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PART 4.1 (1974)

[Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3.1 here, and Part 3.2 here.]



Above: Tetsunosuke Daigo, working abroad as Tokyo Joe.


Parallel to IWE’s domestic woes, one of its wrestlers on excursion saw his life irrevocably changed in an instant.

Tetsunosuke Daigo had finally gotten his excursion after the 1973 Challenge Series. (Cagematch claims that he had worked overseas dates in 1967 and 1969 as Tokyo Joe, but Japanese accounts are firm on this being his first time out.) Through the connection of Mad Dog Vachon, who had been quite impressed with his work while working for Kokusai, Daigo went to work for Grand Prix Wrestling in Montreal as Tokyo Joe, a heel main-eventer. Daigo’s homecoming match was scheduled for 1974.03.26, the first date of the 1974 Challenge Series, in his hometown of Sendai. This was initially rejected by Vachon, who still had plans for him, but Daigo managed to smooth things over by securing the substitution of Devil Murasaki, who had been working in Indianapolis. The two hadn’t exactly been close in Kokusai (Japanese accounts consistently paint Daigo as a bully backstage, so I’m not surprised), but they were glad to see each other again as fellow native Japanese working abroad.

Before Daigo was scheduled to depart he and Murasaki decided to take a trip to Calgary, where they would work a three-week program with the Kiwis – Nick Carter & Sweet William, later known as Butch Miller & Luke Williams of the Sheepherders/Bushwhackers – to trade the latter’s tag team titles back and forth. This brief stop would also allow them to meet up with their IWE mate Hiroshi Yagi. So it was that, while Daigo and Murasaki were the champions, they embarked with Killer Karl Krupp and Gama Singh on a drive to a show in a severe snowstorm. (Meltzer’s Daigo obituary from the 2017.11.13 Observer states that they were headed to Lethbridge, but a 2021 Igapro article on Devil Murasaki’s career claims they were going to High River.) Unbeknownst to them, the show had been cancelled, but Archie Gouldie managed to find them on the highway and tell them to turn back.

As they drove back to Calgary, the car ran into some black ice and slid into a ditch. No one was seriously injured, and somebody passing by called a tow truck to get them out. When the tow truck arrived, Daigo came to help its driver attach the cable to their car. Just then, though, another car came sliding down the ice, and while it swerved in time to miss the tow truck, it directly hit Daigo. His right leg was severed with pieces strewn along the highway, some hitting Murasaki.

Daigo’s leg could not be recovered and was promptly amputated. A lengthy court case ensued, and he ultimately spent the rest of his life in Calgary after receiving a settlement. (If an unsourced claim on Daigo’s Japanese Wikipedia page is to be believed, the proceedings had been complicated when the driver responsible for the accident died in another one.) Ironically, Daigo would end up serving Kokusai better abroad in a non-wrestling capacity, starting to book talent from Calgary for the promotion at some point during this year, than he likely ever could have had he returned as planned.



Above: A decade before their first Real World Tag League team (and ensuing breakup angle), Giant Baba & Rusher Kimura join forces for a 1974.04.06 IWE match, against Jim Brunzell & The Brute (Bugsy McGraw).


Things were bad back home. On top of losing Strong Kobayashi, the IWE had also lost their European booker, Kiyomigawa. They would now be more dependent on AWA talent than ever, and even if they got another television deal, there was no guarantee that they would manage to negotiate a rights fee which would make continued AWA cooperation financially viable.

The Challenge Series was a 16-date tour from 1974.03.26-04.22. Every gaijin was new to Kokusai, and none of them were going to pack houses, as even the most established had received their greatest success as territorial tag wrestlers. Tex (working here as Texas) McKenzie came to Japan for the first time since 1960, when Rikidōzan had planned to work a major program with him but ended up putting Curtis Iaukea in that slot instead after Tex complained he was working stiff. Seven-time Detroit tag champion, two-time WWWF tag champion, and one-time wrestling Batman (in Philadelphia) Tony Marino was a one-and-done with Kokusai, as was the Brute, later to be known as Bugsy McGraw. Argentina Apollo, a tag champion in multiple territories and one-time partner of Antonino Rocca, made his second and final batch of Japanese appearances. The only gaijin who would appear for the IWE again were Sailor White and the fresh-faced Jim Brunzell.

