When Gorilla Monsoon appeared on WWF TV for the very last time at WrestleMania 15 in March of 1999, I didn’t react well.
"NO!" I thought to myself. "Tell me that’s not him!"
But it was.
"The Manchurian Giant," by way of Willingboro, New Jersey, had wasted away to almost nothing. You didn’t need a medical degree to know it was the end.
This piece was originally published in the 1999 edition of Evan Ginzburg’s now-defunct ‘Wrestling- Then & Now’ annual. This is the first time this article is available in digital form.
"The Manchurian Giant" Gorilla Monsoon
A common discussion on wrestling pages is: "Who was your first favorite wrestler?" For me, it was "The Manchurian Giant," ironically out of New Jersey, Gorilla Monsoon.
Although he certainly deserved that one last pop from the crowd back in March of ’99, I selfishly didn’t want to remember him that way. But when I heard about his death, I also recalled some of the great moments of seeing him live. These are but a few:
June 24th, 1974 – Madison Square Garden. Gorilla Monsoon vs. The Giant Baba. Both men were incredibly large for those pre-steroid wrestling monster days. I will never forget them on their knees, chopping each other across the chest, selling like crazy, and feigning imminent collapse. I don’t remember who won. It really doesn’t matter.
June 25th, 1976 – Shea Stadium. Andre the Giant vs. Chuck Wepner. Boxer vs. Wrestler. The Daily News described it best. "Leering like a monster kewpie doll, Andre the Giant picked Chuck Wepner up and tossed him gently toward second base… Wepner dangled for a moment as his foot got caught between two strands of rope, and the 7-foot-5 Giant daintily released him and let him tumble into the clay. In a moment, Wepner’s cornerman, with Al Braverman and Paddy flood leading the charge, dashed across the ring and tried to get their fallen boxer back within the 20-second time limit. Out of the other corner came the Giant’s cornermen, including the ominous Gorilla Monsoon. 40,000 witnessed the brief skirmish between the two camps. And yes, it was oh so brief because you just didn’t mess with Andre and Gorilla back then.
"The pop that Gorilla Monsoon got was unforgettably loud, like a primeval roar of pure bloodlust. It was beautiful."
August 1st, 1977 – Madison Square Garden. "Superstar" Billy Graham vs. Bruno Sammartino. Gorilla Monsoon guest referee. After a pounding, Graham fled the ring and waved his hand in disgust as if to say, "I quit." Heading backstage, Monsoon ran after him, the crowd assuming the wild brawl was over. Suddenly, Monsoon carried Graham over his shoulder, tossed him into the ring, where Bruno pounced on him like a wild beast. The match was stopped at 14:05 due to "excessive blood."
The pop that Gorilla Monsoon got when he brought "Superstar" Billy Graham Graham back was unforgettably loud, like a primeval roar of pure bloodlust. It was beautiful.
December 26th, 1977 – Nassau Coliseum. Battle Royal. Monsoon wins a Battle Royal to face Billy Graham in a title match. A classic brawl, with the "401-pound" Monsoon once again on his knees, chopping his opponent to bits. It was still magic. And with Billy doing his classic "stagger," the 99% mark crowd "smelled a title change." It didn’t happen, of course, but it was great. Memorably great.
Gorilla Monsoon often had this little grin in the ring. The kind of grin that said, "This is fun." The kind of look that told me he loved that fan reaction. And I always remember him giving his all. Although I saw him live literally dozens of times, the "stinkers" were so very few and far between. On most any night, if he was on a show, you were guaranteed to get your money’s worth.
Gorilla Monsoon passed away less than five months after his final appearance on television on October 6th, 1999, at 62, from complications from diabetes. Like so many of my childhood heroes, he is gone. And so is another piece of my youth.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy:
- Bobby Heenan – The Gold Standard in Wrestling
- Muhammad Ali, Antonio Inoki, and the Controversial Birth of MMA
- Wrestling at Madison Square Garden – Our Top 5 Moments