WWE Icons season premiere highlights the legacy of Yokozuna, the first wrestler of the long lineage of Samoan WWE superstars to become WWE champion. It is yet another WWE Network documentary, during a time one would excuse fans if they felt a little burnt out when it comes to the company’s documentaries, as it feels there is a release every other day. However, in order to kick-off this new series with a bang and to ensure it stands out, WWE explores a story that’s never been told in great depth, and that’s the rise and fall of one of the most iconic big men in wrestling history, Rodney Anoa’i, aka Yokozuna. The result is a well constructed, heartfelt tribute to a Superstar that touched hearts, in the ring and out, and it also sets the tone for an intriguing new documentary series.
One thing the documentary does well from the offset is establishing the Icons series’ own unique style. It achieves this thanks to eye-catching shots of a dark empty ring, along with close-ups of the ropes and other parts of the ring, during the intro, giving the old school smoky arena look. In addition to this, the documentary introduces the various interview subjects with cutaways to stills of the subject along with their name, and this is particularly helpful when identifying various members of the Anoa’i family. These may seem like small details, but due to the overload of films, long and short, on the Network, it helps create a fresh feeling. For long-time fans (like myself), who were simply excited to learn more about Yokozuna, these subtle stylistic choices also help enhance that feeling of watching something new and exciting.
WWE Icons: Yokozuna wastes little time diving into the meat of the content, as it essentially provides the cliff notes to his journey to the then WWF. His sister explains his personality as a teenager while Afa (one half of The Wild Samoans) breaks down Rodney’s training. Although it jumps to his WWE career quite quickly, the series is titled WWE Icons, so one shouldn’t be surprised. Plus, it’s quite likely most fans that decide to watch this documentary will mostly want to gain greater insight into his peak years as the dominant sumo, Yokozuna, who dominated in the early ‘90s as WWE champion.
The range of interviewees in this episode is excellent, and each person brings with them a wonderful insight into who Rodney was as a performer and a person. However, Rikishi is undoubtedly the highlight in this documentary. He not only does an excellent job at peeling the layers off the onion to reveal who Yokozuna was outside of the ring, but his interviews bring that all-important ingredient to this story: emotion. Whether it was the visual of him holding back tears talking about his cousin or revealing how Rodney paid for the heating in his home, one of the many wonderful stories, Rikishi’s insights truly allow this documentary to tug on the heartstrings of the wrestling fans.
The level of detail that WWE has put into this story of Yokozuna was also a pleasant surprise. A lot of, if not all, the interview footage included is new (unlike the Ruthless Aggression series), and similar to Undertaker’s The Last Ride, there are plenty of cool behind the scenes videos and photos. All of this, plus the 78-minute runtime, allows WWE to truly explore the legacy of Yokozuna. His rise in the company, the man behind the sumo character, and then his heartbreaking ending that saw him pass away in October 2000 due to a refusal to lose the extra weight he gained over the course of his life.
It’s hard to criticise this episode of WWE Icons too much. It devotes a lot of time to paint the image of the real person and how he impacted the lives of so many people, as well as how he created some iconic moments for fans during his prime years. However, the criticisms could come in the lack of detail on Rodney’s pre-WWE days, and the ending may have been stretched out a tad too much, upsetting the pacing of the documentary. Also, on more of a selfish note, it would have been nice to hear from The Rock, as he undeniably is ‘the’ Samoan wrestler when it comes to his status in the business.
All in all, WWE has kicked off their Icons series on a high note, and they have set the bar high for themselves when it comes to trying to top this episode. The story of Rodney Anoa’i/Yokozuna had never previously been explored in such detail, at least by WWE, so not only did this have that fresh feel, but it had an emotional core that was truly beautiful, and it will make fans appreciate Yokozuna that much more. It’s unlikely you’ll sit and watch Yokozuna matches for hours on end, but this documentary makes you realise how special he was, and more importantly, how special of a human being he was. Do yourself a favour and watch this wonderful tribute to Yokozuna.
WWE Icons: Yokozuna is available on the WWE Network now. All pics and videos courtesy of WWE