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This is the first part that is going to end during a year. The IWE’s TBS coverage ends in early 1974, and that on top of the departure which caused it makes me think it’s best to delineate the two eras of the promotion that way. Part 4 will be about the early years of the Tokyo 12 Channel era.


PART 3.2 (1973-1974)

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


1973, PART ONE


Above: Isamu Teranishi and Mighty Inoue wrestle in a rare native vs. native semi-main event on the last show of the Challenge Series.


The New Year Pioneer Series was a 12-date tour from 1973.01.06-01.26. Returning gaijin were Larry Hennig and Ivan Strogov. Doug Gilbert, worked in a black mask as The Professional, made his only Kokusai appearances on this tour (he had previously worked the 1971 JWA Dynamic Big Series, where he most notably teamed up with Mil Mascaras for an unsuccessful shot at the All Asia Tag Team titles). Mike Paidousis, who had worked four JWA tours from 1960-1971 either as himself or under masked gimmick the Tennessee Rebel (and according to legend had been sent home by Rikidōzan, presumably on that 1960 tour, because he was too strong), took his last Japanese bookings. Finally, making their Japan debuts were Ken Patera and Otto Wanz; the latter was billed as Gran Lapan (“Big Rabbit”), a name which had come from a female clerk. On the native end, this tour also saw the debut of Isamu Sakae, who had joined the company through its sales department the previous year.

The tour started at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (attendance: 3,500), and the 01.07 and 01.14 episodes of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay taped here were the first IWE matches taped at the venue ever since it had held that first Rusher Kimura/Dr. Death cage match in 1970. As for title matches, Kobayashi defended the IWA world title in the cage against the Professional on 1973.01.16 in Fukuoka, and Kobayashi & Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles against the Professional & Hennig on 1973.01.25 in Tokyo.

This was followed by the Challenge Series, held across 14 dates from 1973.02.24-03.16. Of the five gaijin on the tour, Mad Dog Vachon and Horst Hoffman were the returning faces. They were supplemented by: Angelo Mosca, whose only previous Japanese work was the JWA’s 13th World Big League in 1971; Rapapapotski, better known as John Smith/Soldat Gorky, making his first Japanese appearances since 1965; and Cuban-American wrestler Jose Quintero, making his only Japanese appearances.

Kobayashi defended his IWA world title twice, first against Hoffman in a standard 2/3-falls match on 03.07 in Yokkaichi, and then against Vachon in a cage match on the tour’s last show in the Machida City Gymnasium in Tokyo. Kobayashi & Kusatsu defended their IWA tag titles twice against Vachon & Rapapapotski, on 03.08 and 03.14. Quintero had been a rival of Mighty Inoue’s in Montreal, and this built up to a cage match between the two in Nagoya on 02.27, which Inoue won. On the last date of the tour, Inoue also defeated Isamu Teranishi in a rare native vs. native semi-main event, which might have been testing the waters for a later experiment.

1973 saw Kokusai’s live business become more dependent on wire mesh deathmatches, and the Challenge Series displayed this plainly. After the Big Winter Series of 1972, which had used the stip 11 times, the New Year Pioneer Series only had four, but 8 of the Challenge Series’ 14 dates featured the cage.

After the end of the Challenge Series, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay’s timeslot was moved from 6:25-6:55  to 6:00-6:30, beginning on the 1973.04.01 episode. This cost the IWE the Niigata Broadcasting System coverage which had resumed the previous October, and RKB Mainichi Broadcasting (Fukuoka prefecture) moved Relay to a midnight timeslot in response. The ensuing period, from April to September, would see Relay’s ratings drop to around the 5% mark.

Also after the Challenge Series’ end, Tetsunosuke Daigo embarked on a Canadian excursion.



Left: the Texas Outlaws take it to the IWA World Tag Team champions. Right: Strong Kobayashi lifts Rusher Kimura for a backdrop, in puroresu's first native vs. native title match since 1955.


The Dynamite Series was a 19-date tour from 1973.04.18-05.15. Returning gaijin were Mad Dog Vachon, Eduoard Carpentier, Lars Anderson, and The Canadian, who had previously worked as Buster Matthews, and who we know best as Gilles Poisson. The new faces were: Ivan Koloff; Bob (AKA Buck) Ramstead, a successful collegiate amateur wrestler who was broken into the business by Verne Gagne; Tarzan Tyler, the Quebecois wrestler who was the inaugural WWWF World Tag Team co-champion with Luke Graham, and had been quite successful in the Florida territory [1]; and original Minnesota Wrecking Crewman Lars Anderson. South Koreans Kang Sung-Yung and Oh Kyun-Ik returned in their “exchange student” roles of 1972, and they would work the following tour as well.

Kobayashi made two IWA World Heavyweight title defenses this tour, first against Carpentier in Sendai on 04.27, then against Koloff on the tour’s last stop in Ōmiya (a city in Saitama prefecture which was merged with others to create the prefectural’s titular capital in 2001). More significantly, this tour saw Kobayashi transition away from the double-champion role. Mad Dog & Koloff beat Kobayashi & Kusatsu on the tour’s first date in Tsuchiura for the IWA World Tag Team titles, with Koloff scoring the winning fall with a Canadian backbreaker to Kobayashi. After a defense against Kusatsu & Rusher Kimura in Tokyo on 4.30 saw the gaijin retain by disqualification, the rematch on the tour’s penultimate date saw Kimura pin Koloff after a double countout to win the titles 2-1.

In keeping with the trend, 7 of the 19 tour dates featured wire mesh deathmatches.

The Big Summer Series spanned 20 dates from 1973.06.18-07.15. This time, Buddy Wolff and Dusty Rhodes were returning gaijin. The stars of the crop were the Texas Outlaws, Rhodes & Dick Murdoch; as far as Japan is concerned this was their debut as a unit, and they would go on to work one AJPW tour in late 1975 before teaming up again for a few NJPW dates in 1981-2. Skandor Akbar made his second and last Japanese appearances before his retirement from active competition in 1977 and subsequent transition into a heel manager. Finally, yes, this tour was the Japanese debut of Ric Flair.

On this tour, Kobayashi retained his world title against both Outlaws, first against Rhodes on 06.19, and then against Murdoch on 06.29. The Outlaws also put over Kusatsu & Kimura in a tag title match on 06.30.

The tour’s most interesting title match, though, involved neither of them. Nor, even, any of the other gaijin. For at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on 07.09, the 16th date of the tour, Strong Kobayashi defended his IWA World Heavyweight title against Rusher Kimura. Kimura had challenged his co-worker shortly after the Rhodes defense, and while I couldn’t find any deeper motivations, the match went through. This was the first native vs. native title match since Rikidōzan vs. Toshio Yamaguchi in 1955.

This tour also featured 9 wire mesh deathmatches.



Above: the Great Kusatsu and Mighty Inoue square off in a block match in the IWA World Series.


The 5th IWA World Series, the last of the TBS era, took place across 24 dates from 1973.09.08-10.12. The Puroresu.com page for the tour bands this together with the World Selection Series, but as the tour only had two dates after the World Series final it doesn’t seem major. Returning gaijin in the Series proper were Blackjack Mulligan (working as a Blackjack for the first time in Japan), Lars Anderson, and Willem Hall; Verne Gagne worked a pair of dates in late September, both defenses of his AWA world title against Kobayashi.

