Former Sumo, vaunted trainer and highly influential pro wrestler Kazuo Sakurada has passed away aged 71 years old. Best known in North America for his work in Stampede and WCW, he adapted the Kendo Nagasaki gimmick made famous by Pete Thornley in the UK in his time in the Memphis territory in the mid-seventies. He began his combat career in Sumo as part of the Tatsunami stable in 1964. He would have a productive career achieving the Makaushita 13 rank and having a tournament win in 1966 before retiring in 1971.
He would then begin training in the old JWA, the organisation that was the premier company in Japan at the time. He would join All Japan in the great schism of Puroresu in 1973 that saw the end of the JWA sighting political differences with Seiji Sakaguchi and friend Kengo Kimura who jumped to New Japan. He would spend a lot of time in Canada after the jump working for Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion well into the early eighties, winning the North American title in 1978. Perhaps his greatest influence would be his work as a trainer having a hand in crafting the burgeoning career of Stu’s son, Bret Hart.
He would journey to Memphis next where he developed the Kendo Nagasaki character which can be seen as a precursor to the Great Kabuki and Great Muta, popularising the exotic face paint and Kendo stick as a supernatural gimmick. He would in fact tag with Keiji Muto, then known as White Ninja whilst on excursion in the southern US. Sakurada would also tag with Mr. Pogo as the Ninja Express a team that would return to Japan for the New Japan, Japan Cup tag tournament in 1987.
The late eighties would bring another change of gimmick as The Dragon Master, joining The Great Muta, Terry Funk and Buzz Sawyer in Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation in 1989. J-Tex was not long for this world sadly and he returned to Japan in the early nineties working for the fledgeling FMW at first before joining Genichiro Tenryu, his former Sumo stablemate, to help get SWS off the ground. With the end of SWS in 1992, he moved into promotion forming Network if wrestling in 1992 before closing shop in 1995. He would become a lead figure in the back office world helping form Big Japan Pro Wrestling in 1999, the company would become his lasting legacy. He would retire in 2000 on an Onita Pro show.
Kazuo Sakurada is one of those wrestlers who, while never a massive star, was incredibly influential in the character development of Japanese wrestlers. His work as Nagasaki paved the way for a myriad of characters in the must throwing line right up to an including Rosemary of Impact Wrestling today. His willingness as a well-respected veteran gave young companies like FMW, SWS and ultimately BJW a base level of credibility that enabled them to grab a foothold in turbulent markets. He will be sorely missed.
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