My open letter to Bruno Sammartino after hearing of his death at 82

Pro wrestling great “The Livng Legend” Bruno Sammartino died on April 18, 2018. He influenced generations of wrestlers and fans during his career and in retirement, and he carried himself with grace even during difficult situations. Here is my open letter to Bruno after hearing of his death.

Dear Bruno:

I start watching wrestling in 1981, so I never saw you in your heyday fighting the likes of Superstar Billy Graham, Larry Zbyszko, and Spiros Arion. My first recollection of you was a house show promo you did for a match against Stan Hansen at the old Boston Garden in either Feburary or March of ’81. It was clear to me even as a kid that you had an aura about you, as if you represented something greater than just a wrestling match.

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As a I learned more about your history in the WWWF and WWF by reading the Apter mags, I was excited that I got to see more of you as the early 1980s progressed. You took another tour of duty as a color commentator for the syndicated Saturday morning shows on Channel 56 here in Boston, and then you accompanied your son, David Sammartino, when he debuted.

Little did I know until many years later how unhappy you were to be involved with Continue reading

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Tag team upheaval for Demolition at Survivor Series 1988

With the 2017 WWE Survivor Series coming up, I decided to watch a match I had not seen in a long time: The epic, 10-team Survivor Series elimination contest from 1988.

The bout culminated in a rare double turn, as Mr. Fuji — “the devious one,” said Gorilla Monsoon during commentary — betrayed Tag Team Champions Demolition and instead sided with opponents The Powers of Pain.

 

Ax and Smash of Demolition had been heels since their arrival, but Fuji’s actions made them babyfaces, and the opposite happened when the Powers of Pain — Warlord and Barbarian — lifted Fuji on their shoulders after winning the match.

The other notable thing that many long-time WWF fans remember about the match is Continue reading

Bobby Heenan wrestled twice — against Bellomo and ‘Piper Machine’ — in Boston

I’m quite late — two months!?! — in getting up another post about the late Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and the mark he left on the fans in Boston during his WWF heyday in the 1980s.

The first time I ever saw Heenan live was at the old Boston Garden, when he appeared as a manager at a house show in March 1987, just a few weeks before WrestleMania III.

 

Heenan managed Hercules and Paul Orndorff, who teamed up with Adorable Adrian Adonis to face Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Billy Jack Haynes in an elimination match. It remains one of my favorite personal matches I ever saw live, largely because it was allegedly Piper’s Continue reading

Bobby Heenan — Brain and Weasel — dies at 72

I distincitly remember watching a Madison Square Garden house show in 1984 that was being broadcast (I think) live on the USA Network.

Hulk Hogan was set to face Big John Studd.

Suddenly I saw in a big surprise: Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was standing next to Studd. Way back then, there was no internet covering wrestling and I had not yet subscribed to insider newsletters, so I had no clue Heenan was coming in.

Photo credit: WWE

Heenan — who died on Sunday at age 72 — had finally defected to the WWF from the AWA. Studd won the match by countout, starting a long partnership between he and Heenan, and launching Heenan’s career as one of the top managers in the WWE.

Heenan’s real first name was Raymond, although many also remember Continue reading

George “The Animal” Steele and “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff die within two days of each other

What a sad weekend for fans of 1980s WWF wrestling, as we mourn both the “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff and George “The Animal” Steele, both of whom died after lengthy illnesses.

These guys played strong heel characters in the WWF in the early ’80s. Koloff went on to feud with the Road Warriors in the NWA in the mid-1980s, while Steele turned babyface and had a long TV feud with Randy “Macho Man” Savage over the affections of Miss Elizabeth.

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George "The Animal" Steele

 

Steele, whose real name was Jim Myers, was 79 when he died on Feb. 16, 2017, while Koloff’s birth monicker was Oreal Perras and he was 74 at his death on Feb. 18, 2017.

Both wrestlers were outright mean during the 1970s for the WWWF. Steele actually did menacing Continue reading

Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka — dead at 73 — took us to emotional highs in the ’80s

So, WWF fans from the 1980s, how did the late Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka leave his mark on you? Was it the Superfly off the steel cage or the coconut?

For me, it was that moment in 1984 when Rowdy Roddy Piper smashed the coconut into Snuka’s head, and then mushed a banana in his face and whipped him. It may be the greatest angle in ’80s.

But there is not a more iconic 1980s moment in the WWE’s history than Snuka’s leap from the top of the cage onto the Magnificent Muraco at Madison Square Garden in 1983, a moment that several wrestlers a generation later — including Mick Foley — pegged as an inspiration.

That’s the reason Snuka still resonates with us all these years later: He brought a fiery emotion to his angles and matches. The heels didn’t just attack Snuka. Instead, they humiliated him — remember Muraco spitting on Snuka? — and we as fans felt it. And when Snuka was out for revenge, he was a madman.

Video: Snuka vs. Piper and the famous Piper's Pit angle

You don’t see that type of anger any more, when feuds come and go quickly. You don’t get mad for wrestlers the way we got mad for Snuka.

He will forever be burned into the brains of ’80s fans who remember his feuds with Bob Backlund, Muraco, Captain Lou Albano, Ray “The Crippler” Stevens, Piper and others.

The Superfly died on January 15 after a battle with stomach cancer. Despite his golden years in the WWF — when he was arguably the hottest wrestler in the country — it is bittersweet these days to look back at Snuka’s career because Continue reading

Demolition poised to lose reign as longest WWE tag team champions

Way back in 1989, I was at a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping in Worcester, MA, when Demolition lost the WWF Tag Team Championship to Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson (the Brain Busters). It was the first time I had seen a title change hands live.

That loss marked the end of one of the WWF’s all-time greatest records, as the face-painted Ax and Smash had held the tag titles for 478 days and cemented themselves as a classic tag team, albeit one with unlikely origins.

Now, current WWE Raw Tag Team Champions New Day are in line to break Demolition’s record if they retain they titles through Dec. 14, 2016. Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E have held the tag straps since Aug. 24, 2015.  By the way, Kingston grew up in the Boston suburb of Winchester, MA, which at one point was also the home of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake.

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The New Day: Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods

 

Even back in the ’80s, it was rare to see tag champs go so long holding the belts, but Vince McMahon had made it his mission to put Demolition in the same league as Continue reading