(ED. NOTE FROM J MICHAEL -- Shohei Baba, who was first introduced to American wrestling
audiences in the early 1960s, eventually became a three-time holder of the old
National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight title, albeit awfully briefly
each time. He first won the belt from Jack Brisco on Dec. 2, 1974, in
Kagoshima, Japan, before turning it back a week later. His next title reign
was from Oct. 31, 1979 -- he beat Harley Race in Nagoya -- to Nov. 7, 1979,
when he lost to Race in Amagasaki. He and Race once again swapped the belt
back and forth, Baba winning it on Sept. 4, 1980 in Saga, Japan, and losing it
five days later in Ohtsu. Baba also won the NWA International Heavyweight
strap on three occasions, was PWF heavyweight champ four times and, once, won
the All Asia heavyweight crown.)
TOKYO -- Japanese pioneer professional wrestler Giant Baba died of liver
failure at a Tokyo hospital Sunday, his family said Monday. He was 61.
Baba, who towered over the average Japanese with a 209-centimeter frame,
became a professional wrestler in 1960 after a stint as a pitcher with popular
Japanese pro baseball club, the Yomiuri Giants.
Known to his fans for his trademark ''16-mon'' kick technique, Baba -- whose
real name is Shohei Baba -- had been a pillar in Japanese professional
wrestling, competing well past his 60th birthday.
''I think he believed his health condition will get better. I respected him
like I do my parents,'' said wrestler Mitsuharu Misawa, who is registered with
the All Japan Pro Wrestling Co., which Baba founded in 1972 and served as
president until he died.
A native of Niigata Prefecture, Baba joined Yomiuri in 1955 after dropping out
of high school when he was in his junior year and was released from the Tokyo-
based club following the 1959 season due to injury and lackluster
His overall record in professional baseball included no wins and one loss in
three game appearances.
''I remember practicing with him shortly after I signed with the Giants,''
said former Yomiuri slugger Sadaharu Oh, who currently manages the Fukuoka
Daiei Hawks. ''He talked to me about the Giants and about pro baseball. He was
very kind and always smiling.''