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Akira Hokuto: Defying Traditions and Societal Norms

Art created and contributed by L. Planas (TOFU + BEAST)
Guest contribution article by @LagerWhat

Akira Hokuto is a feminist icon. Not because she’s been in some of the greatest women’s matches of all time, held titles in numerous companies, or because she continued to wrestle after suffering a legit broken neck (watch her tag match against Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura and try not to cringe when she takes that piledriver at 1:36). She is a feminist icon because she turned two fingers up at Japan’s conservative patriarchal culture, which dictated when women worked and when they stopped, whether they wanted to or not.

Japan’s postwar constitution, signed in 1946, established equality between the sexes, but life and culture has not yet lived up to this ideal. The notion of otoko wa shigoto, onna wa katei to shigoto (“men at work and women at home”) is at the core of traditional Japanese society: A woman’s role is to marry, have children, and be housewives in support of their husbands. Even in 2015, Japan is a “nation of housewives” and it’s generally accepted that women will leave the workforce after marriage. 70% of Japanese women stop working after their first children are born, due to financial and cultural restraints, as well as lack of childcare availability. Divorce is frowned upon and female divorcees are stigmatized for going against traditional values. It’s simply the woman’s job to be a housewife. This expectation to marry and tend house was evident in an unwritten rule at All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) that required its wrestlers to retire from the ring when they turned 26 years old. For their health, so they can go home and start families.

Turn 26? Get out of the ring, get a ring on it,  and get in the kitchen!

Got married? Mazel tov! To the kitchen!

Had a baby? What kind of mother are you?!?!! Feed that baby and make your man some dinner. To the kitchen!

Abiding by such rules was not for Akira Hokuto. Starting her wrestling career at AJW in 1985, she quickly built a reputation for toughness, tenacity, and skill in promotions all over the world, working matches in LLPW, JWP, CMLL, GAEA, and WCW. She co-held the WWWA World Tag Team title on multiple occasions and won the top women’s titles in AJW, CMLL, and WCW.

In 1993, the year she turned 26 and reached AJW’s mandatory retirement age, Akira met Shinobu Kandori at Dream Slam I and battled what is arguably one of if not the greatest match in all of women’s wrestling. The bout, which ended with rounds of stiff punches, raised the bar for what was possible in women’s wrestling and earned a perfect five-star rating from The Wrestling Observer. Further flipping the bird to convention, she married a luchador, Máscara Mágica, and moved to Mexico, performing as Reina Jubuki in CMLL. Her skills and her star were too strong, too bold, and too bright to retire to the kitchen.

Returning to Japan a divorcee in 1994, Akira Hokuto faced Aja Kong in the main event of “Big Egg Wrestling Universe”, an inter-promotional show held in the Tokyo Dome; the all-women event had a $4 million gate. Without taking inflation into account, Big Egg out drew WrestleMania X-7, where Steve Austin beat The Rock ($3.5 million), and WrestleMania XIX, which saw Brock Lesnar pin Kurt Angle ($2.76 million). Who ever said women can’t draw?

1995 saw her WCW debut — and a new marriage, this time to NJPW’s Kensuke Sasaki, a legendary wrestler in his own right. Akira continued to wrestle and became WCW’s first — and only — women’s champion in 1996. Hokuto and Sasaki welcomed their first child, a son, in 1998. Returning to the ring after a brief maternity leave, she wrestled for three more years and had her farewell match in 2002.

Akira Hokuto defied tradition and societal norms. She wrestled, aged, married, divorced, remarried, had a baby, continued to wrestle, and left the ring when SHE felt the time was right, not when a conservative patriarchal culture (repeatedly) expected her to.

Feminist. Icon.

 

Confronting Anti-Blackness In Wrestling

Outside interference! This was originally a cross-post on DoubleCakes’ personal site. You can support her on Patreon here

In the wake of the fragments of anti-black violence that make national news, like the atrocity in Charleston that cut short 9 lives, white writers and public figures like myself do our little turn on the catwalk to castigate racism. It’s bad! It hurts people! Like, really hurts them! We should stop!

