Rina Yamashita – The Rise of the International Deathmatch Amazon

Pro-wrestling is at its most intense when performers are given license to go all out to give the fans a show to remember, and nowhere is that philosophy more present than in a deathmatch.

In a deathmatch, near enough anything goes. Those in the ring put their bodies on the line in a way many fear to and the pro-wrestlers involved know they are just as likely to fall into glass or barbed wire as they are onto the mat.

Pro-wrestling promotions across the globe feature deathmatches on their shows, with some promotions going as far as to make them the foundation of their product.

One woman’s name has become synonymous with this style of pro-wrestling not just in her home country of Japan but also in the United States.

Her name is Rina Yamashita, and though she may not always have been destined to become a modern star of deathmatches, she’s certainly found her home in the genre and does her best work with a light tube or something that gets equally gruesome results in her hands.

Rina Yamashita
[Photo: Wrestling-Net-Fandom]

Rina Yamashita – Making A Wave

Rina Yamashita made her 2013 pro-wrestling debut with the Joshi promotion Pro Wrestling WAVE in Osaka, Japan, where she faced Kana (known as Asuka in WWE).

The match itself was a short one; Kana taught the young upstart a lesson for the majority of the match, with Rina coming close with a few cradles and roll-ups before succumbing to Kana’s armbar.

In an interview with Kotatsu Studios, Rina Yamashita would cite Kana as a big influence in her pro-wrestling career.

She said that Kana told her,

“You won’t be able to surpass someone if you say you idolize them.”

Those words have stuck with Rina ever since, and she says that she even uses the line on younger pro-wrestlers if she feels it’s necessary.

Rina then said that

“She gave me opportunities and a lot more. I haven’t been able to pay her back at all.”

Trained by fellow Pro Wrestling WAVE alumni Sawako Shimono, Rina Yamashita faced some of the best that the promotion had to offer in her early months, including the promotion’s co-founders GAMI and Yumi Ohka; both of which Rina would have worked closely with as she developed her skillset.

This led to Rina being involved in a spectacle of a match at Korakuen Hall just a month after her debut – a 77-person rumble.

Co-founder GAMI won the match, but it featured a whole host of both female and male talent from across Japan, including Aja Kong, TAKA Michinoku, Minoru Suzuki, and Meiko Satomura.

From there, Rina went on to compete in her first big tournament in early 2014. The Catch The Wave Tournament became Pro Wrestling WAVE’s premiere round-robin tournament not long after the promotion’s inception, with the winner not only being crowned Nami Onna (or Wave Woman) but also earning a ¥1,000,000 prize.

The tournament also features a battle royal element for those eliminated in the round-robin phase, allowing the winner of the battle royal to advance to the semi-finals.

In 2014’s Catch The Wave, Rina Yamashita picked up wins against Shiori Akiba and Kaho Kobayashi but failed to advance past the round-robin stage after picking up two losses and seeing out a time-limit draw with Risa Sera.

Her career with Pro Wrestling WAVE would be a successful one that saw her feud with Kana in a rivalry that would also spill over into Osaka Joshi-Pro.

Here, Rina would come up short to Kana and reluctantly join Kana’s “Clown Army” group for a time.

This being said Rina Yamashita’s first taste of championship gold would not come with Pro Wrestling WAVE. Instead it came with JWP (Japanese Women Pro-Wrestling Project) where she defeated Rydeen Hagane to become the Princess of Pro Wrestling Champion.

Rina Yamashita: Profile & Match Listing - Internet Wrestling Database (IWD)
{Photo: ProFightDB}

Even after that, her second championship win came with REINA as she won the REINA World Tag Team Championships with Makoto after defeating then-champions Hikaru Shida & Syuri.

Rina’s main success with Pro Wrestling WAVE would start in 2016, where she, along with Dynamite Kansai, would win that year’s Dual Shock Wave Tag Team Tournament.

This triumph gave Rina momentum heading into 2017’s Catch The Wave Tournament, in which she fell short of winning her block but advanced to the knockout stages nevertheless.

The tournament’s final day at Korakuen Hall saw her defeat Rin Kadokura and then Misaki Ohata in the finals to win the tournament – a feat she would repeat the following year by defeating former ARISON, GAEA, and TNA star Ayako Hamada.

Her first Catch The Wave Tournament victory meant only one thing and that was an opportunity at the promotion’s top title, the Regina Di WAVE.

At the time, the title was held by Ryo Mizunami who herself became Princess Of Pro Wrestling Champion in JWP a number of years prior to Rina Yamashita’s pro-wrestling debut.

Korakuen Hall once again played host to another Rina Yamashita victory and she defeated Mizunami to capture the Regina Di WAVE, a championship she would successfully defend against Yoshiko and ASUKA (VENY) before she lost to the woman she beat in the 2017 Catch The Wave final – Misaki Ohata.

