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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART ONE [TSUYOSHI KIKUCHI BIO]

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

My summaries of Part Two (Chapters 10-17) of the Pillars bio begin here. I settled into a two-chapters-per-post groove early on in these recaps, but I decided to transcribe some more this time before posting again. Part of this was psychological; the time when this process drains me most, outside of especially long chapters, is when, having finished a recap, I have to start from square one of a whole new chapter. But the thing about this book (particularly compared to Osano’s Jumbo bio) is that it likes to subsequently bring up details that I often wish I’d had at my disposal when writing a previous recap. I must have come to get down, because Ichise loves to jump around. Another factor is purely personal; I will be spending Labor Day week in Vegas for my cousin’s wedding, so I wanted to work extra hard on transcription to compensate for time that I very much intend to devote to myself and to my family.

The next few posts, which I will spread out over the next few days so that I can polish them, will span chapters 10-13 (I haven’t finished transcribing 13 yet, but it’s not that long and I know that it ends in April 1991, like the rest of the chunk I’m covering), but due to my approach this time I’m switching around the order of topics in a way that doesn’t represent the order in which Ichise brought them up. For instance, this post about Tsuyoshi Kikuchi is mostly based on information in chapter 12, which jumps back to the 80s in the middle of a bunch of stuff set in early 1991. That’s why, for the next few posts, I will be titling them differently in my Table of Contents Google Doc for this thread, like so: “Chapters 10-13, Part 1”.

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THE BIRTH OF THE FIREBALL BOY

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Above: Weekly Pro Wrestling coverage of the debut singles matches of Tsuyoshi Kikuchi (against Mitsuo Momota) and Kenta Kobashi (against Haruka Eigen) on February 26, 1988. [Issue #248 (3/21/1988)]

Tsuyoshi Kikuchi was born in Sendai on November 21, 1964. Like many an All Japan recruit, he didn’t see his father much in his early life, but this was the case of a working man rather than a broken home. Tsuyoshi had a vague aspiration for police work in his youth, motivated by his sense of justice and duty as an eldest son to protect a vulnerable mother.

Kikuchi’s motive for joining the wrestling club was impure, but charming in its naivete. He didn’t get in to impress a female classmate, though; rather, he had his eye on recently retired figure skater Emi Watanabe, an eight-time national champion who had won Japan its first womens’ medal at the 1979 World Championships. Tsuyoshi figured that if he became a top amateur wrestler, he could go to Tokyo and “get close to her”. The crush didn’t last long, but he found that wrestling suited him. “I imagined myself doing such a hard thing, such a good thing, and I got drunk on it.”

It wasn’t until his second year of high school that he became interested in professional wrestling. It should not surprise you that New Japan caught his eye first, nor that Tiger Mask and particularly the Dynamite Kid were responsible for getting him hooked. He would later state that what attracted him to Kid was that “he had such a great power that he made you feel it was ok even if he blew himself up” (to be clear, Kikuchi meant that in the sense that Dynamite was like a bomb).

He was interested in becoming a pro wrestler upon his graduation, but his parents persuaded him to continue his studies at Daito Bunka University. It was here that Kikuchi began to watch All Japan, whose junior division caught his eye. After Atsushi Onita lost his first retirement match against Mighty Inoue on December 2, 1984, Inoue said something to the effect that, if Onita wanted to return, he’d be willing to wrestle him anytime. His words “shook Kikuchi’s heart”, and the transfer of the British Bulldogs to the company further compelled him.

The deciding factor, though, was Jumbo Tsuruta. Kikuchi’s wrestling team captain was an old acquaintance of Tsuruta’s from his collegiate wrestling days, and he asked for an introduction. As covered in a much earlier post in the thread, he was told that due to his size, he could only feasibly join All Japan if he won a national championship. At this point, Kikuchi weighed less than 85 kg, but he went up two weight classes to compete in the 100kg freestyle class. By his senior year, four-time division winner and future AJPW/NOAH coworker Tamon Honda had graduated, so in August 1986, Kikuchi won student nationals.

He attended an AJPW Korakuen show soon afterward to meet Tsuruta and state his intent. He submitted his resume to the office, to no reply. Eventually he made the trip to another Korakuen show: that of March 24, 1987. The Japan Pro Wrestling boycott was in swing, so the show was understaffed backstage. Kikuchi ended up getting a job because there were no trainees to perform chores. The following week, he began training camp and was assigned as Tsuruta’s valet. Alongside Kenta Kobashi and Tatsumi Kitahara, he was known as one of the “three crows” (Japanese expression) that made up the new crop of trainees.

It would take Kikuchi ten months to make his official debut. Despite his amateur success and conditioning, Kikuchi struggled deeply with this early training. The stress brought upon a case of gastritis two months in. However, Kikuchi would make his unofficial debut at the end of the year, as part of a ten-man battle royal at the Haru Sonoda memorial ceremony. Two months later, he made his singles debut on February 26, 1988, on the same night as Kenta Kobashi.

However, his fellow crows would “flutter far ahead” in 1989: Kitahara abroad to work for Stampede, and Kobashi into the Asunaro Cup and subsequent upper-card work. Meanwhile, Kikuchi was stuck curtainjerking with Mitsuo Momota. Like Kawada before him, however, Kikuchi would later express gratitude for the time he spent on the bottom, with great praise for Momota as a mentor.

His trademark Hinomaru tights, which he would adopt at the start of the new decade, were an aspirational nod to the British Bulldogs’ use of the Union Jack. On the first two dates of a three-night string of Korakuen shows at the end of the New Year Giant Series tour, Kikuchi would get to work alongside and against his idol. First, on January 26, he wrestled Dynamite in a singles match, losing by pinfall in 3:47 after a diving headbutt. The following night, he won a six-man tag with the Bulldogs against the Fantastics and Masanobu Fuchi. Even with the debut of Masao Orihara in February though, Kikuchi remained an undercarder in the coming months. The SWS exodus would change that.

On June 30, 1990, All Japan held a special Korakuen event a week before the start of the Summer Action Series tour. An understaffed heavyweight division thrust Kikuchi into the main event, a six-man tag in which he wrestled alongside Mitsuharu Misawa and Akira Taue against Jumbo Tsuruta, the Great Kabuki, and Masanobu Fuchi. At 5’10” and 202 lbs. (177cm; 92 kg), Kikuchi was an unattractive wrestler in the eyes of the first component of Baba’s wrestling philosophy, primarily centered as it was around “the clash of big bodies”. However, in a starmaking performance, with face swollen and nose bloodied, Kikuchi fulfilled the second half of Baba’s philosophy, in that he “[did] things which ordinary people cannot do”.

In a January 1988 Weekly Pro interview, Tsuruta explained that he adjusted the angle of his backdrop depending on the wrestler he was facing. If he was wrestling a Jumbo or a Choshu, he was confident that they could take the stiffer variation, and so he would administer it. However, he admitted that his nature was too gentle to go all-out all the time, and stated that there should never be a situation in which a wrestler has to be hospitalized. As I believe I have covered elsewhere, Jumbo always considered himself by nature to be the technical, “horizontal” wrestler that he was trained to be in the 1970s, and that his work in a more Japanese vs Japanese “vertical” idiom was a reactionary impulse. In other words, you had to be the one to provoke him, as Tenryu often was, and as Misawa had. But on this night, as the company ethos of “intense pro-wrestling” seemed to be in jeopardy in the wake of the SWS exodus, Tsuruta delivered a then-uncharacteristically violent performance that made Kikuchi’s babyface appeal shine. [This match appears to have been out of circulation for a long time, but Roy Lucier recently uploaded it on a rough but watchable rip of a commercial tape.]

"It's up to Misawa and the others to show something different about themselves every day, and I'm just going to do my best for the moment. I don't try to do this or that, I just try my best to connect and stay until the end. My style is to be the receiver, not the aggressor."

Kikuchi would never be a true main eventer. He wasn’t even really the junior that Baba had wanted: more Billingston than Sayama, you could say. As Ichise puts it, in getting this spot in the Super Generation Army Kikuchi got his Cinderella story…but his foot was too small for the glass slipper. In an interview for this book, though, Tsuyoshi claimed that he only had one regret; he never got to take the Western Lariat.

On September 1, in a famous match with Joe Malenko against the Fantastics (part of a tournament for the vacant All Asia tag titles), Kikuchi suffered a ruptured testicle when the back of Tommy Rogers’ head accidentally hit his groin on the landing of a Doomsday Device. [1] After surgery, he returned in November.

In an August 1990 Weekly Pro interview, Kikuchi said that he wanted to be the Keith Richards of pro wrestling. That’s not important, it’s just something I wanted to share.

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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.

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