EGGSHELLS

Pro Wrestling in the Tokyo Dome

559 Participants.

576 Matches.

64 Events.

10 Promotions.

30 Years.

Eggshells tells the complete history of professional wrestling in Japan's greatest arena: the Tokyo Dome. Through historical sources and first hand personal accounts, Chris Charlton tells the complete story of every event in the building's three decades, and the promotions and people that made the Big Egg a wrestling institution.

New Japan Pro Wrestling

NJPW Super Fight in Tokyo Dome

February 10, 1990

Attendance: 63,900

Takayuki Iizuka def. Osamu Matsuda

Naoki Sano & Pegasus Kid def. Akira Nogami & Jushin Thunder Liger

Blonde Outlaws (Tatsutoshi Goto, Hiro Saito & Norio Honaga) def. Hiroshi Hase, Kotaro Kashino & Kuniaki Kobayashi

Brad Rheingans def. Victor Zangiev

Steve Williams def. Salmon Hashmikov

AWA World Heavyweight Title

 Masa Saito def. Larry Zbyszko

Jumbo Tsuruta & Yoshiaki Yatsu def. Kengo Kimura & Osamu Kido

Genichiro Tenryu & Tiger Mask def. Riki Choshu & George Takano

IWGP Heavyweight Title

Big Van Vader v Stan Hansen (Double Count Out)

Koji Kitao def. Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow

Antonio Inoki & Seiji Sakaguchi def. Shinya Hashimoto & Masahiro Chono

 

New Japan’s business held firm through 1989, with a product that highlighted a promising array of junior heavyweights as well as a deep heavyweight roster, with younger stars like Shinya Hashimoto and Masahiro Chono about to break through and surpass the Tatsumi Fujinamis and Riki Choshus before them.

With a strong attendance for Battle Satellite in spring of 1989, and the success of U-Cosmos in November, the medium of pro wrestling at large was in good shape. Wrestling was, indeed, a stadium drawing attraction in Japan, defying its critics. Still though, work had to be done to make events stand out and ensure that what happened in the Dome could only happen in the Dome.

In February 1990, that special attraction was supposedly a returning Keiji Muto facing Ric Flair. The American NWA had strong ties with All Japan Pro Wrestling that lasted up through its transition to World Championship Wrestling in 1988. By now, however, AJPW’s relationship had turned frosty under WCW’s management by Jim Herd. As touring talent were suddenly pulled without warning, All Japan distanced itself from the outfit, and instead embarked on conversations with the WWF, who were interested in expanding into the Japanese market. WCW in turn aligned themselves with New Japan.

An NWA title match between Keiji Muto and Flair would mark a triumphant full time return for Muto to Japan after lengthy excursions to America. His position as the third musketeer of New Japan’s fighting spirit, along with Hashimoto and Chono, would instantly be established. Flair had significant cache in Japan, and Muto had potential to be a top draw in the US. The match, and an associated lengthy program with Flair and Muto appeared to be win-win.

Jim Ross

Muta was a natural in the USA for WCW and was even considered for a time to be the NWA champion but that idea was blown out of the water by the booking committee.

The NJPW/WCW relationship was tenuous from the start as WCW did not have anyone in charge who knew how to interact with other promoters, especially the Japanese. Ultimately, too much would be made over the in ring creative by both sides.

With weeks to go, the match was off. Jim Herd was at the center of more disagreement on the WCW end, and Flair was out. The February show did have some promising matches, including an in-ring reunion of business partners Antonio Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi for one last tag match against the upstarts of Hashimoto and Chono. There was, however, a lack of special attractions that could beat UWF’s proclaimed attendance record of 60,000 in the building.

Enter Shohei Baba. Ever since the rift in the Japanese Wrestling Association that first saw New Japan under Inoki, and then All Japan under Baba come into being, the two groups had only worked closely together once; in a 1979 supercard hosted by the Tokyo Sports newspaper and headlined by Baba and Inoki reforming their B-I Cannon tag team for one last time.

Through the 1980s, it seemed that relations between the two promotions were downright aggressive. The change in tone in a short period of time could be levied at Mitsuo Mitsune. In New Japan, the rise of young stars like Satoru Sayama and Tatsumi Fujinami, along with Inoki at the top were seeing massive ratings for TV Asahi. In AJPW, things were less rosy. ‘They were doing these huge numbers, while All Japan was in the red,’ former editor in chief at Weekly Pro Wrestling magazine Tarzan Yamamoto, would recall.[1] ‘So Baba reached out to (AJPW TV broadcaster) Nippon TV and they transferred Mitsune in as president. That way it was win-win for Baba; he already had other companies that were bringing in cash, and now he could hand over the All Japan debts to someone else while still drawing a salary as the top wrestler’.

Mitsune sparked a TV ratings war with Asahi by raiding foreign talent and throwing money behind the likes of Riki Choshu and others who left the company in the wake of the 1983 scandals that also birthed UWF from New Japan. The moves drew ire on all fronts. New Japan was hurt by lost talent. Many native All Japan wrestlers were finding their motivation sagging at being directed by a non-wrestling company. Nippon TV meanwhile were increasingly frustrated with Mitsune. He was chewing through finances at an alarming rate and was asking his bosses for TV rights fees increasingly far in advance. This mirrored Nippon’s frustrations with JWA in its dying days as the promotion asked for advances on rights fees up to six months ahead, a dire state of affairs that eventually led to NTV pleading with Baba to break out from his home promotion and start AJPW in the first place. NTV had had enough by 1989. They axed Mitsune, and put Baba back in charge of All Japan, giving a harsh warning in the process; no more advances, they were on their own.

So it was that Baba was eager to help Inoki and Sakaguchi with their WCW issues as they found themselves in a bind at the start of 1990. He’d lend them some talent, with the proviso that the guys he brought across would not be beaten or appear to look weak. NJPW meanwhile would play their part in a three-promotion super card in April, and both companies would be able to pull in some large gates and favourable TV ratings.

Dave Meltzer

Flair was in the middle of this big dispute with Herd and eventually decided he didn't want to go. When he pulled out, New Japan were really screwed with a huge building and no main event. Sakaguchi asked for help and Baba stepped up; it was for the best in the end since they sold the building out.

Thus Steve Williams, Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshiaki Yatsu, Genichiro Tenryu, Mitsuharu Misawa (as the second-generation Tiger Mask, the license to Satoru Sayama’s former character having been sold to All Japan in the mid 1980s), Stan Hansen, and, via the vestiges of an AWA/AJPW relationship, Larry Zbyszko all appeared in the Tokyo Dome.

The most notable, and subsequently infamous of those names was Hansen. Stan Hansen was making his return to NJPW after being a high-profile foreigner for the company in the late 1970s and early 1980s, working extensively with Inoki. He had defected to AJPW during the Mitsune instigated talent raids, and this ultimately led to a dream match with Vader on the card, a battle of the company’s biggest foreign bruisers for the IWGP Championship that Vader had retained for most of 1989.

The plan was always for the two to go to a double count out in a wild brawl; that way Hansen didn't have to be beaten per Baba’s conditions, while Vader wouldn't lose the IWGP belt. What wasn't planned was an errant thumb from the short-sighted Hansen finding Vader’s eye. The eye would pop out and had to be pushed in by Vader, the champion removing his mask to a massive reaction from the crowd; not at seeing Leon White’s unmasked face, but rather the extent of the gruesome injury, as the eye swelled shut. The brawl continued in and out of the ring for a good while after the incident, and while some may have felt cheated by the non-finish, the violent scenes left a lasting imprint on wrestling history.

Genichiro Tenryu had just celebrated his 40th birthday a week earlier, though his career would continue for more than 25 years hence. The former sumo wrestler had entered All Japan relatively late at age 26, but his maturity and some name value from sumo made him a star for the company through the 1980s. Adopting a powerbomb and an Inoki style enzuigiri, Tenryu, along with contemporary Jumbo Tsuruta quickly became an established Japanese draw underneath Baba. Indeed, with AJPW taking a firm stand against the flirtations with MMA that the UWF (and on occasion NJPW) were making, Tenryu was part of All Japan’s counter programming of U-Cosmos. The same month of November 1989 saw Tenryu, teaming with Stan Hansen, become the first Japanese wrestler to pin Baba, declaring afterward ‘this is a bigger deal than anything happening at the Tokyo Dome’.

His teaming here with Mitsuharu Misawa was significant in retrospect. While Tenryu was still with AJPW, his increasing unease with management had allowed the black ship of Megane Super to sail in and offer to make him a top star of their impending promotion. As All Japan was raided by the soon to be launched Super World Sports, AJPW managed to bring younger heavyweights to the forefront, turning them into the premier heavyweight promotion of the 1990s. Among those stars was a Misawa who would shed the Tiger Mask he’d later admit he despised performing under.

For now, though, they stood opposite 14-year veteran George Takano, who also would be in SWS by the spring, and Riki Choshu. Choshu, being prepared for an IWGP title reign in the summer, was to be protected, leading to another count out on the card, this time with Misawa and Tenryu beating the 20 count to come out with the upper hand somewhat.

Larry Zbyszko represented the AWA via All Japan on Super Fight. Verne Gagne’s promotion had a very strong relationship with AJPW, especially through the 1970s, informing much of their booking practices, and providing the foreign talent on All Japan shows. Now though, the company was ailing badly. Masa Saito would defeat Zbyszko in a strong mid card match, Zbyszko working over Saito’s arm for a lengthy period while Saito came from underneath with multiple backdrop suplexes as the crowd came to their feet. An inside cradle saw Saito capture the AWA title, which he'd lose again to Zbyszko in the States two months later. All the same, the AWA would be defunct by the end of 1990.

As the AWA lineage ended, a lengthy career was beginning. Along with Jushin (now Thunder, thanks to a renaming of his source anime material for its second season) Liger, Takayuki Iizuka would be the only performer on Super Fight to still be active more than a quarter century later. His suplex heavy offence was very different to the brawling style he'd adapt as a heel in the latter part of his career. Still, it would see him overcome Osamu Matsuda. Matsuda was also making his Tokyo Dome debut and would later don a mask to become influential junior heavyweight figure El Samurai.

Another debutant was Koji Kitao, though his career in New Japan would not last long. A former yokozuna in sumo under the name Futahaguro, Kitao had been expelled from the sport. After being physically abusive toward his younger stablemates, he would get into a fight with stable master Tatsunami and be blacklisted. To put a positive spin on events, it was announced that Kitao was retiring, and a retirement ceremony was arranged in March of 1988 in a Tokyo hotel, but with a tournament happening that same day, there was no press coverage, and no supporters showed[2].

Kitao would be trained by Lou Thesz, and prepared for a debut in the Dome. With his reputation preceding him, Kitao’s debut was hotly anticipated. Indeed, to hone his skills somewhat, Kitao was sent on an excursion to the States in 1989, where he would work under a mask as Monster Machine to avoid Japanese press picking up the news. It was a different time indeed from social media quickly blowing anybody’s cover.

Kitao debuted opposite Bam Bam Bigelow, clad in a red and yellow outfit that seemed extremely Hulk Hogan-esque. He was every bit the babyface in the match as well, and fan were drawn into his act, as he picked up the win over the big and versatile American. Still, Kitao’s volatility would soon get the better of him in pro wrestling as well as sumo. Months later he would be fired over a backstage spat with Riki Choshu, which included a racially charged tirade (Choshu is naturalized Japanese having been born in Korea). Still, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Kitao in this journey.

The main event of the show was the generational clash of Inoki and Sakaguchi opposite Chono and Hashimoto. With Lou Thesz acting as special referee, this was a changing of the guard, as the new generation of NJPW took on the company’s founders. As Inoki found himself more deeply embroiled in politics, he was semi-retired at this point, and Sakaguchi had also withdrawn from full time in ring work as he took the reigns as president of the company. A month later, he would have his final match, teaming with Kengo Kimura opposite Scott Hall and Corporal Kirchner, but for now, the last time Inoki and Sakaguchi would team, and on a huge stage, made for a hotly anticipated main event.

An infamous pre-match interview with Inoki saw the New Japan founder slap a reporter across the face for daring to ask what may happen should he lose. He wouldn't of course, and while a win for the younger team would have clearly marked the passing of the torch to Chono and Hashimoto, this was more a match for Sakaguchi to bow out with a win and for Inoki to deliver his closing line of ‘1,2,3 Daa!’. As the match progressed though, with Chono delivering repeated enzuigiris to the master and locking him in an STF, and Hashimoto used his trademark bruising offence on both men, the path ahead for New Japan was obvious.

 

 

 

[1] Tarzan Yamamoto Hentai Zadankai, The Big Fight, April 18, 2015

[2] Showa Heisei Oozumo Mei Rekishi 100 Retsuden, Minobu Shinozawa 2015