The Beginning Of A New Era: The IWGP Women’s Division

Credit: @rossystardom on Twitter
Credit: @rossystardom on Twitter

Few things in wrestling surprise me.  But on November 20th,  a mere 51 days after the passing of the legendary Antonio Inoki, a new IWGP title and division has been created. And in shocking manner, it puts Joshi Wrestling front and center on the map.

The Past

See, most people when they think of Women’s wrestling, they fall into a few different categories.  One, the whole line of “Customs”, where matches are scripted out move for move by the buyer of the match in usually erotic or fetishization tendencies, tends to be the most prevalent.  Now I’m not one to pass up money in any line ( Carney is as Carney does), but this doesn’t give a good light to Women’s Pro Wrestling. Another vein of this were the Diva’s matches of old – the Bra and Panties gimmick matches of the Attitude era, HLA, Nitro Girls, The Springer era. These gave nothing to the athletes that did spend a ton of time getting themselves into professional wrestling as a whole, they were just used as ways to get male eyes on the product by using the time tested marketing strategy of TNA. No, Not the Jeff Jarrett dominated promotion.

The other main piece of women’s wrestling is also shown in a different degrogitory way – the popcorn match.  Go out and do 5 minutes, so the fans can get merch, popcorn, go to the bathroom.  Now everyone know that not every match can be a 5 star broadway classic, but these matches were intentionally designed to be bad, using specifically women who were not trained well if at all, so that they could make an intermission without having an intermission.

I am a huge fan of all sorts of professional wrestling, and done correctly, you should never need this type of match.   Professional wrestling is the epitome of the three ring circus – you should have something for everyone.  A comedy match, a high flying lucha match, BIG MEATY MEN SLAPPING MEAT. Everyone gets their shine.  But it also allows people who don’t enjoy that content to leave and get a drink or go buy merch. You don’t have to tank one specific match to make sure everyone leaves and gets their proverbial shit in. This is why the Women’s revolution was a thing – there were people in the back like Dave Finlay and Sara Amato really pushing to get these women a fighting chance.  And while now Women are looked at in a better light in WWE, there is still a ton of work to be done in other places.

The Present

Here is where we are now – WWE is pushing women as a big part of their talent pool, and they truly are doing their best.  One of my biggest complaints in the “Revolution” was that there was a sense that women were being pushed to placate people calling for said revolution.  Women were getting spots that while earned, didn’t feel like they were given because they earned them.  I remember saying during the 4 horsewomen of NXT days that it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference until a women’s match not only main evented, but it wasn’t celebrated that it was the main event BECAUSE it was a women’s match.  The all women’s PPV, while a nice tip of the hat to women’s wrestling meant nothing if they didn’t back it up with real change.  well, considering we are writing this after years of PPVs that had huge women’s matches, huge storylines, and even an earned Wrestlemania main event.

On the other channel, AEW is only 3ish years old.  And say what you want about them, one of the things they have done right when they started up was to make it a point to pay male and female performers similarly.  And while they are still struggling to find their footing sometimes in that division, there is a sense that they have something going on ( at least in an AEW sense). Their talent pool there is a huge mix of American home grown talent, former WWE talent, Lucha and Japan stars, and the top indy women. They are definitely showing off what an alternative to WWE looks like.  But they do fail in some aspects as well.  No women’s match has ever headlined a PPV, and it is rare that the women are given a stage as big as the men.  But they are still a fledgling company that “fans” ( aka Dirtsheet writers that know know nothing but what their sorces tell them, which amounts to ” I know a guy who told somebody”) love to rag on.

Joshi Wrestling

And then there’s Japan. Arguably the largest market outside of North America, it is surprisingly shocking that womens wrestling in Japan is so… separated.  Part of it is the culture of Japan. Part of is how it was portrayed in general.  Most people know WWE star Asuka, but one of the reasons why she was (and still is to an extent) blackballed in the Joshi wrestling scene was because of her Manifesto she wrote about Joshi.  It boiled down to really five things:

  • Expand Joshi wrestling to include other styles
  • Eliminate obviously fake looking moves
  • Review the industry as a whole and get rid of wrestlers there that clearly shouldn’t be there
  • Deal with the toxic environment of the scene and promote positivity and mutual respect
  • Encourage those who couldn’t develop their persona or style to try other industries.

This is absolutely the truth of Joshi wrestling of the time, but the issue was Asuka ( Kana at the time) had only been in the business for five years, and her style was completely different to the original Joshi style, specially  in that Kana was doing strong style matches with both women and men.  If got her so much heat that it actually made her one of the top stars in Japan, and got the ball rolling on her WWE career.  So while that was the truth, no one wanted to hear it from a green horn rookie that didn’t know anything about the business.  Especially one that did the same Gravure model shoots and made the same money on the business she was trying to shoot on.

Currently there are a few major promotions specialized in Joshi wrestling:  Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, Ice Ribbon, Sednai Girls Pro Wrestling, and most notably, World Wonder Ring STARDOM.

The Future

Women’s wrestling is brighter than ever before.  After New Japan’s parent company Bushiroad bought STARDOM in 2019, I believe it was only a matter of time before you’d start seeing more of a intermingling of divisions and promotions in NJPW.  I think this would have happened years ago had it not have been for the pandemic.  STARDOM’s well, stars are about to become huge in the industry, being featured alongside the men for the first time outside of FMW’s older days. Women like Mayu Iwantani, Starlight Kind Lady C and even the returning Kairi Hojo are goign to be put on a pedestal.  Being able to watch Joshi wrestling in NYC this past weekend, seeing Mayu wrestle in person, was a magical experience for me.  Not because she is a great wrestler ( even though she definitely is), but because we are at a whole new revolution – a revolution where once again women can stand right up next to the men and feel like they belong in the same arena, the same card and the same matches.


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