|Ring name(s)||Antonino Rocca
|Billed height||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|Billed weight||226 lb (103 kg; 16.1 st)|
|Born||April 13, 1927
|Died||March 15, 1977 (aged 49)
New York, New York
|Trained by||Stanislaus Zbyszko|
|Debut||January 15, 1942|
Antonino Rocca (born Antonino Biasetton, April 13, 1927 – March 15, 1977) was an Italian-born Argentine professional wrestler. Rocca was a popular "good guy" with both Italian-American and especially Hispanic audiences.
He had a love for opera and was described as having an excellent - if untrained - singing voice. Maestro Arturo Toscanini, a rabid wrestling fan, was good friends with Rocca. Rocca's first name was and is frequently misspelled as "Antonio."
As a former champ rugby-player and overall tremendous athlete, Rocca was known for his unique wrestling style wowing audiences with his dazzling aerial maneuvers. He was responsible for the revival of the New York territory in the late 1940s, which would eventually become the modern day World Wrestling Entertainment. Rocca became one of the most well-known wrestlers during the golden age of television. He also had a successful tag team career, forming a popular tandem with Miguel Pérez. The two would draw large crowds to Madison Square Garden on a regular basis. Rocca had an uninterrupted seven-year run of headlining or co-headlining main-events at the Garden.
Rocca started his American professional wrestling career at an unknown date, perhaps as early as 1942. He was trained by Stanislaus Zbyszko as a professional wrestler. He is claimed to have made in-his ring professional wrestling debut on January 15, 1942, and there are reports he spent his early career wrestling for Midwest Wrestling Association. He supposedly left the company in 1944. Also known as 'centaur-man'.
After leaving Midwest Wrestling Association, Rocca had a stint with American Wrestling Association as Argentine Rocca. He wrestled for that promotion wrestling in its Ohio and Montreal territories capturing their World titles. The Ohio-based title was a widely-recognized one but not on a par with the original-American Wrestling Association or National Wrestling Alliance titles.
In 1948, Rocca left American Wrestling Association territories and went to wrestle for the newly born National Wrestling Alliance. He won the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship on August 6, 1948 from Dizzy Davis. He lost the title to Danny McShain on November 12. He would get his second Texas Heavyweight title by defeating Danny McShain on November 30. This time, he lost the title to Dizzy Davis on January 1, 1949.
In 1949, Rocca started wrestling in the New York City-area territory that had been a huge one up until the mid-1930s New York, and would later be run by Capitol Wrestling Corporation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). He was the box-office draw that helped bring wrestling back to Madison Square Garden, on a regular basis, for the first time since 1938.
Rocca was so popular that he was being used as a main eventer by promoters around the country who booked him through Joseph Raymond "Toots" Mondt, who was the co-founder of the booking office that provided the talent for the Garden and other venues. Rocca formed a tag team with Miguel Perez in 1957 and they both were a hugely-successful tag team. Together, they captured the NWA Capitol World Tag Team Championship, which was the top tag-team title used in CWC, and like so many other titles, was a regional one. They were never defeated after winning this title and the appellation was abandoned after about five years. Perez was videotaped with his original belt from that title in a 1987 30th anniversary tribute and the event is available for viewing on Youtube.
In 1963, the Capitol (CWC) promotion may have left the NWA when it was renamed the World Wide Wrestling Federation. WWE history lists a tournament final to crown the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion as Buddy Rogers over Rocca on April 29, 1963 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but this tournament is fictitious. Rogers had legitimately held the NWA world's title but lost that title to Lou Thesz in Toronto earlier in 1963 in a match -- and rematch -- ignored by the New York City and Chicago promoters.
In 1959 and into 1960, Rocca worked briefly with veteran Kola Kwariani and under the legendary promoter, impresario and genuine manager of wrestlers, Jack Pfefer, who took effective control of the Garden's wrestling office. Kwariani had just broken away from his partnership with Vince McMahon Sr. Rocca then set the post-World War II record for wrestling-attendance at Madison Square Garden's 49th-50th Street location, drawing 21,950 fans in a singles-match against an obscure wrestler named "the Amazing Zuma," a/k/a "Argentina Zuma," on January 2nd, 1960, as was reported by the New York Times. This was part of a series of three matches between the two held during a four-month period, when the pair earlier drew, on another night, almost as many fans to the Garden. The Times called the largest turnout of these matches the all-time record for wrestling attendance at Madison Square Garden, although there is some question whether a Jim Londos-led event in the 1930s drew a few hundred more fans. Rocca had also been provided with new wrestler, Bruno Sammartino as a partner and second-banana in tag-team matches. When business was then weak, the pair was split up to wrestle each other in the hopes that business would pick up. Eventually McMahon Sr. took the New York territory back and built it by first featuring "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and then, a few years later, the charismatic Sammartino as its champion.
After a demotion, and with the arrival of Buddy Rogers as the featured star at MSG in 1961, within a few years Rocca left the WWWF and briefly set up a competing promotion (supported by Jim Crockett, Sr. and others) based at the Sunnyside arena in Queens, NY.
In the mid- '70's, he teamed up with Vince McMahon Jr. to handle the color commentary on the WWWF's weekly television show.
Rocca was involved as a wrestler, but also as a referee in Japan during these years. He refereed a number of matches for the Japan Prowrestling Association (JPA), and later followed Antonio Inoki to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972. Among his matches as an official was the first main event of the first New Japan card, in which Karl Gotch defeated Inoki.
There is not much information on where Rocca worked in the following ten years, but it is known that in 1973, he joined the World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico with partner Miguel Perez. They captured the WWC North American Tag Team Championship on September 11, 1976 by defeating Los Infernos. They lost the titles to Higo Hamaguchi and Gordon Nelson on October 16.
Rocca later had a brief stint as a WWWF color commentator alongside Vince McMahon Jr.
On February 25, 1977, in his last days, Rocca made an appearance with World Wide Wrestling Federation, officiating a boxing match between Gorilla Monsoon and André the Giant at the famed Madison Square Garden.
On March 15, 1977, Rocca died in New York City at the age of 49, allegedly from the side-effects of alcohol abuse. He was later inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame Class of 1995.