It was announced last week that Kenji Matsunaga, one of the Matsunaga brothers who founded the heavily influential All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW), passed away on February 6 due to complications from pneumonia. He was 84 years old.
While his brother, Takashi Matsunaga, got most of the headlines, Kenji helped his brother start up AJW in 1968, after Takashi had worked with All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling Federation in an earlier attempt. AJW continued the work started by earlier joshi promotions, which had exploded in Japan following a tour by women’s champion Mildred Burke in the 1950s. In an ode to Burke’s influence, AJW’s titles were adopted from Burke’s World Women’s Wrestling Association (WWWA). The main title, WWWA World Championship, was affectionately known as the “red belt” (and would be honored by Stardom making their top title a similar design).
From 1968 through the early 2000s, AJW remained one of pro wrestling’s most influential promotions, not just in Japan with the rise of joshi, but in the world of independent wrestling. Many of the top indie pioneers have often credited the innovation of AJW and its stars.
Kenji Matsunaga was the last surviving member of the brothers who launched AJW. LWOPW sends our collective condolences to the Matsunaga family, friends, fans, and peers.
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