As a child, the mighty Yokozuna enthralled me. His incredible size, combined with excellent agility, made him one of the most unique WWE Superstars ever. In WWE, Yokozuna quickly became a legend, and his legacy continues to influence WWE to this day.
Born to be a Pro Wrestler
Yokozuna came into the world as Rodney Agatupu Anoa’i. Being an Anoa’i, Yokozuna "was born to wrestle, it was in his blood and was his passion," according to his cousin and former WWE Superstar, Rikishi.
Trained by his uncles, Afa and Sika (The Wild Samoans), Yokozuna grew up surrounded by pro wrestling.
In what is now known as the "Samoan wrestling dynasty," Yokozuna helped to continue the tradition of Samoans in WWE that The Wild Samoans tag team started in 1980. This tradition lives on today through The Usos and Roman Reigns.
Yokozuna wrestled in various promotions before joining WWE. From 1989 to 1992, he was part of many organizations including New Japan Pro Wrestling, American Wrestling Alliance, Catch Wrestling Association and World Wrestling Council.
During his time in these promotions, Yokozuna used the names Kokina the Samoan, Kokina Maximus and Great Kokina.
In October of 1992, Rodney Anoa'i debuted on WWE television. In using a sumo wrestler persona, Anoa'i definitely had a unique character. With his manager and legendary wrestler, Mr. Fuji at his side, Anoa'i came to the ring wearing a giant sumo wrestler robe.
His WWE name, Yokozuna, which means "a grand champion sumo wrestler," completed his character as a dreaded Japanese monster trying to dominate WWE. As Yokozuna, Anoa'i never spoke English on WWE television.
Before each match, Yokozuna would perform a traditional sumo custom of lifting his legs high into the air and slamming them down. In Japan, this is done before a sumo match to scare away demons. Yokozuna would also throw salt into the ring. This custom is also done in sumo matches as a way to cleanse the ring.
While performing these customs, Mr. Fuji would wave a Japanese flag and taunt the crowd helping to make Yokozuna into a hated heel.
Most WWE fans seemed unfamiliar with the pre-match customs and took them as stalling before the match, which further caused Yokozuna to be booed.
In his WWE debut, Yokozuna defeated Bill Jordan in a quick match.
Even in his first televised match, Yokozuna displayed amazing agility for a large man with a jumping leg drop and belly-to-belly suplex to Jordan.
After a dominating performance, Yokozuna finished Jordan with his devastating Banzai Drop finisher. This move helped to further show off Yokozuna’s agility. In climbing to the second turnbuckle and dropping to sit on his opponent’s chest, Yokozuna took the breath away from those he defeated.
After a couple months of squashing opponents quickly, Yokozuna quickly moved to the main event.
Winning the Royal Rumble and Destroying Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Sacramento, California played host to the 1993 edition of the Royal Rumble. Yokozuna came into the Royal Rumble match a favorite to win because of his size. Entering the match at No. 27 out of 30, Yokozuna had luck on his side.
In what was a record at the time, Yokozuna eliminated seven other WWE Superstars on his way to winning the Royal Rumble match.
The last Royal Rumble match participant that Yokozuna eliminated was the legendary Macho Man Randy Savage. In accomplishing this incredible feat, Yokozuna achieved main event status.
With an instant shot at the WWE Championship looming at WrestleMania IX, Yokozuna continued defeating opponents.
Naturally after winning the Royal Rumble match, Yokozuna became a target of other WWE Superstars. He became the dreaded enemy of the American flag waving Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
In a special Knockdown Challenge match on WWE Superstars, Duggan was able to knock Yokozuna off his feet to win the match. Unfortunately for Duggan, he was blindsided with salt to the eyes by Yokozuna after the match and received four massive Banzai Drops.
The destruction of Hacksaw Jim Duggan helped Yokozuna to become even more of a hated Superstar leading to the most important match of his young career.
WrestleMania IX (Yokozuna, Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan)
At WrestleMania IX, Yokozuna challenged Bret Hart for the WWE Championship. With Mr. Fuji at his side, Yokozuna seemed more than ready to challenge for the title.
Hart and Yokozuna put on a classic match that showcased the best of both Superstars. Yokozuna was more than able to display his power, as Hart demonstrated his speed.
Hart was even able to secure his Sharpshooter leg submission to the gigantic legs of Yokozuna.
As Hart seemed to have Yokozuna reeling in the Sharpshooter, Mr. Fuji threw salt into his eyes causing Hart to let go of the move. Of course, the referee did not see this, as he was checking to see if Yokozuna would submit.
Yokozuna quickly pinned Hart and won his first WWE Championship, but this would not be the end of WrestleMania IX.
Hulk Hogan quickly came to the ring to try and help Hart.
While checking on Hart, Fuji taunted and challenged Hogan leading to an impromptu match between Hogan and Yokozuna for the WWE Championship.
In a match that lasted mere seconds, Hogan defeated Yokozuna for the championship. While Yokozuna’s first championship reign is memorable, it lasted only for a few minutes.
King of the Ring ‘93
Yokozuna had a rematch against Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship at the first King of the Ring pay-per-view event in 1993.
Hogan looked like he would win the match, as he delivered two big boots to Yokozuna’s face and his running leg drop finisher. The mighty Yokozuna kicked out of Hogan’s pin after the leg drop surprising the live crowd.
Before trying to finish off Yokozuna again, Mr. Fuji stood on the apron causing Hogan to hit him. On another side of the ring, a photographer stood on the apron and distracted Hogan. While Hogan walked over to the photographer, he snapped a picture, which caused a fireball to hit Hogan in the face.
Yokozuna took advantage of this unfortunate occurrence by delivering his own leg drop to Hogan and pinning him for the win.
In defeating Hogan for his second WWE Championship, Yokozuna also became the last Superstar to wrestle Hogan on WWE television before Hogan went to WCW.
First Major WWE Championship Defense at SummerSlam ‘93
On July 4, 1993, WWE held a “bodyslam challenge” on the USS Intrepid in New York City. WWE Superstars and athletes from various sports tried in earnest to body slam Yokozuna.
No one was able to succeed in doing this, except for Lex Luger. Wearing denim jeans and a red, white and blue shirt, Luger proceeded to attack Yokozuna in the ring and slam him.
As a result of slamming Yokozuna, Luger received a WWE Championship title shot at SummerSlam 1993.
During this time period, Jim Cornette started to manage Yokozuna with Mr. Fuji. Cornette agreed to the title shot with Luger only if Luger agreed not to use his forearm containing a surgically implanted steel plate as a weapon. Also, if Luger lost the match, he would not be able to have another title shot.
While Luger took control at the beginning of the match, Yokozuna came back with the help of Cornette and Fuji. By the end of the match, Luger took control again after slamming Yokozuna.
Trying to save the WWE Championship from changing hands, Fuji stood up on the ring apron only to receive a punch from Luger.
As the referee checked on Fuji, Luger nailed Yokozuna with his illegal steel implanted forearm. Yokozuna fell out of the ring and was counted out. Even though Yokozuna lost the match to Luger, he retained the championship.
Yokozuna’s Gravest Challenge Yet
At Royal Rumble ’94, Yokozuna faced his most difficult challenge yet: a fight against the Undertaker in a casket match. Their match came as a result of them facing each other on opposite teams at Survivor Series ’93 and eliminating each other by count-out.
Yokozuna and his managers Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette were forced to accept the casket match stipulation as a result of being caught cheating in previous matches.
Leading up to the match, the Undertaker prepared a giant-sized casket large enough to fit Yokozuna.
During encounters with the Undertaker and his manager Paul Bearer prior to the match, Yokozuna ran away afraid of the casket.
The Undertaker controlled much of this match, but Fuji and Cornette found a loophole to help Yokozuna win. At about 11 minutes into the match, The Undertaker looked to have Yokozuna defeated.
As he was trying to roll Yokozuna into the massive casket, Fuji’s other client, Crush, came to the ring attacking The Undertaker.
Subsequently, just about every other heel from the WWE locker room came to the ring to assist Yokozuna. The Undertaker held his ground for as long as he could, but he could not contend with nearly 10 Superstars attacking him.
Yokozuna won the match and kept the WWE Championship but not without controversy.
Two Matches in One Night at WrestleMania X
Yokozuna took on two of his former opponents in the same night at WrestleMania X.
At Royal Rumble ’94 in the Royal Rumble match, the last two survivors, Lex Luger and Bret Hart, eliminated each other. Subsequently, Luger and Hart were both the winners of the match and both received a WWE Championship shot at WrestleMania X.
Luger received his title shot against Yokozuna first with Mr. Perfect as the special guest referee. In the SummerSlam '93 match, Luger was not allowed to use his forearm as a weapon, but it was legal in this match.
After nailing Yokozuna with the forearm, Luger seemed like he would finally win the WWE Championship.
Unfortunately for Luger, Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji interfered causing Luger to attack them both. As Luger was pinning Yokozuna, Mr. Perfect checked on Cornette and Fuji who were both unresponsive.
Mr. Perfect called for the bell and disqualified Luger for attacking Yokozuna’s managers. Once again, Yokozuna inched by Luger and kept the WWE Championship.
Although Yokozuna defeated Luger, his night was not over, as he still had to face Bret Hart in the main event.
In order to not give an unfair advantage to Bret Hart, he faced and lost to his brother, Owen Hart in the opening match.
Rowdy Roddy Piper served as the guest referee for the second championship match. Yokozuna used his size to dominate Hart, but the match remained a back-and-forth affair.
Piper did not put up with outside interference and took it upon himself to hit Cornette with a punch outside the ring.
Yokozuna’s size would be his own downfall in the match, as he lost his balance on the middle rope while going for a Banzai Drop.
Hart used this to his advantage and immediately pinned Yokozuna to win the WWE Championship.It would spell the end for Yokozuna’s second WWE Championship reign, which lasted nearly one year.
A New Beginning and an Old Enemy
Yokozuna’s loss of the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X signaled a new beginning for him and a transition out of the main event title scene.
On the May 16, 1994 edition of Monday Night Raw, Yokozuna took on Earthquake in a sumo wrestling match. Yokozuna lost the match when he fell out of the ring—providing a huge win for Earthquake.
Yokozuna’s tantrum at the end of the match further demonstrated his loss of confidence after losing the championship a month before.
Occasionally, he teamed up with another Mr. Fuji associate, Crush, and even challenged for the tag team championships at the 1994 edition of King of the Ring. Losing to The Headshrinkers, Yokozuna went back to primarily wrestling as a singles competitor.
Staying on WWE television defeating jobbers and mid-carders, Yokozuna soon found himself in a match with an old foe. Coming for revenge, the Undertaker sought to defeat Yokozuna at Survivor Series ’94 in a casket match rematch.
Chuck Norris served as the special guest as outside ring enforcer, making sure no one interfered.
King Kong Bundy and Bam Bam Bigelow came and stood in the aisle facing Norris during the middle of the match, which allowed I.R.S. to attack the Undertaker from the other side of the ring.
Able to recover from the sneak attack, The Undertaker came back and was able to put Yokozuna in the casket.
Taking Time Off and Teaming with Owen Hart
Yokozuna was not seen again in WWE after the casket match until April 1995 at WrestleMania XI.
Leading up to WrestleMania XI, Owen Hart claimed to have a mystery partner for the WWE Tag Team Championship match against The Smoking Gunns.
It was quite the surprise to The Smoking Gunns when Hart’s partner turned out to be Yokozuna who looked larger than ever before.
In their first match as a team, Hart and Yokozuna captured the tag team championship with Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette beside them.
Owen Hart and Yokozuna made a formidable tag team, as they had completely different wrestling styles that made up for what the other lacked.
Losing the WWE Tag Team Championship
Yokozuna and Owen Hart were tag team champions from April 1995 until September 1995. During their title reign, they defended the championship against some of the top Superstars in WWE.
In defeating The Smoking Gunns at the inaugural In Your House, The British Bulldog and Lex Luger (The Allied Powers) at In Your House 2 and Savio Vega and Razor Ramon on the August 7, 1995 episode of Monday Night Raw, it proved just how formidable a team Yokozuna and Owen Hart were.
Yokozuna and Owen Hart were finally defeated in the tag team championship by their rivals, The Smoking Gunns on the September 25, 1995 edition of Monday Night Raw.
By the end of the year, Yokozuna and Hart were teaming less. Yokozuna went back to squashing opponents in singles competition to end 1995.
By the beginning of 1996, Yokozuna was losing more often. He was eliminated in the 1996 Royal Rumble match by Shawn Michaels and defeated by Michaels on the January 29, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw.
With Jim Cornette still acting as his manager, Yokozuna tried his best to defeat Michaels. During the match, Cornette distracted the referee while Yokozuna held Michaels for a spin kick by Owen Hart. Michaels ducked and Yokozuna took the kick to the face.
Michaels was able to recover and hit Yokozuna with his Sweet Chin Music finisher for the win. A visibly upset Yokozuna nearly walked out on Cornette and Hart until The British Bulldog ran to the ring to make peace.
The February 5, 1996 edition of Raw featured a match with Yokozuna and The British Bulldog taking on Shawn Michaels and Diesel.
As a way to help Yokozuna get over his loss to Michaels the previous week, and show unity between Cornette’s stable of WWE Superstars, this match was made.
Again, Yokozuna took the Sweet Chin Music finisher from Michaels, but this time, Yokozuna fell out of the ring. Owen Hart ran out and tried to get Yokozuna into the ring, but he was too heavy for Hart to try and move. Losing by count out, a frustrated Cornette yelled at Yokozuna.
Having enough of Cornette’s berating, Yokozuna tried to attack him but was instead ambushed by Bulldog and Hart.
Yokozuna turned face for the first time in WWE as a result of this match and became one of the most-cheered babyface Superstars on the roster at the time.
The Infamous Forklift Incident
Yokozuna feuded with The British Bulldog and Owen Hart following their betrayal of him.
To complete his face turn, Yokozuna even started to speak English in his promos.
Continuing his feud with Jim Cornette’s stable, Yokozuna kept busy in the spring of 1996 taking on Hart and Bulldog. Cornette soon brought in former WCW Superstar Vader to try and take out Yokozuna.
At WrestleMania XII, the team of Hart, Bulldog and Vader defeated Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson and Jake Roberts.
Following WrestleMania XII, Yokozuna continued to feud with Vader.
The April 8, 1996 edition of Monday Night Raw is memorable because of an infamous incident involving Yokozuna, Vader and a forklift. Yokozuna and Vader battled in a brutal match, which saw Vader perform a huge splash on Yokozuna’s leg, causing it to break.
Medics had no other way to move Yokozuna but to use a forklift. Cameras followed Yokozuna’s movement on the forklift to the backstage area where Vader further attacked Yokozuna’s injured leg with a chair.
It would be nearly two months until Yokozuna returned to WWE television to try and get revenge on Vader.
Last Run in WWE
Yokozuna’s last match in WWE before taking more time off saw him lose again to Vader at In Your House 8 in May 1996.
Yokozuna would once again be off WWE television for three months until SummerSlam '96.
In another infamous match, Yokozuna took on Stone Cold Steve Austin in the “Free for All” match prior to the pay-per-view event.
With the time off, Yokozuna’s gargantuan size seemed to be larger than previously seen before.
Austin started the match off strong with a series of punches before Yokozuna landed a Samoan Drop. Looking to finish Austin off quickly, Yokozuna dragged him to one corner of the ring looking to hit the Banzai Drop.
Yokozuna would not be seen on WWE television again until Survivor Series ’96. In his last WWE appearance, Yokozuna teamed with Flash Funk, Jimmy Snuka and Savio Vega to take no Fake Diesel, Faarooq, Fake Razor Ramon and Vader. Neither team won, as the match ended when both teams were disqualified.
Post WWE and WWE Hall of Fame
Yokozuna was officially released from WWE in 1998 and according to WWE.com, “the size that made the giant so great became his greatest undoing.”
In 1998, Yokozuna served as the chief instructor at Buffalo Jim’s Pro Wrestling School in Las Vegas, Nevada.
His very last appearance on television would come at the Heroes of Wrestling pay-per-view on October 10, 1999.
Yokozuna passed away on October 23, 2000. He left behind an incredibly rich legacy in the pro wrestling world.
In 2012, Yokozuna was finally inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Yokozuna’s cousin, Rikishi accepted the honor on Yokozuna’s behalf along with The Usos and other members of Yokozunas family.
In Rikishi’s WWE Hall of Fame speech for Yokozuna, he discussed the man behind the persona of Yokozuna as someone who supported and cared for “his family, friends and community.”
Yokozuna is a legendary figure, not only in WWE, but also in professional wrestling. His legacy continues in WWE through his relatives The Usos and Roman Reigns in WWE.
As one of the best giants in WWE, Yokozuna is remembered by the WWE Universe as a Superstar who was literally larger than life in size, personality and ability in the ring.
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