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KinchStalker

2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 1-9, PART FIVE [MISAWA UNMASKS + JUNE 1990]

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 1-9, PART FIVE

I crushed my finger closing a cot during a camping trip (no bone or nerve damage, but still painful), but that didn’t actually hurt my workflow much. Most of this transcription work is pressing CTL+C->CTL+V, after all.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve gleamed from Chapters 8-9.

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“There was a time when I used to think that [that was] the way it should be. But now I've changed, and I'm thinking, "This is better.” In a sense, I used to be a professional wrestler. I used to cheat my fans and do whatever I could. But now, I think that I won't cheat my fans anymore.”

- a roughly translated remark by Baba, during a 1990 Weekly Pro interview with Tarzan Yamamoto

Chapter 8 gives some context than the Jumbo bio didn't about the backstage frustrations which must have influenced Genichiro Tenryu to leave for SWS. It does not appear that he nor the rest of the company’s talent knew at this point about the meetings Baba was having with the Weekly Pro guys, but Tenryu sure sensed the change. Ryu Nakata told the author back then that, on the March 1989 Korakuen show when Baba & Kobashi wrestled for Footloose’s All Asia tag titles, Tenryu could be heard muttering “who the hell put this match together?” Ichinose recalls that he was not allowed to approach Tenryu and notify him of what was happening in advance, as his duty was to remain in the background. That year, Tenryu also expressed irritation with his tag team with Stan Hansen. He saw his style of wrestling as a two-way street, and was frustrated by the styles clash that the very one-way Hansen presented.

In a section which turns back the timeline to 1987-88, Ichinose recalls, among other things, how he was compelled by the Tenryu Revolution. Still, he believed that, no matter how wonderful the contents of a match, if the result was uncertain – as it was in the third Jumbo/Tenryu match – All Japan had no future.

We also get a bit more insight into how AJPW was covered by Weekly Pro. Despite the secret involvement of its staff in the promotion’s creative shift, All Japan did not receive disproportionate coverage in their magazine. On the contrary, while higher-quality shows would naturally give them more coverage, they did not receive the luxury of special issues for their biggest matches, unlike their competitors. This was the decree of the sales division, who did not believe that All Japan special issues were commercially viable.

There’s one important piece of info from Chapter 6 that I skipped over in its respective recap post, because it happened a bit further along in the timeline. Now it’s time to address it, although if you’ve been reading Matt D’s 1989 AJPW watchalong thread over on DVDVR, I already dished on it.

The AJPW vs NJPW match of Genichiro Tenryu & Tiger Mask II vs. Riki Choshu & George Takano at the 1990.02.10 Tokyo Dome show wasn’t the original plan. As the card was first announced on January 24, Tenryu was set to team up with Kawada, and Choshu was to wrestle alongside Kuniaki Kobayashi. In the coming days, though, Choshu decided to switch Kobayashi out for George Takano, which NJPW president Seiji Sakaguchi was reportedly quite unhappy about. On February 5, it was announced that Kawada would be snubbed to make room for Tiger Mask II.

When it comes time to cover Tenryu’s last show before leaving AJPW, Ichinose does not offer nearly as much insight as the Jumbo bio did. However, he does make a personal observation that, while he believed Tenryu still had a role to play in the revitalization of the company, he surmises that Tenryu felt that his job was over in light of Baba and Yamamoto’s efforts. (This implies that Tenryu knew of Weekly Pro’s creative influence at this point, but there’s nothing I can find in the text that confirms this one way or the other.)

The first show without Tenryu was the May 14, 1990 show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Ichinose notes that many matches had taken place here, most notably the May 24, 1963 Rikidōzan-Destroyer match, but that this was the first wrestling card to have been held at the venue since renovations had begun three years earlier. Ichinose recalls that the atmosphere of the show never congealed into a hopeful one.

unmasking.thumb.jpg.23c93c13b700b3ab14fca96e2c12cbb5.jpg

Above: Mitsuharu Misawa unmasks after nearly six years. [From Issue #380 of Weekly Pro Wrestling, 6/5/1990]

Famously, Tiger Mask II unmasked in the antepenultimate match. Ichinose disputes that this directly correlated to Tenryu’s departure, as he had actually told a Weekly Pro reporter in March about his intent to unmask. He concedes that it was a great moment, but notes that the semi-main event, in which Davey Boy Smith wrestled Dustin Rhodes (billed here as Dusty Rhodes Jr.), was one of the most mediocre AJPW matches of the decade, and completely failed to maintain the crowd heat that the ray of light that was Misawa’s unmasking had finally given the show.