It wouldn’t be a credible tournament without some new faces, though. Greg Gagne made his Japanese debut. Moose Cholak, that early star of Chicago wrestling television, made his final Japanese appearances after having wrestled four JWA tours from 1962-72,[2] and according to his Showa Puroresu minibio gave a lackluster performance on this tour. (Sadly, it sounds like he never brought the moose head to Japan.) Dale Lewis was a two-time Olympian in Greco-Roman who was scouted by Danny Hodge and Wilbur Snyder, and transitioned into pro wrestling in 1961 under Verne Gagne’s wing. Like Cholak, Dale Lewis had made multiple JWA appearances over the previous years, but this work for Kokusai was his last in the country.[3] Bob Bruggers was an ex-NFL linebacker introduced to the business by fellow former Dolphin Wahoo McDaniel, and trained by Gagne and Billy Robinson; these would be his only Japanese dates, as after he suffered spinal fractures in the infamous North Carolina wrestlers’ plane crash of 1975, he decided not to return to the business. Finally, there was Frikkie Alberts, a South African who had tagged with Willem Hall; he would not finish the tour.

This tour also saw the in-ring debut of 31-year old Ichimasa Wakamatsu, a former electrician who had joined the IWE as an employee in its materials department before training to wrestle.

This time, the round-robin tournament had only two blocks. My presumption is that the Kobayashi/Kimura IWA heavyweight title match of the previous tour, as well as matches like Inoue vs. Teranishi back in March, gave booker Great Kusatsu enough courage to allow natives to share blocks this time. Note that Alberts departed before his block was done, so I have made the presumption that those he didn’t get around to wrestling in his block got points over him by default. This time out, block matches were held with a thirty-minute time limit, with one point to win and zero for losses and DCOs. Instead of an extension period, a panel of judges would determine the winner in the event of a time-limit draw.

I have tabled the results for both blocks.


[The Inoue vs. Kusatsu boxes have an asterisk because the puroresu.com tour page does not label their singles match as a World Series block match, but I am assuming that it in fact was.]

As you can see, the four semifinalists were Anderson, Kimura, Kusatsu, and Mulligan, with six points each. The biggest surprise was that the promotion’s top champion and previous World Series winner didn’t even make it past the block, with Kobayashi getting a DQ loss against Anderson and losing to Isamu Teranishi in an upset. Perhaps this was just an innocent spoiler, but an event that will transpire in a few months – or rather, the backstage treatment which led to said event occurring – leads me to suspect that Kobayashi may have been the target of the booker’s spite here. Also yes, Anderson and Kimura’s block match was a wire mesh deathmatch. That is remarkably carny.

(The only match from the blocks in wide circulation is Hamaguchi vs. Inoue.)

The semi-finals took place on 1973.10.10 in the Nagasaki International Gymnasium. Kusatsu and Anderson went first, and the DKO result made its followup the de facto final. In 25:03, Rusher Kimura pinned Mulligan to win his first singles tournament.

This tour also had six non-tournament wire mesh deathmatches besides Kimura/Anderson. Block-A jobber Bob Bruggers didn’t have much hope I guess, so he got fed to Kimura in the cage twice, and then to Kusatsu. Hamaguchi won one over Lewis, and Anderson won one over Tanaka, before the tour ended with a World Series final rematch in the cage, which Kimura won.

The IWA World Series would only be brought back once more, in 1977. A much more pressing matter in the moment, though, was another television change. Beginning on 1973.10.06, TBS moved TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay to Saturdays at 2:00 PM. In response, Chubu Nippon Broadcasting System (Chūkyō metropolitan area, which spans at least parts of the Aichi, Gifu, and Mie prefectures – hey, I’m a wrestling history hobbyist, not a map) and Asahi Broadcasting (Kansai region) both moved the program to a midnight slot.




Above: two posters for the last show of the 1974 New Year Pioneer Series.


The IWE ended 1973 with the Big Winter Series, as they were wont to do. This time, it was a 20-date tour from 1973.10.27-11.30. Besides Red Bastien and Bill Howard, this tour featured gaijin new to Kokusai. After Lars Anderson’s showing in the IWA World Series, it looks like it was time for the promotion to meet his kayfabe bros, Gene & Ole. Calgary wrestler Klondike Bill made his only IWE appearances after having worked the JWA (originally as Mr. Brute in 1963), where he had held the All Asia tag titles with Skull Murphy for 22 days in 1968. Dave Larsen was an English amateur wrestler scouted by Jack Dale, who apparently had worked a Batman gimmick in France at one point. The star of the crop, though, was Wahoo McDaniel. He joined the tour on its seventh date on 11.04.

Kobayashi’s first IWA title defense against Red Bastien was successful. However, on 11.09 in the Katsuura Tourism Hall, he dropped the belt to Wahoo. Five days later, they went to a double knockout in a rematch, and as Wahoo’s Showa Puroresu minibio kayfabed it, he had the IWE front office “in a cold sweat” fearing that he’d take the strap with him back to the states. However, Kobayashi pulled through on the final show of the year in Korakuen Hall to get it back. On the tag title front, Kimura & Kusatsu made two successful defenses, first against the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, and then against Bastien & McDaniel.

This time, Kokusai booked nine wire mesh deathmatches on the tour – hell, ten if you want to count Japan’s first strap match between Kusatsu and Wahoo, which 8mm footage shows was held in the cage. The most interesting result of these was that Ole was the first to wrestle Kimura to a draw in the cage, though he put Kimura over clean under the same stip a week later.

The 1974 New Year Pioneer Series spanned 17 cards from 1974.01.05-02.01. Returning gaijin were Butcher Vachon and the Hollywood Blonds, Jerry Brown & Buddy Roberts. The new faces were: Bill Watts, making his second and last Japanese appearances after the 1967 JWA Dynamite Series; Pedro Samson, a Colombian boxer who turned to wrestling in Europe and was booked for the IWE by Kiyomigawa after he’d seen him work a tournament for Gustav Kaiser in 1973; and The Jackknife, a masked gimmick played by Oliva Asselin. Asselin’s participation was especially interesting because he was one of the first gaijin; that is, he was among the wrestlers who were booked on the Shriner-organized Japan wrestling tour/charity drive in 1951 which brought Rikidōzan into the business.

Not much interesting here in terms of title matches. Kobayashi defended the world title against Watts twice (apparently Watts wore a t-shirt in at least one of the matches, which was not received well), and Kimura & Kusatsu defended against the Hollywood Blonds. This tour had only four wire mesh deathmatches, which I guess was restraint by Kokusai standards at this point.

On the tour’s final date, champion and backbone of the organization Strong Kobayashi tendered his resignation.



I’ve seen narratives in the West state that Kobayashi was pulled out by NJPW, and that seems to have been an impression received at home as well. After all, Hisashi Shinma would earn his reputation as the radical instigator of puroresu, famously having the gumption to try to seduce Jumbo away from All Japan in 1975. However, the truth is that Kobayashi left to become a free agent because he could no longer bear to work with booker Kusatsu.

Kusatsu’s treatment of Kobayashi during his ace period was the behavior of a genuinely bitter man, exacerbated by alcoholism. His harassment ranged from at making a drunken outburst on the ferry (as recounted in 2016 by Goro Tsurumi – note that Tsurumi went on excursion in spring 1973, so this treatment went on for at least the last full year of Kobayashi’s tenure) to forcing Kobayashi to drink his own urine from a paper cup. Kusatsu abused his position to harass Kobayashi, keeping him on top for television tapings but knocking him down the card on provincial shows out of spite. The treatment eventually reached a point where Kobayashi, a quiet and reserved man by nature, traveled separately from the IWE tour bus to get away from Kusatsu. There’s an irony to the fact that, while Yoshihara said in the promotion’s early days that “pro wrestling is different from sumo”, the company ended up driving its best bet away through a toxic backstage culture that felt more in keeping with that world (or at least the world of early puroresu culture, with all its sumo vestiges) than with even the cruelest ribs of American professional wrestling. However, while Kobayashi was the best bet they ever had, at the end of the day he just wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the promotion’s decline, feeding into Kusatsu's resentment (and perhaps that of others). And so, he wanted out.

Kobayashi officially declared free agency on 1974.02.13. NJPW moved quickly, and over the next three weeks Shinma came to Kobayashi’s house for secret negotiations; an anecdote on the latter’s Japanese Wikipedia page states that Shinma came by so often that one of Shozo’s Maltese dogs became attached to him. All Japan were also interested, and used their connections with Monthly Pro Wrestling editor-in-chief Hisao Fujiwara to attempt to prevent Kobayashi’s transfer to Shin Nihon, while trying to lure Kobayashi for themselves through their connection to Matty Suzuki. On 03.08, Isao Yoshihara held a press conference where he claimed Kobayashi had violated his contract, and Kokusai demanded a transfer fee. However, the Tokyo Sports news agency stepped in and offered them a ¥10,000,000 settlement out of their own pocket. As has been mentioned much earlier in the thread, the publication’s president Hiroshi Inoue was a powerful ally of Inoki’s, and they were too powerful for Kokusai to afford to alienate, so they were forced to accept the settlement. Ultimately, Kobayashi would be allowed to work two dates for New Japan as an affiliate of Tokyo Sports until he signed with the promotion proper in 1975: both shots at Inoki’s NWF Heavyweight title, on 03.19 and 12.12. [EDIT: The IWE also lost Kiyomigawa in this, as he served as the special guest referee for the first Inoki/Kobayashi match.] Alas, Kobayashi’s twin losses to Inoki in 1974 would damage Kokusai’s image even further.

TBS notified the IWE that they would drop the television program at the end of the month, and their support of the promotion with it. The last IWE match broadcast on TBS was Kusatsu vs. Watts (from 01.28), on 03.30. [4] The ratings by this point had been in the 3-5% range, though apparently there was a spike right at the very end.

In later years, Mighty Inoue has said that Kokusai never recovered from Kobayashi’s departure, and that he will never forgive him for it.


[1] As far as puroresu is concerned, Tyler is most significant for being (alongside Bill Watts) one half of the transitional NWA International Tag Team title reign which allowed the B-I Cannon era to begin. They ended Baba & Michiaki Yoshimura’s eleven-month reign on 1967.10.06 before dropping the belts to Baba & Inoki on 10.31.

[2] The most interesting thing pertaining to Cholak in Japan happened on the first JWA tour he worked, which was the 1962 International Champions of the Fall Series. The first show of the tour on 1962.09.14 saw Rikidōzan & Toyonobori defend their All Asia tag titles against Gorilla Marconi & Skull Murphy in the main event. However, Cholak’s interference to attack Rikidōzan, whose NWA International Heavyweight title he would challenge for at the end of the tour, threw the match out on a no contest. He also legitimately injured Rikidōzan’s collarbone and dislocated his shoulder, though the company star would ignore medical advice to sit the next month out, and return after four dates wearing a shoulder pad. (This injury forced him to switch to chopping with his left hand for a little while.) While Cholak lost that title shot 2-0, upon his return to the United States he was billed as the WWA world champion in New Mexico. A fictitious story in the Albuquerque Tribune (Dec. 17, 1962) claimed that he had won the title from Rikidōzan on 11.29 in Manila, of all places (just so we’re clear, Rikidōzan never wrestled in the Philippines), after breaking the champion’s shoulder in the decisive fall. [Thanks to Japan: The Rikidozan Years for this information.] 

[3] Really, Dale’s accomplishment of greatest kayfabe significance so far as puroresu is concerned didn’t even happen in Japan. He won the tournament to crown the first NWA United National champion in St. Louis, before dropping it to Pantera Negra on 1970.10.23 in Los Angeles. Inoki won it from John Tolos on 1971.03.26.

[4] As an odd postscript, TBS would finally air another "deathmatch" a decade after Kokusai's demise, when Atsushi Onita wrestled Tiger Jeet Singh in a no-ropes exploding barbed wire deathmatch for the FMW 3rd Anniversary show on 1992.09.09.


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