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King Haku – Celebrating 30 Years

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King Haku

Today marks the 30th anniversary of King Haku’s royal coronation. This event was televised on the 9th of July edition of WWF’s flagship show, Superstars of Wrestling. I can imagine that some people may not see the importance of this event; they may even find it foolish, so I will explain in detail the significance of this event from my perspective; as a New Zealand born Samoan. This event holds a significance of influence regarding the visibility of Pacific Island people, on screen: In this article, I share my memories of this joyous event; I also have the privilege of sharing perspectives from pro wrestlers Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale, Sonny Siaki, Nui Tofiga and Mana – all of whom are of Pacific heritage. In addition to their thoughts of the coronation, these men will also express the impact that King Haku had on them as Pacific Islanders and professional wrestlers.

The ‘King of Wrestling’; a title that was created in 1986 and bestowed upon Harley Race after winning the ‘King of the Ring’ tournament. However these titles are not the same; the KOTR title would reset every year with a different winner, whereas the “King of Wrestling” served as a form of recognition to Race, a former 8 time NWA World Champion and a respected elder. The Kingship was under the facilitating of Bobby Heenan and although it did not equate in value to a championship belt, it was occasionally contested by the opposition and done so unsuccessfully; the most notable of those opponents being the Junkyard Dog at WrestleMania III.

In 1988, Harley Race suffered a severe injury which put him out of action for most of the year. Bobby Heenan eventually took the crown from Race and went on a search to crown a new King; this brings us to the 9th of July, in the year of our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Eight! The WWE’s villain community, congregated in the ring to await the announcement of the new ‘King of the World Wrestling Federation’. This was one of the first episodes of ‘Superstars’ that I remember, and I was not yet familiar with the identities of the wrestlers. What I miss about wrestling that was clear throughout the coronation was that it was simple to tell the heroes from the villains. The moment I saw the gathering of wrestlers in the ring, I knew that I was looking at a fraternity of antagonists. The ‘boos’ coming from the crowd might have indicated that setting, however, the scenery was confirmed by the lost art of subtlety that was conveyed by the wrestlers through their posture, mannerisms and dress wear. There were no smiles or friendly chit-chat among the guests despite it being a celebration in their community. Distinguished attendees like the Big Boss Man, the One Man Gang, Bad News Brown, and Demolition were equipped to spark fear and intimidate.

The pompous figures such as the Honky Tonk Man, Ravishing Rick Rude and the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase gave the impression that no one else mattered but them. My favourite wrestling villain was the type that was unfazed by the fans’ disapproval, this would only make the crowd increase their hatred. This gathering was also a culturally diverse bunch; consisting of foreigners that showed disdain for America. These ‘international’ villains of the ‘80s were normally stereotypes and represented nations that went to war with America and its allies; such threats included Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov, the two staunch, burly Russians who wore the Soviet apparel with pride; Frenchy Martin, the French painter, and Mr. Fuji, the devious Japanese dressed in a tuxedo and bowler hat.

The ceremony commenced with words from the officiator, Bobby Heenan, assuring his community that the new King had arrived. Heenan introduces everyone to the King of the WWF, and from the entrance way comes Haku! I’m surprised as I notice that the new King isn’t just any foreigner; the new King resembles my Pacific features and brown skin! I learn along the way of Haku’s identity from (colour commentary antagonist) Jesse Ventura’s glowing references. I’ve noticed how well Haku is received by the other villains; the mood changes to smiles and adoration as Haku acknowledges them with a wave and smile.

I have watched this segment many times over the years, and I’ve come to grasp the importance of this historic event: My childhood heroes in 1980s New Zealand were dominantly influenced by American pop culture; names like Hogan, Macho Man, Warrior, even to broader parts of entertainment; Arnold, Van Dam and Stallone were considered the biggest box office action heroes. It didn’t matter what character Arnold played or movie he led, in many Samoan homes the character’s name was ‘ARNOLD!” My heroes weren’t Samoan or Pacific Islander/Polynesian like me; I didn’t resemble a likeness to Arnold or Van Dam, but I’m sure like other Pacific children, that I wanted to be like Arnold. King Haku came close to being my first Pacific Island hero; I didn’t care if he was a bad guy. Haku was the first of the Pacific wrestlers I saw on television, and from that point on my perspective of the narrative had changed; King Haku wasn’t a bad guy; the fans were just misunderstood.

