Yoshihiro Asai, better known as Ultimo Dragon, is the forefather of the Dragon System style of wrestling. He is the creator and developer of the Toryumon promotions and the Ultimo Dragon Gym. His wrestling resume is one of the most impressive in the business. From December 29, 1996 through January 4, 1997, he was the active reigning and defending champion of ten championships, a record that still remains.
Early Professional Wrestling Career
Early Years (1987-1991)
Asai trained to become a professional wrestler through the New Japan Pro Wrestling dojo, being tought the puroresu style of wrestling primarily by Antonio Inoki and Yoshiaki Fujimara. He graduated from the dojo in 1987 and wrestled in the New Japan promotion for a year. Struggling to move his way up to even mid-card status, he left New Japan and took a huge gamble moving to Mexico.
In Mexico, Asai was taken under the wing of Gran Hamada. Hamada trained him in the lucha libre style of wrestling and he was immediately booked by the Universal Wrestling Association. In 1988, a year into his career as a professional wrestler, Asai won his first championship, the UWA World Welterweight Championship.
In 1990, Asai returned to Japan and joined the Universal Wrestling Federation. He would also help Hamada start up in Japan Universal Lucha Libre, at the time known as Universal Pro-Wrestling. A year later, he would sign with Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre to be the promotion he would wrestle for in Mexico.
Birth as Ultimo Dragon
It was in CMLL that Asai was given the Ultimo Dragon mask and persona for the first time. The name in Spanish roughly meant "Last Dragon," which was the basis for him being given the gimmick of claiming to be the final student taught by the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, whose nickname was "The Dragon." Overtime the gimmick would be forgotten, but the name would become his legacy in professional wrestling.
In 1993, Ultimo left Universal Lucha Libre in Japan and signed with the Wrestle and Romance promotion, later renamed Wrestle Association R, run by Genichiro Tenryu. Through WAR, Ultimo would make return trips to New Japan and would develop a lasting reputation in successfully mixing puroresu and lucha libre into a style of his own.
He would utilize moves that would later become synonymous with him that, out of respect and honor, they would be renamed after him. Moves such as the Dragon Bomb, Dragon Suplex, Dragonsteiner, Dragon Screw, and Dragon Sleeper. While it has since been discovered that he was not the innovator of the move, he was the first to use the standing shiranui as a finisher and it was called the Asai DDT to honor his extensive use. He would become the innovator of a springboard moonsault onto a standing opponent outside of the ring, which would become known as the Asai Moonsault.
World Championship Wrestling
Through the working relationship that existed at the time with New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ultimo Dragon was used in World Championship Wrestling. He was originally called The Ultimate Dragon, the literal English translation of his name, before several months later they reverted back to Ultimo Dragon. He was managed by Sonny Onoo and quickly pushed at the top heel in the company's cruiserweight division against Rey Misterio Jr.
As his push in WCW was taking place, Ultimo won the J-Crown from the Great Sasuke on October 11, 1996. Also known as the J-Crown Octuple Unified Championship, it unified eight championships from eight different promotions into one: the British Commwealth Juniuor Heavyweight Championship from Michinoku Pro Wrestling, the IWGP World Junior Heavyweight Championship from New Japan, the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship from the Wrestle Dream Factory, the NWA World Welterweight Championship from CMLL, the UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship from the UWA, the WAR International Junior Heavyweight Championship from WAR, and the WWF World Light Heavyweight Championship from the World Wrestling Federation on loan to New Japan.
At the same time, Ultimo was in possession of the NWA World Middleweight Championship from CMLL. On December 29, 1996, he defeated Dean Malenko for the WCW World Cruiserweight Championship, thus completing his amassing of the record number ten championships at one time. His reign with all of the championships at once would only last six days before losing the J-Crown to Jushin "Thunder" Liger on January 4, 1997.
As Ultimo was finding success working in Mexico, Japan, and America through various different promotions, he decided to open up the Ultimo Dragon Gym. The idea being that aspiring Japanese wrestlers would have to follow his path by traveling to Mexico to learn from him. With the assistance of Dos Caras and Jorge "Skayde" Rivera, Ultimo taught his students his style of wrestling, which mixed together puroresu from Japan, lucha libre from Mexico, and sports entertainment from America. Throughout 1997, his first six graduates Yoshiyuki Saito, Nobuhiko Oshima, Katsumasa Kuroki, Takahiro Suwa, Tatsuki Fuji, and Nobuyoshi Nakamura would be introduced through Mexico and later as enhancement talent in WCW.
In 1998, Ultimo suffered an injury to his elbow that required surgery. However, the operation was botched, causing damage to the nerve system in his arm. It was believed that it was nearly impossible to fix, forcing him into retirement. He would concentrate his time and effort on the training of students at the Ultimo Dragon Gym in Mexico and the development of the Toryumon promotions both in Japan and Mexico.
In September 2001, Ultimo decided to undergo another surgery in the hope that there was a chance the damage done from the previous operation could be repaired. It was announced at the start of 2002 that the surgery was a success, restoring feeling and mobility he had previously lost. Speculation began to emerge as to when and where he would finally make his in-ring return, which took place at the ABSOLUTAMENTE 2002 pay-per-view show for Toryumon Japan on September 8, 2002 against Masaaki Mochizuki.
Taking his time getting back into ring shape, Ultimo opened talks with World Wrestling Entertainment. In 2003, he signed a one-year contract with WWE. This meant he would have to step down as Director of the Toryumon promotion and appointed Takashi Okamura in his place. After his stint with the WWE, Ultimo returned to Japan with the shocking announcement that he was pulling out of the promotion and taking the Toryumon name with him, since he owned the rights. The final show before the split became official was the Vo Aniversario pay-per-view on July 4, 2004. Immediately after, the promotion carried on as Dragon Gate Pro Wrestling.
Since the split, Ultimo has continued to train students at the Ultimo Dragon Gym as well as continue to promote Toryumon shows, all in Mexico. He would bounce around from promotion to promotion in both Japan and Mexico at his leisure. He has participated in the DragonDoor promotion, run by former student Noriaki Kawabata. After that closed, he joined the Tatsumi Fujinami promoted Dradition promotion. In 2006, he began to run the annual DragonMania pay-per-view shows in Mexico City. He has also starred in two movies with one a documentary on professional wrestling and another a heroic martial arts film named after him.