The Meiko Satomura Story Pt. I - Red Dawn
By James Truepenny
Posted On 21-08-2015 09:16 GMT
Tags: Meiko Satomura

As a writer, you may have noticed, I find brevity difficult. However one great piece of sports journalism from the seventies stuck with me and perhaps should be a warning for when I get to wordy. The great Motorcycle News journalist Mike Scott was asked to cover the return of Mike Hailwood to the Isle of Man TT in 1978, his piece was to the point; “Mike Hailwood will return to the TT after eleven years away from motorcycle racing. He will win.” Sadly the editor at the time wouldn’t let him run it. That is what I would like to do with this piece, and in my heart of hearts this article would read “Meiko Satomura is the greatest professional wrestler in the world today.” I would then leave you with to go and find out for yourself all that she has accomplished and she has accomplished a lot.  She is a fearless wrestler, innovative promoter, tireless trainer and an impassioned promo. She is the complete package. By the way, Hailwood won.  

Think of all the wrestlers you have seen or heard of during the Monday Night Wars. How many of them are still relevant? How many are still working for larger promotions? How many hold major titles? One. Meiko Satomura. She has been around for an incredibly long period of time and for a lot of that time she has been in or around the main event of any promotion she has worked for. Including WCW. She now stands atop of the women’s wrestling world as The Wonder of Stardom Champion, a belt that has grown in prestige over the last few years in part and incredibly down to the work of Satomura, even though she doesn’t even work for World Wonder Ring Stardom, and has never been champion before. She is the benchmark by which all other Joshi are measured. A level of intensity and realism that is one step above anyone else working anywhere today. She represents a whole lineage and style of wrestling that grew out of the arena filling excesses of All Japan Women in the Eighties, and GAEA in the Nineties. Her devotion to the sport of professional wrestling is second to none and her story begins in a warehouse next to some fields in rural Japan at the GAEA Dojo in 1995.

Chigusa Nagayo was one half of the most over tag team you will ever see. The Crush Girls dominated the AJW main event from 1986 onwards. Herself and Lioness Asuka were not just over as a tag  team, they redefined what over meant for women’s wrestling. While the Beauty Pair in the seventies had been the first crest of AJW mass populism, The Crush Girls pushed the boundaries of what was possible for female wrestling stars. A hit in the ring, as well as being hugely charismatic they could both wrestle a streak, their short haired all business look endeared them to their teenage girl fanbase. Add in the perfect heel opponents in Dump Matsumoto & Bull Nakano and you had a rare trifecta of ratings success, a live drawing power house and artistically satisfying matches. However all of this came to an abrupt halt when in 1990, Asuka and Nagayo reached 26 years of age, the mandatory retirement point for any AJW wrestler.

The Crush Girls had broken up to pursue solo careers by that point, with great artistic and financial success. However there was more to come from Nagayo, she simply couldn’t leave wrestling alone.  She became one of AJW’s colour commentators, as the next crop of young stars worked their way up the ladder and brought new heights to the wrestling landscape, but when Masatoshi Yamamoto founded JWP in 1992, there was suddenly an opening for older Joshi stars. Homegrown JWP stars like Dynamite Kansai and Cuty Suzuki would become huge draws in their own right. Maybe another promotion could work. When JWP split into JWP and LLPW, and then FMW began to put together a women’s roster to rival the monolithic juggernaut of AJW, it proved there was room for more than one company at the top of the Joshi tree.

In 1995 GAEA was born, Nagayo’s own promotion which featured herself as top star, some imports from AJW and JWP on a loan basis (she tagged with Dynamite Kansai at GAEA’s  first show First Gong at Korakuen Hall) it was an artistic smash hit. Bringing a tougher edge to AJW’s pure science aesthetic it was far enough away from the established brands ideas to be considered new, and familiar enough to gain trusted support. What Nagayo knew though was that she could not rely on some veterans and freelancers, her dojo had to be top notch, after all that is what kept AJW on top all these years. She started auditions not long after the promotion found its feet. Satomura would be one of her first students, making her debut in 1995 against fellow GAEA trainee Sonoko Kato, who is also still active in Oz Academy as one of its main event draws. Making their starts in the traditional Arena swimsuit, blue for Kato, Red for Satomura, both colours would stick with them throughout their careers, they looked apprehensive as you would if a legend like Nagayo was watching your every move and you are making your debut at a TV taping in front of the incredibly knowledgable Korakuen Hall crowd.

