Musings of a Mark #22
Jumbo Tsuruta
July 12, 2009
By: Scott Webster of

Ever since joining WrestleView over a year ago, I?ve been presented with the name ?Jumbo Tsuruta? during discussions on the greatest performer ever. My experience with puroresu at this point was limited severely to a few matches on the Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero DVD sets, so I obviously had no clue who this performer was. The one ?fact? I came to recognise was that he seemed integral to Mitsuharu Misawa’s elevation, and was a prominent presence in Japan throughout the ?70s and ?80s. Beyond that, Jumbo Tsuruta and his work eluded me completely.

Then Mitsuharu Misawa passed away around a month ago. I haven?t seen much of this fabled individual either, but he was often described as one of the best the industry had seen. One of the ?Four Pillars of Heaven? to be exact. I resolved to learn more about Misawa. First, however, I was advised to observe as much of Jumbo as possible. To gain an understanding of the ?mountain? Misawa climbed, y’see.

This column was born out of this approach. It possesses (fleshed out) on-the-fly thoughts I had whilst watching Jumbo matches recommended by fellow forum members (who I greatly appreciate for their help). It’s far from a definitive ?opinion? on Jumbo or his work, instead highlighting an ongoing process of becoming familiar with the much-revered man. Obviously I can?t provide a career retrospective in one column (this one is late as it is!), so hopefully my as-I-go comments grant insight into my initial reactions towards Tsuruta, and maybe get others interested in this Japanese legend.


Terry Funk vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, NWA Heavyweight Championship 2 / 3 Falls – AJPW 06.11.76

I?ve been told that Tsuruta was trained by the Funk family, and thusly this performance contains a nice teacher / student dynamic. That is, until the niceties pass and a championship match takes over. Before I get into the comments though, I?d like to take this moment to declare this an awesome, awesome match! As I say below it’s quite slow-paced, with lovely emphasis placed on prolonged holds and attempts to escape them. Not to go all Seinfeld on everyone here ? I always thought Frasier was better anyway! ? but it works to create significance for the normally insignificant aspects of the show. And as anyone who successfully endured my lengthy analysis of John Cena and Kurt Angle’s offering from No Way Out 2005, or simply know why I can stand Orton’s supposed over-reliance on rest-holds, would already understand … That kind of stuff rocks my socks!

Ahem … anyway:

– The opening handshake isn?t cautious or ?testing the waters?; it’s a nice, smooth movement initiated by Terry Funk that contains no indication of doubt regarding Jumbo’s acceptance. The pat on the back isn?t condescending, but warm and encouraging, judging from the lowered gaze of Funk absent of a broad, mocking smile. Therefore a mentor / student relationship is established, and the overall proceedings are layered with good-natured competitiveness.

– This match is fantastic because it layers the insignificant movements (elbow tie-ups, escaping rest-holds etc.) with detail, making them ‘significant?. The match therefore becomes engrossing to watch, despite its initially slow pace. Rather than one combatant seeming to ?allow? the other to overpower them in the elbow tie-up, both look as though they?re pushing against each other. This results in both bodies falling to their knees, and you can then see the legs pushing against the canvas as a sign of effort placed into the hold. Very hard to notice, but it is there.

– The next elbow tie-up is even better. Both end up on their knees trying to sweep the other off their feet (seems like an amateur wrestling stance that Angle and Swagger use from time to time). They get tangled into another grapple lock-up on their knees, subsequently pushing and shifting weighting to try to best the other, perhaps to latch on a headlock. By its conclusion Tsuruta begins to push Funk across the mat.

– Funk doesn?t take the cheap shot when Jumbo is caught against the ropes, reminding of the good-natured mentor / student dualism at work. In another sign of this Funk suddenly bounces off the ropes, testing Jumbo’s awareness and reactions. He halts prior to contact, as Jumbo rises to the challenge.

