By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Hawaii has contributed a number of star athletes in a number of sports, including football, baseball, volleyball, gold and, of course, surfing. But the Aloha State is also known for launching the careers of several pro wrestling stars. Here are my Top Ten wrestlers who were either born or raised in the Islands:
10. SAMMY STEAMBOAT: Sammy Mokuahi was a well-known beach boy and surfer who also had a successful career in the squared circle. Although his greatest ring accolades were in Hawaii (4x NWA Hawaii Heavyweight champion), Steamboat also won gold throughout the U.S., including a tag championship reigns with the legendary Eddie Graham. Check out this vintage video of Steamboat wrestling Mike Sharpe in 1961:
9. TOR KAMATA: Born in Hawaii, McRonald Kamaka became a pro wrestler with the encouragement of famed promoter Ed Francis. Outside of Hawaii, he was known as the villainous Tor Kamata and had bloody bouts against the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Bob Backlund and Dan Kroffat.
8. PROFESSOR TANAKA: Although he was billed from Hiroshima, Japan, Tanaka (Charles Kalani) was actually born in Honolulu. The Iolani grad started his pro wrestling career in 1967 and became a tag team champion in the WWWF (now the WWE) with fellow Hawaii product Mr. Fuji.
7. TOJO YAMAMOTO: Born on Maui, Harold Watanabe was a major draw in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in Nashville, Tennessee, where he played a stereotypical Japan sympathizer. He was often billed as “the most hated wrestler of all time.” Won many singles and tag team titles.
6. NEFF MAIAVA: He wrestled in all the major promotions in the 1950s and ’60s. In the 1950s, he captured the NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Championship six times. A leading figure in pro wrestling in Hawaii.
5. JEFF COBB: The Hawaii-born Cobb started his professional career in the Islands, then moved on to ply his trade all over the world. His résumé includes capturing the Lucha Underground championship (as “Matanza”) and the Ring of Honor TV title. Pound for pound one of the strongest performers in wrestling, Cobb is currently a star in New Japan Pro Wrestling, one of the biggest wrestling promotions in the world. Expect him to move up on this list by the time he’s done.
4. MR. FUJI: McKinley grad Harry Fujiwara went on to gain fame as the notorious Mr. Fuji, the Japanese villain who liked to throw salt in his opponents’s eyes. Formed a main event tag team with Professor Toru Tanaka, winning world titles and feuding against the likes of Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino. As his in-ring career wound down, Fuji began serving as a manager to some of wrestling top stars, including Yokozuna.
3. CURTIS “THE BULL” IAUKEA: The great-grandson of Colonel Curtis P. Iaukea, a diplomat to the court of King Kalakaua. Attended Punahou School before launching a career in pro wrestling. Won numerous singles and tag team titles around the world, including the WWWF tag team championship.
2. DON MURACO: Billed as a native of Sunset Beach, Oahu, this former Hawaii amateur wrestling became a major star in every promotion he appeared in. Held the WWF Intercontinental title on two occasions and had a legendary feud with Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. A member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Muraco was also known for his great interview skills. Check this out:
1. THE ROCK: I mean, can there be any doubt? Can you smell what I’m cookin’? Dwayne Johnson spent part of his childhood in Hawaii (he attended McKinley High School) and went on to become one of the biggest superstars in wrestling – and beyond.
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