On a day when WWE will anoint two new championship contenders on the Royal Rumble, the corporate can also be paying tribute to a large of its previous.
Yokozuna is the topic of the WWE Network’s Icons Revisited collection, premiering this Sunday, which can also be the day of the Royal Rumble pay per view. Sadly, this explicit docuseries is outlined by the rise and fall of the larger-than-life Yokozuna, whose dimension helped him achieve instantaneous consideration, but additionally led to well being points that induced him to cross away on the age of solely 34.
A memorable a part of childhood for numerous wrestling followers, Yokozuna was a personality brilliantly carried out by Rodney Anoa’i. The Icons particular takes a deep dive into his life and profession, exhibiting his rise in wrestling in addition to sharing intimate anecdotes detailing him as a father, brother and pal.
The son of a Marine, a turning level occurred in the lifetime of Anoa’i after his dad and mom discovered that their son had minimize so many courses in highschool that he wouldn’t be incomes a diploma. That put the wheels in movement for him to go away residence in California and transfer to Florida for professional wrestling coaching beneath his uncles, Afa and Sika Anoa’i, famously generally known as the Wild Samoans. It was throughout this stretch when Anoa’i grew shut together with his cousins, greatest generally known as Rikishi and Samu, who later starred because the Headshrinkers. The preparation and self-discipline instilled by Afa and Sika laid the groundwork for the following tier of stars in wrestling’s lengthy and distinguished Samoan dynasty. Whereas all three performed an essential function, it was Anoa’i who grew to become a two-time world champion as Yokozuna.
The Icons group did an amazing job of detailing Anoa’i’s rise to stardom. This included unearthing some phenomenal footage from Southern Skilled Wrestling in April of 1987, the place Anoa’i used to be sharpening his enamel as Kokina Maximus. Icons adopted his development, highlighting a uncommon mixture of versatility and velocity for a performer that weighed over 300 kilos. Anoa’i represented an evolution in fashion and dimension for a heavyweight, gaining virtually fast curiosity from Vince McMahon.
There are quite a few fascinating particulars revealed all through the 77-minute particular, together with how the unique plan for Anoa’i used to be to group with Samu as a part of the Headshrinkers. Clearly, this is able to have altered professional wrestling’s timeline, however serendipity interfered. An damage prevented Anoa’i from competing on the tv taping, and that spot was then forged to Rikishi, who labored as Fatu, and the Headshrinkers debuted on an episode of Superstars in July of 1992.
The corporate nonetheless had plans for Anoa’i. He had a non-televised match that September as Kokina, a member of the Wild Samoans, however there was no actual course for his character. It’s revealed throughout Icons that Sgt. Slaughter supplied the suggestion to McMahon that Anoa’i grow to be a Japanese sumo wrestler, and McMahon embraced the concept. Anoa’i positioned his flowing hair in a decent bun and obtained the mighty title of Yokozuna, which viewers later see is also engraved on his gravestone.
Regardless of a perpetual unhappiness over his rising weight and failing well being, the particular did an outstanding job of capturing the spirit and optimism that outlined his run as a high act. He was paired with Mr. Fuji, and the pair proudly waved the Japanese flag, although it was famous that neither man was of Japanese descent. But there was plain magic between their partnership, and Yokozuna rapidly gained steam as a monster heel, squashing opponents and getting primed for a run as champion.
Yokozuna’s breakout second happened on the 1993 Royal Rumble, the place he eradicated “Macho Man” Randy Savage in the present’s famed match and then challenged Bret Hart for the championship at WrestleMania IX. This stood out as a very riveting phase, as interviews with Hart, Hulk Hogan, and firm govt Bruce Prichard highlighted the stress that exists between Hart and Hogan, one which has prolonged now for practically three a long time. This divide in philosophy between Hart and Hogan is clearly on show in Icons, with Yokozuna positioned straight in the center.
Yokozuna defeated Hart for the title at WrestleMania IX, and it was fascinating to listen to Hart talk about how the match ended so immediately. There have been two elements to the match drawn up, Hart defined, however Yokozuna eschewed the second half of their detailed plan, seemingly resulting from cardio issues. Hogan is a lightning rod of controversy at this explicit WrestleMania, revealing that he advocated to defeat Yokozuna to shut out the present. And that’s precisely what transpires, as virtually instantly after successful the belt, Yokozuna drops it to Hogan.
Regardless of element and precision all through Icons, there was one piece of misinformation. Prichard notes that it was needed for Hogan to win the belt at WrestleMania IX so he may function champ through the firm’s upcoming European tour. Longtime listeners of One thing to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard will definitely recall cohost Conrad Thompson vehemently arguing this level with Prichard, stating the European tour happened months after Hogan dropped the belt again to Yokozuna at that June’s King of the Ring pay per view.
Following King of the Ring, Yokozuna grew to become the highest act in the corporate, poised for a future as a high act. With Hogan in the corporate’s rearview, he moved on to a program with McMahon’s newly anointed American hero, Lex Luger. The Luger-Yokozuna program was the highest story via the summer season and the autumn, main-eventing SummerSlam in a singles match and the Survivor Sequence in a multi-man tag. Yokozuna additionally helped headline the 1994 Royal Rumble towards The Undertaker earlier than dropping the belt towards Hart at WrestleMania X, which was his final night time as the corporate’s high champ. Sadly, the story with Luger was not lined, although vital time was spent on his battle with weight. There are additionally cameos from Roman Reigns, who was a cousin of Anoa’i, in addition to The Undertaker, an in depth pal. Perception was additionally shared from McMahon, Steve Austin, Mark Henry, and Kevin Nash, who seemingly would have had a program whereas he was champ towards Yokozuna had he stayed wholesome.
There’s a lot of the previous to have a good time. This features a nice second when The Undertaker recollects going to McMahon and virtually begging to work with Yokozuna, partially in awe of the monster heel, but additionally resulting from frustration with the restricted slate of giants he had been working with throughout that period. And whereas there was an unmistakable aura surrounding Yokozuna, that dissipated as his weight elevated and his mobility was restricted. His dimension helped him achieve instantaneous consideration but additionally induced his demise.
As Anoa’i approached 700 kilos, he was launched by the corporate in 1997. He returned to the indies a yr later and taught at a wrestling college in 1999. Sadly, he didn’t return from a tour of England in 2000, passing away on the age of solely 34 resulting from pulmonary edema, which causes respiratory failure. There was footage and reminiscences of Anoa’i’s family-run memorial present, in addition to his family members lamenting they didn’t do extra to extend the lifetime of a dearly beloved member of their household.
Even when his time atop the higher echelon of the trade was fleeting, Anoa’i used to be a cornerstone of professional wrestling’s Samoan dynasty. The Icons collection captures this with unmistakable grace, in addition to highlights his kindness, humorousness and love for household and pals. Had he regained his well being, there may have been a beautiful second act for Anoa’i in each professional wrestling and in life. This particular was in a position to have a good time the positives, whereas additionally noting the heartache over the far-too-soon passing of a legendary man and performer.