Where Are They Now? Kaientai

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January 16, 2013

Getting both Taka Michinoku and Funaki together for a conversation isn’t as easy as taking a walk down the block.

It’s even harder when you don’t speak a lick of Japanese. Unfortunately, whoever did the voice dubbing for the two “EEEEEEEVILLLL” Superstars during their WWE tenure wasn’t available. So to get the skinny on Kaientai, WWE Classics set up a long-distance call from WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., to San Antonio, where Funaki currently resides and runs his own wrestling school. During our conversation, he took on another role, translator for his tag team partner.

From there, we dialed out to Japan, where it was just after midnight. Michinoku, the inaugural WWE Light Heavyweight Champion, took a break from the bustling nightlife to catch us up on his career in the Land of the Rising Sun, where he still competes, in addition to also running a wrestling school and promotion. (CLASSIC PHOTOS | CURRENT PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)

During a rowdy international conversation, WWE Classics learned that Taka and Funaki got their starts in Japan in the early 1990s. As they explained, all the wrestling companies in their homeland hold open tryouts for prospective students to earn places in their dojos. Taka caught on with Michinoku Pro Wrestling, the company from which he took his ring name. Funaki landed in the school of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

The two honed their craft for nearly a year before pairing up as a tag team in 1994. According to Funaki, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“Taka’s style was based around high-flying, but mine was very traditional mat wrestling,” he explained. “There was a little confusion at first, but our timing was good. It took a little while, but it eventually came together.”

Despite the fact that the two found their biggest success in America as part of Kaientai, they weren’t members of the group’s original incarnation in Japan. Taka and Funaki were added to the team in 1995, joining Dick Togo, Mens Teioh and Kaz Hayashi. The exciting stable of wrestlers caused a stir in Japan, so much so that American companies had to take notice. After a show-stealing match at ECW’s inaugural pay-per-view, Barely Legal (WATCH), Michinoku was on WWE’s radar, and would be making his debut on a much bigger stage soon.

“The Great Sasuke was making his WWE debut and needed an opponent,” Taka explained of the renowned masked Japanese wrestler. “He recommended me.”

Michinoku and Sasuke, one of his mentors, wowed the WWE Universe at In Your House: Canadian Stampede in July 1997 (WATCH), as well as on the following night’s Raw. (WATCH) Taka made such a big impression on WWE officials that he soon earned a full-time contract. Despite the fact that he spoke very little English, he jumped at the chance.

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