The first Christmas I can recall has few crystal clear memories. One that remains is my three-year-old self trying to unroll the poster that came with my Mr. Fuji LJN figure. I can remember the smell of the rubber man in the tuxedo, feel the plastic toy cane accessory, and remember the thought that my figures had “the Devious One” to lead them to victory. Mr. Fuji may not have the legacy of a Bobby Heenan or a J.J. Dillon but he was very special for numerous reasons.
Mr. Fuji was an attraction from a special time when wrestling was like the wild-west. His character would not exist in today’s PC culture. He exploited post-World War II anti-Japanese sentiments to become a hot heel for decades. Even into the 80’s he was still known to mention Pearl Harbor, on occasion.
Mr. Fuji was a tag-team champion on numerous occasions. Few men have held WWWF (or WWF) tag-team gold on the number of occasions he has or with a greater number of partners. Maybe Tony Garea can boast that record, but the list of possible candidates is short.
After transitioning to a managerial role, and donning his trademark tuxedo, he was associated with some of the biggest stars in the “Rock and Wrestling” era. He starred in “Fuji Vice” with Don Muraco, one of the WWF’s first non-traditional promotional segments. It was so bad, yet so good, fans still recall it to this day.
When Roddy Piper turned heel, Mr. Fuji had challengers lined up for “the Hot Rod”. He even took on “the Rowdy One” in select house show attractions across the country, showing his marquee-value long after his physical prime.
We fondly recount Demolition’s record setting reign as tag-team champions but often overlook the man who led them to glory. Not only did Mr. Fuji manage the powerhouse team, he was responsible for their face turn in 1988. Ditching Demolition for the baby face tandem of the Powers of Pain, resulted in one of the first “double turns” on WWF programming. He then teamed with his new protégés in his only WrestleMania match to take on Demolition for the Tag-Team titles at WrestleMania 5.
He managed several others into the 90’s and like other times we thought his star had faded, a new sun rose on Mr. Fuji’s horizon. Yokozuna hit the WWF like a meteor in 1992 and at his side was none other than “the Devious One” himself. Ditching the tuxedo in favor of a kimono, Fuji led Yokozuna to the WWF title in 1993. It was the first time a Samoan wrestler held the title.
After health issues ended his career we thought we had seen the last of Mr. Fuji’s influence. We were wrong. In 1999 The Big Bossman kidnapped Al Snow’s pet Chihuahua, Pepper, during their memorable feud. To bury the hatchet, Bossman invited Snow to his hotel room for dinner. After the meal, Bossman informed Al that he had just eaten Pepper Steak. This was taken from a notorious Mr. Fuji story involving his own neighbor’s dog. Some would argue he deserves a second Hall of Fame induction for his ribs alone.
As I hold that same LJN figure in my hand, I can feel myself playing with my figures while watching WWF on Saturday mornings. I can see Mr. Fuji flanking his clients. I can feel the joy that wrestling has given me. Most of all, I hear the legendary prankster, character, and entertainer, shouting his trademark phrase: “BANZAI!!!”
Rest in peace, Mr. Fuji-