Black activists wrote the book and we get a standing ovation for reading the opening paragraph.

It’s exploitative, shoves black voices back into the margins, and may haps worst of all: it doesn’t actually do anything. We treat racism like it’s Monsanto or Procter & Gamble: a faceless entity beyond our scope that we can debate over all the live long day without fear of tangible repercussion.

We can look as long and hard within our hearts as we want. We won’t gain the clairvoyance needed to undo or prevent the deaths caused by white supremacy and anti-blackness, operating under cover of us tapping our chins going “how could we allow this in a civilized society?”

Racism is a concept. It has no direct agents. White supremacy has movements, behaviors, and means that are well understood by those who opposite it—and it can be opposed because there exists agency. A white person who commits violent acts against people of color does not identify themselves a subordinate to racism; they are doing what they feel they must for the prosperity of the white race.

Sometimes this violence is carried out by people who don’t identify with that ideology, committed seemingly ignorant of its advancement of whiteness. We in a white-dominated society are made passive agents. Not every victory for white supremacy requires the fire department. In fact, we “well meaning” whites who go about our days not questioning why we say certain things and why we have certain reactions towards certain power are their most reliable source of labor.

To disrupt this agenda we must, as those who strive to be allies, call out anti-blackness wherever we see it. This includes subcultures, niches, and “nerd pursuits”.

30 years ago—within many fan’s lifetimes—a wrestler named Col. DeBeers went on AWA Television flashing the flag of Apartheid, disparaging “the black people” and refusing to get in the ring with non-whites.

Ed Wiskoski might not identify as a white supremacist (though his previous run as a terrorist Indian guru doesn’t speak to his defense on the account), but he and the promoters he wrestled for profited from the indiscriminate murder and incarceration of black South Africans by his “real life” counterparts, the same anti-black political force that mass murderer Dylan Roof idolized and sought to emulate.

We can all agree the angle was “controversial” or even inappropriate—but that alone is not enough to hold the industry and community accountable. To accept that people take offense to something is, as we would say in roleplaying games, a “free action”. It’s a well-laid path without resistance. Yup, a guy did a thing and it made some people upset. Case closed.

How did this angle, and the exploitation of a brutal government’s violence towards marginalized people, alienate black fans?

How did Colonel DeBeers attacking a black referee at a UWF show remind any black fans in the crowd of the violence they have experienced from white people, verbal and physical, while doing the degrading service jobs they or their parents were confined to performing under a white supremacist socio-economic system?

DeBeers counted on the bleeding of those visceral wounds left by history every time he performed. And there has been no accountability, for him, his promoters, our the fans who paid tickets or tuned in their televisions to watch African politics spill out into our sports arenas.

Wrestling is an endless feudal warfare. When promotions fold, their history and that of their performers fold with them, scavenged at the whim of the companies that muscled them out.

WWE will tell you that black wrestlers were often not permitted to wrestle white wrestlers, and that black fans had to sit in separate sections of the venue in the 50’s, and that there was this territory ran by Verne Gangne called AWA, it seems to escape them and their fan base how the history of that racial enmity created the demand of a character of Col. DeBeers.

Permitting white people to profit from capitalizing on the spectacle of anti-black violence is white supremacy.

Wrestling fans are notoriously defensive about claims of racism, or homophobia. There is a pride there, a manufactured notion that muscle-bound men in tights acting out characters drawn up by professional writers, improvising complex facsimiles of combat and posing when their appropriate music comes on is somehow a “simple man’s” interest that need not be subject to criticism like other art forms.

We’re possessive and we’re guilty. Every one of us who laughed at D-X doing blackface, who bought a ticket to boo black wrestlers win on a 2 count because of “Affirmative Action” at Smokey Mountain Wrestling, who popped at John Cena’s rapping when so many black performers failed to get over with the same gimmick—we have all been complicit in the anti-blackness of professional wrestling.

A black wrestler has never won the Money in the Bank. 15% of MitB competitors have been black; they made up 50% of the competitors in the 2009 match. Of 29 Royal Rumbles, only one has been won by a black performer: The Rock, whose blackness was immediately downplayed once we left The Nation of Domination (a heel stable intended to evoke fears of a militant black uprising) and turned face. Conversely, black performers have featured in the main event of WrestleMania 12 of 32 times. The labor is there, and utilized. It’s just never allowed to prosper.

At the last Money in the Bank PPV, The Prime Time Players challenged New Day for the tag team titles. The last time a tag team title match was contested between two all-black teams on television was in 2012. This is with a year-long schedule, with multiple weekly TV viewings, and at least 12 monthly Pay Per Views a year.

Because we’re focusing a little too much on WWE: There has been one recognized black NWA World Champion, Ron Killings; Bobo Brazil’s 73 day reign was overturned by the board and credited back to defending champion Buddy Rogers. A black wrestler never main-evented Starrcade. Of 31 title reigns, a black wrestler was TNA World champ once, for 24 days. Of 63 WCW Title Reigns (including storyline vacancies) black performers have claim to 8 of those reigns. The famous five time holder of that title, Booker T, started his career with a “plantation slave” gimmick, complete with chains and a man dressed in white named “The Colonel.”

Anti-blackness by the numbers.

It would not be enough for me to point out that Kamala The Ugandan Giant, a suspicious savage who lost because he couldn’t remember how to pin his opponents despite wrestling for decades, or Mark Henry beating his chest and screaming, is a racist pantomime of colonialist attitudes towards black folk. Or that Kurt Angle forcing himself on a black woman and telling her he’ll own her reflects white rapist’s attitudes and motivations toward women of color.

Wrestling is resplendent in radicalized violence. It’s not hard to find, and easily dismissed as it is found. “It’s wrestling, it doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s fun.”

For who, though?

Who is relied upon to find blackface, rape threats, and accusations that black women are actually men fun?

And what message does our uncritical consumption say to those who come to wrestling for entertainment or even respite from a cruel and uncaring world, only to find a glib mirror of their injustice?

And how many times did you sing along to the line “I fight for the rights of every man?”

It is imperative—to fight for what’s right, to aid others fighting for their lives—that we call out white supremacy in our sport. Whether it’s on a WWE hashtag or in an email to an indie promotion that performed for 35 people. Share the content of wrestling fans of color, whether it’s live tweeting an event or reviewing an old one. If we have podcasts and blogs, we must make space for non-white voices to speak up on the sport. Especially if they aren’t hardcore fans who can list every iteration of the 4 Horsemen.

We, as white fans, cannot be trusted to overturn anti-blackness in our community alone. After publishing this, I hope to exit through the crowd, or be a lumberjack—insert your wrestling inside joke here. I am not an expert. I am not a leader. I put this forth in the hopes that other white wrestling writers who share my politics will recognize the racism in this thing we love and burn it to death with X-Pac Heat.

I’m trying to reach you here. I’m really, really trying.

The confrontation must ultimately be led and centered around black voices and actions. Sometimes this means once-outsiders need to come into our fandom, whether it’s wrestling or video games or comics, and call out the ways in which our community and our commodity do them lasting, systemic harm. In doing so, by holding our art accountable for the violence it has propagated, it will make it better, and bigger.

Wrestling is for everyone.

It is time to bury the anti-blackness in wrestling. It is time to give The Colonel his demerits.

.

Fan Edition | Hard Femme Fashion

The wonderful Courtney from Wrestling With Makeup sent in a submission, check out her fierce fashions.

Name: Courtney Rose @ChicagoCRose

Age: 27

Location: Chicago

Describe your ringside style:

Hard Femme. I am nothing without baby doll dresses, leggings, docs and red lipstick. I started Wrestling With Makeup simply because I needed more ways to involve wrestling into my wardrobe aside from shirts. Even if no one else knows what I’m doing, I feel a little more badass inside.

How did you become a wrestling fan?

I was about 7 or 8 years old when I first remember watching WCW. My sister and I would stay with our uncle & grandmother after school until my parents could get off work, and my uncle loved wrestling. We would stay there Monday nights to watch Nitro, then he’d tape Raw for us to watch the next day or vice versa. We still have our first pieces of Wrestling memorabilia: mine was a DDP brawling buddy and my sister had a NWO Macho Man.

It’s nice that wrestling is a family thing in our house. Our uncle got us into it and remains a huge fan, my mom watches it semi-regularly and has hilarious opinions as a casual viewer and my dad used to dress up as wrestlers for Halloween to amuse us. My sister and I have a really great bond, we’re best friends, and a lot of that connection was built on our mutual love of performance, traveling, and watching men beat each other up at our feet.

Fave Wrestler:

Kenny Omega & Chris Hero

Fave Promotion: 

It changes often, but right now I’m hugely into PWG and New Japan on repeat.

Fave Move:

Omega Driver, Cattle Mutilation, & One Winged Angel.

Fave Match: 

Impossible question. I have a YouTube playlist of matches I watch because they’re amazing, and one of guilty pleasure matches that make my insides fill with glee. Here are some:

Dream Tag Team:

  • Height of career Goldust and Kenny Omega
  • Chris Jericho & Chuck Taylor
  • William Regal & Chris Hero
  • Nakamura & Daniel Bryan (I know everyone wants to see this match, but I can dream of a tag team first right?)
  • Lita & Candice Le Rae
  • Luna Vachon & Jessicka Havok
  • Sensational Sherri & Sasha Banks
  • Heidi Lovelace & Paige

    Like I said, trouble making decisions. 

If you had to choose your entrance theme, what would it be?

If I had my way, Pony by Ginuwine would play every time I enter a room.

Also I have a life goal of creating a stable that enters the ring to “Ruff Ryders Anthem” by DMX, entirely dressed as Teddy Roosevelt.

But if we’re serious: 

 

10 Ways Chyna Winning the Royal Rumble Could Change Wrestling: Part 1

In 1999, Chyna became the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble. By the fingers-crossed fictional logic of the contest, we had a 1/30 chance of an intergender main event for the World Title. Now, even the most part time fan recognizes the Rumble as the long con. Feuds are lined up. Pushes that otherwise take weeks are condensed into twenty minutes of plowing through fading glories. Like a building demolished, the Royal Rumble is a chaos so meticulous it is passed off as a surrender to entropy.

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There is upset at the Royal Rumble, but there are no upsets. Batista and Reigns’ wins were decried, derided on Vines and viral photoshops–fans canceled the Network en masse in disgust and frustration. That is the behavior of people who feel betrayed, not bewildered. From the moment Daniel Bryan was dumped to the floor you knew Reigns was going to win. If DDP had won, the #CancelTheNetwork hashtag might have never caught steam.

But “Which one of these three or four superstars will go through the fanservice guest appearance and half of the tag team we keep forgetting to book to make it to WrestleMania?!” does not a compelling buyrate make.

To trot the paces of a thought experiment, and indulge the hollow promises of the pay per view’s booking: let’s imagine Chyna won the 1999 Royal Rumble. Maybe Creative wrote themselves into every corner of the room and thought “fuck it, let’s go crazy”. Maybe she flipped the script and eliminated Vince McMahon and Steve Austin–what are you going to do, have security escort her out to an elimination because she wouldn’t lose?

Let’s lose ourselves to the somnolence of “what if”. What if a woman main evented WrestleMania?

