In the early 80s, few sights were more electrifying than the spectacle of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka perched atop a turnbuckle about to live up to his name and, seemingly, break the bonds of gravity. The one time I saw him live, in some run-down high school gymnasium on a bible black and freezing Tuesday night in February of 1982, I rushed home and re-wrote Tennyson’s “The Eagle” in a spiral notebook I still have to this day.
He grasps the ‘buckle with crooked hands
Undisputed hero of the minor market lands
Ring’d with the faces of yahoos he stands
The injured opponent beneath him crawls
While the haughty climber nods to our calls
And like a thunderbolt he falls
I took a picture of him that night, too, from about five feet away as he strode back to the dingy locker room that served as a dressing room. It’s a bit blurry, but there’s no mistaking his power and charisma–he looks larger than life—and in the background you can see rows of people going absolutely apeshit as he moves past. It didn’t matter who the belt-holder was at that time–some lame-ass doughboy named Bob Backlund, I think–Jimmy Snuka was the people’s champ, and it was because he was doing things all the rest of us could only dream of. He really did fly.
Alas, everything that flies must at some point return to earth and it turned out that Jimmy was no better than the next palooka, and maybe a bit worse. He loved to drink and snort coke and he had some anger management problems that were no doubt exacerbated by the chemicals he was taking to keep that bronze physique so chiseled. He played a solo game of handball one night with some young woman’s head against the walls of a $29.99 Allentown, Pennsylvania motel room and she ended up dying from it. He managed to “wrestle free” of any legal consequences, and indeed, the upstanding people who run pro wrestling managed to keep a pretty tight lid on the whole abhorrent affair, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing that keeps you in a guy’s corner once you find out about it.
He hasn’t done much wrestling-wise since the mid 90s, but he still puts on an occasional show in sleepy rat-hole towns here and there. If you look at the fairly recently-taken pictures that accompany his Wikipedia page, you can pretty much see exactly what Glenn Danzig is going to look like in a decade or so. It ain’t pretty. But hey, professional wrestling is a tough racket and so is punk rock.
Superfly Snuka and a lot of the guys on the All Star Wrestling circuit used to stay with my mom whenever they passed through Omaha!