Birthdate: November 14th, 1924
Universally accepted as the "Father of Puroresu," Rikidozan literally is the reason that wrestling became popular in Japan. In the early 1950s, there was no wrestling in Japan. By his death in 1963, wrestling was selling out all across the nation. Even though he died at a very young age and still had a lot to contribute to the sport, there is no doubting the impact that Rikidozan had on wrestling not only while he was alive, but the foundation that he left ready for future stars to take wrestling to the next level.
Born in Korea, Rikidozan never revealed where he was born in fear of discrimination from Japanese fans. With a background in Sumo wrestling, Rikidozan easily adapted to professional wrestling and in his short career (only 12 years) he accomplished more then most wrestlers do in a lifetime. Since World War II had ended less then a decade earlier, he had a natural gimmick in that he would defeat the "evil" American wrestlers to the cheers of the crowd. Not only did he beat them in the ring, but in real life Rikidozan had little respect for his American counterparts, as he considered them out of shape and not on his level of wrestling.
One wrestler was the exception however, and that was Lou Thesz. Thesz did a lot in furthering the career of Rikidozan and giving him global legitimacy, as Rikidozan defeated Thesz in 1958 for the NWA International Championship. Rikidozan never forgot the kind gesture by Thesz and taught his trainees, Inoki and Giant Baba, the same qualities that made Thesz such a great champion. Rikidozan would hold on to the NWA International Championship until he was murdered in December of 1963.
Rikidozan had so much success in the ring that it allowed him to branch out into other forms of business as well. Unfortunately, this would help lead to his early death as he got in an argument with some of the local Japanese gangsters over land disputes. While meeting in a restaurant, one of the gangsters would stab Rikidozan in the torso. While the doctors first said that Rikidozan would survive, he died less then a week later to the shock of fans everywhere. Puroresu took a hit for several years after his death, but his pupils Inoki and Giant Baba would be able to bring it back to popularity in the 70s. One of the most important figures in wrestling worldwide, Rikidozan changed the scope of wrestling and would have been able to do so much more if he had not been tragically murdered at the age of 39.