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But first, two points of order:

Chyna could have probably been a decent wrestler if people gave her fucking time. Every wrestling podcast co-host callously laments Chyna’s choppy ring work. When wrestlers come in from WCW or Mexico, they get a grace period–oh they just haven’t learned that WWF/E style of wrestling yet. But when a woman primarily used as a manager, who occasionally wrestles former models and weightlifters in the eye candy division, has trouble keeping pace with Road Dogg or Jeff Jarrett, oh how they bemoan!

Chyna is a fucking babe. Her first Playboy appearance is the best-selling WWE women’s performer feature of all time, and one of the top five best-selling issues in the magazine’s history. That’s not “oh, I just have a subscription”, or “hey huh huh huh isn’t this weird”? That’s a lot of people, in their rooms, jerking off to Chyna’s naked body. The frailty of straight masculinity requires most men to rebuff her sex appeal–if you like a woman with muscles, you might like men, too!–but the money doesn’t lie.

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My hands are bereft of stones: Chyna’s Playboy magazine was the first one I ever bought, despite being four years too young to do so legally.

There. My bias is out of the way. Onward to Imagination Station! Choo Choo!

Continue reading 10 Ways Chyna Winning the Royal Rumble Could Change Wrestling: Part 1

Bull Nakano

Here we have a woman who was as stylish in the ring as she was tough. With hair that stands almost as tall as I am, that also barely moves, and the most electifying shade of blue lipstick that would make David Bowie proud, she brought a unique and terrifying brand of beauty to women’s pro wrestling. Bull Nakano started wrestling in AJW at the age of 15, and over time has competed in multiple promotions including CMLL, WWF and WCW. Winning her first title Bull was a trailblazer of sorts, and was CMLL’s first ever World Women’s Champion. Her strongest matches were primarily tag matches alongside Dump Matsumoto, and she has held the WWWA World Tag Team Championship on three separate occassions.

This isn’t to say that she’s not a raging monster in the ring when she’s by herself. When she regained the WWWA World Heavyweight Championship title in a Japan Grand Prix tournament, she remained the title holder for just shy of three consecutive years before dropping the belt to Aja Kong.

Bull is my ideal type of wrestler: she’s slow, strong, throws her weight around and doesn’t give two shits about you or how hard you’re going to go down to that mat. No stranger to technique, she uses a lot of brute force moves to exert dominance over her opponent. My personal favourites are when she utilizes the Moolah Whip landing her opponent flat on their face across the ring, or the ever so arrogant standing on someone’s chest when they’re down for a pin. What’s even more impressive is Bull’s ability to be perceived as a tough, unbreakable monster even when she loses a match.

If she hasn’t scorpion crosslocked her way into your heart just yet, then check out this Joshi match on a SUBWAY TRAIN between her and Yumi Fukawa:

As for a suggestion on what else to watch? I’ve yet to be let down by any match of hers, so internet search to your heart’s content. (But don’t just stick to the WWE).

Slam Dunk

Character is collaborative. You can write every intended spoken line and weeks worth of kayfabe tweets, but you can’t move their mouths or blink their pretty eyes for them. At some point, the wrestler enacts agency.

David McLane’s women-based wrestling promotions GLOW and Women of Wrestling were plagued with setbacks by the bucketful, the least of which was a racist run rampant, practically sprinting.

It’s easy, or rather it has been societally programmed as such, to look at women of color playing out race-baiting pantomimes and fall back on the either/or: they must have full agency over their decision to take the part, or they lack all agency in their participation. The truth is stuck in the mud along the border of the rival states. There is room for enjoyment, satisfaction, coercion, and frustration, for working with the system and being exploited by it, simultaneously–the scenario is universal, but the reaction is case by case.

All this to say that WoW’s Slam Dunk made the most out of a preposterly offensive gimmick. She was set up as a (then) heel inversion of Mt. Fiji–the giant undefeated woman. Supposedly banned from the WNBA for being too violent, Slam Dunk compensated a weak knack for grappling with heel ring psychology and the sort of trash-talking swagger of self-love and confident that white America had come to resent so immensely in young black athletes.

