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Giant Baba
GiantBaba
Born January 23, 1938(1938-01-23)
Sanjo, Niigata, Japan
Died January 31, 1999(1999-01-31) (aged 61)
Tokyo, Japan
Cause of death Cancer
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Baba The Giant
Babyface Baba
Big Baba
Giant Baba
Giant Zebra
Great Baba
Ishope Baba
Shohei Baba
Height 2.08 m (6 ft 10 in)
Weight (141 kg) 283 Ib
Trained By Fred Atkins
The Great Togo
Rikidozan
Debut September 30, 1960
Retired December 5, 1998

  Shohei Baba (馬場 正平 Baba Shōhei?, January 23, 1938 – January 31, 1999), best known by his ring name Giant Baba (ジャイアント馬場 Jaianto Baba?), was a Japanese professional wrestler and founder of All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) that, along with Antonio Inoki, became one of the most famous Japanese wrestlers of his era, with a popularity in Japan comparable to Hulk Hogan's in the United States.

Among his many accomplisments, Baba was a four-time PWF World Heavyweight Champion, three time NWA International Heavyweight Champion and a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion.

Professional baseball career Edit

Before entering professional wrestling he had been a professional baseball pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants, and was signed at the age of 17. Baba, who was issued jersey number 59, was a member of the organization for at least five years. It appears however, he spent most of his time in the minor leagues. He appeared in only three games with the Giants, and recorded a record of 0–1.

It was around this time when national wrestling hero and owner of the Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA) Mitsuhiro Momota – better known as Rikidozan – began to feel the time was right for him to start grooming a successor in order to keep business strong.

Professional wrestling career Edit

Japan Wrestling Association (1960–1972) Edit

In April 1960, Baba began training in Rikidōzan's dojo along with fellow student Kanji Inoki. The two trained together under Rikidōzan and made their debuts on September 30, 1960 at the old Daito Ku Gymnasium in Tokyo where Baba beat Yonetaro Tanaka and Inoki, renamed Antonio, lost to fellow Rikidōzan student Kintaro Ohki.

Baba wrestled for Vincent J. McMahon in the United States in the early 1960s, unsuccessfully challenging NWA World Heavywight Champion Buddy Rogers for the world title, and returning to face Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1963 in Madison Square Garden, where Sammartino defeated Baba.

The period 1967–1971 is best remembered by Japanese wrestling fans for the Baba and Inoki tag team that first won the NWA International Tag Team Championship on October 31, 1967 beating Bill Watts and Tarzan Tyler, and would go on to hold the championship four times, a record that Baba would break later with another tag team partner, Jumbo Tsuruta.

All Japan Pro Wrestling Edit

Main event status (1972–1984) Edit

In October 1972, with JWA on the decline and several months after Inoki had formed New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Baba formed his own promotion, All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), with the backing of Nippon TV. All Japan eventually took over the JWA's spot in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) after its collapse, and under Baba's strong business acumen, the rest of the NWA's talent enjoyed an amazing run in Japan.

Baba became the first Japanese wrestler ever to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Jack Brisco in a two out of three falls match on December 2, 1974 in Kagoshima, Japan. He would hold the championship on two more occasions, but his reigns were short and limited to Japanese territory. Baba was additionally the first former NWA World Champion to be defeated by Ric Flair, as Flair was becoming a top contender to the title.

Phasing out (1984–1993) Edit

By 1984, Baba began phasing himself out to give rise to the next generation of wrestlers, led by Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu. He voluntarily became a "curtain jerker", as he moved slowly and won only against mid-card talent. Under his leadership, All Japan Pro Wrestling became arguably the number one wrestling company in the world during the 1990s from a match quality standpoint. Following the formation of the quickly doomed Super World of Sports, established talent such as Tenryu, Ashura Hara and Great Kabuki left All Japan and Baba was forced to push younger talent, such as Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi up the card to replace them.

The biggest move Baba made at this time was taking the mask off Tiger Mask II and giving Mitsuharu Misawa the push as the biggest new singles star by pinning Jumbo Tsuruta in one of the most emotional matches in company history on June 8, 1990 at Budokan Hall. The show was close to a sellout and Misawa was immediately catapulted to main event status because of his victory over the legend Jumbo. Budokan Hall became a hotbed for professional wrestling with a string of sellouts in the building lasting for several years, which validated Baba's insistence on clean finishes in matches (Baba's response to the popularity of shoot wrestling at the time; before that, major matches often ended with double countout finishes).

With the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship as the focal point, All Japan sold out more than 250 consecutive shows in Tokyo throughout the early to mid-1990s, routinely drawing houses in the $1,000,000 range eight times a year at Budokan Hall. At the peak of the company, tickets for the next Budokan show would be sold at the live event and completely sell out that night. In 1998, Baba finally agreed to run the Tokyo Dome on May 1, and despite it being a few years since the company peaked they still drew 58,300 paying fans. It became well known that as a promoter a hand shake agreement was often used rather than a signed contract, as he had a great reputation for keeping his word when it came to match finishes and payrolls. Because of this, many regarded Baba as the most honest promoter in the professional wrestling business.

Final years and death (1994–1999) Edit

Baba's last "comeback" was during the World's Strongest Tag Determination League in 1994, when he teamed with old rival Stan Hansen in hopes of winning the World Tag Team Championship. The duo made it to the finals, but were defeated by Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi. His final match, prior to being confined to a hospital bed, occurred on December 5, 1998 at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, where he teamed with Rusher Kimura and Mitsuo Momota to take on Masanobu Fuchi, Haruka Eigen, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi.[1]

On January 22, 1999, Baba saw his last wrestling match, as Toshiaki Kawada defeated Mitsuharu Misawa for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Nine days later, Baba died of cancer.

Legacy Edit

Another Japanese professional wrestler, Hiroshi Nagao from HUSTLE, takes his ring name ("Giant Vabo") from Giant Baba (and Volleyball, his weapon). He once used Baba's theme music and ring attire for a tag team match (his opponent Koinoki imitated legendary Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki).

The 2006 Top 100 Historical Persons in Japan survey ranked Baba the 92nd greatest person in the history of Japan.[2]

In wrestling Edit

  • Finishing move
    • Running arched big boot[3]
    • Running neckbreaker[3]
  • Signature moves
    • Abdominal stretch
    • Armbreaker
    • Atomic drop
    • Cobra clutch backbreaker submission
    • Coconut Crush (Headlock transitioned into a facebreaker knee smash)
    • Diving knee drop
    • Dropkick
    • Headbutt[3]
    • Leg drop
    • Overhead chop[3]
    • Piledriver
    • Rib breaker
    • Russian legsweep[3]
    • Surfboard
  • Nicknames
    • "The Giant of the East"
  • Entrance themes
    • "NTV Sports March"
    • "Soul of a Champion" by Toshiharu Jitsukawa

Championships and accomplishments Edit

References Edit

External links Edit

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