Long before the Rock had broken barriers for Pacific people in pro wrestling and Hollywood, Pacific Islanders were limited to depicting a stereotype – the barefoot, hard-headed (literally) island savage. The typecast was modestly humanised (westernised) for the protagonists by being ‘domesticated’ as friendly and well-spoken; while the vilified ‘savage’ was uncivilised, aggressive and did not speak English. Times have drastically changed, Pacific wrestlers now have more freedom and options to fuse their ethnic identity with western culture, though the island savage is still a relevant and celebrated character. King Haku was not an ordinary ‘savage’; he remained a barefoot antagonist and the majority of speaking was still handled by his manager Bobby Heenan; however King Haku was civilised, reserved and when given the opportunity, he spoke with great authority: This may have been a case of colonialism, but it was really an accurate portrayal of the general Pacific Island male.

Samoan wrestler Nui Tofiga explains Haku’s influence on him as a fan “Haku always held my attention when I was growing up. When my relatives in Hawai’i would see Haku and other Polynesians on TV, they would feel proud and say ‘that’s what a man looks like’. You tend to pick up on that and think that maybe I should make these guys my role models”. Tofiga, a gifted and agile super heavyweight credits Haku and other Polynesian wrestlers for the way he has embraced his physical attributes and culture, “I wasn’t going to change who I was to try and look like Hulk Hogan. Every Polynesian that I grew up watching in wrestling made me proud to be myself.”

Prior to taking over the crown, Haku was part of a tag team called the Islanders (along with Tama). Wild Samoan Training Center graduate and NHPW Owner, Mana, is Maori, the native culture in New Zealand; he recounts on the chemistry between Haku and Tama; “I remember watching Haku as the Islanders with Tama (from the Anoa’i family). The Islanders were one of my favourites and inspired me to become a wrestler. Tama was like the cheeky uncle you had a laugh with and Haku was the quiet one you always feared.” Haku and Tama displayed a tag team style that was ahead of its time. Tama’s speed and agility blended well with Haku’s power and strikes; as Mana explains in detail, “I still believe Haku’s Thrust/Superkick was as superior to any version I have seen in wrestling, even now. I loved his offence with the chops, martial arts thrusts etc. I always wanted to thank him for his accomplishments and inspiration to someone like me.”

The history into Haku’s martial arts background can be traced back to his youth, growing up in his native Tonga in the 1970s: During that time a young Tonga Fifita was one of several teenagers selected to study the art of sumo wrestling in Japan. Fifita was a successful competitor in sumo, however, due to a political dispute involving a sumo trainer, Fifita was forced to retire. From there Fifita made the transition to professional wrestling and competed for Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling. “The Underboss” Bad Luck Fale followed a similar journey, beginning in 2001 when Fale; an elite rugby union player in high school, moved from his home New Zealand to Japan in pursuit of furthering his aspirations. Fale remembers growing up in South Auckland as a young boy, watching the King’s coronation on TV, “King Haku made me feel that as a Tongan, I can conquer the world. He was the first famous Tongan in my eyes and became the idol I aimed to become.” In 2009, Fale took off his rugby jersey following his retirement from the game (due to injury) and put on pro wrestling gear. Fale found success with New Japan Pro Wrestling; his athleticism, humility, and willingness to learn made Fale an asset: Fale’s character assured NJPW that they could invest and depend on him. Following the formation of the Bullet Club, Fale would be joined shortly after by Tama Tonga. Tama was not just a fellow Tongan; Tama was one of Haku’s sons. This soon led to an opportunity for Fale to meet his idol in 2014; “I just remembered how huge he was. Haku is the most feared wrestler in and out of the ring but he’s the most kind-hearted guy you’ll ever meet”.

