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KinchStalker

Part One: The Black Ship Approaches

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I have completed the first of what I’ve planned to be a three-part series about SWS, but for this post I’m doing an experiment. You’ll notice numbers besides certain names. I have planned for this SWS narrative to span three posts, but at least this first one will feature wrestler biographies at the bottom. I learn a lot of cool things in my research efforts that don’t fit into the broader narratives that I’m trying to tell, and I want to create an outlet for those while also making this thread more accessible for those new to retro puro, who may not know a lot of these names. If it seems like I’m condescending to you guys, think about it from the perspective of a more casual fan that might lurk this thread on a whim. (For instance, the popular Irish wrestling video podcast OSW Review recently did a watchalong episode on the 1991.03.31 SWS/WWF Tokyo Dome show, and there’s a chance that somebody who sees that episode might somehow find their way here.) By the same token, while it would be quite easy for someone who doesn’t know about the Great Kabuki to get the basics without my help, writing a mini-piece about Kabuki gives me an avenue to share little tidbits that might not be well known even to those who are quite familiar with him. I won’t do bios for Tenryu and Yatsu because I’ve already covered a lot of what I would be paring down to compose them earlier in this thread, but I plan to do mini-bios for many of SWS’s contracted wrestlers, that will go up to the point that they enter the story.

The SWS

Part One: The Black Ship Approaches

On November 23, 1989, Newborn UWF held U-Cosmos, the Tokyo Dome’s second professional wrestling event. Even without a Hisashi Shinma to negotiate a television deal, the promotion outdrew the preceding NJPW Battle Satellite, all on the allure of the revival of shoot-style. Well, that and the sponsorship of Hachiro Tanaka, president of eyewear manufacturer Megane Super. Tanaka had made a killing on the stock market during the Japanese asset price bubble, and he was a wrestling fan who allegedly wanted to run a promotion for the fellow wrestling fan that was his son.

The May 7, 1990 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter states that Tanaka made an offer to buy the UWF in 1989. President Shinji Jin was receptive of the offer, but top star and locker-room leader Akira Maeda shot it down, so Tanaka took matters into his own hands. Tanaka’s two agents were Kazuo Sakurada[1] and Ichimasa Wakamatsu[2], both of whom were veterans of the industry, but at that point didn’t have particularly close ties to any of the Japanese organizations.

As is fairly well known by this point, the initial plan was to sign Keiji Mutoh – Tanaka’s son was a fan – as the ace of SWS. Sakurada knew Mutoh well, having worked with him during his first excursion in 1986 and then as stablemates during the 1989 Dragonmaster run. Mutoh was contractually freed up as far as Japan went, and the cancellation of the Muta/Flair main event at the 1990.02.10 Tokyo Dome show left him feeling "disenfranchised”, and influenced him to accept the offer. However, at least as I’ve seen the story told, when Mutoh met with Sakaguchi after his first retirement match, on March 23, and told him he was leaving, Sakaguchi made a call and blocked the sale.

As mentioned in previous posts, Genichiro Tenryu found himself in friction with AJPW in early 1990, due to a dissatisfactory contract renewal offer as well as creative differences. He was scouted for the new promotion. Tenryu and Baba spoke on the matter when the former came to tender his resignation on April 23. In the mid-1980s, the “lonely” Baba, who by this point had not been president of the company he built for years, and whose career as an active performer was in an inexorable decline as the Hansen feud concluded, had opened up to Tenryu about his own feelings, to an unprecedented extent. He’d had paternal relationships with wrestlers, sure, but he’d never revealed himself so much as he did to Genichiro. It even seems that the claim which Terry Funk had made to the press after his 1983.08.31 “retirement” match – that Tenryu would be the next president, not Tsuruta (of course, Terry was probably unaware that Mitsuo Mitsune was then president, not Baba) – would have been borne out. Baba apparently made such an offer to Tenryu during their talks. Baba’s confidant Kyohei Wada has stated that he believes Tenryu would have taken the chair had he stayed, essentially stating that Baba had come to feel that Jumbo had “listened to him too much” over the years and now “couldn’t be trusted with All Japan”.

Eventually, Baba relented. He couldn’t stop a man who had already made up his mind. He proceeded to call the editor of Gong, who had just printed Tenryu’s claim to reporter Kagehiro Osano that he would quit if he lost to Jumbo, on April 26. He confirmed that Tenryu was leaving, but requested that they hold off on “any crazy stories”. Baba wanted to keep the relationship amicable for later interpromotional arrangements. Tenryu tendered his resignation on the first of May, and Baba announced his departure to the press the next day. Baba still didn’t speak harshly of Tenryu, but Jumbo wasn’t so delicate. “My feeling is that no matter what happens in the future, I will never fight Tenryu again, and I will never share his views on life or his values.” (A few days later, Jumbo would say to Osano that Tenryu had called him, and he appeared satisfied with the explanation he was given.)

Meanwhile, on April 27, NJPW held NJPW Shinto Fight STATION BAY N.K. in Urayasu, which was their first event since the AJPW/NJPW/WWF Wrestling Summit two weeks prior. Conspicuous by their absences were George Takano [3] and Naoki Sano [4]. The latter at least had the cover of having undergone a Canadian excursion (though there were rumblings as to the truth, as the April 23 Observer stated that Sano was “reportedly leaving for yet another new independent promotion”), but Takano would announce his intent to join the new promotion on May 7. (According to the July 2 Observer, Sano was by that point laying low due to legal action from New Japan.)

On May 10, the formation of Super World Sports was officially announced at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo. This photograph dates from the press conference. Five days later, Wakamatsu announced he would join and become a dojo master – I’ll explain what this meant later on, when I get into SWS’s structure – and on June 5, it was announced that Takano would do the same. A temporary dojo was built in Yokohama, and a party to celebrate its completion was held on June 27. In attendance were Tenryu, Takano, Sakurada, Wakamatsu, Goro Tsurumi [5], and Akira Katayama [6].

On July 5, a wave of signings from All Japan was announced. The Japanese SWS Wikipedia page refers to them as “Shunji Takano [7], Samson Fuyuki [8], and five others”; I don’t know if the others were not mentioned as a prose choice or if the announcement had been that there had been five other signings who might not have yet been identified. Between the established timeline of other signees and the eventual roster, I’m guessing that Koki Kitahara [9], Shinichi Nakano [10], Masao Orihara, and Isao Takagi [11] were among them. Nine days later, it was announced that Takashi Ishikawa [12], who had retired from professional wrestling after Hiroshi Wajima ended his tenure with All Japan, would be returning to join SWS. On July 12-13, the first wave of auditions were held, and six wrestlers were accepted, including Hisakatsu Oya and Nobukazu Hirai.

The largest wrestling publication in Japan, Weekly Pro Wrestling, began to consistently disparage Tenryu and SWS. Editor-in-chief Tarzan Yamamoto had offered his services to Baba as a creative consultant since the summer of 1988. Yamamoto would later admit that he had accepted payment from Baba to do so – it appears that Baba suspected Tenryu was recruiting his talent away, and poured gasoline on the fire in self-defense – but that he was proud to have been a partisan and that he “would rather have lost with Baba than won with everyone else”. Weekly Pro would continue to have a bone to pick, even criticizing SWS events for their high production values.

It’s important to note that Tenryu only actively *recruited* one person from All Japan, rookie Masao Orihara. For instance, I’ve seen Meltzer persistently state that he “recruited” Yoshiaki Yatsu, and my suspicion is that this was a speculation at the time – most likely peddled by Weekly Pro – that was later cleared up in Japanese narratives, and has just never been corrected whenever Meltzer has written mini-bios for Yatsu as he’s made news. In actuality, Yatsu pursued a deal with SWS himself. He did not see the point in continuing to work for All Japan without Tenryu, and also allegedly had misgivings against Baba for not covering a surgery after he suffered an injury during his 1990.03.24 singles match against Steve Williams. His signing was announced on August 2, alongside the Great Kabuki [13], who was brought on as booker. Ryozo Yonezawa, who had long worked in AJPW foreign relations and as Baba’s right-hand man (the July 23, 1990 Observer also claims that his connections to the sumo world had helped make All Japan's signings from the sport possible, going back to Tenryu), was also appointed as a director that day. (Yonezawa apparently left because he was at odds with Motoko.)

At some point, Tenryu secretly traveled to the United States to meet with his old co-worker Akio Sato. The nominal purpose was to ask for his assistance in the SWS launch, but Tenryu would confide in Sato about his reluctance to “kick sand in Baba’s face”. Sato told him that it was no use playing nice after he had already quit, and that, like it or not, he was now Baba’s competitor.

On August 29, ex-sumo Ishinriki Kōji announced he would join SWS, and Fumihiro Niikura was also announced to be coming on board on a freelance basis. The next day, a party at the Hotel Okura would see the SWS announce the outline of their business.

 As I mentioned in the last point of my post summarizing Chapter 10 of the Jumbo Tsuruta biography, Tenryu adopted a heya (“room”) system modeled after sumo to structure the company talent. His heya – Revolution, named after his AJPW faction – consisted of those who had chosen to follow him from AJPW. George Takano’s Palaistra similarly featured ex-New Japan talent, and finally, Dojo Geki – headed by Tanaka’s agents Sakurada and Wakamatsu – generally consisted of freelancers and veterans of promotions like the IWE. This wasn’t an ironclad rule – Shunji Takano would join his brother, and Yoshiaki Yatsu and Shinichi Nakano would join Dojo Geki – but it was how a lot of it played out. The individual heya would even recruit and train their own talent.

SWS held its debut event on September 29, but its real coming-out party would be a two-night event on October 18-19. Before that, on October 16, Don Arakawa, a longtime NJPW wrestler who had retired in March 1989, announced he would join SWS.

On November 20, 1990, SWS announced a two-year partnership with the World Wrestling Federation.

 

END OF PART ONE

---

Spoiler

[1] Kazuo Sakurada was an ex-sumo who retired after a disagreement with his stablemaster in March 1971 and joined the JWA soon after. He was among those who remained with the company until its collapse. (According to his autobiography as cited by Japanese Wikipedia, his 1973.03.02 match against Daigoro Oshiro was a “cement match” – Japanese insiderish term for matches that devolve into shoots, i.e. “break cement” – as part of a “proxy war” between the group that was going to NJPW and the group that wasn’t.) Unlike the likes of Umanosuke Ueda and Gantetsu Matsuoka, who left All Japan after NTV shuffled them there over dissatisfaction with their lower standing, Sakurada fulfilled the three-year contract with Nippon TV that lasted until March 31, 1976, and even officially signed with All Japan the next day. However, after Baba asked him if he could “tie [back] his topknot”, Sakurada took a different path. Initially accompanying Tenryu as his training companion, which was in keeping with Sakurada’s previous work in the All Japan dojo, Sakurada would split to become a well-traveled territory heel. He would continue to work sporadically in Japan, making appearances in the 1978 IWE Japan League, returning to All Japan in the early 1980s both as Mr. Sakurada and as Dream Machine, and then making tons of appearances for New Japan in the second half of the decade under various names, including the Kendo Nagasaki gimmick which he adopted in 1982 (not to be confused with the earlier character played by British wrestler Peter Thornley). At the time our story begins, though, he was working for WCW as the Dragonmaster, and then for the nascent FMW on a freelance basis.

[2] Ichimasa “Masa” Wakamatsu worked as an electrician after graduating junior high, but would join the IWE at 32 years of age, initially as part of the materials department but then as a performer. He had many roles in the company, from refereeing to transportation and sales management. In 1980, he refused to embark on a foreign excursion after his sendoff match to instead work backstage and rebuild the company. IWE television director Motokazu Tanaka has stated that Wakamatsu was the reason that the promotion stayed afloat as long as it did. But when it sank in 1981, Wakamatsu went into construction and moved to Calgary to work as a heel manager for Stampede. When he returned to perform in his home country for New Japan, it was in this capacity as the manager of the Machine Corps. I don’t think he was doing much when our story begins, but he still had enough connections to be of use for SWS recruitment.

[3] Joji Takano, the son of a Japanese mother and an African-American Marine, entered sumo at the age of 15, but would retire just under two years later, and joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in the summer of 1976. From his debut match against Satoru Sayama in February 1977, Takano would be known professionally as George. While a prominent role in the wrestling-themed tokusatsu series Pro-Wres no Hoshi Aztecaser led to an invitation from actor Bunta Sugawara to enter the entertainment industry, Takano remained passionate about professional wrestling, and would return to New Japan in summer 1978. Like his dojo contemporary and early rival Akira Maeda, he seemed poised to help build the company’s future. His Japanese Wikipedia page claims that he was first to develop the Space Flying Tiger Drop, later famously used by Sayama as Tiger Mask, and also that he developed a moonsault press. (I’m sure that some foreign correspondent got a photograph of a Guerrero doing a moonsault into a puro mag at some point in the Seventies, so I’m very skeptical about how independently this thought process would have played out.) Initially considered to play Tiger Mask, but rejected (according to Hisashi Shinma) due to his height, Takano would instead adopt the Cobra gimmick, which he initially performed in Stampede. He would eventually return to NJPW as a top junior, but it became ever clearer that Takano was just too large for the division, and he would return to his original stage name in 1986. However, while he made an impact in the IWGP Tag Team title division, Takano would never receive a substantial singles push. As the new decade began, and the Three Musketeers were poised for ascension, Takano clearly saw the writing on the wall, and decided to start fresh with SWS.

[4] Naoki Sano was among the venerable NJPW Dojo class of 1984, alongside the future Three Musketeers (Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, and Keiji Mutoh), the future Jushin Thunder Liger, and Akira Nogami. After a lengthy Mexican seasoning excursion, Sano returned to New Japan in 1989, and would most notably enjoy a four-month IWGP Junior Heavyweight title reign as part of a program against Liger. The Liger/Sano rivalry is a career highlight for both men (who would eventually wrestle their last match as a tag team), but it burned brief as Sano embarked on a Canadian excursion in April 1990.

[5] Goro Tsurumi entered the Department of Physics at Tokai University, but as the school had no wrestling club he trained himself at other universities and gyms. In June 1971, he was introduced through an acquaintance to Thunder Sugiyama and joined the IWE. He went on quite the overseas excursion in 1973, working in Europe and Mexico and even training in the Snake Pit, but in his return match in November 1975, Tsurumi injured his ankle, and so yet another IWE attempt to build a star blew up in their faces. His career would be rejuvenated four years later, though, when IWE president Isao Yoshihara, who was struggling to raise the funds to pay foreign wrestlers, had the idea (perhaps influenced by Umanosuke Ueda’s brief but memorable 1976 IWE run) to save some money by casting a native wrestler as a heel. So, on 1979.10.03, they worked an angle where Tsurumi angrily confronted Yoshihara for not booking him on the card, and got into a fistfight with Jiro Inazuma (Gerry Morrow). Expelled from the player’s association, Tsurumi would form the Dokuritsu Gurentai heel unit. Though the unit would be disbanded before the IWE’s demise, Tsurumi remained until the bitter end. After this, he initially moved to Germany, but would join All Japan through the mediation of an ex-IWE promoter who had joined AJPW. I’m oversimplifying his narrative a bit here for brevity, but Tsurumi maintained a presence in All Japan over the years, from aligning himself with Umanosuke Ueda to working with his ex-IWE co-worker Rusher Kimura, first as part of the IWE revivalist heel faction Kokusai Ketsumeigun and then as a tag team, to tagging with Tiger Jeet Singh (as his influence Ueda had). I believe he remained on a freelance contract throughout his time working for the company, and while he declined offers to change that over the years his relationship with Baba apparently ended on more-or-less amiable terms.

 [6] Akira Katayama joined NJPW in 1985. I could not find much about his pre-SWS career outside of the fact that he was injury-prone, requiring surgery on both elbows in 1987, and two surgeries on his left shoulder over the next two years, and then injuring the medial ligament of his left knee at the end of 1989. (Sadly, for those reading this before the rest of the SWS story, this trend would not end here.) He left New Japan in March 1990.

[7] Shunji Takano was the brother of the aforementioned George, six years his junior and billed six inches taller. Originally he followed his brother into New Japan, debuting in 1981. During a 1983-4 Calgary excursion, he would form a tag team, and then a trio, with Hiro Saito and then Super Strong Machine, called the Calgary Hurricanes. As told earlier in this thread, the Hurricanes eventually joined AJPW by proxy of Japan Pro Wrestling, despite legal disputes delaying their debuts for All Japan proper until March 1986. Takano would begin a second foreign excursion in autumn 1986, during which he would work for the AWA and then for Pacific Northwest Wrestling before returning to AJPW in 1988, the only Hurricane not to return to NJPW. Takano would see some success, including an All Asia Tag Team title reign with Shinichi Nakano. Like Nakano, he was part of the relatively short-lived Kekkigun (“Rising Army”) faction, alongside fellow future SWS talent Isao Takagi, and future AJPW Shitenno Tiger Mask II – that is, Mitsuharu Misawa – and Akira Taue. Kekkigun was an interesting, if less prominent and ultimately inferior, precedent to the early-90s Choseidaigun (“Super Generation Army”) faction which would rejuvenate AJPW in the wake of the SWS exodus. He joined SWS at Wakamatsu’s invitation.

[8] Hiromichi Fuyuki joined the IWE in 1979 as part of the ring crew after failing the entrance exam. (An Igapro article claims it was in 1974, but as it’s difficult for me to imagine someone graduating high school, as Japanese Wikipedia claims he did, while working as ring crew, I assume that this was an error.) He debuted in 1980, initially at the suggestion of Kintaro Oki to fill a vacancy, and alongside Masahiko Takasugi and Nobuyoshi (later Apollo) Sugawara was one of the last wrestlers the promotion produced. Fuyuki injured his leg early on during training, but this might have saved his life, as he was at home when the IWE dojo was destroyed in a gas explosion in July 1980. Initially a quiet kid, Fuyuki would open up over mahjong sessions with the boys at Mighty Inoue’s invitation. It would also be at Inoue’s invitation that Fuyuki continued to wrestle after the IWE’s demise, as he and Sugawara would join him in AJPW. Fuyuki became Tenryu’s first valet, and as with fellow young talent such as Shiro Koshinaka and Mitsuharu Misawa, he also benefited greatly from the guidance of booker, interpreter, and backstage mentor Akio Sato. After a foreign excursion alongside Toshiaki Kawada, Fuyuki returned to All Japan and adopted the ring name Samson Fuyuki. Fuyuki would strike out against Tenryu’s Revolution faction at first in a swerve, but due to the mediation of his old co-trainer Ashura Hara, Fuyuki would eventually join, reuniting with Kawada as the Footloose tag team. Fuyuki was surely attracted to SWS primarily because of Tenryu, but his connection to Wakamatsu, whom he rode with during his ring crew days, and who helped train him alongside Inoue and Hara, is worth mentioning.

[9] Koki Kitahara was that rarest of things: a proto-MMA guy who decided to wrestle for All Japan. After training at Satoru Sayama’s Super Tiger Gym and subsequently becoming an instructor, Kitahara was one of the last talents to join JPW. Subsuming into AJPW upon JPW’s official dissolution, Kitahara would train under Tenryu, debuting in 1988 and becoming a bottom-rung member of the Revolution stable. In 1989, Kitahara embarked on a nearly year-long excursion to Stampede, where he worked until the promotion closed at the end of the year. He returned to AJPW in February 1990, but of course, would end up following his old mentor.

[10] Shinichi Nakano joined NJPW at the invitation of Kotetsu Yamamoto, debuting in March 1980. Afflicted with a shoulder prone to dislocation, Nakano would withdraw from the business for just over a year, but returned in early 1984. Joining Japan Pro Wrestling, Nakano would end up being one of the few to remain with AJPW in 1987. During this awkward period where he was the #2 wrestler of the JPW unit, Nakano would team with Yatsu in matches which perhaps never reached their full potential due to the hierarchical gap, but the way that Nakano incurred the wrath of Jumbo Tsuruta (an uncited claim in his Japanese Wikipedia page is that one of Jumbo’s steep backdrops knocked Nakano out and several teeth with it) was perhaps a primordial version of the dynamic he would later have with several similarly outclassed but defiant wrestlers, most famously Tsuyoshi Kikuchi during the Tsurutagun/Chosedaigun era but also to some extent with the Footloose guys in the year or two beforehand. Nakano enjoyed a run with the All Asia Tag Team titles in 1988 with Shunji Takano, and then had an AJPW Junior Heavyweight title reign in 1989. He was also a member of the aforementioned Kekkigun stable (Two Pillars, standing here before you, that’s what I said now).

[11] Isao Takagi spent almost a decade in sumo before retiring in summer 1986, after having been demoted due to an ankle injury, to join AJPW. He was making television appearances as early as 1988, and like the above entry was a Kekkigun member. Perhaps Takagi’s highlight in AJPW was a brief but memorable mini-feud with Tenryu in January 1990. He reportedly signed with SWS due to being out injured and out of the loop, being mistakenly led to believe that AJPW would be going under soon.

[12] Takashi Ishikawa was a baseball player in junior high, but switched to sumo in high school and won nationals. He would have similarly major success at the collegiate level, becoming captain of the Nihon University club. However, in his senior year Ishikawa developed diabetes, and while he would go professional he would retire two years into that career for health reasons. Announcing his intent to become a professional wrestler, Ishikawa would sign a freelance contract with AJPW. This was due to All Japan wishing to avoid further deterioration of their relationship with the Japan Sumo Association after a string of signings from the sumo world, most notably Genichiro Tenryu and Prince Tonga (aka Meng/Haku). (Earlier in this thread I mentioned that Akira Taue was signed through JPW to avoid friction after AJPW had signed Hiroshi Wajima, John Tenta, and Isao Takagi, and it’s fascinating to learn that this little political game had started in some form at least a decade earlier.) Officially joining AJPW in 1979, Ishikawa would become a staple of the company midcard for years to come, including a string of All Asia tag championships with no less than three different partners. In the JPW era, Ishikawa’s performances in regular and six-man tags really endeared him to me, to the point where I’d easily call him one of the most consistent workers in the company at that point. I admittedly wasn’t quite as big a fan when he began teaming with Hiroshi Wajima, but the two had apparently known each other from their sumo days, and when Wajima left AJPW after completing the 1988 RWTL tour, Ishikawa retired in turn.

[13] Akihisa Mera had been around for over fifteen years before he caught his big break, wrestling as Akihisa Takachiho (see a reply below for an explanation). Back in the JWA days, while he was never a main-eventer, his knowledge of wrestling was respected (Fujinami would later remark that he was like a “textbook”), and he would see a lot of praise over the years for his ukemi. (Just an aside; if you do a lot of reading about AJPW based in Japanese sources, you’re going to see this term come up. Basically ukemi, or passivity, is a martial arts concept - one of the things one is taught in judo is how to fall safely - that is also used in puro discussion as a way to acknowledge the concept of passively taking a move in a way that fundamentally maintains kayfabe. Those familiar with the Fire Pro Wrestling series may recognize its implementation of the concept as a gameplay mechanic, where one takes a move unguarded in exchange for a boost to their spirit.) Takachiho was working the States when the JWA coup attempt occurred, as well as when Baba departed. He would join AJPW when NTV subsumed the JWA remnants into All Japan through three-year contracts with the station. Takachiho had some success, including an All Asia tag title run with Samson Kutsuwada, but he was treated as an outsider, and was dissatisfied with the measly bonus he received for helping train young wrestlers (initially just 100 yen per match, then raised to 500). When Kutsuwada’s 1977 coup attempt went up in smoke, Takachiho returned to America. It would be in the new decade that Takachiho would stumble across his true legacy, a character concocted by Gary Hart called the Great Kabuki. He would become an in-demand territory heel over the next couple years.

In 1983, Takachiho was ordered by Baba to work the Excite Series tour in February. He initially intended to return to the company performing as himself, but Kabuki’s reputation had already reached Japan. This was going to be AJPW’s first-ever tour without Baba, as he was travelling by himself to America to chase Harley Race to get his PWF Heavyweight title back. It was hoped that Kabuki’s Japanese debut would help keep the tour from being an outright disaster. Alas, apparently it went better than anyone could have reasonably hoped. As cited by Kabuki’s Japanese Wikipedia page, Toyo no Shimpi (“Mystery of the Orient”), the 2014 autobiography published under the G Spirits imprint, claims that the Excite Series tour was the first one since AJPW’s establishment that scored in the black solely on box office revenue. Kabuki returned to America after the tour’s end, as his pay had not increased from his old days as Takachiho, but All Japan was by no means done with Kabuki. See, children loved Kabuki. The only guy that AJPW had on hand who could tap into that demographic (as Tiger Mask was contemporaneously doing) was Mil Mascaras, and as Mascaras had been working Japan for over a decade (and according to an Igapro article, booker Akio Sato wasn’t the biggest fan), Mascaras’ popularity had stagnated. And so, Kabuki would return to All Japan again and again throughout the decade, even if the substantial mainstream attention he attracted was the subject of backstage resentment. As the black ship of SWS loomed on the horizon, though, Kabuki was a quarter-century long in the tooth.

 

 

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Akihisa Takachiho (English Wikipedia claims his birth surname is Mera)

Japanese Wikipedia does as well. If I'm reading it right, Yoshinosato gave him the ring name Akihisa Takachiho from the name of his (Mera's) hometown. He's actually from the nearby town of Nobeoka, but Takachiho is more famous due to its prominence in Japanese mythology.

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5 hours ago, KinchStalker said:

The SWS

As is fairly well known by this point, the initial plan was to sign Keiji Mutoh – Tanaka’s son was a fan – as the ace of SWS. Sakurada knew Mutoh well, having worked with him during his first excursion in 1986 and then as stablemates during the 1989 Dragonmaster run. Mutoh was contractually freed up as far as Japan went, and the cancellation of the Muta/Flair main event at the 1990.02.10 Tokyo Dome show left him feeling "disenfranchised”, and influenced him to accept the offer. However, at least as I’ve seen the story told, when Mutoh met with Sakaguchi after his first retirement match, on March 23, and told him he was leaving, Sakaguchi made a call and blocked the sale.

END OF PART ONE

---

  Reveal hidden contents

 

[1] Kazuo Sakurada was an ex-sumo who retired after a disagreement with his stablemaster in March 1971 and joined the JWA soon after. He was among those who remained with the company until its collapse. (According to his autobiography as cited by Japanese Wikipedia, his 1973.03.02 match against Daigoro Oshiro was a “cement match” – Japanese insiderish term for matches that devolve into shoots, i.e. “break cement” – as part of a “proxy war” between the group that was going to NJPW and the group that wasn’t.) Unlike the likes of Umanosuke Ueda and Gantetsu Matsuoka, who left All Japan after NTV shuffled them there over dissatisfaction with their lower standing, Sakurada fulfilled the three-year contract with Nippon TV that lasted until March 31, 1976, and even officially signed with All Japan the next day. However, after Baba asked him if he could “tie [back] his topknot”, Sakurada took a different path. Initially accompanying Tenryu as his training companion, which was in keeping with Sakurada’s previous work in the All Japan dojo, Sakurada would split to become a well-traveled territory heel. He would continue to work sporadically in Japan, making appearances in the 1978 IWE Japan League, returning to All Japan in the early 1980s both as Mr. Sakurada and as Dream Machine, and then making tons of appearances for New Japan in the second half of the decade under various names, including the Kendo Nagasaki gimmick which he adopted in 1982 (not to be confused with the earlier character played by British wrestler Peter Thornley). At the time our story begins, though, he was working for WCW as the Dragonmaster, and then for the nascent FMW on a freelance basis.

[2] Ichimasa “Masa” Wakamatsu worked as an electrician after graduating junior high, but would join the IWE at 32 years of age, initially as part of the materials department but then as a performer. He had many roles in the company, from refereeing to transportation and sales management. In 1980, he refused to embark on a foreign excursion after his sendoff match to instead work backstage and rebuild the company. IWE television director Motokazu Tanaka has stated that Wakamatsu was the reason that the promotion stayed afloat as long as it did. But when it sank in 1981, Wakamatsu went into construction and moved to Calgary to work as a heel manager for Stampede. When he returned to perform in his home country for New Japan, it was in this capacity as the manager of the Machine Corps. I don’t think he was doing much when our story begins, but he still had enough connections to be of use for SWS recruitment.

