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goodhelmet

Giant Baba

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One of the projects I have always wanted to work on was a Giant Baba comp. I have never seen a wrestler, save for Bob Backlund, that has polarized wrestling fans so much. So, what do you think of this guy? How much have you seen from him?

 

On a positive note, he has been in some of the best matches I have ever seen. His work with Destroyer, Robinson, Race, Hansen and Jumbo are all excellent. On the other hand, people will look to his weak strikes and awkward demeanor and that prohibits them from taking him seriously. What side of the fence are you on?

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Guest HTQ

I've only seen Baba against Brisco and Race, so I've only seen his better work. That said, Baba seemed a decent enough worker who could be part of good matches if working with the right person.

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I honestly think Giant Baba is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. The only reason something looking flimsy or fake matters is if it somehow affects a wrestler's ability to get over or have good matches that engage the audience. There's nothing about Baba that prevented him from having good matches or getting over. If you look at sheer volume of top-level matches and great performances, there are only a few guys he would fall below, and most of those guys were wrestlers he made stars anyway.

 

In everything I have seen him in, Baba has always worked hard and always worked at having a match. He's huge and unlike many guys his size has never really been the type that thought he had a license not to sell as a result. I will admit to having only seen a few of his matches from the 60s and early 70s, and sometimes a small sampling can skew things better or worse than deserved, but Baba appears to have had a long prime full of good matches against a wide variety of opponents, and he was still capable of being an important part of a good match after his best days were over.

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In his earlier days I don't think Baba looked fake. I only think it was afterwards that he did so. Even than I never minded him. He was a wrestler just wrestling for the love of the game and I appreciated that.

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I will admit to having only seen a few of his matches from the 60s and early 70s, and sometimes a small sampling can skew things better or worse than deserved, but Baba appears to have had a long prime full of good matches against a wide variety of opponents, and he was still capable of being an important part of a good match after his best days were over.

 

I think when you work through a larger sample, like Barnett's 70s Japan that Frank put together, you get less skewing. You'll have matches like Baba vs. Rusher in 1975 that aren't very good, or even the Baba vs. Jumbo from the same Open League that isn't very good. Neither of those reflect very well on Baba. On the other hand, you'll have some so-so matches like the 04/26/1974 Baba vs. Pedro Morales that actually reflects well on Baba despite it not being a great match. There are times where Pedro gets a bit lost and it's Baba who reels him in.

 

There are other matches like the 1977 Funks vs. Baba & Jumbo from the Tag League where Jumbo and Terry are the stars, but when you look at the "support" Dory and Baba give to making truly great 45:00 draw, Baba doesn't really take a back seat to Dory. He brings a lot of nifty stuff to the match and is pretty frisky.

 

I describe Baba elsewhere as the equiv for his era of Good Taue (3/95 - 1997). He has limitations, but he's a game motherfucker who brings some good things to the table. Except that Baba got good at a younger age, was even more game, was a *smarter* worker, and was regularly adding things to his game. I don't know when Baba did the DDT for the first time, but it wasn't a move that became popular until the 80s. There's Baba rolling it out in 90s when he was an old goat. He sure as heck wasn't doing it in the 70s. :)

 

I try not to call Baba a "great worker". It strikes me as too hard to pull people over that far. So I try to get across that he was a "good worker" in his prime and a "smart worker", hoping that you can open people's eyes at least that far.

 

John

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I often wonder if Ric Flair will end up the American Baba when it's all said and done: a guy who most people will remember as a flabby old man who everyone says was good decades ago but is most remembered as a guy who worked to the point of almost exposing the business due to age/decaying skills.

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I'm not that familiar with Baba's in-ring stuff so can't really comment.

 

That being said I love his spiritual offspring, Akira Taue to death.

 

goodhelmet if there's anyone you should make a comp of it's Taue.

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I think Babas great matches from the 60s and 70s are exactly that.

 

For a guy his size, I can't think of anyone who has a better mat game, and he wrestles smart as well.

 

My problem with him is that some of his offense looks horribly weak. Those chops of his, for example. When he was younger, they looked decent at best, IMO. In the mid 70s, the chops slowed and looked even worse. By the 80s it was a glaring liability. They remind me of RVDs punches. How can you be THAT bad at a certain move, and still include it in your arsenal?

 

The other shocking thing to me was how weak he was, or at least appeared in the ring.

This was not as pronounced in the 60s and mid 70s, but the dropoff was significant after that.

