Akira Hokuto vs. Shinobu Kandori
April 2, 1993
AJW Dream Slam 1

I have never seen this match before, although I understand it is one of the paramounts of joshi wrestling and one of the “must-watch” matches if you want to get into the glory days of AJW. 

Most of my knowledge from that era is in Manami Toyota matches, but I have seen Hokuto in a number of matches as well, and I know she is held in very high regard by joshi fans. Kandori I am less familiar with; the name sounds vaguely familiar but I can’t recall having ever seen any of her matches. 

Some brief background on Kandori, who really comes across as a remarkable figure in wrestling the more I research her. A bronze medalist in Judo at the 1984 Judo World Championships, she began a wrestling career in the short-lived Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling promotion and debuts in 1986. Her career starts off brightly but is quickly derailed due to a real-life feud with Jackie Sato, resulting in Kandori allegedly shooting on Sato (as payback for a previous incident where Kandori felt Sato had shot on her) injuring Sato and leading to Kandori’s exit from the promotion.

Kandori floated around for a few years before ending up in Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling, where she quickly became a star in the company. During that same period, AJW began working with LLPW and using some of their wrestlers as part of an interpromotional program, which leads us to this match between Kandori, representing LLPW, against Hokuto, representing AJW. 

The match takes place as part of the original AJW Dream Slam event, and even a relative joshi noob like myself knows that is regarded as one of the greatest shows of all time, despite it’s epic run time. This match goes on second to last, which I think explains that while the crowd is hot for a good portion of the match, there is some fatigue at this point which prevents them from getting as into it as they probably would have on a shorter show. 

The video starts with two short backstage interviews with Kandori and Hokuto, then we cut right to the ring where both women are already waiting. This is slickly down and makes for a pleasant viewing experience. 

The match begins with Hokuto slapping Kandori, and then backing away and grabbing a microphone and saying something to her. Is this the Yokohama Arena or the WWE Thunderdome? Kandori responds to what I assume is an insult from Hokuto by taking down Hokuto, who scrambles to the outside. Hokuto starts dramatically selling her shoulder, as if it had been dislocated and now she is being tended to by ringside staff.

This is an interesting opening sequence, Hokuto comes across as very foolish in goading Kandori and then immediately getting served by Kandori and dumped to the outside. Hokuto gamely gets back in the ring, but continues to sell her shoulder.

The first ten minutes of the match unfold in a cool way, totally different than what people would expect today. Both women scrape and claw their way into their opponent; this isn’t an artistic battle or an exchange of proper mat work, it’s ugly, clunky schoolyard fight with both women trying to wrestle on top of the other and throwing wild haymakers hoping to connect. 

Eventually, Kandori gives Hokuto a tombstone piledriver onto a hard plastic table on the outside. This somehow leads to Hokuto blading and it’s a complete gusher. Kandori soon develops a less impressive wound on her forehead, and quickly the pristine white mat of the AJW ring is stained in blood. 

The middle portion of the match settles in with Kandori using her judo background and shooter credentials to try and force Hokuto to submit or choke her out. Hokuto occasionally rallies back with brief suplexes and some nasty head-drops. Hokuto is a sight to see here; blood caked onto her face and coloring her blonde hair, desperately trying to escape Kandori’s clutches and fight to the ropes. 

The crowd isn’t molten hot at this point, because as I mentioned, they had been at the show for hours and hours. However, as they sense the build toward the finish they come alive and make a lot of noise. Kandori gets close with a rear-naked choke, but Hokuto barely makes the ropes. Hokuto nearly wins it with her Northern Lights Bomb, but Kandori kicks out.

The finish to the match is pretty stunning. Both women sell for a while after exchanging near falls, and slowly get to their feet. They go for a forearm exchange and Hokuto connects, and Kandori just collapses, finally finished. Hokuto slowly gets down and makes the cover, while the referee unceremoniously counts to three. 

The finish clearly catches the crowd off-guard and they make a confused sound before rallying to cheer for Hokuto. Some upbeat jazz music randomly starts playing but is quickly shut off as it’s clearly out of place following such a war. As a viewer, the finish felt originally anti-climatic as you would expect. However, upon a little hindsight, it helps the match stand out and feel even more memorable. You can’t say it was an unrealistic finish or it was hard to believe the match ended like that; Kandori was spent over 30 grueling minutes and simply couldn’t go on.

In the post-match, Kandori is helped to the back by her colleagues from LLPW, and the camera shoots her walking back through the curtain. This is a great touch and feels totally different than anything you’d see today. Kandori walks back through the backstage area full of anger and regret; she isn’t crying and she isn’t throwing things, but she feels like she is about to explode because she knows she blew it on the big stage. 

The match is designed for Hokuto to be the star, she is the one who rallies back from an early injury and fights from underneath, eventually proving her toughness against a top former judoka and legit badass. However, Kandori comes across like the more intriguing figure, and that hate-filled walk back through the backstage area sells it. This is a woman with murderous intent, but sadly she just failed to exercise it. 

I have no idea who gave me this match; I will take a semi-educated guess and say it was Gerard Di Trolio.