Monday, November 14, 2016

Jimmy Snuka - Nice Guy No More (1979)

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

When “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka entered the Mid-Atlantic territory in November of 1978, he rapidly became one of the most beloved wrestlers in the promotion. Highly athletic and humble, Snuka in short order became one half of the NWA World Tag Team Champions with Paul Orndorff, and despite losing that championship in about four months, Jimmy continued to be the adored high-flying “good guy” in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling into July of 1979. But then, the unthinkable happened.

"Superfly" Jimmy Snuka
When the television card for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was announced on the July 18, 1979 show, color commentator David Crockett said, “Then we have another tag team match, an unusual tag team match, we have Buddy Rogers and Jimmy Snuka teamed up, and they’re going against Leo Burke and Gary Young.” While it wasn’t highlighted at that moment, the pairing of Snuka and Rogers was more than unusual, it was shocking! The “immortal” Buddy Rogers, former World Heavyweight Champion, had entered the area recently, and while he wrestled infrequently, Rogers was notorious in his still evolving role in the area. Why the fan-favorite Snuka would be teaming with a man like Rogers was a mystery, but it wouldn’t take long for the mystery to be solved.

When the Snuka/Rogers team came into the ring, the first thing that seemed odd was that Snuka was wearing wrestling boots, where before he always grappled barefooted. But that would be the first of many anomalies in this TV bout. From the outset of the match, Rogers was using illegal tactics, and Snuka was in the corner grinning and shaking his head in the affirmative. This led announcer Bob Caudle to comment, “It’s a little baffling to me exactly why [Snuka’s] doing that and what it means.”

Very quickly, things got much more baffling. Rather that employ his graceful aerial moves that the fans were accustomed to seeing, Snuka instead used a ground and pound style that was accentuated by out-and-out rulebreaking. The TV announcers were in a word…stunned. A perplexed Crockett stammered, “I can’t…really…I’m just completely baffled.” Caudle followed, his voice rising, “It amazes you, and disturbs you, as really to what Snuka’s doing.”

After a brief comeback by Burke and Young, Snuka again took control with a vicious knee as Young came off the ropes. Jimmy then went back to a familiar maneuver, the “superfly” leap off the top rope almost all the way across the ring onto a prone Gary Young. But what followed next was head-scratching. Rather than easily pinning Young, Snuka lifted Young’s shoulders off the mat before a three count could be made. Caudle exclaimed, “He lifted him up!” Crockett added, “No, come on now…come on.” Caudle added, “He looked over at Buddy Rogers with a smile on his face and just raised Gary Young.”

Clearly Snuka wanted to punish Young, and then began to manically grind his clinched fist into Young’s temple. Astonished, Caudle said, “That looks like a corkscrew, David, right into the side of the temple. Here’s Rogers in now after Burke, as Burke goes back out. And Snuka after having Gary Young in a pin position there, after that superfly from all the way across the ring…the referee says ring the bell! And he still keeps driving in that corkscrew right in the side of the temple!” And emotional Crockett yelled, “He won’t stop! He won’t stop!” The flabbergasted fans in the studio audience couldn’t believe Snuka’s conduct, but they would soon get a detailed explanation for it.

At the end of the program, Bob Caudle excitedly cornered Buddy Rogers and said, “I gotta ask you, and I gotta ask Jimmy Snuka, what in the world happened to Jimmy Snuka?” Rogers replied, “I’ll tell ya what happened. I’ll do the talking, I’ll do the thinking from here on out, Bobby. And that is, this man is like a diamond that needs cutting. I’m the guy that can do that cutting. Let me tell ya, he’s got one of the greatest bodies in the business; he’s got charisma, and a four letter word called guts…bar none! The one thing he lacks is that ability between good and great, and I’m the guy that’s got that ability.”

Rogers continued, “I don’t have to talk about myself; my records and my past speaks for itself. But let me tell you, in this man you’re going to see without a doubt the next champion. Give me about three or four months at the latest, and you will see…” At this point Caudle interjected, “How disappointed all of his fans are…” Rogers indignantly retorted, “Wait a minute! Tell his fans that there’s one leader in this business, and you’re lookin’ at him. And this man is being led by me. I’m leading him to where nobody else, including himself, could he get to the top like I’m gonna put him there.”

In finishing, Rogers told the fans, “And you know, there’s an old saying that good guys don’t win ball games; I taught him as of the last two weeks, that good guys don’t win wrestling matches. And the moment that anybody listening in thinks for one minute that this guy will ever be a nice guy again, they’re mighty mistaken.”

Rogers turned out to be a man of his word, as Jimmy Snuka became a champion very quickly under Rogers, winning the United States Heavyweight Title on September 1, 1979 and he was never a fan favorite again while wrestling for Jim Crockett Promotions. Jimmy rarely uttered a word, as he let his viciousness do his talking. While Rogers left the area and Snuka picked up Gene Anderson as his mouthpiece at the tail end of 1979, the Superfly maintained his hold on the U.S. Belt until the spring of 1980, and even after dropping that title to Ric Flair, Jimmy went on an impressive run as NWA World Tag Team Champions with partner Ray Stevens.

When Snuka finally left the Mid-Atlantic area for good in the early spring of 1981, the Superfly was as nasty and surly as he became on that astonishing TV taping in July of 1979. Buddy Rogers, long since out of the area, would have been proud of the staying power of the monster he created. Truly, Jimmy Snuka was a nice guy no more.