By Zach Arnold | February 18, 2014
Devastated to hear Ryu Nakata has passed away. A kind man with a great sense of humour. Thoughts are with my friends in Japan. RIP Ryu-San.
— Zack Sabre Jr (@zacksabrejr) February 18, 2014
In the American combat sports scene, there’s Michael & Bruce Buffer, Jimmy Lennon Jr., and Howard Finkel as legendary ring announcing voices. In Japanese fight sports, you had Hidekazu Tanaka (New Japan), Nagaharu Imai (All Japan Women – died at age 53 of cancer) and Ryu Nakata (All Japan & NOAH). If Tanaka was the “frog”, Nakata was the bellowing boss. Nakata was considered a gold standard by fans as a ring announcer and by industry insiders as an right-hand office man for the All Japan/NOAH family.
Wow. Incredibly sad to hear we've lost Ryu "Ryu-San" Nakata. NOAH is my home in Japan & Ryu was always great to me. Gomeifuku wo inorimasu
— Chris Hero (@thechrishero) February 18, 2014
This is a big story in Japan for a lot of reasons. The survivors of the All Japan/NOAH boom are retiring or dying at a quick rate. If you were an American wrestling fan and watched the famous WWE/All Japan 1990 Wrestling Summit at the Tokyo Dome, you heard Nakata working the microphone. Nakata was often the go-between for gaijin talent with the Japanese power players. He had some extremely powerful allies and some very powerful enemies. He was a polarizing, often cold political figure who grew up in the old-school system of doing business and was a lifer. He and referee Kyohei Wada held down the fort for All Japan when Giant Baba died in 1999. A year later, Mitsuharu Misawa gathered most of the wrestlers and jumped ship to create NOAH. After various players like Kazuo Tokumitsu couldn’t save NOAH from the Nippon TV cutting block, it was Nakata who had to help Misawa hold the fort down along with Akira Taue & Naomichi Marufuji. When NOAH was financially collapsing in 2009, Nakata stayed back in the front office in Tokyo while the wrestlers went on tour in western Japan. Nakata wasn’t there at the Hiroshima Green Arena show when Mitsuharu Misawa died in the ring and couldn’t be revived.
Trying to keep NOAH afloat, Ryu Nakata and veteran wrestler Haruka Eigen got caught up in a black money scandal involving shady individuals who victimized Mitsuharu Misawa’s widow (owner of NOAH) over money. NOAH was subjected to having wrestlers do a public relations event where the wrestlers sat in a room and learned about ways of keeping the yakuza out of business affairs. The damage was done image-wise for Nakata, however. He was supposedly demoted and pushed in the background.
DirdEY with Ryu Nakata & GHC junior heavyweight champion Taiji Ishimori at the Harley Race camp! pic.twitter.com/lrg92SXXs7
— Jake Dirden (@DirdEYTV) November 16, 2013
After the black money scandal, Nakata and NOAH management would have a reported dispute with Kenta Kobashi over money and Kobashi rushed to make a retirement announcement at a NOAH event in December 2012 at Ryogoku Kokugikan. In May of 2013, Kobashi held a retirement match at Budokan. In his post-retirement life, he’s been to a lot of different wrestling shows but has been especially close to New Japan (and understudy KENTA) rather than NOAH the company.
On Tuesday, the NOAH front office issued a statement announcing Ryu Nakata’s death from a heart attack at the age of 51. He died on the 15th (Saturday) but the news was made public after his funeral on Tuesday. One of the biggest announcers & fixers ever in the modern Japanese combat sports scene is gone.
According to a Sports Nippon report, Nakata was reported missing after not being in contact with family and was found dead inside a car in Aichi prefecture. Tokyo Sports says there will be a 10-count ceremony in Ariake on the 22nd. Taiji Ishimori is quoted as saying that Nakata didn’t show outward signs of bad health but that Nakata recently visited a doctor and his check-up numbers weren’t so great. The newspaper labeled Nakata as “the absolute ace of (the front office) suits.”