Before I get into the article, I would just like to say a massive thank you to All Japan Women Destiny podcast host @BowlingJD for his help in researching and writing sections for this piece. Nobody loves Joshi wrestling stats more than JD, so he’s always got the facts and figures you need.
Why is Rossy Ogawa a potential Hall of Fame candidate?
In the wide world of wrestling, there are maybe a handful of people (non-wrestlers) in the last 50 years that have had a significant impact on women’s wrestling in a positive manner. More so to the extent of making a discernible difference as a booker and promoter. Undoubtedly Rossy Ogawa is one of those few. His ability to adapt, create new stars, and grow an objectively tough business sector stands alone in women’s wrestling. The man also clearly learns from mistakes, and evolves philosophies with the times that have failed so many bookers and promoters over the decades. Ogawa has booked across three different companies to varying degrees of success across multiple generations.
Longevity is certainly not a question here.
In the world of sports and especially wrestling, women have generally been treated at a lower level, segregated, and even to this day promotions/companies focused entirely on women’s wrestling have rarely ever seen much success. SHIMMER in the USA and EVE in the UK never ran a big arena, although EVE can boast that they brought women’s wrestling to York Hall. Impact Wrestling/TNA and WWE have run singular one-off shows, but they never followed up with anything like a touring schedule or regular wrestling TV show. The fact is women’s wrestling is different. Historically and objectively been a much tougher venture than starting and running a men’s promotion.
Ogawa has been a key figure in women’s wrestling since the 1980s with a brief consulting gap from 2003-2008. He has proven longevity with over 30 years of managing, promoting, and booking success of varying levels from the boom periods of All Japan Women (AJW) to the rise of a women’s promotion from scratch to levels statistically bringing STARDOM to number two promotion in Japan as of 2022.
A man that started at humble beginnings as a photographer for AJW in University, working for the owners/founders of AJW ‘The Matsunaga Family’ (Takashi Matsunaga is in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame). Ogawa learned under the then manager of Beauty Pair, who were the top act in the 1970s. Beauty Pair alone were national icons breaking the first real boundary into the mainstream along with Mach Fumiake just before them. For context, Beauty Pair was an original act of historical importance and a massive draw for AJW with the duo headlining Budokan twice in three years. Jackie Sato (member of Beauty Pair, also in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame) would main event a sold out Budokan Hall three times in three separate years from 1977-1979. Ogawa would use the time to learn the business and how to promote under the first boom period (mid-late 1970s) in women’s wrestling.
To Tell The Story of Rossy Ogawa is To Tell The Story of Women’s Wrestling
All Japan Women
Ogawa would spend time in Mexico, where he was a photographer for Mil Mascaras, but decided to join the AJW office at just 20 years old. Ogawa was responsible for handling the ticket sales, and of his own accord, handled the record keeping of AJW. Ogawa also provided and supported the entertainment booking of Beauty Pair along with the starting point of AJW getting into the wrestling media.
Without him, there is no booking, records, or perhaps wrestling journalism for AJW to the extent it received. Journalism for women’s wrestling in Japan up to that point still had a stigma against women in the profession for cultural reasons, among many other negative aspects. This stigma ranged from the unfortunate carnival past to something simple as the idea that the wrestling ring is a man’s world. Ogawa continued to take steps forward, not just for himself, but learning to have a “wrestling mind,” and utilizing that to evolve AJW into the next eras.
Without Ogawa, AJW surely would not have had nearly the same success in all aspects of the business post-Beauty Pair. Luckily, AJW had top talents Jaguar Yokota and Devil Masami (both in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame) to ride the ship for a couple of years until the Crush Gals took off thanks to the promotional efforts of Ogawa and the hard work of the two wrestlers. There are unconfirmed reports that thanks to Ogawa’s time in Mexico and his love for lucha libre, he gained connections. Through these connections was how AJW wrestlers such as Jaguar Yokota, Akira Hokuto, and Bull Nakano to name a few were able to break into the market and have notable feuds, and title wins.
