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Tadaharu Tanaka

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Tadaharu Tanaka (田中忠治)

tadaharutanaka1.jpg.2f662b69b0390fe4640ee9f351ce24af.jpgProfession: Wrestler, Trainer
Real name: Masakatsu Tanaka (田中政克)
Professional names: Masakatsu Tanaka, Tadaharu Tanaka
Life: 1/26/1942- (presumed alive)
Born: Hofu, Yamaguchi, Japan
Career: 1958-1977
Height/Weight: 176cm/105kg (5’9”/231 lbs.)
Signature moves: Sunset flip
Promotions: Japan Pro Wrestling/JWA, Tokyo Pro Wrestling, International Wrestling Enterprise
Titles: IWA World Mid-Heavyweight [IWE] (1x)

Summary: Tadaharu Tanaka was one of the JWA’s first proper trainees, most notable for his close association with Toyonobori and for establishing the IWE’s “middleweight” division at the end of the sixties. 

Masakatsu Tanaka joined the JWA after graduating from junior high in 1957. As the promotion had been staffed in its early years by experienced athletes in sumo and judo (or amateur wrestling, in one case) who transferred to pro wrestling, Tanaka was among its earliest trainees in the proper sense, alongside high school baseball star Yasuhiro Kojima (the future Hiro Matsuda). He would become Toyonobori’s valet and his closest confidant. At one point in the early 60s, Tanaka had been ordered to switch to boxing, as Rikidozan was intent on training a champion in the sport through his gym. The ring name Tadaharu Tanaka, which seems to have originated in 1964, was one of Toyonobori’s many inventions. An uncited passage on Tanaka’s Japanese Wikipedia page claims that Tadaharu was taken from Chuji Kunisada, a 19th century gambler who has long been romanticized as a chivalric figure. 忠治 can indeed be read as both Tadaharu and Chuji, and the reference would be in line with Toyonobori’s love for nicking names from the stock characters of Edo-period historical dramas.

Tanaka was the leader of Toyonobori’s posse, the Hayabusa-tai (“Falcon Corps”). Presumably named after the 64th Squadron of the Imperial Japanese Army, which had been led by the well-propagandized aviator Tateo Kato, the Hayabusa-tai’s best-known incident revolved around a Ventures concert that they were intended to promote (for those unaware, the Ventures were *huge* in Japan)…until Kokichi Endo swiped the rights and got all the money, albeit with a beating. I bring it up because the Hayabusa-tai made up a good portion of the dream team that Toyonobori had in mind when he began to put Tokyo Pro Wrestling together. Sure enough, Tanaka was among those who jumped ship to join his senior. According to the Japanese zine Showa Puroresu, Tanaka did not temper Toyonobori’s penchant for spending money he wasn’t supposed to spend, but in fact inherited it. During Antonio Inoki’s legal disputes with Toyonobori and Hisashi Shinma in 1967, it was reportedly disclosed that Tanaka had personally misappropriated funds which had been allocated for Tokyo Pro’s training camps. (As trainee Haruka Eigen later recalled, the company had been unable to afford rice to feed them.) In December 1966, when Inoki created the Tokyo Pro Wrestling Ltd. company to split the rest of the roster from Toyonobori, Tanaka was the only other wrestler who was excluded. Due to this, Tanaka did not participate in the Tokyo Pro-IWE joint tour of January 1967, but he joined the IWE alongside Toyonobori in time for their second tour that summer.

It was in his early years with Kokusai that Tanaka’s career peaked. In early 1969, he worked a program with British wrestler Mike Marino, winning Marino’s newly minted IWA World Mid-Heavyweight title that February. It is a pervasive belief among IWE fans that Toyonobori had lobbied for Tanaka’s push, although Tanaka’s then-valet Mighty Inoue stated that he didn’t think that was the case in a 2016 interview with Showa Puroresu. Whatever the case, this made Tanaka puroresu’s first junior heavyweight champion since IWE president Isao Yoshihara himself in the early 60s, and while footage of Tanaka does not survive, it is apparent that he presaged the IWE’s later talent in this vein, such as Inoue and Isamu Teranishi. He would remain with the company even as Toyonobori retired in 1970, only losing his title when he vacated it in March 1971 to embark on his excursion. Like other Kokusai wrestlers of the period, Tanaka’s overseas training saw him compete in France, Spain, Germany, and even South Africa, before his return the following June.

For whatever fanfare his homecoming might have received, Tanaka did not break through upon return, but recede. It appears that he was overshadowed by wrestlers like the aforementioned Teranishi and Inoue, and he began to work more as a trainer. He reportedly began to experience liver problems in the mid-70s, and announced his departure in September 1977, without working a retirement match. In a 2009 blog post, Great Kojika claimed that he had met Tanaka during an All Japan show in Tanaka’s hometown. While it has been presumed that he is still alive, Tanaka did not come forth when the Rikidozan OB Kai alumni association was formed in 1996, and Kojika’s alleged encounter is the last anyone has heard from him.

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