Chapter Two: Tony Nardo: “A Great World-Wide Career in Three Years”
#PWHS #Interview #Wrestling #ProWrestling #TonyNardo #WWF #WWE #DeNucci #TriState #Moondogs #TonySinatra
It is my honor to be interviewing a gentleman that countless thousands of wrestling fans would love to have been able to trade lives with. Tony Nardo had more than “15 minutes of fame” in his limited Pro Wrestling career. He had a lifetime of memories and was able to walk away totally healthy; not bad at all. Take a few minutes and read my interview filled with interaction and opinion of many top names in Pro Wrestling history.
Tony, thank you for your time and consideration. How did you get involved in this career choice? Did you dream of being a household name as a Professional Wrestler?
I never had any big dream of becoming a Pro Wrestler. I was an athlete most of my life, Played football, wrestled and ran track in high school. Played a tad bit of college football at a small college. I quit by the end of the first semester. I watched wrestling on TV, mostly the WWF in my area. I went to a match at the local Armory in early 1986, it was a WCCW match. As we watched the matches, I told my friends “I can do this and they are getting paid for it”. I went to the locker room door and asked a couple of mid-card guys how to get into the business. They introduced me to Dominic DeNucci. Dominic asked me how much I weighed and had I wrestled before. I told him about 255, and I wrestled in high school for four years. He said, “I got a gym up by Pittsburg where I train some guys, you wanna come and work out”? I said yes, and he gave me his number. I called him the following week but he was going on an overseas trip, so I had to wait a month. My first day at the gym I met Troy Martin who would become later known as Shane Douglas. Dominic was training five or six guys in the old Freedom, Pa. high school gym.
Tony, wow! Dominic DeNucci, WWF legend, and Shane Douglas, the ECW great that the NWA will never forget! What a start to a wrestling career that will intersect with so many big names of Pro Wrestlng. What was it like to train? How did you get started doing matches before a live audience?
My first day at Dominic’s school, I learned how to fall correctly, then I got slammed and hip tossed. Then I was back dropped, and even double back dropped, and this was day one. I had no idea at the time but I picked up on it real quick. I trained with Dominic and the guys for about a month and a half. I went to the matches that I could with Dominic to learn the business. After training for about a month and a half, we were at a match in Buckhannon, West Virginia. Dominic asked me what I was doing Friday night. I said nothing, and I asked, “You want to work out?” He said, “No, you’re wrestling in Ashland Oh; you got a freekin problem with that?” I said, “No; but I don’t have any freeken boots or trunks”. He told me to wear those camouflage pants you got and your tennis shoes. I worked as a heel with Dave Klebanski versus Dominic and Troy Martin (later Shane Douglas). Worked a tag match and a battle royal that night. When I got home my mom asked how was it? I said, “It was great, they screamed at us, cussed, threw things!” I believe she thought there was something wrong with me, but I was hooked!
Great start! Where did it go from there?
Dominic called me two weeks later and asked if I could leave for a couple of weeks. I asked why? He said, why you gotta ask so-many-a questions. I said, because I am beginning to see how you work. He said, we are going to Montreal for two weeks. Went to Montreal with Dominic, Troy Martin and Dave Kelbanski. First match was an IWA TV match: Dave Klebanski, myself and some French guy, who didn’t speak English, against Rick Martel, Tom Zink and some other guy. My name was Tony Stoner. I had been wrestling all of 2 months.
I continued to work independent shows working on my craft and training at the school and Dominic actually gave me a special coming out party in my home town with a special angle. I got to sit in the front row as a fan and get drawn into a tag match; jumping into the ring, fighting the heels and Dominic came to my aid. I even worked with Mick Foley in one of his first matches. Dominic booked some AWA matches in the tri-state area, I worked most of those.
With Dominic’s background, did you get to work in the WWF?
In September Dominic sent some of us to do WWF TV Tapings. He told us to go to Baltimore. I asked for an address. He said, “You can’t find it, it’s a big damn arena?” Went to Baltimore, found the arena, knocked on the back door and Jesse the Body Ventura opened the door and showed us where to go. I debuted in a tag match teaming with Steve Lombardi vs. The Junkyard Dog and George Steele on Superstars of Wrestling. I was in the ring for all of about thirty seconds. Worked the occasional TV tapings for the WWF while working independent shows under my own name and various others. The most popular name I used was Tony Sinatra. I teamed with Dominic, Troy Martin (Shane Douglas) Mick Foley and many others.
I was impressed with your personal wrestling photos. What particularly caught my attention was how natural you fit in as one of the most famous gimmick “families” of all time. Tell us how it all came about.
Dominic looked at me one day and said, “You would make a good Moondog”, and asked what I thought. I wasn’t sure. He needed a Moondog to do overseas shows with Saylor White. Saylor had been Moondog King in the WWF till he got into trouble with US customs and couldn’t come back to America from Canada. I died my hair and beard blond. Dominic said, “No- blonder like Ric Flair”, so I had it bleached and got a Bone (which I still have by the way). Worked various trips to Africa , South America, Italy, and Canada. I teamed with a wrestler named Buddy Donavan who did the Moondog gimmick regionally. We worked as Spike and Cujo. Buddy was older so we got me another partner, Jim Bear, to take Buddy’s Place. We worked Independent shows all over the country. Dominic booked regionally for the UWF. We worked shows with the Freebirds, Terry Taylor and Chris Adams. That is how Troy Martin got his shot with the UWF and became Shane Douglas. I spent 87 and part of 88 as a Moondog.
Tony, you wrestled day in and day out with some of the top wrestlers in Pro Wrestling history. Would you take a few minutes and tell us who you worked around and your honest opinion of them?
It would be my pleasure.
Dominic Denucci: Like a father to all of us that he trained. I can never thank him enough for the opportunities tha he gave me.
Ric Flair: Never met him but idolized him as a young wrestler. In my opinion Rick epitomizes the Professional Wrestler.
Andre: Amazing to meet and shake the hand of a true giant.
SD Jones: Kind gentleman, always willing to help out a friend.
Ox Baker: Funny guy & great worker. Made us laugh all the time.
Cowboy Bobby Duncom: Fun-loving, easy going cowboy.
Hogan: Didn’t talk to me till I had been to at least six tv tapings.
Savage: Stayed to himself, with Lanny and Elizabeth.
JYD: Very nice.
George Steele: Genius; the way he could turn the gimmick on and off was amazing.
Bruno: Very classy man and possible the greatest Wrestling Champion of all time.
Kamala: Great worker.
Sika: Actually bit me on the head.
Iron Mike Sharpe: Very kind and helpful man.
Koko B. Ware: Great guy, very helpful.
Eddie Gilbert: A wrestling force of nature who died way too soon.
Larry Zbyszko: Rude and not very friendly. Seemed to look down on young wrestlers.
Terry Taylor: A bit of a “Know-It-All”.
Freebirds: Great guys, very easy going!
Rick Martell: Very talented and generous in the ring.
Tom Zink: Cocky and thought way too much of himself.
The Wild Somoans (Afa and the sons): Awesome to work with. Worked them sometimes three times a week for Bob Raskin in NY,NJ and Pa.
Bill Irwin: Gave a bunch of us young wrestlers good advice. He said “ Boys let me tell you something, everything that can be done has been done; find a gimmick that works for you”.
Shane Douglas (Troy Martin): One of the most naturally gifted athletes I ever worked with. Great intelligence and passion for the sport.
Mick Foley: Amazing intellect, willing to do whatever it took to be a success. Mick wasn’t born with great athletic genes, he got his through hard work and dedication. Hasn’t changed a bit still the down to earth guy he always was.
Where were your favorite places to wrestle internationally?
