From the legendary Bruno Sammartino to the “Manchurian Giant” Gorilla Monsoon to the immortal Hulk Hogan, these Italian professional wrestlers have dominated the ring and captivated fans worldwide. From the early days of the business to today, uncover the secret journeys and lasting legacies of twenty Italian professional wrestling icons.
1. Bruno Sammartino
Bruno Sammartino, a name etched in the annals of professional wrestling history, represents the epitome of dedication, resilience, and a profound connection to his Italian roots.
His journey, spanning continents and generations, remains an inspiration to many.
Born on October 6th, 1935, in Pizzoferrato, a small village nestled in the Abruzzo region of Italy, Sammartino’s early years were shaped by the tumultuous backdrop of World War II.
Sammartino’s foray into professional wrestling marked the beginning of an illustrious career. The initial stages were fraught with challenges. However, his unwavering determination and commitment propelled him toward success in wrestling.
Bruno’s crowning achievement came with an unparalleled record-breaking world title reign, where he held the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship for seven years, eight months, and one day (a total of 2,803 days).
His dominance, memorable matches, and intense rivalries in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), then known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), solidified his status as an iconic figure.
2. Santino Marella
Santino Marella is more than just a ring persona; he represents the convergence of Italian heritage and wrestling finesse.
Born Anthony Carelli in Mississauga, Canada, his journey to becoming a household name in the WWE epitomizes the fusion of talent, charisma, and an authentic connection to his Italian roots.
Marella’s entry into the wrestling world was nothing short of serendipitous. A chance encounter at a WWE event led to a life-altering opportunity—a surprise debut that instantly captured the attention of the wrestling universe. Thus began an unconventional yet immensely successful wrestling career.
The evolution of the “Santino Marella” character was a stroke of creative genius. His Italian-themed persona, unique accent, and comedic antics propelled him into the limelight.
Embracing his character’s quirks, Marella won fans’ hearts worldwide and left a lasting impact on the wrestling landscape.
3. Dino Bravo
Born Adolfo Bresciano on August 6th, 1948, Dino Bravo was a Canadian-Italian professional wrestler with a solid connection to his Italian heritage.
He hailed from Italy and later moved to Canada, where he pursued a successful career in professional wrestling.
Bravo embraced his Italian roots throughout his wrestling career, incorporating aspects of his heritage into his persona. His ring name, “Dino Bravo,” was partly inspired by his Italian background and reflected an intense pride in it.
His greatest success would be in his home of Montreal as the Canadian Heavyweight champion.
4. Joe Turco
Joe Turco was known for his colorful persona, antics, and mannerisms.
Turco, whose real name was Giuseppe Mangiarano, hails from Italy and proudly carries his Italian heritage. “The Continental Nobleman,” Baron Joe Turco had his own style. His presence was unmistakable, with his ring tights pulled up high and manipulating the sides of his mustache.
The “Continental Nobleman” would often work as an enhancement talent, rarely winning but always entertaining those in attendance. His reactions after losing each match were as memorable as his ring presence and character.
Turco competed in countless promotions throughout his lengthy and wildly entertaining career.
5. Antonino Rocca
Antonino Rocca, a legendary professional wrestling figure, exemplified immense pride in his Italian heritage and a groundbreaking career that left an indelible mark on the industry.
Born Antonino Biasetton, Rocca immigrated to Argentina before eventually making a name for himself in the professional wrestling world. His Italian roots remained a crucial part of his identity, and he often embraced them as part of his wrestling persona.
Rocca’s success spanned several decades. He competed in the late 1940s in what would become the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment. He would be a co-holder of the NWA World Tag Team Championships with Jose Miguel Perez.
Rocca would later team with a young upstart who would change the wrestling world: fellow Italian American Bruno Sammartino.
Rocca’s career was also spent in Puerto Rico and Japan, and he earned a name and following throughout the United States as a beloved champion. He was also notably a big part of the riot that ensued at Madison Square Garden in 1957, which almost led to the ban of wrestling altogether in New York!
