Former WWF World champion Yokozuna has been found dead in Liverpool, England at the age of 34.
He was found dead in his Liverpool hotel room on Monday. The cause of death was not immediately known, but foul play is not suspected, police said.
“There were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death,” a Merseyside police spokesman said. Respected wrestling journalist Georgiann Makropoulos of 1Wrestling.com was the first to break the story, after receiving a call from Afa, of the Wild Samoans, telling her the sad news. Afa and his brother Sika are the uncles of Yokozuna, whose real name is Rodney Anoia. They also trained him for a career in pro wrestling.
Reportedly, Yokozuna died of heart failure. Anoia’s battle with his weight has been public knowledge from many years and at last word, he had trimmed down in order to return to the squared circle on a regular basis.
Yokozuna, who stood 6’6″ and weighed 589 pounds, was a two-time WWF World champion. He had topped the bill of a wrestling tour of Britain called WrestleMania 2000.
“He was a giant of a man but extremely gentle outside the ring,” tour promoter Brian Dixon said.
The group was not part of the WWF, but the federation’s official Web site had a new section Tuesday paying tribute to the three-time champion.
“He was a sweetheart of a guy. Always jovial and happy and cracking jokes,” WWF star The Rock wrote on the Web site. “It’s just a shame to see that he’s gone. … He’s contributed so much to our industry and the WWF.”
Yokozuna first won the WWF title for the first time at WrestleMania IX in 1993 in Las Vegas, beating Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. He lost the title later that same night to Hulk Hogan.
Months later, Yokozuna defeated Hogan for the title in Dayton, Ohio at King of the Ring with the help of an evil photographer. During this reign, Yokozuna and his manager Mr. Fuji issued the Bodyslam Challenge. Six wrestlers tried to slam Yoko on the U.S.S. Intrepid in July 1993. Rick and Scott Steiner, Tatanka, Bob Backlund, Randy Savage and Crush all failed to slam the champ, as well as some pro athletes like Bill Fralic. However, it was Lex Luger who successfully bodyslammed Yokozuna, turning babyface in the process.
Yokozuna would lose the title to Bret Hart in March 1994.
Another Hart, Bret’s brother Owen, formed a successful tag team with Yokozuna, and the duo won a pair of WWF tag team titles.
In a December 1998 interview with SLAM! Wrestling, the late Owen Hart recalled teaming with Yokozuna.
“It was an unique contrast, the big, big monster and the littler high-flyer. So I wouldn’t mind [teaming up], we got along real good. He was a nice guy and a fine, fine guy to tag up with,” Hart said.
The last major appearance for Yokozuna was at October 1999’s Heroes of Wrestling pay-per-view, where he looked massively overweight compared to his WWF days. During the PPV, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart and King Kong Bundy faced Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Yoko. The entire PPV is probably best forgotten as a sad reminder of former WWF main eventers at the end of their careers.
Before going to the WWF, Yokozuna spent time in Mexico and Japan, often using the name Kokina Maximus.