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Umanosuke Ueda


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Umanosuke Ueda (上田馬之助)

[KinchStalker Deluxe Profile #2]

Profession: Wrestler
Real name: Hiroshi Ueda (some sources say "Yuji", but I believe this to be an erroneous transliteration)
Professional names: Hiroshi Ueda, Umanosuke Ueda, Professor Ito, Great Ito, Mr. Ito, Tengu
Life: 6/20/1940-12/21/2011
Born: Kaifu (now Yatomi), Aichi, Japan
Career: 1960-1996 (“retired” 1998)
Height/Weight: 190cm/118kg (6’3”/260lbs.)
Signature moves: Cobra claw, throat thrust, cross-chop, double chickenwing (Kimura lock), weapon attack
Promotions: Japan Wrestling Association, All Japan Pro-Wrestling, International Wrestling Enterprise, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, NOW, IWA Japan
Titles: NWA World Tag Team [NWA Mid-America] (2x, w/Tojo Yamamoto), NWA World Tag Team/NWA Western States Tag Team [Western States Sports] (2x, w/Chati Yokouchi), NWA Georgia Tag Team [Georgia Championship Wrestling] (1x, w/Chati Yokouchi), NWA International Tag Team [JWA/AJPW] (2x: 1x w/Kintaro Oki, 1x w/Tiger Jeet Singh), IWA World Heavyweight [IWE] (1x), NWA North American Tag Team [NJPW] (1x, w/Tiger Jeet Singh), NWA Americas Tag Team [NWA Hollywood] (1x, w/Pak Choo)

Summary: Fifteen years into his career, the outcast Umanosuke Ueda used territory heel experience and real-life heat to reinvent himself as puroresu’s first great native heel, and one of its most influential characters.

PART ONE: TRAITOR [1961-1976]

091.jpg.1f04f15e77549530f32eb7523bd1147b.jpgUeda (left) eats chanko with Antonio Inoki and another JWA wrestler, c.1963.

Hiroshi Ueda dropped out of high school to join the Oitekaze sumo stable. A few months after his debut in spring 1958, he was among the crop of talent which jumped ship with their now-independent trainer to wrestle for the new Magaki stable. Ueda competed as Uedayama and then Kaifunishiki. He left Magaki in early 1960 to join the Japan Wrestling Association, at the invitation of former stablemate Koichi Hayashi. He first entered at some point before Shohei Baba and Kanji Inoki joined the company in April, but this was a false start, as he returned home and continued to compete in sumo through the autumn. But Ueda had committed by the following year, and in April 1961, he debuted with a loss to Mitsuaki Hirai. Hiroshi, who was assigned to Kokichi Endo as a valet, was among those reared in the kimekko tradition, a rudimentary form of shoot grappling derived from amateur wrestling and Kosen judo and instructed by JWA coaches Isao Yoshiwara and Kiyotaka Otsubo. As the stories go, Ueda was among the best at it, with particular specialty in arm and Kimura locks. However, this skill was not complemented by in-ring flashiness, and Ueda developed a reputation for particuarly dry matches, which earned him disparaging nicknames like “Sleepy Shiro” and “Toilet Time Ueda”.

Ueda first worked under his real name, but on November 9, 1962, the same night that Kanji Inoki first wrestled as Antonio, Ueda wrestled his first match billed as Umanosuke (ooo-mahn-OHS-kay) Ueda. It was one of several ring names that Toyonobori had nicked from the historical characters of period dramas; Umanosuke Ueda was a 19th-century samurai who, after the Meiji Restoration, had gotten around the civilian ban on swords by becoming a police instructor. In autumn 1963, during a tour of the Kansai region, the JWA held the Fangs of Kansai tournament. Fourteen undercard wrestlers competed in single-elimination format, and Ueda and Koichi Hayashi got to skip the first round due to this unusual number. Ueda beat Iwakichi Hirano and Isao Yoshiwara to advance to the finals. On October 16 in Himeji, Ueda defeated Kantaro Hoshino in less than four minutes to win the tournament. On the first tour of 1965, Ueda entered another tournament, the eight-man Mitsubishi Cup, and went over Matsuoka, Hoshino, and Tadaharu Tanaka to win.

uedaandmatsuoka.jpg.6b0aa3ab22a2296217b6a7ca65890a67.jpgUeda and Matsuoka as Mr. Ito and the Great Ota.

In 1966, Ueda was selected to compete in the 8th World Big League tournament. Soon afterward, he left for his first overseas excursion. Billed as Professor Ito, Ueda began with a summer stint with the Worldwide Wrestling Associates (later NWA Hollywood), then moved east to work for Nick Gulas in NWA Mid-America until the following March. In early 1967, Ueda teamed up with Tojo Yamamoto for two brief reigns with the promotion’s version of the NWA World Tag Team titles. When he returned to the JWA that spring, Ueda experimented with the name Great Ito for a couple tours before reverting to Umanosuke that July. As 1968 began, Ueda left again for a longer excursion. Over the next three years, Mr. Ito worked from Georgia to west Texas. He worked programs with Danny Hodge across a pair of stints with NWA Tri-State, and in early 1970 held the NWA Junior Heavyweight title for a week in a non-canonical reign. In Western States Sports and Georgia Championship Wrestling, Ueda teamed up with Chati Yokouchi for multiple tag titles. Ueda claimed in 2007 that he shot on his former tag partner Tojo Yamamoto during a match in Tennessee for stiffing him on pay. Later on, when Ueda worked in Florida, he claimed that he earned respect as a shooter from Eddie Graham and Bob Roop. This excursion also saw Ueda team up with his old sumo friend Gantetsu Matsuoka, who worked as the Great Ota. On October 9, 1970, the team was part of history. That was the night when Bobo Brazil broke the color barrier in Atlanta, teaming up with El Mongol to beat Ito and Ota in the Atlanta City Auditorium. Ueda returned to the JWA in spring 1971, just in time to enter the 13th World Big League. In the autumn, Ueda teamed with Great Kojika for the 2nd NWA Tag Team League.

FeN8UKracAAtp_c.thumb.jpg.1af571089563ed6af2c7368126763b5f.jpgUeda’s complicity and subsequent betrayal in the infamous JWA “phantom coup”, which cost Inoki his job, would be the piece of real-life lore that made his native heel run work.

As 1971 ended, Ueda became a central conspirator in the plan to reform the company. A couple days after Antonio Inoki’s wedding to Mitsuko Baisho, in the locker room of Korakuen Hall, Ueda remarked that something had to be done, and Inoki agreed. With the help of event promoter, accountant, and Inoki business associate Akimasa Kimura, the men planned to rally their coworkers to support a reform petition during the final tour of the year and brought Baba on board. On November 19, they got most of the locker room to sign off on the proposal. One week later, in a Shinjuku snack bar, Ueda disclosed to executives Junzo Yoshinosato and Michiaki Yoshimura that Inoki had planned a more radical course than the meeting that had been agreed upon; namely, that Kimura intended to abuse his power as auditor to surreptitiously promote Inoki and himself to the top executive positions in the company. To this day, the circumstances of the infamous phantom coup and how it fell apart have not been fully settled (I now know that even my extensive late-2021 blog post on the matter was incredibly oversimplified). There have been various theories over the years as to why Ueda ratted Inoki out, which range from not receiving a seat on the board of directors in the coup, to concern that Baba and Inoki’s disdain for the JWA’s ex-sumo wrestlers would put his job at risk. Four years before his death, Ueda claimed that Baba had leaked the plan before him. Former JWA accountant Masakazu Misawa would claim that Kintaro Oki had tipped the executives off even before Ueda had been summoned to that snack bar. Whatever the case, when the coup fell apart at a December 5 meeting, Inoki called Ueda a traitor, and the label stuck. Ueda remained with the JWA as it sunk over the next sixteen months. On its penultimate tour in March 1973, he won his first title in his native country, as he took the place of the departing Seiji Sakaguchi to team with Oki on the 6th, and the two beat Johnny Valentine and Killer Karl Krupp to win the NWA International Tag Team titles. However, the following month saw the pair drop the belts to Krupp and Fritz von Erich.

ueda-and-matsuoka.jpg.f3505908a721c02a7289c32f8b7dcd16.jpgUeda and Matsuoka left AJPW in autumn 1973.

After Oki had rallied the JWA against an NJPW merger that would have saved them, the company had no television support, and struggled to hold a last handful of shows. Yoshinosato would work out a deal with Rikidozan widow and AJPW director Keiko Momota to have the company’s nine remaining wrestlers join All Japan. Ueda signed a three-year contract with Nippon TV, instead of AJPW itself, on April 25, 1973. However, Baba saw no great use for most of these men, and when he was forced to bring them aboard by the AJPW board, his only consolation was that he retained the right to book them however he wished. When the ex-JWA talent started work for Baba that summer, he snubbed Ueda and Matsuoka, who he especially did not want in the company, by booking them to wrestle on alternate dates. Bear in mind that these men were paid per appearance! Ueda tried to rally his peers to push Oki, who had fallen into line with Baba (and was being booked relatively well, for the moment), to protest their treatment. This was unsuccessful. One night, Ueda went out drinking with Matty Suzuki to ask his advice, and that was when he came up with his next move. The NTV contract precluded him from finding work with New Japan or Kokusai, but it wouldn’t prevent him from working overseas again, where he could wait for it to lapse. Ueda and Matsuoka had decided to leave by October but stayed on board for the first dates of the Giant Series tour, to work on the November 9 show at the Kuramae Kokugikan. Among other things, this show saw the starmaking television debut of Tomomi Tsuruta, but it also featured a retirement ceremony for JWA referee Oki Shikina. According to one anecdote, AJPW did not give Shikina a cut of that show’s sales, so the pair gave him a parting gift from what they had made from the show. After Ueda’s loss to Larry O’Day, he would return to the southeastern United States, working across NWA Tri-State, GCCW, and CWF as Mr. Ito.

On New Year’s Day, 1976, Ueda stated his intent to return to Japan when his contract ended on April 25, and issued challenges to Baba and Inoki. Ueda had burned his bridge with Baba by leaving for the States without Baba’s approval. He had figured that Inoki would have more interest anyway, as an Inoki-Ueda match was similar to Antonio’s heated, successful matches against Strong Kobayashi and Kintaro Oki in 1974. However, Inoki also refused. Ueda was not a Kobayashi or an Oki, and on top of Inoki’s lingering resentment over the phantom coup, he was shifting his focus towards a new avenue of promoting his company: that is, the proto-MMA fights that would later be known as ishin kakutogi. With Willem Ruska and Muhammad Ali on the horizon, Ueda would be a step back. On January 25, Ueda sent a challenge to puroresu’s third ace, Rusher Kimura. In its verbiage, Umanosuke made appeals to Japan’s need for a unified commission to decide its “true champion”, a bit of marketing that Inoki had used to great effect over the previous few years. It had allowed Inoki to get himself over as pursuing a match with Baba while conveniently ignoring the conflicting network interests which made that match impossible. In 1975, Kimura had attempted to call Inoki on that bluff by pursuing a match with him, but Inoki had shot that down. It was a smart card for Ueda to play. Ueda consulted his former boss Yoshinosato, who had since landed a color commentary gig with the IWE. At Junzo’s suggestion, he negotiated with Kokusai president Isao Yoshiwara to work on the late spring’s Big Challenge Series. Ueda continued to work in the States through early May. With friends Rip Tyler and Eddie Sullivan in tow, he returned to Japan with a startling new look, having dyed his bangs blonde.


Ueda poses with the IWA World Heavyweight title on June 11, 1976.

The “speckled wolf” went over Sullivan in his first match back home on May 23. Soon, though, Ueda shifted to working matches against IWE’s native talent. While no footage survives from Ueda’s 1976 stint with Kokusai, it is known through match reports that he worked a somewhat more technical style during this “speckled wolf” run than he would later on, marking it as a transitional period from his pre-IWE work in Japan. On June 11, Umanosuke got a shot at the IWA world title. After downing referee Osamu Abe with a shoulder tackle, he used a foreign object to down Rusher Kimura for the pinfall. As the bloodied Ueda made some incredible smug faces for the cameras, Japan had found its first great native heel.

It is not strictly correct to call Umanosuke Ueda the first native heel in puroresu. The Great Togo, a second-generation Japanese-American, had done the heel bit during his tours abroad with the JWA. Mr. Chin had assaulted his foes with mouthwash and wooden sandals. Seven years earlier, Chati Yokouchi had turned heel in the IWE. And Ueda was far from the first to let his style as a territory heel bleed into his in-ring work back home. But Togo had not so much enraged as confused Japanese audiences. Chin’s shtick had been confined to JWA undercards, and at the time was probably perceived more as early puroresu comedy, like Yusuf Turk. Yokouchi's heel turn was squandered on his second and final tour with the company, after which he was never seen in Japan again. Finally, the unscrupulous stylings of puroresu’s “rough”-style workers did not translate into any sort of heat that drew tickets; it was received more as a difference in approach than as a moral failure, not unlike a rudo in lucha libre. All of this is to say that, no matter what technicalities you wish to cite, Ueda’s reinvention was a genuine watershed moment in the development of puroresu. No native worker had fully committed to the bit, and only Ueda had the heat to make it work.

Ueda was booked for the IWE’s following tour in July. Two weeks before it began, though, Ueda went into business for himself. On June 26, the same day that Inoki fought Muhammad Ali, Ueda resubmitted his challenge to the ace of New Japan. The added clout of an IWA world title piqued the interest of top NJPW executive and “radical instigator” Hisashi Shinma, who had courted Strong Kobayashi to jump ship from Kokusai and wrestle Inoki in the match that started New Japan’s first golden age. Shinma stated that an Inoki match could happen, but first, Ueda would have to come to NJPW as IWE champion and defeat either Sakaguchi or Kobayashi in a singles match. This would not happen. Three weeks after an unsuccessful shot at the IWA tag titles with Thunder Sugiyama, Ueda defended his title in a Rusher rematch. This cage match—or “wire mesh deathmatch”, in Kokusai parlance—ended in a no-contest when the Super Assassin (Roger Smith) and Mighty Inoue climbed into the cage to interfere. Ueda claimed that he injured his left shoulder and vacated the title; Inoue asserts that Ueda fabricated this in order to not have to give Rusher his heat back at the end of the tour. Whatever the case, the injury also prevented him from competing for New Japan, in an August 5 singles match that had already been booked against Kobayashi. That night in Tokyo, though, Ueda entered the ring after Inoki’s NWF Heavyweight title defense against Tiger Jeet Singh to challenge Antonio directly. Inoki rejected the challenge and the two came to blows. Two months later, on the night that Inoki fought Andre the Giant, he and Umanosuke entered another scuffle.


Ueda crashes NJPW’s show on October 7, 1976.


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singh1978.thumb.jpg.0d4c0211b3a91e4ae760dc9c68294f1a.jpgNJPW’s greatest villain, Tiger Jeet Singh (c.1978), received a much-needed facelift when he began working with Ueda in 1977.

Since nearly the beginning of its time on television, New Japan Pro-Wrestling had featured Tiger Jeet Singh as its top heel. With sabers, fireballs, and staged assaults at Shinjuku department stores, the Indo-Canadian was the first true star that NJPW ever made, in a time when Giant Baba’s connections in the American industry froze his competition out of booking any bigger names. As he entered his fourth year working for the company, though, Singh was getting a little stale. He had branched out into the tag title scene in 1976. His temporary teams with Brutus Mulumba and Gama Singh had put shine on Seiji Sakaguchi’s new tag team with Strong Kobayashi (as Inoki concentrated on singles), first in a match for the vacant NWA North American tag titles, then in that summer’s Asian Tag Team League.

On the first tour of 1977, Singh began a more stable partnership with Umanosuke Ueda. Their first shot at the NWANA titles, a heated match on January 14 in Fukuoka, saw Singh and Ueda work Kobayashi’s hurt arm to win the first fall, but the bout ended in a no-contest. The duo sure made the most of their second shot, held in Osaka on February 2. After winning the first fall in seventeen minutes, Singh crossed the line by breaking Kobayashi’s arm in a work. This disqualified the heels to lose the second fall, but Kobayashi was unable to stand, much less wrestle a third fall. Therefore, Singh and Ueda became tag champions by forfeit. They held the titles for nearly six months. When the tour ended with Singh challenging Inoki for the NWF title, the ring was fenced off to prevent Ueda’s interference. Singh and Ueda were linked to Inoki’s broader on-again, off-again storyline against Johnny Powers, who had been plotting for years to get the NWF title off of him.

