At the tender age of seventeen, Emi Motokawa decided to pursue a career in the world of professional wrestling. She tried out for various women’s promotions in Japan. In particular, she Motokawa approached Gaea Japan and Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling. It wasn’t until a year later that she joined the Internation Wrestling Association of Japan did her training begin. When she first began her career, Motokawa began to compete under her given name. For essentially the first year of her career, Motokawa faced almost exclusively with Kiyoko Ichiki. While a long-winded rationale as to why that happened could be explained the short answer is there were no other females in the promotion at the time in the IWA. This is Emi Sakura.
A couple of years after competing in the promotion, Motokawa captured her first championship defeating the late Luna Vachon at the IWA Japan capturing the American Wrestling Federation’s Women’s Championship. One of the keys to her progression was her working with other promotions as well. A collaborative working relationship between IWA and All-Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling saw her challenge for different titles there as well for the promotion. She initially challenged Momoe Nakanishi for their AJW Junior Champion.
AJW Junior Championship
On January 1998, Motokawa defeated Nakanishi for the AJW Junior Championship. She held both the AJW Junior Championship and the AWF Women’s Championship. A few months later Motokawa would lose her title to Nakanishi and the following year she lost AWF Women’s Championship.
A few months after leaving the IWF, Motokawa joined FMW (Frontier-Martial Arts Wrestling). While there she feuded quite extensively with Kaori Nakayama. Despite attempting to capture the WEW Six-Man Tag Team Championship, Motokawa would not be deterred. With the physical demand that the style tends to injuries. In 2002, Sakura had hernia surgery which left her to recover. In her absence, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling ceased operations.
Once Motokawa returned from her hernia surgery she joined the Gatokunyan GTKN wrestling company. Her first year there was spent as a trainer until she was prepared to resume full-time active competition. It was at this point when Motokawa began to compete under the name Emi Sakura. Within her four years in GTKN, Sakura competed regularly and training other talents within the company.
The Rising Fire in Ice Ribbon
After leaving Gatokunyan, Sakura created her first promotion, Ice Ribbon. She purchased a practice dojo from Saitama. Sakura continued to train and develop other talent within the promotion including the likes of former AEW Women’s Champion Riho, Hikari Minami and Aika Ando to name but a few. Sakura competed in her first match in the promotion against her pupil Riho, a then nine-year-old at the time. Emi certainly saw a great deal of potential in the young Riho as she committed nearly her first year of operations helping to develop her craft.
Sakura’s Ice Ribbon developed a working relationship with the NEO Japan Ladies Pro wrestling company. This opened the doors for some of her talent competed for them as well. Their working relationship was also played into a storyline as well. Emi Sakura developed a group to battle NEO’s group as well. The stipulation was if Sakura’s Ribbon Army was to defeat the NEO Machineguns Army that Sakura and NEO Japan Ladies Pro owner Koda would marry and have their promotions unify. As the storyline furthered Sakura left Koda at the alter bring the storyline to a close.
Developing Other Talent
Throughout her years with Ice Ribbon, Emi Sakura either continued to develop talent or capture championships. At one point she went outside her skills in the ring and took them to the camera as an actor. The film Three Count involved other wrestlers including one of her other trainees AEW talent Hikaru Shida.
At times wrestling is not for the faint of heart. This would hold true during one such match that Sakura took part in when facing longtime rival Nanae Takahashi for the NEO Single and NWA Women’s Pacific Championship. A one point in the match, Sakura knocked Takahashi was knocked out during a powerbomb spot. The match didn’t even involve a three count as NEO president Tetsuya Koda gave Sakura the championship. An unfortunate finish was met with a short title reign as well. Sakura lost her championship only a couple of days after winning it.
One of Sakura’s most notable championship reigns came after capturing the ICEX60 Championship. On October 12th, 2009 after defeating Makoto for the ICEx60 Championship she defended her title eight times in the following four weeks. She held the championship until the new year when she lost it after putting it on the line at the Super-Ice Cup tournament. Sakura lost it during the finals against Tsukasa Fujimoto in an incredible six seconds. Emi’s near three-month reign ended with her defending the championship ten times. Her exceptional 2009 was met with recognition by the Tokyo Sports publication as Joshi Wrestler of the Year.
