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Phil Baroni, Shinya Aoki make pro wrestling debuts in Tokyo

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Both Phil Baroni and Shinya Aoki made their pro wrestling debuts on a Friday show at the Tokyo Dome City Hall, commemorating the 72nd birthday of pro wrestling legend Antonio Inoki.

The show, promoted by Inoki's IGF promotion, usually has a mix of both MMA and predetermined pro wrestling matches, using athletes that have experience in both. Mirko Cro Cop was a regular for the promotion between his stints in UFC, and Josh Barnett recently performed there as a pro wrestler.

Friday's show also featured Naoya Ogawa, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist in judo who was a major star during the heyday of the Pride promotion, as both a pro wrestler and MMA fighter, and Minowa-man, real name Ikuhisa Minowa, a cult favorite during the heyday of Japanese MMA, who during that period, always billed his specialty as "pro wrestilng."

Aoki, a longtime top-10 rated lightweight in the world, was pinned in 5:38 by Kendo Ka Shin, the pro wrestling name of former national champion wrestler Tokimitsu Ishizawa. Ishizawa compiled a 1-5-1 record fighting in Pride, K-1, Hero's and Dream during the Japan MMA heyday.

Baroni (15-18), who at one point was linked with a singles match with Wanderlei Silva on this show, participated in a tag team match. Baroni teamed with former UFC fighter Justin McCully (11-5-2) against Kazuyuki Fujita (15-10), the former Pride star who is now one of the top stars as a pro wrestler with the IGF, and Shinichi Suzukawa, a former sumo turned pro wrestler who also has a 1-3 record as an MMA fighter.  The match ended when Fujita beat McCully in 7:52 with a grand cobra twist, a move similar to the old-school pro wrestling abdominal stretch.

Baroni had been training at the Future Stars of Wrestling school in Las Vegas for his debut.

The show also featured a memorial presentation for Willem Ruska, who won two gold medals in judo in the 1972 Olympics, and was one of Inoki's most famous pro wrestling rivals. In 1976, Ruska defeated Ivan Gomes in Brazil in what was a landmark Vale Tudo fight of the era. Gomes was the undefeated star heavyweight fighter on the Brazilian scene since 1963, when he dominated Carlson Gracie in  match ruled a draw after going the time limit but with no judges. Ruska went to Brazil to challenge the Gracies. Being so much larger than the Gracies at 242 pounds, Gomes, whose fights during the 60s and 70s were huge on Northeastern Brazilian television, was called upon to answer the challenge.

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