In the second “boom period” in the 1980s Ogawa was pivotal in the Crush Gals (Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, both in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame) becoming a nationwide phenomenon and pop culture icons. Ogawa booked their entertainment, journalism coverage, and visiting/expanding outside Tokyo, aka the “countryside.” He handled everything to help make them stars like Beauty Pair and then some.
In every aspect, including the hard in-ring work of Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, together they became major drawing stars in the 1980s. Nagayo, in particular, with her popularity exploding to a teenage girl audience, sold out venues everywhere they went. In particular, the rivalry against Dump Matsumoto (Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer) drew the most, selling out multiple Osaka shows of 9,000 plus. When it came to the booking of the Crush Gals, Ogawa had the say and the Matsunagas went with it because he had “the wrestling mind,” as the story goes.
The biggest example of Ogawa’s early booking involvement for shows was at the AJW Summer Night Festival in Budokan which drew a sold-out crowd of 13,500.
There are several stories out there about whether Ogawa was solo or not on this. In terms of involvement, at a minimum, he was at the forefront of Crush Gals’ booking and promoting during this era. The Crush Gals brought very high ratings to AJW’s weekly television program, which aired during prime time in Japan. Things got to a point where AJW’s TV was such a ratings mover that it was aired eight times a month. Nagayo herself even recalls the show having a viewership rate of 20% at its peak. In an interview from Tokyo Sports, Dump Matsumoto recounted her annual income was around 5 billion yen (~$6.7m) with the success of AJW and the Crush Gals in the mid ’80s. We can only imagine what the Crush Gals were raking in in comparison.
One aspect the Matsunaga’s did not excel at was booking and how to run a true wrestling schedule. This would become more prominent later, and was a reason why Rossy Ogawa would be the “man in charge of the wrestling” while the Matsunagas had the money and always wanted more. They were the owners and Ogawa was the desk jockey, to put it bluntly. AJW would run 300-plus shows a year and Ogawa had to book and promote the Crush Gals to keep up with the grueling carny schedule set by the Matsunagas.
Despite the success of AJW during this second boom period, women wrestling stigmas continued: “It’s only for teenage girls,” “it’s not real wrestling,” and “only men should fight.”
Rossy Ogawa helped guide the next major step forward for women’s wrestling. Ironically, after the Crush Gals “retired.”
AJW had a mandatory retirement age in place, which caused both to leave. Ogawa, on record, says it was more of an excuse rather than a set rule. Competition for the AJW roster was fierce and people would often just quit at 20, but then the Matsunagas would often use the 25-26-year-old retirement rule in place as a way to cut top talent to stop paying them. Someone younger and better was always up for the task, and to push them along with Ogawa’s ability to utilize stars, it was easier to make a new younger star for lower pay.
When the Crush Gals retired, the entire core teenage girl audience left with them. A huge change needed to be made. Ogawa essentially became the “lead idea” behind AJW at this time officially.
Ogawa’s first major move was booking and pushing Madusa in 1989, and then pushing Bull Nakano in 1990. An entirely new audience was successfully made, which consisted predominantly of males. Business was back in less than 15 months, growing and being covered frequently by the larger wrestling media. Ogawa encouraged the Matsunagas to book larger venues more regularly, which in turn made more money for the promotion than ever before: Dream Slam 1 in 1993 ($1M gate), Legacy of Queens 1993 (est. ~$900k), and the famous Big Egg Universe in 1994 (est $5.6M) to name a few.
Ogawa focused on creating storylines and pushing multiple people into main events, literally ushering in a complete change in women’s wrestling philosophy never seen before. He would abolish the retirement rule because of wanting to keep Bull Nakano and, most of all create the third boom period 1991-1996, aka the inter-promotional era. Naturally, with JWP’s existence as new competition, there was also no longer a need to cut wrestlers and help out their competitors as a result. One philosophy Ogawa is at the forefront of in Joshi wrestling is breaking the “seniority system.” Only those can move up once your seniors have moved out. Think of it this way, a varsity sports team where only the seniors are allowed to start even if a more talented generational talent is in their freshman year. He truly believes in keeping things young and fresh and proves it in his booking. We can point to the rise of Aja Kong (Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer) defeating Bull Nakano (Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer) in 1992 as a key aspect of this and then later again for Arsion and currently in STARDOM. Not to mention the risk of pushing Aja Kong at the time. Her being a mixed-race woman of African American descent was culturally unheard of in Japan. Reports suggest the Matsunaga’s were against the idea, but Rossy Ogawa booked the Madusa-Kong feud to start her “official” push seen with box office success, helping to draw a 3,500 attendance. This was above the usual 2k Korakuen Hall sellouts that non-NJPW and AJPW companies ran at the time.
Unfortunately, the Joshi system largely still follows the seniority system matchmaking and booking philosophy. Ogawa would not truly break this trend until he broke away from AJW and the Matsunagas in 1997. Pointing to the downturn of AJW in the mid-1990s, the fault was not on any particular matchmaking and booking, but rather the poor investments the Matsunaga’s made in real estate leading to their bankruptcy.
The economy was in total disarray in Japan as well during this time, it is called “the lost decade” for a reason.
There is no doubt Rossy Ogawa was integral into AJW adjusting from the “entertainment” of women’s wrestling after the loss of stars into the “world wide wrestling” fanbase. He assisted, booked, and matchmade the biggest stars the industry has ever seen in women’s wrestling.
Rossy Ogawa completely changed the game and changed the philosophy of women’s wrestling in AJW.
Hyper Visual Fighting Arsion
Due to AJW’s bankruptcy, Ogawa departed the company and looked to create his own venture. Alongside Aja Kong, who also left AJW due to financial issues, he set up Hyper Visual Fighting Arsion, more commonly referred to as ARSION.
At the time, the Joshi market was a very crowded scene. AJW’s mass exodus in 1997 meant that many big stars were free agents for the first time ever. At the time ARSION was active and competing with GAEA Japan (led by the Crush Gals), JWP (led by Dynamite Kansai), LLPW (led by Shinobu Kandori), AJW (led by Manami Toyota), and NEO (led by Kyoko Inoue). Nobody would have blamed Ogawa if he used ARSION simply as a stomping ground for Aja Kong like the other groups. After all, she was arguably the biggest star AJW had produced in the 90s, and still one of the world’s best.
Instead, as you probably expect by now, Rossy was interested in creating fresh stars of his own and used Kong only where needed.
ARSION hit the ground running with three straight shows selling 1,4000+ tickets. ARSION would run two bigger shows in their debut year of 1998 selling out 2,850 in Kawasaki and 2,100 in Osaka. In comparison, Gaea was topping out at 1,800 at Korakuen Hall, NEO struggled at Korakuen across the year after their debut ~1,100-1,600, JWP outside of their Plum memorial show couldn’t sell outside 1,600 at Korakuen as well. AJW, despite bankruptcy, remained number one by attendance standards (ex. 4,350 in Kawasaki), and being the established name brand, but was quickly becoming a shell of itself with each passing month. By 1999 AJW was barely pulling ~1,200-1,800 to Korakuen Hall.
By the time of ARSION’s first-anniversary show, they had already proven they weren’t going to rely on Kong. The top three matches were ARSION trainee Ayako Hamada vs. ARSION trainee Mika Akino, former JWP midcarder that Ogawa convinced to unretire Candy Okutsu vs. former LLPW midcarder Michiko Ohmukai, and underutilized AJW name Mariko Yoshida defending the Queen of ARSION title against former JWP midcarder Hiromi Yagi. That show reportedly drew over 1,400 people despite Kong’s only involvement being an opening match squash.
Within just two years, ARSION proved itself to be a major player in the Joshi scene despite the heavy competition. In 1999 alone, they had three separate shows draw over 2,500 fans, the biggest of which was a 3,600 gate for a show headlined by ARSION trainees AKINO and Hamada defeating AJW icons LCO in one of the most memorable matches in Joshi history. All stats of company growth, wrestler growth, and a successful booker to get them there.
