Sara del Rey has made no secret that the reason she's a professional wrestler today is because of Aja Kong. There are far worse women in wrestling to model a career path after, as the competitor known as the Japanese Monster is on the short list of greatest joshi wrestlers... hell, she's on the short list of the greatest wrestlers, regardless of nationality, gender or style, of all time. The funny thing is that most people who follow wrestling today might be more apt to recognize del Rey than Kong. If women's wrestling in America is underexposed, then the imported stuff from around the world, even in places like Japan, is almost obscure.
However, a lot of hardcore wrestling fans from the mid '90s kept a healthy portion of joshi in their diets when tape trading. Not only is del Rey among those people, her boss at Chikara, Mike Quackenbush, is as well. His love of all things wrestling probably has had an above-average affinity to the Japanese women of the '80s and '90s, many of whom were in on the ground floor of wrestling innovation. Joshi promotions were doing blanket no-DQ stipulations for all its matches before Eastern Championship Wrestling became Extreme. These women innovated several of the most famous moves out there, including the Vertebreaker, Burning Hammer, Tiger Driver '91 and the Air Raid Crash. Everything they did was lifted by the men, which was in turn lifted by the indies/junior heavies/cruiserweights which was then lifted by the main event players in WCW, WWF/E and TNA. This process is still ongoing because of how slowly the trickle-down effect works.
So, with all that being said, it was a no-brainer that Quack would organize a three-day event in the three most important wrestling cities on the East Coast. OF course, he'd already begun to prepare his audience, which is among the most progressive in all of pro wrestling, for these three days by bringing over some of the best past and current joshis ever. Manami Toyota, Toshie Uematsu, Mima Shimoda, Tsukasa Fujimoto, Makoto and Kana all made appearances for Chikara in the last 18 months. As a sampler plate for the best of what Japan's women had to offer, I'm not sure it could have gotten any better. However, for what has amounted to joshi's Woodstock, Quack had to bring out the big guns. Toyota and Uematsu were both locks to come back, and they should have, as they're both among the biggest names in the history of the art. That being said, what name could be the trump card?
With such a force coming over, the options for matches were pretty rich. Obviously, she and Toyota would tangle, and Sunday afternoon, they will in trios action. Ayako Hamada is another dream match, and that will take place tonight. That being said, even if the parallels weren't there, even if she hadn't held Kong in such high regard as an influence and an inspiration, there was one match that had to happen.
For as much of a force that Kong has been in joshi, del Rey has become a similar dynamo in independent pro wrestling in the present. She was the first SHIMMER World Champion, has won women's Championships in promotions across America and is considered to be the first lady of Ring of Honor. It can be argued that she has ascended to another level in Chikara. Not only has she wrestled women on the reg in Chikara, but she's taken to wrestling the men as well. Again, Chikara's fans are progressive, but only because they've been fed progressiveness in the company's almost-ten year history. Women have always wrestled men, but in the last year, del Rey has hit into overdrive. Not only has she competed against men, but she's excelled to the point where now, she's arguably the second most popular wrestler in the company to current Grand Champion Eddie Kingston. While other companies spend time girding the gender barrier, del Rey and Chikara have taken hammers, chainsaws and flamethrowers to it.
So, it bore without saying that last night, del Rey and Kong was positioned as the main event of JoshiMania's first card in Philadelphia. How deserving it was as the final match on the card. It was a spectacle. Each woman hit each other with everything she had. Usually, when someone delivers a Flair chop, the sting echoes through the arena, followed by a "WOOO!" When Aja Kong chopped del Rey, there was no smacking sting. Instead, it was a dull thud, due to the sheer size of Kong's fists buffered by her MMA-style gloves. del Rey took her lumps early on, and then after a short time of having her idol shrug off her shots, she found out how to take the monster down.
CRACK! CRACK! del Rey began kicking Kong in the head with force that made even me, a guy sitting in the sixth row, cringe a little bit. These women hit each other so hard that it made a typical Davey Richards stiff fest look as choreographed as a Shane McMahon "punch" reel. The strike trading slowly morphed into del Rey taking it to Kong, which culminated in the Queen of Wrestling landing a massive German suplex that I could have sworn was felt as far away as Newark, NJ. It got to the point where Kong had to pull senior official Bryce Remsburg into the path of a del Rey koppo kick so she could use her metal trashcan as a weapon against the unstoppable force that was the Queen.
And that's where it hit me. I've been wondering where del Rey had "arrived" so to speak over the last year, and she's had quite the year. For all intents and purposes, she chased Claudio Castagnoli from the indies to the Antonio Cesaro moniker he now holds in WWE Developmental with a roof-shattering victory. She came one win away from challenging Kingston for the Grand Championship. She wrestled Kana twice, once in SHIMMER and once in Chikara. She won the annual Cibernetico match as the only female involved.
But it was here, one of the most legendary female performers ever, someone who probably should have been wrestling men all along because of how hard she hits, totally going chicken-s**t heel to make her opponent, a woman who IDOLIZED her, who is probably half her size look like a world beater. No one in the Arena batted an eyelash at that either. We all bought that Sara del Rey not only could hang with her, but could and should beat her. She had been given the endorsement, the approval of her hero. I can't speak for the Queen, but I can only assume that the match for her was one of the pinnacles, if not THE pinnacle of her career.
Needless to say, del Rey won the match. Of course, Kong, the mastodon-like juggernaut, threw a tantrum after and promised she'd be back, which made everyone happy. Afterwards, I went over to del Rey at the merch table to congratulate her. The awkward interaction aside (I really, really need to work on my being starstruck), I could see in her face that she was happy, and I was happy for her.
We all have heroes, we all have idols. Rarely, do we get the chance not only to meet those people, but to be able to work with them. Sara del Rey got that chance, and arguably, she had the torch passed to her. If that isn't a feelgood moment in pro wrestling, well, then those such moments do not exist.