For far too long now, fans of pro wrestling have seen a growing trend showing their heroes dying at shockingly young ages. Professional sports, in general, seem to give the athletes who play them shorter life spans, largely due to the extreme stress placed on their hearts and bodies as they entertain roaring crowds. An over reliance on pain medication and a propensity for chair shots to the head have made it even worse for wrestlers, and 2017 has yet to discover a way for this sad saga to end.
A mere three months into this year, enough wrestlers died for us to compile our first list of 15 wrestlers who had recently passed away. Less than four months later, this number has already doubled. This time around, half of them had at least reached or were nearing retirement age, though that hardly makes the pain any easier to bear for their friends or families. Naturally, the pain gets worse for the other half of this list who died prematurely, especially the three who left this world under the age of 50.
These athletes and performers will never again get the chance to entertain an audience inside the ring, but we can always look back on the memories they left behind and appreciate their legacies. Because there seems to be nothing anyone can do to stop the countless deaths in the wrestling world, the best we can do is honor those who departed by reporting on their lives and careers in tribute. Keep reading to learn about another 15 wrestlers you didn’t know died in 2017.
15 Smith Hart – Stampede Legend And Bret’s Brother
Before Stu and Helen Hart could sire the best there is, best there was, and best there ever will be in Bret Hart, the legendary Canadian wrestler and his wife had already had seven other children. First of all came Smith Hart, who, like his younger brothers, would spend many years chasing his father’s legacy as a pro wrestler. Smith was born November 28, 1948 and started his sports entertainment career in 1973 working for Stu’s company, Stampede Wrestling. Though he never became a massive star, Smith found modest success in the tag ranks, once winning the WWC Tag Team Championships with Bret as his partner. Later in life, Smith tried his hand at promoting by reviving his father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion, also working behind the scenes and making appearances in a number of other Canadian independents. In early 2016, Smith was diagnosed with prostate and bone cancer, and he succumbed to the diseases a year and a half later on July 2nd. Smith was 68.
14 Mr. Pogo – FMW Death Match Icon
Anyone who thinks hardcore wrestling reached its ultimate extreme in ECW needs a quick lesson in the career of Mr. Pogo. Born Tetsuo Sekigawa on February 5, 1951, Mr. Pogo, for many years, competed under a variety of names in Japan, Canada, and the United States to decent success, all while primarily relying on his amateur wrestling skills. Truth be told, however, this early legacy is almost irrelevant in comparison to his later work as a hardcore icon who innovated the death match in Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. While the title King of the Death Match somehow always eluded him, Pogo twice won FMW’s Brass Knuckles Championship and participated in countless extremely violent matches with Terry Funk and Atsushi Onita, amongst many others. In recent years, Pogo’s career had been slowing down due to chronic back pain, which he tried to alleviate with a number of surgeries. Unfortunately, repeat complications saw his blood pressure drop to dangerous levels during these procedures, soon leading to his death at age 66 on June 23.
13 Buddy Wayne – Jobber For WWE and WCW
Born May 28, 1967, the self-professed “Heart Throb” Buddy Wayne wouldn’t get to spend much time in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his day in the sun. Regardless of the fact he merely performed as a jobber for both WWE and WCW, it takes a certain degree of talent to get hired by both promotions, an honor Wayne achieved many times. Both promotions also had a tendency to match Wayne against future Hall of Famers like Razor Ramon, Ricky Steamboat, “Diamond” Dallas Page, Edge, and Shawn Michaels, five athletes any grappler would've loved a chance at squaring off against in the ring. Outside of the ring, Wayne was also a mainstay of the Portland independent scene and, indeed, the Pacific Northwest wrestling community at large. He also ran the Buddy Wayne Wrestling Academy, citing training future stars as his true love. Wayne passed away on June 17th due to a heart attack at the age of 50.
12 Richard Delicious – Rising Indy Star
As hard as it is for the fans of wrestlers on this list to cope with the loss of a hero, stories like that of Wayne VanDyke, aka Richard Delicious, can bring a tear to the eye of people who never even watched him wrestle. The tragedy is that Delicious was a mere 29 at the time of his death, not yet able to etch a name for himself in the sport outside of small-time local promotions. Delicious had started his career in 2010, primarily competing for Vintage All Star Wrestling, Florida Underground Wrestling, and, most notably, American Combat Wrestling. It was in ACW where Delicious revealed he might have had some potential, twice winning the Cruiserweight Championship and once reigning as Light Heavyweight Champion. Even on shows he wasn’t booked, Delicious would reportedly assist production staff transport the ring, taking it as a privilege to even be involved. On April 30th, he collapsed during a Ronin Pro Wrestling event, later passing away on May 13th due to a series of heart attacks.
11 Diane Von Hoffman – ‘90s Women’s Wrestler
On April 13, 1962, Phyllis Burch was born to a family of diehard wrestling fans, who soon inspired her to live out their dreams of stardom in the squared circle. After receiving training from WWE Hall of Famer The Fabulous Moolah, Burch changed her name to Diane von Hoffman and briefly served as the Fabulous One’s tag team partner. Later, she ventured to Japan, the Philippines, and Canada while teaming with another icon in former WWE Women’s Champion Leilani Kai. Hoffman clearly loved traveling the world, yet her biggest accomplishments would come not far from her Kentucky home, working in Memphis for the USWA. It was here Hoffman changed her name once more to Moondog Fifi, the only female member of the legendary Moondogs stable. Fifi also briefly reigned as USWA Women’s Champion during this time. Sadly, Hoffman's time inside the ring left her with chronic knee problems, which lead to her death on July 6 due to surgical complications. Hoffman was 55.
10 “Beautiful” Buddy Wolff – Old School Southern Heel
Les Wolff was born April 11, 1941, though he would soon decide he was less of a Les and more of a Buddy. His last name stuck, however, and the allusion to vicious animals definitely fit the violent madman who became a top heel after repeatedly challenging Pedro Morales for the WWE Championship. While Wolff always came up short in his efforts, the notoriety would do him well, eventually leading to a match against boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The real focus was Ali challenging Antonio Inoki, but this early contest nonetheless gave Wolff an incredible amount of attention, despite the fact The Greatest left him a bloody mess. Wolff later found great success in the tag division with Don Jardine and “Luscious” Larry Heiniemi as his partners, with both teams becoming top heels wherever they worked. After a long career, Wolff retired in the late ‘80s, and sadly, soon developed dementia. On July 11th, the disease took his life at age 76, leading his daughter to donate Wolff’s brain to CTE research.
9 Rhubarb Jones – WCW Ring Announcer
Warren Jones was born on August 9, 1951, later picking up the name Rhubarb en route to a celebrated career as a country music radio DJ. Professional wrestling and country music have occasionally gone together like bread and butter, and the connection was at its peak in the Georgia area where Jones did his radio work. This connection somehow led wrestling promoter Jody Hamilton to offer Jones a job introducing wrestlers at local area shows, and when Hamilton later earned a position at WCW, he generously decided to help Jones get a job in that bigger promotion as well. Ultimately, it seems Rhubarb’s passion was greater in radio than in wrestling, as he didn’t spend much time in sports entertainment. However, the reason may have been that he was simply too darn good at radio to do anything else, eventually landing in the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame. Jones passed away after suffering a heart attack on April 2nd, aged 65.
8 Fishman – Iconic Luchador
José Ángel Nájera Sánchez was born January 6, 1951, and by the time he was nine years old, his family was taking him to lucha libre shows on an almost weekly basis. His wrestling training came soon after, followed by an in-ring debut under the name Goliath Reyes. When that name didn’t feel right, Sánchez tried switching it up to Titán, though his tag team partner at the time thought the mask he created for that character looked more like a fish. Thinking about the success of Batman, Sánchez parlayed that thought into creating another new character in Fishman, which went on to make him a household name to Mexican wrestling fans.
While his career as Fishman began in earnest for the Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre promotion, it wasn’t until he and many others jumped ship to Universal Wrestling Association that he became a true legend, winning the Light Heavyweight Championship four times. He also won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, though that title is a bit of a misnomer, as it was actually promoted by the UWA at the time. In any event, Fishman’s star kept shining from there, leading to further runs in just about every promotion in Mexico. Fishman passed away due to a heart attack on April 8, aged 66.
7 “Rotten” Ron Starr – Former NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion
Tough as nails and “Rotten” in all the right ways, Ron Starr was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1950. A Vietnam veteran, Starr saw wrestling as a way to adjust back into normal life after returning from combat and soon discovered he happened to be pretty good at it, deciding to stay at it for a 25-year career. Primarily working in the territorial days of the sport, Starr was never a WWE superstar, but he didn’t have to be, instead finding success in a large number of regional NWA promotions in addition to tours of Japan, China, and South Africa. Starr’s peak as a performer was his two reigns as NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion, a precursor to the cruiserweight divisions seen today. If that’s not enough to cement his legacy, it might also help to know he was an integral influence on a young Mick Foley, having served as the future Hardcore Legend’s first ever opponent. Starr passed away at the age of 67 after a series of strokes and heart attacks.
6 Gran Apache – AAA Legend
On April 16, 1959, Mario Balbuena González was born, though few people would recognize him by that name today. Instead, González is revered as Gran Apache, an absolute legend of Asistencia Asesoría Administración, one of the largest wrestling promotions in Mexico. Inspired by El Santo and receiving training from Blue Demon, it could be said Apache’s earliest days in the industry destined him for greatness. After a long history of wrestling incredibly violent, bloody matches, Apache showed his softer side as the head trainer of AAA and also one of the promotion’s biggest mainstream stars. Apache’s most notable angle involved his entire family, centered on the fact his daughter, Faby Apache, also a pro wrestler, had married another grappler named Billy Boy, whom the legendary luchador felt wasn’t good enough for his child. Eventually, the family feud was resolved, and Apache returned to training new athletes until he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. The disease would take his life on May 7 at the age of 58.
5 “Pretty Boy” Doug Somers – Former AWA Tag Team Champion
Trained by iconic wrestlers like Verne Gagne and Harley Race, “Pretty Boy” Doug Somers would never reach the level of his mentors, but he found plenty of success in his own right in the tag divisions. Born September 22, 1951, Somers started off as a referee before deciding to transition into grappling for a number of NWA territories. Fame largely eluded Somers until he teamed up with “Playboy” Buddy Rose in Gagne’s American Wrestling Association, with future WWE Hall of Famer Sherri Martel as their manager. Together, Somers and Rose won the AWA Tag Team Championships and engaged in a classic feud over the belts against The Rockers, highlights of which have since been released on a number of Shawn Michaels’s career retrospectives. Coincidentally, they had won the titles from equally noteworthy performers in Curt Hennig and Scott Hall. Rose passed away on May 16 at the age of 65 due to unreported causes.
4 Larry Sharpe – Trainer Of The Monster Factory
Born on June 26, 1951, Larry Sharpe wasted no time in impressing the world with his wrestling skills, at one point getting ranked fourth in the NCAA rankings. This caught the attention of WWE Hall of Famer Gorilla Monsoon, who offered to train Sharpe and later helped him get a job to show off what he learned. Throughout the 1970s, Sharpe traveled around the US and later the whole world, wrestling in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Canada, Japan, and Hawaii promotions at various points in time. He found decent success wherever he went, including a few championships, yet Sharpe soon decided his true passion was training, opening a legendary wrestling school called The Monster Factory in 1983. Some of Sharpe’s most notable students include Raven, Bam Bam Bigelow, The Big Show, King Kong Bundy, Sheamus, and WWE Hall of Famer The Godfather, amongst many others. Sharpe passed away aged 65 on April 10th after a long struggle with liver disease.
3 Brazo de Oro – Member of A Mexican Dynasty
Despite the many stylistic differences that exist between American and Mexican professional wrestling, certain things hold true in both sports entertainment and lucha libre. For one thing, should multiple children of one pro wrestler follow in his or her footsteps, this fact will get promoted wherever future generations of that dynasty work. Next to Los Guerreros and Los Villanos, one of the biggest such families in wrestling is La Dinastia Alvarado. The first son of Shadito Cruz was born October 7, 1950 and would likewise start a family trend by becoming a star under the name Brazo de Oro. Five brothers would follow, all of whom used “Brazo” in at least one of their ring names. Together, Brazo de Oro, Brazo de Plata, and El Brazo were one of the most celebrated “trios” teams in lucha libre, winning championships to prove it in CMLL, UWA, and WWA. Brazo de Oro passed away on April 28th due to a heart attack at age 57, though his family legacy lives on through his son La Máscara and nephews Maximo, Psycho Clown, Goya Kong, Robin, and several others who don’t wrestle.
2 Chandler Biggins – Absolute Intense Wrestling Owner
As far as we can tell, Chandler Biggins only entered a wrestling ring to compete in a match one single time, yet that in no way diminishes the impact he had on the Cleveland wrestling scene. Biggins was far more revered for his status as co-owner and primary mastermind behind the Absolute Intense Wrestling promotion. His first act to make the company notable was hiring former wrestling legends like Missy Hyatt, Robert Fuller, and Dennis Stamp to make select appearances, followed by launching or extending the careers of countless independent stars who now populate WWE. Wrestlers to have worked for Biggins and AIW include Seth Rollins, Ethan Carter III, Chris Hero, Curtis Hawkins, Marti Belle, Corey Graves, Hornswoggle, and Kevin Owens, all of whom posted heartfelt tributes to Twitter after learning of the loss of their friend. Biggins passed away after a series of surgeries on June 19th.
1 Rosey – Former WWE Tag Team Champion
On April 7, 1970, the Anoa’i wrestling dynasty grew once more with the birth of Matthew Tapu Nu’u. The son of WWE Hall of Famer Sika, it could be said Matthew was destined for the business from day one, and his impressive size later in life would go on to confirm that suspicion. Trained by his father and his tag team partner, Afa, he would change his name a number of times before finally finding success in WWE as Rosey. Initially, Rosey was one-half of 3 Minute Warning with his cousin Jamal, who later earned solo fame as Umaga. That team didn’t quite work, though, so Rosey repackaged himself as a superhero-in-training with the help of wrestling’s resident caped crusader, The Hurricane. This pair eventually captured the WWE World Tag Team Championships, yet his career largely faded out from there. More recently, Rosey had been sitting on the sidelines watching his brother named Roman Reigns become a four-time WWE Champion. Rosey stopped enjoying his brother’s success on April 17th, when he passed away due to heart failure at the age of 47.
Sources: WWE, The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Slam! Sports