Manami Toyota is the Greatest Pro Wrestler of All Time, but it’s easy to overlook that she’s still one of the best right now. It’s a mistake no one who watched her the 25th Anniversary: Flying Angela show could make.
I saw it live last September with 600 other Toyota fans in a legit sold out Shinjuku FACE. On that night Manami put on the single greatest performance I have ever seen by any wrestler, anywhere. As she did on her 20th Anniversary show, Toyota chose to wrestle in every match on the card. She wrestled every match on the card, as if it were the last match on the card. Through five often grueling, always competitive matches Toyota grappled, brawled, kicked, screamed, suplexed, and got suplexed, slammed, and beaten. She never faltered, never tired, never stopped flying from the top rope at her opponents.
I’d never seen anything like it, and I don’t think I ever will again. At least not until Manami’s 30th anniversary show.
The first match was the toughest. Two of Toyota’s eternal rivals, Aja Kong and Kyoko Inoue, teamed with recent adversary Tsubasa Kuragaki. On Toyota’s team were ICE Ribboners Tsukasa Fujimoto and Tsukushi. whom Manami chose because they have excellent dropkicks as a counter the other team’s size.
This strategy seemed to be working as Team Manami kept Team Destroy Manami off balance and out of killing range for a while. Then pint-sized Tsukushi tried to bow and arrow death-sized Aja Kong, and it did not go well. Tsubasa, as she had done earlier in JWP and CHIKARA that year, crushed Manami. She torture racked all three of her opponents at once, and finished off Toyota with a sick Metal Wing. Post-Match: Kong gave an angry, heart-felt congratulations to Manami for surviving twenty five years as her kicking bag.
In a friendlier encounter, Toyota faced fellow former AJW alum Miho Wakizawa. Wakizawa was one of the stars of AJW during it’s final run and retired around when the company closed. She only just returned in 2011 with the opening of STARDOM. Wakizawa is often known for laughs, but this turned out to be the most technical match of the night. After all, she took 10 years off and was facing her senpai who kept at it the entire time. Wakizawa fought like she had something prove. She made a very strong showing, but Toyota eventually won with a Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex Hold.
Mima Shimoda and Manami Toyota debuted on the same day, August 5th, 1987. They found early success teaming as the Tokyo Sweethearts and had a breakout match was against the more experienced duo of Etsuko Mita and Toshiyo Yamada. Alliances shifted as time went on. Now, Shimoda’s career is largely remembered for her LCO team with Mita, and Toyota’s most notable tag team partnerwais Yamada.
Yamada and Mita had already retired, but both were on hand for this very special event. They inserted themselves into the match in aid of their partners, of course. Mita and Shimoda brought back some of the old LCO violence, while Yamada did what she could to even the odds. It wasn’t enough and Shimoda won with her Death Lake Driver.
Next, former Jumping Bomb Angel Itsuki Yamazaki stepped out of retirement to take on her former student in a special 10 minute exhibition. Manami once told me that she viewed Itsuki “like a god.” After several months of intense training just for this event, Itsuki looked like one. The match was a respectful mat-based affair that went the time limit, and was a total joy to watch. The respect and admiration these two women have for one another was apparent in their emotional embrace afterwards.
In the lastmatch, Manami finally had a chance to take it easy, she just chose not to. It was a mostly light-hearted battle royal featuring Bolshoi Kid, Yumiko Hotto, Takaco Inoue, Kaoru Ito and several others. Ito and Hotta started things by, as usual, trying to kill each other. When Manami entered, she came with GAMI and Sakura Hirota who were dressed as Magami Toyota and Manami Hirota. They cleared out the ring doing several of Toyota’s usual moves in tandem. Toyota, not to be outdone on any show, let alone her own, decided to take a move from Sakura and GAMI’s arsenals and initiated a four-corner rope-walk arm drag.
After that came the one moment where the invincible, indestructible, incredible Flying Angel looked human. By the 3rd match I had already lost track of the number of missile dropkicks and top rope dives to the outside Toyota had done. Each time she popped back up, smiling, ready for more, screaming “Ikuzo” (Let’s go!). But on her very last top rope splash to the outside…she didn’t get right up. Wrestlers circled her at ring side as fans stopped cheering and got very quiet.
Toyota got up slowly and made it back into the ring, seemingly having injured her leg. But she’s Manami Toyota, the Greatest of All Time so she shook her knee out a bit and, and just kept going for several more minutes, no stopping, no slowing down, no sparing anyone from a J.O.C. or Queen Bee Bomb, regardless of her potential. Because she’s Manami Toyota and this was the main event of her show. Toyota was eventually eliminated though and Sakura Hirota, literally standing on her head, won the match when Kato and GAMI eliminated each other.
After the show Manami, I got in line behind a hundred others to get a photo with Manami and Itsuki. She looked tired but happy, and maybe a little relieved. I asked Manami if she was hurt and she replied, “A little,” and smiled. I mentioned I hoped to see her at her 30th Anniversary, she laughed and we shared hug.
The show overall was probably the best I’ve seen since moving to Japan, and I left more sure than ever that Manami Toyota was the best Pro Wrestler we would ever get to see.