For all intents and purposes, ARSION was a success from 1998-2001 during this tumultuous time period. They managed to create stars of their own with a pace that no other company matched and never relied too heavily on Aja Kong, which again would have been completely understandable if they had done so. Unfortunately, the good times for Rossy Ogawa at ARSION didn’t last long, as he had a major falling out with Aja Kong in 2001 that caused legal issues for them both. After this falling out, Ogawa took something of a step back from ARSION. He hired Lioness Asuka to come aboard as booker, which coincidentally coincided with a slow shift away from Ogawa’s use of fresher names as former AJW stars began to take a bigger and bigger role in the company until it was merged/sold to Yumiko Hotta’s Z-SPIRITS. By mid-2003, it was rebranded to AtoZ.
ARSION had fallen inside 18 months without Ogawa at the helm. A separate massive blow to ARSION came when DirecTV stopped covering the promotion in 1999 after an unfortunate incident caused Emiko Kado to pass away after moving from Mariko Yoshida during a match in ARSION.
While Ogawa’s Hall of Fame case will be built largely on his legacy in AJW, Crush Gals, and probably more so based on STARDOM, I don’t think his stint with ARSION should go unnoticed. If not for his falling out with Kong and the unfortunate death of Kado, this company could have been one of the shining lights of the scene once AJW and GAEA Japan closed their doors. Instead, it is left as a major “what if” rather than a failure.
World Wonder Ring Stardom
Rossy Ogawa’s time at STARDOM will undoubtedly cement him further into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame picture one day if the promotion continues to grow at pace. The promotion has assembled one of the most talented rosters of women I’ve seen in some time and continues to grow under Bushiroad ownership. I believe that Ogawa’s time at STARDOM already deserves immense praise and recognition. To fully translate his successes, let’s first take a look at the state of the Joshi scene when STARDOM was first established in 2011.
The overall Joshi scene post-AJW/GAEA wasn’t as bleak as some may believe, but it also wasn’t a scene that you could consider healthy.
Numerous factors played a part in why this was the case, but that is a story for another article. Almost every Joshi company at the time relied on the stars of the 90s to attract an audience. Names like Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue, Shinobu Kandori, and Mayumi Ozaki were still featured prominently. Don’t get me wrong, it’s completely reasonable that companies were going back to well-known names to sell tickets, but almost everyone knew that it could only last for so long. Companies like Ice Ribbon, who DID try to develop their own drawing stars, couldn’t keep up with the groups bringing in legends to pop a number.
All that is to say, the Joshi wrestling scene was in limbo from 2005-2011.
Enter Rossy Ogawa.
When STARDOM started up in January of 2011, it didn’t have any legends of the 90s, nor did it have any connection to GAEA Japan. It had a roster of trainees, Yuzuki Aikawa, Nanae Takahashi, and Natsuki Taiyo. While Takahashi is a former WWWA Champion and one of AJW’s last attempts at making a star, her push with the company only came in its dying days. While Takahashi brought some legitimacy to STARDOM, she didn’t have anywhere close to the drawing power of the Kongs or Toyotas of the world.
What STARDOM was aiming to do was, at the time, unheard of. Not only was Ogawa’s new promotion going to blaze its own trail without using names of the past, but it had the ambition to run Korakuen Hall within just six months (compared to the three years it took Ice Ribbon and WAVE to work up to that level), and eventually running Korakuen Hall monthly. To this day, no other Joshi company has been able to run monthly Korakuen Hall events successfully since the old glory days of the 90s.
By all accounts, STARDOM was a success to the competition right from the beginning. They based themselves out of Shinkiba 1st Ring where they generally did strong numbers and after just six months as an active promotion attracted a crowd of over 1,300 to Korakuen Hall. With zero major financial backing, plus starting out by all accounts as a bonafide independent, this level of success is something to consider in the grander picture.
STARDOM continued to astound critics when they ran Sumo Hall in 2013, just two years after its founding, for the retirement of Yuzuki Aikawa. The company drew a reported 5,500 fans to that show which remains their biggest attendance to date. Aikawa’s retirement presented a turning point for STARDOM, the popular idol had been a big part of why STARDOM hit the ground running and her retirement could have been the beginning of the end in most other promotions. As we’ve explained throughout this piece Rossy Ogawa is no normal promoter. At Aikawa’s retirement show, Ogawa had a woman named Io Shirai win the World of Stardom Championship. With Aikawa gone, he pivoted seamlessly to centering on Io Shirai, whom he had signed after her departure from the freelance group Triple Tails.
Ogawa has proven throughout his time in STARDOM that he can easily navigate hardship. Surely a learning experience taken from the ARSION days. Nothing has ever really gone right for him at STARDOM. He saw promising star after promising star retire. He had his company ace retire after two years. He steered the company through the infamous Queen’s Shout incident. And two of the Threedom (Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo) left for WWE. While many would be left reeling from any one of these incidents, Ogawa has navigated them with relative ease.
When Aikawa left, he looked to Io Shirai, when the Queen’s Shout incident threatened to drag his company’s name through the dirt he embroiled his company in a feud with former GAEA standout Meiko Satomura. This program helped return business at monthly Korakuens to an average of 900-1000 a show. Remember, good numbers for an indie and Joshi company. When the Threedom was broken up, he expertly turned to young fresh talents such as Momo Watanabe, Toni Storm, and Kagetsu as examples.
Of course, all of that was just the beginning for STARDOM.
By 2019, Ogawa had made STARDOM grow and appeal enough to be sought out for purchase by WWE and Bushiroad. The company was purchased by Bushiroad (BR) and has since set about becoming one of the fastest-growing promotions in the world. TNA and ROH had to be saved by a large financial backer to continue, and then grew to graduate out of technical “indie status.” Ogawa sold STARDOM with the intention of continued growth and legacy, not survival. Similar to DDT under Sanshiro Takagi selling to CyberFight after 14 years. Under BR and Ogawa’s joint leadership, STARDOM has grown its TV presence to include a prime time slot on Tokyo MX, on last count their profits had doubled by 2.5 times what they did before the Bushiroad purchase. Despite being restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic, they became the first women’s wrestling company in history to run back-to-back days at Sumo Hall, they became the first women’s group in over 20 years to run an event in Osaka-Jo Hall, and they’ve had some of the highest drawing women’s wrestling shows of the 2020s so far, and even of the last 15 years.
To see their growth, one needs to only analyze the attendance jumps for STARDOM’s 5STAR Grand Prix. In 2021, the first two days of the GP were held at the Yokohama Budokan, with just over 700 fans in attendance for both nights. The final in 2021 was at Ota Ward with a crowd of 1,500 in attendance. Compare that to 2022, where the tournament OPENED with back-to-back shows in Ota Ward with 1,500 in attendance for Day 1, and 1,300 for Day 2. 2022’s tournament concluded at the 10,000-seat Musashino Sports Plaza with STARDOM selling just over 2,500 tickets. As history has shown, if the bookers/promoters/operations are poor, then it does not matter how much money they have at their disposal.
Looking at you, WCW.
STARDOM has gone on to make legitimate stars since the Bushi Road purchase. What’s more impressive is they’ve built these stars despite the stretch in early 2020 that saw them lose THREE top slated main eventers in Kagetsu, Arisa Hoshiki, and Hana Kimura. Ogawa overcame these losses and immediately set about making Giulia, Syuri, Utami Hayashishita, and Tam Nakano into legitimate drawing stars for the company during a global pandemic. There aren’t many promoters who could lose three huge names and recover as quickly and successfully as Ogawa did, but he did it and made it look easy.
Not only has STARDOM had business success in recent years but they have also advanced the cause of women’s wrestling in Japan. The Tokyo Sports Best Bout Award voting included a women’s match for the first time in history. Not just one women’s match but two, and both from STARDOM. After decades of fighting against inherent sexism and hand waving, Ogawa is making strides in ensuring that STARDOM’s women are viewed as top-class wrestlers.
Rossy Ogawa: Certified Hall of Fame Candidate
And folks, there we have it.
Rossy Ogawa’s tenure in professional wrestling has been nothing short of game-changing. Few people could claim to match the influence on women’s wrestling that he has displayed throughout his career. Be it with AJW, ARSION, or now Stardom, he has a knack for success no matter what challenges rear their head. It’s especially impressive that he has found such success exclusively in women’s wrestling, an area in which few others claim to have succeeded as a promoter or booker.
Ogawa may go down as the single greatest promoter in women’s wrestling history when all is said and done.
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