By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
On December 15th 1963, Rikidozan dies from complications from a stab wound he suffered in a Tokyo nightclub.
Born Mitsuhiro Momota on November 14, 1924 in South Hamyong, Korea, he was an adopted son of a farmer family. Training to be a sumo wrestler under the Nishonoseki stable, he debuted in May 1940 as Mitsuhiro Momota (named for his adopted family), due to discrimination against Koreans in Japan. He was later renamed Rikidozan.
He retired from sumo due to financial reasons and constantly dealing with discrimination. He entered professional wrestling in 1951, and became a culutural hero of the 50s. In the fallout of post-World War II Japan, Rikidozan would become one of the first symbols that restored national pride.
He began purchasing nightclubs, hotels, and condos. He even got into promoting, establishing Japan’s first pro wrestling promotion, the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance in 1953. Two of his biggest bouts were among the most watched programs in Japanese television history: a one-hour draw against Lou Thesz for the NWA world title in October 1957, and a best of three falls match against The Destroyer in May 1963. Rikidozan would appear in more than two dozen films, and a biographical film was released in 2004.
Rikidozan would win the NWA International Heavyweight Championship in Japan on August 27, 1958 over Thesz. Thesz made a risky career move by putting over the challenger, leading the two to mutually respect one another for the remainder of his life.
Due to his business dealings, he would sometimes have to deal with the burgeoning organized crime element on the island. It proved to be his ultimate undoing: Rikidozan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by Katsuji Muruta, a member of the Japanese Yakuza. He would die a week later from peritonitis, an inflammation of the tissue covering the abdominal organs. He was just 38.
The legend was posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Puroresu Halls of Fame in 1996, and a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006.