Many of us growing up in the Boston area during the 1970s and ’80s will best remember Mr. Fuji as a tag team champion wrestler who held the WWWF and WWF Tag Team Title five times with Professor Toru Tanaka and Mr. Saito.
For me, however, Fuji will stay forever in my mind for his slapstick comedy in skits with Magnificent Muraco, such as “Fuji Vice,” a parody of a hot TV show at the time called Miami Vice. If you’ve never seen “Fuji Vice,” then you must watch it right now below as an homage. I just did.
Fuji, whose real name was Harry Fujiwara, died on August 28 at the age of 82.
He had lengthy runs in the WWF as an active wrestler and then became the manager of stars such as Kamala and Demolition in the late 1980s, before becoming part of a headline act in the early 1990s with Yokozuna.
Fuji was not a great wrestler in the ring — remember his boring “nerve pinch” holds to his opponent’s trapezius muscles? — and his promos were pretty bad, too. But Fuji certainly played the part well of a sneaky heel. He threw “Japanase salt” in his opponent’s eyes to blind them, for Christ’s sake. Yes, that really happened in 1980s matches.
The joke is that Fujiwara was Hawaiian, not Japanese, but that sort of charade was common for a lot of foreign heels after World War II, such as Fritz Von Erich.
How Fuji remained employed by the WWE for so long has always been a mystery to me. Was he super friendly in real life? Was there an agreement forged by Vince McMahon Sr. that Fuji would always have a job? Did Fuji possess photographs of some major WWF star that he used as leverage, ha, ha?
I’m not sure if any of those answers are true, but either way he had an impressive resume of gigs in the WWF.
Fuji wrestled in the old Boston Garden 53 times from 1972 through 1984, with occasional tag matches as a manager with his proteges into the late 1980s, according to the awesome The History of WWE website. His Boston matches ran the gamut from opening prelims to fighting Bob Backlund just weeks before Backlund won the WWWF Heavyweight Title in 1978.
I saw Fuji wrestle at my very first live wrestling show at the Garden during a matinee in December 1981. He and partner Mr. Saito were WWF Tag Team Champions, and they defeated S.D. Jones and Tony Atlas. Interestingly, I think Jones and Atlas were on the path to win the belts, but Atlas flamed out in real life and the push ended.
Eventually, Fuji and Saito traded the tag titles with the Chief Jay and Jules Strongbow. One of my favorite moments growing up was when the Strongbows had a title win rescinded on a technicality, so they staged a sit in during Saturday morning Championship Wrestling.
I remember one time in the mid-1980s that a friend of mine — presumably after a summer Garden house show — ran into Fuji, Jimmy Snuka, and the Bushwhackers at Kelly’s Roast Beef on Revere Beach just north of Boston. At least Fuji had good taste.
As for “Fuji Vice,” Muraco last year said it best in a podcast:
“It’s an easy pairing, and Fuji’s insane anyway,” Muraco recalled. “God, they were so bad … It was kind of fun, I guess. The worse, the better — we pretty much lived up to that.”
At the height of his career, Fuji didn’t play his character for laughs, but in hindsight, much of what Fuji did was tongue in cheek.