Pedro Morales was a childhood hero of mine. Anybody who grew up and attended WWWF events is sure to share the same deep love and respect for him. He was longtime WWWF and Intercontinental Champion back when it actually meant something, and sadly, he passed away on February 12th, 2019 at the age of 76.
In 1974, professional wrestling was pretty simple.
Meat and potatoes if you will.
You cheered the face, you booed the heel, when “your guy” won, you were elated. When “your hero” lost, you were that crestfallen kid dreaming about next month’s rematch and revenge.
So, on June 24, 1974, when I entered Madison Square Garden for my very first wrestling card, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. The goose-stepping Otto Von Heller was met with a cascade of boos, while heroes like 601-pound Haystack Calhoun and fresh-faced Larry Zybysko came out to hearty applause.
But suddenly, when the former WWWF World Champion, Pedro Morales, walked out, it was the kind of thunderous response I’d only heard with the ’69 and ’73 championship Knicks at MSG. A deafening, building shaking chorus that nearly a half century or so later still rings in my ears.
Because in the middle of all that volume was love.
With no blaring entrance music, in nothing but a plain pair of tights, Pedro stood mid-ring as the flash cubes popped in a blinding symphony as twenty-two or so thousand of us stood in sheer adoration.
And who was opposite him on that unforgettable night? The infamous Black Gordman of Gordman and Goliath tag team fame. He had somehow miraculously stepped out of my black and white television from California’s Olympic Auditorium where I saw him week in and week out on Channel 41. And man, we knew he was “double tough” as they used to say.
Gordman, a great old school heel, used every dirty trick in the book. He dominated much of the match. To this 14-year-old “mark”, things looked grim for Pedro. And I felt each and every one of us those clobbering blows. But when Pedro made that inevitable comeback, the eruption was volcanic. It was like Clyde Frazier or Earl “The Pearl” Monroe had made the winning playoff shot.
And when his hand was raised in victory a tidal wave of sound once more swept the building; we were just lost in the sheer joy of the moment.
“A deafening, building shaking chorus still rings in my ears. In the middle of all of that volume was love for Pedro Morales.”
I’d breathlessly sit in front of the TV a mere few days later waiting to hear who he’d wrestle next.
“Say something for your Spanish speaking fans,” a pre-billionaire Vince McMahon in his most yellow of jackets, would say to Pedro on countless TV promos. And when Morales spoke earnestly in Spanish, his base was primed. Hey, back then in those pre-politically correct times, his villainous opponents weren’t shy about bringing up Pedro’s Puerto Rican heritage and they were far from kind.
But Pedro transcended race, creed, and color. We ALL loved him. He’d take a pounding from far bigger men like a Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathon or another legendary Don in Muraco. For when Bob Backlund proved not to be the draw that Bruno was, the Intercontinental title was created, and Pedro held that then prestigious title on two occasions. And on many a night, a Muraco-Pedro match was our reason for being there, even more so than the main event.
Pedro was a star in other territories, the WWA World Champ, worked Japan, but I doubt he was quite as popular anywhere else as he was in New York City. He held the WWWF title for three years, headlined Shea Stadium vs. Bruno, returned there to win the tag team championship with Backlund over the fierce- and at that time seemingly unbeatable Samoans, and as IC champ was the clear #2 guy before Vince’s mid-80’s expansion. Although placed in the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995, to this day I don’t know the politics as to why he’s barely been mentioned in the longest time by the WWE and some might even say disgracefully almost forgotten.
“Pedro Morales transcended race, creed, and color. We ALL loved him.”
But to anyone who sat in MSG in the 70s and 80s, who saw him wrestle such all-time greats as Ken Patera, Sgt. Slaughter, and Greg Valentine in so many tremendous bloody brawls, and felt that adrenaline, that rush, that unadulterated love, as he bled for each and every one of us, Pedro Morales is, like our beloved Bruno, the forever champ, always in our hearts.