SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: Tsuruta the best ever from Japan
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
It was supposed to be a peaceful, quiet vacation. Somehow when the phone rang early Tuesday morning, waking me from the most blissful sleep I had in
weeks, I knew it was bad news.
I crawled out of bed. I slowly stumbled to my feet. I was barely conscious. I thought about pouring a bowl of cereal. Instead, I answered the phone. It
was Greg Oliver on the line. I looked at my watch. 9:30 a.m. Thought to myself "This better be important, Greg."
"Got some bad news, John." I figured as much. Greg knows better than to call me that early unless it's urgent. Still unconscious, I muttered "What?" The
only thing I remember next were the words "Jumbo Tsuruta died". And with that, a part of my world came crumbling down.
So much for my vacation.
Tsuruta? Dead? Couldn't be!?!? He can't possibly be dead... could he? Was this some cruel joke?
Sadly, it was no joke.
And so we bid farewell to another legend of the mat game. Tsuruta, more than any other heavyweight, embodied pro wrestling in Japan. Nobody could
match his work ethic. A giant in the wrestling landscape, Tsuruta was the best heavyweight wrestler from Japan. Ever.
Not Giant Baba. Not Antonio Inoki. Not Rikidozan.
Tsuruta was a wrestler, not a sports entertainer. He had a thriving spirit and respect for the sport. He took it seriously. It was a sport to him. It wasn't sports
entertainment. He worked hard in the ring and yet, he carried himself outside the squared circle with a quiet, humble grace. But his demeanour was the
only thing humble about him.
His was a talent on loan from God.
I don't mean that to sound blasphemous, but that's the only way I can describe the depth of his wrestling ability.
Using the wrestling ring as his personal canvas, he created several masterpieces, each match better than the previous one. He helped pioneer Japanese
wrestling, ushering in a more advanced, physically demanding and athletic style. There were no wasted movements with Tsuruta. Each move in a match
meant something. Each match meant something. He was a master storyteller. Nobody could tell a story within the confines of a wrestling match better
As a teenager in high school, I use to read about Tsuruta's exploits in Japan in newsletters and magazines. Soon after, I started watching tapes of
Japanese wrestling and saw for myself just how good he was. I marvelled at how he was able to work such a physical style and remain on top of his game
year after year. Many was the time my jaw dropped to the ground after watching Tsuruta work a 60-minute match in the most athletically demanding
wrestling promotion before the most discerning and critical wrestling fans in the world.
He was a bastion of ring work and set the standard for excellence among heavyweights in Japan. And let me tell you something else: He could have
worked circles around The Rock, HHH, Kevin Nash and any other sports entertainer of today.
He was the Japanese equivalent of Ric Flair.
And now he's gone. And the wrestling world goes on, with its Monday night wars, its cookie-cutter, assembly line pay-per-views and its sports entertainers.
No time to stop and remember.
Tsuruta's three Triple Crown titles, the two Carnival Championships, the reign as AWA World champion, all the accolades and all the titles... they're just
memories now. Shoved at the bottom of a drawer, only to be taken out when we're feeling sentimental about the good old days. That's what the Russos,
the McMahons and the Bischoffs of the world would have us believe.
But unbeknownst to them, Tsuruta lives on. Maybe not in body, but certainly in spirit.
Because they can't kill the memory of 60-minute draws with then-NWA World Champion Ric Flair in Yokohama and Tokyo. They can't erase the
groundbreaking feud between Riki Choshu's Army 'Ishin Gundan' and Tsuruta's clique that set Japan ablaze from 1984 to 1986; a feud that was Eric Bischoff's
inspiration for the NWO. They can't ignore the blood he spilt battling Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher and Stan Hansen all across Japan.
And they can't rub out what happened on June 9th, 1990 in Tokyo's Nippon Budokan Hall.
The top man in the company at the time, Tsuruta was scheduled to work with a mid-carder by the name of Mitsuhara Misawa. All Japan was looking to
help elevate a new wrestler to stardom. They knew a win over Tsuruta would establish Misawa.
Tsuruta could see the handwriting on the wall. He knew this match was a symbolic passing of the torch from the old to the new. He knew his days as the
top man were numbered. He could have put up a fuss and made life difficult. He had the stroke to do it.
Instead, he gave the performance of his life, reducing the sold out crowd to tears in what stands as one of the most memorable matches in wrestling
history. It was a textbook case of storytelling, and the match quickly became required viewing for bookers in the U.S. who were stuck for ideas trying to help
elevate their own young stars.
It was another masterpiece from the virtuoso.
Tsuruta didn't just 'job' to Misawa that night. He put him 'over'. He had made Misawa's career and sent him down a path that led him to become the
wrestler of the '90s.
Not too long ago, Hulk Hogan found himself in the exact same position with Billy Kidman. He knew a win by Kidman would elevate him. Always the
politician, Hogan 'jobbed' to Kidman. But he didn't 'put him over'.
Not too long ago, HHH balked at the idea of working with Chris Jericho, saying he was too small and had to be carried, forgetting there was once a time he
had to be carried (still does if you ask me).
And that's the difference between sports entertainers like HHH, The Rock and Hogan and a wrestler like Jumbo Tsuruta.
Pride. Pride in the sport of pro wrestling, pride in doing what's right for the business, pride in one's craft.
More than anything else, that is the true legacy of Jumbo Tsuruta. Let's never forget it.
May 11:The sorry state of 'hardcore'
Sorry, Chris, but I have to disagree with you - the Worm may be the stupidest move ever, but it is not alone.
It is tied for this lofty claim with The Rock's People's Elbow. Anyone who
has ever been pinned by this "devastating" maneuver should be kicked in the
butt twice and sent to the Windy City Pro Wrestling for a while.
At least Scotty does not use "the worm" as a finisher.
Don't get me wrong though - I think Too Cool is absolutely ridiculous, and
that their win over the Radicals at WrestleMania was a travesty for "true"
wrestling, but at least Taylor and Christopher PLAY it over the top, not
taking it entirely seriously.
Thank you for speaking up for true HARDCORE fans everywhere. I agree
with you 100%. The WWF and WCW hardcore divisions are a total mockery
of Hardcore wrestling. I don't think I have ever seen RVD in any kind
of gimmick match but man, the intensity he carries through his matches is
insane. He is living proof that gimmicks don't make hardcore. I
thought the WWF had seen that when not too long ago they gave the title
to the Hardys to feud over. They wouldn't have needed the notorious
'hardcore plunder' of those stale supposed matches, they could have just
wrestled the way the do every day and made the WWF hardcore title
actually have value, but alas, that couldn't happen because that would
mean Vinnie Mack admitting that Heyman had a better sense of what the
fans wanted than him. Until something changes things I'll keep watching
ECW and eagerly await their next Michigan run so I can hop over the
bridge and watch them and use the WWF/WCW hardcore matches as a time to check my Email.
I just finished your article on hardcore wrestling and wanted to write to
you about it. It was a great article and I think you are right on target.
Hardcore doesn't mean cookie sheets and chairs. It's about effort, desire,
The true hardcore wrestlers do not live and die by the foreign object. I
think ECW owns one of the most hardcore videos in wrestling history with
the Malenko-Guererro Classic (94-95?). Just fantastic wrestling with two guys giving everything they had and more.
I agree with the people you identified as truly hardcore. There are a good
handful of wrestlers who need to be recognized for their talent. I think
the Hardys and Vampiro can become legends if the right circumstances
prevail. It wasn't the ladder match itself that made the Hardys popular.
It was what they did. The innovation and bumps they took that made my jaw
drop when I saw the match.
If I had to point to one thing that started the downgrade of the term
hardcore, I would say it was Public Enemy's run in WCW. Coming in as the
top dogs from ECW with a penchant for violence, Bischoff quickly turned
these two into the Bushwackers of the '90s by carrying a table to every
match that they usually wound up going through.
Unfortunately, the mass of fans equate hardcore with violence (or the
appearance of violence). So, if you swing a broom stick, you're hardcore.
The WWF 24/7 title defense was fun for about a week. But, I wonder why
doesn't Crash Holly retract the statement? He makes the claim (like
hundreds of champions before him), they take him literally, now he comes
back and says "Forget it. You want a shot. Get in line." I guess since
most people seem to enjoy, McMahon sticks with it and we in the minority
just have to suffer through.
So, for my money, these are the top five hardcore wrestlers today (no
order); Hardy Boys, Vampiro, Chris Benoit, Rob Van Dam. And Triple H is
right behind them.
And don't worry about the Worm. Guys have to sell the "People's Elbow"
as much. Any move that takes 10 minutes to perform, should be banned. Now
there's the "Stinky Face"?
And remember, hundreds of wrestlers have had to sell Hulk Hogan's bent leg
leg drop like it was the king of all wrestling moves.
In your most recent column in SLAM! Wrestling you
commented The Worm "which is possibly the stupidest
move ever -- how on Earth can anyone sell that and
still look in the mirror?" I almost fully agree with
you, however, there is one move in professional
wrestling this is even worse and it is "the most
electrifying move in sports entertainment today", the
People's Elbow. How on earth can anyone sell this
crap move? He gains all this momentum from rope to
rope, just to stop and fall, elbow first. Oh, let me
guess, the fact that the elbow pad was taken off makes
the move? The Rock Bottom is average at best, but
followed up by the People's Elbow is a joke.
At least The Worm required a little athletic ability
from Scott Taylor and gets the crowd going. The
People's Elbow just flat out sucks. I think that
Jimmy "The Boogie Woogie Man" Valiant's "staggering"
elbow drop in his NWA days in the late 80's was more
effective than the People's Elbow!
To quote Mankind... "have a nice day"