Shozo Kobayashi, also known as “Strong” Kobayashi in the IWE, WWWF, and NJPW ring, died on December 31, 2021, according to a statement released yesterday. He was 81 years old at the time of his passing.
Kobayashi was discovered in 1966 during a bodybuilding contest by the pioneering International Wrestling Enterprise group. He was a committed wrestling enthusiast who got into weight lifting at an early age before working for Japan National Railways. He debuted professionally in 1967 as ‘Masked Taro,’ making history as the first masked Japanese wrestler.
Kobayashi would eventually unmask and adopt the ring moniker Strong Kobayashi in 1968. Kobayashi quickly rose to become IWE’s ace, feuding with the greatest international talents of the time, including a youthful Andre the Giant. He also worked in rings in Europe and the United States, including the WWWF at the time.
In February 1974, Kobayashi left IWE, and in March, he startled the nation by challenging Antonio Inoki to a battle at Kuramae Sumo Hall in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. This dream match between two of Japan’s top stars for the NWF championship filled out the venue and drew massive television audiences.
In 1975, Kobayashi became a full-time member of NJPW and became a main event star, winning the NWA North American Tag Team Championships with Seiji Sakaguchi. Until 1981, when he suffered a back injury, Kobayashi continued to wrestle with NJPW’s top. He formally retired on August 26, 1984, after being unable to return to the ring.
In the decades to come, Kobayashi continued to delight millions. Strong Kongo became a television favorite due to his charisma and incredible comic timing. He played the villain in the 1986 international cult hit Takeshi’s Castle, among other highly successful events.
Ringside News sends our heartfelt condolences to Kobayashi’s family, friends, and fans. RIP.
What’s your take on this story? Sound off in the comments!