If the title “Oooh Yeah!” had you expecting a story about ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, it’s understandable. Buckle up for a rousing ride as we delve into the life and exploits of the Wild Bull of the Pampas, Pampero Firpo, whose tale goes much beyond inspiring a future WWE World Heavyweight Champion!
Beyond the Ring: The Life and Times of Pampero Firpo
Juan Kachmanian was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 6th, 1930. The son of an Olympic boxing hopeful who later became a local boxing promoter, he initially tried his hand at boxing. Still, his compassionate nature and lack of killer instinct precluded a successful career in pugilism.
The future Pampero Firpo’s wrestling career, as with many legends, was purely happenstance. While serving in the Argentinian Army, Firpo was approached by a superior officer, who mistakenly thought he was related to a local wrestler with a similar last name. The officer requested tickets for an upcoming event.
Firpo, not wanting to disappoint, traveled to the local arena to procure tickets. The promoters there were impressed by him and offered to assist him in entering the world of professional wrestling.
Naturally, the idea appealed to the young Argentinian; as we know now, the rest is history.
Chimu: The Shrunken Head of Pampero Firpo
Making his in-ring debut in 1953, Kachmanian used several gimmicks and names, including Ervan the Armenian, Ivan the Terrible, The Missing Link, The Great Pampero, the Wild Bull of the Pampas, as well as his most known alter-ego of Pampero Firpo.
He would wrestle in multiple South American countries en route to his dream destination of the United States.
In Ecuador, Firpo acquired a legitimate shrunken head, which was given to him by an Ecuadorian tribal leader in acknowledgment of the young wrestler’s skills.
Firpo named the head ‘Chimu’ in honor of the tribe’s god of good luck. Chimu accompanied Firpo throughout the duration of his wrestling career and indeed brought him much good luck.
Chimu is still alive (?) and well and resides with Firpo’s family in San Jose, California.
Coming to America
He was soon recommended to Houston promoter Morris Sigel by Antonino Rocca, who, as fate would have it, was Firpo’s childhood idol.
He made his American wrestling debut in 1957, wrestling against Don Leo Jonathan. Refereeing the match was legendary boxing champion Jack Dempsey.
Dempsey and Firpo developed a friendship due in part to Firpo’s prior boxing background.
Although he would not use the name for a couple of years, Dempsey suggested that he become the Kayfabe son of fabled boxer Luis Angel Firpo, the Wild Bull of the Pampas, who challenged Dempsey for boxing’s World Heavyweight Championship on September 14th, 1923.
Firpo and Dempsey’s fight was arguably the wildest championship match, or any match, in the history of boxing.
Although knocked down seven times in the first round, Firpo managed to knock Dempsey entirely out of the ring, where he landed headfirst on a reporter’s typewriter.
Sportswriters pushed Dempsey back into the ring after 17 seconds (although a boxer has until the count of 10 to get up after a knockdown, they are permitted 20 seconds if outside the ring).
Regaining his senses, he eventually knocked Firpo out in the second round, although Firpo did score an additional knockdown. Eleven knockdowns in less than two rounds! Boxing historian Bert Sugar called this bout the greatest fight in history.
Firpo The Headliner
The younger Firpo adopted the first name Pampero, the Spanish name for a hurricane that flattens everything in its path.
While still wrestling as Ivan the Terrible, he defeated Don Leo Jonathan for the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship on August 30th, 1957, the first of many titles in his remarkable career.
Although Firpo, at 5’8" tall, was dwarfed by the near-foot taller mountainous Mormon, his fierceness and intensity in the ring made this and many other battles with much larger foes genuinely believable.
While most wrestlers of his era had finishing moves with generic names such as the Full Nelson, Boston Crab, Bearhug, etc., he had El Garfio (Spanish for hook or gaff), a claw hold used to render his opponent unconscious.
For the better part of the following two-plus decades, Pampero Firpo toured the wrestling globe, headlining cards, and capturing championships everywhere he wrestled. He seamlessly morphed between gimmicks as well as territories.
For example, he wrestled on a Tri-State wrestling card in Oklahoma City (as Ivan the Terrible) on February 19th, 1960, teaming with Farmer Jones in a losing effort against Ali and Hassan Bey at the Stockyards Coliseum.
