Professor Tanaka

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Professor Tanaka
Tanaka, c. 1973
Birth nameCharles J. Kalani Jr.
Born(1930-01-06)January 6, 1930
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
DiedAugust 22, 2000(2000-08-22) (aged 70)[1]
Lake Forest, California, U.S.
Alma materWeber State University
University of Utah
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Professor Tanaka
Professor Toru Tanaka
Billed height5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)[2]
Billed weight280 lb (130 kg)[2]
Billed fromHiroshima, Japan[2]
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1955-1966
Rank Sergeant

Charles J. Kalani Jr. (January 6, 1930 – August 22, 2000) was an American professional wrestler, professional boxer,[3] martial artist and actor. He was known by the ring names Professor Toru Tanaka, or simply Professor Tanaka. He was best known for his work with the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, now WWE), and was a 3-time Tag Team Championship (with partner Mr. Fuji) and one-time International Tag Team Champion (with Mitsu Arakawa). In 2019, he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a Legacy Member.[4]

Early life


Kalani was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Charles J. Kalani and Christina Leong Kalani. His father was Native Hawaiian, and his mother was of Chinese descent. Kalani began studying judo in 1939, and earned a black belt in Danzan-ryu Jujitsu from Seishiro Okazaki.

Kalani graduated from Iolani School in 1949.[5] His wife, Doris Kalani, later credited Kalani's time on the football team and Kenneth A. Bray's influence with keeping him away from trouble.[6] After graduating from high school, Kalani attended Weber Junior College (now Weber State University), where he met his wife in 1952.[6] He also played college football at the University of Utah, as a guard.[7]

In 1955, Kalani was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.[8] Kalani left the military in 1966 and moved to Monterey, California. He ran a Judo and Danzan-ryu academy with John Chow-Hoon.

Kalani was also a heavyweight boxer. He advanced to the finals of the 1950 NCAA Junior College Boxing Championships, but was defeated by Ed Sanders. He fought professionally from March 1953 to February 1954, retiring with a record of 3-2-0, with one win by knockout.[9]

Professional wrestling career

Professor Tanaka in 1972

Kalani got into professional wrestling in 1958, making his debut in his home state of Hawaii during his service with the military. In 1966 after retiring from the military, Kalani began wrestling full time. San Francisco promoter Roy Shire approached Kalani in 1967, launching his career in earnest.[10] He also worked for World Championship Wrestling in Australia.

Kalani adopted the heel gimmick of Professor Toru Tanaka (or simply Professor Tanaka), a Japanese villain from Hiroshima (though Kalani was actually of Hawaiian and Chinese origin). One of the characteristics of his gimmick was that he threw ceremonial salt in his opponents' eyes after "blessing" each corner of the ring, a tactic that is most commonly associated with Japanese villain wrestlers.[11] Tanaka did play the stereotypical Japanese villain with the requisite knowledge of martial arts. He employed a combination of power skills, martial arts, and his feared Japanese sleeper submission hold. Tanaka's most famous tag team partner was Harry Fujiwara (better known as Mr. Fuji), whom he knew from high school in Hawaii. In his book, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks, Freddie Blassie explored the relationship between the two "Japanese" heels.

From Tanaka's point of view, he was passing time with Fuji because it made sense to team up with another Japanese villain. The two certainly had no great admiration for one another. Tanaka was a by-the-book guy, who looked at wrestling as a means to make a living. He wanted to work his match, shake hands with everyone afterwards, and save some money. He was a professional.

If you wanted to talk about an angle beforehand, you always went to Tanaka. He was the ring general, who'd lead everyone else in the match. Fuji was certainly a good performer, but you couldn't control him. So, in addition to worrying about their opponents, Tanaka had the responsibility of making sure that Fuji didn't get out of hand. I guess he did a pretty good job because, years later, when Tanaka was relegated to working these tiny independent shows to earn a few extra bucks, Fuji himself had become a manager.

— Freddie Blassie, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks

Tanaka had a long successful run with the WWF in 1967, including being #1 contender to champion Bruno Sammartino. Sammartino was the one who requested Tanaka (who was working in Australia) to the WWF's owner at the time, Vince McMahon Sr. In their first Madison Square Garden meeting, Tanaka was disqualified for throwing salt. He was pinned by Sammartino in a rematch six months later, and Tanaka occasionally teamed with Gorilla Monsoon. Tanaka also main evented the Garden in tag matches, twice with Gorilla Monsoon vs. Sammartino and Spyros Arion (Tanaka and his partner winning the first via disqualification; losing the second in a Texas Death Match); a year later with Monsoon against Sammartino and Victor Rivera. Monsoon & Tanaka had other Garden matches, including victories over Al Costello & Dr. Bill Miller; and Bobo Brazil and Earl Maynard.

Professor Toru Tanaka facing Don Leo Jonathan in October 1973

Tanaka subsequently teamed with Mitsu Arakawa in the WWF in 1969, acquiring the International Tag Team Championship; losing it at Madison Square Garden to Tony Marino and Victor Rivera. The team of Tanaka and Mr. Fuji won three WWF World Tag Team Championships, with Blassie as manager for the third reign and The Grand Wizard as manager for the first two. They first won the belts from Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow on June 27, 1972, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at a House show. They lost the belts to Haystacks Calhoun and Tony Garea on May 30, 1973, again at a Hamburg house show, but regained them on September 11, 1973, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before losing them again to Tony Garea and Dean Ho on November 14, 1973, again in Hamburg. Their third win came on September 27, 1977, at a Philadelphia house show when they defeated Tony Garea and Larry Zbyszko in a tournament final for the vacant belts, holding them until March 14, 1978, when they lost the titles to Dino Bravo and Dominic DeNucci in Philadelphia. This third reign set a record for number of championship reigns which would be equalized by The Wild Samoans in 1983, Demolition in 1990, Money Inc. in 1993, The Quebecers in 1994 and The Smoking Gunns in 1996, but not bettered until The New Age Outlaws won a fourth reign in 1999.

After WWWF, Tanaka returned to Japan, Hawaii and other territories until retiring in 1986.

Other media


Professor Tanaka was also featured in a television commercial for a brand of rice in Puerto Rico. His other appearance in a commercial was for Colgate toothpaste with Pat Morita. Tanaka was seen as an extra in a few of David Lee Roth's music videos in the mid-1980s.

Kalani, c. 1988

By the early 1980s, Kalani's body could not handle the beatings in the ring any longer, and he moved into the film world on a more permanent basis. His first film was the 1981 Chuck Norris vehicle An Eye for an Eye and his last film was 1995's Hard Justice (starring David Bradley and Charles Napier). He appeared opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man as "Sub-Zero", the red-armor clad "stalker" who is a sadistic hockey-samurai with a scythe that "slices his enemies limb from limb into quivering, bloody sushi".

Other notable roles include The Perfect Weapon, 3 Ninjas, Black Rain, Darkman, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and Last Action Hero.

Tanaka was one of three semi-retired professional wrestlers to compete in a tug-of-war match with two other wrestlers teamed up against a large group of children on the Nickelodeon series Wild and Crazy Kids in the early 1990s.



Kalani died of heart failure on August 22, 2000. His ashes were spread in the ocean near Haleʻiwa, Hawaii. He is survived by his wife Doris Kalani and his three children: Cheryle Kalani, Carl Kalani and Karen Kalani Beck.



Wrestling championships and accomplishments


1Records do not show which NWA affiliate Tanaka worked for when his two reigns with the title began. While usually defended in Southeastern Championship Wrestling, it was occasionally used in other promotions.


  1. ^ "Charlie Kalani, 70, Remembered As Versatile Actor". Classic Wrestling Articles. December 26, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Shields, Brian; Sullivan, Kevin (2009). WWE Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
  3. ^ "Charley Kalani". Boxrec Boxing Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  5. ^ Alumni Making Headlines (April 2006). "The Professor Toru Tanaka (Charles Kalani '49) Remembered". Iolani School website. Archived from the original on January 13, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Ohira, Rod (September 15, 2000). "Charlie Kalani, 70, remembered as versatile actor". Retrieved January 24, 2019.
  7. ^ "Charlie Kalani". Retrieved April 14, 2024.
  8. ^ "Professor Tanaka Death". Wrestler Deaths. December 31, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2019.
  9. ^ "Charley Kalani". Boxrec.
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  16. ^ "N.W.A. American Tag Team Title". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  17. ^ Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2006). "(Texas) Dallas: NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Title". Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. p. 271. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
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