Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost; match ratings are not everything in wrestling. No single individual or publication can lay claim to a matches’ quality. That’s not what makes retired Joshi wrester Manami Toyota a “trailblazer“. She wasn’t the first anything. What made Manami Toyota special was that from 1987 to 2017, she was one of the hardest-working, iconic, and unique wrestlers regardless of gender. There is no way that this humble piece can capture the breadth of her talent. But the Queen still deserves her roses.
Manami Toyota | The Beginnings
In high school young Manami Toyota was introduced to the world of Joshi through the Jumping Bomb Angels. Who in the early 1980s dominated the growing Joshi scene in Japan. So much so that they would wrestle for the World Wrestling Federation at the 1987 Survivor Series. They would finish that match as the sole survivors.
Joshi pro wrestling, much like it’s male counterpart, was infamous among athletes as being a highly selective and protective business. So when Manami Toyota began training, she was raised within the AJW Dojo system. In an interview with Joshi Puroresu Magazine shortly after her debut match, she stated –
“Before I came to test at AJW I was a very shy girl. I didn’t dare to talk to anyone. But after I discovered wrestling, everything changed.”
In 1987, she was 16 years old, not letting the allure of wrestling get a chance to slip away from her. She pursued wrestling with vigor, enthusiasm, and energy which would define her career. Speaking again with Joshi Puroresu Magazine –
“I want to be fast like Kazue Nagahori and have as many matches as possible. I don’t expect to win every match but I want to gain experience. This is the most important thing for all wrestlers.”
“Puroresu does hurt but it’s also a dream job”
Manami Toyota does not wait for anyone. By the end of 1989, at AJW Wrestlemarinepiad, Manami Toyota and Mima Shimoda defeated Etsuko Mita and Toshiyo Yamada. As the opener of a nine-match special event, the young class of 1989 managed to leave an impression on the audience. And in many ways outshone more established and upper-card talent.
By the end of 1990, she would win the Japan Grand Prix 1990. And then would challenge for the WWWA World Title, WWWA Tag Team Title, and eventually would win the All-Pacific Title and the AJW Championship in AJW. Over the course of her career, Manami Toyota would rack up 32 title reigns. All between singles and tag team championships. Manami Toyota would receive her first “five-star match” with Kyoko Inoue, at the same event, she made her big impression at three years prior; Wrestlemarinepiad 1992.
The match begins hot, with both women going for standing dropkicks. Within 90 seconds of the bell ringing, Manami Toyota sends Inoue to the outside with a monkey flip. Then executes her signature dive. Which involves a climb to the top rope before standing on both feet and pouncing upon her target. Manami Toyota’s move-set, which can only be described as frenetic flexibility. Surely one well beyond it’s time.
She employs holds, throws, bridges, strikes, and dives.
Toyota puts all of her tools to work in this match, and is not afraid to work up a sweat. Constantly running and hitting the ropes. Shortly after bringing Inoue into the ring, Toyota performs a corner rope-run arm drag. Then settling into a keylock. When Inoue tries to stand up and break the hold, Toyota jumps and grapevines Inoue’s arm. Still in her control, for a cross-armbar. Again Inoue stands up, and again Toyota brings Inoue down with a Fujiwara armbar. Manami Toyota and Kyoko Inoue work a pace that stretches far beyond the conventional understanding of wrestling. Especially for 1992. In the end, Toyota would finish Inoue with her Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. Which is a straightjacket electric chair suplex. Therefore winning the IWA World Title.
The Rivalries of Manami Toyota
Manami Toyota’s life would be filled with repeating patterns. Especially with respect to her rivalries. Way back in 1987, after her first match, in that same interview where Toyota reflected on her early career, she was asked “who is your greatest opponent that you’ve never beaten?”. To which she responded –
“Toshiyo Yamada absolutely! I’ve haven’t beaten her yet, but in the future I will do it. For sure!”
Indeed, Toyota and Yamada would go on to trade victories. Beginning with the tag match at Wrestlemarinepiad 1989. In singles matches, there was too many time limit draws to decide who had whose number. So, at the Mid Summer Typhoon in August 1992, Manami Toyota put her IWA World title on the line against her dojo classmate, Yamada.
Rather than begin with two standing dropkicks, Toyota opted to shake Yamada’s hand. Before Irish whipping her into the ropes. The early transgression dictated future events. With the personal animosity and eagerness on the part of both women. Proving themselves against each other boiled over. In the end, after being frustrated by a slow, desperate bridge out of the pin attempt, Inoue made too many mistakes. She fell to the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex.
The Embodiment of An Era
Toyota’s specialness as a performer lies not within how many five-star matches she has, but rather her embodiment of the era in which she worked. Across thirteen different singles and tag-team matches, she received five stars. The names that accompany her in those matches, Inoue, Yamada, Cutie Suzuki, Mayumi Ozaki, Akira Hokuto, and Aja Kong. All are indicative of a generation of talented women’s wrestlers. Long before the women’s (r)evolution in WWE, Toyota exemplified her role as the backbone of a generation. Who would inspire future generations of Joshi talents.
What ultimately places Manami Toyota over the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and other “generational” talents of old, is that even in defeat, her best matches showcased a style. An era, a movement that was ultimately bigger than her. Above all individual accolades and awards, she did a service to the hard work of her fellow workers. In the end, she elevated and uplifted the pedigree of women’s wrestling in Japan. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Japanese wrestling owes a lot to the Joshi stars of this era.
Saying Goodbye – Manami Toyota
After completing tours in the US for Chikara, and in the UK for EVE, Toyota announced that she wished to retire. From the OZ Academy promotion, on November 3rd, 2017, at the Yokohama University Hall in Yokohama. Manami Toyota competed in 51 one minute time limit matches. Following her retirement, Manami Toyota was showered in streamers and was given a send-off fitting a queen.
Who will measure our accomplishments for us? Can we rely on others to see our value before our time comes? What is the importance of bearing witness to admiration in our lifetimes? It would be easy to say that the accomplishments will speak for themselves. In reality, we all wish to be seen for our gifts and our strengths and our achievements. It is human. To be seen. To be valued. May we all in our lifetimes be reminded of our value, not only as entertainers or educators. Just as fellow human beings, riding this rock through space just like everyone else.