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KinchStalker's Puro History thread: info from 2020 Jumbo bio and more! [UPDATE 2021.06.11: HISTORY OF THE IWE, PT. 3.1 (1972)]

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Was there some story to the Hansen/Choshu match 4/5/86? Sure seems like at the end Choshu gets pretty uncooperative, Hansen gets real pissed yelling out FUCK YOU, MAN after hitting a lariat, then hits another, then hits a big boot, then goes for another lariat and bumps the ref and Choshu immediately pops up to hit him with a backdrop as they go for a fuck finish.  Then instead of of the normal angry post match brawling, Hansen and his crew just kind of stand around looking mad but not doing anything and calmly walking of until Hansen comes back later when Choshu is getting his trophy and belts for a more normal post match situation. The whole thing seems very weird. 

 

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I can't say I know about any specific incident but I do know that the Ishingun era in general was a deeply frustrating time for AJPW's gaijin crop.

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14 hours ago, JerryvonKramer said:

How did Sato go from this to being in a shitty undercard tag team for Vince?

He returned to the States in '85 and worked for Central States and Memphis before working in the AWA and WWF. He still did tours with All Japan at the time, but with the influx of talent from Japan Pro Wrestling there was no need for Baba to call him back from overseas. He wound up being a road agent for Vince on the SWS/WWF shows. He mostly dealt with the Japanese side of things while Blackjack Lanza looked after the WWF guys. 

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I started this as Part Two of the SWS history posts, but there is no way that I could do justice to the fracture of the Newborn UWF, and consequent formation of Fujiwara Gumi, while packing it in with the next main part of the narrative. I promise not to go all Kingdom Hearts on you guys with interquel after interquel to put off proper sequels, but sometimes you need to spin chunks off into separate pieces for your own sanity. This is primarily sourced from a 2018 Igapro article.

The Dissolution of Newborn UWF

------------------------

After his victory over Masakatsu Funaki in the main event of UWF Atlantis on October 25, Akira Maeda, the company’s biggest star and the cofounder of its revived incarnation, made comments to backstage reporters. The gist of these, from what I was able to gleam through DeepL, was that Maeda believed that the performances of Nobuhiko Takada and Kazuo Yamazaki (the latter of whom did not work UWF Atlantis) were compromised by “being in an environment” where they could not concentrate fully on their fights. Maeda stated his intent to protect his younger talent in that sense, and declared that any force which attempted to interfere or meddle with them, be it from outside or within, would be crushed without mercy. Four days later, UWF president Shinji Jin made a surprise announcement that Maeda would be punished for his damaging comments with a five-month suspension. This executive decision had been made with no input from the rest of the board.

Meltzer’s breakdown of the tensions between Maeda and Jin which led to this, which he published at the head of the November 12, 1990 Observer which reported on Jin’s announcement, states that they started in March 1989, when Jin handed Maeda a contract, with a clause “that is in all wrestlers’ contracts in Japan”, which read that he would have to pay twice the amount of the contract itself in order to break it. Maeda did not sign it. Meltzer reported that Maeda and Jin, who had known each other since Jin had worked in the NJPW front office in 1983, were such close friends that Maeda had never worried about business affairs – which were left entirely in Jin’s hands, even if the ownership of the Newborn UWF was a five-way split between the two of them as well as Takada, Yamazaki, and managing director Suzuki (I only have the surname at present) – and had not even wrestled under contract for the promotion until this. However, the 2018 Igapro article this is mostly sourced from ties this thread back even further. On August 13, 1988, after the company held its third event (UWF The Professional Bout), Maeda was approached by his karate teacher and mentor Shogo Tanaka, who wished to look into the company books. It doesn’t state whether Jin let him (I doubt it), but either way, there were definitely suspicions on Maeda’s end regarding company finances before the tensions began to be exacerbated due to Hachiro Tanaka.

The aforementioned Observer reported that Jin felt obligated to send Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Masakatsu Funaki, and Minoru Suzuki to work SWS shows. On top of his sponsorship of Newborn UWF, Tanaka had footed the bill for the penalty fees attached to Funaki and Suzuki’s NJPW contracts. This was, as anyone familiar with the then-legitimate reputation of this era of shootstyle can guess, absolutely unacceptable to Maeda. This was not a matter of pride or some romanticized ideology; Maeda was absolutely correct to object as he had, because the perception of Newborn UWF’s legitimacy was contingent on its insulation from the rest of the professional wrestling industry.

A subsequent request from Maeda to look into the books was denied. As Meltzer reported, Maeda hired an accountant and lawyer in response, with serious intent to depose Jin before he was suspended.

Jin assigned Fujiwara to organize the talent on Maeda’s behalf for the next event, UWF Energy in Matsumoto on 1990.12.01, and a meeting was scheduled to determine the card. However, Fujiwara was absent from this meeting, as were Takada and Yamazaki. Fujiwara no-showed because he didn’t want to get involved in anything messy, while Takada and Yamazaki did not attend because, if they entered the Matsumoto show, that meant that they were implicitly approving of Jin’s executive overreach in suspending Maeda. Jin responded ruthlessly, claiming that they would have to pay a penalty fee four times (!) their salary if they boycotted. Of course, Jin was really planning to drive out Takada and Yamazaki as well as Maeda, and functionally replace them with the young Funaki and Suzuki. [2021.04.20 addition: according to the November 26 Observer, Fujiwara had creative differences with Maeda's ideals and wished to bring more traditional wrestling elements into the company's product.]

However, Funaki and Suzuki were no great fans of Jin themselves, and in a discussion with fellow wrestler Shigeo Miyato came to the conclusion that “if Maeda is not wrong, it is not right for him not to participate [in the Matsumoto event]”. Takada agreed with them, and the four secretly met with Maeda, convincing him to attend the event. This led to a pretty famous moment, if one that was deeply ironic in retrospect. After Funaki’s defeat of Ken Shamrock, then professionally known as Wayne Shamrock, in the main event, he called Maeda up to the ring, and the rest of the locker room followed to shake hands with him one by one.

On December 7, 1990, Jin announced the dismissal of all Newborn UWF talent and his withdrawal from the industry to become a concert promoter. [1] As reported in the Observer ten days later, Jin was going to prevent them from using the UWF name in their new endeavors, but for now, worries that a messy legal case would expose the UWF were abated. It was expected that they would reconfigure as a new company and reach a television deal with WOWOW.

However, tensions within the promotion would prove its undoing.

Maeda thought that all the wrestlers were united with him. But, if DeepL is steering me right, it seems that tensions emerged from his having met with Takada and Yamazaki beforehand to coordinate a meeting. Fujiwara and Tatsuo Nakano did not appear at this meeting. Fujiwara had already received his invitation from Megane Super to form what would become PWFG, but did not want to negotiate to pull Funaki and Suzuki out with him, so he withheld his answer to Hachiro Tanaka while taking a step back from the situation. Nakano, meanwhile, didn’t want to get involved in something he predicted would get messy, because he knew about the discontentment of Shigeo Miyato.

Miyato was disgruntled by Maeda using Takada and Yamazaki as liaisons to arrange this meeting, as he claimed he was the one who arranged the unity, and that he should therefore have the right to speak. This snowballed into an argument where Miyato accused Maeda of treating him like he was still his little apprentice. In response, Maeda told the wrestlers to disband as an attempt at “shock therapy”.

If the translation is coming out correctly, Takada at least understood what Maeda was trying to do, but nevertheless the wrestlers began moving “according to their own agendas”. The first plan, which Miyato, Yuji Anjo and others moved towards, was to establish a promotion centered around Funaki. Funaki, who felt that Maeda had abandoned him, went with Suzuki to talk to Fujiwara about their plans, and it was at this point when Fujiwara accepted Megane Super’s offer. Funaki tried to invite some other UWF talent to join, but Miyato refused because he did not want any sponsors. At this point, Miyato moved to form what would become the UWFi, centered around Takada. As written at the beginning of the paragraph, Takada understood that Maeda had just been trying to splash some figurative cold water in their faces, but he ultimately went along with this plan because he felt obligated to take care of Miyato, Anjo, and the others, but also wanted the chance to be the ace of a promotion, which he would never become over Maeda. Maeda, for his part, realized the error he had made, and visited Funaki’s house in a last-ditch attempt to at least salvage him. But Funaki was not there, and even if he had been, he would not have agreed to a meeting.

So it was that the Newborn UWF splintered into the UWFi and PWFG, leaving Maeda, for the moment, alone.

Spoiler

[1] At Maeda's retirement show on 1999.02.23, Jin was not present, but he did send a letter of apology to Maeda to the aforementioned former managing director Suzuki, who was in attendance, to give to him. Maeda let bygones be bygones. Jin has declined all subsequent interview requests pertaining to the UWF.

 

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Here's the first part of Part Two of the SWS series, which goes up to the 1991.04.02 Wrestle Dream in Kobe show. The source I've been consulting only tells much of the rest of the story in 1991 through the lens of the reformation of Ryuhara-gun, Tenryu's tag team with Ashura Hara, so that will be its own post, preceded by an extended Hara biography up to that point. 

SWS Part Two: Black Ship Docks (1/2)

ROAD TO WRESTLEFEST 1991

The first SWS show with loaned WWF talent was (according to Cagematch) their eighth event, which took place on December 6, 1990, at the Welfare Hall in Himeji. The WWF representatives were the tag teams of Ted DiBiase and Greg Valentine, the Bushwhackers, and the Rougeaus, as well as half of the constituents of the opening six-man tag (the Brooklyn Brawler, Beef Wellington, and Rochester Roadblock). All these men also worked the following night’s show at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, which drew 6,390, though the January 8 Observer reported under 3,000 paid. According to the December 7 Observer, the WWF had control of the booking of all their wrestlers, and while Meltzer doesn’t state this I presume Akio Sato was heavily involved in the process; he and Titan Sports business VP Dick Glover had both visited Japan in November to announce the partnership.

SWS began the new year with their 1991.01.04 show at the Tokyo Bay NK Hall in Urayasu. While announced as a sellout of 5,909, the 1991.01.21 Observer reported that, at 3,500 with less than half paid, the actual crowd was the smallest that a wrestling event at the venue had ever drawn. The show itself was said to have been Japan’s worst in years, with a Rockers vs Fuyuki/Kitahara tag being the sole three-star match on the card as it was reported to Meltzer. The main event, which saw Tenryu and Kitao go over Tito Santana and Haku, reportedly saw the crowd laughing at Kitao. At this point in the company, Kitao had a second-place tournament performance (1990.12.07, losing to Tenryu), a main event tag victory (1990.11.22, w/Tenryu over Sano/Shunji Takano), and three squash matches to his name, but it wasn’t shaking off his poor reputation. And as reported in a later Observer, this show gave Tarzan Yamamoto and Weekly Pro Wrestling plenty of ammunition.

On January 22, Isao Takagi (Dojo Geki) was dismissed. According to the February 18 Observer, this was because he was skipping too many training sessions due to his claimed injuries and gambling habits.

February would see SWS block Weekly Pro from ringside and interview access completely, though ironically this appears to have arisen from an honest error, rather than Yamamoto’s antics. SWS purchased a full-page ad in the magazine for the 1991.03.30 Tokyo Dome show, and upon seeing it complained and requested corrections. However, the revised version of the ad did not make it to the presses. Yamamoto revealed in subsequent years that this was a printer’s mistake, and that he tried to tell Hachiro Tanaka what had happened, but considering all he had printed about SWS up to that point he was perhaps understandably not believed. The Weekly Pro ban was reported in the March 11 Observer, though Dave was unaware of the straw that had broken the camel’s back. This same issue reported that other outlets heaped praise upon the 1991.02.24 SWS Korakuen Hall show (which featured no WWF talent) in response, wishing to curry favor with the promotion which had just bared its fangs to their biggest competitor, though Meltzer’s “unaffiliated sources” reported that the card wasn’t that good.

A second round of auditions was held on 1991.02.24, with two passing: future WAR junior champ Yuji Yasuraoka and Toshiyuki Nakahara (both Revolution). That same day, two other signings were announced, one of whom was Hikaru Kawabata (Dojo Geki).

As far as new talent went, however, the most important thing going was obviously SWS’s partnership with Shin UWF Fujiwara Gumi, later to be renamed Professional Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi. (See the post above for the rundown on the fracture of Newborn UWF, which led to FG’s formation.) The timeline in the SWS’s Japanese Wikipedia page places the announcement at March 13, 1991, but it was a foregone conclusion long before even if one wasn’t following the money. According to the February 11 Observer, Nikkan Sports reported that Fujiwara, Funaki, and Suzuki were SWS-bound, and the March 11 issue stated that Funaki/Sano had been announced for the Dome show. My guess is that the March 13 announcement was that Fujiwara-gumi were partnering with SWS as their own room.

We should probably address that now. As stated in part one, the heya system was Tenryu’s idea, a transplant from sumo, and its “rooms” were not just kayfabe factional entities, but distinct units within the company structure. To Tenryu’s credit, it was a pretty good idea; the differences between AJPW and NJPW company culture probably would have been irreconcilable had he tried to push those same-sided magnets together into a single locker room. And the third faction, Wakamatsu and Sakurada’s Dojo Geki, was intended to serve as a mediating party between Revolution and Palaistra. However, to skip ahead just a bit, Sakurada and Wakamatsu would soon depart: Sakurada back to America, and Wakamatsu to his seriously ill wife.

The appointment of Kabuki as booker was an asymmetrical arrangement, as his booking favored those who had left All Japan alongside him, and was even done with Tenryu’s consultation. This was not an arrangement that George Takano, or indeed many others, were happy with. They also saw that the WWF partnership was hinged on ex-All Japan buddies Tenryu, Kabuki, and Akio Sato, and that Revolution were favored in the booking of WWF-loaned talent. (In fact, as had been reported in the November 19 Observer it had only been Tenryu and Kabuki accompanying Hachiro Tanaka to negotiate to secure the WWF partnership in the first place.) The wrestlers would appeal directly to Tanaka, who then stepped in and interfered with Kabuki and Tenryu’s decisions.

SWS/WWF Wrestlefest in Tokyo Dome took place on 1991.03.30. The claimed attendance was a sporting event record for the venue, at 64,618. The April 8 Observer reported that the real attendance was somewhere from 42-45,000, with an estimation of around half of that paid. The following week, Dave would get the real juicy details. 30,000 of that attendance was what the Dome’s box office had reported “out” – as in, the individual tickets bought directly from them as well as bulk tickets ordered by ticket sellers (the paid attendance was reported as “probably near” that amount) – but the show had been papered by a massive freebie campaign from Megane Super, in which they distributed 50,000 coupons in the Tokyo area which could be redeemed for two tickets. The WWF had also done a trade-off campaign with Armed Forces Radio, in order to get stationed US personnel and their families to get crowd reactions for the “American spots”, but this campaign wasn’t as successful as their previous one for the 1990.04.13 Dome show.

SWS Wrestle Dream in Kobe, held two days later, would be the stage for one of the most infamous shoot incidents in modern wrestling history…Apollo Sugawara walking out of his match against Minoru Suzuki. Nah, I’m just screwing with you. Let’s get to what you came here for.

THUNDER STORM BREAKS DOWN

At the Dome show, Koji Kitao had put over Earthquake: that is, the Canadian former rikishi John Tenta, who had retired from sumo in 1986 [1] to join All Japan Pro Wrestling, before signing with the WWF in 1989 to perform somewhere closer to home.

A 2021 web article for Sports Graphic Number by writer Genki Horie, published on the thirtieth anniversary of the Kobe show, advances a couple theories about the incident at the Kobe show. The first is that Kitao’s head got gassed up by Don Arakawa and others backstage; Apollo Sugawara claims that Kitao had called him afterwards and threatened to no-show Kobe. The second theory is given much more real estate in the article since it is sourced from an interview the author himself conducted with Tenta.

According to Tenta, the intent was not to trade wins between the ex-yokozuna and ex-makushita, but for Earthquake to beat Kitao both times. However, Kitao complained that Tenta had injured his breastbone with his Earthquake Splash, although Tenta found that ridiculous (nobody he’d worked with in the WWF had complained about the move). Then, as Tenta told it, Kabuki flew into the dressing room to tell him his intentions. What he said to Tenta translated as “let’s give Kitao some flowers today.” (As a supplement to DeepL, I checked RomajiDesu’s translation feature, which breaks down smaller passages into romaji and translates the individual units, in order to see whether this was wrong. But no, this is what was written; I don’t know a specific colloquial meaning, but my tentative guess is that Kabuki decided at the last minute to put Kitao over to keep things running smoothly. However, apparently in an episode of Between the Sheets Bixenspan and Zellner interpreted/reported this as Kabuki telling him to actively provoke Kitao.)

Tenta stated that he wanted to have a good match at the start, so he began working in good faith. However, Kitao unsuccessfully tried to blindside him with a Fujiwara armbar attempt out of the collar-and-elbow. What ensued famously manifested as a minute or so of uncooperative shoot-ish working between the two until, as captured in this photo, Kitao refused to lock up, instead giving a certain gesture to Tenta. (I have seen this commonly called an “eyepoke” gesture, but Japanese Wikipedia interprets it as a handgun gesture. This had been seen in Japan around this time to indicate a gachinko/”cement match”.) According to Tenta’s testimony, this was the point when he no longer took the match seriously, and sure enough, the rest of the match saw the two staring each other down and talking shit until Kitao got disqualified by kicking the referee. As you likely know, Kitao grabbed the microphone afterwards (fancam footage) and exposed ‘da business.

Tenta was not proud of the match, but he did note that when he returned to America, the rumor had grown to the proportion that he had actually beaten Kitao in a shoot, which boosted his reputation backstage. (That’s not to imply that Tenta wasn’t tough; I recently learned that we might have him to thank for sparing our timeline from a full-on Raja Lion run in AJPW, after they sparred in the dojo and Tenta trounced him.)

Honestly, what I find more interesting for the purposes of our narrative is not the circumstances which led to the incident, but what happened immediately afterward. After Kitao’s death in 2019, Masakatsu Funaki uploaded a vlog to his YouTube channel, where he aired out some laundry that I have to mention. Hachiro Tanaka’s wife was working as an on-site supervisor, and when she warned him about his behavior, Kitao threw a chair at her during his backstage tantrum. It didn’t hit her, but from Funaki’s testimony she would have been injured if it had. This went unreported, but Funaki claims that it was a turning point in Hachiro Tanaka’s attitude towards his wrestlers, and understandably so.

Tenryu and Kabuki took responsibility for the incident, and so Tenryu asked Tanaka to demote both of them from their respective roles as director and booker. Initially Kitao was punished with a fine and suspension, but Palaistra and Dojo Geki objected to such leniency. In an emergency meeting, Tenryu and Kabuki asked for Kitao’s resignation, and Tanaka was forced to fire him. Then, Tanaka would step down from his presidential role, deciding to give the seat to Tenryu to “take care of everything”.

Under the Tenryu regime, Kabuki would not step down as booker after all, but changes were implemented that temporarily suspended the heya system, and it appears that all the respective heads were, for a time, allowed to be involved in the booking.

(Note: Tanaka would try to bring Kitao back at some point as a member of Fujiwara Gumi, but the meeting went nowhere after Kitao took out his laptop, where he had written his pitch for how he wanted his matches to go, and well, let's just say it wasn't PWFG-compatible.)

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(above: President Tenryu)

Spoiler

[1] John Tenta’s English Wikipedia page states, with citations from contemporaneous articles in the Western press, that Tenta retired due to a combination of the demanding sumo lifestyle, and the cultural differences that made his bicep tattoo (a tiger, in honor of his alma mater LSU) a problem. In actuality, there was a little more to it. Tenta was a poor fit in general for the sumo world, sure – his stablemaster had told his stablemates to “forgive Kototenzan’s (Tenta’s sumo name) selfishness because of his talent”, but this had apparently backfired – but there was also a scandalous matter regarding Tenta’s interpreter, a woman with whom he became romantically linked. According to culture writer Robert Whiting, Tenta ultimately retired because his stablemaster would not give him a satisfactory answer regarding health insurance in the case of injury.

 

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I remember 12 year old me, having zero knowledge of non US wrestling at the time, being absolutely baffled that these two Japanese dudes I'd never seen before (Tenryu and Kitao) not only had a match at Wrestlemania 7 but actually got a win over Demolition. 

Also I just realized WM 7 was like a week before the famous incident with Earthquake and both of them were on this show too. I wonder if they had any kind of run in at this show that might have fed in to what happened later. 

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As I stated at the top of the previous post, this extended biography precedes part two of Part Two of the SWS series. To commemorate this, I am changing my avatar for the third time since my account was created, to the image which to this point I had only used as my profile picture on the DVDVR board. I already explained it over there, but I shall do so again in a footnote. [1]

On with the story. My next post will recount the circumstances around Hara’s return to professional wrestling and the reformation of Ryuharagun as the second half of Part Two of the SWS history.

ASHURA HARA

Rugby career

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Susumu Hara took to rugby in his sophomore year of high school after dabbling in judo and sumo, and after his graduation from Toyo University in 1969, he would be drafted by the Kintetsu Liners, owned by the Kintetsu railroad company (aka Kinki Nippon Railway). Hara spent years working for Kintetsu in his day job as well as his athletic one. He was by all accounts a quite good player, and even became the first Japanese player selected for the World Championships in 1976. However, his day job and training to become a train conductor and driver got in the way of his sports career, and this compounded with Kintetsu’s refusal to give him preferential treatment for working for them in two contexts led him to retire, and then leave the company entirely in 1977.

After this, Hara would coach an amateur team owned by author and rugby fan Akiyuki Nosaka (most famous in the West for writing Grave of the Fireflies). However, an interest in professional wrestling was sparked through the scouting of ex-rugby player the Great Kusatsu of the International Wrestling Enterprise. New Japan was also attempting to scout him, but Hara wound up preferring Kusatsu’s offer. On November 29, 1977, Hara announced he would join the IWE, with Nosaka sitting to his right.

IWE (1978-1981)

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Since Hara’s physical conditioning from professional rugby still remained, the IWE put him on the fast-track as far as training went, having Animal Hamaguchi coach him to debut as early as possible. After working the opening match on 1978.06.24 in a Devil Murasaki mask (as revealed in G Spirits #36, the real Murasaki took that day off), Hara’s proper debut would come two days later, in an exhibition match against Isamu Teranishi which was wrestled to a fifteen-minute time-limit draw. In July, Hara was sent on excursion to Calgary for seasoning and further training under Tetsunosuke Daigo and Kazuo Sakurada. As Fighting Hara, he would enjoy a five-day reign that same month with the Stampede Wrestling British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship, winning from and then dropping back to Norman Frederick Charles III. In September, Hara moved to West Germany to complete the second phase of his excursion, working for Otto Wanz’s Catch Wrestling Association Edmund Schober in Hannover.

Hara returned to Japan on December 7. Much had changed since he had left; I laid this out a few months back in a historical post in the Fujinami/Hara thread on the Matches subforum, but I can give a condensed version here.

The IWE had burned their bridge with All Japan during the November Japan League tour when they booked New Japan talent in the undercard of the 1978.11.25 Kuramae Kokugikan show without Baba’s knowledge or consent. While the IWE had formed an alliance with All Japan in 1975, the power disparity of that relationship had ultimately turned the former into, functionally, a satellite organization, and had thus damaged their reputation. Meanwhile, when IWE president Isao Yoshihara unsuccessfully attempted to get the Tokyo District Court to prevent NJPW from booking Ryuma Go, whom they had lured from the IWE, he established contact with NJPW business head Hisashi Shinma, and offered him his presidential seat. By this point New Japan was handily ahead of All Japan in popularity, and Yoshihara thought he could get a relationship with the other side that better favored his company. (Long story short, he was wrong.)

So it was that, nine days after his return, Hara accompanied Rusher Kimura to a surprise appearance at NJPW’s 1978.12.16 Kuramae Kokugikan show, where he greeted Tatsumi Fujinami from ringside and announced his intent to challenge him. Fujinami’s reign with the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, which had begun in January when he defeated Jose Estrada in Madison Square Garden, had made him a major star in Japan (not to mention that he attracted a periphery demographic – women – to an extent which paralleled and perhaps even surpassed that which his AJPW foil Jumbo Tsuruta had done), and the IWE wanted to market Hara as a junior heavyweight in response. Hara appeared again at Fujinami’s fan gathering at Korakuen Hall on December 26. The next day, at what I am presuming was a press event, he would receive his stage name, Ashura Hara, from none other than Nosaka.

Hara began wrestling for the IWE at the start of 1979. Not much is notable about his first few months, but from the footage I’ve seen he did manage to get television time from the start. He would gradually also be incorporated into the cage and chain matches that the IWE built their brand for brutality on.

Hara would also, for the only time in IWE history [2], have entrance music commissioned for him. While “Don’t You Know How Much I Love You” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra (but produced, arranged, conducted and orchestrated by Barry White) was used for him at some point, the theme that he would take with him to All Japan was “Ashura”, performed by a group identified as Minotaur which I cannot find any other leads on and which I am convinced was just a one-off session musician gig.

On 1979.05.06, Hara defeated Mile Zrno to win the WWU World Junior Heavyweight title, which had been created for him the previous year when Zrno won it in Berlin in December. I don’t know why the title which the IWE already had, the IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title, was not used for Hara, but by this point it had been gathering dust around Isamu Teranishi’s waist for years. A rematch the following night (which exists on tape, but which I have not seen) ended in double countout.

Hara’s next pair of defenses would take place two months later, on 1979.07.20 and 1979.07.21, and the latter was a double title match for a belt he’d already held. In his first major Japanese appearance (a draw against Isamu Teranishi on 1979.07.19 was also broadcast in clipped form, though the first Hara match wasn’t), the Dynamite Kid was also defending the Stampede Wrestling British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship in their second match, a European-style bout which consisted of eight four-minute rounds. This draw is a frontrunner for the best Hara match of the IWE era, and one of the promotion’s surviving matches which I can most easily and highly recommend. [2021.05.06 correction: A below comment by DGinnetty indicates that the first Dynamite/Hara match was televised as well, but tape has not surfaced.]

Dynamite deeply impressed both IWE president Isao Yoshihara and the executives at Tokyo 12 Channel, who exclaimed that he was even better than Billy Robinson. Plans were made for Dynamite to appear again on the next tour, but NJPW’s interest had been piqued enough for them to secure a deal with Stu Hart through Mr. Hito. Stu could not resist the booking fee, nor could he turn down the invitation for his sons Bret and Keith to work for New Japan. As you may know, the 1979.08.17 Stampede show held three NJPW title matches: Seiji Sakaguchi’s defense of the NWF North American Heavyweight title against Tiger Jeet Singh; Fujinami’s defense of the WWF Junior Heavyweight title against Dynamite; and Antonio Inoki’s defense of the NWF Heavyweight title against Stan Hansen.

For the IWE Dynamite Series tour, Hara had a pair of defenses on 1979.09.28 and 1979.10.04 against Mark Rocco, making his Japanese debut with this tour; both ended in double countout. According to an Igapro article on Hara’s IWE career which I am using as a primary source (drawn from issues #3 and #11 of the magazine 日本プロレス事件史), the televised Rocco match, alongside the second Zrno one, was considered to have somewhat exposed Hara. The following night, he wrestled NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion Nelson Royal in a double title match to a double knockout. This is most interesting for its aftermath; after All Japan and New Japan, NWA members both, protested that this made Royal’s title invalid, he retired and vacated it. Afterwards, Eddie Graham, Mike LaBelle, and Hisashi Shinma, who were unhappy that Leroy McGuirk held the right to promote the title, banded together to create another version, but this would not be accepted by the whole of the Alliance and would be renamed the NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship. (The World Junior Heavyweight title was revived in early 1980.)

Hara’s last defense of the WWU title in 1979 took place on 1979.11.07, in a cage match against Gypsy Joe, in which he retained after DKO. One week later, he received what would be his only match (albeit non-title) against a current holder of the IWA World Heavyweight title, wrestling Verne Gagne to a loss. (Thirty-six years later, the two would die just one day apart.)

The IWE New Pioneer Series would see the Hara/Joe feud continue. Two untelevised WWU title defenses took place on 1980.01.07 and 1980.01.14; the latter would be Hara’s first decisive victory as champion in a 2/3-falls match. Hara defeated Joe once again two days later, in a televised cage match.

Hara would finally get his match against Tatsumi Fujinami on 1980.04.03, after a successful WWU title defense against IWE defect Ryuma Go on 1980.03.31. (I know the latter match exists in circulation but it is not publicly uploaded as of writing.) In his shot at Fujinami’s WWF Junior Heavyweight title, Hara lost by submission. Hara was humiliated in what was, besides a two-week IWA World Tag Team title reign for Strong Kobayashi and Haruka Eigen, the last NJPW/IWE interpromotional angle. Hara vacated the WWU title to graduate to the heavyweight division. Although he continued to work for the company on its following tours, he would not appear on television for the rest of 1980.

In January 1981, Hara went on an excursion to Mid-South to train as a heavyweight; he was originally going to leave in October, but it took two months to obtain a work visa. During this excursion he wrestled the Super Destroyer Scott Irwin, whose signature maneuver, the superplex, would be taken by Hara. He debuted the new finisher to win his return match against Steve Olsonoski on 1981.04.18. One month later, on 1981.05.16, he and Mighty Inoue defeated Paul Ellering and Terry Nathan to win the IWA World Tag Team titles; Animal Hamaguchi, Inoue’s usual partner, was out of commission to treat his liver. Hara and Inoue would hold the belts until the promotion’s closure, and in fact the first of their two successful defenses, against Gypsy Joe and Carl Fergie on 1981.06.25, was the last IWE match ever broadcast. (Puroresu.com and Cagematch both claim that a Hara/Joe cage match immediately followed this, but I’m skeptical.) Hara and Inoue’s last defense was on 1981.08.08, the IWE’s penultimate show, against Terry Gibbs and Jerry Oates.

I’m going to end this section by quoting the final paragraph of my historical post on the Fujinami/Hara match thread:

Sixteen months after wrestling Fujinami, Hara found himself on the grounds of an elementary school in Rausu, for a hastily arranged show which would be the ignoble end of the IWE. For their final tour, they hadn't even managed to book Korakuen; the best they could do so far as Tokyo was concerned was a parking lot in Machida. The company's funds were so depleted that the entourage couldn't even pay their own way all the way back to Tokyo, relying on the generosity of a bus driver on the Tōhoku Expressway. Hara had no interest in joining Kimura, Hamaguchi, and Teranishi in NJPW, despite Yoshihara's recommendation. He was still genuinely bitter about this match, and had intended to retire and take over his family farm. But then, Giant Baba would contact IWE commentator Tadao Monma to express interest in him, and the rest is history.

AJPW (1981-1988)

Yasei no Danpugai (“Wild Dump Guy”) [Yes, this was his actual nickname. There must be some context I’m missing, because I’m getting real “Loose Explosion” vibes.]

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Signed to a freelance contract, Hara was one of the ex-IWE performers who, in defiance of Isao Yoshihara’s wishes, went to All Japan instead of New Japan: the others were Mighty Inoue and rookies Hiromichi Fuyuki and Apollo Sugawara. [3] Hara was asked if he would be interested in a #4 spot in the company, behind Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, and Genichiro Tenryu. He made his AJPW debut on 1981.10.02, with a singles match against Tenryu. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s worth seeing because, outside of an early glimmer or two that comes to mind [4], I think that it’s the earliest Tenryu performance on tape to show recognizable if inchoate shades of his later personality. The two would reach a mutual understanding through this match, and formed a tag team which would compete in the next two iterations of the RWTL. Another theme of the first phase of Hara’s AJPW career was his utilization as a jobber to the gaijin stars. Most famously, he was the first opponent of post-NJPW run Stan Hansen in All Japan, falling to the Western Lariat in 2:25. However, there are other matches I would put in this category during this era, against the likes of Terry Funk and Rick Martel.

