Tag Team Appreciation Month

MR. FUJI & PROFESSOR TORU TANAKA

 

1972-1979

WWWF World Tag Team Champions

 

Written by Mike Rickard

Although they were billed as two diabolical wrestlers from Japan, Professor Toru Tanaka and Mr. Fuji were both Hawaiian natives. That didn’t stop either one of them from playing foreign heels who delighted in defeating babyfaces, particularly American ones. Fuji and Tanaka would hold the WWWF Tag Team Championship three times and play a role in one of the biggest matches in wrestling history.

 

Professor Toru Tanaka (aka Charles Kalani, Jr.) had a successful singles and tag team career in the WWWF, occasionally teaming with Gorilla Monsoon and earning title shots against WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino. Tanaka earned championship success when he won the short-lived WWWF International Tag Team Championship with Mitsu Arakawa (yet another Hawaiian wrestler billed from Japan), holding the belts from June 1, 1969 to December 9, 1969.

 

Mr. Fuji (aka Harry Fujiwara) entered the WWWF in 1972 and formed a partnership with Professor Tanaka. With the Grand Wizard guiding them, Tanaka and Fuji proved a fearsome combination, with Tanaka portraying a brutal heel while Fuji was shown as a cagey heel, earning the name “The Devious One.”

Fuji’s penchant for throwing a handful of salt into an opponent’s eyes at the right moment helped the duo win more than a few matches. On June 27, 1972, Fuji and Tanaka won their first WWWF Tag Team Championship, defeating Sonny King and “Chief” Jay Strongbow.

 

Fuji’s habit of making sure opponents got their daily recommended allowance of salt led to one of wrestling’s biggest matches. The hot summer of 1972 proved even hotter during a taping of Championship Wrestling where Mr. Fuji and Professor Tanaka battled WWWF World Champion Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino. During the match, Fuji blinded both Morales and Sammartino with salt, leading to Morales and Sammartino mistaking each other for their opponents. 

 

By the time order had been restored, Morales and Sammartino wanted to fight each other. A match was scheduled for a September 30, 1972 supercard at Shea Stadium, known as The Showdown at Shea. After Morales and Sammartino patched up their friendship, they challenged Fuji and Tanaka unsuccessfully for tag team gold.

The Fuji/Tanaka team’s first reign still stands as one of the longest reigning WWWF tag team championship reign (337 days) and they were just getting started. After losing the belts to Haystacks Calhoun and Tony Garea on May 30, 1973, Fuji and Tanaka bided their time, winning the belts back on September 11, 1973. This second reign would be considerably shorter (64 days) with Garea teaming with Dean Ho to capture the belts in a tournament (the titles had been vacated after Chief Jay Strongbow’s partner Billy White Wolf suffered a kayfabe career-ending injury). “The Devious One” and the Professor left the WWWF in 1974 but found success in Georgia Championship Wrestling, winning the promotion’s tag team championship in a four-team tournament.

 

In 1977, Fuji and Tanaka returned to the WWWF, this time managed by “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Blassie guided them to a third and final tag team championship, the duo defeating Larry Zbyszko and persistent foe, Tony Garea on September 27, 1977. The treacherous team’s third reign lasted until March 14, 1978 when Dino Bravo and Dominic DeNucci beat them. Fuji and Tanaka left the WWWF, winning championships in various territories before disbanding in 1979.

 

Professor Toru Tanaka retired from the squared circle in the early 80’s, making a successful transition to Hollywood. Tanaka appeared in a number of films and TV shows including The A-Team, Missing in Action 2, The Running Man, Black Rain, Darkman, 3 Ninjas, and Last Action Hero.

 

Mr. Fuji continued wrestling, forming another championship winning team with Japanese wrestler Mr. Saito (Mr. Saito was not only billed from Japan but a Japanese native).

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