Michinoku Pro was never meant to revolutionize the wrestling industry, yet that’s exactly what they did. 

The standard-bearer of innovation during the last few years of the 20th century, this promotion rose to great heights on top of the ashes of a fallen promotion. Gran Hamada, an original New Japan trainee who bounced around to Mexico, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and the original incarnation of the UWF during the 1980’s, returned back to his homeland in 1990 and began Universal Pro Wrestling (later renamed Federación Universal De Lucha Libre. The promotion is sometimes referred to as Universal Lucha Libre). 

Backed by Kenji Yonekura and Hisashi Shinma Jr., the son of the former New Japan CEO by the same name, Hamada was the first person to build a Japanese promotion around the high-flying lucha libre style. Both All Japan and New Japan Pro Wrestling had found success bringing in stars from Mexico, notably when All Japan brought in Mil Mascaras to wrestle Jumbo Tsuruta, a match that inspired Kenta Kobashi to pursue wrestling as a career, and when New Japan sparked their junior division with wrestlers like Chavo Guerrero and El Salitario, but no one had dove in the way that Hamada had. 

Hamada’s Universal mimicked the aura that the Universal Wrestling Association had created in Naucalpan. Initially a business success, the first year of Hamada’s vision was a precursor for what would later become the golden years of Dragon Gate USA. Big stars from Mexico like El Hijo del Santo, Negro Casas, and Perro Aguayo made their mark in Japan with short tours packed with raucous fans. 

Faced with the cost ineffectiveness of primarily dealing with international talent and the need to grow the promotion with homegrown stars, Hamada began using an influx of young, Japanese talent, most of whom he trained. The biggest success story of Universal was his protege, Yoshinari Asai. The Nagoya-born Asai followed Hamada’s career path, being deemed too small to compete in New Japan Pro Wrestling and then high-tailing it to Mexico in an attempt to make a career for himself. There, he met Hamada, and the two joined forces back in their homeland. 

Asai became the company’s biggest star nearly instantly. His rivalry with Negro Casas was lightyears ahead of its time. The grit of Casas was met with Asai’s unique, sleek-yet-dangerous style of acrobatics provided an archetype of bruising heels vs. lovable babyfaces that has been used by the likes of Michinoku Pro, Osaka Pro, Dragongate, and every other junior-focused promotion since. 

Asai’s success would soon hinder Hamada and his promotion, however, as the wrestling world began to take note. In the fall of 1991, Asai was approached with two offers that would change the direction of junior heavyweight wrestling for the next decade. 

Aware of his success in rival promotion UWA, EMLL’s Antonio Pena began aggressively pursuing Asai, and in October, he finally snatched him up. The deal would shift Asai’s focus in Mexico from the UWA to EMLL, and thus in Japan, from Hamada’s Universal to the fledgling upstart Super World Sports, backed by Genichiro Tenryu and eyeglass mogul Hachiro Tanaka, who had recently formed a talent-sharing partnership with EMLL. 

Along with the change in promotions, Asai, thanks to Pena’s vision, was given a new gimmick, “The Ultimate [Ultimo] Dragon,” which Pena described as being a mix between The Ultimate Warrior and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. 

Dave Meltzer, in the October 28, 1991 Wrestling Observer Newsletter (WON), described the attempted jump and the troubles that came with it, noting:

“Asai, who is one of the most talented wrestlers in the world today, is scheduled to make an appearance at the SWS shows next week in Japan. It’ll be interesting to see how well Universal can draw without Asai, as it has a strong line-up of wrestlers from Mexico on its next tour, but it can’t be stressed enough how important the charismatic Asai is to the group’s popularity. Asai’s debut with EMLL, which is said to be paying him nearly nine times as much money as he earned with UWA (according to one source, with his new deal, Asai will become the highest paid Japanese wrestler ever to work foreign soil as his contract is better than the contract Keiji Muto received while working as the Great Muta for WCW), as the masked Ultimate Dragon, has been put temporarily on hold for political reasons. The Ultimate Dragon was scheduled to debut on Friday night at Arena Mexico in a six-man tag team match teaming with El Hijo Del Santo & Octagon against Masakre & MS 1 & Satanico. However, the rival UWA still had one trick left up its sleeve, as Asai’s working visa was with UWA and not EMLL and word got out they were going to give him immigration problems if he worked the show. He made a big entrance and did a few spots with the heels, but wasn’t allowed to work the match.”

With Asai looking to put visa issues and political strife behind him, he worked one more show for Hamada’s group with the approval of Genichiro Tenryu on November 7. Meltzer described the situation in the November 18, 1991 WON by saying:

“Asai worked this show through an agreement between Promoter Hisatsune Shinma and Tenryu because they were saying they already had sold a lot of tickets based on Asai’s name, and wanted to at least use him for the first show so they wouldn’t have to have massive refunds.”

Trouble was afoot for Universal without Asai in the picture. 

While the promotion still featured names from Mexico like Dos Caras, Los Brazos, and Villano IV, a greater reliance on Hamada’s students pushed the promotion forward. Bulldog KT (Gedo), Coolie SZ (Jado), Masa Michinoku (Great Sasuke), Mongolian Yuga (Jinsei Shinzaki), Monkey Magic Wakita (Super Delfin), Sakigake Gantetsu (Dick Togo / SATO), Shiryu (Kaz Hayashi), and TAKA Michinoku all got their start in Universal. By the end of 1992, with their skill level rising but business in decline, they soon realized that Universal was only holding them back. 

History was made on October 1, 1992 when The Great Sasuke split from Universal and announced the formation of Michinoku Pro Wrestling, Japan’s first attempt at a regional promotion and the first promotion based outside Tokyo. Planted in the Northeastern part of the nation, the promotion became an immediate media phenomenon. After more political strife between Sasuke and Hamada, Michinoku Pro was ready to debut on March 16, 1993. 

The first official Michinoku Pro show took place in front of 1,200 fans in Iwate. Meltzer noted in the March 29, 1993 WON:

“All four television networks ran stories about the local family (it is being run by the family of the Great Sasuke) putting together a wrestling office and going to small towns with the show. Two TV stations are already working on documentaries on Sasuke (23-year-old Masanori Murakawa), one of wrestling’s biggest flying daredevils, who the promotion is being built around. Mainstream media outlets really didn’t understand the Lucha style with all the wrestlers wearing masks and working a different style than Japanese.”

The following 10 matches will provide a time capsule through Michinoku Pro’s golden years and beyond. No promotion has ever had the look, feel, or atmosphere of peak Michinoku Pro, and no promotion ever will. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
February 4, 1994

Despite all the talk about Michinoku Pro being a regional promotion focused primarily on the Iwate Prefecture, my first recommendation comes from the first Michinoku Pro show in Tokyo. After finding their footing in small villages for the first 11 months, Sasuke and friends rolled into Tokyo and performed in front of a hip, feverish Korakuen Hall crowd. 

The wrestlers were no strangers to these hallowed halls, wrestling there several times for Universal, but it had been at least a year for many of these wrestlers since they had wrestled in front of Tokyo, and their improvements were noticeable. 

There’s so much to like in this match, whether it’s SATO, the artist currently known as Dick Togo, doing things that should be impossible for a man of his size, or the feverish pace that Super Delfin approached this match with, but this is a match that is unique because Sasuke may be the best wrestler involved. The figurehead of Michinoku Pro’s golden era, Sasuke will appear in many of these matches, but rarely is he the one making these matches worthwhile. Oftentimes, I feel Sasuke is struggling to keep up with his contemporaries, hence his desire to throw his body in various, torturous positions, in an effort to stand out from the pack. 

Here, though, Sasuke is on his A-Game. The dive train that concludes with Sasuke’s Asai Moonsault at the end of the match is beautiful. 

The Michinoku Pro six-man would be improved as time passes, but this is a great place to start understanding the vibe of its golden years. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
October 30, 1994 

And now for something completely different. 

Full transparency, this is not a very good match. Maybe if you fetishize Atsushi Ontia, you’ll enjoy it, but only with rare exception do I ever enjoy Onita. This match does, however, highlight the absurdity of Sasuke’s 1994. While leading Michinoku Pro on his back, the legendary junior also found himself competing for FMW, WAR, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, both as a part of the incomparable 1994 Super J Cup, the greatest night of Sasuke’s career, and then later as an integral part of the first ever NJPW-AAA tour. 

One of his final acts of the year was battling an invading Atsushi Onita in front of 5,600 rabid fans in Sasuke’s hometown. 

The Double Hell Death Match (barbed wire being one component of hell, the landmines being the other) is a spectacle that has to be viewed by every wrestling fan at least once. Actually, it’s Sasuke’s dramatic helicopter entrance that needs to be viewed. For every dork that wants to throw Academy Awards at Roman Reigns, The Bloodline, and their Nickelodeon acting abilities, I will direct you to The Great Sasuke stoically looking down at the citizens of Iwate. 

While I tend to think of Michinoku Pro as a foundational lucharesu promotion, there is a sideshow, car-crash element that they’ve always leaned on, especially in later years. Nothing ever “worked” quite like this, though. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
March 16, 1996

Michinoku Pro’s 1995 is best remembered for the excellent inaugural Fukumen World League, a tournament comprised entirely of masked men like Sasuke and the eventual winner Dos Caras, as well as wrestlers like Gorgon Cross and The Bandit, Jerry Lynn, and Piloto Suicida, respectively, who dawned masks specifically for their Michinoku Pro appearances. 

We skip ahead, however, to 1996, a year that should be listed alongside 2006 Ring of Honor, 2011 Dragongate, and a multitude of Bushi-road era New Japan years as one of the truly great in-ring years a promotion has ever had. 

If you watched the match from Tokyo in 1994, you’ll see just how far these guys have progressed since then. This is an otherworldly six-man, the type that even with the regular presence of The Elite and Death Triangle on national TV, would still blow people away if it appeared on a Turner station in present day. 

TAKA Michinoku has lived a fascinating life. Between the WWF run, which is remembered for all the wrong reasons, and seemingly two decades as one of Japan’s grumpiest wrestlers, it’s easy to overlook that before he left for North America, TAKA was a truly incredible wrestler. This period of his career gets overlooked, and he’s remembered worse historically as a result. 

This is one of TAKA’s best outings. He’s leaping around the ring in a literal sense – it’s not that he’s moving quickly – it’s that he’s using springboards as a primary mode of transportation at times. He’s the cog that keeps this machine going, even surpassing the likes of feisty Tiger Mask and a reckless Super Delfin in this encounter. 

If it weren’t for a specific match coming up later on in the list, I would dub this the best finishing stretch in Michinoku Pro history. Words cannot do it justice, only time. Nothing is happening in wrestling right now that looks like the final five minutes of this match. There are a lot of lesser versions of it being done, but none of it compares to the real thing. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
June 23, 1996 

Kaientai Deluxe, Michinoku Pro’s perennial heel stable, formed in 1994 with SATO (Dick Togo), MEN’s Teioh (Terry Boy), and Shiryu leading the charge.

It would become apparent after the departure of Kaientai that a promotion like this is only as strong as its heel unit. This would ring true for Dragongate in the decades to come, as their weakest periods are marked by weak heel units. 

Luckily for Michinoku Pro in 1996, their heel unit was as strong as ever, and this unique handicap match shined a light on how great the original trio could be together. For years, we’ve heard about Gedo & Jado’s love of Memphis wrestling, which was only put in a more prominent position when Dick Togo gained power in Japan’s leading promotion. This bout in Fukushima, may as well have taken place at the Memphis Coliseum. 

Delfin and Sasuke combined forces here to form Michinoku Pro’s version of the Mega Powers, and they were met with the buzzsaw trio that mugged them for 20 minutes. 

