The Art of Wrestling podcast had a tremendous interview with Steve Lombardi, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Brawler, who is one of those competitive prelim wrestlers everyone remembers from the 1980s.
The interview was conducted by well-known independent wrestler Colt Cabana, and as such, had plenty of behind-the-scenes stories from the WWF heyday of the ‘80s.
The full podcast is available here (skip to about 11 minutes in to get to the start of Lombardi’s interview).
Prior to becoming the Brawler, Lombardi went by his own name and rarely won. Now 51, Lombardi started with the WWF in 1981 after being trained by the likes of Arnold Skaaland and Mr. Saito.
He wrestled his first match against against another respected jobber, S.D. Jones. That night, Lombardi competed in jeans because he didn’t yet own wrestling trunks. “I started off as a kid from Brooklyn in jeans, and wound up with a gimmick from Brooklyn in jeans,” he said.
Asked by Cabana why so many people remember him even to this day, Brawler said it was because even though he lost often, he was on TV almost every week. He said during the marathon, three-hour WWF TV tapings, he often performed in three matches in one night.
After a while, fans were “just seeing me all the time: Prime Time Wrestling, Wrestling Challenge. They’re seeing me the most,” he said.
Actually, many of us saw him more than we realized, as he also donned the mask as Kimchee, Kamala’s handler, during Kamala’s run in the mid-1980s.
A turning point in Lombardi’s career came when he wrestled Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat shortly after Steamboat’s arrival in the WWF in 1985. Steamboat treated him well and it rubbed off on other wrestlers.
“You couldn’t hang with [Steamboat] unless you could do that double leapfrog thing with him,” Lombardi said.
He was eventually offered a makeover in 1989 as the Brooklyn Brawler character, which he credits largely to Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who managed him. Heenan came up with the Brawler name and suggested that he wear ripped up jeans and a Yankees shirts, telling Lombardi no one likes the Yankees, so it would get easy heel heat.
Lombardi thinks his first win as the Brawler was against Reno Riggins. “It was huge. It was saying you’re not just this enhancement guy,” Lombardi said. “You’re a guy being managed by Bobby Heenan … It was an honor to me to have Bobby as a manager.”
In the ‘90s, Lombardi later played a short-lived baseball character called Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz, and has also filled in as Doink the Clown at times.