An interview with "Bruiser" Jeff Costa
MIKE RODGERS - Ring Around The Northwest
The old All-Star Wrestling promotion in Vancouver, B.C., may not have sent a ton of wrestlers to the WWF, but that is not to say it didn't have memorable characters. One of the key figures in the early 1980s in All-Star was "Bruiser" Jeff Costa. We're pleased to present a special question and answer session with Costa, courtesy the long-running Ring Around the Northwest newsletter.
RATNW: Were you a fan of wrestling growing up? If so who were some of your favorites?
Costa: Yeah I was a fan. I lived close to Boston so I went to the Garden a lot with my friends. My favorites were Pedro Morales, Bruno Sammartino -- it was quite a place to watch wrestling they had nets over the ring to stop bottles, etc. from hitting the wrestlers. It was a wild scene. The fans adored Bruno and Pedro. The Latinos were downright dangerous to the heels during Morales matches. Even as a kid I knew this building was a little different.
RATNW: How did you decide to actually get into wrestling?
Costa: I met Killer Kowalski at the Boston Garden and asked him if he'd train me. He said I was a little short but to meet me at his gym in Salem, Mass. I told him I was 17. He said, 'When you're 18 call me.' So the day I turned 18 I showed up at the gym and started training. One month later he said I was good enough for a match but remember we trained every day.
RATNW: Was the training more difficult than you expected?
Costa: Kowalski at the time was a taskmaster, we had to do things over and over and over. He was NEVER happy with anyone. It was always "THAT'S THE SH--S," then he'd get in the ring and demonstrate and, boy, you just hoped you were not the one he picked to demonstrate with. It was usually me because most of the time I was the "House Babyface" at the gym. The other guys were Kevin (Butcher) Hughes, Ron Shaw. Mike Shaw (Bastion Booger, Klondike Mike) a few other guys,
mostly heels. We learned a really stiff style of working much like Johnny Valentine, Lou Thesz, guys Walter liked to work with. He worked stiff with Bruno. With Walter it was a friendly shoot. I drew some heat later in my career for working
that way. To answer the question, many people couldn't last through the training it was rough, it was a boxing ring (no spring) hard as a rock but we didn't know any better.
RATNW: Where was your first match and who was it against? Any memories of that match?
Costa: My first match was with John Callahan and it was at Salisbury Beach, Mass. and I was so nervous that I don't even remember it much. John got DQ'd I got the Duke!! Walter said it was the sh--s. Ha! Ha! Figures!!!
RATNW: Did you wrestle anywhere before you came to Vancouver?
Costa: Yeah, I wrestled a lot of spot shows under a lot of different names for WWWF; they would call Kowalski and ask for a heel or a babyface for a night or two and I'd go. I worked a lot for Montreal when Andre owned a piece of the office up there. Frank Valois would call and Butcher Hughes and I were a tag team and we had Eddie Creatchman as our manager at one point. Kevin wrestled Carpentier at The Sauve Arena when Walter couldn't make it as his protege, Killer Kevin Karson, KKK. I worked the undercard as Tony DeCosta from Puerto Rico -- I guess I look Puerto Rican to a French Canadian crowd. I've even been Irish in WWWF Jeff McHale. Hey, whatever they want, you know!
RATNW: How did it come about that you came to Vancouver?
Costa: I was booked to go to Japan for IWE but Butcher Hughes got into some trouble over there and knocked the crap out of a couple of other wrestlers on the tour in an elevator so they called Kowalski and said, 'No Costa or any of those guys.' So I made a deal to go to Mexico City. I was to start in a month or so and Rick Martel gave me Al Tomko's number. I sent a photo to Tomko and he called me back right away and said, 'Can you get here Sunday? I have a spot for a
babyface.' I said, 'Yeah.' We talked about pay, etc., and me being so young I didn't have much to bargain with. Kowalski didn't want me to go because he had started his new TV, Bedlam From Boston, and I did a couple of tapes but I didn't see it going well for me as he was bringing in Bruno's kid as a big babyface. So I took off for Vancouver for what was supposed to be one month until another guy came in and I was going to Mexico. Well I never went to Mexico and I wasn't a babyface much in B.C.
