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A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE PART TWO (1969-1971)

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A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART TWO (1969-1971)

[Read Part One here.]

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CANADIAN CONNECTION AND JAPAN’S FIRST “DEATHMATCH”

Spoiler

At first, I could not find much information about the IWE in 1969 that one could not derive from looking at their cards for the year. But partway through writing about 1969, I had the idea to make a YouTube comment asking the person behind the js_Tokyo 12 channel_Pro-Wrestling_hr. channel to clear up my confusion, and they got back to me quickly. They filled in my gaps about who booked North American talent for the IWE before they had made their alliance with the AWA. (If I don’t specify who brought whom over, at least as far as this year is concerned, then assume that they came from the European route.)

One thing I should note at the start is that this year would see IWE’s dominance in at least one market challenged. Things had already been settling down as, after their 1968.11.13 episode scored a rating of 27.2%, Kokusai would never again draw a television rating above 25%. They apparently stayed in the 20% range as they entered the new year. However, in July 1969, the JWA began their parallel television deal with NET TV (now TV Asahi),[1] and NET World Pro Wrestling would finally see the JWA get coverage in at least one prefecture (Okayama) that had previously carried the IWE exclusively.

The IWE began 1969 with a live episode of their 1969.01.01 event, which saw Masao Kimura adopt the stage name he would don for the rest of his career: Rusher Kimura.[2] That night, Billy Robinson held his first successful defense of the IWA World Heavyweight title, against the Great Kusatsu, and Toyonobori & Thunder Sugiyama defended their TWWA World Tag Team titles once again against André Bollet & Robert Gastel. Bollet & Gastel were the first French wrestlers sent Kokusai’s way by George de Relwyskow Jr., and Yoshihara found them mediocre. Throughout the Big Winter Series, each of the promotion’s main champions made one more successful defense: Robinson against Chief White Wolf on 1969.01.28, and Toyonobori & Sugiyama against Wolf & Bollet on 1969.02.04. Kimura saw his status rise on 1969.02.08 when he and Kusatsu won the European Tag Team titles from Bollet & Gastel. Speaking of Kusatsu, he successfully defended his Western & Southern British Heavyweight titles against Joe Cornelius on 1969.02.06. This tour also displayed early inklings of Kokusai’s later penchant for junior heavyweight talent, as Tadaharu Tanaka unsuccessfully challenged for Mike Marino’s European Mid-Heavyweight title on 1969.01.11, but then defeated Marino on 1969.02.11 to become the inaugural IWA World Mid-Heavyweight champion.

Around this time, George de Relwyskow Jr. connected the IWE to Stu Hart. This, in turn, connected Kokusai to Stampede booker Dave Ruhl.

Their next tour was the International Golden Series, held across 10 dates from 02.25-03.23. Across these shows, Toyonobori & Sugiyama successfully defended the TWWA tag titles thrice, and Kusatsu & Kimura likewise defended their European tag titles. More interestingly, Dave Ruhl would work this tour, being involved in all three aforementioned TWWA tag defenses.

Then, there was the World Selection Series, held across 26 dates from 03.25-05.05. More talent who primarily worked in North and Central America were booked. Dory Dixon had taken some Joint Promotions bookings in 1968, but was still primarily working in Mexico. Meanwhile, Tank Morgan and Stan Stasiak were North American workers through and through, and both were booked to appear by Ruhl.

Anyway, this tour saw Robinson defend his IWA World Heavyweight title twice, against Stan Stasiak and Rusher Kimura, and also retain his European Heavyweight title against Albert Wall. Kusatsu and Kimura also defended their European Tag Team titles against Wall and Kimura. The TWWA World Tag Team titles, however, would see some change. On 1969.04.12 in the Kumagaya Civic Gym, Toyonobori & Sugiyama retained the belts against Stasiak & Morgan by disqualification, but vacated the belts because they were unsatisfied with the result. Eight days later at the Kanayama Gym in Nagoya, a rematch for the vacant title was held, but with Kimura in Toyonobori’s place. The natives won 2-1 after Sugiyama and Morgan traded falls.

What makes this match particularly interesting, though, is that it was held with a hair vs. hair stipulation. Granted, the fact that the two men who ended up trading all three falls had either recently cut their hair or had a thin head of hair to begin with meant that the result wasn’t nearly as potent an image as it would be in, say, your standard lucha or joshi apuesta. Nevertheless, Kokusai broke ground in puroresu with this stipulation. A short article reprinted from Japanese fanzine Showa Puroresu would call this the IWE’s first deathmatch. Three days later, Sugiyama & Kimura defended against Morgan & Dixon, and on 1969.05.03, they retained against Morgan and Arroyo.

 

THE BIRTH OF THE IWA WORLD TAG TEAM TITLES

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Above: the IWE office receives news of the IWA tag title match's result.

Spoiler

Two weeks after the Series ended, former tag champion Toyonobori traveled with Shozo Kobayashi to Paris, accompanied by Yoshihara. Since the first IWA World Heavyweight title match had been held in Japan, it had been decided that the IWA World Tag Team titles would debut in France. According to Yoshihara in a later special edition Japanese program, Toyonobori & Kobayashi were initially meant to face the team of Ivan Strogoff and Roger Delaporte, the wrestler-promoter whom Yoshihara was working with. On 1969.05.16, Strogoff & Delaporte had defeated the Ermanso brothers for the title shot. “At the last moment”, however, Delaporte was replaced to elevate a new talent: Jean Ferre.

That is, André René Roussimoff.

Yoshihara had heard about the future André the Giant as early as his first correspondences with George de Relwyskow Jr. in March 1968. At that point, Jean Ferre actually hadn’t worked outside of France, save for a single date in Monaco, but in February he had received substantial exposure in British magazine The Ring Wrestling. That publication’s European correspondent, Michel Bézy, wrote glowingly of Ferre’s potential and placed him third in France in his monthly rankings.

The IWA World Tag Team title match was held at the packed Elysee-Montmartre on 1969.05.18. As far as the French audience of 8,500 knew, Toyonobori & Kobayashi were entering as the champions, so the result was somewhat cushioned. As Toyonobori recounted the match over the phone to Tokyo Sports, the Japanese team gave up the first fall when the aggressive Kobayashi got a disqualification against Ferre. However, Toyonobori made Strogoff submit with a Boston crab to even the score, and in the third fall, Kobayashi ruthlessly targeted Strogoff’s left knee and made him submit with a crab of his own, resulting in a (presumably worked) dislocation. Yoshihara left the match deeply impressed with the young Jean Ferre, who was both taller and more agile than Giant Baba.

During this trip to France, the IWE made another valuable connection. Umenosuke Kiyomigawa was a rikishi who retired to take over his family business in 1946 after a 12-year sumo career. Seven years after that, he entered professional wrestling, and founded the original All Japan Pro Wrestling Association with Toshio Yamaguchi in 1953. After that promotion closed in 1957, Kiyomigawa had plied his trade around the world, and he was living in Paris when Yoshihara, Toyonobori, and Kobayashi visited. Yoshihara asked Kiyomigawa to become a booker for the IWE after getting the okay from Relwyskow. For the next several years, Kiyomigawa would facilitate Kokusai’s booking of European gaijin, but through the breadth of his career, Kiyomigawa also had connections to the Kansas territory.

1969 CONTINUED

The Dynamite Series was held across 13 dates from 1969.06.02-06.27. The six gaijin for the tour included the returning Tony Charles and Colin Joynson, as well as four newcomers: the Polish Tito Kopa, the Native American Danny Little Bear, and South Africans Jan Wilkens [3] and Willem Hall. The former two were booked by Kiyomigawa. According to profiles on the Showa Puroresu website, Wilkens & Hall entered holding the South African Tag Team titles, although the tour listings on puroresu.com do not indicate if they ever defended these. They received a shot at Sugiyama & Kimura’s titles on 06.07, and on the tour’s final date Wilkens and Danny Little Bear received the same. Elsewhere, Bear and Hall unsuccessfully challenged Kusatsu & Kimura for their European Tag Team titles on 1969.06.21, and Kusatsu retained his Western British Heavyweight belt against Charles on the same date as the Wilkens/Hall tag title match.

The Big Summer Series was held across 34 dates from 1969.07.08-08.31. Besides the consecutive booking of Tito Kopa, this tour boasted a fresh crop of gaijin, and like the World Selection Series these were mostly NA-based talent. Dave Ruhl booked Stan the Moose (better known to me for his AJPW run as Moose Morowski as well as other gimmicks), the pioneering African-American wrestler (and friend of Stu) Luther Lindsey, and Nikita Mulkovitch. [4] The only new European was Anton Laszlo, then Swedish Mid-Heavyweight Champion (huh, it’s almost as if these regional titles were fictitious belts meant to put over Kokusai’s “International” claim [5]). [6] Laszlo is the only gaijin in 1969 whose booker was not definitively known by my source, but they guessed that it was Kiyomigawa.

Kiyomigawa’s most interesting get for this tour, though, was Ox Baker. He didn’t have the facial hair yet, but his first tour for the IWE helps contextualize why he would be one of the gaijin so associated with the promotion in later years. On 1969.07.17 in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, he and Stan challenged for the IWA World Tag Team titles in the promotion’s second hair vs hair match, and he lost the decisive pinfall to the now-nicknamed Strong Kobayashi. On 08.20, Baker and Lindsey received a shot. Elsewhere, Sugiyama and Kimura defended their TWWA tag titles against Stan and Mulkovitch on 1969.08.23. Kusatsu and Kimura defended their European tag titles three times, against the configurations of Baker/Moose, Lindsey/Kopa, and Baker/Kopa. Finally, Tanaka retained his IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title against Mulkovitch on 1969.07.24.

[As an aside, the earliest piece of IWE footage in circulation appears to be fragmentary 8mm footage from a singles match on this tour between Stan and Toyonobori.]

Kokusai ended use of the TWWA and European tag titles after this tour. Both were vacated as Rusher Kimura traveled to the United States for the first IWE seasoning excursion.

For the last two tours of 1969, the IWE’s link to Kansas would be fortified by another connection.

CHATI YOKOUCHI

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Above: Chati Yokouchi crosschops Buddy Colt (unknown date).

Spoiler

Shinichi Yokouchi was born in Nagoya in 1937. He didn’t plan on becoming a wrestler, as he emigrated to Brazil upon his high school graduation to start a business. When this failed, Yokouchi was broken into wrestling by Antonino Rocca. He worked in South America and Europe before moving to the United States in 1967.

There, Chati Yokouchi found success over the next couple years. Most relevant to us at the moment was his tag team with Kiyomigawa (working as Togo Shikuma), which defeated Jack Brisco and Gorgeous George Jr. for the NWA Tri-State Tag Team titles in May 1967. Later, in the Amarillo territory, he tagged extensively with Umanosuke Ueda (billed as Mr. Ito), and the two received a substantial run with the NWA Western States Tag Team titles, after being the final team to hold the territory’s NWA World Tag Team titles, which they defeated the Funks for. In singles, Yokouchi received a shot at Dory’s NWA title, and even got a phantom junior title victory over Danny Hodge.

At the time he enters our story, Yokouchi offered his services as a booker to the IWE. For the IWE Royal Series, he would perform in his home country for the first time, and through his connections brought Gorgeous George Jr. and Buddy Colt along with him.