 

To me, I regard him as something of a sideshow freak after 1982. A drawing card for sure, but not someone you would seek out to see great work. Before 1982, I have seen a bunch of excellent to great matches from him, so I know he could go at one time.

 

I do have some reservations to comparing his JWA work to Inoki's, even against the same opponent. Baba was the "Chosen One" by JWA as early as 65. Inoki, knowing this, bailed to start his own fed not once, but twice. After Inoki crawls back to JWA the last time in the late 60s, I can't really see any Gaijin star being told to make Inoki "look good". Not that they would be told to sandbag or bury him either.

 

All my opinion of course.

 

Dan Ginnetty

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My problem with him is that some of his offense looks horribly weak. Those chops of his, for example. When he was younger, they looked decent at best, IMO. In the mid 70s, the chops slowed and looked even worse. By the 80s it was a glaring liability. They remind me of RVDs punches. How can you be THAT bad at a certain move, and still include it in your arsenal?

People sold for the chop, and the fans went nutty for it. Hard to drop something that "works". :)

 

I also think that's just one element of his "offense". Baba actually had a pretty large moveset for a wrestler, in addition to the holds he knew how to work. More than that, Baba was willing to let just about any wrestler do anything to him that they physically could. Harley could break open his Big Book Over Moves and throw Baba around as needs. Suplexes. Piledrivers. Neckbreakers. Whatever. In the 90s, there's Baba letting Kobashi moonsault him or Misawa give him the Tiger Splash... no problem.

 

I don't get to worked up about the chops. They at least were connecting. More annoying to me would be Tenryu's enzugiri, which often would miss or be a "neighborhood play" that the opponent would have to sell. Inoki's enzugiri at least connected, but it was as "light" as Baba's chops, and every bit as critical in leading to finishes.

 

I guess as I get older and more jaded, weak strikes don't drive me as nutty as they once did as long as they work. The People's Elbow really was a ridiculous drop. But fuck it... the thing worked in that wacky WWF setting of the peroid, so what the heck. :)

 

 

The other shocking thing to me was how weak he was, or at least appeared in the ring.

This was not as pronounced in the 60s and mid 70s, but the dropoff was significant after that.

He was physically weak, and often looked like he was going to fall down. But I can take a look at the 1979 title change with Race where he won the belt, see that he's physically shot by that point, yet also see that they work a hell of a title change given one of the workers is past the freshness date. It's also not 100% because of the greatness of Harley that it's a really good match. Harley *is* freaking terrific in the match, put on one of his great performances. But Baba brings all the goods to the table that he has left at that point, and is game as all hell. Baba being Baba helps that match be strong.

 

 

I do have some reservations to comparing his JWA work to Inoki's, even against the same opponent. Baba was the "Chosen One" by JWA as early as 65. Inoki, knowing this, bailed to start his own fed not once, but twice. After Inoki crawls back to JWA the last time in the late 60s, I can't really see any Gaijin star being told to make Inoki "look good". Not that they would be told to sandbag or bury him either.

I wouldn't disagree with that. But I tend to look at some of the holds being worked by Beyers against Baba and against Inoki, and what the two natives are bringing to the table. Inoki's stuff isn't all that good opposite Beyer. It's hard to see anything the reflects it's Beyer.

 

A similar example would be the Destroyer-Matsuda match. Matsuda has this rep of being a great matworker. He frankly sucks hard in his match against Destroyer. It isn't Dick, as he gives Matsuda similar opening that he would give to Baba or Mil. Matsuda just seems intent to lay in them and not do much. It then forces Dick to move to Plan B to move the match along. And then Plan C.

 

 

John

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My thoughts on Baba are similar to Dan's. His chops work and the crowd loves them, but they don't look good in the AJPW environment like the People's Elbow wouldn't look good in an AJPW environment even if in a WWF Attitude environment it was OK.

 

My favourite Baba attribute is the Lyger-like ability to cover up for shitty missed spots. And he's somebody who would show up for the big matches, but if I had to watch him weekly on TV, even with his faults, I'd probably take Inoki over him.

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I like Baba. He has a large catalog of good to great matches. He is a fun guy to watch because he has a lot of footage around of him working a wide variety of opponents. I think some of the criticism is valid. I do feel his chops are weak. For people who say he wasn't athletic they are just wrong. For a man of his size I thought he was an incredible athlete. If I had to choose between Baba and Inoki I'd rather watch Inoki because I preferred him slightly, but a Baba comp would be fun.

