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Shohei Baba was a Giant in and out of the Ring

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By Mark Nulty

The death of Shohei "Giant" Baba Jan. 31 sent shockwaves through professional wrestling both in Japan and internationally.

In the ring, Baba was one of the three biggest Japanese stars of all-time along with Rikidozan and Antonio Inoki.

Baba is a three-time NWA World heavyweight champion and was the first Japanese wrestler to win a major version of the World heavyweight title. Japanese fans still talk about his

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legendary matches with the original Destroyer(Dick Beyer), Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Gene Kiniski, Bruno Sammartino, Jack Brisco, Harley Race and many others.

The photo to the right is Baba battling American star Paul Jones before a typical sell--out crowd.

Baba's dedication to the sport of professional wrestling was legendary. He once wrestled 4,000 consecutive matches without missing a date.

It was that type of devotion that earned the respect for all those that wrestled for Baba's All Japan promotion. As a promoter, he earned the same respect from the wrestlers and the fans that the late Sam Muchnick earned in North America.

Here are some comments of some of the athletes Monday when informed of Baba's death:

Butch Miller of the Bushwhackers/Sheepherders: "Baba was the biggest star in the country. In Japan, you didn't compare Baba's popularity to Hulk Hogan, you compare it to Michael Jordan. I was on a card with him, and the guy he was wrestling tried to get cute with him. Baba took those huge hands and nearly chopped him to death. He was a great man."

Frank Dusek: "I went on two tours of Japan for Baba. You didn't have to worry about being a foreign wrestler who didn't speak the language when you traveled for Baba. He always made sure we had what we needed and were treated well. He made sure even little things were taken care of, like being able to find an English movie theater when we had time off."

The leading authority on Japanese wrestling in this country is Hisaharu Tanabe, who is the Webmaster for the extremely popular The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo. Hisa talks about Baba's legacy and speculates on the future of All Japan in this Real Audio interview. Fans are highly encouraged to visit Hisa's Website.

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There are some excellent features and obituaries on Baba at some other sites. Masanorie Horie has a terrific retrospective at Rob Moore's website, Rob's Wrestling World. Tim Whitehead did a comprehensive piece for 1wrestling.com.

Mark Nulty is a professional journalist that has been in the professional wrestling industry since the mid-80s as an announcer, referee and promoter.

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1999 Content: Frank Dusek, Mark Nulty
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