Before going through the traditional Gordy List questions I want to cover a couple of points. First, the Gordy List has often been used by writers to "make a case" for a candidate who they feel should be in the HOF. Such efforts are typically skewed toward positive answers.
I don't know if I would vote for Choshu's Army. I certainly respect those who feel that no group candidacies should be allowed or that groups should have to meet the same high standards as individual candidates. I didn't compose this list to try to change or to discredit such views.
I do feel that Choshu's Army is comparable to the ongoing candidacies of the Freebirds and the Midnight Express where multiple lineups and shifting memberships are being allowed under a single group banner. I also feel that Choshu's Army presents a stronger case than either of those two groups, which is why I am presenting that case now.
One might validly set the bar for induction above Choshu's Army, but one would need a crooked bar to then put the Freebirds or the Midnight Express into the same HOF.
Secondly, before considering any group one must ask if any of the members are worthy of HOF consideration as individuals and how their individual value affects the case for the groups.
The Four Horsemen are not currently under consideration, but they present a good example. Ric Flair, the most prominent Horseman, was a huge star before the formation of the group and continued to be a huge star despite the dissolution of the group. This suggests that his personal achievements contributed more to the group than the group contributed to him.
Without Ric Flair in the Four Horsemen, the group would have been much less famous. Without the Four Horsemen, Ric Flair would likely have been just as famous. Because of that, the case for the Four Horsemen as a HOF group is not very strong.
The Freebirds provide an alternate model. Terry Gordy was a relative unknown prior to the formation of the group, he was a big success on his own at some points while separated from the group (the notion that the Freebirds were a continuous group for eight years is patently absurd), and he was famous after leaving the group with little help from the group legacy since his fame was in Japan where the group meant little.
Without Terry Gordy in the Freebirds, it is hard to imagine the Freebirds existing. Without the Freebirds, Terry Gordy might still have become a major star on his own as he did in Japan, but it was being in the Freebirds that established him as a major star in the US before he went to Japan.
The Midnight Express are the ideal group candidacy since none of the members who should be included were worthy of HOF consideration on their own. Clearly Jim Cornette achieved HOF status while he was with the Midnight Express rather than while he was with Yokozuna.
So before doing a Gordy List on Choshu's Army, I have to consider whether the fact that Riki Choshu was a HOF as an individual weakens the candidacy of the whole group.
In this case, Riki Choshu is most similar to Terry Gordy, having become a major star as a result of being part of the group.
The difference is that unlike Terry Gordy, Riki Choshu never became a singles star without benefiting from group involvement. Choshu rose to prominence in New Japan as part of Ishin Gundan. Choshu jumped to All Japan and was prominent as part of Ishin Gundan.
Riki Choshu did not become a star without Ishin Gundan until his return to New Japan in 1987, so it seems fair to credit the group with a large portion of Choshu's stardom during the period when he was a member.
Having answered that question, the group Ishin Gundan is worthy of a further look using the Gordy List, again respecting the right of voters to chose criteria above or below the information presented in the list.
:: 1. Were they ever regarded as the best draw in :: the world? Were they ever regarded as the best :: draw in their country or their promotion?
Ishin Gundan worked as rivals to the top faces in both New Japan and All Japan. Like the Freebirds opposite the Von Erichs, that makes it tougher to prove that they were the draw rather than the top faces who they opposed. The evidence that suggests Ishin Gundan had the drawing power is that the same faces did not draw as well either before or after their feud with Ishin Gundan.
As such, it appears that Ishin Gundan was the best draw in Japan. The balance of power shifted when they jumped from one promotion to another.
:: 2. Were they an international draw, national :: draw and/or regional draw?
They were a national draw in Japan. They did not work outside of Japan as a group, so they cannot be called an international draw.
:: 3. How many years did they have as a top draw?
From 1983 to 1985, Ishin Gundan was clearly a top draw. In 1986 the group began to diffuse, so it is harder to categorize their drawing power. In 1987 the group broke up. Choshu remained a top draw, becoming an even bigger draw as a singles star. The other members were not draws on their own.
:: 4. Were they ever regarded as the best workers in :: the world? Were they ever regarded as the best :: workers in their country or in their promotion?
Choshu, Saito, and Khan were praised by Dave Meltzer as the top working group in the world in early 1983.
Choshu, Yatsu, and Hamaguchi were regarded as the top working six-man unit in the world from mid-1983 through 1985.
Choshu and Yatsu were regarded as the top working tag team in All Japan from 1985 to 1987.
:: 5. Were they ever the best workers in their class :: (sex or weight)? Were they ever among the top :: workers in their class?
As noted above, the trio of Choshu/Yatsu/Hamaguchi was the best working trio from mid-1983 to 1985. The tag team of Choshu/Yatsu was the top working team in Japan from late 1985 to early 1987, putting up MOTD caliber matches against Tsuruta and Tenryu.
Yatsu was regarded as one of the top heavyweights from 1984 to 1986, which coincides with his membership in Ishin Gundan. Kuniaki Kobayashi was one of the world's top junior heavyweights from 1983 to 1985.
:: 6. How many years did they have as top workers?
As a group, Ishin Gundan were top workers in tags, six-mans, and juniors from 1983 to early 1987, so the total is about four years, with top status in different areas during various parts of those years.
:: 7. Was they good workers before their prime? :: Were they good workers after their prime?
Choshu, Hamaguchi, Yatsu, and Kobayashi were good workers prior to the formation of Ishin Gundan. As workers within Ishin Gundan, they quickly rose to top status, so there is no "before their prime" period as a group.
Ishin Gundan dissolved in 1987 when Choshu jumped back to New Japan, Yatsu stayed in All Japan, and Hamaguchi retired. As such, the group did not exist after its prime either.
As for the individual workers, Yatsu declined rapidly, though he was acceptable and occasionally good for several years when teaming with Jumbo Tsuruta. Choshu remained a very good worker for several years after the breakup. Hamaguchi eventually came back and was still good. Kobayashi was still good also, but was generally lost in undercard matches.
:: 8. Did they have a large body of excellent matches? :: Did they have a excellent matches against a variety :: of opponents?
Ishin Gundan had several great matches against the team of Tsuruta and Tenryu. They also had a few great matches opposite various members of Seikigun including Inoki, Fujinami, Kimura, and Maeda.
Beyond that, they had some very good tag matches against All Japan factions that included midcard workers like Ishikawa and Okuma. They also had a very good match against DiBiase and Hansen in the 1985 Tag League.
:: 9. Did they ever anchor their promotion(s)?
As the heel rivals they served as the foils for almost all of the top babyfaces, much like the Freebirds in the UWF only to a greater extent, so this should be a qualified yes.
:: 10. Were they effective when pushed at the top :: of cards?
Yes. They could main event in singles, tags, or six-mans, draw well, and put on a great match.
:: 11. Were they valuable to their promotion before :: their prime? Were they still valuable to their :: promotion after their primes?
As mentioned earlier, the group did not exist as such after their prime. Choshu became more valuable. Yatsu was still valuable for a few years as Tsuruta's partner. The value of Hamaguchi and Kobayashi is harder to establish because of their use. Generally they were of far greater value as part of Ishin Gundan than at any other point in their careers, despite being good workers before and after Ishin Gundan.
:: 12. Did they have an impact on a number of strong :: promotional runs?
Yes. The strong promotional runs followed them. The balance of power shifted from New Japan to All Japan when they jumped in late-1984 and it shifted back to New Japan when Ishin Gundan disbanded and Choshu returned to New Japan.
:: 13. Were they involved in a number of memorable :: rivalries, feuds or storylines?
Ishin Gundan versus Seiki Gundan was so memorable that it is often used to define Japanese vs Japanese feuds even though it wasn't the first such feud. Choshu and Yatsu versus Tsuruta and Tenryu is remembered as the top Japanese tag rivalry of the eighties. The storyline of Tenryu becoming a major star opposite Ishin Gundan and particularly Choshu is well remembered. The feud between Misawa as Tiger Mask and Kobayashi should be remembered as the high point of Misawa's run as Tiger Mask.
:: 14. Were they effective working on the mic, :: working storylines or working angles?
Yes. Their most highly regarded match featured an angle where Choshu had injured his ribs. Choshu grabbed the house mic and challenged Tsuruta, saying "if you can't beat me tonight, you never will!"
Of course the entire history of Ishin Gundan was basically one long angle where "rebel" wrestlers formed their own promotion and challenged the traditional power structure. That they could pull this off twice and continue to gain support through their All Japan run shows how effective they were at playing their rebel roll to younger fans.
:: 15. Did they play their role(s) effectively :: during his career?
Kobayashi in particular was great at elevating less experienced high flyers like Cobra and Tiger Mask.
Choshu did a wonderful job opposite Tenryu as the charismatic, emotional foil that pulled Tenryu out of his shell and gave him a reason to get fired up.
The tag members were all great at getting heel heat by using creative double and triple team maneuvers.
:: 16. What titles and tournaments did they win? :: What was the importance of their reigns?
Choshu and Yatsu won the tag titles in All Japan while Choshu and Kobayashi also won singles titles in both New Japan and All Japan, but their title reigns weren't critical to their success. They were the top heels in All Japan in 1985 even when they weren't holding top heavyweight or tag team titles.
Individually Choshu feuded with Fujinami over the WWF International title which raised the title to prominence during that brief period.
:: 17. Did they win many honors and awards?
Ishin Gundan won several WON awards. Their feud with Seiki Gundan (New Japan) was runner up WON Feud of the Year in 1984 and Kobayashi's feud with Tiger Mask (Misawa) was runner up for FOTY in 1985. Kobayashi and Tiger Mask bagged WON Match of the Year in 1985 while Choshu and Yatsu teamed in the MOTY runner up 1986 against the team of Tsuruta and Tenryu. Choshu and Yatsu also got runner up for WON Tag Team of the Year in 1986, following Choshu's runner up for WON Wrestler of the Year in 1985. Choshu's lone singles match against Jumbo Tsuruta also won Tokyo Sports Match of the Year in 1985.
:: 18. Did they get mainstream exposure due to :: their wrestling fame? Did they get a heavily :: featured by the wrestling media?
I don't know about mainstream exposure. The group was covered by the Japanese wrestling media, but I don't have a clear idea of how much coverage they received compared to Baba, Jumbo, or Inoki. I have seen covers for both Choshu and Yatsu, but the one Yatsu cover I saw was based on his attempt to stage an amateur comeback representing Japan.
:: 19. Were they top tag team wrestlers?
Yes. The weren't just top tag wrestlers, they were defining the state of the art in tag team wrestling with their urgency and their innovative combination moves.
:: 20. Were they innovative?
Yes. The back suplex/flying neckbreaker drop and various other double team moves were innovative.
:: 21. Were they influential?
Ishin Gundan raised the bar on using double team moves in tag team matches and moved All Japan tags from the old NWA style of the Funks toward the nineties style of Misawa/Kobashi and Kawada/Taue. Their spots were still being used in the nineties by Japanese heel teams including Keientai Deluxe and Team No Fear.
Ishin Gundan also revolutionized the way Japanese promotions were booked. While not the first group to work "interpromotional" Japanese vs Japanese matches, Ishin Gundan established that such rivalries could be "home grown" within a single promotion and that they could be valuable at all levels of the card, even replacing Japanese vs Gaijin as the main event.
In this sense the success of Ishin Gundan led directly to such memorable programs as Now Generation vs New Generation in New Japan, and Jumbo's Army vs Tenryu's Revolution, Jumbo vs Misawa, and Misawa/Kobashi vs Kawada/Taue in All Japan.
:: 22. Did they make the people and workers around :: him better?
As a group they made opposing workers look better. Ishikawa and Okuma had their best matches opposite Ishin Gundan in 1985. Tenryu became a huge star directly as the result of his feud with Ishin Gundan in general and Choshu in particular. Misawa also looked better with Kobayashi than he did at most other points during almost six years as Tiger Mask.
One could also argue that Tatsumi Fujinami became a heavyweight star opposite Riki Choshu while they feuded over the International title, but much of the credit there would go to singles matches that were set up by the Ishin Gundan angle.
:: 23. Did they do what was best for the promotion? :: Did they show a commitment to wrestling?
Jumping from New Japan to All Japan certainly wasn't the best thing to do for New Japan.
Choshu's refusal to job in All Japan was not what was best for the promotion, but it also was not so unusual during an era of frequent screwjobs. Yatsu and Hamaguchi were willing to do jobs, even clean jobs and the group was ultimately successful.
Their commitment is difficult to gauge. Hamaguchi retired after the group disbanded in 1987, when he still could have been effective. He later returned. Yatsu declined rapidly, in part due to injuries and in part due to his poor conditioning. During their prime as Ishin Gundan however, the entire group showed their commitment by coming out fired up and working hard on almost every TV show.
:: 24. Is there any reason to believe that they :: were better or worse than they appeared?
The group never achieved their full potential due to political or personal reasons. New Japan never pushed Choshu as a legitimate threat to Inoki during Choshu's run with Ishin Gundun. Likewise the tag faction focused more on six man than on tag titles.
In All Japan, several factors came into play. The All Japan faction didn't have enough depth to match up against Hamaguchi with a quality performer. As a result, Hamaguchi got stuck with Ishikawa as his peer and rival. Saito, who jumped to All Japan with Ishin Gundan and was originally Choshu's top partner, was lost due to legal problems in the US before he had a chance to work as Tsuruta's rival.
And for whatever reason, be it obstinance, mistrust, or Choshu's refusal to job, Ishin Gundan did not get the key victories that would have taken them to the pinnacle of All Japan as legitimate equals with Jumbo and Tenryu.
Even with all that, Ishin Gundan was a top draw and the hottest faction in both Japanese promotions over a four year span. One can only wonder how the face of Japanese wrestling might have changed if either promotion had seen fit to push them all the way to the top with wins over the top Japanese stars.
Finally, when considering a group, another question needs to be answered as part of the Gordy List.
:: 25. Which members should be included in the group?
Major contributors to the success of the group should of course be included in the group, but the nature of a group candidacy rests in the overall strength and success of the group, so I suggest using three additional "rules" for inclusion or exclusion when evaluating a group.
I. Buddy Roberts Rule (inclusion)
If the member helped to establish the group identity or added significant value and helped to sustain the group while the group was achieving at a HOF level, that member should be included in the group.
Buddy Roberts helped carry the workload for the Freebirds in the ring during their rise to prominence and sustained the group along with Terry Gordy during periods when Michael Hayes was injured or elsewhere. As such, it is difficult to develop a strong HOF candidacy while excluding him.
II. Sunshine Rule (exclusion)
If the member did not help to establish the identity of the group and made no significant contribution to sustaining the group, that member should be excluded even if membership coincided with a period where the group achieved at a HOF level.
III. Jimmy Garvin Rule (exclusion)
If the majority of the time the member spent as part of the group occurred after the group was no longer achieving at a HOF level, that member should be excluded from the group.
Jimmy Garvin joined the Freebirds in the late eighties after the group ended up in WCW as part of the UWF buyout. Though the Hayes/Garvin Freebirds were the only lineup ever to capture a "world" tag team title, the Freebirds as a group were clearly in decline due primarily to the absence of Terry Gordy. This can be illustrated clearly by the level of excitement generated by frequent rumors of a "reunion" with Gordy and to a much lesser extent Roberts. Had the earlier Freebirds lineups not existed, Hayes and Garvin would not receive any HOF consideration for their work together under the Freebirds banner.
Note: The same criteria would apply to someone who was a member of the group before the group rose to prominence and who contributed little or nothing to the establishment of the group identity or the increased success of the group. Pete Best of the Beatles would be an example. Randy Rose of the Midnight Express could also be an example.
So for Ishin Gundan, I would include:
Riki Choshu - Founder and major star throughout the existence of Ishin Gundan
Yoshiaki Yatsu - Major contributor to the group from late-1983 to early-1987. Choshu/Yatsu/Hamaguchi became the quintessential working trio of the decade.
Animal Hamaguchi - Major contributor the group from late-1983 to early-1987. Was Choshu's top regular tag partner until the emergence of Yatsu in 1985.
Masa Saito - Original member from early-1983 to early 1985 when a US prison term interrupted his career. Provided credibility and also helped establish the style and quality of Ishin Gundan as shown by praise for the work of the Choshu/Saito/Khan trio.
Killer Khan - Original member from early-1983 to mid-1986 who also helped establish the style and quality of Ishin Gundan and helped to sustain the group at a HOF level in later years.
Kuniaki Kobayashi - Member from 1983 who represented the group in the Junior Heavyweight division giving the group more prominence within the promotion while maintaining a HOF level of achievement as an individual.
There is no clear analogy to Kobayashi in the Freebirds, but one could think of Kobayashi like Lex Luger while Luger was a member of the Four Horsemen: Strongly representing the group while performing primarily as an individual.
"The Saito, Choshu, Killer Khan threesome has developed into the most powerful force in Japan. After seeing a few of their matches, I can honestly say I've never seen a three man team that comes anywhere close to their effectiveness. Even as a duo, any combination of the three is better than any US tag team." - Dave Meltzer, Wrestling Observer Newsletter - June, 1983
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