When I became a pro wrestling fan in the summer of 1985, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was one of my favourites. He looked wild in his leopard-printed trunks with his unkempt mane of curly, dark hair, and chiselled, tanned physique. He didn’t wear boots. He wasn’t much of a technical wrestler but his finisher was fantastic. Near the end of a match, he would climb the top rope, give the double devil-horned salute (which he rechristened the “I love you” sign), leap halfway across the ring and splash his downed opponent waiting helplessly on the mat. Three seconds later, victory was his.
He played a major role in the evolution of the WWF from a Northeastern territory once part of the NWA into an independent global phenomenon. When “Rowdy” Roddy Piper smashed a coconut into his face and brutalized him verbally and physically during his second and most infamous appearance on Piper’s Pit, it led to one of the hottest feuds of the mid-80s. Snuka ended up being in the corner of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan during their tag team match with Piper and Paul Orndorff in the main event of the first WrestleMania.
Then, he disappeared from the company. Vince McMahon Jr. openly referred to him as a “basket case”. After a long stint in the AWA (where he feuded with the racist Apartheid South African supporter Col. DeBeers), Snuka would make a surprise return at WrestleMania 5. His second run which lasted until the early 90s was a huge letdown. (He eventually started wearing traditional boots.) The most memorable thing he did was put over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 7 which began The Dead Man’s 21-match winning streak at the event.
Before he became a popular babyface, though, he was a notorious heel managed at one point by Captain Lou Albano. (There’s a hilarious YouTube video of him flipping out while being interviewed by McMahon at ringside in an empty arena during a TV taping.) He challenged WWF Champion Bob Backlund in a famous steel cage match in Madison Square Garden. He lost shortly after performing the Superfly Splash from the top of the 15-foot structure. Backlund got out of the way in time and escaped to victory.
But after Albano violently screwed him over, another former heel “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers became his new cornerman. Snuka started challenging The Guiding Light’s protégé, Don Muraco, for his InterContinental title which he would never attain. After a fluky steel cage win by the champion in 1983 at Madison Square Garden, a bloodied, infuriated Snuka dragged Muraco back in, suplexed him into position, climbed to the very top with his bare feet touching the barbed wire and jumped off. This time, he landed right on The Magnificent One, who was also a bloody mess. This classic moment was witnessed by a young kid from New York who went on to surpass this dangerous bump in 1998. When Mick Foley was thrown off the top of the Hell In A Cell structure by The Undertaker at the King Of The Ring event landing quite roughly on a breakable announce table, it was clearly an homage to his hero.
But Jimmy Snuka was not a hero. Despite his accomplishments in the ring, he was a despicable misogynist, an underreported fact during his heyday. In 1983, while married, he started dating Nancy Argentino. He would routinely beat her. During one fateful night in May of that year, he murdered her. According to the autopsy, she “died of traumatic brain injuries consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object.” The coroner further noted that she had “suffered more than two dozen cuts and bruises — a possible sign of ‘mate abuse’ — on her head, ear, chin, arms, hands, back, buttocks, legs and feet.” He argued that it “should be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise.”
It was never proven otherwise and Snuka was the only suspect. (He preposterously claimed it was an accident.) But at the time, he was never arrested nor put on trial. Ask Vince McMahon Jr. why that didn’t happen. More than 30 years later, however, thanks to decades of dogged reporting by Irv Muchnick, Snuka was finally arrested. But his health had deteriorated considerably. Diagnosed with dementia and later, terminal stomach cancer, the case was dismissed late last year without any real resolution. Much earlier, Argentino’s family successfully sued him in 1985, receiving a half a million judgment but Snuka claimed poverty and never paid. Just a month after being told he had six months to live, he’s dead.
And now the disgusting spectacle of WWE Superstars singing The Superfly’s praises on Twitter has begun. And I’m sure glowing tributes are being prepared right this second for tomorrow night’s Raw and Tuesday night’s Smackdown Live. Expect a dedication at the very start of each program. How sickening, how sexist, how appalling.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 15, 2017
UPDATE & CORRECTION: There was no 10-bell salute but as expected, tonight’s Raw was dedicated to him in his memory. There was an overly glowing video tribute that made no mention of his violent misogyny. Smackdown Live will likely feature the same material on Tuesday.
I misspelled the name of Snuka’s long forgotten victim. It’s Nancy Argentino, not Argento. I’ve made all the necessary corrections in the title and text but because hyperlinks are permanent, unfortunately, that mistake will remain. My apologies for the error.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 16, 2017