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JAPAN PRO WRESTLING, PART TWO (THE AJPW YEARS)

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JAPAN PRO WRESTLING, PART TWO (THE AJPW YEARS)

Before I go radio silent for a while to get the first of two mammoth chapters transcribed, here is a second post about JPW and what ultimately tore them apart. These are my attempts to chronicle events laid out in a series of Igapro posts, sourced from Vol. 47 of G Spirits magazine, the Nihon Sports Publications book Showa Pro Wrestling Restoration, and Kenta Tasaki’s biography of Choshu. This is by far the biggest headache I’ve ever had trying to write a coherent narrative in this thread, and I honestly doubt I pulled it off.

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JPW formally joined AJPW as a satellite promotion in January 1985, and completed their Tokyo dojo around this time. It was at its opening where Naoki Otsuka and Riki Choshu’s respective positions as JPW chairman and president were announced. However, the real head honchos were Otsuka and Katsushi Takeda, the NJPW Entertainment investor I mentioned in the first JPW post, who had also footed the bill for everyone’s salaries. Choshu’s function was only really that of an on-site supervisor.

Neither Baba nor Choshu were in the loop when Otsuka grabbed the Calgary Hurricanes, and Choshu was not happy about it. He didn’t want JPW’s relationship with New Japan to go even more sour than it was already, and to him this went against Otsuka’s stated ideal for JPW to be “a ring not controlled by Baba and Inoki”. Baba became wary and made an aggressive move, demanding that JPW’s workers signed contracts with him in exchange for an increase in the NTV broadcasting rights fee. JPW resisted this at first, but their events were not successful despite having borrowed All Japan talent, and negotiations for their own television presence on TBS (yes, the network that originally carried the IWE) broke down. Alas, JPW had to accept AJPW’s conditions to make up for the hit on their business, as well as pare down their events to one-off shows.

On December 15, 1985, the 23rd anniversary of Rikidōzan’s death, Baba and Inoki met at his grave to sign an anti-pullout agreement between their respective promotions, with lawyers on both sides as witnesses. (Chikara Momota, grandson of Rikidōzan, shared a great photo from this meeting, with him in his father Mitsuo’s arms alongside Baba, Inoki, and Jumbo.)

As a result of this, the Calgary Hurricanes were forced to revert to technically being New Japan talent until their contracts expired in March. Even then, Otsuka’s intent to use them to make JPW an independent promotion was dashed when they too were forced to sign with All Japan through the collective JPW agreement.

In 1986, further cracks in the JPW-AJPW relationship formed. 1986 marked the beginning of the Japanese asset price bubble, whose bursting in 1992 would be a major factor in what would initially become known as Japan’s Lost Decade, although subsequent difficulties would lead some commentators to stretch this out to the Lost 20, and then 30 years. Anyway, as the value of the JPW headquarters building went up, and all that money went into Takeda’s pocket, the talent grew resentful of the fact that he was receiving money both from JPW and from the property. The higher-ups, meanwhile, were frustrated with the wrestlers because they already had higher wages than those which New Japan had paid them.

As these conflicts began, Choshu was approached by JPW managing director Kazuyoshi Kato, who was also the head of JPW’s entertainment division, which is what Riki Production had officially become. Kato and Otsuka had been sales rivals during their tenures in New Japan, but they had joined forces in the coup attempt and subsequent JPW formation as their interests aligned. However, he now bristled over not being allowed to use JPW’s head office, and became Choshu’s confidant.

After the Osaka show on September 3, 1986, Baba and Takeda held a meeting to determine what was to be done about their profits not increasing despite their number of events doing so. Takeda stated that he only needed Choshu and Yatsu, and would restructure the rest to desaturate the roster and improve match quality. Takeda wasn’t just unpopular with the boys for meddling in their financial affairs; now he was trying to exert creative influence as well.

Rumors had been circulating for as long as the infighting had begun in 1986 that Choshu was considering a jump back to New Japan. He publicly denied it, but had stated off the record that he had met with Fujinami around this time, and Inoki had even claimed that Choshu had wanted to participate in the October 9, 1986 NJPW event. Meanwhile, Baba was using Jumbo, Tenryu, Hansen, and most recently, Hiroshi Wajima to keep Choshu in check.

On January 8, 1987 Otsuka met with former NJPW external relations head Toyohisa Sugita at the JPW headquarters. New Japan’s partnership with the UWF did not do the business they had wanted, and World Pro Wrestling was moved from its Friday primetime slot to a worse Monday slot that often saw it preempted and taken off the air by special programs. They wanted help, and TV Asahi, by now in control of New Japan, probably wanted Choshu back. Otsuka did not answer due to his affiliation with All Japan, but he did accept Inoki’s request for a meeting when Sugita passed it along. Choshu was also invited, and accepted. Inoki’s original intent was to get all of JPW back, but when Otsuka and Choshu came to meet him at New Japan headquarters, his focus narrowed. Otsuka would regret bringing Choshu along as Inoki offered Riki 100 million yen to return. After this meeting, Choshu began to seriously consider returning home.

The day after their meeting, an NJPW director named Tetsuo Baisho, who was a drinking buddy of Choshu’s, approached Kazuyoshi Kato. Baisho had been deposed by Otsuka during the 1983 coup attempt, and while he had since been reinstated, he was determined to make sure Otsuka never worked for New Japan again. They began to plan to draw a separate line to bring Choshu back to NJPW through Sugita instead of Otsuka.

On January 17, after defending the PWF title against Curt Hennig in his hometown, Choshu made waves when he namedropped Fujinami on live television during his postmatch interview with Kenji Wakabayashi. He was supposed to meet with Fujinami and Sakaguchi in Fukuoka afterwards, with Otsuka, Eigen, and Sugita also present. Choshu suddenly claimed the meeting had been canceled, but this seemed to be a misdirection as he went to meet with Sakaguchi anyway. By this point he felt that he had gone as far as he could go in All Japan, and the returning Masa Saito’s intentions to join back up with New Japan were also a factor in JPW’s internal tensions.

Around this time Baba would learn from Haruka Eigen about what was going on inside JPW. On February 3, he made his move, and approached Choshu and Yatsu to sign directly with All Japan instead of through JPW, breaking their promise to Otsuka. Choshu would take a break from here due to poor health, but he would later state that he had been “weighing the scales’, waiting out to see what would happen between AJPW, NJPW, and JPW. By this time, though, he was trying to convince Yatsu to come with him back to New Japan. However, Yatsu had already decided to stay, as despite his membership in Ishingun and ostensible support of Choshu, he was personally wary both of him and of NJPW.

Outwardly, Choshu apologized to Baba for bailing before the Excite Series had ended, and promised to participate in the coming Champion Carnival tour, which as JPW president he was obligated to do. He also instructed Inoki to abide by the anti-pullout agreement.

However, Choshu announced at a JPW general meeting that while he would return for the Carnival, he would also end his affiliation with All Japan at the end of March to become a true independent. He professed that JPW would essentially return to its original intended form, as an independent promotion in which wrestlers from either promotion could participate due to series-by-series contracts with AJPW and NJPW.

Yatsu and Eigen protested, and accused Choshu of using this plan as merely a pretext to eventually just make JPW part of New Japan again. And needless to say, Baba was having none of it. JPW’s contract with All Japan stipulated that they were required to give six months’ notice if they declined to renew, and JPW were still considered All Japan talent under the anti-pullout agreement of 1985. So All Japan would have to be the ones to break their contract if JPW workers would ever be able to set foot inside a New Japan ring again. On top of this, there was no way that NJPW would agree to separate Otsuka and Choshu (despite Baisho’s attempts to the contrary).

The day before March 26, when Saito was slated to appear for New Japan once again, Choshu appeared at some reception and handed him a contract to withdraw from the Carnival. At this point Choshu himself was apparently still intending to participate in the Carnival. But then, Baba was told by Otsuka that it would be difficult for Choshu to do so, went to the JPW headquarters the day before the tour began. There, he demanded that Choshu and the others withdraw their independence and sign a new contract with All Japan, including Saito.

On the first day of the Carnival tour, as Otsuka and Takeda were out of town, Choshu holed up in the company headquarters intending to boycott with the following JPW employees: Saito, Kuniaki Kobayashi, Isamu Teranishi, Nobuo Yasunaga, Masanobu Kurisu, Shinji Sasazaki, Kensuke Sasaki, Tiger Hattori, Super Strong Machine, and Hiro Saito. Choshu did not want to lose his line with New Japan, so he was not going to acquiesce to Baba’s demands. The Calgary Hurricanes, while independent, were essentially a JPW subsidiary, and with the exception of Shunji Takano, whom Baba liked and was currently working in America, they felt they had gone as far as they could go in AJPW and were ready to return to New Japan.

But then, Masanobu Kurisu broke away and went to Korakuen Hall, where All Japan were to hold their show. He had no interest in returning to New Japan, and had only ever joined JPW in the first place due to his admiration of Otsuka.

On March 30, Otsuka and Takeda announced Choshu’s expulsion from New Japan. This left him free to return to NJPW, but now apparently he could not receive the 100 million yen which Inoki had promised. He had no bargaining power anymore, and had probably incurred a penalty fee for his actions, so he only got 10 million yen. (Choshu apparently denies this, for the record.)

Teranishi left Choshu’s faction. While Hamaguchi remained at Choshu’s side, he decided to retire as he “had promised he would retire if he caused trouble” when he joined JPW. Killer Khan was working in the WWF at this point, and was so disappointed by the news of JPW’s split that he retired. Hiroshi Hase, who was training overseas in Calgary, was asked by Choshu to return and come with him. His fellow JPW trainee on excursion, Fumisuke Niikura, was left behind because Eigen had invited him to join All Japan already.

When Choshu returned to New Japan, he did so through the base of Riki Production, which I guess was its own thing again (still headed by his buddy Kato). But as he did so without resolving matters with All Japan, both Baba and Otsuka hardened their stance. Apparently it was somehow due to this that World Pro Wrestling changed its timeslot once again to Tuesday nights, and they were unable to broadcast Choshu’s matches until October even though other ex-JPW guys gradually got back on television before him. Eventually Choshu and company signed directly with New Japan again, but Kato was unable to return alongside them and Riki Production was disbanded.

After Yatsu and the rest of the JPW holdouts signed directly with All Japan, Otsuka had no wrestlers left. They terminated their relationship with All Japan after the August 31, 1987 Budokan show, and after an AJW event that they had been contracted to promote, they disbanded entirely. Otsuka would leave the business entirely until, after the NOAH exodus, he offered his services to Motoko Baba as an outside consultant.

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Man, if you want to read about a wild dude, read up on Ikki Kajiwara, the creator of Tiger Mask. There's even a wrestling tie-in, since he once held Inoki captive in a hotel room after Inoki allegedly stopped paying for the rights to the Tiger Mask gimmick. 

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This is a fantastic thread!

Does anyone know how the transition from Baba to Jumbo happened exactly, given Baba never beat Jumbo?

 

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21 minutes ago, MoS said:

This is a fantastic thread!

Does anyone know how the transition from Baba to Jumbo happened exactly, given Baba never beat Jumbo?

 

Nippon TV's three-year plan saw the transition happen gradually and indirectly. I've never read anyone state this, but I suspect that part of why the Champion Carnival tournament was put on ice after 1982 (until 1991) was to avoid forcing Jumbo to face him directly again. Jumbo was retooled in 1982/3 to be the clearly ascending ace (between the black trunks to reference Rikidozan and adopting the signature moves of Thesz), but even in 1984 they were going to time-limit draws in tag matches. He only went over him in the 1984 RWTL because Rusher Kimura turned on Baba and the match was thrown out.

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There's a famous story that after Jumbo beat Brody for the NWA International Heavyweight Championship in '83 that Baba gave Jumbo his blessing in the locker room and told him he was the ace from that day forward. 

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