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Rossy Ogawa’s Storied History, and the Revolution of Joshi Puroresu

2 years ago

Rossy Ogawa’s Storied History, and the Revolution of Joshi Puroresu

By: Thom Fain

There’s not a doubt in any real wrestling historian’s mind, that Rossy Ogawa is the mastermind behind today’s Joshi puroresu revolution. While smaller promotions are gaining traction with fans both domestically and abroad, it is STARDOM leading the way into a new era of top-tier, global women’s wrestling. The talent coming from Japan’s modern scene is becoming increasingly sought-after in promotions stateside – from All Elite Wrestling (AEW) to Deadlock Pro Wrestling (DPW) on the East Coast, PRESTIGE on the West Coast, and everywhere in between.

Monthly Puroresu is fortunate enough to count Japan’s leading wrestling journalist, Fumi Saito, as our Editorial Advisor. Prof. Saito — who currently enjoys a book publishing deal, having penned around 25 books on the subject — has known Ogawa-san, STARDOM’s founder, for around 40 years.

We recently enjoyed a conversation with Fumi to discuss the boom and bust of All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, and how the lessons Ogawa learned during those years would lead to STARDOM’s current success. The trickle-down effect and result of Ogawa’s vision has created an indelible impact on pro wrestling, and opportunity across Japan for women to train as pro-wrestlers and make an actual living.

The Crush Gals, Lioness Asuka and Chigusa Nagayo. c/o Twitter/Konbukun2

 We recently republished the Q&A we did with Rossy Ogawa-san, who, as you know, has been so very influential to joshi puroresu. Not a lot of people in the West understand, and they kind of made him out in our comments to be this evil Vince McMahon figure because he’s backed by millions of Bushiroad dollars.

Fumi: As if anybody can do it? As if he didn’t have the experience to build himself up, and as if the wrestlers are really the ones, and that these people in Ice Ribbon, Actwres Girl’Z and Marvelous, as if they could have just as easily done without Rossy? No way.

Because Rossy Ogawa has this 40 plus year experience, starting from All Japan Women’s and his own Arsion company and Fuka project, then Stardom. He really has this talent. He started working for AJW office as a staff, a full-time staff member in January of 1978. He has 44-year experience. And before that he went to journalist school, the three year college, and while he was in college, he of course, as a kid, he was a big wrestling fan, right, with a camera.

When he started going to All Japan Women’s matches, live shows, there was no photographers around the ringside: Not one. So 18 year old Rossy, walked up to the AJW company people and said: Why aren’t there any photographers in the ringside? This is a title match. See, AJW was run by four brothers – the Matsunaga brothers. Takashi Matsunaga, Kenji Matsunaga, Kunimatsu Matsunaga, and Toshikuni Matsunaga (who was the youngest of the four brothers). Anyhow, with the Matsunaga brothers, All Japan Women Pro-wrestling was formed in 1968, but joshi puroresu in Japan goes back actually to 1948 with a Japanese vaudevillian family. I mean, Wow! Before even men’s pro wrestling… And for the brief history lesson, Rikidozan – the father of puroresu – his wrestling company, Japan Pro Wrestling Association, officially started in 1954.

So, the JWA started in 1954, but women’s wrestling actually started before that. And the very first influence of American pro-wrestling organization in formality was in 1954, the same year that Rikidozan and Masahiko Kimura and Sharpe Brothers had the historical wrestling match. The beginning of wrestling was the beginning of television, the beginning of television was the beginning of wrestling.

The same year, November of 1954, Mildred Burke and her stable of wrestlers came to Japan. It was for tribute for the US troops, you know. Mildred Burke, Ruth Boatcallie, great Mae Young, Beverly Anderson, Gloria Barratini, and Rita Martinez. Six top superstar women’s wrestlers came to Japan, the same year Rikidozan started pro wrestling in Japan, which planted the seed of joshi pro-wrestling in this country.

  That’s very interesting.

Fumi: The following year, 1955, they already had five, six women’s groups in Japan. Tokyo Universal Joshi, All Japan Joshi – not the same as the later on All Japan – All Japan Pro-Wrestling Club, Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling – not the same Tokyo Joshi as today’s one – Hiroshima Joshi Wrestling Club, and so on. So five or six groups already started running their own shows in 1955.

It was mainly to entertain men at that point in time, I’m guessing.

Fumi: It was more like a barnstorming traveling carnival. They run their own shows, they have their own group of wrestlers, driving their bus all over the country without television or any newspaper coverage. Part of the reason was that Rikidozan, who came from the sumo world, kind of resented women’s wrestling and that came from [attitudes from] the early ’50s mentality and post-war culture.


Fumi: National hero Rikidozan had become a huge superstar. He beat all the American stars as a big babyface, a big television hero. Around the same time joshi puroresu was already born, but it was never covered by sports pages – it wasn’t on television until like late ’60s into early part of the ’70s.

You might say Rossy may have helped with that by pioneering ringside photography

Fumi: Not yet. We are still talking about the early history of joshi puroresu in Japan. The very first boom period was in the ’60s when there was a group called Nippon Joshi Pro-Wrestling Association. They had put together all the different groups and created their own world champion with the help of none other than the Fabulous Moolah. Mildred Burke initially planted the seed in Japan, then Fabulous Moolah later on, came and helped organize the Japanese joshis wrestling. We always talk about this: Japan’s women’s wrestling, as an industry, was never part of the men’s group.

It always had a different completely different existence and was a completely different entity. They were running show all over the country. Then the World Champion was created in March, 1968. But the Matsunaga brothers broke off from the Nippon Joshi Association then created All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling in June of 1968, that being the biggest company. Other joshi companies went down because the Matsunaga brothers had a better organization. They were running 250 shows a year without television. You’re talking the carnival brothers. Those four brothers used to be fighters too. There was a MMA company in the ’50s and early ’60s separate from pro-wrestling that’s called juken, judo against boxing: like today’s MMA.

I believe it was a work. But they were running their own shows. Then they had women in it, and eventually became the root of All Japan Women’s Wrestling. And there was Mach Fumiake, the very first woman breakthrough household name superstar in the early ’70s. She only worked 1974-76. Mach Fumiake – like, mach speed.

She was the very first female wrestling superstar. 16 year old Mach Fumiake became world champion.

Singing in the ring, selling records and albums, doing the movies, the musicals, and all these things like a cross-promotion. Mach Fumiake, she was originally a finalist runner for “Star is Born” TV show, like your American Idol show.

By this point, joshi puroresu was on TV then if she was able to sell all this merch, and the records and everything?

Fumi: Fuji Television started airing All Japan Women’s show as a special program in December of 1968. With Mach Fumiake’s popularity, you know, the initial boom period with her story being the finalist for the very popular pop idol audition show who didn’t make it. She was very pretty and was also a teenage black belt karate student. She debuted as a pro wrestler. The Channel 8 wanted to focus on this newly born superstar Mach Fumiake. A big star on TV. But she only did it for three years; she retired in 1976. Channel 8 – Fuji Television – then decided to create a new superstar, the Beauty Pair, Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda. Same age with Mach Fumiake and was a pair now, a very athletic tag team.

If there was no Beauty Pair, there wouldn’t be the Crush Gals or Jumping Bomb Angels at all, or any other singing and crossover talent tag teams. All Japan Women was selling posters, 45 records, key chains, the product, before there was such thing as wrestling merchandise.

A vintage program featuring one of Joshi puroresu’s first big superstars, Mach Fumiake

So, AJW was still run by the brothers. But really, national attention was brought to the product after Mach Fumiake became the first joshi/idol kind of crossover star.

Fumi: And they were running live shows all over Japan all year long.

Then Channel 8 decided: Hmm, who else can we kind of mint or create in this image? What about the in-ring quality… Was the quality of the work comparable at that point in time to New Japan and All Japan?

Fumi: Yes. All great athletes. They were all trained under All Japan Women’s dojo system. They always had 4o or 50 wrestlers on the roster. On the instructor side, the boxers, the judoka, wrestling coaches. And there was also influence from Mexican lucha libre. That’s why they have adopted the righthand side headlock.

Unlike in America where, I mean, Fabulous Moolah obviously was a great talent and a proper wrestler-

Fumi: And a great promoter and the sole owner.

She was truly a pioneer. But, a lot of the women in American pro wrestling even all the way into the ’90s, were more pop idol and less pro wrestler. But these women-

Fumi: More Fabulous Moolah than her opponent.

Right. She would be the one that kind of carried the match. But in Japan, in comparison, joshi already had the fundamentals of great pro-wrestling in the ’70s.

Fumi: Yeah. Right around the ’70s. When Rossy started attending All Japan Women’s Wrestling in 1975, there were no photographers, he noticed. He went to journalism school and studied photography and editing, the magazine production – everything that it takes to become a pro-wrestling person. He went to All Japan Women’s bosses: Why aren’t there any photographers around the ring? They didn’t get it.

They weren’t expecting any magazine coverage, therefore no photographers – even for the title matches. The Matsunaga brothers told an 18 year old Rossy, Well, if you’re gonna do it, start coming over. Be our photographer. That casually. And then, Ogawa starts showing up when he was 18, 19, photographing at the ringside.

Then while he was in college, he got more involved with AJW. One day they said: There is no job interview, just start coming to the office. He starts going to All Japan’s office every day. Then he was officially hired in January of 1978 – only to find out that these people, the company, the Matsunaga brothers didn’t even have any official record of any title matches or what dates or who was champion in what year. No record. The first thing Rossy tried was going through notebooks and other people’s memos. Who was the first champion? What year and title matches in what cities. He made all the charts for the company.


Fumi: Isn’t that interesting? Because the Matsunaga brothers were more like carnival promoters. All they cared about was drawing and running shows. The attendance figures and the money figures and all that.

All Japan Women’s has always been a self-sufficient company. 40 or so wrestlers on their roster, they all get on the bus, they build their own ring, they set up the chairs and concession stands and then you wrestle, and you stand on the concession and sell things. After the show ends they tear down the ring and put everything back on the truck and they all get on the bus, go to next town.

And just another day. And that was what they did. They weren’t expecting magazine coverage or even be on a wrestling magazine for that matter. And I remember as a kid reading the monthly wrestling magazine, every single wrestling magazine I read back-to-back.

There was no coverage for women’s wrestling when you think about it. And the company wasn’t expecting it either, they were more like, We were running shows and we weren’t expecting any magazine coverage. Magazine coverage doesn’t help drawing.

A very confusing mindset! But after the Beauty Pair period, it needed more crossover promotion. They are on TV, magazines wanted them. They were running Nippon Budokan shows, like men’s wrestling. New Japan and All Japan weren’t even running Budokan shows at the time regularly, but women’s wrestling with the Beauty Pair was popular enough on their own, they were running Budokan shows and they still weren’t expecting the magazine coverage. Rossy changed it. They didn’t even have a PR department at All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling company at the time! What’s that for, right? Public relations. And you are going to have a relationship with all the existing wrestling magazines, Tokyo Sports, Daily Sports, Nikkan Sports, Sports Nippon, Naigai Times, Leisure News, all the newsstand tabloids.

So Rossy figured if they did have a proper public relations channel, they could get in with these magazines to expand the audience.

Fumi: They’d put the match results and a title match record in the place. They’ll come and cover all the matches.

It’ll help draw attention to the championships, it’ll help draw attention to the storylines.

Fumi: You’ll also have the actual record [and history]. Also, the young 21, 22 year old Rossy had become the spokesperson of the company. Because the Matsunaga brothers were not interested in that aspect of the business. They were there to run live cards all throughout the year, 250 shows or so a year, and count their money – as well as training wrestlers so they can be there.

But they weren’t into building the relationship with the media. Rossy was the new blood who came into the company and told the bosses: We’ve got to be friends with all the media.

The front office said And is that gonna cost us any money? But Rossy countered, No! It’s not gonna cost any money.They’ll come in, all the photographers will come in, they’ll cover the matches and the result will be in the magazines and sports papers. And that’ll help our wrestlers make these public names instead of just running country shows.

One thing led to another and young Rossy Ogawa became the one-man PR department when there was no such department there. Then again, he didn’t belong to the family business, so he had to work very hard to establish himself within the company what he could do. They didn’t even have a program. You know, like the WWE official magazine/program when you go to arenas. You want to buy that. They didn’t even have that. So they decide to make magazine-like programs and, of course, wrestling fans want color photos. They finally updated their business in the late ’70s into early ’80s. Between the Beauty Pair and Crush Gals, there was Jaguar Yokota and Devil Masami, Mimi Hagiwara era. They were superstars. When the Crush Gals, Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, became the top super of the company, they were huge superstars.

Would it be fair to say this is before it was even on the radar of maybe Vince McMahon to bring in the Jumping Bomb Angels?

Fumi: Oh, that doesn’t happen until 1987, much later. So this is how far ahead of the curve Rossy was. Vince McMahon had brought in the Crush Gals to Madison Square Garden show in 1985 though. But the Crush Gals weren’t exactly a big hit in the states. The American people loved Jumping Bomb Angels better, because they looked more Japanese.

Rossy became more hands on with the creative around that time period. Going back to the late ’70s, All Japan Women’s Beauty Pair were already big stars before Rossy started working for the company. They were on TV. Now they’ve got programs being printed, the magazines and sports tabloids are coming into the building, and then on. The early ’80s boom period is in full effect.

And you would say Rossy had a hand in that?

Fumi: Although young Rossy did not create the tag team of Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, he had pretty much full control of the PR department during the Crush Gals era.

We’re trying to correct this misperception that Actwres girl’Z, Marvelous, Ice Ribbon, Tokyo Joshi – these wrestlers could have gotten joshi puroresu as popular as it is on their own without Rossy Ogawa. So that’s the perception online that we’re trying to maybe re-educate, because they might not know about All Japan Women’s. Going back to 1981 – Rossy Ogawa now has record keeping. He’s got print programs, he’s got ringside photographers. He has helped establish a PR department within All Japan Pro-Wrestling.

Fumi: That’s how I met him. I was coming back from the United States, I started working for Weekly Pro-Wrestling magazine at the Baseball Magazine-Sha in 1985.  Rossy used to come in almost every day, and I thought, Why is he here every day? He was stopping by every day, making sure that something would be on the magazine every week and set something up for the following issue. All Japan Women’s articles on the magazine every week, and or put together the next interview, the next studio photoshoot, the human interest, start a new story as a magazine angle so to speak, outside of their live shows.

He was helping feed the magazines you were working at to better understand the wrestlers that you might want to pay attention to as a journalist. And to help the editors at places like Weekly Pro Wrestling catch on to some of the women and AJW.

Fumi: In the mid-80s, the Baseball Magazine-Sha had Weekly Pro-Wrestling – weekly publication. At the same time, they still had the monthly magazine called Deluxe Pro-Wrestling, and within this Deluxe Pro-Wrestling, Rossy and one of the editor from the Weekly Pro had put together and created the whole section just for the Crush Gals.

