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#30 Genichiro Tenryu
A well-rounded superstar who achieved great success in every promotion he appeared in, Genichiro Tenryu was a force in Japanese wrestling for nearly 40 years, earning him the nickname "Mr. Puroresu." A mover and shaker behind the scenes, Tenryu spent time in several of Japan's largest promotions and ended up being a pivotal figure in the business developments that took Japanese wrestling to dizzying heights in the 1990s.
Like Japanese icon Rikidozan, Tenryu got his start in athletics through sumo wrestling. At 6'1" and 273lbs Tenryu was a boulder of a man and was blessed with impressive agility for a man his size. Tenryu began to climb the ranks, reaching the rank of maegashira 1 the lowest of the five ranks in the Makuuchi division, the highest rank being yokozuna. Despite showing promise as a wrestler, Tenryu began to get in a feud with his new coach, and decided to retire from the sport at age 26 in 1976.
Shortly after his retirement, All-Japan Pro Wrestling founder Giant Baba contacted Tenryu and convinced him to pursue a career in professional wrestling. Tenryu began his training not in Japan, but in Amarillo, Texas as he was sent to be trained by the Funk brothers. Tenryu made his in-ring debut in 1976 in Texas, his first opponent being Ted DiBiase. It was in the US that Tenryu began working with another promising All-Japan recruit, Jumbo Tsuruta. Throughout the rest of their active careers, their relationship and rivalry would influence several major developments in Japan.
When Tenryu returned to Japan he remained an undercard performer for several years before getting his first significant singles push in the 1982 Champions Carnival, finishing fourth behind Baba, Bruiser Brody and Tsuruta. As Baba began to slow down in the ring, Tsuruta became the new top babyface in the company. He was supported by Tenryu, who won several mid-card championships and formed a popular tag team with Tsuruta and engaged in memorable bouts against the Funks and the team of Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody.
Tenryu's career really began to take off when he and Tsuruta began feuding with Riki Choshu and Yoshiaki Yatsu. The angle was that Chosu and Yatsu had been former stars in New Japan Pro Wrestling and were coming over to invade AJPW. The angle, which would be copied many times in the future, most notably with the nWo, was a box office smash and began to place AJPW ahead of its bitter rivals. Tenryu and Tsuruta got the big rubs as the babyface who fought for the honor of their company against the hated invaders. It also helped that workers like Tenryu, Tsuruta, Choshu and Stan Hansen were among the best in-ring performers in the world and AJPW began to garner the reputation for having the best main events anywhere in the wrestling world.
The feud would continue into 1987 when it began to lose steam and Choshu returned to NJPW. To help spice things up, Baba had Tsuruta and Tenryu lose the tag team titles to the Road Warriors. Bitter at the loss of the championship, Tenryu turned heel and formed his own stable, comprised of former International Pro Wrestling stars Ashura Hara and Hiromichi Fuyaki and rookies Toshiaki Kawada and Yoshinari Ogawa. The stable, which was dubbed "Revolution" was another big success for AJPW, as the feud between the former friends Tsuruta and Tenryu ignited the company with superb wrestling matches and box office success.
In April of 1989, Tsuruta defeated Stan Hansen to unify the NWA International Heavyweight Championship, the Pacific Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Championship and the NWA United National Championship to become the Triple Crown Champion, thus creating a new world championship that was recognized the world over. On June 5, Tenryu defeated Tsuruta for the championship in an instant classic that won Match of the Year honors from Tokyo Sports, a daily newspaper in Japan, and was awarded a perfect five star rating from Dave Meltzer. He also pinned Giant Baba in a tag team match, becoming one of the final wrestlers to cleanly defeat Baba via pinfall. Tenryu would drop the championship back to Tsuruta later that year.
The words Megane Super probably don't mean much to most people, but at one time they were one of the largest makers of eyeglasses in Japan. In April of 1990, Megane Super hired Tenryu to be a spokesperson for their brand. This was not seen as unusual since many Japanese stars crossed over into promotional advertising, and Tenryu was certainly a well-known name even outside of wrestling circles. However, Tenryu shocked the wrestling world when he announced he was leaving AJPW to form his own promotion, Super World of Sports. Backed by Megane Super, the organization was well-funded and attracted known names from throughout the wrestling world and also agreed to a working relationship with the World Wrestling Federation.
SWS saw success throughout its brief run, running the Tokyo Dome with some massive co-promoted events along with the WWF, which saw Tenryu main event twice, once against Hulk Hogan and once teaming with Hogan against the Road Warriors. Unfortunately, the general downturn in the Japanese economy during the early 1990s began to effect Megane Super, who could no longer afford to promote a wrestling federation. Without the backing of Megane Super, the company soon was in financial distress and folded in 1992.
Unable to return to AJPW who remained bitter over his abrupt departure, Tenryu once again formed his own promotion, Wrestle and Romance, better known by its acronym WAR. Unlike a traditional company, WAR had very few contracted wrestlers, relying mostly on freelance workers and working relationships with other promotions to fill out their cards. Tenryu was the lone WAR wrestler who remained in the company, and he continued as one of the biggest stars in the wrestling world throughout the 1990s. Because WAR had different working relationships with so many different promotions, Tenryu picked up victories over many top names, including Atsushi Onita, The Great Muta, Shinya Hashimoto, Tatsumi Fujinami and Antonio Inoki.
In 1998, while still working for WAR, Tenryu began working for NJPW, coming in as a member of Shiro Koshinaka's heel stable. In 1999 Tenryu became the second man in history (Vader was the first) to hold both the Triple Crown Heavyweight and IWGP Heavyweight Championships at the same time when he defeated Muta for the title. Tenryu would drop the title shortly after to Kensuke Sasaki.
After Mitsuharu Misawa left AJPW to form Pro Wrestling NOAH and took a majority of the roster with him, AJPW looked to Tenryu for assistance. The man who once spurned AJPW a decade previously made his triumphant return to AJPW and began a feud over the Triple Crown title with his former protégé, Toshiaki Kawada. Tenryu would win the championship twice during his return to AJPW, and also greatly assisted the company by closing WAR and using many of the WAR wrestlers to help fill out the AJPW roster that was lacking recognizable talent.
In 2003, Tenryu who was now in his 50s, began to slow down in the ring and became a freelancer. In 2005 he debuted in NOAH and had matches with Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama and remained a prominent draw in wrestling. He formed his own promotion, Tenryu Project, and appeared for various different independent Japanese promotions such as Big Japan Pro Wrestling, Dramatic Dream Team and Wrestle-1. In August of 2015, Tenryu had a confrontation at a NJPW show with Kazuchika Okada, where Tenryu said he would be retiring after a match with Okada in November. Tenryu went on a retirement tour before losing to Okada in front of a sold out Ryogoku Kokugikan in his final match.
Tenryu's career leaves behind a tremendous influence on Japanese wrestling. Not only was he one of the best in-ring performers of all-time, known for his tight, realistic style, but he also played a huge role in the development of the invading group storyline, something that virtually every other professional wrestling organization has copied. Lastly, he formed a couple different independent wrestling groups that helped break up the monotony of the AJPW/NJPW rivalry and introduced fans to new stars and new types of matches. Tenryu finished his career with one of the most diverse resumes of any major star and deserves recognition as one of the finest to ever lace up a pair of boots.
Next week, #29 will be revealed, one of the most decorated wrestlers in history that won over a dozen world championships during their career.
The Top 50 so far:
50.Ted DiBiase (click link for description of the qualifications of the list)
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto
31. Roddy Piper
30. Genichiro Tenryu