We distinctly remember the excitement of seeing the name Prince Curtis Iaukea on the wrestling poster. Admittedly, twelve year olds are easily impressed but here was a man who came with big credentials. In those pre super heavyweight days a wrestler said to weigh twenty-seven stones was likely to cause a stir. A star from Madison Square Gardens, New York was sure to impress in those simple days when television was in black and white, fridges were a rarity, central heating unheard of in the sort of houses most people lived in, and we dutifully returned our glass bottles to the shop to collect the deposit. Now there’s an idea. Why don’t we do that these days? Back to Curtis. Add to those credentials a Royal title, Prince no less, destined to become a King.
Prince Iaukea (pronounced ‘E-U-Kowa’) the rule bending heavyweight caused more than a few murmurs when he hit the north of England in the autumn of 1967. Rarely had we seen a wrestler of such proportions. Not too tall as we remember, though we have seen references to him standing 6’3.” Maybe it was the stocky build that made us suspicious of the advertised dimensions, because we are also dubious of the 27 stones that was claimed, thinking just over 20 would be closer to the truth. A big lad, nevertheless, who started doing the rounds for Morrell, Beresford and Relwyskow Green Promotions at the beginning of October, 1967.
We were led to expect great things of our latest visitor. There was a rare accolade for the newcomer when he was introduced from the ring during a television bill on arrival in the UK, and we were told he had recently dropped his U.S. Heavyweight championship to Killer Kowalski at Madison Square Garden. Another of those wrestling facts we now question. Heritage member Graeme Cameron has told us we were right to have our doubts, “The Killer Kowalski match is Madison Square Garden is nonsense. No such title existed at the time. He did hold the San Francisco version of the US title twice. He wrestled Killer Kowalksi for the North American title in Hawaii and they also clashed here in Australia but not anywhere else.”
All this nonsense aside it was three weeks into his tour we witnessed Prince Curtis in a match against Leon Arras. Light heavyweight comic Leon was hardly a suitable opponent for a man of such international status. The match was enjoyable enough, thanks mainly to Leon’s antics as he literally ran rings around the American. Until the fateful and inevitable moment when Iaukea performed his speciality “Big Splash,” obliterating poor Leon and being immediately disqualified by referee Don Branch. Such a shame that Big Daddy and future referees didn’t take note. A similar path and disqualification endings against John Cox, Albert Wall, John Lees, Tibor Szakacs, Kendo Nagasaki, Gwyn Davies, Ian Campbell, Count Bartelli …. by now you may have gathered we were not overly impressed by our Hawaiian monarch.
A bit of a wrestling mystery all this. Iaukea had been given such a big build-up but was then not allowed to shine. Maybe he was not what the promoters had expected and he seemed relegated to a novelty interlude from the skilled heavyweights of the time – Joyce, Robinson, Wall, Davies et al. At Bradford Norman Morrell allowed the Prince brief televised action against Johnny Yearsley. It would be satisfying to report that things improved for Curtis during the following months before he departed the country in February, but they didn’t; the regular disqualifications coming alongside frequent knock out defeats.
A promised return to UK shores never happened. All a bit odd because Iaukea did have genuine international credentials. In 1960 he had gained instantaneous recognition in Japan by taking the first fall over Rikidozan in a tag match, was a first rate villain in New Zealand and had sustained main event success in the USA and Australia.
Curtis Piehau Iaukea III was born on 15th September, 1937 in Hawaii. Dates of his professional debut vary between 1959 and 1962 using the name Prince Kuhio. At the time of his UK visit he had already gained some success in Australia, which he had first visited in 1965, working for promoter George Gardiner. In fact he could almost have been said to have adopted by the Australian fans. Subsequent tours for the Australian World Championship Wrestling came in 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1978.
In contrast to his villainous role elsewhere Curtis, by now simply King Curtis, became a blue-eye in Australia in 1970. Graeme Cameron again, “His evangelistic interviews in which he swore bloody revenge on villains who had wronged him were something to behold. He didn’t actually change his style. He just beat up villains instead of blue-eyes.”
In Melbourne in 1970 he defeated Billy Robinson for a version of a world title. Heritage stalwart John Shelvey, an authority on Australian wrestling, provides detail: "This was the World Championship Wrestling Belt (Australian version) that was initially held by Killer Kowalski at the very birth of that promotion. It was said that Kowalski had beaten Ed. Carpentier (true) for the belt (false as the belt couldn't change hands on a disqualification and that was how Kowalski had won a bout with the Frenchman). However, it was a semi legitimate way of bringing a 'World Title' to Australia if you sort of screwed your eyes up tight and avoided asking too many questions!"
Curtis Iaukes retired in the early 1980s. He died on 4th December 2010. He was revered in the Hawaiian islands. The Wrestling Observer stated that he wrestled in 177 main events in Hawaii.
from Heritage members provide valuable additional material to our
Iaukea profle: “He was definitely the number one villain wrestler
here in New Zealand during the 1970s. His favourite finishing move
was the Hawaiian Splash off the ropes on to his prone opponent to
finish the match. Another story outside the wrestling ring occurred
with him and another wrestler in a well known Christchurch bar. A
local biker gang walked in one afternoon and immediately spotted the
well known wrestlers having a drink at the bar. They immediately set
about to tease these wrestlers relentlessly until after their drinks
they decided to leave. The wrestlers then followed them outside and
proceeded to clean the place up. Apparently it was a sight to see.”
Shelvey, who is familiar with wrestling in Britain and Australia
commented: "'Da Bull' was somewhat hamstrung in Britain because
if he wrestled there as he did everywhere else (Stateside, N.Z. Aust.
Singapore etc.) he would have been disqualified in the first round,
every time. For instance, the 'splash' he used in other countries
usually was launched from the top turnbuckle, a definite no-no at
home, therefore a standing splash took away from his performance, as
did the subtraction of the bucket of blood he would often lose, as
well as his hair curling interviews and opinions of wrestlers and
fans alike, something British fans would have found jaw dropping. So
ergo, Britain never really saw the real Curtis Iaukea."
At the time of his death the Sydney Morning Herald declared he was the "Giant who conquered Aussie hearts." The newspaper said, "The warm and friendly Hawaiian won friends across the globe. In retirement, he was a fixture at Hawaii's famed Waikiki Beach, running a surfboard-hire business, racing pigeons and losing none of his riotous sense of fun and exuberant appetite for life. His very last appearance was in the 2005 film documentary Ruff, Tuff and Real, in which Miller, not a man given to over-statement, introduced King Curtis as 'wrestling royalty'."
The Hawaiian press reported that his last public wrestling appearance had been in 1995 at a WCW event to act as the master of Kevin Sullivan's "Dungeon of Doom." Curtis’s son Rocky assumed the title King. The King is dead. Long live the King.