A two time NJPW world league winner, United National champion and multi time tag champion with the likes of Giant Baba & Strong Kobayashi; Seiji Sakaguchi was a huge force in Japanese profesional wrestling for well over fifteen years. His name doesn’t come up too much in conversation however, when talking about classic Japanese wrestling. This is largely because of one man’s great shadow, that even Sakaguchi’s six foot five frame could not escape.
Before Sakaguchi even entered profesional wrestling, he was making a name for himself. He was a fifth degree black belt Judoka, competing in the 1965 world championships and winning the All Japan Judo championships that same year. With his large frame and background in martial arts, he drew the interest of the JWA, Japans biggest wrestling promotion at the time, and made his debut for them in 1967. During his tenure, he would win the International tag team championships with both Ginat Baba and Kintaro Ohki, as well as the NWA United National championship. He slowly rose up the ranks and when the JWA’s top two stars, Inoki & Baba, left in 1972 to form the NJPW & AJPW respectively, Sakaguchi was considered as one of the last major stars keeping the JWA afloat.
In 1973 however, Seiji would also leave the JWA to join Inoki’s NJPW. This was after a coalition deal between Inoki and the JWA fell through. He would make his NJPW debut in a tag match, promoted under the tagline ‘worlds greatest tag team’, where he and Inoki would face off against Lou Thesz & Karl Gotch in a winning effort. His move was both a major blow to the JWA, and a major turning point for the NJPW, with NJPW gaining JWA’s TV rights and the JWA folding within the year. As part of the deal, Seiji was made NJPW’s number two guy, both inside the ring as Inoki’s right hand man and outside the ring as vice-president of the company.
Being the number two guy had both its benefits and downsides. Seiji would recieve several big pushes, including winning multiple tag titles and the 76 and 77 world leagues. However he was always booked second to Inoki and would never truly step out of Inoki’s shadow and become the face of the company. Moving forwards into the 80’s Seiji would slowly become less of a main event player, as the likes of Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami would begin to eclipse him in popularity. He would lose a big passing of the torch match to Tatsumi in 85 and make his in ring retirement in 1990.
He would continue to be a backstage presence thereafter, he would become the president of NJPW before stepping down into a more advisory role, and he would also serve as the president of the National Wrestling Alliance for a short time. While he may have never been ‘the guy,’ Seiji Sakaguchi was nonetheless a key figure in Japanese wrestling, who helped build and carry NJPW into its glory days.