noun / gīˈjin/
(in Japan) A foreigner
Gaijin Classics is a series of weekly articles in which I review illustrious matches performed in Japan by foreign wrestlers. Japan, a famously wrestling-obsessed country, has been the location of some of the greatest matches in history, and some of the most celebrated wrestlers of all time have plied their trade there.
In this match, legendary female wrestler Wendi Richter, the gaijin, faces Jaguar Yokota for the WWWA World Heavyweight Championship, in a now defunct promotion that was known as All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestlng. This match took place on an unknown date in 1983.
“She [Richter] is one of the main reasons that women’s wrestling has gone from sideshow into attraction.” – Mark Nolte
Once upon a time, female wrestling was entertaining, relevant, and popular. Names like Sherri Martel, Judy Grable and the incomparable Fabulous Moolah, have all been as celebrated as their male compatriots. Another woman in that category is Wendi Richter.
In this match, she faced Jaguar Yokota, the WWWA Champion. Japanese wrestling had, and has, less boundaries for female wrestlers than North America, and has produced the likes of Manami Toyota (trained by Yokota) and Aja Kong. These women wrestled stiff, athletic styles.
And they were damn good.
Entering first, the champion.
Jaguar Yokota enters in a relatively mundane fashion.
Walking to the ring, she gives little away. Her expression is neutral; her walk reflects neither nervousness nor arrogance; the clothes she wears are simply appropriate for a wrestling match; even her music is ordinary, signifying not much of anything.
For this woman, it’s all about focusing on the task ahead.
Besides which, her expressions, walk, attire and music don’t need to reveal anything about her.
Everything about her is represented by the championship belt wrapped around her waist.
Jaguar Yokota enters in a relatively mundane fashion. But Jaguar Yokota is not a relatively mundane performer.
Fitting, then, that her opponent isn’t either.
Entering second, the challenger.
Wendi Richter was destined for great things.
Obviously wrestling in Japan here, she had worked in several of the southern NWA territories prior to that. Soon after this, though, she would go on to perhaps the defining moments of her career.
In 1984, she was part of the beginning of an era; an era that has come to be known as ‘Rock ‘n Wrestling’.
A year later, she was the recipient of what has come to be known as ‘the Original Screwjob’, losing her championship to Fabulous Moolah in a decision that deviated from the booking Richter had been informed of.
Compared to her opponent, she is much more outwardly spirited and exuberant, wearing more colourful attire and bouncing around restlessly; she can be heard shouting something inaudible, with a distinct southern drawl.
Right away it is clear that these two are different competitors; crucially, though, they are both competitors.
And good ones, at that.
After some ceremony, in which both wrestlers are introduced to the crowd (to polite reactions) and the championship belt is raised aloft, the match begins.
Straight away, the sheer disparity in size is apparent, Yokota several inches shorter than Richter, and carrying less muscle. Like all smaller competitors tend to do, though, she uses it to her advantage from the offset.
In stark contrast to her earlier stillness, she marauds around the ring early on, ducking under two attempts at a collar-and-elbow tie up, which annoys Richter so much she pushes the referee in frustration.
Yokota also lands the first attack of the match, catching Richter off guard with a deftly executed monkey flip; it barely fazes her physically, but what it signifies is the fact that Yokota is more than capable of holding her own.
“Possessing tons of natural athletic ability, Yokota blew away her contemporaries with incredible matches” – John Molinaro
Challenging her to a test of strength, Richter next finds herself on the mat as the result of an arm drag, which Yokota follows up by stomping on her prone body. She scrambles out of under the bottom rope, but is followed by a screaming Yokota, whose earlier composure is completely gone.
Throwing her into a row of chairs, Yokota climbs back into the ring while someone helps a staggered Richter to her feet. Inside, Yokota raises her arms aloft as though victorious already, while Richter slams her fist into the mat, more aggravated than ever.
As a gaijin, she is clearly the heel in this match, and she has an admirable command of all the mannerisms and tactics involved in portraying a villain.
She stalks around the ring angrily, biding her time before choosing to get back inside. In this instance, she isn’t so much a cowardly heel, but rather a heel that is affronted by the fact she is being outclassed.
