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Motoshi Okuma


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Motoshi Okuma (大熊元司)

Real name: Motoshi Okuma
Professional names: Motoshi Okuma,
Kumagoro Okuma, Great Kuma
Life: 12/18/1941-12/27/1992
Born: Soka, Saitama, Japan
Career: 1962-1992
Height/Weight: 179cm/130kg (at peak) (5’8”/286 lbs.)
Signature moves: Body splash, headbutt
Promotions: Japan Wrestling Association, All Japan Pro Wrestling
Titles: NWA World Tag Team [NWA Mid-America] (1x, w/Shinya Kojika), NWA Western States Tag Team [Western States Sports] (2x, w/Masio Koma), NWA North American Heavyweight [International Wrestling (Halifax)] (2x), ESA International Tag Team [see previous] (2x, w/Geeto Mongol), All Asia Tag Team [AJPW] (4x, w/The Great Kojika)

One of the most loyal men in AJPW history, Motoshi Okuma had a long and distinguished career as a midcarder. His three-decade run peaked as one half of the Gokudō Combi team in the late 1970s.

Upon graduation from junior high, Motoshi Okuma entered sumo in May 1957. He wrestled for the Isegahama stable until retiring in 1962, after which he entered the JWA. Assigned as Giant Baba's second valet, after Masio Koma, Okuma debuted that June against Motoyuki Kitazawa. He would become well remembered by his peers for his sturdy constitution; he claimed to have been drinking since he was 13, as his parents had run a liquor store. Okuma was one of many JWA wrestlers who received a ring name from Toyonobori: Kumagoro. He would be a rare case who actually reverted back to his real name, though this itself was encouraged by an outside factor: namely, Yomiuri Giants player Motoshi Fujita, who pitched his team to a Japan Series victory in 1963. (Okuma was a Giants fan, on top of the connection between the team and JWA carrier Nippon TV.) The most infamous incident of Okuma’s early career came on November 28, 1965, when he was on tour in South Korea. During a singles match against Jang Yong-Cheol, Okuma went off-script and applied a half-crab at a legitimately painful angle, upon which ten of Jang’s disciples stormed the ring and beat him. The “Great Bear Lynching Incident” spurred a police investigation, and as Jang exposed the business in his complaints, it was long cited by Japanese sources as a factor in the decline of Korean professional wrestling. (However, Korean accounts suggest that the damage the incident caused was greatly exaggerated in foreign narratives, even if it dealt severe damage to Jang as a promoter.)

Okuma left on his first expedition in 1967, where he would form a team with Shinya Kojika in Georgia and southern Tennessee. That October, the two won tag gold in the latter territory, but Okuma’s excursion would end early. According to Kojika, the homesickness weighed heavily on his partner. Whenever they saw a Toyota on the road, they would stare at it until it was out of sight, and Okuma asked Baba's girlfriend, Motoko Ito, to send them records by Kazuko Matsuo and Frank Nagai. Okuma returned alone in 1968, as he had lost a significant amount of weight. Kojika would remain overseas until 1970.


Left: Okuma in 1974, during his Canadian excursion. [Source: Monthly Pro Wrestling, August 1974]

In 1971, Okuma got a second chance. He would work in the Florida and Amarillo territories from that spring through autumn 1972, most notably teaming with Koma to title success in the latter territory. It was there that they reunited with Baba, who asked them to join him in a new enterprise. Both men would accept, and they would be loyal to Baba for the rest of not just their careers, but their lives as well. Okuma returned home to support All Japan Pro Wrestling in its first two years. He and Koma reunited occasionally in its first year or so, but Koma retreated into the undercard and concentrated on his coaching role as the Destroyer and Jumbo Tsuruta joined their ranks. Okuma found himself somewhat lost in the shuffle due to the 1973 influx of ex-JWA talent and volunteered to leave on a third expedition in 1974. In the Maritimes, he won the only singles gold of his career, defeating Leo Burke and the Beast for two short reigns with the NWA North American Heavyweight title. He also continued his tag success through two short runs alongside Geepo Mongol.

