Ring of Honor’s Steve Corino is a 22-year veteran. The former ECW world champion now wrestles and broadcasts with ROH with Kevin Kelly – as well as doing commentary on the English announce team for New Japan Pro Wrestling World.
Corino has traveled to Japan 82 times in the past fifteen years, and shares the story of his journey in this week’s Wrestlers’ Tribune on the Sports Illustrated website – you can check out the whole article here:
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
If you ask most young professional wrestlers what their dream is, they would most likely tell you to be the main event of WrestleMania.
I might be the exception.
Growing up in the early to mid 1980’s in suburban Philadelphia, we were lucky enough not only to get the WWF on local television, but Southwest Championship Wrestling out of San Antonio, Texas and Georgia Championship Wrestling. All different styles. I loved all three.
But I would say my obsession with professional wrestling really started when I discovered what is now commonly known as “The Apter Mags.” Bill Apter was one of the top writers for the magazines and people just associated them with him. For me, Bill Apter was my Mark Twain.
The first and last Tuesdays of the month, I would run across the street to the old “Trappe Deli” and spend my allowance on professional wrestling magazines. Apter’s written words were like musical lyrics. I would read them over and over again, learning about areas that were not mine, wrestlers that I could only dream of seeing on TV, and places that looked so exotic that I never could imagine going there.
Japan was that place.
As I got older, VHS “trading” of wrestling was the big thing. And I was a huge tape trader and my love for New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Japan Pro Wrestling was as high as my friends’ love for the WWF. Jumbo Tsuruta was my Hulk Hogan. Riki Choshu was my Ric Flair. Giant Baba was my Bruno Sammartino.
Not only was I into the professional wrestling, I researched the culture and history of Japan. It was my immediate long-term goal when I started training to be a professional wrestler. Did I ever think it would become a reality? Gosh no. But it was the goal.
From 1994 to 2001, I worked hundreds of independents, USWA, WWC in Puerto Rico, and eventually, Extreme Championship Wrestling. When ECW closed in early 2001, most wrestlers and fans were thinking that everyone would want to go to WCW and WWF. For me, this was my Hail Mary into the world of Japanese pro wrestling. But where would I go? All Japan was going through difficulties with most of the talent leaving and creating Pro Wrestling NOAH. New Japan, my dream, was in a phase of going to more of a “shoot style” and did not want to continue to wrestle a hardcore style, so FMW was out of the question. The next question was who would want me? It is great to say, “Hey, I am Steve Corino and was just the World Heavyweight Champion of ECW, can I get a spot?”, but that wouldn’t ensure me a spot with any company.
Luck, which always finds me somehow, had scored me a series of tours with the brand-new Pro Wrestling ZERO ONE, headed up by the legendary Shinya Hashimoto. From the moment I stepped off the plane at Tokyo Narita airport, I knew my career and life was about to change.
Every early tour was flooded with new cities and towns. I would venture out before the live events, even if it were just to walk around and experience the culture. The people, food and the way they lived was so unique to me that all I wanted to do was learn more about this land.
Within a year of landing at ZERO ONE, I was offered an office job where I would help in the booking of foreign talent to our company. In my eight years in that office, I was responsible for bringing over 51 different foreigners. Names from ROH World champion Jay Lethal, former WWE tag team champions Brian Kendrick and Paul London, ECW original CW Anderson, WWE star Epico (then wrestling as Orlando Colon), Goldust as Dustin Rhodes, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and some fella that is tearing up the WWE right now named Kevin Owens.
Each tour, I would try to show everyone around and teach them the way a foreigner should act in Japan. Take them to all the best places to eat (especially on a budget) and hope that they could leave Japan knowing that they had just done something that thousands of fans and thousands of wrestlers can only dream about.
In 2012, it all but ended for me. Eleven years and 79 tours. ZERO ONE had gone through many hardships, including Shinya Hashimoto passing away in 2005. It had changed its name to ZERO1 MAX and then, eventually, ZERO1. The sponsors were gone and the live event attendance dwindled to a point where my services were no longer needed. It was an amazing run where I enjoyed four reigns as NWA Intercontinental tag team champion, defended the NWA World’s championship like my heroes of the past, and made a second career that I could be proud of. There were no regrets.
New Japan Pro Wrestling was always the number one company in my youth (All Japan was always a close second). ZERO ONE was based off the New Japan “Strong Style” when Hashimoto broke away from New Japan to open ZERO ONE. I watched the Tanahashis, the Nakamuras and the Gotos from when they were an opening card kid to the main event. I studied Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Satoshi Kojima and Tiger Mask. Yugi Nagata was/is like a mythical being to me.
I had always wanted to be in New Japan, even if it was for one match. To walk the long ramp at the Tokyo Dome in front of 40,000 fans. To look at the lion in the NJPW logo and wrestle in the same ring as the old school heroes of the past.
But it was only a dream. New Japan had a new crop of great young foreign talent. I was a “ZERO ONE” guy and no use to them. It would have to go on being a dream…until April 2016.
With Ring of Honor’s partnership, I got to see not only ROH in-ring talent start to appear more frequently in New Japan, but lead television announcer Kevin Kelly made his Japanese debut after almost 25 years in the wrestling industry. I couldn’t have been happier. I was even happier that he was paired up with a man that I brought over to ZERO ONE in 2004, former WWE star Matt Striker. They had good chemistry and I believed they were going to end up with great chemistry. But luck would find me again, hanging out at the beach in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, when I got a call from the ROH office explaining that I would be replacing Striker for the future broadcasts to keep an “All ROH feel” to the New Japan World broadcasts.
Returning to Japan after four years was like going home again. The old saying, “You can never go home again” is so wrong. You not only can go home, but you can create a new legacy for yourself. This time, I will do it as a broadcaster.
Four years had passed and I was nervous to see what had changed. Was Roppongi still going to be the place where I created the most sin? Wink. Were my old hangouts and restaurants still open? What was going to be the difference in office procedures? Would fans even remember me after four years and now in the biggest company in Japan? I made the rare jump up in companies. What would ZERO1 fans think? It was nerve-racking.
It wasn’t until I landed at Tokyo Narita airport, going through customs and out to the limo bus to take us to the Tokyo Dome hotel, that I felt like I was home again. And now, I had my buddy, Kevin Kelly, with me. A new person to take around. To teach the sometimes confusing aspects of a fascinating country.
As for the work? What work? I spent almost three years calling some of the best action on the planet with Ring of Honor. I would joke that I am the least prepared commentator in the sport. But that is only because I have the best partner. Kevin Kelly knows the ROH product so well that I have always just been filler. A voice of a sophomoric joke or to scream SUPERKICK like it was the first time I saw The Beatles.
I brought eleven pages of notes with me on that first New Japan tour! Not only was I going to be prepared, but I was going to show the English New Japan World viewers a different side of King Corino’s commentary skills. Gone was the humor and I became more of an analyst. I know everyone’s stories. I was there for some of them! I went from being a newer Bobby “The Brain” Heenan in ROH to the John Madden of New Japan Pro Wrestling. To me, it was even easier than ROH.
My tours now consist of me showing Kevin Kelly every “Pepper Lunch” restaurant I can find in Japan, translating for him, planning our next adventure on the Tokyo Metro line, and taking a step back every day to enjoy a second run in a land I only dreamed about 34 years ago.
Will I get to walk that ramp at the Tokyo Dome on January 4?
Corino returns to Japan for his 83rd trip on August 10 and will be broadcasting the G1 Climax with Kevin Kelly on NJPW World.
Meanwhile, Shelton Benjamin finishes working in Japan and is heading over to Smack Down –
Please check out my article on Shelton’s return to WWE here: