From Tanaka's point of view, he was passing time with Fuji because it made sense to team up with another Japanese villain. The two certainly had no great admiration for one another. Tanaka was a by-the-book guy, who looked at wrestling as a means to make a living. He wanted to work his match, shake hands with everyone afterwards, and save some money. He was a professional.
If you wanted to talk about an angle beforehand, you always went to Tanaka. He was the ring general, who'd lead everyone else in the match. Fuji was certainly a good performer, but you couldn't control him. So, in addition to worrying about their opponents, Tanaka had the responsibility of making sure that Fuji didn't get out of hand. I guess he did a pretty good job because, years later, when Tanaka was relegated to working these tiny independent shows to earn a few extra bucks, Fuji himself had become a manager.— Freddie Blassie, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks
He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Charles J. Kalani and Christina Leong Kalani (who was part Chinese). Charlie began studying judo at age nine. At Iolani School (class of 1949), he was a natural at many Sports, and Doris Kalani credited his time on the football team with keeping him away from trouble. "He was a street kid getting into trouble and would have ended up in reform school if Father Kenneth A. Bray hadn't helped him out by bringing him to Iolani. He felt Iolani saved him," she told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
He left Hawaii for Utah's Weber Junior College (now Weber State University). On December 6, 1951, the Associated Press reported he received honorable mention for playing football at the University of Utah. It was at the University of Utah that he also met his wife Doris in 1952. On December 3, 1952 the Associated Press reported Kalani would become a professional boxer. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1955, Kalani rose to the rank of sergeant and excelled on the pistol team. For four years, the couple were stationed at a base in Nuremberg, Germany.
Tanaka had a long successful run with the WWF in the 1960s, including being #1 contender to champion Bruno Sammartino. In their first Madison Square Garden meeting, Tanaka was disqualified for throwing salt; was pinned by Sammartino in a rematch 6 months later. Tanaka also main evented the Garden in tag matches, twice with Gorilla Monsoon vs. Sammartino and Spyros Arion (Tanaka and his partner winning the first via disqualification; losing the second in a Texas Death Match); a year later with Monsoon against Sammartino and Victor Rivera. Monsoon & Tanaka had other Garden matches, including victories over Al Costello & Dr. Bill Miller; and Bobo Brazil and Earl Maynard.
After Kalani's discharge from the Service in 1966, the couple moved to Monterey, California, where he ran a Judo and Danzan-ryu Jujitsu academy with Professor John Chow-Hoon. San Francisco promoter Roy Shire asked him to wrestle in 1967, but Shire felt that Kalani had to get "meaner". "Charlie was almost full-blooded Hawaiian," said Doris. "In wrestling, Hawaii seemed not as exciting as Japan."
Tanaka subsequently teamed with Mitsu Arakawa in the WWF, acquiring the International Tagteam Championship; losing it at Madison Square Garden to Tony Marino and Victor Rivera. The team of Tanaka and Fuji won three WWWF World Tag Team Championships, with Blassie as manager for the third reign and The Grand Wizard as manager for the first two. They first won the belts from Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow on June 27, 1972 in Philadelphia, PA at a House show. They lost the belts to Haystacks Calhoun and Tony Garea on May 30, 1973, again at a Hamburg house show, but regained them on September 11, 1973 in Philadelphia, PA before losing them again to Tony Garea and Dean Ho on November 14, 1973, again in Hamburg. Their third win came on September 27, 1977 at a Philadelphia house show when they defeated Tony Garea and Larry Zbyszko in a tournament final for the vacant belts, holding them until March 14, 1978 when they lost the titles to Dino Bravo and Dominic DeNucci in Philadelphia. This third reign set a record for number of championship reigns which would be equalized by The Wild Samoans in 1983, Demolition in 1990, Money Inc. in 1993, The Quebecers in 1994 and The Smoking Gunns in 1996, but not bettered until The New Age Outlaws won a fourth reign in 1999.
By the early 1980s, Kalani's body could not handle the beatings in the ring any longer, and he moved into the film world on a more permanent basis. His first film was the 1981 Chuck Norris vehicle An Eye for an Eye and his last film was 1995's Hard Justice. He appeared opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man as a sadistic ice skating "stalker" named Subzero who "slices his enemies limb from limb into quivering, bloody sushi". Other notable roles include Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, The Perfect Weapon, and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
Kalani died of heart failure on August 22, 2000. He had a full military funeral.