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Pro Wrestling Dream All-Star Match: The 1979 Tokyo Sports Show


KinchStalker
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This was a topic that I had not planned to write about for a while: not until I reached 1979 in the NJPW/Otsuka thread, by which time I would have properly contextualized it with all the years of politicking between All Japan and New Japan. But your friend and mine, Loss, will soon reach this point in his Wrestling Playlists Newsletter, and I cannot leave our brother in the lurch (or try to have him cram all the interesting details in there himself). This, as best as I know it, is the story of the 1979 Tokyo Sports show.

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On March 8, 1979, Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki met for a private Chinese dinner in Roppongi with Tokyo Sports editor-in-chief Noriyoshi Takahashi and sports department head (and World Pro Wrestling color commentator) Yasuo Sakurai. The most powerful paper in puroresu had big plans for the year, but they needed these two on board. Both men had been consulted in February, after groundwork had been laid in a meeting between top executives of all three puroresu organizations: NJPW’s Hisashi Shinma, AJPW’s Ryozo Yonezawa, and the IWE’s Toshio Suzuki. Now, Takahashi and Sakurai needed to see if they could stand to be around each other. The story goes that they left for forty minutes to see if Baba and Inoki, who had not dined together in over seven years, could get along. When they returned, the two were reminiscing happily.

It would not go this smoothly for long.

On May 22, Tokyo Sports representative director1 Ryotaro Motoyama used its front page to urge Japan’s three pro wrestling organizations to clash in a joint show for their 20th anniversary. Coverage of this commemorative event would give the paper the excuse to raise its price by 10 yen, which would help them make back the investment of putting on the show; since 1974, they had increased their price twice due to their role in promoting major NJPW matches (namely, the first Inoki/Strong Kobayashi match, and the Muhammad Ali fight). Most of the proceeds would be split between the three promotions.

New Japan held a press conference immediately and approved. The following week, though, Baba's reluctance was made clear in comments printed by the paper. He noted that Inoki had said "terrible things" about him, that Inoki had proclaimed he would not do business with All Japan because Baba had dodged his challenge; now, they waited on Baba's call. Baba acknowledged that Inoki and New Japan's provocations may have stemmed from passion, but at worst, they had obstructed his business. When the Tospo interviewer asked if Baba wanted them to retract their previous comments, Baba denied it, but he wanted them to "be reasonable". The March dinner had been arranged with the understanding that Inoki could not walk back his years of public comments without compromising his image, and the account of that meal shows that there was still a common bond between them, but Baba still leveraged that past beef in public comments.

june14conference.thumb.jpg.513ac9d05894267d5bc377bb7cafa55e.jpgYoshiwara, Inoki, Motoyama, Baba, and Takahashi at the June 14 press conference.

A press conference was scheduled for 11:30, but bad weather delayed Baba’s flight, and he did not land in Tokyo until 12:20. The conference finally began at 12:44, with both Baba and Inoki in a sour mood. It had been announced that the full details of the show would be revealed during the conference, but all that ended up confirmed was that the Budokan was booked for August 26. When a reporter asked Takahashi what card they had in mind, the editor admitted that he wanted to book Baba vs. Inoki. In fact, Tospo wanted to realize other top dream matches, such as Abdullah the Butcher vs. Tiger Jeet Singh and Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Tatsumi Fujinami. The tension on this point showed through in the conference, with Inoki remarking that if they were going to do a joint show, he didn’t want it to be “a festival”. But Baba played the same refrain that he had for years, and also invoked the need for a unified Japanese commission that represented all parties’ interests. Earlier that year, New Japan and Kokusai had created one between themselves, but had only asked All Japan to accept it after the fact. Speaking of Kokusai, Isao Yoshiwara noted that their joint shows with All Japan had been difficult to coordinate, and that a full three-way show would be even more difficult. Nevertheless, he was willing to do business. After the conference, the parties continued talks in a private meeting. Baba left for AJPW’s show that evening, and the Destroyer’s subsequent farewell party, but returned late that night. During these talks, Inoki was reluctant to accept the alternate pitch of a one-night-only BI-gun reunion, as he wanted assurance that this would lay the groundwork for a future Baba vs. Inoki match. As Baba was set to leave for the States, and Inoki for Pakistan, both men gave full power of attorney to others to start the booking process: Inoki to Japanese commission head Susumu Nikaido, and Baba to Tokyo Sports itself. Nikaido and Motoyama met at the House of Representatives’ 1st Assembly Building on July 4.

