Naoki Sano (佐野 直喜 Sano Naoki) (born February 2, 1965) is a retired Japanese professional wrestler and former mixed martial artist most notable for being the generational rival of legendary Japanese pro wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger. During the last years of his career he went by the name Takuma Sano (佐野巧真 Sano Takuma).
Professional wrestling careerEdit
New Japan Pro Wrestling (1984–1990)Edit
Sano was a member of the 1984 NJPW Dojo class, and in his first few years, he was a jobber. In 1987, he went on an overseas excursion to Mexico, wrestling for the Universal Wrestling Association. In August 1987, he won his first championship, the Distrito Federal Trios Championship with fellow NJPW wrestlers Hirokazu Hata and Yoshihiro Asai. Upon his return to the promotion in January 1989, he won the Young Lion Cup on April 24, and he had numerous acclaimed matches against Jushin Liger. Sano defeated Liger for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on August 10, 1989, but lost it to Liger on January 31, 1990. In April 1990, he went on an overseas excursion to Canada, wrestling under the name Mr. Sato for the Canadian National Wrestling Alliance promotion in Calgary, where he won the promotion's World Mid-Heavyweight Championship.
Super World of Sports and Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi (1990–1992)Edit
During his Canadian excursion in July 1990, Sano moved to the Super World of Sports (SWS) after a big money offer from Megane Super, the company backing the promotion. In SWS he became the top junior heavyweight, feuding with native talent and outsider talent from the United States, Mexico, and outsider promotions Universal Lucha Libre and Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi. In December 1991, Sano won the tournament for the SWS Light Heavyweight Championship.
After SWS collapsed in June 1992, Sano worked a few matches for Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi, but soon moved to Union of Wrestling Force International (UWFI) upon recommendation from former NJPW comrades Nobuhiko Takada and Kazuo Yamazaki, the top stars of UWFI.
UWF International (1992–1996)Edit
In UWFI, he adopted the name Yuhi Sano. Adopting the shinguards and trunks typical of shoot style wrestlers, Sano had more opportunities to face actual heavyweights. Nevertheless, during the 1995-96 feud against NJPW, Sano participated on UWFI's side, beating old rival Liger one more time but losing to Shinya Hashimoto. In the feud against the WAR promotion, which had been born out of the ashes of SWS, Sano lost to old patron Genichiro Tenryu in a singles match. Upon UWFI's collapse later in December 1996, Sano joined its successor promotion, Kingdom.
Independent circuit (1997–2001)Edit
He returned to wrestling, entering Battlarts and feuding with Minoru Tanaka over the Independent World Junior Heavyweight Championship. Sano won the belt from Tanaka in May 1999 and dropped it to him the following year. In 2000 he participated in the third Super J-Cup tournament held by Michinoku Pro Wrestling. He advanced to the final four before losing to eventual runner-up CIMA.
Pro Wrestling Noah (2001–2012)Edit
In 2001, he joined Pro Wrestling Noah. He became Takuma Sano, for a year wearing tights and wrestling junior heavyweights, but after fully turning heavyweight, he returned to the shinguards and trunks. As part of the faction led by Akira Taue and also composed of Daisuke Ikeda, Sano had opportunities for the GHC Heavyweight Championship held by Kenta Kobashi and later, Mitsuharu Misawa, but failed both times. In 2010, he teamed with Yoshihiro Takayama to win the Global Tag League. On September 18, 2010, Sano and Takayama defeated Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith to win the vacant GHC Tag Team Championship. They would lose the title to New Japan Pro Wrestling's Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson on June 18, 2011, at Dominion 6.18 in a match contested also for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. After his contract with NOAH expired in January 2012, Sano became a freelancer.
- Finishing moves
- High-speed roundhouse kick to the opponent's head
- Northern lights bomb - 2001-present
- Sole kick to the face of a kneeling opponent
- Tiger suplex
- Signature moves
- Boston crab
- Bow and arrow stretch
- Double foot stomp, sometimes from the second rope
- Front dropkick, sometimes from the top rope
- Multiple suplex variations
- Double underhook
- Rolling sole butt
- Savate kick
- Suicide dive
- Yurikamome (Inverted lotus hold can opener) - adopted from Kazushi Sakuraba
- Entrance themes
- "Destiny Light" by Naomi Masuda (NJPW, 1988–1990)
- "Naoki Sano Theme" (SWS/UWFi/Freelance, 1990–2001)
- "S.O.S." by ABBA (NOAH, 2001)
- "Attack And Release" (NOAH/Freelance, 2001–present)
Championships and accomplishmentsEdit
- Canadian National Wrestling Alliance
- CNWA World Mid-Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Comision de Box y Lucha D.F.
- Distrito Federal Trios Championship (1 time) - with Yoshihiro Asai and Hata Hirokazu
- Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling
- Kingdom One Million Yen Tournament Winner - August 1997
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Noah
- Super World of Sports
- Wrestle Association R
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Match of the Year (1990) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger on January 31 in Osaka, Japan