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Great Kusatsu (1942-2008)

Real NameMasatake Kusatsu

Birthdate - 2/13/1942 - 6/21/2008

6’3” 260 lbs. - Kumomoto, Japan

Athletic BackgroundRugby (Nat'l Team), Track (High School)

Teacher(s) - [JWA Dojo]; Giant Baba

Professional BackgroundJWA(`65), Tokyo Pro(`66), IWE(`66-`79), AWA(`71)

AliasesKiyomasa Kusatsu

Peak Years`68-`78

Place in HistoryWhen Tokyo Pro launched in 1966, it became the first real competition to the JWA that had formed over a decade earlier.  The previous year, JWA had recruited Olympic wrestlers Masa Saito and Thunder Sugiyama along with a national rugby star named Masatake Kusatsu.  Kusatsu and Sugiyama left together as major building blocks for the eventual IWE promotion.  They headed to North America to gain seasoning.  When he returned, Kusatsu was soon thrust into the spotlight in a major way.  Isao Yoshihara, Lou Thesz and Frank Tunney pulled together a company to be a competitor to the JWA and even secured a TV deal with Tokyo Broadcasting.  A match between Thesz and Kusatsu drew a big rating and while Giant Baba and the Crusher drew an even bigger rating, the two combined was perhaps the most people to ever watch pro-wrestling at one time in the history of Japan.  While Yoshihara struggled with financial backing, foreign talent and TV deals, he eventually formed the IWE.  The Great Kusatsu was poised to be a featured star and throughout the 1970s he wrestled an impressive list of foreign talent due to the IWE’s affiliation with the AWA.  In 1971, Kusatsu even toured the Midwest with AWA, and received several title shots at Verne Gagne’s AWA World title.  Back in Japan, he worked near the top and wrestled everyone the AWA sent over from Mad Dog Vachon and Nick Bockwinkel to Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher, but it was a win over Wahoo McDaniel in an Indian Strap Match that is perhaps the most noteworthy.  When Strong Kobayashi left for New Japan, he vacated the company’s heavyweight title and it seemed like Kusatsu might take over as the top native star.  He went to the finals of the tournament before following to the legendary Billy Robinson.  While that top spot might have evaded him, the Great Kusatsu was always a strong number two.  He mainly worked tag matches and held the IWE’s tag titles nine times with five different partners.  He and his longtime friend Thunder Sugiyama were probably the most successful of those teams.  Kusatsu eventually shifted into the role of the established star teaming with up-and-comers.  He and Mighty Inoue and later Animal Hamaguchi were strong tag teams.  Hamaguchi effectively launched his career and went on to become a popular star in both All Japan and New Japan.  In 1979, he and the IWE’s top star Rusher Kimura battled Lou Thesz and Nick Bockwinkel in what was the last major main event of Thesz’s career and played off the memorable match between Kusatsu and Thesz years earlier.  Soon after that an injury sidelined Kusatsu and the IWE closed while he was on the shelf.  Aside from a tenure as a commentator for the SWS in 1990, the Great Kusatsu disappeared.  His son used the name Great Kusatsu Jr. when competing in K-1, which garnered some interest in the star from the 1970s.  Due to the fact that he never competed in other Japanese companies, the Great Kusatsu is something of a forgotten legend from the IWE.  Kimura, Inoue, Sugiyama, Hamaguchi and others all went on to varying levels of success with New Japan, All Japan or both companies.  He did not.  While his legacy was never tarnished by undercard comedy or pathetic performances, he is simply not as well remembered as his contemporaries.