(Update: Since I published this Maki Itoh has clarified her surname is spelled with an “h”, ending debate among fans and causing the guy behind the DDT English translation account to “turn (his) back against the Japanese government”. I want to thank him for his advice and assistance. I’m not going to correct it below because the article is of it’s time. . . two months ago.)
It’s been a long time since I last wrote about Japanese wrestling so I think I’m overdue. I’d like in this edition to write about the self-proclaimed “cutest girl in the world” who has become a cult sensation. She is cute, as in adorable. She is also a unstable mess of a human being. Yes, even for pro wrestling.
Maki Ito sings her own entrance theme on the way to the ring, all dressed up like Little Red Riding Hood. She also claims to have gone in debt spending the equivalent of $8000 U.S. to make her face smaller. It doesn’t appear to have worked and she’s not happy about that.
Maki Ito asks the crowd “Who’s the cutest in the world?” to which the crowd replies “ITO-CHAN!” No one wants to see what happens if they don’t say that. She gives the finger to opponents who are beating the hell out of her.
She rams her own head into the turnbuckle post out of frustration. When she loses big matches (which is often) she tends to steal the microphone so she can rant and cry hysterically and then sing a capella version of “Ultra Soul” by B’z while limping in great pain back to the backstage area. She is slowly learning English but all the wrong words first.
Maki Ito is 24 years old and has been wrestling for less than three years. Before that, she was an idol performer, learning how to sing, dance, and charm an audience. That training is part of her origin story as a wrestler.
(If you don’t understand, look up “Japanese idol” on Wikipedia because I don’t have the time or ability to explain it succinctly and I’d prefer to concentrate on Maki Ito.)
The talent agency that groomed her to be an idol judged her looks to be insufficient and fired her. Ito, not wanting to leave the world of entertainment behind, re-emerged in an unlikely way via the all-women’s promotion Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW). Unfortunately, her rejection by the talent agency made her neurotic and insecure. To make things even worse for her, TJPW added a group of singing idol wrestlers called Up Up Girls (Puroresu) to the promotion a few months after she debuted.
Up Up Girls is a well-known Japanese idol singing group that has partnered with TJPW to form their own version of the group that starts each wrestling show with a song and dance routine. The wrestling version of Up Up Girls also competes in matches. Sometimes they compete against Ito. Sometimes there is trouble.
In order to bolster her self-esteem, she formed her own group called Ito Respect Army which consisted of her and basically one other girl.
Eventually she broke up the Army because she was jealous of the other girl winning more matches and being better than her at wrestling.
And that’s the other thing. As popular as Ito is with TJPW and with fans of wrestling online, she’s still not a great wrestler. Let me put it to you this way: imagine one of the guys from One Direction getting fired from the group and deciding his best way of staying in entertainment was to join a wrestling company.
How good could that guy possibly be after two years of training? That’s essentially what Ito is, a former idol singer/dancer turned athlete/performer. She’s done well considering where she came from but pro wrestling is very hard to do even if it is a form of entertainment.
I think that combination of being the underdog and laying it out there for all to see is what has endeared her to fans. Defiance in the face of certain defeat. She’s outclassed by superior wrestlers but she gives them finger anyway and refuses to give up. The opponent has to keep beating on her until she can’t get up anymore.
Besides, there’s always the next match and another chance for victory. And she definitely gets her fair share of wins. Especially against those cursed Up Up Girls.
Recently, she had a Twitter AMA. It went well.
I don’t think we should take life advice from a neurotic 24-year-old pro wrestler who seems to be flirting with nihilism and financial domination. But that’s just me. Let’s at least wait until she gets a few more years of life experience and a better grasp of English. And she has a good point. . . give me money.
No, not her. Give me money. I’m not the cutest in the world. Not even close. I could use the help.