Jumbo, Baba and The Destroyer
By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling
Just one star left from the original All-Japan headliners
The Big Three when the All-Japan Pro Wrestling Promotion was formed in
the early 1970s were Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta and The Destroyer.
There's only one left now.
All in all, The Destroyer figures he wrestled Jumbo Tsuruta a couple of
hundred times, maybe more. But even more importantly, he wrestled as his tag team partner more than he even faced him across the
ring. It was the classic Japanese stars vs the imported American stars
with the incredibly successful twist of The Destroyer being on the home
"I was there when [Tsuruta] started," The Destroyer Dick Beyer told
SLAM! Wrestling from his home in upstate New York. Giant Baba, having
just split off from the established Japan Pro Wrestling to form
All-Japan Pro Wrestling, recruited Tsuruta from the Greco-Roman ranks of
the Japanese team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
"As soon as he finished in the Olympics, he came back and started for
All Japan Pro Wrestling, which I had started with at that time," said
The Destroyer, who joined Baba's group in December 1972. "We worked in
the gym with him for a short time and Baba sent him to Amarillo, Texas
where he was under the tutelage of Dory Funk Jr."
The time in America did wonders for Tsuruta, and he returned an even
bigger star. "When he came back to Japan, Japan Pro Wrestling was then
in its second or third year and Jumbo moved right in with Baba and I as
a top star. He didn't wrestle in any preliminaries," The Destroyer said
in his famous gruff voice.
"He had a better start that I did because he had Giant Baba, and he went
to Amarillo and worked Amarillo territory and wrestled seven nights a
week and travelled," Beyer explained. Plus, travelling in the U.S. gave
Tsuruta a chance to learn English.
The Destroyer breaks into another story. "The one thing I remember about
Jumbo is when he started, he told me 'I'm going to wrestle five years
and then get out.' And I said, 'Jumbo, that's exactly what I said!' When
I graduated from Syracuse University and went back and got my Masters
degree, I was recruited by Ed Don George to go into pro wrestling. I
said to my family -- of course I wasn't married then -- I said, 'I'll
stay in this five years, make some money, then I'll be able to afford to
teach', which is what I wanted to do. And I got into wrestling and I
didn't make the money that I envisioned I was going to make until I put
a mask on as The Destroyer out in California in '63. Then I was doing so
good, I couldn't afford to quit!"
Besides being a friend, opponent and tag team partner, Jumbo Tsuruta, it
turns out, was a regular work-out partner of The Destroyer, using a
routine that the New York-native learned from England's Billy Robinson.
"We'd exercise by a deck of cards. We did this every night. If diamonds
turned up, we did squats. If clubs turned up, we did sit-ups. I had a
squat routine that I called a 'Mr. Beyer.' We did a Mr. Beyer and then
we did push-ups. So we'd go through the whole deck and if a joker turned
up, we did 50 push-ups right away. And we had two jokers. So we'd start
out. If a two turned up, of diamonds, we did two of whatever a diamond
was. And if an eight of hearts turned up, we did eight. We went through
the whole deck without stopping. ... If the matches would start at 6:00,
and we were going to go in the ring at 8:00, we did this about 6:30 or
7:00 to warm up. It took us about half an hour to go through the deck."
None of the matches that he had as a partner with or against Tsuruta
stand out immediately to The Destroyer. Instead, he recalled Tsuruta
battling the likes of Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race
, Verne Gagne
Brisco and Terry Funk
for the various world titles.
"Jumbo and I had some matches where I tried to get him to do some things
that I did, like a nip-up," The Destroyer explained. "We had a routine
where I'd put a figure-four leglock on him and he'd kick me, and I'd
nip-up and he'd nip-up. We'd look right at each other like, 'Wow! How'd
you get up so fast?' or a surprised look. That was one move that we
Some of the other moves of Tsuruta stand out. "He used a pretty good
flying head scissors also. He learned that from Red Bastien. But he
liked it. He liked to do things that were different, that nobody else
did. He had his own flying knee drop. Nobody used that. He'd run and
jump with his knee and catch you coming off the ropes with the high
knee. But he learned that himself."
The Destroyer. -- Toronto Sun files
Tsuruta's illness caught The Destroyer a little off-guard. "When he was
getting sick, I was shocked," he said. "I never really had it explained
to me too much because the Orientals don't talk too much their illnesses
According to The Destroyer, if Tsuruta were alive and healthy today, he
would be still the biggest star in All-Japan "because Jumbo was Baba's
"I always said that a pro wrestler reached his money-making years
between 40 and 50 because that's when I made mine and several other
wrestlers. Today's breed of wrestler are making it a little earlier, but
I think they're doing it because of cable television and the different
things that they're doing."
The last time the two warriors saw each other was in January 1999 at the
funeral of Giant Baba. The Destroyer isn't certain that he'll be able to
make it over to Tsuruta's funeral.
But he wants people to remember his friend as he was in his heyday.
"Jumbo was a great competitor. It's a shame that somebody's that's 49
years old didn't last," The Destroyer said. "[His] matches were always
good wrestling matches -- entertaining, convincing -- something that the
business needs today."