197705-020.thumb.jpg.b936961e6f3ebb9ca3e6eaf0ed7ef234.jpgOn March 31 and April 1, 1977, NJPW had booked the Kuramae Kokugikan for two straight nights, which coincided with network NET TV’s rebrand as TV Asahi at the start of the fiscal year. It had been over twenty years since a puroresu promotion had been so bold as to book the Sumo Hall on back-to-back dates. The company needed a big match to maintain the momentum across two shows. On the first night, Inoki defended the NWF strap against Johnny Powers for the last time. On the second night, Inoki and Sakaguchi’s “Golden Tag Team” reunited to challenge Singh and Ueda for the tag titles, with Lou Thesz as guest referee. After assaulting Ueda’s former senpai Kokichi Endo in a memorable backstage segment, the heels walked out as champions after Singh knocked Thesz down in the third fall to be disqualified. That June, Sakaguchi and Kobayashi reunited to challenge for the titles in Norfolk, Virginia, but Singh and Ueda retained again. It wasn't until the Big Summer Series that Seiji and Strong brought the belts back home, in a July show in Fukuoka. Ueda worked for his old Southeast territories throughout 1977, but late in the year, Mr. Ito started appearing for Angelo Poffo’s outlaw ICW promotion.

Ueda’s transition into a heel was complete, and he had dyed his hair fully blond by 1978. This came with personal consequences at the time, as his villainous character initially did great damage to his relationship with his young nephew, and also led him and his family to remain settled in Pensacola, Florida. But it was worth it. As Singh himself would tell you, Ueda was the greatest partner that he ever had. He drew out Singh’s potential by playing a supporting role. Singh had caused problems for NJPW by hitting yakuza in the audience during his entrances, so Ueda kept Singh’s character work from becoming a liability by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him during entrances. When Singh went on his rampages in the crowd, Ueda hung close and surreptitiously protected audience members who were not quick enough to evade him. As Singh claimed many years later in an interview with Weekly Pro Wrestling, Umanosuke was the first true friend that he had made when working with New Japan. He even began wearing a turban at Ueda’s suggestion.

img_93749fb0c7e2e5f98c00d28b11aa1058173984.thumb.jpg.4ecde7478921e5b5995d209bf6001412.jpgUeda and Inoki wage war in the Budokan, a blowoff years in the making.

Singh and Ueda returned to New Japan for the first tour of 1978. This came with another tag title shot in Nagoya, but much more notably, this tour saw Ueda get his singles match with Inoki: the non-title “nail floor death match” at the Nippon Budokan on February 8. The stipulation, which surrounded the ring with wooden boards and thousands of five-inch nails, was the product of a brainstorm session between Inoki and NJPW sales wunderkind Naoki Otsuka, who had initially proposed surrounding the ring with broken glass bottles. When Otsuka had Ichiro Furutachi explain the stipulation one week before the show, on World Pro Wrestling’s taping in Sapporo, the result was the most “explosive” surge in ticket sales that Otsuka ever saw. It was an early vindication of Otsuka’s new airline-inspired telephone preorder system, in which customers called the NJPW sales department directly to reserve tickets (with no cancellation fee). Usually, the sales staff got by with just one notebook of names for a major market, but they needed three for this show. The company made 14 million yen in same-day sales alone, nearly six times the amount that even a big-market show would usually make. Neither man would take a bump onto those nails, no matter how hard Ueda tried to push Inoki out. Inoki won in eleven minutes by knockout.

Assuming that WrestlingData’s records are reliable, one can only presume that Ueda had burned his bridge with the Southeastern promoters by working dates for Poffo, for after he returned to the States, he took four months off before he began work for the LeBells in NWA Hollywood. Apparently, there were rumors at the time that Ueda was seeking a transfer back to AJPW. I don’t know the veracity of these claims, and the time Ueda spent off the grid makes it possible that he had considered something, but the fact that he came back to work for NJPW’s closest American allies leads me to presume that this was an angle. (Note how Ryuma Go was working with NWAHW around this time, as a smokescreen for being with New Japan, and had held a press conference at an All Japan show to declare his "independence".) Now billed as Professor Ito, Ueda won the promotion’s tag titles in summer 1978 with Pak Choo: that is, NJPW’s Kengo Kimura. When Umanosuke returned to Nooj, this led to a brief but ugly breakup with Singh. On September 19 in Osaka, Singh and Ueda squared off with Inoki as referee. That winter, Ueda entered NJPW’s Pre-Japan Championship League, a tournament which counterprogrammed the IWE’s Open League by pitting NJPW talent against a loose band of Japanese freelancers led by Hiro Matsuda. Ueda challenged for the tag titles again in December, this time with Thunder Sugiyama.