In 2016, Haku visited New Zealand; during his stay, Haku gave an in-depth interview with an Auckland radio station; a key theme that resonated with Haku was his support for all the Pacific Islanders that are situated across the world. Haku was inspired by the multicultural society of New Zealand, in particular, the different Pacific cultures and Maori that co-exist. Haku expressed his passion for hospitality and is comforted knowing that Pacific communities exist beyond the Islands.

Former WCW and IMPACT! Wrestling star Sonny Siaki was a recipient of Haku’s hospitality and attested to Haku’s character; “I first met Haku in 1998 when I was at the WCW Power Plant training as a wrestler! He’s huge and very intimidating in person but he took me in like his own ‘cause I am Samoan and of course, we all stick together like a family.” Siaki noted on Haku’s influence on his wrestling career; “He definitely made a huge impact on me along with the Rock, Rikishi, Afa, Sika, Umaga and many other islanders who came before me. Haku is definitely one of the first wrestlers to put our culture on the map. When I first started he gave me many advice and pep talk before walking out. He had an old school mentality and had great in-ring psychology”.

Haku’s son Tama Tonga recounts his first memories of his father; the wrestler; “I was adopted, and I came here to America from Tonga in 1991. Basically, I saw him on TV a lot, and it made me realize that he was the first Tongan at least to my knowledge to make a name for Tongans. I thought that was really cool”.

Tama and his two brothers Tanga Loa and Hikuleo are mainstays on the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster and along with Fale; they have made up the backbone to the mighty Bullet Club; “Seeing my dad on TV had a big impact on me as a Tongan. My dad came to America for a better life, and he always tried to set an example for me and my siblings to never give up and keep moving towards achieving our goals.”

Tama also added on Haku’s love for his Pacific people, “My dad is that guy who’s proud of any Polynesian that he sees playing sports; just seeing them representing where they come from – makes him proud. He’s continuously trying to be a good role model and dad. He’s always rooting for the Tongans that play rugby regardless of what country they play for; even when he sees Polys playing football like the Samoans and Fijians, he’s always got love for everybody”.

After reading my perspective and the stories of the wrestlers who were inspired by King Haku, I hope you now can understand the significance that King Haku has had on his people and to a great extent – on pro wrestling. King Haku may have just been a character that was brought to life by Tonga Fifita, but I would suggest that Tonga Fifita has displayed the fruits of a kind and generous ruler. To Haku’s family, he was a loving provider; steeped in principles and values. As a teacher, he offered words of wisdom and guidance to a young Samoan wrestler who was making his way into the wrestling profession. On the radio, Haku delivered messages of support to all the Pacific people he sees chasing their dreams in the public eye; he encourages the young to pursue higher education and has as a passion for Pacific communities. To me; King Haku was the first prominent Pacific character to be shown on an international screen; the ascension of King Haku exemplified that Pacific wrestlers that followed could achieve their goals without compromising their identity. LONG LIVE THE KING!

Thank you to  @Tama_Tonga  @TOKSFALE  @ManaPW  @usoATL and @2NuiTofiga for contributing to this article; alofa atu.

@Ite_Lemalu


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Opinion

Building The NWO In 2018

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NWO Logo

On May 27, 1996, Scott Hall shocked the wrestling world when he waltzed into a WCW ring (during a match) and cut the promo that would change everything. Initially pitched as an “invasion” angle, Hall would later be joined by Kevin Nash as The Outsiders. When the “third man” was revealed, it was much bigger than Mabel, it was none other than the biggest star in the history of the business, Hulk Hogan. The NWO was born and wrestling was never the same again.

Eric Bischoff turned a fan question around to his Twitter following, asking who could be used to build a new NWO in 2018. Sounds like a great time to me!

In order to build a proper NWO, certain elements are needed, and in a certain order. So let’s start with the Scott Hall role.


The Initial Invader: Cody Rhodes

Scott Hall kicked off the angle, entering from the crowd and getting an immediate reaction. The Initial Invader needs to have a chip on his shoulder regarding WWE, and needs to be able to cut a scathing promo to get this over in 2018. The man for the job is none other than Cody Rhodes.

Cody Rhodes requested his release from WWE while working the Stardust gimmick. After a promising initial run, he realized he needed to leave and reinvent himself. Scott Hall initially left WCW under his Diamond Studd gimmick, gaining (then) WWF fame as Razor Ramon.

The first man needs to get the people talking, and no one is better for that than Cody Rhodes. Cody is hot, and he can set the world in fire as the Initial Invader.

Others considered: NONE.


The Back-Up/Muscle: Pentagon Jr

Kevin Nash made his WCW debut (as Kevin Nash, anyways) walking up to the commentary booth. He would go on to, at times, take the lead for the NWO. And he has absolutely zero similarities to Pentagon Jr. He, of course, gained his initial WWF fame as Diesel, former bodyguard to Shawn Michaels and eventual WWF Champion.

This is about building a 2018 NWO, and Pentagon Jr is perfect for this role. He’s an ass kicker, can be any type of enforcer needed, and he’s intimidating. He speaks better English than anyone ever gives him credit for, and we all know what he’s capable of in the ring.

Even in 1996, we had enough access online to easily make the connection from Scott Hall’s debut to Kevin Nash’s. Pentagon Jr would be more of a surprise, which is needed in 2018. He’s not a “former WWE talent” in the mold of Hall and Nash (or Rhodes), but he doesn’t need to be. In fact, it’s better that he’s not.

There’s one more reason to include Pentagon as the second guy: he’s OVER. Like crazy over. Like one of the Top 5 most over wrestlers in the entire world.

Others considered: Kenny Omega (too obvious), John Morrison, and Brian Cage.


The Third Man: John Cena

You can’t have the NWO without the third man, can you? Listening to 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff, you’ll learn that Sting and Hulk Hogan were under consideration to be the third man in the NWO. The modern day equivalent is basically Randy Orton and John Cena. In that time, Hogan was the obvious choice, and Cena is that here.

Randy Orton would be totally fine as the third man, but he’s just like Sting in the fact that if he’s the big reveal, it’s not being talked about 20 years later.

John Cena is the Modern Day Hulk Hogan. He would have to deal with the same issues as Hogan in turning heel: the kids, the families, Make-A-Wish, merchandise sales, etc. It’s not an easy call to completely turn your back on who made you.

But if this were to actually happen (and I don’t see it ever happening), it has to be Cena. There is no other performer that can turn and make such an impact as John Cena.

Others considered: Randy Orton, Kevin Owens, and Sasha Banks.


Expanding the Crew

The NWO didn’t stay at three members all that long. In total you had 45 members in WCW. You had tribes such as the Elite, the B-Team, Hollywood, Wolfpac, and 2000.

I’m not going THAT far, but we do have the chance to add some members that are of interest…

  • Kevin Owens  – the second turncoat (The Giant)
  • Shane McMahon – the office (Eric Bischoff)
  • The Young Bucks – the pest(s) (Syxx/X-Pac)
  • Andrade Almas – the mid-card guy (Buff Bagwell)
  • Zelina Vega – the manager (Elizabeth)
  • Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre (the later additions)
  • Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins (the “now this is too much” guys like when Sting and Lex Luger joined)

What do you think? Tweet @ChairshotGreg and @theCHAIRSHOTcom using the hashtag #UseYourHead to share your three founding members of what would be the 2018 NWO!


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Is Shinsuke Nakamura Right Where He Belongs In WWE?

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Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the top stars working in the pro wrestling business today. That’s due in large part of course to his proven track record in New Japan Pro Wrestling. But it’s also due to his time in WWE. But some fans are wondering where he stands today.

