Something To Wrestle With – Gorilla Monsoon
Release Date: 02/01/19
Running time: 1:45
Recap by: Joe Aguinaldo
On this week’s podcast, Bruce and Conrad talk about the late, great Gorilla Monsoon.
Robert Marella born June 4th 1937 in Rochester, NY. He is a legend in the wrestling business.
For people who grew up in the ’80s watching the WWF, Gorilla was the iconic voice that called a number of famous moments such as Hogan vs. Andre at Wrestlemania III. He was in two legendary announce teams along with Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan.
Gorilla was a standout athlete in high school and college and of course a professional wrestler. Bruce says he was a stud. He was an all-American wrestler who was scouted by a number of universities. Because he was from the New Jersey area, he wanted to stay in the northeast and went to Ithaca College being one of their top heavyweights. He placed 2nd in the NCAA wrestling championships at 1959. He held the school record for fastest pin in 18 seconds.
Gorilla was one of the biggest athletes around at 6’5” and 350 lbs when he first went to college. He earned degrees in physiotherapy and physical education and even made the dean’s list.
After college, he became a teacher but caught the eye of promoter Pedro Martinez and became a pro wrestler starting as Gino Marella. The card drew 6,000 people, many of whom had heard of Gino.
He got off to a fast start and started high on the card due to his athletic ability and size. Bruce says he could throw dropkicks at 350 lbs and there weren’t too many people who could push him to his limit in a shoot fight. Gorilla could take care of himself if needed.
He wrestled as a babyface despite his size. Early in his career he wrestled in Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland and wrestled in Toronto for Frank Tunney. He also made a trip to Japan in the spring of 1963 in an early World League tournament. He was the youngest foreigner on the card.
While in Japan, he got the nickname ‘The White Elephant’ and ‘The Human Typhoon’.
When Gino went to the WWF, he became Gorilla Monsoon. That name was given to him by Vince McMahon Sr. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about the name. They encouraged him to grow a beard to make him more ‘gorilla-ish.’
There were two wrestlers who were bigger than Gorilla back then, Haystacks Calhoun and Happy Humphries. Gorilla was big but could actually work compared to Haystacks, who was more of an attraction type wrestler.
Bobby Davis, who was Buddy Rogers manager, tried to bring in a bunch of huge monster heels to challenge Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF title.
The storyline is that Bobby Davis discovered Gorilla Monsoon while travelling. He was brought in to feud with Antonino Rocca
The first match between Bruno and Gorilla was thrown together. Meltzer reported that Bruno was supposed to have a rematch with Rogers. There were disputes that Rogers suffered a heart attack prior to the match with Sammartino which Bruno won in 48 seconds. Bruce said Rogers didn’t want to do the job to Bruno and wanted an out. Buddy probably fabricated that a little.
Bruno’s rematch with Rogers was supposed to be October 4th, 1963. It was moved from MSG to Roosevelt City but a few weeks prior to the show, Rogers was pulled from the show due to heart problems.
A tournament was held on TV and Gorilla destroyed everyone in less than a minute.
In the first Bruno/Gorilla match, Sammartino lost by DQ. In the second match, they went to a double countout and finally in November 1963, Bruno finally got his win.
Bruce says working a multi-match program with Bruno made you as a wrestler.
There was rumor and innuendo that Gorilla had an opportunity to be invested in Capitol Sports. Bruce confirms he owned 20% of the company. Vince Sr. had different partners in Capitol Sports who were able to buy into the company when Joe ‘Toots’ Mondt passed away. The main decision makers in the business were Vince Sr., Arnold Skaaland and Gorilla Monsoon.
When Vince Jr. bought the WWF, he had to pay Vince Sr.’s partners at certain intervals or he would forfeit the company back to the partners. Vince Sr. asked Vince Jr. to always take care of Gorilla and Arnold.
Gorilla had an opportunity to buy into the Puerto Rico territory. Monsoon loved going down to Puerto Rico.
Carlos needed someone from the States and Monsoon bought into the company. He had a great relationship with Carlos.
Gorilla Monsoon once had a boxing match with Andre The Giant in Puerto Rico which is one of the worst matches ever.
The WWF did a show in Puerto Rico which was a conflict of interest for Gorilla and caused a strain between Monsoon and Colon.
Gorilla treated Victor Quinones like a son and there were rumors that Gorilla might be related to Victor however, Bruce doesn’t think that was true.
Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki
Muhammad Ali wrestled Antonio Inoki however, Gorilla was involved with this.
Ali was a huge wrestling fan and loved Bruno and all those guys from that era.
The Ali/Inoki match was made for Tokyo, Japan. Ali was a legit champion in his sport and Inoki was considered the best in his sport in Japan. The idea was to garner interest in the State,s however, no one knew who Inoki was.
Ali went around the territories and did something with a local wrestler. In New York, Ali went up against Monsoon who picked up Ali and did an airplane spin. This was picked up by the news outlets.
The Ali/Inoki match became a shoot but it was always meant to be a work.
The term Gorilla position was a New York term. Right before going out of the curtain, Gorilla would tell the talent they had 5 minutes for their match. If you watch old shows from the Capitol wrestling days, if matches went over time, Gorilla would walk to the ring and tell the wrestlers to go home.
Gorilla was the last point, he would give the cues and if you saw him in the aisle, the wrestlers have to finish their match.
When Bruce went to the WWF, he learned about the Gorilla position.
Bruce first met Gorilla in Worcester Massachusetts in 1987. Even though Bruce was intimidated, Gorilla was class all the way and took the time to show Bruce the ropes. He was willing to help you along.
Gorilla retired from in 1979. He may have had bad knees and a bad back but he retired on his terms.
Meltzer reported Monsoon was bought out by Vince Jr. in 1982 and got a 10 year contract which gave him an announcing job and 1.5 times preliminary money from every house show. This was very lucrative because the WWE was doing over a 1,000 shows a year. Preliminary wrestlers were doing $2,000 a week, times 1.5 times 3 house shows a night, Gorilla had some huge money years during Titan’s heyday.
When Monsoon was travelling, he would research the town they were going to and would go out and see things.
In 1985, Gorilla starts announcing with Jesse Ventura. They called five of the first six Wrestlemanias together and commentated on all the PPVs except for the first two Summerslams and the 1990 Royal Rumble.
Gorilla and Jesse had a good relationship and wasn’t a big party person.
Gorilla also worked with Tony Schiavone who he liked. Monsoon didn’t mind helping the younger guys because it meant less work for him. He never felt his position was threatened.
When Ventura left, he was replaced on commentary by Bobby Heenan. Bruce says he would take Bobby and Gorilla over Gorilla and Jesse every time.
Bruce says producing Gorilla and Bobby was a day off.
When Vince started his expansion, he would send Gorilla first and would take care of any problems. Vince was comfortable with Gorilla being the face of the company.
Gorilla was well respected and also gave people respect
In the ’90s, during the steroid trial, Pat and Bruce were writing the shows and would go to TV without Vince. Bruce would have to sit in front of Blackjack Lanza, Chief Jay Strongbow, George The Animal Steele and Gorilla Monsoon to explain the show. Bruce was nervous and intimidated by these guys. During the first meeting, Gorilla came up to Bruce and endorsed him in front of everyone and they all followed suit.
Gorilla and Bobby’s relationship was gold and Bruce calls them the most prolific comedic duo in pro wrestling.
Bruce says one of the saddest moments of his life was Gorilla’s funeral. Everyone walked away but Bobby stayed back. They loved each other like brothers. It was a unique relationship.
Gorilla called the first eight Wrestlemanias, he was the lead commentator on the syndicated show WWF All Star Wrestling, its successor Wrestling Challenge and the USA weekend show All American Wrestling. He was the co-host of Prime Time Wrestling and even the co-host of Georgia Championship Wrestling during Vince’s brief ownership.
Bruce says Gorilla enjoyed doing Prime Time with Bobby Heenan the most. If he could have only done that show he would have been happy.
There were many Gorilla-isms such as ‘the winner’s and loser’s purse’, ‘jammed packed to the rafters’, ‘will you stop’, ‘the place has gone bananas’, ‘pandemonium’ or ‘cut the electricity with a knife.’
He also had a way of describing body parts such as ‘the kisser’ or ‘he may have temporarily dislocated the patella.’
Gorilla had a great set of phrases and was over the top. He was the master of the over exaggeration but could get away with it.
Gorilla stepped down as lead commentator at Wrestlemania 9 and J.R. replaced him there.
Gorilla was looking to be on the road less and was relieved when J.R. came in. Gorilla wasn’t a guy to hold a grudge
Monsoon came back for King Of The Ring 1994 working with Art Donovan and Randy Savage. Bruce thinks Monsoon was more frustrated with Savage than Art Donovan because Randy was trying to cover up for Art instead of letting Gorilla direct traffic.
Bruce thinks the hardest thing for Gorilla was not doing Prime Time with Bobby
There were a handful of RAWs when Vince wasn’t around. Bruce says he became their utility guy and Monsoon would work with younger guys and help train them.
Gorilla’s last PPV was Survivor Series 1994 with Vince McMahon.
He became the storyline president in 1995 and was the perfect guy. Bruce says he had tenure and respect from the audience. They believed Monsoon had stroke and had credibility.
At Royal Rumble 1996, Monsoon was attacked by Vader. Gorilla had never been touched. This was a good way to build heat on Vader by attacking one of the most beloved figures in the business.
Monsoon became the WWE president at Wrestlemania 12. Health concerns would force him to relinquish the role in 1997. The WWE retired the position so Monsoon was the last NAW champion.
Joey Marella (Gorilla’s son) passed away in 1994.
Joey was Gorilla’s adopted son. They were very close.
After a TV taping, Bruce went home and when he got home, Shane McMahon told Gorilla that Joey had passed. Bruce called Gorilla, who was a mess.
Bruce says that event changed Gorilla moving forward and says a part of Monsoon died when Joey died. At the funeral, Gorilla didn’t want anyone to leave.
Bruce says this was the moment Gorilla gave up and stopped caring. He also stopped caring about himself.
At this point, Gorilla liked to hang out with his friends. When Bruce proposed to his wife, Gorilla helped him set that up.
Gorilla loved to gamble playing blackjack and once lost $78,000.
Gorilla’s final appearance was Wrestlemania 15 being one of the judges for the Bart Gunn/Butterbean match.
Gorilla passed away at age 62. Meltzer reported Gorilla could have passed away earlier but made a strong recovery. His condition took a turn from the worst after a heart attack. He could have lived longer if he was hooked up to a pacemaker or did dialysis. However, he chose not to be that way and unhooked his dialysis machine 10 days before his death. Those close to him said he died like a man’s man.
Monsoon went into the WWE Hall Of Fame in June 1994 but his legacy is bigger than that. He was the soundtrack for a number of iconic calls and lines
Gorilla was a part of many special moments in Bruce’s life.
Bruce was able to say goodbye to Gorilla in the hospital and to Bruce that was when he was gone. He was a remarkable man and personified class. He will go down as one of the greatest men in the wrestling business.
Next week, Conrad and Bruce cover the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre and the week after will be No Way Out. And that’s a wrap.
Rating – 7.5/10
When I was growing up, I knew Gorilla Monsoon mainly as an announcer. I spent a lot of formative years in the ’80s watching and listening to Gorilla Monsoon so I really dug this podcast. During one point of the podcast, Bruce breaks down and you can hear the genuine love and respect he had for Gorilla (who sounded like a great guy). Lots of great stories and info on a legend in the business. I highly recommend this one.
Joe is a long time wrestling fan from Toronto. He is a co-host on the Pull Apart Podcast with Jeff Rush and Caitlin Lavelle as well as a contributor to www.pwpodcasts.com. One of his life goals is to be a guest host on one of Wade Keller’s post-show podcasts. He doesn’t consider himself any sort of expert, he just likes wrestling. Check him out on Twitter and Instagram @ja113.