With the WWE having recently brought back the WWE Cruiserweight title, we thought it would be timely to look back to when the company debuted the light heavyweight title. With that in mind we ask ‘Whatever Happened to‘ that titles inaugural winner in 1998, Taka Michinoku.
Takao Yoshida was born 26 October 1973 in Morioka, Iwate, Japan. Upon taking up a career in wrestling, in a doff of the hat to his mentor and hero The Great Sasuke, he took the name Taka Michinoku – Sasuke was the owner of Michinoku Pro Wrestling. In fact Taka would debut in the ring as a tag team partner with Sasuke.
His debut for the iconic New Japan Pro Wrestling came during the acclaimed 1994 edition of the Super J-Cup but Taka was unsuccessful here, being eliminated by Eddie Guerrero – who was then portraying Black Tiger. He would also feature in the Best of the Super Juniors, also in 1994, but was only able to amass a total of two points.
It took Taka until 1996 to win his first championship, winning, on 5 May 1996, the FMW Independent Junior Heavyweight Championship by defeating Koji Nakagawa. A 13 month reign as champion followed. He would drop the gold to El Satanico but regained it two months down the line.
Michinoku made his debut in the USA in early 1997 in Extreme Championship Wrestling’s where he teamed with Dick Togo & Terry Boy in a victory over Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa & his mentor The Great Sasuke. This feud would last until the company’s Barely Legal 1997 PPV – Michinoku’s PPV debut.
1997 would turn out to be a big year for the Japanese superstar. In July 1997, at WWF ‘In Your House’ Canadian Stampede, Taka made his debut against The Great Sasuke in a losing affair. He would also lose the return bout the next night on Raw. But he made an impression and was entered into the company’s Light Heavyweight tournament.
En route to the finally he bested both Devon Storm and the future Essa Rios, Aguila. In the final he faced Brian Christopher at the December PPV ‘D-Generation X’. He would defeat Christopher and would go on to hold the title for 10 months – including a WrestleMania win over Aguila – before being defeated by Christian.
He soon entered into a feud with the Japanese stable Kai En Tai – although the rationale wasn’t clear – but would soon turn heel and align with the team he had previously had an alliance with in Japan. The group would spend much of 1998 feuding with Val Venis before a short, mercifully, programme with The Oddities. Taka would have several chances to regain his light heavyweight title – against Christian then Gillberg – but was unsuccessful.
After Togo, Teioh and both Yamaguchis left the WWF, it left Michinoku and Funaki as the only two members of Kai En Tai. They kept the name and wrestled as a team, primarily as jobbers. That said, Taka did get a WWF title shot Triple H on the April 10, 2000 edition of Raw. He was unsuccessful, although did come very close thanks to interference from Funaki and the APA.
As a team the duo had little success and Michinoku had several other chances to become light heavyweight champion again but was also unsuccessful.
After leaving the by then WWE, Taka returned to Japan to initially rehabilitate his injured shoulder before returning to the ring. He would go on to compete in both All Japan and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
His in-ring honours include two time IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team champion, one time World Junior Heavyweight Championship and multiple titles during his sting with Kaientai Dojo.
Currently he is the founder and owner of the Kaientai Dojo which focuses on high-flying, technical wrestling and martial arts. You can read more on that promotion here.
Aged just 42, time is still on his side and it’s almost a bit of a shame that whilst Funaki has returned to our screens as a commentator, Taka wasn’t part of the Cruiserweight Classic.
You can read all previous ‘Whatever Happened to?’ pieces here.