Polynesian Pacific Pro Wrestling gets the spotlight in this week’s episode, which is naturally of interest to one of the show’s producers Dwayne Johnson as he looks back on his family’s legacy in the business. The tales of Lia Maivia’s running of the promotion have also fuelled a few episodes of Young Rock, the decidedly less-documentary style re-telling of Dwayne’s family history, so you can consider this episode as a partner piece to the sitcom version.
This week’s roundtable features Rocky Iaukea, Kevin Sullivan, Bruno Lauer, and Lars Anderson. Kevin Sullivan opens by suggesting that many people don’t understand how influential Polynesian Pacific Pro Wrestling was, and its strategic placement between the U.S. and Japan is acknowledged as a huge factor in the comings and goings of big names passing through. The biggest name in the territory, though, was High Chief Peter Maivia, who founded the territory with Lia and is part of a family dynasty leading all the way down to Roman Reigns.
Talking about Maivia’s toughness, Sullivan shares a tale about Billy Robinson, though it’s quickly taken over by Lauer, who says that Maivia’s eating habits were annoying Robinson one night and that was enough for them to start a scrap. It ended with Maivia pulling out Robinson’s eye and throwing him through the window. Seems like an overreaction, but Iaukea says that’s how important respect was.
Maivia was indeed respected by fans and wrestlers alike to the point that he was the calming voice after a match between King Curtis Iaukea and Neff Maiava angered fans into a riot until Peter talked the crowd down. When he shockingly died at the age of 45 in 1982, Lia took over the company and found her own success along with her own controversies.
Lauer recalls doing an anti-Samoan schtick as a heel manager in the promotion and upsetting Lia to the point that he had to remind her he was just riling up the crowd, suggesting she still had to get used to the backstage side of pro wrestling. Sullivan remembers a match against Siva Afi in which he was booked to win, but he worried for his safety through the whole match and how the crowd would react to his victory. Instead, Sullivan called an immediately audible and let himself be pinned right away to protect himself, to the bewilderment of the crowd and the disdain of Lia.
Lia continued to build her business, gearing up for a big 1985 show titled “A Hot Summer Night at Aloha Stadium”. Sullivan says it was well produced and she deserved to shine at the end of the night for her work. Anderson remembers Lia being courted, in a professional sense, by the promoters coming in from around the world, and this seemed to change Lia’s perspective as she sought to protect herself against potential hostile takeovers.
Anderson says his position as Lia’s right-hand man made him a target too, with yet another parking lot attack story in Tales from the Territories (seems like it’s the story most often told). The breaking point for Lia is when rival promoter (and her former announcer) Dunbar Wakayama starts booking mainland wrestlers and he receives a Lia-directed phone call by referee Sam Samson, threatening Wakayama him to scare him away. Wakayama, convincingly scared, takes his story to the FBI where he helps them set up a sting against Lia and Anderson for extortion and threats.
There’s an awful lot of spin by Anderson and Lauer to explain away the very things that the FBI was investigating as traditional pro wrestling business tactics. Anderson sums up the tale with the not-guilty verdict delivered, but still Lia is deported to Samoa as a result of the investigation, killing all momentum for the promotion.
King Curtis Iaukea gets a feature next, with Rocky looking back on his dad’s arrival in Honolulu with a funny story about a side venture of selling beach wares on non-hotel owned property at Waikiki Beach — which at the time was an anomaly. Last up is Lauer detailing his connections to Rocky Johnson and his son Dwayne, who as a teenager was left in the care of Lauer in Nashville while Rocky travelled. Lauer gets to tell Dwayne’s famous story of buying a car for 40 bucks and discovering someone sleeping in the back seat. This story made it, of course, into the very first episode of Young Rock.
Falling attendance, the scandal of the FBI investigation, and the natural course of territories to eventually dwindle brought Polynesian Pacific Pro Wrestling to a close. Lauer wraps up the episode by thanking and blessing the family that ran it, and everyone at the table pays tribute to one of the most unique territories of its day.
Slam Wrestling’s Tales from the Territories story archive
Slam Wrestling’s Young Rock review and story archive