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JerryvonKramer

Disentangling the Triple Crown (AJPW, 1973-1989)

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If you're anything like me, the AJPW single title scene prior to the Triple Crown is kind of a blur and I've been trying to get it clear in my head. Here's a little table I made to help see who held which title when at a glance.

 

triple.thumb.png.057c044841c87f917787e69cba7f7122.png

 

Now some notes:

 

The International Title prior to 1981 wasn't actually in the company but was largely defended in South Korea by Ohki. This belt had tremendous prestige because it was the title for which Rikidōzan had defeated Lou Thesz in 1958. So the story goes, the NWA International Title was used by Thesz as an excuse to go skiing in Europe. He'd drop the NWA title before leaving, then defend the International title to pay for his vacation and then pick up the World title in a return match when he got back to the USA. When the NWA ordered Ohki to give the title back to AJPW, Dory won it in a tournament in which he faced Terry in the final (I believe this is their long 1981 match). From there, it gradually became the top title and by the time Jumbo won it in 1983 this was the number 1 belt.

 

The PWF title was created after Baba won a series of 10 matches. It was the number 1 title for the 1970 and as you can see remained Baba's belt for most of the decade all the way until 1985. I am a little unclear about the status and prestige of the belt from 1985 to 1989 when it was chiefly held by Hansen with spells by Choshu and Tenryu. 

 

The UN title was very clearly the number 2 title, similar to the WWF IC belt or the US title in WCW. Jumbo just vacated the title in 1984 to focus on defending the International belt and DiBiase won it in a tournament defeating Tenryu in the final. The status of this title from 1985 onwards, during the period in which it was chiefly held by Tenryu is unclear to me. It's obviously the number 3 belt by this point, but was it a number 3 belt more like the TV title in JCP / WCW (i.e. a competitive and somewhat respected belt) or more like the European belt when it was established in WWF (i.e. a "nothing" belt)?

 

Looking at the way cards were booked after 1985, Jumbo has relatively few title defences every year. In 1987, for example, he has almost exclusively tag matches for the whole year defending the belt only four times the whole year. Incidentally those title defences were:

4/2/87: Tommy Rich

4/24/87: Yatsu

7/22/87: Hansen

9/12/87: Bockwinkel

This was massively reduced from the number of defences Dory had in 1981, where he seemed to treat it more like the NWA World title and took it to the USA for stints also. By 1985 we are down to just three defences in the year.

 

PWF title meanwhile was defended 7 times in 1987. Choshu had one defence against Curt Hennig before leaving for New Japan, then Hansen won a tournament defeating Wajima in the final. Defences against: Yatsu, Tenryu, Wajima. Incidentally, Baba did not defend this belt much in certain years. For example in 1980 and 1984 he defended it only 3 times. There does not seem to be more than 7 title defences in any given year. 

 

The UN title, incidentally, was defended only twice by Tenryu that year vs. Hansen and Yatsu. This is massively down from the 8-10 times a year Jumbo would defend this belt against all comers in the early 1980s. By 1985, Tenryu is already down to just the 2-3 defences a year.

 

So each of the belts that formed the triple crown were not defended that regularly. AJPW focused heavily on tag wrestling and tournaments, so the title matches are few and far between. Still interesting to think about the relative prestige of the titles at any particular time.

triple.png

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It was always my understanding that Baba created the PWF and its title to be the #1 "homegrown" sanctioning body like how New Japan had the IWGP. 

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Two other interesting things that are probably here nor there.  The UN title I had heard was created for Inoki back in the JWA days as part of a way to convince him to stay and then was given to Sakiguchi.  Interestingly Kabuki was the last champion before it was deactivated.  So it seems like Baba revived the the title for the same purpose.  That being said the title started in the LA territory so I'm not sure if this intentionally created for the JWA or just was a happy accident.

Also what's interesting with Dory is that the primary title in Amarillo was also a version of the international title.  Unfortunately it doesn't look like they match up.  It is weird though to see Dory with it in US as it randomly shows up in FL and Continental.

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The International Title prior to 1981 wasn't actually in the company but was largely defended in South Korea by Ohki. This belt had tremendous prestige because it was the title for which Rikidōzan had defeated Lou Thesz in 1958. So the story goes, the NWA International Title was used by Thesz as an excuse to go skiing in Europe. He'd drop the NWA title before leaving, then defend the International title to pay for his vacation and then pick up the World title in a return match when he got back to the USA. When the NWA ordered Ohki to give the title back to AJPW, Dory won it in a tournament in which he faced Terry in the final (I believe this is their long 1981 match). From there, it gradually became the top title and by the time Jumbo won it in 1983 this was the number 1 belt.

Some additional background:

 

The Jumbo bio thread covered the belt getting put in the meat locker when Rikodozan died, then being brought out for Baba while in JWA for his long dynastic runs.  Baba left JWA without jobbing the title.  It eventually went to Ohki in JWA, then JWA died and Ohki took the claim with him to South Korea.

Ohki worked in All Japan starting in 1973 and was there through the last series of the year.  The Int'l title wasn't defended, and he didn't work any singles matches with Baba. Ohki last worked for All Japan in this stretch in December 1973, and AJPW's relationship with the NWA was firmed up when Brisco came over to defend the NWA Title several times in January 1974.

Ohki jumped to New Japan in 1974 to do a high profile job for Inoki.  The Int'l title wasn't a part of it, instead it was for Inoki's NWF Title with Ohki doing a clean job.

10/10/74 NWF: Inoki pin Ohki

Ohki got a trip to Seoul from Inoki the following year, with this:

03/27/75 Int'l: Ohki dcor Inoki (Seoul)

It's listed in cagematch.net as an NWF title match, but Hisa and my old records have it as an Int'l title match.

Ohki worked the 1975 NJPW World League after that, gets a quick COR win of Inoki on opening night (and TV), eats a pinfall loss to Strong Kobayshi, and goes to a DCOR with Sak in the semis to avoid either of them facing Inoki in the Final.

That was interestingly it for him in New Japan.

He turns up in All Japan on 10/30/75 on the series finale at Kuramae Kokugikan to do a short pinfall job to Baba.  No titles involved.  He comes for the Open League in December, barely appears without much of a showing.  He's back for the 1976 Carnival, is largely protected like a DCOR with Baba, but also eats enough COR, DCOR and draws that he's not a factor.

On his next series, he finally gets to defend his title in Japan for the first time since JWA... and it's not the Int'l Title but his old All Asia title:

09/24/76 All Asia: Ohki draw Waldo Von Erich (title held up)
10/21/76 All Asia: Ohki 2-1 Waldo Von Erich (∆ Ohki regains title)

A week later, Ohki & Kim Duk would lift the Int'l Tag Titles from Baba & Jumbo and drop them back two weeks later.

1977 is similar for a while.  Same protection in the Carvival, including a DCOR with Baba and the avoidance of making it to the Final.

Finally... finally... he gets a chance to defend his title against a Japanese wrestler in All Japan, as part of the famous Jumbo Test Series.  Wait... by this point, you can guess this:

07/28/77 UN vs All Asia: Jumbo dcor Ohki

Next series he gets Baba twice in title vs title matches, and again it's not the Int'l Title:

10/05/77 PWF vs All Asia: Baba dcor Ohki
10/29/77 PWF vs All Asia: Baba pin Ohki (∆)

That's the end of Ohki's All Asia claim.

Ohki & Duk get a second, longer run with the Int'l Tag Titles winning them a little over a week later in Seoul, one suspects as the payback for the All Asia job to Baba.  They job to Baba & Jumbo on the final night of the Open League right before the famous Funks vs Abby & Sheik.

Ohki finally got his win over Baba... in the 1978 Carinval with no titles on the line.

A few more tag title matches against Baba & Jumbo. No singles titles.  He wraps with All Japan with the 1979 Tag League.  We've got the entire decade since JWA closed down without him defending the Int'l Title in Japan, instead doing jobs to the top guy in both All Japan and New Japan for their titles, and dropping a different old belt of his to Baba.  The Int'l was a Korea-only title, and the closest anyone came to touching it was Inoki challenging for it in Korea a lot time ago.  No one seemed to care about this.

So what happened?