Nakamura is a born entertainer, there is no denying that. He has the ability to turn on his charisma at the push of a button and it may very well be that he never turns it off. Shinsuke looks and acts like a star because he is one. He has a full understanding of how to play the game and very few play it better than he does. So is he right where he belongs?

Many would argue he’s not and that’s understandable. He was so hot in New Japan that imagining him as anything any less was impossible when he left the company. He was the rockstar of New Japan and he embraced that role like no one before him ever had. It was logical to assume that his success would directly translate to WWE’s main stage.

Of course that assumption was perhaps not rooted in reality. WWE didn’t exactly have the best track record when it came to promoting Japanese Superstars. Then there was the fact that many independent talents were often encouraged to change their gimmicks upon arriving in Vince McMahon’s company. But there was reason to hope for the best.

This is not the same WWE that so many indie stars encountered in the past. This WWE embraced the independent scene and used that fact to its advantage. WWE does not force a guy to change who he is, merely for the sake of trying something new. In fact many Superstars are now extensions of their former selves. WWE allows them to bring what they have to the table so they can expand upon it.

It’s true that WWE’s treatment of Japanese talents has been less than stellar but Shinsuke Nakamura is an exceptionally gifted athlete. There was just no way that WWE, or any other company, could ever look at him and not see him for the star that he is. So if he’s allowed to be himself and if he’s given an opportunity to impress on the main event level, then what would stop him from excelling in WWE?

Shinsuke Nakamura came in like a star and that’s exactly how he was booked. WWE did right by him and much to everyone’s surprise, Shinsuke did get the red carpet treatment. He conquered NXT, just as many knew he would. But he also received an impressive amount of spotlight when he came to the main roster. 

Nakamura was presented as a respected athlete known around the world because that’s exactly what he is. The company knew what it had with him and any doubt as to WWE’s ability to properly book him was gone. This was the Shinsuke Nakamura that everyone wanted. He was the real deal.

But somewhere along the way, things began to go a bit south. Nakamura’s heel turn at WrestleMania 34 was shocking and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it was completely out of character for him. Yes, Nakamura had been a vicious heel in New Japan. He was fully capable of turning on anyone at any time and he would do it with a smile on his face. However, that was The King of Strong Style. 

This Nakamura is The Artist. His canvass is the WWE ring and his artwork is beyond compare. Shinsuke was popular because he was different. He was over because he was unique. His flair for the dramatic set him apart from everyone else and it made him a must-see WWE Superstar. He was indeed an attraction.

But the moment he turned on AJ Styles was the moment he put the WWE Championship above his art. Nakamura was no longer an exceptional character capable of wowing an audience of millions. Now he was just another heel with an agenda. What made him special was overshadowed by what made him typical. Shinsuke was just like everyone else. But is that really the case?

Nakamura has thrived in many respects since WrestleMania 34. He was able to use a different side of his personality and he learned to get over in different ways. Instead of using his crowd-pleasing character to make the fans smile, he now uses it to make them recoil in confusion. What’s wrong with him? Why does he act like this? What happened to the lovable guy we once knew?

Now his character is more enigmatic than ever before. Was The Artist persona merely just a mask he wore to fool everyone and now he’s finally showing the world his true self? Is he now Batman when he previously had everyone believing he was Bruce Wayne? Shinsuke Nakamura is fully immersing himself in this twisted version that WWE fans didn’t even know existed. But most importantly, he’s loving every minute of it.

There’s a reason why Shinsuke Nakamura is the United States champion. That belt could have landed on any number of SmackDown Live Superstars but it currently sits on Nakamura’s waist. Why? Because he can wear it like no one else can and because he’s a Japanese Superstar that came to WWE with dreams of doing great work on the worldwide stage. That’s exactly what he’s doing and he doesn’t need the main event in order to do it. 

