January 22, 2007
The up and down life of Bam Bam Bigelow
By MATT MACKINDER - SLAM! Wrestling
Scott 'Bam Bam' Bigelow, known across wrestling circles for his time in the World Wrestling Federation (pre-WWE), WCW and ECW, passed away Friday morning at his home in Hudson, Florida.
The cause of death has yet to be determined, though police do not suspect foul play.
Bigelow, just 45, was found by his girlfriend, Janis Remiesiewicz.
A former ECW Heavyweight champion, ECW TV champion, WCW Hardcore, WCW and IWGP Tag Team champion, Bigelow also wrestled in the main event of WrestleMania 11 in 1995 and lost to NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
"He was a joy to work with in those years that I managed him," Ted DiBiase told WWE.com. "I was in his corner when he had the match against LT, and he was all business then. He was a real likeable guy and he was all into his family. In my dealing, he was a good guy and a businessman and a pleasure to work with."
His flame-tattooed bald head (at a cost of $4,500) and tattooed arms made him stand out, if not for his 6-foot-3, 350-pound frame. It also makes sense that Bigelow was a bounty hunter prior to his days in wrestling. He also acted in a few low-budget movies.
"He was a good guy, very good, with a good heart," said Jerry Sags, a former member of The Nasty Boys and a good friend of Bigelow's, to the Tampa Tribune. "In a lot of ways, he was just a big teddy bear that had that New Jersey (vibe) about him. My last conversation with Bam Bam, I saw the state he was in and I said, 'Man, we've lost 40 of our friends (in recent years). I'm tired of going to funerals. Don't let it happen to you.'"
Bigelow and Sags had been working with local and regional American Combat Wrestling promotions recently.
Bigelow got his start in the industry back in 1986 managed by his trainer "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharpe. He'd been a decent amateur wrestler in his native New Jersey at Neptune High School. As a senior in 1979, Bigelow was the top-seeded heavyweight in the state tourney, but was beaten in the semifinals; he finished third, and had a 26-1 record that year. The previous year, he'd made the quarterfinals at state, losing to future Olympic champ Bruce Baumgartner.
His training went quickly, and on July 28, 1986, as Crusher Yurkof, he won a battle royal in Memphis to be crowned Southern Heavyweight champion. Later that year on Oct. 20, he won the World Class TV belt from Steve Simpson in Fort Worth, Texas.
"I knew from the start he'd make it big," said Sharpe in a 1986 Sports Illustrated article about his training school, The Monster Factory. "Bam Bam is like money in the bank ... I just can't write a check on him yet."
The legendary "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers was also involved with The Monster Factory at the time. "Bam Bam's got just about everything," Rogers said in SI. "The only thing he hasn't grasped so far is how to sell himself verbally."
"I remember going to the AWA TV taping in Atlantic City back in the mid '80s when I was a kid," noted The Blue Meanie on WrestlingClassics.com. "At one of the tapings was a young Bam Bam along with his trainer 'Pretty Boy' Larry Sharpe. I think this may have been while he was still just training, but I am not sure. They were standing in the back of the room where the tapings were taking place trying to NOT get noticed. While people were going to their seats and while matches where GOING ON people couldn't help but look at Bam Bam in awe."
A period in Memphis sometimes flies under the radar for people that remember Bigelow. But not for those that were there.
"Bam Bam was one of my favorite wrestlers," former Memphis-area manager Scott Bowden posted on WrestlingClassics.com. "He was the perfect monster heel for Memphis and (Jerry) Lawler, who brought him and built him up slowly for a showdown for the Southern title.
"Bam Bam showed amazing agility, and his Nuclear Splash from the top rope looked devastating. His simple getup at the time (cut-off shorts and a T-shirt with the words 'I am Monster' on the back) and tattooed head only made him more menacing. After weeks of obliterating competition in handicap matches and winning battle royals, Bigelow finally faced off with Lawler.
"After three straight weeks of losing to Bigelow, Lawler did a memorable, emotional promo about how perhaps Bam Bam might be the wrestler who makes him retire. (The gist of the story was something like this: when Lawler was a rookie he asked a wrestler who was retiring how he knew it was the right time to hang up the tights. The old-timer looked up at him and said, 'Kid, someday another wrestler will come along and let you know when it's time. Well...(dramatic pause)...Bam Bam Bigelow just might be that wrestler for me.' Bam Bam was over huge in Memphis and was frequently brought back to the area to pop the houses."