Returning to AJPW in February 1975, Okuma revived his tag team with Kojika, now called the Gokudō Combi. In the following years, the team would refuse to wrestle against each other during the annual Champion Carnival, which was criticized as unprofessional by some in the media. The duo would get its big break the following year, when AJPW revived the All Asia tag titles. This was in response to the announcement of NJPW’s own version of the title, which was won by Seiji Sakaguchi & Strong Kobayashi that August and was dropped fairly quickly. Kojika had been one-half of the final All Asia champs in the JWA, alongside Gantetsu Matsuoka. On March 26, 1976, the two won the belts in Seoul against Hong Mu-Ung and Oh Dae-Gyun (Oh Tae Kyun). Two days later, they successfully defended them in a draw against the Great Kusatsu & Mighty Inoue, at the AJPW vs IWE show in the Kuramae Kokugikan.

Although their first reign ended in October against Ted & Jerry Oates, and the belts were then won by Akihisa Takachiho & Samson Kutsuwada, Gokudō would return to the top of the division in a then-rare native-to-native title switch on June 16, 1977. This second reign saw them defend against native teams exclusively. On September 9, 1977, they gave Genichiro Tenryu his first title shot as one half of the Fresh Handsome Combi with Rocky Hata, and on November 3, they fought off Animal Hamaguchi & Goro Tsurumi. Three days later, though, Gokudō lost on IWE turf against Hamaguchi & Inoue, beginning a three-month chase that helped establish Animal & Mighty as one of Japan’s top tag teams. They won them back on February 1978, but this third reign would be Okuma & Kojika’s least interesting. They held no defenses, for which the belts were stripped from them after six months.

On May 31, 1979, they defeated the Kiwis to begin their final title reign. This one would last nearly two years, and outside of one defense against Tenryu & Takachiho in November 1979, their challengers were exclusively gaikokujin. David & Kevin von Erich finally defeated them on May 23, 1981, to serve as transitional champions towards Akio Sato & Takashi Ishikawa. Gokudō continued to work together frequently until Kojika’s first retirement in 1986. Meanwhile, Okuma’s television appearances in the mid-80s saw him transition into a job guy in main-event tags. 

The late 80s often saw Motoshi work as an undercarder, most famously wrestling Kenta Kobashi in his official debut. As the decade drew to its close, though, Okuma found a new calling in the comedic six-man tags. A charter member of the “villainous” Akuyaku Shokai faction, Okuma consistently wrestled against his old senior Baba in his last years. Finally, on December 4, 1992, Okuma received what would be the morbid distinction of being the last opponent which Andre the Giant defeated. Andre pinned him in the six-man on the last show of the year, and it would be their last match. Okuma died of acute renal failure on December 27, exactly one month before Andre himself died in his sleep.


Kyohei Wada on Okuma, 2020:

He had been Baba's assistant since his days in Japan Pro Wrestling, and he was a mess. He was a heavy drinker, so he would go to Baba's house, drink all the expensive foreign whiskey, and shout, "Hey Motoko, do you have any more liquor in this house?” Motoko would laugh and say, "It can't be helped because he's a bear.” Baba took good care of him. When he went to the countryside, he got drunk and befriended the old man next to him and made him pay the bill, or suddenly pulled out a food cart and started running, or drank shochu on the beach in Hawaii and got in trouble with the police... More than 40 years ago, he got into a big fight at his wedding. I remember that when he was on a tour of the US, the promoter gave him a schedule, and on a day marked "OFF (holiday)," he was overjoyed and said, "Oh, a match has been scheduled.” He was so excited that he looked for "OFF" on the map. Only Mr. Okuma would do that. When my daughter was six or seven years old, he said, "I have an extra bicycle for you, so I'll take it with me," and he pulled the bicycle from his house in Gotanda to my house in Shirokanedai by himself. He was a person loved by everyone.

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