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Used to be, as a young 'un, I'd be all like, "Who is this guy with his trunks all pulled up and his ribs all poking out?" and I'd think he was bad because of how he looked. Now, I know him as the greatest booker and promoter of all time, a man of his word, beloved by all, responsible for creating the style and booking the matches that I love most dearly. Now I see him in the ring with his trunks all pulled up and his ribs sticking out, and I think, "I love that guy" ans I think that he's great because of who he is.

 

I've never really had an opinion that was based on what he's actually doing in the ring.

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I can't confirm this because I wasn't there; but I have had several Japanese friends tell the same story about Baba in the 1971.

 

This goes towards him being a man of his word.

 

Inoki, Baba, and Ueda all plan on leaving JWA to start their own fed. I believe one of the networks was willing to air their matches too.

 

Ueda spills the beans, and Baba says he didn't know anything about the jump, leaving Inoki out in the cold....again....

 

That is the only quasi-nasty thing I ever heard about Baba, and I can't even confirm it happened.

 

From a business standpoint, there is no question who is more honorable. In fact, Inoki's idiocy led to one of the greatest matches of the 70s;

Giant Baba vs. Billy Robinson.

 

Apparently, Inoki stiffed Billy on his payoff after the 12/11/75 match. To be accurate, after the December tour. IMO, this makes Inoki suicidal, crazy, stupid, or some combination of all 3. Billy jumps to AJ, and puts Baba over clean, in short order might I add. This is a mere 6 months after the 60 min draw against Inoki where they shared 1 fall apiece.

 

Dynamite Kid says that NJ stiffed him on at least 2 occasions. We won't even begin to cover Inoki vs. Ali or his outside business ventures that he was funneling profits from wrestling to.

 

Just thought I would bring up my little tidbit about Baba supposedly stabbing Inoki in the back.

 

Dan Ginnetty

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I've heard the 1971 thing as well, and I believe Dave has written it in the WON as well - Inoki was hung out to dry.

 

The Robinson thing is problematic, even if it's something Billy himself claimed. I still think from watching the match that Billy went into business for himself going off the script in the match with Inoki. I suspect "stiffed" was more of a payback by the New Japan office for Billy's actions.

 

I also think the "Baba beat Billy in short order" is a bit overplayed by Dave. The length of the match wasn't out of line with Baba's PWF Title defenses of 1975-77. It wasn't any shorter than Baba's trio of title matches with Brisco in December 1974, a pair of which Baba won two of the three falls cleanly.

 

One thing always missing from Dave's comment about Baba beating Billy in 20 minutes is that Baba got Billy over in All Japan to the point that he remained a top gaijin in the company for the balance of the decade. The first match wasn't a squash job, nor did it kill Billy off or damaged his drawing power. When one reads Dave's writing on it, one tends to get that mistaken impression.

 

 

John

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Didn't know Dave wrote about this subject. The "in short order" comment was my own; and that was only in comparison to the 60 min match against Inoki. I was just thinking in terms of the Baba-Inoki feud at the time. "Inoki can't beat Billy in 60 min, but Baba does it in 20" might have been the public perception at the time.

 

I watched the Billy-Inoki match 2 days ago, notebook in hand. I did see 3 or so obvious instances of Inoki going for a nifty reverse that Billy refuses to go along with. I will say that Billy allows himself to get reversed another gazillion times during the match, so I don't know how rebellious Billy was feeling that night.

 

The bigger offense (to Inoki at least) might have been Billy's speed and quickness. Since Billy was obviously bigger and stronger, Inoki may have thought Billy would have played more of the strong gaijin monster role. Instead, he is just and slippery, just as quick and perhaps more skilled on the mat.

 

Billy does stooge quite a bit for Inoki, inlcuding a 5-6 min headscissors spot. Billy tries every escape in the book, failing every time.

Billy also takes a huge bump over the top rope for a back elbow from Inoki. That might be the only sport that looked missed or oversold to me in the whole hour.

 

When I get a chance, I can write up something a bit more elaborate, but I want to rewatch the Baba-Billy match before that, so I can compare and contrast.

 

Dan Ginnetty

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I'll have to pop it in again, but there is a very clear point in the second fall where Inoki is picking it up and heading towards the "finish" of it... and Billy just cuts him off. When Billy finally gets around to giving Inoki the fall some time later, he's farting around, the clock is really running down, the natives (including Inoki) aren't looking to happy at all, and Billy almost gives it to him in a kayfabe breaking fashion with his selling. It leaves the match no real time for a third fall, again everyone is look extremely unhappy... other than Billy who doesn't seem to mind. The post match is similar with the NJPW side not happy and Billy not giving a shit.

