Dean Malenko | Wrestling’s Unsung Thousand Hold Treasure

As the son of Boris Malenko, Dean Malenko immediately had wrestling in his blood. His career in the industry initially began as a referee in Tampa, Florida. When he transitioned to wrestling, he earned a name for himself in the Florida and Eastern United States area. Dean’s brother Joe was also an active wrestler. The Malenko brother’s teamed together at one point between the late 1980s and early 1990s. They worked together until Joe retired.

When Dean began to compete on his own he captured gold when he won the Suncoast Pro Wrestling Southern Title in Florida. A couple of months later he earned his next championship. After a decade competing in Florida, Malenko joined the Easter Championship Wrestling promotion in the early-to-mid 1990s. While there he earned the ‘the shooter’ moniker.

It was while upon joining the promotion that he was a heel. Despite competing in the tournament to crown a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion, he came up short in the semifinals to the eventual winner, Shane Douglas.

The Original Triple Threat

As 1994 became 1995, Malenko formed a faction that became synonymous with ECW. With Shane Douglas and Chris Benoit, the trio became the original incarnation of the Triple Threat. His success as part of this triad was as one half of the ECW Tag Team Champions. The group remained together upon their departures for either WCW or the WWF. During his tenure, Malenko held both the ECW Television and the ECW Tag Team Titles. After losing his television title, Malenko engaged in what was one of his storied rivalries initially beginning in Extreme Championship Wrestling. With then ECW TV Champion, Eddie Guerrero, both would battle back and forth ultimately leading to Malenko recapturing the title. However, Malenko’s title reign would only last a week. The two would battle each other until an opportunity with WCW came about.

Dean Malenko on funny story involving Eddie Guerrero from Time in ECW |
Photo / Wrestling Examiner

Fans will recall their last match against one another was a two out of three falls match on August 26th, 1995 that Eddie ultimately win. The reaction by both those in attendance and the locker room was met with cheers and the competitors being held upon the shoulders of the rest of the locker room. It was a moment neither would soon forget.

The Pursuit of Championships

By the Fall of 1995, Malenko arrived in WCW. While there he had earned nicknames like ‘The Iceman’ and ‘Man of a 1000 Holds’. It was likely tied to his menacing stare which would almost appear expressionless. Thus being cold as ice. He captured the WCW Cruiserweight title when he defeated Shinjiro Otani. Malenko was the first American to hold the title when he won it on an episode of WCW Saturday Night. Dean was a multi-time WCW Cruiserweight Champion. In fact, he is regarded as likely a key component in the division that wasn’t Rey Mysterio or Chris Jericho. With memorable matches against the likes of Mysterio, Brad Armstrong, Ultimo Dragon, and Eddie Guerrero, Malenko was in the ring with some of WCW’s premier talent.

For the better part of three years, Malenko was either contending or winning championships in the company. After losing the Cruiserweight title to longtime rival Guerrero, Malenko began to pursue the US Championship that was held by the late Latino star. However, the match result was affected by the interference of Syxx (Sean Waltman) during their Uncensored pay per view event. Malenko knocked out the unsuspecting Guerrero and in the process captured the United States Championship.

Dean Malenko & Chris Jericho | A Remarkable Rivalry

By the midway point of 1998, Malenko was embroiled in one of the hottest feuds he had ever been involved in. With Chris Jericho opposing him, the Ayatollah of Rock N Rolla would often refer to himself as the Man of 1004 holds and called the late Dean Malenko’s father Boris, ‘Bore-Us Malenko’. His loss to Jericho forced Malenko to go ‘home’. In doing so, Malenko wasn’t seen on-screen for a few months. Upon his return, Malenko was dressed as luchador Ciclope and was involved in a battle royal to determine the new top contender for the Cruiserweight Championship.

With Juventud Guerrera and ‘Ciclope’ being the final two competitors, Guerrera eliminated himself leaving Ciclope the winner. He then unmasked to reveal that it was Dean Malenko under the mask. The bitterness between Jericho and Malenko saw him fired, stripped of titles won, and had titles returned all in the name of the storyline. It made fans come to support Malenko more and more as a face in the process.

AEW officially adds Dean Malenko as a senior producer and coach - Cageside Seats
Photo / Cageside Seats

With his rivalry with Jericho behind him, Malenko was on to a new storyline and this saw him as part of the final incarnation of the Four Horsemen. By the Fall of 1998, Malenko engaged in matches against The West Texas Rednecks and eventually was one half of the WCW World Tag Team Champions. The Horsemen’s short return to force also provided things to come full circle for Malenko again. By the Summer of 1999, Malenko once again was working alongside former Triple Threat team member Shane Douglas as part of The Revolution. This was his final storyline and angle as part of World Championship Wrestling.

The Radicalz Are Born

On January 31st, 2000, Malenko along with Saturn, Benoit, and Guerrero had signed with the WWE and were sitting at ringside upon their arrival. The quartet was known as The Radicalz. During his time in the promotion, Dean Malenko was a key in helping to develop the Light Heavyweight (Cruiserweight division) in the company. He had feuds with Scotty 2 Hotty, Crash Holly & Essa Rios among them.

While with The Radicalz or vying for the affections of Lita as ‘Double Ho Seven’, Malenko was willing to try something new and different. It allowed him to spread his wings. He went beyond being something more than just a Shooter or Iceman. His in-ring time for the company came to an end before the Summer of 2001. Perhaps the most profound impact that Dean Malenko has had for wrestling has been outside the ring. For the close to twenty years since his in-ring retirement, Malenko has been a road agent. As an ear for those in the ring, Malenko was there to offer advice. He’s been there to help them to develop both as professionals and as performers. Despite being released as an agent in April 2019, Malenko’s value can not be understated.

A Professional Through & Through

He has seen fire and rain in the ring. Both tragedy and triumph as those closest to him have lost their lives but through it all, he remains constant. The loss of family and friends in the industry only further shows how strong and resilient he is. Malenko’s contributions were recognized as he was inducted into the 2300 Arena Hall of Fame. The same arena that housed Extreme Championship Wrestling so many years ago.

Dean Malenko signs with AEW as senior producer/coach
Photo / F4Wonline

Today, Dean Malenko is now with All Elite Wrestling as a Senior Producer. His value isn’t just seen by those in the WWE but around the world. He has trained talent both past and present and as a result, the response is evident. Executive Vice President shared the following about Malenko and his joining of AEW’s Production team:

“Dean Malenko has been a massive force behind some of today’s biggest wrestling stars. He’s never stopped being a major talent who was part of the ECW revolution as well as a fixture in the cruiserweight movement on Nitro. He has kept an open mind to our world from Lucha Libre to Japanese pro-wrestling. He’s the perfect fit for our sports-centric mentality, and his experience will be invaluable for our team. Welcome Coach!”

Dean Malenko and AEW

Malenko himself is appreciative of the opportunity now presented to him. He is proof that for all that you put out in the wrestling industry, they won’t forget. When the opportunity presents itself will come back in shades to say thank you.

It’s not often you get an opportunity late in your career to be a part of building something from the ground floor. The freedom to be able to contribute uninhibited will only lend itself to foster creativity and produce an outstanding product. I’m excited about what the future holds for AEW, and I can’t wait to be a part of the journey.”