Karl Gotch’s Number One Student: The Yoshiaki Fujiwara Interview Part Three of Three: On Bart Vale, Ken Shamrock, and the Eventual Demise of Fujiwara-Gumi By William Colosimo | firstname.lastname@example.org William Colosimo: Would you say that Bart Vale and Wayne Shamrock were the two most popular foreign fighters in Fujiwara-Gumi? (Editor’s Note: Ken Shamrock went by Wayne- his middle name- for most of his fight career in Japan, including the entire time he worked with Mr. Fujiwara) Yoshiaki Fujiwara: Yeah, that was probably so. Bart Vale and Shamrock were the most popular. Everyone who came in to Fujiwara-Gumi was good. They all had heart. Colosimo: Shamrock said he was paid by Sammy Soranaka for a full year’s worth of Fujiwara-Gumi matches up front. Was that standard procedure, and what would be the benefit of payment all in advance? Fujiwara: Oh, really? I didn’t hear anything about it. I don’t know. Mark Ruina: Was that standard operating procedure? Fujiwara: I don’t know. Ruina: It would usually just be monthly pay, right? Fujiwara: No, it was per match. They would come to Japan for the fight and get paid, I think it was like that. Colosimo: Bart Vale promoted a Fujiwara-Gumi card in Miami, Florida in March of 1992. Fujiwara: Yeah, he put an event on. Colosimo: You had a championship match with Bart on that card. Was this title one that was just acknowledged on the United States cards to help the company grow in that country? (Editor’s Note: The fight was announced as being for the “Shootfighting Championship of the World” with Mr. Fujiwara entering the ring as champion. Bart won the match and became the new champion. All of the Fujiwara-Gumi events prior to this one were held in Japan, and the organization never crowned a champion there) Fujiwara: No, that was, Soranaka thought that up. It was for advertising, he made it as advertising. Ruina: To make an American Fujiwara-Gumi champion? Fujiwara: No, it was just Soranaka’s public relations move. But so many people came to see the event and it was well received. Ruina: Did the event have any positive effects on Fujiwara-Gumi? Fujiwara: In Japan? Ruina: Yes. Fujiwara: Ahhh, well, America is different so… it might have had some advertising effect for us, on Fujiwara-Gumi. Colosimo: How important was Vale to the Fujiwara-Gumi organization? Fujiwara: Yes, he was important. He also went to two seminars. He owned a gym, he was the boss there. He gathered people from that and they came to the two seminars, three days each, submission seminars. They were submission seminars. Ruina: Did Vale put those seminars on? Fujiwara: No, no, I put them on. Colosimo: I understand he had a close relationship with Soranaka. Fujiwara: Yes, they were close. Ruina: How about you? Fujiwara: Well, Vale, we did a lot of sparring together. He was originally a taekwondo fighter, taekwondo, right. Colosimo: I heard that he helped the company with various things- such as having patches made up for the group or bringing large quantities of sneakers over to Japan from the United States. Fujiwara: (Laughter) Well, that, that was, Soranaka just did that as a business deal by himself. I also bought some. (Laughter) You know so much. So much! That guy, Soranaka! Colosimo: Did you begin training Vale one on one after a while? Fujiwara: Me, yes. One time, when we were sparring, and I got him in a tight body lock, and he went to reciprocate like “I’ll show this guy!” and one of my ribs broke. One of my ribs broke “snap.” I said “Oh my God, hold on.” I had broken one of my ribs. He was so strong! So big. I was the one who went for the attack, but he only countered and “snap.” The bone broke (laughter). But it was just an accident! Ruina: Did you immediately forgive him? Fujiwara: Yeah, that’s just training, and he’s a friend. It was nothing. It happens all the time. Ruina: What was Soranaka’s effect on the organization? Fujiwara: He was the most senior guy. So, the guys didn’t need to listen to what I said, they could also go and listen to what he had to say. Soranaka was polite, kind of soft. And I was like “What, motherf**ker?” He was softer, so sometimes guys wanted to talk with him instead. He was vital in the sense of being a cushion for us. Colosimo: How about his death? That must have made running the business difficult. Fujiwara: Ahhh, it really became a pain in the ass! I’m different from a businessman. I’m not good at negotiating. I’m immediately like “What the f**k!” and it’s over. It was really rough. Now, I’m running this alone- well, the two of us here (Editor’s Note: Mr. Fujiwara refers to his business partner, who was present). I’m really different from a businessman. How do you say “tanki” in English? Ruina: Short temper. Fujiwara: Short temper! (Laughter) That’s me. “Tanki” is short temper. It makes things difficult for me. I’m always causing trouble. Ruina: So his death had quite an effect. Fujiwara: Yes, it was very difficult. Colosimo: How about the effect on the wrestlers? Fujiwara: The wrestlers, right. Soranaka was their cushion, a good consulting partner for them, a good person. When he passed, it was… Colosimo: Was Sammy the one who mainly dealt with company owner Tanaka? Fujiwara: No, well, Soranaka, when an event was going to be put on, he would come to Japan for about a week and then return to Tampa. So, the person always in Japan was me. But I think maybe he did go to Tanaka’s a lot. Colosimo: In May of 1992 you had a rematch vs Don “Nakaya” Nielsen (Editor’s Note: Mr. Fujiwara had originally faced the kickboxer in a stiff pro wrestling match in NJPW in July 1988. This rematch in Fujiwara-Gumi ended in a little over a minute when Nielsen threw a head kick that clearly stunned and opened up a cut on Mr. Fujiwara, in a match that appeared to possibly have turned into a shoot. I’m unclear if this is officially a no contest, or a win for Nielsen). Fujiwara: My thoughts on it? That’s difficult. It’s difficult to talk about that. So, the second time, that other guy fought him- Shamrock. Colosimo: Did your match go differently than what was planned? Fujiwara: Unexpected? What can I say… there was business- it’s difficult, you see (laughter). Colosimo: Shamrock stated his match with Nielsen was his first full shoot. Fujiwara: Right, yeah. Shamrock went to fight him. Shamrock came to me and said “Let me do it” and I said “Oh. Okay.” That’s the way it was (laughter). Colosimo: Were there any impacts from this match afterward? Fujiwara: None at all. Colosimo: How early on did you begin to think that Funaki and Suzuki were looking to create a new company? Fujiwara: So, Tanaka was an incorporated public company, and they have things to think about. The shareholders thought that doing pro wrestling, it seemed a little strange, so he had to back away from his support of Fujiwara-Gumi. So, he was unable to give us any more money. But I myself received some money from him, like a parting gift. I took that. I thought I would continue doing it by myself, with the guys that would come with me, but it was difficult. I didn’t have experience as a proprietor like that, so in the end, Fujiwara-Gumi ended. It’s, if you run a business, all sorts of strange people come to pay visits on you. So, everyone can end up getting tricked, and the money disappears. It’s really difficult. Colosimo: Once Megane Super decided they wanted out of the pro wrestling business, they authorized Tanaka to sell you the company? Or was Tanaka allowed to just make a clean break and hand it over to you? Fujiwara: Tanaka simply turned the company over to me. Ruina: Did you speak about Pancrase with Funaki? Fujiwara: No. Fujiwara-Gumi ended, and then those guys made the new organization. Oh well. Colosimo: There were two shows right after the split- one in January 1993, and a Bart Vale run show on U.S. soil in February 1993- before the group went on a short hiatus until June 1993. Wayne Shamrock stayed with your group for these two shows. What were your immediate plans and hopes for Fujiwara-Gumi right after the split? Fujiwara: At the end? After Tanaka dropped out? I wanted to continue Fujiwara-Gumi by myself but by that point it was impossible, so that was the end. There are a lot of people that will come to you when you run a business and try to deceive you. So, it was a pain in the ass for me and I ended it. The two of us, we have been doing this now for 20 years, more than 20 years, and even now there are all kinds of trouble (Editor’s Note: Mr. Fujiwara again refers to his business partner). There’s a lot of trouble in the pro wrestling world. Suzuki and Funaki ended up in a lot of trouble too. A lot happened. Issues with money, a lot of difficulties. So for me, it was just the end. Now, I’m doing all kinds of things, I’m writing books, pottery, traditional arts. So, the road was the right one. I can do only what I want. I paint, make pottery. Colosimo: Toyohiko “Yuki” Ishikawa was the one Japanese wrestler who stayed with the organization after 1992- why do you feel he stayed, while the others left? Fujiwara: Don’t ask me (laughter). Please ask Ishikawa. For five years, he was working as a coach in Canada. You know, right? And recently he has been back in Japan. Colosimo: When Funaki was forming Pancrase, what did you think he was aiming at? Did you have some impression of that at the time? Fujiwara: I really don’t know. But, well, I think those guys were following their ideal. But then they came back to me. It was like that. Colosimo: Thank you very much for all of your answers. Fujiwara: Oh, I’m so exhausted. Wow! But yeah, the start of MMA- you had Gotch, you had Inoki. And I was an intermediary or middleman. As far as the history goes. That’s how I believe it is.