Lipstick, Dynamite and Glowworms, Part 10

Part 10 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 10

The Last Superstars of AJW

As AJW began to fade into the woodwork, it still managed to present some entertaining wrestling, mainly because of a talent fund built up in the late 80s. As these women matured, they filled the necessary positions vacated because of the company’s idiotic retirement policy.

First and foremost among the remaining stars I will profile here is Erika Shishido, better known as Aja Kong. Of Erika, I can only say that Japanese society became a bit more liberal in the 80s. Were this the 60s or the 70s, Erika Shishido might never have even made it past the AJW dojo door. She was born September 25, 1970, in the Tachikawa District of Tokyo, the product of a union between a Japanese mother and an African-American serviceman father. Children of mixed parentage (no matter what race) were always looked down upon, not only in Japan, but in Asia as well. Consider the problem of the Amer-Asian babies in Vietnam; and of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Heinz Ward’s efforts on their behalf on South Korea. (Ward himself is a product of a Korean mother and an African-American father.) To say that Erika Shishido had an uphill climb in life would be to put it mildly. Like most other Joshi stars, she excelled in athletics in school. (Volleyball and karate, the latter no doubt to be used for self-defense, growing up as she did.)

Shishido was trained by AJW’s Jaguar Yakota as part of their class of 1986. She was given the moniker “Aja Kong,” the “Kong” in reference to her size (5’5”, about 220 lbs.) and heritage (a common stereotype of the time was that Blacks had a natural affinity with gorillas), and made her debut on September 17, 1986 against Noriyo Toyoda, aka Dynamite Jack or Combat Toyoda. Shortly thereafter she joined Dump Matsumoto’s Atrocious Alliance, along with fellow classmate and tag team partner Nobuko “Bison” Kimura. Along with Kimura, Shishido tasted her first fruits of the title, winning the AJW Tag Championship by defeating the Honey Wings (Kaoro Maeda and Mika Takahashi) in the finals of a tournament for the belts. (They dropped the belts back to the Honey Wings on October 10, 1988.)

After Matsumoto’s retirement in 1988, Shishido and Kimura went their separate ways, but were reunited by AJW in 1990 and were now known as Jungle Jack. Tagging with Kimura gave Aja the credibility she needed to go over with the fans. It also gave her the necessary experience that would put her in good stead in later facing Bull Nakano. To get things started, they began an extremely hot and vicious feud against former allies Bull Nakano and her heel stable Gokumon-to that lasted for the greater part of two years. The highlights of Jungle Jack include winning the WWWA World Tag Team Championship twice. Their first was against the Marine Wolves – Suzuka Minami and Akira Hokuto – on December 9, 1990. They vacated the title after losing a memorable non-title hair vs. hair match to Bull Nakano and Kyoko Inoue on January 1, 1991, but then defeated Yumiko Hotta and Akira Hokuto on April 4, 1991. They later participated in some memorable matches, the most famous of which was a hair vs. hair victory over Jungle Jack on January 11, 1991, that resulted in both heels being shaved bald. (Aja had first won the WWWA Tag Titles with Grizzly Iwamoto on December 9, 1989, defeating the Fire Jets — Yumiko Hotta & Mitsuko Nishiwaki).

It was only natural that Aja should feud with Nakano herself, especially since Bull held the WWWA Singles Title. To jump start her singles career she won the AJW Japan Grand Prix tournament on August 30, 1992, defeating Toshiyo Yamada in the finals (13:01). Now established, the feud was on. Aja and Bull engaged in several brutal and bloody battles, including one inside a steel cage (to keep their stable mates from interfering), before Aja finally secured the belt on November 26, 1992, in Kawasaki, ending Nakano’s nearly three-year reign. She held it for over two and a half years, proving herself one of the better heel workers to hold a championship before losing it to Manami Toyota on March 29, 1995 in Yokohama. She regained the belt from Toyota a little over three months later in Sapporo on June 27, 1995 before losing it for good to Dynamite Kansai on August 30, 1995.

At the invitation of Madusa Miceli, Aja tried her hand at the WWF. Initially she was a success, being the last woman standing at the 1995 Survivor Series. She also impressed on Monday Night Raw, winning two bouts, including one where she broke Chaparita ASARI’S (Masami Watanabe) nose. The idea was to build Aja up as a contender for WWF Women’s Champ Alundra Blayze (Madusa), but all that planning went down the drain when Madusa defected to WCW in a rather dramatic manner. As there was no longer a WWF Women’s Champion, and further, since it was done in a manner that greatly embarrassed an already hurting in the ratings Vince McMahon, the WWF soured on women’s matches and Aja was soon back in Japan. On August 30, 1996, she won the 1996 Japan Grand Prix, a 12-woman round-robin tournament, with 16 points. Reggie Bennett, Yumiko Hotta, and Kyoko Inoue shared second with 14 points each. There was neither a semifinal nor a final; it was a one-division round-robin.

She continued with AJW until it closed its doors in 2005. Her last hurrah with AJW was winning the tag title with Kia Stevens, aka Amazing Kong (They were billed as Double Kong.) on October 6, 2004, making history of sorts as the promotion’s last tag champs.

Now a free agent, Aja began working for Chigusa Nagayo’s GAEA Promotion. Her first taste of success with the promotion was on August 23, 1998 when she and partner Mayumi Ozaki defeated Sugar Sato & Chikayo Nagashima for the AAAW Tag Team titles. Aja would go one to win the tag titles twice more, with Devil Masami and reuniting with Amazing Kong (defeating the Crush Gals), with whom she had extraordinary chemistry.) She took the Promotion’s top prize, the AAAW Singles Title from Nagayo herself on 16, 1999 in Tokyo. She dropped the strap to Mayumi Ozaki in an intense battle in Tokyo on January 14, 2001. She regained it from Ozaki on October 28, 2001 in Nagoya before losing it again, this time to Meiko Satomura, on April 30, 2004 in Tokyo. She won it back for a third, and final, time, from Satomura On April 3, 2005 in Yokohama. She successfully defended the title at GAEA’s final show on April 10, 2005, pinning Carlos (Reiko) Amano in 11:02 after a diving elbow from the top rope.

Tiring of freelancing, Aja was looking for a permanent home. She though she had found on in 1997, when she joined forces with former AJW business manager Hiroshi Ogawa and fellow star Sakie Hasegawa. The new promotion, named ARISON used mixed martial arts, just beginning to gain a following in Japan, as its fulcrum. They quickly signed a working relationship with BattlARTS to assist in their development. By integrating lucha libre high flying into the mix, ARISON developed a new style of wrestling referred to as “Hyper Visual Fighting.” Splitting her time between GAEA (to whom she still had commitments, Aja won the Queen of ARISON title from Mariko Yoshida on August 6, 1999. (She lost the title to Ayako Hamada on December 3, 2000) Her other ARISON highlight was winning the Twin Star of ARISON on February 18, 2000, with Mariko Yoshida from Ayako Hamada and AKINO. (They dropped the title on April 7 2000 to Michiko Ohmukai and Mima Shimoda.)

She led the organization until 2001, when, on February 12, she walked out of a televised tag match, and announced she was quitting ARISON.

Shishido continues to freelance for various promotions in Japan. She joined HUSTLE in 2005, where she worked under her given first name of Erica. Her first major event was a rather bizarre bikini contest on March 18, where she, Ami Tanabe and Mie Fujiwara lost to Hikari Okada.

She and Amazing Kong decided to re-form Double Kong for HUSTLE. They began wrestling using the names Erika and Margaret, and defeated Wataru Sakata and Ryoji Sai for the HUSTLE Super Tag Team Championship on June 6, 2006. They dropped the titles on October 9, 2006 in a bizarre three-way dance to Bubba Ray and Devon in a match that also included the team of Sodom (Mark Jindrak) and Gomorra (Matt Morgan).

As of this writing, Aja wrestles for Mayumi Ozaki’s promotion, Oz Academy. She is a past holder of the promotion’s championship title and currently heads a stable including AKINO, Manami Toyota, and Hiroyo Matsumoto.

If there were such a thing as an AJW edition of “Survivor,” I would nominate one wrestler alone for that title: Yumiko Hotta. Hotta moved up the ladder mainly by sticking around when everyone else was either retiring or leaving. She also developed a character and, moreover, stuck to it. It later paid off when other stars left.

Hotta (born January 10, 1967) debuted for AJW on June 5, 1985 in a tag-team match with Megumi Nakamae versus the team of Kanazaki & Hisako (Akira Hokuto) Uno. It was decided her forte would be tag teams, and she did not disappoint, On April 15 1987, she and Hisako Uno (Akira Hokuto) won the WWWA Tag Team titles with Akira Hokuto, defeating Judy Martin and Leilani Kai. Their reign lasted until April 27, 1987 when they dropped the titles to Kazue Naghori & Yumi Ogura. On July 19, 1988 Hotta teamed with Mitsuko Nishiwaki as the Fire Jets. They won the WWWA Titles from Grizzly Iwamoto and Bull Nakano. Again, Hotta’s championship reign didn’t last long, as the Fire Jets dropped the belts to the Calgary Typhoons (Mika Komatsu & Yumi Ogura) on August 25, 1988. The Fire Jets had their last go-around for the WWWA Belts on July 18, 1989, when they defeated the Marine Wolves (Akira Hokuto and Suzaka Minami), in Tokyo. Their reign this time was a little longer, almost five months, before losing the straps for good to Aja Kong and Grizzly Iwamoto on December 12, 1989, again in Tokyo.

As a singles competitor, Hotta was a mid-carder, beating prelims and the occasional fellow mid-carder when the occasion called for it. Just examine her AJW Grand Prix record:

? 1987: She loses to Dump Matsumoto in the semifinal.

? 1988: She makes the finals and loses to Bull Nakano
? 1989: She beats Mika Takahashi in the first round, beats Noriyo Tateno in the second round, before losing to Madusa in the semifinals
? 1990: She makes the finals then loses to Manami Toyota.
? 1991: Hotta doesn’t even get out of the first round, losing finalist Aja Kong.
? 1992: the Grand Prix was a round-robin point affair containing two groups, A and B, Hotta finished fifth in Group B.
? 1993: She wins Group B, defeats Group A second place finisher Harley Saito in the semifinals, and loses in the finals to Akira Hokuto in a time of 19:52
? 1994: Hotta actually won. It was a one-division round-robin, and Hotta in first with 13 points to Manami Toyota’s 12.
? 1995: She again makes the finals, loses to Manami Toyota in 23:39 of what was one of the classic battles in Grand Prix, if not AJW, history.
? 1996: She finishes third, two points behind that year’s winner, Aja Kong.
? 1997: Not invited.
? 1998: She loses in the semifinals to Manami Toyota.
? 1999: Participating in a nine-woman round-robin, she finishes first in the preliminaries, then last in the semifinal round-robin group.
? 2000: In a nine woman single elimination tournament, Hotta makes it to the semifinals before losing to Etsuko Mita.
? 2001: A 12-woman round-robin tournament. Hotta will finish eighth with 11 points.
? 2002: In her last Grand Prix, Hotta lost to Momoe Nakanishi in only 5:53.

In the Best Tag League, a tag version of the Grand Prix, she won twice, in 1986 with Chigusa Nagayo (Their match versus Akira Hokuto & Yukari Omori on October 10 1986 ended up as the AJW 1986 Match of the Year), and in 1997 with Kaoru Ito.

Hotta also began to develop her persona during the 90s, or rather, develop a persona. Standing 5’6” and weighing in a about 175 lbs., she was a rather colorless personality and not a standout beauty. In order to make herself more marketable, Hotta combined a karate style (Her athletic background was in karate and basketball.) with a “tough girl” attitude. The result was a stiff style, and, with time, she began to catch on with the fans, who appreciated her ability to take it as well as dish it out. (I’ve seen quite a few of her matches from the 90s and can only advise the reader if that he or she wants a form a picture of Hotta in their minds, think Mick Foley.) This, in turn, impressed the brain trust at AJW, and they encouraged her go develop things further. She was rewarded when she went over for the AJW All-Pacific Title, he first singles belt, on September 24, 1995, defeating Toshiyo Yamada. AJW had even bigger plans in store, so she vacated the title in April of 1996 for a push toward the WWWA Championship. Her appearances on television convinced the public she was for real, and August 20, 1997, in Tokyo she defeated Kyoko Inoue, who was leaving AJW to found the NEO Japan Ladies’ Wrestling promotion.

She held the belt until March 21, 1998, when she lost it fellow roughneck Shinobu Kandori. This continued a lucrative feud (think of Mick Foley versus Terry Funk): a feud AJW badly needed. She was finally able to recapture the belt from Kandori on March 10, 1999 in Tokyo. In a little bit of irony, she lost the belt to the returning Kyoko Inoue on July 11, 1999, but this was good enough to begin a feud that saw Hotta win back the belt for the final time on October 22, 1999, in Fukuoka. In the first women’s match of the new millennium (January 3, 2000), Hotta used her signature Pyramid Driver to pin Nanae Takahashi. Her last title defense was the next day, when old rival Manami Toyota defeated her.