Two best overseas places to work were Rome and Ecuador. We were Baby faces in Ecuador, maybe it was that we were big men with blond hair, and all of the people 's heads only came up to our shoulders. We stayed in character anytime we were in public. My partner and I could walk out the front door of our hotel, walk around the block to the park behind our hotel and have at least a 100 people following us. We were over BIG TIME in Ecuador. We were supposed to have the local native pro wrestlers in the battle royal with us, but they said, “NOOO” as they were actually scared we would hurt them! One of the American wrestlers on the trip had a Spanish dictionary and was attempting to speak the language. He learned to ask, “What is your name?”, so he did when we met someone. People seemed to look at him weird. After nearly two weeks he figured out he was using the wrong phrase. He would meet people and talk in Spanish and actually say, “What is my (his) name?” Mike Kahlua, now that was funny! I spent most of my short career as a heel except in my home town and in Ecuador. I truly enjoyed getting heat from the crowd wherever we went. That is the addictive part of wrestling, getting the desired response from the crowd when you want it! I truly loved tag team wrestling, nothing better than a great tag match. It's kind of a lost art these days along with being a convincing heel.
What was the one story that happened in the Dressing Room that you can share that was hilarious?
One night at a WWF TV taping, Kamala was in the bathroom putting on his makeup. The bathroom was attached to a shower room. Jake Roberts used to leave the snake in the shower on a mist. The snake liked it. Sometimes it would raise it's head up: about 4 feet off of the floor of the shower, kind of creepy really! This night I was in the bathroom and so was Kamala. The snake slithered out of the shower and toward Kamala. He starts screaming like a LITTLE GIRL! "Brother, you gotta put it back in the shower". I put my hand on the snake, it turned and hissed at me. By then Kamala had one foot on a folding chair and one on the sink, still pleading for me to put the snake back. I told him I wasn't doing it, but I would go get Jake, besides "why don't you put him back in the shower you weigh 400 pounds, I’ll be right back”. As I left to find Jake, he was still screaming like a girl!
Just a few more questions. It seems you worked close with Shane Douglas. Not everyone thinks he was the best person; what’s your honest opinion of him?
I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Shane; we were great friends back in the day. Worked some great matches tagging with him and against him. I had a great match on Long Island once; I was Tony Sinatra and he was wrestling as Troy Orndorff.
Was there anyone you worked with downright mean to you or other young wrestlers?
I can't think of anyone being downright mean. Some were even very kind and helpful. Due to the competitive nature of the business there is always a threat to your job, but you keep your job by doing quality work, not worrying about other people.
Who did you pal around with?
Obviously I spent a lot of time with the other guys from Dominic's school: Dominic, Shane, Mick, Preston Steele, Dave Klebanski and a few others. When we did WWF TV tapings I hung around with Koko, Billy Jack Haynes, Hurcules, The Killer Bees, other times Mike Kahlua and Tom Brandi from Philly.
What famous WWF managers did you get to know or work with?
Manager-wise, I met Freddie, Captain Lou, Slick, Bobby the Brain and was honored to be managed by Mark Curtis (Brian Hilderbrand). Capt. Lou and Freddie Blassie would separately come into the locker room and do like a five minute comedy routine. I remember Freddie comin’ in once. The Somoans where there. Freddie said, “You freakin’ Somoans, you know there are only 13 letters in the Somoan language... and that's 12 too many!”
Did you get to meet with Vince? How was the pay for the lower card guys?
I met Vince a few times, he was very professional and took the time to talk to a few of us young new guys.
The pay was good for young wrestlers and they also paid some expenses. The value of learning to work in front of a camera and in front of such a big crowd was invaluable. It was a top notch shindig. Back then they used to tape 3 hours a night for 2 consecutive nights: Binghamton-Glen Falls, Buffalo-Rochester, Hershey-Baltimore, Hartford-Providence, The Meadowlands-Salisbury. Every night they had a big catered dinner for the crew and wrestlers.
Working internationally, there were probably some funny stories and maybe even a few nail-biting ones. What stories come to mind for you Tony?
Funny stories, there were a few. Mick and I started a small riot in Nigeria once. He came out to the ring as my second under the hood. I was wrestling Power Uti, the African Heavy-Weight Champion. Fans in Africa take their wrestling very seriously. At one point in the match Mick slipped me the bone into the ring and I hit Uti with it. We got a lot of heat from the home crowd---a little too much. Mick comes flying into the ring. I asked him, “What are you doing?” He says, “Look out there!” What I saw was people throwing chairs at the ring and approaching. Mick was bleeding from the head. So I let Uti pin me so we could get out of “Dodge”! When we get back to the locker room, Mick has a couple inch gash on his forehead above his eye. So I say, “Well, I guess we need to take him to the hospital for stitches”. They say, “No, here you get stitches at the Pharmacy”. Okay- well when we get to the "Pharmacy", it is the pharmacist's house. He set Mick on an old wooden bench in the yard. As a crowd of neighborhood people begin to build, the Pharmacist takes what looked to me like a curved upholstery needle and began to stitch up Mick's gash one stitch at a time, tying the thread off and doing another. No anesthetic or anything! When he gets done, he puts this big bandage around Mick’s head. Mick is sitting there looking rather pitiful and I feel sorry for him. Then Mick calls over to one of the African kids watching, a young boy. He comes over to us and Mick says, “ Closer”, and motions for the kid to put his head against Mick's chest, and he does. Mick says, “Do you know what that sound is? That's the heartbeat of America Daddy”, impersonating Dusty Rhodes. We laughed hard and I knew that day that my friend Mick Foley was truly a bit twisted.
Our first trip to Africa we spent two weeks in a country called Burkina Faso, a former French Colony. Ate chicken and rice for 2 weeks straight. Had diarrhea for the last week I was there and I was never so happy to see a buffet as I was after that. Had one television station and one radio station in one building surrounded by razor wire and machine guns. Only five-percent of the population had televisions. Only rich people had cars or motorcycles. Most people there lived in mud brick houses. Everyone spoke French. They put up posters, but the major form of promoting the matches was that we rode around town on a flatbed truck equipped with a sound system and an announcer telling people about the matches while we waved! Bats swooped from the trees to get water from the pool at our hotel at night. Only two American songs were on the juke box at our hotel: some Michael Jackson song and Rocket Man by Elton John. Beer was cheaper than soda. The African people had a lot of respect for athletes. They would want to squeeze your hand when shaking hands to see your strength or push with you. We met the Minister of Sport for Burkina Faso. Our trip was sponsored in part by the government there. They were supposed to be sending us the remainder of our money after we got home, but a couple of weeks after we returned home the President and his cabinet were murdered in a Coup and thrown in a hole. You would be driving down the road and armed soldiers with automatic weapons would pull over three or four cars at a time and search your stuff. Leaving Burkina Faso was interesting as well. One flight every two weeks, if you missed the flight you had to stay two weeks till the next flight! That’s bad enough, but they over book the flights. They would keep the terminal doors locked until time to board, then you had to carry your luggage and run to the plane to get a seat, or as I said, you had to stay another two weeks! See the world they say; it'll be fun the say; we'll make tons of money they say. Well, not always, but it was always an adventure. And I had adventures I will never forget!
Very interesting! What led you to leave your wrestling career? Have you wrestled from time to time?
I met a girl and decided to settle down, get married and start a family. Dominic had a sixteen year old daughter, Danielle, and I thought he must have missed most of her growing up. I didn’t want to do that, so I quit the ring. I wrestled my last match of that era for Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa in 1988. In 2000 I got back working for a local promotion called Mason Dixon Wrestling. Worked for about a year and a half then retired for good.
Tony, I have found your story fascinating and I’m sure everyone who has read this agrees. In just a few short years you got to travel and wrestle with some of the top personalities that Pro Wrestling has ever known. You got to see the world and had experiences that would sell in adventure books. And you got out perfectly healthy to have a family you love. Thanks for sharing with me and our readers!
Terry, it’s been my pleasure. I have been one blessed man!
Next Interview In The Series
Previous Interview In The Series
Unique content strictly for the Professional Wrestling Historical Society.
Interview with Tony Nardo.
Interviewer: Terry Kent.
Wrestler Interview: #2.
Editor: Jimmy Wheeler.
Interview with Tony Nardo.
Interviewer: Terry Kent.
Wrestler Interview: #2.
Editor: Jimmy Wheeler.