Today In Wrestling History 5/28: Student Dies Training With Great Khali, Hart Family Conflict, More

* 48 years ago in 1967, wrestler and promoter Karl "Doc" Sarpolis passed away at 69 years of age. A long-time wrestler and promoter who had a hand in running shows all over Texas, Sarpolis is best-known historically for being the man who invented blading. Legendary junior heavyweight Danny McShain gets a lot of the credit for popularizing the practice, but Sarpolis is generally considered the one to have actually started it.

* 39 years ago in 1976, Satoru Sayama, best known as the original Tiger Mask, made his pro wrestling debut on a New Japan Pro Wrestling card in a match with Shoji Kai. As a junior heavyweight rookie debuting not long before the start of the junior heavyweight division, he didn't really have a place for a few years, as Tatsumi Fujinami had seniority and the division was going to be built around him. He did have a somewhat high profile kickboxing match where he was badly dominated by Marc Costello, and that was probably the most high profile thing he did early on.

When Sayama was sent abroad for his learning excursion, he spent most (if not all) of his time in Mexico and England (where he wrestled as Sammy Lee), which had more opportunities in the lighter weight classes. He absorbed as much of the local styles as he could while also introducing kickboxing techniques into his work.

Sayama gained a reputation as one of the best foreign wrestlers in the histories of both countries. He moved back to Japan for his big break, when, in 1981, NJPW licensed the Tiger Mask pro wrestler character from the anime of the same name.

With his new persona, more diverse style, a more mature and established junior heavyweight division, and opponents like Dynamite Kid, Kuniaki Kobayashi, and Marc "Rollerball" Rocco as the evil Black Tiger, the real world Tiger Mask was a gigantic hit. NJPW was in the middle of a boom period, and Tiger Mask became the most popular wrestler to kids across Japan, usurping the spot that All Japan Pro Wrestling's Mil Mascaras had held for a decade. Tiger Mask's prime didn't last long, though: Sayama's first retirement came in 1983.

He returned as Super Tiger in 1984 as part of the first UWF, a splinter promotion that started doing NJPW-style matches before moving to shoot-style (as real-looking as anyone could picture pre-mixed martial arts). He adapted well, but eventually had a falling out with management, wrote an expose called "Kayfabe," and left to start a new sport that he called Shooting. Shooting eventually started running amateur events around 1989 and evolved into Shooto, the first proto-MMA promotion, which still exists to this day.

Sayama eventually left Shooto and went back to pro wrestling. He still wrestles on smaller shows including those from his own promotion, Real Japan Pro Wrestling.

* 30 years ago in 1985, Hisako Uno, better known by eventual ring nam Akira Hokuto, made her pro wrestling debut for All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling when she was 17 years old. Back then, teenage girls all over Japan lived and died by the every move of AJW's top stars, especially the Crush Gals and their villainous rivals led by Dump Matsumoto. Hundreds of girls (or more) from all over the country would flock to their tryouts to try to become the next big star. One of the brightest pospects was Hisako Uno.

She formed a tag team with Yumiko Hotta, and in 1987, they managed to win the promotion's WWWA World Tag Team Championship. Thy lost the titles to the Red Typhoons (Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura, both of whom are incredibly underrated, forgotten great performers) after just 12 days in an incredible match that's one of AJW's most famous of the era, but for the wrong reasons.

Uno got spiked with a second rope tombstone piledriver to lose the first fall, legitimately breaking her neck. Her neck was adjusted between falls, and while she was able to perfom, she's clearly in pain, earning her a reputation for her guts. The urban legend that she's holding her neck in place for the duration of the match isn't true, but she's clearly favoring the injury throughout.

After a long layoff, she debuted the "Dangerous Queen" Akira Hokuto personality and established herself as one of the very best wrestlers in the world, man or women. She was hell on wheels, but she continued to be injury prone, eventually retiring in 1994. It didn't last long, as her Nitro-era WCW run (where she won their women's title) shows, and while she did slow down at times, she still had some amazing performances, most notably another retirement match against Meiko Satomura in the GAEA promotion.

These days, she's a mainstream celebrity on Japanese talk shows with her husband, veteran wrestler Kensuke Sasaki. A whirlwhind romance after they met in 1995 led to a quick engagement and marriage. They have two biological children and also "adopted" (it's always been unclear if it was an actual adoption) protege Katsuhiko Nakajima.

* 19 years ago in 1996, WWF In Your House: Beware of Dog 2 aired live on pay-per-view from the monthly Superstars tapings in North Charleston, South Carolina. After viewers at home saw replays of the two PPV matches (Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Marc Maro and Shawn Michaels vs. Davey Boy Smih) that weren't affected by the blackout two nights earlier, three matches aired live. Savio Vega defeated Steve Austin in a Caribbean Strap Match and thus forcing manager Ted DiBiase to leave the WWF, Vader defeated Yokozuna, and Goldust defeated The Undertaker in a casket match.

While not in front of as hot a crowd as their match two nights earlier was supposed to be, Austin vs. Vega lived up to the hype and had an excellent match, the first really strong effort from Austin in his WWF run. This match quickly became an important moment for establishing his character, as he soon revealed that he had thrown the match to be able to easily get rid of DiBiase.

In one of the dark matches, long-time area tag team The Ringlords, working as The Overlords, defeated Matt and Jeff Hardy in a tryout match.

* 14 years ago in 2001, the WWF held a live Monday Night Raw in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Onscreen, it was most notable for Steve Austin beating Chris Benoit in a Monreal-inspired screwjob finish. In the real world, the story was the strife that the show caused within th Hart family, as the siblings who weren't siding with the lawsuit over Owen's death (Ellie, Diana, Smith, and Bruce) took Stu to the show, where they were placed at ringside. Smith Hart even had a "Hi Bret!" sign with him. The whole incident led to a brief estrangement between Bret and his parents as well as Owen's wife Martha completely disengaging from Stu and Helen until Helen's hospitalization shortly before her death.

* On that same day in 2001, Brian Ong, a trainee in All Pro Wrestling's Boot Camp school in Hayward, California, passed away due to complications from head injuries suffered in training. Ong was sent back in the ring after suffering previous concussions and took a turn for the worse after a bad landing practicing taking a move (described as everything from a spinebuster to a flapjack to an Alabama Slam) from Dalip "Great Khali" Singh.

Ong's family sued APW and won a $2,011,860 judgment, thanks in large part to their son being rushed back into the ring after showing obvious signs of a concussion. APW owner Roland Alexander (who since passed away in 2013) later said on Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling podcast that the school's liability insurance covered the judgment.

* 13 years ago in 2002, Dan Severn vacated the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. This was explained as Severn being unable to schedule a title defense for the first NWA TNA (as the new promotion was called at the time) pay-per-view event a few weeks later. In reality, TNA had leased the title (as well as the NWA World Tag Team Championship) for five years and had no interest in using Severn, so the title would go to the winner of the battle royal that headlined their debut show.

* 6 years ago in 2009, "The Golden Greek" John Tolos passed away due to complications from kidney failure. While best known to younger generations for his very brief WWF run managing Mr. Perfect and The Beverly Brothers as "Coach," Tolos was one of the living legends of California wrestling thanks in large part to his legendary feud with Fred Blassie in 1971.

As was common in the territorial days, Blassie needed an "injury" excuse to go on a tour of Japan. Tolos, jealous of Blassie winning Wrestler of the Year, went into ringside physician Dr. Bernhardt Schwartz's bag. Found some Monsel Powder (a real product; it had the same clotting material used in styptic pencils), and threw it in Blassie's eyes.

Incredible promos on both sides led to to the program becoming red hot, with the big match booked outdoors at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. They drew 25,847 fans paying over $142,000, and that doesn't include movie theaters in the area that showed the event live on closed circuit television. Blassie and Tolos always felt that the crowd and gate were bigger than promoter Mike Lebell let on.


Back To Top