In 1987, Bigelow came to the then-WWF as a "free agent" and had all the heel managers at the time vying for his services. Oliver Humperdink, a face, was eventually picked.
"I had a good time with Bam Bam," Humperdink told SLAM! Wrestling. "We were so busy. We were doing two shows on Saturday and two on Sunday, coast to coast."
Bam Bam, the winner of the 1987 Slammy Award for "Best Head," was on Hulk Hogan's team at the inaugural Survivor Series pay-per-view and faced a 3-on-1 disadvantage against King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang and Andre the Giant. He pinned both Bundy and the Gang, but fell to Andre.
Tom Billington, AKA The Dynamite Kid, recalled in his autobiography a time with Bigelow that brought him to chuckles.
"Bigger wrestlers always did better in the WWF than the smaller wrestlers, regardless of whether they had talent or not," wrote Billington. "A lot of them had no talent, but one big man who I did rate was Bam Bam Bigelow. For such a big man, he was a great wrestler; very quick, very agile, and a very convincing heel. But outside of the ring, he was a big, clumsy bugger. We were in a long queue for the airport check-in one time, and Bam Bam, who I knew had been drinking, was standing right behind me. He stumbled and fell backwards over his own case, knocked the person behind him down, and the next; it was like watching dominoes fall, as, one by one, all the people in the queue went down."
Bigelow would return to the Fed in 1993 as a heel and beat the Big Boss Man at the Royal Rumble that January. That summer at SummerSlam, The Smoking Gunns and Tatanka beat Bam Bam and The Head Shrinkers. At WrestleMania X the following year, Bam Bam and his "main squeeze," Luna Vachon, defeated Doink The Clown and the midget Dink in a mixed tag match. He teamed with Irwin R. Schyster to beat The Head Shrinkers at the 1994 SummerSlam and was a survivor, along with Bundy, at the Survivor Series as their squad (with Tatanka and The Heavenly Bodies) beat Lex Luger, Mabel, Adam Bomb and the Gunns. In May of 1995, Bigelow beat Tatanka at the very first In Your House pay-per-view and the next month with Diesel downed Tatanka and Sycho Sid at the King of the Ring.
The big man from Asbury Park, New Jersey, also saw time in NWA/WCW on a couple of occasions. At StarrCade '91, Bigelow and Big Van Vader beat Doom (Ron Simmons and Butch Reed) in front of more than 64,000 fans. Three years earlier, Bigelow wrestled Barry Windham at the annual December event.
When Bigelow and Diamond Dallas Page beat Raven and Perry Saturn for the WCW tag titles on May 31, 1999, WCW brought out the old Freebirds angle and let any two of Bigelow, DDP and Chris Kanyon (The Triad) to defend the straps. Chris Benoit and Saturn took the titles from Page and Kanyon 10 days later.
Once Bam Bam hit ECW, his battles with Tazz (then spelled Taz) became legendary.
"As a wrestling fan, the visual of Tazz and Bam Bam Bigelow crashing through the ring in Bam Bam Bigelow's home town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, is forever burned into my mind," Joey Styles told WWE.com. "Bam Bam Bigelow was a great performer and more importantly he was a father. He will be missed by everybody who knew him."
"I'm really saddened about this," Tazz said on WWE.com. "I had the opportunity to wrestle Bam Bam several times in ECW, and I learned a lot from being in the ring with him. He was one of the toughest S.O.B.'s you could ever, ever, face in that ring. This is horrible news. He was too young to go."
After seeing Bam Bam for the first time in the 1980s, the Meanie had the chance to work with Bigelow in the glory days of the original ECW.
"He was a great influence and mentor to me," Meanie continued on WrestlingClassics.com. "As a fan I was always mesmerized by the Great Muta and his moonsault. So when I saw Bam Bam do it, I knew I HAD to learn it if I was going to be a wrestler. I wanted to be the agile big man like Bam Bam. He would ask me if there was anything I wanted to do. To me that was a big thing because I would never suggest anything to a veteran unless they asked me first. So to get to work with Bam Bam after all the influence he had on me and making me want to be a wrestler was one of the greatest memories of my life that I will always cherish."
Bam Bam made it down to Memphis from time to time and like Bowden mentioned, he was always a big draw.
"My first night as a heel manager in May 1994, I interfered in a bout, giving Dream Machine (also now deceased) and Bam Bam (on loan from the WWF) the win over Lawler and Brian Christopher," remembered Bowden.
During the fall of 2005, the "Beast From the East" and Janis were in a horrendous motorcycle accident in the St. Petersburg area in Florida. Both were lucky to escape with their lives.
"Both of us should've been dead from this accident," Bigelow told writer Michael Kruse of the St. Petersburg Times in 2005.
"Not should've been," Janis said to the same paper. "Could've been."
"I had a few beers that day," Bigelow added. "But it wasn't nothing exceeding what people go overboard with. Who knows? It's all a blur. It doesn't matter. It happened."
In his later years, Bigelow was reportedly addicted to painkillers and owed a substantial amount of cash in child support to his ex-wife who lives in New Jersey with their two sons, Shane and Scott, and daughter, Ricci.
"He had many ups and downs over the past 20 years. He did well in some places, and not so well in others," said Dave Meltzer on WrestlingObserver.com. "Some saw how he looked as a positive, and others didn't. He was one of those guys who fell out of organized sports young, because with his size and agility, he probably should have been a football star. One NFL coach who was a friend of mine was blown away seeing a guy of that size with that kind of lightness on his feet and couldn't understand how he didn't play college and pro ball. He was a very good high school wrestler, but never went any farther with it. He also had the drawbacks mentally that come with being a star from day one, and then going to WWF where some didn't respect that he had proven anything, but started out at the top there, often teaming with Hulk Hogan. Some tough veterans like Andre and Sika roughed him up on that first run. He became a bigger star in Japan (winning the WAR 6-man titles with Hiromichi Fuyuki and Youji Anjoh in 1996 as well as the aforementioned IWGP tag titles with vader), where he became the foreign monster with credibility, who could carry newcomers and get them over."
During the hype for his match with Lawrence Taylor, Bigelow bragged about what could have been on the gridiron. "If Bam Bam Bigelow was on the football field, playing in the NFL, you wouldn't be hearing about Lawrence Taylor," Bigelow announced at a press conference. "I know I could have done a better job than LT."
The coverage in the press for the big event was typical of the time, and dismissive of the demands of pro wrestling on the body compared to so-called "legitimate" sports. Bigelow warned LT that he was entering his world.
At the Manhattan press conference, Taylor knocked Bigelow like a seasoned pro. "I think Bam Bam has problems -- mental problems," Taylor is quoted as saying in the Associated Press story, which continues with a mocking line: "Some in the crowd hinted that Bam Bam wasn't alone after this bizarre pit stop on Taylor's road to the Hall of Fame."
"You did this the first half of your life and now this is the second half and now you're bruised and battered. So what the hell can you do? What can you do?"
One of Bam Bam's last matches was on Nov. 19, 2004 when he defeated Johnny Candido on a USA Pro Wrestling card. He then opened up a hamburger joint in Pennsylvania that featured a two-pound "Beast Burger." The restaurant quickly went under.
Recently, Bigelow and "Roughhouse" Ralph Mosca won the ACW tag titles.
In his best years, according to him and his agent, Frank Goodman, Bam Bam was making anywhere from $750,000 to $1.2-million. He lost everything in his divorce: cars, trucks, motorcycles, his house. He was reportedly living on Social Security disability at the time of his death and had lived on and off with his brother, Todd.
Bam Bam's finishing move in the WWF was a slingshot splash from the ring apron and later a diving headbutt from the top rope. He also perfected a piledriver he called "Greetings from Asbury Park."
But as to what finally finished off Bigelow, we may never know.
Matt Mackinder used to write the names of all the deceased wrestlers on a portion of the ceiling of his bedroom. Now grown-up, moved out and married with a family, Matt has passed that chore down to his mother. Still, he sends his condolences to the Bigelow family. Email Matt at email@example.com.