We recently got to interview the son of Jumbo Tsurata, an AJPW legend. We spoke about his fathers legendary career, from beginning to end, in its full extent.
Q: Your father, the legendary Jumbo Tsurata, was a former amateur wrestler, and at one point, the AJAW champion. He was scouted by Giant Baba to begin his career, how do you feel knowing your father had an amazing start, and was scouted by a legend such as Giant Baba?
A: Well, he was a very smart man. Wrestling wasn’t his only option. My father studied Law at Chuo University. He wasn’t welcomed at first at the wrestling team there. He had to prove himself somewhere else. You’ve said he had an amazing start to begin his career, but it wasn’t easy for him. To train at Dory Funk’s dojo in Texas, Baba-san only bought him a one-way ticket to America, indicating that if he fails or gives up, he’s on his own.
Q: After intense training with Dory Funk Jr, your father had a name change, due to his current one sounding too “feminine”, so he was named Jumbo Tsurata. After a few years in the AWA, your father defeated Nick Bockingwell for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. How do you think your father felt when his hard work paid off, and he finally made it to the top?
A: My father got married to my mother that very year, I think. I’m sure he was very happy. There’s one promise that we’ve made, between father and son. We’ve talked about this very often. He sometimes comes up to me and tells me ”you can do whatever you want with your life, but promise me that you’ll be number one at it.” I’d say ”yes”. One time, I heard my father talking to himself. He said ”it’ll all be okay now”.
I’m sure being a world champion was the thing that my father valued the most. There’s a great picture of him holding up his finger with a smile and the AWA champion belt. It meant ”I’m number one.”
Q: Your father held the AWA World Heavyweight championship for three months, from February of 1984 to May. Despite a short reign, he never seized to amaze when he and Yoshiaki Yatsu became the first World Tag Team Champions in AJPW. Your father was not only winning titles, but winning a legendary status as well. Did you ever feel your father was unstoppable and ready for anything?
A: Yes. I’ve only seen a couple of losses in my fathers career, and those were against Bruiser Brody, Genichiro Tenryu, Mitsuharu Misawa, Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy. I was born in the year 1986. The match against Misawa was the one that upset me the most. I told Jumbo that my favorite wrestler (besides him, of course) was Misawa. It did not mean that I wanted Misawa to win, but I just loved him as Tiger Mask Ⅱ. He was doing an excellent job filling the role that Tenryu left open.
I’ve always felt that my father was unbeatable in his prime. In his matches that he lost, it doesn’t seem convincing to me. The only match that was convincing was the match he had with Bruiser Brody. The first match that I saw was against Dory Funk Jr. The match took place in December of 1986. I wasn’t even a toddler, but I remember it clearly.
Q: Wrestling for 26 years, your father had fought in 3,329 total matches. That is a historic set when facing against legends that include Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Genichiro Tenryu, Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Funk, and Dory Funk Jr. All these men, including your father, changed the landscape of wrestling. Your father then went on to defeat Stan “The Man ” Hansen to become the first Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion (unifying the Pacific Wrestling Federation, NWA United National, and NWA International Heavyweight titles), on April 18, 1989 in Tokyo. Do you feel this was the greatest moment in his 26-year career?
A: I think it is his best achievement, yes. To honor my father, they engraved my his name onto the new belt. I had a chance to take a picture with the three belts when Suwama, the triple crown champion at that time, was kind enough to let me put the belt onto my shoulder.
Q: After your father’s reign as Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion, he took part in the October “Giant Series” tour, before disappearing from the company for almost a year. He then returned and spent the rest of his career doing comedic matches. He teamed up with Giant Baba and won tag team gold six times before retiring in 1999. Why did your father disappear for a year, and was his retirement due to his problems with his liver?
A: His retirement was not due to the liver problem. He was hired as a professor at Portland State University. The disappearing in 1993 was due to Hepatitis B, which is an illness that he battled his entire life. If I remember correctly, I noticed his eyeballs turning yellow after the triple crown match with Terry Gordy. The illness was very serious, as he almost died in ’93.
Q: Lastly, if your father was in his prime today, how do you feel he’d fit in? Would he stay with AJPW, or have taken himself to NJPW to face off against some of the best?
A: I think he would have stayed with AJPW all the way through to his retirement. I have no idea what he would have done if he was still active after Mr. Baba passed away. Most people that I know don’t believe that he would be running AJPW, since my father was not that kind of person. As on WWE, he did team up with King Haku, and even defeated the USA team at Tokyo Dome. That match is something to watch, as it inspired Jun Akiyama to become a wrestler.
We thank Yuji for allowing us to interview him about his father and wish him a happy fathers day.