A magazine within the magazine, like a Monthly Crush Gals. Inside of Deluxe Pro-Wrestling Magazine. A 20, 30 page color section with exclusive interviews, studio shots, stories, and all that. And that made other All Japan Women’s wrestlers important stars too, We’re talking about the Jumping Bomb Angels, Itzuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno. Not just Dump Matsumoto, but the heel group of girls as well as the rookies. They always had a rookie league and All Japan Women always had like  40 or so wrestlers on their roster. They were all waiting to become somebody.

Just to differentiate the culture in Japan, from the culture in America where broadcast TV and broadcast media is so much more important here. In Japan, you have a lot of readers.

Fumi: Japanese people are basically more reading oriented. Wrestling fans are even more reading oriented, I think. This sort of publicity went a long way for AJW talent.

The difference between American wrestling industry and Japanese wrestling industry is that the wrestling companies and the media coexist independently from each other. WWE produces their own TV shows. WCW, or today ‘s AEW, put together a TV show and put it up on Turner’s program. Whereas in Japan, Fuji Television, Channel 8, they were producing All Japan Women’s TV show outside of All Japan Women’s day-to-day operation. Of course, a lot of involvement, but it’s ultimately TV station’s TV show.

Much like TV Asahi, channel five has World Pro-Wrestling, TV Asahi produces New Japan’s pro-wrestling show. New Japan Pro-Wrestling doesn’t necessarily produce that program. It’s a network TV show TV Asahi produces. You know what I’m saying? The media involvement in Japan is like, you have more external force, the different parties involved in many different levels. That would only make wrestling business thicker and bigger. Magazine coverages, as much as reading oriented people Japanese wrestling fans are/were, they were very important part of the business. All through the ’80s, it is safe to say that women’s wrestling had become bigger with the help of print media community. They were able to produce different kinds of stars because of it.

Rossy became part of the creative division after his accomplishment at PR department he created within the All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling that he became more of a  producer during the Crush Gals era.

He would actually start getting his hand in the mid-80s during this boom period of AJW he had his hand in some of the stuff that would go on in the ring and the presentation and the production of how these women looked.

He had a direct hand in helping with their character image, the look, the way they connect with the audience, and how they present themselves in the ring.

Fumi: But the Crush Gals era would have to come to an end because both Lioness Asuka and Chigusa Nagayo were retiring in 1989 some six months apart. Teenage female fans that filled the buildings were also retiring with them. They were gone. The company was running 200 shows, they were running 20 Korakuen Hall shows a year. I wasn’t very much involved at the time because it was all teenage female fans, they were like cheerleaders of the Crush Gals.

When Crush Gals retired, or I should say graduated from All Japan Women’s Wrestling, the teenage fans were gone too. And then the short down period where Rossy brought American star Madusa into All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, not just couple tours, but had her live in Tokyo and start doing the same programming: Singing in the ring, tee shirts, the baseball cap, the picture book, image videos- all the same methods he applied with the Crush Gals were applied to Madusa. We had to wait for Bull Nakano’s rise. This time it attracted a male audience because the Crush Gals, as popular as they were, it was for female audience; teenage female, high school girls being their big supporters, they weren’t necessarily wrestling fans.

At this point in time the male fans would probably be watching?

Fumi: Not quite there yet but they started paying attention. The main event stars at this time are Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami for New Japan, Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu for All Japan. Rossy’s method was that in ’89, ’90, ’91, he started sending All Japan Women’s packaged card into Universal, the Japanese lucha libre group, the WING – a Japanese independent group – to showcase women’s wrestling in there because male audiences still hesitated to start coming into s All Japan Women’s shows.

They didn’t take it as seriously, or: That’s for girls, right? There was the perception that it was for teenage girls. For Rossy, they have to give him more credit for helping change that perception.

Fumi: Tremendously. Because he gave male audiences a chance to witness All Japan Women’s talent and what they can do. The company was sending Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, Kyoko Inoue and a young Manami Toyota, to name a few, into the men’s shows.

Male audiences stood there and thought: Is that women’s wrestling? It’s great. Let’s start going to All Japan Women’s shows. It had always been there. It’s just almost prejudice. They haven’t gone to women’s shows. Right? It’s all women cards, I would get bored. Preconceived opinion.

It’s very much that way in America as well, where we were watching the real muscle guys body slamming, doing five moves, running the ropes… the real juiced guys were attracting the attention.

Fumi: Women’s wrestling in America, it would be one match. One match among the entire men’s card. Seven minutes long. But when Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, young Kyoko Inoue, young Manami Toyota show up we saw what they could do.

It was ahead of the curve then, and Rossy was part of this movement. We could call it a bit of a movement to present women’s wrestling as equal to men’s wrestling. And that really started in the ’90s.

Fumi: Yes.

It didn’t start with STARDOM. It started in the ’90s, maybe late ’80s.

Fumi: To be exact: 1989. As popular as the Crush Gals were, they didn’t win the male audience over. Rossy, being a wrestling fan growing up, he wanted to change that. Women’s wrestling is just as good, if not better. All you need to do is have these male wrestling fans actually sit and watch an All Japan Women’s match and give them the opportunity.

