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Scott Ostler

The Night the Fun Was Drained Out of Pro Wrestling

July 20, 1988|Scott Ostler

For the last 15 years, Bruiser Brody made a living by bleeding. Night after night, in arenas all over the world, he would "blade"--discreetly slice his own forehead with a razor blade concealed in his wrist tape.

On his forehead Brody wore a road map of his career, a massive network of vertical blade scars, but such is the price of fame and fortune. Wrestling fans like blood. It adds reality to the spectacle.

Last Saturday night, in the bathroom of the good guy's dressing room in a stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Bruiser Brody was stabbed twice in the stomach and bled to death hours later on an operating table, according to police.

The alleged attacker, another good guy named Invader I, went out and wrestled that night, and planned to wrestle the next. Then he was arrested Tuesday and charged with murder by Puerto Rican police, who were kind enough to let the local hero--whose real name is Jose Huertas Gonzalez--wrestle out the weekend card.

Wrestling is a fun sport. Harmless entertainment for the family. It is the world's live cartoon, a human demolition derby, a series of morality plays acted out in sweat and blood by huge men (and women, and midgets) with wonderful, creative gimmicks and gigantic personalities and personas.

It is also an incredibly hard way to make a buck, a sleazy sweatshop business. Wrestlers live under the thumb of promoters. Injuries are common, days off unheard of. The rule is: no-play, no-pay. The wrestler's only guarantee is pain.

Wrestling insiders spin endless tales of personal tragedies of their heroes. Drugs, suicides, physical and mental breakdowns.

But Bruiser Brody is believed to the first wrestler murdered on the job.

The Saturday night show went on, after the promoter informed the wrestlers in the bad guys' dressing room that Brody had been stabbed by a fan but was in good condition. This is in keeping with the spirit of wrestling, a sport based on deception and illusion.

Thus ended the life of the most famous athlete you've never heard of.

Bruiser Brody's real name was Frank Goodish. He was 42 years old, a former football player for Iowa and West Texas State. He stood 6 feet 5 inches and weighed close to 300 pounds. He had tried his luck as a sportswriter and bouncer before getting into wrestling, where he was a natural.

According to an insider's wrestling newsletter, Goodish "is probably the most versatile and agile big man in pro wrestling history, with the possible exception of Don Leo Jonathan (circa 1950)."

Brody's gimmick was simple. He was the toughest, meanest sonuvagun who walked. He started his career as a bad guy but years ago became a good guy. He was a caveman with wild hair and wild eyes. In the ring, he barked like a dog, and the fans barked with him. He was known to use an occasional chain, board or chair on an opponent. He was an out-of-control brawler and a blader. He was an agile and superbly conditioned athlete. And he knew how to put on a show.

"There was a reality about him," Meltzer says. "Even wrestling fans who don't believe in wrestling, if you know what I mean, most of them believed that Brody was for real."

This tough-guy aura extended beyond the ring, making Brody an outcast in American wrestling. He was an independent, refusing to align with either of the two powerful American federations--the World Wrestling Federation and National Wrestling Alliance. That's why you never saw Brody wrestle Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant.

"He was real stubborn," Meltzer says. "Most wrestlers do what they're told. He was one of those guys who did what he wanted to do. The WWF and NWA knew that when push came to shove, Brody wrestled on his own terms, and they didn't want someone like that in their dressing rooms."

With the conglomerate-type federations taking over American wrestling, Brody was the last of the outlaws. Years ago he took his wild act to Japan and established himself as a monster draw, earning $15,000 a week.

"The people in Japan really believed Bruiser Brody was the toughest guy in the world," Meltzer says.

To protect his career and his rep, Brody couldn't afford to lose many matches, even in other countries. Last month Brody was scheduled to do the job (take a pin) in Austria, lose to Otto Wanz. But when Brody learned there were Japanese sportswriters and photographers covering the match, he walked.

He did that a lot, employing a "my way or the highway" approach to negotiating. This is a world where the promoters call the shots, but if Brody didn't like the prematch arrangements, he would pack his gym bag and head into the sunset.

Last Saturday, apparently, Brody was asked to do the job against Dangerous Danny Spivey in an outdoor stadium in Bayamon, a suburb of San Juan. Brody refused, and was killed.

Meltzer said the promoter of the show tried to convince the Americans on the Sunday card to work, telling them, "Brody would have wanted you to wrestle." Most of them walked, and there weren't enough wrestlers left for the card. Invader I, however, was ready to wrestle.

Brody's wife, Barbara, got a phone call late Saturday night, advising her to fly to Puerto Rico as soon as possible. She flew down the next day from Texas, with her and Brody's 8-year-old son, Geoffrey. Barbara feared her husband had been badly injured. Maybe he had broken a leg.

Isn't that what they tell you to do in show-biz?

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