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KinchStalker

A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE PART 3.1(1972)

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Brothers, I think it’s best to break from my three-years-per-section format from here on out. 1972 alone has gone over 3,000 words, and I feel like putting so much together in batches might be affecting the digestibility of the content. This is a forum thread, after all.

A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ENTERPRISE

PART 3.1(1972)

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

1972 BEGINS

Spoiler

At the start of 1972, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay was reduced to a 30-minute timeslot, because the financial fallout of the Nixon shock [1] made it difficult to gain sponsorships. The ratings, in turn, declined further to around 10%. This would last from the 1972.01.05 episode through the 1972.03.29 episode.

The New Year Pioneer Series spanned 18 dates from 1972.01.05-02.01. This tour boasted a mostly fresh batch of gaijin. King Curtis Iaukea, who had worked the JWA on multiple tours from 1967-70, made what would be his only IWE appearances. Dan Miller, who had held the All Asia Tag Team title with Frank Valois for five days in 1960, also worked Kokusai for the only time; ditto AWA lifer Kenny Jay. Unlike them, Jerry Oates would do so again...albeit not until the IWE’s final tour. The Belgian Charles Verhulst, who would become better known in Japan as Johnny Londos in NJPW, made his only IWE appearances until 1979. Felipe Ham Lee, working under the masked gimmick the Avenger (not to be confused with Moose Morowski’s masked gimmick for his twilight AJPW run in 1981), made his first Japanese appearances.[2] Rounding things off was Gilbert Voiney AKA Max Mortier, who returned under the hood as L’Homme Masque.

On this tour, Kobayashi made four successful IWA World Heavyweight title defenses: one against Miller, two against Iaukea, and the last against L’Homme Masque. Significantly, the second defense against Iaukea, which took place on 1972.01.27 in the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, was the promotion’s first title match held in a cage. Elsewhere, Thunder Sugiyama & Rusher Kimura made two successful IWA World Tag Team title defenses, against the teams of L’Homme Masque & the Avenger, and Iaukea & Miller.

After the tour’s end, Animal Hamaguchi embarked on an overseas excursion to work for Dick the Bruiser’s World Wrestling Association. There, billed as Higo Hamaguchi, he would work as a Japanese heel who tagged with Mitsu Arakawa.

4TH IWA WORLD SERIES

22435758_roussimoffvsjonathaniwaworldseries1972.thumb.jpg.98d64574b95237b021c6c4c0e1ac978e.jpg1502962804_kobayashibodyslamsroussimoff.thumb.jpg.56cf6643fc76cfa3b049a535b810d5e2.jpg

Above: Don Leo Jonathan and Monster Roussimoff size each other up in the IWA World Series on 1972.04.24, and Strong Kobayashi bodyslams Monster Roussimoff (presumed date 1972.05.06).

Spoiler

Presumably as a result of the timeslot cut – or perhaps more accurately, the lack of sponsorship money that caused it – Kokusai would not begin their next tour until the 4th IWA World Series, which took place across 34 dates from 1972.03.27-05.06. This tour booked a mix of old and new gaijin. The returning faces, some of which had not worked for Kokusai in years, were Monster Roussimoff, Baron von Raschke, Ivan Buyten, Tito Kopa, George Gordienko, and Ray Golden Apollon. Now, for the new crop. Most notable was Don Leo Jonathan, who had challenged Rikidōzan for his NWA International Heavyweight title back in 1958 but had not appeared in Japan since the JWA’s 1967 Golden Series. Making his Japanese debut was Horst Hoffman; according to his Showa Puroresu minibio, Hoffman had garnered a mysterious air about him up to this point due to his aversion to travel. (During this tour, as referenced in Kagehiro Osano’s Jumbo Tsuruta biography, Hoffman would be the first wrestler which Japan saw perform the “side suplex”, which we know better as a gutwrench.) Finally, Ali Baba Merestani, a Lebanese wrestler who had won a Hanover tournament in 1971, was booked as a jobber who prayed before his matches, Sheik-style.

(Also during this tour, two native undercarders adopted the stage names which they would keep for the rest of their careers: Goro Tsurumi and Devil Murasaki.)

