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In Japan, Pro-Wrestling has an amazing legacy. Sumo and Judo were popular sports and many Japanese stars traveled overseas or brought catch-as-catch-can wrestlers to Japan to prove their disciplines supremacy. In the early twentieth century, American hooker Ad Santel was tied to wrestling in Japan, battling judokas in America, touring Japan himself and influencing a number of young judokas in pre-war Japan. After World War II, Japan was occupied by Americans and this new sport entered Japan with more successful results. Sumo wrestlers and judokas often left their sports to take part in pro-wrestling ("puroresu" as it became known). After native stars began establishing themselves, traveling abroad and promoting cards themselves, puroresu became firmly established in Japanese culture. On the underground, women's wrestling was even established in the 1950s and steadily grew a cult following and by the end of the 1960s, All Japan Women (Zenjo) was formed by the Matsunaga brothers who took Joshi Puroresu to its greatest heights. In 1953, a former sumo Rikidozan returned from an American tour and had the support and charisma to become a superstar.

Rikidozan's Japan Wrestling Association was formed and he bought up or starved out his competitors. He was the boss and the top star, battling Gaijin (foreigners) from all over the world. Then in 1963, Rikidozan died and the landscape of puroresu began changing. Many fans were turned off by Riki's ties to the yakuza and pro-wrestling lost its luster for a time. Power struggles over the company and over the country began. The first lasting company to be created was International Wrestling Enterprise. In the late 1960s, JWA's top stars were Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki. Baba was the top star and Inoki was second, which led to frustrations for Inoki, who repeatedly tried to seize power and create something for himself. He eventually succeeded with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the JWA closed and All Japan Pro-Wrestling was the phoenix that rose from its ashes headed by Giant Baba. New Japan and All Japan battled throughout the 1970s and 1980s with the IWE carrying the role of the third company. Then in the early 1980s, a new guard of frustrated young talent formed a new group, Union of Wrestling Federation, which promoted a more realistic form of pro-wrestling. This created a powerful trend in puroresu. First, was the succession of Shoot-style companies that formed in the next twenty years. Second, was the push for new, innovative companies. The two most notable were Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling, which became wildly popular for its bloody death matches (which became a niche form of puroresu), and the short-lived Universal Pro-Wrestling, which focused on a faster product based on Mexican Lucha Libre. FMW lasted and had its ups and downs, Universal though did not last long, but created a ripple effect on the independent wrestling scene. Another approach was poaching stars and creating another traditional company, which is what Super World of Sports tried at and failed. They were succeeded by the lower scale Wrestling Association "R", which lasted much longer. As the millennium drew to a close in Japan, kakutougi (combat sports) were going through a significant transition. Pro-wrestling was declining and Mixed Martial Arts and Kickboxing were growing. Although there is a market for it still, puroresu is currently in a weakened state, waiting for the next big

JWA - Japan Wrestling Association (1953-1973)
Rikidozan was what Occupied Japan longed for in a hero. He was a legitimate fighter with the strength to challenge Americans in the pro-wrestling ring. While other promotions existed, JWA consumed them and Rikidozan defeated their top stars. Over the next few years, Rikidozan was wrestling the best pro-wrestlers from America and establishing himself and his product. Everything was building when he died after an altercation with a gangster and pro-wrestling in Japan nearly died. There was no star to take over for Rikidozan and his ties to the yakuza (Japanese mafia) had been made public and pro-wrestling was branded with a negative stigma. Power struggles throughout the 1960s depleted the Japanese pro-wrestling scene, but new stars were being established. JWA's top stars continually left or were forced out and in 1973 the promotion closed.  

