WWE Network released the first episode of its new Icons series about the former WWE World Champ Yokozuna. WATCH HERE (sub req’d).
Yokozuna debuted in 1992 in dark matches as Kokina Maximus, managed by his uncle Afa of the Wild Samoans. He was originally set to be a member of the Headshrinkers but unfortunately (or fortunately) was injured prior to the debut. They ended up bringing him in as a single and had him play the tired “Polynesian savage” gimmick until Sgt Slaughter came up with the idea to have him play a champion sumo wrestler. The documentary shows rare footage of the dark matches and interviews as Kokina, as well as some of the footage of him in the AWA and the indies. They did not however show matches or go in to his NJPW days.
In 93, after smashing many superstars, he wreaked havoc while winning his first Royal Rumble, last eliminating Randy Savage leading him to win the WWF championship from Bret Hart. Moments after the match, Hulk Hogan came down and Yoko challenged him on the spot. Hogan of course answered and defeated him after an errant powder throw from Mr. Fuji and the big leg drop. Wrestlemania IX sucked btw and that was likely the worst finish ever.
The documentary actually features Hulk Hogan admitting for the first time that I can remember that beating Yoko on that nigh was his idea. Hulk claimed he spoke with Vince McMahon shortly before Mania and pitched the idea of beating Yoko and then dropping the title to him at the next PPV (King of the Ring). Bret Hart is shown talking about how him and Yoko really didn’t like the idea but that Yoko was just happy to have the title even for just a minute. Then enters Bruce Prichard in to the scene saying they needed Hulk the headline the upcoming European tour but admitted that in hindsight it wasn’t such a good idea. No shit. What they didn’t say is that that European tour never happened. Hulk did drop the title back to Yoko at King of the Ring as promised, albeit only after agreeing to a screw job type finish where a cameraman shot a fireball into Hulk’s face. This is all despite the fact that Hulk was supposedly retiring and heading to film Thunder in Paradise.
Yokozuna held the title until Wrestlemania 10, losing it to Bret Hart. That was a great title run especially for a heel in those days. When he entered the WWE he weighed in an around 400lbs. Officials from the company began to notice him gaining even more weight. By 94 he was above 500. Im 95 he teamed with Owen Hart and won the tag team titles at Wrestlemania 11, while weighing over 600lbs.
Eventually his health started to decline and his eating habits got worse and worse. WWE officials and family members pleaded with him to start a diet and live a healthier life, even sending to see experts in weight management. But he never thought he had a problem. By 97 he was essentially too unhealthy to perform and was released by the company. He worked the independent circuit for a couple of years as his health continued to decline. He even worked the legendarily awful Heroes of Wrestling PPV teaming with an intoxicated Jake Roberts to take on King Kong Bundy and Jim Neidhart.
While this was very much a wrestling documentary, it was also a story of family and friends coping with loss. In tthe Samoan culture, family and pride are of the utmost importance and seeing members of the Anoai family swell up with pride when speaking about Yoko’s career and then shedding tears when speaking of his death. In a beatuful moment, Rikishi spoke about the time when he couldn’t afford an air conditioning unit in his new house and he wasn’t able heat it upnin the winter, so Rodney (Yokozuna) wrote him a blank check to fix it. At that moment Rikishi was overcome with emotions and began to break down in to tears. This was more than just a story of a pro wrestler, this was about Agatupu Rodney Anoaʻi who was born October 2nd 1966. He was a monster in front of the camera and a funny, humble, proud, and loving family member and friend. He was loyal and protective the ones he loved.
Yokozuna died on October 23, 2000. He left behind a wife and two children as well as a lasting legacy as one of the all time greatest big men in the history of wrestling. The debut episode of Icons tells the story of the person behind the Yokozuna character. Its a sobering look at one of the more iconic stars of the 90’s and a beloved figure who’s story was never really told. I can’t recommend this documentary enough.