Jimmy Snuka

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Jimmy Snuka
Jimmy Snuka in 1981 at a wrestling event in the Maple Leaf Gardens arena in Toronto, Canada.
Birth name James Wiley Smith
Born (1943-05-18) May 18, 1943 (age 72)[1]
Residence Atco, New Jersey, United States
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Jimmy Snuka[2]
Jimmy Kealoha[3]
Lani Kealoha[4]
Tami Snuka[3]
The Superfly[5]
Big Snuka[3]
Great Snuka[4]
Billed height 5 ft 10 in (178 cm)[2]
Billed weight 235 lb (107 kg)[2]
Billed from The Fiji Islands[2]
Trained by Danny Hodge[2]
Debut 1968[6]

James Reiher Snuka[a] (born James Wiley Smith; May 18, 1943)[1] better known by the ring name Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, is a Fijian retired professional wrestler and actor.

Snuka wrestled for several promotions from the 1970s to 1990s. He is best known for his time in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in the early to mid-1980s and is credited with introducing the high-flying style of wrestling to the WWF.[2] He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996. Snuka was the first WrestleMania opponent of The Undertaker (at the seventh annual event), this being the first match in the latter's undefeated WrestleMania streak. Snuka was the inaugural ECW Heavyweight Champion in Eastern Championship Wrestling (later Extreme Championship Wrestling) and held the title on two occasions. His children, Jimmy Reiher, Jr. and Tamina Snuka, are also wrestlers.

Snuka was indicted and arrested in September 2015 on third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, in relation to the May 1983 death of his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. He pleaded not guilty.[8][9]

Early life[edit]

Snuka was born to Louisa Smith and Charles Thomas.[1] Thomas was married to another woman, and Smith was engaged to Bernard Reiher. Before Snuka was born, his mother married Reiher.[10] As a child, Reiher moved with his family to the Marshall Islands and then to Hawaii.[11]

Reiher was active in amateur bodybuilding in Hawaii in the 1960s. He also enjoyed some success as a professional bodybuilder, earning the titles of Mr. Hawaii, Mr. Waikiki and Mr. North Shore.[12]

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Reiher opted to go into the more lucrative career of professional wrestling due to his uncertainty of making a living in bodybuilding.[13] While working at Dean Ho's gym in Hawaii, Snuka met many of the wrestlers who worked in the South Pacific region and decided to try the sport.[12] Snuka made his debut as Jimmy Kealoha fighting Maxwell "Bunny" Butler in Hawaii in 1970. He later moved to the mainland and wrestled for Don Owen’s NWA Pacific Northwest territory where he held the belt as Heavyweight Champion six times.[14] He first won the title by pinning Bull Ramos on November 16, 1973.[15] It was in this territory, that Reiher transformed himself into Jimmy Snuka. Snuka also held the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship six times with partner Dutch Savage. Snuka also had a two-year feud with another rookie, Jesse "The Body" Ventura.[12]

Snuka also wrestled in several other National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) regions, including Texas. In 1977, he won both the Texas Heavyweight and Tag Team titles. Snuka then left for the Mid-Atlantic where he formed a tag team with Paul Orndorff. In their first television match they defeated the NWA World Tag Team Champions Jack and Jerry Brisco in a non-title bout. Orndorff and Snuka defeated Baron von Raschke and Greg Valentine to become the tag team title holders in 1979. On September 1, 1979, Snuka defeated Ricky Steamboat to hold the United States title. Snuka also formed a tag team with Ray Stevens while with this promotion. His career eventually led him to Georgia, where he teamed with Terry Gordy to win the NWA National Tag Team Championship by defeating Ted DiBiase and Steve Olsonoski."[16]

World Wrestling Federation (1982–1985)[edit]

In January 1982, Snuka entered the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as a villainous character under the guidance of Captain Lou Albano. Snuka lost several title shots at WWF Champion Bob Backlund, including a steel cage match at Madison Square Garden on June 28, 1982 in which Snuka leapt from the top of the cage, barely missing Backlund who managed to escape the cage for the win.[17] The contest was declared Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.[17]

Even though Snuka portrayed a violent villain, he won fans because of his athletic style.[12][18] In a storyline in 1982, Buddy Rogers told Snuka that Albano was cheating him financially, and as a result, Snuka fired Albano. Snuka took on Rogers as his manager during the feud with Albano, Freddie Blassie, and Ray Stevens. The attack solidified Snuka's new role as a fan favorite seeking to settle the score.[19] Snuka defeated Stevens in the majority of the series of matches between the two.[20] He also faced several other of Albano's wrestlers,[21] and defeated Albano in a steel cage match in Madison Square Garden.[21][22]

