By Gary Lee Jackson
Sonny Onoo has a long-standing relationship with Yoshihiro Asai aka The Último Dragón. Mr. Onoo is best known for his appearances with WCW as the manager for many of the promotion’s Japanese performers. A world- class martial artist in his own right, we ask Sonny a few questions about MMA, Mr. Asai and being the “Innovator of the Selfie.”
Gary Lee Jackson: A lot of people know you from your WCW days as an on air-wrestling manager. Tell us how you got into the wrestling business?
Sonny Onoo: My dear friend from my martial arts days, Eric Bischoff, asked me back in 1993 to help him repair the relationship that had gone south between New Japan Pro Wrestling and WCW. That trip to Japan was the opportunity that led to my career in the wrestling business. As Japanese talent was introduced into WCW TV programming, they needed a Japanese spokesperson for the non-English speaking Japanese wrestlers.
GLJ: Tell us about your on air gimmick – the suits and glasses?
SO: At the time in the early ‘90s, Japanese companies were buying up assets in the USA and there was a strong yen/dollar exchange. My character was a rich arrogant Japanese manager who wanted to prove that Japanese wrestlers were superior to their American counter part. The colorful Italian suits and designer glasses were to emphasize the wealth of the character.
GLJ: You’ve been coined the “Innovator of the Selfie.” How was that moniker given to you?
SO: Whenever we made an entrance into the ring during our introduction I would pose with my wrestler and take a selfie with a FUJI disposable camera as Japanese are known to take photographs everywhere…then came the cell phone camera and everyone started to take selfies. I was the very first one who was doing selfies on national television as part of my characters signature gimmick!
GLJ: You’re a real-life world champion martial artist, how long have you been involved with martial arts?
SO: My martial arts involvement started in Japan when I was eight years old with judo. I studied karate when I moved to the USA and have had the opportunity to compete against the best martial artists on the world stage. I had been successful in the karate circuit and later competed in PKA (Professional Karate Association). On a side note, I competed at the 2016 Battle of Atlanta World Championships in the senior Light Weight division and won the world championship after 28 years of being absent from competition!
GLJ: What are your thoughts on the MMA business today?
SO: I like the MMA competitions, and as the rules evolve and more action is mandated, it’s a great spectator sport. I wish that the competitors would show respect to one another in the spirit of the martial arts and avoid the trash talking they do to hype the event.
GLJ: How has the wrestling business changed over the years?
SO: The wrestlers are more athletic today but they lack the understanding of the art of pro wrestling. I can honestly say that I was involved at the best time in the history of pro wrestling (1994-2000) and worked with some of the greatest wrestling talent in the history of the sport. Currently we have one company that dominates professional wrestling in the USA and this has negatively impacted the talent. The flip side is that with advances in technology and the top talent in the business not having a restricted contracts, there are more independent promotions that fans can go to and enjoy great pro wrestling events on a more intimate level.
GLJ: You have a great relationship with Asai, even to this day. How did you first meet and form that relationship?
SO: Mr. Asai was one of the great wrestlers that Eric Bischoff recruited at the beginning of Monday Night WAR against the WWE. The list of talent we acquired at the time reads like a who’s who in pro wrestling: Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chirs Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Konnan, Vampiro and Ultimo Dragon. I helped Mr. Asai to successfully negotiate his deal with Eric and we have been friends ever since. Mr. Asai’s accomplishments in and out of the ring are legendary. He really is the most interesting man in the world!
GLJ: What do you think the future holds for wrestling and MMA?
SO: MMA and pro wrestling are mostly controlled by one company. Competition is needed for each of these sports and for sport entertainment companies to grow.
GLJ: Is there something you’d like to see happening in the world of wrestling, that hasn’t happened yet or has been missing for a while?
SO: Professional wrestling is very demanding on one’s body and there are so many former wrestlers that are in need of medical attention. I would like to see some kind of safety net to be provided by the companies that hire these wrestlers.
GLJ: What’s next for you? Dreams included.
SO: On my personal side, I have lived a blessed life! I am married to my dream girl and the mother of my four wonderfully successful children. On my professional side, I have had a business before and after my time with WCW. I have been fortunate to work as an international consultant to various companies and I’m currently working with FITE TV to bring martial arts competitions to world viewers! My dreams are to continue to work with great individuals like Ultimo Dragon. Keep on the lookout for me whenever Ultimo Dragon is around, Sonny Onoo is not far behind!