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The Smark Henry 2017 Midyear Report: In Memoriam


The Smark Henry Midyear Report is a new series where we take a look at the wrestling we watch around the world and assess each show/brand/company's performance in the first six months of 2017.

Heaven must have a wrestling ring.

The first half of 2017 was a great time for wrestling, but also took the lives of some notable and legendary names in sports entertainment. We’ve lost quite a few names in the industry, from WWE Hall of Famers to footnotes in the long history of wrestling.

So let’s step back a bit, have a moment of silence, and remember the contributions of nine of the most notable deaths we’ve encountered this year.

Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (5/18/1943—1/15/2017)


Snuka may not have been pro wrestling’s first high-flyer, but he certainly is the most influential one. The former bodybuilder made his name in territories and the World Wrestling Federation as a risk-taking daredevil, finishing his opponents off with the legendary Superfly Splash. His famous leap off the top of a steel cage in Madison Square Garden inspired many of today’s legends to make their mark in the wrestling ring: from Mick Foley to Tommy Dreamer and Bubba Ray Dudley.

While his celebrated career is enough to warrant him a deserved place in the history books and the WWE Hall of Fame, his checkered past—from drug addictions to homicide charges—draws a dark cloud on his legacy. Still, Snuka remains to be one of the pillars of modern-day wrestling, setting the bar high for generations of wrestlers to achieve and surpass.

Chavo Guerrero, Sr. (1/7/1949—2/11/2017)


A scion of the most legendary family in Mexican-American pro wrestling, many of us know Chavo Guerrero, Sr. as “Chavo Classic," the father and manager to the wily and villainous Chavo Guerrero in his quest for recognition and respect. Yet the former WWE Cruiserweight Champion was a multi-time champion in the territories, with his most memorable feud involving the late legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

Many of Chavo Classic’s title reigns were earned in the territories, honed and won by the traditions of Guerrero tag team wrestling. Often teaming with his brothers, Chavo continued wrestling way into his sixties, and passed on February of this year.

Nicole Bass (10/26/1964—2/16/2017)


The most vivid memory many wrestling fans may have of Nicole Bass was how she tamed Val Venis with a long kiss, after weeks of the Big Valbowski trying to avoid the bodybuilder-turned-pro-wrestler. At a time when women’s wrestling was all about evening gown matches and the gratuitous display of sexual charms, Nicole Bass stood out by being an imposing, domineering figure in the ring.

Bass’s life after pro wrestling was filled with many challenges and obstacles, culminating in breakdowns and other bits of wrestling news that made her a subject of ridicule. While her WWE career was brief, it was notable enough for wrestling history aficionados to take notice: she may not have been like most of the women in the roster, but she was unique and bold enough to make her mark then.

George “The Animal” Steele (4/16/1937—2/17/2017)


Many of us know George “The Animal” Steele as a savage beast, who routinely chewed on turnbuckle pads and intimidated his opponents way before the bell rung. Yet beyond the hairy upper body and the incoherent grunts that made his character, Steele was a well-educated, articulate man who was beloved by fans and his colleagues alike.

While Steele’s resume may lack in prestigious titles from federations and territories, Steele was one of the most popular figures of the Rock N’ Wrestling era. He was also one of the first wrestlers to parlay his in-ring popularity to Hollywood, landing a role the Tim Burton classic, “Ed Wood.” The Animal’s career is also one of the longest in recent memory, spanning over 40 years from his debut in 1967 to his most recent appearance in a WWE ring in 2010.

Ivan Koloff (8/25/1942—2/18/2017)



“The Russian Bear” made history in 1971, when he ended the seven-year championship reign of the legendary Bruno Sammartino. His menacing look, coupled with the chains that he brought with him to the ring, made him one of the most terrifying characters in pro wrestling between the 1970s and the 1980s.

Playing on America’s attitudes towards what was then the USSR, Ivan Koloff led “The Russians,” the top heel group of the National Wrestling Alliance during the time. As his career wound down in the late 80s, the former WWWF Champion took on the role of an advisor and mentor. As “The Russian Bear,” Koloff helped shape the “evil foreigner” character trope that is still used to this day, especially with the likes of Rusev and Jinder Mahal on top of the card.

“Outlaw” Ron Bass (12/21/1948—3/7/2017)


Another famous name from the NWA, “Outlaw” Ron Bass could be credited for being one of the pioneers of the Pedigree, or what he called the “Texas Gourdbuster.” His career in the WWE was short and happened toward the end of his career, but was not without its memorable moments. The tough-talking, rope-wielding cowboy feuded with the likes of Brutus Beefcake, The Junkyard Dog, and a young Shawn Michaels.

Bass was one of the wrestlers who saw what was then the WWF take off into a global phenomenon, after decades of wrestling in the territories. While earning his own share of singles titles, many of Bass’s successes came in the form of tag team gold, partnering with the likes of Stan Hansen, Barry Windham, Stan Lane, and Roddy Piper.

Larry Sharpe (6/26/1951—4/10/2017)



“The Monster Factory” is one of the most famous professional wrestling schools in the history of the game. Its alumni include the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow, D’Lo Brown, Chris Candido, Raven, and Sheamus, among others. Many of them owe their careers to the trainer who made it all happen: “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe.

Sharpe’s career was honed in the territories, but his history as a teacher and trainer is what sets him apart from many of the names in this list. The long list of champions that walked the halls of The Monster Factory is a testament to Sharpe’s impact on the business.

Rosey (4/7/1970—4/17/2017)


From being part of 3-Minute Warning to becoming a Super Hero In Training, Rosey was a huge man who moved like a cruiserweight and hit like nobody’s business. A member of the Anoa’i wrestling dynasty, Rosey helped set the stakes for an already unshakeable foundation for one of the most successful families in wrestling.

Rosey was a multi-time tag team champion in the independents, but made his mark as the bumbling yet endearing sidekick to The Hurricane between 2003 and 2006. Skits and other segments transformed the once thug-like enforcer of Eric Bischoff into a full-fledged superhero, which won the intrepid masked duo the WWE World Tag Team Championships in 2005.

Mr. Pogo (2/5/1951—6/23/2017)


Mention the name “Mr. Pogo” to a fan of Japanese hardcore matches, and you would hear of excited recollections of exploding barbed wire, fireballs, and other death-defying deathmatch staples that made Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling the bedrock of hardcore wrestling in the Far East. While Mr. Pogo started his career in the typical wrestling matches we’re used to today, his name was built on the suspension of disbelief that came with his feuds with Atsushi Onita and Terry Funk.

Mr. Pogo’s deathmatch career happened late in his career, but was successful enough for him to consider parlaying his fame into a run at Japanese politics. Mr. Pogo passed on at the age of 66, after a long career that spanned across oceans and nations.

*****

Deaths will always be part of professional wrestling: for the most part, the wrestlers who died early this year may not ring a bell to most of us. For some of us, they may be part of an old history that grows faster and more frenetic as episodes and pay-per-views go by. Still, it is up to us as wrestling fans to commit these careers to memory, so that by the time our generation’s heroes pass on, we can speak more of the great careers that have shaped what is perhaps the greatest show of all.

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