Courtesy of The Rochester Times and Democrat
By Jim Spears
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Owen Hart's untimely demise in the ring in Kansas City, Mo., during a pay-per-view event a few years ago, after a fall of 90 feet from the rafters of Kemper Arena. While it was undeniably tragic, it was at least understandable.
But the death — and circumstances surrounding the death — of one Bruiser Brody are still shrouded in mystery, more than 16 years later.
Born Frank Goodish in Pennsylvania in the 1940s, Brody moved to New Mexico in his youth, making his pro debut in 1973 as "Bruiser" Frank Goodish. He later teamed with Stan "The Lariat" Hansen, beginning a lifelong friendship that would span many miles, countries and continents. When Brody joined the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now the WWE) in early 1976, promoter Vince McMahon Sr. gave him the moniker Bruiser Brody.
And with that, Brody was on the fast track to success.
He began winning titles right and left, what with his wild, unpredictable style and even his refusal to follow the script at times, which was absolutely a huge "no-no" then if you wanted to work in the pro ranks. But he survived it all, probably because the fans loved him, whether he was a good guy or a villain. He became an instant success in Japan, and was considered a "wrestling god" since his debut in 1979 in a tag match with (King) Curtis Lukea vs. Giant Baba and The Masked Destroyer.
He even wrestled against Dick the Bruiser for the right to call himself "Bruiser" — a match he lost, which is why he had to call himself "King Kong" Brody at times. Dick the Bruiser was one of the very few who could take and overcome what Brody could dish out. Some of Brody's legendary battles came against such names as Bruno Sammartino, all three of the Funks, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Abdullah the Butcher, the entire Von Erich family, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race and "Dirty" Dick Murdoch.
Brody was afraid of no one, wrestling the entire spectrum of opposition.
It may have been that very willingness that got him killed in the end on a hot July night in 1988 in Puerto Rico.
The man who had won 31 different titles and two tournaments in a space of only 14 years was stabbed several times in a shower stall by one of the co-owners of the World Wrestling Council promotion in Puerto Rico, Jose Gonzalez, also called Invader I.
Those facts have never been in dispute, even by Puerto Rican authorities.
"Dirty" Dutch Mantell was on the card that night to wrestle, as was Tony Atlas. Now, Atlas, well-known to fans of Mid-Atlantic wrestling back in the 1970s and '80s, was an alleged eyewitness to the murder, as were several other U.S. wrestlers present in the locker room at the time, according to Mantell. What unfolds next takes some understanding, both of the cultural mindset and the law on that island. The police involved had grown up watching both Gonzalez and Carlos Colon, the other co-owner of WWC. They were in awe of these men and very respectful of them.
Next, Gonzalez was allowed to leave the premises and evidently went home and changed shirts and came back with a clean one on, one without any of Brody's blood on it. Brody, meanwhile, had lain on the floor for 40 minutes before an ambulance arrived to transport him to a hospital for help. A doctor was working frantically over him to try and save his life.
Mantell, Atlas and some of the other wrestlers went to the hospital to stay near Brody. Before dawn, Brody dies, evidently from basically bleeding to death.
Mantell believes to this day that Brody would be alive had he been in an American hospital.
Gonzalez is arrested and charged with murder. But Atlas, who has returned to the U.S. in the meantime, refuses extradition, being allowed to do so on a technicality, and the case had depended entirely on his testimony. It was said that the U.S. wrestlers, Atlas and others who had witnessed the confrontation, feared reprisals if they testified against Gonzalez.
Unlike in the United States, the jury in a Puerto Rican murder case does not have to come to a unanimous decision, and whichever way the majority votes is how the verdict is rendered. Thus, Gonzalez is found innocent. One devastating side-effect for Puerto Rico was that the WWC — once a hotbed of a stop on the circuit for American wrestlers — all but disappears after the negative publicity and loss of American talent, all of whom say they no longer feel safe there.
The heated dispute that deadly night is supposed to have arisen when Gonzalez told Brody to take the fall (lose the match) against his opponent. Brody objected. It was not the first time the two had feuded in real life over something. In other words, no script here, folks, this was for real.
Gonzalez whips out the knife and stabs Brody several times in the chest in a cowardly act. Again, there is no dispute that Gonzalez did stab Brody. But Gonzalez came out smelling like a rose, and Colon helped cover up for him.
In the end, the wrestling world — not just fans in the United States, Japan or Puerto Rico — lost one of its most colorful stars.
The man who sported fuzzy boots and wild hair and was known to swing chairs wildly, sometimes even at his own fans, could always be counted on to put on a show.
He often made a point of saying he was beholden to no one promotion and liked it that way. He went his own way, and in the end, that may have been what cost him his life.