This Saturday, the career of one of Japanese wrestling’s greatest legends comes to an end as Genichiro Tenryu puts a bow on his 39-year career. Tenryu will conclude his in-ring career main-eventing a show produced by his very own promotion, Tenryu Project (a show which will air live on NJPW’s streaming service New Japan World).
That Tenryu Project will be the final stomping grounds of “Mr. Puroresu” is perfect for a man whose career was in many ways defined by his propensity to bounce around different promotions, many of which he had ownership stake with.
Tenryu was destined for greatness from the moment he left the Sumo wrestling ranks to become a pro wrestler. Genichiro Shimada started Sumo wrestling at the age of thirteen, making his debut in January of 1964 under the name Tenryu.
Tenryu found success quickly, and by January 1974 was ranked as one of the best sumo wrestlers in the country.
Tenryu’s career would radically alter upon the death of his Nishonoseki stablemaster. Following the death, Tenryu looked to move to a newly-created stable Oshiogawa, but was prevented from doing so by the Japan Sumo Association (JSA). The JSA insisted he continue with the Nishonoseki stable whose new stablemaster, Kongō Masahiro, did not see eye-to-eye with the 26-year old Tenryu.
In what would become a trend in Tenryu’s career, he decided to remove himself from the situation and just nine months after receiving the honorable Maegashira 1 ranking, Tenryu ended his sumo career with a 393-355-0 record.
After being recruited by legendary All Japan Pro Wrestling owner Giant Baba, Tenryu moved to the world of pro wrestling (Puroresu). Tenryu was sent to Amarillo, Texas to be trained by the Funk brothers (Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk). He would make his debut that very same year against another relative-newcomer to the business Ted DiBiase Jr.
Tenryu returned to Japan in June 1977 and won his very first match, a rarity in the Baba-booked All Japan (teaming with the booker and owner of the company helped — Tenryu & Baba defeated Mario Milano & Mexico Grand).
During his first few months in the business, Tenryu saw mild success in multiple tag and singles matches. In July 1977, Tenryu and tag partner Rocky Hata went a 60 minute draw with then All Asia Tag Champions Great Kojika & Motoshi Okuma, an unbelievable feat for someone of his experience level.
Tenryu was a “victim” of Giant Baba’s historically slow build and despite his hot start, spent a majority of the next five years in All Japan’s undercard battling men like The Shadow (Alex Perez), Masao Ito and The Big Bad Oh.
Tenryu’s biggest break as an early singles competitor came in October 1981 when he battled NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair in a two-out-of-three falls match at All Japan’s annual Giant Series. The nearly 33 minute match saw Flair retain the Heavyweight Title but did a lot to raise the profile of the growing Tenryu.
Everything finally came together for Tenryu in 1989 as he was selected as the first challenger to Jumbo Tsuruta’s brand new Triple Crown championship.
Jumbo and Tenryu would face one another four times between April 1989 and April 1990, with their June 5, 1989 encounter (which saw Tenryu win the Triple Crown for the very first time) as the arguable peak. The match received the coveted five-star rating from Dave Meltzer (one of four such matches in Tenryu’s career) as well as Match of the Year honors in the Tokyo Sports magazine — Tenryu’s third consecutive year taking home that award.
With Tenryu now officially a top star in All Japan, he was given the honorable distinction of pinning AJPW owner Giant Baba, a feat accomplished by only Tenryu and Mitsuharu Misawa.
Then, it all fell apart.
In April 1990, Tenryu left All Japan Pro Wrestling to form Super World of Sports (SWS), a pro wrestling company backed by Megane Super, a prominent eyeglasses manufacturer in Japan. Headed by Hachiro Tanaka, a Megane Super executive, SWS looked to take the Japanese wrestling world by storm.
Megane Super had big pockets and with that came an influx of talent from companies all across Japan. Wrestlers like The Great Kabuki, Hiromichi Fuyuki, Yoshiaki Yatsu, George Takano, Koji Kitao and more jumped at the chance to join Tenryu and SWS. In October of 1990, SWS took another step further signing an interpromotional working relationship with WWE in America.
