The early eighties involved less wrestling and more spirituality...
...for Kendo Nagasaki, as he increasingly sought to set down his spiritual and training regimes. It was also
reported that as a businessman totally unconnected with the Nagasaki wrestling persona, Yogensha had built up a
formidable empire in the Midlands, but this story was typical of most things surrounding Kendo - the answers are
shrouded in whispers, secrecy and rumour.
Kendo surfaced for a few brief appearances in promotions run by Brian Dixon in 1981-82, returning to the ring with his mask once again hiding the striking features and George as ever on hand to do the talking for him. At this time another wrestler was doing the rounds calling himself King Kendo, dressing and wrestling in the same style, this imposter also sported the famous striped mask and George, sensing the public were being fooled into thinking this dopelganger was the real Nagasaki, took to the ring to challenge King Kendo to a match with the original Kendo Nagasaki. King Kendo accepted and there were a number of heated battles as Kendo wasted little time in showing his namesake the error of his ways, and unusually Kendo took great delight in unmasking this new rival, a role reversal from his own days trying to avoid having his identity revealed.
After this brief stint nothing further was heard of Kendo until, quite unexpectedly George, issued a statement late in 1986 declaring that his charge would be back in action for a special ITV charity "ladder match", kicking off a new season of television wrestling. Max Crabtree had lost his foothold on televised wrestling, his brother Shirley alias Big Daddy was fast losing his appeal, and ITV - wanting some fresh blood on television - asked Brian Dixon to put together bills to complement those of the Crabtree brothers. An agreement was struck to present Kendo as top of the bill on his inaugural recording for the famed wrestling slot; with Kent Walton at ringside, the event was set at the London Hippodrome, usually a nightclub and owned by Peter Stringfellow, for the big time return of the Samurai legend.
With the likes of Chic Cullen and Mark Rocco also on the bill it was indeed a return to form for wrestling, such lightening speed and technical ability had not been witnessed for years. Then came the moment everybody had been waiting for: the ladder match. Ironfist Clive Myers made his way to the ring, then out came the sensational Kendo Nagasaki. Dressed as ever in the full ceremonial regalia, he was accompanied not only by George (in uncharacteristic low key bowler hat and sporting a natty gentleman's umbrella) but also by Mr. Lawrence, Kendo's personal assistant who would now accompany him to all the venues acting as driver and confidante. Never one to moderate his views, George was quick to tell the audience and viewers at home that Kendo was back and a victory was assured.
The match itself was a brutal one, Myers taking some hefty chops and blows from the masked warrior. Inevitably, it was Kendo who amid all the disco lights and music that had been part of the event, climbed to the top of the step ladder and grabbed the coveted gold disc that signified victory. As former footballer turned television presenter Jimmy Greaves climbed in the ring to present the charity cheque, onlookers were in little doubt that Kendo had lost none of his skill and cunning. It was the beginning of a full second campaign in British rings that was to be even more successful than the first. In the years between Nagasaki's last sustained crusade in our rings, several up-and-coming wrestlers had taken the scene by storm, such as Robbie Brookside, Steve Regal and Doc Dean. These newcomers were all keen to establish themselves on the international scene by claiming a victory over Nagasaki, plus Nagasaki's contemporaries (including men like Pat Roach, Giant Haystacks and Wayne Bridges) also placed Nagasaki on the top of their "hit list". It was as if Kendo had never been away, wherever he appeared he topped the bill and created capacity audiences wherever he went. The atmosphere during a Nagasaki bout has to be seen to be believed, just one look at the red eyes staring through the mask is enough to incite the mildest of audiences to wild excitement.
One of the landmarks of Kendo Nagasaki's career came in September 1987, when at Bradford he defeated Wayne Bridges to become the WWA World Heavyweight Champion. Millions of viewers sat transfixed as Nagasaki used every ounce of his considerable experience plus copious amounts of guile and skill to claim world championship status. After a hard- fought contest, the referee was knocked to the ground, as Wayne Bridges bent down to help the ref Nagasaki saw his chance and grabbed Bridges the moment his guard dropped and went into a neat cross press. A count of three from the recovering referee was all that was needed for Kendo to achieve his lifetime goal of becoming the world number one. Naturally Wayne Bridges protested loud and vociferously, but the verdict was final: Kendo was champion of the world. The look on George's face as the television cameras zoomed in said it all, he was euphoric. Kendo was surrounded by an army of admirers whilst the rest of the hall looked on in disbelief, as did millions at home a few days later.
Nagasaki later teamed up with the self proclaimed "Master of disaster" Mark Rocco for some truly sensational tag team wins - until one unfortunate match at Croydon in 1988. The opposition on that occasion consisted of Clive Myers once again and Yorkshire's big man Dave Taylor. As ever during a Nagasaki match, chaos reigned from the first bell. Rocco was speed personified as he tore into the opposition, but then after ten minutes without a score Taylor slammed Nagasaki and started to take his mask off, Rocco jumped into the ring from his tag rope to try and prevent it from coming off. As Rocco tried to pull the mask back on, a Taylor forearm smashed him. As he fell back he pulled the mask off revealing the by now familiar tattoo and pony tail. Nagasaki went scuttling out of the hall with his hands over his face, Rocco stood in the ring totally speechless at what he had accidentally done. George was going berserk at Rocco's actions, eventually Kendo returned to the ring with a black mask as George informed everyone that he - Rocco - was now at the very top of Nagasaki's hit-list, and that the masked legend would be taking revenge for this atrocity. It was to be the start of a feud that would last until Rocco's untimely retirement from wrestling in 1991 following major heart surgery. Their battles would time and again involve utter contempt for the rules and more often than not blood was shed on both sides of the ring, with Rocco taunting Nagasaki with his prized mask, retained from the accidental unmasking.
ITV called time on their wrestling coverage after 33 years in 1988. It was a sad day indeed for British wrestling, Kendo's final appearance before the cameras was at Bedworth where he and his new tag partner "The Rock & Roll Express" Bob Barrett took on Robbie Brookside and Steve Regal. The bout proved even more controversial than those that had gone before, having successfully knocked out Barrett, the Brookside/Regal combination set about Nagasaki. Brookside drop kicked Nagasaki making him groggy for a few seconds, this was all the time the young Liverpudlian needed to untie the strings and pull off Nagasaki's mask. Kendo got up turned around and fixed his red eyes right into Brookside's as he used his hypnotic powers to get Brookside to turn on his partner Regal. Nagasaki quickly followed up by delivering a lethal Kamakazi Crash to the Blackpool heavyweight, thus securing the winning fall. The air was thick with mystery and intrigue. Just because ITV had deserted wrestling did not mean Kendo's career was finished - far from it. Both in solo and tag team action Kendo continued to demolish his peers, he was simply unbeatable.
One sad event that marred the ever growing number of wins was George Gillett's sadly declining health. During the last of the televised contests George had looked decidedly unwell, and after 20 years in Kendo's corner, he passed away. Wrestlers and fans alike mourned the death of one of the most colourful characters ever seen in British rings, his flamboyant showmanship had been years ahead of its time and he was sorely missed throughout Britain. However, in the background throughout George's illness a rock drummer called Lloyd Ryan had begun to take over Nagasaki's business affairs.
Years before in the mid 1970's Ryan had recorded a single called "Kendo's Theme" which had become the theme tune used whenever Nagasaki entered the ring. Lloyd took on the mantle of manager to the most famous wrestler in the UK with relish. He taunted and sneered at Nagasaki's opponents, and took great delight in baiting the audience. He was nearly as disliked as Nagasaki himself, whereas George had always provided wrestling audiences with a laugh at his deliciously over-the-top ring garb... Lloyd Ryan was the complete opposite - fast- talking London big-mouth who would continue in the grand tradition of keeping Kendo Nagasaki's name at the very forefront of the wrestling industry. A new chapter in the long and enigmatic career of the masked man was unfolding.