Many of the wrestlers we saw in the squared circle during the WWWF era disappeared after an appearance or two. Sometimes, after a couple of months. And, in very rare circumstances, after a year or so. But then there was the great Baron Mikel Scicluna!
“In the corner to my left, from the Isle of Malta, weighing 275 pounds, Baron Mee-gel See-cluna!'”
– Joe McHugh
For many of us, the inimitable voice of Joe McHugh was THE sound of Saturday morning. For those of us who lived and breathed professional wrestling at the time, for the next sixty minutes, the world as we knew it existed solely on that television set a few feet away.
There could be a Category 5 hurricane, a five-alarm fire, or an enemy invasion right outside our front door. But nothing could detract us from cheering our babyface favorites on to victory while simultaneously wishing that the Sewers of Rangoon had backed up into the villains’ breakfasts.
The physique was tall and lean, almost Clydesdale-esque.
Then there was the omnipresent scowl.
While raising his arms, the purple robe bearing the Maltese Cross was magnified and showcased his enormous reach. The man’s wingspan was so massive the robe easily could have been emblazoned with the words “Air Malta.”
Baron Mikel Scicluna was present in our lives month after month, year after year, and decade after decade.
Baron Mikel Scicluna – A Great Enigma
The great Baron has always been an enigma to true old-school wrestling fans; there have been many unanswered questions in the minds of those of us who grew up watching the great Baron scowl and prowl.
Although we were pretty acquainted with the character we saw in our living room, there was very little we knew about the man named Mikel Scicluna.
In direct contrast to most of the heels of his era, Scicluna eschewed the managerial services of Lou Albano, The Grand Wizard, and Fred Blassie. A Baron Scicluna promo was as rare as a February cookout in Minneapolis.
The Baron’s son Mike was a recent guest on Dan and Benny In the Ring. Mike spoke at great length about the life and times of his father.
One question that has haunted me for over a half-century was Mr. Scicluna’s origins. Was he indeed from Malta? Was his name Mikel Scicluna or Mike Valentino (the name he used when he started wrestling in the late 1950s)?
“He was from a little town in the middle of Malta called Birkirkara,” Mike offered as an exclusive scoop on his father.
“He was born there, spent most of his childhood there, and went through the war.
“They just tried to stay fed; they were at war with the Germans on the island. The Germans continually bombed them; it was quite a childhood growing up.
“He was always active in sports in gyms and things like that, though. But yes, he was from Malta.”
Early Career as Mike Valentino
In professional wrestling, Mikel Scicluna (this was indeed his real name) was the real deal.
He initially wrestled as Mike Valentino in Canada in the late 1950s, alternating between the Toronto and Stampede Wrestling promotions.
He then moved to the NWA San Francisco territory, where he tasted wrestling gold for the first time when, on August 23, 1958, he captured the NWA World Tag Team Titles (San Francisco version) with Gene Dubuque.
After a brief stint in California, Scicluna returned to Canada, where he wrestled for most of the early 1960s, still as Mike Valentino.
However, that changed on November 4, 1965, when the wrestling world was introduced to Baron Mikel Scicluna.
Becoming a Baron
As Baron Mikel Scicluna, he ran roughshod over the always tough Tomas Marin at the National Arena in Washington, D.C. This marked his debut for the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF).
The Baron plowed through the competition for the remainder of the year, gaining wins over Steve Stanlee, Chief Big Heart, Chief White Owl, and a pinfall victory over Waldo Von Erich at Madison Square Garden.
The list of professional wrestlers who have pinned Von Erich (who are not named Sammartino) is small indeed. This victory propelled him to the number one contender’s slot.
On January 24, 1966, Baron Mikel Scicluna faced Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship in the main event at Madison Square Garden.
Bruno won the match via disqualification at 25:47, when one of Bruno’s errant kicks (to escape the Baron’s Hangman’s Hold) connected with the referee, who attributed fault to the challenger.
Please let that sink in for a moment. Baron Mikel Scicluna was the number one challenger to arguably the greatest champion the wrestling world has ever known.
In their initial encounter, he not only took the winner to his limits but had him in his submission hold.
The match was given close to a half-hour, which in 2022 would be considered a triathlon. The fact that he was neither pinned nor submitted speaks volumes about his status with the company.
Scicluna would venture to Australia in 1968, winning the International Wrestling Alliance (IWA) World Heavyweight Championship (Australia) on June 15, defeating The Golden Greek, Spiros Arion (or Spirius Arias, if you are Ernie Ladd) in Sydney, New South Wales.
Scicluna held the title for 63 days before dropping the belt to Australian Hearthrob Mario Milano.
After losing the singles title, Scicluna teamed with Ciclon Negro; the two wasted no time capturing the IWA World Tag Team Championships, triumphing over Milano and fellow heartthrob Dominic DeNucci.
