FanPost

In memoriam: wrestlers we lost in 2018

WWE.com

As another year comes to an end (and having done the same list last year), an opportunity to remember those who made a significant impact on wrestling:

Johnny Valiant (real name Thomas Sullivan, died aged 71 on 4/4) made his name as half of WWWF's best drawing heel tag team, the Valiant Brothers being two time champions - twice over, in fact, the first reign with Jimmy Valiant for just short of a year from May 1974, the second with Jerry Valiant for most of 1979. All were brothers in kayfabe alone, the association with Jimmy deciding his ring name. Having been given a helping hand by Bruno Sammartino, Valiant had a long run in the midcard of his military academy classmate Vince Jr's father's WWWF as John L Sullivan.

The Brothers actually formed in the WWA in Indianapolis and had four tag title runs there but their WWWF success, managed by Captain Lou Albano, was such they were said to be the only regular tag team who could main event and sell out Madison Square Garden. Jerry was brought in when Jimmy fell ill and on recovering the three worked six-man tags, sometimes eight-mans with Albano. Although he continued wrestling regularly Valiant concentrated mostly on management, firstly with heel Hulk Hogan in the AWA - although he was already being cheered, Hogan's actual face turn came when Jerry Blackwell attacked Valiant - then returning to the now WWF to manage Brutus Beefcake.

Soon after the first WrestleMania Valiant linked with Jimmy Hart to form the Dream Team of Beefcake and Greg Valentine, who won the tag belts in August 1985 after Beefcake attacked Barry Windham with Johnny's cigar. They held the titles for eight months before losing to the British Bulldogs at Wrestlemania 2. Dino Bravo was added to the stable in 1987 and he kicked Beefcake out of the team at Wrestlemania 3, forming the less successful New Dream Team. During that stint Luscious Johnny V, as he now was, introduced the original Demolition, handing them off to Mr Fuji after three months, and would fill in on Wrestling Challenge when Bobby Heenan was ringside as manager. By March 1988 he had become a jobber wrestler again, so he quit and returned to AWA to manage the Destruction Crew (the future Beverly Brothers) to the AWA World Tag Team Championship.

Valiant later turned to acting, appearing in the Sopranos as Carmine Lupertazzi's bodyguard and as himself in The Wrestler, accepting a WWF Hall Of Fame induction in 1996. He passed away after being hit by a truck while crossing the street.

Motoko Baba (78, 4/14) has been called the most powerful woman from a business background in wrestling history, and may remain the most controversial. The wife of the iconic Shohei 'Giant' Baba, the pair formed All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972 where she handled the box office and became known as the 'bad cop' to her mild-mannered husband. Between them the pair helped make AJPW the most respected and best in-ring Japanese promotion of the late 1980s and 1990s, thanks to Mitsuharu Misawa's rise and the the use of gaijin such as Stan Hansen and Johnny Ace.

After Shohei's death in January 1999 Motoko assumed control of the company, appointing Misawa as president and booker, but the two often clashed over the future of the business, leading to his being fired. That led to All Japan's television partner NTV siding with Misawa as he broke away, taking 24 of All Japan's 26 roster members and some board members with him, to form Pro Wrestling NOAH in June 2000. All Japan rebuilt thanks to the unexpected return of the once blacklisted Genichiro Tenryu and a two year interpromotional feud with New Japan, before Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta) shockingly joined in 2002 and bought out the Baba family's stock. She was brought back as a figurehead in 2012 but quietly departed a year later.

Bruno Sammartino (82, 4/18) was one of wrestling's greatest ever heroes and among its most successful stars ever - not for nothing was he known as 'The Living Legend' while still very much active. The powerful brawler's two WWWF championship reigns totaled over eleven years - 2,803 days (the longest single reign in their history) from May 1963 to January 1971 and 1,237 days from December 1973 to April 1977. The reported figure of 187 Madison Square Garden sellouts with Sammartino as advertised main event has been disputed, but that it can't be far wrong is a measure of how he was one of the few to actually transcend the business.

Born in Abruzzo, Italy he hid from occupying forces during World War II before the family moved to Pittsburgh in 1950. The young Bruno devoted himself to weightlifting as an anti-bullying measure, narrowly missing the 1956 Olympic team and setting a world record bench press of 565 pounds in 1959. It was while performing strongman stunts on television that a local promoter, Rudy Miller, spotted him and made him interested in a wrestling career.

Sammartino made his ring debut in December 1959 and worked MSG less than three weeks later, beating hardcore pioneer Bull Curry in five minutes. He planned to leave New York as he felt he was being held back in favor of established NWA names but having missed bookings while moving to California he found himself briefly blacklisted, believing he was set up by then CWC owner Vince McMahon Sr.

Bruno eventually found a welcoming berth in Toronto in 1962 and became an instant attraction with the large local Italian population, earning a draw and a fluke defeat in NWA world title matches against Lou Thesz, leading McMahon to pay his outstanding fines and lure him back to the WWWF. That first world title followed as he defeated 'Nature Boy' Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds. Seven and a half years later Sammartino shockingly lost the title at MSG to Ivan Koloff, later remarking that the stunned silence on the three count was such he briefly thought his hearing had been damaged. An International Tag Team Championship run alongside Dominic DeNucci followed later that year as his work schedule decreased, but McMahon wanted Bruno to regain the title and offered him a percentage of all gates as incentive. Therefore, after a memorable 65 minute draw with Pedro Morales at Shea Stadium in September 1972, he eventually regained the strap over Stan Stasiak. Even when he received a neck fracture in 1976 after Stan Hansen dropped him on his head, Sammartino recovered after two months for a rematch at Shea Stadium in June that was shown on the closed circuit TV undercard of the Ali vs Inoki fight and was later rated match of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Injuries caught up and he dropped the title to Superstar Billy Graham. Sammartino spread his wings after that, having a one hour draw with Harley Race for the NWA world title and selling out Shea Stadium once more in a steel cage match against former student Larry Zbyszko. Eventually Bruno retired from full-time wrestling in 1981 and sued the McMahons over non-payment of that promised gate cut. The out of court settlement involved an offer to return to WWF as announcer, and Bruno eventually returned to the ring alongside his son David, leading to feuds with Randy Savage and Roddy Piper that both ended in steel cage match victory. Sammartino, who also fought in WrestleMania II's battle royal, finally retired in 1987 and left the following year, occasionally working as commentator for the UWF and WCW while becoming an outspoken critic of the direction WWF was heading in and the increasing use of steroids. Eventually he accepted a WWE Hall Of Fame invitation in 2013 after an intervention from Triple H. Bruno's other son Danny, a barber, passed away aged 50 on 11/6.

Paul Jones (Paul Frederick, 75, 4/18) was a key part of the 1970s success of Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling at a time when it was considered by many to be the best territory in the country. The former Golden Gloves heavyweight champion boxer debuted in 1961 and primarily worked the southern states, later moving north and holding titles in NWA Pacific Northwest and NWA Hollywood Wrestling, along with a series of early 1970s Japanese tours. In 1972 he settled in Championship Wrestling from Florida, holding the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship four times, including once throwing the belt off the Gandy Bridge. At one point he held the heavyweight, TV and Brass Knuckles titles simultaneously as he gave himself the self-explanatory nickname 'No.1'.

Jones had appeared for Mid-Atlantic as early as 1968 but became a regular from 1974, winning tag and TV titles in his first year. In March 1975 he belt Johnny Valentine for the heavyweight title but was stripped of it ten days later. After Valentine was paralyzed in the Ric Flair plane crash later that year he lost to Terry Funk in the local attendance record breaking final of the NWA US title tournament but won it anyway three weeks later for the first of three reigns as he hot potatoed the belt with Blackjack Mulligan. Three years tagging with Ricky Steamboat followed, winning the NWA world title once and Mid-Atlantic championship three times, before Jones turned heel in 1978 and allied with Baron von Raschke, winning the world tag belts twice more and then another two times with The Masked Superstar (future Demolition Ax) as well as two more brief runs with the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship.

It's arguably as a manager, winding down from full-time work in 1982 due to back injuries, that Jones is however best remembered as he formed a huge heel stable known as Paul Jones' Army. At one point adopting khaki, jackboots and a toothbrush mustache, Jones' stable at one time or another included Superstar Billy Graham, Abdullah the Butcher, Rick Rude, Jake Roberts, von Raschke, Manny Fernandez, Ivan Koloff, The Barbarian and the Assassins among others. They spent most of their time feuding with Jimmy Valiant, ending in Jones losing a hair vs hair match in November 1986. When the Crocketts sold off Mid-Atlantic to become part of WCW in 1988 Jones became manager of the The Powers Of Pain as they feuded with the Road Warriors, but he left a year later and retired in 1991.

Universo 2000 (Andrés Reyes González, 55, 5/1) held the CMLL Heavyweight Championship for a total of seven years over an unprecedented three separate reigns - October 1997 to September 1998, December 1999 to April 2003 (itself a record title run to date at 1,225 days) and October 2004 to July 2007. For all that singles success he was at least just as well known as the youngest member of Los Hermanos Dinamita with more established brothers Cien Caras and Mascara Ano 2000 in the late 1980s as they became the regular main event heel trio. Formed in EMLL/CMLL, when AAA launched in 1992 they jumped ship and Universo immediately won the Light Heavyweight Championship. The brothers returned to CMLL in 1996 and Universo's first reign began a year later, his place as top heel singles star really established in his feud with Perro Aguayo ending in his winning a hair vs mask match in 2001. He lost his mask in the 2004 anniversary show four-way main event, main eventing a year later beating Hector Gaza in a hair vs hair match, though he'd lose the same stipulation match to Aguayo Jr in 2006 and again in March 2007 to Marco Corleone. Universo left CMLL in 2008 and worked the independent circuit until suffering heart problems - his son remains there as Universo 2000 Jr.

Big Van Vader (Leon White, 63, 6/18) was one of wrestling's greatest ever big men, a 400-plus pounder who benched nearly 600lbs and had a reputation for physicality and stiffness but but could also do moonsaults. A third round draft as a center by the LA Rams in 1978 he played in Super Bowl XIV but was forced to retire in 1979 due to a ruptured patella. Six years later he took up wrestling and first got exposure as Baby Bull, later Bull Power, in the AWA, getting an unsuccessful shot at Stan Hansen's world title. After briefly ending Otto Wanz's nearly nine year title run in Austria's Catch Wrestling Association his first New Japan run began in 1987, where he picked up his new name and a black mask based on Japanese folklore. On his debut he beat Antonio Inoki so severely that the crowd rioted and NJPW was banned from Sumo Hall for nearly two years.

Vader won the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in April 1989, becoming the first gaijin to hold the title, and though he only held it for a month he won it back from Riki Choshu in August. That second, year long run included the famous match against Stan Hansen at an AJPW vs NJPW supercard where Hansen broke Vader's nose and then caused his eye to pop out of its socket mid-match, eventually requiring a metal plate to be inserted underneath.

His success attracted the attention of WCW, and after completing a Japan run that included a third, six week long IWGP title run from January 1992 and a tag title run with Bam Bam Bigelow he had a shot at Sting's WCW title that ended in disqualification for him and two cracked ribs and a ruptured spleen for Sting. Three months later he was successful but re-injured his knee and dropped the belt to Ron Simmons. Vader came back in December, regained the title before exchanging it and back with Sting. It was during his third reign that the infamous feud with Cactus Jack took place, leaving Foley with a broken nose after their first encounter, concussion and temporary paralysis after the rematch due to a powerbomb onto concrete, and no ear after a German house show match in March 1994. By the latter Ric Flair was champion and Vader had to wait until SuperBrawl V in February 1995 for a shot at Hulk Hogan's world title, kicking out of the leg drop before Flair caused a DQ finish. The rematch at Uncensored saw Hogan win a strap match by having Flair touch all four corners. (Don't ask.)

Vader was fired in September after a locker room brawl with Paul Orndorff but reappeared at Royal Rumble 1996 - needing shoulder surgery, he Vader Bombed Gorilla Monsoon the next night and was "suspended". Despite facing Shawn Michaels for the world title at that year's SummerSlam and later earning Paul Bearer as manager his WWF run was spotty and not helped by his attacking a Kuwaiti TV host who asked him if wrestling was fake, earning a fine. He turned face for Survivor Series' Team USA vs Team Canada match but got nowhere and negotiated his release in October 1998.

Returning to Japan he teamed with Hansen in All Japan, won their Triple Crown Title in March 1999 and feuded with Misawa and Kenta Kobashi, then switched to the new Pro Wrestling NOAH where he won the GHC Tag Team Championship with 2 Cold Scorpio. He left Japan in 2002 and drifted around guest appearances, including a very short stint in TNA. His son Jesse spent two years in WWE developmental as Jake Carter. Vader was given two years to live in late 2016 after congestive heart failure, succumbing to pneumonia after double heart surgery.

Matt Cappotelli (38, 6/29)'s brave fight against eventually inoperable brain cancer overshadowed the huge start to a career that looked set to make him a star. A former college footballer, Cappotelli jointly (with John Hennigan) won the 2003 third season of Tough Enough but was considered to have the greater potential. After sporadic TV appearances, including the APA Invitational Bar Room Brawl at Vengeance 2003, he was sent to OVW where then-booker Jim Cornette gave him and Johnny Jeter the same Thrillseekers tag team gimmick that had got Chris Jericho and Lance Storm (who partly trained Cappotelli in OVW) over in Smoky Mountain. Several plans - winning the cruiserweight title on his full-time main roster debut, the Thrillseekers going over tag champions MNM, Cappotelli becoming the Miz's partner - were laid out and then dropped due to various injuries, and it was after a concussion that the tumor was discovered during a routine MRI. Having beaten Jeter for the OVW title in November 2005, he was forced to give it up three months later as he went public with the news. He underwent surgery in May and and was declared cancer free a year later but the tumor returned in 2017, having settled on the brain stem meaning it could not be fully removed.

Masa Saito (Masanori Saito, 76, 7/14), commonly known as Mr Saito in the US, was a great bridge between the American and Japanese wrestling scenes, as much as for his work as a liaison and trainer as being a world traveling (he lived in Minneapolis for most of his career), salt-throwing heel - he is credited with inventing the Sharpshooter/Scorpion Deathlock and gave his name to the Saito suplex. Having competed as a freestyle wrestler in the 1964 Olympics he turned pro a year later and quickly established a hard-hitting, chop-friendly but still technically minded style which led him to capture NWA titles in Florida and Alabama and assorted tag titles, usually with original Japanese stereotype Kinji Shibuya.

He joined WWF in 1981 and tagged with Mr Fuji with Captain Lou Albano as manager, winning the tag team championship by October for the first of two runs totaling twelve months. In 1983 Saito switched to the AWA and teamed with Jesse Ventura until he made the opposite journey, at which Saito aligned with Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby Heenan to feud with Hulk Hogan. That was affected by Heenan leaving but came to a halt after April 6th 1984 when after roommate Ken Patera had thrown a boulder through a McDonald's window police arrived at their hotel room to be met by an assault on a number of officers by the pair. In June 1985 both were convicted of battery and sentenced to two years in prison, though Saito was released in late 1986.

The following year he returned to New Japan, won the tag titles twice and feuded with Antonio Inoki, the blowoff being a two hour plus Island Death match on Ganryujima Island in October 1987 which Inoki won by the required TKO. Saito briefly returned to the AWA in 1988, bringing student Riki Choshu with him, and in 1990 held their world title for two months. A late career renaissance came in 1995 when he teamed with Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in NJPW in a faction variously known as Ookami Gundan and Team Wolf, positioning themselves as invaders in a style that would influence nWo Japan. After retirement in 1999 Saito spent four years as a commentator for New Japan until Parkinson's disease got the better of his abilities.

Rayo de Jalisco (Max Linares, 85, 7/19) was one of the biggest lucha stars of the 1960s and is considered one of its best and most charismatic ever workers, comparable to Rey Mysterio in his small stature and high flying innovation. His black mask with a silver lightning bolt remains one of the best selling designs to this day. Debuting in 1950 he wrestled under various names and lost a hair vs mask match as early as 1954, but his fame took off after he moved to Guadalajara in 1957 and changed his ring name from Tony Curtis (!) in 1960 after taking inspiration from a wrestler character in a movie. After winning the NWA world middleweight title at a time when Mexican championships were few and prestigious he won the national Wrestler of the Year award in 1963. That reign lasted seven months but he won the title back four months after that in September 1964, holding it for another six months, and then secured the country's only tag team title a month later. Talked of in the same light as the likes of El Santo and Blue Demon, he appeared in a number of action movies during the 1970s. Having begun teaming with his son Rayo de Jalisco Jr in 1976 eventually he and Blue Demon, who came out of retirement for the feud, had a mask vs mask match in 1989, which Rayo lost as his career wound down. He still worked in AAA in 1993 and CMLL in 1998, eventually retiring in 2000. His grandson now works as Rayman.

Brian Christopher (Brian Lawler, 46, 7/29) is believed to have hung himself while in prison after a DUI and probation violation, a tragic end to a career that with his unique charisma could have been more but for personal demons. Jerry's son made his name in the USWA, initially in masked team The Twilight Zone under the name Nebula, then when unmasked as 'Too Sexy' Brian Christopher, feuding with his father, Jeff Jarrett, Bill Dundee and Tom Prichard and holding the heavyweight title 26 times, totaling 986 days, between 1992 and 1997. He came into WWF as part of the light-heavyweight division but soon started teaming with Scott Taylor as Too Much. In mid-1999 the pair were retooled as Grandmaster Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty. Too Cool, later joined by Rikishi, became tag champions in May 2000, holding the titles for four weeks, and pitted themselves against the McMahon-Helmsley Regime's associates The Radicalz, Edge & Christian and T & A. Rikishi running over Steve Austin ended that union and in 2001 Christopher was released after being arrested for carrying steroids and meth over the Canadian border. He went on to work for the briefly hyped WWA, spent the best part of two years in TNA, had a further brief WWE run and reunited Too Cool for the first NXT Takeover.

Nikolai Volkoff (Josip Peruzovic, 70, 7/29), a Croatian who trained in Canada and became a US citizen, became famous as a Mongolian and then a Russian. A member of the then unified Yugoslavia's weightlifting team whose brother Luka played in the 1974 soccer World Cup, he defected to Calgary and was trained by Stu Hart before moving across various US NWA promotions. In 1970 he joined the WWWF as Bepo Mongol, who alongside Geeto Mongol and under Captain Lou Albano held the International Tag Team Championship for a year. After that Mongol took three years away from the company - including a spell in the AWA as Boris Breznikoff - and then returned as Volkoff to face Sammartino at a sold out Madison Square Garden. Volkoff later worked with Bob Backlund and had a spell in 1976 as a masked Executioner alongside Killer Kowalski and Big John Studd.

The famed gimmick of singing the Soviet national anthem before every match started while working under Bill Watts in Mid-South and went with him back to WWF where he teamed with the Iron Sheik, managed by "Classy" Freddie Blassie, and won the tag championship at the first Wrestlemania. After that three month run ended Volkoff feuded on and off with Hulk Hogan throughout 1985 and 1986, which earned him a spot on the Hulk Hogan's Rock'n'Wrestling cartoon. Following feuds with nationalists Corporal Kirchner and Jim Duggan Volkoff and Boris Zhukov formed the Bolsheviks, but they became little more than comic relief by the end of the decade, losing to the Hart Foundation in 19 seconds at WrestleMania VI. Volkoff turned face shortly afterwards and feuded with Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter, his team beating Slaughter's at the 1990 Survivor Series. He left at the end of that year, made brief returns in 1992 and 1994, appeared in the WrestleMania X-Seven Gimmick Battle Royal, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005 and made appearances at Old School Raws throughout the 2000s, last wrestling a few months before his death.

Jim Neidhart (63, 8/13), with his pointed beard and trademark laugh, was the uniquely memorable power member of the Hart Foundation. A former squad member for the Raiders and Cowboys, he debuted in Stampede in 1978 and married Stu and Helen Hart's daughter Elizabeth in 1979. His nickname 'The Anvil' came from winning an anvil toss competition at the Calgary Stampede on a $500 wager from Stu. After making several trips to New Japan, teaming with King Kong Bundy in Georgia and holding titles in Mid-South and Championship Wrestling from Florida, Neidhart signed for WWF at the start of 1985 when Vince McMahon briefly bought out Stampede.

After a spell as a singles competitor managed by Mr Fuji he and Bret formed the Hart Foundation with Jimmy Hart as manager, winning the tag titles at Wrestlemania II from the British Bulldogs with the aid of crooked referee Danny Davis, who aligned with the Foundation afterwards. They lost the titles in November and turned face after WrestleMania IV, feuding with various Jimmy Hart teams for the next year. It wasn't until Summerslam 1990 that they won the titles back, this time from Demolition, only for Jimmy's distraction to cost them the title at Wrestlemania VII to the Nasty Boys. Bret and Jim had had occasional singles runs throughout and Neidhart, having done some color commentary on Wrestling Challenge, went solo for a feud with Ric Flair before forming the parachute panted New Foundation with Owen Hart in December 1991.

He was fired for refusing to take a drug test in February 1992 (although he was nearly cut in late 1990, which is why the Rockers winning the titles at a TV taping never aired) and went off to a brief Eastern Championship Wrestling run, the 1992 G1 Climax, five months in WCW and a one-shot at ECW November To Remember against the Sandman. He returned to WWF at King Of The Ring 1994 and sided with Owen over Bret until he was fired again at the end of the year over regular no-shows. There was a brief return as the masked Who in 1996, then as himself in April 1997 where he helped form the new, pro-Canadian Hart Foundation that led to the memorable Canadian Stampede ten-man main event.

Neidhart left three weeks after the Montreal Screwjob, returning to WCW to no great effect for most of 1998, and wasn't seen again in WWF until a one-off appearance at a battle royal in 2007, the same year his daughter Natalie signed a developmental contract and became Natalya. Problems with substance abuse blighted his later years, most notably being sentenced to five months in jail for drug trafficking, possession and burglary. Having cleaned up in recent years and helped Roderick Strong start out, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease and was killed in a domestic fall after a related seizure.

Villano III (Arturo Diaz Mendoza, 66, 8/21) was the most successful and arguably most talented of the five brothers to use the name. Son of Ray Mendoza, the first Mexican to hold a NWA championship, he was deemed experienced enough to use the family moniker in 1973, three years into his career, and in 1975 joined in with his father's new promotion the Universal Wrestling Association, becoming their first Welterweight champion.

As the UWA became a huge draw his work earned steadily improving reviews and eventually he moved up to capture the Light Heavyweight Championship in 1981. In 1983 he beat Perro Aguayo as part of a long, intense feud to capture the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, the first of seven reigns that carried through to 1995 and a title of which he was the longest reigning champion for one stint. That year also saw the start of a classic trios feud in which III, IV and V feuded with Los Brazos, eventually unmasking them in 1988; III later helped make the name of Pegasus Kid when New Japan sent the young Canadian there on excursion, eventually forcing Chris Benoit to unmask.

The UWA closed in 1995 so the brothers went to AAA, having trios titles created for them, until Promo Azteca formed in 1997. Villano III moved to CMLL in 1998 and won the World Light Heavyweight Championship in November 1999, a highlight of a long, emotional feud with Atlantis which ended at a sold out Arena Mexico in March 2000. That match, won by a bloodied Atlantis, led to a lengthy standing ovation, made the front of the daily sports newspapers and later became the only ever Mexican match to be voted match of the year by Wrestling Observer readers. Until that point Villano had won at least 53 straight mask or hair matches, including against Aguayo and Owen Hart. After the Light Heavyweight Championship reign ended in September 2001 he worked more sporadically, left CMLL in 2003 and retired due to injuries in 2015.

Don Leo Jonathan (Don Heaton, 87, 10/13) was one of those monsters whose very aura meant tales spread about how much larger than life they were. Legitimately 6 ft 5 and 340lbs at his biggest, he traveled everywhere as an instant star until his career was ended in 1980 by an injury sustained slamming Andre The Giant. Like Andre, a worldwide career rival whose rivalry territory blowoffs were being billed as "match of the century" by 1972, tales spread about his size and ability, how this giant could land dropkicks, flips and flying headscissors while still also able to carry around far heavier men and being one of few ever to score a pinfall on a bear. How much of that is true is obviously open to interpretation, but Lou Thesz rated him as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Having main evented at Sumo Hall as early as 1958 against Rikidozan, Jonathan did most of his work across Canada, eventually setting in Vancouver and winning NWA All Star Wrestling's Pacific Coast Heavyweight title five times. In 1973 he was Pedro Morales' main heel challenger in the WWWF, and achieved multiple Madison Square Garden sellouts against Morales and Bruno Sammartino in 1974.

Dick Slater (Richard Van Slater, 67, 10/17) was a classic territorial era bruiser, a brawler notorious for getting into street, bar and backstage fights. A friend of Hulk Hogan's growing up in Tampa, Dirty Dick started in 1968 with Championship Wrestling from Florida, where he won their NWA tag titles with four different partners (including Dusty Rhodes) and the Television Championship. His greatest success came during eight years in Georgia Championship Wrestling, winning their NWA title three times, the NWA Missouri title and the tag belts with Bob Orton Jr. In 1983, shortly after being accidentally shot by Wahoo McDaniel, he was convinced to join Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic and assist Rhodes with booking, While there he won the NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight, US and TV Championships, also reuniting with Cowboy Bob to feud with Ric Flair in an attempt to collect a bounty Harley Race had put out to end Ric's career. Feeling overworked he moved to Mid-South and won the North American, TV and UWF TV titles, gaining legitimate heat through African-American valet (and real life partner) Dark Journey.

Slater had a run of less than a year in WWF as a Confederate flag-wearing 'Rebel' from 1986, then toured All Japan over the next three years before returning to the by now WCW in 1989 to join Terry Funk and The Great Muta's J-Tex Corporation. They lost to Flair and Sting at Clash Of The Champions VIII after Funk attempted to suffocate Flair with a plastic bag - TBS viewers were incensed and so was Slater, leading to his being fired shortly afterwards. He returned in 1991 to team with Dick Murdoch for a few months, then again in mid-1992 to become the final holder (with the Barbarian) of the US Tag Team Championship followed by time spent in Col. Robert Parker's Stud Stable and another tag title run with Bunkhouse Buck after a long feud with Harlem Heat. A back injury ended Slater's career in fall 1996. Amid years of personal problems, in 2004 he was convicted of stabbing an ex-girlfriend, later blaming a painkiller dependency, and was sentenced to a year of house arrest and two years' probation.

Jose Lothario (Guadalupe Robledo, 83, 11/6) was a star practically everywhere he went but established himself as one of the biggest names in Texas wrestling history. Having first won Mexico's Occidente heavyweight championship in 1954, he moved to Texas in 1957 and within two years was winning versions of the NWA tag titles. Through the next two decades he would hold a US championship somewhere, a major babyface draw in Florida and California and occasional partner of Mil Mascaras. His feud with Gino Hernandez, which ended with his winning a hair vs hair match in 1978, was one of the most high profile of the 1970s, and he was still a draw into the following decade during a run in WCCW. In 1996 he became Shawn Michaels' manager in WWF, having legitimately trained him at the outset of his career (as he did Tully Blanchard), and was in his corner as he won the title at Wrestlemania 12, a role he continued in until Royal Rumble 1997.

Larry Matysik (72, 11/25) was a promoter, booker and writer but will best be remembered as host and announcer of Wrestling At The Chase, the NWA TV outlet that ran from 1959 to 1983 on KPLR-TV of St Louis. Taped next door to the studio at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, it has been called one of wrestling's most significant and historic television programs. Matysik, who started as a wrestling magazine writer, joined the show in 1972, becoming right had man to NWA president Sam Muchnick at the same time, and also occasionally filled in on the AWA's television show. Spoken of at the time as in the same class as Gordon Solie and Lance Russell, he also became co-booker with Pat O'Connor at a moment when the introduction of the likes of Ric Flair, Bruiser Brody and the Von Erichs alongside local area greats Harley Race and Dick the Bruiser helped make the city maybe the key North American territory at the time. It declined steeply after Muchnick stepped down in 1982 and Matysik left a year later after a payoff dispute following a Flair vs Brody 2 out of 3 falls match that set the city's all time gate record. He and Brody set up a new promotion that did well but after KPLR cut their ties with the St Louis Wrestling Club WWF won the slot ahead of Matysik's offer so he went to work under Vince McMahon as a local go-between until 1991. He continued a local association, including booking and announcing for Illinois' SICW, until health issues at the end of last year. Dave Meltzer has said "as far as getting an education in pro wrestling, there has been nobody more valuable in my life".

Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington, 60, 12/5) was one of the most contentious workers of the modern era but also one of the most influential on the modern era and style of wrestling. One of those who elevated the concept of 'workrate' and the promotion of sub-200 pound workers, he used his initial British style training and what he learnt his travels to innovate a style that prized pace, athleticism and high spots alongside technical skill and aggression that sometimes slipped into stiffness. Debuting on World Of Sport in 1976 he quickly gained attention and titles, moving to Calgary in 1978 after being scouted for Stampede. His work against the Harts elevated his standing to where he was booked for a Japanese tour a year later followed by a four year run in New Japan from 1980. It was there that he had the feud which secured his reputation, a series of matches against Tiger Mask (who ironically had spent his excursion in the UK) that put Japanese junior heavyweight wrestling on the map with action ahead of its time. Dynamite never actually won any of Tiger Mask's titles, though they did meet for the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship (which was only generally defended in Japan) in April 1983, going to a draw three consecutive times, but the following February Billington finally won the title in a tournament.

