CHERRY HILL, NJ — It didn’t take long to realize that Killer Kowalski loved to tell stories.
Sitting at an autograph table at the NWA 50th Anniversary show in late October, Kowalski met his fans and talked with SLAM! Wrestling.
He’s aged, but still has an amazing presence — and a mean growl. Hunched over, he still manages to dominate the room.
When asked about his favourite memory right off the bat, Wladlek Kowalski dove right into the legendary story behind his ‘Killer’ nickname. A story he’s likely told a thousand times.
“My greatest memory was that I was a professional wrestler and a very mean, mean person,” Kowalski started and it isn’t difficult to believe him.
“First time I stepped in the ring, people just took one look at me and hated me, screamed and hollared at me. But I do remember one little incident that happened at the Montreal Forum, wrestling Yukon Eric. He was a pretty good sized guy, so I went ahead and tied his leg in the rope. I climbed the top turnbuckle. The referee’s underneath me, trying to untie his leg. I leaped overtop of the referee. Coming down, Yukon Eric says, ‘holy, jumping josephat!’ He tried to pull his head away.
“I thought I missed him. My shinbone grazed his left cheek and I ripped his ear right off the side of his head. The only thing that was left was the little… The whole ear rolled across the ring. You’ve heard about cauliflower ear. Blood spilled all over the place. The referee, after he untied his leg, come over to me and I said, ‘I suppose you’re going to say that’s disallowed, jumping off the top rope onto your opponent.’ He reached down, picked up the ear, and said ‘what’s this?’ ‘That’s his ear.’ ‘Holy mackeral!’
“Yukon Eric is bleeding all over the place, walking out of the ring back to the dressing room. Referee says ‘what do I do now?’ ‘What do you mean, what do you do, stupid jerk. Put my arm up! My opponent left.’ ‘Oh, okay.’
“And I won the match.”
After hearing that story, the reporter is slightly taken aback. He is talking to a living legend. A man at his peak known world-wide, striking terror into young and old alike. The Yukon Eric-ear story has been repeated so many times through the decades as proof positive that wrestling is far more real than many think.
And now the story has been passed on to him. First-hand. From The Killer.
Drawing his eyes away from Killer’s fascinating hooked nose, the reporter turns to the old fall-back question. How did Kowalski, a good Polish lad from Windsor, get involved in wrestling?
Turns out he was working out in the YMCA in Windsor and there was an amateur coach there who also wrestled professionally
“[He] put a hold on me and I screamed,” Kowalski recalled. One of the other guys from the gym started training, and Kowalski followed a year later, learning the trade in Detroit.
Kowalski was still working as an electrical engineer at the time, and would take time off work to go on road trips to places like St. Louis.
Eventually, his supervisor confronted the young wrestler/engineer about what was going on. Kowalski told him and quit and never looked back.
“Somebody asked me, if you were to live your life over again, what would you do, become an electrical engineer or professional wrestler?” remembered Kowalski. “Travelling the world didn’t cost me a dime. Long-trip plane tickets everywhere I went. And I enjoyed myself.”
But what was The Killer’s favourite location to wrestle?
“The world was,” he responded, and then re-thought. “I lived in Australia for a while.”
When asked about how he got involved in training wrestlers, another colourful story is offered up, this one also likely told many, many times.
“I was pushed into it,” he said. “A bunch of young guys went and bought themselves a wrestling ring. The Salem YMCA, the superintendent was Polish there. They asked him permission to put the ring in a special room.
“‘What’s this for?’
“‘Well, Killer Kowalski, we’d like to have him train us.’
“‘Oh yeah, for him. I’m Polish too.’
“So these guys kept talking to me about it, talking to me. I said ‘I’m retired, Besides, I’ve had enough. I’ve gotten out of it altogether.’
“They kept talking to me. I had nothing to do anyway, sitting home watching TV. So I started training guys at the Salem YMCA.
“That was the first wrestling school of all in 1978. So I start training guys and pretty soon they start writing it up. I was on the David Letterman show. And before David Letterman, I was on other TV shows. Word got out, there’s a wrestling school. Killer Kowalski. We had guys come all the way from California. A whole TV crew came to show me working out, wrestling, working out the guys. I got a lot of publicity that way too. I just kept at it. Now I can’t get out of it!
“So, I’m enjoying it. Some of the wrestlers I’ve produced — Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Chyna, Perry Saturn, John Kronus. Every time ECW comes to the Boston area, I have to come down there two hours before the show starts, three hours actually. I go in the ring and start training their crew.” Did Kowalski know that Triple H would become a star?
“I can spot these guys by the way their perform in the ring. And he had so much athletic ability, Hunter, that I said ‘this guy’s going to make it.’ And he sure did. And Chyna, I talked to WWF and said ‘look, you guys need a girl like this. She’s a bodybuilder that bench presses 250 pounds. … So they hired her. The whole thing is, live the dream and you’ll make it.”
The reporter thanks The Legend for his time and leaves humbled.
Killer Kowalski has spoken.