As we close the books on one of the most memorable years in wrestling history, we take a look back at some of those stars of the squared circle who are no longer with us. Champions, innovators and legends, these heroes of the wrestling world all left an indelible imprint on the business.
Mr. Fuji was one of the more memorable characters in WWE history. Fuji joined the WWWF in 1972 and formed one half of the most terrorizing tag teams of the day with Professor Toru Tanaka. The duo, who was managed by the legendary Grand Wizard, won the WWWF Tag Team Championship on three occasions between 1972 and 1977. Their initial reign lasted 11 months, which is the 3rd longest reign in the company’s history. Despite being part of one of the WWWF’s top tag team competitors, Mr. Fuji also wrestled then WWWF champion, Pedro Morales, on several occasions in title matches.
After taking a brief hiatus from the WWF, Fuji retuned with a new partner, Mr. Saito in 1981 and went on to taste tag team gold shortly after they joined the territory. The team had a two year run together in which they held the tag team title a total of two times. Fuji would stay with WWF as an active wrestler until 1984 when he became a manager.
Despite managing such stars as The Magnificent Muraco, Kamala and George “The Animal” Steele, Mr. Fuji is also remembered as being the manager of The Powers of Pain and Demolition, whom he lead to the WWF Tag Team Championship. One of the tactics Mr. Fuji is best remembered for, is throwing salt in the eyes of opponents to assist in getting his clients the win. But of all of the WWF talent Mr. Fuji managed, it was his alliance with Yokozuna that he is probably best remembered for. The devious one lead Yokozuna to two WWF World Heavyweight Championships.
Mr. Fuji was considered by many as one of the greatest pranksters in the wrestling business. On many occasions this WWE Hall of Famer (class of 2007) was the master mind behind some legendary ribs played in and out of the locker room. One of my favorites was told by Rick Martel on a shoot interview he did several years ago. While teaming at the time with Mr. Saito, Fuji had told Saito that they had a long drive ahead of them for a show in Hartford, Connecticut. Mr. Fuji made a deal with Mr. Saito that if Saito drove to Hartford during the day, Fuji would do the driving for the long ride home at night, which would allow his partner the chance to sleep on the way back.
With Mr. Fuji acting as tour guide, the two started off to the arena first thing in the morning and after eight hours through the New England area, they finally arrived at the arena. That night, as he had promised, Fuji got behind the wheel for the journey home. Only problem was, they were home within twenty minutes. Fuji had Saito drive 7 hours and 20 minutes longer than he had to. Great stuff!
Balls Mahoney was one of the most recognizable faces in the original ECW. Mahoney connected with the ECW fan base immediately. Seeing him perform live on several occasions, one of the more memorable times of the evening would be when Mahoney would come to the ring to AC/DC’s “Big Balls” while he and the crowd would sing the song as Mahoney would wield his companion steel chair over his head.
Mahoney was one of the more violent wrestlers in the company, known for using his chair to inflict pain on his opponents. Another memorable part of Mahoney’s matches was when he would start to throw a string of jabs at his opponent and the crowd would chant, “balls, balls, balls” with each jab followed by a long, drawn out “balllllllllz” until the final punch connected.
Mahoney was primarily used as a tag team wrestler in ECW, being teamed with Axl Rotten initially until he joined forces with legendary Japanese star Masato Tanaka, whom he would win the ECW tag team titles with after defeating the Dudley Boyz at November To Remember in 1998. It would be the first of two tag title reigns Mahoney would have in ECW, the other being with Spike Dudley.
After the original ECW folded, Balls would spend his time working the independent scene. He made a return to prime time wrestling when WWE brought him on board when they re-launched the ECW brand. Mahoney achieved mild success in the updated version of ECW, but never to the level he gained on the original brand.
Balls Mahoney was a favorite amongst the ECW fan base. His toughness and hard core matches are things that struck a chord with the fans, who appreciated the effort he gave night in and night out. Mahoney worked on the independents up until his death, where he took on the likes of Abdullah The Butcher, Colt Cabana and Sabu.
Blackjack Mulligan started in the WWWF as a singles competitor, under the tutelage of The Grand Wizard, where he quickly became one of the top heels in the territory. Mulligan, fighting under his real name of “Big” Bob Windham, feuded with legendary WWWF champions Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino on several occasions before heading to Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion.
When Windham showed up at the AWA, he was teamed with Blackjack Lanza and the legendary team of The Blackjacks was born. The team was managed by Pretty Boy Bobby Heenan and wreaked havoc across the territory. The Blackjacks took on all comers in the AWA with their biggest feud being against the team of Dick The Bruiser and Crusher Lisowski. The team would eventually leave the AWA and go on to have success in numerous NWA promotions as well as achieving tag team gold in the WWWF, where they captured the World Tag Team Championship in August 1975.
Windham would turn his focus back on his singles career, when he showed up at Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling, under the NWA umbrella. Blackjack Mulligan would feud with some of the biggest stars in the territory including Ric Flair, The Masked Superstar, Greg Valentine and Paul Jones who Mulligan defeated for the United States Heavyweight Championship. Blackjack also won one half of the Mid-Atlantic’s version of the NWA World Tag Team Championship with his new partner Ric Flair. Another long standing feud that Windham had was with Andre The Giant.
Blackjack Mulligan’s legacy has lived on long beyond his own personal exploits. Blackjack’s son Kendall Windham went on to have a formidable career while his other son Barry Windham was one of the top stars in the business during the 80’s. Barry was also one half of the former WWE Tag Team Champions, the US Express with brother in law, Mike Rotunda. Barry would also join his dad with a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of the Four Horsemen. We also see today Blackjack Mulligan’s imprint on the business as his grandson’s Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are current WWE roster members, with Bray being one of the biggest potential stars in the company.
Before there was Asuka, Awesome Kong and Beth Phoenix, there was Chyna. When Chyna made her WWE debut in February of 1997, she was unlike any other woman the wrestling world had seen. Her physical presence alone was jaw dropping. No woman had ever looked as dominating as Chyna had when she burst on to the scene. She started her WWF career as the bodyguard for Triple H, and would eventually serve the same role later with Degeneration X.
When Chyna started to become an in ring performer, she would boldly go where no other female wrestler had ever gone in the business. She was the first female participant in a Royal Rumble, the first female participant in the King of The Ring tournament, the first female number one contender for the WWF championship and the first female WWE Intercontinental Champion.
Chyna would have matches against some of the top male talent that WWE had at the time. She went toe to toe with “Double J” Jeff Jarrett, who she defeated for the IC strap, and a well documented feud with Chris Jericho. Chyna would also shine in the on screen role as Eddie Guerrero’s love interest as his “mamacita.” The vignettes between the two were quite humorous, especially their encounter at the Playboy mansion. Speaking of the Playboy mansion, Chyna appeared in the November 2000 issue of Playboy.
Chyna’s post wrestling career was filled with controversy and sadness. She seemed like a lost soul to me towards the end of her life. Sadly, her tumultuous life came to an end in April of this year at the young age of 46. But, when we reflect on her in ring career, an argument can be made that no woman ever made such an indelible impact on the wrestling business like Chyna.
We also lost other members of the wrestling fraternity this year including the following list of stars:
Iron Mike Sharpe, better known as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete”
Archie The Stomper Gouldie, the 14 time North American heavyweight champion out of Stampede Wrestling in Calgary
Lord Littlebrook, considered by many as one of the greatest midget wrestlers of all time.
Frenchy Martin, former multi time tag team champion and WWF manager of Dino Bravo.
Lord James Blears, multi time NWA tag team title holder and long time AWA color commentator.
As we say our final goodbyes to these wrestlers, we thank them for their influence on the wrestling business and for all of the great memories they have provided us. We thank them and want them to know they will never be forgotten.