So in the ’90s, what were some of the big draws for the men to start coming to the shows? What were some of the matches you remember being there as a Weekly Pro-Wrestling magazine writer/editor yourself in this boom period. What was the atmosphere like?

Fumi: It was multiple different things. The inter-promotional  matchups started in ’90, ’91. And there was another little twist that Atsushi Onita, the founder and the deathmatch king of FMW, came to Rossy and they had a meeting. FMW had a small women’s division but it was one of the companies that had both men and women on the roster. Very innovative and very independent. You can watch Onita’s death match, but actually you can also watch a women’s match, like Megumi Kudo, Combat Toyoda, Crusher Maedomari, and Shark Tsuchiya. Megumi Kudo and Combat Toyoda both previously worked All Japan Women, but they walked away and they retired without retiring.

After about six months off, they wanted to wrestle again. They went to Onita and they signed with FMW. To make the women’s division bigger for FMW, Onita and Rossy had a secret meeting: Let’s have inter-promotional feud. FMW women against All Japan women. They collide. And there was a backstory. Megumi Kudo and Aja Kong started on very same day as rookies. So they had the natural backstory to go with it.

Then there was a meeting between Rossy and JWP, Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling’s then president Masatoshi Yamamoto. They wanted to get on this bandwagon too. They had Cutie Suzuki, Dynamite Kansai, Mayumi Ozaki. They had their own group of stars and their small but loyal fanbase. JWP against All Japan Women.

Then they invited LLPW, Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling’s wrestlers over to their building. LLPW stars were Shinobu Kandori, Harley Saito, Rumi Kazama. They sat at ringside. They weren’t told they were going to run an angle. But Akira Hokuto grabbed the house mic and said Kandori, what are you doing here? Come on in. It wasn’t even an angle, but when wrestlers were called in, you react to to the agressor. Therefore, All Japan Women, this time Akira Hokuto’s faction, Hokuto, Mima Shimoda, and Etsuko Mita, against LLPW. That’s how the historical Akira Hokuto vs Shinobu Kandori ’93 Yokohama Arena match was born. It was the inter-promotional dream matches. FMW women against All Japan Women. JWP against All Japan Women. LLPW against All Japan Women. All Japan Women always had the big, big roster, like 40 full-time wrestlers. They could work against all the different companies. That’s how the inter-promotional era had begun in 1992.

And that helped draw in even more male fans.

Fumi: And also made all the so-called never before seen cards come true. So they were running from not just Korakuen Hall, but Kawasaki, Yokohama, Osaka. Big cities. The reason they were running all these shows was that the Matsunaga brothers started booking big buildings without really thinking about the storylines and programing.They are the businessman to draw the big audiences. They already booked the big buildings: Sumo Palace, Nippon Budokan, Yokohama Arena, Osaka Furitsu Gym, Aichi Prefectural Gym, Kawasaki Gym, Ota Gym, and Sumo Palace again.

Rossy said, I don’t think we have enough cards. When you have to do this, you can be very creative. Because All Japan Women have this big roster and the energy and all these wrestlers always wanted to do more, and Rossy became the vehicle. Let’s go talk to JWP. Let’s go talk to FMW. Let’s go talk to LLPW and Kandori. All the different women’s groups, big one and the small ones, working together all of a sudden. Then the Budokan and the Tokyo Dome was possible. By then, Bull Nakano after a three year run, She was ready to go to America and Mexico. Bull Nakano against Alundra Blayze was created in the WWF.

In the meantime, Akiro Hokuto became a huge star. Manami Toyota became a huge star. Kyoko Inoue, Aja Kong, Takako Inoue, Yumiko Hotta, Toshiyo Yamada, Mariko Yoshida, Sakie Hasegawa. They had this big, big roster, so it just started moving like a big machine.

With the inter-promotional era, now you’ve got this All Japan Women’s boom period that was building, really, since the early-to-mid ’90s when Rossy started this public relations tour, so to speak.

Fumi: He’s a great wrestling mind.

I guess there was a bit of a downfall then. Why don’t we talk about what happened?

Fumi: When they had boom periods from ’92, ’93, ’94 and they had the very first and the last Tokyo Dome card, that was in November of ’94. It looked like it was peaking, but it was the beginning of the end because there was so much of it.

Would you say that it was oversaturated?

Fumi: AJW’s big brothers Matsunagas start investing their money into other places, like real estate and the restaurant business and karaoke bars, and all these things like what happened? 1997 it started collapsing and Rossy decided to walk away from All Japan for good, and he quit with Aja Kong, Reggie Bennett, Mariko Yoshida and five other girls all joined Rossy to create the new company Arsion. Kyoko Inoue walked out from AJW and they became NEO Ladies Pro Wrestling with Mima Shimoda and Etsuko Mita. Around the same time, Chigusa Nagayo started her GAEA JAPAN company. Then another new company Jd’ was formed. All of a sudden there are four, five different new women’s groups.

When the bubble kind of burst, so to speak, after that big Tokyo Dome card, there are splinter organizations formed from the remnants of the roster and Rossy took a few people to form what promotion?

Fumi: That was Hyper Visual Fighting ARSION. It’s from the Latin word.

This would be the pre-Stardom late ’90s.

Fumi: Arsion only lasted a little over five years, between 1997 to 2003. 2003 itself was already a dark age of professional wrestling in Japan. The popularity of Pride and K-1, the huge MMA companies which used the marketing value of professional wrestling and popular professional wrestlers were going there and losing matches.

So the focus shifted to these shoot fights and these other promotions and women’s wrestling you know, culturally started to just die down for a while.

Vintage ARISON wrestling DVD

Fumi: Yeah, and Bull Nakano wasn’t in Japan anymore. Akira Hokuto retired, Aja Kong started working for a group called Hustle that was almost like a comedy wrestling drama. The late ’90s superstar group of big All Japan Women’s roster split into ten different directions. It was a bad time for wrestling. And sure enough, in 2005 All Japan Women closed its doors for the final time.

In the meantime, Rossy without a title or money, at the end of Arsion was exactly like the end of ECW with Paul Heyman, he had to file bankruptcy and he lost everything. And the dark age of wrestling was also his down period.

Very far from being this Vince McMahon, evil millionaire character.

Fumi: Rossy? He had his ups and downs. Yes.

He actually went declared bankruptcy a few years before Stardom even was an idea.

Fumi: Because with Arison, he was running it with his own money. When the money runs out that was the end of it, and this promoter came in and basically bought the company from him and it became AtoZ, if you remember the company that lasted about a year or two. AtoZ and took the wrestlers and formed a new company called AtoZ Pro Wrestling. It didn’t really last because it was a bad time, the Dark Age of Wrestling.

STARDOM – it started in 2010. With Yuzuki Aikawa, the graphic idol, the pop idol, picture idol. There was a TV show project to make Yuzuki a wrestler for one match. They came to Rossy – Can you train this girl? I mean, she’s a pop idol. Can you train this girl to have a pro-wrestling match? We’ll do that like a reality show format.

But Yuzuki Aikawa became serious. Her mindset was, I’m not going to do this one match in training. If I’m going to train, I’m going to train with real wrestlers

At the time, Shin-Kiba, the wrestling building, Shin-Kiba 1st RING, there always was a wrestling ring in there during the day. You know, independent wrestlers will come in and pay for it for hours and they can use the ring to practice. So some Stardom girls were already there before there was Stardom.

If you remember Fuuka, the general manager of early Stardom. Fuuka started training her friends like Mayu Iwatani – today’s Mayu Iwatani and like five or six other girls. Fuuka started training them and Yuzuki Aikawa – Yuzupon. They all started practicing every day at Shin-Kiba. I mean like from taking bumps, rolling bumps to endurance Hindu squats, sit-ups, and push-ups, the real actual basic training to become a pro wrestler. Without purpose and just-

Because they loved it. They probably grew up on watching previous superstars.

Fumi: Fuuka called Rossy said, We’re practicing, come on over, come on over. What are you practicing in here for? And then Rossy came, it’s like 2009, 2010. Rossy one day came to Shin-Kiba. They were practicing in the ring. There were these 10 girls who were ready to work today. You know what, actually we can run the card, we can run the show. Then he felt that it was his role to start a wrestling company once again: I have to create a place for these young girls to work.

At this time there was no Tokyo Joshi, and Ice Ribbon wasn’t blowing it out of the water. It’s not like those promotions were just capturing the cultural zeitgeist.

Fumi: Oh, no, never actually, no. Also Ice Ribbon’s case, that was Emi Sakura’s personal project. Tokyo Joshi wasn’t properly formed until 2015 (but it started in 2013). It’s a women’s division of DDT.

They were not just capturing the cultural zeitgeist in the same way that Stardom is today, and really the idea was to take Fuka and her trainees and start promoting again, and maybe to start running shows.

Fumi: Rossy felt that it was his role to create a new company.

After going bankrupt, it was probably not easy.

Fumi: Five years. During that time he was just producing Fuuka Festival shows, a small show for Fuuka alone, and he just kept maintaining himself like a small amount of money.

It was like all of a sudden Fuuka and Yuzuki Aikawa and ten other no name trainees are training at the Shin-Kiba 1st RING and with no purpose and looking at these girls, these guys are ready to work. He felt that it was time for him to start a women’s company once again.

The very next day, Rossy and I talked on the phone. He said, I think I’m starting a company again. I thought, Again?!

Right. It was fate that this time it’s not him who wanted to start the wrestling company because he left AJW. It was this time, these girls are ready to work, although at the time they’re all rookies. All rookies, but they needed some place to actually work. And that was Rossy’s – he felt that the mistake Arsion made was that you brought in already named talent like Aja Kong, Reggie Bennett, Mariko Yoshida from AJW. It’s obviously the division brought in from AJW.

Fuuka featured on an old cover of Weekly Pro Wrestling magazine in November 2009.

This time Stardom was all rookies. Nobody knew who they were. In 2010, that’s the kind of wresting company people needed. The all new wrestlers, brand new stars, brand new names and new fans coming, or the older star coming back. It’s like something you can look forward to.