Her relations with AJW finally cooled to the breaking point, and on May 11, 2003, she announced she was leaving AJW after over 18 years with the promotion. On June 22, at an ARISON card at Korakuen Hall, Hotta announced that she would be starting up a new promotion. The group would be called “Major Girls Fighting A to Z” (or simply “A to Z”). It would feature all wrestlers from the failing ARISON as well as the front office staff. Sachie Abe, Mika Nishio and Mima Shimoda would also be joining to fill out the talent roster.

While “A to Z” was an able group, Mariko Yoshida (who besides being one of the major stars was also the head trainer) saw the financial handwriting on the wall and left, opening her own company in 2005. The financial woes forced Hotta to take over as promoter. It really made no difference because “A to Z” was doomed, closing shop in 2006. The promotion ran for a while longer, but it was forced to close shop the following year.

Hotta then caught on with NEO, but things were different for her. She had drastically changed. Years of stiff wrestling took almost everything out of her, By this time she was simply a shell of her former self, and now seems to get by on nostalgia alone (ala Sting, without the success). She’s back on the mid card, and as of June 2008 she was still working for the NEO Promotion, mainly on the under card and in Daily Sports tag-team tournaments.

When someone finally gets around to writing a complete history of Joshi, when Hotta is finally retired, then I’m sure she will receive the full credit for which she’s due.

One of the most undervalued workers in this era was Mima Shimoda. Mainly known as a tag specialist, she was overlooked by AJW for most of her career, except for a brief push as a single. But if anyone ever epitomized the mantra of Major Dick Winters (Easy Company and Band of Brothers fame): “Hang Tough,” it is Mima Shimoda. Born December 23, 1970, like most future AJW wresters she had an athletic background in swimming and basketball. She was a graduate of the AJW Dojo Class of 1987, a class that also included future stars Manami Toyota, Toshiyo Yamada, & Etsuko Mita. Standing 5’6” and weighing about 130 lbs., she debuted in 1988 against future heel and tag partner Etsuko Mita. Originally, Shimoda found herself paired with Toyota as an idol/beauty team called “the Sweethearts,” while Yamada & Mita formed the heel team “Dream Orca.” (Of the two teams, Dream Orca was the more successful, capturing the AJW Tag Titles from Reibun Amada & Miori Kamiya on June 14, 1989, but had to vacate the titles in March 1990 when Yamada, the focus of the team, was injured.)

As concerns The Sweethearts, it was Toyota who was the star. Shimoda functioned as Best Friend/Sidekick. Just after the Sweethearts lost the finals of the AJW Tag tournament (to pick the successor to Dream Orca) to the Honey Wings (Kaoru Maeda and Mika Takahashi) on 6/1/90, Toyota received a major singles push, winning Japan Grand Prix ’90 to get her first title WWWA Singles Title shot against Bull Nakano. She eclipsed Shimoda accomplishing two things at only 19 years of age that Shimoda would never realize in her career. Always good at sorting through the damage, the brain trust at AJW now paired Mita & Shimoda, and Shimoda got her revenge against the Honey Wings by taking the title from them on the under card of the 11/18/90 Wrestle Marinepiad ’90 show.

Shimoda was brought along slowly. Her offense mainly consisted of jumping around the ring, using low impact moves. It was decided that her forte was tag work, which lay at the heart of her career, and in every tag team she was on, she was the junior worker on the team, which meant that she would be the one to take the most bumps and have the least offense.

She did have a run with both the AJW singles titles: on October 8, 1989, she won the All Japan Junior title from Asayo Obata. At the time the front office was in somewhat of a dilemma concerning the future of the belt and it was vacated by Shimoda early the next year, as she proved to be something of a bust and would return to the tag ranks.

On November 14, 1990, Shimoda won the All Japan Tag Team titles with Etsuko Mita from Mika Takahashi & Kaoru Maeda on November 14, 1990, They defended the belts a few times before dropping them on April 21, 1991, to Esther Moreno & Cynthia Moreno. Her next step up the ladder occurred on September 18, 1993, when she defeated Bat Yoshinga for the vacant All Japan Singles title in Omiya, Saitama. The title was vacated by then champion Debbie Malenko due to injury. Soon enough, Shimoda would then vacate this title (making it two of two singles titles vacated) on April 9, 1994, to concentrate on tag team matches with Estuko Mita. Her improvement was like night and day compared to when she started, and by 1993 she had finally reached the potential her trainers saw in her.

Probably the most important change to her style came when she was positioned as a heel with Akira Hokuto. Hokuto brought out the potential in Shimoda. Together with Mita, they formed the Las Cachorras Orientales group. Shimoda had by now become a superior worker; always adept at taking bumps, now she was given a chance to diversify: to develop a persona and let her emotions out during the match, increasing the all-important charismatic drama that makes fans want to come out and see you. She was no longer just a worker, she was a complete performer.

The change was seen in 1994. Shimoda and Mita became a breakout team. They wrestled a classic match with Toyota and Yamada for the WWWA belts on January 24, 1994, and though they failed to capture the titles, they impressed the fans as a team to be reckoned with. On March 27, 1994, they captured the JWP Tag Titles from Mayumi Ozaki & Cutie Suzuki in Yokohama, making them the first team from a rival promotion to win the JWP Tag titles, all the while raising the heat by berating the talent level of JWP on television. (They would later drop the titles to Mayumi Ozaki & Hikari Fukuoka on January 8, 1995 in Tokyo.) Then, on March 30, 1994, they defeated the UWF Women’s Champions, Yumiko Hotta and Takako Inoue. (They vacated the title on September 2, 1995, when it was abandoned. But in 2001 the title was revived and Shimoda and Mita defeated Rie Tamada and GAMI in the tournament final.)

In 1995, due to a dearth of new stars coming out of AJW’s dojo, Shimoda found herself heavily pushed for the singles titles, along with Sakie Hasegawa. Hasegawa never lived up to her push because of injuries. Shimoda didn’t make it, most likely because fans never bought the concept of her being a singles wrestler; she was always at her best in a tag team. Wrestling is littered with workers such as Shimoda, who shine as part of a team and fizzle when on their own. Even though her singles matches were uniformly excellent, the fans still never warmed to her as a singles star.

Her main role in 1995 was against the Rideen Array group (Jaguar Yakota, Lioness Asuka, and Bison Kimura). This was a case of AJW taking the legends of the game and reducing them to mid-card supporting roles. In fact AJW had done such a good job that Shimoda beating them in tag matches had little impact on her career. The feud peaked when Shimoda and Mita defeated Azuka and Yakota in a UWA title defense on the September 2, 1995 Nippon Budokan show. With the belt deactivated soon after, Mita and Shimoda gave the excuse that they vacated the titles to pursue the WWWA Tag Titles.

Yoshida kept her star power alive by teaming with Akira Hokuto, with the angle of the pairing being that Hokuto thought she was the whole team. They won the WWWA belts with Akira Hokuto. On September 24, 1995, they won WWWA Tag Team titles from Kyoko Inoue and Takako Inoue. They returned the favor to the duo on January 22, 1996. It was then thought that a Hokuto vs. Shimoda feud would ensue, but it was called off for apparent lack of interest.

Shimoda now became a face and joined forces with her old teammate from the “Sweetheart” days: Manami Toyota. The team was exactly the same as before: Toyota was the star and Shimoda played the role of sidekick. The result was that she was completely overshadowed by Toyota, even though their matches were top caliber. On June 22, 1996 they wrested the WWWA titles from Kyoko Inoue and Takano Inoue. They held the belts until January 20, 1997, when they were beaten by Tomoko Watanabe and Kumiko Maekawa (an overrated wrestler seen by AJW as the next big thing). Shimoda and Mita reunited as Las Cachorras Orientales (with Shimoda now the featured member), and as heels. They won the titles back on June 18, 1997, from Watanabe and Maekawa (Apparently, the Next Big Thing fizzled out.), but vacated the tiles on January 9, 1998.

Now repositioned as heels, they brought weapons into the ring, and blood became a regular feature in their matches. By this time AJW was having a terrible time financially and needed the old standby (“red means bread”) to “juice” up the box office. The feud with Watanabe and Maekawa was resulting in some excellent matches (even with Maekawa). In time though, Watanabe was joined by Kauro Ito to continue and intensify the feud, the highlight of which was a cage match on September 21, 1997. Their run as top heels in AJW didn’t last long, though, as AJW’s financial woes lead to an exodus of talent that spawned ARISON & Neo. LCO held the WWWA tag titles when they announced their free agency, (their cage match coming after they had left AJW for free agency) and had to vacate on their titles on January 1, 1999.

