WWE Raw has seen a lot of unconventional competitions over the years, from arm wrestling to posedowns to musical chairs, but its first non-standard bout came in May 1994, when future friend of Wrestlecrap John “Earthquake” Tenta and Yokozuna squared off in a “sumo match-up”.
This was not to be your typical WWF match, and to hammer this point home, Vince contrasted it with the usual action the Federation presented, albeit without ever uttering the words, “professional wrestling.”
The unenlightened viewers of 1994 might not have realized it at the time, but this match reeked of that most reviled of 21st-century sins: cultural appropriation. Sure, nobody was doing anything as egregious as popping their blood vessels to win Olympic races…
…or serving inauthentic Vietnamese food at a college dining hall, but clearly one of these two men was adopting the imagery of a centuries-old Japanese tradition without putting in any of the effort.
I’m referring of course to the Samoan American from San Francisco. Surprised?
Not only did the WWF claim he was the highest rank, or “yokozuna”, of sumo, they actually named him exactly that. Even MVP’s name was supposedly just his initials.
John Tenta, on the other hand, turned out to have been an actual sumo wrestler in Japan, boasting an undefeated record in his brief career.
He never rose to the highest levels of competition, however, due in part to his tattoo, which is frowned upon in Japan.
(Ironically, Tenta, who refused to remove his tiger tattoo with skin grafts to have a chance at the rank of yokozuna…
…would eventually spend an ungodly amount of time in a tattoo parlor to transform it into a shark for a gimmick that only lasted a few months.)
Tempers flared in the weeks leading up to the match, with Yokozuna’s spokesman Jim Cornette (who proposed the sumo stipulation) insulting Earthquake and calling the British Columbia native a “typical American”…
…while the Quake promised to kick Yokozuna’s butt.
Vince McMahon could only imagine what such a match-up would look like.
The night of the big match(-up), the ring crew broke down the ring over the span of two commercial breaks.
When Raw returned, Howard Finkel delivered his pre-match announcement. Don’t you think something’s wrong with the above picture? Without the familiar ring ropes behind him, doesn’t it look like the Fink grew and extra ten feet or is standing on a giant pedestal, towering over the ring?
But no, as you can see, the ring ropes had obviously been removed. That’s not me being redundant; Finkel literally used the phrases, “as you can see” and “obviously” in his announcement. Why did he even bother mentioning it in the first place, then?
Earthquake and Yokozuna made their entrances in full regalia and did their best to make this event seem as sacred and solemn as possible.
Vince did none of that, instead calling the sumos’ sandals, “slippers” and calling Yokozuna “as serious as Roseanne.”
What he and Randy did do was play up the idea of “losing face,” which, along with the words “sumo” and “mawashi”, just about exhausted his knowledge of Japanese culture. At least he didn’t call Yokozuna a modern-day kamikaze.
To his credit though, Vince also ignored Macho Man’s comment about “another word for girth”; there’s no way that question had a good answer.
After disrobing to reveal, mercifully, knee-length tights beneath their loin cloths, Earthquake and Yokozuna tossed handfuls of salt from their respective buckets while Macho Man enjoyed the view.
The throwing of salt has a long tradition in sumo; in the sport’s earliest days, a wrestler would restrain his opponent to allow his manager to throw salt into his opponent’s eyes while the referee was distracted.
With the passing of many generations, they realized that this almost always backfired, so they started using the salt to ritually cleanse the ring of evil spirits.
After taking their sweet time to purify the ring, what did Earthquake and Yokozuna do? I’ll tell you what they did:
Then they did precisely return to their corners and did precisely throw more salt.
Then they did precisely squat again. Well, fairly precisely; both of them touched their hands to the mat right after Vince informed the viewing audience that you lose if any part of your body besides your feet touches the mat.
At last it was time for the two bo-hemoths to collide…
…or it would have been, but the combatants felt the ring needed yet more salt. By now, the ring was approaching Molly Holly levels of purity, and both men had worked up a sweat, despite not having actually done anything yet.
This was how most of the match was spent. By this point, the audience’s hearts were racing and their blood pressure was through the roof, but that had less to do with anticipation and more to do with the match’s high sodium content. Finally, two rikishi finally got down to business.
Yokozuna looked to make quick work of Earthquake…
…before the Quake-ster executed a standing switch…
…and the two men stared each other down again.
As the two men used each other’s sumo thongs for leverage…
…Yoko edged Quake to the apron of the ring…
….then Quake edged Yoko to the apron of the ring.
After a bit more sweaty wrangling, Quake gave Yokozuna a big shove that toppled the former champion to the canvas and ultimately to the floor.
Earthquake celebrated having knocked the big fat man out of the ring, just as Lex Luger had done the previous Summerslam, except this time that’s how he wanted to win the match.
“Earthquake has done the impossible!” said McMahon, as if Tenta’s 24-0 sumo record had truly been put to the test by Yokozuna’s 0-0 record.
Just as important as Earthquake’s feat was Yokozuna’s face, or loss thereof. The poor guy flopped around on the floor in befuddlement and disbelief.
Vince McMahon looked horrified at the sight of the disgraced sumo, and can you blame him? If you thought Shawn Michaels losing his smile was bad, imagine losing face.
Vince hyped up not only next week’s Earthquake vs. Owen Hart match for a spot in the King of the Ring tournament, but also future encounters between Yoko and Quake on the Wrestlemania Revenge Tour before rattling off a bunch of house show dates.
The hype job even continued after the final commercial break during the sign-off, the message being that this rivalry between the WWF’s big men was just beginning.
Unfortunately, during that very Wrestlemania Revenge tour, Earthquake would get injured in a match with Yokozuna, cutting the feud short.
So short, in fact, that by the time the sumo match (taped weeks earlier) even aired, Quake had already been injured and wrestled his last match with the Federation.
Typhoon, who had been waiting in the wings after his, uh, “run” as The Shockmaster in WCW, immediately stepped in to sub for Earthquake in all of his scheduled matches (except the match against Owen, where he was replaced by Doink), suggesting that the original plan for the feud would have seen The Natural Disasters take on Yokozuna & Crush at Summerslam.
Instead, none of them were booked for the pay-per-view, and the former champion Yokozuna never regained face.
Well, it may have been long, light on action, and ultimately pointless, but nobody wore just a thong…
…or fell off a roof…
…so it was still the greatest sumo match in pro wrestling history.