Takashi Iizuka will pen the final chapter of his pro wrestling career at the upcoming NJPW New Japan Road show on Thursday, February 21.
The night will close out a historic but ultimately disappointing 32-year career that began November 2, 1986 against Akira Nogami. Even the press release announcing his final night in the company felt uninspired:
He has since been active as an insane heel wrestler within the New Japan ring. His retirement has been announced for the 21st February 2019. What sort of craziness can we expect at his farewell match?
That Iizuka and NJPW have made it so clear this will be his last night in professional wrestling is certainly shocking given that Japanese wrestling talent often wrestles until they quite literally can’t. 78-year-old Dory Funk Jr. jumps into the ring at least once a year and while he looks like he may snap in half at any moment—he is a poster child for the old adage that pro wrestlers never truly retire.
Even in NJPW, we’ve seen the “dads” of the company hang on until the bitter end. Iizuka at age 52 is far older than many of his peers with Hiroyoshi Tenzan pushing 47, Satoshi Kojima at 48 and Minoru Suzuki, a spry 50. Yuji Nagata, who has seen his career similarly downplayed in the last year, will turn 51 in April. Only Manabu Nakanishi can match Iizuka’s advanced age among heavyweights as the big man turned 52 back in January. Age can’t match ring years though as Nakanishi didn’t debut in pro wrestling until 1992 while Iizuka has 3,007 matches under his belt over his 32-year career—nearly 500 more than Nakanishi. (per Cagematch.net).
Iizuka won his first pro wrestling championship in July 1987, capturing the IWGP Tag Team Championships with the legendary Riki Choshu. Just two months later, Iizuka and Choshu dropped the titles and Iizuka floated in purgatory for the next handful of years. Astute WWE Network watchers likely stumbled upon a very different looking Iizuka when the Network launched in February 2014. Iizuka and NJPW legend Tatsumi Fujinami appeared on the cult classic WCW WrestleWar 1992 show teaming up to take on Rick & Scott Steiner in a hidden gem of a match.
The Steiners vs Tatsumi Fujinami and takayuki Iizuka from WCW wrestlewar 92 so fn reckless so fn awesome…..
— Bad Boy Joey Janela (@JANELABABY) March 20, 2014
Iizuka returned to Japan in 1992 and formed a tag team (J-J-Jacks) with his former young lion rival Nogami. The duo would team regularly until 1996 when Iizuka underwent a small transformation changing his name from Takayuki to the now-familiar Takashi. In June 1996, Iizuka won his second IWGP Tag Title this time with new partner Kazuo Yamazaki. After losing the titles shortly thereafter, Iizuka moved back to the mid-card where he’d stay for the better part of the next four years.
The new millennium proved beneficial to Iizuka who received his first shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in July. While Iizuka fell to Kensuke Sasaki, it felt that this could be the beginning of Iizuka’s peak. The start of his ascension to regular main eventer.
It wasn’t. The July 20 match would be Iizuka’s one and only IWGP Heavyweight Championship shot ever.
Iizuka would be merely a bit player in NJPW until April 2008 when in a tag match with Tenzan against IWGP Tag Team Championships Togi Makabe and Toru Yano, Iizuka turned his back not only on Tenzan but NJPW joining the villainous Great Bash Heel stable. After year’s of toiling away in obscurity, Iizuka finally had a story he could sink his teeth into (sometimes literally). Iizuka shaved his head bald, grew a long beard and became a madman famously making his entrance through the crowd and attacking fans and announcers on his way to the ring. Tenzan would defend his and NJPW’s honor against Iizuki in a series of matches that culminated in a Chain Death Match at NJPW Destruction 2008.
A year after turning his back on NJPW to join Great Bash Heel, Iizuka would once again become a traitor this time turning on Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma to join Shinsuke Nakamura’s start-up unit: CHAOS. Iizuka would on-and-off feud with Tenzan and other members of NJPW’s roster for the next handful of years including a January 4, 2011 “Deep Sleep to Lose” match against Tenzan. The gimmick match stipulated that a winner could only be awarded by choking their opponent unconscious.
Trust me, the match sounds cooler than it was.
At Wrestling Dontaku 2012, Iizuka won his first championship in over sixteen years when he teamed with former Great Bash Heel teammate Toru Yano to defeat Tenzan and Kojima for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. In June, NJPW officials stipped Yano and Iizuka of the titles and in July, they lost a match to TenKoji for the vacant championships. This would be Iizuka’s final championship with the company.
In May 2014, Iizuka proves his moniker “The Great Traitor” to be an accurate one when he turned on Yano and CHAOS jumping to Suzuki-gun. At the beginning of 2015, Iizuka and the rest of his Suzuki-gun stablemates invaded Pro Wrestling NOAH where they would remain until January 2017. The lone highlight of Iizuka’s Pro Wrestling NOAH run was a shockingly great match against Maybach Taniguchi.
Since returning to NJPW, Iizuka has done little-of-note with only a few scant singles matches in the last year and a half. Iizuka is still the crazy, out-of-control character he was in year’s past complete with his iron glove, wild ring entrances and the occasional assaults of announcers. Iizuka was featured heavily in the recent Taichi vs. Tetsuya Naito match from New Beginning in Sapporo when he helped Taichi attack Naito.
Iizuka will conclude his career in the main event of the upcoming New Japan Road match teaming with Suzuki-gun teammates Taichi and Minoru Suzuki against former CHAOS and Great Bash Heel stablemate Toru Yano, longtime rival Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Kazuchika Okada.