Name: Shohei Baba
Year Inducted: 2008
Induction Category: International
Shohei "Giant" Baba was born on January 23, 1938 in Sanjo, Niigata, Japan. At the age of seventeen, Baba joined the Yomiuri Giants professional baseball team as a pitcher. In 1956, his record was 12-1 and he was named the Eastern League pitcher of the year. During the next season, he won thirteen more games and pitched three games for Yomiuri and ended the year with a 1.29 ERA. A serious injury affected his pitching arm and ended his baseball career in 1959.
While in a rehabilitation gym, he had a fateful meeting with Japan's most famous wrestler, Rikidozan. He began training in Riki's dojo and made his professional wrestling debut with a victory over Tanaka Kintaro in Tokyo on September 30, 1960. In 1961, Baba was sent to the United States to train with Fred Atkins and The Great Togo. He toured the country for three years and wrestled for various promoters including Fred Kohler in Chicago, Frank Tunney in Toronto, Al Haft in Ohio and Vince McMahon Sr. in New York. During this time he had notable feuds with Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino and Fred Blassie He became a big star and drew large houses in the United States.
The first of Baba's many championships came on May 29, 1964 when he and Toyonobri won the All-Asia Tag Team Title. In 1965, Baba won his first singles title when he defeated Dick The Bruiser for the NWA International title. 1965 also marked the beginning of a long partnership in the ring with Antonio Inoki. This tag team would win many tournaments and championships over the following several years.
In 1972, having split with Inoki and the Japanese Wrestling Association, Baba formed his own promotion - All Japan Pro Wrestling. His strong business acumen equaled his in- ring success as he aligned his promotion with the National Wrestling Alliance. With the backing of Nippon TV and the combination of NWA and All Japan talent, Baba enjoyed tremendous success.
He became the first Japanese wrestler to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Jack Brisco in two out of three falls on December 2, 1974 in Kagoshima, Japan. He went on to become a three-time NWA Champion in addition to being a three-time All-Asian Tag Team Champion, three-time NWA International Heavyweight Champion, four-time PWF Heavyweight Champion and All-Asian Heavyweight Champion. He had legendary battles with many top U.S. wrestlers, most notably a legendary victory over the Destroyer with a stipulation that the Destroyer would become the first American wrestler to work full time in Japan.
Under Baba's guidance, All Japan Pro Wrestling sold out more than 250 consecutive shows in Tokyo and was considered the number one wrestling company in the world in the 1990's. He would routinely draw houses in the $1,000,000 range typically eight times a year at Budokan Hall.
Shohei Baba, a giant in and out of the ring, a world champion wrestler, promoter and trainer, passed away on January 31, 1999.
- John Pantozzi