– Terry slaps on an arm-lock, eventually grounding Jumbo to the mat. He repeatedly yanks on the arm, wrenches it, to maintain interest in the hold. Jumbo doesn?t sell it as excruciating, but he does grimace. In other words, he doesn?t oversell. Jumbo eventually lifts Funk onto his shoulders, but rather than opt for the tempting slam, he simply places Funk on the turnbuckle to ensure the hold was broken. No risk of Funk maintaining his grip. Jumbo shakes his arm to regain feeling. Everything is just neatly attached to this respectful battle between the two, providing a superb study for what I?ve since deemed ? or rather have stolen from my Performance Studies class ? ?character embodiment?.

– Funk returns to attacking the arm almost immediately. He slaps on a key-lock and pushes Jumbo down, bending him over backwards. You can see the strain on Funk’s face signifying pressure and effort; he closes his eyes tight, grits his teeth, his whole face shaking as he exerts strength into the move. Jumbo’s effort to prevent the hold isn?t fluid and ?allowed?; he appears to go slowly, working against that strength that Funk is investing in the move. Despite his efforts, Jumbo can?t distance himself from Funk, ending up in another hold torturing his left arm.

– Same applies to the ?arms-behind-back? struggle. Jumbo’s effort actually gets the crowd somewhat behind him. I find that remarkable, as these exchanges are merely escaping rest-holds! Funk highlights being ?off-balance? when Jumbo comes close to reversing the hold the second time. This is honestly the most detail I?ve ever seen invested into otherwise standard rest-hold escapes.

– Heavy breathing, sweat and narrowed eyes (by Jumbo) convey the fatigue and effort endured trying to reverse that hold. When Funk attempts to counter, Jumbo invests bursts of strength that gradually returns his mentor to suffering the hold. The wrenching of the arm-lock continues.

– Funk now resorts to strikes. Each chop is portrayed as hurting Jumbo, but he doesn?t relinquish the hold. The head butt knocks Funk loopy too. There’s a struggle over the pin-fall (Funk kicking legs to counteract Jumbo’s attempts to plant his shoulders to the canvas).

– Funk resolves to take the cheap shots in the corner, signifying now that the relationship is about competition rather than mentorship. Jumbo outmanoeuvring and keeping a step ahead of his former teacher draws support from the crowd (constant arm-locks). The suspect hand creeping across Jumbo’s face several times during these holds reinforces that sportsmanship is becoming a secondary facet of the match.

– Moments after the first fall occurs, Funk has his left arm treated on the outside. Jumbo’s rearing at the beginning of the second fall, beckoning Funk to enter. The mentor takes his time, exploiting the younger man’s potential over-zealousness. Another handshake fools Jumbo into thinking this is still good-natured competition; now it’s serious competition. Jumbo’s reaction to the first slap to his head is great. He’s shocked for a moment, staring at Funk (who initiates the contact after drawing Jumbo in closer for a proposed ?test of strength?), then mimicking the move and growling in frustration. It unnerved him.

– Funk still displays lingering pain in his left arm (shakes every now and then to alleviate it).

– Funk realises he probably can?t compete in a mat-wrestling contest with the former amateur wrestler / Olympian, so he picks up the pace and starts dishing out bombs. (Swinging neckbreaker, piledriver) Jumbo maintains consciousness after these moves connect, making his kick-outs believable, but you can witness the strain they have on him via the facial expressions. His momentarily stiff neck after impact adds to their effective impression.

– Terry Funk creates a brawling dimension to the match by chucking Jumbo to the outside, and ramming his head onto the turnbuckle steel when he attempts to re-enter the squared circle. In the rear-naked choke, Jumbo maintains consciousness as opposed to the typical unconsciousness (compromised by subsequent powering up and escaping with ease …) of today.

– Once again Jumbo rises to Funk’s established challenge, eventually engaging with the bombs ahoy! mentality as well. But Funk captures him in an unsettling position, rolling him continuously around the ring to eliminate his senses and manages to secure the fall. That struggle was awesome. They portray appropriate facial expressions even during this sequence, where our attention isn?t focused on the face (i.e. Funk grits his teeth as he executes another roll about the ring, whilst Jumbo’s swaying head suggests dizziness and/or loosening consciousness).

– The third fall bears an impression of elevated stakes. Funk tosses Tsuruta over the top rope in a counter to the abdominal stretch. His (Funk’s) buddy cheap shots Jumbo. He uppercuts Terry, stomps on his head (stuff he wasn?t doing in the first two falls). Terry pulls hair and punches to escape headlocks. Good-natured battle has surely left the match, replaced by an urgent need to acquire that final fatal fall.

Jumbo Tsuruta / Giant Baba vs. Terry Funk / Dory Funk Jr. ? AJPW 12.14.77

This tag performance builds upon my impressions above, particularly concerning Tsuruta’s prowess in delivering magnificent emphasis on even the smallest details…

– Jumbo shows a temper here, growling with a clenched fist threatening to unload as he continues to be dominated by his former mentors. This gives him a little more personality in my opinion, and moves this match far from the almost vomit-inducing ?respectful? fight that the above encounter managed to avoid being.[ Remember MVP / Kingston for a month or so ago? Man that was disgustingly friendly!]Several revenge spots are scattered about once Jumbo regains offense, returning pile drivers, punches, stomps to the face, and brain-busters into ring.

– Similar ‘struggle moments? to the singles match with Terry Funk occur, both in rest-hold escapes and, even more impressively, slam attempts . These take upon a two-part process: first, the act of lifting; second, the act of slamming. This gives off the appearance of exerted strength in lifting the struggling opponent, making the move seem more difficult to execute compared to their presence nowadays. It also magnifies its impact, leaving both men fatigued on the mat for a few moments afterwards.

– In general, Jumbo reacts to everything. Strikes bobble his head, each twist of his ankle whilst in a modified leg lock achieves a notable pained response and so forth. The amount of attention he pays to every aspect of the performance is astounding, matching the best that I?ve seen from more contemporary performers. And that includes Eddie Guerrero, Ric Flair, Steve Austin and co.

I think I?ll leave the column at this point, so as to avoid repeating myself over with the remaining selection of matches. Below is a bunch of matches that I also watched in preparation for this piece, each containing the same qualities of those above.

Other Recommendations:

Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Ric Flair, NWA World Heavyweight Championship 2 / 3 Falls ? AJPW 06.08.83

An absolute marathon to get through (it’s an hour long!). It’s well worth the journey though. The superb attention to details persists, with a neat change in demeanour once Flair is busted open. A very slow match, which subsequently makes the upbeat sequences that much more exciting and significant. I?d watch this over Bret Hart / Shawn Michaels Iron Man, but that may be me being an idiot.

Jumbo Tsuruta / Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu / Yoshiaki Yatsu, Tag Team Championship ? AJPW 01.28.86

This has a lot more hate and quicker exchanges than the previous collection of matches. Also notable for being the first heel-ish performance I?ve seen of Jumbo. For those that prefer a swifter pace to that in the matches against Terry Funk, this is the stuff to look for.

Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Stan Hansen, Triple Crown Title ? AJPW 04.18.89

Just watch it already!

Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Tenryu, Triple Crown title ? AJPW 06.05.89

Apparently parallels between this clash and the fifth encounter between Misawa and Kawada are quite strong. As such it’s pretty darn significant to goofs like me who analyse pro-wrestling to great degrees. I was very impressed with this performance on first viewing. I?d like to review it on another occasion should the opportunity arise. But if I never get round to it, take my word here and watch this beauty.

I haven?t even scratched the surface yet for ?Jumbo Tsuruta?, so I?ll continue to explore his offerings in the coming weeks. For next time though, I probably will persist with my look at World Wrestling Entertainment’s product circa 2005. When the time is right, I shall look at the famous feud between Misawa and Tsuruta.

Until then,

Keep Marking!