Monday, August 14, 2023

The 30 Year History of Michinoku Pro

Michinoku Pro was founded by The Great Sasuke in his hometown of Iwate, Japan. The company is named after the north-eastern area of the Tōhoku region, which was called "Michinoku" ("end of the road") in ancient times. Michinoku Pro is dedicated to bringing pro-wrestling to Iwate, and most of its events take place there. In the beginning, Michinoku Pro was a small operation with only a few staff members. The Great Sasuke and the other wrestlers worked both in the ring and in the office, showing their dedication to the company. Michinoku Pro made its debut in 1993 with a show in Yahaba Townsman Gymnasium. The card featured a star-studded lineup, including TAKA Michinoku, Super Delfin, Gran Hamada, and The Great Sasuke. The show was a success, and it helped to put Michinoku Pro on the map.

In 1995, Michinoku Pro introduced its own singles tournament, the Fukumen World League. The tournament features masked wrestlers from around the world, and it is one of the most unique and interesting tournaments in the pro-wrestling industry. When a wrestler loses a Fukumen World League match, they must remove their mask. This is a big deal for masked wrestlers, as their mask is a big part of their identity. The Fukumen World League has been a success for Michinoku Pro, and it has helped to raise the profile of the company. Many famous wrestlers have won the tournament, including Dos Caras, Tiger Mask, Atlantis, The Great Sasuke, and Caristico.

Fukmen World League has been a positive experience for many other wrestlers as well, including Minoru Tanaka. He has had a successful career, winning titles belonging to Michinoku Pro, AJPW, NOAH, NJPW, ZERO1, and more. In 2012, he participated in the Fukumen World League tournament as "Heat" and defeated Tigers Mask in the first round. He then faced The Great Sasuke in the second round in a match that was praised by many. Tanaka said in an interview that the match "was recognized as a BEST BOUT by those around me, and it is very memorable."

In 1996, The Great Sasuke brought attention to Michinoku Pro becoming the original holder of the J-Crown, a unification of eight different titles from eight different companies. This feat was unprecedented. Sasuke continued to impress fans with his innovative matches and tournaments, and he also made a name for himself in other companies.

Every promotion eventually experiences their first major rulebreaker faction, and for Michinoku Pro that moment occurred in the 90's in the form of Kaientai Deluxe, consisting of Dick Togo, Mens Teioh, Shiryu, TAKA Michinoku, Shoichi Funaki, Hanzo Nakajima, and Super Boy. While Michinoku Pro prides itself on sportsmanship, Kaientai Deluxe went against everything that the company stood for, doing whatever they wanted to whoever they wanted.

Kaientai Deluxe battled against the fan favorites of Michinoku Pro in many matches, a highlight match being the encounter between Kaientai Deluxe (in the form of Dick Togo, Mens Teioh, Shiryu, Shoichi Funaki, and TAKA Michinoku) and the team of Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa, Masato Yakushiji, Super Delfin, and Tiger Mask at the Michinoku Pro 3rd Anniversary event in October 1996. This match was over 30 minutes long and is considered by many fans to be the best match that took place during the Kaientai Deluxe-Michinoku Pro feud.

Kaientai Deluxe made their presence known outside of Michinoku Pro in 1997, when they appeared in ECW as representatives of the Japan branch of the Blue World Order faction. This was a major moment for Michinoku Pro, as it gave American fans their first taste of the company's unique style of wrestling. Kaientai Deluxe's appearance in ECW helped to introduce Michinoku Pro to a new audience, and it paved the way for the company to expand its reach in the United States.

Kaientai Deluxe's influence moved to WWE that next year, as Dick Togo, TAKA Michinoku, and Shoichi Funaki all wrestled for the company representing the faction. But the Kaientai Deluxe era in Michinoku Pro did not end before TAJIRI and Gran Hamada represented the faction that year as well.

In August 2002, Michinoku Pro made history by crowning its first Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Champion. The company's singles title was won by Dick Togo. Since then, the Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Championship has been held by some of the biggest names that have been involved in the Japanese wrestling scene, including The Great Sasuke, Kenoh, Atlantis, TAKA Michinoku, Super Delfin, KAGETORA, Takeshi Minamino, MUSASHI, Rui Hyūgaji, and the current champion, Fujita Hayato.

In April 2003, The Great Sasuke made history by becoming the first masked wrestler to be elected to a public office in Japan. He won a seat in the Iwate Prefectural Assembly. Sasuke had been running Michinoku Pro Wrestling up to this point, but with his new political career, he knew he needed someone to take over the company. He turned to Jinsei Shinzaki, one of his fellow wrestlers, to run Michinoku Pro in his absence.

In November 2003, after its appearances in WWE and ECW years earlier, the story of Kaientai Deluxe came full circle, as Dick Togo, Hanzo Nakajima, Mens Teioh, Shiryu, and TAKA Michinoku reunited in Michinoku Pro to form the faction once again, defeating Chinnen Hokkai, Hayate, Jinsei Shinzaki, Kazuya Yuasa, and Kesen Numajiro at Michinoku Pro's 10th Anniversary event.

In July 2004, history was made again, with Michinoku Pro crowning its first Tohoku Tag Team Champions. Jinsei Shinzaki & Último Dragón won the title, and since then the Tohoku Tag Team Championship has also been won by other standout teams such as Katsuhiko Nakajima & Kensuke Sasaki, Dick Togo & The Great Sasuke, and current Champions Yapper Man 1 & Yapper Man 2. The teams with the most outstanding records as Tohoku Tag Team Champions are the teams of Ikuto Hidaka & Minoru Fujita, and Brahman Shu & Brahman Kei. Brahman Shu & Brahman Kei hold the record for the team with the most reigns as Champions, with 4 reigns under their belts. During their first reign, Hidaka & Fujita held the title for a record length of 725 days. During that reign, they unified the Tohoku Tag Team Championship with the UWA World Tag Team Title, a title which has a very historical past that began in the Mexico-based Universal Wrestling Association.

