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Q&A with Maki Itoh, on Wrestling in America

2 years ago

Q&A with Maki Itoh, on Wrestling in America

By: Thom Fain

Special Thanks: Christopher Macias, Rui Guimarães, West Smith

Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling’s Maki Itoh needs no introduction, but I’m going to give it anyway. The 27-year-old “fired idol” has taken the wrestling world by storm in a fascinating ascent that even geriatric millennials can’t fully comprehend, let alone wrestling traditionalists and critics stuck on cable TV ratings. She is the phenomenon known as “the cutest in the world,” and that moniker is only half tongue-in-cheek at this point. For what it’s worth, Monthly Puroresu saw the potential right away – even as her in-ring ability has undergone less scrutiny and more praise, her All Elite Wrestling (AEW) booking leaves a lot for fans to desire. She was our Issue #4, Winter 2021 cover star,  and that remains our best selling issue to date.

tl;dr Itoh-chan knows how to create a spectacle, and we are here for it.

Maki Itoh’s match at PRESTIGE against Sandra Moone on 9.17.22 was a thrill ride for the sellout crowd in Pomona, CA where hundreds of people were spotted wearing her jersey and singing her entrance song. Older minds in the business like Jim Cornette can’t begin to comprehend it, but that’s okay. She speaks to the intercontinental appeal and language-busting beauty as true wrestling star does.

I watched backstage as Maki Itoh prepared for her match against Moone as if it were for a prestigious title; Itoh-chan told me regardless of the crowd size or geolocation, everyone gets the best version of Maki Itoh. Visibly exhausted, she still entertained an hours-long line of joshi fans with selfies at the merch booth after taking a tough loss with some gnarly physicality. I’m also told she and the woman she’ll forever be linked with – “The Pink Striker” Miyu Yamashita, whose interview we’ll publish next – made it from California to New York, paid their own travel expenses, and arrived with their ring gear at Arthur Ashe Stadium to only not be utilized on any of AEW’s New York tapings in late September.

Regardless of how the East Coast treats her, Itoh-chan has a home on the West Coast …and now she knows it.

Photos C/O West Smith. twitter/1800WESTSMITH

Monthly Puroresu: When you fly to America, is there any manga, music, or anime that helps you pass the time?

Maki Itoh: Well…! Lately, I’ve been really into Vtubers. I really like a Vtuber named Marin Takarajane [Editor’s note: Itoh was likely referring to Houshou Marine, something our translation team debated]. I’ve been listening to his music and stuff.

Monthly Puroresu: Your character resonates with fans across time zones, genders, and ages. When did you first sense the Itoh Respect Army would grow to be such a force, and have you had time to reflect on the way you’re able to touch people’s hearts?

Maki Itoh: Maybe 2019? I just started studying English in 2019, so I think maybe that’s when I noticed the Itoh Respect Army was taking over the world, something I created somehow. Yes… in 2019 [I knew we had something special]!

Monthly Puroresu: How do you handle criticism you believe is unfair? In a traditionally macho sport, you are marketed as a complete departure, and older minds in the business can’t seem to understand your appeal.

Maki Itoh: Well, I don’t care at all anymore. I really don’t care. If you don’t like Maki Itoh, that’s fine with me. I think that a true star is someone who… a lot of people may not understand him or her. People who are not stars, don’t have so many opponents, so I think it’s better to be this way. I think I’m a star, so people who don’t like me are welcome to [their opinion], and I don’t care what they say. Maki Itoh just goes her own way.

Monthly Puroresu: You’ve wrestled in multiple American promotions who each have cultivated distinct audiences. How do you prepare to give them the best version of Maki Itoh on a given night?

Maki Itoh: Ehhhh… nothing special, really. I’m just having fun. The fans love Itoh-chan, so that makes me happy, and [when I sense that] I think I can enjoy the match. So, no special preparation on a given night.

Monthly Puroresu: How would you describe your friendship with Miyu Yamashita and how, when did you decide to become friends with Miyu?

Maki Itoh: What? We’re not friends or anything like that! We’re still not friends even now! Even if we’re not friends, we’re a tag-team of kindred spirits. So, we’re business associates. We’re not friends. In wrestling, I respect Miyu a lot. But in private, we are not close.

Monthly Puroresu: An incredible opportunity is ahead of you at the next stage of your career, and people don’t realize you’re still relatively young. With all the brand power you’ve amassed, what are some realistic accomplishments fans can expect from Maki Itoh in the next 3-4 years?

Maki Itoh: Hmmm. Maybe you’re right… Hmm, I wonder. Well, 3 or 4 years? Well, I guess it’s my ability. I think fans will get bored if I continue with my current style for a long time, so I think I need to continue to show growth. I don’t want to stay the same forever, but I would like to grow without changing the fundamentals of who Maki Itoh is.

Monthly Puroresu: You have wrestled in different parts of America. What do you think makes West Coast wrestling special – Oregon, California – and specifically how do you think of your time wrestling PRESTIGE in front of its fans?

Maki Itoh: What?! Characteristics of West Coast wrestling? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know… Well, when I wrestle in front of the PRESTIGE fans – I wonder if the PRESTIGE fans are really enthusiastic about the match. Even among Maki Itoh’s fans. PRESTIGE is like, I don’t know, a second home. I guess I feel something like that.

Monthly Puroresu: Tonight your opponent was Sandra Moone. How do you think you commanded her respect, and what makes this match different or special from any others?

Maki Itoh: Oh, Sandra Moone? Well, yeah, you know – I’ve seen her matches on YouTube, and she’s very, very strong. She uses a lot of techniques that you don’t see in Tokyo Joshi, so I think she’s really a test. But, I think the fans want to see Maki Itoh getting back up, even if she gets beat up. I think Itoh-chan is going to be a good test for Sandra Moone, likewise. Maki Itoh is Maki Itoh, and I believe that I can become stronger by losing! And, I would like to rise to the occasion, so I will do my best and stand up to the challenge.

Monthly Puroresu: The AEW fan base is in love with you, and my staff thinks you need to create a Neo Itoh Respect Army in America. If Tony Khan let you do that, who would you recruit?

Maki Itoh: America? America… Hmm. Lance Archer!

Monthly Puroresu: Some western-trained wrestlers work better than others when they go over to Japan. Name a few people you’ve seen you think might do well in TJPW?

Maki Itoh: Hmm. I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to you on that!

Monthly Puroresu: And last but not least: What’s your favorite food to eat while on the West Coast?

Maki Itoh: I don’t know what the West Coast foods are… Hmmm.. West Coast? Well, my favorite food is Raku in Harujuku [a pork cutlet dish]!


Photos C/O West Smith. twitter/1800WESTSMITH


Photos C/O West Smith. twitter/1800WESTSMITH


Photos C/O West Smith. twitter/1800WESTSMITH


Photos C/O West Smith. twitter/1800WESTSMITH


Photos C/O West Smith. twitter/1800WESTSMITH