Joe Malenko, brother of famed wrestler and trainer Dean Malenko and son of “Professor” Boris Malenko, is thrilled to be recognized for all that he has done in the world of professional wrestling.
He’ll be receiving a Men’s Wrestler Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club at next week’s reunion in Las Vegas.
Though not as well-known as his brother, Joe still had a profound impact on the wrestling industry, both as an in-ring worker and as a trainer. When he was inside the ring, he was a central player in All Japan’s junior heavyweight division during an era when they competed with rival New Japan’s. Behind the scenes, Malenko is credited with training some of the most famous wrestlers of an entire generation.
Stateside wrestlers to have trained with Jody and his family include Sean “XPAC” Waltman, “Wildman” Marc Mero, Fred “Tugboat” Ottman, and Glenn “Kane” Jacobs. And while training in Japan, Jody held a two-week intensive training program in Hawaii and played an integral in training two of All Japan’s top stars of the 1990s, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Kenta Kobashi.
Malenko credited his own training as the source of his ability to train other wrestlers. Not only did he grow up in the wrestling business thanks to his father, but he also received training from the revered Karl Gotch. Stories of Gotch’s toughness and prowess as a trainer have circulated among wrestling fans for years, but Malenko gave firsthand account of what the man nicknamed “Kami-sama (God)” by the Japanese was really like.
“As my coach, Karl Gotch made me toughen up for a full year before I learned a single wrestling move,” Malenko told SlamWrestling.net. “Take whatever stories you’ve heard of him and multiply them by ten.”
In the ring, Malenko was very much like his father and brother: a technical and scientific grappler that let his actions speak for him. With these skills, Malenko became a critical member of All Japan’s undercard and one of the roster’s most exciting wrestlers outside of the main-event. While All Japan focused more on heavyweights, it was Malenko and his lighter comrades that helped make AJPW shows lively to help keep fans excited ahead of their fabled main events.
His efforts paid off quite handsomely as he had a few notable distinctions in his career. These include two reigns as AJPW’s World Junior Heavyweight champion and the special honor of being in the opening match in the once-in-a-lifetime AJPW/NJPW/WWE Tokyo Dome supershow known as “Wrestling Summit”. At that event, Joe teamed with his erstwhile friends and rivals the Can-Am Express (Danny Kroffat and Doug Furnas) to take on the trio of Tatsumi Kitahara and the Footloose duo of Kodo “Samson” Fuyuki and Toshiaki Kawada. He is also quick to give special thanks to his friends Brian Blair, Phil LaFon, and Doug Furnas for all that they’ve done for him over the decades.
Although Joe Malenko’s career is far less celebrated than his brother’s, he still achieved a degree of respect and admiration for what he was able to do both in the ring and behind the scenes. But despite his connection to the wrestling business, Joe Malenko has a sobering piece of advice for aspiring wrestlers, one that is decidedly out of line with the usual flowery ‘follow-your-dreams’ narrative.
According to Malenko, it’s the same advice as what he was given decades ago: even with the proper training, most people stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of making it big.
“If you go into wrestling assuming you’re going to have fun with this, do it on the side, you’ll have a good time. If you assume you’ll become a superstar, you’re going to have a bad time. It’s not easy for anyone to be a pro at this. Making a sustainable living out of it is very hard,” Malenko said.
The man is living proof of this. While training, his father encouraged him to have another career as a failsafe. He did exactly that and got a degree in pharmacy while still training and wrestling in Japan, and has since spent many years working as a businessman in the precision medicine industry.
Additionally, Malenko strongly encourages people considering pro wrestling as their future to check out potential wrestling schools. That means evaluating them, making sure they have the credibility, and ensuring that they live up to what they (the trainers/promoters) have said about themselves and what they promise.
But despite his removal from the wrestling business, despite the in-ring style shifting to something different that he doesn’t understand, and despite the risks and pitfalls associated with wrestling as a career, Joe Malenko is still grateful that people go out of their way to thank and recognize him and his family for all that they have done. The Great Malenko received the Trainer Award from the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in July 2023, and Joe was there to accept it on behalf of his father.
“It always warms my heart that there are people that watched some of what I did, that appreciated my level of expertise, whatever that was. I’m happy that people remember my father, remember my brother, and remember me.”
TOP PHOTO: Dean and Joe Malenko. Photo by Mike Lano, WReaLano@aol.com
2023 CAULIFLOWER ALLEY CLUB HONOREES
- Iron Mike Mazurki Award: CM Punk
- Lou Thesz/Art Abrams Award: Ron Simmons
- Women’s Wrestling Award: Mickie James
- Tag Team Award: Brian Knobbs, Jerry Sags “The Nasty Boys”
- Men’s Wrestling Award: Koko B. Ware
- Lucha Libre Award: Damian 666
- Men’s Wrestling Award: Joe Malenko
- Posthumous Award: Killer Karl Kox
- Independent Wrestling Award: Riea Von Slasher
- Charlie Smith Referee Award: Kevin Jefferies
- REEL Award: Al Burke
- James C. Melby Historian Award: Koji Miyamoto