October 21, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of All Japan Pro Wrestling’s very first show at the Machida Municipal Gymnasium in Machida, Tokyo featuring Giant Baba & Thunder Sugiyama vs. Bruno Sammartino & Terry Funk in a two out of three falls match as the main event. To mark this milestone that at times seemed like it would never happen, I have gone back through the promotion’s history to highlight one key match from each year that you should take the time to watch. It’s a 50 for 50 celebrating All Japan.

These selections are based on historical significance, match quality, or even a combination. Each article in this series will cover a particular decade of the company’s history. By looking at a 50-year-old company year by year, you really get a sense of the changing styles of pro wrestling, and All Japan has had many style shifts over the years that many of these matches will show. I encourage debate if you think there is a different match that defined each year for All Japan, that’s part of the fun!

Take some time to enjoy many matches that helped to define puroresu for decades to come and remember and celebrate the company that Giant Baba and those that succeeded him built.


December 19, 1972
PWF World Heavyweight Championship
Giant Baba © vs. The Destroyer

Once All Japan was formed, the company quickly returned to one of the greatest feuds in the JWA of the 1960s – Baba vs. The Destroyer. While this match isn’t as good as their March 5, 1969 classic, it is probably the second-best match they ever had. As a result of losing this match, The Destroyer then had to move to Japan full time where he spent the rest of the 1970s, becoming a top wrestling star and a celebrity with crossover appeal thanks to his many appearances on comedy and variety shows.


October 19, 1973
PWF United States Championship
The Destroyer © vs. Mil Mascaras

Before the formation of All Japan, Mascaras had wrestled less than 20 matches over the previous two years for the JWA. While he had already begun to turn heads in Japan, his arrival in All Japan and feud with The Destroyer over the often nowadays forgotten PWF U.S. Title, Mascaras became a household name in Japan. Witness a match that in its day featured cutting-edge matwork and moves that had been little seen in Japan up to that point from Mascaras.


December 2, 1972
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Jack Brisco © vs. Giant Baba

A historic match that resulted in Baba becoming the first Japanese wrestler to win the NWA World Heavyweight Title. At this time, Brisco was a dominant champion and one of the best workers in the world. But Baba, for all some may think of him, always had excellent fundamentals and could hang with a mat technician like Brisco, even if his body could get in the way due to its sheer size.


October 12, 1975
PWF United States Championship
The Destroyer © vs. Abdullah the Butcher

If you’ve never seen Abdullah from about 1975 or before, you’ll be surprised to see that he was (relatively) slimmer and could move around at a decent pace. These two would feud throughout the 1970s, and their series of matches showed that The Destroyer could brawl with the best of him. He was also a very underrated seller and bleeder. Abdullah’s victory here would also set up him being a main eventer in All Japan for years to come.


July 24, 1976
PWF Heavyweight Championship
Giant Baba © vs. Billy Robinson

This match came about as a result of Baba’s promotional war against Antonio Inoki. In December 1975, Inoki and Robinson had a legendary 60-minute draw that won the Tokyo Sports Match of the Year Award. So Baba paid Robinson a lot of money not only to jump to All Japan but to do the job to the boss which he didn’t do in New Japan. While Baba was a little past his physical peak of the late 1960s and early 1970s, he still brought his still strong ring awareness here and Robinson’s work in carrying Baba made this a special match.


December 15, 1977
Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk vs. Abdullah the Butcher & The Sheik

A bloody classic in the deciding match of the first ever Real World Tag League (named the Open Tag League for the first year, and only that year). The feud between these two teams in the late 1970s would be the catalyst turning The Funks into some of the biggest babyfaces in Japan. The image of Abdullah jabbing a fork into Terry’s arm in this match became iconic. There was a sense of chaos and danger in this that few hardcore matches are able to replicate today.

Probably one of the best matches that The Sheik was ever in. While this ended in a DQ that allowed The Funks to win the tournament, you never felt cheated by such a finish in a match like this.


December 15, 1978
Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk vs. Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta

This was arguably All Japan’s main tag team feud in the 1970s. While Baba and Jumbo were the top two native talents of the company, by this point, and thanks in part to matches like the one I discussed for the previous year, The Funks had almost as much support from the crowd. Terry’s performance in this match also had the crowd rooting for The Funks to win as the match came closer and closer to the time limit, but when it expired, that gave enough points to Baba and Jumbo to win the Real World Tag League.


October 31, 1979
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Harley Race © vs. Giant Baba

Race is probably my favorite Baba opponent other than Stan Hansen. This match started as a technical bout but descended into a bloodbath by the end with some great bumping and selling from Race. While Baba’s physical decline was more pronounced here than in his first NWA World Heavyweight Title victory over Jack Brisco, he was still able to use his psychological skills to build to a big finish. Thus began Baba’s second of three NWA World Heavyweight Title reigns.

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