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