‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series dedicated to specific events, matches, and occurrences in wrestling history. We revisit those key moments and look back at how they went down and what they meant to the wrestling industry. Manami Toyota vs Kyoko Inoue is that match.
We have already seen one match between these two legendary ladies from 1992, and now we revisit them once again. But this time, they wrestled in the epic of epics, arguably the greatest women’s wrestling match ever. On this day twenty-five years ago, Toyota and Inoue put on such a great match. So much so, that it was voted Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match of the Year in 1995. It was the only women’s match to ever do so.
But how did it become so great? What was it about this match that made wrestling fans vote it as the best in wrestling twenty-five years ago? Let’s revisit it and find out.
The Joshi style: always pushing the limits
Joshi wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s was a special phenomenon. Women’s wrestlers were pop culture icons in Japan and were admired for their incredible work and tenacity. Many of the early greats like Jaguar Yokata and the Crush Gals (Chigusa Nagayo and Lionness Asuka) were as popular in Japan as Hulk Hogan was in North America.
By the 1990s, those early pioneers have stepped aside for a new generation of Joshi legends. One, in particular, stood head and shoulders above them all (metaphorically): Manami Toyota.
Toyota was a legendary performer in her prime. She was capable of doing things even the lightest, quickest, and most agile wrestlers of today can’t hope to do. Toyota could ‘go’ seemingly forever in the ring. She had such a bottomless well of energy that it made her wrestling matches feel like action-packed martial arts movies. And she combined this tenacity with a level of technical skill and graceful execution of moves that has yet to be replicated anywhere in the women’s wrestling world.
Toyota vs Inoue:
The match itself
It’s one thing to wrestle in the 1990’s joshi style. It’s another thing altogether to wrestle in that style for sixty full minutes. But that’s what Toyota and Inoue did on this night. They took the formula they had established in their 1992 epic and extended it almost threefold. Despite wrestling at a pace that even Rey Mysterio would call blistering, their actions were grounded in a logical psychology involving attacking a specific body part.
In this case, the much bigger Inoue tried her best to destroy Toyota’s back with big throwing moves and vicious submission holds. Not only did she hope Toyota would tap, but she also made it harder for Toyota to land any of her own big moves. Whenever Toyota did land a big suplex, her efforts were seen as more heroic. This was because of the pain she was trying so desperately to overcome.
They did the classic David vs. Goliath story, except in this Goliath wasn’t a near-immobile beast. Inoue moved with almost as much speed and agility as Toyota did, and matched her almost move for move. And Inoue was also clever in her tactics, as she lured Toyota into a false sense of control on several occasions, only to rip that control away from her at the last possible moment.
That is why Inoue spent so much time locking in different submission holds; she was trying to weaken Toyota while also controlling how the match would unfold.
All those submissions holds added up over time. So whenever Inoue landed a big move like her Niagara Driver or any other slam that left Toyota on her back, it felt like a credible way for the match to end. But if there’s one thing Inoue failed to take into account, it’s Toyota’s bottomless pit of energy and willingness to go far beyond expected limitations.
Toyota simply wouldn’t quit. She’d scream and writhe in pain while trapped in a submission hold yet would reach the ropes. Even after her back was all but destroyed, she’d still find the energy to run and dive. And even after being almost literally bent in half, Toyota would still find the strength to lift Inoue onto her shoulders for her big finishers. She was simply unstoppable.
And that’s how this match concluded. Inoue didn’t win, but she survived. And while Toyota kept her belt due to the match ending in a draw, it wasn’t the decisive win she needed. She retained her title, sure, but this match showed that the might Manami Toyota wasn’t infallible.
She could be defeated, as Inoue came very close to doing so.
Although some might dismiss their style as too cartoony and unrealistic, they juxtaposed that speed and intensity with a seriousness that was rare even for them. On two occasions, both Inoue and Toyota lay outside the ring and their fellow Joshi’s rushed to their aid. Both were given water and were checked on to see if they could continue.
And at another point, Toyota just stopped mid-charge and clasped her leg. It was impossible to tell if this was a real injury or if all of Inoue’s earlier submissions had finally taken their toll on her. It felt real and made people wonder if Toyota was genuinely incapable of moving any further. Yet she fought on valiantly, and the fans bought into her heroism. The AJW audience was much louder for this match than almost any other AJW match before or since. They were fully invested in the fight that unfolded before them, and they cheered for both women equally.
Toyota vs Inoue:
The match’s legacy
Sixty-minute ironman matches are rare in wrestling. Good ones are even rarer. Great ones can be counted on one hand. But no match of that length was as exciting, wild and intense as this one. This was like watching two women fight on fast forward for a full hour. It was so ahead of its time, and the two women in this match did things that even their male counterparts couldn’t do.
Twenty-five years have passed and this is still the greatest women’s wrestling match of all time. These two women put on an athletic contest for the ages that has not only aged very well, but puts even today’s women’s wrestling to shame. Not even the widely-praised epics of the past four years like Bayley/Banks from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, the NXT Ironwoman match from NXT TakeOver: Respect, or the Last Woman Standing Match From WWE Evolution hold up to this.
The women of AJW were in a league of their own. They wrestled in a style that has yet to be matched.
You can watch the Toyota vs Inoue match in its entirety here.