The territory days of professional wrestling hold many a story of world champions who faded into obscurity. Many become bitter that their time in the spotlight couldn’t last longer. But there are others who see the end of the road and decide not to turn back but to pave the way ahead. Dominic DeNucci is one such hero. Deciding to step back from the spotlight in 1980, DeNucci decided his legacy would not be one of his groundbreaking title reigns but of fostering the next generation of talent. Here we will look at the career of the master of the airplane spin, Dominic DeNucci.
Domenico Nucciarone was born in Frosolone, a small town in Southern Italy famous for producing knives and scissors. DeNucci took up Greco-Roman wrestling in his youth. When he was 19, he decided he would leave Italy for somewhere across the Atlantic. His choices were America, Argentina, and Canada. While DeNucci really wanted to live in America, he had a relative, his great uncle, in Canada. DeNucci didn’t take to the squared circle until the late 50s; while living in Montreal, he started going to a gym frequented by local amateur and professional wrestlers. He made fast friends with the wrestlers, including Maurice Vachon and Yvon Robert, the latter of whom convinced DeNucci to become a wrestler.
A Career Begins
In 1958, he debuted under a mask in Montreal as The Masked Marvel. However, that changed when he met the original Dino Bravo, and the two teamed as The Bravo Brothers. This gimmick was the golden ticket, sending the duo across Canada, from legion halls in The Maritimes to Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. “We hit it off pretty well,” Bravo would say of his partner in a late interview. “They booked us mainly where the Italian ethnics were. We used to bring them in.”
However, as the 1960s wore on, DeNucci realized he could make more money as a singles star. To that end, he began working for Roy Shire in the San Francisco territory. He viewed his time in San Francisco as among the highlights of his career. “I think the best thing for me was when I was in San Francisco,” DeNucci said. “That was the first one when I beat Ray Stevens for the championship, United States champion. That, to me at that time, was very exciting because I was still young.” DeNucci also spoke highly of Roy Shire, saying he was “The best promoter that I ever worked for. Roy was tough to do business with, but he was straight, and he was paying good. He was paying the preliminary guys at the Cow Palace $500.”
Domenic DeNucci – Rise To Stardom
Later in the 60s, he would head to Australia, working in Jim Barnett’s World Championship Wrestling. DeNucci quickly became one of the top names in the short-lived Australian WCW, capturing the IWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team Championships 3 times each. Australian Wrestling Historian Ed Lock would go on to say of DeNucci, “[He was] One of the best and most popular grapplers ever to campaign in Australia.” In a letter to St. Louis promoter Sam Muchnik, Barnett’s co-promoter Jonny Doyle said, “DeNucci is real good. He topped everything we had, and you may remember he drew a number of gates around $40,000.00 for Shire. Just let him talk a little Italian on the TV, and those [Italians] come running.”
When he returned to America in 1967, Dominic DeNucci debuted in New York with the then World Wide Wrestling Federation. In those times, he wrestled with such talents as “Baron” Mikel Scicluna, “The Flying Frenchman” Edouard Carpentier, and Toru Tanaka. He then took a brief detour back to Australia in 1968. While back in Australia’s WCW, he teamed with Spiros Arion and Mario Milano to take on Killer Kowalski, Skull Murphy, and The Assassins. After doing more big business in Australia, he returned to North America in 1969, whereupon he would work in just about every Northeastern promotion around.
Sensing his popularity waning in the Northeast, DeNucci then moved to the Midwest, working for the National Wrestling Federation. With the NWF, DeNucci faced up-and-comers like Ernie Ladd and Abdullah The Butcher. However, as he continued working the midwest, he came into contact with Rikidozan. The innovator of Puroresu was planning a tournament of champions for his Japan Wrestling Federation. Rikidozan planned the series as a kind of World Cup of Wrestling and invited DeNucci and Bruno Sammartino to represent Italy. While the duo didn’t come out on top, their final match in the series saw them face off against the two biggest names in Puroresu at the time: Antonio Inoki & Giant Baba.