One of his beaten opponents was Davey Boy Smith - Billington's father was Smith's mother's brother and they grew up about five miles apart, so it stood to reason that although Dynamite debuted for WWF teaming with Bret Hart in August 1984 the pair would team up shortly afterwards as the British Bulldogs. The team's first feud was against Bret and Neidhart's Hart Foundation, but at Wrestlemania II, accompanied by Captain Lou Albano and Ozzy Osbourne, they won the world tag team title from Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. Later in 1986 Dynamite suffered a serious back injury and after a lot of back and forth with Vince McMahon eventually agreed to drop the title to the Foundation in January 1987, Kid having checked himself out of hospital and barely able to walk.

His toughness was legendary, Randy Savage once hiring him as a bodyguard when he went drinking in a hotel bar used by the NWA roster, and that often extended to inside the ring - Mick Foley claimed Billington's clothesline once tore a ligament in his jaw - and backstage, a fight with Jacques Rougeau costing him four teeth and hastening his WWF departure at the end of 1988. Smith followed and the Bulldogs returned to Stampede, where they eventually split with Dynamite forming the British Bruisers with Johnny Smith against Davey Boy and a young wrestler who had idolized Dynamite, Chris Benoit. The pair also undertook several tours of All Japan but in 1990 Smith falsely told AJPW Billington had been in a serious car accident and withdrew them from dates so he could surreptitiously return to WWF, at the same time trademarking 'The British Bulldog' for himself. Kid and Johnny Smith would eventually take the All Asia Tag Team Championship but Dynamite would suddenly announce his retirement in December 1991. It didn't hold, as he returned in 1993 and worked his last match in Michinoku Pro in October 1997.

By that stage years of drug addiction (he claimed he was introduced to steroids in 1979) had caught up with him - having almost died twice due to LSD misadventures, his body had visibly withered and the day after that last match he suffered a major seizure and lost the use of his left leg, confining him to a wheelchair. To put it mildly Billington was not an easy man to get along with, breaking Bruce Hart's jaw and badly falling out with Stu Hart, but Bret would later call him "pound-for-pound the greatest wrestler who ever lived".

Larry 'The Axe' Hennig (82, 12/6) may have ended up better known for being the father of Curt (Mr Perfect) and the grandfather of Curtis Axel but he made a significant name for himself in the 1960s, entering the AWA under the tutelage of Verne Gagne. During an excursion to Texas he took up a more brutal style and won the state's Heavyweight Title. He also became friends with Harley Race and the pair formed a heel team on Hennig's return to Minneapolis, becoming the then youngest AWA World Tag Team champions ever in 1965 after beating Dick The Bruiser and The Crusher, with whom they would feud alongside Gagne over the course of that and their next two reigns. The pair split after Hennig suffered a knee injury and Race returned home to Kansas, and after later team-ups with Dusty Rhodes and Lars Anderson didn't work out Hennig moved into singles competition, turned face in 1974 and gained a nickname from his elbow drop finisher. Father and son teamed up in the AWA in the 1980s, having a brief NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship run in 1982 and feuding with a returning Race and the Road Warriors, before Larry retired in 1985. After his retirement Larry worked in real estate and accompanied his grandson, then half of Rybaxel, at the 2014 Elimination Chamber pre-show.

Other wrestling figures of note who died in 2018:

Mountain Fiji (real name Emily Dole, died aged 60 on 1/3) was the monster from Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the former Olympic shot put trialist's 350lb frame helping lead to many TV crossover appearances including picking up Bob Eubanks on a Card Sharks GLOW special.

Reginald Love (Johnny Evans, 90, 1/7) was, with Hartford Love, one half of the Canadian hippie Love Brothers team in the late 60s and into the 70s, such hated heels that one night in Akron, Ohio in 1971 a fan shot three times at them, luckily missing everyone.

Sahori (Maria Ramirez, 41, 1/25) also worked as Lady Ludxor or La Novia de la Parka in AAA from 1997 to 2002, then for CMLL from 2005 to 2009, before a long battle with cancer.

'Prince' Neff Maiava (93, 4/21) is credited as the first Samoan wrestling star, pioneering the hard headed Polynesian gimmick in the 1950s. An actual riot following a 1961 match between Maiava and Curtis Iaukea in Hawaii was a huge news story, maybe still the most famous bout ever on the island. The more famous Miavia (different spelling) family considered Neff a blood brother.

Big Bully Busick (Nick Busick, 63, 5/8), who lost a three year battle with esophageal cancer, was a competition powerlifter whose journeyman status was enlivened by a five month WWE run as a carnival strongman gimmick in 1991.

Arkangel de la Muerte (Alfredo Pasillas, 51, 6/13) held the CMLL welterweight title for seventeen months from 1999 and worked with some success across Japan, but his main legacy came as CMLL's head trainer from 2006 onwards, having a hand in the development of practically all the young talent that came through the promotion in recent years. He was so highly thought of that CMLL ran special shows to mark his 20th and 25th anniversaries.

El Egipcio (Jose Luis Hernandez, 61, 6/22) was a highly regarded, mostly rudo star in EMLL who had a run with what was then their top title, the Mexican national heavyweight champion, between April 1991 and June 1992. Mitsuharu Misawa chose him as one of four men to work with once he returned from a Mexican excursion to All Japan in 1984.

Nate The Rat (Nathaniel Whitlock, unknown, 7/6) was one of Memphis' best known managers, mostly for the USWA in Tennessee where his charges included Jerry Lawler and the future Undertaker.

Piratita Morgan (Raymondo Rodriguez, 49, 7/8) was one of the top rudo minis of the 1990s, working for both CMLL and AAA and achieving the main event spot at one of the three Triplemania shows in 1995 in a thirteen man steel cage mask match. He later appeared briefly in WCW, WWF and TNA.

Andre Carpentier (Jacques Magnin, 77, 7/8) made his name in France as Jackie Wiecz before a family connection to local legend Edouard Carpentier led to him moving to Montreal. A 1974 run in New Japan as Jacky Carpentier saw him beat a young Tatsumi Fujinami and work with Karl Gotch, and while in International Wrestling in 1980 he got involved in the first arena sellout Hogan vs Andre feud, having Hogan destroy him in order that Edouard could fail to get revenge and Andre then step forward for French pride.

Tracy Caddell (50, 7/28) co-founded the briefly hot OMEGA Wrestling in 1992 with Matt Hardy, helped train Lita, Joey Mercury and Hurricane Helms, and was father of Trevor Lee.

Brickhouse Brown (Frederick Seawright, 57, 7/29), who died of prostate cancer, had a big Memphis run as arrogant top heel in 1987 and briefly deprived Jerry Lawler of the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship. He later held heavyweight titles in Mid-South, Texas and the USWA, and was WWF TV enhancement talent.

Ian 'Doc' Dean (48, 8/14) was one of the UK's leading stars during the 1990s, initially teaming with Robbie Brookside as the Liverpool Lads, then signing to WCW after beating Jushin Liger and Chavo Guerrero Jr in 1997's Best of the Super Juniors, though he ended up working only as a jobber for them and retired a year later.

Chris Champion (Chris Ashford-Smith, 57, 8/22) was considered one of the US' best young talents in the late 80s but was never able to capitalize – he briefly held the NWA Florida Tag Team title as half of time travelers The New Breed and worked solo as The Karate Kid, Kawabunga the Ninja Turtle and for WCW as 'Asian' martial artist Yoshi Kwan.

Ed Cohen
(62, 8/25) was one of the key players behind the scenes in WWF's national expansion and subsequent growth as the person in charge of venue bookings and scheduling, eventually working his way up to Senior Vice President before retiring in 2005.

Lin Bairon (36, 8/30), who also worked masked as Ray, worked across the joshi promotions, mostly for Ice Ribbon, and teamed with Leon in SHIMMER (where opponents included Bayley, Allie and Mia Yim) until retiring in 2015 after being diagnosed with an eventually fatal brain tumor.

Nate Hatred (Nate Kehner, 39, 9/1), killed in a car accident, was a staple of CZW at its most hardcore, chiefly alongside Nick Gage in H8 Club, who won their tag titles three times and engaged in bloody feuds with the likes of the Briscoes and Jon Moxley; Hatred also worked as the company's trainer and appeared in The Wrestler as himself.

Mike Hogewood (63, 9/5) was best known as play-by-play announcer on NASCAR, ACC basketball and college football, but between 2009 and 2011 he was announcer for Ring of Honor's entire 100-show run on HDNet.

Frank Andersson (62, 9/9) won bronze for Sweden at the 1984 LA Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling and was a three time world champion; he toured New Japan in 1991, had a WWF tryout in 1993, then joined WCW for the next two years but only won squash matches and was dropped after being arrested on steroid charges.

Ben Justice (Jerry Maiburg, 81, 10/30) was a patriotic technician who held the NWA Detroit tag team titles seven times between 1969 and 1973 when the territory was at its hottest, but also also worked in West Texas as a heel before retiring in 1975.

Hombre Bala (Aurelio Ortiz Villavicencio, 65, 11/17) worked under many names - Monsther, Rey Pirata, Fantasma De La Opera, Cromagnon, Cavernicala II - in his 35 year career. A regular for EMLL from 1977 to 1979 and AAA from 1998 to 2010, he had his most success teaming with brothers Pirata Morgan and El Verdugo as Los Tres Bucaneros. As a singles worker he regularly lost hair matches in various promotions and guises, including to Chris Jericho in his first ever CMLL singles main event.

Peter William (Peter Koch, 83, 12/11) wrestled for thirty years across Europe and Australia but was best known for co-running the Catch Wrestling Association with Otto Wanz from 1984 until it closed in 1999 and for his commentary work on German TV, mostly the hugely popular WCW coverage.

Rene Lassartesse (Edouard Probst, 90, 12/12) was one of Europe's top heels, a Swiss-born, French-billed, German-based catch wrestling circuit regular from the mid-1950s to his 1986 full-time retirement who spent two years in America as German heel Ludvig van Krupp in the late 1950s.

Raul Mata (71, 12/19) still holds the record for the longest reign as Mexican national light heavyweight champion, from September 1969 to June 1972. Mostly working for EMLL, he was renowned as a great high-flyer for the time and was highly regarded in NWA Hollywood, where he won tag titles with six different partners between 1972 and 1976, and San Francisco, where he would sub-headline Cow Palace and main event lesser cities teaming with Pat Patterson.

The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Cageside Seats readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cageside Seats editors or staff.