Rikidozan is one of the most notable Japanese Wrestling heroes of all-time, if not the
one man who carried Japanese wrestling through a stage to what it is today. He carried
professional wrestling on his back and delivered it to the Japanese Public. Rikidozan’s
name translated from the Japanese language was strength of a mountain road.
Rikidoan began training as a Sumo wrestler at the age of 15. Rikidozan achieved high
levels of competition and respect in that style. He retired from Sumo Wrestling after World
War II. Rikidozan met up with a contingent from the United States, which was headed by
Joe Louis, and began to train for the pro-wrestling ring. He learned the American ways
and traveled to Hawaii, where he continued to be a student of the sport. He wrestled
Bobby Blands to a ten-minute draw on October 28, 1951 in his professional wrestling
On February 17, 1952, Rikidozan battled Lou Thesz in Honolulu for the NWA World
Heavyweight Title. He toured the United States and began teaming with Dennis Clary, a
successful grappler from California. The two captured the NWA Pacific Coast Tag Team
Title. After a successful tour, Rikidozan returned to Japan. There, he organized and
began the Japan Wrestling Alliance, an Asian Branch of the National Wrestling Alliance,
on July 30, 1953. The group was very successful from it’s inception. On December 22,
1954, Rikidozan met an unbeatable Kimura in a special contest. Kimura was undefeated
in 10-plus years and it was his opportunity to separate himself from the casual bunch.
Rikidozan ended up beating Kimura into unconsciousness and walked off with the initial
Japanese Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. Press cited controversy, but the ending
In the history of wrestling, from that day on, Rikidozan was a member of an elite group
of mat wrestlers achieving legendary status. He captured a claim to the World Tag Team
Title with Koukichi Endo after defeating Mike and Ben Sharpe on May 4, 1956 at the
Osaka Prefecture Gym. Rikidozan wrestled Lou Thesz again for the World Title on
October 7, 1957, this time in Tokyo, Japan. The Korakuen Stadium match went to a 60-
minute, time-limit draw. Organizers rematched Thesz and Rikidozan on October 13th in
Osaka before an estimated 30,000 fans. The two drew again. During another tour of the
United States, he was managed by the Great Togo.
Rikidozan beat Thesz on August 27, 1958 to become the second NWA International
Heavyweight Champion in Los Angeles. Rikidozan brought Kanji Inoki, a Japanese
Immigrant living in Brazil, back to Japan on April 10, 1960. A day later, former
professional baseball player, Shohei Baba joined his organization. He helped train both
men, understanding their young talent. Kanji Inoki would better be known as Antonio Inoki
and Shohei Baba was nicknamed “Giant.” Rikidozan won the WWA World Heavyweight
Title from Fred Blassie on March 28, 1962 in Los Angeles. A report stated that an elder
person died from watching Rikidozan’s title defense against Blassie on April 23, 1962.
The second case since April 17th. Shinroku Yoshida, a 65 year old man from Gifu, Japan,
died watching their bout televised in his country. Rumors stated that a total of five deaths
were compiled in one week. It was a shocking number, but explained the hardship of
Rikidozan’s matches with Blassie on his countrymen.
Rikidozan ran a wrestling and boxing school in Tokyo. In addition, Rikidozan ran
numerous businesses around Japan and achieved a fortune uncompared to others in his
profession of wrestling. On May 17, 1963, he won his 5th straight World League
Tournament. The Destroyer held onto his WWA World Title against Rikidozan on May 24,
1963 when their match ended in a draw. Rikidozan’s last match happened on December
7, 1963 at Hamamatsu City Gym. It was a six-man tag bout with The Destroyer heading
the opposing team.
The next day, he was stabbed at a night club in Tokyo and hospitalized. On the 15th
of December, 1963, Rikidozan died. The promotion he started, continued on. The
wrestlers he trained went on to achieve all that could be achieved from the WWWF World
Title to the NWA World Title.
Rikidozan’s legacy is respected worldwide.
According to the February 3, 1952 edition of Pacific Stars and Stripes, "Rikki Dozan" was
leaving Tokyo for Honolulu on Sunday and was given a farewell party on Friday. He'd
been training for professional wrestling for the last four months and weighed 235 pounds.
He was going to Honolulu to train with Bobby Bruns, who was the matchmaker for local
booking agent Al Karasick. There was mention of a special "international wrestling
tournament" in St. Louis during the fall and Rikidozan possibly participating.
"Ricki Dozan" was undefeated in 80 matches, according to the Occtober 7, 1952 edition of
Pacific Stars and Stripes. He was a former Sumo wrestler, who'd been at the American
style of catch-as-catch-can for only the last "4 months." He spent 11 years as a Sumo
under his real name "Mitsuhiro Momoto." As his finisher, he used a sleeperhold and won
the Pacific Coast Tag Team Title with Dennis Clary. He planned to return to Japan after
his six month visa expired in two months. Once back in Japan, he was going to open a
gym to teach the American style of wrestling and then send Japanese grapplers to the U.
S. Apparently, Rikidozan was working as a villain during this tour.
A sidebar note to these Pacific Stars and Stripes articles. They were written by Clarkson
Crume who was born in Ohio in 1921 and died on August 14, 1992 in MIlford, Ohio.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Rikidozan Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling