Shohei Baba (馬場 正平 Baba Shōhei, January 23, 1938 – January 31, 1999), best known by his ring name Giant Baba (ジャイアント馬場 Jaianto Baba), was a Japanese professional wrestler and founder of All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) that, along with Antonio Inoki, became one of the most famous Japanese wrestlers of his era, with a popularity in Japan comparable to Hulk Hogan's in the United States.
- 1 Professional baseball career
- 2 Professional wrestling career
- 3 Legacy
- 4 In wrestling
- 5 Championships and accomplishments
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Professional baseball career
Before entering professional wrestling he had been a professional baseball pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants, and was signed at the age of 17. Baba, who was issued jersey number 59, was a member of the organization for at least five years. It appears however, he spent most of his time in the minor leagues. He appeared in only three games with the Giants, and recorded a record of 0–1.
It was around this time when national wrestling hero and owner of the Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA) Mitsuhiro Momota – better known as Rikidozan – began to feel the time was right for him to start grooming a successor in order to keep business strong.
Professional wrestling career
Japan Wrestling Association (1960–1972)
In April 1960, Baba began training in Rikidōzan's dojo along with fellow student Kanji Inoki. The two trained together under Rikidōzan and made their debuts on September 30, 1960 at the old Daito Ku Gymnasium in Tokyo where Baba beat Yonetaro Tanaka and Inoki, renamed Antonio, lost to fellow Rikidōzan student Kintaro Ohki.
Baba wrestled for Vincent J. McMahon in the United States in the early 1960s, unsuccessfully challenging NWA World Heavywight Champion Buddy Rogers for the world title, and returning to face Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1963 in Madison Square Garden, where Sammartino defeated Baba.
The period 1967–1971 is best remembered by Japanese wrestling fans for the Baba and Inoki tag team that first won the NWA International Tag Team Championship on October 31, 1967 beating Bill Watts and Tarzan Tyler, and would go on to hold the championship four times, a record that Baba would break later with another tag team partner, Jumbo Tsuruta.
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Main event status (1972–1984)
In October 1972, with JWA on the decline and several months after Inoki had formed New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Baba formed his own promotion, All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), with the backing of Nippon TV. All Japan eventually took over the JWA's spot in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) after its collapse, 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 ever to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Jack Brisco in a two out of three falls match on December 2, 1974 in Kagoshima, Japan. He would hold the championship on two more occasions, but his reigns were short and limited to Japanese territory. Baba was additionally the first former NWA World Champion to be defeated by Ric Flair, as Flair was becoming a top contender to the title.
Phasing out (1984–1993)
By 1984, Baba began phasing himself out to give rise to the next generation of wrestlers, led by Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu. He voluntarily became a "curtain jerker", as he moved slowly and won only against mid-card talent. Under his leadership, All Japan Pro Wrestling became arguably the number one wrestling company in the world during the 1990s from a match quality standpoint. Following the formation of the quickly doomed Super World of Sports, established talent such as Tenryu, Ashura Hara and Great Kabuki left All Japan and Baba was forced to push younger talent, such as Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi up the card to replace them.
The biggest move Baba made at this time was taking the mask off Tiger Mask II and giving Mitsuharu Misawa the push as the biggest new singles star by pinning Jumbo Tsuruta in one of the most emotional matches in company history on June 8, 1990 at Budokan Hall. The show was close to a sellout and Misawa was immediately catapulted to main event status because of his victory over the legend Jumbo. Budokan Hall became a hotbed for professional wrestling with a string of sellouts in the building lasting for several years, which validated Baba's insistence on clean finishes in matches (Baba's response to the popularity of shoot wrestling at the time; before that, major matches often ended with double countout finishes).
With the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship as the focal point, All Japan sold out more than 250 consecutive shows in Tokyo throughout the early to mid-1990s, routinely drawing houses in the $1,000,000 range eight times a year at Budokan Hall. At the peak of the company, tickets for the next Budokan show would be sold at the live event and completely sell out that night. In 1998, Baba finally agreed to run the Tokyo Dome on May 1, and despite it being a few years since the company peaked they still drew 58,300 paying fans. It became well known that as a promoter a hand shake agreement was often used rather than a signed contract, as he had a great reputation for keeping his word when it came to match finishes and payrolls. Because of this, many regarded Baba as the most honest promoter in the professional wrestling business.
Final years and death (1994–1999)
Baba's last "comeback" was during the World's Strongest Tag Determination League in 1994, 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 Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi. His final match, prior to being confined to a hospital bed, occurred on December 5, 1998 at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, where he teamed with Rusher Kimura and Mitsuo Momota to take on Masanobu Fuchi, Haruka Eigen, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi.
On January 22, 1999, Baba saw his last wrestling match, as Toshiaki Kawada defeated Mitsuharu Misawa for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Nine days later, Baba died of cancer.
Another Japanese professional wrestler, Hiroshi Nagao from HUSTLE, takes his ring name ("Giant Vabo") from Giant Baba (and Volleyball, his weapon). He once used Baba's theme music and ring attire for a tag team match (his opponent Koinoki imitated legendary Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki).
The 2006 Top 100 Historical Persons in Japan survey ranked Baba the 92nd greatest person in the history of Japan.
- Finishing move
- Signature moves
- "The Giant of the East"
- Entrance themes
- "NTV Sports March"
- "Soul of a Champion" by Toshiharu Jitsukawa
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- All Asia Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA International Tag Team Championship (6 times) – with Jumbo Tsuruta
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- PWF World Heavyweight Championship (4 times)
- Champion Carnival (1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982)
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League (1978, 1980) – with Jumbo Tsuruta
- Japan Wrestling Association
- NWA Detroit
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Detroit version) (1 time) – with Jumbo Tsuruta
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Ranked No. 26 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the PWI Years in 2003
- Ranked No. 10 of the top 100 tag teams of the PWI Years with Jumbo Tsuruta in 2003
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum
- Class of 2008
- The Top 100 Historical Persons in Japan
- Ranked the 92nd greatest person from history by the people of Japan
- Tokyo Sports
- 30th Anniversary Special Achievement Award (1990)
- Best Tag Team of the Year (1978, 1980, 1982) with Jumbo Tsuruta
- Match of the Year (1979) with Antonio Inoki vs. Abdullah The Butcher and Tiger Jeet Singh on August 26, 1979
- Match of the Year (1980) with Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. on December 11, 1980
- Match of the Year (1981) vs. Verne Gagne on January 18, 1981
- Match of the Year (1982) vs. Stan Hansen on February 4, 1982
- Outstanding Performance Award (1974, 1980)
- Popularity Award (1988)
- Special Achievement Award (1999)
- Special Award for breaking 5000 Matches (1993)
- Special Grand Award (1974, 1977, 1980)
- Special Popularity Award (1976)
- Wrestler of the Year (1975, 1979)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- 5 Star Match (1994) with Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi vs. Masanobu Fuchi, Akira Taue, and Toshiaki Kawada on February 13
- Best Booker (1989–1991)
- Promoter of the Year (1990–1994)
- Worst Tag Team (1990, 1991) with André the Giant
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)
- Giant Baba - Match Results: 1998 . puroresu.com.
- Japanese rank their favorite 100 historical figures . Japan Probe. Retrieved on 2016-07-06.
- Giant Baba's profile at WrestlingData.com
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Top 500 Wrestlers of the PWI Years . Wrestling Information Archive. Archived from the original on 2009-10-14. Retrieved on 2010-09-15.
- The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo: Puroresu Awards: 1990s . Puroresu.com. Retrieved on 2013-12-31.
- The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo: Puroresu Awards: 1970s . Puroresu.com. Retrieved on 2013-12-31.
- The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo: Puroresu Awards: 1980s . Puroresu.com. Retrieved on 2013-12-31.
- ja:東京スポーツ プロレス大賞 (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports. Retrieved on 2014-01-20.