Luckily for Kokusai, they managed to secure some outside help far more interesting than their gaijin crop, as they formed a partnership with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Four AJPW wrestlers would work the tour until April 10: Samson Kutsuwada, Akihisa Takachiho, Motoshi Okuma, and none other than Giant Baba himself. (Jumbo Tsuruta was on his second American excursion at the time.) The vacant IWA World Heavyweight title would remain on ice until the following tour. However, Kimura & Kusatsu defended their tag titles in the cage on March 31 against the Brute & Brunzell. As for the AJPW wrestlers’ cooperation, Baba was only ever utilized in tag matches alongside Kokusai talent, although the others did get to wrestle against second-tier IWE wrestlers such as Hamaguchi and Teranishi. They were originally intended to work an April 11 show at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, but this show was canceled due to a general transportation strike.



Above: Flanked here by Mayuki Nakashima and Terumi Sakura, Chiyo Obata was the first wrestling star made by Tokyo 12 Channel coverage, and would be the star of the womens’ division which the IWE would incorporate as a condition of T12C coverage. (Photograph from the October 1973 issue of Wrestling Revue.)


There were no two ways about it: the IWE needed television. To find a way forward, Isao Yoshihara consulted with TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay producer Tadao Mori. Mori, in turn, pleaded with his and Yoshihara’s fellow Waseda University alum, Nihon Keizai Shimbun chairman Junzo Daiken, to get the IWE onto Tokyo 12 Channel, which was an affiliate of Nikkei Inc. (of which Nihon Keizai Shimbun was/is the flagship newspaper). It turns out that the head of Tokyo 12 Channel’s sports department, Tsuyoshi Shiraishi, was not only a fellow Waseda alum but had even competed on the wrestling team, like Yoshihara. In fact, Tokyo 12 Channel had experience with wrestling broadcasting going back to 1968, which is worth getting into.


On 1968.11.21, as a special program, the station aired Chiyo Obata’s 11.06 challenge for the Fabulous Moolah’s IWWA World Women’s Championship at the Kuramae Kokugikan, for Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling.[1] The 21.4 rating this drew was the highest the station had ever seen, so the station began airing wrestling in earnest. Pro Wrestling Hour (プロレスアワー) premiered on 11.30, and Women's Pro Wrestling Live: World Championship Series (女子プロレス中継 世界選手権シリーズ) began on 12.05. Pro Wrestling Hour originally aired old American matches with Japanese commentary, courtesy of reporter and future AJPW commentator Hiroshi Tazuhama, and premiered with an NWA title match between Lou Thesz and Antonino Rocca [I’m assuming it was their widely circulating 1963.05.10 match].

Women's Pro Wrestling Live: World Championship Series had been the first to go. In an ironic development considering the ideals the original JWP had been formed under, it itself eventually faced criticism as a vulgar program, and top brass elected to drop it after its 1970.03.26. They believed that to broadcast more than one program with erotic appeal was unnecessary (and probably didn’t reflect well on the station), so they opted to stick with the provocative drama Playgirl, despite WPWL continuing to pull decent ratings (in the Kanto and Kansai markets respectively, it had maintained averages of 15% and 10%).

After this, Pro Wrestling Hour shifted to also feature joshi. In August 1970, it aired WWWF material taped at Madison Square Garden, securing the connection through the intermediary of the Great Togo. Pro Wrestling Hour was originally suspended in September 1971, but after a single broadcast the following March on the station’s Surprise Sports block, the program was revived in April.

Pro Wrestling Hour ended sometime in September, but even that hadn’t been the end of puroresu on the station. That same month, Tokyo 12 Channel had been the first network to broadcast NJPW material. They first aired material from the promotion’s 1972.10.04 show at the Kuramae Kokugikan, which drew an 8.8. Then, their live broadcast of Antonio Inoki’s 1972.10.10 match against Karl Gotch, at the Kuramae Kokugikan, was the first Inoki match broadcast since his JWA expulsion. This drew an 11.9. Both programs featured the broadcast team of future International Pro Wrestling Hour and then World Pro Wrestling commentator Shigeo Sugiura, and future World Pro Wrestling commentator Yasuo Sakurai.


Shiraishi was initially hesistant to pick up Kokusai, and would only do so on the condition that they establish a womens’ division, and in so doing make the IWE puroresu’s first intergender organization. Chiyo Obata was pushing forty by this point (I bring this up because, even in her peak years of 1968-70, she was past the mandatory retirement age that Zenjo infamously enforced), but she and other ex-JWPW’ers would make up the IWE’s joshi division when Kokusai signed the broadcast contract in October.

Before that, though, Tokyo 12 Channel would test the waters with some one-off broadcasts.



Above: the Great Kusatsu lifts up Rusher Kimura for a piledriver in their 1974.05.26 #1 contendership match for the vacant IWA World Heavyweight title (1), Kimura applies a Boston crab on Billy Robinson in their 1974.06.03 title match (2), Robinson lifts Kimura in the butterfly suplex (3), and Kimura holds his head in his hand backstage after his loss (4).


The Dynamite Series was a 15-date tour from 1974.05.11-06.07. Returning gaijin were Rene Goulet, Sailor White, and last but certainly not least Billy Robinson, making his first appearances since 1972. Edmonton-born wrestler and future beltmaker Reggie Parks made his last Japanese appearances, after he had failed to live up to expectations (according to his Showa Puroresu minibio) working the JWA two years earlier. In his only Japanese appearances, the Washington-born, Hawaii-based wrestler-promoter Ed Francis worked this tour, bringing his son Billy with him.

Kokusai would first return to television near the end of this tour, on the June 3 show at Korakuen Hall. Here, the promotion took the vacant IWA World Heavyweight title back out of the meat locker for a championship match between Robinson and Kimura. Back in 1968, the pre-Rusher Masao Kimura had been Billy’s first IWE opponent. Now, bringing the promotion’s top foreign star of old to fight the previous IWA World Series winner was the biggest match that Kokusai could book. Kimura earned the shot by winning a #1 contendership match against Kusatsu on May 26. (Wrestling-Titles.com incorrectly states that Robinson beat Kusatsu in a tournament final for the belt, but I suspect this was the source of the confusion.) For the title match, Ed Francis would serve as guest referee.

This match was the first in a series of one-off broadcasts of IWE material, airing live on Tokyo 12 Channel’s Monday Sports Special program at 8PM. This was the promotion’s first live broadcast since 1972.06.25, and it had strong competition in the timeslot, such as TBS weekly period drama National Theatre and Nippon TV music program NTV Kōhakuka no Besutoten. Shiraishi told Yoshihara that if these broadcasts drew a rating in the 3% range, like those seen in the twilight of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s run, then plans for a weekly program would have to be scrapped.

In Korakuen, Robinson beat Kimura 2-1 to win the vacant title. Unfortunately, broadcast footage of this match has not been released, so we have to make do with a thirteen-minute clip of 8mm footage.[2] However, the broadcast drew a 6.4% rating, and Tokyo 12 Channel gave the thumbs-up for regular broadcasts.

After working the tour’s last two dates, Robinson returned to the States with the belt in tow.

(To the extent of my knowledge, the only other footage from this tour in circulation is this 8mm footage from a May 26 cage tag between White/Goulet & Robinson/Inoue.)

The Big Summer Series was an 11-date tour from 1974.06.25-07.19. Horst Hoffman worked what would be his final tour for Kokusai. Benji Ramirez returned under a mask as the Killer. Danny Babich made his first Japanese appearances, working as Ivan Volkoff. Floridian wrestler Bob Griffin, who had challenged for Kintaro Oki’s All Asia Heavyweight title in the JWA back in 1972, made his final Japanese appearances. Gerry Morrow/Jiro Inazuma was made to put on a mask and work masked as Wild Gnu.

Most notable, though, was the partial presence of André the Giant. By this point, the once-Monster Roussimoff had debuted for NJPW for their Big Fight Series tour (incidentally, the same tour which featured Inoki/Kobayashi I). However, he had heard about the IWE’s turbulent state, and called Isao Yoshihara from Montreal to hear the story from the horse’s mouth. With Frank Valois at his side, André flew to Japan to work the tour’s first four dates, and refused to accept Yoshihara’s money. The Eighth Wonder of the World states that André had enough pull to get away with this, and that it wasn’t worth it for Inoki to risk losing André over raising a fuss about it. It wouldn’t be the last time that André gave back to the first non-European promotion that had taken a chance on him.

Tokyo 12 Channel broadcast material from this tour for two episodes of Monday Sports Special. On July 1, they aired the main event of the opening date, a Kusatsu/Inoue vs. André/Volkoff tag match. Four weeks later, they aired the last two matches of the July 5 show in Kagoshima, in which Hoffman defeated Inoue in singles action, and Kimura defeated the Killer by knockout in a chain match. The latter was held within the wire mesh, an early sign that T12C would be more receptive than TBS had to showing Kokusai’s grislier side.



Above: Superstar Billy Graham poses with Baron von Raschke, during some leisure time in Graham’s first trip to Japan.


During a press conference at IWE headquarters on 1974.07.08, Yoshihara and Shiraishi announced that a special program would be broadcast on 09.23, with regular broadcasts beginning the next month. Nihon Keizei Shimbun, a major shareholder in T12C, had acted as an intermediary to make this deal happen. At the conference, they announced that they were aiming for an 8% average viewership rating for the time being. The program would replace Monday Sports Special, but as a result, the last Monday of each month would instead feature boxing program KO Boxing. Only four episodes of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Live/Relay (1969.12.31, 1971.10.20, 1971.11.03, 1972.05.14) were ever suspended in this way. As a result, while the program that would eventually be named Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour had a longer run than its predecessor, its episode count was ultimately beaten, 317-286. The more significant disadvantage relative to TBS was T12C’s more limited range of networks. Outside of the Kanto region, its outreach was limited to some independent stations and TBS/Fuji TV affiliates. In most of the Osaka prefecture, it would be necessary to install a UHF antenna to receive independent station signals. In the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, where the IWE had drawn better than the JWA all those years ago, Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour was nowhere to be seen, and thus the company’s box office in those markets fell behind its newer competitors.

There were some perks, though. The IWA World Heavyweight and IWA World Tag Team titles would receive redesigns to mark this new era. Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour would have more varied camera work than TWWA Pro Wrestling Live/Relay’s standard setup. Finally, Tokyo 12 Channel would actually recruit some commentators from outside the company, whereas TWWA had only had Isao Yoshihara in the booth. Tokyo Sports reporter and critic Tadao Monma was offered the role of lead commentator, and his boss, Hiroshi Inoue, told him to take the job as publicity for their publication. Monma ultimately accepted on the condition that he would be allowed to drink alcohol during broadcasts; this was partially to cope with anxieties about speaking in a different dialect. However, since Monma’s primary employer told him that commentating for joshi was against company policy (my guess is that joshi hadn’t shaken its sleazy reputation of old, so the publication felt that its coverage would delegitimize them), that role was given to former Women's Pro Wrestling Live: World Championship Series commentator Teiji Kojima. Still, it does seem that Tokyo Sports must have had some modicum of joshi coverage, since Monma’s Japanese Wikipedia page states that, since he was also the head Kokusai reporter, he would frequently butt heads with Kusatsu in particular over how the joshi division factored into the publication’s coverage of the promotion.

The IWA Title Match Series/Super Wide Series was a 20-date tour from 1974.09.15-10.10. The gaijin crop was headed by IWA World Heavyweight champion Superstar Billy Graham, who had supposedly won the belt from Robinson in Denver on August 26.[3] Graham made his first Japanese appearances on this tour, but for all his Stateside popularity, he would never catch on with the Japanese fanbase, who would eventually label him a dekunobo (“blockhead”) for what they perceived as poor performances on the mic and in the ring. [Source: Graham’s Showa Puroresu website minibio.] Baron von Raschke made what would be his final IWE appearances, while the Kiwis made their first. The mens’ gaijin crop was rounded out by German wrestler Hans Roocks, although for this and the following tour, Smith Hart worked the undercard as an “exchange student”, at his father Stu’s request.

This tour also saw the beginning of the IWE joshi division. Chiyo Obata, Terumi Sakura, and Kyoko Chigusa, all of whom had remained with JWPW to the bitter end, formed its backbone. Naturally, Kokusai’s joshi wing would wrestle gaijin too. The Fabulous Moolah came to Japan for the first time since the autumn of 1969, when she had dropped the IWWA World Women’s Wrestling title to Obata. She came with Sandy Parker and Paula Kaye. (Here is footage from an October 7 tag between Obata/Sakura and Parker/Kaye.)

[The joshi division doesn’t seem to get all that much coverage in the Japanese resources I could find, relative to the mens’ division. As this was a product of network meddling I’m not surprised, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m deliberately marginalizing them.]

Finally, it’s worth noting that undercarder Isamu Sakae debuted the stage name he would use for the rest of his career: Snake Amami.

The tour began with a Korakuen show. The most interesting thing about this show didn’t even happen between the ropes, as it reportedly featured puroresu’s first entrance music in the modern sense. Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour’s television director was inspired by a story he had heard about Inoue’s 1971 European excursion, where he had used Naomi Chiaki's 1970 hit single "Yottsu no Onegai" as entrance music. For Graham’s entrance, he played a recording of easy-listening juggernaut the 101 String Orchestra’s cover of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. After which, Graham had a bench press contest against the former bodybuilder Animal Hamaguchi, before defeating him in a singles match.

After a successful defense against the Kiwis on September 16, Kimura & Kusatsu put their IWA World Tag Team titles on the line against Graham & Raschke, at the Nippon University Auditorium on September 23.[4] This show was broadcast live for the first episode of Fighting Hour, which would quickly see a name change, but if you clicked that link you can see that the footage didn’t turn up when it came time for the 2000s DVD releases. Two weeks later, on October 7, it aired with the name Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour, which would stick. For whatever reason, Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour was given one less minute of airtime than Fighting Hour had, with 55.

On this tour, Graham defended the IWA World Heavyweight title thrice against Mighty Inoue. First, on October 1, he won 2:1. Then, on October 5 in Nagoya, they went 1:1 before a double countout. But finally, on October 7, Mighty Inoue won the decisive fall with a backslide to become the first native champion of the T12C era.



Above: Verne Gagne defends his AWA World Heavyweight title against Billy Robinson on 1974.11.20.


Kokusai ended 1974 with the World Champion Series, held across 17 dates from 1974.11.04-12.01. The big names this time didn’t work the entire tour, but let’s get those who did out of the way first. Buddy Wolfe made his final appearances for the IWE, and would only return to Japan to work the 1976 Champion Carnival. Cuban Assassin #1 and #2 were a pair of wrestlers, booked by Tetsunosuke Daigo. #1 was Ángel Acevedo, who was only a year into his career at this point, and would go on to be a six-time tag champion in both the Stampede and WWC territories. #2 was the Trinidadian-born Canadian Frank Seebransingh. The joshi division got Vicki Williams and Donna Christanello, the latter working under the simplified Donna Christine.

