clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On this date in NWA history: Professor Toru Tanaka passes away at age 70

NWA legend and action movie villain Professor Toru Tanaka
NWA legend and action movie villain Professor Toru Tanaka

Professor Toru Tanaka, who terrorized the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) throughout the 1970's, is perhaps best known for his 20+ roles in Hollywood action movies where he's battled everyone from Chuck Norris to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tanaka passed away on August 22, 2000, on this date in NWA history.

Born Charles Kalani, Jr. in Honolulu, Hawaii, the former college football player was a legitimate badass, having achieved the rank of Sergeant in the United States Army and obtaining his black belt in Danzan-ryu Jujitsu.

Tanaka was billed as Japanese, often paired with fellow eye-salter Mr. Fuji with whom he would capture both the NWA and WWWF tag team titles, but he was also a marquee attraction in his own right, working a Memphis program with Jerry Lawler which, not surprisingly, ended in "The King" being blinded.

And what would a big, scary bad guy be without Bobby Heenan by his side?

Video of his martial arts demonstration with "Brain" commentary after the jump.

"Tanaka was a by-the-book guy, who looked at wrestling a means to make a living. He wanted to work his match, shake hands with everyone afterwards, and save some money. He was a professional ... If you wanted to talk about an angle beforehand, you always went to Tanaka. He was the ring general, who'd lead everyone else in the match."
                                    -- Classie Freddie Blassie from his book, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks.

I think my favorite Tanaka role was "Sub-Zero" in The Running Man.

What's yours?

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats