History (IC)

History (IC)

The below stories were originally published as a series of blog posts, aimed at giving an overview on various aspects of FRONTLINE’s history. We will continue to add to these stories as time goes on.

PURE NO MORE: FRONTLINE’S RISE AND DECLINE

In late 2012 the small regional wrestling promotion Tokyo Pure Wrestling was purchased by Hanako Yamamoto and transformed into Pro-Wrestling FRONTLINE.

Yamamoto had a history with Tokyo Pure, her father Masaru Yamamoto was the man who founded the company in the late 1980’s with his good friend Dragon Takeshi, having previously been wrestlers themselves with All Pro Japan Wrestling (APJW). But their business partners had effectively wrestled the company away from Yamamoto in the early 2000’s and it had been a sore point for the Yamamoto family ever since.

After Masaru passed away in 2010, Hanako began looking at ways to honour her father’s memory and continue his legacy. Yamamoto decided that she would complete his goal, in making TPW a global success rather than just at a local level.

Yamamoto was behind the hiring of fresh faces from around Japan, and abroad, while also working to increase the profile of the great talent she had inherited from Tokyo Pure. She was also instrumental in setting up the Global Frontier Crown (GFC), a championship committee that oversaw all titles in FRONTLINE and their sister company Pro-Wrestling FRONTIER in the UK.

Other than the name change and the introduction of the GFC, Yamamoto kept to Tokyo Pure’s traditions and just allowed the spotlight to be shone brightly on what was already a great wrestling promotion. But not everyone saw it that way.

Some of the former stars of Tokyo Pure, veterans like Daiki Kubo and Nobuyori Shigi, decided the new regime was not for them and decided to leave their positions in the office. Some then current in-ring talent also followed them, most notably ace stars Genki Itō & Mitsuharu Miyagi. It was never confirmed, but it’s believed these were the men responsible for the ousting of Masaru Yamamoto years earlier.

Dragon Takeshi, who had remained with TPW after his friend was ousted, also retired when Hanako took control of the company. Hanako publicly thanked him for being involved with setting up the company, a sign that there was no ill will from the Yamamoto family, but Takeshi felt embarrassed about not fighting harder to keep his friend in his company and decided to step away from the limelight. Takeshi’s son, Amazing Dragon, would however remain in the new FRONTLINE.

2013 was a big year for the new FRONTLINE, they signed a new national TV deal in Japan that got an hours’ worth of FRONTLINE action onto the screens of the nation every week, plus monthly specials. This helped catapult them to the top of the Japanese wrestling scene.

Soon FRONTLINE was inundated with stars from the US and UK who wanted to come and appear on FRONTLINE shows. Several were allowed to do so, with the overseas fans being drawn in by such appearances.

Shortly after this highest point there was a decline in ratings in Japan, and a high profile legal case involving one of Hanako’s management team that had dented FRONTLINE’s reputation. The TV networks took a dim view, but ruled out cancelling the contract. Instead they moved FRONTLINE’s weekly show into a graveyard slot and removed all FRONTIER advertising from its promotional material. Live show attendances began to struggle and the overseas stars stopped making their appearances.

But now, in 2017, things are starting to pick up once again. There’s a fresh appetite for FRONTLINE from the fans, who are clamouring to see the stars of old in their final hurrah’s and some new talent that has helped put the spotlight on the company once again. The TV network has softened on its stance of FRONTLINE and has begun including their trails in promotional output once more. While the TV show itself is still on in a very late slot, the viewing figures are up, thanks to on demand services, and live audiences have recovered.

 

RED, GOLD & GREEN

Shuji Satoshi was one of the biggest stars in Tokyo Pure, an athletic, exuberant and well-loved wrestler. His trademark green face paint and tights made him stand out, while his acrobatic moves won over the fans. But in 2010 Satoshi would disappear from the company after losing a championship match to Shinji Watanabe, which was followed by a vicious assault from his one-time tag-team partner that looked to threaten Satoshi’s career.

It was two years before Satoshi returned to the ring, this time calling himself The Great Sato, and donning a black mask and tights. This new, darker, star was still popular with the fans but this time for his no-nonsense approach.

In 2013, when Pro-Wrestling FRONTLINE began, two main factions found themselves at war. Gold House, a re-naming of former Tokyo Pure faction Mad House, was run by Jun Ikeda and found themselves at the throats of Blood Circle; a devious faction that was spearheaded by Ikeda’s former tag-team partner Kazuki Suzuki.

Suzuki, known as the General, was as ruthless as he was skilled, and was determined to add another old friend into his group; but Ikeda had similar ideas and the two found themselves fighting over the services of The Great Sato. Sato began to tease both men, changing his ring gear to incorporate both the gold of Gold House and the red of Blood Circle.

As the years went on Sato remained impartial. Hiroshi Takahashi took over from Ikeda as leader of Gold House, instantly abandoning his predecessors’ quest to recruit Sato. Takahashi renamed the group G.O.L.D, standing for “go on, live dangerously”.

Suzuki lost his desire to fight Gold House once his long term adversary was out of the picture and left himself open to a coup, being kicked out of his own group by new member Akio Kuriyama. Kuriyama took Blood Circle into a new direction, changing their name to Blood Club but continuing a permanent rivalry with G.O.L.D. Blood Club have taken the cunning of Blood Circle and added extra violence to become FRONTLINE’s most feared faction.

Away from their respective armies, Ikeda and Suzuki rediscovered their lost friendship of the Tokyo Pure years. They began to tag-team again and then Tokihiko Yokoyama, the oldest surviving Tokyo Pure fighter, joined them to create a 3-man team. Now in 2017, with the “Brothers-in-Arms” finally back together and no longer fighting over recruitment, The Great Sato returned to his traditional green & black and finally sided with both men as the last member of the quartet known as The Ancients.

 

PRIDE BEFORE A FALL

In 1999 Masa Abe was an up-and-coming star, member of The Pride and with the world at his feet. After coming to blows with Pride leader Naoki Yoshida, Abe left Tokyo and headed to the US. There, after several years of setbacks and disappointments, he finally found his place and made a name for himself globally. While Abe was off making a name for himself Yoshida changed his name, joining the War Tigers under the name Blood Tiger II.

The Pride of Tokyo Pure also included Ren Itou and Kenta Yamashita, who both grew into solid stars for FRONTLINE. Itou was a model professional, a journeyman wrestler, while Yamashita oozed star quality and became one of FRONTLINE’s aces.

But Yamashita actually left Japan to join Pro-Wrestling FRONTIER, a move that was an unmitigated disaster. He was underused, overlooked and without a win for over two years before returning to Japan. But back in Japan he quickly rose back to the World Title scene and won the championship for a third time.

FRONTLINE fell into a slump between 2014 and 2017, with the company lacking the ability to draw big US stars and falling short of their attempts to sign as many up-and-coming young Japanese wrestlers as they could. They needed some star power to inject new life into the company, and they found it in one of their former young stars.

Masa Abe had been persuaded to return from the US, now a global megastar and instantly becoming one of FRONTLINE’s aces. He finds himself at the top of the company alongside Itou, whose journeyman status finally resulted in a championship win in 2015. In the chasing pack for the top spots in FRONTLINE are Naoki Yoshida, again using his real name, and Kenta Yamashita, whose career is starting to wane.

Yamashita is without a championship reign for three years and there is talk that a return to the UK could be on the cards again, especially now that Abe has returned and taken the spot that Yamashita sees as being rightfully his. Yoshida, who has never won the biggest title in FRONTLINE, also sees his old friend as a threat, while Itou has welcomed Abe back with open arms. It appears that the group once known as The Pride are now ready to battle one another.

The Pride inspired a whole generation of wrestling fans, some of whom went on to sign for FRONTLINE themselves. Maya Ohno and Daisuke Suzuki, the son of Kazuki Suzuki, are two such men; the duo now known as The New Pride.

 

THE TAG-TEAM SCENE

Back in the days of Tokyo Pure there were many great tag-teams around. The most famous were arguably the Brothers in Arms, Jun Ikeda and Kazuki Suzuki. The Warriors, Kenzo Kikuchi and Daiki Kubo were also one of the better teams in TPW. Both teams had various runs as tag-team champions, but they weren’t the most dominant teams. That honour went to the War Tigers.

The War Tigers original line-up consisted of Blood Tiger, Tiger Beast and Tiger Kid. The three of them, in various line-ups, dominated the tag-team division for many years, until Tiger Kid and Blood Tiger came to blows and Blood Tiger caused his partner a career ending injury. Tiger Kid returned after rehab as Tiger Ref, who became the company’s leading referee, but with the stipulation that he never officiate a match containing either of the remaining War Tigers.

Blood Tiger would soon retire himself, passing his mantle to former Pride member Naoki Yoshida, the new Blood Tiger II. He and Tiger Beast continued to light up the tag-team division and added more championships to the faction’s records. To this day no-one has won more Tokyo Pure or FRONTLINE tag titles as Tiger Beast.

With this new Tiger line-up in FRONTLINE came a new breed of challenger. Gold House, Blood Circle and the team known as G4 were all strong challengers. But it would be Jason Richards and Adam Stryker, known as Go Strong, who would change the tag-team division in FRONTLINE.

At FRONTLINE’s “OPENING NAVIGATION ~ CONCLUSION” event Go Strong defeated the Blood Circle duo of Takeshi Genji and OMEGA to become the first GFC Tag-Team Champions. However their run was short lived, losing the titles to the UK Dragons on a Pro-Wrestling FRONTIER show in the UK six weeks later. But that match turned the titles into the GFC WORLD Tag-Team Championships and a whole new world was about to open up for the FRONTLINE tag-team division.

Or at least that was the plan.

The belts remained in FRONTIER for a year or so until they were won by Jonathan Collins & Chandler Scott, Dangerous Minds. Collins & Scott were not FRONTIER wrestlers; they were signed to EXODUS and refused to defend their new GFC belts outside of EXODUS. While the situation was eventually resolved when the duo were stripped and new belts created, the titles remained in the UK and FRONTLINE were without a tag-team title scene. This led to the split of G4 and the War Tigers.

G4 had always had a rocky relationship. Shinji Watanabe had always harboured ambitions of making it big as a singles wrestler, while Yuuta Mori knew that a team was his best option for success and fame. Without a tag-team title to strive for Watanabe took his chances at setting out solo. Things worked out for him, he rose through the ranks and is arguably the biggest star in FRONTLINE today. Things have not gone as well for Mori, who was persuaded to join Blood Club and now finds himself at odds with his younger brother, Haruto Mori of G.O.L.D.

The War Tigers were a similar story. Blood Tiger II went solo, while Tiger Beast retired. Eventually Naoki Yoshida removed his Tiger mask and has continued his solo career back under his real name, having passed the mantle on again to a younger Blood Tiger III.

The tag-team scene in FRONTLINE never really recovered, but the GFC have recently re-introduced the Tag-Team Championships and the company have brought a new team from the US to help kick-start the tag-team revolution.

Steve Anderson and El Mejor Jr. had won multiple championships in the US and are now looking for their first overseas straps. The arrival of The Pioneers has led to the formation of The New Pride, two young Japanese stars unhappy that FRONTLINE would rely on Gaijin to prop up the tag-team division. Maya Ohno and Daisuke Suzuki are hoping to emulate the original Pride and launch their careers in a major way.

 

THE FORGOTTEN CHAMPIONSHIP

Tokyo Pure Joshi was opened by Tokyo Pure Wrestling in 1990, giving some of the best female wrestlers in Japan a place to showcase their skills.

Sadly TPJ was closed by it’s parent company in August 2011, deciding to focus all the company’s efforts on keeping TPW alive for as long as possible in the face of financial problems, which culminated in the takeover from Hanako Yamamoto and the formation of FRONTLINE.

But during the heyday of Tokyo Pure there was a very special championship shared between TPJ and TPW, in fact it’s the only championship that the GFC did not continue into FRONTLINE.

The TPJ-TPW Allied Tag Team Championship existed between 2004 and 2010, with teams consisting of one TPW star and one TPJ star. The first holders were Rumiko Kawamae & Hiroshi Takahashi, who defeated Defeated Sumiko Rai & Yoshihiro Ojima in a tournament final to be crowned inaugural champions.

After four successful defences the duo were finally bested by the team that would go on to be the most dominant pair in the division, Harumi Gensai & Kazuki Suzuki. Gensai & Suzuki held the belts for over three years with 15 successful defences.

The belts were deactivated and retired in 2010 due to the infrequency of title defences and soon forgotten about by the general wrestling fanbase. But, thankfully, there are some people out there who would not let this division disappear forever and the title histories have recently been re-published as a reminder to this unique championship.

While Tokyo Pure Joshji was closed, two of it’s top stars, Kazuko “Cannonball” Kayama and Harumi Gensai, worked on opening a spiritual successor to TPJ. Kansai Star Pro is that successor, having launched in 2013. While there is no link to FRONTLINE, K*PRO did receive investment from Hanako Yamamoto in order to achieve their goal of continuing great Joshi wrestling.