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Birth name Kim Sin-rak (김신락)
Born November 14, 1924
Hongwon County, South Hamgyong, Korea
Died December 15, 1963(1963-12-15) (aged 39)
Minato, Tokyo, Japan
Cause of death Murder
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Rikidōzan
Mitsuhiro Momota
Billed height 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Billed weight 110 kg (243 lb)
Billed from Nagasaki
Trained by Harold Sakata
Bobby Bruns
Debut October 28, 1951
Rikidōzan Mitsuhiro
力道山 光浩
Personal information
Height 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 116 kg (256 lb; 18 st 4 lb)
Stable Nishonoseki
Record 135–82–15
Debut May 1940
Highest rank Sekiwake (May 1949)
Retired September 1950
Championships 1 (Makushita)
1 (Sandanme)
Special Prizes Outstanding Performance (1)
Gold Stars 2 (Azumafuji)
* Up to date as of May 2013.

Mitsuhiro Momota (Japanese: 百田 光浩) (born Kim Sin-rak; Hangul김신락; November 14, 1924[1] – December 15, 1963), better known as Rikidōzan (力道山), was a Korean Japanese professional wrestler known as The Father of Puroresu and one of the most influential men in professional wrestling history. Initially, he had moved from his native country Korea to Japan to become a sumo wrestler. He was credited with bringing the sport of professional wrestling to Japan at a time when the Japanese needed a local hero to emulate and was lauded as a national hero. He was murdered by a member of the Yakuza in 1963.


Early years[edit]

Rikidōzan in 1949, in traditional sumo kesho-mawashi

Rikidōzan was born Kim Sin-rak in South Hamgyong, in Korea, on November 14, 1924.

He was the youngest son of Kim Soktee, the owner of a Korean farm with a Confucian tradition and his wife Chon Gi. When his father fell ill, Sin-rak tended to his father, while his mother and older brothers tended to the farm. His father died in 1939.[2][3][4]

He became the adopted son of the farmer "Momota family" of Nagasaki Prefecture when he was young and trained to be a sumo wrestler. He joined Nishonoseki stable, and made his debut in May 1940. Due to the discrimination against Koreans by the Japanese, Sin-rak claimed that his name was Mitsuhiro Momota (Momota being the surname of the family which adopted, but later disowned, him) and listed his birthplace as Omura, Nagasaki. He was given the shikona of Rikidōzan. He reached the top makuuchi division in 1946 and was runner-up to yokozuna Haguroyama in the tournament of June 1947, losing a playoff for the championship. He fought in 23 tournaments in total, with a win-loss record of 135–82. His highest rank was sekiwake.[5]

Professional wrestling[edit]

Rikidōzan's expensive apartment in Japan, called "the Riki Mansion", as it existed in 2007.

Rikidōzan gave up sumo in 1950. Although he claimed it was for financial reasons, discrimination against Koreans may have been a contributory factor.[6] He made his professional wrestling debut in 1951 with a ten-minute draw against Bobby Bruns. He established himself as Japan's biggest wrestling star by defeating one American wrestler after another. This was shortly after World War II, and the Japanese needed someone who could stand up to the Americans. Rikidōzan thus became immensely popular in Japan. His American opponents assisted him by portraying themselves as villains who cheated in their matches. Rikidōzan himself was always booked as a villain when he wrestled in America.

Rikidōzan gained worldwide renown when he defeated Lou Thesz for the NWA International Heavyweight Championship on August 27, 1958 in Japan. In another match, Thesz willingly agreed to put over Rikidōzan at the expense of his own reputation. This built up mutual respect between the two wrestlers, and Rikidōzan never forgot what Thesz did. He would go on to capture several NWA titles in matches both in Japan and overseas. Rikidōzan also trained professional wrestling students, including soon-to-be wrestling legends Kanji "Antonio" Inoki, Ooki Kintaro, and Shohei "Giant" Baba.

His signature move was the karate chop, which was actually based on sumo's harite, rather than actual karate. It is rumoured that he had been coached by fellow Korean Masutatsu Oyama, but he is more likely to have been coached by another Korean karateka, Nakamura Hideo.

With his success in pro wrestling, Rikidōzan began acquiring properties such as nightclubs, hotels, condominiums and boxing promotions. He established the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA), Japan's first professional wrestling promotion, in 1953. His first major feud was against Masahiko Kimura, the famous judoka who had been invited by Rikidōzan to compete as a professional wrestler. Other famous feuds included those against Thesz in 1957–58, against Freddie Blassie in 1962, and against The Destroyer in 1963. In wrestling journalist John M. Molinaro's 2002 book Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time, it is noted that two of Rikidōzan's matches are rated in the top ten television programs of all time in Japan.[7] His October 6, 1957 sixty-minute draw with Lou Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship drew an 87.0 rating, and his May 24, 1963 sixty-minute two out of three falls draw with The Destroyer drew a 67.0 rating, but a larger viewing audience (the largest in Japanese history) than the previous match, since more people had television sets by 1963.


Sannoh Hospital
Rikidōzan entered this hospital after being fatally injured.

On December 8, 1963, while partying in a Tokyo nightclub, Rikidōzan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by a man named Katsuji Murata who belonged to the ninkyō dantai (Yakuza) Sumiyoshi-ikka. Reportedly, Rikidōzan threw Murata out of the club and continued to party, refusing to seek medical help.[8] Another report states that Rikidōzan did indeed see his physician shortly after the incident, and was told the wound was not serious. He died a week later of peritonitis on December 15. It was rumored by Masahiko Kimura that his murder was in retaliation for when Rikidōzan attacked Kimura during a wrestling match, after Kimura delivered an errant kick to Rikidōzan's groin, ignoring a pre-match arrangement and attacking Kimura for real.[9]

Murata served seven years in prison for manslaughter. Murata claimed that on December 15 of every year he would call up the family (Rikidōzan’s sons, Mitsuo and Yoshi Momota), apologize and then visit Rikidōzan’s grave.


