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

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

Chapter 23 doesn’t offer much insight into AJPW’s product in the second half of 1994, but there’s a bit. It’s arguably more about Ichinose’s experience working for Weekly Pro and under Tarzan Yamamoto, which I am going to save for the next post since that will largely be about Weekly Pro and the Bridge of Dreams show.

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“I know that every time I fight, my body gets more and more tattered, but I can't stop chasing him, and I'm going to keep chasing him. I've been chasing Misawa for 15 years…”

Ichinose doesn’t write that much about 6/3/94 itself, besides the story beat of Misawa bringing back the “Tiger Driver something or other” that Kawada had forgotten about to defeat him. He does cover Kawada’s comments in a subsequent interview, though, in which he expressed his wish for another match with Misawa as soon as possible and said that he hoped Steve Williams would not dethrone Misawa. The first match of the following tour, a Korakuen six-man, was most notable for Kawada’s brutalizing of Kikuchi. From here, Ichinose skips ahead on a tangent about Kikuchi that I’m really glad he made.

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Tsuyoshi Kikuchi spent the last years of his wrestling career working the indie circuit as a “punch-drunk” character, while holding a restaurant job.

In 1993, Kikuchi was at a crossroads. The 29-year-old had not been concerned about the tolls of his job before then, but the combination of Jumbo Tsuruta’s absence and Kikuchi’s new girlfriend made him start to think about the future. In February 1995, Kikuchi got married; three months later, he transferred from the Super Generation Army to the Holy Demon Army by his own request. He felt that remaining with Chosedaigun was a danger to his physical well-being and wanted to “run away from that place” to “make his newfound love eternal”. Two years later, he would transfer again to Akuyaku Shokai, the “heel” faction in AJPW's comedic six-mans. Although he had a resurgence with Yoshinobu Kanemaru in early 2000s NOAH, Kikuchi’s career generally wound down from this point.

Kikuchi was let go from NOAH in the post-Misawa restructuring and got a job in Sendai in conjunction with freelance bookings. His goal was to become a full-time employee at a food distribution warehouse, which he had almost attained before the warehouse was destroyed by the 2011 tsunami. Kikuchi admits he “almost gave up on life” after that, but he managed to land back on his feet with a distribution job at a drugstore. His boss then hooked him up with the manager of a new yakiniku restaurant; a photograph provided in the book seems to indicate that he had continued to work there at the time this book was composed. Meanwhile, Kikuchi reinvented himself on the indie circuit. Kikuchi does confess that he has some form of CTE (he admits to exhibiting incoherent speech), but states that he plays it up for his bizarre, wig-wearing character. He also expresses confusion that people refer to him as a legend; he had wanted to be “like Keith Richards,” sure, but he stopped being desperate enough. (Two years after this book was published, Kikuchi wrestled a retirement match against Koji Kanemoto.) 

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The Summer Action Series tour built up to the match that would see Misawa lose the Triple Crown to Steve Williams. The most Ichinose has to add to it is recalling that Yamamoto asked him who he thought would win, and that he absolutely did not see Williams going over coming.

Kobashi would be Williams’ first challenger. Unlike his fellow Shitenno, whose first Triple Crown challenges were held in mid-size venues, Kobashi’s first shot headlined the Budokan. Ichinose covers an interview he did with Kobashi before the tour began, but this segment of the book doesn’t offer any particular insight on the match beyond it being an expression of Kobashi’s ideals as a wrestler. The match would be called “the MVP of the summer” in Tarzan Yamamoto’s catchcopy (Japanese term for slogan), but it would not win the MOTY award. Ichinose jumps off this point to write about the big interpromotional matches of the time, since the WAR/FMW match between Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara and Atsushi Onita & Tarzan Goto was what won the Tokyo Sports award that year. He also remarks on the cover of the last Weekly Pro issue of the year, which he is certain would have featured Misawa & Kawada after their RWTL victory (I think that's all he writes about the tournament) were it not for the bloodied visage of a Yoji Anjo who had just fought Rickson Gracie. If puroresu was going to pursue this further, than AJPW would no longer be able to afford remaining silent on the spectre of MMA. (Ichinose skips ahead to mention Baba's prediction upon Naoya Ogawa's NJPW signing that they would strap the rocket to him, and that it would cause friction with those who had paid their dues in the company culture.)

Kawada won the Triple Crown from Williams on October 22 at the Budokan, but the most interesting thing Ichinose writes about the tour is more devoted to Tarzan Yamamoto’s decision to make the cover of the Weekly Pro issue which covered the beginning of the tour feature not a photo from the Kawada vs Williams tag that started tour, but rather a shot of Satoru Asako elbowing Kawada from a Chosedaigun/Seikigun six-man two days later.

The chapter ends with the first tour of 1995. At the urging of the local promoter, Kobashi and Williams had a singles rematch in the Oita Prefectural Gymnasium which went to a thirty-minute draw; this was an example of the burden Kobashi felt to revitalize their product on the provincial circuit through his performances.

His second Triple Crown shot was set for the January 19 show at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium...two days after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The show was retooled into a charity event. Kobashi stated before the match that he wanted to put on a match so great that even the people who could not make it to the show would be proud that it was held in Osaka. He & Kawada would put on the first one-hour draw of Heisei puroresu. Ichinose writes that the one-hour match had become “an endangered species” after Jumbo/Choshu, Inoki/Brody, and Inoki/Fujinami had ended the tradition in Showa puroresu. Ichinose recalls that the Weekly Pro match report took up sixteen pages, a then-record, though he does not mention that Tarzan Yamamoto was at the commentary table for this match.)

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