Matches That Defined 2017: Manami Toyota’s Retirement Show

Manami Toyota’s Retirement Show

Yokohama Osanbashi Hall

3rd November 2017

The match:

Here’s a head-scratcher for you: imagine you’re one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time and you’re trying to choose an opponent for your retirement match? Do you pick one of your oldest rivals? A promising young talent? A death match guy from a tiny promotion down the road?

Do a Manami Toyota. Wrestle everyone.

This show is a patchwork of 1-minute matches where Toyota does everything from serious grappling to massive suplexes and wearing a rubber dinosaur head. She has a brief showdown with Meiko Satomura which leads to low bows and respect. Kyusei Sakumi and GAMI both come to the ring dressed in her gear. She helps the elderly Gabai Ji-Chan walk down to the ring, then loses via count-out when he pushes her off the apron. She goes backstage to find Toshiyo Yamada, so they can enter the ring together to the sound of their former tag team’s music. A comedian who does an Antonio Inoki impression turns up.

If you’re here for the wrestling, this isn’t your show. Most of these matches are comedy skits, or low-enough in intensity that Toyota can survive all 51 of them. The real joy of these matches is that she’s having so much fun– the smile on her face is contagious, and so is her genuine emotion as her friends tear up in the ring.

The real landmark moment of the show comes when the final opponent is Tsukasa Fujimoto – one of only two wrestlers that Toyota trained herself. Having challenged Fujimoto to beat her before she retires, Manami puts her down for a three-count twice in two matches. Eventually, she takes the pin herself on the third go.

Then come the bells. Then come the streamers. Then one of the greatest wrestlers the world has ever seen steps out of the ring and through the curtain.

Manami Toyota sits in the streamers at her retirement show

How it defined 2017:

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of Manami Toyota. The top talent in an astonishing roster when All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling was the best wrestling company in the world in the 1990s, she has been an innovator, a leader, an icon, and an inspiration for some of the best-known wrestlers of the past 30 years, from Io Shirai to Daniel Bryan.

Her retirement was always going to be a big deal. Men and women from nearly every major promotion in Japan were at this show to pay tribute to her, from grizzled veterans to excited teenagers.

Jaguar Yokota, who first retired due to injuries 30 years ago, stands alongside her peer Chigusa Nagayo and protégées from Yumiko Hotta to Kyoko Inoue. Bull Nakano turns up – a woman who didn’t even wrestle at her own retirement show, but came back for Toyota. Arguably none of these women should be wrestling at this point, but are you going to be the one to tell them?

These living legends are on the same card as respected figures like Ayako Hamada, Satomura, Nanae Takahashi and ASUKA (not that one), Japan’s leading trans woman wrestler. Tsukasa Fujimoto is set for life, now Manami has given her the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex. But there’s also thought given to the next generation: the young girls of the Ice Ribbon roster get the same amount of time to work with Manami as everyone else.

Past, present, future; the fascinating, inspiring, and sometimes baffling diversity of Japan’s rich wrestling industry, distilled in a single show that celebrates everything Toyota loves about her art form. It’s hard not to share that passion.

My thoughts:

Thank you, Manami.

Manami Toyota and Sarah Parkin at a wrestling show in 2016.
When I die, bury me with this unflattering and slightly blurry photo of me with Manami Toyota at Pro Wrestling: EVE in London in 2016.

Author: Sarah Parkin

Sarah never really got over finding out that The Undertaker and Kane aren't really brothers. Now she spends her time telling anyone who will listen that Bull Nakano should be in the Hall of Fame. When she grows up, she wants to be Lita.

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