WWE Hall of Famer Bull Nakano Embracing Role in Sukeban

“My favorite wrestlers, the ones I care about most, are all the Sukeban wrestlers. I consider them like my children.”

During WrestleMania 40 weekend, Bull Nakano was honored by WWE with an induction into their Hall of Fame.

Nakano had a brief stint with the company in the 1980’s before a much more impactful stretch in 1994 and ’95. Her greatest contributions to professional wrestling took place in All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, and it is always a noteworthy occasion when WWE recognizes the totality of a wrestler’s brilliance.

Bull Nakano
Bull Nakano / WWE

“I learned of my induction into the WWE Hall of Fame on January 9 when a WWE staff member contacted me,” said Nakano, who constructed an iconic look with her hair and face paint. “I was aiming to imagine being something out of this world, something special, and the original, Bull Nakano, was created.”

Nakano, whose real name is Keiko Nakano, was introduced into the WWE Hall of Fame by Madusa, a fellow legend of the industry. Their careers are forever intertwined, primarily for their work together in WWE.

Madusa, who wrestled as Alundra Blayze in WWE, had a perfect rival in Nakano. The two put an entirely new spotlight on women’s wrestling in WWE in the mid-90’s, including wrestling an outstanding match at SummerSlam in 1994.

“Although we were rivals, I developed a trusting relationship with Madusa through our almost daily matches,” said Nakano. “This trust allowed us to enjoy wrestling each other.”

During her time in WWE, Nakano developed a strong rapport with Vince McMahon.

“I talked with Vince about my future work in WWE after every TV match,” said Nakano. “I didn’t speak any English, so Luna Vachon explained it to me. It is a fond memory of mine.”

Bull Nakano and Luna Vachon
Bull Nakano and Luna Vachon / WWE

SummerSlam ’94 was filled with stars, and that was only magnified when Nakano and Madusa wrestled in WCW at World War III in ’95. A number of the most recognizable names ever in wrestling were on that card, including Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Sting, as well as Randy Savage–who holds a particular place in Nakano’s heart.

“All of the top stars were also excellent human beings, especially the ‘Macho Man’, who was very kind to me,” said Nakano. “Randy made me laugh with his gestures when I could not understand English. I want to make sure to thank him.”

Discussing wrestlers from prior eras serves as a reminder of the landscape in which Nakano performed. Women’s wrestling–and the industry as a whole–was a different entity when Nakano broke into the business in 1983. Only 15 at the time, she started out at Zenjo dojo, where she encountered a fiercely intense training regimen.

“It was a tough experience,” said Nakano. “It was some of the most brutal and unreasonable training methods of the Showa era in Japan, and I sometimes needlessly injured my body because of it. But I am grateful because I learned strong spirit and hunger through wrestling.”

Bull Nakano and Madusa (Alundra Blayze) in WWE
Bull Nakano and Madusa (Alundra Blayze) in WWE / WWE

The toil and tears paid dividends for Nakano, who left an enduring legacy in the ring. Matches against Akira Hokuto, Devil Masami, Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, and Shinobu Kandori all stand the test of time, and each bout helped advance women’s wrestling.

“That is what I am most proud of,” said Nakano. “I changed the value of women's professional wrestling in Japan–and the world.”

Two years ago, Nakano was hospitalized with liver issues. Throughout her career, drinking was far more preeminent in pro wrestling than it is now.

“During this era, Japan as a whole was crazy with money, both in the way it was thought of and how it was spent,” said Nakano. “Similarly in the wrestling world, parties were everywhere, and money was moving so fast that people forgot to appreciate both good food and good drinks. Now I rarely drink alcohol. I am thankful for my daily life.”

Nakano spends her free time golfing, and she has returned home to professional wrestling in a prominent manner as the Sukeban Commissioner. The new promotion is full of endless potential, and it was recently scouted by WWE President Nick Khan.

“I was appointed Commissioner of Sukeban in 2023,” said Nakano. “The thing that excites me most about Sukeban is that I get to see the past, present, and future of the unique Japanese culture all in the ring. I like the acknowledgment of the Sukeban lifestyle from decades ago, and the veteran wrestlers and young wrestlers coming together to put on the best show.

Nakano now plays a prominent role for Sukeban
Nakano now plays a prominent role for Sukeban / Sukeban

“I am so proud of all of the athletes who are active now, and I try to support them. My favorite wrestlers, the ones I care about most, are all the Sukeban wrestlers. I consider them like my children.”

Sukeban’s most recent show took place at the end of May. The Japanese women’s pro wrestling league made their debut in Los Angeles, and the five-match card is now available on YouTube. In the main event, Sukeban world champion Commander Nakajima successfully defended her title against opponent Crush Yuu as Nakano kept a watchful eye on the fight.

“I see unlimited potential in the Sukeban wrestlers,” said Nakano. “There are so many young, talented wrestlers on the roster. I want to continue to watch and support Sukeban as Commissioner to see how far it will go in the future.”


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Justin Barrasso

JUSTIN BARRASSO

Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.