NJPW’s partnership with the IWE saw Ueda return to the promotion where he had begun his heel run.

By the time that Ueda returned to Japan for the second Nooj tour of 1979, the company had begun a partnership with the IWE. This opened things up for Umanosuke, who returned to the promotion where he had begun his native heel run for three full tours. While Ueda worked with Singh again in Nooj, he had also taken a clear hit in the pecking order of New Japan heels. According to the fanzine Showa Puroresu, Ueda was originally planned to win a second tag title in the company with Masa Saito, in the program which would see Riki Choshu take Kobayashi’s place as Sakaguchi’s partner, but Ueda was replaced by Hiro Matsuda. Sakaguchi had won his own pet singles title against Johnny Powers that January, and he made a pair of defenses against Ueda to start his only run with the belt. Umanosuke’s Kokusai appearances were more interesting. He got two shots at the ace he had probably feigned an injury to avoid putting over in 1976, and only lost by disqualification both times. He also got three shots at Mighty Inoue & Animal Hamaguchi’s tag titles, each time with a different partner: Masa Saito, Kintaro Oki, and Yasu Fujii. On his last full tour with the IWE, Ueda wrestled some matches alongside Goro Tsurumi, who had made a heel turn of his own. Tsurumi was the first wrestler to put their own spin on Umanosuke’s shtick, and far from the last. In 1980, the Golden Wolf had an unremarkable summer tour with New Japan, followed by autumn shots at the tag titles with Singh, and at Sakaguchi’s second pet title (third if you count the one he won in South Africa!), the WWF North American Heavyweight belt. A week before that tour, on October 4, had Ueda made one last appearance for Kokusai, challenging Oki for the IWA world title after Eduoard Carpentier had canceled.

vlcsnap-2023-09-19-17h36m55s224.png.80c7b76c4f9ed31f04c291d600921de0.png.5aa375f4665654777e62b7a1dd8f31f1.pngUeda first met Emiko, who later became his second wife and caregiver, in 1982.

In summer 1981, Singh transferred to AJPW in anger over New Japan’s signing of Abdullah the Butcher. His first tour with the company saw him team up with, of all people, Bobby Heenan, but after one last summer tour with New Japan, Ueda followed his primary partner. They got a match for Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta’s NWA International Tag Team titles on Ueda’s first tour, and entered the 1981 Real World Tag League as a unit. In early 1982, Ueda and Baba headlined a Kagoshima show with a singles match. While I could not find records of Ueda’s work in the States between his last NWA Hollywood run in 1981, and a Mid-South run in 1984, he apparently did work in WCCW and Florida under a Gary Hart gimmick named Tengu. However, Ueda’s first full year back with All Japan was more notable for personal reasons than for career accomplishments. After a show in Kumamoto, Ueda stopped at a snack shop for food. As it happened, its owner Emiko had just partnered with AJPW as a ticket seller. The two began a professional relationship in this capacity, but Ueda would also start helping out at the store.

While NJPW had only run one singles match between Ueda and Inoki, All Japan went to the well four times. The most notable of these matches was on March 3, 1983. Two days before, Ueda had wrestled a lumberjack match against Genichiro Tenryu. Goro Tsurumi had given Ueda a wrench to use in the match, and then allowed him to escape. This led Tsurumi to receive a six-month kayfabe suspension by the PWF (in truth, he went on a West German excursion). This tour, which saw the Japanese debut of the Great Kabuki, had been the first in All Japan history to be held without Baba, who was overseas chasing Harley Race for the PWF Heavyweight title. However, Ueda and Singh threatened to boycott the last show of the tour if Baba did not return for it. In an extremely rare result for a Baba match, Ueda lost by referee stoppage as the Giant broke his arm. This tour was the first in AJPW’s history to turn a profit without factoring in network funds, and as a fan article suggests, this unusual display may have been Baba calling an audible to “make his presence felt”. It is also worth noting that Ueda had been quite popular with and outspoken in the wrestling press, and had openly criticized the likes of Hisashi Shinma and Motoko Baba. Whatever the case, Umanosuke did not return to the ring until a summer tour with All Japan, where he and Singh won their last tag titles in a two-week run with the NWAIH belts. The 1983 RWTL would be their last significant showing as a team, where they notched a middling six points.

