Karl Gotch’s Number One Student: The Yoshiaki Fujiwara Interview Part Two of Three: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi But Were Afraid to Ask By William Colosimo | firstname.lastname@example.org William Colosimo: Can you describe the creation of the Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi? Yoshiaki Fujiwara: Ahhh, that’s like, U.W.F. was destroyed, and I was already 41, I think, and I thought of giving up on wrestling. Then Megane Super, they came to me (Editor’s Note: Megane Super was and is a large eyeglass company based out of Japan). Mark Ruina: President (Hachiro) Tanaka… Fujiwara: Right, President Tanaka. He came to me with an idea. I hemmed and hawed and then Funaki and Suzuki came to see me early one morning. I woke up, and when my eyes opened a little, I saw a car outside. I thought “Who the hell are these guys?” But they asked “Do you think we could do something?” And I was like well, I got asked about this from Tanaka so I thought “Okay, let’s do it.” And immediately called him. And within a week, we had formed a company. Ruina: So, the final decision came down to you? Fujiwara: Yes. I made the decision and then I told Tanaka, “I’ll do it.” Like “Let’s go.” And that was just one week. Colosimo: He was the owner of both the SWS (Super World Sports) and now Fujiwara-Gumi organizations? Fujiwara: Right, yes. Ruina: Did you have confidence it would go well? Fujiwara: Ahhh. Everyone was so selfish. (Laughter) Suzuki, too, Funaki, too, they were selfish. Selfish. Colosimo: Were there other popular Japanese wrestlers you attempted to recruit but couldn’t get? Fujiwara: No, so, my ideal was for amateurs to see us, to show them the real techniques- that was my ideal. I didn’t really have interest in famous people. Colosimo: Bart Vale told me that all three wrestling groups created after the dissolution of the newborn U.W.F. wanted to use the U.W.F. name, and that the Fujiwara-Gumi organization was originally supposed to be called “UWF Spirit.” Is this true? Fujiwara: I wanted to go with “UWF Fujiwara” but there was UWF International and all that. It was a pain in the ass, so I said we didn’t need it, and the name became Fujiwara-Gumi. Ruina: How about the name UWF Spirit? Fujiwara: Never heard of it. I mean, if you take the Japanese and you change it to English, it changes. I don’t know what that “spirit” would mean. What was it, New… New UWF Fujiwara, or something like that (Translator’s Note: Spirit is an English loanword with a lot of different meanings). Colosimo: The name Fujiwara-Gumi sounds like yakuza (Editor’s Note: Gumi basically translates to “family,” although with this usage it implies a crime family). Fujiwara: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, when I was making the company name, I hated the “X Company” or “something-something” sort of English style. I thought “What the hell should I do?” And then sparring before a NJPW match, a guy from a newspaper who was always there, he started saying “That’s Fujiwara-Gumi, Fujiwara-Gumi.” Soranaka, you know him- Masami (“Sammy”) Soranaka, he heard it and said “That’s good, that’s good, let’s go with that,” saying it in the Osaka style, “That’s good. That!” So, we went with Fujiwara-Gumi. Ruina: You and Soranaka were friends from way before? Fujiwara: So, 39 years ago, about when I was 30, I went to Gotch’s to train one time for a six month time, to receive his teachings, and Soranaka was there. You really know everything. Ruina: I’ve been a fan of MMA since the ‘90s, so to search its roots out… Fujiwara: If you want to find its roots, look no further than Inoki. Before that, in Japanese pro wrestling, there was Gotch, and then Hishakaku Otsubo, the kosen judo guy. That was the foundation of the shoot style. Inoki saw that and he liked it, and then he made NJPW. In NJPW, all the guys that liked that gathered there. And Inoki and Gotch were there along with, there was me and then after that Akira Maeda and others, Funaki, Suzuki, Kazuo Takahashi, they came and MMA was born. But the start of it all was the Ali fight, with Inoki. So, that’s the start of MMA, in my opinion. And I have another thing to say. The match between Inoki and Ali, people say it was a fake match, some people say that. But if it really was going to be fake, they would have made it way more interesting! The two of them, they were both pros. It would have been made a lot more interesting if it were to be fake. Everyone would be surprised and say “Good match!” But in the end, shoots are difficult. You understand? Samurai in movies clang their swords together- “Clang! Clang! Clang!”- but really, in a samurai duel with real katanas, you can’t just keep clashing swords. (Gestures holding a sword at the ready to strike down) You stay like this and you wait, maybe even hours you wait, and then your opponent (gestures losing his concentration just for a second) and then one strike and it’s over! That’s MMA! That’s what I think. Colosimo: Did you want to keep the wrestling style in Fujiwara-Gumi the same as it was in the newborn U.W.F.? Fujiwara: Basically, right. Colosimo: I understand that Mr. Gotch came to Japan for three months to help train wrestlers for the Fujiwara-Gumi organization, then came back at a later date for another three months. How did he generally run those classes? Fujiwara: He really was a top advisor. What would you say in English… like a president. You have the president or the prime minister, or the emperor. He was the authority, he had the authority, and he coached as the authority. Colosimo: For the first two years of Fujiwara-Gumi, 1991 and 1992- how did the wresters train during the times when Mr. Gotch wasn’t there in Japan? Fujiwara: Well, so, we would practice what Gotch taught us earlier in heavy repetition. Everyday. Ruina: Everyone as a group? Fujiwara: As they liked. Everyone would choose a partner to train with. They were all selfish, so everything was as they liked- training for many, many hours but how they felt like doing it. Colosimo: What was your relationship to Soranaka? Were you always on good terms? Fujiwara: Yeah, we were both around the same age, he was alive until 1992, so that means, he was about five years older. We were around the same age, so we talked a lot together. Ruina: And you ran the organization together? Fujiwara: Yes. We would consult together. But Tanaka was the boss. But Soranaka lived in Florida, so Tanaka and I also consulted with each other a lot. Ruina: So, the three of you? Fujiwara: Yes, we would occasionally get on the phone with Soranaka and consult. Colosimo: How did you and Soranaka split the workload of running the Fujiwara-Gumi organization? Fujiwara: How it was divided? Colosimo: How about the matchmaking? Fujiwara: The matchmaking was Soranaka and myself. Colosimo: How about the match endings? Fujiwara: That too was me and Soranaka. Colosimo: How much input did Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi owner Hachiro Tanaka give you and Soranaka concerning the running of the group in those first two years, 1991 and 1992? Fujiwara: No, it wasn’t like that. Tanaka gave the financing, but he didn’t really ask much or negotiate much, so as a sports sponsor, he was perfect. Colosimo: Funaki told me that while he was in Fujiwara-Gumi you had two office staff to help you run things. Bart Vale told me one of their names was Jerry. Can you tell me who they were, and what their basic duties were? Fujiwara: Oh, Jerry. He was a bad guy. A little demon. Ruina: Of the two office staff, one of them was Jerry? Fujiwara: Jerry had no power at all. He was a bad guy. Always sneaking. He was sneaky. Gotch called him a “sneaky bastard.” (Laughter) Ruina: Do you remember the names of the staff? Fujiwara: The office staff? So, the guy Jerry was a referee (Editor’s Note: Akinobu “Jerry” Kodama), and there was a Ms. Mitsuya, a girl. And after that was, who? Kawa… I think it was a man named Kawasaki. The staff changed a lot. Colosimo: Funaki and Suzuki had a great match in the newborn U.W.F.- was there any reason they never had a match against each other for the two years they were in the Fujiwara-Gumi organization? Fujiwara: Oh, really? In Fujiwara-Gumi, they were there for two years, so there wasn’t a chance maybe. But both of them were young boys, so they were still at that stage. They weren’t so known or popular, at that point, as young boys (Editor’s Note: “Young boys” refers to newer trainees who basically act as interns). Colosimo: How often would you see two wrestlers agree to have a real, “live” match in the gym to decide who would win their match at the actual public event? Fujiwara: Well, yeah, everyone was sparring together, so everyone knew who would win. Ruina: Was that a usual way of deciding the matches? Fujiwara: Not usual in that sense but just that everyone knew who was better. And we had to make the fans happy, if we didn’t do that, we would be in trouble. But the better guy also has to win or it wouldn’t be interesting. That balance was difficult. Colosimo: Kazuo Takahashi debuted on the second Fujiwara-Gumi card, in May of 1991. Fujiwara: Ah, it wasn’t planned, it was kind of a surprise for him to go out there. But Takahashi was a really good amateur wrestler. Colosimo: What were your thoughts on him during that time? What kind of personality did he have? Fujiwara: Oh, I don’t really remember. He was so-so. Colosimo: Did you directly train him early on? Fujiwara: Yes, yes. But he was an amateur wrestler, always making it to the finals every time in the All-Japans, he was that good (Editor’s Note: All-Japan Wrestling Championships). But, he started sparring with Funaki, and Funaki tapped him “boom boom boom boom,” over and over. Takahashi was blown away, saying “Holy shit!” and Funaki replied “Fujiwara’s a lot better.” I heard that they had that conversation. Takahashi went into shock. Speaking of him, Takahashi recently decided to quit MMA. He’s going to quit. The athletes use up their bodies, like my knee is shot, and their minds go, and they’re thrown out. But, for me, I didn’t want to do that. That’s it. Colosimo: What were your thoughts about the early crossovers SWS did with Fujiwara-Gumi? How did that come about? Fujiwara: (Laughter) You’re talking about two different levels of ability. Everyone was strong in Fujiwara-Gumi, speaking frankly. (Laughter) So, can I say? My mantra so to speak was that pro wrestlers have to be strong and on top of, like the icing, that they have to be able to make money. That’s my mantra. But at root, if a guy isn’t strong, you can’t call him a pro wrestler. Inoki was the same way. So, Inoki’s thinking and mine were the same. Ruina: So, President Tanaka is the one who put the crossover events together? Fujiwara: Yes. Colosimo: I was told that there was a meeting after the December 1992 Fujiwara-Gumi show between yourself, Funaki, Suzuki, and the SWS president. The meeting discussed merging Fujiwara-Gumi into the SWS organization. It was said that Funaki and Suzuki did not want to go in that direction, and that because of that you had suggested a break up between yourself and the wrestlers that did not want to merge with SWS. Fujiwara: Merging? No, from the start, SWS and Fujiwara-Gumi were both already Megane Super’s possessions. Ruina: I heard they would be put under one banner. Fujiwara: No, that wasn’t the case. Tanaka thought of SWS and Fujiwara-Gumi as separate distinct things. SWS is SWS, Fujiwara-Gumi is Fujiwara-Gumi. Ruina: So, he thought only to put on the occasional match or event between them? Fujiwara: Exactly. As events alone, to put them on in bigger venues. Colosimo: On an April, 1991 SWS card Minoru Suzuki and Apollo Sugawara had a match… Fujiwara: The incident? (Editor’s Note: The two pro wrestlers were in a worked match that turned into a shoot) Colosimo: Right. Can you tell me in your opinion what happened, and why the match went the way it did? Fujiwara: Right, yeah. That was, the balance between the promoters and the wrestlers. The promoters have to make money. So, they try to put on what seems like it will be interesting. They have to think about all sorts of things. But the guys in Fujiwara-Gumi had been doing nothing but this thing the whole time. There was no way we were going to lose, that is where we were mentally, emotionally. Then you put those together and you get trouble. Business and strength, the balance between them. We were young so we hadn’t really figured that out. Because we were young, we were like that, I can understand why. I wouldn’t be like that now, though. Ruina: Do you remember the match? Fujiwara: I definitely remember it. Ruina: How did it go? Fujiwara: I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember the incident. I was watching it. Ruina: Who started it? Fujiwara: The cause? Ahhh (laughter), that was Suzuki, right. Ruina: Turning it into a shoot… Fujiwara: Well, it was obvious to anyone that Suzuki was the better fighter. I mean he was training fighting, doing only that for a long time (laughter). So, well, the strength and the business, the interstices there, finding the center point between them is difficult. Colosimo: I understand that Suzuki, yourself, and other Fujiwara-Gumi people were being provoked backstage prior to the Suzuki match. Fujiwara: Ahhh, so, yeah, I forgot his name, the SWS referee got mad and came to me saying “I’ll kill you,” “I kill you.” But I said “Hahaha, if you think you can do it, come on and try…” (Laughter) “I’ll kill you inside of three minutes.” Because I was young and strong (laughter). Ruina: It sounds like it could have turned into an even more violent incident than what really happened. Fujiwara: It really could have! (Laughter) It was really dangerous. Those guys didn’t know anything. But what Gotch taught us, he taught to beat our opponent no matter what or how. Gotch’s coaching for fighting was an entirely different thing from sport fighting, because Gotch was going to war. Kill or be killed, that’s the way we were brought up. For example, (gestures a fish-hook) putting your finger in, or smashing an eyeball, or the ass hole- putting your finger in. He was always thinking about things like that. He would go to the zoo, and he would stare for hours, at like a bear or a lion, and he would ask himself why is a bear strong, why are lions strong. He would just stand and watch and think. The lion would move like this (gestures a Hindu push-up) and he would think “Ah ha, that’s it.” Push-up. Gotch was that kind of person. But, lions and bears are simply strong because of their DNA, right? (Laughter) But Gotch thought very seriously about it. He was that kind of person. So, what Gotch thought was different from what sports are. What should you do to beat your opponent? How do you beat him, how do you kill him? That’s what he was thinking about all the time. Ruina: He seems like an interesting person to meet. Fujiwara: He was a strange guy! (Laughter) But normally he was a gentleman. He was strange, though. But I mean “strange” from my heart. Colosimo: Were there any long term ramifications to Fujiwara-Gumi from that Suzuki match? Fujiwara: No, absolutely nothing. I understand the way Suzuki felt. I mean, if it were me, I probably would have done what he did (laughter).