 Around the same time New Japan was shifting from its own dark ages and creating Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Fumi: Tanahashi, Nakamura, and Katsuyori Shibata.

  This was part of another movement.

Fumi: I think so.

  We can’t discredit Rossy’s vision and experience up to this point.

Fumi: He knew that this time it’s a brand new era, brand new superstars, brand new wrestling. It’s an all new start. And that he wouldn’t start from Korakuen Hall. He chose to start right at Shin-Kiba 1st RING with 300 people every weekend.

  Okay so,S hin-Kiba 1st RING and these rookies that would then become Stardom. There were these trainees of Fuuka’s.

They were going through this practice sessions without having concrete plans. They were Fuuka’s friends. They were having fun. Rossy felt that it was his personal obligation to create a new platform, to create a new generation, and to create a new business for this new group of wrestlers.

Fumi: None of the All Japan Women’s ’90s superstars were involved in this process. Rossy and Fuuka, that’s it. Then Nanae Takahashi, the very last superstar of AJW, joined with them. She came in to be the official coach for everybody.

  So she was the trainer. And when did the name Stardom come about?

Fumi: Rossy already had the name when I spoke with him. It’s going to be called Stardom. I mean, to bring these girls to Stardom.

His North Star, his mission, was built right in the name from the start.

Fumi: To bring these girls up to stardom. Yes.

  In Japan, when did it start gaining momentum there domestically?

Fumi: It helped a lot while Yuzuki Aikawa had the project for a reality TV show to become a one match women’s wrestler. But she insisted that she was going to do this. If she was to do this reality show thing, she wanted to have a proper training and not just one match, she wanted to work in regular shows. Then all of a sudden she started working full time for the entire year. It helped bring her own fans into the building.

With Nanae Takahashi’s influence, they were able to bring back older fans, because there was still a loyal fanbase from the very end of All Japan Women’s era. Then all new rookies like Mayu Iwatani, Yoshiko, and Arisa Hoshiki were there. The second group had Act Yasukawa, Kairi Hojo/Sane and Azumi in there as rookies. Today’s KAIRI is a superstar. But she looked like a teeny little rookie then. But they all worked very hard to make this company and they brought in freelancers such as Kyoko Kimura and Hiroyo Matsumoto.

  And they all wanted to work for Rossy. They all saw value in working and training with these younger talents.

Fumi: Then all kinds of veteran heels against rookie babyface, the matches were made.

  At what point did you start seeing maybe some momentum and booking Korakuen Hall and other bigger venues?

Fumi: Every other weekend they had Shin-Kiba shows and it was almost always sold out. Then you had to move the shows to Korakuen Hall, then Korakuen was packed and they had their first Sumo Palace shows in 2012. And I really felt this company had the momentum. Because Rossy is behind the scene and this is going to be his last company. He knew what he was doing.

It just so happened like at the beginning of Rossy’s career in late ’70s, when Fuji TV really started attracting mainstream audiences to joshi puroresu, it helped elevate the sport in the Japanese pop culture. In 2012, we were seeing the streaming on the Internet start to emerge as a new technology.

  Would you say that helped and the advent of social media helped these young girls create their characters?

Fumi: I think so. Using social media, especially Twitter, and how big Facebook still is in Japan. You’re running your own advertisement 24/7 with no money behind it. If you run ads, old fashioned advertising, you have to put up a lot of money. But with the social media, if you look at it, you are running free advertising every day, all day long. And every wrestler had her own Twitter account.

  And was that all coordinated amongst each other or with the trainers or with Rossy? When did these girls start becoming more distinct online personalities and did you see from a magazine writer’s perspective

Fumi: Magazine wasn’t the thing any more.

As of 2007, Weekly GONG went out of business, Weekly Fight went out of business, Naigai Times, Leisure News, the news stand sports page, tabloid papers, they all start running out of business.

But in 2012, Korakuen Hall was packed with Stardom fans and you start seeing this streaming culture emerge and this social media culture. And Stardom was already the biggest women’s company and actually the second or third wrestling company behind NJPW with New Japan World, their own streaming service.

  That’s what I wanted to get at: Stardom World.

Fumi: Let’s look at the WWE Network.

  So here again, Rossy Ogawa is ahead of the curve.

Fumi: You don’t depend your wrestling company on television or old VHS tapes. Now it’s the vehicle and the platform is called streaming service on the Internet.

  All these girls who were training at Shin-Kiba 1st RING, they didn’t have this platform if it’s not for Rossy coming back in and forming a new company.

Fumi: Right, They were training because they were friends with Fuuka and they wanted to train with Yuzupon (Yuzuki Aikawa). They were doing it because I guess they wanted to be wrestlers, but they didn’t know how or what.

Even today besides Stardom, there are 15 or so different women’s groups in Japan. Not just Stardom, but you have the second biggest company, I believe, is Sendai Girls under Meiko Satomura. Her strong training program. They’re based in Sendai, not Tokyo. You would imagine how Satomura train girls, right. Then Marvelous, under Chigusa Nagayo. There’s also Ice Ribbon, Oz Academy, REINA, Diana, Gatoh Move, Pro-Wrestling Wave, Tokyo Joshi. There are so many different groups.

  Really, you have to go back to 2012 and then the launching of Stardom World and this movement towards online culture that here again, Rossy Ogawa, we find, had the vision. Okay. Yeah. But then I think, so without that, do you think it would be fair to say all these other groups would’ve kind of figured it out and that somebody would’ve pulled it?

Fumi: Yeah, but a lot of these companies don’t have the tool because you know, the guidance, the structure is so important. And some of these women’s group don’t even have their own dojo. It’s very important for a wrestling company to have their own dojo. It doesn’t have to be like WWE Performance Center, state of the art, but you are going to have your own ring and dojo system and the whole educational method to train rookies.

The ones who want to become a wrestler, they look at the companies – Which company do I want to join? I mean if you really want to become a professional wrestler, and look at Stardom like, wow, they know where they should go. They’re joining Stardom instead of smaller companies just because you knew somebody. So these companies are not all equal really.

  In terms of what you’re seeing as somebody that still works as a journalist and a writer of professional wrestling and you’re still studying with fresh eyes in many ways because this is a new boom period. Can you take us back to when you first realized this was a boom period and what it looked like from your perspective, either backstage or in the audience when you started seeing these girls really start to work.

Fumi: Because you have momentum, you also will have a loyal fanbase that shows up every time. And also you see the big huge line two hours after the show at the concession stand that the first four, five years of Stardom all the wrestlers come out and stand at the concession stand sell their own gimmick, the photos or t-shirt that they, if fans will buy t-shirt, they’ll sign right on the t-shirt and fans will get in line and go back to the end of the line again and buy more.

I mean, two hours after the show, it’s like the fans would feel that I know these girls, you know what I’m saying, they become more loyal fanbase. Shin-Kiba was like, you have two and a half hour show and you have two hour show at the concession. And you get picture taken with your favorite wrestlers, and the new factions like Queen’s Quest (2016), or Oedo-Tai (2015) and just within Stardom you had like a four or five different units. It’s like wow, all I watch is stardom, not other groups. You know what I’m saying? Like watching New Japan, you’ll see Naito’s group (LIJ), you’ll see Bullet Club or Suzuki-gun, you know.

Factions are very important in wrestling. Not just old fashioned babyface and heels. More like a character in each team, like a multiple team factions. Yeah. That creates the whole company much bigger. Much bigger.

  We started all the way back at the beginning of joshi puroresu. Very brief historical lesson there. Very brief. And then we moved forward to the All Japan Women’s boom period.

Fumi: Rossy had witnessed the best formula being made with Mach Fumiake and the Beauty Pair, Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda. Then, Jaguar Yokota, Devil Masami era into Crush Gals. Then after Crush Gals you have Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, Manami Toyota era. It’s a rich history and Rossy was in it.

  Now he’s created this platform and Stardom is the second biggest promotion in all of Japan, right behind New Japan.

Fumi: And this year still, you can still consider this is COVID era, right? 2022.

  In Japan, at least.

Fumi: They ran a Budokan show this year. Nippon Budokan. First time in 27 years for joshi pro-wrestling.

Still with a social distance seating format. But they still ran Stardom’s – their own Budokan show. No help from other groups, no outside talent. Only Stardom.

  And before that, it was the inter-promotional matches that really helped.

Fumi: Yeah, pretty much. Like Akira Hokuto against Shinobu Kandori, Aja Kong against Dynamite Kansai, but now it’s Stardom and its new generation of superstars.

  And the new generation of fans feels closer to the talent because they’re loyal.

Fumi: I believe middle-aged male fans are there though, you know what I mean? Because they can spend money, they pay for good tickets and spend another couple $300 on merchandise and photos.

  It’s like you just have to get the photo.

Fumi: Or everything that comes out!

Fumi: We’ve got to understand, joshi puroresu was never a part of the men’s pro wrestling in Japan. That’s why American and English speaking part of the world come out and say, Why wouldn’t New Japan have a women’s division?

Right, it is not part of the culture.

Fumi: No. That’s why we had hard time understanding the creation and its concept of the IWGP Women’s title this year. But now the big picture is out that KAIRI will be the vehicle and IWGP Women’s title will be hers and she’ll be a traveling world champion. That’s for the international market. KAIRI now is more like your “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Roddy Piper type. But [Mayu] Iwatani is domestically super popular though.

Very, very photogenic too. That doesn’t hurt.

Fumi: Oh? She’s pretty, yeah, I think so too. And she handles herself very well as a superstar. She comes off like a superstar because she’s been over here and she’s done it all, going back and forth. Very polished. Right. And carries herself very well as a superstar. You know, and also not cocky – very, very good person.

So she will be, like you said, the kind of the standard bearer or the poster girl of this this next evolution of joshi puroresu.

Fumi: Well, at least for the international marketing.

And as international marketing increases around her, do you think that the online fans will start getting more behind underdogs and

Fumi: There are always gonna be the the minor league fans, who are such a big fans – but focus so much on little things instead of the big picture of it.  Because the big picture would be that KAIRI, being the poster girl, having the IWGP Women’s title… it helps the overall business flourish, and helps keep the boom period going.