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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 25-31, PART ONE

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 25-31, PART ONE

This is the start of a series of posts on the last part of the Ichinose bio. I'll be putting each one out as they're ready, as I think I've kept you all waiting too much. Overall, this stretch of the book is not as insightful on All Japan as what came before, leaning on contemporaneous interviews to flesh out the wrestlers as characters and possibly reflecting Ichinose's diminished role as a creative consultant. That could just be my burnout on this particular book talking. Whatever the case, I'll summarize the last stretch using whatever piques my interest.

1994 had seen a decline for the company. Ichinose cites the November 24 show at the Okayama Budokan as an example. The previous year, the RWTL show in the venue, which was headed by a Chosedaigun/Seikigun six-man, drew 3,050. Meanwhile, this show, which was headed by a tournament match between Misawa/Kobashi and Akiyama/Omori, only drew 2,300. This decline led Baba to consider booking “A-rank matchups” consistently, as if it were a singer performing a tour with a single setlist. Ichinose pointed out that this was unrealistic, and Baba’s “experimental and innovative” idea was never implemented, but 1995 did see an interesting shift. Starting with the New Year Giant Series, “A-rank matchups” were scattered across the country: The Kobashi/Williams singles draw in Oita, the famous Kawada/Kobashi Triple Crown defense in Osaka, and the Misawa/Kobashi vs. Kawada/Taue tag title defense in Yamagata.

The timeslot cut of the previous year also influenced this shift. While AJPW’s television presence was buttressed by broadcasts from local stations such as TV Iwate, the primary AJPW Relay program would not be restored to an hour, even when it was moved to Sundays in the spring of 1995. As Ichinose puts it, the program no longer had the ability to convey serial drama. This would lead local fans to be considered before “distant viewers”.

Let’s now jump ahead to the 1995 Carnival. On April 6, AJPW returned to the Okayama Budokan. This time, they gave the venue the biggest matchup they could: a tournament match between Misawa and Kawada. This match, of course, is infamous for the broken orbital bone Misawa would suffer from a Kawada kick, as this shoot injury would provide material for months of matches. A doctor recommended he stop, but Misawa refused. The Kawada match would be the first of three tournament draws, with the next two coming against Hansen and Taue. An April 8 win against Akiyama, which Misawa got by submission with the reverse nelson deathlock he had debuted during this tour, brought his tally to seven wins and three draws.

Meanwhile, this tournament also saw a resurgence for Taue. After two years of failure to get past Kobashi in the Carnival (a loss in 1993 and two draws in 1994), Taue defeated him in their first tournament match. In February, Taue had added the throw-and-release German suplex and the Dynamic Bomb to his arsenal, and during the Carnival he debuted the “Cliff Nodowa” apron chokeslam.

The tournament and the tour ended at the Budokan on April 15. Ichinose doesn’t mention Aum Shinrikyo’s threats to attack both the Budokan and the Tokyo Dome with sarin gas that day, but as the April 24 Observer states, neither incident materialized as spectators were thoroughly searched. As his mentor Jumbo Tsuruta sat in on commentary, Taue unleashed the maneuvers he had developed over the past few months. None of them were enough to keep Misawa from winning his first Carnival. The backstage ritual of pouring beer over the winner’s head was modified to accommodate Misawa’s injured eye.

 

“If I could get rid of it by talking about it, I would. There's no point in talking about something that only you can understand, you know. Once you've decided to wrestle the match, there's no point in protecting your eyes, and there's no point in being depressed. [...] If it could be cured by saying, "It hurts, it hurts," I'd say it a hundred times.”

Ichinose mentions an interview he conducted with Misawa after the tour. I want to mention this because he brings up a postcard that Weekly Pro had been sent. The reader criticized Misawa for not showing weakness even when injured, and expressed his wish for Misawa to expose his vulnerabilities. Misawa’s response and Ichinose’s meditation on it makes it clear that Misawa’s stoicism was a feature for his fans, not a bug. Ichinose writes that Misawa’s aesthetics made him reflect on himself, and while Misawa was not so grandiose as to offer these nuggets as “life lessons”, Ichinose recalls that his words “penetrated” people and offered them guidance.

Ichinose also peeks behind the curtain to show us that Misawa was not always so composed. Ichinose would brighten up Misawa’s days by bringing him the latest issue of Weekly Shonen Jump before it circulated into the regions where he was working. The smile he saw when he gave Misawa one of those issues was a carefree one, unlike that he saw when he gave Misawa an issue of Weekly Pro. He also mentions that Misawa’s bawdy sense of humor, which would threaten to undermine his stoic reputation in the NOAH era when it came out in variety show appearances, was already on display when a female reporter was among the press circle.

 158804177_misawakobashisuperjockey2.thumb.jpg.1f12057fc8837e9576292b89a036632f.jpg1115203941_misawakobashisuperjockey.thumb.jpg.597962fc7894f36c2ab6cd5b7bd76e74.jpg

Above: Misawa, Kobashi, and others appear on the NTV variety show Super JOCKEY.

In May, Baba began allowing AJPW talent besides himself to appear on variety shows to promote the product. I do not know when he had started banning others from doing so; Jumbo made plenty of these appearances in his day, and I recall that Rusher Kimura had been a celebrity judge on a music program. This is something that I would ask Ichinose about if I had the opportunity. (I wonder if Baba’s experience with Thunder Sugiyama, who pivoted into a part-time career with television gigs before falling out with him over money, might have influenced his policy.)

The Super Power Series’ main match was considered the May 26 Triple Crown match in Sapporo. 5,800 came to see Misawa start his second reign with a victory over Hansen, which was a strong number but below the highest gates they had drawn in the building earlier in the decade. As for the famous 6/9/95 tag match, the book doesn’t offer much beyond stating the result, pointing out that the match won the Pillars the Best Bout Award, and reproducing Kawada’s postmatch comments, which were prideful but still respectful of Misawa.

Ichinose brings up some incidents in mid-95 which suggested a stylistic development in the house style. First, in the June 30 start-of-the-tour Korakuen six-man, Misawa startled observers by giving Kawada a regular-style powerbomb when his attempt at a Tiger Driver was resisted. Ichinose ascribes a significance to this moment, as Misawa was not one to use other’s moves, or at least he hadn’t been since the Tiger Mask II days. “Something about Kawada made him abandon his aesthetics.” The following week, during a six-man on July 8, Kawada choked out Misawa with a sleeper early on. Ichinose cites these matches, as well as the Triple Crown match they built up to, as examples of the “deepening pro-wrestling” between Misawa and Kawada, which had a different character than the matches Misawa would have against Kobashi. The imagery Ichinose uses to evoke Misawa vs. Kawada is a drill descending into the earth until it reaches the magma.

Ichinose recalls asking Misawa after the match and standard postmatch interviews whether he felt wrestling like that was shortening his lifespan. Misawa replied that he felt he could die at any moment, referencing pokkuri (the Japanese term for what we may call sudden adult death syndrome).

Kyohei Wada has recalled another story about this match. As Misawa suffered a concussion during it, he had lost his memory of working the match as soon as he returned to the locker room. Upon removing his ring shoes, he began to lace them back up to return to the ring, until Kyohei told him the match had already happened.

At some point in July-August, Gary Albright of UWF International stated that he wished to compete in All Japan. Baba responded on August 23 that any foreign talent was welcome to work for him, but that AJPW did not do business with other organizations, to one of whom Albright was still contracted. Ichinose contrasts Baba’s fidelity to procedure and formality with the October 9 NJPW/UWFi Tokyo Dome event, which he claims happened due to a single phone call between Nobuhiko Takada and Riki Choshu.

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The August 23 event at Odate was just supposed to be a minor show. Ichinose attended because he wanted to see Masao Inoue team for the first time with Kobashi, as well as have his first match against Hansen. Little did Ichinose know that this match would become infamous for the beating Hansen gave Kobashi with his bullrope. Kobashi used Hansen’s trademark weapon against him, and the bad man from Borger *snapped*, punishing Kobashi to the point of severe bleeding from his left arm. Ultimately the native team won the match when Richard Slinger got disqualified, while Kobashi impressed with his postmatch antics. He looked to be on the verge of tears at times, but he grabbed a chair from the audience and rushed back to the foreign locker room to attack Hansen back in a brief brawl. Misawa said he couldn’t even concentrate on his own match ahead. As Kobashi headed for the ambulance, he repeatedly darted glares back at where Hansen was supposed to be. Fortunately, there was no damage to the bone, but the local doctor said the wound would require 22 stitches, as well as rest. However, Kobashi refused to take dates off.

That night, Ichinose and Kobashi went out for a very late dinner, where they were joined by Kawada. Ichinose had the latest issue of Weekly Pro, in which Albright had stated his intent to move to All Japan. An inebriated Kawada who was excited by the prospect let it slip that, if Albright were to jump ship, he wanted to be the first to face him. The next day, Ichinose told Baba about this, and it seems that he got grilled for it. Ultimately, Baba announced on September 15 that Albright would participate in the October tour, and that Kawada would face him at the 10/25 Budokan date. When Baba remarked at the press conference that someone had told him Kawada wanted a crack at Albright first, Ichinose recalls breaking out in a cold sweat. Meanwhile, Kawada stated that he would be willing to fight Albright under UWFi rules. Sure, this was partially meant as a joke to play off of the confusion at the time over what rules the NJPW/UWFi matches would be held under, but Kawada was serious about this.

(For what it’s worth, as early as the September 4 Observer, it was being reported that Albright was expected to join AJPW as Hansen’s new partner in October.)

Ichinose goes on to talk about that match, as well as Kobashi’s first Triple Crown shot against Misawa, but as he draws the chapter to a close, what most occupies his mind is not the 1995 RWTL, but an incident as that tour began.

On November 11, Ichinose had finally gotten an interview with Yoshinari Ogawa, who had won the AJPW Junior Heavyweight title in September. That interview was published around the beginning of the tour, and it sticks out in Ichinose’s mind because Ogawa came to him to ask about a few lines in the piece: “I didn’t say that, did I?” It turned out that Ichinose had asked Ogawa whether he agreed with a statement, and then put those words in Ogawa’s mouth. Ichinose actually expresses gratitude for this, remarking that while Ogawa is now known as a “nagging and annoying” subject for interviewers, he had made him realize the error of this method, which Ichinose claims he quit using after this.

Next time, we cover Ichinose's perspective on the fall of Tarzan Yamamoto and the end of Weekly Pro’s period of greatest relevance.

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