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Issue #429 of Weekly Pro Wrestling. (April 16, 1991). With sixteen extra full-color pages in the middle of this issue, originally intended for coverage of the SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome event but made moot by the SWS ban, the magazine decided to print two eight-page profiles for Kenta Kobashi and Megumi Kudo, the latter of whom won out for the cover photo. This profile was a prominent example of Kobashi’s marketing as an “idol wrestler”, which catered to a notable peripheral demographic that All Japan was attracting at the time.

1990, as Ichinose sees it, was a turning point. Not only were there so many new promotions formed in what turned out to be the twilight of the bubble period, but there was fragmentation on a stylistic front as well. In the old, binary era, fans were partially attracted to puroresu because AJPW and NJPW (and once, the IWE) were similar enough that one could evaluate how strong they believed their respective wrestlers were under a common if ultimately hypothetical measure. But at the dawn of Heisei puroresu, the paradigm shifted so radically that this no longer interested fans. Put more directly, Atsushi Onita and Nobuhiko Takada were playing such different games that to ask which was 'stronger' was irrelevant. The most important thing would become a promotion’s ability to provide a unique yet consistent product, and in that respect All Japan was ahead of the curve in the retool it had undergone. (“If you believe that you can provide a dish worth the price of the ticket, people will come to the venue for the taste. If it is judged that the taste is not good or the taste is not consistent, the audience will naturally slow down.”)

The year marked another oft-overlooked change, as it was then that New Japan streamlined its touring model. From the beginning of puroresu, small provincial shows had formed the connective tissue of national tours which lasted 3-4 weeks or more, but NJPW broke away from that formula, shifting to a one-to-two week tour model focused on major cities. While Ichinose is ambivalent about whether All Japan’s fidelity to tradition was a good thing–it would have helped their business to follow New Japan’s lead, that’s for sure–it did keep the company connected to rural markets.

On July 27, Misawa received his first shot at the Triple Crown, which had been vacated after Terry Gordy’s overdose. In his first singles match against Stan Hansen, he fell to the Western Lariat. The match took so much out of him that he couldn’t make it all the way back to the dressing room, and had to sit down in the same aisle where fans were heading for the exit. He was surrounded by dozens of children, teenagers, and women, all concerned for his well-being. As Ichinose saw this, he heard a photographer from another publication wondering aloud why Misawa was so popular.

The popularity of the Super Generation Army itself represented a shift. Traces of idol culture had been seeping into wrestling for nearly two decades at this point. Mach Fumiake, an aspiring singer who had lost in the final round of TV audition program Star Birth!! to Momoe Yamaguchi, pivoted to pro wrestling with her 1974 debut for AJW, and gave the promotion a wave of new fans and a direction they would follow further with the Beauty Pair, itself influenced by womens’ musical theatre troupe the Takarazuka Revue (as laid out in this fascinating blog and podcast). Mimi Hagiwara, who had actually seen some success as an entertainer, would join AJW in 1978 and pioneer the “idol wrestler” proper. It wasn’t just a joshi thing either, as all of this was contemporaneous with Wakadaisho-era Jumbo Tsuruta, whose sensitive public image endeared him to women and children (while it somewhat alienated the core demo of mens’ puroresu). But there was, in Ichinose’s view, something special about the group which began to flock around Chosedaigun. As he puts it, this new breed of fan engaged with their work through a self-projection distinct from the standard emotional investment of wanting “your guy” to win.

The original apparatus of idol culture, the idol singer industry, may have begun its decline by this point, but its footprints could be traced in unexpected places. Ichinose draws a fascinating parallel between the Super Generation Army and Oguri Cap. Originally named Hatsuratsu, he was “a third-rate racehorse of mediocre pedigree”, born with his right foreleg turned outward and unable to stand without assistance. Despite this, the horse debuted on the racetrack in 1987, and through its four-year career became “the horse of the fans”. Oguri Cap’s story resonated with many a person who had come from rural backgrounds to work in the city, though writer Hiroshi Iwamaru opines that the emotions that he stirred in his fans “can probably only be understood by those who lived through his time”. Most pertinent to Ichinose’s point, Oguri was the leading figure in attracting women to the racetrack; the “Oguri Girls”, as they were known, would carry plushes of the horse and even sometimes cheered his stablehand. Oguri Cap retired in early 1991, after winning the Arima Kinen for a second time.

Ichinose recalls the show in Toda on March 25, 1991. Before the show itself even started, he heard a “yellow cheer” (Japanese expression) from the crowd as Misawa and Kobashi walked through the arena to get back to the dressing room after their workout. As he wrote in his Weekly Pro recap, he momentarily thought that boy band Hikaru GENJI had shown up. [3] (This is the starting point of a journey that would eventually bring us to Misawa, Kobashi & Kawada covering boy band SMAP on New Years’ 1998, and to NOAH appearing on idol group AKB48’s television program a month after Misawa’s death, due to the Kobashi crush of member Asuka Kuramochi.)

Baba was still out with his femur injury, but three months into his absence, attendance had not seen any significant decline. Ichinose points out AJPW’s late-night Sunday timeslot on Nippon TV, which it had been fully shifted to in the spring of 1990 (although in the Osaka, Hokkaido, Aichi, and Fukuoka markets, this had already happened two years earlier). VCR was an option for some, of course, but for fans still of schooling age it was a difficult program to stay up late to catch. So while television had an “overwhelming influence” on the way people learned about All Japan, this periphery demographic was incentivized by the inconvenience to attend live events. And yet, the difficultly in accessing the product fanned the fervor of this new breed of fan even more. "Somewhere along the line, they found the Super Generation Army. These were not heroes forced upon them by someone else; these were their own personal heroes who were not widely known…[whose stories] made them forget their drowsiness and their everyday lives.”

If All Japan wanted to take advantage of this by showcasing each of these new fans’ heroes in a singles context, it was in their interest to bring something back. The Champion Carnival tour branding had never changed, but the original purpose of a singles tournament had been abandoned after the 1982 iteration. Ichinose notes in retrospect that Baba might have been motivated to do so to keep Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody, who had teamed up after Brody and Buck Robley turned on Jimmy Snuka for losing their rematch against the Funks, from having to wrestle against each other. (I would also point out the pressure Nippon TV was putting upon the promotion to gradually phase out Baba as the ace, since Baba had won the last two iterations of the tournament.) But at the time Ichinose, who used to plan his own Carnival tournaments in his notebooks during class, was frustrated by the change.

Since he’d been working for Baba in this capacity, he’d “poked his back” every chance he got to try to bring the format back. But now, Baba recognized the needs of this shifting fanbase, and agreed to Ichinose’s suggestion, albeit with the compromise that the round robin would be held in a two-block format. And so it was that, months before their traditional competitor held the first iteration of the G1 Climax, AJPW brought back the Champion Carnival tournament for the spring of 1991. Ichinose himself was tasked with drafting the Carnival’s roster, blocks, and schedule, but the process would be a bit more complicated than his high school fantasy booking. He had to consider what matches should be held on television tapings. He had to consider what matches he wanted to put wrestlers in on dates when they weren’t competing in their Carnival block. He had to keep the schedule as “flat” as possible, spreading out not just the marquee matchups, but the block matches of each respective competitor as well. But the most important thing to Baba was the main event, as it would ultimately be what satisfied customers. Ultimately, only three of the 20 tournament dates would hold block matches as the main event: Tsuruta vs. Taue on March 29 in Nagaoka, Misawa vs. Kobashi on April 5 in Takamatsu (an untelevised match where Misawa used his Tiger Driver ’91 once more to win–albeit in such a safe manner that the only real difference from the standard Tiger Driver was that Misawa landed on his knees–before putting it on ice for three years), and Hansen vs. Misawa on April 6 in Osaka. They was so sparing on this because Baba believed that for most block matches, the skill gap was too great to reliably craft a satisfying main event. So, the remaining 17 dates would end with regular and six-man tags.

The key to Ichinose’s booking would be a man who wasn’t even in the Carnival proper: Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. On a March 3 Korakuen show, a mid-tour date of the previous Excite Series tour, Kikuchi was once again a curtainjerker, going over Richard Slinger at the start. It was there, though, that Kikuchi expressed his desire to Ichinose to wrestle in the main event, which on that date was a Misawa/Kawada/Kobashi vs. Tsuruta/Taue/Fuchi six-man. As Ichinose notes, Kikuchi’s wish was not one of “self-satisfied ambition”. He simply wanted to excite the audience, and Ichinose would grant his wish. Kikuchi participated in 13 of the 17 non-block match main events on the Carnival. Most remarkable about this was that, as the tournament blocks neared completion, Kikuchi would wrestle in five consecutive main events from April 11-15. On April 16, when Jumbo Tsuruta and Stan Hansen faced off in the Carnival final, Kikuchi received a shot at Fuchi’s junior title. Ichinose goes so far as to call Kikuchi “the main character” of the 19th Champion Carnival.

As the Carnival progressed, something interesting happened within the pages of Weekly Pro.


The full-page ad that caused SWS to ban Weekly Pro.

On February 13, 1991, SWS officials contacted the advertising office of Weekly Pro parent company Baseball Magazine Sha Co., Ltd. The issue dated February 19, which hit shelves twelve days earlier, had printed a full-page advertisement for the SuperWrestle in Tokyo Dome show on March 31. This had not been purchased by SWS, whose relationship with the publication was quite fraught, but by the promoters of the venue itself. One would think this would be the first step towards a thaw in relations, but a printing error instead froze relations completely. Specifically, the ad copy “ドームに夢を見ろ!!” (“Dream in the Dome!”) had shifted downward from its place in the original layout, so that 夢 (“Dream”) covered Tenryu’s mouth. The publication went so far as to show SWS the original layout, but the promotion remained convinced that deliberate sabotage had occurred. On February 15, a “Notice of Refusal of Interviews” arrived via express mail. This was bad for Weekly Pro because they had already arranged for their issue dated 4/16, which would be their first to be produced after SuperWrestle in Tokyo Dome, to print with sixteen extra full-color pages to cover the event. The staff improvised a solution to salvage the issue. These pages would be dedicated to two eight-page profiles spotlighting a pair of rising stars: AJPW’s Kenta Kobashi, and FMW’s Megumi Kudo.

13d705e2da3c23c07271472d346e05e11.thumb.jpg.20121f901fef04046b4c4c722a715603.jpg229451168_thelastmessagefromkenta.thumb.jpg.cc2daacbbdaf5ba3d8f89ebe105af7ed.jpgMore pages from Kobashi's Weekly Pro profile.

Ichinose took charge of Kobashi’s section, and deliberately modeled it after content that one would see in an idol magazine. This ranged from studio photos of Kobashi in casual clothes, to an interview which touched on his favorite foods, his first love, and his views on marriage, to even a palm reading. Ultimately, Kobashi would lose the battle for the cover photo to Kudo. Kudo was the first joshi wrestler to have an entire Weekly Pro cover to herself since Dump Matsumoto in February 1988, but in a decision which initially bewildered Ichinose, Tarzan Yamamoto selected a picture of Kudo posing with her eyes closed. The general feeling amongst the staff was that it was “too much of a joke”, but Ichinose acknowledges that Yamamoto was a master at such subversive marketing: “He presents readers with a sense of discomfort, and makes them stop and wonder what is going on. Then, he makes them pull out a copy of Shukanpro from the shelves of bookstores and convenience stores. It can be said that he devoted most of his energy as an editor-in-chief to that momentary game.” He ends this passage by recalling Kobashi’s first Weekly Pro cover, the August 1, 1989 issue which captured him with Tsuruta after his breakout match on July 15. On that cover, too, Kobashi’s eyes were closed. Just a coincidence, perhaps, but Ichinose remembers also being initially baffled by that decision, and momentarily wondering whether it was more than coincidence, before concluding that “to make us think like that [was] the essence of Yamamoto’s magic.” For his part, Yamamoto would write glowingly of the Kudo cover in one of his post-Weekly Pro books, claiming that she was a like a “typhoon” that saved Weekly Pro and sank SWS.

The Carnival tournament concluded on April 16, as Jumbo Tsuruta defeated Stan Hansen to win for the second time. While his 1980 Carnival victory over Dick Slater had been blighted by the unshakeable impression that Slater had been used as a proxy for Terry Funk, who had been in the tournament and whose defeat would have certainly given Tsuruta a greater rub (they had gone to a time-limit draw in their Carnival match, which had been their first singles encounter since their 1976 classic), the conclusion of this tournament had no such asterisk. Two nights later, at the Nippon Budokan, the tournament winner and Triple Crown champion defended his belts against Mitsuharu Misawa.

That wasn’t all that was worthy of note during that event. The first match would see the Budokan debut of future Super Generation Army member Satoru Asako, a loss to Isamu Teranishi. It was after the fourth match that the date of Baba’s scheduled return to the ring–June 1–was announced. In the sixth match, Kobashi defeated Danny Kroffat despite working with a rib injury (his eighth and ninth had separated during the Carnival). In the seventh, Akira Taue finally defeated Toshiaki Kawada, albeit by countout. In the semi-main, Hansen & Spivey got the tag titles from the Miracle Violence Connection, avenging their loss in the RWTL final. At the end of the show, when Tsuruta retained his titles, the “Zen Nippon” chant which had been heard in Baba’s 30th Anniversary show returned, alongside the expected “Tsu-Ru-Ta, Oh!”.

Two days later, AJPW would hold a Fan Appreciation Day event in Korakuen. The Fan Appreciation Day, a concept borrowed from the Nippon Professional Baseball events held in November, had originally appeared in All Japan back in 1974. That year, on July 21, the company booked Yomiuri Field for what was essentially a meet-and-greet with Baba and the Destroyer, which 7,000 fans attended. It wouldn’t become an annual thing, but the Fan Appreciation Day was brought back in this form several times over the next decade, always at the field of the team for which Baba had once played. The 1983 iteration, which was just two days before Terry Funk’s first retirement, brought 10,000 fans. However, the Fan Appreciation Day was shelved indefinitely in 1985, partially due to the 1984 iteration only drawing 2,000 fans, but also because it was deemed inappropriately heartwarming for the atmosphere of the product during the AJPW vs JPW program. But on April 20, 1991, the tradition would be revived, albeit in a different form: a proper wrestling event at Korakuen. At the time, AJPW priced seats at their Korakuen dates to move. As opposed to some promotions which charged as much as 10,000 yen for seats, AJPW sold the special and reserved seats at 5000 and 4000 yen respectively. On Fan Appreciation Day, though, this would be knocked down to a flat fee of 3,000.

Before the first match, a charity auction was held, and this combined with the discounted seats suggested a low-stakes exhibition show. It certainly seemed that the Super Generation Army was in rough shape. Kawada had been unable to return to the dressing room without assistance after his match at the Budokan against Taue, Kobashi was working with injured ribs, and Misawa was worn down from a singles tournament and subsequent title match. And yet, in his postmatch comments in the Budokan dressing room, Misawa vowed that he would avenge his loss. Ichinose claims that he was involved with the booking of this card, but states that he had no idea how special the main event, another Misawa/Kawada/Kobashi vs. Tsuruta/Taue/Fuchi six-man, would be. He recalls that, due to its proximity to a Budokan show that would warrant full coverage, Weekly Pro was only able to prepare three color pages for what would be one of the most legendary AJPW matches of the decade. He states plainly that this was their failure, and the publication would acknowledge this, rewriting a part of the match report with characters packed as tightly as the formatting would allow, and including a story about a reader who called the editorial office at midnight, still so excited about the match he had just seen that he begged the magazine to make it the issue’s cover story.

The match would span 51 minutes and 32 seconds. As Ichinose put it, it was a wrestling match whose duration rivaled a one-hour television drama, and the fans appreciated what they were privileged to witness. 22 years later, Fuchi would state in an interview with Ichinose that this was the greatest match of the Super Generation Army. He credited the success of the match, the fulfillment of its lofty ambitions, to many things. As he says it, even the lulls were special. Fuchi further states that a group of wrestlers who sought to imitate that match in the present day would inevitably fail, because they would lack the richness of expression that made the plight of the three worn-down babyfaces so compelling.

After the match, the crowd cheered first for Misawa. Then, once again, for Zen Nippon, and for Tsuruta. But finally, when all six wrestlers had left the ring, the crowd turned their appreciation to Baba at the commentator’s table, who raised his hand in response.


[1] Incidentally, Rusher Kimura had appeared as a judge on late-night music program Yuji Miyake's Ikisa Band Heaven. I guess it’s possible that this cross-promotion could have brought someone’s eyes upon AJPW, but while I would love to believe that sweet old gravel-throated Rusher would compel girls to catch some All Japan, I struggle to do so. Also, according to the show’s Japanese Wikipedia page he had appeared in this capacity back in 1989, which is too early for me to suspect that there was any serious aspirations to cross demographics.

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Alright, the post keeps strikethroughing my text after a certain point, even after pasting it in plain text, so I may have to divide it further. 


Edited by KinchStalker
It's fixed now. I put the s in the quotes brackets to show that I was capitalizing it as opposed to the source, but it got flagged as html code for strikethrough.
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On 9/2/2021 at 7:43 PM, KinchStalker said:

There was, of course, the case of Scotty the Body, the future Raven, who worked the Summer Action Series II tour and never returned, having been driven to tears by Kawada’s stiff kicks during a tag match.

I love the idea that Kawada's kicks caused Raven's tears. Like the real reason for Raven's character was because Kawada kicked him too hard. Also, this information about the magazines and the idol culture is amazing.

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12 minutes ago, TheDuke said:

I love the idea that Kawada's kicks caused Raven's tears. Like the real reason for Raven's character was because Kawada kicked him too hard. 

That's it, this is canon ! This is too awesome !

Is there any video of Scotty in AJPW ? That would be the lost treasure of all lost treasure.

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