He may not have been the biggest guy in the room, but he just might have packed the most powerful punch.
Shigeri Akabane, who entertained crowds for several decades as popular midget wrestler “Little Tokyo,” passed away Tuesday at the age of 71 of a heart attack in St. Joseph, Mo.
Small in stature, the miniature matman leaves a large legacy in the wrestling business.
Regarded as one of the top midget performers of his era, Little Tokyo stood four feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds, but he never stopped proving that good things come in small packages.
“Tokyo was a wonderful guy to be around,” said veteran wrestler Bill Howard, who first met Akabane nearly 40 years ago while wrestling in Missouri.
And, said Howard, he was a wonderful guy right up to the very end.
Howard, who visited Little Tokyo in the hospital the day before he died, said doctors had cleared his friend to go home the next day. But, he joked, Tokyo was having way too much fun being the center of attention.
“Hey, Tok, you’ve got it made up here,” Howard said he told his friend. “Everybody in the hospital knew him.”
“Yeah,” replied Tokyo, “I eat three meals a day, I’ve got all these nurses around me, I’ve got TV, and they give me good drugs to knock me out.”
“When I asked him what he was going to do, he said he was going to tell the doctor he wasn’t feeling good,” laughed Howard.
The next morning, though, while getting up to use the bathroom, Little Tokyo suffered a heart attack and never recovered.
The wrestler had been battling leukemia over the past six months and had been given a year to live.
“He was a tough little sucker, but he kept his sense of humor. He told me that he wasn’t afraid to die. It was still a shock to me when he passed away,” said Howard. “I really thought he’d be coming home.”
Howard, who referred to his friend as “The Little Emperor,” fondly remembers his first meeting with Tokyo.
“I was watching the matches at the old auditorium in St. Joe. All of a sudden this little guy walked by, and he was the meanest-looking dude you ever saw in your life. Years later when we were talking, I told him about the first time I met him, and he explained that he was just scared.”
Howard recalls one of the midget wrestlers wrapping his hands with tape, and Tokyo asked him what he was doing. “Gimmick,” the wrestler answered. Tokyo said, “Midget don’t need gimmick. Midget is gimmick.”
“Tokyo was a perfect gentleman outside the ring,” said former wrestling manager Percival A. (Al) Friend. “He loved life and enjoyed friends to their fullest.”
Little Tokyo began his wrestling career in Japan, but was brought to the States by midget wrestling great Lord Littlebrook (Eric Tovey), for whom Tokyo later helped train a troupe of midget performers. Tokyo held the world midgets title several times during the ‘70s and early ‘80s.
“He was one of Brooks’ stars for a long time,” said Howard.
Chris Dube, who wrestles as Little Kato and is the son of Littlebrook, was trained by Little Tokyo nearly 25 years ago.
“Everything Tokyo did was executed to perfection,” said Dube. “Every chop, every kick, every bump, all the facial expressions. I would put Tok right up there with my dad as the greatest midget wrestler ever. To me, Tok could do everything. He was the best.”
“He was also my dad’s No. 1 guy,” added Dube. “They were tag-team partners for years, and he was my dad’s top trainer.”
Little Tokyo wrestled until the age of 58, but his last appearance on the big stage was at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987 when he teamed with Littlebrook and King Kong Bundy in a mixed tag match against the trio of Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid and Little Beaver.
And, in a memorable skit on the popular mid-’80s WWE variety show, Tuesday Night Titans, Tokyo once came out dressed identical to nefarious manager Mr. Fuji, who claimed that he was only going to give Tokyo a “little money” because Tokyo was “little” and that was all he needed.
“Don’t let the size fool you,” Howard said of Tokyo. “He was one tough little guy. You should have seen him shoot a gun. He was good.”
“Pound for pound, he could wrestle just like the big boys,” said Dube. “He could do everything. He could do all the comedy spots ... he was just so funny. He was a true technician in the ring, but if you weren’t doing your job right, he could chop some sense into you.”
Akabane was predeceased recently by a son who had been training for the Boston Marathon and suffered a heart attack. A daughter lives in San Diego, and another son in Hawaii.
“His son was a marathon runner and was really in shape. But he wasn’t feeling well one day and went home and laid down. He never woke up. It was pretty tough on Tok then, too,” said Dube.
According to his obituary, “Tokyo enjoyed watching the K.C. Royals and Chiefs, fishing, camping and cooking. He loved hanging out with family and friends with a cold beer.”
He was all that, and more, said Howard.
“He had such a great sense of humor and was so much fun to be around. Everybody liked Little Tokyo.”
“You don’t meet too many people in this world who somebody doesn’t like,” said Dube. “But I can honestly say that I’ve never come in contact with anybody who met Tok and didn’t like him. He was one of those individuals that everybody just fell in love with. It didn’t matter which age group you were in.”
-- Former TNA champ Jeff Hardy pleaded guilty to three felony drug charges in a Moore County, N.C., courtroom on Thursday. He pleaded guilty to two counts of intent to distribute a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to traffic in a compound containing opium.
