Manny Fernandez still a raging bull
GREG OLIVER -- Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
In the ring, 'The Raging Bull' Manny Fernandez was tough, wild, bloody
and unpredictable, a bane to both opponents and promoters. But now he's
taking on a multitude of health issues, some brought on by wrestling,
others by his time fighting in Vietnam. Having just had surgery in late
June, and now facing five more surgeries in the upcoming months, he's
realistic about his chances for survival, but hasn't lost his will to fight.
"I just try to take it one day at a time. I know that I've got limited
time according to my doctors," Fernandez told SLAM! Wrestling from home
in northern California on July 3rd. "I don't believe in those bastards,
and the first time I see one with a halo around his head, then I'll
fucking start believing."
He had surgery on June 25 and got out June 28, having had a busted
suture fixed and exploratory work done on his liver. "They wanted to see
how bad the damage is, to assess what I need to do," he said. "I knew
almost two years ago that I had a bad liver from a wound that I got in
Vietnam. I never paid attention to it during my 25 years of wrestling
... It got real bad a year ago, started bleeding, waking up bleeding
through the nose and mouth. I knew something was up."
The Raging Bull has weighed his options, but keeps coming back to the
experience of his frequent opponent and long-time friend Wahoo McDaniel,
who died in April 2002 of complications
from renal failure and diabetes. Fernandez, 48, is not expecting to ever
receive a replacement liver; in fact, he's decided against it. "I've
been on a waiting list since they diagnosed me. It's not something I'm
going to do anyway. One of my best friends in the world, and one of my
toughest competitors, Wahoo McDaniel, he waited all those years to get
his kidneys. Then he got his kidney and three months later he was dead.
There's no guarantees in life. I've known that for a long time."
A list of his upcoming surgeries is daunting, though covered by the
government as a combat veteran. "Both my knees are going, my hip and my
back's real bad. What I mainly want to get back is both my hands. I've
got that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome so severe that I lose the grip in my
hands. So I've got that I've got that coming up on the 21st. Once I get
my hands back, I told the doctors to tell me about my knee replacements,
anything replaced in my back."
Born in El Paso, Texas, Fernandez moved to near San Jose with his family
as a child. He got involved in football and amateur wrestling, but grew
disillusioned with the sports. Seeking new challenges, Fernandez joined
the Navy to see the world. With the war in Vietnam coming towards its
conclusion, Fernandez became a Navy S.E.A.L. and served his country.
Upon his return to the U.S., he was disillusioned by the protests
against the war.
"I've been diagnosed, since I've been going to treatments, with PTSD
[post-traumatic stress disorder], which is basically combat disorder.,"
he said. "Most of my anger came back from the days when we came home
from Vietnam. We still had people protesting, calling us baby killers,
losers and shit like that. I never really shed that and was always anger
about that shit, and sick of people, the weak-ass bastards who didn't
have the balls to go and fight."
His mother prodded him to do something with his talents. She worked the
phones, calling college coaches to find a place for Manny on a football
roster. One of the coaches from UCLA who knew of Fernandez had
transferred to West Texas State, and brought him in.
Fernandez was an unknown quantity, an older student with a horrific
stint in Vietnam buried within him. "Them guys went through hell with
me! They thought I was an incoming freshman until they found out I could
whip all their asses," he recalled with a chuckle. "I got kicked out my
first week of football camp, though, because I had a habit of sleeping
with a gun under my pillow. They tried to dental floss my toes together
and I came out with a gun in my hand, come out of that thing, you should
have seen them guys drop to the ground. I had to explain to them that I
was an ex-combat vet and there were still things that spooked me. Nobody
messed with me after that though!"
West Texas State had an amazing past with pro wrestling as well, having
had Terry and Dory Funk Jr., Dick Murdoch, Dusty Rhodes and Blackjack
Mulligan go through its doors (and later Ted DiBiase). Fernandez fell
into league with some of the pro wrestling elements, and it made sense for him to
make the leap to the squared circle.
"I go back to the roots of where I was created, in my mind, it goes back
to where I trained to become a Navy S.E.A.L. We became a brotherhood of
guys who believed in one another. That happened to me a second time at
West Texas. I met Murdoch and the two Funks and Mulligan. It was a
brotherhood of men that believed in one another and used one another to
make a great living," he said, turning his attention to today's pro
wrestlers. "That's just faded; it's disappeared now. There ain't the
things, it's just sad to watch the younger generation of wrestlers, they
have nobody to look up to."
He is proud of the hard road he had to take to succeed. "I got into this
business because I had to prove myself to a bunch of people like Dick
Murdoch, Terry and Dory Funk, Blackjack Mulligan, Adrian Adonis was a
helluva damn shooter. Then when I went to Florida, I got to shoot with
Karl Gotch, Jack and Jerry Brisco, Hiro Matsuda. I mean, I had to prove
myself. How many of these idiots could even get into the ring with a Lou
Thesz and try to keep up with him, even at his age when he was around,
God bless his soul?" He is thankful for the men that took him under
their wing, and "decided that I was a good guy because I wanted to fight
everybody all the time."
Over his 25-plus years in wrestling, Fernandez developed a reputation
for toughness, unpredictability and wildness. Yet he could wrestle in
wild, bloody hardcore matches with Terry Funk or Wahoo McDaniel one
night, and face off against a wrestling virtuoso like Dory Funk Jr. the
next without missing a beat. "It was total chaos with Terry and Dory
Funk was that slow, deliberate beat the hell out of you thing. It was
night and day. I went from going 100 miles an hour to two miles an
hour," he recalled.
Florida was definitely a favourite place for The Raging Bull to wrestle,
primarily because of the promoter Eddie Graham. "He took very good care
of me. I always respected him and looked up to him because he always
told me I was going to be big in this business and make a lot of money.
He always kept his word to me. So I always loved to work for him."
On many occasions, Fernandez found himself going out of his way to work
in a promotion where Dusty Rhodes was booking. "Anywhere that Dusty
would go was alright with me because I knew that I was going to be, once
Dusty would let me go out, and would say, 'Hey, I need you back' I would
be very well taken care of, and I knew I was coming in to help out the
territory get hot. So anywhere that Dusty was a booker, that's where I
would end up being. I was happy because he was there."
Fernandez had a well-earned reputation as a bleeder as well. "I could
bleed, brother! I didn't mind bleeding every night," he said. "If you
think about what's going on now, with some of these idiot organizations,
Combat Zone, and everything, they have to go to extremes to prove
themselves. Hell, back in my day, I didn't do the blade as much as
hardway. Most of the time, I did hardway. I didn't care. It's better
that way. I didn't have to worry about swallowing something or cutting
He has well-developed rants on the state of wrestling today, especially
hardcore matches. "Barbed wire matches were cool to me when me and
Killer Brooks had them in San Antonio because the barbed wire was used
as an obstacle instead of the tool to get yourself over. Now they do the
stupid thumbtacks. Not that I haven't done these stupid matches just to
have fun. To me, it was fun to have hardcore matches. It was always a
hardcore match in Florida against Terry Funk. Me and him beating the
living crap out of each other."
Over the years, Fernandez worked across North America, and made
countless trips to Japan. Many fans know him best for his time in the
NWA as Ted Turner's TBS SuperStation grew and broadcast matches to a
wider audience. "We made great money with Ted Turner. I was making half
a million a year," he said. The Raging Bull was teamed with Ravishing
Rick Rude for a lengthy reign with the NWA World tag titles. His former
arch-enemy Paul Jones served as the team's manager. "When I was in the
later stages of my career with Rude, I didn't care for the belts. We had
them for so long, after a while, I just didn't care to wear them. I
always got fined or got in trouble, which was a part of my career. I
always gave Dusty a headache. I always kept Dusty on his toes."
Rhodes wasn't the only behind-the-scenes figure to have difficulty with
Fernandez. While in the NWA/WCW, Fernandez was pressured to give up his
lucrative Japan deal and stay exclusively with the Atlanta-based
promotion. "I told him to take his contract and stick it up his ass.
That was me. All promoters feared me. Wrestlers feared me. They didn't
want to get into ring with me. There were very few, the guys I had fun
with in the ring that were physical, and I knew were going to be
physical, there's a handful of guys that I would consider even tough in
this business for me to work with."
Having spent the last few years doing the occasional indie appearance
and helping to train a few wrestlers here and there, Fernandez has come
to grips with his reputation. "If you believe the myth of me in North
Carolina, I'm tougher than King Kong"
He plans on returning to North Carolina, where he has four- and
five-year-old daughters, once the series of surgeries are complete.
(According to Fernandez, the Veteran's Hospitals in California are
superior to those in North Carolina.)
In the meantime, he has enjoyed the calls from old friends like George
'The Animal' Steele, the Road Warriors, the Guerreros, Greg 'The Hammer'
Valentine and Dewey Robertson. Fernandez knows that his old running
mates are concerned for him, but he refuses to have any unrealistic
belief of his immediate future. "My liver was [the doctors] main concern
... I didn't go in hoping for a miracle. I don't care what happens now.
I'm going to enjoy the rest of my life and that's it."
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in
1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the
author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame:
The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from the SLAM!
Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.