In memoriam: Wrestlers we lost, April to June 2021


Continuing where the January to March 2021 obituary list - including Jim Crockett, Butch Reed, Bobby Davis and Jocephus - left off, we remember whose who passed in the second quarter of this year.

Jack Veneno (Rafael Sánchez; Apr. 6; 78) was victor in one of the most infamous ghost title changes. Challenging Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in his home base of Dominican Republic capital Santo Domingo in September 1982, the match was supposed to end in a sixty minute draw but the fans had built up such an intimidatory atmosphere - the Palacio de los Deportes Virgilio Travieso Soto held 10,000 but estimates of the actual crowd size are somewhere between 11,000 and 16,500 - that Flair called an audible and had Veneno win. All known video of the event is edited and inconclusive, and it's not helped that Flair claims he failed to raise his arm three times while in a sleeper hold whereas what footage we have suggests it was a clean pin from a piledriver. Regardless, Veneno celebrated but the title change was never officially recognized. Hugo Savinovich, who worked for WWC before becoming WWE's Spanish announcer, has said "if the ring announcer told the truth, that Veneno hadn’t won, people would die. Everyone, even the athletic commissioners, believed that they had seen a legitimate wrestling match."

Flair returned a month later and depending on who you believe - there's even less footage of this match - either Roddy Piper interference forced a DQ finish or Veneno rolled Flair up, again on a late call. It was subsequently announced that Veneno had not wanted to leave the country to defend the title so had agreed to hand it back. Veneno was an enormous star domestically, top name on the local TV programme Lucha Libre Internacional for decades, possibly because he owned the promotion Dominicana de Espectaculos, holding both the Light Heavyweight Championship and Dominican Wrestling Federation's Heavyweight Championship six times. In retirement he served as the nation's Vice-Minister of Sports between 2007 and 2012, and a statue was erected of him in 2019.

John Da Silva (Apr. 8; 86) was New Zealand's top face from the late 1960s through the 1970s. A former freestyle wrestler who represented his country in the 1956 Olympics, he started his in-ring career in the UK billed as a Maori, styled after actual Samoan international star Neff Maiava, and main evented a Royal Albert Hall show in 1963. Having worked around the world, including a long unbeaten streak in Ontario, he returned home in 1967 and instantly got a push, winning the country's top title the NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship six times between 1968 and his retirement in 1977.

Sergio el Hermoso (Sergio Sarabia; May 13; 74) was a pioneer for Mexican exoticos. He did most of his work with El Bello Greco (father of Super Calo) as the team La Ola Lila, formed in 1975 and taking after huge exotico star Adorable Rubi. Putting on every stereotypically effeminate characteristic, up to prancing when Irish whipped, they became the biggest tag draws in the country after finding their way into the UWA and were the childhood heroes of the next great exotico Pimpinela Escarlata. Their high point was beating Babe Face and Scorpio in a hair vs hair match in front of a 26,000 gate at Palacio de los Deportes in September 1978, on a card headlined by the legendary El Santo vs Bobby Lee mask match. The pair left the UWA in 1984, teaming with Rubi on the independents, and broke up in 1986, leading to a hair match that Sergio lost.

New Jack (Jerome Young; May 14; 58) was an infamous and controversial figure even among those who worked for ECW and in the hardcore scene. The legacy, the stories, the blood and arrests - all are well told from a unique era about a man dangerous in many ways. Taking his ring name from the movie New Jack City, Young's career began in the USWA in 1992, where he won the tag titles, before claiming the heavyweight title in Atlanta's North Georgia Wrestling Alliance. It was there he formed the Gangstas with Mustafa Saed, but they didn't unlock their potential for heat until working under Jim Cornette for Smoky Mountain Wrestling, infuriating the southern crowd with hot topic race-baiting promos, using fried chicken and watermelons as props and insisting their matches be won by two count.

