The Top 10 Notes Of 2018--Numbers 10 through 7
December 23, 2018
By Trapper Tom, Editor, KSWA Digest
The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance's 18th season wrapped with a lot of history and importance. Here is a look at the Top 10 items of the year, starting with numbers 10-through 7.
10. 24 Events Filled The KSWA Calender
The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) reached a number of milestones in 2018, including a historic 24 live events in the calendar year. This number included the KSWA’s 250th event, which was held on September 29th at Spirit Hall in Lawrenceville. Both numbers indicate the KSWA is the most active and longest-running brand in Western Pennsylvania. Not only did the KSWA host events within the city of Pittsburgh, road trips took Pittsburgh professional organization to suburbs as well as a couple of stops in nearby Westmoreland County. The official number of KSWA shows doesn’t include a multi-brand event on August 5 that served as a fundraiser for longtime Megastar and KSWA Hall of Famer Lord Zoltan. The event was a huge success for Zoltan, aka, Ken Jugan, who continues to battle cancer for the second time.
9. Those We Lost In 2018
The Professional Wrestling community in Pittsburgh was hit particularly hard by the passing of legends, friends, and Hall of Famers. The first was Thomas Sullivan, known for decades as “Luscious” Johnny Valiant. An athlete who credited his start to a friendship with Bruno Sammartino, Sullivan began his career in the later years of Studio Wrestling and then moved on to a career away from the Steel City. After his in-ring career ended, “Luscious” Johnny was a well-respected manager in the WWE during the 1980’s. Later yet, Valiant became a stand-up comic and bit-part actor. He was welcomed back to the Steel City and KSWA FanFest in December, 2013. It was there he was officially inducted into the KSWA Hall of Fame. Sullivan kept a home in Pittsburgh’s North Hills and traveled often via bus to his permanent home in New York. On the morning on April 4 during a dark and dreary morning, he attempted to cross busy McKnight Road and was struck by a truck. Emergency crews arrived and worked hard to keep him alive; alas, he passed away in a local hospital. Thomas “Luscious Johnny Valiant” Sullivan was 71.
On the morning on April 18, news spread fast of “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino’s death. The Italian immigrant had been in-and-out of hospitals for months, but his passing shocked a city, as well as fans of professional wrestling everywhere. The story of Sammartino was well-told: he and his family hid in the mountains of Italy from Nazi soldiers during World War II. The family migrated to Pittsburgh and Sammartino responded to bullies by hitting the gymnasium and becoming one of the World’s Strongest Men, ever before he translated that passion to wrestling. In 1959 he began a career that would ultimately bring him to the top of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and a global sensation. During his career, Sammartino inspired untold numbers of wrestling fans. He was beloved in retirement and even inspired a Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) course about his life. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who attended a funeral home viewing, called Sammartino one of the best “ambassadors” Pittsburgh had ever produced. Sammartino was 82.
On May 8, Nick “Big Bully” Busick quietly passed away after a three-year battle with cancer. Busick, who lived in nearby Weirton, West Virginia, passed Pittsburgh his wrestling home. In the days surrounding his KSWA Hall of Fame induction in May, 2015, Busick discovered blood coming from his throat. It ultimately turned out to be esophageal cancer. Busick, who had already nearly died from a heart condition, had the operation to remove the cancer, and underwent chemo and radiation therapy. Flummoxing all medical professionals, Busick walked, talked and lifted weights when they thought he would be dead. Busick made a triumphant return to the professional wrestling ring, talked with fans and inducted “The Fighting Cop From Carnegie” into the KSWA Hall of Fame in 2017. The long-time weight lifter and wrestler went on an inspirational speaking tour and defied all prognosis. Unfortunately, the cancer returned. This time it was in his brain. Again, he underwent surgery and other therapy. He beat it temporarily. The aggressive cancer returned again and this time, Busick succumbed. Busick’s journey was chronicled by KDKA TV videographer L. David Colabine, who won Golden Quill Award as well as a regional Edward R. Murrow Excellence in Journalism Award for his work. Busick, who had become a mainstay at FanFest as well as the Joe Abby Memorial Tournament, had plans to attend this year’s May 5th event, but actually apologized for not visiting. Nick Busick was 63.
Frank Durso was a remarkable talent. Long after his career as a Studio Wrestling Manager ended, fans appreciated “Slip Mahoney.” Born Frank Scuillo in Bloomfield, the man who would become Frank Durso was a Marine and popular guy. He wrestled on WIIC-TV along with Sammartino, Joe Abby and countless other wrestlers. Dubbed “Slip Mahoney” by “Chilly” Bill Cardille during broadcasts—because of his perceived resemblance to the “Bowery Boys” character—Durso was underhanded and calculated. Many years after his “first” career, Durso became the only “Advisor” Shawn Blanchard and Lou Martin—KSWA’s VIP’s—ever needed. Together, the trio wreaked havoc all over Lawrenceville. Durso made a pin in the “Captain’s Series” tournament and at age 74 won the Golden Triangle Championship, albeit momentarily. Durso constantly left ringside, climbed into the ring and attacked VIP foes as the referee looked on. Then the youngest of fans screamed at the top of their collective lungs to deafening proportions when Durso choked the opponents of Blanchard, Martin, or even Shane Starr back when he was a VIP. After blind-siding an opponent in Bloomfield one day, Durso slipped from the ring steps and bashed his knee on the gymnasium hardwood. He retired all over again, this time never to return to the KSWA. Fans always asked about Frank. Over the past year, fortunes turned for the worse and after a long stint in a Pittsburgh hospital, Durso passed away at the age of 81.
8. Megastars On The Rise
“Big Country” Matt McGraw and Yinza, the Pittsburgh Luchadore are two of the KSWA Megastars who are on the rise. Rookies together in 2017, McGraw and Yinza found themselves in high-profile matches all year long, and with good cause. Both wrestlers had improved momentum in 2018. Both took on VIPs and were involved with matches that included Team 12 Gauge and others. Yinza ended the year in a still red-hot feud with “The Face of Pittsburgh” Lou Martin. McGraw has benefited by the tutelage of T-Rantula during the second-half of the year. Both Megastars are looking for a continued upswing in 2019.
Then there are others like Sly Scarpone who have been involved in some important matches as well. Scarpone has found himself targeting the KSWA 5-Star Championship which is currently held by Bubba the Bulldog. The Indian Lake, PA challenger has lamented the lack of significant opportunity and the KSWA Championship Committee seems intent on making Scarpone live up to his ambitions. That’s a good problem to have as the KSWA is more competitive than ever.
7. NWA Heavyweight Championship Returns To Pittsburgh
The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) made headlines throughout the professional wrestling world largely because of a match between Cody Rhodes and then-NWA Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis. At the wrestler-and-promotion financed “All In” extravaganza, Cody bested Aldis and became the NWA Heavyweight Champion. A while later, Aldis regained the vaunted “10 Pounds of Gold” and continued to defend the title against former television wrestlers, as well as those who want to be television wrestlers. Then came the December 1 invitation to defend the United States’ oldest professional wrestling trophy against one of independent wrestling’s most decorated Megastars, KSWA veteran Shawn Blanchard. The match between the 2-time NWA Champion and the former 6-time KSWA Heavyweight Champion was unlike just about any other match on Aldis’ calendar. Instead of the usual parade of “super” independent wrestlers looking to make a name for themselves, Aldis faced an opponent who was most like the former NWA Champion Aldis defeated for the title, Tim Storm.
Both Aldis and Blanchard were greatly influenced by former NWA Champion Harley Race. By his own claim, Aldis was trained by Race, while Blanchard heavily patterned his career in the veteran’s image. And to add gravitas and urgency to this challenge, Blanchard once again employed his favorite big-match handler in KSWA Hall of Famer James J. Dillon. When Aldis arrived after much KSWA promotion, he was welcomed by the Krazies with enthusiasm. When the match started, an eerie calm befell Spirit Hall. Long-time Krazies and FanFest newcomers alike began to believe that underdog Blanchard would upset the wrestling world and pin the National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Champion. Blanchard would later say that he was surprised to hear shouts of encouragement from the once-again sold out KSWA FanFest crowd.
In the end and after a hard-fought battle, Aldis forced Blanchard to submit in a cloverleaf maneuver. Blanchard, the battle-worn 20-year veteran who has earned the respect of untold legends, from Dominic DeNucci, George “The Animal” Steele, Bill Eadie and Dillon, came close to becoming the first Pittsburgh-based professional to win the belt in the city. And because of the promotion’s 70th anniversary-- and history of title defenses in the 1950’s and early 60’s—as well as its involvement in KSWA FanFest, the NWA received recognition from Allegheny County, as well as its own proclamation as “NWA Day in the City of Pittsburgh.” Nowhere else in professional wrestling but in Pittsburgh has any promotion, owner or promoter recognized his historic title in such a way.
Still to come…Numbers 6 through 1!