What If is a column by Walter Yeates that ponders how much success a wrestler from the past would have if they were in their prime in today’s wrestling industry. The previous column on Great Muta can be found here.
Manami Toyota is not only arguably the best women’s professional wrestler of all-time, but she is also one of the best wrestlers of all-time regardless of gender or sex classification. Toyota not only could perform impressive athletic spots, she understood the intricate nature of wrestling psychology — allowing her to bring live audiences to tears after her matches. She made her name in the legendary All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) promotion that sold more tickets than any other promotion in Japan during the 1980s — making it one of the most successful promotions in the world during the decade.
Manami is a former World Woman Pro-Wrestling Diana World Champion, AJW Champion, OZ Academy Openweight Champion, IWA World Champion, Japanese Women Pro-Wrestling Project Openweight Champion, 2x All Pacific Champion, 3x WWWA Tag Team Champion, and 4x WWWA World Single Champion (aka WWWA World Championship). Her drawing power combined with that of Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Kyoko Inoue, and Bull Nakano saw AJW put on the largest event by a women’s pro wrestling company in 1994 when the promotion sold over 30,000 tickets for the Big Egg Wrestling Universe event at the Tokyo Dome.
Imagining Manami Toyota in her prime today is an interesting thought experience. There isn’t a vehicle like AJW in existence that puts women’s wrestling at the forefront. Both World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and most recently Impact Wrestling fail to recognize AJW is responsible for breaking the glass ceiling for women in professional wrestling due the mark they made in the industry from 1968 – 2005.
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) April 1, 2020
However, one could imagine Toyota could help lead World Wonder Ring Stardom (Stardom) to the heights of AJW, especially in unison with the marketing and promotion skills of Bushiroad, which also owns New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).
WWE would likely keep Toyota from reaching her potential despite the world class talent she had during her prime. The aforementioned Impact Wrestling would continue pushing Tessa Blanchard, as they have already done so despite credible evidence of her shouting bigoted statements and spitting in La Rosa Negra’s face in Japan.
Ring of Honor (ROH) has yet to show the ability to properly book a woman’s division up to its potential. All Elite Wrestling (AEW) similarly treats women’s wrestling as being below the men’s division, much like other promotions based in the United States. Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) and Lucha Libre AAA (AAA) have a poor track record when it comes to women in the business, making it difficult to see how they would effectively use Toyota.
Therefore, it would seem her best bet to shine would be in Stardom, and hope Bushiroad could replicate how they made NJPW an international wrestling power. With how great Toyota was in her prime, she would have been able to accelerate Stardom’s rise in Japan — while not having to take a back seat on the card.
With the freedom and platform, Toyota received in AJW there isn’t a question that she would become an international draw due to modern technology — much like Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, Hiromu Takahashi, and others. If she were in her prime today Toyota would likely inspire a new generation of men, and especially women to jump into professional wrestling around the world.