No one in Japanese pro wrestling has done what Sanshiro Takagi has.
In fact, no one in pro wrestling anywhere has done what he has. That’s why I believe he’s had a Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame-worthy career as a promoter and deserves to be on the ballot.
Trained by the late Goro Tsurumi, Takagi originally debuted in the tiny Yataimura Pro Wrestling at the end of 1994, but since that company didn’t keep records, his official debut has been recorded as being on February 16, 1995 against Troubleshooter Kotsu in Pro Wrestling Crusaders (PWC). That company, formed by the Takano brothers, George and Shunji, was one of several companies formed after the closure of SWS. It managed to survive from 1993 to 1997 but never rose above running Korakuen Hall. However, it was notable for also bringing us NOSAWA Rongai and Survival Tobita.
Recognizing that PWC was a dead end, Takagi would eventually go freelance and, in 1997, form Dramatic Dream Team with Shintaro Muto, MIKAMI, and NOSAWA.
And that’s where our story begins.
With DDT celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it’s important to realize that no small indie promotion formed by indie wrestlers has ever become as big, long-lasting, or influential as DDT has in Japan. By the 2010s, DDT’s two biggest events of the year, Judgement and Wrestle Peter Pan, were drawing in the mid to high four figures and even crossing that boundary, topping out at 10,124 for Wrestle Peter Pan 2012 at Nippon Budokan (main evented by Kota Ibushi vs. Kenny Omega) and 10,702 for Judgement 2017 at Saitama Super Arena (main evented by HARASHIMA vs. Konosuke Takeshita). Going from a small indie to running near sellouts in Sumo Hall and Nippon Budokan is unprecedented.
When DDT drew record houses, only New Japan and Dragongate regularly put on bigger shows. All Japan and NOAH were mostly in the doldrums at this time and Joshi had not begun its revival.
But DDT hasn’t been Takagi’s only foray into pro wrestling. Slowly but surely, he has built a bit of an empire. First there were DDT sub-brands like Union Pro and later Ganbare Pro. Then in 2012, Takagi announced the creation of Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW).
Founded alongside NEO Ladies wrestler Nozomi Dai and the former manager of NEO and Ice Ribbon, Tetsuya Koda, TJPW has risen from humble beginnings to the second largest Joshi promotion in Japan. It will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its first show next year and continues to grow.
During his career, Takagi also served as the CEO of Wrestle-1 from May 2015 to April 2017, but the issues with the company were something he was unable to overcome.
Renewed success came soon after in September 2017 when it was announced that tech giant CyberAgent would purchase 100 percent of DDT. Takagi remained company president but now had access to a massive amount of funding. It was a sign that Takagi had built a company and brand that meant something.
CyberAgent’s investment in pro wrestling would get even bigger in January 2020 when it purchased Pro Wrestling NOAH from Lidet Entertainment. By the summer, it was announced that all of the companies, DDT, NOAH, TJPW, and Ganbare, would be merged under the CyberFight banner with Takagi as President. While Takagi was always a mover and shaker in the business with many connections far and wide, the creation of CyberFight as the umbrella company definitively turned Takagi into one of the most powerful figures in puroresu, perhaps only behind Takaaki Kidani of Bushiroad.
For all of Takagi’s success, there are negatives.
His style of pro wrestling is most prominent, at least in the eyes of some. DDT is influenced by the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era. Takagi’s gimmick is inspired by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and his theme song has breaking glass at the beginning of it. If you were a fan who grew up watching Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki in prime time, it’s understandable why DDT could be off-putting. The company has been described as “a parody of pro wrestling.” But despite notable failures in bringing sports entertainment to Japan, like FMW’s final few years, DDT has endured.
My case for Takagi in the WON HOF rests on two main points: his influence and his longevity.
The influence should be evident by now. For better or worse, he has helped to shape the current landscape of puroresu and has also done innovative things like opening the bar Drop Kick where DDT wrestlers work when they’re not on shows. Wrestlers like Kota Ibushi and Konosuke Takeshita owe their careers to him. Takagi also gave a huge opportunity to Kenny Omega—a wrestler on the Canadian indies who had floundered in WWE developmental before he came to DDT. Takagi is also one of the few promoters in Japanese pro wrestling history to succeed with both men’s and women’s promotions. He’s been building TJPW far longer than STARDOM has been owned by Bushiroad.
His case based on longevity is also quite persuasive. He’s been at this for 25 years and shows no signs of stopping. Bill Watts only ran Mid-South/UWF for about eight years. Jim Crockett Jr. ran Mid-Atlantic for about 15. And both men had to sell their promotions due to declining business.
Baba and Inoki were both at it longer than 25 years, but their level of business success made them slam dunks.
If Don Owen can get into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame for 50 years of promoting in Portland, Takagi deserves a serious look because Owen’s influence within the business in the United States was never close to the influence that Takagi has built for himself in the Japanese scene.
Let’s also look at Takagi’s case against another promoter who will be on this year’s ballot – Rossy Ogawa.
The STARDOM head honcho has been in the wrestling business since the late 1970s, starting as a photographer and then was the manager of The Crush Gals. Ogawa’s Hall of Fame case doesn’t begin until the 1990s, when he had a hand in booking AJW’s interpromotional feuds against JWP and LLPW. He also has some negatives on his resume, like the failure of ARISON and was often absent from promoting from 2003 to 2010 when STARDOM announced its formation, other than spending some time connected to JDStar, which folded in 2007. Takagi has been at this for 25 years straight with DDT existing that entire time while he managed to form other promotions along the way that continue to do business. That should be good enough to get Takagi on the ballot, at the very least.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk more about Takagi’s record of drawing as a promoter. While drawing is a very important element of being in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, it is not Takagi’s strongest attribute, but it’s also not a fatal flaw. Takagi took a tiny promotion and has drawn crowds in excess of 10,000. However, DDT has never broken the 11,000 attendance barrier in a stand-alone show. For example, DDT claimed an attendance of 30,000 for a match they put on in 2014 at the Tokyo Ramen Show. I will not count events like these. Many of the strongest DDT attendances occurred when the wrestling business in Japan was down and few others could draw those numbers, which is a plus. Another problem for Takagi is that since the pandemic, DDT numbers have not been very good and while NOAH has grown, it is not to the levels that were expected. However, within the context of overall pandemic attendances in Japan, several CyberFight shows have done relatively well.
Given the problems caused by the pandemic and that Takagi is still just over two years into his run as President of CyberFight, some may agree that he has a case but want to wait and see what he does over the next several years.
While I think he deserves a vote immediately if he gets on the ballot, I am still very pleased to have contributed to a conversation about giving arguably the most unique promoter in pro wrestling history his proper due.
Below are the twenty largest attendances overseen by Takagi for the sake of reference courtesy of Wrestlingdata.com.
- March 20, 2017: DDT Judgement 2017 ~ 20th Anniversary Show – 10,702
- August 18, 2012: DDT Nippon Budokan Peter Pan 2012 ~ DDT 15th Anniversary – 10,124
- August 17, 2014: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2014 ~ Lives Maybe Changed in this Summer – 9,100
- August 18, 2013: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2013 ~ Orientation and Measures – 9,000
- August 23, 2009: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan – 8,865
- July 25, 2010: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan – Summer Vacation – 8,800
- July 24, 2011: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2011 – 8,660
- August 17, 2013: DDT Progress and Harmony of Wrestling – 8,500
- March 21, 2016: DDT Judgement 2016 ~ 19th Anniversary Show – 6,938
- August 23, 2015: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2015 ~ With Love From DDT – 6,670
- February 15, 2015: DDT Saitama Super DDT 2015 – 6,500
- October 21, 2018: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2018 ~ Fall Wrestling Culture Festival – 6,259
- August 20, 2017: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2017 ~ Peter Pan Even If You Become 20 Years Old
Peter Pan – 5,900
- November 3, 2019: DDT Ultimate Party 2019! DDT Group Big Gathering! – 5,869
- March 25, 2018: DDT Judgement 2018 ~ 21st Anniversary Show – 5,796
- August 28, 2016: DDT Ryogoku Peter Pan 2016 ~ Most Hot Summer in the World – 5,394
- June 12, 2022: CyberFight Festival 2022 – 4,891*
- June 6, 2021: CyberFight Festival 2021 – 4,800*
- February 12, 2021: NOAH Destination 2021 ~ Back To Budokan ~ – 4,196*
- February 17, 2019: DDT Judgement 2019 ~ 22nd Anniversary Show – 4,177
* = Show that occured during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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