Costa ties up Pierre Martel.
You came to Vancouver, Canada and debuted on February 22, 1982 and beat Eric Froelich
. Any memories of
this match or your impressions of the area as you came here.
Costa: Well I actually spent a week on the road wrestling Dean Ho before I got to the PNE to wrestle Eric. I really hadn't worked as a heel. So Dean helped a lot that week. I was actually Bulldog Tony Costa all that week until I got to the PNE. Then they changed it because Bob Brown was coming in. I never picked my name. It was just given to me. Some people asked through the years why I picked Bruiser. I never did, Al did. I never cared what they called me. I can
adapt to any gimmick pretty much. I pride myself as a decent performer/worker -- not a great one, but I can get by because I'm a bit of a character. Anyway, it's a funny story because George Steele is a friend of mine now. Dean asked me who I liked to watch as a heel. I said George. He said, 'Okay, take some of George's stuff and mix in your own.' They never saw George in B.C. so I used his hiding the object in my mouth, etc., and it worked great. George and I had a
great laugh last summer because he said I was like his son in the ring and he took all that from The Sheik when he broke in back in Detroit. Funny how we all pass down the wrestling traditions. I should have been losing to Eric not beating him in the PNE. He didn't give me much in that match because he didn't know me at all but we worked a lot later and
we became friendly because my wife or girlfriend at the time was German/Canadian like him so he would teach me a few German words to say to her. I regard him as one of the most underrated wrestler ever. A great gentleman.
RATNW: Tell as many stories as you can remember. I am going to mention the different people that you worked with.
Costa: I'd like to set the record straight on one thing. Vancouver was not a failing territory when Al Tomko took it over. It may not have been what it was in the past. But Al was not a bad guy either. I see sometimes on the internet where some guys that came after me talk about the payoffs, etc. I don't know what other guys made but I did okay there. I had offers to go to Dallas, Hawaii, Calgary, California for Leone and a few other places and none of them was offering me more than Al. I stayed working for Al for a year. Then came back a year later and stayed for five more. At the end it was rough and talent was thin but at the beginning things were HOT and we were the only game in town. Al Tomko gave me something that I will never forget that was OPPORTUNITY. He was actually a real character himself with his
ketchup and hot water soup with salt and pepper in it to save money. Yuch!!! I remember one time he had the midgets riding under the tarp on the ring truck cause he had nobody to give them a ride. Imagine if the cops pulled him over...
RATNW: Dean Ho.
Costa: You know you can learn all the moves and all the schtick and think you're a wrestler but that does not make you a worker. Killer Kowalski broke me in to wrestling but Dean Ho trained me. He made me a WORKER. We must have had 100 matches between single and tag matches twice a night on the road. I learned from him how to work and how to hold back that "KOWALSKI STIFFNESS" I was telling you about earlier. You know when I got married and my first daughter was born I didn't really have many friends but Dean was one of them and he and his wife sent a nice little dress for my first daughter and that meant a lot. I was never one to hang out a lot with anyone I pretty much kept to myself and still do, but Dean was a special guy. If he reads this, I wish him the best!!!
RATNW: Sonny Myers.
Costa: He was like a spider in the ring he was a small guy in good shape he'd be a champion today with the smaller guys cause he could do anything and he was tough. I liked wrestling him. He was very generous in the ring. great bump man.
RATNW: Moose Morowski
Jeff Costa in Vancouver.
Costa: He was the big daddy of the territory and he's come home from someplace every now and then and get somebody booked out of Vancouver. He was good for the business and very highly respected and very well liked. I sure liked him. I think I worked with him once or twice that's all. I think we tagged a bit. One guy who you didn't list that was really good was Bill Cody. I tagged with him a few times he was The Scorpion or something. My wife worked for his
sister in law. his name was Orst or something anyway they were related to Tolos anyway. Orst and I had a blast in some tags and he loved me; he was just visiting but he was great. I would have loved to seen him and Eric during their matches years prior.
RATNW: Verne Siebert.
Costa: Verne Siebert was my manager and my friend. I liked Verne he used to come over to my house and visit with
me and my wife Monica when I had a house in Richmond and we'd talk a little wrestling and I trained him a little at a gym. He did okay for himself and thank God he taped some of those matches or none of us would ever have seen them again -- although some are better in my mind.
RATNW: Terry Adonis.
Costa: Terry was a great worker he knew his sh--. he just liked to PARTY too much and it wore him down. A bit of an enigma. He would have been a star today!! Rich!! The kids today would react to Terry Adonis -- he had a realness.
RATNW: Moondog Moretti.
Costa: Moondog Moretti was a fun guy to work with. we worked a lot of matches together mostly tags. He had a
lot of fun with my interviews. For a big guy he took some great bumps. He was a very humble guy and still is. I think Ed is a big fan of wrestling's past and respects the business. Guys like him will always be good for the business.
RATNW: Tim Flowers.
Well, from what I remember about him was he was kind of outspoken and maybe thought he was better than he was. Maybe I'm not the right judge of that but I can remember sitting in the dressing room one time and him ranting in front of all the boys how he was the best worker and never considering who was in the room with him or what experience anyone else had. I've never been impressed with anyone that is that impressed with themselves. Maybe that's why Flowers is still there. Trying to finish unfinished business that he never could attain. That happens.
RATNW: Chris Colt.
Costa: Chris Colt -- wow!! He was a gem in the ring. I remember meeting him and he said to me, 'Hey, Bruiser, I
caught your gig on TV and I like it. We're working tonight.' That's all he said. We got a finish and that was it. We had a fun match. We worked about three days in a row and he went back to Portland. I think we worked a few times after that. Very smooth in the ring. Very soft-spoken, quiet professional. Nice man. Sorry to hear of his passing.
RATNW: Jerry Morrow.
Costa: Jerry Morrow, along with Rick Steamboat, Jerry Morrow was the best selling babyface I've ever seen. I used to have to ask Jerry if he was okay. He convinced me I was killing him. I really loved Jerry. He always had a smile and was glad to see me. I wasn't always on the road and he wasn't either so we'd catch up on different shows. Jerry wanted to bring me to Stampede with him as a heel tag team but the timing wasn't right for me and it didn't happen. A funny story one summer when business was slow I had a part-time security gig and Jerry needed some money before he was going to Japan. So he asked me if I could get him in on the security thing. So I did. He had this lousy job watching a sand pit in his car. They gave him a radio to a dispatcher and I was in an apartment building with another radio with
politicians. Anyway Jerry gets out of his car in the sand pit to take a piss. He leaves the car running. Some guy gets in his car and tries to steal it. Now we all hear Jerry in his French Martinique accent yelling, 'Somebody is stealing my car, I'm chasing him, he's stuck in the mud, I'm gonna kill the mothaf-----.' Now the police can hear this too. so they sent the RCMP out to Jerry and it was hilarious. So I see Jerry the next day and we laughed he say, 'F-----g Bruiser, you got me a sh---- job.' It was a blast. Jerry had triplets at the time. Three little girls. Money was tight. He always treated me great and liked me fine. Anyway he made it back to Japan but he never forgot that security job!
RATNW: You had a chance to wrestle here as a heel and a face. Which did you prefer?
Costa: I always preferred wrestling as a heel; it was more natural for me but I was not really a hated heel
I was more an entertaining heel. They liked to hate me. They liked to chant names at me that type of thing. I was a different kind of wrestler than most were used to at the time. I used a lot of comedy stuff that was later popular but I was using it before it was popular and got a little heat for it sometimes but never from the boys. Just occasionally promoters. Ironically a lot of it came from Kowalski. My family has a show business background. My paternal grandfather ran the Metropolitan Theatre in Boston. My maternal grandmother and grandfather were circus performers. My grandmother worked in the Magic Shows and my grandfather worked the circus in various capacities in everything from clowning to the boxing and wrestling shows. They were Immigrants from Lithuania. I learned as a boy some moves and showed them to Kowalski and he asked where I learned them and he said to never use them or guys will not work with you. So I never did. I wanted to use one as a finish but it could be turned into a painful move so easily that nobody would go for it.
