If the Beauty Pair are not in your Hall of Fame, then your Hall of Fame is incomplete.
I say this without malice or disrespect, it’s just the truth of the matter. In the span of a few years, the Beauty Pair changed Japanese women’s wrestling forever, turning the scene on its head and paving the way for All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) to be a top company for the next two decades.
To fully understand the importance of the Beauty Pair, I think it’s important to understand the Joshi scene that greeted them. Like most pro wrestling scenes at the time, women’s wrestling in Japan had gone through many peaks and valleys. The 60s brought with it a mini-spike off the back of Chiyo Obata, but the loss of a TV deal for the Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling Association saw it fold in the early 70s.
By 1972, AJW was the only prominent all-women’s promotion still active, as any other women’s wrestlers were part of IWA’s women’s division. Things aren’t rosy for AJW who have trouble finding venues to take them and spend the mid-70s building around Jumbo Miyamoto following the retirement of Aiko Kyo. Miyamoto, notably, is cousins with AJW’s Matsunaga Brothers, which explains her push.
So, to sum up, the arrival of the Beauty Pair came at a time when the scene around AJW had all but died. AJW itself had seen its top star Aiko Kyo, retire after just two years on top, and chosen one Mach Fumiake retired at age 17 after becoming WWWA Champion just one year into her career. After a brief spell in the 60s where Joshi was a televised commodity that drew over 6,000 fans to a show, the scene had regressed to a monopoly that peaked at Ota Ward for some of Mach Fumiake’s bigger appearances.
When looking back on the history of women’s wrestling across the globe pre-1982, one might only be able to point out a very small selection like Mildred Burke, June Byers, or Moolah. In women’s wrestling in Japan, we can point to an original heel like Jumbo Miyamoto, AJW’s first major star in Mach Fumiake, the in-ring innovator like Tomi Aoyama, to even the model/actress turned wrestler like Mimi Hagiwara. All of which and names not mentioned from the era could and should also be considered for the Hall of Fame as well. However, no other tag team can claim crossover fame and changed the course of the industry quite like the Beauty Pair.
The team of Jackie Sato (Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame inaugural class) and Maki Ueda was the perfect mix of great wrestling and entertainment. The entertainment factor changed the industry of women’s wrestling in Japan. AJW in 1975 began airing on Fuji TV with the premise that the wrestlers would also perform songs on the show, thus integrating into what would be the start of Japanese idol culture. Sato would be in the male role while Ueda in the female role ala Rose of Versailles (an extremely groundbreaking and popular manga in the early 1970s).
The Beauty Pair duo undoubtedly bridged the gap between wrestling and pop culture entertainment. The songs they performed were hit singles such as Kakemeguru Seishun – Beauty Pair and even starred in movies like “Beauty Pair Makka Na Seishun.”
One of the more striking articles to be commonly found (in English) is from the Honolulu Advertiser. The article explains and ranges from the million copies of their records sold, selling out tickets for wrestling events everywhere they go, finally popularizing the sport for women, and more. In other words, Beauty Pair were the first “major stars” of women wrestling in Japan and were extremely successful.
AJW promoters, including Aizawa himself, go on about the mandatory 26-year-old retirement age, working these women 250 matches annually vs the 150 for men, and quote, “many women wrestlers become traditional housewives who treat their husbands like kings when they quit.” There has been a saying going around the last number of years that the “Beauty Pair came a decade before Vince McMahon did the same for American wrestling with Wrestlemania/Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.”
When looking at other sports or musical acts, sometimes longevity plays into why someone is massively successful in impacting their genre. Vince Carter in the NBA or Jaromir Jagr in the NHL had storied successful careers, but sometimes a shortened career can impact generations and the sport they are part of, like James Hunt in Formula 1 or Maureen Connolly in Tennis. The Beauty Pair between Ueda and Sato embodies both ends of that spectrum. Because of the outstanding success of Beauty Pair, articles throughout the late 1970s describe and try to put down/diminish the duo and AJW as a “fad” when 90% of audiences from sold-out 2-3k seat buildings would be filled with teenage girls, merchandise selling out faster than they could print, and the AJW gym/recruiting itself having too many applicants to keep up with sometimes in the 4-5 thousands a year.
The image of women in a men’s world was under threat and breaking the status quo as they knew it. However, the gender gap, battles, and “expectations” remained in the culture and society at the time. Numerous accounts and quotes from the Matsunagas, AJW staff, and even Fuji TV executives like Hitoshi Yoshida would say, “This profession is perfect for any young woman who would like to make a lot of money quickly, and after the age of 22 or 23, she may enter any other profession with good finances.” (Quote taken from an English language article found by D. Bixenspan – https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/23786184-1978-01-03-wrestlers-are-multitalented-ajw-profile-pacific-daily-news-ocr)
Would any of this be possible without the success of the Beauty Pair of Sato and Ueda?
I doubt it.
Matches are tough to find in AJW prior to 1984:
Arguably the biggest success the Beauty Pair had was taking Joshi from small venues to the Nippon Budokan not once, not twice, but three times in the space of three years. Until that point, the idea of running such a venue annually was nothing but a fever dream for Joshi companies who previously had their biggest draws cap out at 6,500 attendances like Chiyo Obata.
Their first trip to the Nippon Budokan saw the Beauty Pair implode as Sato and Ueda clashed in a match for the WWWA Championship, which saw Jackie Sato emerge as champion in front of a reported crowd of 13,000 people. This was only the third time in five years that pro wrestling, male or female, sold out in the building. The 13,000 remains one of the highest attended AJW shows of all time despite the further boom period it would have in the 80s. Their last Budokan match saw the two collide once again, this time with the stipulation that the loser must retire.
They once again drew a monster crowd, with over 10,000 people reportedly in attendance for this one. To my knowledge, there is no available number for the Budokan event in 1978, which was sandwiched between the two Beauty Pair singles matches but the duo were split for that show with Sato defending the WWWA title against a Black Pair member while Ueda had her own singles outing.
Beyond just getting big crowds to the venues, the Beauty Pair were a televised success. AJW began airing on Fuji TV in 1975 and by the time the Beauty Pair had hit their peak they were drawing “NFL numbers”. At one point in time, they had a 20% share of the television audience watching AJW TV, which one of the Matsunaga brothers equated to about 2 million viewers. The duo forced Fuji TV to move AJW into a better slot and even outdrew what men’s promotions were getting on television. Throughout their 3 year run together, the team averaged a 14-15% viewership (although some have reported that the average was as high as 25%).
Sato and Ueda were so popular both in the ring and outside of it that there was a movie made about them. Not a documentary, not a movie with them as the stars, a movie about their kayfabe tag team the Beauty Pair.
Pros and Cons
I’ll acknowledge the con right out of the gate. The Beauty pair only teamed for three years. Jackie Sato had a Hall of Fame-worthy career with her work in AJW/JWP but Maki Ueda retired in 1979. Some would argue that a longer tenure is needed to get into a Hall of Fame, and I can’t refute that. Dave Meltzer himself has acknowledged that longevity is the biggest argument against this duo, with that said we believe the impact they had in those three years justifies their spot in this hall of fame.
If you’re curious about the workrate case for the Beauty Pair, they weren’t exceptional by any means, but they had incredible fundamentals and an innate understanding of psychology that had fans on the edge of their seats throughout their matches. There’s also a case to be made that they perfected the Joshi tag style for idols with the smaller wrestler and the slightly taller ass kicker who takes down the baddies.
For the pros, well, they were massive draws. They single-handedly sparked the first women’s wrestling boom in the history of Japan from the embers of a dying scene. They had anywhere from 15-25% of televisions in Japan watching AJW TV during their run, and they brought women’s wrestling to the historic Nippon Budokan three times in three years, drawing over 10,000 people twice. Per Dave Meltzer himself, they were drawing NFL-level numbers and drew more than either Hulk Hogan or the Attitude Era.
They are massively influential to women’s wrestling history.
Without the Beauty Pair and their success, there are no Crush Gals, Toyota/Yamada, LCO, and so on. The Beauty Pair provided the prototype for making crossover mainstream stars that the Crush Gals were able to take advantage of to become the two biggest stars women’s wrestling has ever had. Women’s wrestling in Japan looks completely different today if the Beauty Pair don’t work because they taught promoters for generations how to market their talent. Wrestlers in AJW until as late as 1991 were copying the androgynous haircuts and fashion of the Beauty Pair. Singing as part of Joshi wrestling was, and to some degree still is, woven into the fabric of Joshi wrestling. Wrestlers like Bull Nakano and Aja Kong were sent out to perform songs during shows because that is what the Beauty Pair did to such huge success.
The Beauty Pair are the closest thing to a slam dunk, no-brainer the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot will ever see. There is no other team in the history of professional wrestling that changed the game entirely while drawing ratings better than some of the most revered legends in pro wrestling history. Without them, pro wrestling is not the same, and that to us, makes the team of Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda bonafide Hall of Fame candidates.
This article was co-written by JD. To hear more from him check out For those interested in more joshi wrestling history from JD check out the All Japan Women’s Destiny podcast currently covering the history of All Japan Women and a journey of joshi wrestling out of the dark ages called Joshi 2010s.