The IWA World Series proper was held in a round-robin format with three blocks of four. This was done to allow each of Kokusai’s three champions to have their own blocks to overcome. In Block A, Rusher Kimura wrestled Raschke, Apollon, and Buyten. In Block B, Sugiyama wrestled Roussimoff, Jonathan, and Kopa. In Block C, Kobayashi wrestled Hoffman, Gordienko, and Meristani. These matches were booked as onefall bouts with a 20-minute time limit, though all time-limit draws received extensions. All of these extension periods saw a win in under five minutes, though I do not know if the extension period itself was five minutes.

Only the undefeated Kobayashi would get past his block. Kimura lost his first block match to Raschke’s claw in the extension period after working to a twenty-minute time-limit draw, and Raschke went undefeated in the block while he ended up 2-1. Sugiyama fared even worse, only getting a win on Kopa. The round-robin section of the tournament ended in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on 1972.04.24, when Roussimoff got a DQ win over Jonathan. Four days later, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, a three-way consolation block between Kimura, Jonathan, and Hoffman was held for the fourth spot in the semifinals, which Jonathan won.

The two semifinal matches were held on 1972.05.01-05.02, at the Tochigi Prefectural Gymnasium and the Shibukawa City Gymnasium, respectively. In the first, after Roussimoff and Raschke went to a 20-minute draw, Roussimoff scored the pin in the extension period in 3:54. In the second, after Kobayashi and Jonathan likewise went twenty, Kobayashi got the pin in 3:41.

The 4th IWA World Series final took place in the Morioka City Gymnasium on 1972.05.06. A crowd of 5,500 came to see Kobayashi and Roussimoff square off. The final was held as a 2/3-falls match with a 45-minute time limit. After Roussimoff got the pin in 14:40, he was disqualified to even things at 28:59. Kobayashi got the countout at 37:00 to win the tournament. We have this match in full, and while I know there’s some TBS-era IWE matches in circulation that I haven’t seen (there’s a couple later Kobayashi matches against Red Bastien and Bill Watts that come to mind), I would be shocked if any of them topped it.

I’m jumping back a little bit, but the World Series saw a major change to the IWE’s television situation. After the first episode of the tour on 1972.03.29, which broadcast the Block B opening match of Roussimoff vs. Jonathan, TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays starting on 1972.04.02, where it was restored to its original length of 55 minutes. It’s clearly thanks to this change that the World Series final survives in full, but this came at a cost. The sponsorship banners which had been featured on the program since its inception were scrapped, and the broadcast rights fee was slashed by 30%. This change led to Niigata Broadcasting System (Niigata) suspending their coverage, and Hokuriku Broadcasting System (Ishikawa prefecture) and Shizuoka Broadcasting System (Shizuoka prefecture) terminated it altogether. After this, the program’s ratings frequently dropped below 10%.

The World Selection Series was basically a continuation of the World Series, as it started the very next night, but I decided to separate the two for my own sanity. Anyway, this was a 10-date tour from 1972.05.07-05.20. All of the gaijin on the World Series tour except Hoffman worked the first date at the Asahikawa City Gymnasium, but after that Jonathan, Raschke, and Apollon left. Its only title match was on the first date, when Raschke got a shot at the world title.

After the tour’s end, the IWA World Tag Team titles were vacated. I do not know the kayfabe justification for this, as Rusher Kimura would not begin his second excursion until September (maybe this got delayed because of visa problems?), but the real purpose was plain: to make room for the returning Great Kusatsu to get some gold. Although Kimura would not leave yet, another IWE wrestler would. Katsuzo Ooiyama, an ex-sumo wrestler who had joined the company in June 1971 after passing a public test in which he fought Tadaharu Tanaka in a mix of boxing, ground-based grappling, and sumo. He would work in Tennessee.

1972 CONTINUED

559537406_tsutomuyonemuradebut.jpg.712d386d230a2137198125d66a572bcd.jpg447180738_hiroshiyagivsgorotsurumijan1973.jpg.afb8a33b4259b3f69ad5a38a5be5fb00.jpg

Above: new IWE faces Tsutomu Yonemura (left, from a 1972 IWE tour pamphlet), and Hiroshi Yagi (right image, on the right besides Goro Tsurumi, from the 1973 AJPW New Year Giant Series pamphlet).

