Dean Higuchi, the beloved Hawaiian who wrestled as Dean Ho, has died. He was 82.
The news was slow to circulate, as Higuchi died on February 20, 2021, in Kelowna, British Columbia. His passing was confirmed by long-time B.C. referee Kevin Jefferies.
According to Jefferies, “Dean died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from his days playing football.”
Much of the career of Dean Ho is detailed in a 2010 feature — ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ cries still ring out for Dean Higuchi. At various times, he wrestled as Dean Higuchi, Dean Ho and Dean Kalani.
The above story was a lead-in to Higuchi’s Men’s Wrestling Award at the 2010 Cauliflower Alley Club banquet.
The year previous, Higuchi was inducted into the Ring Around the Northwest newsletter’s Hall of Fame. Its editor, Mike Rodgers, summed up his accomplishments:
Dean wrestled in the Northwest through the ’60s and ’70s. He held the Canadian tag titles with Earl Maynard, Steve Bolus and Steven Little Bear. He held the NWA tag titles with Johnny Kostas. His longevity and always being very close to the top of the cards helped him with wins over the likes of John Tolos, Tom Andrews, Stan Stasiak, Dutch Savage, Bob Brown, Moose Morowski, Lonnie Mayne, Haru Sasaki, Bobby Shane, Pat Patterson and Mad Dog Vachon.
His peers certainly respected Higuchi.
- Don Leo Jonathan: “Now there’s an individual. There’s a guy that’s never been wrong in his life. He was wrong once, and two weeks later, he found out he was right.”
- Paul Diamond: “Dean’s a sweetheart of a guy. What a body he had, Mr. Hawaii.”
- Kinji Shibuya: “Great athlete, good family man and I love the guy.”
- Mike Shaw interview in Whatever Happened To… on teaming with Dean Ho: “not being a wrestling fan, I didn’t realize what a star he had been. He was kind of retired when I met him and was living in Vancouver. We used to do six towns in Washington and he liked to make those trips with us. He treated me real well and taught me a lot about the business. Actually, he taught me a LOT about tag team wrestling. It’s funny. When you’re young, you think you know what you’re doing in this business, then you get in a tag team situation where you have three other guys that know what they’re doing … and you’re kind of lost. He took the time to teach me a lot.”
Ribs were recalled too.
In a Ring Around the Northwest interview, Roger Kirby recalled a joke that he and Higuchi would play on bodybuilders:
Higuchi was a strong son of a gun and he would have four or five hundred pounds on the bench. We would see them [muscleheads] pull up and I would slide under the bench and get up and dust myself off as they walked in. I wasn’t very muscular at the time, I worked out some but didn’t have a tremendous body. Dean would say, ‘Yeah, he just did 14 reps with that.’ They would want me to do it again. ‘Ahh f—. I don’t have time to fool with you punks.’ Then I would strut out of the gym. They would jump up and down and want to kill me. Higuchi and I together couldn’t pick up the bar it had so much weight on it. We would pile more plates on and have half of… weights on one bar.
Ed “Colonel DeBeers” Wiskoski laughed, recalling seeing Higuchi after many years at a Dean Silverstone reunion of Pacific Northwest wrestlers. “I said, ‘Fuji!’ Oh, that pissed him off. ‘Goddamnit, I’m not Fuji!’ I said, ‘Well, who are you then? You look like Fuji.’ He said, ‘I’m Dean Ho!’ I laughed. ‘I know who you are, Dean. Jesus Christ, we worked a lot together.’ ‘Oh, you son of a bitch.’
Born in Honolulu, on December 30, 1940, Higuchi was into bodybuilding, but also surfed, played football, and water skied. He was named Mr. Hawaiian Islands in 1956, and then opened Dean’s Gym the following year, on Kalakaua Avenue near Ena Road. Many future professional wrestlers came through those doors. But Higuchi himself didn’t turn pro until 1962, initially starting under Hawaiian promoter Ed Francis.
“When I got out of college in ’62, I was training at Dean’s health studio. I had won the Mr. Hawaiian Islands. All the wrestlers from Ed Francis’ group (went) there, they all came and trained at Dean’s gym,” recalled Beauregarde (Larry Pitchford). “Dean wasn’t a wrestler either, Dean was just running the gym.” Beauregarde recalled meeting the likes of Neff Maivia, Harry Fujiwara — the future Mr. Fuji, Nick Bockwinkel, Don Duffy, Rick Hunter, and others at the gym. Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco were two more who credit Ho’s gym for their starts.
Beauregarde said it was inevitable that Higuchi went pro. “He was big himself. Finally, after me and Harry broke in, then Dean said, ‘Hell’ — he wasn’t making (any money), because it wasn’t a big gym, he was just making ends meet. Then he (became a ) wrestler. He was wrestling as Dean Ho, Don Ho’s brother.” (Dean Ho was a famed singer from Hawaii.)
With his 21″ arms and using the Full Nelson as a finishing hold, Higuchi was a popular wrestler. His peak was probably teaming with Tony Garea as WWWF tag team champion in 1973. “He was a good partner. The thing that I always believed was we should compliment each other’s work” recalled Higuchi. “He completed me in what he did and what he couldn’t do, so I filled in those spots. What I couldn’t do, he could. It was vice versa. I believe that’s what makes a good team.”
Most of Higuchi’s time in wrestling was on the West Coast, including runs in San Francisco, out of Seattle and Portland, and in Vancouver.
Settling down in British Columbia, Higuchi wrestled part-time until about 1983. He and his wife ran a convenience store for a time. He also had a deli/bakery.
Higuchi is survived by his wife, Rose, and their two sons, and their families. They moved to Kelowna only a few years ago to live with their son, Keli.
Jefferies said that he and Higuchi “would chat every once in a while,” and noted that Higuchi did not remember much, but mentioning pro wrestling would make his old friend smile. After a hospital stay, Higuchi was released to go home for the last week of his life.
TOP PHOTO: Dean Ho. Photo courtesy Chris Swisher