Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sayonara, Mr. Fuji

Some characters just make an impact in pro wrestling. Even without huge angles or headlining a pay-per-view, these stars are just as remembered as the biggest main eventers. Mr. Fuji is one of those names. Point me to any child of the '80s and I guarantee you that they have a memory of Mr. Fuji. It wasn't just his look that made him so memorable, either, it was the talent to pull off antics both hilarious and menacing. Perhaps it was those same two traits that made him the notorious name that he was behind the curtain. This past week, the world lost Harry Fujiwara at the age of 82.

Mr. Fuji is one of my first wrestling memories. I remember seeing the famous LJN Wrestling Superstars figure on the shelves in stores and watching him in the corner of the likes of Don Muraco and Kamala. Later on, I have a vivid memory of him cutting a promo on either Prime Time Wrestling or Saturday Nights Main Event (as a kid apparently I watched more PM wrestling than AM wrestling) flanked by either Demolition or The Powers of Pain. Even if I had gone no further with wrestling than being the casual fan that I was at the time, Fuji struck a nerve with me. He just looked evil and calculating.

That look translated into merchandise as only the WWF could do. Many collectors still prize that legendary LJN figure with an absolutely perfect likeness and easily broken and/or lost cane accessory. Fuji also saw his evil grimmace on trading cards, photos, and magazines. Most recently Mr. Fuji was once again immortalized in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. The company not only produced Fuji in his iconic managers attire, but also in the wrestling gear that he wore in battle with the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon, Andre the Giant, Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan, and even Mean Gene Okerlund. It would be nice to see Mattel add "The Devious One" to their figure line now that they have become more legend and manager-friendly.

As I became more of a fan, I began to see more of Fuji's in-ring career from the past. He meshed perfectly with Professor Tanaka and Mr. Saito. He never had the bodybuilder look, but he didn't need it. Mr. Fuji looked cruel. He appeared as if he knew dozens of different forms of martial arts and various ways of sadistic torture. The latter may have been true, judging from the countless stories of Fuji's nefarious "ribs" played on his fellow wrestlers. While some may be exaggerated tales passed down from locker room to locker room, there's no doubt that the man is one of the more storied pranksters in wrestling history.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Fuji several times. His health had obviously began degrading as early as his 2006 WWE Hall of Fame induction, but the twinkle in his eye was still there. On the convention circuit, the manager got to reunite with many of his charges including The Magnificent Muraco, Demolition, and The Powers of Pain. Despite much difficult in mobility, Mr. Fuji seemed to have fun reliving the past and being in the grand old game of professional wrestling a few more times.

My favorite my Mr. Fuji memory is probably one that few others would think of. It isn't his throwing of the salt or Fuji Vice or even managing Yokozuna to the WWF Championship. Instead, it's his appearance at WrestleMania III. At that historic event, Mr. Fuji is the very first heel to be introduced. The heat that the announcement of his name gets from the enormous crowd always resonated with me. It's the type of opening match heat that usually signifies the kick-off of a great show. It actually gives me chills. I always imagined that, after all of his years in the business, it had to be a magical moment.

Thank you, Mr. Fuji, for all of those magical moments.

Harry Fujiwara

"Mr. Fuji"



Frank said...

awesome write up. RIP Mr Fuji

J\/\/ said...