Going Ringside Ep. 26: The rise of Anoa’i family

“Blood Brothers”

A lineage that has spanned almost a century began with two young men: Reverend Amituana’i Anoa’i and Peter Maivia (real name Fanene Leifi Pita Maivia). In the global form of entertainment known as professional wrestling the beginning of their family line led to an impact the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Let’s start where their story started, in the Pacific Islands where the two men became so close their families are forever intertwined and the Maivia lineage is considered related to the Anoa’is.

Peter Maivia was the only of the two to directly make his way in the industry of pro wrestling as he debuted in 1962 at the young age of 24. He first wrestled for what was called NWA Hawaii. At that point in the history of pro wrestling it was a territorial based system and the unofficial governing body was called the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).

While Maivia made his way in the industry as both a promoter and wrestler, Anoa’i’s contribution to the industry was also substantial. Anoa’i and his wife had seven children, two of whom became quite illustrious in the world of pro wrestling. That would be his sons Afa and Sika. They went on to form the legendary tag team the Wild Samoans. The two held championships in various countries and had substantial runs in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).

The wrestling family tree grows

In addition to Afa and Sika, Maivia eventually married his wife Ofelia (Lia). After her husband died in 1982 Lia Maivia took over promoting the family’s wrestling territory in Hawaii. Maivia was known for being a strong woman and a well-respected promoter in the industry. Their daughter Ata eventually married a wrestler, Rocky Johnson. The two had a son, a very famous son, Dwayne. We’ll get back to that part of the story later.

On the Anoa’i side, growth also came. Afa and Sika had various nephews who became wrestlers. These are just some, who all did very well: Rodney (Yokozuna), Matthew (Rosey), Leati Joseph (Roman Reigns), Samuel (Tonga Kid), Edward (Umaga), Solofa (Rikishi).

One of the Anoa’i cousins is Lloyd Anoa’i who has wrestled for years under the moniker L.A. Smooth. L.A. Smooth caught up with Going Ringside to talk about his family’s heritage. “Right now we are actually the biggest wrestling family in the wrestling industry,” said L.A. Smooth. “Thanks to my dad and my uncle for starting us all off. From Rikishi to Yokozuna to my brother Samu and the list goes on and on.”


Through the early 1990′s the vast majority of wrestlers who traced their lineage back to the Anoa’i family mostly stayed with the same gimmick. Wrestlers from the Pacific Islands. Sometimes they played savage characters, others just played up their heritage from the Islands. There were the: Wild Samoans, Samoan SWAT Team, The Islanders, and more. But that changed with one very large member of the family.

Rodney Anoa’i was a nephew to the original Wild Samoans team. He had wrestled in Japan and Mexico mostly under the name “Great Kokina”. At this point it was a gimmick similar to the Wild Samoans. But Rodney eventually got the call from the WWF (now WWE). There was a problem, however. WWF was very big into colorful gimmicks that could sell well to their audience, many of whom were children, and the company already had a Samoan gimmick as his cousins had just come to the company this time under the team name “The Headshrinkers”. So, the WWF decided to, perhaps for the first time, take a different route with a member of the Anoa’i family. “I was there when he actually started the Yokozuna character,” said L.A. Smooth. “He didn’t think he was going to do a sumo gimmick but actually who came up with that was Sgt. Slaughter. Yeah, he came up with that character. Vince (McMahon) said I’ve got one of the bigger Samoans from that family. What am I going to do with him?”

And before you knew it “Yokozuna” was born. Rodney Anoa’i was quickly gaining weight, which eventually ballooned to more than 600 pounds. He dawned a Mawashi and a large robe and was escorted to the ring by longtime manager Mr. Fuji. The gimmick worked. Really well.

Eventually Yokozuna won the heavyweight championship and was at the peak of the industry. WWF spent so many years crowning champions like Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and Bret Hart, that a giant “monster heel” as it’s known in the business was unheard of. And he held the championship for a long time.

This was a watershed moment for the Anoa’i family.

Rocky Maivia

In the waning months of Yokozuna’s tenure with WWF when his weight and health were becoming major concerns for the company (Rodney Anoa’i passed away in 2000), another member of the family tree was brought into the company.

He came in billed as “Rocky Maivia”. Dwayne Johnson took the first name of his father and the last name of his grandfather to become essentially the ultimate babyface. But there was something different about Johnson, as they call it in the wrestling world — the “it factor”. He had it more than perhaps anyone in the history of the industry. That being said, the early years for Johnson as Rocky Maivia weren’t easy. The WWF wanted him to be a “babyface” who the fans cheered. But this was the mid to late 1990′s when fans were growing up from the cartoonish era of Hulk Hogan. They wanted something different, something edgier. And WWF was forcing a “babyface” on them, when guys like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin were raising their middle fingers and D-Generation X was giving “crotch chops” to the crowd. They didn’t like Rocky Maivia.