The Royal Series consisted of twelve dates from 1969.09.08-10.03. Stan the Moose and Nikita Mulkovitch returned from the previous tour. Europe was represented by a returning Wild Angus and the debuting Spartacus (French wrestler Jacques Pecheur). On 1969.09.11 at the Okayama Prefectural Gymnasium, Kobayashi & Toyonobori defended their IWA tag titles against Angus and Spartacus. The trend of attributing presumably fictitious regional titles to incoming gaijin continued, as USA Heavyweight champion Buddy Colt defended two days later against Yokouchi. Kusatsu defended his Western UK title against Angus in Hiroshima on 09.22. This tour also saw the debut of a young bodybuilder by the name of Heigo Hamaguchi. I’m not sure how he was scouted, but I do know he had been attending the same gym as his future tag partner Sueo Inoue.

The most interesting thing to happen in the ring during this tour, though, was during its penultimate match. For the final show of the Royal Series, at the Adachi Ward Gym in Tokyo on 10.03, Yokouchi teamed up with Kusatsu to wrestle George and Colt. As captured in fragmentary 8mm footage, this match would see Yokouchi perform the first native heel turn in puroresu history. Sure, Yokouchi was only ending his first tour in his native country, so this arguably wasn’t quite as revolutionary as it sounds on the surface. Still, it was a pioneering piece of booking, and one which wouldn’t be replicated in puro for another seven years…but I’ve got a ways to go before I can tell that story.

Kokusai ended 1969 with the IWA World Tag Team Challenge Series, held across 30 dates from 1969.10.12-12.06. Yokouchi made a consecutive appearance, and booked George and Colt as well. Dave Ruhl booked a pair of new gaijins, Gordon Nelson and Bud Cody. The Scottish Ian Campbell appeared again, with Yorkshirian Bruno Elrington tagging with him in his only IWE tour. Another team was the Lebanese brothers Sheik & Emir Mansour (incorrectly booked as “El Mansour” each when the Kokusai office mistook the article for a part of their name; their real names were André & Jean Saadeh, which they wrestled under in Australia), making their only Japanese appearances. [7] This gaijin crop was rounded out by Quebecois wrestler Frank Valois, making his first Japanese appearances since 1960.

Now, let’s go over the title matches. On 11.01, Kusatsu and Sugiyama won the now-vacant European tag titles from the Mansours. They defended them nine days later against Yokouchi & Valois. On 11.30, Kobayashi defended his USA Heavyweight title against Colt. The penultimate show on 12.05 at the Ohta Ward Gym in Tokyo saw Kusatsu & Sugiyama retain in a European tag rematch against the Mansours. At the final show on 12.06, Kokusai drew 4,000 to the Kuramae Kokugikan (yikes) to see Toyonobori & Kobayashi defend the IWA World Tag Team titles against Campbell & Erlington.

(As an aside, the earliest IWE broadcast footage in circulation comes from this tour: specifically, a single episode taped from the 1969.10.29 show.)

According to my source, Yokouchi’s association with the IWE ended after this tour due to dissatisfaction over the deepening of Kiyomigawa’s relationship with the company, as there was some legit heat between the two. However, Kokusai would enter the new decade with a new ally.

Before that, though, I should note that in December, the IWE received their first “exchange student”. Trinidadian bodybuilder Edward “Ted” Herbert was first trained in the 60s by his fellow countryman Ray Apollo, and was taken under Kokusai’s wing at his request. Working under the ring name Taro Kuroshio, Herbert would perform for the company over the next several years.

GAGNE, THE GIANT, AND THE ASCENDANCY OF THUNDER SUGIYAMA

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Above: Verne Gagne feeds some pigeons during his first trip for the IWE.

Spoiler

At some point in 1969, the National Wrestling Alliance held a general assembly. My tentative guess is that this took place in August since, in a footnote in Part One about the Great Togo’s attempt to form a third Japanese wrestling promotion, I shared the tidbit that their membership application had been rejected at that time. Anyway, due to the sabotage of the JWA (which had not formally joined the NWA until the summer of 1967, hence why Antonio Inoki had been able to get a decent batch of gaijin from Sam Muchnick for Tokyo Pro in 1966 without much trouble), Isao Yoshihara’s application was rejected at the assembly. After this, Yoshihara contacted the American Wrestling Association, and this bore fruit the following February.

Let’s take this from the top. The IWE’s first tour of 1970 took place in two phases. The first was the thirteen-date New Year Challenge Series, from 1970.01.03-01.25, and the second was the seven-date AWA World Champion Series, from 1970.02.03-02.11. Verne Gagne would work all but the last show in the second phase, but he wasn’t the only notable gaijin to debut for Kokusai on this tour. For the New Year Challenge Series would see the Japanese debut of Jean Ferre, now rebranded Monster Roussimoff by Yoshihara. Four days after his challenge for the IWA World Tag Team titles, André had debuted in the UK, working there on-and-off for the rest of 1969 due to the British industry’s 40-date-per-tour limit for European workers (done to prevent European oversaturation). While the experience was certainly valuable for the young wrestler, Joint Promotions had fumbled Ferre’s push with a far-too-early clean job to Kendo Nagasaki in June, which hampered his success in the country.

Gagne and Roussimoff would be joined by the returning Europeans Micha Nador and Enrique Edo, while being supplemented by Bad Boy Shield, a Pennsylvania native then working mainly in Canada (during this tour, he would hit it off with Verne and join the AWA, most famously working as Bull Bullinski), and Spanish wrestler Quasimodo, who frequently worked in the UK. At the time, Enrique Edo, who was George de Relwyskow Jr.’s son-in-law, was credited for discovering Monster Roussimoff while he was working as a lumberjack. Historian Koji Miyamoto speculated in 2020 André biography The Eighth Wonder of the World that this story was fabricated to throw Edo a bone, but he was hired strictly as a jobber, and this tour would be his last in Japan.

