Kazuo Sakurada (September 26, 1948 - January 11, 2020) was a Japanese professional wrestler. He was best known, under various monikers, for his work in Stampede Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and World Championship Wrestling. Sakurada was also highly regarded by Bret Hart as one of his most significant trainers alongside Katsui Adachi (a.k.a. Mr. Hito), who he taught with extensively in Stu Hart's "Dungeon."
Professional wrestling areer
Early years (1971-1976)
Kazuo Sakurada debuted on June 21, 1971, in the old Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance against Kim Duk. When the JPWA collapsed in 1973, he joined All Japan Pro Wrestling. In 1976 he made a North American tour, and his stock increased in earnest.
Stampede Wrestling (1976-1981)
Mr. Sakurada found his earliest success in Stampede Wrestling. He defeated two-time champion Leo Burke to win his first and only Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship on May 20, 1978 in Edmonton, Alberta. He held the title for a little over three months before losing to Paddy Ryan on September 1.
He then became highly regarded in Stampede's tag team division, defeating Keith and Bret Hart in early 1979 to win his first International Tag Team title with Mr. Hito. Their second win came later on the same year after the defeat of Dory Funk, Jr. and Larry Lane, only to be toppled once again by the Hart brothers. By 1980, Hito had moved on to singles competition, leaving Sakurada to form a team with Kasavudu. They, too, defeated the Harts, marking Sakurada's third and final Tag Team Championship victory in Stampede. This reign would be ended at the hands of the Harts' brother-in-law Jim Neidhart and Hercules Ayala that same year. Sakurada's feud with Ayala would become one of the most notable of his Stampede tenure.
Continental Wrestling Association (1981-1982)
In the early 1980s, Sakurada had started working in various southern American promotions, starting with the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis. During this time, he began using the "Kendo Nagasaki" gimmick, a Japanese Samurai character previously made famous by British wrestler Peter Thornley dating back to 1964. This incarnation was vastly different however; rather than wearing a mask, Sakurada wore face paint and a highly alternate style all together. His fierce character also made famous the Asian mist and frequently employed the Kendo stick as his signature weapon.
National Wrestling Alliance (1982-1990)
After the Memphis territory, Nagasaki worked for NWA territories Florida Championship Wrestling and Southeastern Championship Wrestling. He faced some of the top competition in the Florida territory throughout 1983 and 1984, and on January 22, 1984, he captured the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship from Mike Rotundo. This kicked off a rivalry with the reputable Billy Jack Haynes, resulting in his title victory over Nagasaki in March of the same year. During his time with CWF, Nagasaki would also tag team with White Ninja. Following his departure from CWF, Nagasaki briefly worked for Von Erich's World Class Championship Wrestling in the mid '80s, frequently partnered with Super Black Ninja, the new moniker of White Ninja. During the 1980s, Nagasaki teamed with Mr. Pogo as the Ninja Express.
In 1989, he performed on WCW television, using the stage names "The Dragonmaster" and "Mr J" (the latter a backward-walking bodyguard character). While there, he joined Gary Hart's J-Tex Corporation stable consisting of Terry Funk, Dick Slater, Buzz Sawyer, and The Great Muta (previously Super Black Ninja). This heel group, conceived in July 1989, feuded with the Four Horsemen until ultimately disbanding in February 1990 after a blow off steel cage match at the Clash of the Champions, a match largely overshadowed by the other Horsemen turning heel on Sting.
Return to Japan
In 1990, after so many years competing in North America, he returned to Japan as Kendo Nagasaki. He first joined Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, but later joined Super World of Sports. Following SWS's collapse in 1992, he formed his own promotion, NOW (Network of Wrestling). In 1995, he closed NOW and with a new business partner, Great Kojika (who had retired from AJPW and wrestling in 1988), formed Big Japan Pro Wrestling. He stayed there until 1999, when he left. He attempted to promote again under the banner "New NOW" but the promotion only lasted a few shows.
According to Bret Hart, Sakurada was one of Stu Hart's most trusted foremen and reliable workers in the heyday of Stampede Wrestling; Bret's DVD set also features rare footage of Sakurada and Adachi demolishing him in a highly physical match.
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- Pacific Northwest Wrestling
- Stampede Wrestling
- NWA International Tag Team Championship (Calgary version) (3 times) - with Mr. Hito (2) and Kasavudu (1)
- Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame