Gorilla Monsoon

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For the band of the same name, see Gorilla Monsoon (band).
Gorilla Monsoon
Birth name Robert James Marella
Ring name(s) Gino Marella[1]
Gorilla Monsoon
Billed height 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)[1]
Billed weight 401 lb (182 kg)[2]
Born (1937-06-04)June 4, 1937
New York, New York
Died October 6, 1999(1999-10-06) (aged 62)
Willingboro Township, New Jersey
Billed from Manchuria[1][2]
Willingboro, New Jersey
Debut 1959[2]
Retired 1981[2]

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 commentator, and booker. He is famous for his run as a super-heavyweight main eventer, and later as the voice of the World Wrestling Federation, as commentator and backstage manager during the 1980s and 1990s. He became on-screen WWF President 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.

Career[edit]

Amateur career[edit]

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.[2] During the summers he was at Ithaca College, he was a construction worker in Rochester. One of the buildings he helped construct was the Rochester War Memorial. He was inducted into the Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010 along with longtime childhood friend Frank Marotta who gave a speech on his behalf.[3]

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. Gorilla was 6'5" and weighed around 350 pounds when he first started wrestling professionally. By the end of his career he was up around 389 pounds.

Early career[edit]

Marella originally billed himself as Gino Marella,[1] 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 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 far 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. At the end of the Jersey City match as Monsoon was sitting on the mat a fan (not part of the show) jumped into the ring and busted the back of a wooden chair over Monsoon's head

WWWF/WWF career[edit]

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 1/6 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, then 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 November 1963, they defeated Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard to win the U.S. Tag Team Championship. The following month, the duo lost the belts to the Tolos Brothers (Chris and John) in Teaneck, New Jersey.[2] 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.

Monsoon also teamed with Professor Toru Tanaka, and they had a number of tag matches in Madison Square Garden. They won a main event on disqualification over Sammartino and Spyros Arion; lost a Texas Death rematch to the same team. A year later, after defeating teams such as Al Costello & Dr. Bill Miller; and Bobo Brazil and Earl Maynard, they went on to lose a main event to Sammartino and Victor Rivera. Monsoon had semi main event matches with Spyros Arion as well as Bobo Brazil in his key heel years.

In 1969, Monsoon became a babyface, befriending his former arch-rival when Sammartino rescued him from an attack by Crazy Luke Graham. 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 turned heel again in 1977 and feuded with André the Giant, and the two engaged in a special boxing match in Puerto Rico (where Monsoon owned stock in the territory), which André won.

As a face, he had major wins in Madison Square Garden, including over Killer Kowalski as well as Ernie "Cat" Ladd.

On June 2, 1976, a very famous incident occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 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. Incidentally, a very young Vincent K. McMahon narrated the fight. 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."[4]

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.[citation needed]

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 four 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, a six-man tag team match at Madison Square Garden, 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[edit]

In the early 1980s, Vincent J. McMahon's son, current WWE Chairman 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 within the then WWF. In addition, McMahon needed a new commentary team to head up his television programming, and installed Marella with the recently retired Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the new commentary 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, Cathy Lee Crosby and Ernie "The Cat" Ladd while Ventura commentated on the Los Angeles portion with Lord Alfred Hayes and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark).

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. The pair commentated on all the WWF pay-per-views together with the exception of the first two SummerSlams and the 1990 Royal Rumble (at SummerSlam 1988 Ventura was the guest referee for the main event so Monsoon commentated with "Superstar" Billy Graham, while Ventura was paired with Tony Schiavone at both SummerSlam 1989 and the Royal Rumble). When Ventura left the WWF in mid-1990, he was replaced in commentary by Monsoon's Prime Time Wrestling co-host, heel manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, another duo that subsequent wrestling commentary teams have often tried to emulate. The two also formed a close real-life friendship which Heenan often recalls fondly. In his WWE Hall of Fame induction speech in 2004, Heenan finished by saying that only one thing was missing, that he wished Monsoon was there.

Monsoon called the first eight WrestleManias from 1985-1992. Monsoon was the lead commentator 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 hosting the WWF weeknight show, 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[edit]

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 but he consistently brought up the athletic competition frequently mentioning his and Jesse's wrestling backgrounds and drawing on that, saying on occasion that he was "glad [he] had retired" (after a particularly devastating move during a match he was commentating). Gorilla would also mention the "winners and losers purse" when it came to match decisions. Monsoon accentuated the storylines surrounding the bouts while relying on hyperbole, deadpan humor and unique catchphrases. One such phrase was his ironic use of the word "literally", such as "the Garden just literally exploded!" Nearly every venue was described, at the start of the broadcast, as "Jam packed to the rafters", even events in a roofless location, such as WrestleMania 3. 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 "will you stop?" This was usually directed, in frustration, at co-commentator Bobby Heenan after he went off on one of his many heel-backing tangents or other rants. Monsoon also used "will you stop" when either Ventura, Heenan or any other heels he was commentating with would mention what a bad job referee Joey Marella was doing, the joke being that Marella was Monsoon's real life adopted son, a fact not well known among wrestling fans at the time. One other popular catchphrase was "this place has gone bananas!"

Another classic Monsoon regular heard just after he would sign on for an important event was, "Pandemonium is running wild, you can cut it with a knife!" This comment was preceded by an event in which the audience had erupted in cheers or jeers, such as the entrance of a wrestler or the finish of a match. Many times, Monsoon would also substitute simple words with needlessly complex and obscure equivalents - for example, he memorably used "external occipital protuberance" as an alternative to "back of the head." Or when a wrestler suffered a knee injury, he would state, "He may have temporarily dislocated the patella!" Heenan mocked this, once sarcastically calling a move to the "cervial dervial part of the back." However, Monsoon also employed several homegrown substitutes for body part terminology - for example, describing the mouth as a "kisser" and the abdomen as "the bread basket." While commentating a match where a title changes hands, Monsoon might declare "history has been made!" When discussing something he didn't believe would happen, he would say "highly unlikely." If a babyface wrestler was attacked from behind or by surprise, he would refer to it as a "Pearl Harbor Job." Also, when a wrestler or tag team (usually the face) lost a match through illegal tactics (such as being hit with "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart's megaphone), Monsoon would often proclaim that there had been a "miscarriage of justice". Monsoon generally put more emphasis on this when the heel(s) won a championship match, or retained their title(s).

When speaking to and/or about someone's lack of presence at some event, he would often remark that they were "conspicuous by their absence." Other common phrases used were "listen to the ovation (for wrestler)" as a fan-favorite wrestler made his way to the ring and "take a look (at wrestler)" to highlight the impressiveness of a wrestler. Finally, during encounters between two super-heavyweights, Monsoon sometimes described the match as "the irresistible force meeting the immovable object." This phrase became most well-known after being used during/to promote the match between André the Giant and Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III.

Later career[edit]

Marella stepped down as the WWF's lead commentator 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. It was during this time that Roddy Piper became interim WWF President until WrestleMania XII, when Marella assumed the position again. 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. In early 1998, 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 standing ovation.

Personal life[edit]

Marella was married to his wife, Maureen, for more than 40 years and had three children: Sharon (born 1960), Joey (adopted, 1963–1994), and Valerie (born 1966).

On July 4, 1994, his adopted son, Joey Marella, fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike, while returning from refereeing a WWF event in Ocean City, Maryland. He was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

For years, Marella had a custom New Jersey license plate which read "kayfabe".[citation needed]

Robert Marella was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame on June 9, 1994.

Death and legacy[edit]

Marella died on October 6, 1999 of heart failure brought on by complications of diabetes, at his home in Willingboro Township, New Jersey.[5] He was 62 years old. In a tribute that aired on WWF television after his death, McMahon described Marella as "one of the greatest men I have ever known." He is interred next to his son, Joey Marella, at Lakeview Memorial Park in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.

WCW commentator Tony Schiavone acknowledged Marella's death (at Bobby Heenan's request) on the October 11, 1999 WCW Monday Nitro episode, even though Marella never worked for WCW. Heenan added: "Gorilla will be sadly missed. Now he was one big tough man. He was a decent honest man. And we're all gonna miss him very much. And you know the pearly gates in heaven? It's now gonna be called 'the Gorilla position.' Goodbye, my friend."

When Heenan was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, he ended his acceptance speech with, "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[edit]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

  • George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
    • Class of 2011

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Gorilla Monsoon's Hall of Fame profile". WWE. Retrieved 6 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Solomon, Brian (2006). WWE Legends. Pocket Books. pp. 57–61. ISBN 978-0-7434-9033-7. 
  3. ^ "Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame". Retrieved 6 November 2013. 
  4. ^ "Farewell to Wrestler Gorilla Monsoon". Ithaca College Quarterly 1999/No. 4. Retrieved 6 November 2013. 
  5. ^ S. Joseph Hagenmayer (October 7, 1999). "Robert Marella, 62, Wrestler Known As 'Gorilla Monsoon'". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 6 November 2013. "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." 
  6. ^ a b c d Gorilla Monsoon's profile, from WrestlingData.com
  7. ^ Meltzer, Dave (January 26, 2011). "Biggest issue of the year: The 2011 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards Issue". Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Campbell, CA): 1–40. ISSN 1083-9593. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Vince McMahon
Monday Night Raw Lead Announcer
1994
Succeeded by
Jim Ross