In an intense promo from 1982, “Magnificent” Muraco told the fans: “When they see everybody in the whole world feeling hate, they wonder what has this man got? Why is it they call him magnificent? Because truly, any time anybody steps in the ring with me, whether it be in Madison Square Garden or in Hong Kong, they know it’s about survival. They know it’s going to be magnificent, and they are seeing the finest thing to ever come down the line.”
With his arrogant demeanor and total disregard for the rules, fans far and wide loved to hate “The Magnificent One,” greeting him at arenas around the world with chants of “Beach Bum” as he bashed and bloodied the likes of Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.
This coming weekend in Amsterdam, New York, Don Muraco will be inducted into The Class of 2014 Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, alongside fellow living inductees, “Mr. Wrestling II” Johnny Walker, “The Masked Superstar” Bill Eadie, and Don Fargo.
“I just had my hip done and I’m kind of hesitant to travel right now, but I hope I can make it,” Muraco recently told SLAM! Wrestling. “I’d love to go.”
Making his debut in 1970, Don Muraco — then known as Don Morrow — began his career in Vancouver, wrestling for Gene Kiniski and Sandor Kovacs’ Canadian territory. “But my very first match on TV was down in Portland, where Don Owen was promoting,” said Muraco. “Mr. Fuji was down there along with Beauregarde, and a bunch of guys that had been to Hawaii, they found their way to Portland there. And guys like Dean Ho, who was in Vancouver at the time.”
It was Dean Ho (Dean Higuchi) who first trained Muraco, along with veterans like Bud Ratelle, Bulldog Bob Brown, and Steve Bolus. “I learned so much from all the guys, guys like Lonnie Mayne and Tom Andrews and Fuji, who were all really generous and they could teach you different things about the business.”
Honing his craft as a “preliminary jobber,” Muraco left Portland to wrestle in Los Angeles. “I was there for about half a year, then I came back to Hawaii for Christmas,” he said. “It was Don Owen who loaned (promoter) Ed Francis the money to buy Hawaii from Al Karasick. King Curtis and all those other guys were here, and they got me over really big. So I left everything and wrestled in Hawaii for about a year.”
From San Francisco to Florida to Australia, Muraco established himself as a babyface early in his career. “I had several good runs as a babyface,” said Muraco. “Wrestling for NWA Australia for Larry O’Dea and Ronnie Miller was pretty cool, and I would say it was pretty much on scale with the American wrestling. Bugsy McGraw, he was a heel there, and they had a couple of really good local heels. Then Fuji came in as a heel.
“Then Rick Martel followed me over there, and Steve Rickman. Oh, and Ed Wiskoski ‘Colonel DeBeers,’ he was one of the biggest heels in Australia when I was down there. I was working between there and New Zealand. This was long before King Curtis, Mark Lewin and Kevin Sullivan had made their way down there. In fact, I think that’s where Curtis and Lewin hooked up with Sullivan.”
It would be in the AWA though, wrestling for Verne Gagne, where Muraco would get his first big break, still wrestling as a babyface and teaming with Jimmy Snuka against the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Larry Hennig, before moving on to Roy Shire’s San Francisco NWA territory.
“After that I went to Florida, where I had a great run with Ivan Koloff,” said Muraco. “We had a really great cage match in St. Petersburg, maybe my best ever.
“I had some great matches with Jack Brisco as well. Looking back, my runs in Florida were some of the best times in my career. Florida was always a good time, and we were making good money.”
After brief stints in Texas and Georgia, Muraco returned to California to win his first singles title, the NWA Amercicas Heavyweight Championship, followed by the San Francisco version of the NWA World Tag Team Championship, teaming with Masked Invader #1.
“It was in San Francisco where I first learned to work as a heel, and it was a pretty easy switch, I’d say,” Muraco said with a chuckle. “As a heel, you control the pace of the match and you have to really listen to the audience, and I enjoyed that. I learned so much watching guys like Buddy Rogers and Eddie Graham.”
In 1981, Muraco finally made his way to the WWF and debuted as a heel, managed by The Grand Wizard (Ernie Roth). That same year, Muraco would capture the Intercontinental Championship from Pedro Morales, and battled Bob Backlund for the WWF Championship on several occasions, including a 60-minute draw in Madison Square Garden.
Back and forth, Muraco would shuffle between the WWF, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Jim Crockett Promotions in the coming years. “I used to do shots all around for Jim Crockett, and I was Andre the Giant’s partner for a while when I was in the NWA there,” he said. “Just for big shows at the Omni or some place in Charlotte when Andre needed a tag partner. I got along great with Andre.”
Reminiscing about the old days got Muraco thinking nostalgically about all the arenas in which he has performed: “These places are all gone now. Boston Garden was good, and so was the Philly Spectrum. Baltimore was interesting. When I was in Tampa, when they had their weekly shows, that place was a riot. It held four or five thousand people, and I really liked the Civic Auditorium in Hawaii. And of course Madison Square Garden, where I wrestled Snuka in the cage.”
Along with his famous 1983 battle with The Superfly, Muraco had a series of bloody and gruesome steel cage matches with Hulk Hogan, during Hogan’s first WWF title run. “Those matches came out of the first WrestleMania, I had that spot there, so I was trying to follow that whole circus,” Muraco recalled. “We never had a really long feud going or anything, but we had three or four memorable shots in a cage that the fans remember to this day. I worked with Hogan all over the country and all over the world, though.”
Then there was Muraco’s heated rivalry with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. “I had so many good matches with Steamboat. He was a good worker. Mr. Fuji and I were a good team, him as my manager and sometimes Fuji and I would team up,” said Muraco. “I actually knew Fuji from Hawaii even before the business. He was a preliminary guy in Hawaii, and he had a good aluminum siding business going on over there.
|PWHF CLASS OF 2014|
Pioneer Era (1800-1946) – Stu Hart and LeRoy McGuirk
Television Era (1943-1984) – Bruiser Brody and Mr. Wrestling II (Johnny Walker)
Modern Era (1985 – present) – Don Muraco and The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie)
Ladies – Sherri Martel
Tag Team – The Fargos, Don and Jackie Fargo
Colleague – Gary Hart
International – Lord Alfred Hayes
“Some of my favourite matches with him were when we’d team against Steamboat and a partner, like Junkyard Dog. I remember some especially good ones we had at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, wrestling for Jack Tunney. It was always a good time there. Good crowd, and Jack Tunney would have his bologna blowouts after the matches with sandwiches and beer in the bathtub.”
After years wrestling as one of the WWF’s most nefarious heels, Muraco eventually won over the hearts of the fans, taking on Superstar Billy Graham as his manager. “I pretty much left after that, though, and I did some promoting around New Zealand and I did some independent wrestling stuff,” he said.
“I went to all the places I wanted to go. I wanted to go to Florida and I wanted to go to New York, even thought the traveling was insane. I was in Mid-Atlantic for a summer I think, teaming with ‘Cowboy’ Bob Orton, and I remember them Lear-jetting everyone all over the country, wrestling in two different towns in one day, even.”
Working these days as a longshoreman in his native Hawaii, Muraco says he still gets recognized. “Yeah, people know who I am, even though my hair is grey now,” he said with a laugh. “I kind of graduated to a clerk position, which is where I am now and it’s pretty good.”
As for making it to the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremonies in Amsterdam, New York this coming weekend, “The Magnificent One” is keeping his fingers crossed.
“I really hope I can make it, as Howard Finkel just raves about it,” said Muraco. “It’s a big honour.”