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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART TWO (BATTLE LINES AND SHIFTING TIDES)

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART TWO (BATTLE LINES AND SHIFTING TIDES)

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Above: Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, and Akira Taue at Ichinomiya beach, August 1990. [Weekly Pro Wrestling, Issue #392 (8/21/1990)]

As covered at the end of the post at the top of this page in the thread, the Great Kabuki was the last in a string of AJPW departures connected to the formation of SWS. The day after the Summer Action Series tour had ended, the then co-world tag team champion turned in his notice.

On August 1-4, the younger wrestlers held a training camp under Baba’s supervision at Ichinomiya beach. Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, Taue, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi were joined by trainee Satoru Asako; Yoshinari Ogawa would have shown up as well, were he not still on the shelf from elbow surgery. They brought training equipment (and Taue had to drive back to Tokyo to get proper footwear after arriving oblivious in flip-flops), but the primary aim was to increase unity.[1] Tokyo Sports reportage tentatively dubbed the group Misawagun, and Ichinose followed suit in his earliest coverage. The failure of Kekkigun was still fresh, but this new group was marked early on by Misawa’s firm refusal to act as a leader for the group. After all, that had been the undoing of the earlier faction.

At this juncture, though, the extent to which native vs. native programs would play into the company product was still uncertain viewing from the outside. In his contemporaneous coverage of the training camp, Ichinose pointed out that there may be a point where Tsuruta might need to work with Kobashi or Taue against a major foreign team [Author's note: for reasons of cultural and linguistic sensitivity, I've recently decided to wean myself off of the standard use of 'gaijin' in my writings, either for 'gaikokujin' or other verbiage] in for practical purposes, or even wrestle alongside this group. He was, at least, correct about one of those things, albeit to a greater extent than he realized. However, there was no angle that tied into Taue’s switch in sides for the Summer Action Series II tour. It was a rearrangement that Baba made, obviously for the simple reason that with the departures of Yatsu and Kabuki, Jumbo only had Masanobu Fuchi and Mighty Inoue as allies. It was at this point that the Super Generation Army/Tsurutagun feud began its shift into something more complex than a simple intergenerational feud, although Yoshinari Ogawa would not return to the ring until October, and would not join Tsurutagun proper until February 1991.

Speaking of Taue, he had made progress in the second half of 1989 into the new decade. But this saw him continue to work with Tenryu. In fact, half of Tenryu’s last six matches for the company (though that’s seven if you count the Randy Savage match at the Wrestling Summit) were singles matches with Taue. And while Tenryu meant well in his attempts to imbue in Taue the rhythms of pro wrestling, and work with him in a stiff manner to compel Taue to return in kind–as Tenryu had done for fellow ex-sumo Hiroshi Wajima and Isao Takagi–it was an incompatible approach.[2] Taue does not go so far as to call Tenryu abusive or openly begrudge him, but he is frank about the fact that working with him was his primary source of workplace anxiety, and that on some level he was scared of him. As established in a previous post, Taue left sumo because of the physical abuse he received from his stablemaster, so his feelings about Tenryu made sense: “He only taught me how to hit people.”

Jumbo would have more to teach him.

The Summer Action Series II tour began on August 18, in Korakuen Hall. In the main event, Misawa, Kawada & Kikuchi took on Tsuruta, Taue & Fuchi. It was on this night that Chosedaigun (“Super Generation Army”) was coined by AJPW commentator Kenji Wakabayashi. Ichinose actually resisted the use of the term in his Weekly Pro write-ups at first; the disappointment of the aborted generational feud in New Japan (which was part of TV Asahi’s 1987 attempt to reinvigorate a declining program) still loomed large in his mind.

Tsuruta would lean further into his function as a heel in the coming days. On August 19, in an untelevised Korakuen main event between he & Fuchi and Misawa & Kawada, Jumbo *snapped* on Misawa, assaulting him with a chair and hitting three backdrops. While untelevised, photos of this incident and comments from both men in response were shown in a report segment in the middle of an AJPW TV episode, so this angle was part of the primary canon. Two days later, during a Misawa/Kobashi/Kikuchi vs. Tsuruta/Fuchi/Inoue six-man (see previously linked episode), Jumbo immediately requested a tag when Misawa hit his left ear with a flurry of elbows. Tsuruta would claim that this caused temporary deafness, but Misawa dismissed that complaint, in “spiky” post-match comments which also saw Misawa declare that Jumbo “deserved to lose” their upcoming Budokan rematch for what he had done in the Korakuen match two days before.

Misawa had called the matter of the company’s ace into question, defeating Tsuruta in that unforgettable first Budokan match three days after his opponent had dropped the Triple Crown to Gordy. Of course, if one considered that Tsuruta worked in 13 of the subsequent tour’s 17 main events, while Misawa only appeared in four, it was clear which way Baba still saw the pecking order. But Misawa had sewn some doubt…a doubt which was vanquished upon Tsuruta’s dominant victory on the 1st of September (it’s not on YouTube at the moment, but it’s an easy match to find). Eleven days after winning this rematch, Tsuruta declared that he, and not the Super Generation Army, would carry the banner of “intense pro-wrestling”.

“Of the goals of All Japan, which are to be bright, fun, and fierce, the fierce part has been perceived as if Tenryu is the only one who is responsible for it. But this is not true, and I have been thinking to emphasize the "fierce" part a little more deliberately in order to respond to the feelings of All-Japan’s fans. […] I might not be able to do intense matches as I get older, and if that happens, you can give way to Misawa, Kawada and the others. But until then, I will carry the intensity of All Japan.”

Back in the last year and change of the 1980s, when Toshiaki Kawada had been called up to be Tenryu’s Revolution tag partner in the wake of Ashura Hara’s dismissal, Tsuruta had been clear about his own interest in helping Kawada grow. He wanted Kawada to grow up and acquire the skills to be Tenryu’s partner, because he was the company’s future. Appropriately, Ichinose recalls that in his match report for the first Tenryu/Kawada vs. Olympians match of 1989, which ended in 34:48 with a Jumbo backdrop to Kawada, that the Olympians had attacked Kawada slowly and deliberately, “as if they were teaching schoolchildren how to write kanji”. In the immediate aftermath of Tenryu’s departure, Jumbo had spoken of his intent to work with the next generation along these lines, to make them ready to face the top gaikokujin. But by the summer’s end, something had changed in Tsuruta for sure.

Back in August, Baba had asked Ichinose for ideas on what to do for his 30th Anniversary show on September 30, to which Ichinose suggested a match against Andre the Giant. He doesn’t mention how Baba made it happen, but I wonder if this was one last trade that he pitched to Sakaguchi: Andre for Tiger Jeet Singh, who would team with Inoki in the main event of his own 30th Anniversary show. All Japan, for their part, would see Baba team up with Abdullah to take on Andre and Hansen.

The All Japan show was held at Korakuen, while New Japan booked the Yokohama Arena. The NJPW show started at 3:00PM, while the All Japan show began at 6:30. Under normal conditions it was only a fifty-minute train ride between the venues’ respective nearest stations, but a typhoon struck the Kanto area, causing delays. Ichinose recalls a flood of exhausted photographers and reporters finally entering the venue during the semi-main event.

That match was the first proper, 2-on-2 battle between Misawa & Kawada and Tsuruta & Taue. Famously, the match would go to a 45-minute time-limit draw. Ichinose makes an aside that he feels it was unlikely that both sides went all-out, as they likely wanted to be able to watch the main event, but in his match report, Ichinose’s coworker Kazuhiro Kojima claimed that he had never seen such a hot and intense time-limit draw. (This would also be the promotion’s second Wrestling Observer five-star match of the year.)

On the 30th anniversary of his debut match, in which he had lost to Kintaro Oki, Antonio Inoki pinned Animal Hamaguchi in a tag match, working alongside Tiger Jeet Singh, the first foreign heel that New Japan Pro Wrestling made an icon, against Hamaguchi and Big Van Vader, the definitive gaikokujin of the promotion in the present. On the 30th anniversary of his debut match, in which he had defeated Yonetaro Tanaka, Giant Baba did not even factor into the final result of his respective tag match. Rather, Andre the Giant pinned Baba’s teammate, Abdullah the Butcher, in 10:13. As Ichinose puts it, Inoki rode a horse which his Three Musketeers had made with their fighting spirit, while Baba quietly resisted the spotlight.

It’s also worth noting that this show happened to have been held one day after SWS’s first event. In his September 12 interview with Ichinose, though, Tsuruta was fully confident that he and All Japan would be vindicated in the end.

“I think the conclusion will come in 5 years or even 10 years. From now on until that conclusion is reached, I will work hard to be better than the wrestlers who went to SWS in every way, socially, humanly, and of course in terms of treatment, so that I can say, ‘I'm glad I stayed in All Japan after all.’”

The immediate reception of the match may as well have been a response to Tsuruta. For when the semi-main was over, the Korakuen crowd did not just chant his name, nor the name of his partner or even those of his opponents.

They chanted “Zen Nippon”.

--------

Spoiler

[1] Taue recalls riding in his Jeep with Kawada, who didn’t put on his seatbelt and was flung headfirst into the beach for it.

[2] Taue contextualizes Tenryu’s approach by citing the sumo practice of “collision training” (example), wherein one passively receives strikes from a stronger rikishi to train the stability of their stance, and to properly fall and recover should one lose their balance.

 

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6 hours ago, El-P said:

I'm not as active or present on the board these days so I just noticed you got into this new project. Thank you so much for this, awesome stuff to read.

Welcome back! If you want an easy way to sort the content you've missed, I have a Table of Contents doc now, with links to each post sorted by subject.

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