Shohei "Giant" Baba 
Haruka Eigen
Antonio Inoki 
Masahiko Kimura
Shozo "Strong" Kobayashi
Great Kusatsu
Hiro Matsuda
Mitsuo Momota
Masashi Ozawa
Kintaro Oki
Thunder Sugiyama
Akihisa Takachiho
Michiaki Yoshimura

IWE - International Wrestling Enterprise (1966-1981)
After Rikidozan's death, the JWA was often in disarray. The chairman of their business office, Isao Yoshiwara, left the company and planned to open a new company. He took some young talent, aligned himself with Hiro Matsuda (who had American contacts) and developed a working relationship with Toyonobori and Antonio Inoki's startup Tokyo Pro-Wrestling. After Tokyo Pro folded, IWE took on most of their talent. In the late 60s, they established the IWA World Championship, the first title of its kind in Japan. Lou Thesz and Great Togo also became involved with the growing product. After securing a TV deal with TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System), the IWE was firmly positioned as the main opponent of JWA. They continued to strengthen their international connections in the late 60s and early 70s. IWE did not have the best wrestlers, but they became popular for their gimmick matches such as steel cage matches and chain matches. TBS did not care for the bloodshed, but it had an impact on the puroresu scene. By 1973 there were two new companies with bigger stars on top and the JWA was dead. Throughout the 1970s, the IWE was the third company in Japan and they often worked with New Japan and All Japan. After folding in 1981, IWE's roster were assimilated by the bigger two companies. The most established stars were past their primes and were never pushed as top stars past their initial appearances. IWE's contributions to the puroresu world seem lost among the fall of JWA and rise of New Japan and All Japan. In the mid-90s, Goro Tsurumi formed a revival group in a couple forms that was basically a small independent with no real ties to the IWE heritage other than similarities in name and Tsurumi himself.

Kim Duk
Haruka Eigen
Hiromichi Fuyuki
Higo "Animal" Hamaguchi
Ashura Hara
Mach Hayato
Kantaro Hoshino
Mighty Inoue
Rusher Kimura
Strong Kobayashi
Great Kusatsu
Hiro Matsuda
Kintaro Oki
Masa Saito
Apollo Sugawara
Thunder Sugiyama
Isamu Teranishi
Great Togo
Goro Tsurumi
Umanosuke Ueda

NJPW - New Japan Pro-Wrestling (1972-)
Antonio Inoki is the king of self-promotion. In the JWA, he was always second to Giant Baba and in 1966, tried to start a company with former JWA president Toyonobori, but it did not last long. During his second run with the JWA, Inoki was the top star of the NET station's new JWA show. In 1971, he grew frustrated again and after a failed coup, Inoki left and his second promotion attempt, New Japan, was a success. Now the Inoki-Baba rivalry was taken to a new level as they became the respective heads of their own companies. NET (which became TV Asahi) cancelled their deal with JWA and started airing New Japan. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Antonio Inoki established himself by battling foreign pro-wrestlers, winning foreign championships and challenging fighters to elevate his legitimacy. Over the next decade, he developed ties with the NWA and the WWF (in the US), the UWA (in Mexico), Stampede (in Canada), the CWA (in Europe) and other companies around the world with the goal of promoting the most global pro-wrestling company. In the late 80s, Inoki began phasing himself out and Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu tried to shoulder his legacy. Many stars had left due to Inoki. Tiger Mask became a huge star in the early 80s as a groundbreaking junior heavyweight and influenced a generation of young pro-wrestling fans. Akira Maeda left twice to start more realistic pro-wrestling companies. There had never been superstars established to fully take over for Inoki and it took a few years before the next wave of stars took and they saw New Japan through its greatest financial successes in the late 90s. The wave in the new millennium has been met with similar challenges as the pro-wrestling landscape was deluded with numerous companies and rising interest in mixed martial arts and kickboxing.

Masahiro Chono 
Riki Choshu 
Tatsumi Fujinami 
Yoshiaki Fujiwara (Shoot Style)  
The Great Muta 
Hiroshi Hase  
Shinya Hashimoto  
Antonio Inoki    
Satoshi Kojima   
Jushin “Thunder” Liger   
Akira Maeda (Shoot Style
TAKA Michinoku 
Keiji Muto  
Yuji Nagata 
Naoya Ogawa   
Masa Saito  
Seiji Sakaguchi   
Kensuke Sasaki 
Nobuhiko Takada (Shoot Style)  
Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama) 

CLICK HERE for the full New Japan alumni list

AJPW - All Japan Pro-Wrestling (1972-)
Giant Baba was the superstar that helped JWA resurrect after nearly dying following Rikidozan's scandalous death. He had so much appeal and the company made him their focal point. Television contracts led to problems and Baba's eventual departure. Working with Rikidozan's sons and Nippon TV, Giant Baba started his own company, opposite of Antonio Inoki's upstart New Japan promotion. An early signee by the company was a former Olympian, Tomomi Tsuruta, who was named "Jumbo" by the fans. Baba cleverly made himself the drawing card, but pushed Tsuruta for his ability and became a key character when Baba could not be top star anymore. While he and Inoki feuded throughout the 1980s by raiding talent, Baba usually came out on the better end with his stars often returned (with fresh interest) and he was able to utilize stars more effectively. As the 1990s rolled in, All Japan was able to transition wonderfully. Baba was still appearing on the undercard, Jumbo Tsuruta had an excellent feud with Genichiro Tenryu, who left the company suddenly to headline for a new group. Tsuruta was able to spend the last years of his career working with the deep talent pool that was coming up and the company had secured the best gaijin talent. Mitsuharu Misawa was put over by Tsuruta and given a big push and his supporting cast over the next decade was highlighted by: Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue and Jun Akiyama. Gaijin talent in the first part of the 1990s was formidable as well: Stan Hansen, Steve Williams, Terry Gordy and the Can-Am Express (Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas). While New Japan had innovative angles and more well-rounded cards, All Japan's traditional style (referred to as the "King's Road") was producing far superior matches that perhaps no promotion will rival. In 1999, Giant Baba passed away and his wife and Misawa took over the company. Problems between the two led to Misawa leading an exodus of pro-wrestlers and staff members that threatened to kill All Japan Pro-Wrestling. Mrs. Baba took control, supported by Kawada and long-time undercarder and trainer Masa Fuchi. The company began relying heavily on outside talent and brought back Tenryu who brought in his allies from his own promotion. The weakened All Japan aligned itself with New Japan and began running interpromotional matches. Keiji Muto had completely revitalized his career and turned his focus to All Japan before officially jumping and taking over the presidency of the company. Muto has worked to reestablish All Japan by stablizing the roster, developing gaijin talent and allowing the promotion to stray from the "King's Road."

Jun Akiyama 
Shohei "Giant" Baba 
Riki Choshu    
Masanobu Fuchi  
Ashura Hara  
Hiroshi Hase  
The Great Kojika 
Mighty Inoue 
Toshikai Kawada    
Kenta Kobashi   
Mitsuharu Misawa 
Mitsuo Momota  
Keiji Muto 
Akira Taue  
Genichiro Tenryu  
Jumbo Tsuruta
Yoshiaki Yatsu  

CLICK HERE for the full All Japan alumni list

UWF - Union of Wrestling Federation (1984-1985)(1988-1990)
In 1983, New Japan had young talents that were growing tired of the pecking order that held them back despite their popularity with the crowd and innovative styles. At the forefront was Akira Maeda had an innovative style and dynamic personality, but never became the heir to Inoki that maybe he should have been. These two in addition to other frustrated talent left the company to start their own group, the UWF. Several of the founding members left when it was decided the group would feature a more realistic shoot-style. The company was joined by Satoru Sayama, the former Tiger Mask. Tiger Mask had made more of a huge impact over his two years in New Japan than most pro-wrestlers have in a full career, but retired suddenly in 1983. The company was doomed from the start with in-fighting (Maeda and Sayama had stylistic differences) and poor business decisions bringing things down. Maeda led a group back to New Japan for a hot interpromotional feud and he seemed poised to take a top spot, but a legit cheap shot on Riki Choshu led to his firing in 1987. He and his cohorts restarted the UWF and he secured some fresh talent from New Japan. Although the product was sharper and they were more popular, this UWF also failed due to stylistic problems between Maeda and president Shinji Jin who wanted to incorporate traditional and lucha libre styles. Yoshiaki Fujiwara formed his own company with some of his students and Nobuhiko Takada was the star of a third UWF called "UWF International" and Maeda formed his own group RINGS... CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara 
Masakatsu Funaki
Ryuma Go
Gran Hamada
Mach Hayato
Osamu Kido
Rusher Kimura
Akira Maeda 
Nobuhiko Takada 
Tiger Mask
Kazuo Yamazaki

CLICK HERE for the full "Shoot Style" alumni list

FMW - Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (1989-2002)
Atsushi Onita had been an average junior heavyweight in All Japan who did not place much value on that smaller weight class. After retiring in 1985, Onita realized he could create a company based on the violent brawling style that he had witnessed when he was in Memphis, Puerto Rico and Amarillo. He gathered a ragtag group of pro-wrestlers and legitimate fighters, made himself the top star and focused around brutal "wrestler vs. martial artist" matches. He eventually directed the company toward gimmick matches, which were popular in Puerto Rico. In the 1990s, Onita innovated "death matches" using barbed wire, explosives and other violent gimmicks. He came up with many dimensions to his promotion: women's wrestling, martial artists, luchadors, veteran gaijin as well as new gaijin talent. As FMW grew successful, other promotions started up and used the "death match" approach. First was W*ING, started by Wally Yamaguchi after a falling out in 1991. They developed a cult-like following, but lasted only a short time. Afterward, Victor Quinones and others helped start IWA Japan, which became a legitimate threat to FMW in the mid-90s. They raided a lot of talent as Onita was planning to retire and ran the famous "King of the Death Match Tournament" on FMW's home turf, but ultimately they sank into near oblivion and became a small indy while FMW kept chugging along. In his retirement match, Onita battled Hayabusa, who would take over as the promotion's ace. In the last half of the 1990s, FMW developed a much better product and secured a lot of the talent that had left for IWA Japan. Small promotions like Tokyo Pro and Big Japan were becoming attractions for the FMW wrestlers who wanted more of the spotlight. FMW also developed alliances with All Japan, Michinoku Pro, BattlARTS and ECW that helped spice up their product. Kodo Fuyuki began gaining more power in FMW and turned them toward a WWF-influenced "Entertainment style" of pro-wrestling. The company had a great legacy and often delivered entertaining matches, but they were slowly dying creatively and financally. FMW's stars began leaving and Onita himself began running independent shows in opposition to the twisted remains of the FMW he had left years earlier. After Hayabusa broke his neck in 2001, the company was without a star and company head Shoichi Arai declared bankruptcy and soon after committed suicide to cover his debts. It was a grisly end to one of the most innovative and influential pro-wrestling companies. The roster dispersed over the puroresu scene and many started promotions or worked for the various independents.

Kodo Fuyuki
Atsushi Onita  
"Mr. Danger" Mitsuhiro Matsunaga 
Mr. Pogo 
Genichiro Tenryu 

CLICK HERE for the full "Death Match" alumni list

SWS - Super World of Sports (1989-1992)
In 1990, Genichiro Tenryu surprised the puroresu world by signing with Megane Super, a large eyeglasses company, which would be the money backer behind "Super World Sports." Tenryu had been Jumbo Tsuruta's main rival and his sudden departure along with other All Japan undercarders and several wrestlers from New Japan led people to criticize this new company for its liberal use of money. They soon signed a deal with the WWF and used stars from the USWA, but it was not enough to compete with the two established companies. Their roster was not good enough and their gaijin did not have the appeal they needed to help SWS and they closed up in 1992. Many of the stars formed independent companies: Yatsu founded Social Pro-Wrestling Federation (SPWF), Nagasaki and others started Network of Wrestling (NOW), the Takano brothers opened Pro-Wrestling Crusaders (PWC) and Tenryu took much of the roster for his WAR promotion. While the SWS was certainly not a success, it created a big shake-up in the puroresu scene that was probably beneficial in the long run.

