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Grimmas

Genichiro Tenryu

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My problem with Tenryu isn't his sloppiness, I see that as part of his appeal, it's that he'll often go for moves he can't come close to hitting clean in crucial points in the match, you're hoping he'd Lariat someone into oblivion but instead he just does some weird Abisengiri and it will disturb the flow of the match. Mind you I still have him in my top five but that is a difference maker when I'm looking at #1 candidates.

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Tenryu's career as a whole amazes me. The fact that he's had great matches dating back to 1983 (some could argue 1982 with the first Jumbo match) and just last year put in an inspiring performance against Okada is mind-blowing to me. Is his peak longer than anyone's? Hansen had great matches in four decades. Same with Liger. The same can be said for Tenryu.

 

The WAR vs. NJ feud has been one of my favorite things I've watched for this project. It's not that he looks that much better working with the lesser WAR workers, but that he sticks with Hashimoto, Fujinami, Liger (8/9/93 is an awesome tag match), Hase, & co. and most of the time looks better than them. Him working with UWFi guys has been a real pleasure, also. Love the 7/21/96 match with Anjoh. He won me over with his selling during his time in All Japan but I fell in love with Tenryu after watching his stiff, sloppy offense in the 90s.

 

HUGE fan of Tenryu's early 2000's stuff in both All Japan and NOAH. The Triple Crown matches with Mutoh, Kawada, and Kojima are all outstanding. He's the best guy in all of those matches. His NOAH run is outstanding. He and KENTA had one of my favorite matches ever in October 2005 in front of a red hot Korakuen crowd. It adds to both of their cases. HIs tag stuff with Kobashi/Akiyama/Koshinaka is a total blast.

 

Long story short, his peak is incredibly high. I don't know if there's one year that you could point to and call him the best worker in the world, maybe 1989, maybe 1993, but I don't think there's a definite year. He's been good for so long, though. That's what blows me away. His bumping has gotten worse through the years because like I said, I think his bumping and selling was amazing in All Japan, but that stiff offense that made him seem rather annoyed with anyone who he was squaring off against is my shit. Top 5 guy for me.

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Going through the 1993 yearbook, I thought he was definitely the best wrestler in the world that year. Other than that I generally agree that there might not be one single year where he's an absolute slam dunk, runaway WOTY, even if he's in the discussion for some of those years. But in '93, man was he fucking tremendous. The New Japan/WAR feud is my favourite feud ever in wrestling and Tenryu was incredible against every single person he matched up with, from Hashimoto (who's also top 5 for the year) to Chono to Kido to fucking Michiyoshi Ohara. I'm pretty much echoing what you already said, but still, it bears repeating. If I had to whip up a top 10 matches for the year, I think Tenryu would be in five of them, and one would be my MOTY.

 

You mention 1989 there, and you're dead right about him being great then. I watched the Tenryu/Hansen v Jumbo/Kobashi tag from July this morning and I thought Tenryu was fucking spectacular in it. It's about as good an example as any of him selling for guys much lower down the card than him. I mean, Kobashi might've been a prodigy, but Tenryu was so awesome selling down to his level and making him look like a young stud (while Hansen steamrolled him and gave him almost nothing at all). Then Kobashi would bite off more than he could chew and Tenryu would stare him down before slapping his teeth out.

 

Fast forward thirteen years and here's Tenryu in 2002, at 52 years old, making another potential WOTY run, being a cantankerous old bastard towards guys like Kiyoshi Miyamoto and Kaz Hayashi, having a great match build around legwork and blood loss against a wildly inconsistent Mutoh, and doing modern day bomb throwing epics with Kojima.

 

He's one of the three guys I'm left strongly considering for my #1 at this point, but if I could only watch one wrestler for the rest of my life then he'd definitely be top of THAT list.

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You won't find a bigger Tenryu fan than me, but I'm surprised how many people were stirred by his performance in that Okada match. He looked like he could barely move. At one point, Okada essentially had to power bomb himself. Honestly, I found it depressing.

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You won't find a bigger Tenryu fan than me, but I'm surprised how many people were stirred by his performance in that Okada match. He looked like he could barely move. At one point, Okada essentially had to power bomb himself. Honestly, I found it depressing.

 

I'll second this. It looked like he had trouble getting into the ring before the match even started. There were a couple of moments (like the powerbomb in the corner) where I thought there was a chance of a legitimate injury because Tenryu barely had enough strength to do anything. There was a point where Tenryu "hit" an enziguiri on a kneeling Okada where his other foot didn't even leave the ground. When the match ended, I was more relieved than anything.

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You won't find a bigger Tenryu fan than me, but I'm surprised how many people were stirred by his performance in that Okada match. He looked like he could barely move. At one point, Okada essentially had to power bomb himself. Honestly, I found it depressing.

I get that. In all fairness, it really was the Okada performance that made the match as enjoyable as it was, but Tenryu and his aura were still present and still magical. From an analytical standpoint, he was terrible. But from a pure spectator's standpoint, it was incredible.

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I kind of want to put Tenryu to bed as there's other guys I want to watch, so here are some general thoughts on the man:

 

He reminds me a lot of Negro Navarro in the sense that he got better as he got older. In none of the Misioneros footage we have from the 80s or early 90s does Navarro look as good as the worker he molded himself into during the mid-00s, and the same is true for Tenryu prior to 1989. I'd put his peak at around 1989 to 1996, and I still think it's a crying shame that after the New Japan feud wound down in '94 there was that gap period where he did bugger all until the UWF-i feud began. 1994 and '95 seems like a significant chunk of his prime that was wasted. Nevertheless, he was an excellent worker during that period. His execution issues weren't nearly as bad as I thought. When he did have issues they tended to be clangers, but once I'd watched enough of his matches I tended to ignore some of the general sloppiness surrounding his work and appreciate other aspects of his work like his amazing selling. As mentioned above, the biggest revelation for me was how good he was at selling. I knew about his facials and his nonchalant heel attitude, but the nuanced selling was something I didn't expect. Selling could probably be broken down into various categories if people cared to take the time, but one of the major ones is selling pain, and outside of Mayumi Ozaki I'm struggling to think of anyone who sold pain in a more realistic manner than Tenryu. He was fantastic at grimacing and favouring a body part. When he stayed down hurt it looked like a sports broadcast. Such fine, nuanced work.

 

If I have one criticism of him outside of giving too much of the bout to his opponent and working from underneath too much (regardless of how good he was at selling), it's that his performances were often better than his matches, and I think that's a huge problem when comparing him to his peers who were, more often than not, the driving force behind their matches. I think he worked intentionally smaller matches than the epics that were in vogue during the mid-90s, but how much of it was a deliberate point of difference is impossible to say. The end result is that while I think he was a fantastic worker, and one of the best sellers ever, there's only a handful of matches that I'd consider the cream of the crop. You mileage will vary on that, however. Offsetting that to an extent is the fact he participated in two of the all-time great in-ring feuds -- Jumbo vs. Tenryu and Tenryu vs. Hashimoto. To me the chemistry in those feuds was better than in rivalries such as Kawada vs. Misawa and Misawa vs. Kobashi even if the matches weren't.

 

I'd probably put Tenryu in the second tier of Japanese workers, but I'd be comfortable putting him there. In many ways he was an overachiever who had an in-ring career that was better than it had a right to be. I don't think he was the most naturally talented athlete to grace a pro-wrestling ring even if had been a rikishi, and he got better because of smarts and not really by improving his technique as such. I'm not sure if others will agree, but the more he aged the more he seemed to work like Terry Funk with the punches and some of the selling tics. Anyway, an interesting candidate and one I'm sure will do very well.

Makes me long to see a full list of OJ's Japanese tiers a la his European one.

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Tenryu is one of those few guys whose peak wasn't limited to just a few years. In the 80's he had awesome matches with Jumbo and Hansen. In the 90's he had awesome matches with guys like Hashimoto and Onita. And in the 2000's he put on one of the greatest sprint matches I've ever seen against KENTA. When ranking wrestlers I really like to see longevity + peak. Not to say I'll discount someone who had an all-time great peak but a relatively short run, but the ability to put on such high level performances for multiple decades really screams "all-time great". It's true he was sloppy as hell and his enziguri, powerbomb, and even lariat on occasion could be downright awful, but the way he carried himself in a match almost made it inconsequential. For all his sloppiness, I struggle to think of a Tenryu match I didn't think was at least very good. And while I prefer him as the grumpy asskicker pounding away at the soul unfortunate enough to challenge him, he was also an incredible babyface who made his comebacks count every single time.

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3.5 years after posting this comment, Tenryu is still a top 5 contender for me. Insane longevity and versatility. Awesome slugfests with Hansen, Hashimoto, Choshu, and Kawada. Great, competitive championship-style matches with Mutoh and Flair. Exploding barbed wire cage with Onita? No DQ plunder match against Nobutaka Araya? Both really good. Tenryu was awesome and his ability to compete at such a high level for 20 years is a major feather in his cap.

Also, his powerbomb is the only move that still doesn't look great to me. The enziguiri and lariat are awesome.

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I had Tenryu at #1 in 2016 for the reasons bossrock outlined. I have a lot of regrets about my 2016 ballot but putting Tenryu at the top is probably not one of them. Everytime I watch a match with him, I can understand my reasoning at the time.

Still, this time around he wouldn't be nearly that high. Unlike other GOAT contenders, he is hurt most by the fact that he lacks that collection of all time classics. He still has a healthy number of great matches, which makes him an easy Top 20 contender but he has fallen out of truly elite company for me.

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I lol every time at how weak Tenryu's powerbomb looks in the 80s. But each year it gets a little stiffer or at least not as hilariously gentle. His shoulder breaker he was doing for much of the same time in the early to mid 80s looks far more brutal. He takes quite a while to really start to find himself, which is kind of interesting considering his longevity and also how quickly someone like Jumbo go it. Even deep into the 80s, Tenryu from time to time seems completely lost and hesitant but also it doesn't matter at all. That's a major point in his favor because most wrestlers you'd really dock heavily for stuff like that but no one seems to mind at all with Tenryu.

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I've watched a lot of 80s Tenryu recently, and to the above point I think you could probably make the case he didn't actually find himself until 1988.

Prior to Choshu jumping to All Japan there was no way Tenryu was going to carry the load in a match by himself, but if you gave him something to play off of then he'd usually bring the goods. As an example, there's a match where he teams with Dick Slater against Hansen and Umanosuke Ueda in 1982, and it's a ton of fun and Tenryu ruled playing off of Hansen being a whirlwind and Ueda being a scrub and the crowd subsequently being all in on it. On the other hand, there's a match from the same year where he teams with Mighty Inoue against Jerry Blackwell and Rufus R. Jones and it is not good at all, which I suppose you can't really blame HIM for specifically, but transplant Tenryu from a decade - or even two decades - later into that exact match and he makes it interesting just on sheer presence and how he exudes charisma alone. When the Choshu feud kicks off he almost immediately looks more assured and some of that grumpy streak comes out, but even as someone who had Tenryu top 3 in 2016 and will have him top 3 in 2026, I don't know if I'd bank on him on a consistent basis if he needs to be the one leading the match. 

By 1988, or certainly 1989, he feels all the way there, but even then there'll be matches where he's in there with a Mike Miller or some other random dude doing a tour and he ends up giving them a ton of the match when you really want him to smash them to bits. He had so many years of good-to-great stuff into his 40s and 50s (and even 60s) that I don't really hold the earlier stuff against him. Although I guess I'd say that if he was even at 1985 level going back to, say, 1982, then I'd probably have him #1 rather than way down there at #2 or #3. 

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His early career is inevitably compared to Jumbo, but consider that Jumbo was immediately in there with the best in the world. The Funks, Bockwinkel, Brisco, Robinson, etc. And those matches were recorded for posterity and positioned as main events. How many matches does Tenryu have at the same point in his career with these guys and how many are on tape? I don't want to shit on Jumbo but how much of his perceived greatness right off the bat is do to push and who he was working with at that time? 

On the other hand, how many matches does Jumbo have in his prime with lower card or relatively solid at best workers that are as good as the stuff Tenryu has with that sort of opponent?

I can't think of a Jumbo match that's better than his opponent. I can think of a lot that were disappointing.

And I know the footage is more important than wrestlers' perspectives, but Terry Funk mentions in his book that he always saw Tenryu as the better worker. Who am I to argue with the GOAT? 

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This is new footage for this round and I remember all of us really liking this:

Also new footage: We also found the one GOOD Ted vs Tenryu match apparently:

 

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1 hour ago, DR Ackermann said:

His early career is inevitably compared to Jumbo, but consider that Jumbo was immediately in there with the best in the world. The Funks, Bockwinkel, Brisco, Robinson, etc. And those matches were recorded for posterity and positioned as main events. How many matches does Tenryu have at the same point in his career with these guys and how many are on tape? I don't want to shit on Jumbo but how much of his perceived greatness right off the bat is do to push and who he was working with at that time? 

 On the other hand, how many matches does Jumbo have in his prime with lower card or relatively solid at best workers that are as good as the stuff Tenryu has with that sort of opponent?

I can't think of a Jumbo match that's better than his opponent. I can think of a lot that were disappointing.

And I know the footage is more important than wrestlers' perspectives, but Terry Funk mentions in his book that he always saw Tenryu as the better worker. Who am I to argue with the GOAT? 

 

Tenryu has matches with all those guys, but even early into his career his best matches are with Jumbo. And I mean as an opponent. Tenryu has quite a few matches teaming with or against Billy Robinson, Dory, The Von Erichs, Baba, Brody, Hansen, Flair, etc in his first couple of years. He rarely pulls it all together but there's definitely an extra gear he gets even in his earliest days when in the ring against Jumbo.

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I haven't watched the Tiger Jeet Singh match yet but the DiBiase match is indeed good and probably their best (it's not a great match-up, as has been mentioned in this thread, but I did quite like the one that made the All Japan 80s set. The Hansen/DiBiase v Jumbo/Tenryu match from 12/12/86 is also one of the best sub-10 minute matches ever and worth mentioning whenever Tenryu v DiBiase gets brought up). 

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Tenryu did not become a great wrestler until he was almost 40 and still had a long peak as a great wrestler. I will never not think that's wild. 

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1 hour ago, Matt D said:

This is new footage for this round and I remember all of us really liking this:

Also new footage: We also found the one GOOD Ted vs Tenryu match apparently:

 

 

I must be a weirdo because I recall really liking another Tenryu/Dibiase match. Also, how can you forget that we get a Tenryu/Kawada handheld from 1989?

 

Tenryu is the gift that keeps on giving. Even if with no strictly "new" footage there are ton of handheld matches that are barely talked about where he looks really good. I mean really really good, like "getting a great match out of Daikokubo Benkei on a WAR houseshow" level good.

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1 hour ago, DR Ackermann said:

And I know the footage is more important than wrestlers' perspectives, but Terry Funk mentions in his book that he always saw Tenryu as the better worker. Who am I to argue with the GOAT? 

Terry Funk also once said that Masato Tanaka was better than anyone in All Japan in the 90s so... He's a bit odd sometimes.

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To be clear, I don't think Tenryu was great either until his mid to late thirties. I'm just saying when he's compared unfavorably to Jumbo for their early career work, he wasn't positioned in the heirarchy to have the same showcase opportunities ie long AWA/NWA world title matches in the first few years of his career like Jumbo. 

Once in their respective primes there are a lot of great tags/6 mans matches where Jumbo is the third forth or fifth best guy in the match and a lot of nothing singles matches. He tended to coast a lot when he was the veteran/"superior" worker. The first Misawa match is more memorable than great. Whereas once he figured it all out, Tenryu was rarely boring.

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1 hour ago, Kadaveri said:

Terry Funk also once said that Masato Tanaka was better than anyone in All Japan in the 90s so... He's a bit odd sometimes.

Fair enough lol. Although I think Funk would place a high value on a worker making others look good in the ring, which is something Tenryu was elite at.

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I ranked Tenryu #3 in 2016 and that's yet another one I feel great about. I do expect Tenryu to drop just by virtue of now thinking Fujiwara is the best Japanese mens worker ever whereas I used to have Tenryu there. But you're not gonna catch me criticizing him. I disagree with the notion that he lacks all time classics. He's got them in pretty much every setting you could hope for.  Tenryu rules. Mr Puroresu indeed. 

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I watched one of those Baba/Jumbo vs. Kim Duk/Oki tags the other day and they bring Tenryu out to greet the crowd. I wonder how many people in the crowd that day realized they were seeing a future legend of the sport? 

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His chonmage-cutting ceremony took place on the same event as the second tag, the last show of the year. I know he was given a second row seat for Jumbo vs Terry but I don't think the camera caught him.

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