Los Salseros Japoneses were a rule-breaking faction in Michinoku Pro Wrestling that was known for their flamboyant style and their love of salsa music. The faction consisted of Takeshi Minamino, Pineapple Hanai, and Mango Fukuda, who had previously worked together as a faction in Toryumon. Los Salseros Japoneses made their Michinoku Pro debut in 2004. In 2005, Los Salseros Japoneses captured the UWA World Trios Championship in Mexico. This was a major accomplishment for the faction, and it helped to solidify their status as one of the top factions in Michinoku Pro. In 2006, Los Salseros Japoneses leader Minamino captured the Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Championship. Los Salseros Japoneses disbanded in 2006.

In 2005, Gamma, Kei Sato, and Shu Sato formed a faction known as STONED. The faction was an alliance of wrestlers from Michinoku Pro, ZERO1, and d2p. In 2006, Kagetora became the leader of STONED. In March 2006, Kagetora captured the Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Championship. This was a major accomplishment for Kagetora and for STONED, helping to solidify their status as one of the top factions in Japan. STONED disbanded in 2007, but they left a lasting legacy on Japanese wrestling.

Gamma is a former member of STONED. He left Michinoku Pro in 2006 and since then saw success in Dragon Gate, where he was a former Open The Brave Gate Champion. However, Gamma still remembers his time in Michinoku Pro fondly, especially a particular match. In an interview with me, Gamma said that his favorite memory from his time in Michinoku Pro was the "Cuba Deathmatch" in 2005 against The Great Sasuke.

In 2006, Michinoku Pro began presenting "Space War," its annual year-end special match. "Space War" is a unique event that is filled with costumes, chaos, weapons, the ring being taken apart, and The Great Sasuke putting his life on the line while being inside of a barrel. The Great Sasuke is the star of "Space War", constantly in danger of being injured or killed. However, he always manages to survive, and he always comes out on top.

In December 2018, Kaientai Deluxe made another appearance at a Michinoku Pro event. Dick Togo, Mens Teioh, and Shiryu represented the faction in a match against Super Delfin, The Great Sasuke, and Ultimo Dragon. Both teams battled to a time limit draw.

Michinoku Pro Wrestling drew a sellout, standing room only crowd of 1,890 at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo in December 2019. This was the highest reported attendance at the Korakuen Hall for a pro-wrestling event since April 2015.

In 2020, Michinoku Pro -like every other company in the pro wrestling industry- was impacted by COVID-19. But Michinoku Pro persevered.

In September 2020, Kaientai Deluxe reunited at a Just Tap Out (JTO) event in Tokyo, with TAKA Michinoku, Dick Togo, and MEN's Teioh representing. JTO is a Tokyo-based promotion owned by TAKA Michinoku.

As business began getting back to normal for Michinoku Pro in 2021, the company was experiencing a shakeup of a different kind, as an in-ring feud began between the younger talent of its roster and the established veterans. MUSASHI, Yasutaka Oosera, Koji Kawamura, Yasuyoshi Ogasawara, and Ayumu Gunji were a group of young wrestlers collectively considering themselves to be the, "New Generation" of Michinoku Pro.

2021 also was the year that Michinoku Pro celebrated The Great Sasuke’s 31 years in the pro-wrestling industry. At an event in September commemorating him, Sasuke teamed with Jinsei Shinzaki and Super Delfin in a match against a reunited Kaientai ☆ DX (Taka Michinoku, Dick Togo, and MENS Teioh), renewing their feud for one night.

In 2022, Michinoku Pro wrestlers were making history both in and outside of the company. GAINA & Taro Nohashi unified the Tohoku Tag Team Championship and UWA World Tag Team Championship, which had not been done since 2016. At the same time, they also held the Kyushu Pro Tag Team Championship, making them the Tohoku, UWA World, Kyushu Pro Wrestling Triple Crown Tag Champions, the first in pro-wrestling history. GAINA was also making history as a singles wrestler, becoming a 5-Crown Champion.

Michinoku Pro Wrestling stars Yapperman No. 1 & No. 2 continued the company's momentum that year by winning the Itabashi Tag Team Championship while already holding the Total Triumph Team Indie Unified Tag Team Championship and the IRON FIST Tag Team Championship, making them Triple Crown Champions.

As New Generation continued it's war with the established members of the Michinoku Pro roster into 2022, the factions influence grew outside of the company, as MUSASHI recruited BJW star Kazuki Hashimoto into New Generation.

But one of the most talked about Michinoku Pro topics of 2022 was Fujita Hayato's return. After many years away from the ring, he challenged then-Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Champion MUSASHI for the championship.

This match is historical for two reasons. One of them is that with Michinoku Pro being based in the Tohoku region of Japan, most Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Championship matches take place there- this championship match, however took place at the Korakuen Hall, which is a rarity. The second reason is that this match was not just about the championship, it was Fujita Hayato's inspirational return after a long battle with an illness. And at the end of that historical match that was the winner of professional wrestling martial arts channel Samurai TV's Japan Indie Award for Best Bout, Hayato was the new Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Champion.

As Michinoku Pro celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the company continues to entertain fans at events in the Tōhoku region, Tokyo, and other areas of the country, and there are also Michinoku Pro DVDs sold in stores nationwide as well.

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