That same year, Emi Sakura found a new protege in Tsukushi. Much like her time working with Riho, Sakura committed nearly a year of training helping her develop. However, after capturing the ICEx60 Championship it was the student that challenged the teacher. Riho named Emi Sakura as her first challenger for the title. The title was also tied to a weight class and in doing so Sakura had to drop 22 lbs to fall into the weight class. Nearly four months after being challenged. Sakura, now in the weight class defeated Riho for her championship. The win was the second title reign for Sakura.
In order to grow and develop as performers that has to be some risk. For Sakura, she was involved in a storyline that had a stipulation tied to it. After losing to JWP Champion Kaori Yoneyama, Sakura was shaved. While typically mask vs hair type of matches are commonplace for men in North America it would be rare to see this happen to a female. While she was developing as a trainer and performer she was also keen on building relationships with other companies as well. For instance much like Ice Ribbon’s storyline with NEO, they had a second promotional-based storyline. This was tied to the Sendai Girls Pro Wrestling promotion. It involved Sendai Girls Pro Wrestling founder Meiko Satomura come to Ice Ribbon and defeat Emi Sakura. A couple of days later Sakura along with Gentaro captured the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships.
Ice Ribbon Recognition
It became apparent that building up her name was as important as building up the recognition of Ice Ribbon. Sakura’s working relationships with Smash and Pro-Wrestling EVE helped that she was committed to elevating Ice Ribbon. However, Sakura had taken the promotion as far as she could. In what was a rather stunning announcement on December 12th, 2011, Sakura announced that she was leaving Ice Ribbon after their January 7th, 2012 for personal reasons. She was an integral part of the companies success for their first six years of operation. It ended seemingly with the heroin Sakura leaving Ice Ribbon on her white steed the winner.
Before her retirement she and pupil Tsukushi defeated Sachiko and Satomura to capture the International Ribbon Tag Team Championship. Despite losing the titles a few short days after winning them it did alter any fans’ perspective about her. Her final match with the promotion she created was against Tsukushi in her.
Birth of Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling
Upon traveling without ties to any promotion, Sakura competed at the Bull Nakano retirement event. A month later she competed for JWP and stated she had plans to begin a new all women’s promotion this time it would be in Thailand. She would face Kaori Yoneyama in a singles match. The stipulation would be that if she defeated Yoneyama, then she would join Sakura as part of her new venture in Thailand. However, if Yoneyama was the winner than the promotion would be based out of Japan. The week following this announcement saw her introduce the Bangkok Girls Pro Wrestling wrestling promotion.
A few months removed from her announced BKKPW, Sakura returned to JWP to defeat Yoneyama. As a result, Yoneyama joined Sakura in Thailand. Together with Yoneyama, Sakura captured the vacant Daily Sports and JWP Tag Team Championships. With the win, the duo brought them to Thailand as part of BKKPW now. Sakura later renamed the promotion Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling. Their first event was on May 16th (LIST THE YEAR). What initially began as a ‘forced’ union became more of a collaborative effort between Yoneyama and Sakura. The duo competed as the ‘Tai-Pan Sisters’ and helped to train other talent for Gatoh Move. A little after a month after the promotion had their first event they defended their tag team championships against Katsu and Nakajima. After their second successful title defense, the duo was renamed ‘Reset’.
A little under a month after losing their titles, Reset defeated Hanako Nakamori and Morii. The win also signified the joining of forces and Reset had now become a faction. They would now collectively be known as Heart Move Kei Reform or HMK. The faction’s first notable match was against the regular army, JWP Seikigun. HMK won three straight matches in an eight-women tag team match. On the same night, Riho had once again joined Sakura as part of Gatoh Move after leaving Ice Ribbon.
As strong as a leader Emi Sakura has proven to be, she is also a dominant singles competitor as well. She captured the JWP Openweight Championship and defended it at the Pro-Wrestling: Eve event Wrestle-Fever against current NXT UK Women’s Champion Kay Lee Ray. On the same night, she would answer an open challenge made by at the time Pro-Wrestling EVE champion Nikki Storm who competes now as WWE star Nikki Cross. Sakura defeated her to capture the Pro-Wrestling EVE championship.
Relationship between Gatoh Move & JWP
After losing the JWP Openweight championship to Arisa Nakajima the working relationship with Gatoh Move and JWP came to an end. A couple of months later, Sakura lost her Pro-Wrestling EVE championship back to Storm. Championships came and went but what remained constant was Sakura’s ability to build bridges and develop strong working relationships with different promotions.
Whether it was in Thailand, Japan or the UK, Sakura was establishing herself as a credible face that others wanted to do business with. This was evident with her win over DJ Nira. After defeating the owner, Sakura captured his ‘Right to Challenge Anytime, Anywhere Contract for the DDT Pro-Wrestling’s KO-D Openweight Championship. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to use the contract as she lost it in a match against Sayaka Obihiro.
An interesting storyline that Sakura was involved in was regarding her finding a discarded AWF World Women’s Championship at a flea market. It resulted in her contacting IWA Japan President Tatsukuni Asano who bought the title from her for ¥2000. This ushered in her return to the promotion, IWA Japan and recapturing the championship. After defeating Kappa Komachi, Sakura became a two-time AWF World Women’s Champion. It was an astounding sixteen years after her first reign as champion. Sakura brought the title to Gatoh Move where she defended the title on different occasions.
In the Fall, Sakura defeated Kyonin Shinhan and subsequently combined her IWA World Championship, AWF World Women’s Championship along with the IWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship. In doing so, she created an IWA Triple Crown.
Towards the end of the year, Sakura lost her IWA Triple Crown to Antonio Honda as part of Gatoh Move’s year-end show. A month into 2014, Sakura recaptured the triple crown from Honda. She held the title until August 2014 where she lost it once again but this time to Konaka=Pehlwan only to regain it nearly two months later. Although IWA Japan was closing its doors, Sakura was defending the championship. Upon her second title defense, Emi Sakura lost it to her protege Riho.
20th Year of Professional Wrestling
Almost a year after losing her IWA Japan Triple Crown, Emi Sakura was celebrating her twentieth year in professional wrestling. This was commemorated with Gatoh Move’s first event at the famous Korakuen Hall in a tag team match with Makoto against another of her past pupil’s Hikaru Shida and Sayaka Obihiro.
In August 2017, Emi Sakura’s relationship with the IWA Triple Crown came full circle. She defeated her former protege and rival Riho for the championship a fourth time. Upon doing so, she retired the championship returned it to IWA Japan. Gatoh Move would have a new singles title in its place. The title would be the Super Asia Championship would be the new championship to challenge for in Gatoh Move.
Philippine Wrestling Revolution
Much like her time in Thailand last year, Sakura competed in the Philippines for the Philippine Wrestling Revolution promotion. While only her first time competing for the promotion her match was quite significant. She faced a woman that is to Philippine women’s wrestling what Sakura is to the Joshi contingent. Crystal has been dubbed the Queen of Philippine Wrestling. When their match concluded the two embraced to show one another the mutual respect they have for each other and the industry.
This brings us to the present day and Sakura’s joining of All Elite Wrestling. She debuted on AEW’s first event Double or Nothing. While with the company she has crossed paths with former protege Riho on several occasions as well. Despite not capturing the AEW Women’s Championship, Emi Sakura is primed to be an important part of this company’s present and future. She is a former five-time co-holder of the International Ribbon Tag Team championships, a two-time ICEx60 Champion, voted Joshi Wrestler of the Year. Emi Sakura has established two separate women’s promotions, trained wrestlers the world over and is an ambassador for the sport. All Elite Wrestling’s addition of her to the roster not just a benefit to her and the company, but the rest of the talent on the roster as well.