This tour also saw a major retirement. Toyonobori would not work the tour before his retirement ceremony on its last date (seen here in fragmentary 8mm footage), despite a retirement match having been planned for him, and the IWA World Tag Team titles were vacated on 01.09 according to Wrestling-Titles.com. On 01.18 in Fukuoka, Roussimoff won his first Japanese gold when he & Nador defeated Kusatsu & Sugiyama for the belts, before dropping to them on 02.03 (Roussimoff lost the decisive fall to a Sugiyama pin), and losing a rematch at the very end of the tour. The only other title defense in the New Year Challenge wing of the tour saw Kobayashi retain his USA Heavyweight title against Shield. While Kusatsu got the last of Gagne’s three AWA title defenses on the AWA World Champion wing, Kobayashi was given a prominent platform against Verne by receiving the first two on 02.05-06. This feels like the start of Kobayashi’s push as a future IWE ace.

One more note about Roussimoff pertaining to this tour: he also teamed with Quasimodo several times. Quasimodo suffered from acromegaly himself, hence the Hunchback of Notre Dame gimmick, and bore a large cyst on the back of his head. The 2018 André documentary produced by HBO claimed that Roussimoff did not know about his condition until meeting with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harris Yett over a broken ankle in 1981. However, various accounts in The Eighth Wonder of the World consistently assert that André had been aware long beforehand, and his ranch hand Jackie McAuley revealed that he had told her that he had seen a doctor on his first trip to Japan, and received the diagnosis.

The 2nd IWA World Series took place across 39 dates from 1970.03.11-05.19. Unlike the first iteration at the end of 1968, there was no actual round-robin tournament, with the last match of the tour being considered the World Series final. Before we get to that, though, let us go over the gaijin crop. Naturally, IWA World Heavyweight champion Billy Robinson made his first IWE appearances since the previous spring. Ivan Strogoff made his first appearances for Kokusai proper after having lost the May 1969 Paris match for the IWA tag titles. Le Grand Vladimir, a Russian immigrant from Belgium with whom Strogoff had tagged in Europe, made his only Japanese appearances. Rounding things out were the French Jimmy Dula, the Peruvian Conde Maximiliano, and the Native American Big Comanche.

Sugiyama and Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles twice, first on 03.19 against Strogoff and Vladimir, and then on 05.07 against Strogoff and Comanche. Maximiliano [8] challenged for Kobayashi’s USA Heavyweight title on 03.16. Finally, Robinson defended the IWA World Heavyweight title on the tour’s last two dates. First, he retained against Kusatsu with a small package. But the next night, at the Leisure Center in Sendai, Robinson’s reign ended when Sugiyama won the decisive fall by countout.

It was during this tour that TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay began broadcasting in color: specifically, the 04.22 broadcast of the last two matches of the 04.13 show (Kobayashi vs. Dala; Robinson/Kusatsu vs. Strogoff/Vladimir).

ANATA GA PUROMŌTĀ AND THE BIRTH OF THE WIRE MESH DEATHMATCH

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Above: Rusher Kimura is bloodied by Dr. Death (Moose Morowski) in a tag match building up to the IWE's first cage match (autumn 1970).

Spoiler

[This repeats information I shared in an early post on this thread, but as I’ve said before, my aim with this retrospective is to tie everything together into a complete narrative.]

In May, Kokusai held a promotional contest called Anata ga Puromōtā, or “You Are the Promoter”. This was a fan vote by which the promotion gauged interest in gaijin who had not yet been booked in Japan, and then use their connection to the AWA to try to secure them. 39,652 ballots were submitted, [EDIT 2021.06.11] and the full results were as follows. (Note that Johnny Valentine and Doctor X - AKA The Destroyer - both received votes, but were obviously ineligible.) [Credit to the Showa Puroresu fanzine website, which has a page on the Dynamite Series tour pamphlet which contained the results.]

(Names in italics are ones that were voted in despite not having been included on the promotional poster for voters' reference.)

  1. Spiros Arion (5241)
  2. Mil Mascaras (5197)
  3. The Sheik (4053)
  4. Blue Demon (3411)
  5. Ernie Ladd (2965)
  6. Rocky Johnson (2956)
  7. Jose Mendoza (2640)
  8. Johnny DeFazio (1986)
  9. Igor Vodik (1678)
  10. Baron von Raschke (1545)
  11. Ivan Koloff (1218)
  12. The Viking (1056)
  13. Silent Rodriguez (819)
  14. Horst Hoffman (711)
  15. Lars Anderson (510)
  16. Bull Bedou (508)
  17. Gil Hayes (446)
  18. Earl Maynard (365)
  19. Oregon Lumberjack (311)
  20. Hans Schroeder (305)
  21. Tony Bourne (187)
  22. Scott Brothers (185)
  23. The Mongolian Stomper (174)
  24. Bob Siegel (162)
  25. Mitsu Arakawa (no number given)
  26. Jesse James (no number given)
  27. Johnny Cuongo (121)
  28. Alan "the Rock" Rogowski (110)
  29. "Nboa" (101)
  30. Harry Fujiwara (98)
  31. Wahoo McDaniel (81)
  32. Professor Toru Tanaka (67)
  33. Whipper Billy Watson (56)
  34. Les Roberts (37)
  35. Guillotine Gordon (29)
  36. Antonino Rocca (8)

The IWE made immediate offers to Arion and Demon, but JWA booker Mr. Moto swooped in and sabotaged their efforts. Over the next year, the JWA would book most of the talent which had placed highly this list. Ladd and Johnson teamed up together in the 1st Annual NWA Tag Team League that autumn. Mascaras had an AWA offer which would have certainly seen him work some Japan dates, but the JWA made an offer better than that one (as well as an earlier JWA offer, likely made in response either to the IWE interest or to Mascaras’ popularity in domestic wrestling magazines, which Mascaras had rejected). Ultimately, of the top ten Kokusai would ultimately only book the Baron in 1971.

