On July 15th Sports Graphic Number Web published an article written by Kanako Ito on Takumi Iroha’s upcoming return to the ring for Marvelous’ Fifth Anniversary show on July 19th.
To borrow the words of Chigusa Nagayo, “GAEA JAPAN is an NHK Taiga Drama [NHK’s annual year-long historical drama series that began in the 1960s] and Marvelous is a commercial drama.” The former is a year-long spectacle. The latter concludes one season in three months. That’s a Nagayo-esque explanation.
GAEA was a women’s wrestling promotion started in 1994 after Nagayo retired from All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling, which she had dominated as a member of the Crush Gals. It was disbanded exactly ten years after its first show in 1995. Her former tag team partner Lioness Asuka, Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Mayumi Ozaki, Manami Toyota, Devil Masami and other major freelancers of the day came together to hold sway as the number one promotion in the industry. The story woven by those ‘Avengers’ didn’t just last a year, it went on for ten intense years before the final episode.
On the other hand, Marvelous will celebrate its fifth anniversary on July 19th at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. A wide range of wrestlers from their teens to their fifties are signed to the promotion. With the exception of KAORU and Tomoko Watanabe who are married and have been wrestling for over thirty years the young wrestlers live together in a dormitory attached to the dojo in Funabashi in Chiba. Since the GAEA days Nagayo’s consistent approach has been to provide food, clothing, and shelter in an environment where the wrestlers live alongside the ring.
The women in the dorm in their teens and twenties were born in the age of smartphones and information overload, and grew up in a generation that chooses speed, freedom, and convenience. They know that fashions come and go at a brutally fast pace. Nagayo noted this. She worked out that a year was too long, but three months was a good amount of time for a season.
Last autumn, when Iroha cried like a baby
Nagayo has already retired from the front line, and now has the position of supervising like a manager. In addition to general training, the fundamentals of etiquette and coaching are passed from wrestler to wrestler. At the head of the team is Takumi Iroha, the ‘player’s representative’. She is a twenty eight year old from Fukuoka Prefecture. She debuted eight years ago in Stardom but when she found out that Nagayo, whom she had long admired, was starting a new promotion again she left to join it. It took guts to attach herself to Marvelous, which was an unknown quantity.
She is 170 centimetres tall and has a genderless appearance. Wrapped in a red costume and her own aura, her natural ability seems to come from the gods of professional wrestling themselves. Coincidentally, she is a Kyushu woman like Nagayo, who has been at her side since she joined the promotion. “I shed tears watching documentaries, films, animal shows, and for my juniors, but I never shed tears for myself,” she said, which may be due to the fact that she was following in the footsteps of the “charisma of the joshi professional wrestling world” [Nagayo].
However, last Autumn Iroha sobbed like a child. On October 26th 2020 in a match at Shinkiba 1st Ring in Tokyo she dislocated her right knee and damaged the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and the lateral meniscus of her right knee. Her doctor gave her a cruel sentence of “ten months total recovery.” On the day of the surgery she was moved from her bed onto a stretcher, and as soon as the medical staff said, “we’re going to the operating theatre,” she broke down in tears. Nagayo, who was the only person allowed to visit due to COVID-19 rules, was dismayed.
It was the first time she had been that frightened
“From the day I got injured until that day I had been avoiding confronting myself. Until the last minute I streamed on Instalive and smiled through it, to the point that it felt like someone else’s problem. But then it hit me that I’m not going to be able to use my leg anymore I’m going to be in a wheelchair and on crutches, and I suddenly became frightened. It was my third surgery, but the first time I’ve been so scared. I couldn’t stop crying, I even surprised myself.”
In April 2015 she damaged her meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament of her right knee, and underwent surgery for the first time. In 2018 she had another surgery to reconstruct a ligament due to fibular collateral ligament damage and a deltoid ligament rupture in her right foot. Her right is her dominant foot. “It was easier for me to balance and do one-legged squats on the right side, and I had more muscle strength on that side. I think I relied on it too much in some areas.”
While she was away from the ring the growing number of junior wrestlers in Marvelous grew stronger at a remarkable rate. People online also rated them highly. This can be said to be the result of the unwavering and calm discernment of their ‘leader’ Iroha, which she cultivated over time. Over the last five years she’s realised that, “I always have to be dignified.” The tears that she cried that day represented the moment that the emotions that she had kept bottled up came spilling out. The fact that she couldn’t stop the tears could be due to the weight of responsibility born by the ‘player’s representative’.
Three tattoos on her left tricep
The surgery, which lasted about four and a half hours, was a large-scale operation in which her tendon was cut away from her patella and tibia and grafted to her anterior cruciate ligament. For a normal person it would take up to two years to recover. However, her doctor was shocked by how fast the ligament was maturing and gave her the go sign, so she decided to return to the ring at the Korakuen Hall show on July 19th. Her early return, eight months after surgery, was a sign that she had endured rehabilitation that was “as tough as being hit so hard in training you feel like puking.” Currently, she is doing rehabilitation training in conjunction with individual and group training in the ring.
“In fact, I have a tendency to think negatively and there have been many times when I suffocated myself by comparing myself to other people. When I did that, I would always say ‘but,’ ‘because,’ or ‘I’m not good enough’… but when I went back to the dojo and had time alone I told myself, ‘there are things that only I can do. And the fans are waiting for me,’ and I practiced hard, worked up a sweat, got out of breath and I was able to cheer myself up. When I’m in the ring it’s the only time that I can face myself. I was saved by the ring. Now that uncertainty… is gone!”
Iroha has tattoos on her left tricep. When she joined up with Nagayo they were something she wanted to get tattooed almost on the spur of the moment. When she looked at the words she was determined to “live true to herself as a professional wrestler.”
The Inherit Fighter
The Next Legend
The three power words that she had tattooed before the first Marvelous show embody the Takumi Iroha of 2021.
[Nagayo has three tattoos on her arm that say The Last Fighter, The First Legend, The Mentor]