The pre-Attitude Era of WWE in the 1990s was rife with gimmick wrestlers of varying quality, and one of the most successful for a time was Yokozuna, a sumo wrestler who ventured into pro wrestling. Named after the highest rank in sumo, Yokozuna was surprisingly agile for his size, and proved to be a top heel in the company, capturing a number of championships throughout his career.
Despite being a household name, Yokozuna’s time at the top of the pro wrestling world was relatively short, as the performer died in 2000 at the age of 34. But there’s still a lot fans should know about Yokozuna, so here are 10 crucial facts, events, and incidents.
10 Part Of The Samoan Dynasty
Pro wrestling has a long history of wrestlers portraying races and ethnicities that they don’t belong to, and Yokozuna was one such performer. Born Agatupu Rodney Anoaʻi in San Francisco, Yokozuna was part of the Anoa’i Samoan wrestling dynasty, and was trained by his uncle, Afa of the Wild Samoans.
Before signing to WWE, he wrestled for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, American Wrestling Association, and Mexico’s Universal Wrestling Association under variations of the ring name Kokina or Great Kokina, a persona incorporating his Samoan heritage.
9 Managed By Mr. Fuji
Yokozuna wasn’t just iconic — he had an iconic manager as well in Mr. Fuji. Fans know Mr. Fuji for his managerial skills, but in his younger days he was an in-ring performer and tag team specialist, working heel alongside partners like Toru Tanaka and Masa Saito.
As a manager, he was known for using his cane and throwing salt in the eyes of his clients’ opponents to score an easy win. Typically decked out in a tuxedo and bowler hat, Mr. Fuji changed his outfit to manage Yokozuna, wearing a traditional Japanese kimono.
8 Royal Rumble Winner
After debuting in October 1992, Yokozuna spent the initial months of his WWE career squashing various jobbers, including Virgil at Survivor Series 1992. But his first major win came a couple of months later at Royal Rumble 1993, where he won the eponymous match.
Entering at #27, Yokozuna scored seven eliminations during his time in the Rumble, including that of Bob Backlund, Earthquake, and future tag team partner Owen Hart. But his final elimination would be top star Randy Savage, who entered the rumble at #30.
7 WWE Champion For Several Minutes
That Royal Rumble victory would score Yokozuna a shot at WWE Champion Bret Hart in the main event of WrestleMania 9, which would end with Yokozuna as the new champ thanks to Mr. Fuji throwing salt in the face of Hart mid-Sharpshooter. After the bout, Hulk Hogan came out to issue a challenge, and an impromptu match ensued.
The salt trick would backfire this time, with Fuji accidentally getting Yoko in the face, allowing Hogan to become the new new WWE Champion in a disappointing ending to the night.
6 Hogan’s Last WWE Opponent
Yokozuna, however, would get his revenge on Hogan two months after WrestleMania 9. The two would have a rematch at King of the Ring in June 1993, where a planted ringside photographer with an exploding camera would stun Hogan, allowing Yokozuna to take advantage to recapture the WWE Championship.
Yokozuna would deliver his signature Banzai Drop in the post-match, which would be the last time WWE fans would see Hulk Hogan until his return in the 2000s. It wasn’t Hogan’s last match, however — the two would battle in house shows in the months that followed before Hogan left for good.
5 The Bodyslam Competition
To celebrate his regained championship status, Yokozuna held a celebration called the Stars and Stripes Challenge on the decommissioned USS Intrepid on Independence Day. WWE stars and legitimate athletes alike attempted to bodyslam Yokozuna to no avail — that is, until Lex Luger arrived at the battleship via helicopter and succeeded as the final contestant.
The moment would launch the former heel as a patriotic babyface, leading to two unsuccessful title shots at Yokozuna: a countout victory at SummerSlam 1993, and then a DQ loss at WrestleMania 10.
4 Feud With The Undertaker
At Survivor Series 1993, Yokozuna took part in the elimination match as part of a team of foreign heels dubbed The Foreign Fanatics. Opposing them were The All-Americans, which included The Undertaker, who ended up fighting with Yoko at ringside to a double countout elimination.
Their ensuing feud led all the way to a Casket match at Royal Rumble 1994, a bout that featured loads of run-ins before Yokozuna successfully retained his WWE Championship by shoving The Undertaker into a casket.
3 Camp Cornette
After losing the WWE Championship to Bret Hart at 1994’s WrestleMania 10, Yokozuna ended up teaming with Owen Hart in 1995, scoring two runs as World Tag Team Champions. A stable would soon form under manager Jim Cornette called Camp Cornette, which eventually added British Bulldog and Vader to its ranks.
However, kayfabe tension with fellow big man Vader would lead to not only Yokozuna’s departure from Camp Cornette and a face turn, but also a feud with Vader.
2 Released From WWE For Weight Issues
Billed at nearly 600 pounds, Yokozuna’s size was part of his value as an attraction for WWE, but it was also a liability for his career with the company. Over the course of his WWE run, Yoko’s weight began to become a problem, as it affected his in-ring abilities and his ability to get medically cleared in some areas, not to mention his health.
WWE took him off of television to deal with his weight issues twice, the second being in 1996. In 1998, however, WWE finally released him after he failed to get in shape.
1 His Final Match
Two years after his WWE release, Yokozuna died of a pulmonary edema in October 2000, having spent the years between wrestling periodically on the indie circuit. His final match, however, is one of the most infamous. It was at the reunion/nostalgia pay-per-view Heroes of Wrestling where Yokozuna was booked to wrestle King Kong Bundy in the main event, but a match between Jake Roberts and Jim Neidhart went off the rails because Roberts was too intoxicated to wrestle.
The old “Card Subject to Change” ensued, and the two ends were combined into a disastrous tag match instead.
These wrestling reunion shows happened without much exposure so some fans may have missed them altogether.
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