Wrestling star Tama Tonga speaks of legendary father, career at WaleMania

Nine years ago, when WrestleMania was last in Orlando, Tama Tonga was just starting his career.

“We started that January before WrestleMania and here we are,” Tonga said. “Full circle. There's a WrestleMania down the street right from the beginning for us.”

Tonga — who now lives in Orlando — will also be able to walk down the street Thursday night to Tier Nightclub, where he will be one of the special guests at WaleMania III. The event will include a live edition of the MLW podcast, plenty of guests from the wrestling world and a live performance from hip-hop artist and super wrestling fan Wale. 

The “Bad Boy” is best known as a member of the Bullet Club and one-half of the Guerrillas of Destiny tag team alongside brother Tanga Loa. The colorful Tonga has been making a name for himself around the world, most notably with New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he is a former two-time IWGP tag-team champion and a one-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion.

He is following in the footsteps of his father Haku, one of the toughest and most respected men to enter a wrestling ring in a career that included stints at both WWE and WCW. Early in his career, Tonga and his brother had a tryout with the WWE. His brother was signed — he was not.

“It forced us to try different routes and my brother went to WWE; I went New Japan,” Tonga said. “I was forced to go that way because I didn't get picked up. It was a blessing in disguise. It just happened the way it did and, now, look at that. After my brother went that road, learned from WWE, now he's with me, we're working together again like when we started. The first plan was to let's go as a tag team and see how far we can go. Unfortunately, we did the singles road first and now we're back together as a tag team.”

It was a path his father preferred for him. But you can’t help but wonder how things may have turned out had he had been signed by WWE.

“I'm competitive in nature,” Tonga said. “If I was with WWE, I'd definitely try to learn as much as I can. I hope I'd still have that inner fight. Other than that, I can't really tell you. It was a blessing to go through New Japan and learn the way they do, learn the old-school way. It's still very old school there. But it's cool. It's a reminder of the business and where it started.”

Out of high school, Tonga joined the Air Force for six years. That experience took him all over the world and helped make his adjustment to the Japanese culture an easy one.

“I grew up spending time everywhere,” he said. “I'm from a little island called Tonga, so before I came to America I lived in a little island. I've always been on the road. When we were growing up, my dad, since he's from Japan, he taught us a lot of Japanese ways while we grew up here in Florida.

“When you finally go through Japan and the system, then you're like now I understand what he meant, what he had to go through. The mixture of being in the military and growing up Japanese, I think was well-rounded for me and made it easier for my transition.”

While Tonga was growing up, his father spent plenty of time on the road providing for the family. So it’s natural that Tonga would want to follow in his footsteps. Not everyone in the family wanted that for him or his brother.

“My dad would be on the road, working in Japan, working in WWE, traveling to Puerto Rico ... while my mom was the one teaching us,” Tonga said. “She didn't want us to be wrestlers at all. She hated it. She was like 'you guys are going to get an education, you're going to be a lawyer, doctor, whatever.' She had us in sports. She tried everything not to have us in wrestling. Then look what happened. We're all in wrestling.”

Part of his father’s old-school mentally was not pulling the curtain back and “smartening” up his kids to the entertainment aspect of the business. Tonga admits that he didn’t know about that until later in life.

“I didn't know until we started traveling for wrestling,” he said. “I started when I was 27 after the military. The whole time growing up, we were (kay)fabed so hard that I was oblivious to everything. I didn't know it was a work until I started working it, man! ...

“All I saw was The Rock, some dollar signs, and the fame. I was like I want to do that. It's changed now.”

When his brother Tanga Loa was released by WWE, it was natural that he would team up with his brother like they had originally planned. In early 2016, he officially joined the Bullet Club and two formed the Guerrillas of Destiny tag team. While the team is coming together now, it wasn’t a smooth start.

“It's getting easier, but it didn't start so easy,” Tonga said. “We still pick on each other like brothers fight. There's brotherly love. We're relearning how to work together, how to mesh together because we spent some time away from each other. But it's fun getting to know each other at a different level now.”

There are plenty of opportunities to work with different talent in New Japan as a team or in singles competition, with both recently taking part in the New Japan Cup. It’s one of the things Tonga enjoys most right now.

“It makes work fun,” he said. “It makes work fun and not repetitive. It makes everything organic and not forced. We're a variation of styles and not just one. It lets everyone cultivate their skill level, their skill, their uniqueness. It's a place to grow wrestlers.”

Expect the fun-loving “Bad Boy” to have a good time sharing some wild stories with fans come WaleMania.

“It will be a good time interacting with all the fans and enjoying the atmosphere with the boys.”