Photo courtesy: Pro Wrestling Illustrated
It was announced on Monday that Masa Saito passed away over the weekend after battling Parkinson’s Disease for a long time.
Saito represented Japan in the 1964 Olympics Games in freestyle wrestling, which emanated from Tokyo that year. It was a natural transition for Saito to take his Olympic notoriety and enter professional wrestling after the games.
Saito was trained in the JWA’s Dojo and debuted in June 1965. The following year saw the launch of Tokyo Pro Wrestling by Toyonobori and Saito followed and joined the upstart promotion, which struggled and faded quickly.
Saito traveled to the United States and spent time working in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Florida among the many offices he worked for. It was in San Francisco that he teamed with Kinji Shibuya to become the tag champions in July 1968.
Saito’s next major role in Japan came when he joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1974, two years after its launch. It was in New Japan that the Ishin Gundan group grew out of a previous alliance. Saito remained with New Japan until 1985 and then began work with All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Saito was also sent over to the World Wide Wrestling Federation and had two runs with Mr. Fuji as the WWWF tag champions. They defeated Tony Garea and Rick Martel in October 1981 and did a brief title switch, dropping them to Chief Jay & Jules Strongbow in June 1982 for a two-week reign and regained the titles 15 days later. They dropped the titles one final time to the Strongbows in October 1982.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Saito was working with the AWA and led to one of the most high-profile incidents of his career. Along with Ken Patera, the two were attempting to go to a McDonald’s restaurant in 1984 and the establishment was closed and would not serve them. Patera proceeded to throw a boulder through the window (Patera denies he threw the rock) and when police arrived, Saito and Patera attacked them and were sent to prison for two years. Saito introduced a new submission after his prison stay, called “The Prison Lock”.
After he served time, Saito had another run with New Japan Pro Wrestling and this featured his feud with Antonio Inoki that included their Island Death Match on Ganryujima Island. This two-hour spectacle featured the two fighting on an island in one of the stranger ideas for a match.
During this time with New Japan, Saito won the IWGP tag titles with Riki Choshu in June 1988 from Kengo Kimura and Tatsumi Fujinami and held them until March 1989. He won the titles a second time with Shinya Hashimoto in September 1989 from former partner Choshu and Takayuki Iizuka (Takashi Iizuka of Suzuki-gun presently).
Saito won the AWA heavyweight title from Larry Zbyszko on February 10th, 1990 at the Tokyo Dome on a card that featured talent from New Japan and All Japan, a rarity at this time. Because of the AWA’s working relationship with All Japan, they had a presence on the show with Zbyszko dropping the title to Saito in a strong match with Saito dropping it back to Zbyszko at SuperClash 4 in April.
With New Japan’s working relationship with WCW, Saito would work frequently in the United States throughout the 90’s.
Saito retired in February 1999 with his retirement match against Scott Norton with Norton going over.
Until its demise, Saito had a role in the front office of the Diamond Ring promotion, also known as the “Kensuke Office” after co-founder Kensuke Sasaki.
He began suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease in 2000.
Saito was 76 years old at the time of his passing.
CORRECTION: In the original post, we had listed Saito throwing a boulder through the McDonald’s window when it was Ken Patera who was accused of throwing it.