WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi was the most recent guest on Insight with Chris Van Vliet. They discussed how he became a professional wrestler and how he reacted when his sons The Usos wanted to do the same. They also discussed how the stink face became a part of his move set, and the memorable bump from Armageddon 2000. Here are the most notable quotes from the show.
On Bow Wow beginning training at his wrestling school:
“He hasn’t started yet but we have been talking. Back in the day I was actually coming onto a flight in Atlanta, and as I was making my way to my seat Bow Wow was sitting there. I think he was about 9 or 10 years old at the time, but he was already making hit records, and we just kind of kicked off. Me, I was on my way to work and so was he. My father figure kind of kicked in saying I’m very proud of you and continue the hard work, make sure you do good in school etc.
27 or so years later, I see this tweet come up and I just put a message out to him. I just felt like I knew this kid for a long time and I just felt obligated to teach him the right way. He’s not in California, he’s in Atlanta. But he will be coming here some time this month to get it going. But I’m gonna train him like I train all my students.
We know his celebrity status, but for him to really understand the industry correctly, we got to put that all aside. He’s got to understand that when he gets in the ring how to protect himself, how to be a storyteller and all that theatrical movement. As of now, it’s not a publicity stunt, he’s actually going to train. But I’m excited and it’s good for business. If Bow Wow can come in and put asses in seats at Wrestlemania, then why not?”
On how he became a wrestler:
“Pro Wrestling saved my life. In San Francisco I was raised in the swamps of Sunnydale, which is the hood back in the bay area. I’ll be honest I wasn’t the best of kids that followed the rules. My background is my grandparents are preachers. We go to church and we pray all the time but I was going the opposite way. I ran with the wrong crowd and at 17 I got hit by a drive-by shooting. I nearly lost my life, I was actually dead for 3 minutes. Next thing I know I woke up in an ambulance and all I could see was my mothers face.
So I was in the hospital for 2 months, and when I got out my mother made the decision that I was going to leave California. She sent me to her brother’s Afa and Sika. I was 18 and away it went, I kind of just fell into the industry.”
On letting his sons The Usos be wrestlers:
“I was very apprehensive. Their upbringing and my upbringing were very different. They boys [Jimmy and Jey] they got a chance to go to college and they lived a good life. I went out there and did what I had to do to make sure that they didn’t come up the way that I did. Jimmy and Jey have been around the business all their lives. I just wanted them to do something different. The plan after I retired was to be on the side-lines of NFL. It didn’t matter what team. I just wanted to get an RV and travel to all of their games. One day I was out on the road, I came home and they both sat me down. They then threw the curveball that they didn’t want to play football, they wanted to join the family business. It was difficult for me because I knew if I went against it, that it wasn’t going to work out. So as a father you always have to support. It wasn’t my decision, but I explained what it’s going to be like.”
On when everything started to click:
“I want to say at the beginning of my career. What I mean by that is the lessons that I learned coming into this industry. I’m so blessed to have a family circle that is so tight. I started at 18 and turned pro when I was 20. Then I’m travelling to Texas with the Von Erichs I’m travelling to Puerto Rico with Carlos Colón. But all these experiences my uncle has taken us to, it really helped me prep for the WWE. By the time we came to the big time, I’m 23 or 24. We were the strong horses that the big companies look for to dance with their big stars. I was so used to making $30, by the time that I got to the WWE and made the big contract, it didn’t phase me at all. The value of making $30 for hard work on the independent scene, now when I come in to WWE, it’s just extra to us.
Our job was to stay employed, stay out of the drama and to protect every time we jump into the ring. My uncles used to say you respect that squared circle, if you do, you’re going to have a job for a long time.”
On the origin of his famous attire:
“When Too Cool hit, I knew it was all gravy from there. I was getting paid to stick my ass in people’s faces and bust a move. All these years it took me breaking my body, bumping, getting hit with chairs, you name it. Then finally, this is what takes me to that next level. I’m very grateful that all the fans really made me feel that it’s OK to be my size, wear a thong and do what I do.
The thong was all Vince McMahons idea. Keep in mind I was The Sultan before that. I signed a 4 year deal as The Sultan, I came on TV and I was crushing people every Monday night. I think it was 2 months, next thing you know they plan to go the opposite way. Bret turned heel and he was going up against The Patriot. So who better to put The Patriot over than the guy from the Middle East?
When that happened, I said to Vince “Where do we go from here?” He said “We’ll go back to the drawing board.” I had just signed my 4 year contract, so I just stayed out the way and didn’t make any noise. During the 90 day clause before your contract is over, I went to wrestle Kurt Angle who was just starting out in Memphis. Bruce Prichard saw me and I was 450lbs. But I could still move and I was light on my feet. By the time I came back after that match with Kurt, Vince wanted to have a meeting with me.
We had that meeting and away we went. He came up with the idea of wanting to do a Sumo. As soon as he said that, I thought of my cousin Yokozuna. I didn’t want to do a sumo character because my cousin had already done it. Then Vince was like “Yours will be different. I want you to show your butt with the shoot sumo gear.” When he said that I said “So you mean everything showing the whole thing [my ass] on TV?” He said yes, the real thing. I’m 90 days out from this Sultan contract. I’m thinking first about my kids, I didn’t want them to start ribbing my kids. So I took the drawing home and said I would get back to you [Vince].
I went home, had dinner and pulled the drawing out and said this is going to be my new character. I asked my kids “Would you be upset if I wore this on TV?” They were all fine with it and that was all I had to hear. I already knew people were going to be smirking at this. But in my mind, I’m going to make this work. I asked to change up a few things. That’s where the blond hair and dancing came in. I thought it would be cool for us to treat people with a dance. You’ve never seen it after a match before. We wanted to give them something special and the rest was history.”
On the origin of the stink face:
“I’m still trying to find this lady from Alabama. I wrestled Boss Man on a house show with the thong gimmick. When you clothesline someone [to set up for the [stink face] Boss Man fell down in position. There’s 20,000 people in the arena and all I heard was “Rikishi! Turn around and stick your butt in his face!” This where that slow look comes from. I’m looking slowly at the front row trying to figure out who is saying that. As I turn around and see Boss Man in the corner. When make that first step, the pop is loud. When I take the next step, it’s even louder. By the time I got to him and turned around, it was a pop I’ve never heard before. Keep in mind we have never done this. Boss Man then says “Alright baby, come on and stick that booty in my face, we’ve got em now! Bring it on baby!” He took that stink face like a champ. The next day was Monday night RAW, and that was when we introduced the stink face on TV.”
On doing the stink face to various stars:
“When the roster saw me come back in this new outfit, they all thought it was a rib, but they wouldn’t say it to my face. In our industry, everyone thinks a change is a rib. There were times where a lot of the guys took it [stink face] because they knew their role and it was my time. Booker T took it straight up, so did The Rock and Angle. A lot of guys didn’t want to take it, but they knew if Vince McMahon was going to take it [they would too]. When he was due to take it, he said to me “Rikishi. I hope you’ve cleaned your buttocks today.” But he took it like a champ. No one ever said to my face they didn’t want to do it though.”
On the Armageddon 2000 Hell in a Cell fall:
“I knew I wasn’t the person going over in that match. But I also thought what can I do to steal that away and have people talk about it years down the line? It was very nerve wracking. I watched Mick Foley fall off and could have died in any of those bumps. It was my time [to be thrown], and Undertaker was known for throwing people off [the cell]. I never knew that when my time came, it would be taking a bump backwards onto a steel flatbed truck. There’s no rewind from that. When he grabbed me, my last words to him were “Tell my family I love them.” But it’s that moment, you can’t turn back now. This is what you signed up for, what you trained for. People have paid their hard earned money to watch you guys do what you do best.
I’m thankful that I was safe and they still play my high spot in the years to come. Earlier Shane went up there and asked me if I want to practice it. I said no I just wanted to do it during show time. He went up there and walked me through it. He did it [the bump] a couple of times. When I got up there, I felt like I should have done it beforehand.
“They did have padding in that truck. But when you’re coming from a 50 foot cage and you weigh 450lbs, I hit every part of that steel flatbed and the truck went to the springs. Man, I was so full of anxiety in the moment, when I landed you can see my lips shaking. I moved my toes to make sure I had feeling in my body. I was laid out and they drove that truck to the back and everybody in gorilla gave me a standing ovation. After that I said “I’m doing that [big bump] one time and that’s it!”
On what he is grateful for:
“My family and my new grandkids.”
For more information on Rikishi’s wrestling school KnokX Pro click here.
Full podcast audio can be found below: