Mr. Fuji: A Legacy in Wrestling and the Final Farewell
The world of professional wrestling is replete with larger-than-life characters who have left an indelible mark on the industry. One such figure is Mr. Fuji, whose career, final days, and eventual passing have contributed significantly to the rich tapestry of wrestling history.
Career Beginnings and Rise to Fame: Mr. Fuji, whose real name was Harry Fujiwara, was born on May 4, 1935, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He had a diverse background, having served in the United States Army and even pursued a career in sumo wrestling in Japan before finding his calling in professional wrestling. Fuji’s initial exposure to the wrestling world came as a tag team partner for the legendary “Magnificent” Don Muraco.
However, it was his transition to a villainous role that catapulted Fuji into prominence. Adopting a villainous persona, he became a master of psychological manipulation and dirty tactics. This role led him to multiple championship reigns as a tag team wrestler alongside partners like Professor Toru Tanaka and Mr. Saito. The team’s signature move, the “nerve hold,” became synonymous with their villainous antics. Fuji’s cunning demeanor and willingness to bend or break the rules endeared him to fans of the villainous side of wrestling.
The Managerial Role and Cultural Impact: After a successful run as a wrestler, Mr. Fuji transitioned to a managerial role. This shift allowed him to showcase his gift for showmanship and his unique ability to generate heat among audiences. He managed a slew of wrestlers, including Kamala, Demolition, and Yokozuna, the latter of whom became a WWF World Heavyweight Champion under Fuji’s management.
Perhaps one of Mr. Fuji’s most iconic moments came during his alliance with Yokozuna. Fuji added an extra layer of authenticity to the character by incorporating traditional Japanese customs and mannerisms. The combination of Yokozuna’s impressive in-ring skills and Fuji’s managerial prowess created an unforgettable duo that left an enduring mark on wrestling history.
Final Days and Retirement: As with all careers, there comes a time when the spotlight begins to dim. Mr. Fuji’s final days in the wrestling industry saw him take a step back from his active managerial role. The evolving landscape of professional wrestling was embracing newer characters and storylines, and Fuji’s generation was gradually making way for the new guard.
Despite his reduced on-screen presence, Fuji continued to be revered by fans who had grown up watching his antics. His contributions to wrestling history, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, remained etched in the memories of fans worldwide. Even though he was no longer a central figure in the wrestling ring, his legacy endured.
The Passing of a Legend:
Fujiwara passed away at the age of 82 due to natural causes on August 28, 2016, in Clarksville, Tennessee. He is survived by his seven children, namely Tyran Wong, Teri Deptula, Tami Nelson, Kimberly Brewster, Toni Will, Kelli Fujiwara Sloan, and Kevin Fujiwara. Additionally, he leaves behind a legacy of 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Kelli Fujiwara Sloan, one of his daughters, took on the responsibility of representing his estate. She became involved in a class action lawsuit against WWE. The lawsuit alleged that the wrestling promotion had not adequately safeguarded its employees from head trauma. This legal action emerged as a result of the tragic events surrounding the 2007 Chris Benoit double-murder and suicide incident.
Following Mr. Fuji’s passing, attorney Konstantine Kyros claimed that Fujiwara had received a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This diagnosis highlighted the potential long-term impact of head injuries sustained during his wrestling career. In September 2018, US District Judge Vanessa Lynne Bryant dismissed the lawsuit, marking a legal conclusion to the proceedings.
Mr. Fuji’s impact extended beyond his in-ring persona. His contribution to the sport was also evident in his mentoring and guidance of younger wrestlers. Many who had the privilege of working with him spoke fondly of his wisdom, work ethic, and willingness to share his experiences.
Legacy and Influence: Mr. Fuji’s legacy lives on through the countless wrestlers he influenced and the memories he created for fans. His ability to seamlessly transition from a wrestler to a manager showcased his versatility and commitment to the craft. Fuji’s character was multi-dimensional, invoking both fear and fascination among wrestling enthusiasts.
In an industry where characters often blur the lines between fiction and reality, Mr. Fuji’s ability to evoke emotions from the audience was his defining trait. Whether it was through his villainous tactics or his managerial skills, he left an undeniable impact on professional wrestling.
Conclusion: Mr. Fuji’s career, final days, and eventual passing serve as a testament to the enduring nature of wrestling legacies. His journey from a young man pursuing different paths to becoming a larger-than-life wrestling personality showcases the resilience and dedication required to succeed in the industry. The impact he had on both the sport and its fans remains palpable, reminding us that the influence of a great wrestling character transcends time and generations. As the wrestling world continues to evolve, Mr. Fuji’s name and contributions will remain etched in the annals of wrestling history.