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Killer Khan 
(キラー・カーン)

[KinchStalker Deluxe Profile #4]

 

Profession: Wrestler
Real name: Masashi Ozawa (小澤正志)
Professional names: Masashi Ozawa (simplified as 小沢正志), Temojin El Mongol, Killer Khan
Life: 3/6/1947-12/29/2023
Born: Yoshida (now Tsubame), Niigata, Japan
Career: 1971-1987
Height/Weight: 195cm/141kg (6’5”/311 lbs.)
Signature moves: Flying Kneedrop, Mongolian chop, Asian Spike
Promotions (Japan): Japan Wrestling Association, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Japan Pro Wrestling
Titles: NWA Florida United States Tag Team [CWF] (1x, w/Pak Song), Mid-South Louisiana [Mid-South] (1x), Mid-South Mississippi [Mid-South] (1x), North American Heavyweight [Stampede] (1x), World Class World Television [WCCW] (1x)

 

After seven years constrained by the culture of his native industry, Killer Khan blossomed overseas into one of the great Japanese heels of the eighties. But eventually, the politics of that same Japanese scene burned him out on the business. 

 

SOURCES

Spoiler

 

This profile is largely based on Killer Khan’s 2018 autobiography, The Phantom of Mongolia. The book only acknowledges the worked nature of wrestling to the extent that most modern Japanese sources do, and one should always state some measure of caveat lector when they go off of a wrestler’s own version of their story. But this was a great read, and while there are a few dubious points that I will address throughout, I have no qualms about using it as a primary source.

Other sources include:

- The excellent Japanese zine Showa Puroresu fleshed out my coverage of Khan's 1982 (issue #25) and 1983 (#30) work in New Japan.

- A few details on Cindy Ozawa and the wedding were sourced from a January 1980 article in Monthly Pro Wrestling (Bessatsu Puroresu), about Japanese wrestlers who had married overseas.

- Various online articles and interviews filled in the story of Ozawa's post-wrestling life. [1] [2] [3] [4] 

 

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Posted (edited)

PART ONE: YOUNG TEMÜJIN (1947-1977)

Yoshida-town_Niigata.png.37c406c5988c24e3f7be8dc5de9d5eb5.png

The story of Killer Khan began where many stories of “Showa puroresu” begin: in a town which no longer exists. This one was the Yoshida of Niigata prefecture, which became a town in the twenties amidst the abolition of the Meiji era’s county system. Yoshida sat along the Nishikawa, a tributary of the Shimano river, and a part of the Echigo plain, which the Shimano and the Agano have formed on their northern courses into the Sea of Japan. The Echigo is one of Japan’s largest breadbaskets, and indeed it is with farmers that this story begins. 

They themselves were an old couple without heirs, but they adopted a married couple and added them to the family registry. Mutsuko, whose maiden name was Ishida, had three sons with Kyohei, but he did not remain long enough to see their third. After frequently butting heads with his adopted parents, Kyohei left while Mutsuko was pregnant. He had told her that he would come back for her within three months, but neither her nor the boys ever saw him again.

ozawas.png.62d37a2af580dad3fef94f4aff2b1ec6.pngMother and sons: Masashi on the left. 

Masashi was the second son, born in March 1947. Masao had preceded him by three years, and Masaru followed by two. By then, it had fallen on their mother to support the family. The elder Ozawas were small-time farmers with just a few fields and paddies, so although food was never an issue, finances certainly were. In the heart of the town, Mutsuko got a job at a large apothecary called Yamashiroya. It did not pay enough to support three growing boys. There was further strife for a time after the death of the matriarch, and the grandfather became abusive towards Mutsuko. One day, Masashi and Masao intervened, clinging to his legs to defend their mother. After this incident, he softened towards her. He once suggested that Mutsuko find a new man, but according to Masashi, she refused because of the chance that her children would be mistreated by a stepfather.

By the time that Masashi was in fifth grade, Mutsuko had quit from Yamashiroya and started her own small delivery business. At first, she did it while she searched for a more lucrative job. Then, Mutsuko set her sights on opening her own drugstore, and this was how she got by as she studied, by herself, for a pharmaceutical license. She took orders across town and took the train to a wholesaler in Niigata. Masashi fondly remembered the afternoons when, after they finished school, he and Masaru would walk to Yoshida Station to meet her. She would come down the stairs, one by one, with the luggage on her back, and when she reached them, she unloaded some for them to deliver, for some candy money. Masashi would get ten to twenty yen for deliveries he made.

schoolboy.thumb.jpg.942e287711e86d6768b64dc19ac36292.jpgFrom the start of his schooling, Masashi stood above the rest in his grade. Due to his familial circumstances, he could never pinpoint where his height came from, but he noted that his mother stood tall for a Japanese woman, at 168cm (5’6”). In his 2018 autobiography, he characterized himself as a gentle giant whose timidity drew some teasing. But he was a gentle giant who also loved sumo, and nursed a vague aspiration to become a rikishi. This was stoked by radio broadcasts of the honbasho tournaments, which expanded from two per year to the modern schedule’s six through the first eleven years of his life. In the sport’s greatest rivalry of the fifties, that of Tochinishiki and Wakanohana, Mutsuko was firmly a fan of the former, which influenced her son. Masashi also enjoyed cooking and singing.

Around the age of forty, Mutsuko got her license, and opened her own pharmacy: first out of the corner unit of a townhouse, then in a storefront that went up for rent. When a house three doors down went up for sale, the Ozawas sold their farmland and moved to the heart of Yoshida. Even after losing their primary source of food, Mutsuko made sure that her boys got enough to eat, though Masashi later realized that she herself had gone hungry to do so; for instance, she would divide a block of tofu into quarters for the four men of the house, and lie that she disliked it. They often ate loach and whitefish which the boys caught themselves, with kite strings, in the river behind their home. As for the pharmacy, Ozawa Yakiya was eventually inherited by Masaru and remained in business until Mutsuko’s death in 2012.

When Masashi was in eighth grade, the family got a television. This was such a big deal that Masao called him during basketball practice—there was no sumo club at Yoshida Junior High—to come home, leading his coach to assume that there had been a family emergency. It was 1960. The royal wedding the previous year had surged the popularity of the medium, and there were now some twelve million sets across Japan. Masashi was now able to watch the honbasho, which were broadcast on NHK, but the TV also allowed him to watch something that did not have the same coverage on the radio: pro wrestling. He was “overwhelmed by the power of Rikidozan’s matches”, yet repulsed by the foreign heels with which he would eventually have much in common, and fearful of the bloodshed which he would eventually dish out himself.

Ten months into his freshman year at Hakusan High School, which did not have a sumo club either, Ozawa dropped out. He did not care for studying, and he felt the pressure to support the family. With the body that he had, sumo now seemed a feasible career. What had inspired him to take it seriously was a photograph of Taiho, the half-Ukrainian who had become the youngest yokozuna to that point but was still to become the greatest rikishi of his half of the century. A newspaper or magazine ran a feature on his rivalry with Kashiwado, and this included a picture of Taiho at the beginning of his sumo career, when he had had a tall, thin frame similar to Ozawa’s own. [Here is a photograph from early in Taiho's career.]

Tochinoumiandtochinishiki.jpg.d5f3c0c98fc5fb9cfe7fd81e1edf2ca3.jpgTochinishiki, as Kasugano coach, teaches his ring-entrance ritual to Tochinoumi (c.1964).

Tochinishiki had retired in 1960 to become the Kazugano stable’s head coach. It just so happened that there was a Kazugano patron in the Yoshida area, who had already told the stable about a boy worth scouting. The decision was made. In February 1963, Masashi and Mutsuko took the train to Tokyo, where they were picked up by a rikishi and taken by cab to the stable. After a meeting with Tochinishiki, which Masashi remembered vividly for the rest of his life, Mutsuko went back alone. Masashi was treated as a guest for a week before his new life began. Ozawa officially debuted in the March 1963 tournament, but he did not enter a proper bracket until the following honbasho two months later.

Kasugano had two ozeki at the time Masashi joined: Toshihikari and Tochinoumi. Tochinoumi was overshadowed in the sport’s highest echelon by the aforementioned Taiho and Kishiwado, but his considerable technical skill made him the third Kasugano rikishi to become a yokozuna in early 1964. When one reaches this rank, “about ten people” are assigned to them, and Ozawa was one of them. Even this had its own hierarchy! One began by doing their senpai’s laundry, as they were not allowed to touch him, and had to earn the right to wash his feet after a bath. Tochinoumi only won one tournament after his promotion, as a series of injuries—a herniated disc with sciatica, then a severe right bicep tear—drove him to the youngest retirement in yokozuna history, in 1966. After this, Ozawa became valet to Tochiazuma.

Ozawa “wasn’t the smartest”, but he worked hard and worked well in a communal situation, so he did not bear the brunt of bullying in the stable. This was sumo, though, so there were inevitably times when he became its subject. Ozawa recalled an instance when a senior happened to walk into the kitchen while he was using an electric mixer to crush fish for chanko, and the mixer stopped. The senior thought Masashi had broken the appliance and beat him with a board. Masashi quickly learned from the electrical company that there had just been a brief outage during nearby construction. He told his stablemates what had happened, and it got laughs, but it did not get him an apology. One unlikely bunkmate in Ozawa’s early career was a young, struggling television writer named Kazumichi Haruzawa, who was to become friend and finger-snapping comedian Paul Maki. 

Masashi showed promise and recalled that he was once featured in a sumo magazine as a rookie to watch. There are two main styles of sumo: oshizumo, where a rikishi pushes and thrusts their opponent, and yotsuzumo, in which one puts their hand under the arm and clutches their opponent’s mawashi. Ozawa was a yotsuzumo, and preferred using the left-handed hidari-yotsu style. He had a strong stance, and a certain amount of skill, but as he reflected, his sumo didn’t have any “strength or weight” to it.

Ozawa was promoted to makushita in the first tournament of 1967, and maintained that with a 5-2 record, but was demoted after the next honbasho. That summer, Ozawa was bestowed with the shikona Etsunishiki, which borrowed the “shiki” (錦) of Tochinishiki. Ozawa notched a win against the young Kitanoumi, later to become the most dominant yokozuna of the seventies, in the July 1968 tournament. He rose again to makushita in the second tournament of 1969, only to fall back that autumn. It was a demoralizing point to stumble over again, as the makushita rank was the lowest at which Masashi was allowed to form a supporters’ association (koenkai), which would draw sponsors and open up his income beyond the standard sumo salary. Ozawa later came to believe that he had been too timid and self-conscious under the senpai-kohai culture to thrive in Japan, whether in sumo or puroresu. He saw this as the root of his struggles to gain weight, which would persist through almost the first decade of his subsequent career. One day, he had a chance encounter with a rikishi he was set to face in the tournament, who “seemed to have some deep reason for being there”. Ozawa “felt sorry for him”, and went easy on him when they wrestled; that rikishi went on to win the division.

While Ozawa managed to gain some weight, he lost it all after an appendectomy, though he did not specify when he had this operation in his autobiography. He was so thin that it was painful to wear his mawashi, which he managed with the insertion of folded paper between his hip and the cloth; even then, there was a gap between it and his stomach. Masashi’s failure to maintain any significant bulk had also left him susceptible to lower back injuries. By the start of the new decade, Ozawa was crawling on all fours from his futon to the bathroom. He booked an appointment with Kanai Orthopedics, a clinic in east Tokyo. While Masashi was in the waiting room, he struck up a conversation with JWA wrestler Motoyuki Kitazawa, who had just hurt his knee in a battle royal. As an ex-sumo himself, Kitazawa was drawn to Ozawa for his topknot, and given Masashi’s height, the conversation naturally steered towards wrestling. Ozawa had never had the time or the money to attend JWA shows himself, but he was one of those who spent his spare time in the stable watching television, and had followed wrestling that way. He also felt a certain kinship with the country’s biggest star, Giant Baba, who had hailed from the next town over. First, he approached Kasugano, but was shut down. Ozawa then called his elder brother in hopes of support, but Masaru offered none. One night shortly after the March tournament, Ozawa quietly packed and ran from the stable. He had seen enough apprentices do the same to know how to pull it off.

After getting in touch with an old classmate who now lived about sixty miles northeast in Mito, the capital of Ibaraki, Ozawa got a job at the restaurant where he worked, Tsukushi. Masashi had his topknot cut at a nearby barbershop, and declined to keep it. During his culinary training, Ozawa’s friend encouraged him to treat his back. By the end of the year, he had recovered, and was working out two hours a day. As he recalled, he weighed about 98kg (216 lbs).

withyoshimura.thumb.jpg.6964c695e12bf386228869a1f2a885ab.jpgOzawa became the valet of Michiaki Yoshimura, the JWA’s booker.

In January 1971, Ozawa contacted Kitazawa, and was invited to the JWA’s office in Shibuya. After stripping for president Junzo Hasegawa and company, he was accepted as a trainee. Masashi was immediately assigned as a valet to Michiaki Yoshimura. While he had scaled back his in-ring work after a serious injury the previous year, Yoshimura was still a tag team champion, the booker, and a top executive. Ozawa entered the business at the tail end of the period where JWA contracts were verbal agreements. At this time, the JWA did not have a training camp, so Ozawa used Haruka Eigen’s two-room apartment as his dormitory until another camp was built that September. Tatsumi Fujinami, a younger man from Kyushu who had also been brought in by Kitazawa, was already bunking there, and Kazuo Sakurada would follow. Eigen condescended to his roommates about how he had graciously allowed them to sleep in his quarters, but Ozawa knew full well that Yoshimura was handsomely compensating him for the inconvenience.

Ozawa was one of the last wrestlers trained by Kiyotaka Otsubo. He was very strict, but he demanded nothing that Masashi couldn't handle. In sumo, it was common for one man to be forced through a disproportionate amount of training, but here, everyone was held to the same standard. That helped Masashi bond with his peers. They did a lot of push-ups and squats and bunny jumps, but the focus at this stage was on neck training, on running the ropes, and above all on ukemi, or learning how to bump. A trainee would take slam after slam from a succession of senior wrestlers—Great Kojika loved to take liberties—and get worn down. Ozawa found a lot of this distinct but not dissimilar from what he had already been doing in sumo training; what was totally new to him was ground wrestling. However, by this point the JWA curriculum was not keen on kimekko, the joint-based submission sparring that had originated with Otsubo and Isao Yoshiwara in the early sixties, and had then been expanded by Karl Gotch during his tenure as guest coach. “The atmosphere at that time was that if a junior wrestler mastered a senior wrestler, he would be in big trouble.”

b79927e947ecd216f811ff11d998bf0d.thumb.jpg.0fef7f1eb192cf26393daefffcae381e.jpgOzawa (right) and Sakurada.

Otsubo was the coach, but he was not the one who decided when a wrestler was ready to debut. That duty fell to Mitsu Hirai. As was the custom in Japan, Ozawa was put into several undercard battle royals before his proper debut. Before the start of the 1971 Golden Series—the first tour after the 12th World League and Inoki’s infamous press conference challenging Baba—Otsubo told Ozawa that he would make his proper debut on the tour. About midway through, and around a week in advance, Otsubo told him the to date and the opponent. On June 26, 1971, in the first match of an outdoor show in Kamakura,[1] Masashi was to wrestle Osamu Kido. He was relieved not to have been slotted in with the stiffer Masanori Toguchi; Sakurada would not be so fortunate. While these matches were certainly not ‘rehearsed’ in the sense that a modern spot-based match might be, Ozawa and Kido prepared by working a few dry runs at the dojo. Masashi recalled that he did not display “any particular technique” in the match. “Other than punches and kicks”, he dished out a headbutt and a Babaesque big boot, but it was Kido who won, in 7:32, with a single-leg crab. Ozawa also remembered that the sports paper misidentified him as Shoji Ozawa.

By the time he penned his autobiography, this was the only early match that Ozawa could remember. He could not even remember his first win, which he earned against Sakurada on February 1, 1972. He attributed this gap in his recollections to the stress that he felt under Hirai’s stern eye, the fear not to use any big moves. While the coaches watched their sparring sessions, neither Otsubo nor Hirai gave trainees much specific advice. Ozawa believed that they sought to avoid constraining a wrestler’s development, but their approach compounded his anxieties. When he joined New Japan, coach Kotetsu Yamamoto may have used corporal punishment, but he also told a wrestler where he needed to improve. To a guy like Masashi, who had been hardened up by sumo but was self-conscious to a fault in the senpai-kohai system, to suffer his shinai and arrows was an acceptable price for genuine feedback.

Yoshimura was a great senpai in several ways. He paid Ozawa more than the company itself did, giving him a ¥10,000 bill to use at the laundromat and letting him keep the nine thousand in change. When Ozawa cleaned up after the mahjong games that Michiaki played with Baba on his days off, they left him money under the tiles. Michiaki’s role in collecting show gates from provincial promoters, who would often take him out to dinner, also meant that Masashi often ate better food than his fellow juniors. But Ozawa also credits his senpai—Japan’s first great worker—as the first to give him constructive criticism. Michiaki told him many times that it was important to watch the rest of the matches carefully. With the limitations imposed on rookies’ movesets, Ozawa needed to watch the curtainjerker bouts to keep his work fresh. As for what he took from the matches higher up the card, Ozawa was particularly drawn to Kintaro Oki, whose no-frills style displayed the "weight" that Ozawa wanted to put into his own work.

okivsbillyredlyons.thumb.png.47729743d4bdf413582f6338606fe99a.pngKintaro Oki (vs. Billy Red Lyons, c. 1973) was an early influence on Ozawa, and he got him work in South Korea.

It was thanks to Oki that Ozawa got his first chances to work as a heel, in two tours overseas. In his native South Korea, Kintaro was national hero Kim Il, who ran and headlined shows in major cities with generous subsidies from the most politically powerful money mark in the history of pro wrestling, president Park Chung-hee.[2] Masashi claimed that these tours were promoted by Jiro Yanagawa, a Zainichi Korean yakuza who had been forced to go straight after the crackdown of the sixties, and was well on his way towards rebranding himself as a goodwill ambassador between the two countries. Ozawa did not specify when these tours took place, just that one happened “right after his debut”; Korean records are lacking. However, he noted that Bobo Brazil worked on one of them, which suggests that it took place around the time of either the JWA Golden Series of mid-1972, or that year’s last tour, the International Championship Series. Masashi was, of course, much cheaper than Bobo Brazil, and his low standing and inexperience were of little relevance in this setting. He had been told that he would have to wear a mask, as had become the custom for JWA wrestlers working these small tours, but Ozawa ended up not donning one. It was a valuable experience, though something in the food or the water had sharply disagreed with his stomach. That was going to be a recurring struggle in the coming years.

As 1971 drew to its close, the company was shaken to the core by the “phantom coup”, which got Antonio Inoki, Yusuf Turk, and Kotetsu Yamamoto fired. Otsubo also quit, and according to Ozawa, nobody stepped up to take his place as head coach, which left the rookies to develop their own training regimen. The following spring, the JWA lost their deal with the Nippon Television Network after their other carrier, NET, forced them to violate their NTV contract and feature Baba on their World Pro Wrestling program. NTV sent feelers to Baba for a new venture, and he announced his own departure that summer. By September, the JWA had lost half of its coverage and both of its top stars. Broken down and almost certainly burnt out, Michiaki Yoshimura decided to retire. Behind the scenes, Seiji Sakaguchi had helped hash out a deal which would have saved the JWA: a merger with Inoki’s New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which then was essentially a debt-ridden indie promotion. This deal was announced in February 1973, which was after Yoshimura had announced his retirement and defended his tag titles with Sakaguchi for the last time, but before his proper retirement match, which was to take place at his alma mater in March.

GA92JEWbYAAtQDu.thumb.jpg.4b683fea221257417df63346b9b9f564.jpgOzawa carries Yoshimura after his retirement match.

By then, Oki had rallied the JWA to reject the merger. Yoshimura told his kohai at the retirement party that it was his decision between Baba and Inoki, but Baba “was more human”. In fact, Ozawa claimed that he had asked Baba if he could join All Japan once Nipro folded, and had been accepted. With Yoshimura’s retirement, though, he was assigned to Sakaguchi’s entourage. Masashi admitted that he never felt part of “the Sakaguchi group”, nor had he felt any cameraderie with the other two wrestlers in Seiji’s entourage: certainly not his primary valet, the obsequious Seiei Kimura. Sakaguchi had never asked Ozawa to follow him to New Japan, but following through on that offer to Baba would have required Ozawa to say no to him. Thus, Ozawa signed a contract with NET, alongside Sakaguchi, Kimura, Daigoro Oshiro, and referee Yonetaro Tanaka.

Ozawa’s last night with the JWA was intense. The five men had booked a different hotel from the rest of the roster, and all changed into their working gear there. When they came to the Sano Municipal Gymnasium, they steered clear of the locker room. After Kimura wrestled Masao Ito, Ozawa beat Mitsuo Hata, and both matches went without incident. But then, Kazuo Sakurada shot on Oshiro in the third match of the night, and Ozawa and Kimura had to restrain Sakaguchi from stepping in.[3] After Sakaguchi wrestled in the penultimate tag match, Ozawa and the others followed him straight out of the building and took a taxi to the New Japan dojo in east Tokyo, where they were greeted by Yamamoto and Fujinami. The next day, they made one last visit to the JWA’s Daikanyama office for their farewell speech.

Most of the “young lions” addressed him as Ozawa-san, and he addressed none of them as such. He hit it off with the shortest of them, the 167cm (5’6”) Hiroaki Hamada; their height differential made for entertaining undercard matches. Masashi joined Inoki’s entourage, and later wrote of a time when, as he washed his back, Inoki told him that if he gained bulk, he had the potential to make it overseas in New York.

For a reader who knows Killer Khan from his Western work, but is unfamiliar with the conventions of the Japanese industry: well, first of all, I thank you for making it this far, and I hope you enjoy reading this. But you are outside my usual audience, and because of that, it is worth explicating a point which that audience knows implicitly. Ozawa could not become a star at home without first working overseas. Until a series of radical upheavals in the eighties and early nineties, a male Japanese wrestler could not rise to the top of the food chain without first doing extended work elsewhere. Ozawa’s height got him booked in matches that no other young lion got. His debut under the lion’s mane was against coach Yamamoto, and as early as his second tour, he was being slotted in against foreigners. He won his first of these matches in his first autumn with New Japan, beating Ham Lee under an ersatz El Santo mask. But he wrestled top stars merely as house-show cannon fodder, and he could only ever be that if he stayed in Japan.

Autumn 1973 was also when Masashi met the man who would save his career years later. When Karl Gotch was in Tokyo, he would come from his lodgings at the Keio Plaza Hotel to train at the Noge Dojo. “Mr. Gotch appreciated people who worked hard at things. I was a big guy, so there were some practice routines I couldn’t keep up with. For example, if he asked me to do 1,000 squats and I could only do 900 or so, but I worked hard and pushed myself to the limit, he appreciated that attitude.”

The following October, New Japan held the first Karl Gotch Cup, the ancestor of the modern Young Lion Cup. Masashi was one of nine men who wrestled each other in a round-robin before a final decision match. In his first match, Ozawa beat Fujinami. He went on to win all but one match, against Kimura, before the final. Meanwhile, on November 24, Masashi went up against Andre the Giant in the latter’s first full tour with NJPW, and their first singles match against each other. (They had previously squared off in handicap matches that spring.) The match went just over five minutes, and Andre carried it. On December 8, Ozawa and Fujinami squared off in the Gotch Cup final. With Inoki as guest referee, Fujinami beat Masashi in 10:37 with an “upside-down oshikomi”. On the two-date Brazilian tour that ended the year, Ozawa wrestled Gotch and Yamamoto. It was the first of several overseas trips which Masashi made in his NJPW tenure. There was the South Korea tour in March 1975, which fell to Jiro Yanagawa to promote; the Kim Il Promotion’s government subsidies had been slashed in the wake of the 1974 Park Chung-hee assassination attempt. Then in the fall, Ozawa took part in a short Taiwanese expedition with six other wrestlers, led by Sakaguchi and IWE defect turned Nooj #3 Strong Kobayashi.

GCqxFVwWkAEobWm.jpg.0406e2dfb0ab5f27b43144cb4817025a.jpgOzawa in West Germany, with British wrestler Neil Sands. (Credit to Sands himself, who posted this on X.)

Most notable for Masashi, though, was when he was sent to West Germany in August 1976 alongside Yoshiaki Fujiwara. They were the second crop of talent which NJPW sent to promoter Gustl Kaiser, after Fujinami and Kido had come in 1975. Over the next three months, the pair worked tournaments in four cities, and both had to relearn how to make a match flow under the five-minute round system; Ozawa did not have the luxury of watching the audience. But when they leaned on their shared Japanese style in a match against each other, Kaiser was very complimentary. As Ozawa remembered, these tournaments had about a dozen wrestlers each—he cited Steve Wright, Chris Taylor, Otto Wanz, Micha Nador, Ivan Breston, and the best of all of them, Horst Hoffman—but Ozawa placed sixth in all but one of them. He loved the food in Germany, though he bought a bottle of supermarket soy sauce for a little taste of home.

Ozawa and Fujiwara returned to Japan in time to join the year-end Toukon Series II tour. On October 30, Masashi’s return match was his first main event in Japan: a buildup tag with Inoki himself against Pat Patterson & Ricky Hunter in Kanagawa. At the end of the year, Ozawa accompanied Inoki as “a bouncer” on his infamous trip to Pakistan. In Inoki’s match against Akram Pehlwan, he was said to have broken Pehlwan’s arm. Western sources often assume this match was a work, and Ozawa wrote that the result was an exaggeration of a dislocated shoulder. But whether or not we believe it, he maintains his belief that Akram had wanted to go into business for himself and beat the man who had fought Muhammad Ali to a draw.[4] Ozawa claimed that subsequent shows were canceled because of the injury, and the group needed military protection at their hotel. As an aside, while everyone was wise enough to avoid the native food, and instead subsisted on a copious stash of cup noodles, they all got sick from drinking their Japanese whiskey over Pakistani ice and had to dilute it with mineral water.

Around the time Ozawa turned thirty, the Olympian recruit Mitsuo Yoshida returned to Japan. Masashi had not thought much of Yoshida when he first joined the NJPW fold in late 1973; “I honestly felt that he was short, lacked flair, and had no sense of star power.” But here he was, now renamed Riki Choshu, and Ozawa was going down for him in singles matches. Masashi claimed that he had not been one to phone in his matches, even during this time. Even so, as a career as a ‘frontrunner’ now seemed a real likelihood, he contemplated retirement, and a return to culinary work. (As of writing, Khan’s English Wikipedia page and Greg Oliver’s SLAM obituary erroneously claim that he wrestled as Kim Chang in Toronto around this time.) Four years before, Inoki had told Ozawa that if he gained weight, he could make it overseas. But really, Ozawa needed to go overseas to make it anywhere.

choshureturn.thumb.jpg.e06cc1c29359f0da6a05ac107e9ebca3.jpg

Riki Choshu, the man upon whom much of Ozawa's late career would hinge, has Sakaguchi in the corner on March 25, 1977.

 

FOOTNOTES

Spoiler

1. It was long reported that Masashi’s first match was against Sakurada on November 20, even in official profiles. Ozawa shoots this down.

2. See my post “Kintaro Oki and the Birth of Korean Wrestling” for that story.

3. It has been commonly speculated, though never confirmed, that Sakurada had acted on Great Kojika’s orders.

4. It is worth noting that, when referee Mr. Takahashi wrote his infamous full-on shoot book Bloody Magic in 2001, this was the one Inoki match besides the Ali fight which he claimed was legit (or at least ended legit). I admit that I do not have the legitimate grappling knowledge to judge from the footage.

Edited by KinchStalker
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  • KinchStalker changed the title to Killer Khan [IN PROGRESS: Part 1 of 4 posted]

PART TWO: KHAN (1978-1982)

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Ozawa arrives in Mexico.

In November 1977, Masashi Ozawa met with Hisashi Shinma, and learned that he was going to Mexico. Unlike his stint in West Germany, this was a long-term expedition with no set date of return. Unlike anywhere he had worked before, he was not booked to wrestle as Masashi Ozawa. Gotch had gotten an idea to distinguish Ozawa from the pair of New Japan wrestlers who would be working the territory when Ozawa arrived. Masashi would adopt a Mongolian gimmick—an established trope in the States, but not in Mexico—which took the birth name of that most famous of Mongols. Ozawa shaved his head and had a costume commissioned from a sketch that Gotch had sent. He left on December 13.

This was Ozawa’s first brush with Tatsumi Fujinami and Hiroaki Hamada since 1975. In fact, New Japan had told Ozawa to get Fujinami to come back to Japan. As Masashi claimed, the man who would trigger the “dragon boom” and start NJPW’s second golden age had done so in reluctance; in a word, there was a girl involved. Ozawa had no such orders when it came to Hamada, though. After he had gotten into a backstage fight with Kotetsu Yamamoto in March 1975, Shinma had essentially “exiled” Hiroaki to Mexico. It was the best thing he could have done for him, as ‘Gran’ Hamada was now “a superstar”. Ozawa didn’t know a lick of Spanish, so he lodged with Hamada at first, and even after he rented his own room, they sometimes shared a car. But since Hamada was a technico, and he was a rudo, they made sure this was not seen.

040.thumb.jpg.5bec866adc17a791273561e3f05114d8.jpgTemojin El Mongol debuted on January 22, 1978 in a tag match with TNT against Mil Mascaras and Tineblas. The UWA schedule revolved around these weekly shows in the El Torreo bullring, between which they went on regional tours. On his second El Torreo show, Ozawa got his first title match. Since the fall of Eddie Einhorn’s IWA in 1977, Mascaras had kept its World Heavyweight title for himself, and would defend it as a vanity belt for the rest of his career. When Mascaras first came to Japan in February 1971, Ozawa had just joined the JWA, and sure enough, Mil remembered Michiaki Yoshimura’s former valet. As Ozawa told the story, Mascaras had “taken him for a fool from the start”, and he tried to throw his weight around.

“I already had some career experience, and I had learned ‘cement’ [shoot] techniques from Gotch at the New Japan dojo, so I was confident in my skills. When we went to the ground, I attacked Mascaras' face with my elbow, and he instantly went quiet. I used to be an errand boy, a front-runner wrestler, but now I was a wrestler being marketed by Flores, the promoter. I couldn't let my opponent do whatever he wanted. Also, against an opponent who is trying to take you by surprise, you cannot have a good match unless you let him know with your body that you are not to be underestimated.”

Mil didn’t give him trouble after that; as the photos show, he even raised his arm at the end. As Ozawa recalled, they worked four more IWA title matches during his UWA stint. But while Ozawa came to respect his younger brother, Dos Caras, he wrote frankly that Mascaras was not “a man of good character”.

98e440eb8a8d41c8bce6ce89c7c55c7f.thumb.jpg.a5c52817d6789958ccba578dfd5e2e00.jpgTemojin with Septiembre Negro (likely April 8, 1978).

It had been five years since his first taste of heel work in South Korea, and at first, it still didn’t agree with his palette. He eventually got used to getting booed, and he would be booed plenty elsewhere. But it was only in Mexico where, after a postmatch shower, Ozawa could expect to be pelted on his way out of El Torreo with cups filled with childrens’ piss. He did not like Mexico. He did not like lucha libre’s dancelike rhythms, and he considered the UWA product a “circus-type wrestling” that went against his nature.[1] But Ozawa could not just move to another territory, as he was here on company orders; Gotch’s reputation also had to be considered.

Despite his misery, the year that Masashi spent as Temojin saw him take great strides towards honing his craft. He added vocal character to his work with a range of yells, grunts, and screeches. It was also here that he settled on his signature move. Ozawa claimed that he had been inspired by Inoki’s Killer Kowalski-style diving knee drop to develop a double-knee variant. He recalled first using it against Seiei Kimura in a battle royal. Consciously or not, it’s much likelier that Ozawa took it from John Tolos, who worked about a dozen dates for New Japan in 1974. Whatever the case, he began to use it as a finish, albeit sparingly due to the UWA’s unforgiving rings. As Bob Backlund later noted in his autobiography, that kneedrop was much harder on Ozawa than his opponent, as his rear leg and wrists bore the brunt of the landing.

As the year drew to a close, the hair which Ozawa had left atop his head had grown enough to braid. Now he was a complete Mongolian wrestler, and the payday of putting that on the line in a lucha des apuesta could not compel him to give that up. On the other hand, Ozawa had actually lost weight during his time in Mexico. After months of meals had passed right through him, he found that he was down to 90kg. In late 1978, NJPW sent a pair of Japanese talents to EMLL: the now-renamed Kengo Kimura and Satoru Sayama. While they did not work with Ozawa and Hamada, their apartment was nearby, and the four sometimes hung out together in their spare time: “However, renewing old acquaintanceship with them did not resolve the dissatisfaction that was smoldering inside of me.”

Masashi wanted to work somewhere else. One day at a hotel, Ozawa had a chance encounter with a vacationing Big John Studd, who told him he could make more money in the States. Masashi “couldn’t contain his desire” to go north. Fortuitously, it was just a few days later when he got another call from Gotch. Karl knew that Ozawa couldn’t remain in Mexico any longer, and he ordered him to mail his documentation to Championship Wrestling from Florida: specifically, the office of vice president Duke Keomuka, who seemed to recall Ozawa from his dealings with the JWA. The last Mexican match I could find record of was a tag bout in Naucalpan on January 14, 1979. In March, Ozawa heard back from Florida, and he was off.

Gotch picked him up from the airport. He almost got them into an accident on the drive, which frazzled Ozawa, only for the unfazed Karl to joke that he’d just got his license as a Christmas present. At a Tampa hotel, Ozawa was introduced to the CWF crew: Eddie and Mike Graham, Keomuka, and bookers Buddy Rogers and Dusty Rhodes. A match was booked in short order. The first show in the records is a tag on March 27 with Pak Song against Ray Candy and Bubba Douglas, though Ozawa claimed to recall a prior match against a black wrestler whose name he did not remember. Whatever his first match was, though, it was in a meeting between Graham, Keomuka, and Rogers afterward that Masashi received his new ring name. Temujin had come to conquer, and now, he would be known as Killer Khan. Four days after that first tag, at a one-night tournament in St. Petersburg, Khan and Pak won the NWA Florida United States Tag Team titles, defeating the Blonde Bombers (Wayne Ferris & Larry Latham) in the final. Their run with the belts ended in May against Mike Graham & Steve Keirn, and Pak left the territory shortly after. Khan teamed up with the likes of Curtis Iaukea and Don Muraco.

3705b421ee11d64a5b74a768446f1ef3.thumb.jpg.b418b2e5085daa5cf37de5853045b19e.jpgLean and mean: Khan fights Dusty Rhodes during his first run in Florida.

Khan wrestled Dusty Rhodes many times. Dusty’s inclination to “start dancing on his own” could stop a match’s flow and make it difficult for Khan to work; when “he shook his ass”, though, the crowd went nuts. From the sound of it, the real dream to work with was Jack Brisco, who the book praises effusively. These two made Ozawa feel that he had reached the top as a heel. He had less fond memories of Sweet Brown Sugar, with whom he feuded for the Florida Southern Heavyweight title, and who he claimed he’d had to straighten out in the ring like he had Mascaras.

There were also other Japanese workers in the territory, but the first two were ships passing in the night. Mr. Sato was Akihisa Takachiho, still two years away from his immortal Gary Hart gimmick. Ozawa already knew him from the late JWA days, when he had returned in the fall of 1972. He did not know Tenryu: that is, Genichiro Tenryu. The sumo star had retired to join AJPW in 1976, and he had probably been penciled to replace the Destroyer as that company’s number-three star the following summer. But when Dick Beyer’s son Kurt nearly died, and expressed his wish to stay in Japan until he finished high school, the Destroyer renewed his contract through 1979, and Tenryu was shackled with Rocky Hata before being sent back overseas. In late August, Ozawa reunited with the other member of the JWA class of 1971: “Mr.” Sakurada, who had taken his Stampede team with Mr. Hito (their JWA senior Katsuji Adachi) down south. Ozawa also met Masao Hattori, a former amateur wrestler who Hiro Matsuda had brought into the CWF fold as a coach, and had wrestled a bit himself as Rising Sun before settling as a manager for midcard Japanese talent. The manager got a big break from Khan’s rapid ascent and made more money with him than with tag champs Hito & Sakurada. As this photograph (by Peter Lederberg) shows, Khan also teamed up with the three in six-man tags. In his book, Ozawa also told a story of a plane ride from Miami to Tampa which almost ended in a crash. While Harley Race “screamed like a madman”, and the other wrestlers started to panic, Ozawa and Hattori sat in quiet resignation.

cindyandmasashi.thumb.png.5ce728b0ecb8b8f42fd935bdac99d6b7.pngCindy and Masashi, circa early 1980.

Early in his first Florida stint, when he was still working with Pak, Ozawa went out for drinks at a bar owned by Eddie Graham. That night, a frequent patron and fan of Khan’s brought a friend of hers to the bar, with whom he was instantly smitten. She was a blonde, born in North Carolina but raised in the area. She was nine years his junior. Her name was Cindy. “It was truly love at first sight. She wasn't very tall, but she had an air about her that made the place look gorgeous just by being there.” She didn’t share her friend’s interest in wrestling, and had no prior knowledge of Ozawa, but after several dates “at Japanese restaurants and other places”, Ozawa ‘seduced’ her. Bad News Allen once told a story that Cindy had tricked Ozawa into marrying him, taking him to city hall and telling him just to say yes to everything. It’s a fun story, but only that.

Cindy became pregnant, and Catholicism precluded certain options. Given the circumstances, her parents gave Ozawa’s proposal their blessing. Ozawa called his mother, who was surprised but agreed that he needed to take responsibility for his child, and also told New Japan’s office. On October 25, the couple got registered in Tampa and then had a quiet party with Gotch and Hattori. The Ozawas bought a house and “about 1700 square meters” of land. They didn’t live far from Gotch, and though Khan was reticent about this during his career, he eventually disclosed that he did train in Karl’s garage. (“It may sound cheeky, but I could have been a main-eventer without making such a thing my ‘selling point,’ and I didn't want to interfere with other people's business.”)

 

A month after marriage, the Ozawas rented an apartment in Atlanta. Ozawa liked Florida, and wanted to work there again, which was precisely why it was in his best interest to leave for the time being: a top babyface could make a single territory his home, but a heel needed to cycle through them. When he went to the office, Graham told him that he had an offer from Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Ozawa took it. In this first stint for Paul Jones, Khan wrestled against Bullet Bob Armstrong, a young Bret Hart, and others. In kayfabe, he became the client of the Great Mephisto. He also had his first brushes with Andre the Giant since Japan in a pair of tag matches. (See this footage of the second match, in which Andre & Mr. Wrestling II faced the trio of Khan, Great Mephisto, and the Masked Superstar at the Omni on February 3.)

According to Cagematch, Khan’s first match in Mid-South was a January date in Baton Rouge, although his book does not mention it. As he told the story there, Masashi wanted to stay put in Georgia, but Bill Watts stopped by in the spring and made a deal with Jones to pull Khan out. The records otherwise support this story, as Khan began full-time work in Mid-South in late March, and the Ozawas moved to Baton Rouge. With Hattori at his side, newly rechristened Tiger Hattori by Watts, Khan came to a TV taping and crashed a match between Ted DiBiase and Tully Blanchard. The ensuing angle wrote Ted off with a concussion (in truth, a tour with All Japan), and when DiBiase returned, the two feuded from May through August for Ted’s Mid-South North American title. Ted was Ozawa’s favorite person to work with in Mid-South, and they also took their match to Georgia that fall. Khan was less fond of wrestling the Junkyard Dog, though he insisted in his book that this was purely due to JYD’s limitations as a worker and “ugly matches”, and not a reflection of personal prejudice.[2] It was to appeal to Bill that Khan invented one of his signature strikes: a double chop to his opponent’s collarbone, later dubbed the Mongolian Chop by World Pro Wrestling announcer Ichiro Furutachi.

Now with child, the daughter Yoshiko, the Ozawas moved back to Atlanta in September. Khan spent much of the remaining year working for Paul Jones again. But an offer soon came from up north. Knowing that this would be a long-term offer, the family packed up and headed for New Haven, Connecticut. Vince McMahon Sr. first asked if he was really Mongolian; he had not remembered the tall guy from his guest appearance at NJPW’s 1974 World League final. When Ozawa explained that he was from New Japan, McMahon instantly had faith in his competence as a wrestler. The WWF had their “Three Wise Men”, the managers responsible for heating up the heels of the week. Ozawa was glad to work with Freddie Blassie, who he later learned was to thank for the WWF’s offer. Blassie advised him to start delaying his sells, citing the pops that he and Rikidozan had gotten when Fred took a few chops to go down. It was a tip that he took for the rest of his career.

A series of squash matches in Pennsylvania were taped across two dates in October. Then, Ozawa said no for the first time in his life. New Japan was set to end 1980 with the MSG Tag League tournament, and they had planned to have Killer Khan team up with Riki Choshu. Right as Khan was about to start his run with the WWF, they expected him to drop everything and return to Japan. Ozawa refused, albeit politely, and Shinma blew his lid. It was clear to Masashi that they wanted to bring him back because he would be cheaper than another foreigner, and sure enough, Shinma had said nothing about what he would be paid. Ozawa had a family, and he stood his ground, but he needed McMahon to step in and make Shinma back down. Choshu had to settle for Kantaro Hoshino.

kvbinsidewrestling81-5.png.0dcd52770c570f7e6f51b6ff639af5dd.pngA photo from one of Khan's battles with Backlund.

After another taping date in December, Khan properly began his run with the Fed. His penultimate show of the year was his debut in Madison Square Garden: a shot at Bob Backlund’s WWF Heavyweight title. It just so happened that his old boss was also booked on the show, and TV Asahi had sent a film crew to cover it. Of course, Inoki’s match against Bobby Duncum was treated as the main event by World Pro Wrestling. For his part, Khan had his knee drop weakened by Backlund’s work on his leg, and when he hit the move, the champ got his foot on the rope. Bob liked Khan, whose flexibility allowed Backlund to finish the match with a bridging German suplex. Inoki took him out to dinner that night, and gave him $300 as a gift.

The Backlund feud continued into 1981, but Khan also went up against Intercontinental champion Pedro Morales. Those two worked stiff with each other, but there was no beef at all. Khan also had a very good match with Pat Patterson, and worked with a high-profile New Japan recruit. After Japan’s participation in the 1980 Olympic boycott had dashed his hopes of competition, a wrestler who had been hyped up as Japan’s “phantom medalist” signed with the promotion. That man was Montreal Olympian and five-time national champion Yoshiaki Yatsu. He was essentially a Shinma project, an attempt to make New Japan its own Jumbo Tsuruta after a pair of brazen attempts to lure Jumbo himself had failed. Like Jumbo, he was sent overseas without so much as a single match at home; however, since Shinma’s relationship with Gotch had hit a low point, they didn’t go to him to bring Yatsu up to speed, and instead dropped him off in New York. Ozawa had actually crossed paths with him three years before, when he and Gotch had attended a Mexican amateur tournament where Yatsu competed. Ozawa makes no attempt to doubt Yatsu’s legitimate skill in his book, but he claims that Yatsu lacked the basic fundamentals of pro wrestling. Patterson was his manager, and Ozawa suspected he did a lot to whip the new guy into shape.

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Khan’s first tour back in Japan was marked by a spat with Yoshiaki Fujiwara.

Killer Khan was on firmer footing in the territory when New Japan came calling again. Knowing that he could not turn them down twice, Ozawa agreed to return for their second tour of the year, the WWF Big Fight Series. While he kept his gimmick name, Ozawa insisted that he not be promoted as a Mongolian. That was honored, and commentary even acknowledged that his return match, a tag with Inoki against Hulk Hogan & Don Muraco, was taking place on “Ozawa’s birthday”. He was booked as a native wrestler, and only wrestled other Japanese in that context. He met the new generation of young lions, being greeted at the dojo by Akira Maeda. But he didn’t get on with everyone. On the March 13 show in Fukuyama, Khan was walking out for his match against Umanosuke Ueda when he noticed that the ring steps were at the wrong corner of the ring. As Inoki and Fujinami were coming to close the show after him, Ozawa went back to warn the young lions that someone had made a mistake. Except it hadn’t been a young lion’s mistake; the culprit was a jealous Yoshiaki Fujiwara, who refused to apologize when confronted. Sakaguchi had booked the two to face off on the next night’s house show, and Fujiwara tried to shoot on Khan. He had picked up enough from Gotch to handle himself until Motoyuki Kitazawa “flew out” from backstage to defuse the situation. The two squashed the beef thereafter, and even tagged together on Khan’s next tour, although it was reenacted in an angle two years later (on March 23, 1983). Many years later, Fujiwara visited Ozawa’s restaurant in Kabukicho and apologized again. But Ozawa held no ill will. As he saw it, a man who wouldn’t have been jealous of him in that situation was not a wrestler.

After a house show on March 24, Ozawa came back to nearby Yoshida, where he went out drinking with old friends and introduced Cindy and Yoshiko to his mother. He also paid his first visit in eleven years to the Kasugano stable to burn incense, as Tochinishiki had just become a widower. Masashi had ran away from sumo all those years ago, so his figured that he did not deserve to use the main entrance, but his old coach admonished him for this. Tochinishiki was happy to see him, and though he noted that he could have broken through in sumo had he gained such weight at the time, “now, [his] name was Killer Khan.” Ozawa was moved to tears by his childhood hero’s blessing. For all this, though, the pay of Masashi’s first tour back with New Japan—certainly better than what he had made before leaving Japan, but well below the rate a foreigner would have gotten to work a single tour—did not make him eager to set up shop back home.

On April 13, Khan wrestled Andre the Giant in their first singles match since 1974. The Phantom of Mongolia continued to protect the story, stating that Andre really was hospitalized, but that Khan had only inflicted a slight crack to the ankle. The truth is deduced in Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade’s magisterial Andre biography, The Eighth Wonder of the World. Andre wrestled for the rest of the month, but broke his ankle in early May as he got out of a Boston hotel bed. Khan was then blamed for it, and Blassie took credit on his behalf in an interview segment on WWF television in May. Due to Andre’s injury, Khan was booked in his place on May 30 to wrestle Bruno Sammartino in the Boston Garden. Bruno’s best days were long behind, and due to his wig, Ozawa hesitated to strike his head. But the match, which Bruno won in 9:25, was still a match with the man who had been Giant Baba’s great rival, and Ozawa now felt he had truly “made it” in the territory.

He flew back home to work one night. On June 24, NJPW’s so-called 10th Anniversary show saw the company debuts of two of the three men that Shinma had swiped from All Japan: Abdullah the Butcher and Tiger Toguchi. It was originally announced that Khan would fight the former in the semi-main, after which Inoki & Dusty Rhodes would team up against Stan Hansen & Tiger Jeet Singh. But after Dusty backed out to start his run with the NWA World Heavyweight title, and Singh supposedly got hurt in Trinidad and Tobogo—unbeknownst to everyone, Baba had gotten his hooks in—the card changed. Before the main event’s tag match, in which the debuting Yatsu was brutalized and buried by Abby and Hansen, Khan got a match with Toguchi, who had originally been booked to face Fujinami. In a pre-match interview, Toguchi boasted that while Khan was famous in New York, he was famous all over the US; watching on a monitor in the other waiting room, Khan laughed. While referee Mr. Takahashi was down, Khan hit a vital point and got the pinfall, but Toguchi was protected when second referee Katsuhisa Shibata brought up the foul, and the result was overturned. At the end of the year, these two teamed up for the first of three MSG Tag Leagues.

As Andre’s ankle healed from surgery, Khan returned to New York to start that feud proper. From a string of house shows in mid-July until the night after Christmas, the two wrestled over two dozen times. On August 24 in the Garden, a Texas Death Match refereed by Patterson & Gorilla Monsoon didn’t really live up to that stipulation in brutality. But as a representative of the feud, that was the one that won Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Match of the Year award. Khan and Andre also won Feud of the Year in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s second annual awards. By the back half of the year, the two were working a stretcher match. In November, they brought their match to Toronto and Montreal. The UWA even wanted to bring it to Mexico, but that was suddenly canceled; in early 1983, Khan learned from former UWA coworker Tamba that this had been the jealous doing of Gran Hamada. The aforementioned MSG Tag League, which Andre won with partner Rene Goulet, also booked the match on New Japan’s last Tokyo date of the year. On December 8, in the penultimate match at the Kuramae Kokugikan, Andre beat Khan in just over eight minutes. Just one night after New Japan ended the year in Osaka, Stan Hansen made his shocking first appearance for their competition. This was to be the last shot in the infamous “Pullout War”, but Shinma had actually loaded another bullet in his chamber. While Ted DiBiase himself has never spoken of this to my knowledge, it was later reported in Japanese sources that Ozawa had been in talks with Ted to switch sides to NJPW.

img_20231230_0001.thumb.jpg.14c1d1133192b677b02d2f990c6292d8.jpg

Khan targets Andre's leg in the 5th MSG Series final.

Khan ended his first run up north in programs with Morales, Tony Atlas, and Ivan Putski; outside of an undercard match at MSG that August, these were his last WWF matches until his career-ending run. He returned to Mid-South in February for a “bounty match” against Ricky Steamboat (I do not know who put a bounty on Ricky Steamboat), which previewed his spring return to the territory. Before that, though, Khan returned to New Japan to take part in the fifth and final MSG Series tournament. He placed third among the fourteen men, winning all but three matches: draws against Inoki and Sakaguchi, and a double disqualification against Andre. Inoki and Andre placed first and second, and it looked like the ace was going to win the tournament again. But then, on the penultimate show in Nagoya, the Outlaws attacked Inoki and inflicted a worked knee injury. The following night in Tokyo, Inoki entered the ring in his suit to announce that he had bowed out on doctor’s orders, and that Khan would wrestle Andre again. Ozawa believed this angle was booked to give Andre his big tournament victory for the foreign photographers, after he had come up short in three of the four previous MSG Series, while still protecting his boss. (It has since been speculated that it was a matter of Inoki’s health.[3]) What ensued was a much different match than the one that Khan and Andre put together on the WWF circuit. It was also excellent, and a mutual career highlight. At a critical moment, the crowd even cried Ozawa’s name.

A week later, Khan wrestled on New Japan’s three-day stint in Dubai before his return to the States. Six weeks of work for Mid-Atlantic were followed by a four-month return to Mid-South. Khan worked a short program with Ernie Ladd to start. Then, he won the first singles title of his career. Two weeks after Junkyard Dog had vacated his Mid-South Louisiana title, a one-night tournament was held in Baton Rouge. Khan beat Mike Sharpe, Ladd, and finally the JYD himself to swipe the title for six weeks. Before he lost it to Sharpe in August, Khan worked another short program with the touring Andre. Shortly after that loss, the Killer bounced back by beating Mr. Olympia for the Mid-South Mississippi title in Shreveport. He held it until the last show of the run, when the champion got his belt back on September 22 in Jackson. Before that, Khan briefly teamed up with the One Man Gang for a pair of shots at JYD and Olympia’s tag titles. Ozawa then went to Houston to work for Paul Boesch, in what would be his last Stateside run for fourteen months. As far as the records show, that ended on November 2 in Odessa, when he and the Ninja Warrior (Mr. Pogo) came up short against Dick Slater & Bob Sweetan.

Khan’s year ended back home for the MSG Tag League, where he and Toguchi made their second and best showing. Despite an early loss by countout against Sakaguchi & Fujinami, and another in Gifu against Dick Murdoch & the Masked Superstar, the dark horses surged ahead to second place, behind only Inoki’s team with Hulk Hogan. Khan even got a tag win against Andre, with Goulet taking the fall; naturally, Andre got his heat back in a televised singles match on December 7. At the tour’s end on the tenth, the Japanese heel team went down for Inoki and the Hulkster, but they gave them a thirty-one-minute fight and drew a live rating of 20.2%.

FOOTNOTES

Spoiler

1. During his recollections of regional tours, Ozawa shares another anecdote that hardened his dislike of Mexico. He and Hamada got scammed by a boat rental in Acapulco, and were sent out to waters where where marlin and tuna supposedly swam.

2. A passage from The Phantom of Mongolia: “By the way, this is just about the matches, there is no racism against blacks in me. But I do know that there were wrestlers like Andre and Dick Murdoch who hated black people. When we get together on the circuit, there will be areas where we can work together to work the crowd, but it seems that racism is deep-rooted in this country. When a black referee came to visit me at my house, he was very proud of his white girlfriend, and I guess he had some complicated feelings that the Japanese do not understand.”

3. Khan’s Japanese Wikipedia page makes an unsourced claim that Inoki’s bow out of the MSG final “later said to be” due to his diabetes. Official sources state that he was not diagnosed until August, and Inoki later claimed he had only started to feel fatigue after the April shows in Dubai. As the timeline is slightly off, I am hesitant to include this as anything more than conjecture. It is highly plausible that the timeline was compressed in official accounts to protect the kayfabe knee injury, but I have not read any insinuations to that effect from the parties involved, nor have I seen this theory posited by any Japanese journalists. That hardly means that neither exists.

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  • KinchStalker changed the title to Killer Khan [IN PROGRESS: Part 2 of 5 posted]

PART THREE: FROM TOKYO TO TEXAS (1983-1984)

choshuturn.jpg.470895b3625d1da955bc0109ad1a4f93.jpgThe heel turn that changed the course of Khan's career.

If Killer Khan preferred working overseas, why did he spend almost all of 1983 back with New Japan? To answer that, and to set the stage for much of the rest of his career, we need to take a step back.

After the International Wrestling Enterprise had finally died in the summer of 1981, its former ace Rusher Kimura invaded New Japan in the fall. Rusher’s Kokusai Gundan trio with Animal Hamaguchi and Isamu Teranishi became the most despised heels in the country, and his matches against Inoki drew multiple television ratings over 20%. By the following autumn, the company had plans to replicate the formula and give its other two top draws—Tatsumi Fujinami, who had broadened Nooj’s audience to women and young adults in the late seventies, and Tiger Mask, for whom children had flocked to the product in the early eighties—their own Japanese heels. On the Toukon Series tour, Riki Choshu and Kuniaki Kobayashi came back from Mexico, and effectively turned heel in angles. On Choshu’s very first match back, a six-man tag with Inoki and Fujinami, he caused the whole thing to fall apart in his refusal to accept his implicit position below Fujinami. In kayfabe, New Japan held a board meeting where Shinma demanded that Choshu be punished for insubordination, only for Inoki to instead give him a singles match with Fujinami: two, in fact, with the latter being a shot at his WWF International Heavyweight title. As the tour ended, Choshu prepared to leave with Masa Saito for the end of the year. That is where Killer Khan enters the story.

As Ozawa later wrote, Choshu and Saito invited him to dinner at the Keio Plaza Hotel. (The Phantom of Mongolia claims that this meeting occurred after their return to Japan, but due to a press statement I will refer to later, I am certain that Ozawa misremembered.) Saito had long been disgruntled with puroresu’s pay gap, and he was far from alone. These men acknowledged and accepted that their business depended on top foreign draws, and that those draws came at a premium. Where Saito and company had an issue was the second-tier gaikokujin, the “obviously mediocre” talent who were still paid far better than native workers: the men who, as Masa pointed out, were of lower standing in the States than he and Khan were, yet were paid three times as much. If Saito and Khan signed on with New Japan to take the place of the second-tier foreign talent, they would be cheaper. Of course, if the experiment was successful, they could leverage that for better pay. 

And frankly, Choshu needed them. The company had big plans for Riki, but Riki had a major flaw: he was pretty lousy at working with foreigners. This was somewhat mitigated by the nature of his role, which at this point didn’t really call for big singles matches against gaikokujin, but that still left tag matches. To pair Choshu with a foreign heel, à la Umanosuke Ueda (and Tiger Jeet Singh), would not have worked well either, and Kobayashi was only a junior heavyweight, so he needed other Japanese wrestlers who could compensate for his limitations and function as heels in their own right. Saito and company pitched the idea to Hisashi Shinma, and while he was unsure whether it could work, he was on board. The company certainly needed to cut costs, but Shinma promised that, if the angle drew, he would raise their salaries. For whatever that promise was worth.

On November 18, Khan made a public statement that he, Choshu, and Kobayashi would “play a central role in reforming New Japan, or rather, the Japanese wrestling world”. On the first televised show of 1983, Khan turned on Sakaguchi during a tag match against Choshu & Saito. Thus, Kakumeigun (the “Revolutionary Army”) was born.

img_20220220_0013.thumb.jpg.476eff89fd22a94d59788008970bc417.jpgKakumeigun celebrates Choshu’s title win.

On the second tour in March, Khan was part of an eight-man “Asia Zone” preliminary league for the inaugural IWGP Series tournament, which would replace the MSG Series that May. This gave him his first singles matches against the company’s top heavyweights, and he went down for Inoki in the last show of the tour on March 24. One last qualifying match saw Khan go against his teammate Choshu at the start of the next tour, on the first of April. Choshu got himself disqualified for shoving referee Mr. Takahashi, so Khan got on the IWGP bracket. Two days later, Choshu got the consolation of beating Fujinami for his title. As Ozawa wrote, Riki’s popularity could not be denied, and their relationship was a long way from where it would end up. Even at this early juncture, though, he recalled that he was privately put off by Choshu’s misogyny.

Kakumeigun expanded its ranks. Neither Ozawa nor Saito planned to stay in Japan forever, and with their blessing (“he approached us personally”), a fourth heavyweight and a second junior joined: Animal Hamaguchi and Isamu Teranishi, whose Kokusai Gundan split up during a match in April. With a second heavyweight who lived in Japan, Saito was now free to return to the AWA, which he did at the tour’s end. Khan would get a tour’s worth of time off, but not until after the IWGP Series. Khan reached the semifinals: a rematch with Andre, which went to a double countout. When the tour ended the following night, Andre went over in a repeat.

Just as Ozawa left, the levee broke. NJPW sales manager Naoki Otsuka read over the company’s shareholders report, where he discovered that his company that had made two billion yen in sales only recorded a profit margin of ¥26 million. As was quickly apparent, Inoki had covered his losses from the failed biotech startup Anton Hi-Cel through flagrant financial abuse.

Anton Hi-Cel is not essential to the story but is too fascinating to leave out. Unfurl the spoiler tag if you want to read about it.

Spoiler

Ozawa believed that the germ of what became Anton Hi-Cel had been a sound and noble idea. In late 1975, during a party at the Imperial Hotel, Inoki had told him of his plans to build an “Inoki Palace”: a successor to Rikidozan’s ill-fated Riki Sports Palace in Roppongi. This venue would have made jobs for his former wrestlers (not unlike Mitsuharu Misawa’s late-life dreams to open a steakhouse and develop vocational rehab programs with Pro Wrestling NOAH’s sponsors). But somewhere along the way, Ozawa felt Inoki must have “lost his screws”. 

In 1977, Inoki’s little brother Keisuke transferred from the sales department, where his limited command and low literacy in Japanese had hampered years of Hiroshima sales, to the head of the Anton Trading business. A string of failed side hustles followed. Anton Rib was a restaurant centered around Inoki’s own spare-rib recipe.  Anton Goods sold yerba mate tea and sunflower seeds. Thanks to his English tutor, a friend of Walter S. McIlhenny, Inoki even got a distribution deal with Tabasco in the early 80s; that product only took off in Japan after he lost the rights. But the most ambitious and the most calamitous of these pursuits was Hi-Cel.

After the 1973 oil crisis, Brazil started to mitigate its dependence on foreign oil by blending all gasoline with locally sourced ethanol. When the sucrose has been squeezed out of sugarcane, there is still a substantial amount of ethanol in the remaining pulp, known as bagasse. Unfortunately, once you oxidize that alcohol out of bagasse, the pomace that remains becomes aldehydic waste. Under what he later ascribed to the “deception” of Brazilian government officials, and likely at Keisuke’s encouragement—the younger Inoki took responsibility for the debacle shortly after Kanji’s death, in a talk with Masahiro Chono—Inoki formed Anton Hi-Cel in 1980. Hi-Cel funded research by Hayashibara, a legitimate name in biotech which later became the world’s first company to mass-produce trehalose in the nineties. Their goal was to develop a new cattle feed whose enzymes would break down bagasse’s lignin and make it digestible for cows.

