Young Lion and International Excursion
Kensuke Sasaki was born on August 4, 1966 in Fukuoka, Japan. He was trained for professional wrestling by Riki Choshu. He debuted on February 26, 1986 against Shinji Sasazaki in Riki Choshu’s Japan Pro Wrestling. This group was an off-shoot of All Japan Pro Wrestling and Sasaki worked between JPW and AJPW from February of 1986 to September of 1987. Notable opponents during that time include Mitsuo Mimota, Yoshinari Ogawa, Norio Hanaga and Toshiaki Kawada. He also participated in a four-on-two handicap match against Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu.
When Choshu returned to New Japan Pro wrestling in June of 1987, Sasaki followed and debuted on June 9 teaming with Norio Hanaga against Masahiro Chono and Shunji Kosugi. Sasaki became part of the NJPW Young Lions training system. Throughout 1987 and 1988 Sasaki spent time wrestling with and against other young NJPW wrestlers such as Masakatsu Funaki, Shinya Hashimoto, Chris Benoit, Yoji Anjo, Akira Nogami, Takayuki Iizuka, Tatsutoshi Goto, Osamu Matsuda (El Samurai), Keichi Yamada (Jushin Liger) and Minoru Suzuki. He also had a number of matches against Mexican teams such as Villano IV and Villano V, Dr. Wagner Jr. and El Canek and Brazo de Oro and Brazo de Plata. Sasaki also worked with Black Cat during this time.
Sasaki started in Puerto Rico with the World Wrestling Council in 1989 as part of the traditional international learning excursion that is undergone by many Japanese wrestlers. On January 14 he teamed with Mr. Pogo as The Ninja Express to win the WWC tag team titles from Hurracan Castillo Jr. and Miguel Perez Jr. They lost the titles to Chris and Mark Youngblood on March 4. Sasaki and Pogo regained the titles from Castillo and Perez on April 1 before dropping them to Brad and Bart Batten on April 2.
Sasaki started in Stu Hart’s Calgary Stampede Wrestling in August of 1989 where he worked as Benkai Sasaki and teamed with Sumu Hara (Koki Kitahara) as The Samurai Warriors. Kitahara later wrestled in WAR, FMW and Capture International. On August 18, 1989 they won the Stampede International Tag Team Titles from Bulldog Bob Brown and Kerry Brown. During his time in Stampede Sasaki worked against Gama Singh, Johnny Smith, Jonathan Holliday, Goldie Rogers, Skull Mason, Drago Zhivago, Biff Wellington and Duke Myers in both singles and tag team matches. On September 29 Sasaki and Hara lost the titles to Blackheart Apocalypse (Tom Nash) and Blackheart Destruction (Red Tyler). When Stampede Wrestling stopped promoting shows toward the end of 1989, the Canadian National Wrestling Alliance (CNWA) started running shows in its place. Sasaki did work there in March of 1990 with matches against Skull Mason, Akam Singh and Mike Lozanski.
Establishing himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling
Sasaki returned to NJPW in April of 1990 teaming with Jushin Liger against Hiro Saito and Tatsutoshi Goto on April 27. Sasaki had a higher profile position and was involved with rising stars such as Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto and Pegasus Kid (Chris Benoit). He was also in the ring with veterans such as Masa Saito, Riki Choshu, Animal Hamaguchi and Super Strong Machine. He teamed with Masa Saito against Big Van Vader and Bam Bam Bigelow on October 14. Sasaki formed a team with Hase and won the IWGP Tag Team Titles from Chono and Mutoh on November 1. They defended the titles going into December of 1990 until losing them to Hiro Saito and Super Strong Machine on December 26. Also of note is that on December 3, 1990 Hase and Sasaki wrestled Masa Saito and Riki Choshu in the main event of a New Japan Pro Wrestling show in Baghdad, Iraq. This was during a time when tensions were rising between the United States and Iraq leading to the 1991 Gulf War. Sasaki had also participated in a tour of China in September of 1990 with NJPW.
Sasaki and Hase lost to champions Saito and Super Strong Machine in a re-match for the titles on February 5, 1991. Sasaki and Hase did manage to regain the titles after beating Saito and Machine on March 6. The NJPW/WCW Starrcade 1991 show took place in the Tokyo Dome took place on March 31, 1991. Sasaki and Hase had a highly acclaimed match on the show in which they lost the titles to Rick and Scott Steiner of WCW. This match was named Match of the Year in 1991 Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards and Hase and Sasaki ranked third in the Tag Team of the Year awards (behind the Steiners and Mitsuhara Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada). Dave Meltzer rated the match as ****1/2. Sasaki and Hase continued to work against teams such as Great Kokina (Yokozuna) and Wild Samoan (Samu) as well as Negro Casas and Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit). On May 31 Sasaki and Hase lost a rematch against the Steiners for the IWGP tag team titles. They continued to team in tag team matches and multi-man matches throughout the rest of 1991.
Shinya Hashimoto, Keiji Mutoh and Masahiro Chono (all members of the WON Hall Of Fame) became famous as The Three Musketeers of NJPW. 1991 was the year in which they solidified their status in the business with their performances in the first-ever G1 Climax tournament. The three were associated with each other after debuting in the same time period of 1984. While Sasaki started his career in a similar time period to Hase (also in the Hall Of Fame), he was not able to have any such association having started his career in All-Japan as well as not being part of a break-out pack within the early to mid-1990’s.
Starting in 1992 Sasaki started working apart from Hase and actually lost to him in singles matches on June 26 and July 8. Sasaki participated in the second ever G1 Climax in August of 1992 which in that year was a tournament for the vacant NWA World Heavyweight Title. Sasaki beat Jim Neidhart in the first round and Terry Taylor in the second round before losing to Rick Rude in the semi-finals. Rude went on to lose to Masahiro Chono in the finals on a show in which Sasaki teamed with The Great Muta and lost to the Steiners in the semi-final match of the night. Sasaki started teaming with Hase again and lost to the Steiners in an IWGP tag title match on September 23. The Steiners had won the titles for a second time from Bam Bam Bigelow and Big Van Vader in June 1992. Hase and Sasaki participated in the Super Grade Tag League II in October. They defeated Bigelow and Muta in the semi-finals before losing in the finals to Riki Choshu and Shinya Hashimoto on October 22.
Sasaki then made his first run in the U.S. for World Championship Wrestling starting on October 22, 1992. During this tour Sasaki had four matches against Rick Rude for the U.S. title. Sasaki teamed with Jushin Liger and wrestled five times against Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas for the WCW/NWA tag team titles. Sasaki teamed with Erik Watts to face Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson on the Clash of the Champions XXI on November 18. Sasaki returned to Japan but came back to WCW in December and participated in the Starrcade Battlebowl pay-per-view, teaming with the Barbarian to lose to Vader and Dustin Rhodes.
The Power Warrior Era
It was during the December 1992 return to Japan that Sasaki started in what was probably his highest profile role up to that time. The legendary Road Warriors of Hawk and Animal had been teaming in the World Wrestling Federation until the fall of 1992 when Hawk left the promotion. Hawk was brought into NJPW and teamed with Sasaki as the Hell Raiders, with Sasaki being named Power Warrior. They have also been referred to as The Hell Raisers at times, which would seem to be connected to translation difficulties. They started teaming on November 23 and on December 14 they defeated Scott Norton and Tony Halme (later Ludwig Borga) for the IWGP tag team titles.
On the January 4, 1993 Tokyo Dome Show Sasaki and Hawk went to a double count-out against Rick and Scott Steiner in an IWGP tag title defense. This match was aired on WCW pay-per-view in North America and although the fans booed the finish the match was rated **** by Dave Meltzer. Sasaki continued to team with Hawk through February and March of 1993 including a successful title defense against Rambo (Luc Poirier) and Tony Halme on February 16. Sasaki participated in an arm-wrestling tournament on NJPW cards in April, going to the finals where he lost to his trainer Riki Choshu.
Sasaki and Hawk continued to defend the IWGP tag titles through July of 1993. Their title matches included a win over Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto on May 3, Bobby Eaton and Tony Halme on June 14 and Hashimoto and Keiji Mutoh on July 13. Sasaki again worked for WCW in May and June of 1993, primarily in singles matches against Rick Rude and Maxx Payne. Sasaki also teamed with Dustin Rhodes who was WCW U.S. Champion at the time. On the WCW Slamboree pay-per-view from Atlanta on May 23, 1993, Sasaki and Rhodes lost to Paul Orndorff and Rick Rude.
Sasaki and Hawk lost the IWGP tag titles to Scott Norton and Hercules (known as The Jurassic Powers) on August 5 as part of the G1 Climax tour. They won a rematch by disqualification on August 8 but did not regain the titles. Sasaki and Hawk lost to Hulk Hogan and The Great Muta on September 23. They participated in the 1993 Super Grade Tag League in October. On December 13, 1993 Sasaki had what appears to have been his first match for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. He lost to champion Shinya Hashimoto at NJPW Battle Final 1993 Day 20. The show drew a sell-out of 6,850 in Osaka and this was said to have been a very brutal match. On the January 4, 1994 Tokyo Dome Show, Sasaki and Hawk regained the IWGP tag titles from Scott Norton and Hercules in what was said to have been the second worst match on the show. Sasaki and Hawk continued to team through February after which Sasaki worked singles matches as well as teaming with partners such as Jushin Liger, The Barbarian, Satoshi Kojima, Shinya Hashimoto and Keiji Mutoh through April.
Sasaki and Hawk defeated Rick and Scott Steiner on May 1 in an IWGP tag title match. They continued in tag matches into June when Hawk seems to have been absent from the promotion. In August Sasaki participated in the 1994 G1 Climax tournament in which he won matches against Hiroshi Hase, Shiro Koshinaka and Takayuki Iizuka. He had a loss to Tatsumi Fujinami and a thirty-minute time limit draw with Hashimoto. On August 7 Sasaki lost in the tournament finals to Masahiro Chono.
Hawk returned in September 1994 and he and Sasaki successfully defended the IWGP tag titles against Rick and Scott Steiner on September 27. Sasaki and Hawk then participated in the 1994 Super Grade Tag League. Their last match in the tournament was a loss to Masahiro Chono and Super Strong Machine who went on to lose to Hiroshi Hase and Keiji Mutoh in the finals. Hase and Mutoh then defeated Sasaki and Hawk for the IWGP tag titles on November 25. Sasaki and Hawk lost to Scott Norton and Chris Benoit on November 28 and Sasaki then spent the rest of 1994 working with other tag partners including Hase, Norton and Mutoh.
Sasaki lost to champion Shinya Hashimoto in a match for the IWGP Title at the January 4, 1995 Tokyo Dome Show that drew 62,500. Even though Sasaki had a broken bone in his wrist that he suffered in mid-December, he still executed two Asaii Moonsaults. Sasaki then started teaming with younger generation wrestlers such as Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Koji Kanemoto and Manabu Nakanishi and he also teamed regularly with Hiroshi Hase through the summer of 1995. He also continued to team with Hawk during March, June and July. Sasaki participated in the Collision In Korea two-day Peace Festival in April of 1995. For these shows, WCW and NJPW presented shows in North Korea to record crowds of 340,000 people over two days. This figure is controversial as many of those in attendance were seen as being forced to attend. Sasaki defeated Masa Saito on day one and teamed with Hase to lose to the Steiners on day two.
Sasaki participated in the first three days of the 1995 G1 Climax with losses to Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima and a win over Hashimoto. Sasaki participated in tag matches on Days 4 and 5 and was absent from the rest of the tournament. Hawk was back in Japan in September and he and Sasaki lost to champions Junji Hirata and Shinya Hashimoto in an IWGP Tag Title match on September 20 in Sendai. This was the main event and the show drew 4,500. Sasaki faced shoot-style wrestlers as part of the NJPW vs UWFI feud in October. He lost to Masahito Kakihara at the October 9 Tokyo Dome Show headlined by Keiji Mutoh vs Nobuhiko Takada with 67,000 fans in attendance. Sasaki defeated UWFI wrestler Tatsuo Nakano on October 11. Sasaki teamed with Riki Choshu on the first day of the 1995 Super Grade Tag League but teamed with Masa Saito for the remainder of the tournament. After the tournament Sasaki continued having NJPW vs UWFI matches with wins over Yoshihiro Takayama and Yoji Anjo.
On November 13 Sasaki defeated WCW wrestler Sting in Tokyo to win the WCW United States Title in front of a disappointing crowd of 7,500 at Sumo Hall. This was Sasaki’s first singles title win in Japan but it was foreseen as Sasaki had been wearing the U.S. title at WCW’s Disney tapings in recent weeks. Sasaki alternated between WCW and NJPW for the rest of the year. He had lost to Chris Benoit on WCW Monday Nitro on November 6 as part of an angle in which Sonny Onoo brought NJPW wrestlers in to feud with WCW wrestlers. Sasaki successfully defended the U.S. title against Benoit on the WCW World War III pay-per-view on November 26. Sasaki was also in the three-ring sixty-man battle royal on that show. On December 27 the WCW Starrcade pay-per-view had a World Cup Of Wrestling with WCW vs NJPW wrestlers. The tournament had seven matches, the last of which saw Sting defeat Sasaki to win the tournament for WCW. Sasaki then lost the U.S. title to One Man Gang on the same show in a match that did not air on the pay-per-view.
A High and A Low In 1995
It was during 1995 that Sasaki married Akira Hokuta, a legend of All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling who was elected to the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2000. Dave Meltzer has previously said that Hokuto has to be considered one of the five greatest workers in the history of women's wrestling. Hokuto had debuted in 1985 and came to be known as “The Mummy” due to frequently wearing bandages while wrestling due to injuries. She had famous matches with Shinobu Kandori, Aja Kong and Manami Toyota and also lived in Mexico and wrestled as Reina Kabuki for two years while married to Mascara Magica. She later was known for wrestling in WCW in the U.S. and feuding with Madusa. She won a tournament to crown the first WCW Women’s Champion at Starrcade 1996 on December 29, 1996. Sasaki and Hokuto gave birth to a son in 1998 and again in 2003.
Unfortunately, it was also during 1995 that Sasaki was involved in the most controversial moment of his career. Hiromitsu Gompei was an amateur wrestler who had been recruited into NJPW by Hiroshi Hase. Gompei was reportedly exhausted when he was ordered to continue when Riki Choshu walked in after the daily workouts and wanted to see how he was doing. Gompei was making mistakes during the exercises and Sasaki reportedly started suplexing him on his head repeatedly. Gompei passed away and it was determined that the cause was brain trauma. No charges were ever brought against Sasaki. Hase was reportedly devastated and after being the one to inform Gompei’s parents he left NJPW after the January 4, 1996 Tokyo Dome Show in January where he lost to Sasaki.
1996: A Year Of Transition
In February of 1996 Sasaki teamed with Keiji Mutoh in matches against UWFI teams Kengo Kimura and Akitoshi Saito and Kazuo Yamazaki and Osamu Kido. Sasaki and Mutoh participated in a one-night tag team tournament on March 26, losing to Tatsumi Fujinami and Shiro Koshinaka in the finals. Sasaki returned to WCW in May of 1996 for television matches. He and Masahiro Chono lost to The Nasty Boys of Jerry Saggs and Brian Knobbs. Sasaki also defeated Cobra (Jeff Farmer) who was later known as NWO Sting. In June Sasaki started a series of matches in which he returned to the Power Warrior gimmick to team with both Hawk and Animal of The Road Warriors in NJPW. The three would team together sixteen times in June and July against an assortment of opponents from NJPW. Sasaki lost to WCW Champion The Giant (today known as The Big Show) in a match for the title on July 16 in Sapporo.
