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Dark Shadow: The Life and Death of Bruiser Brody
This past week marked the anniversary of the passing of Frank Goodish, better known to the wrestling community as Bruiser Brody. Born in Detroit in 1946, Goodish was a standout athlete at Warren High, where he lettered in basketball and football. Goodish was a beast, loud and abrasive at times, with a reputation for being a bit of a jerk. Upon graduation, he stood 6’6” tall and tipped the scales at over 250 pounds. He attended Iowa State and then West Texas State, playing defensive end. Then he moved on to the NFL and the Washington Redskins for a year. When he was released, he went to the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos and some semipro teams in Texas. Eventually, though, Frank came to the harsh realization that his football career was over, and did some sports writing to pay the bills
In 1973, Goodish met the legendary Ivan Putski, who, impressed by Frank’s size, suggested he try wrestling. Putski introduced Frank to Ed Farhat (better known as The Sheik) to train him. He soon made his debut in Leroy McGuirk’s Championship Wrestling promotion in Oklahoma and Arkansas as Frank “The Hammer” Goodish. Short stints followed in World Class Championship Wrestling before going to work for Eddie Graham in the Florida territory. On December 31st, 1975, Goodish defeated Rocky Johnson (The Rock’s father) for the Florida State Championship belt. A few months later, he was headed to the WWF where Vincent J. McMahon, Sr. named him Bruiser Frank Brody. Brody was pushed immediately, and received 2 title opportunities against Bruno Sammartino in late 1976. But just as quickly as he rose within the company, his difficult personality in the locker room seemed to slide him down from the main event to barely working at all. Around this time, Bruiser toured Australia and New Zealand, where he met his second wife, Barbara.
Bruiser returned to the WCCW in 1977 where he was put into a program with promoter Fritz Von Erich. Their feud was wildly successful and it likely saved his young career. In the territory days, the only thing that could get you past a bad reputation as a troublemaker was the ability to draw money, and Brody was fast proving he was a guy who could do that very well. He bounced back and forth between WCCW and the 2 Missouri territories for the next 2 years. He even did a very short run in the AWA as the Masked Marauder. While Fritz may have loved Bruiser, other promoters like Bob Geigel and Sam Mushnick were finding out what the McMahon’s already knew, he was hard to do business with. Stories abound of him walking out right before showtime if he didn’t like the potential payout, storyline, or finish. Some of these are likely exaggerations, but there must be some shreds of truth in there somewhere. With work drying up for Frank in the US, Fritz Von Erich started getting him bookings in Japan.
Bruiser Brody and his good friend Stan Hansen became instant superstars in Japan. The pair set many attendance records and established new standards for the financial demands for a “gaijin”. Hansen wasn’t known as being any more easy-going than Brody, and with them both there drawing big money, the two became even more difficult. They would refuse to put other wrestlers “over”, and since the promoters were worried they would leave, they would cave in to Brody and Hansen. This created a vicious cycle back in the States as Bruiser would leverage his ability to draw in Japan against any American promoter for not only money, but creative control as well. Like he did in Japan, he refused to do “jobs” (lose matches). Brody had a reputation of altering the finishes of matches while inside the ring with his opponents, and if his opponent disagreed? Then Bruiser would simply “shoot” on his opponent during a match to send a message the promoter and guys in the locker room. He left territories without honoring the tradition of putting over the local star on your way out the door. With an argumentative demeanor backed up by a 6’8”, 283 pound body, he also got into a lot of fights in the backstage area, and apparently won often. Stories say he liked to get in the first punch and end things early.
His difficult nature aside, the guy could flat-out bring it in the ring. When he wasn’t in Japan, you could find him on WCCW television in the early to mid-1980s, usually wrestling Kamala the Ugandan Giant, a star like Ric Flair, or longtime adversary Abdullah the Butcher. He kicked Terry Gordy in the face so often that ‘Bam Bam” likely had a permanent heel print in it. On more than one occasion, he beat Kabuki so bad I thought he might not make it to next week’s show. He had it all, great look, athleticism, raw strength, and no fear in the ring. And if all that weren’t enough, his mic skills were fantastic, and he cut some truly fearsome promos. Along with Harley Race, he was one of the truly tough men ever in the business.
Bruiser was on a tour of Japan with David Von Erich and Ric Flair in 1984 when David was found dead. Flair contends that David overdosed and that Bruiser quietly removed the evidence to both save the Von Erichs from ridicule and also to reduce the chance of an investigation into other wrestlers on the tour (Brody was a notorious steroid user). Since the truth of what happened that day in February will likely never be clear, one can only speculate and make up your own opinion. In 1985 he was again in Japan, wrestling a series of matches against the legendary Antonio Inoki for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Brody received a salary of some $14,000 a week, which made him the highest paid wrestler in the world at that time.
He returned to the US after that stint and then began working primarily in Puerto Rico for Carlos Colon’s World Wrestling Council. He had a regular series of matches against Colon and Abdullah, which were, not surprisingly, bloodbaths. In 1987, he made a legendary appearance against Lex Luger at NWA Florida. His legendary stubborn streak appeared when he stopped working in the ring. Bruiser just stood there, leaning in the corner and refusing to lock-up, while a confused Lex Luger and referee Bill Alfonso tried to coax him into engaging. Lex and Alfonso quickly changed the match finish by having Luger punch Brody repeatedly in the corner until Alfonso disqualified Lex. Backstage after the match, a bewildered Luger confronted Brody and asked had he done something to upset him, to which Bruiser responded simply, “no”. He did however tell Bill Alfonso, that, “the match simply wasn’t working”. Alfonso said later that there was some disagreement between the pair about who should call the match, but never any ill will. More than likely, Bruiser was having pay disagreements with the promoter. I have included a very poor video of this match below, things get a little weird about 5:28 in.
Brody returned to Japan in 1987, where he and tag partner Jimmy Snuka no-showed the New Japan Tag Team Title Tournament for an undisclosed reason, and were blacklisted for a year. Brody would return for his final appearance 1 year later however, defeating Jumbo Tsurata for a 3rd NWA International Championship before making a fateful return to Puerto Rico.
On July 16, 1988, Brody was in the locker room before his match with Dan Spivey in Bayamón (near San Juan, Puerto Rico), when Invader 1 (José González), invited him into the shower area to discuss business. Brody entered the shower stall and a few minutes later a scuffle ensued, followed by two groans, loud enough for the entire locker room to hear. Tony Atlas ran to the shower and saw Brody bent over and holding his stomach. He rushed to his side and then looked up, seeing González holding a knife. When the paramedics arrived, Atlas had to carry his body downstairs to the waiting ambulance, as, due to Brody’s enormous stature, paramedics were unable to lift him. According to Atlas, Brody told him, “Tell my little son I love him, and tell my wife I love her, too.” González, who always maintained his innocence, was initially charged with first-degree murder but was later reduced and tried for involuntary homicide. Dutch Mantell was subpoenaed, but not until after the trial was over. Tony Atlas, who had been first on the scene, gave a statement, but was never called to give his version in court. Without this testimony the District Attorney had no case. Some wrestlers (the Youngbloods) were scared to death and made no declaration to the police at the time of the events. However, Tony Atlas who declared what he saw to the police came back to Puerto Rico several years later to work with the promotion. In January 1989, González was acquitted on all counts, citing self-defense. Carlos Colón testified against Brody during the trial.
What happened in that shower stall in Puerto Rico? No one really knows, but neither Dutch Mantell nor Tony Atlas ever mentioned any dispute before the two went in that area. But regardless, the wrestling world lost a great performer that day. And while he is largely considered one of the toughest men in the ring ever, he is also regarded as one of the toughest to do business with. Many promoters call him the most unprofessional guy they ever worked with, but Bruiser saw it differently when he said, “The truth is that all wrestlers are sheep. Wrestlers don’t have guts; they’re all at the end of a cliff and will jump off as a group. They’ll stand up and make a lot of noise beforehand then when the promoter comes in they all go yes sir. Yes sir. I hate that.” Mick Foley regards him as one of his favorite performers of all time, and blatantly states his Cactus Jack was based on Bruiser Brody. Like anything else, the truth about Bruiser Brody’s life and death, is speculation and opinion. I’d love to hear yours, keep your shoulders off the mat.