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Takashi Matsunaga (1936-2009)

Real Name - Takashi Matsunaga

Lifespan - 6/6/1936 - 7/11/2009

Meguro, Tokyo, Japan

Occupational Background - Real Estate

Mentor(s) - n/a

Promotional Background - Ju-Ken Shows(`52-`60s), JWPWA(`67-`68), AJW(`68-`05)

Peak Years - `77-`87

Place in History - “Joshi Puroresu,” Japanese Women’s Pro-Wrestling, is a distinct product with a history unlike any other genre of pro-wrestling in the world.  It, like its male counterpart in Japan, grew out of North American pro-wrestling, however it blossomed into something distinctly different with its on approach, style, characters and fan base.  Between 1975 and 1995, the premier joshi puroresu company, All Japan Women, enjoyed three boom periods.  Although many people were pivotal in the success of All Japan Women (or “Zenjo” as it also known in Japan), the main architect of it all was Takashi Matsunaga.  Four of the five Matsunaga brothers and their sister became involved in the business at various levels, but Takashi became widely regarded as the visionary of the family.  Women’s wrestling in Japan had been a fringe curiosity in the 1950s, one star within that world, Reiko Yoshiba, happened to be the little sister of the Matsunaga brothers who, as a successful judokas, ran “ judo vs. boxing” shows.  In the 1960s, the Matsunagas began working for an office that was reviving women’s wrestling and they helped promote and train wrestlers.  Eventually they broke away and formed All Japan Women.  The company was a family affair with much of the roster being wives or female relatives, but within a few years had cultivated key talent in Mach Fumiake and her successors - the Beauty Pair.  In addition to being legitimate wrestlers, these girls were pop stars who performed their own hit songs live complete with choreography and elaborate costumes.  All Japan enjoyed great success in the late 1970s with the Beauty Pair as the stars of their weekly program on Fuji TV and they toured the country doing small, but successful shows.  During this time they also developed a system where girls lived in a dormitory, refrained from smoking, drinking and mixing with male fans and retirement was mandatory at 25!  This ensured a steady crop of young stars for their screaming fans of teenage girls.  The next wave of success came with the Crush Gals who were more dynamic performers and were opposed by the charismatic Dump Matsumoto and her army of heels.  The Zenjo product still catered primarily to teenage girls, but was much more intense, violent and featured more athleticism due to the influence of Jaguar Yokota.  The third wave of popularity in joshi puroresu was in the early 1990s when pro-wrestling as a whole was popular and All Japan Women worked with other promotions to do supershows that drew very well and saw the greatest collection of women’s wrestlers ever perform on a grand scale.  The scene was fragmenting though and within a few years, that dilution, the country’s economic decline and the subsequent financial struggles of the Matsunagas saw All Japan Women head into a tailspin.  They declared bankruptcy in 1997, they lost their long-running deal with Fuji TV and by 2005 they had to close down completely.  Joshi puroresu, while still around, never really recovered from the hangover of those 1990s supershows.  Takashi Matsunaga’s original formula of creating pop stars who could perform good pro-wrestling matches was highly successful.  While their talent became better in-ring performers, they lost that element of pop culture significance.  Takashi Matsunaga and his family are responsible for taking joshi puroresu from a short-term, small-time niche product and making it mainstream in a way that pro-wrestling perhaps has never really been.