Tatsumi Fujinami is a man not familiar to a lot of western wrestling fans, but in his home nation of Japan he is revered and respected. He is credited with the creation of moves still used to this day and his legacy will live long.
To be inducted by: Ric Flair
Starting out in the business at the young age of 17, under the wing of no less than the great Antonio Inoki, he followed his mentor from the Japanese Wrestling Association and helped found New Japan Pro Wrestling. Learning under Inoki, as well as Karl Gotch, it didn’t take long before he was entrusted with facing off with debuting rookies, making sure that the right lessons were learned and things done the right way.
After establishing himself in Japan, in the late 1970’s Fujinami took his ever-increasing talent abroad; first to Mexico for the Universal Wrestling Association, before catching the eye of Jim Crockett in the US. It was while he was there that he was spotted and approached by Vince McMahon Senior’s World Wide Wrestling Federation.
He defeated Carlos Jose Estrada to win the Junior Heavyweight championship in January 1978 and returned to Japan, quickly establishing his newly-won title as the top Junior Heavyweight championship in the country. Fujinami’s reign as champion is recognised as lasting a total of 1,406 days; his first reign going for 617 days and his second reign an even more staggering 789 days. Of course, at this point it was only a matter of time before a promotion to the heavyweight division – and subsequent vacation of the title – would come and the inevitable finally happened, officially, in December 1981.
This next stage of his career got off to the best possible start in August 1982 with the capture of the WWF International championship, a belt recognised by the WWF and NJPW, as well as NWA Northeast and Japan’s Universal Wrestling Federation. He dropped the championship to Riki Choshu the following April, before temporarily regaining it before controversy and a split between the WWF and NJPW led to the belt being abandoned.
Fujinami spent several more years following this honing his craft as a heavyweight, after spending his career thus far at junior heavyweight level. And come 1988, he was ready for genuine success, and his employers thought so too; On May 8, Fujinami defeated Big Van Vader to become the IWGP Heavyweight champion, the premier achievement in Japanese wrestling. He would temporarily lose the belt later that month following a no-contest with old enemy Choshu, before regaining the belt in a rematch. Ten months later the belt the vacated, bringing an end to another lengthy championship reign. Following this, Fujinami would suffer a back injury during a match with Vader, forcing him onto the shelf for 15 months.
Three months after returning, and now fully established and accepted as a genuine star in the heavyweight division, he regained the championship, once again, from Choshu. Another quick switch followed, losing the belt to Vader shortly after but getting it back several months later. 17 days following this success, the history books were rewritten as Fujinami defeated Ric Flair to win the NWA World championship.
A tenuous working relationship between NJPW and WCW meant that the title change was not recognised by WCW for two years after, with the company eventually relenting when Flair returned to the company after his stint in WCW. Fujinami’s NWA Heavyweight title reign lasted two months, controversially dropping the belt back to Flair at the inaugural WCW Superbrawl in May 1991.
He would end up holding the IWGP Heavyweight championship a total of six times, along with 5 runs with the Tag-Team titles, four of those with Kengo Kimura. He is also credited with the innovation of the Dragon sleeper and Dragon suplex, the latter also being known as the full nelson suplex.
He may not be known to everyone in the US outside of long-term fans lucky enough to see his classic battles with Ric Flair, however his unprecedented success in his home country has to be marveled at and respected. His title reigns set records and he contested many a classic war with a wide variety of wrestler. For this, there can be no doubt that Tatsumi Fujinami deserves to be honoured and take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame.