By Trapper Tom Leturgey, OWW columnist:
On April 14, 2012 Domenic DeNucci traveled to Toronto, Canada for a tag team match with his one-time student Shane Douglas. In their corner was another famed wrestler from Pittsburgh, Bruno Sammartino. They were to take on feared Pittsburgh independent wrestler Lord Zoltan and yet another Pittsburgher: Larry Zbyszko. In their corner was James J. Dillon, the renowned referee-turned-wrestler-turned manager who was both immensely popular and derided as the advisor to the legendary 4 Horsemen. Like so many others, Dillon truly got his start in the wrestling business in the days of Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling.
Sal Corrente and Highspot’s “Wrestle Reunion” at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel was always a big deal in Toronto, but the inclusion of Sammartino added a special buzz, according to most observers. On Friday, April 13, an 8-match card was held, featuring local and independent talent. The most recognizable name that night was Fit Finlay, a wrestler popular in WCW and then WWE.
The next night a 9-match “Super Show” was set. On their way to Toronto the day before, Sammartino discovered that Zbyszko had passport problems and had to cancel his appearance. Forever known as a man who would provide opportunities, Sammartino arraigned for Shawn Blanchard, a leading independent wrestler and former 5-time Heavyweight Champion for the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) in Pittsburgh, to take Zbyszko’s place.
According to slam.canoe.ca, the Super Show began with a one-on-one match with Ring of Honor (ROH) wrestlers El Generico and Michael Elgin. Next, Tito Santana (with Rick Martel) defeated Shawn Spears (with Jimmy Hart). Then Super Smash Brothers won a 4-way tag match against Jake Manning & Grizzly Redwood, Asylum & Adam Page and Rhett Titus & Caleb Konley. Then came the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith’s son Harry Smith who pinned Fit Finlay with a running powerslam. Intermission followed.
Right after the break, DeNucci and Douglas, seconded by Sammartino, made their way to the ring as did Blanchard and Zoltan, along with Dillon. According to Blanchard, the bulging crowd of 600-700 was electric from the beginning. At one point the delighted crowd chanted, “This is Old School.” DeNucci, wrestling in his seventh decade, reveled in the atmosphere and enthusiastically peppered Blanchard with fists, then stood on his hands. Douglas pinned Blanchard following a belly-to-belly suplex. The crowd exploded with cheers. All, including Zoltan and Dillon, would heartily recount stories from the trip years later.
A recently-discovered side note is that via documentation, DeNucci was the oldest male professional wrestler to ever work a match that evening. At 80 years, two months and 22 days, DeNucci was only bested by Mae Young, who was 87 years, 248 days old when she pinned the tag team of Layla El and Michelle McCool—LayCool—on November 15, 2010. That impromptu “match” took place on the ramp leading to the ring and the tag team was laid out by other WWE Divas who defended Young’s honor during an interview segment. Young placed her foot on LayCool for the unarranged win. On November 3, 2008 Young was still older than DeNucci when she took part in a 16-Diva tag match. Fast forward. After a long illness, Young passed away on January 14, 2014 at the age of 90.
DeNucci’s record doesn’t come without a degree of controversy. Scottish professional wrestler Dave Kidney, born in 1931 (no specific birthdate can be found) won the Scottish School of Wrestling (SSW) Legends title from Effen Awesome on January 28, 2011. The match was held in an undisclosed location in what can only be described as an exhaustive search to find any information on the boxer/wrestler. Some sources claim that Kidney is second only to Young; however, DeNucci is completely overlooked and ignored on the list.
In 2007, WWE Magazine touted Gypsy Joe as the “Oldest Living Wrestler” at 73. DeNucci, who has been infrequently seen on WWE programming and has been touted in Mick Foley’s best-selling autobiographies, was 75. By some accounts (and to show the squeaky validity of that WWE Magazine article), today Gypsy Joe is only the 16th oldest living wrestler. Cora Combs, at 90, is currently the oldest living wrestler. Mae Young was only five days older than Combs.
Verne Gagne, at 87, is the oldest living male wrestler. DeNucci, who turned 82 in January, is just above Gypsy Joe on the list.
DeNucci, who remains one of the nicest, most generous and professional athletes to ever don tights and step into the ring, also wrestled in the KSWA on September 4, 2010 as part of the Paul J. Scuillo Memorial wrestling event. There he and Doink the Clown bested Lord Zoltan and “Nasty” Nick Crane in a tag team match. On that day, DeNucci was 78 years, seven months and 12 days old, good for 6th place on the list of active wrestlers.
Six months earlier in 2010, DeNucci was part of a six-man tag team match in which he, Vinnie Stone and Rick Rumsky took on Blanchard, Zoltan and Studio Wrestling mainstay Frank Durso in a match. At the time, DeNucci was 78, two months and four days old. Durso was 73 years, one month and 28 days old and eighth on the list of oldest wrestlers to ever compete. That match may very well have included the two oldest wrestlers to ever compete in a match together.
DeNucci continues to appear at wrestling and other events on a fairly regular basis. On March 29, 2014 he joined famed Pittsburgh-area “Studio Wrestling” legends Chuck Martoni, “Jumpin’” Johnny DeFazio and announcer “Chilly” Bill Cardille at the KSWA Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Pittsburgh.
DeNucci and fellow Pittsburgh wrestler and trainee Cody Michaels joined Mick Foley on stage at the Improv in Pittsburgh this past summer when the WWE Hall of Famer stopped during his comedy tour.
DeNucci also accompanied Bruno Sammartino in August to a Johnstown, PA Police Department fundraiser. The duo helped raise funds for the department to purchase a new police motorcycle.
— Trapper Tom Leturgey
Editor’s note – this is Tom’s first column for OWW. Welcome to the team Tom! Nice to have you with us.