[3] Joji Takano, the son of a Japanese mother and an African-American Marine, entered sumo at the age of 15, but would retire just under two years later, and joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in the summer of 1976. From his debut match against Satoru Sayama in February 1977, Takano would be known professionally as George. While a prominent role in the wrestling-themed tokusatsu series Pro-Wres no Hoshi Aztecaser led to an invitation from actor Bunta Sugawara to enter the entertainment industry, Takano remained passionate about professional wrestling, and would return to New Japan in summer 1978. Like his dojo contemporary and early rival Akira Maeda, he seemed poised to help build the company’s future. His Japanese Wikipedia page claims that he was first to develop the Space Flying Tiger Drop, later famously used by Sayama as Tiger Mask, and also that he developed a moonsault press. (I’m sure that some foreign correspondent got a photograph of a Guerrero doing a moonsault into a puro mag at some point in the Seventies, so I’m very skeptical about how independently this thought process would have played out.) Initially considered to play Tiger Mask, but rejected (according to Hisashi Shinma) due to his height, Takano would instead adopt the Cobra gimmick, which he initially performed in Stampede. He would eventually return to NJPW as a top junior, but it became ever clearer that Takano was just too large for the division, and he would return to his original stage name in 1986. However, while he made an impact in the IWGP Tag Team title division, Takano would never receive a substantial singles push. As the new decade began, and the Three Musketeers were poised for ascension, Takano clearly saw the writing on the wall, and decided to start fresh with SWS.

[4] Naoki Sano was among the venerable NJPW Dojo class of 1984, alongside the future Three Musketeers (Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, and Keiji Mutoh), the future Jushin Thunder Liger, and Akira Nogami. After a lengthy Mexican seasoning excursion, Sano returned to New Japan in 1989, and would most notably enjoy a four-month IWGP Junior Heavyweight title reign as part of a program against Liger. The Liger/Sano rivalry is a career highlight for both men (who would eventually wrestle their last match as a tag team), but it burned brief as Sano embarked on a Canadian excursion in April 1990.

[5] Goro Tsurumi entered the Department of Physics at Tokai University, but as the school had no wrestling club he trained himself at other universities and gyms. In June 1971, he was introduced through an acquaintance to Thunder Sugiyama and joined the IWE. He went on quite the overseas excursion in 1973, working in Europe and Mexico and even training in the Snake Pit, but in his return match in November 1975, Tsurumi injured his ankle, and so yet another IWE attempt to build a star blew up in their faces. His career would be rejuvenated four years later, though, when IWE president Isao Yoshihara, who was struggling to raise the funds to pay foreign wrestlers, had the idea (perhaps influenced by Umanosuke Ueda’s brief but memorable 1976 IWE run) to save some money by casting a native wrestler as a heel. So, on 1979.10.03, they worked an angle where Tsurumi angrily confronted Yoshihara for not booking him on the card, and got into a fistfight with Jiro Inazuma (Gerry Morrow). Expelled from the player’s association, Tsurumi would form the Dokuritsu Gurentai heel unit. Though the unit would be disbanded before the IWE’s demise, Tsurumi remained until the bitter end. After this, he initially moved to Germany, but would join All Japan through the mediation of an ex-IWE promoter who had joined AJPW. I’m oversimplifying his narrative a bit here for brevity, but Tsurumi maintained a presence in All Japan over the years, from aligning himself with Umanosuke Ueda to working with his ex-IWE co-worker Rusher Kimura, first as part of the IWE revivalist heel faction Kokusai Ketsumeigun and then as a tag team, to tagging with Tiger Jeet Singh (as his influence Ueda had). I believe he remained on a freelance contract throughout his time working for the company, and while he declined offers to change that over the years his relationship with Baba apparently ended on more-or-less amiable terms.

 [6] Akira Katayama joined NJPW in 1985. I could not find much about his pre-SWS career outside of the fact that he was injury-prone, requiring surgery on both elbows in 1987, and two surgeries on his left shoulder over the next two years, and then injuring the medial ligament of his left knee at the end of 1989. (Sadly, for those reading this before the rest of the SWS story, this trend would not end here.) He left New Japan in March 1990.

[7] Shunji Takano was the brother of the aforementioned George, six years his junior and billed six inches taller. Originally he followed his brother into New Japan, debuting in 1981. During a 1983-4 Calgary excursion, he would form a tag team, and then a trio, with Hiro Saito and then Super Strong Machine, called the Calgary Hurricanes. As told earlier in this thread, the Hurricanes eventually joined AJPW by proxy of Japan Pro Wrestling, despite legal disputes delaying their debuts for All Japan proper until March 1986. Takano would begin a second foreign excursion in autumn 1986, during which he would work for the AWA and then for Pacific Northwest Wrestling before returning to AJPW in 1988, the only Hurricane not to return to NJPW. Takano would see some success, including an All Asia Tag Team title reign with Shinichi Nakano. Like Nakano, he was part of the relatively short-lived Kekkigun (“Rising Army”) faction, alongside fellow future SWS talent Isao Takagi, and future AJPW Shitenno Tiger Mask II – that is, Mitsuharu Misawa – and Akira Taue. Kekkigun was an interesting, if less prominent and ultimately inferior, precedent to the early-90s Choseidaigun (“Super Generation Army”) faction which would rejuvenate AJPW in the wake of the SWS exodus. He joined SWS at Wakamatsu’s invitation.

[8] Hiromichi Fuyuki joined the IWE in 1979 as part of the ring crew after failing the entrance exam. (An Igapro article claims it was in 1974, but as it’s difficult for me to imagine someone graduating high school, as Japanese Wikipedia claims he did, while working as ring crew, I assume that this was an error.) He debuted in 1980, initially at the suggestion of Kintaro Oki to fill a vacancy, and alongside Masahiko Takasugi and Nobuyoshi (later Apollo) Sugawara was one of the last wrestlers the promotion produced. Fuyuki injured his leg early on during training, but this might have saved his life, as he was at home when the IWE dojo was destroyed in a gas explosion in July 1980. Initially a quiet kid, Fuyuki would open up over mahjong sessions with the boys at Mighty Inoue’s invitation. It would also be at Inoue’s invitation that Fuyuki continued to wrestle after the IWE’s demise, as he and Sugawara would join him in AJPW. Fuyuki became Tenryu’s first valet, and as with fellow young talent such as Shiro Koshinaka and Mitsuharu Misawa, he also benefited greatly from the guidance of booker, interpreter, and backstage mentor Akio Sato. After a foreign excursion alongside Toshiaki Kawada, Fuyuki returned to All Japan and adopted the ring name Samson Fuyuki. Fuyuki would strike out against Tenryu’s Revolution faction at first in a swerve, but due to the mediation of his old co-trainer Ashura Hara, Fuyuki would eventually join, reuniting with Kawada as the Footloose tag team. Fuyuki was surely attracted to SWS primarily because of Tenryu, but his connection to Wakamatsu, whom he rode with during his ring crew days, and who helped train him alongside Inoue and Hara, is worth mentioning.

[9] Koki Kitahara was that rarest of things: a proto-MMA guy who decided to wrestle for All Japan. After training at Satoru Sayama’s Super Tiger Gym and subsequently becoming an instructor, Kitahara was one of the last talents to join JPW. Subsuming into AJPW upon JPW’s official dissolution, Kitahara would train under Tenryu, debuting in 1988 and becoming a bottom-rung member of the Revolution stable. In 1989, Kitahara embarked on a nearly year-long excursion to Stampede, where he worked until the promotion closed at the end of the year. He returned to AJPW in February 1990, but of course, would end up following his old mentor.

[10] Shinichi Nakano joined NJPW at the invitation of Kotetsu Yamamoto, debuting in March 1980. Afflicted with a shoulder prone to dislocation, Nakano would withdraw from the business for just over a year, but returned in early 1984. Joining Japan Pro Wrestling, Nakano would end up being one of the few to remain with AJPW in 1987. During this awkward period where he was the #2 wrestler of the JPW unit, Nakano would team with Yatsu in matches which perhaps never reached their full potential due to the hierarchical gap, but the way that Nakano incurred the wrath of Jumbo Tsuruta (an uncited claim in his Japanese Wikipedia page is that one of Jumbo’s steep backdrops knocked Nakano out and several teeth with it) was perhaps a primordial version of the dynamic he would later have with several similarly outclassed but defiant wrestlers, most famously Tsuyoshi Kikuchi during the Tsurutagun/Chosedaigun era but also to some extent with the Footloose guys in the year or two beforehand. Nakano enjoyed a run with the All Asia Tag Team titles in 1988 with Shunji Takano, and then had an AJPW Junior Heavyweight title reign in 1989. He was also a member of the aforementioned Kekkigun stable (Two Pillars, standing here before you, that’s what I said now).

[11] Isao Takagi spent almost a decade in sumo before retiring in summer 1986, after having been demoted due to an ankle injury, to join AJPW. He was making television appearances as early as 1988, and like the above entry was a Kekkigun member. Perhaps Takagi’s highlight in AJPW was a brief but memorable mini-feud with Tenryu in January 1990. He reportedly signed with SWS due to being out injured and out of the loop, being mistakenly led to believe that AJPW would be going under soon.

[12] Takashi Ishikawa was a baseball player in junior high, but switched to sumo in high school and won nationals. He would have similarly major success at the collegiate level, becoming captain of the Nihon University club. However, in his senior year Ishikawa developed diabetes, and while he would go professional he would retire two years into that career for health reasons. Announcing his intent to become a professional wrestler, Ishikawa would sign a freelance contract with AJPW. This was due to All Japan wishing to avoid further deterioration of their relationship with the Japan Sumo Association after a string of signings from the sumo world, most notably Genichiro Tenryu and Prince Tonga (aka Meng/Haku). (Earlier in this thread I mentioned that Akira Taue was signed through JPW to avoid friction after AJPW had signed Hiroshi Wajima, John Tenta, and Isao Takagi, and it’s fascinating to learn that this little political game had started in some form at least a decade earlier.) Officially joining AJPW in 1979, Ishikawa would become a staple of the company midcard for years to come, including a string of All Asia tag championships with no less than three different partners. In the JPW era, Ishikawa’s performances in regular and six-man tags really endeared him to me, to the point where I’d easily call him one of the most consistent workers in the company at that point. I admittedly wasn’t quite as big a fan when he began teaming with Hiroshi Wajima, but the two had apparently known each other from their sumo days, and when Wajima left AJPW after completing the 1988 RWTL tour, Ishikawa retired in turn.

[13] Akihisa Takachiho (English Wikipedia claims his birth surname is Mera) had been around for over fifteen years before he caught his big break. Back in the JWA days, while he was never a main-eventer, his knowledge of wrestling was respected (Fujinami would later remark that he was like a “textbook”), and he would see a lot of praise over the years for his ukemi. (Just an aside; if you do a lot of reading about AJPW based in Japanese sources, you’re going to see this term come up. Basically ukemi, or passivity, is a martial arts concept that is also used in puro discussion as a way to acknowledge the concept of passively taking a move in a way that fundamentally maintains kayfabe. Those familiar with the Fire Pro Wrestling series may recognize its implementation of the concept as a gameplay mechanic.) Takachiho was working the States when the JWA coup attempt occurred, as well as when Baba departed. He would join AJPW when NTV subsumed the JWA remnants into All Japan through three-year contracts with the station. Takachiho had some success, including an All Asia tag title run with Samson Kutsuwada, but he was treated as an outsider, and was dissatisfied with the measly bonus he received for helping train young wrestlers (initially just 100 yen per match, then raised to 500). When Kutsuwada’s 1977 coup attempt went up in smoke, Takachiho returned to America. It would be in the new decade that Takachiho would stumble across his true legacy, a character concocted by Gary Hart called the Great Kabuki. He would become an in-demand territory heel over the next couple years.

