#45 Bruiser Brody
In an industry that is filled with controversial characters and figures, Bruiser Brody may have very well been the most controversial. Brody leaves behind an indelible legacy on the professional wrestling industry, and he certainly deserves to be credited as one of the best wrestlers of the last 50 years. However, I have Brody ranked lower than most people, and there are certain aspects of Brody’s career that detract from his innovation.
Brody’s story begins where so many other great wrestlers’ stories begin; playing football at West Texas A&M University. A standout athlete in high school in Michigan, one of the more fortunate breaks in his life was that he came to Texas to play football. While in Texas, Brody was broken into the professional wrestling business by the legendary Fritz Von Erich. Brody began to work in many of the local promotions in the area, and it is where he began to first team up with his former gridiron teammate, Stan Hansen.
At 6’6″ and 300lbs, Brody cut a striking figure in the ring, and his aggressive style made him one of the most feared heels in the territory. In Texas he feuded with fellow heavyweights Abdullah the Butcher, Kamala and Crusher Jerry Blackwell. In 1977, Brody established himself as a true national star when he traveled to the Northeast and became one of the numerous challengers WWWF World Heavyweight Champion Bruno Sammartino dispatched during his title defenses, working several sold-out shows for the WWF in Sammartino’s home base of Pennsylvania. It was also in New York where he first worked with Jose Huertas Gonzalez, who he allegedly refused to sell for.
By the late 70s, Brody’s career had broken down into two different categories, Japan and North America. In Japan, Brody worked with Giant Baba for All-Japan Pro Wrestling. In the United States, Brody worked mainly in the South, but his first allegiance was always to Japan. In All-Japan, Brody really established his character as the ultimate wildman. Brody stuck out anywhere he went, considering his size and his long hair and bushy black beard, but in Japan he was a sight to behold. Brody was known for being out-of-control (literally and figuratively) running into the crowd and assaulting fans, scattering audiences the way a pit bull scatters a flock of geese. Brody wasn’t the most dynamic worker, but he didn’t need to be, his charisma and his persona were all audiences needed to see to get involved in his matches.
In 1981, the equally rambunctious Stan Hansen jumped from New Japan Pro Wrestling to AJPW. Hansen and Brody reformed their tag team that was successful in the US and immediately began to terrorize fans across Japan. Hansen and Brody circled the ring like a pair of angry bull sharks and attacked their opponents with an unprecedented amount of brutality. Their matches were never very long, but again they didn’t need to be, so much action and violence was packed into a 10 minute span that fans were exhausted by the end of it. Their rivalry with the Funks, who were as big babyfaces as any foreigner could be in Japan, set new standards for what mainstream wrestling was capable of doing from a violence perspective. There was simply nothing else like it at the time.
In 1985 Brody made the mistake of leaving AJPW and jumping to NJPW to work for Antonio Inoki. In his autobiography, Hansen said that he warned Brody about going to NJPW, since things were very different there than in AJPW and that he may not like it. In a totally unsurprising moment considering who was involved, Brody and Inoki didn’t get along, working a feud that was highlighted by numerous disqualifications and count-outs that frustrated the fans and the talent. By 1986 Brody left NJPW and began working mostly in Texas and Puerto Rico, and occasionally working for the dying AWA.
Jumping from promotion to promotion became a hallmark of Brody, mainly because he didn’t have any other choice. No wrestler was as notorious for holding up promoters for more money as Brody, and he wasn’t beyond no-showing events if he didn’t feel comfortable working in that environment. While all wrestlers were weary of promoters trying to cheat them out of money, Brody’s paranoia over the constant threat of being screwed by the promoters significantly impacted his career. He was constantly moving around from territory to territory, burning his bridges with each departure. Promoters put up with Brody and often caved into his demands because despite his issues he was still always good for a strong house.
Brody was also notorious for no-selling his opponents and refusing to do clean jobs to his opponents. Again, Brody’s paranoia about promoters scheming ways to screw him impacted his career in a greater way than any other wrestler, before or since. In an infamous match against a young Lex Luger, Brody announced beforehand that “This is all (expletive)” and then halfway through that match stopped working with Luger and stood as stiff as a statue in the middle of the ring.
After leaving NJPW, Brody found himself in a no-man’s land of wrestling. While promotions all over the world were going national and gobbling up the top talent, Brody remained outside of that sphere. To make good money, he traveled to Puerto Rico, a territory notorious for its rowdy fans and lawless nature. Puerto Rico was the worst territory to work in for a heel, since it was not unheard of for fans to throw all sorts of things into the ring, including knives. More than one wrestler had been stabbed by a deranged fan on his way to and from the ring.
In 1987 Brody caught a break and was hired back by AJPW, where he formed a tag team with Jimmy Snuka. However, Brody was still working in Puerto Rico during his time in the United States. On July 16, 1988 Brody was working in Puerto Rico and before the match was asked to step into the shower area with fellow wrestler and booker, Jose Huertas Gonzalez, who was working under a mask as Invader #1. While that sounds strange, the shower area of a locker room was a common area in pro wrestling where private matters could be discussed before or during a show. Several minutes later, screams were heard from the area and when wrestlers rushed into the area they saw Brody on the ground, clutching his stomach and bleeding all over the place. According to Tony Atlas, who was one of the few wrestlers to respond to the screams, Gonzalez was standing over Brody, holding a knife. Paramedics were brought to the scene but it was too late, Brody was already gone.
Despite what seemed like overwhelming evidence to indict Gonzalez, he was eventually acquitted of murder after the jury ruled that he had acted in self-defense. Regardless of whether Gonzalez acted in self-defense or not, the act of one wrestler killing another wrestler is one of the very worst things to ever happen in the professional wrestling industry.
Brody’s legacy lives on as one of the most influential wrestlers of the last 50 years. His unorthodox, brawling style has inspired countless wrestlers, most notably Mick Foley. The image of Brody coming down to the ring to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigration Song” in the fur boots and the wild mane of black hair is one of the most feared memories in wrestling. What he lacked in major title reigns he made up for in reputation.
So why not rank Brody higher? I think the simplest reasoning is that his paranoia and attitude towards promoters hampered the impact his talent should have had on wrestling. Someone with Brody’s ability should have been a top name in either the NWA, WCW or the WWF. When he left NJPW he had nowhere to go, forced to wrestle for smaller promotions while men like Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were touring the world as top names, Brody was forced to work in the hellhole that was Puerto Rico.
If Brody had been less combustible he could have been a much greater star. Considering the success that his tag partner, Stan Hansen, had it is logical to assume that Brody would have had a legendary career well into the 1990s. Instead he had to settle for a career where he became known as a rebel and an outlaw instead of a great champion, and that affects his ranking.
Next week #44 will be revealed, a charismatic brawler who became one of the most successful stars in the WWF during it’s peak period.
The Top 50 so far:
50. Ted DiBiase
49. Superstar Billy Graham
48. Akira Maeda
47. El hijo del Santo
46. Gene Kiniski
45. Bruiser Brody