Quite why the red-eyed warrior should want to unmask...
...after some 15 years at the very forefront of British wrestling’s elite is still open to question. A desire to challenge for the British Heavyweight Championship (at that time held by Tony St. Clair) was certainly one reason. George Gillett had been petitioning the promoters and the producers at ITV for many, many months claiming that as Kendo had beaten everybody on the UK circuit (including the current champion in non-title bouts), the championship rules should be relaxed to allow a masked man to legitimately challenge for championship honours.
There was a long queue of top heavyweights who were all getting cracks at St. Clair’s title - among them former champion Gwyn Davies, Giant Haystacks, Bruno Elrington and many others - and this undoubtedly infuriated the Nagasaki camp. Whether this was the sole reason, or Kendo’s increasingly high-profile activities as a faith healer at his Southwark clinic were taking up more large chunks of his time, we’ll never know. Whatever behind-the-scenes reasoning went on is only conjecture, but the result was to rock long-standing wrestling fans and indeed the whole of the wrestling world, including promoters to fellow wrestlers: George announced that Kendo was to voluntarily unmask, live on television.
Coinciding with the recording of the Christmas and New Year wrestling slots for World Of Sport, before an audience of millions, the unmasking would take the form of a ceremony, and would be performed at the hall where Kendo had scored some of his most controversial victories, the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton. Thus, on Tuesday 20th December 1977, the Civic was packed to capacity; as “Kendo’s Theme” played triumphantly over the speakers, Kendo, George (in a shimmering blue smock), and two shaven-headed acolytes made their way to the ring. Gillett took the microphone and explained the reasoning behind this unique ceremony: “Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome to the Civic Hall Wolverhampton, where tonight I shall presently be performing the ceremony which has never voluntarily been performed in this country. The ceremony, of course, that you’ve all been waiting for, is that of the unmasking of the superstar himself Kendo Nagasaki... Many times during the past few months it has been mentioned, it has been said, rumoured that Nagasaki has in fact been injured. All I would like to say to that is that it is completely untrue, he has never been injured. All those statements attributed to people are false. Kendo has been in a secret retreat, a retreat of meditation, where he has been learning to build up his powers. Powers not only in wrestling but his powers to help heal other people and to do many other things. Tonight this is the ultimate fulfilment of all those dreams: the unveiling and unmasking of Kendo Nagasaki.”
Having made his speech, an expectant hush descended on the hall. Kendo took off the visor that hides the mask and plunged the sword into the centre of the ring, kneeling before it as both acolytes fell prostrate onto the ring canvas, George stepped forward and after throwing salt over the silent wrestler began to untie the strings which had held the mask in place for a decade and a half. As cameras flashed all around the hall, the hood came off and there exposed with head bowed was the face which hitherto wrestling fans had only the briefest glimpses of. In one corner George lit a flame and set the black mask on fire, disposing of it in a specially-erected dish in which the fire engulfed the familiar stripes. Kendo then stood and slid the ceremonial sword from it’s tabard, saluting the crowd. Applause broke out, gathering momentum, then cheers. As Kendo turned to face the television cameras, his eerie red eyes staring out, the fans who had at one time chased Kendo from the hall in disgust at his ring antics now gave him the ovation that a wrestling legend deserved. Was it really all over? George was giving no clues as to the future, he would only say that Kendo intended to meditate on his direction over the coming weeks before he reached a verdict, guided, as ever, by his ancestors.
As the weeks went by with no news of Nagasaki’s wrestling activities, fans feared the worst for their idol. Then, just when everyone thought the reign of the Samurai was over, Gillett announced to the wrestling press that Kendo would return better than ever on a televised bill from the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, showing his face to the world once more. His demons had been purged, said George, and he would prove this against tough Portsmouth heavyweight Roger “Bronco” Wells. Thus it was in May 1978 that Kendo made his entrance into the hall and the fans waited to see what horrors he would have in store for the burly 19 stone opposition. Accompanied by his entourage, which this time included a mysterious hooded violinist, Kendo undressed from the ceremonial garb to reveal his face. The striking red eyes were evident once again and television commentator Kent Walton seemed agog that here the once barbarous Nagasaki was adhering to the rules, breaking when the referee told him to do so. Unthinkable a few months before, perhaps expecting the Nagasaki of old, Bronco Wells went on an all-out attack, but in the face of such aggression, Kendo simply let his skills as a master wrestler speak for him, resulting in a two submission win. Nagasaki was clearly well and truly back.
For a few months Nagasaki was taking on all-comers throughout the halls of Britain, but there was clearly a struggle with his conscience - sometimes he would abide by the rules and others he would unleash the anything-goes tactics that had been a mainstay of his wrestling over the years. During one televised bout against Pete Roberts, the action was in danger of spilling outside the ring altogether. Another bout from Preston had Rex Strong on the receiving end of Nagasaki’s powers of hypnosis, struggling to retain his composure as he looked into the most famous eyes in UK rings. In Huddersfield after what was to be the last television appearance for many years, Tony St. Clair jumped into the ring following Nagasaki’s quick defeat over Colin Joynson to declare that he was willing to face Kendo with the title at stake, George couldn’t believe his ears: “You are on St. Clair, you are definitely on... There will be a title bout and a new champion” he jubilantly yelled into the microphone. British wrestling geared up for one of the biggest clashes ever, when fate intervened. Kendo had been suffering from attacks of vertigo for some time caused by an ear injury sustained during a wrestling bout against big Gwyn Davies. Doctors warned Nagasaki that it was dangerous for him to continue without letting the injury take it’s natural healing course, George and Kendo it seemed had finally been defeated, not by a wrestling opponent but the very welfare of the mighty man. Reluctantly they informed the promoters and the press that under the circumstances the championship bout was off and furthermore Kendo would be retiring from competition.
The fans were stunned and fellow wrestlers relieved, the reign of Nagasaki was finally over. Halls throughout Britain would never be the same - the whole industry went into mourning for the loss of it’s greatest superstar. A little later it was revealed that Kendo and George had decided that in addition to the faith healing they would be actively managing rock bands. Burnt Out Stars were one attraction that they managed, and as the early 80’s dawned cult new romantics The Cuddly Toys and disco diva Laura Pallas also had their careers guided by the unlikely duo. Still the fans were wondering if Kendo could be persuaded to enter the ring once more, would his injury allow him to even compete against Britain’s best wrestlers? Only time would tell...