes called “garbage”) matches and was extremely (no pun intended) influential on Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling, with whom FMW had a rather short-lived agreement to trade talent. WEW had been the name of the promotion’s governing body since 1999, under a financial reorganization. (FMW had its fans, but a disastrous change in style due to many wrestler injuries coupled with continuing financial mismanagement led to its demise in 2002.)
FMW/WEW was built around bizarre gimmicks and it was thought that a tag-team title match might be just the thing to draw a crowd. Interestingly, this was not the first time women, or Kyoko Inoue for that matter, had faced off against men. On August 29, 1999, father-and-daughter Ayako Hamada and Gran Hamada teamed up to defeat Maasaki Mochizuki and Mikiko Futagami at a Michinoku Pro event. Then, on December 9, 1999, the first ever mixed singles match took place in Japan, when Shinobu Kandori defeated male wrestler Mach Junji of BattlArts in 10:40. Kyoko went them one further when on December 25, 1999, when she lost to male wrestler Kodo Fuyuki in a cage death match for FMW.
So it was decided to push the envelope a little further. On January 8, Kyoko Inoue teamed with Kodo Fuyuki in an FMW main event, defeating Mr. Gannosuke and H when Inoue used a lariat to pin H. The champs were humiliated and demanded revenge (of course). So the stage was set for Kyoko to make history.
H & Mr. Gannosuke would defend the WEW Tag Team Titles on February 25, 2000, at Korakuen Hall against Kodo Fuyuki & Kyoko Inoue. Kyoko’s lack of size gave the champions an early advantage with Gannosuke hitting Kyoko with a Powerbomb, and H hitting her with a Fire Bird Splash The match then proceeded to go back and forth, with Kyoko’s partner Fuyuki carrying most of the action. There were the usual several near-falls, and a ref bump when Gannosuke had Fuyuki in his Gannosuke clutch. The finish came when Gannosuke went for another Gannosuke Clutch on Fuyuki, but Fuyuki moved behind Gannosuke, rolled him up for his Samson Clutch and a pinfall, giving Fuyuki and Kyoko the titles.
Of course, the gimmick having run its course, Kyoko and Fuyuki dropped the belts to Koji Nakagawa and Gedo (Keiji Takayama) on April 1, 2000, in Yokosuka. The gimmick just didn’t go over as expected. In wrestling, it is not the suspension of belief that makes the fans attend, but the suspension of disbelief, and this was a little too much, even for FMW’s most ardent fans.
Meanwhile, Kyoko managed new financial backing and debuted the new NEO Promotion at the Kitasawa Town Hall in Tokyo, on March 16, 2000, drawing a sellout of 312. She would hold the Promotion’s Singles Title three times, the last one coming in dramatic fashion.
She also returned once more to AJW to re-form Double Inoue. They won the WWWA Tag Titles on September 15, 2003, from Tomoko Watanabe and Kumiko Maekawa, holding them until January 3, 2004, when they were defeated by the team of Ayako Hamada and Nanae Takahashi. That would be the end of Kyoko’s association with AJW, as the promotion folded a year later.
In 2005 she appeared in a movie titled Beautiful Boxer, a movie based on the true story of Thai kick boxer Nong Toom Prinya Charoenphol, a transsexual who was saving his winnings for a sex-change operation. Kyoko played herself and was billed sixth.
However, not everything was rosy. In 2007, Kyoko was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Then it was discovered she was pregnant, giving birth in October, 2007. Though still burdened with the cancer, she is responding well to treatment; so well, in fact, that she returned to the ring for NEO’s Mar. 2 Korakuen Hall show. After the show, Kyoko came to the ring carrying her son. Then, in a nostalgic turn, NEO GM Koda announced that Haruka Matsuo will defend her NEO Singles & NWA Pacific Titles against Kyoko at the May 5 Korakuen Hall show. Needless to say, she won for the third time.
Takako Inoue established herself as the beauty in Double Inoue, which she formed with fellow wrestler Kyoko Inoue (no relation). As such, she developed into a hellacious bump taker.
Given Kyoko’s basic style, one would expect Takako to be more the high-flyer of the group, but in reality her wrestling style is not very spectacular. She is not a high-flyer in the style of workers such as Manami Toyota, Hikari Fukuoka, and Kaoru Maeda. Rather, she is a solid mat wrestler, using a variety of basic suplexes and slams with an occasional move off the top rope thrown in. She is also a generous worker helping younger wrestlers by giving heat and selling for comebacks.
