|Real name||Kim Sil-lak|
Momota Mitsuhiro (Japanese name)
|Billed height||176 cm (5 ft 91⁄2 in)|
|Billed weight||116 kg (260 lb; 18.3 st)|
South Hamgyong, (North) Korea
|Died||1963/12/15 (aged 39)|
|Billed from||Ōmura, Nagasaki, Japan|
Momota Mitsuhiro (百田光浩) (1924/11/14 - 1963/12/15), better known as Rikidōzan (力道山), was a rikishi, professional wrestler, promoter, and entrepreneur. Known as the "Father of Puroresu", he was one of the most influential men in the post-WWII Japanese culture. He was credited with bringing the sport of professional wrestling to Japan at a time when the Japanese people needed a local hero to emulate and was lauded as a national hero - although was not Japanese at all, but of Korean ethnicity. Rikidōzan is of similar wrestling fame in Japan as El Santo in Mexico.
Rikidōzan was born Kim Sil-lak (Hangul: 김신락; kanji: 金信洛) in South Hamgyong, in Japanese-occupied Korea on 1924/11/14. He became the adopted son of the farmer Momota family of Nagasaki Prefecture when he was young and trained to be a rikishi.
Rikidōzan joined Nishonoseki stable and made his debut in 1940/5. Due to the discrimination against Koreans by the Japanese at the time, Sil-lak claimed that his name was Momota Mitsuhiro and listed his birthplace as Ōmura, Nagasaki. He was given the shikona of "Rikidōzan". He reached the makuuchi in 1946 and was runner-up to yokozuna Haguroyama Masaji in the tournament of 1947/6, losing a playoff for the championship. He fought in 23 tournaments in total, with a win-loss record of 135-82. His highest rank was sekiwake.
Professional wrestling career
Rikidōzan gave up sumo in 1950. Although he claimed it was for financial reasons, discrimination against Koreans may have been a contributory factor. In 1951, he met Harold Sakata (Tosh Tōgō) during a bar brawl. Sakata was a part of the charity wrestling cards by Shriner's Club, an American Freemason group. Sakata invited Rikidōzan to visit the training session of the wrestlers, which lead him to join the sport. He made his professional wrestling debut with a ten minute draw against Bobby Bruns.
With the recommendation from Bruns, Rikidōzan went to Hawaii and had his first match overseas against Chief Little Wolf at the Civic Auditorium in Honolulu on 1952/2/17. Then on 1952/6/10, he moved to San Francisco. He continued to wrestle in Northern California and Pacifc Northwest territories until returning to Japan in 1953.
After returnig from the United States, he established the Japan Pro-Wrestling Association (JWA). He established himself as Japan's biggest wrestling star by defeating one American wrestler after another. This was shortly after World War II, and the Japanese needed someone who could stand up to the Americans. Rikidōzan thus became immensely popular in Japan. His American opponents assisted him by portraying themselves as villains who cheated in their matches.
Rikidōzan also became the first All Asia Heavyweight Champion in 1955, defeated Lou Thesz to for the NWA International Heavyweight Championship in 1958. In 1962, he became the first Asian to win a world heavyweight title when he defeated Fred Blassie for the WWA World Title in Los Angeles.
His signature move was the karate chop, which was actually based on sumō's harite, rather than actual karate. It is rumoured that he had been coached by fellow Korean Ōyama Masutatsu, but he is more likely to have been coached by another Korean karateka, Nakamura Hideo.
With his success in pro wrestling, Rikidōzan began acquiring properties such as nightclubs, hotels, condominium and boxing promotions.
His 1957/10/6 sixty-minute draw with Lou Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship drew an 87.0 rating, and his 1963/5/24 sixty-minute draw with The Destroyer drew a 67.0 rating (the 4th largest viewing audience in Japanese history, since by 1963 more people had television sets, thanks to Rikidōzan's popularity).
On 1963/12/8, while partying in a Tōkyō nightclub, Rikidōzan was stabbed by Murata Katsuji, a yakuza. Reportedly, Rikidōzan threw Murata out of the club and continued to party, refusing to seek medical help. After the incident, Murata's group visited Rikidōzan to make an apology. Both parties made peace. On the following day, however, the wound became worse, and he had a surgery. Though the surgery was successful, he died a week later of peritonitis on 1963/12/15.