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KinchStalker

2020 JUMBO BIO, PART EIGHT

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2020 JUMBO BIO, PART EIGHT

Finally, I have finished the penultimate, nearly-100 page chapter of the Jumbo bio, about the Tsuruta-gun/Choseidaigun era. A lot of this chapter is match recaps (as well as stuff about the sorta-theory of the book that Jumbo was "the strongest wrestler" - as in, most innately gifted), and as this is some of the most extensively discussed wrestling in IWC history there’s not much that something like that can really add. Before we start, I do want to confirm that I’m also putting stuff together for an SWS post, but I want to get the story straight on the circumstances behind all the departures.

1.) It’s probably best if I get the backgrounds on the young guys taken care of now.

1a.) The story of Misawa going to the AJPW office to enroll whilst still in high school happened in 1979, during his sophomore year. The three people there were Motoko, Yoshihiro Momota, and Tsuruta, the latter of whom told him to finish his schooling. By the time of his graduation, Misawa was attracting so much attention as an amateur wrestler that somebody at the Japan Self-Defense Force academy called Tsuruta to ask that they reject Misawa’s application. In 1982, Misawa would become Tsuruta’s first valet; Baba had had valets since the JWA days, but it wasn’t until Kabuki suggested around this time that Jumbo and Tenryu should have valets as well that Baba decided to implement an attendant system. Misawa became close to Tsuruta during this time, who he regarded as a mentor and a brotherly figure. Since Jumbo wasn’t a social drinker, all Misawa really had to do was his laundry, but Tsuruta still took him out to eat good food while they were off duty. It appears that Tsuruta passed down some of what Baba had taught him about putting up the public appearance of a wrestler, while also telling jokes that Misawa said “weren’t very funny”. (Jumbo just has that dad joke air about him.) However, Misawa also became close to Tenryu, so much so that he wasn’t swayed by public opinion when the latter jumped ship.

1b.) Toshiaki Kawada lived with his paternal grandparents while in elementary school. At this point he was aware of professional wrestling but did not like it, always wanting to watch the variety show 8時だョ! 全員集合 on Saturday nights instead of the wrestling his grandfather watched. He would move out to live with his mother and younger sister after the death of his father. It was during this time, in his second year of junior high, that he finally began to warm up to wrestling. The initial catalyst was the August 25, 1977 "idol showdown" that was Jumbo’s United National title defense against Mil Mascaras. This wouldn't convert him, but he found it quite refreshing. While he would later remark that it wasn't his cup of tea in retrospect, it was the 1977 RWTL final, in which the Funks battled Abdullah the Butcher and the Sheik, that got him hooked. In the autumn of 1978, during his third year of junior high, Kawada sent his resume to All Japan but received no reply. He decided to try New Japan instead (he was actively watching both television shows at the time, so there wasn't a tribalist fan mentality going on), and went to their dojo for an entrance exam. He easily passed the physical fitness tests, but after he won a sparring match with a young wrestler, he got his ass whupped by Fujiwara before passing the test. A few days later, he passed an interview with Kotetsu Yamamoto at the company office, but was told to come after graduating high school. Kawada ended up joining All Japan because he went to his friend Misawa, now in the company and working as Tsuruta's valet, and Misawa took him backstage at a Korakuen show to meet Jumbo. He would then be granted an interview with Baba on February 4, 1982, where he was told he could join after graduation.

1c.) A translation of the first part of a 2020 interview, done by NOAH superfan Hisame, is probably as good a bit on Kobashi’s early life as you’re going to get in English, and I’m not going to crib from her here. I will add, however, that after his application was initially rejected in February 1987, he was reintroduced through the owner of the gym he used, where he was able to get connected with Baba. During his early years, he served as Tsuruta and Fuchi’s sparring partner. In an interview early in his career, Kobashi claimed that, in his style, he wished to bring together the stamina of Tsuruta and the spirit of Tenryu while still expressing his originality.

1d.) Akira Taue quit sumo before the July 1987 Nagoya basho. A fascinating detail that I’m finding on the Japanese internet is that this came from a dispute with his stablemaster, who was the same guy indirectly responsible for Tenryu’s departure from sumo. (When he left to form his own stable, Tenryu intended to follow him but the association intervened.) As mentioned in a previous post, he was connected to AJPW through the ragoku comedian now professionally known as San'yūtei Enraku VI. However, Taue was technically not an AJPW recruit. Baba was concerned about further damaging his relationship with the sumo association after having recently signed Hiroshi Wajima, John Tenta, and Isao Takagi, so Taue was officially recruited by Japan Pro in what was probably one of the last things the satellite organization ever did.