Even in his autobiography, written fifteen years after the company's fall, Inoki insisted that Anton Hi-Cel had been meant for the good of his wrestlers. But that sure was not how they saw it. NJPW’s salesmen were made to buy Hi-Cel bonds (which they sarcastically dubbed their “registration fees”) and shill vacation homes. Fujinami had been forced to borrow tens of millions of yen from his in-laws. When Ozawa came into the office to receive his bonus for the MSG Series final, he was given an envelope of cash, but ordered to sign a blank receipt: a clear sign that money was being funneled. By 1983, the company had failed. There were several causes: a massive inflation wave; Hi-Cel’s failures to ferment the pulp, due to the difference between Japanese and Brazilian climates; and finally, their ranch’s requisition by the Brazilian military. At the end of it all, Inoki was several billion yen in debt, and a ¥1.2 billion pledge from TV Asahi, with New Japan’s broadcast rights as collateral, was not enough to plug up his wallet.

Ozawa knew that he could make it in the States, so his livelihood was not dependent on the matter; nevertheless, he supported what happened next.

As Ozawa took his tour off, the “coup” took place. We should not get mired in the minutia of the matter, as these particulars are not particularly relevant to Ozawa, but it deserves some summary. Top wrestlers and executives met in July not to plan a coup, but a company. Many wanted to form a new promotion named after the TV program, World Pro Wrestling Ring. A second faction around Tiger Mask, and his sketchy new manager Shunji Koncha, wanted to form a private production company centered around him. After the end of the tour, Sayama suddenly retired (and unmasked, unprompted, on TV Asahi variety show How Far Will Kin-Chan Go?). 

The plan was downscaled to a coup when central conspirator Kotetsu Yamamoto failed to secure the necessary capital for WPWR. Just before Khan’s return tour began, at a shareholder meeting on August 25, Inoki and Sakaguchi stepped down, and Shinma was dismissed outright. They were replaced by the troika of Yamamoto and network executives Kazuharu Mochizuki and Hiromi Otsuka (no relation to Naoki). As Ozawa points out, though, the original plan to form a new company had reflected the conspirators’ belief that they could not “win the fight” to oust Inoki from New Japan. That belief bore its bitter fruit. Top TV Asahi executives Koshiji Miura and Hiroshi Tsujii, who had promised to protect Inoki and Sakaguchi “for the rest of their lives” when they joined forces in 1973, threatened to pull the plug on World Pro Wrestling if the pair were not reinstated as executives. At a shareholder meeting on November 11, that was exactly what happened.

ishinguninphilippines.thumb.png.e93f4056c63ff59268e64291e4047f77.png

Ishingun in the Philippines in February 1984.

The autumn was not without interest in the ring. Kakumeigun changed its name to Ishingun: revolution became restoration. The company saddled them with a new member to rub off on, the returning Yoshiaki Yatsu. At the end of the Toukon Series on November 3, Ishingun got four singles matches against New Japan’s “main army”, and Khan got the only title bout among them, against Fujinami. Though their match, the third, ended in a double countout, that still gave Ishingun the lead; Inoki’s victory against Yatsu hardly proved anything. However well his faction was booked, Ozawa was demoralized by the coup’s failure, or at least the lack of meaningful change. Sayama and Shinma were gone, sure (not that Ozawa had anything against Sayama), but his wages had not improved. In the last full tour that he ever worked for New Japan, Khan teamed up for his third tag tourney with Toguchi, who had already planned to base himself in the WWF. They did nowhere close to the previous year’s dark-horse showing and did even worse than their debut. The following February, Khan worked his last dates under the lion’s mane: the pair of shows that New Japan promoted in the Philippines. The last match of these was another shot at Fujinami's title, which ended in double-countout.

c476700cae622c0af5bfaee35cffca75.thumb.jpg.7d26e9558c7238e8f7fad7530a09baf5.jpg

Khan with Shogun KY Wakamatsu during his only Stampede run.

Khan's return to North America began with his first work in Canada, which was spurred by Stu Hart’s request through the WWF, and his reunion with Mr. Hito. Hiro Saito, Junji Hirata, and Shunji Takano were also working in Calgary; unlike that trio, who lived in the restaurant basement of Hito’s friend, Ozawa bunked with Adachi and his wife. The couple were upset that New Japan never paid them for the coaching that Hito gave their talent, but they declined when Ozawa offered some money. Khan wrestled under the services of manager and former IWE wrestler Shogun KY WakamatsuOn January 20, at a Calgary show promoted by Gene Kiniski, Khan won the North American Heavyweight title from Archie Gouldie. This was a full-circle moment for Ozawa, for whom the Mongolian Stomper had made a powerful impression, even before Masashi’s first match, with a Korakuen house show squash against Great Kojika. Khan held the belt for exactly seven weeks, as a program with the Dynamite Kid—which, as Ozawa wrote, would never have happened in Japan—led to a title change in Calgary. The feud lasted one more week, ending when Khan lost a loser-leaves-town match at the Victoria Pavilion.

After leaving town, and taking April off, Khan began his last Southern run. Through the end of the year, he worked about a dozen Mid-South dates, which included a pair of title shots against Magnum TA, and one-offs in Florida and Kansas. But he set up shop in Dallas, with World Class Championship Wrestling. When the debuting Khan was given the WCCW television title due to Kelly Kiniski’s injury, he worked a program with Kevin von Erich, who won it from him on May 21. 

For the first time in five years, Ozawa saw an old JWA senior. Now, that man was the Great Kabuki. While certainly different from Khan in the ring, the two had a certain kinship. Ozawa wrote that his big break made him as happy as it would have been if it were his own. Neither would have reached the top in Japan, but in America, they had become, alongside Masa Saito, the great Japanese heels of the eighties. But supposedly Singaporean kabuki warriors do not work with supposed Mongols. Instead, Kabuki teamed up with Magic Dragon (the last of AJPW’s first three trainees, Kazuharu Sonoda), while Khan reunited with manager Skandor Akbar, for whose Destruction Incorporated stable he wrestled alongside the Missing Link.

As readers will know, World Class’s top babyfaces were the von Erich boys, who had just lost the eldest (and in the ring, the best) among them. Ozawa put it bluntly; the von Erichs that he got to work with were nice kids, but they were still “a little thin” for their spot, and “their personal lives were bullshit”. On those nights when the speed hit a little too strong, their jerky movements might have thrilled the crowd, but they threw off the men they were working with. Ozawa also met the Fabulous Freebirds. Buddy Roberts, who had made several trips to New Japan in the seventies as one half of the original Hollywood Blondes, claimed that he always knew Ozawa would make it if he made it to the States. Roberts, Terry Gordy, and Michael Hayes were all good at their job, but it was Gordy who stood out to Ozawa, and it was Gordy to whom he drew closest. In kayfabe, Khan passed down his Oriental Spike, a choke hold which pressed one’s thumb into their opponent’s trachea, to Gordy. On one flight from San Antonio to Dallas, the pair downed three bottles of Jack Daniel’s in half an hour. Ozawa lost track of Terry when they arrived at DFW, but then he found him, dancing on the luggage conveyor belt. As the Freebirds wound down their feud with Fritz’s boys, and prepared for an ill-fated WWF run, Gordy feuded with Khan. At the Labor Day Star Wars show, Khan beat Gordy in a ‘spike’ match, weakening the Freebirds before the Cosmic Cowboys beat them on their way out of Dallas.

Back home, things were going crazy. 

During his time deposed from the New Japan board, Inoki had tasked Shinma with forming a new promotion: the Universal Pro-Wrestling Federation. Inoki sought a second source of funds and courted Fuji TV for a television deal. Even when Inoki was reinstated, the plan remained for the UWF to function as a second brand; he had told Akira Maeda that he would eventually follow him to the new company. All this never materialized, as TV Asahi swiftly added network exclusivity clauses to all their contracts, but the promotion was too far along to scrap. (Ozawa's memories were fuzzy, but he writes that he might have also signed an agreement with the network.) The UWF held its first shows in April, where Khan’s likeness was put onto one of wrestling’s all-time great bits of false advertising. The poster for the UWF’s first shows, on which Shinma loomed largest, teased twenty top wrestlers from New Japan and overseas, including Khan, as possible appearances. In the summer, the UWF sacrificed Shimna and a potential WWF partnership to bring Sayama back into pro wrestling. With the rechristened ‘Super Tiger’ as its midwife, the UWF gave birth to shoot-style.

At the end of the previous year, Naoki Otsuka had resigned from the sales department to form New Japan Pro-Wrestling Entertainment. Cracks formed through the first two-thirds of 1984, until things shattered outright in August. New Japan canceled a show that Otsuka had put together at Tokyo’s Denen Coliseum to work a short Pakistani tour; then, through the mediation of Gong magazine guru Kosuke Takeuchi, that show was revived as an AJPW event. As he returned from Pakistan, Inoki terminated New Japan’s association with NJPW Entertainment after the already-booked September shows. Two days after that Denen show, which saw Mitsuharu Misawa’s debut as the second Tiger Mask, Otsuka publicly announced that he would pull wrestlers from his former employer. It just so happened that NJPWE was in charge of Riki Production, Choshu’s personal entertainment company; shortly after he received his notice, he met with the members of Ishingun at Choshu’s apartment.

To Ozawa, who only kept track of all this through Japanese magazines sent to him by fans, these developments were New Japan reaping what it had sown. He respected and quietly rooted for the post-Shinma UWF, hoping that his “cute juniors” Sayama and Maeda could make their “martial-arts route” get over in Japan. While Ishingun’s allegiance to Otsuka would not become public until September, he also supported any new place for his countrymen to work; he certainly had no desire to ever work for Nooj again. As for himself, though, Ozawa did not want to get entangled any deeper in Japan. He had vague plans to come back home eventually, but only after his retirement, as a restaurateur. The NWA was beginning to buckle against the WWF’s national expansion, but Killer Khan was making good money in Dallas, and he figured that this would still be more stable than returning home.

30b5a654c5efca2a21c093e01e3a1485.thumb.jpg.8c61a72a4657327b1a48f3de8650686a.jpgThen, Ozawa got a call from Otsuka. Naoki told him that the rest of Ishingun, and several more, had thrown in their lot with him, and they needed Khan. He also told him that, while the end goal was to establish (what would be known as) Japan Pro Wrestling as its own promotion, the company would lay the groundwork through a program with All Japan. And it would be “glass-walled”: that is, the finances would be transparent. Politely, Ozawa declined, but a few days later, he got another call: this time, from his old roommate. Haruka Eigen had gotten in on the ground floor as one of NJPWE’s investors, and he insisted that the company would be glass-walled. He also leaned on his yakuza connections when he told Ozawa that he would get “a free ride” from a certain boss if he returned to Japan. Ozawa took this as an implicit threat, but the insistence broke him down. If they needed him that badly, he would cooperate, but only if he could still work in America. On September 27, three days after Ishingun had declared their allegiance, Khan and Otsuka held a press conference at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu. (Many years later, Ozawa learned that Japan Pro had originally set aside twenty million yen to sign him; he only got three.)

C7iII3JXQAEntA4.jpg.238eff077e44079e08c9f3497cbbdf89.jpgOzawa returned to Dallas. Then, too, did Gordy. After ditching the Freebirds’ ill-fated WWF run, he assaulted Khan during a match in Fort Worth, and the feud hit fever pitch. After a match for Polynesian Pro on November 14, the two were set to square off in a Texas Death Match for Thanksgiving. The Andre feud might be Khan’s most famous American work as a whole, but if a single Stateside match must be cited in his legacy, it cannot be one that he worked with the Giant. With Kerry von Erich serving as guest referee, Khan and Gordy had one of the great American bloodbaths of the era. In 2011, members of the DVDVR message board rated it the best Texas match of the decade. When asked about his favorite match by Tokyo Sports in 2021, Ozawa himself cited the Texas Death match first.

Khan’s last match for Dallas was a cage match against Gordy on December 7. Then, with Cindy, Yoshiko, second daughter Yukie, and nine-month-old David in tow, he left for Japan. The plan was to stay for a year, and Ozawa decided to rent a house which Choshu had bought in Setagaya, near the Japan Pro office and dojo. He would come to deeply regret this choice, as it isolated Cindy from the English-speaking community that she would have found in a district like Roppongi. Though he did not wrestle, Khan appeared at Japan Pro’s second show on December 13. At some point, when the wrestlers met for drinks at an izakaya, Choshu rallied his coworkers:

“This is the last group for us. If it fails, we will all quit wrestling together.”

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  • KinchStalker changed the title to Killer Khan [IN PROGRESS: Part 3 of 5 posted]
  • 4 weeks later...

PART FOUR: THE LATE CAMPAIGNS (1985-1987)

All Japan, and Japan Pro, began 1985 with a three-night run at Korakuen Hall. On the first night, the 2nd, Ozawa went to the All Japan waiting rooms to greet Baba, who was glad that he had finally come to work with him. Khan’s debut was against Gypsy Joe, who five years earlier had been the top foreign heel of the IWE; he squashed him in 1:14. Tag matches against Baba built up to a singles match, which Khan lost, at Japan Pro’s so-called “1st Anniversary” show on February 21. But from the start, Khan also took part in the volatile All Japan vs. Japan Pro tags and six-man’s which best defined much of the year.

This first tour also saw Ozawa get his revenge on Gran Hamada, who had politicked in the UWA to get a Khan-Andre match cancelled in 1981. On January 22, at a house show in Otsu, he told Hamada to come to a certain restroom after his match. After Hamada finished his day’s work, a tag with Mighty Inoue, the two came back to wash up. Ozawa punched Hamada several times, swelling his face, while Inoue just stood there. Ozawa received no reprimand. (Hamada left All Japan in June.)

khanvstenryu.png.b4e576a5f77c277938de2d3a2f52ab00.pngOzawa later wrote that he did not share his coworkers’ air of superiority towards All Japan, which Choshu had famously articulated the previous year: “we rock, they waltz”. In fact, he was the most enthusiastic one of the bunch to be working with AJPW. However, that did not mean that he respected everyone on the ‘other side’. Masashi held Jumbo Tsuruta in dim regard, as he believed that he was mostly good “at making himself look good”. He had been offended by a quote in a wrestling magazine where Tsuruta chalked Killer Khan’s overseas success to his ugly mug. Ozawa had more respect for Genichiro Tenryu, who he had bumped into a couple times during his first American run; he was certain that he was not alone in holding Tenryu in higher esteem. Khan’s first big singles program was for Tenryu’s NWA United National title, and the two had a very good match over it on April 12.

It is also notable that Khan played a part in the Japanese debut of the Road Warriors. In 1984, three years after Tokyo 12 Channel had cut ties with the IWE, the renamed TV Tokyo had dipped back into wrestling with Sakae no Puroresu (“World Pro Wrestling”), a Saturday morning show which licensed overseas footage to compete with talk shows. They needed stars to build around, and under the advice of Gong writer Koichi Yoshizawa, Sakae no Puroresu chose the Warriors. Now, as Sakae wound down its first run with the fiscal year,[1] Hawk and Animal made their Japanese debuts. This context is important because, as The Phantom of Mongolia plainly states, the Road Warriors got over in Japan by working American TV matches in Japan. On March 8 in Funabashi, Khan and Animal Hamaguchi were steamrolled by the debuting team in less than four minutes. Six days later in Nagoya, Khan and Choshu challenged for the Warriors’ AWA World Tag Team titles, in a match that ended by double-countout in 5:35. Ozawa noted that most would never have gotten away with this, but it got over for the Warriors. 

After the Tenryu match, Khan flew to Tulsa for his only American match of the year, where he and Hercules Hernandez came up short against the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. Then, he went to Australia. This was at the same time that Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody, the latter of whom was transferring to New Japan, had been booked there by Larry O’Day. Outside of recalled interactions with Hansen and Brody (the latter of whom, he claimed, asked to learn his version of the diving knee drop), and a match against Ron Miller on a show he promoted, Ozawa did not recall much specific detail about the tour. I could not find cards for these shows online, although I suspect some info could be found in contemporaneous Weekly Gong issues; according to Hansen’s 2010 autobiography, The Last Outlaw, Gong-affiliated photographer Jimmy Suzuki was there to shoot them. The Last Outlaw also contains an incredible anecdote about a trip to the zoo. Simply by leaning one hand on the glass, Ozawa provoked the zoo’s gorilla, who uprooted a tree and flung clumps of dirt towards him to assert his threatened dominance. This earned Killer Khan a new nickname from Stan: King Kong.

When Ozawa returned home, Japan Pro held its first tour; the one-week Big Lariat Festival, with All Japan’s talent, ring and resources, and with Hansen. Khan wrestled a taut yet effective singles brawl with Stan on May 17th, which has since circulated via a camcorder recording. In early June, Ozawa came down with acute lymphangitis. Khan and Yatsu were set to wrestle the Road Warriors on the 4th in Osaka, and Khan barely managed. As he claimed, he was hooked to an IV drip backstage, and the unaired match was carried by his partner. Ozawa was back to work by the time the next tour began, but he missed AJPW’s Special Wars in Budokan on the 21st: All Japan’s first show in the building since 1977, and the first in puroresu as a whole since 1980, which was booked with Naoki Otsuka’s help. It would have been Ozawa’s first match in the building since February 1977.

Screenshot2024-05-12174930.png.9d0502d42f6d6ff4df14e95f3a1f0e59.pngJumbo Tsuruta is wheeled out with a worked knee injury after Khan's diving knee drop.

Japan Pro’s second tour in August had been sold around Choshu’s first singles match against Jumbo, which was booked for August 5. But Jumbo needed to be written out for a hospital visit. On August 2, Khan & Choshu wrestled Tsuruta & Tenryu, and the Killer’s knee drop was rolled back out to inflict a worked knee injury. As Jumbo entered the hospital—where he was to learn that he was carrying hepatitis B—his match with Choshu was given to Yatsu instead. After that match, on August 5, Choshu took to the mic for a famous promo, declaring that it was no longer the era of Baba and Inoki. For all of Riki’s popularity, Ozawa did not see it that way. That old, long-estranged duo still carried their respective companies in provincial markets. Nor did Ozawa necessarily consider himself part of this ‘new era’: being a JWA alumnus, no matter how late in that company’s life, still loomed large in his mind.

On September 14, Khan and Yatsu teamed up for a title shot against Jumbo & Tenryu. After that tour, Khan returned to Australia for a show, though he did not remember the opponent. (To him, that trip was most memorable for a chance encounter with Jiro Yanagawa.) In October, AJPW returned to prime-time after six-and-a-half years at 5:30. This was not directly due to the momentum of the Japan Pro feud; rather, it was a reward for the success of two Saturday Top Special broadcasts in March and June. Khan’s last matches of the year were on JPW’s third and final tour, the New Wave in Japan shows of early November. He had a rematch against Terry Gordy at Osaka-jo Hall. As for Japan Pro, their dream to be a truly independent promotion was foiled as the year ended. Talks for their own TV deal with TBS only materialized in a single special broadcast that December. and the company folded under pressure to sign to NTV. 1986 would only see three shows booked under Japan Pro’s banner.

That January, Ozawa traveled to Saudi Arabia and Oman alongside Ryuma Go and the diabetic Mr. Chin, who got the group detained at Saudi customs over his insulin. These shows were booked by Tiger Jeet Singh, who Ozawa wrestled in Arabia. He recalled that the two had a “reasonably exciting” match; “I don’t think Singh was that good at wrestling, but he knew what wrestling was all about.” (Ozawa claimed that he declined Singh’s offer to work a show in South Africa in late 1987: the show which Haru Sonoda took on instead as his tragic honeymoon trip.) According to an old rumor, Ozawa beat Go so badly in a game of oicho-kabu that he drove him into debt, but his book only affirms this to a point. The whupping was real, and he fleeced the stubborn Go out of all his gambling money, but he did not ask for more than that. Back home, though, Khan spoke about the game in the Japan Pro waiting room. Someone pulled a rib on Go and stormed the Kokusai Ketsumeigun waiting room to demand he pay up. Ozawa insisted he was not in on the joke, but his sympathies were limited: Go had brought it on himself. 

Khan’s first Japanese tour of the year, the three-week Excititing Wars [sic], culminated at the Budokan. All Japan and Japan Pro faced off in five singles matches, and Khan held up his end in the second bout, beating Mighty Inoue in under five minutes. On the following Champion Carnival tour, Khan took part in a five-man tournament for the United National title, which Tenryu had vacated after losing a pinfall, and his and Tsuruta’s tag titles, to Yatsu in February. (Since Japan Pro had signed with the network, the respective number-twos of their factions had gotten clean pinfalls on each other.) All of Khan’s matches ended in his loss or draw by disqualification. 

In April 1986, Ryuma Go was one of the three wrestlers (and referee) who were cut to make room for the Calgary Hurricanes: Super Strong Machine, Shunji Takano, and Hiro Saito. With Kokusai Ketsumeigun mutilated down to just Rusher and Goro Tsurumi, the Great Kabuki and Ashura Hara joined them. Then, in June, Khan was part of a further bit of reshuffling when he left Japan Pro to wrestle with the Hurricanes as a ‘freelancer’. At the company’s request, he began to paint his face and wear a black hood—evoking the Ku Klux Klan—and had a short summer feud with Choshu. In several buildup tags throughout July, most notably a shot at Choshu & Yatsu’s tag titles on the 21st, Khan turned up the heat. He took scissors to Riki’s long black locks, which led commentator Kenji Wakabayashi to call him “the ungrateful Killer Khan”: as if Ozawa had been Choshu’s junior. He even brought a noose to the ring, and used it, more than once.

khanvschoshu.thumb.png.75a21d9c76d44efd747cd21901ca02f2.pngOn the last night of the month, the two had a bloody death match in Tokyo, where Choshu survived the diving knee drop to overcome Khan. The match has long been held in high regard, at least by overseas fans of the period, but Ozawa’s subsequent commentary displayed no such fondness. In a 2018 interview, he stated that the plan had been for Riki to kick out of the knee drop, and then roll out of the ring to recover. That is not what Riki did. Rather, Choshu continued to lie in the ring, as Khan, holding up three fingers, staggered to the outside in shock over the kickout. If Ozawa's claim is correct, it is apparent that Choshu’s audible went against the intended transition, and goaded Khan to come back into the ring and hit a jumping knee drop to the back of Riki’s head. To Ozawa, this was where Choshu crossed a line. Right after Choshu kicked out for a second time, as Khan still laid on top of him, he pointed to the crowd. While he didn’t notice at the moment, Ozawa was offended when he saw what Riki had done to denigrate the false finish. Choshu won that match after two successive Rikilariats, but he claimed that had he known, Khan would have taken three or four to go down, and then he would have stood and walked to the back: “I think Baba would have forgiven me.”

In the back half of the year, Khan was clearly spinning his wheels. He wrestled a few matches with Rusher, while Hara shacked up with the Hurricanes. The All Japan vs. Japan Pro rivalry had run its course, while even Choshu was overshadowed by the signing of retired yokozuna Hiroshi Wajima. Khan teamed up with Terry Gordy for his second and last Real World Tag League. He had a good time doing so, but the team had just been thrown together. Only their first match, against Jumbo & Tenryu, made it to television. This was Khan’s final televised match in Japan. The team ended the tournament with eight points.

Khan sat out the first third of 1987’s first tour, and after its end, the family moved back to Florida. He prepared for his return to the WWF, now a much different company under the junior Vince McMahon. He had obligations to work one more show in Japan, the April 2nd date at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. By this point, Japan Pro Wrestling was little more than a front for Otsuka as a show promoter (he was also working for the upstart joshi promotion JWP), and he was the one who promoted this show. For his last match in his native country, Khan teamed up with Ashura Hara to beat Kabuki and Motoshi Okuma. He was out of the loop on the turbulent state of “Japan Pro”, but caught wind that Choshu had been expelled from the company, and was confused. He did not have a chance to speak with Riki, and three weeks after Osaka, he was taping squash matches for WWF Superstars.

This new take on the Khan character, which was “set up by the WWF office”, deemphasized the Mongolian origins. He was a client of Mr. Fuji. He wore geta to the ring. Ozawa even leaned into his sumo experience for pre-match rituals. It was only in this final run that Khan used poison mist, which he claimed in his book not to care for. But it was his idea to start growing his hair again (it had been shaved during the Andre feud), to distinguish himself from the Iron Sheik. He played along with the junior McMahon’s new sports-entertainment product, but Ozawa later noted the disdain he felt when wrestling with similar sensibilities entered Japan, and the “despair” that Nobuhiko Takada brought singer and tarento Yasuha to HUSTLE in 2008. (Kotetsu Yamamoto would have "beaten Takada to a pulp" for that.)