Anyway, the IWE continued 1970 with the Big Summer Series, held across 35 dates from 1970.07.08-08.25. Édouard Carpentier, who had been given a Mid-Heavyweight title by the TWWA to presumably defend in Japan but had not been booked before Togo burned his bridge with the IWE, finally worked for the company. Swiss legend Rene Lasartesse, billed as Jack de Lasartesse, made his only Japanese appearances. Moose Morowski returned under the masked gimmick Dr. Death. This gaijin crop was rounded out by: Les Wolff (the future Buddy Wolfe); Pancho Rosario (AKA Pancho Valdez AKA Isaac Rosario AKA “Gypsy Joe” AKA…”Bruno Sammartino”!?); the British Johnny Kowalski, and Mr. Brown (Australian wrestler Frank Earl “Blackjack” Black). Finally, Martinique-born Canadian wrestler Eddie Morrow made the first of what would be several IWE appearances as Jack Claybourne.

As far as title matches went, this tour saw Sugiyama mount three IWA Heavyweight title defenses against Dr. Death, Carpentier, and Lasartesse. Kusatsu & Sugiyama defended their IWA World Tag Team titles against Lasartesse & Kowalski and Dr. Death & Wolff. Finally, Kobayashi defended his USA Heavyweight title against Dr. Death and Rosario.

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Above: Sugiyama after his successful defense against Lasartesse, on 1970.07.25.

After this tour, Rusher Kimura returned from excursion. In turn, more Kokusai wrestlers began theirs. Strong Kobayashi left for the United States to work for the AWA, while Sueo Inoue went to work in France.[10]

The Dynamite Series consisted of 21 shows from 1970.09.09-10.20. Dr. Death made a repeat appearance, as did Mr. Brown, now working as Mr. Tiger, and Les Wolff, now working as…”Blue Demon”. Gaze upon this shit, brothers. Albertan wrestler Gil Hayes made his debut, as did Germans Messerschmidt (AKA Klaus Karloff) and Eric Froelich in their only Kokusai appearances. [Edit 2021.06.11: A page about the tour pamphlet on the Showa Puroresu fanzine's website claims that Messerschmidt was booked as a last-minute replacement after Spiros Arion backed out. At the time he had a cover story of sudden illness, but in reality this was due to JWA sabotage. This booking was so last-minute that Arion's absence couldn't be ignored, and Kokusai had to insert an apology on a separate piece of paper into the pamphlet.] This tour saw IWA Heavyweight defenses against “Blue Demon” and Messerschmidt, as well as IWA tag defenses against Hayes & Froelich and Demon & Messerschmidt. Tadaharu Tanaka even got to roll out his IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title against Froelich.

However, the most consequential match from this tour didn’t involve any belts.

By this time, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s ratings had stagnated around the 15% mark. The ratings stunt which ensued would lead to a large part of the IWE’s legacy.

On 1970.10.08, Rusher Kimura and Dr. Death fought in the promotion’s first wire mesh deathmatch: that is, cage match. It’s a weird distinction that I’m not going to be beholden to, but I think that it’s worth noting at the outset, because escape was never the goal in mind when Kokusai booked these matches. Kimura won by knockout in 17:22, and on 1970.10.14, TBS broadcast the match in color. It would be the only such match they aired, as the networks weren’t quite ready for something like that again after the infamous Blassie incident of 1962. Also, after this match, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s ratings would drop below the 15% mark. TBS’s subsequent ban on broadcasting deathmatches did at least have the side effect of granting the appeal of exclusivity to seeing live events where they would be held, but it means that no tape circulates of deathmatches held before the Tokyo 12 Channel era, except perhaps in fragmentary 8mm form.

887316070_firstdeathmatch.jpg.70fa30565c2680cb44a3e124652184a0.jpg1270367426.jpg.4a4bebbc19003f59a973b80581f8a2d1.jpg

Above: Rusher Kimura and Dr. Death fight in the IWE's first wire mesh deathmatch.

Kokusai ended 1970 with the Big Winter Series, held across 13 dates from 1970.11.17-12.12. Ox Baker finally returned to the IWE, now sporting his trademark facial hair. Mr. Tiger also made a repeat appearance. Otherwise, though, this tour sported new gaijin. The European scene was represented by the British Les Thornton and the German Axel Dieter, while the AWA sent the team of Larry Hennig and Bob Windham (not yet a Blackjack). This tour also saw Heigo Hamaguchi debut his stage name, Animal Hamaguchi.

On just the tour’s second show, Hennig & Windham defeated Sugiyama & Kusatsu for the IWA World Tag Team titles in an Ashikaga high school gym. They retained in a 11.25 defense, and did so again five days later against Sugiyama & Kimura. Sugiyama and Kusatsu then rolled the European tag titles out for a double title match which went to a 61-minute time-limit draw on 12.01. However, two days after a successful IWA World Heavyweight title defense against Hennig, Sugiyama got his tag belt back as well in the last match of the year.

The most consequential match of the tour, though, was its penultimate match.

Yoshihara wanted to repeat the wire mesh deathmatch experiment to, as earlier stated, use TBS’s deathmatch ban as a promotional tactic for Kokusai’s last show of the year. For the first and last time in the promotion’s history, they sold out the Taito Gymnasium (5,000) in Tokyo, even though they were competing with the JWA’s sellout show (9,000) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, in which B-I Cannon defended their tag titles against Gene Kiniski & Johnny Valentine.

Ox Baker would be the second man that Kimura faced in the cage, and when Bob Windham tossed a chair inside, Baker went to town on Kimura and the referee. Kimura ultimately won the match with a sleeper hold for the KO, but Baker’s assault left Rusher legitimately unable to walk, as he had suffered three complete fractures on his right shin. (This incident would help get Ox Baker over as a heel in Japan, on top of the infamous "heart punch".

Kimura was bedridden until Christmas, after which he began rehabilitation. Occasionally, he would invite Hamaguchi to visit, and the two would sneak out of the hospital for drinks.

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Above: Rusher Kimura wins his second wire mesh deathmatch against Ox Baker, despite a broken leg.

1971 BEGINS

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Above: despite not having fully healed his broken leg, Rusher Kimura returned for a crucial Tokyo show on this tour to defeat and unmask the ? (Angelo Poffo) in a wire mesh deathmatch on 1971.03.02. Afterwards, he needed to be carried out on a tatami mat.

