Five Great Japanese Women’s Tag Teams

Bayley and Sasha Banks recently started the first ever run with the WWE Tag Team title. Worldwide women’s wrestling has been a hotbed of tag wrestling for a very long time, here are five iconic teams, (not IIconic though they are very good), that have had must see matches and drew big money all over the world.

Beauty Pair – Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda

Jackie Sato photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

This was the first of the Idol tag teams that All Japan Women developed by the truckload. With girl-next-door good looks, easy charm, the ability to sell the ever increasingly difficult predicaments they were in, and the fact they could wrestle a streak made them ideal fodder for AJW’s growing teenage audience. Perennial contenders to the WWWA Tag Championships, they didn’t look that much different to the girls they were wrestling in front of, and that was the key to their success.

With them moving on to be big singles stars, it formed the blueprint for Joshi in the ensuing years. So ingrained in Japanese popular culture that they had Manga and Anime characters the Dirty Pair modelled on them, they had hit records sold T-shirts and made the Matsunaga Brothers a ton of money. Jackie Sato also went on to help form JWP in 1990 and break the 26 rule, the rule that stated all Joshi should retire at 26 because they will want to start a family and settle down before their bodies get completely broken down. She’s the reason Aja Kong is having match of the year candidates at 48. She passed away from stomach cancer in 1999 aged 41. Be very thankful for Jackie Sato.

Haruka Takachiho ‘s Manga novel series Dirty Pair was based on The Beauty Pair’s wrestling exploits. Picture courtesy of Wiki Commons

The Jumping Bomb Angels – Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki.

The Jumping Bomb Angels photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

These were the girls-next-door who could really, really go. They were also appreciated a great deal more in America than you’d think. The Jumping Bomb Angels were the sweet science antidote to  Gokuaku Domei’s hardcore attitude and the Crush Gals stoic resilience. They too won the WWWA Tag Titles once, but a thrilling stint in the US which saw them as one of the most over acts in Madison Square Garden, the time spent in the US lay the groundwork for a big stint with Gokuaku Domei on their return to Japan. They would beat the Glamour Girls Leilani Kai and Judy Martin for the WWF Women’s Tag Team Championships at the Royal Rumble in 1988, and reportedly Fabulous Moolah political power plays held them and the Glamour Girls back.

Having heard the response the Angels and the Glamour Girls were getting at MSG and on the road around the loop, legend has it a jealous Moolah advised the Glamour Girls to drop the tag titles on an AJW show in Japan as it was supposed to be part of a big angle come  WrestleMania IV. Unable to get hold of Pat Patterson who was booking at the time to confirm the instructions, the Glamour Girls did as Moolah told them too. As a result Vince McMahon dropped and abandoned the match when he found out about the trouble Moolah had caused and didn’t entertain the idea of a women’s tag team division till apparently a week last Tuesday. Moolah being horrible is par for the course, but The Jumping Bomb Angels were something special.

Gokuaku Domei – Dump Matsumoto and Bull Nakano

While Dump tagged with a rotating cast in the full roster of Gokuaku Domei, Bull was her key protégé and the woman who would lead the company into the next decade. Dump was her supervisor in violence. The best of 3 falls to the WWWA Tag Team title matches of the period meant that hardcore wrestling could shine in a truly supportive format. Get disqualified in the first fall? No problem, here are two more to have a go at. Equally adept at mat wrestling as they were swinging scissors. Dump and Bull were charismatic rule breakers that were utterly nihilistic in their behavior. Sociopathic in their pursuit of excellence and were genuinely terrifying to the teenage girls they were performing in front of, and to me, a middle aged man thirty years later.

In the mid-eighties, there was no team more violent, in all of wrestling. This also included a swing through the WWF were they cut back on the making people bleed in favour of more wholesome brutality. Vince liked what he saw, when Nakano was done with AJW, he brought her over for a feud with Alundra Blayze over the WWF Women’s Championship and they repeated their double act in WCW. Now retired she makes occasional wrestling appearances were everyone notes how she now looks younger than she did in her heyday. She also wrestled Manami Toyota in a leather miniskirt at her retirement shoe because, well hell, she is Bull Nakano. Dump also still wrestles occasionally, though more reliant on the violence than ever. Made The Dudley’s 22 titles reigns seem like a children’s tea party.  

Las Cachorras Orientales – Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita

The LCO wasnever meant to be. Haplessly miscast in Dream Orca (Mita and Toshio Yamada) and the Tokyo Sweethearts (Shimoda and Manami Toyota). It was plain to see that they were made for each other. Partnered up with their dojo mentor Akira Hokuto as part of a wider faction. Hokuto had gone off to CMLL and come back under a different persona, the stoic baby face came home an all-conquering heel and named her faction ̶L̶o̶s̶ ̶I̶n̶g̶o̶b̶e̶r̶n̶a̶b̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶d̶e̶ ̶J̶a̶p̶o̶n̶, Las Cachorras Orientales, which translates to The Oriental Bitches. Nice girls, they were not.

When Hokuto left they were on their own and boy were they pissed. Their opening salvo being to slice and dice former WWWA Champions and friends Toyota and Yamada with a pair of scissors to show that there were new bosses in town. The most innovative of the teams listed here, Mita invented the Death Valley Driver, they also took that approach in their presentation. Dressed to the nines in lady pirate outfits they would carry their signature pastel shaded chairs to the ring. If Shimoda hadn’t put someone head first through a table with a split leg Pile-driver in the first five minutes it was considered a bad night. They would take a record 4 WWWA Titles before moving on to ARSION were they turned up in wedge heels and mom jeans to destroy company matriarch Aja Kong then go after the tag belts which they held for a record length of time. Mita’s mounting injuries forced her retirement in the early 2000s. Shimoda became a star in CMLL and moved to LLPW-X were she has swapped her chair for a cattle prod. Violence 2.0.

Mima Shimoda photo courtesy of ChikaraPro.com

The Crush Gals – Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka

Being truly over is a beautiful thing when it reaches its zenith. The Crush Girls were over, like more over than anyone you’ve ever seen. Gaining ratings of 18% of the Japanese viewing audience at their peak, feuding with Gokuaku Domei they were a very different kind of tag team. Few wrestlers on earth could hang with Asuka when she was in her purple patch that lasted about six years. A technical master she was the glue in the team. Not that Nagayo was a bad wrestler either, she wasn’t as technically adept, but she was as tough as nails and read an audience perfectly. She could also talk people into buildings better than any female wrestler before or since.

Wearing their trademark Arena swimsuits with white pinstripes, red for Nagayo and blue for Asuka, they were straight ahead defiance. Heavily influenced by the shoot revolution going on in NJPW and then in the UWF, they were kick heavy suplex merchants. Together they were box office magic. Their epic feud with Gokuaku Domei saw them regularly in hair vs hair matches that left the teenage audience in floods of tears. They were also genuine pop stars that sold records by the bucket load.

They split of into singles in 1989 before their final runs with Big Red the WWWA singles title, the biggest belt in All Japan women, feuding together in matches that split audiences. They had to retire in 1990, as was the company way then, but they laid the groundwork for the explosion of the Joshi bubble in the mid 90s. Nagayo would be part of that starting her own company GAEA in 1995. Not long after that Asuka came back as a monster heel to feud with Nagayo. It was a stadium filling success chronicled largely in the film GAEA Girls for the BBC.

Eventually, they buried the storyline hatchet and went after the AAAW tag team titles, the big belts in GAEA as Crush Girls 2000. Having made mountains of cash, Asuka went to take over the book at ARSION before retiring for good and have an influence on a certain Smackdown Women’s Champion when it came to her newly needed name in NXT. Nagayo is now the owner and operator of the Marvelous and still wrestles after re-dedicating herself to the sport in 2015.     

The Marvelous Roster with Chigusa Nagayo center Marvelcompany.jp

2 comments

  1. The music of the mat podcast brought me here. I really need to watch the GAEA BBC documentary, sounds great! It’s incredible how Joshi wrestling was/is 30-40 years ahead of the western stuff. Great article.

  2. Thank yoouu and thank you for listening to the Podcast! Andrew is a great host and it was a pleasure being a guest. They really were ahead of the game in so many ways. You should be able to find the GAEA Girls documentary, an official version, on You Tube.

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