RINGSIDE REMEMBRANCES — FAREWELL, 2011

Posted January 2nd, 2012 by jshannon

Jay Shannon draws upon five decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” — Steve Jobs (2/24/1955-10/5/2011)

This is the one column, each year, that I hate to write. I started this tradition in 2008, after the death of my first wife, Linda. It was my way to say good-bye to her and also to the ladies and gentlemen of wrestling who had moved on to the next reality. This is my fourth “Farewell” column and as I say, every year, I pray that I don’t have to do another in 2012. Sadly, we will likely lose some of the great people that have entertained us over the years.

“Macho Man” Randy Savage

Rnadall Mario Poffo was a second generation superstar that got his iconic name from promoter, Ole Anderson. Ole made a comment after seeing Randy Poffo wrestle that went something like “That Randy wrestles like a savage”. Randy was working in the Memphis area when he got a call to join the then-WWF. He quickly became the hottest free agent in the business. Managers from Freddie Blassie to Bobby Heenan to Johnny V(aliant) tried to get him to agree to become part of their stables. Randy went a completely new direction as he chose Miss Elizabeth (his real-life wife) to join him as his manager/valet. The duo quickly became headliners in the WWF. Randy would take the Intercontinental title from Tito Santana on 2/8/86. He would eventually drop the belt to Ricky Steamboat in their card-stealing battle at Wrestlemania III. Savage would rebound to win the WWF/E World title at Wrestlemania IV in the finals vs Ted DiBiase, Sr. He would hold the belt for just under a year before losing it to Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania V. Savage would come back in April, 1992 and take the title, again. This time, he beat Ric Flair. He would drop the belt back to Flair about five month later. After losing the belt, Savage split his time between in-ring work and commentary. He left the WWF in 1994 to join WCW. During his six-year stay in WCW, Savage would hold the WCW World title on four different occasions.

Savage had done several commercials for both the WWF and for Slim Jim, early in his WWF career. The “Snap into a Slim Jim, oh Yeah!” catchphrase is still imitated to this day by many fans. After leaving WCW, Savage branched out into acting and music. He was “Bone Saw McGraw” in the first Spiderman film. He also did quite a bit of television work, mostly cameos. In 2003, he released his one and only rap album. Unfortunately, the album received horrible reviews and quickly faded into oblivion. Savage made a final return to wrestling in 2004-05, as part of TNA. After that run, Savage disappeared from sight.

In 2010, Savage mended fences with the WWE and began to do commercials for both the Legends series of action figures and for the video game, WWE All-Stars.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDqRLGJLfYY&feature=related)

On May 20, 2010, Savage married for the second time to Barbara Lynn Payne. On May 10, 2011, Randy and Barbara Poffo were driving through Seminole, Florida. Randy suffered a sudden and deadly heart attack while behind the wheel. The car swerved and crashed. Barbara was injured but survived. Savage did not. Post-mortem of Savage showed that his system was completely clear of any drugs or alcohol at the time of his death. It is highly rumored that Savage will be inducted into the WWE Class of 2012, Hall of Fame. Sadly, it comes a year too late for him to enjoy it.

Sir Oliver Humperdink

John Sutton grew up in Minnesota and that is where he got his start in wrestling. He was a security guard for Verne Gagne’s AWA in the late 1960s. In 1973, Sutton would relocate to Montreal. He began working for Paul Vachon as both a manager and prelim wrestler. Sutton’s first big break, as a manager, came with management of GPW’s version of The Hollywood Blonds. Don “Spoiler” Jardine and Dale “Buddy Roberts” Hey are credited with the creation of the “Sir” Oliver Humperdink. The story goes that when Sutton was looking for a new identity, it was suggested that he go with a name that would sound like an English Nobleman. This was to play off the French-Canadians dislike of anything English. The name stuck and would remain with him for the majority of his career.

In 1974, Humperdink would relocate to Florida to continue his career. Over the years, he would work for Mid-South, Jim Crockett Promotions and World Class Championship Wrestling. He would reach his pinnacle in 1984, when he was voted “Manager of the Year” by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Humperdink managed numerous stars including: Lord Humongous (Sid Vicious), The Fabulous Freebirds, Greg Valentine, Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher and The Great Muta. He was closely associated with Bam Bam Bigelow in the WWE and in World Class (where Bigelow worked as Crusher Yurkof). After a career of nearly three decades, Humperdink retired in 1993. He then became a very prominent member of the legendary Cauliflower Alley Club, attending every year until his death. Sutton died from complications from pneumonia on May 20th. He is also rumored to be in contention to enter the Hall of Fame, Class of 2012.

Jack LaLaine

He was widely regarded as “The Godfather of Modern Fitness Training”. For 35 years, LaLaine hosted a daily fitness and nutrition program (beginning in 1953). He was also a tremendous bodybuilder that helped train many boxers, weight lifters and wrestlers. He also opened one of the first national chains of gyms. Many pro wrestlers worked out at his gyms. LaLaine died of pneumonia on January 23rd.

Guy Coffey

He was fixture in Jerry Jarrett’s Memphis territory. He recently appeared in the Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin’ documentary. In fact, the video is dedicated to his memory.

Gordon Scozzari

He was the one-time owner of the American Wrestling Federation (1991-92). He helped push the career of several stars, including Matt Freer. It was based in Lowell, Mass. After the AWF folded, Gordon did a lot of behind-the-scenes work for other various indy groups.

Val Puccio

The 500+ pounder was trained by Johnny Rodz. He worked mostly in IWCCW and ECW. He was one half of a tag team known as The Undertakers. They were forced to rename themselves as Double Trouble, due to the WWE copyrighting the Undertaker name. Val died at the age of 45 on January 7th. It is believed his immense size may have contributed to his death.

Sue Farmer

She was the wife of West Coast legend, Woody Farmer. She was also the mother to “Hawkeye” Shane Kody. She was the inspiration, not only for the three generations of wrestlers in her immediate family, but also for many of the wrestlers working for Big Time Wrestling, out of Northern California.

Shawn Osborne

Shawn McGrath was trained by Les Thatcher and Cody Hawk. Shawn began his career in Heartland Wrestling Association, under the name of Shawn Osbourne. He would be picked up by the WWE and sent to various developmental territories over the next few years. He was released in February, 2008 and moved to the indy circuit. He worked primarily for Full Impact Pro. It appears that Shawn took his own life on January 26th. A suicide note was left, detailing the reasons for Shawn ending his own life.

Dr. Death (Paul Lincoln)

He was a wrestler and promoter in the United Kingdom. He came to the UK from Australia in the 1950s. In addition to the wrestling company that he set up in England, he also opened the 2i’s Coffee Bar. He was instrumental in helpipng launch many musical careers, most notably Sir Cliff Richard and Ritchie Blackmore. “The God of Wrestling” is considered by many in England as the man who brought professional wrestling to England. He died in Southampton, at the age of 78, from cancer and Parkinson’s.

Johnny Heideman

Johnny showed a dedication to his promoter, Jim Crockett, Sr., like no other. He remained with the same company from 1938 until 1973. He did work under masks as a member of the Infernos and the Executioners. After his wrestling career, he worked in the JCP offices and as a ref for the company. After Crockett’s death, Heideman retired from wrestling and took a position in the sheriff’s office in Roanoke, VA. He was 90 years old when he passed away.

Milt Avruskin

He was a highly respected announcer for Universal Wrestling and Superstar of Wrestling, but he was so much more. He died on May 28th from an aortic aneurysm. In addition to his work as a ring announcer and play-by-play announcer, Milt expanded into films and television. He was seen as one of the driving forces in Canadian Entertainment.

Verne Langdon

The owner of Slammers Gym was a master of publicity. Verne was an amateur wrestler in school but didn’t consider working with pro wrestling. That changed when Verne’s father became friends with the legendary Gorgeous George. He would get the lion’s share of his training to be a professional wrestler from Fabulous Moolah and Jim Drake. His career in wrestling would never rise much above mid-card but his musical career was incredible. He also did quite a bit of television and radio work during his lifetime. He died on January 1st.

