by Evan Ginzburg
When Gorilla Monsoon appeared on WWF TV this year, I didn't react well.
"NO!" I thought to myself. "Tell me that's not him!"
But it was.
"The Manchurian Giant" by way of Willingboro, N.J. had wasted away to almost nothing. You didn't need a medical degree to know it was the end.
Although he certainly deserved that one last pop from the crowd, I selfishly didn't want to remember him that way. But when I heard about his death, I also recalled some of the great moments seeing him live. These are but a few:
June 24, 1974. Madison Square Garden. Gorilla Monsoon vs. The Giant Baba. Both men incredibly large for those pre-steroid wrestling monster days. I will never forget them on their knees chopping each other across the chest, selling like crazy and feigning imminent collapse. I don't remember who won. It really doesn't matter.
June 25th, 1976. Shea Stadium. Andre the Giant vs. Chuck Wepner. Boxer vs. Wrestler. The Daily News described it best. "Leering like a monster kewpie doll, Andre the Giant picked Chuck Wepner up and tossed him gently toward second base . . . Wepner dangled for a moment as his foot got caught between two strands of rope, and the 7-foot-5 Giant daintily released him and let him tumble into the clay. In a moment, Wepner's cornerman, with Al Braverman and Paddy flood leading the charge, dashed across the ring, and tried to get their fallen boxer back within the 20-second time limit. Out of the other corner came the Giant's cornermen including the ominous Gorilla Monsoon." 40,000 witnessed the brief skirmish between the two camps. And yes, it was oh so brief, because you just didn't mess with Andre and Gorilla back then.
August 1, 1977 Madison Square Garden. "Superstar" Billy Graham vs. Bruno Sammartino. Gorilla Monsoon guest ref. After a pounding, Graham fled the ring and waved his hand in disgust as if to say, "I quit." Heading backstage, Monsoon ran after him, the crowd assuming the wild brawl was over. Suddenly Monsoon carried Graham over his shoulder, tossed him into the ring, where Bruno pounced on him like a wild beast. The match was stopped at 14:05 due to "excessive blood." The pop that Monsoon got when he brought Graham back was unforgettably loud, like a primeval roar of pure bloodlust.
It was beautiful. December 26, 1977. Nassau Coliseum. Monsoon wins a Battle Royale to face Graham in a title match. A classic brawl, with the "401 pound" Monsoon once again on his knees chopping his opponent to bits. It was still magic. And with Billy doing his classic "stagger" the 99% mark crowd "smelled a title change." It didn't happen of course, but it was great. Memorably great.
Gorilla Monsoon often had this little grin in the ring. The kind of grin that said, "This is fun." The kind of look that told me he loved that fan reaction. And I always remember him giving his all. Athough I saw him live literally dozens of times, the "stinkers" were so very few and far between. On most any night, if he was on a show you were guaranteed to get your money's worth.
Gorilla Monsoon is gone. And so is another piece of my youth.