Besides a one-off appearance on the UWF’s first show on April 11, Ueda spent most of 1984 with AJPW. Umanosuke and Singh got a pair of tag title shots against Baba and Jumbo, Ueda got an early shot at Tenryu’s NWA United National title, and the Tengu gimmick was brought out for a one-off singles match against Kabuki. At a June 14 house show in Korakuen Hall, Ueda was part of an eight-man elimination match, a clear attempt to respond to NJPW’s then-new gauntlet match stipulation. At some point in the year, Ueda was contacted by Hiro Saito, who was then working for Stampede Wrestling. Hiro had been ordered by Stu Hart to dye his hair blond, so he contacted Ueda to seek his blessing. Umanosuke not only granted it, but he also took Saito under his wing. By the end of the year, Ueda had jumped ship back to New Japan; I could not find any specific backstage info, but it is apparent that Ueda and Baba had never fully buried the hatchet. (In 1992, Ueda was deeply angered that Baba did not call to tell him when Motoshi Okuma died.)


Ueda returns to New Japan in December 1984.

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maeda32686.png.7197f696bc18dcfb80d22101c8a01d81.pngUmanosuke Ueda’s second NJPW run, which spanned ten tours from 1985 through 1987, was his last sustained tenure with a major puroresu promotion. He initially teamed up with his new protege, Hiro Saito, but they broke up acrimoniously in the middle of his second tour in March. For the rest of that tour, and a subsequent one in late summer, Ueda did his usual bit. Things got more interesting in 1986. In the midst of the UWF invasion angle, Ueda aligned himself with NJPW’s home team. On March 26, Ueda was part of the NJPW vs. UWF gauntlet match. His participation was minimal but memorable, as Umanosuke sacrificed himself to eliminate Akira Maeda in a double countout. That June, Ueda entered the IWGP League singles tournament, where he was eliminated in the B-block, by disqualification, in a singles match with Maeda. In 1987, he competed in the IWGP League once again. However, Ueda’s most intriguing appearance that year had been as a guest referee that January, in Tatsumi Fujinami’s blowoff match against Kengo Kimura. During the last stretch of his New Japan run, Ueda used “Spartan X”, the theme from Jackie Chan’s 1984 film Wheels on Meals, as entrance music, three years before Mitsuharu Misawa.

Ueda_Umanosuke_Episode_36.jpg.956ba85f98de251c7f977286e24c6269.jpgUeda in Takeshi's Castle.

Ueda had been broadening his portfolio since the early eighties. A performance in 1982 dystopian punk musical Burst City was followed by appearances on Fuji TV variety shows such as Hyokin Tribe, which had segments devoted to a comedic interpretation of puroresu. In 1983, Umanosuke got a four-year gig filming commercials for Trident sugar-free gum. But if you recognize Ueda for anything outside wrestling, it is most likely that you know him as a guard in the cult classic game show Takeshi’s Castle (or in one of its many altered international forms, such as Spike TV’s Most Extreme Elimination Challenge in the US). Umanosuke began appearing on the program, which also featured Strong Kobayashi, during his time with NJPW.

Back in Pensacola, Ueda worked for World Organization Wrestling, a small promotion formed by Flash Monroe and Ueda’s old friend Rip Tyler. Ueda won a title from Hacksaw Higgins, which got covered by Tokyo Sports, and Ueda had ambitious ideas. While the promotion itself folded after just a year, and Tyler left the business to run his Pensacola appliance store, Ueda continued to field the idea of defending the belt in Japan. Umanosuke had long been outspoken about puroresu’s pay gap between natives and gaikokujin, and he claimed that, if he could bring WOW to Japan, it would not be so. In 1990, NJPW streamlined its touring model, inspired by the Newborn UWF to cut back on its provincial shows. Ueda was strongly critical of “neglecting the regions”, and if he brought WOW to Japan, he vowed that they would only run provincial markets. It never materialized, but Ueda’s vision anticipated the birth of the Japanese indie scene.

