An Idiotic Gaijin’s Guide to Puroresu: Japanese Pro Wrestling

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Brian Damage

I just want to preface this piece by saying I am a big fan of Japanese wrestling…but am still a relative amateur to it compared to others. I fell in love with it after watching a bootleg tape of Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa a few years ago.

Believe it or not, there is an entire world professional wrestling outside of the WWE. While the United States has a deep and rich history in this form of entertainment…Japan has developed a great lineage as well. While a piece on the entire history of puroresu(pro wrestling) would in itself be fascinating…this piece will just cover some of the events and people who made Japanese wrestling what it is now.

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Pro wrestling in Japan was tried and failed on a few occasions before the start of World War II. It wasn’t until a Korean born sumo wrestler named Kim Sin-rak came to Japan that pro wrestling flourished. Renamed Rikidozan, he quickly became Japan’s first real star in pro wrestling. So popular was Rikidozan, he established his own wrestling promotion called, Japan Wrestling Association. (JWA) It became affiliated with the NWA and was the launching pad for many future Japanese stars including Shohei “Giant” Baba and Kanji “Antonio” Inoki.

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In 1963, a member of the Yakuza fatally stabbed Rikidozan with a urine soaked blade. After Rikidozan’s death, JWA continued to operated as the top Japanese wrestling promotion in Japan. It wasn’t until two of his top students (Baba and Inoki) had a falling out with each other that JWA fell apart. Inoki wanted to take control of the JWA and because of the takeover attempt…Inoki was subsequently fired from the company. Inoki went on to form his own promotion the next year and called it New Japan Pro Wrestling. Giant Baba soon followed his now heated rival and formed his company called All Japan Pro Wrestling. The two companies became bitter rivals for years.

Both New Japan and All Japan thrived for years under the leadership of Inoki and Baba. New Japan went full steam with working agreements with various promotions around the world including the NWA/WCW, WWF, WAR, CMLL etc. On the other side, Baba wanted all of his wrestlers to wrestle exclusively to All Japan and avoided working agreements with outside promotions.

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Antonio was flashier promoter as he brought in angles like the nWo Japan and having wrestling matches on a deserted island. Inoki would also challenge boxing legend Muhammad Ali to an exhibition match in Tokyo. Baba relied more on the competitive fighting spirit/super strong style that his wrestlers provided.

All Japan has had its fair share of adversities in its illustrious history. Firstly, Genichiro Tenryu left the company to help form the upstart SWS (Super World of Sports) promotion which its biggest notoriety was its working agreement with the WWF in the early 1990’s. Tenryu’s defection upset Baba so much he vowed to never allow Tenryu to return to All Japan again. The second and perhaps biggest defection came in 2000 when then All Japan president and perhaps biggest star…Mitsuharu Misawa left the company to form his own promotion called Pro Wrestling Noah.

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Pro Wrestling Noah was formed after the death of Giant Baba and Baba’s wife, Motoko…was left as the new owner. Misawa and Mrs. Baba had a falling out over the creative direction of All Japan. Misawa wanted to move the company in a more modern direction…while Motoko Baba wanted to keep All Japan the same as it always was. When Misawa quit he didn’t leave empty handed as he took a majority of All Japan’s top stars with him. All Japan was forced to adapt and rebuild its depleted roster with younger, more unproven talent. It nearly crippled and killed off All Japan.

The third blow came after a huge working agreement between All Japan and its former rival New Japan. With Giant Baba deceased, the two companies put on inter promotional shows across Japan. Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta) would defect New Japan and work exclusively for All Japan where he was made an executive. A few years later, after Mrs. Baba sold off All Japan’s controlling interests to a corporation…Mutoh’s business partner and long time friend was fired which resulted in Mutoh quitting All Japan. His defection was also not empty handed as he took several stars with him and formed Wrestle-1. (They currently have a working agreement with TNA)

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Joshi puroresu or women’s wrestling…is also very big in Japan and for very good reason. The female wrestlers in Japan are just as physical and sometimes more athletic than their male counterparts. While the male product has been saturated with various promotions and hurt by scandals, defections and corruption…the female side has been consistently solid. Some of the all time greats in Japanese wrestling have been women such as…Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, Malia Hosaka, Akira Hokuto and many others.

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Other little tid bits you might want to know…

Streamers

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If you’re a fan of Ring of Honor, you have seen this done in the States. It originated in Japan. Why do fans throw streamers into the ring? It is not only visually pleasing to the eye…it is a sign of respect for the wrestlers in the ring competing.

Gaijins

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The English translation for Gaijin is “outside person” ie foreigners and in Japan they are an important fabric of puroresu. While the gaijin in wrestling are traditionally separated from the Japanese talent with their own locker rooms…their have been Gaijins who have broke barriers such as Terry Funk (Who was allowed to dress with the Japanese out of respect.) Other successful foreigners included Stan Hansen, Big Van Vader (Whose character and look was developed by Antonio Inoki), The Road Warriors, Terry Gordy, Bruiser Brody and The Dynamite Kid among several others. Some, dare I say, had greater success overseas than in U.S.

Famous venues

Korakuen Hall

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The Tokyo Dome

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Influence

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Puroresu has had a great influence outside of Japan. From its “Super Strong Style,” to various gimmicks and angles. Case in point, WCW’s New World Order gimmick was adopted by Eric Bischoff while on a wrestling trip in Japan.

Other Names You Should Be Aware Of…

Tiger Mask

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There have been 5 official wrestling versions of this manga/comic book character. An extremely popular and successful character in Japan.

Jushin “Thunder” Liger

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Another extremely popular wrestler in Japan who by some accounts…has wrestled the most matches in pro wrestling history in his 30 plus year career. That is of course debatable.

Jumbo Tsuruta

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Jumbo was a former AWA world heavyweight champion and the very first wrestler to hold the prestigious All Japan Triple Crown championship. (The PWF Heavyweight Championship, the NWA United National Championship, and the NWA International Heavyweight Championship)

Kenta Kobashi

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Perhaps one of the fiercest, stiffest and intense wrestlers in history. His battles with the late, great Mitsuharu Misawa are that of legend. Kobashi was a mainstay of All Japan and Pro Wrestling Noah promotions.

I know I am leaving out several wrestlers and promotions like Atsushi Onita and his very hardcore FMW promotion….Masahiro Chono….Hayabusa….Jinsei Shinzaki…Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion…W*ng and others. I’m still watching and learning. Either way, I’ll leave you with perhaps the most dynamic high flyer in the world today…Kota Ibushi.

3 thoughts on “An Idiotic Gaijin’s Guide to Puroresu: Japanese Pro Wrestling

  1. Pingback: Japanese Pro Wrestling. Beginning! | Digital Asia

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