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川田 利明
(かわだ としあき)

Toshiaki Kawada is a Japanese professional wrestler in the All Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion. He's widely known as one of the stiffest competitors in the squared circle, and generally considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. His reputation for giving and receiving punishment is unmatched, outside of Japanese death match circles where clotting is considered unprofessional.

To give you an idea of what a stupendous badass Kawada is, he once broke his forearm hitting Mitsuharu Misawa in the back of the head. I'll say it again: He broke his freaking arm. Keep in mind that this is professional wrestling. This isn't competitive, and, nominally, the goal is not to hurt anyone. That's the real beauty here: Kawada's hitting so hard not because he wants to hurt himself, and not because he wants to hurt Misawa, though I wouldn't blame him if he did; he hits this hard out of moral obligation, out of his dedication to the fans in part, but more importantly, dedication to the ideal of his sport. He's out there to make it look like he's beating the hell out of somebody. What's the best way to do that? Why, beat the hell out of them, of course! It's not about pain, it's about the appearance of pain.

That said, I haven't even gotten to the best part of the incident. Kawada kept going for 17 minutes more without even flinching. It was like the Bene Gesserit had a gom jabbar up to his neck and his hand was in the box, but he didn't need a pansy internal monologue to make it through, he just needed the fighting spirit inside every warrior's heart and a whole lot of high angle powerbombs and jumping high kicks.

Toshiaki Kawada gained fame in All Japan Pro-Wrestling in the 1990's. He, Mitsuharu Misawa, Akira Taue, and Kenta Kobashi formed the core group of main eventers in All Japan in the 1990's, with some help from upper mid-carders like Jun Akiyama. Kawada was the number two man in the promotion, second to Misawa. They started off tagging together in the late 1980's, but in 1993, Kawada turned on Misawa, kicking off a feud that would continue off and on for 6 years. Throughout the feud, Misawa continually got the better of Kawada. In fact, it took 4 years for Kawada to get a pinfall over Misawa in a one on one confrontation.

In 1999, the founder of All Japan, Giant Baba, passed away, leaving the ownership of the company to his widow, Motoko Baba. The board of directors installed Misawa as president and Kawada as vice president of the company. Over the following year, Misawa and Baba's widow had increasingly frequent conflicts, which came to a head in the middle of 2000, as the board removed Misawa from his position as president of the company. As a result, Misawa left the company and every native Japanese wrestler in the employ of All Japan followed, with the single exception of Toshiaki Kawada. Misawa and his crew formed Pro-Wrestling NOAH, which has proven to be successful since then.

For All Japan, it's a different story. All Japan still had Kawada and the gaijin wrestlers, but that group was still far too small. They were able to get help from other Japanese wrestlers who had worked with them in the past, as well as some indy talent, but business still dwindled. They entered into a cross-promotional agreement with long-time rival New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which ended up seeing Kawada working in New Japan only to be jobbed out frequently, instead of holding up and defending the Triple Crown as many fans were hoping.

I'm not privy to the private conversations of those at the top of All Japan, and so I don't know all the hows or whys of Misawa leaving and Kawada staying, but I can't help but look on Kawada's career as somewhat tragic. He stood there and remained in Misawa's shadow for years, ever stoic, never complaining, and his reward for his loyalty when he's the only native wrestler to stay is jobbing to Kensuke Sasaki in under 15 minutes.

I can't judge Misawa and the other wrestlers for leaving, as I believe that there's a culture gap that I'm unable to bridge here. But one thing I'd like to think I can grasp is Kawada's perpetual loyalty to All Japan Pro-Wrestling and to the memory of Giant Baba.

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