Whenever the conversation pops up about who had the best rookie year in wrestling, more people should be talking about Yuu. Now granted, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling circa 2016-2017 was quite the obscure product at the time. And at the time of this writing, the streaming archive on Wrestle Universe is a work in progress. But if the question is what wrestler stepped in the ring with little to no experience and had great matches. it’s important to know about the meteoric rise of Yuu.
Yuu: The Streak Begins
A fan of DDT Pro-Wrestling since elementary school, Yuu trained in judo for lack of a wrestling ring before learning under Joshi veteran Cherry in the DDT Wrestling Classroom. She officially debuted for TJPW on January 4, 2016, squashing fellow rookie Nodoka to open the company’s first show in Korakuen Hall.
The judoka brought a different aura as soon as she stepped in the ring. Built like a fire hydrant with tree trunk legs, she exuded badass energy like Taz or Samoa Joe in their prime. When the rest of the promotion was full of colorful, character-based wrestlers, a woman wearing a gi top stretching her legs before the bell felt out of place.
Yuu began her career with a streak of victories, making opponents tap out to her armbar in short order. In some instances, even two at a time. She was all poise between the ropes, confident in her abilities as a judo-throwing powerhouse. Some 20-odd matches in and she looked unbeatable, making it to the finals of the Tokyo Princess Cup, an annual summer tournament to crown a number one contender. In her way, however, stood Shoko Nakajima.
As one of the prospective aces of the young promotion, Nakajima had earned a resume of making her third straight Tokyo Princess Cup final, having won the whole thing the year prior. She also was in the match to crown the first Princess of Princess champion, albeit in a losing effort. That bout is great by the way, Nakajima vs Yamashita from January 4, 2016. Arguably the first must-see match in TJPW history.
The Tokyo Princess Cup final between Yuu and Shoko Nakajima was an absolute classic. The two battled on the mat for control, Nakajima holding her own through technical wrestling. The match is by far the longest of Yuu’s career at 17 minutes, even more than double any other of her singles competition. It’s methodical back and forth action that proves she wasn’t only great at squashing low to mid-card talent. 8 months in and she was already a trophy-wielding main eventer.
Yuu: A Champion for All Challengers
It wasn’t long before Yuu set her sight on Miyu Yamashita and the Princess of Princess Championship. She continued her simple game plan: grappling on the ground for a submission, using powerful slams and throws standing up, and devastating backhand chops when necessary. The Pink Striker, meanwhile, brought her own intensity to the championship fight.
Yamashita did enough to avoid the ground game early and stuck to her own signature strategy. Nevertheless, her karate kicks, anaconda vice, and Attitude Adjustment couldn’t get the job done as Yuu choked out Yamashita with the Katahajime to win the title 9 months into her career.
Her first defense saw Yuu in the position of being the benchmark while underdog Rika Tatsumi tried to prove herself as a top star, before tapping out to the Katahajime. The rest of the year revisited the budding rivalry with Nakajima as Yuu approached her one-year anniversary on January 4, 2017. And the rematch is even better than last time.
They picked up right where they left off, grappling on the mat for position with Yuu in control. After 5 minutes, Shoko took it to their feet and tilted the table in her favor with a run and gun style. After 10 minutes, the combatants had everyone in Korakuen Hall on the edge of their seats with haymakers. Yuu tried to win with the armbar, followed up with the Katahajime, before having to debut her Last Ride Powerbomb to get the victory in a 20+ minute barnburner.
Considering that Yamashita’s inaugural reign only saw 2 defenses over 9 months as the company was still finding itself, Yuu’s undefeated streak set the tone for what the TJPW champion should feel like. Her next challenge came in the form of a rising star, Reika Saiki. Both were in their second year, with Saiki being built up strong with an unconventional muscular physique and kickboxing background.
After a mixture of grappling vs striking, Yuu secured the victory with the Last Ride in a great match. No time was wasted as Azusa Takigawa stepped up to the challenge. Though she was a petite, comedy character, she wanted to become stronger by facing the Princess of Princess champion. In their match, Yuu chopped her until her chest was beet red and choked her out with the Katahajime.
Yuu: Dream Fighter
Every great story has to have a great end. In June, Yuu faced Yuka Sakazaki for her potential 5th defense. In the storyline, Sakazaki had left the country during Yuu’s rise to power and had returned with a plan. Yuu dominated early on the mat, but Sakazaki’s response was to use innovative offense and misdirection.
Yuu had enough of her running and flipping around, so she targeted the knee. They continued back and forth with big moves, trading submissions until Sakazaki debuted her 180 Magical Girl Splash and won the Princess of Princess championship.
Take the first 16 months of Yuu’s career and put it against anyone’s resume. Of course, other wrestlers won more prestigious titles on bigger stages, but even talents like Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar spent time in developmental territories. Yuu was thrust into the spotlight of a young company and had long, fantastic matches. Her time at TJPW would come to an end by the end of 2018 as she became a freelancer.
She currently continues her powerhouse ways for various Japanese companies such as Sendai Girls, Oz Academy, and Pro Wrestling WAVE among others, especially with her tag partner Chihiro Hashimoto as Team 200kg. She even made a rare US appearance recently for Deadlock Pro Wrestling in January 2022. So next time the conversation comes up, the next time someone is comparing the best rookie years in wrestling: you already know about Yuu.