All-Star Wrestling – 5 Unsung Heroes of Saturday Mornings Past

Let us take you back in time, back to when there was such a thing as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE, of course), which presented a weekly syndicated program that aired on Saturday mornings by the name of All-Star Wrestling.

Ring announcer Joe McHugh’s opening introductions are as iconic as some of the wrestlers with the promotion at the time.

[Bell rings five times]

“Ahhhh, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to All-Star Wrestling! Promoted by Phil Zacko, supervised by the State Atheletic (purposely misspelled) Commission, Zack Clayton is Chairman, Bob Patterson Secretary, the officials assigned by the State Atheletic Commission, the Chief Deputy Commissioner in charge Nick Santoro, the doctor in attendance at ringside Doctor George Zahorian, the timekeeper at the bell Mike Mitman, the referees for this hour of wrestling, Wee Willie Weber, Dick Woehrle, and Mario Fornini, aaaand my name is Jooooeee McHugh! The opening contest is a…”

Those of a certain age who experienced these sacred Saturday mornings each week likely read that in the unmistakable voice of one Mr. Joe McHugh. Or, perhaps, you remember with fondness the equally captivating introduction from one Mr. Gary Michael Cappetta.

WWWF / WWF All-Star Wrestling – A Snapshot to Saturday Mornings Past

The term “suspension of disbelief” is used these days to describe how a great match made us temporarily forget that the two participants were probably at Denny’s an hour later, ordering the lumberjack slam. This term did not exist on Saturday morning. Suspension of disbelief? How about the suspension of the rest of the world and anything in it! While watching All-Star Wrestling, there could have been a mushroom cloud forming outside, but I wasn’t going anywhere until the next commercial break. For the next sixty minutes, I was going to — and to quote Steppenwolf — go on a Magic Carpet Ride.

All-Star Wrestling - 5 Unsung Heroes of Saturday Mornings Past
[Photo: WWE Network]
If you didn’t grow up with this Saturday morning experience, you have our most heartfelt condolences. Through the magic of YouTube and the WWE Network, many All-Star Wrestling episodes are available for your viewing pleasure. And while I still watch them with great joy and still feel those pangs of nostalgia, the magical feeling experienced as a youth is now just a part of a long-ago past. Time somewhat jades our innocence, but it will always be a part of you when you love something that deeply.

 

All-Star Wrestling was a staple of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and later the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Running from October 2nd, 1971, through August 30th, 1986, WWWF / WWF All-Star Wrestling aired weekly from the Field House in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, and then aired on local television throughout the New York territory.

Vince McMahon alongside Antonino Rocco on September 13th, 1975's edition of All-Star Wrestling.
Vince McMahon alongside Antonino Rocco on September 13th, 1975’s edition of All-Star Wrestling. [Photo: WWE Network]
The host was, of course, Vince McMahon. The co-hosts varied, but always with McMahon at the helm. One of my favorite co-hosts was the great Antonina Rocca. He always thanked McMahon for the “beautiful bouquet of wrestling,” adding, “I’m gonna take my shoes off.”

 

I do think the WWWF blew a huge opportunity to cross-promote with Dr. Scholl’s Foot Powder, with the great Rocca as the spokesperson.

The format was relatively constant throughout the history of the show. The matches were largely non-competitive, pitting a main event star (or a new star needing a ‘push’) against a lower card wrestler. I think the term ‘jobber’ is very disrespectful. Even the term ‘enhancement talent’ rings hollow to me. All of these men were WRESTLERS. Each had a job to do, and they all did their jobs extraordinarily well.

Interviews were an integral part of the show. Usually, the villains came out first. Their role was to look menacing while one of the managers’ triumvirate (Captain Lou Albano, Classy Freddie Blassie, and The Grand Wizard) did most of the talking. When the menacing-looking villain was done looking menacing, and his loquacious manager had sufficiently outlined their diabolical plans, the humble yet confident babyface had his turn. He assured the fans that no matter how many men that villain had defeated and hurt and how bleak the outcome looked, justice would prevail, and good would triumph over evil.

The purpose of the matches and the interviews were identical: to generate interest in the upcoming Madison Square Garden card (or Boston Garden, Baltimore Civic Center, etc.)

In retrospect, Vince and crew were consummate salesmen. Before the advent of social media or cable, the sole means of generating revenue for professional wrestling was ticket sales. McMahon et al. were the ultimate masters, getting middle-class America (or at least the Eastern part of it) to part with their hard-earned money and purchase a ticket to their local arena.

There was a marvelous book written by Roger Kahn in 1972, entitled The Boys of Summer, depicting the illustrious history of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. There was also a song of the same name, performed (in 1984) by Don Henley of Eagles fame. If the Brooklyn Dodgers were The Boys of Summer, then the heroes in this story surely must be The Men of Saturday Morning.

All-Star Wrestling – The Men of Saturday Morning

The following is a short bio of several legendary, unsung figures of All-Star Wrestling. Those not included were not omitted purposely, but just for the sake of brevity.

1. Dominic DeNucci

Dominic DeNucci was a mainstay of WWWF Television for many years.

Dominic DeNucci and Dino Bravo as the WWWF World Tag Team Champions back in 1978.

Dominic captured the WWWF tag team title on two occasions: with Victor Rivera (who was replaced by Irish Pat Barrett after leaving the territory) and Dino Bravo. However, Dominic captured many singles/tag team titles worldwide, including the IWA (Australia) World Championship on four occasions.

For more information on the great career of Mr. DeNucci, be sure not to miss my recent article entitled Dominic DeNucci – Wrestling’s Shining Light.

2. Davey O’Hannon

Davey O’Hannon was truly Kansas City’s finest, by way of New Jersey.

Davey O’Hannon - Journeyman Brawler With a Ph.D. in Wrestling
Davey O’Hannon.

Mr. O’Hannon was a very frequent visitor of living rooms across New England in the mid-’70s. With his cocky strut, kelly green jacket, and omnipresent smug look when announced, Davey was the master of ring psychology.

Although Davey is known primarily for his WWWF work, he had extensive experience in the territories, capturing the NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Championship.

O’Hannon is universally respected throughout the business for his work ethic, as well as his uncanny ability to deliver a quality and entertaining match every time he stepped in the ring.

I must digress for a moment, as Davey and I have something in common. Both of us had to part with our precious collection of wrestling magazines due to childhood folly. In Davey’s case, it was poor grades in school. For yours truly, it was a poorly executed Boston Crab on my younger brother Jim. Tearing up my wrestling treasures was, at that point, the worst moment in the then brief history of my life. In retrospect, if given a choice between this punishment and giving up a body part, I would be the immensely proud owner of one helluva magazine collection, sans a limb or two.

There is a wonderful article on Davey O’Hannon, written by my friend Javier Ojst, entitled Davey O’Hannon – Journeyman Brawler With a Ph.D. in Wrestling, also on this website, that I highly recommend.

3. Baron Mikel Scicluna

I am not sure if the words exist to describe how much I enjoyed watching Baron Mikel Scicluna in action.

Baron Mikel Scicluna.
Baron Mikel Scicluna. [Photo: WWE.com]
How many times did we hear “from the Isle of Malta, weighing two hundred and seventy pounds, Baron Meegel Seecluna!” from the iconic voice of Joe McHugh? The great Baron was always there, looking menacingly at the camera, with a permanent scowl, an ever-present resplendent red robe adorned with the Maltese cross, with arms stretched wide like a majestic bird about to take flight. From everything I have heard, both from fans and fellow wrestlers, Mr. Scicluna was a wonderful man, father, and husband.

4. Johnny Rodz

“The Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz hailed from The Bronx. Much like the butler from the movie Mr. Deeds, Johnny was EVERYWHERE. Whether it be All-Star Wrestling, Championship Wrestling, or at just about every Madison Square Garden card, Johnny never failed to put on an exciting and competitive match.

"The Unpredictable" Johnny Rodz.
“The Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz.

Johnny spent most of his career in the New York territory, excepting his time in Los Angeles as the wild and virtually unbeatable Java Ruuk.

In the words of his longtime friend Davey O’Hannon, “Johnny was the gold standard. He could have been a main eventer anywhere he chose.”

After his lengthy career, Johnny Rodz became a trainer out of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. His list of trainees is like a 7-year old’s Christmas list, but to name a few: Tazz, Bill DeMott, Vito LoGrasso, Damien Demento, Tommy Dreamer, Matt Striker, Big Cass, Marti Belle, Bubby Ray, and D-Von Dudley.

5. Special Delivery Jones

No Saturday morning discussion would be complete without including Special Delivery Jones.

S.D. Jones.
S.D. Jones. [Photo: WWE.com]
Like Mr. Rodz, you rarely watched a card without seeing an S.D. Jones match. Although his top rivals were Rodz and Baron Scicluna, Jones wrestled virtually every top heel in the WWWF.

 

As a youth, I was puzzled by the fact that he was alternately announced as being from Philadelphia and Antigua in the British West Indies. I always thought that he must be exhausted from all that flying back and forth.

My youth is so much richer with the memories of these men filling my television screen on Saturday morning. As we get older, we tend to reminisce more and more about our younger days. I often fantasize about being in a time machine and the many places and times I would revisit. I can state with absolute certainty that one of my first stops would be in front of my TV so that I could watch The Men of Saturday Morning in real-time, one more time.

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Benny J. Scala
Benny J. Scala is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as co-host for the Wrestling With The Future podcast. Benny works as a Senior Specialist for a major consumer finance organization, and has been a fan of professional wrestling since the late sixties. He can be reached by email at bennyjscala@yahoo.com.