Presented by Kayfabe Commentaries
Hosted by Sean Oliver
Corny takes us back to Rikidozan’s rise to fame in Japan. With Rikidozan as the top star battling Americans after World War 2, the JWA did incredibly well. Rikidozan became a household name. 90% of all TVs in Japan watched him battle Freddie Blassie. The Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki were hand picked to be the next generation of stars. Baba was sent to America to become a star there in order to boost his Japan credibility. He conquered many foes across the U.S., becoming a featured wrestler on both coasts – even handing Bruno Sammartino his first ever loss at MSG.
Inoki failed to catch on in America, being regulated to low card status in Podunk towns. In 1963 Rikidozan was murdered in a night club by a mobster. Baba was sent back to Japan to take his place. Baba’s honesty and forthcomingness pulled Japanese wrestling from the mob stench that followed Rikidozan’s death. Inoki and Baba became a team, but Inoki sought his own stardom and began promoting his own league, New Japan. Baba broke away from JWA and formed All-Japan a few months later. Dory Funk Jr. became Baba’s NWA connection, which allowed him to book the top Americans to Japan. Baba ended up as the richest promoter in wrestling history, minus Vince McMahon Jr.
Stan Hansen has the record for the American with the most Japanese tours. Historians have told him he made over 160 Japan runs.
Hansen broke into wrestling in Amarillo for the Funks. His debut coincided with the Funk’s being All-Japan bookers, which gave Hansen an instant in.
Hansen had never left America prior to his first Japanese wrestling tour. As a kid he watched Godzilla, and pictured Japan a little different than what he experienced once he landed.
He was warned the fans were quiet as matches unfolded. The fans would applaud good exchanges, but they were otherwise silent and watching intently.
Bobby Jaggers and Larry Zbyszko were the fellow young workers on the trip with Stan.
Abdullah the Butcher was the top heel in Japan at the time. The Destroyer was also there. He was an American who stayed in Japan for over 7 years, indoctrinating himself into the culture and even becoming a variety show TV host.
Corny pokes fun of Bobby Jaggers being a teller of tall tales.
Hansen had been making 250 bucks a week working in the territories. His first Japan tour earned him $1000 bucks a week, roughly $4,600 in today’s money.
This led to Stan getting a run in the WWWF. While working with Bruno Sammartino one night, Hansen grabbed Sammartino too low and it lead to Bruno being dumped on his neck during a slam. This caused a legit neck injury for Sammartino. Bruno’s return a few months later drew 30,000 fans to Shea Stadium to see him whip Hansen.
The fans in the crowd were crying as Sammartino made his way to the ring prior to that match.
Stan had gotten death threats from fans for hurting Bruno. After Sammartino got his revenge, Vince Sr. sent him back to Texas to avoid all the fans violence.
Bruno told Stan to leave the WWWF in order to avoid being sent down the card as a lesser booked talent.
New Japan came calling for Hansen. Tiger Jeet Singh was the top foreigner at the time. Singh would attack the fans with his sword and send them running. Hansen would use a similar tactic soon after by using a bullrope to swat at fans.
Inoki ended up buying the NWF out of Cleveland in the early 70’s. Inoki then made himself the top guy. It was Inoki’s effort to get over as an American star.
Hansen’s lariat was so vicious that Corny was convinced that wrestling must be real in Japan, because nobody could fake that kind of blast.
Stan has poor vision, so his lariat blows might land stiffer than intended.
The wrestlers were put in large buses and shipped around Japan. Sometimes the cards took place under large portable tents, and the fans would not even have seats. The guys would have to change on the bus because they had no locker room.
The fans would gawk at the Americans as they walked around the streets. These men were the only Americans a lot of the people saw since World War 2.
Newspapers would cover the matches with respect.
Hansen ended up teaming up with Hulk Hogan in New Japan and they had a good run until Hansen jumped to Baba’s All-Japan.
Andre the Giant liked Hansen and gave Stan the rare chance to slam him. Andre and Hansen battled several times. Hansen did not hold back from his wild style, and Andre put him over huge by selling for Stan’s blows.
Andre doing his butt splash was the most horrifying moment of any match Hansen ever took part in.
Abdullah the Butcher jumped from All-Japan to New Japan in the first major coup where talent jumped leagues. Hogan and Hansen were a bit worried to see him because they had been pushed toward the main event status, but Abby being there would mean their push would suffer.
The bidding wars exploded and mid card guys from America were seeing offers of 5 grand a week, and top acts like the Road Warriors were making 10-14 grand a week. Inflation pushes that to close to 25 grand a week.
Terry Funk started to try and convince Hansen to jump to Baba’s league. Meanwhile New Japan was trying to sign Stan to a longer contract. New Japan tried to spread rumors that Baba was going bankrupt, but those proved unfounded.
Bruiser Brody met Hansen privately and Stan revealed he was heading to Baba’s group and he wanted Brody to know he wasn’t after Brody’s position as the top monster.
Brody and Hansen became a team and tore everyone up. They had stamina like light heavyweights, but were big and scary enough to smash other large men.
Guys who were connected to the WWWF like Dusty Rhodes would buck their NWA connections and wrestle for New Japan.
Hansen and Brody wanted the Funks spot as top American talents in All-Japan. Their desires spilled out into the ring, making for some awesome battles between the teams as everyone gave 110%
Ultimately, Hansen spent 24-26 weeks a year working in Japan.
Brody was taught where the Japanese hot spots were by King Curtis Iaukea. Brody then became Hansen’s guide and it helped make Hansen love Japan.
Brody jumped back to New Japan around 1985 in an effort to become the top star for a promotion. Things fell apart fast as Inoki wanted Brody to put him over, but Bruiser wasn’t going to have any of that. Within two years Brody was back with Baba.
Corny and Hansen talk about how Brody’s death cost the fans two dream matches: Brody in the WWF against Hogan, and Hansen vs. Brody going toe for toe in Japan.
Hansen faced Vader in the early 90’s in Japan. Both men threw hard shots and Vader’s eye popped right out of it’s socket. Hansen could not see the injury because of his poor eye sight, so he didn’t know how bad Vader was hurt. Hansen broke Vader’s nose with the first blow he threw. Vader fired back with full force, as he was raging.
Terry Gordy was a great talent. He was being groomed to take Hansen’s spot as the top American monster, but drugs got in his way.
Hansen didn’t mess with drugs. He liked his beer a bunch. No hard liquor though.
Hansen and Corny share a laugh over Johnny Ace being loathed as a Dynamic Dude. Philly fans chanted, “Johnny sucks cock!” at him.
The AWA asked Hansen to be their champ while he was still touring for Baba. Hansen wasn’t really interested in being a champion, but went with it. AWA champ Rick Martel agreed to put him over if Hansen would do the job in a rematch in Montreal. Stan liked Martel and went for it.
The AWA ran mostly squash matches on TV. Hansen was begging to work with big name talent so they could build to some rematches. This never really came to pass.
Verne Gagne asked him to drop the title six months later. Hansen refused because he was due to head to Japan to work for Baba and did not want to drop the belt before getting over. Verne got in Hansen’s face and demanded he do the job. Hogan had warned Hansen that Verne tried to attack him when Hogan quit, so Stan shoved Gagne away and walked off.
A legal letter a few weeks later informed Hansen that he needed to return the AWA belt. Stan “accidentally” drove over the title several times before shipping it back.
Inoki not stepping down as the top guy created a rift in the New Japan roster. By the time Inoki did stop putting himself over as the promotion’s ace, a generation of talent had missed their chance to be the man.
Inoki not putting the younger guys over led several of them branching off to Baba or finding other promotions to star in.
Baba took a step down the card in the mid 80’s and allowed Jumbo Trusuta to be the All-Japan ace. This only lasted a few years before Jumbo got sick and had to step down himself.
Giant Baba was very wealthy, but he loved the locker room atmosphere so much that he kept working well into his later years. When Baba died somewhat unexpectedly in 1999, they placed his boots near the ring for the next shows in order to show that Baba was still watching over the matches.
Terry Gordy refused to put over Hulk Hogan at a dome show in Japan in 1990. Baba called Hansen’s parents in a panic and tried to find Stan in order to convince him to step in and put Hogan over. Vince McMahon Jr. was backstage at the dome and he told Hansen he’d love for Stan to make a run in the WWF.
Dr. Death was the strongest man Hansen ever tangled with. Bob Backlund was the best athlete.
Baba developed cancer but never spoke out about it. He kept wrestling despite the illness and the fact that he was 60 years old.
Mrs. Baba was planning on keeping the All-Japan group alive until 2002 when it would celebrate it’s 30th anniversary. Things fell apart though as most of the roster, led by Misawa, left to form Pro Wrestling Noah. Hansen and a few others stayed on with Mrs. Baba.
In late 2000, Hansen took a body slam and his legs went numb. In another match, Tenryu accidentally knocked Hansen out with a power bomb. Hansen collapsed in the dressing room. The 51-year-old Hansen was so banged up that he was finally forced to miss some matches. He retired almost on the spot.
Hansen was named All-Japan figurehead president to keep him active with the promotion.
Mrs. Baba stayed on until the 30th Anniversary, then the Great Muta took over as owner.
Business fell off badly and Japanese wrestling split off into many small promotions.
Too many wrestlers decided that they could be the top guy in a group and that led to not enough roster depth to create a strong promotion as many smaller groups rose up. Hansen will not blame comedy wrestling or the fake MMA style for the business falling off in the 2000’s.
If your interested in even more Stan Hansen stories from his own mouth, here’s a previous shoot I’ve covered: