Sadism: A Week of Kana

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Sadism – “The tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.

(in general use) deliberate cruelty.”

This week starts a very special edition of the series, as obviously Asuka will be getting a chance to accomplish a dream of hers, wrestling in America and on the biggest stage of her career in WWE, as she goes for the NXT Women’s Title in a match against Bayley on their NXT Dallas Takeover special. I wanted to give props to not only one of the best women in wrestling, but truly one of the best wrestlers going for some time now going into her big match. This marks the second time I delve into the Joshi ranks after one of my very first pieces on Kairi Hojo (http://puroresuspirit.net/2015/10/pirate-princess-a-week-of-kairi-hojo-matches-and-history/ ) that I was very happy to do, though admittedly Kana is a much different style of wrestler. As a wrestler Kairi is a much more traditional Joshi archetype, while Kana was a fan of shooters and the style used by the greats like Akira Maeda and Volk Han and was trained by reviewee, legendary wrestler, and friend Yuki Ishikawa. (The first time we had a conversation on here he was very proud of Kana and showed me some of her matches in Queen Bee, BattlArts’ women’s side group) Her style was an antithesis of modern Joshi style in a lot of ways, though later on she’d undergo a drastic character change to something akin to a Zombie Clown General? She gained much popularity as a wrestler and character even before going to WWE, and was arguably Joshi’s top star despite always being freelance. Another great thing and different about this edition is that this is the first subject in depth that has never been fully a solo member of a single promotion, so instead of the typical “timeline” style, this will simply be talk of her in various promotions and times of her career, though it will begin at the start and end with the aforementioned match vs. Bayley.

Now as I said Kana/Asuka was trained by the great Yuki Ishikawa in the art of shoot style wrestling, and at the ripe age of 23, made her debut in the fledgling AtoZ promotion, wrestling lowkey but picking up valuable experience. (I’ve attached a video of young and strikingly different Kana goofing around and having fun in the AtoZ dojo, it’s hard to believe, but here Kana was very childlike in enthusiasm and dare I say…cute)

AtoZ closed down and in 2006, Kana retired suddenly, opening up her hair salon and pursuing her other passions in life such as video games, writing for XBox magazine, doing motion capture for fighting game Virtua Fighter 5, dabbling in design, and even getting XBox 360 to sponsor her and wearing the logo on her tights. (Why not Sony, Kana-sama?) But she returned in 2007, already showing herself as a top Joshi talent and wrestling with promotions like Zero1, NEO, & Ice Ribbon, already gaining a reputation for her hard hitting and technical style.

Today I’d like to look at the epitome of that as in 2008 after her return she joined up with her trainer Ishikawa to establish Queen Bee, bringing her style as an alternative to the more prevalent high speed or “go go” style, bringing in a shoot edge to women’s wrestling that Shinobu Kandori was once famous for. Check out in many ways the “pure” Kana/Asuka in style as she takes on Chihiro Oikawa from BattlArts, my favorite promotion held under B-Rules on February 15th, 2009.

A different way to start off and still early in her career, Kana also had wrestled in NEO earlier in this night apart of her Passion Red team. (hint I may be getting to that later) It’s amazing how much Kana’s changed over the years. I wish the pink clad Oikawa was still around, like a female Munenori Sawa she had so much potential. As in regular B-Rules matches the focus was on realistic grappling and a test of submissionry, with any and all striking prohibited, and Kana was extremely skilled, along with Oikawa at these traits. My take on this is Kana had an advantage standing while things are more level on the ground though Kana does have a nifty transition into a move made famous by one of her idols, the Fujiwara Armbar. Oikawa largely fights to gain a chokehold but Kana always fights her way out, Things pick up and get spirited halfway through with the grappling and submission exchanges gradually pick up the pace until Kana gets a wraparound neck crank armbar against the ropes, as Oikawa was out of rope breaks and was forced to tap. I adore these matches as not only is it unique, with BattlArts and B-Rules gone it’s unlikely she will never have this style of match ever again. Take heed of young Kana’s grappling chops and awesome technical wrestling abilities as we start this journey of this amazing and versatile wrestler.

At this early portion of her career, in addition to her various freelance work and her incredible BattlArts skillset, she took to a group with more established stars quickly, making small promotion NEO her home base and helping to form the stable Passion Red with stars Ray, Natsuki☆Taiyo, & led by Joshi veteran Nanae Takahashi. They held strong for the promotion at a questionable time for Joshi wrestling and the association with a name the quality of Nanae helped during that time, particularly Kana as she was still relatively new. Things weren’t all bubblegum and rainbows though, as Kana’s stiff wrestling earned her a reputation among many wrestlers as dangerous and her outspokenness for a younger star likely didn’t help curb her heat among fellow wrestlers much. Today’s match is from near the very end of Passion Red, coincidentally with the 4 members going against each other as Kana & Nanae had just won the NEO tag titles a month prior, and their first defense was decided against the other two members, and on November 21st 2009, we got this bangin’ matchup between Natsuki☆Taiyo & Ray vs. Nanae Takahashi & Kana, Passion Red implodes!

First off I specifically wanted a Ray match (and not the one from SMASH where Kana pervs out on her…) as as many of you know she is in the middle of her fight against brain cancer. On top of that on a personal note Ray was the first wrestler I ever connected with in Joshi, and to me especially around here was one of the top talents in the world. It’s not a stretch to say she’s one of my favorite wrestlers, in fact my nickname Zero comes directly from her! (Ray = Rei = Zero in Japanese) Regardless, she’s a great woman and any prayers or even direct well wishes her way would be appreciated. Here Kana started off like a house of fire in the match, still rocking her long hair here and the “Joshis who yell a lot” stereotype was in full effect here, and early on Ray hits a smooth Cartwheel Dive from the apron, with Taiyo hitting a less smooth step up Plancha. Thought Passion Red A-squad both threw nice Dropkicks, and both teams utilized some high speed double teams. Kana was in her element doing submissions and hitting hard, while utilizing her butt-based offense she still uses today. Personally, shoot stylin’ Kana will always be my favorite, but you can’t say she didn’t have creativity even at this early stage. The finishing stretch was pretty hot, with Kana absolutely nailing Nanae with a Roundhouse Kick on a miscommunication, which led to Natsuki locking in the Momo☆Latch which I thought was always a great move, but Nanae broke up the pin. I thought the finish was really cool on Nanae’s part as Natsuki attempt a Sunset Bomb on Kana, Nanae came in with a flying kick to the chest knocking her backwards, then Kana put it away with another stiff Roundhouse to Natsuki, then a Spinning Back Kick for the win.

This was more or less the last stand for Kana in the group as she’d quit after the start of the new year as Kana’s stiffness and attitude made everyone, particularly Nanae very angry after an incident especially with Shuu Shibutani where Kana legit injured her face with a hard kick, the heat in the Joshi wrestlers boiled over with a Nanae and Kana promo turning into a shoot argument and ending with Nanae slapping her then Kana quitting Passion Red right after. To my knowledge, Kana and Nanae have yet to work together since that day. Still, Passion Red is truly where Kana got her start and much of her popularity from early on, and also when she got to show off her pro wrestling abilities greatly, so it will always be a valuable time of her career and apart of her ascension up the ranks.

After leaving Passion Red, and alienating many with her attitude, she still held on with NEO until the very end, at which point she continued her run as a freelancer, even running her first self produced event of which she would run many more in her career, a staple of “The World Famous” Kana as she would become known as, also wrestling in groups like Pro Wrestling WAVE more. A lot of what got her heat with many Joshi wrestlers was not only her stiffness, but her non-apologetic attitude towards it, often saying that certain elements of Joshi (Namely sex appeal and the abundance of young kids wrestling) was ruining it and that Joshis should wrestle more stiff like guys. Though she said many agreeable things, it is worth noting her future appearances in companies that largely presented those elements (namely SMASH/WNC & Ice Ribbon) would not help her credibility much. That said, those views and style of wrestling led to a rivalry and friendship with someone who certainly has had no problems hitting hard, especially if pushed, “Mini-Kawada” Ayumi Kurihara, and this is where we go now with one of Kana’s most renowned WAVE matches from August 28th, 2011 vs. friend and partner (they’d go on a run as WAVE Tag Team Champions 2 months after this match.

This looks to be another really fun match as many people, myself included thought Ayumi was even better than Kana and one of, if not the top modern Joshi talents. Ayumi gets a tremendous amount of streamers, Kana gets very few. An interesting note about Ayumi is also her other nickname, “Mrs. Loose Explosion”. That’s right, YOSHI-HASHI, making myself and all of his supporters worldwide proud, marrying well beyond his status. No doubt Ayumi helping the Loose One’s recent improvement in the ring with her great talents. Anyway, they start off pretty basic, but that doesn’t last long before, in the words of the legendary Vader “the pain game” starts and these two play it as well as anybody, delivering hard shoot kicks and forearms all around mixing in the occasional submission and counter sequence, including a pretty sweet rollthrough into an Ankle Hold from Ayumi that gets countered into an equally cool rolling leg lock then a Bow & Arrow submission. But make no mistake, the story around this match was two women who hit hard. I loved a sequence after a Kana Buzzsaw how Ayumi struggled so hard in the pin, but in the end no amount of fighting spirit would stop the deadly Kana, as after Ayumi fired up and ducked a Roundhouse Kick, then managed to hit a sickening shoot headbutt after a failed Uranage, Kana hit a Reverse Spin Kick and then finally a Brutal Buzzsaw Kick to win. These two were a match made in Heaven, and it’s such a shame Ayumi had to retire. My last subject fancied himself as the King of “Strong Style” and this felt more like the Strong Style of old than we’ve seen in some time. Breaking news: Kana rocks, people.

One of Kana’s most important and memorable storylines was with the longtime top star of Joshi’s oldest promotion (Japanese Women Pro-Wrestling Project or JWP), Arisa Nakajima. In 2013 Kana entered JWP as a villainous outsider, treating the company and it’s wrestlers as inferior, the oldest company the embodiement of the Joshi style she publicly rallied against years prior. She got into it with the JWP Openweight Champion and things quickly turned heated, with the score to be settled at one of JWP’s biggest shows of the year in Korakuen Hall, Pure Slam (“Pure” is kind of symbolic for the company as it’s logo famously states “Pure Heart, Pure Wrestling”.) and in this case it would symbolize even bigger things as this was also the annual memorial show for one of JWP’s earliest stars, Plum Mariko, who tragically died in the ring after a Sitout Powerbomb triggered a preexisting condition in her brain. Arisa set to defend the honor of JWP against Kana, who at this point had started to take on more of her wild clown style face painted persona she’d become known for here, obviously not exactly the greatest representative of “Pure Wrestling” here. But alas on August 18th, 2013 it was Kana vs Arisa Nakajima for the JWP Openweight Title.

They start off with some EXTREMELY impressive mat wrestling though brief, followed by a really great strike exchange with Arisa showing all sorts of fire when she unloads on this slap exchange. 40 seconds in and this match already felt awesome, these two showing exactly what a main event of an aggressive blood feud should be. Kana, regardless of whether she plays her look straight or looks like a clown, Kana is an absolutely vicious pro wrestler as shown in the Ayumi match and this. And with Ayumi I knew receipts would be thrown, Arisa doesn’t quite have the reputation as a heavy hitter, more of a pure (no pun intended) Joshi wrestler, but she had no issues here, and really sold her pain and emotion well. Kana systematically took apart Arisa, her arm in particular, but just when you think Kana’s got it on lock, Arisa fires up and hits a flurry of over a dozen headbutts, then 4 straight Rolling German Suplexes. This was another brilliant sequence. I also really enjoyed Kana chaining submissions together, from an Armbar to a Triangle to an Omaplata, this was straight fire and showed good focus on the arm. But when Arisa had her chance to win, Kana took it away, delivering a rush of Spinning Backfists and a sickening straight punch, Arisa showed spirit but after a barrage of head kicks, Arisa was out. Kana decided to get a definitive win with the Kana Lock, the ref stopping the match quickly. Afterwards Kana humiliated the JWP Ace by painting her with whiskers and kicking her in the head again. Their feud went in a strange direction as Kana started an obsession angle with the Ace, going on about how Arisa was the best and I vaguely remember a match where Kana ended up handcuffing herself to Arisa and it was rather amusing. But eventually they made up and all was well, with Kana working with JWP all the way until her signing with WWE. Regardless, I enjoyed this match even more than the Ayumi match and that says a lot, but this didn’t just rock the house, it brought the whole house down. A match of the year caliber fight and a highlight for Kana’s career winning Joshi’s most prestigious title.

