The fallout from the backstage beating of Nobukazu Hirai and his subsequent acute subdural hematoma has not ended with the resignation of Keiji Mutoh as long time President of All Japan Pro Wrestling. In a bizarre turn of events, the veteran referee who broke up the beating, Kyohei Wada, has left the company after 37 years with the promotion. As Zach Arnold explains on his Puroresu Power message board, this departure is hugely symbolic as Wada was one the few connections left with the Giant Baba led heyday of the promotion in the 70s, 80s and 90s:
Historically speaking, Wada will go down as perhaps the second most famous referee of all time in Japanese pro-wrestling. Joe Higuchi is the most famous and Wada took over as the ace referee when the class of Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu picked up steam in the late '80s. Once Misawa, Kawada (w/ Fuyuki as the Footloose tag unit), Kobashi, and Taue started rising, Wada became the main workhorse official. The only other official to rival Wada's exposure on Japanese television in the '90s was Masao "Tiger" Hattori.
Wada's professionalism, stamina, reliability, and demeanour are nothing short of legendary as an official. While his departure from All Japan is more symbolic than substantive, the truth is that it is a huge image blow for the company. Even during the peak years of All Japan, Wada got big pops -- those rivaling the main event wrestlers. Watching him referee a match for All Japan was like being invited to his house, to his turf. A true sense of loyalty developed and that credibility will never truly vanish.
The timing of Wada's departure doesn't seem to be a coincidence. From the reports in Tokyo Sports and a press conference Wada held soon after he left All Japan that Zach Arnold translated, it seems like he was so unhappy with management's flatfooted reaction to the Hirai scandal that he decided to quit the promotion:
According to a blurb in Tokyo Sports, Wada allegedly wanted to clean house after the Hirai incident. The paper claims he faced enormous political pressure and, rather than reportedly get into a major war with the powers-that-be, he exited the company without much fan fare after their June 19th event in Tokyo at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The fact that he didn't leave without a ceremony or tribute is what has a lot of people's curiosity on high alert.
Kyohei Wada held a presser in Tokyo today and pretty much confirmed the media reports that Mutoh thought Wada had betrayed him and that with Uchida taking over, a 'clean sweep' was happening.
Wada said he wanted to retire in All Japan but will now instead work as a freelancer for big wrestling events.
This story is eerily reminiscent of wrestler turned politician Hiroshi Hase's departure from New Japan Pro Wrestling in early 1996 after the death from head injuries in training of Hiromitsu Gompei, a top level amateur wrestler Hase had recruited into the company by promising to his parents that they'd take good care of him.
In a development that may not be related to the Hirai incident, though it would make sense that he wouldn't want to stay onboard a scandal ridden ship, All Japan's top freelance wrestler Minoru Suzuki has also left the promotion and will now be working full time for New Japan instead. This could be coincidental, as Suzuki had done everything he possibly could in the promotion, including winning both the Triple Crown championship and Champion's Carnival twice in recent years, so it may have just been time for him to move on to a new territory so to speak.
Dave Meltzer in his June 27th subscribers only Wrestling Observer newsletter claimed that Wada left "because his dates were cut back and he had not been under contact since April 2010", which is true, but it seems highly likely that Wada would have continued working for the promotion, at least on a part time basis, if the Hirai incident hadn't occurred. He also called the attendance of 6,000 fans at their recent Sumo Hall event "a healthy number under the circumstances", but that decent number was drawn largely due to outside stars working on top (K-1 Heavyweight champion Kyotaro and top New Japan star Yuji Nagata put over All Japan's Masakatsu Funaki and Suwama, respectively, in singles matches on the show), who may be difficult to attract in future if the scandal doesn't blow over.