Few big men in puroresu today are as feared and as respected as puro’s resident blond big man, Yoshihiro Takayama. An 18-year veteran of the sport, Takayama debuted in June 1992 in UWF-i, but was little more than a mid-carder for the first few years. He participated in New Japan and WAR in 1995 & 1996 as part of interpromotional feuds, wearing a mask in New Japan. After the UWF-i collapsed, he went to another soon-to-collapse promotion and soon after wound up in All-Japan. He soon won the All-Asia Tag Team Championship then the Double Cup. He stayed with All-Japan until leaving as part of Mitsuharu Misawa’s mass talent exodus to form NOAH. He quickly won the GHC Tag Team Championship and then took a break from wrestling to try MMA in 2001-2002. Although he would lose all 4 of his fights, he impressed each time in defeat and his fight with Don Frye is considered one of the best PRIDE fights ever and solidified Takayama’s reputation as one of the toughest Japanese fighters in the promotion.
Soon after Takayama declared himself a freelancer to pursue both MMA and wrestling careers. He returned to New Japan in 2003 and soon won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and also participated twice in the annual G1 Climax tournament. 2004 saw another IWGP Tag Team Title reign, this time with Minoru Suzuki, but a stroke later that year would keep him out of action for an extended time. During this absence he remained active as a color commentator for NOAH, famously saying, “I hope this never ends” during a chop exchange between Kenta Kobashi and Kensuke Sasaki on the July 18, 2005 “Destiny” show. Takayama returned to action in June 2006, teaming with Kensuke Sasaki against Jun Akiyama and Misawa with Sasaki being a replacement for the sidelined Kenta Kobashi.
In 2008 & 2009 he has expanded his freelance reach, appearing occasionally for other promotions like ZERO1 and IGF, and has returned to All-Japan on a regular basis while still working part-time for NOAH. On March 14, 2009, he cemented his legacy by winning the All-Japan Triple Crown and became only the second wrestler ever to win the career triple crown-the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, All-Japan Triple Crown, and GHC Heavyweight Championship. He’s even shown a lighter side as well, teaming with Minoru Suzuki in a match where they paid homage to the popular “Crush Gals” tag team by assuming the persona of “Lioness Takayama” and even dressing up like Lioness Asuka for that one match. He also still does some color commentary for NOAH on occasion. Takayama has clearly become the gold standard for freelancers and continues to keep going strong as he approaches his mid-40s.
Takayama has again shifted his scheduling in 2010, now working full-time in NOAH but maintaining his freelancer status. He won the promotion’s Global Singles League in May 2010 and one again appears to be in title contention as a result.
Stats & info:
Weight: 280 pounds/127 kg
Experience: 17 years
Finishing move: Running Kneelift, Everest German
Current affiliation: Independent/Freelancer, but is billed as being from the “Takayama Dojo” and primarily works with All-Japan and NOAH
Ring entrance theme: “Destructive”
1-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion
1-time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1-time NWF Heavyweight Champion
1-time All-Japan Triple Crown Champion
1-time All-Japan World Tag Team Champion
1-time All-Japan All-Asia Tag Team Champion
1-time GHC Heavyweight Champion
2-time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1-time NWA Intercontinental Tag Team Champion
1-time WAR 6-Man Tag Team Champion
2002-2003 NWF Heavyweight Title Tournament
2010 Global Tag League
2010 Global Singles League
2002 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Bruiser Brody Memorial Award (Best Brawler)
2002 Wrestling Observer Newsletter MMA Fight Of The Year
2002 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award (vs. Yuji Nagata)
2003 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Most Valuable Player Award
2004 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Tag Team Award (with Minoru Suzuki)
Official website (Japanese):