Sasaki participated in the 1996 G1 Climax with wins over Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Junji Hirata, and Shinya Hashimoto. Sasaki lost to Riki Choshu by referee stoppage. Choshu eventully defeated Mashahiro Chono in the finals to win the tournament. Sasaki participated in a Japan/USA All Star Tournament in NJPW in September. He defeated Lex Luger, Ric Flair and Scott Norton in the first three rounds en route to defeating Shiro Koshinaka in the tournament finals on September 23. Sasaki teamed with Shinjiro Ohtani in a one-night tag team tournament on November 3, winning in the first two rounds before losing to Akira Nogami and Michiyoshi Ohara in the finals. Hawk and Animal returned in November and the three continued teaming into December. Sasaki lost to Hugh Morrus by disqualification on the December 30, 1996 episode of WCW Monday Nitro.
The Rise Of Sasaki
Sasaki’s breakthrough year was 1997. He worked as Power Warrior to defeat The Great Muta in the semi-final match of the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show attended by 62,500. Sasaki teamed with IWGP Champion Shinya Hashimoto a number of times through March of that year. On April 12 Sasaki teamed with his trainer Riki Choshu to win the IWGP tag team titles from Tatsumi Fujinami and Kengo Kimura. This match was the semi-final to the famous Tokyo Dome match with former Judo World Champion Naoya Ogawa defeating Hashimoto in his professional wrestling debut. The show drew 60,500 fans. Sasaki and Choshu lost the titles to Manabu Nakanishi and Satoshi Kojima on May 3 at the Osaka Dome. This was the semi-final match to another Hashimoto vs Ogawa match with an attendance of 53,000.
August of 1997 was one of the biggest months of Sasaki’s career. The 1997 G1 Climax Tournament was a fourteen-man single elimination tournament between August 1 and August 3. Sasaki and WCW wrestler Buff Bagwell were the two wrestlers to get a bye to the quarter-finals on August 2. Sasaki defeated Bagwell and then defeated Scott Norton in the semi-finals and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the finals to win his first G1 Climax in front of 11,500 at Sumo Hall. Sasaki then teamed with Kazuo Yamazaki to win the titles from Nakanishi and Kojima on August 10 in Nagoya. This was the third last match on a show drawing 43,500. Sasaki then became IWGP Heavyweight Champion for the first time when he defeated champion Shinya Hashimoto on August 31 in Yokohama. This show had 18,000 fans in attendance.
Sasaki and Yamazaki participated in a tag team tournament in September and defeated The Great Muta and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the finals. This was during the NWO Japan era and a lot of Sasaki’s matches during this time were against the faction that included Mutoh, Tenzan, Masahiro Chono and others. Sasaki and Yamazaki lost the IWGP tag titles to Mutoh and Chono on October 19 in a show drawing 8,000 to Kobe World Hall. Sasaki defeated Chono in his first IWGP Title defense on October 31 on a show that drew 5,300 fans in Hiroshima. Sasaki and Yamazaki participated in the 1997 Super Grade Tag League and lost to Shinya Hashimoto and Manabu Nakanishi in the semi-finals on December 8.
Sasaki headlined a Tokyo Dome show as champion for the first time on January 4, 1998. On that show he successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Keiji Mutoh in a show that drew 65,000 fans. With this win, Sasaki had defeated the Three Musketeers of NJPW in three straight title matches. Sasaki defeated Osamu Nishimura in a title match on February 7 in Sapporo in front of 6,500 fans. Sasaki continued to be a part of multi-man matches in the NWO Japan feud through March of that year. On April 4 Sasaki lost the IWGP Heavyweight Title to Tatsumi Fujinami at the Tokyo Dome. This show drew 70,000 fans but the Sasaki-Fujinami was the semi-final to Antonio Inoki’s retirement match against Don Frye.
In June Sasaki again teamed with Kazuo Yamazaki in a tournament for the IWGP Tag Team Titles. They defeated Michael Wall Street (Rotundo) and Big Titan (Rick Bogner) before losing to Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the semi-finals. The 1998 G1 Climax was a sixteen-man single elimination tournament. Sasaki defeated Michiyoshi Ohara in the first round but was eliminated with a loss to Yamazaki in the second round. Yamazaki eventually lost to Shinya Hashimoto in the tournament finals. In September Sasaki teamed with Yuji Nagata in a tournament that was supposed to be for the # 1 contendership for the WCW Tag Team Titles. Sasaki and Nagata won the tournament with a win over Hashimoto and Yamazaki on September 21, although the WCW tag team title scene was a mess that year and it’s not clear if they ever received their title shot. Sasaki teamed with Yamazaki in the 1998 Super Grade Tag League and they lost to Hashimoto and Tatsumi Fujinami in the semi-finals on December 6. Sasaki and Yamazaki worked in WAR on December 11 and lost to Genichiro Tenryu and Shiro Koshinaka.
On January 4, 1999 Sasaki defeated Atsushi Onita by disqualification on that year’s Tokyo Dome show headlined by Keiji Mutoh winning the IWGP Title from Scott Norton. Through January and February of that year Sasaki participated in a tournament for the # 1 contendership for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Sasaki defeated Yuji Nagata in the first round and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the semi-finals. Sasaki then defeated Satoshi Kojima on February 12 to win the tournament in front 4,300 in Gifu. Sasaki faced IWGP Heavyweight Champion Keiji Mutoh in a title match on February 14 in a show drawing 14,000 to Budokan Hall in Tokyo. Sasaki lost by referee stoppage.
On March 22 Sasaki teamed with Shiro Koshinaka to win the IWGP Tag Team Titles from Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima in the main event of a show in Amagasaki attended by 6,000 fans. Sasaki and Koshinaka lost the titles to Tatsutoshi Goto and Michiyoshi Ohara on June 27 in the main event of a show attended by 5,000 in Shizuoka. In 1999 the G1 Climax Tournament was once again a round-robin tournament. Sasaki had wins over Satoshi Kojima, Tatsumi Fujinami and Tadao Yasuda as well as losses to Keiji Mutoh and Yuji Nagata. Sasaki teamed with Kazayuki Fujita in the 1999 G1 Tag League starting in September. Sasaki then participated in tag team matches for the rest of the year.
Sasaki In The New Century
Sasaki started off the year 2000 with a main event at the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show. 63,500 fans were in attendance to see Sasaki defeat champion Genichiro Tenryu for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Into February, Sasaki was a part of the trial series for Kenzo Suzuki as both an opponent and tag team partner. On February 5 Sasaki defended the IWGP Title against Don Frye at a show that drew 6,800 people in Sapporo. A card featuring New Japan wrestlers vs Team 2000 wrestlers (a faction led by Masahiro Chono) saw Sasaki initially defeat Chono to tie the ten-match series. Chono then defeated Sasaki by referee stoppage in the tie-breaking match and main event. This show drew a crowd of 11, 500 at Sumo Hall. On March 19 Sasaki defended the IWGP title against Satoshi Kojima in Nagoya on a show drawing 9,000. Sasaki defeated Jushin Liger in the semi-final match to a Tokyo Dome main event of Naoya Ogawa vs Shinya Hashimoto drawing 60,000 on April 7. Working as Power Warrior, Sasaki successfully defended the IWGP title against The Great Muta on May 5. This match took place in Fukuoka and drew 35,000 fans. On June 2 Sasaki defeated Manabu Nakanishi in an IWGP title match at Budokan Hall in Tokyo. This show was part of the Best Of The Super Juniors tour and drew 10,000. A July 20 match in Sapporo saw Sasaki defeat Takashi Iizuka in an IWGP Title match drawing 8,200.
Sasaki participated in the 2000 G1 Climax in a round-robin tournament with four blocks of five wrestlers. Sasaki had wins over Brian Johnston, Osamu Kido and Satoshi Kojima and went to a double-countout with Hiro Saito. Sasaki finished first in Block B before defeating Yuji Nagata in the semi-final and Manabu Nakanishi in the finals to win his second G1 Climax. The show featuring the semi-finals and finals drew 11,500 fans to Sumo Hall in Tokyo on August 13.
Sasaki then participated in multi-man matches in September 2000. The Tokyo Dome Show on October 9 saw Toshiaki Kawada defeat Sasaki in a New Japan vs All Japan dream match. This show drew 64,000 and came months after the All Japan/Pro Wrestling NOAH split. The match was non-title and after losing this match Sasaki surrendered the IWGP title which was declared vacant. Sasaki next teamed with Shiro Koshinaka in the 2000 G1 Tag League in November. They only had two wins in the tournament, against Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan and against T2000 Machine # 1 (Jeff Farmer) and T2000 Machine # 2 (Michiyoshi Ohara).
On January 4, 2001 the IWGP Title was decided in a tournament at the Tokyo Dome show that drew 62,000. Sasaki defeated Satoshi Kojima in the first round and Masahiro Chono in the semi-final. Sasaki then defeated Toshiaki Kawada to win his third IWGP Heavyweight Title in re-match of the October 2000 Tokyo Dome Show. Sasaki was part of the headline match of another Tokyo Dome Show main event on January 28, 2001, this time for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Sasaki teamed with Toshiaki Kawada to defeat Genichiro Tenryu and Hiroshi Hase. This show drew 30,000 which would be a good crowd anywhere but the Tokyo Dome. On February 18 Sasaki defeated Shinjiro Ohtani in an IWGP title match in front of 11,000 fans at Sumo Hall.
Sasaki lost matches in March against the team of Scott Hall and Scott Norton, first teaming with Yuji Nagata and then with Manabu Nakanishi. On March 17 Sasaki lost the IWGP Title to Scott Norton in Nagoya in a show drawing 9,000. On April 9 Sasaki lost to Shinya Hashimoto by referee stoppage in a no-rules match at the Osaka Dome. This show drew 27,000 and was Sasaki’s last match until October. Norton also lost the IWGP title to Kazayuki Fujita in the semi-final match of this show.
On August 19 Sasaki had his first mixed martial arts match as part of the Gladiator Challenge show Northglenn, Colorado. Sasaki defeated Dan Chase by submission with an armbar in 32 seconds. Sasaki returned to wrestling on the October 8, 2001 Tokyo Dome show, losing in the semi-final to Kazayuki Fujita. The main event of this show saw Yuji Nagata and Jun Akiyama defeat Keiji Mutoh and Hiroshi Hase and the show drew 61,500. In late-October Sasaki participated in the SKY PerfecTV! Cup in Fukuoka on a show drawing 7,500. Sasaki defeated Manabu Nakanishi in the semi-final and then defeated Yuji Nagata in the finals and the main event of the show. Sasaki spent a lot of October and November teaming with Danny Devine and also winning a number of singles matches against Osamu Nishimura, Yutaka Yoshie, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenzo Suzuki. In November and December Sasaki teamed with Devine in the G1 Tag League. They were in a three-way tie for second place and in a semi-finalist match they lost to Nagata and Nakanishi.
On the January 4, 2002 Tokyo Dome show Sasaki went to a no-contest with Naoya Ogawa. This show was headlined by Jun Akiyama defending the Pro Wrestling NOAH GHC title against Yuji Nagata and drew 51, 500 fans. Sasaki seems to have slid down the card from that point on in 2002. On February 1 Sasaki lost to Rick Steiner in the first round of a tournament for the vacant IWGP title. Sasaki also teamed with Yutaka Yoshie and Danny Devine in the Teisen Hall 6 Man Cup Tournament in February but they were eliminated by the team of Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanshi and Steiner. On March 1 Sasaki and Hiroshi Tanahashi lost to Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the first round of a tournament for the IWGP Tag Team Titles. On March 29 Sasaki and Wataru Inoue lost to Tenzan and Koji Kanemoto in the first round of the Naeba Cup Tournament.
On April 25 Sasaki teamed with Riki Choshu and Yutaka Yoshie to defeat Chono, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Tatsutoshi Goto in what was billed as the “Riki Choshu Farewell Match”. This show took place in Shuhan and drew 2,800 fans. Sasaki defeated Tadao Yasuda on June 5 to become # 1 contender for the IWGP title held by Yuji Nagata. On June 7 Sasaki lost a title match to Nagata in front of 9,000 fans at Budokan Hall in Tokyo. Sasaki participated in the 2002 G1 Climax and had wins over Yoshihiro Takayama, Yutaka Yoshie and Shiro Koshinaka and losses to Hiroshi Tanahashi and Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Sasaki finished tied for second in his block but Tenzan advanced due to his win over Sasaki.
Sasaki continued in NJPW until having a falling-out with the company and leaving. His last match during this tenure appears to be teaming with Kenzo Suzuki to defeat Manabu Nakanishi and Osamu Nishimura on September 7 in Nigata. Sasaki’s mentor Choshu had been balancing wrestling and booking up until this time but left the promotion following the departures of Keiji Mutoh and others for All-Japan Pro Wrestling. Sasaki and Shiro Koshinaka left with Choshu who formed his own promotion called Fighting World of Japan Pro Wrestling, or World Japan for short.
The first World Japan show took place on March 1, 2003 in Yokohama. The show drew 13,200 and Sasaki teamed with Hiroshi Hase in the semi-final to defeat Don Frye and Dan Bobish. Sasaki also teamed with Kenzo Suzuki to defeat The Road Warriors or Hawk and Animal on March 18. Sasaki had wins over opponents such as Yoshiaki Yatsu, Jinzei Shinzaki, Genichiro Tenryu and Takao Omori in the months leading to the tournament to crown the World Magma Greatest champion. On July 20 Sasaki defeated Riki Choshu in the first round, Steve Williams in the second round and then Kenzo Suzuki in the finals to become the first WMG Champion. This show drew 8,500 to Sumo Hall. Sasaki teamed with Hase on July 27 on the All Japan Pro Wrestling “Gold For Athens” show and wrestled to a sixty-minute draw against Toshiaki Kawada and Satoshi Kojima in front of 8,000 fans at the Ishikawa Prefectural Industrial Exhibition Hall in Kanazawa.
Unfortunately, World Japan soon became the scene of a tragedy reminiscent of the 1995 training death of Hiromitsu Gompei. World Japan wrestler Kenzo Suzuki was involved in training former MMA fighter Giant Ochiai in August of 2003 when Ochiai suffered a subdrual hemotoma leading to his death on August 8. Suzuki subsequently left Japan to wrestle in the WWE and again, there were no charges laid as a result of the incident.
Sasaki defended the WMG title against Dan Bobish on August 21 in Osaka on a show that drew 2,800. This would seem to be his only defense of the title as he competed in other singles and tag matches leading up to his last World Japan appearance on December 7, 2003. Sasaki had his second MMA match on September 6, defeating future UFC fighter Christian Wellisch by guillotine choke in 2:35 at the WJ X-1 show in Yokohama. Sasaki left World Japan and there reportedly was a fall-out between he and Riki Choshu over financial issues. World Japan ultimately did not succeed in drawing attention away from other promotions or in lasting long-term and went out of business in 2004. Before it went out of business, fifteen-year-old Katsuhiko Nakajima had debuted, losing to Tomohiro Ishii on the January 5, 2004 show. Nakajima would go on to be closely associated with Sasaki, becoming his protégé as well as forming a close familial-type bond with Sasaki and Akira Hokuto.
The Freelance Era Begins
Sasaki returned to New Japan and lost to Yuji Nagata via referee stoppage on the January 4, 2004 Tokyo Dome Show. The show drew 53,000 and Sasaki vs Nagata was the third-to-last match. On January 10 Sasaki debuted for Don Muraco’s Hawai’I Championship Wrestling in Honolulu, Hawaii. Sasaki defeated Lopaka Kapanui to win the HCW Kamehameha Heritage World Heavyweight Title. Upon returning to Japan, Sasaki began what is known as the freelance period of his career. Within 2004, Sasaki wrestled for AJPW, DDT, IWA Japan, Kageki, Michinoku Pro, Toryumon Japan, U-Style, WMF, and NJPW. He also defended the HCW title against Mr. Gannosuke on a WMF show at Korakuen Hall on February 11.
Sasaki participated in a tournament for the vacant IWGP title, losing to Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the first round on February 15. Tenzan became champion when he defeated Genichiro Tenryu in the tournament finals later that night. On March 12 Sasaki defeated Tenzan in front of 3,800 at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo to become IWGP Champion for the fourth time. Sasaki worked as Masked Volcano in Michinoku Pro on March 20, teaming with The Great Sasuke and Atlantis to defeat Masao Orihara, Ikuto Hidaka and Minoru Fujita in Yahaba. Sasaki defended the HCW title against Masahiro Chono on March 21 in NJPW, winning by disqualification. Sasaki lost the IWGP title to Bob Sapp on the March 28 NJPW King Of Sports show drawing 10,000 to Sumo Hall in Tokyo. Sasaki participated in All-Japan’s Champion Carnival in April, defeating Jamal and Kaz Hayashi and going to a draw against Keiji Mutoh. On April 20 Sasaki defeated Satoshi Kojima in the semi-finals before losing to Mutoh in the finals on a show drawing 5,800 at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo.
On June 12 Sasaki teamed with Katsuhiko Nakajima in AJPW and lost to Masanobu Fuchi and Genichiro Tenryu in a match for Fuchi’s and Tenryu’s All-Asia Tag Team titles. Sasaki and partner Jushin Liger were defeated in an IWGP Tag Team title match on July 19, losing to champions Yoshihiro Takayama and Minoru Suzuki. Sasaki participated in the 2004 G1 Climax Tournament and had victories over Togi Makabe, Osamu Nishimura, Koji Kanemoto and Manabu Nakanishi. He had losses to Takayama, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Genichiro Tenryu and had a time-limit draw with eventual tournament winner Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Sasaki defeated Leatherface on the IWA Japan 10th Anniversary Show on August 31. He teamed with Nakajima in Michinoku Pro on September 10 to defeat Jinzei Shinzaki and Ultimo Dragon and win the Tohoku Eastern Tag Team Titles. Sasaki also worked in Dragon Gate in September and wrestled as “Kenskee Sasaki”.
On October 9 Sasaki defeated Kazayuki Fujita in 2:29 to win the IWGP Title in front of 11,000 fans at Sumo Hall. Sasaki teamed with Genichiro Tenryu and lost to Masahiro Chono and Katsuyori Shibata in the finals of the 10,000,000 Yen Offer Tag Tournament. Sasaki and Tenryu had defeated Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroyoshi Tenzan earlier in the show. On October 31 Sasaki and Hiroshi Hase lost to Keiji Mutoh and Mitsuhara Misawa in a Keiji Mutoh 20th Anniversary Special Match in front of 11,000 at Sumo Hall. On November 3 Sasaki successfully defended the IWGP Title against Hiroshi Tanahashi in the semi-final of the Masahiro Chono 20th Anniversary Show that drew 10,000. Shortly thereafter, Sasaki defeated Minoru Suzuki on November 13 in an IWGP Title match in a match third-to-last on a show drawing 28,000 to the Osaka Dome. The matches that followed were Toshiaki Kawada and Naoya Ogawa defeating Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Hiroshi Tanahashi as well as Kazayuki Fujita and Kendo Kashin defeating Manabu Nakanishi and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Sasaki teamed with Katsuhiko Nakajima in the 2004 AJPW Real World Tag League. On a December 5 AJPW show the “Kensuke Family” of Sasaki, Nakajima, Akira Hokuto, Genichiro Tenryu and KENSHIN defeated TAKA Michinoku, D-Lo Brown, Jamal, Buchanan and Taiyo Kea in an elimination match. On December 11 Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Sasaki and Minoru Suzuki to win the vacant IWGP Tag Team titles in front of 6,000 in Osaka. On December 12 Sasaki lost the IWGP Title to Hiroyoshi Tenzan on a show drawing 9,000 in Nagoya. Sasaki finished out the year winning the AJPW Bape Sta tournament on December 30, wrestling as Masked Volcano and defeating The Apeman in the tournament final. This appears to have been a tournament of comedy matches.
In early 2005, Sasaki left NJPW as Riki Choshu had returned to the promotion and there was too much animosity between them. On January 16 Sasaki lost to All-Japan Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada in a Triple Crown title match on a show drawing 4,500 in Osaka. On January 23 Sasaki lost a three-way match with Takao Omori and Kohei Sato in a Zero-1 match to decide the AWA Heavyweight Title. On March 5 Sasaki and Nakajima lost the Tohoku Eastern Tag Team Titles to Jinzei Shinzaki and GAINA in Michinoku Pro. Sasaki participated in the AJPW Champion Carnival in April with wins over Satoshi Kojima, Shuji Kondo and Taiyo Kea and losses to Giant Bernard and Arashi. On April 20 at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, Sasaki defeated Toshiakia Kawada in the semi-finals and then Jamal (later known as Umaga in WWE) in the finals to win the Champion Carnival in front of 5,300. In May of 2005 Sasaki worked in Kageki, K-Dojo, WMF and AJPW. He worked as “Kenskee Sasaki” in Dragon Gate again in June and July, including a match in which he teamed with Nakajima to defeat Genichiro Tenryu and Magnum TOKYO on the Kobe World Hall show on July 3. Sasaki defeated Shinjiro Ohtani in Zero-1 on July 9.
On July 18, Sasaki had one of his most famous matches when he lost to Kenta Kobashi on Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Tokyo Dome show. The show drew 62,000 and although the official main event was Mitsuhara defeating Toshiaki Kawada, the semi-final of Sasaki vs Kobashi was largely acknowledged as the biggest draw on the show. Both Sasaki and Kobashi were acknowledged as two of the best wrestlers in the world over the previous two years and they had never faced each other. The iconic moment from the match involved Sasaki and Kobashi exchanging chops to the chest for over four minutes, with Yoshihiro Takayama saying on commentary “I want this to never end.”
On July 26 Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Shuji Kondo and Brother YASSHI to win the All-Asia Tag Team Titles on an AJPW show in Tokyo. Sasaki participated in the Zero-1 Fire Festival with wins over Hirotaka Yokoi, Takao Omori and Ryouji Sai and a loss to Chris the Bambi-Killer. Sasaki lost to Shinjiro Ohtani on August 7 in the finals of the tournament. On August 4 Sasaki wrestled on Keiji Mutoh’s Wrestle-1 Show, defeating Riki Choshu in what was listed as the first round of a Grand Prix tournament. Sasaki and Nakajima successfully defended the All-Asia tag titles against Arashi and Ryuji Hijikata on September 1 and again against Buchanan and D-Lo Brown on September 22. Sasaki lost to The Great Muta in the second round of the Wrestle-1 Grand Prix on October 2. Sasaki wrestled in Pro Wrestling NOAH for the second time on November 5 on the Budokan Hall show in which Akira Taue defeated Takeshi Rikioh for the GHC Title in front of 16,600. Sasaki and Najajima lost to Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki in a match that drew strong reviews and was a source of exposure for both Shiozaki and Nakajima. On November 19 Sasaki was defeated by AJPW Triple Crown Champion Satoshi Kojima in a title match drawing 5,800 at Yoyogi National Stadium. Sasaki and Nakajima were a part of the AJPW Real World Tag League in December before working in NOAH again on December 5 to defeat Jun Akiyama and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi in Yokohama.
Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Arashi and Kaz Hayashi in a match for the All-Asia Tag Titles on January 8, 2006. Within January Sasaki also wrestled in Osaka Pro and NOAH and he and Nakajima defeated SUWA and TARU in the main event of a Ring Soul Live on January 24 on a small show. Sasaki continued working primarily in AJPW and was in the Champion Carnival tournament in April. He had wins over Buchanan and Yutaka Yoshie, a time limit draw with Keiji Mutoh and losses to Suwama and Taiyo Kea. On June 10 Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Yoshie and Brute Issei in a match for the All-Asia tag titles. On July 16 Sasaki teamed with Yoshihiro Takayama and lost to Jun Akiyama and Mitsuhara Misawa in NOAH. This was Takayama’s return match after suffering a stroke in 2004 after a match with Sasaki. Takayama had originally been scheduled to team with Kenta Kobashi who was pulled from the match when he was diagnosed with cancer. Sasaki had suffered a fractured orbital bone in a match against Katsuyori Shibata on July 2 in Big Mouth Loud. He still participated in the Takayama return match but it was his last match of 2006.
Grand Slam Champion
On January 2, 2007 Sasaki and Nakajima teamed in AJPW to beat TARU and brother YASSHI at Korakuen Hall on a show drawing 2,100. Sasaki then won a battle royal in the main event of the show. On February 11 Sasaki had the first show for his Kensuke Office promotion, defeating Nakajima in the main event of a show drawing 1,800 at Differ Ariake in Tokyo. Sasaki participated in the Champion Carnival in April with wins over Keiji Mutoh and Toru Owashi, a time limit draw with Taiyo Kea and a loss to Suwama. Sasaki teamed with Nakajima and Seiya Sanada to win the Samurai! TV Cup Triple Arrow Tournament with a win over TARU, Shuji Kondo and YASSHI on May 29. In July Sasaki and Nakajima worked in CMLL in Mexico. Sasaki teamed with Marco Corleone and Ultimo Dragon to win the Copa Suzuki 2007 tournament. They defeated Hirooki Goto, Hajime Ohara and Shigeo Okamura in the finals on a show drawing 3,313 to Arena Coliseo in Mexico City.
Sasaki continued in AJPW throughout the summer including a number of tag team matches against Triple Crown Champion Minoru Suzuki. On August 26 Sasaki defeated Suzuki on a show drawing 8,200 to Sumo Hall to win the Triple Crown championship for the first time. The match lasted 42:07. On September 1 Sasaki worked as Power Warrior and teamed with Road Warrior Animal to defeat Shuji Kondo and Yasshi on the second Kensuke Office show. On September 13 Sasaki teamed with Dick Togo to defeat Takuya Sugawara and Yoshihiro Takayama on a Ring Soul Live show. On October 18 Sasaki defeated Toshiaki Kawada in a Triple Crown title match in front of 4,000 at Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium in Tokyo. Sasaki teamed with Kawada in AJPW’s Real World Tag League in November and December and they lost to Satoshi Kojima and Suwama in a finalist decision match on December 9.
On January 3, 2008 Sasaki teamed with his trainee Ryuji Yamaguchi and lost to Abdullah The Butcher and Minoru Suzuki at Korakuen Hall. Sasaki continued teaming with Yamaguchi and Nakajima through January and February. On March 1 Sasaki defeated Satoshi Kojima in a Triple Crown title match in a show drawing 8,500 to Sumo Hall. On the fourth Kensuke Office show on March 28 Sasaki teamed with Jun Akiyama to defeat Yoshihiro Takayama and Minoru Suzuki in front of 1,800 at Hakata Star Lane in Fukuoka. In March and April Sasaki teamed with Nakajima in NOAH’s Global Tag League and during this same time Sasaki was a part of AJPW’s Champion Carnival tournament. In four straight days, Sasaki went to thirty-minute draws with both Osamu Nishimura and Suwama, defeated Joe Doering and lost to Suzuki by referee stoppage. Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Jun Akiyama and Takeshi Rikio on the final day of NOAH’s Global Tag League on April 27. Sasaki then lost the Triple Crown to Suwama (who had won the Champion Carnival) on April 29 in front of 3,200 fans in Nagoya.
On May 11 Sasaki worked at Arena Mexico on the Dragon Mania 2008 show for Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon promotion. Sasaki worked as Power Warrior and teamed with Road Warrior Animal to win the UWA tag team titles from Damian 666 and Damian el terrible. Sasaki returned to Japan and teamed with Nakajima on May 25 to lose to Taiyo Kea and Minoru Suzuki in a # 1 contenders match for the AJPW Tag Team titles. Sasaki defeated Naomichi Marufuji in the main event of the fifth Kensuke Office show on June 13 in Osaka. Sasaki then started working primarily in Pro Wrestling NOAH, along with his trainees Nakajima, Kento Miyahara and Takashi Okita. On June 14 Sasaki teamed with Nakajima and wrestled to a thirty-minute time limit draw against Kenta Kobashi and KENTA in Yokohama. On July 13 Sasaki wrestled to a thirty-minute time limit draw against GHC Champion Takeshi Morishima in Fukuoka. Sasaki defeated KENTA at Budokan Hall on July 18 in a match third-to-last on a show drawing 9,500. On August 3 Sasaki defeated Kikutaro on a Kensuke Office show for what was billed as Sasaki’s 42nd birthday special. On August 17 in Korakuen Hall, Sasaki teamed with trainees Nakajima, Okita and Miyahara to win a 4-on-4 survival match against Kobashi, KENTA, Atsushi Aoki and Akihiko Ito.
On September 6 Sasaki defeated Takeshi Morishima to win NOAH’s Global Honored Crown Heavyweight championship on a show drawing 11,500 to Budokan Hall in Tokyo. This made Sasaki the first person to have won the top championships in NJPW, AJPW and NOAH and as of 2013 the only other person to have done so is Yoshihiro Takayama. On September 14 Sasaki wrestled for U.S. company Ring Of Honor for the first time when he defeated Roderick Strong at Differ Ariake in Tokyo. On September 19 Sasaki wrestled for Harley Race’s World League Wrestling, teaming with Nakajima to defeat Keith Walker and Oliver John in Eldon, Missouri. On September 20 Sasaki defeated Claudio Castognolli on ROH’s Glory By Honor VII show at the New Alhambra Arena in Philadelphia. On September 27 Sasaki was back in NOAH where he defeated Mohammed Yone in a GHC Title match in front of 3,300 in Osaka. In October Sasaki participated in tag team and six-man tag team matches. On November 23 Sasaki teamed with Yoshihiro Takayama and Takashi Okita to lose to Jun Akiyama, Takeshi Rikio and Takashi Sugiura in a six-man tag team tournament.
On December 7 Sasaki successfully defended the GHC title against Akitoshi Saito in front of 11,000 at Budokan Hall. Sasaki wrestled in “The Tournament” in NOAH in December and had wins over Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Junji Iizumida and ten-minute time-limit draws with Go Shiozaki and Saito. On December 26 Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Roderick Strong and Brent Albright at ROH’s All-Star Extravaganza at the New Alhambra Arena in Philadelphia. On December 27 Sasaki and Nakajima lost to Jay and Mark Briscoe at ROH’s Final Battle 2008 show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
Sasaki continued to team with his trainees in NOAH through January and February of 2009. On March 1 Sasaki lost the GHC title to Jun Akiyama in front of 14,800 at Budokan Hall. Sasaki also wrestled in Dragon Gate in March as well as on a show promoted by Naomichi Marufuji in which Sasaki and his trainees Nakajima, Kento Miyohara and Takashi Okita teamed against Mohammed Yone, Takeshi Rikio, Kotaru Suzuki and Mitsuo Momota. Sasaki teamed with Takeshi Morishima in NOAH’s Global Tag League in April. They placed second in the tournament and lost to eventual tournament winners Mitsuhara Misawa and Go Shiozaki in front of 9,000 at Budokan Hall on May 6. Sasaki defeated the Bodyguard on Osaka Pro’s 10th Anniversary show on May 20 and then teamed with Kota Ibushi and Okita to defeat Morishima, Ricky Marvin and Kazma on the eighth Kensuke Office show.
2009 and Beyond
On June 13 in Hiroshima, Sasaki teamed Takeshi Morishima and Kento Miyahara to lose to Jun Akiyama, Kenta Kobashi and Shuhei Taniguchi. This was the semi-final match on the show in which Mitsuhara Misawa died in the ring while teaming with Go Shiozaki to challenge GHC Tag Team Champions Bison Smith and Akitoshi Saito. A number of wrestlers including Sasaki were shown in the ring watching as efforts were made to resuscitate Misawa. The next day Sasaki teamed with Takeshi Morishima to defeat Bison Smith and Bobby Fish on a NOAH show in Fukuoka. Sasaki continued in NOAH throughout the summer. Sasaki lost to Morishima in a singles match in the main event of the tenth Kensuke Office show on August 2 at Korakuen Hall. In September, Sasaki had singles victories in NOAH over Tamon Honda and Bison Smith. On September 21 Sasaki and Morishima defeated Smith and Saito for the GHC Tag Team Titles in the main event of a show drawing 1,600 in Nagoya. They successfully defended the titles against Saito and Shiozaki on the eleventh Kensuke Office show on November 7 in Kumagaya. They lost the titles to Takeshi Rikio and Mohammed Yone on December 6 in the semi-final match of a Budokan Hall show drawing 12,000.
Pro Wrestling NOAH’s 2010 Global Tag League took place in January 2010. Sasaki teamed with Takeshi Morishima and had wins over Go Shiozaki and Akitoshi Saito and Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnolli. Nakajima returned from injury on January 31 and teamed with Sasaki to defeat Yutaka Yoshie and Go (not to be confused with Go Shiozaki) on a Kensuke Office show in Tatebayashi. On February 22 Sasaki and Nakajima worked on an Inoki Genome Federation show in Tokyo, defeating Naoya Ogawa and Atsushi Sawada. Sasaki continued in NOAH through the year and participated in the Global League singles tournament in April and May. Sasaki had wins over Jun Akiyama, Takuma Sano, Takeshi Rikio, a loss to Bison Smith and a time limit draw to Takashi Sugiura. Sasaki placed second in the A Block. Sasaki continued with matches in NOAH, Kensuke Office and Bape Sta. Sasaki held Kensuke Office shows on July 17 and July 19 and defeated Yutaka Yoshie on the 19th. Sasaki defeated Go Shiozaki on NOAH’s Tenth Anniversary Show on July 24 in Osaka.
There were two Kensuke Office shows on August 29 and September 5, with Sasaki and Nakajima defeating Takeshi Morishima and Yoshie on August 29. On September 26 Sasaki and Nakajima lost a GHC Tag Team title match to champions Yoshihiro Takayama and Takuma Sano in the semi-final match of a show drawing only 7,200 fans to Budokan Hall. On October 6 Sasaki and Go Shiozaki defeated Takashi Sugiura and Masao Inoue in a match with the stipulation that if Sugiura lost, secret mail that he sent to a cabaret girl would be opened to the public. On November 23, Morishima returned after a lay-off and teamed with Sasaki to defeat Sugiura and Shuhei Taniguchi in front of 2,100 at Korakuen Hall. Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Bobby Lashley and Hurricane Helms in the semi-final of a December 3 IGF show drawing 8,625 to Sumo Hall.
On January 15, 2011 NOAH promoted a show drawing 3,400 in Osaka as having “Three Big Singles Matches” with one of them being Sasaki defeating Takuma Sano. The “Kensuke Sasaki 25th Anniversary Show” was promoted at Korakuen Hall on February 11 drawing 2,100. On that show, Sasaki and trainee Takashi Okita defeated Manabu Nakanishi and King Fale in a “Kensuke Office vs New Japan” match. Sasaki teamed with his trainee Kento Miyahara in the Global Tag League in April. They only had two wins in the tournament and tied for last place. On the June 13 Mitsuhara Misawa Memorial show in Osaka, Sasaki teamed with Nakajima and Miyahara and lost to Yoshihiro Takayama, Takuma Sano and Akira Taue. Sasaki defeated Takeshi Morishima on July 10 show at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo. On a Kensuke Birthday Commemorative Special Match on August 4, Sasaki and Jun Akiyama defeated Antonio Honda and Miyahara. On August 27 NJPW, AJPW and NOAH promoted an “All Together” show to raise money for victims of the 2011 earthquake in Japan. The show drew 17,000 to Budokan Hall and in the third-to-last match Sasaki teamed with Jun Akiyama to defeat Takao Omori and Yoshihiro Takayama.
On October 2 Sasaki teamed with Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki to defeat Jun Akiyama, Akitoshi Saito and Masao Inoue in Inoue’s 20th Anniversary Match. Sasaki participated in NOAH’s Global League in November and had wins over Shuhei Taniguchi, KENTA, Bobby Fish, Akitoshi Saito, and Takashi Sugiura. He had a loss to Takuma Sano and a time-limit draw with Bison Smith. The November 10 Genichiro Tenryu 35th Anniversary Show at Korakuen Hall featured a Triple Crown Champions Skirmish match. In the main event, Sasaki teamed with Satoshi Kojima and Taiyo Kea to defeat Tenryu, Minoru Suzuki and Suwama in front of 1,522 fans. Sasaki finished out the year on Dragon Gate’s Final Gate 2011 show and defeated Cyber Kong on a show drawing 7,500 on December 25.
On the January 14, 2012 Kensuke Office show, Sasaki teamed with Satoshi Kojiwara and lost to Nakajima and Takeshi Morishima in Sasaki’s hometown of Yoshikawa. Sasaki continued in NOAH as well and on January 22 he and Nakajima defeated Kenta Kobashi and Shuhei Taniguchi. In January the Kensuke Office promotion changed its name to Diamond Ring. They had their first show under the new name on February 11 with Kobashi and Jun Akiyama defeating Sasaki and Mitsuhiro Kitamiya. On the second “All Together” show on February 19 in Sendai, Sasaki teamed with Yuji Nagata, Naomichi Marufuji and Akebono to defeat Masayuki Kono, Taiichi, Yoshihiro Takayama and Minoru Suzuki. On the Zero-1 11th Anniversary Show on March 2 at Korakuen Hall, Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Shinjro Ohtani and Daichi Hashimoto, the son of Sasaki rival Shinya Hashimoto. Sasaki teamed with Kento Miyahara in NOAH’s Global Tag League in April and May and they had three wins and a time-limit draw. On May 19 Sasaki wrestled as Power Warrior in Mexico, teaming with El Canek and beating Hector Garza and NOSAWA. On July 22 Sasaki and Nakajima defeated Akira Taue and Takeshi Rikio and Genba Hirayanaga in a NOAH vs Diamond Ring Teacher vs Student showdown. Diamond Ring continued to promote more steadily and Sasaki continued in NOAH through October 2012.
Sasaki had his return match in February 2013 on the Diamond Ring 1st Anniversary Show at Korakuen Hall. Sasaki and Takashi Sugiura teamed to defeat Shinjiro Ohtani and Nakajima. On March 22 Sasaki and Nakajima lost to Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji on Morishima’s 15th Anniversary Show. Sasaki and Nakajima participated in NOAH’s Global Tag League and won the B Block before losing to KENTA and Yoshihiro Takayama in the finals. Sasaki was also a part of Kenta Kobashi’s final match on the May 11 Final Burning show at Budokan Hall in front of 17,000 that were obviously drawn by Kobashi. Sasaki teamed with Kobashi, Keiji Mutoh and Jun Akiyama to defeat Go Shiozaki, KENTA, Maybach Taniguchi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. On July 21 Sasaki teamed with Danshoku Dino and Matako Oishi in DDT to win the KO-D 6 Man Tag Team Titles from Antonio Honda, Hoshitango and Yuji Hino. They lost the titles to Sanshiro Takagi, Akebono and Toru Owashi on the August 18 DDT Peter Pan Show that drew 9,000 to Sumo Hall (although this was not the main event).
I feel that Kensuke Sasaki is a strong candidate for the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame based on both in-ring ability, success and influence. A list of notable attendance figures is attached at the end of this writing. Included are five shows main evented by Sasaki drawing more than 60,000 to the Tokyo Dome and there are six if you include the January 2001 IWGP Title Tournament in which he defeated Toshiaki Kawada in the finals. Sasaki was also in the semi-main event of two other Tokyo Dome shows drawing 60,000 and 70,000 showing his level in the company at the time if nothing else. Sasaki has also main evented shows drawing 27,000 and 35,000 as well as what might seem a non-impressive 30,000 at the Tokyo Dome that should be placed in the context of being a post-split AJPW show. It would also appear that if a list of wrestlers drawing crowds of more than 10,000 were completed for Japan that Sasaki would fare well, although not to the level of the hottest stars of his era. But the attendance figures I listed span a period of fourteen years and very distinct periods of Sasaki’s career. Some feel that Sasaki was not necessarily responsible for the attendance at the Tokyo Dome shows but I am not sure of any objective way to argue that in either direction.
The only negative I can see regarding Sasaki is the incident in which Gompeii died in 1995. I will say nothing to minimize that incident other than to ask if that is something that would disqualify one from consideration, which is a personal judgment. Beyond that, while Sasaki might not be as strong a candidate as contemporaries Mitsuhara Misawa, Kenta Kobashi or even Shinya Hashimoto, that is a measure that many in the history of the business and even the Hall Of Fame would not live up to. My impression of Sasaki has always been one of a good-to-great wrestler depending on the period of his career you are talking about and even his early career work in NJPW provided some great matches, including his tag team work with HOF member Hiroshi Hase.
Sasaki’s status in wrestling history as compared to Akira Hokuto is also something to be considered as when I see their names I feel he is just as important. While the accomplishment of winning the three major world titles in Japan might not be as impressive as it would have been in other eras, to say it is not impressive at all would be overly dismissive. I also think Sasaki’s influence will continue to grow as his students, especially Nakajima, establish themselves within wrestling. In terms of influence, I feel that Sasaki has impacted several organizations since 1991 and it has been almost all for the positive. He also helped to entrench the ability to act as a freelancer in modern Japan.
I hope people find this write-up informative. The amount of discussion and debate regarding the Hall Of Fame in recent years is one of my favorite parts of being a fan and I hope it continues for years to come.
19) January 15, 1993 Wrestling Observer Newsletter
20) December 20, 1993 Wrestling Observer Newsletter
21) January 10, 1994 Wrestling Observer Newsletter
22) January 9, 1995 Wrestling Observer Newsletter
23) January 16, 1995 Wrestling Observer Newsletter
24) November 20, 1995 Wrestling Observer Newsletter
1/4/1995 Shinya Hashimoto defeats Kensuke Sasaki 62,500 Tokyo Dome
8/31/1997 Kensuke Sasaski defeats Shinya Hashimoto for IWGP title 18,000 Yokohama
10/31/1997 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Masahiro Chono 5,300 Hiroshima
1/4/1998 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Keiji Mutoh 65,000 Tokyo Dome
2/7/1998 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Osamu Nishimura 6,500 Hiroshima
4/4/1998 Tatsumi Fujinami defeats Kensuke Sasaki in semi-final to Inoki vs Frye 70,000 Tokyo Dome
2/14/1999 Keiji Mutoh defeated Kensuke Sasaki 14,000 Budokan Hall
3/22/1999 Kensuke Sasaki Shiro Koshinaka defeat Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima 6,000 Amagasaski
6/27/1999 Tatsutoshi Goto and Michiyoshi Ohara defeated Kensuke Sasaki and Shiro Koshinaka 5,000 Shizuoka
1/4/2000 Kensuke Sasaki defeated Genichiro Tenryu 63,500 Tokyo Dome
2/5/2000 Kensuke Sasaki defeated Don Frye 6,800 Sapporo
2/20/2000 Kensuke Sasaki vs Masahiro Chono 11,500 Sumo Hall
3/19/2000 Kensuke Sasaki defeated Satoshi Kojima 9,000 Nagoya
4/7/2000 Kensuke Sasaki defeated Jushin Liger semi-final to Ogawa vs Hashimoto 60,000 Tokyo Dome
5/5/2000 Power Warrior defeated Great Muta 35,000 Fukuoka
6/2/2000 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Manabu Nakanishi 10,000 Budokan Hall (Super Juniors Tour)
7/20/2000 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Takashi Iizuka 8,000 Sapporo
8/13/2000 Kensuke Sasaki wins G1 Climax 11,500 Sumo Hall
10/9/2000 Toshiaki Kawada defeats IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki 65,000 Tokyo Dome
1/4/2001 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Toshiaki Kawada in IWGP Title Tournament 62,000 Tokyo Dome
1/28/20001 Kensuke Sasaki and Toshiaki Kawada defeated Genichiro Tenryu and Hiroshi Hase 30,000 Tokyo Dome (AJPW)
2/18/2001 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Shinjiro Ohtani 11,000 Sumo Hall
3/17/2001 Scott Norton defeats Kensuke Sasaki 9,000 Nagoya
4/9/2001 Shinya Hashimoto defeats Kensuke Sasaki at Osaka Dome 27,000 with semi-final of Kazayuki Fujita winning the IWGP title from Scott Norton
6/7/2002 IWGP Champion Yuji Nagata defeats Kensuke Sasaki 9,000 Budokan Hall
3/1/2003 Kensuke Sasaki and Hiroshi Hase defeated Don Frye and Dan Bobish 13,200 Yokohama (WJ)
7/20/2003 Kensuke Sasaki wins World Magma Greatest title tournament 8,500 Sumo Hall
7/27/2003 Kensuke Sasaki and Hiroshi Hase vs Toshiaki Kawada and Satoshi Kojima on Gold For Athens show 8,000 Kanazawa
3/12/2004 Kensuke Sasaki wins IWGP Title from Hiroyoshi Tenzan at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo 3,800
3/28/2004 Bob Sapp wins IWGP Title from Kensuke Sasaki 10,000 Sumo Hall
10/9/2004 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Kazayuki Fujita for IWGP Title 11,000 Sumo Hall
10/31/2004 Keiji Mutoh and Mitsuhara Misawa defeated Kensuke Sasaki and Hiroshi Hase 11,500 Sumo Hall Mutoh 20th Anniversary
11/3/2004 IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi 10,000 Sumo Hall * semi-final to Masa Chono and Riki Choshu vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Yuji Nagata on Chono’s 20th Anniversary Show
11/13/2004 IWGP Champion Kensuke Sasaki defeats Minoru Suzuki 28,000 Osaka Dome
*Third-to-last to Toshiaki Kawada and Naoya Ogawa defeating Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Hiroshi Tanahashi as well as Kazayuki Fujita and Kendo Kashin defeating Manabu Nakanishi and Shinsuke Nakamura
12/10/2004 Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura defeat Kensuke Sasaki and Minoru Suzuki for vacant IWGP tag titles 6,000 Osaka
12/12/2004 Hiroyoshi Tenzan defeats Kensuke Sasaki for IWGP title 9,000 Nagoya
1/16/2005 Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada defeats Kensuke Sasaki 4,500 Osaka
7/18/2005 Kenta Kobashi defeats Kensuke Sasaki 62,000 Tokyo Dome * Semi-final to Mitsuhara Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada on NOAH Dome Show, Kobashi vs Sasaki largely seen as the draw
11/19/2005 Satoshi Kojima (Triple Crown champ) defeats Kensuke Sasaki 5,800 Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Stadium Tokyo
8/26/2007 Kensuke Sasaki wins Triple Crown Title from Minoru Suzuki 8,200 Sumo Hall
10/18/2007 Triple Crown Champion Kensuke Sasaki defeats Toshiaki Kawada 4,00 Yoyogi National Stadium Tokyo
3/1/2008 Triple Crown Champion Kensuke Sasaki defeats Satoshi Kojima 8,500 Sumo Hall
4/29/2008 Suwama wins Triple Crown from Kensuke Sasaki 3,200 Nagoya
9/6/2008 Kensuke Sasaki defeats Takeshi Morishima for GHC Title 11,500 Budokan Hall
12/7/2008 GHC Champion Kensuke Sasaki defeats Akitoshi Saito 11,000 Budokan Hall
3/1/2009 Jun Akiyama defeats Kensuke Sasaki for GHC Title 14,800 Budokan Hall