6. Angelo Savoldi
Born Mario Louis Fornini on the 21st of April, 1914, Angelo Savoldi and his family immigrated from Castrocielo, Italy.
Angelo Savoldi carried his Italian heritage with pride throughout his life and wrestling career. It would be promoter Jack Pfefer who would bill him “Angelo Savoldi” in the late 1930s. His roots played a significant role in shaping his identity inside and outside the wrestling ring.
During his rivalry with Danny Hodge, Savoldi would be struck with a pen knife by what was initially believed to be an irate fan but actually the father of Hodge!
Savoldi’s career spanned several decades. His efforts helped shape the landscape of professional wrestling, especially in the Northeastern United States.
Angelo Savoldi’s legacy extends beyond his accomplishments in the ring. He was a trailblazer who significantly influenced the growth and development of professional wrestling, leaving a lasting impact on the industry. You can see Angelo Savoldi, at age 99, reflecting on his life in the documentary 350 Days.
At the time of his death, he was known as the world’s oldest retired wrestler at 99.
Ivory, whose real name is Lisa Moretti, formerly competed in GLOW and the WWF.
While not overtly emphasized in her wrestling character, Lisa Moretti has Italian roots that trace back to her family heritage.
Ivory held the WWE Women’s Championship three times. In addition to her accomplishments in the ring, she played a vital role in elevating women’s wrestling during her time in WWE.
Her work ethic, in-ring skills, and contributions to the women’s division contributed to its evolution, paving the way for future generations of female wrestlers.
8. Gorilla Monsoon
Gorilla Monsoon, whose real name was Robert Marella, was a towering figure in professional wrestling.
Monsoon’s connection to Italy stems from his family roots. While he was born in the United States, Monsoon often showcased pride in his Italian ancestry, which added a layer to his persona in the professional wrestling world.
He debuted in the ring in the late 1950s. Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing over 400 pounds, he possessed an imposing physique that matched his in-ring persona.
Monsoon’s illustrious wrestling career spanned several decades. He competed against some of the biggest names in the business and held numerous championships across various promotions, including the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, now WWE).
He transitioned from in-ring competition to a role as a commentator. His distinctive voice and insightful commentary made him a beloved figure behind the microphone.
9. Dominic DeNucci
Dominic DeNucci left a significant mark on the industry.
Born in Frosolone, Molise, Italy, DeNucci began his wrestling journey in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in the late 1950s. His unique blend of technical skill, agility, and charisma resonated with audiences.
DeNucci competed across various territories, showcasing his talent in promotions such as the WWWF (now WWE) and other regional circuits.
DeNucci proudly carried his Italian heritage throughout his wrestling career. He often embraced his roots, connecting with fans with similar ethnic backgrounds.
One of DeNucci’s most significant contributions came through his mentorship of aspiring wrestlers. He trained and guided several notable talents, including WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley and Shane Douglas. His dedication to passing on his knowledge and expertise helped shape the careers of many wrestlers.
10. Muhammad Hassan (Marc Copani, American-Italian)
Muhammad Hassan, portrayed by Marc Copani, emerged in WWE as a controversial and complex character, leaving a lasting impact on wrestling despite a relatively short-lived career.
Copani, of Italian descent, debuted in WWE as Muhammad Hassan in 2004. The character portrayed an Arab American wrestler of Italian heritage who confronted negative stereotypes and discrimination post-9/11. Hassan garnered attention for his compelling promos and unique storytelling, quickly becoming a polarizing figure in the wrestling world.
His character’s controversial angles, including segments addressing discrimination and profiling, generated substantial attention. However, due to the sensitive nature of the storylines coinciding with real-world events, WWE decided to write out the character in 2005.
After leaving WWE, Copani left the ring behind and returned to school to get a degree in teaching. He is now currently the principal of Fulton Junior High School in central New York.
