Rikidozan (Momota Mitsuhiro)
(“Father of the Professional Wrestling”)
His name “Rikidozan” comes from his own Shikona (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikona). He used to be a professional Sumo wrestler before he got involved in professional wrestling world. Just before he was about to be promoted to Ozeki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makuuchi#.C5.8Czeki), however, he quit Sumo business. He moved on as an average business person.
It didn’t take long before Rikidozan got involved in Professional Wrestling Business. He promoted himself and traveled all around. His popularity grew day by day – even more as a professional wrestler, rather than a Sumo wrestler. Giant Baba (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_Baba) and Antonio Inoki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Inoki) were his disciples, recruited by Rikidozan.
Treated very poorly, these two succeeded Japanese Professional Wrestling industry though Baba and Inoki got conflict with each other and Inoki created his own Professional Wrestling League and left his nest – Japan Wrestling Association (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Pro_Wrestling_Alliance) founded by Rikidozan.
The era of Rikidozan is not familiar to me simply because I was not born in those days! Still, kids in 60’s were all aware of his name. Rikidozan was such a super star! As a matter of fact, he was a Korean, born in Korea in 1924. The truth was hidden by Rikidozan himself for a long time. Even after he became a celebrity, he told nobody that he was a Korean. I assume that he didn’t want to be exposed himself to the cloud, 98% of whom had discrimination against Koreans called Zainichi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koreans_in_Japan).
Unfortunately, some ethnic characters for Koreans, such as ‘roughness’ or ‘short-temperateness,’ contributed fully to his sudden death. He was stubbed by knife while drinking and fighting with a Yakuza member (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakuza) in 1963. Regardless of his fatal flaws, Rikidozan has been recognized as ‘Father of Professional Wrestling.’ Jokingly, they say that you know the name of Rikidozan when you don’t know the name of the current Prime Minister of Japan!
Giant Baba, one of his disciples, was recruited by Rikidozan. Rikidozan firmly believed Baba would be a Japanese Wrestling Champ. He started out as a star baseball player, ending up playing baseball in one of two Professional Japanese Baseball Teams called ‘Giants (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yomiuri_Giants).’ Unfortunately, he had to retire because of his injury. Due to his huge body size (Acromegaly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acromegaly), Baba was looking for an alternative to baseball. Rikidozan proposed to Baba and urged him to join his wrestling association. Wresting is rough, but Baba was not rough unlike Rikidozan. Baba was very quiet and never had strong ambitions to become an important figure in another industry.
(Baba during Giant’s Training)
On the other hand, Antonio Inoki, the other disciple of Rikidozan, is different. Antonio Inoki, after his retirement, became a politician, founded Kansui Ryu Karate, and became a very successful entrepreneur. It is a well-known fact that Rikidozan, after recruiting Inoki, abused him, treated him poorly and roughly, and ridiculed and humiliated him so severely. Probably, that is one of the reasons that Inoki founded his own Professional Wrestling Association called IWGP (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/IWGP), separating from Giant Baba and Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance.
(Inoki on the left; Baba on the right)
(Inoki, the Politician)
What Rikidozan, Giant Baba, and Antonio Inoki they did as professional wrestlers were different from one another, it is no doubt that they are called ‘Big Three’ in Japanese Wrestling. Without them, any one of them, Japanese Professional Wrestling would not enjoy its popularity in the past or in the future. They are heroes in Japanese Professional Wrestling World!
(Ali and Inoki in 1976: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_vs._Antonio_Inoki)
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