In addition to Kana’s work in various promotions all around the world (Hence her “World Famous” label), starting in 2010 she also started running her own shows independently, usually under her Kana Pro label and often times bringing in top male talent in addition to Joshi players and with Kana’s star power, in the modern day Joshi landscape she was generally successful, showing just another feather in the Sadistic Princess’ cap, in this avenue as a promoter, with over 10 shows in her career under Kana Produce and her Triple Tails imprint. Today I specifically wanted to take a look at this match where Kana takes on one of my personal favorite wrestlers of all time from the Triple Tails produce show from February, 13th, 2011, Kana takes on Meiko Satomura.

They start off quick, getting some heavy shots in and quickly getting into each other’s faces, but Satomura locks in 3 different Armbars in seconds through transitions, tearing up her arm and forcing Kana to the outside, to which Satomura responds by blasting her foe with hard kicks to the arm on the outside, just killing it. At one point Satomura grabs a headlock and starts to drag her around the outside and she just has this great smile on her face. She didn’t get to enjoy her favorite pasttime of hurting people forever though, as it turns out if you didn’t know by now, Kana can kick pretty hard too, and she has no problem dishing out her own punishment. It goes without saying, but this was an excellent exhibition of hard strikes, with Satomura bringing the pain with submissions as well. The offense all had purpose and vigor behind them in addition to Kana getting to showcase some of her cool counters, even at one point locking in a grounded Octopus Stretch that looked sweet. Even the finish of Kana locking in the Kana lock looked extra synched in with probably not a lot of “selling” being overly necessary, as it probably went with most of the moves of this match. And what happened when Kana broke Meiko down and finally got the Kana Lock? Well, if you’ve been keeping up with reading all this, you’d have a bit of an idea. Satomura taps out! …Just kidding. Once Kana gets you in the Crossface Chickenwing, it’s like Streets of Rage: NEVER RETURN ALIVE. Satomura passes out with the ref calling for the bell. Afterwards Kana gets super emotional and rightfully so with a win over the Joshi icon. Another great match for this cold woman, and another chokeout. If you can’t like her style by now, you’ve got to start asking yourself some questions about yourself I’d say. I’m just saying.

Kana’s last big run before her “retirement” and relocation to America came in the form of her debut to the REINA Joshi Puroresu promotion in 2014, working as a wrestler as well as an authority figure for the company, originally brought in as a consultant, but later elevated to “General Producer” with the goal of remodelling REINA in her own image, which included starting her own group Piero-gun (or Clown Army) with all of her members adorning her famous facepaint, as well as interfering with title affairs and getting things such as the tag titles placed on her and Arisa Nakajima at one point. After dropping her GP duties in a Trios match won by Hikaru Shida, Kana won the REINA World Women’s Title, with REINA and WAVE in 2015. After 8 long months as champion, after officially announcing her signing to WWE, Kana announced she would be relinquishing the World Title, with Tsukasa Fujimoto proving to be Kana’s successor. Today though we look at one of Kana’s last matches in Japan in her farewell to REINA in a tag match featuring arguably her greatest rival, one of the more popular future Joshi stars, and the girl that Kana herself trained. Syuri & Kana have feuded on and off for years, starting off in SMASH and in REINA Syuri is who Kana defeated for the REINA World Title, but I think after all these fights they’ve had against each other there’s nobody Kana would rather team with, the one she respects most. Konami is Kana’s protege, still 19 years old and not even a year into her career yet, but being the sole trainee of Kana definitely helps your Q Rating in the Joshi world. Makoto is as known for her costumes as much as much as her wrestling, but is a premier star and currently holds the REINA World Title.