After Baba cut his ties with Ohki at the end of 1979, he turned up in the IWE in March 1980.  He capped his first series with a 2-0 DQ+Pin win over Dick the Brusier.  In between that series and the next, IWE ran a special card with four title match of which this was the main event:

03/31/80 AWA: Bockwinkel dcor Ohki (special ref Lou Thesz)

Oh oh... they're not thinking what I think they're thinking...

The very next series:

05/15/80 Int'l: Ohki over Jos Le Duc

Followed on the next three series:

07/01/80 Int'l: Ohki over Gypsy Joe
09/20/80 Int'l: Ohki over Bill Dromo
10/04/80 Int'l: Ohki over Ueda

There's your problem right there.  Ohki brings in the *NWA* Int'l Title, defends it regularly in the very non-NWA IWE.

Of note is that he appeared on the final IWE series of 1980 and did not defend the title.

That is quite likely the point at which the NWA via All Japan told them to knock it off.

Ohki got one last defense in Seoul in 03/04/81 against Bob Brown

Then in April 1981 after the Carnival, All Japan ran a tournament to crown the new NWA Int'l champ.  Dory over Brody by default.  The match with Terry was a "defense" to make up for Brody not being able to work in the Final.  Terry had already gone out of the tourney losing to Baba in the QF.

Not quite the end of it there.

Ohki got invited in on the next series, and two of the other series that year.  All of them 20+ card series, a nice little respectful pay off.

The following year they sent a crew of the mid-to-undercard guys to Korea, along with the All Asia belt.  Ohki got it back in a decision bout over Hara, and he was able to defend it in Korea until he hung up his boots.

Anyway, tl;dr version...

The Int'l belt was ignored in All Japan and New Japan in terms of *defenses* in the 70s.  All Japan ignored bothering about it.  Not going to say it wasn't mentioned on New Japan when Ohki jobbed to Inoki, or the it never was mentioned on AJPW tv in the long run Ohki worked there in 1973 and again from 1975-79.  It just didn't play a role in ever being defended in those promotions. It only appears to have become a bit of a problem when Ohki brought it into IWE.  At which point it appears to have been shut down. All Japan came up with the bright idea of making something out the Int'l belt.  Ohki was invited back into the fold and treated pretty respectfully.  All Japan lived happily ever after... for two decades.

 

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The PWF title was created after Baba won a series of 10 matches. It was the number 1 title for the 1970 and as you can see remained Baba's belt for most of the decade all the way until 1985.

It was #1 until the Int'l Title was brought in.

At that point, they were very carefully booked.  We need to remember that during the Dory-Brody era of 1981-83, the Int'l Champ wasn't always on the series.  Top Gaijin didn't work every series like they did as the 90s went along.  They word 3-4 or so a year, and joined a number of those in progress.  So the Int'l holder wasn't always there to defend it.

They also tried to defend them on different cards.  That didn't always happy. For example, when Harley won the PWF Title from Baba on 10/26/82 , it was the main event over Dory-Brody for the Int'l Title. For what it's worth, that was the only time the two titles were defended on the same card.  Baba was on top, in a title change.

It's also worth noting that while Baba was in the Int'l tourney and did a pinfall job, he never challenged for the Int'l title while PWF champ or even the stretch where Hansen initially lifted it from him.  In contrast, Brody challenged Baba for the PWF title on 06/08/83, while Brody's own Int'l title wasn't on the line to make it a title vs title match.

The concept was peer titles, while using Dory and Brody to get the Int'l title over before it went to Jumbo.

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I am a little unclear about the status and prestige of the belt from 1985 to 1989 when it was chiefly held by Hansen with spells by Choshu and Tenryu. 

They were 1 and 1-A while Baba was in the mix, with little worry about what was 1 and what was 1-A.  One of them had the anchor of Jumbo-Brody after Jumbo got it through most of 1984, while the other had the anchor of Baba-Hansen until Baba dropped it for the last time and didn't challenge for it again.

Interesting is that the very next PWF title match was a triple title match: Hansen's AWA & PWF titles against Jumbo's Int'l.  Still pretty much peer titles.

Choshu got the PWF Title the follow week.

Again, they tended to run the two titles on separate cards.  Exceptions:

10/21/86: Hansen vs Jumbo where Jumbo got the Int'l Title back / Choshu vs Terry for the PWF

That actually is a fluke. It was suppose to be Choshu vs Flair for the NWA Title, but Flair didn't make the trip it appears to be due to Magnum's car crash. Ionically... Choshu vs Terry went on last.

