wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Are Any of Andre the Giant’s Opponents Still Wrestling?

December 20, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Andre the Giant Vince McMahon Natalya Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Jason has a posse:

Are there any wrestlers still wrestling that had a match with Andre the Giant? I think of Hacksaw since he rarely wrestles, but anyone else?

There sure are.

Probably the most active wrestler who had a match with Andre is All Japan Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH star Jun Akiyama. Akiyama teamed with Andre and Rusher Kimura against Haruka Eigan, Motoshi Okuma, and Ryuma Izumida on a November 23, 1992 AJPW show in Fukuoka, Japan. This was actually one of Andre’s final ten matches, as he passed away on January 28, 1993, a little over two months after this match took place.

On Akiyama’s side of things, he is still wrestling a more-or-less full-time schedule. Since June 2020, he has been working with DDT Pro Wrestling, initially as an All Japan contracted wrestler who was on loan to DDT though he later left AJPW and made DDT his home promotion.

Similarly, Yoshinari Ogawa was in three different six man tag team matches with Andre late in the Giant’s career, one in 1990 and two in 1992. These days, Ogawa is part of the Pro Wrestling NOAH roster, where he holds one-half of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.

Though he doesn’t step into the ring as often as Akiyama and Ogawa, here’s another Japanese wrestler for the list: 67-year-old Masanobu Fuchi. Fuchi was involved in forty different tag team matches with Andre between 1990 and 1992 in All Japan, including being one of the men in the ring for the big Frenchman’s very last match on December 4 of ’92. Fuchi holds the somewhat noteworthy distinction of being only one of two Japanese wrestlers who did not jump from All Japan to Pro Wrestling NOAH when the latter company formed in 2000, and he’s still with AJPW today. He’s wrestled four matches in 2021 and had ten in 2020.

If you consider people who had at least one match in 2021 as “still wrestling,” then others who qualify for this list include:

Tsuyoshi Kikuchi (five matches involving Andre in the early 1990s / 2 matches in 2021)
El Canek (44 matches involving Andre going back to 1979 / 4 matches in 2021)
Too Cold Scorpio (2 matches with Andre in Mexico in 1992 / 22 matches in 2021)
Villano IV (1 six man tag with Andre in Mexico in 1992 / 3 matches in 2021)
Dr. Wager Jr. (3 matches with Andre in Mexico in 1997 / 24 matches in 2021)
Pat Tanaka (1 six man with Andre in the WWF in 1991 / 2 matches in 2021)
Haku (Andre’s former WWF Tag Team Championship Partner / 1 match in 2021)
Tatsumi Fujinami (94 matches with Andre including 5 singles matches / 9 matches in 2021)
Yoshiaki Fujiwara (3 matches with Andre including 1 singles match / 4 matches in 2021)
Tony Atlas (regular tag partner of Andre going back to 1978 / 2 matches in 2021)
Bob Orton Jr. (several matches with Andre, including 4 singles / 2 matches in 2021)
Yoshiaki Yatsu (11 matches with Andre, including 1 singles / 5 matches in 2021)
Rayo de Jalisco Jr. (1 match with Andre / 2 matches in 2021)
Mascara Ano 2000 (1 match with Andre / 4 matches in 2021)
Tommy Rich (2 matches teaming with Andre / 2 matches in 2021)

Side note: I did not include wrestlers who only shared the ring with Andre the Giant in a battle royale. You would add a few more names to this list if those were counted.

sebkane4 has a no-cut contract:

With all of the releases over the past year, which 10 Raw or Smackdown stars would you have kept and which 10 currently on the roster would you have released instead? And, if you could explain why for each talent, that would be nifty!

I looked back over the list of wrestlers released in 2021 (eighty of them in total – yikes) and in doing so, I honestly couldn’t come up with ten names that I would have felt strongly about keeping, particularly when you limit those names to name roster talents as seb wants us to do in his question.

If I were to undo some of the releases, I would probably include:

Lana, who I thought was a very good heel manager whose career was derailed when the company tried to make her both a wrestler and a babyface, neither of which she ever should have been.

Ric Flair, who I understand requested his release, but who I would have a hard time voluntarily letting go of if I were WWE, because he’s a living legend who I would not want to hand the ability to go lend credibility to a competitor.

Buddy Murphy and Andrade Almas who were both supremely talented in-ring performers who never got an opportunity to live up to their true potential – particularly Almas, who could have had a shot at being the post-Misterio Latino mega-star that it feels like the company has been trying and failing to find for over a decade.

I was also intrigued by what little I saw of Tucker Knight and felt he could’ve gone further in a different role, but the company never saw him as anything other than Otis’s tag team partner.

And that’s really about it. There are none of the other released talents who I feel strongly about bringing back. I have always been of the opinion that Bray Wyatt was a below average wrestler and a supremely overrated promo guy, and I never cared for the “supernatural” aspects of his gimmick, so I wouldn’t want him to come back. Braun Strowman was a perfectly acceptable WWE main event guy but never did anything I haven’t seen a hundred wrestlers do before him. Jeff Hardy obviously had to go. John Morrison is in his 40s and, if he hasn’t lit the wrestling world on fire by this point in his life, he probably never will. I could maybe make an argument for not cutting Samoa Joe, but the company did eventually bring him back on their own.

People like the Lucha House Party are excellent wrestlers, but it’s hard for me to advocate for WWE bringing them back when I’ve seen them chew up and spit out numerous lighter weight wrestlers over the years and I know they’re never going to use them any better than they were. Meanwhile, I know people like Ruby Riott and Aleistar Black had their fans and continue to in AEW, but with my limited viewing of professional wrestling these days, I haven’t seen enough of their work to develop strong opinions on them one way or the other.

And that’s really it. I know it’s the popular thing to do online to get up in arms when WWE cuts wrestlers, but frankly I just can’t bring myself to get worked up about the crop that was shown the door in 2021. Yeah there were a ton of them and yeah it’s not the best look to cut people when we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic and you are making record profits, but even among the people I listed above there’s nobody who I feel so strongly about that I would passionately argue the company made the wrong call (pandemic sensitivities aside).

As far as main roster talents to cut are concerned, I’ve been asked similar questions in the past and there is always part of me that is uncomfortable answering them because it feels like I’m wishing unemployment on somebody. Also, I have difficulty coming up with ten names simply because the on-screen rosters are actually pretty thin right now, but here’s what my list would be:

Dolph Zigger: I’ve made similar comments about Ziggler in this column in the past, but I’m bored of the guy because, no matter how much you might like his in-ring work, he’s been the exact same character with nothing to freshen him up in thirteen years.

Dana Brooke: She’s not actively bad but there are many better women, and it’s apparent that she’s probably not going to improve to their level.

Carmella: See Dana Brooke.

Baron Corbin: Again, there’s nothing actively bad about him, but there’s nothing he has done or apparently can do that I haven’t seen hundreds of other wrestlers do, and I would be inclined to free up his spot for somebody more unique.

Mace: This guy seems like he has potential, but I’d like to see him go elsewhere – perhaps to New Japan – for a couple of years to learn a different style of professional wrestling and get the stank of Retribution off of him before coming back to WWE with a rebooted persona.

Elias Samson: He’s shown a bit more personality than Baron Corbin and had a gimmick for a while, but he’s another guy who I feel is taking up space that could be devoted to somebody more engaging.

Jinder Mahal: Mahal is a wrestler who was legitimately given the opportunity to perform at the highest levels in WWE and flopped. He’s always going to have that reputation following him around, and I don’t know what value he has left as a result. He’s like a modern Ron Garvin.

Booyakah, booyakah, it’s reh629:

In your opinion, why are some wrestlers allowed to stay on TV while injured and others are treated as if they don’t exist until their return? For example, Austin remained on TV after he broke his neck in ‘97. Even more recently Britt Baker became one of the top acts in AEW while on the IR.

It’s just a matter of what the company who is booking the wrestler thinks is right for the wrestler and for the company at the time. During his 1997 run, Steve Austin was one of the hottest professional wrestlers in the entire “sport,” and the WWF was in the middle of a ratings war, so it only made sense that, for business reasons, they would try to minimize his time off camera. Baker, meanwhile, was nowhere near the level of star that Austin was, but she was a good character with some upward momentum, and the decision to keep her on television no doubt resulted from a desire to avoid disrupting that momentum.

These are decisions made on a case-by-case basis. If the company has something to be gained from the injured wrestler remaining on television or vice versa, then they will probably find a way to do it. However, if you’re dealing with a run of the mill talent that there aren’t major plans for or who won’t move the bottom line, then there’s not much purpose in keeping them around.

Connor thinks I know Edge:

Do you know why Edge stopped using the Downward Spiral? I thought it was really cool.

I’ve never seen Edge or anybody else comment on this, but my assumption has always been that either Edge and/or those who were advising him on how to put together his matches decided that he had other moves in his arsenal that looked better, such as the Impaler DDT and, of course, the spear. I personally was never much of a Downward Spiral fan, because if the execution is off it looks like the guy delivering the move is taking a back bump while his opponent falls on top of him, which gives the perception that it’s the opponent who is the one who really delivered an offensive move.

Much to the chagrin of DJ Enigma, it’s Tyler from Winnipeg:

I just watched a Royal Rumble where R-Truth eliminated The Big Show and Mark Henry. Thoughts?

This was the 2010 Royal Rumble. I’m fine with the spot. At this point in his career, Truth was not the total comedy figure that he has become more recently and was a solid upper-midcard babyface. He was high enough up in the promotion that, a few weeks after the Rumble, he was in the Smackdown brand’s Elimination Chamber match for the World Heavyweight Title, and by April of that year he was United States Champion. Given his position at the time , I thought that Truth eliminating the two giants (which happened while they were both distracted fighting each other) was a decent way to give him some needed credibility while not really harming Henry or Show.

Chris is taking us back to the 1980s:

I have two questions about referees at the AWA Brawl in St. Paul event in December 1986. Jerry Sags is an official during a few matches. One match is Greg Gagne, Scott Hall, and Leon White (Vader) vs. Larry Zbsyszko, Super Ninja, and Mr. Saito. The end sees confusion over the pinfall, and it seems as though legit chaos ensues afterwards with White looking quite pissed off at Sags. Was this intended to set Sags up as a heel to go against Gagne or White since he was training and used as a ref? Or did he screw the finish up?

My read on the match is that it’s not either of those things.

Backstory on the match itself: Throughout 1986, Larry Zbyszko had been feuding with a pro boxer-turned-wrestler by the name of Scott LeDoux, and the story going into the match was that LeDoux had been assigned to serve as a special troubleshooting referee, but Larry Z refused to wrestle so long as his rival was going to be the official. This resulted in Sags, who had already ref’ed earlier on the card, stepping into the slot.

It is undeniable that the finish of this match is a bit of a mess, but I don’t know if you would say it is outright screwed up. It certainly doesn’t seem like something that was designed to set up a further angle with Sags.

After Scott Hall gets a hot tag from Greg Gagne and locks Zbyszko in a bearhug, the Super Ninja (Shunji Takano, who spent most of his career in AJPW) hits the ring and throws a mysterious powder in Hall’s eyes, all while referee Sags is distracted by Vader and Gagne trying to hit the ring. Then Saito – who is actually the legal man – attempts to pin Hall while holding the tights. Sags drops to count the pin but doesn’t get to three. It’s not entirely clear why, because the camera work and/or editing in the in the surviving version of the show makes it incredibly unclear, but Hall is moving quite a bit as he is on the mat, and it appears that at least some point his feet were in the ropes.

Gagne immediately seems to be pissed at Sags and kicks him in the chest. The next thing we know, Scott LeDoux is also in the ring and also getting into Sags’ face. Eventually Zbyszko goes after LeDoux, setting up an all-out brawl between the babyfaces and heels. Towards the end of it, Vader goes back to Sags and slams him on the arena floor, though it’s not reckless at all and in fact Vader seems to put him down pretty lightly all things considered.

It’s not even entirely clear who won the match, because the ring announcer can’t be heard on the recording of the show. Cagematch lists it as a win for the babyfaces, so I guess the idea is that LeDoux saw the powder from ringside and called for the disqualification. However, without that being explicitly announced, it looks more like the good guys ought to have been disqualified for Gagne attacking the official or LeDoux hitting the ring.

In any event, I suspect that we largely got what was intended. The entire purpose of the finish was to further the feud between Zbyszko and LeDoux, and having a babyface troubleshooting referee who tries to prevent the heels from wronging the good guys in a match is pretty standard wrestling fare. I do think that the finish could have been bungled in one of two ways. First, it could be that Sags was actually supposed to log a three count with Saito over Hall but didn’t think that he could credibly do so because the Bad Guy was tied up in the ropes. Second, it could be that LeDoux missed his cue and was supposed to come into the ring earlier and break up Sags’ count. That could explain why Hall got into the ropes – to prevent himself from being counted down when he wasn’t supposed to have been.

But, either way, it still created a situation in which LeDoux could confront Zbyszko, even if it didn’t go exactly as intended. So, we still got to the intended destination even if the journey was rocky.

I also suspect that the match wasn’t intended to be a launching point for Sags given how he was booked after the fact. Brawl in St. Paul was held on Christmas Day in 1986, and the Nasty Boys had their first match as a team in April 1987. Between the two matches, Sags wrestled seven times, all in singles encounters in which he lost to guys like Boris Zhukov and Tom Stone. He did have one match against the future Vader (Leon White), on March 29, 1987 in Rockford, Illinois, but the match wasn’t televised or even taped to my knowledge, so it seems to be more a coincidence than anything else. Also, it was fairly regular in the AWA for younger wrestlers to act as referees, which makes it all the less likely that this was an angle alert.

2) Why was Billy Robinson used as a ref, but he himself didn’t wear the referee stripes? Was he used as the ref for the co-Main Events because he was the only one who could call things fairly or due to the nature of the matches?

Sometimes there’s not really a storyline reason for a guest referee to be called in. Sometimes they’re just added to a show because they’re a star and could be seen as an additional drawing card for the show they’re appearing on. That appears to be what happened here. Regarding the attire, if you look back to the 1980s and earlier, there are plenty of situations in which guest referees did not dress the same as other officials on the card. For one example, go back and watch the main event of Starrcade 1983 with Gene Kiniski refereeing Harley Race versus Ric Flair in a steel cage. Kiniski is wearing a button up shirt and dark slacks, which is not uncommon ref attire, but it did not match the outfits being worn elsewhere on the card.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.