Kazuo Sakurada, known to wrestling fans the world over as Kendo Nagasaki, among other names, passed away on Sunday at the age of 71.
Mike Johnson of PWInsider reported that Nagasaki’s death was due to a cardiac issue, stemming from his pacemaker stopping.
Sakurada turned pro in 1971, wrestling in various Japanese promotions, as well as Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling. While in Stampede, he held the territory’s North American title once, as well as the NWA International Tag Team titles on three occasions.
Bret Hart in particular praised Sakurada for his reliable work ethic and skill, and for his prowess as a trainer, as both Sakurada and partner Katsuji “Mr. Hito” Adachi played a big part in shaping him as a worker.
Sakurada took on the fearsome and mysterious Kendo Nagasaki character in the early-eighties while in Memphis’ Continental territory. The character was previously used by British wrestler Peter Thornley, though Sakurada’s version wore face paint instead of a mask.
While in Continental, Sakurada defeated Jerry Lawler for the AWA Southern Heavyweight belt in 1982. Sakurada also captured the NWA Florida Heavyweight title from Mike Rotunda in January 1984.
Later in his career, Sakurada performed as The Dragon Master in WCW, as part of Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation. He also competed for a number of upstart promotions in Japan in the nineties, including FMW, Super World of Sports, and Big Japan Pro Wrestling, before retiring in 2001.