Overlooked Wrestling Superstar Paul Orndorff Gone At 71

Mr. Wonderful may be gone. His accomplishments will not be forgotten. Rest in peace. 

Even people who were not big wrestling fans in the 1980s can probably name a number of popular wrestlers from that era. Hulk Hogan usually tops the list. Guys like “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Andre The Giant. Rowdy Roddy Piper. Ultimate Warrior. Jake “The Snake” Roberts. George “The Animal” Steele. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. I could go on for quite some time. One name that seems to slip through the cracks too often is Paul Orndorff. Monday he passed away at 71 years old. It is safe to say that “Mr. Wonderful” had an extremely underrated WWF run. Although Orndorff’s wrestling career was much more than just his time in WWF, Paul was absolutely one of the company’s top stars between his arrival in late 1983 and his final WWF rivalry in 1987 (against Ravishing Rick Rude). Records indicate that Orndorff battled Rude one final time in early 1988 before departing the company. 

There were so many epic moments featuring Orndorff. Let’s start with 1984. Hogan won the title in January at Madison Square Garden. That ushered in what many people consider to be the golden age of wrestling. Hulk’s first challenger at MSG a month later? You guessed it. None other than Orndorff. He challenged Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Title in March. Basically whoever held that belt was considered second in the company. April held a special place in my heart. Orndorff was part of a card held approximately one block from my house at a high school gym. In fact, he participated in the main event and was on the winning team. There were more clashes with Hogan and Santana throughout 1984, and Tito squared off against Orndorff at MSG again in May. Orndorff prevailed. Since Santana was counted out, the title did not change hands. He also claimed wins against Hogan, but with Hulk getting counted out or disqualified. 

By 1985, Orndorff had really taken off. Perhaps people forget that he competed in the main event at WrestleMania. Back when it didn’t have a number, as Roddy Piper once said. The original. Eventually he would become a good guy. Fans were cheering him. Orndorff became wildly popular. His action figure was one of the early ones made by LJN. Orndorff began taking on former manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. He also tangled with Piper, who was a former manager of Orndorff himself. They had also teamed up in the big WrestleMania main event. 

1986 was the peak of Orndorff’s WWF career. He was teamed up with Hogan in a match against King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd. Following the bout, Orndorff turned on Hogan. He surprised him with a clothesline before delivering a piledriver that left the Hulkster in a heap. This generated incredible heat, and resulted in an epic feud. Orndorff even stole Hogan’s music and tried to claim it as his own. The two battled across North America, including an outdoor show at Toronto’s CNE Stadium. Approximately 70,000 fans gathered to see the event, which set a new World Wrestling Federation record at the time. With 1986 coming to a close, Orndorff and Hogan would collide in steel cage matches throughout the United States. Their cage match in Hartford was aired on NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. Despite being taped in December, that air date was January 3, 1987. It actually aired hours after one of the worst playoff losses ever suffered by my New York Jets. This memorable clash was billed as the first steel cage match in network television history, and helped ease my pain.

A huge crowd saw Hogan battle Andre The Giant at WrestleMania III in March of 1987. About 90,000 fans were in attendance. Another record. Orndorff was suspiciously left off the card. There was talk of Orndorff being held out as a possible substitute because Andre’s health was a serious question mark. However, Paul had his own issues to deal with. He had injured his arm during a weightlifting accident. Instead of taking time off, Orndorff continued to wrestle Hogan in front of large crowds. Finally, he stepped away after the profitable program had concluded. Shortly after his return, Paul once again fired Bobby Heenan. He turned face, or good, once more. The first annual Survivor Series took place in November of 1987. Yet again, Orndorff found himself in the main event. He was part of Hulk’s team in the big showdown on Thanksgiving night. 

Another legend has left us. Maybe you hadn’t heard of him, or perhaps this terrific career was somehow lost among the greats. It truly is amazing that he was somehow overshadowed by the other giants of 1980s wrestling. He deserves his flowers. The guy stacked up with everybody. He had the look. A body of work. Put fannies in seats. Had memorable interviews. He did everything you could have possibly imagined. Mr. Wonderful may be gone. His accomplishments will not be forgotten. Rest in peace. 

Remembering the Late Wrestling Superstar ‘Kamala’

Another great has left us. The Ugandan Giant Kamala, whose real name was James Harris, died this weekend at age 70. Despite being from Mississippi, he had many fans convinced that he was just an uncivilized savage. A lot of people who got to know him had nice things to say. It seems that most considered him a gentle giant.

Kamala feuded with the biggest (literally and figuratively) stars in wrestling. His first WWF stint featured matches against Andre The Giant. In 1986, Kamala returned to the World Wrestling Federation. Again, a string of three bouts against a rival at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens culminated with a steel cage match. This time, the opponent was Hulk Hogan. These two wrestled twice at Madison Square Garden. Both cards were sold out. A match between Hogan and Kamala at Boston Garden also brought a sold-out crowd. There were even bouts between Kamala and King Kong Bundy. It was very odd for two major stars who were both bad guys to battle at that time, but this only added to the intrigue.

I can remember being on vacation in 1987 and watching wrestling from a store television as Paul Roma and Jim Powers were on the receiving end of top rope splashes from Kamala. My eyes were glued to the action. Kamala’s team was counted out, but it didn’t matter. The message was sent. This man needed to be feared. Hulk Hogan had a title defense on NBC against Sika less than two months later. It seemed like an odd and random match.

Years later, I found out that Sika was a substitute for Kamala. This would have been an awesome match with incredible hype. That was the night when Hulk Hogan became friends with Randy Savage after Elizabeth ran back for help. She was brutally shoved down by the Honky Tonk Man. Hogan came out and was triple-teamed before gaining the advantage. I remember a comment about how Hogan could possibly lose his title after he already had been worn down. You couldn’t really buy in. However, if Kamala was his opponent, you could believe!

In September of 1987, Kamala left the WWF over frustrations with his pay. He claimed that they would tell him none or only a small amount of his action figures sold. Between the crowds he drew with Hogan and his action figures, Kamala should have been well compensated. I wish he had stuck around longer for selfish reasons. His third WWF stint was much different. Kamala became a good guy, but lost most of his matches. The character became a joke. It made no sense. The character didn’t know how to roll over opponents and pin them. He had been doing it for years. Pretty ridiculous. Even for wrestling. There was one other major feud before his face turn. Kamala battled the Undertaker. Their match at Survivor Series was the first-ever televised casket match. They also met a few months earlier at Summerslam. Kamala claimed that he was paid $13,000 for that bout, while Undertaker’s pay was $500,000.

Although his wrestling run as a good guy was awful, there is one funny moment that lives on. Kamala learning to bowl is pretty funny.

There were numerous health battles in Kamala’s life. Each leg was amputated below the knee in recent years. Last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Four days later, he was gone. His death apparently took place in Brooklyn. I had no idea that he was there. If his health was better and we were in different times, it would have been very cool to see him. Definitely one of my favorite characters ever. Rest in peace, big man.


Remembering a Sportscasting Legend: Chet Coppock

Yesterday fans were scared that the world was going to lose wrestling great Ric Flair. It sounds like he is going to be fine. However, the sports world did lose someone last month. It seemed to go under the radar. This time of year features the NHL and NBA playoffs, baseball games, and the NFL draft.


One month ago today, Chet Coppock passed away. He was in a car crash, and died due to the injuries he sustained. Last month I saw that Chet was trending on twitter, and knew that was bad news. Most of my memories involving Chet are from about 25 years ago. I understand that the younger generation isn’t familiar with him. Coppock was the Chicago ring announcer for Wrestlemania II, so that earns him points in my book.


How was I introduced to a Chicago sportscaster? Well, I often paint the picture of just how different life was when I grew up. We know that this was before you could easily go on your computer or phone to get scores. Even television was very different. We didn’t have constant scrolls on the bottom line of every sports channel. ESPN2 debuted in 1993, and we did not even have it when the channel started. One place became popular for me when I wanted scores. Channel 12. It was Newsport, and Coppock hosted a show called NewSportTalk.

At first he was pretty much background noise as the scores went by. This is a good opportunity to point out that my fantastic 1994 achievement is now 25 years old. I went 10-0 on my parlay sheet. Even though it only paid 200-1 and some places gave out 300-1. When I saw that the Patriots had tied Minnesota at 20 to force overtime and the game had gone over 39, my tenth win was sealed. I remember celebrating after seeing the update on Newsport.

Anyway, a funny thing happened. I started to tune in specifically for Chet’s show. Or, I would leave it on after catching up on scores to hear his guests. Fran Fraschilla tweeted about his appearances on Chet’s program after Coppock’s passing. The “Godfather of Sports Talk Radio” was 70 years old. RIP Chet.



R.I.P. Bruno Sammartino: The Passing of an Ultimate Legend

Wrestling icon Bruno Sammartino has passed away at age 82. His two title reigns lasted a combined 11+ years. Bruno held the championship for 2,803 days during his first reign, which is the longest in company history. Your parents and grandparents may not have watched wrestling in decades, but chances are they know about Bruno. If they’re Italian, they definitely know. Bruno probably got them into wrestling and was the reason it became popular.

Therefore, he is probably one of the major reasons you watch it today if you’re a current fan or watched it 30 years ago if you’re old like me. Either because Bruno brought the business success or because he initially made your family interested and watching wrestling became a family tradition.

If you are fairly young and watch his matches for the first time today, you’ll probably be shocked at his style. Lots of punching and kicking. Bruno was certainly not a high flyer. Obviously wrestling has changed dramatically in the last 50 or 60 years. The fact that he was so loved and his bosses wanted him to remain champion for years is even more impressive when you consider that he wasn’t flying off ropes like today’s wrestlers. I remember him mostly as an announcer.

Bruno wrestled some matches during the mid and late 1980s. Vince McMahon wanted to cash in on his popularity when Hulk Hogan was not on the card. Sammartino appeared in Boston and New York as either a wrestler or Piper’s Pit guest. Even at 50 and 51 years of age, Bruno’s name carried weight in Northeastern cities. Few stats convey his popularity better than selling out Madison Square Garden 187 times.

After leaving the WWF, Bruno had his differences with McMahon. I’m glad that they eventually made peace. In 2013 Bruno took his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame. It was good to see him getting the proper recognition. Hopefully, he enjoyed the spotlight. People have been quick to praise him for being a great guy. Whether it’s somebody calling WFAN or men involved with wrestling on Twitter, there have been stories about how nice he was. It seems like Bruno treated both fans and people in the business with respect.

RIP Bruno. Thanks for everything.