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  Feb 1, 1999

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Giant Baba dead at 61

By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling
 The wrestling world has lost another giant.

Shohei "Giant" Baba is dead at 61 of liver failure.

Baba was always an athlete, and pitched in the Japanese league for the Yomiuri Giants before injuring his shoulder.

Following the injury, he turned to pro wrestling under the tutelage of the legendary Rikidozan. A fellow student was also bound for greatness. His name was Antonio Inoki.

Baba and Inoki formed a tag team in the late 60s, but went their separate ways and to equal greatness.

Giant Baba formed All-Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972, with support from fellow wrestlers and friends like Bruno Sammartino, the Funk Brothers and The Destroyer. Inoki went on to create New Japan Pro Wrestling.

In 1974, Baba was the first Japanese to hold an American-version of the world title. He won the NWA title on December 2 by beating Jack Brisco, and losing it back to him a week later. He held the title on two other occasions - in 1979 and 1980, trading it with Harley Race. Baba also held a slew of titles in Japan.

Shohei Baba was born January 23, 1938 in Sanjyo-city, Niigata. He eventually topped out at 6'8" (209cm), truly a giant by Japanese standards.

Besides running All-Japan pro wrestling as President, Baba was a tremendously well-respected teacher and many of his students are the stars of today in Japan.

He wrestled pretty well until the end of his life, not backing down from any challenge. His skills diminished in the final years, but he was so respected and loved that fans continued to enjoy his matches.

-- With files from Puroresu Dojo

Guest column: The legacy of Giant Baba