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Tomomi Tsuruta

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Tomomi Tsuruta (March 25, 1951-May 13, 2000) better known by his ring name Jumbo Tsuruta, was a professional wrestler who wrestled for All Japan Pro Wrestling for most of his career, and is well known for being the first ever AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion, having won the PWF Heavyweight Championship, the NWA United National Championship, and the NWA International Heavyweight Championship, and unifying the three titles.

Early life

Tsuruta participated in many sports, such as swimming, basketball, and sumo while attending Hikawa Senior High School in Yamanashi-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture.

Amateur wrestling career

While at Chuo University, he began an amateur wrestling career. He won the All Japan Amateur Wrestling Championship in freestyle and Greco-Roman as a superheavyweight (at the time, an unlimited class for those weighing over 100 kilograms) in the years 1971 and 1972.

He also competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. He finished the Greco-Roman tournament with no wins.

Professional wrestling career

Scouted by AJPW promoter Giant Baba, he was sent to the local Amarillo, Texas promotion in the U.S. to train as a pro under Dory Funk Jr. While wrestling in the United States, Tsuruta was the first Japanese wrestler to be cheered by an American crowd, due to his hard work ethic and wrestling ability. The name "Jumbo" was given to him by a fan contest in Japan to replace his given name, which was seen as too feminine. Tsuruta and Yoshiaki Yatsu became the first AJPW Unified World Tag Team Champions on June 10, 1988.

During his 26-year career, he fought in 3,329 matches. Some of his most notable opponents include Stan Hansen, The Destroyer, Bruiser Brody, Genichiro Tenryu, Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Mitsuharu Misawa, Harley Race, Verne Gagne, Jack Brisco, Ric Flair, and Nick Bockwinkel. Tsuruta was the first AJPW Triple Crown Champion (unifying the Pacific Wrestling Federation, NWA United National, and NWA International Heavyweight titles), defeating Stan Hansen on April 18, 1989 in Tokyo.

His level of work while still an active, full-time wrestler never declined and if anything, his highest rated work came in the last five years of his career, in his seminal feuds with Genichiro Tenryu and Mitsuharu Misawa. His skills allowed him to continue as a top line worker into his forties, well past his athletic prime. In the wake of his death, the press called him the strongest wrestler in the history of Japanese wrestling. Tsuruta was arguably the best wrestler in the world during the 1980s.

Illness, life after wrestling and death

In the summer of 1992, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and never fully recovered, completing the "October Giant Series" tour before disappearing from the company for almost a year. For the rest of his career, he participated mostly in comedic matches because his health prevented him from working a full physically-demanding schedule. He announced his retirement on February 20, 1999 and held a ceremony on March 6, 1999, after being forced out of his front-office position by Motoko Baba in the aftermath of her husband's death.

Four days later, he and his family moved to the United States so that he could take an Assistant Professor position at the University of Portland in Oregon. Tsuruta had degree in law and earned his teaching credential in 1994, later becoming a professor at his old University.

His health deteriorated, however, as he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer, which eventually spread to his liver, and by the end of the year he was back in Japan. In April 2000, he left for Australia, where he had an operation to remove the cancer, while there a kidney donor was found in Manila. Tsuruta died in the National Hospital in the Philippines on May 13, 2000, from complications of the kidney transplant.

He had 3 sons: Ken, Naoki, and Yuji.

In wrestling

Championships and accomplishments

  • PWI ranked him #28 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the PWI Years in 2003
  • Tokyo Sports Grand Prix
  • Wrestler of the Year (1983, 1984, 1991)
  • Techinique Award (1974, 1986, 1988)
  • Outstanding Performance (1975, 1976, 1981)
  • Achievement Award (1999)
  • Special Achievement Award (2000)
  • Tag Team of the Year (1978, 1980, 1982)- with Giant Baba
  • Tag Team of the Year (1983, 1985)- with Genichiro Tenryu
  • Tag Team of the Year (1989)- with Yoshiaki Yatsu
  • Match of the Year (1976)- vs. Rusher Kimura on March 28, 1976
  • Match of the Year (1978)- vs. Harley Race on January 20, 1978
  • Match of the Year (1980)- with Giant Baba vs. Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk on December 11, 1980
  • Match of the Year (1985)- vs. Riki Choshu on November 4, 1985
  • Match of the Year (1987)- vs. Genichiro Tenryu on August 31, 1987
  • Match of the Year (1989)- vs. Genichiro Tenryu on June 5, 1989

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