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Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Asuka the Biggest Japanese Star in WWE History?

August 9, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Asuka WWE Backlash

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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James clearly forgot about Akio Sato:

Will Asuka go down as the biggest Japanese success story within the confines of the WWE?

Any time that somebody asks me whether a current wrestler is the greatest or most successful wrestler in a particular category, my immediate reaction is to say, “No, that can’t possibly be the case” because, at this point, there are so many decades of wrestling and even just WWE history that I feel somebody has to have done something better at some point in time.

However, in considering this question, I asked myself if I could think of a Japanese wrestler who has come to WWE and had more success than Asuka, and, honestly, after racking my brain nobody comes to mind.


The first person who I thought of as a contender was Antonio Inoki, and he was always booked as a major player when he came around the WWF in the 1970s and early 1980s, but he was also consistently portrayed as being an outsider who was on the card as a special attraction as opposed to being part of the WWF proper (even though, depending on whose title history you choose to believe, you could call him a former WWWF Champion). After Inoki, most Japanese wrestlers who came through the company were clearly booked as second-tier guys, whereas Asuka is obviously one of the top stars of the women’s division, with the women’s division now more-or-less being on par with the men’s.

Aside from Inoki – who again, doesn’t really count – I could only think of two grapplers who could rival Asuka’s status as the biggest Japanese star in WWE history, though you’ve got to go back a ways in order to find them.

The first of those names is Killer Khan. Though Khan was billed as a Mongolian, he was actually Japanese-born and started his career in the early 1970s in his home country under his real name, Masashi Ozawa. He came to the WWWF for the first time in 1980 after a run in the Georgia territory, and he was immediately made into a player. Though he never won a title in the company, that was a time when championships very rarely changed hands, and he was booked as a credible contender to both WWWF Champion Bob Backlund and Intercontinental Champion Pedro Morales, wrestling those men in Madison Square Garden at different points before finally feuding with Andre the Giant in 1981. After some time away from the Fed, Khan returned in 1987, where he got some main event shots against then-champion Hulk Hogan.

Though he was always in the mix with some of the biggest stars in WWF history, I would still give Asuka the edge over Khan because of her longevity relative to his. Khan’s total time in the WWF was roughly two years, whereas Asuka is at five years and still counting.


The second name that I could think of is Masa Saito. In the early 1980s, Saito was part of a top heel tag team with Mr. Fuji (who, for those who don’t know, was a Hawaiian pretending to be Japanese). The duo won the WWWF Tag Team Titles on two separate occasions, beating Jay and Jules Strongbow for both of their reigns. However, I would still give Asuka the longevity edge over Saito.

Plus, to the best of my knowledge, Asuka has never been convicted of beating up police officers after her buddy threw a boulder through a McDonald’s window like Saito once was.

Keeping with our Japanese friends, I always thought that Tajiri was such an amazing all-around talent – do you think he would have had more success in today’s climate? Maybe even the world champion on one of the two shows?

There’s a chance that Tajiri would have had more success if he showed up in modern day WWE. My gut reaction was to say that he would be too small to fit WWE’s mold for a main eventer, but the fact of the matter is he’s only an inch or two shorter than AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan and may actually be about the same size as guys like Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa.

Granted, Tajiri would have to overcome the double whammy of not just being a smaller guy but also being a guy who does not speak English as his first language, but he was always able to rely on his wacky charisma to bridge that gap. I still think that world champion would be a bit of a stretch, but an extended run with a secondary championship wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

Michael K. throws a mean armdrag:

It’s been well documented that Ricky Steamboat dropped the WWF Intercontinental title to the Honky Tonk Man as punishment for requesting time off to be with his family due to his wife being pregnant at the time. Couldn’t him dropping the title have been avoided though or some agreement reached?

He won the title in late March, he asked for time off in June and his son was born in July. It’s not like he didn’t know going into Wrestlemania III that his wife was pregnant. Obviously the Savage-Steamboat had started months prior but couldn’t Steamboat have made his intentions known earlier and worked it out with Vince or did he totally blindside Vince with his request?

Plus, it’s been said that Vince wanted Butch Reed to win the title the night in question but he didn’t show up which is why HTM got the title. Did Butch Reed get punished over this? Granted, not winning the title is punishment but were there any other repercussions for him not showing up?

Last, did Vince have HTM win the title the same day Steamboat made his request or did Vince wait a few days/weeks?