 

One very much gets the feeling that "the match as laid out" left considerably more time for the third fall to build through. More than that, there looked to be some real concern for a while that Billy wasn't going to even give Inoki the one fall and that it would end 1-0 for Billy... before he farted around and gave it to him late.

 

I've seen worked finish and post match "heat" spots in New Japan from the era to build for a rematch. I've seen sort of work-shoot finish and post match spots the make you think more is there, such as the two Backlund vs. Inoki title changes (Bob selling in the first that he thought he was quick counted, then all the nonsense in the second). This came across far closer to the looks on people's faces when a real trainwreck is in progress in the ring, such as Andre-Maeda and "Break Gary!". One of Inoki's strong points as a work are his facials, and the ones in here after the match veers off the script aren't something you typically see out of him. The only other match I can think of is the one with Roop where Roop goes off on long stretches of doing his own thing and cutting Inoki off. But but that match never goes far off the bend since Bobby does eventually get back into working towards what appears to be the planned finish.

 

The various times that I've watched it I've never bothered to take notes with times. So again, I'd have to pop the match in and point to it.

 

 

John

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I can't confirm this because I wasn't there; but I have had several Japanese friends tell the same story about Baba in the 1971.

 

This goes towards him being a man of his word.

 

Inoki, Baba, and Ueda all plan on leaving JWA to start their own fed. I believe one of the networks was willing to air their matches too.

 

Ueda spills the beans, and Baba says he didn't know anything about the jump, leaving Inoki out in the cold....again....

 

That is the only quasi-nasty thing I ever heard about Baba, and I can't even confirm it happened.

 

From a business standpoint, there is no question who is more honorable. In fact, Inoki's idiocy led to one of the greatest matches of the 70s;

Giant Baba vs. Billy Robinson.

 

Apparently, Inoki stiffed Billy on his payoff after the 12/11/75 match. To be accurate, after the December tour. IMO, this makes Inoki suicidal, crazy, stupid, or some combination of all 3. Billy jumps to AJ, and puts Baba over clean, in short order might I add. This is a mere 6 months after the 60 min draw against Inoki where they shared 1 fall apiece.

 

Dynamite Kid says that NJ stiffed him on at least 2 occasions. We won't even begin to cover Inoki vs. Ali or his outside business ventures that he was funneling profits from wrestling to.

 

Just thought I would bring up my little tidbit about Baba supposedly stabbing Inoki in the back.

 

Dan Ginnetty

 

That's an interesting story, Dan. I hadn't heard that one before. I've heard far more of the "Bruno sent him a car and refused to work for Inoki because Baba was the only honest promoter he'd ever worked for..." kind of stories.

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Guest Mark Ryan

Baba had great mind for the business whether in or out of the ring. When he was wrestling he had one great match in the year and this was usually in a tag where we would carry an opponent to a great match.

 

I believe he had a great match against Dory Funk where they both couldn't touch the canvas because it was was too hot (it was an outside match) and they wrestled for an hour.

 

It you was to do a comp make sure you have all the matches against Harley Race

 

Mark

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Giant Baba vs. Bruno Sammartino (JWA, 3/7/67)

 

Bruno Sammartino isn't the best place to start for an in-depth look at early Baba but their matches are some of the longer JWA stuff we have on tape. There were a lot of simple holds in this. The kind of holds you'd expect from a guy the size and strength of Sammartino trying to wear down a bigger man in Baba. A lot of bear hugs and strength holds, and plenty of arm work from Bruno to try to render Baba's chop useless. Stuff that made sense from a psychology standpoint even if it didn't produce a timeless classic. Baba's selling was good but his execution was sloppy at times and that's accounting for fatigue. They went to the well way too many times on the double knockout spot and in fact drew on it too early. That said something to me of their limitations, but it could have been a much more boring bout whereas this was more than passable. You know what you're getting from Bruno Sammartino and you get it in spades here. Let's call this okay to decent.

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Giant Baba vs. Bruno Sammartino (3/2/67)

 

This by contrast was a 15 minute draw. We got to see them beat the shit out of each other a lot more. Baba caused plenty of mayhem with his chops, which is probably why Bruno went after the arm so much in the July bout. Bruno inflicted major damage with his bear hug and bully boy tactics. Weak finish. Bruno cut a heel promo afterward claiming Baba was running scared.

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