It’s not unusual in the world of Professional Wrestling to see a star break away from a successful Tag Team and make their way in singles competition. Not many however change their style so much as this WWE Hall of Fame inductee and even less of them has ever claimed to have “…did it for The Rock.”
To be inducted by: The Usos
Born Solofa Fatu, Jr., to the legendary Anoa’i family, Rikishi followed in the footsteps of his uncles Siki & Afa (better know as the Wild Samoans) by partaking in a similar gimmick alongside his cousin Samu. In 1985 The Samoan Swat Team made their debut and dominated the tag team division across such promotions as Montreal’s International Wrestling, Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council and multiple NWA promotions. When making the jump over to World Championship Wrestling, the duo took on a persona not too dissimilar to that of Sika & Afa by becoming The New Wild Samoans… bringing a tag team style that would follow them over to the World Wrestling Federation.
Shaking up the tag team division in 1992, Fatu and Samu – now re-branded as The Headshrinkers and managed by Samu’s father Afa, they made their impact in the WWF. Starting off with feuds against The Natural Disasters and High Energy, The Headshrinkers soon turned their focus towards the WWF World Tag Team Championships. Using the savage islander personas to cement their status as heels, the two would take on The Smoking Gunns and Men on a Mission but never actually managed to capture the gold. Possible the largest moment in this heel run occurred at the 1994 Royal Rumble PPV, where the two big Samoans ran in during a casket match between The Undertaker and Yokozuna – aiding their Anoa’i family member to win the match.
Just three months later in April, The Headshrinkers took on legendary manager Captain Lou Albano and thus took their place as faces in the Tag Team division. Taking on the and defeating The Quebecers, Fatu & Samu captured the WWE World Tag Team titles and went on to successfully defend as reigning champions right up until August. Following their title drop to Shawn Michaels & Diesel (during a house show), the duo had one last PPV match at SummerSlam before Samu was forced to leave the WWF to recover from growing injuries.
Shortly after Samu’s departure for the company, Fatu had been paired up with Sione (The Barbarian) to very little success. Now branded as The New Headshrinkers, the duo only managed to take part in two particular matches of note – the 1994 Survivor Series where they were eliminated from their ten-man tag match and the 1995 Royal Rumble match. Floating around the Tag Team scene – primarily as jobbers to The Harris Brothers, before Sione jumped ship to World Championship Wrestling.
Once both forms of The Headshrinkers had been broken up, Fatu made the biggest jump in his now 10 year Wrestling career and went solo. Unfortunately what followed were a string of short and failed gimmicks this included the ghetto raised “Make a Difference” Fatu and then the Sultan – who seemed to be created primarily to serve as an opponent to the then Intercontinental (and cousin to Fatu) Rocky Maivia. After neither of the two singles gimmicks showed promise, Fatu left in 1998 to re-train at Dory Funk’s Funking Conservatory wrestling school.
In the November of 1999, Fatu returned to the WWF. Sporting bleached blonde hair and a modified Mawashi attire, the big Samoan seemed to have been repackaged to an updated gimmick similar to that of his cousin Yokozuna. Now going by the name Rikishi (Originally Rikishi Fatu/Phatu), he quickly aligned himself with Grand Master Sexay & Scotty 2 Hotty in Too Cool. Along with his Too Cool counterparts became huge fan favorites and would end each of their match wins with a dance number that would incorporate a pair of “magic shades.”
Thanks to popularity from the fans, the group would receive huge opportunities – like the 2000 Royal Rumble, the trio engaging in a feud against Edge, Christian & Kurt Angle and Rikishi beating Chris Benoit to become the Intercontinental Champion. Following his singles title win, Rikishi went on to enter the 2000 King if the Ring tournament to some success. Again beating Benoit and then Val Venis to make his way to the the bracket finals against Kurt Angle. Unfortunately however, this would be to a losing effort following interference from Venis & Benoit. Before the events that occurred at King of the Ring could lead into a rivalry with Val Venis, Tazz stepped up to Rikishi and assaulted him with a television camera. This led to a cage match between the two at Fully Loaded, which gave Fatu the opportunity to pay tribute to Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka by performing a from the splash from the top of the cage.
Rikishi would once again perform as a heel in late 2000 after injuring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a hit and run attack and then admitting to it a year later. This would lead to probability Rikishi’s most well known moments in wrestling as he claimed to have run over Austin to better help advance The Rock’s career – claiming racial ignorance against the WWF when it came to members of the Anoa’i family. During this time, Rikishi would feud with both Rock & Austin and would eventually be associated with Triple H – who had admitted to putting Rikishi up to the hit and run incident against Stone Cold. With these four circulating around the WWF Champion Kurt Angle (to which the Undertaker had also been pursuing), we ended up seeing perhaps one of the biggest matches of all time take place at the 2000 Armageddon PPV.
Rikishi faced off in a six-man Hell in a Cell match for the WWF Championship (something that has never been replicated since) against Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H and Kurt Angle. Though Rikishi failed to win the Championship, he was involved in one of the match’s top spots… getting Chokeslammed off of the top of the cell and onto a flatbed truck by The Deadman!
In January 2001, Rikishi entered at number 30 for the Royal Rumble (editors note – this this is actually my all time favorite Royal Rumble PPV). During the match he did manage to get some vindication for the epic Chokeslam he’d taken, by eliminating The Undertaker and taking away his Wrestlemania chances – only to be eliminated by The Rock shortly after. Following Royal Rumble, Rikishi had started a new Tag Team with the returning Haku but this was abandoned due to Rikishi suffering a damaged eardrum.
Sidelined until late 2001, Rikishi returned as a face and quickly entered into a rivalry with Tag Team champions Billy & Chuck. In a surprise turn of events Rikishi would beat the champions for their belts, along with his unwilling partner Rico (Billy & Chuck’s stylist). This caused several matches where Rikishi would often end up fighting the opponents in handicap matches, while Rico would feign injuries or try to throw the match. Eventually the former champs would beat Rikishi and Rico to regain their gold.
Fighting the likes of John Cena and The FBI (Full Blooded Italians) until 2003, Rikishi would once again be presented with the opportunity to pay homage to Jimmy Snuka. Building a rivalry with the returning Roddy Piper, Rikishi would exact revenge on behalf of Snuka by cracking a coconut over Piper’s head (an action that Piper himself had performed on Snuka in 1984). Unfortunately this would lead to Piper’s protege Sean O’Haire defeating Rikishi in a match following that coconut based distraction.
Forming another Tag Team with an old friend, Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty would defeat the Basham Brothers and claim the WWE Tag Team Championship titles. Sadly this reign had only lasted for two and a half months before they dropped the titles to Charlie Hass & Rico.
Unfortunately on the 16 July 2004, the WWE would announced that they had released Rikishi. This lead to an absence from the company, while he would work the independent scene before returning in 2012 – marking nearly 8 years since Rikishi had been with the WWE. Although not part of the roster, Rikishi has made sporadic appearances on RAW – notably defeating Heath Slater and reuniting with Too Cool.
Rikishi may still wrestle for independent promotions but nobody can deny that he made his presence felt within World Wrestling Entertainment’s ring and with a little help from his Sons Jimmy & Jay… his legacy lives on. With multiple Tag Team Championships, one Intercontinental title reign and a huge backlog of memorable moments, Rikishi truly deserves to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.