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The 2000 All Japan Pro Wrestling mass exodus was an incident in the Japanese All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) professional wrestling promotion that took place throughout May and June of 2000, and culminated in 24 of the 26 contracted native wrestlers leaving the promotion. Led by Mitsuharu Misawa, they later formed their own promotion, Pro Wrestling Noah.

Background Edit

History Edit

All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) was founded in 1972 by Shohei "Giant" Baba, Mitsuo Momota and Yoshihiro Momota, a student and the two sons of Rikidōzan, the godfather of Japanese professional wrestling, or Puroresu. Baba served as the promotion's president, head booker, talent scout and head trainer for much of his lifetime. Under Baba, the promotion enjoyed much success, and reached new heights in the 1990s thanks mostly to the performances of Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi and Akira Taue, dubbed "The Four Pillars Of Heaven" by magazines and reporters. Baba continued to run the promotion until late 1998 when his health deteriorated and he was hospitalised in January 1999.

Build-up Edit

Baba passed away on January 31, 1999, at the age of 61. In the wake of Baba's death, Misawa, the top star of the promotion, inherited Baba's position of president. Despite All Japan seeing continued success in the months following Baba's death, Misawa clashed with All Japan's majority owner, Motoko Baba, the widow of Giant Baba. As they repeatedly struggled to get along or agree on anything, it all came to a head on May 28, 2000, when the board of executives, led by Baba, held a vote to remove Misawa from his position, with the majority electing to remove him as company president. Two weeks later at a regular All Japan board meeting on June 13, 2000, Misawa, Mitsuo Momota (co-vice president, member of directory), Kenta Kobashi (member of directory), Akira Taue (member of directory, chairman), Kenichi Oyagi (member of directory) and Yoshihiro Momota (member of directory) resigned from their board positions, and told the board members of their intentions to leave the promotion. The next day, Motoko Baba released a two-page written statement blasting Misawa, with Baba repeatedly expressing disappointment and saying she felt he "took no responsibility and abandoned his duty as a member of the board and All Japan employee." In addition, she said that Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi would be the only two native wrestlers to stay with All Japan, saying "Kawada and Fuchi have sworn to carry out [Giant] Baba-san's last wish: to keep All Japan Pro Wrestling alive". This was confirmed the next day, when Kawada, Fuchi, Maunakea Mossman and referee Kyohei Wada all renewed their contracts with All Japan.

Incident Edit

On June 16, 2000, a press conference was led by Mitsuharu Misawa, where 24 of the 26 native wrestlers contracted to All Japan Pro Wrestling joined him. With over 100 reporters and news outlets in attendance, Misawa announced that everyone surrounding him would be leaving All Japan Pro Wrestling after finishing their last committed appearances in July, and that they would be forming a new, then un-named promotion together. Misawa expressed his wish for the promotion to debut in August, with the Differ Ariake being the site of the promotion's debut. When asked what his reason for leaving All Japan was, Misawa said that it was so he could do things in a "modern style." A day later, Misawa announced the promotion's name: Pro Wrestling Noah, which was inspired by the Biblical story where Noah built an ark and led two of every kind of animal in existence onto the ark before God destroyed the world. On June 20, twelve All Japan office employees resigned from their positions with the promotion, with intentions to follow Misawa to Noah, and on June 28, 2000, Misawa formally announced at a press conference that Pro Wrestling Noah would debut with two consecutive shows (titled "Departure") in Differ Ariake on August 5 and 6 in Tokyo.

On June 19, 2000, it was confirmed at a press conference in the All Japan dojo held by Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi that NTV had agreed to discontinue broadcasting All Japan Pro Wrestling after 27 years with the network. Despite this, NTV maintained their 15% stock in All Japan (as Motoko Baba held the remaining 85%), as this would prevent All Japan from being broadcast on another network. NTV also announced that they would carry weekly tapings of Misawa's new Noah promotion, with the title of the program being called "Colosseo", in the place of All Japan's former 30-minute timeslot on Sundays at midnight. Misawa was interviewed in Tokyo on June 21, where he announced that he and the other wrestlers leaving to form Noah would compete on four of the sixteen shows in All Japan's Super Action Series 2000 tour, which began on July 1. On June 25, 2000, NTV aired the final All Japan TV show on the network, which aired for 45 minutes and featured footage from Jumbo Tsuruta's funeral, the Noah wrestlers' press conference from June 16, Kawada's press conference from June 19, highlights of the first ever Kawada vs. Misawa Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship match from October 21, 1992, and Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue vs. Yoshihiro Takayama and Takao Omori for the World Tag Team Championship from All Japan's Nippon Budokan show from June 9.

On July 2 at Korakuen Hall, Motoko Baba came out to the ring and announced the unfathomable return of Genichiro Tenryu to All Japan. This was previously unfathomable as Giant Baba had sworn to banish him from ever competing in the promotion again after Tenryu led his own exodus from AJPW in 1990 to form the Super World of Sports (SWS) promotion. Baba announced he would team with Toshiaki Kawada to face Maunakea Mossman and Stan Hansen on July 23 on the final show of the Super Action Series Tour in Nippon Budokan.[1] On July 20, 2000, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Takeshi Morishima, Naomichi Marufuji, Kentaro Shiga, Takeshi Rikio, Mitsuo Momota, Rusher Kimura, Haruka Eigen, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, Kenta Kobayashi, Takao Omori, Yoshihiro Takayama, Jun Izumida, Masao Inoue, Yoshinari Ogawa, Akira Taue, Jun Akiyama and Mitsuharu Misawa competed in their last matches for All Japan Pro Wrestling at the sold-out Hakata Star Lane in Fukuoka. During the show, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams came out and shook Misawa's hand, and requested one last singles match between the two. However, Misawa returned to the bus immediately after his match, not staying for the last two matches of the show and the match never happened. Every single one of All Japan's titles were vacated due to the departure of the aforementioned wrestlers and title holders. Mrs. Baba later appointed Stan Hansen as the new Chairman of All Japan's Pacific Wrestling Federation title governing body, replacing Lord James Blears.

Aftermath Edit

Although a mass exodus in Japanese pro wrestling was not unheard of, an exodus of this size was unprecedented at the time, rivalled only by Tenryu's exodus to form SWS in 1990. The event caused a shockwave throughout Japanese sports tabloids, and newfound attention was bought to Misawa and his new promotion. The two promotions would eventually begin working together in 2004, with Keiji Mutoh and Taiyo Kea facing Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa at Departure 2004 in the Tokyo Dome, and Misawa returning to All Japan twice in 2004.

All Japan Pro Wrestling Edit

After the new Noah roster wrestled their last matches for the promotion, All Japan began the process of rebuilding itself, relying on freelance talent and cross promotional matches to fill its cards. On August 11, 2000, Masanobu Fuchi appeared at the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) show in Ryogoku Kokugikan. Standing in a New Japan ring for the first time in his career, Fuchi announced his intention to "break down the walls" between All Japan and New Japan, and he was soon joined in the ring by NJPW foreman Riki Choshu. The two exchanged a handshake in the ring, and thus a cross promotional relationship began between All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling.[2] The first major cross promotional matches between NJPW and AJPW took place on October 9, 2000 at NJPW Do Judge!! in the Tokyo Dome. Fuchi, Dr. Death Steve Williams and Toshiaki Kawada all represented AJPW on the card, with Kawada shockingly defeating IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki in a non title match in the main event.[3] This led to Sasaki, in kayfabe, becoming so disgusted with himself for losing to an outsider that he vacated the championship. The two promotions continued to work together, with Fuchi and Kawada regularly appearing in NJPW throughout late 2000. All Japan returned to the Tokyo Dome for the first time since the exodus on January 28, 2001, with appearances from Keiji Mutoh and Jushin Thunder Liger, as well as a main event featuring Kensuke Sasaki teaming up with Toshiaki Kawada to defeat Genichiro Tenryu and Hiroshi Hase.[4]

Pro Wrestling Noah Edit

Pro Wrestling Noah debuted on August 5, 2000 in Differ Ariake, main evented by a 2 out of 3 falls match putting Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama against Mitsuharu Misawa and Akira Taue, won by Akiyama and Kobashi.[5] Misawa later established the promotion's championships as the Global Honored Crown, and a tournament was held for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in 2001, where Misawa defeated Yoshihiro Takayama in the final to become the inaugural champion.[6] Interest in the fledgling promotion was high, and Misawa used this to push younger talent over himself, with Jun Akiyama winning the title in July 2001. Despite the positive reception to Akiyama's reign, head booker Misawa grew anxious that a lack of legitimate title contenders would damage both the title and Akiyama's reputation early in the promotion's life, and in April 2002 Akiyama dropped the championship to Yoshinari Ogawa as a stepping stone to get the championship back to Misawa.[7]

References Edit

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