middle_1291081304.jpg.f0a21d1666358555cf20cdfb6f06f2b1.jpgThe Funks defeated BI-gun in their final match on December 7, 1971.

BI-gun’s opponents would be decided in a fan poll with a July 14 deadline. Issue #16 of the Showa Puroresu zine records the top thirty results, but the top three teams left the other suggestions in the dust: Tsuruta & Fujinami, with 34,405 votes; the Funks, with 40,876; and Abdullah the Butcher & Tiger Jeet Singh, with 41,193. Over seven years earlier, the Funks had been the team’s final opponents. Inoki had objections to another Funks match, seeing where their loyalties lied as bookers for AJPW. Perhaps speculation is irresponsible of me, but one doubts that a Funks win would have been printed if the parties involved had no intention of fulfilling it. There has been at least one confirmed case of this phenomenon, which occurred in similar circumstances. In 1995, Baba would force Weekly Pro Wrestling reporter (and AJPW creative consultant) Hidetoshi Ichinose to falsify the results of a similar poll for All Japan’s six-man tag match at the Bridge of Dreams show, whose top choice had been Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, & Giant Baba vs. Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, & Jumbo Tsuruta. The August issue of Monthly Pro Wrestling featured a list of predicted matches, which was likely written at a point when the Funks topped the poll. I doubt that any of the other matches had been provisionally booked when the article would have been written, but they are nevertheless worth reprinting in the footnotes.2

On July 25, a second meeting was held to discuss matches that were not the main event. The second press conference afterwards announced the whole upper card, with Baba and Inoki far friendlier towards each other. The poster was unveiled, and tickets went on sale. Ringside “A” seats went for one million yen each, with “special seats” double that (roughly $23,500 today). From there, the rest of the first floor seats ran from ¥5000 to ¥7000, and the second floor seats ran from ¥2000 to ¥4000, with a 50% discount in general seating for kids in junior high and below. On August 1, the full card was announced, and four days later, Yoshiwara stated that Joe Higuchi, Mr. Takahashi, and Mitsuo Endo would all serve as referees, alternating as primary official while the others assisted.

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All advance tickets were sold out by the day of the show, and the general seats all sold out on the day. Some fans had even camped out at the venue the previous night. Among those in attendance were Keiichi Yamada, the future Jushin Thunder Liger, and future NJPW announcer Hidekazu “Kero” Tanaka. 7,000 pamphlets were printed, and all sold out despite their ¥500 price; a mail-order pamphlet would also be produced. (For perspective, a Budokan show at this point in time generally only needed to print two to three thousand units, and those were priced at ¥200. The mail-order system was presumably unprecedented.)

battleroyal_0826.jpg.f9fb33abbbc01b8c5b1c40d41fc21d92.jpgThe show began at 6:20. All Japan’s ring had been unavailable due to their ongoing Black Power Series tour, so New Japan provided theirs. After speeches by (Noriyoshi) Takahashi and Yoshiwara, and an entrance ceremony, the night began with a battle royal for a ¥300000 check. 15 participants had been announced, but the final match had four more. Seven wrestlers represented All Japan and New Japan each, with Kokusai rounding things out with five. At the end of the twelve-minute match, NJPW booker Kotetsu Yamamoto made the first graduate of the AJPW dojo, Atsushi Onita, submit to a Canadian backbreaker. He said he would share the prize with him at the time, though it is unconfirmed whether he did. The first proper match saw NJPW’s Makoto Arakawa face the IWE’s Snake Amami. Nicknamed the Kagoshima Championship for their shared origins (though this moniker is confusingly shared with Arakawa’s matches against Masanobu Kurisu), the match was reportedly an effective one. Arakawa won with a hip drop. Sadly, Amami’s career would barely last into the new decade, and a brain tumor took his life one month before his 30th birthday.

In the first of two matches where one half of the IWA Tag Team champions teamed with an NJPW star, Mighty Inoue joined forces with Kantaro Hoshino to face Osamu Kido & Takashi Ishikawa. At the start of the year, Inoue had worked a program with the Yamaha Brothers to win back his company's tag belts, and his being booked (by Kotetsu Yamamoto) to lose a fall by submission would influence his resolve never to work for New Japan when Kokusai crumbled in 1981. But on this night, apparently, he and Hoshino made a good team. Less so Kido and Ishikawa, as the latter's relative inexperience and sumo background contrasted with the rest of the participants. At one point, though, Ishikawa blew Inoue out of the ring with a sumo tackle. Half a decade later, those two would team up for two lengthy All Asia reigns.

Next was the first of two six-man tags on the card. Ashura Hara, the last great hope of the IWE, would be working with two wrestlers on their return match from expeditions. Kengo Kimura had worked in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Los Angeles (billed as Pak Choo in the latter two territories), and at this juncture there were hopes that his return to New Japan could replicate the Dragon Boom that Tatsumi Fujinami had triggered in the spring of 1978. (Kimura claimed many years later that, before this match, Hisashi Shinma had strongly encouraged him to receive a facelift to increase his marketability to female fans.) Akio Sato, who Kimura had debuted against in 1972, had been Baba's valet when he started All Japan, but had left for the States in 1976. There, he had mainly plied his trade in the Midwest while learning how to book from George Scott and finding love with fellow wrestler Betty Niccoli. Their opponents were Haruka Eigen, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and Isamu Teranishi. According to Showa Puroresu's show recap, Sato gave a disappointing performance, perhaps not helped with being paired with the likewise dry Eigen. I will allude multiple times to a roundtable discussion on the show that was published in Gong, which featured all three active Tokyo Sports reporter-commentators (Sakurai, Takashi Yamada, Takashi Kikuchi) as well as puroresu journalism pioneer Hiroshi Tazuhama. Someone on that panel went so far as to say that Sato had regressed since leaving for his excursion. Kimura would be pushed as a major junior talent in the year to come, which would culminate in a run with the NWA International Junior Heavyweight title. Sato would not make a proper full-time return to Japan for two years, but would become an important figure in AJPW’s reinvention in the new decade, working behind the scenes as a booker and on-site supervisor. The match had a safe ending as Hara pinned fellow Kokusai talent Teranishi.

img_20210413_0001.thumb.jpg.f1810351e28826aa395477057769e63f.jpgThe fifth match of the night is the last one that, to my knowledge, does not exist on tape. (Showa Puroresu writer Dr. Mick—who I am certain did not attend this show, as I know he’s from Osaka and he would have been just a child—implies in his show coverage that he has seen video footage of the previous match, which suggests that there is either more footage from the same taper that I will address soon, or an alternate recording.) It’s a shame, too, because it features the one interpromotional dream team that actually had a future. Animal Hamaguchi had spent two years as an IWE tag champion, built up by a reign alongside Great Kusatsu before teaming up with Mighty Inoue to form one of the most definitive (and certainly the most chronicled) IWE teams. But tonight, he shared the corner with Riki Choshu, two months after Choshu had won the NWA North American tag titles alongside Seiji Sakaguchi in Los Angeles. On the other corner, Motoshi Okuma & Great Kojika represented All Japan. They had Choshu in their control in the first half, but the debuting team got something going against Kojika. While he was helpless in Hamaguchi’s airplane spin, Okuma intervened and then assaulted Mr. Takahashi to lose by foul play.

Match #6 was the second singles match of the night, and the first match on the audience recording in circulation. On one end was Seiji Sakaguchi, probably New Japan’s #3 star. On the other was prominent AJPW midcarder Rocky Hata. It may not surprise you to learn that this match was not the original plan. Although it had been announced at the August 1 press conference, it is known that Sakaguchi’s original opponent was IWE booker Great Kusatsu. Kusatsu shot it down, as Showa Puroresu reported in 2008 and as then-valet Masahiko Takasugi confirmed in a late-2010s G Spirits interview. I happen to have the issue with the Takasugi interview, but I had not scanned it before my scanner broke, and I do not have access to my transcription method. So I cannot give any more details from Takasugi. But Showa Puroresu notes that Kusatsu was frequently mistaken for Sakaguchi, and that his refusal may have been a petty one along these lines. I feel that not wanting to work a match that one had not booked themselves could be a plausible explanation, but everything I know about Kusatsu suggests that the SP account is possible. Kusatsu attended the show. Hata was reportedly nervous, and had spent the whole night before drinking. He lasted six and a half minutes before a jumping knee and atomic drop ended his misery. In the Gong roundtable, Kosuke Takeuchi asked Sakurai outright if they really could not have found Sakaguchi a better opponent. Sakurai said that Jumbo Tsuruta, Rusher Kimura, Kusatsu, Tiger Toguchi, and others had been considered, and credited Inoki with suggesting Hata.

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The second six-man followed. Jumbo Tsuruta, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Mil Mascaras joined forces in a boy fan’s dream against a trio of lone wolves: Masa Saito, Akihisa Takachiho, and Tiger Toguchi. The babyfaces would be dubbed the Bird Men Trio, and all three got to show their unique styles. One must also commend Saito and Takachiho in particular, who had recently worked alongside each other in Florida. The future Great Kabuki had joined AJPW on its then-ongoing Black Power Series tour, making his first appearances in Japan since early 1978. He had left out of disillusionment over Samson Kutsuwada’s attempted mutiny, and it has been speculated by Dr. Mick that both Takachiho and Kazuo Sakurada had been eyed by Hiro Matsuda to effectively jump ship to New Japan the previous year, in what became the late-year Okami Gundan angle. (Mick cites a tip in a 1978 issue of Gong where a Mr. S and Mr. T claim that they want to work for NJPW.) While this show could never have happened with a conventional broadcast deal, production masters were created for the top three matches. These were for news programs, which would be allowed to clip up to three minutes for their reports. A production master of this match was created with the AJPW broadcast team of Takao Kuramochi & Takashi Yamada. This leads one to presume the agreement was that Nippon TV-affiliated networks could only air clips from this match, due to their contracts with the network. While the full tape has been lost to history—NTV once stated that they still had the edited version they aired on the news, though I have never seen it—we can see it on the fancam, and it holds up the best of the matches available to us.

It's certainly better than what followed. As Sakurai admitted decades later, Isao Yoshiwara was reluctant to have his ace, Rusher Kimura, wrestle Kokusai deserter Strong Kobayashi in a grudge match. At the time, though, Sakurai credited Yoshiwara with pursuing the match in the Gong roundtable. Even the Kokusai devotee Dr. Mick doesn’t mince words; this one was a dog. Mitsuo Endo was the main referee, which bred concern about his loyalties. The crowd was about seventy percent in favor of Kobayashi, who lost by ringout. No matter how much Kimura protested on the microphone that he would challenge his former tag partner “anytime”, it was not a good look for the tragic ace, who was only eighteen months removed from one of the most humiliating losses in the history of puroresu against Baba. Yoshiwara had been willing to compromise his top stars for years due to his dependence on interpromotional matches for the cash flow from better-paying networks, such as Rusher’s early draws against Jumbo Tsuruta and Mighty Inoue’s clean loss to Tsuruta in the previous year’s Japan League tournament. If he was hesitant now, it was too late, and his company’s image cannot have been helped by this result. Kobayashi had relinquished his spot as Sakaguchi’s tag partner to Choshu, and the last major matches of his full-time career were in association with Kokusai. Plans were made for him to team up with the Rusher-led Kokusai Gundan heel faction in 1982, but Kobayashi’s pivot into entertainment made them moot. A production master was created by TV Tokyo, presumably with the Kokusai Pro Wrestling Hour commentary team of Shigeo Sugiura & Takashi Kikuchi, but it is now lost.

f9c891e334d1e2795eddd7b2ec00629b-converted.jpg.40ccf51413b3a9241519b161abf4bded.jpgFinally, BI-gun reunited one last time. Abdullah the Butcher and Tiger Jeet Singh had been the definitive foreign heels of their respective stomping grounds. Abdullah had debuted for the JWA in 1970. It was when he and Baba wrestled in the 1971 World Big League final that Inoki held the infamous impromptu press conference where he first challenged Baba. Since then, he had become AJPW's most popular heel, and this was the year where he worked five of the promotion's ten tours. Singh, meanwhile, was NJPW's first genuinely homegrown heel, a committed character wrestler who had garnered massive early heat and had stayed relevant since. A production master was created with the World Pro Wrestling commentary team of Ichiro Furutachi & Yasuo Sakurai, with Sakurai's future successor on color commentary, Kotetsu Yamamoto himself, sitting in. A dupe of this tape eventually got into fans’ hands. (It had been available on YouTube but was taken down by NJPW. Only the abridged news report version is on there at the time of posting. But I trust you can find it yourselves.) After thirteen minutes, Inoki got a Joe Higuchi three-count on Singh with a bridging German suplex.

After the match, Inoki grabbed the microphone. 

"Thank you all very much for coming today. Earlier, [PWF] Chairman Lord Blears gave me a very kind word to make the Baba-Inoki fight a reality. I am willing to risk life and death to make this fight happen. I will continue to work hard so that I can fight Baba. The next time the two of us meet in this ring, it will be time to fight!"

Baba had no choice but to play along, exclaiming “let’s do it!” in response. This carried over into the subsequent press conference, where Baba acknowledged that there were still issues, but claimed that “he didn’t care about them now”. In truth, though, Baba had taken this as a sign that Inoki still could not be trusted. A 2022 column on the NJPW-AJPW rivalry by Kagehiro Osano reports that Baba had come to this conclusion due to a private telephone conversation the two had had a few days before. While this may or may not be the same incident, a recent article by Gantz Horie sees Shinma claim that the night before the event, Inoki had suggested to Baba that the match’s finish be changed to have them go over one of the two heels clean.3 

The next day, Tokyo Sports hit the shelves with its new ¥50 price. 

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FOOTNOTES

Spoiler
  1. The representative director (代表取締役) is a distinct position in Japanese corporate hierarchy. Essentially, they possess the highest authority to enter business and sign contracts on a corporation’s behalf, but they are not considered a proper employee.
  2. The August 1979 Monthly Pro predictions were as follows: Giant Baba & Antonio Inoki vs. The Funks; Seiji Sakaguchi vs. Tiger Jeet Singh; Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Andre the Giant; Rusher Kimura vs. Bobo Brazil; Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Mil Mascaras; Ashura Hara vs. Carlos Colon; Kintaro Oki vs. the Masked Superstar; and Kantaro Hoshino & Kotetsu Yamamoto vs. Motoshi Okuma & Great Kojika.
  3. This aggressive approach to the delicate matter of interpromotional booking suggests insight into how New Japan had rubbed people the wrong way in previous instances. Mighty Inoue’s aforementioned grudge against Kotetsu Yamamoto comes to mind. Another example was revealed by Mr. Takahashi in one of his books. In the Pre-Japanese League tournament at the end of 1978, freelancer and former IWE ace Thunder Sugiyama had taken bookings with the expectation that he would be protected. Yamamoto booked him to lose against Fujinami on the first show of the tour.

 

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