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KinchStalker

Part Two: Black Ship Docks (2/2)

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Finally, I have completed (part two of) Part Two of my SWS narrative. (Also, check footnotes for a bonus tangent following up on Koji Kitao and his infamous UWFi tenure.)

SWS

Part Two: Black Ship Docks (2/2)

HIGHWAY TO HARA

The Igapro article I am drawing from is not specific as to when this took place, but what we do know is that, at some point after SWS’s formation, there was a discussion amongst the journalists who reported on Tenryu about what could be done to revitalize his career, after the bashing of Weekly Pro and the internal politics had sapped his momentum. The idea was pitched to bring back Ryuharagun, and the journalists, chief among them Kagehiro Osano, began to search on their own for Ashura Hara, who had fallen off the grid since his dismissal from All Japan Pro Wrestling in November 1988.

Osano received a lead from an All Japan sales representative that Hara was staying at a sushi restaurant in Sapporo, and asked an acquaintance in the area to visit. However, the owner refused and said that Hara was no longer staying there. Osano told Tenryu this, and while he was sad that he would not be seeing his old friend again, Tenryu reasoned that, perhaps, Hara was happy now that he was free from wrestling. Hara had a lot of mileage on his body coming into professional wrestling from rugby, and according to Tenryu’s 2016 autobiography LIVE FOR TODAY as cited by Japanese Wikipedia, he was struggling to walk by the twilight of his AJPW tenure. He had never let it show in the ring, but even before he was dismissed, Hara had told Tenryu that he believed the spring of 1989 “was [his] limit”.

Osano then received another lead to a karaoke bar where Hara was said to be a frequent customer, and gave his business card to the owner to pass to him. He waited to hear back until, in the dead of night, he got a call. The man on the other end said, “You’re looking for Ashura Hara? What on earth do you want with him? He’s become a Yakuza.”

Osano had a hunch, and replied “You’re Hara! You called me, didn’t you? Thank God!” Indeed, the caller was Susumu Hara, talking about himself in the third person (and, in my imagination, trying to put on a tough-guy voice). Hara admitted it was him, and told Osano that he had been trying to pay his debts for the past two years so that he could return to the ring, but that he still had them hanging over him and thus had had to remain in seclusion. As he saw it, if he returned to wrestling without resolving this matter, he would “only cause trouble for Gen-chan”.

Osano informed Tenryu that he had established contact, but despite Tenryu’s wishes, SWS’s internal strife and Tenryu’s place in the company hierarchy would make bringing Hara into the fold difficult. However, as covered in the end of part one of Part Two, the aftermath of the Koji Kitao incident at SWS Wrestle Dream in Kobe had led to restructuring. Hachiro Tanaka had given his presidential seat to Tenryu to try to right the ship (the July 29 Observer reported that Tenryu’s promotion had been announced ten days earlier), and to resolve the internal conflicts between the roster’s “rooms”, Tenryu had shelved that system for the time being.

NATURAL POWERS

The kayfabe pretext for Ashura Hara’s return took would take shape in the months which followed. Haku, now King Haku after his defeat of Harley Race, became a frequent SWS gaijin in 1991. The 1991.05.22 SWS show saw the debut of one of the defining tag teams of SWS’s run when Haku formed the Natural Powers with Yoshiaki Yatsu. After wins against Tenryu & Ishikawa, and Naoki Sano & Randy Savage, Haku and Yatsu defeated Tenryu and Savage on 1991.06.07 in the Ryogoku Kokugikan. The Natural Powers racked up a dominant record early on as, until August, they only suffered two losses. [1]

Tenryu would be exercising executive authority in bringing Hara into the fold, as everyone outside of Revolution objected to it. Nevertheless, he did so, traveling to Kotoni personally to ask Hara to return. Hara is quoted as saying something to this effect: “If I’m not worth it, please don’t bother. But if I can really help, I’ll put my life in Gen-chan’s hands.” Tenryu ordered Koki Kitahara, who had been Hara’s valet in the (AJPW) Revolution days, to keep all of Hara’s gear so that Ashura could return at any time.

