Giant Baba

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Giant Baba
Ring name(s) Giant Baba
Shōhei Baba
Baba the Giant
Great Baba
Real name Baba Shōhei
Nickname(s) "Tōyō no Kyojin" (Giant of the Orient)
Billed height 209 cm (6 ft 10+12 in)
Billed weight 135 kg (300 lb; 21.3 st)
Born 1938/1/23(1938-01-23)
Sanjō, Niigata, Japan
Died 1999/1/31 (aged 61)
Shishō Rikidōzan
Great Tōgō
Fred Atkins
Debut 1960/9/30
defeated Tanaka Yonetarō
Retired 1999/5/2
a ceremony after his death

Giant Baba (ジャイアント馬場?) (1938/1/23–1999/1/31) was a professional baseball player, professional wrestler, and co-founder of All Japan Pro-Wrestling. His real name was Baba Shōhei (馬場正平?). Baba, along with Antonio Inoki, became one of the most famous and popular Japanese wrestlers in the history. He was also a 3-time holder of NWA World Heavyweight Championship, being the first Asian to win the prestigeous title. He also served several terms as the First Vice President of the NWA.

Professional baseball career

He was scouted by Tōkyō Yomiuri Giants in 1955 while he was still a pitcher with the baseball team of Sanjō Industrial High School in Niigata Prefecture. He was the first professional baseball player from Niigata.

Despite his successful achievements in the secondary league, he was fired from the Giants in 1959/11 and joined Yokohama Taiyō Whales in 1960/2. However, he injured his left elbow in the dormitory before his first game in the new team and retired from baseball.

Professional wrestling career

Japan Wrestling Association (1960-1972)

In 1960/4 Baba began training in Rikidōzan's dōjō just a day after another fellow student Inoki Kanji joined.

As an incredibly tall man for a Japanese, Baba had a special treatment from Rikidōzan since the beginning of his career. Other trainees were required to live in the dōjō without pay, but Baba was being paid and was allowed to live in an apartment and commute to the dōjō.

Baba and Inoki trained together under Rikidōzan and made their debuts on 1960/9/30 at the old Daitō Ward Gym in Tōkyō where Baba defeated Tanaka Yonetarō and Inoki lost to fellow Rikidōzan student Ōki Kintarō. In their rookie days, Baba and Inoki faced each other for 16 times, with Baba winning all.

He went to the United States in 1961/7 and wrestled in various territories until he returned home to participate in the 5th annual World League in the spring of 1963. He then went back to America again in October of the same year, and in 1964/2, Baba wrestled for three of the four major world heavyweight championships: NWA, WWWF, WWA within the same month. Baba is said to be the first Japanese wrestler to have a successful nationwide career in the post-WWII America.

The period 1967-71 is best remembered by Japanese wrestling fans for "B-I Cannon", the Baba and Inoki tag team, that first won the NWA International Tag Team Championship on 1967/10/31 defeating Bill Watts & Tarzan Tyler, and would go on to hold the belts four times, a record that Baba would break later with another partner, Jumbo Tsuruta.

In addition to Nippon Television, which had been broadcasting the JWA cards since the Rikidōzan days, NET (today's TV Asahi) also started airing a weekly program for JWA. The three parties reached to an agreement that any match involving Baba would be aired on NTV while the NET show would feature Inoki as the star of the program.

All Japan Pro Wrestling (1972-1999)

Main article: All Japan Pro-Wrestling

Main Eventer (1972-1984)

In 1972/10, several months after Inoki, who was expelled from the JWA prevous year, had formed New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Baba formed his own promotion, All Japan Pro-Wrestling, with the big support of Nippon TV. All Japan eventually took over the JWA's spot in the NWA after its closing, and under Baba's strong business acumen, the rest of the NWA's talent enjoyed an amazing run in Japan. Baba became the first Japanese wrestler to ever hold the NWA World Heavyweight Title, defeating Jack Brisco on 1974/12/2 in Kagoshima. He would hold the championship on two more occasions.

With the strong connections with the fellow NWA promoters and later with Verne Gagne of AWA, he imported the "typical" American-style pro-wrestling to All Japan, frequently with the non-clean finishes such as double countout, disqualification, and most notable the "referee bumps", which somewhat gave a bad reputation to the senior referee Joe Higuchi.

Stepping down (1984-1993)

In 1983, Tsuruta defeated Bruiser Brody for the prestigeous International Championship, a title which had signified the top guy of the promotion since the JWA days. By 1984, Baba began phasing himself out to give rise to the next generation of wrestlers, led by Tsuruta and Tenryū Gen'ichirō. He voluntarily became a mid-carder.

In 1990, Tenryu, Yatsu, The Great Kabuki, and several others left the company to join the newly founded Super World Sports. This forced Baba to push the younger talent such as Misawa Mitsuharu, Kawada Toshiaki, Kobashi Kenta, Taue Akira, and Kikuchi Tsuyoshi as main eventers.

Final years and death (1993-1999)

Baba's last "comeback" was during the Real World Tag Team League in 1993, when he teamed with old rival Stan Hansen in hopes of winning the World Tag Team Championship. The duo made it to the finals, but were defeated by Misawa Mitsuharu & Kobashi Kenta. His final match occurred on 1998/12/5, prior to being confined to a hospital bed, where he teamed with Rusher Kimura & Momota Mitsuo to take on Fuchi Masanobu, Eigen Haruka, & Kikuchi Tsuyshi.

After death

Baba's "retirement" ceremony was held on 1999/5/2 at Tokyo Dome with the attendance by the old rivals: The Destroyer, Bruno Sammartino, and Gene Kiniski. The ceremony was actually "sanctioned" as a retirement match, as the old footages from Baba's matches against the guests were shown on the large screen.

External links