What Hath God Wrought? Aja Kong, Joshi’s Horror Villain Icon

god made the devil 

just for fun

when he wanted the real thing

he made Aja Kong

-from “Jungle Emperor”

(Custom image by Trent Breward)

When Aja Kong stomped to the ring in her prime, fists clenched, the worst intentions in her dark heart, she had the same aura as Michael Myers, as Jason Voorhees, as Pinhead emerging from the shadows intent to kill. Her murderous glare, the level of destruction she brought in the ring, her air of evil all felt like we were watching a monster at play.

Take any Jason scene from a Friday the 13th movie and replace the hockey-masked killer with Aja Kong. Give her the eerie whisper sounds associated with him instead of her entrance theme. The two-time WWWA world champion would fit right in.

Like Jason, though, it took her a while to find her iconic look, to slip into the right skin.

In 1986 and ‘87, Kong wrestled as Erica Shishido (her real name) in All Japan’s Women Pro-Wrestling. She did not yet wear that trademark face paint. Rather than the long gear and black gloves she became known for, she wore swimsuit-like tights; she showed potential but had yet to exude monster. Think of this as Jason’s early sack head period.

By 1990, Kong had fully found herself, both in terms of look and in the ring. She had added size, shifted to a gear more befitting an ass-kicker, and beyond that her vibe changed. She was full of fury and fearsomeness, a beast on the rampage.

Her battles with former tag team partner Bull Nakano helped showcase all of that.

Just watching her entrance for her steel cage death match against Nakano in November 1990 at
AJW Wrestlemarinepiad is enough to convince you that she’s a force of nature. Kong marches to the ring, clanging metal trash cans together with a most ornery look on her face. She looks like she’s about to make the Yokahama Bunka Gymnasium her own personal Camp Green Lake.

Kong’s ferocity stands out in this match. She is absolutely unrelenting, raking Bull’s face against the cage, hunting her down, railing her with heavy shots.

She is Jason set free in a cabin full of teenage campers.

Nakano, a powerhouse herself, beats Kong with nunchucks, bloodies her face, weakens her by slamming her face into the mat. But Aja, channelling Michael and Jason and every horror villain of the same ilk, keeps rising in defiance. She roars in response, the punishment seemingly making her stronger. Nakano doesn’t truly beat her; she escapes her, in tears, bleeding and traumatized.  

Another prime example of Kong’s monstrous ways is her 1994 JWP match against Dynamite Kansai, a dangerous striker and bruiser herself. In the bout, Kansai smashes Kong’s face with knees and rattles off a flurry of palm strikes. She gives her everything she can throw at her. But it is not enough.

You cannot kill Michael with knife wounds. You cannot end Jason with fire. You cannot fell Kong with standard offense.

Kong responds with mesmerizing violence, kicking Dynamite in the temple like she’s trying to break a piñata open and reveal the candy inside.

This is one hell of a fierce opponent, but Kong is fiercer, stronger, higher on the food chain than even a great white shark like Kansai. Like Jason whacking away with his machete, Kong batters her foe with a barrage of spinning back fists, an attack that feels oh so close to in-ring homicide.

Manami Toyota, Kong’s biggest rival, was one of the few wrestlers to topple the beast. The speedy, big-hearted hero’s secret was to put every drop of herself into the battle. She was the final girl of the horror movie, bloodied and beaten, but never willing to give up.

In June 1995, Kong and Toyota met in Sapporo with the former intent on winning back the WWWA Championship she lost to Toyota in March.

Throughout the match, Kong is a rampaging bull; charging, chopping, clobbering. The size difference between the two amplifies the violence. As Kong catches Toyota in mid-air, it feels as if we are watching two distinct species battling in the wild. A sunset flip powerbomb is not enough to stop Kong. She is not human. At least not all the time.

The David-versus-Goliath dynamic works so well here and in all their matches, in part because Toyota is a babyface you root for, vulnerable and courageous. That plays perfectly opposite a terrible being like Kong. She is the Chris Higgins to Kong’s Jason, the tough, beautiful hero trying to bludgeon this devil into oblivion.

Kong prevails in this chapter, however. En route to reclaiming the WWWA title, she hits Manami in the mouth so hard she leaves her holding her face in shock, freshly aware of a new level of pain.

WWE (WWF at the time) fans got a glimpse of what carnage Kong is capable of when she had a brief run there in 1995. Vince McMahon brought in some joshi stars to strengthen his women’s division but didn’t seem to realize just what powerful entities he had let into his home.

The image of Kong breaking Chaparita Asari’s nose in a match on RAW was one of the last things that joshi invasion gave us before McMahon moved on.

Aja Kong is still active today at age 52. While she will always be scary, thanks to the steps she’s lost physically and the decrease in speed and mobility courtesy of Father Time, this isn’t the same monster.

That’s especially true in Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling where her savage act is played up for laughs. She pops into a match for a moment or two, whacks someone in the face and shuffles back to the apron. She’s in there with the cutesy and goofy acts that make TJPW unique such as Pom Harajuku and Raku. The schtick is now more comedy horror than slasher.

All the horror icons evolve.

Freddy Krueger shifted to more one-liners and cackling laughter as his character grew more comedic, starting with Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Jason Vorhees went from a sack-wearing, pickaxe-wielding maniac to an indestructible demon with a machete sharp enough to cut bone like brie.

For Kong, she has gone from young Erica to overpowering monster atop the AJW food chain to now an elder statesman of savagery.

And like those lead baddies of horror, she remains in our minds, a haunting, unnerving presence decades after her debut. The ‘80s horror scene belonged to Freddy and Michael and Jason; the ‘90s joshi world was Kong’s to feast on.