The agreement was entirely aided by SWS’ seemingly open pockets and WWE’s desire for capital at the time as pro wrestling in America was beginning its downswing.
McMahon sent many of his stars to Japan to participate in SWS’ major shows:
SWS returned the favor by sending their stars stateside to be made fun of and treated like infants because they spoke a different language:
WWE and SWS co-promoted three events at the Tokyo Dome gifting us matches such as these:
The fun didn’t last long. By June 1992, SWS was in a dire state.
Tanaka, SWS’ owner, announced a roster split and a desire to move away from the SWS name due to his negative connotation. The idea was that two of SWS’ top stars would move to new promotions, still backed by the eyeglass mogul. Tenryu’s new promotion would be called “Revolution” (eventually changed to Wrestle and Romance) while Takano’s (one of SWS’ biggest stars) new promotion would be called Palaestra.
The final match in SWS history is a fitting example of the promotion’s insanity: Tenryu teamed with Ashura Hara and a pre-pubescent Ultimo Dragon to take on Kamala, Jim Duggan and Jerry Estrada.
Of course, Takano’s group never got off the ground as Takano and brother Shunji Takano formed their own Pro Wrestling Crusaders group. Megane Super eventually removed all financial backing but Tenryu still moved forward with his new promotion.
“Revolution” (WAR) was run much differently than SWS and carried very few contracted wrestlers. In many ways, it acted simply as a home base from which Tenryu would take on top talents from across the world. Men like NJPW’s Shinya Hashimoto, deathmatch superstar Atushi Onita and shootfighter Nobuhiko Takada would all make stops in WAR.
WAR also maintained SWS’ working relationship with WWE creating many odd matchups in both America and Japan as well as allowing Tenryu to take part in the 1993 and 1994 WWE Royal Rumbles.
By 1998, the bloom was off the rose for WAR and Tenryu began appearing as a regular in New Japan Pro Wrestling. In the summer of 1998, Tenryu took part in New Japan’s annual G1 Climax and had historic matches against both Keiji Mutoh and Shinya Hashimoto:
In December 1999, Tenryu defeated Mutoh for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Tenryu became the first native Japanese wrestler to win both All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Triple Crown and New Japan’s IWGP Heavyweight Title.
In true Tenryu fashion, his run with NJPW was short-lived.
Following the exodus to Pro Wrestling NOAH by all but two of All Japan Pro Wrestling’s native stars (Masanobu Fuchi and Toshiaki Kawada), Tenryu’s first home was left in shambles.
Eager to get back into good graces, Tenryu rejoined All Japan and immediately fired up a feud with Kawada. Tenryu defeated his former mentor in a tournament to crown the vacant Triple Crown champion setting the stage for a five year run with All Japan.
The last major run of Tenryu’s career came in the mid-2000s as he joined many of his former AJPW brethren in Pro Wrestling NOAH. There he feuded with Misawa and Kenta Kobashi as well as NOAH newcomers like Go Shiozaki, Takeshi Morishima, and KENTA (the current Hideo Itami).
Since 2006, much of Tenryu’s in-ring time has been spent in the comedy-based HUSTLE promotion as well as the aforementioned Tenryu project.
Despite many stops along the way, with no clear home base with which to attach “Mr. Puroresu” it’s undeniable the legacy left by the master of the chop. In addition to accomplishments such as pinning both Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, winning both the IWGP Heavyweight and AJPW’s Triple Crown Championship, he’s also a four-time Tokyo Sports Wrestler of the Year (1986-88 and 1993) and an eight-time Tokyo Sports Match of the Year winner (1987-89, 1991, 1993-94, 1996 and 1999.
Tenryu has four five-star Wrestling Observer Newsletter matches, one Match of the Year (2001) and was an inaugural member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked him 44th among the 500 best singles wrestlers during the “PWI Years”. Though far from complete, Cagematch.net lists 2611 matches from Tenryu; 63% of which (1,646) he won.
This Sunday… it’s all over. Tenryu’s final tilt comes against the young ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling, a man 37 years younger; Tenryu pens the final chapter of one of the greatest careers in pro wrestling history.