1e.) Tsuyoshi Kikuchi’s university wrestling instructor had trained alongside Tsuruta at the JSDF phys-ed school, and was introduced to Jumbo before the amateur nationals in August 1986. Tsuruta told him that he wasn’t tall enough to get in without performing exceptionally well, which Kikuchi did when he won in freestyle. He then sent his resume to no reply, but appealed to the company to let him join on March 28, 1987, when the Choshu-led JPW boycott left AJPW short on talent. The “three crows” of this crop of AJPW talent would be Kikuchi, Kobashi, and former Super Tiger Gym instructor Tatsumi Kitahara. Kikuchi was Tsuruta’s valet, and when Jumbo would take him out to the pub, he would turn red after only one or so beers and let his junior finish whatever he’d ordered while sipping oolong tea. The bio doesn’t make this connection, but Kikuchi’s nickname of “Fireball Boy” (火の玉小僧) was much earlier used by Michiaki Yoshimura. In the case of the original, the moniker was specifically a reference to how fiercely he fought foreign heels whilst bloodied.

2.) During the 1990.05.14 show, the first major AJPW event without Tenryu, there were cries in the audience for Baba-san to “do something”. (Fun fact: Tatsumi Fujinami was in attendance. Here’s a photo of him with Baba, and here’s a brief shot of him in the crowd from a NOAH video package before his 2007 tag match with Misawa.) The bio claims that Misawa’s unmasking was “not a prearranged stunt”, and while this is a very bold claim to take at face value, I suppose there is a slim possibility. Misawa had publicly unmasked for a television interview on his wedding day, and the bio claims Misawa’s continued use of the Tiger Mask tights until 1990.05.25 as circumstantial evidence. Either way, Kabuki was working as guest commentator, and I can at least believe him when he says he wasn’t aware. (I am willing to believe that Misawa, Baba, and maybe Kawada were the only ones in on it.)

3.) There is acknowledgement here of Fuchi’s role as a road agent, as he recounts discussing how to lay out the 1990.05.25 match to display Misawa’s personality in contrast with Tenryu’s. No matter how much he talked about his mask, Misawa still “did not have a strong image at that time”. They decided on a match where Misawa “made Tsuruta-san angry and got him to take [him] seriously”, because he’d never be able to match Tenryu if he didn’t puncture Jumbo in this way. In the series of six-man tags leading up to this one, the only victory that Chosedaigun had managed was on 1990.05.21, when Misawa pinned Fuyuki with a bridging German.

4.) After the famed 1991.04.20 Fan Appreciation Day six-man tag, the crowd went into a Baba chant as he got up from the commentator’s desk to thank him for what they had just seen.

5.) I can actually add some insight on the 1991.05.24 Jumbo/Kobashi match, the one which is clipped to everyone’s chagrin. Alas, it looks like a lot of what we missed was an extended Kobashi headlock segment, which he claimed was a strategy he took from accounts of Baba’s 1966.02.28 match against Lou Thesz, i.e. using the headlock to contain someone intending to hit the backdrop. One could easily draw a line to the March 1988 Jumbo/Tiger Misawa match as well.

6.) Wada claims that, towards the end of his full-time run, Jumbo became “very strict” with Taue, as if he was grading himself. Taue felt that he couldn’t keep up with the other Pillars, but Jumbo was right there on his ass: “You’re just like them, so you’d better work hard! It’s not for me to beat Misawa, it’s for you! You do it!” (Taue speaks earlier in the chapter about how much Tsuruta and Fuchi taught him about putting matches together. The mileage he was able to get out of his match layouts in the NOAH era truly speaks to how privileged he was to work so closely with these two.) Wada notes that he believes Jumbo knew by this point that he didn’t have much time left.

Author Kagehiro Osano also believes this is the case. He didn’t actually cover All Japan during this period; due to his connections with Tenryu, Gong preemptively assigned another person to the beat to avoid tensions, and it wasn’t until Osano became editor-in-chief in 1994 that he started to cover the company again. But he was still friendly with all the guys, and when he spoke to Tsuruta for the first time in over a year at the 1992.01.04 Pro Wrestling Awards Ceremony, he was told by Jumbo that “according to [his] calculations, [he] had about five years left, so he needed to plan well and train his successor”.

7.) The official reason Jumbo was absent from the Summer Action Series tour was that he aggravated an old ankle injury during practice. I wonder if this was the same one that took him out of the 1974 Champion Carnival. Anyway, a story he told to reporters is so precious that it’s absolutely true in my heart. Since he couldn’t play-fight with his son physically, they instead did so by throwing imaginary Genkidamas at each other. Jumbo watching Dragon Ball with the kids is exactly the imagery I wanted to get from this book. Anyway, Osano claims that the media at large suspected something bigger was up. They didn’t know he had hepatitis, but it had been almost six years since the emergency operation on his right elbow, which gave them pause. The truth wouldn’t become public knowledge until 1993, though Jun Akiyama, who worked as Jumbo’s valet in early-mid 1992, claimed that he “secretly” sensed Tsuruta’s change as it happened. While driving with Jumbo in his Bentley, he was told that his mentor was “getting a little tired these days”. Akiyama notes that he was the last new guy to have wrestled a healthy Tsuruta, even if this was October 1992 Tsuruta.

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6 hours ago, KinchStalker said:

while also telling jokes that Misawa said “weren’t very funny”. (Jumbo just has that dad joke air about him.)

I can totally picture Misawa totally no-sell a Jumbo unfunny joke now, with the usual stoic Misawa look. :lol:

Again, this is much MUCH appreciated.

6 hours ago, KinchStalker said:

Kobashi claimed that, in his style, he wished to bring together the stamina of Tsuruta and the spirit of Tenryu while still expressing his originality.

This is such a sumo-like interview ! 

One day there has to be a study on how much pro-wrestling in Japan has been heavily influenced by sumo. Hell, watching Rikidozan I just learned that his chop was basically a modification of the sumo harite.

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10 hours ago, El-P said:

I can totally picture Misawa totally no-sell a Jumbo unfunny joke now, with the usual stoic Misawa look. :lol:

There is a specific young Misawa photo this brings to mind.

tumblr_onv9xac64G1qcztrfo1_1280.jpg

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One thing that interests me about Japanese wrestling is the kohai/senpai relationship between the wrestlers. Jumbo was infamously stingy with how he treated his kohai whereas Tenryu was the opposite (only to discover later on that his kohai didn't actually want to spend all night drinking with him.) I just watched a Japanese TV segment on Netflix where celebrities reveal their biggest mistakes/regrets, and Liger was on the show talking about how his behavior toward his kohai damaged his reputation with younger wrestlers. I don't know how much of it was a work, but there are a lot of rumors about the hazing that Liger liked to inflict on younger wrestlers. There was an amusing segment where Liger demonstrated the difference between how he greeted his own senpai Choshu and the way he greeted one of his kohai, which was almost like a surprise nipple grab from behind .

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11 minutes ago, ohtani's jacket said:

I don't know how much of it was a work, but there are a lot of rumors about the hazing that Liger liked to inflict on younger wrestlers. 

Indeed. That's pretty much the only black spot on Liger's record, but it has been talked about before.

We can't forget that in the 90's, a young kohai died in the NJPW dojo while "training" with Kensuke Sasaki (was Hiro Hase there too ? I don't remember the details). I probably reads way to much into this, but to me the whole Sasaki family man image in the 00's and almost adopting Nakajima as a son really stemmed from this. Either out of guilt either to whitewash his image, maybe a little bit of both. But it's kinda mindblowing that this was basically swept under the rug.

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The trainee's name was Hiromitsu Gompei. Hase had personally recruited him into pro wrestling and promised his parents he'd be taken care of in the dojo. I think Scott Norton said in a shoot interview that Sasaki suplexed the kid to death, which sounds to me like a bullshit pro wrestling story. In any event, Hase was never able to get a straight answer about what had happened, which is what led to him leaving New Japan. It should be noted that Hase and Sasaki did end up teaming again several years later, so I guess they worked it out.

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That's right, I knew there was something important going on with Hase too but did not remember exactly (damn... getting old). Similar stories of abuse have happened in sumo before.

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