AS I SEE IT
by: Bob Magee
God, it would be so much easier to just talk wrestling for a change...
Eric Bischoff's departure, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera's arrival... those and the other things that have happened over the last month to potentially change the landscape of wrestling for some time to come. I will be doing that eventually.
But real life has this habit of getting in the way.
In the last week, two tragedies affected the world of wrestling: the potentially career-ending injury to Darren Drozdov, and the passing of Robert 'Gorilla Monsoon' Marella.
As readers know, Darren Drozdov was paralyzed below the waist after suffering two dislocated and fractured discs in an accident that occurred in a match with D-Lo Brown during the WWF SmackDown taping at the Nassau Coliseum this past Tuesday night.
Drozdov underwent three hours of surgery Wednesday at Nassau County Medical Center, designed to relieve pressure on his damaged neck Surgeons removed a piece of Drozdov's pelvis to replace the injured discs, and attached a plate and screws to the area in an effort to stabilize his neck. He also received additional treatment at the Medical Center through being injected with the same steroid medication given to New York Jets defensive end Dennis Byrd and Chinese gymnast Sang Lan when they suffered spinal cord injuries.
Just like that, a life can change.
I've met Darren Drozdov before at NWA-New Jersey shows. He's an intelligent, if perhaps unconventional person when out of character. But even in character, when doing Polaroids at the various indy shows he's worked, kids flock to him like a Pied Piper. Even with larger-than-life characters...it's hard to fool kids. Kids normally have a good instinct for people they're comfortable with. Droz is definitely one of them. While I'd never wish such an injury on anyone, it seems so damned unfair in this case.
Drozdov's accident Tuesday night is also proof of how dangerous even the most routine moves in wrestling can be. It's important for fans to remember that wrestlers are human beings. They feel pain. When even routine bumps are taken, they hurt.
In the world of 1999...of high pressure for Monday night TV ratings, and competition for the PPV dollar....the world where wrestling fans greet the least bit of mat wrestling with 'boring' chants, where they demand more spectacular spots and stunts, Darren Drozdov's accident on what was essentially a routine spot should send out a wake-up call to wrestling fans.
What happened in the Nassau Coliseum will be a lesson to the smart marks who seem to relish letting loose with 'You f&$#d up, you f$#%d up...' when a spot gets blown in a match. If any of you reading this column fits that description, think about Darren Drozdov in a bed at Nassau County Medical Center. Then think again.
Learn to appreciate what those people in that ring do for you. Learn to appreciate the risk they put themselves through for you. Don't ever take that work in the ring for granted again. Take the time to say a prayer for Darren Drozdov's recovery.
The other story this week is, of course, the passing of Robert Marella, known to wrestling fans around the world as Gorilla Monsoon. He died early Wednesday at age 62 of complications from a recent heart attack that caused complications that affected his kidneys. Marella chose to be removed from kidney dialysis over the weekend and died two days later.
My first memories of Robert Marella, like most of you, are of Gorilla Monsoon. I missed the days of his career as a feared old-style heel from 'Manchuria' lovingly referred to by Philadelphia Daily News writer Michael Tearson and 1Wrestling.com's Georgianne Makropoulos. I first remembered him as the wrestler who weeks prior to the Ali-Inoki match, when Ali 'challenged' Monsoon, jabbing away at Monsoon and doing his trademark dance, followed by Monsoon putting Ali up in his airplane spin. This got nationwide attention at a time when being a wrestling fan was still a dirty secret you didn't talk about in certain company.
In 1980, Marella ended his in-ring career and became a top wrestling broadcasting commentator, and teamed with the man who became the most colorful governor in recent years, Jesse 'The Body' Ventura. They were the lead commentators for WWF television during the mid and late 1980s. They were called to announce the first Wrestlemania in 1985, and followed with several more through the remainder of the decade.
There aren't too many of us who won't remember about Gorilla telling us about an 'occipital protuberance', or screaming about 'a miscarriage of justice' some heel had just committed on a babyface or someone who 'didn't know a wristlock from a wristwatch'.
Those of us in the Philadelphia area also remember the local team of Gorilla Monsoon and Dick Graham on PRISM Wrestling, the replays of the live Philadelphia Spectrum WWF shows. We also remember his weekly wrestling column during the all-too-brief existence of the Philadelphia Journal newspaper.
Monsoon acted as the on-air 'Commissioner' or 'President' during WWF TV during most of the early years of this decade.
Aside from the ring, some readers know that Robert Marella and his wife Maureen also adopted a son, Joey who became lead WWF referee in the late 1980s and 1990s. Some of us who knew of this relationship got to enjoy the running inside joke on WWF TV of Monsoon telling viewers how 'horrible' that referee Joey Marella was, each time Joey 'missed' heel interference in a match.
But Robert and Maureen Marella raised a talented son whose career highlights included PPV main events, such as the legendary Hogan-Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III from the Pontiac Silverdome in March 1987, Ric Flair's first WWF title win at Royal Rumble 1992, Bret Hart-Davey Boy Smith at Summer Slam 1992 from London's Wembley Stadium, and Owen Hart-Razor Ramon in the final match at King of the Ring 1994 from Baltimore. He also worked many high profile WWF TV events, including the NBC and Fox Saturday Night Main Event shows, and the 1993 debut of Monday Night RAW.
That all ended with Joey's death on July 4, 1994 in an automobile accident while returning from a WWF show in Ocean City, MD the previous evening. Joey had fallen asleep at the wheel on the New Jersey Turnpike; and was involved in a one car accident together with Bruno 'Harvey Whippleman' Lauer, only miles from the Marella family home in Willingboro, NJ.
It says something about the manner of man that Robert Marella was that he grieved for Joey as if he were his son by birth. There are those who say he never recovered completely from Joey's death.
In the late 1990s, Marella suffered from diabetes, making only infrequent TV appearances, including one last go-round as on-air President. He also made an appearance at this year's WrestleMania in Philadelphia, and was greeted with a loud ovation from the local crowd.
A viewing was held on Friday at the Goes-Scolieri Funeral Home in Willingboro, NJ, with a private burial.
If readers care to do so, condolences can be sent to the family at Maureen Marella, 56 Cove Road, Moorestown, NJ 08057-3950
Then, along with Darren Drozdov's injury and Robert Marella's death; JC McGhee of Y2KWrestling.com also reminded some of us of an anniversary that hasn't been mentioned that much recently, that of the passing of Brian Pillman 2 years ago.
Sarah McLaughlan's 'Angel' has lyrics that are almost a chilling reminder of the circumstances of the way the Rogue Horseman left us two years ago. I remember sitting with my younger brother and a friend prepared to watch the PPV that night and being hit with the almost surreal news. Yet two years later, it seems that many have forgotten that day and that incredibly talented, incredibly complex individual.
I'll close this week with those lyrics...for Robert Marella, for Brian Hildebrand, for Brian Pillman, and the too many people who've left us this year...let this be a wish for all of them:
'In the arms of an angel
fly away from here...
From this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear...
You are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie...
You're in the arms of the angel,
may you find some comfort there...'
Until next time....
Until next time.....
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org