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By July, Khan had started a program with Hulk Hogan which ran across the United States over the next few months. There were even a couple Mongolian Stretcher matches in there. In The Phantom of Mongolia, Hogan certainly doesn't receive the effusive praise given to Jack Brisco or Andre the Giant, but the Hulkster’s charisma and drawing power went a long way for Ozawa. While Hogan occasionally “puzzled” him in the ring, and he “certainly wasn't a good wrestler, he was not a bad wrestler, either.” (Masashi claimed that he had encouraged Hogan to enter the business in Florida back in 1979; what can I say, every wrestler's got a whopper.)

It was also in July when Ozawa learned the truth, courtesy of a magazine sent by a fan: Choshu was going back to New Japan. To Ozawa, it was “hard to believe” that Choshu would return to New Japan after he had gotten so fed up with it. Tiger Hattori spilled the tea. He told Masashi about a meeting that Choshu had made at New Japan’s headquarters, and about another discreet talk with Inoki during a provincial tour. He told him about the money that enticed Choshu, over the objections of Yatsu and others, to boycott All Japan when Baba tried to sign everyone to a new contract. Ozawa contacted others to try to get the story straight, and they corroborated all of it.

Ozawa’s rage and disgust over Choshu’s actions soured him on the entire business. He spent a few months punching the clock, but had resolved to retire. Cindy strongly objected, and his coworkers tried to dissuade him. When Masashi told McMahon that he was quitting, Vince urged him to reconsider, and promised that he could resolve whatever trouble he had gotten back home.[2] Even Hogan came backstage one night—slipping out of the babyface locker room, driving to the other end of the arena, and entering the heels’ room—to try to sway Ozawa. In retrospect, he himself admitted that he should have stuck it out for a few more years for his childrens’ sake. But he would not be deferred.

Killer Khan’s last match with Hogan took place in Nevada on November 15. WrestlingData claims that his final match was on December 1, 1987, wrestling Jake Roberts to an unknown result. However, Ozawa claimed that his final match was against George Steele in New Jersey “at the end of the year”. If this memory is correct, it would have been on December 13, 1987. 

 

FOOTNOTES

Spoiler

1. Sakae no Puroresu returned for another year in 1986, when they benefited from the termination of the WWF’s partnership with New Japan. Most notably, WrestleMania II was broadcast over three weeks.

2. On a 2022 episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard, Bruce shared an anecdote about a meeting between Ozawa and McMahon. Although he did not specify when in Ozawa's tenure it took place, it is worth reprinting here.

"My one and only Killer Khan story was Joel Watts coming out of Vince’s office after walking into a meeting that was taking place between Vince McMahon and Killer Khan. And, Joel walking out, shaking his head. I’m like ‘what the hell is going on?’ And he says ‘Jesus Christ! I thought that my dad was crazy’. He says ‘Vince is in there in Killer Khan’s face calling him a fucking pussy.’ And basically, trying to get Khan to either fight him or do something but to just show some backbone. ‘You’re a fucking pussy Khan. God damn it, you’re a fucking pussy.’” 

(Episode #304: Hulk Hogan 1987-1990)

 

 

 

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EPILOGUE

[Content warning: this mentions a 2014 suicide attempt.]

Ozawa first went back to Florida, but had no intent to remain. He knew that it would be much easier to make a living outside of wrestling in Japan, even if Cindy was not going to follow him back. He claimed that he left the family with most of his money, as he took a flight back home. He stayed at his brother’s Shinjuku apartment; the book doesn't specify which brother, but it was presumably Masaru. During this period, Masashi claimed that he seriously contemplated murdering Choshu, and had gone so far as to purchase a suitable kitchen knife. For the sake of his children, he did not go through with it.

Soon afterward, Ozawa got a tip. A friend of a friend ran a snack bar near a Nagano onsen. Ozawa teamed up with them and gave the establishment his ring name. Customers started “pouring in”, and “it was right around the time that karaoke was becoming popular.” Ozawa had found the calling of his new life, but he was not to remain in Nagano. Masashi had left all the money he had earned in the States with Cindy, so he borrowed funds from friends to open his own restaurant in Tokyo. It was the bubble period, and he struggled to find a space that would accommodate a full restaurant. He settled on a small space in the Shinjuku underground, near Nakai Station. With karaoke, alcohol, and the part-time services of a few office ladies, Snack Khan-chan was born in 1989. A snack bar only gave Ozawa a small kitchen to work with, but he had no interest in serving dry foods. He served fried tofu and pickled seasonal vegetables. In the winter, he cooked “oden-like dishes”, and stuffed cucumbers with chikuwa and cheese. (It is worth noting that the businesses under the Khan banner changed his name slightly, as the long vowel was deleted from カーン to read simply カン. Ozawa claimed that this because it was simply the correct reading: a matter of pronunciation, not trademark.)

khanandyutakaozaki.jpg.383feb45c7fff2085b189d8a6487cc60.jpgWithin the first year of the bar’s life, Ozawa met his most famous customer. A regular who worked in the automotive industry brought a friend in his mid-twenties, who wanted something more substantial to eat. Ozawa had made himself a plate of curry, but he gave it to the new guy as one of the women in his staff took him aside. As she explained to her boss, a man with evidently poor knowledge of pop music, he had just given his dinner to singer-songwriter Yutaka Ozaki. Ozaki loved the dish and came back three nights a week for it; fortunately for him, about a year after the snack bar opened, Ozawa took over an izakaya in nearby Nishi. One night, he even sang his own song, “I Love You”, with another customer. As Ozawa told the story, that was on the same night that the only photograph of the two was taken. 

In the early nineties, after a reunion at the bar with Genichiro Tenryu, Ozawa received an offer to return to the ring for SWS. In The Phantom of Mongolia, Ozawa wrote that the offer was better than he had expected. But he was out of shape, and even if he had never officially retired, he felt that a return in his current condition would disgrace him. Two years later, Ozawa elaborated on the matter in an interview. Tenryu had piled up ¥80 million in front of him, but the kicker was that three quarters of it would have gone to purchase Masashi an apartment. He also claimed that he had feared a McMahon lawsuit if he were to quit while under contract. 

On April 25, 1992, eight days after his final visit, Otaka was found unconscious and naked in a Tokyo alley: dismissed from the hospital, he died several hours later. The Khan-chan Curry lived on with Ozaki’s fans. The curry substituted vegetable and apple juices for water in the roux, and interviews in 2007 and 2022 also cited cocoa and garlic as ingredients. The potatoes were mostly cooked separately; he preferred crunch to crumble. There were other foods, of course. The restaurants with Khan’s name represented the standard izakaya cuisine, such as gyoza and various fried and grilled meats. His old lives, those of the dohyo and the ring, were represented by a miso chanko. Ozawa nicked an oyster recipe from noted rakugo comedian Danshi Tatekawa, a friend who had served the dish during his annual New Year's visits to the Ozawa household in the eighties. At one point, Ozawa served a kimchi hot pot based on a culinary experiment in the New Japan dojo.

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Ozawa made small appearances in film, television, and direct-to-video fare. In 1994, he even appeared in an American production. Billed as Killer Khan, Ozawa played a bit part in the martial-arts kiddo flick 3 Ninjas Kick Back. As a baddie bodyguard, he got a brief four-on-one fight scene some seventy-five minutes into the picture. He started strong, powerbombing the eight-year-old Tum Tum into his brothers, but the Japanese girl of the group used matador tactics to win, calling him a baka and goading him to run headfirst into the wall of the cave. (As a personal aside, this was how I first saw Killer Khan, some fifteen years before I became a puroresu fan, in my foster father’s VHS collection.)

khanwithsingle.thumb.png.e13e1b2ff50bd5dff631da760535e70d.pngOzawa with copies of his debut single.

Shortly before Ozawa left for Mexico in 1978, the aforementioned Tatekawa had introduced him to Michiya Mihashi, who in the mid-fifties had become one of the first major stars of enka music. Masashi had loved singing since childhood, and apparently, Mihashi thought he had potential. The online articles I have found imply that Ozawa received lessons before Mihashi’s death in 1996. The new century saw him stretch out into this other lifelong passion. He released his debut single in April 2005 and recorded two more over the next fifteen years. Drawing from the Mihashi songbook to supplement the original material he had commissioned, Masashi gave small concerts at nursing homes. He even sang on television, appearing on Roy Shirakawa’s enka programs for Tochigi TV.

In the early 2010s, there were three Khan-chan restaurants in Tokyo: the Kabukicho izakaya, a standing bar elsewhere in Shinjuku, and another joint near Ayase Station. While there were three Khan-chans, though, there was only one Khan, and Ozawa wrote that this was why he pared things down to the Kabukicho location. Then, he moved it back to Nishi. In early 2014, Ozawa slipped in the snow and severely injured his spine. The doctor claimed that a life bound to a wheelchair was virtually a certainty. In a moment of despair, Ozawa intended to jump from his hospital window, but was too weak to open or break it. He slowly regained his strength and returned to work in time for a reunion with Hulk Hogan, who had tagged along for a WWE tour. When Hogan asked Ozawa why he had retired, all that he told him was that “there were a lot of reasons.” Ozawa recovered enough to commute by bicycle. The izakaya moved back to Kabukicho in 2015, on the third floor of a building full of host clubs. It was a poor fit. In his own words, the district had “lost momentum when the Yamaguchigumi split and started fighting.” 

In September 2016, Ozawa opened his ninth establishment, the latest Izakaya Khan-chan, near Shin-Okubo Station. It was on the ground floor, as any pub should be, and it was the restaurant he had when The Phantom of Mongolia was written. Though the rent was high, it was a busy spot, and Ozawa took pride in his tasty, affordable menu. In 2019, a plate of Khan-chan Curry over koshihikari rice cost ¥800. The most expensive food was the ¥2800 chanko, but this came in a pot enough for three.

Around this time, Masashi became a grandfather. In a 2020 interview to promote his third and final single, Ozawa said that he had never moved back to the States due to health insurance, but stated his intent to retire from the restaurant business at 80, and move back to spend his last days with his family. In October 2020, on his way to work, Ozawa collided with a woman distracted by her phone, sending her to the hospital. Eyewitness accounts of his wobbly rides to work make it clear that his continued method of commute had been ill-advised. A visit to the police station was reported in December, and though charges were dropped, Ozawa was harassed for the incident. A few months after the hit-and-run, the Kabukicho restaurant was closed. 

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He took a couple years to return to the business. In 2022, he announced that he was battling colon cancer. Like other Japanese wrestlers of his generation, Ozawa started a YouTube channel to vlog about his life and career, though it has since been taken down. In March 2023, he opened his tenth joint, the Khan-chan Ninjo Tavern. A Jisin article the following month showed him as a rejuvenated man, whose mental health had recovered from the cycling incident. As the year drew to a close, though, he was heard complaining of chills and neck pain. On December 29, Ozawa was three hours late to work, and visibly fatigued. As he sat at the counter to serve customers, he lost consciousness. While resuscitated at the tavern, he died that night at the hospital. The cause was a ruptured artery. One week later, on January 4, the family held the funeral in Shinjuku; it was Cindy’s first trip to Japan since the Japan Pro days. Five days after that, the tavern opened back up in a “farewell party”. They did nineteen days of business, with Ozawa’s portrait placed at the spot where he had last sat. Customers and old colleagues came for curry and oysters, as the incense mingled with the scents of the menu.

 

------------

 

This biography is dedicated to the family, but especially the grandchildren, of Masashi Ozawa. I can never truly tell them who he was, not that such is mine to tell, but I can tell them what he did. 

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On 5/12/2024 at 8:51 PM, KinchStalker said:

Ozawa punched Hamada several times, swelling his face, while Inoue just stood there.

Can't believe Killer Khan would do such a thing. How dare he lay hands on his coworker. Never liked his work anyway, he gets hurt all the time. If Giant Baba were half the man Tony Khan is, he'd have been fired on the spot.

Great work once again Cameren, really enjoyed this. 

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