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KinchStalker's Puro History Thread [UPDATE 2021.09.03: 2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO, CHAPTERS 10-13 PT. IV]

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A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART TWO (1969-1971)

[Read Part One here.]

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CANADIAN CONNECTION AND JAPAN’S FIRST “DEATHMATCH”

Spoiler

At first, I could not find much information about the IWE in 1969 that one could not derive from looking at their cards for the year. But partway through writing about 1969, I had the idea to make a YouTube comment asking the person behind the js_Tokyo 12 channel_Pro-Wrestling_hr. channel to clear up my confusion, and they got back to me quickly. They filled in my gaps about who booked North American talent for the IWE before they had made their alliance with the AWA. (If I don’t specify who brought whom over, at least as far as this year is concerned, then assume that they came from the European route.)

One thing I should note at the start is that this year would see IWE’s dominance in at least one market challenged. Things had already been settling down as, after their 1968.11.13 episode scored a rating of 27.2%, Kokusai would never again draw a television rating above 25%. They apparently stayed in the 20% range as they entered the new year. However, in July 1969, the JWA began their parallel television deal with NET TV (now TV Asahi),[1] and NET World Pro Wrestling would finally see the JWA get coverage in at least one prefecture (Okayama) that had previously carried the IWE exclusively.

The IWE began 1969 with a live episode of their 1969.01.01 event, which saw Masao Kimura adopt the stage name he would don for the rest of his career: Rusher Kimura.[2] That night, Billy Robinson held his first successful defense of the IWA World Heavyweight title, against the Great Kusatsu, and Toyonobori & Thunder Sugiyama defended their TWWA World Tag Team titles once again against André Bollet & Robert Gastel. Bollet & Gastel were the first French wrestlers sent Kokusai’s way by George de Relwyskow Jr., and Yoshihara found them mediocre. Throughout the Big Winter Series, each of the promotion’s main champions made one more successful defense: Robinson against Chief White Wolf on 1969.01.28, and Toyonobori & Sugiyama against Wolf & Bollet on 1969.02.04. Kimura saw his status rise on 1969.02.08 when he and Kusatsu won the European Tag Team titles from Bollet & Gastel. Speaking of Kusatsu, he successfully defended his Western & Southern British Heavyweight titles against Joe Cornelius on 1969.02.06. This tour also displayed early inklings of Kokusai’s later penchant for junior heavyweight talent, as Tadaharu Tanaka unsuccessfully challenged for Mike Marino’s European Mid-Heavyweight title on 1969.01.11, but then defeated Marino on 1969.02.11 to become the inaugural IWA World Mid-Heavyweight champion.

Around this time, George de Relwyskow Jr. connected the IWE to Stu Hart. This, in turn, connected Kokusai to Stampede booker Dave Ruhl.

Their next tour was the International Golden Series, held across 10 dates from 02.25-03.23. Across these shows, Toyonobori & Sugiyama successfully defended the TWWA tag titles thrice, and Kusatsu & Kimura likewise defended their European tag titles. More interestingly, Dave Ruhl would work this tour, being involved in all three aforementioned TWWA tag defenses.

Then, there was the World Selection Series, held across 26 dates from 03.25-05.05. More talent who primarily worked in North and Central America were booked. Dory Dixon had taken some Joint Promotions bookings in 1968, but was still primarily working in Mexico. Meanwhile, Tank Morgan and Stan Stasiak were North American workers through and through, and both were booked to appear by Ruhl.

Anyway, this tour saw Robinson defend his IWA World Heavyweight title twice, against Stan Stasiak and Rusher Kimura, and also retain his European Heavyweight title against Albert Wall. Kusatsu and Kimura also defended their European Tag Team titles against Wall and Kimura. The TWWA World Tag Team titles, however, would see some change. On 1969.04.12 in the Kumagaya Civic Gym, Toyonobori & Sugiyama retained the belts against Stasiak & Morgan by disqualification, but vacated the belts because they were unsatisfied with the result. Eight days later at the Kanayama Gym in Nagoya, a rematch for the vacant title was held, but with Kimura in Toyonobori’s place. The natives won 2-1 after Sugiyama and Morgan traded falls.

What makes this match particularly interesting, though, is that it was held with a hair vs. hair stipulation. Granted, the fact that the two men who ended up trading all three falls had either recently cut their hair or had a thin head of hair to begin with meant that the result wasn’t nearly as potent an image as it would be in, say, your standard lucha or joshi apuesta. Nevertheless, Kokusai broke ground in puroresu with this stipulation. A short article reprinted from Japanese fanzine Showa Puroresu would call this the IWE’s first deathmatch. Three days later, Sugiyama & Kimura defended against Morgan & Dixon, and on 1969.05.03, they retained against Morgan and Arroyo.

 

THE BIRTH OF THE IWA WORLD TAG TEAM TITLES

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Above: the IWE office receives news of the IWA tag title match's result.

Spoiler

Two weeks after the Series ended, former tag champion Toyonobori traveled with Shozo Kobayashi to Paris, accompanied by Yoshihara. Since the first IWA World Heavyweight title match had been held in Japan, it had been decided that the IWA World Tag Team titles would debut in France. According to Yoshihara in a later special edition Japanese program, Toyonobori & Kobayashi were initially meant to face the team of Ivan Strogoff and Roger Delaporte, the wrestler-promoter whom Yoshihara was working with. On 1969.05.16, Strogoff & Delaporte had defeated the Ermanso brothers for the title shot. “At the last moment”, however, Delaporte was replaced to elevate a new talent: Jean Ferre.

That is, André René Roussimoff.

Yoshihara had heard about the future André the Giant as early as his first correspondences with George de Relwyskow Jr. in March 1968. At that point, Jean Ferre actually hadn’t worked outside of France, save for a single date in Monaco, but in February he had received substantial exposure in British magazine The Ring Wrestling. That publication’s European correspondent, Michel Bézy, wrote glowingly of Ferre’s potential and placed him third in France in his monthly rankings.

The IWA World Tag Team title match was held at the packed Elysee-Montmartre on 1969.05.18. As far as the French audience of 8,500 knew, Toyonobori & Kobayashi were entering as the champions, so the result was somewhat cushioned. As Toyonobori recounted the match over the phone to Tokyo Sports, the Japanese team gave up the first fall when the aggressive Kobayashi got a disqualification against Ferre. However, Toyonobori made Strogoff submit with a Boston crab to even the score, and in the third fall, Kobayashi ruthlessly targeted Strogoff’s left knee and made him submit with a crab of his own, resulting in a (presumably worked) dislocation. Yoshihara left the match deeply impressed with the young Jean Ferre, who was both taller and more agile than Giant Baba.

During this trip to France, the IWE made another valuable connection. Umenosuke Kiyomigawa was a rikishi who retired to take over his family business in 1946 after a 12-year sumo career. Seven years after that, he entered professional wrestling, and founded the original All Japan Pro Wrestling Association with Toshio Yamaguchi in 1953. After that promotion closed in 1957, Kiyomigawa had plied his trade around the world, and he was living in Paris when Yoshihara, Toyonobori, and Kobayashi visited. Yoshihara asked Kiyomigawa to become a booker for the IWE after getting the okay from Relwyskow. For the next several years, Kiyomigawa would facilitate Kokusai’s booking of European gaijin, but through the breadth of his career, Kiyomigawa also had connections to the Kansas territory.

1969 CONTINUED

The Dynamite Series was held across 13 dates from 1969.06.02-06.27. The six gaijin for the tour included the returning Tony Charles and Colin Joynson, as well as four newcomers: the Polish Tito Kopa, the Native American Danny Little Bear, and South Africans Jan Wilkens [3] and Willem Hall. The former two were booked by Kiyomigawa. According to profiles on the Showa Puroresu website, Wilkens & Hall entered holding the South African Tag Team titles, although the tour listings on puroresu.com do not indicate if they ever defended these. They received a shot at Sugiyama & Kimura’s titles on 06.07, and on the tour’s final date Wilkens and Danny Little Bear received the same. Elsewhere, Bear and Hall unsuccessfully challenged Kusatsu & Kimura for their European Tag Team titles on 1969.06.21, and Kusatsu retained his Western British Heavyweight belt against Charles on the same date as the Wilkens/Hall tag title match.

The Big Summer Series was held across 34 dates from 1969.07.08-08.31. Besides the consecutive booking of Tito Kopa, this tour boasted a fresh crop of gaijin, and like the World Selection Series these were mostly NA-based talent. Dave Ruhl booked Stan the Moose (better known to me for his AJPW run as Moose Morowski as well as other gimmicks), the pioneering African-American wrestler (and friend of Stu) Luther Lindsey, and Nikita Mulkovitch. [4] The only new European was Anton Laszlo, then Swedish Mid-Heavyweight Champion (huh, it’s almost as if these regional titles were fictitious belts meant to put over Kokusai’s “International” claim [5]). [6] Laszlo is the only gaijin in 1969 whose booker was not definitively known by my source, but they guessed that it was Kiyomigawa.

Kiyomigawa’s most interesting get for this tour, though, was Ox Baker. He didn’t have the facial hair yet, but his first tour for the IWE helps contextualize why he would be one of the gaijin so associated with the promotion in later years. On 1969.07.17 in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, he and Stan challenged for the IWA World Tag Team titles in the promotion’s second hair vs hair match, and he lost the decisive pinfall to the now-nicknamed Strong Kobayashi. On 08.20, Baker and Lindsey received a shot. Elsewhere, Sugiyama and Kimura defended their TWWA tag titles against Stan and Mulkovitch on 1969.08.23. Kusatsu and Kimura defended their European tag titles three times, against the configurations of Baker/Moose, Lindsey/Kopa, and Baker/Kopa. Finally, Tanaka retained his IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title against Mulkovitch on 1969.07.24.

[As an aside, the earliest piece of IWE footage in circulation appears to be fragmentary 8mm footage from a singles match on this tour between Stan and Toyonobori.]

Kokusai ended use of the TWWA and European tag titles after this tour. Both were vacated as Rusher Kimura traveled to the United States for the first IWE seasoning excursion.

For the last two tours of 1969, the IWE’s link to Kansas would be fortified by another connection.

CHATI YOKOUCHI

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Above: Chati Yokouchi crosschops Buddy Colt (unknown date).

Spoiler

Shinichi Yokouchi was born in Nagoya in 1937. He didn’t plan on becoming a wrestler, as he emigrated to Brazil upon his high school graduation to start a business. When this failed, Yokouchi was broken into wrestling by Antonino Rocca. He worked in South America and Europe before moving to the United States in 1967.

There, Chati Yokouchi found success over the next couple years. Most relevant to us at the moment was his tag team with Kiyomigawa (working as Togo Shikuma), which defeated Jack Brisco and Gorgeous George Jr. for the NWA Tri-State Tag Team titles in May 1967. Later, in the Amarillo territory, he tagged extensively with Umanosuke Ueda (billed as Mr. Ito), and the two received a substantial run with the NWA Western States Tag Team titles, after being the final team to hold the territory’s NWA World Tag Team titles, which they defeated the Funks for. In singles, Yokouchi received a shot at Dory’s NWA title, and even got a phantom junior title victory over Danny Hodge.

At the time he enters our story, Yokouchi offered his services as a booker to the IWE. For the IWE Royal Series, he would perform in his home country for the first time, and through his connections brought Gorgeous George Jr. and Buddy Colt along with him.

The Royal Series consisted of twelve dates from 1969.09.08-10.03. Stan the Moose and Nikita Mulkovitch returned from the previous tour. Europe was represented by a returning Wild Angus and the debuting Spartacus (French wrestler Jacques Pecheur). On 1969.09.11 at the Okayama Prefectural Gymnasium, Kobayashi & Toyonobori defended their IWA tag titles against Angus and Spartacus. The trend of attributing presumably fictitious regional titles to incoming gaijin continued, as USA Heavyweight champion Buddy Colt defended two days later against Yokouchi. Kusatsu defended his Western UK title against Angus in Hiroshima on 09.22. This tour also saw the debut of a young bodybuilder by the name of Heigo Hamaguchi. I’m not sure how he was scouted, but I do know he had been attending the same gym as his future tag partner Sueo Inoue.

The most interesting thing to happen in the ring during this tour, though, was during its penultimate match. For the final show of the Royal Series, at the Adachi Ward Gym in Tokyo on 10.03, Yokouchi teamed up with Kusatsu to wrestle George and Colt. As captured in fragmentary 8mm footage, this match would see Yokouchi perform the first native heel turn in puroresu history. Sure, Yokouchi was only ending his first tour in his native country, so this arguably wasn’t quite as revolutionary as it sounds on the surface. Still, it was a pioneering piece of booking, and one which wouldn’t be replicated in puro for another seven years…but I’ve got a ways to go before I can tell that story.

Kokusai ended 1969 with the IWA World Tag Team Challenge Series, held across 30 dates from 1969.10.12-12.06. Yokouchi made a consecutive appearance, and booked George and Colt as well. Dave Ruhl booked a pair of new gaijins, Gordon Nelson and Bud Cody. The Scottish Ian Campbell appeared again, with Yorkshirian Bruno Elrington tagging with him in his only IWE tour. Another team was the Lebanese brothers Sheik & Emir Mansour (incorrectly booked as “El Mansour” each when the Kokusai office mistook the article for a part of their name; their real names were André & Jean Saadeh, which they wrestled under in Australia), making their only Japanese appearances. [7] This gaijin crop was rounded out by Quebecois wrestler Frank Valois, making his first Japanese appearances since 1960.

Now, let’s go over the title matches. On 11.01, Kusatsu and Sugiyama won the now-vacant European tag titles from the Mansours. They defended them nine days later against Yokouchi & Valois. On 11.30, Kobayashi defended his USA Heavyweight title against Colt. The penultimate show on 12.05 at the Ohta Ward Gym in Tokyo saw Kusatsu & Sugiyama retain in a European tag rematch against the Mansours. At the final show on 12.06, Kokusai drew 4,000 to the Kuramae Kokugikan (yikes) to see Toyonobori & Kobayashi defend the IWA World Tag Team titles against Campbell & Erlington.

(As an aside, the earliest IWE broadcast footage in circulation comes from this tour: specifically, a single episode taped from the 1969.10.29 show.)

According to my source, Yokouchi’s association with the IWE ended after this tour due to dissatisfaction over the deepening of Kiyomigawa’s relationship with the company, as there was some legit heat between the two. However, Kokusai would enter the new decade with a new ally.

Before that, though, I should note that in December, the IWE received their first “exchange student”. Trinidadian bodybuilder Edward “Ted” Herbert was first trained in the 60s by his fellow countryman Ray Apollo, and was taken under Kokusai’s wing at his request. Working under the ring name Taro Kuroshio, Herbert would perform for the company over the next several years.

GAGNE, THE GIANT, AND THE ASCENDANCY OF THUNDER SUGIYAMA

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Above: Verne Gagne feeds some pigeons during his first trip for the IWE.

Spoiler

At some point in 1969, the National Wrestling Alliance held a general assembly. My tentative guess is that this took place in August since, in a footnote in Part One about the Great Togo’s attempt to form a third Japanese wrestling promotion, I shared the tidbit that their membership application had been rejected at that time. Anyway, due to the sabotage of the JWA (which had not formally joined the NWA until the summer of 1967, hence why Antonio Inoki had been able to get a decent batch of gaijin from Sam Muchnick for Tokyo Pro in 1966 without much trouble), Isao Yoshihara’s application was rejected at the assembly. After this, Yoshihara contacted the American Wrestling Association, and this bore fruit the following February.

Let’s take this from the top. The IWE’s first tour of 1970 took place in two phases. The first was the thirteen-date New Year Challenge Series, from 1970.01.03-01.25, and the second was the seven-date AWA World Champion Series, from 1970.02.03-02.11. Verne Gagne would work all but the last show in the second phase, but he wasn’t the only notable gaijin to debut for Kokusai on this tour. For the New Year Challenge Series would see the Japanese debut of Jean Ferre, now rebranded Monster Roussimoff by Yoshihara. Four days after his challenge for the IWA World Tag Team titles, André had debuted in the UK, working there on-and-off for the rest of 1969 due to the British industry’s 40-date-per-tour limit for European workers (done to prevent European oversaturation). While the experience was certainly valuable for the young wrestler, Joint Promotions had fumbled Ferre’s push with a far-too-early clean job to Kendo Nagasaki in June, which hampered his success in the country.

Gagne and Roussimoff would be joined by the returning Europeans Micha Nador and Enrique Edo, while being supplemented by Bad Boy Shield, a Pennsylvania native then working mainly in Canada (during this tour, he would hit it off with Verne and join the AWA, most famously working as Bull Bullinski), and Spanish wrestler Quasimodo, who frequently worked in the UK. At the time, Enrique Edo, who was George de Relwyskow Jr.’s son-in-law, was credited for discovering Monster Roussimoff while he was working as a lumberjack. Historian Koji Miyamoto speculated in 2020 André biography The Eighth Wonder of the World that this story was fabricated to throw Edo a bone, but he was hired strictly as a jobber, and this tour would be his last in Japan.

This tour also saw a major retirement. Toyonobori would not work the tour before his retirement ceremony on its last date (seen here in fragmentary 8mm footage), despite a retirement match having been planned for him, and the IWA World Tag Team titles were vacated on 01.09 according to Wrestling-Titles.com. On 01.18 in Fukuoka, Roussimoff won his first Japanese gold when he & Nador defeated Kusatsu & Sugiyama for the belts, before dropping to them on 02.03 (Roussimoff lost the decisive fall to a Sugiyama pin), and losing a rematch at the very end of the tour. The only other title defense in the New Year Challenge wing of the tour saw Kobayashi retain his USA Heavyweight title against Shield. While Kusatsu got the last of Gagne’s three AWA title defenses on the AWA World Champion wing, Kobayashi was given a prominent platform against Verne by receiving the first two on 02.05-06. This feels like the start of Kobayashi’s push as a future IWE ace.

One more note about Roussimoff pertaining to this tour: he also teamed with Quasimodo several times. Quasimodo suffered from acromegaly himself, hence the Hunchback of Notre Dame gimmick, and bore a large cyst on the back of his head. The 2018 André documentary produced by HBO claimed that Roussimoff did not know about his condition until meeting with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harris Yett over a broken ankle in 1981. However, various accounts in The Eighth Wonder of the World consistently assert that André had been aware long beforehand, and his ranch hand Jackie McAuley revealed that he had told her that he had seen a doctor on his first trip to Japan, and received the diagnosis.

The 2nd IWA World Series took place across 39 dates from 1970.03.11-05.19. Unlike the first iteration at the end of 1968, there was no actual round-robin tournament, with the last match of the tour being considered the World Series final. Before we get to that, though, let us go over the gaijin crop. Naturally, IWA World Heavyweight champion Billy Robinson made his first IWE appearances since the previous spring. Ivan Strogoff made his first appearances for Kokusai proper after having lost the May 1969 Paris match for the IWA tag titles. Le Grand Vladimir, a Russian immigrant from Belgium with whom Strogoff had tagged in Europe, made his only Japanese appearances. Rounding things out were the French Jimmy Dula, the Peruvian Conde Maximiliano, and the Native American Big Comanche.

Sugiyama and Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles twice, first on 03.19 against Strogoff and Vladimir, and then on 05.07 against Strogoff and Comanche. Maximiliano [8] challenged for Kobayashi’s USA Heavyweight title on 03.16. Finally, Robinson defended the IWA World Heavyweight title on the tour’s last two dates. First, he retained against Kusatsu with a small package. But the next night, at the Leisure Center in Sendai, Robinson’s reign ended when Sugiyama won the decisive fall by countout.

It was during this tour that TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay began broadcasting in color: specifically, the 04.22 broadcast of the last two matches of the 04.13 show (Kobayashi vs. Dala; Robinson/Kusatsu vs. Strogoff/Vladimir).

ANATA GA PUROMŌTĀ AND THE BIRTH OF THE WIRE MESH DEATHMATCH

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Above: Rusher Kimura is bloodied by Dr. Death (Moose Morowski) in a tag match building up to the IWE's first cage match (autumn 1970).

Spoiler

[This repeats information I shared in an early post on this thread, but as I’ve said before, my aim with this retrospective is to tie everything together into a complete narrative.]

In May, Kokusai held a promotional contest called Anata ga Puromōtā, or “You Are the Promoter”. This was a fan vote by which the promotion gauged interest in gaijin who had not yet been booked in Japan, and then use their connection to the AWA to try to secure them. 39,652 ballots were submitted, [EDIT 2021.06.11] and the full results were as follows. (Note that Johnny Valentine and Doctor X - AKA The Destroyer - both received votes, but were obviously ineligible.) [Credit to the Showa Puroresu fanzine website, which has a page on the Dynamite Series tour pamphlet which contained the results.]

(Names in italics are ones that were voted in despite not having been included on the promotional poster for voters' reference.)

  1. Spiros Arion (5241)
  2. Mil Mascaras (5197)
  3. The Sheik (4053)
  4. Blue Demon (3411)
  5. Ernie Ladd (2965)
  6. Rocky Johnson (2956)
  7. Jose Mendoza (2640)
  8. Johnny DeFazio (1986)
  9. Igor Vodik (1678)
  10. Baron von Raschke (1545)
  11. Ivan Koloff (1218)
  12. The Viking (1056)
  13. Silent Rodriguez (819)
  14. Horst Hoffman (711)
  15. Lars Anderson (510)
  16. Bull Bedou (508)
  17. Gil Hayes (446)
  18. Earl Maynard (365)
  19. Oregon Lumberjack (311)
  20. Hans Schroeder (305)
  21. Tony Bourne (187)
  22. Scott Brothers (185)
  23. The Mongolian Stomper (174)
  24. Bob Siegel (162)
  25. Mitsu Arakawa (no number given)
  26. Jesse James (no number given)
  27. Johnny Cuongo (121)
  28. Alan "the Rock" Rogowski (110)
  29. "Nboa" (101)
  30. Harry Fujiwara (98)
  31. Wahoo McDaniel (81)
  32. Professor Toru Tanaka (67)
  33. Whipper Billy Watson (56)
  34. Les Roberts (37)
  35. Guillotine Gordon (29)
  36. Antonino Rocca (8)

The IWE made immediate offers to Arion and Demon, but JWA booker Mr. Moto swooped in and sabotaged their efforts. Over the next year, the JWA would book most of the talent which had placed highly this list. Ladd and Johnson teamed up together in the 1st Annual NWA Tag Team League that autumn. Mascaras had an AWA offer which would have certainly seen him work some Japan dates, but the JWA made an offer better than that one (as well as an earlier JWA offer, likely made in response either to the IWE interest or to Mascaras’ popularity in domestic wrestling magazines, which Mascaras had rejected). Ultimately, of the top ten Kokusai would ultimately only book the Baron in 1971.

Anyway, the IWE continued 1970 with the Big Summer Series, held across 35 dates from 1970.07.08-08.25. Édouard Carpentier, who had been given a Mid-Heavyweight title by the TWWA to presumably defend in Japan but had not been booked before Togo burned his bridge with the IWE, finally worked for the company. Swiss legend Rene Lasartesse, billed as Jack de Lasartesse, made his only Japanese appearances. Moose Morowski returned under the masked gimmick Dr. Death. This gaijin crop was rounded out by: Les Wolff (the future Buddy Wolfe); Pancho Rosario (AKA Pancho Valdez AKA Isaac Rosario AKA “Gypsy Joe” AKA…”Bruno Sammartino”!?); the British Johnny Kowalski, and Mr. Brown (Australian wrestler Frank Earl “Blackjack” Black). Finally, Martinique-born Canadian wrestler Eddie Morrow made the first of what would be several IWE appearances as Jack Claybourne.

As far as title matches went, this tour saw Sugiyama mount three IWA Heavyweight title defenses against Dr. Death, Carpentier, and Lasartesse. Kusatsu & Sugiyama defended their IWA World Tag Team titles against Lasartesse & Kowalski and Dr. Death & Wolff. Finally, Kobayashi defended his USA Heavyweight title against Dr. Death and Rosario.

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Above: Sugiyama after his successful defense against Lasartesse, on 1970.07.25.

After this tour, Rusher Kimura returned from excursion. In turn, more Kokusai wrestlers began theirs. Strong Kobayashi left for the United States to work for the AWA, while Sueo Inoue went to work in France.[10]

The Dynamite Series consisted of 21 shows from 1970.09.09-10.20. Dr. Death made a repeat appearance, as did Mr. Brown, now working as Mr. Tiger, and Les Wolff, now working as…”Blue Demon”. Gaze upon this shit, brothers. Albertan wrestler Gil Hayes made his debut, as did Germans Messerschmidt (AKA Klaus Karloff) and Eric Froelich in their only Kokusai appearances. [Edit 2021.06.11: A page about the tour pamphlet on the Showa Puroresu fanzine's website claims that Messerschmidt was booked as a last-minute replacement after Spiros Arion backed out. At the time he had a cover story of sudden illness, but in reality this was due to JWA sabotage. This booking was so last-minute that Arion's absence couldn't be ignored, and Kokusai had to insert an apology on a separate piece of paper into the pamphlet.] This tour saw IWA Heavyweight defenses against “Blue Demon” and Messerschmidt, as well as IWA tag defenses against Hayes & Froelich and Demon & Messerschmidt. Tadaharu Tanaka even got to roll out his IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title against Froelich.

However, the most consequential match from this tour didn’t involve any belts.

By this time, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s ratings had stagnated around the 15% mark. The ratings stunt which ensued would lead to a large part of the IWE’s legacy.

On 1970.10.08, Rusher Kimura and Dr. Death fought in the promotion’s first wire mesh deathmatch: that is, cage match. It’s a weird distinction that I’m not going to be beholden to, but I think that it’s worth noting at the outset, because escape was never the goal in mind when Kokusai booked these matches. Kimura won by knockout in 17:22, and on 1970.10.14, TBS broadcast the match in color. It would be the only such match they aired, as the networks weren’t quite ready for something like that again after the infamous Blassie incident of 1962. Also, after this match, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s ratings would drop below the 15% mark. TBS’s subsequent ban on broadcasting deathmatches did at least have the side effect of granting the appeal of exclusivity to seeing live events where they would be held, but it means that no tape circulates of deathmatches held before the Tokyo 12 Channel era, except perhaps in fragmentary 8mm form.

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Above: Rusher Kimura and Dr. Death fight in the IWE's first wire mesh deathmatch.

Kokusai ended 1970 with the Big Winter Series, held across 13 dates from 1970.11.17-12.12. Ox Baker finally returned to the IWE, now sporting his trademark facial hair. Mr. Tiger also made a repeat appearance. Otherwise, though, this tour sported new gaijin. The European scene was represented by the British Les Thornton and the German Axel Dieter, while the AWA sent the team of Larry Hennig and Bob Windham (not yet a Blackjack). This tour also saw Heigo Hamaguchi debut his stage name, Animal Hamaguchi.

On just the tour’s second show, Hennig & Windham defeated Sugiyama & Kusatsu for the IWA World Tag Team titles in an Ashikaga high school gym. They retained in a 11.25 defense, and did so again five days later against Sugiyama & Kimura. Sugiyama and Kusatsu then rolled the European tag titles out for a double title match which went to a 61-minute time-limit draw on 12.01. However, two days after a successful IWA World Heavyweight title defense against Hennig, Sugiyama got his tag belt back as well in the last match of the year.

The most consequential match of the tour, though, was its penultimate match.

Yoshihara wanted to repeat the wire mesh deathmatch experiment to, as earlier stated, use TBS’s deathmatch ban as a promotional tactic for Kokusai’s last show of the year. For the first and last time in the promotion’s history, they sold out the Taito Gymnasium (5,000) in Tokyo, even though they were competing with the JWA’s sellout show (9,000) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, in which B-I Cannon defended their tag titles against Gene Kiniski & Johnny Valentine.

Ox Baker would be the second man that Kimura faced in the cage, and when Bob Windham tossed a chair inside, Baker went to town on Kimura and the referee. Kimura ultimately won the match with a sleeper hold for the KO, but Baker’s assault left Rusher legitimately unable to walk, as he had suffered three complete fractures on his right shin. (This incident would help get Ox Baker over as a heel in Japan, on top of the infamous "heart punch".

Kimura was bedridden until Christmas, after which he began rehabilitation. Occasionally, he would invite Hamaguchi to visit, and the two would sneak out of the hospital for drinks.

middle_1278623398.jpg.3d7d2c168650980b44af34925a053633.jpgmiddle_1278623424.jpg.1cb7fd05f3ec39a5f0b0d84b999306af.jpg

Above: Rusher Kimura wins his second wire mesh deathmatch against Ox Baker, despite a broken leg.

1971 BEGINS

199142412_545113173336088_6545003719493483327_n.thumb.jpg.2d2bc5b258247aedc009a111d2b84f00.jpg1278708359.thumb.jpg.62d1425782fd7ca3fbb894e6b5e9fd25.jpgimg_20210619_00082.thumb.jpg.7b593f88f2650270b3df84423039b8fa.jpg

Above: despite not having fully healed his broken leg, Rusher Kimura returned for a crucial Tokyo show on this tour to defeat and unmask the ? (Angelo Poffo) in a wire mesh deathmatch on 1971.03.02. Afterwards, he needed to be carried out on a tatami mat.

Spoiler

The New Year Pioneer Series took place across 17 dates from 1971.01.05-01.31. Like the previous year, these January dates served as a warmup against European gaijin until the ‘big’ North American stars came out in February, though this time the gap between the two and difference in gaijin was long and large enough to clearly be two different tours, as opposed to two differently named phases of the same. All five gaijin were new faces to the company, and of them only the Belgian Ivan Buyten would work for Kokusai again. Steve Rickard, who had worked in the JWA before under his real name, was booked under the masked gimmick Devil Butcher. Fellow New Zealander Bruno Bekkar made his first Japanese appearances. Indian wrestler Mr. Dahnraj made his only Japanese appearances, as did the Belgian Jean-Louis Breston, working as Ivan. Breston received a pair of shots at the IWA World Heavyweight title, and three shots at the tag titles alongside Buyten, Butcher, and Bekkar.

The AWA Big Fight Series spanned six dates from 1971.02.27-03.05 (all but 03.03, as a matter of fact). This tour booked AWA World Tag Team champions Mad Dog and Butcher Vachon, as well as Bill Miller, The “?” (a masked gimmick played by Angelo Poffo), and a returning Jack Claybourne. They booked the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium for March 2, but the JWA retaliated by bumping up their March 3 card at the Kuramae Kokugikan (headlined by the B-I Cannon vs. Spiros Arion/Mil Mascaras tag title match) to the same date. Yoshihara needed as much native talent on deck as possible, but he wasn’t the one to ask Kimura to speed up his recovery. Rusher felt too much responsibility to the company to want to be absent at such a critical juncture, and also felt that he needed to repay his debt to Isao Yoshihara for giving him a job and encouraging him after the Tokyo Pro Wrestling collapse. Kimura resolved to work the Tokyo Metropolitan show even if it killed him, and Yoshihara accepted the request, booking him to face the ‘?’ on that card. However, Yoshihara was unsure if Kimura would pull through, so he booked a short-notice flight to Paris and convinced Mighty Inoue to take a temporary break from his excursion.

On the first date, Sugiyama defended his IWA World Heavyweight title against Mad Dog, going to a double disqualification in the second fall after winning the first by pinfall. On March 1, the Vachons made the first of two tag title defenses against Sugiyama & Kusatsu, winning 2:1.

Alas, the Tokyo show only drew 3,000. The top three matches, respectively, had Inoue put over Bill Miller as a buildup to his IWA world title shot, the Vachons retain their AWA tag titles against Sugiyama & Kusatsu by disqualification, and Kimura defeat and unmask the ‘?’ in his third wire mesh deathmatch. Since this was Kimura’s return match, it naturally suffered from a lack of buildup heat that the first two matches hadn’t had any problem with. After Kimura won, he was again unable to walk, and needed to exit the ring by being carried on a tatami mat which had been prepared for him.

The last consequential match on this tour took place on the penultimate show, where Bill Miller defeated Sugiyama to end his IWA World Heavyweight title reign. Miller would not return to the IWE until 1972, but his ultimate purpose as a transitional champion would become clear in a few months.

In March, Tadaharu Tanaka left for a European excursion. He thus vacated the IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title, which would not be revived for five years.

3rd IWA WORLD SERIES (OR, HOW GOTCH GOT HIS GROOVE BACK)

1436122964_andrerobinsonandgotchoniwetourbus.thumb.jpg.d922ebc84a72af2df00a60d6e323a4eb.jpg

Above: Karl Gotch, Billy Robinson, and Monster Roussimoff play a game of cards on the IWE tour bus. (This crop of the photo cuts him out, but Magner Clement is also playing to Gotch's left.)

Spoiler

The 3rd IWA World Series took place across 36 dates from 1971.03.31-05.25. Unlike the 2nd Series, this returned to a legitimate singles tournament format. Like the 1st Series, though, this tournament was held under a different system than the single-elimination or round-robin formats which one might expect. Instead, Kokusai utilized a “bad mark system”, wherein each competitor started with a single point and could gain more through wins, but lost a point if they lost or went to a draw, and would be disqualified if their tally went to zero. (This system was abandoned in subsequent iterations.)

The gaijin crop for the tour was a mix of old and new faces. Billy Robinson, Monster Rousimoff, Dr. Death (Moose Morowski), Les Wolff, and Jack Claybourne were all returning talent. A plethora of fresh wrestlers supplemented them. Billed as an assassin sent by the British wrestling scene to destroy the traitorous Robinson, Irish wrestler (and future obscure challenger to junior-era Fujinami) Sean Regan made his first Japanese appearances, known as the “Dark Lord of Europe” for his mix of technical skill and rough fighting. The Monocan Magner Clement, who worked in France as Fred Magnier, made his only Japanese appearances. Gilles Poisson, who had worked the JWA the previous year as Pierre La Grand, appeared as masked fake American Buster Matthews. A couple late dates also saw the participation of Danny Dubois. (Cagematch claims this was in actuality Big John Quinn, an Ontarian wrestler who will appear later in this story, though what little his Showa Puroresu minibio has makes it clear that this is incorrect, as Dubois was much smaller than Quinn.)

The most important new face, though, was Karl Gotch. In early 1968, Gotch had moved to Japan to work as a coach for the JWA. Despite the Riki Sports Palace having been sold off by this point, Gotch opened his school within it. This is when he trained Inoki, as well as future NJPW’ers like Kantaro Hoshino and Kotetsu Yamamoto. Gotch returned to the States after his JWA contract ended in May 1969, but he found himself shunned by American promoters for his refusal to adapt his style to theirs, which was more of a sticking point with the advent of television. By 1971, Gotch was working for a Hawaiian cleaning company.

Gotch’s old Snake Pit buddy Robinson advised Yoshihara to give Gotch a job. When he learned of the great wrestler’s current circumstances, Yoshihara exclaimed “what a waste”. Knowing that a Japanese audience would be more appreciative of Gotch’s gifts, he brought Gotch back into the business proper, a whole year before the formation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. During these two months, Gotch and Robinson worked together to stretch a certain young’uns: namely, Animal Hamaguchi, who had learned that Gotch was in Hawaii during a trip with his wife. Hamaguchi was then working as Kusatsu’s valet, but he would be ordered to pull double duty as Gotch’s assistant, and he was promptly subjected to Gotch’s techniques. While he would not join the IWE until after Gotch had left, another young wrestler who crossed his path was Goro Tsurumi, a physics student who had been training to wrestle on his own due to his alma mater’s lack of a wrestling club. Besides Masanobu Fuchi, who received instruction from Gotch in 1982 during his lengthy American excursion,[10] and excluding Hiro Matsuda, Hamaguchi and Tsurumi are the only Japanese professional wrestlers not connected to NJPW (well, Hamaguchi joined Nooj later, but you know what I mean) to have trained with Gotch.

Gotch and Robinson wrestled each other five times on this tour. The most important of these was the third one on 1971.05.19, which was considered a three-way final for the World Series. If either man won, they would reach a tie with Monster Roussimoff and have a deciding match. However, the two went to a 45-minute time-limit draw, and Roussimoff won the tournament.

In a column for website Sportiva in 2018, Hamaguchi called Robinson/Gotch (or at least one of its iterations) one of the greatest matches in the promotion’s history. Alas, all we’ve got is fragmentary handheld footage of their first match in the Series.

Unfortunately, Rusher Kimura would cause two of his fractures to slip out of place by working this tour. He put more stress on his left knee to relieve the strain on his right. The resulting imbalance between his legs fucked up his back.

 

THE ACE RETURNS

Spoiler

Before we work our way further through the IWE calendar, we have to jump to the United States. As stated earlier, Strong Kobayashi had left for a seasoning excursion after completing the 1970 Big Summer Series. He was prominently featured, getting multiple shots at Verne Gagne’s AWA Heavyweight title; the Minnesota Historical Society’s online collection features fragmentary 16mm footage from a Gagne title defense against Kobayashi in January 1971. This run culminated on 1971.06.19 in Duluth, Minnesota, when Kobayashi defeated IWA World Heavyweight champion Dr. Bill Miller. [Later note: this looks to have been a fictitious match.] Kobayashi came home with the belt, newly minted as the IWE’s native ace. As he returned, the Great Kusatsu left on his second excursion, and the IWA World Tag Team titles were vacated on 1971.06.29.

The Big Summer Series was held across 19 dates from 1971.07.06-08.02, featuring an almost exclusively North American gaijin crop. Jack Claybourne made yet another appearance, as did Big Comanche. They were joined Blackjack Lanza, Bobby Heenan, “Crazy” Chuck Karbo, and Johnny Kace. The crop was rounded off by “Chief Black Eagle”, who in reality was the tour’s lone non-North American: Carlos Colon. The IWA World Tag Team titles were not defended during this tour. However, Kobayashi started his ace run strong, bookending the tour with title defenses against Karbo and Lanza.

This tour also saw the debut of the IWE’s second “exchange student”. Gerry Morrow was Eddie Morrow/Jack Claybourne’s younger brother, and after training to wrestle in Paris he joined Kokusai. Unlike Taro Kuroshio, who would leave in 1972 to wrestle largely in Canada (and eventually become a trainer there, according to this posthumous tribute written by a former student), the man who would be billed as Jiro Inazuma was a constant presence on IWE cards for the next decade.

The Dynamite Series spanned 18 dates from 1971.09.07-10.03. Once again, this featured a largely North American crop, with only Ox Baker having worked for Kokusai before. AWA wrestlers Red Bastien, Bill Howard, Stan Kowalski, and Jack Pesek were supplemented by Dr. X (in reality the Dutch Hans Mortier), and Indian cousins Arjit and Naranjan Singh. The latter two had gone to Japan on their own dime in June to challenge Giant Baba, presumably as part of an angle, but had been ignored, and wound up in the IWE on the recommendation of Roger Delaporte. Anyway, the Series saw Bastien & Howard defeat Sugiyama & Kimura for the vacant tag titles, before dropping them to the native team two weeks later. Bastien also received a pair of IWA World Heavyweight title matches.

The Big Challenge Series took place across 13 dates from 1971.10.25-11.14. Through the AWA connection, Kokusai booked Baron von Raschke, Joe Scarpello, Quebecois freestyle Olympian Bob Chamberot, and Victor Rosettani. AWA Midwest Tag Team champions the Hollywood Blonds made their Japanese debut, and would defend their titles against the team of Kobayashi & now-stagenamed Animal Hamaguchi. Danny Lynch and Basil Ricky from the UK rounded out the roster. Kobayashi defended his world title against Raschke, and Sugiyama & Kimura defended their tag titles against Raschke & Lynch and Lynch & Rickey.

1971 ended with the nine-date Big Winter Series, held from 1971.11.30-12.12. The returning Hollywood Blonds joined: Billy Red Cloud, Ken Yates, Don Muraco, Scottish wrestler Mad Jock Cameron, and in his first Japanese appearances, Dusty Rhodes. Kobayashi defended his world title against Jerry Brown of the Blonds and Rhodes, while the Blonds got two shots at the IWA World Tag Team titles, the first ending in double countout and the second in their defeat.

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

A lot of this was more tour-by-tour skimming than I’d like; if I ever transcribe that IWE book I’m sure I will find more interesting stuff. But Part Three should be more consistently substantive. It will cover 1972-74, a turbulent period which saw change and turbulence in their television situation, and which also saw them lose the best bet they ever had due to the toxicity of their own inner culture.

Spoiler

[1] The JWA NET television deal actually has its roots in something I mentioned in a footnote in Part One. After the IWE had cut ties with him, the Great Togo hired Yoshio Yoshimura, once Rikidōzan’s manager, as his agent, and set about creating a third Japanese wrestling promotion. Alongside Fuji TV, NET was one of the two stations he was courting to carry it. Fuji TV eventually backed out on its own accord, but the JWA mounted a corporate defense to prevent the success of Togo’s enterprise. Michiaki Yoshimura went to the United States himself to somehow stop the organization from being formed (source doesn’t specify how), whilst Kokichi Endo requested Tokyo Sports to write articles which would disrupt Togo’s efforts (such as a fabricated story that Lou Thesz was coming to Japan in secret, presumably to work for the JWA).

In February 1969, the JWA directly appealed to NET programming director Hiroshi Tsujii to not broadcast Togo’s new organization. The next month, NET approached Nippon TV for permission to offer parallel JWA coverage. In April, NTV agreed to share coverage on the condition that their Mitsubishi Diamond Hour program would retain exclusive broadcast rights to:

  1. The matches of Giant Baba & Seiji Sakaguchi
  2. All defenses of the NWA International Heavyweight and NWA International Tag Team titles
  3. World League tournament matches

NET signed an agreement, and NET announced on May 12 at the Prince Akasaka Hotel that it would begin JWA broadcasts on July 2. The Sakaguchi and World League exclusivities were eventually loosened, but when the JWA lifted the Baba ban in 1972 in an attempt to retain the NET deal, Nippon TV cancelled their program in response, setting the seeds for the demise of the JWA and the birth of AJPW.

[2] Cagematch records numerous dates where Kimura was billed as Crusher Kimura, but as I cannot find this name anywhere in Japanese resources, I believe this is an error in their database. All I got for クラッシャー木村 (“Crusher Kimura”) online was the stage name of a jazz violinist, which is admittedly a cute homage.

[3] According to a passing mention in 2020 André the Giant biography The Eighth Wonder of the World, Wilkens had been South Africa’s biggest star as early as the late Sixties. However, in kayfabe at least it appears that he hit his stride in the Seventies. In his native country he would hold the South African Heavyweight title for a decade, as well as being the inaugural EWU World Super Heavyweight champion. He eventually racked up six reigns with the latter, always gaining it back in a rematch against whoever had beat him for it until announcing his retirement in 1984, though he would return to wrestling for a couple years afterward and defend the belt a couple more times. (The five men he traded the title with were, in order: Don Leo Jonathan, Seiji Sakaguchi, Blackjack Mulligan, Big John Studd, and Hercules Ayala.) Wilkens was also the man whom Otto Wanz booked himself to beat to become the inaugural CWA World Heavyweight champion in 1973.

[4] I’m getting contradictory accounts of Nikita Mulkovitch (who at one point had tagged as one of the fictitious Kalmikoff brothers), but I’m certain he was a fake Russian, despite Cagematch claiming that he was from Ukraine. British site Wrestling Heritage claims he was a Canadian heavyweight born Alex Mulko, and his Showa Puroresu minibio claims he was of Armenian and Argentinean descent.

[5] A page about various IWE titles on the Showa Puroresu site confirms this in a couple cases, but it states that Billy Robinson’s European Heavyweight title was a legitimate (albeit British) belt.

[6] Laszlo’s minibio on the Showa Puroresu site claims that he was considered as a candidate for the IWA World Heavyweight title, but was ultimately too small at 173cm/102kg (5’8”/224 lbs).

[7] Both men used the German suplex as signature maneuvers, but interestingly in Sheik’s case his Showa Puroresu bio refers to it by the Japanese name genbakugatame (原爆固め). This sent me down a rabbit hole, and apparently this Japanese title is equivalent to the Atomic Suplex name by which Gotch’s suplex went in America. When Gotch was asked the name of his technique by Tokyo Sports reporter Yasuo Sakurai, Gotch apparently answered with “German suplex”, but Sakurai was aware of the Atomic Suplex name and reported that, or rather the genbakugatame equivalent. I’m sure I don’t need to articulate the cultural sensitivities that would lead to “German suplex” being preferred by the Japanese, and if an unsourced claim on the Japanese Wikipedia page is to be believed, Weekly Pro Wrestling has long had an explicit decree not to use 原爆固め out of respect for survivors of the atomic bombs. I’ve heard Takao Kuramochi call “German” on old AJPW tape enough times to reasonably assume that decency standards would also discourage that term from broadcasters’ use. (Not sure about the atomic drop, though.)

[8] According to his Showa Puroresu minibio, Maximiliano claimed to be the descendant of cannibalistic Native Americans, and sported a “primitive” style which fed into that.

[9] Despite the language barrier, Inoue instantly hit it off with André, against whom he worked. He would quickly become a benefactor of André’s generosity. Initially booked by Kiyomigawa to work for Étienne Siry, Inoue was told by André, who had worked for Siry (and his partner, Robert Lageat) before jumping ship to work for Roger Delaporte in 1968, that Siry was “no good” and that he needed to work for Delaporte. Kiyomigawa was a little upset, but gave Inoue the go-ahead if André said so. When Inoue learned about the meager payoffs that his peers received working for Siry, he did not regret the decision.

[10] Just as an aside, I have read that the idea was pitched for Gotch & Robinson to team up in the 1982 RWTL, but Gotch’s strong association with New Japan prevented that from happening in some way.

 

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21 hours ago, KinchStalker said:

 I’ve heard Takao Kuramochi call “German” on old AJPW tape enough times to reasonably assume that decency standards would also discourage that term from broadcasters’ use. (Not sure about the atomic drop, though.)

This clears up something that's confused me about some of the Japanese results that are online, which referred to a German suplex as something that seems to translate to "atomic bomb hold." That could be the difference between that an an atomic drop, which I recall still being an atomic drop in Japan (except for the inverted atomic drop, which is called a "Manhattan Drop" because Adrian Adonis apparently was the first one to do it in Japan).

These obscure (to us) European and South African foreigners are the most fascinating parts of this history lesson to me. The Catchfans Facebook group produced a program from Sweden which featured Anton Laszlo among other more familiar '70s Europeans and that and this one IWE tour appear to be the only recordings of him in wrestling at all.

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Brothers, I think it’s best to break from my three-years-per-section format from here on out. 1972 alone has gone over 3,000 words, and I feel like putting so much together in batches might be affecting the digestibility of the content. This is a forum thread, after all.

A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART 3.1(1972)

[Read Part One here and Part Two here. I have made a few additions in bold to Part Two since posting it, including the complete results of the Anata ga Puromōtā fanpoll.]

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

1972 BEGINS

Spoiler

At the start of 1972, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay was reduced to a 30-minute timeslot, because the financial fallout of the Nixon shock [1] made it difficult to gain sponsorships. The ratings, in turn, declined further to around 10%. This would last from the 1972.01.05 episode through the 1972.03.29 episode.

The New Year Pioneer Series spanned 18 dates from 1972.01.05-02.01. This tour boasted a mostly fresh batch of gaijin. King Curtis Iaukea, who had worked the JWA on multiple tours from 1967-70, made what would be his only IWE appearances. Dan Miller, who had held the All Asia Tag Team title with Frank Valois for five days in 1960, also worked Kokusai for the only time; ditto AWA lifer Kenny Jay. Unlike them, Jerry Oates would do so again...albeit not until the IWE’s final tour. The Belgian Charles Verhulst, who would become better known in Japan as Johnny Londos in NJPW, made his only IWE appearances until 1979. Felipe Ham Lee, working under the masked gimmick the Avenger (not to be confused with Moose Morowski’s masked gimmick for his twilight AJPW run in 1981), made his first Japanese appearances.[2] Rounding things off was Gilbert Voiney AKA Max Mortier, who returned under the hood as L’Homme Masque.

On this tour, Kobayashi made four successful IWA World Heavyweight title defenses: one against Miller, two against Iaukea, and the last against L’Homme Masque. Significantly, the second defense against Iaukea, which took place on 1972.01.27 in the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, was the promotion’s first title match held in a cage. Elsewhere, Thunder Sugiyama & Rusher Kimura made two successful IWA World Tag Team title defenses, against the teams of L’Homme Masque & the Avenger, and Iaukea & Miller.

After the tour’s end, Animal Hamaguchi embarked on an overseas excursion to work for Dick the Bruiser’s World Wrestling Association. There, billed as Higo Hamaguchi, he would work as a Japanese heel who tagged with Mitsu Arakawa.

4TH IWA WORLD SERIES

22435758_roussimoffvsjonathaniwaworldseries1972.thumb.jpg.98d64574b95237b021c6c4c0e1ac978e.jpg1502962804_kobayashibodyslamsroussimoff.thumb.jpg.56cf6643fc76cfa3b049a535b810d5e2.jpg

Above: Don Leo Jonathan and Monster Roussimoff size each other up in the IWA World Series on 1972.04.24, and Strong Kobayashi bodyslams Monster Roussimoff (presumed date 1972.05.06).

Spoiler

Presumably as a result of the timeslot cut – or perhaps more accurately, the lack of sponsorship money that caused it – Kokusai would not begin their next tour until the 4th IWA World Series, which took place across 34 dates from 1972.03.27-05.06. This tour booked a mix of old and new gaijin. The returning faces, some of which had not worked for Kokusai in years, were Monster Roussimoff, Baron von Raschke, Ivan Buyten, Tito Kopa, George Gordienko, and Ray Golden Apollon. Now, for the new crop. Most notable was Don Leo Jonathan, who had challenged Rikidōzan for his NWA International Heavyweight title back in 1958 but had not appeared in Japan since the JWA’s 1967 Golden Series. Making his Japanese debut was Horst Hoffman; according to his Showa Puroresu minibio, Hoffman had garnered a mysterious air about him up to this point due to his aversion to travel. (During this tour, as referenced in Kagehiro Osano’s Jumbo Tsuruta biography, Hoffman would be the first wrestler which Japan saw perform the “side suplex”, which we know better as a gutwrench.) Finally, Ali Baba Merestani, a Lebanese wrestler who had won a Hanover tournament in 1971, was booked as a jobber who prayed before his matches, Sheik-style.

(Also during this tour, two native undercarders adopted the stage names which they would keep for the rest of their careers: Goro Tsurumi and Devil Murasaki.)

The IWA World Series proper was held in a round-robin format with three blocks of four. This was done to allow each of Kokusai’s three champions to have their own blocks to overcome. In Block A, Rusher Kimura wrestled Raschke, Apollon, and Buyten. In Block B, Sugiyama wrestled Roussimoff, Jonathan, and Kopa. In Block C, Kobayashi wrestled Hoffman, Gordienko, and Meristani. These matches were booked as onefall bouts with a 20-minute time limit, though all time-limit draws received extensions. All of these extension periods saw a win in under five minutes, though I do not know if the extension period itself was five minutes.

Only the undefeated Kobayashi would get past his block. Kimura lost his first block match to Raschke’s claw in the extension period after working to a twenty-minute time-limit draw, and Raschke went undefeated in the block while he ended up 2-1. Sugiyama fared even worse, only getting a win on Kopa. The round-robin section of the tournament ended in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on 1972.04.24, when Roussimoff got a DQ win over Jonathan. Four days later, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, a three-way consolation block between Kimura, Jonathan, and Hoffman was held for the fourth spot in the semifinals, which Jonathan won.

The two semifinal matches were held on 1972.05.01-05.02, at the Tochigi Prefectural Gymnasium and the Shibukawa City Gymnasium, respectively. In the first, after Roussimoff and Raschke went to a 20-minute draw, Roussimoff scored the pin in the extension period in 3:54. In the second, after Kobayashi and Jonathan likewise went twenty, Kobayashi got the pin in 3:41.

The 4th IWA World Series final took place in the Morioka City Gymnasium on 1972.05.06. A crowd of 5,500 came to see Kobayashi and Roussimoff square off. The final was held as a 2/3-falls match with a 45-minute time limit. After Roussimoff got the pin in 14:40, he was disqualified to even things at 28:59. Kobayashi got the countout at 37:00 to win the tournament. We have this match in full, and while I know there’s some TBS-era IWE matches in circulation that I haven’t seen (there’s a couple later Kobayashi matches against Red Bastien and Bill Watts that come to mind), I would be shocked if any of them topped it.

I’m jumping back a little bit, but the World Series saw a major change to the IWE’s television situation. After the first episode of the tour on 1972.03.29, which broadcast the Block B opening match of Roussimoff vs. Jonathan, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays starting on 1972.04.02, where it was restored to its original length of 55 minutes. It’s clearly thanks to this change that the World Series final survives in full, but this came at a cost. The sponsorship banners which had been featured on the program since its inception were scrapped, and the broadcast rights fee was slashed by 30%. This change led to Niigata Broadcasting System (Niigata) suspending their coverage, and Hokuriku Broadcasting System (Ishikawa prefecture) and Shizuoka Broadcasting System (Shizuoka prefecture) terminated it altogether. After this, the program’s ratings frequently dropped below 10%.

The World Selection Series was basically a continuation of the World Series, as it started the very next night, but I decided to separate the two for my own sanity. Anyway, this was a 10-date tour from 1972.05.07-05.20. All of the gaijin on the World Series tour except Hoffman worked the first date at the Asahikawa City Gymnasium, but after that Jonathan, Raschke, and Apollon left. Its only title match was on the first date, when Raschke got a shot at the world title.

After the tour’s end, the IWA World Tag Team titles were vacated. I do not know the kayfabe justification for this, as Rusher Kimura would not begin his second excursion until September (maybe this got delayed because of visa problems?), but the real purpose was plain: to make room for the returning Great Kusatsu to get some gold. Although Kimura would not leave yet, another IWE wrestler would. Katsuzo Ooiyama, an ex-sumo wrestler who had joined the company in June 1971 after passing a public test in which he fought Tadaharu Tanaka in a mix of boxing, ground-based grappling, and sumo. He would work in Tennessee.

1972 CONTINUED

559537406_tsutomuyonemuradebut.jpg.712d386d230a2137198125d66a572bcd.jpg447180738_hiroshiyagivsgorotsurumijan1973.jpg.afb8a33b4259b3f69ad5a38a5be5fb00.jpg

Above: new IWE faces Tsutomu Yonemura (left, from a 1972 IWE tour pamphlet), and Hiroshi Yagi (right image, on the right besides Goro Tsurumi, from the 1973 AJPW New Year Giant Series pamphlet).

Spoiler

The Big Summer Series took place across 17 dates from 1972.06.25-07.22, with half a dozen gaijin. The returning talent were Bill Miller, who had defeated Thunder Sugiyama in 1971 to be the transitional IWA world champion to Strong Kobayashi, and Pancho Rosario, now working as Gypsy Joe (but not *that* one). Rene Goulet made his Japanese debut, while Baron Mikel Scicluna was appearing in the country for the first time since 1968. Two Spanish wrestlers made their only Japanese appearances on this tour. The first was Celso Sotelo, an ex-bullfighter who had been the inaugural ALIP World Heavyweight champion for the Guatemalan territory [3], and who had been a rival of Tadaharu Tanaka during his European excursion. The second was Joe Adell, whom Kokusai billed as the son of Jose Arroyo. The truth is that he was the Panamanian wrestler best known as Joe Panther, who had been trained by Sotelo and Diamante Negro, and who would also become known as the “Hombre de la Cadena” for his use of a chain and aggressive style. (Panther passed away last August.) Sotelo & Adell/Panther had tagged in Europe as Los Beatles Americanos, and while they wouldn’t get a shot at the IWA World Tag Team titles they would be booked as a unit a fair bit on this tour.

This tour was also significant for featuring some new “exchange students”. Swedish aikido practitioner Jan Hermansson had moved to Japan in 1965 to study at the Hombu Dojo, the headquarters of the Aikikai Foundation, and professional wrestling was one of the odd jobs he took up to make a living. [4] He would work for Kokusai for the rest of the year. Three more exchange students were South Korean wrestlers making their Japanese debuts: Kang Sung-yung, Yang Jin-oh, and Oh Kyun-ik. Naturally, all three were taught by Kim Ill/Kintaro Oki, and Kang even happened to be his son-in-law. [5] Like Hermansson, their tenures lasted through the rest of 1972.

The vacant tag titles were fought for in the Chiba Prefectural Gymnasium on 1972.07.07, where 2,000 came to see Strong Kobayashi & the Great Kusatsu wrestle Miller and Scicluna. Kusatsu won the decisive fall with a sleeper on Scicluna. Kobayashi’s one world title defense was at the Itabashi Ward Gymnasium in Tokyo on 1972.07.19, where he defeated Miller in a rematch of their IWA title match in Duluth the previous year.

Also worth noting about this tour is that the first episode of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay which was derived from it – that of its opening show in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward Gymnasium, where Kusatsu went to a DDQ against Scicluna and Kobayashi & Kimura defeated Goulet & “Gypsy Joe” – was the last episode to ever receive live broadcast. (I don’t know if its successor ever did so, but I guess we’ll see.)

Another problem pertaining to the television situation in 1972 was that some venues where wire mesh deathmatches had been booked became closed off to the public. This affected their TV product because, by this point, deathmatches were too ingrained in the product to take away from live events, so Kokusai began to book them at shows where television tapings took place. However, since TBS refused to broadcast deathmatches, and deathmatches were by nature main-event spectacles, the program was forced to air midcard material. This was likely a factor in the next television change, when TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay was cut to a thirty-minute timeslot beginning on the 1972.10.01 episode. At the very least, this led Niigata Broadcasting System to resume coverage.

The Dynamite Series was a 21-date tour from 1972.09.12-10.16, with a warmup show on 1972.09.09 as a sendoff card for Kimura before his excursion. The warmup show featured half of the gaijin crop for the tour, with the rest arriving in time for the Series proper. Appearing for the Kimura sendoff show were: Buddy Austin, a recurring JWA gaijin in the Sixties who made his last Japanese appearances with the final two IWE tours of 1972; Quebecois wrestler Buffalo Zarinoff, who would later be known as Pierre of the Yukon Lumberjacks in the WWWF, and made his only Japanese appearances on this tour; and Benji Ramirez, most famous for his work as The Mummy in the 60s, and who was appearing in Japan for the first time since 1964. Those who began with the Series itself were the returning Billy Robinson, Bill Dromo (who had not worked the IWE since 1967), and Rick Ferrara, an ex-bouncer who was brought into wrestling by either of the Vachons, and who was booked elsewhere as Igor Putski, and even Ivan Putski.

As far as native talent went, this tour saw two debuts. The first was 16-year old Hiroshi Yagi. In 1971, the future Ryuma Go, who had dropped out of junior high to help provide for his sisters after their mother disappeared, had worked for a few months as a JWA trainee. However, he was reportedly unable to debut not only because he had not completed junior high, but because the older wrestlers had forced him to consume alcohol, which had damaged his body. However, when Kokusai made their first open call for wrestlers that same year, he was accepted. The second debut was ex-sumo Tsutomu Yonemura, who after his 1969 retirement had worked as a trainer at the gym owned by former JWA wrestler Takeo Kaneko, until he joined Kokusai in June 1972 on Kaneko’s recommendation.

During this tour, Kobayashi defended his IWA world title against Robinson in Kita-Kyushu on 1972.09.28. Eight days earlier in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Kobayashi & Kusatsu defended their tag titles against Austin & Dromo.

All Japan Pro Wrestling’s first tour, the Giant Series, began in between Kokusai’s last two tours of 1972. AJPW was in dire need of native talent, and in the earliest example of IWE native interpromotional cooperation, they got some. Most significant was Thunder Sugiyama, who transferred on 09.20, and would work exclusively for AJPW until 1976. (Sugiyama also took off as a tarento, or television personality, around this time, so he became a part-timer after 1973. Apparently he also treated Jumbo Tsuruta quite well, and frequently took him out to dinner. His eventual fallout with Baba was over his pay.) Kokusai also loaned them Goro Tsurumi, Devil Murasaki, and Tsutomu Yonemura; Hiroshi Yagi also worked some AJPW dates in early 1973. Motoko Baba became fond of Murasaki, and this led to an offer for him to join the promotion outright, which was politely declined.

At this point, Kokusai was outdrawing the sinking ship that was the JWA, though that didn’t mean all that much at this point.

BRUISER AND CRUSHER

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Above: Dick the Bruiser brutalizes the Great Kusatsu in a wire mesh deathmatch for the WWA tag titles (1972.11.27)

Spoiler

Kokusai ended 1972 with the Big Winter Series, a 22-date tour from 1972.10.28-12.08. This tour saw the proper return of Mighty Inoue, after his last-minute fill-in in the 1971 AWA Big Fight Series (that was a gap in Part Two that I filled in with a subsequent edit). Buddy Austin worked the first eight dates of the tour, but otherwise this was a different crop of gaijin. Red Bastien, Jose Arroyo, and Bull Bullinski were all familiar faces. Future referee Dennis Stamp made his first Japanese appearances, and future recurring AJPW gaijin Mario Milano did his only bookings for Kokusai. Arroyo’s tag team partner Daidone Mussolini was likewise a one-and-done with the IWE, but in his case that extended to all of Japan. Most interesting, though, was a pair of gaijin who were booked for the six shows from 1972.11.24-11.30: Dick the Bruiser and Crusher Lisowski, the WWA World Tag Team champions.

On 1972.11.07, Kobayashi defended his world title against Bastien in what would be the only title match not to involve the Bruiser or the Crusher. On 11.24 and 11.27, Kobayashi & Kusatsu fought Bruiser & Crusher in a pair of cage matches, each one with a different team’s belts on the line. As was to be expected, neither match ended clean. However, the latter match ended in spectacularly bullshit fashion. The gaijin were apparently unaware that Kokusai wire-mesh deathmatches did not have an escape rule, and when they laid out the referee, the backup ref opened the door to get in and the two of them barreled out. Since it was their WWA tag titles on the line this time, this couldn’t even be spun as them cowering away from the awesome might of the IWA tag champions; no, they just walked out and the match was declared a no contest. The ensuing crowd reaction got the riot police involved. The following night in Shizuoka, Kobayashi successfully defended in the cage against the Bruiser. 11.28 saw the WWA tag champions defend in a 2/3-falls match against Kobayashi & Mighty Inoue, and their appearances ended on 11.30 with an IWA/WWA double tag title match that ended 2-1 with Kobayashi & Kusatsu getting a DQ win after a DCO in the first fall.

Devil Murasaki served as Dick the Bruiser’s valet during his dates with the company (both he and Tsurumi came back to work their native promotion after the AJPW Giant Series had ended), and through this he was invited to come back with him to Indianapolis. Murasaki got Yoshihara’s approval, and after working the first two dates of the AJPW Giant Series II, Murasaki left Japan using money borrowed from friend and IWE sales department head Shigeo Nukui, but not before receiving a parting gift from Motoko.

Spoiler

[1] This is far above my pay grade, but younger people and non-Americans might not know about this, so I’ll give it the ol’ college try. In 1971, United States president Richard Nixon implemented measures to combat domestic inflation, and one of these was the cancellation of international convertibility of the United States dollar to gold. Although Nixon did not formally abolish the Bretton Woods system of foreign exchange, which the United Nations had agreed upon in 1944, with this measure he completely broke it. He stated his intentions to reform the system, but all such attempts were unsuccessful, and in 1973 the modern system of freely floating flat currencies emerged. What would be called the “Nixon shock” forced Japanese banks to engage in speculation in order to prevent the inflation of their own domestic currency. The term “Nixon recession” (“ニクソン不況”) has been used to refer to its effect on Japan, but the Japanese Wikipedia page on the Nixon shock claims that the country had already been in recession after the end of the “Izanagi economy” (“いざなぎ景気”) boom of 11/1965-7/1970, and that the Nixon shock had merely contributed to the domestic economy’s bottoming out in December 1971. Whatever the case, it seems like Nixon is nevertheless invoked when people discuss this recession; I recall a university classmate of Jumbo Tsuruta, interviewed in Kagehiro Osano’s 2020 biography, namechecking Nixon when he discussed how difficult it was to find a job at that time.

[2] This guy’s Showa Puroresu minibio is interesting. While said to be from Hawaii, it claims that he was Mexican-born and of Chinese descent. Although he had a reputation in some circles as a good shooter, and was a friend of Karl Gotch, Lee’s reputation in Japan was horrible, and he consistently featured in Gong magazine polls on gaijin which readers least wanted to see booked in Japan. The Avenger apparently was a gimmick he had already been working before this tour, and the reputation of a bloody match he’d had in Arizona against Bob Ellis preceded him. Two years after this, he was booked in New Japan under an El Santo copycat gimmick, which reportedly brought him some heat back home. [See the below comment for a Luchawiki excerpt on the truth about Ham.]

[3] According to Wrestling-Titles.com, The ALIP (Association Internationale de Lutte Professionalle) title would be replaced by the ALLL (Alianza Latinoamericana de Lucha Libre) World Heavyweight title on 1976.02.01, when Mil Mascaras won a 16-man tournament after defeating the last ALIP champion, Jose Azzari, in the final.

[4] Hermansson returned to Sweden in 1980, having attained 4th dan. He eventually reached 7th dan, and in 2002 was among the first seven non-Japanese aikido practitioners officially bestowed the title of shihan by the Aikikai Foundation. He quit regular instruction after his dojo closed in 2003, but continued to teach seminars in the years afterward. He died in 2019.

[5] I know him best for a 1976.05.13 AJPW tag match with his father-in-law against Baba & Jumbo, where he was billed as Nankaizan.

 

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1 hour ago, KinchStalker said:

[2] This guy’s Showa Puroresu minibio is interesting. While said to be from Hawaii, it claims that he was Mexican-born and of Chinese descent. Although he had a reputation in some circles as a good shooter, and was a friend of Karl Gotch, Lee’s reputation in Japan was horrible, and he consistently featured in Gong magazine polls on gaijin which readers least wanted to see booked in Japan. The Avenger apparently was a gimmick he had already been working before this tour, and the reputation of a bloody match he’d had in Arizona against Bob Ellis preceded him. Two years after this, he was booked in New Japan under an El Santo copycat gimmick, which reportedly brought him some heat back home.

Luchawiki has some additional details on him:

Quote

His real surname was Hahn, but it was modified to Ham. Competed in Mr. Mexico bodybuilding contests in 1952 and 1953 before debuting in wrestling. Wrestled under his real last name in NWA. In his stint in Pacific Northwest Wrestling he went as Bing Ki Lee. He was wrongfully nicknamed as "El Príncipe Chino" (The Chinese Prince) He was not Chinese he was from Korean ascendance. Tag Team partner of Pedro Morales in NWA.

Ham Lee holds the strange distinction of wrestling as El Santo during 1973 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Ham Lee has explained the incident as himself and other Mexican wrestlers being left stranded in Japan by an unscrupulous promoter, and wrestling as El Santo paid well enough to get himself and his compatriots back to Mexico.

HIs bio there also states he was trained by Lou Thesz, and was in fact born in Mexico. 

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Read some of this on a lunch break and it was an incredible way to pass the time. Will go through it all through probably several lunch breaks. Really fascinating stuff especially considering despite any footage I might have watched, I never really read up on IWE/JWA history, or really anything All Japan until the pillars got there.

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This is the first part that is going to end during a year. The IWE’s TBS coverage ends in early 1974, and that on top of the departure which caused it makes me think it’s best to delineate the two eras of the promotion that way. Part 4 will be about the early years of the Tokyo 12 Channel era.

A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART 3.2 (1973-1974)

[Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3.1 here.]

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

1973, PART ONE

1515945023_teranishivsinoue3-16-1973.jpg.a3274b548b8df791ed258c63d7b7f364.jpg

Above: Isamu Teranishi and Mighty Inoue wrestle in a rare native vs. native semi-main event on the last show of the Challenge Series.

Spoiler

The New Year Pioneer Series was a 12-date tour from 1973.01.06-01.26. Returning gaijin were Larry Hennig and Ivan Strogov. Doug Gilbert, worked in a black mask as The Professional, made his only Kokusai appearances on this tour (he had previously worked the 1971 JWA Dynamic Big Series, where he most notably teamed up with Mil Mascaras for an unsuccessful shot at the All Asia Tag Team titles). Mike Paidousis, who had worked four JWA tours from 1960-1971 either as himself or under masked gimmick the Tennessee Rebel (and according to legend had been sent home by Rikidōzan, presumably on that 1960 tour, because he was too strong), took his last Japanese bookings. Finally, making their Japan debuts were Ken Patera and Otto Wanz; the latter was billed as Gran Lapan (“Big Rabbit”), a name which had come from a female clerk. On the native end, this tour also saw the debut of Isamu Sakae, who had joined the company through its sales department the previous year.

The tour started at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (attendance: 3,500), and the 01.07 and 01.14 episodes of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay taped here were the first IWE matches taped at the venue ever since it had held that first Rusher Kimura/Dr. Death cage match in 1970. As for title matches, Kobayashi defended the IWA world title in the cage against the Professional on 1973.01.16 in Fukuoka, and Kobayashi & Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles against the Professional & Hennig on 1973.01.25 in Tokyo.

This was followed by the Challenge Series, held across 14 dates from 1973.02.24-03.16. Of the five gaijin on the tour, Mad Dog Vachon and Horst Hoffman were the returning faces. They were supplemented by: Angelo Mosca, whose only previous Japanese work was the JWA’s 13th World Big League in 1971; Rapapapotski, better known as John Smith/Soldat Gorky, making his first Japanese appearances since 1965; and Cuban-American wrestler Jose Quintero, making his only Japanese appearances.

Kobayashi defended his IWA world title twice, first against Hoffman in a standard 2/3-falls match on 03.07 in Yokkaichi, and then against Vachon in a cage match on the tour’s last show in the Machida City Gymnasium in Tokyo. Kobayashi & Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles twice against Vachon & Rapapapotski, on 03.08 and 03.14. Quintero had been a rival of Mighty Inoue’s in Montreal, and this built up to a cage match between the two in Nagoya on 02.27, which Inoue won. On the last date of the tour, Inoue also defeated Isamu Teranishi in a rare native vs. native semi-main event, which might have been testing the waters for a later experiment.

1973 saw Kokusai’s live business become more dependent on wire mesh deathmatches, and the Challenge Series displayed this plainly. After the Big Winter Series of 1972, which had used the stip 11 times, the New Year Pioneer Series only had four, but 8 of the Challenge Series’ 14 dates featured the cage.

After the end of the Challenge Series, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s timeslot was moved from 6:25-6:55  to 6:00-6:30, beginning on the 1973.04.01 episode. This cost the IWE the Niigata Broadcasting System coverage which had resumed the previous October, and RKB Mainichi Broadcasting (Fukuoka prefecture) moved Relay to a midnight timeslot in response. The ensuing period, from April to September, would see Relay’s ratings drop to around the 5% mark.

Also after the Challenge Series’ end, Tetsunosuke Daigo embarked on a Canadian excursion.

1973 CONTINUES

798082793_texasoutlawsvskimura-kusatsu6-30-73.jpg.343e6d8cefab7d535f65af0d4ae736a5.jpg666217577_kobayashivskimura7-9-73.jpg.18512f84c5d5b0970cc58f17adb606f9.jpg

Left: the Texas Outlaws take it to the IWA World Tag Team champions. Right: Strong Kobayashi lifts Rusher Kimura for a backdrop, in puroresu's first native vs. native title match since 1955.

Spoiler

The Dynamite Series was a 19-date tour from 1973.04.18-05.15. Returning gaijin were Mad Dog Vachon, Eduoard Carpentier, Lars Anderson, and The Canadian, who had previously worked as Buster Matthews, and who we know best as Gilles Poisson. The new faces were: Ivan Koloff; Bob (AKA Buck) Ramstead, a successful collegiate amateur wrestler who was broken into the business by Verne Gagne; Tarzan Tyler, the Quebecois wrestler who was the inaugural WWWF World Tag Team co-champion with Luke Graham, and had been quite successful in the Florida territory [1]; and original Minnesota Wrecking Crewman Lars Anderson. South Koreans Kang Sung-Yung and Oh Kyun-Ik returned in their “exchange student” roles of 1972, and they would work the following tour as well.

Kobayashi made two IWA World Heavyweight title defenses this tour, first against Carpentier in Sendai on 04.27, then against Koloff on the tour’s last stop in Ōmiya (a city in Saitama prefecture which was merged with others to create the prefectural’s titular capital in 2001). More significantly, this tour saw Kobayashi transition away from the double-champion role. Mad Dog & Koloff beat Kobayashi & Kusatsu on the tour’s first date in Tsuchiura for the IWA World Tag Team titles, with Koloff scoring the winning fall with a Canadian backbreaker to Kobayashi. After a defense against Kusatsu & Rusher Kimura in Tokyo on 4.30 saw the gaijin retain by disqualification, the rematch on the tour’s penultimate date saw Kimura pin Koloff after a double countout to win the titles 2-1.

In keeping with the trend, 7 of the 19 tour dates featured wire mesh deathmatches.

The Big Summer Series spanned 20 dates from 1973.06.18-07.15. This time, Buddy Wolff and Dusty Rhodes were returning gaijin. The stars of the crop were the Texas Outlaws, Rhodes & Dick Murdoch; as far as Japan is concerned this was their debut as a unit, and they would go on to work one AJPW tour in late 1975 before teaming up again for a few NJPW dates in 1981-2. Skandor Akbar made his second and last Japanese appearances before his retirement from active competition in 1977 and subsequent transition into a heel manager. Finally, yes, this tour was the Japanese debut of Ric Flair.

On this tour, Kobayashi retained his world title against both Outlaws, first against Rhodes on 06.19, and then against Murdoch on 06.29. The Outlaws also put over Kusatsu & Kimura in a tag title match on 06.30.

The tour’s most interesting title match, though, involved neither of them. Nor, even, any of the other gaijin. For at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on 07.09, the 16th date of the tour, Strong Kobayashi defended his IWA World Heavyweight title against Rusher Kimura. Kimura had challenged his co-worker shortly after the Rhodes defense, and while I couldn’t find any deeper motivations, the match went through. This was the first native vs. native title match since Rikidōzan vs. Toshio Yamaguchi in 1955.

This tour also featured 9 wire mesh deathmatches.

THE 5TH IWA WORLD SERIES

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Above: the Great Kusatsu and Mighty Inoue square off in a block match in the IWA World Series.

Spoiler

The 5th IWA World Series, the last of the TBS era, took place across 24 dates from 1973.09.08-10.12. The Puroresu.com page for the tour bands this together with the World Selection Series, but as the tour only had two dates after the World Series final it doesn’t seem major. Returning gaijin in the Series proper were Blackjack Mulligan (working as a Blackjack for the first time in Japan), Lars Anderson, and Willem Hall; Verne Gagne worked a pair of dates in late September, both defenses of his AWA world title against Kobayashi.

It wouldn’t be a credible tournament without some new faces, though. Greg Gagne made his Japanese debut. Moose Cholak, that early star of Chicago wrestling television, made his final Japanese appearances after having wrestled four JWA tours from 1962-72,[2] and according to his Showa Puroresu minibio gave a lackluster performance on this tour. (Sadly, it sounds like he never brought the moose head to Japan.) Dale Lewis was a two-time Olympian in Greco-Roman who was scouted by Danny Hodge and Wilbur Snyder, and transitioned into pro wrestling in 1961 under Verne Gagne’s wing. Like Cholak, Dale Lewis had made multiple JWA appearances over the previous years, but this work for Kokusai was his last in the country.[3] Bob Bruggers was an ex-NFL linebacker introduced to the business by fellow former Dolphin Wahoo McDaniel, and trained by Gagne and Billy Robinson; these would be his only Japanese dates, as after he suffered spinal fractures in the infamous North Carolina wrestlers’ plane crash of 1975, he decided not to return to the business. Finally, there was Frikkie Alberts, a South African who had tagged with Willem Hall; he would not finish the tour.

This tour also saw the in-ring debut of 31-year old Ichimasa Wakamatsu, a former electrician who had joined the IWE as an employee in its materials department before training to wrestle.

This time, the round-robin tournament had only two blocks. My presumption is that the Kobayashi/Kimura IWA heavyweight title match of the previous tour, as well as matches like Inoue vs. Teranishi back in March, gave booker Great Kusatsu enough courage to allow natives to share blocks this time. Note that Alberts departed before his block was done, so I have made the presumption that those he didn’t get around to wrestling in his block got points over him by default. This time out, block matches were held with a thirty-minute time limit, with one point to win and zero for losses and DCOs. Instead of an extension period, a panel of judges would determine the winner in the event of a time-limit draw.

I have tabled the results for both blocks.

1318259321_5thIWAWorldSeries.JPG.3232009b3f11ad2fa4994d4b4a730ddc.JPG

[The Inoue vs. Kusatsu boxes have an asterisk because the puroresu.com tour page does not label their singles match as a World Series block match, but I am assuming that it in fact was.]

As you can see, the four semifinalists were Anderson, Kimura, Kusatsu, and Mulligan, with six points each. The biggest surprise was that the promotion’s top champion and previous World Series winner didn’t even make it past the block, with Kobayashi getting a DQ loss against Anderson and losing to Isamu Teranishi in an upset. Perhaps this was just an innocent spoiler, but an event that will transpire in a few months – or rather, the backstage treatment which led to said event occurring – leads me to suspect that Kobayashi may have been the target of the booker’s spite here. Also yes, Anderson and Kimura’s block match was a wire mesh deathmatch. That is remarkably carny.

(The only match from the blocks in wide circulation is Hamaguchi vs. Inoue.)

The semi-finals took place on 1973.10.10 in the Nagasaki International Gymnasium. Kusatsu and Anderson went first, and the DKO result made its followup the de facto final. In 25:03, Rusher Kimura pinned Mulligan to win his first singles tournament.

This tour also had six non-tournament wire mesh deathmatches besides Kimura/Anderson. Block-A jobber Bob Bruggers didn’t have much hope I guess, so he got fed to Kimura in the cage twice, and then to Kusatsu. Hamaguchi won one over Lewis, and Anderson won one over Tanaka, before the tour ended with a World Series final rematch in the cage, which Kimura won.

The IWA World Series would only be brought back once more, in 1977. A much more pressing matter in the moment, though, was another television change. Beginning on 1973.10.06, TBS moved TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay to Saturdays at 2:00 PM. In response, Chubu Nippon Broadcasting System (Chūkyō metropolitan area, which spans at least parts of the Aichi, Gifu, and Mie prefectures – hey, I’m a wrestling history hobbyist, not a map) and Asahi Broadcasting (Kansai region) both moved the program to a midnight slot.

 

THE PEOPLE KNOW IT’S WINTER, (BIG) WINTER IN KOKUSAI

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Above: two posters for the last show of the 1974 New Year Pioneer Series.

Spoiler

The IWE ended 1973 with the Big Winter Series, as they were wont to do. This time, it was a 20-date tour from 1973.10.27-11.30. Besides Red Bastien and Bill Howard, this tour featured gaijin new to Kokusai. After Lars Anderson’s showing in the IWA World Series, it looks like it was time for the promotion to meet his kayfabe bros, Gene & Ole. Calgary wrestler Klondike Bill made his only IWE appearances after having worked the JWA (originally as Mr. Brute in 1963), where he had held the All Asia tag titles with Skull Murphy for 22 days in 1968. Dave Larsen was an English amateur wrestler scouted by Jack Dale, who apparently had worked a Batman gimmick in France at one point. The star of the crop, though, was Wahoo McDaniel. He joined the tour on its seventh date on 11.04.

Kobayashi’s first IWA title defense against Red Bastien was successful. However, on 11.09 in the Katsuura Tourism Hall, he dropped the belt to Wahoo. Five days later, they went to a double knockout in a rematch, and as Wahoo’s Showa Puroresu minibio kayfabed it, he had the IWE front office “in a cold sweat” fearing that he’d take the strap with him back to the states. However, Kobayashi pulled through on the final show of the year in Korakuen Hall to get it back. On the tag title front, Kimura & Kusatsu made two successful defenses, first against the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, and then against Bastien & McDaniel.

This time, Kokusai booked nine wire mesh deathmatches on the tour – hell, ten if you want to count Japan’s first strap match between Kusatsu and Wahoo, which 8mm footage shows was held in the cage. The most interesting result of these was that Ole was the first to wrestle Kimura to a draw in the cage, though he put Kimura over clean under the same stip a week later.

The 1974 New Year Pioneer Series spanned 17 cards from 1974.01.05-02.01. Returning gaijin were Butcher Vachon and the Hollywood Blonds, Jerry Brown & Buddy Roberts. The new faces were: Bill Watts, making his second and last Japanese appearances after the 1967 JWA Dynamite Series; Pedro Samson, a Colombian boxer who turned to wrestling in Europe and was booked for the IWE by Kiyomigawa after he’d seen him work a tournament for Gustav Kaiser in 1973; and The Jackknife, a masked gimmick played by Oliva Asselin. Asselin’s participation was especially interesting because he was one of the first gaijin; that is, he was among the wrestlers who were booked on the Shriner-organized Japan wrestling tour/charity drive in 1951 which brought Rikidōzan into the business.

Not much interesting here in terms of title matches. Kobayashi defended the world title against Watts twice (apparently Watts wore a t-shirt in at least one of the matches, which was not received well), and Kimura & Kusatsu defended against the Hollywood Blonds. This tour had only four wire mesh deathmatches, which I guess was restraint by Kokusai standards at this point.

On the tour’s final date, champion and backbone of the organization Strong Kobayashi tendered his resignation.

KOBAYASHI, ADIEU

Spoiler

I’ve seen narratives in the West state that Kobayashi was pulled out by NJPW, and that seems to have been an impression received at home as well. After all, Hisashi Shinma would earn his reputation as the radical instigator of puroresu, famously having the gumption to try to seduce Jumbo away from All Japan in 1975. However, the truth is that Kobayashi left to become a free agent because he could no longer bear to work with booker Kusatsu.

Kusatsu’s treatment of Kobayashi during his ace period was the behavior of a genuinely bitter man, exacerbated by alcoholism. His harassment ranged from at making a drunken outburst on the ferry (as recounted in 2016 by Goro Tsurumi – note that Tsurumi went on excursion in spring 1973, so this treatment went on for at least the last full year of Kobayashi’s tenure) to forcing Kobayashi to drink his own urine from a paper cup. Kusatsu abused his position to harass Kobayashi, keeping him on top for television tapings but knocking him down the card on provincial shows out of spite. The treatment eventually reached a point where Kobayashi, a quiet and reserved man by nature, traveled separately from the IWE tour bus to get away from Kusatsu. There’s an irony to the fact that, while Yoshihara said in the promotion’s early days that “pro wrestling is different from sumo”, the company ended up driving its best bet away through a toxic backstage culture that felt more in keeping with that world (or at least the world of early puroresu culture, with all its sumo vestiges) than with even the cruelest ribs of American professional wrestling. However, while Kobayashi was the best bet they ever had, at the end of the day he just wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the promotion’s decline, feeding into Kusatsu's resentment (and perhaps that of others). And so, he wanted out.

Kobayashi officially declared free agency on 1974.02.13. NJPW moved quickly, and over the next three weeks Shinma came to Kobayashi’s house for secret negotiations; an anecdote on the latter’s Japanese Wikipedia page states that Shinma came by so often that one of Shozo’s Maltese dogs became attached to him. All Japan were also interested, and used their connections with Monthly Pro Wrestling editor-in-chief Hisao Fujiwara to attempt to prevent Kobayashi’s transfer to Shin Nihon, while trying to lure Kobayashi for themselves through their connection to Matty Suzuki. On 03.08, Isao Yoshihara held a press conference where he claimed Kobayashi had violated his contract, and Kokusai demanded a transfer fee. However, the Tokyo Sports news agency stepped in and offered them a ¥10,000,000 settlement out of their own pocket. As has been mentioned much earlier in the thread, the publication’s president Hiroshi Inoue was a powerful ally of Inoki’s, and they were too powerful for Kokusai to afford to alienate, so they were forced to accept the settlement. Ultimately, Kobayashi would be allowed to work two dates for New Japan as an affiliate of Tokyo Sports until he signed with the promotion proper in 1975: both shots at Inoki’s NWF Heavyweight title, on 03.19 and 12.12. [EDIT: The IWE also lost Kiyomigawa in this, as he served as the special guest referee for the first Inoki/Kobayashi match.] Alas, Kobayashi’s twin losses to Inoki in 1974 would damage Kokusai’s image even further.

TBS notified the IWE that they would drop the television program at the end of the month, and their support of the promotion with it. The last IWE match broadcast on TBS was Kusatsu vs. Watts (from 01.28), on 03.30. [4] The ratings by this point had been in the 3-5% range, though apparently there was a spike right at the very end.

In later years, Mighty Inoue has said that Kokusai never recovered from Kobayashi’s departure, and that he will never forgive him for it.

Spoiler

[1] As far as puroresu is concerned, Tyler is most significant for being (alongside Bill Watts) one half of the transitional NWA International Tag Team title reign which allowed the B-I Cannon era to begin. They ended Baba & Michiaki Yoshimura’s eleven-month reign on 1967.10.06 before dropping the belts to Baba & Inoki on 10.31.

[2] The most interesting thing pertaining to Cholak in Japan happened on the first JWA tour he worked, which was the 1962 International Champions of the Fall Series. The first show of the tour on 1962.09.14 saw Rikidōzan & Toyonobori defend their All Asia tag titles against Gorilla Marconi & Skull Murphy in the main event. However, Cholak’s interference to attack Rikidōzan, whose NWA International Heavyweight title he would challenge for at the end of the tour, threw the match out on a no contest. He also legitimately injured Rikidōzan’s collarbone and dislocated his shoulder, though the company star would ignore medical advice to sit the next month out, and return after four dates wearing a shoulder pad. (This injury forced him to switch to chopping with his left hand for a little while.) While Cholak lost that title shot 2-0, upon his return to the United States he was billed as the WWA world champion in New Mexico. A fictitious story in the Albuquerque Tribune (Dec. 17, 1962) claimed that he had won the title from Rikidōzan on 11.29 in Manila, of all places (just so we’re clear, Rikidōzan never wrestled in the Philippines), after breaking the champion’s shoulder in the decisive fall. [Thanks to Japan: The Rikidozan Years for this information.] 

[3] Really, Dale’s accomplishment of greatest kayfabe significance so far as puroresu is concerned didn’t even happen in Japan. He won the tournament to crown the first NWA United National champion in St. Louis, before dropping it to Pantera Negra on 1970.10.23 in Los Angeles. Inoki won it from John Tolos on 1971.03.26.

[4] As an odd postscript, TBS would finally air another "deathmatch" a decade after Kokusai's demise, when Atsushi Onita wrestled Tiger Jeet Singh in a no-ropes exploding barbed wire deathmatch for the FMW 3rd Anniversary show on 1992.09.09.

 

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A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART 4.1 (1974)

[Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3.1 here, and Part 3.2 here.]

ODE TO TOKYO JOE

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Above: Tetsunosuke Daigo, working abroad as Tokyo Joe.

Spoiler

Parallel to IWE’s domestic woes, one of its wrestlers on excursion saw his life irrevocably changed in an instant.

Tetsunosuke Daigo had finally gotten his excursion after the 1973 Challenge Series. (Cagematch claims that he had worked overseas dates in 1967 and 1969 as Tokyo Joe, but Japanese accounts are firm on this being his first time out.) Through the connection of Mad Dog Vachon, who had been quite impressed with his work while working for Kokusai, Daigo went to work for Grand Prix Wrestling in Montreal as Tokyo Joe, a heel main-eventer. Daigo’s homecoming match was scheduled for 1974.03.26, the first date of the 1974 Challenge Series, in his hometown of Sendai. This was initially rejected by Vachon, who still had plans for him, but Daigo managed to smooth things over by securing the substitution of Devil Murasaki, who had been working in Indianapolis. The two hadn’t exactly been close in Kokusai (Japanese accounts consistently paint Daigo as a bully backstage, so I’m not surprised), but they were glad to see each other again as fellow native Japanese working abroad.

Before Daigo was scheduled to depart he and Murasaki decided to take a trip to Calgary, where they would work a three-week program with the Kiwis – Nick Carter & Sweet William, later known as Butch Miller & Luke Williams of the Sheepherders/Bushwhackers – to trade the latter’s tag team titles back and forth. This brief stop would also allow them to meet up with their IWE mate Hiroshi Yagi. So it was that, while Daigo and Murasaki were the champions, they embarked with Killer Karl Krupp and Gama Singh on a drive to a show in a severe snowstorm. (Meltzer’s Daigo obituary from the 2017.11.13 Observer states that they were headed to Lethbridge, but a 2021 Igapro article on Devil Murasaki’s career claims they were going to High River.) Unbeknownst to them, the show had been cancelled, but Archie Gouldie managed to find them on the highway and tell them to turn back.

As they drove back to Calgary, the car ran into some black ice and slid into a ditch. No one was seriously injured, and somebody passing by called a tow truck to get them out. When the tow truck arrived, Daigo came to help its driver attach the cable to their car. Just then, though, another car came sliding down the ice, and while it swerved in time to miss the tow truck, it directly hit Daigo. His right leg was severed with pieces strewn along the highway, some hitting Murasaki.

Daigo’s leg could not be recovered and was promptly amputated. A lengthy court case ensued, and he ultimately spent the rest of his life in Calgary after receiving a settlement. (If an unsourced claim on Daigo’s Japanese Wikipedia page is to be believed, the proceedings had been complicated when the driver responsible for the accident died in another one.) Ironically, Daigo would end up serving Kokusai better abroad in a non-wrestling capacity, starting to book talent from Calgary for the promotion at some point during this year, than he likely ever could have had he returned as planned.

CHALLENGE SERIES

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Above: A decade before their first Real World Tag League team (and ensuing breakup angle), Giant Baba & Rusher Kimura join forces for a 1974.04.06 IWE match, against Jim Brunzell & The Brute (Bugsy McGraw).

Spoiler

Things were bad back home. On top of losing Strong Kobayashi, the IWE had also lost their European booker, Kiyomigawa. They would now be more dependent on AWA talent than ever, and even if they got another television deal, there was no guarantee that they would manage to negotiate a rights fee which would make continued AWA cooperation financially viable.

The Challenge Series was a 16-date tour from 1974.03.26-04.22. Every gaijin was new to Kokusai, and none of them were going to pack houses, as even the most established had received their greatest success as territorial tag wrestlers. Tex (working here as Texas) McKenzie came to Japan for the first time since 1960, when Rikidōzan had planned to work a major program with him but ended up putting Curtis Iaukea in that slot instead after Tex complained he was working stiff. Seven-time Detroit tag champion, two-time WWWF tag champion, and one-time wrestling Batman (in Philadelphia) Tony Marino was a one-and-done with Kokusai, as was the Brute, later to be known as Bugsy McGraw. Argentina Apollo, a tag champion in multiple territories and one-time partner of Antonino Rocca, made his second and final batch of Japanese appearances. The only gaijin who would appear for the IWE again were Sailor White and the fresh-faced Jim Brunzell.

Luckily for Kokusai, they managed to secure some outside help far more interesting than their gaijin crop, as they formed a partnership with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Four AJPW wrestlers would work the tour until April 10: Samson Kutsuwada, Akihisa Takachiho, Motoshi Okuma, and none other than Giant Baba himself. (Jumbo Tsuruta was on his second American excursion at the time.) The vacant IWA World Heavyweight title would remain on ice until the following tour. However, Kimura & Kusatsu defended their tag titles in the cage on March 31 against the Brute & Brunzell. As for the AJPW wrestlers’ cooperation, Baba was only ever utilized in tag matches alongside Kokusai talent, although the others did get to wrestle against second-tier IWE wrestlers such as Hamaguchi and Teranishi. They were originally intended to work an April 11 show at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, but this show was canceled due to a general transportation strike.

TOKYO 12 CHANNEL

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Above: Flanked here by Mayuki Nakashima and Terumi Sakura, Chiyo Obata was the first wrestling star made by Tokyo 12 Channel coverage, and would be the star of the womens’ division which the IWE would incorporate as a condition of T12C coverage. (Photograph from the October 1973 issue of Wrestling Revue.)

Spoiler

There were no two ways about it: the IWE needed television. To find a way forward, Isao Yoshihara consulted with TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay producer Tadao Mori. Mori, in turn, pleaded with his and Yoshihara’s fellow Waseda University alum, Nihon Keizai Shimbun chairman Junzo Daiken, to get the IWE onto Tokyo 12 Channel, which was an affiliate of Nikkei Inc. (of which Nihon Keizai Shimbun was/is the flagship newspaper). It turns out that the head of Tokyo 12 Channel’s sports department, Tsuyoshi Shiraishi, was not only a fellow Waseda alum but had even competed on the wrestling team, like Yoshihara. In fact, Tokyo 12 Channel had experience with wrestling broadcasting going back to 1968, which is worth getting into.

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

On 1968.11.21, as a special program, the station aired Chiyo Obata’s 11.06 challenge for the Fabulous Moolah’s IWWA World Women’s Championship at the Kuramae Kokugikan, for Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling.[1] The 21.4 rating this drew was the highest the station had ever seen, so the station began airing wrestling in earnest. Pro Wrestling Hour (プロレスアワー) premiered on 11.30, and Women's Pro Wrestling Live: World Championship Series (女子プロレス中継 世界選手権シリーズ) began on 12.05. Pro Wrestling Hour originally aired old American matches with Japanese commentary, courtesy of reporter and future AJPW commentator Hiroshi Tazuhama, and premiered with an NWA title match between Lou Thesz and Antonino Rocca [I’m assuming it was their widely circulating 1963.05.10 match].

Women's Pro Wrestling Live: World Championship Series had been the first to go. In an ironic development considering the ideals the original JWP had been formed under, it itself eventually faced criticism as a vulgar program, and top brass elected to drop it after its 1970.03.26. They believed that to broadcast more than one program with erotic appeal was unnecessary (and probably didn’t reflect well on the station), so they opted to stick with the provocative drama Playgirl, despite WPWL continuing to pull decent ratings (in the Kanto and Kansai markets respectively, it had maintained averages of 15% and 10%).

After this, Pro Wrestling Hour shifted to also feature joshi. In August 1970, it aired WWWF material taped at Madison Square Garden, securing the connection through the intermediary of the Great Togo. Pro Wrestling Hour was originally suspended in September 1971, but after a single broadcast the following March on the station’s Surprise Sports block, the program was revived in April.

Pro Wrestling Hour ended sometime in September, but even that hadn’t been the end of puroresu on the station. That same month, Tokyo 12 Channel had been the first network to broadcast NJPW material. They first aired material from the promotion’s 1972.10.04 show at the Kuramae Kokugikan, which drew an 8.8. Then, their live broadcast of Antonio Inoki’s 1972.10.10 match against Karl Gotch, at the Kuramae Kokugikan, was the first Inoki match broadcast since his JWA expulsion. This drew an 11.9. Both programs featured the broadcast team of future International Pro Wrestling Hour and then World Pro Wrestling commentator Shigeo Sugiura, and future World Pro Wrestling commentator Yasuo Sakurai.

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

Shiraishi was initially hesistant to pick up Kokusai, and would only do so on the condition that they establish a womens’ division, and in so doing make the IWE puroresu’s first intergender organization. Chiyo Obata was pushing forty by this point (I bring this up because, even in her peak years of 1968-70, she was past the mandatory retirement age that Zenjo infamously enforced), but she and other ex-JWPW’ers would make up the IWE’s joshi division when Kokusai signed the broadcast contract in October.

Before that, though, Tokyo 12 Channel would test the waters with some one-off broadcasts.

MONDAY SPORTS SPECIAL

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Above: the Great Kusatsu lifts up Rusher Kimura for a piledriver in their 1974.05.26 #1 contendership match for the vacant IWA World Heavyweight title (1), Kimura applies a Boston crab on Billy Robinson in their 1974.06.03 title match (2), Robinson lifts Kimura in the butterfly suplex (3), and Kimura holds his head in his hand backstage after his loss (4).

Spoiler

The Dynamite Series was a 15-date tour from 1974.05.11-06.07. Returning gaijin were Rene Goulet, Sailor White, and last but certainly not least Billy Robinson, making his first appearances since 1972. Edmonton-born wrestler and future beltmaker Reggie Parks made his last Japanese appearances, after he had failed to live up to expectations (according to his Showa Puroresu minibio) working the JWA two years earlier. In his only Japanese appearances, the Washington-born, Hawaii-based wrestler-promoter Ed Francis worked this tour, bringing his son Billy with him.

Kokusai would first return to television near the end of this tour, on the June 3 show at Korakuen Hall. Here, the promotion took the vacant IWA World Heavyweight title back out of the meat locker for a championship match between Robinson and Kimura. Back in 1968, the pre-Rusher Masao Kimura had been Billy’s first IWE opponent. Now, bringing the promotion’s top foreign star of old to fight the previous IWA World Series winner was the biggest match that Kokusai could book. Kimura earned the shot by winning a #1 contendership match against Kusatsu on May 26. (Wrestling-Titles.com incorrectly states that Robinson beat Kusatsu in a tournament final for the belt, but I suspect this was the source of the confusion.) For the title match, Ed Francis would serve as guest referee.

This match was the first in a series of one-off broadcasts of IWE material, airing live on Tokyo 12 Channel’s Monday Sports Special program at 8PM. This was the promotion’s first live broadcast since 1972.06.25, and it had strong competition in the timeslot, such as TBS weekly period drama National Theatre and Nippon TV music program NTV Kōhakuka no Besutoten. Shiraishi told Yoshihara that if these broadcasts drew a rating in the 3% range, like those seen in the twilight of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s run, then plans for a weekly program would have to be scrapped.

In Korakuen, Robinson beat Kimura 2-1 to win the vacant title. Unfortunately, broadcast footage of this match has not been released, so we have to make do with a thirteen-minute clip of 8mm footage.[2] However, the broadcast drew a 6.4% rating, and Tokyo 12 Channel gave the thumbs-up for regular broadcasts.

After working the tour’s last two dates, Robinson returned to the States with the belt in tow.

(To the extent of my knowledge, the only other footage from this tour in circulation is this 8mm footage from a May 26 cage tag between White/Goulet & Robinson/Inoue.)

The Big Summer Series was an 11-date tour from 1974.06.25-07.19. Horst Hoffman worked what would be his final tour for Kokusai. Benji Ramirez returned under a mask as the Killer. Danny Babich made his first Japanese appearances, working as Ivan Volkoff. Floridian wrestler Bob Griffin, who had challenged for Kintaro Oki’s All Asia Heavyweight title in the JWA back in 1972, made his final Japanese appearances. Gerry Morrow/Jiro Inazuma was made to put on a mask and work masked as Wild Gnu.

Most notable, though, was the partial presence of André the Giant. By this point, the once-Monster Roussimoff had debuted for NJPW for their Big Fight Series tour (incidentally, the same tour which featured Inoki/Kobayashi I). However, he had heard about the IWE’s turbulent state, and called Isao Yoshihara from Montreal to hear the story from the horse’s mouth. With Frank Valois at his side, André flew to Japan to work the tour’s first four dates, and refused to accept Yoshihara’s money. The Eighth Wonder of the World states that André had enough pull to get away with this, and that it wasn’t worth it for Inoki to risk losing André over raising a fuss about it. It wouldn’t be the last time that André gave back to the first non-European promotion that had taken a chance on him.

Tokyo 12 Channel broadcast material from this tour for two episodes of Monday Sports Special. On July 1, they aired the main event of the opening date, a Kusatsu/Inoue vs. André/Volkoff tag match. Four weeks later, they aired the last two matches of the July 5 show in Kagoshima, in which Hoffman defeated Inoue in singles action, and Kimura defeated the Killer by knockout in a chain match. The latter was held within the wire mesh, an early sign that T12C would be more receptive than TBS had to showing Kokusai’s grislier side.

INTERNATIONAL PRO WRESTLING HOUR

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Above: Superstar Billy Graham poses with Baron von Raschke, during some leisure time in Graham’s first trip to Japan.

Spoiler

During a press conference at IWE headquarters on 1974.07.08, Yoshihara and Shiraishi announced that a special program would be broadcast on 09.23, with regular broadcasts beginning the next month. Nihon Keizei Shimbun, a major shareholder in T12C, had acted as an intermediary to make this deal happen. At the conference, they announced that they were aiming for an 8% average viewership rating for the time being. The program would replace Monday Sports Special, but as a result, the last Monday of each month would instead feature boxing program KO Boxing. Only four episodes of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Live/Relay (1969.12.31, 1971.10.20, 1971.11.03, 1972.05.14) were ever suspended in this way. As a result, while the program that would eventually be named Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour had a longer run than its predecessor, its episode count was ultimately beaten, 317-286. The more significant disadvantage relative to TBS was T12C’s more limited range of networks. Outside of the Kanto region, its outreach was limited to some independent stations and TBS/Fuji TV affiliates. In most of the Osaka prefecture, it would be necessary to install a UHF antenna to receive independent station signals. In the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, where the IWE had drawn better than the JWA all those years ago, Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour was nowhere to be seen, and thus the company’s box office in those markets fell behind its newer competitors.

There were some perks, though. The IWA World Heavyweight and IWA World Tag Team titles would receive redesigns to mark this new era. Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour would have more varied camera work than TWWA Pro Wrestling Live/Relay’s standard setup. Finally, Tokyo 12 Channel would actually recruit some commentators from outside the company, whereas TWWA had only had Isao Yoshihara in the booth. Tokyo Sports reporter and critic Tadao Monma was offered the role of lead commentator, and his boss, Hiroshi Inoue, told him to take the job as publicity for their publication. Monma ultimately accepted on the condition that he would be allowed to drink alcohol during broadcasts; this was partially to cope with anxieties about speaking in a different dialect. However, since Monma’s primary employer told him that commentating for joshi was against company policy (my guess is that joshi hadn’t shaken its sleazy reputation of old, so the publication felt that its coverage would delegitimize them), that role was given to former Women's Pro Wrestling Live: World Championship Series commentator Teiji Kojima. Still, it does seem that Tokyo Sports must have had some modicum of joshi coverage, since Monma’s Japanese Wikipedia page states that, since he was also the head Kokusai reporter, he would frequently butt heads with Kusatsu in particular over how the joshi division factored into the publication’s coverage of the promotion.

The IWA Title Match Series/Super Wide Series was a 20-date tour from 1974.09.15-10.10. The gaijin crop was headed by IWA World Heavyweight champion Superstar Billy Graham, who had supposedly won the belt from Robinson in Denver on August 26.[3] Graham made his first Japanese appearances on this tour, but for all his Stateside popularity, he would never catch on with the Japanese fanbase, who would eventually label him a dekunobo (“blockhead”) for what they perceived as poor performances on the mic and in the ring. [Source: Graham’s Showa Puroresu website minibio.] Baron von Raschke made what would be his final IWE appearances, while the Kiwis made their first. The mens’ gaijin crop was rounded out by German wrestler Hans Roocks, although for this and the following tour, Smith Hart worked the undercard as an “exchange student”, at his father Stu’s request.

This tour also saw the beginning of the IWE joshi division. Chiyo Obata, Terumi Sakura, and Kyoko Chigusa, all of whom had remained with JWPW to the bitter end, formed its backbone. Naturally, Kokusai’s joshi wing would wrestle gaijin too. The Fabulous Moolah came to Japan for the first time since the autumn of 1969, when she had dropped the IWWA World Women’s Wrestling title to Obata. She came with Sandy Parker and Paula Kaye. (Here is footage from an October 7 tag between Obata/Sakura and Parker/Kaye.)

[The joshi division doesn’t seem to get all that much coverage in the Japanese resources I could find, relative to the mens’ division. As this was a product of network meddling I’m not surprised, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m deliberately marginalizing them.]

Finally, it’s worth noting that undercarder Isamu Sakae debuted the stage name he would use for the rest of his career: Snake Amami.

The tour began with a Korakuen show. The most interesting thing about this show didn’t even happen between the ropes, as it reportedly featured puroresu’s first entrance music in the modern sense. Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour’s television director was inspired by a story he had heard about Inoue’s 1971 European excursion, where he had used Naomi Chiaki's 1970 hit single "Yottsu no Onegai" as entrance music. For Graham’s entrance, he played a recording of easy-listening juggernaut the 101 String Orchestra’s cover of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. After which, Graham had a bench press contest against the former bodybuilder Animal Hamaguchi, before defeating him in a singles match.

After a successful defense against the Kiwis on September 16, Kimura & Kusatsu put their IWA World Tag Team titles on the line against Graham & Raschke, at the Nippon University Auditorium on September 23.[4] This show was broadcast live for the first episode of Fighting Hour, which would quickly see a name change, but if you clicked that link you can see that the footage didn’t turn up when it came time for the 2000s DVD releases. Two weeks later, on October 7, it aired with the name Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour, which would stick. For whatever reason, Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour was given one less minute of airtime than Fighting Hour had, with 55.

On this tour, Graham defended the IWA World Heavyweight title thrice against Mighty Inoue. First, on October 1, he won 2:1. Then, on October 5 in Nagoya, they went 1:1 before a double countout. But finally, on October 7, Mighty Inoue won the decisive fall with a backslide to become the first native champion of the T12C era.

WORLD CHAMPION SERIES

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Above: Verne Gagne defends his AWA World Heavyweight title against Billy Robinson on 1974.11.20.

Spoiler

Kokusai ended 1974 with the World Champion Series, held across 17 dates from 1974.11.04-12.01. The big names this time didn’t work the entire tour, but let’s get those who did out of the way first. Buddy Wolfe made his final appearances for the IWE, and would only return to Japan to work the 1976 Champion Carnival. Cuban Assassin #1 and #2 were a pair of wrestlers, booked by Tetsunosuke Daigo. #1 was Ángel Acevedo, who was only a year into his career at this point, and would go on to be a six-time tag champion in both the Stampede and WWC territories. #2 was the Trinidadian-born Canadian Frank Seebransingh. The joshi division got Vicki Williams and Donna Christanello, the latter working under the simplified Donna Christine.

The limited appearances are where this tour’s crop gets interesting. The first eleven dates featured the AWA World Tag Team champions, Nick Bockwinkel & Ray Stevens. Bockwinkel had worked JWA tours in 1964 and 1970, while Stevens had worked one in 1968. In what would be his final bookings for the company that had made his name in Japan, Billy Robinson worked the five dates from November 17-23. Finally, AWA World Heavyweight champion Verne Gagne worked just the two shows on November 20-21.

The kickoff show at Korakuen saw Inoue defend his title against Stevens. On November 18, Bockwinkel & Stevens defended their titles against Kimura & Kusatsu, ending in a disqualification. The two teams’ double-title rematch on November 21 ended the same way.

On November 20, in the Kuramae Kokugikan, Gagne defended his AWA title against Robinson in perhaps the best IWE match in circulation. The stated attendance of 4,500 was to save face, though, as the true attendance was under 2,000. It was so bad that those in the cheap seats got to move up for free in an attempt to fool the television cameras, which made those who had paid full price for the front seats quite unhappy. The following night, in Kokusai's last notable match of the year, a Gagne/Inoue double title match ended in a draw.

Spoiler

[1] Not to be confused with All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, which sprung from it, Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (日本女子プロレス, “Nihonjoso Puroresu Kyokai”) was established on 1967.04.19 as an attempt to restore legitimacy to joshi puroresu after it had declined into sleaze. It was the joint venture of right-wing activist and sōkaiya (a type of corporate racketeer unique to Japan) Toichi Mannen, judoka Morie Nakamura, and future AJW president Takashi Matsunaga. That more famous promotion came about the following year, when Matsunaga and Mannen split, but this original JWPW did not dissolve.

[2] The 1974.11.20 IWE match between Robinson and Verne Gagne only circulated in a nineteen-minute clip of similar quality before a DVD release unearthed the full version, but by that time the television series had begun. I have no way to verify this, but my speculation is that these one-off broadcasts were not archived alongside the series proper, if they even were at all.

[3] According to the title’s Japanese Wikipedia page, this was, like the Kobayashi/Miller title change of 1971, a fictitious match. On the stated date, Robinson was wrestling Buddy Wolfe in Peoria.

[4] This would actually be the last time that the IWE booked the auditorium, for financial reasons. Nippon TV signed a comprehensive use agreement with the university which allowed All Japan to book the venue more cheaply than its competition.

 

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I’m taking a break from writing IWE Pt. 4.2 for the time being; every once in a while I need some time to actually watch wrestling instead of research it. However, I am posting here to mention two things.

1. As you can see, I have reformatted these IWE posts by spoiler-tagging each section. This is solely to make the length of each thread page more palatable.

2. Igapro just posted an article about the IWE’s first wire mesh deathmatches. I just took a break from my break to rewrite some things. Usually, I denote later additions to these posts with brackets and bold text, but this is a case where I really needed to rewrite passages from scratch. The new information has substantially fleshed these parts out, and Rusher Kimura’s major physical limitations as IWE ace will make so much more sense if you know about the toll these early iterations of the wire mesh deathmatch took on him. If you’ve been following this series, you might want to reread the pertinent sections, but I've put a TL;DR version below.

Spoiler

The second wire mesh deathmatch, between Kimura and Ox Baker, headlined a card in which the IWE managed to sell out Tokyo despite competing with a sold-out JWA show. However, Baker's assault on Kimura with a chair caused three fractures along Kimura's right shin, and left him unable to walk. Isao Yoshihara needed him to return before he was ready in March, after the JWA moved up their Kuramae Kokugikan date to compete with their Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium show. Kimura came back to do a wire mesh deathmatch against the '?' (Angelo Poffo), but needed to be carried to the back on a tatami mat afterward, and it wasn't even worth it because the show only drew 3,000. During the subsequent World Series tour, Kimura caused two of his fractures to slip back out of place, and he deliberately strained his left knee in order to take stress off of the right. The resulting imbalance fucked his back up.

 

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I needed a break because I needed a break, but I also took one to try to give myself more time to search for sources. By no means was 1975 an unimportant year for the IWE, but it is the year that I have found the least extratextual information about thus far. If I ever transcribe the book that Koji Miyamoto wrote a couple years back on this era of the IWE, maybe I’ll find more.

On an unrelated note, I finally got together the cash to order another book from Japan for transcription: the 2019 Four Pillars bio 夜の虹を架ける 四天王プロレス (roughly: The Rainbow over the Night: Shitenno Puroresu). It should arrive sometime in August, at which point I’ll survey it and figure out what I want to do. It’s about 150% the length of the Jumbo bio without accounting for pictures, so it’ll take longer, but I think the structure of the book will actually be lighter on me; dividing the book into sections for each of the Four means that this time, I’m not going to be blindsided by a 90-page and a 100-page chapter right after one another towards the end. I want to get this IWE stuff out of the way first because frankly, if I don’t nobody else will, but it’s a niche subject and I sympathize if it’s getting old.

Anyway, on with the show.

A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART 4.2 (1975)

[Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3.1 here, Part 3.2 here, and Part 4.1 two posts above.]

A PARTNERSHIP ENDS

Spoiler

What had once been called the “Far East Chapter” of the American Wrestling Association was now in too financially precarious a position to continue their partnership with the organization. The New Year Pioneer Series, a 21-date tour from 1975.01.06-02.02, would be the IWE’s final tour as an AWA affiliate.

The stars of this gaijin crop weren’t even AWA guys. Danny Lynch worked Japan for the last time in his first Kokusai appearances since 1971, alongside kayfabe brother Butcher Lynch. [1] They would receive the tour’s only shots at the IWA world and tag titles, with the two losing clean in a tag title match on the tour’s second date, and with Danny losing clean to Inoue on the final show. Representing the AWA were Bob Orton Sr., making his last Japanese appearances (and first since 1960), and Bobby Slaughter, the future Sergeant, making his Japanese debut. Once again, Jiro Inazuma/Gerry Morrow put on a mask to work a few dates as a faux gaijin, this time named the Wild Killer. The joshi division got Susan Greene and Peggy Patterson to work against.

At the opening show in Korakuen, a masked wrestler named Chon Lee put over Isamu Teranishi. This was actually Hideyuki Nagasawa. At this point, Nagasawa (1924-1999) was the last active wrestler in puroresu to have been born during the Taisho period. His is the kind of name that gets lost in our surface-level puro histories, so when his in-ring involvement with the company ends in 1976, I might give him an extended bio in the footnotes. What you need to know right now, though, is that he was an ex-sumo who was part of Toshio Yamaguchi’s original All Japan Pro Wrestling in the 50s (although like Yamaguchi, he participated in that first JWA tour with the Sharpe Brothers) before joining the JWA in 1956 to become the JWA’s equivalent of a wakamono-gashira, who supervises young rikishi in sumo. He’d taken a step back in the JWA’s later years to work as a referee and in sales, and when they went under, Isao Yoshihara gave his old coworker a job in the materials department. Nagasawa would work as himself later in 1975 and into 1976 as an elder curtainjerker.

The IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title, which had been put on ice after Tadaharu Tanaka went on excursion in 1970, finally returned. On the tour’s third date, Teranishi defeated Jiro Inazuma for the vacant belt.

In February, Verne gave the company an ultimatum: him or Daigo. Kokusai chose Daigo.

RUSHER RISING

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Above: After losing the first fall to a cobra clutch, Mighty Inoue drops the IWA World Heavyweight title to Mad Dog Vachon on 1975.04.10 when he’s lured out for a DCO. Nine days later, Rusher Kimura defeats Vachon on the tour’s final date to cement himself as Kokusai’s ace, a position he will hold for the rest of the company’s life.

Spoiler

In March, two carriers dropped coverage of Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour: Kyoko Broadcasting System (Kyoto prefecture) and SUN-TV (Hyogo prefecture). Both would later revive coverage, but I could not find the point at which KBS would, and SUN-TV would take three-and-a-half years to do so.

In addition to Daigo’s Calgary connections, Kokusai still had an ally in Mad Dog Vachon, who would be the star gaijin of the Dynamite Series. Vachon would be utilized on this 24-date tour (1975.03.09-04.19) as a transitional champion. Besides him, the gaijin crop was the leanest it had been in years, with only the Interns (Tom Andrews & Jim Starr) and a returning Jack Claybourne to wrestle the mens’ division. The women got Vickie Williams and Joyce Grable. Vachon ended up being a day late, so the Kimura wire mesh deathmatch that was scheduled to main-event the first show in Koshigaya (the first of ten cage matches on the tour) wound up going forward with the hasty substitution of “The Wildman”, who was just Tom Andrews without his white Intern mask.

On April 9 in Iwase, Kimura & Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles against Vachon & Claybourne. However, this show also saw the joshi division finally roll out their old belts from Nippon Joshi Puroresu [I’ve decided to call them that henceforth so as to prevent confusion with the later Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling], as Chiyo Obata defended her IWWA Pacific Coast title against Williams. The following night’s Tokyo show opened with Obata & Terumi Sakura defending their IWWA Pacific Coast Tag Team titles – which the later Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling would revive in the following decade – against Williams & Grable.

Alas, that Tokyo show would also see the end of Mighty Inoue’s only world title reign. After winning the first fall in 9:30 with a cobra clutch, Vachon lured Inoue out for a double countout at 12:48. After the match, Inoue would ultimately express relief that the pressure of world champion was no longer upon his shoulders.

On the show’s last date in Sapporo, what people must have been expecting finally came to pass. After having gone to one victory and one DKO in the wire mesh with Vachon, Kimura defeated the Mad Dog within the cage, with a Boston crab at 7:25.

Rusher Kimura would remain the promotion’s ace for the rest of its run, and only ever lost the belt as part of mid-tour tradeoffs with top gaijins-of-the-month. However, Kimura was an odd pick for an ace even beyond his physical limitations. You have to understand that the promo machine he would become in his sunset All Japan run was an act that it took him many, many years to reach. In truth, Kimura was a deeply introverted person who was incredibly difficult for reporters to get much of anything out of. According to a Tokyo Sports article, one night Kimura and Yoshihara had dinner at Sumo Chaya Hamariki, a restaurant near the Kokusai office, where Yoshihara intended to coach Kimura on the mannerisms becoming of an ace. Instead, the two only exchanged a few words of thanks as they went through four bottles of sake. The most ace thing Kimura would do in 1975 is issue a challenge to Antonio Inoki in June, a matchup which would happen six years later, in a much different puroresu landscape.

Kimura & Kusatsu vacated their IWA World Tag Team titles on 1975.04.30, so that Kimura could concentrate on defending his singles title.

TOR’S WORLD, HE’S THE MAN

1776169177_kamatavskimura.thumb.jpg.85375361cd4426370d0d814ab19111e0.jpg273907035_kamatavskimura2.thumb.jpg.5be1d0f4ddd0759abdeac81b3daa3d2d.jpg278047289_kimuravskamatajune75.jpg.3d2ef79bc9521a6587e9e3e0fb52d341.jpg1620645249_kimuravstorkamata1975.jpg.7f3b427fcca63df7d4c92d19e7cdc408.jpg

Above: Rusher Kimura defended his title twice against a debuting Tor Kamata, first in a standard match on 1975.05.26, then in a wire mesh chain match on 06.06.

Spoiler

The 17-date Big Challenge Series took place from 1975.05.25-06.14. Geoff Portz made his first Kokusai appearance since 1968 (he had worked New Japan in 1973, and would do so again in 1976 for his final Japan apprearances), and Donna Christanello also returned. Butcher Brannigan, who had worked the JWA three years earlier as Killer Joe Nova (derived from his real name, Joseph Novo), made his final Japanese appearances. “Duke Savage” was the Apache Gringo, who had worked a 1967 JWA tour as The Savage. Accompanying Christanello to wrestle the joshi division was Daisy Mae.

The star, though, was Tor Kamata. Born McRonald Kamaka in Hawaii, he was broken into the business by Ed Francis upon his return from duty in the Air Force. His stage name was a reference to Tomas de Torquemada, the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. (Man, that’s what Ivan Karamazov was missing when he recited “The Grand Inquisitor” for Alexei; the Inquisitor needed to give this returning Christ a Flying Sausage! Look, I had to get one lame Dostoevsky joke in there.) However, he had also wrestled in the late 60s as Dr. Moto for the AWA, enjoying substantial runs alongside Mitsu Arukawa with the AWA World Tag Team titles. In 1969, he had also teamed with Kimura at least once during the latter’s first American excursion. In the meantime, he had held the Stampede North American Heavyweight title for a respectable 155 days across three reigns in 1972.

In Korakuen Hall on May 26, Kimura defended the IWA world title against Kamata, which he won by disqualification in the second fall after a double countout. On June 6, a rematch was held as a chain match within the wire mesh, which Kimura won. Parallel to this, a tourney was apparently held for the vacant IWA tag titles, though the tour results don’t look like a tournament was actually held, beyond just having a June 8 match between Kusatsu & Inoue and Portz & Savage billed as its semifinal. In any case, Kusatsu & Inoue began their reign with a June 13 victory over Kamata & Savage in Morioka.

BIG SUMMER

979096797_1975_07.28kimuravsquinn.jpg.9f66a2d3604b85c577e6ee6cfb4fb3de.jpg

Above: Rusher Kimura defends his IWA World Heavyweight title against Big John Quinn on 1975.07.28.

Spoiler

The Big Summer Series spanned 26 dates from 1975.06.29-07.28. Gil Hayes and Joyce Grable were returning gaijin. Meanwhile, Big John Quinn, who had previously worked the JWA’s first NWA World Tag Team League in 1970 as Nick Bockwinkel’s partner, worked the first of what would be three Kokusai tours in the years to come. The Commandos were a tag team of two wrestlers named Andres Rodriguez and Ignatio Ramirez (according to the puroresu.com tour results page), but other than that I can’t find any info. Dottie Downs was the other gaijin for the joshi division.

The tour opened at Korakuen with the first native vs native title defense in two years, as Kimura defended against Inoue. When this aired on Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour on July 7, it drew the program’s first 10% rating. On the last date, in Tokyo’s Ohta Ward Gym, Kimura retained against Quinn. Meanwhile, Kusatsu & Inoue made a single tag title defense on June 30, against Quinn & Hayes.

G.(Y). JOE

[I’ve written it out before, but look, I really don’t want to write out “Gypsy Joe” over and over again in this day and age, and he’s going to show up a lot from here on out. I’ll just refer to him as G. Joe or Joe.]

1261858682_1975_10.06kimurajoe.jpg.e3732382ddd4e6ddb69c8f8c9b46db23.jpg

Above: Kimura defends his title against G. Joe on 1975.10.06.

Spoiler

The Big Golden Series took place across 25 dates from 1975.09.07-10.11. This time, most of the mens’ gaijin were returning talent: The Killer (Benji Ramirez), Jose Rivera, and Issac Lothario. The joshi division got new faces Toni Rose and Sheila Shepard.

But the one new guy of the bunch was the most important. According to his Showa Puroresu minibio, G. Joe appears to have adopted that name the same year that he debuted for the IWE, when he appeared in Grand Prix Wrestling. This leads me to suspect that he got into Japan through Mad Dog. Whatever the case, Joe would become one of the most prolific gaijin in IWE history, as he worked eleven tours for Kokusai. He would also prove himself as a valuable ally, using his connections to book US-based gaijin (particularly from the Mid-South region, I believe).

Joe would participate in all three of the tour’s title matches. On September 8 in Isawa, he and the Killer challenged for the tag titles. Then, in a 2/3-falls match on October 6, and a cage match on October 8, he fought for Kimura’s IWA World Heavyweight title. [EDIT 2021.07.07: The material from the former show was broadcast live, and was the start of a cut down to a 54-minute timeslot which would persist for the rest of Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour's run.]

WINTER COMBAT

577528574_1975_12.04kimuravsmartin.jpg.a16b7d264a3b86eeb7afee81c90f03b4.jpg

Above: Referee Osamu Abe attempts to restrain Pierre Martin from Rusher Kimura in their IWA World Heavyweight title match on 1975.12.04.

Spoiler

The Big Winter Series was a 28-date tour from 1975.11.02-12.06. The stars of the crop were Combat, the French-Canadian team of Pierre Martin & Mike Martel. Serge Dumont, a Quebecois wrestler scouted by Mad Dog Vachon and trained by Luigi Macera, made his only Japanese appearances. [2] Fellow one-and-dones from this tour were Gordon Ivey, a Saskatchewan-born boxer who switched professions at Stu Hart’s recommendation after a hand injury, and the masked King Tiger, who was actually US-born Colombian wrestler Bill Martinez, who most famously worked as (El) Tigre Colombiano. The joshi division got the returning Vickie Williams and Leilani Kai.

Combat worked a program with the tag champs, winning the titles in Korakuen on November 3, and retaining by disqualification in Mizusawa on the 11th, before dropping them back in the wire mesh on December 2 in the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium. Two nights later in Korakuen, Pierre Martin got a shot at Kimura’s IWA World Heavyweight title.

To lead into the IWE’s participation in the Open Championship League, three interpromotional matches with All Japan took place on this tour, the first since those April 1974 dates. In the undercard on the first Korakuen show, Snake Amami went over Munenori Higo with a rolling back clutch, and Katsuzo Oiyama pinned Kazuo Sakurada. On the tour’s last show, at the Farmer’s Market in Ito, the Great Kojika & Motoshi Okuma went over Teranishi & Oiyama in the third match.

OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP LEAGUE

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Above: Mighty Inoue wrestles Jumbo Tsuruta in a match held towards the interpromotional Open Championship League on 1975.12.10. The following night, he receives a shot at Hiro Matsuda's NWA World Junior Heavyweight title as part of the Rikidozan Memorial Show. At far right, Kimura faces Abdullah the Butcher in a League match on 1975.12.16.

Spoiler

On 1975.09.29, the Open Championship League tournament was announced. As I covered in an earlier post, this was intended as an interpromotional tournament, tied to a Rikidōzan memorial show, and NJPW had been invited to participate. However, Inoki refused to cancel his match against Billy Robinson to accommodate it, and while Tokyo Sports eventually mediated between Inoki and Rikidōzan’s widow and estate guardian to reconcile their differences after the latter two “excommunicated” Inoki for this, he still would not participate, nor would any of his co-workers.

As for the IWE’s participation, the only potential snag I’m seeing is that Nippon TV, with their broader reach, got essentially exclusive broadcast rights to the Open League, even the matches with Kokusai talent. This set the tone for the two networks and their respective promotions’ relationship in the years to come, with All Japan/NTV as the dominant party.

As for the tournament’s participants, All Japan was represented by Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, the Destroyer, and Anton Geesink, while the IWE sent all three of its current champions: Kimura, Kusatsu, and Inoue. Kintaro Oki came as a representative of his Korea Pro Wrestling Association. The various Stateside wrestlers were all “recommended” by various promoters:

1.      Abdullah the Butcher: NWA Vice President Jim Barnett (Georgia)

2.      Dory Funk Jr.: NWA Headquarters, Herman Gast (Amarillo)

3.      Horst Hoffman: Bob Luce (Chicago)

4.      Don Leo Jonathan: Gene Kiniski (Vancouver)

5.      Ken Mantell: Lee Fields (Alabama)

6.      Hiro Matsuda: NWA Headquarters, Leroy McGuirk (Oklahoma)

7.      Dick Murdoch: NWA President Jack Adkisson/Fritz von Erich (Dallas)

8.      Pat O’Connor: NWA Advisor/former President Sam Muchnick

9.      Harley Race: NWA Headquarters, Bob Geigel (Kansas City)

10.   Baron von Raschke: Dick Aufilds (Indianapolis), Bruno Sammartino (New York)

11.   Dusty Rhodes: Eddie Graham (Florida)

12.   Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woods): Jim Crockett Jr. (N. Carolina)

It appears that political factors led to the tournament having a bizarre, complex format. Apparently, this was sold as a blend of sumo and rugby tournament rules, with popularity polls having something to do with the end result. If you count the December 11 Rikidōzan Memorial show as part of the tour proper, then this tour went for 13 consective dates from 1975.12.06-18. Three tournament participants dropped out partway through the tour because they had not been contracted for all of it, but kayfabe reasons were given for each: Race was injured by Abdullah in their League match on December 10 in Gifu, Mr. Wrestling was in rough shape after an injury (he last worked the Rikidōzan Memorial show, in a tag with O’Connor against the Texas Outlaws), and Kintaro Oki was apologetic after having hurt Yoshihiro Momota in the collateral damage of his match against Abdullah, on the show memorializing Yoshihiro’s dad.

As Baba’s point total couldn’t be beat, his match on the final date saw him win even though it was the semi-main before Abby/Destroyer. I’m not going to do the whole results table because I wouldn’t be able to fit the whole sheet in a single screenshot, and because the arcane tournament format led to several matches not happening (so I can’t really write it out like a round robin without a bunch of gaps), but I’ll give the point totals for the IWE guys. Rusher ended with 6 points, Inoue 7, and Kusatsu 2.

On the Rikidōzan Memorial Show, Mighty Inoue would receive the only conventional title match of the tour: a shot at Hiro Matsuda’s NWA World Junior Heavyweight title. Earlier on the same show, Kimura defeated Baron von Raschke, in the last intersection that the IWE would have with such a total AWA guy for years.

Part 5.1 will cover 1976. One of the most famous interpromotional puro matches of the decade will take place, and Kimura will face one of the most influential native heels in puroresu history.

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

Spoiler

[1] Danny Lynch had discovered a wrestler who resembled him named Steve Haggerty, and had teamed with him as his “brother”, but the Showa Puroresu minibio claims that Butcher was not Haggerty.

[2] On 1976.03.08, Dumont would become the penultimate International Heavyweight champion for Johnny Rougeau’s International Wrestling Association in Montreal. That August, he would drop it to Billy Two Rivers.

 

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A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART 5.1 (1976)

[Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3.1 here, Part 3.2 here, Part 4.1 two posts above, and Part 4.2 directly above.]

ANOTHER YEAR BEGINS

1882478852_1976_01.23kusatsu-inouevswhite-shelly.jpg.306042b8662ba24eb3507359b54d885f.jpg

Above: Len Shelley holds Mighty Inoue in place for a Sailor White diving foot stomp, in their 1976.01.23 shot at Inoue & the Great Kusatsu’s IWA World Tag Team titles.

Spoiler

The 1976 iteration of the New Year Pioneer Series was a fifteen-date tour from 1975.01.04-01.25. An unremarkable gaijin crop was led by a returning Sailor White. Winter Hawk was Pepe Lopez working a Native American gimmick. Len Shelley was a Canadian wrestler who had previously been booked on a 1974 All Japan tour at the recommendation of Abdullah the Butcher. His Showa Puroresu minibio reveals that he was a last-minute substitution for Kim Klokeid, a Calgary police officer who wrestled in Stampede on the side as Karate Kid. [1] El Ciclon was a Venezuelan wrestler with over a decade in the business, mostly working Puerto Rico by this point; according to his Showa Puroresu minibio, his real name was Raul Jose Gomez. The joshi division got a returning Susan Greene to work with, as well as Kitty Adams.

