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wrestling / Columns

Evolution Schematic 11.21.06: Yokozuna (Part 1)

November 21, 2006 | Posted by Mathew Sforcina

Writer’s Note

I’m a fat bastard. Hence I can make all the jokes I like. Just saying in advance.

Overview

There is a certain…expectation about World Champions. If you achieve this very prestigious and exclusive feat, if you are a recognized World Champion in the Professional Wrestling industry, you are, normally, expected to have certain qualities.

You are expected to be either hated or loved.

You are expected to be superb in a certain style of wrestling, perhaps several. You are expected to be a world class brawler, or technical genius, or flat out ass kicker, or a hardcore wizard, or just really really good at taking a beating and coming back for more.

You are expected to have some sort of charisma, an X Factor that makes people go “Wow, look at this guy!”, be it because you talk in an entertaining way, you wrestle in an entertaining way, or you’re just scary.

You are expected to make money for the company you are with. If you’re the champ, they will put their commercial weight behind you, and you are expected to do well.

And above all, you are expected to be a world class athlete. After all, if you are the best wrestler in the world, then you gotta be chiseled, you have to have muscular development, you can be solid, fine, but you gotta be physically gifted.

And while most of these expectations are met by the vast majority of World Champions, there are exceptions. Bret Hart, in his last WWF title reign, was both hated and loved, depending on what country he happened to be in at the time. For every Eddie Guerrero or Chris Benoit, every world champion who is skilled in various forms of wrestling, there is an Ultimate Warrior and Sid Vicious, whose style of wrestling is almost impossible to describe without creating new styles based on them. The Rock and Ric Flair made you sit up and take notice, while Justin Credible…well, didn’t. Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan made insane amounts of money, whereas Diesel and Chris Jericho, for various reasons, didn’t.

But the athlete part, that’s a kicker. Practically every world champ in history has been a physical freak of nature, a Giant Baba or Andre The Giant, a small but tough competitor, a Mikey Whipwreck or James Gibson, or just physically well put together, Cena, Edge, Sting, Flair, not muscle-bound goons, although they have their place, but just fit, healthy, strong men.

But then, you have the fat bastards. Wrestlers whose physique isn’t great, in fact is often disgusting, but yet, they manage to stay at the top. Some, like Dusty Rhodes or Mick Foley, succeed because they are everymen, guys who ride the fan’s support and use it to power themselves. Some, Vader being a classic example, are sadistic monsters, plowing through everyone and everything in their path. Others, Harley Race, Samoa Joe, Steve Williams, are big, and technically overweight, but they are still magnificent athletes, regardless and perhaps assisted by their sheer mass.

And then, there is one man. Yokozuna, hailing from the Polynesian Island by way of Japan, was not, really, that good a wrestler. He was hated, he drew fans interest, he was a decent, if unspectacular brawler, he was certainly scary and had managers who could talk the legs off donkeys, and he did make the WWF money. And yet, the guy was not an athlete, no-one would ever say “Here is a magnificent physical specimen”. He was a big fat pig.

And he made it work, and was fairly successful. He did have the genes, and lots of hard work and training, but it was after he began using sumo wrestling tactics, techniques and so on that he truly became a megastar, a world champion, and a legend in the business. After all, he’s pinned Hulk Hogan. How many people can say that?

Origins- Wrestling was in his blood. And he had a lot of it.

Yokozuna, born Rodney Anoa’i, was not in fact Japanese. He was Samoan, and part of the great Anoa’i family, which includes practically ever major Samoan wrestler in North America not named Joe. Hence, he was brought up and then trained with Pro Wrestling all the time, since that was the family business. Eventually, he debuted at the age of 18.

Debut- Great Kokina!

At under 400 pounds, Rodney, wrestling under the name of Great Kokina, was positively svelte compared to what he would end up being known for, although he was still, given the fact that he was Samoan and still way over 300 pounds, under any criteria, he was a big dude. At first, he avoided America, wrestling mainly in Japan (where he first got a taste of the Sumo way of life, which did intrigue him) and Mexico, honing his skill, learning, listening, developing. Eventually, though, he and his family obviously felt he was ready, and he made the jump to the US of A.

Phase 2- Kokina Maximus!

He debuted in the AWA, using the name Kokina Maximus (obviously), and working for Sheik Adnan El Kassey, as part of the Sheik’s anti-USA pro-him group, Adnan managing several large men like Rodney, sorry, Kokina, in his time. Kokina wrestled as a Samoan Bad Ass, like other members of his family before (and since). He was proud of his heritage, and hated the fact that the US didn’t respect him, etcetc. In the long run, it seems that overall, he never truly, deep down, had a problem with the US. This was just business, and if he could get ahead by claiming he hated the US, so be it.

However, this didn’t work out in the AWA, as although he had some memorable moments, the biggest and best being the night he retired Greg Gagne by destroying his leg. But apart from this, he never achieved much in the AWA, although things might have improved had it not been for the fact that the AWA collapsed in mid 1990.

Phase 3- Back to Indy work.

Hence, like many pro wrestlers, he was forced to go back to smaller, independent companies to pay the bills, although Rodney chose to head back overseas, to Japan and Mexico, where he had learnt and trained. About 2 relatively uneventful years passed, and then, he got a phone call. A conversation or two later, and Rodney was heading to the big time.

Phase 4- Yokozuna, Bitches!

Although he dealt with Vince McMahon, it was Mr. Fuji who brought him in. Fuji needed a new star, a new guy to manage, and he felt that, under his leadership, Rodney could be that guy. Rodney agreed.

To go with his new found manager, he began to train like a Sumo Wrestler, working on his strength but also, mainly, his sheer weight. If he was big enough, no-one could toss him, no-one could whip him, he would be unstoppable. So, he trained, and ate, and trained, and ate. When he debuted in November 1992, he wasn’t quite at his peak of sphericalness, but he was close, weighting in 505 pounds. He took the name of Yokozuna, a Sumo term for the highest level of Sumo Wrestlers. It’s like calling yourself “World Champ”, or “WWE Superstar” or “Norman Smiley”. His first major match was at Survivor Series 1992, when he squashed (almost literally) Virgil, who warned everyone in the company, especially champ Bret Hart, that Yoko was not to be messed with.

Since only the toughest men could get past Virgil.

(*bringbring* Hello? Who? Dunn? What? It’s not your joke, you don’t own it. Well screw you too! *slam*)

Yoko ran roughshod over anyone in his path leading up to the Royal Rumble. Well, ran might be too strong a word, rolled perhaps would be better. He came into the Rumble as a big favourite, and was poised to become the first man to win the Wrestlemania Title Shot by virtue of winning the Royal Rumble, that clause being added for the first time that year. He drew the lucky number, #27, although at that time it was just “The number that Studd guy drew”. And Yoko entered the match, and quickly eliminated Tatanka, Carlos Colon, Earthquake, Tito Santana, Nasty Boy Jerry Sags, Owen Hart, Repo Man, Bob Backlund and finally “Macho Man” Randy Savage to win the 93 Royal Rumble fairly easily and walk into Wrestlemania IX as the challenger for Bret Hart’s title.

The lead up to Wrestlemania was fairly straight forward. Contracts were signed, Banazi Drops (Yoko’s favourite finisher, a middle rope butt splash) were dropped, the usual. And then, at Wrestlemania IX, in the open air, thanks to Mr. Fuji and his salt bucket (that Yoko would use to salt the ring, as one does in Sumo matches, for good luck and to clear evil spirits), Bret Hart was blinded by salt, Yoko pinned the Canadian, and won the WWF title, making him the 17th WWF Champion.

Phase 5- The Title Is-

Hulk Hogan then came out to check on Bret. Mr. Fuji then got an idea that in retrospect, Yoko should have stopped. Yokozuna was undefeated, and as Hulk checked on a blinded Bret, Mr. Fuji challenged Hulk to a title match there and then. You can sort of see his argument. Yoko seemed to be ok, and to beat both Bret Hart AND Hulk Hogan in 2 matches in one night for the World Title would have given Yoko a record practically no-one else could ever break. Unfortunately, Mr. Fuji then tried the salt trick again, his Yoko, and less than a minute later, Hulk Hogan had won the WWF World Title, giving Yoko one of the shortest world title reigns in history.

Phase 6- Gone!

Yokozuna was less than impressed. However, it gave Mr. Fuji enough leeway to challenge for a rematch, which Hulk was happy to give once he finished his vacation, and the rematch was set for the first King Of The Ring PPV. And there, 2 months after Yoko lost the title in less than a minute, he fought Hogan again. And this time, he was ready, fresh and above all, really really REALLY pissed off. He totally destroyed Hogan, who was uncharacteristically unable to slam or really move the big guy, despite making a career of it. But Yoko’s Sumo training served him well, and he was the unmovable object stopping the force. But eventually though, Yoko was knocked down, and hit with a Hogan leg drop, but then he kicked out.

And then, Mr. Fuji’s master plan kicked in. See, at ringside were a bunch of reporters from all over the world, mostly Japan. And at this point, when Hogan was going “Huh? My Atomic Leg Drop didn’t work, now what? Maybe I should hit another one?”, a cameraman jumped up onto the apron, took a photo, causing a fireball to shoot out and hit Hogan, and then Yoko hit a big fat leg drop to pin Hogan with his own move, hitting a Banazi Drop after the match to add injury to insult. Hogan was gone from the WWF for many a year, and Yoko was now a 2 time WWF Champion.

Phase 7- Back again, let’s celebrate by having a bunch of guys pull at my crotch!

To celebrate his victory, dominance and above all, his Killing Of Hulkamania (given Hogan left the WWF very soon after losing to him), Yoko and Fuji (along with Yoko’s new American Spokesperson Jim Cornette, since Fuji didn’t speak English and Yoko couldn’t do it as well as Jim could) held the “Yokozuna Bodyslam Challenge” on Independence Day. Onboard the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, where he who slammed Yoko would…well, slam Yoko. And be a hero to all.

Many men tried. Rick and Scott Steiner, Tatanka, Bob Backlund, Randy Savage, and Crush all tried and failed, despite getting some choice shots in. But it wasn’t just wrestlers; it was open to all athletes. Joe Morris and Peter Taglianetti from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Scott Burrell of the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Lions’ Bill Fralic, Regy Roby of Miami Dolphins fame, George Martin, Joe Smith, as well as several other athletes of various sports including a jockey, all tried, all failed. It seemed that Yoko, and Fuji, and Japan had won.

But wait! There in the distance, it’s a helicopter!

And on board was Lex Luger. After cutting a promo that today would cause massive outcries from the American-Asian community (and which, logically were really stupid since Yoko wasn’t actually Japanese, he was ‘hailing’ from there, but it was just a spiritual thing, since he was wrestling in the style of Japan), Yoko got annoyed, charged, and was ‘slammed’ by Lex. There was some debate, but it was ruled a slam and Lex had won.

By virtue of this, Luger got first crack at Yoko’s new world title, and the match was set for Summerslam. As Lex drove the Lex Express all over the country to make sure his old, self-obsessed past was wiped clean as he embraced his country, Yoko waited, happy in the knowledge that Cornette had slipped into the contract signing that this would be Lex Luger’s sole title shot.

And then, at the event itself, Yoko wrestled a long match, and in the end, lost. But by count out, as Lex knocked out Yokozuna with his metal plate forearm, and Yoko collapsed to the outside, where he failed to answer the 10 count and Luger stupidly didn’t try to get him back into the ring and pin him.

Lex and Yoko’s problems didn’t end there, as Lex was still pissed off and Yoko was all “You screwed up, ha-ha”. The two men fought at Survivor Series, facing off in the main event Survivor Series match up. It was Yoko’s Foreign Fanatics of himself, Pierre and Jacques Rougeau, the Quebecers, and Ludvig Borga, vs. Lex’s All-Americans, himself, Rick and Scott Steiner and Tatanka. But then Tatanka’s years long winning streak ended at the hands of Borga, then Yoko took him out with a Banzai Drop, injuring him. So The Undertaker stepped up and took his place.

D’oh!

Then, Luger knocked out Pierre, and thus Crush (from Hawaii…well, it’s kinda foreign) took his place, having turned on Randy Savage for not visiting him in the hospital after he sustained injuries from…Yokozuna.

Yoko’s team ended up losing, Lex Luger the sole survivor. But Yoko didn’t care, as his problems were only beginning, as he was eliminated by a double count out with The Undertaker, after Taker sat up to avoid the second Banzai Drop Yoko was going to give him, and they brawled to the back.

Phase 7b- Yoko’s afraid of that ghost. Sorry, All American Zombie.

The fact he was The Undertaker was bad enough. But the man, zombie, whatever, he was able to sit up from a Banzai Drop! That really threw Yoko for a loop, despite the attempts to calm him by Fuji and Cornette. This could also explain while, in the lead up to the 1994 Royal Rumble where Yoko was forced to defend his WWF Title against The Undertaker in a casket match, Yokozuna fought, and very nearly lost to Tatanka at many WWF live events, most times needing Mr. Fuji and his salt bucket to keep his title by DQ.

It was clear Yoko’s mind was not on the prize. Hence, Fuji and Cornette schemed, and they realised that they needed a plan. And the plan was fairly simple.

Pay Crush, The Great Kabuki, Genichiro Tenryu, Bam Bam Bigelow, Adam Bomb, Jeff Jarrett, The Headshrinkers and Diesel to interfere. Have all of them beat Taker up. Yoko wins.

The plan needed some on the spot fine tuning (stealing Taker’s urn and opening it for instance), but the end result worked, for Yoko retained the title, won the match, sent Taker away for a bit and generally walked out unscathed.

Which is more than can be said for the viewing public.

But then Lex Luger and Bret Hart both won the Royal Rumble. What to do, what to do. So, a double title match mini-tourney would take place at Wrestlemania X, with both men getting a shot. One man would get first crack at Yoko, then the winner of that match would fight the other winner of the Rumble, who would have fought ‘suitable competition’ earlier in the night. Owen Hart for Bret, Crush for Luger. Luger won the toss, so the matches were Bret vs. Owen, Lex vs. Yoko for the belt, then Lex/Yoko vs. Bret.

On the night, Yoko watched on happy to see Owen pin Bret. That was good news, it meant Bret was beatable and would not be on his game. Then came Yoko vs. Lex. Because of the occasion, two special guest refs were chosen to make sure no outside interference took place. The first one, for Yoko vs. Lex, was Mr. Perfect. Yoko tried, but all the Nerve Gripping in the world couldn’t contain Lex, who, after slamming and knocking out Yoko knocked out Mr. Fuji and Cornette with his loaded forearm before covering. But, as Lex did this, Perfect was busy checking on the two non-wrestlers Lex had knocked totally out before hand. Lex objected to this. He said as much to Perfect. Perfect responded. Lex shoved him. Perfect DQed Luger.

Oops.

Still, Yoko was happy, one down, one to go he thought as Luger was reminded of how he knocked out Perfect a year before as they brawled.

And then, in the main event, Yoko and Bret fought a year after their last meeting, only this time, Roddy Piper was the special guest ref. And this time Yoko was still woozy from the loaded forearm of Luger’s. And hence, in the end, he went for the Banzai Drop, lost his balance, fell, and was pinned, giving Bret the WWF title and marking the end of Yoko’s reign as a true main eventer. But while one Hart knocked him down, another wanted to bring him back up…

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Mathew Sforcina
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