In 1983, Takachiho was ordered by Baba to work the Excite Series tour in February. He initially intended to return to the company performing as himself, but Kabuki’s reputation had already reached Japan. This was going to be AJPW’s first-ever tour without Baba, as he was travelling by himself to America to chase Harley Race to get his PWF Heavyweight title back. It was hoped that Kabuki’s Japanese debut would help keep the tour from being an outright disaster. Alas, apparently it went better than anyone could have reasonably hoped. As cited by Kabuki’s Japanese Wikipedia page, Toyo no Shimpi (“Mystery of the Orient”), the 2014 autobiography published under the G Spirits imprint, claims that the Excite Series tour was the first one since AJPW’s establishment that scored in the black solely on box office revenue. Kabuki returned to America after the tour’s end, as his pay had not increased from his old days as Takachiho, but All Japan was by no means done with Kabuki. See, children loved Kabuki. The only guy that AJPW had on hand who could tap into that demographic (as Tiger Mask was contemporaneously doing) was Mil Mascaras, and as Mascaras had been working Japan for over a decade (and according to an Igapro article, booker Akio Sato wasn’t the biggest fan), Mascaras’ popularity had stagnated. And so, Kabuki would return to All Japan again and again throughout the decade, even if the substantial mainstream attention he attracted was the subject of backstage resentment. As the black ship of SWS loomed on the horizon, though, Kabuki was a quarter-century long in the tooth.

 

 

Thanks as always!  Love these histories and details.  Can you shed any more light on the Sakaguchi call highlighted above?  Who'd he call?  Why did he have that kind of influence at that stage but not subsequently?  This seems like a very curious and important point.

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2 hours ago, WingedEagle said:

Thanks as always!  Love these histories and details.  Can you shed any more light on the Sakaguchi call highlighted above?  Who'd he call?  Why did he have that kind of influence at that stage but not subsequently?  This seems like a very curious and important point.

He called Tanaka directly. As for the last point I'm not quite sure. Perhaps Mutoh wasn't as far along in his deal?

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6 hours ago, NintendoLogic said:

Japanese Wikipedia does as well. If I'm reading it right, Yoshinosato gave him the ring name Akihisa Takachiho from the name of his (Mera's) hometown. He's actually from the nearby town of Nobeoka, but Takachiho is more famous due to its prominence in Japanese mythology.

Thanks. I'll edit accordingly. (Also forgot to link a photograph in the main section.)

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29 minutes ago, KinchStalker said:

He called Tanaka directly. As for the last point I'm not quite sure. Perhaps Mutoh wasn't as far along in his deal?

Why would he listen to Sakaguchi if he was going forward with his plans anyways?

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1 minute ago, WingedEagle said:

Why would he listen to Sakaguchi if he was going forward with his plans anyways?

Honestly, I'm not sure. This is a story I've seen several times, from Meltzer to Eggshells, and I think you'd have to ask a Japanese journalist in the know (a connection I don't have - I guess I could ask Fumi Saito, but I'm getting to a point where my questions for him would be way, way too specific for the purposes of the Pacific Rim podcast) to get your answer. There are books about SWS out there on the Japanese market, but to be quite honest they're very low priority if I continue this transcription stuff.

 

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Sakaguchi was the president of New Japan at the time. He has a sterling reputation as New Japan president. He basically cleaned up the financial mess the company was in. He learned bookkeeping, mortgaged his own house, gained the trust of financial institutions, and began paying off the debt that occurred under Inoki. He also had a strong relationship with TV Asahi. So strong, in fact, that they didn't reduce New Japan's broadcast spot until after Sakaguchi retired as president. 

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I found an article about the Mutoh situation and ran it through DeepL for y'all:

On March 23, 1990, at the age of 27, Keiji Mutoh informed the company president, Seiji Sakaguchi, that he was leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling and transferring to SWS.

 That day was the day of Mr. Sakaguchi's retirement show at Korakuen Hall. I went to Mr. Sakaguchi's house with a bouquet of flowers and said, "Thank you for retiring," and then I said, "I'm quitting New Japan.

 After being congratulated on his retirement, Sakaguchi was suddenly told that he would be leaving, and he took action to persuade Mutoh on the spot.

 Sakaguchi-san called Hachiro Tanaka, president of Megane Super, in front of me. "He told him that Muto was not going to go, and as a result, he decided to stay in New Japan. In the end, I chose New Japan and went to Korakuen on my own to give a triumphant homecoming speech in the ring.

 After meeting Sakaguchi, he suddenly decided to stay in New Japan. Now, he confesses his feelings at that time.

 In Japan, I went to President Hachiro Tanaka's house in Odawara and met him in person. It was a huge house. At that time, he said, 'I'm going to hold a match at the Tokyo Dome and invite 50,000 people. After that, he invited Hulk Hogan to the Dome for a show. I got a million dollars for the cab fare, and at the time I was so happy that I got excited. I was so happy at the time that I was tempted by the money. That's why I chose New Japan in the end. From the perspective of Megane Super, I was a traitor.

 I was a traitor to them.

 I also heard that Genichiro Tenryu was coming, but I never thought that he would move from All Japan. I couldn't believe that he was saying such a thing because it sounded like a dream. The biggest reason was that I had no confidence at that time. I didn't have the confidence to run a group on my own. That was the main reason why I didn't go to SWS.

 The SWS's attempts to pull him out surfaced in late April. Tenryu retired from All Japan. Other wrestlers also moved to SWS with a time delay. As a result, SWS was established with a large number of players from both All Japan and New Japan, but due to repeated violent conflicts between the players, SWS collapsed in June 1992 after less than two years. Would history have been different if Mutoh had joined as an ace?

 No, history would not have been changed even if I had been there. No, I don't think history would have changed even if I had gone.

 It was four months from the time he was scouted by the Wakamatsu city government until he decided to stay in New Japan. At the time, all of his moves were under the radar and not publicized. During that time, he also left WCW, and it was truly a turbulent time for him.

 At that time, every day was chaotic and difficult (laughs).

 After going through those turbulent days, Mutoh decided to join New Japan. On April 27, 1990, at the Tokyo Bay NK Hall, Mutoh was given an upgraded moonsault press. On April 27, 1990, at Tokyo Bay NK Hall, he made a triumphant return to Japan with an upgraded moonsault press and made a striking appearance.

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Thanks for the background.  Reading that with an one eye also on what may not be stated, it sounds like Sakaguchi compelled Muto to stay via some promises/threats rather than persuading SWS to stay away from him.

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