Johnson, whose family was enmeshed into his new venture in the WWF understood the psychology of the wrestling world and knew something needed to change. That change came in the form of the “Nation of Domination”. That faction was a very controversial one that was loosely based on groups like the Nation of Islam and Black Panthers. The leader of the group was Farooq Assad played by accomplished wrestler Ron Simmons. Simmons recently joined Going Ringside to discuss training Johnson. “I had a prominent role in his career,” said Simmons. “He was coming along, an aspiring wrestler. Third generation. His family has a long lineage in this business.”

That run with the Nation of Domination is what led to Dwayne Johnson ditching the Rocky Maivia moniker and simply going under the name “The Rock”. Like a shooting star it became immediately recognizable to anyone who was watching what was happening with Dwayne Johnson. The wrestling universe, and eventually the public at large fell in love with The Rock. He spent a year or two playing heel and eventually WWF recognizing his overwhelming popularity turned him babyface.

Alongside “Stone Cold” Steve Austin he took WWF/WWE to new heights in not only the wrestling world but also mainstream culture.

Before he knew it (this is likely the part of the story you’re familiar with), the Rock was hosting Saturday Night Live, on every talk show imaginable and started his movie career. Dwayne Johnson was becoming, not only a movie star, but arguably the biggest movie star on the planet Earth.

Eventually Johnson produced the sitcom “Young Rock” that ran on NBC primetime for three seasons. That show details, not only his life, but the life of the Anoa’i family. Some of the main characters include his grandmother, uncles, parents and many references to his grandfather “High Chief” Peter Maivia.

The premise of the sitcom is Johnson runs for President in the year 2032 and tells stories about his upbringing. Going Ringside took a realistic look at a potential Dwayne Johnson Presidential campaign in episode 7.

There’s more where that came from

With the Rock’s unparalleled success came multiple Anoa’i success stories. One was a contemporary of the Rock in the Attitude Era. That would be Rikishi whose real name is Solofa Fatu Jr. Rikishi had a gimmick somewhat similar to Yokozuna, but it had a lot more pizzazz to it. Rikishi teamed with a dancing tag-team called “Too Cool” and their dance performances in the ring were stuff of legend in the wrestling world.

There were also a couple of his cousins, Rosey (Matthew Anoa’i) and Jamal (Edward Fatu). They had strong runs with the company in the early 2000′s. Jamal eventually transformed into the savage Umaga. Sadly he passed away in 2009 but his run with the company was notable for numerous reasons including the famous match that involved former President Donald Trump. When Vince McMahon and Trump faced off at WrestleMania 23 in the famed “Battle of the Billionaires”, Umaga was the wrestler who represented McMahon.

Many of these (with the exception of Umaga) became famous on gimmicks that were not based on their island heritage. That was a definite change for the family than what had come in decades past.

The family also was close with other wrestlers who had come from the islands. One was Haku whose real name was Tonga ‘Uli’uli Fifita. We’ll call him Haku in this story but he wrestled under various other famous names including King Tonga and Meng. They were so close that in 2015 The Rock famously gifted Haku with a new pickup truck.

Roman Reigns and the Bloodline

In the movie industry they often refer to certain movies as what are called “tentpole” movies. They are movies that everything else is based on and make the most money. In the history of the Anoa’i family, if Rock is one tentpole, Roman Reigns and the Bloodline are the other.

Eventually Roman Reigns entered the WWE as part of the Shield faction in WWE. Like his cousin Reigns also tried out football before eventually making the jump to pro wrestling. Around that same time the Usos (Rikishi’s children) also made their debut as a tag team. Those three along with others have led to the ongoing “Bloodline” saga with their faction really dominating WWE in recent years.

And perhaps life came full circle for this family when Reigns adopted the moniker “Tribal Chief”. This is decades after the original “High Chief” Peter Maivia wowed wrestling fans all over the world. Proving the actual blood line still runs strong in the world of dropkicks and turnbuckles.

As for what’s next… L.A. Smooth said he suspects Roman Reigns will follow in the Rock’s footsteps and make a major impact on Hollywood. “I think Roman will be the next one because he’s got that look and Vince (McMahon) told him from the beginning he was gonna’ make him one of his number one superstars. And look at him now.”

Look at him now indeed.

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