wrestling / TV Reports

411’s WWE Icons Report: Yokozuna

January 31, 2021 | Posted by Robert Leighty Jr.
Yokozuna Randy Savage Royal Rumble 1993

-This series was teased towards the end of 2020 and the day has come for episode one. I am looking forward to this as it is about time we got some content of Legends that haven’t gotten DVD or Documentary treatment. Let’s get to it!

-Air Date: 01.31.21
-Run Time: 1:18:22

-Video package on the history of the Samoan Dynasty in the WWE and The Usos mention that Yokozuna was the first in the family to become WWF Champion. Some of the talking heads for this: Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Rikishi, Savio Vega and others. This is going to be great!

-This is WWE Icons: Yokozuna!

-Carson, CA: We meet Rodney’s sister, Elevera as she talks about how Rod looked out for all of them. He grew up in a rough area of LA, but his father was a Marine. Rikishi: “If Rod messed up, you can be assured Rod would get his ass whooped by his dad, but in a good way. The Samoan way.”

-His sister says that Rod skipped a lot of classes in high school (Banning High School home of the Pilots. I am a sucker for learning about high schools and their team names) and while he didn’t do things to get in trouble, his dad was concerned so Rod was sent to live with his uncles, The Wild Samoans in Florida. Afa told all the kids they would work their butts off to get them ready for the business. They were rough on them, but they wanted them to learn respect. Samu, son of Afa, talks about the training and how awesome it was as the goal was to be as tough as his father and uncle. Rikishi says they all became very close and Afa and Sika became father figures to all of them.

-If Rodney didn’t like training he was told he could come home at any time, but Rikishi mentions Rod had a deep love for the business. He never wanted to stop training.

-He started on the Independent promotion as Kokina Maximus and he was just over 300 lbs then. Yoko looking like what you would expect a typical Samoan savage to look is weird. They all put over how well he could move for a guy of his size. The family back home in California was very proud of what he was accomplishing.

-In 1987, 21 year old, Rodney and his girlfriend had a daughter, Keilani. The following year they had a son, Justin. We meet his son Justin who calls his father a great dad but the pressure was on as he knew he had to provide for his kids. Afa and Sika went to Vince to tell them of Kokina. Prichard took the scouting trip and he was blown away by what he saw. He says that Rodney had it and moved like someone who weighed 200 lbs. They brought him in for a try-out and he blew everyone away. The call came from Vince and the original plan was for Yoko to be in the Headshrinkers team with Samu. Yoko got a cut on his leg that became infected and he couldn’t make the debut. Wow! Rikishi was brought in as Fatu and was given the spot. Rikishi says it had to be God sent as it gave him a spot, but gave Yoko something else down the road.

-Sept 1, 1992: Kokina has a non-televised match and we get some footage from it. He had several names as Kokina, Kokina Maximus, and Kokina the Samoan. It wasn’t working the way they wanted to, but they knew he had talent. Vince told Slaughter that the kid had talent but he had 7 Samoans already and wasn’t sure what to do with him. Slaughter came up with the idea for a Sumo Wrestler and Vince says once that was mentioned he knew it would work. The name Yokozuna comes from the sumo world obviously and they decided to put his hair up in a bun. Rikishi says the family had no issue with him portraying someone from Japan.

-Roman Reigns says it was cool as it was the first time he remembers seeing someone from the family in a high position where they weren’t booked as a Samoan savage. Rikishi says they were so confident in their work they knew they could make any character work. Yokozuna was paired with Mr Fuji and it was a perfect pairing as he also mentored the big man.

-Oct 31, 1992: Yokozuna makes his debut on Superstars. The first time he removed the robe it was an “oh my God” gasp according to Prichard and they knew they had it. Taker says that Yoko was truly amazing and had never seen anything like it. Austin puts over the way he could move and calls him an awesome big man. Mark Henry was blown away as a fan because he loved seeing the big guy. Nash talks about his agility and says that Yoko would tear it down out there. As all these guys talk, they show highlights from Yoko working and it is fun watching him wreck fools. Everything he did looked like it could kill someone. Taker mentions he was watching in the back at a show in Baltimore and told Vince to please let him work with the kid. He wanted someone that could go after his run of limited opponents.

-Bret says that Yokozuna came along when the WWE desperately needed a monster heel. We see him squash Jim Duggan to the horror of the fans in the crowd. He became an attraction immediately similar to the way Andre was.

-Vince obviously saw money in Yoko and that leads to a discussion of the long standing relationship Vince has had with the family. Vince says that it was easy to have trust in Yoko and also it was easy to believe in his performance.

-They talk about Yoko in the dressing room. He was a fan of Gangsta rap and was always playing NWA, etc. People thought he was writing down ideas for matches, but instead was writing down rhymes. Awesome!

-Next they discuss Rodney’s appetite for food and a vignette they filmed with Gene where Rodney ate enough Japanese food for 20 people.

-Royal Rumble 1993: This was the first Rumble that gave the winner a Title Match at WrestleMania. Rikishi knew how much the night meant to Yoko and that he could carry the ball for the company. He was given the ball that night and he ran with it. The match comes down to Yoko and Randy Savage. For some reason Savage goes for a pin and gets thrown over the top from the kick-off. Visually that was awesome, but it made Savage look kind of dumb.

-Bret Hart defending against Yokozuna was set for WrestleMania IX. He was kind of awe struck by the moment as they don’t think he ever saw himself being in that kind of spot. Rikishi points out how huge that day was for Yokozuna and nearly 200 people from the family flew in for the show. They joke half the family stayed in Vegas and never left. Nice! Reigns says to him it was the biggest Mania of all time due to the look and it being outside.

-Main Event Time: I know people hate on this Mania, but it has always been one I can watch over and over again and be entertained. Roman still gets fired up thinking of Yoko in that match and watching him in that spot. Bret says the match had a part A and B. Part A was very good, but Yoko edited out the second part of the match and he isn’t sure if it was because Yoko ran out of gas. They went from Part A to the finish and it’s why Fuji wasn’t ready yet with the powder. Bret talks about struggling to hold the sharpshooter until Fuji was ready. Yoko gets the win and becomes the WWF Champion.

-Oh boy, just from the tone everyone is about to dump on the ending and Hogan. Roman “we were so happy and then here he comes.” Oh man! Prichard takes a deep sigh and says the plan was for Yoko to be their Champion for the immediate future. That changed the night before WrestleMania. I still can’t buy they were closing the show with Yoko as the Champion. Bret says he wanted to puke when he heard what they wanted to do. Hogan admits that he talked Vince into the idea and says it was his hair brained idea. Bret says that wrestling had changed from Hogan’s era and thigs were heading in a better direction. “Suddenly it was the Hulk Hogan show again.” I’m sorry, listen to the pop and just look at the reaction from the crowd. That Mania is never remembered if that doesn’t happen. Prichard says the reason was also due to an International Tour and they thought having Hulk as the Champion would be better. Bret says Yoko wasn’t overjoyed by it, but he was also the WWF Champion even if it was just for a few minutes. He was then also booked against Hogan all over the World which isn’t a bad spot to have.

-King of The Ring 1993: The rematch and Rikishi talks about the trust Vince had in Yoko to be in a spot like that. Hogan talks about the heat from the crowd and how they were jacked even before they locked up. Rikishi says Yoko took that opportunity with all the respect as we see the camera man flash fire in Hogan’s face. From there Yoko beats Hogan with his own move and then squashes him afterwards to basically kill Hulk-a-mania in the WWF for nearly a decade. Hogan says the idea was to give Yoko the rub and get ready for the Main Event, but says Yoko was already there. Vince says it was an enormous accomplishment for Yoko and for the entire family. Again, Bret can rail against Hogan all he wants, but at least Hogan went out of the company on his back and let Yoko kill him off basically. Taker talks about how beating Hogan like that set Yoko on his way. No kidding!

-Yokozuna was now a made man and we see footage of him on Regis among other appearances. Everyone loved him backstage because he was a nice dude that would spend time talking to janitors that had to clean the arena. Savio says that some guys were talking about wanting him fired, and Yoko overheard and put them in their place. Wonder if it was The Klique? Undertaker calls him an awesome dude and one of his nearest and dearest friends. He was just one of the boys and he never changed from when he first walked in the door. He took his platform and helped those he loved and those who needed. Because of Yoko everything changed for everyone in the family. He shared his blessings with everyone and would send everyone in the family a Christmas card with money. Jey Uso says that when Uncle Rodney would visit they would make his bed and he would drop 100 dollar bill on them. Awesome! Rikishi tells a story of having a house that didn’t have a working heating system and Rodney gave him a blank check to get it fixed. Rikishi breaks down a bit as he mentions Rodney would always be there for him. This is great stuff! His sister laughs that he probably should have saved his money a little more, but giving is what Rodney did. You can see where the Rock gets it from then.

-They discuss Rodney being at home with his kids and how it was never Yokozuna, but always dad. His daughter calls him her best friend and his son says when he couldn’t take them to school he would send a limo. Fantastic!

-1993 Yokozuna was WWF Champion at 26 which was the youngest ever at the time. Lawler says Yoko was so believable as Champion you didn’t know who could knock him off. That leads to The Undertaker feud and Cornette says that you could buy that Yokozuna could beat the shit out of The Undertaker. Taker says Yoko and him had great chemistry and he knew how to work his gimmick. He mentions that when Yoko dropped the leg it looked like it caved your head in. No kidding!

-Yoko held the Title for 280 days and the run ends at Mania X when Bret Hart gets the win to close the show. That was basically Vince apologizing to Bret for the previous year. Bret talks about losing a World Title and says it is more real than people think. Shocking that Bret has that philosophy. Cornette asks what monster heel in the WWE ever got to hold the WWF Title that long?

-Rikishi thinks more Mania Main Events would be coming and the question was if Rodney could keep up. Sadly, Yoko’s weight started getting out of control and it started affecting how he moved in the ring. “Yoko liked food and the weight issue was obvious,” says Prichard. They put him with Owen Hart in a tag team because they realized he couldn’t perform as a single. Bret says Owen enjoyed working with Yoko, but also knew he would have to do a lot of the work. Well, that seems like a cheap shot. I mean, even if Yoko was still in his prime, Owen would still probably do most of the work because that was the dynamic of the team.

-They talk about issues Yoko had with planes and how he couldn’t fit in the seats so had to purchase two coach seats. Lawler tells a story of them in Pittsburgh and the toilet came off the wall when Yoko sat down on it. Bret thought someone put a hand grenade own the toilet and they saw Yoko bleeding from the broken porcelain. Bruce was introduced to turkey ass as I guess Yoko would cover them in oil, dip them in mayo and eat 75 of them. Good Lord!

-Godfather says it is hard to tell someone like Yoko to back off. Henry says he was the guy Yoko sent to get him food and asks how was he going to tell him no. He was eating half a bucket of chicken himself so why shouldn’t Yoko eat a whole bucket. The family started to tell him it was time to take care of himself, but he told them was still good. Taker says he just told all of them that everything was fine and good. They show footage from a fan Q&A and Yoko jokes about all the weight questions, but tells a fan he weighs 641 lbs. Prichard says they took Yoko to a loading dock to be weighed and that was a slap in the face to him.

-Jan 1996: They bring a forklift to carry Yoko from the ring after getting attacked by Vader. They tried diets with him and Yoko was having none of it, so the WWF contacted Duke University about a weight loss program they had. Yoko didn’t want to move to North Carolina, but agreed to do the program at home. We see footage of Yoko working out at home while he was off WWF TV. He came back bigger than ever though and the break may have been the worst thing for him.

-Rikishi says he would be talking to Yoko and he would just fall asleep in mid conversation. Savio tells a similar story except Yoko would start choking when he was sleeping. Prichard says the biggest thing now was that they were afraid he was going to die. They didn’t care about the business at the point and they offered to pay for him to move to Duke. Rodney felt he could do it on his own as Taker talks about how he had people that would sneak him chicken. This is getting sad now! Taker says Yoko got up close to 700 pounds and Nash shakes his head as he can’t even imagine that. “Not good. Not good.”

-Prichard says that there were athletic doctors that would take his blood pressure and tell him he wasn’t healthy to wrestle. In 1997 he was unable to pass a physical in New York and wasn’t allowed to wrestle. The WWE finally released him in 1997 in hopes he would get healthy. Bret mentions that Vince always had a place for Rodney if he was able to get his weight under control. Vince calls him a great man with great values, but he couldn’t give it up. Everyone tried to help him but he didn’t want to help himself.

-Bret and Rikishi talk about the adjustment of trying to be normal when you are no longer in the WWE. Yoko started working Independent shows in 1998. Everyone feels it was sad as it killed the myth of Yokozuna. For his friends it was hard to see him as a shell of his former self. They include home footage of some of these shows and it is pretty sad. Rikishi says it was about Rod’s health and they were worried about depression with him.

-In 1999 Rodney moved to Las Vegas to start a wrestling school. He was taking in people who didn’t have a place to live so he let them move into the school. He became a mentor to a lot of them.

-Oct 2000: Rodney travels to England for a month long wrestling tour. They have footage of him on a TV show in England and everyone says he was doing what he loved. He was passionate about wrestling and it was his life. That is all he loved to do. They have footage of a tag match he worked with Greg Valentine.

-Oct 23, 2000: They got back from a show and Yoko was telling people he was really, really tired. He called a few people and they told him to go to sleep. He called his kids to tell them good night and man, you know where this is going and it sucks. The phone call came 24 hours later that Rodney had passed away.

-He died in his sleep at the age of 34. That is devastating! His sister just dropped the phone when she got the call. Everyone is crying talking about it and Afa even blames himself for it. He feels he should have been there and done more. “I’m sorry brother that things didn’t go the way we planned.” That hurts!

-Rikishi was at RAW and everything went numb to him. His body was there, but his mind wasn’t. Mark Henry says he saw people crying and when he heard why he broke down as well. He breaks down here and this is just getting brutal to watch at this point. So many people loved this man. Taker even gets choked up. “He was a good dude.” Bret says there was a sense of sadness and frustration as they all wondered what they could have done to help. Prichard, “Yoko was too young to die.” He was a larger than life character and sadly that is what took him out.

-They had a Rodney Memorial show which had Kane and The Undertaker show up for it. Taker says it was a no brainer and no matter what their WWE schedule was, he had to be in Allentown for that show. He says it was emotional, but it was also comforting. They all started drinking Jack Daniels as they knew that’s what Rod would have done. They all agree it was more of a celebration than a memorial.

-Yokozuna gets inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame to cement his place in wrestling history. They go back to The Samoan Dynasty and how it all started with High Chief Peter Maivia and Afa and Sika. They family has had such an influence on the family and it goes all the way to The Usos and Roman Reigns. With all the stars in the family, Yoko is still looked at in the top echelon. Roman says he was the first top guy from the family as he was the first to hold the top title in a global company. Austin calls him a great worker and Bret calls him the most agile big man in history. The real man behind Yokozuna was a prince and that was Rodney.

-He was a loving family member, uncle, cousin and dad. Rikishi says he wishes everyone could know the person, the man, the legend, the icon, Rodney Anoa’i.

-Rodney Agatupu Anoa’i 1966-2000!

-This is a must see for any wrestling fan and really can be enjoyed by anyone. If this first episode is any indication this is going to be an amazing series. I love that we are getting these stories on guys that we don’t hear much about. Yoko was a great first choice and I thank the WWE for this. There was so much to this and at only 80 minutes long it flew by. The focus was not only his rise and fall, but his life at home and his family. As we all know by now, The Samoan Dynasty is all about family and you see how much Rodney meant to them and what his run as WWF Champion meant to all of them. The fall part was sad and it was bittersweet seeing how many people loved this man while also hearing the pain and seeing the tears as they talked about his passing. Again check this one out as soon as you can. Thanks for reading!