Wrestling has always had good guys and bad guys, and these characters will draw emotion from fans any way they can. They might make outrageous statements by insulting them, their families, their beliefs, the cultures and even their religions. When it comes to drawing heat, at one time fans would essentially riot if talent acted better than the paying middle or working class that attended their events. The fans belief in what was happening was so strong that the lines between fantasy and reality were blurred, and they would threaten talent. In some parts of the world, the wrestling industry has allegedly received financial backing from businesses may not have been on the level. So while some question the legitimacy of wrestling, others question the legitimacy of these businesses.
Some may think that alleged ties between wrestlers and these businesses were a one off, there have in fact have been several cases involving fairly prominent wrestlers. In one instance, a tie to organized crime occurred once their career was over. In some cases, the working relationships were generally positive. However, when things turned sour, they met with the most tragic consequences.
In some instances, some wrestlers were alleged to have made deals with these particular businesses in order to help settle personal issues with others. Here are 15 wrestlers with alleged ties to organized crime:
15. Dino Bravo
Adolfo Bresciano competed as Dino Bravo, and was given the moniker “Canada’s Strongest Man.” He was a former WWF tag team champion and WWF Canadian champion. It was believed that Bresciano was heavily tied to the black market cigarette trade. His uncle was a mob boss in Canada, which is where his ties to organized crime may have originated. While sitting in a chair in his house in 1993, Bresciano was shot in the chest multiple times and killed. Former friend and colleague Rick Martel has told stories of Bresciano saying he knew his days were numbered. Whether he knew that a hit was put out on him or is not unknown. However, his death is believed to be tied his alleged relationship with an organized crime unit.
During his time in Japan, Vader joined Mitsuhara Misawa’s Pro Wrestling NOAH promotion in 2000. What wasn’t kept a secret was the involvement of the Yakuza in Japanese pro wrestling. Vader was an enormous star at the time, but was said to be difficult to work with and had a falling out with Misawa. Vader was believed to have been met by a collection of men that were thought to be with the Yakuza. They apparently warned Vader, in rather physically coercive ways. He was said to have been cut on the legs, stomach and arms and told to leave Japan within a certain time frame, or face the consequences. Despite leaving Japan and competing on the independent circuit, he returned a few years later to Japan. We don’t believe that Vader had any other altercations with the Yakuza upon his return.
13. Mitsuharu Misawa
Mitsuharu Misawa was initially a police officer in Tokyo and was recruited into a secret program that was intended to aid the Japanese authorities. When the original Tiger Mask suddenly retired in 1983, Misawa’s superiors wanted him to take over the role. He trained and eventually debuted as Tiger Mask II in 1984, stopping a drug-running operation by alleged Yakuza bosses Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta. However, in 1988, Tiger Mask II met Genichiro Tenryu, who booked him to work with Toshiaki Kawada. The two formed a special police squad known as The Untouchables for several years, and battled Tsuruta and Baba’s top enforcer, Stan Hansen. A few years later, he learned of a business arrangement between Kawada and Baba. He and Jun Akiyama caught up with Kawada as he was in the midst of a murder with the help of Akira Taue. Misawa and Kawada nearly killed each other in battle. Although he won their feud, he was unmasked by Kawada in front of the Tokyo press, on hand to capture the news. In the confusion, Kawada and Taue escaped. Misawa and his Untouchables Squad continued their war on Baba’s men until Baba passed away in 1999.
12. Bruno Sammartino
This story happened in the 1960s, and was told by the late Classie Freddie Blassie in his book. Whenever Sammartino went to a different town, the most powerful Italians in the area decided they would be the ones to protect him whether he liked it or not. While in some instances, these men were legitimate businessmen, Blassie was almost certain that some were tied to the mob. He didn’t suggest that Sammartino knowingly had ties, just that it was difficult to know who was legitimate. During one particular match, Blassie kicked Sammartino low without the referee seeing it. Sammartino was being carried out on a stretcher, and Blassie said “Typical Italian stunt! You hit a guy in the neck, he grabs his balls!” One of the men that heard him was Jilly Rizzo, Frank Sinatra‘s no. 1 sidekick. He took out a gun! “[Expletive deleted], I’ll kill that sonuvabitch!” While in character Bruno said, “No. Let me take care of him in the ring.”
11. Captain Lou Albano
Back in the 1960s, the late Captain Lou Albano and Tony Altomare competed as a tag team known as The Sicilians, who held the WWWF United States tag team titles in 1967 (the world tag team title didn’t exist until later.) When they came to the ring they would wear white fedoras and a black glove. Each match began the same way, with both men raising their black glove and saying “Mafia.” It stopped when Albano was approached by a group of men in Chicago who represented crime boss Tony Accaro. They said, “You’re degrading the Italians,”. The men said that there was no such thing as a Mafia, and they were in fact legitimate businessmen. Albano was said to have reached an agreement with the men so they could continue their Sicilians gimmick, but had to get rid of the black gloves they wore.
Japanese wrestler Rikidozan had a run in with the Japanese organized crime association known as the Boryokudan Sumiyoshi-ikka. On December 8, 1963, Rikidozan was having fun at a nightclub in Tokyo, but was stabbed with what was described as a urine-soaked blade by a gangster named Katsuji Murata. The reason for the stabbing was believed to be linked to Rikidozan reportedly throwing Murata out of the club and continuing to party. After the incident Rikidozan refused medical help, after being told the wound wasn’t serious. Later he did seek medical assistance, but a week after the incident, Rikidozan died of peritonitis. Other rumours have said the stabbing was linked to an incident that took place between Kimura and Rikidozan.
Onita apparently planned to lure Invader 2 into a match against Bruiser Brody, with the idea that it would lead to a Yakuza hit on Brody. After Brody’s murder, Onita decided to take advantage of it and flew Japanese media to Puerto Rico to do a storyline with Brody’s alleged murderer Jose Gonzalez. Once the press conference had ended, Onita was attacked by Gonzalez and some of his staff. He smeared the blood from his head wound on his chest to give the impression that Gonzalez had stabbed him in the chest and stomach much like Brody. He later attempted to find a doctor that would administer stitches for pictures. Onita was then supposed to get revenge by beating Gonzalez in a death match. When photos of a bleeding Onita appeared in Japanese wrestling magazines with the heading “Brody killer tries to take out Onita,” fans were disgusted, and he ended the angle. He then came up with the story that he was trying to lure Gonzalez to Japan so the Yakuza could kill him.
8. Leah Maivia
If the name sounds familiar it should. Maivia was the wife of the late High Chief Peter Maivia and the grandmother of Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson. It was reported in the late 1980s that she was arrested along with Lars Anderson on several charges – money laundering the primary reason. She allegedly was said to have had ties to the Samoan Mafia, based on her threatening to send them after a Hawaiian promoter who was attempting, to begin a rival promotion in the state. She also apparently scared former WWE ring announcer Howard Finkel when he worked for her. Maivia’s promotion ultimately closed with the rise of the WWF, and she and Anderson faced extortion charges in regard to the opposing promotion in Hawaii. She was acquitted of these charges a few years later.
7. Tiger Jeet Singh
The Yakuza have had a recurring involvement with wrestlers, and allegedly did with Jeet Singh. Former WWE champion Mick Foley said both he and Singh ate dinner with members of the Yakuza when they went to Japan to compete. Foley once stated that he saw one member of the Yakuza quietly pass a roll of money to Jeet Singh during their dinner. It had reported that when Singh was competing actively he was “sponsored” by the Yakuza during his trips to Japan, with meals and hotel accommodations among other things apparently handled by the Japanese mob. It was never reported what the extent of Singh and the Yakuza’s relationship was, or what was done, to maintain their relationship.
6. Classie Freddie Blassie
While this wasn’t the only run in Blassie is believed to have had with organized crime, this one took place outside the United States. While in Japan, Blassie had an altercation with some men who were drunk. Blassie didn’t know who the men were and didn’t think much of it, but later a message was sent by the “chief boss.” The message from the chief boss was,”He likes you, Mr. Blassie. He just asks that you no longer beat up on his men.” Who exactly was he? Blassie responded that if these men no longer tied up traffic then he would no longer beat them up. But rather end the relationship with the chief boss he said he would take him up on his offer of gifts, which included being sent women several times. One wonders what could have happened had Blassie not taken him up on the generosity.
On one particular occasion, Sabu was competing and members of the Yakuza organization were attending his match and sat ringside. In fact, the promoter of the event had informed the talent that they were there so that they’d be aware. Sabu didn’t think very much of them being there and didn’t give it a second thought. During the event, one of the members apparently took a swing at former wrestler Tiger Jeet Singh. Sabu didn’t take too kindly to it, as he attacked the member beating him up at the time. What eventually came about was there were in fact 50 members in attendance including the organization’s boss. This led to what was believed, a near riot. Mike Awesome was in the locker room at the time and heard what was taking place, out in the ring. He thought the match had ended only to come out and see Sabu laid out with a number of the groups members beating on him. Awesome ran out to get Sabu back to the dressing room. All the non-Japanese performers at the time were left confined to their locker rooms for about two hours until the promoter could ensure things calmed down.
4. Booker T
A number of years prior to becoming a professional wrestler WWE Hall of Famer, Booker T‘s personal life was in a different place. As a teenager, he worked at a fast food restaurant and wore the fast food chain’s uniforms throughout. The problem was what he was earning simply wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Booker asked a number of his friends to assist him in taking part in a number of staged armed robberies at the Wendy’s fast food restaurant that he had employed. The idea was that the group would all be wearing Wendy’s uniforms during these robberies in Texas. This organized crime unit went down rather quickly back in 1987. Booker T Huffman spent spent 19 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of aggravated robbery. He was fortunate because he was sentenced to five years in prison, but served only a third of that sentence and released on parole. Booker turned his life around and now is regarded for his outstanding work both inside the ring and out.
3. Nick Gage
If you haven’t heard the name Nick Gage, then you aren’t familiar with his time on the independent circuit. Gage competed for the Combat Zone Wrestling promotion (CZW) where he became their first ever Heavyweight champion before the turn of the century in 1999. However, times had changed for years as 11 years later, Cage was part of a planned offense. A few days prior to Christmas 2010, Cage robbed a bank after handing over to a female customer service representative before walking out with about $3,000. Cage claimed that he was homeless and penniless at the time due to a long-standing addiction to drugs. It was after this incident that police had released a picture of Cage, who was identified, due to his popularity as a professional wrestler. The following year, Cage was sentenced to five years in prison and was ordered to repay the money he took. Cage has since been released since the sentencing. Cage’s story becomes one of what could have been.
2. Blackjack Mulligan
The late Robert Windham known famously as Blackjack Mulligan had a successful and noteworthy wrestling career. During his time in the ring he had close ties with the most popular wrestlers in the world at the time. His sons Barry and Kendal and now grandsons Windham and Taylor Rotunda are also following in their late grandfather’s footsteps. For all that Mulligan accomplished in the ring there was a tie that wasn’t as positive for the cowboy. It was in 1990 when Mulligan and his younger son Kendall was arrested after an investigation that was conducted by the secret service and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with the charge of counterfeiting. The police found close to half a million dollars in phony $20 bills which led to two years in prison for both father and son. Mulligan’s involvement in organized crime is a sad memory of what Blackjack had accomplished professionally.
1. Hardbody Harrison
During his time in World Championship Wrestling, Harrison appeared to be a promising up and coming talent that would have a fairly successful career as a mid-card (or slightly lower talent) on their roster. He competed for the promotion in the 1990s, despite never becoming an overly notable performer on their roster. In 2007, years after competing for WCW, Harrison’s career aspirations appeared to have changed. He was convicted of having as many as eight women kept captive between two different homes in Georgia as trafficking sex slaves. He was charged with aggravated sexual abuse, forced labour, sex trafficking and witness tampering. Despite saying that the women were willingly living at both homes and being trained to compete as professional wrestlers, no one was buying it. He was also accused of threatening to throw one of his captives out of a hotel window if she refused to engage in sexual activity with two clients. Harrison has been sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, as it now appears his ties with organizing crime are over.