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    Thursday, January 21, 2016

    Cafe Puro (1/21/16): Life After The Big Leagues

    In the world of professional wrestling, it is given knowledge that if you want to make it big and validate your career, you make WWE your final stop and make a name for yourself in the biggest wrestling company in the world. And in many ways, that is very true. Even if you are a megastar outside of WWE, for financial security and career fulfillment, it has always lingered in their minds. Just ask the potential new signees from NJPW, who will make a splash to the Stanford-based company in a few weeks' time.

    But oftentimes, reality sets in. Be it politics or the rigorous schedule that leads to career-shortening injuries (just ask John Cena, Hideo Itami, Cesaro, and the rest of the injury pool), reality supercedes dreams. It's common criticism that has yet to be addressed by the company, with no clear answer in sight.

    But there is life after working for the big leagues. And the following guys in this list have shown that not only is there an opportunity outside of the big daddy of pro wrestling, but they also helped prosper an environment where others are given the chance to shine.

    Ultimo Dragon

    Known for: Being a legend in the Jr. Heavyweight / Cruiserweight Division, worked with WCW and WWE, innovated and popularized the Asai Moonsault and Asai DDT

    Achievements: Winning the J-Crown (holding eight different Jr. Heavyweight titles from different promotions), held different Jr. Heavyweight/Cruiserweight Championships in NJPW, WCW, AJPW, CMLL, Michinoku Pro

    Life after the big leagues: The Dragon's case is interesting in the sense that he had experienced life after the big leagues twice. When his WCW career ended due to a medical operation mishap in 1998, he opted to open his wrestling school known as Toryumon, where he trained the likes of CIMA, Dragon Kid, Magnum TOKYO, and SUWA. When he left Toryumon the first time to make his US comeback, the gym was effectively renamed Dragon Gate, and the rest, as they say, is history. Dragon Gate became one of the premier promotions in Japan that emphasized Jr. Heavyweight wrestling, with graduates including PAC (now Adrian Neville) and Uhaa Nation (now Apollo Crews).

    After his return to the United States, competing for WWE, and his release a few years later, he went back to wrestling in Japan while teaching a new generation of wrestlers. It is at that time that he taught the eventual new blood of pro wrestling in Japan, including Hajime Ohara, the Brahman Brothers, Taiji Ishimori, and a pre-young lion Kazuchika Okada.

    He continues to work for AJPW as a freelance wrestler, helping to keep the struggling company afloat.

    TAKA Michinoku

    Known for: being a trailblazer in the WWE's Light Heavyweight Division, founder of the Kaientai Dojo, innovator of the Michinoku Driver II, EVIL/INDEED, member of Suzuki-gun

    Achievements: the first WWF Light Heavyweight Champion, IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champion, GHC Jr. Tag Team Champion, and a slew of various Jr. Championships in different promotions over the years

    Life after the big leagues: After leaving the WWF in 2001, having been known for their infamous English-dubbed gimmick at the time alongside Funaki, life had changed for TAKA as he officially launched the Kaientai Dojo in 2002, where he not only trained aspiring students at the Chiba area, but also ran shows under the promotion. In the 14 years that he ran the company, he gave many wrestlers a chance to make it big in pro wrestling, allowing them to show up in shows from varying partner companies, including DDT Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Notable names who competed for K-DOJO include Yuji Hino, Kengo Mashimo, Isami Kodaka, and KAZMA SAKAMOTO (aka Lord Tensai's assistant). 

    At the same time, he's also been active with different wrestling promotions in Japan, and has the distinct honor of having won titles from the Big 3 wrestling companies in Japan: NJPW, AJPW, and NOAH. Today, he also serves as a key member of Minoru Suzuki's Suzuki-gun faction, and is currently involved in a huge invasion storyline in NOAH. Through his performances, he was able to help build up big names in different promotions. Long story short: wherever he is, that's where the noise is.

    And let's be honest: anyone would kill for a healthy physique like he has after years of being in the industry. Not a bad way to age, really.


    Known for: his ECW and WWE run, head of SMASH and WNC

    Achievements: WWE United States Championship, WWE Tag Team Championship, ECW TV Championship, WWE Cruiserweight Championship, BJW Jr. Heavyweight Championship (among other titles)

    Life after the big leagues: After leaving the WWE on good terms and returned to Japan, he did not waste any time and made an impact in the puroresu scene. First, he joined HUSTLE and became a fixture in the company until its closure in 2009. Then, he fought for AJPW and set his sights on big names such as Minoru Suzuki (when he was Triple Crown Champion) and Suwama. And then in 2009, he made a big splash in NJPW and attacked the then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi, effectively starting a feud with the Ace.

    But in 2010, things changed for the Japanese Buzzsaw as he saw himself in the position of big boss for HUSTLE's spiritual successor, SMASH. The newly established promotion was more serious as compared to its hilarious predecessor, and became an outlet for future stars in the industry. Notably, it gave aspiring names like KUSHIDA (who was also trained by TAJIRI), Hajime Ohara, Kana (now NXT's Asuka), Lin Byron, and even the Filipino-Japanese Syuri an outlet for them to make an impact in the industry. It also helped that TAJIRI has friends in the American wrestling scene as he brought in names like Tommy Dreamer, Mikey Whipwreck, and Finlay, to help the fledging promotion and build its stars.

    In SMASH's spiritual successor, Wrestling New Classic (WNC), he remained the captain of his ship as he continued to build its stars for the big time. Through WNC, we saw stars like Jiro Kuroshio and Yusuke Kodama shine further. It was also during this period that WNC had established a working relationship with Reina Joshi Puroresu, which was evident during the Joshi Jam event that took place in Manila last 2014. 

    WNC had ceased operations in mid-2014, with its male wrestlers officially signed to Wrestle-1 while their female talent remained with Reina-WNC. Wrestle-1 saw a much needed boost in talent due to this deal, and it seemed that the Buzzsaw's students are finally getting the attention they deserved, especially Jiro Kuroshio who is currently going under the identity of "Ikemen" (or "pretty boy"). And just in case you were wondering who he is:

    TAJIRI's time is coming to an end, as he is slowing his career down to focus on being an overseas acupuncturist once he is done with Wrestle-1. But the impact he's made during his time in Japan will be felt for years to come.

    There are many other stars that benefitted greatly after moving their careers away from the big names, but these three greatly exemplified how the business became better overall because of this. Not only did they bolster the competitive scene outside of the big leagues, but they also helped forge the new generation talent that would help carry the torch for years to come.

    Who else did you feel brought signifcant change to the wrestling industry after leaving the big leagues? Sound off in the comments!

    Images from the respective owners


    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (1/21/16): Life After The Big Leagues Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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