Don Arakawa
Hiromichi Fuyuki
The Great Kabuki
Ashura Hara
Kendo Nagasaki 
Apollo Sugawara
George Takano
Shunji Takano
Genichiro Tenryu
Yoshiaki Yatsu

WAR - Wrestling Association "R" (1992-2000)
After the SWS folded, Tenryu focused on his own group. Originally called "Wrestling and Romance," they were a sound third company for most of the 1990s. WAR gave many pro-wrestlers a chance beyond the independents and they did interpromotional work with FMW and UWFi that helped those companies and their able talent. Due to being on bad terms with All Japan, Tenryu worked with New Japan and was pushed very strongly and has perhaps beaten everyone of significance from his generation. They held a "final" card in 2000. After the All Japan split in 2000, Tenryu returned and used many of his WAR regulars to help rebuild the company. Since leaving All Japan, Tenryu has again become a popular freelancer and ran a WAR reunion show in 2006.  

Hiromichi Fuyuki
Animal Hamaguchi
Ashura Hara
The Great Kabuki
Shiro Koshinaka
Nobuhiko Takada 
Genichiro Tenryu 
Ultimo Dragon 

Universal Pro-Wrestling (1990-1995)
Lucha libre had been popular in Japan since Mil Mascaras first popularized the style in the 1970s.  By 1990, a large number of luchadors had toured, the lucha libre influence was becoming more noticeable and there was an increased interesting in different styles of pro-wrestling at the time.  Gran Hamada and Wally Yamaguchi worked to promote the most pure lucha product that Japan had ever seen and developed a number of significant future stars.  Although the Universal was short-lived, it produced the Great Sasuke (founder of Michinoku Pro), Yoshihiro Asai (future Ultimo Dragon, founder of Toryumon), Super Delfin (founder of Osaka Pro and Okinawa Pro), TAKA Michinoku (founder of Kaientai Dojo) and other wrestlers who influenced puroresu in various ways over the years.  

CLICK HERE for the full "Lucharesu" alumni list

Foreign Legends (# of tours) (28/30)
Abdullah "The Butcher" (47)
Bad News Allen (27)
Andre "The Giant" (27)
Bob Backlund (18)
Nick Bockwinkel (14)
Bam Bam Bigelow (7)
Bobo Brazil (15)
Bruiser Brody (27)
The Destroyer (24)
Dynamite Kid (13)
Dory Funk Jr.
Terry Funk (31+)
Karl Gotch (11)
Terry "Bamm Bamm" Gordy (15)
Stan "The Lariat" Hansen (48)
Hulk Hogan (22)
Mil Mascaras (20)
Dick Murdoch (43)
Harley Race (33)
Road Warriors (10)
Billy Robinson (25)
The Shiek (12)
Tiger Jeet Singh (47)
Lou Thesz (11)
Big Van Vader (10+)
Johnny Valentine (6)
Fritz Von Erich (8)
"Dr. Death" Steve Williams (6+)

10+ Tours
Johnny Ace (?)
Adrian Adonis (11)
Gary Albright (?)
Black Tiger (14)
Nick Bockwinkel (14)
El Canek (14)
Calypso Hurricane/Cyclone Negro (11)
Ted DiBiase (14)
Dos Caras (13)
Ric Flair (11)
Chavo Guerraro (16)
Gypsy Joe (20)
King Iaukea (14)
Killer Karl Kox (11)
Mark Lewin (10)
Masked Superstar (20)
Dusty Rhodes (12)
Dick Slater (14)
Jimmy Snuka (16)
Tony St. Clair (11)