The team moved on to ECW in June 1995 and debuted by attacking Public Enemy, trading wins until emerging victorious in a street fight at the House Party supercard at the start of 1996. A feud with the Headhunters turned the Gangstas face and they eventually claimed the belts in a four-way dance at June's The Doctor Is In. It was while they held the titles that Eric Kulas, claiming to be a trained wrestler called Mass Transit, volunteered to stand in for a missing Axl Rotten and team with D-Von Dudley against the Gangstas at a show in Revere, Massachusetts in November 1996. Requesting New Jack blade him, the incision was so deep it severed two arteries. Kulas was hospitalized and required fifty stitches, New Jack was arrested on an aggravated assault charge, later acquitted both by police and when Kulas attempted to sue.

The Gangstas lost the tag titles back to the Eliminators at the start of 1997, and though they beat the Dudley Boyz in a steel cage at the Heat Wave PPV Saed left the company immediately afterwards. New Jack instead formed The Gangstanators with former Eliminator John Kronus, claiming the titles from the Dudleyz at September's As Good As It Gets but losing them to the Full Blooded Italians six weeks later. 1998 was spent feuding with the Dudleyz and Jack losing to Bam Bam Bigelow at Wrestlepalooza. As the Gangstanators faded away Jack established his singles persona, bringing a garbage can full of weapons to the ring and having his entrance music, Natural Born Killaz by Ice Cube and Dr Dre, play throughout his matches. The Dudleyz feud continued into 1999, including Saed returning and turning on Jack, who beat him at Living Dangerously. Jack and the Hardcore Chair Swingin' Freaks lost a War Games-like Ultimate Jeopardy match to Mustafa and the Dudleys at Cyberslam but Jack ended the show diving off the cage to splash Mustafa through a table. After failing to win Mike Awesome's world title The Spanish Angel stapled Jack in the eye, giving him a break followed by a feud with Angel's Da Baldies sect into 2000. It was at the Living Dangerously PPV in Danbury where Jack and Da Baldies' Vic Grimes fell fifteen feet from a scaffold. Grimes had been dragged down by Jack, who missed the tables set up for landing on and instead hit the concrete floor with Grimes landing on Jack's head. Jack suffered brain damage, a broken leg, a skull fracture and lost sight in one eye, but still turned up at Hardcore Heaven two months later to attack the team, perform a balcony dive onto Tony DeVito and beat Angel in an impromptu match. New Jack finally won the feud in his final ECW match that December.

After ECW closed Jack stopped off in XPW and came across Vic Grimes again. Holding a grudge, it's said, over Grimes not contacting him over the injury, he ended a February 2002 scaffold match by shocking his opponent with a taser before throwing him off a forty foot scaffold, missing nearly all of the stacked tables. Grimes was saved by hitting the ropes on the way down, Jack later claiming he was aiming for the steel turnbuckle. (As with much of Jack's mythology the truth behind the tale is debatable, especially as the pair had already had a match in XPW in which Jack performed a balcony dive onto Grimes which went smoothly; closer inspection suggests Grimes threw himself off)

2003 saw Jack work for TNA in hardcore matches, appear at CZW's Cage Of Death V and no-sell the entire offence of 69 year old Gypsy Joe in a hardcore match, shoot attacking him with chains and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire before the promoter stopped the match on hearing that police had been called, Jack escaping in the trunk of a friend's car. A year later, surprised by Hunter Lane shoot punching him repeatedly in the face, he pulled out a blade and stabbed Lane nine times in the head, leading to his being charged with aggravated assault and spending three weeks in jail before charges were dropped. Jack announced his retirement in 2008, bar a run-in at 2010's Hardcore Justice (he had appeared at another ECW reunion show, Hardcore Homecoming, in 2005), but returned in 2016 and worked his last match this April, itself a month after he was featured on Dark Side Of The Ring.

Michel Longtin (May 14; 77) was a PR man in the entertainment industry who somehow became part of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's entourage for their 1969 Montreal Bed-In and supposedly joined in the chorus on the recording of Give Peace A Chance. He was also a launch partner of Quebec's Grand Prix promotion, with Maurice 'Mad Dog' Vachon and Edouard Carpentier among others, working on the public relations side as it vied for area superiority with the Rougeaus' All-Star Wrestling. Drawing nearly 30,000 in July 1973 for a card headed by Vachon vs Killer Kowalski, the promotion closed in 1975. Longtin remained Vachon's manager until his client's 1986 retirement.

Don Kernodle (Charles Kernodle; May 17; 71) worked his way up the cards of Jim Crockett Promotions and became a useful heel tag wrestler in the 1980s. Kernodle, a successful college amateur wrestler, got his start in JCP in 1973 after accepting a shoot challenge from former Olympic Greco-Roman competitor Bob Roop, losing but impressing Ole and Gene Anderson so much they offered to train him for free. He hung around the Mid-Atlantic mid-card for many years, making regular visits to Georgia Championship Wrestling and NWA Western States plus a tour of All Japan in 1978, before being enlisted into Sgt. Slaughter's Cobra Corps in 1982 with Pvt. Jim Nelson, the future Boris Zhukov. Kernodle and Nelson won the NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Championship twice that year, and when Nelson moved on Kernodle and Slaughter started teaming and formed an innovative partnership that many who were around claim as one of the great heel teams. They won, or more likely were given, the NWA World Tag Team Championship in September 1982, vacated due to Stan Hansen's Japanese commitments, and held them until March 1983 when Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood ended a long angle by winning "The Final Conflict", a steel cage match in Greensboro, North Carolina which has been called the biggest match in the state's history. The Greensboro Coliseum sold out at 16,000 with a reported 6,000 more turned away; a rematch at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, also in a cage, drew a more than capacity 19,800.

Kernodle briefly followed Slaughter to WWE but returned to take Maple Leaf Wrestling's NWA Canadian Television Championship in October 1983 and hold it for eight months. January 1984 saw him win the NWA World Tag Team titles again with Bob Orton Jr., keeping them for two months, then again in May with Ivan Koloff, this time for five months as part of an anti-American faction part of which involved Don training Ivan's "nephew" Nikita Koloff. After the team lost the world titles the Koloffs turned on Kernodle and "injured" him; Don brought in his actual brother Rocky for the feud and helped the Rock 'n' Roll Express win the tag titles from the Russians at Starrcade '85. Kernodle left the NWA in 1986 and made the occasional independent appearance, wrestling into the 2000s for CWF Mid-Atlantic.

Deepak Singh (Deepak Massand; May 23; 78) was a well known face in Canada who spent time as Abdullah the Butcher's manager. Born in Pakistan and moving to Montreal in the late 1960s, his first gimmick in 1971 was as the Sheik, a deliberate move as he was brought in by Paul Vachon in a mirror of how local rivals the Rougeaus had used the original Sheik, Ed Farhat. Rougeau's complaints to the local Athletic Commission ended that spell and he became Tiger Deepak Singh, working in Quebec and Calgary where he trained with Stu Hart. Singh took his first steps into management with The Great Antonio in Japan, being his second in the famous match with Antonio Inoki that turned into a shoot, and began associating with a face Abdullah in 1985, but this doesn't appear to have lasted beyond his turn back in 1987. Singh later became involved in local politics, going on hunger strike to protest the 1990 Oka Crisis.

Paul Christy (Paul Christerson; May 24; 82) was a well traveled NWA mid-carder who fell in with the Poffos' International Championship Wrestling. Named Rookie of the Year by local Chicago fans in 1960, Christy toured the territories from Texas to Arizona, winning the Gulf Coast and Southern Tag Team titles in Alabama as Ken Lucas' kayfabe brother Chris, then held the WWA tag titles back in Chicago with Wilbur Snyder, Moose Cholak and Roger Kirby between 1971 and 1979. Along the way he became close to Angelo Poffo and later his son Randy Savage, being best man at his and Elizabeth's actual wedding in 1984. By the 1980s Christy's wife, fellow wrestler Bunny Burmeister, was at his side as he worked heel consistently for the first time, claiming ICW's Heavyweight Championship in November 1983, one of only two wrestlers from outside the family (Ronnie Garvin was the other) to hold the title. After ICW was wound up in 1984 Christy opened a new promotion under the same name and ran it until late in the decade with little success, while occasionally turning up in WWF on jobber duty before retiring to follow his other love and become a stage magician.

Tony Marino (Tony Silipini; May 28; 90) was a reliable hand for WWWF and NWA who became most famous in Pittsburgh as a copyright-baiting caped crusader. A respected weightlifter and Mr. America runner-up in 1956, he began wrestling for NWF in New York later that same year and found his way to WWWF in 1963. As the Batman television series was a huge hit in 1966 he became Battman, with appropriate mask and custom-made outfits, becoming hugely popular through the Studio Wrestling TV show in occasional tag partner Bruno Sammartino's Pittsburgh promotion. As Marino, he and Victor Rivera claimed the WWWF International Tag Team Championship in December 1969 and held it until June 1970 when the Mongols ended their undefeated streak at Madison Square Garden. Cape long since abandoned, Marino left WWWF in 1972 and set off on the NWA territory tour, finding most success in Detroit through a two year feud with Killer Tim Brooks and winning its version of the world tag titles seven times between 1972 and 1974 with Fred Curry and Bobo Brazil. Marino continued wrestling until 1987. Lady Frost, who has appeared on AEW Dark and NWA Powerrr, is his granddaughter.

Angel o Demonio (Hector Perez; June 5; 56) wrestled from 1987 to this May, having been a member of the thug-like Los Porros stable which mostly worked the indies but formed in AAA in 2003. His name is however usually recognized for a single shocking incident at a PALL show at Arena Lopez Mateos, Tlalnepantla on November 19th 2018. During a hardcore match against El Cuervo, Angel o Demonio threw a cinder block from the ring to the floor which hit Cuervo in the back of the head, giving him a fractured skull and epidural hematoma (he was out of action for a year; you may have seen him on AEW Dark last December) Although reportedly suspended by the Mexico State commission, Angel o Demonio was back wrestling elsewhere in the country within a month, both on the back of the resulting infamy and because he was so well liked backstage that his colleagues refused to believe he could be so callous.

Jonathan Barber (June 14; 34) was best known as a referee for Chikara and CZW. He also worked behind the scenes, mostly in a digital copyright protection role, for PWG, WWN, Highspots, Kayfabe Commentaries and Extreme Rising, and made the first two volumes of the Botchamania series (Maffew took over from the fourth)

Melissa Coates (June 23; 50) mostly worked the indies both as herself and as Super Genie, valet of her partner Sabu. A junior tennis champion in her native Canada, Coates moved into bodybuilding, finishing ninth in the 1996 IFBB Ms Olympia contest, and then appeared in two seasons of GSN's Extreme Dodgeball series. She was signed by WWE in 2004 and assigned to OVW, becoming "head of security" for Kenny Bolin's stable and then Jillian Hall's bodyguard who attacked people with rubbing alcohol. Her only main roster appearance was an unsuccessful attempt to break Chris Masters' Master Lock at Backlash 2005. Coates moved to fellow developmental territory DSW in 2006 initially as The Bag Lady, a homeless woman who became the valet of The Freakin' Deacon (Doc Gallows), though this period will best be remembered for her role in the "jelly donut" story that helped get Bill DeMott fired as head developmental trainer a decade later. Coates left DSW in 2007, appearing in WSU, becoming the last NWA/GCW Women's Champion and, working for California's Big Time Wrestling in 2008, being Bayley's first opponent. She started accompanying Sabu in 2014 until she lost her left leg due to blood clots last November.

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