Angelo “King Kong” Mosca, star of the gridiron and the ring, has died. He was 84, and had been suffering through Alzheimer’s disease for many years.
His family shared the news: “It is with great sadness that the family of Angelo Mosca announce his passing on November 6, 2021, after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. Angelo was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well as friend to so many. Angelo was 84 years old. We ask that you respect the family’s privacy at this time. More details will be shared when arrangements have been made.”
Undoubtedly, when fans talk about football greats who went into pro wrestling, Mosca has to be among the top. And, unlike many who went from football into wrestling, Mosca managed dual careers for many years.
As Mosca said in 2008: “Wrestling was tailor-made for me. If you knew how to talk and tell lies, boy, I was right there. I went all over the world.”
Born February 13, 1937 in Waltham, Massachusetts, Mosca was a teen football star, and the 6-foot-5, 265-pound giant was heavily sought after by colleges. He hid a secret as best he could though, as he was the son of a white father and an African American mother. New England wasn’t known for its racial tolerance at the time.
He went to the University of Notre Dame on a scholarship, but was kicked out for bookmaking (making bets on various sports games), something that he said he had learned from his father. Next, he went to Wyoming, but was booted out for theft. His reputation didn’t scare off the pro scouts. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Hamilton Ti-Cats, and went to Hamilton in 1958 after he graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in business administration.
“When I came here, the money was better here,” Mosca told SlamWrestling.net years ago. “It was a different time. Also, the bonus money was a lot better. The only thing I knew about Canada was that the Maple Leafs and Canadiens came to the Boston Garden to play hockey. That’s all I knew about Canada.”
He elaborated at the Night of the Tough Guy special event, at DiPaolo’s restaurant outside Buffalo, in 2008. “You can believe this story or not, I took a look at that contract, and they were paying more money than the NFL.”
Mosca would go on to become a Canadian Football League (CFL) Hall of Fame defensive lineman (class of 1987), terrorizing CFL foes for 15 seasons, most of them with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but also lining up with Ottawa and Montreal. At the Grey Cup (Canada’s equivalent of the Super Bowl) game in 2006, Mosca was named one of the CFL’s 50 greatest all-time players, even after emcee Bob Irving called him “as menacing a character as ever played in the Canadian Football League.”
His fame was well beyond the field, though. “In 1968, Pierre Trudeau was the most recognizable man in Canada,” Mosca told writer Steve Simmons in 2011. “I was second.”
Sounds like the perfect person for professional wrestling.
But the funny thing is that Mosca actually started wrestling as a pro in 1959, well before many people knew of him from the CFL. It was Montreal wrestling promoter, Eddie Quinn, who suggested that Mosca consider the squared circle.
“He was from Boston, but he was a taxi cab driver,” Mosca recalled of Quinn. “I was a high school All-American. I was in St. Louis’ Sporting News, and got a scholarship to Notre Dame. He knew my whole background. So I come to Canada in 1958, and he calls me up in 1959. He says, ‘Why don’t you try professional wrestling? You’re making a name for yourself in football.'”
Two of the early names who helped him learn the trade were Duncan McTavish (Matt Gilmore) and Gino Brito.
“I was small, but never really totally muscular. But I had a lot of stamina. I played a lot of soccer. I just became a natural wrestler. I didn’t have to think about it,” said McTavish years ago. “When I was teaching Angie Mosca — I was one of the ones that helped teach Angie — Jesus, he had to think about everything.”
Brito marveled at the conditioning Mosca brought to the ring. “When he came out of football, he came to Montreal. We went out to Granby. We were supposed to do a five, six-minute match. We went about 30 minutes. He was hard to work with … He was a big bastard,” said Brito. “You came out of the ring, you were drained out completely. He could tell the guy had been in sports before. He knew timing and playing to the crowd too.”
Mosca said that Bulldog Brower took a liking to him – “he didn’t like too many f—— people – but he took a liking to me” – and arranged for Mosca to head to Calgary. In Stampede Wrestling, Mosca was pushed. “I never looked back. I was a big guy, not thin.”
In Stampede, he was frequently paired with a young Wayne Coleman, the future Superstar Billy Graham. “That’s when him and I teamed up, he couldn’t work a lick,” chuckled Mosca.
All told, “Big Nasty” Mosca spent 25 years as an active pro wrestler, and 15 as a pro football player. In addition, he was a commentator, promoter, tag team partner and mentor to his son, Angelo Mosca Jr., whose career just couldn’t compare to his father’s.
“My son was a good kid. I said to my wife, ‘I wish my daughter (Jolene) could have wrestled. She would have been the ideal character to work with me,'” Mosca once said. “He had the good physique on him, and worked hard and everything, but he wasn’t really cut out for the business. But he enjoyed it, when I was in the business. When I left the road, he left, because I was ready to leave anyway.”
Some highlights for Mosca include working in the AWA with Verne Gagne.
“See, Verne liked athletes, and Verne was a hell of a wrestler. I’ll never forget the night I wrestled him in Denver, Colorado. The referee says to me, ‘Boy, you made that old man look good.’ I said, ‘That old man signs my f—– checks!'” chuckled Mosca.
Mosca was considering calling it quits in pro wrestling when Ric Flair got hurt in a 1975 plane crash, and George Scott, who was booking the Mid-Atlantic territory called Big Ang to come in.
“I was in Hawaii. I got a call from George Scott saying, ‘We’d like you to come into Charlotte.’ I went, ‘I’m in Hawaii vacationing. I’ll call you when I get back.’ Now I don’t know that Flair’s gone down in a plane. About two days later, a call comes in again. I’m going, ‘What the f—? They must want me real bad. Since when does a promoter want you?’ So I went there and they squashed Blackjack Mulligan and me over and we carried the territory for about a year and a half, and I never looked back.”
Another good run was in San Francisco. “I was taught by some good promoters. I was taught by, out in San Francisco, Roy Shire was one of the smartest promoters I’ve ever worked for. He was a very intelligent guy, he knew how to show you the science of the thing. Lucky I had, Ray Stevens was there and Pat Patterson. What guys to learn from. They were two of the best workers I ever worked with in the business,” said Mosca. “That’s what I prided myself in, was the art of the business.”
Not everyone was a fan of Mosca. He was rough and tough, loud and brash, and didn’t suffer fools. “He told it like it was. He hated candyasses. He hated stooges,” said Moose Morowski.
George Steele called Mosca “a funny bully.” Lanny Poffo went further and said Mosca was “the most full of sh– guy I ever met.”
Of course, his grudge with quarterback Joe Kapp, detailed extensively here, dates back to the 51st Grey Cup. When Mosca came out swinging with his cane at an event decades later, he got a ton of new publicity, and even was invited to appear on the Dr. Phil show in 2011. (See a clip here.)
Wrestling fans in southern Ontario will recall Mosca as an announcer on Maple Leaf Wrestling (which he didn’t especially excel at) and in 1987 and 1988, trying to be a promoter, alongside Milt Avruskin, with Pro Wrestling Canada — which was essentially an attempt to bring the National Wrestling Alliance back to the area after the WWF had taken over. The first MoscaMania at the newly-opened Copps Coliseum in Hamilton was a success, the second a year later, less so.
All the punishment on the field and in the ring took its toll. In 2015, Mosca was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just after he turned 78. “The MRI showed a lot of brain damage,” Mosca told Curtis Rush of the Hamilton Spectator at the time. “I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t bitter; I was hurting. This was a real tough day.”
Yet Mosca would still be out at events, often in the private box of Ti-Cats owner Bob Young. Up until the diagnosis, Mosca was a regular at so many events, from football games to book launches to celebrity dinners. He’d also done countless commercials, and appearances on radio and TV.
His own book, written with Steve Milton, came out in 2011. It’s called Tell Me To My Face. It was not an easy sell to get Mosca to open up. “Bob [Young], the owner here, wanted me to do it. I really didn’t want to do it. He said, ‘But you’ve got to leave a legacy, Ang.’ I said, ‘I guess so.’ It’s an interesting book. There’s a lot that people don’t know about my background. I’ve opened up a little bit.”
Milton said that Mosca was “full of stories” but that it was “nerve-wracking in a way because he’s such an icon and I wasn’t sure I was going to get it right.”
“The big thing was trying to find his voice,” added Milton. “His voice is so distinctive and you know that it had to be a first-person book. It couldn’t be me writing about him. It had to be first-person. He had to be telling the stories, he’s a storyteller. Anybody else who wrote it in the third-person, to me, you’d end up like Psychology 101, you’d be analyzing all the time, given his background. I was surprised at many of the things in his past, and most of the readers will be.”
Once asked about being such a public figure, Mosca scoffed. “I can’t help that. That’s who I am, my persona is public anyway. I enjoy the public. A guy named Joe Marconi once said to me, ‘Just remember, your face is your money.’ I’ve always remembered that. To this day, I’m probably one of the best-known faces in this country.”
At the Still Mosca event in 2015 in Hamilton, where funds went to The Angelo Mosca Fund, in support of Alzheimer’s Canada, Mosca was celebrated by friends in wrestling, football and the media – and of course his family. Mosca was married twice before marrying Helen Mosca, a real estate agent, in 1998. Angelo Mosca came into this marriage with a daughter and a son, and quickly took in Helen’s family as well for a large brood of MoscaManiacs.
Given the ravages of Alzheimer’s and his sheer size, Helen Mosca had no choice but to seek help for Angelo Mosca’s care. He had been in Hamilton’s Macassa Lodge, a long-term care facility, for a number of years, and that is where he passed away on November 6, 2021.
“I’ve had a pretty good run at life,” Mosca said in 2008. The publicity was part of who he was. “I always said, as long as you spelled my name right, I didn’t mind that stuff. It didn’t bother me.”
TOP PHOTO: Angelo Mosca in action by Bob Leonard; posed by Andrea Kellaway, www.andreakellaway.com