August 19, 2003
What If?, asks Rocky Della Serra
By GREG OLIVER -- Co-Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
REAL NAME: Gerry Della Serra
Timing can mean so much in wrestling. There's the length of the matches, the timing between two opponents on their moves. And then there's the timing of one's career. Two Della Serra brothers made it in pro wrestling. Bob, who is seven years older than his brother Rocky, started as a pro wrestler in the early '70s when wrestling was booming. Rocky's entrance to the mat game wasn't as well timed, hitting the tail end of the territory system.
Rocky broke into the business in 1978 after a successful amateur wrestling career, and a solid background in high school football. But by the mid-'80s, the promotions were being eaten up by Vince McMahon and the WWF or put out of business altogether. "It was a blast, to experience the whole deal back then. My brother had a better time, because he started at an earlier time where the business was even in better shape for local promotions and stuff. The time he had must have just been phenomenal," Rocky Della Serra told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in New Westminster, B.C.
His first wrestling trip was to Germany, a place where his brother had been working for 10 years, every fall and spring. Bob Della Serra opened a few doors for his younger brother. "Bottom line, though, once you get in there, you still have to get the job done. But it definitely helped with a brother there to help you get in doors, and that's what my brother did for me."
Rocky was able to learn about the pros and cons of pro wrestling from a trusted family member, who was himself a part of a trusted, secretive occupation. "It definitely helped having an older brother in the business. Especially back then, the business was a secret. It's not like it is today. Everybody's smart to wrestling," he said. "We used to protect the business back then very much. Nobody snuck in the business. If you were going to get into the business, you had to get in because you had a lot of credibility or you knew somebody."
At 18, Rocky found himself at loose ends. He didn't have the desire to pursue further success in amateur wrestling. (In 1974, he won the silver medal in Quebec at the Quebec Amateur Wrestling Championships.) A go-round with Olympic weightlifting for a while showed that the flexibility in his shoulders just wasn't there. "One thing led to another and I just had my eye on pro wrestling. Seeing my brother in the ring, and all that stuff, and I just wanted to get into that," he explained.
So it was off to Germany for the October festival. "It's two months long, and they wrestled in a tent in Hanover, Germany, for two months, and they are in the same place every night. They draw phenomenal crowds. During the week, it was seven days a week--doesn't mean you wrestled seven days a week--but there was a parade at the beginning of the show ... They'd draw anywhere between 1,500 and 5,000 people.
"That was easy for those days. Anybody who'd go there would just love it because it was like a paid vacation. Some days you didn't wrestle, so you were a free man and you still got paid anyway. Especially for me, it was my first time in the business and I saw all these, we used to call them arena rats back then, groupies, tons of women. I had a ball!"
He returned to Montreal and got a job as a bouncer at a nightclub in the Limelight district. His brother, Bob, had also worked there off and on during his wrestling career, and so too did Rocky over the years. An ex-wrestler turned fireman, Alain St. Pierre, was the head doorman at the club and was sympathetic to the ups and downs of the grappling game.
In the spring of 1979, Rocky went to Vancouver as Gino Della Serra, and lasted a couple of months. He also went to Puerto Rico where he also worked as Gino. ("They didn't feel that Rocky was a wrestling name. I don't know about that anymore!")
Up next was a stint with George Cannon. "He was going into Newfoundland for the first time. Superstars of Wrestling had been there in Newfoundland for a couple of years, so everyone was established. TV is important," he said. "Those were the days when independent promotions had TV. So we went in there and packed the houses."
On occasion, Della Serra would be billed under a hood as El Santos. "It was his gimmick, George, and he would just put different guys under that hood. It was like a white-black outfit," Della Serra said. "I remember one wrestling date I worked for George on Superstars. I worked the first match as Rocky Della Serra, on the same show, then I came back in the last match, TV time limit, as El Santos. So those were the good old days."
Rocky also worked for Emile Dupre in a costume as UFO #2, a gimmick that his brother Bob had also used, primarily around Quebec. Many fans know him from his days in All-Star Wrestling in B.C. in the early-to-mid 1980s, or from his time in Portland.
His career highlight? "I think the pinnacle, that I could have gone either way from here; maybe I had just gone here or there, I think we all do in life. But I think the pinnacle was when I went to Puerto Rico the first time in 1982. They were going to team me up with Eddie Gilbert," said Della Serra. "He was a super talent there. I thought it was a compliment to me to be recognized in the same breath as somebody like that. I was young at the time, I looked great, I had the ability. They were going to team us up as a young tag team but all of a sudden he got a call from Vince McMahon Sr. to go work for the WWF. So he had to go. So they ended up teaming me up with another pretty good wrestler, a different style of wrestler but still good, Frenchy Martin, (aka) Pierre Martel."
It's a serious "What if?" that haunts Della Serra. "Who knows what could have happened there. We could have gotten over real good, we could have become buddy-buddy and gone further. Sometimes things like that can turn somebody's career around."
By the end of the 1980s, it was all over. "I didn't pack it in, but the business was packed in, in 1989," he said.
Up next was a hand at running the show. "I had this wild idea that I thought that I could be a wrestling promoter and turn things around. It's just like the old story, when a stock is going down, sometimes it is time to buy. I bought in here when Al Tomko packed it in. We didn't really buy from Al, we just bought his ring." He ran shows with Fred Rosselli (Mike Rosselli's dad) and "it didn't work out" from 1989-1995.
He doesn't miss the promoting at all. "I didn't miss the last five years, trying to promote your own show or work some other small promotion because the money wasn't there. My ex-wife was on my case about not working. I didn't miss that. But I do miss the good old times, definitely, say 1978-1988, that period there where you could just pick up a phone and call a promoter and get booked somewhere."
Today, the 44-year-old Della Serra works as an account rep for the Credit Bureau of Vancouver, and dons the tights on occasion for the local Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling promotion.
He is working this Friday, August 22nd, teaming with old foe Michelle Starr against Ladies Choice and Adam Firestorm. The show is at Bridgeview Hall, 11475 - 126A Street in Surrey, BC. Tickets are $12 front row, $10 general admission.
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 Highspots.com. Greg can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.