Things start off with Konami & Kana, student and teacher. Really, the first few minutes kind of summed up the whole match…Kana & Syuri beat the crap out of their opponents and it seemed from the start that the point of this match was to give Kana not just a win in her farewell, but a dominant win at that. Not to say that the young ‘uns didn’t get any shine as they showed very much fighting spirit, Konami at one point even hitting a Tiger Feint Kick at one point and Makoto did some pretty nice suplexes at times, but this was definitely more a showcase of the greatness of the hyper skilled Kana/Syuri combo. In particular the Kana/Konami matchup. At one point we see Konami go for a Rear Naked Choke but Kana easily reverses it into a Cross Kneebar. Really good stuff and maybe not one of Kana’s all time greatest matches, but a good sendoff facing her pupil and a fun match in its own right.

After her appearance at Catch the WAVE 2015 Kana announced she would be taking an indefinite hiatus after her independently produced KanaMania event two months later, with many rumors abound as to why. At the NXT Takeover Brooklyn event in August she made a surprise appearance in the crowd seated next to WWE legends Sgt. Slaughter and Ric Flair with the key infamously tagging her as Kanna, leading to many questions sent to Joshi wrestler Kanna from misguided NXT fans. After finishing up her run on the Joshi scene in September, she traveled to the West, and much like future NXT signee Shinsuke Nakamura, Kana was an avid fan of American culture to begin with so it was a hand in glove fit. Upon her debut she was introduced under her new ring name of Asuka, in tribute to Joshi legend and one half of arguably the most popular Joshi act in history, the Crush Gals with Chigusa Nagayo. (Though I would have preferred Kana tribute Chigusa’s alter-ego Lady Zero personally) Her first in-ring rivalry was with the villainous duo of Emma and Dana Brooke, with Asuka being presented as largely unstoppable, often showing a borderline crazed smirk at any sign of conflict, and getting dominant wins left and right in the ring. After a tag team with vs Eva Marie & Nia Jax with the beloved NXT women’s champion Bayley, Asuka’s gaze fell on the Title, and a potential dream match to NXT fans. It’s important to note at this point Asuka has received large popularity without the Empress of Tomorrow saying really anything of note in English, merely her in ring charisma and strength of wrestling ability proving popular with fans. So let’s talk about her first Title match since joining NXT, vs. Bayley from April 1st, 2016.

Some stalling as duet chants of “Asuka’s gonna kill you” and “Bayley’s gonna hug you” (and “Women’s wrestling”) Things continue as a bit of feeling out process and we saw some nifty counters like Asuka catching a reverse elbow into a Fujiwara Armbar, and Bayley hitting a Hurricanrana from the Top Rope and then her cool Guillotine Choke that Asuka countered into an Ankle Lock, channeling Arisa Nakajima there. They seemed to be focussing on a story of the normally light hearted Bayley getting more angry as the match went on. Actually there were a lot of callbacks to that Nakajima match. Coincidence that I just talked about it a day before? I’m just saying. Most importantly, Bayley used that armbar that Nakajima used (that Bayley also used to win her Ironman match vs Sasha Banks as well) and obviously the finish of Asuka locking in the Asuka Lock and the ref stopping the match as Bayley wouldn’t tap. It’s rough for two reasons, as not only is drawing comparisons to that Nakajima match a recipe to come up short, the women were put in a tough spot following Nakamura/Zayn, the most anticipated match of the show. Regardless of all that though, Tomorrow Brings Danger for NXT and congratulations to Asuka on her historic Title win and representation of Joshi in America.

Overall on Kana, I would guess most people have seen enough of her to make their own judgements, but to me she’s one of the more impressive Joshi stars of the last decade at her purest, and also exceptionally skilled at character work, though mileage may vary on her…unique mind. Check out some of her older matches for peak Kana (especially the one versus Arisa Nakajima) but I look forward to her future and I’m very certain I’m not alone in looking towards tomorrow for Kana…even if Tomorrow Brings Danger.

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