Posted March 22nd, 2015 by jshannon

Hall of Fame Profile: Rikishi

Jay Shannon takes an in-depth look at one of the inductees to the 2015 WWE Hall of Fame.

Pacific Islanders have had a long and storied history in the world of professional wrestling. From “High Chief” Peter Maivia and “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka to The Usos and Roman Reigns, Islanders have thrilled fans for decades. One of the latest inductees into the Hall of Fame carries the honor and tradition with him with his head held high. Let’s take a look at the man most well-known as Rikishi.

The early years:

Solofa Fatu, Jr. was born in October, 1965. His mother is the sister of Afa and Sika Anoa’I (aka The Wild Samoans). He grew up in the San Francisco area and was trained by his famous uncles. Junior, as he was known to family and friends, relocated to the Montreal area and worked as a Face. In Montreal, Junior worked under the name Prince Alofa. He feuded with several Heels, including his cousin, The Great Samu (Samula Anoa’i). The two cousins would later move to Puerto Rico to form the Samoan Swat Team. Samula kept his Samu name and Junior utilized his family surname and became Fatu. The duo would later move to the Dallas area. I met the two cousins at a charity show in Denton, Texas and both showed incredible respect for and love of the business. They were managed by “Freebird” Buddy Roberts.

After Dallas, the cousins headed to Jim Crockett Promotions (later known as WCW). They took Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) as their manager. They worked with Dangerously until he left WCW. Sir Oliver Humperdink took over the managerial duties for the two savages. They were joined by the Samoan Savage (Junior’s brother, Sam) who had previously worked as the Tonga Kid. Savage would later replace Samu in the SST. The new SST left WCW in 1992.

The Headshrinkers (Original and New)

Samu and Fatu entered the WWF in 1992. While their savages gimmick, their team name was adjusted to the Headshrinkers. The name paid tribute to their ancestry. Some Islanders (not necessarily directed related to the cousins) would decapitate their opponents and “shrink” the heads. The duo feuded with most of the teams of the era: Smokin’ Gunns, Natural Disasters, and High Energy. They also helped Yokozuna (a fellow family member) defeat The Undertaker in a 1994 Casket Match. The family relationship between the Headshrinkers and Yokozuna would not be revealed until many years later. Yokozuna, a member of the Anoa’I family) was being billed as Japanese, instead of his true Samoan nature. The Headshrinkers would follow in the footsteps of the Wild Samoans when they took “Captain” Lou Albano as their manager. Albano would lead his men to tag tam gold when they defeated The Quebecers, in May, 1994. They dropped the belts to Shawn Michaels and Diesel (Kevin Nash), one day before Summerslam ’94. That surprising loss came at a house show.

Samu left the WWF, due to injuries, and was replaced by Sione. Sione had previously worked under the name “The Barbarian”. The repackaged group took the name the New Headshrinkers. The chemistry wasn’t quite as strong as the original pairing. The new version only lasted a few months. Sione departed for WCW and Fatu got repackaged.

The Sultan

In 1995, Fatu suddenly began to speak English fluently and was moved from the Island Nation of Samoa to his true hometown of San Francisco. Just prior to his return to the ring, Fatu worked some indy dates on the west coast of the United States. That was the 2nd time that I met Fatu. My all-time favorite wrestling story has to do with Fatu and an 80+ year old little lady playing Video Poker at Mahoney’s Silver Nugget in Las Vegas. Fatu came out in his full Islander gear, looking for a bathroom. The little old lady didn’t see him coming up the aisle and when he gently tapped her on the shoulder and asked “Excuse me, Ma’am, could you tell me where the bathroom is?” I thought we were going to have to call 911. All the color drained from her face and a withered hand shook as she pointed down the aisle towards the facilities. As he came by me, sitting a few feet further up the aisle, he said “I hope she is OK, I didn’t mean to scare her”. (Editor’s Note: The little old lady in this story was just fine and later bragged to all her friends about the huge man that talked to her). Smile.

The New Fatu character looked on the brink of feuding with the Samoan Gangsta Party (Lloyd and Samu Anoa’i) but the idea was scrapped. Fatu disappeared again and returned under a completely new gimmick. Fatu was put under a partial mask and came out as The Sultan. He quit speaking and it was written in that Sultan’s tongue had been cut out for some unrevealed crime he did in his native land. Sultan was dually managed by The Iron Sheik and Mr. Bob Backlund. Sultan only real feud was an unsuccessful one against another cousin, Rocky “The Rock” Maivia. Soon after that feud ended, Fatu/Sultan disappeared as Junior took time to receive further training from the legendary Dory Funk, Jr. at Funk’s Funkin’ Dojo Conservatory.

The Rise of Rikishi

When Junior Fatu returned to the WWF in November, 1999, he was called Rikishi (Japanese for Sumo Wrestler) Fatu. Over the next few months, he surname would be adjusted to a spelling of Phatu. That had to do with a term for heavy-set women, Phat (Pretty, Hot And Tasty). Rikishi was presented as a completely new person. All connections with the Headshrinkers or Sultan were ignored. The heavier Fatu was dressed in a modified version of Sumo wrestling attire. He had also bleached his hair blonde.

Rikishi had a brief feud with Viscera (Big Daddy V). Soon after, Rikishi aligned himself with Too Cool, Grandmaster Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty. Their dance routines, post-match, immediately elevated the trio to one of the most popular groups of the era. Rikishi’s signature move was to shove his enormous backside into the faces of his opponents. That move became known as the “Stink Face” and his sons, Jimmy and Jey Uso, would later adapt the move into their arsenal.

Rikishi won the Intercontinental title from Chris Benoit on June 22, 2000. Rikishi went to the finals of the King of the Ring tournament, losing to Kurt Angle. Rikishi would drop the tile to Val Venis on July 6th, thanks to a sneak attack from Tazz. Rikishi would feud with the duo for the rest of the summer and into the early Fall.

Rikishi was then thrust into a storyline involving “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. About a year earlier, a mystery person “ran over” Austin. It came out, in October, that it was Rikishi driving the vehicle that struck Austin. Supposedly, Rikishi did that to help his cousin, The Rock, have an advantage over Austin. Creative played the Race Card as Rikishi grumbled about how Samoans had always been taken advantage of, while whites were given all the breaks. That Race storyline was later downplayed, though the feud with Austin continued. Austin switched feuds to go after Triple Hand Rikishi had a falling out with The Rock. Rikishi would also feud, briefly, with The Undertaker. Undertaker threw Rikishi off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage and onto a flatbed truck. Rikishi would eliminate Undertaker at the 2001 Royal Rumble, before being eliminated by The Rock, moments later.

Rikishi got assistance in his feud with Undertaker when Haku returned to the WWE. The duo battled Undertaker and Kane (The Brothers of Destruction) in several wild matches. The duo would also feud with the Hardy Boyz. Rikishi had to take a few weeks off after his eardrum was injured. He returned as a solo performer and went back into his feud with Undertaker. Rikishi was set to be a major player in the “Invasion” angle but a shoulder injury caused during a match with William Regal put Rikishi out for several months.

Rikishi returned in December, 2001 as a Face. He delivered a Stink Face to Vince McMahon, the most hated villain in the company. Rkishi formed an unlikely team with Rico. The duo took the tag belts from Billy (Gunn) and Chuck (Palumbo). Rico would help his friends, Billy and Chuck, win the title back in the rematch. Rikishi then slipped into a mid-card position for the next few months. He would be thrust back into the limelight when Roddy Piper returned to the WWE. Rikishi faced off with Piper over Piper’s actions towards Jimmy Snuka, almost two decades earlier. Piper had struck Snuka in the head with a coconut. Piper had his protégé, Sean O’Haire, go after Rikishi. The feud was short-lived, with Piper and O’Haire taking the lion’s share of victories.

Rikishi then reunited with his old friend, Scotty 2 Hotty, to bring back a new version of Too Cool. They would defeat the Basham Brothers for the tag belts. During this time, WWE began pushing Rikishi to lose weight. After the sudden death of Rikishi’s cousin, Yokozuna, a couple of years earlier, the WWE was concerned about over-sized performers. When Rikishi rejected the request to drop weight, WWE took the tag belts off Rikishi and Scotty and put them on Charlie Haas and Rico. Rikishi was released from the company, a few weeks later.

TNA and the Indies

Rikishi has spent the past decades touring the World, working for various indies organizations. Fatu had to adjust his name to ‘Kishi, due to the WWE owning the rights to the name and character of “Rikishi”. Fatu moved to Italy and started Nu-Wrestling Evolution. In 2007, “SUMO Rikishi” was brought to Japan, by Keiji Mutoh (Great Muta), to feud with Akebono. Fatu also did a brief run in Mexico’s AAA.

In the Fall of 2007, Fatu arrived in TNA, as Junior Fatu. He feuded with Christian Cage. He had a few more appearances but left the company due to a disagreement over his pay (allegedly). Fatu then returned to the Indy Circuit.

Fatu took an extended leave after departing TNA. He travelled to South America to perform in 2009. In 2013, Fatu would reteam with his former Too Cool partners for several shows. Grandmaster Sexay returned to his previous identity of Brian Christopher and Scotty 2 Hotty was known as Scott Garland.

Leading to the Hall of Fame

Starting in 20012, Rikishi began making occasional appearances at WWE Events. He was there when Yokozuna was placed in the Hall of Fame. In July, 2012, he defeated Heath Slater on an episode of Raw. During that match, Rikishi used the Samoan Spike (to pay tribute to his late brother, Umaga) and the Banzai Drop (to honor fallen cousin, Yokozuna). After the match, he danced with his twin sons, The Usos. Rikishi would return for Raw 1000 to watch Lita defeat Heath Slater. Too Cool would later reunite to face Slater’s faction known as 3MB (Slater, Jindar Mahal and Drew McIntyre). Too Cool was victorious.

In Conclusion:

Solofa Fatu Jr. has had an amazing career. He held the tag tiles in World Class (4 times), WWE (3 Times) and Puerto Rico once. He has also been an Intercontinental Champion, as well as singles and tag titles around the world. He has been one of the most agile “Super Heavyweights” in the business and truly deserves his spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.


–Jay Shannon

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