by Richard Burton
Wrestling- Then & Now Issue 148, January 2003

Jimmy Snuka has always enjoyed competition.

Throughout his life, the man who has thrilled millions of fans woldwide with his "Superfly" leap from the top rope has worked to be the best he can be in whatever he sets out to do.

Snuka, 59, always was quite the impressive athlete and stood out in a crowd.

When he was seven years old, he was a competition cliff diver in the Fiji Islands.

"The deal, brother, was to go higher and higher," he said. "I had that competitive spirit."

From there, he played soccer and rugby.

Those same competitive juices continued flowing, and he began bodybuilding.

Snuka's best bench press at the time was an amazing 525 pounds and part of what he called "a good foundation," which led him to become a three-time Mr. Hawaiian Islands Bodybuilding Champion.

While training, he ran into several wrestlers, one of which was Dean Ho.

"He kept telling me, 'Come on, brother, get in on this, let's go make some money," Snuka recalled. "I then decided that after I won the Mr. Hawaiian Islands title [1969] that it was time to give [wrestling] a shot."

And when he started training to become a wrestler, he discovered something.

"I loved it right off the bat," he said. "It was a lot of fun, and I was around some really good people."

He needed a nickname, so he thought back to his days of cliff diving in Fiji.

"I got [the Superfly name] from cliff diving," Snuka said. "I got into pro wrestling and thought, all right, now I can use that here."

Early on, he worked in Portland and then went to Fritz Von Erich's Texas territory before heading back to Portland again, a place he stayed for eight years.

After this, he moved on to Gene Kiniski's Vancouver territory and then headed to San Francisco.

"They were all great, and I loved working for them all," Snuka said. "It is so much fun to share your spirit with different people and have a good time."

Along the way, he competed in both singles and tag team matches and got a chance to learn from many seasoned veterans.

"Ray Stevens was a great legend, and I really learned a lot from him," Snuka said. "He was really old school, and I enjoyed working with him a great deal."

In 1979, Snuka wound up in the Mid-Atlantic territory, which encompassed the Carolinas.

He wound up putting on some great matches with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and wound up winning the U.S. Title. Snuka and Steamboat looked out for one another in the ring.

"Communication and taking care of one another is a hallmark of what we are trying to do in this business," Snuka said. "When it works, you feel good, and that carries over to the people."

Snuka also earned the NWA World Tag Team Title with "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff before working as a heel with The Iron Sheik.

"No matter who I was working, whether it be Orndorff, Steamboat, or the Sheik, we all wanted to make things work," he said. "When I was with the Sheik, I was on the other side of the line, but I tell you, I really love both sides.

"That's what keeps you going. Both sides are good, and you are trying to make it work together. It is great. I am so grateful for having the chance to work with so many great guys in the business."

Snuka then went to the WWF, where he achieved even more fame.

"It is the Big Apple, brother," Snuka said. "When you get to the WWF, you know you are with the big boys."

He wasn't nervous about being under a microscope; he was excited.

In fact, his monumental leap off of a steel cage in a WWF World Title match with Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden still has fans talking today.

"It had never been done before, and we had national TV and a sold out crowd, and I had to think of something fast," Snuka said. "I took one look at the top of the cage and said, 'Man, I got to do this,' and I started climbing to the top.

"By this time, the fans were totally shocked, and it turned out good. I tell you, brother, I really love to entertain the fans; and the people come to wrestling to be entertained, forget about their problems, and go home happy."

A subsequent cage match with Don "The Magnificent" Muraco was another in what Snuka calls "highlights of his career."

Everyone remembers Snuka for the battles he had with the villainous "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

The incident where Piper smashed a coconut over Snuka's head on a segment of Piper's Pit was the start of one of the most heated feuds in WWF history.

"The timing was the key," Snuka said. "The setting up of him having the coconut and him calling me a 'monkey' and saying 'he lives in the jungle and all he eats is fruits and coconuts' came at the right time, and it really wound up working well."

Snuka's feud with Piper and the emergence of Hulkamania marked the first big infusion of wrestling into the mainstream with the birth of Wrestlemania I.

"It was such a great rush," Snuka said. "It was like being in heaven almost."

He would up leaving the WWF before Wrestlemania 2 to rest, take his family back to Hawaii, and work with All-Japan Pro Wrestling.

The veterain star also worked in Hawaii for Polynesian Pacific Wrestling where he was the company's champion and faced Jerry "The King" Lawler in a big feud.

A run with Verne Gagne's AWA was also part of his post-WWF run. He had another "hot" feud with the infamous South African character known as Col. DeBeers.

Snuka did return to the WWF around 1991 and faced The Undertaker at a Wrestlemania event, as well as many other stars on the fringe of breaking out.

He was regarded as a fine teacher during his second stint with the company.

"That's what you have to do," Snuka said. "If he ever wanted me back, I would love to work for him."

In 1992, Snuka gave his knowledge to an upstart promotion called Eastern Championship Wrestling.

The promotion eventually evolved into Extreme Championship Wrestling, and Snuka was Eastern's first champion and helped lay the groundwork for Shane Douglas, The Sandman, and Rob Van Dam to compete at a national level.

"You have got to have faith and confidence," Snuka said. "When things are done right, it can be very rewarding."

Snuka wasn't surprised by the rise of ECW but was not expecting the company to fold in January 2001.

"I was surprised about it," he said. "I think the reason was because they went out too quick and too hard instead of taking the ride slowly. They kind of blew it all off quick with nothing else to cover."

With the death of ECW and WCW, Snuka has seen the wrestling business become tougher for the younger generation.

"It is so hard for the kids," he said. "There used to be two places to go, but now there is just one. It is really tough for them."

Today, Snuka wrestles at least three times a week on the independent circuit and has also got a chance to team with his son Solo (Jimmy Snuka Jr.)

The father enjoyes seeing his 27-year-old son doing well in the wrestling business.

"He loves it, and I am glad that I got to be right in there next to him," Snuka said.

Also on the horizon for Snuka is a possible autobiography, which his daughter Lenioa will be helping him with.

"I really haven't started anything yet," he said. "I am thinking about it and putting it all together, and it is better not to rush things. I am taking it slowly."

The thrill of getting in the ring still excites Snuka.

"I have the same feeling I had when I first started," Snuka said. "I love the people. It is so great to get to meet and talk to fans. I really love them. I wish I could sit down and write to each of them and tell them 'thank you.'"

And it is certain that fans across the world would love to tell Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka the same thing.

Richard Burton writes a pro wrestling column for the Ocala Star-Banner. Special thanks to Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and his daughter Lenioa for help with this interview. Check out Jimmy's website of www.superflysnuka.com

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