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As a face, Bret Hart insisted he was “the best there ever will be”–he wasn’t even the best wrestler on the roster at time. But when Ali called himself the greatest, the soap boxes lined the streets. People begged and pleaded that someone, out there, would be able to teach Ali some manners and his place in society. Babe Ruth calling his shots is now endearing nostalgia–would we tolerate this from a black athlete?

One positive (of many) in building wrestling shows around non-wrestlers who are trained and learn how to be wrestlers as they go: you can actually sell a leg drop. The roughshod choreography of spots, and Slam Dunk’s imposing size difference over her opponents, makes her leg drop look at the very least unpleasant, if not legitimately painful.

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Most women who get into wrestling are taught how to work the crowd as managers–when they finally get a chance to compete in the ring, it’s hard to translate that manager heat into sustaining the audience’s attention. So they try to stick more moves and repeat botched spots and fall apart into a frenzy of awkward half-bumps when the match isn’t working.

Slam Dunk, wisely, spends more time working the crowd than she does her opponent who is, like her, a wrestler by happenstance. You do the best you can with what you have, and many of the women David McLane wrangled for his schemes weren’t given much in the way of respect or concern for safety.

A towering and obnoxious villainess like Slam Dunk is a staple of a successful fledging roster. You can feed them smaller, less experienced wrestlers for heat, then blow it off with an underdog fan favorite with a convincing half-crab (like Slam Dunk’s rival, Roxy Powers).

She may not have a believable big leaguer, but Slam Dunk had the puckered-lip cockiness and stage presence of a reliable heel menace that could have helped WoW cultivate an acceptable product. At least until they could have afforded to give her a less obvious temporary tattoo. Of a basketball.

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David McLane does not have an entry in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database and frankly this vexes me.

Who’s That Girl? Madusa (Alundra Blayze)

It’s not so often that you get blacklisted by a company for 20 years only to be honoured and inducted into their Hall of Fame afterwards. But, then again, it’s not so often that we come across wrestlers that are the calibre of Madusa.

Madusa, short for Made in the USA, has held 6 separate titles around the world, including the WWF Women’s Championship on three separate occasions. That title is the one that Madusa would later trash live on WCW Monday Nitro stating that this is what she thinks of the WWF Women’s Championship belt. This was an extra huge deal considering that she was brought in to the WWF to help revive the women’s division since that title had been vacant for the three years leading up to her debut. She debuted under the name Alundra Blayze, however, because she had trademarked the name Madusa, which Mr. McMahon didn’t want to pay the license fees for. In other milestones, Madusa also fought Leilani Kai for the title at Wrestlemania X, marking the first women’s match at Wrestlemania since the first one ever.

In addition to all these titles held around the world, Madusa was the first woman ever to be awarded with Pro Wrestling Insider’s “Rookie of the Year” title and was the first foreign wrestler to sign a contract with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Ultimately, Madusa retired from pro wrestling around the time that it was rumoured WCW was going to be bought out by the WWF. The other reason was that she didn’t like the direction that women’s wrestling was headed in being less about actual wrestling and more geared towards strip matches.

One of the strongest matches Madusa ever held was a series of matches in her feud against Bull Nakano. These matches took place in both the USA and Japan, and she actually lost the WWF Women’s Championship Belt to Bull Nakano while in Japan. Her ability to fluidly move from heel to baby face has always impressed me; a lot of what factored in the response to Madusa herself was where the match was taking place in the world. Her style was very fast paced and using finishers that required great agility such as a bridging German suplex or a hurricanarana.

Outside of the ring, Madusa also acted as a manager to several great wrestlers including, my personal favourite, The Macho Man Randy Savage. Here’s to hoping that her induction into the WWE Hall of Fame will help light the fire under their asses they need to build up the women’s division once more. Sadly, they haven’t learned their lesson yet and we aren’t slated to see a title match at Wrestlemania XXXI on Sunday.