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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 22-24, PART THREE

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 22-24, PART THREE

I think I’m going to keep this post dedicated to the thrust of Chapter 24, which concerns Weekly Pro and the Bridge of Dreams show. Just covering the second and third AJPW tours of 1995 and trying to interweave them feels weird to me, so I’m going to go ahead with scanning and transcribing Part Four and probably include the stuff about those tours in a general post about 1995.

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In Dave Meltzer’s coverage of Takashi “Tarzan” Yamamoto’s 1996 step down as EIC on the July 8, 1996 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, he wrote that Yamamoto was credited with bringing Weekly Pro’s coverage “from the Apter-mag level almost to Observer level” by introducing a critical approach. Ichinose frames it *much* differently, which is most likely due to the angle that he is writing from but also provides insight into how it was received.

As he puts it, Weekly Pro was always considered a more disposable magazine than Gong, which covered its subjects with an objective, “standard lens” approach set by original editor-in-chief Kosuke Takeuchi.1 Longtime Gong writer (and Jumbo biography writer) Kagehiro Osano is quoted stating his longtime opposition to Weekly Pro’s approach, which leaned into its subjectivity and thus made for a disposable product. Yamamoto puts it as Weekly Pro offering a “telephoto [or] wide-angle” lens to contrast Gong’s standard lens. Although Ichinose indicates that the magazine was leaning in this direction as far back as the Hideo Sugiyama era, Yamamoto embraced it, comparing Weekly Pro’s function to that of a convenience store salad which a salaryman enjoys on their commute, and encouraging all his writers to bring their subjectivity and “freshness” to the forefront of their reportage. For Ichinose, this often manifested in writing about the atmosphere around the show he was covering: “The temperature and air flow in the venue. The smell of yakisoba from the concession stand. The practice before a match. Sweat pouring out of a wrestler. The reaction of the crowd. What happened in the waiting room. The look on a fan's face on the way home. Anything.” Others on the staff liked to express themselves by “using difficult Chinese words”. For all this, though, Ichinose credits deputy director Kiyonori Shishikura’s “Gong-like DNA” (like many of Gong’s hires, Baseball Magazine had hired him from a wrestling fan club) with providing a crucial bit of balance. [EDIT 2022.03.08: Shishikura had not been part of just any fan club: he was one of the four original members of the Maniax in the late 70s. The Maniax were directly associated with Gong and Takeuchi, and even contributed directly to the magazine. They are also famous for shooting (and screening) 8mm film at wrestling shows, some of which later showed up on an IWE DVD box set that was assembled with Takeuchi's cooperation. Later on, fellow charter member Wally Yamaguchi would build a ring in the Maniax office and loan it out to hobbyist group Student Pro Wrestling, in an early example of fan-participation culture in puroresu.]

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Above: two examples of “Abunai Thursday”, a Weekly Pro page of reader-submitted comics. [Sources: Issues #298 (2/7/89) and #429 (4/16/91)]

Weekly Pro did have one advantage over Gong, which was that from the very start of its rebranding as such, it was sold at kiosks in Japan National Railway (now JR) stations. Ichinose made contributions to the magazine with this salaryman audience in mind, such as a “Ticket Information and Spectator Guide” which listed each show venue’s travel time from the nearest station, as well as whether shoes were allowed and whether there were shops (they got this information by calling each venue). Weekly Pro had a Valentine’s Day tradition in which male readers sent postcards in the hope of receiving chocolates from a joshi wrestler. “Abunai Thursday” was a page influenced by Weekly Shonen Jump’s “Jump Information Bureau”, featuring reader-submitted postcard drawings which often lampooned wrestlers. Certain wrestlers would become frequent subjects, such as Shinya Hashimoto for his rotund physique, and Masanobu Fuchi for his perpetual bachelorhood. Both were good sports and enjoyed these comics. (One wonders if this feature was an influence on Akatsuki, an illustrator who draws comic strips about funny old puroresu stories.)

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Above: Shinya Hashimoto and Tarzan Yamamoto end the Bridge of Dreams show with a promo segment teasing a future show. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #665, dated 4/20/1995 (photograph included in free preview of archived copy)]

On November 6, 1994, Baseball Magazine (henceforth BBM) sponsored an NJPW event at Korakuen, at which Tarzan Yamamoto teased that Weekly Pro was going to do something big in 1995. That was revealed in January; Bridge of Dreams would be a BBM-sponsored interpromotional event at the Tokyo Dome.