Returning to America, DeNucci continued working with the NWF, teaming with Tony Parisi to feud with The Fabulous Kangaroos and The Fargo Brothers for the tag team titles. He would also have several bouts with Abdullah The Butcher over the NWF World Heavyweight Championship, with each title match ending in DQ. In 1972, DeNucci returned to Japan for the inaugural All Japan Pro Wrestling Giant Series. During this time, DeNucci faced such forces as Akio Sato and Thunder Sugiyama. He also teamed with Bruno Sammartino to face Sugiyama and the legendary Giant Baba.
Domenic DeNucci – Retirement Approaches
Dominic DeNucci captured his final WWF gold on March 14th, 1978, when he and Adolfo Bresciano (as the second Dino Bravo) defeated Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji for the WWWF World Tag Team Championship. 10 days earlier, he had teamed with Wilbur Snyder to capture the World Wrestling Association World Tag Team Championship in Indianapolis. This meant DeNucci, then 46 years old, was traveling between two major promotions to defend world titles. 20 years of wrestling nearly non-stop were taking their toll on his body. After feuding with Pat Patterson over the Intercontinental Championship in 1979, DeNucci decided to step back and use his remaining time in the WWF, putting over younger talent. In the early 80s, WWF fans saw DeNucci do the honors for future 80s icons like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Adrian Adonis.
Also, around this time, DeNucci opened a wrestling school in a barn on his property in Freedom, Pennsylvania. The legends to come through DeNucci’s doors include Brian Hildebrand, Moondog Spot, Shane Douglas, and Mick Foley. Douglas and Foley, in particular, speak very highly of DeNucci, who practiced a very gentle approach to training. Both struggle to remember an instance of DeNucci ever raising his voice at a student. They also mention the things he would do to encourage them to keep going. Whether that be charging Foley 1/4 the regular fee per lesson or coming out to see Douglas and his friends put on shows behind a bar.
Dominic DeNucci made his final contracted WWF appearance on March 13th, 1982, at a house show in the Baltimore Civic Center. DeNucci took part in an 18-man battle royal, won by Jesse Ventura. He then took a short break, returning to the ring for the International Wrestling Federation from May-November of 1982. In 1983, he worked incredibly sparingly before returning to Montreal to work for International Wrestling in 1984-85. He returned to working sparingly for 1986 before his first retirement in 1987. On November 16th, 1987, DeNucci took part in a legends battle royal, where he faced the likes of Nick Bockwinkel, Bobo Brazil, and Killer Kowalski one last time. Following the East Rutherford, New Jersey house show, Dominic DeNucci hung up his boots.
However, throughout the 90s, DeNucci would make sporadic appearances, facing old rivals like Johnny Valiant and Lord Zoltan and teaming with old friend Tony Parisi. In 2005, he officially came out of retirement to participate in WrestleReunion 2 in Philadelphia. That night, Ivan Koloff defeated him in a Russian Chain match. Following that match, he would wrestle occasional matches on the Pennsylvania indie circuit. In 2007, DeNucci wrestled Larry Zbysko at International Wrestling Cartel’s Night of Legends 3.
With Bruno Sammartino in his corner, DeNucci defeated their old rival Zbysko. In 2009, DeNucci wrestled defeated Samuel Elias by count-out for Far North Wrestling in his final singles outing. DeNucci’s final match took place in Toronto, where he teamed with protégé Shane Douglas to defeat Lord Zoltan and Shawn Blanchard. On April 14th, 2012, after 53 years in the ring, Dominic DeNucci finally called it quits. One month later, Bruno Sammartino inducted DeNucci into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Domenic DeNucci – In Memory
Domenico Nucciarone passed away on August 12, 2021, at the age of 89, after struggling with heart issues. He is survived by his daughter, Danielle. News of his passing spread quickly, and many of his colleagues and trainees offered their memories of the man. DeNucci was also very popular among writers, who near-universally regard him as a warm, kind, funny guy.
However, amongst all the memories of the man, the thing that struck this writer the most was his humor. For example, in the lead-up to a cage match in Chicago, promoters told DeNucci not to make note of the sorry state of the cage. In the ensuing interview, DeNucci said, in his Italian accent, “This may look like chicken wire, but it’s no chicken wire.” Another story has a fan ask DeNucci if any of the Italian wrestlers in the WWWF were connected with the Mafia. Dominic laughed, saying, “Some mob! … you put all four together; they couldn’t kill a bird.”