GOING TO HEEL – 09.19.2019: Gary Hart and The Great Kabuki

By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor


Welcome back Bruthas and Sistas, to our in-depth examination of not only the heels throughout the history of professional wrestling, but how each one, and their respective styles, added to the mosaic of its storytelling lexicon. In this edition, I want to take a look at another aspect of the heel dynamic, and tell the story of not only one, if not the greatest heel manager of all time, in this historian’s estimations, as well as one of the many men he represented. The two men are intertwined, and one is rarely spoken of without the name of the other being heralded in concert. They brought another kind of bad guy to the table, and left destruction behind them, in the veil of a green mist.

Born in the aftermath of World War II, in Nobeoka, Japan, Mera Akihisa grew up with the Japanese ideals of resolve, and honor in battle that were building blocks to the ethos of Sumo. The traditional sport was the foundations for all Japanese wrestling, and is an integral part of their culture then, and remains still to this day. It was Sumo that brought Akihisa to the attention of the Rikishi in Japan, and he was taken into the Hasegawa stable, which was ran by great Yoshinosato. Mera began his training at an early age and began to compete in the Japanese Wrestling Association not long after. The JWA was founded by another former Sumo, Rikidozan, in the early Fifties to represent the NWA in Japan. [This entity will be covered in the book, The Wrestling Territories when released.]

Mera took his training from future great the Giant Baba and made his debut for JWA at the age of sixteen on Halloween night, 1964. A little piece of timing that befitted his evil, heel nature, in what would become the scourge of any territory he chose to infiltrate. He took several monikers, including the namesake of his mentor, when he wrestled as Mr. Sato. He worked there for the next six years, before taking to the international stage, and arriving in America to compete.

During these years he made a name for himself and worked most of the major territories in the South, Southeast, and Southwestern areas of the country, capturing NWA gold at every stop along the way. This was started with his 1970 run in the NWA Los Angeles promotion and his capture of their heavyweight title wrestling under the name Takachino. Let’s loosely trace his legacy of gold through the Seventies, during the height of the NWA union of territorial promotions.

In 1972, he won gold at the World Tag League in AJPW as Yoshino Sato, then he stopped off in his alma mater at the Japanese Wrestling Association to capture NWA United National Championship. He popped up on the title radar next in Australia as Hito Tojo a year later and took their NWA title while he was there. As he built a reputation for his body of work, and not so much a steady name, but that of a capable heel, his value rose in concert. Akishi Takachino appeared in AJPW to take one half of the All Asia Tag Titles in 1976, and then upped his drawing game and headed to one of the hottest markets for the NWA, and the breezy, sun swept shores of Florida.

To say that the CWF promotion wasn’t a magnet for talent would be tripping over the feet of history. That area of the country was one of the strong-holds for old guard, as well as a place of prosperity for anyone that had the ability to draw, and the Japanese villain had that in spades. 1978 would be a big year for him, and while he was there, he worked the tag team ranks under the name Mr. Sato. He paired with countryman Masanori Saito, a.k.a. Mr. Saito, and the pair terrorized the tag ranks throughout that summer. They held both the NWA Florida Tag Titles and the NWA US Tag Titles on several occasions. The crowd loved to hate the pair and the Briscos and the team of Steve Keirn and Mike Graham battled them back and forth for the belts. After they finished up there, he went his own way and was bound for the Mid-West.

The NWA had chapters across the United States, and the Western States Sports, ran by the Funks was about to see a rise in the violence of the tag teams there. Akishi Takachino once again surfaced to take the Tag Titles and team with Ricky Romero and Mr. Sato in separate occasions in 1979 to get it done before heading to the land of Harley Race, and the Central States Wrestling promotion ran by Bob Geigel. He worked there into the 1980, and, as Takachino, won their version of the NWA Tag Titles, cashing in on the oriental heat with Pak Song, and then again with Killer Karl Kox. His popularity as a heel would explode the next year as he not only got the gimmick that finally stuck with him and made him the most money, but also when he crossed paths with one of the brightest minds in professional wrestling history.

The Winter of 1942 saw not only heaps of snow, but the birth of a legend. Born that January, Gary Hart would take in the frigid air and grow up a Chicagoan, but it would be the heat in and out of the ring in Texas that he would be remembered for. Hart found his love for the business early on, and it was the Fred Kohler, with his weekly Wrestling from Marigold program on the DuMont Network that first exposed the young boy to the art form of professional wrestling. It clicked with him immediately, and like so many of he was hooked.

Hart also had the inside rub with his Uncle doing booking for Kohler, and when he was of age enough to satisfy the NWA officials, whom the Chicago promotion ran under, he took to the ring to learn the trade. Hart had his first match on the Saturday night program at age eighteen, and he never looked back. While I have no firsthand accounts of his breaking in, I can only imagine the youngster carrying the bags, setting up and tearing down the ring, but most of all, I can see him sitting there quiet listening to the book unfold around him, and soaking up the psychology of the business like the proverbial sponge.

He worked in the Chicago market for the next few years and then headed to the World Championship Wrestling promotion that was ran by Detroit promoter Jim Barnett down in Australia. Following the sale of WCW, Barnett returned stateside to invest in Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Hart came with him, to help in the office, and get more involved in the business. Until that time he was an in-ring talent, but the eager to learn, protege’ knew the opportunity that was there, and went with it. He made his move out of the ring and started to work as a manager, and that is where he found his calling in front of the cameras. Behind the scenes, he was learning not only the effectiveness of proper booking, but how to build the audience to the main to keep them coming back for more.

Florida was booming in the Mid-Seventies, as we discussed earlier, and it was there as a manager for Pak Song that he worked the locals into a frenzy and mastered the art of getting heat. Being in the company of the brain-trust in their creative team was also a big jump on the learning curve for him. It was also during his time there, in 1975, that he was involved in one of two plane crashes that rocked the wrestling world. Hart proved himself not only a great friend during the ordeal but also a true hero in the face of tragedy. Please take the time to watch this video of Hart himself, recounting the event.

He left a year later and headed to Big Time Wrestling, the NWA affiliated promotion in the Texas market that would soon become World Class Championship Wrestling. He took on the job as booker and helped to turn the company into a giant in the Eighties professional wrestling game. There was WWF, GCW, CWF, MACW, AWA, and the WCCW, and they held sway over more of the market than the rest of the NWA during these years, before Vince Jr. took it all for himself. The WCCW was one of the companies that not only held off the buy-out advances of McMahon but grew during this time. Hart saw the drawing power of the Von Erich brothers, and knew that if he kept a steady flow of villains for them, they would continue to thrive. He started this with by pitting them against their most prevalent and long-time rivals, in the Fabulous Freebirds.

It was during 1981 when Mera Akihisa made his way to Dallas, and the two crossed paths, though not for the first time, as they had met during Hart’s time in Australia. Seeing the potential in Mera, Hart developed the Great Kabuki gimmick specifically for him, and became his manager. Growing his hair long, painting his face, and saying nothing while Hart laid out the challenges, and did all the talking was one of the keys to their success. Combine that with his pre-match nunchaku exhibition, and the feared green mist that he originated, and the man quickly became a feared opponent, who quickly turned reputation to myth, as he laid one victim after another down for the three count

The Great Kabuki took on all the faces that WCCW had to offer, including one particular pair of runs of matches against Chris Adams and Bruiser Brody, who was working a short stint as a babyface and cashing in on his popularity as a brawler in Texas. Kabuki was so over at one point that Gary Hart worked out a special contract that had another wrestler appearing under the gimmick when Hart and Kabuki were double booked in different cities. Kazuharu Sonoda, who wrestled as the Magic Dragon and teamed with Kabuki at one time, had the gimmick down so good that, as long as no-one saw his face beyond the hair, the difference was negligible. Chances are very good that if you saw the Great Kabuki wrestle without Gary Hart in his corner in the early Eighties, it was Sonoda working in his stead.

Kabuki and Hart worked through the MACW and in other territories during this time and continued together for several years to follow. Hart eventually introduced The Great Muta and billed him as the son of Kabuki and credited the passing on of the green mist secrets to him. Towards the end of the decade, Kabuki moved on and the two parted ways.

Gary Hart continued with WCW, and formed another heel stable there, called the J-Tex Corporation with most notably Terry Funk and Great Muta, among other members. He eventually made his way back to Texas in the Mid-Nineties and started a few different promotions in the years that followed, including an attempted revival of the WCCW banner, even running at the alma-mater Sportatorium in Dallas. It never got the feet under it that the original had, but as many would agree, and for my own part; the original WCCW was lightning in a bottle and those planets align few times in entertainment, let alone professional wrestling. The drawing power they had in their size market was rivaled by few promotions in the history of the business and Gary Hart had was key to that. He also worked with MLW in his later years and cultivated them in their formative ones. He passed away in 2008 from a heart attack at his home. He was sixty-six years old and taken much too soon.

The Great Kabuki moved to the promotion side of the business with only high profile matches in his later years of competition. He helped start the Super World of Sports, as well as the International Wrestling Association in Japan in the Nineties, and even appeared at the 1994 Royal Rumble as a surprise entrant. While he worked a series of retirement matches at the end of the decade, The Kabuki has shown up in sporadic appearances over the last few years in NJPW, where he participated in both the 2015 and 2016 Rumbles there but was disqualified consecutively for the use of the mist.

These men were some of my favorite heels in WCCW, and the business as a whole. They knew how to be those guys and play those roles to the utmost. We will run across Gary Hart again in a managerial role during this series, due to the sheer number of bad guys that he was the voice-box for, but he was at his best with Kabuki, and later Muta. As a historian and fan, I love the mist, the heel glory, the mask he wore during his entrance, and the fact that you could barely see his painted face through the hair, the venom spat by Hart that was so representative of its counterpart in the ring……I loved it all!!! They were a big part of my early wrestling exposure and I still enjoy watching their matches to this day. That’s the thing about art….the best, never grow old, they live timeless.

Thank you Bruthas and Sistas, and until next time, keep in mind; you may love to cheer for your heroes, but it’s the heels that keep you coming back. For how can you have a triumphant defender, without an equally evil villain for them to conquer.

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