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Thekla Kaischauri – the spider woman conquers Japanese wrestling

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Thekla Kaischauri – the spider woman conquers Japanese wrestling

Foreign talent rarely succeeds in Japanese wrestling. Thekla Kaischauri from Vienna has done it – she is the exciting “bad girl” that women’s wrestling has been missing so far.

Known for her spider moves: Austrian wrestler Thekla Kaischauri (above) in a black outfit with spider-like struts.

Etsuo Hara/Getty

For almost ten minutes, the women have been kicking each other in the face, punching each other in the stomach, and pulling each other’s hair. But at some point Thekla Kaischauri has had enough. She avoids a punch from her opponent, a slight wrestler in a colorful costume, then quickly bends her upper body backwards and places her arms upside down on the ring floor. “Oh, Spider!” the fans shout.

Then Kaischauri reaches through her opponent’s legs from behind and presses her back to the ground. The fighter who just attacked is struggling helplessly. The referee counts them out: “One, two, three. Knock out!” The bell rings, the people in the hall cheer, loud music booms through the speakers. Thekla Kaischauri raises her arms. Her muscular legs and six-pack, clad in a black outfit with spider-like struts, shimmer in the spotlight – it’s her moment.

“The feeling when you win is amazing,” she says minutes later in a Viennese accent backstage. With her bright smile, she appears completely different than before in the ring, where she appeared as an intimidating daredevil. “I love wrestling.” This show business, in which fighters pretend to fight each other to the death, offers everything that loud entertainment needs: big emotions, highs and lows, fairness and deviousness.

Kaischauri is the shooting star in women’s wrestling

Thanks to Thekla Kaischauri, wrestling has become more attractive in Japan, where the Austrian has lived since shortly before the corona pandemic. The 30-year-old is obviously an asset in the East Asian country, which, along with the USA and Mexico, is one of the world‘s largest markets for combative stunt shows. Kaischauri is one of the shooting stars in women’s wrestling, a booming segment in the traditionally male-dominated business.

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In the Korakuen Hall, a 2,000-person arena in the northeastern center of Tokyo, the audience regularly goes wild when Kaischauri shows off her spider moves in the ring, launches her nasty attacks and intimidates her opponents with her scowls. In a sport where appearance is the most important thing, Kaischauri has found a gap in the market: women’s wrestling has never seen an evil spider woman like her until now.

The figure fits particularly well into the bizarre Japanese wrestling scene. On a typical Saturday afternoon, there’s the usual lineup of Stardom, the country’s leading women’s league: characters range from a mix of samurai and geisha to a sort of Barbie with blonde hair and tanned skin. What these women have in common: They are physically fit, hit hard and can perform technically demanding stunts.

Anything but cute: Thekla Kaischauri (right) skillfully maintains her bad-ass image.

Etsuo Hara/Getty

But unlike in the USA or Mexico, wrestling in Japan is also characterized by politeness and even cuteness. “Many of our fighters are a bit kawaii,” says Kanae Imai, who is responsible for PR at Stardom. “Kawaii” means “cute”. “Our fans like it that way.” Before the fighters attack each other in the ring, they usually bow. And in between they hug each other. “Respect is also important for us in wrestling,” says Imai.

Thekla Kaischauri shrugs her shoulders when she hears this. “I like to say ‘Fuck you’ on stage and give people the middle finger.” Is she the “bad girl” that the industry has been missing? Since wrestling has existed, this barely subtle universe has been divided into “faces” and “heels”, i.e. good and bad guys. But in Japanese culture, which also has a noticeable penchant for sweet and almost infantile things outside of wrestling, there has hardly been a nasty female fighter. Thekla Kaischauri grins: “Exactly my thing.”

The daughter of a Georgian mother got a taste for hardcore at an early age. As an adolescent in Vienna, she practiced swimming, gymnastics and ballet, but soon also martial arts. During puberty she played the electric guitar and founded her punk band “Death Row Groupies”. While occasionally touring Europe as a student, she came across wrestling. “My friends and I didn’t know anything like that. When we went to a show, I was blown away. It was like sport and metal together.”

One night of drinking, she and her friends made a deal: They would all take up wrestling. “I was the only one who pulled it off,” says the now professional fighter after her knockout victory in Tokyo. Kaischauri, then still a student of transmedia art at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, looked for a wrestling club and learned the basic techniques of rolling, grabbing and hitting. She tasted blood. And got better. At some point her coach mentioned that he had contacts in Japan.

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The first trip to Japan in 2017 was soon followed by others, and at the end of 2019 Kaischauri was in Tokyo for the first time for a longer training camp. In addition to her acrobatic skills, the persona that Kaischauri came up with was also noticeable. «The bad-ass image suited me. That’s how I was on stage with the ‘Death Row Groupies’: loud, shrill, fearless.” When the pandemic shut down Japan, she stayed in Tokyo and learned Japanese.

“Thekla is one of the few foreigners who started her career in Japan,” says manager Kanae Imai backstage while the next fight is being announced in the hall. It’s also because of this stable smell that they want to continue to build up and push Thekla at Stardom. This in turn could be worth a lot for the Austrian in the future. The top earners in wrestling are already expected to earn one million euros a year.

“I’m not there yet,” says Kaischauri after the event. For wrestling fame, she trains almost every day either in the weight room or on the mat. Equally important is her social media presence, which Kaischauri currently manages herself. She currently has 27,500 followers on

Is a star in Japan: Thekla Kaischauri.

Youtube

Her appearance was non-negotiable for Kaischauri

Her fans are primarily male and over forty. In the hall they are often equipped with lens cameras. “Many people are looking for sneaky shots,” says the wrestler. It was clear to her that she was also being sexualized. “That’s probably part of it. I’m getting used to it.” There are likely to be more women in the coming years anyway. Recently, Stardom has been promoting women’s wrestling through national tours and more frequent television broadcasts. “Fighting women fit well into today’s era of gender equality,” said Kanae Imai, the PR manager, on the sidelines of the ring.

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Ultimately, it’s about diversity. Although that’s a thing in Japan. “At first they wanted me to be a little cuter like the others,” says Kaischauri. Her biceps twitches. “As an employee of Stardom, I have assigned my rights.” However, her appearance was not negotiable for her. One day she simply showed the middle finger in the ring. The audience was not outraged, but cheered. “It’s part of my brand now.”

In a country that places so much value on gestures of politeness and humility, becoming a villain is quite an achievement. Although Thekla as a “heel” will probably never be the greatest champion, as good must win in the end. As a nasty counterpart, the Viennese is making herself indispensable in Japanese wrestling.

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