Prince Neff Maiava, who was the first major pro wrestling star out of Samoa, passed away back on April 21st.
News outlets in Hawaii reported the news earlier this week. Maiava, who was 93, was believed to be the second oldest still living pro wrestler at the time of his death.
Maiava was one of the most famous legends of 50th State wrestling, which was enormously popular in the 1960s in Hawaii, mentioned in the same breath with stars like Gentleman Ed Francis, Lord James Blears, Handsome Johnny Barend, and King Curtis Iaukea. He was a multiple time holder of the Hawaiian heavyweight championship and Ring Magazine gold belt.
He was a colorful and charismatic wrestler, known for his long hair, playing the ukulele, and performing Polynesian dances and stunts like walking on beds of nails to show his toughness.
He started wrestling in 1952. He was born in Samoa but raised in Laie, Hawaii. His 1961 match with Iaukea is credited with kicking off the Hawaiian wrestling boom. Maiava was Hawaiian champion and lost his title when he head-butted the ring post after Iaukea moved, and was counted out. There was a major riot at the old Honolulu Civic Auditorium which made front page news.
Maiava, who also worked as a tree trimmer, was a local institution and major star on the island until his retirement in 1974. He was also a star on the mainland in almost every territory he worked, which was almost all of them.
He also wrote several children’s books published in Hawaii. His grandchildren Kaluka and Kai were college football stars at USC and UCLA respectively, and Kaluka was part of the 2008 USC linebacking unit that included Clay Matthews, Rey Mauluga and Brian Cushing that was considered one of the best linebacking units in college football history. He later played from 2009 to 2014 with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders.
The name Peter Maivia, the grandfather of Dwayne Johnson, came from Maiava. Peter Maivia, also born in Samoa, was born Pita Fanene Anderson. While wrestling in the United Kingdom, the promotion felt that Peter Anderson was not a good wrestling name for a Samoan, and the only Samoan name they knew was Maiava, from Neff, who was a huge star at the time. So, they misspelled Maiava and it became Maivia, the name Peter and his family used from that point forward.
In 1968, Peter Maivia went to Hawaii and met Neff Maiava and they became not only an obvious tag team, but became like brothers. It was almost as if they had a unique ESP with each other and would finish each other’s sentences when they would talk. The families remain close to this day.
Later, when it comes to histories and results, many matches and programs attributed to Peter, who became a big star throughout the United States, were actually Neff since people and historians often confused the two of them.