Yusuke “Wally” Yamaguchi, manager, talent agent, trainer, handler, referee and magazine writer has died aged 60. An incredibly influential man, but western wrestling fans probably best remember him as the manager of Kaientai Which under sells his importance to the industry.
He came to prominence as a wrestling trainer in the late eighties. Running one of the few independent Dojos in Japan that was outside of company influence, he became the perfect go between for independent talent. When Atsushi Onita wanted to start his own promotion and needed talent to fill it out, he turned to Yamaguchi and his students. Two of which Shoji Akiyoshi and Keiji Takayama, would become slightly more famous as Gedo and Jado, The World Class Tag Team and currently lead bookers for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Yamaguchi was also a trusted referee, his most famous contribution to the position coming at Dream Slam I, AJW’s first major cross promotional card with LLPW, JWP and FMW. Going into a street fight with Shinobu Kandori, Akira Hokuto wanted to up the blood level but was inexperienced with blading and Yamaguchi was tasked with the job as an outside referee. The image of Hokuto standing centre ring with her blonde hair dyed pink from blood loss became an iconic symbol of sacrifice to the Joshi cause and the betterment of All Japan Women.
He would also be in on the ground floor of Gran Hamada’s fledgling Lucha based promotion Universal Lucha Libre in 1990, which lasted for a couple of years until all of the wrestlers quit except the boss Hamada to form Michinoku Pro Wrestling, at which point so did Hamada, which has to be the weirdest employee by out ever. He worked in M-Pro as a manager as well as continuing to train his students including the future Super Delfin, Monkey Magic Wakita. Who in turn would help found Osaka Pro in the late nineties.
However, perhaps his biggest contribution would be writing for the magazines Pro Wrestling Weekly and Monthly Gong from the 1970s up until his departure for America. Still a vital part of wrestling coverage to this day. As the wrestling business diversified and exploded through the 90s, there was not enough TV coverage to go around for every company and the wrestling magazines became the best way to disseminate information.
Having working relationships with all of these groups enabled them to get prime positions in the biggest magazine of its day which relied on great photo opportunities, with M-Pro there was always stunning aerials, with AJW and FMW there was always blood. Copies sold briskly creating a feedback loop of ticket and magazine sales. It was one of the key reasons behind the phenomenal success of FMW and the building of the public persona of Atsushi Onita, who was trying to deliver a solid wrestling product without TV.
All of this work did not go unnoticed. He had become a one man talent agency throughout the nineties and when the WWF in the middle of a ratings war with WCW decided to diversify its talent base, he was the man they turned too. Having good English, he was known as US tour handler for Japanese talent as well as an agent, he would become a vital part of the WWF M-Pro working agreement that saw, Taka Michinoku, Mens Teioh, Sho Funaki and Dick Togo move to the WWF in March of 1998. Much has been written in the last few days of shall we say, “The Val Venis Incident”, but while it was in keeping with his comedic public persona, he once managed a crab monster Gran Naniawa, it doesn’t reflect on what the man did in the Japanese wrestling industry.
Essentially, when there was very little in the way of independent wrestling in Japan, Yamaguchi found what there was and nurtured it, nourished it and allowed it to grow until it became part of the wider wrestling tapestry. He enabled styles that would never have seen the light of day thrive, a vital cog in the Puroresu machine who brought the Western mainstream world closer to the Japanese way of thinking.
His friend and fellow promoter and journalist Jimmy Suzuki of Tokyo Championship Wrestling, paid tribute to him first as he announced the news of his passing:
My best friend Wally Yamaguchi (Yamaguchi San)passed away .
He had stroke about one year ago. Had hart problem as well and he was on bed for about one year. I’ll have my show on March 13 as TCW Wally Yamaguchi Memorial Show. R.I.P. pic.twitter.com/bSkErjS9wm
— Jimmy Suzuki (ジミー鈴木） (@JimmySuzuki1) March 9, 2019
Dean Allmark who had many trips to Japan for Tokyo Championship wrestling also gave his condolences:
Sad to hear about the passing of Wally Yamaguchi.I loved being around him,he was always just laughing,joking and smiling and had that wrestling journeyman sense of humour that made me feel comfortable while being in a foreign country.Condolences to Jimmy, his friends and family pic.twitter.com/W92nSQNd84
— Dean Allmark 🇬🇧 ディーン アルマーク (@DeanAllmark) March 10, 2019
As did former ECW Heavyweight Champion Taz:
Yamaguchi passed after a long struggle for fitness after suffering a stroke. He was 60.
Featured image courtesy of wwe.com