Hardy was ordered to serve 10 days in jail and fined $100,000. The judge suspended Hardy’s prison sentence of 20-33 months on the condition that Hardy continue to attend an outpatient drug-counseling program and comply with the terms of his 30-month probation period.
According to The Fayetteville Observer, Hardy’s attorney arranged a plea agreement to keep Hardy out of prison. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped several other charges, including trafficking in opium by possession, possession of cocaine and maintaining a dwelling for keeping and selling controlled substances.
The 34-year-old Cameron, N.C., resident was arrested in 2009 and charged with multiple felony drug counts. Authorities say they found hundreds of Vicodin pills, anabolic steroids and powder cocaine.
Hardy’s lawyer, James Van Camp, said the wrestler began using drugs to cope with pain from the physical rigors of the profession. He also said Hardy had used his fame to do good, and that his client was one of the three top celebrities requested by terminally ill children for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has given his time.
The judge granted the lawyer’s request to allow Hardy to travel outside of North Carolina and the country to continue his work.
Eric Bischoff told the Monday Night Mayhem show last week that while Hardy asked the TNA locker room for forgiveness upon his recent return, he still has his doubts regarding the popular wrestler.
“I’m not going to lie. Speaking for myself, I have my doubts,” said Bischoff. “It’s not whether or not Jeff was sincere. I know he was sincere. But a lot of people in Jeff’s position are sincere. It’s a question of whether or not he can find a way to deliver and live up to what he has to live up to in order to gain everybody’s trust. I don’t know. I hope so. I really hope so.”
Bischoff was not quite as diplomatic concerning his stance on the recently released Matt Hardy.
“I think it was a great decision by TNA to release Matt Hardy. I honestly thought Matt was a questionable talent to begin with, not that he didn’t have any value. In my opinion, there was a liability there, and it manifested itself. We’ve seen how Matt’s issues and the baggage he brought to TNA evolved in the last few months, and there a few people that wanted to pull the plug on Matt Hardy sooner than they did. I think once TNA made the decision to pull the plug, I was quite honestly happy about it and thought it was long overdue.”
-- The WWE Studios film “Inside Out” starring Triple H began its limited theatrical release last week.
The movie “has a chokehold on boring,” read the headline for one of the early reviews from Los Angeles Times critic Robert Abele.
“The only constant,” wrote the reviewer, “is Levesque’s (Triple H) stern gaze, limited range and granite build, qualities that haven’t stopped others from movie careers but here do little to engender calls for a cinematic rematch.”
Ouch. Perhaps Trips better consider keeping the day job.
-- After four years in the making, Stan Hansen’s autobiography, “The Last Outlaw,” is now available at Crowbar Press.
Hansen’s account of his wrestling career is a veritable guidebook of professional wrestling in Japan. In “The Last Outlaw,” he tackles every subject imaginable as he educates and entertains readers with his stories about the promoters and their promotions, how the Japanese promoters operate their business behind the scenes, touring the country on the wrestling bus, the nightlife in the big cities, and how the sport in Japan differs from that in the U.S.
He also goes into detail about his time in Louisiana, Georgia, the AWA and the WWWF. Hansen also shares personal stories about the time he spent with the late Bruiser Brody: how they first met, the story behind their becoming a team, spending time in the evenings on the streets and in the clubs of Japan, and his own, personal insight into the “real” Bruiser Brody.
To order your copy, visit http://www.crowbarpress.com.
-- Bill “Potshot” Kunkel, a videogame pioneer and noted pro wrestling journalist and cartoonist, passed away of a heart attack on Sept. 4.
Kunkel, 61, was the co-founder of the first video game magazine. His magazine, Electronic Games, was one of the first publications to take gaming seriously from both a technical and artistic perspective.
Kunkel, who also was an accomplished game designer and consultant, authored “Confessions of a Game Doctor” in 2005.
A professional musician and comic book writer, Kunkel and Arnie Katz conceived and authored “Arcade Alley,” the first newsstand magazine column dedicated exclusively to the review of video and computer games, in 1978 for Video magazine.
“Bill Kunkel was more than just a friend, he was my mentor,” said wrestling historian Ed Garea. “If I was doing something right, he always stood by me, no matter how many people it annoyed. But when I was wrong, he would take me aside to point out how and why I was wrong. Not too many friends will give one that sort of advice.”
Midget wrestling stars Little Tokyo (right) and Lord Littlebrook.×
Little Tokyo was regarded as one of the top in-ring midget wrestlers in the profession.×
Little Tokyo shown following his retirement match in Kansas with Lord Littlebrook (front, right) and (back, from left) Junkyard Dog and Mick Foley.×
TNA star Jeff Hardy pleaded guilty to drug charges last week.×
Crowbar Press' latest offering is Stan Hansen's "The Last Outlaw."×
Videogame journalism pioneer and longtime pro wrestling enthusiast Bill Kunkel recently passed away at the age of 61.×