The wrestling world was shocked when the death of legendary wrestler and manager Harry ‘Mr Fuji’ Fujiwara was announced last week. Fuji is probably most remembered for his role as the manager of two-time WWF World Champion Yokozuna. Many fans will remember the iconic picture of Fuji throwing the salt in the eyes of Bret Hart during his match with Yokozuna for the WWF Title at WrestleMania IX to help Yokozuna win his first WWF Championship. During this time as Yokozuna’s manager, Mr Fuji wore a traditional Japanese kimono, as Yokozuna was billed from Japan, and carried the Japanese flag to the ring. However, it is his other look than many fans will also fondly remember. That is the tuxedo and bowler hat, drawing strong comparisons to the hugely popular James Bond character Oddjob. However, what some fans don’t remember, or simply don’t even know at all, is that before Mr Fuji was one of the hottest managers of the 80’s and early 90’s, Mr Fuji was a very accomplished tag team wrestler, winning the WWF Tag Team Titles on five occasions.
Fuji started his career in the mid 60’s in his native Hawaii where he won his first championship. After touring many territories around the United States he debuted in Vince McMahon Sr.’s north-eastern promotion World Wide Wrestling Federation (which would one day become WWE) forming a tag team with Professor Tanaka and they were managed by the Grand Wizard of Wrestling. The team worked as heels and Fuji’s trademark would be that he would throw salt in opponent’s eyes to win matches (something he carried over when he got into managing). In June of 1972 the team of Fuji and Tanaka defeated Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow to win the WWWF World Tag Team Championships. This thrusted them into an even bigger spotlight, the main event scene. The pair even defended their titles against the team of Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales, who was WWWF World Heavyweight Champion. Fuji himself even wrestled Morales for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship but lost the match via a count out. Their first reign lasted 11 months and they finally lost the titles in May 1973 to Tony Garea and Haystacks Calhoun. The two teams feuded over the belts and Fuji and Tanaka won them back in a rematch in September of the same year. The two would later lose the belts to Garea and new partner Dean Ho. Shortly after, Fuji and Tanaka left the WWWF.
After leaving WWWF, Fuji and Tanaka toured many territories and won many tag team championships including a stint in Georgia Championship Wrestling where they won the NWA Georgia Tag Team Championships. They then returned to WWWF with ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie as their new manager. The two won the WWWF World Tag Team Titles when they beat Larry Zbyzsko and former rival Tony Garea to win their third Tag Team Titles in the WWWF. After losing their titles they soon left the WWWF again. Fuji and Tanaka rank in number 2 in the longest reigning World Tag Team Champions on combined days with the combined number of days from their three reigns totaling to 569. After leaving WWWF Fuji started wrestling individually and wrestled for promotions all over the world including the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Carlos Colon’s World Wrestling Council promotion in Puerto Rico.
Fuji returned to WWWF, now known as WWF, in 1981. He began teaming with Mr Saito and was managed by Captain Lou Albano. The team won two World Tag Team Championships together, making Fuji a five time WWF World Tag Team Champion. This run featured a feud with The Strongbows (Chief Jay and Jules) which included a title match at Madison Square Garden and a two out of three falls match for the titles. Fuji began wrestling alone in 1982 but had little success in WWF. He feuded with Tiger Chung Lee in 1984 and beat Chung Lee in the grudge match of the feud.
Fuji retired from in-ring competition in 1985 and became a heel manager. This was an unsurprising role for Fuji to take as he had been managed by three of the greatest mangers of all time during his in-ring career (Grand Wizard, Freddie Blassie and Lou Albano) so he learned from the absolute best when it came to managing. The first wrestler he managed was George ‘The Animal’ Steele; however, he became popular and soon was a fan favourite so left Mr Fuji who was a heel. His next wrestler was Don Muraco. WWF aired vignettes called ‘Fuji Vice’ which was a spoof of the popular 80s TV series ‘Miami Vice’. These vignettes have become somewhat of a cult classic since and are hugely popular amongst fans. Fuji also managed Jim Neidhart briefly, and brought back one half of the tag team ‘The Wild Samoans’, Sika, to the WWF. He also managed Kamala both as a singles wrestler and in a tag team with Sika. One of his most fondly remembered roles was as the manager of the tag team Demolition. He even managed them to a World Tag Team Championship win. Demolition are one of the best tag teams in WWE history holding the records for the longest single reign with the titles at 478 days and also the longest combined reign with 698 days (of course, second in that list is Mr Fuji and Professor Tanaka’s three reigns which their combined number of days totals 569. Fuji also ranks number eight on that list with his 363 combined day reign with Mr Saito). Personally, I am a huge fan of tag team wrestling and Demolition are one of my favourite tag teams of this era. The addition of Mr Fuji gave them the perfect combination of in ring domination and underhanded antics by ‘The Devious One’ himself. Fuji turned on Demolition and began managing their rivals The Powers of Pain (Warlord and Barbarian) which led to a 3-2 handicap match at WrestleMania V with The Powers of Pain and Fuji facing Demolition which Demolition ultimately won. After this Fuji managed the Orient Express and then reunited with Demolition. Then came probably Mr Fuji’s most famous run in his whole career when he introduced Yokozuna to the WWF in November 1992.
Yokozuna won the 1993 Royal Rumble match and beat Bret Hart at WrestleMania IX to win the WWF World Championship. However, in what has been described by some as the worst ending to a WrestleMania show ever, he lost the title minutes later to Hulk Hogan. Yokozuna regained the title at the 1993 King of the Ring PPV defeating Hulk Hogan. Jim Cornette joined Fuji as manager of Yokozuna as the ‘spokesman’. Yokozuna later fired Cornette and turned babyface with Fuji even carrying the USA flag to the ring at times to signify their position as babyfaces. Mr Fuji left the WWF in 1996 and retired from the professional wrestling business. As well as being a beloved star on the screen, behind the camera he is notoriously remembered as one the most prolific ribbers to the boys in the locker room. For those that don’t know, a rib is basically a prank that the wrestlers do to each other in the locker room, and there are many age-old stories of some of Mr Fuji’s ribs; some of them funny, some of them vile (Google them if you are interested, but seriously some of them are genuinely disgusting). After spending a lot of time away from the spotlight, Fuji was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 by his long-time friend and Fuji Vice co-star Don Muraco.
Harry Fujiwara had a legendary career both in the ring and outside as a manager and will be fondly remembered as one of the greatest managers of all time, and also should be considered in the class of the best tag team wrestlers of his era. It took me a few days longer to write this piece than it normally would as I really wanted to research Mr Fuji’s career and watch as much of Mr Fuji’s work, not only remind myself of his achievements but to simply just enjoy it as many of the matches I had seen but there was many that I hadn’t seen that were a joy to watch.
Just as I was putting the final touches to this piece, WWE added a new collection on the Network of Mr Fuji’s most famous matches and moments; including matches against the likes of Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales, the 2-out-of-3 falls match between Fuji and Saito against Jules and Chief Jay Strongbow, managing Demolition and Yokozuna, his 2007 Hall of Fame induction and much more. Oh, and Fuji Vice!
Rest in peace Harry Fujiwara, and thank you for all of your contributions to professional wrestling.
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