It’s important to watch this match, even if it’s not as sexy as some of the others on paper, because it sets the tone that Kaientai are a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of 1996. Remember the mask-ripping, table attacks, and general brutality as the year progresses. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
August 18, 1996 

One of the reasons that 1996 was such a great year for the promotion was that the grandfather of Michinoku Pro, Gran Hamada, returned to the fold. The then-45-year-old gave a jolt to a largely static roster since its formation. I know it’s easy for your eyes to drift in Liger’s direction, given that he’s Jushin Thunder Liger, but don’t sleep on Hamada’s perfectly timed sequences in this match and every other that he’s involved in. 

Speaking of Liger, it’s fascinating watching him, and Dick Togo go at it here, as two months before this match, they wrestled one another in Budokan Hall. By that point, Liger was an established superstar across the globe. For all of his success in the northeastern indie, Togo was still just a pudgy boy who was entering Liger’s jungle. Even though he came up short in that match, it was a remarkable performance for Togo, one that made people take note of him on a much larger scale than ever before. 

Liger remembered that, and Liger got his revenge this time around. 

TAKA is once again incredible. In particular, there are some sequences between TAKA and Liger that we don’t have footage of a singles match between these two in this era (they wrestled an untelevised match in the 1994 BOSJ. Their next singles encounter was in 2011). 

Naniwa, one of Michinoku Pro’s “little engines that could,” is tremendous in this encounter. He’s the primary target of Kaientai’s attack, and after a long build to his comeback, the eventual comeuppance is so satisfying. 

There are so many great Michinoku Pro matchups with the core roster, but the star power of Liger makes this one stand out uniquely. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
October 10, 1996

There are few Japanese wrestling matches more famous than this one among English-speaking fans. Time has been incredibly favorable towards the classics of 90s All Japan, whether it be the first encounter between Jumbo Tsuruta and Mitsuharu Misawa, the 1994 bout between Toshiaki Kawada and Misawa, or the bevy of tag classics that can be identified by date, whether it be 12/3/93, 6/9/95, or 12/6/96. As an entity, the aforementioned 1994 Super J Cup remains an event that has stood the test of time. One could say “Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask,” as that feud has been etched into Wrestling Fan 101 vernacular, but no single match sticks out as the one to watch. 

In the 21st century, the definitive answer is Kenta Kobashi vs. Misawa from March 1, 2003 in Pro Wrestling NOAH. There’s an argument that the October 2006 encounter between KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji deserves to be in that conversation. You must then look at the Bushiroad era of New Japan Pro Wrestling, which has had more western eyeballs on it than any other Japanese promotion in history. Still, with the constant influx of new content to watch, some of those classics aren’t ingrained into the fabric of wrestling fandom in the way that a match like this Michinoku Pro tag has been. 

The company’s third-anniversary show featured the first retirement of British journeyman Johnny Saint, the one and only Mil Mascaras appearance in the promotion, and a plodding main event from Jinsei Shinzaki and FMW’s Hayabusa, is best known for this encounter. As Robin Reid says in his testimonial of this match for the Wrestling 101 Project, “Smaller wrestlers working at a high pace and blending together a feel of both lucha and puro may not feel totally unique nowadays, but this match-up between these two groups brought it to the masses.”

In the context of this list, this match is super important because it marks the introduction of Masato Yakushiji, possibly the greatest underdog in wrestling history. The Kanagawa-native began training in Universal, but debuted under the Michinoku Pro banner during the company’s first few months. 

Standing at only 5’7”, Yakushiji was undersized, even on a roster full of junior heavyweights. His greatest strength throughout his career was his weakness, meaning no one took a beating like he did. Throughout this match, he gets to showcase his best asset, his affinity to taking an ass beating. He’s the ignitor that oftentimes turned a good multi-man match into a great one, as he was able to garner sympathy by getting beat down, then later was able to rally the crowd around his jaw-dropping comebacks. 

Hamada is once again brilliant here, as is Delfin who ages like a fine wine when reviewing his best years. Kainentai are dialed in as an act, progressing greatly from the summer when they were only three-deep. 

The issue with this match is that time has passed it by. In the context of this list, it’s sandwiched between two matches that have aged incredibly well, but there’s something about this match that does not hit the mark that you’d hope that it does. 20 years of Dragongate doing this match, but better, has caused it to age poorly. 15 years of PWG doing this match, but faster with bigger spots, has caused it to age poorly. The novelty of juniors blending puro with lucha libre has worn off, which has caused it to age poorly. 

This is not a bad match by any means. Even with 2023 eyes, it would hit the proverbial “spreadsheet.” It’s objectively a great match. It’s just not Michinoku Pro’s best, despite being the most well-known. 

It’s essential viewing because you cannot tell the story of this promotion without it. The little indie that could, a regional promotion based in Iwate, held its fourth-anniversary show in front of nearly 8,000 fans in Sumo Hall. 

The journey to get to this point is remarkable, but it’s important to note with Michinoku Pro, that the journey does not end here. 

Michinoku Pro Wrestling
December 16, 1996

This is the best match in Michinoku Pro history. 

In the same way that time has hindered the tag match on the anniversary show, time has been incredibly kind to this encounter. On a cold night in December, Michinoku Pro rolled into Hakata Star Lanes, the most prestigious venue in that region of the country. 

What transpired in the part-bowling alley-part wrestling hotspot that night was magical. 

The first thing that must be noted is how molten the crowd is. This is MichinokuMania in full effect. Everyone from Sasuke on down is treated like a God. By this point, Kainentai has tormented everyone on the Michinoku Pro Sekigun side for so long that the crowd is frothing at the mouth to see their heroes get some revenge. 

Second, this is the perfect combination of wrestlers. With Sasuke tagging in for Tiger Mask, the Sekigun side has an aura of star power and importance that they didn’t have two months ago when they were in Sumo Hall. 

Third, and most importantly, there is some hate in this match. Even though this feud would continue into 1997 (taking America by storm in the spring of that year), they never reached the heights of this match again because no Michinoku Pro match has ever felt this heated. Hamada is ready to kill his students, Yakushiji is ready to kill his bullies, and Kaientai are stone-cold killers. Mix in Sasuke and Delfin, who are always out for blood, and you have yourselves one of the most heated confrontations of the 1990s. 

Multi-man wrestling, to me, gets lumped into the “fun” category too much. There were a lot of “fun” King of Trios matches, a lot of “fun” AEW trios matches, and a lot of “fun” Dragongate matches, but the real beauty of these multi-man matches is when there’s hatred flowing through each and every one of the competitors. We got that here. 

Hamada, who I think is one of the 50 best wrestlers ever to live, reaches his absolute peak in this match. By this point, he had effectively combined his classic lucha background and updated his bag of tricks with the same maneuvers his students had ushered in. At this point, a man on the wrong side of 40 is the one keeping the pace, trading chops with Dick Togo, countering big bombs from Kaentai’s muscle, and wrestling like a star who is afraid of burning out, like Kobe in his last game

The finishing stretch is utter madness. Chairs are being thrown, moves are being countered, and the audience feels like the “11th man”. They are just as involved in this match as any of the wrestlers. 

It’s a perfect match. There are no notes to be made, nor things to be tweaked. After a red-hot run throughout most of 1996, the promotion closed the year with its magnum opus. While most people will point to 10/10/96 when asked about Michinoku Pro, this is the match that should be on the top of everyone’s mind when they think about the legacy of the promotion. 

January 21, 1997 

1997 was a year of expansion for Michinoku Pro. Famously, the group set its sights on America and created mainstream buzz with their appearance at ECW’s inaugural pay-per-view, Barely Legal. This would pave the way for TAKA Michinoku to later link up with EMLL, and then alongside The Great Sasuke, the WWF. 

Expansion caused the end of Michinoku Pro’s glory years, but it wasn’t all bad. A month removed from its peak, the aforementioned 10-man in Fukuoka, the gang was back at it, this time with eight-man in the shoot-style promotion known as BattleArts. 

In front of an audience that was used to arm bars and leg locks, Michinoku Pro exploded onto the scene and put Korakuen in a frenzy. This match, perhaps due to it not taking place on a proper Michinoku Pro show, has been slept on for far too long. This is one of the true gems of Michinoku Pro. Hamada, Sasuke, and Yakushiji were brilliant, as always, but this is the Gran Naniwa show. 

Yes, the Gran Naniwa show! 

After having his mask ripped off by the heel unit, Naniwa became a man possessed and attempted to get his revenge on the other masked man, Shiryu (who would also leave the promotion in 1997 for Promo Azteca in Mexico. A year later, he would begin splitting time between New Japan and WCW). Nearly maskless and bloody, the two bottomfeeders of their army were ushered to the forefront with their violent and gory display of wrestling. 

This match has never gotten the love that it deserves, but hopefully, with the benefit of hindsight, it can be etched alongside the other storied Michinoku Pro tags. It’s every bit as good and feels shockingly different from the great string of tags they put on display in 1996. If you feel that all of the great Michinoku tags blend together, I recommend checking this one out, as it has a totally different tone than prior bouts. 

Century Wrestling Alliance
February 16, 1997

Two months before they shocked American audiences with their speed and athleticism on ECW’s Barely Legal, the Michinoku crew was brought to Boston for a Barely Legal preview match and a shot for Tony Rumble’s CWA promotion in Massachusetts. On a show headlined by the Dungeon Master himself vs. Jimmy Snuka in a match that was undoubtedly an abomination to the sport of pro wrestling, six Japanese juniors strolled into a gym in Chelsea, MA, and blew the roof off of the building. 

We see the first traces of the touring six-man here, the kind of thing that would be better crafted on Barely Legal and then perfected in later years by the Dragongate crew during their pit stops in Ring of Honor. The hatred that was present in December in Fukuoka and in January on the BattleArts show is absent. This is about playing the hits. They did everything in their power to stick the landing, both literally and metaphorically, in front of an audience that did not know them. 

This match is included partially because I have a real soft spot for 90s Japanese stars working in the most eclectic places in America (like Dan Severn vs. Naoya Owaga (The Deep Dive) in bumfuck Texas, for example). No one involved in the promotion has any idea what’s going on here. They don’t know the wrestlers, their moves, or any of their history. It adds a genuine charm to this match that no other Michinoku Pro match has, ECW bouts included. 

TAKA and Sasuke would be in the WWF only a handful of months after this. A year later, Men’s Teioh and Dick Togo would join them. Soon after, Hamada and Naniwa would be washed up. This is truly one of the last vestiges of Michinoku Pro’s golden era, and it happened unknowingly in front of some Americans in the Massachusetts suburbs. 

Michinoku Pro
January 10, 1999 

Michinoku Pro’s golden era was a thing of the past by the time this show rolled around. Kaientai fully defected to America in early 1998, but in return, The Great Sasuke came back home. Unfortunately, by this point, Sasuke’s body was beyond broken (remember, this is 1998 we’re talking about), and he had entered his “Donda-era,” transitioning from creative genius to merely creative, a fate worse than death. Business faltered greatly. 

In July, however, a familiar face came back into the fold. Ultimo Dragon, who worked with Michinoku Pro’s stars during the infancy of their careers in Universal, now had students of his own and he was desperate for them to get ring time. After a year in Mexico, Crazy MAX, the trio of Judo Suwa, Shiima Nobunaga, and Sumo Fujii, landed in Japan and soon became a worthy replacement of Kaientai. 

Whatever goodwill the promotion earned in the back half of 1998 was lost in early 1999. Just as Sasuke and friends had done to Hamada in the later years of Universal, Ultimo’s students used Michinoku Pro as a finishing school before launching Toryumon at the end of January 1999. 

On this very show, however, it was announced that Super Delfin would be leaving the promotion on January 13. Sasuke did this on the house mic, which prompted Delfin to come out and chastise the leader of the promotion for giving away “inside” information. Delfin stated that he loved Michinoku Pro, but hated Sasuke. 

Angle or not, there was truth behind it, as Delfin defected from Michinoku Pro three days later and then, on January 17, held a press conference to announce that he was starting a new promotion and that he was taking Naohiro Hoshikawa, Masato Yakushiji, Gran Naniwa, Masaru Seno, one trainee and one company referee with him. After promoting a CMLL Japan tour in February, Delfin convinced a returning Dick Togo to side with him. A March 12 press conference marked the official launch of Osaka Pro Wrestling, which ran its first show the following month. 

As a result of Toryumon launching at the end of January (and immediately becoming the country’s top juniors promotion) and the talent exodus by way of Osaka Pro, this match truly marks the end of Michinoku Pro as a relevant promotion. They would pop big houses at times in the 21st century and to a certain subsect of fans, these letters will always have some name value, but after this six-man, the Michinoku Pro that was beloved by many was gone. 

Luckily, they ended with a bang. The two most interesting of CIMA’s (Shiima) Hall of Fame-worthy career are his time with Michinoku Pro in 1998 and 1999 and his post-DG run in 2018. He was an animal during his time in Michinoku Pro. Fearless, innovative, and beaming with potential, CIMA was at a point artistically in which his body was capable of doing anything he wanted it to do and his brain wasn’t developed enough to halt his physical creativity. Less than two years into his career and at only 21-years-old in this match, he wrestles with the charisma and command of someone engineered to headline arenas. 

His Crazy MAX counterparts, SUWA, and (Don) Fujii, aren’t far behind in terms of talent. I actually think the wrestling world is ready for a SUWA revival. His peak years, 1999-2004, are filled with gems, and he rarely gets the love he deserves. 

Their opponents, all of whom would soon transfer to Osaka Pro, are an interesting group of names. There’s obviously Yakushiji, who by this point had been well-established in his role. Here, he teamed alongside Masaru Seno, who would rebrand as Daio QUALLT in Osaka Pro. He would become a mainstay and eventual top champion there. They were joined by Naohiro Hoshikawa, a brilliant technician who was brought up in Michinoku Pro, but did his best work in Zero-ONE. His career was cut short by a brain injury in 2004. 

Hoshikawa and Seno’s unique in-ring approach makes this match feel different than the multi-man matches that were loaded with Universal-turned-Michinoku Pro stars. There’s a certain grit to this match, largely brought to the table by Hoshikawa, that makes the match enjoyable, but makes it very apparent that long gone are the days of 10/10/96. 

Wrestling was changing, and Crazy MAX was at the forefront of that change. This is the best trios match that the original Crazy MAX members ever had with one another during their near-decade together. This hit every beat that you would hope for. A sweltering finishing stretch caps off the last vintage Michinoku Pro match. 

SUWA’s diving headbutt, unknowingly at the time, ushered in the era of the Dragon System. 

In the following year, Osaka Pro would find footing in its region while Ultimo Dragon and Toryumon would form a working relationship with Michinoku Pro to help keep them afloat. 

In 2000, Michinoku Pro hosted the third incarnation of the Super J Cup, headlined by New Japan’s Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Toryumon’s CIMA. In 2004, they helped usher in youngster Fujita Hayato, who keeps the spirit of Michinoku Pro alive to this day. Around that same time, after the collapse of Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon X, the promotion helped house students from the failed TX and UD:06 classes. Former GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenoh began his career in Michinoku Pro in 2007 and provided thrilling affairs until his departure in 2013. In 2010, Sasuke began the annual tradition of The Great Space War, a yearly car crash that puts a bow on Michinoku Pro’s calendar year. In 2016, the promotion ran its final Fukumen World League to date, a tournament that attracted and was won by international superstar Caristico (CMLL’s Mistico). And in 2023, the promotion celebrates its 30th anniversary. 

Wrestling would not be where it is without the creativity and innovation that Michinoku Pro displayed at the peak of its powers. Whether they know it or not, there’s a good chance that your favorite wrestler is taking a page out of the Michinoku playbook. 

Michinoku Pro’s golden era only lasted a few years, but its impact will be felt for an eternity.