04/24/87 Jumbo defending the Int'l against Yatsu while Hansen vs Waijima was for the vacant PWF... and went on last.

03/27/88 Jumbo vs Brody Int'l title change went on last, while the Hansen (PWF) vs Tenryu (UN) unification match went on in the semi spot

After that, when they're were defended on the same card it was the four unification matches it took before the Triple Crown finally came into being.

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The UN title was very clearly the number 2 title, similar to the WWF IC belt or the US title in WCW. Jumbo just vacated the title in 1984 to focus on defending the International belt

He gave it up in 1983 before he won the Int'l title to focus on *winning* the title from Brody.

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and DiBiase won it in a tournament defeating Tenryu in the final.

It's kind of mixed up.  It appears that Ted won the title in the US in fictitious tournament over Jerry Lawler.  Thought there are also notes that he won it by forfeit over Lawler, which... who knows. It was all bullshit. Ted clearly is the champ in the first match on 10/14/83 where he gets the pinfall win over Tenryu:

And the champ later in the tour in the rematch on 10/23/83 where they go to DCOR:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=682OyIpAe3w

Not really sure why they didn't just run a tourney on the series, other than they were really light on talent. The gaijin side had Hansen (too big for the title at the time), OMG as Hansen's tag partner, Ted, and NWA Champ Harley Race in for 5 cards, two of which were defenses (Jumbo and Ted). The money was going to Hansen and Race, and with the Tag League coming up with a large number of top gaijin in for all of it.  The series before had a fair number of expensive gaijin as well for Terry's retirement series.  So many this was a bargain basement series and they went with a fake tourney.

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The status of this title from 1985 onwards, during the period in which it was chiefly held by Tenryu is unclear to me. It's obviously the number 3 belt by this point, but was it a number 3 belt more like the TV title in JCP / WCW (i.e. a competitive and somewhat respected belt) or more like the European belt when it was established in WWF (i.e. a "nothing" belt)?

So... it was a mess early on with the fake Ted tourney, then somehow it going from Ted to Michael Hayes in a fake match so that Hayes could lose it to David Von Erich who could then come over and lose it to Tenryu, but David overdosed and the title ended up going to Tenryu in a decision bout over Steamboat.  Irony? Ted came in on the next series and jobbed to Tenryu as the challenger.  They could have shipped the whole David stuff and left the belt on Ted.

Don't even get me started about the stupidity of the belt being vacated off Tenryu in 1986 only to be given right back to him.

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Looking at the way cards were booked after 1985, Jumbo has relatively few title defences every year. In 1987, for example, he has almost exclusively tag matches for the whole year defending the belt only four times the whole year. Incidentally those title defences were:

4/2/87: Tommy Rich

4/24/87: Yatsu

7/22/87: Hansen

9/12/87: Bockwinkel

This was massively reduced from the number of defences Dory had in 1981, where he seemed to treat it more like the NWA World title and took it to the USA for stints also. By 1985 we are down to just three defences in the year.

 

1985 was an initial blip:

10/09/81 Int'l: Dory vs Brody (∆)
11/01/81 Int'l: Brody vs Dory (∆)

04/17/82 Int'l: Dory vs DiBiase
04/21/82 Int'l: Dory vs Brody (∆)
10/07/82 Int'l: Brody vs Jumbo
10/20/82 Int'l: Brody vs Tenryu
10/26/82 Int'l: Brody vs Dory

04/16/83 Int'l: Brody vs Tenryu
04/23/83 Int'l: Brody vs Terry
04/25/83 Int'l: Brody vs Dory
04/27/83 Int'l: Brody vs Jumbo
05/26/83 Int'l: Brody vs Jumbo
06/12/83 Int'l: Brody vs Jumbo
08/31/83 Int'l: Brody vs Jumbo (∆)
10/14/83 Int'l: Jumbo vs Brody

01/10/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Olsonoski
02/23/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Bockwinkle (title vs title)
02/26/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Bockwinkle (title vs title)
04/14/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Brody
06/07/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Robinson
06/13/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Robinson
07/25/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Martel
09/06/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Brody
10/29/84 Int'l: Jumbo vs Gordy

04/17/85 Int'l: Jumbo vs Slater
06/04/85 Int'l: Jumbo vs Gordy
09/19/85 Int'l: Jumbo vs Race

03/10/86 Int'l: Jumbo vs Gordy
03/29/86 Int'l: Jumbo vs Hansen (title vs 2 titles)
04/19/86 Int'l: Jumbo vs Hansen (title vs title)
05/24/86 Int'l: Jumbo vs Race
07/31/86 Int'l: Jumbo vs Hansen (title vs title) (∆)
09/03/86 Int'l: Hansen vs Jumbo
09/03/86 Int'l: Hansen vs Choshu (title vs title)
10/21/86 Int'l: Hansen vs Jumbo (∆)

A large chunk if 1985 was focused in Ishingundan coming in, which didn't revolve around belts as much as it could have / should have. That's not just at the Int'l and UN levels, but also at the tag title level that didn't really heat up until the next year.  With some much talent to deal with given Ishingundan being added, the ranks of gaijin being brought over to challenge thinned.

Defenses picked up the following year... before they thinned again in 1987 as gaijin went down, and Ishingundan left. More on that later...

 

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PWF title meanwhile was defended 7 times in 1987. Choshu had one defence against Curt Hennig before leaving for New Japan, then Hansen won a tournament defeating Wajima in the final. Defences against: Yatsu, Tenryu, Wajima. Incidentally, Baba did not defend this belt much in certain years. For example in 1980 and 1984 he defended it only 3 times. There does not seem to be more than 7 title defences in any given year.

It's a little easier to line a gaijin up to defend against a couple of AJPW guys in a series than for a AJPW guy to line up a few gaijin in a series for defenses. Especially as talent availability declined as the 80s went on.

 

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The UN title, incidentally, was defended only twice by Tenryu that year vs. Hansen and Yatsu. This is massively down from the 8-10 times a year Jumbo would defend this belt against all comers in the early 1980s. By 1985, Tenryu is already down to just the 2-3 defences a year.


 

 

So, in 1985 we were in the full swing of WWF expansion.  JCP was starting to respond a bit.  The older generation of talent was starting to get even older, without a lot of guys lined up to step in. You also had a massive influx of quality Japanese wrestlers into All Japan in 1985.

1987 saw Choshu leave, Tenryu move over opposite Jumbo, and Baba not even running Jumbo vs Tenryu in a singles title match until April 1989. He didn't need it.

 

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So each of the belts that formed the triple crown were not defended that regularly. AJPW focused heavily on tag wrestling and tournaments, so the title matches are few and far between. Still interesting to think about the relative prestige of the titles at any particular time.

They didn't focus on tourneys with the exception of the Tag League, which was one series a year.  The Carny died after 1982 and didn't come back until 1991.  They did mini tag leagues in the Carny series in 1983 & 1984, the second creating the PWF Tag Champs. They didn't really impact singles title defense.  The Int'l was impacted because Jumbo was the AWA Champ for a couple of months.

For the most part as the decade went on, All Japan felt there were too many titles and too many title matches. Hence the consolidation of the five top belts into just two.  The loss of outside talent had a big impact on that - 1986 was a good example of how a largely close promotion can burn through a ton of stuff fast.  It was a bit hidden at the time because (i) it was the real first run of the Jumbo vs Hansen feud, and (ii) Ishingundan was getting involved in the title picture. If you run at the same pace in 1987-88, you burn through everything fast.  That's pretty much what happened to Tenryu vs Hansen over time. It certainly happened with 5 Jumbo vs Hansen title matches in 1986, and no real gaijin behind Hansen to step up next.

The balance in the 90s ended up being fine.  1992-94 struck a good balance, though perhaps 1994 not having a Triple Crown match until El Clasico was a little long in holding off to have one. They were stuck with Carny eating up one of the first three series, so that was out for a Triple Cown match. If they knew what they were running at the first Budokan, they should have balanced it with a TC match in the opening series... which they had done a number of times in years past and years to come.

Anyway...

The wrestling in Japan of the 60s and 70s where you could pull on a constant supply of non-Japanese wrestlers to come face off against the local champs was changing the more the 80s went on. The WWF and JCP ate up talent. Territories were dying. Development was dying. The business in Japan for both AJPW and NJPW changed.

As far as the prestige of the belts, they got passed along and transformed into the Triple Crown. In turn, Baba quickly learned with Barry Windham in 1990 that he didn't really need to go outside the promotion to bring in gaijin "stars" to have a credible challenger.  Better off working in house.  That did create a longer term issue down the road when there was no native coming up behind Akiyama (and Jun himself was problematic), and the gaijin well dried up after he got lucky (then unlucky) with Doc.

 

 

 

 

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It doesn't really feel like AJPW has too many belts in the 80s because most of the time they're all held by Jumbo/Baba/Tenryu, usually overlapping singles and tags, so it's not like you'll get UN, PWF, NWA International, PWF Tag, All Asia Tag, NWA International Tag on the same card because they're all held by 3 people.

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They had a very short period in the pre-split era of belt overload:

 

02/27/73 - 02/04/75: PWF Title (1)
02/05/75 - 08/27/76: PWF Title & Int'l Tag (2)
08/28/76 - 04/29/81: PWF Title & Int'l Tag & UN Title (3)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
04/30/81 - 04/24/84: PWF Title & Int'l Title & Int'l Tag & UN Title (4)
04/25/84 - 03/08/88: PWF Title & Int'l Title & Int'l Tag & PWF Tag & UN Title (5)
03/09/88 - 06/09/88: Int'l Title & Unified PWF+UN Title & Int'l Tag & PWF Tag (4)
06/10/88 - 04/17/89: Int'l Title Unified PWF+UN Title & World Tag (3)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
04/18/89 - Split: Triple Crown & World Tag (2)

There were reasons for it.

First, the elevation of Jumbo without the casting aside of Baba.  The Int'l Title wasn't a bad way symbolically to do it, along with Jumbo capturing a US World Title a few months later. They PWF Title was also a way to engage Hansen in a single title without rushing into a Jumbo vs Hansen singles title feud soon after Hansen's jump.

Second, the UN Title had moderate value in being retained to elevate Tenryu, along with sliding him into being Jumbo's partner in the Tag League and eventually with the Int'l Tag Titles.

I always thought the PWF Tag Titles were a waste. I get it as it gave Hansen & Brody a tag title without putting the Int'l Tag Titles on them, which they wouldn't be able to defend regularly given the number of series they both worked on. They sort of replicated it when the Warriors were given the Int'l Tag belts for a year, defended them all of three times, the last being the unification match. Largely a waste.

Belt overload largely in 1986. The number of title matches of the five belts was messy.  Part of it was dealt with in early 1987 by deep sixing one of the tag titles into the hands of the Warriors. Another part dealt with by merging the PWF and UN titles into one combo. Part of it by resolving the tag titles into a unified tag title a couple of months later. By that point they needed just one more.

They also looked around and saw that they didn't really need a Jumbo/Tenryu style UN Title.  The #2 Japanese wrestler in the company was going to challenge for the Triple Crown, and eventually hold it. That didn't happen with Baba and Jumbo, and it didn't happen with Jumbo and Tenryu until the Triple Crown was created... almost two years after Tenryu moved opposite Jumbo.  They had non-title singles matches in 1987-88.

What was kind of nice is that the space opened up for the All Asia Tag title to be kind of a cool little division from 1988-93.  Basically the rise of the Footloose, then subsequent teams. They really botched it as 1993 went on. Easy to blame the cutting of time in the weekly TV show, but they aired enough mediocre / wasted matches that they easily could have found space for roughly 5 All Asia defenses a year on TV. There also was talent to fill the division. But that's a side tangent.

That's not even touching on the Junior Title getting some run in the same time period.

I'm obviously biased, but I tend to think they had the number of titles well in order in the early 90s. I think 1986 was bloated. I never liked the two tag titles. One of the nice things about 1986 was that Jumbo & Tenryu dropped the vaunted Int'l Tag Titles to Choshu & Yatsu, rather than having them lift the PWF Tag Titles from Stan & Ted. They got their names in the honor roll of the big belts, not the one that came along much later. When the belts were unified, issues like that were resolved. 

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