Except…not really? The joshi division was clearly on its way out, after requests from the Great Kusatsu and even NJPW’s Kotetsu Yamamoto to phase out the intergender aspect. (I can’t find out why a competitor would have cared: was the joshi division reflecting poorly on mens’ puroresu as a whole?) Only seven dates featured a single womens’ match, and only two of those matches featured native talent. Terumi Sakura didn’t even get booked!

1761850403_1976.01mrchin.jpg.410c0272f7f5d19a255c296f1fa5a15c.jpg

Also notable about this tour was the return of Mr. Chin from his Calgary excursion. The most interesting part about this is that he was booked alongside gaijin as a heel, something we'd see on a much bigger scale later in the year.

Two title defenses took place on the tour’s antepenultimate and penultimate dates. On January 23 in Tatebayashi, Kusatsu & Inoue retained their tag titles against White & Shelley. The next day, Kimura defended his world title in Koshigaya against White. However, photographs shown in an article on the Showa Puroresu website confirm that Kimura’s January 18 singles match against Winter Hawk was a noncanonical title defense. I don’t know how often this old carny trick was rolled out in Japan, but it’s neat to get proof that it was happening in at least one promotion.

Six months after the tour’s end, on July 27, Lopez died in a Texas car crash, which also took the lives of fellow wrestlers Sam Bass and Frank Hester.

RUSHER VS JUMBO (AND SURROUNDING TOURS)

Untitled.thumb.jpg.9f65d9bdbd2d2a9b9843aa67a0a7f446.jpg

Above: Publicity photos from an unknown source, displaying Rusher Kimura and Jumbo Tsuruta’s respective measurements.

Spoiler

After the Super Power Series, a nineteen-date tour from 1976.02.29-03.27, Kokusai would take part in an AJPW vs. IWE card at the Kuramae Kokugikan. We need to take care of the tour first, though. The gaijin crop starred a returning Tor Kamata. Carlos Colon, who had worked for Kokusai in 1971 as Chief Black Eagle, returned under his own name. Behind the scenes, Colon had established a partnership between the WWC and IWE since around the previous year, and the rest of the male gaijin this time around were products of that partnership: namely, Gene Marino – also known as Tomas/Eugenio Marin – who served as Colon’s bodyguard, and the Viking, or “El Vikingo” Salvador Pérez. Lastly, this tour booked Kokusai’s final joshi gaijin: the returning Paula Kaye and Joyce Grable.

On March 7 and 11, Kimura defended his world title twice against Kamata, the latter match being a wire mesh deathmatch. The March 13 show in Saiba saw Kamata and Colon lose their shot at the IWA tag titles, and Isamu Teranishi also retained his mid-heavyweight title in a rematch against Jiro Inazuma. Also on that Saiba show, Chiyo Obata & Terumi Sakura defended their IWWA Pacific Coast Tag Team titles for the last time, against Kaye & Grable.

----

As covered in one of my early thread posts sharing info from Kagehiro Osano’s 2020 Jumbo biography, Nippon TV held a fan poll in early 1976 to gauge interest in what opponents fans wanted to see Tsuruta wrestle. The Trial Series was not a new concept by this point, as this followed ten-match series which AJPW had booked for both Baba and the Destroyer. However, this was the first time that All Japan used this promotional gimmick to establish a young talent, rather than add to a well-established star’s pedigree. The concept would be revived numerous times in the following decades, mostly by AJPW and NOAH, but the Tsuruta Trial Series seems to be the best-remembered today. It established the perfect balance: it was meant to establish a newer talent, and thus had genuine importance to their arc, while still offering matchups of considerable star power spread out over multiple years, rather than just being a showcase held across a single tour. (The closest that either AJPW or NOAH ever came to doing something like this again was Tiger Mask II’s 1986-88 Trial Series, which saw him wrestle the likes of Ric Flair and Ted DiBiase as well as native stars, before it ended with the famous 1988.03.11 Jumbo match. NJPW attempted something similar with Tatsumi Fujinami starting in 1982, but the gimmick was abandoned early.)

Anyway, Rusher Kimura had placed ninth in the fan poll. Just eighteen days after the Trial Series began with a draw to Verne Gagne, Jumbo would wrestle Kimura.

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Before the Super Power Series, on February 20, Kimura attended a Shinjuku training camp for Japanese sambo wrestlers preparing for the World Championships. Here, he was given instruction by none other than Victor Koga, who alongside Ichiro Hatta had been a pioneering international exponent of the sport in the 1960s. Hatta himself was also present, as seen in this photograph. Kimura wouldn’t utilize sambo much in his wrestling, but he busted out an armbar against Jumbo, and would continue to incorporate it into his personal training regimen.

The AJPW vs IWE card was held on 1976.03.28, one day after the Super Power Series’ end, and seventeen days after AJPW’s Excite Series had concluded. 9,800 fans came to the Kuramae Kokugikan for a show which booked the two promotions equally on the page, with a record of 4-4-2. Snake Amami, Goro Tsurumi, and Jiro Inazuma won undercard singles matches against the “Three Crows” of AJPW: Masanobu Fuchi, Atsushi Onita, and Kazuharu Sonoda. Mr. Yoto and Tsutomu Yonemura put over Mitsuo Momota and Masao Ito, respectively, and the AJPW team of Mitsu Hirai & Kazuo Sakurada defeated Kokusai’s Katsuzo Oiyama & Tadaharu Tanaka. Animal Hamaguchi beat Munenori Higo in 8:25, while Samson Kutsuwada beat Isamu Teranishi. In the main event, Kusatsu & Inoue went to a draw with All Asia tag champs the Great Kusatsu & Motoshi Okuma. The Kutsuwada/Teranishi and double tag title matches wound up getting broadcast on Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour, rare exceptions to the rule that, if a big match was going to come out of the AJPW/IWE partnership, then Nippon TV would ensure they had the rights to air it.

Of course, the only match that would be remembered was the antepenultimate one on the card. Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Rusher Kimura would be refereed by former JWA president Junzo Yoshinosato, making his first public contribution to puroresu in years – although unbeknownst to the public at the time, he had already facilitated another contribution to the IWE which would pay off later in the year. The match ended in a double pin draw off of a Jumbo German suplex, the same finish which would be used in Tsuruta’s 1982 NWA title shot against Ric Flair. At year’s end, its legacy would be secured when Tokyo Sports named it Match of the Year for their third annual batch of kayfabe press awards. It was the first time that the award had not gone to Antonio Inoki, and would be the first of three consecutive MOTYs for Tsuruta (who ended his career with seven total). Not counting the first Tokyo Sports MOTY winner – the first Antonio Inoki vs. Strong Kobayashi match, in which Kobayashi was performing as a representative of the publication itself and not as a freelancer having departed the IWE – it would be the only such award received by an IWE wrestler. You could probably argue that this is *the* most famous Kokusai match.

---

Starting in April, Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour received coverage in the Fukuoka prefecture, courtesy of TV West Japan.

The Dynamite Series was a twenty-date tour from 1976.04.11-05.05. For this tour, the gaijin crop was exclusively masked wrestlers. The star this time around was the Undertaker: that is, Hans Schroeder. This gimmick was one that the German wrestler had rolled out in Calgary around a year earlier. Chin Lee and Jerry Christy worked as a unit, the masked Scorpions. The Zebra Kid was Ontarian wrestler Paddy Ryan; according to his Showa Puroresu minibio, his work during the tour damaged the reputation of the Zebra Kid gimmick, which had originally been used by George Bollas (Bollas had challenged for Rikidōzan’s title back in 1961). Finally, the Inferno was a one-and-done Japanese appearance; long speculated to have been Jose Ventura, the sleuthing of the Showa Puroresu fanzine revealed that it was actually his younger brother, Tito.

On April 13 in Iwase, Kimura won a title defense against the Undertaker with a double countout in the second fall. However, Rusher was unsatisfied with this result in kayfabe, and vacated his title to fight his opponent for it again later in the tour. Nine days later in Sendai, he went over in the wire mesh deathmatch. Meanwhile, the Scorpions got two shots at the tag titles: first in Osaka on April 14, and then in Maebashi on May 5.

On April 12 in Korakuen, the mixed-gender phase of the IWE concluded. Chiyo Obata defended her old IWWA Pacific Coast title against Terumi Sakura, which was broadcast on Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour one week later. It appears that they had nowhere left to go; I can’t imagine that the puritanical AJW, on the cusp of the Beauty Pair boom no less, would’ve had room for two aging workers with roots in the “sleazy” first generation of joshi, which they wanted to “redeem” joshi puroresu from in the first place. Obata and Sakura retired and opened a bar, BAR Sakura. The former, at least, would receive some vindication on November 29, 1998, when she was among the twenty-six people inducted into the AJW Hall of Fame.

This wasn’t quite T12C’s last foray into joshi puroresu, though. In 1978, they premiered a women’s kickboxing program called Gekikotsu! Women's Martial Arts Grand War (激突!女子格闘技大戦争, Gekitotsu! Joshi Kakutōgi Dai Sensō), for which they also formed a new wrestling promotion called New World Women’s Pro Wrestling (ニューワールド女子プロレス, Nyū Wārudo Joshi Puroresu). They even got Kyoko Chigusa to come back. However, the promotion folded after about a month.

SPECKLED WOLF

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Above: A bloodied Umanosuke Ueda poses with his ill-gotten IWA World Heavyweight title. At right, he defends it against Rusher Kimura in the cage for a rematch on the following tour.

Spoiler

The Big Challenge Series spanned fourteen dates from 1976.05.23-06.12. Rip Tyler & Eddie Sullivan, both of whom had worked in Japan before but never for Kokusai, came to Japan as a tag team for the first time. Crazy Bobby Bass, the fake Canadian brother of Fred, Don & Ron Bass, made his first Japanese appearances. Pretty Boy Anthony was a Nova Scotian-born wrestler. Finally, Gigi the Greek was a one-and-done whose Showa Puroresu minibio calls “a Doraemon of a man”, but who apparently had a degree of athleticism unexpected of his 400lb frame.

But they weren’t what made this tour interesting. For on the first date of the tour, Umanosuke Ueda made his first appearance in a Japanese ring in nearly three years.

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Hiroshi Ueda had dropped out of high school in 1958 to enter sumo, but in 1960 he switched to professional wrestling, at the invitation of one-time stablemate Koichi Hayashi, who had jumped ship to the JWA the previous year. His stage name, a reference to Edo-period samurai and Shinsengumi (a special police force which served the interests of the feudal military government during its dying days of 1863-9) member Umanosuke Ueda, was the idea of Toyonobori, and was first used in the autumn of 1962.

While respected for his technical acumen (eventually, he would receive praise as a legit tough guy from Bob Roop), Ueda was a notoriously dry worker, and he eventually garnered derisive nicknames such as “Sleepy Kyoshiro” and “Toilet Time Ueda”. Ueda would frequently work abroad as a Japanese heel in the late 60s and early 70s, and his name was previously mentioned in these IWE history posts as having formed a successful tag team with Chati Yokouchi.

As I laid out in the second-ever post on this thread, Ueda was a central conspirator in the attempted JWA coup whose fallout saw Inoki cut out of the company. He had remained with the sinking ship that was the JWA until the very end, when the contract he had signed with Nippon TV made him a performer for AJPW. However, Giant Baba’s refusal to downscale his plans for Jumbo Tsuruta (by making one of the top ex-JWA talent, i.e. Ueda or Kintaro Oki, his tag partner) caused Ueda to walk out. With a three-year non-compete clause written into his NTV contract effectively barring him from working elsewhere in his home country until the spring of 1976, Ueda moved his family to Pensacola and worked further as a territory heel.

On New Year’s Day 1976, Ueda issued challenges to Baba and Inoki. Baba refused because Ueda had left All Japan of his own accord in 1973, but Ueda thought that Inoki might have more interest because of the programs he had worked with Strong Kobayashi and Kintaro Oki. By this point, though, Inoki was shifting his focus to the different styles fights promotional approach, and Ueda’s unrefined image during his JWA tenure, on top of Inoki’s lingering personal resentments over how he felt Ueda had betrayed him during the 1971 coup attempt, made NJPW disinterested. In search of a deal, Ueda consulted with final JWA president Junzo Yoshinosato, who suggested that he talk to Isao Yoshihara. By this point Yoshinosato and Yoshihara had restored their relationship, with the former having received an offer to provide commentary for Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour. [2] Ueda was a good friend of both Rip Tyler and Eddie Sullivan, and it looks like his connection got them booked as well. Ueda and Yoshihara had mutual respect, but while Yoshihara might not have realized this at the time, Ueda’s ambitions for returning to Japan were ultimately bigger than just being a Kokusai guy.

Ueda returned with the tips of his hair bleached blond, which begat the nickname of “Speckled Wolf”. (When he went full-blond later, this changed to “Golden Wolf”.)

On June 7 in Fukuyama, Sullivan & Tyler won the IWA World Tag Team titles from Kusatsu & Inoue, after Tyler pinned Inoue in a onefall match. The natives got their belts back four days later in Koga, but as one belt returned to Kokusai’s hands, another slipped from their fingers. Ueda got his IWA world title match against Rusher, and he made the most of it. An evaded Ueda shoulder tackle led to a ref bump, upon which Ueda downed Kimura with a foreign object to get the pinfall.

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It might have seemed that this was the start of a much longer association between Ueda and the IWE. However, on June 26, the same date as Antonio Inoki’s infamous fight against Muhammad Ali, Ueda held a press conference reiterating his challenge to Inoki. Hisashi Shinma had shot Ueda down before because Inoki needed to concentrate on training for the fight, but now that it had happened, and Ueda felt he had earned as much clout as he could get from associating with Kokusai, he shot his shot once again. Shinma was more receptive this time, but the “radical instigator” of Showa puroresu had more diabolical plans. He stated that an Inoki match could happen, on the condition that Ueda first come to New Japan as IWA champion and defeat either Seiji Sakaguchi or Strong Kobayashi. If he could make Ueda run away while still champion, well, he might not have gotten him to throw the belt in the trash on live TV or anything, but he could still use this opportunity to delegitimize one of his competitors.

The Big Summer Series was a 23-date tour from 1976.07.04-07.31. Roger Smith made his first Japanese appearances (and his only ones until 1985) under the masked gimmick of the Super Assassin. Len Shelley returned as the masked Black Lockheed for his last Japanese tour.[3] Meanwhile, Bob Delaserra made his Japanese debut under the hood as the UFO. Luke Williams of the Kiwis/Sheepherders/Bushwhackers worked his second and last Kokusai tour, rebranded Sweet Williams. Jose Ventura was a return gaijin, while Indio Guacaul was a Colombian one-and-done gaijin.

This tour also saw some returns. The most prominent was Thunder Sugiyama. Since his transfer to AJPW in 1972, Sugiyama had transitioned into a part-timer role as a side career as a television entertainer gained steam. However, he left All Japan in March 1976 over a dispute with Giant Baba, and declared himself a freelancer. Also returning was Hiroshi Yagi, finally back from his excursion. A fan vote sponsored by Tokyo 12 Channel and Monthly Pro Wrestling bestowed upon him the ring name of Ryuma Go, although Takashi Kikuchi would later claim that this wasn’t actually the name he’d seen most in the postcards: two that he saw more was “Concorde Yagi”, a reference to the Concorde airliner which France had co-developed (Yagi had wrestled in France during his excursion), and “Hiro Yagi”, an homage to Hiro Matsuda. Whatever the legitimacy of its fan poll victory, they made the right call. The following year, when NJPW held a similar campaign to give Mitsuo Yoshida a ring name, he pleaded with the people involved to “give me a cool name like Ryuma Go”…which he got, with Riki Choshu.

At the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on July 7, Ueda & Sugiyama joined forces for an unsuccessful shot at the tag titles. Three weeks later, in Choshi on July 28, it appears that Isao Yoshihara found a way to get the belt off Ueda which he agreed to. During an untelevised wire mesh deathmatch for the title against Kimura, Ueda knocked out the referee, and the whole thing blew up in a no-contest when the Super Assassin and Mighty Inoue each climbed in to interfere. It was said that Ueda injured his left shoulder, but Inoue called bullshit on this in subsequent years, believing this was fabricated by Ueda to prevent having to put Kimura over at the end of the tour. On the final show in Koshigaya, Kimura defeated the Super Assassin in a wire mesh deathmatch to win back the vacated belt. Also on this date, Kusatsu & Inoue retained their tag titles against Lockheed & the UFO, and Isamu Teranishi defended his IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title against Ventura.

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The shoulder injury, legit or not, kept Ueda from participating in the 1976.08.05 NJPW singles match against Strong Kobayashi, as had been planned. After the Inoki vs Singh main event, though, Ueda emerged and handed Inoki a letter of challenge. Inoki emphatically refused, slapping Ueda, and Ueda attacked in response. This angle planted the seeds for Ueda’s later NJPW runs, starting with the first tour of 1977.

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Ueda would return to the IWE as an invader heel in 1979-80, but I think that this is the best place to talk a little about the situation he had placed himself in. It seems that Ueda had not been entirely prepared emotionally to work as a heel in his homeland; that was a duty which gaijin performers had taken care of for the puroresu industry, and even though Ueda wasn’t quite the first native heel, he was the first one to regularly work as such. He was heartbroken when his young nephew, who wasn’t smart to the business, told him not to visit their home anymore. Ueda would make trips to an orphanage, whose children were overjoyed to see “Ueda’s uncle”, but when a journalist discovered this, he told them not to write about it for fear of undermining his image. I bring this up not because heels being nice guys outside the ring is a groundbreaking notion, nor even their efforts to keep that from reaching the public, but because this seems to have been the first time that a Japanese wrestler really had to reckon with the public aspect of playing a heel character in their own country. Puroresu had essentially started as a cathartic coping mechanism for the lingering memories of the occupation, after all, not a venue to tell narratives about good and bad guys who were both Japanese. At the very least, Ueda wasn’t actually living in Japan at this point; when Rusher Kimura earned the legit ire of Inoki marks in the early eighties, he was not so lucky, and his house received a lot of eggings for it. [4]

LATE 1976

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Above: Kimura hits a backdrop to G. Joe on the outside during a defense of his IWA World Heavyweight title, and Mighty Inoue gets a submission in the cage to retain his and Kusatsu’s IWA World Tag Team titles.

Spoiler

The Big Golden Series spanned 22 shows from 1976.09.05-10.02. The star was Wild Angus, making his first appearances for Kokusai since 1969. Gil Hayes was a returning gaijin. Puerto Rican wrestler Hercules Ayala was, at this point, only three or so years into his career. I am quite amused to learn that "Al Bourgeois" was an actual ring name; according to his Showa Puroresu minibio he was a 20-year old Quebecois wrestler who had been scouted by either Maurice Vachon or Jacques Rougeau. The Tempest was Quebecois wrestler Richard Charland under a mask. The crop was rounded out by British wrestler Pete Stewart.

This tour also saw the Kokusai debut of Mr. Seki. Better known to us as Mr. Pogo, Tetsuo Sekigawa had joined NJPW for its first tour in 1972 (alongside onetime schoolmate Hiroaki Hamada), but had been dismissed from the company after one tour because Kotetsu Yamamoto didn’t like him for some reason. This was his return to work in his home country after three years of US territorial work.

On September 20, the IWA tag titles were defended against Angus & Hayes, while Kimura defended his world title against Angus on the last show in Kumagaya.

---

Kokusai ended the year with the 33-date Yumo Series (Yumo=勇猛, “bravery”), a rare use of Japanese to name a tour, held from 1976.10.24-12.04. G. Joe made his return as the star gaijin. Gil Hayes carried over from the previous tour; the Tempest was expected to as well, albeit sans mask as Dick Charland, but he bowed out due to injury. Combat, the team of Pierre Martin & Mike Martel, also returned, but this time they brought none other than a young “Ricky” Martel with them. Finally, Bull Gregory was a Quebecois talent who had previously worked a 1975 NJPW tour.

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This tour also featured the return of Devil Murasaki. Traumatized by the accident which had ended his coworker Tetsunosuke Daigo’s career, Murasaki went down to EMLL after helping nurse Daigo back to health. Here he would work with Mitsuo Momota, then working in Mexico as Rikidōzan II, before Goro Tsurumi came from Europe to work EMLL himself. He traveled back to Europe with Tsurumi, where he performed under a mask, inspired by the luchadors he’d worked with. Murasaki had enjoyed the freedom of the journeyman wrestler’s life, but he began to miss Japan when Tsurumi was called back. As Murasaki had paid out of his own pocket to make his excursion happen, he realized that he needed to come back of his own accord if he were to work for the IWE again. Upon his return, he showed up at Isao Yoshihara’s office. Yoshihara was annoyed at the prospect of being saddled with another native worker due to Kokusai’s financial difficulties, but with the help of sales department employee Atsuaki Nukui, Murasaki came back as Devil Murasaki, donning the purple mask he had performed with in Germany. Booker Kusatsu had no intention of pushing him, but Murasaki was grateful to have a job back home even if it was in the under-to-midcard.

On October 30, Hideyuki Nagasawa wrestled his final match, putting over Tsutomo Yonemura in the curtainjerker bout. As I covered in my previous post, Nagasawa was the last active wrestler (in Japan) born during the Taisho period, and was given a job by Rikidōzan mainly to be a backstage mentor for younger talent. Nagasawa had accompanied Rikidōzan on the Brazilian trip where he met Kanji Inoki, and he had wrestled Inoki for his debut as Antonio. While he would receive a vice chairman seat in 1966, stuff I’ve read online gives me the impression that his role was somewhat marginalized after Rikidōzan’s death. Whatever the case, when the JWA folded Yoshihara offered him a job with the IWE. This would be his last dance in the ring, but Nagasawa remained an employee of the materials department until quietly leaving in 1980, as the company entered its darkest days.

Now, onto the title matches. Kimura and G. Joe wrestled three matches over the world title: the first on October 26 went 2-2 on two double-countouts and the second on November 1 went to a single-fall double-countout, before Rusher went over in the wire mesh on the tour’s penultimate show. Kimura also retained against Gil Hayes in a November 11 match. Elsewhere, Kusatsu & Inoue made two successful tag title defenses against Combat on November 14 and 15, and one more on the final date against Joe & Hayes. Teranishi defended his mid-heavyweight belt against Ricky Martel on November 14.

So that was 1976, as best I could tell it from the information I have.

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

Spoiler

[1] According to his Showa Puroresu minibio (assuming this isn’t a typo as far as the year is concerned), Klokeid would be scheduled to work the IWE once more in 1977, but had to back out due to injury. In 1979, after Stampede switched sides to an NJPW partnership, Klokeid would make his only Japanese appearance, and I mean only. With the managerial services of Mr. Hito, who the aforementioned SP minibio states is widely believed to have gotten Klokeid booked in Japan, Klokeid would be the decade’s final challenger for Antonio Inoki’s WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight title on December 13. Apparently, his karateka gimmick was not legit enough to work in the context of a different styles fight.

[2] I don’t know if replacing Tadao Monma was something that was being considered at this point, but it’s worth noting that Kusatsu’s tensions with Monma persisted after the joshi division was scrapped, as displayed in the story of one incident during the Big Challenge Series. One night at a hotel, Monma was drinking with Ueda, Tyler, and Sullivan. After Kusatsu, himself drunk, joined them, Monma made a comment on Kusatsu’s in-ring style, suggesting that he “drop the rugby stuff” and stick to a straighter pro-wrestling style. A furious Kusatsu lifted Monma up by his neck, and it took Ueda to make him stop.

 [3] The gimmick name was a reference to a contemporaneous political scandal involving the Lockheed Corporation. I’ve touched on it before, but I can do so again here, because it’s oddly fun for me to write small recaps of real-world goings-on when they come up in the periphery of my research.

The Lockheed Corporation, which became Lockheed Martin in a 1995 merger, was an American aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor which was deep in debt by the early 1970s. In 1971 it approached the US Senate for a loan guarantee, a deeply controversial proposal which barely passed into law due to VP Spiros Agnew’s tiebreaker vote. By the summer of 1975, when Lockheed had still not defaulted, investigations commenced. The following year, a Senate subcommittee led by Senator Frank Church disclosed that Lockheed had engaged in foreign bribery since the late 1950s.

Japan was one of several countries where Lockheed had conducted these activities. They paid 2.4 billion yen to major underworld figure Yoshio Kodama and the office of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka for assistance in securing contracts for Japanese airlines to purchase their L-1011 Tristar instead of competitor McDonnell Douglas’ DC-10. Information disclosed by the US President’s Commission on Organized Crime in 1986 revealed further bribery operations in Japan between 1969 and 1975 which were facilitated through Deak and Company, a foreign exchange operator owned by banker and CIA operative Nicholas Deak. The Lockheed scandal would remain on Japanese minds for years, as trials of those implicated would proceed into the 1980s. The wife of the treasurer of the prime minister’s office, who testified in these trials, is the woman who is leaning on Ashura Hara in my profile picture.

[4] For what it’s worth, Kimura was bothered less by the vandalism itself than what the experience did to his dog, which manifested in stress-induced shedding.

 

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This came in several weeks sooner than I was expecting.

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I don't plan to abort the IWE history, but I might put it on an alternating release schedule with stuff from this book. It's going to be a longer transcription process because this has a good 250 pages on the Jumbo bio, but the structure looks more forgiving than that backloaded book was.

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Do you use the word "legend" in America? Cos around here, you'd be called a legend, mate. Fascinating stuff, as I'd say 70% of my pro-wrestling diet is devouring written wrestling history. Thanks for sharing your efforts and I hope you enjoy the book.

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I’ve finished transcription of the first chapter of the Four Pillars bio, but I need to lay some stuff out here.

This book is much denser than the last. The Jumbo bio’s longest chapter, the 97-page tenth chapter, came out to 52,748 total characters. The first chapter of this new book is only 35 pages, and yet it’s nearly half the density of that chapter, at 25,212.

Purchasing a Kindle copy wasn’t really an option; even if I put in a Japanese address to make myself eligible to receive such, I already have a Kindle account on the Amazon US storefront, and I really don’t think that you can have accounts on different storefronts tied to the same device/s. However, I really wish that wasn’t the case. I’m going to take this one step at the time, but I have to be honest.

This might be too much for me. But I’ll do as much of it as I can, because if I don’t, who will?

---------

Chapter 1 starts with Kawada, before turning into a narrative of his and Misawa’s lives through 1985.

  1. The narrative is set up with a trip to Mengerous K, Kawada’s restaurant, in the present day. The author’s description makes clear that, even if he might have been the most “functional” of the Pillars in the ring at the twilight of his career, this is a broken-down man even by the standards of professional wrestling. What struck me most is that Kawada’s neck is so stiffened that he must look up to swallow the soup he is eating, in order to keep it out of his windpipe.
  2. The account of his early life is a bit more fleshed out than the one in the Jumbo bio (if you're new to the thread, see here for that). I had never noticed before that Kawada was born on the same day that Rikidōzan got stabbed. We also learn his father’s cause of death: while he was removing an AC unit from the roof of a building marked for demolition, he was struck by lightning and fell off the roof. Before being hooked by professional wrestling in middle school, Kawada thought he wanted to work as some sort of civil servant. When he made up his mind about wanting to wrestle – he makes it clear that, even though he was being supported by a single mother at this point, his family was not in a precarious financial position which would have influenced him to find work – he began a training regimen using things that he ordered from advertisements in wrestling magazines, funded by his job as a paperboy. By the time he performed the NJPW entrance exam, he had gained 10kg of muscle.
  3. Kawada does not specify which NJPW senior he beat in sparring, though he states that he won because he managed to strangle them with a headscissors. All he says, in an excerpt from his 1995 autobiography, is that the wrestler was still active at the time. Another person at the scene, who he refers to as “someone who is not thought of so often now, but became popular under a mask”, is obviously George Takano, so it wasn’t him. Therefore, there is a not-zero chance that Kawada pulled a Daniel Puder on a young Akira Maeda, and I hope so badly that this is the case. The identity of this NJPW wrestler is the puro equivalent of “Who was ‘You’re So Vain’ written about?” for me. Anyway, he passed the exam and was told he could join after graduating junior high, but Kawada was ultimately swayed by the advice of his school and mother to enter high school. At first, Kawada notes with small regret that had he not been persuaded, he would have been younger than Masakatsu Funaki, who joined NJPW straight out of junior high in 1985. But then, he admits that he does not believe that he would have lasted in the business had he taken that opportunity, because while he already had the physical conditioning to train to wrestle, he could not have endured the hardships of that vocation until he had the experience of living and training at the Ashikaga Institute of Technology high school.
  4. We then transition into an account of Misawa’s early life, and some updates to the Wikipedia page (which I took it upon myself to overhaul in 2019-20) may be in order. His father was laid off from the Yubari coal mine and the family moved before Misawa was even a year old. Misawa had two older brothers, not just one. After the divorce, his mother worked in the factory during the day and as a waitress by night to provide for her family; she would remarry a decade later, by which point Misawa would’ve already been in high school (where he lived as a wrestler-in-training). We learn that, by his own account, Misawa was a “spoiled, lonely crybaby” in his early years, albeit one who picked many a fight he couldn’t win in his upper elementary years.
  5. In contrast to Kawada, Misawa had already had a feeling that he didn’t want to be a salaryman (in his youth he wanted to be a boxer), but it was in eighth grade that he decided what he would become. However, while he would say that his favorite wrestler was Jumbo Tsuruta as a rookie, Jumbo’s accomplishments in 1976 were not a specific impetus. (As a side note, his supposed “first favorite wrestler”, Horst Hoffman, is not mentioned at all. I once read something somewhere that implied that the story of Hoffman inspiring the color of Misawa’s trunks - which Misawa stated here - was a kayfabe fabrication, and that Misawa instead adopted the emerald hue at a friend's suggestion. This makes me suspect that was the case.)
  6. High school was rough for Kawada. As part of this live-in wrestler-in-training program, Kawada was the junior errand boy for all the upper classmen in the program, and to make matters worse, no new students came in the year after him to knock him up the ladder. He recalls contemplating suicide in one instance.
  7. This account paints Misawa and Kawada’s early friendship as a bit more muted than the thick-as-thieves narrative which I think we often take it to be. Kawada was clearly fond of Misawa compared to the other upper classmen, considering him “a small oasis in hell”. However, Misawa valued his private time, and especially valued his ability to sneak out of the dorm, catch a nighttime train to Kasukabe, and climb into the second-floor bedroom window of his girlfriend for an hour or so.
  8. Upon graduation, Kawada went from the top of one hierarchy to the bottom of another. Not until Yoshinari Ogawa joined the company, just a couple months before Kawada’s excursion, did he have anyone below him. On the tour when Kawada debuted, they didn't have his name stamp ready in time, so they had to cut and splice together gaijin stamps to form his name. ("To put it crudely, that was the level of expectation people had for Kawada.")
  9. Akio Sato may have abolished the seniority system and allowed the young guys to do high spots, but even he made Kawada pump the brakes. He felt Kawada moved too much in a "self-indulgent" way, so while he still benefited from the reforms, he was forbidden from doing outright flippy moves because Sato said "he wasn't ready". In a 2012 interview, Kawada would express gratitude for this, as he learned a lot from the work he did as a curtainjerker with Mitsuo Momota. (“When I was young, I used to feel that I wanted to show everything I had, but then one day I came to think that I only needed to show one thing. Then, I no longer had the burden of trying to do this or that. I can decide on just one, and it doesn't have to be another. When I started to think like that, I started to understand professional wrestling more and more.”)
  10. There is mention of the quickly aborted plan to make Kawada a Tiger Mask #2 alongside Misawa.
  11. It was Chavo Guerrero who was impressed enough by Kawada to offer to get him booked for an American excursion. Chapter 1 ends with him booking a flight to the US and meeting with Fuyuki (who had been working in Mexico) before setting off for San Antonio.

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Chapters 2-3 were 16 and 12 pages, respectively, so I decided to transcribe and cover them together. 4-5 are of similar length, so I will probably combine them as well.

----

Chapter Two starts by talking about the UWF. Initially I was annoyed at what seemed like a drawn-out digression (this is not to disparage the book’s craft – it was not meant to be consumed the way that I, an illiterate, am doing), but when I quickly realized where it was going this became fascinating. This chapter is a snapshot of puro journalism politics in the 1980s, specifically the tensions between Weekly Pro Wrestling and AJPW(+JPW) in the period before Takashi "Tarzan" Yamamoto became editor-in-chief, a position from which he would ingratiate himself to Baba and become an important creative consultant. From the photos in the book I can tell that it’s going to take 500+ pages to get to the actual Shitenno/Gotsuyo era of 1993-, but a digression like this at least promises some interesting context along the way.

Monthly Pro Wrestling, a magazine published by BASEBALL MAGAZINE SHA Co., Ltd (henceforth abbreviated as BBM) whose history went back to the mid-1950s, rebranded as Weekly Pro Wrestling in 1983. I don’t know if his tenure extended before the rebrand, but Weekly Pro’s first editor-in-chief was Hideo Sugiyama, a position he also held for sister BBM magazine Martial Arts News. [2021.07.26 correction: this post implied he was pulling double duty, but he actually switched to running Martial Arts News after handing the Weekly Pro chair off to Tarzan Yamamoto in April 1987.]

In his coverage of the circumstances behind Tarzan Yamamoto’s step down from editor-in-chief, Dave Meltzer wrote that Yamamoto was credited with “bringing mainstream coverage of pro wrestling in Japan from the Apter-mag level almost to Observer level” (Wrestling Observer Newsletter, July 8, 1996). (The term Tarzan would coin for the style of coverage that Weekly Pro provided was “print wrestling”. [1]) This should not be taken to mean just his EIC tenure, though, as this section establishes that even during Sugiyama’s tenure – during which Yamamoto was head of the editorial team – the magazine was much bolder than that Apter mag comparison would indicate. As author Hidetoshi Ichise notes, in some respects Weekly Pro was like the UWF itself, in that it “rejected traditional wrestling and created new values”. Sugiyama “did not listen to the logic of the old industry, but the voice of fans who had nowhere else to go, swirling around venues all over Japan. ‘Let me find out who’s the strongest! Let me see who’s the strongest!’” (The riot at the Kuramae Kokugikan in the aftermath of the Inoki/Hogan IWGP match and Choshu angle on 1984.06.14 is presented as a manifestation of the discontent of this shifting fanbase.)

In his 2017 book 1984年のUWF (“UWF in 1984”) as cited by Japanese Wikipedia, Ken Yanagisawa accuses Sugiyama of deceiving his readership into thinking the UWF was legit to boost sales. This is how you shift the culture of wrestling fandom. This is how you get Korakuen pelting garbage into the ring when Jumbo vs. Hansen (1989.04.16) has a fuck finish. This is how you make King’s Road not only a feasible creative direction, but perhaps a necessary one.

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Weekly Pro’s first issue, for the week of August 9, 1983, sent a message from the jump. Despite Terry Funk’s retirement tour, he was only given a square of real estate on a cover which primarily featured Tiger Mask. Sugiyama’s reasoning was that Tiger Mask could change professional wrestling from a “world of fans” to “a universal world”. The age of B-I Cannon was over; the future was now.

Things get really interesting in early 1986. In the wake of the NJPW/UWF angle, New Japan got the Weekly Pro cover for the first six issues. At or around the time the 2/25 issue (released the second week of the month) hit shelves, BBM president Tsuneo Ikeda received a letter signed by Giant Baba and Riki Choshu. This letter alleged unfair coverage, and declared a boycott of the publication. Ichise claims that this was unreasonable and that the coverage was not so disproportionate; in 1985, NJPW got 21 cover stories, AJPW got 18, and the UWF got 6.

In response, Weekly Pro adopted guerilla tactics to report on them. Reporters and photographers bought tickets to provide ringside coverage (the author, who was in his early twenties at the time, started reporting on AJPW in this capacity). When necessary, photos of the ringside area and waiting room were provided by Weekly Fight magazine. Ichise notes that this strategy was met with “silent approval”, and that he believes that AJPW were thus not primarily responsible for the boycott. Choshu’s animosity towards the wrestling press was so pronounced that an entire subsection of his Japanese Wikipedia page is devoted to it, so I’m inclined to guess that this indeed was his doing. Ichise remarks that the battle between Choshu and Yamamoto, the only Weekly Pro reporter who had been banned before the magazine as a whole had been, would continue for many years.

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The boycott was lifted after seven months, but Weekly Pro were still not allowed to send ringside photographers to the 1986.11.01 event, where Hiroshi Wajima would be making his professional wrestling debut against Tiger Jeet Singh. Weekly Pro had to make this the cover story, though, so they settled for a shot taken from the second row.

The last few pages of the chapter are about Kawada’s miserable excursion and return. By the time he came to San Antonio, Chavo wasn’t there. As you may know, the Kawada/Fuyuki team started here. However, when visa issues forced Fuyuki to return home, Kawada was fired as there was no use for him in a singles capacity.

Kawada called Akio Sato, who told him to go to Calgary. There, he finally got experience as a singles worker, and wrestled under a mask for the first time as Black Mephisto, on a meager $200 a week. Stampede wanted Kawada to play a Shogun Wakamatsu-style heel, but Kawada couldn’t do expressions as a masked performer, so he just “barked viciously”. After being sacked there, Kawada went to Montreal on Sato’s direction. Here, he performed in a high-flying style which got him praise in some corners but also had a ceiling at that time.

Kawada’s excursion ended abruptly when visa issues forced him to return home. When he arrived, it was as if he’d never left. Once again, he didn’t even get his own name stamp for the tour pamphlets. The makeshift one just read “Kawada”, likely a composite of the “” on Takashi Ishikawa’s stamp and the “” on Jumbo Tsuruta’s.

The chapter ends recapping 1987 up to August 21, when Kawada finally made his move in an angle which saw him join Revolution.

---------

Chapter Three is about Taue.

Taue seems to have come from the poorest family of the Pillars. Like, “roast a snake in soy sauce for dinner" poor. He recalls carrying salt and miso paste in his pockets when playing outside after school, to season the cucumbers and turnips that neighbors would give to him.

Taue was a mischievous kid. He recalls playing hide-and-seek in elementary school and climbing into the ceiling, only to fall through a panel into a classroom. Once, he accidentally set a shrine on fire playing with firecrackers. During his junior year in high school, he recalls knocking out the leader of a gang of delinquents with a headbutt, after which the guy got 12 of his friends to come beat him up. Taue didn’t back down, and broke the leader’s collarbone.

Taue reached 1st dan in judo, but didn’t actually like fighting that much. Despite the suggestion of the advisor of his high school sumo club, he was very resistant to the idea of wearing a mawashi. However, when his dream of being a collegiate athlete was dashed by his lackluster academic performance and his poverty, Taue went into sumo. He did so to make his sumo-loving momma proud, after having been such a punk kid. He joined the Oshigawa stable, headed by Oshigawa Oyakata, whose training camps he had already attended during high school.

Long story short, he was promising, and had a considerable amount of natural athletic ability. However, it appears that he retired as a response to the abusive culture. Taue claims that Oshigawa would strike him with his shinai (wooden sword), hurting him to the point that he could not perform well, and then complain when he lost.

Taue was at a crossroads. He was already married, so he had to find work somewhere. He considered driving a truck until ragoku comedian Yasumichi Ai (now known by his stage name San'yūtei Enraku VI), a friend of Genichiro Tenryu’s from junior high, suggested that he enter professional wrestling.

As I covered before in this thread, Taue was initially signed through JPW. It was essentially a paper organization at this point, but it cushioned the appearance of the signing in the eyes of the sumo association, which was already tense with AJPW after the signings of Isao Takagi, John Tenta, and especially Hiroshi Wajima. (As I have earlier noted, this kind of political game wasn’t even new to AJPW. In the late 70s, Takashi Ishikawa originally worked as a freelancer after All Japan had recruited Tenryu and Tonga.)

Baba would later write that an old reporter was critical of Taue’s build and slowness, making an unflattering comparison to Umanosuke Ueda. However, Baba saw that he had better spring and flexibility than Ueda, and really believed in him as a potential late-blooming major talent. Of course, he was also attracted to Taue’s 190cm height.

What is the best part of pro wrestling? There are many wrestlers in the world who are as big as Choshu. The appeal of professional wrestling is that when big bodies collide and splash each other, the power of the collision attracts the audience. In short, professional wrestling is about doing things that ordinary people cannot do. In our case, it would be Tenta, Jumbo (Tsuruta), Tenryu and Yatsu. That kind of power has been the selling point of All Japan. New Japan probably doesn't have it.” [2]

The chapter basically ends with the formation of Kekkigun – Taue, Tiger Mask, Shunji Takano, Isao Takagi, Shinichi Nakano – the (ultimately short-lived) proto-Super Generation Army faction of young guys who sought to overtake Revolution.

---

From titles, it looks like Chapter 4 will be about Kobashi, and Chapter 5 will be about Tarzan Yamamoto’s reform proposal that saw him become a creative consultant to Baba in the wake of JPW’s return to NJPW.

Spoiler

[1] According to his Japanese Wikipedia page, Yamamoto was and is a huge film buff, particularly fond of and influenced by the Nouvelle Vague/French New Wave. With that context, I don’t think it’s too pretentious to read into the style of reportage he encouraged as his attempt to position himself as the wrestling equivalent of the Cahiers du Cinéma wing of that movement, the critic-filmmakers (Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette, etc.). Tarzan once stated that he considered himself a professional wrestler (which I guess explains photos like this).

[2] Baba makes another really interesting statement that I think is worth reproducing.

“In the end, that Japanese war [referring to AJPW vs JPW] was just for the benefit of the enthusiasts. Pro-wrestling is an entertainment for the general public. It's the entertainment of the common people. To put it in an extreme way, even if it's a Tsururyu duel, grandfathers and grandmothers will say "What Tsuruta?" or "What Tenryu?" and they won't care who wins. Do you understand? […] I'd like to return to a world where Japanese and foreigners face off in a sweaty, "I hate those foreigners" kind of way.”

A statement like this serves as a major contradiction of revisionist accounts of Baba which depict him as always having grudgingly gone along with the conventions of old-school ‘rasslin, as if he were waiting for the wrestling world to become ready for King’s Road. I’m sure that somebody like Ichise could plausibly overstate Yamamoto and Weekly Pro’s influence, but the more stuff like this I see, the more inclined I am to believe that Yamamoto really did convince Baba that Misawa had to go over Jumbo. I'm also reminded  of Stan Hansen, who stated in his autobiography that he had reservations about the elaborate direction that AJPW match layouts eventually went in, that he felt like they eventually became difficult for common audiences to understand.

 

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The Weekly Pro stories remind me of Pro Wrestling Illustrated photographers having to buy tickets to WWF shows in order to take pictures.

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This is absolutely incredible. I really hope and pray that you are able to finish this, but if you don't, I am grateful for whatever we are getting. All of these stories are incredible and now my mind is just imagining prime Kawada and Maeda stiffing the hell out of each other. 

Does the book get into the supposed Misawa-Kawada high school fight? IIRC Meltzer in his Misawa obit said that it happened while both were doing amateur wrestling, and that Kawada got the better of his senior 

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That wasn't mentioned. I remember him covering a fight between them (Hansen also recalls it in his autobio) but I thought it was during their pro careers.

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According to Dave's bio, Misawa and Kawada got into a fist fight backstage at some point after they both had become stars. Neither one went down and it eventually got broken up, but Misawa's face apparently was in worse shape.

Echoing everyone else's praise, this is incredible stuff. That Kawada soup anecdote is depressing as hell.

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I finished Chapters 4-5 yesterday, but a case of Swiss cheese brain induced by a sleepless night had me dragging my feet to write this. Then three-fourths of it were lost when Word got screwy, so I switched to a Google Doc to rewrite it. 

I likely won't get an update out during the first week of August. My folks are taking me to the beach for a few days for my 25
th, and as I haven’t been there in many years I plan to enjoy myself.

---

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Above: Kenta Kobashi, circa 1977.

Chapter Four follows Kenta Kobashi’s path to pro wrestling. He was born and raised in Fukuchiyama. Like Kawada, the then fifth-grader’s interest in wrestling started with the August 25, 1977 Jumbo Tsuruta/Mil Mascaras match, which he watched on television with his older brother. Both brothers dreamed of becoming wrestlers, as they would playfight over a makeshift NWA title they had constructed out of cans. The following year, when his parents divorced, he and his brother moved with their mother to a different school district. While he was considering basketball (as well as volleyball) because Tsuruta had claimed in an interview that playing it had made him taller, Kobashi wound up joining the junior high judo club instead at the suggestion of a classmate who was looking for recruits, under the logic that direct martial arts experience would probably serve him better when looking for employment in wrestling. At some point during his junior high tenure, Kobashi attended an NJPW show, and he claims that he was struck by Stan Hansen’s bullrope for what wouldn’t be the last time.

By this time AJPW had explicitly stated that they would only consider applicants with a high school education, so Kobashi had no qualms about entering. However, despite the offers of some private schools after he placed third in a judo competition, Kobashi entered the public school so as not to put financial strain on his mother, as his third-place performance would have only waived one-third of the tuition fee for the private institutions. To get into Fukuchiyama High School, though, he would have to place in the top 200 of the entrance exam, and on his first attempt he ranked a measly 658th. He took the advice of his homeroom teacher that “if you do not accumulate efforts day by day, you will not blossom”, and passed the bar on a subsequent attempt, though his eyesight deteriorated as a result.

Kobashi thought he might switch to basketball or volleyball, but the judo club advisor gave an enthusiastic invitation, which he accepted. Unlike Misawa and Kawada with amateur wrestling, his achievements in judo at the high school level were relatively unremarkable. In his senior year, he placed third in the qualifying round at nationals, having been outweighed by his opponent in the semifinals by fifty kilograms.

Upon  graduation, Kobashi chose financial independence over wrestling because, once again, he did not wish to burden his mother. He took a factory job at a Yokaichi plant of Kyoto-based manufacturing company Kyocera. He had wanted to work in the General Affairs department, which he imagined was the “heart and soul” of the factory; unfortunately, he was given the tough work of cleaning the machines used to make copier parts. He recalls the dust being what made the job most difficult.

Half a year into his new life, Kobashi found hope when he came across a newspaper article about Mike Tyson. Inspired by the young boxer’s success, Kobashi “wondered what his life’s purpose was”, and then realized it was wrestling.

Kobashi would continue to work for Kyocera through the end of 1986, transferring to a plant in Kagoshima. This was to pay off the debts he owed for earning his driver’s license and vehicle. Then, he told his mother about his plan to quit and apply to become a wrestler. She did not like the decision, but she knew that he couldn’t change his mind once it was made, so she relented. It would fall to Kobashi’s brother to give him the encouragement he’d probably been seeking. The elder Kobashi had laid his own dream to rest, but he told Kenta that he was rooting for him from the bottom of his heart.

Kobashi turned in his notice to Kyocera in 1987, and sent his resume to All Japan. Sadly, he was rejected. When Kobashi called the office, the person who picked up told him that he had no accomplishments. “Did you quit your job? Get a new job and work hard." He called again and again, but the answer never changed.

And yet, still there was hope. Kobashi happened to be a customer of a gym owned by bodybuilder Mitsuo Endo, who had contacts in the wrestling business due to, among other things, his tenure as a referee for the International Wrestling Enterprise. He told Endo that, although he had already been rejected once, he really wanted to see if Endo could get his foot in the door of All Japan specifically. Kobashi would be willing to apply to New Japan if it didn’t work out, but he liked All Japan better. As he put it, while he admired Inoki’s strength, he “liked” Baba for his dignity and composure. In retrospect, Kobashi wonders aloud if he’d always looked to Baba as a father figure in a parasocial sense, before the two had ever met.

Endo got his foot in the door. On May 26, 1987, All Japan held a show at the Shiga Prefectural Gymnasium in Otsu, and Kobashi was informed that an interview would be conducted there. When he arrived, the interviewer was revealed to be Baba himself. Kobashi expected the interview to go ahead, but before he could even talk to Baba, he was told by Shohei that he would be called when the tour was finished, but that he should say hello to everyone in the meantime, and move to Tokyo. Just like that, Kobashi was admitted.

And yet, it seemed that Baba didn’t really care whether Kobashi was there or not. After the tour’s end, Kobashi was not in fact given a call, so he got fed up and called the office. Whoever picked up said “oh yeah, Baba-san told me about you. So why don’t you come?”

In June, Kobashi moved to Tokyo, and then went to the AJPW office in Roppongi. As he entered, he was approached by reporters from Weekly Gong and Daily Sports (including future Jumbo biography author Kagehiro Osano), who requested that he take off his shirt and pose for photographs taken by a fellow reporter in the office. Kobashi was initially amazed that even a trainee would be given such attention by the press, but alas, this was a case of mistaken identity. Osano had mistaken Kobashi for Tamakirin: that is, Akira Taue. (In a 2020 interview translated by NOAH superfan Hisame, Kobashi recalls that he later asked if he could at least get one of the photographs that had been taken due to the misunderstanding, but they had long since been disposed of.) This incident and Baba’s apparent antipathy towards Kobashi are reflective of the regard, or lack thereof, in which he was held early on. 

Ichise’s first memories of Kobashi date from the second half of the year where, as was customary for trainees, he would accompany wrestlers to the ring and then remain at ringside to spectate. He was just another new trainee as far as the reporter was concerned, but still the author recalls being struck by the intensity with which he observed the ring. However, near the end of the year, Kobashi would disappear from Ichise’s view.

On November 28, 1987, South African Airways Flight 295 was en route from Taipei to Johannesburg when it broke apart over the Indian Ocean, killing all 159 people on board. Two of these people were newlyweds Kazuharu & Mayumi Sonoda. Alongside Masanobu Fuchi and Atsushi Onita, Kazuharu was one of the “three crows” which had been the AJPW dojo’s first full products (as in, they didn’t go to Amarillo) in the seventies. He is perhaps best known to readers for his 1981-1985 stint as Magic Dragon, a sister gimmick to the Great Kabuki which spread to All Japan, but which was stripped from Sonoda in a mask vs hair match, as a sacrificial lamb to put over the “Mask Hunter”, Kuniaki Kobayashi, in his feud against Tiger Mask II. Sonoda had remained as an upper midcarder with occasional appearances on television (usually eating tag pinfalls), and was the head trainer of the dojo behind the scenes. He and Mayumi were on the plane at Baba’s suggestion, set to spend a honeymoon in South Africa as Sonoda did some work on shows promoted by Tiger Jeet Singh.

As the Japanese press pursued Baba for comment, the Great Kabuki (who would later recall that he had declined the invitation to work in South Africa, which led to Sonoda taking the flight) decided that his valet Isao Takagi needed to be replaced for poor performance. Without consulting Baba, he asked Kobashi if he was already serving this function for another, then assigned him to Baba. When Baba returned to the hotel, Kobashi told him he was to be his new valet. The uninformed and grief-stricken Baba angrily rejected Kobashi, telling him to “go back to Fukuchiyama”, under the impression that Takagi had used the trainee so he could skimp on his duties; Kobashi felt that he could not reveal Kabuki’s involvement, because it would sound like he was telling on him.

The two would not speak for the next two months, but Kobashi continued to perform as Baba’s valet in silence. He was also saddled with the laundry of senior wrestlers, and since coin-operated laundries were not as common back then, Kenta often had to wash their clothes by hand. Kobashi and Ichise both believe that Baba’s treatment was a test of the young man’s fortitude; the man himself compares it to that stock scene in Japanese period drama wherein a samurai patiently sits before a gate, waiting to be allowed inside. Kobashi would make his unofficial debut in the meantime, though. On December 16, five days after the Real World Tag League final, a memorial ceremony for Sonoda was held at Korakuen Hall. [1] During this event, three matches were booked, ending with a ten-man battle royal. Here, Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi made their first public appearances between the ropes.

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On February 26 in Ritto, Kobashi made his proper debut. In the second match on the card, he wrestled Motoshi Okuma, who had dominated the All Asia tag title division in the late Seventies alongside the Great Kojika, but after television appearances as a jobber to the stars in the mid-80s had wound down into an undercard role. Kobashi was pinned in 4:48 after a diving headbutt, but as he went backstage, Baba told him that a surprise was waiting for him at the hotel, and finally invited him to dinner, from which he had been snubbed as a trainee. As Kobashi recalls, all of the hardship and distress he had weathered was washed away in an instant. From this day forward, Baba would demand that Kobashi always be an ebisco, a term for “glutton” used in sumo. 

Kobashi would not get to work the first Budokan show after his debut, which was the second card of the Champion Carnival tour. AJPW had an odd-numbered roster at that point, and he and Kikuchi alternated opening matches against Mitsuo Momota in the first five dates of the tour. Not long after this, however, Kobashi would become an “indispensible part” of the company.

One of Weekly Pro’s recurring features at the time was a page titled Chūmoku! Kono ichiban (“Attention! This first”), in which ringside reporters spotlighted young talent in undercard matches. Ichise had been assigned to the All Japan beat since the ban of 1986, but Chūmoku! Kono ichiban had remained “a remote page” to the journalist, who recalled being frustrated by how the promotion’s bland undercards made him feel that he was being denied the right to do his job. Not since the era of 1982-3, which had seen the likes of Mitsuharu Misawa, Shiro Koshinaka, and Tarzan Goto blossom under the guidance of Akio Sato, had All Japan displayed any of the underneath vitality which made NJPW and the UWF so stimulating. When Ichise had been covering the company, even the “new” guys weren’t really new, but ex-sumo guys; John Tenta was almost 24 when he debuted, and Takagi and Taue were both two years his senior.

But then, on April 9, Ichise was in attendance for the thirteenth show of the Carnival tour in Kumamoto. In the third match on the card, for the first of many times (not counting the Sonoda memorial battle royal, in which both had worked), Kobashi would wrestle Toshiaki Kawada, who at that time was exactly one month deep into his first All Asia tag title reign as one-half of Footloose. Kobashi would lose to a lariat in 7:46, but his performance finally put Ichise on the page which had long eluded him. On the April 26 issue of Weekly Pro, the entire Chūmoku! page was devoted to this match. Ichise’s recollection of how Kobashi was so refreshing for the company, whether or not he was earmarked to reach the top, does much to contextualize his 1989 Newcomer of the Year award from Tokyo Sports; yes, these are mark awards, but this still feels reflective of how wrestling journalists were endeared to him. 

One year later, Kobashi received his first title shot. At Korakuen Hall on March 27, 1989, he challenged Footloose for their All Asia tag titles with none other than Baba as his partner. Footage has sadly not surfaced, as this show did not receive a television taping, but the result I found was that Kawada pinned Kobashi with a dragon suplex in 18:07. Ichise calls this match, alongside Baba & Rusher Kimura’s February 25 shot at the Olympians’ AJPW World Tag Team titles, the birth of the “New Baba”.

We transition into Chapter Five, which gives us some insights into the AJPW reform plan developed with the collaboration of Weekly Pro editor Tarzan Yamamoto.

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Above: The “dokusen poster”, released in January 1989, is emblematic of the image strategy which ushered in this new era of All Japan Pro Wrestling. In the top half, Baba smiles with a cigar in hand, with text on his right that roughly translates to: “Since everyone else is getting into martial arts, I’m going to monopolize pro wrestling.” Red text to Baba’s left reads “happy new year”. On the bottom half, the two-character word dokusen (“monopoly”) is written in giant boldface.

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Tarzan Yamamoto was assigned editor-in-chief of Weekly Pro Wrestling after Hideo Sugiyama’s transfer to sister publication Martial Arts News. The AJPW ban had been lifted for five months, and with the return of much of Japan Pro Wrestling to NJPW, Yamamoto felt a dangerous imbalance of power in the wrestling world. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get an interview with Choshu anyway, Yamamoto approached Baba for one, which was granted. In the April 27 issue of Weekly Pro, Baba spoke honestly about his feelings in the wake of Choshu and company’s U-turn back home.

“Two years ago, when Choshu and his friends wanted to come to All-Japan, I accepted. When I accepted them, I cleared up all the problems and made sure that they would not complain. So I told them to do the same. I'm not trying to take their lives. There's nothing in the contract about taking lives.”

All Japan was resuscitated by the start of the Tenryu Revolution that June, with former tag partners Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu now embroiled in a feud. But there were still deeper problems beneath. The first Jumbo/Tenryu singles match of the feud had drawn well, bringing 12,100 to the Nippon Budokan. However, despite the October rematch in the same venue having an announced attendance only 300 below, fans in the second floor could be seen lying down across multiple seats as if on a couch. When the first Triple Crown unification match was booked six months later, between Tenryu and Bruiser Brody, old tendencies won out and the match ended in a double countout at thirty minutes. Ichise was at ringside, and “was just frustrated”.

It was now mid-1988. At what I am guessing was a press conference after the end of the Super Power Series tour, Baba displayed the major matches of the following tour for reporters, before offhandedly asking that they let him know if they had any good ideas. Most did not respond, but Tarzan, who recognized that the company still had major problems, could be heard saying “alright”.

This wasn’t the first time that Baba had asked for ideas. Four years earlier, around the same time of year, he was drinking tea with Gong editor-in-chief Kosuke Takeuchi and NJPW president/future JPW head Naoki Otsuka at the Capitol Tokyu Hotel in Akasaka. When Baba spoke of his desire to somehow sign Satoru Sayama to get Tiger Mask, Takeuchi was the one who pointed out to him that his best bet was to get Ikki Kajiwara’s blessing to just make a new Tiger Mask. [2] 

Once again, Baba would have a meeting at the Capitol Tokyu Hotel. Yamamoto was accompanied by illustrator colleagues Shiro Sarashina and Haruo Matsumoto. Over six hours, the four men analyzed the current state of AJPW and brainstormed how to change the promotion’s image. Sarashina made an unflattering comparison of the company to the baseball team the Lotte Orions, whose spectators in Kawasaki Stadium often entertained themselves by playing catch and mahjong. Nobody was throwing balls in Budokan at least, but the sluggish attendance and atmosphere made it a fair comparison.

The “dokusen poster” at the head of this section is representative of the fruit of this meeting. All Japan would not be seduced by martial arts, be that the shoot-style of the now-Newborn UWF or NJPW’s contemporaneous work with Soviet amateur wrestlers. However, the pro wrestling that Baba sought to monopolize was itself different. It was to be a “bright” wrestling whose fundamental sportsmanship did away with the opacity of so much of Showa puroresu. In July issues of Weekly Pro, Baba espoused his ideals of sportsmanship, and stated a belief that the “restoration of trust in professional wrestling” was the only way to earn the support of the modern fan. 

Ichise does not try to suggest that Yamamoto had any direct influence on what would later be called oudou/”King’s Road” (in fact, Ichise hasn’t used that term yet, so I hope that he will get to its origin later in the book). However, he also admits that any speculation on his part that Baba had always had reservations about being a star in an era of wrestling that was far from his idea of sport is just that. 

However, there was one point before 1988 where Baba had clearly expressed his sensibilities. On March 13, 1986, Jumbo Tsuruta wrestled Animal Hamaguchi as part of a one-night best-of-5 series between AJPW and JPW wrestlers. Baba was moved by the grace with which Hamaguchi accepted his defeat, and commented to the press that he wanted all of the others to learn from him. This would not stick, however, and even the third Jumbo/Tenryu match of October 1988 paid such ideals no mind with its DQ finish.

Spoiler

[1] NJPW would also hold a memorial service for Sonoda, at the start of a June 1988 show in Sonoda’s hometown of Kobayashi.

[2] A photograph I have of Ikki Kajiwara at Jumbo Tsuruta’s wedding, which would have taken place shortly after this, makes more sense now.

 

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Fantastic stuff as usual. It sure seems like a lot of Japanese wrestlers came from broken homes. A minor correction: the baseball team was called the Lotte Orions, not Rotterdam.

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On 4/6/2021 at 3:30 PM, ohtani's jacket said:

Sakaguchi was the president of New Japan at the time. He has a sterling reputation as New Japan president. He basically cleaned up the financial mess the company was in. He learned bookkeeping, mortgaged his own house, gained the trust of financial institutions, and began paying off the debt that occurred under Inoki. He also had a strong relationship with TV Asahi. So strong, in fact, that they didn't reduce New Japan's broadcast spot until after Sakaguchi retired as president. 

 

On 4/15/2021 at 1:30 AM, KinchStalker said:

The bio says he returned to the States in summer 1985. He was already married to Betty Niccoli I believe, and I seem to recall reading some claim that he did a bit of booking in Memphis or somewhere around this time. Vince hired him, as earlier written, to spearhead his vague plans for Japanese expansion.

 

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Sorry for the slowness. I transcribed over 60 pages this time, deciding to bundle Chapters 6-7 together after the first wasn’t as meaty as I wanted it to be. Personal engagements, existential dread in the wake of my 25th birthday, and the malfunction of my laptop keyboard also contributed to delays. Broadly, these chapters are about the struggle of the younger generation to break through in All Japan in the late 80s. They both essentially cover the same stretch of time from different angles, so I’m not going to bother with splitting them up in my recap. (There's a little bit of stuff it covers later in the timeline, which I skipped for the next post in order to keep things cohesive; I wanted to keep this post strictly 80s.)

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This stretch of the book starts with Misawa’s frustrating transition to the heavyweight division. His seven-match Trial Series was set to begin in July 1986 with a match against Ric Flair, but Flair’s bookings were cancelled and Yoshiaki Yatsu, who had ranked seventh in the fan poll (one spot below Flair), was put in his place. Then, his second match in the series was booked to be against Ashura Hara, but Hara couldn’t reach the venue in a snowstorm and gaijin-of-the-tour Frank Lancaster was subbed in his place. By his August 1987 victory over Ted DiBiase Misawa was 3-3, but as contemporaneous Weekly Pro coverage put it, “DiBiase was suffering from WWF Syndrome […] and lost the match without a care in the world”. The final match of the Series, against Jumbo Tsuruta, ended up being delayed for the better part of a year due to the Tenryu Revolution, and in the meantime, Tiger Mask II lost his spot as Jumbo’s tag partner to Yoshiaki Yatsu. The Olympians would win their only RWTL as a unit in 1987, while TM teamed with Yatsu’s old JPW partner Shinichi Nakano in a mediocre 3-7-1 performance.

On March 5, 1987, four days before the final Trial Series match, TM attacked Tsuruta after his singles match against Jerry Oates. His comments to the press in the waiting room denied that he was splitting from Tsuruta outright, and the author notes that this outburst was something that the future Mitsuharu Misawa would never have done. TM got his match against Jumbo, and it was a good one, but he lost in 14:38. Tsuruta commented afterward that “Tiger can do anything; he just needs to perfect his rhythm.”

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Above: Kekkigun (“Rising Army”) was a short-lived faction of midcarder talent led by then-masked Mitsuharu Misawa, an oft-forgotten predecessor to Chosedaigun (“Super Generation Army”). (Left to right: Shinichi Nakano, Akira Taue, Tiger Mask II (Mitsuharu Misawa), Shunji Takano, Isao Takagi).

That June, Tiger Mask II formed Kekkigun (“Rising Army”), a five-man faction of native midcard talent which sought to prove their mettle to Tenryu’s Revolution. Isao Takagi and Akira Taue were then, alongside John Tenta, the latest young ex-sumo talent that All Japan had recruited. Shinichi Nakano was the faction’s lone junior heavyweight, and had been among the few JPW personnel to remain with All Japan in the wake of Choshu’s u-turn back to New Japan. [1] Finally, Shunji Takano had been among the Calgary Hurricanes who controversially transferred to AJPW in 1986, and was the only one to stick with the company beyond his obligations. At 200cm, he was the tallest native talent in the company barring Baba, and while I’ve never been a huge fan of his work, if framed in his proper context it is understandable why he was considered a top prospect.

Kekkigun was a frustrating enterprise, which you might have been able to infer since, while its spiritual successor Chosedaigun (“Super Generation Army”) is common knowledge to Western puro fans, I am willing to bet money that you hadn’t heard of Kekkigun by name until this thread.

The faction unofficially debuted on June 7, 1988, in an six-man tag between Tiger Mask/Nakano/Takano and Tenryu/Hara/Kawada. Cagematch doesn’t even have the complete card for this show! Their televised debut came two days later in Kiryu, a six-man with Takagi in Takano’s place which Tenryu won with a cobra twist to Takagi.

Their first match under the Kekkigun banner was at the start of the following tour, with Tiger Mask teaming up with Taue against Tenryu & Hara in Korakuen on July 2. Taue lost to a Tenryu sleeper hold, after which Tenryu coldly berated him: “You don’t know anything, and you don’t show any technique.” In contrast, Tenryu would praise Takagi for his progress made two weeks later.

On August 20 in Korakuen, the next tour began. Kekkigun, this time in the configuration of TM & Takano, wrestled Tenryu & Hara. Before the match (timestamped), Hara took the mic to provoke Shunji: “Hey, Takano. You’re a big guy, so don’t be a pussy.” Takano would job to the Tenryu powerbomb in 14:21, after which he prostrated in the ring with tears of frustration. Five days later, in Yoshikawa, another tag was booked with Taue in Takano’s place, which ended in the bloodied ex-sumo eating Hara’s Hitman Lariat for the pinfall. Taue showed some progress, but it wasn’t enough.

On September 1, during a show in Kurayoshi, Tiger Mask injured his left knee on a diving plancha in a tag match alongside Nakano against Johnny Ace & Tom Zenk. He was sidelined for the next three shows, returning to duty on the 7th. His ACL tear seven months later was well-known, but this knee injury continued to affect Tiger Mask afterward; “every time he fought, his knee would give out”, forcing him to put it back into place. Kekkigun arguably never recovered. TM was the only component that made the faction even register as adversaries of Tenryu. For his part, Tenryu commented in a backstage interview on September 6 that the four men needed to realize that Tiger was holding them back.

Three days later, the faction achieved its greatest kayfabe success when Takano & Nakano defeated Footloose in Korakuen to win the All Asia Tag Team titles. Meanwhile, Tiger Mask would be involved in a postmatch angle after the main event. Abdullah the Butcher was disqualified in his NWA International Heavyweight title match against Jumbo Tsuruta, and TM and Jimmy Snuka followed one another to stop Abby’s assault. TM and Snuka would team up after this, and it was clear in a matter of days that they were intended to enter the 1988 RWTL as a unit. Add this to Takano & Nakano’s loss of the titles back to Footloose in Korakuen on September 15, and Kekkigun’s future was in limbo.

Yet another humiliation came on October 28. In what would be his final match for AJPW, Ashura Hara faced Taue in a singles match at the end of the Giant Series tour. As Weekly Pro reported, Hara took sixteen strikes from Taue before downing the ex-sumo with only three. Hara’s dismissal from All Japan on Nov. 19 was another blow to Kekkigun’s prospects, as they had a better chance of bringing him down than Tenryu.

As you all know, Hara’s dismissal led to Kawada’s appointment as Tenryu’s partner in the 1988 RWTL. In his 1995 autobiography, he stated that he didn’t know why Baba had selected him over Fuyuki despite Fuyuki’s seniority, only speculating that his greater mass than his partner at that point had influenced the decision. It had only been as a part of Revolution that Kawada had truly found a place for himself in AJPW, and his performance in the tournament was a revelation. He admitted that in the first half, he was fighting “against Hara’s shadow”, but after a December 4 tournament match against the team of Giant Baba & Rusher Kimura, in which Baba took Kawada’s offense “with his chest out”, he apparently experienced a breakthrough. On December 10, two days after his 25th birthday, Kawada faced the Olympians alongside Tenryu, and secured an upset victory with an outside dive to Jumbo and some ankle-grabbing to ensure Tenryu and only Tenryu got back into the ring before the countout.

Compared to the mediocre showings put forth by the Kekkigun-adjacent teams of Tiger Mask & Jimmy Snuka, and Shinichi Nakano & John Tenta, Kawada’s work during the RWTL, culminating in one of the most acclaimed final matches in tournament history, was a shining beacon towards the company’s future. His left knee, already hurt during the tour, was exploited by Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy, and Tenryu was isolated to fall to the Western Lariat. Nevertheless, Tenryu was deeply proud of Kawada’s performance, as he expressed to reporters afterwards: “Now we just have to win.”

At the awards ceremony afterwards, where Tenryu & Kawada won the Fighting Spirit Award, the crowd roared its approval. Tiger Mask & Snuka, meanwhile, made do with the Technical Award after a disappointing 3-6-1 performance.

On December 27, Hiroshi Wajima and Takashi Ishikawa announced their retirements from professional wrestling; Ishikawa would return to the business in the wake of SWS’s launch, but Wajima stuck to his.

Then, on January 7, 1989, the Emperor died after months of poor health. The Showa period was over, and the cultural significance of this could not help but reverberate in puroresu. Showa puroresu, as it has come to be called, was over. Around this time, AJPW got the ball rolling with the marketing campaign I covered in my previous recap. It’s worth noting here that oudou (“King’s Road/Royal Road”) was not being used as a marketing term at this point. Instead, the nomenclature used to describe All Japan’s new direction was akaruku, tanoshiku, hageshī puroresu – “bright, fun, and intense pro wrestling”. I explained the metaphor of “brightness” in my previous recap, used to express the clean booking approach in contrast to the opacity of Showa puroresu.

Kekkigun’s prognosis wasn’t good, clearly being already seen as a relic of Showa puroresu. When the author went to interview Tenryu in Los Angeles that February, en route to his brief alliance with the Road Warriors, the topic of the faction didn’t even come up.

On February 25 in Korakuen, Takano got a singles match against Tenryu. He lost, but he showed an uncharacteristic aggression, most notably manifesting in a piledriver spot on a table, that garnered praise. He continued to show promise in a six-man tag at Budokan on March 8, in which he wrestled alongside the Olympians against Tenryu & the Road Warriors. A March 27 Korakuen show saw Taue get his own singles match, and though he didn’t perform nearly as well there was still some small improvement. But by then, of course, Kekkigun was dead in spirit if not in name.

On the March 8 Budokan show, Tiger Mask II received the final NWA World Heavyweight title match in AJPW history, against Ricky Steamboat. It wasn’t a great match, and the writing was on the wall even then about AJPW’s future collaborating with the NWA. That November, when Baba was asked during a university lecture why he had not booked Tsuruta or Tenryu to wrestle Steamboat for the belt, he claimed that the NWA had limited the number of challengers and vetoed the two. Of course, the more pertinent issue was the ACL tear that TM suffered during the match. He would spend the rest of the year on the shelf, as he decided in April to get knee surgery.

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Above: Mitsuharu Misawa recovers from knee surgery with his wife, Mayumi, and his daughter, Kaede.

On June 5 at Budokan, Takano wrestled a singles match against Yatsu. He professed that “since Tiger Mask isn’t coming back, this match is very important [to Kekkigun]!” Alas, in 9:35 he took the pinfall to a Yatsu backdrop, having shown none of the fire he’d given Tenryu three months before. On June 7, at a press conference after the conclusion of the tour, Baba announced that Kekkigun was dissolved: “It’s rare that a year goes by and no progress has been made.”

There was now another plan to display the youthful side of All Japan. But let’s get up to speed on Kobashi first.

There had been speculation in 1988 that Kobashi would join Kekkigun, but despite how special Kobashi was considered by all as a symbol of a bright tomorrow, the hierarchical leap was just too great to make at that point. Kobashi dreamed of an American excursion, and repeatedly expressed his desire to Baba.

As mentioned in the previous recap, Kobashi got a shot at Footloose’s All Asia tag titles in March, teaming with none other than Baba. That month, Tatsumi Kitahara began an excursion to Calgary, having been personally requested by the Dynamite Kid. While Baba had told Kobashi before that he would send him to Dory Funk Jr., Baba’s bridge with the NWA was burned just as Kobashi would have crossed it. He told Kobashi that “the time of America is over,” and that he would raise him. “Don’t talk about America anymore! Don’t say America anymore!” On May 16, at a show held in a parking lot, Kobashi got his first singles win against gaijin Mitch Snow.

The Asunaro Cup (often translated as “Tomorrow League” in Western accounts) was the idea of Tarzan Yamamoto, who also came up with its name. Essentially, it was a successor to the Lou Thesz Cup of 1983, a midcard round-robin tournament between six younger talent. Three ex-Kekkigun members – Takano, Takagi, and Taue – and both members of Footloose were joined by a sixth man: Kobashi, who would make his first televised appearances through this tournament.

In a July interview with Tenryu, the newly crowned Triple Crown Heavyweight champion opined that it had been best to disband Kekkigun, since he felt they played things too safe, and were “kind of like a friend’s club.” [2] He suggested that the other five men in the tournament “think about why Kobashi is in the league, [and] take a hard look at themselves.”

The tournament began on July 1, the first date of the Summer Action Series. On the 8th, after winning his first tournament match against Fuyuki, Takagi was sidelined with a knee injury; he would not return until the RWTL tour. This gave everyone except Fuyuki a two-point freebie. On July 11, Kobashi would manage to wrestle Fuyuki to a time-limit draw (which G+ recently unearthed from the NTV archives), and on July 22, he got a countout victory against Takano, his first against a native wrestler. Kobashi wound up with five points, just one shy of the three-way tie between Kawada, Takano, and Fuyuki which would be handled in a three-match decision league.

On July 25, Kawada won the Cup with a moonsault to Takano. The original plan was to give the winner a shot at the Triple Crown title (as would consistently be reported afterwards in the Observer), but Tenryu actually shot this down, and Kawada’s singles match against his faction leader would just be an untelevised (but fancammed, and really good) Korakuen match in October.

 1983782661_kobashiwpwcover8-1-89.jpg.96aae4c8f0a1f0a6804906dc917c9253.jpg

Above: Kenta Kobashi takes the fall in his first televised main event, but he gets his first Weekly Pro cover photo in the process. Of the future Pillars, only Misawa had been a cover story to this point, and that was as Tiger Mask II.

Elsewhere on this tour, Kobashi would wrestle his first televised main event, teaming with Jumbo against Tenryu & Hansen on July 15 in Korakuen. Before the match, Tenryu, the champion of the company, boasted that he would finish the match in ten minutes. It took him twenty. Ten days later, Baba remarked that “he had high hopes for [the finalists in the Asunaro Cup], […] but Kobashi is working the hardest”.

Chapter 7 winds down with more insights behind the scenes. This is where Ichise discloses that, beginning in the second half of 1988, he began to be included in what were essentially creative meetings with Baba. As a representative of the AJPW fanbase, when Yamamoto had suggested the idea that became the Asunaro Cup, Ichise recalled to Baba how, as a schoolboy, he would plan his own round-robin tournaments in his notebook during boring classes.

From here on out, Ichise would write event cards with the advice of ring announcer Ryu Nakata to propose to Baba. Yamamoto envisioned a “macro-strategy” in which the company was determined to sell out Korakuen Hall and “develop a myth”. Ichise, meanwhile, would focus on the provincial tours; while reporting at ringside, he would talk with Nakata about his ideas and opinions while listening to the customers around them.

The “Korakuen myth” found its starting point in the January 25, 1989 match between the British Bulldogs and the Malenkos. While the four wrestlers did not have the size that Baba preferred in his wrestlers, and thus could not provide the “clash of big bodies” which Baba felt was the “true joy of wrestling”, Baba’s reluctant approval of the match was vindicated when it tore the house down. Subsequent Korakuen matches would develop the promotion's reputation for quality shows at the venue, such as beloved career undercarder Mitsuo Momota’s shots at the junior title, the aforementioned Baba/Kobashi vs. Footloose and Baba/Kimura vs. Olympians tag title matches, the Kawada/Kobashi opening match of the Asunaro Cup, and the July 15 Jumbo/Kobashi vs. Tenryu/Hansen main event.

However, it appears that Ichise fucked up or suffered miscommunication pertaining to the date of the Asunaro Cup final. There is no coverage of the moment when Kawada won the tournament, because Ichise had falsely assumed that the tournament would end on July 28. He claims he would have flown to the show with a camera himself, but this was not possible because Ichise was obligated to cover whether Antonio Inoki would win a seat in the impending House of Councilors election results. He recalls being chewed out by Yamamoto for his screwup, and refers to the Asunaro Cup as a bitter memory because of it.

Spoiler

[1] When Nakano had accidentally hit Jumbo Tsuruta in the face with a missile dropkick in the April 1987 Tsuruta/Tenryu vs. Yatsu/Nakano tag match, which was the last match of note that the former team ever wrestled together, Jumbo responded with a then-shocking burst of violence that, in retrospect, was a clear antecedent of the dynamic he would establish with Tsuyoshi Kikuchi in the Super Generation Army/Tsurutagun faction wars of the early 90s. A 2021 article on the match went so far as to call Nakano “the man who made Tsuruta […] become a monster”, referring to the “monster” (kaibutsu) nickname associated with Tsuruta’s last stretch of significant work. (The pedant in me must note that this wasn’t really the start of the kaibutsu nickname. As I covered earlier in this thread, Choshu called him such in press comments after their 1985 one-hour draw, referring to his inhuman stamina.)

[2] This is unrelated, but I cannot keep this to myself. During this interview, the manner in which Tenryu chose to speak of Jumbo after beating him for the gold was this “exquisite parable”: “Jumbo is a loofah floating in the bath; I’ll squeeze him tightly because he’s a squishy bastard.”

 

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