WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi on Representing Samoa as an Expert on 'The World's Best'
It was Rikishi’s nearly 35-year experience entertaining fans all over the world that made him an ideal candidate as one of the 50 international experts to make up the “Wall of the World” on The World’s Best. These representatives help decide which unique acts move forward in the CBS reality competition, along with the scoring of main judges Drew Barrymore, RuPaul and Faith Hill.
Rikishi, real name Solofa Fatu Jr., came on through the recommendation of sister Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, an EVP for Diversity, Inclusion & Communications for the network. The in-ring veteran was honored to represent Samoa and his heritage.
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“The thing for me was when CBS had a shot where everyone held up their flags. When I was holding up Samoa’s flag, I turned around and looked at this ‘Wall of the World.' You see international flags from all over. It was a such a touching moment for me. It was peaceful. At that time, with what is going on in the world, all I was seeing was love and unity.
“It was so nice to be a part of something like that. Behind the scenes, and when we were able to go back to the greenroom, you are sitting with people you don’t know. But with this show, you get to know everybody because you are doing time there every week to film the episodes…We’re all still friends today, and I think CBS has started something that will last a lifetime.”
He bonded with his pod neighbors MMA fighter Anderson Silva and noted black-belt martial arts master Chinzõ Machida.
“I guess being from the sports field, and from one athlete to another, it’s a different vibe for us,” Rikishi said. “Me, I’m used to these types of TV shows because when you are performing on Monday Night Raw or SmackDown, we’re live and adapt on a dime. We were talking amongst each other and respecting each other. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The former multi-time champion likened what he saw on The World’s Best to elements of pro wrestling. He looks for the story and how it’s told through movement, body language. For the big man, ring psychology is similar to stage awareness.
“I try to put myself in that, and feel what they are trying to bring across to the fan. It’s emotion to me. It’s dramatic, it’s theater to me,” he said. “With some of the acts that were there, I can relate to. It was kind of diverse for me, even with music there was Naturally 7, which was one of my favorites. They just blew me away.
The actress admits that her first time judging was harder than she thought.
“Coming from the Samoan background, that’s our culture. Being part of the Samoan dynasty, we are the biggest family in professional wrestling today. It is very easy for me to be able to feel all the acts up there onstage. It was everything we are trained for: theatrical, emotional athletic background. If it was up to me, I’d probably pick everyone as the winner.”
Rikishi’s coaching and mentor-like mentality comes from years building his pro wrestling school with Black Pearl (Reno Anoa’i) called KnokX Pro Entertainment and Academy. The California-based school and promotion helps build a foundation for all their students willing to put in the work to become pro wrestling superstars.
“The fundamentals of taking your bumps and falls and protecting each other. It’s not about you when you are in a professional match, it’s about the match. It’s about taking care of each other,” Rikishi explained.
“Perfecting the craft…When they hit that three-quarter plywood and those steal posts and the ring, I always tell them this is where reality hits because that ring wins every night no matter how good you are…We have them keep their feet cemented, but we’re also about telling them the truth.”
Rikishi’s legacy continues on in his children, including top WWE tag team the Usos (Jimmy and Jey). The twin brothers have dominated the division and highly regarded as one of the greatest duos in history. They’ve done so much in fact in WWE, dad wants to see them spread their wings elsewhere.
“Jonathan and Joshua Fatu, they are pretty much well secured there in WWE. I taught my kids everything they need to know in the industry, but I think they have nothing else to prove in WWE,” Rikishi said.
“My thing is I’m always concerned about my kids and their bodies holding up in the industry. We don’t have time off. They run 365 days a year and gone all the time and performing every night. I’m kind of leaning for them to go to Hollywood. I kind of see a Samoan dynasty reality show for CBS, I think, somewhere down the line.
The former 'Total Divas' cast member and pro wrestling alum was among the casualties of double eviction night.
“Right now, their contracts are coming up in April. During that time is around WrestleMania; we’ll see where they go from there. Wherever the boys decide to go, I know I’ll support their decision.
"I also know the fans of the Usos and the dynasty will support them, as well. I really don’t think they have anything else to prove in professional wrestling, but to move on to other things. I want them to try other things and go into acting. I think these boys are naturals in front of the camera. You see how much they’ve grown in their promos. Once they gave them the mic, their talent came through.”
In Rikishi’s eyes, there is no doubt the Usos are his world’s best tag team.
The World’s Best, Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS