Today, we bring you an exclusive article from Japanese writer & photographer Tokio Tsukada. He recently went to a Big Japan Pro Wrestling event, and would like to share his experience and photographs of his time at a wrestling show during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have edited his contribution so it may flow better for English speakers.
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Farewell House Show (Yokohama, Japan)
Big Japan Pro Wrestling chairman Great Kojika (AKA Kunfu Lee, who worked in the Los Angeles NWA territory in the late 60s to early 70s) held brutal, bloody, no mercy death matches at the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium on July 29th and 30th.
Because of the COVID19 pandemic, it strictly prohibited the house shows to the following rules:
- No touching, no shaking hands.
- No face-to-face talking, eating, or shouting during the show.
It requires fans in the ringside seats to wear a plastic shield mask over a regular mask, completely covering their faces
Semi-Final BJW Strong Heavy champion Daichi Hashimoto (son of late Shinya Hashimoto) defeated Shigehiro Irie with a DDT to defend his championship.
Ryuji Itoh & Minoru Fujita fought in the main event. The death match is executed by crushing neon lights surrounding the ring, and also includes used chairs and desks as weapons.
Both wrestlers scream in agony after crushing the neon lights in to hundreds of fragments on the mat. These fragments tear through the skin as their bodies come crashing down. Finally, Fujita gets the pinfall to come out of the death match victorious: “I cannot have the championship belt on my shoulder too long, because the weight of it hurts my wounds”. The comment is telling of how things went during the death match.
The Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium will be closed in September due to deterioration after 58 years since it was built in 1962. This classic and memorial Gym was used for Tokyo Olympics Volleyball in 1964, and for many pro wrestling house shows featuring the legendary Rikidozan, the father of Japan Pro-Wrestling.
It also hosted the World League Tournament in 1967, contested between the late Giant Baba & The Destroyer (Dick Beyer). On this show, Johnny Valentine won the United National Championship, and other matches included Antonio Inoki vs Tatsumi Fujinami, and more.
Kurt Byer, first son of The Destroyer, teamed up with his Father during semi-retirement. Another big show saw Giant Baba take on Mitsuo Momota (the son of Rikidozan) at the same venue. Momota comments on the closing of the gym, saying: “It is such a loss. I can’t believe they’re tearing it down”
The plan is to rebuild the site as the Yokohama United Arena by 2024. With such a memorable legacy, Japanese fans can shout for joy, as the past of pro wrestling in Yokohama will be reformed to get ready for a new era of puroresu.
**Photos and text exclusively by Tokio Tsukada**