After a very successful stay in the Land Down Under, Scicluna traveled back to his home away from home, the WWWF, where he would stay for the rest of his career.
Baron Mikel Scicluna was booked strong in the early 1970s, capturing the WWWF World Tag Team Titles with King Curtis Iaukea in February 1972.
On June 2, 1976, Baron was set to face Monsoon in a televised match in Philadelphia. To the utter amazement of everyone in attendance, an additional combatant entered the ring. No, this was not Frankie Williams, nor Sylvano Souza, not even Basil Batah. Instead, it was none other than the self-proclaimed “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali.
Baron judiciously exited the ring as Ali shot some jabs in the general direction of a very perturbed Monsoon. Finally, the Gorilla went ape, hoisting The Great One into an Airplane Spin. It was, of course, to support the upcoming Showdown At Shea event, where Ali was facing Antonio Inoki in a boxer versus wrestler match.
One of the most sobering dynamics in professional sports is the eventual decline of the giants who participate in them. Tom Brady aside, this decline is inevitable, and no athlete is exempt unless they retire in their prime.
Greats like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Peyton Manning endured disappointing seasons late in their careers. The same rings true of Baron Mikel Scicluna, who certainly does not warrant the condescending term “jobber.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to the glorious sport of wrestling that we love so much, in many cases, our perspective is framed by the point in time when we became fans.
As time marched on, the Baron’s place on the card slowly descended. By the late 1970s, he was wrestling the likes of Frankie Williams and Steve King in preliminary matches.
In the case of the Baron, many wrestling fans came of age in the early ’80s, when the Man from Malta was winding down a long and illustrious career.
At this point, Scicluna was routinely dropping matches to the likes of Special Delivery Jones, Mac Rivera, and Salvatore Bellomo. Although Scicluna had eclipsed the half-century mark by then, he was still in great shape and always wrestled a competitive match.
In 1982, his last full year of wrestling, Baron Mikel Scicluna wrestled in 188 matches, per WrestlingData.com. (Author’s note: In all likelihood, this total is significantly higher, as many house shows are not captured).
Scicluna’s last recorded WWF match was on July 22, 1983, a no-contest with Chief Jay Strongbow at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. The day before, he defeated The Beast in Struthers, Ohio, just eight days shy of his 54th birthday.
Mikel Scicluna, the Dad
In his appearance on Dan and Benny In The Ring, we learned much more about Mikel Scicluna, the man, through Baron’s son Mike. For example, Scicluna was an imposing police officer in Malta before relocating to North America. How about Mikel Scicluna, the Dad?
“Wrestling was his world. He enjoyed what he did and was an excellent provider. He was just a good dad, a good guy.”
Mike continued, “He couldn’t be home as much as I think he would have liked. Dad would be interested in anything I was.
“If I were tearing the motor out of a car in the garage, he’d come in and didn’t have a clue what he was doing but wanted to help me.
“We were remodeling a basement, and I had a couple of friends to help us out; they were good at various trades. I had a pickup truck with big tires lifted way off the ground and a manual transmission. He couldn’t drive a manual transmission to save himself, but down the road he went, grinding the gears, and we got a kick out of him.
“He enjoyed being home. Just a really good man.”
Several of Mikel Scicluna’s friends weighed in as well.
"I love Mike Scicluna,” WWE Hall of Famer (Class of 1996) Johnny Rodz shared with me over the phone on Easter Sunday 2022.
“He, Dominic, Bruno, and Davey; were more than friends. We were family. We all traveled the roads together. I miss Mike, and I wish he were still here with us."
Tony Vellano, the founder of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, expressed to me by text, “What a true legend of the Golden Era. I was proud to have him attend the PWHF Induction Weekends and even more proud to be able to call him a friend.”
Davey O’Hannon added, “Mike and his wife Gloria were like a part of our family. I was a fan before entering the biz.
“As a kid, I hated Mike,” O’Hannon continued. “He was trying to beat my idol, Bruno. When I finally got in, I met Mike, ‘the real person,’ not the Baron.
“Our first alone time was a return road trip from North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Mike told me about growing up in Malta and how WWII affected his life, almost starving when the island was [attacked].
“We became close personal friends, and when Mike quit wrestling, I was the Business Agent for the New York Newspaper Drivers’ Union. I got Mike in with the New York Times, and he had a great job with all the benefits.
“We spoke the evening before his passing when he called me to say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I had ever experienced. I loved Mike. There will never be someone like him again.”
Clearly, the praises from his son, peers, and friends say it all.
In-ring Mikel Scicluna may have been a dastardly Baron, but he was undoubtedly a prince of a man.
You can hear the wonderful interview with Baron Mikel Scicluna’s son Mike in full below:
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