Monster heels exist to make children scared. They live to have us worry about the well-being of the people their performing with, and what they might do to our favorite characters. They exist not because every hero needs a seemingly impossible task to overcome, but because watching them allows us to contextualize our heroes against the impossible. They are a test, in both a literal and metaphorical sense, of the boundaries.
It’s why great monsters are measured not by how invincible they are, but how vulnerable they can be and still scare us. Because while things that go bump in the night can be frightening because of our fear of the unknown, it’s nothing compared to how scary it can be to feel like you’ve sleepwalked underneath evolutionary ladder. The mystery of danger is almost fun even when it’s harrowing, especially if we are watching it. But the danger of being left behind is existentially horrifying.
Which, for at least a while, Yokozuna represented that better than almost anyone has in the history of wrestling.
In his own way, the sumo wrestling Yokozuna, born Rodney Anoa’i in San Francisco, was not just an avatar for post-Hogan world of professional wrestling. A place where Brutus the Barber Beefcake isn’t just a guy who struts/cuts for fun, but moonlights as a hairdresser. He represented the fusing of cross disciplines which would pave the way for an entire universe of mixed martial arts. Now, that’s not to say the introduction of Yokozuna as a 500lb. anti-American sumo champion helped spark the MMA revolution – that would be insane, and almost impossible to prove even if it wasn’t – it did make him scary in a way we had never seen before.
Supposedly being a sumo wrestler – especially to the seven-year-olds in the audience – gave him cache not just as an athlete but an outsider. In a pre-UFC world, it made him a contemptible carpetbagger looking to encroach on the carefully protected turf of professional wrestling. Whether or not it was intentional, by making him as such, it gave us a reason to hate him before he even opened his mouth to tell us BANZAI while his American spokesperson – the invaluable James E. Cornette – ran down our home country on his behalf.
For all of 1993 and a sizable portion of 1994 – which we’ll get to later this week with some Kayfabermetrics – Yoko terrorized the entire roster, serving as a human red pen used to write performers off television or change the direction of entire storylines with a BANZAI drop (or four). Like Victor Von Doom, or Lex Luthor, he because not just a villain, but THE villain who fictional surroundings molded themselves around him.
With some help from friends, he embarrassed Randy Savage at the Royal Rumble, stole a victory (and WWF title) from Bret Hart in the main event of WrestleMania, ended the 10-plus-year run of Hulk Hogan as King Shit of Fuck Mountain, derailed the Lex Express and killed the Undertaker in a match that still remains – at least for this correspondent – a formative moment in the history of not just the Undertaker’s character but professional wrestling in general. And he did it in his first year in the company.
A heel of epic proportions in every sense of the word, he was Lesnar, Owens and Rusev. Combined, all in a time when Brock was still in high school, Mr. Steen was speaking French, and before Boris Yeltsin’s nose turned red.
And while he reign on top didn’t last long, it provided a blueprint for the future of the bad guy part of the business in a time where what it meant to be a hero and a villain was being increasingly confused. He wasn’t there to be anyone’s friend, and he didn’t care about the WWE Universe. But he did so more with his actions and his in-ring work than by the promos that were cut on his behalf. He, in a way that has become increasingly lost in a Tell-Don’t-Show WWE, proved every show why he was so good at being so bad.
And, if at the end of the night, you still weren’t convinced, he had a Banzai Drop (or four) to persuade you otherwise.