Three short days later, wrestling for the first time as Pampero Firpo, he defeated Ted Lewin at the Uline Arena in Washington, D.C.
Firpo remained in the New York-based Capitol Wrestling Corporation (which became the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1963, the precursor to today’s WWE) for the remainder of the year, scoring numerous victories over the likes of Arnold Skaaland, Pete Sanchez, Tomas Marin, and Johnny Walker (later to become Mr. Wrestling II).
Additionally, Firpo scored several victories over a young Pedro Morales during this time.
Firpo returned to the New York territory for a shorter run in 1962.
On May 15th, 1962, Firpo wrestled then National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion Buddy Rogers at Sunnyside Garden in Queens, New York.
Although unsuccessful in his attempt to wrest the coveted NWA crown from Rogers, Pampero, exhibiting the workhorse traits that would define his decades-long career, defeated Alex Perez at the North Side Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, just two short days later as Ivan the Terrible.
And so it would go for the Wild Bull of the Pampas.
Throughout the ’60s, Firpo would see action in California (wrestling for Roy Shire in San Francisco as the Great Pampero), Portland, several stops in the American Wrestling Association, World Championship Wrestling (the original, based in Australia), as well as Texas (Amarillo), Mid-Atlantic, two tours of Japan, and several of Hawaii, where he wrestled as the wildly popular babyface Missing Link.
Canadian wrestler Dewey Robertson later adopted the Missing Link gimmick.
The ’70s was a Groundhog Day repeat of the previous decade for the hardworking Pampas Bull—several more tours of Japan, Hawaii, California, the Mid-Atlantic, the AWA, and Detroit.
Big Time Wrestling was a Detroit-based promotion owned and operated by Edward Farhat, known throughout the wrestling world as The Sheik.
In addition to owning the territory, Farhat was the promotion’s top star. His protracted feud with Benton Harbor, Michigan’s very own Bobo Brazil, is still being discussed amongst wrestling fans more than a half-century later.
Pampero Firpo landed in Motor City in 1972, making Detroit his home for the next three years.
He wrestled with and against The Sheik and had a lengthy feud with Brazil.
Despite being nearly a foot shorter than the King of the Coco Butt, Firpo defeated Brazil for the coveted United States Heavyweight Championship on two occasions.
Finally, on July 17th, 1976, Firpo defeated The Sheik at Cobo Hall in Detroit to capture the US Heavyweight Title for a third time.
It should be noted that Firpo was 46 when most men were telling their children, ‘When I was your age…’
Although Pampero Firpo adored his family and took enormous pride in providing for them, he was still too busy making history rather than telling it.
Pampero Firpo: The Champion
Although titles are, for the most part, considered a prop in the current world of professional wrestling, they were once coveted by hungry territory wrestlers looking to establish themselves and make their mark in the wrestling world.
Mary Fries, Pampero Firpo’s youngest daughter, was a recent guest on my podcast Dan and Benny In the Ring. She was asked about her legendary father’s viewpoint on these regional titles.
“[Championships] were very important to him because it was a sign of esteem by the promoter and a way to make more money and get more dates,” she remarked.
“If you’re the champion, you’re sticking around and wrestling more. So he was very, very proud of the championships he won and chronicled those just for his own records, and I like looking at that, too.
“He knew them by heart, too. I would ask him, and he would tell me the date, he would tell me the opponent, he would tell me where it was.
“He wrestled in so many places, and when he won the championship, it was very important to him.”
Mary continued, “When he won in the Olympic Auditorium (NWA Hollywood), it was called the Americas Championship, and they put the belt on him; he didn’t win it from anyone. They created that title, and they created the belt, and he just came in with it.
“I had thought at one point that he had won it from Ernie Ladd because there was some 8-millimeter footage on YouTube of my dad after a match against Ernie Ladd."
He amassed an awe-inspiring collection of gold during his vaunted career. In addition to the United States and Americas Championships noted above, Firpo defeated Angelo Savoldi on February 20th, 1959, at the Stockyards Coliseum in Oklahoma City to capture the National Wrestling Alliance World Junior Heavyweight Championship.
