Monday, November 6, 2017

Manami Toyota Has Retired

Farewell to a legend
Photo via Battle-News
The wrestling world said farewell to an icon on Friday. Manami Toyota, one of the seminal joshi wrestlers of the 1990s, retired officially at a show dedicated to her. The card was centered around an insanely long gauntlet of one-minute matches, where Toyota basically wrestled a THIS IS YOUR LIFE lineup of friends, foes, peers, and influenced. You can find the lineup at PuroLove, but a partial list of wrestlers who turned out to say farewell to Toyota were as follows: Mayumi Ozaki, Meiko Satomura, Yumi Ohka, Tsubasa Kuragaki, Cherry, Emi Sakura, Kaori Yoneyama, Leon, Hikaru Shida, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Ikuto Hidaka, Ayako Hamada, Mima Shimoda, Jaguar Yokota, Chigusa Nagayo, Tsukasa Fujimoto, "Small Antonio Inoki," and Bull Nakano. Nakano didn't even wrestle at her own retirement show, but she turned out for Toyota's.

People say women have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. Joshi wrestlers have done way more than twice the work their male counterparts have, albeit I'm not sure if they've gotten more or less than half the credit. Toyota was part of a sorority of amazing pro wrestlers who influenced an entire industry. That All-Japan Women's lineup included Nakano, Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Shimoda, Ozaki, and so many other iconic wrestlers, and Toyota was one of the most decorated of the bunch. Dave Meltzer swears by her to the point where he's rated 17 of her matches as five stars. When you're that entrenched in wrestle lore, everything you do is a big deal.

I was blessed enough to see Toyota live several times thanks to Mike Quackenbush's undying devotion to joshi. The Toyota who wrestled in Chikara had a lot of miles on the odometer; I and my fellow fans weren't getting 1992, rolling-prawn-holding-Aja-Kong-off-the-top Toyota. That being said, she could've coasted on her laurels, gotten a paycheck, and just given it the old Kevin Nash try. I don't know her and couldn't tell you if she was just going through the motions, but it didn't seem like it. She was still out there, going hard, wrestling at a high level in all kinds of settings. Those crowds got their money's worth and then some every time she came over to the States to go up against a bunch of skinny dudes in masks (and Madison Eagles).

The funny thing is that she didn't retire because she was getting tired of wrestling. She had injured her neck, and continuing as a pro wrestler just wasn't the healthy choice for her life. She's going to go and hopefully enjoy life after the ring. Maybe she'll suit up for a tag match every other year. Perhaps she'll turn up for Aja Kong's or Mayumi Ozaki's retirements, or she'll be there when/if Akira Hokuto returns to wrestling after besting cancer. But the chapter of wrestling history where Manami Toyota is an active wrestler has closed. Every wrestling fan, whether they know it or not, was enriched by her presence. Godspeed, Manami, and thanks for all the memories.