NOTE: Originally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard on March 24, 2012. All rights reserved.
When I arrived home last Sunday, after two days of wrestling, I really just wanted to relax and spend a nice day with my family.
Instead, I received a text message that changed the rest of my day.
It read “Hey Jimmy is at my house. He would love to see you.”
The text came from a man who lives close to me, Jon Chattman. He is an author who has written a few books, most notably I Love The Red Sox/I Hate The Yankees. Now, as an avid baseball fan, I enjoyed the book but, as a Yankees fan, I hated the premise.
Chattman is working on a more important book, in my opinion. It’s a book about one of my all-time favourite wrestlers and, coincidentally, the man who wanted to see me — WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Superfly Snuka.
It’s not often you get the opportunity to hang out with one of your childhood idols. I asked my eight-year-old twin girls if Scooby- Doo or Hannah Montana wanted you to hang out, would they go? Their answers confirmed it. One daughter said “Daddy, Scooby is a cartoon so he can’t ever hang out,” while the other said she would go if Victorious called (sorry Miley Cyrus/Hannah, you have been replaced).
Again, I must state that I grew up as a die-hard wrestling fan. In those days, most kids spent their Saturday mornings watching cartoons; partly because there was no Cartoon Network back then, and partly because you could only watch cartoons for an hour after school each day, and then had to wait until Saturday.
I lived in New York, so I got to watch plenty of pro wrestling in the early days of cable TV. I would spend every Saturday morning watching wrestling and Saturday evenings watching WWE at midnight. So, during the most influential stages of life, I was probably watching some seven hours of wrestling on Saturdays. Not only that, but I had a VCR in those days and I would tape wrestling shows and watch them over and over.
Jimmy Snuka was a huge part of my childhood. In addition to being a larger-than-life wrestling superstar, he was also a cartoon character on WWE’s 1980 children’s cartoon Rock ‘n Wrestling. I had his action figure, and I made my dad pay to see him perform many times at Madison Square Garden. I was in attendance for his legendary leap off the top of a 15-foot-high steel cage. I actually was there when he did it to then WWE champ Bob Backlund — and Bob moved — and later when he hit the legendary splash on Don (The Rock) Muraco.
Whenever you watch Monday Night Raw, it opens with Jimmy perched on the top of the cage ready to fly, along with numer – ous historic WWE moments. Jimmy also helped me out a long time ago, in the early stages of my hardcore career. They say you never want to meet your idols because they usually let you down, but Jimmy never has.
The first time I met him was when I first started wrestling. I was, maybe, three years into my career and Jimmy was working on the same show. I was the unknown rookie trying to make a name for himself. Jimmy was the established star who was helping draw the crowd and headlining the show, which, ironically, is what I do every weekend now.
Jimmy showed up late and was already dressed. He had another show that day and had arrived from it during intermission. I went over, in my head, how I would greet him, what I would say to him; putting together all these different scenarios in my head. Jimmy walked in and we all stood up to pay him the respect he deserved.
This was my moment … I was going to tell him how much I idolized him. He said “lovely Bruddas,” smiled and gave a wave to the group of unknowns and the promoter quickly sent him to the ring to take polaroids with the fans. Jimmy then was put into a separate dressing room and that was it.
This same thing happens to me a lot nowadays, but I make a point of walking around and talking to all the guys and trying to soak in all the insanity and experiences of pro wrestling. I did not see The Superfly until about two years later, when I was in Extreme Championship Wrestling. Jimmy was the first ECW Heavyweight Champ.
If you know the name Jimmy Snuka, you know his finishing manoeuvre, the Superfly Splash, in which he jumps off the top rope, essentially the same way a person would dive into a swimming pool, except a person is the pool and Superfly does a belly flop onto you.
I have taken his finisher many times and he hits it with serious impact, sometimes taking the breath right out of you. It’s a move that he made famous. Before Superfly, nobody ever really went to the top rope. Similar moves are commonplace in wrestling today, but Jimmy did them before anybody in the U.S.
When I was told I was going to be wrestling Jimmy Snuka, I can’t tell you how excited I was. When ECW boss Paul Heyman told me that I was going to make history, I said “I don’t think so, no way.”
Paul wanted me to kick out of Jimmy’s famous move, something no one had done before. Such a thing was taboo in the industry back in the early 1990s. A wrestler’s finishing manoeuvre was sacred and, in those days, the Superfly Splash was the holy grail.
When Paul told Jimmy, I was in the room. Paul laid out this long plan that was to see the two of us to feud with each other and he wanted the shock value of the historic thing that was about to take place. Paul was ever so careful with his words in selling it to Jimmy. When Paul told him the outcome, Jimmy slowly thought about it. The tension was building in the air and he finally responded after what seemed like 10 minutes of awkward silence, “Lovely Brudda,” he said.
The match we had was what I would classify as OK, but when I saw him go to the top rope and reach out his arms in his trademark Superfly pose, I was actually beaming like a little kid. He hit it and the referee dropped to count: 1, 2 and … what the hell? The building was shocked. People were now standing. Jimmy yelled at me. We got the people to believe. To this day, I still get people talking to me about this when I meet them. It is, often times, their icebreaker or greeting to me.
We came to the back following the match, and Jimmy smiled. I said “thank you so much, sir.” He said “Lovely Brudda, we will have some fun.”
We had many matches after that, the final one inside a steel cage, during which I was going to jump off the top of cage onto him, but the cage was so high that it touched the ceiling of the convention center so instead, he got the top rope splash.
I have seen Jimmy many times since those days, at WWE events, and independent shows throughout my career.
Jimmy recently had ankle surgery and has been unable to wrestle. As soon as I walked into my friend’s apartment last weekend, Jimmy was sitting there and his eyes lit up and his very personable smile lit up the room. He wanted to get up and I told him I would come down to him and I gave him a hug. I asked him how he was and he said … you guessed it … “Lovely Brudda.”
He then said “I can’t wait to get this damned thing off my foot” (he has a walking boot cast) and “I can’t wait to get back in the ring.”
I became a little kid again. He is close to 70 years old and still wants to wrestle. If I could have, I would have laid down on the floor right there had him splash me from the couch.
We had a fun time telling stories for his book. He told me how proud he is of his daughter, WWE Superstar Tamina Snuka, and how his son, former WWE Superstar Sim Snuka, is doing. He quit smoking cigarettes and is enjoying life. He is also on Twitter, which amazes me — @realjimmysnuka — and looks forward to his story being told to the world.
I am glad I got to spend a few hours with him and that I got to tell him what he meant to me and to the wrestling business. As I drove home, I realized I had another great moment. I got home and after the kids went to bed, I watched some classic Jimmy Snuka matches on YouTube and I realized that life really is, to cop a quote: “Lovely Bruddas.”
Thanks for reading.
Tommy Dreamer is a legendary and influential pro wrestler and a father and husband who has worked for World Wrestling Entertainment, Extreme Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action and the creator of House of Hardcore. Follow him on Twitter — @THETOMMYDREAMER — and check out his website at www.thetommydreamer.com. He can be booked for live appearances through his website. For HoH, go to houseofhardcore.net.