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   Fri, April 1, 2005



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APRIL FOOLS: Hockey star moves from rink to ring
By JON WALDMAN -- SLAM! Wrestling


As the NHL lockout drags on, several athletes have crossed over to other sports for interim careers. One such ice warrior is Taro Tsujimoto, who has traded in his ice skates for wrestling boots.

Tsjuimoto, who was originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft, was in the midst of a return to hockey prominence when Gary Bettman canceled the NHL season earlier this year. As Tsujimoto told SLAM! in an exclusive interview, once the season was cancelled, he put his hockey dream on ice.

"It's been over 30 years since I was first drafted by Buffalo, but I was playing so well in Japan that I thought I would be able to return to North American hockey," Tsujimoto said. "Since the announcement came down, I knew my goal would have to wait."

When Tsujimoto announced his leave from hockey a couple months ago, wrestling promoters took notice and began to inquire about his availability. The right-winger has lead his team, the Tokya Katanas, in penalty minutes for the past five seasons, and a cult-following resulted form his tough play.

Eventually, KF-1 promoter A. Fooliyama was able to sign the popular Tsujimoto to a deal. "Tsujimoto drove a hard bargain, but he's been worth every Yen we have paid him so far," Fooliyama said. "He has been drawing fans like crazy."

While many fans were surprised by Tsujimoto's ability to quickly adapt from the rink to the ring, those who knew his history were not as shocked. "I have always been a fan of wrestling," Tsujimoto said. "I studied under the guidance of Jumbo Tsuruta during my university days at Tokyo Tech. Ever since those amateur matches, I have always kept myself in ring shape."

Other hockey players who have taken a stab at pro wrestling have included Jean Pusie, "Big Train" Lionel Conacher, Tony Twist and Toronto Maple Leafs Clarence "Happy" Day and Reginald "Red" Horner, who faced off in a charity bout at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1932. [See Two Leafs wrestle, rival promoters combine for charity: 1932.]

While his NHL dream is on hold, Tsujimoto is now readying himself for a jump to North American pro wrestling. Rumours have been flying that WWE is interested in signing Tsujimoto to a contract. Tsujimoto was quick to confirm that the buzz is factual. "I have received a call from Vince McMahon," Tsujimoto said. "He was very polite on the phone, and even said that he would arrange for Dave ?The Hammer' Schultz to be my manager."

While Tsujimoto was unable to speak about the specifics in a proposed contract, he did tell SLAM! that he had one condition for any work with WWE. "I told Vince over the phone, and these were my exact words, that, 'if you give me the Goon gimmick I am walking right off your television show,'" Tsujimoto recalled. "I don't know what the creative team was thinking when they came up with that gimmick, but I don't want my name tarnished with such dishonour."

Jon Waldman, a SLAM! writer since 2000, will be attending Tsujimoto's next match at the Saitama Super Arena, provided he can clear customs.