Killer Khan, who sadly died on December 29th, 2023, after a heartbreaking scene at his restaurant, was among the wrestling business’s most unforgettable and vicious heels. His shrieking scream, brutal matches with Andre the Giant, and influence on a character in one of wrestling’s earliest video games made him a force to be reckoned with. Yet, many today may not be familiar with the fierce mist-spewing scrouge who lived a secret life outside the ring.
Jim Phillips, author of this article and one of the great wrestling historians here at Pro Wrestling Stories, is facing the challenge of his life after being paralyzed on January 21st, 2023. He wrote this article from the hospital. Learn his story and how you can help him reach his goal of taking his first steps again!
Killer Khan: A Force to Be Reckoned With
The man known as Killer Khan was born Masashi Ozawa. Born on the western coastal plains of Japan in the Niigata province in a small city called Tsubame in the spring of 1947, he first hit the wrestling radar in 1971 at New-Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), wrestling under his birth name.
After working in New Japan for several years, he began to take junkets to Australia, New Zealand, and America. But, of course, the money was in the U.S., so naturally, he would make his way across the big salt to get his piece of the pie.
Coming to America
Karl Gotch was on a run in Japan, saw Ozawa working, and instantly knew he would be money in the United States.
America was coming off of the Vietnam War and was also in the middle of an automobile and gas crisis, losing money to the cheaper, more fuel-efficient Japanese cars.
While all this may seem insignificant to the wrestling business, Gotch knew that a big Asian heel would infuriate the working man who thought they had been slighted by the Japanese and Vietnamese. In other words, he would have huge natural heat with the fans.
Gotch told the idea to Ozawa, and with Gotch’s reputation in Japan, he listened. As a result, Masashi Ozawa became Killer Khan, and his career took off.
Canek would become the luchador who usually faced invading foreigners like Khan, André the Giant, and even Hulk Hogan. He was later dubbed "The Giant Hunter" because of this.
Killer Khan soon headed to Florida and went to work for Eddie Graham and his Championship Wrestling from Florida territory. Undoubtedly, Graham was one of wrestling’s master storytellers and minds and would influence Khan.
Pak Song was already reviled in Florida, and Graham saw a chance to let the "kid" get over and draw instant heat by teaming him with Song, whose partner, the always formidable Jos LeDuc, had left the area.
As usual, he was right. The fans hated them. The pair won the NWA United States tag team titles on March 31st, 1979, after beating the Blond Bombers. One of The Bombers (Wayne Ferris) would go on to later fame as The Honky Tonk Man.
Killer Khan Menaces His Way to the WWF
Traveling to a new territory meant new money and the possibility of a push for Killer Khan. He would draw wherever he went.
In 1980, Khan moved up the coast and inland to Georgia Championship Wrestling and into the booking hands of Ole Anderson. Khan wasn’t there long, but in his short stint, he battled Andre the Giant in a random tag match. He would make history with the big man in the years ahead.
Killer Khan was soon placed in the rotation to battle their then-WWF Champion, Bob Backlund. Khan, who could both wrestle and brawl and had the size to boot, gave the All-American Boy someone new to try and draw with. They headlined arenas throughout the territory, including the prestigious Madison Square Garden.
Khan’s next series of matches would test his ability to work with someone who could fire up the crowd and generate a ton of heat on the Mongolian.
Pedro Morales was red-hot in New York City with its large Puerto Rican population. Pedro knew how to light the fire, turn up that Latino heat, and get the fans boiling. He won the WWF Intercontinental Championship in December 1980 after defeating Ken Patera and was their first Triple Crown Champion.
Khan and Pedro had a run of matches against each other, resulting in sell-outs and near riots when the fan-favorite would fall prey to Khan’s treacherous ways.
The two battled off and on until June of 1981, with Pedro coming out as the decided winner of their feud.
Epic Battles with Andre the Giant
During his run in the WWF at this time, there were times when Killer Khan and Andre the Giant would cross paths and have bust-ups and brawls.
Working in a run against Andre meant BIG money and main events. It also brought notoriety throughout the territories.
Khan and Andre would engage in a series of matches that began in April ’81. What started as the occasional match became among of the hottest rivalries either had engaged in.
Life as a giant wasn’t easy; even the most innocuous things could spell hazardous. One such pratfall raised its ugly head on May 1st, 1981.
Andre was getting out of bed, still groggy, and his massive frame shifted on him, coming down on and breaking his ankle.
He and Khan were embroiled in a feud at the time, but the future was now unsure, with Andre seemingly out of commission.