While RINGS and Weekly Pro had apparently had a difficult relationship in the past, the promotion was actually the first to finish its contract. More troublesome was the matter of WAR. Gong reported that negotiations had fallen through in their January 26 issue, but what went unmentioned was that the meeting between Yamamoto and WAR president Masatomo Takei had gone south when Yamamoto informed him that, if WAR went ahead with the Korakuen Hall event on the same date that had already been scheduled, BBM would book WAR in the position of a minor promotion.

While Weekly Pro and AJPW had had a good relationship for years, their participation was far from assured. Negotiations were conducted between Baba and BBM’s business department head, an unnamed man who had also played on the Yomiuri Giants. While that made him a senior to Baba, business was business, and the situation remained deadlocked until the deal with WAR fell through, since Baba refused to do any business with Tenryu. Once that matter was settled, though, another sticking point was whether NJPW or AJPW would have the main event. NJPW President Seiji Sakaguchi proposed that the match order be decided in order of the ages of each promotion (as determined by the date of their first show), which would give NJPW the nod by seven months. It took a 10 million yen bonus for AJPW for Baba to agree to this compromise, although the final card would not strictly adhere to this (under this logic, after all, AJW would have had the main event).

The February 23 issue of Weekly Pro featured the announcement that AJPW would enter; the agreement had been reached on the 17th. Now it was a question of what match the promotion would hold to represent itself. Earlier in the book, Ichinose recalled that he tried to make a dream match happen here: Misawa, Kobashi & Baba vs. Kawada, Taue & Tsuruta. Weekly Pro held a fan vote for the AJPW match at Bridge of Dreams, and this was apparently the legit top result, but it was vetoed by Baba. Ichinose did not know the conditions that had been laid out for Tsuruta’s return to the ring, and begged him to reconsider. Baba was unmoved, and Ichinose was forced to falsify the top result of the poll: a six-man with Stan Hansen & Steve Williams in Baba & Tsuruta’s places. However, Steve Williams’ bust at Narita Airport at the start of the Champion Carnival put an end to this plan, and Baba refused to take his place, which was why Johnny Ace was put in the match that we got.

BBM commissioned the construction of the ring to ensure fairness, but it was discovered on the day of the event that they had forgotten the tag ropes. Ichinose himself had to buy some rope at a hardware store and hastily affix it to the turnbuckles under Kyohei Wada’s supervision. This was in line with Ichinose’s other duties with regards to the event, which included a central role in contacting and negotiating with the promotions, arranging the catering, booking hotels for the Michinoku Pro and foreign talent, and securing the rights to entrance music.

AJPW’s match has long been considered the highlight of the show. Motoko was very proud of it, and NJPW’s Shinya Hashimoto and Pancrase’s Ryushi Yanagisawa highly praised the match in their own post-show comments.

However, Weekly Pro was the only publication to give the event the reportage it warranted. Gong snubbed it entirely, in favor of coverage of the WAR counter-event at Korakuen Hall (remember, the one they had refused to drop in BBM negotiations) which they sponsored. Tokyo Sports wrote a 500-word report the next day with match results, but they offered no mention of BBM nor any photos of the event, instead giving full coverage to the Gong/WAR show. Ichinose then brings up the last segment of the show, in which Tarzan himself entered the ring to cut a promo segment with Hashimoto teasing a potential future show. The crowd did not embrace him, and Ichinose wonders what this meant. “Had he become too big? Were they angry about WAR’s absence? Or was it a warning to people behind the scenes that they should not perform on the microphone like wrestlers?” Ultimately, Ichinose considers the show “the beginning of the end” for the Yamamoto era of Weekly Pro. In fact, all the way back in Part Two, Ichinose skipped ahead to recount an incident in 1995 when Yamamoto revealed the truth to him: Weekly Pro’s circulation was 300,000, but its readership had stalled at the 220-30k range. As for the show being taped but never seeing commercial release, that was apparently a condition on Baba’s part.

Spoiler

1. Ironically, Takeuchi got his start in the business for the other side, having ascended to the EIC position of Monthly/Weekly Pro predecessor publication Professional Wrestling & Boxing at the mere age of 19. Nihon Sports Publications swiped him in 1968 to head Monthly Gong.

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