Awesome in December 1999
|Birth name||Michael Lee Alfonso|
|Born||January 24, 1965|
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
|Died||February 17, 2007 (aged 42)|
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Family||Horace Hogan (cousin)|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||The Gladiator|
|Billed height||6 ft 6 in (198 cm)|
|Billed weight||292 lb (132 kg)|
|Trained by||Steve Keirn|
|Debut||February 26, 1989|
|Retired||February 26, 2006|
Michael Lee Alfonso (January 24, 1965 – February 17, 2007) was an American professional wrestler. He was best known for his appearances with the American professional wrestling promotions Extreme Championship Wrestling, World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment under the ring name Mike Awesome and for his appearances in Japan with Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling and All Japan Pro Wrestling as The Gladiator.He is overall a three-time world champion.
Alfonso achieved the biggest success of his career in FMW as The Gladiator, where he became a three-time world champion, with two reigns as Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Champion and one reign as Independent Heavyweight Champion. His second Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship reign from 1996–1997 was the longest reign in the title's history, lasting for 489 days. During this reign, he defeated W*ING Kanemura to unify the title with the Independent Heavyweight Championship at the 1996 Year End Spectacular. He would then tour with ECW, where he became a two-time World Heavyweight Champion. He was a member of two separate stables Team Canada in both FMW and WCW.
Professional wrestling career
Early career (1989–1990)
Alfonso was trained to wrestle by Steve Keirn, debuting on February 26, 1989 at the Eddie Graham Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Alfonso trained for about one year along with former professional wrestlers, Dennis Knight (Mideon, Phineas Godwin) and the late "Big" Al Green before making his debut. Alfonso competed in Florida Championship Wrestling, USWA, NWA and World Championship Wrestling, before making his way to FMW in Japan.
Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling
Initial years (1990–1992)
Alfonso moved on to Japan, joining Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) in September 1990 and using the name The Gladiator. He was recruited by FMW as the replacement for Al Green, who was originally scheduled to compete as Gladiator but moved to WCW. Alfonso debuted in FMW as a monster villain on September 20 in a street fight with Mr. Pogo against Atsushi Onita and Jimmy Backlund, which Alfonso's team won. Gladiator was Pogo's ally who feuded with Onita and competed with Pogo against Onita and his partners. He lost to Onita in a Chain Deathmatch on October 1, after which Alfonso returned to United States. Onita was impressed by Gladiator and called him back for more tours with FMW. He returned to the company as Mr. Pogo's partner in a tag team tournament on January 6, 1991, where the duo lost their first match in the tournament against Onita and Sambo Asako. Pogo and Gladiator made to the semi-final, where they beat Grigory Verichev and Boris Gogichashivili and then defeated Onita and Asako in the final on January 15 to win the tournament. The success of the tournament led Alfonso to work full-time with FMW.
In the summer of 1991, Gladiator would form a villainous alliance with Tarzan Goto, Big Titan and Horace Boulder after Mr. Pogo's departure from FMW and resumed the feud with Atsushi Onita. On August 17, Gladiator participated in the Barbed Wire Deathmatch Tournament, in which he defeated Horace Boulder in the quarter-final and lost to Sambo Asako in the semi-final. During this time, Gladiator was inspired by Damian's lucha libre videos on travels, which led him to adopt a high-flying style despite his big size. The following month, Gladiator and Big Titan defeated Sambo Asako and Ricky Fuji in a street fight stretcher match at the 2nd Anniversary Show. This partnership led the two to form a tag team which lasted nearly three years. In the fall of the year, Gladiator and Titan participated in the World's Strongest Tag Team Tournament to determine the inaugural WWA World Martial Arts Tag Team Champions, but were eliminated from the round robin stage with total six points. Gladiator and his allies would join The Sheik and Sabu to resume the feud with Onita and his allies throughout 1992. At 3rd Anniversary Show, Big Titan, The Gladiator and Horace Boulder defeated Sambo Asako, Ricky Fuji and The Great Punk in a street fight stretcher match. Later that year, Gladiator and Boulder participated in the Street Fight Tag Team Tournament, where they qualified for the semi-final against Tarzan Goto and Big Titan, which they lost.
Team Canada and W*ING Alliance (1993–1995)
In 1993, Gladiator formed the first villainous faction in FMW called Team Canada with Ricky Fuji, Big Titan, Horace Boulder, Dr. Luther and Dr. Hannibal after The Sheik and Sabu turned fan favorites and formed an alliance with Atsushi Onita. At 4th Anniversary Show, the team of Gladiator, Ricky Fuji and Big Titan defeated Katsuji Ueda, The Great Punk and Tarzan Goto in a Captain's Fall Losing Captain Leaves Town No Rope Barbed Wire Tornado Street Fight Deathmatch, which Team Canada won. The group strengthened its dominance after Mr. Pogo returned to FMW in the summer of 1993 and took over as the leader of the group. Gladiator and Titan were defeated by Sambo Asako and Mr. Gannosuke at Summer Spectacular. The team of Gladiator, Titan and Fuji gained more success by defeating Asako, Katsuji Ueda and Grigory Verichev in a street fight at Year End Spectacular.
The following year, Gladiator and Titan participated in a double-elimination tournament for the newly created Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship, in which they defeated Hideki Hosaka and Hisakatsu Oya in the quarter-final, Jinsei Shinzaki and Masaru Toi in the semi-final and Mr. Gannosuke and Tarzan Goto in the final to succeed in their block and then defeated Atsushi Onita and Katsutoshi Niiyama in the tournament final on January 18, 1994 to win the Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship, marking Alfonso's first title in FMW. They successfully defended the title against Atsushi Onita and Sambo Asako in a street fight on March 29 and then lost the title to Mr. Pogo and Hisakatsu Oya in their second title defense on April 21. The title loss created dissension between Titan and Gladiator. At 5th Anniversary Show, Gladiator, Titan and Fuji took on Fuyuki-Gun in a match, where Gladiator and Titan had a miscommunication with each other but they still managed to win their match but Gladiator abandoned his partners after the match to quietly end Team Canada. As a result, Gladiator began feuding with Titan and defeated him in their first singles match against each other on July 31. Gladiator won a rematch at Summer Spectacular, before finally losing to Titan on September 7 to end the rivalry.
In October, Gladiator joined the new W*ING Alliance with Mr. Pogo, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, Yukihiro Kanemura, Goro Tsurumi, Horace Boulder, Hideki Hosaka and Hisakatsu Oya. The group mostly consisted of wrestlers from the former W*ING promotion, who held Atsushi Onita and FMW responsible for ending the promotion and had formed the alliance to bring the demise of FMW just like W*ING suffered its demise. On October 28, Gladiator and Pogo defeated Atsushi Onita and Mr. Gannosuke to win the vacant Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship. They lost the tag titles to Onita and Gannosuke in a rematch on February 24, 1995. At 6th Anniversary Show, Gladiator and Horace Boulder lost to Katsutoshi Niiyama and Masato Tanaka. Later at the event, Mr. Pogo turned on W*ING Alliance by blowing a fireball on Yukihiro Kanemura after Pogo and Kanemura lost their match, which led Gladiator, Boulder and Hisakatsu Oya to follow Pogo and join Lethal Weapon.
Longest reigning world champion (1995–1997)
The retirement of Atsushi Onita led FMW to change its direction from deathmatch wrestling to technical wrestling style and Gladiator received a strong push as the arch rival of the company's new top star Hayabusa. He was booked to win the Grand Slam Tournament in September, in which he defeated Hayabusa in the tournament final on September 26 to win the company's top title, the vacant Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship and cemented his place as the company's top villain. Gladiator made his first successful title defense against Horace Boulder on October 25. He suffered a knee injury in the fall of 1995, which forced him to vacate the title on January 5, 1996. Gladiator returned from injury to challenge Super Leather for the title on March 15, but was defeated by Leather. During this time, Víctor Quinones' group Puerto Rican Army overturned W*ING and Lethal Weapon to become the top villainous group in FMW and Quinones was luring away members of both factions into his Puerto Rican Army, which led Gladiator to turn fan favorite for the first time in his career. At 7th Anniversary Show, Hisakatsu Oya, Horace Boulder and The Gladiator lost to Super Leather and The Headhunters in a match for the inaugural World Street Fight 6-Man Tag Team Championship.
On May 27, Gladiator defeated Super Leather to win his second Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship. Gladiator successfully defended the title against Leather in a rematch on September 1. On September 15, Gladiator and Horace Boulder turned on Ricky Fuji during a match against Hideki Hosaka, Hido and Taka Michinoku. The entire Lethal Weapon attacked Fuji and turned on him to join Terry Funk's new group Funk Masters of Wrestling, which led Gladiator to turn into a villain again. On October 12, Gladiator attacked W*ING Kanemura after Kanemura successfully defended the Independent Heavyweight Championship against Hisakatsu Oya and Gladiator challenged Kanemura to a title unification match for both Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship and the Independent Heavyweight Championship at Year End Spectacular, which Gladiator won and unified both titles to become the first-ever FMW Double Champion. Gladiator successfully defended his Double Championship against Masato Tanaka on February 18, 1997. Gladiator would then resume his feud with the returning Atsushi Onita as the team of Gladiator, Terry Funk and Cactus Jack was defeated by Atsushi Onita, Masato Tanaka and W*ING Kanemura at 8th Anniversary Show on April 29. The following day, on April 30, Gladiator surpassed Atsushi Onita's fourth reign of 337 days to become the longest reigning Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Champion by having reigned for 338 days at that point.
On August 5, Hisakatsu Oya, Mr. Gannosuke and The Gladiator defeated Fuyuki-Gun at a Fuyuki Army show to win the World Street Fight 6-Man Tag Team Championship. They lost the title to the team of Hayabusa, Koji Nakagawa and Masato Tanaka on August 31. At Kawasaki Legend: Fall Spectacular, Gladiator lost the Double Championship to Masato Tanaka, thus ending his Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship reign at 489 days and his Independent Heavyweight Championship reign at 291 days, making him the longest reigning Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Champion and the longest reigning Independent Heavyweight Champion.
ZEN and departure (1997–1998)
Following Terry Funk's departure from FMW, Funk Masters of Wrestling began to cripple as Atsushi Onita denounced himself as a FMW wrestler and formed ZEN on September 30, 1997 to feud with FMW. On October 21, Super Leather and The Gladiator lost a match to their former teammates Hisakatsu Oya and Mr. Gannosuke, after which Gladiator attacked Leather and officially ended Funk Masters of Wrestling. Later that night, Gladiator attacked Hayabusa after ZEN members defeated Hayabusa's team in the main event and then Gladiator raised the flag of ZEN and joined ZEN, which marked the first time in his career that he had become Atsushi Onita's ally after having feuded with him for the past seven years. Gladiator had lost his significance as a main event competitor after losing the Double Championship despite being the longest reigning champion and became a mid-card member of ZEN. The group turned fan favorites in the fall of 1997 when three of its members Mr. Gannosuke, Yukihiro Kanemura and Hido turned on Atsushi Onita and left the group and they would form Team No Respect in 1998.
In March, Gladiator participated in a tournament to determine the #1 contender for the Double Championship at 9th Anniversary Show. He defeated Hisakatsu Oya in the quarter-final and Yukihiro Kanemura in the semi-final to become the runner-up of the tournament as he lost to Hayabusa in the final. At FMW's first pay-per-view event FMW 9th Anniversary Show, Gladiator teamed with ZEN teammate Tetsuhiro Kuroda to take on TNR members Super Leather and Horace Boulder in a losing effort. Later at the event, Atsushi Onita lost a match to TNR member Kodo Fuyuki, which forced Onita to end ZEN. Gladiator became a free agent after ZEN's dissolution on May 5. Gladiator's last pay-per-view appearance in FMW was at the Welcome to the Darkside pay-per-view on August 22, where he defeated Naohiko Yamazaki, Yoshinori Sasaki and Mr. Pogo #2 in a gauntlet match. On August 26, Gladiator wrestled his last FMW match, in which he defeated longtime rival Super Leather. Alfonso injured his knee during the match and went on a hiatus, during which he returned to United States and toured with Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) for the rest of the year. He left the company due to disagreement over Kodo Fuyuki's style of booking.
All Japan Pro Wrestling (1998–1999)
Eastern/Extreme Championship Wrestling (1993-1994, 1997, 1998, 1999–2000)
In 1993, Alfonso appeared in NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) for a short period (as "Awesome" Mike Awesome), he was convinced to do so by Sabu, whom he befriended during their time in Japan. After Sabu started working for ECW, he returned to Japan and told Michael about the promotion and how he should work there. Although he was initially hesitant, citing a lack of interest, Sabu managed to talk Alfonso into it, who used his frequent-flier miles to go to Philadelphia and wrestle a match for ECW.
On February 5, 1994 at ECW's event, The Night the Line Was Crossed, Awesome nearly injured wrestler, J.T. Smith when he performed a high-risk dive to the outside of the ring. Smith's back was folded backwards against the guard rail during the impact. This spot appeared in many ECW highlight reels including the intro to a variety of their television programs for years to come. (according to ECW announcer Joey Styles his own reaction to the spot inspired his "Oh my God" catchphrase).
In early 1997 he made a one night appearance in ECW with The Triple Threat in addressing The Masked Man (Rick Rude).
In January 1998, Awesome began appearing for ECW again and continued his feud with Masato Tanaka in the United States. Awesome began in ECW by losing to Tanaka on an episode ECW's weekly Hardcore TV. However, following the match, he delivered an Awesome Bomb to Tanaka over the top rope through a table set up on the outside. In his final appearance of his second ECW stint, Awesome lost to Tanaka again at the August Heat Wave pay-per-view event.
Almost immediately upon arriving in ECW for his third stint in September 1999, he shocked the wrestling world by winning the ECW World Heavyweight Championship at Anarchy Rulz by defeating the reigning champion Taz and nemesis Masato Tanaka in a three-way dance, which was signed on the spot. Awesome continued to be a major factor in ECW early in 2000, including teaming with Raven to beat Tanaka and Tommy Dreamer for the ECW World Tag Team Championship. He gained a new manager, Judge Jeff Jones, who managed Awesome to the top of winning the ECW World Heavyweight Championship twice in 1999.
World Championship Wrestling (2000–2001)
On April 10, 2000, Awesome made a surprise appearance on WCW Monday Nitro—aiding The New Blood by attacking Kevin Nash—while still reigning as ECW World Champion. Awesome's friend Lance Storm has said that he had refused to sign a new contract with ECW until Paul Heyman paid him overdue wages.
Due to concerns over legal issues WCW refrained from having Awesome appear on their television shows with the ECW belt. Eventually, a compromise was reached. Awesome (a WCW employee and ECW champion) appeared a few days later at an ECW event in Indianapolis, Indiana, accompanied by WCW's head of security, where he lost the title to Tazz (a World Wrestling Federation employee), who lost it a week later to Tommy Dreamer (a full-time ECW wrestler) (who incidentally lost it approximately 20 minutes later to Justin Credible). In an shoot interview released by Highspots in 2005, Awesome expressed that he would have rather faced off with his former ECW and WWE colleague, Rhyno and suggested that they could have put on a more entertaining match regardless of the circumstances and the manner in which he had left ECW.
Now with WCW, Awesome continued to be a major factor with the New Blood for the next month, teaming with Billy Kidman occasionally to aid him in his feud with Hulk Hogan. Awesome also engaged in an on-and-off feud with Kevin Nash, as well as feuding with Diamond Dallas Page and Kanyon. In May 2000, Awesome threw Kanyon off the top of the first level of a triple cage onto the entrance ramp, which started his "Career Killer" gimmick.
During Mid 2000, his gimmick was tweaked, with him becoming infatuated with heavyset women and calling himself "The Fat Chick Thrilla" Mike Awesome, and feuded with Scott Steiner and Lance Storm for the WCW United States Championship.
On the September 6, 2000 edition of Thunder, Awesome changed his gimmick and became "That '70s Guy" Mike Awesome (a reference to the hit TV series, That '70s Show), dressing in various 1970s inspired outfits and hosting the "Lava Lamp Lounge" interview segment. At one point, he was even given a bus painted in the style of the one featured on The Partridge Family to drive into arenas for his entrance. During this time, he had a feud with Vampiro, which created many brawls between Awesome and Vampiro's allies, the Insane Clown Posse. At one point, Awesome battled Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J in a Handicap match. At the conclusion of the match, Mike Awesome-Bombed Shaggy 2 Dope onto the roof of the bus. However, the slippery metal surface gave yield to Dope's lithe, supple frame and he fell tragically to the concrete below.
On the January 3, 2001 edition of Thunder, Awesome dropped the 1970s gimmick in favor of a "Canadian Career Killer" gimmick and joined WCW's Team Canada stable with Lance Storm and Elix Skipper. A feud with The Filthy Animals led to Awesome challenging Billy Kidman to a Hair-vs-Hair match, on January 15, however before the bout could take place, Team Canada attacked Kidman backstage leaving him unable to compete. Konnan (who had no hair) took his place and got the win, giving the Animals the right to cut off Awesome's long-time mullet. Awesome then faded into the background, mostly helping Storm in his battles against Ernest "The Cat" Miller. On the final Nitro on March 26, 2001 Awesome and Storm were defeated by Chuck Palumbo and Sean O'Haire in a WCW World Tag Team Championship match.
In an shoot interview released by Highspots in 2003, Awesome conspired that the infamous incident between Vince Russo and Hulk Hogan at Bash at the Beach 2000 may have been one of the underlying reasons as to why he was plagued by a string of unfavorable gimmicks. As a cousin of Michael Bollea (Horace Hogan, who also left WCW following the incident), Awesome suggested that Russo may have thought that he was just "too close of kin" to Hulk Hogan and decided to take it out on him.
World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment (2001–2002)
After the March 2001 purchase of WCW by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Awesome became part of The Invasion storyline in the WWF. His WWF debut came on the June 25, 2001 episode of Raw during a match which saw Test defending his Hardcore Championship against Rhyno. After Rhyno Gored Test against a wall and pinned him he stood celebrating his new title only to be attacked by Awesome wielding a metal pipe. He then powerbombed Rhyno onto a ladder and pinned him, becoming champion himself due to the 24/7 rule. Awesome was the first "Invader" to gain gold in the WWF, stealing away with the Hardcore belt before any WWF wrestlers could catch him. Awesome's hardcore reign came to an end a few weeks later on the July 12 edition of SmackDown! when he was pinned by Jeff Hardy, thanks to distraction from Edge. Awesome defeated Edge on the July 16 episode of Raw.
The feud continued when Edge introduced his tag team partner Christian into the rivalry. Awesome and Lance Storm were defeated by Edge and Christian at Invasion on July 22, Awesome's first WWF pay-per-view match. From here Awesome's push diminished and he began appearing mostly on WWF's b-shows, before being sidelined with an injury in November 2001. Awesome returned to the SmackDown! brand on the July 27, 2002 edition of Velocity where he was defeated by Tajiri. Awesome was a mainstay on Velocity, SmackDown!'s tertiary show, for the next few months jobbing to wrestlers such as Faarooq, Bull Buchanan, Mark Henry and Funaki.
Awesome was released from the WWE on September 27, 2002 along with Shawn Stasiak and Horace Hogan. Awesome quoted saying "Being in the WWE (formerly the WWF) sucked. I hated it. You had to kiss everybody's ass... You had to be on your political toes all the time. You would not believe the backstage politics. You were getting stabbed in the back constantly. I was so happy when I was told I was gone [fired]".
Independent circuit (2002–2006)
From 2002 to 2006, Awesome competed on the independent circuit in the United States and Japan where he worked for All Japan Pro Wrestling as "The Gladiator" once again. On the independent circuit, he had a short stint with Major League Wrestling (MLW) where he won the MLW World Heavyweight Championship from Satoshi Kojima, only to lose it ten minutes later to Steve Corino (Kojima's employers, AJPW would not allow him to drop the title to an employee of a rival company Zero-1).
In February 2006, after 17 years in the ring, Awesome announced his retirement from wrestling, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and adding that he felt underpaid for his work at the One Night Stand event and that he would only return to the ring "if the money was right".
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2003)
In April 2003, Awesome debuted in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. He wrestled several matches for the promotion before leaving in May 2003. His TNA in-ring debut was on April 16, 2003 where Awesome defeated Perry Saturn by DQ when The Sandman and New Jack interfered. On April 23, Awesome teamed with Brian Lee and Slash in a losing effort against Perry Saturn, New Jack and the Sandman. On May 14, Awesome competed in his final TNA match where he lost to Mike Sanders in a Tables Match.
Return to WWE (2005)
Awesome made an appearance at WWE's (formerly the WWF) ECW One Night Stand reunion pay-per-view on June 13, 2005, defeating Masato Tanaka. The crowd greeted Awesome with jeers at the beginning of the match, but by the end were chanting "this match rules!" and gave both men a standing ovation.
Alfonso appeared in at least four wrestling video games including ECW Hardcore Revolution, WCW Backstage Assault, Virtual Pro Wrestling 2: Ōdō Keishō, and Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. The ECW toy series manufactured by Original San Francisco Toymakers released a Mike Awesome action figure in 2000. A WCW action figure of Awesome was released by Toy Biz in 2001.
Alfonso attended King High School in Tampa, Florida and trained at Stan's Gym, an old school muscle gym, on 56th Street. On May 11, 1991, he married his high school sweetheart Delisa Diann Bowers in Hillsborough, Florida. They had two children together; son Casey (born 1996) and daughter Carissa (born 2000). Alfonso was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed fishing and trail bike riding with friends and his son. He enjoyed mountain biking and would ride frequently at Alafia River State Park in Florida, close to his Tampa home.
After Awesome's retirement from professional wrestling, he served as a real estate agent in New Tampa, Florida.
On February 17, 2007, a group of Alfonso's friends found him dead after he had hanged himself inside his Tampa home. He was 42 years old. WWE acknowledged his death on the February 20 broadcast of ECW on Sci-Fi with an "In Memory..." graphic at the opening of the program, and two days later his family received friends at Serenity Meadows Funeral Home in Riverview, Florida.
Championships and accomplishments
- Extreme Championship Wrestling
- Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling
- FMW Independent World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- FMW World Brass Knuckles Championship (2 times)
- FMW World Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Big Titan (1), and Mr. Pogo (1)
- FMW World Street Fight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Mr. Gannosuke and Hisakatsu Oya
- FMW Tag Team Tournament (1991) – with Mr. Pogo
- FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship Tournament (1994) – with Big Titan
- Grand Slam Tournament (1995)
- FMW World Street Fight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Tournament (1997) – with Hisakatsu Oya and Mr. Gannosuke
- Major League Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- World Wrestling Federation
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
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