"Adapt or perish" may seem like just another slogan for the latest Triple H T-shirt, but for Rikishi, it was very much a reality when he returned to World Wrestling Entertainment in the fall of 1999.
It became clear very quickly that being a generic big man with the most unflattering tights known to man would not be enough for him to get over during the height of the Attitude Era. He needed personality. He needed something that fans could latch onto and get excited about. Otherwise, he would become just another fish in a very large pond.
Luckily for him, a pair of sunglasses and some signature dance moves helped take the Samoan Superstar to heights he had never before seen.
He worked with all of the top stars of the time, including Steve Austin, The Rock, Kurt Angle and Triple H. Side by side with Too Cool's Scotty Too Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay, Rikishi became a legitimate success story for Vince McMahon's company.
Unfortunately, an ill-fated heel turn and injuries kept him from ever achieving the success at the top of the card that he was capable of. Instead, all of the hard work he had put in to earn the biggest push of his career was thrown away, and he became firmly entrenched in the WWE midcard, a place not all that rewarding for him or his fellow Superstars.
Still, when factoring in his success as one half of the Headshrinkers and everything he accomplished as Rikishi, the big man had a career to be proud of.
Today, he watches sons Jimmy and Jey Uso carry on the family name as the current WWE Tag Team champions and one of the greatest acts in all of professional wrestling today.
In celebration of the ring veteran and the Attitude Era star, here is a look back at the greatest moments and matches of Rikishi's career.
WWE Tag Team Champion
On April 26, 1994, the Headshrinkers defeated the Quebecers to win their first (and only) WWE Tag Team Championship. Competing under the name Fatu, Rikishi and cousin Samu knocked off the hated Jacques and Pierre and ended their reign over the tag division in WWE.
Debuting in 1992, the Headshrinkers were a hated duo. A pair of rough, hard-hitting Samoans, they would punish opponents under the guidance of Wild Samoan Afa before finishing them off with a dangerous top rope splash, not unlike the one used by Rikishi's sons, the Usos.
When Captain Lou Albano took the team under his wing, they underwent a transformation. They became babyfaces and sought the titles held by the Mountie wannabes, the Quebecers. Their win over the heels was treated with pomp and circumstance and greeted with fireworks.
It appeared to be the beginning of a dynasty, a run that would culminate with Fatu and Samu being remembered as one of the greatest teams in WWE history. Unfortunately, a lack of great competition and a reign shortened by an unexpected loss to Diesel and Shawn Michaels in the summer of '94 squashed those dreams.
Rikishi would go on to hold the tag titles on two more occasions, once with Rico and once with Scotty Too Hotty. The former was merely a plot device and nothing to be proud of. The latter was a surprisingly effective run, even if the big man was past his prime and on his way out of WWE.
After the dissolution of the Headshrinkers, Rikishi suffered somewhat of an identity crisis, assuming different roles but never really connecting with the audience in any of them.
First, he was a positive role model for the youth of America. He touted an anti-drugs, anti-crime message and urged kids to stay off the streets. The gimmick failed miserably, though the push (or lack thereof) he received did little to sway the fans into supporting the character.
He would show up later under a mask as The Sultan, a character straight out of the 1980s territorial days. Managed by both Bob Backlund and the Iron Sheik, it was clear that management expected him to be a far bigger deal than he wound up being.
The Sultan's one major appearance came at WrestleMania XIII, when he challenged a young Rocky Maivia for the Intercontinental Championship in one of the worst title matches in the event's long and illustrious history.
Rikishi made his return to WWE in late 1999 and struggled at first. A talented big man with an impressive finishing maneuver, he would fit right in to today's WWE. At that time, however, he absolutely needed some sort of character or gimmick to help put him over the top. He needed something to set him apart, and he got it in the form of a pair of sunglasses and a few dance moves.
His pairing with Scotty Too Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay made for one of the biggest breakout acts in all of WWE. Together, the three of them would enjoy unexpected popularity. Whether they were taking on newcomers The Radicalz or mixing it up with D-Generation X's Triple H, Road Dogg and X-Pac, the team lightened up the product and brought an element of fun to Raw and SmackDown.
One of their trademark victories came at Judgment Day in May 2000 when they defeated Edge, Christian and Kurt Angle in the night's opening contest.
In the summer of 2000, Rikishi earned his first major singles title by defeating Chris Benoit to become intercontinental champion. From there, he advanced all the way to the finals of the King of the Ring tournament before being defeated by Kurt Angle.
He would drop the Intercontinental Championship to Val Venis, igniting a feud that culminated in a major Steel Cage match at the Fully Loaded pay-per-view in July. The match, more than anything, is remembered for the huge splash off the top of the cage. It was a tremendous moment and one that instantly elevated the big man, despite what would be a disappointing loss.
In October 2000, it was revealed that Rikishi conspired with Triple H to run down Steve Austin and sideline him for nearly a year. "I did it for The Rock. I did it for the people," he claimed on the night of the revelation. See, a Samoan competitor like The Rock would never get the opportunity to be the top dog in WWE as long as a white man like Austin was hanging around.
Naturally, he feuded with Austin briefly but proved to be no match for the Texas Rattlesnake. Any chance he had of being booked fairly against the Attitude Era icon was erased during their first match, when he served as an oversized punching bag.
He feuded with The Rock, leading to a big match at Survivor Series, took a huge bump off of the Hell in a Cell at Armageddon and teamed with Haku to form a powerful heel duo. An injury sidelined Rikishi, ending any chances Rikishi had of competing at WrestleMania X-Seven, a show that is widely considered the best WWE show of all time.
When he returned, he would again be a babyface, but he would never return to the level of popularity or success that he had previously.
On the July 16, 2012 episode of Raw, Rikishi made his return to WWE for a one-night-only appearance. He defeated Heath Slater, who was in the middle of a long losing streak against accomplished WWE legends, and danced with his sons immediately afterward.
On January 6, 2014, he teamed with Too Cool for the first time in over a decade in a victory over 3MB. It was a nice showcase for the popular trio on a memorable episode of Old School Raw and a great way to cap off his WWE career.
If it was, in fact, the last time we've see the coolest big man in the room.
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