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KinchStalker

Tokyo Pro Wrestling

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Usually I wouldn’t post again so soon, but I’ve been throwing myself into research to get my mind off of some stuff. So, here’s a rundown on the original Tokyo Pro Wrestling. The bulk of this is sourced from a 2017 Igapro article, which cites issue #47 of the G Spirits magazine as reference material, but there’s also material from the Japanese Wikipedia page for the promotion.

Tokyo Pro Wrestling

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In March, I made a post in this thread titled JWA: The Transitional Period. I recommend reading that first if you haven’t, but here’s the essential information:

In the aftermath of Rikidōzan’s death, the JWA stuck together partially due to its financial importance to the Japanese criminal underworld. Toyonobori was a wrestler who often teamed with Rikidōzan, and even though his gambling problems had actually soured their relationship behind the scenes, he was seen as the best available successor to Rikidōzan. Toyonobori would become not only the promotion’s ace, but its president. Alongside the troika of Yoshinosato, Kokichi Endo, and Michiaki Yoshimura, Toyonobori was among the council which ran the JWA. Despite major internal reforms after police crackdown which saw the resignations of the major underworld players in company positions, the JWA overcame its difficulties. However, this arrangement couldn’t last.

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Toyonobori’s embezzlement of company funds into gambling activities led to a board meeting on November 24, 1965, where Nippon Productions resolved to dismiss him from the presidential seat. Officially, Toyonobori resigned on January 5, 1966, with a cover story that he had stepped down for medical reasons (ureteral stones).

Toyonobori looked to start a new promotion, but he had a problem: he’d already gambled away his whole severance package. So, he approached Hisashi Shinma to help him in this enterprise. Shinma was at this point an employee of major cosmetics manufacturer Max Factor, but he had befriended Toyonobori during his days of bodybuilding training at the JWA dojo. Alongside his father Nobuo, a temple priest, Shinma would help bankroll this new promotion, which Toyonobori announced his intent to form in a Shibuya lodge.

Upon this announcement, several young JWA wrestlers left to join what would become Tokyo Pro: Tadaharu Tanaka, Masao Kimura, Masanori Saito, and Mikiyuki Kitazawa. The training camp began in February 1966. However, this left Tokyo Pro with a leaner roster than Toyonobori had expected: the Japanese Wikipedia page states that he had expected the likes of Yoshinosato, Kintaro Oki, Hiro Matsuda, Kantaro Hoshino, and Akihisa Takachiho to also jump ship.

So it was that Toyonobori took a trip to Hawaii.

Antonio Inoki was on excursion in the United States, looking to return to Japan a seasoned performer for the World League tournament. On March 10, he and his accomplice, referee Oki Shikina, boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii, where Inoki was to have a joint training session with Giant Baba and Michiaki Yoshimura. However, Inoki was unsure of how much the JWA valued him, particularly compared to Baba. When he arrived in Hawaii, not only were there few press people there to interview him, but his employer hadn’t even bothered to book a hotel room.

The JWA had dispatched Baba, Yoshimura, and Kintaro Oki to try to dissuade Inoki from jumping ship. It seemed that they would be successful, as he said that he would fly back to Japan with them on March 19. However, Toyonobori arrived on the same day as Baba, Yoshimura, and Oki, and persuaded Inoki to join him…despite the fact that he’d already gambled away the one million yen which he’d gotten from Nobuo Shinma to entice Inoki. Inoki made an international call on March 21 to tell the JWA he was resigning, and accompanied Toyonobori to return home on April 23. In subsequent years, this incident became known as Taiheiyō jō no Ryakudatsu (“The Pillage on the Pacific Ocean”). On March 21, JWA president Yoshinosato would publicly disclose the real reason for Toyonobori’s resignation.

