Mr. Fuji, a wrestler-turned-manager, was able to use his body language and actions in a way that sent fans off the rails with hatred. As one of the most notorious managers of heel wrestlers, he was able to smile, cane, and throw salt in the eyes of opponents to get his wrestlers over. Sure, he would talk now and again, but his style was very different from the Paul Heyman and Bobby Heenan’s of the world, while they had the gift of gab, Fuji had the look and intelligence to bring success to his wrestlers.
Most fans remember Mr. Fuji during his time with Yokozuna from 1992 until 1996; here he helped the massive sumo to great heights as one of WWE’s top heels in the company. Waving the Japanese flag with pride, Fuji was the x-factor that would help out in a pinch, on the rare occasion Yokozuna needed it.
Starting in 1965, his career spanned over 30 years, as he was able to navigate the territories as a premier tag team wrestler, winning titles in a number of promotions. Trained by the legendary Nick Bockwinkel, Fuji was not only able learn what it takes to be a great wrestler, but how to pass along the knowledge to others, as well. “The Devious One” passed away at the age of 82, so let’s look back at 15 highlights (and lowlights) from the WWE Hall of Famer’s life.
15. The Early Years
Born Harry Fujiwara, he was billed out of Osaka, Japan, even though Fuji was really born in Honolulu, Hawaii he started in 1965 under the ring name, Mr. Fujiwara. His ties to Japan would heavily influence his gimmicks and ring work going forward, using the cobra clutch and Kamikaze Clothesline as his finishers. In later years, he would wave the Japanese flag, but as a wrestler he would have the flag somewhere on his wrestling tights.
Starting out right in Hawaii, Fuji quickly gained popularity among the tag ranks winning the NWA Hawaii Tag Team Championship with King Curtis laukea, who also had solid career, working for over 20 years among a number of territories and in the WWE and WCW (fans might remember him as The Master in the Dungeon of Doom). Deciding that Mr. Fujiwara wasn’t quite the right name, he shortened it to simply Mr. Fuji before heading out the Northwest to work for other promotions.
14. Tag Team Champion
Fuji’s career as a wrestler began in 1965 and ended in 1985; during that 20 year span he was able to amass 17 Tag Team Titles in places like the WWE, Pacific Northwest Wrestling, and Georgia Championship Wrestling. A number of the reigns were held with Toru Tanaka, who also played a Japanese villain as his gimmick. The two men were very different workers though as Tanaka was very much “by the book” in terms of setting up a match, getting paid, and showing respect.
Mr. Fuji was known to be more of a wild man in the ring, Tanaka often had to temper him, so things went smoothly for everyone. The two had great success together though, so Tanaka put up with being Fuji’s “babysitter” during their time on the road. Fuji held titles with other wrestlers like Genichiro Tenryu, Haru Sasaki, Tiger Jeet Singh, and Mr. Saito (who also once wrestled Antonio Inoki on a deserted island in Japan for over two hours).
13. Throwing Salt
You could read 10 articles about Mr. Fuji today, and every single one will mention how he would throw salt in his opponents’ eyes. This was one of those things that made him famous, not only as a wrestler, but during his managerial career. Initially, he would hide the condiment in his trunks, only to use it when the ref was distracted, later on he would literally bring a big bucket of salt to the ring with him. Apparently, after doing it for over 25 years, the secret was out, so no sense in being coy about the inevitable.
The most well known salt throw was at WrestleMania IX, when Bret Hart attempted to lock in the Sharpshooter and ended up getting a face full of salt. This allowed Yokozuna to get the win and become the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion, which lasted all of 22 seconds. Hulk Hogan came down to check on Bret, Fuji challenged him to a match and quickly attempted to throw salt in Hogan’s eyes, well, he missed, and instead hit Yokozuna in the face, causing him to fall prey to Hogan’s big leg drop.
12. Top Heel Manager
Even though his wrestling career was solid in its own right, becoming a top notch manager for the bad guys was what put him over the top as a performer. Fuji spent his entire managerial career in WWE from 1985 until 1996 working with many of their top acts including Don Muraco, George “The Animal” Steele, Demolition, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, and even The Berzerker! Just kidding about that last one, The Berzerker was an awful rip-off of Bruiser Brody mixed with a Viking; even Fuji couldn’t get that act over.
His look would remain mostly the same, wearing a black tuxedo with a bowler hat, looking similar to Oddjob from the James Bond movies. While managing Demolition and the Powers of Pain, he added face paint to the look, as a way to tie in with his wrestlers. He would often stroll to the ring with a cane that was used if salt wasn’t an option. Once teaming with Yokozuna, he ditched that look all together to wear a traditional Japanese kimono and carry the Japanese flag.
