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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART SEVEN [KAWADA VS HANSEN + "PRO WRESTLING NEWS"]

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART SEVEN

“WHEN HE FIGHTS LIKE THAT, HE’S BETTER THAN MISAWA”

Ichinose cites a handful of 1991 matches in the context of Toshiaki Kawada’s efforts to develop his own style. The earliest of these is his Champion Carnival match on April 6 against Jumbo Tsuruta, a match whose finishing stretch hinged on Kawada’s persistent kicks to Tsuruta’s face. After winning in decisive fashion, Tsuruta was nevertheless encouraging of Kawada. “When he fights like that, he’s better than Misawa.”

On July 6, during a Misawa/Kawada vs Tsuruta/Ogawa tag match in Yokosuka, Kawada was injured by Ogawa’s step kicks (Ichinose reports it as a broken left orbital bone, though in the broadcast one sees a bloodied mouth). Two weeks later, Kawada faced Taue in their first singles match in three months, which broadcast as a joined-in-progress clip of approximately the last ten minutes. Much of this match saw Kawada fight with “primitive striking”, before finishing the match with a choke sleeper hold after a powerbomb kickout. After this match, Kawada made a comment that Ichinose considers reflective of the wrestler he was becoming: “I wonder if wrestling is not about techniques. Sometimes, you get better results when you can’t execute your moves.”

When Kawada was called up to challenge for the Triple Crown in Misawa’s place, though, he tried a different approach. Ichinose’s match report noted that Kawada moved away from the kick-heavy approach he had been developing, in favor of repeated use of strangulation techniques. In a November 9 interview with Ichinose, Kawada stated that he mixed up his approach because he wanted to minimize his mistakes, feeling that Tsuruta would be able to read his moves and neutralize him if he went to the kick well. But to paraphrase Kawada, he only ended up strangling himself.

Eight months later, Kawada received his second shot at the Triple Crown. On June 5, 1992, Kawada challenged Stan Hansen at Budokan. Almost exactly two years before, Kawada had wrestled Hansen in a Sapporo squash match. That match had also seen Kawada adopt a kick-based approach early on, though everything had gone wrong for him when he tried to counter an apron suplex with an O’Connor roll. In 5:03, was pinned after a Western Lariat.

The Budokan match would see him last four times as long. In contrast with 10/24/91, Ichinose writes that Kawada succeeded in expressing his style and philosophy in this match. Kawada’s wrestling throughout the match was most certainly not about techniques, taking it to Hansen with a strike-heavy approach. Hansen responded in kind, as Hansen is wont to do. While Kawada stated after the match that “Hansen was not the man he wanted to fight”, as “he didn’t like to fight foreigners”, Hansen’s meat-and-potatoes approach satisfied Kawada. “It meant that he had been accepted, or rather, forced to accept himself.

As Hansen left the ring, Kawada went after him while selling the damage he had sustained. When he finally caught up to Hansen, he offered a handshake, which Hansen took. Just then, Kawada collapsed, and Hansen responded with a respectful gesture, lightly placing one of his Triple Crown belts—the NWA United National title, the secondary singles title which had chiefly been held by Jumbo Tsuruta and then Genichiro Tenryu in the thirteen years before the Triple Crown unification—upon Kawada’s shoulder. 

"When I fought Hansen in Sapporo, I felt that I wasn't worthy. To be able to fight Hansen at the Budokan was unthinkable in the past, so I guess I wanted to go toe-to-toe with him. No other foreign wrestler had ever responded to me in that way, and that's why, after the fight, I wanted to go see Hansen. I hadn't thought much of Hansen before that. I hadn't had a good image of him since I was a new apprentice, because he knocked me down by a lariat when I came in to stop a brawl, but when he fought me head-on at the Budokan, I was grateful.”

When he recovered, Kawada called an ambulance to further sell the effects of the match. His comments in a June 10 interview with Ichinose make it clear that, by this point, the expression of accumulated damage had become a focal point of Kawada’s performances, comparing his efforts to “convey the pain of a wrestler” to a television audience to how a cooking show may attempt to convey the smells and tastes of the dishes.

During his third Triple Crown reign, Hansen would successfully defend his belts against three of the future Shitenno: first against Misawa in March, then the Kawada match, and finally against Taue in July. This led some to say that “the four pillars were raised by Hansen”, but in The Sun Rises Again, a 2003 book published for the Japanese market, Hansen claimed that he wasn’t trying to do so consciously. He was trying to protect his spot and hold them down, but they kept getting back up.[1]

--------------

And now for something a little different. This doesn’t directly pertain to this narrative, but I think it’s a valuable piece of context for this era of AJPW.

PRO WRESTLING NEWS

 pronyu05.jpg.f984c7dd5c90721611caedd8639bff7d.jpgpronyu06.jpg.33624d61b98f57688629508cffa5814f.jpg

Above: AJPW commentator Akira Fukuzawa interviews the Dynamite Kid in a comedic segment from an unconfirmed episode of AJPW TV. Fukuzawa’s pet segment Pro Wrestling News was a controversial staple of early-90s AJPW television.

On April 18, 1989, Jumbo Tsuruta defeated Stan Hansen to unify the NWA International Heavyweight, PWF Heavyweight & NWA United National titles to create the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Upon his victory, Tsuruta was interviewed in the ring by a Nippon TV presenter making his debut for AJPW television: Akira Fukuzawa. Fukuzawa would continue to make appearances in this capacity until April 1990. When longtime commentator Takao Kuramochi stepped down to work behind the scenes at Nippon TV, Fukuzawa would take his place...just as AJPW was moved to the 12:30am Sunday timeslot.

Fukuzawa was an inexperienced commentator, and his early performances definitely showed it, but where Fukuzawa would shine was a segment developed after the timeslot change: “Pro Wrestling News”. The stated purpose was to communicate extratextual information such as match results, wrestler comments, and brief introductions to new foreign talent. The earliest appearance of the segment that I could find was on the July 23, 1990 episode. It’s played mostly straight, appearing to cover Yatsu’s mid-tour departure, establish the also soon-to-depart Great Kabuki as Tsuruta’s new tag partner, and briefly touch on Misawa. Even in this first go-around, though, Fukuzawa was reading their quotes in what seemed to be vocal impressions. In the next episode’s segment, though, Fukuzawa went even further. In a segment addressing Danny Spivey’s mid-tour departure, Fukuzawa went off-script and added his own comment (something along the lines of “I caused a lot of trouble for all of you. I'm fine now, I just want to get out of here!”) in an approximation of a foreign accent. In the coming months, “Pro Wrestling News” would stretch further into comedic interview segments with foreign wrestlers. On the October 14, 1990 episode, Fukuzawa asked Abdullah the Butcher for his thoughts on the company’s new tour bus. In an episode I could not find on YouTube but from which I found the header screenshots on a Japanese blog, Fukuzawa interviewed the Dynamite Kid about his attempts to learn Japanese, to which Dynamite responded with phrases in a manner that the blogger compared to actor Yusaku Matsuda.

Fukuzawa’s irreverent approach was controversial. There were some fans who found it disrespectful of pro wrestling, and that disdain could be seen among both Fukuzawa’s colleagues (when once forced to host the segment in Fukuzawa’s absence, co-commentator Kenji Wakabayashi openly stated his contempt for it) and the wrestling industry itself (NJPW’s Hiroshi Hase threatened violence upon Fukuzawa[2]). However, Ichinose notes that “Pro Wrestling News” was popular with the younger audience that AJPW was catering to in the early 90s. On the first episode of 1991, in the wrestling equivalent of “if you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog”, Fukuzawa vowed that he would take a moonsault from Kobashi if the program did not draw a 10% viewership rating by the end of the year. He would eventually walk back on this due to the program having gotten a 10% rating for a segment, but they did show growth. The average rating was in the 3-4% range, but the February 10, December 8, and December 22 shows drew 6.7%, 7.0%, and 8.2% respectively. Around this time, “Pro Wrestling News” even had its own set built, although this would eventually be scrapped for a travelling approach.

When the timeslot cut to thirty minutes took effect in March 1994, the segment ended with a skit. In what may have been a farcical reference to the 1960 assassination of Japan Socialist Party chairman Inejirō Asanuma, a crazed fan stabbed Fukuzawa in the chest. Fukuzawa said “I knew this day would come” as he fell to his death...before someone offscreen yelled the Japanese equivalent of "Cut!", upon which Fukuzawa broke character, got back up, and walked out of the room with the rest of the crew.

puronewsendskit.jpg.44f1b3b0793f384a778a3d5f6194b833.jpg

Spoiler

[1] Hansen’s comments in 2010 English-language autobiography The Last Outlaw suggest that these were comments made in kayfabe. In this book, Hansen claims that he was in fact willing to pay it forward to younger talent, as opposed to Bruiser Brody. He is also quite effusive in his praise of Kawada, stating that he believed he was better than Tenryu in the matches where they tagged together in 1988-9 (most famously the 1988 RWTL final against Hansen & Terry Gordy).

[2] Hase’s objections make a lot of sense if you’re familiar with the debacle that was I Can’t Wait Until The GIve-Up!, a brief TV Asahi experiment that infamously attempted to retool NJPW’s World Pro Wrestling program by adding a talk/variety show element. An informative Igapro article on the subject is one of the many things I have considered adapting as future material for this thread, but this will have to do for now. [I eventually gave this its own thread.]

After World Pro Wrestling was moved to the timeslot that Beat Takeshi’s sports show had once occupied (Takeshi was doing time for having stormed the offices and assaulted the editor-in-chief of FRIDAY magazine with his posse, in retaliation for a reporter having injured his girlfriend with their aggressive approach to getting a quote from her), a talk segment was added to the program. Hosted by TV Asahi tarento with little to no knowledge of the product, this backfired massively and was scrapped fairly quickly. The most infamous incident from the segment involved none other than Hase, in fact. When actress and presenter Kuniko Yamada asked Hase, who had yet to formally debut for NJPW, whether a wrestler’s bleeding stops when they go back to the locker room, he snapped on her for such a stupid question. (Yamada would at least receive a cute moment of redemption many years later when, during a 2021 NOAH show that Yamada did commentary for, Hase and her had a fist bump. You can see both of these moments stitched together in a short YouTube clip.)

Its most lasting legacy, funnily enough, may be Vader. While NJPW were the ones who wanted to work with Leon White, Vader’s helmet and possibly even his whole costume design had been created by the TV Asahi prop department, in an effort to create a gimmick that would draw shonen fans to the product.  

 

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