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The Dangerous Princess: Akira Hokuto and why Sasha Banks won't slow down

One of the common refrains I saw after Sasha’s incredible title win on Monday Night Raw was a general sentiment of "why is she trying to die every match?" Certainly a very fair concern, but the honest answer is: Because she wouldn’t be Sasha Banks if she didn’t.

That’s the core of her character. That sense of reckless abandon is a huge key in explaining why people connect to her big matches so much, even on an episode of Raw where the audience very much did not start out connected.

And it all comes back to the woman who inspired the title of this piece, "The Dangerous Queen" Akira Hokuto, one of the most iconic Joshi wrestlers of all time. No one embodied the spirit of "It's better to burn out than to fade away" like Hokuto, at least not until now.

A year ago, shortly after Sasha's TakeOver match with Becky Lynch, she appeared on Chris Jericho's Talk is Jericho podcast and they talked about Joshi a bit, and she noted that her favorite was Hokuto. At the time, I thought it was cool, because Hokuto has always been my favorite as well, but the more I watch Sasha wrestle, the more clear it is that she's the spiritual successor to The Dangerous Queen’s legacy as a performer, beyond merely being a fan of her work.

Unlike many nicknames in wrestling history, Hokuto’s wasn’t created from whole cloth, it was forged by history.

It all began when she was only 20 in 1987. She’d been one of the most promising prospects in women’s wrestling ever at that point, winning AJW’s rookie of the year in 1985 and being in the AJW match of the year in 1986. 1987 was when she won the tag team championships with her partner Yumiko Hotta, but like much of her career, her ascent would be short lived.

That title reign only lasted twelve days because of a catastrophic injury in her infamous title defense against the Red Typhoons later that month. In the second fall of a three fall match, Hokuto broke her neck after a Tombstone Piledriver from the second rope which was the first and last time that move was ever attempted in AJW.

Rather than stop the match like a normal, rational human being, she held her neck in place for the rest of the match and kept wrestling in possibly the most insane display of toughness that the business has ever seen, because her body didn’t get to win the internal struggle with her spirit. This was her first major setback as she tried to reach the pinnacle, but it wouldn’t be the last.

The story of her road to becoming the Dangerous Queen continued in 1990 when she was set to win the Japan Grand Prix, a prestigious AJW tournament in the spirit of the G1. Unfortunately, she suffered another catastrophic injury when she dove to the floor during a match with Manami Toyota and slammed her knee into the guardrail, shattering it. Even though she couldn’t stand, she crawled back in the ring, crying in pain, and trying to bandage her leg up to continue wrestling but the officials wouldn’t let her.

This was the most enduring of her many injuries as she wrestled wearing a thick bandage around her damaged knee for the rest of her career, and that damaged limb became a focal point of many of her matches.

And finally, in 1993, she was set to get her big moment once again and face Aja Kong for the WWWA championship, the most prestigious title in AJW, a wonderful capstone to arguably the best in-ring year a performer has ever had, including the best women’s match ever against Shinobu Kandori at Dreamslam in April of that year, but predictably suffered another injury in the run up to the match forcing her to get surgery on her meniscus and PCL two weeks before the match. In what should now be very unsurprising news at this point, obviously Hokuto still hobbled to the ring and wrestled Aja Kong two weeks after surgery, but requested the match be a non-title match as it was disrespectful to the championship and the women that have held it to have an injured challenger compete for the title. And those three were only the most noteworthy of her many other calamitous injuries over the years.

And that was the Dangerous Queen.

Because of this history, Hokuto’s matches always had an added layer of storytelling, emotion, and drama that elevated great matches into all-time classics, because she beautifully conveyed with her selling, her persona, and especially her reckless devil may care style that more than just her opponent, she was wrestling against herself, fighting with her body that simply wasn’t as strong as her indomitable will. Her body could, and did, give out over and over, but her spirit never wavered.

And that gave such meaning and emotional heft to everything she did. When she did huge flip dives to the floor she sold the danger and risk of it all such that it never felt like merely a big high spot to pop the crowd, it felt like this was her understanding that she was going to succeed or die trying, and every dive could be her last, because her body may break, but her will was never going to be broken. She fostered such investment and high drama because she had you on the edge of your seat for every big match just hoping that she could get through it with her health intact.

While thankfully Sasha doesn’t have that same laundry list of major injuries to her name, she shares Hokuto’s incomparable stubbornness and refusal to give anything less than everything she has in every match, no matter the consequences. And in many ways, her narrative that inspires that same level of reckless abandon might be even stronger from a storytelling standpoint because she isn’t just wrestling against herself and her fragile frame, she’s wrestling against the echoes of history.

She’s fighting not just for her own success, but as she said in her wonderfully heartfelt promo after her win on Monday night, she’s fighting for the future of an entire gender that has been maligned and marginalized for decades in professional wrestling in the United States. With the way she wrestles, with the way she’s such a livewire of emotion, every big match for Sasha feels like the big match, like the weight of the world is on her shoulders, and if she doesn’t deliver, things could all come crashing down in an instant.

So if she needs to throw a dive that might snap her neck, she’s going to throw that dive because dammit the future of women’s wrestling is too important to do anything less.

Matches in modern wrestling can often feel ephemeral, because there’s just so much content at our finger tips and blood feuds feel like something of a relic of the past, but what Sasha does so well is that she makes big matches feel historic. There were lots of great matches last year. Her matches with Bayley are going to be remembered after most of those great matches are long forgotten. There are few people who can foster the big fight feel in the way she does, and she proved that once again on Monday by turning a disinterested crowd into a crowd that was living and dying right along with her superhuman drive to be the best at any cost.

Amazingly, Sasha managed what Hokuto sadly could not and did finally make it to the top of the mountain, and I’m hoping desperately that she can stay there. But as shown by Hokuto herself, that type of indomitable will doesn’t make for a long career. At her best, Hokuto was the most compelling wrestler I’ve ever seen, and in the past couple of years, the most compelling person has been Sasha Banks. It's a style and a persona that can't help but be engaging.

I know that most people hope Sasha works safer, and I count myself among them, but given what she feels she’s trying to protect, I’ll get it if she doesn’t.

Massive congratulations to The Dangerous Princess on a well-deserved ascent to the top of the mountain. As the crowd chanted, you most definitely do deserve it.

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