Upon their return to Japan, Inoki was faced with the reality that he’d probably made a terrible mistake. He had no money, Toyonobori had negative money, and there was no TV station to support them anymore. So it was that Inoki began to work with Hisashi Shinma to get this company off the ground. Since the JWA had not yet received official NWA membership, Inoki was able to ask Sam Muchnick for permission to book foreign talent, and he managed to get half a dozen wrestlers out of it, most notably Johnny Powers and Johnny Valentine. [2021.09.15 CORRECTION: As revealed in an Igapro article, this deal was actually facilitated through Bobby Bruns, the man who had brought Rikidozan into the business, with Muchnick's approval.]

The JWA got serious about their competition as it was announced that Tokyo Pro would debut at the Kuramae Kokugikan on October 12. It was at this point when they approached Nippon TV about booking the more expensive Nippon Budokan for a show headlined by Fritz von Erich.

To be fair, they did have a successful debut on October 12, drawing 11,000 to Kuramae as Inoki defeated Valentine in his first match on Japanese soil since the excursion...but this was quickly made moot when Toyonobori took the profits for what you can already guess. The promotion’s momentum did not sustain itself, as its sister company Orient Promotion was overwhelmed by the JWA. A show at the Osaka Stadium was said to have drawn 8,000 people, but in actuality drew a mere 3,000. (I’m assuming this means it drew 3,000 paid with freebies for the rest, though the wording of the text, at least ran through DeepL, doesn’t use this verbiage.) They would only hold 20 events, as negotiations with Mainichi Broadcasting System broke down over the objections of the station president, Shinzo Takahashi. According to Haruka Eigen, who got his start in the business as a Tokyo Pro recruit, Toyonobori’s use of the promotion as his personal piggy bank went to such an extent that his monthly salary of ¥10,000 was half that of a civil servant, and the company could not afford to purchase rice to feed its trainees.

This culminated on November 21. An outdoor show was planned to take place in front of Itabashi Station. It fell through because Toyonobori borrowed money from Orient Promotion, and used Inoki’s money to pay it back. An enraged Inoki pulled out and ordered his fellow wrestlers to do the same. However, the audience would not be informed of the cancellation until an hour after the show had been scheduled to start, and having waited in the cold for nothing, the crowd set the ring ablaze and got the riot police called on them.

As this scandal went public, Tokyo Pro’s credibility tanked. They would hold one more small tour from December 14 to 19, culminating in Inoki’s successful defense of the belt he had won from Johnny Valentine against Stan Stasiak, but the box office was dismal. They couldn’t even get 1,000 people to pay to get into the final show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Fed up with Toyonobori, Inoki and his team secretly moved all their belongings from the Shinjuku office to a new one in Kita-Aoyama. There, they established a new Tokyo Pro Wrestling, with the support of all the wrestlers except Toyonobori and his protege Tanaka, and contacted Isao Yoshihara to establish an alliance with the soon-to-debut International Wrestling Enterprise.

Inoki participated in the launch of the International Wrestling Enterprise with his co-workers in Tokyo Pro, working the Pioneer Series in January 1967. On the 8th, he sued Toyonobori and the Shinmas for embezzlement and breach of trust, to the tune of ¥30,000,000, but they countersued, claiming that his living expenses and wife’s purchases had themselves been charged to the company. The business alliance with the IWE was terminated at the end of the month.

After being forced to repay several creditors alongside Toyonobori and the Shinmas, Inoki looked to return to the JWA to pay off his debts. He would be accompanied by Kitazawa and Tokyo Pro recruits Haruka Eigen and Katsuhisa Shibata. The source states that Inoki had tried to bring most of Tokyo Pro with him – though not the future Rusher Kimura, since he was close to Toyonobori – but Saito chose to go to the States, and the remaining wrestlers wound up being subsumed into the IWE.

Toyonobori and Tanaka hid in the mountains to avoid debt collectors, but eventually gave up and joined the IWE at Isao Yoshihara’s invitation. Meanwhile, Hisashi Shinma would be disowned by his father after this enterprise, and spent four years working as a coal miner before he reentered the business with Inoki. It was through Shinma’s mediation that Toyonobori would briefly join New Japan upon its inception, before quietly leaving the business.

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