Superstar Spotlight: Yoshihiro Takayama
Most people might not have heard of the man known as Takayama. If you were to research him, odds are some of you might be perplexed as to why this man even deserves consideration in this series. After all, Takayama doesn’t have a great physique, his move-set is below average (by Japanese wrestling standards), and he isn’t known for any ground-breaking wrestling matches. So why is he being mentioned today?
Also read: Superstar Spotlight: Dragon Kid
Because Takayama is probably the single toughest wrestler in Japanese history. This is saying a lot when you take into account how vicious and savage Japanese pro wrestling is. In Japan, both ‘strong style’ and ‘King’s Road’ wrestling styles emphasise stiff strikes, martial arts manoeuvres and wrenching submission holds. One must be tough to be a pro wrestler in general, but one must be exceptionally tough to be successful in Japan.
The fact that Takayama is considered one of if not the toughest wrestlers in all of Japan makes his story one worth telling.
Yoshihiro Takayama is huge by Japanese standards, standing at 6’5 and weighing around 276 lbs. (125kg). He didn’t debut for one of Japan’s big two in the 1990s (AJPW or NJPW); instead, he spent the first four years of his career in the Union of Wrestling Forces International (UWFi), a shoot-style promotion that was more closely related to mixed martial arts than traditional wrestling. Because of this, Takayama developed a knack for shoot-style fighting that made him into a big deal for many wrestling purists in Japan.
But despite these assets, Takayama found little success at first when he joined All Japan Pro Wrestling. He lost matches often and worked mostly in opening matches. It wasn’t until Giant Baba, AJPW’s promoter and booker until 1999, passed away that Takayama would gain some upwards momentum. With Mitsuharu Misawa making more decisions as AJPW’s president, Takayama was given much more prominence, especially in tag team matches.
When Misawa led an exodus from AJPW to form NOAH, Takayama went along and was given just as much prominence in that company as well.
Rise to Superstardom
Though he got a handful of world title shots in AJPW, Takayama wouldn’t achieve any major success until after Baba died. Once that happened and Takayama was booked by Misawa, he started achieving more and more success. This was mainly because Takayama was something of an ‘immovable object’ in a similar vein as Andre the Giant. He was so much bigger than most other wrestlers, and also had a greater degree of toughness than many of his smaller peers.
Takayama was in the final match of a tournament to crown the inaugural GHC Heavyweight Champion, losing to Misawa himself. During those early years of NOAH’s, Takayama also dabbled in MMA, and that’s when he became most famous.
Takayama lost all four of his MMA fights, but in all of them, he showed considerable strength and adaptability, which led to him receiving widespread praise and respect from combat sports fans. Then came his greatest fight, a 6-minute slugfest against Don Frye at PRIDE 21, in which both men hit each other as hard as possible without even blocking. Despite the considerable damage, neither man backed down, fighting nonstop to the roaring approval of the fans and the commentators.
This fight forever solidified Takayama as a genuine tough guy that could survive borderline-superhuman levels of punishment. He already had a reputation before this as a man of stone for being able to absorb considerable punishment. This fight proved just how difficult it actually is to take Takayama down.
After this match, Takayama experienced considerable success. shortly after that high-profile fight with Don Frye, Takayama would become a highly successful title holder. He won NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Championship less than three months after that fight, and challenged for it several times over the next few years, including in a great match against Kenta Kobashi.
A year later, he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, followed soon by the IWGP Tag Team Titles. He also won the NWF Heavyweight Title around the same time, which he’d hold onto for a year. Then in 2009, Takayama captured AJPW’s Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship, becoming one of only two men to ever do so (the other being Kensuke Sasaki).
Influence on the wrestling industry
Takayama is one of the toughest wrestlers ever. He spent the majority of his career dishing out brutal punishment and taking just as much. He has become synonymous with inhuman toughness, having spent the majority of his career taking sick bumps and painful strikes.
As such, despite not being as well-known around the world, Takayama is one of the most respected wrestlers in Japan due to what he has done. He is proof that one can indeed achieve great success through their acts and abilities as opposed to just looks. After all, Takayama never had the best physique and his face isn’t, shall we say, the most appealing-looking (especially after he suffered a stroke and part of his face looks like it’s paralysed, or something of the sort).
Though he might not be as famous as some of his other Japanese wrestling brethren, Yoshihiro Takayama is an awesome wrestler that thrives in matches in which he is ‘the mountain’ that smaller wrestlers must overcome. Also, if you’re the kind of person that likes seeing wrestlers hit each other as hard as possible and no-selling the pain to show how naturally tough they are, Takayama’s the poster boy for that sort of thing.
1-time Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion
1-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion
1-time GHC Heavyweight Champion
1-time NWF Heavyweight Champion
1-time AJPW All-Asia Tag Team Champion
1-time AJPW World Tag Team Champion
1-time DDT KO-D Tag Team Champion
2-time GHC Tag Team Champion
1-time Pro Wrestling Zero1 NWA Intercontinental Tag Team Champion
1-time WAR World Six-Man Tag Team Champion
1-time Tenryu Project Six-Man Tag Team Champion
That legendary fight with Don Frye
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