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COMMENT





Tony ‘Cannonball’ Parisi was the real deal
By STEVE LUDZIK - Niagara Falls Review


Tony Parisi shows off the Florida tag team title in January 1975. Courtesy Chris Swisher, www.csclassicwrphotos.com

NIAGARA FALLS - Antonio Pugliese, a.k.a. Tony Parisi, was a big man in life. He could out eat, out sing, out drink and out tussle mere mortals.

Tony Parisi was a pro wrestling legend and Niagara's favourite grappler. He was a 245-pound powder keg on a 5-foot-10 frame. His thick neck, barrel chest and billowing biceps gave you the impression he was carved from granite.

Parisi left carcasses in a heap as he trotted across the world with strongman Bruno Sammartino or Gino Britto, another pile-driving legend.

Big Anthony's coupe de gras was an aerial leap from the top rope, plunging like a cannonball descending on his opponent's chest. In the good-versus-evil scripts in the squared circle, Anthony was usually the hero. He would usually take 15 seconds to address his fans in his native Italian. A quick utterance whipped hundreds of thousands of Italian wrestling fans into a feverish froth.

I was a huge wrestling fan before steroids, body builders and trapeze artists dominated the scene.


I met this hulking grappling legend after my rookie season with the Niagara Falls Flyers. Puffing an eight-inch cigar with a cup filled with a high-octane brew, he winced as he sized me up. "You the same kid who scored all those goals this season?" he inquired while shaking his head as he examined my dehydrated and exhausted body from the season that had just ended.

The Flyers' trainer, the Mobes, persuaded the Cannonball to train me, and I enjoyed his complex workouts and stories from 28 years of ring warfare.

"Who's this Cannonball guy you're playing racquetball with all the time?" my new bride asked in 1984.

"That's Tony Parisi," I answered, shocked by her lack of pro wrestling knowledge.

Parisi was a unique man. The Cannonball was almost unbeatable on the racquetball court and better yet in handball.

He could consume vats of vino and then launch into a Pavarotti-like voice. For an encore, he would deliver head butts and sleeper holds to any who pooh-poohed his profession.

Once after a gruelling workout, the Mobes wanted first-hand proof of the sleeper hold's legitimacy. I offered my head for a test. With mighty arms, Parisi struck like greased lightning, and applied the sleeper hold like a boa constrictor. After 10 seconds, he released his grasp just before I went for a nap.

Tony was respected by fellow wrestlers. He was a shooter, which meant if the match got ugly, the Cannonball could put you down for real.

He ran the famous Drake Motel, later known as Big Anthony's, near Clifton Hill, where he was owner and bouncer. His word was law.

His bar was a must-see by wrestling fans who were welcomed gregariously and treated royally by the Cannonball.

Visiting wrestlers could routinely be seen at the Drake hoisting a few beers and swapping stories. Butchers, Mad dogs and Sheiks bellied up to the bar where they were just Larry, Maurice and Eddie, all trying to make a living.

In that wrestling era, any Englishman was a noble. Any German a card-carrying Nazi, and if you were Asian, you automatically became a back-stabbing black belt.

Native Americans wearing headdresses claiming to be chiefs from a Cherokee tribe were actually Italian-Americans from Brooklyn, N.Y.

What we loved about Parisi was he was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy. No flowing robes, ranting or raving on TV. Just an honest worker from Spezzano Piccolo Calabria, Italy. He was an idol to thousands of Italians who immigrated to Canada and the United States.

Tony Parisi passed away Aug. 19, 2000 from an apparent heart attack. He was just 58. He left behind a wife, one daughter and a sea of friends. His body of work inside the ropes and his charity work outside them was unmatched.

The Cannonball was indeed the real deal.

The Chicago Blackhawks were not amused about my proposed wrestling debut, but allowed me to referee. Parisi seeing a laughable moment picked me to referee the midget match that pitted Hillbilly Bob versus a chap who was bald as a billiard ball and sported a half-dozen scabs on the top of his shinny dome.

No one informed me of the outcome.

"Ludz just count 1, 2, 3 but be careful of the Hillbilly."

Tony warned me he likes to pull the refs pants down. I had words with the Hillbilly. I would not play along with the act.

The Hillbilly's response was quick and confident: "You'd better watch that I don't throw you over the top hockey guy."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column first appeared in the Niagara Falls Review on January 4, 2014.

RELATED LINKS

  • Tony "Cannonball" Parisi Photo Gallery
  • Tony "Cannonball" Parisi in the Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

    Steve Ludzik is a former National League Hockey player and coach, OHL player and coach, and a proud alumnus of the Niagara Falls Flyers. Since retiring from professional hockey, he has carved out a successful career as an author and a broadcaster.