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#32 Shinya Hashimoto

A round brawler from Toki City, Japan, Shinya Hashimoto rode a wave of insane popularity throughout the 1990s and became one of the most venerated wrestlers in Japanese history. Hashimoto was a top name for New Japan Pro Wrestling during the most profitable period in company history and also became the longest reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion in history.

Hashimoto, probably more than any other Japanese wrestler, has the popularity that is most unique to fans from Japan. By that I mean that Hashimoto's popularity was built heavily on trademarks of Japanese pop culture, mainly the code of the Samurai and fighting spirit. Comparing him to contemporaries, Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta) and Mitsuharu Misawa, fans might not be that familiar with them, but watching one match or two it is easy to understand why those guys are considered all-time greats. On the contrary, Hashimoto might not seem like all that great to the casual fan, which ultimately effects his popularity in the West.

The obvious modern comparison to Hashimoto is Samoa Joe. Like Samoa Joe, Hashimoto wasn't known for his physique, but he was a tremendous brawler and had great charisma in the ring. Unsurprisingly, Hashimoto had a hand in training in Joe, and even wrestled him several times when Joe was working with Pro Wrestling ZERO1. After Hashimoto passed away in 2005, Joe summed up Hashimoto as a performer in a blog post.

"When I 1st started in Japan my knowledge of Hashimoto was limited albeit somewhat educated. It was only when I began to wrestle across the ring from the man that I truly realized what it meant to be a star. Hashimotos ambiance did not lie in a flashy gimmickry, trend setting re-invention or the intangible coolness, of his musketeer brethren. Hashimoto had foregone the pomp and circumstance of wrestling and simply sought to be the embodiment of an ideal," Joe wrote. "The ideal that was the founding principle of the dojo that produced him which was derived from the centuries old warrior customs of his culture. Hashimoto embodied Toukon, The Fighting Spirit."

Joe continued to talk about what made Hashimoto a legend and how he passed that gift onto other wrestlers.

"Once at a preliminary training session, Hashimoto had quizzed a group of relatively clueless gaijin about the most important aspect of Professional Wrestling. Answers sprung forth pleading a case for "Technique" and "Psychology", but Hashimoto simply pointed at his eyes and said "The Fire". The fire, the burning spirit, the unyielding will, even in the face of insurmountable challenges. With a simple gesture and the most intense stare I had ever seen I understood all these things that I have just listed and nodded in compliance."

Hashimoto made his pro wrestling debut when he was 19 years old, losing to Naoki Sano on September 3, 1984. Hashimoto remained a member of the NJPW undercard throughout the mid-1980s, while also gaining experience overseas. Hashimoto wrestled in Jerry Jarrett's Memphis territory as SHOGUN (yes, we were still in the racial stereotype era of wrestling) and also competed in the reborn Stampede Wrestling, where he worked a Mongolian gimmick as Hashif Khan where he tangled with a young wrestler from Edmonton named Chris Benoit.

Hashimoto began to climb the ladder in NJPW towards the end of the 1980s, eventually taking part in NJPW's first show at the Tokyo Dome. At that show Hashimoto was apart of a tournament to crown a new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Hashimoto defeated NJPW icon Riki Choshu in the first round and Russian amateur star Victor Zangiev in the second round of the tournament. Hashimoto lost to Vader in the finals of the tournament, in front of nearly 60,000 fans, and that event was a turning point in Hashimoto's career.

Hashimoto would win his first major title when he teamed with Masa Saito to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship in September of 1989. Hashimoto would continue to hang around the midcard until the G1 Climax in 1991. In what would eventually turn out to be one of the most important tournaments in professional wrestling history, the trio of Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and Hashimoto would dominant the tournament, all advancing to the semi-finals and Mutoh eventually defeated Chono in the finals to win the tournament. The performances by the trio, nicknamed "The Three Musketeers" signaled a new time for the company, and the trio would lead NJPW into a new generation.

Hashimoto would win his first world title when he defeated Mutoh September 1993. For the next four years, Hashimoto would dominate the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship scene, in route to becoming the greatest drawing champion IWGP ever had. According to attendance statistics compiled by Dave Meltzer, Hashimoto was the top draw in all of wrestling in 1995 and 1997 and was the third biggest draw in wrestling in 1994 and 1996.

While Hashimoto was not the most dynamic performer in the ring, he had a unique style that represented something more than athleticism in the ring. Hashimoto's fighting spirit and tenacity was second to none, in a lot of ways he fought a lot like peak Stone Cold Steve Austin. He didn't have a lot of offense outside of strikes, but he was so charismatic and so intense that it didn't matter how rudimentary his offense was, it was the best way to display that competitive fire in the ring.

After doing a quick title swap with the legendary Tatsumi Fujinami, Hashimoto would hold onto the championship for just over a year before dropping it to Mutoh in May, 1995. Hashimoto would regain the championship a year later, defeating Nobuhiko Takada in April of 1996. Hashimoto would then go onto hold the championship for 489 days, the longest reign in IWGP history, before dropping the championship to Kensuke Sasaki in August of 1997.

Around this time Hashimoto began a feud with Naoya Ogawa, a former judo world champion and Olympic Silver Medalist. The feud occupied the most of Hashimoto's time, as he stepped away from the world title scene he had dominated for the last four years. Eventually, Hashimoto declared that he would retire if he ever lost to Ogawa. In October of 1999, Ogawa defeated Hashimoto by referee stoppage in the main event of a show at the Tokyo Dome. The controversial ending launched a final clash between the two, and in April of 2000, once again at the Tokyo Dome, Ogawa knocked out Hashimoto after a brutal match, sending Hashimoto into retirement.

In reality, Hashimoto had grown dissatisfied with his role within the company and eventually requested his release from NJPW. After being granted his release, Hashimoto opened his own promotion, Pro Wrestling ZERO-ONE. The first show, a PPV event, was a big success as Hashimoto teamed with Yuji Nagata in a losing effort against Mitsuharu Misawa and Jun Akiyama. Hashimoto would continue to wrestle for ZERO-ONE while simultaneously training new talents, such as Samoa Joe. In 2003 Hashimoto actually won the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship, defeating Mutoh and becoming one of the rare wrestlers to hold both the Triple Crown and IWGP World Heavyweight Championships. Hashimoto would leave ZERO-ONE at the end of 2004, citing financial problems and numerous injuries.

In July of 2005, Hashimoto reportedly felt like he was suffering from an irregular heartbeat, but didn't visit a doctor. On July 11, Hashimoto suffered a brain aneurysm and tragically passed away at the unfair age of 40. Hashimoto left behind a remarkable legacy in the ring, displaying unprecedented fire and resiliency in the ring, his trademark karate head-band becoming a symbol of excellence to wrestlers world-wide. His son, Daisuke, made his debut for Antonio Inoki's Genome Foundation and continues to wrestle in Japan.

Next week, #31 will be revealed, a charismatic Canadian who became one of the best heels of all-time.

The Top 50 so far:

50.Ted DiBiase (click link for description of the qualifications of the list)
49. Superstar Billy Graham
48.Akira Maeda
47. El hijo del Santo
46.Gene Kiniski
45. Bruiser Brody
44.Mick Foley
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
40. Sting
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
34. Vader
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto

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