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2020 JUMBO BIO, PART FIVE

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2020 JUMBO BIO, PART FIVE

I have finished transcription of chapter 7. This is one of the lighter chapters on new information overall, as it spends a lot of time recapping matches, but there is still some stuff worth sharing. The next chapter will be about the Ishingun period.

1. Jumbo’s switch to black trunks, first seen in the 1982.06.08 Flair match, was the decision of one of the television producers. To make the subtext explicit, this was to recall Rikidōzan, just as the change of his signature moves was to recall Thesz. In this way, Jumbo made a symbolic break from the shadow of the Funks and Amarillo, which his moves and starred trunks had evoked.

2. At one point, one of the network people told Jumbo he wanted to see a “real” Thesz-style backdrop. He proceeded to do one in a singles match against Harley Race, and Race blew up at him backstage afterward. (This reminds me of the story of Harley chewing Jumbo out after his first NWA title match against Flair, for suplexing the champ before the finish.)

3. Verne Gagne originally wanted Baba to be Nick Bockwinkel’s opponent on what would be the February 23, 1984 AWA title match. (There is actually some logic to this, since Jumbo had received four unsuccessful shots at Bockwinkel from 1979-83, while Baba had only wrestled him once in a 1980 RWTL tour singles match.) However, both president Mitsuo Mitsune and television producer Akira Hara wanted Jumbo to finally win the belt. While this book does not go so far as to acknowledge wrestling’s worked nature, Akio Sato makes it as clear as he possibly can without breaking kayfabe that he threatened to quit All Japan if Baba didn't let him put Jumbo over. The 14.9 rating that the episode with the title match drew was satisfactory from NTV’s perspective.

4. Sato told Jumbo not to work dirty during his AWA tour as champion, which is why the matches we have on tape from this reign are more Jumbo’s take on the travelling champion than an attempt to be a sneaky foreigner.

5. It’s finally time to talk about Yasuko. Things are about to get mushy, brothers.

Yasuko Aramaki was studying at Kobe University in 1978 when her classmate and friend, then dating AJPW lead commentator Takao Kuramochi, took her to see a summer show. As Tsuruta told their “love story” to the author (staying up until 3am to tell it the night after announcing their engagement), it was love at first sight for him. They dated over the next two years, albeit relatively infrequently due to their lifestyles and relative distance. Kuramochi has spoken of being his friend’s wingman to help him with his shyness. However, they broke up around the time of her graduation; he’d suddenly gotten serious and wanted her to marry him and be a housewife, but she held on to her childhood dream of working as a stewardess. He claimed to have burned the letters and cried, but she continued to send him cards over the years.

Yasuko would have a change of heart in December 1983 when, as luck would have it, she would serve the Babas. It was after the RWTL tour had ended, and they were taking the class of the Meikyukai, a NPB hall of fame founded by the great Zainichi Korean pitcher Masaichi Kaneda, on a holiday trip to Hawaii. (Kaneda had been a friend of Rikidōzan, and in fact was probably the biggest celebrity friend who shared and was privy to his true heritage. Judging by this story, as well as a great photograph from New Year’s 1982 which features him alongside Baba, Inoki and Jumbo, I must assume that this carried over into friendships with Rikidōzan’s successors.) Yasuko was struck by Baba’s gentlemanly manner, and began to desire a life like that which Motoko had.

On January 24, 1984, Tsuruta received a call from Yasuko’s mother, asking him to meet her daughter again if he was still single. On the 30th, they reunited, and she told him that she had achieved her dream, and was now ready to quit and “be happy as a woman”. (This isn’t the most progressive story, but in a way its bittersweet epilogue, where Yasuko honored Tomomi's memory by running a nonprofit in his name and thus becoming a working woman again, makes it go down easier for me.) After the US tour in March, they went to Yasuko’s parents’ house to receive their blessing, and then to visit the house of Tsuruta’s youth. They were engaged on June 24, with Mitsune and his wife attending on the Babas’ behalf, and officially announced this in July. (This timestamped clip from the announcement is all I’ve seen. In it, Yasuko is asked what she wants her husband-to-be to do differently once they are married. She responds that he always lets go of her hand when others see them, out of shyness, and that she wants him to stop doing that.)

Unfortunately, Kuramochi’s friendship with the Tsurutas would not survive Jumbo’s death, as he disclosed in an interview a couple years back. Yasuko had begged him to prevent the television director (he was retired from commentary by this point, but was still working with the network) from using footage of Tsuruta’s open casket in their funeral coverage. Her husband would not have wanted the world to see him in such a way. However, the salaciousness of the imagery was too great for Kuramochi to convince the producers to respect this wish, no matter how hard he tried. He and Yasuko have never spoken since.

 

 

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