Spoiler

The Big Summer Series took place across 17 dates from 1972.06.25-07.22, with half a dozen gaijin. The returning talent were Bill Miller, who had defeated Thunder Sugiyama in 1971 to be the transitional IWA world champion to Strong Kobayashi, and Pancho Rosario, now working as Gypsy Joe (but not *that* one). Rene Goulet made his Japanese debut, while Baron Mikel Scicluna was appearing in the country for the first time since 1968. Two Spanish wrestlers made their only Japanese appearances on this tour. The first was Celso Sotelo, an ex-bullfighter who had been the inaugural ALIP World Heavyweight champion for the Guatemalan territory [3], and who had been a rival of Tadaharu Tanaka during his European excursion. The second was Joe Adell, whom Kokusai billed as the son of Jose Arroyo. The truth is that he was the Panamanian wrestler best known as Joe Panther, who had been trained by Sotelo and Diamante Negro, and who would also become known as the “Hombre de la Cadena” for his use of a chain and aggressive style. (Panther passed away last August.) Sotelo & Adell/Panther had tagged in Europe as Los Beatles Americanos, and while they wouldn’t get a shot at the IWA World Tag Team titles they would be booked as a unit a fair bit on this tour.

This tour was also significant for featuring some new “exchange students”. Swedish aikido practitioner Jan Hermansson had moved to Japan in 1965 to study at the Hombu Dojo, the headquarters of the Aikikai Foundation, and professional wrestling was one of the odd jobs he took up to make a living. [4] He would work for Kokusai for the rest of the year. Three more exchange students were South Korean wrestlers making their Japanese debuts: Kang Sung-yung, Yang Jin-oh, and Oh Kyun-ik. Naturally, all three were taught by Kim Ill/Kintaro Oki, and Kang even happened to be his son-in-law. [5] Like Hermansson, their tenures lasted through the rest of 1972.

The vacant tag titles were fought for in the Chiba Prefectural Gymnasium on 1972.07.07, where 2,000 came to see Strong Kobayashi & the Great Kusatsu wrestle Miller and Scicluna. Kusatsu won the decisive fall with a sleeper on Scicluna. Kobayashi’s one world title defense was at the Itabashi Ward Gymnasium in Tokyo on 1972.07.19, where he defeated Miller in a rematch of their IWA title match in Duluth the previous year.

Also worth noting about this tour is that the first episode of TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay which was derived from it – that of its opening show in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward Gymnasium, where Kusatsu went to a DDQ against Scicluna and Kobayashi & Kimura defeated Goulet & “Gypsy Joe” – was the last episode to ever receive live broadcast. (I don’t know if its successor ever did so, but I guess we’ll see.)

Another problem pertaining to the television situation in 1972 was that some venues where wire mesh deathmatches had been booked became closed off to the public. This affected their TV product because, by this point, deathmatches were too ingrained in the product to take away from live events, so Kokusai began to book them at shows where television tapings took place. However, since TBS refused to broadcast deathmatches, and deathmatches were by nature main-event spectacles, the program was forced to air midcard material. This was likely a factor in the next television change, when TWWA Pro-Wrestling Relay was cut to a thirty-minute timeslot beginning on the 1972.10.01 episode. At the very least, this led Niigata Broadcasting System to resume coverage.

The Dynamite Series was a 21-date tour from 1972.09.12-10.16, with a warmup show on 1972.09.09 as a sendoff card for Kimura before his excursion. The warmup show featured half of the gaijin crop for the tour, with the rest arriving in time for the Series proper. Appearing for the Kimura sendoff show were: Buddy Austin, a recurring JWA gaijin in the Sixties who made his last Japanese appearances with the final two IWE tours of 1972; Quebecois wrestler Buffalo Zarinoff, who would later be known as Pierre of the Yukon Lumberjacks in the WWWF, and made his only Japanese appearances on this tour; and Benji Ramirez, most famous for his work as The Mummy in the 60s, and who was appearing in Japan for the first time since 1964. Those who began with the Series itself were the returning Billy Robinson, Bill Dromo (who had not worked the IWE since 1967), and Rick Ferrara, an ex-bouncer who was brought into wrestling by either of the Vachons, and who was booked elsewhere as Igor Putski, and even Ivan Putski.

As far as native talent went, this tour saw two debuts. The first was 16-year old Hiroshi Yagi. In 1971, the future Ryuma Go, who had dropped out of junior high to help provide for his sisters after their mother disappeared, had worked for a few months as a JWA trainee. However, he was reportedly unable to debut not only because he had not completed junior high, but because the older wrestlers had forced him to consume alcohol, which had damaged his body. However, when Kokusai made their first open call for wrestlers that same year, he was accepted. The second debut was ex-sumo Tsutomu Yonemura, who after his 1969 retirement had worked as a trainer at the gym owned by former JWA wrestler Takeo Kaneko, until he joined Kokusai in June 1972 on Kaneko’s recommendation.

During this tour, Kobayashi defended his IWA world title against Robinson in Kita-Kyushu on 1972.09.28. Eight days earlier in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Kobayashi & Kusatsu defended their tag titles against Austin & Dromo.

All Japan Pro Wrestling’s first tour, the Giant Series, began in between Kokusai’s last two tours of 1972. AJPW was in dire need of native talent, and in the earliest example of IWE native interpromotional cooperation, they got some. Most significant was Thunder Sugiyama, who transferred on 09.20, and would work exclusively for AJPW until 1976. (Sugiyama also took off as a tarento, or television personality, around this time, so he became a part-timer after 1973. Apparently he also treated Jumbo Tsuruta quite well, and frequently took him out to dinner. His eventual fallout with Baba was over his pay.) Kokusai also loaned them Goro Tsurumi, Devil Murasaki, and Tsutomu Yonemura; Hiroshi Yagi also worked some AJPW dates in early 1973. Motoko Baba became fond of Murasaki, and this led to an offer for him to join the promotion outright, which was politely declined.

At this point, Kokusai was outdrawing the sinking ship that was the JWA, though that didn’t mean all that much at this point.

BRUISER AND CRUSHER

img_20210408_0006-min.thumb.jpg.a63787670c0bfd7ca191dab16a381416.jpg

Above: Dick the Bruiser brutalizes the Great Kusatsu in a wire mesh deathmatch for the WWA tag titles (1972.11.27)

Spoiler

Kokusai ended 1972 with the Big Winter Series, a 22-date tour from 1972.10.28-12.08. This tour saw the proper return of Mighty Inoue, after his last-minute fill-in in the 1971 AWA Big Fight Series (that was a gap in Part Two that I filled in with a subsequent edit). Buddy Austin worked the first eight dates of the tour, but otherwise this was a different crop of gaijin. Red Bastien, Jose Arroyo, and Bull Bullinski were all familiar faces. Future referee Dennis Stamp made his first Japanese appearances, and future recurring AJPW gaijin Mario Milano did his only bookings for Kokusai. Arroyo’s tag team partner Daidone Mussolini was likewise a one-and-done with the IWE, but in his case that extended to all of Japan. Most interesting, though, was a pair of gaijin who were booked for the six shows from 1972.11.24-11.30: Dick the Bruiser and Crusher Lisowski, the WWA World Tag Team champions.

On 1972.11.07, Kobayashi defended his world title against Bastien in what would be the only title match not to involve the Bruiser or the Crusher. On 11.24 and 11.27, Kobayashi & Kusatsu fought Bruiser & Crusher in a pair of cage matches, each one with a different team’s belts on the line. As was to be expected, neither match ended clean. However, the latter match ended in spectacularly bullshit fashion. The gaijin were apparently unaware that Kokusai wire-mesh deathmatches did not have an escape rule, and when they laid out the referee, the backup ref opened the door to get in and the two of them barreled out. Since it was their WWA tag titles on the line this time, this couldn’t even be spun as them cowering away from the awesome might of the IWA tag champions; no, they just walked out and the match was declared a no contest. The ensuing crowd reaction got the riot police involved. The following night in Shizuoka, Kobayashi successfully defended in the cage against the Bruiser. 11.28 saw the WWA tag champions defend in a 2/3-falls match against Kobayashi & Mighty Inoue, and their appearances ended on 11.30 with an IWA/WWA double tag title match that ended 2-1 with Kobayashi & Kusatsu getting a DQ win after a DCO in the first fall.

Devil Murasaki served as Dick the Bruiser’s valet during his dates with the company (both he and Tsurumi came back to work their native promotion after the AJPW Giant Series had ended), and through this he was invited to come back with him to Indianapolis. Murasaki got Yoshihara’s approval, and after working the first two dates of the AJPW Giant Series II, Murasaki left Japan using money borrowed from friend and IWE sales department head Shigeo Nukui, but not before receiving a parting gift from Motoko.

Spoiler

[1] This is far above my pay grade, but younger people and non-Americans might not know about this, so I’ll give it the ol’ college try. In 1971, United States president Richard Nixon implemented measures to combat domestic inflation, and one of these was the cancellation of international convertibility of the United States dollar to gold. Although Nixon did not formally abolish the Bretton Woods system of foreign exchange, which the United Nations had agreed upon in 1944, with this measure he completely broke it. He stated his intentions to reform the system, but all such attempts were unsuccessful, and in 1973 the modern system of freely floating flat currencies emerged. What would be called the “Nixon shock” forced Japanese banks to engage in speculation in order to prevent the inflation of their own domestic currency. The term “Nixon recession” (“ニクソン不況”) has been used to refer to its effect on Japan, but the Japanese Wikipedia page on the Nixon shock claims that the country had already been in recession after the end of the “Izanagi economy” (“いざなぎ景気”) boom of 11/1965-7/1970, and that the Nixon shock had merely contributed to the domestic economy’s bottoming out in December 1971. Whatever the case, it seems like Nixon is nevertheless invoked when people discuss this recession; I recall a university classmate of Jumbo Tsuruta, interviewed in Kagehiro Osano’s 2020 biography, namechecking Nixon when he discussed how difficult it was to find a job at that time.

[2] This guy’s Showa Puroresu minibio is interesting. While said to be from Hawaii, it claims that he was Mexican-born and of Chinese descent. Although he had a reputation in some circles as a good shooter, and was a friend of Karl Gotch, Lee’s reputation in Japan was horrible, and he consistently featured in Gong magazine polls on gaijin which readers least wanted to see booked in Japan. The Avenger apparently was a gimmick he had already been working before this tour, and the reputation of a bloody match he’d had in Arizona against Bob Ellis preceded him. Two years after this, he was booked in New Japan under an El Santo copycat gimmick, which reportedly brought him some heat back home. [See the below comment for a Luchawiki excerpt on the truth about Ham.]

[3] According to Wrestling-Titles.com, The ALIP (Association Internationale de Lutte Professionalle) title would be replaced by the ALLL (Alianza Latinoamericana de Lucha Libre) World Heavyweight title on 1976.02.01, when Mil Mascaras won a 16-man tournament after defeating the last ALIP champion, Jose Azzari, in the final.

[4] Hermansson returned to Sweden in 1980, having attained 4th dan. He eventually reached 7th dan, and in 2002 was among the first seven non-Japanese aikido practitioners officially bestowed the title of shihan by the Aikikai Foundation. He quit regular instruction after his dojo closed in 2003, but continued to teach seminars in the years afterward. He died in 2019.

[5] I know him best for a 1976.05.13 AJPW tag match with his father-in-law against Baba & Jumbo, where he was billed as Nankaizan.

 

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1 hour ago, KinchStalker said:

[2] This guy’s Showa Puroresu minibio is interesting. While said to be from Hawaii, it claims that he was Mexican-born and of Chinese descent. Although he had a reputation in some circles as a good shooter, and was a friend of Karl Gotch, Lee’s reputation in Japan was horrible, and he consistently featured in Gong magazine polls on gaijin which readers least wanted to see booked in Japan. The Avenger apparently was a gimmick he had already been working before this tour, and the reputation of a bloody match he’d had in Arizona against Bob Ellis preceded him. Two years after this, he was booked in New Japan under an El Santo copycat gimmick, which reportedly brought him some heat back home.

Luchawiki has some additional details on him:

Quote

His real surname was Hahn, but it was modified to Ham. Competed in Mr. Mexico bodybuilding contests in 1952 and 1953 before debuting in wrestling. Wrestled under his real last name in NWA. In his stint in Pacific Northwest Wrestling he went as Bing Ki Lee. He was wrongfully nicknamed as "El Príncipe Chino" (The Chinese Prince) He was not Chinese he was from Korean ascendance. Tag Team partner of Pedro Morales in NWA.

Ham Lee holds the strange distinction of wrestling as El Santo during 1973 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Ham Lee has explained the incident as himself and other Mexican wrestlers being left stranded in Japan by an unscrupulous promoter, and wrestling as El Santo paid well enough to get himself and his compatriots back to Mexico.

HIs bio there also states he was trained by Lou Thesz, and was in fact born in Mexico. 

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