July 14, 2011
SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Gino Brito
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
REAL NAME: Louis Gino Acocella
"I was around wrestlers all my life," explained Brito, who wrestled as an amateur before starting training to be a pro at 17 and a half years of age with George McArthur (George Cannon). A year and a half later, he broke in with the Detroit promotion run by Bert Ruby and Harry Light, who had business dealings with his father.
For his first few matches, Brito remembered hitting small towns like Chatham, Ontario, "where you made 12 bucks for a match."
"It was the first or second match, but I was picking up a payoff," Brito said. "I was working, picking up experience, plus getting known. The promoters, they liked what they saw."
Over the years, Brito used many different names, some only for a show or two. But Montreal's Louis Gino Acocella was best known as Louis Cerdan and later as Gino Brito. He recalled how he got the name Brito. "For me, it was simple. I took the name Britton, which was my father's, and I took off the end. People around here (Montreal) knew I was from Italian descent and all that. I made it into Gino Brito."
That Italian descent was both good and bad during his career. During his first time through New York, he was the French-Canadian Louis Cerdan (his first name, and Cerdan was an old-time boxer) "to stand out a bit" from all the Italians in the WWWF at the time -- Ilio DiPaolo, Dominic Denucci, Tony Parisi, Bruno Sammartino, Lou Albano, Tony Altamore. "It looked like Little Italy there," Brito remembered.
The days in the WWWF included a run as tag team champions with his best friend Tony Parisi. Cerdan and Parisi beat the imposing duo of Blackjack Lanza & Blackjack Mulligan for the tag titles in 1975, and lost to the Executioners in 1976.
"We had a good run there in New York," he said. "It was the best money that I ever made in wrestling."
His Italian friends had a lot to do with the fun he had there. "We had a little clique between Sammartino, Denucci, myself and Parisi. Once in a while, Tony Marino, another Italian, would come down. ... I enjoyed being around there. Plus, it was close to home. I would come home every weekend and the money was good. Let's face it. The population there is so dense. You'd sell out New York's Madison Square Gardens, Philadelphia at the Spectrum or the old Market Arena, the Boston Garden. It was a helluva good run there."
When he wrestled as Gino Brito, he could let his Italian fire out. It made an impression.
"What I admired about [Brito] was his fire. The fire in his style, very aggressive, very explosive wrestler," explained former AWA World champion Rick Martel. "I remember when I was a kid, I was 10 years old, I'd go to wrestling and he was one of my favourites. I remember when he would explode, he would just go crazy. I admired to explosive style he had. So when I got to be around him, I liked that."
According to Brito, it was Abdullah the Butcher that brought out the fire best in him. "Somehow that match clicked, because we went all over. We drew some good crowds all over. I think I got the best out of Abdullah The Butcher and he got the best out of me."
The move into promoting in 1980 was a natural one, even if it was sped along by the death of his father that year. Wrestling in Montreal was pretty stagnant in the late 1970s, following the boom of the Vachon-run Grand Prix Wrestling and the Rougeau-run International Wrestling in the early '70s. Jack Britton started running again in 1977 without TV. Three years later, his son finally secured a TV deal in Sherbrooke, which led to a renaissance in pro wrestling in Montreal.
"All of a sudden, the territory popped," Brito said. "We got channel 12 in Montreal, and we had TV covering all of northern Ontario. We went as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario to the Maritimes."
At various times, Andre the Giant, Dino Bravo and Tony Muley were partners in the International Wrestling promotion.
"The first big sellout I had at the Paul Sauve Arena, where the firemen came in and closed it down because we had too many people in the building, was when I had Hulk Hogan against Jean Ferre (Andre The Giant) at the Paul Sauve Arena," Brito recalled of a big year in 1983, that also saw Bravo battle the Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) across the circuit.
When Vince McMahon Jr.'s World Wrestling Federation was starting to ramp up in the mid-'80s, Brito lost the Rougeaus and Bravo to the competition, and Rick Martel had gone to the AWA. He made the mistake that all of the other regional promoters did -- he tried to fight the WWF. "We ended up losing because we didn't have the machine behind us and the money."
After Bravo and Rougeaus left, Brito ran for about another nine months. "That was a big, big mistake. That's where I lost a lot, well, everything that I had made so far. I dropped everything in that promotion. It didn't take long when you've got TV and it's costing you, even in those days, $8,000 a week to keep things going. And you're already losing money, plus on top of that $8,000 a week. You can imagine, I did that for seven and a half months before everything went bankrupt," Brito explained about closing down in 1987.
"I took the fall there and lost close to half a million bucks in the promotion."
Raymond Rougeau remembered how tough the decision was to leave Brito and International Wrestling. "I liked Gino. Gino was a good guy. I always got along good very well with him. But it was a career move. Anyone would have done the same. I left in a very civilized way. I didn't just say, 'Bye Gino, I'm gone! I've got a contract with the WWF.' I even told Vince, I said, 'Vince, I want to give them a good notice so they have time to get somebody else, to re-organize.' And Vince agreed 100 per cent. So when I came back, first thing I did when I landed in Montreal, I went to Gino's house and I explained it to him. 'Gino, you have to understand, this is a career move.' He said, 'No, on a selfish basis, I'd say no, I don't want you to go.' But he says, 'On an objective basis, you have no choice. That's the thing to do.' Gino and I always stayed on good terms with that. Dino Bravo took it a little harder. He didn't talk to us for a while."
After throwing in the towel, Brito was asked by long-time friend, and fellow Montrealer, Pat Patterson to be the promoter for the WWF in Montreal. He knew that he wasn't really needed, that the WWF hype and promotional machine was enough to draw good crowds in Montreal, but he stuck with it for four years because wrestling was the only business he had ever known.
"My life was wrestling. All my life. I wrestled 25 years as a pro, then I promoted another 10 years. It was hard getting out of it, but there was nothing there for me anymore," Brito said. "I tried a few local, little promotions after that. Every promotion I would drop two, three grand because you weren't drawing 300, 400 people."
Today, he works with his brother-in-law in the car business. Brito is more into buying and the auction end of the business than the sales side. "I find it a little slow. You're days without doing much. But it's a living and it's not a bad living. We're doing okay. We're the biggest Subaru franchise in all of Canada."
GINO BRITO STORIES