wrestling great Mario Milano - Australias
Elvis - dies at 81 - 17th December 2016
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was a hero to tens of thousands of fans during the
golden era of professional wrestling in Australia
in the 1960s. Tall, dark and handsome, Mario Milano
just might have been the original Italian Stallion.
iconic wrestler, whose career spanned more than four
decades, passed away Dec. 9 at the age of 81. To many,
he was regarded as the greatest star during Australias
whose real name was Mario Bulfone, was the prototypical
wrestling babyface who preferred the good guy side
of the fence despite some promoters pleas to
turn heel. His image, he would argue, meant more to
him than a temporary payday. As a land of immigrants,
Australia required a specific type of hero, especially
in towns like Sydney and Melbourne. Mario Milano fit
that bill to a tee.
wrestled in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Africa,
North America, Mexico. My name, it was like Elvis,"
Milano said in a 2009 interview.
promoters Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle had created
a wrestling goldmine in the Land Down Under during
the 60s, bringing in a star-studded array of
American performers and top-flight international talent.
Australia would become a favorite destination for
wrestlers who loved the area and the favorable pay.
Milano, the list of formidable heels cycling through
Australia only made him a bigger name as a fan favorite,
engaging in money-drawing rivalries with such bad
guys as Killer Kowalski, Curtis Iaukea, Gorilla Monsoon,
Abdullah The Butcher, Killer Karl Kox, Ernie Ladd,
Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard.
and blessed with good looks, the 6-5, 265-pound Milano
had been a star in several U.S. territories during
the 60s but had been brought to Australia as
an Italian babyface following in the footsteps of
huge ethnic draws such as Bruno Sammartino and Domenic
DeNucci. And along with Golden Greek Spiros
Arion, they became heroes to the large migrant communities
in that country.
was the people's champion, long before Dwayne Johnson
(The Rock) had ever used or adapted the phrase for
professional wrestling, noted Australian media
analyst Greg Tingle.
Mario brought warmth, trust, respect and an
all-round good vibe to pro wrestling circles, when
such attributes were not always parallel with that
of the squared circle.
the popularity of pro wrestling in Australia waned
in the early 70s when Barnett left after buying
into the Atlanta promotion, Milano was still a hero
to the Aussie audience and remained a household name.
native of Italy who later moved to Venezuela, Milano
broke into pro wrestling in the early 50s under
a mask as Black Diablo. He wasnt quite 18 at
the time, and a local curfew in Venezuela prohibited
anyone under 18 from being out on the street by himself
after 9 oclock at night, so the mask was Milanos
way to conceal his identity and age. When his age
allowed, he began to wrestle under his real name.
Negro, a popular Venezuelan-based wrestler who had
attained success abroad, helped bring Milano to the
United States and included him on a tour of Texas.
Arguing that few fans would be able to pronounce Bulfone,
a promoter convinced Milano to change his name, adding
an o to the well-known Italian city.
enjoyed runs in several American territories during
the early 60s, teaming with Memphis legend Jackie
Fargo to claim a share of the Southern and world tag-team
titles, and holding the Southern tag belts on six
occasions with Tennessee favorite Len Rossi.
would become an even bigger name when Barnett brought
him to Australia in 1967 for what initially was scheduled
to be a three-month tour. During that year he would
become the biggest star in Barnetts World Championship
Wrestling promotion, holding the IWA world heavyweight
title on two different occasions and the IWA world
tag-team title three times with Red Bastien.
offered Milano a three-month extension, after which
the wrestler returned to his home in Nashville, where
he had made a name for himself on the Southern circuit.
Upon his return, a contract doubling his pay and airfare
back to Australia were awaiting him. Once he arrived
back in Australia, he never left, making that country
his home and raising a family there.
worked with some of the biggest stars in the business
and held more titles than any wrestler in the history
of the promotion.
my goodness, years ago I was making $800 a week when
the average wage was $30," Milano said of those
the mention of Mario's name on a wrestling card would
draw fans, be it to Festival Hall, or a less glamorous
venue such as suburban shopping centers in Sydney,
as was sometimes the go back in the 1990s, as his
in-ring career was ending, said Tingle.
used such traditional finishers as the abdominal stretch
and the atomic drop. And with his size and believability,
he made those simple maneuvers look convincing.
either like you or they dont, said Milano.
I was always nice to the people. It wasnt
just because. I respected the people. Especially the
older ones. I loved kids and children. I like to be
nice. Its my nature.
almost left the promotion when Barnett demanded that
he work as a heel. Despite his better instincts he
would finally agree, setting up an angle with The
Spoiler (Don Jardine) in which the masked mans
manager, Gary Hart, hypnotized Milano. Even then,
many fans refused to boo him, and the heel run was
would remain at the top of the card until World Championship
Wrestling, left with no TV deal, closed its doors
a carny-like industry noted with a few questionable
characters, to me (and I suspect thousands of others),
Mario stood out as a king and a true gentleman, and
it's no surprise that he will forever be known as
the original people's champion, said Tingle.
who had worked for Charlotte-based Crockett Promotions
in 1964, competed in a number of matches that year
at the former County Hall in Charleston. His stint,
though, consisted mostly of preliminaries and was
without the success he had attained in other territories
and would achieve just several years later in Australia.
last spoke with Mario several years ago, and he looked
back at those times with fond memories. He told me
that his formula for success was a simple one. The
people just liked me, and I guess I just liked them
50 years had passed since his time in the United States.
He had long since been somewhat of an ambassador of
wrestling in Australia, and was still in demand making
appearances and signing autographs.
the time, he said, he was working for an office supply
company in Melbourne and also had run a couple of
pizza joints in the past.
and soft-spoken, he seemed almost surprised that he
would be remembered so fondly by his Aussie fans.
learn about life. You meet different people and see
different things, said Milano, who was born
in Trieste, Italy.
also took pride in the fact that he had lived a relatively
clean life. Never a gambler or drug addict. No excesses,
he joked, except his (three) marriages. I could
have been a millionaire, he laughed.
father had been an upholsterer by trade, and his family
had immigrated to Venezuela following World War II.
His mother and father had both been accomplished stage
actors. I would love to be an actor, said
Milano, whose good looks and good physique helped
him garner roles in a few movies and soap operas.
what he wanted to do as a young man, he broke into
the wrestling business and never looked back.
was a wonderful family man, and his family loved him
deeply, Tingle said of Milano, who had five
children. I had the pleasure of speaking business
with his daughter Olympia a number of times, and the
trust, respect and love was ever-present in the conversations.
had long stopped following the product of the modern
era, preferring to remember his wrestling heyday in
of those memories had faded with the passing of time,
Milano said, but he still recalled what the business
had meant to him all those years later.
loved wrestling. I really did.
the ring, to promoter capacity, and even in the pizza
business which Mario enjoyed success, there is only
one - they broke the mold when God created Mario Milano,
Mike Mooneyham at email@example.com, or follow
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