11. Hall of Famer
After years of dedication to both the WWE and pro wrestling in general, Mr. Fuji was officially inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007. It was a notable class as he went in alongside Jim Ross, The Sheik, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Mr. Perfect, Dusty Rhodes, and Nick Bockwinkel. It was an interesting wrinkle that Fuji went in the same year as his trainer, Nick Bockwinkel, who dedicated 32 two years to the wrestling business.
Trained by his father, Warren Bockwinkel and the legendary Lou Thesz in 1955, Nick was one of the greatest heels ever to grace the wrestling world. He had a keen grasp of not only high quality in-ring work, but the ring psychology that went along with that. He was able to tell a story in the ring and on the microphone, which was not as common during his days. After ten years of honing his craft, he passed some of that knowledge to Fuji, paving the way for both men to receive inductions.
10. One Of The Best Rookie Years Ever
Debuting in late 1992, Mr. Fuji introduced Yokozuna to the world, guiding him on one of the greatest rookie years ever seen in the WWE. It kicked off at the 1993 Royal Rumble, where he was able to outlast everyone in somewhat comical fashion. The ending came as “Macho Man” Randy Savage (for whatever reason) attempted to pin Yokozuna in a match where wrestlers had to be thrown over the top rope to be eliminated. Yokozuna kicked out of the pin so hard, it sent Macho Man flying over the top rope and down to the floor, giving Yoko the opportunity to fight for the title at WrestleMania.
He was able to win the title at WrestleMania, but promptly dropped it to Hulk Hogan after only a 22 second match. At King of the Ring, Yokozuna received a title match with Hogan and was able to win, thanks to the help of a plant (who threw fire in Hogan’s face) among the Japanese press at ringside. Hogan legit left for outside opportunities, which allowed Fuji and Yokozuna to proclaim they killed “Hulkamania.”
9. Retired Life
After leaving pro wrestling for good in 1996, Fuji opened up multiple training dojos, which only lasted for a number of years before being closed. Wrestling fans who went to movies around the Knoxville, Tennessee area were treated to a surprise when they got their tickets torn by Mr. Fuji (they legit put that on his name tag). Hey, even after pro wrestling, people have to eat and pay bills, so Mr. Fuji found a life ushering people to their respective movies for a period of time.
Apparently, it was a part-time job and the length of time he was at the movie theater is unknown, although a number of people confirmed they had their tickets torn by the former wrestler. No word on how many also had salt thrown in their eyes for trying to get back in without their ticket stub. More seriously, Mr. Fuji passed away on August 28, 2016 in Tennessee without a cause of death given.
8. Had His Own Action Figure
For wrestlers and managers, getting their own action figure is a sign that their popularity or notoriety has reached a significant level among wrestling fans. Back in the mid-80s, the WWE ventured into the wrestling figure business with toy maker, LJN. If you were a kid around this time, surely you remember the giant rubber figures that barely moved and had (only somewhat harmful) paint that would easily chip off.
In 1986, series three came out and it included Mr. Fuji with his usual black tux/bower hat look that also included his cane. For collectors, the cane is a key part of the figure, as most were lost or broken over time. A good quality version of this figure will run you about $30 or if you want to go big, expect to drop $100+ for the figure still in its original packaging. More recently, Jakks made a figure of Mr. Fuji with the Demolition painted face that goes for $30-$50.
7. Managed Demolition
Back in the day, managers would typically “buy and sell” contracts of the wrestlers they managed, which is something that should totally use again in today’s pro wrestling scene. At any rate, Fuji purchased Demolition’s contract away from Luscious Johnny V and quickly helped them get to the WWF Tag Titles. Thanks to the help of his cane and a distraction, Demolition was able to win them in 1988, holding the titles for a record 478 days. Along the way, Fuji was then a part of a rare double turn as he turned on Demolition (turning them face) and joined up with The Powers of Pain.
During this time Demolition referred to their former manager as “Fuji the Stooge” and that he was just a parasite. Apparently, time heals all wounds though as Fuji joined back up with Demolition a few years later. At this point, it was no longer a tag team as Ax and Smash were also aided by Crush, the team’s popularity had sunk though and was slowly phased off TV.
6. Fuji Vice
Don Muraco (who was one of Fuji’s earliest clients) was known as a solid heel that could hold down mid-card titles, while also jumping up to the main event when faces needed to be put over. Most notably, Fuji and Muraco put together a series of videos called Fuji Vice, which parodied the extremely popular Miami Vice TV series. These were extremely low budget, poorly acted videos that ended up gaining some traction for those exact reasons.
