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Masami Soranaka


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Masami Soranaka (空中正三) 


Profession: Referee, Wrestler, Trainer, Booker 
Real Name: Masami Soranaka
Professional names: Mr. Soranaka, Masami Soranaka, Shozo Soranaka
Life: 5/15/1944-6/11/1992
Born: Kobe, Hyogo, Japan
Career: 1978(?)-1992
Promotions: Universal Wrestling Federation (1984-5)

Summary: Masami Soranaka was an easy-to-overlook but important early builder in shoot-style.

Masami Soranaka was born in Kobe in 1944. His brother was Hawaii-based wrestler Hiro Sasaki, who briefly held tag gold with Kendo Kimura in Puerto Rico and Tor Kamata in New Zealand, and also booked Hawaiian wrestlers for New Japan. More interesting than anything in Sasaki’s in-ring career, though, was his double job as a DEA agent; in the mid-1980s he enacted an ultimately unsuccessful entrapment scheme against the Yamaguchi-gumi, which involved an arms deal with a fictional Hawaiian mob and the rights to a Michael Jackson tour. (Sasaki’s wife, television personality Cathy, is also notorious for having been a lover of singer Naomi Sagara, and torpedoing both their careers when she outed her in a 1980 talk show interview.)

Soranaka, who had experience in judo, karate, and sumo, became the son-in-law of Karl Gotch when he married his only daughter, Jennie. He may have interpreted for Gotch during his coaching stints for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Soranaka debuted as a referee in spring 1978, during the 1st MSG Series tour. Among other matches, he refereed Antonio Inoki’s NWF title defense against El Canek in the UWA. I presume that these duties continued when Gotch was with NJPW. According to Fumi Saito, who got back to me after I originally posted this, Soranaka also wrestled alongside his brother in Puerto Rico prior to his UWF "debut".

In 1984, Soranaka followed Gotch when he began associating with the UWF and continued to work as a referee. However, a talent shortage led the 40-year-old to become the UWF dojo’s first graduate and wrestle for the promotion. He was billed as Shozo, in reference to the more common but incorrect reading of his first name (正三). According to Dave Meltzer’s obituary, he would follow this up with some work as an Oriental heel for small Florida shows.

In his later years, “Sammy” Soranaka worked to establish shoot grappling in the United States. He never worked for the UWF’s second incarnation, but he helped them in his own way when he offered his coaching services to the Malenko wrestling school. Soranaka helped develop foreign talent who could work as competent midcard talent in the shoot idiom, such as Norman Smiley and Bart Vale. Yuji Shimada also came from Japan to learn catch wrestling from him and was also taught refereeing. The most important person he trained, though, was Ken Shamrock. He and Vale formed the International Shootfighting Association, of which he was president until his death. After the UWF’s implosion, Soranaka continued to offer his booking services to Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi.

Soranaka died of a brain tumor in 1992. In Fumi Saito’s documentary Karl Gotch: Kamisama, which was shot in the summer of 1992, Fujiwara is seen visiting Soranaka’s grave.

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