Megumi Kudo was known as ‘The Extreme Queen’ in Japan. She broke barriers – and many other things as well – during her run as a professional wrestler. She reached such great heights that, to this very day, few women, if any, have shown as much dedication to hardcore wrestling as she has.
Like many joshis, Kudo began her wrestling career at 16 with All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW). Unfortunately, she didn’t achieve much during that first run. Disappointed, she left wrestling for over a year to work as a teacher. But the call of pro-wrestling was too strong for her to ignore. She returned in 1990, but to AJW. During the 1980s and earlier, AJW was the only women’s promotion in Japan. So for Kudo, it was AJW or bust.
But that changed in the 1990s. Splinter companies formed, giving women more options. But Kudo wanted to carve a special niche for herself and did something altogether different. She joined Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), which featured mostly male wrestlers at the time, as one of its few female wrestlers. But there was one other caveat: FMW was a hardcore promotion. They replaced their ring ropes with barbed wire, implored tons of explosives, and utilized tons of weapons in almost every match. Though they never reached the ultraviolent levels of companies like CZW or ECW’s Mass Transit Incident, FMW pioneered hardcore wrestling like no other company in the world.
And Megumi Kudo was along for the ride.
Kudo reveled in wrestling hardcore matches and crazy stipulation contests. She was completely fearless and went all-in with FMW’s match presentation. It wasn’t uncommon to see Kudo wrestling in deathmatches against equally daring women’s wrestlers like Sumie Sakai, Shark Tsuchiya, or Combat Toyoda. In one of many examples of her bravery, Kudo wrestled Toyoda in a No-rope electrified barbed wire deathmatch.
This became a staple of Kudo’s wrestling. She would dive head-first into any crazy stipulation the company proposed to her. Like her male counterparts, Kudo accepted these matches with gusto and made them into genuinely nail-biting experiences. Not only would people be invested in seeing her win or lose her matches, but they would also watch tensely as she tried to avoid going into very real barbed wire or hurting herself with other very real objects (like crushed glass, fireworks, and ‘landmines’.)
And while FMW’s other top stars achieved great success in this sub-genre of wrestling, Kudo was something special. There was something exceptionally attention-grabbing in seeing a 5-foot-4, 130-pound woman wrestling in such a violent, aggressive, risky style. In doing so, Kudo really created a special niche for herself. Most of her compatriots around Japan at the time fell into either two camps. There were the ‘shooters’, who were shoot-style fighters competing in almost MMA-oriented contests. And there were the ‘entertainers’, who were the storytellers and grappling workhorses in companies like AJW, JWP, and others. Kudo was neither; she was the standard-bearer for women competing in hardcore wrestling. And she looked badass while doing it.
This isn’t to say that Kudo wrestling in hardcore matches exclusively. There were times when she did also wrestle in a more ‘traditional’ way. Once her reputation as a hardcore wrestler was established, Kudo got to wrestle for her former employer AJW, in an unsuccessful title match against Aja Kong.
And when she wasn’t wrestling in big matches, Kudo was coming up with new and creative moves. For anyone that has played a wrestling video game or watched compilation videos of crazy wrestling moves, there’s no doubt you’ve seen this move. The crazy back-to-back piledriver thing that was once used by Gregory ‘Hurricane Helms’ or by Homicide in TNA. The move that the WWE games called ‘The Vertebreaker’.
Kudo invented that move back in the 1990s as the ‘Kudome Valentine’.
Kudo’s importance to pro-wrestling history cannot be overstated. Most people consider her at a level far beneath the legendary workhorses of her day like Kong, Manami Toyota, Mayumi Ozaki or Meito Satomura. But Kudo showed tremendous bravery by going into the world of hardcore wrestling and actually thriving in that environment. Even to this day, it’s extremely rare to see women’s wrestlers fight in hardcore matches to the point of bleeding (which is hilariously ironic).
But no matter what happens now or in the future, none of it will top what Megumi Kudo accomplished during her peak. She wrestled in hardcore matches so brutal and dangerous that other women became afraid of her. She was the literal embodiment of the chant ‘she’s hardcore’. And to drive that point home, her final match was a ‘no-ropes-barbed-wire-double-landmine-glass-crush death match’.
If that doesn’t scream ‘hardcore’, I don’t know what does.