The roll call for the NWA Junior Heavyweight title is a roll call of wrestling royalty. Besides Savoldi, who held the crown on five separate occasions, other titleholders include Dory Funk, Sr., Danny Hodge, Hiro Matsuda, Freddie Blassie, Sputnik Monroe, Tiger Mask, and Nelson Royal.
Firpo also held the NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Title and several regional tag team titles.
On July 31st, 1979, at 49, he defeated Abdullah the Butcher to win the WWC Puerto Rican Heavyweight Championship.
Firpo put the exclamation point on his title history by winning the All-California Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Championship on October 17th, 1986, at the age of 56.
In addition to his numerous regional titles, the Wild Bull of the Pampas received many world title matches in all three of the major promotions (WWWF, NWA, and AWA).
Although he was unsuccessful in his Madison Square Garden match with then WWWF Heavyweight Champion Pedro Morales on May 22nd, 1972, he scored numerous victories over Morales during his first New York run in 1960.
The men who tasted defeat at the hands of Pampero Firpo could fill an entire Hall of Fame.
Life After Wrestling
After Pampero Firpo’s thirty-three-year wrestling career had concluded, which saw him wrestling 6,882 matches (according to his detailed record keeping), he worked with the United States Postal Service in San Jose, California, for twenty-five years. He held this post in the Bulk Mail Department until age 78.
“That was something that was really important to him,” Mary said about her dad’s second career.
“He always worked the graveyard shift from 9 pm until 5 in the morning. You know, my dad just had an incredible work ethic. He loved to work, and I think it kept him young and it kept him mentally and physically healthy. He was just strong as an ox, even into his seventies. He just took his job really seriously.”
Mary continued, “He felt like he was being of service; it had excellent benefits, excellent insurance, he had a great pension.
“As Roddy Piper noted on the HBO Special [2003’s Real Sports – Risky Business; Deaths in Wrestling], he said wrestling has a great entrance plan, but there’s no exit plan. That also kept my dad financially solvent also into his golden years.
“He got different commendations from the Post Office. There were multiple incidents where he had found a bag of money or found these unlabeled things, and he would turn them in.
“His values were very important to him, like his integrity, honesty, loyalty, and work ethic. It was a career that suited him. And I was just really proud of him.”
Pampero Firpo and the Rich Legacy He Leaves Behind
Pampero Firpo was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.
Unfortunately, he has not received this accolade from WWE, along with many other greats of his era, including Ivan Koloff, Dominic DeNucci, and Waldo Von Erich, to name just a few. These professional wrestling icons paved the road and built the bridge to the product we now see on Monday and Friday nights.
When asked if her dad was disappointed in not being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Fries commented, “Honestly, I don’t know If he even knew about the WWE Hall of Fame, or if it was even important to him.
“But, when my brother told him that he was being inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018, my dad was really emotional; he was really moved by that. He teared up and said it felt good to be recognized for his work.”
Sadly, he died of natural causes on January 9th, 2020.
As for influencing a future WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Pampero Firpo’s memorable “Oooh Yeah!” chant was first heard by a young Randy Poffo in Hawaii when his dad Angelo was wrestling there.
Years later, millions of wrestling fans were captivated by the larger-than-life presence of Macho Man Randy Savage, with his memorable take of the “Oooh Yeah!” catchphrase he had heard from Firpo many years before.
It is often said that someone is “one of a kind,” but I don’t think it could be more accurate in this case.
Firpo traveled the world with Chimu, which, along with his frizzy hair and menacing scowl, struck fear into the hearts of wrestling fans everywhere.
Although the elimination of kayfabe took so much out of the mystique of professional wrestling, one positive associated with the lifting of the curtain was to show us that many of the vicious heels we booed and feared in the ring were, in the ‘real’ world, some of not only the nicest but best men that have walked on this earth.
Pampero Firpo; often imitated, never duplicated. “Oooh Yeah!”
Mary Fries runs a Twitter account dedicated to her father Pampero Firpo’s wrestling career and legacy, where you can follow here: @PFirpo1.
You can hear the wonderful interview with Pampero Firpo’s daughter Mary Fries on the Dan and Benny in the Ring podcast in full below:
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