While they both looked every inch the mild mannered rookies at the opening of the match, Satomura made herself stand out. She was on the offensive early, smashing forearms into Kato after a rope break, whipping her then pulling up short to deliver a chop to the chest.  That trade mark GAEA aggression showed early. She followed that up with a series of dangerous looking Drop Kicks on her kneeling opponent. They were delivered with power and accuracy. Kato recovered and tried to Bulldog Satomura into submission.  Kato’s visible bruises showed how hard their training had been as she looked for a Cross Armbreaker to seal the victory, and screaming like a banshee she delivered a series of shoulder tackles to take advantage. Kato ducked the last one, but after some more move and counter move it was Satomura who picked up the victory with a Cross Armbreaker of her own. When it debuted on Gaora TV, Satomura was accompanied by Nagayo to deliver colour commentary on her own match. Nagayo had found herself a star. After the match she had an odd look on her face, partly disbelief that she could throw so much energy into a match, and also of resolute satisfaction, as if it could be any other way?

She would become a regular partner of Nagayo over the next year, she would also be a principle character in the rise of GAEA as a strong promotion, making guest appearances for AJW, JWP and Big Japan in 1996, representing the brand to other promotions. Her first major championship victory came in September of ‘95 with the a victory for her team in the GAEA Splash J & Running G tournament at Korakuen Hall. Partnered with Kaoru Maeda and Tomoko Kuzumi now better known as Azumi Hyuga, they would enter the tournament at K Hall. Kaoru was a freelance veteran who had joined GAEA to give it some gravitas, still the owner of the most picture perfect moonsault in wrestling at the age of 46, she led her rookies to an overall tournament victory in front of 2,300 fans and on the then fledgling Gaora TV which now carries more wrestling than most networks aside from Samurai. It was a good showing for a pair of rookies, and showed how much belief Nagayo had in them.

As 1995 moved on the big matches continued to add up for Satomura. She would defend GAEA honour then next time they came as well in GAEA’s Christmas event, the wonderfully named “Come on Hurry! Christmas Fighting”. She would tag with KAORU, and fellow rookie Toshie Uematsu to defeat Kaori Nakayama, Yukari Ishikura & Megumi Kudo FMW’s top scientific gun. These were important matches for both companies.

They were both trying to forge an identity and the dream match scenarios that were prized by the promoters. In fact it would be co- promotion that would be the stand out work for GAEA in the coming 12 months. She wrestled with Chigusa Nagayo in her very personal feud with Combat Toyoda as FMW paid a visit to GAEA in March of ‘96. Hanging out in the main event with these superstars did Satomura’s poise and timing the world of good. She may have had an advantage with a new company meaning a thin roster, but she surely took hold of it with both hands firmly. It would pay off in May as she won the Hustling Cup, a GAEA three round tournament taking the honours in Kawasaki over Sonoko Kato (her again). However one week later her first visit to AJW would be less than successful as she would tag up Rie Tamada to lose in the AJW Junior All Stars Tag tournament. The losses though were few and far between. Satomura had avoided the usual pitfalls of being a swimsuited rookie; losing a lot and being on the receiving end of harsh beatings from veterans. Her matches were long, and quite often meant something in the wider context of the company. Along with KAORU, Uematsu and Kato she was the rising star, homegrown GAEA through and through, she still had a doe eyed rookie appeal, but was actually getting to be very good, very quickly. GAEA began a long form push behind Satomura in the summer of ‘96. She won a Two on One Handicap match against Maiko Matsumoto and Rina Ishii and despite losing a tag team tournament final with her now regular partner Sonoko Kato, she would have a strong winning streak going into the crowning of GAEA’s first Tag Team Champions.

The AAAW Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship was a badly named title. It would just be the AAAW Tag Team Championship from 1998 onwards as heavier wrestlers vied for it. However the first champions would be Satomura and Kato. Taking the title in 18:57 it would be a Joshi title change in Singapore, not the first time that it would happen as Joshi is quite big all over the pacific rim, but for Satomura and Kato it would be a sign of things to come, they were about to take on the world, and the person to give them that opportunity, bizarrely enough, was Eric Bischoff.

WCW in 1996 was just about to wind up to something big. However they had hours and hours of TV time to fill. Having hit big with their deal with NJPW, Eric went back to the land of the rising sun to try and pull together another deal, this time for female workers. Bischoff was very smart when he came to tapping into different genres of wrestling, and while he takes his lumps for some of his decisions at the height of WCW’s success, you have to give the devil his due when it comes to scouring the world for top talents. The deal with GAEA meant the debut of some of their hottest roster members. Specifically Bischoff wanted Chigusa Nagayo herself who debuted as her new heel character Zero, Akira Hokuto who would be managed by Sonny Ono and join Bull Nakano in his stable of Japanese talents, also joining them would be Toshie Uematsu, Malia Hosaka and Sonoko Kato for TV tapings at WCW Worldwide.

It is hard to believe the some of the most intense wrestlers that ever lived, Hokuto especially, could find their way to the most sterile wrestling environment of all time, Universal Studios, Florida. WCW’s recording pattern, weeks and weeks of endless taping that clogged up everything from PPV’s to TV storylines, was often noted for not being a natural viewing experience. Putting matches in front of a non-fee paying, non-wrestling fan audience required a lot of hard work from the wrestlers to make them action stick, while it wasn’t the best place to be as a wrestler, it sure did make you think fast and work hard. Of course going alongside the lack of fire in the fans was Bobby Heenan’s less than progressive commentary and Tony Schiavone phoning it in week on week. However Satomura was a hit. Fans took to her, she had graduated up to her own bespoke ring gear, a sure sign of investment in a wrestler, and she had developed her moveset and presence. She was slightly miscast as the ever smiling “just happy to be here” rookie, but she was over. A match against Malia Hosaka in November of ‘96 was a case in point. Very vigorously clapped aboard by the Centre Stage crowd, who contrary to the Universal Studios were incredibly smart, often too smart for WCW’s own good, she stood out. Hosaka’s traditional Japanese heel approach, with Ono calling the shots from ringside, did not do her any favours, not that she was bad but it was a type cast character. Satomura’s character, who was often distracted by her own cheerleading did grate, but talent will out. Her Frog Splash finisher was also there, impressive and accurate what caused all of the females in WCW a problem was a lack of time to have their matches. Often clocking at under two minutes, and obviously is still a problem many top female stars will talk about today, they did not have the time they needed to get the story told the way they wanted, especially when they were used to having main event matches of twenty minutes upwards in length. As Satomura was a hit, and the other women of GAEA made an impression, two championships were formed; a women’s Heavyweight and Cruiserweight Division were put into play. Satomura would be in the Heavyweight division first, understandably going out to AJW legend and then recent GAEA signee Akira Hokuto on a TV Taping for WCW Pro at Disney MGM in December of ‘96.

This was quite the investment by WCW at the time, and a first round match of Uematsu versus Satomura in the Cruiserweight  Division got things going. Uematsu was also young, and a long way away from the persona that would make her famous. However there they were, in a championship tournament for a title on Monday Nitro. As Larry Zbyszko tied himself in knots on commentary, Uematsu gave an abridged version of the GAEA main event style, heavy hard hitting wrestling. The world of difference between Nitro and WCW Saturday Night was also abundantly clear. The casual audience of Nitro, while nowhere near as complacent about the product as the Universal Studio fans, were not as clued in as the Centre Stage crowd. Satomura didn’t get the reaction quite required and the match kind of fell on deaf ears. Uematsu took the round and it would be back to square one for Meiko in WCW. In fact that would signify the end of the Women’s division being taken seriously in WCW. Soon the NWO would be in full swing, the Monday Night war was heating up, and the division plummeted from sight.

However there was still GAEA to be concerned about, and by now Satomura was a bona fide mid card fixture. With the acquisition of Hokuto and Toshio Yamada from AJW the viability of the company was there for all to see. Hokuto would also become a long term opponent/nemesis for Satomura. In fact Satomura and Hokuto were very much alike in career path if nothing else. Two natural intense performers, who started and shone from a young age. They would both lead classes in their respective dojos, also from a very young age, but their wrestling philosophy was well matched. Realism and strong narratives were the key to their success, and they found each other to be ideal opponents. Satomura and Hokuto met for the first time in 1996 Hokuto running out the winner in 11:57. However it was something to build on and their tempestuous relationship, Hokuto the invading heel, Satomura the GAEA true believer, would make a great long form narrative for the next few years of GAEA’s existence, something they could always fall back on and gave Satomura a benchmark to aim for in her career as far as the fans were concerned, it would be returned to time and again as Hokuto was the model opponent for her.

Japanese fans would not be the only ones privy to their special kind of magic. Their next match would be on American soil as the final of the WCW Women’s Championship would occur at Disney MGM in December of 2016. The success continued as well throughout ‘97. Still riding high as tag team champions with Kato they would defend them twice again in that year, but as the veterans of other companies started flooding GAEA, it would be slow going trying to crack the main event scene. Mayumi Ozaki came in from JWP and established herself as top heel with her Oz Academy stable, forming an awkward alliance with Hokuto. With a master rule breaker like Ozaki in the scene it changed the game, interference, gang warfare and avoiding the chair shots became the order of the day, and Satomura held her own, but she was clawing by her fingernails to the main event. The tag team with Kato was no sideshow either, when Las Cachorras Orientales, Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda, turned up on day release from All Japan Women, there was only one choice to face them when it came to a dream match scenario; Kato & Satomura. GAEA’s sublime dojo pairing against the most dominant tag team in AJW, a dream match for all concerned. At the aptly titled Wild Times event at Korakuen Hall, they would go at it on the 15th of January 1998.  

It may well have been a non-title match, but to everyone in that building an awful lot was at stake. Kato & Satomura represented everything that the GAEA system had to offer and were two of its finest examples. LCO were from the AJW Super Class of ‘87, one dojo year group that had provided more potential than any other anywhere in wrestling history and whose graduates had spread themselves thickly around the Joshi world. When their mentor Akira Hokuto had left AJW for GAEA, they had come into their own and were a huge draw for AJW, they dressed like the noble women of the 19th century, they came armed with chairs and chains and they could both wrestle a streak. Mita was especially innovative, and Shimoda was born to the job of being a heel. The young guns from GAEA would learn a lot, but what would they come up with? Exactly what dream matches are all about.

Satomura and Kato knew what LCO were all about as well, they jumped them from the bell  to a roar of approval from the pro GAEA crowd. Using their shoot style/double teams hybrid offence to good effect they cornered Shimoda and set to work taking the early advantage. However LCO would go about their business in the best way they knew how, taking it to the outside and using full advantage of GAEA’s relaxed brawling rule set and 20 count. Chairs, guard rails and wrestlers would start flying around the ringside area as two of the toughest brawlers in the business set about teaching the young up starts a lesson. Kato would be a victim of the LCO Table Piledriver as they hurled the referee through the ropes and Mita drove Kato head first through a table in the middle of the ring.  Shimoda would take over in the ring, grounding the young GAEA grappler. She would be split open and bleeding heavily for the rest of the match. Mita took over and delivered another piledriver, pulling Kato up on two and a half as Satomura just about managed to get to her feet from the previous beating. This was a lesson in humiliation as far as LCO were concerned as they planned to make it a long night for the young champions. Shimoda piled on the pressure by chin locking Kato just out of the reach of her partner and biting her way into her already bleeding forehead.

Kato just about recovered enough to give a stunning series of kicks and headbutts before tagging in Satomura and collapsing on the mat. Satomura came in with a fire and started slinging forearms at Shimoda who would end up slumped in a corner and on the receiving end of some vicious looking headbutts. The physical differences were striking, the statuesque Shimoda downed by the petite but powerful Satomura told a tale in itself, the look on Satomura’s face told another; “How dare you come to our house and treat us this way.”. Mita was itching to be in and took over on Satomura when she got the chance, wanting to deliver her Death Valley Bomb as quickly as possible, Satomura countered with a climb over her opponent into a Sunset Flip.

Not only was this gripping stuff and eminently watchable, it was also going hell for leather. At seven minutes in both teams were looking for finishers, but they were not done yet. Shimoda shook off Satomura’s own Death Valley Bomb attempt and countered with Piledriver and Suplex, but Kato had recovered enough to make the save. With disdain, Mita threw Satomura into Kato’s corner and she tagged in looking to humiliate the pair of them, but Kato was in no mood for disrespect and got into the veteran’s face. She also got back into the bout, delivering stiff shots, but to no avail. Mita stood their like the Rock of Gibraltar and tagged in Shimoda. She ran Kato’s open wound along the top rope, and had time to kick out at Chigusa Nagayo who was seconding the GAEA team. Satomura dived in to save her friend but the punishment continued.      

LCO upped the ante by bringing in a cheese grater to work on Kato’s wound, in return Satomura was handed a bucket and used it to decimate Shimoda while Kato kicked away at her like she was trying to fell a tree. Shimoda came up biting into Kato’s leg to distract her while Mita tossed her preferred pink chair. She felled the two women with stiff shots to the head and then pinned Kato, but again she lifted her on two and a half, making it clear they were there to deliver punishment and nothing else, to stop GAEA’s future dead in its tracks. Mita tagged in, but her cockiness go the better of her; Kato tagged out and with Satomura delivered some hammer blows to the pride of AJW’s tag division. Then they went a step too far as Satomura missed her Frog Splash and ate Mita’s often taped up knees. However the referee refused to count a Top Rope Footstomp assisted by a pastel blue chair on Satomura. Shimoda was livid kicking the referee out of the way, who had clearly had enough of those Oriental Bitches.  LCO took it to the outside with a Shimoda Tope Con Hilo, a Mita Plancha sealed the deal with a pile of humanity on the ringside floor as the four went up into the K Hall fans. Upon their return and despite some gallant chair shots form Kato, they would both find themselves under Shimoda’s trademark rail guard delivered from the top rope as the referee looked on in dismay. Refusing to count anything that wasn’t legal.    

Then there was some innovation. Satomura had established early in her career her ability to apply a Cross Armbreaker from any angle, as Shimoda lifted her for a Electric Chair Suplex from the Second rope, Satomura followed her down and applied the lock to a roar of approval from the crowd as they hit the floor. Several well placed Shimoda chair swings got her off. Satomura had the hold hooked in tight and Shimoda wasn’t able to give a full swing or she would hurt Mita, a sweet little narrative moment amongst the LCO inspired violent lunacy that was this bout. Shimoda swung a little too much when Mita was up though, missing Satomura and clobbering her partner. Satomura picked her up for the Death Valley Bomb and hit it square in the middle of the ring, but Shimoda managed to make the save. By this point all four women were selling on their knees, the match had gone at such a terrific pace what else could they do? Kato got a Spinning Wheel Kick from the top rope directly into Mita’s face, but Mita blocked her Dragon Suplex attempt. Shimoda came back in, but lost momentum straight away and Mita had to even things up with yet another chair shot. As she looked unsuccessfully for her Death Lake Driver, Kato kept defending herself. However Shimoda would not be denied and Satomura was forced to make the save yet again. In a stunning turnaround, Satomura managed to get rid of the chair that LCO had been using and bought enough time for Kato to deliver Sliced Bread. She took a chair shot to the back from Mita but shook it off long enough to deliver a Dragon Suplex for another two. LCO came back with a Powerbomb from the top rope, Satomura saved that, no one team being table to make their numbers advantage count when they had one opponent down. Their variation of The Doomsday Device, (instead of using the Electric Chair, Mita held her opponent in the Power Bomb position to give it some extra force on the way down) they still only garnered a two count.  Eventually though experience gave out; Mita Delivered a power bomb and in smooth succession a Shimoda Moonsault sealed the win for the veteran team. Three trainees held Satomura back as the referee declared the LCO winners, but with a 20 minute main event performance against the toughest team in the industry, Kato and Satomura were made women.

Those first two years with GAEA were where the Meiko Satomura we know today was forged. The high level visitors, the travel to other companies and countries, the pressure of her peers, and the long days of training the next generation of GAEA wrestlers in the Dojo she would become head trainer for, and the guidance of Chigusa Nagayo would give her the initial impetus. What happened next in her career would fuel her long after GAEA closed its doors. She would enter the elite of wrestlers that were a sustained draw in the diminishing world of Joshi and one of its key architects on its road to revival. Read about that next time in Yesterday’s Hero, The Meiko Satomura Story Pt. II - Scorpio Rising.  

Tags: Meiko Satomura

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