One of his sons, Mitsuo Momota, followed his father into the ring in 1970 and still works as a freelancer, but was never able to earn the recognition that once made his father famous, despite winning the World Junior Heavyweight Championship in 1989. Mitsuo's son, Chikara Momota, made his in-ring debut on December 16, 2013, the day after the fiftieth anniversary of the death of his grandfather.[10] Rikidōzan's other son, Yoshihiro Momota, was also a pro wrestler.

Rikidōzan's son-in-law, Bak Myeong-cheol (박명철), has been a member of the National Defence Commission of North Korea since around early 2009, while Bak Myeong-cheol's younger sister is the vice secretary of the Light Industry Division of the Workers' Party of Korea.[11][12]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

  • North American Wrestling Alliance

Sumo top division record[edit]

  • Only two tournaments were held through most of the 1940s and only one was held in 1946.
Rikidōzan Mitsuhiro[5]
- Spring
Haru basho, Tokyo
Natsu basho, Tokyo
Aki basho, Tokyo
1946 Not held Not held West Maegashira #17
1947 Not held East Maegashira #8
East Maegashira #3
1948 Not held East Maegashira #2
East Komusubi
1949 West Komusubi
West Sekiwake
West Maegashira #2
1950 West Komusubi
West Sekiwake
West Sekiwake
Record given as win-loss-absent    Top Division Champion Top Division Runner-up Retired Lower Divisions

Sanshō key: F=Fighting spirit; O=Outstanding performance; T=Technique     Also shown: =Kinboshi(s); P=Playoff(s)
Divisions: MakuuchiJūryōMakushitaSandanmeJonidanJonokuchi

Makuuchi ranks: YokozunaŌzekiSekiwakeKomusubiMaegashira


Rikidōzan posthumously became one of the first members of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996 and he was posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 2006, as well as the "Legacy Wing" of the WWE Hall of Fame for the 2017 class. In 2002, Rikidōzan was named the 3rd greatest pro wrestler of all time behind Ric Flair and rival Lou Thesz in the magazine article 100 Wrestlers of All Time by John Molinaro, edited by Dave Meltzer and Jeff Marek.[15]

Popular culture[edit]

Rikidōzan on a Japanese movie poster for the 1955 film Rikidōzan monogatari dotō no otoko.

Rikidōzan appeared in 29 films,[16] including:

  • お月様には悪いけど Otsukisama ni wa warui kedo (1954) as himself
  • やがて青空 Yagate aozora (1955) as himself
  • 力道山物語 怒濤の男 Rikidōzan monogatari dotō no otoko (1955) as himself
  • and others
  • Japanese martial arts novels by Baku Yumemakura and Keisuke Itagaki manga, Garouden created a character called Rikiozan a more muscular bulker version that's based on Rikidōzan.[citation needed]

In 2004, A South Korean film, Rikidōzan was made about the life of the wrestler, with Sol Kyung-gu playing the titular role.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ North Korean claim
  2. ^ http://taugus.web.fc2.com/MARTIAL_ARTS/RIKIDOZAN/index.html
  3. ^ http://taugus.web.fc2.com/MARTIAL_ARTS/RIKIDOZAN/childe.htm
  4. ^ http://www.interq.or.jp/cancer/kuramasa/rikidouzan01.html
  5. ^ a b "Rikidozan Mitsuhiro Rikishi Information". Sumo Reference. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  6. ^ Weiner, Michael (2004). Race, Ethnicity and Migration in Modern Japan. Routledge. p. 166. ISBN 0-415-20854-8. 
  7. ^ Mollinaro, J.F: The Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time, p. 19, Winding Stair Press, 2002
  8. ^ Mollinaro, p. 19
  9. ^ My Judo by Masahiko Kimura
  10. ^ 力道山50回目の命日に孫の力がプロレスデビュー!父であり力道山の息子である百田光雄はダブルヘッダー. Battle News (in Japanese). 2013-12-16. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  11. ^ Mainichi 西岡 (Nishioka), 省二 (Shoni) (2009-11-20). 北朝鮮:力道山ファミリー重用 総書記義弟の復権が影響?. Shimbum (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2012-07-11. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  12. ^ 역도산 패밀리 북한서 중용. Kuki News via Yonhap (in Korean). 2009-11-20. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  13. ^ Gerweck, Steve (2011-11-14). "NWA Hall of Fame Class for 2011 announced". WrestleView. Archived from the original on November 17, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  14. ^ "Congratulations to the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame Legacy inductees". WWE. March 31, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2017. 
  15. ^ Molinaro, John (2003). The Top 100 Wrestlers of All Time. ISBN 1-55366-305-5. 
  16. ^ http://www.jmdb.ne.jp/person/p0372750.htm accessed 7 February 2008

Further reading[edit]

Li, Ho In (1989). I Am a Korean The story of the world professional wrestling champion Rikidozan. Pyongyang, (North) Korea: Foreign Languages Pub. House. OCLC 25966342. Biography of Rikidozan 

Whiting, Robert (1999). Tokyo Underworld The fast times and hard life of an American gangster in Japan. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-41976-4. OCLC 39169916. Discusses Rikidōzan's impact on Japanese pop-culture and the Yakuza underworld during the American occupation of Japan, and also includes a small photo collection of Rikidōzan, and his killer, Katsuji Murata 

External links[edit]