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In Memoriam: A Look Back At The Professional Wrestlers Lost In 2018

RIP…

WWE

As 2018 draws to a close, we here at Cultaholic look back at the wrestling legends, stars, and personalities that we lost over the previous year.

MT. FIJI (28 September 1957 – 2 January 2018)

The colossally-intimidating Fiji ruled the rings of G.L.O.W., and was presented as one of the series’ most indestructible monsters, as foes struggled to even knock her off of her feet. Though she only wrestled for three years, Fiji parlayed her celebrity into appearances on other popular TV programs, including sitcom Mama’s Family, and the daytime game show Card Sharks.

JOHNNY VALIANT (25 November 1946 – 4 April 2018)

“Luscious Johnny V” was well known to fans of WWE during the Rock ‘n Wrestling Era as the boisterous manager of The Dream Team, but was also a successful tag team wrestler in his day. Along with kayfabe brothers Jerry and Jimmy, Valiant would hold WWE’s World Tag Team titles on two occasions in the 1970s, reigning for over one year with Jimmy in 1974-75, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996.

BRUNO SAMMARTINO (6 October 1935 – 18 April 2018)

PWI

Widely considered to be one of the greatest professional wrestlers that has ever lived, the virtuous and powerful Sammartino ruled WWE and New York throughout the sixties and seventies, holding the WWE Championship twice for a combined 4,040 days, which adds up to more than 11 years. The Living Legend sold out Madison Square Garden 187 times, a figure cited by several different sources. Bruno would enjoy late-career success in an acrimonious teacher-vs-student rivalry with Larry Zbyszko, culminating in a cage match at Shea Stadium in 1980. Once an outspoken critic of WWE, Sammartino returned to the company’s graces in 2013 for a Hall of Fame induction, which fittingly took place inside the Garden.

PAUL JONES (16 June 1942 – 18 April 2018)

“Number One” formed his own legion, The Paul Jones Army, in 1982, with the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Masked Superstar, Rick Rude, Billy Graham, among others. The group helped him terrorize the Mid-Atlantic territory, with Jimmy Valiant as his primary target. In his earlier days as a wrestler, the wily Jones held Mid-Atlantic’s Television title on five occasions, and the Heavyweight gold three times.

UNIVERSO 2000 (18 April 1963 – 1 May 2018)

Three-time CMLL World Champion, and the youngest brother of Los Hermanos Dinamita, gained notoriety for defeating Perro Aguayo in what was supposed to be Aguayo’s retirement match in 2001, and would shave Aguayo bald after the fact. After wrestling for years under a mask, Universo was forced to show his face after losing a match at CMLL’s 71st anniversary show in 2004.

BIG BULLY BUSICK (1 June 1954 – 8 May 2018)

Barrel-chested former powerlifter and police officer entered professional wrestling in the late-seventies, Busick would become known for his double-thick mustache and his brief run with WWE in 1991, playing the role of a turn-of-the-century roughneck. Busick also wrestled in the Atlanta and Dallas territories in the eighties and early-nineties, and actually competed in powerlifting events through 2015.

ARKANGEL DE LA MUERTE (16 July 1966 – 13 June 2018)

Though he would hold CMLL’s World Welterweight and Mexican National Welterweight belts once each, Arkangel was more highly regarded as the promotion’s top trainer from 2006 until his death, having in a hand in the schooling of virtually every star that came through the promotion in that time. For his tireless dedication to the promotion, CMLL would hold special shows for Arkangel on the 20th and 25th anniversaries of his debut.

BIG VAN VADER (14 May 1955 – 18 June 2018)

WWE

The measuring stick of all superheavyweights that have even a modicum of athleticism, the massive Vader almost literally ruled the wrestling world through the late eighties and well into the nineties. Vader would hold World Championships in North America, Europe, and Asia, including three WCW World titles, three IWGP Heavyweight belts, three Catch Wrestling Association titles, and two All-Japan Triple Crowns. Vader’s brutal strikes, bone-crunching slams, and jaw-dropping agility would be the hallmarks of his truly unique career.

MATT CAPPOTELLI (12 November 1979 – 29 June 2018)

Co-winner of Tough Enough III with John Hennigan (later John Morrison), Cappotelli was an exuberant young talent whose time as a wrestler was sadly cut short by a malignant brain tumour in 2006. Cappotelli surrendered the Ohio Valley Wrestling belt in a highly-emotional speech in February of that year. The Miz would reveal after Cappotelli’s passing that the two were supposed to be called up to WWE together as a tag team around that time.

MASA SAITO (1 February 1942 – 14 July 2018)

Respected as one of wrestling’s premier tough guys, Saito represented Japan in freestyle wrestling in the 1964 Olympics, before embarking on a 35-year pro career, where his innovative and form-perfect technical wrestling would guide him. Saito held gold in places such as WWE (Tag), AWA (World Heavyweight), and throughout various US territories in the seventies and eighties. Saito would also gain plenty of notoriety back home in New Japan, reigning twice as IWGP Tag Team Champion, and facing Antonio Inoki in a harrowing two-hour long Island Death Match in 1987.

VIRGIL FLYNN (1985 – 18 July 2018)

West coast-based Flynn dazzled with his high-quality athleticism, which he displayed in his time as a regular for the unconventional Hoodslam promotion out of Oakland. Flynn reigned as APW Internet Champion for six months in 2014-15, and defended the belt against the likes of Joey Ryan, Jeff Cobb, and Chris Hero. Flynn also worked the tapings for Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force startup in 2015.

RAYO DE JALISCO SR (22 November 1932 – 19 July 2018)

The charismatic and enduring Jalisco enjoyed a 40-year career as a star wrestler from 1950 to 1989, but gained greater renown after adopting the Jalisco persona in the early-sixties. Jalisco reigned three times as NWA Middleweight Champion, and would hold the EMLL Mexican National Tag Team belts on two occasions with the iconic El Santo. Jalisco would unmask in his final match, losing to partner-turned-rival Blue Demon.

NIKOLAI VOLKOFF (14 October 1947 – 29 July 2018)

WWE

The Croatian-born Volkoff would defect to Canada in the sixties during a weightlifting meet, and would begin life anew in wrestling. He would garner his most fame playing a role that was an affront to his own personal ideals – a pro-communist booster from the USSR, who would proudly sing the Soviet national anthem before matches, to a flurry of boos. Though he had solid runs in places like Calgary and Mid-South, Volkoff would become famous as one of many evil brutes that warred with Hulk Hogan in the eighties and would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

BRIAN CHRISTOPHER (10 January 1972 – 29 July 2018)

WWE

The son of Jerry “The King” Lawler would be just as prolific in his father’s United States Wrestling Association, reigning with the company’s belts a total of 44 different times. In WWE, Christopher would find success as Grand Masta Sexay, charming crowds in the Attitude Era alongside Too Cool partner Scotty 2 Hotty (and big brother Rikishi) as dance-happy good guys. Though he’s remembered more by WWE fans as a fun-loving babyface tag wrestler, Christopher was also an effective heel with charisma to spare, as evidenced earlier in his career.

BRICKHOUSE BROWN (11 August 1960 – 29 July 2018)

Though standing only 5’8″ tall, Brown lived up to the first part of his name with a chiselled physique and proved to be a more than formidable rival for Jerry Lawler when the two feuded in Memphis in the late eighties, with Brown capturing Lawler’s AWA Southern Heavyweight belt. Brown would work frequently in the Memphis and Dallas areas into the nineties and also worked in the final days of Don Owen’s Portland territory.

EL PICUDO (3 August 1967 – 3 August 2018)

The cousin of AAA founder Antonio Pena would enjoy a 17-year run with the promotion from the day it opened, before leaving in 2009. Generally working as a heel (or rudo) for the company, Picudo would cross paths with many names of future renown, including Psicosis, Super Calo, and Rey Misterio Jr. Later in his career, Picudo assumed the name Devil Rocker, as part of a stable known as Los Inferno Rockers.

BRIAN DANOVICH (8 July 1980 – 9 August 2018)

A hopeful on the 2004 season of Tough Enough, Danovich just missed out on the final 10, due to tearing his pectoral during one of the challenges. It was due in part to his attempt to gut it out through the injury that Danovich was later offered a WWE developmental deal, though he would be released in 2005. Danovich would later collaborate with Wrestling With Wregret’s Brian Zane on several of Zane’s videos.

JIM NEIDHART (8 February 1955 – 13 August 2018)

WWE

“The Anvil” was identifiable by his pointed Devil’s goatee, and his husky, machine-gun-like laugh. Along with brother-in-law Bret Hart, Neidhart would hold the WWE World Tag Team titles on two occasions, and would square off with the top duos of the era, including The British Bulldogs, Demolition, and The Rockers. Though the bulkier compliment to the sleek “Hitman”, Neidhart would demonstrate awing grace and athleticism in many of his matches. As the father of WWE star Natalya, Neidhart would appear with his daughter occasionally on Total Divas.

DOC DEAN (3 July 1970 – 13 August 2018)

Notably one half of The Liverpool Lads with current NXT trainer Robbie Brookside, whom Dean would later turn heel on and subsequently have a well-received feud with. Dean would compete in New Japan’s 1997 “Best of the Super Juniors” tournament, where he would gain a victory over the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Dean also worked underneath in WCW at the tail end of his career before retiring to start his own plumbing business.

VILLANO III (23 March 1952 – 21 August 2018)

Considered the most talented brother of all the Villanos, Villano III’s career spanned more than 40 years, and would see him featured as one of the premier attractions of the Universal Wrestling Association. In March 2000, shy of his 48th birthday, Villano III lost his mask to Atlantis in what is considered one of the seminal, and most emotionally-charged matches in Lucha Libre history. Among the many championships earned in his career, Villano III held the WWE Light Heavyweight belt seven times, when the company wasn’t recognizing the title.

CHRIS CHAMPION (17 February 1961 – 22 August 2018)

The gifted Champion would assume many unusual roles in his career, and gained most of his notoriety with such eclectic gimmicks. He was a time-traveler, teaming with Sean Royal to form the futuristic duo known as The New Breed, as well as a Ninja Turtle (Kowabunga), and far-eastern martial artist (Yoshi Kwan). Champion would also take part in the 1987 and 1988 Crockett Cup tag team tournaments.

NATE HATRED (1975 – 1 September 2018)

The demonic war paint and ultraviolent actions of Hatred put him right at home in the early years of Combat Zone Wrestling, where he and Nick Gage would spill gallons of blood as The H8 Club. Hatred competed in CZW’s first ever Tournament of Death in 2002, and would hold the CZW Tag Team titles on three occasions alongside Gage. Hatred’s final match was a tag match alongside Gage at the very end of 2017.

MIKE HOGEWOOD (13 September 1954 – 5 September 2018)

“Hog” brought years of experience as broadcaster for college football, college basketball, and NASCAR, to Ring of Honor, where he would helm the desk of the promotion’s HDNet broadcasts for two years between 2009 and 2011. Hogewood offset a lack of wrestling experience with genuine enthusiasm and earnest salesmanship, as well as some colourful phraseology (“Slap the porpoise!”), while partnered alongside Dave Prazak.

DON LEO JONATHAN (29 August 1931 – 13 October 2018)

“The Mormon Giant” was something out of regional folklore, abnormally strong to the point where could lift heavyweight wrestlers onto his shoulder with one arm, and walk around like he were carrying a drink tray. Standing 6’6″ and billed as being upwards of 340 pounds, the mammoth Jonathan would slam Andre the Giant near the end of his career in 1980, and yet could throw dropkicks *and* do cartwheels and nip-ups. A universal draw who worked with every top name from Andre to Killer Kowalski to Dory Funk, Jr, Jonathan was years ahead of his time.

DICK SLATER (19 May 1951 – 18 October 2018)

Slater travelled the world throughout the seventies and eighties, trading on his legitimate toughness and rowdy demeanour in territories like Georgia, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South, and All-Japan, across which he would hold a litany of belts. Slater also wrestled regularly for WCW throughout the first half of the nineties. “Dirty Dick” would gain a measure of fame for once knocking out NFL bad boy John Matuszak in a street fight.

JOSE LOTHARIO (12 December 1934 – 6 November 2018)

WWE

Younger fans know Lothario better as the trainer of Shawn Michaels, through his accompaniment of Michaels en route to his WWE Championship win at WrestleMania 12. As a wrestler, Lothario was best known in Texas, where he would battle the likes of Terry Funk, Harley Race, among many other notables. One of Lothario’s most famous nemeses was former protege Gino Hernandez, whom he would vanquish in a hair vs. hair match in 1978. Lothario would also be known for his partnerships with Mil Mascaras and Wahoo McDaniel, both of whom he’d hold territorial tag team gold alongside.

LARRY MATYSIK (26 April 1947 – 25 November 2018)

The longtime protege of legendary St. Louis promoter Sam Muchnick and announcer for the region’s Wrestling at the Chase broadcasts, Matysik joined WWE’s office in 1984, shortly after the ceasing of the program, spending nine years working for Vince McMahon. Matysik was also a tenured booker and promoter of events in the St. Louis and Midwestern regions and authored a number of informative books on pro wrestling, including Drawing Heat the Hard Way: How Wrestling Really Works.

DYNAMITE KID (5 December 1958 – 5 December 2018)

WWE

The crisp blend of British-style wrestling, Lucha Libre, and Japanese style that Dynamite Kid executed to perfection during his brilliant career would inspire countless other grapplers. Regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound wrestlers of all-time, Dynamite would demonstrate his evolutionary work in matches with Bret Hart in Stampede, and against Tiger Mask through their legendary rivalry. Dynamite and cousin Davey Boy Smith would make their mark on WWE audiences as The British Bulldogs, reigning as Tag Team champions for nearly ten months in 1986-87.

LARRY HENNIG (18 June 1936 – 6 December 2018)

WWE

Once known as “Pretty Boy”, Hennig would later trade on his rugged looks to become “The Axe”, a nickname later co-opted in tribute by grandson Curtis Axel. The father of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig was one of the greatest stars in the history of the AWA, winning their Tag Team belts on four occasions (three times with Harley Race). Promotional icons Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher were made famous in large part due to their feud with Race and Hennig. Hennig would also wrestle for WWE in the 1970s, against the likes of Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino.

BILL FRALIC (31 October 1962 – 14 December 2018)

Respected All-Pro offensive lineman for the late-eighties/early-nineties Atlanta Falcons had a pair of notable forays into professional wrestling, mostly notably as a participant in the WWE/NFL battle royal at WrestleMania 2, and even jawed with Big John Studd in a pre-match skirmish. He would also take part in Yokozuna’s bodyslam challenge on board the USS Intrepid on Independence Day 1993. Fralic was a noted opponent of steroid abuse by professional athletes, and even testified before the US Senate in 1989 about their apparent widespread use in football.

Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.

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