Puroresu Pulse: Shinya Hashimoto

In the context of the non-Japanese internet and non-Japanese wrestling fans, Shinya Hashimoto has largely been just another name. He lacks the perceived importance and deeper recognition of many of his counterparts for a variety of reasons. Unlike such New Japan stars as Mutoh, Chono and Liger, Hashimoto did little in the way of cross-over with WCW. And unlike All Japan’s trio of Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi, Hashimoto wasn’t in a large number of the top matches of the 1990’s.

That isn’t to say Hashimoto was mediocre, or that he wasn’t in many great matches. Simply put, having a match good enough to stand out in Japan in the ’90s was exponentially more difficult than it is today. Despite not having the tag ‘MOTYC’ attached to him often, Hashimoto was still a very competant wrestler who was often more consistently good than his counterparts. By virtue of not having a number of blowaway matches, Hashimoto never got over in the internet community as someone worth going out of the way for (ie. buying a tape). Thus I’d wager that most of you are like me, and exposure to Hashimoto was more by chance than by choice. So on the occasion of his death it’s important to explain how it is that the man referred to by some as ‘Fat Japanese Elvis’ was without a doubt a legend.

So let’s return to one of those dry, business-related subjects I so often drone on about: the Tokyo Dome. New Japan was the first wrestling promotion to use the building in April 1989. The show featured the debut of Liger, a crossover between New Japan and Russian wrestlers in the wake of the end of the Cold War, and an 8-man IWGP title tournament (with Vader over Hashimoto in the final). The show came five to ten thousand people short of a sellout despite all that. A year later the combined efforts of New Japan, All Japan and WWF for a supercard drew the same number in April. Only the historic first-ever All Japan/New Japan supercard in February 1990 was able to produce a sellout. Well, how on earth could that be?

It’s logistics, ladies and gents. While Wrestlemania 3’s claimed attendance of over 90,000 might be a slight embellishment, the fact is that such a crowd for wrestling is impressive. It’s incredibly rare for any show to draw 50,000 or more. WWF/WWE in its history, spanning the globe, has done that only about a dozen times (half of those for Wrestlemanias). Even in Tokyo, long the first or second largest city in the world, gathering that many human beings for pro wrestling is a feat. New Japan with Shinya Hashimoto headlining did it seven times- eight if you count the February 1990 dual show with Hashimoto in a main event tag. Hashimoto also headlined two shows which drew over 40,000, and was second from the top on three other successful Tokyo Dome shows.

You can’t say that about anyone else in the history of professional wrestling. Not Hogan, not Flair, not Austin, not Rock, not Inoki. The bread and butter of those megastars are shows drawing between 15 and 20 thousand. Guess what? Hashimoto did that plenty of times as well. And it wasn’t a matter of lucking his way into the top of the card without really being the center of attention, either. Hashimoto was the core of New Japan in the ’90s in the same way Hogan was for WWF in the ’80s, Flair was for NWA in the ’80s, Misawa was for All Japan in the ’90s, and so on. He was the default name who held the top title. He was ‘the man’. He did it without an easy formula for matches, without a large amount of US-style booking to get the fans interested, and without ‘movie star’ good looks.

Hashimoto was a draw because he was able to be an effective, credible main event wrestler night after night. That meant keeping himself strong without making his opponents seem easy to beat. That meant maintaining an interesting persona and an undefinable air of potency for years on end. He was the extension of what made Japanese fans tune in to see in the first place; an heir to the legacy of Rikidozan. Though Hashimoto lowered himself somewhat in the lackluster Zero-One promotion, it is impossible to overstate the importance he had to puroresu. That is why his death is a headlining newsstory in Japan. That is why his status as a legend is beyond debate. That is why his death at age 40 is a tragedy, yet another life cut painfully short in the industry.

RIP Shinya Hashimoto, 1965-2005