JWA Collection 1957-1971
The Japan Pro Wrestling Association opened in 1953. Its star, Rikidozan, a Korean born sumo wrestler who began pro wrestling after meeting with Harold Sakata (best known for his role as Oddjob in Goldfinger). As a successful star in Hawaii, Rikidozan believed Japan needed the profession and a strong idol to look to in the aftermath of WWII. The JWA quickly became a member of the NWA, which allowed for popular foreign talent to tour the country. This native star against foreigner dynamic quickly proved to be very successful, as Rikidozan became a hero who would vanquish the invading heels. His popularity and wealth grew so much he would be involved in many businesses outside of pro wrestling. This would lead to his death at the hands of a Yakuza member in 1963.
Faced with the loss of its biggest star (and national hero), JWA pressed on by having Toyonobori fill Rikidozan's spot as top star and president. His influence and push would soon fade, however, as Rikidozan's trainees Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki had matured into stars of their own. Under Baba, the NWA International Championship would be seen on par with the NWA World Championship, with various champions (including NWA and WWWF) vying for it. JWA continued to be very prosperous until 1972, when both Inoki and Baba would leave to form their own promotions. Having lost its top talent, the JWA would fold the next year.
Baba's All Japan Pro Wrestling would receive the JWA's seat in the NWA, continuing with similar booking and wrestling styles. Inoki's New Japan Pro Wrestling would focus more on native talent, as well as Inoki's world traveling attempts to prove the power of pro wrestling against other martial arts in early versions of worked MMA matches. Both would continue the legacy of JWA's annual tournament, the World Big League, with the Champions Carnival and G1 Climax, respectively.
It is hard to overstate the importance of both Rikidozan and the promotion he founded. Without them, pro wrestling may have never come to Japan, with ramifications on talent, working styles, and even MMA being impossible to know. The matches included above are classic in every sense of the word. Two of them are still the most watched televised matches in Japanese history. Hopefully you can enjoy them and their lasting legacies as much as I have putting this together.
Lou Thesz vs Rikidozan NWA Championship 10/13/57
This starts with 5 minutes of Rikidozan hanging out in America. Possibly just Hawaaii, including having a party with Lou by the pool. Lou is working heel, as the native vs gaijin formula was a big part of early puro. They had a draw the week before which drew massive television ratings which still stand today. The story of the match is Lou's superior mat game against Riki's famous chops. Riki's strategy is to tear Lou's arm apart in an attempt to negate the mat advantage. A whole lot of kimuras in this. The arm work pays off for Riki, as Lou is unable to hold any submissions long enough to be damaging. A big backdrop gets Lou the first fall. Dudes been getting smashed with that since the 50s.
Riki is in control in the opening moments of the second fall. Lou has a pretty great counter of a body scissors into a STF attempt. Riki got to the ropes, but that didn't stop Lou from wrenching the leg anyway. Mr. Thesz gives no clean breaks. Lou puts in a rolling short arm scissors. God please let there be a Backlund Lift out of this. Lou scurries away the first time Riki threatens a dirty break. You don't think of Lou Thesz being that shithead heel type, but that's his role in just about every match of his in Japan that I've seen. And he's great at it. Really great. Riki wins fall two with a big chop.
Lou tries to go for the kill as soon as fall three starts, immediately going for the back drop. Riki counters with a dope judo throw. He keeps the headlock on and works the FUCK out of it. Just trying to rip Thesz's head off. Lou is able to turn that into an airplane spin, which sends both men taking a nasty spill over the top rope. I heard the bell, so I'm not sure if they were both counted out or disqualified. Lou tries to attack after the match and gets slammed, but they do have a handshake at the end of things. Title retained. Fascinating. This match basically set the table for everything puro would be for the next 15 years. This is the formula that the JWA used until its closure, and both AJPW and NJPW used in its early years. Interesting to see how many techniques are still used today, and how peppy and fast paced the match was despite submission work. It wasn't the slow headlock for 20 minutes affair you might expect from a wrestling match from 1957. Someone could put this exact match on today and I think most places would enjoy it.
Rikidozan vs The Destroyer 12/2/63
Destroyer is so awesome. And I haven't even seen him in his physical prime. Destroyer seems very athletic, doing a lot of kip ups for no apparent reason. Destroyer gets caught in head scissors over and over, which seems to be something he's very prone to getting stuck in. Much like Lou Thesz, Destroyer gets the fuck out of dodge when Riki raises a fist. Destroyer is the master of finding ways to get cheap shots in no matter what hold he's in or putting someone in. It's wonderful. Also wonderful is his constant hounding of the ref. Every break he'll give the ref shit, even if the ref isn't even saying anything to him. Lol at Destroyer's stalling techniques. Hang out on the floor until 19, head back in, immediately step back out. Crowd loves it when Riki gives some cheap shots back to Destroyer. Destroyer's dropkicks send Riki flying. Too bad he missed a second rope knee drop. Destroyer gets a pin with his feet on the ropes. A second and the audience tries to tell the ref what happened. Destroyer shows it wasn't possible as his legs aren't long enough. Lol.
Fall two begins with immediate stalling. Riki unloads with a series of kicks and then knocks the shit out of Destroyer with the big chop to very quickly get a pinfall. Like maybe 2 minutes.
Fall three is much more strike heavy. Gone are the hold tradings and stalling. What's left is forearms, kicks, chops, stomps, and Destroyer frequently trying the figure four to end the match. Destroyer has to settle for a modified version, only getting the full version locked in once they are in the ropes. Of course, he doesn't break the hold. Things head to the floor, which means the match ends in a double count out. But while out there, Destroyer does something I don't think I've ever seen, which is battering ramming Riki's head into the edge of the apron. Think the Bushwhacker's move, but into the edge of the apron. Oh shit, backdrop on the floor! Oh wait, somehow this wasn't a double count out, even though they were on the floor for a good minute and a half. Riki climbed back in and won via count out. Destroyer is just such a blast to watch. Dude is ALWAYS doing something to keep your attention or cheat. So many guys should be stealing everything they can from him.
The Destroyer vs Toyonobori WWA Championship 2/26/65
Toyonobori was the second most popular star of JWA. After Rikidozan's death at the hands of the Yakuza, Toynobori became the top star and president of the company. His push and popularity would fade to Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki soon after, but Toyonobori is recognized to be the first Japanese wrestler to hold a world title, as Rikidozan was actually Korean. He was a pretty important dude is what I'm trying to say.
Destroyer is on the ref from the start. And the seconds. And the fans. WHY DON'T YOU GO TAKE A WALK? Destroyer getting stuck in (and his frequent attempts to get out of) arm bars is never not fun. He always thinks he's so smart when he gets out, then always gets put right back in the hold. He does SO MUCH doing so little. It's amazing. It's literally been the same move for 20 minutes, but Destroyer does so many little things while selling or attempting to get out that it is never boring. This ref is definitely biased, though. I smell COLLUSION with this ref. Trying to cheat the American. For once, Destroyer is actually justified giving the ref shit. Toyo blocks the figure four by trying to pull the mask off. Normally, that'd be heel as fuck, but Destroyer has it coming since he's been cheating for a decade at this point, so fuck him. Oh damn, tree of Keanu! Kevin Sullivan has been lying about inventing that his entire career. That fuck. Destroyer wins the first fall with a knee drop to the throat in about 21 minutes.
Seems like a really long break between falls. Fall two begins similar to fall one, with Destroyer thinking he was getting cute and then repeatedly stuck in a hold. Then he pisses Toyonobori off and gets knocked all around. A Boston crab sees fall two go to Toyonobori.
Fall three has SO MUCH BEGGING off. Toyonobori repeatedly fights off the figure four, and Destroyer does an early version of the Flair Flip. The time limit expires as Destroyer was about to lock on the figure four. The title stays with Toyonobori. This was very much the Destroyer formula match from what I've seen. The match he'd do when he was carrying along someone well below him in the ring. And if you enjoy that match (which I do), you should enjoy this. I don't think it was as fun as the Rikidozan match, but it was also twice as long and Toyonobori seemed like even more of a blank slate than Rikidozan was. The Destroyer is just so enjoyable.
Giant Baba vs Bruno Sammartino NWA International Championship 3/7/67
This is a long match, and these are two big dudes, so we'll see how this goes. Bruno is the WWWF Champion, but his title is not on the line or even mentioned as the NWA International Championship was pushed so hard as a world title. Despite Baba's size advantage, Bruno has the strength advantage. Baba also has a mat wrestling advantage and combines the two to control Bruno, working the hell out of the arm to prevent the bear hug. Bruno has a surprisingly atheltic escape from it. Unlike most native vs gaijin matches, Bruno is respectful and not cheating. Some really neat scramble sequences in this you definitely wouldn't expect from these two. Baba wins the first fall after a series of moves ending with a knee drop to the throat.
Fall two starts with Baba going back to the arm work. Bruno does his own arm work (and a nasty anaconda choke), but has yet to attempt the bear hug yet. When he finally goes for it, Baba quickly chops out of it, although his big chop had less mustard on it due to the arm work. Bruno wins fall two with a cross body block OUTTA NOWHERE.
Fall three starts with Bruno throwing all kinds of knees and fists. He's trying to end this as soon as he can. Both dudes are pretty tired and at this point I don't think either has an advantage the longer it goes. Late match crisscross spot ends in a mid ring collision. Baba is a much faster and smoother runner than you'd think. The bear hug comes back into play, but all that arm work has paid off for Baba. I love the way the bear hug has been built here. You'd think Baba will get his back broken if he's in it for more than 15 seconds. This turns into a slug fest, with both guys trying to hit their big moves even while down on the mat. Time expires. Really liked the story of this. Both did arm work the whole time to counter act the big moves of the other. What started out as a respectful match ended up with both guys slugging it out, exhausted but chopping/bear hugging from the mat. And due to the arm work from both, the big chops and bear hug ended up being not as effective as they'd normally be, forcing both guys to try different moves to score falls. There really isn't a ton of prime Bruno footage available. Most of it seems to be from his second title reign or brief come back in the 80s against guys like Piper and Savage. So here you can see him in his prime, and Baba BEFORE his prime, and it is really great stuff. Especially for two dudes their size to go almost an hour with very little down time. The rest holds were active rest holds, instead of blatant "let's do a chin lock for 5 minutes" kind of stuff.
Giant Baba vs Gene Kiniski NWA International Championship 8/14/67
I'm not sure I've actually seen a Gene Kiniski match. He's currently the NWA Champion, but much like the match with Bruno, the International Championship is the one being defended to prove its importance. This is joined in progress, but it's still long so I don't know how long this has been going on. Baba is in control on the mat and appears to be drenched in sweat, so I'm guessing this is the second half of an hour long match. Baba using the back of his knee to grind an ear is amazing. Such a dick move, but very interesting. Dude's right around ringside smoking, smoke puffs visible even in black and white. So neat. Baba wins a fall with a big boot. Based on the traditional match structure of 2/3 falls matches, I'm guessing this was indeed the first fall.
Kiniski seems pretty cunty for a Canadian, what with all that choking and rule breaking. Baba really lays in those kicks. There aren't many times when I've thought, "Baba is hitting pretty hard", but he is in this match. After much cheating, Gene wins fall two with a top rope knee drop. I guess the first part was just a long first fall chopped up.
Kiniski opens the third fall by attacking before the rest period is up. You son of a bitch. There appear to be a ton of people out there. I think it is an outside arena, and it looks packed. I believe this is in Osaka Stadium. Seems like the normal third fall, where any sense of respectfulness (not that Gene really had any to start) gives way to slug fests and desperate attempts to end the match. Baba stomps the shit out of Gene's head. The time limit runs out, but they agree to FIVE MORE MINUTES!
Sudden death! Baba dropkick! This is after an hour of wrestling and that big dude still throwing dropkicks. Gene hits another top rope knee drop, but then misses the second. Baba tears up the leg and has the half crab on when time runs out again. A double time limit draw. Baba retains. I'm not sure on Kiniski, but Baba was awesome in this. So much fire, a giant crowd into everything he did, tons of little things like the back of the knee ear grinding. So cool.
The Destroyer vs Giant Baba 3/5/69
Even in the 60s, Japan had random English words and Arabic numbers on their graphics. Baba always had a weird body, but when he was young, he really did look like a giant, especially in Japan. Some great top wrist locks to start out. Better looking than any top wrist lock you've seen in 25 years. Baba does some sweet arm drags while still being locked in a collar and elbow tie up. And the collar and elbow is used as an actual hold, which is interesting. Destroyer is able to slip out and work the arm himself. That fucker is such a shit bird. Biting the hand, then choking with the other hand/foot while the ref is admonishing him. NASTY finger work. Baba does almost a rolling cross arm breaker. Destroyer is so good at stooging while trying to get out of the hold. Baba turns the hold into a head scissors with an arm bar. Destroyer is able to kip out of it and slap on a headlock take down, only to immediately get put back in the head scissors. Destroyer is again able to get out, this time by grinding his knee into the shin/ankle of Baba. Then gets put right back in the hold. Destroyer is able to get out a few more times and finally figures out doing a headlock take down isn't going to work for him, so he does an arm drag. He still got put right back in the head scissors. Destroyer gets a head scissors of his own applied. The triangle kind. And it's on fucking tight. Baba rolls out and does a pretty hardcore death lock type hold. He then turns it into a form of the Regal Stretch. Destroyer bites his way out. Destroyer puts something on his thumb before thumbing Baba in the face. What he does is lick his thumb, then quickly rub it on the inside of his trunks and people 100% buy it as something super bad. Big boot! Big chop. Baba tries to take the mask off and does some eye pokes of his own. Destroyer puts his foot on the back of Baba's knee and starts wrenching. I did that hold once while wrestling with my friend and made him cry. He uses the ring apron to bust Baba's knee up some more. He still can't lock on the figure four. Huge Baba slam. The mask is nearly off! Oh shit, headbutt with something in the mask! They fight for a bit on the floor and Destroyer is using his phantom weapons. Baba is busted open! This fires Baba up. He hits a big boot and those big knee smashes he did. Destroyer blocks a big boot and rolls into a pin, which Baba rolls through to get the pin. Baba wins the first fall!
The Americans with Destroyer hit the ring to argue with the ref. One of them looked like Larry Hennig, but I can't be certain on that. As the second fall starts, Destroyer misses a knee drop. Baba takes advantage. Atomic drop. Dropkick from Baba. He misses the second. Loaded headbutt. Destroyer hits a second rope knee drop, but Baba kicks out. Mid ring collision. After an hour, Destroyer still can't get the figure four on. He finally gets it applied and Baba gives up. The Americans again get in the ring, with Antonio Inoki keeping them away from Baba. The ref is punched. For this, Destroyer was disqualified, giving the win to Baba. This was so good. Destroyer is amazing at everything. Baba, much like young Andre, was extremely capable in the ring and definitely held his own. But The Destroyer is excellent. I'm sad that his style is completely gone in modern wrestling.
Dory Funk Jr. vs Antonio Inoki 8/2/70 NWA Championship
Well, this should be rad. The two had a match at the end of 1969 that got the crowd so riled up they were throwing trash into the ring. In 1969. In Japan. Young Terry is at ringside, and very blond. Young Inoki has so much swag. Off the charts. The hair, the chin, the robes. I've always been a big fan of how white Inoki's laces are. So bright. As you'd expect, this has great mat work. Early on, Inoki proves that he's Dory's equal on the mat. Dory works on the legs to set up the spinning toe hold. Inoki seems focused on the arm. The story of the match seems to be pairty. Anything Dory can do, Inoki can do as well or better. Eventually Dory starts smashing Inoki's shoulder, which just pisses Inoki off. And you know what you do when Inoki gets pissed? You get the fuck out of the ring. Dory CLEARLY won the match or fall, but the ref just stopped counting at two. Wait, I think this is the collision ref from the Destroyer/Toyonobori match. Dory gets the fall with the butterfly suplex. I'm surprised the ref counted it, since Inoki kind of kicked out. At first i thought that ref was on the take, but now I think he's just a really shitty ref.
Dory continues to be in control as the second fall begins. Dory takes it to the floor, repeatedly slamming Inoki into a table. Maybe Terry took this match to heart. The ref continues to fuck up, being super late to count the pin on Inoki's butterfly suplex counter. Like...a good 3 seconds before he ever got down to count. And then Inoki wins the fall with a German suplex with possibly the worst camera work I've seen this side of ROH. Completely missed the impact even though they had 4 cameras to catch it.
As usual, third fall is for keeps. Peep those flying head scissors. I don't know what they were going for, but it ended up being, basically, a rana from Inoki. I thought maybe it was going to be a powerbomb from Dory. But I don't know what it was supposed to be. Maybe it was supposed to be a flying triangle. This devolves into a slug fest, with frequent throws to the floor, and young Terry getting involved. The guys are so exhausted they're trying pins on each other from the other dude being tired after trying a pin. The ref continues to ruin what should be hot near falls. Man, he's the worst. Worse than Earl Hebner. This fall has all kinds of wacky shit, from the ranas/head scissors to top rope knee drops, to table spots. Of course, it ends in a draw, so Dory retains, but Inoki proved he was every bit Dory's equal. This wasn't as good as the Dory/Jumbo matches, but it's good shit.
Antonio Inoki vs The Destroyer 5/19/71
Now, Destroyer typically doesn't have someone that can really go with him on the mat. Most of his matches are leading people by the hand. But Inoki is as good as anyone on the mat. He proved he was Dory Jr.'s equal not even a year ago. Should be interesting to see how different Destroyer wrestles when in there with someone he doesn't have to hand lead. You can tell right from the start this is going to be much different from the Rikidozan/Toyo/Baba matches, as instead of getting into the "I keep getting trapped in a head lock/head scissors" spot for 20 minutes, they just go for full on grappling. Well, Destroyer does get caught in head scissors, but of the flying variety. The cobra twist is teased early. Destroyer's vocalizations while in holds are so great. So are his ways of getting out of holds. He can go from amateur wrestling to World of Sport to Memphis style stooge in seconds. Truly amazing. Look at how he counters a small package: Putting his knee in Inoki's throat and turning it into a pin of his own. Such a little thing, but it is just wonderful. Figure four is also teased. And this trapped in a small package spot. Both guys stuck in the hold, rolling back and forth as the ref gets tired from counting. Inoki again avoids the figure four. And then the cobra twist is also avoided. Very clear that who ever gets their submission locked on first is probably going to win this. Both continue to put on their hold, with counters sending both to the floor at times. Destroyer finally locks on the figure four, and the fans react thinking this must be the end. A few throw trash into the ring. The ref doesn't seem to care about the rope break, so Inoki has to roll to the floor, still in the hold, to break it. Even that didn't seem to work, as both men ended up being counted out while in the hold. Post match, both men took a boot off to sell the figure four, and almost started another match, but things calmed down. This is so fun. Destroyer really getting to show off his wrestling skills with a capable opponent, his great counters (check for early in the match at the way he grabs Inoki's Adam's apple to break a submission), Inoki's swag. So fun. I love The Destroyer.
Jack Brisco vs Antonio Inoki UN Championship 8/5/71
Brisco had not yet become NWA Champion, but he was on the shortlist at this time. And they immediately go the mat, testing each other's amateur skills. No respectful lock ups or stalling. Just immediate "let's do this". And there is some awesome mat stuff. Likely because these guys are actually wrestling each other. Even their lock ups are stiff. Inoki has a god damn triangle on. In 1971! Tempers start to flare and fists are briefly thrown, but this is a match about testing the wrestling skills of the other. A knee breaker opens up Jack's offense. Presumably to set up for the figure four or maybe spinning toe hold. Best of all, Jack is actually working the correct leg for the figure four. The hold does damage to the straightened leg. For some reason Ric Flair (and Jeff Jarrett) spent 40 years working the wrong damn leg for their big move and it drives me crazy. Oh wow, Jack counters the cobra twist and somehow gets into full mount from it. What a sweep. Inoki sweeps that into guard. I'm guessing this match was very influential on Maeda and Tiger Mask. Probably more Maeda than Sayama, as this is very similar to the matches Maeda was having right before forming the UWF and shortly after. Jack has a snap counter out of the cobra twist, which surprises Inoki enough to keep him down for a pin.
Fall two sees Jack being more aggressive and willing to strike, but submissions are still the focus. Both guys are worn down enough that there is less struggle to get holds locked in. Jack gets cocky with his punching, which opens him up to eat a German suplex and lose the second fall.
Brisco is spent and still rocked from the German when the third fall starts. Inoki stomps the shit out of him. Just repeatedly stomping his dick in the dirt. Cobra twist! Jack gives up! Inoki wins and retains his title. This was awesome. Some of the most intense mat stuff you'll ever see. Probably the best Inoki match I've seen. Just great, great stuff. And you can really see the influence it had on the UWF guys.
Some genuinely classic stuff here. Thesz/Rikidozan and Destroyer/Rikidozan are two of the most important and influential matches in in puro history. I think they're still the two most watched matches in Japanese wrestling history. And they're pretty god damn good. Rikidozan was capable, but in the ring with two legitimate greats and held his own. The gaijin vs native star formula was the back bone of the JWA, and that spread to AJPW and NJPW. Here, you can see the eras of JWA, from Rikidozan to Toyonobori to Baba to Inoki. The evolution of wrestling styles and types of stars. And it is very easy to see the influences that came from Inoki and Baba. This is one of my favorite little projects I've done. Some really, really wonderful matches, talents, and legacies in this.