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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 1-9, PART TWO

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 1-9, PART TWO

Chapters 2-3 were 16 and 12 pages, respectively, so I decided to transcribe and cover them together. 4-5 are of similar length, so I will probably combine them as well.

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Chapter Two starts by talking about the UWF. Initially I was annoyed at what seemed like a drawn-out digression (this is not to disparage the book’s craft – it was not meant to be consumed the way that I, an illiterate, am doing), but when I quickly realized where it was going this became fascinating. This chapter is a snapshot of puro journalism politics in the 1980s, specifically the tensions between Weekly Pro Wrestling and AJPW(+JPW) in the period before Takashi "Tarzan" Yamamoto became editor-in-chief, a position from which he would ingratiate himself to Baba and become an important creative consultant. From the photos in the book I can tell that it’s going to take 500+ pages to get to the actual Shitenno/Gotsuyo era of 1993-, but a digression like this at least promises some interesting context along the way.

Monthly Pro Wrestling, a magazine published by BASEBALL MAGAZINE SHA Co., Ltd (henceforth abbreviated as BBM) whose history went back to the mid-1950s, rebranded as Weekly Pro Wrestling in 1983. I don’t know if his tenure extended before the rebrand, but Weekly Pro’s first editor-in-chief was Hideo Sugiyama, a position he also held for sister BBM magazine Martial Arts News. [2021.07.26 correction: this post implied he was pulling double duty, but he actually switched to running Martial Arts News after handing the Weekly Pro chair off to Tarzan Yamamoto in April 1987.]

In his coverage of the circumstances behind Tarzan Yamamoto’s step down from editor-in-chief, Dave Meltzer wrote that Yamamoto was credited with “bringing mainstream coverage of pro wrestling in Japan from the Apter-mag level almost to Observer level” (Wrestling Observer Newsletter, July 8, 1996). (The term Tarzan would coin for the style of coverage that Weekly Pro provided was “print wrestling”. [1]) This should not be taken to mean just his EIC tenure, though, as this section establishes that even during Sugiyama’s tenure – during which Yamamoto was head of the editorial team – the magazine was much bolder than that Apter mag comparison would indicate. As author Hidetoshi Ichinose notes, in some respects Weekly Pro was like the UWF itself, in that it “rejected traditional wrestling and created new values”. Sugiyama “did not listen to the logic of the old industry, but the voice of fans who had nowhere else to go, swirling around venues all over Japan. ‘Let me find out who’s the strongest! Let me see who’s the strongest!’” (The riot at the Kuramae Kokugikan in the aftermath of the Inoki/Hogan IWGP match and Choshu angle on 1984.06.14 is presented as a manifestation of the discontent of this shifting fanbase.)

In his 2017 book 1984年のUWF (“UWF in 1984”) as cited by Japanese Wikipedia, Ken Yanagisawa accuses Sugiyama of deceiving his readership into thinking the UWF was legit to boost sales. This is how you shift the culture of wrestling fandom. This is how you get Korakuen pelting garbage into the ring when Jumbo vs. Hansen (1989.04.16) has a fuck finish. This is how you make King’s Road not only a feasible creative direction, but perhaps a necessary one.

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Weekly Pro’s first issue, for the week of August 9, 1983, sent a message from the jump. Despite Terry Funk’s retirement tour, he was only given a square of real estate on a cover which primarily featured Tiger Mask. Sugiyama’s reasoning was that Tiger Mask could change professional wrestling from a “world of fans” to “a universal world”. The age of B-I Cannon was over; the future was now.

Things get really interesting in early 1986. In the wake of the NJPW/UWF angle, New Japan got the Weekly Pro cover for the first six issues. At or around the time the 2/25 issue (released the second week of the month) hit shelves, BBM president Tsuneo Ikeda received a letter signed by Giant Baba and Riki Choshu. This letter alleged unfair coverage, and declared a boycott of the publication. Ichinose claims that this was unreasonable and that the coverage was not so disproportionate; in 1985, NJPW got 21 cover stories, AJPW got 18, and the UWF got 6.

In response, Weekly Pro adopted guerilla tactics to report on them. Reporters and photographers bought tickets to provide ringside coverage (the author, who was in his early twenties at the time, started reporting on AJPW in this capacity). When necessary, photos of the ringside area and waiting room were provided by Weekly Fight magazine. Ichinose notes that this strategy was met with “silent approval”, and that he believes that AJPW were thus not primarily responsible for the boycott. Choshu’s animosity towards the wrestling press was so pronounced that an entire subsection of his Japanese Wikipedia page is devoted to it, so I’m inclined to guess that this indeed was his doing. Ichinose remarks that the battle between Choshu and Yamamoto, the only Weekly Pro reporter who had been banned before the magazine as a whole had been, would continue for many years.

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The boycott was lifted after seven months, but Weekly Pro were still not allowed to send ringside photographers to the 1986.11.01 event, where Hiroshi Wajima would be making his professional wrestling debut against Tiger Jeet Singh. Weekly Pro had to make this the cover story, though, so they settled for a shot taken from the second row.

The last few pages of the chapter are about Kawada’s miserable excursion and return. By the time he came to San Antonio, Chavo wasn’t there. As you may know, the Kawada/Fuyuki team started here. However, when visa issues forced Fuyuki to return home, Kawada was fired as there was no use for him in a singles capacity.

Kawada called Akio Sato, who told him to go to Calgary. There, he finally got experience as a singles worker, and wrestled under a mask for the first time as Black Mephisto, on a meager $200 a week. Stampede wanted Kawada to play a Shogun Wakamatsu-style heel, but Kawada couldn’t do expressions as a masked performer, so he just “barked viciously”. After being sacked there, Kawada went to Montreal on Sato’s direction. Here, he performed in a high-flying style which got him praise in some corners but also had a ceiling at that time.

Kawada’s excursion ended abruptly when visa issues forced him to return home. When he arrived, it was as if he’d never left. Once again, he didn’t even get his own name stamp for the tour pamphlets. The makeshift one just read “Kawada”, likely a composite of the “” on Takashi Ishikawa’s stamp and the “” on Jumbo Tsuruta’s.

The chapter ends recapping 1987 up to August 21, when Kawada finally made his move in an angle which saw him join Revolution.

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Chapter Three is about Taue.

Taue seems to have come from the poorest family of the Pillars. Like, “roast a snake in soy sauce for dinner" poor. He recalls carrying salt and miso paste in his pockets when playing outside after school, to season the cucumbers and turnips that neighbors would give to him.

Taue was a mischievous kid. He recalls playing hide-and-seek in elementary school and climbing into the ceiling, only to fall through a panel into a classroom. Once, he accidentally set a shrine on fire playing with firecrackers. During his junior year in high school, he recalls knocking out the leader of a gang of delinquents with a headbutt, after which the guy got 12 of his friends to come beat him up. Taue didn’t back down, and broke the leader’s collarbone.

Taue reached 1st dan in judo, but didn’t actually like fighting that much. Despite the suggestion of the advisor of his high school sumo club, he was very resistant to the idea of wearing a mawashi. However, when his dream of being a collegiate athlete was dashed by his lackluster academic performance and his poverty, Taue went into sumo. He did so to make his sumo-loving momma proud, after having been such a punk kid. He joined the Oshigawa stable, headed by Oshigawa Oyakata, whose training camps he had already attended during high school.

Long story short, he was promising, and had a considerable amount of natural athletic ability. However, it appears that he retired as a response to the abusive culture. Taue claims that Oshigawa would strike him with his shinai (wooden sword), hurting him to the point that he could not perform well, and then complain when he lost.

Taue was at a crossroads. He was already married, so he had to find work somewhere. He considered driving a truck until ragoku comedian Yasumichi Ai (now known by his stage name San'yūtei Enraku VI), a friend of Genichiro Tenryu’s from junior high, suggested that he enter professional wrestling.