Match in pictures] Hikari Noa vs. Rina Yamashita (TJPW Inspiration, April 1st, 2021) : r/TJPW
[Photo: Reddit]

From Tokyo to Osaka

Pro Wrestling WAVE was not the only place in Japan to see Rina Yamashita. At the height of her success in WAVE, there were plenty of other promotions that wanted to pit their stars, be them female or male, against Rina.

One such promotion was Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous That’s Women Pro Wrestling. Early in her career, she made her debut for the promotion, teaming with Hiroyo Matsumoto and her mentor Sawako Shimono.

She would continue to make sporadic appearances for Marvelous alongside more frequent appearances for Ice Ribbon, where she feuded with Risa Sera over Ice Ribbon’s top title, the ICExInfinity Championship.

For a period, one of the best places to find Rina Yamashita in Japan was on OZ Academy shows.

The promotion, headed by former JWP and GAEA star Mayumi Ozaki, often had its roster compete to overthrow Ozaki-Gun, a stable created to revolve around Mayumi Ozaki and keep her at the top of the card with the OZ Academy Openweight Championship in her possession.

Rina teamed with a whole host of talent in various tag team and trios matches against Ozaki-Gun but her best chance at defeating the group came when teaming with Yoshiko.

The duo, known as BORDERLESS, teamed together first in SEAdLINNNG and had a respectable run with the promotion’s Beyond The Sea Tag Team Championships, picking them up from Nanae Takahashi & Tsukasa Fujimoto around the same time Rina was dealing with Ozaki-Gun in OZ Academy.

While BORDERLESS had the Beyond The Sea Championships in SEAdLINNG, the OZ Academy Tag Team Championships were held by Ozaki-Gun’s Mayumi Ozaki & Maya Yukihi, who had held the titles for almost a year, having rarely defended them simply due to the fact that no one could beat them to earn a championship match.

That all changed when BORDERLESS showed that they’re not bound to a single promotion by showing up in OZ Academy together with their SEAdLINNG Championships.

A match was then set for Yokohama whereby BORDERLESS would put their championships on the line against Ozaki-Gun who would do the same.

In front of a crowd of 2,000, BORDERLESS successfully defended their championships and thus became OZ Academy Tag Team Champions as the rest of Ozaki-Gun watched on from ringside.

Despite this monumental success that tipped the balance of power within the promotion in favor of the rest of the roster, their reign did not survive 2018.

It wasn’t all for nothing as BORDERLESS’ loss to Hiroyo Matsumoto & Kaori Yoneyama still meant that Ozaki-Gun were without the gold.

The Following Contest

New Look & New Places

The turn of the year would see Rina Yamashita branch out from the promotions where she had made her name in Japan.

She would still feature for OZ Academy though she was most frequent in Ice Ribbon over the course of 2019, forming a partnership with  Akane Fujita to challenge for the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships.

Rebel X Enemy was another partnership Rina Yamashita found herself in while in Ice Ribbon; this one consisted of herself, Maya Yukihi, Maika Ozaki & Ram Kaicho.

The group would enter a rivalry with the Frank Sisters, made up of Akane Fujita, Hiragi Kurumi & Mochi Miyagi, over the International Ribbon Tag Team Championships.

Different combinations of Rebel X Enemy would try their hand at toppling the champions but were unable to find success until Maya Yukihi & Maika Ozaki defeated the Frank Sisters for the titles at the third time of asking for the group.

It wasn’t just the friends and the color of the ring that were different for Rina Yamashita. Visually she had made the change from having straighter, blonde hair to colorful braids.

Her attire also changed from a more traditional shorts/boots combination to three-quarter length cargo pants and shoes.

Her look evolved as she did, with plenty of different variations depending on the time, place and type of match she was performing in.

Rina Yamashita showed off her new look in DDT, All Japan Pro Wrestling, Diana Pro and plenty of other promotions against people of all genders.

However, this new look came with a new style in the ring too, one she carried with her across borders well beyond Japan.

Game Changer Wrestling - 🇯🇵JAPAN UPDATE 🇯🇵 Just Signed for 10/4: *GCW UV TITLE* RINA YAMASHITA vs SHLAK Plus: Mega Bastards vs Kasai/Takeda Janela vs Sakuda Miyamoto/Sasaki vs Radrick/Sugiura Effy Parker Jordan
[Photo: Facebook]

Changing Her Game

Prior to even thinking about ever doing a deathmatch, Rina Yamashita had always been dazzled whenever she watched one.

Rina told Kotatsu Studios that she would always go to watch Japanese Deathmatch promotions like FREEDOMS and Big Japan Pro Wrestling in disguise as to not attract attention.

Her first match that involved weapons one might see used in a deathmatch came at a show produced by Keigo Yoshino where she teamed with Yuko Miyamoto against GUNSO & DASH Chisako in a Hardcore match.

She said;

“The match happened and I had never bled so much in my life. I was in such a panic that I didn’t have the capacity to enjoy any of it. I was in pain, I had blood in my eyes; I was like “WAAA this is what hardcore is like?!””

Before long, Rina would find herself in hardcore-style matches almost monthly, with her first hardcore-based championship win coming with DDT.

The championship in question was the DDT Iron Man Heavy Metal Championship, akin to WWE’s Hardcore Championship in the sense that it was to be contested in Hardcore matches and could be contested at virtually any time.

With over 1,000 championship reigns in total, past champions range from the likes of Saki Akai and Hiromu Takahashi to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title belt and even a Christmas tree!

Regular appearances for FREEDOMS, the deathmatch promotion Rina had enjoyed watching when she had the time, were naturally on the cards now that she had become more accustomed to their level of violence.

Her showings had earned her the respect of FREEDOMS and all around deathmatch icon Jun Kasai, who granted her entry into his faction – UNCHAIN.

The group showcased some of the best deathmatch wrestlers in FREEDOMS, one of which was Minoru Fujita who Rina Yamashita would team with regularly.

This team of Rina Yamashita & Minoru Fujita would begin with Rina’s first FREEDOMS deathmatch. UNCHAIN faced UNCHAIN as Rina & Fujita took on Jun Kasai & Masashi Takeda at the promotion’s 11th Anniversary show.

The four seemed in good spirits prior to the match where they all posed with each other in the ring before getting down to business.

Ultimately Rina and her partner couldn’t pick up the win first time round but the four would go on to have numerous matches against each other where Rina found more success.

Her partnership with Minoru Fujita led the pair to tag team gold in 2021 when they defeated Mammoth Sasaki & Violento Jack for the King of FREEDOM World Tag Team Championships.

The belts would be in their possession for just over 100 days before Empire Ruler Ends, one of the long-running, top factions in FREEDOMS, picked up the belts from Rina & Minoru Fujita.

This would not be the only championship Rina held around this period though. With fellow hardcore wrestler Risa Sera in possession of Ice Ribbon’s FantastICE Championship, the match stipulations for her title defences became increasingly more extreme with each week that passed.

Who else would make a better challenger for Risa Sera than Rina, who could match her style better than anyone else on the roster?

The two went head-to-head in a fluorescent light tube deathmatch at Korakuen Hall where Rina Yamashita would ultimately dethrone Risa Sera.

However, things didn’t get much easier for those at Ice Ribbon lining up for a shot at Rina’s championship.

Rina would go on to defend her title in brutal hardcore and deathmatches against the toughest women that the promotion had to offer.

Later that year, Rina would come up against her old partner Akane Fujita who defeated her for the title when Rina couldn’t stand up to beat a ten count.

With a number of different championships and a wealth of experience in hardcore-style matches under her belt in Japan, by the time 2022 came around, it was about time that fans in other countries got to see Rina Yamashita up close.

That’s exactly what happened when Rina Yamashita started appearing regularly for New Jersey’s Game Changer Wrestling, a promotion renowned for putting on some of the bloodiest matches featuring the best hardcore-style pro-wrestlers on the US independent circuit.

Rina would be given a trial by fire as she was thrown into GCW’s seventh Tournament of Survival, making it to the semi-finals before she lost to ex-Big Japan Pro Wrestling Death Match Heavyweight Champion Drew Parker.

Evidently, Rina passed this trial as she was then given a match for the GCW Ultraviolent Championship and, as the name implies, the title is to be defended strictly under hardcore or deathmatch rules.

Rina Yamashita would face GCW Ultraviolent Champion Alex Colon for the title during his third reign with the belt at GCW’s Homecoming in New Jersey, defeating him in a lengthy and of course bloody match.

Rina has likely spilled gallons of blood with the GCW Ultraviolent Title around her waist as she surpassed Alex Colon’s record reign of 138 days as champion and went on to defend the title for over 500 days in over fifteen matches.

Rina even took the title back to Japan with her to successfully defend the belt in FREEDOMS and also defended it in the UK at Liverpool based promotion TNT against noted hardcore wrestler Emersyn Jayne.

Who Are NOMADS? - Monthly Puroresu
[Photo: Monthly Puroresu]

Forerunner For A Revolution

As Rina Yamashita continues to push the boundaries of hardcore wrestling, she has undeniably carved out a niche for herself in the industry.

Through her fearless approach to risking her body, her willingness to undergo physical transformations, and her departure from the traditional Joshi wrestling mold, Yamashita has established herself as somewhat of a trailblazer in the world of professional wrestling.

Her dedication to the craft and her ability to trigger an almost bloodthirsty excitement in audiences around the world with her intense performances have led many to consider her among the elite of hardcore wrestlers.

It is not just in the realm of women’s wrestling but across the entirety of the sport’s history.

Fans will no doubt debate for decades over where she ranks amongst the rest, but one thing remains certain: Rina Yamashita’s impact on the view of women in hardcore wrestling is undeniable.

Many women risk it all in hardcore and deathmatches alike, regardless of what gender their opponent is, though few have broken international boundaries the way that Rina Yamashita has.

Rina Yamashita may inspire new generations of wrestlers to go out of their comfort zones as she did. With that in mind, encourages more promotions to shape the next generation of female hardcore wrestlers to emulate her success.