A veteran of over twenty years, Togi Makabe's evolution has seen him grow, in more ways than one, from a Junior Heavyweight to what we see today. Within four years of commencing his career in New Japan, Makabe transitioned from a Junior to a Heavyweight.
His progression over time has been organic, and even his in-ring name changed, from Shinya (his birth name) to Togi, which is what we hear today. The name alteration occurred during New Japan's 2004 G1 Climax tournament. He walked away with a record of 2 wins and 5 losses from that particular event, but the seeds were planted for what see today.
The Birth of the 'Unchained Gorilla'
His character is best described as an homage to the late American wrestler Bruiser Brody, and he uses the nickname is 'The Unchained Gorilla'. The name suggests he is much like Brody, who had a rather violent style involving blood, steel chairs and chains around his arm, not to mention a vicious clothesline. Makabe's legacy, much like Brody, has been based on intimidating his opponents while leaving broken bones behind him.
Throughout Makabe's career, success at the highest level has come on numerous occasions for the Japanese brawler. He is a former IWGP Heavyweight champion, having defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to capture that crown, a former two-time IWGP NEVER Openweight champion, and a former two-time IWGP tag team champion. However, his career isn't only measured by wins and losses and championships, but it is also the overall impact on the promotion that has stood out the most for Makabe.
A Career Defining Year
In 2007, Makabe emerged as one of New Japan Pro Wrestling's most talented and hottest wrestlers. That year saw a number of successful events: while he didn't win the New Japan Cup, he made it to the finals where he lost to then IWGP Heavyweight champion Yuji Nagata. That loss didn't deter Makabe in the slightest. In fact, he faced Nagata on several occasions and pinned him on one occasion as well. In the G1 Climax tournament, Makabe finished with six points and was the top competitor in his block. While 2007 saw him achieve individual success, the year before he was recruited by Hiroyoshi Tenzan as well as his tag team partner Shiro Koshinaka to become what was known as Grand Bash Heel.
Entrance into this faction was based on Tenzan's criteria of its members being 'strong, cool and bad,' with the intention of restoring the promotion to the previously 'beautiful' NJPW. Tenzan also added the likes of Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano as the fourth and fifth members of the faction. After Tenzan moved to rival promotion All Japan, Makabe took the reigns as the leader of the stable and was later joined by Tomoaki Honma, Jado, and Gedo.
A Rise to Leader of Grand Bash Heel
As the leader of G.B.H, Makabe saw his share of betrayal, as two former tag team partners turned on him on separate occasions. So whether it was Koshinaka or Honma, Makabe has had to look over his shoulder at those he has been closely aligned with. However, the key to any good faction leader is to move past the disloyalty of some and regain strength in numbers through adding new blood. By adding Takashi Iizuka and the American Low Ki, Makabe proved that he was more than simply a violent brawler out seeking the blood of his opponents.
Makabe's career has seen him face some of the most accomplished wrestlers, not just from Japan, but from all over the world. His battles with Team 3D, who were part of Impact Wrestling at the time, just a year after being the co-winner of the Tokyo Sports tag team of the year for 2007 also suggest he wasn't resting on his laurels. He has also battled the likes of the Killer Elite Squad, Davey Boy Smith Jr, and Lance Hoyt.
From Injury to Comeback
Despite his best efforts to remain healthy, the demands of competing have taken a physical toll on Makabe, causing him to be out of action for a period of time due to injury. However, his greatest accomplishment was when, on May 3rd, 2010 at Dontaku, Makabe defeated then IWGP Heavyweight champion Shinsuke Nakamura. He would hold on to the title until October of that same year, losing it to the winner of the 2010 G1 Climax, Satoshi Kojima. As much of a high as Makabe was on in 2010, injury once again set him back.
While he competed in the 2010 G1 Tag League, he suffered an injured neck in his match against Tomohiro Ishii and former ECW champion Masato Tanaka. This led to animosity between Makabe and Tanaka, and the two would face each other at Wrestle Kingdom V where the returning former champion was victorious.
Rekindling Relationships & The Future
It is remarkable what time and distance can do to a relationship. Despite losing the IWGP Heavyweight championship previously to Kojima, Makabe and the Kojima-Gun alliance all worked collectively, showing a newfound trust in one another. It appeared at times as though Makabe's persona had evolved from the brute that would eviscerate his opposition using sheer brutality into someone who had concluded that more can be achieved by working as a unit.
In fact, his relationship with Kojima was so strong that during the 2011 G1 Tag League, a year removed from his injury, they worked together under the tag name 'Beast Combination.' They were fairly successful during the tournament, despite losing in the quarterfinals.
Today, Makabe is just as hungry as he ever was. Whether he is stepping into the ring with those bigger than him, younger than him or smaller than him, Makabe's mentality appears to be the same. He is as focused as he has ever been. While G.B.H had closed its doors for a period of time, it appears as though the grizzled veteran has just as much to give as he ever had, and that could be a scary thought for his opposition.
About Marc Madison
As a wrestling enthusiast for over 30 years, my fondness for professional wrestling explores the irrational in a rational way. I will explore the details inside and outside the ring and hopefully have a laugh with you in the process. I've had the fortune to interview wrestlers from Lucha Underground, TNA, Ring of Honor, GFW, and former WWE talent as well. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit my website Pro Wrestling Post.