Ultimo Dragon: Pro Wrestling's All-Time Greatest International Star
When you think of some of the greatest wrestling stars of all time, you may think of people such as Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock. The popularity of these two men in America made them a house hold name across the world.
However, America is not the only place wrestling takes place. Japan actually has some of the greatest wrestlers of all time, and they constantly put out great wrestlers every year.
It seems ever since pro-wrestling was seen in Japan, the Japanese loved every minute of it. It is so popular now that you can go into places like the Tokyo Dome and see as many people there as you would at Wrestlemania.
The difference between their market and America's is that they sell out that arena every time a wrestling event is present. Unlike in America, where only the major pay-per-views are sold out.
The fans seem to love it and cannot get enough. It is treated like a sport there, and while many know it is predetermined entertainment, they just don't care. Everything that goes on in that ring is considered just as real as a basketball or baseball game to them.
They have to be the best wrestling fans in the world if you ask me. People there don't grow up wanting to be a basketball player, they grow up wanting to be wrestlers or fighters
A man by the name of Yoshihiro Asai was no different. He grew up like many in the country, idolizing the sport of wrestling. He wanted his game to be different than anyone else's.
He thought that the Japanese style of wrestling was great, but adding more to it would be better. He could add the American style, English, Lucha Libre, and Japanese style to seemingly make one super wrestler.
He was taught his Japanese style of wrestling, and while in Japan, he was trained in Martial Arts by the legendary Bruce Lee. He was the last student Lee ever had, and Asai felt compelled to make sure the legend of Bruce Lee lived on.
He added the martial arts style to his wrestling performance, and it seemed that once he started doing it, the trainers in Japan did the same. Before Asai, there was some martial arts that took place in the ring.
However, it was nothing near what Asai would do. In the 80s when Asai was coming up, he would shock and amaze us with his Japanese performance. But, he always felt something was missing.
So, he went to Mexico where he learned the Mexican style known as Lucha Libre. He seemed to transition into it quite well, and earned the name we know him as today, Ultimo Dragon.
The name means Last Dragon, which was the best way Asai knew to honor his former teacher Bruce Lee. Because he was the last student of Lee and Lee's nickname was Dragon, it only seemed right to go by that name.
People were reminded of this for a while, but the gimmick was forgotten until he came back to America and wrestled with the WWE. Still, the name always stood.
Ultimo was an innovator in the ring. Because he knew of so many styles of wrestling, he put them all together to invent some phenomenal moves. One move though, is remembered by all fans.
The move is called the Asai Moonsault. It could be hit from anywhere seemingly.
But the place a lot of people know it from was when it was hit on the outside of the ring.
Ultimo would pop off of the middle rope doing the moonsault in the air and hitting his opponent outside the ring.
It seems like a normal everyday move to some now, but back then, Ultimo was considered the best high flyer alive doing it. That was a huge thing for him, because Mexico had some amazing people such as Mil Mascaras and Dos Caras Sr. there.
In 1987, he debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling where he amazed everyone. But, he left the promotion along with his mentor, Gran Hamada. They both formed Hamada's Lucha Libre promotion, the ULL. The promotion later went into decline, and Ultimo moved to WAR.
Even after working in Mexico and Japan, he still felt as if something was missing. He knew he could go anywhere and do well. And the place that would give him the ultimate opportunity was WCW.
In 1996, he debuted with World Championship Wrestling. He originally went by the Ultimate Dragon for several months. But, WCW realized the error of their ways and he finally was called by his normal ring name, Ultimo Dragon.
He worked as a heel for a while there, and had a manager by the name of Sonny Onoo. He ended up winning the cruiserweight title for the first time from Dean Malenko at Starrcade in 1996. He was allowed the entire time though, to wrestle overseas.
In October of 1996, Ultimo won the J-Crown, which was a unification of eight junior (lightweight) division titles from various international promotions. At the time, he also held the NWA Middleweight Title.
Then, after winning the cruiserweight title in November, he had 10 major singles titles. But, people forget that he also held the WAR six-man tag team title, making him the only person ever to hold 11 major titles at the same time.
He is the first and last person to ever do so.
Later on, Ultimo dropped the cruiserweight title to Dean Malenko, but he became a big player once again by capturing the WCW television title only to lose it to Steven Regal later on.
After that, he then turned face by dropping Onoo as his manager and won back the Television title from Regal before losing to Alex Wright at the last Clash of the Champions.
He then won the WCW cruiserweight title for the very last time by beating Eddie Guerrero.
In 1998, Ultimo sustained an arm injury which required surgery. But, the surgery was botched and caused nerve damage. Many thought that this would be the end of his career, but he never announced retirement.
He did take extended time off, though, during which time he became a trainer.
Imagine, having one of the best wrestlers in the world as your teacher. He could teach you styles of wrestling that hardly anyone could do.
Ultimo taught three classes of students:
Toryumon 2000 Project (T2P)
In 1999 a promotion named Toryumon opened with almost every member on the roster being ones Ultimo had trained. The promotion's name was later changed to Dragon's Gate, and continued to carry that name soon after Ultimo parted ways with the promotion. However, he continued to train students at his gym.
Ultimo then had surgery once again to repair his arm, in hopes of making a return to the ring.
In 2002, Asai underwent another surgery to repair the damage done to his arm in hopes of returning to wrestling. In late 2002 Ultimo Dragon was in talks with the WWE about coming in. To get back into ring shape he returned to action for his T2P and Toryumon Mexico promotions.
In the spring of 2003, he signed with the WWE to accomplish two lifelong dreams. One was competing at Madison Square Garden and the other was competing at Wrestlemania.
One goal was given to him from the start. He debuted as Ultimo Dragon at the Madison Square Garden arena where he beat Shannon Moore.
He never competed at Wrestlemania, but did give us tremendous matches with Rey Mysterio while also competing for the cruiserweight title. His contract expired and was not renewed in 2004.
Since then, he competed in the CMLL which is the oldest wrestling promotion in the world. He worked in Japan once again, and in Canada.
In 2008, he starred in two movies, Bloodstained Memoirs (which starred a few other wrestlers) and Ultimo Dragon (not about him, but it is about a heroic martial arts story)
He still wrestles today at the age of 42 off and on. And he still gives back by training young wrestlers as well.
Ultimo gave his life to wrestling, and I think I can speak for all wrestling fans when I say, thank you Ultimo Dragon!
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