MARLBORO, NY – With the passing of yet another iconic wrestler at a young age this past week in King Kong Bundy, I was reminded how much a fan of the fake sport I once was. It truly was the Golden Age of Wrestling, as the World Wrestling Federation had memorable characters and plot lines for every person imaginable. Recently, I saw the Mickey Rourke film The Wrestler and came away dumbfounded at how lonely a life a professional wrestler must live as their lifeblood becomes the roar, boos, and reaction of the crowds they perform in front of. Here are some of my favorite and obscure grapplers from the mid-1980’s to the early ’90’s.
Love him or hate him, Vince McMahon was/is a marketing genius as he capitalized on every demographic. His list of African-American performers was long during this era. There was 70’s holdover Tony Atlas who paired with The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson, as a formidable tag team duo. S.D. “Special Delivery” Jones was a lovable loser who would be fodder to the better villains during the time. Don’t forget the diminutive Koko B. Ware and his colorful bird “Frankie” who would accompany the wrestler into the squared circle. This guy always reminded me of a singer in an all black super-group like The Commodores or Earth, Wind & Fire. JYD or the Junk Yard Dog was another special character, complete with a leather studded collar and heavy gauged chain leash who had a decent run as a fan favorite with a long running feud against Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (King of the Figure Four Leg Lock). Equal opportunity was on display in the WWF managerial ranks as Slick a.k.a The Doctor of Style tutored many of wrestling foils. Think Mitch “Blood” Green with a haircut and a lazy tongue.
I’m not sure why indigenous island wrestlers littered McMahon’s sport during this Golden Age as Superfly Jimmy Snuka took a few coconuts to the head courtesy of Rowdy Roddy Piper during a Piper’s Pit segment and thus paved the way for The Tonga Kid, The Wild Samoans, and King Tonga. There had to be some political angle to justify this influx of islanders.
And as the ring announcer would scream, “From parts unknown...” there was The Missing Link, Doink The Clown (a cross between Beetlejuice and Ronald Mac Donald), the Ultimate Warrior and his sometimes combatant Papa Shango–a voodoo priest. The Masked Superstar also hailed from the same unknown geography as all these misfits.
There were Italians, Leapin’ Lanny Poffo (later billed as The Genius), a true “tomato can” Salvatore Bellomo, Steve Lombardi or as he was later known as The Brooklyn Brawler, and the unforgettable Capt. Lou Albano. There were Russians and other communists. There even were Hillbillies. This eclectic group of wrestlers definitely entertained those who tuned in or went to sold out arenas. If it wasn’t for the smash success of this Golden Era of wrestling there would have been no XFL (Extreme Football League) and in turn some of the innovation that this aborted rival football league provided in the form of current NFL production value.
Think about that. All the world’s a stage and all these athletes merely players but memorable one’s to this old wrestling fan.
Leave your thoughts below and come back tomorrow for a man who wrestles with his sports allegiances, Buddy Diaz.