There were three distinct sides to Dennis Kasprowicz, who died August 22 at the age of 59. He was a successful amateur wrestler who kept that pedigree when became a pro known as Denny Kass. By day, he was an employee of the Ford Motor Company, specializing in training. The rest of the time, he was a husband and father, including getting heavily involved in the Dearborn Soccer Club where his daughters played and his church.
“He loved his day job, he loved wrestling, and most of all, he loved his wife Karen and his two girls,” said Scott D’Amore, who counts Denny Kass as one of his trainers and mentors.
Dennis Kasprowicz was born August 27, 1956, to Eugene and Gladys Kasprowicz, and grew up around Detroit, living in Royal Oak, Dearborn Heights, and attending Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
He was an amateur wrestler from the start, captaining the Dondero High School team and earning a varsity letter at Rochester. He moved on to the Michigan Wrestling Club, where he excelled at Greco-Roman, and was a two-time All-American, and competed towards a spot on the 1980 Olympic team.
It was Al Costello, one of the original Fabulous Kangaroos, who trained Kasprowicz to become a pro wrestler, and he debuted around 1981.
Costello’s gym, in Dearborn, saw a host of Detroit mainstays come through its doors, including Chris Carter, Joe “Mohammad” Saad, Brian Costello, and manager Handsome Johnny Bradford. Irish Mickey Doyle was a regular too, though already a veteran, and he shared his knowledge alongside Costello.
Bradford, who is a noted photographer under his real name of Brad McFarlin, remembers those days at Costello’s gym with a grimace. “Denny was a shooter. At Costello’s he loved working me,” said the diminutive McFarlin, who is legally deaf. “He loved dropping me on my head!”
Costello’s wasn’t a palace, said McFarlin. “It was no more then a judo club. No bounce in those mats. No ropes to run. It was mat wrestling and Denny was clearly good at it. But I was his favourite because he would always suplex the sh– out of me. Oh did he love the business. No doubts about that.”
Early in his career as Denny Kass, Kasprowicz suffered nerve damage to his wrist and hand, and it was a legacy that stuck with him the rest of his life.
Under Costello’s guidance, Denny Kass teamed with Allen Sarven of Lima, Ohio, who was wrestling as Al Snow. They became the New Fabulous Kangaroos, and worked throughout Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.
“He was a excellent worker fit right in as a Kangaroo,” said longtime fan Mark Bujan.
Currently in the Netherlands, Snow posted some memories of Kass on his Facebook page: “Denny and I had the privilege of being the last incarnation of the Fabulous Kangaroos with the legendary Al Costello. It was an honor and something I will always be proud of and cherish. Denny was a good man and friend and I and many more will miss him very much.”
Gary Woronchak often partnered with Costello to promote shows, and knew Kasprowicz for more than 30 years. He is in the photo above, interviewing Denny Kass and Al Snow.
“Denny loved the Kangaroos and thought he could keep the tradition going, he gave it his best. After Al stepped aside from the team, Denny found Christopher Daniels to step in, but it didn’t go very far,” said Woronchak. “He worked spot shows that I would sell and help promote with Al Costello in the mid 1980s. Then he was worked with the WWA (Bruiser Bedlam) in Toledo when I was doing announcing and other stuff for them — Denny held the WWA tag belts with Calypso Jim (now Bobo Brazil Jr.) for a period. Then, when I ran my own promotion, Midwest Territorial Wrestling (mostly in Taylor, Michigan), Denny was on almost every monthly show. He teamed with Snow as the Kangaroos for a bit but mainly worked undercard singles.”
D’Amore first learned about Kass through those Bruiser Bedlam shows.
“The first non-national wrestling that I ever saw was Bruiser Bedlam’s WWA, based out of Toledo and Detroit. They used to shoot out of the old Premier Center in downtown Detroit. Really, the first non-WWF or NWA match that I ever saw was a tag team match with Denny Kass and Calypso Jim,” recalled D’Amore. “So I grew up watching those. It was sandwiched between WWF and NWA wrestling on Saturdays when I was a kid. I grew up with Bruiser Bedlam being a part of my childhood.”
Through the years, D’Amore came to appreciate Kass’ in-ring style even more.
“Denny was an AAU All-American. He was very technically sound. He was a very good amateur, and that reflected in his pro style,” explained D’Amore. “Of course, being trained under the original Kangaroo Al Costello, he certainly kept that classic style to him, which was very mat-based, a lot of holds and counterholds. Denny was a gentle man, but if you were in the ring with Denny and he wanted to cinch you in something, he certainly wouldn’t have a problem doing it with most of the guys out there.”
Kasprowicz would use that amateur background when he started training wrestlers himself. Through the years, he trained grapplers in a number of locations, including a boxing gym in Hamilton, Ontario, at Al Snow’s Bodyslammer’s gym in Lima, Ohio, at Scott D’Amore’s Can-Am Wrestling school in Windsor, Ontario, and in Detroit at the Motor City Sports Club, which was the home of Insane Championship Wrestling.
D’Amore posted about the legacy left behind by Kass on Facebook: “Denny had been one of my trainers early in my wrestling career and he took great time and effort to help me in those formative years. Without Denny Kass there would be no Scott D’Amore, no Rhino, and no Can-Am Wrestling School. I think it’s safe to say that without Denny Kass there would be no Bobby Roode, no Eric Young, no Chris Sabin, no Alex Shelley. The list goes on and on. In football they talk about the coaching tree and Denny’s coaching tree in professional wrestling is one of the best in our profession. He was a great teacher who was always willing to spend time with and pass on knowledge to younger talent.”
One of his first students was Tom Ouelette. He started training in 1996 under Kasprowicz, and though his own career only lasted until 2000, Kasprowicz’s lessons left an impression.
“He was extremely key in who I became as a person,” explained Ouelette, who as a teenager would travel from Detroit to Hamilton to train with Kasprowicz and another student, wrestler Breyer Wellington. “Denny was all about using wrestling as an analogy for life, trying to teach you more than just wrestling, and how to apply lessons that wrestling could teach you, and applying it to your life, in every aspect, all the way from personal relationships to business and everything in between.”
Ouelette, who wrestled as Pierre Francois in a French Canadian tag team with Wellington during his brief career, said that they were “like his guinea pigs for what would later become his students.” He described the training style: “Denny was the quintessential old-school trainer. At least 75 per cent of our training was amateur wrestling training. … We learned a lot about chain wrestling, we learned a lot about working together in the ring, but there were no kicks, there were no punches — it wasn’t about that. It was all about learning the ground wrestling first, learning the basics, learning how to walk before you run, that whole concept. He had us running the stairs. He had us doing the calisthenics and doing everything that real amateur wrestlers would do during training, before we even got into the theatrics of pro wrestling, to the point where it wasn’t until the night of our first match that we actually worked out a match.”
Still early in his own career, D’Amore, who started training with Irish Mickey Doyle and Al Snow, furthered his lessons with Kass in Hamilton, as did future ECW World champion Rhino (Terry Gerin). “Years later, I used to go up to Hamilton where he was running a little school out of a boxing facility. I used to go up there on Friday nights with him,” said D’Amore. “It was a few hours to drive up filled with laughs, a few hours of training, a quick stop at Mr. Sub, which was his favourite Canadian restaurant, and then a few hours home again filled with laughs and storytelling.”
Lessons were given in the car too, said Brian Heffron, who fans know as ECW’s Blue Meanie. Heffron had trained in Lima with Al Snow, and often travelled with Snow and Kass to shows in Chicago for Windy City Wrestling. “It was instrumental in my young career where I could sit in a car with two great minds and just talk wrestling,” Heffron said. When Dan Severn started promoting shows in Michigan, he had Snow act as booker, and Snow knew Heffon would learn from Kass.
“He would book me against Denny Kass because he thought having me get in the ring with a guy with the great experience of a Denny Kass would help me learn pacing, learn psychology,” said Heffron. “After each match, Denny would pull me aside and say, ‘Well this is good,’ ‘This is what you need to do,’ ‘Hey, if you dropped a couple of pounds here you could work that style match and have more stamina,’ and stuff like that. He used to teach me psychology.”
Promoter and referee Brian Gorie first met Kasprowicz at the tail end of his time running a school in conjunction with Insane Clown Posse in Detroit. “Denny was the epitome of a real wrestler and mentor who helped the youth and he should be properly recognized in that light for all the help and guidance he provided,” said Gorie.
The ability to teach wasn’t limited to wrestling for Kasprowicz. He enjoyed delivering speeches and talking to assemblies. He’s a member of the Dearborn Soccer Hall of Fame for his 10 years of service, as a coach and on the board. (He also trained amateurs at Summer Wrestling Camp Albion College.)
But it was at the Ford Motor Credit Company (a division of Ford) that he did plenty of training. He hosted an internal television show for Ford dealers, which ran more than 2,000 episodes through the FORDSTAR network and then the Internet. He traveled to dealerships to share his knowledge as well. He started at Ford in 1983, initially working in Sales, Finances and Insurance
He was married to his wife, Karen, for 34 years, and they raised two daughters, Miranda and Christa. He was active at Dearborn Evangelical Covenant Church for 30 years, and was a big supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the State of Michigan.
But wrestling always had a hold on him, and he often went to local independent shows. D’Amore talked him into coming back into the ring on two occasions, well past his prime. The first was for Border City Wrestling’s 15th anniversary in 2008 in a legends tag team bout, which dovetailed nicely since Kass, the first Can-Am champion, had beaten D’Amore on the initial BCW show.
In 2013, Denny Kass was back in action for a Legends Gauntlet match.
“That was his last time in the ring. He trained hard to try to get in the best shape he could for it, and enjoyed himself,” said D’Amore. “He told me he was so grateful for the opportunity and his girls were so young they had never gotten to see him wrestle, and so many people that he’d worked with at Ford had never seen him wrestle, and they got to see that. He thanked me for it and told me not to ever dare call him again other than to have a drink or share a laugh.”
Woronchak said that Kasprowicz was always a pro’s pro.
“Denny absolutely loved performing and he loved the business. What I remember most about Denny Kass is that he always worked hard to have the best match he could, always. He was dependable, if you booked Denny you knew he was going to show up, be on time, work hard, and do whatever was asked of him without a single complaint. He never complained about where he was on the card, or whether he was getting a push, or what he got paid. He was happy to be booked and happy to perform. Whether he was the All-American boy trying to drum up a ‘USA’ chant, or trying his best Aussie accent as a Kangaroo, his enthusiasm so genuine that I can still smile today thinking about it.”
Visitation will be held on Wednesday, August 24th, from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. , and Thursday, August 25th, from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Dearborn Chapel of Howe-Peterson Funeral Home, 22546 Michigan Avenue. A funeral service will take place on Friday, August 26th, 10 a.m. at Dearborn Evangelical Covenant Church, 18575 West Outer Drive. Any memorial donations can be made to the Michigan Fellowship of Christian Athletes, P.O. Box 894, Jenison, MI 49429-0894.
Guest column: Funeral for Dennis Kass a chance to say thanks