Rodney Anoa'i, better known to wrestling fans as Yokozuna, was born on October 2, 1966. Despite playing the role of a former Japanese Sumo Wrestler, Yokozuna was actually of Samoan descent and a member of the famed Wild Samoan family tree. He was trained by his uncles, the Wild Samoans, and created such a successful legacy in the business that he posthumously joined them in the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012.
The first look that American wrestling fans had at Rodney was when he portrayed the character of Kokina Maximus. In the late '80s, he was managed by Shiek Adnan El Kassey. He was able to accomplish the most important feat that the Shiek's Army had spent years trying to do. He was responsible for breaking the leg of Greg Gagne which led to his retirement.
Yokozuna Wins WWE Championship:
Yokozuna made his debut in the WWE in 1992 where he was managed by Mr. Fuji. Success came quickly for Yokozuna as he won the 2003 Royal Rumble just a few months into his tenure with the company. As a result of winning this match, he earned a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania IX. With the aid of Mr. Fuji, Yokozuna beat Bret Hart to win the title. However, his title reign didn't last long as Hulk Hogan won the WWE Championship from him just minutes after he won it. Yokozuna got his revenge a few months later when he regained the title from Hulk Hogan at King of the Ring '93 in what turned out to be Hulk Hogan's final match in the WWE for close to a decade.
The Lex Express:
In his bid to embarrass America, Yokozuna held a body slam challenge on the USS Intrepid on July 4. Lex Luger was able to slam the champion and went on to embark on a bus tour of America in preparation for his title shot at SummerSlam '93. By this time, he added Jim Cornette to his entourage and was able to get Luger to sign a contract that stipulated that this would be his only shot at the title. While Yokozuna lost the match via count out, he successfully retained the title and temporarily knocked Lex Luger out of title contention.
Yokozuna's next pay-per-view defense of the WWE Championship took place at Royal Rumble '94. He beat the Undertaker in a Casket Match with the aid of over a dozen wrestlers and by damaging the mystical urn of the Undertaker. Following the bout, the Undertaker levitated to the rafters of the arena where he vowed that he wouldn't rest in peace. Also at that show, Bret Hart and Lex Luger were named the co-winners of the Royal Rumble. As a result, Yokozuna was forced to defend the title twice at WrestleMania X.
WrestleMania X & Chuck Norris:
Yokozuna's first match of the night at WrestleMania X was against Lex Luger. He won that bout via disqualification when special guest referee Curt Hennig turned heel. That marked the first time in WrestleMania history that a heel champion successfully retained the WWE Championship. Just like the year before, Yokozuna couldn't walk out of WrestleMania with the title. After a year, Bret Hart finally got his revenge and beat Yokozuna in a bout refereed by Roddy Piper. The Undertaker returned to the ring a few months later and also got his revenge on Yokozuna. He defeated him in a Casket Match at Survivor Series '94. The Undertaker had Chuck Norris help him out at ringside. Chuck made sure that none of the goons summoned by Mr. Fuji would enter the ring.
Tag Team With Owen Hart:
At WrestleMania XI, Owen Hart had a tag team title shot against the Smokin' Gunns. He revealed his partner to be Yokozuna at the event and the two men won the titles that night. They held the titles until September when they lost them to Shawn Michaels and Diesel in controversial fashion. Prior to the bout, Davey Boy Smith was named as a replacement for Owen. Owen showed up during the match and suffered the pin fall. With the aid of Clarence Mason, the champions were able to petition the company into returning the belts to them since Owen wasn't officially part of the bout. They lost the title later that night to the Smokin' Gunns.
Weight Gain & Leaving the WWE:
While always a very big man, Yokozuna was still agile for his size. However, by 1996 his weight gain became an major concern as he tipped the scales at 600 pounds. His last appearance on television for the WWE was at the 1996 Survivor Series. Because of his size, he was unable to pass the physical required to wrestle in certain states. His final televised wrestling appearance took place at the infamous Heroes of Wrestling event in 1999. He was originally scheduled to fight King Kong Bundy in the main event but that bout was turned onto a tag team match when Jake Roberts wasn't in condition to wrestle during his bout with Jim Neidhart. During that singles match, Yokozuna was added to Jake's team while Bundy was paired up with Jim Neidhart. Yokozuna's team lost that match.
The Passing of Yokozuna:
Yokozuna passed away on October 23, 2000, at the age of 34. He was in England at the time on a wrestling tour. Originally reported as being due to heart failure, a coroner later determined that Yokozuna died from fluid in his lungs.
WWE Title Victory History:
- 4/2/95 WrestleMania XI - w/Owen Hart beat The Smokin' Gunns
- 9/25/95 RAW - w/Owen Hart awarded the titles due to the controversial nature of the loss of their titles the night before
Sources: wwe.com, onlineworldofwrestling.com, mikemooneyham.com, & slamsports.com