Wednesday 1 June 2011

Remembering the Golden Days of Michinoku Pro Wrestling  By Shaun Nichols

Michinoku Pro Wrestling was formed in 1993 by the Great Sasuke the style of the promotion was a hybrid style which meshed traditional Junior heavyweight style with the lucha libre style from Mexico. The style was known as 'Jap Lucha' and as been taken forward by firstly Ultimo Dragon's Toryumon group and later by Dragon Gate.
Based in North East of Japan it is still running today and still reatins the services of Great Sasuke, Jensei Shinzaki (now running the promotion) as well as the new wave of MPW stars such as Fujita 'Jr' Hayoto who made a tramendous impression at NJPW Super Junior Cup 2009 among others. Michonoku Pro came to the attention of most western wrestling fans at the inaugeral Super J Cup back in 1994. There Great Sasuke, Super Delfin and Taka Michinoku certainly made a startling impression, although Taka lost to Black Tiger in the first round and Delfin fell at the quarter finals to Gedo they certainly did not disgrace themselves. The star of the night was Sasuke, although he may have benefitted from his friendship with Liger (who booked the event) he produced three excellent performances culminating in two ****1/2 plus matches against Liger and in a losing effort in the final to Chris Benoit.
Super Delfin also benefitted from his time in NJPW by going to the finals of the annual Best of the Super Juniors tournament also in 1994, this along with their performances at SJC gave them some much needed exposure to the masses. The MPW style was a breath of fresh air from the more serious NJPW style, comedy was often a major feature of their cards and complemented perfectly the high flying style of their main eventers. Unusually for Japanese matches, their best matches were not singles or even tag matches but were 6 man, 8 man or ideally 10 man tags that went over 30 minutes but felt like it was only 15 minutes.
During the mid 1990's Sasuke and Delfin remained as the two main stars of the group but they were supported by an awesome array of wrestlers. They included Taka Michinoku, Men's Teoih (who wrestled as Terry Boy in the earlier days of the promotion), Sho Funaki, Gran Naniwa, Shiryu (Kaz Hayashi), Dick Togo and Gran Hamada. During 1995 the heel group of Kaientai was formed led by Togo but also included Taka, Funaki, Shiryu & Teoih they had several ***** matches against Sasuke, Delfin and friends.
What looking back at the group was simply how young they were during the promotions heyday of 1994 to 1997, Togo was in his mid twenties and was one of the most experienced. While Sasuke and Delfin were also of a similar age. Taka Michinoku & Shiru were both in their early twenties while the baby of the group was Naniwa who wasn't even eighteen when he made his debut for the group. Famous his crab walk on the middle rope while he delayed dropping an elbow drop which usually missed, Naniwa was a fine wrestler with great comic timing. He died last October at the age of 33 and I was shocked not only had he died at such a young age but also realising how great a wrestler he was before his twentieth birthday.
Probably the highlight of MPW occured in December 1996 in absolutely fantastic 10 man elimination tag match that pitted Kaientai against Sasuke, Delfin, Naniwa, Tiger Mask IV & Gran Hamada and is would easily get into my all time top ten matches. I f you haven't seen it then you should really do yourself a favour and track it down. The following year MPW made a breakthrough into the States by appearing on PPV for two different promotions. Firstly they did a six man tag at ECW's Barely Legal PPV where Sasuke, Hamade and Masato Yakushiji defeted bWo Japanese branch of Taka, Terry Boy and Dick Togo in what was a clear match of the night, a couple of nights earlier they had another 6 man where Naniwa had wrestled instead of Yakushiji which was even better but unfortunately Naniwa injured himself so missed out on a PPV appearance.
Three months later and Sasuke and Taka found themselves wrestling at the WWF's Canadian Stampede PPV, this is really strange as the show only featured 4 matches and neither of the MPW wrestlers had appeared on WWF televsion before the event. They also wrestled on the following night's Raw with Sasuke winning on both occasions. Sasuke returned to Japan and Taka stayed around becoming the first WWF Light Heavyweight champion in what turned out to be a short lived attempt to compete with WCW's Cruiserweight division.
1997 proved to be the end of the glory days of MPW, the following year Super Delfin broke away from MPW and took with him Gran Naniwa, Dick Togo and Masato Yakushiji among others. It's easy to forget just how entertaining MPW in the mid 1990's was as the years rolled by their commercial tapes were often packed with weird storytelling and usually clipped matches which didn't make a great deal of sense and were not the easiest tapes to watch or follow. But between 1994 and 1997 their match quality stands on a par with any wrestling promotion and I certainly have fond memories of them. 

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