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    Monday, May 30, 2016

    #MustWatchMonday (5/30/16): Tearing It Up with TAKA

    If you were a fan of the WWE during the Attitude Era, you may remember a couple of badly dubbed Japanese cruiserweights named Sho Funaki and Taka Michinoku. If you don't remember them, or just don't know them at all, here's a little reminder for you.

    The comedy and racial stereotypes were only one dimension to this team known as Kaientai, however. Beneath the racial stereotypes and the comedy, one half of this team—Taka Michinoku—was and still is an excellent wrestler.

    A brief history on Taka Michinoku: he made his debut in Japan in 1993, wrestling for Michinoku Pro Wrestling, the promotion owned by the legendary Great Sasuke. He wrestled in Japan for about 3 years, and worked in storied promotions such as New Japan Pro Wresting and Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. In NJPW, he would work tournaments such as the Super J Cup and the Best of the Super Juniors. Not many matches from this period can be found online but this eight-man tag match featuring Michinoku still floats around, and while all the names involved are big names in Japanese wrestling, it also features familiar names such as Chris Benoit, El Samurai, and Jushin "Thunder" Liger.

    Like most young Japanese wrestlers, Taka Michinoku soon travelled the world, and wrestled in places like ECW and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. In ECW, he, Dick Togo, and Terry Boy feuded with the trio of Gran Naniwa and his two mentors, Gran Hamada and the Great Sasuke. The match was universally acclaimed and this fact is even more impressive when you consider the fact that this match was on ECW's first pay-per-view, Barely Legal. For many of the fans watching at the time, this was their first exposure to Japanese wrestling.

    Soon after his stint in ECW, Taka made his way to the WWF. He was taken seriously during the initial part of his run, having well-received matches against the Great Sasuke, and even holding the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship. As the years went by, Taka went down the card, eventually becoming one of the comedy jobbers that most people would remember him as. The peak of his run arguably came when he was chosen to be HHH's opponent for the WWF Championship. Being a part of the undercard at the time, HHH didn't take Taka seriously, and this almost cost him his title.

    After this match happened, Taka Michinoku didn't do much of note. He had a couple of title shots for the WWF Tag Team Championships, as well as additional opportunities to regain the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, but his efforts were futile. In 2001, Taka left the WWF, and went back to Japan.

    Upon his return, he opened a promotion and wrestling school called Kaientai Dojo, which today is one of the notable Japanese independent wrestling companies. Here, he trained present notable Japanese wrestlers such as Yuji Hino (a former WRESTLE-1 Championship holder) and Kengo Mashimo. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to watch many K-DOJO matches, and so cannot recommend a match of his in this promotion.

    Fortunately, TAKA (as he now went by), didn't just limit himself to his home promotion, but bounced around between the three major Japanese promotions: AJPW, NJPW, and NOAH. In NJPW, where he redebuted in 2007, it didn't take long until he won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships with Dick Togo. He only wrestled sporadically for the promotion until 2010, when he joined Satoshi Kojima's stable known as Kojima-gun. 

    After failed attempts at winning the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship as well as failing to regain the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, coupled with Kojima's big losses against Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe, he attacked Kojima. Joining him in this attack were fellow Kojima-gun member Taichi as well as the returning Minoru Suzuki, who became the leader of the new stable known as Suzuki-gun.

    As a member of Suzuki-gun, TAKA, along with Taichi, won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, winning it from Rocky Romero and Alex Koslov (no, not Alexander Kozlov from the WWE).

    They lost the titles not long after winning it, losing it in about 26 days to the Young Bucks. Eventually, in 2015, Suzuki-gun departed from NJPW, and invaded Pro Wrestling NOAH. In this promotion, all members of the stable were made to be dominant, and Taka Michinoku was no exception, winning the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with El Desperado after defeating two other teams. They would hold the title for 203 days, and while all of the matches that they had during this reign (and during their stay in NOAH in general) were great, one of my personal favorite matches came in September 2015, when TAKA and El Desperado went up against the team that would eventually take the titles away from Suzuki-gun: Atsushi Kotoge and Daisuke Harada, also known as Momo no Seishun Tag.

    One of the main things you should know about TAKA Michinoku is that while he won't give you constant MOTYCs ala Hiroshi Tanahashi or AJ Styles, he will always be consistent. At 42 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down, and continues to age like a fine wine. He can always be counted on for a solid to very good match.

    What do you think about Taka Michinoku? Have you been paying attention to his post-WWE run? Leave a comment!


    Brandon Sy is a PhD student in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics currently based in Sydney. Since he wasn't allowed to watch wrestling as a kid, he's been overcompensating ever since. Despite being a huge fan of Japanese wrestling, he still holds a soft spot in his heart for WWE's Kane. He's good for recommending matches from pretty much anywhere, whether it be Japan, Europe, the US or Mexico. He'd be ecstatic if you watched Dragon Gate though.
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    Item Reviewed: #MustWatchMonday (5/30/16): Tearing It Up with TAKA Rating: 5 Reviewed By: bodonium
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