Earlier this week, Ringbelles found out about a show taking place on January 8, 2012. We knew nothing about it except that it was taking place at the Tokyo Dome CIty Hall and would be called Bull Nakano Produce “EMPRESS”. And that’s all we knew… until Dave Meltzer furnished us with more information as part of this week’s mammoth Wrestling Observer.

Keiko “Bull” Nakano will be appearing – but not wrestling – on her retirement show on her 44th birthday. Barring a very brief nostalgia comeback when she teamed with her mentor Dump Matsumoto in 2001, Nakano has had very little to do with wrestling since retiring in 1997 at the age of 29 due to injuries suffered because of her hard-hitting style and weight, which was around 220 pounds at the time.

After her retirement, Nakano dropped a shedload of weight – last year, she was reportedly down to 130 – and took up professional golf in 1998. The learning curve turned out to be very steep, and finished 250th place of 251 in a LPGA Futures (essentially a farm system for rising golf stars) Qualifying Tournament in November 2004, and didn’t fare much better the following year when she finished 261st out of 271. However, she managed to make it into Futures in January 2006 a couple of weeks after her 38th birthday.

Bull Nakano debuted in 1983 at the age of 15, winning the All Japan Women Junior Championship the following year, and then won the main AJW title in 1986, holding the championship for the next three years. Before leaving AJW and travelling to Mexico in 1992, Nakano also won the World Women’s Wrestling Association Tag Team Championship, as well as claiming the WWWA’s World Title (also known as the Red Belt). During that time, Nakano was engaged in a major feud with Aja Kong, which included this cage match at AJW Wrestlemarinpiad II on November 14, 1990.

During her time in Mexico, Bull became the first CMLL World Women’s Champion in June 1992, dropping the belt the following March. From there, she entered the World Wrestling Federation in mid 1994, being thrust into the Women’s Title picture against then-champion Alundra Blayze, AKA Madusa.

The pair engaged in a groundbreaking match for the WWF at SummerSlam that year with Blayze retaining her title, but lost the title to Nakano during the mammoth 10-hour, 22-match Big Egg Wrestling Universe event in Tokyo. She held the title until April 3, 1995, when she lost the championship back to Blayze, then dropped out of the picture and was fired after being found in possession of cocaine.

A fairly uninspired run in World Championship Wrestling where she wrestled Madusa in a series of matches was the beginning of the end for Nakano’s in-ring career. However, following her retirement, Nakano was inducted into the AJW Hall Of Fame in 1998, and in 2001, became part of the Wrestling Observer Hall Of Fame.

As part of her final appearance as Bull, Keiko Nakano is attempting to pile on the pounds to look like she did in her prime, presumably with the hair standing straight up. As you can see from the picture captured from a nostalgia show featuring Aja Kong and Nakano discussing their history (one of the few wrestling-based appearances Bull has made since hanging up the boots, nunchaku and hairspray), she appears to be more than the 130 that she was said to be at the time of her wedding. This image is from earlier this year, and right now she is reportedly pushing 190lb, and is hoping to be 220 by the show in January, on which Kong is apparently going to be booked. The WO suggests the EMPRESS card could be a retro tour de force for joshi stars from the 1990s – much like CHIKARA‘s Joshimania weekend in December is looking like.

A final appearance of Bull Nakano would be a tremendous spectacle, and will likely be an emotional evening. It’s a shame that she is unlikely to wrestle, but will likely be a wonderful nod to the joshi heyday.

– Lee Burton

Dr Mike Lano says:

I interviewed Bull/Keiko twice in the past two years. Once from Where Are They Now/WHT? column in U.S. newstand magazine Wrestler/Inside Wrestling and once for my national radio show. Keiko was opening up another version it sounded like, of her famous bar/restaurant, or a renovated one. And she still looks great!

If anyone’s interested in photos, I have tons of her from my tours shooting ringside for the mags in Japan in the late 80’s and early 90’s(especially her 5-star match with Akira from Korakuen 1/4/91).