Legends Of AJW: Bull Nakano

Bull Nakano

All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) is one of the biggest pro wrestling companies in the history of Japan.  The all women’s promotion housed some of the biggest women’s stars in wrestling history.  Legends Of AJW will take a look into the careers of some of AJW’s legendary talents.  This edition focuses on AJW’s biggest export and their longest-reigning 3WA Champion Bull Nakano.

Out of all the AJW legends throughout history Bull Nakano may be the most well known, this is thanks to her stints in the WWF and WCW where she had many great matches.  Her WWF stuff even today holds up unlike most other matches from that era but it’s clear to see that Nakano and Alundra Blayze had good matches long before that was a focus for the women.  Despite her exploits in the US Bull Nakano was an even bigger star in Japan and her run in AJW is one of the best of any woman in company history.

The Atrocious Alliance

Nakano (Right) Accompanying Dump Matsumoto To The Ring

In an interview with The Joshi Pod Nakano actually mentioned that she wanted to be a babyface idol style wrestler before her debut.  Instead, she was placed under the learning tree of the legendary heel Dump Matsumoto and became a part of the Gokuaku Domei (Atrocious Alliance) stable.  When Crane Yu retired Nakano became Matsumoto’s regular tag team partner and became involved in her legendary feud with the Crush Gals.  To keep in line with the alliance’s villainy Nakano often had interesting haircuts and attires, babyfaces had very standard gear and haircuts, and liberally used her signature nunchucks to cheat during matches.  During her time in the faction, Nakano would have mostly tag team success as she held the WWWA Tag Team Championships three times once with Matsumoto, once with Condor Saito and lastly with Grizzly Iwamoto and won the 1985 Tag League The Best tournament.  As well as her tag team success Nakano’s involvement in the feud against the Crush Gals gave her a prominent place in one of the biggest feuds in the company and helped establish her as a top name.

Bull Nakano: History Making 3WA Champion

Bull Nakano

If there was one word to sum up Nakano during this period it would be simply “dominant”! Nakano held the WWWA World Championship for an AJW record 1,057   days – joining a rather short list of 1,000+ day world title reigns – besting the likes of Manami Toyota and Kyoko Inoue in title defenses.  At the time Nakano was practically unbeatable with her two biggest losses coming in cage matches where she wasn’t pinned her opponents simply escaped the cage.  To Nakano’s credit she also changed up her in-ring style to keep up with the new talents that were coming through and moving AJW towards the high pace, high intensity, crazy bumps style it would become famous for.  She was the star that AJW needed as when she won the title in January 1990 the company’s main event scene was shallow as many big names like Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka had retired leaving the company without a true top star.  Nakano was chosen to fill that gap and it’s safe to say she took the ball and ran with it, anchoring down the top of the card while AJW built up the new legends like Kong, Totoya, Inoue, and others.

Nakano started her run as a heel, leading the Gokumon-To faction, but as her reign went on she became a tweener babyface.  This was aided by her marquee feud with the Jungle Jack pairing of Bison Kimura and Aja Kong.  Kong was not yet the monster she would become at the time the feud began but as it went on she unleashed her anger more and more.

Kong and Nakano would meet in some incredibly violent matches during their feud spanning a year plus including two separate cage matches. The feud established Kong, Kimura and Nakano’s regular partner Kyoko Inoue as top stars but more importantly, it allowed Nakano to embrace her cool babyface side as fans were able to respect her while directing their ire at Kong and Kimura.  The feud reached a climax when Nakano & Inoue defeated Kong and Kimura in a tag team hair vs hair match.

By the end of the feud, Nakano had proven without a shadow of a doubt that she was the top star in the company and was practically untouchable.  It became a very familiar sight for her to end shows standing victorious soaking in the chants of the crowds who adored her as she continued her mammoth title reign.  The main issue with most long title reigns is that they never end in a way that fans can feel satisfied with.  That was not to be the case with Nakano’s reign.  In November 1992 Bull Nakano did battle with her former stablemate and 1992 Japan Grand Prix winner Aja Kong.  The two threw everything they had at one another with Kong even kicking out of a rare Bull Nakano moonsault.  In the end, Kong hit Nakano’s own signature move (the top rope legdrop) to put Nakano away and end her historic reign as Nakano passed the torch to Kong who became the new top star in the company.  This would mark the end of Nakano’s time as a full time AJW talent as she would make her way to America and the WWF.

Representing AJW During Inter-promotion Warfare

Bull Nakano would make infrequent appearances in AJW going forward, often in tag team matches, to help as they faced off against other Joshi promotions JWP Women’s Wrestling (JWP) and Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling (LLPW) as well as the women’s division of Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW).  Bull Nakano still had her presence and whenever she stepped in the ring with other companies top stars there was an energy in the building akin to The Rock vs Hulk Hogan.  Anecdotally, this writer recalls watching a tag team match involving Nakano and LLPW’s ace Shinobu Kandori at LLPW’s first-anniversary show.  The LLPW crowd went insane for both women merely LOOKING at one another, that right there sums up Nakano’s star power more than anything.  During this time Nakano turned 25, the age at which it was mandatory to retire from AJW, but the company considered her so important to their cross-promotional fight that they allowed her to continue performing and did away with the rule.  To put this in context AJW had made cultural icons like The Crush Gals retire and many other huge stars but Bull Nakano was, in kayfabe, too important to lose.

While her appearances at this time weren’t very frequent Nakano was still a big star and this was evidenced every time she stepped in a ring.  She also did some of the best work of her career during this time, which is impressive given she was featured in America at the time as well.  According to Cagematch Nakano would have her final match in AJW on February 4th 1996 and officially retired in 1997 due to a serious knee injury.

Bull Nakano will go down in history as one of the best women’s wrestlers of all time.  Not many can match the presence and aura Nakano had at her peak.  The fact AJW kept the title on her for almost three years says so much about how great she was as their ace who could help get others over in defeat.  She was involved in many high profile and unforgettable feuds and even went on to conquer America in a way many other Japanese stars have failed to do.  Bull Nakano was special, Bull Nakano was a legend, Bull Nakano truly was a legend of All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling