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Gorilla Monsoon
Ring name(s) Gorilla Monsoon
Billed height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Billed weight 440 lb (200 kg)
Born June 4, 1937(1937-06-04)
New York, New York
Died October 6, 1999 (aged 62)
Willingboro, New Jersey
Billed from Manchuria
Willingboro, New Jersey
Debut 1958

Robert James "Gino" Marella (June 4, 1937 – October 6, 1999), better known by his ring name of Gorilla Monsoon, was an American professional wrestler, play-by-play announcer, and booker. He is famous for his run as one of the great super-heavyweights, and later as the voice of the World Wrestling Federation as announcer and backstage manager during the 1980s and 1990s, and added on-screen President to his duties in the latter decade. In professional wrestling, the staging area just behind the entrance curtain at an event, a position which Marella established and where he could often be found during WWF shows late in his career, is named the Gorilla Position in his honor.

Contents

Career

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Amateur career

Marella attended Jefferson High School in Rochester, New York, becoming a standout athlete in football, amateur wrestling, and track and field. At the time, he weighed over 300 pounds (136 kg), and was affectionately called "Tiny" by his teammates.

Marella was also a standout athlete after high school at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. He continued to wrestle, now weighing over 350 pounds, and took second in the 1959 NCAA Wrestling Championships. He also held several school athletic records, including an 18-second wrestling pin, and several track-and-field distinctions. He was inducted into the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973.

Marella's size and athletic ability attracted the attention of New York promoter Pedro Martinez, and he went to wrestle for Martinez after graduating from Ithaca in 1959.

Early career

Marella originally billed himself as Gino Marella, a proud Italian-American babyface who would sing in Italian prior to his matches. Even after changing his stage name, "Gino" stuck as Marella's nickname among friends and colleagues, including Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who would call Marella "Gino" on the air. Marella garnered moderate popularity, but soon realized that fans paid more attention to outlandish monster heel gimmicks, and they therefore made more money. Marella totally revamped his image, growing a long beard and billing himself as Gorilla Monsoon, a terrifying giant from Manchuria. Supposedly born on an isolated farm, "Monsoon" traveled across the countryside with a gypsy caravan wrestling bears, spoke no English, ate raw meat, and drank his victims' blood. The story given on WWWF television was a bit different: his first manager, Bobby Davis, claimed to have discovered Monsoon in Manchuria wading nude in a mountain stream. The Monsoon character was infinitely more successful, and fans were genuinely afraid of him, sparking a huge financial windfall for Marella. In the ring, Monsoon dominated opponents with vicious chops, the dreaded Manchurian Splash, and his signature move, the Airplane Spin.

Marella first wrestled Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Championship on October 4, 1963, at Roosevelt Stadium, in Jersey City, NJ. Monsoon qualified by winning a partially televised Ring Wrestling Magazine tournament, where he pinned Killer Buddy Austin in about a minute. Monsoon's disqualification win over Sammartino in NJ triggered a series of rematches at Madison Square Garden, and they would renew the feud again there in 1967. Monsoon"s actual height was only 6'4" tall and he weighed in around 350 pounds.

WWWF/WWF career

In 1963, Vincent J. McMahon reformed the Capitol Wrestling Corporation into the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) (currently known as World Wrestling Entertainment), breaking his territory away from the National Wrestling Alliance in an attempt to create a new national powerhouse. At the time, the WWWF was the dominant wrestling promotion in the Northeast U.S. Marella formed a friendship with McMahon, and became a 1/6th shareholder in the WWWF, controlling bookings in several WWWF territories. He also became one of the promotion's top heels, feuding with popular babyface champion Bruno Sammartino in sellout arenas across the country. Despite his huge size, which was now in excess of 400 pounds, Monsoon had great agility and stamina, often wrestling Sammartino to one-hour time-limit draws.

Monsoon teamed up with Killer Kowalski with success. In 1963, they defeated Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard to win the U.S. Tagteam Championship in 1963 in two straight falls; they similarly lost the belts in 2 straight falls to the Tolos Brothers (Chris and John) in December, 1963, at the Teaneck, NJ Armory. Monsoon and Kowalski reunited in the late 1960s to defeat champion Bruno Sammartino and Victor Rivera 2 falls to 1 in Madison Square Garden in a main event, marking the first, and possibly only time, that Sammartino & Rivera lost as a tagteam.

In 1969, Monsoon became a babyface, befriending his former arch-rival when Sammartino rescued him from an attack by The Sheik. The stage was set for Monsoon to become a fan favorite of the 1970s and feud with top heels of the decade, including champion "Superstar" Billy Graham. He also feuded with André the Giant, and the two engaged in a special boxing match in Puerto Rico (a territory which Monsoon co-owned at the time) in 1977, which André won.

On June 2, 1976, a very famous incident occurred in Philadelphia involving boxing great Muhammad Ali. Ali, preparing for his upcoming crossover bout with Antonio Inoki in Japan later that month, jumped into the ring as Monsoon was concluding a short match against Baron Mikel Scicluna. Ali removed his shirt and started dancing around Monsoon while gesturing and throwing jabs at him, to which Monsoon responded by grabbing Ali in his Airplane Spin and slamming him to the mat. Marella would never reveal whether the incident was preplanned. In an interview, he commented, "I never saw him before and haven’t seen him since."[1]

A kind of torch bearer of the Vincent J. McMahon-era WWWF, Gorilla Monsoon was rabidly supported by New York audiences. On June 16, 1980, a young and up-and-coming Hulk Hogan was booked to face him at Madison Square Garden. At the time, Hogan was a widely followed heel character, while Monsoon was still a babyface. However, in order to push the new talent, McMahon told Hulk Hogan to beat Monsoon in under a minute. Upon that outcome, the crowd became livid and chased Hogan when he was leaving the arena, turning over his car. Policemen on horses had to be summoned to quiet the mob.

As the 1980s began, Marella's in-ring career wound down. On August 23, Monsoon put his career on the line in a match against Ken Patera. Monsoon lost the match and stayed true to his word, retiring several weeks later and returning just three times: wrestling a match in 1982 as a substitute for André the Giant, taking part in Big John Studd's "Body Slam Challenge" in 1983, and participating in a special "old timers" battle royal in 1987 which was won by Lou Thesz. The next phase of his career began, as the voice and backstage manager of WWF.

After in-ring retirement

In the early 1980s, Vincent J. McMahon's son, current WWE owner Vincent K. McMahon, began assuming the reins of the promotion from his father. The elder McMahon asked his son to take care of long-time employees that had been loyal to him. The younger McMahon agreed, and in 1982, Vince bought Marella's shares in the company in exchange for a guarantee of lifetime employment. As he had been to his father, Marella became a close confidant of the younger McMahon, and assumed a prominent backstage role. In addition, McMahon needed a new announcer team to head up his television programming, and installed Marella with the recently retired Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the new announcing team.

Marella and Ventura had great chemistry, with Ventura as the pro-heel color commentator and Marella as the pro-face "voice of reason." Marella and Ventura called five of the first six WrestleManias together (the notable exception was WrestleMania 2, where Marella commentated on the Chicago portion of the event with Gene Okerlund and Cathy Lee Crosby while Ventura commentated on the Los Angeles portion with Lord Alfred Hayes and Elvira). The Ventura/Monsoon duo of heel and babyface were the original broadcast duo that everyone tried to emulate, especially Ventura's charismatic pro-heel character. When Ventura left the WWF in 1990, Monsoon was paired with villainous manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, another duo that subsequent wrestling commentary teams have often tried to emulate. The two also formed a real-life friendship which Heenan often recalls fondly.

Monsoon called the first eight WrestleManias from 1985-1992. Monsoon was the lead announcer on the syndicated show, WWF All Star Wrestling, its successor WWF Wrestling Challenge, and the USA Network weekend show, WWF All American Wrestling, as well as appearing often on the WWF weeknight show, WWF Prime Time Wrestling. Monsoon also served as co-host of Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS during McMahon's short-lived ownership of the promotion.

Commentating style

As a play-by-play commentator, Monsoon's colorful announcing style proved a perfect fit for the character-based WWF while, at the same time, maintaining the sporting aspect of pro wrestling. Not only would Monsoon call holds (he was the first one to name the Undertaker's "Tombstone") but he consistently brought up the athletic competition frequently mentioning his and Jesse's wrestling backgrounds and drawing on that, saying on occasion he was "glad he had retired" after a devastating move. Gorilla would also mention the "winners and losers purse" when it came to match decisions. Monsoon accentuated the storylines surrounding the bouts whilst relying on hyperbole, deadpan humor and unique catchphrases. One such phrase was his (mis)use of the word "literally", such as "The Garden just literally exploded!" Another popular catchphrase was, "...And a beauty!", which would usually follow a well-executed wrestling move ("A clothesline and a beauty!"). Another of Monsoon's phrases was "Oh, will you STOP?", often directed at co-commentator Bobby "The Brain" Heenan usually after Heenan went off on one of his many heel-backing tangents or other rants. One other popular catchphrase was "This place has gone strictly bananas!", playing off the entrance of a wrestler or a finish where the crowd erupts into cheer or boo. Many times, Monsoon would also substitute simple words with needlessly complex and obscure equivalents, most memorably often using "external occipital protuberance" as an alternative to "back of the head." Heenan often mocked this, once sarcastically calling a move to the "cervial dervial part of the back." While commentating a match where a title changes hands, Monsoon always declared, "History has been made!" Whenever he would be talking about something he didn't believe would happen, he would always say, "Highly unlikely". He would often remark, when speaking to someone about their lack of presence at some event, that they were "conspicuous by their absence".

Later career

Marella stepped down as the WWF's lead announcer at WrestleMania IX to make way for WCW recruit Jim Ross. He commentated with Jim Ross on WWF Radio for the broadcasts of SummerSlam 1993, Survivor Series 1993 and Royal Rumble 1994. He returned to the television broadcast team to call the King of the Ring 1994 with Randy Savage. Marella's last pay-per-view as a commentator was calling the 1994 Survivor Series with Vince McMahon. Marella remained in his backstage role and appeared on-air frequently, becoming the storyline WWF President in the summer of 1995 (replacing Jack Tunney). The WWF President's role was to arbitrate disputes between wrestlers and make matches, similar to the current WWE general managers. Health concerns forced him to relinquish this role during the summer of 1997. Instead of naming a replacement, the WWF decided to retire the role of "President" and introduced Sgt. Slaughter as the new WWF Commissioner in August 1997. Marella's health deteriorated from there. In late 1998, Marella returned briefly to call the international version of WWF Superstars. Sometime in early 1999, Marella appeared in a WWF Attitude commercial featuring Freddie Blassie, Ernie Ladd, Pat Patterson and Killer Kowalski. His final appearance on WWF television before his death was as one of the three judges for a Brawl for All contest between Bart Gunn and Butterbean at WrestleMania XV. Because of his frail appearance and rapidly declining health, the camera only focused on Monsoon during his introduction as a judge, to which he received a sustained standing ovation.

Personal life

Marella was married to his wife of over 40 years, Maureen, with whom he had two adopted sons, Joey (a former WWF referee, who preceded him in death) and Victor; and two daughters, Sharon and Valerie.

He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame on June 19, 1994.

Death and legacy

Marella died on October 6, 1999 of heart failure brought on by complications of diabetes, at his home in Willingboro Township, New Jersey.[2] In a tribute that aired on WWF television after his death, McMahon described Marella as "one of the greatest men I have ever known."

WCW Commentator Tony Schiavone acknowledged Marella's death (at Bobby "The Brain" Heenan's request) on the WCW Monday Nitro taping held after he died, even though Marella never worked for WCW. Afterwards, Heenan broke down in tears and left the announcers' booth.

Hip-hop artist Talib Kweli's 2002 album Quality contained a song called "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap", featuring fellow MC's Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch, which paid homage to him.

When Bobby Heenan was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, in his acceptance speech, he paid tribute to Monsoon, saying "I wish Monsoon were here."

In 2007, when Anthony Carelli made his debut with the WWE, as a tribute to Marella, he was given the ring name "Santino Marella".

In wrestling

Championships and accomplishments

References

  1. ^ Ithaca College Quarterly 1999/No. 4
  2. ^ Hagenmayer, S. Joseph. "ROBERT MARELLA, 62, WRESTLER KNOWN AS 'GORILLA MONSOON'", The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 7., 1999. Accessed February 27, 2008. "Robert "Gorilla Monsoon" Marella, 62, a professional wrestler whose demeanor in the ring resembled Atilla the Hun's but whose deeds and personality were more akin to those of Santa Claus, died yesterday at his Willingboro home after being ill for the last month."

WWWF All Asiatic Champion

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