by Masanori Horie

(EDITOR'S NOTE--Masanori Horie reported that Shohei "Giant" Baba died of liver trouble at 4:04 p.m. on Sunday, January 31, 1999, in Tokyo. A vigil will be held on Monday, February 1, and a private funeral will be held on Tuesday, February 2; a farewell ceremony for fans is yet to be announced.)

Baba Baba Baba

Giant Baba with Masanori
Giant Baba and Masanori

Shohei "Giant" Baba had surgery to fix an intestinal blockage problem in Tokyo on Friday, 1/8/99. He is president/promoter/booker/wrestler for one of the most conservative wrestling offices in the world today, All Japan Pro Wrestling. His infamous wife, Mrs. Motoko Baba, keeps nursing her husband in the hospital. I attended three Korakuen Hall shows (1/2, 1/3, and 1/15/99) and Yokohama Bunka Gym show (1/16). They had very good shows, especially Yokohama; it was a very hot show, like in their heyday around '90 - '92. I expected that they would be languid without a "stern mom," but the wrestlers and office workers were organized very well and worked very hard. I couldn't find a gloomy view from their facial expressions.

(Actually, I have something against Mrs. Baba, but I have to agree that she controls and educates Baba's company very well, anyway.)

Baba vs. Stan Hansen
Baba kicks "The Bad Man From Borger, Texas," Stan Hansen

Giant Baba was born in Sanjo City in central Niigata Prefecture on 1/23/38. Sanjo City's ironware industry is especially known for its carpenters' tools, scissors, and knives, and its climate is noted for its heavy snowfall. Baba, then 22 years old, debuted as a professional wrestler when he defeated Yonetaro Tanaka (a former long-time New Japan referee) at Taito-Ward Gym in Tokyo on 9/30/60. He was scouted by Rikidozan (the father and superhero of "Puroresu" from '51 to '64) after giving up as a professional baseball pitcher (Tokyo Giants and Taiyo Whales) because of an injury. His boss, Rikidozan, sent him to Fred Atkins and The Great Togo, who trained and managed him in the USA from July '61 to '64. They had strong connections with powerful promoters like Fred Kohler (Chicago), Frank Tunney (Toronto), and Al Haft (Ohio). Take a look at this old program; he was named "Ishope Baba" immediately after debuting on the East Coast.

(Program courtesy of David Ring of Cleveland, Ohio)

He challenged the Big Three World Heavyweight Champions in those days NWA (Lou Thesz), WWWF (Bruno Sammartino), and WWA (Freddie Blassie) in February 1964. It was an epoch-making thing. He became such a big star, drawing huge money in the USA in those days, but it was said that he had a huge percentage taken off by Rikidozan, Atkins, and Togo. It was very good for him to touch the heyday of The Original Nature Boy, Buddy Rogers, and get a wide view of American style pro-wrestling by facing Bruno Sammartino, Bobo Brazil, Antonino Rocca, and many more.

After Rikidozan, 39 years old, died on 12/15/63 from stab wounds suffered at a night club on 12/8/63 in Tokyo, Baba became a top drawing card on Nippon Pro-Wrestling (JWA) from the '60s to the '70s. He started his own All Japan Pro-Wrestling at Machida Gym in Tokyo on 10/21/72 with big support from Dory Funk Sr., Bruno Sammartino, and NTV (Channel 4). He had a very strong relationship with the NWA's main territory--promoters in Texas (Dory Funk Sr. & Jack "Fritz Von Erich" Adkisson), Florida (Eddie Graham), Georgia (Jim Barnett), and Mid Atlantic (Jim Crockett Jr.)--in the '70s, and prevented rival Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro-Wrestling from bringing big name "gaijin" (foreigners).

He defeated Jack Brisco as the first Japanese wrestler to win the NWA World Heavyweight title, at Kagoshima Prefectural Gym on 12/2/74. He won the title a total of three times.

Today, Baba enjoys almost the same existence as Mexico's late El Santo, or Puerto Rico's Carlos Colon, or Europe's Otto Wanz. He is very slow and can't have a good match anymore, but people enjoy "Giant Baba" himself. Actually, I'm very tired of seeing his comedy six-man tag team matches. It's the same comedy every night over 10 years (however, their comedy match is much better than what the kayfabe sheets usually write about).

I don't know whether Giant Baba can be back to the Tokyo Dome show on 5/2/99 or not. At least, he is always a "Mr. Puroresu" in Rising Sun with Rikidozan and Antonio Inoki, and I believe he will be back with Mrs. Motoko much faster than we expect.

Giant Baba's singles title history :

[NWA World Heavyweight title]

12/2/74 Kagoshima Prefectural Gym
Giant Baba (2-1) Jack Brisco
(1) Baba (11:47) Brisco
(2) Brisco (5:39) Baba
(3) Baba (3:20) Brisco
Baba became the 49th champion.

12/5/74 Ryogoku Nichidai Kodo (Hall), Tokyo
Giant Baba (2-1) Jack Brisco
(1) Brisco (13:53) Baba
(2) Baba (3:53) Brisco
(3) Baba (4:50) Brisco

12/8/74 Toyohashi City Gym, Aichi
Jack Brisco (2-1) Giant Baba
(1) Baba (13:47) Brisco
(2) Brisco (3:30) Baba
(3) Brisco (2:34) Baba
Brisco became the 50th champion.

10/31/79 Aichi Gym, Nagoya
Giant Baba (18:29) Harley Race
Baba became the 55th champion.

11/5/79 Kushima City Gym, Miyazaki
Giant Baba (20:38) Harley Race

11/7/79 Amagasak City Gym, Hyogo
Harley Race (20:58) Giant Baba
Race became the 56th champion.

9/4/80 Saga Sports Center
Giant Baba (14:05) Harley Race
Baba became the 57th champion.

9/10/80 Ohtsu, Shiga
Harley Race (11:58) Giant Baba
Race became the 58th champion.

[International Heavyweight title]

Lou Thesz was awarded the International Heavyweight title by the NWA in 1957. Morris Siegel (a big promoter in Texas) claimed Thesz had won the title by defeating Antonino Rocca in 1949. Rikidozan beat Thesz at Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles on 8/27/58 to became the second champion. The title was vacated when Rikidozan died. Baba faced The Destroyer (Dick Beyer) (6/4/65, 7/16/65), The Butcher (Don "The Spoiler" Jardine) (10/22/65), Alberto Torres (11/2/65), and Assassin "A" (Jody Hamilton) (11/3/65) for the title tournament.

11/24/65 Osaka Gym
Giant Baba (2-0) Dick the Bruiser
(1) Baba (17:59 DQ) Bruiser
(2) Baba (5:31 DQ) Bruiser
Baba became the third champion.
Baba succeeded in 21 title matches for 2 1/2+ years.

6/25/68 Aichi Gym, Nagoya
Bobo Brazil (2-1) Giant Baba
(1) 14:39 double countout
(2) Brazil (2:28)
Brazil became the fourth champion.

6/27/68 Kuramae Kokugikan (Sumo Hall), Tokyo
Giant Baba (2-1) Bobo Brazil
(1) Brazil (10:32) Baba
(2) Baba (4:44) Brazil
(3) Baba (4:03) Brazil
Baba became the fifth champion.
Baba succeeded in 18 title matches for 2 1/2+ years.

12/3/70 Osaka Gym
Gene Kiniski (2-1) Giant Baba
(1) Baba (29:55) Kiniski
(2) Kiniski (6:08) Baba
(3) Kiniski (5:10) Baba
Kiniski became the sixth champion.

Masa and Gene Kiniski
Masanori with former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Gene Kiniski

12/19/70 Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA
Giant Baba (2-1) Gene Kiniski
(1) Baba (26:42) Kiniski
(2) Kiniski (8:03) Baba
(3) Baba (7:05) Kiniski
Baba became the seventh champion.
Baba succeeded in 10 title matches for two years. The title was vacated on 9/2/72, when Baba left Nippon Pro-Wrestling (JWA) to start All Japan Pro-Wrestling.

[PWF Heavyweight title]

Baba faced Bruno Sammartino (10/22/72, 2/15/73), Terry Funk (10/30/72), Abdullah the Butcher (6/14/73), The Destroyer (12/19/72), Wilber Snyder (1/6/73, 1/11/73), Don Leo Jonathan (1/24/73), Pat O'Connor (2/20/73), and Bobo Brazil (2/27/73) in the title tournament. He became the first champion and succeeded in 38 title matches over five years.

6/1/78 Akita City Gym
Killer Tor Kamata (16:16) Giant Baba
Kamata became the second champion.
The title was held by Kamata, Bill Robinson, and Abdullah the Butcher in this year.

2/10/79 International Amphitheatre in Chicago, IL
Giant Baba (2-1) Abdullah the Butcher
(1) Baba (8:52) Butcher
(2) Butcher (3:06) Baba
(3) Baba (7:11) Butcher
Baba became the fifth champion.
Baba succeeded in 15 title matches for three years.

10/26/82 Obihiro City Gym, Hokkaido
Harley Race (12:45) Giant Baba
Race became the sixth champion.

2/11/83 Checker Dome in St. Louis, MO
Giant Baba (13:04) Harley Race
Baba became the seventh champion.

9/8/83 Chiba Park Gym
Stan Hansen (9:02) Giant Baba
Hansen became the eighth champion.

7/31/84 Kuramae Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) in Tokyo
Giant Baba (10:07) Stan Hansen
Baba became the ninth champion.

7/30/85 Fukuoka Sports Center
Stan Hansen (13:50) Giant Baba
Hansen became the 10th champion.

[All Asian Heavyweight title]

10/29/77 Kuroiso, Tochigi
Giant Baba (15:21) Kintaro Ohki (Kim ILL)
Baba became the sixth champion.

Cactus Jack and Masanori
Cactus Jack, the "REAL Giant Of Wrestling," and Masanori, in front of Baba's portrait

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