The main event, in which Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta reunited as main-event tag partners for the first time in years (Yoshiaki Yatsu hadn’t left the company at this point, but had been injured in his March singles match against Steve Williams), saw Baba get pinned clean by the Miracle Violence Connection. This didn’t do much at all to help the mood – with a moment where Baba collapsed “as if electrocuted” when Gordy whipped him into the corner being an especially bleak one – but there was one significant symbolic detail to the whole affair. When it came time for Ryu Nakata to announce the native participants, he announced Baba’s name first, an admission that Jumbo was the top dog now.

Boy, no wonder Jumbo took the Misawa loss as such an existential threat.

On their way back to the Capitol Tokyu Hotel for a meeting, Yamamoto and Ichinose weren’t optimistic about the company’s prognosis. There seemed no surefire way for AJPW to recover. Without Tenryu, the intensity of “bright, fun, and intense pro wrestling” was all gone, as the show had plainly displayed. They quickly agreed, however, that Misawa was the only chance they had. During the meeting, they told Baba that Misawa was the only way to go.

Baba was quite reluctant. For all the implications of the ring announcement before the match he had just worked, he was still thinking in that old mode of seniority-based hierarchy. The way forward seemed to him to be as it has always been; a challenge for the ace against a gaikokujin at the end of the tour. His consultants were firm in their conviction, though, and while Ichinose cannot recall exactly what he said to make Baba agree in the moment, he remembers that he at least got that out of him. Regardless, Tsuruta vs. Misawa would not be announced as the tour’s final match until the May 26 Korakuen date. Shockingly, Ichinose recalls that Shunji Takano, and not Misawa, was slated for the main event of this Korakuen date, but injury changed those plans, and the six-man tag that we all know and love as the pre-coming out party of the fully-formed Misawa was allowed to happen.

Chapter 9, and by extension the first part of the book, ends with a bit of information about the June 30 One Night Special in Korakuen and the following Summer Action Series tour. Ichinose notes that he considers the former show’s semi-main event, a singles match between Kawada and Kobashi, to be Kawada’s “starting point” as a fully formed wrestler. Ichinose then moves to the subject of Yoshiaki Yatsu’s final tour for All Japan. He recalls the brawl that he and Misawa got into during a Misawa/Kawada vs. Olympians match, and also addresses a rumor that’s circulated on the Japanese Internet that, during a house show, Misawa and Kawada pulled a Tenryu and took it to Yatsu (not in an “beat to a pulp” way, more a “stiff the guy to motivate them to return in kind” way) after the man had said they could cut corners for the provincial crowd. Ichinose excerpts an interview from 1998 in which Yatsu remarks that, as he'd instructed both Misawa and Kawada during their days at the Ashikaga Institute of Technology high school, that it would've been a pity if he hadn't left, as they still would've called him "Yatsu-senpai" and had held back as a result. (It reads to me as an unconvincing, "Sure, Jan"-worthy statement, but whatever helps get that guy through the day with all the bridges he burned in the business.)

On July 19, after Yatsu had already left, Jumbo and the Great Kabuki won the AJPW World Tag Team titles from the Miracle Violence Connection on a televised B-show, as a new “veteran duo” after Yatsu’s departure. Alas, Kabuki himself bounced for SWS at tour’s end. On July 30, he turned in his notice to Baba.

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49 minutes ago, KinchStalker said:

That year, Tenryu also expressed irritation with his tag team with Stan Hansen. He saw his style of wrestling as a two-way street, and was frustrated by the styles clash that the very one-way Hansen presented.

This is worth writing hundreds and hundreds of words about.

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