In honor of Rikishi (Solofa Fatu Jr.) being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, I wanted to look back at the impact that Rikishi had on Japan. Like most wrestlers of a certain ilk, Rikishi has had matches in Japan during various phases of his career, ranging from when he was still very young to after he left WWE almost 20 years later. Rikishi wrestled in five different promotions in Japan, and I have located matches for four of them.
We start with Rikishi’s tour in New Japan, which took place just a year into his foray in professional wrestling. He wrestled a full tour, however I was only able to locate one of his matches that made TV. Still, it provides an early look into Rikishi’s career before he moved onto fame in WWE.
Tonga Kid vs. Sumon Kim: This match took place on December 10th, 1986 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They politely shake hands to start the match, Tonga Kid pushes Kim into the ropes and he gives a clean break. Kim returns the favor and the pair trade wristlocks. In case you are wondering who Kim is, I’m not sure. I could only find results for 26 of his matches, and he only won two, one of which we are watching (small spoiler). Anyway, dropkick by Kim and he hits a second one, sending Tonga Kid out of the ring. Tonga Kid returns, Irish whip by Tonga Kid but Kim hits a sunset flip for two. Tonga Kid picks up Kim but Kim nails a lariat and he picks up the three count.
This was a pretty basic match as both were relatively inexperienced. There was one noticeable miscommunication but the rest went fine, it was just pretty straightforward. No doubt good experience for Tonga Kid but not an overly eventful match. *1/2
After leaving Japan at the end of 1986, Rikishi bounced around various promotions in the United States, wrestling with Samu in the Samoan Swat Team. He briefly returned to Japan in 1991 for a pair of events in SWS, however both of those events were not recorded for TV and no handheld footage from those events has emerged. Rikishi got his big break in 1992 as he joined the WWF, and he remained in the promotion until 2004, a very successful run for any wrestler. One of Rikishi’s first stops after leaving WWE was HUSTLE, a Japanese promotion owned by DSE that was known for its focus on the ‘sports entertainment’ aspect of wrestling. Rikishi fit right in with the over-the-top character he had become in WWE, and had half a dozen matches in the promotion. I will review all of Rikishi’s matches in Hustle below, as he enjoyed a nice mini-run in the promotion from late 2004 to early 2005.
RIKISHI and Riki Choshu vs. Dan Bobish and O-YA-JI-GA-RI: This match took place on September 20th, 2004 in HUSTLE. O-YA-JI-GA-RI is Yoji Anjo, Hustle enjoyed giving people weird names so that will be a clarification I will be making many times over the next few reviews. RIKISHI and Bobish start the match, Bobish is a big American that fell off the earth at some point, haven’t seen his name in awhile either in wrestling or MMA. They set up in a sumo stance after some stalling and RIKISHI shoulderblocks Bobish. Irish whip by RIKISHI, reversed, and this time Bobish hits the shoulderblock. RIKISHI tags in Choshu and Bobish gets hit with a double shoulderblock. O-YA-JI-GA-RI comes in but Choshu shoulderblocks him too, and Choshu applies a reverse chinlock. Choshu goes for the Scorpion Deathlock but O-YA-JI-GA-RI blocks it. Leglock by O-YA-JI-GA-RI but Choshu gets out of it and tags in RIKISHI. Crowd is psyched, I guess they love them some RIKISHI. RIKISHI butt bumps O-YA-JI-GA-RI and bends over, which scares O-YA-JI-GA-RI. O-YA-JI-GA-RI tags in Bobish, Bobish clubs RIKISHI into the corner and hits a body avalanche. Bobish dances as he imitates RIKISHI, he goes for the Stinkface but RIKISHI blocks it. DDT by RIKISHI and he tags in Choshu. Choshu kicks Bobish into the corner but Bobish fights out of it and hits a lariat. Body avalanche by Bobish but RIKISHI runs in to break up the Argentine Backbreaker. O-YA-JI-GA-RI comes in and clubs on Choshu, he holds Choshu but Choshu ducks and Bobish hits O-YA-JI-GA-RI by accident. Choshu hits a lariat on Bobish and then one on O-YA-JI-GA-RI. Choshu applies the Scorpion Deathlock to O-YA-JI-GA-RI but Bobish breaks it up. RIKISHI comes in and hits a superkick to Bobish. Another one sends Bobish to the ramp, O-YA-JI-GA-RI hits RIKISHI with a pole but RIKISHI snaps it. Rikishi Driver by RIKISHI, he drags O-YA-JI-GA-RI to the corner and gives him a Banzai Drop for the three count.
