Yokozuna: From the AWA to the top
By CHRIS SCHRAMM --
For SLAM! Wrestling
Yokozuna as WWF World champ in 1993.
'Lose the weight or leave wrestling.' Vince McMahon feared for the worse
when he fired Yokozuna from the ring following Survivor Series 1996.
Yokozuna never returned for the WWF, and now he never will. He was found
dead at the age of 38 (his official age dated from a 1996 WWF
publication) on Monday in Liverpool, England.
A man, who was Rodney Anoia outisde the ring, had just celebrated his
birthday on October 2.
A former WWF World champion, few recall his days before the WWF. He
wrestled throughout Japan and Mexico, but he was in front of a camera
for the first time was while working for Verne Gagne in the AWA.
There he was managed by Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie and was known as Kokina
Maximus. Then he did not hide his Samoan background, even claiming to be
He weighed in under 400 pounds, and used the Samoan drop as his finishing
manoeuver. He had little success in his short stay there. The AWA folded,
and Yokozuna had to find a new place to work.
He worked outside the United States until late 1992. The WWF contacted
him through word of former WWF employees Afa, uncle to Yokozuna.
Vince McMahon brought him in under a new persona.
The name Yokozuna was introduced, and he was to hail from Japan.
Mr. Fuji managed Yokozuna, and Yokozuna's size told the story. Played
off to be a sumo wrestler, size was Yokozuna's only opponent in most
matches. He often had more trouble moving than wrestling.
His determination built him into main event matches within months of
his debut. He won the Royal Rumble in 1993, and he was on his way to
winning the World title at Wrestlemania.
Vince McMahon had Hulk Hogan's next enemy. Hogan had wrestled many
foreign enemies during his WWF stay, and now it was time to fight a
Japanese wrestler. The fans hated Yokozuna, and they cheered for Hogan's
Yokozuna's first WWF World title reign was short. It lasted just
Mr. Fuji, who was not only Yokozuna's manager but also his spokesman,
challenged Hogan following Yokozuna's victory over Bret Hart. Hogan
accepted and defeated Yokozuna.
The match led to the first King of the Ring pay per view, and Hogan's
final match with the WWF. Yokozuna won the belt in one of the most
controversial matches ever in the WWF.
A Japanese photgrapher was planted at ringside. Hogan was hit by fire
coming from the cameraman's camera. The angle never fully developed
because of Hogan's departure.
It was a time to celebrate for Yokozuna. He set the 4th of July as a
day to celebrate. He picked an American monument to celebrate. The show on the
U.S.S. Intrepid saw Yokozuna find a new challenger chasing for his
crown. Lex Luger bodyslammed Yokozuna and set off a feud that would last
But Yokozuna was too mighty. He held the title until Wrestlemania where he
finally dropped it to Bret Hart.
He had little success left in his career. His weight became a major
concern in the ring. Many wrestlers refused to wrestle him based on his
size and his inability to move. Also, Yokozuna's stamina was weakening.
He was no longer able to wrestle long singles matches.
Vince McMahon began to place Yokozuna with tag team partners.
Yokozuna's partners would do most of the work. He was teamed with such
wrestlers as Crush before finding a true partner in Owen Hart. The
unusual team held the WWF Tag Team titles for a series of months in
It was not soon after his tag team loss that Yokozuna began to show
signs of becoming a fan favourite. Now managed by Jim Cornette and Mr.
Fuji, Yokozuna was hoping for a World title shot.
Vince McMahon saw light when Vader entered the WWF in early 1996.
Yokozuna soon dumped his managers, began to speak in a clear English
voice and became a fan favourite.
On April 1, 1996 he was in the middle of a feud with Vader that left
Yokozuna on the worse end. During a match between the two, Vader jumped
hard onto the leg of Yokozuna. The splash was shown on television as a
leg break, but it was performed to allow Yokouna to lose weight.
The forklift that carried Yokozuna out on that edition of RAW was real.
It was the only way to move a man of Yokozuna's size.
He did not return until Summerslam 1996, where he faced Steve
Austin. Austin was just breaking into his "Stone Cold" character, and
Yokozuna had not been seen for months. Yokozuna went for his final
Banzai drop onto Austin when the ring ropes gave out. Austin got the
Yokozuna was kept on the WWF roster for months following his last ring
appearance at the Survivor Series where he was put in a mid-card
match. Yokozuna went to his home in Los Angeles to lose weight through
exercise and dieting. He lost a lot of weight, but could not lose enough
for the WWF standards.
His weight had become too massive for movement in the ring. An inmobile
man in the ring left for often sluggish matches with little movement.
The WWF released him. He was not allowed to wrestle in many states
because of his size.
The WWF had reported that he had to get around 400 pounds before they
would take him back. Yokozuna dropped over a 100 pounds, but his 600-pound
frame was still too massive. He just could not lose anymore.
Stories were always told about his eating habits. One sitting of a
three dozen eggs, a jug of orange juice, a pound of bacon and a couple
stacks of pancakes was one story told.
He checked into a dietitian frequently, but he made little progress. Padding in his tights made him bigger when he first
entered the WWF, but the padding was not needed at the end of his
The 6'4" Yokozuna did not have much to look forward too after the WWF.
He did a few independent appearances over the next couple of years.
Rumors of his return to the WWF or the WCW never developed. He was not
able to wrestle in many states due to his size.
His last appearance on television came at a Heroes of Wrestling event in
1999. Once again involved in a tag team match, Yokozuna did not even
step into the ring. He was brought in as a draw, but he was not
physically able to wrestle.