International Women’s Day was declared 110 years ago at a conference of socialist feminists. Today it is celebrated by non-socialists all over the world. Shell Oil is celebrating by changing their name to She’ll Oil. WWE will celebrate it today by putting a bunch of women in tubes to sort out which one of them will get to face Becky Lynch at Wrestlemania. (I was going to write a card preview of that, but I wrote this instead. Editor’s privilege.) As much as I would love to celebrate by doing a listicle of the great women socialist wrestlers, I don’t know which ones are socialist. Even if I did, I wouldn’t want to blow up their spot. So instead, I’m going to celebrate women by introducing you to my favorite genre of pro wrestling: old Japanese women’s wrestling matches you can watch on YouTube.
In Celebration of Cool, Tough Women: Aja Kong vs Bull Nakano in a cage match at AJW Wrestlemarinepiad II, 1990
I remember the moment I knew wrestling had me for good. As a late in life fan, that’s not much of a thing to brag about. Still, the grainy YouTube video, clearly pulled from a DVD of a VHS tape and uploaded by someone heroic and good, full screen on my beat up laptop, took my breath away. Bull Nakano had climbed to the top of a massive cage, her signature blue hair in bloody disarray. Instead of escaping, ending the match, she jumped back down, slamming her leg down on Aja Kong, her opponent. I knew then that pro wrestling could be something that I, having grown up in the Attitude Era, never thought it could be. Pro wrestling could be cool. Bloody, chaotic and beautiful, this match is what wrestling is all about.
In Celebration of Women Who Are Beloved by Other Women: This One Episode of AJW TV from 1986
Back in 1985, soft butch heartthrob Chigusa Nagayo tried to take down queen bully Dump Matsumoto and lost her hair in the process. She goes after Matsumoto again here, with her tag team partner Lioness Asuka taking on Devil Masami in the second match. Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka were hugely popular, releasing music, appearing in commercials, and generally just being adorable and beloved by all. The audience screaming to support them in these matches is a beautiful example of women supporting women who are cute and strong and good.
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In Celebration of Brilliant, Virtuosic Women: Manami Toyota vs Kyoko Inoue in AJW, 1995
Before Kenny Omega flew onto the pages of the WOR like Sephiroth, wrestling’s dorks considered 1990s joshi to be the best wrestling ever was, and Manami Toyota to be the best to ever do it. Toyota is hard to argue with, and Inoue got in there to remind her that she’s a genius too. If you like epics, you’ll love this long, beautifully wrestled title match between two of the best.
In Celebration of Reckless, Self-Destructive Women: Akira Hokuto vs Shinobu Kandori in AJW, 1993
All Japan Women’s Dangerous Queen took on Ladies Legend Pro’s founder in what might be my all-time favorite wrestling match. Blood? Check. Tables? Check. Screaming? Chaos? Rage? Check, check, check.
A Celebration of Women Who Make Bad Decisions: Megumi Kudo vs Shark Tsuchiya in a FMW No Ropes Exploding Barbed Wire Match, 1997
Megumi Kudo capped off her career as a death match wrestler with one last terrible decision: finishing her feud with Shark Tsuchiya once and for all in a no ropes exploding barbed wire match. Is “women who make bad decisions” kind of a lot like “reckless, self-destructive women”? Perhaps! But I can’t exactly celebrate women who make careful, good decisions with pro wrestling matches, can I? This is cool as hell. There’s nothing else to say about it. I think we should have more no rope exploding barbed wire matches in the world. I also think I will celebrate International Women’s Day every day with a Megumi Kudo match from now on.
In Celebration of Goth Women and All Vibes Everywhere: Zero vs Super Heel in GAEA, 1997
Okay, so Chigusa Nagayo and Devil Masami had some incredible, epic matches together, and this one is a short match as alter egos with weird, spooky lighting making it so you can’t totally see, for the WCW Women’s Championship that was abandoned shortly thereafter. So why am I choosing it? First of all, the pure vibes of this match are wonderful. The theatrics! The mood lighting! The aesthetics! Older goth women! This is everything I live for. But also it’s just a good match.
In Celebration of Women Whom Are Strong: Awesome Kong vs Aja Kong in GAEA, 2004
If I had known shit like this was happening in Japanese pro wrestling in 2004, I would have been spending my money on tape trading and not on weed and Chipotle. (This is a lie, I would still be spending my money on weed and Chipotle.) The two former teammates are true hosses, and this fight feels enormous. It was hard not to do a list of all Aja Kong matches because she’s had so many classics. What this match really underlines for me is what a shame it is that Kia Stevens never got the run in the US that she deserved, but at least we have stuff like this, and hopefully her work as a coach in AEW will lend their women’s division some of this energy.