RATNW: Describe your character of Bruiser Costa in Vancouver. Someone mentioned that you did a little comedy and were definitely entertaining.
Costa: Bruiser Costa was like the bad kid in class and kinda like Fred Flintstone -- loud and boasting of his prowess but never really getting the job done without getting help. but always boasting. Having a $3,000 shirt that was really worth $1 but boasting of its value. Having an invisible manager and having him interviewed and insisting he's 6'5." Just a cheater, not a full blown Abdullah the Butcher, but a cheater. Like your cousin who has to cheat at Monopoly and won't admit it when you catch him. Gets mad and has psychotic interviews with intelligent overtones that relate to pop culture things like the Brady Bunch and other things. Famous lines like: "It's not a foreign object -- I bought it at Kmart."
RATNW: When you left Vancouver did you go to other territories? If you can list the different places you
Costa: By the time I left Vancouver there was no place left to make a living. WWF had expanded so much that I went home and my wife and I started over in New Hampshire without wrestling. I was retired as far as I was concerned. It was fun. But it was for a living and I didn't want to be one of those guys that hung on and lost everything trying to hang on to something that wasn't going to happen. I wasn't going to go to the WWF. I wasn't big enough and in my mind not good enough although now many people tell me in hindsight that WWF would have loved me, but hindsight is 20/20.
Lobsterman channels Elvis.
You have to explain Lobsterman. I see the pictures on your website and it looks funny to where I would pay to see Lobsterman. How did Lobsterman come about, how did the idea evolve and how long have you been working as Lobsterman?
Costa: Lobsterman is Bruiser Costa Light! In 1992, I opened a small promotion running maybe 40 shows a year
and I need something for myself for an attraction. I had a gym and I was training guys. when you train people you at least owe it to them to put them to work. So I did. I created Lobsterman as a joke between me and Butcher Hughes. I told him I was going to be a 300-pound lobster and put it on a poster and people will come to the show to see that. Well it
worked!! Lobsterman was born! It really snowballed from there. I had the gym for a few years and a guy came in all hairy nasty looking guy. He says he wants to be a wrestler. I said, 'Okay, sounds good. You look like a Wolfman.' He says he doesn't have any money but he'd help put up the ring, load the truck, etc. So I said, 'Look, 'o money is okay. I can't afford to let a Wolfman walk out the door over a few dollars. We'll work something out later.' Anyway I trained this fellow and we became good friends along the way. Each year the promotion kept running shows and was more successful.
We never publicized outside our area in New Hampshire or videotaped the shows like other people because I considered
all that kinda for the fans. You know. Let them talk. We were making money doing good business. Then one day Wolfman has the impossible happen. HE WON THE POWERBALL LOTTERY!!!! So he asked if he could take over the promotion! I said, 'AHHHHHHHH, yeah.' I didn't sell it. He just took it over and put me on the payroll. A good payroll. The type that took care of me for a lot of hard work for a long time. I was the luckiest guy in the world that day. There was a lesson
to be learned though. I really have always tried to be the best man I could be to others in my dealings with them in wrestling and in life. Somehow maybe in a way that came back to help me that day when The Wolfman asked to take over my business. Well, the business is closed now in 2006. I'm still happily employed by The Wolfman as a consultant as he's writing a book. So in a way, like my friend George Steele said to me, I've had it better than the WWF. I've raised three girls, lived at home, had great friends and a great wrestling career, money in the bank. Who knows what's next for
Peace and Love to all,
July 7, 2005: Rodgers has Pacific Northwest covered
Mike Rodgers' Ring Around The Northwest newsletter has been running for more than 20 years, detailing all that goes on in the Pacific Northwest, and includes great interviews like the one with Bruiser Costa. To order an issue, send $1 for a sample issue to RATNW, 2470 SE Lewellyn, Troutdale, OR 97060.