It was reported in the July 22 Observer that Tenryu was trying to bring Hara back for a tag match against the Powers on 1991.08.09. The next day, it was announced that Hara had signed with SWS. But, before the money match, Hara would debut for the company on 1991.08.04, in a tag match alongside Ishikawa against Tenryu and Fuyuki. The Igapro article that is my primary source on the subject of Hara’s return noted that Hara struggled with his three years of ring rust in this match, but for what it’s worth the August 19 Observer reported that Hara “was said to have looked about as good as he did when he was fired.”

After winning a six-man alongside Ishikawa against the Natural Powers with Shinichi Nakano on 1991.08.05, Ryuharagun faced with the Natural Powers in a proper two-on-two within the context of a one-night tag team tournament on 1991.08.09, at New Revolution For SWS in the Yokohama Arena. After both teams won the first round (Ryuharagun against Nakano and Kazuo Sakurada working under the Kendo Nagasaki gimmick, Natural Powers against Fuyuki and Ishikawa), they met in the semi-final. This time, Tenryu finally pushed through to pin Haku with a powerbomb. But alas, then Ryuharagun were fed to the Road Warriors – oh, I’m sorry, “Legion of Doom” – after only a sub-5:00 Sano/Rick Martel match’s worth of rest time, and the results were predictable for anyone familiar with Animal and Hawk’s Japan work. [2] However, Ryuharagun received a round of applause for their efforts.

ROAD TO SUPERWRESTLE IN TOKYO DOME

The various Igapro articles on SWS essentially skip the last few months of 1991, so I am pulling from various sources to fill in this gap. If you’re looking for insight on, say, the November singles match between Tenryu and Yatsu, I’m sorry, we’re sold out.

The September 6 Observer reported that Hachiro Tanaka had stepped in to bankroll yet another wrestling promotion: the bankrupt UWFi. [3] Around this time, it was announced that SWS would hold a tournament over the following months, beginning on 1991.09.16, to crown a WWF Junior Heavyweight champion, which would culminate at SWS SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome on 1991.12.12. Meltzer speculated in the September 16 Observer that this would be a tournament between SWS and WWF talent. However, SWS had plans to broaden their juniors division, and on September 30, Kabuki traveled to Mexico to begin negotiations with EMLL (soon to change their name).

By this point, EMLL planning department head Antonio Peña had scouted Yoshihiro Asai of Universal Pro-Wrestling. Asai was dissatisfied with how the organization which would later be known as FULL had stuck to running small venues, and had attracted many young wrestlers through Asai’s success, and yet had kept his salary low. In response, his employer had pushed Gran Hamada as their ace instead, and as Asai observed the promotion’s decline, alongside that of its Mexican partner the UWA, Asai decided to join EMLL.

Asai debuted as Ultimo Dragon in Mexico on 1991.10.18. Initially having wanted to become the third Tiger Mask, this gimmick was created as per the instructions of Peña, who wanted a more Orientalist gimmick. Four days earlier, SWS had announced their partnership with EMLL. Contrary to Japanese journalism which reported that SWS had pulled Asai out – including, you guessed it, Weekly Pro Wrestling (whether this was an innocent factual error or more partisanship on the part of Tarzan Yamamoto is unknown) – this was not the case. Asai would debut for SWS on 1991.10.28.

Overall, the prevailing impression in this period was that SWS was finally getting things on track. According to the November 18 Observer, most SWS tickets were still freebies, but the 1991.10.03 Korakuen show had been a legitimate sellout, and the promotion was winning Tokyo crowds over with the improved workrate.

According to the December 16 Observer, Akio Sato arranged a meeting early that month, as All Japan’s 1991 RWTL was concluding, with five unnamed gaijin talent to arrange a jump to the WWF (which by proxy would obviously see them work Japan for SWS). The same issue reported heat between SWS and unnamed reporters for claiming that Hulk Hogan, set to wrestle Tenryu in the SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome main event, had won back the WWF title from the Undertaker on the 3rd at This Tuesday in Texas. Some of the reporters were aware that the belt would be held up that weekend to continue the Hogan/Taker angle, and considered this deceptive advertising.

According to the December 23 Observer, SuperWrestle In Tokyo Dome legitimately drew just over 30,000 of their claimed attendance figure of 61,500, with a card which featured the combined talents of SWS, the WWF, PWFG, and EMLL. Most significantly: the SWS Light Heavyweight title tournament concluded when Naoki Sano went over Rick Martel; the Legion successfully defended their WWF World Tag Team titles against the Natural Disasters; and, in the main event, Hogan went over Tenryu.

The SWS looked to be back on track, and a weekly television deal was set to begin in April. However, the burst of the Japanese asset price bubble would soon see Hachiro Tanaka sour on his wrestling enterprises. Part Three of this narrative will cover the fall of SWS.

Spoiler

[1] The first of these was on 1991.06.10 when, after eliminating Tenryu and Savage in a twelve-minute chunk of a 37-minute ten-man tag gauntlet, Takashi Ishikawa (with the Great Kabuki) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when he rolled through a Haku slam off the top turnbuckle for the flash pin. The second was a 1991.07.10 six-man alongside Paul Diamond against Tenryu, Ishikawa, and Sano, and I presume Diamond took the fall.

[2] An acknowledgment here that I neglected to mention the Tenryu/Hogan vs LoD main event of the 1991.03.31 Dome show in Part Two (1/2).

[3] Meltzer noted that this meant Tanaka would actually own four wrestling promotions, as Koji Kitao’s retirement press conference, in which he had announced he would transition into mixed martial arts, was reportedly a work to lead up to what would be a new shoot-style promotion centered around himself, to be announced the following March. However, Kitao would end up joining the UWFi. Since I don’t see myself devoting a post to this I’ll sum up the story here, as told in a 2018 Igapro article:

After the infamous Trevor Berbick match on 1991.12.22, Nobuhiko Takada was looking for a new opponent. He had not initially considered Kitao, but the two became acquainted through Naoki Sano. When offered to join the UWFi, Kitao only replied that they should speak to his manager and martial arts teacher, Saburo Daimonji. [4] He ended up debuting for them on 1992.05.08, defeating Kazuo Yamazaki following the final match of Billy Robinson (and penultimate match of Nick Bockwinkel). Yamazaki demanded a rematch but Daimonji refused…and then vanished with the money the UWFi had paid him. Negotiations would eventually resume through an unnamed acquaintance of Kitao, who maneuvered at the last minute to change the rules of the 1992.10.23 Takada bout to make Kitao able to stall to a draw and thus get more money in the inevitable rematch. Well, you might know how that turned out.

[4] I know footnotes within footnotes are poor form, but this is too fascinating not to share while being impossible to cram into the above narrative. Daimonji taught his own martial art called Kukendo. According to a Japanese blog post, Daimonji received a two-volume biography in 1988, written by a Kumamoto librarian. According to this biography, which the blogger pegs as a blatant riff on Ikki Kajiwara’s manga Karate Baka Ichidai, Daimonji was born in 1943 in Nagasaki, the son of a monk from a nonexistent temple, and escaped the bomb by being carried on his mother’s back. He learned karate and swordsmanship in his youth, and then smuggled himself to Okinawa to master Okinawan karate. Then Daimonji traveled north from dojo to dojo, smoking all who laid in his path until he opened a dojo in Fukuoka. And then his friend got attacked by knife-wielding Yakuza and Daimonji killed one of them, receiving a suspended sentence for what was ruled to be excessive self-defense. And then Daimonji smuggled himself to China to study their martial arts traditions, where he was defeated for the first time in his life by a kid, but then he spent three years mastering Chinese martial arts. And then he returned to Japan with a mustache and demonstrated kukendo, a syncretism of all he had learned, to the approval of the nation’s karate masters.

In conclusion, it looks like Koji Kitao get suckered into learning a fake martial art by the Japanese equivalent of Count Dante. No wonder the Takada match ended how it did.

 

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