Andre did what all old-school wrestlers did when the chips were down and the bright lights shining: he sucked it up and toughed it out because the show had to go on.
Vince and Andre saw the money in expanding the angle to include the injury, so everything went into motion the following evening.
The match didn’t go a long time, for obvious reasons, and ended in Killer Khan dropping his knee from the middle rope to finish. Andre didn’t have to try hard to sell an ankle that was already broken. They worked it perfectly.
The chase for revenge would garner even more money as Andre the Giant returned from his time off and hunted the slippery heel all up and down the East Coast.
Finally, Andre’s pursuit culminated in a Mongolian Stretcher Match at the historic Philadelphia Spectrum on November 14th, 1981.
The idea of any stretcher being able to not only hold Andre but carry him anyplace seemed beyond comprehension. What was vehemently clear was the crowd’s reaction. It was a pressure cooker in the Spectrum, and the lid could go anytime.
“Early on, Andre was usually portrayed as a friendly, jolly giant in the WWWF,” Evan remembers.
“He wrestled in many forgettable six-man matches where he’d smile and do comedy spots. And even one-on-one with big names, it was a given Andre would come out on top.
“But with Khan, there was a whole different feel to the proceedings. The fans were emotionally invested in these bloody, revenge-fueled brawls after the ankle angle. Khan came off as a legit challenge to the ‘undefeated giant.’ The co-feature at Madison Square Garden was arguably Andre’s best feud in this area.”
Andre got his revenge, and McMahon saw the big numbers he had envisioned. The feud made Killer Khan an even bigger name in North America and elevated his status back home in Japan. As a result, it was named by Wrestling Observer to be the Feud of the Year.
This also meant traveling to new places, and it was time to hit the road.
Onward to Mid-South Wrestling
From the shadows and under the management of Skandor Akbar, Killer Khan next showed up in Bill Watts’s Mid-South Wrestling. This was the home of the stiff shots and real-life tough guys. Khan didn’t take long to make his mark.
His first taste of being a Mid-South champion came in January of 1982 in Shreveport, Louisiana’s Hirsch Memorial Coliseum. Khan defeated Mr. Olympia, took the Mississippi Heavyweight Title for his own, and held it for a month before Olympia got his revenge and his strap back.
However, this didn’t slow Khan down, as he continued to take out his mist, spewing rage at anyone who stepped in the ring with him.
The fans in that territory were well into the action, and the heels could have a dangerous night’s work in the ring and the parking lot if they had a lot of heat, which undoubtedly, Killer Khan did.
Damage to your car was the lesser of the worries when fans were known to carry weapons and throw whatever they had at will.
Junkyard Dog was, hands down, the biggest draw in Mid-South at that time. He was on fire and selling out wherever he went.
He had taken the Louisiana Heavyweight title from The Great Kabuki in December of 1981. Finally, in June of 1982, he won the territory’s most coveted belt, their North American Championship.
Mid-South’s bylaws stated that no one man could hold the North American title alongside another singles title. Therefore, he vacated the title in June of 1982, and a tournament to win that belt was set into motion by Watts.
Killer Khan entered and won the championship on July 6th in Baton Rouge. He would hold the Louisiana Title for a short while before it was taken from him in a loss to Iron Mike Sharpe.
Killer Khan in Canada
Next, Killer Khan headed to the frozen tundra of Canada, to Calgary, Alberta, and Stampede Wrestling. This was late 1983, and Stampede had left the NWA only a year earlier.
A growing aura of violence was also rising in the promotion at the time. On the heels of a riot in the Victoria Pavilion, the promotion was banned from promoting or doing shows in Calgary. Then, in August of 1984, the company was purchased by Vince McMahon.
Killer Khan didn’t stay in the environment long, especially when he was hot and had opportunities elsewhere. He had a series of matches with the then-North American Champion, Archie Gouldie, better known as The Stomper, while he was there.
The Stomper had recently taken the title off of Bad News Allen just before Christmas 1983 and had held it for the entire year afterward.
Khan got his title shot the following January, and it was a brawl. Stomper was known for violent matches, and Khan could hold his own with anyone.
The fight had to be stopped because The Stomper got a gash over his eye. The match was reset for the next week. They picked up right where they left off the next week, only with a target for Khan to attack now.
After it was over, Khan left with the North American Heavyweight Championship. He stayed on top for a few months before dropping the belt to Dynamite Kid in March of 1984.
Onward to Texas
Skandor Akbar called again shortly after, letting Killer Khan know of the hotbed the Dallas market had become.