The limited appearances are where this tour’s crop gets interesting. The first eleven dates featured the AWA World Tag Team champions, Nick Bockwinkel & Ray Stevens. Bockwinkel had worked JWA tours in 1964 and 1970, while Stevens had worked one in 1968. In what would be his final bookings for the company that had made his name in Japan, Billy Robinson worked the five dates from November 17-23. Finally, AWA World Heavyweight champion Verne Gagne worked just the two shows on November 20-21.

The kickoff show at Korakuen saw Inoue defend his title against Stevens. On November 18, Bockwinkel & Stevens defended their titles against Kimura & Kusatsu, ending in a disqualification. The two teams’ double-title rematch on November 21 ended the same way.

On November 20, in the Kuramae Kokugikan, Gagne defended his AWA title against Robinson in perhaps the best IWE match in circulation. The stated attendance of 4,500 was to save face, though, as the true attendance was under 2,000. It was so bad that those in the cheap seats got to move up for free in an attempt to fool the television cameras, which made those who had paid full price for the front seats quite unhappy. The following night, in Kokusai's last notable match of the year, a Gagne/Inoue double title match ended in a draw.


[1] Not to be confused with All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, which sprung from it, Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (日本女子プロレス, “Nihonjoso Puroresu Kyokai”) was established on 1967.04.19 as an attempt to restore legitimacy to joshi puroresu after it had declined into sleaze. It was the joint venture of right-wing activist and sōkaiya (a type of corporate racketeer unique to Japan) Toichi Mannen, judoka Morie Nakamura, and future AJW president Takashi Matsunaga. That more famous promotion came about the following year, when Matsunaga and Mannen split, but this original JWPW did not dissolve.

[2] The 1974.11.20 IWE match between Robinson and Verne Gagne only circulated in a nineteen-minute clip of similar quality before a DVD release unearthed the full version, but by that time the television series had begun. I have no way to verify this, but my speculation is that these one-off broadcasts were not archived alongside the series proper, if they even were at all.

[3] According to the title’s Japanese Wikipedia page, this was, like the Kobayashi/Miller title change of 1971, a fictitious match. On the stated date, Robinson was wrestling Buddy Wolfe in Peoria.

[4] This would actually be the last time that the IWE booked the auditorium, for financial reasons. Nippon TV signed a comprehensive use agreement with the university which allowed All Japan to book the venue more cheaply than its competition.


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I’m taking a break from writing IWE Pt. 4.2 for the time being; every once in a while I need some time to actually watch wrestling instead of research it. However, I am posting here to mention two things.

1. As you can see, I have reformatted these IWE posts by spoiler-tagging each section. This is solely to make the length of each thread page more palatable.

2. Igapro just posted an article about the IWE’s first wire mesh deathmatches. I just took a break from my break to rewrite some things. Usually, I denote later additions to these posts with brackets and bold text, but this is a case where I really needed to rewrite passages from scratch. The new information has substantially fleshed these parts out, and Rusher Kimura’s major physical limitations as IWE ace will make so much more sense if you know about the toll these early iterations of the wire mesh deathmatch took on him. If you’ve been following this series, you might want to reread the pertinent sections, but I've put a TL;DR version below.


The second wire mesh deathmatch, between Kimura and Ox Baker, headlined a card in which the IWE managed to sell out Tokyo despite competing with a sold-out JWA show. However, Baker's assault on Kimura with a chair caused three fractures along Kimura's right shin, and left him unable to walk. Isao Yoshihara needed him to return before he was ready in March, after the JWA moved up their Kuramae Kokugikan date to compete with their Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium show. Kimura came back to do a wire mesh deathmatch against the '?' (Angelo Poffo), but needed to be carried to the back on a tatami mat afterward, and it wasn't even worth it because the show only drew 3,000. During the subsequent World Series tour, Kimura caused two of his fractures to slip back out of place, and he deliberately strained his left knee in order to take stress off of the right. The resulting imbalance fucked his back up.


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