As I covered before in this thread, Taue was initially signed through JPW. It was essentially a paper organization at this point, but it cushioned the appearance of the signing in the eyes of the sumo association, which was already tense with AJPW after the signings of Isao Takagi, John Tenta, and especially Hiroshi Wajima. (As I have earlier noted, this kind of political game wasn’t even new to AJPW. In the late 70s, Takashi Ishikawa originally worked as a freelancer after All Japan had recruited Tenryu and Tonga.)

Baba would later write that an old reporter was critical of Taue’s build and slowness, making an unflattering comparison to Umanosuke Ueda. However, Baba saw that he had better spring and flexibility than Ueda, and really believed in him as a potential late-blooming major talent. Of course, he was also attracted to Taue’s 190cm height.

What is the best part of pro wrestling? There are many wrestlers in the world who are as big as Choshu. The appeal of professional wrestling is that when big bodies collide and splash each other, the power of the collision attracts the audience. In short, professional wrestling is about doing things that ordinary people cannot do. In our case, it would be Tenta, Jumbo (Tsuruta), Tenryu and Yatsu. That kind of power has been the selling point of All Japan. New Japan probably doesn't have it.” [2]

The chapter basically ends with the formation of Kekkigun – Taue, Tiger Mask, Shunji Takano, Isao Takagi, Shinichi Nakano – the (ultimately short-lived) proto-Super Generation Army faction of young guys who sought to overtake Revolution.

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From titles, it looks like Chapter 4 will be about Kobashi, and Chapter 5 will be about Tarzan Yamamoto’s reform proposal that saw him become a creative consultant to Baba in the wake of JPW’s return to NJPW.

Spoiler

[1] According to his Japanese Wikipedia page, Yamamoto was and is a huge film buff, particularly fond of and influenced by the Nouvelle Vague/French New Wave. With that context, I don’t think it’s too pretentious to read into the style of reportage he encouraged as his attempt to position himself as the wrestling equivalent of the Cahiers du Cinéma wing of that movement, the critic-filmmakers (Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette, etc.). Tarzan once stated that he considered himself a professional wrestler (which I guess explains photos like this).

[2] Baba makes another really interesting statement that I think is worth reproducing.

“In the end, that Japanese war [referring to AJPW vs JPW] was just for the benefit of the enthusiasts. Pro-wrestling is an entertainment for the general public. It's the entertainment of the common people. To put it in an extreme way, even if it's a Tsururyu duel, grandfathers and grandmothers will say "What Tsuruta?" or "What Tenryu?" and they won't care who wins. Do you understand? […] I'd like to return to a world where Japanese and foreigners face off in a sweaty, "I hate those foreigners" kind of way.”

A statement like this serves as a major contradiction of revisionist accounts of Baba which depict him as always having grudgingly gone along with the conventions of old-school ‘rasslin, as if he were waiting for the wrestling world to become ready for King’s Road. I’m sure that somebody like Ichinose could plausibly overstate Yamamoto and Weekly Pro’s influence, but the more stuff like this I see, the more inclined I am to believe that Yamamoto really did convince Baba that Misawa had to go over Jumbo. I'm also reminded  of Stan Hansen, who stated in his autobiography that he had reservations about the elaborate direction that AJPW match layouts eventually went in, that he felt like they eventually became difficult for common audiences to understand.

 

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The Weekly Pro stories remind me of Pro Wrestling Illustrated photographers having to buy tickets to WWF shows in order to take pictures.

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This is absolutely incredible. I really hope and pray that you are able to finish this, but if you don't, I am grateful for whatever we are getting. All of these stories are incredible and now my mind is just imagining prime Kawada and Maeda stiffing the hell out of each other. 

Does the book get into the supposed Misawa-Kawada high school fight? IIRC Meltzer in his Misawa obit said that it happened while both were doing amateur wrestling, and that Kawada got the better of his senior 

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That wasn't mentioned. I remember him covering a fight between them (Hansen also recalls it in his autobio) but I thought it was during their pro careers.

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According to Dave's bio, Misawa and Kawada got into a fist fight backstage at some point after they both had become stars. Neither one went down and it eventually got broken up, but Misawa's face apparently was in worse shape.

Echoing everyone else's praise, this is incredible stuff. That Kawada soup anecdote is depressing as hell.

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