KinchStalker Posted October 23, 2021 Report Share Posted October 23, 2021 2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 18-21, PART ONE I finished the transcription of chapters 18-21, whose 125 pages cover 1993 but make a lot of digressions. This continues to be a book that I cannot recap simply, but I think that what I’ve taken from it will be illuminating. This first post will set the table for the formation of the Holy Demon Army and cover the debut of Jun Akiyama. Ichinose held off on covering a lot of this stuff to streamline the narrative in Part Two, so this goes over a lot of the same ground, albeit from different angles. ------ On March 4, 1992, Akira Taue celebrates the first top title of his career, while Jumbo Tsuruta celebrates his last. 1991-2 were difficult years for Akira Taue. He had grown immeasurably whilst working alongside Tsuruta, and his performances against Kawada in their 1/15/91 and 4/18/91 singles matches had been encouraging. However, Tsuruta and Taue had also lost three tag title matches in 1991, with Taue being booed at the June 1 match against Hansen & Spivey. At year’s end, they were unable to win the Real World Tag League. Taue was the first partner who had failed to notch Tsuruta a RWTL win after two attempts; with Baba and with Yatsu it took him one try (though that’s two for Baba if you count the 1977 Open League), and with Tenryu it took him two. Taue finally won the AJPW World Tag Team titles alongside Jumbo on March 4, 1992, against the Miracle Violence Connection. Jumbo got the pinfall, but Taue had pulled his weight, and for the first time since the summer of 1990, when he had held the All Asia tag titles with Shinichi Nakano before Nakano’s departure for SWS, he had gold around his waist. [2021.10.25 addition: Ichinose later explains how Tsurutagun had earned this title match. For the first tour of 1992, Ichinose pitched a special gimmick to determine the #1 contenders, the New Year Three Team Tournament. Three four-member factions—Chosedaigun, Tsurutagun, and the "Foreign Army" (Hansen, Ace, and the Wild Bunch)—would have all their matches against each other in all configurations tracked, and the team with the highest winning percentage at tour's end would get the contendership. Ichinose admits that he doesn't know how effective it was, but the concept was his attempt to give even local events some modicum of weight in the storyline of the tour, as each would have 1-3 matches which counted towards this percentage.] In the Champion Carnival, Taue would only notch eight points in his block before a neck contusion and ankle ligament injury, suffered during an untelevised Jumbo/Taue vs. Kawada/Kobashi tag, caused him to sit out the rest of the tour and the expanded two-night AJPW Fan Appreciation Day afterward.1 At the end of the following tour, though, Taue pinned Kobashi in Budokan to retain in his first tag title defense. Toshiaki Kawada had received his first shot at the Triple Crown in the wake of Misawa’s nose injury. Likewise, Taue would challenge for Hansen’s belts during the Summer Action Series, where Tsuruta was out with an “ankle injury”. Like the Kawada match, as well as Misawa’s first Triple Crown shot in July 1990, Taue’s first challenge for AJPW’s top prize was held at a medium-sized venue as per Baba policy. Anyway, a buildup tag on a July 5 Korakuen show had seen Taue and Hansen square off, respectively partnered with Rusher Kimura and Billy Black. During this match, about half of which aired joined-in-progress, Hansen fractured Taue’s left orbital bone, dislodging his eye. (To this day, Taue says that when his eyes are in motion, “it’s like he’s only seeing out of his right side”.) However, perhaps due to the pressure that Tsuruta’s absence had brought upon the tour, Taue would not miss a single date, even though Hansen took the July 20 show off due to back problems. At tour’s end, at the Athletic Park Gymnasium in Matsudo, Taue fell to the Western Lariat in 14:41. As covered in my previous batch of posts recapping this book, Taue lost a #1 contendership match to Kawada on September 9, but postmatch comments suggested that Kawada had reached a certain respect for his rival. Eight days later, AJPW booked Korakuen for a 20th Anniversary show in between tours. This five-match card saw Taue team with Mitsuo Momota to go over Motoshi Okuma & Haruka Eigen in the third match, due to Giant Baba taking what would have been his spot in the main-event Chosedaigun/Tsurutagun main event. Alas, the show would best be remembered for the match in between. SUPER ROOKIE Above: On February 3, 1992, Giant Baba held a press conference at Senshu University to announce his signing of Senshu wrestling team captain Jun Akiyama. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #479, dated February 18] Jun Akiyama1 was born in Izumi on October 9, 1969. Not much about his family is disclosed, but we learn that, like Kawada, Akiyama’s first exposure to pro wrestling was through his grandpa’s television. He didn’t loathe wrestling like Kawada originally did, having pleasant memories of watching all the primetime wrestling there was, and he as so many others was struck by Tiger Mask’s rivalry against the Dynamite Kid. Akiyama was a swimmer until he entered Takaishi High School, at which point he switched to judo. However, the school’s wrestling coach invited him to train with them. By his sophomore year, he was a member. The early stretch of Akiyama’s Wikipedia biography, which cites a 2016 magazine of wrestler biographies, contains a recollection that his advisor, Shunji Shiraishi, had been trying to lead him and his friends towards the wrestling team from the beginning, as when they asked him to talk about the judo club he changed the subject. The wrestling team practiced far more than the judo club, but Akiyama stuck with it. Akiyama competed in the junior division of the 41st National Sports Festival2 in 1986, wrestling freestyle at the 81kg class. According to a PDF of 1946-2010 festival results, he would place third in the division, which was won by future Pancrase fighter Kazuo Takahashi. Upon his graduation, Akiyama enrolled at Senshu University and joined its wrestling team. As a freshman he shared a dorm with senior year teammate Manabu Nakanishi, about whom Akiyama has nothing but good things to say. Unfortunately, Akiyama would not see the same amateur success as his four-time national champion and Olympian roommate. A knee injury would derail his junior year, and the Senshu team would be knocked down a division. The early 1990s saw NJPW recruit several successful collegiate wrestlers. The aforementioned Nakanishi was joined by Hiroshi Nagata of Nittatsu University and Waseda’s Tsunemitsu Ishizawa. Riki Choshu’s increased backstage importance appears to have been the impetus, and Akiyama recalls that, while he wasn’t aware when it happened, the promotion had dispatched Hiroshi Hase as a talent scout. Akiyama was not as successful as any of those three. Although he would become team captain as a senior, his attention was divided by the shukatsu system of job-hunting. He was considering a job offer from an unnamed Osaka company, which planned to start its own wrestling team. However, another option arose one night in July 1991, when head coach Kenshiro Matsunami invited Akiyama to a dinner at the Capitol Tokyu Hotel. This was the first time Akiyama met Giant Baba. “He talked to me about wrestling, money, and all sorts of things, but the thing I remember most was, ‘Don't worry about anything, just come.’” Baba would meet with Akiyama’s parents and give a talk at his high school, in a rare amount of effort to gain a new recruit. Jun was not immediately swayed, and would continue to consider his job offer. His old high school advisor had suggested he look into pro wrestling, having held the dream himself in his youth, but Akiyama had never truly considered it. But after an interview with a top executive, the two happened to take the same bus back home, and Akiyama saw how much the salaryman lifestyle had worn this man down. He thought that he didn’t want to be like that when he was forty, and the experience compelled him to give pro wrestling a chance. On February 3, 1992, Akiyama’s signing was announced in a press conference at his alma mater. Not since Hiroshi Wajima had AJPW gone to such trouble to display a new member, and it made Baba’s high expectations clear. Akiyama’s training was apparently a smooth process. The grounding in ukemi4 that Baba considered paramount in the All Japan training pipeline usually took a trainee three to four months to master, but Akiyama had it down in less than one. About four months in, Baba would assign him to supplemental pre-show practice sessions with foreign wrestlers such as Johnny Smith. Such sessions did take place between fellow native wrestlers, but it was rare that a foreign talent would participate in the process; Akiyama suspected then that this was special treatment. Ichnoise points out that, up to this point, AJPW debut matches had followed one of three templates. The most common was a preliminary singles match; most start from the bottom, and Akiyama had figured that he would as well. For the select few who had been groomed to immediately become major players, All Japan had taken two paths. The first was a match against a foreign wrestler, usually a midcarder. Jumbo Tsuruta had debuted in Amarillo by going over El Gran Tapia, and his first AJPW match repeated this pattern against Moose Morowski. The second and much more common approach was a tag match alongside Baba against two gaikokujin. This had first been done with Anton Geesink in 1973, against the team of Bruno Sammartino and Caripus Hurricane (AKA Ciclon Negro). Although Tenryu had debuted in an Amarillo singles match the previous winter, his first AJPW match was a 1977 tag with Baba against Mario Milano and Mexico Grande. Hiroshi Wajima’s first matches were tags abroad alongside Baba, which were contemporaneously broadcast in Japan, although his debut match in AJPW itself was against Tiger Jeet Singh. Finally, Akira Taue debuted in a tag match with Baba against Buddy Landel and Paul Harris, on the first show of 1988. If the plan was to debut Akiyama at the 20th Anniversary Korakuen show on September 17, 1992, and they weren’t going to relegate him to a curtainjerker bout, they would have no foreign talent to book him against due to the show’s placement in between tours. The pressure was on to book a memorable match to mark the occasion, and though Ichinose could only go by Ryu Nakata’s word that Akiyama would be a good wrestler, he pitched a semi-main singles match between Akiyama and Kobashi during one of the secret creative meetings. Ichinose admits that he was inspired by NJPW’s Yume Kachimasu, a special show first held in 1989 that gave Young Lions the chance to wrestle veteran talent. Baba was quite reluctant, but despite the certainty that Akiyama would start his career with a loss, Ichinose would not be deterred, and the match was approved. Akiyama was told that he was debuting at the 20th Anniversary show two weeks in advance, and informed of his opponent two days in advance, but the outside world would not know about it until the show itself. I attached this photograph to the mention of Akiyama’s debut in my last recap post, but I need to discuss the moment it captured directly. Akiyama was highly praised for his performance at the time, and the match continues to be quite respected in the Western fan community as one of the best debut matches in wrestling history. However, it was not a genuine expression of Akiyama’s self. Akiyama strongly implies that the moment in the photograph, in which he “barks” at Kobashi on one knee after having taken a string of chops and kicks, was a Kobashiism that the two had come up with beforehand to “bring out Akiyama’s expression”. From the comments excerpted here, Akiyama will be the first person to tell you that the match was a Kobashi carryjob, and though they crafted a satisfying match, Akiyama knew that that hadn’t been the real him out there. In keeping with his superrookie status, Akiyama would work every date of the ensuing October Giant Series tour. Due to the odd-numbered roster of the time, Akiyama was being booked more consistently in his first tour than Satoru Asako and Masao Inoue, both of whom had debuted in the spring of 1991, or even twenty-year veteran Mitsuo Momota. Booked exclusively in regular and six-man tags, Akiyama would share the ring with most of the significant talent to work that tour. From the top native stars of Chosedaigun and Tsurutagun (Akiyama mainly worked as an unaffiliated teammate of the former, though he did work one six-man on the other side during the tour’s antepenultmiate show), to the foreign stars of today (Stan Hansen) and yesterday (Dory Funk Jr, Abdullah the Butcher), Akiyama worked with more big names in a single tour than most puro rookies do in their first two years. As the last-debuting AJPW wrestler to work against a relatively healthy Tsuruta, Akiyama took his backdrop for the pinfall on October 13; five days earlier, he had been “baptized” by the Western Lariat. All the while, Baba fed him high-calorie dishes, likely insisting that Akiyama be an ebisu as he had Kobashi. As covered in the previous post, Akiyama was thrust into Tsuruta’s spot in the 1992 RWTL after Tsuruta’s hepatitis struck. By his own recollection, Akiyama didn’t stop to think about it, and just did what he had to do. He felt he had no choice, which wasn’t helped by his feeling that he was, in a sense, Tsuruta’s understudy. (As mentioned in a much earlier post on this thread, Akiyama claims that he suspected that Tsuruta’s health would go south.) Akiyama & Taue would have a 6-3 record at the tournament before advancing to the finals. On a November 17 b-show, Akiyama won his first match by pinning the Eagle in a six-man. It was only his 22nd match, which by AJPW rookie standards was doing pretty well. He even got to win one of the tournament matches, as he pinned Kendall Windham with a bridging German suplex on November 21. However, hierarchy would rear its ugly head for all three of their tournament losses; Akiyama was felled by Hansen’s Western Lariat on November 20, by Steve Williams’ Oklahoma Stampede on November 27, and by Kobashi’s moonsault on November 30. On December 6, 1991, Akiyama was one of 15,900 Budokan spectators to witness the last RWTL show, in which Misawa & Kawada and Tsuruta & Taue competed. He could never have fathomed that, just one year later, he would take the place of one of those four at the same venue. On December 4, 1992, he had 16,300 eyes on him. Three months earlier, he had wrestled his first match, and twelve years later, he would headline the Tokyo Dome, but Akiyama states that this was the most nervous that he would ever be in his career. It was a match that was destined to be a deflating experience from the moment Akiyama took Tsuruta’s place, but he had a good showing in his 36th match. (Note that Misawa and Kawada were both putting over Yoshihiro Momota in the undercard on their 36th matches.) If Cagematch is to be believed, the 1993 New Year Giant Series tour was when Akiyama was first officially billed as a member of Tsurutagun. This tour would also give him his first title match, a shot alongside teammate Yoshinari Ogawa at Kobashi & Kikuchi’s All Asia tag titles. Finally, it would give him the platform to have some more singles matches, through the seven-match Trial Series. Like Kobashi at the start of 1990, Akiyama would go 2-5, with wins against Al Perez and Johnny Smith to punctuate losses to Misawa, Kawada, Hansen, Gordy, and Williams. The longest of these matches was against Kawada, at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on January 26. Five days earlier, after a Taue/Akiyama vs Kawada/Kikuchi tag, Kawada had criticized Akiyama as a mechanically sound but inexpressive wrestler, not cut out for the elite. After pinning Akiyama with a powerbomb in 14:37, Kawada maintained his position: “You’ve got all these moves; now it’s time to learn to wrestle.” Kawada’s criticisms clearly were not spiteful. Four years earlier, when Ashura Hara’s dismissal had forced him to step up to the main event, Tsuruta had subjected him to a similar trial by fire. But Akiyama was cursed by his superrookie status, and though he commented after the Kawada match that he now understood that the “feeling that you put into each and every move” was the most important part of wrestling, he would be slow to implement this. Much later, Akiyama would admit that he had also been affected by the persistent criticisms in Ichinose’s Weekly Pro writeups, which stated, again and again, that Akiyama had shown “no color”. On March 11, one week after the end of the 1993 Excite Series, Ichinose interviewed Akiyama for the first time. This would be published in the Weekly Pro issue dated March 30, under the title “A Letter from the Spring Breeze”. Akiyama expressed his self-consciousness about his position. It appeared that the 1993 Champion Carnival would give Akiyama a chance to further grow as a wrestler. However, in the second match of the tour’s first date on March 25, Akiyama injured his right arm. He would not wrestle for two months, and would return to a much different landscape. A PARTNERSHIP OF RIVALS “I always hated pro wrestling. Really, I hated it. I wonder to myself why I fell in love with it so much. [...] I don't have any feelings of love or hate right now. But the fans still come back, so it must be attractive.” (Toshiaki Kawada, June 1992) The book continues to frame Toshiaki Kawada’s departure from the Super Generation Army as his own decision. Whether or not this is kayfabing the matter, Ichinose’s narrative lays out Kawada’s anxieties convincingly. In his February 28, 1993 postmatch interview with Ichinose, during which he stated that there was a “50/50 chance” that he would leave Chosedaigun, Kawada admitted that he felt pigeonholed by the success of the Super Generation Army in the media and among the fans. He expressed no resentment towards his teammates themselves, but he clearly felt he had gone as far as he could alongside them. Kawada also brought up his belief that wrestling had a three-year cycle. Ichinose points out that the Super Generation Army had formed in 1990, and Revolution three years before that. (You could take this back even further. Japan Pro Wrestling was formed in 1984. 1981 had seen three of the biggest foreign names in puroresu—Abdullah the Butcher, Stan Hansen, and Tiger Jeet Singh—change allegiances, on top of the IWE’s demise and its fallout. As for 1978...uh, I mean, that’s the year that Fujinami became a star, as well as when the IWE burned their bridge with Baba and got into what would be an even more asymmetrical partnership with NJPW. Not as great an example, but you get the idea.) While he brought up his three-year cycle theory, Kawada had openly worried about the potential staleness of the AJPW product as early as 1991. In an interview with the author after that year’s August 11 Korakuen show, after he and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi defeated the Blackhearts, Kawada said that a few shows that tour had not sold out, which made him nervous. As he would say in the February ‘93 postmatch interview, Kawada did not want to go back to the days when he would wrestle for fifty people. AJPW’s momentum insofar as box office was concerned had not yet stalled, but Kawada’s fears were not unfounded. Ichinose compares the first tours of 1992 and 1993 to demonstrate this, going by official statements. In 1992, All Japan held 19 shows; only two of these shows were “unmarked”, and 14 of the remaining 17 were not just full, but sold out. Meanwhile, the 1993 tour held 23 shows. 12 of them were sold out, and four were full, but this time almost a third of the tour’s events were “unmarked”. The greatest indictment was a comparison of the respective tours’ shows at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. On January 21, 1992, a card headed by four Chosedaigun vs. Tsurutagun singles matches drew 6,150. On January 26, 1993, with a Kobashi/Taue main event, a Miracle Violence Connection tag title defense against Hansen & Spivey, and the Akiyama/Kawada trial match, AJPW only drew 4,100. Once again, Baba entrusted Ichinose with booking the 1993 Champion Carnival; this time, though, Baba lifted the two-block compromise that he had imposed upon the tournament’s revival two years earlier. Ichinose thought that he had done a good job, but complaints came early. On the first show of the tour, a March 25 Korakuen date, a Kawada-Williams match was the last of the three tournament matches. It went to a thirty-minute time-limit draw, despite a Williams backdrop hurting Kawada’s neck halfway through. After a Chosedaigun/Tsurutagun six-man tag on the following night’s untelevised Korakuen show, Kawada spoke to reporters while nursing his neck with an ice pack. He recalled how, in the 1992 Carnival, he had been forced to wrestle Williams just one day after Hansen in consecutive block matches, which had been difficult for him. He stated that he didn’t blame the powers that be for booking him against Williams to start the tournament, because they clearly needed to elevate someone. Ichinose took this comment as a reporter—none of the talent save for Baba knew of his creative influence—but he and the other reporters in the room were shocked by it. Ichinose compares it to Riki Choshu’s famous (if allegedly apocryphal) comment in 1982 that he “wasn’t Fujinami’s bait dog”. After Misawa won his tournament match that night against the Patriot, he responded to Kawada’s remarks: “There's a part of you, Kawada, that's not quite brave enough. If you're leaving, why don't you just say so? He can't make that final decision. He can do it if someone else does it for him, but he can't do it himself. It's always been that way.” The following night, Misawa and Kawada faced each other in a Kyoto tournament match, which Misawa won with an elbow in 22:00. At the April 12 show in Osaka, Kawada and Taue wrestled as members of opposing factions for the last time. It was on this show that Kawada announced he would leave the Super Generation Army, although he expressed gratitude for their support. Two days later, during a press conference held at a Nagoya show, Baba confirmed that he would be joining Taue’s team, and stated that he wanted the two to challenge for the tag titles. Kawada had requested one last six-man tag alongside Kobashi and Kikuchi, and in the semi-main of the tour’s final show (April 21, Yokohama), they wrestled Tsurutagun in a match that saw Fuchi sit down on a Kikuchi sunset flip attempt for the pinfall. By Kawada’s own admission, the match was uninspired. Afterwards, he asked Wada if he had counted a bit fast, to which the referee responded: “I think it’s good that your last match was so dull.” Spoiler 1. Night 1 of the 1992 Fan Appreciation Day, held on April 18, saw the debut of a match stipulation concocted by Fuchi: the survival tag. For the first time, all four members of Chosedaigun and Tsurutagun were to have faced off in one match. Sadly, Taue’s injury would require his spot to be filled by Rusher Kimura; as a result, the last third of a 67-minute match was saddled with arguably the roster’s most limited worker. Much as I’ve come to appreciate Kimura as a character (and honestly, I find something about his career arc weirdly moving: the shy wrestler whose body had been broken by the company that needed him to be their ace, and who had gotten laughed at when he first tried to cut an invading heel promo on NJPW turf because he was such a friendly guy at heart that his first words were "good evening", only to eventually turn promos into his calling card and help develop a comedic tradition that would allow broken-down old men like himself to continue contributing to AJPW/NOAH shows), this kept the match from fulfilling its ambitions. The survival tag would continue to make rare appearances in the subsequent years, such as the great Chosedaigun vs Seikigun (Holy Demon Army) showdown one night before Misawa and Kawada’s July 1993 title match. Fifteen years later, Burning and Kensuke Office would square off in SEM for another notable iteration of the stipulation. But while the 4/18 match as originally intended may very well have crumbled under its own ambitions, it was probably the best shot AJPW ever had at topping 4/20/91. 2. While Akiyama’s legal and ring names are identical, they use different characters for his first name. He was born 秋山潤, but is professionally known as 秋山準. 3. In the first part of my planned Jumbo Tsuruta biography series on my blog, I write about how this iteration of the National Sports Festival, held in Yamanashi, motivated a wave of physical education recruitment in the early 1980s. The first person that Tsuruta ever wrestled in official competition, Shijuro Shimoda, had been inspired by Tsuruta’s remarks to start a wrestling club in Jumbo’s native province, and he traveled the country to scout ex-student champions who could build amateur wrestling’s presence in the province. I wrote that this may be Tsuruta’s greatest legacy in amateur wrestling, as the province which Tsuruta had once complained was a barren land for the sport would produce two Olympic gold medalists in the 2010s. 4. I went into this in a footnote on one of my SWS history posts, but to sum it up: ukemi is a concept borrowed from Japanese martial arts, in which one must learn how to receive a technique correctly and safely. Some will compare it to the term selling, though bumping would probably be a more precise equivalent. Anyway, Baba was famous for insisting that his wrestlers develop a very particular ukemi before they were ready to debut, marked by the so-called “Baba sound” that a Baba-era AJPW-trained (or NOAH-trained, as Akiyama and Yoshinari Ogawa carried on this tradition in their backstage role as trainers) makes when they hit the canvas. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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