The Freebirds and Von Erichs were blowing that area up, and they had a spot in mind for him. So Khan headed to Texas and became the newest member of Devastation, Inc.
The heel group, led by Akbar, had been having a rotating round table of bad guys for the Von Erich boys to take on.
It wasn’t long before he took a title there. Kelly Kiniski had held their version of the Television Title since February, but when the two met in May of 1984, Khan took the belt back home with him, as Kiniski felt the sting of the green mist. Kerry Von Erich beat him for the belt just three weeks later.
Killer Khan worked between Texas and Japan for a while and showed Terry Gordy the secret of the Mongolian Spike during that time. This was a hard-thrust blow with a heavily-taped thumb to the throat.
The Freebirds eventually turned on Khan, and a few great matches spun out of that between Khan and Gordy in Texas and across the Pacific.
Back to the WWF
Killer Khan got the call one day from Harry Fujiwara, better known to fans as the devious Mr. Fuji.
Fuji was one of the most despised managers in the new WWF, and he needed a new heel to go against the champ there.
The championship landscape had changed since his last trip to New York City. Hulk Hogan now held the WWF World Heavyweight title, chewing through heels one after another.
Vince remembered Khan and thought a Mongolian menace would be a good foil for his ultra-patriotic, prayer-saying, vitamin-eating good guy. The decision was easy, as a run with the champ meant some dollar signs.
Hogan and Khan had a series of house show matches during the spring and summer. After their short stint together, which received little notoriety from the WWF, Khan moved on to another short run with Outback Jack that saw some television time. But, unfortunately, they weren’t spectacular.
By the end of 1987, Randy Savage became the hottest new wrestler after his babyface turn by the Honky Tonk Man on Saturday Night’s Main Event that October.
Macho Man would be getting the next big push by the company, which meant they would need a solid line-up of heels for him to wrestle.
Khan had his run with Randy in December of 1987 and into the New Year. The two worked well together, but this would be his last big showing in the United States.
He was getting older and returned to his home country of Japan. He retired from active wrestling at the end of that year.
Killer Khan’s Likeness in Wrestling Video Games
A testament to Killer Khan’s popularity in Japan and the United States can be found in his likeness being used in one of the first wrestling games offered by Nintendo in 1986.
Pro Wrestling was composed of six wrestlers, with the resemblance being too out front and in the open not to realize who the characters were patterned after.
King Slender, the main babyface, was a ringer for Hogan. Fighter Hayabusa was pretty spot-on for Antonio Inoki. Kin Corn Karn was a mist-spewing, chopping menace, and there was or is little doubt it was made out of Killer Khan’s persona.
He was one of the first people to be immortalized in a video game as they quickly grew and took wrestling entertainment in new directions.
Killer Khan in Later Years
Killer Khan wrestled his last match in 1987. From there, he receded from the spotlight, opened a restaurant called Killer Killer Khan in the Kashiwa neighborhood of Tokyo, and returned to his life outside the ring.
In December 2020, he was involved in a bizarre hit-and-run incident. Tokyo Reporter noted:
“The former professional wrestler Killer Khan, 73, has been accused of injuring a woman with a bicycle in Shinjuku Ward earlier this year, reports the Asahi Shimbun (Dec. 9).
“At just past 5:00 p.m. on October 18, Killer Khan, whose name is Masashi Ozawa, struck the woman, aged in her 20s, while riding a bicycle in the Hyakunincho area. He then allegedly fled the scene.
“The woman suffered a broken tooth and other injuries that required one month to heal, police said.”
When later questioned by police, Khan claimed, "I know that I struck the woman, but I had to go to my nearby [restaurant]. I am sorry for injuring [her]."
Despite there being video evidence as well as Khan’s own admission, in July 2021, prosecutors elected not to follow through with the charges.
Killer Khan, Masashi Ozawa, lived in Tokyo until his untimely death.
WWE Legend Killer Khan Dies: Cause of Death
On December 29th, 2023, WWE legend Killer Khan passed away at 76. The cause of death of Khan, whose real name was Masashi Ozawa, was due to a ruptured artery. This heartbreaking event unfolded at Khan’s restaurant, Jinjo Sakaba, in Tokyo. Patrons and fans alike were shocked as he collapsed at the counter.
He was rushed to the hospital, where he ultimately succumbed to his condition.
The fierce Killer Khan will always be remembered as one of wrestling’s greatest foreign heels, a challenger to Backlund, Hogan, and Savage, and one of Andre’s greatest foes. He was also a main eventer and champion throughout the territories.
The mist-spewing monster is etched in our memories forever.
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