While Hara’s team with Tenryu would continue on-and-off in this first incarnation through 1984, he found his greatest kayfabe success with others. On 1983.02.23, he teamed up with fellow ex-IWE star Mighty Inoue to challenge for the All Asia Tag Team titles, which had been vacated by Akio Sato and Takashi Ishikawa the previous month following Sato’s injury, and defeated the Great Kojika and Motoshi Okuma by disqualification. A rematch on 1983.03.02 saw them go clean over the men who had been synonymous with the belt in the latter half of the previous decade. They would hold the belts for nearly a year, as well as enter the 1983 RWTL together, until they vacated them so that Inoue could focus on chasing the NWA International Junior Heavyweight title, after which Hara would team with Ashura Hara to defeat ex-IWE gaijin Gerry Morrow (who had interestingly been booked like a native by the company, as Jiro Inazuma) and Thomas Ivy to win them again on 1984.02.16. Outside of this reign, the last notable matches of Hara’s first run with All Japan were a pair of shots at Tenryu’s NWA United National title, on 1984.04.11 and 1984.04.16.

It’s time to get into the story behind Hara’s first departure from All Japan. He had been assigned the task of promoting a show on 1984.10.22 in his hometown of Nagasaki, but had entrusted a friend with the task. When said friend vanished, Hara suddenly went off the grid in shame. It’s said that no posters had even been put up in the city, and Cagematch records the eventual show’s attendance as a paltry 1,800. Because this was a television taping the show could not be canceled.

Hitman

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No word would be given publicly of Hara until 1985.04.03, when he interrupted a singles match between Riki Choshu and Takashi Ishikawa to attack and challenge the former. Igapro states that Hara was brought back into the fold by his (unnamed) sponsor, who was also one of AJPW’s promoters, and who served as his guarantor to bring him back in what I presume due to later information was a pay-per-appearance capacity. Hara began training at Mount Inasu that month, which was reported on by Tokyo Sports.

After interfering in another Choshu match on 1985.04.19, Hara was to team up with his old pal Tenryu on 1985.04.24 against Choshu and Animal Hamaguchi, but this would end up being the stage for a breakup angle. Tenryu was frustrated that Hara had refused to talk to him before the match, and Hara eventually blew up, hit Tenryu with a chair, and walked out. Motoshi Okuma stepped in as a replacement, and predictably got eaten alive in 1:27. At the first show of the next tour, on 1985.05.17 (one night after the second JPW tour had ended), Hara interfered again, this time in Tenryu’s match. Hara acquired the nickname “Hitman” due to these actions, and Baba set up a singles match for him against Motoshi Okuma in Hokkaido on 1985.05.19. [5] In his first match in seven months, Hara rolled out his new finisher, the Hitman Lariat, to win in 0:48. His next three matches would likewise be sub-minute squashes against, respectively, Haruka Eigen, Masanobu Kurisu, and Haru Sonoda. On 1985.05.29, he appeared on late-night NTV program 11PM to send a message to Tenryu.

At Special Wars in Budokan on 1985.06.21, Hara interfered in the postmatch of the second Tenryu/Choshu singles match. (His involvement was a matter of confusion for several brothers on that match’s thread on this forum, where I explained the matter late last year.) One week later, on the first date of the 85 Heat Wave! Summer Action Wars tour, Hara wrestled his first match of any relative substance since his return, a singles match against Tenryu which predictably spiraled out of control into a no-contest. Soon afterward, Hara would officially sign with the company as a freelancer. While Hara would wrestle alongside his former IWE coworkers, now configured as Kokusai Ketsumeigun (“International Blood Army”), he never actually joined their faction. [Edit: this is worded misleadingly, as not every ex-IWE guy in All Japan was a member. Mighty Inoue wasn't aligned, nor was Fuyuki when he returned. Hamaguchi and Teranishi were Ishingun guys.]  It was under these circumstances, though, that he would serve as Rusher Kimura’s partner in the 1985 RWTL.

Kokusai Ketsumeigun basically died in March 1986 when, after the Calgary Hurricanes officially joined AJPW, faction members Ryuma Go, Apollo Sugawara, and Masuhiko Takasugi were dismissed from the company (although Go would later work the 1987 Summer Action Series tour as Kimura’s jobber tag partner). Hara would continue to wrestle alongside Kimura and Tsurumi, which also occasionally aligned him with wrestlers booked as gaijin heels, such as Tiger Jeet Singh and the Great Kabuki (who is the reason I wrote “booked as” there). In the last couple months of the year, Hara would also wrestle alongside members of the Calgary Hurricanes, most notably faction leader Super Strong Machine. The two would win the All Asia Tag Team titles on 1986.10.30, and would enter the 1986 RWTL together, although an SSM injury partway through would take them out of the picture by forfeit.

Revolution

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The first five months of 1987 were generally unremarkable for Hara, as SSM’s return to New Japan led to his final All Asia tag reign ending by vacation. However, things picked up when he reunited with Genichiro Tenryu, when their tag team would finally become known as Ryuharagun. As I covered earlier in this thread, Tenryu asked Baba to let him split up from Tsuruta, because he wanted to challenge the complacency that he had seen his partner fall back into in the wake of Choshu and company’s departure back to New Japan. Tenryu and Hara wrestled their first match alongside each other in three years on 1987.06.05, defeating Hiroshi Wajima and Motoshi Okuma. The night before, the photo at the head of this section was taken, as Tenryu’s Gong reporter (and later, Jumbo biography author) Kagehiro Osano was taken out to dinner by the two. [6] Interestingly, these two still considered themselves rivals in kayfabe, at least at first, so they traveled separately. Tenryu rode with the ring setup crew, while Hara used his old knowledge of the railroad to get around.

Revolution as we know it began to take shape in the late summer. As I have previously written, Samson Fuyuki took his time joining the faction, after a swerve in August which saw him split up from his excursion buddy Toshiaki Kawada. However, through the mediation of his old IWE mentor and co-trainer Hara, Fuyuki would join back up with Kawada by the end of the next tour. This would pay off in the following years when the two, wrestling as Footloose, built the foundation for the early-90s golden age of the All Asia tag titles. [7] (Tenryu’s valet Yoshinari Ogawa would also join the faction.) Revolution would become known for bucking the trend of phoned-in B-shows, continuing to deliver quality performances on the provincial circuit: “The TV show is the trailer. If you want to see the real show, come to the region.” [8]

As for the core of the group, Tenryu and Hara would win the PWF Tag Team titles on an untelevised 1987.09.03 show against Stan Hansen and Austin Idol. (According to this page which purports to have the results for the tour, Idol was counted out at 12:18.) Nine days later, they successfully defended against Hansen and Joel Deaton, and on 1987.10.16, they retained once again against Jumbo Tsuruta and Hiroshi Wajima. In between those matches, Hara also had the last significant singles match of his AJPW tenure, wrestling Jumbo Tsuruta to a loss in a buildup to the second match in the 1987-1990 Jumbo/Tenryu series. Entering the 1987 RWTL together, Tenryu and Hara went to a three-way tie for second place, after their final match against Hansen and Terry Gordy went to a double countout, and the Olympians defeated Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka in the main event.

Ryuharagun’s first match of the new year was (not counting their first encounter in the RWTL) the first of six matches against the Olympians, which they lost when Hara was counted out. This series would be an important factor in the unification of the PWF and NWA International Tag Team championships, and it is to put it mildly a career highlight for Hara. Between the first and second of these matches, though, Ryuharagun would make two successful defenses of the PWF belts. The first was against Abdullah the Butcher and TNT (Savio Vega) on 1988.01.09, and their second was against Bruiser Brody and Tommy Rich on 1988.04.22, in what would be Brody’s last match for All Japan. And while this objectively isn’t that important, I would be remiss not to mention Ryuharagun’s 1988.03.05 buildup tag to the Tenryu/Hansen PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National double title match, which Hansen would derail in an amazing worked shoot outburst, immortalized in Botchamania, after a knockout from Tenryu and Hara’s sandwich lariat. (“NOBODY POTATOES ME!!!”)

On 1988.06.04, Ryuharagun dropped the PWF Tag Team titles to the Olympians, who unified them with the NWA International Tag Team titles six days later upon defeating the Road Warriors by DQ.

Two months later, Ryuharagun would have their day. The 1988.08.29 Budokan show had been planned to feature the fan-voted main event of Jumbo Tsuruta and Bruiser Brody vs. Genichiro Tenryu and Stan Hansen. However, Brody’s murder in Puerto Rico would obviously end these plans, and the card was retooled into what would become known as the Bruiser Brody Memorial Night. In the main event, Ryuharagun defeated the Olympians for the AJPW World Tag Team titles, in the best iteration of their matchup to date, the best AJPW tag match since the end of the KakuRyu/Ishingun feud, and to this point the best match of Ashura Hara’s career.

When I said Ryuharagun would have their day, I meant that literally. For the following night, they dropped the belts back. But their kayfabe loss was our gain, because this match was even better. While I am largely unfamiliar with Hara’s SWS/WAR work – the only thing I have seen is the 1993.02.16 NJPW/WAR ten-man, which I thought was great when I saw it and plan to rewatch in sequence with the full feud but which I don’t remember being this great – I am comfortable calling this the peak. Much of that is down to having the best Jumbo vs Tenryu stuff up to that point, sure, but Hara’s supporting performance is close to perfection. If you come away from this post deciding to watch just one match, well, it would be really cool if you watched the BBMN tag first, but if you must, make it this one.

Another pair of Olympians matches followed, on 1988.09.15 (I think Roy Lucier's upload of the AJPW TV episode is geoblocked in the US so I can't find it to link, but if you can't find the match I can hook you up) and 1988.10.26, but they would be the last significant matches of this phase of Hara’s career.

The common story behind Ashura Hara’s dismissal from All Japan depicts him as a man deep over his head in debts incurred from gambling. This has been the story told in Western narratives for many years, but it’s not quite the full story. Hara was generous to a fault, and it appears that hanging out with the famously giving Tenryu was a bad decision for his financial health. As I wrote on DVDVR, “Tenryu was in a position where he could afford to, for instance, stuff an envelope filled with ¥10,000 bills into Shiro Koshinaka's pocket as a parting gift after personally convincing Baba to let him start a new life in New Japan. Hara's pockets, however, weren't that deep, and all the drinks he bought for the younger guys hit his wallet hard.”

Whatever the reasons, it became too much to handle. Shady debt-collector types started hanging around All Japan events, eventually getting bold enough to show up at major shows where network executives were present. Baba had already been writing Hara’s paychecks out to his wife in order to try not to be as much of an enabler, but as you all know, he eventually had to cut him loose. The night before the 1988 RWTL, Baba announced Hara’s dismissal during a press conference at the Hotel Pacific Tokyo…to which Hara was in debt.

 

Spoiler

[1] This is the sleeve from “恋遊び” (“Love Play”), a duet that Hara recorded with Mieko Enomoto, the ex-wife of the secretary under prime minister Tanaka. Enomoto had testified against her husband in the early-80s trial against Tanaka and his administration for having accepted bribes from the Lockheed Corporation – facilitated through ultra-right power broker (and ex-JWA chairman) Yoshio Kodama – to purchase aircraft from them instead of McDonnell Douglas. This affair is among the most infamous political scandals in postwar Japanese history, and after posing for the Japanese branch of Penthouse, Enomoto spent several years in an entertainment career. As I said on DVDVR, she has the perfect backstory for a woman who would record a duet with a man like Ashura Hara. Brothers, you cannot fathom how badly I need to hear this.            

[2] I went back and added this detail to the relevant Jumbo bio post, but it’s worth repeating here. The IWE appears to have actually been the first Japanese promotion to use special entrance music, although it’s still likely that Tsuruta was the first native wrestler to have this done. When Superstar Billy Graham came to the IWE in October 1974, to fulfill his job as a transitional champion between Billy Robinson and Mighty Inoue, the IWE’s television director (inspired when he learned that Inoue had used entrance music – Naomi Chiaki’s 1970 breakthrough single “Yottsu no Onegai” – during a French excursion) acquired the rights to a cover of "Jesus Christ Superstar", by easy listening juggernaut the 101 Strings Orchestra, to use for Graham.

Because I am a madman, I am going to list every other piece of entrance music used by the promotion that I know of. Thanks to a DJ set uploaded to YouTube in February for plugging in many of these gaps.

1.      “Rebirth of the Beat” by Sandy Nelson and “Skydiver” by Daniel Boone for Rusher Kimura

2.      “Zero To Sixty In Five” by Pablo Cruise for Animal Hamaguchi

3.      “Righteous Rhythm” by Rose Royce for Jiro Inazuma (the IWE gimmick name of Jerry Morrow)

4.      “Rapid Fire” by Judas Priest for Alexis Smirnoff

5.      “Led Boots” by Jeff Beck for the Mongolian Stomper

6.      “Shinin’ On” by Grand Funk Railroad for Mike George and Johnny Powers

7.      “Matangi’s Escape” by Nino Rota for Lou Thesz

8.      “Zocko” by the Ventures for John Tolos

9.      “Theme From King Kong”, “Most Wanted Theme”, “Black Widow”, and “Turning Point” by Lalo Schifrin for Dick the Bruiser, Steve Olsonoski, Killer Brooks, and Ron Bass

10.   “Killer”, “Over the Top”, and “Theme 1” by Cozy Powell for Gypsy Joe, Mach Hayato, and Kintaro Oki

11.   “Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group for Jos LeDuc

12.   “Hooked on Music” by the Pat Travers Band for Invader II

13.   “Big Ben” by Rick Wakeman for Verne Gagne (As a personal aside, I cannot neglect to mention that the source album, Rhapsodies, has one of the most ridiculous inner gatefolds I’ve ever seen. I’ve hung it ironically on a wall somewhere in every place I’ve lived for the better part of a decade, and I have the photographs to prove it.)

14.   “The Factory” by Herb Alpert for Ray Candy

15.   "Key West" by the Village People for Kim Duk

[3] It must be noted that AJPW would also book a lot of the IWE gaijins in the coming years. It doesn’t fit into the main narrative but I’d like to use this space to talk about the circumstances which brought Gypsy Joe to All Japan. As the IWE’s financial state worsened and the company suspended operations after the Big Summer Series, Joe wished to continue receiving work in Japan, and so got in touch with Monthly Gong reporter Yusuke Yamaguchi to contact Baba. When Isao Yoshihara got word of this, he attempted to stop it by citing Joe’s contract to the IWE. Yoshihara claimed that when the IWE suspended their activities, he tried to get All Japan to take over all the wrestlers in the company, but that Baba had refused. However, by this time Mitsuo Mitsune from the Nippon TV board had already taken over as AJPW president, so it would have to have gone through him anyways, and due to the precarious situation that AJPW was in vis-à-vis NTV this wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. As Yoshihara had no legal ground to stand on since his company was suspending its activities, Joe made his first appearance for All Japan on 1981.08.20, with both an entry in that night’s battle royal and a singles match against Baba, which ended in disqualification but not before he showed his toughness by giving Baba a piece of wood and allowing him to break it on his head. He was originally brought onto the tour to replace the injured Gran Marcus, as the partner of Gino Hernandez in the PWF Cup tag team tournament, but a 2020 Igapro article claims that in doing this Joe stole Gino’s thunder, and that this led to Hernandez never working for All Japan again. To end, I will also note that fellow frequent IWE gaijin Alexis Smirnoff found work for AJPW by getting in contact with the Destroyer.

[4] I’m particularly thinking of the 1979.11.08 tag with Akihisa Takachiho against the Great Kojika and Motoshi Okuma, where Tenryu won the first fall by immediately cold-cocking Okuma and hitting the vertical suplex for the pinfall in 0:19.

[5] For his return show proper, Hara isolated himself from the rest of the roster by using an NTV broadcasting van as his waiting room.

[6] Interestingly, the free-to-read portion of an interview with Osano (conducted in 2014) has him state that, before Tenryu and Hara reunited, Osano bumped into Hara on the bullet train, where Hara suggested that it might be a good idea for him to team up with “Gen-chan” without completely squashing their kayfabe rivalry.

[7] There’s a Japanese term for the inverse of a weeaboo, “seiyokabure”, and I think the fact that the Kevin Bacon vehicle occupied enough real estate in Tenryu’s head to have him bestow it upon this team four years after its release qualifies him for it on its own. That’s without getting into: dragging Jumbo to see Elvis in 1977; naming his faction after a Beatles song; dueting “Summer Nights” with Chris Jericho on karaoke; and naming his retirement tour documentary after “Let’s Live for Today” by the Grass Roots.

[8] What fascinates me so much about this is that I’ve theorized for a while that this trend of puro was a consequence of Japan not having a wrestling industry before television. Professional wrestling was an important source of programming in the United States, sure, but there was an industry and an infrastructure before the mass proliferation of televisions. I have seen much less wrestling overall than many of you, and I know that there are plenty of examples of filmed and taped wrestling shows that did not follow the studio wrestling episode format (as in, the digest version of a show very similar to that which would be then taken out on the road, consisting of 4-8 minute compressed matches) before the shift in mentality seen after the WWF expansion. And of course provincial shows were an important part of puro business. But it seems that in an environment where television came first, the Japanese touring model started arguably closer to that which we’ve seen in post-NWA America, even without pay-per-view ever becoming much of a factor. Not unlike how modern WWE house shows are (or I guess now were) intended to made fans in flyover country and other such markets become fans of the televised product. I’m probably articulating this poorly and/or making an excessive generalization.

 

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Small correction, he was in Hannover for Edmund Schober, that had nothing to do with Wanz/CWA/VDB. I assume Katsuji Adachi was the middleman, Schober had in the previous year tried to book him as the successor of Kiyomigawa, but I think he didn't get as over as they hoped.
Not sure how he got booked in Grand Prix just prior.

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Much appreciated. Grand Prix probably was Mad Dog's doing, or at least due to the connection previously established through him (he was the reason Tetsunosuke Daigo did one last tour in Montreal before he was to return from excursion, which ended up being when he lost his leg).

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This thread is consistently great. Thanks so much for putting these together. Watching the AJPW 80s set with it's glimpses of Hara and the rumors of his gambling debt ending his All Japan run created an evocative character in my imagination. Having the backstory fleshed out has managed to be even better.

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Finally, I have completed (part two of) Part Two of my SWS narrative. (Also, check footnotes for a bonus tangent following up on Koji Kitao and his infamous UWFi tenure.)

SWS

Part Two: Black Ship Docks (2/2)

HIGHWAY TO HARA

The Igapro article I am drawing from is not specific as to when this took place, but what we do know is that, at some point after SWS’s formation, there was a discussion amongst the journalists who reported on Tenryu about what could be done to revitalize his career, after the bashing of Weekly Pro and the internal politics had sapped his momentum. The idea was pitched to bring back Ryuharagun, and the journalists, chief among them Kagehiro Osano, began to search on their own for Ashura Hara, who had fallen off the grid since his dismissal from All Japan Pro Wrestling in November 1988.

Osano received a lead from an All Japan sales representative that Hara was staying at a sushi restaurant in Sapporo, and asked an acquaintance in the area to visit. However, the owner refused and said that Hara was no longer staying there. Osano told Tenryu this, and while he was sad that he would not be seeing his old friend again, Tenryu reasoned that, perhaps, Hara was happy now that he was free from wrestling. Hara had a lot of mileage on his body coming into professional wrestling from rugby, and according to Tenryu’s 2016 autobiography LIVE FOR TODAY as cited by Japanese Wikipedia, he was struggling to walk by the twilight of his AJPW tenure. He had never let it show in the ring, but even before he was dismissed, Hara had told Tenryu that he believed the spring of 1989 “was [his] limit”.

Osano then received another lead to a karaoke bar where Hara was said to be a frequent customer, and gave his business card to the owner to pass to him. He waited to hear back until, in the dead of night, he got a call. The man on the other end said, “You’re looking for Ashura Hara? What on earth do you want with him? He’s become a Yakuza.”

Osano had a hunch, and replied “You’re Hara! You called me, didn’t you? Thank God!” Indeed, the caller was Susumu Hara, talking about himself in the third person (and, in my imagination, trying to put on a tough-guy voice). Hara admitted it was him, and told Osano that he had been trying to pay his debts for the past two years so that he could return to the ring, but that he still had them hanging over him and thus had had to remain in seclusion. As he saw it, if he returned to wrestling without resolving this matter, he would “only cause trouble for Gen-chan”.

Osano informed Tenryu that he had established contact, but despite Tenryu’s wishes, SWS’s internal strife and Tenryu’s place in the company hierarchy would make bringing Hara into the fold difficult. However, as covered in the end of part one of Part Two, the aftermath of the Koji Kitao incident at SWS Wrestle Dream in Kobe had led to restructuring. Hachiro Tanaka had given his presidential seat to Tenryu to try to right the ship (the July 29 Observer reported that Tenryu’s promotion had been announced ten days earlier), and to resolve the internal conflicts between the roster’s “rooms”, Tenryu had shelved that system for the time being.

NATURAL POWERS

The kayfabe pretext for Ashura Hara’s return took would take shape in the months which followed. Haku, now King Haku after his defeat of Harley Race, became a frequent SWS gaijin in 1991. The 1991.05.22 SWS show saw the debut of one of the defining tag teams of SWS’s run when Haku formed the Natural Powers with Yoshiaki Yatsu. After wins against Tenryu & Ishikawa, and Naoki Sano & Randy Savage, Haku and Yatsu defeated Tenryu and Savage on 1991.06.07 in the Ryogoku Kokugikan. The Natural Powers racked up a dominant record early on as, until August, they only suffered two losses. [1]

Tenryu would be exercising executive authority in bringing Hara into the fold, as everyone outside of Revolution objected to it. Nevertheless, he did so, traveling to Kotoni personally to ask Hara to return. Hara is quoted as saying something to this effect: “If I’m not worth it, please don’t bother. But if I can really help, I’ll put my life in Gen-chan’s hands.” Tenryu ordered Koki Kitahara, who had been Hara’s valet in the (AJPW) Revolution days, to keep all of Hara’s gear so that Ashura could return at any time.

It was reported in the July 22 Observer that Tenryu was trying to bring Hara back for a tag match against the Powers on 1991.08.09. The next day, it was announced that Hara had signed with SWS. But, before the money match, Hara would debut for the company on 1991.08.04, in a tag match alongside Ishikawa against Tenryu and Fuyuki. The Igapro article that is my primary source on the subject of Hara’s return noted that Hara struggled with his three years of ring rust in this match, but for what it’s worth the August 19 Observer reported that Hara “was said to have looked about as good as he did when he was fired.”

After winning a six-man alongside Ishikawa against the Natural Powers with Shinichi Nakano on 1991.08.05, Ryuharagun faced with the Natural Powers in a proper two-on-two within the context of a one-night tag team tournament on 1991.08.09, at New Revolution For SWS in the Yokohama Arena. After both teams won the first round (Ryuharagun against Nakano and Kazuo Sakurada working under the Kendo Nagasaki gimmick, Natural Powers against Fuyuki and Ishikawa), they met in the semi-final. This time, Tenryu finally pushed through to pin Haku with a powerbomb. But alas, then Ryuharagun were fed to the Road Warriors – oh, I’m sorry, “Legion of Doom” – after only a sub-5:00 Sano/Rick Martel match’s worth of rest time, and the results were predictable for anyone familiar with Animal and Hawk’s Japan work. [2] However, Ryuharagun received a round of applause for their efforts.

ROAD TO SUPERWRESTLE IN TOKYO DOME

The various Igapro articles on SWS essentially skip the last few months of 1991, so I am pulling from various sources to fill in this gap. If you’re looking for insight on, say, the November singles match between Tenryu and Yatsu, I’m sorry, we’re sold out.

The September 6 Observer reported that Hachiro Tanaka had stepped in to bankroll yet another wrestling promotion: the bankrupt UWFi. [3] Around this time, it was announced that SWS would hold a tournament over the following months, beginning on 1991.09.16, to crown a WWF Junior Heavyweight champion, which would culminate at SWS SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome on 1991.12.12. Meltzer speculated in the September 16 Observer that this would be a tournament between SWS and WWF talent. However, SWS had plans to broaden their juniors division, and on September 30, Kabuki traveled to Mexico to begin negotiations with EMLL (soon to change their name).

By this point, EMLL planning department head Antonio Peña had scouted Yoshihiro Asai of Universal Pro-Wrestling. Asai was dissatisfied with how the organization which would later be known as FULL had stuck to running small venues, and had attracted many young wrestlers through Asai’s success, and yet had kept his salary low. In response, his employer had pushed Gran Hamada as their ace instead, and as Asai observed the promotion’s decline, alongside that of its Mexican partner the UWA, Asai decided to join EMLL.

Asai debuted as Ultimo Dragon in Mexico on 1991.10.18. Initially having wanted to become the third Tiger Mask, this gimmick was created as per the instructions of Peña, who wanted a more Orientalist gimmick. Four days earlier, SWS had announced their partnership with EMLL. Contrary to Japanese journalism which reported that SWS had pulled Asai out – including, you guessed it, Weekly Pro Wrestling (whether this was an innocent factual error or more partisanship on the part of Tarzan Yamamoto is unknown) – this was not the case. Asai would debut for SWS on 1991.10.28.

Overall, the prevailing impression in this period was that SWS was finally getting things on track. According to the November 18 Observer, most SWS tickets were still freebies, but the 1991.10.03 Korakuen show had been a legitimate sellout, and the promotion was winning Tokyo crowds over with the improved workrate.

According to the December 16 Observer, Akio Sato arranged a meeting early that month, as All Japan’s 1991 RWTL was concluding, with five unnamed gaijin talent to arrange a jump to the WWF (which by proxy would obviously see them work Japan for SWS). The same issue reported heat between SWS and unnamed reporters for claiming that Hulk Hogan, set to wrestle Tenryu in the SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome main event, had won back the WWF title from the Undertaker on the 3rd at This Tuesday in Texas. Some of the reporters were aware that the belt would be held up that weekend to continue the Hogan/Taker angle, and considered this deceptive advertising.

According to the December 23 Observer, SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome legitimately drew just over 30,000 of their claimed attendance figure of 61,500, with a card which featured the combined talents of SWS, the WWF, PWFG, and EMLL. Most significantly: the SWS Light Heavyweight title tournament concluded when Naoki Sano went over Rick Martel; the Legion successfully defended their WWF World Tag Team titles against the Natural Disasters; and, in the main event, Hogan went over Tenryu.

The SWS looked to be back on track, and a weekly television deal was set to begin in April. However, the burst of the Japanese asset price bubble would soon see Hachiro Tanaka sour on his wrestling enterprises. Part Three of this narrative will cover the fall of SWS.

Spoiler

[1] The first of these was on 1991.06.10 when, after eliminating Tenryu and Savage in a twelve-minute chunk of a 37-minute ten-man tag gauntlet, Takashi Ishikawa (with the Great Kabuki) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when he rolled through a Haku slam off the top turnbuckle for the flash pin. The second was a 1991.07.10 six-man alongside Paul Diamond against Tenryu, Ishikawa, and Sano, and I presume Diamond took the fall.

[2] An acknowledgment here that I neglected to mention the Tenryu/Hogan vs LoD main event of the 1991.03.31 Dome show in Part Two (1/2).

[3] Meltzer noted that this meant Tanaka would actually own four wrestling promotions, as Koji Kitao’s retirement press conference, in which he had announced he would transition into mixed martial arts, was reportedly a work to lead up to what would be a new shoot-style promotion centered around himself, to be announced the following March. However, Kitao would end up joining the UWFi. Since I don’t see myself devoting a post to this I’ll sum up the story here, as told in a 2018 Igapro article:

After the infamous Trevor Berbick match on 1991.12.22, Nobuhiko Takada was looking for a new opponent. He had not initially considered Kitao, but the two became acquainted through Naoki Sano. When offered to join the UWFi, Kitao only replied that they should speak to his manager and martial arts teacher, Saburo Daimonji. [4] He ended up debuting for them on 1992.05.08, defeating Kazuo Yamazaki following the final match of Billy Robinson (and penultimate match of Nick Bockwinkel). Yamazaki demanded a rematch but Daimonji refused…and then vanished with the money the UWFi had paid him. Negotiations would eventually resume through an unnamed acquaintance of Kitao, who maneuvered at the last minute to change the rules of the 1992.10.23 Takada bout to make Kitao able to stall to a draw and thus get more money in the inevitable rematch. Well, you might know how that turned out.

[4] I know footnotes within footnotes are poor form, but this is too fascinating not to share while being impossible to cram into the above narrative. Daimonji taught his own martial art called Kukendo. According to a Japanese blog post, Daimonji received a two-volume biography in 1988, written by a Kumamoto librarian. According to this biography, which the blogger pegs as a blatant riff on Ikki Kajiwara’s manga Karate Baka Ichidai, Daimonji was born in 1943 in Nagasaki, the son of a monk from a nonexistent temple, and escaped the bomb by being carried on his mother’s back. He learned karate and swordsmanship in his youth, and then smuggled himself to Okinawa to master Okinawan karate. Then Daimonji traveled north from dojo to dojo, smoking all who laid in his path until he opened a dojo in Fukuoka. And then his friend got attacked by knife-wielding Yakuza and Daimonji killed one of them, receiving a suspended sentence for what was ruled to be excessive self-defense. And then Daimonji smuggled himself to China to study their martial arts traditions, where he was defeated for the first time in his life by a kid, but then he spent three years mastering Chinese martial arts. And then he returned to Japan with a mustache and demonstrated kukendo, a syncretism of all he had learned, to the approval of the nation’s karate masters.

In conclusion, it looks like Koji Kitao get suckered into learning a fake martial art by the Japanese equivalent of Count Dante. No wonder the Takada match ended how it did.

 

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Can't thank you enough for this amazing stuff!

One minor correction concerning Dyanamite Kid's tour in 1979:

"Hara’s next pair of defenses would take place two months later, on 1979.07.20 and 1979.07.21, and the latter was a double title match for a belt he’d already held. In his first major Japanese appearance (a draw against Isamu Teranishi on 1979.07.19 was also broadcast in clipped form, though the first Hara match wasn’t)"

I have a thick magazine covering the IWE, and it happens to have TV "relays", or match listings for all the TV shows.

This magazine claims these were the listings covering that July tour:

 

7/23  (taped 7/17)
Chain Death Match: Ashura Hara def Ox Baker
Rusher Kimura/Mighty Inoue (DCOR) Andre the Giant/Alexis Smirnoff
 
7/30  (taped 7/16)
Alexis Smirnoff (8:33 pin) Animal Hamaguchi
*Rusher Kimura/Ashura Hara (10:47 DQ) *Ox Baker/Haystack Calhoun
Andre the Giant (5:04 canadian back breaker) Mighty Inoue
 
8/6  (taped 7/20)
WWU World Junior Heavyweight Title: Ashura Hara* (18:37 DCOR) Dynamite Kid
IWA World Heavyweight Title: Rusher Kimura* (10:25 DCOR) Andre the Giant
 
8/13  no show
 
8/20  (taped 7/21)
Animal Hamaguchi/*Mighty Inoue (6:18 pin) Andre the Giant/*Haystack Calhoun
IWA World Heavyweight Title*: Alexis Smirnoff (2-1) Rusher Kimura
   1: Kimura (8:48 pin)
   2: Smirnoff (2:50 pin)
   3: Smirnoff (3:16 pin)
 
8/27  (taped 7/21)
12-man Battle Royal Final: Andre the Giant (5:55 COR) Animal Hamaguchi
* Other participants: Rusher Kimura, Great Kusatsu, Mighty Inoue, Goro Tsurumi, Snake Amami, Moretti
Alexi Smirnoff, Ox Baker, Texas Outlaw, Haystack Calhoun, Ed 
WWU World Junior Heavyweight/British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Double Title: 
Ashura Hara [WWU] (4min 7R time limit draw) Dynamite Kid [BC]
 
9/3  (taped 7/19)
The Mongolian: *#1/#2 (16:35 pin) *YANG Sun-hi/KIM Kwang-sik

Isamu Teranishi (30min limit draw) Dynamite Kid

 

I have searched everywhere for that 8/6 episode, but have only located the Andre match from that show.

Carry on!

Can't wait to see what you post next.

 

Dan Ginnetty

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The grand finale of my SWS narrative is here.

Part Three: Black Ship Sinks

SWS TAG TEAM TITLES

As 1992 began, SWS looked to have finally gotten on track. They kicked the year off with a 1992.01.04 show at the Shizuoka Industrial Hall, where a “mostly non-paying” audience of 4,230 saw the start of a round-robin tournament to crown the first SWS tag team champions. Cagematch does not recognize every tournament match as such, so I’ve had to guess which teams were actually participating:

1.      Ryuharagun (Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara) (Revolution)

2.      Natural Powers (Haku & Yoshiaki Yatsu) (WWF/Dojo Geki)

3.      Shunji & George Takano (Palaistra)

4.      Davey Boy Smith & Naoki Sano (WWF/Palaistra)

5.      Samson Fuyuki & Takashi Ishikawa (Revolution)

6.      Shinichi Nakano & Tatsumi Kitahara (Dojo Geki/Revolution)

7.      Kendo Nagasaki & Kenichi Oya (Dojo Geki)

In Shizuoka, Ryuharagun defeated the Takanos, the Natural Powers defeated Nagasaki & Oya, and Smith & Sano defeated Fuyuki & Ishikawa.

That same night, NJPW held their annual Dome show, and as reported in the January 10 Observer, native interpromotional cooperation finally seemed to be a real possibility for SWS. After Japanese postage company Sagawa Express, which had been backing Inoki’s “political adventures” (I know Sagawa was sold NJPW stock several years before), decided to cut back on such expenses, Inoki had approached Hachiro Tanaka to sponsor him. [1] Meltzer reported that the two had reached a deal which included a secretly booked Dome show in the future, with rumblings of a Choshu/Tenryu headliner. This was supported by Choshu’s backstage promo after the Dome main event, in which he had defeated Tatsumi Fujinami to unify the IWGP Heavyweight and Greatest 18 Club championships. In what Meltzer described as a “Jerry Lawler-type interview”, Choshu challenged wrestlers from other promotions and directly name-dropped Tenryu. However, this would go up in smoke the following month. NJPW president Seiji Sakaguchi met with Tanaka to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement to New Japan’s lawsuit against SWS regarding Sano and Takano, after which Sakaguchi publicly admitted he had done so, but denied that a co-promotional show would happen, or that Inoki had even spoken to Tanaka. [2]

On 1992.01.06, at the Nagoya Conference Center, Ryuharagun defeated Fuyuki & Ishikawa, Smith & Sano defeated Nakano & Kitahara, and the Natural Powers went to a no-contest with the Takanos.  1992.01.08 saw SWS’s first 1992 event in a major market, running the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. As for the tag tournament, Smith & Sano went over the Takanos, and the Natural Powers avenged their August 1991 loss to Ryuharagun, when Tenryu himself took the pinfall. However, this event would perhaps become most infamous for its opening match. In a tag match alongside Nobukazu Hirai against Apollo Sugawara and Toshiyuki Nakahara, the ex-NJPW junior Akira Katayama botched a tope, fracturing his fourth cervical vertebrae and permanently losing the use of his legs. It may as well have been an omen of things to come. At a Korakuen show four days later, their last of January, Ryuharagun defeated Nakano and Kitahara to further the tournament.

SWS began February with a 1992.02.09 show at the Isesaki Civic Gymnasium. As far as (presumed) tournament matches went, Ryuharagun went over Nagasaki & Oya and the Natural Powers beat Fuyuki & Ishikawa, but that wasn’t the only interesting thing to happen on the card. For one, Marty Jannetty showed up for his SWS Junior Heavyweight title shot against Naoki Sano, despite Meltzer having reported that his suspension from Titan Sports had thrown a wrench in these plans. Elsewhere, Ultimo finally had some luchadors to work with, as Kato Kung Lee, Blue Panther, and Emilio Charles Jr. came over from CMLL. [3]

The following night, the tag tournament continued in the Aizuwakamatsu Prefectural Gymnasium, as the Takanos defeated Nagasaki & Oya, the Natural Powers suffered what would be their only loss of the tournament against Nakano & Kitahara, and Ryuharagun went over Smith & Sano. On 1992.02.12, at SWS The Battle Hall VII in a sold-out Korakuen, Smith & Sano defeated Nagasaki & Oya by DQ, the Natural Powers beat the Takanos, and Nakano & Kitahara defeated Fuyuki & Ishikawa.

The tournament ended on 1992.02.14, at the Kyoto Prefectural Gymnasium. Ryuharagun defeated Nakano & Kitahara, and the Natural Powers defeated Smith & Marty Jannetty. (Sano was nowhere to be found on this card and the contemporaneous Observers don’t say anything about it, so my best guess is that this was tied to the circumstances behind the 1992.02.12 DQ win.) As was to be expected, the tag title tournament went to a Ryuharagun-Natural Powers rematch when both finished the round-robin with 5-1 records, and the Natural Powers won.

ROAD TO THE BATTLE OF KINGS

The Feburary 10 Observer had reported that Tenryu was pursuing a deal for a singles match against either the Undertaker or Ric Flair, to headline a major event at the Tokyo City Gymnasium on 1992.04.18. Over the following weeks, the plans took shape. Taker would work dates on 1992.03.18 and 03.22, and the March 2 Observer confirmed that Flair would make his SWS debut in April.

March began for the company on 1992.03.14 at the Aomori Prefectural Gymnasium. Perhaps the most notable thing about this show was that El Dandy returned to SWS for the first time since January 1991 to make Ultimo do his first job for the company. Elsewhere, Tenryu and Ishikawa were defeated by Nagasaki and the Berzerker, the latter of whom would be pushed during this tour as a Brody clone, and the Natural Powers defeated the Takanos in 23:24. Four days later in Niigata, Taker debuted with a singles win over Ishikawa, and the Natural Powers retained the tag titles against, once again, the Takanos. SWS The Battle Hall VIII took place in Korakuen on 1992.03.22, as a Sunday noon show since All Japan had the hall booked for 6:30, and was topped by two singles matches in which Yoshiaki Yatsu and Taker defeated Ashura Hara and Haku respectively.

More trouble arose for the promotion that month when WOWOW declined to renew their one-year television deal. After all, the station was drawing higher ratings with their broadcasts of Fighting Network RINGS. Their last broadcast of SWS material was on March 28. However, the promotion would reach a deal with TV Tokyo for a monthly one-hour slot. (An uncited claim on the Japanese Wikipedia SWS page claims that the Nishimatsu construction company sponsored the program which would be called “Gekito SWS Pro-Wrestling”.)

SWS held three events in April, from 04.16 to 04.18. On top of now-former WWF Champion Ric Flair’s participation on all three dates, these shows also saw the Natural Disasters (whom I neglected to mention had unsuccessfully challenged for the Road Warriors’ WWF tag titles at SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome) look to challenge for the SWS tag titles, and El Satanico represented CMLL to put his NWA World Light Heavyweight title on the line against Ultimo.

The first of two SWS BATTLE MESSAGE ’92 shows was on 1992.04.16, drawing an announced 3,919 to the Minamiashigara Research and Development Center. In a six-man tag pitting Ryuharagun and Takashi Ishikawa against Flair and the Natural Disasters, Flair went over Ishikawa with a back suplex. In the main event, the Takanos finally overcame the Natural Powers to win the SWS Tag Team titles when Shunji pinned Yatsu. The second BATTLE MESSAGE was the following night. As reported in the April 27 Observer, the announced sellout of 3,960 in the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium had a paid crowd less than half that. For the main event, Flair went over Tenryu in a buildup singles match. Elsewhere, the Natural Disasters beat the Takanos for the SWS tag titles, and Naoki Sano retained his SWS junior title against Chavo Guerrero.

As expected, SWS THE BATTLE OF KINGS took place on 1992.04.18 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, with an announced crowd of 9,019. After a double pin, Satanico retained his title against Ultimo with a countout victory. The Natural Disasters traded the SWS tag titles back to the Takanos. Sano retained against Guerrero in a title rematch. And finally, Tenryu defeated Ric Flair in a 2/3-falls match.

It would be the last time that SWS could claim to project any semblance of stability.

FRACTURE

According to Igapro, Kabuki resigned as booker back in March; I initially assumed this was an error since the press conference didn’t occur until May, but Igapro had also said that Kabuki had “disappeared” for a time after quitting, and the April 27 Observer states that he was gone as part of an angle. Anyway, he had continued to emphasize Revolution in his work, and dealing with the other factions, as well as Hachiro Tanaka (to whom they always appealed to intervene), drove him to quit the post. He wouldn’t leave the company entirely, but he also left Revolution to perform for the company as a freelancer, in an attempt to prevent Tenryu from being rallied against by the rest of the company by keeping his distance. [4] The May 18 Observer reported that Takashi Ishikawa took over booking, but an uncited claim on SWS’s Japanese Wikipedia page, which I am taking at face value for the time being, is that the position was taken over by the joint efforts of Ishikawa and Goro Tsurumi. Each represented the pro-Tenryu and anti-Tenryu contingents (this is the phrasing that the Igapro SWS articles eventually just switch to, with “anti-Tenryu faction” meant as shorthand for the amalgamation of Palaistra and Dojo Geki), and would draw up their own cards and then present them to each other to negotiate the final card.

On May 14, one week after the press conference where Kabuki announced he had stepped down, Yoshiaki Yatsu, who had taken over as head of Dojo Geki after Ichimasa Wakamatsu departed to grieve his wife’s death, [5] announced that he would resign from his position. [6] He also revealed a deep conflict between the warring factions of the company, but he didn’t tell the full story, and it would be years before we got the entire context.

SWS had failed to turn a profit, and beyond the upfront investment Tenryu had spent a lot of money since he became president in order to increase its status. Put this on top of the exorbitant WWF booking fees, and all this debt had led to Hachiro Tanaka’s ouster from Megane Super proper. (There was also speculation among the talent that Tenryu, Kabuki, and Akio Sato were pocketing the margin.) With all this pushback from the parent company, as well as the fact that Tanaka had given up his SWS presidential seat, he plotted to break up SWS. That wording is important. To disband SWS would mean a mass liquidation that was sure to damage its parent company’s corporate image, so Tanaka needed to drive SWS’s factions apart.

As has been mentioned before, Dojo Geki was originally meant as a buffer between Revolution and Palaistra, with Wakamatsu and Kazuo Sakurada working as mediators between the respective ex-AJPW and ex-NJPW factions. But what was originally intended as a suture to keep SWS together would become the scalpel that cut it open. Yatsu was the best man to play both sides against each other, as he had worked for both AJPW and NJPW, but had a “cold view” of Tenryu as well as Choshu. (The source mentions the latter even though he was never in SWS, so I think it’s meant to mean that that his feelings about Choshu had bled into his general distrust of NJPW back when most of JPW returned there. Also, note that Yatsu was brought into NJPW as an elite from the start, as he had basically been Hisashi Shinma's unsuccessful attempt to have a Jumbo Tsuruta of their own, so the likes of George Takano had not been fond of him to begin with.) To paraphrase Vince McMahon, if anyone was gonna kill Tanaka’s creation, he was gonna do it! Him…and Yoshiaki Yatsu.

At some point the two met in Tanaka’s office. His plan was to put words in Yatsu’s mouth suggesting that the stables become independent promotions. Tanaka would be willing to pay them 200 million yen (roughly 212 million yen now, or 1.94 million dollars) a year, but he didn’t even suggest a condition that they would work any joint shows. Yatsu hesitated, as he was tired of wrestling itself and not just SWS, but accepted on the condition that he would receive 200 million yen of hush money so as not to implicate Tanaka and then leave the business. Yatsu went to work, and made proposals to Tenryu and George Takano. Takano agreed that he and Tenryu had irreconcilable differences, but Tenryu wasn’t convinced. He had worked so hard to build their promotion against the slings and arrows of the locker room and the press, and he considered this proposal tantamount to splitting the company up just as it had found its groove.

Tenryu and Yatsu’s first meeting went to a dead end, and they agreed to meet at a later date to discuss the matter calmly while promising not to divulge the contents of the meeting. However, Yatsu then concluded on his own that Tenryu would not be convinced by further discussion, and proceeded to call a spontaneous press conference, where Yatsu resigned and revealed the internal situation. As Yatsu must have seen it, shining a light on the matter would be the easiest way to drive the factions to go independent, and he would thus have done his job. But then, Tanaka threw Yatsu under the bus, stating that he had done this on his own, and tying up that loose end. (I presume he never got that hush money either.) He asked Yatsu to “bow down” to him, even if only formally, but Yatsu refused after this betrayal.

Now that the matter was public, Tanaka approached Tenryu about cancelling SWS’s upcoming dates so that they could split the promotion, as he had intended. By this time, though, Tenryu had already announced the events for May and June, and had sold tickets, so he couldn’t back out now. He protested that, if necessary, he would book these events with only Revolution and loaned WWF talent. Tenryu probably knew he couldn’t salvage the promotion by this point, but he probably still insisted on fulfilling these obligations in order to thank the fans which had supported them. The anti-Tenryu faction decided to participate in these last events because Yatsu had been contracted to do so, on the condition that they were not involved in matches with Revolution and WWF wrestlers, which would be granted.

The last stretch of SWS dates began on 1992.05.18 in the Katsuyama Municipal Gymnasium, drawing a “full house” of 2,630 according to the June 1 Observer. Not much is notable about it except that the delineation between factions so far as the booking was concerned was quite clear. The following night’s show at the Toyama Gymnasium was apparently more notable. According to a last-minute addition to the May 25 Observer, during this show all of the ex-New Japan talent (Takanos, Sano, Oya and Arakawa) entered the ring together to declare that they could not get along with Tenryu. While Meltzer wasn’t aware of the full extent of Tanaka’s plans (the account given in the June 22 Observer was that Yatsu and Nakano were trying to get Palaistra to quit SWS, but that they instead went to Tanaka to form their own group, leaving Yatsu and Nakano out in the cold), by this point he was openly reporting that Tanaka was sick of all the losses he’d accrued, and that he’d realized that the WWF partnership was a mistake, since a Tenryu/Fujiwara singles match likely would've outdrawn Tenryu vs. Hogan.

The 1992.05.20 show at the Ishikawa Industrial Hall in Kanazawa drew a “full house” of 3,050. Most notably, Sano defended his junior title against Rick Martel, and the anti-Tenryu faction’s refusal to work with WWF talent meant that, instead of teaming with Haku (and to be clear, Haku worked these dates), Yatsu had to settle for ol’ Kendo Nagasaki as his partner against the Takanos, to predictable results.

The May shows ended at Korakuen on 1992.05.22, with an announced crowd of 2,015. By far the most interesting thing about this show was what was billed as Yatsu’s retirement match, in which he faced the Takanos alongside his old JPW chum Shinichi Nakano (who was also quitting SWS). In a display of the turn of public sentiment against the anti-Tenryu faction which is sure to remind readers of One Night Stand 2006, Yatsu threw shirts into the crowd as a parting gift, only for them to throw them back into the ring while mockingly doing Yatsu’s “orya” chant. (Apparently, Nakano was genuinely hurt by this reception.)

The next day, SWS held an emergency board meeting. Here, it was decided that the two factions would split into different promotions starting in July. Two days later, at the ANA Hotel in Tokyo, this was announced.

SWS ended with four shows in June. The first was at Korakuen on 1992.06.05, drawing 1,980. Then, on 1992.06.16, they ran the Kumamoto Gymnasium to an announced sellout of 3,070. Following this were two shows on 1992.06.18-19, at the Sasebo City Gymnasium (announced sellout of 3,620) and the Nagasaki International Gymnasium (announced sellout of 3,860). Not much is notable except that Shunji Takano was absent for the last three, having suffered a car accident as reported by the June 29 Observer.

Hachiro Tanaka would keep his promise to the groups in that he gave both of them financial support for a limited time. WAR would receive the backing of Megane Super for two years, and NOW for one (apparently cut short due to lack of success). Humorously, he would also pay off Tarzan Yamamoto for one year not to slag him in Weekly Pro Wrestling. However, while an SWS postmortem is beyond the scope of what I set out to write (to be clear, I am interested in at least writing something about WAR eventually, if I find stuff that I think might expand the Western narratives, but that’s too major an undertaking for now), I should note that in September, just one month after NOW held its debut show, the Takanos left to form Pro Wrestling Crusaders while lambasting SWS and Megane Super in an article published by Shukan Bunshun. (NOW would replace them with Ishinriki and Umanosuke Ueda, the latter of whom was thirty years deep into his career by that point.)

CONCLUSION

I’ve seen the SWS called the kurofune (“black ship”) of puroresu, and I’ve evoked this imagery in the titles of these posts. To explain the historical allusion, the black ships were the Western vessels which ended Japan’s isolation at two points in history: first, the Portuguese carracks with pitch-painted hulls, which linked Goa to Nagasaki in the 16th century; then, the American steam-powered warships, which were commanded by Matthew Perry on his 1852-4 expedition of gunboat diplomacy. It’s an apt metaphor for SWS, actually, because the most consequential things that both kurofune incidents sparked came from within Japan. Whatever one might say about Christian expansionism, the external stimuli of Portuguese missionaries ultimately provoked the Japanese peasantry themselves to dissent in the Shimabara Rebellion. And when the kurofune came again, the Bakumatsu which ended the feudal period of Japan also came from within. Similarly, Tanaka could only buy his way into the wrestling business due to the internal tensions already present during the Baba/Inoki era of puroresu. SWS might not have lasted long, and it might not have reached its potential – the NJPW/WAR feud would end up fulfilling the implied promise of the Revolution vs. Palaistra setup of SWS, to a greater degree than SWS itself ever could have – but it was a necessary chapter in early Heisei puroresu. From what it itself entailed, to what it drove its competitors to adopt in the wake of the exodus that gave it shape (especially All Japan), SWS pulled a major trigger on what made the 1990s such an important era in Japanese wrestling history.

Spoiler

[1] The January 20 Observer reported that, after JWP announced it would fold after a Korakuen show, Rumi Kazama and Shinobu Kandori also approached Tanaka for his sponsorship.

[2] The February 10 Observer speculated that, after the absences of Super Strong Machine, Hiro Saito, Tatsutoshi Goto, Norio Honaga, and Masanobu Kurisu from NJPW’s start-of-the-tour show on 1992.01.30, the first four were either working an angle or possibly headed to SWS while Kurisu was looking to join Masashi Aoyagi's independent group.

[3] The March 2 Observer reported that Toshiyuki Nakahara would be sent on a Mexican excursion to be trained by Blue Panther. He would be accompanied by Masao Orihara, and the two debuted for CMLL on 1992.03.07 as the tag team of Iga and Koga.

[4] Kabuki had made a surprise appearance at the 1992.04.23 FMW Korakuen show. It was reported in the May 4 Observer that he was working on a deal which would see Tanaka have something to do with FMW, or at least Onita. The May 18 Observer, though, would report that Kabuki stated during a press conference that he wasn’t going to FMW after all.

[5] An uncited claim on the Japanese Wikipedia SWS page states that Yatsu had also been Dojo Geki’s representative on the booking council, during the period in the aftermath of the Kitao incident when things shifted around. Apparently, Don Arakawa was Palaistra’s representative. To be clear, I do not know when or even if the booking system had reverted back to its original form before Kabuki left the position; I suppose the same frustrations could have arose.

[6] Meltzer’s reportage of this press conference in the May 25 Observer doesn’t address this, instead stating that Yatsu was retiring to aim for competing in the Barcelona Olympics despite an unspecified “blood disease” (it was actually type 2 diabetes).  However, “some [were] saying” that this was just a work to cover him retiring from the business, and that he apparently had some real estate side business going on in Hawaii.

 

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I found a pair of Igapro posts (1, 2) on the circumstances around the Inoki/Robinson match, and they provide some info that I wish I had incorporated into the Jumbo bio posts. I may edit some of it in later but I think it’s worth its own post.

I may have misrepresented the situation around the 1975 Open League being titled such. It was indeed meant as an implicit challenge to Inoki, but when it was announced on September 29 of that year they did invite NJPW to participate. Inoki had been trying to get the singles match against Baba that he’d wanted since the late JWA days, but he sensed that this was a trap, and refused because New Japan had not received a formal offer, and they had already decided their schedule for the rest of the year.

Now, on the surface this was business as usual. Inoki had done this same thing before, challenging Baba without making an actual offer to All Japan and then claiming that Baba had chickened out. What made this case a little different, however, was that the Open League was going to be tied to a memorial show for the twelfth anniversary of Rikidōzan’s death. After his match against Lou Thesz on October 9, Inoki met with Masao Yamamoto, the guardian of Rikidōzan’s estate, to negotiate his participation. However, Inoki refused despite Yamamoto’s insistence, as he had already booked the Kuramae Kokugikan for the Robinson match, and the broadcast schedule was in place.

The memorial show was announced in a press conference on October 21, held by Yamamoto and widow Keiko Momota. Yamamoto requested that, as a disciple of Rikidōzan, Inoki would cancel his match against Robinson to work the event. It must be noted that both events were running head-to-head in Tokyo: the Rikidōzan memorial at Budokan, and the NJPW show at Kuramae. Of course, while the Rikidōzan memorial event was to be ostensibly hosted by his surviving family, it was in practicality an All Japan event. And according to this source, Baba was the one who convinced the Rikidōzan family to book it on the same date as the NJPW Kuramae show.

As you might imagine, Inoki didn’t budge, so one week later, Yamamoto accused him and NJPW of reneging on their “promise” to participate in the show, essentially calling Inoki a bastard who had forgotten his debt to Rikidōzan. Inoki was hurt by this, but he didn’t budge. In a public statement, Inoki asked for them to consider that what would make Rikidōzan most happy was the flourishing of puroresu, and expressed that his teacher would be proud of the match he was going to have against Robinson. He even went so far as to say that it would be up to the fans to decide whether his match or the Rikidōzan memorial main event was the real Rikidōzan memorial match. (And, I mean, considering that Inoki/Robinson is one of the most famous puro matches of its era, and that the Abdullah the Butcher vs Kintaro Oki antepenultimate match is the only thing from the Rikidōzan memorial show that has been rebroadcast – despite the fact that the Open League might be the most relatively well-preserved puro singles tournament of the 70s – I think Shin Nihon won that battle.) In response, Momota and Yamamoto issued a notice of excommunication in their names, so that Inoki would no longer be able to call himself a disciple of (St.) Rikidōzan (the Great).

Before the fateful day, there’s one more incident worth covering. Both events were being supported by Tokyo Sports, who were concerned about Inoki’s refusal to participate in the memorial show and his excommunication. The paper arranged a meeting between Inoki and Momota & Yamamoto on December 6, in which they served as intermediary. Inoki held firm that he would not participate in the memorial show, but nevertheless apologized to the family, which they accepted. That might sound weird, but it makes more sense when you realize that this was, in fact, another trap. When Tokyo Sports published an article on the meeting, New Japan was furious because, in apologizing, Inoki was essentially kowtowing to Baba. As trustworthy a boss as he might have been for gaijin, make no mistake: Shohei Baba was a shrewd politician.

Besides a match recap that’s basically everything from these posts. However, it drops a few more tidbits:

  1. Robinson had been interested in Inoki ever since the two had shared a flight in 1971.
  2. Both Lou Thesz and Karl Gotch expressed interest in refereeing the Inoki/Robinson match, but Red Shoes Duggan eventually got the job, as Thesz and Gotch participated as ringside witnesses.
  3. This source confirms that the pay cut which led Robinson to jump ship to AJPW was due to New Japan saving money for the Inoki/Ali fight.

 

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Usually I wouldn’t post again so soon, but I’ve been throwing myself into research to get my mind off of some stuff. So, here’s a rundown on the original Tokyo Pro Wrestling. The bulk of this is sourced from a 2017 Igapro article, which cites issue #47 of the G Spirits magazine as reference material, but there’s also material from the Japanese Wikipedia page for the promotion.

Tokyo Pro Wrestling

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In March, I made a post in this thread titled JWA: The Transitional Period. I recommend reading that first if you haven’t, but here’s the essential information:

In the aftermath of Rikidōzan’s death, the JWA stuck together partially due to its financial importance to the Japanese criminal underworld. Toyonobori was a wrestler who often teamed with Rikidōzan, and even though his gambling problems had actually soured their relationship behind the scenes, he was seen as the best available successor to Rikidōzan. Toyonobori would become not only the promotion’s ace, but its president. Alongside the troika of Yoshinosato, Kokichi Endo, and Michiaki Yoshimura, Toyonobori was among the council which ran the JWA. Despite major internal reforms after police crackdown which saw the resignations of the major underworld players in company positions, the JWA overcame its difficulties. However, this arrangement couldn’t last.

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Toyonobori’s embezzlement of company funds into gambling activities led to a board meeting on November 24, 1965, where Nippon Productions resolved to dismiss him from the presidential seat. Officially, Toyonobori resigned on January 5, 1966, with a cover story that he had stepped down for medical reasons (ureteral stones).

Toyonobori looked to start a new promotion, but he had a problem: he’d already gambled away his whole severance package. So, he approached Hisashi Shinma to help him in this enterprise. Shinma was at this point an employee of major cosmetics manufacturer Max Factor, but he had befriended Toyonobori during his days of bodybuilding training at the JWA dojo. Alongside his father Nobuo, a temple priest, Shinma would help bankroll this new promotion, which Toyonobori announced his intent to form in a Shibuya lodge.

Upon this announcement, several young JWA wrestlers left to join what would become Tokyo Pro: Tadaharu Tanaka, Masao Kimura, Masanori Saito, and Mikiyuki Kitazawa. The training camp began in February 1966. However, this left Tokyo Pro with a leaner roster than Toyonobori had expected: the Japanese Wikipedia page states that he had expected the likes of Yoshinosato, Kintaro Oki, Hiro Matsuda, Kantaro Hoshino, and Akihisa Takachiho to also jump ship.

So it was that Toyonobori took a trip to Hawaii.

Antonio Inoki was on excursion in the United States, looking to return to Japan a seasoned performer for the World League tournament. On March 10, he and his accomplice, referee Oki Shikina, boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii, where Inoki was to have a joint training session with Giant Baba and Michiaki Yoshimura. However, Inoki was unsure of how much the JWA valued him, particularly compared to Baba. When he arrived in Hawaii, not only were there few press people there to interview him, but his employer hadn’t even bothered to book a hotel room.

The JWA had dispatched Baba, Yoshimura, and Kintaro Oki to try to dissuade Inoki from jumping ship. It seemed that they would be successful, as he said that he would fly back to Japan with them on March 19. However, Toyonobori arrived on the same day as Baba, Yoshimura, and Oki, and persuaded Inoki to join him…despite the fact that he’d already gambled away the one million yen which he’d gotten from Nobuo Shinma to entice Inoki. Inoki made an international call on March 21 to tell the JWA he was resigning, and accompanied Toyonobori to return home on April 23. In subsequent years, this incident became known as Taiheiyō jō no Ryakudatsu (“The Pillage on the Pacific Ocean”). On March 21, JWA president Yoshinosato would publicly disclose the real reason for Toyonobori’s resignation.

Upon their return to Japan, Inoki was faced with the reality that he’d probably made a terrible mistake. He had no money, Toyonobori had negative money, and there was no TV station to support them anymore. So it was that Inoki began to work with Hisashi Shinma to get this company off the ground. Since the JWA had not yet received official NWA membership, Inoki was able to ask Sam Muchnick for permission to book foreign talent, and he managed to get half a dozen gaijin out of it, most notably Johnny Powers and Johnny Valentine.

The JWA got serious about their competition as it was announced that Tokyo Pro would debut at the Kuramae Kokugikan on October 12. It was at this point when they approached Nippon TV about booking the more expensive Nippon Budokan for a show headlined by Fritz von Erich.

To be fair, they did have a successful debut on October 12, drawing 11,000 to Kuramae as Inoki defeated Valentine in his first match on Japanese soil since the excursion...but this was quickly made moot when Toyonobori took the profits for what you can already guess. The promotion’s momentum did not sustain itself, as its sister company Orient Promotion was overwhelmed by the JWA. A show at the Osaka Stadium was said to have drawn 8,000 people, but in actuality drew a mere 3,000. (I’m assuming this means it drew 3,000 paid with freebies for the rest, though the wording of the text, at least ran through DeepL, doesn’t use this verbiage.) They would only hold 20 events, as negotiations with Mainichi Broadcasting System broke down over the objections of the station president, Shinzo Takahashi. According to Haruka Eigen, who got his start in the business as a Tokyo Pro recruit, Toyonobori’s use of the promotion as his personal piggy bank went to such an extent that his monthly salary of ¥10,000 was half that of a civil servant, and the company could not afford to purchase rice to feed its trainees.

This culminated on November 21. An outdoor show was planned to take place in front of Itabashi Station. It fell through because Toyonobori borrowed money from Orient Promotion, and used Inoki’s money to pay it back. An enraged Inoki pulled out and ordered his fellow wrestlers to do the same. However, the audience would not be informed of the cancellation until an hour after the show had been scheduled to start, and having waited in the cold for nothing, the crowd set the ring ablaze and got the riot police called on them.

As this scandal went public, Tokyo Pro’s credibility tanked. They would hold one more small tour from December 14 to 19, culminating in Inoki’s successful defense of the belt he had won from Johnny Valentine against Stan Stasiak, but the box office was dismal. They couldn’t even get 1,000 people to pay to get into the final show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Fed up with Toyonobori, Inoki and his team secretly moved all their belongings from the Shinjuku office to a new one in Kita-Aoyama. There, they established a new Tokyo Pro Wrestling, with the support of all the wrestlers except Toyonobori and his protege Tanaka, and contacted Isao Yoshihara to establish an alliance with the soon-to-debut International Wrestling Enterprise.

Inoki participated in the launch of the International Wrestling Enterprise with his co-workers in Tokyo Pro, working the Pioneer Series in January 1967. On the 8th, he sued Toyonobori and the Shinmas for embezzlement and breach of trust, to the tune of ¥30,000,000, but they countersued, claiming that his living expenses and wife’s purchases had themselves been charged to the company. The business alliance with the IWE was terminated at the end of the month.

After being forced to repay several creditors alongside Toyonobori and the Shinmas, Inoki looked to return to the JWA to pay off his debts. He would be accompanied by Kitazawa and Tokyo Pro recruits Haruka Eigen and Katsuhisa Shibata. The source states that Inoki had tried to bring most of Tokyo Pro with him – though not the future Rusher Kimura, since he was close to Toyonobori – but Saito chose to go to the States, and the remaining wrestlers wound up being subsumed into the IWE.

Toyonobori and Tanaka hid in the mountains to avoid debt collectors, but eventually gave up and joined the IWE at Isao Yoshihara’s invitation. Meanwhile, Hisashi Shinma would be disowned by his father after this enterprise, and spent four years working as a coal miner before he reentered the business with Inoki. It was through Shinma’s mediation that Toyonobori would briefly join New Japan upon its inception, before quietly leaving the business.

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I think the IWE is worthy of its own extended series, with the excellent Japanese Wikipedia page as a primary source. This will repeat information seen in my previous posts, but I think it’s worth tying it all together into as complete a narrative as I can make without having access to the pair of books on the promotion published by G Spirits in recent years.

A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART ONE (1966-1968)

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PALACE

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The circumstances that led to the formation of the International Wrestling Enterprise were those surrounding the Riki Sports Palace in Shibuya. Modeled after the Honolulu Civic Auditorium, and completed in 1961 for the sum of 1.5 billion yen, the Palace was Rikidōzan’s second attempt to build a permanent venue for professional wrestling, after the Japan Pro Wrestling Center. [1] Like the Center before it, the Palace also housed a wrestling dojo, and it also contained offices for the JWA itself and related organizations such as the Japan Pro Wrestling Commission. Unlike the Center, though, the Palace would expand into various side businesses.

After Rikidōzan’s death, the Palace continued to be used for television tapings over the next three years. Due to a cutthroat business move which saw the post-Rikidōzan JWA create a new company for legal purposes, so that Rikidōzan’s family would be stuck with the wrestler’s debts, the Palace languished as Riki Enterprises was unable to resolve its debts. While still used regularly for JWA television tapings, the side businesses that the Palace had dipped its toes into, such as the Riki Restaurant and a bowling alley, deteriorated.

JWA wrestler and sales manager Isao Yoshihara believed that a permanent venue still had value to the JWA, and began to raise funds for the promotion (or rather the aforementioned second company) to purchase the Palace from Riki Enterprises. However, the likes of Kokichi Endo, the hypersensitive and corrupt accounting manager, interfered with Yoshihara’s efforts by alleging that he was in fact raising money to buy out the JWA itself.

On October 5, 1966, Yoshihara resigned. [2]

FORMATION

Accompanied by fellow JWA sales department worker Toshio Suzuki, Yoshihara formed the International Wrestling Enterprise Co, Ltd soon after. It had been speculated over the years that the name was the brainchild of eventual IWE commentator Takashi Kikuchi, but Kikuchi denied this in a 2010 interview with Kagehiro Osano. It must be noted, however, that the IWE was best known in its native tongue as Kokusai Puroresu (“International Pro Wrestling”). [Throughout this series I will use “Kokusai” to refer to the promotion, in the same way that I would use “All Japan” or “New Japan”. I like having a one to two-word phrase that isn’t an acronym to refer to the promotion, and “International” doesn’t have the same ring to it.]

Early on, the promotion was short on staff, so it tried to adopt a freelance system similar to that of the American industry. On October 24, when the board of directors was announced, Yoshihara said that he wished to contribute to the development of Japanese pro wrestling. He envisioned an industry where rival organizations did not try to “crush” each other; as he put it, “pro wrestling is different from sumo”. The freelance model was, however, abandoned after the JWA refused to cooperate with their new competition.

The roster began to take shape. First, the role of company ace and booker was bestowed upon Hiro Matsuda. Born Yasuhiro Kojima, he had entered the JWA after graduating high school, but left in 1960 over conflicts with Rikidōzan specifically, and more generally the rigidly hierarchical vestiges of sumo culture that Rikidōzan and his ex-sumo ilk had brought into puroresu with them. After going to Peru, Kojima spent the early sixties plying his trade as a journeyman wrestler in Mexico and the United States, where he would receive training from Karl Gotch and adopt the Hiro Matsuda name. In 1966, Matsuda finally returned to the JWA to work the 1966 Golden Series, and later that year would be lured by Yoshihara to start up Kokusai. Matsuda would be joined by Matty Suzuki, his junior at Nittaida Ebara High School who had joined the JWA in 1961, and a pair of 1965 JWA dojo graduates: Greco-Roman Olympian Thunder Sugiyama [3] and ex-rugby player Masatake Kusatsu [4].

Three days after the board of directors’ announcement, Yoshihara, (Matty) Suzuki, and IWE announcer Yazuo Hasegawa attended a bodybuilding competition. Here they would meet the man who, in retrospect, was the best bet that their company ever had. Shozo Kobayashi, an amateur bodybuilder with a day job on the railroad, was in attendance to support a competing friend. Hasegawa was the one to notice and scout him, and when Shozo met with Yoshihara and Suzuki, he agreed to join the company on the spot, though he initially received some pushback from his family.

PIONEER

As covered in my previous post about Tokyo Pro Wrestling, the bulk of that promotion’s wrestlers, led by Antonio Inoki, had established a new Tokyo Pro after a disastrous final tour in December 1966. Inoki successfully negotiated with Yoshihara, and both companies arranged the Pioneer Series, a twenty-date January tour which began on the 5th and ended on the 31st. No footage from this tour circulates (believe me, there’s going to be a lot of that in this story), but there were some interesting matchups. The first show at the sold-out Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium saw Inoki defeat Eddie Graham, and Danny Hodge defended his NWA World Junior Heavyweight title against Matsuda to a sixty-minute draw. Subsequent shows would see such matches as Inoki and Matsuda, Gotch disciples both, teaming up to take on the Kentuckians (Luke Brown and the future Grizzly Smith). The last date even ended with a rematch from the first Tokyo Pro Wrestling show, in which Inoki went over Johnny Valentine once again.

Yoshihara had approached both Tokyo Broadcasting System and Fuji TV for television coverage, and parallel to this tour TBS conducted a credibility investigation, concluding in February that the IWE was worthy of regular broadcasting. [5] On April 4, TBS president Junzo Inamichi announced they were in discussions with Kokusai. TBS was hoping that Inoki would join the promotion, but on April 6, Inoki returned to the JWA. The Japanese Wikipedia page for Tokyo Pro Wrestling cites the biography of Youssef Turko (Turkish expat who became a JWA wrestler and then referee – he’s going to show up a little later) in a footnote which states that the JWA brought Inoki back by paying him 20 million yen, half of which was to settle his Tokyo Pro debt. There had also been a dispute between Inoki and Yoshihara over the subject of his pay. As I wrote in my Tokyo Pro Wrestling post above, Inoki had intended to bring all of the Tokyo Pro wrestlers – with the exception of Toyonobori loyalist Masao Kimura – back with him, but ultimately did not do so. Haruka Eigen, Motoyuki Kitazara, and Katsuhisa Shibata appear to be the only ones who came to the JWA with him, excluding Masanori Saito, who would rejoin the promotion after his overseas excursion. The remnants – besides Hiroshi Nakagawa and Teruo Kaneda, who both retired upon Tokyo Pro’s collapse – would expand the IWE’s roster considerably: the aforementioned Kimura, Isamu Teranishi, Mammoth Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Sendai (later Tetsunosuke Daigo), Takeshi Oiso, Iwao Takeshita, and Tadaharu Tanaka.

PIONEER 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Kokusai would only run one more tour in 1967: the Pioneer Summer Series, held across 15 dates from July 21-August 16. In the interim, they would acquire more talent. The most notable of these was Toyonobori, who had still legally been listed as a member of Tokyo Pro Wrestling but had not participated in the Pioneer Series due to his dispute with Inoki. The next few years would see Toyonobori’s last work of significance in the business. Another wrestler they gained was a high-school dropout named Enzo Inoue. [6]

The tour started at the Kanayama Gym in Nagoya. “Sueo” Inoue made his debut as a curtainjerker, losing to Sendai, and in the second match, Shozo Kobayashi debuted as Fukumen Taro, the first masked native wrestler in puroresu; he would work this gimmick for the rest of the tour.

Both TBS and Fuji TV ultimately gave the go-ahead for Kokusai, and the former was chosen. Although Yoshihara would not sign a contract until after the tour had ended, TBS did air a bit of IWE material as a pilot: namely, a digest of the 1966.07.30 show in the Fukushima Prefectural Gymnasium, which was headlined by Matsuda & Toyonobori vs. Dennis Hall & Roger Kirby. On August 4 (my birthday), Matsuda was introduced in a segment of TBS’s Sports Hour program. Finally, the main event of the 1967.08.11 show at the Oita Prefectural Gymnasium, a tag between Matsuda & Sam Steamboat and Kirby & Bill Dromo, was broadcast from 11:05-11:50PM the following night. The latter was apparently just broadcast local to the Oita Broadcasting Corporation, but I believe that was a TBS affiliate, and what indicates that it was still TBS-related is that commentary was dubbed over the match by Tadao Mori, Yoshihara’s old college friend and deputy general manager of TBS’s athletic department.

The most notable show from this tour was that which was held at the Osaka Ballpark on August 14. Kokusai thought that, headlined with a Matsuda/Steamboat vs. Dromo/Kirby rematch, their card could compete with the JWA, who were running the nearby Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in a show headlined by Giant Baba’s first shot at the NWA World Heavyweight title against Gene Kiniski. The results were predictable as, at best, the JWA outdrew them five-to-one. (One source makes an even bleaker claim that the IWE’s claimed audience of 4,200 was actually just 2,500.)

BATTLE AT THE SUMIDA RIVER

On September 11, Yoshihara signed a contract which paid the promotion ¥2,200,000, ¥200,000 more per episode than the JWA’s contemporaneous deal with Nippon TV. Present at the ceremony were the aforementioned Tadao Mori, as well as the TBS athletic department general manager Masao Tsuruta. To raise funds, Yoshihara sold his shares to Hiroshi Iwata, who owned a dairy company in Hiroshima, and brought him in officially as an advisor. This was done through Mori’s mediation.

On November 7, TBS held a press conference to announce that nationwide coverage would start the following January. Yoshihara was conspicuous in his absence, but as he was deeply in debt it wasn’t a good idea for him to appear in public. The Japanese Wikipedia page stresses that this was not a forceful ouster, though Yoshihara took a definite backseat as to the management of the company.

I’ve gotten conflicting information as to the order of these next two events, so take the order I’ve tentatively chosen with a grain of salt. At some point in late 1967, Matsuda left the promotion over an unpaid debt of 60 million yen, to return the United States until he took some dates for the JWA a couple years later. This left the promotion without an ace, and without a booker. Iwata and Mori went to the United States to sign the Great Togo to fill the latter role, with Yoshihara’s approval. If you know your JWA history (or at least have read my JWA: The Transitional Period post), alarm bells should be going off in your head right now. Togo’s financial demands of the JWA had been widely considered extortive, and not long after this, his poor reputation in puroresu would come back to bite him. (The reason why the timeline on this is ambiguous is that Togo wouldn’t have been necessary if Matsuda hadn’t left, but sources have mentioned that Matsuda was dead against Togo coming in, considering it a personal insult to bring somebody who had been so closely in Rikidōzan’s fold. I haven’t read anything about a TBS-mandated division of labor with regards to Matsuda’s position as booker, though that would clear up the matter. [Edit 2021.05.23: Upon further reflection I have an alternate theory that would clear this matter up. Japanese resources often use "booker" to just mean someone who literally books a wrestler - i.e. a gaijin - to appear, with the one who fills the creative function we associate with the term being instead called a "matchmaker". This could be what had happened.])

Meanwhile, Masataku Kusatsu was on an excursion. He had come to work in Florida through the Matsuda connection, but Kusatsu had grown weary of professional wrestling and still had a desire to play a sport rooted in rugby. When he learned about Wahoo McDaniel, who at this point was still working both in wrestling and football, Kusatsu was inspired, and went to Vancouver without Matsuda’s permission to try out for the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions. (I don’t know if he made it, and a page I found of the team’s all-time roster did not feature him, but Japanese sources have stated that in this period he was working in football as well as wrestling. I couldn’t find much on other football leagues active at the time who would have had teams in the Vancouver area, where it would have to have been as Kusatsu was, again, pulling double duty as a wrestler there.)

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Mori met with Kusatsu in Vancouver. Informing him that Matsuda had departed, Mori convinced Kusatsu to return for a push as the promotion’s new ace. During this period, the IWE would be renamed TBS Pro Wrestling, and their television time was a one-hour slot on Wednesday nights at 7:00.

Kusatsu returned in December, at which point he would receive the “Great Kusatsu” moniker. Thunder Sugiyama returned from his excursion at the same time, and while he doesn’t get mentioned much in the narrative leading up to the so-called “Battle at the Sumida River”, a reprinted article from long-running Japanese fanzine Showa Puroresu claims that he was being groomed for a similarly high spot, despite Togo’s advice that neither were good enough for the ace role, and that Toyonobori was the roster’s best bet. In a press conference, Kusatsu read a statement prepared for him by TBS, in which he stated that he was now on equal footing with Giant Baba, the man for whom he had worked as a valet, and that he would try his best not to lose to him in terms of his performances, although the wording was good-natured.

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“TBS Pro Wrestling” looked to be getting off to a promising start. The television program would be called TWWA Pro Wrestling Live. The TWWA, or Trans-World Wrestling Alliance, was an organization created by Togo as part of his plan, which was supposedly run by Frank Tunney.

Once again, the promotion would battle the JWA on the same turf, though they didn’t initiate the conflict this time. On 1968.01.03, TBS had the Nihon University Auditorium booked to begin the tour. The JWA were the aggressors this time, as while they were originally supposed to start their tour the following night in Okayama, they hastily booked the Kuramae Kokugikan for an extra fee, with a show headlined by a defense of Baba’s NWA International Heavyweight title against Crusher Lisowski. They also preempted the TBS broadcast by broadcasting the episode live at 5:30PM. Meanwhile, Rikidōzan’s widow, Keiko Momota, as well as his sons Mitsuo and Yoshihiro, were invited to the TBS show (they were still on poor terms with the JWA, which explains why it was such a big deal for Baba to gain their symbolic approval when he started up AJPW), as was a young sumo wrestler by the name of Genichiro Tenryu. In the main event, Kusatsu would make his grand debut with a shot at the TWWA World Heavyweight champion…Lou Thesz.

First of all, this wouldn’t be as widely televised as intended. The December press conference had announced that twenty member stations would broadcast the first episode of TWWA Pro Wrestling Live. However, at least one of these, Shizuoka Broadcasting System (SBS), ultimately did not air the program, and it has been rumored that this was due to pressure from NTV and/or the JWA and/or Mitsubishi Electric (the sponsor of the JWA’s NTV program).

Before the match, a TBS official gave Thesz a subtle request to “bring Kusatsu some flowers today”. I was confused by this phrase when it was used in an earlier post of mine, namely about the buildup to the Koji Kitao/John Tenta match which ended in a shoot, but its use here makes it clear that the phrase meant for Thesz to put Kusatsu over. Thesz was quite upset at the implications not only because of his pedigree, but because, unlike the young Kusatsu, he had started from the bottom. Yoshihara assuaged him by acknowledging the TBS official’s rudeness, and told him that, while Yoshihara needed Thesz to agree to do so on the surface so that Yoshihara could maintain his face with the network, he didn’t need to actually put Kusatsu over. Whether or not what was coming was Thesz’s intention, the result was a rude awakening for their television debut, and a legendary example of the IWE’s hard luck. At the end of the first fall, Thesz hit his Greco-Roman backdrop for the pin. Kusatsu’s delayed recovery bore the signs of a legitimate concussion, and guest referee Fred Atkins stopped the match.

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Kusatsu has claimed that he was faking the concussion on the instruction of Togo, who was at ringside. Whatever the case, it was a terrible first impression for TBS Pro Wrestling. JWA president Junzo Hasegawa was strongly critical, stating that it was an insult to Thesz, and to Rikidōzan by proxy, for Kusatsu to have challenged Thesz so soon in a title match. JWA wrestler Umanosuke Ueda watched the match before leaving the country on an American excursion, but did not mince words when asked for comment, remarking that Kusatsu’s performance had been “embarrassing” and “juvenile”.

Kusatsu would receive a non-title rematch on 1968.01.08 at the Kagoshima Prefectural Gymnasium, and though it apparently went forward without incident, he still lost 2:0. This match was later broadcast as a backup to the live program on April 24, 1968 due to a TBS labor strike. On 1968.01.10 at the Oita Prefectural Gymnasium, Thunder Sugiyama received a shot at the title, and while this match didn’t end in such embarrassment (and Sugiyama had gone over Thesz in a buildup singles match) he didn’t win either. On 1968.01.17, Toyonobori would get an unsuccessful shot of his own at the Miyagi Prefectural Gymnasium, in a match that was shorter than either Kusatsu’s or Sugiyama’s. Finally, on 1968.01.24 at the Taito Ward Gymnasium, Danny Hodge challenged Thesz for the belt, and Lou put him over 2:1 in 35:52.

Neither the Sugiyama nor the Toyonobori matches were as interesting as something happening behind the scenes, though, as Togo plotted to swipe Kim Ill, professionally known in Japan as Kintaro Oki, from the JWA to receive the 01.17 shot. Kim Ill’s distrust of the JWA executives had reached a fever pitch, so he accepted. However, news of this reached the JWA side. Despite receiving death threats over the phone, Kim turned in his resignation at the JWA office and departed for Sendai, only relenting when an unnamed former JWA director and the president of the publication S-Sports (Sendai Sports) came to personally dissuade him.

In returning to work for TBS, Togo had broken his promise to the JWA never to work in the Japanese professional wrestling industry again. Initially the Yamaha Brothers, Kantaro Hoshino and Kotetsu Yamamoto volunteered to take it to Togo, but referee Youssef Turko would do so instead, since it could be a liability for relatively high-profile wrestlers to perform an assault. On January 18, at around midnight, Turko himself and wrestler Gantetsu Matsuoka went to Togo’s hotel whilst dressed as mailmen, before beating him bloody. Turko turned himself in to the police, who only gave him a warning that “if you’re going to fight, do it in the ring”. Needless to say, the fact that Togo – who was wrestling for TBS on top of his booking duties – got his ass handed to him by a referee did not do wonders for his credibility. Publicly, JWA president Yoshinosato suspended Turko for this incident, but it is said that behind the scenes, he was rewarded with a round-the-world ticket.

According to the Japanese Wikipedia page for the TWWA Pro Wrestling Live program (this name would remain for the rest of the IWE’s tenure with TBS, though it would switch to Relay when it moved away from live broadcasts), the television ratings in this first tour were fairly even with those of the JWA - even the loss at the Sumida River saw them draw a 32.3 against the JWA's 36.3 - which prompted the latter to change from a biweekly to weekly broadcast schedule. (This was done by moving Disneyland - or as we know it, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color - to Tuesday nights.) However, outside assessments of the program were as harsh as Ueda had been, and a report by advertising agency Dentsu, which was submitted to the network after the 1968.01.24 show, stated that Hodge had outshone all three natives.

The TWWA had established two other titles for the IWE wrestlers to win, and I should get those out of the way now. The first of these were the TWWA World Tag Team titles, whose inaugural holders were the Fabulous Kangaroos. On 1968.01.10, the Kangaroos would drop the titles to Toyonobori and Sugiyama, who would hold them for the next fifteen months. According to Wrestling-Titles.com, a TWWA World Junior Heavyweight title was also established and given to Édouard Carpentier, but he never had a chance to defend it, as he wasn’t booked as a gaijin during the brief period where he could have before the title was abandoned.

Togo would leave partway through the second tour he booked, the World Tag Team Series. Sure enough, he charged TBS an exorbitant booking fee, and when they hesitated, he struck back by apparently manipulating the gaijin – Hodge, the Kangaroos, Fred Curry, Bulldog Brower – into boycotting and thus sabotaging the last dates of the following tour. The live broadcasts would be hastily cancelled and replaced by backup tapings, and TBS announced its distancing from Togo in a February 12 press conference. Soon afterward, TBS withdrew from the management of Kokusai and revert it back to its original name, due to concerns over the station’s image. [7] Iwata had long since left the promotion, frustrated with its antiquated management structure.

Without Matsuda or Togo, Isao Yoshihara no longer had a route through which to book gaijin talent from North America. On February 20, however, Kokusai held a press conference to announce that they would be shifting to a European gaijin pipeline.

INTERNATIONAL LAMPOON: EUROPEAN GAIJINATION

Hope had arrived when Yoshihara was introduced to Ichiro Hatta. I shared a post about him early in this thread’s life, but the short version is that he was a crucial figure in establishing amateur wrestling in Japan (as well as an early international supporter of sambo) who made several contributions to professional wrestling, in the belief that a thriving pro-wrestling industry would help the amateur sport by encouraging young people to take it up. [8] Hatta was still president of the sports club at Yoshihara and Mori’s alma mater, Waseda University, and he used his connection to Joint Promotions to open up a route between Kokusai and the European wrestling scene. Their liaison would be George de Relwyskow Jr. of Relwyskow & Green Promotions. Besides being a source of gaijin talent, this connection would eventually be reflected in the International Wrestling Association, the kayfabe governing body behind Kokusai’s championships, when Yoshihara formed a connection with French promoter Roger Delaporte.

Things were still going to be rough for the IWE. Their replacement tour, the nine-date Japan-Europe Decisive Battle Series, was arranged on such short notice that the European gaijins were given tourist visas. As a result, the first event on 1968.02.28, which was to be headlined with a Toyonobori/Sugiyama vs. Tony Charles/Lee Sharron tag match, was cancelled and then hastily retooled into a charity event with no admission fee. The gaijin flew to Hong Kong the next day to switch to work visas, after which the tour resumed as planned. The Japan-Europe Decisive Battle Series ended at the Handa Civic Hall on 1968.03.27.

On 1968.04.03, the IWE Japanese & British Champion Series began at the Sky Hall in Yokohama. The most consequential match was the semi-main event, in which Masao Kimura lost to a debuting British wrestler: Billy Robinson. Robinson would make a powerful impression during this tour, particularly impressing the Japanese audience with his butterfly suplex (or as they were wont to call it, the “Human Windmill”). Later dates on the tour would see him defend his European Heavyweight Championship against Toyonobori, Sugiyama, and John Lees. He wouldn’t defend against Kusatsu, though, as he worked a program with Tony Charles to win his Western Great Britain Heavyweight title.

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Above: pictures from Billy Robinson's first appearances in the IWE. At right, he performs the butterfly suplex on Masao Kimura.

This tour would see a change in the IWE’s television situation. On April 24, a TBS labor strike led the network to broadcast the taped Thesz/Kusatsu rematch from 1968.01.08 in lieu of the live program. After this, taped shows became the norm for TWWA Pro-Wrestling Live rather than the exception, although live broadcasts would still occur at least during this era of the promotion’s existence, for Kokusai still had some advantages over the JWA. As TBS broadcasted baseball on Wednesday nights, it was rare that a game would pre-empt TWWA Pro Wrestling Live. Also, TBS’s outreach allowed Kokusai to penetrate a handful of markets which did not carry the JWA. The Iwate, Shimane, Okayama, and Oita prefectures all carried IWE programming exclusively for at least some time, and Kokusai enjoyed similar advantages in the Niigata and Fukuoka prefectures. Their foothold was especially strong in the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures where, even by JWA officials’ admissions, it was impossible for them to outdraw the IWE even with B-I Cannon unless they were broadcasting live.

Meanwhile, the JWA continued to sabotage their competition. Until NET TV began their parallel television deal with the promotion, they were somehow able to use their connections with Nippon TV and the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper to block the IWE from running Korakuen Hall. [9]

1968 CONTINUES

Next, the IWE ran the World Selection Series across 13 dates from May 21 through June 8. On 1968.05.25 at the Nakajima Sports Center in Sapporo, Kusatsu defended the Western Great Britain Heavyweight title against Albert Wall. At the same venue (according to puroresu.com) the following night, Toyonobori and Sugiyama retained their TWWA World Tag Team titles against John Cox & Enrique Edo. The final show at the Ohta Ward Gym in Tokyo saw them defend the titles again against Wall & Cox.

Following this was the Big Summer Series, held across 16 dates from June 22 through July 30. At the opening show at Tokyo’s Adachi Ward Gym, Kusatsu defended his title against Cox. Meanwhile, Toyonobori and Sugiyama defended their titles a whopping four times this tour. First, at the second event on 1968.06.25, they defeated Sky Hi Lee and the Outlaw (Gordon Nelson) 2:0. At the seventh date on 1968.07.13, they retained against Bull Davis and the Outlaw. Finally, on the last two dates of the tour, 1968.07.27 and 1968.07.30, they won successive defenses against Ian Campbell and the Outlaw.

Then came the World Summer Series, held across 22 dates from August 3 through September 11. Toyonobori and Sugiyama made four more tag title defenses against Davis & Prince Kumali (1968.08.06), Campbell & Kumali (1968.08.16 & 1968.08.18), and Wild Angus & Kumali (1968.08.24). On the final date at the Yokohama Sky Hall, Kusatsu won a double title match against Davis, for his Western and Bull’s Southern Great Britain Heavyweight titles.

The penultimate tour for the year was the Dynamite Series, held across 19 dates from September 22 through October 15. Toyonobori and Sugiyama just made three tag defenses this time, the first on 1968.10.01 against Lord Al Hayes & Ray Hunter, the second on 1968.10.09 against Hunter & Jim Hussey, and the third on the last date against Hussey & George Gordienko. Also on the last date, Kusatsu apparently only defended the Western GB title, this time against Mr. Guillotine (aka Peter Thornley, the original Kendo Nagasaki).

1ST IWA WORLD SERIES

The first part of this retrospective ends with Kokusai’s last tour of the year. Held across 30 dates from November 4 until December 21, this would feature the World Series singles tournament to crown the inaugural IWA Heavyweight champion. The gaijins were: Billy Robinson (UK), George Gordienko (Canada), Ray Apollon (USA), Ray Hunter (Australia), Peter Maivia (American Samoa), Micha (billed as “Michael”) Nador (Hungary), Gil Voiney (France), and John Walter da Silva (New Zealand). The tournament itself ended up going to a three-way final between Toyonobori, Robinson, and Gordienko, with Robinson beating Toyonobori to win on 1968.12.19, the penultimate date, to win the tournament and the new belt. Elsewhere on the tour, Robinson made a pair of defenses of his European Heavyweight title: the first on 1968.12.14 against Maivia [10], and the second on the last date against Kusatsu. Toyonobori and Sugiyama made 5(!) defenses of their tag belts, against Gordienko & Apollon (1968.11.22), Gordienko & da Silva (1968.11.30), Gordienko & Maivia (1968.12.03, 1968.12.12), and Apollon & da Silva (1968.12.10).

With Robinson’s victory, Kokusai had broken ground with puroresu’s first gaijin ace. However, the knowledge about how Danny Hodge had so outshone the natives during his January match against Thesz appears to contextualize this as more necessity than innovation, due to the native talent's lack of credibility.

Part two of this retrospective will likely cover 1969-1971.

Spoiler

[1] The Japan Pro Wrestling Center was a venue built on a plot in the hometown of Rikidōzan’s sumo patron (and yakuza member), Shinsaku Nitta. However, the limited audience it could accommodate limited Rikidōzan’s satisfaction with it, and it just so happened that the Center became a target for expropriation.

[2] The JWA held their last date at the Palace on 1966.11.18. The venue was taken as collateral by its creditor, Nishiyama Kogyo (“Kogyo” would indicate that it was a group), and in 1967, they sold it to Kinki Kanko, who converted it into a cabaret. As that business declined, the former Palace was sold, and in 1992, it was demolished because its atrium and sauna piping made it impossible to remodel into an office building.

[3] Much of this information is sourced from an interview published by Sugiyama's alma mater before his death in 2002. Tsuneharu Sugiyama was a high school champion in judo, and continued to practice judo during his freshman year at Doshisha University, despite being so large and strong that his seniors would not train with him. That winter, Tsuneharu contracted pneumonia during solo field training, and his father Masakatsu drove to the training camp to pick up his son and his belongings. (Masakatsu Sugiyama would be among Kokusai’s original board of directors.) While it appears that he dropped out of Doshisha, after he had healed Tsuneharu would be accepted by Meiji University, and eventually joined their wrestling team. Just ten days after joining, Sugiyama won the final qualifying round for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but was disqualified from competing due to lack of experience. After victories in both the student – Sugiyama was, in fact, the first Japanese professional wrestler to have won student nationals, which he did in 1960 and 1961 – and national championships, Sugiyama made it into the Tokyo Olympics.

Like Kusatsu, and fellow Tokyo Olympian Masanori Saito, Sugiyama joined the JWA in 1965. Sugiyama joined professional wrestling with the encouragement of Ichiro Hatta (if you don’t know his story it will come up later in this post). All three were considered “elites” due to their athletic pedigrees, but as I learned during my transcription of Kagehiro Osano’s Jumbo Tsuruta: The Strongest Champion of Eternity (which was this thread’s original purpose), all three were still firmly held back by the verticality of early puroresu culture, which trickled down into the manner in which they worked (in other words, no highspots allowed from someone who hadn’t paid their dues, even if they happened to be an Olympian). Sugiyama debuted at the Riki Sports Palace on 1966.03.04, wrestling Kazuo Honma to a draw. His last date for the company was the 1966.09.23 Palace show, where he lost to Hideyuki Nagasawa.

[4] Kusatsu had been a talented rugby player, and he was brought into the JWA as an “elite”. However, unlike the humble Saito and Sugiyama, Kusatsu was a poor fit for early puro locker-room culture due to his laziness and cocky attitude. The future Great Kabuki would later recall that Kusatsu frequently skipped training. At the time he jumped ship, Kusatsu had been out of action with a shoulder injury.

[5] Back when TBS was KR TV, they broadcasted JWA material starting on September 4, 1955. However, a conflict arose with Nippon TV over who would get to broadcast the World Champion Series – as in, Rikidōzan vs. Lou Thesz – and when forced to choose between the two, Rikidōzan went with NTV. Furious over being slighted (and holding a personal distaste of wrestling), programming department head and future station president Junzo Imamichi ordered KR TV to terminate JWA coverage.

[6] When the future Mighty Inoue got his career off the ground, Osaka Gakuin University High School invited him to their graduation ceremony and gave him a diploma.

[7] In 1969, Togo teamed up with Thesz to form an attempted third Japanese wrestling promotion, Togo & Thesz Company, which would have tentatively been called the National Wrestling Enterprise, with Shachi Yokouchi planned to be its ace. Attempts to sell to NET TV (now TV Asahi, who would soon pursue a second television deal with the JWA) or Fuji TV fell through, the startup fell prey to the sabotage of the JWA (with the assistance of Tokyo Sports), and in August 1969, their petition for NWA membership was rejected 8-10.

[8] I do know that Hatta had unsuccessfully petitioned the department of education to make amateur wrestling a required component of the Japanese phys-ed curriculum – as judo and kendo had been in Imperial Japan – so it makes sense that he would see pro wrestling as the best promotional tool available to him.

[9] The earliest IWE date in Korakuen took place on 1970.04.16, but they wouldn’t run the venue again until 1973.09.26. Until then, their small-venue Tokyo shows took place at the likes of the Adachi, Itabashi, and Ohta Ward Gyms.

[10] Yeah, I guess I should get into this. During this tour, Robinson and Maivia got into a street fight. Robinson recalled the incident in his memoir, Physical Chess. The gaijin were all at a restaurant, Gordienko got upset about the peculiarities of the Japanese menu (as in, you couldn’t mix-and-match sides on the dishes offered), and Peter joined in until finally, Robinson told him to shut it so they could get some food and go their separate ways. Later, they met by their hotel, and though Robinson tried to deescalate the situation, Maivia was drunk and would not be deterred. Peter bit straight through Robinson’s cheek, and his old catch instincts took over. According to him, the fight lasted all of 15 seconds. At the end of it, Maivia was out cold, and Robinson went to the hospital for stitches and an injection. The next morning, Robinson came to Maivia’s hotel room and chewed him out, telling him he was lucky he had gotten off as easy as he did, but that he was welcome to try again if he wished. The sobered-up Maivia knew he had no chance, and in talking to Robinson revealed that Gordienko had instigated the whole thing, so Robinson went to his room and told him the same.

By Robinson’s own account, him and Maivia became friends afterwards, and Maivia even booked him in Hawaii.

 

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This feels like a great thread to ask a question I've long wondered. We've never really heard the back story behind the Maeda shoot kick on Choshu to my knowledge. Why did he do it? What is the other side of the story? I do remember Dave reporting there was buzz in the arena that it was going to happen even before it did, which suggests it was planned. I would be interested in someone laying out the entire story there.

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There's an Igapro article about Maeda's second stint in New Japan, which addresses that. You know how these Japanese sources are about never totally breaking kayfabe, but nevertheless there's a thread or two that I haven't seen brought up in English-language recounts of the incident. Maeda claims that he tapped Choshu on the shoulder because he expected Choshu to turn towards him to set it up, but Choshu turned the other way instead and bore the brunt of the kick. According to the article, Maeda came up with this spot because he felt that he needed to top Tenryu, who had brutalized Hiroshi Wajima with unprotected kicks in a recent singles match. Inoki and Sakaguchi apparently knew it was an accident, but they suspended Maeda to cool down the situation (this coupled with the accidental Fujinami injury from 1986.06.12 wasn't a good look for him). 
 

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Hmm.  Earlier in this match, Maeda and Choshu squared off, and I thought they both appeared uncooperative, to the point that it looked a little out of place.

Thanks for keeping my favorite wrestling message board thread EVER alive!

Dan Ginnetty

 

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If you look at the video of the incident, Maeda does put his hand on Choshu's back before throwing the kick, but it looks like he's doing it to steady himself rather than to give Choshu a heads-up. The kick is certainly way too quick for Choshu to have a realistic chance to protect himself.

As for why he did it, I've read that it was largely fueled by resentment over Choshu leapfrogging him in the company hierarchy after returning from All Japan. Meltzer has said that going to a double countout against Kerry Von Erich at Korakuen also played a part. Supposely, he had to do something to redeem himself in the eyes of the hardcore fans since a DCOR with a fake American wrestler at the UWF's home base made him look like a sellout. But according to Cagematch, that match took place in May of 1986, a year and a half before the Choshu incident, so the timeline doesn't add up.

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