Michael Penzel died yesterday morning of a heart attack at 64 years old. He’s best known in the United States for his WWF run around 1985 to 1987 as Corporal Kirchner.
Vince McMahon needed a replacement on the WWF roster for Sgt. Slaughter, who left the promotion at the end of 1984 after McMahon told Slaughter he couldn’t take a deal with Hasbro to be a part of the G.I. Joe line. At the time, Penzel was wrestling in WWF as a jobber under the name RT Reynolds. McMahon found out that Penzel previously served in the army, and soon after Vince turned him into Corporal Kirchner.
Here’s a video introducing the gimmick, where his camouflage goes completely undetected by Mean Gene Okerlund. Note how Okerlund, ever the pro, gently points towards the camera to remind Kirchner where he needs to be looking while he speaks:
As you might expect from that gimmick, Kirchner was the all-American patriotic babyface who was paired up against foreign heels. He defeated Nikolai Volkoff in a Flag match at WrestleMania 2. That was his most notable win, and his push waned shortly thereafter.
Penzel moved on to find much more longevity and success in Japan under the ring names Leatherface and Super Leather, competing in promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling, IWA Japan, and FMW. He maintained a regular presence in the wrestling scene there until 2002.
On a personal note, when I was growing up as a wrestling fan in the 1980’s, my parents would occasionally buy some of those LJN figures for me and my older brother. My brother had a decent head start on me and had some of the more popular figures like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Roddy Piper. But I had some of the other wrestlers like Outback Jack, Ted Arcidi, and Corporal Kirchner, and even though they were a couple years before my time, I was thrilled nonetheless and had a ton of fun playing with these toys.
That’s just one minor note on the memories that come to mind when I think of Corporal Kirchner. So feel free to follow suit and share with us in the comments below some of your memories and thoughts on his wrestling career. And please join the Cageside Seats staff in sending our condolences to the family and friends of Michael Penzel.