Snuka also feuded with "Magnificent" Don Muraco in 1983, which began after Snuka entered the ring for a match on the June 18 episode of WWF Championship Wrestling while Muraco, the Intercontinental Champion, was being interviewed. Muraco, enraged at the perceived lack of respect, confronted Snuka at ringside, triggering a brawl.[23] This feud led to a defining moment of Snuka's career on October 17, 1983, in a steel cage match at Madison Square Garden. The match ended in a loss for Snuka, but afterward he dragged Muraco back into the ring and connected with the most famous Superfly Splash of his career, off the top of the 15-foot (4.6 m) high steel cage.[24] Future wrestling stars The Sandman, Mick Foley, Tommy Dreamer, and Bubba Ray Dudley were all in attendance at the event and cite this match as the reason they decided to aggressively pursue professional wrestling.[24] Snuka was named the 1983 Wrestler of the Year by Victory Magazine (later renamed WWF Magazine)[25] for his efforts.[26]

In June 1984, Snuka became embroiled in a feud with one of the WWF's top villains, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. In a segment of Piper's Pit, Piper hit Snuka on the back of the head with a coconut.[27][28] The attack led to a series of grudge matches between the two that were played out over venues across the US throughout the summer of 1984. In late 1984, Snuka entered a rehabilitation facility;[3] the WWF created a storyline in which Piper had broken Snuka's neck by hitting him over the head with a chair.[3][29] The Tonga Kid, who was billed as Snuka's nephew, continued the feud on Snuka's behalf.[29]

The remainder of Snuka's initial WWF stint would see him frequently tangling with Piper one way or another, often via tag matches or wrestling Piper's closest ally, Bob Orton, Jr. Snuka defeated Orton at The War to Settle the Score on February 18, 1985; an injury during the match forced Orton to wear a cast on his left arm,[30][31] which he continued to wear after the injury healed.[32] The feud played a small part in the first ever WrestleMania in March 1985, when Snuka acted as a cornerman for Hulk Hogan and Mr. T when they defeated Piper and Paul Orndorff (with Orton in their corner).[33] Snuka left the WWF in July 1985,[4] though he still appeared in cartoon form when Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling premiered in September.[34][35]

American Wrestling Association (1986–1989)[edit]

After spending the rest of 1985 and early 1986 competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling,[4] Snuka resurfaced in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), replacing Jerry Blackwell as Greg Gagne's partner,[36] to defeat Bruiser Brody and Nord the Barbarian in a tag team cage match at WrestleRock 86.[37] Snuka split his time between the AWA and Japan throughout 1986 and 1987.[38] His most notable feud in the AWA during that time was with Colonel DeBeers, who portrayed a racist and looked down on Snuka because of his skin color.[39] This led the way for a series of grudge matches in 1987.[38]

Return to WWF (1989–1992)[edit]

Snuka re-emerged in the WWF at WrestleMania V on April 2, 1989.[40] He made his televised return to action on the May 27 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event, defeating Boris Zhukov.[41] After a brief feud with The Honky Tonk Man,[42] Snuka made his in-ring pay-per-view debut at SummerSlam '89 against "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. Snuka lost the match by count-out as a result interference from DiBiase's bodyguard Virgil.[42][43]

By the later part of 1989, Snuka was put into a spot like many veterans before him, being used to help put over other rising stars such as "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig. At the Survivor Series, Snuka and Hennig were each the final remaining members of their opposing teams, with Hennig pinning Snuka to win the match for his team.[44] In January 1990, Snuka made his Royal Rumble match debut, lasting 17 minutes and eliminating two competitors before being eliminated by the eventual winner, Hulk Hogan. Snuka had his first WrestleMania match at WrestleMania VI, where he was defeated by Rick Rude.[45] When the Intercontinental Championship was vacated after WrestleMania, Snuka entered the tournament to crown a new champion. He was eliminated in the first round when he once again lost to Mr. Perfect.[46] At that November's Survivor Series, Snuka joined Jake Roberts and The Rockers in a losing effort against Rick Martel, The Warlord and Power and Glory.[47]

On March 24, 1991, Snuka was defeated by The Undertaker at WrestleMania VII, which began The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania.[48] In January 1992, he competed in the Royal Rumble for the vacant WWF Championship, but lasted only 3 minutes before being eliminated by The Undertaker.[49] Snuka left the WWF soon after, his last recorded match being a loss to Shawn Michaels at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on February 8, 1992.[50]

Eastern Championship Wrestling (1992–1994)[edit]