After the match RIKISHI Stinkfaces someone before dancing in the ring and everyone is happy. Anjo is borderline useless but Bobish actually was decent at clubberin’ and Choshu taking these matches seriously always cracks me up. This was a pretty good debut for RIKISHI in Hustle, the crowd was really enjoying it and I can’t fault it even though there wasn’t much to it. **1/2
RIKISHI and Shinjiro Otani vs. Commander An Jo and Flying Vampire #23: This match took place on December 23rd, 2004 in HUSTLE. An Jo is Yoji Anjo (naturally), no idea who Flying Vampire #23 is. They start out brawling, which Otani and RIKISHI quickly get the better of as Otani facewashes Vampire in the corner. Otani tags in RIKISHI but Vampire crawls away and tags in An Jo. Lariat by RIKISHI and he drops Vampire with a chokeslam. RIKISHI headbutts An Jo and tags in Otani. Big boot by Otani in the corner but An Jo hits a low blow. An Jo tags in Vampire and Vampire applies the dreaded neck nerve hold. Vampire tags An Jo back in and An Jo puts Otani in a chinlock. Scoop slam by An Jo and he punches Otani in the stomach. An Jo tags in Vampire but Otani recovers. Heel kick by Vampire and he tags in An Jo. Boot by An Jo and he knees Otani in the head for a two count. An Jo goes off the ropes but Otani hits a jumping kick. An Jo tags in Vampire but Otani dropkicks him and tags in RIKISHI. RIKISHI picks up Vampire and nails the Rikishi Driver. An Jo comes in but Otani hits a missile dropkick on him. RIKISHI hits the Stinkface on An Jo in the corner, he then sits on Vampire for the three count.
A step down from the last match as for whatever reason they decided Otani being controlled for five minutes by two poor wrestlers was a good idea. Once RIKISHI was tagged in he did his thing and the match promptly ended, which I appreciated. A good RIKISHI showcase but not a good match. *1/4
RIKISHI, Russian 54 & Hakushi vs. Jude O: This match took place on December 24th, 2004 in HUSTLE. Jude O is Naoya Ogawa and Russian 54 is some guy named Jack Bull. I have no doubt there is a backstory here since RIKISHI is making it clear from the get-go he has no interest in this match. Russian 54 and Jude O start off and try to shoulderblock each other over. Judo throw by Jude O and he hits a second one. Monkey flip by Jude O and he hits a pair of leg trips. Russian 54 tries to tag in RIKISHI, RIKISHI won’t do it so Hakushi is tagged in. Swandive chop to the head by Hakushi but Jude O hits a judo throw followed by a knee. Hakushi avoid the leg drop and hits a dropkick. RIKISHI still won’t tag in so the other two double team Jude O. Hakushi chokes Jude O with a strap and then chokes him with his shirt. RIKISHI won’t tag in as Russian 54 enters the ring and hits a side slam on Jude O. Lariat by Russian 54, he goes to RIKISHI for a tag but RIKISHI shakes his head. Hakushi is tagged in but Jude O drops him with a backdrop suplex and applies a cross armbreaker. Russian 54 quickly breaks it up. Hakushi goes up top and hits a diving headbutt onto Jude O. Hakushi tags in Russian 54 and Russian 54 lariats Jude O in the corner. Seated senton by Hakushi and Russian 54 tags RIKISHI. RIKISHI enters the ring but he shakes his head as Russian 54 pushes him. Hakushi pushes him too as a bunch of scrubs run into the ring. RIKISHI has finally had enough and he hits a lariat on Russian 54 and Hakushi. Thrust kick to Russian 54 and then one to Hakushi, and he tears off the Monster Army shirt. RIKISHI Stinkfaces one of the people that ran in to interfere, then Jude O hits a lariat onto Russian 54. RIKISHI sits down on Russian 54, and the referee counts to three as RIKISHI pins his own teammate.
Clearly there was more going on here than meets the eye, sadly it is hard to find information online for defunct promotions so I don’t know why RIKISHI was being forced to wrestle for the Monster Army. More a storyline thing than a match, and the action itself was pedestrian at best. **
RIKISHI vs. Monster C: This match took place on February 8th, 2005 in HUSTLE. Monster C is Steve Corino. RIKISHI gets Monster C into the corner but Monster C hits Mongolian Chops. RIKISHI returns the favor and hits a shoulderblock. Monster C works the side headlock but RIKISHI reverses it. Monster C kicks RIKISHI in the leg but RIKISHI hits a scoop slam. Monster C kicks RIKISHI low and poses to the crowd, kick to the leg by Monster C as his friend comes in to help but RIKISHI shoulderblocks both of them. Jumping knee by Monster C, he gets a chair and he hits RIKISHI with it. Monster C hits RIKISHI in the head with the chair but RIKISHI punches the chair back in his face. RIKISHI drags Monster C to the corner and he nails the Banzai Drop for the three count.
Hustle is really making RIKISHI out to be a badass, that is for sure, this is the fourth of six matches I have watched and he pretty much dominates in all of them. Course ignoring shots to the head is a Samoan thing anyway but still interesting that RIKISHI keeps being put over Hustle’s stars. That was the best part of the match, RIKISHI being awesome, as the first half of the match nothing happened and it wasn’t a long match in the first place. Not bad as a RIKISHI exhibition. **1/4
RIKISHI and Shinjiro Otani vs. Hakushi and Russian 54: This match took place on February 9th, 2005 in HUSTLE. Otani is attacked by Hakushi to start the match but Otani hits a back kick on Hakushi and Russian 54. Shoulderblock by Otani to Hakushi and he tags in RIKISHI. Hakushi punches RIKISHI and he cartwheels away from RIKISHI. They duck each other’s superkicks and both wrestlers face off again. Punches by RIKISHI and he hits a running butt smash. Hakushi bails to re-group and he returns to tag in Russian 54. RIKISHI slams Russian 54 to the mat and he tags in Otani. Otani tries to knock over Russian 54 but Russian 54 hits a big lariat. Sidewalk slam by Russian 54 but it gets a two count. He picks up Otani and tags in Hakushi, and Hakushi hits a dropkick to Otani. Reverse chinlock by Hakushi and he punches him to the mat before tagging in Russian 54. Irish whip by Russian 54 and he lariats Otani in the corner. Double arm suplex by Russian 54 and he gets a two count. Russian 54 tags in Hakushi and Hakushi kicks Otani in the corner. Scoop slam by Hakushi and he hits a reverse splash for a two count. Hakushi chokes Otani, he picks him up and tags in Russian 54. Scoop slam by Russian 54 but Otani snaps off a backdrop suplex and tags in RIKISHI. RIKISHI punches everyone and hits a double lariat on Russian 54 and Hakushi. RIKISHI throws Hakushi out of the ring and hits Russian 54 with a thrust kick. Hakushi runs in to prevent a Stinkface but Otani dropkicks Hakushi out of the ring. Facewash by Otani to Russian 54 in the corner and RIKISHI hits the Stinkface. Banzai Drop by RIKISHI, and he picks up the three count.
Another win for RIKISHI. The beatdown section on Otani (aka 90% of the match) was a bit dull, mostly because Russian 54 and Hakushi were a bit dull. As is the theme on these matches, RIKISHI is tagged in and does his thing, destroying people and getting the win, but the crowd enjoys it so I can’t fault the strategy. The Otani segment could have been a few minutes shorter and the wrestler quality could be better, but not unwatchable. **
RIKISHI vs. Giant Silva: This match took place on February 11th, 2005 in HUSTLE. Silva kicks RIKISHI in the leg to start the match and chops him into the corner. RIKISHI rolls out of the ring but Silva follows him, clubbing him around the floor. They return after a moment and RIKISHI punches Silva back. Headbutt by RIKISHI but Silva applies a bearhug. RIKISHI eventually gets out of the hold and he hits a superkick. Silva slowly gets up and RIKISHI lariats him over the top rope to the floor. RIKISHI gets back in the ring, Silva comes back with a TV monitor but RIKISHI ducks the shot and kicks the monitor back into Silva. RIKISHI stomps on Silva and he hits the Stinkface. RIKISHI asks for a monitor of his own and gets one handed to him, and he whacks Silva in the head with it. Banzai Drop by RIKISHI, and he picks up the three count. Silva is really bad so as you can imagine, this match was also really bad. The best part was the shot that RIKISHI gave Silva with the monitor, it is like he was mad at him about something. But that was the only highlight, the rest was just plodding and awful. *
And that ended Rikishi’s run in Hustle, as he was not used in the promotion again. He ended his run 6-0, getting pinfalls in every match he was in, as Rikishi was used as a special attraction. Rikishi spent the next few years wrestling sporadically, with his most notable appearances being in NWE which was a new Italian promotion. But for the most part Rikishi was continuing to wind down his career, taking occasional bookings from promotions all around the world. This eventually led him back to Japan, as he was called upon to wrestle for All Japan Pro Wrestling at their big event at Sumo Hall in 2007. Even though he was no longer a regular wrestler, due to his years in WWE Rikishi was still a big name and him appearing on such a big card couldn’t hurt.
SUMO RIKISHI and Johnny Dunn vs. Akebono and Touru Owashi: This match took place on February 17th, 2007 in All Japan Pro Wrestling. Johnny Dunn is Nobutaka Araya, which you probably wouldn’t have guessed if I didn’t tell you. Owashi and Dunn begin the match and they trade chops. They try to shoulderblock each other over to no success and Dunn asks for Akebono. Akebono obliges and tags in as Dunn gets in a sumo stance, but Akebono wants RIKISHI. Dunn tags in RIKISHI, Akebono and RIKISHI get into the sumo stance after some stalling and they collide into each other with neither wrestler going down. Dunn tags himself in as he wants to try, he gets in the sumo stance but Akebono grabs him by the neck and hits a chokeslam. Akebono tags in Owashi and Owashi chops Dunn in the corner. Body avalanche by Owashi and he hits a cartwheel club to the chest. I have no idea where that came from. Vertical suplex by Owashi and he hits a leg drop for a two count. Owashi goes for a chokeslam but Dunn elbows him off and hits a Samoan Drop. Dunn tags in RIKISHI and RIKISHI hits a leg drop to Owashi. RIKISHI hits Owashi in the corner and delivers the running butt smash. Superkick by RIKISHI and he sits on Owashi. RIKISHI positions Owashi in front of the corner but Akebono walks over while on the apron and RIKISHI steps down. RIKISHI pulls Owashi to the corner so that he can tag in Akebono, and RIKISHI has a stare down with Akebono. RIKISHI and Akebono trade elbows but RIKISHI hits a throat thrust. Shoulderblock by Akebono and he hits a body avalanche in the corner. Superkick by RIKISHI, and Akebono falls hard to the mat. Headbutts by Akebono and he pulls Dunn into the ring. Dunn is legal now, he tries to shoulderblock Akebono and slam him but it doesn’t work. Body avalanche by Akebono and he hits the M64 for the three count.
This was actually Akebono’s first match in All Japan in over a year, so he was a special attraction as well (and no doubt at the time more ‘special’ than RIKISHI). The odd part about this match was the ending, RIKISHI seemed like he wanted to fight Akebono but then he just tosses Dunn in the ring to let him lose. Almost like he had enough of Akebono and was ready to go. This would have been better without Dunn, he was always a joke, but Owashi was acting like this was the biggest match of his life which for some reason made me laugh. As a special attraction match it wasn’t awful but it was still disappointing as there wasn’t a lot of interaction between Akebono and RIKISHI. **1/4
That would be Rikishi’s last match in Japan for 2007. In fact, he would only have one other match in Japan (as of March of 2015), which was the following year in IGF. IGF was a newer promotion run by Antonio Inoki, and while generally IGF focuses on MMA-style matches they have ‘special attraction’ matches as well. Any match at this point with Rikishi would qualify as such, and they brought over another American wrestler for him to face in the mid-card of IGF Genome4.
RIKI-SHI vs. Orlando Jordan: This match took place on April 12th, 2008 in IGF. They tie-up to start the match and RIKI-SHI pushes Jordan to the mat. Shoulderblock by RIKI-SHI but Jordan hits RIKI-SHI in the back of the head. Waistlock by Jordan but RIKI-SHI butts out of it and hits a lariat in the corner. RIKI-SHI goes for the Stinkface but Jordan wisely bails out of the ring. He returns after a moment, kicks by Jordan and he elbows RIKI-SHI in the arm. Short armbar by Jordan but RIKI-SHI gets into the ropes. RIKI-SHI pushes Jordan back and punches him hard in the face. Jordan goes for a sunset flip, RIKI-SHI goes to sit on him but Jordan moves. Jordan kicks RIKI-SHI in the back and he applies an ankle hold. RIKI-SHI eventually makes it to the ropes to force a break, punches by RIKI-SHI and he hits a superkick. RIKI-SHI goes up to the second turnbuckle but Jordan gets his knees up when he goes for the Banzai Drop. Punches by Jordan but RIKI-SHI hits a lariat. Jordan goes for a sunset flip but RIKI-SHI sits on him for the three count.
On one hand, this was RIKI-SHI’s first real match I reviewed in terms of it being a kinda serious back and forth match. Unfortunately the logical was everywhere as Jordan worked over the arm, then the leg, then decided doing two sunset flips against RIKI-SHI was his best method of victory. So the structure was poor but in terms of a competitive match this was as good as it gets. *3/4
It may appear from these scores that I am implying that Rikishi is not a good wrestler, which is not the case. He didn’t start wrestling regularly in Japan until he was almost 40 years old and after having over 1,200 matches in WWE. Obviously the wear and tear on his body was notable, especially considering his size, so having long and competitive matches was not a realistic way to use him. Instead promotions used Rikishi as a special attraction for the crowd as he was a well known wrestler, and had some spots that would pop a crowd. His longest match in Japan was 10:51, and that was a tag match, as they kept his matches short and sweet. Rikishi will always be remembered as a great entertainer that was capable of having really fun matches in the right situations. Rikishi didn’t really have an impact in Japan, but he still entertained the crowd while he was there and he always danced to send the crowd home happy.