Cocoa Samoa Remembered

Memorial submitted to the CAC website by Jason Pratt in an attempt to enhance people’s memories of Cocoa Samoa.  The CAC does not vouch for the accuracy of any of the information in this article, rather presents it here in tribute.
 The year 2007 came to a close about two months ago. A lot of people have chosen to summarize 2007 through the tragedies of the Benoits. It’s true, we lost a lot of great people in the industry last year to deaths both tragic and natural. While it is easy to be depressed by the passing of so much talent, I like to celebrate 2007 as the year of Cocoa Samoa.

Cocoa (aka Sabu the Wildman, High Chief Onasahi, Tami Samoa, Black Ninja, etc.)  wasn’t the most famous wrestler that passed last year, nor was he the most decorated, but he was the one who made the most impact on my life. I first met Cocoa through my part-time job while I was at Community College. Cocoa had set up a janitorial company in order to provide jobs to homeless people and get them on their feet. I was floundering a lot at the time and it was my talks with Cocoa that gave me the inspiration and renewed energy to do so much of what I have done in my life. His stories weren’t told to brag, but to help me in my decisions. Through these talks I learned of things he was proud of, such as the zig-zagging cross country bike rides that he made for publicity for one of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers, resulting in Cocoa getting a free motorcycle every year.

He also talked about the things he wasn’t proud of, such  as believing that he had fathered 11 children through 9 different women. Cocoa talked about his time in Japan and these talks were one of the major factors that lead me to move to Tokyo where I actually bumped into one of his children by chance.  His son looked just like him, was bigger, and could’ve been a wrestler in his own right.

Despite not being in the spotlight on a national level, Cocoa did have a great international and regional career. Things began for Cocoa when he started training in martial arts in Japan. Having some Japanese blood in his veins, Cocoa followed in his father’s footsteps and arrived in Japan to study martial arts. Cocoa got his black belt and the attention of Japanese wrestling promoters. When he worked in Japan, he achieved some great success. Cocoa told of holding title belts where the promotion wouldn’t allow him to keep them. The promoters would bring them to the arena every night and collect the belts back from him after his match. He spoke of a time when he and Harley Race went for sushi and let their appetites get the best of them, running up a bill over a thousand dollars. His relationship with Antonio Inoki, he said, was the reason for him leaving Japan. Cocoa, a trained fighter and a man referred to as one of the true dangerous people of his era by those he worked with, had tremendous respect for Inoki’s fighting ability.

In America, Cocoa did well in the regional promotions holding several titles that include the NWA Mid-America Heavyweight championship, the NWA Pacific Northwest Championship, the AWA Southern Heavyweight championship, and the Pacific Northwest tag team championship. Cocoa headbutted, wrapped the figure four on, and threw thrusts to the throats of some of the best in the industry: Ric Flair, Dory Funk, Jr., Terry Funk, Jerry Lawler, Ernie Ladd, and David von Erich to name a few. He participated in some great matches, such as the $5,000 dollar challenge from Buzz Sawyer. For those who don’t know the story, Buzz offered $5,000 to whoever could pin him. Cocoa  came out and won a hard fought victory.  Though he was given the money, Buzz began to beat the cash out of Cocoa’s hands, but Cocoa ended up getting the last blows in and held on to the money. My personal favorite chapter in his career came during a run in the Pacific Northwest with Jimmy Snuka. Cocoa and Snuka were close enough to where years later Cocoa still referred to Jimmy as his brother. Now, Cocoa called everyone “brutha”, but he would specifically call Jimmy, “my brother.” A lot of rumors say that the men were real life brothers, but the different last names (Cocoa’s Emelio and Jimmy’s Reiher respectively) hold more evidence of their relation or lack thereof than the fact that the men were very close; had similar ring attire, down to the bare feet, and lived within spitting distance of each other in southern Washington State. Nonetheless, the men were spiritual brothers. Cocoa and Jimmy were great partners and had some excellent matches together. Then, one day, Cocoa turned on Jimmy and the two had a thrilling, if too brief in my opinion, feud afterwards.

Cocoa, like many wrestlers, had his demons.  Working as a money collector for a major drug runner on the West coast, Cocoa found himself in prison. As hard of a time as this was for him, he never shied from talking of this experience. While locked up, Cocoa spent a lot of time talking with a preacher who would visit the prison. Whatever anyone may think of religion, by having something to believe in, Cocoa found the motivation to turn his life around. Cocoa was determined that after his release, he too would become a preacher and then visit prisons himself to help other troubled people. He kept his prom

Some in the media and in parentsâ?? groups like to point to the Benoit situation as evidence of the wrestling industry’s poisonous effects. Cocoa Samoa had been described as a short-tempered, dangerous man, but In the end, he became one of the finest men one could ever ask to meet. I like to point to Cocoa as evidence that many in the wrestling industry are positive role models who lead people to better lives. Let’s look back on 2007 as a year of remembrance for people such as Cocoa, champions in and out of the ring.