It is said that he single-handedly saved Professional Wrestling in Japan and is legendary, both as a wrestler and as a promoter.
Real Name: Shohei Baba
Stats: 6′ 10″ 330 lbs.
Born: January 23, 1938
By Steve Slagle
Shohei “Giant” Baba, all 6 feet 10 inches and 330 lbs. of him, didn’t go undefeated for 15 years or embark on a never-ending trek around the globe. Nor did he have tens of millions of adoring fans across the planet, as his gigantic counterpart from France did. However, perhaps more importantly, Baba, the first and only Japanese 3-time N.W.A. World Heavyweight champion, nearly single-handedly saved the sport of pro wrestling from extinction in the nation of Japan.
After the devastating and shocking murder of Rikidozan, the Father of Puroresu (Japanese pro wrestling) in 1963, wrestling in Japan was sent into a tailspin. Although pro wrestling had been a premeir attraction in America for decades, in Japan, “modern” pro wrestling had only been established in the country (primarily by Rikidozan) a mere decade earlier. Follwoing his death, the fledgling sport essentially had no one who could take Rikidozan’s place. In fact, prior to his untimely passing, Rikidozan was very concerned about the future of wrestling, and realized that he would need at least one worthy successor who would continue developing wrestling in Japan after he retired. Before his sudden death, he set about taking several young Japanese wrestlers under his wing. Baba, along with Antonio Inoki (among others) was one of those students who Rikidozan had hoped could carry the sport into the future. However, no one expected him to be gone so soon, and by his own admission, Rikidozan had not retired earlier (as he had planned) due to the fact that he felt none of his students was a truly worthy successor to him…
However, after Rikidozan’s murder, Baba proved he was more than able to draw crowds and keep their interest while maintaining a level of “credibility” in the eyes of Japanese pro wrestling fans. Because of his monolithic proportions, Baba was a slow moving but extremely dangerous wrestler. Born on January 23, 1938 in Sanjo Niigata, Japan, he made his pro debut in September of 1960, defeating Yonetaro Tanaka. Although he was well taught by Rikidozan and knowledgeable of the science of wrestling, he was not considered a great technical wrestler. He was, however, known as one of the most difficult men in the world to pin. Although he did not go undefeated like Andre did for so many years, he came pretty close, and it was considered a major upset if Baba’s shoulders were pinned.
It was well known throughout the wrestling world that, in the eyes of the fans, Baba the Giant had the size, strength, experience, and ability to defeat anyone in the sport at any time. Internationally, he was one of wrestling’s elite names.
Baba’s title history speaks for itself. He was a 3-time N.W.A. World Heavyweight champion (1974/Brisco, 1979/Race, 1980/Race — both pictured), 3-time All-Asian Tag Team champion, 3-time N.W.A. International Heavyweight champion (1965,68,70), 4-time P.W.F. Heavyweight champion (defeating the likes of Race and Hansen among others), an All-Asian Heavyweight titleholder, and he also won the N.W.A. World Tag Team (Detroit) championship with Jumbo Tsuruta in 1980.
Baba also won 16 different tournaments (which are very popular and exciting annual events in Japan) throughout his career, often defeating 8-10 men in one night. Both domestically and internationally, Baba’s reputation as a champion preceeded him. However, throughout 1971-72, Baba had a series of disagreements with the leaders of the J.W.A. (Japan Wrestling Association, Japan’s 1st wrestling organization) and eventually left the group to start his own promotion, All-Japan Pro Wrestling.
Baba’s All-Japan Pro Wrestling crowned it’s first P.W.F. Heavyweight champion (Baba) on February 27, 1972 after one of the most impressive tournament victories ever, with Baba going 8-0 with 2 draws in 10 matches against the formidable likes of Terry Funk, Bruno Sammartino (twice), The Sensational, Intelligent Destroyer, Abdullah the Butcher, Wilber Snyder (twice), Pat O’Conner, Bob Brazil, and Don Leo Jonathon. Later, the prestigious P.W.F. heavyweight championship would become the crowning jewel in Japan’s prized Triple Crown championship.
Along with his former championship partner and Rikidozan student Antonio Inoki, Baba continued to develop pro wrestling in Japan to the point where it now is one of Japan’s top spectator sports. Baba’s dedication to wrestling was legendary throughout the profession, and he was known as a no-nonsense, world-class promoter, inspirational leader, and as a patient teacher. But tragically, after a turn for the worse in his health, Baba died on January 31, 1999. The wrestling world, especially in Japan, was stunned. The overwhelming outpouring of shock and grief in Japan was truly a testament to Baba’s popularity and importance. The Ring Chronicle is very proud and honored to induct the honorable and deserving Shohei “Giant” Baba — student, wrestler, trainer, promoter — into T.R.C.’s Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame…