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    Friday, December 8, 2017

    31 Days of Wrestling (12/8/17): Manami Toyota's Retirement

    Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2017 produced for us.

    Today, we look at the culmination of one of the most storied and legendary careers in women’s professional wrestling.

    Few wrestlers—regardless of gender—could hold a candle to Manami Toyota.

    In a career that spanned 30 years, Toyota held 20 titles over 5,043 days, with 17 five-star matches from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. She was one of the true innovators of professional wrestling, combining athletic ability and in-ring theatrics with high-impact offense and original maneuvers; many of her finishers are rarely seen in mainstream wrestling today. Some may argue that Toyota’s best years were behind her toward the turn of the century—her most notable years were between 1991 and 1995—but she continued to be the yardstick by which many women wrestlers are measured by.

    With a career as legendary as hers, Toyota had to go out with a bang. On November 3, 2017—eight months after she announced her upcoming retirement from professional wrestling—the “Flying Angel” competed in a series of 51 matches at Yokohama Onsanbashi Hall.

    Consider that: 51 matches. Most of the matches in the 30th Anniversary “The Legend Is Here!” show were one- to three-minute exhibition matches, pitting her against old rivals like Kyoko Inoue, Chigusa Nagayo, Jaguar Yokota, and Bull Nakano, and up-and-comers like Kaho Kobayashi, Hikaru Shida, and Risa Sera. The anniversary show also featured Toyota exchanging blows with male wrestlers. The peak of this retirement special, however, was the match between the legend and the protege: when Manami Toyota faced off with her hand-picked successor, Tsukasa Fujimoto.

    When you wrestled 50 matches straight—and 30 years of wrestling behind you—you’re bound to be fatigued and exhausted. Toyota entered the ring for the last time with heavy breaths and a pensive expression, knowing that this was probably going to be the last time she’ll set foot in the ring as an active competitor.

    Her opponent, Tsukasa Fujimoto, is herself an accomplished champion. From the typical “cute” roles usually assigned to new wrestlers, Fujimoto progressed to become the “Second-Generation Flying Angel.” Emotions were running high on this match, as Fujimoto entered the ring on the verge of tears.

    The streamers fell on both competitors—as is tradition in Japanese wrestling—but Fujimoto hesitated to shake Toyota’s hand before the bell rang, and went after the legend with a Toyota-style dropkick and an attempt at the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, which the legend promptly blocked. What followed was a short masterclass in Japanese big match wrestling.

    Toyota was clearly showing her age in many parts of the first match, being controlled and jostled by her protege, until she pulled off that staple of women’s pro wrestling (and Tekken matches against King): the Rolling Death Cradle. Moments after, Toyota showed the world one of the many tools that made her one of the most dangerous and respected wrestlers the world over: a top-rope missile dropkick. Toyota went into the well one too many times, and was met with a no-sell from Fujimoto: followed by the familiar scream that punctuated 17 five-star matches.

    Toyota rallied a comeback—which featured a quick top-rope moonsault—but like many master-meets-student story, Toyota’s age was clearly showing. Still, an increasingly frustrated Fujimoto can’t seem to put the legend out, even with a flurry of strong-style soccer kicks and a top rope sunset flip. The crowd continued cheering on for the legend, until she pulled off a fall with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex Hold.

    The bell rang once more, this time with an even more aggressive Fujimoto attacking her opponent with everything from repeated pin attempts to kicks and repeated double stomps. The older Toyota—much heavier now and less agile—resorted to power and experience to score the second victory against her protege, pulling off a second fall with the Japanese Ocean Queen Bee Bomb.

    The bell rang again, and this time, Fujimoto had to pull all the stops to defeat Toyota. A merciless flurry of kicks greeted Toyota on the mat, as if Fujimoto was willing her on to fight. Toyota staged a comeback, dropping Fujimoto off the top rope with a big boot. With a slight suspension of disbelief—like how Antonio Inoki would have knocked respect into young wrestlers’ heads with the Toukon slap—Toyota dived from the top rope to the outside: onto Fujimoto, and onto the waiting arms of the many rivals she has faced over the years.

    Through the next few minutes, Toyota mounted a short comeback that ended with Fujimoto countering another moonsault attempt with knees to the midsection. From then on, Fujimoto proved to be the faster, stronger, more conditioned competitor: a lot like who Toyota was in her prime. After a gruelling match, Tsukasa Fujimoto finally defeated the legendary Manami Toyota with the move she inherited: the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex Hold.

    Words of encouragement and inspiration were exchanged by master and student after the match. And in a very generous gesture, Toyota donated her trademark long locks for cancer patients with a quick haircut in the ring. She actually looked genuinely happy with the new ‘do.

    A career retrospective of Manami Toyota’s long career followed, with the ring legend giving a speech afterward, thanking everyone for their support. A 10-count followed in tribute to that long, definitive career that is—to many—the true genesis of the women’s wrestling revolution. And in one of the most tender moments of 2017 in wrestling, the pink streamers and confetti showered the ring as the announcer heralded Manami Toyota’s name for one last time. In that moment, just before leaving, Toyota lay in the ring with tears in her eyes, surrounded by the adulation of fans and the respect of her fellow wrestlers.

    In many ways, Toyota’s retirement is not a technical showcase, a high-flying exhibition, or a dramatic storyline that culminated in one grand send-off. Rather, it was a fitting tribute to a wrestler who has, in many ways, defined the spirit of women’s professional wrestling. There is no better time than today for women’s wrestling, what with all the names and storylines making their mark in the ring.

    But there will never be another Manami Toyota: she occupies a place of greatness that is truly her own.


    31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2017.

    Read our previous entries:

    #1: The Okada/Omega Trilogy
    #2: Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 33)
    #3: The Mae Young Classic Finals
    #4: Billy Suede vs. Jake De Leon (Wrevolution X 2017)
    #5: WarGames
    #6: Prince Puma vs. Pentagon Dark (Ultima Lucha Tres)

    #7: Fatal Four Way for the WWE Universal Championship (SummerSlam)
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    Item Reviewed: 31 Days of Wrestling (12/8/17): Manami Toyota's Retirement Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Marck Rimorin
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