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Duke Keomuka (1921-1991)

Real Name - Martin Hisao Tanaka

Lifespan - 4/22/21 - 6/30/91

5’7” 255 lbs. - Los Angeles, CA

Athletic Background - Judo, Kendo, Swimming

Teacher(s) - Mr. Moto

Professional Background - Hawaii(`48), Texas(`50-`62), Mid-Atlantic(`58-`59), Ohio(`60-`61), Florida(`63-`65)

AliasesHisao Tanaka, Duke Tanaka

Peak Years - 1950s

Place in History - There was a multitude of Japanese heels in the years after World War II and many of them were highly successful.  Martin Tanaka had lived in Manzanar, an internment camp, during the war years.  He had good size and an athletic background, which led to him getting into pro-wrestling through his wife’s cousin - Mr. Moto.  He learned the art under a true master and established himself in Texas, where he was a constant villainous presence for a dozen years.  Many would consider him the top heel in Texas throughout the 1950s.  Although did use some of stereotypical Japanese heels tricks, Duke was a powerfully built athlete and was a believable tough guy.  He drew his heat by felling opponents with his judo chops and sleeper holds, which were in fact illegal strikes to the throat and chokeholds.  The fans were incensed by his rule-breaking and kept coming back to see him get his comeuppance.  His feuds with Pepper Gomez, Rito Romero and Ray Gunkel are legendary in Texas.  Duke Keomuka was that rare type of heel that was so hated that he could play heel against others heels and often did.  Furthermore, he was often paired up with touring attractions like Ricki Starr and Antonino Rocca when they came through Texas.  Even in losing, Keomuka could retain his heat.  In 1961, Keomuka took on a young partner from Japan, Hiro Matsuda, whom he would spend the remainder of his career teaming with.  Eddie Graham and Cowboy Luttrall offered Keomuka a piece of the Florida office and he relocated there and brought Matsuda with him.  The two were frequent holders of the area’s tag titles and regularly feuded with Graham and a number of partners.  Duke eventually moved into the background, maintaining his interest in the territory while others (including Matsuda) bought pieces.  Florida grew into a juggernaut in the 1970s with Jack Brisco and Dusty Rhodes as top stars.  The 1980s saw the promotion decline, Rhodes leave and Eddie Graham commit suicide in 1985.  The Florida office merged with Jim Crockett Promotions marking the end of era.  Duke Keomuka passed away a few years later.  His sons, Jimmy and Pat, both started as referees in Florida with Pat going on to become an exceptional worker.  Duke Keomuka is among the great Japanese heels of pro-wrestling’s golden age who became a dominant figure in Texas and later a key player in Florida when it was on the rise.