From
From “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”
  • Byron Nelson won 11 PGA golf tournaments in a row.
  • Rocky Marciano went 49-0 in his boxing career.
  • Guillermo Vilas won 46 tennis matches in a row.
  • Edwin Moses won 122 straight in 400-meter hurdles
  • Cael Sanderson won 159 straight college wrestling matches

But Osamu Watanabe won 189 consecutive wrestling matches, as well as gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Watanabe competed in wrestling tournaments in Europe, America, Asia and won every match. He was known as the “Animal” for his strength, and as the “Swiss Watch” for his technique. He dominated in his career, and in the Tokyo Olympics, coming in as the favorite having won the 1962-1963 World Champion in the men’s featherweight freestyle division .

In the end, when Osamu Watanabe (渡辺長武) took down Soviet wrestler, Nodar Khokhashvili, he had won his 186th and final match without a blemish in the loss column. In fact, during the Tokyo Games, Watanabe was not even scored upon.

From the book
From the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964”

After the Olympics, Watanabe joined a large Japanese advertising firm named Dentsu. Clearly, he had the itch. In 1970, while at Dentsu, he took part in an All-Japan wrestling tournament in which he wrestled once, and won. Make that 187 in a row.

Even more amazing, 17 years later, at the age of 47, 23 years after his triumph in Tokyo, Osamu “Animal” Watanabe came out of retirement to compete at the All Japan Wrestling Championship, with a hope to represent Japan again at the Seoul Summer Games in 1988. And yes, he won two more…before succumbing to time, losing, and ending a streak that is still unfathomable.

A career record of 189 – 1. Perfect

To watch Watanabe take down Khokhashvili, start watching this video from the 35 second mark.

Poster marketing the Ali vs Aoki boxing/wrestling exhibition in Japan
Poster of the Ali vs Aoki exhibition match in Japan

Japan’s head of the Olympic delegation, Olympian Kenkichi Oshima, proclaimed 6 days prior to the start of the 1964 Games that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals. Since Japan’s haul for the 1960 Games in Rome was only 4, Oshima’s declaration was uncustomarily boastful.

As it turned out, Japan won 16 gold medals, part of it due to the entry of Judo to the summer games. But arguably the main reason was Japan’s emergence as a wrestling power, as their wrestlers won a surprising five gold medals. Much credit was given to the team’s coach, Ichiro Hatta, famous for his Spartan training methods and singular mindset on winning.

Equally interesting, at least to me, is that Hatta is the one who introduced Muhammad Ali to Japanese wrestler, Antonio Aoki in April, 1975, setting up a mixed martial arts battle in the Budokan on June 26, 1976. In the end, the battle between Ali and Aoki was a bore, and a low point in Ali’s career. But it certainly sticks in my mind as a quirky sports cultural milestone.