July 15, 2010
It's been a 'long, hard ride' for Manny Fernandez
By MARSHALL WARD - SLAM! Wrestling
While goading Wahoo McDaniel to sign up for a Mexican death match during a 1988 edition of AWA Wrestling, Manny Fernandez issued the challenge: "You're goin' around talkin' that you're gonna put me away? Well daddy, they tried that in '72 in Saigon -- and 'The Bull' was still here. So come and get it, 'cause this bull is a long, hard ride."
More than two decades later, The Ragin' Bull is still here despite a multitude of health issues in recent years -- some the result of wrestling, others from his time fighting in Vietnam. But Manny Fernandez's interest these days is talking not so much about his health, but rather sharing wrestling road stories in a book he just finished and is pitching to various publishers.
"It's not about me, but rather the profession," Fernandez recently told SLAM! Wrestling from Union, South Carolina while on a tour of the independent wrestling circuit. "In the 30-some-odd years that I've been in this profession, my book is about the wonderful people I met -- some of them who are still alive, and some of them who are not.
"A lot of these idiots who write their books make it all about them. They don't understand that if it weren't for wrestling, they'd be flipping hamburgers somewhere. We don't make wrestling, wrestling makes us."
More specifically, West Texas State University made 'The Ragin' Bull,' said Fernandez, crediting "some of the people who were determined to make me a pro wrestler" after a three-year stint with the NFL came to an end.
Guys like Terry Funk, "who brought me up in the business," and was asked to write the foreword to Fernandez's book. "I read the whole thing, whatever he sent me," WWE Hall of Famer, Terry Funk recently told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Amarillo, Texas. "I thought it was a good book, and it was very honest. It was Manny's life, and I hope it does well.
"I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword," Funk added. "Wildest, craziest guy in the world, but a wonderful guy too. I had many memorable matches with Manny in Florida and he was an exceptional draw as well. He was also a genuine tough guy."
WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross concurred in a recent email interview with SLAM! Wrestling: "I would describe Manny as a legit tough guy, who was fearless and embraced the angst that he created with fans. Manny was an educated, athletic guy who seemed to live life on the edge," Ross wrote.
Fernandez laughed while recalling their Mexican Death Match at The Great American Bash: "It was supposed to be the main event, but Dusty (Rhodes) decides to put us on as a semi-main event -- Abby went crazy!" said Fernandez. "He went nuts, and decides he wanted me to suplex him and monkey flip him. I'd tell him, 'You're crazy! I ain't doin' that -- you're too big!' Oh God, me and Abby had some great matches and he wanted me to do some goofy things over the years."
Abdullah the Butcher remembers those matches well: "God, Manny was crazy," Abdullah recently told SLAM! Wrestling, just prior to leaving for a trip to Japan. "But he was always a professional. Manny was tough, he could dish it out and he could take it.
"I had a lot of good matches with Manny, he was a good wrestler, and I liked the way he performed. We spilled a lot of blood -- not just me, but him as well -- all over the ring, on the arena floors, and into the crowds. We wrestled in death matches, (loaded glove on a) pole matches, and God, they were crazy."
It's been said that Fernandez's most hardcore and "all too real" match took place in Puerto Rico, against Invader #3. The infamous incident, viewed thousands of times on YouTube, is now the stuff of both controversy and speculation, as Fernandez repeatedly delivered diving kneedrops onto the Invader's chest, in a graphic and bloody display of violence. In wrestling lore, it's been said to be "a receipt for Invader #3's tag team partner, Jose Gonzalez (Invader #1)" who was accused of fatally stabbing Bruiser Brody to death in a Puerto Rican dressing room altercation.
When asked about the incident, Fernandez spoke quietly, "What you see is real. It was payback for Bruiser Brody who was a great friend of mine. My book will tell you about that match, which is self-explanatory. Period."
"Without question, Manny Fernandez is the kind of guy who one would want to have one's back in a challenging situation," said Ross. "His in-ring persona was unpredictable, physical and calculating much like Manny appeared to be outside the ring. Manny played Manny in the ring, which is why he was so believable."
"Manny marched to the beat of his own drum, during an era in the business when you could be your own drummer. And Manny certainly was that. He listened to his own drums and that was the best time to be in the profession, when you could dance to your own tune. And Manny did that -- dance to his own tune."
Fernandez agreed, times have changed. "All the guys look the same today, or are the same kind of athletes," he said. "In the '80s, all the wrestlers were characters, and they were real characters like Terry Funk, Blackjack Mulligan, and Dick Murdoch. Whenever people ask me if I hope to be in the WWE Hall of Fame one day, I always say, 'What Hall of Fame?' A Hall of Fame without Dick Murdoch? What a joke. Does it matter to me that I'm not in their Hall of Fame? Shit no! It doesn't matter to me.
"We intimidated people, most of us guys from West Texas State," Fernandez added. "Guys like me and Brody and Hansen, the Funks -- all of us were that way and we wouldn't be pushed around and told what to do. Especially Brody, who wasn't gonna take shit from nobody. And I mean nobody.
"Bullshit" is what Fernandez said he sees when watching current TNA programming: "Oh my God, is that disgusting or what," grumbled Fernandez. "Hogan and Flair remind me of these two big rats trying to catch all the cheese. They won't even get out of the way for these young good talents. Rather than make their young talents the champs, they bring out these old fuckin' clowns who still think they can main event.
"It's crap! Ric Flair looks pathetic. Oh God, man, get out of the way for some of the young talented guys," added Fernandez, who has trained many young wrestlers over the years, including Homicide and R-Truth.
"But then again, there's always been guys like that who use all the young guys to get themselves over," Fernandez added. "Of course, Dusty Rhodes is a user. That's all he is. First it was me he used, then Magnum T.A., then when Magnum had the (automobile) accident, he brought in Nikita Koloff -- who absolutely sucked. Dusty was just a user and eventually every territory he dealt died and burned to the ground -- and that's the sad thing.
Funk concurred, "I was with Manny for a long time in Florida, and believe me, when Dusty went to Carolina, pretty much me and Manny had to carry the load for quite a while down there. And Manny did a great job of it too. He was a very talented, entertaining guy in the ring with all the fire in the world -- both in and out of the ring. I've got a great deal of respect for Manny, always have."
Abdullah's sentiments echoed Funk's, "He was as tough and as wild as any of them who came out of West Texas, and I respect him for that. But even more, I respect him because he was a good person."
"Abby wouldn't put up with Dusty's shit either," said Fernandez. "Abby was a great person, and if you ever get a chance to go down to his restaurant in Georgia, it's one of the best barbecues in the whole state," he enthused. "Like Abby, I knew so many great people over the years, all over the world.
When asked about Buzz Sawyer's reputation for being both dangerous to work with, and disliked in the locker room, Fernandez replied, "They didn't know him as a person. He started out at the same time as me in Florida, and I knew him as a person. I know he did some bad things, but he was an awesome wrestler, and he was a great person to me. We never had a conflict and we respected each other. What he did with other people -- that's not my business.
"That's what my book is about, not me, but the people and the profession. It's a story about a brotherhood, goin' down the road."
And like The Ragin' Bull himself, it was "a long, hard ride."
Marshall Ward is a visual artist, independent filmmaker, and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle. Email is welcome at email@example.com.