Her “trademark” of sorts is her good looks, which made her a draw at first for All Japan, and later, once she gained a following, for other promotions. Truth be told, they are a factor in her pushes. Her looks have also resulted in several picture books (titled called Bless, Selfish, Vertige, Peak Blue and Body Oil) and videos (Yume no Tobira and Another Splendor with Takako Inoue), following in the tradition of Mimi Hagiwara. But despite her looks, she is not afraid to work stiff, either as the punisher or as the victim. She began her career as a Hagiwara “schoolgirl” babyface type. A couple of years later, she began to develop a mean streak that served her well in her role as a beautiful bad-girl.
She was born November 7, 1969, in Ibaragi-ken Toride Shi. A magazine model at the time, she possessed an athletic background in track and field and amateur wrestling. She passed her AJW audition and joined in October, 1987, where she was trained by Jaguar Yokota. Takako made her debut on October 8, 1988, against fellow rookie and future tag team partner Kyoko Inoue for the All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) promotion.
On April 2, 1991, she defeated Kyoko Inoue for the All Japan Singes title. This was an important push for a wrestler so young, but her beauty and improving work rate was considered strong enough to put her over for the belt. She held it for a year, pretty outstanding for the time. She lost the title to Mariko Yoshida exactly one year later.
She was paired with Mariko Yoshida; the brain trust figuring their styles would complement each other. They were booked to win the All Japan Tag Team titles on August 2, 1991, from Esther Moreno & Cynthia Moreno. They then lost them to another up and coming team, Sakie Hasegawa & Debbie Malenko, on January 5, 1992. On April 25, 1992, Takako and Yoshida took the titles back from Sakie Hawegawa and Debbie Malenko before losing them to Bat Yoshinaga & Tomoko Watanabe on December 1, 1992.
After the hot tag run ended, Takako found herself in the supporting role of a tag team with Yumiko Hotta. On September 5, 1993, she and Hotta won the UWA Tag Team titles from Akira Hokuto and Suzuka Minami. They had a good run, though only defending the titles occasionally, while the AJW brain trust was figuring her future. They finally lost the titles on March 30, 1994, to Etsuko Mita and Mima Shimoda.
Her big break came when she and Kyoko Inoue formed a tag-team named “Double Inoue.” They defeated Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada for the WWWA World Tag Team titles from on October 9, 1994, ending Toyota and Yamada’s almost 2 1/2 year domination. They defended the titles once, and then vacated them in an angle where they, being the 99th WWWA tag champs, wanted to be the 100th. On March 21, 1995, a one-night tournament was held with Double Inoue winning three matches to regain the titles. Double Inoue would now go on to dominate the tag titles, becoming the hot tag team in AJW for the next eighteen months. (They held the WWWA tag titles three times during this period.) Their hottest feud during this time was with the team of Manami Toyota and Sakie Hasegawa (or her masked alter ego, Blizzard Yuki). The feud produced quite a few outstanding tussles, including the one-night tournament final. After losing the titles to Manami Toyota and Mima Shimoda on June 22, 1996, the Inoues split up; it was decided that Kyoko would be getting a serious push at the WWWA title.
Takako was not forgotten, however, as she would also win singles gold during this time. She defeated Reggie Bennett for the IWA Women’s title on December 4, 1995, and would defeat Bennett once again on November 21, 1996, in a unification match where Takako walked off with both the IWA title and the All-Pacific title. Takako then challenged ex-partner and WWWA champion Kyoko Inoue on January 20, 1997, in a losing effort to unify all three titles. After Kyoko vacated the All-Pacific title, Takako defeated Toshiyo Yamada to regain the belt on June 18, 1997. However, a severe eye injury suffered in a title defense caused Takako to miss three months and vacate the title. Once healed, she won the All-Pacific title back on January 3, 1998. She then lost it on April 21, 1998, to ZAP T (Tomoko Watanabe as a masked heel).
She has also worked many inter-promotional matches while with AJW, being among the first to work them, notably against Cutie Suzuki and Mayumi Ozaki of JWP Project. But for all that, she was never positioned as a top-level single in AJW, instead being a top mid-carder, used to set up those for the push into the top level. Amazingly, for someone with her experience, she had only two matches for the WWWA title: one against Kyoko Inoue, and in October, 1995, she was Dynamite Kansai’s first defense after Kansai had just won the WWWA title. Her last major singles hurrah for AJW during this period was her push for the All-Pacific Title.
Given the fact she was spinning her wheels and facing the specter of continued bookings against the ZAPS, in what essentially turned into comedy matches, Takako left AJW in 1999 to freelance. Getting out from under AJW seemed to help, for she found herself in demand. She soon landed in Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling, where, on September 2, 2000, Takako, Rumi Kazama and Eagle Sawai (collectively known as Black Joker) won the vacant LLPW Six Woman Tag Team titles from Miho Wakizawa, Manami Toyota and Nanae Takahashi. They held the belts for almost two years before dropping them to Mizuki Endo, Keiko Aono, & Reiko Amano on June 15, 2002. She went over to ARSION shortly thereafter, and with Rie Tamada, she won the Twin Star of ARSION from Lioness Asuka and GAMI. Takako and Rie would be the last to hold this particular title, as the promotion closed shortly thereafter.
Takako soon found herself back with AJW, and in a familiar role: that of tag-team champion. On January 3 2003, she and Mima Shimoda won the WWWA Tag Team titles from Momoe Nakanishi and Kayo Noumi. They held them until April 20, 2003, when they were defeated by Nanae Takahashi & Etsuko Mita. Takako was reunited with Double Inoue partner Kyoko in an attempt to re-create their past magic. Though they won the WWWA Tag belts from Tomoko Watababe and Kumiko Maekawa on June 1, 2006, the magic lingered for a while; but as it faded, along with AJW’s financial picture, Double Inoue’s last tag reign ended on January 3, 2004, to Ayako Hamada and Nanae Takahashi.
Takako was contemplating retirement in 2004 when, on the recommendation of former Jumping Bomb Angel Itsuki Yamazaki, she landed an audition for WWE. No doubt WWE’s interest in her stemmed more from her picture books and videos than her wrestling ability. She worked hard to adapt to the slower and softer American style and was trained by Brad Rheingans (which included a ten-minute workout with Jazz. Takako was enthusiastic about working in America, but Nikkan Sport reported that while Takako was very happy with the workout, she said that she wants to be more than a sexy WWE Diva. If they want her only for her sex appeal she wouldn’t be interested as she was a professional wrestler first and foremost. Unlike WWE, for all Takako’s good looks, she was never put into T & A storylines.
One of the first wrestlers to have a blog on the Internet (Marbles, begun in 1994, discontinued for a short period, but now back on line), Takako also exposed the bullying that was a fact of life for junior wrestlers in AJW, stating that she was the victim of such bullying while there, and now whenever she sees the same thing happening to another rookie, she steps in and takes action to stop it. (In one incident she received a punch in her eye for her efforts.)
She tired of the routine and left LLPW in 2006. She invested her money in a yoga studio (named Lava-Tube) and was devoting full time to it, writing a weekly yoga column for Daily Sports, when Kaoru Ito approached Takako about working as a trainer at the Kaoru Ito Professional Wrestling Classroom. The change of pace proved a good one: reinvigorating Takako to the point where she began working again in 2007, doing the occasional show for the Ito Dojo. She and Yumiko Hotta have formed a team and are known as “The Super Heels.” Their July 31st appearance for the Ito Dojo was said to be quite intense, proving that time has not slowed Takako down. Takako’s 20th anniversary will be coming up in October, 2008, and her yoga studio and column are still going strong as of this writing.
Before we end this column, we must mention two wrestlers who were overlooked during their runs with AJW, but who later went on to define themselves with a measure of distinction.
Tomoko Watanabe was born on February 23, 1972, in the city of Chiba. She was accepted into the AJW dojo in 1988 and made her debut on October 8, 1989, against Takako Inoue. She had a couple of runs as AJW Singles titleist, which she won on October 9, 1992, from Sakie Hasegawa; and on June 30, 995, defeating Kauro Ito (the title was later vacated due to injury.) Due to a rash of injuries, her role within the promotion has been as a mid-carder, beating the prelims and making sure the stars and those tagged for stardom triumph. Her work rate was steady, if not spectacular and she lacked that elusive factor known as charisma that gets one over with the fans. Her height may have worked against her here as she only stood 5’3”, and her listed weight of 154 lbs., although a tad heavy, was not enough to make her into a monster-type heel.
It was as a tag-team wrestler that she stood out. On December 1, 1992, she won the AJW Tag Team titles with Bat Yoshinga from Takako Inoue and Mariko Yoshida. They made a couple of good defenses before losing the straps to Kaoru Ito (who later became her best friend) and Sakie Hasegawa on April 24, 1993.
Tomoko’s only other moment of glory came on January 20, 1997, when she and Kumiko Maekawa defeated the WWWA Tag Team champions Manami Toyota and Mima Shimoda. Even then it was not about Watanabe; the push was really for Maekawa, whom AJW had positioned as a major star. They would lose the titles on June 18, 1997, to Etsuko Mita and Mima Shimoda.
And that might well have been that, if not for an idea within the brain trust. It was decided to repackage Watanabe and Kaoru Ito, another performer AJW had tagged as an underachiever, as the masked duo Zap T and Zap I. The gimmick was shoddy and not that well planned, but the duo, for whatever reasons, went over with the fans, though I have been told that the fans knew who they were from the get-go.
Success initially came their way. On April 12, 1998, Zap T and I won the WWWA Tag Team titles by defeating Kumiko Maekawa and Takako Inoue. (They would lose them on July 10, 1999, to Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita.) And then, on April 21, 1998, Watanabe, under the hood as Zap T, defeated Takako Inoue for the All-Pacific belt. Her reign was short-lived, as she dropped the belt to Kumiko Maekawa on May 5.
Going without the hood, she and Maekawa defeated Shimoda and Mita for the WWWA Tag Titles, but vacated the titles on May 20, 2000, as Tomoko had major commitments with Ito in JWP. Zap I and Zap T were getting a major push in JWP that culminated with them winning the tag belts from Commando Bolshoi and Carlos Amano on February 10, 2000. They held the belts until June 18, 2000, dropping them to Azumi Hyuga and Commando Bolshoi.
Tomoko freelanced between promotions. As AJW’s stock of talent thinned, she returned to win the All-Pacific Title from Azumi Hyuga on July 15, 2000. On July 27, she and Nanae Takahashi won the WWWA belts from Shimoda and Mita. Tomoko dropped the All-Pacific belt on September 16 to Kumiko Maekawa, but her tag run was more successful, lasting until January 4, 2001, when she and Takahashi were defeated by Rumi Kazama and Takako Inoue. She’d have one last run with the tag belts, winning them with old partner Maekawa from old partner Takahashi and Etsuko Mita on June 1, 2003. They made a few spirited defenses against number one challengers Double Inoue before losing the belts to them on September 15, 2003. Her last taste of glory in AJW was winning the AJW Tag Titles with Takako Inoue from Tannie Mouse and Yuki Miyazaki on October 6, 2004. They were the last AJW Tag champions.
She would continue to freelance, working for best friend Kaoru Ito, who had founded her own independent promotion, but her right knee, injured years earlier, continued to deteriorate. She announced her retirement at the Kaoru Ito Professional Wrestling Show on September 23, 2006. Our last news in this regard was that she would become a trainer at Ito’s wrestling school.
Kaoru Ito (born October 20, 1971, in Kyoto) was a classmate of Watanabe at the AJW dojo and made her debut on October 8, 1989, against Eriko Yoshinaga. She stood 5’4” and weighed in the neighborhood of 165 lbs. Like Watanabe she suffered from a lack of star charisma compounded by several AJW bad booking decisions. Her first taste of gold came on November 26, 1992, when she won the All Japan Singles title from classmate Tomoko Watanabe. She defended the belt until losing it to Debbie Malenko on February 10, 1993.
It was decided to give her a push for tag titles. She made a good, if not particularly outstanding, team with Sakie Hasegawa. On April 24, 1993, they won the AJW Tag Titles from Tomoko Watanabe and Bat Yoshinga. They had a good run with the belts (by AJW standards) before losing them to Miki Handa & Yasha Kurenai on December 6, 1993. In 1994 she was back to a singles push of sorts, defeating Rie Tamada on May 4, 1994, for the AJW Singles Tile that was vacated by Mima Shimoda a month earlier. She held the belt for over a year until dropping it to old friend Tomoko Watanabe on June 6, 1995.
In 1997, AJW decided to give Ito a major singles push and prep her for positioning as the next contender. Until then, Ito had not held any of the three major WWWA (red, white, or tag) titles, and it seems to have been a last minute decision by the promotion. Had this been planned they surely would have put Ito over on Reggie Bennett in the finals of the All-Pacific tournament (WWWA Champions Night, June 22, 1996) that would determine the successor to Yumiko Hotta. Instead