Would fans love to see him as WWE champion? Yes. Could he wear that title and add value to it? Absolutely. Does he need it in order for fans to consider him successful? Absolutely not. Shinsuke Nakamura may not be the top guy and he may not be the face of WWE but he is an important piece of the presentation. But is that enough?

The fact is that Nakamura will probably leave WWE one day. He will likely return to New Japan and reclaim his throne as The King of Strong Style. But until then, fans have a chance to enjoy one of the most colorful and capable characters that WWE offers today. He may get a run at the top eventually. If he does, then everything that came before will merely be just another chapter in his story. With any luck, that story is far from over.


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Who Is The Villain? Charlotte or Becky?

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Becky Lynch

One of the biggest stories coming out of SummerSlam was the complete disintegration of the friendship between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch after Flair seemingly stole the SmackDown Women’s Championship from Lynch when Lynch seemingly had the match won, but hitting Lynch with Natural Selection for the three count. A furious Lynch knocked out her former friend and left her in a heap. Now, the surface narrative has been Becky turning heel, but the WWE Universe hasn’t been cooperating with that narrative, preferring to cheer Becky as the hero of this tale and boo Charlotte as the villain. Are they right or is this another example of fans hijacking the narrative?

Heel!Becky. This is the WWE narrative: Becky was so outraged by Charlotte stealing her moment again, she turned on Charlotte and has repeatedly attacked her former friend from behind, which is certainly what a heel would do.

The pros of this has been Becky’s new attitude and her more ruthless approach in the ring. The way she turned was very heelish. To hug your best friend and congratulate her and then slap the taste out of her mouth and beat her up is extremely heelish…or it should be.

The problem is that Becky’s reaction is perfectly understandable. Pretty much everyone knows a Charlotte Flair, the favorite that always gets the breaks, whether or not they’ve really earned it. For Becky, who had worked so hard to earn that title shot, to have Charlotte basically get a shot just for showing up and then stealing the title from her, would’ve been hard to swallow, especially knowing that you had the match won and your ‘friend’ not only cost you the title but attacked you and pinned you to win that title.

Heel!Charlotte.  This is the fan narrative: Charlotte is the heel because she didn’t have to work nearly as hard as Becky to get that SummerSlam title shot, all she did was show up for work and win one match, while Becky had to beat every heel in the division. Charlotte also seems to have made the decision to attack and pin Becky rather than Carmella. That’s an extremely shitty thing to do to someone you consider a friend, especially knowing how hard that friend worked to get the opportunity you stole from her.

Charlotte doesn’t help her case by acting like an entitled princess who can’t understand why people  don’t get why she deserves to always be champion, even when she doesn’t. Her derision of Becky as ‘insecure’ and saying that Becky didn’t deserve the title because she didn’t win, even though Becky HAD the match won and basically derided and insulted the person she used to call a friend, shows a level of narcissism that’s just shy of being a serial killer. It shows that in Charlotte’s mind, it’s ALL about her and that she’s the only one who deserves to be champion and if you’re not going to cheer for her and support her, you’re nothing to her. This is a woman who will not tolerate her flaws being pointed out, even when she deserves to be called out. That’s not much of a babyface.

However, Charlotte’s reaction to Becky’s comments isn’t that uncommon with how other babyface champions have reacted to insults, justified or not. John Cena has been infamous for having similar reactions to being called out, and a lot of women would probably have had similar reactions during a fight with a good friend.

If there is a defense for Charlotte’s behavior, it may be that her path to WWE was SO different from Becky’s which makes it hard for her to understand why Becky was so upset, but at the same time, she doesn’t seem to really want to understand or care. To her, Becky is just jealous and insecure, not someone with a legitimate reason to be angry.

So, who is the real heel here? Well, in the words of Obi-Wan-Kenobi, it depends on your own point of view. Both women have a real claim to be the righteous party in this argument, but it’s pretty clear that, at least to most fans, Becky is the hero who struck back at teacher’s pet, Charlotte. It remains to be seen if WWE will get on board or stick with their chosen narrative.


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