The Great Kabuki and Gary Hart – Their Fearful and Timeless Partnership

The Great Kabuki and Gary Hart are forever intertwined. Here’s the story of both iconic bad guys, how they inevitably came together, and the destruction they left behind (under a veil of green mist)!

Gary Hart and The Great Kabuki
Gary Hart and The Great Kabuki.

The Story of The Great Kabuki

Born in the aftermath of World War II in Nobeoka, Japan, The Great Kabuki, real name Akihisa Mera, grew up with the Japanese ideals of resolve and honor in battle. This was the building block to the ethos of Sumo.

The traditional sport of Sumo was the foundation for Japanese wrestling, and it is an integral part of Japanese culture to this day. It was Sumo that brought Mera to the attention of the Rikishi in Japan. He was taken into the Hasegawa stable, which was run by Sumo and wrestling great, Junzō Yoshinosato.

Mera began his training at an early age and began to compete in the Japanese Wrestling Association at the age of 16, not long later. The JWA was founded by another former Sumo, Rikidozan, in the early ’50s to represent the NWA in Japan.

Akihisa Mera (who would later be known as The Great Kabuki) made his professional wrestling debut in 1964 for the now-defunct Japanese Wrestling Association.
Akihisa Mera (who would later be known as The Great Kabuki) made his professional wrestling debut in 1964 for the now-defunct Japanese Wrestling Association.

Mera took his training from the future great, Giant Baba, and made his debut for JWA at the age of sixteen on Halloween night, 1964 — a little piece of timing that would befit his later evil, heel nature that would become the scourge of any territory he chose to infiltrate.

Mera took several monikers, including the namesake of his mentor, when he wrestled as Mr. Sato. He worked there for the next six years before taking to the international stage and arriving in America to compete.

Coming to America

During these years, Akihisa Mera made a name for himself and worked most of the major territories in the South, Southeast, and Southwestern areas of the country, capturing NWA gold at every stop along the way. This was started with his 1970 run in the NWA Los Angeles promotion and his capture of their heavyweight title wrestling under the name Takachiho.

Let’s loosely trace his legacy of gold through the ’70s, during the height of the NWA union of territorial promotions.

In 1972, he won gold at the World Tag League in AJPW as Yoshino Sato. He would soon later stop off in his alma mater at the Japanese Wrestling Association to capture the NWA United National Championship. He popped up on the title radar next in Australia as Hito Tojo a year later and took their NWA title while he was there.

As he built a reputation for his body of work, and not so much a steady name, but that of a capable heel, his value rose. Takachiho appeared in AJPW to take one half of the All Asia Tag Titles in 1976, and then upped his drawing game and headed to one of the hottest markets for the NWA, the breezy sun-swept shores of Florida.

To say that the CWF promotion wasn’t a magnet for talent would be tripping over the feet of history. That area of the country was one of the strongholds for the old guard, as well as a place of prosperity for anyone that had the ability to draw, and the Japanese villain had that in spades.

1978 would be a big year for him, and while he was there, he worked the tag team ranks under the name Mr. Sato. He paired with countryman Masanori Saito, a.k.a. Mr. Saito and the pair terrorized the tag ranks throughout that summer.

The Great Kabuki (unpainted) alongside Tiger Hattori and Mr. Saito.
The Great Kabuki (unpainted) alongside Tiger Hattori and Mr. Saito.

They held both the NWA Florida Tag Titles and the NWA US Tag Titles on several occasions. The crowd loved to hate the pair, and The Briscos and the team of Steve Keirn and Mike Graham battled them back and forth for the belts. After they finished up there, he went his own way and was bound for the mid-west.

The NWA had chapters across the United States, and the Western States Sports, which was run by The Funks, was about to see a rise in the violence of the tag teams there. Akihisa Takachiho once again surfaced to take the Tag Titles and team with Ricky Romero and Mr. Sato on separate occasions in 1979 to get it done before heading to the land of Harley Race, and the Central States Wrestling promotion ran by Bob Geigel.

He worked there into 1980, and, as Takachiho, won their version of the NWA Tag Titles, cashing in on the oriental heat with Pak Song, and then again with Killer Karl Kox. His popularity as a heel would explode the next year as he not only got the gimmick that finally stuck with him and made him the most money but also when he crossed paths with one of the brightest minds in professional wrestling history.

The Story of One of Wrestling’s Greatest Heel Managers, Gary Hart

The winter of 1942 saw not only heaps of snow, but the birth of a legend. Born that January, Gary Hart would take in the frigid air and grow up a Chicagoan, but it would be the heat in and out of the ring in Texas that he would be remembered for.

Hart found his love for the business early on, and it was Fred Kohler, with his weekly Wrestling from Marigold program on the DuMont Network, that first exposed the young boy to the art form of professional wrestling. It clicked with him immediately, and like so many of he was hooked.

Hart also had the inside rub with his uncle, who was doing the booking for Kohler, and when he was of age enough to satisfy the NWA officials, whom the Chicago promotion ran under, he took to the ring to learn the trade.

Hart had his first match on the Saturday night program at age eighteen, and he never looked back.

Watch the In-Ring Debut of Gary Hart:

Gary Hart worked in the Chicago market for the next few years and then headed to the World Championship Wrestling promotion that was run by Detroit promoter Jim Barnett down in Australia.

Following the sale of WCW, Barnett returned stateside to invest in Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Hart came with him, to help in the office, and get more involved in the business.

