Riki Choshu, a man who has been the backbone of creative thinking in Puroresu, and who has been a megastar draw for thirty years, took his victory lap on one last tour on the 26th of June at the Korukean Hall. At Power Hall he tagged with a protege and a contemporary against some old enemies and a devotee of his smash mouth style.
Choshu began his journey not in Japan but Korea, his father’s birthplace, which made his flight to the top all the more remarkable. The usually nationalistic crowd did more than adopt him, they feited him as a true God of Pro Wrestling in its biggest growth period. A main-event player for New Japan, All Japan, began his own company as part of an angle gone wrong, returned to New Japan and filed the Tokyo Dome time after time and took the company to new horizons as he became its lead booker in the late twentieth century.
Once he was done there, he began shepherding new stars into the limelight with his own company before one last final swing as a booker for All Japan. Professional, stoic and highly respected there are few resumes in wrestling that can match his achievements in the industry. He was a major player in the development of Strong Style under Antonio Inoki and King’s Road under Giant Baba. One in the very short list of workers to find success in both companies because of his sheer undiluted drawing power. He popularised the Scorpion Deathlock as a finishing manoeuvre long before Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter or Sting’s version of the Scorpion and his straight-ahead style rings out in wrestlers like Minoru Suzuki, Togi Makabe and Tomohiro Ishii.
A gifted amateur he began his wrestling life at Senshu University winning a 90KG All Japan Student Championship in 1971. He was chosen for the Japanese team for the ’72 Olympics but was denied entry by his own federation because of his Korean heritage. South Korea welcomed him with open arms, he competed for them in ’72 and returned to Japan to captain the Senshu team at 100Kg.
He made his pro debut in 1974 and steadily made his way up the ranks. A noble babyface he changed the game in 1983 when he was overlooked for the inaugural IWGP tournament and turned heel oh his tag partner Tatsumi Fujinami in a feud that would echo their backstage rivalry for the better part of two decades.
In the storyline, he was unhappy with New Japan’s decisions and started his own Revolutionary Army, Ishingun. This would be the basis for all invasion storylines in Japan for years to come and indirectly influenced the NWO. The group would become the core of Japan Pro Wrestling in the following months, a company set up to showcase the efforts of the group, but with struggling numbers in a crowded market, they invaded All Japan under the auspices of Giant Baba. There are rumours to the effect that the move was orchestrated by New Japan to save money and also to give other stars such as Fujinami room to grow. Intended or not it worked, All Japan had a good run of success, New Japan built its stars and Choshu came home an even bigger draw in 1987.
He would win the IWGP title, and the G1, become a many time Tag Team Champion and lead booker for the company, which would bring him into direct political conflict with Tatsumi Fujinami. The double Aces of the company before they handed over the main event to the Three Musketeers, Masa Chono, Keiji Mutoh and Shinya Hashimoto. Though the relationship between Fujinami and Choshu never boiled over in public, it would eventually lead to Fujinami leaving the company.
Choshu tried to retire once and, in 1998, had a full-on retirement night at Power Hall in Yokohama. He retired to a life of creative work in booking wrestling but was pulled back into the ring when Atsushi Onita challenged him to a No Rope Barbed Wire Death Match in 2000. He came back with a vengeance, booking and working occasionally leaving NJPW in 2002. He moved on to his own companies, back to New Japan, and even started working with Tatsumi Fujinami in cross-promotional work which signalled a new path for the old enemies.
And so it came to pass that the main event of Power Hall would feature Shiro Koshinaka, Tomohiro Ishii and Riki vs Tatsumi Fujinami, Togi Makabe and Keiji Mutoh. You would think they would have let things build but no, the old guys came out swinging. When the fans saw Fujinami and Riki where to start there was a gasp, when Riki delivered a Dragon Screw Leg Whip as his opening salvo, a move perfected by Fujinami, this was going to be something special. He attempted a Scorpion far too close to his opponent’s corner.
There was a strong back and forth between the two teams, but it was Ishii and Makabe doing the work, selling like gangbusters for the old guys. Having said that, the senior members of each crew haven’t lost a step. As they had all gone off to their own promotions or taking few and far between Indie bookings, their bodies have taken less toll and didn’t look half as drained as some of their American counterparts at a similar age range who often seem to go until they drop. Plus the wrestling IQ of these six is off the charts. They knew exactly what to do and when. Makabe and Ishii were booed for not taking Koshinaka’s infamous Butt Butt Hip attack and Mutoh’s Power Drive Elbow. The crowd came to see the Greatest Hits and the wrestlers knew exactly when to let that set play out.
They were wrestling like they were in the Tokyo Dome and the crowd reacted accordingly. Towards the end, Fujinami’s crew pressed home the advantage. Fujinami wrapped up Koshinaka in a Figure, Mutoh batted clean up on Ishii and Makabe delivered a not very clean King Kong Knee Drop on Riki who kicked out. The crowd erupted. Makabe went back to the top and delivered a perfect follow up knee and Riki kicked out on one, the crowd were apoplectic. A third and he kicked out again, but the fourth time would be the charm. The Grand Old Man went down.
He was helped to his feet by his old enemy Fujinami and congratulated by his teammates. With Ishii, The Stone Pitbull visibly upset at his mentor’s retirement. Riki addressed the crowd and left Korukuan Hall, the house he helped build with his name ringing in his ears.
All pics and videos courtesy of NJPW