One of Pro Wrestling’s true living legends celebrates his 55th birthday today.
He is one of only three men to have held both the IWGP World Heavyweight Title and the Triple Crown. He was the first Japanese wrestler to pin both Baba and Inoki. He was half of the first non-Baba Japanese team to win the RWTL. He had held nearly every major Japanese heavyweight and tag title and he has won most of the prestigious Japanese tournaments. His nickname is “Mr. Puroresu,” and he is still wrestling MOTYC in his fourth decade as a professional wrestler.
Genichiro Shimada was born on February 2, 1950. After a successful run as a top Sumo wrestler, he signed up with Giant Baba in October 1976. He was sent to Amarillo to be trained by the legendary Dory Funk, Jr.
Shimada returned to Japan the following year and was given much media attention due to his sumo background. Under the name of Genichiro Tenryu, he quickly established himself as one of the top young stars in All Japan. His first classic matches were probably as one half of the tag team known as Tsururyu. In 1986, Tenryu and Jumbo Tsuruta faced off against Riki Choshu and Yoshiaki Yatsu in a match that set the template for the All Japan tag scene for the next several years. After Tsururyu broke up, Tenryu and Tsuruta had a series of classic singles encounters in the late 80s that can be fairly called the Japanese equivalent to the Steamboat vs. Flair series. Once again, Tenryu and Tsuruta set the standard, and their classic feud had an influence on all of the great AJPW Main Event singles matches of the 1990s. The June 5, 1989 match where Tenryu won his first Triple Crown needs to be included in any serious discussion of the Greatest Matches of the 1980s.
Tenryu also played a central role in the big-money “Choshu’s Army” Invasion storyline of the mid 1980s, which was the first time that he was booked as the promotion’s top face. The Tenryu vs. Choshu feud marked the first time that All Japan ran two native wrestlers against one another at the top of the card for an extended period, breaking a long tradition of Native vs. Gaijin Main Events that stretched back to Rikidozan.
Tenryu also teamed with the Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal, to defend the NWA six-man titles briefly in 1988-89.
Tenryu shocked the wrestling world when he left All Japan in 1990 to start his own promotion. Super World Sports never caught on, and the promotion folded in less than two years despite having serious corporate financial backing.
Tenryu went on to form another promotion, WAR, which promoted several excellent cards featuring the likes of Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, Ultimo Dragon, and of course Tenryu himself. The WAR vs. New Japan feud proved to be another big-money angle, which featured an excellent Tenryu vs. Choshu 1/4/93 Dome Show match.
Tenryu and Koji Kitao made a trip to WrestleMania VII, where they beat Demolition.
In 1994, Tenryu faced off against the rampaging Death Match specialist Atsushi Onita in an Exploding Barbed Wire Cage Match!
Tenryu shocked the wrestling world again in 1999 when he pinned Keiji Mutoh to win the IWGP title, and yet again in 2000 when he returned to All Japan. Giant Baba had publicly stated that Tenryu would never again work for all Japan after he left. After Misawa left AJPW to form NOAH, however, Baba’s widow Motoka was desperate to add another big name to go along with Toshiaki Kawada’s at the top of the card. In October 2000, Tenryu beat Kawada to win an eight-man tournament claim his second Triple Crown.
Tenryu is not only still active but also, remarkably, one of the top wrestlers in the world. In 2004, he split his time between New Japan and All Japan, working as a free agent. On January 18, 2004 he met Kawada in yet another classic, hard-hitting, Triple Crown match. In February, he lost a bloody battle to Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the finals of the IWGP Title tournament. In August, he fought against Sasaki and then Hashimoto in tournament matches that delighted fans of stiff and realistic wrestling action.
Here’s to you, Genichiro Tenryu! Happy birthday, Mr. Puroresu!
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