Sasuke Special: Week of The Great Sasuke – V1
A recent request this time, and another pretty awesome one with a person who opened a radical promotion based around Junior Heavyweights and based in an obscure part of Japan as early as 1993 that’s still around today! This man has been apart of movies, performed music, suffered multiple skull fractures and even became the first masked politician in the history of the Iwate Prefectural Assembly. On top of that he had one of the greatest and most memorable single night performances in pro wrestling history…but we’ll get to all that later.
His career started in Japan at the age of 20 in 1990 working in his trainer’s company, Gran Hamada’s UWF, later changed to FULL (to avoid confusion with the more shooty UWF) and had strong connections to the Mexican UWA ran by Ray Mendoza. During his time before going on a full excursion to Mexico, it turns out Great Sasuke isn’t his real name as he took the name Masa Michinoku (Masa being his government name and Michinoku going on to be adopted by one of his top pupils who I can’t seem to remember the first name of…but I do know he too turned out to be pretty awesome.) Today we have a real hidden gem of a match taking a look into Sasuke’s early days as Masa Michinoku as he collides with his future friend and tag team partner. Now just to take a look at the mastermind behind this short-lived promotion, Gran Hamada who in my opinion is one of the most influential Jr. Heavyweights in history with a list a mile long of excellent pro wrestlers he trained, including both men in this match. Unfortunately being ahead of his time as he was Hamada doesn’t get that much credit as he deserves among most fans nowadays. Sasuke (Although he is still using the Masa Michinoku name at this point) is still quite young here obviously as well as inexperienced, he stood out with the speed he showed in his wrestling, as well as his charisma and humorous pre-match promo! That was unexpected right there though his reputation has always been as a bit of a wildman in real life so not really. The moveset wasn’t quite there yet but much of that comes from the “young lion” style of the match they worked. Sakigake Gantetsu is the original name of the epic Dick Togo and boy is he also different here in terms of skill and look. He actually did the coolest move here breaking out the Tiger Feint before it was en vogue and getting a great reaction for a guy in leopard print with that mullet. In addition he seemed just slightly smoother than Sasuke at this point as well. More athletic and fun than your typical rookies match but mostly remains grounded in true Lucha style before the last 30 seconds or so, check out these two future heroes square off in Hamada’s UWF, 1991. Sasuke vs. Togo, baby. Or more accurately at this point, Michinoku vs. Gantetsu. Cool stuff.
Sasuke cut his teeth in Hamada’s UWF, along with other wrestlers who would become stars including Gedo & Jado, Super Delfin (who believe it or not actually toned down his gimmick as Super Delfin, as in Hamada’s UWF he was known as Magic Monkey Wakita, as ridiculous as much as charming.) Also of course Dick Togo as we saw earlier. UWF started after Japanese women’s company JWP underwent trouble in the late 80’s, with famous behind the scenes puroresu player and NJPW President Hisashi Shinma, Atsushi Onita, and Gran Hamada helped put things together, with both Hamada and Onita having both direct and indirect influence on The Great Sasuke.
As if that wasn’t an eclectic enough group of people represented there was someone else who had an even bigger influence than all of them. After following his mentor Hamada to Mexico to the UWA promotion that UWF was affiliated, he first saw one of the most famous Luchadores of the time, both in wrestling and in movies, the idol of Mexican children everywhere, Octagón. Sasuke adopted extremely similar attire and gimmick to the man that would increase his popularity in ways nobody could overstate, with only a slightly different mask design from Octagón’s. (Humorously, as Sasuke’s reputation as puroresu’s wildman entails, Octagón too has a reputation as a bit of an excitable veteran as well, though for what it’s worth, Sasuke eclipsed the original relatively quickly as a wrestler in terms of moveset and his crazy awesome moveset. But no offense because Sasuke eclipsed a lot of guys in that department.) Sasuke wrestled in UWA for just under a year, but he wasn’t quite “great” yet as evidenced in his name he used for the entirety of his Mexico run, the much more humble Ninja Sasuke.
Here’s a match from his Mexico run that was truly…unique. But it was what I could find from Sasuke in UWA here and it’s actually pretty good! And I’ll tell you straight up, these kind of gimmicks will never appeal to me in any sort of manner in any country, BUT. Even with exotíco wackiness abound Cassandro is a very good wrestler even in 1992, plus here they were mostly played pretty straight-laced and remember, we’re coming off the 80’s so no attire is too bad at this point stylistically in my humble opinion. Sasuke was asked to carry the majority of the match for his team as his partner, Matemático was well past his prime despite being ahead of his time in his day. Sasuke still hasn’t advanced to his peak yet in terms of the dynamo we’d come to know and love when he got back. But his spinning heel kick was at least much better than ’91. Also seeing him take the fall to the worst half of the exotícos kinda sucked but hey, Sasuke’s still a rookie here. Check it out, one of the first Sasuke matches ever as Ninja Sasuke, teaming up with Matemático vs. Cassandro & Rudy Reyna from UWA in Mexico, June 19th, 1992, Traditional 2/3 Falls.
Up next now that we’ve seen the beginnings we get to see Sasuke’s true breakout. Gonna get into the start of M-Pro and watch all 3 of Sasuke’s Super J Cup ’94 matches. Even I’m excited for these because we’re seeing a promising rookie become an all time great. So check those out too if you’ve got a bit of time today if not check back and we’ll get to how I think they hold up!
After getting back from Mexico to his home Japan with his new gimmick, instead of getting back on with Hamada’s UWF, he started his own company, named after his original name, Michinoku Pro. It was unique in that it was a full Lucha Libre style company in Japan and also that it was based largely in the Northeastern Part of the island, as said in M-Pro’s logo in Iwate, away from the hustle & bustle of Tokyo where most other companies were stationed, which to this day bred some of the most loyal and passionate fans of any company. This was when we saw Sasuke become GREAT, fully adapting to the style that would make him famous and boosting M-Pro’s profile. In 1993 and 1994 the company was known, but more as an indy entity, and along with a co-promotion with FMW that peaked with a no-rope barbed wire time bomb deathmatch in M-Pro between Sasuke and Atsushi Onita that culminated with both men (and the referee) getting blown up in ridiculous fashion. Though Sasuke is known as a high flyer, he himself was a fan of deathmatches and Onita too which spurred that relationship along easily, as well as give M-Pro a slight boost in recognition especially when Sasuke became FMW’s Independent Junior Heavyweight Champion. But going into the first interpromotional Juniors tournament, Sasuke and M-Pro were famous without a doubt, but not everyone at the arena that night had actually seen Sasuke, just heard about him and how awesome he was, which gave him a cool and mysterious aura, combined with his look, ended up making Sasuke a HUGE fan favorite at the tournament, getting the biggest reaction over anyone including NJPW star Jushin Liger, and due to his holding a title received a bye through the first round.
Now about the Super J Cup itself to the unfamiliar, NJPW was in the middle of a competition with extremely beloved promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling who had the Final of their highly important Champion’s Carnival tournament that promised Toshiaki Kawada taking on Steve Williams in an almost guaranteed Budokan Hall sellout. Challenging that was a bold move, but this interpromotional Junior tournament concept paid off big as 11,500 fans came to sell out Sumo Hall to see 14 competitors from 6 companies find out who the best Jr. Heavyweight wrestler around was. Both Sasuke and Pegasus received a bye into the second round and I’m still not entirely sure why to this day.
Anyway, Sasuke’s first opponent, who happened to be another Jr. Fave of mine, El Samurai, had a bit of a rough start, taking on W*ING’s Masayoshi Motegi which was the worst match of the first round pretty clearly, though mostly not through any fault of Samurai’s.
So here Sasuke is coming in fresh and to a hero’s welcome, with Samurai having a no-nonsense entrance after his first match, with both men starting off with respect and hand shaking before the crowd immediately rallies behind Sasuke. They started off surprisingly lowkey with matwork and trading holds, much more with Samurai in control and in his style, really loved the progression from simple leglocks, to more complex submissions that the crowd got into and got behind, to Sasuke turning things on it’s head and wowing the crowd with moves like the Sasuke Special to both men getting big moves and great nearfalls including a twisting rollover sitout powerbomb counter from the top rope that people in ’94 must have went nuts over. Great finish too with a Rana counter into a Jacknife Pin which got a great reaction, followed by more handshaking. Awesome and very well done match that gets overlooked too often. Redemption for Samurai! Highly recommended.
In the next round was the semi-finals was the match everyone wanted. Sasuke vs. Liger. The two most over wrestlers and the favorite to win the whole thing in Liger who represented NJPW and also was the biggest star, as well as the reigning IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. He defeated Hayabusa in the first round, and Ricky Fuji in the Quarterfinals. Neither were great matches suffice to say. For some reason Liger gets to come out to his own theme after neither Sasuke nor Samurai got to. Who could have owned the rights to Integral Hard besides Sasuke? & We know NJPW made Terrible Gift for Samurai. What gives? Anyway, I’ll spare you the play by play but this was my personal favorite of Sasuke’s Super J Cup matches. This followed the awesome template of the Samurai match but everything just seemed to be a little better. The submissions were put in a little better, Liger had a few more cool moves, it was a little longer, the crowd was more into it, etc. The crowd backed underdog Sasuke fully especially early on by the end. I will talk about the finish though as it’s extremely well known, and I won’t spoil it for new viewers who didn’t see Sasuke in his prime that I stupidly don’t take into account enough sometimes when doing these. (Shout out to Adam, one such fan who praised my work yesterday, very cool!) But a lot of people point to it hurting the match, but I vehemently disagree with that. Yes, it was a botch. But I think Liger’s epic reaction with no hesitation actually made this quite a bit more memorable for me, and Sasuke’s cover was extremely well done and the crowd gave an amazing reaction. I love this match and it’s no doubt a MOTYC for 1994, with more respect shown afterwards. Definitely watch this. Highly recommended.
From there it was on to the Final, with the Canadian Toughman Wild Pegasus vying for the biggest win of either of their careers. Pegasus beat Black Tiger in the Quarters & Gedo in a quick match in the Semis, in contrast to Sasuke who had to go 20 minutes with probably the hardest guy in the whole tournament. Sasuke was again awesome here along with Benoit who went extra hard to get across the high flyer vs. heavy hitter story they told throughout the match. The peak of Sasuke here had to be an amazing Missile Dropkick to the floor which I couldn’t believe at the time because of the danger and pain involved, though I’m sure Sasuke had no problem with it. Sadly our hero didn’t get the win but got a ton of publicity for being the MVP of the tournament and being pretty cool in general. Also not just in Japan but among the rad folks known as tape traders of the 90’s of which the Super J Cup was a huge favorite and contributed heavily to the popularity of a lot of performers, Sasuke obviously included. I think you’d have a hard time finding a better one night showing from a wrestler in history than what Sasuke gave us this night, April 16, 1994. Check his night all out in the super rare triple match feature, people. Definitely worth the time. Highly recommended.
The huge Super J Cup performance catapulted Sasuke into becoming a darling of fans both native and abroad, and Michinoku Pro was yet to reach it’s peak really in terms of popularity, Sasuke himself would go on to wrestle sporadically for the bigger stage of NJPW, always retaining his popularity and although M-Pro didn’t quite get to the “next level” due largely to location and status as an alternative promotion, Sasuke was always a huge fan favorite of this era and a bit of a special attraction particularly in title matches.
In terms of Sasuke’s home promotion the thing that really jump-started it’s popularity was the arrival of heels Kaientai DX being a rogue faction and warring with the Michinoku Sekigun led by Great Sasuke which led to many of M-Pro’s most well regarded multi-man matches, that led to a boost for the promotion almost purely through word of mouth, and led to some of MichiPro’s most successful shows later in the next couple of years (More on that later on.) At this point Sasuke was a busy man, running his own company. Booking his own company. Being the top star. Wrestling in other companies as a special guest. Running tournaments (Most notably the well renowned Mask League, a Michinoku Pro trademark that started in 1995 and runs every 4 and recently 5 years which the first 3 were similarly ran to the G1 with addition to the winner’s match the bottom two in standings have to wrestle in a Mask vs. Mask match, later on a single elimination tournament. (The original features a Final with Sasuke facing off against Mexican Legend Dos Caras, in a wonderful Lucha style match that really hammered home that Sasuke was also a sneaky great technical wrestler in addition to great high flyer and crazy bumper.) Point is, he had a ton of stuff going on around this time period and never gave less than a 100% effort.
This match is essentially the blowoff to a longstanding rivalry with Super Delfin with both leading their best teams against each other in one of the company’s most famous multi-man matches, and especially among non-Kaientai DX matches as in addition to the Sasuke/Delfin stuff this was right before the Kaientai Deluxe faction really got going into their most famous form when TAKA & his partner Funaki. (Sadly Kaientai’s a topic for another time as their best match didn’t actually include Sasuke!) Anyway, this 6-Man’s awesome. First of all I love Sasuke’s team as Sasuke & Shiryu (later known as Kaz Hayashi) brought a lot of innovative flying and risk taking that made everyone look better, with Tiger Mask IV being amazingly different than today’s TMIV which showed how much potential he had, adding something different to this match. Shiryu also seems to be foreshadowing the heel turn at this point with a dirty move on Naniwa followed by a brief argument with Sasuke. Delfin was AWESOME, especially his traditional Rick Rude tribute bump, and a highly amusing run-in with a lady fan at one point and had a highlight of the match with Hayashi as well. TAKA was the one on his team that brought the flying and spectacular moments most on his team, and was truly an incredible talent even taking away his charisma. Naniwa accomplished the rare feat of outshining Delfin in terms of outfit, and was more than solid. Unexpected finish to a great match in the most fun style I know. ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH if you’re not familiar with MichiPro and this style as it probably wasn’t the tip top best (No Dick Togo) but is a great introduction to the style. Check it out, Sasuke, Shiryu, & Tiger Mask IV, taking on Super Delfin, TAKA Michinoku, & Gran Naniwa from March 16th, 1996.
Now, around this time like I said Sasuke was in demand with fans and it was setting the stage for MichiPro to go to the next level in terms of popularity, but think about it. Sasuke was running his own promotion. Booking his own promotion, including it’s biggest turn and feud ever. Being the top star in his promotion and on top of that wrestling elsewhere as a special guest. Bottom line: The guy was super busy in 1996. And he still worked hard constantly wherever he worked, always giving maximum effort. And in the midst of all this he had arguably his biggest win to date, capturing the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title in a huge win over Jushin Liger. The side effect was that it made him more in demand over the next few months, as I said before, perhaps adding to Sasuke being conspicuously absent for the most well remembered matches in the Kaientai Deluxe feud.
But it also led to great new opportunities and promotion for Sasuke and M-Pro. Sasuke returned to Mexico for the first time in years, this time for the top promotion there and oldest country in the world, CMLL for their “Gran Prix” tournament and making it all the way to the final before losing to the legendary El Hijo del Santo. Shortly after that he came back to another tournament, this time for the formation of a single J-Crown Champion, which was actually 8 different titles. He defeated Masayoshi Motegi & El Samurai, then during the final match vs Ultimo Dragon it happened. Sasuke not only lost the match, but suffered his second skull fracture and just like the first vs. Dos Caras, he again wrestled through it to give the fans a true finish, winning the J-Crown Tournament and all 8 Titles despite his injuries. Perhaps crazily, instead of retiring like most people would, Sasuke took two months off before returning for Michinoku Pro’s biggest show ever, it’s 3rd anniversary show titled “These Days” in a 6-Man tag that was notable for Sasuke’s return and it being Dynamite Kid’s last ever match. Although he lost the J-Crown just a day later and he didn’t get a real title run, nobody can take away the guts and courage Sasuke showed wrestling through such a devastating injury. Check out this amazing performance and great moment for Great Sasuke’s career. The Final of the J-Crown with all 8 Titles on the line vs. the legendary Ultímo Dragon from August 5th, 1996.
At this point Sasuke had a huge following after his display of toughness & courage, as well as the big house and popularity as well as VHS sales of “These Days”, it proved to be a springboard for even more popularity internationally as Sasuke was able to secure talent exchanges with top American companies ECW and WWF, wrestling on PPVs and TV shows in the USA along with his Michinoku Pro friends MEN’s Teioh, Dick Togo, Gran Hamada, Masato Yakushiji, Tiger Mask, Gran Naniwa, and of course TAKA Michinoku and Sho Funaki who stayed in WWF for years later, with the rest of Kaientai having a brief (and incredibly lame and embarrassing) run before going back home quickly. As for Sasuke as is well known his personality got the best of him, and after getting placed in the WWF Light Heavyweight Title tournament he famously gave an interview to the Japanese wrestling media in which he bragged that were he to win the title he would bring it back to Japan and not lose in the USA. WWF heard his comments and were very angry over the thought of a potential double cross and booted Sasuke from the company immediately. The working agreement continued though, even going as far as to let The Undertaker wrestle on Michinoku Pro’s 2nd biggest show ever, it’s 4th anniversary show in October 1997. After that he continued to work in the USA for the remainder of ’97 in ECW before suffering another injury in January ’98 vs. Justin Credible, ending that excursion. 8 months later he returned wrestling in NJPW, and sporadically wrestled in various promotions worldwide, in both Japan and Mexico, even in my favorite promotions, BattlArts wrestling Bob Backlund! Even if you’ve never seen it, you have to admit it was an amazing match. But he traveled around doing his thing until 1999 when he rededicated himself to MichiPro with the second annual mask league, and he again faced controversy as he decided to “shoot” on UK indy wrestler Dirtbike Kid, in other words, beating the crap out of him, breaking his ribs with kicks and choking him out in under 5 minutes, then kicking Dirtbike Kid out of the mask league for good afterwards. It’s hard to say who was to blame that night, but both him and DBK have a reputation so it’s probably impossible to know for sure. On top of that a falling out occurred between Sasuke and Super Delfin, seeing Delfin ending up leading a mini-exodus out of MichiPro, with Delfin taking others such as Gran Naniwa & Masato Yakushiji among others with him to form Osaka Pro, helping along MichiPro’s decline even faster.
From there, his main feud was against the wrestler formerly known as Masao Orihara who was a Tenryu trainee AND Hamada UWF tag champion with Great Sasuke, who was reborn in Michinoku Pro as “Sasuke the Great”, a dark variation of Sasuke, which also coincided with Tiger Mask IV fighting Masked Tiger, doing the same storyline until Tiger left MichiPro for NJPW.
In 2003, controversy again followed Sasuke as he entered politics, even making CNN believe it or not, for refusing to remove his mask even during meetings at the Iwate Prefectural Assembly and some pundits even going so far as to claim he only entered politics to get promotional points for Michinoku Pro. (An accusation which was probably true to be fair.)
Check out today’s match from before his run as masked politician in Japan and one of the biggest of The Great Sasuke/Sasuke the Great feud. This match featured a lot of folks of similar styling beating each other up and brawling a lot then delivering fun flying before they went home. Such a chaotic and fun match to watch, though like many Sasuke matches from here on was hardly the most technically proficient. But still, this in particular was highly enjoyable and one of the better of a bit of a comedown year in puro. It’s Sasuke the Great and the Mexicans, Pentagon & Gran Apache vs Gran Hamada, Great Sasuke & Dick Togo from Michinoku Pro, March 10th, 2001.
*A special note I share as this time period was my first exposure to Sasuke. Not from MichiPro, or ECW, or even WWF, no! But as his appearance in video games WCW vs. The World for Playstation and later WCW/nWo World Tour for N64 as due to copyrights I saw my first taste of Puro as a child of which Sasuke was my favorite character to use due to his varied and cool moveset, forever landing Great Sasuke a place in my heart as Black Ninja and to this day I call his Thunder Fire Bomb the “Ninja Special” as it’s known in those games, even going so far as to create my own faction in Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain of Puroresu Legends that I didn’t even know! (“The Wu Fang Clan: Wu Fang (Later known to me as Mitsuharu Misawa), Black Ninja (Sasuke), Shao Lin (Jinsei Shinzaki/Hakushi), and The Unknown (Super Delfin)) Which looking back makes me wish Misawa had had some sort of run in Michinoku Pro so this faction could have been a reality in some form, but alas, we had to settle for the reality of these guys just being great wrestlers.
After his election to office in 2003 Sasuke didn’t have as much time for wrestling, running M-Pro, and raising UFO & potential alien abduction awareness in the Diet. Unfortunately his wrestling career was what “gave” and he handed the running and operation of Michinoku to his oldest friend and confidant, Jinsei Shinzaki, which led to MichiPro going through a significant shakeup in 2004 as Ultimo Dragon came in and brought many of his students from Toryumon X to join up with the roster to give the company a shot in the arm, Sasuke over the next couple of years wasn’t really needed in M-Pro as much as his political job, and it was good for his body after years of injuries from wrestling, letalone some of the borderline stuntshows he would grow to put on. (Look up Sasuke and his barrel and then question how this man still wrestles) But he still worked sporadically, often making a home in the even more outlandish HUSTLE promotion.
In ’06 he re-dedicated himself to his home promotion, even working with old rival Super Delfin’s group Osaka Pro and beating him for MichiPro’s Tohaku Jr. Heavyweight Title after losing it to TAKA a year prior. Though the last few years since then he’s taken an active role in the company, often working with his old friends from the 90’s as well as younger talent like Rasse, Kenou, Manjimaru, & Fujita “Jr” Hayato who would become Michinoku Pro’s ace. He also returned to wrestle in USA for the first time in over a decade in 2011, as he teamed with Jinsei Shinzaki & Dick Togo to represent MichiPro in CHIKARA’s King of Trios tournament, making it to the semi-finals, and famously show his chops as a rock star by wildly singing Bon Jovi’s anthem “It’s My Life”.
Recently Sasuke started a new storyline as his character underwent a significant change, as he went from simple wrestling legend to maniacal cult leader, forming Mu No Taiyo with the M-Pro stalwarts The Brahman Brothers as his main disciples, treating Sasuke in many somewhat blasphemous ways. On top of that, he’s in the twilight of his career. so now he’s gained the ability to throw spirit orbs as some of his big spots, with MichiPro taking a step in an even zanier new direction. Check out a taste of Sasuke these days if you haven’t seen him in awhile, it’s utterly ridiculous, but fun and amusing in Sasuke’s own over the top and charming way. Mu No Taiyo, with Sasuke leading the Brahmans taking on Ayumu Gunji, Daichi Sasaki, & Taro Narashi. Modern day M-Pro! From August 30th, 2014.
Final Thoughts: Sasuke was an innovator in the ring that will be remembered many ways by many people, but like I said he always gave his maximum effort to the point of potential danger to himself. With various legal problems recently from assault (which was later dropped after a nice apology) to being guilty of money laundering while in political office, to his great loyalty to his home Iwate and various charity works with the children and the elderly there, along with his love of his fans, it may be possible that nobody can comprehend this enigmatic man. In the ring he’s taken so much damage, he really has earned his place as one of the greatest daredevils in wrestling history, along with amazing one night performances such as the ’94 Super J Cup in addition to wild deathmatches and dangerous stunts. In many ways I would sum up The Great Sasuke as…the ultimate mixed bag.