There are Iron Man matches in wrestling, but wrestling referee Billy Caputo, who died today after a battle with cancer at the age of 72, was a real Iron Man.
In the early 1970s, Caputo, a native of Staten Island, worked as an iron worker in New York City. He even survived a 30-foot fall in 1973. In all, he spent 37 years as an iron worker for the city of New York.
But part-time, he was a licensed pro wrestling referee in the state, and later was a wrestling inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission, enforcing the rules and regulations.
That parallel journey began in 1975, when he was 27 years old, and it was rough in a different way than working with iron. “I’ve suffered four broken noses and had several shoulder and knee operations, but I loved refereeing,” Caputo told the New York Daily News‘ wrestling writer, The Slammer, in 2010.
He was there for riots in Madison Square Garden, WrestleMania I, and a decade later, WrestleMania X. Caputo was an official at a Shea Stadium show. There were plenty of smaller arenas too, like Sunnyside Gardens in Queens. Initially, Caputo worked primarily for WWWF, since it promoted the most shows, but branched out in 1998, refereeing at WCW cards.
Along the way, Caputo made plenty of friends in the wrestling world.
He talked about one at the 2011 Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame induction — Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
“I just happened to be the referee in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the very first time that he brought out Elizabeth as his manager,” said Caputo. “We became good friends. When he moved to Staten Island, I lived on Staten Island for a while, and he and Elizabeth had a place on Staten Island for a while. Then we socialized and we became really good friends.”
On occasion, Caputo traveled for bouts. In a 2012 article in the Staten Island Advance, he told of heading to a flight with Roddy Piper, who naturally drew heat from passengers. “Roddy had to go into his bad guy act, I had to hold him back. You know, the whole nine yards.”
He retired in 2003, with heart issues.
In 2019, Caputo was in hospice care, battling cancer. He passed away on April 21, 2020, and the reaction from those in the business was immediate online.
Vito Lo Grasso called him “A good man. A ref and more. He helped me alot in the wrestling business. Thank you. I appreciate it more than you know. You were my eyes and ears and my Vet.”
Matt Knowles noted that “The first time I ever shed blood in a wrestling ring you were in there with me, keeping me calm. A fantastic referee. You will be missed”
Bull James said Caputo was one of the “nicest people I’ve ever met in and out of wrestling. Billy refereed for so many of us, from the biggest draws to people you’ve never heard of and always passed along his knowledge to anyone who would listen. A true gentleman with a wonderful family. You will be missed by all of us.”
Agent and promoter Bobby Riedel posted his memory to Facebook. “I spoke to Billy in hospice a little less than a year ago, and keeping tabs on him. He was the consummate professional, and it was always such an honor working with him. He added so much to the matches. Out of the ring? Down to earth, humble, and what a sense of humor! I would get a Christmas card every year from him.”
Caputo and his wife, Janie, had three children, Susan, Kate and Billy, and four grandchildren.