Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka

The passing of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka brought to mind plenty of childhood memories...

I've written many times of my childhood following pro wrestling and the WWF was an area that usually featured some of the biggest stars of the game,but in a much slower style.
My brother,Shane and I devoured the wrestling (and boxing) magazines of the day,spending much of our money following things in the pre-cable era.

Jimmy Snuka was a name in the magazines and was a star,but not an elite star.
The first time that I ever saw Snuka was on Georgia Championship Wrestling as a team with Terry Gordy,after a Fabulous Freebirds split.
Snuka had a juiced up body and won this cowboy hat around with a feather that didn't exactly scream Fuji Islands,but that's pro wrestling for you!
It just happened to be on a weekend that we were visiting Ohio.
Those trips were always looked forward by Shane and I for visiting family once a year,but it was the one day a year that we could watch Georgia Wrestling on WTBS.
We would often beg the "lucky" relative we were visiting at 6;05 for us to watch the GCW show.
I'm sure it embarrassed my dad on one hand,but he likely didn't mind so much as we watched the show quietly and transfixed in front of the set,not having to worry about bad behavior for a change!
Here is a Snuka/Gordy clip minus the cowboy hat...

When Snuka's run in Georgia was finished,he was headed north to the WWF and he was an athlete that this territory hadn't seen in years-if at all.
As a heel managed by Lou Albano,that was portrayed as a savage that didn't speak (Which anyone with cable knew was not the case from the Georgia stint),Snuka immediately stood out with his look,but more importantly the "Superfly" dive off the top rope in a company not known for spectacular moves.
Snuka was instantly a star and far more than the usual bad guy foil of the month for then champion Bob Backlund.
In Madison Square Garden,where the usual run against Backlund was two matches,Snuka would get three title matches with the final standoff inside a steel cage.
Surprisingly,the crowd was likely at least a third,if not more in favor of the thought to be hated Snuka and his manager Albano.,which would change the mind of the promotion about how to use Snuka in the future.
However,they still had to have Backlund defeat Snuka and Snuka would make it arguably the most memorable losing effort in WWF/E history (only Steve Austin's loss to Bret Hart would give it a run) as Snuka climbed to the top of the cage to attempt to land the Superfly on a prone Backlund.
Again,this being wrestling,it made no sense as had Snuka leaped OUTSIDE the cage to the floor,he would have won the match and the title-But that is pro wrestling logic.
Instead,Snuka leaped inside the cage ,Backlund moved out of the way and crawled out of the cage to retain the title.

The series against Backlund almost forced the WWF hand as they felt that he must be a fan favorite,so he was being "cheated" out of his money by Albano and then piledriven on the floor by Ray "the Crippler" Stevens and the hottest feud in the territory since Sammartino-Zbyszko ensued.
Snuka and Stevens were even supposed to bring their battle to Hagerstown,but the blizzard of 1983 hit on the night of their match and resulted in a cancellation.
By the time of the re-scheduled contest,Stevens had left the territory and Snuka would face veteran Ivan Koloff in a good match that wasn't quite as meaningful.
The best was yet to come for Snuka,who had two more huge drawing cards on tap and could have been the star that Vince McMahon built around as he went nationally.
However,out of the ring issues (including the recently returned to the news death of Snuka's girlfriend) made McMahon go with Hulk Hogan despite Snuka's popularity being red hot and likely just as capable on being the top star as Hogan in wrestling,although Hogan would have had more appeal to the non-wrestling fan that would be soon testing the product out to the national expansion.

That didn't mean Snuka was done as he engaged a in torrid feud with the Inter-Continental champion (and my childhood role model ) the Magnificent Muraco with the two battling it out in brutal matches.
Muraco and Snuka finally met for the ending match to their series in the Garden,but there was a problem,Muraco needed to keep the title,but in a way that helped and not hurt Snuka.
The solution? Inside a steel cage,Snuka would batter Muraco throughout the match,but after a headbutt sent a dazed Muraco out the cage door and to the floor for the fluke victory,an enraged Snuka drug Muraco back into the ring and then delivered what he missed against Backlund with the iconic splash off the cage.
Muraco took the impact and then Snuka threw the belt on Muraco and spit on him giving him the final word...

The Superfly wasn't finished as he had one last run as he was the person chosen to feud with Roddy Piper and establish Piper as the promotion's top heel with the infamous coconut to the head from Piper during a Piper's Pit.
That segment and resulting feud established Piper,but as hot as the feud was and for all the money that was made,there could have been more,but Snuka left the company (Under the guise of being injured by Piper) and replaced by Tonga Kid.
When Snuka came back,the heat was gone as Piper had been programmed in another direction for the most part and despite the magic anytime the two were around each other,the two were never in a full scale program again.

Snuka was never the same after leaving the WWF as he traveled between stints in the AWA,Japan,the beginnings of ECW and Japan along with a occasional mid-card return in the WWF and wrestling for independent promotions where the name still brought people to the shows.
I spent one of those evenings in a small town hanging out with Snuka,believe it or not.
Long ago,my brother would wrestle and on a long trip,I'd go along to keep him company on the ride.
On this night,Snuka was in the main event and afterwards while Shane worked on the ring etc,Snuka pulled up a chair and sat next to me watching the evening wind down.
He was pretty reserved and very nice and for the best part of an hour,we talked a little about wrestling,but more small talk than anything.

I decided not to write much about what Snuka was in the news for recently-the reopened 1983 death of his girlfriend mainly because he never stood and I have no idea on the proof of the case.
I'm not ducking the issue,but I decided to stick to what I knew-his ring work and the memories of watching him as a kid.
The Superfly was an icon in the Northeast to a certain age group of people that the champions of the age-Bob Backlund and even Hulk Hogan could ever match,
It's hard to explain how Jimmy Snuka caught that lightning in a bottle for that two to three year period.
I guess you had to be there.....

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