Becoming a Manager

Until that time, he was an in-ring talent, but the eager-to-learn protégé knew the opportunity that was there and went with it.

Gary Hart would make his move out of the ring and started to work as a manager. This is truly where he found his calling in front of the cameras.

Behind the scenes, Hart was learning not only the effectiveness of proper booking but how to build the audience to the main to keep them coming back for more.

Florida was booming in the mid-’70s, and it was there as a manager for Pak Song that he worked the locals into a frenzy and mastered the art of getting heat.

Being in the company of the brain-trust in their creative team was also a big jump on the learning curve for him. It was also during his time there, in 1975, that he was involved in one of two plane crashes that rocked the wrestling world. Hart proved himself not only a great friend during the ordeal but also a true hero in the face of tragedy. Take the time to read about this incident here, where Hart himself recounts the horrific event.

Gary Hart would leave a year later, heading to Big Time Wrestling, the NWA affiliated promotion in the Texas market that would soon become World Class Championship Wrestling.

He initially took on the job as booker and helped to turn the company into a giant in the ’80s professional wrestling game.

There was WWF, GCW, CWF, MACW, AWA, and the WCCW, and they held sway over more of the market than the rest of the NWA during these years, before Vince Jr. took it all for himself. WCCW was one of the companies that not only held off the buy-out advances of McMahon but grew during this time. Hart saw the drawing power of the Von Erich brothers and knew that if he kept a steady flow of villains for them, they would continue to thrive. He started this by pitting them against their most prevalent and long-time rivals, the Fabulous Freebirds.

Recommended read: 

The Von Erichs and The Freebirds | Overzealous Fans and a Storied Feud

The Team of Gary Hart and The Great Kabuki

It was during 1981 when Mera Akihisa made his way to Dallas, and the two crossed paths, though not for the first time, as they had met during Hart’s time in Australia.

Seeing the potential in Mera, Hart developed The Great Kabuki gimmick specifically for him and became his manager.

Growing his hair long, painting his face, and saying nothing while Gary Hart laid out the challenges and did all the talking was one of the keys to their success. Combine that with his pre-match nunchaku exhibition and the feared green mist that he originated, The Great Kabuki quickly became a feared opponent, turning reputation to myth as he laid one victim after another down for the three count.

The Great Kabuki took on all the faces that WCCW had to offer, including one particular pair of runs of matches against Chris Adams and Bruiser Brody, who was working a short stint as a babyface and cashing in on his popularity as a brawler in Texas.

Kabuki was so over at one point that Gary Hart worked out a special contract that had another wrestler appearing under the gimmick when Hart and Kabuki were double-booked in different cities. Kazuharu Sonoda, who wrestled as the Magic Dragon and teamed with Kabuki at one time, had the gimmick down so good that, as long as no-one saw his face beyond the hair, the difference was negligible. Chances are very good that if you saw The Great Kabuki wrestle without Gary Hart in his corner in the early ’80s, it was Sonoda working in his stead.

The Great Kabuki and Gary Hart worked through Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling and in other territories during this time and continued together for several years to follow. Hart eventually introduced The Great Muta and billed him as the son of Kabuki, crediting the passing on of the green mist secrets to him. Towards the end of the decade, Kabuki moved on, and the two parted ways.

Life after the Paring of The Great Kabuki and Gary Hart

Gary Hart continued with WCW and formed another heel stable there, called the J-Tex Corporation, with most notably Terry Funk and Great Muta, among other members. Hart eventually made his way back to Texas in the mid-’90s and started a few different promotions in the years that followed, including an attempted revival of the WCCW banner, even running at the Sportatorium in Dallas.

It never got the feet under it that the original had, but as many would agree, the original WCCW was lightning in a bottle, and those planets align few times in entertainment, let alone professional wrestling. The drawing power they had in their size market was rivaled by few promotions in the history of the business, and Gary Hart was key to that. He also worked with MLW in his later years and cultivated them in their formative ones. He passed away in 2008 from a heart attack at his home. He was sixty-six years old and taken much too soon.

The Great Kabuki moved to the promotion side of the business with only high profile matches in his later years of competition. He helped start the Super World of Sports, as well as the International Wrestling Association in Japan in the ’90s, and even appeared at the 1994 Royal Rumble as a surprise entrant.

The Great Kabuki, seen here in the background, was a surprise entrant in 1994's WWF Royal Rumble.
The Great Kabuki, seen here in the background, was a surprise entrant in 1994’s WWF Royal Rumble.

While he worked a series of retirement matches at the end of the decade, The Great Kabuki has shown up in sporadic appearances over the last few years in NJPW, where he participated in both the 2015 and 2016 Rumbles there but was disqualified consecutively for the use of the mist.

The Great Kabuki and Gary Hart were some of my favorite heels in WCCW and the business as a whole. They knew how to play those roles to the utmost, and Hart was at arguable alongside Kabuki, and later Muta.

There was something truly memorable about their pairing. The mist, the heel glory, the mask The Great Kabuki wore during his entrance, and the fact that you could barely see his painted face through the hair. Couple that with the venom spat by Gary Hart that was so representative of its counterpart in the ring, it was hard not to get roped into anything they were apart of. They were a huge part of my early wrestling exposure, and I still enjoy watching their matches to this day. That’s the thing about art. The best never grow old; they live timelessly.

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Jim Phillips
Jim Phillips is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories. He's been a wrestling fan since the late '70s and a journeyman writer for the past decade. He can be reached by e-mail at squints72hhi@gmail.com.