vsishinriki.thumb.png.7b069e8ad3524b72fe3696e10791b544.pngUeda worked in Puerto Rico in 1991, and then returned to Japan for NJPW’s 20th Anniversary show on March 6, 1992. For the first time since 1984, he reunited with Tiger Jeet Singh to face Seiji Sakaguchi and Strong Kobayashi. Just like old times, they lost by DQ. Five months later, Umanosuke joined Kazuo Sakurada’s SWS splinter promotion Network Of Wrestling. After arriving unannounced on their first show, he teased a match for the WOW title with Kenji (George) Takano, but the Takano brothers left the company acrimoniously very soon after, and the WOW title was never mentioned again. Ueda worked with NOW frequently through the spring of 1994, where he reunited with Singh again. In the summer of 1993, he even got his son, a college football player, booked as Umanosuke Ueda Jr. For all this, though, the most remarkable bit of his Network run was possibly the grimiest match of his career: the Anything Goes Anywhere match on December 11, 1992 against Ishinriki.

After working a freelance memorial show in April 1994 for Toshimitsu Naoi, the NOW wrestler who had died in a 1993 accident while driving the company truck, Ueda was inactive for two years. He stepped back to help Emiko run the restaurant and promote local shows, and to support her when she developed colon cancer in 1995. Then, an offer from IWA Japan came in early 1996. As Emiko recalled in a 2012 interview, she was strongly against it, but Ueda was compelled to return to the ring. She did get a promise from him that it would be his last tour. Unbeknownst to either of them, that would very soon be a foregone conclusion. The IWA Japan tour began with a final match alongside Singh, challenging Tarzan Goto and Mr. Gannosuke for the IWA and NWA World Tag Team titles. The latter, who had debuted for FMW in 1991, was yet another wrestler who had given his own spin on Umanosuke’s gimmick. The tour also saw Ueda wrestle a chain match against Goto, and thumbtack matches against Gannosuke and Keisuke Yamada. The latter match was the last of the tour, and afterwards, Ueda took a ride back to Tokyo with one of IWA Japan’s sales workers, instead of the tour bus, to keep kayfabe. As they drove down the Tohoku Expressway, their car was rear-ended by a semi-truck. The driver died instantly, while Ueda was propelled through the windshield and onto the asphalt road. He survived, but he felt nothing below his neck, and he would struggle with survivor's guilt in the years to come.

vlcsnap-2023-09-19-17h36m29s637.png.d16b7f7ecef4b4a9dc982690cdea8fd2.pngNone of Ueda’s family came to see him: only Emiko. She didn’t know how much longer she had at that point, but when they met in the hospital, she promised that she would take care of Hiroshi for as long as she lived. Ueda’s divorce proceedings protracted over the next three years, as his ex-wife sought alimony from the compensation that Ueda would receive from the transportation company. On April 16, 1998, Junzo Hasegawa (Yoshinosato) promoted his final show, under the umbrella of his Rikidozan Alumni Association: a retirement show in Kumamoto for Ueda, at which Umanosuke appeared in a wheelchair. In the summer of 1999, the divorce was finalized. Just two days later, the couple submitted their marriage certificate to Kumamoto City Hall. Hiroshi and Emiko moved across Kyushu island to Emiko’s hometown of Usuki and opened the Uedaya thrift store. Ueda lived with severe pain, and his lungs had been reduced to a third of their previous capacity, but he recovered enough to make public speaking engagements, and regained some feeling in his upper body. 

During his active career, Ueda had kept his true character outside the ring from being reported. He used to visit an orphanage of children who knew his nephew, and had later volunteered with an organization that held pottery classes for children with Downs syndrome. In a 2008 television program, Ueda is seen giving a talk at a school in 2006. One day, when he made a speech at a nursing home, an elderly mark insinuated that Ueda had deserved his accident for the things he had done in the ring. However, Hiroshi was not offended; as he explained to Emiko, he was grateful that that man had taken pro-wrestling seriously. It was in keeping with how Ueda had carried himself throughout his career. He may have been a heel, but he had also carried himself as a last bastion of the Rikidozan era. In 2009, Oita-based indie wrestler VINNI began working as Umanosuke Ueda. While Ueda himself could not make the trip, he had clearly given his blessing, as Emiko arrived at the new Umanosuke’s debut to give him her husband’s old gown and kendo stick. Umanosuke II would also win the WOW title. Hiroshi Ueda died of asphyxiation two years later, in November 2011.


Umanosuke and Emiko attend an independent show in 2006.



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