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Surugaumi (駿河海)

Real name: Mitsuo Sugiyama (杉山光男)
Professional names: Surugaumi
Life: 1/1/1920-11/24/2010 
Born: Shizuoka, Shizuoka, Japan
Career: 1953-1959
Height/Weight: 186cm/105kg (6'1"/231lbs.)
Signature moves: unknown
Promotions: Japan Wrestling Association
Titles: Japanese Junior Heavyweight [JWA] (1x)

Summary: The first junior heavyweight champion in puroresu history, Surugaumi was a charter member of the JWA whose disputes with Rikidozan shortened his career.

Mitsuo Sugiyama entered sumo through the Kansai Kakuriki Association, an organization which was formed by Saburo Tenryu after he left the Japan Sumo Association. (This was rooted in the 1932 Chunjuen Incident, in which Tenryu led 32 rikishi in a strike against the Association.) Kansai Kakuriki folded in December 1937, and Sugiyama debuted for the Japan Sumo Association’s Dewanoumi stable in January 1938, but I do not know if this was actually his tournament debut, or if Kansai Kakuriki’s tournament results were simply lost. Adopting the shikona of Surugaumi in May 1939, he rose through the ranks in the following years, nicknamed the “blue devil” to the promising Shionoumi’s “red devil”. However, a knee injury derailed his career, and Surugaumi retired after the November 1945 tournament.

After leaving sumo, Surugaumi managed a small restaurant for years until he was invited to join the nascent JWA by Rikidozan. According to The Face of the Box Office, a 2004 book on JWA supporter and live entertainment don Sadao Nagata, Surugaumi assisted in the construction of the Japan Pro Wrestling Center in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, which contained the JWA’s original dojo. As one of its charter members, Surugaumi would become the JWA’s first junior heavyweight champion in 1956, when the JWA organized three interpromotional brackets in the junior, light, and heavyweight classes. In the final match of the bracket, Surugaumi defeated Michiaki Yoshimura, star of the Yamaguchi Dojo promotion (which was basically what remained of the All Japan Pro Wrestling Association after their yakuza boss sponsor withdrew his support). However, Yoshimura himself would be hired by Rikidozan the following year for three million yen, and Surugaumi’s spot was soon taken.

Surugaumi and Yoshimura were early fixtures of puroresu’s first weekly television program, Nippon Television’s Puroresu Fight Man Hour. On its very first episode, he lost the title to Yoshimura, who at that point was billed as a freelancer but was already hired. Yoshimura, not Rikidozan, would become the star of the program, in an arrangement which G Spirits writer Etsuji Koizumi compares to the role that Verne Gagne had played vis-à-vis Lou Thesz in the “Chicago model” of the early 1950s. Yoshimura was also pegged as the star of another weekly program planned to tape in Osaka (where the All Japan Association had been based). Both Puroresu Fight Man Hour and the Osaka Pro-Wrestling Hour (which debuted in December) were attempts to compensate for the massive financial hit that the JWA had taken by cutting ties with Sadao Nagata, on whom they had solely depended to book house shows. This is important to note because, according to the first part of Etsuji Koizumi's biographical serial about Yoshimura (G Spirits Vol. 62), it led to the end of Surugaumi’s career. Alongside Azumafuji, Surugaumi persistently nagged Rikidozan about payments, until Rikidozan ordered Yoshimura to shoot on Surugaumi’s bad knee during a match. Both Surugaumi and Azumafuji officially retired in 1959, and Surugaumi never received all of his money.

Sugiyama died of intestinal obstruction in 2010. At that point, he was the oldest surviving man in puroresu, but he has since been passed by Kokichi Endo. who as of writing is presumed still alive at 96.

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