That too was apparent even at the very start of the match, when Yokota wrestled her own strategy and Richter was angry that her opponent wasn’t playing into her hands.
Eventually, that outrage fuels a sudden advantage for Richter, who pushes her opponent away when getting back into the ring. The push is so forceful that Yokota rolls under the bottom rope; when she stands up on the apron falls victim to a vertical suplex.
What strikes most about this match is the aggression with which every move is executed.
While there are valid complaints made nowadays about the standard of women’s wrestling in major promotions, a lot of female wrestlers in such promotions actually perform basic wrestling moves. The problem with a lot of them is how they perform, rather than what they perform.
Compared to Richter, for example, whose vertical suplex is a pleasing display of good strength and balance, the modern day ‘Divas’ and ‘Knockouts’ in major promotions can look shoddy.
“I’m very proud of wrestling. I don’t like what I see today and I’m not gonna do that.” – Wendi Richter
Even the most basic of moves or gestures, Richter and Yokota manage to make seem more realistic and aggressive. Following the vertical suplex, Yokota kicks out of a pinning attempt before the count of one.
Rather than barely getting her shoulder off of the mat, she kicks out with authority, so that the referee and audience can clearly see she is undeterred by Richter’s offence. It is a reflection of how both women, at this time, were some of the top athletes in professional wrestling.
Showing still more frustration, Richter grabs Yokota and slams her face first into the mat; following that, she plants her foot into Yokota’s back and stretches her arms painfully. Picking her up off of the mat, Richter then flips her over, applying pressure solely to the right arm this time.
Again, it is impressive just how dedicated Richter is in applying a hold; not only does she hyperextend the arm of Yokota, she also pulls in separate directions her fingers, causing more pain still.
Displaying resourcefulness, however, Yokota positions herself to apply a headscissors on Richter, which she holds long enough to escape her predicament and get back to her feet.
Showing notable attention to detail, she sells the previous hold with the slightest movement of her hand, as though trying to restart the blood circulation there. Likewise, Richter leans against the middle rope while massaging her neck. Being a heel, she is also shouting at the referee at the time.
Regaining momentum, Richter charges Yokota and nails her with a dropkick. Agile, she regains her feet, picks up Yokota and body slams her to the mat, following that up with a jumping knee to the face. All simple moves; all affective moves.
Pressurising the neck of Yokota by forcing her neck downwards, Richter inflicts further pain on the champion by pulling her by the hair, increasing the strain. Showing remarkable strength, Richter picks up her smaller opponent by the neck, carrying her with both arms before slamming her forcefully onto the mat.
She whips Yokota into the ropes, and boots her in the chest when she rebounds. After that, another body slam, which is then followed up by a simple splash; when taking into account the likely weight difference, it is more devastating than it at first seems.
Another pin attempt occurs here, and Yokota kicks out just as the referee’s hand slaps the mat for two. Well, she isn’t the champion for nothing.
Using a chokehold, Richter pulls a gurgling Yokota to her feet, and spins her around before dropping her to the canvas as easily as a giant would a child.
“After that first night [in Japan] I knew, okay I’ve got to change my style. I can’t be American style here, and so I did my transformation. I did like a ‘wild woman’, like they do. And it worked.” – Wendi Richter
Standing over her faltering opponent, the villainous gaijin chokes Yokota by pressing her foot into her neck. The strength factor again comes into play, Richter lifting up Yokota and placing her in a bearhug.
Yokota manages to escape with a desperate elbow. With a burst of adrenaline, Yokota starts kicking away at Richter, battling her from the ground up, until again Richter rolls out under the bottom rope. Following her, Yokota again proceeds to throw her into another row of chairs.
While a good opportunity for the match to slow down and the audience to breathe, the resulting pause in the match feels redundant since it comes from the exact same sequence and spot that occurred earlier in the match.
Returning to the ring with less caution than the first time, Richter wastes no time in picking up the pace again. There is a classic heel ploy, at this point, as she offers Yokota a handshake. Accepting graciously, Yokota is rewarded by a hard slap to the face.
Thrown into the ropes, Yokota first leapfrogs a ducking Richter, after which some miscommunication or slip-up leads to a slight botch; aiming for something resembling a tilt-a-whirl arm drag, Yokota either doesn’t manage enough rotation or Richter drops her too soon.
Whatever the case, they drop to the mat without much having been achieved. Showing good professionalism though, they quickly salvage it when Yokota locks in an abdominal stretch that Richter powers out of easily.
Blocking an attempted kick from Richter, Yokota pushes her to the canvas and stomps away at her leg, quickly softening it up for the good old fashioned figure-four leg lock.
Even in Japan, the impact of the original “Nature Boy” and his celebrated successor is always present.
After much writhing and screaming, all in aid of selling the move, Richter eventually uses her superior strength to roll over and reach the bottom rope, which forces Yokota to relinquish the hold.
Things escalate when the match again spills to the outside; Yokota, having been the more dominant competitor outside the ring in this fight, suddenly finds herself on the receiving end when she is lifted up and scoop slammed back first onto the concrete.
Climbing back into the ring, she is acquainted with a clothesline from Richter, then reacquainted with a body splash; before the referee is even in position, she forces herself up and out of it.
Punching her in the stomach, Richter again nails Yokota with a scoop slam and body splash combination. Then, a vertical suplex and body splash combination. At this point, it becomes clear that almost every pin Ricther attempts will be implemented with a body splash.
Both times, Yokota slides out from under the pin. In an amazing feat of strength, she manages to lift Richter up onto her shoulders and perform an airplane spin.
Then, pulling Richter up to her feet, Yokota literally climbs her and applies an armbar while sat atop her shoulder.
Here, it become unclear whether Richter drops onto her back to slam Yokota down, or Yokota uses her higher position to drop them both down to the mat, slamming Richter’s arm into the canvas.
Whichever it is, Richter recovers quicker; flooring Yokota with a scoop slam, she climbs the top rope.
Jumping off quickly for what looks to be a leg drop, she meets only the canvas as Yokota rolls out of the way, only to climb up there herself. When Richter stands up, she turns around to see Yokota diving towards her and nailing her with a missile dropkick.
The impact sends Richter rolling out under the ropes, which she uses to pull herself up on the apron. With a running dropkick, Yokota sends her off of that and onto a table occupied by the announcers. None too gently, some of the entourage grab her and try to put her back in the ring.
Yokota, however, has other thoughts, risking it all with a suicide dive that has them both down on the outside. After that, and when Yokota gets into the ring, the entourage do roll Richter in.
Right into the arms of a prepared Jaguar Yokota.
Lifting Wendi Richter up, she plants her with a beautifully struck piledriver, and after that, even despite the power of Richter, it feels academic.
It is academic.
Jaguar Yokota pins her, 1-2-3.
This is a really good match, in many ways, but what has to be accepted is that it is very much an exhibition match. Rather than telling a great story inside the ring, this in many ways was a match were both women went pillar to post to show what they were capable of as wrestlers.
For that reason, it stands out as being a great example of how skilled both women were at their craft, without being timeless or extremely meaningful. That’s not to say no psychology was applied; the further the match progresses, the more it resembles a classic David vs. Goliath struggle.
It’s clear why Richter, with a marketable look and plenty of talent, would go on to such heights soon after in her career.
“During those heady years, Richter’s popularity had grown so much that an issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated put Richter on its cover and asked, “Is Wendi Richter more popular than Hulk Hogan?” – Richard Kamchen
That being said, some of it is formulaic, particularly the repeat of the exact same spot outside the ring; also, Richter’s move set is limited, which isn’t in itself a problem except that she controls large portions of the match, reducing it almost entirely to scoop slams at times.
Still, that is a reflection of the powerful wrestler she was, particularly against her smaller, more agile and (arguably) more technically proficient opponent, Yokota.
Together, they put on a good match that would stand equal to most women’s wrestling matches, now or then, in North America, Japan, or anywhere.
Now someone just needs to show this match to Vince McMahon.
Sources for Quotes
- Slam! Sports – Wrestling [Online]
- The Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time [Book]
- Wrestle Reunion Shoot Interview [Online]