Hassan’s career, while short-lived, was impactful; he sparked discussions about the portrayal of cultural and political themes in wrestling.
11. Bull Montana
Bull Montana, whose real name was Lewis (Luigi) Montagna, was a significant figure in the early days of professional wrestling, showcasing strength and charisma that made him a standout performer in the sport’s formative years.
He began his wrestling career in the early 1900s, making a name for himself after moving to the United States before age 20 and immigrating from Voghera, Italy.
His impressive physique characterized his in-ring style and catch wrestling ability (a classical hybrid grappling style and combat sport).
Beyond wrestling, Bull Montana successfully transitioned into acting in movies during the silent film era. His wrestling background and physical presence made him a sought-after figure in Hollywood.
His contributions to wrestling and subsequent success in the entertainment industry paved the way for future generations of wrestlers and performers.
12. Primo Carnera
Primo Carnera was a significant figure in professional wrestling and boxing, renowned for his impressive stature, Italian heritage, and contributions to these sports.
Born in Sequals, Italy, Carnera’s journey into the spotlight began as a boxer before transitioning into professional wrestling.
Carnera gained widespread recognition in boxing due to his imposing physical presence, standing at 6 feet 5 inches tall and often weighing over 260 pounds during his prime.
He ventured into professional wrestling in the 1940s. His transition from boxing to wrestling was influenced by financial struggles and the decline of his boxing career.
His impact, particularly as a crossover athlete from boxing, paved the way for other athletes to transition between combat sports and contribute to the evolving landscape of professional wrestling.
13. Lou Albano
Lou Albano, a pivotal figure in the world of professional wrestling, left an indelible mark on the sport through his multifaceted contributions and charismatic persona.
Born in Rome, Italy, as Louis Vincent Albano, he immigrated to the United States as a child.
Initially, he stepped into the ring as a wrestler. However, his transition into managerial roles truly defined his legacy. Albano became renowned as a manager or “captain” of various wrestling stables, guiding and promoting wrestlers to championship victories.
At the encouragement of Bruno Sammartino to Vince McMahon Jr, Albano would go on to manage several iconic wrestlers, including Ivan Koloff, The Wild Samoans, The Valiant Brothers, and Freddie Blassie, among others. His managerial skills added depth and storyline excitement to wrestling events.
His charismatic, over-the-top personality and captivating presence extended beyond wrestling into the realm of pop culture. He appeared in Cyndi Lauper’s music videos, most notably in “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “The Goonies’ R’ Good Enough,” as well as starring in Super Mario and films such as “Wise Guys,” significantly boosting wrestling’s mainstream visibility.
14. Mario Milano
Mario Milano was born in Trieste, Italy, on the 15th of May, 1935.
He began his professional wrestling journey in Australia during the 1960s, where he gained recognition for his in-ring abilities and captivating personality. Milano achieved considerable success in Australia. His matches were characterized by his agility, strength, and entertaining performances, making him a fan favorite.
He expanded his career to Europe and the United States, showcasing his talents on international platforms and contributing to the globalization of wrestling during his era.
Milano’s legacy in professional wrestling endures through his impact on various wrestling scenes worldwide.
15. F.B.I. Full Blooded Italians
The Full Blooded Italians (F.B.I.) were a notable ECW and later WWE wrestling stable.
Comprised of various members over time, including Big Guido, Nunzio (Little Guido), Sal Mellow, Big Vito, and others, the F.B.I. brought an Italian American identity to wrestling despite some members not having Italian heritage (such as Tommy Rich and Tracy Smothers).
It is wild to think that a concussion initially led to the emergence of the faction.
After JT Smith fell during a match, he attempted to get cheesesteaks while “messed up” and concussed. Paul Heyman heard of what happened and turned Smith’s injury into a storyline with him coming to the ring believing he was Italian and using terms like “fuggetabout it” in the process.
They portrayed a group of tough, proud Italians who were unapologetic about their heritage. Their storyline often revolved around protecting their Italian identity and standing up against perceived disrespect or mockery.
16. Madusa/Alundra Blayze (Debra Miceli)
Born in Milan, Italy, Debrah Miceli began her professional wrestling journey in the late 1980s and swiftly became a pioneering force in women’s wrestling.
Known for her athleticism, technical skill, and fearlessness in the ring, she contributed immensely to the evolution of women’s wrestling.
She held the women’s championship titles in both WWE (then WWF) and WCW and also did highly successful Japanese tours. Her reigns as champion showcased her dominance and skill in the ring, solidifying her as a top-tier women’s wrestler in two major promotions.
She’s revered for elevating the status of women’s wrestling.
17. Tony Parisi
Born Antonio Pugliese on the 22nd of January, 1941, in Italy, Tony Parisi began his professional wrestling journey in the 1960s.
Parisi, known for his athleticism and in-ring skills, proudly embraced his Italian heritage throughout his wrestling career for several decades.
Tony competed in various territories, promotions, and organizations. He became renowned for his technical proficiency, showmanship, and agility.
One of his notable achievements was winning the WWWF World Tag Team Championship with partner Louis Cerdan in 1975.
Parisi’s impact on the industry, particularly in representing his Italian heritage, remains part of wrestling’s diverse tapestry.
18. Al Costello (“The Man of a Thousand Holds”)
Al Costello of the legendary Fabulous Kangaroos contributed substantially to the sport throughout his career.
Born Giacomo Costa in Italy, Al Costello began his wrestling journey in the 1940s. Costello, known for his in-ring skills and charismatic persona, proudly represented his Italian heritage throughout his wrestling career.
Costello’s legacy in professional wrestling is profound, from not only being a noted wrestling trainer but also due to his role in shaping tag team wrestling alongside Roy Heffernan as The Fabulous Kangaroos. He is also the first professional wrestler to be referred to as “The Man of a Thousand Holds.”
Their impact on the tag team genre, championship successes, and innovations in the ring have solidified their place in wrestling history.
19. Hulk Hogan
Born Terry Gene Bollea, “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan is an iconic figure in professional wrestling, renowned for his larger-than-life persona, contributions to the sport, and worldwide impact.
His paternal grandfather, Peter Bollea, was born in Cigliano, Vercelli, Piemonte in Italy.
Hulk Hogan’s wrestling journey began in the late 1970s. He skyrocketed to fame in the 1980s and became a household name. He became a pop culture icon, film star, and global phenomenon with his charisma and multiple championships.
He remains one of the most recognizable and influential figures in the sport’s history. His contributions to wrestling’s growth and his ability to captivate audiences have solidified his place as an all-time great in professional wrestling history.
20. Poffo Family: Angelo, Randy Savage, and Lanny
The Poffo family, consisting of Angelo Poffo and his sons Randy Savage (real name: Randy Mario Poffo) and Lanny Poffo (known as “Leaping Lanny” and “The Genius”), left a lasting impact through their contributions to the sport.
Angelo was a wrestler who campaigned worldwide. He was also a promoter in the Kentucky and Tennessee territories. He served as a mentor to both Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo.
Randy “Savage” Poffo was a charismatic and iconic figure in professional wrestling. Known for his flamboyant personality, colorful outfits, and incredible in-ring performances, Savage became a wrestling legend, capturing multiple championships, including being a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
Lanny Poffo was known for his intellectual gimmick, poetry, and in-ring abilities. A remarkable four million people watched him defeat Hulk Hogan by countout on Saturday Night Main Event, a feud that headlined the then WWF’s live show circuit at the time.
The Poffo family’s contributions to professional wrestling remain integral to the sport’s history. While Angelo was the son of Italian immigrants, the Poffo family’s influence has contributed significantly to wrestling’s evolution and popularity.
Kudos to these Italian pioneers and giants who transcended the sport and will never be forgotten.
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