While working with Fuji, Muraco’s stock went up as he wrestled Hulk Hogan on a number of occasions, including some major matches at Madison Square Garden. He also won the inaugural King of the Ring tournament in 1985, defeating Iron Sheik in the finals. He then joined up with Adrian Adonis and Bob Orton Jr. to feud with Roddy Piper before ditching Fuji and turning face where he switched his nickname from “Magnificent Muraco” to “The Rock.”
5. Sued WCW/n.W.o. Video Game
Fans of Nintendo 64 wrestling video games will fondly remember WCW vs. nWo: World Tour, which included a number of wrestlers that weren’t in WCW. This was done to boast that the game had a huge roster to play and typically the characters were actually based off of other wrestlers. One of which was named “Master Fuji,” who Mr. Fuji felt was entirely too similar to his character and decided to sue the makers of the game for $1.5 million.
The character was based after Yoshiaki Fujiwara (innovator of the Fujiwara armbar), a different wrestler who was in no relation to Fuji. That mattered not to the court as they ended up in Fuji’s favor for an undisclosed amount. Does anybody else suddenly have the urge to go out and buy a Nintendo 64? Those wrestling games were the absolute best ever!
4. Voted Worst Manager
Starting in 1980, the Wrestling Observer Awards have become an annual event headed by longtime Pro Wrestling Journalist, Dave Meltzer, as a way to award both the best and the worst of the year in a number of categories. One such category was “Worst Manager” and Mr. Fuji received this distinction in 1984, 1985, and 1987-1995. That’s a whole lot of years at being the worst in the entire pro wrestling world!
A core reason hasn’t been determined, but it could be due to the competition at the time, with guys like Bobby Heenan and Paul Bearer, someone has to be the worst. Another reason could be that he wasn’t the best talker (which is usually a quality managers have) and he typically did the same things at ringside, whether it was using the cane or salt. Ultimately, this didn’t really hurt Fuji’s career, most fans remember him fondly as a manager they loved to hate.
3. A Prankster
A number of wrestling personalities have said Fuji was notorious for pranking other people, sometimes in mean spirited ways. Freddie Blassie was known to be a very neat and organized person when it came to getting ready for his performance. Once, he left his things unattended and Fuji nailed a number of his items to the ceiling, getting Blassie all hot and bothered when he couldn’t find his items.
Blassie was quoted:
“Fuji’s [ribs] were nonstop: in the arena, in hotels, in airports, in restaurants. And Fuji was an instigator. He’d find weak-minded wrestlers and have them do ribs for him, just to wreak more havoc. The man was incorrigible. If you were sitting across from Fuji, drinking a cup of coffee, he was liable to slip in some laxatives when you weren’t looking. If he heard you on the phone, making airplane reservations, he’d call up the airline after you hung up, and cancel your trip. You’d miss a booking, lose money, and Fuji would think it was funny.”
2. More Pranks
When Lex Luger first got into the wrestling business other wrestlers felt he had a bit of an attitude and wasn’t as friendly as he should be to others in the locker room. Fuji heard about this and while they were talking in a restaurant he decided to urinate on Lex’s boots in mid conversation! Luger already knew about how Fuji was and decided rather than doing anything, he just let him finish.
His pranks weren’t just for the guys though, when Sunny first started with the WWE, she was asked by Fuji to braid Yokozuna’s hair because he had to go shoot a promo. She couldn’t say no, so she began combing and braiding his hair, people around her began laughing as a smell slowly grew around her. Sunny realized that the stink was coming off of Yokouna’s hair, apparently (due to his size) he couldn’t raise his arms up to wash his hair regularly.
1. What’s In This?
The most disturbing of Fuji’s pranks (this probably doesn’t even qualify as a “prank”) was that he cooked dog for other wrestlers and told them after what was in the food. You would think this is just some urban legend or glorified story that other wrestlers have told, but no, Fuji himself has admitted to doing this in shoot interviews.
Sparing the details of this strange behavior, this was rumored to be the origin of the “Pepper” storyline between Al Snow and Big Boss Man. If you missed that classic storyline, Al Snow had a dog, which Boss Man stole, eventually “serving” it to Snow. The feud finished up with the horribly done “Kennel from Hell” match at Unforgiven, where a regular sized cage was surrounded by the Hell in a Cell cage. In between the cages were “Wild dogs” and the objective was to escape both cages to win the match, Snow won, it was stupid, and never replicated again.