Memory Lane: Gorilla Monsoon

Just to show you that even pro wrestling is more tasteful than our politics, these days, here’s what happened in 1976 when Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion, took on the late Gorilla Monsoon (1937-1999).

Ah, Gorilla Monsoon! He was really Robert James “Gino” Marella from Rochester, New York, former NCAA wrestling star. But he hit it big when they billed him as the savage Gorilla Monsoon from the wilds of Manchuria. One of my high school friends attended a wrestling match at Temple Hall in Highland Park, NJ, and became sort of a kid celebrity when Gorilla Monsoon threw an autograph book right back in his face.

And then, with pro wrestling’s traditional penchant for the incredible, Gorilla Monsoon was transformed into a fan favorite, a gentle giant who had no difficulty at all, speaking English, and an all-around good guy.

The Muhammad Ali dust-up was hype for Ali’s coming bout with Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. What a hoot that was. But Gorilla never admitted that his meeting with Ali was scripted in advance. So maybe he did wipe up the mat with the champ–ya think?

My wife and I went to a lot of pro wrestling matches, way back when, and saw all the greats of the era. We don’t go anymore: an awful lot of artless zing, with slob appeal raised to a height that had to be seen to be believed (and enjoyed), has gone out of wrestling since then.

But we do have some memories that still tickle us to this day.

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