In the history of Japanese Puroresu, “Giant” Baba was one of the best. Standing 6 foot 10
inches and weighing around the 320 mark, a giant he was. Baba was a three-time NWA
World Champion and the leader of All-Japan Pro Wrestling for more than 20-years.
Originally from Niigata, Japan, Shohei was a professional baseball pitcher before being
introduced to the sport of wrestling by another Japanese hero, Rikidozan. He began learning
the ropes and joined the Japanese Wrestling Alliance, a member of the NWA, in April 1960.
Baba made a very highly celebrated and well-known professional debut on September 30,
1960. On the same card was another upstart making his debut, Antonio Inoki. Who could
have predicted that Baba and Inoki would rule the sport in Japan for decades?
On July 1, 1961, Baba left his native country for the United States. Promoters knew it would
give him much of the experience he needed. Giant Baba wrestled throughout the Alliance
from California to Florida and received several NWA World Title matches. He left North
America during the early parts of 1963. Japan awaited his return.
Later that same year, Rikidozan was murdered in Tokyo. Where a hole was left in
Japanese Athletics, Shohei Baba was ready to attempt and fill that void. His legacy was just
beginning. Baba wrestled Antonio Inoki many times throughout the 1960s, and he took the
upper hand in their overall battle. In 1966, ’67 and ’68, Baba won the World League
Tournament and then repeated the same feat again between 1970 and 1972. He formed a
tag team with Inoki and the two captured the JWA/ NWA International Tag Team Title. The
Funk Brothers took the belts on December 7, 1971 in Sapporo.
Within days of the tag title loss, Antonio Inoki left the promotion and formed a rival
organization to the JWA, “New Japan Pro Wrestling.” In 1972, Baba formed his own wrestling
group, “All-Japan Pro Wrestling.” The competition was strong and a new era of wrestling in
Japan was born. Giant Baba ran his first show on Saturday, October 21, 1972 in Tokyo’s
Machida Gym. AJPW had important connections to promoters in the United States and to the
NWA. A fine talent-sharing agreement was in full effect. On April 21, 1973, Baba beat Mark
Lewin and won the annual Champion Carnival Tournament.
On December 2, 1974, Giant Baba beat Jack Brisco in Kagoshimi and captured his first
NWA World Title, becoming the first Asian to hold the prestigious belt. On the 9th of
December, Brisco regained the title in Tokyo. Baba won the Japanese Open Tournament in
December 1975 over Dory Funk Jr. and Abdullah the Butcher. Baba and Inoki reunited as a
tag team for the first time in nearly a decade on August 26, 1979 in Tokyo’s Budokan Hall.
The duo defeated Abdullah the Butcher and Tiger Jeet Singh.
Baba won his second NWA World Title claim on October 31, 1979 in Nagoya with a victory
over Harley Race. In Amagaseki, Race beat Baba on the 7th of November and returned to
the United States as the champion. Less than a year later, history was made again. Giant
Baba won his third NWA World Championship with a win over Race in Saga on September 4,
1980. On the 10th of that month in Ostu, Race regained the belt. Later in the year, Baba
and Jumbo Tsuruta won the annual tag team tournament over the Funks and Abdullah the
Butcher and Tor Kamata.
On January 18, 1981, Baba wrestled Verne Gagne in an important title vs. title match in
Tokyo, commemorating his 3,000th match without a failed appearance. It was Baba’s PWF
World Title vs. Gagne’s AWA World Title. The contest ended in a draw after both men were
counted out in the third fall of an even match. Gagne won the first fall with a sleeper hold,
but Baba took the second by pin. All-Japan withdrew from the NWA in the mid-1980s as the
latter organization’s downhill slide neared completion. Baba teamed with Andre the Giant on
April 13, 1990 on a combined All-Japan/ New Japan/ WWF Card in Tokyo to defeat
Demolition in a non-title match. Ax and Smash were the WWF World Champions at the time.
Baba’s 30th anniversary was highlighted by a Tokyo Card at Korakuen Hall on September
30, 1990. He teamed with Abdullah the Butcher against Stan Hansen and Andre the Giant in
the main event. Andre pinned Abdullah to win the match, giving Baba’s team a loss. On
November 22, 1990, Andre the Giant and Shohei Baba defeated The Dynamite Kid and
Johnny Smith in Okayama, Japan. Baba and Andre teamed again on November 30, 1990 in
Obihiro, Japan against former NWA International Tag Team Champions, Terry and Dory
Funk Jr. That bout ended in a double countout.
During All-Japan’s 20th Anniversary Show on October 21, 1992 in Tokyo’s Budokan Hall,
Baba teamed with Stan Hansen and Dory Funk Jr. in a losing effort against Andre the Giant,
Jumbo Tsuruta and Terry Gordy. Only several months later, Andre would die in France.
One of the famous Giants were gone. Shohei Baba continued to wrestle a hard schedule.
Baba teamed with Akira Taue and Toshiaki Kawada on September 29, 1996 in Tokyo before
an estimated 2,100 fans to beat Mitsuharu Misawa, Tamon Honda and Kenta Kobashi. It was
a victory during his 36th anniversary show. On his 60th birthday, January 23, 1998, Baba
teamed with Mitsuharu Misawa and Maunakea Mossman to defeat Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta
Kobashi and Masanobu Fuchi. He pinned Fuchi.
“Giant” Baba died on January 31, 1999 in Japan of cancer. He was 61 years of age. All-
Japan remained an entity under Mrs. Baba. The promotion honored him on May 2, 1999 in
Tokyo at the Dome. Over 65,000 fans paid tribute.
In mid-2000, more than a dozen wrestlers left AJPW under Mitsuharu Misawa’s guidance,
including the AJPW Triple Crown Champion, Kenta Kobashi and organized a new wrestling
promotion. A tournament was held to determine a new Triple Crown Champion despite the
loss. All-Japan continues today under the banner Mr. Shohei Baba built.
-A twelve-time co-holder of the JWA/ NWA/ AJPW International Tag Team Title
w/ Michiaki Yoshimura (1966-’67) defeated Mike Paidousis and Fritz Von
w/ Antonio Inoki (1967-’68) defeated Tarzan Tyler and Bill Watts
w/ Antonio Inoki (1968-’69)
w/ Antonio Inoki (1969) defeated Danny Hodge and Wilbur Snyder
w/ Antonio Inoki (1969-’71) defeated Crusher Lisowski and Dick the Bruiser
w/ Seiji Sakaguchi (1972) defeated The Funk Brothers
w/ Jumbo Tsuruta (1975-’76) defeated The Funk Brothers
w/ Jumbo Tsuruta (1976-’77) defeated Kim Duk and Kintaro Oki
w/ Jumbo Tsuruta (1978-’79) defeated Kim Duk and Kintaro Oki
w/ Jumbo Tsuruta (1979-’83) defeated Abdullah the Butcher and Ray Candy
w/ Jumbo Tsuruta (1983) defeated Ron Bass and Stan Hansen
w/ Jumbo Tsuruta (1983-’84) defeated Tiger Jeet Singh and Umanosuke Ueda
-A three-time NWA International Heavyweight Champion
-Defeated Dick the Bruiser (1965) tournament final
-Defeated Bobo Brazil (1968)
-Defeated Gene Kiniski (1970)
-A four-time PWF World Heavyweight Champion
-Won Tournament (1973)
-Defeated Abdullah the Butcher (1979)
-Defeated Harley Race (1983)
-Defeated Stan Hansen (1984)
-A three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion
-Defeated Jack Brisco (1974)
-Defeated Harley Race (1979)
-Defeated Harley Race (1980)
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Shohei "Giant" Baba Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling