Nick Zappetti interview on Rikidozan
This interview with Nick Zappetti was conducted by Robert Whiting in 1989.
TOKYO — I knew Rikidozan, the big pro wrestling star. He started coming to my restaurant early on, ‘cuz it was so different. It was the only place in Tokyo that served pizza. Customers would wrap up a slice, put it in their briefcases and take it home to their families. Riki started coming. So his did pal Ginza Machii, the crime Boss of Tokyo, the guy who had started the ethnic Korean gang the Tosei-kai. Movie stars came. Politicians. Liz Taylor. Frank Sinatra. Even the Crown Prince and Princess came, Akihito and Michiko, when they were dating. They’d take over the whole restaurant. But Riki brought a lot of business in. He was a national hero and he had all these friends in the sumo wrestling business and the entertainment world. For a long long time, my Italian restaurant Nicola’s was the place to be.
Riki and I used to go out quite often. As a matter of fact, there used to be three of us. The other guy was Mr. Machii. Mr. Crime Incorporated, you know. And we’d go out. And those two guys would make typhoons. They’d go in a club and just just tear it up. But Riki and Machii would fight with each other. The purpose would be to destroy the club. Either just for the hell of it. Or for business reasons. They had a lot of their own interests in night clubs and restaurants and what not. And that was one way of eliminating the competition. They did for me too.
There was this guy Leo Prescott who was running Club 88, down the street from my restaurant in Roppongi. He’s a Britisher. And he was having his cook make pizza and selling it as “Nicola’s pizza” because the name was so popular. And it tasted terrible. Cuz one day a customer came over to me and said, “boy, you’re pizza tastes bad.” And, of course, I don’t appreciate that kind of conversation. I sez “When did you eat it.” He said, “yesterday … at Club 88.” So I checked and I found out what Leo had been doing. So I called up Machii. I called up Riki and we went to Club 88, and these two guys proceeded to have an argument and a fight.
Now Machii is 6’1” or 6’2” or 6’3” and he weighs a good 220 pounds. And Riki is not as tall as him, but he’s as heavy. So these two guys started fighting, throwing punches at each other and missing and hitting the customers. Throwing chairs at each other. Missing and hitting the customers. And when they got through, the back of the bar, every bottle of whiskey was broke, the piano was broken, the place was a mess.
So I took out my big fat cigar. And my brandy and ginger drink or something like that. And I was in the club smoking my cigar, away from the action, watching. And Leo came over and he said, “You instigated these two guys to come over and break up my place.” And I said, “First, you started copying my pizza, saying it’s Nicola’s pizza.” One thing led to another and I had to do it again, a second time. So Leo Prescott closed his restaurant. Closed his club. And moved to Toranomon.
Rikidozan was a crazy motherfucker. One time .Riki and I went to some club in Shimbashi, owned by some movie star. I think her name was Aoyama. She’d opened a sort of a coffee-shop/club type affair down there. Riki and I went there. And Riki’s got to show his karate ability. Riki asked her to bring out all the dishes. And they brought out a lot of fucking dishes. And when Riki asked for something, you just listened and do it. Because he was just too big and too mean a guy, not too. To ignore him would be dangerous. They lined up all the dishes, one on top of the other. And he hit that first dish on the top with a shot and every dish on the pile broke. That’s Riki.
Stack them up and he went “dong” and he broke every plate in the pile. And, of course, that poor girl was just opening the place. And those plates are very valuable to her. And she has to serve people on plates and she ain’t got no plates. It took him one second to break all the plates in her house. And then of course Riki laughed. He thought it was all a big joke. And then he says how much the dishes are worth. And, of course, he paid a lot of money. But it was the thrill of breaking all the dishes in one place that … that was Riki’s way of thinking. He liked to do stuff like that.
Rikidozan had another habit. He meets you, you stick your hand out to shake hands, and he goes right down there and grabs you by the balls. In front of everybody. He’d do it in the clubs, everywhere. You know. Instead of shaking hands, your hands are up there and this guy has got you by the balls. And you’d be yelling “stop.” And he’d be laughing and you’d be screaming. And he’d say, “Hey, you cokkusakka. Sonnabeech.” That’s another trademark of Rikidozan.
Riki was out of his mind. He came up one day and he says, “Come on, Nick. Let’s go for a drink.” We always did that. And I said, “Let’s go.” He’s got the Mercedes Benz with the gull wings. You ever see those old cars? Doors open this way. Gull wings? And he says “Come on, let’s go to a place I know.” OK. We get in the car. And the son of a bitch is going like 100 miles per hour. And he’s flying down the road and I say, “Where we going to go for this drink?” He says, “Atami.” That hot spring 100 miles south on the ocean. 100 miles!.But I sez OK. Cuz with Riki, you don’t argue with him. If he wants to go to Atami and have a drink. You go to Atami and have a drink. And he flew down the road to Atami, knocking over garbage cans, whatnot. We get to Atami, we go in the first place. You know he likes to drink bourbon. In a Manhattan glass. He orders two straight bourbons in a Manhattan glass. There must be about six-to-eight ounces in each fucking glass. Straight. No water. So he and I drank it. Neat. Down the hatch, like that.
We had two each. The we go to the next place. Same thing. And another. And then says “Let’s go.” He got in the car and he flew back to Tokyo. The car was about a 300 Benz. That was a fucking fast automobile … and Riki liked to drive fast. He always did that. He drove down the road and if you were in the way, god bless you.
Now let me tell you about Riki’s fiancé and what he did to me.
One night we go to the Club Riki. A club Riki owned, in Nogizaka, near Roppongi. He probably owned the whole building. We go in the club and there’s this nice looking girl. And I said, “Jeez, that’s a nice looking girl.” And he say, “yeah.” And being the bad bastard that I am, I ask the girl to come sit at our table. She says “Yes.” Very friendly. Very sociable. Very open. Very pretty. And here I thought, I says, god damn it, I got that Casanova Rikidozan beat. I got everybody beat. Look at this broad coming over to me. And, of course, I say “You’re very pretty.” She says “Thank you.” And so I have a drink with her and we talk and I say, “Are we going to go to bed tonight?” She says “yes.” Riki’s sitting there, politely. Getting a big kick out of everything. And then he says, “Can I watch?”
I said, “Riki. Get out of here. You can’t watch. What’s the matter with you?”
He says, “I wanna watch.”
And I said, “No, you can’t watch. Can’t watch.”
And I told the girl, “Don’t worry. I’ll get rid of Riki by the end of the night.”
And by the way, we’re driving my car. I had the first Buick Riviera that came here. So, anyway, so, we drink and drink and talk and, of course, no more filthy language. It’s a known thing that we’re going to go to bed together.
I says “Come on, let’s go.” And Riki says, “I wanna go with you.” And I said, “Riki, please, this is not a … I don’t like two boys and a girl. I’m sorry, you know. I like two girls and a boy. Not two boys and a girl.”
He says, “I gotta go with you ... I gotta go. I gotta go.”
And I says to this girl, “Come on. We’ll get rid of Riki somewhere along the road. I’ll open the door and kick him out.”
So anyway, we get to the Cosmopolitan club which is straight up the road here, past Nogizaka Shrine. So it’s about 5 o’clock in the morning and the sun is almost shining and I stop the car and I hear the noise of a fist hitting a face. You know that, it’s got a certain sound to it. And I said, “Jesus Christ Almighty. I’m not exactly sober. But nobody hit me. There’s only 3 of us in the car. I’m driving. Then girl’s in the middle. And Riki’s on the right. I get out of the car. And I figure Riki hit the girl. And I open Riki’s door and I sez, “Riki get out. What are you crazy? Hit a girl?”
Well, now he gets out of the car. We got a lot of respect for each other cuz I was not afraid of Riki. And he got outside and he kicks the girl in the fucking face with his karate kick.
Jesus Christ Almighty. I said “Riki, what the hell is the matter with you? I never seen you this drunk or this wild.”
So, he reaches in and grabs the girl. He picks her up and then he throws her over the fucking car. Now that’s not difficult for him to do because what does a girl weigh? 107 pounds? And there she lands on the other side of. The fucking car, on the sidewalk. Of course, I ran over to the sidewalk. I thought he’d killed her. I pick her up. She’s all right. She’s shaken up. And I says “Riki, you own me an apology. You owe me an explanation. If not, you and I are going to have fucking trouble here. This is my girl. She wants to go to bed with me. She’s in my car. And she’s under my protection. And you’re abusing my friendship. And I’m not going to tolerate it.”
He says “Nick. You know who this girl is?”
I said, “No, I don’t know who this girl is. I just met her.”
He said, “This is the girl I’m supposed to marry.”
Well, shit. And she was only teasing him … as well as me. She had no intention of going to bed with me. She was just playing games with me. And he was really fucking pissed. I guess you know he didn’t marry her. So I think he went down to Chigasaki and married the chief of police’s daughter or something like that.
He never did marry the model. She was a fashion model. And you know, it turned out that even though he punched her and hit her, and threw her over the car and kicked her, she wasn’t … she sez I got to work today. You know? But the girl is relaxed. And I learned at that particular time that if you hit a person that is relaxed, you can’t hurt them. It’s only the person that stiffens up and sees the blow coming that you can hurt. This girl, she was just relaxed.