Professional wrestling is one industry that is proud to showcase its family legacies. Third and fourth generations of wrestling personalities have graced the ring from some bloodlines with many ascending to the top tier of the business. The prevalence of family ties in the industry has even inspired a video release to celebrate the most powerful families in the game. However, while the video did acknowledge 20 influential wrestling clans, the list merely scratched the surface of some of sports entertainment's most influential movers and shakers between the ropes.
There are a number of wrestling families that are well known and credited with their contributions to the world of professional wrestling. However, while wrestling history will readily celebrate families like the McMahons, the Harts, the Anoa'i's and the Von Erichs, there are many families that have contributed just as greatly to the industry, yet their contributions, as a family, have gone largely unrecognized.
Whether it resulted in domination of a single territory or pioneering efforts to strike out internationally and establish a name for themselves as a group as well as individually, here are some wrestling relations of whom many fans may not be aware. If you are not already familiar with these rich pedigrees, you should be.
The name “Iron” Mike Sharpe is usually associated with the WWE years of his career, ones which saw him descend from the main event status he enjoyed in the territories to an undercard carpenter for those on the fast track to success under Vince McMahon’s vision. However, the Sharpe wrestling family was a force to be reckoned with for close to 40 years in the industry. His father, Mike Sharpe Sr., and his uncle Ben had both served with the Canadian military during the second world war and, upon their return home to Canada, became stars quickly in the wrestling ring. Standing 6’5” and 6’6” respectively, they ventured to the west coast where they became huge stars.
Very few second generation wrestlers can boast being from a home where both parents were professional wrestlers. One WWE Hall of Famer that appears later in this list can do so, as can a standout in the WWE’s women division in recent years, Paige. The diva that turned heads by capturing a championship in her debut match on the WWE’s main roster can say that wrestling is a family affair in her hometown of Norwich, Norfolk, England. Paige’s father, Ricky Knight, has been a fixture of the British wrestling scene since the 1970s and in more recent years has impacted wrestling in his country as the promoter of the World Association of Wrestling.
Most of the lists of professional wrestling’s greatest families usually focus on those in the United States and a relatively small radius beyond. Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico may be represented, but often some of the international families get ignored. Sammy Cohen dabbled a little in the realm of wrestling, but his greatest achievements took place as a promoter in South Africa. His connections in the wrestling game are best evidenced as he was able to open the door to opportunities for his two sons to compete in the U.S.
No, you won’t find the name Tunney in the lineage of any professional wrestling championship histories. However, Frank Tunney and later his nephew Jack carried considerable influence on the course of professional wrestling history in Ontario, Canada. The Tunneys' association with professional wrestling began in the early 1930s when John Tunney, Frank’s brother, had initially taken the reins from mat impresario Jack Corcoran to become the leading promoter in Toronto, with the contract for Maple Leaf Gardens. John died suddenly and his brother Frank is best known for more than 50 years of service as the Toronto promoter – creating stars such as “Whipper” Billy Watson and others during his tenure.
To say that the Poffo wrestling clan was tight knit might well be understating the bond between Angelo Poffo and his sons Randy and Lanny. In fact, wrestling lore holds that while the trio was touring the Canadian Maritimes in the late 1970s, to save money on hotels on the road, the three lived for 12 weeks in the close confines of a station wagon. That close connection was evidenced when Lanny put his own career on hold to return home to Kentucky when Angelo and Randy were opening International Championship Wrestling, an outlaw circuit poised to oppose the established Gulas/Jarrett territory of the day.
Say the name Blanchard to a wrestling fan and most commonly, the first image that will spring to mind is that of Tully Blanchard, a fixture member of the Four Horseman, seemingly always with a championship belt around his waist. Without a doubt, Tully achieved a great deal during his abbreviated career. However, the Blanchard legacy in the ring doesn’t start with Tully, but instead with his father Joe. Joe was playing professional football in Canada when his path crossed with Stu Hart, creating an opportunity for him to transition into the ring. Blanchard was a credible wrestler but carried even greater influence as a promoter for Southwest Championship Wrestling in the early 80s and later as the president of the AWA.
Curtis Axel hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but he comes from a rich wrestling bloodline that has factored heavily into decades of American wrestling history. His grandfather, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, was a headliner in the AWA and was a dominant force as both a solo and tag team competitor, most famously alongside Harley Race. His dad, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, is regarded as one of the smoothest and most versatile wrestlers of his generation. Ascending to the AWA World title, it appeared that Hennig was poised for a similar career trajectory in the WWE as well, vaulted to main event matches through stellar performances against Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan and more.
At one time in America, between 1984 and 1988, three families truly controlled the professional wrestling landscape in the United States -- the McMahons out of the northeast, the Gagnes out of the Midwest and the Crocketts out of the Carolinas. Jim Crockett Sr. had been involved in professional wrestling promotions since 1931 and up until the time of his death in 1973, his sons had really no tangible involvement in his exploits. However, under Jim Crockett Jr., the territory began to grow and expand, producing stars that would become NWA World champion such as Ric Flair.
Joe Laurinaitis was the first of three brothers in the family to see success between the ropes. Partnered with a fellow Minnesotan Michael Hegstrand, Joe became Road Warrior Animal and the duo rose to become one of the most celebrated tag team combinations of all time, and arguably the most successful tag team of the 1980s. Joe was followed by brother Johnny, who, as Johnny Ace, also caught his first break in tag team action with Shane Douglas as the Dynamic Dudes. Johnny went on to see his greatest in-ring success through a lengthy tenure in All Japan Pro Wrestling, eventually returning to the United States where he secured an administrative role with the WWE.
When he died in Puerto Rico in 1995 at age 33, the wrestling world was shocked to see that one of the most ambitious wrestlers in the world had perished before his time. “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert had accomplished a great deal during a 15-year career between the ropes and there was no doubt that he had a passion for the wrestling business. In his teens, he had worked as a ringside photographer and writer, idolizing his father Tommy Gilbert, who was a major star in wrestling’s territory days. Eddie had actually teamed up with his father in some of his early outings before striking out on his own and generating his own momentum in the UWF, WCW and other organizations.
When both WCW and WWE started to take interest in the talent in Mexico on the heels of the early American successes of Rey Mysterio, Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera, many fans may not have realized that some of the tag teams that were being imported from south of the border actually represented a single wrestling clan with two generations in the game. The Villanos, often relegated to the undercard or WCW Saturday Night television tapings, were actually five brothers. Their father, Ray Mendoza, was an outstanding wrestler in his own right, holding the NWA World Light Heavyweight title on five occasions.
The true greatness of Larry Simon may not have been appreciated when he first began wrestling in the northeastern U.S. in the 1950s. However, when he capitalized on Cold War tensions to become Boris Malenko, his star really began to rise. In addition to becoming a top villain in Florida and other regions, Malenko mentored and trained many wrestlers, including Demolition Ax, Marc Mero, Paul Diamond, Gangrel, Buddy Landell, Sean Waltman and many others. He also opened the door for his sons Dean and Joe to get into the wrestling game and Dean achieved great success, at one time being acknowledged by Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine as the top wrestler in the world.
Georgia’s Aurelian Smith carved out a stellar career for himself between the ropes, which ensured that he would always have a place in the industry. Wrestling as Grizzly Smith, the lumbering heavyweight was a reliable talent and upon hanging up his boots found work as a road agent for promoter Bill Watts in the Mid-South Wrestling territory. However, even greater than his own success was that of his three children that followed him into the mat game.
You won’t find Acocella in many wrestling history texts – instead you will find three generations of the family identified as Britton or Brito. Patriarch Jack Britton and his brother Lou wrestled in the Montreal territory in the 1940s and 50s, but what Jack is best known for is being one of the innovators to develop midget wrestling in 1949 with Detroit promoter Bert Rubi. The Brittons often appeared on the cards, where the midget wrestlers under their charge were scheduled to appear.
One of the most acclaimed wrestlers of all time in Mexico is Mil Mascaras. He was also one of the first wrestlers to successfully adapt the lucha libre style beyond Mexico’s borders to become a headliner attraction around the world. While Mil Mascaras, Aaron Rodriguez, has been acknowledged in the WWE Hall of Fame, he is just one of the outstanding wrestlers from his family to achieve great success internationally. Mil is one of three wrestling brothers – Jose competed as Dos Caras and Pablo as Sicodelico. Jose’s two sons have also excelled in the business with son Alberto seeing his greatest success in the WWE as Alberto Del Rio and his son Guillermo adopting the moniker of El Hijo del Dos Caras (the son of Dos Caras).
Without a doubt, the Armstrong wrestling clan is destined to be enshrined in their entirety in a wrestling Hall of Fame at some point in time. The patriarch, “Bullet” Bob, is one of the all-time greats in the southeast, and wrestled well into his golden years. All four of his sons followed him into the ring – the first being Brad. Brad’s greatest success may have been in tag team action with Tim Horner as the Lightning Express in the UWF, but he enjoyed a lengthy career in WCW and closed out his wrestling days in the WWE. Son Steve saw his greatest fame also in tag team competition paired with Tracy Smothers as the Young Pistols in WCW, briefly appearing in the WWE as Lance Cassidy. Son Scott has joined the WWE roster following the conclusion of his pursuits as a wrestler and has been a referee with the company.
4 Welch - Fuller
If the surname Cormier is unfamiliar to you, it may be because none of the four brothers from New Brunswick wrestled under their family name during their storied careers. The eldest brother Rudy wrestled as Rudy Kay and in addition to wrestling, was also a leading promoter in the Maritimes for close to a decade, shaping the wrestling scene in that region. Next was Yvan, best known to fans of the Maritimes and for Stampede Wrestling as The Beast. Romeo wrestled as Bobby Kay and his youngest brother Leo went on to be the greatest international success of all four, under the name Leo Burke. Collectively, their influence on Canadian wrestling rates up there with other prominent family legacies such as the Harts and Rougeaus.
During his 30-year career in the wrestling game, Jeff Jarrett has proven to not only be a solid talent between the ropes, but he has also become one of the most influential figures in sports entertainment over the past twenty years. From his successes in both WWE and WCW to creating Total Nonstop Action, opening professional wrestling in India with Ring-Ka-King and his latest efforts to develop Global Force Wrestling, Jeff himself is a wrestling history maker deserving of his own place in wrestling history. It may surprise some fans to know that Jeff is a third generation wrestler. His father Jerry was a standout wrestler in the southern States in the 1970s as well as being an influential promoter and booker in the Memphis territory. Jeff's maternal grandfather, Eddie Marlin, was also a standout in the Tennessee wrestling circuit as well, staying on as an agent with the promotion after his retirement.
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