Unfortunately, the group they signed with, Neo, consisted of Kyoko Inoue and a few AJW prelims. Understandably Shimoda and Mita began to lose their intensity and edge. They continued to freelance, joining GAEA and joining in a group with Lioness, Aja Kong, & Mayumi Ozaki that led to GAEA doing the best business of the women’s groups in 1999. But they were wasted in the group; with that many stars, someone had to work the bottom. It was at this time they renewed ties with AJW. On July 10, 1999, Yoshinda and Mita won the belts for WWWA belts for the second time when the defeated ZAP I (Kaoru Ito) and Zap T (Tomoko Watanabe). They gave some good energetic defenses, but finally dropped them to Tomoko Watanabe & Kumiko Maekawa on December 8, 1999. Before any lasting feud could begin, Shimoda and Mita lost the WWWA belts to Momoe Nakanishi & Nanae Takahashi in the finals of a 6-team tournament. This gave the pair someone new to feud with, and on January 4, 2001, Shimaoda and Mita regained the belts in Tokyo. They quickly lost them back to Watanabe and Maekawa on July 27, 2001, again in Tokyo. (The setup for this victory was the pair’s victory in the 2000 Best Tag League. The finals matched them Manami Toyota and Kayo Noumi, Shimoda & Mita prevailed when Mita pinned Toyota.)

On July 25, 1999, Shimoda, Mita and Chaparita ASARI became the first wrestlers from another promotion to work for ARISON. ARISON had preferred to train its wrestlers its own way, but finances necessitated changes. (Actually, they really weren’t the first: Hikari Fukuoka had one match with ARISON, but it was to honor her on her retirement.). Although Shimoda was able to make it to the final of The Queen of ARISON ’99 (losing to Erica Shisido), ARISON clearly wasted the potential all three had there by not playing up the outsider angle. (Perhaps they thought that with the angle already used in the men’s promotions, it was stale.) Shimoda also worked for Jd’ that year, as a member of Lioness Asuka’s heel group. On April 7, 2000, she and partner Michiko Ohmukai won the Twin Star of ARISON from Aja Kong and Mariko Yoshida. They lost the titles to GAMI and Rie Tamada on August 20 2000. Shimoda once again teamed with Mita, on December 3, 2000 winning the Twin Star of ARISON from GAMI & Rie Tamada. They held the titles until July 29, 2001, when they were defeated by the team of Mariko Yoshida and Lioness Asuka. In the meantime, they were also working AJW, and were holding the WWWA Tag Team Titles for that promotion.

On November 11, 2002, Shimoda and Mita won the belts for the fourth time when they defeated the team of Momoe Nakanishi and Nanae Takahashi, but the belts were vacated on February 23, 2002, because the champions were not able to win The Best Tag League Tournament. The titles went vacant until Shimoda and new partner Takako Inoue won them from Momoe Nakanishi and Kayo Noumi on January 3, 2003 in Tokyo. But Shimoda lost the belts, ironically, to her old tag partner, Etsuko Mita and her new partner, none other than Nanae Takahashi.

It was interesting that the duo held both the ARISON Tag prize and the WWWA Tag tiles during the same period of time. Heavy scheduling commitments can often make this an impossible task, but the pair were so over with the fans, it was decided to make this exception to infuse some cash into the readily thinning coffers. As if this wasn’t enough, Shimoda went solo in the NEO Promotion and won NWA Pacific and NEO Singles title from Yoshiko Tamura on February 11 2001. Her title reign lasted only until March 25, when she lost to Kyoko Inoue. The thinking is that she was merely a bridge between two popular champions.

Shimoda, however, was far from done. She and Etsuko Mita returned to AJW, where they once again won the WWWA Tag straps, this time against Momoe Nakanishi and Nanae Takahashi. They vacated the belts on December 23, 2002, on the pretext that they were not able to win the 2002 edition of the Best Tag League. But Shimoda returned to the WWWA ring wars, this time with partner Takako Inoue, and on January 3, 2003, the two won the WWWA Tag belts from Momoe Nakanishi and Kayo Noumi. Strangely enough, they dropped the belts three months later on April 20, 2003 to Nanae Takahashi and old friend and partner Etsuko Mita. It’s booking like this that helped lead to the demise of AJW. She returned to ARISON, and on June 22, 2003, she won the Queen of ARISON from Mariko Yoshida.

Shimoda has made herself into one of the best women’s wrestlers in the world. There is nowhere else to go, in terms of improvement, but unlike many of her contemporaries she hasn’t begun to free fall in terms of work rate and ability. Since A to Z closed in 2006, she has been freelancing, working a show here and there. I believe she is still working, though I have heard no recent news on her. (If anyone can inform me, I would be most appreciative.)

— The Phantom of the Ring

You can write to the Phantom care of Karen Belcher

[email protected]

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