5-10 Tours (27/50)
Perro Aguayo (7)
Buddy "Killer" Austin (7)
Ox Baker (7)
Ron Bass (7)
Red Bastien (6)
Crusher Blackwell (7)
Freddie Blassie (8)
Jack Brisco (8)
The Crusher (5)
Dick the Bruiser (8)
Bobby Duncum Sr. (8)
Verne Gagne (6)
"Superstar" Graham (5)
The Great Togo (7)
Danny Hodge (8)
Gene Kiniski (8)
Ivan Koloff (7)
Killer Kowalski (6)
Boris Malenko (5)
Joe Malenko (3+)
Rick Martel (6)
Wahoo McDaniel (6)
Gorilla Monsoon (5)
Pedro Morales (6)
Blackjack Mulligan (5)
Pat O'Connor (7)
Bob Orton Jr. (9)
Ken Patera (6)
Pat Patterson (6)
Baron Von Rashcke (7)
Buddy Roberts (7)
Buddy Rose (5)
Nelson Royal (9)
Bruno Sammartino (8)
The Samoans (5)
Dutch Savage (6)
Davey Boy Smith (8)
Stan Stasiak (5)
Ricky Steamboat (7)
Les Thornton (6)
Mad Dog Vachon (6)
Greg Valentine (5)
Kerry Von Erich (8)
Kevin Von Erich (8)
Otto Wanz (5)
Steven Wright (6)
Larry Zbyszko (5)

3-4 Tours (27/48)
Chris Adams (4)
Ole Anderson (3)
Brian Blair (3)
Dino Bravo (3)
Jerry Brisco (4)
Jim Brunzell (4)
King Kong Bundy (3)
Carlos Colon (4)
Jim Duggan (3)
Bob Ellis (3)
Eddie Graham (3)
Fishman (3)
Bret Hart (5)
Owen Hart (3)
Bobby Heenan (3)
Curt Hennig (4)
Austin Idol (3)
Iron Shiek (4)
Bobby Jaggers (3)
Paul Jones (4)
Steve Keirn (3)
Nikita Koloff (3)
Ernie Ladd (3)
Blackjack Lanza (3)
Jos LeDuc (4)
Peter Maivia (3)
Dean Malenko (3+)
One Man Gang (3)
Paul Orndorff (4)
Tommy Rich (4)
Roddy Piper (3)
Jake Roberts (3)
Bob Roop (3)
Mike Rotundo (?)
Jacques Rougeau Sr. (3)
The Sheepherders (4)
Kenji Shibuya (3)
Sgt. Slaughter (4)
El Solitario (3)
Ray Stevens (3)
Big John Studd (4)
El Texano (4)
Jimmy Valiant (3)
David Von Erich (3)
Mr. Wrestling (4)
Tom Zenk (3)

1-2 Tours (20/40)
Bob Armstrong (2)
Brad Armstrong (1)
Hercules Ayala (2)
Big Bubba (2)
Cien Caras (1)
Buddy Colt (1)
Jerry Estrada (1)
Jackie Fargo (1)
Wayne "HTM" Ferris (1)
Dave Finlay (2)
Ronnie Garvin (1)
Eddie Gilbert (1)
Pepper Gomez (1)
Michael Hayes (2)
Gino Hernandez (2)
Dick Hutton (1)
Junkyard Dog (1)
Kamala (2)
Buddy Landell (1)
Stan Lane (1)
Jerry Lawler (1)
Dutch Mantell (2)
Lonnie Mayne (1)
Ray Mendoza (1)
Pirata Morgan (1)
Tom Pritchard (1)
Rock-N-Roll Express (2)
Tito Santana (2)
Bobby Shane (1)
Solar #1 (1)
Kevin Sullivan (2)
Dave Taylor (2)
Jesse Ventura (2)
Bill Watts (2)
Barry Windham (2)
Bearcat Wright (1)
Yokozuna (1)