Chief Jay Strongbow and His Notorious Backstage Reputation
Chief Jay Strongbow seemed a natural fit for a backstage role in WWE. However, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the faux Native American.
Here are 20 notorious tales on Strongbow, a man described by “Macho Man” Randy Savage as having "killed more young wrestlers’ careers than drugs!"
Chief Jay Strongbow: Early Career
Joltin’" Joe Scarpa debuted in 1947 (although his brother Sal stated he debuted in a tag team match in 1956), spending over two decades with the NWA.
Scarpa eventually became a big star in various regions, including Southern territories such as Atlanta, and would challenge for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz.
He would leave the NWA in 1970 after amassing twelve tag titles and six singles titles.
Becoming Chief Jay Strongbow
As Joe Scarpa, he saw his fair share of success, although it was not until donning the eagle’s feathers and tomahawk as Chief Jay Strongbow that he indeed became a megastar.
It may seem unbelievable in hindsight, but Scarpa did not have his first World Wide Wrestling Federation run until 1970 at the age of 42.
Chief’s character was akin to the actor Iron Eyes Cody, who portrayed a Native American but was actually of Sicilian parentage.
In contrast, popular NWA worker Wahoo McDaniel was a legitimate Native American.
In his first run in the 1970s, he won the WWWF tag titles with two different parties- Sonny King and Billy White Wolf (the future Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie/General Adnan).
Between these reigns, Strongbow competed in “The Sheik” Ed Farhat’s Detroit territory, Big Time Wrestling, where he would have a memorable shark cage match with "Bulldog" Don Kent.
Being Difficult to Work With
As documented in Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver’s book The Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame: Heroes and Icons, Wolf stated, "[Chief Jay Strongbow] was a very, very difficult person to get along with, in the ring, outside the ring, on the road."
Throughout the 1970s, Strongbow proved himself in the solo ranks with major feuds with WWF champion Superstar Billy Graham, ex-tag partner Spiros Arion, and Greg Valentine, who had broken Strongbow’s leg mirroring the famous "I broke Wahoo’s leg" angle in Mid-Atlantic in 1977.
In his return to the WWF in 1982, Strongbow had two further world tag title reigns, holding the belts alongside kayfabe brother Jules Strongbow.
Jules, himself from the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe of Wisconsin’s Mohican Nation, admitted having difficulty working with the faux Native American, especially in an era of strong kayfabe.
He remarked, "Native Americans would ask me, ‘What are you doing with this guy? He’s a pretend Indian.’"
Strongbow claimed to have had 118 Madison Square Garden matches, falsely stating in interviews that he sold out every one of them during his first five years in the WWF.
His WWF runs were summarised by wrestling historian Jim Cornette, who described Strongbow as "perpetually Vince McMahon Sr.’s number two babyface."
Making The Transition To Behind-The-Scenes
Although still lacing his boots, by the mid-1980s, things had changed for Chief Jay Strongbow. The industry had moved on, going in a more colorful and animated direction, which made Strongbow’s act passe. Moreover, Strongbow, too, was middle-aged, and the WWF roster was skewering younger.
Illustrating the stagnating state of Strongbow’s in-ring career, in 1973, Strongbow won the PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year award, yet in 1983 – just a decade later – he won the Wrestling Observer’s Most Washed Up Wrestler award.
Also, in the mid-’80s, Strongbow was transitioned into the role of de facto legend. Yet he stood looking like a charismatic vacuum with whomever he was sharing the screen with.
A Piper’s Pit segment saw Piper complain about his guest’s dullness forcing him to carry the segment, labeling Chief “feathers on camel dung." Piper even asked the Chief what tribe he was from. No response was offered.
Over the next decade, Strongbow would sporadically step into the ring. He lost to Paul Orndorff at The Brawl To End It All, participated in the 1987 legend’s battle royal, and was involved in a rivalry between Tatanka and Irwin R. Schyster.
It was under Vince McMahon Jr.’s reins that Chief Jay Strongbow found himself moving away from the ring and towards the front office.
Neglection Of Duties
Tim Hornbaker’s book Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal, and the War That Changed Pro Wrestling Forever states that Chief Jay Strongbow’s main roles included corralling talent and setting up match finishes, amongst other duties.
Scarpa, as an agent, was one of Vince’s right-hand men, with Scarpa referring to McMahon as "The Emperor" or "Caesar."
Despite this, he was often neglectful or abusive in his powers.
One issue was how talent often bypassed Strongbow on matters, going straight to Vince. Many felt Scarpa was bitter and angry that Pat Patterson had become the top booker over him once George Scott left the promotion.
Bruce Prichard recalls how a match ending was so hated that it had to be redone. The bout in question was the debut of Rhythm & Blues (Greg Valentine and Honky Tonk Man) on Wrestling Challenge.
When Honky Tonk and Valentine had their debut match against Strongbow’s real-life adopted son Mark Young and Reno Riggins, Strongbow booked a controversial finish.
HTM hit Mark with the guitar for the win, a decision so derided by Vince that the match was restarted. The guitar was a central plot point, and for it to be used in a throwaway match and on the booker’s child was a huge no-no.
The Laziness of Chief Jay Strongbow
Elsewhere, Jim Cornette has commented on the laziness of "grumpy frumpy" Scarpa, whose job was to bring enhancement talent.
Instead of reaching out individually, Strongbow used one trainer to bring in his various wrestlers before WWE officials had even seen them work. This led to issues like an underage Jeff Hardy being able to work on WWE TV.
Strongbow also would not look after the talent. Freddie Blassie paints a picture of Scarpa being the most tight-fisted person in the business, but he was similarly stingy with company money.
"Superstar" Billy Graham would also describe how Strongbow "was known to order eight or nine jobbers to share the same hotel room."
Chief Jay Strongbow: Troubles With Talent
One of Chief Jay Strongbow’s most outspoken critics is The Honky Tonk Man.
After a card topped by Honky Tonk Man and Randy Savage sold out, HTM was nonetheless fired. However, he was immediately called back, and Vince McMahon forced Scarpa to apologize.
An early shoot interview scene icon, HTM, once stated of Strongbow, "If he were dying right now, his throat’s closing [and] he needed something to drink, I wouldn’t even **** in his mouth."
Honky also detailed how Strongbow abused his power of positioning matches, deliberately putting wrestlers with visiting families on last to make them wait longer and deal with subsequent traffic.
The Late Lanny Poffo on Strongbow Having to Apologize to Entire Locker Room
The late Lanny Poffo recounts Strongbow insinuating that Curtis Iaukea (then known as The Wizard, the handler for Kamala, who Strongbow himself once allegedly referred to via the n-word) was only with the WWF as a matter of “charity.” Iaukea flew home to Hawaii before Vince called him back to the San Diego leg of the WWF tour.
Vince promised the future Dungeon Of Doom master that he would have Strongbow apologize in front of the whole roster, which he did. Reportedly Chief loathed having to say he was sorry.
Having Sway in Hiring and Firing
Chief Jay Strongbow had some sway in hiring and firing. For example, it was Scarpa who initiated the firing of David Schultz in 1985. Contrary to popular belief, "Dr. D" was not dropped for slapping John Stossel, but after a heated confrontation with Mr. T., Scarpa warned Schultz to stop aggravating the A-Team star.
Schultz taunted him to fire him, and Scarpa promptly did so. He even allegedly called security on Schultz, who was seen as such a threat that he was hogtied and had shotguns pulled on him before Vince McMahon officially released him.
Many saw Strongbow’s decision to call armed security unnecessary and an overreaction, a status only reinforced by a hefty fining of the Junkyard Dog $5,000 for smoking a joint in a WWF arena.
Bret Hart’s Lude Cartoons on Chief Jay Strongbow
Bret Hart weighed in on the hatred for Chief Jay Strongbow, revealing he often drew lude cartoons of Strongbow. For example, he would be sketched lovemaking with wrestler Princess Tomah; arms proudly crossed, two feathers in his headband.
Hart would say, "Chief was such a straight guy that he never ran around carousing, which is what made it so funny."
Being a Respected Worker in His Day
"The Hitman" also commented, "He’d been a respected worker in his day, but it was obvious that he hadn’t missed many meals lately."
The physical “attributes” of the aging agent seemed to be a common cause of ridicule. When Strongbow said he had more main event matches than "Mr. Wonderful" ever had, Paul Orndorff quipped, "Yeah, and it looks like it too!"
Shawn Michaels Berating The Chief
The Hitman” Bret Hart also commented that Shawn Michaels berated The Chief, while Jim Neidhart even tried to throw a monitor at him on one occasion.
Bret was not the only Hart family member whom Strongbow had heat with.
Owen Hart’s Heat with Chief Jay Strongbow
After a match one night, Strongbow told a young Owen Hart not to stomp and clap in the ring to get the crowd on their side.
He asked Owen if he would do this in a real fight to which Owen replied, "No, I would start doing a war dance!"
Stopping Gary Hart from Coming to WWE
Moreover, Strongbow’s backstage role is instrumental in the legendary manager Gary Hart never coming to WWE.
Gary Hart is extremely outspoken in his book about Strongbow.
Gary stated, "I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where my future depended on someone like Chief Jay Strongbow – who was clearly out for revenge for what had happened between us in Georgia nine years ago."
Hart was referring to firing Strongbow from his Georgia territory.
"Jay Strongbow thought he was something extraordinary in wrestling. When he wrestled under his real name of Joe Scarpa, he was nothing more than a mid-card wrestler, but when Vince McMahon gave him the gimmick of an Indian, he got a tremendously big head."
In conversation with Howard Finkel, he added, "Well, you tell Vince that if Jay Strongbow has any kind of power, I don’t want anything to do with him."
Making Lanny Poffo’s Poems a Last-Minute Affair
According to Lanny Poffo on this website’s PWS podcast, he noted how Strongbow wouldn’t tell him his opponents in advance, thus making his poems about them a last-minute affair. He also described how Scarpa once broke his arm wrestling a match.
A final enemy of Strongbow’s was Randy Savage. He loathed him and once stated, “He was a disgrace to the business."
Chief Jay Strongbow: Tragedy Later in Life
Chief Jay Strongbow departed the WWF in the mid-1990s.
Although dropping some barbs on Strongbow in his book My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Bret Hart expresses sorrow regarding Chief.
He stated, "After he retired, Chief became a different kind of wrestling tragedy. He was left to babysit his young grandson one day and fell asleep. When he woke, he found the child floating dead in his pool. I believed Chief would never get over it, and my heart went out to him."
Settling on a Farm
Strongbow would settle into life on a farm in Griffin, Georgia. A lifestyle that would have suited Scarpa, who had a keen interest in fishing and golfing.
As early as 1977, in an interview with Newport, Rhode Island’s Daily News, he admitted, "The worst part is traveling and being away from my family. People think it’s a good life, but they don’t realize what a hassle it is."
Chief Jay Strongbow’s Final WWE Appearance
Chief Jay Strongbow made his final WWE appearance in 2008 when he was introduced by Stephanie McMahon to the Atlanta Monday Night Raw crowd.
His health cascaded from there. First, he had two heart valves replaced.
Then, in 2009, he was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame but only gave a brief speech due to declining health.
It was worsened by a 2010 Charlotte, North Carolina wrestling convention, struggling to interact with fans and fellow wrestlers.
A year later, in 2011, Scarpa failed to attend his New England Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame introduction.
The Death of Chief Jay Strongbow
That same year, Joe Scarpa fell; he would never recover before his death in April 2012. The New York Times reported he was either 79 or 83 – most sources cited the latter.
Even Scarpa’s death managed to cause controversy.
In 2021 on an episode of his Grilling J.R. podcast, Jim Ross revealed that his Tweet informing the wrestling community of Chief Jay Strongbow’s passing saw him draw the ire and hostility of Vince McMahon.
Ross said, "I tweeted out the death of Jay Strongbow, and Vince got extremely irate about that because Strongbow and Vince were long-time buddies, very close, and he wanted to be the one to do it."
Remembering Chief Jay Strongbow
Chief Jay Strongbow may have had his fair share of enemies, but many also complimented the man.
Names from all across the industry, including Tito Santana, Adam Pearce, Jimmy Valiant, Diana Hart Smith, Roddy Piper, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, “The Hurricane” Shane Helms, Ted DiBiase, and – especially – Tatanka (whose gimmick can be seen as heavily inspired by Chief) have complemented the man, with many of those mentioned paying tribute after his death.
Chief Jay Strongbow’s legacy will be many things; he was one of the most popular workers of the WWWF Era and a tag team specialist. However, stories of those who despised him are just another element in the career of a complex and divisive figure in the wrestling industry.
Chief once stated, "I had a lot of confidence in myself. Like Vince used to say, ‘You know where you’re going and how to get there.’ I have no regrets."
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Owen Hart’s Death: What Really Happened, From Those There
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