First off, I wouldn’t call Ricky Steamboat losing the Intercontinental Title to the Honky Tonk Man a “punishment.” I would call it a reality of how professional wrestling worked at the time. In the year 2020, the IC Title is an afterthought, and if the champion only worked one or two shows a month, nobody would think it was unusual or even comment on it. However, we’re not talking about 2020 here. We’re talking about 1987. In 1987, the Intercontinental Title mattered. In the 1980s, the WWF was running two and sometimes three house show tours simultaneously, and matches were actually announced and promoted in local markets in advance, with feuds and title matches having an impact on whether fans decided to buy a ticket as opposed to the modern environment where fans show up to a WWE show just because it’s the live entertainment that has come to town, with no knowledge of what the card will look like.

Because of those dynamics, having a “part time” Intercontinental Champion just wasn’t feasible. You needed somebody who was going to be on the road night in and night out. If you look at Steamboat’s schedule after he dropped the strap on June 2, 1987, his appearances became very sporadic. He worked more or less a full schedule for the next two weeks, then he didn’t work again until July 25. He did a shot on 7/25 and a shot on 7/26, then he was gone again and didn’t come back until August 22, his only match that month. He only wrestled three dates in September, four dates in October, and two dates in November. He had a heavier schedule in December but only wrestled four times in January before coming back to a somewhat regular run in February.

That’s more than just a paternity leave. That’s a guy dropping down from being a full-time employee to a part-time employee, and a part-time champion did not work in that environment, even with a secondary title.

You’re correct that Steamboat would have known about his wife’s pregnancy prior to his win over Randy Savage at Wrestlemania III, but the Dragon was no dummy. He had to have known that, if he asked Vince McMahon in advance to drop down to part-time after Mania, there would be a chance of him not going over Savage or being scrubbed from Wrestlemania altogether, which would have cost him big bucks. I seriously doubt that Steamboat was going to let himself miss out on that payday. Also, though I’ve not heard this directly stated, from the tone that the Honky Tonk Man has taken in some of his shoot interviews on the subject, I get the impression that Steamboat himself had to be “talked into” taking the time off by his wife and that was not necessarily Ricky’s plan all along. I haven’t been able to find any information one way or the other about whether Steamboat lost the title the same day that he asked for a reduced schedule or whether there was a lag.

As to Butch Reed and how he plays into all of this, I see no record of him being “punished” for missing the June 2 WWF Superstars taping where the title change occurred. He was back on the road with the company two nights later, and, for the rest of his run, his position in the promotion was about what it had always been previously.

As an aside, it is interesting to think that, once Reed missed his title opportunity in 1987, we wouldn’t see a black man hold the IC strap until almost exactly nine years later, when it was won by Ahmed Johnson. (At the time, Ahmed was billed as the first black singles champion in WWF history, which wasn’t entirely true because the WWWF promoted a United States Title in the 1960s and 1970s that was held by Bobo Brazil.)

Dylan has a question about logistics:

Do any Japanese wrestling companies have weekly TV shows like is the norm in the USA? Or is it all house shows and PPVs? And related to that, before NJPW World, were NJPW shows only available on PPV? Or were they on a free to air or cable channel in Japan?

These days, when New Japan has a major show, you’ve got two options for seeing it if you’re a fan in Japan. The first is to watch it on New Japan World. The second is to watch it on NJPW’s free television show, which will air two or three matches off the show over the course of four or five weeks. So, there is a weekly television show, but it’s not like American promotions where the weekly show is separate, lesser quality content that’s used to build up the higher quality matches that you get on the big show. It’s all the same content, just delivered in a sightly different manner.

If you watched the English-language show that NJPW had on AXS TV before they were kicked off in favor of TNA (which is like trading your Mercedes Benz for an AMC Gremlin), that was actually New Japan’s weekly television show which aired in Japan, just with the commentary redubbed.

Some people might read that and think, “Well, then why would Japanese fans ever subscribe to New Japan World if they can just get everything for free?”

There are a couple of different reasons for that. The first is the NJPW World allows you to watch the entire show live as it airs instead of cut up over the next month and a half. The second is that the television networks that New Japan airs on aren’t exactly mainstream. They’re fairly obscure and on higher tiers of cable/satellite services, so NJPW World might be a better value proposition so that you don’t have to get additional cable subscriptions just for one wrestling show. NJPW World also gives you an archive of older content, but that’s not directly relevant to the question at hand.

It was the same model prior to New Japan World, just with the major shows airing live on pay per view as opposed to the over the top subscription service.

The thing is, though, when NJPW was on bigger TV networks and on PPV at the same time, free TV actually was the main way that people watched the product as opposed to pay per view. The reason for that is, when pro wrestling and television were first becoming popular in Japan (which happened around the same time), TV networks paid wrestling companies to put their biggest matches on free television, so fans got used to getting the best stuff for free and PPV was always an afterthought to them. They hadn’t grown up paying for wrestling, unless it was seeing the show live and in person.

That’s the opposite of what happened in the U.S., where wrestling had been popular for decades prior to TV coming in to the picture. Once it did, American promoters saw TV as a means of driving people to live shows – and later pay per views – where they really made their money as opposed to making money directly off of the television product. Of course, with TV rights fees now being the main source of income for both WWE and AEW over the past five years, that has all changed . . . but that’s another story for another time.

Shooter Sharps is just confusing me:

I’m apologizing in advance for my impertinence. I realize there is a protocol for getting questions answered, however this question needs to be asked and the truth needs to be got to. Is that JAMF Justin Watry, playing a massive rib by posing as Mark Schoeman. I’m reaching out to you as I believe this conspiracy is an inside job that runs to the heart of 411mania.

If you’re looking for somebody who know what’s going on at 411mania, you’re talking to the wrong guy. I have virtually no interaction with anybody else who writes for or has editorial control over the site and am clueless as to what is going on behind the scenes. I just upload my column once a week or so and move on with my life. I have absolutely no idea who Mark Schoeman is, except that, when I googled him, I found out that somebody by that name asked me a question when I filled in for Mat Sforcina on Ask 411 back in 2012. No idea what connection, if any, he has with Watry.

I would also like to say that I was not familiar with the term “JAMF” before receiving this question. I like it, and I’ll be incorporating it into my regular lexicon. Thanks for that one, Shooter.

Night Wolf the Wise is lathering on the baby oil:

Hulk Hogan lead the WWF in the mid 80’s to early 90’s. John Cena lead the WWE 2005 to 2015. Out of all the traits they had that made them successful as the face of the WWE it was their look. They had that bodybuilders physique. Will we ever see a wrestler who can lead the WWE that doesn’t have that bodybuilder look and be successful like Stone Cold was during the Attitude Era?

I would disagree with the proposition that the main thing that Hogan and Cena had going for them was their bodies. Granted, that was part of the overall package, but those two guys had remarkable levels of charisma that allowed them to connect with fans far more than anything involving their physiques. I also think that you’re underselling Steve Austin’s body during his heyday a fair amount. Granted, it was a different look than Hogan or Cena, but at his peak the guy was still walking around with a six pack and traps and arms bigger than ninety percent of the male population.

With all that being said, it’s undeniable that WWE has almost always tried to book a “body guy” as the centerpiece of their promotion, going all the way back to Bruno Sammartino. I do suspect that they will get away from that pattern in time, because history tells us that the main driving force behind it has been one Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who is now 74 years old. That means he’s probably got ten years or less left in the tank as the full-time creative impresario of WWE, and his most likely successor is his son-in-law, Triple H. Though HHH is a bodybuilding fan in his own right, if you look at the wrestling “brand” that he has been in control of for the last eight years, body guys have not always been his focal point, and I can only assume that will continue when he runs the main roster.

Tyler from Winnipeg is also talking about bodies, though from a slightly different angle:

Who is a great type of “special attraction” spectacle wrestler, in the category of a Big Show, Yokozuna, Great Khali type of size, in which could be used when the crowds return?


There aren’t a ton of these guys out there anymore, probably because they don’t fit in too well with the styles of most non-WWE wrestling promotions. The only person who I can think of who might fit into this category and isn’t already under contract to the E is former sumo wrestler Ryota Hama, who stands 5’9” and weighs in at just over 450 pounds. Hama originally entered pro wrestling for All Japan in 2008 and currently works for Big Japan, though he’s now north of forty years old, so if anybody in the U.S. wanted to get anything out of him, they would have to act fairly quickly.

There’s also this pretty big guy on the Australian indy scene who goes by the name of Massive Q, and we should probably start a petition to get him a match on AEW Dark or something like that.

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].

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers