Sunday, January 7, 2018

Wrestlers Who Died in 2017

In February 2017 in just a few days time we lost Chavo Sr, George "The Animal" Steele, and Ivan Koloff.  Just a month prior Superfly Snuka died.  It was then that I started the post that would be dedicated to wrestlers that we lost in 2017.  This year we have lost some legends in Mexico, Japan, and the United States.  There will be names you've grown up watching and names you've never heard of but they all entertained us in one way or another inside the squared circle.

Timothy Well 55, September 8, 1961 - January 9, 2017

Born Timothy Smith and also known as Rex King, he debuted in 1987 in the Pacific Northwest Wrestling as Rex King teaming with Steve Doll as the Southern Rockers.  In 1993 he and Doll entered the WWE under the names Timothy Well and Steven Dunn as the team Well Dunn.  The duo won several tag team championships in Music City Wrestling, PNW, USWA, & World Wrestling Council.  Well passed away from kidney failure.

Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka 73, May 18, 1943 - January 15, 2017

Snuka debuted in 1968 in Hawaii and toured the territories headlining wherever he went.  He's known for famously leaping off the top of the cage in Madison Square Garden on October 17, 1983 onto Don Muraco after losing the match to the Intercontinental Champion.  However that was not the first time he'd soared off the cage.  That was June 28, 1982 against Bob Backlund.

Snuka died in hospice care from undisclosed illness just two weeks after a judge ruled him unable to stand trial for in the May 1983 murder of Nancy Argentino.

Jun Izumida 51, October 28, 1965 - January 25, 2017

Izumida was a sumo wrestler from 1986 to 1991 before debuting in All Japan Pro Wrestling in May 1992.  He left AJPW following Misawa when he formed Pro Wrestling Noah.  He retired October 3, 2012 wrestling his final match in at the AJPW 40th Anniversary show teaming with Takao Omori & Manabu Soya defeating Dark Cuervo, Dark Ozz, & RONIN.  He was found dead on January 31st, it was determined that he had passed away days earlier from a heart attack.

Tom Drake 86, 1931 - February 2, 2017

Drake attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he wrestled and played football.  He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers but he didn't last long in the NFL before he was drafted by the US Army in 1954 during the Korean War.  After leaving the Army he became the head wrestling coach for the University of Alabama.  He later enrolled in law school at the same University earning his degree.  He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives holding the Cullman County seat for 32 years even holding consecutive terms as Speaker of the House.

He wrestled for 24 years from 1954 to 1978 while doing everything I mentioned above.  He had matches with some of the greatest legends of wrestling including Lou Thesz, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, Gorgeous George, and "Classy" Freddie Blassie.

"Bruiser" Bob Sweetan 76, July 4, 1940 - February 10, 2017

A native of British Columbia, Sweetan debuted in 1966 and wrestled 21 years primarily for Central States Wrestling but also in the territories in Mid-South, Texas, San Francisco, Puerto Rico, and Stampede Wrestling in Calgary.

Outside the ring Sweetan's personnel life wasn't the best.  He was a convicted sex offender and in 2000 he was deported back to Canada.  He died from complications with diabetes and other ailments.

Chavo Guerrero Sr. 68, January 7, 1949 - February 11, 2017

A second generation superstar from the famous Guerrero family, Chavo Sr. wrestled for 46 years from 1970 until 2016.  He wrestled all over the world as a singles star and with his brothers in various tag teams.  He had an unexpected run in the WWE in 2004 as Chavo Classic including a month long Cruiserweight Championship reign.  He passed away from liver cancer.

George "The Animal" Steele 79, April 16, 1937 - February 16, 2017

The Animal debuted in 1967 as The Student in the Detroit area under a mask.  Later he went to the WWWF feuding with Bruno Sammartino over the WWWF Championship.  He is best known by my generation for his run in mid 80's and his infatuation over Randy "Macho Man" Savage's valet/wife Miss Elizabeth.  He stopped wrestling in 1988, returning in 1997 wrestling on and off for three years.  He passed away from kidney failure

Nicole Bass 52, August 10, 1964 - February 17, 2017

Bass got into the world of wrestling after a spending over a decade as a female bodybuilder.  She debuted in ECW joining Justin Credible's stable alongside Chastity and Jason in 1998.  At WrestleMania XV she debuted as Sables bodyguard lasting in the WWE for only a few months.  She made some independent appearances before leaving wrestling in 2000.  Bass passed away from a stroke she suffered the day before.

Ivan Koloff 74, August 25, 1942 - February 18, 2017

The Russian Bear wrestled for over thirty years and is quite possibly best known for defeating Bruno Sammartino on January 18, 1971 for the WWWF Championship ending Bruno's near 8 year reign.  I first recall seeing him in Jim Crockett Promotions teaming with his nephew Nikita and Krusher Kruschev.  He passed away from liver cancer.

Johnny K-9 53, December 7, 1963 - February 21, 2017

Born Ion Croitoru, Johnny K-9 began wrestling in 1984 for Stampede Wrestling before going to the AWA.  He also wrestled as a jobber in the WWF, and toured Japan with NJPW, FMW, & WAR.  He wrestled under other names such as Bruiser Bedlam, The Terrible Turk, and more.

Outside wrestling he was in various motorcycle gangs and accused of murder, assault, trafficking cocaine, and bombing a police station.

Tom Jones 77, October 22, 1939 - March 4, 2017

Jones wrestled for 30 years across North America but primarily out of Texas.  He held championships in California, Georgia, and the Pacific Northwest to name a few.  Jones promoted shows in Oklahoma and helped his son "Human Highlight Reel" Cody Jones get his start in wrestling.

"Outlaw" Ron Bass 68, December 21, 1948 - March 7, 2017

Bass debuted in 1971 for the NWA Gulf Coast Territory.  He would go on to compete in Championship Wrestling from Florida and Jim Crockett Promotions before entering the WWE in 1987.  He is probably best known for attacking Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake and cutting him up with spurs causing him to miss his match with the Honky Tonk Man at SummerSlam 1988.

He died after complications from surgery following a burst appendix.

Dennis Stamp 70, December 6, 1946 - March 13, 2017

Stamp debuted in wrestling in 1971 for the AWA becoming their rookie of the year.  In 1976 he joined the Funk's NWA Western States promotion making his home in Amarillo, Texas.  He is probably best known by my generation from his appearance in the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat.  He died from lymphoma.

Fishman 66, January 6, 1951 - April 8, 2017

Fishman was a thirty-one year Lucha Libre veteran who won championships in the EMLL, UWA, and WWA.  He also was victorious in ten of eleven mask vs mask matches losing his own on August 28, 2000 to Mascara Sagrada.  His three sons also wrestle in Mexico.  He died from a heart Attack.

Joaquin Roldan 63, April 8, 2017

The General Manager for AAA worked for the company for many years before taking it over in 2006 with his son Dorian Roldan.  Roldan was married to Marisela Pena the sister of Antonio Pena who founded AAA in 1992.

Larry Sharpe 65, June 26, 1951 - April 10, 2017

Sharpe debuted for the WWWF in 1974 but is probably best known for his wrestling school The Monster Factory.  Sharpe opened The Monster Factory in 1983 with "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and his wrestling school has turned out some amazing graduates including Bam Bam Bigelow, Chris Candido, Raven, The Pitbulls, and many many more.  Larry wrestled his last match Japan in 1987 teaming with his prized pupil Bigelow in a losing effort to Dick Murdoch and Tatsumi Fujinami.  He died from liver disease.

Matthew Anoa'i 47, April 7, 1970 - April 17, 2017

A member of the famous Anoa'i family, the son of Sika, Matt debuted in 1995 for his uncle's WXW promotion.  He's perhaps best known from his time in the WWE as one half of 3 Minute Warning and later as Rosey, the Super Hero In Training with The Hurricane. He passed away from congestive heart failure.

Brazo de Oro 57, October 7, 1959 - April 28, 2017

Brazo de Oro was a second generation Luchador wrestler for 40 years from 1975 - 2015.  Part of the famous Alvarado wrestling family which consists of his father, five brothers, and ten nieces and nephews many who still wrestle today in CMLL and AAA like Maximo, La Mascara, Goya Kong, and Psycho Clown.  Brazo was a former booker for CMLL and held numerous tag team and trios championships in Mexico and California promotions. He passed away from a heart attack.

Gran Apache 58, April 16, 1959 - May 7, 2017

Apache debuted in 1975 wrestling for 41 years and was technically still active at the time of his death.  He is the father of Faby and Mari Apache and worked for the AAA promotion since 1996.  He held the AAA World Mixed Tag Team Championships one time each with both of his daughters.  He was the head trainer for AAA for over a decade and is known for being one of the best trainers of female wrestlers.  He passed away from intestinal cancer.

Wayne Van Dyke 29, May 13, 2017

Van Dyke debuted in 2010 in Florida as Insane Wayne, and later competed as Richard Delicious.  He wrestled regularly on the independent scene in Florida including American Combat Wrestling.  On April 29, 2017 either during or after a match he suffered and apparent heart attack and was taken the a medical facility where he was placed in a medically induced coma until his death.

"Pretty Boy" Doug Somers 65, September 22, 1951 - May 16, 2017

Somers debuted in 1971 wrestling around the territories primarily for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Florida.  He is probably best known for his tag team with "Playboy" Buddy Rose managed by Sensational Sherri, and their feud with The Midnight Rockers over the AWA World Tag Team Championships.

"Rotten" Ron Starr 67, April 3, 1950 - June 8, 2017

Starr wrestled for 25 years from 1972 to 1997 starting in the Jim Crockett Promotions and other NWA Territories.  He wrestled around the territories including Japan, Canada, and Puerto Rico holding numerous regional championships.  In the forward to Starr's book "Bad to the Bone: 25 Yeras of Riots and Wrestling" Mick Foley credits Starr for teaching him the brawling style of wrestling.  Starr passed away in his sleep from an apparent collapsed lung.

Buddy Wayne 50, May 28, 1967 - June 17, 2017

Debuting in 1985 in Vancouver, Wayne wrestled for 32 years competing in his final match just three weeks before his death.  He wrestled extensively in the Pacific Northwest United States and Canada and was also a jobber for the WWE and WCW.  He passed away from a heart attack.

Mr. Pogo 66, February 5, 1951 - June 23, 2017

Mr. Pogo debuted in March 30, 1972 for New Japan Pro Wrestling on the eleventh show ever promoted by the company, and had his last match 44 years later.  I'm most familiar with Mr. Pogo from his death match days in FMW with Atsushi Onita.  Prior to that though he spent 10 years touring Canada and the United States (1975 -1985) before returning to Japan.  He first entered FMW in 1990 and adopted the Death Match style that would become his signature until the end of his career.  He died from complication from surgery that resulted in a cerebral infarction.

Smith Hart 68, November 28, 1948 - July 2, 2017

The eldest Hart sibling he wrestled from 1973 -1991 primarily for Stampede Wrestling but also toured Puerto Rico, Japan, England, Germany, and the United States.  He finished his career in Puerto Rico after Stampede was sold to the WWE.  He came back for a final match in 2013 defeating Mad Braddock at a Pure Wrestling Association show in Lefroy, Ontario.  He died from prostate cancer. 

Diane Von Hoffman 55, April 13, 1962 - July 6, 2017

Phyllis Burch began training while still in high school by Dale Mann, later she joined The Fabulous Moolah's training school eventually teaming with Moolah.  Under various names Hoffman toured the world wrestling in Japan, Canada, the Philippines and more.  In 1990 under the name Moondog Fifi she was part of the Moondogs feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler & Jeff Jarrett that resulted in her having her head shaved.  She died from complications from knee surgery.

Buddy Wolff 76, April 11, 1941 - July 11, 2017

Wolff was trained by the Verne Gagne and wrestled in Mid Atlantic region before moving to the WWWF wrestling Gagne at Madison Square Garden.  He toured the territories before winding down with the AWA having his Last Match on May 3, 1987 teaming with Doug Somers & Kevin Kelly in a losing effort to Ray Stevens and The Midnight Rockers.

"Beautiful" Bobby Dean Tovey 40, September 2, 2017

This second generation wrestler, the son of Lord Little Brook, debuted in 1995 and wrestled around the United States most of the time against his brother Little Kato.  Sadly I cannot find much detail about Bobby's career.  He appeared to have wrestled his last match June 10, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri in a losing effort to NWL KC Champion: Dak Draper.

Otto Wanz 74, June 13, 1943 - September 14, 2017

Wanz debuted in Austria in 1968 and later wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling as Bulldog Otto.  In 1973 he founded Catch Wrestling Association based in Austria and Germany.  He is a former AWA World Champion and four time CWA World Champion.  He retired from full time in 1990 wrestling his last match August 23, 1996 defeating Terry Funk at CWA Catch Cup 1996.  He folded the CWA promoting their last show on December 4, 1999.

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan 72, November 1, 1944 - September 17, 2017

The greatest wrestling manager of all time, and one of the greatest commentators of all time.  There really isn't anything I can say about The Brain that hasn't been said already.  I always enjoyed Bobby no matter what role he was in and I'm glad that I had the chance to meet him.  Sadly though it was after cancer had taken away his ability to speak. 

Lance Russell 91, March 18, 1926 - October 3, 2017

The Voice of Memphis Wrestling for nearly 40 years Lance started calling the action in 1959 for Nick Gulas and Roy Welch.  His long term partnership with Dave Brown began in 1967.  He worked for WCW from 1989 - 1993ish before returning to Memphis Wrestling.  He also worked for Smoky Mountain Wrestling as the company was winding down.

I had the honor of meeting Mr. Russell in 2009 at the NWA Legneds Fanfest.  He was very approachable and genuine and a pleasure to chat with.  On Saturday morning of the Fanfest Lance, Dave Brown, and Jerry Jarrett did a 90 minute Memphis Wrestling Roundtable that was outstanding.

Eric Denis 40, October 8, 2017

I wasn't able to find a lot about Denis but this is what I did find.  He was a 21 year veteran of the ring competing primarily in the Montreal based ICW. The weekend of his death ICW was promoting two benefit shows on Saturday and Sunday.  Denis had wrestled five times on Saturday and was in his second bout Sunday when he collapsed in the ring.  Paramedics attempted to revive Denis but were unsuccessful.

Stan Kowalski 91, May 13, 1926 - October 20, 2017

A World War II veteran Kowalski began wrestling in 1948 for the NWA.  He formed a tag team called Murder Incorporated with Tiny Mills.  The duo wrestled around the world together in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and United States.  They captured the Minneapolis Version of the NWA World Tag Team Championship twice and when the AWA withdrew from the NWA Murder Inc was announced as the first ever AWA Tag Team Champions.

In 1970 he changed his name to Krippler Karl Kovac and entered the WWWF where on March 9, 1970 he headlined Madison Square Garden challenging Champion Bruno Sammartino.

Tokyo Joe 75, 1942 - November 4, 2017

Joe Daigo began his wrestling career in Japan but is best know for his time in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling.  After a car accident in 1974 ended his in ring career he became a prolific trainer in the Hart Dungeon including the last graduates Nattie Neidhart, Harry Smith, and TJ Wilson.  He came the gaijin booker for New Japan helping many wrestlers get their first trip to the land of the rising sun.

Dick "Tugboat" Taylor 71, December 9, 1945 - November 8, 2017

Debuting in 1980, Taylor stayed primarily in Texas Territories wrestling for Mid-South, Global Wrestling Federation, and others.  Eventually he opened his own wrestling school and promoted under the banner Texas All Pro Wrestling.  His son Chaz Taylor also became a wrestler and promoted NWA Houston.

"Blackheart" Dave Johnson 50, May 22, 1967 - November 26, 2017

Trained by The Great Malenko, Blackheart debuted in 1989 primarily competing in the Florida region.  In 1991 he worked as a jobber in WCW before donning a mask as Blackheart Devastation with Tom Nash who was Blackheart Apocalypse.  The duo would wrestle in the USWA, and toured All Japan in 1993.

Johnson was still and active wrestler at the time of his death mostly for Coastal Championship Wrestling in Florida.  He also had a hand in training several wrestlers including MVP.  Slam Sports has an excellent write up on him here.

Devon Fielding 42, September 14, 1975 - December 4, 2017

Debuting in 1994 after training with Leo Burke and Biff Wellington he wrestled primarily in Western Canada.  Slam sports has a great write up on Mr. Fielding here.

Tom Zenk 59, November 30, 1958 - December 9, 2017

An avid bodybuilder and former Mr. Minnesota he began his wrestling career in the AWA in 1984.  He formed a tag team with Rick Martel in 1986 in Montreal's Lutte Internationle.  Calling themselves the Can-Am Connection they debuted in the WWE in 1986.  The team defeated Don Muraco and Bob Orton in the opening match for WrestleMania III.  The team seemed to be in line to win the tag team championships when Zenk abruptly left the promotion.

After stints in All Japan and the AWA he debuted for WCW as The Z-Man.  There he captured the World Television Championship and the United States Tag Team Championships with Brian Pillman.  In 1994 he left WCW and returned to All Japan before taking a hiatus in 1995.  He returned in late 1996 finishing his career in the Washington State based American Wrestling Federation.

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment, read my other posts, and like my blogs Facebook page and while you're at it check out my weekly podcast Podcast of 1,000 Holds on the Nerdy Legion Podcast Network. 

Later Readers!

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