Spoiler

The New Year Pioneer Series took place across 17 dates from 1971.01.05-01.31. Like the previous year, these January dates served as a warmup against European gaijin until the ‘big’ North American stars came out in February, though this time the gap between the two and difference in gaijin was long and large enough to clearly be two different tours, as opposed to two differently named phases of the same. All five gaijin were new faces to the company, and of them only the Belgian Ivan Buyten would work for Kokusai again. Steve Rickard, who had worked in the JWA before under his real name, was booked under the masked gimmick Devil Butcher. Fellow New Zealander Bruno Bekkar made his first Japanese appearances. Indian wrestler Mr. Dahnraj made his only Japanese appearances, as did the Belgian Jean-Louis Breston, working as Ivan. Breston received a pair of shots at the IWA World Heavyweight title, and three shots at the tag titles alongside Buyten, Butcher, and Bekkar.

The AWA Big Fight Series spanned six dates from 1971.02.27-03.05 (all but 03.03, as a matter of fact). This tour booked AWA World Tag Team champions Mad Dog and Butcher Vachon, as well as Bill Miller, The “?” (a masked gimmick played by Angelo Poffo), and a returning Jack Claybourne. They booked the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium for March 2, but the JWA retaliated by bumping up their March 3 card at the Kuramae Kokugikan (headlined by the B-I Cannon vs. Spiros Arion/Mil Mascaras tag title match) to the same date. Yoshihara needed as much native talent on deck as possible, but he wasn’t the one to ask Kimura to speed up his recovery. Rusher felt too much responsibility to the company to want to be absent at such a critical juncture, and also felt that he needed to repay his debt to Isao Yoshihara for giving him a job and encouraging him after the Tokyo Pro Wrestling collapse. Kimura resolved to work the Tokyo Metropolitan show even if it killed him, and Yoshihara accepted the request, booking him to face the ‘?’ on that card. However, Yoshihara was unsure if Kimura would pull through, so he booked a short-notice flight to Paris and convinced Mighty Inoue to take a temporary break from his excursion.

On the first date, Sugiyama defended his IWA World Heavyweight title against Mad Dog, going to a double disqualification in the second fall after winning the first by pinfall. On March 1, the Vachons made the first of two tag title defenses against Sugiyama & Kusatsu, winning 2:1.

Alas, the Tokyo show only drew 3,000. The top three matches, respectively, had Inoue put over Bill Miller as a buildup to his IWA world title shot, the Vachons retain their AWA tag titles against Sugiyama & Kusatsu by disqualification, and Kimura defeat and unmask the ‘?’ in his third wire mesh deathmatch. Since this was Kimura’s return match, it naturally suffered from a lack of buildup heat that the first two matches hadn’t had any problem with. After Kimura won, he was again unable to walk, and needed to exit the ring by being carried on a tatami mat which had been prepared for him.

The last consequential match on this tour took place on the penultimate show, where Bill Miller defeated Sugiyama to end his IWA World Heavyweight title reign. Miller would not return to the IWE until 1972, but his ultimate purpose as a transitional champion would become clear in a few months.

In March, Tadaharu Tanaka left for a European excursion. He thus vacated the IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title, which would not be revived for five years.

3rd IWA WORLD SERIES (OR, HOW GOTCH GOT HIS GROOVE BACK)

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Above: Karl Gotch, Billy Robinson, and Monster Roussimoff play a game of cards on the IWE tour bus. (This crop of the photo cuts him out, but Magner Clement is also playing to Gotch's left.)

Spoiler

The 3rd IWA World Series took place across 36 dates from 1971.03.31-05.25. Unlike the 2nd Series, this returned to a legitimate singles tournament format. Like the 1st Series, though, this tournament was held under a different system than the single-elimination or round-robin formats which one might expect. Instead, Kokusai utilized a “bad mark system”, wherein each competitor started with a single point and could gain more through wins, but lost a point if they lost or went to a draw, and would be disqualified if their tally went to zero. (This system was abandoned in subsequent iterations.)

The gaijin crop for the tour was a mix of old and new faces. Billy Robinson, Monster Rousimoff, Dr. Death (Moose Morowski), Les Wolff, and Jack Claybourne were all returning talent. A plethora of fresh wrestlers supplemented them. Billed as an assassin sent by the British wrestling scene to destroy the traitorous Robinson, Irish wrestler (and future obscure challenger to junior-era Fujinami) Sean Regan made his first Japanese appearances, known as the “Dark Lord of Europe” for his mix of technical skill and rough fighting. The Monocan Magner Clement, who worked in France as Fred Magnier, made his only Japanese appearances. Gilles Poisson, who had worked the JWA the previous year as Pierre La Grand, appeared as masked fake American Buster Matthews. A couple late dates also saw the participation of Danny Dubois. (Cagematch claims this was in actuality Big John Quinn, an Ontarian wrestler who will appear later in this story, though what little his Showa Puroresu minibio has makes it clear that this is incorrect, as Dubois was much smaller than Quinn.)

The most important new face, though, was Karl Gotch. In early 1968, Gotch had moved to Japan to work as a coach for the JWA. Despite the Riki Sports Palace having been sold off by this point, Gotch opened his school within it. This is when he trained Inoki, as well as future NJPW’ers like Kantaro Hoshino and Kotetsu Yamamoto. Gotch returned to the States after his JWA contract ended in May 1969, but he found himself shunned by American promoters for his refusal to adapt his style to theirs, which was more of a sticking point with the advent of television. By 1971, Gotch was working for a Hawaiian cleaning company.

Gotch’s old Snake Pit buddy Robinson advised Yoshihara to give Gotch a job. When he learned of the great wrestler’s current circumstances, Yoshihara exclaimed “what a waste”. Knowing that a Japanese audience would be more appreciative of Gotch’s gifts, he brought Gotch back into the business proper, a whole year before the formation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. During these two months, Gotch and Robinson worked together to stretch a certain young’uns: namely, Animal Hamaguchi, who had learned that Gotch was in Hawaii during a trip with his wife. Hamaguchi was then working as Kusatsu’s valet, but he would be ordered to pull double duty as Gotch’s assistant, and he was promptly subjected to Gotch’s techniques. While he would not join the IWE until after Gotch had left, another young wrestler who crossed his path was Goro Tsurumi, a physics student who had been training to wrestle on his own due to his alma mater’s lack of a wrestling club. Besides Masanobu Fuchi, who received instruction from Gotch in 1982 during his lengthy American excursion,[10] and excluding Hiro Matsuda, Hamaguchi and Tsurumi are the only Japanese professional wrestlers not connected to NJPW (well, Hamaguchi joined Nooj later, but you know what I mean) to have trained with Gotch.

Gotch and Robinson wrestled each other five times on this tour. The most important of these was the third one on 1971.05.19, which was considered a three-way final for the World Series. If either man won, they would reach a tie with Monster Roussimoff and have a deciding match. However, the two went to a 45-minute time-limit draw, and Roussimoff won the tournament.

In a column for website Sportiva in 2018, Hamaguchi called Robinson/Gotch (or at least one of its iterations) one of the greatest matches in the promotion’s history. Alas, all we’ve got is fragmentary handheld footage of their first match in the Series.

Unfortunately, Rusher Kimura would cause two of his fractures to slip out of place by working this tour. He put more stress on his left knee to relieve the strain on his right. The resulting imbalance between his legs fucked up his back.

 

THE ACE RETURNS

Spoiler

Before we work our way further through the IWE calendar, we have to jump to the United States. As stated earlier, Strong Kobayashi had left for a seasoning excursion after completing the 1970 Big Summer Series. He was prominently featured, getting multiple shots at Verne Gagne’s AWA Heavyweight title; the Minnesota Historical Society’s online collection features fragmentary 16mm footage from a Gagne title defense against Kobayashi in January 1971. This run culminated on 1971.06.19 in Duluth, Minnesota, when Kobayashi defeated IWA World Heavyweight champion Dr. Bill Miller. [Later note: this looks to have been a fictitious match.] Kobayashi came home with the belt, newly minted as the IWE’s native ace. As he returned, the Great Kusatsu left on his second excursion, and the IWA World Tag Team titles were vacated on 1971.06.29.

The Big Summer Series was held across 19 dates from 1971.07.06-08.02, featuring an almost exclusively North American gaijin crop. Jack Claybourne made yet another appearance, as did Big Comanche. They were joined Blackjack Lanza, Bobby Heenan, “Crazy” Chuck Karbo, and Johnny Kace. The crop was rounded off by “Chief Black Eagle”, who in reality was the tour’s lone non-North American: Carlos Colon. The IWA World Tag Team titles were not defended during this tour. However, Kobayashi started his ace run strong, bookending the tour with title defenses against Karbo and Lanza.

This tour also saw the debut of the IWE’s second “exchange student”. Gerry Morrow was Eddie Morrow/Jack Claybourne’s younger brother, and after training to wrestle in Paris he joined Kokusai. Unlike Taro Kuroshio, who would leave in 1972 to wrestle largely in Canada (and eventually become a trainer there, according to this posthumous tribute written by a former student), the man who would be billed as Jiro Inazuma was a constant presence on IWE cards for the next decade.

The Dynamite Series spanned 18 dates from 1971.09.07-10.03. Once again, this featured a largely North American crop, with only Ox Baker having worked for Kokusai before. AWA wrestlers Red Bastien, Bill Howard, Stan Kowalski, and Jack Pesek were supplemented by Dr. X (in reality the Dutch Hans Mortier), and Indian cousins Arjit and Naranjan Singh. The latter two had gone to Japan on their own dime in June to challenge Giant Baba, presumably as part of an angle, but had been ignored, and wound up in the IWE on the recommendation of Roger Delaporte. Anyway, the Series saw Bastien & Howard defeat Sugiyama & Kimura for the vacant tag titles, before dropping them to the native team two weeks later. Bastien also received a pair of IWA World Heavyweight title matches.

The Big Challenge Series took place across 13 dates from 1971.10.25-11.14. Through the AWA connection, Kokusai booked Baron von Raschke, Joe Scarpello, Quebecois freestyle Olympian Bob Chamberot, and Victor Rosettani. AWA Midwest Tag Team champions the Hollywood Blonds made their Japanese debut, and would defend their titles against the team of Kobayashi & now-stagenamed Animal Hamaguchi. Danny Lynch and Basil Ricky from the UK rounded out the roster. Kobayashi defended his world title against Raschke, and Sugiyama & Kimura defended their tag titles against Raschke & Lynch and Lynch & Rickey.

1971 ended with the nine-date Big Winter Series, held from 1971.11.30-12.12. The returning Hollywood Blonds joined: Billy Red Cloud, Ken Yates, Don Muraco, Scottish wrestler Mad Jock Cameron, and in his first Japanese appearances, Dusty Rhodes. Kobayashi defended his world title against Jerry Brown of the Blonds and Rhodes, while the Blonds got two shots at the IWA World Tag Team titles, the first ending in double countout and the second in their defeat.

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

A lot of this was more tour-by-tour skimming than I’d like; if I ever transcribe that IWE book I’m sure I will find more interesting stuff. But Part Three should be more consistently substantive. It will cover 1972-74, a turbulent period which saw change and turbulence in their television situation, and which also saw them lose the best bet they ever had due to the toxicity of their own inner culture.

Spoiler

[1] The JWA NET television deal actually has its roots in something I mentioned in a footnote in Part One. After the IWE had cut ties with him, the Great Togo hired Yoshio Yoshimura, once Rikidōzan’s manager, as his agent, and set about creating a third Japanese wrestling promotion. Alongside Fuji TV, NET was one of the two stations he was courting to carry it. Fuji TV eventually backed out on its own accord, but the JWA mounted a corporate defense to prevent the success of Togo’s enterprise. Michiaki Yoshimura went to the United States himself to somehow stop the organization from being formed (source doesn’t specify how), whilst Kokichi Endo requested Tokyo Sports to write articles which would disrupt Togo’s efforts (such as a fabricated story that Lou Thesz was coming to Japan in secret, presumably to work for the JWA).

In February 1969, the JWA directly appealed to NET programming director Hiroshi Tsujii to not broadcast Togo’s new organization. The next month, NET approached Nippon TV for permission to offer parallel JWA coverage. In April, NTV agreed to share coverage on the condition that their Mitsubishi Diamond Hour program would retain exclusive broadcast rights to:

  1. The matches of Giant Baba & Seiji Sakaguchi
  2. All defenses of the NWA International Heavyweight and NWA International Tag Team titles
  3. World League tournament matches

NET signed an agreement, and NET announced on May 12 at the Prince Akasaka Hotel that it would begin JWA broadcasts on July 2. The Sakaguchi and World League exclusivities were eventually loosened, but when the JWA lifted the Baba ban in 1972 in an attempt to retain the NET deal, Nippon TV cancelled their program in response, setting the seeds for the demise of the JWA and the birth of AJPW.

[2] Cagematch records numerous dates where Kimura was billed as Crusher Kimura, but as I cannot find this name anywhere in Japanese resources, I believe this is an error in their database. All I got for クラッシャー木村 (“Crusher Kimura”) online was the stage name of a jazz violinist, which is admittedly a cute homage.

[3] According to a passing mention in 2020 André the Giant biography The Eighth Wonder of the World, Wilkens had been South Africa’s biggest star as early as the late Sixties. However, in kayfabe at least it appears that he hit his stride in the Seventies. In his native country he would hold the South African Heavyweight title for a decade, as well as being the inaugural EWU World Super Heavyweight champion. He eventually racked up six reigns with the latter, always gaining it back in a rematch against whoever had beat him for it until announcing his retirement in 1984, though he would return to wrestling for a couple years afterward and defend the belt a couple more times. (The five men he traded the title with were, in order: Don Leo Jonathan, Seiji Sakaguchi, Blackjack Mulligan, Big John Studd, and Hercules Ayala.) Wilkens was also the man whom Otto Wanz booked himself to beat to become the inaugural CWA World Heavyweight champion in 1973.

[4] I’m getting contradictory accounts of Nikita Mulkovitch (who at one point had tagged as one of the fictitious Kalmikoff brothers), but I’m certain he was a fake Russian, despite Cagematch claiming that he was from Ukraine. British site Wrestling Heritage claims he was a Canadian heavyweight born Alex Mulko, and his Showa Puroresu minibio claims he was of Armenian and Argentinean descent.

[5] A page about various IWE titles on the Showa Puroresu site confirms this in a couple cases, but it states that Billy Robinson’s European Heavyweight title was a legitimate (albeit British) belt.

[6] Laszlo’s minibio on the Showa Puroresu site claims that he was considered as a candidate for the IWA World Heavyweight title, but was ultimately too small at 173cm/102kg (5’8”/224 lbs).

[7] Both men used the German suplex as signature maneuvers, but interestingly in Sheik’s case his Showa Puroresu bio refers to it by the Japanese name genbakugatame (原爆固め). This sent me down a rabbit hole, and apparently this Japanese title is equivalent to the Atomic Suplex name by which Gotch’s suplex went in America. When Gotch was asked the name of his technique by Tokyo Sports reporter Yasuo Sakurai, Gotch apparently answered with “German suplex”, but Sakurai was aware of the Atomic Suplex name and reported that, or rather the genbakugatame equivalent. I’m sure I don’t need to articulate the cultural sensitivities that would lead to “German suplex” being preferred by the Japanese, and if an unsourced claim on the Japanese Wikipedia page is to be believed, Weekly Pro Wrestling has long had an explicit decree not to use 原爆固め out of respect for survivors of the atomic bombs. I’ve heard Takao Kuramochi call “German” on old AJPW tape enough times to reasonably assume that decency standards would also discourage that term from broadcasters’ use. (Not sure about the atomic drop, though.)

[8] According to his Showa Puroresu minibio, Maximiliano claimed to be the descendant of cannibalistic Native Americans, and sported a “primitive” style which fed into that.

[9] Despite the language barrier, Inoue instantly hit it off with André, against whom he worked. He would quickly become a benefactor of André’s generosity. Initially booked by Kiyomigawa to work for Étienne Siry, Inoue was told by André, who had worked for Siry (and his partner, Robert Lageat) before jumping ship to work for Roger Delaporte in 1968, that Siry was “no good” and that he needed to work for Delaporte. Kiyomigawa was a little upset, but gave Inoue the go-ahead if André said so. When Inoue learned about the meager payoffs that his peers received working for Siry, he did not regret the decision.

[10] Just as an aside, I have read that the idea was pitched for Gotch & Robinson to team up in the 1982 RWTL, but Gotch’s strong association with New Japan prevented that from happening in some way.

 

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21 hours ago, KinchStalker said:

 I’ve heard Takao Kuramochi call “German” on old AJPW tape enough times to reasonably assume that decency standards would also discourage that term from broadcasters’ use. (Not sure about the atomic drop, though.)

This clears up something that's confused me about some of the Japanese results that are online, which referred to a German suplex as something that seems to translate to "atomic bomb hold." That could be the difference between that an an atomic drop, which I recall still being an atomic drop in Japan (except for the inverted atomic drop, which is called a "Manhattan Drop" because Adrian Adonis apparently was the first one to do it in Japan).

These obscure (to us) European and South African foreigners are the most fascinating parts of this history lesson to me. The Catchfans Facebook group produced a program from Sweden which featured Anton Laszlo among other more familiar '70s Europeans and that and this one IWE tour appear to be the only recordings of him in wrestling at all.

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