Many famous wrestlers have emerged from Japan over the decades. But who are the greatest Japanese wrestlers of all time? Here is our pick of the top five.
The Korean Japanese professional wrestler Riki Choshu was one of Japan’s most influential wrestlers during the 1980s and 1990s. He is a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and a three-time IWGP Tag Team Champion. But he is arguably most famous for popularizing the Sasori-Gatame hold, which is better known as the Sharpshooter or the Scorpion Deathlock. Choshu retired in 1996, but he went out with a bang. On his last day, he wrestled in five matches and won four of them.
The Great Muta
Keiji Mutoh, better known by his professional wrestling name of The Great Muta, is credited as being the first Japanese wrestler to achieve notable fame outside of his home country. In addition to wrestling in New Japan Pro-Wrestling in the 1990s, he worked in countries like the US, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. The Great Muta won the NJPW IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship, and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. He is one of only three wrestlers to win all three tournaments. The other two are Satoshi Kojima and Shinya Hashimoto. Mutoh is also a five-time AJPW World Tag Team Champion and a six-time IWGP Tag Team Champion. But The Great Muta is perhaps most well-known for taking part in what is generally considered to be the bloodiest wrestling match of all time, against Hiroshi Hase. It led to the creation of the Muta Scale, which rates the bloodiness of matches.
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With five Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship titles and three GHC Heavyweight Championship titles to his name, the world champion Mitsuharu Misawa is undoubtedly one of the greatest Japanese wrestlers of all time. Misawa was also an eight-time world tag team champion, and he holds the record for the most WON five-star matches, with 24. His 1994 match against Toshiaki Kawada is cited as one of the greatest professional wrestling matches to have ever taken place. Sadly, Misawa died in the ring at the young age of 46.
Soon after Antonio Inoki began his wrestling career in the 1960s, he became one of the most popular stars in Japanese wrestling history. Over the course of his career, Inoki became world champion pro wrestler a staggering fourteen times. He will go down in history for many reasons, but the one match Inoki will be remembered for the most is his bout against world champion boxer Muhammad Ali in 1976. The act of combining the biggest wrestling star with the greatest boxer on the planet is often cited as being the main predecessor of modern-day mixed martial arts. Inoki can also claim to have received the highest attendance for any professional wrestling match in history when he took on Ric Flair in 1995 in North Korea. The two attracted a crowd of 190,000 spectators! Antonio Inoki was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. However, perhaps Inoki would never have accomplished so much if it were not for his tutor in the 1960s, the great Rikidōzan.
Rikidōzan was born in Japanese Korea in 1924. When young, he moved to the province of Nagasaki, Japan, and he trained to become a sumo wrestler. In 1951, Rikidōzan made his wrestling debut in a ten-minute draw with the American Bobby Bruns. Rikidōzan then began defeating one American wrestler after another, and he soon emerged as Japan’s biggest wrestling star. Indeed, he is single-handedly credited with bringing professional wrestling to the country. Rikidōzan has a host of achievements and accolades to his name, including the titles of All Asia Heavyweight Championship, NAWA World Heavyweight Championship, and three NWA Hawaii Tag Team Championship titles. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017.
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