After leaving the WWF in March 1992, Snuka toured with various smaller organizations in the early 1990s and played a role in the formation of Tod Gordon's Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) organization along with Don Muraco and Terry Funk. Snuka was ECW's first ECW Heavyweight Champion and toured with the company through 1994. ECW was later taken over by Paul Heyman, who renamed it Extreme Championship Wrestling.[2]

Semi-retirement (1996–present)[edit]

Snuka (center) with Ricky Steamboat (right) and Roddy Piper before their match against Chris Jericho in WrestleMania XXV

Snuka continued to spend much of his time with East Coast Wrestling organizations through the late 1990s and into the 2000s. During this time, he wrestled the Metal Maniac in a series of matches that spanned across many independent wrestling promotions, winning most of these matches. On August 15, 1997, Snuka defeated The Masked Superstar at the IWA Night of the Legends show in Kannapolis, North Carolina via disqualification when his opponent hit special guest referee Rick Steamboat.[51][52]

During the later half of the 1990s, Snuka appeared for both major wrestling promotions, the WWF and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996.[2] Afterward, he made periodic appearances for the WWF, such as competing at the 1996 Survivor Series.[53] Snuka received a lifetime achievement award from WWE (formerly the WWF) in 2002 at Madison Square Garden. Snuka also appeared on WCW Monday Nitro in early 2000, where he gave Jeff Jarrett a Superfly Splash off the top of a steel cage.[54]

Snuka also participated at the first X Wrestling Federation TV tapings, accompanying his son, Jimmy Snuka, Jr. to the ring for matches,[55] including one match where they both delivered the Superfly Splash to prone opponents.[56] On June 22, 2002, Snuka won the International Wrestling Superstars (IWS) United States Championship by pin fall against King Kong Bundy in Atlantic City, New Jersey.[57] On April 3, 2004, Snuka and Kamala fought to a no-contest at the International Wrestling Cartel's first-annual "Night Of Legends" event in Franklin, Pennsylvania.[58]

In 2004, Snuka made an appearance for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling at their Victory Road pay-per-view as Roddy Piper's guest on Piper's Pit.[59]

In 2005, he appeared at the WWE Homecoming, where he delivered a Superfly Splash to Rob Conway. He was a part of the Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view, where fans voted for him (ahead of Kamala and Jim Duggan) to team with Eugene against Conway and Tyson Tomko.[2] Snuka won the match, pinning Conway after a Superfly Splash. On July 1, 2006, Snuka wrestled for 1PW's Fight Club 2 event where he teamed with Darren Burridge to defeat Stevie Lynn and Jay Phoenix.[60] A year later he appeared at the 2007 WWE draft edition of Raw in a vignette for Mr. McMahon appreciation night.[61] On June 24, 2007, Snuka was introduced as Sgt. Slaughter's tag team partner in the open invitational match for the WWE Tag Team Championship at Vengeance, but he was ultimately pinned by his son.[2]

In 2008, Snuka appeared in the Royal Rumble. He was in the match less than 5 minutes and primarily focused his efforts on onetime nemesis, Roddy Piper. Both were quickly eliminated by the next entrant, Kane.[62] On the March 2, 2009 episode of Raw, he was attacked by Chris Jericho during a parody of Piper's Pit.[63] This was part of a storyline where Jericho was disrespecting and attacking legends.[64] Two weeks later, on the March 16, 2009 episode of Raw, Snuka, Roddy Piper, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat attacked Jericho.[65] At WrestleMania XXV on April 5, 2009, Snuka teamed with Steamboat and Piper to face Jericho in a Legends of WrestleMania Handicap match with Flair in their corner. Snuka was the first eliminated by Jericho, who eventually won the match.[66]

On March 28, 2009, Snuka against participated at the IWC's "Night Of Legends" event, where he defeated former rival Bob Orton, Jr..[67] On August 1, Snuka teamed with Jon Bolen, Jimmy Vega$, and Michael Facade (with Dominic DeNucci) to defeat James Avery, Logan Shulo, Shane Taylor and Lord Zoltan (with Mayor Mystery) at IWC's "No Excuses 5" in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania.[68] On November 28, 2009, he teamed with his son at an NWA Upstate event in Lockport, New York. They defeated the NWA Upstate Tag Team Champions Hellcat and Triple X in a non title match.[69]

Snuka made an appearance on an "old school" edition of Raw in November 2010, where he stood by his daughter Tamina, in the corner of The Usos during their match against Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov.[70] In 2011, Jimmy Snuka competed at JCW: Icons and Legends event competing in a Battle Royal match won by Zach Gowen.[71] On May 11, 2014, Snuka teamed up with The Patriot to defeat the team of Brodie Williams and Mr. TA at a Big Time Wrestling event.[60]

Following his arrest in September 2015, WWE suspended his Legends contract (a long-term deal to make infrequent, non-wrestling appearances) and removed his Hall of Fame page from its website.[72]

Other media[edit]

Snuka has appeared in ten video games: Legends of Wrestling in 2001, Legends of Wrestling II in 2002, WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain in 2003, Showdown: Legends of Wrestling in 2004, WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw in 2004, WWE Legends of WrestleMania in 2009, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 in 2010, WWE All Stars in 2011 and WWE '12 in 2011.

Personal life[edit]

Snuka at the Top Rope Promotions event held in North Attleboro, Massachusetts on July 31, 2011

Snuka is the part-owner of Body Slam University and Coastal Championship Wrestling in South Florida with Dan Ackerman and Bruno Sassi.[73] He wrote an autobiography, Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story, which was published on December 1, 2012.[74]


Snuka has been married three times.[75] His second marriage was to Sharon, with whom he had four children: Sarona, James, Jr., Liana, and Ata.[75] His third marriage was to Carole on September 4, 2004.[75] He is stepfather to Carole's three children: Bridget, Richard, and Dennis.[75]

Nancy Argentino death[edit]

On May 10, 1983, a few hours after defeating José Estrada at a WWF TV taping at the Lehigh County Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Snuka placed a call for an ambulance. When emergency personnel arrived at his room at the George Washington Motor Lodge, they found that his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, had been injured. She was transported to Allentown's Sacred Heart Medical Center, where she died shortly after of "undetermined craniocerebral injuries." The coroner's report stated that Argentino, 23, died of traumatic brain injuries consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object. Autopsy findings show Argentino 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. Forensic pathologist Isidore Mihalakis, who performed the autopsy, wrote at the time that the case should be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise. Deputy Lehigh County coroner Wayne Snyder later said, "Upon viewing the body and speaking to the pathologist, I immediately suspected foul play and so notified the district attorney."[76]

Snuka was the only suspect involved in the subsequent investigation. Although charges were not pressed at the time against Snuka, the case was left officially open. In 1985, Argentino’s parents won a $500,000 default judgment against Snuka in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. Snuka appears not to have ever paid, claiming financial inability to do so.[77] On June 28, 2013, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin announced that the still-open case would be reviewed by his staff.[76] On January 28, 2014, Martin announced that the case had been turned over to a grand jury.[78]

On September 1, 2015, 32 years after the incident, Snuka was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for Argentino's death.[79][80] It is the oldest case to result in charges in Lehigh County history.[79] On October 7, Snuka's lawyers agreed to forgo a preliminary hearing, which the prosecution contended was a waste of court resources, given the thorough grand jury investigation. In return, they received transcripts and other evidence from that investigation, which defense attorney Robert J. Kirwan II said would be much more helpful in preparing Snuka's case than a hearing would have been.[81]

On November 2, Snuka pleaded not guilty before judge Kelly Banach.[82]


In August 2015, Snuka's wife, Carole, announced that he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. As a result, he had surgery to remove his lymph nodes, part of his stomach and all apparent cancer. She said they both expect he will fully recover after "a long road ahead".[83] Following his arrest, his attorney, William E. Moore, told reporters Snuka has dementia, stemming from wrestling-related injuries, to the point of being unfit for trial.[84]

In wrestling[edit]

Snuka in a match against Bob Orton, Jr.
Snuka in a 2009 match against "Cowboy" Bob Orton
Snuka in 2009
Jimmy Snuka performs his characteristic pose at a wrestling show in Englewood, New Jersey, 2009.

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

  • East Coast Pro Wrestling
    • ECPW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[96]
  • International Wrestling Superstars
    • IWS United States Championship (1 time)[57]
  • National Championship Wrestling
  • National Wrestling Federation
    • NWF Heavyweight Championship (1 time, last)[100]
  • Northeast Wrestling
    • NEW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[102]
  • Universal Superstars of America
    • USA Heavyweight Championship (2 times)[112]
  • USA Pro Wrestling
    • USA Pro New York Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[113]


  1. ^ Reiher legally changed his surname to Snuka.[7]
  2. ^ Jimmy Snuka's reigns occurred while the promotion was a National Wrestling Alliance affiliate named Eastern Championship Wrestling, and was prior to the promotion becoming Extreme Championship Wrestling and the title being declared a world title by ECW.


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Further reading[edit]

  • Foley, Mick (1999) Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. ReganBooks. ISBN 0-06-039299-1.

External links[edit]