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ASHURA HARA

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As I stated at the top of the previous post, this extended biography precedes part two of Part Two of the SWS series. To commemorate this, I am changing my avatar for the third time since my account was created, to the image which to this point I had only used as my profile picture on the DVDVR board. I already explained it over there, but I shall do so again in a footnote. [1]

On with the story. My next post will recount the circumstances around Hara’s return to professional wrestling and the reformation of Ryuharagun as the second half of Part Two of the SWS history.

ASHURA HARA

Rugby career

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Susumu Hara took to rugby in his sophomore year of high school after dabbling in judo and sumo, and after his graduation from Toyo University in 1969, he would be drafted by the Kintetsu Liners, owned by the Kintetsu railroad company (aka Kinki Nippon Railway). Hara spent years working for Kintetsu in his day job as well as his athletic one. He was by all accounts a quite good player, and even became the first Japanese player selected for the World Championships in 1976. However, his day job and training to become a train conductor and driver got in the way of his sports career, and this compounded with Kintetsu’s refusal to give him preferential treatment for working for them in two contexts led him to retire, and then leave the company entirely in 1977.

After this, Hara would coach an amateur team owned by author and rugby fan Akiyuki Nosaka (most famous in the West for writing Grave of the Fireflies). However, an interest in professional wrestling was sparked through the scouting of ex-rugby player the Great Kusatsu of the International Wrestling Enterprise. New Japan was also attempting to scout him, but Hara wound up preferring Kusatsu’s offer. On November 29, 1977, Hara announced he would join the IWE, with Nosaka sitting to his right.

IWE (1978-1981)

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Since Hara’s physical conditioning from professional rugby still remained, the IWE put him on the fast-track as far as training went, having Animal Hamaguchi coach him to debut as early as possible. After working the opening match on 1978.06.24 in a Devil Murasaki mask (as revealed in G Spirits #36, the real Murasaki took that day off), Hara’s proper debut would come two days later, in an exhibition match against Isamu Teranishi which was wrestled to a fifteen-minute time-limit draw. In July, Hara was sent on excursion to Calgary for seasoning and further training under Tetsunosuke Daigo and Kazuo Sakurada. As Fighting Hara, he would enjoy a five-day reign that same month with the Stampede Wrestling British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship, winning from and then dropping back to Norman Frederick Charles III. In September, Hara moved to West Germany to complete the second phase of his excursion, working for Otto Wanz’s Catch Wrestling Association Edmund Schober in Hannover.

Hara returned to Japan on December 7. Much had changed since he had left; I laid this out a few months back in a historical post in the Fujinami/Hara thread on the Matches subforum, but I can give a condensed version here.

The IWE had burned their bridge with All Japan during the November Japan League tour when they booked New Japan talent in the undercard of the 1978.11.25 Kuramae Kokugikan show without Baba’s knowledge or consent. While the IWE had formed an alliance with All Japan in 1975, the power disparity of that relationship had ultimately turned the former into, functionally, a satellite organization, and had thus damaged their reputation. Meanwhile, when IWE president Isao Yoshihara unsuccessfully attempted to get the Tokyo District Court to prevent NJPW from booking Ryuma Go, whom they had lured from the IWE, he established contact with NJPW business head Hisashi Shinma, and offered him his presidential seat. By this point New Japan was handily ahead of All Japan in popularity, and Yoshihara thought he could get a relationship with the other side that better favored his company. (Long story short, he was wrong.)

So it was that, nine days after his return, Hara accompanied Rusher Kimura to a surprise appearance at NJPW’s 1978.12.16 Kuramae Kokugikan show, where he greeted Tatsumi Fujinami from ringside and announced his intent to challenge him. Fujinami’s reign with the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, which had begun in January when he defeated Jose Estrada in Madison Square Garden, had made him a major star in Japan (not to mention that he attracted a periphery demographic – women – to an extent which paralleled and perhaps even surpassed that which his AJPW foil Jumbo Tsuruta had done), and the IWE wanted to market Hara as a junior heavyweight in response. Hara appeared again at Fujinami’s fan gathering at Korakuen Hall on December 26. The next day, at what I am presuming was a press event, he would receive his stage name, Ashura Hara, from none other than Nosaka.

Hara began wrestling for the IWE at the start of 1979. Not much is notable about his first few months, but from the footage I’ve seen he did manage to get television time from the start. He would gradually also be incorporated into the cage and chain matches that the IWE built their brand for brutality on.

Hara would also, for the only time in IWE history [2], have entrance music commissioned for him. While “Don’t You Know How Much I Love You” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra (but produced, arranged, conducted and orchestrated by Barry White) was used for him at some point, the theme that he would take with him to All Japan was “Ashura”, performed by a group identified as Minotaur which I cannot find any other leads on and which I am convinced was just a one-off session musician gig.

On 1979.05.06, Hara defeated Mile Zrno to win the WWU World Junior Heavyweight title, which had been created for him the previous year when Zrno won it in Berlin in December. I don’t know why the title which the IWE already had, the IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title, was not used for Hara, but by this point it had been gathering dust around Isamu Teranishi’s waist for years. A rematch the following night (which exists on tape, but which I have not seen) ended in double countout.

Hara’s next pair of defenses would take place two months later, on 1979.07.20 and 1979.07.21, and the latter was a double title match for a belt he’d already held. In his first major Japanese appearance (a draw against Isamu Teranishi on 1979.07.19 was also broadcast in clipped form, though the first Hara match wasn’t), the Dynamite Kid was also defending the Stampede Wrestling British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship in their second match, a European-style bout which consisted of eight four-minute rounds. This draw is a frontrunner for the best Hara match of the IWE era, and one of the promotion’s surviving matches which I can most easily and highly recommend. [2021.05.06 correction: A below comment by DGinnetty indicates that the first Dynamite/Hara match was televised as well, but tape has not surfaced.]

Dynamite deeply impressed both IWE president Isao Yoshihara and the executives at Tokyo 12 Channel, who exclaimed that he was even better than Billy Robinson. Plans were made for Dynamite to appear again on the next tour, but NJPW’s interest had been piqued enough for them to secure a deal with Stu Hart through Mr. Hito. Stu could not resist the booking fee, nor could he turn down the invitation for his sons Bret and Keith to work for New Japan. As you may know, the 1979.08.17 Stampede show held three NJPW title matches: Seiji Sakaguchi’s defense of the NWF North American Heavyweight title against Tiger Jeet Singh; Fujinami’s defense of the WWF Junior Heavyweight title against Dynamite; and Antonio Inoki’s defense of the NWF Heavyweight title against Stan Hansen.

For the IWE Dynamite Series tour, Hara had a pair of defenses on 1979.09.28 and 1979.10.04 against Mark Rocco, making his Japanese debut with this tour; both ended in double countout. According to an Igapro article on Hara’s IWE career which I am using as a primary source (drawn from issues #3 and #11 of the magazine 日本プロレス事件史), the televised Rocco match, alongside the second Zrno one, was considered to have somewhat exposed Hara. The following night, he wrestled NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion Nelson Royal in a double title match to a double knockout. This is most interesting for its aftermath; after All Japan and New Japan, NWA members both, protested that this made Royal’s title invalid, he retired and vacated it. Afterwards, Eddie Graham, Mike LaBelle, and Hisashi Shinma, who were unhappy that Leroy McGuirk held the right to promote the title, banded together to create another version, but this would not be accepted by the whole of the Alliance and would be renamed the NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship. (The World Junior Heavyweight title was revived in early 1980.)

Hara’s last defense of the WWU title in 1979 took place on 1979.11.07, in a cage match against Gypsy Joe, in which he retained after DKO. One week later, he received what would be his only match (albeit non-title) against a current holder of the IWA World Heavyweight title, wrestling Verne Gagne to a loss. (Thirty-six years later, the two would die just one day apart.)

The IWE New Pioneer Series would see the Hara/Joe feud continue. Two untelevised WWU title defenses took place on 1980.01.07 and 1980.01.14; the latter would be Hara’s first decisive victory as champion in a 2/3-falls match. Hara defeated Joe once again two days later, in a televised cage match.

Hara would finally get his match against Tatsumi Fujinami on 1980.04.03, after a successful WWU title defense against IWE defect Ryuma Go on 1980.03.31. (I know the latter match exists in circulation but it is not publicly uploaded as of writing.) In his shot at Fujinami’s WWF Junior Heavyweight title, Hara lost by submission. Hara was humiliated in what was, besides a two-week IWA World Tag Team title reign for Strong Kobayashi and Haruka Eigen, the last NJPW/IWE interpromotional angle. Hara vacated the WWU title to graduate to the heavyweight division. Although he continued to work for the company on its following tours, he would not appear on television for the rest of 1980.

In January 1981, Hara went on an excursion to Mid-South to train as a heavyweight; he was originally going to leave in October, but it took two months to obtain a work visa. During this excursion he wrestled the Super Destroyer Scott Irwin, whose signature maneuver, the superplex, would be taken by Hara. He debuted the new finisher to win his return match against Steve Olsonoski on 1981.04.18. One month later, on 1981.05.16, he and Mighty Inoue defeated Paul Ellering and Terry Nathan to win the IWA World Tag Team titles; Animal Hamaguchi, Inoue’s usual partner, was out of commission to treat his liver. Hara and Inoue would hold the belts until the promotion’s closure, and in fact the first of their two successful defenses, against Gypsy Joe and Carl Fergie on 1981.06.25, was the last IWE match ever broadcast. (Puroresu.com and Cagematch both claim that a Hara/Joe cage match immediately followed this, but I’m skeptical.) Hara and Inoue’s last defense was on 1981.08.08, the IWE’s penultimate show, against Terry Gibbs and Jerry Oates.

I’m going to end this section by quoting the final paragraph of my historical post on the Fujinami/Hara match thread:

Sixteen months after wrestling Fujinami, Hara found himself on the grounds of an elementary school in Rausu, for a hastily arranged show which would be the ignoble end of the IWE. For their final tour, they hadn't even managed to book Korakuen; the best they could do so far as Tokyo was concerned was a parking lot in Machida. The company's funds were so depleted that the entourage couldn't even pay their own way all the way back to Tokyo, relying on the generosity of a bus driver on the Tōhoku Expressway. Hara had no interest in joining Kimura, Hamaguchi, and Teranishi in NJPW, despite Yoshihara's recommendation. He was still genuinely bitter about this match, and had intended to retire and take over his family farm. But then, Giant Baba would contact IWE commentator Tadao Monma to express interest in him, and the rest is history.

AJPW (1981-1988)

Yasei no Danpugai (“Wild Dump Guy”) [Yes, this was his actual nickname. There must be some context I’m missing, because I’m getting real “Loose Explosion” vibes.]

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Signed to a freelance contract, Hara was one of the ex-IWE performers who, in defiance of Isao Yoshihara’s wishes, went to All Japan instead of New Japan: the others were Mighty Inoue and rookies Hiromichi Fuyuki and Apollo Sugawara. [3] Hara was asked if he would be interested in a #4 spot in the company, behind Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, and Genichiro Tenryu. He made his AJPW debut on 1981.10.02, with a singles match against Tenryu. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s worth seeing because, outside of an early glimmer or two that comes to mind [4], I think that it’s the earliest Tenryu performance on tape to show recognizable if inchoate shades of his later personality. The two would reach a mutual understanding through this match, and formed a tag team which would compete in the next two iterations of the RWTL. Another theme of the first phase of Hara’s AJPW career was his utilization as a jobber to the foreign stars. Most famously, he was the first opponent of post-NJPW run Stan Hansen in All Japan, falling to the Western Lariat in 2:25. However, there are other matches I would put in this category during this era, against the likes of Terry Funk and Rick Martel.

While Hara’s team with Tenryu would continue on-and-off in this first incarnation through 1984, he found his greatest kayfabe success with others. On 1983.02.23, he teamed up with fellow ex-IWE star Mighty Inoue to challenge for the All Asia Tag Team titles, which had been vacated by Akio Sato and Takashi Ishikawa the previous month following Sato’s injury, and defeated the Great Kojika and Motoshi Okuma by disqualification. A rematch on 1983.03.02 saw them go clean over the men who had been synonymous with the belt in the latter half of the previous decade. They would hold the belts for nearly a year, as well as enter the 1983 RWTL together, until they vacated them so that Inoue could focus on chasing the NWA International Junior Heavyweight title, after which Hara would team with Ashura Hara to defeat ex-IWE gaikokujin Gerry Morrow (who had interestingly been booked like a native by the company, as Jiro Inazuma) and Thomas Ivy to win them again on 1984.02.16. Outside of this reign, the last notable matches of Hara’s first run with All Japan were a pair of shots at Tenryu’s NWA United National title, on 1984.04.11 and 1984.04.16.

It’s time to get into the story behind Hara’s first departure from All Japan. He had been assigned the task of promoting a show on 1984.10.22 in his hometown of Nagasaki, but had entrusted a friend with the task. When said friend vanished, Hara suddenly went off the grid in shame. It’s said that no posters had even been put up in the city, and Cagematch records the eventual show’s attendance as a paltry 1,800. Because this was a television taping the show could not be canceled.

Hitman

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No word would be given publicly of Hara until 1985.04.03, when he interrupted a singles match between Riki Choshu and Takashi Ishikawa to attack and challenge the former. Igapro states that Hara was brought back into the fold by his (unnamed) sponsor, who was also one of AJPW’s promoters, and who served as his guarantor to bring him back in what I presume due to later information was a pay-per-appearance capacity. Hara began training at Mount Inasu that month, which was reported on by Tokyo Sports.

After interfering in another Choshu match on 1985.04.19, Hara was to team up with his old pal Tenryu on 1985.04.24 against Choshu and Animal Hamaguchi, but this would end up being the stage for a breakup angle. Tenryu was frustrated that Hara had refused to talk to him before the match, and Hara eventually blew up, hit Tenryu with a chair, and walked out. Motoshi Okuma stepped in as a replacement, and predictably got eaten alive in 1:27. At the first show of the next tour, on 1985.05.17 (one night after the second JPW tour had ended), Hara interfered again, this time in Tenryu’s match. Hara acquired the nickname “Hitman” due to these actions, and Baba set up a singles match for him against Motoshi Okuma in Hokkaido on 1985.05.19. [5] In his first match in seven months, Hara rolled out his new finisher, the Hitman Lariat, to win in 0:48. His next three matches would likewise be sub-minute squashes against, respectively, Haruka Eigen, Masanobu Kurisu, and Haru Sonoda. On 1985.05.29, he appeared on late-night NTV program 11PM to send a message to Tenryu.

At Special Wars in Budokan on 1985.06.21, Hara interfered in the postmatch of the second Tenryu/Choshu singles match. (His involvement was a matter of confusion for several brothers on that match’s thread on this forum, where I explained the matter late last year.) One week later, on the first date of the 85 Heat Wave! Summer Action Wars tour, Hara wrestled his first match of any relative substance since his return, a singles match against Tenryu which predictably spiraled out of control into a no-contest. Soon afterward, Hara would officially sign with the company as a freelancer. While Hara would wrestle alongside his former IWE coworkers, now configured as Kokusai Ketsumeigun (“International Blood Army”), he never actually joined their faction. [Edit: this is worded misleadingly, as not every ex-IWE guy in All Japan was a member. Mighty Inoue wasn't aligned, nor was Fuyuki when he returned. Hamaguchi and Teranishi were Ishingun guys.]  It was under these circumstances, though, that he would serve as Rusher Kimura’s partner in the 1985 RWTL.

Kokusai Ketsumeigun basically died in March 1986 when, after the Calgary Hurricanes officially joined AJPW, faction members Ryuma Go, Apollo Sugawara, and Masuhiko Takasugi were dismissed from the company (although Go would later work the 1987 Summer Action Series tour as Kimura’s jobber tag partner). Hara would continue to wrestle alongside Kimura and Tsurumi, which also occasionally aligned him with Tiger Jeet Singh and the Great Kabuki. In the last couple months of the year, Hara would also wrestle alongside members of the Calgary Hurricanes, most notably faction leader Super Strong Machine. The two would win the All Asia Tag Team titles on 1986.10.30, and would enter the 1986 RWTL together, although an SSM injury partway through would take them out of the picture by forfeit.

Revolution

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The first five months of 1987 were generally unremarkable for Hara, as SSM’s return to New Japan led to his final All Asia tag reign ending by vacation. However, things picked up when he reunited with Genichiro Tenryu, when their tag team would finally become known as Ryuharagun. As I covered earlier in this thread, Tenryu asked Baba to let him split up from Tsuruta, because he wanted to challenge the complacency that he had seen his partner fall back into in the wake of Choshu and company’s departure back to New Japan. Tenryu and Hara wrestled their first match alongside each other in three years on 1987.06.05, defeating Hiroshi Wajima and Motoshi Okuma. The night before, the photo at the head of this section was taken, as Tenryu’s Gong reporter (and later, Jumbo biography author) Kagehiro Osano was taken out to dinner by the two. [6] Interestingly, these two still considered themselves rivals in kayfabe, at least at first, so they traveled separately. Tenryu rode with the ring setup crew, while Hara used his old knowledge of the railroad to get around.

Revolution as we know it began to take shape in the late summer. As I have previously written, Samson Fuyuki took his time joining the faction, after a swerve in August which saw him split up from his excursion buddy Toshiaki Kawada. However, through the mediation of his old IWE mentor and co-trainer Hara, Fuyuki would join back up with Kawada by the end of the next tour. This would pay off in the following years when the two, wrestling as Footloose, built the foundation for the early-90s golden age of the All Asia tag titles. [7] (Tenryu’s valet Yoshinari Ogawa would also join the faction.) Revolution would become known for bucking the trend of phoned-in B-shows, continuing to deliver quality performances on the provincial circuit: “The TV show is the trailer. If you want to see the real show, come to the region. We'll show you plenty!” [8]

As for the core of the group, Tenryu and Hara would win the PWF Tag Team titles on an untelevised 1987.09.03 show against Stan Hansen and Austin Idol. (According to this page which purports to have the results for the tour, Idol was counted out at 12:18.) Nine days later, they successfully defended against Hansen and Joel Deaton, and on 1987.10.16, they retained once again against Jumbo Tsuruta and Hiroshi Wajima. In between those matches, Hara also had the last significant singles match of his AJPW tenure, wrestling Jumbo Tsuruta to a loss in a buildup to the second match in the 1987-1990 Jumbo/Tenryu series. Entering the 1987 RWTL together, Tenryu and Hara went to a three-way tie for second place, after their final match against Hansen and Terry Gordy went to a double countout, and the Olympians defeated Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka in the main event.

Ryuharagun’s first match of the new year was (not counting their first encounter in the RWTL) the first of six matches against the Olympians, which they lost when Hara was counted out. This series would be an important factor in the unification of the PWF and NWA International Tag Team championships, and it is to put it mildly a career highlight for Hara. Between the first and second of these matches, though, Ryuharagun would make two successful defenses of the PWF belts. The first was against Abdullah the Butcher and TNT (Savio Vega) on 1988.01.09, and their second was against Bruiser Brody and Tommy Rich on 1988.04.22, in what would be Brody’s last match for All Japan. And while this objectively isn’t that important, I would be remiss not to mention Ryuharagun’s 1988.03.05 buildup tag to the Tenryu/Hansen PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National double title match, which Hansen would derail in an amazing worked shoot outburst, immortalized in Botchamania, after a knockout from Tenryu and Hara’s sandwich lariat. (“NOBODY POTATOES ME!!!”)

On 1988.06.04, Ryuharagun dropped the PWF Tag Team titles to the Olympians, who unified them with the NWA International Tag Team titles six days later upon defeating the Road Warriors by DQ.

Two months later, Ryuharagun would have their day. The 1988.08.29 Budokan show had been planned to feature the fan-voted main event of Jumbo Tsuruta and Bruiser Brody vs. Genichiro Tenryu and Stan Hansen. However, Brody’s murder in Puerto Rico would obviously end these plans, and the card was retooled into what would become known as the Bruiser Brody Memorial Night. In the main event, Ryuharagun defeated the Olympians for the AJPW World Tag Team titles, in the best iteration of their matchup to date, the best AJPW tag match since the end of the KakuRyu/Ishingun feud, and to this point the best match of Ashura Hara’s career.

When I said Ryuharagun would have their day, I meant that literally. For the following night, they dropped the belts back. But their kayfabe loss was our gain, because this match was even better. While I am largely unfamiliar with Hara’s SWS/WAR work – the only thing I have seen is the 1993.02.16 NJPW/WAR ten-man, which I thought was great when I saw it and plan to rewatch in sequence with the full feud but which I don’t remember being this great – I am comfortable calling this the peak. Much of that is down to having the best Jumbo vs Tenryu stuff up to that point, sure, but Hara’s supporting performance is close to perfection. If you come away from this post deciding to watch just one match, well, it would be really cool if you watched the BBMN tag first, but if you must, make it this one.

Another pair of Olympians matches followed, on 1988.09.15 (I think Roy Lucier's upload of the AJPW TV episode is geoblocked in the US so I can't find it to link) and 1988.10.26, but they would be the last significant matches of this phase of Hara’s career.

The common story behind Ashura Hara’s dismissal from All Japan depicts him as a man deep over his head in debts incurred from gambling. This has been the story told in Western narratives for many years, but it’s not quite the full story. Hara was generous to a fault, and it appears that hanging out with the famously giving Tenryu was a bad decision for his financial health. As I wrote on DVDVR, “Tenryu was in a position where he could afford to, for instance, stuff an envelope filled with ¥10,000 bills into Shiro Koshinaka's pocket as a parting gift after personally convincing Baba to let him start a new life in New Japan. Hara's pockets, however, weren't that deep, and all the drinks he bought for the younger guys hit his wallet hard.”

Whatever the reasons, it became too much to handle. Shady debt-collector types started hanging around All Japan events, eventually getting bold enough to show up at major shows where network executives were present. Baba had already been writing Hara’s paychecks out to his wife in order to try not to be as much of an enabler, but as you all know, he eventually had to cut him loose. The night before the 1988 RWTL, Baba announced Hara’s dismissal during a press conference at the Hotel Pacific Tokyo…to which Hara was in debt.

Spoiler

[1] This is the sleeve from “恋遊び” (“Love Play”), a duet that Hara recorded with Mieko Enomoto, the ex-wife of the secretary under prime minister Tanaka. Enomoto had testified against her husband in the early-80s trial against Tanaka and his administration for having accepted bribes from the Lockheed Corporation – facilitated through ultra-right power broker (and ex-JWA chairman) Yoshio Kodama – to purchase aircraft from them instead of McDonnell Douglas. This affair is among the most infamous political scandals in postwar Japanese history, and after posing for the Japanese branch of Penthouse, Enomoto spent several years in an entertainment career. As I said on DVDVR, she has the perfect backstory for a woman who would record a duet with a man like Ashura Hara. Brothers, you cannot fathom how badly I need to hear this.            

[2] I went back and added this detail to the relevant Jumbo bio post, but it’s worth repeating here. The IWE appears to have actually been the first Japanese promotion to use special entrance music, although it’s still likely that Tsuruta was the first native wrestler to have this done. When Superstar Billy Graham came to the IWE in October 1974, to fulfill his job as a transitional champion between Billy Robinson and Mighty Inoue, the IWE’s television director (inspired when he learned that Inoue had used entrance music – Naomi Chiaki’s 1970 breakthrough single “Yottsu no Onegai” – during a French excursion) acquired the rights to a cover of "Jesus Christ Superstar", by easy listening juggernaut the 101 Strings Orchestra, to use for Graham.

Because I am a madman, I am going to list every other piece of entrance music used by the promotion that I know of. Thanks to a DJ set uploaded to YouTube in February for plugging in many of these gaps.

1.      “Rebirth of the Beat” by Sandy Nelson and “Skydiver” by Daniel Boone for Rusher Kimura

2.      “Zero To Sixty In Five” by Pablo Cruise for Animal Hamaguchi

3.      “Righteous Rhythm” by Rose Royce for Jiro Inazuma (the IWE gimmick name of Jerry Morrow)

4.      “Rapid Fire” by Judas Priest for Alexis Smirnoff

5.      “Led Boots” by Jeff Beck for the Mongolian Stomper

6.      “Shinin’ On” by Grand Funk Railroad for Mike George and Johnny Powers

7.      “Matangi’s Escape” by Nino Rota for Lou Thesz

8.      “Zocko” by the Ventures for John Tolos

9.      “Theme From King Kong”, “Most Wanted Theme”, “Black Widow”, and “Turning Point” by Lalo Schifrin for Dick the Bruiser, Steve Olsonoski, Killer Brooks, and Ron Bass

10.   “Killer”, “Over the Top”, and “Theme 1” by Cozy Powell for Gypsy Joe, Mach Hayato, and Kintaro Oki

11.   “Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group for Jos LeDuc

12.   “Hooked on Music” by the Pat Travers Band for Invader II

13.   “Big Ben” by Rick Wakeman for Verne Gagne (As a personal aside, I cannot neglect to mention that the source album, Rhapsodies, has one of the most ridiculous inner gatefolds I’ve ever seen. I’ve hung it ironically on a wall somewhere in every place I’ve lived for the better part of a decade, and I have the photographs to prove it.)

14.   “The Factory” by Herb Alpert for Ray Candy

15.   "Key West" by the Village People for Kim Duk

[3] It must be noted that AJPW would also book a lot of the IWE gaikokujins in the coming years. It doesn’t fit into the main narrative but I’d like to use this space to talk about the circumstances which brought Gypsy Joe to All Japan. As the IWE’s financial state worsened and the company suspended operations after the Big Summer Series, Joe wished to continue receiving work in Japan, and so got in touch with Monthly Gong reporter Yusuke Yamaguchi to contact Baba. When Isao Yoshihara got word of this, he attempted to stop it by citing Joe’s contract to the IWE. Yoshihara claimed that when the IWE suspended their activities, he tried to get All Japan to take over all the wrestlers in the company, but that Baba had refused. However, by this time Mitsuo Mitsune from the Nippon TV board had already taken over as AJPW president, so it would have to have gone through him anyways, and due to the precarious situation that AJPW was in vis-à-vis NTV this wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. As Yoshihara had no legal ground to stand on since his company was suspending its activities, Joe made his first appearance for All Japan on 1981.08.20, with both an entry in that night’s battle royal and a singles match against Baba, which ended in disqualification but not before he showed his toughness by giving Baba a piece of wood and allowing him to break it on his head. He was originally brought onto the tour to replace the injured Gran Marcus, as the partner of Gino Hernandez in the PWF Cup tag team tournament, but a 2020 Igapro article claims that in doing this Joe stole Gino’s thunder, and that this led to Hernandez never working for All Japan again. To end, I will also note that fellow frequent IWE foreigner Alexis Smirnoff found work for AJPW by getting in contact with the Destroyer.

[4] I’m particularly thinking of the 1979.11.08 tag with Akihisa Takachiho against the Great Kojika and Motoshi Okuma, where Tenryu won the first fall by immediately cold-cocking Okuma and hitting the vertical suplex for the pinfall in 0:19.

[5] For his return show proper, Hara isolated himself from the rest of the roster by using an NTV broadcasting van as his waiting room.

[6] Interestingly, the free-to-read portion of an interview with Osano (conducted in 2014) has him state that, before Tenryu and Hara reunited, Osano bumped into Hara on the bullet train, where Hara suggested that it might be a good idea for him to team up with “Gen-chan” without completely squashing their kayfabe rivalry.

[7] There’s a Japanese term for the inverse of a weeaboo, “seiyokabure”, and I think the fact that the Kevin Bacon vehicle occupied enough real estate in Tenryu’s head to have him bestow it upon this team four years after its release qualifies him for it on its own. That’s without getting into: dragging Jumbo to see Elvis in 1977; naming his faction after a Beatles song; dueting “Summer Nights” with Chris Jericho on karaoke; and naming his retirement tour documentary after “Let’s Live for Today” by the Grass Roots.

[8] What fascinates me so much about this is that I’ve theorized for a while that this trend of puro was a consequence of Japan not having a wrestling industry before television. Professional wrestling was an important source of programming in the United States, sure, but there was an industry and an infrastructure before the mass proliferation of televisions. I have seen much less wrestling overall than many of you, and I know that there are plenty of examples of filmed and taped wrestling shows that did not follow the studio wrestling episode format (as in, the digest version of a show very similar to that which would be then taken out on the road, consisting of 4-8 minute compressed matches) before the shift in mentality seen after the WWF expansion. And of course provincial shows were an important part of puro business. But it seems that in an environment where television came first, the Japanese touring model started arguably closer to that which we’ve seen in post-NWA America, even without pay-per-view ever becoming much of a factor. Not unlike how modern WWE house shows are (or I guess now were) intended to made fans in flyover country and other such markets become fans of the televised product. I’m probably articulating this poorly and/or making an excessive generalization.

 

 

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Small correction, he was in Hannover for Edmund Schober, that had nothing to do with Wanz/CWA/VDB. I assume Katsuji Adachi was the middleman, Schober had in the previous year tried to book him as the successor of Kiyomigawa, but I think he didn't get as over as they hoped.
Not sure how he got booked in Grand Prix just prior.

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Much appreciated. Grand Prix probably was Mad Dog's doing, or at least due to the connection previously established through him (he was the reason Tetsunosuke Daigo did one last tour in Montreal before he was to return from excursion, which ended up being when he lost his leg).

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This thread is consistently great. Thanks so much for putting these together. Watching the AJPW 80s set with it's glimpses of Hara and the rumors of his gambling debt ending his All Japan run created an evocative character in my imagination. Having the backstory fleshed out has managed to be even better.

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