Donna Christanello

Mary Alfonsi was trained by The Fabulous Moolah. She wrestled during the 60s, 70s and 80s. She held the NWA Women’s Tag Team Championship with Toni Rose. She spent the last three years of her active career in the WWE (1984-87). She helped to push the women’s division to its highest point before she retired. She died of a heart attack on August 25th.

Felipe Ham Lee

He was the head of the Boxing and Wrestling Commission in Mexico (Distrito Federal Box y Lucha Commission). In his 60-year association with wrestling, he was a wrestler, promoter and trainer, as well as being the Commissioner. He died at the age of 80 of natural causes.

Pierre Morrison

He was a very respected referee in Canada. He worked with the Rougeaus with their promotion. He also did work with the WWWF and WWF, during his career.

Chip Fairway

Brett Keen was trained by Les Thatcher and worked for HWA. He would eventually retire from the business to devote himself to his children, full time. He passed away in his sleep at the tender age of 38.

Bison Smith

Mark Smith moved to California and trained under Mike Modest and Donovan Morgan at All Pro Wrestling. Smith spent the first eight years of his career working the indy scene in the US, as well as Japan and Puerto Rico. He got his first big break in January, 2009, when he was invited to join RIng of Honor. Smith was in Puerto Rico to battle Eddie “Primo” Colon when he suddenly died from heart complications on November 22nd. He was only 38 when he passed away.

Killer Karl Kox

Kox began his career in the 1960s in Australia. Once he returned to the States, he held championships in Florida, Georgia, Texas and just about every territory that he visited. I remember watching Kox as a kid and really enjoying his abilities. His final appearance at a wrestling event was just months before his death. He was at a meet-and-greet for WCCW’s Quest for the Crown II in August, 2011. Kox suffered both a heart attack and stroke and died approximately three weeks later, on November 10th. He was 80 years old.

“Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney

Sweeney (real name Alex Whybrow) got solid training in wrestling from several men: Mike Quackenbush, Chris Hero, Colonel DeBeers, Skayde and “Playboy” Buddy Rose (his idol). Sweeney even adopted a gimmick that was quite similar to Rose’s, at least for awhile. He worked the indies until 2004, when he joined the Chikara organization. A couple years later, he would also begin working for Ring of Honor. He patterned his management style in a similar vein to greats like Freddie Blassie, Jimmy Hart, and The Grand Wizard. Sweeney took a brief break in 2010 but returned with a renewed enthusiasm. Sweeney was found hanged from a ring post at a wrestling school in Lake Charles, LA on April 11th. The death was ruled a suicide. He was only 30 years old.

Dusty Feldbaumer

Robert Feldbaumer, Sr. (aka Dusty) served as a wrestling referee for over 25 years. He was also a highly respected businessman who ran an auto repair business for more than 40 years (Mina Motors, South Philly, PA). He passed away from a heart attack, at the age of 89, on May 1st.

Malcom Cormier

He was a wrestler and referee. He had four brothers that wrestled: Yvon “The Beast” Cormier, Rudy Kay, Bobby Kay and Leo Burke.While he never reached the levels of his siblings, Malcolm was always proud of what he had done in wrestling. He died from complications from diabetes and Alzheimer’s on August 9th.He was 74 at the time of his passing.

Tony Cosenza

Tony often mixed his two loves, wrestling and piano, at wrestling shows. The Italian served in the military during World War II (in the US Army). After the war, Tony began working the territories along the Eastern Seaboard. He helped to launch televised wrestling in the 1950s. He died on August 17th at the age of 93. The official cause of death was natural causes.

Dr. O’Borman, Jr. aka Doctor X aka Doctor X-Treme

Clemente Marcelino Valencia N├íjer wrestled in Mexico under three main identities: Dr. O’Borman, Jr., Doctor X and Doctor X-Treme. When he first began wrestling, Najer had to pay the original Dr. O’Borman for the rights to use the name. Due to complications as to who owned the rights to the name “Dr. O’Borman, Jr.”, Najer had to switch to using the name of Doctor X (a generic name that was not trademarked). In 2005, Najer parted company with CMLL and worked for various smaller promotions in Mexico. In August, 2011, Najer signed a deal to work with the new Perros Del Mar (Bad Dogs) Promotions. He took the new name of Doctor X-Treme. He would only work a few shows with the company before his death. Najer was shot to death while trying to break up a fight at a religious party held in Mexico City. He was 43 years old.

Scott Ledoux

“The Fighting Frenchman” began his sports career as a boxer, in 1974. His record would be 33-13-4 (22 wins by knockout). In 1986, LeDoux began working as a ref for the AWA. He would have issues with several grapplers and even squared off in a few wrestling matches. After his sports career wound down, LeDoux went into politics in Minnesota. He died of complications from ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease on August 11th.

Professor Ito

Umanosuke Ueda worked in the North American territories under the names of Mr. Ito and Professor Ito. He was born Yuki Ueda in Japan on June 20, 1940. He began working for Japan’s JWA Promotion in 1961. He was a feared heel who bleached his hair (something quite unusual in Japan). When JWA folded, he moved to All-Japan and also began to tour North America. In the states, he worked mostly in the Los Angeles, California, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia territories. He would take the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title from Danny Hodge, only to lose it back to Hodge, a week later. He was working for New Japan in the 1970s when he suddenly jumped to the rival IWA promotion. Ueda’s careeer came to a sudden end when his neck was broken in a car accident and he was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. That accident happened in 1996. Ueda was 71 when he passed away on December 21st.

Bobby Fields

Luther Hatfield was a great tag team worker in the Gulf Coast region. He partnered with “Cowboy” Bob Kelly to hold gold in several organizations during their run together. His father was legendary southern ref, Speedy Hatfield. He was also a cousin to Buddy Fuller. He passed away on August 13th.

Bobby Ford

One of the earliest men to utilize acrobatic moves in his arsenal, Bobby brought excitement to 1950s Pittsburgh. He also helped to train many upcoming stars in the area.

Mando Lopez

He was staple of California wrestling for years. He was seen as a talent enhancement star but his skills far exceeded his placement on the card. He worked both masked and unmasked in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He was 63 when he left us.

Rafael Halperin

Halperin moved to Palestine as a child. He wanted to open a chain of gyms, so he began to wrestle professionally to raise the needed funds. His abilities brought him to the attention of promoters in the United States. Halperin came to the states in the 50s and became the first documented wrestler to run a streak of wins (159 consecutive wins). He would tour the US and Canada until the mid 60s. He then returned home to finish his wrestling career. After wrestling, he became a successful businessman and would later become a Rabbi. He wrote a serious of religious books that became extremely popular. HE invented a chip to be placed on credit cards that would allow them to be disabled on demand. He did that so no one could do business on the Sabbath (Saturdays) but it was later used in cards and cell phones to allow them to be disabled if stolen. He passed away on August 20th.

“Boston” Bobbie Regan

After a stint in the US Navy, Regan began his sports career as a boxer. He won the Golden Gloves in his hometown of Boston. He would later move over to professional wrestling during the 1950s and 60s. Following his career in sports, he became a truck driver. He was a very respected man in his community. He passed away on June 2nd.

Fabian El Gitano

He worked for the CMLL organization in Mexico. His life ended after “blunt force trauma to the skull” in his home. The murder investigation is still under way. He was 39 when he died on March 17th.

El Vagabundo

He wrestled in Mexico under the gimmick in 1993 and 1994. His mask had the look of a “Grandma Patchwork Quilt” as it had numerous blocks of color on a basic black mask. He would later adopt a Power Rangers-like gimmick, being both the green (Verde) and Red (Rojo) Power Raider. He would later re-embrace his El Vagabundo persona. He bore a new mask which incorporated both the red and green of his Power Raider masks. His name came from a very popular 1953 film. His character would later spawn a hit rap song.

Tiki Tapu

Another in a long line of Pacific Islander superstars. He was trained by Samu, Fatu, Jimmy Snuka, Abdullah the Butcher, Joe Taylor and Wahoo McDaniel. He worked the Southern Corridor in the late 80s and early 90s. He worked for WCW/NWA, AWA and dozens of smaller promotions until he retired. HE died on January 19th. A very touching tribute to him was posted on YouTube. You can see it at:

Little Tokyo

Shigeri Akabane was a very popular midget wrestler who began his career in 1980. His biggest match was the six-person tag match at Wrestlemania III (he was on King Kong Bundy’s team). He also worked just about every federation and territory during his career. At the age of 69, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. While waiting for his cancer treatment, Akabane died of a heart attack on September 6th.

Duncan McTavish

He was born in Scotland but moved to Hamilton, Ontario as a young man. Like many other wrestlers of the time, McTavish (real name Matt Gilmour) wanted to box professionally. He began training at Wentworth Gym, which was a hangout for many local wrestlers. He befriended men like Killer Karl Krupp and Jerry Valiant. They convinced him to give wrestling a try. He did so and toured the world. He used variations of his own given name, as well as the McTavish name during his long and successful career. He never reached the top tier in any of the federations that he worked for but he was always there to help others. He left this world with the respect of everyone that he worked with.

Serge Saumon

The Canadian grappler never wrestled for titles or money. He wrestled because he loved to entertain the fans. He was working the Montreal area when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on August 8th at the age of 52.

Stinky the Homeless Guy (Frank Morin)

Frank’s characters of Stinky and Bash Bison were extremely popular in the C*4 promotion and other indy groups around Canada. Frank was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of 22. He died, peacefully in his sleep, at 23 on April 1st. Before his death, the “boys” at C*4 debuted a one-shot character (Dash Bison) as a tribute to their friend at the January 15, 2011 Triumph 2011 show. It made him smile.

Terry Yorkston

He was a graduate of Hamilton, Ontario’s The Factory training facility. He wrestled as the masked Black Diamond. After a good wrestling career, he moved into the striped shirt. He refereed numerous matches, including working for the WWF. He died on August 7th.

“Handsome” Johnny Barend

He began his career in November, 1949 in the Washington, DC. He became a superstar in both singles and tag team wrestling. His biggest feuds were against Bruno Sammartino and Nick Bockwinkel. He would eventually move to Hawaii and help build that territory into an extremely successful enterprise. After retirement, he moved back to his native New York. He died at the age of 82 on September 20th.

Nick the Greek (Nick Spillios)

He was born and raised in the Houston, Texas area. His parents were immigrants from Greece and he always embraced his heritage. When he decided to try his hand at pro wrestling, he turned to Mexican superstar, Cyclone Anaya, for training. To pay the bills, Spillios worked as a teacher. Paul Boesch, Houston promoter, was stunned when dozens of his students came to watch Spillios wrestle, week after week. He would take his earnings from wrestling to build one of the most successful pest control businesses in Texas. He died on February 1st.

Manny Guzman

He helped to elevate so many stars in the Mexican territories. He worked under several different masked names during his extended career.

Bill “Potshot” Kunkel

He was one of the leading internet jouRnalists in the business. We shared a friendship with Arnie Katz. I met Bill a couple times, while living in Las Vegas. He was a great guy who really loved what he did. He was a definite influence on my own e-journalism career. He was also heavily into the video gaming market, launching several video game online magazines. He created many of the strategy guides for the WWE video games, as well. He was very much liked and respected in the wrestling industry. He is very much missed by those who knew him.

Mike Duncan

He was an journeyman wrestler that worked many independent organization during his career. He mostly worked as a prelim or talent enhancement wrestler but gained the respect of his peers.

In Conclusion:

If I have missed anyone, please accept my apologies. Each and every member of the wrestling community is family to me and deserve honor and respect. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, everyone was either an aunt, an uncle or a cousin. It didn’t matter what their last name was or if they actually shared bloodlines with you. To me, the ladies and gentlemen above are all “Cousins” to me. Most of them I never actually met but I admire them all. I hope and pray that your rests are peaceful ones. May we all meet again, some sunny day, on the other side of the rainbow.

(Rest in) Peace

–Jay Shannon
Jade89512@yahoo.com

Category: Wrestling.

Tags:

Add Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*