Many people don’t realize that sometimes individuals enter into your life for a reason. WWE Hall of Famer Walter Killer Kowalski was a legendary wrestler, promoter, and trainer. He had the uncanny ability to motivate his students to excel far beyond their potential. As a result, became world renown for training some of the greatest pro wrestlers ever to step foot in the ring.
Killer Kowalski was the son of Polish immigrants and is a native of Windsor, Ontario. For a time, he was going to school for engineering until he caught the pro wrestling bug in 1947. He wrestled for NWA, AWA, and WWWF, now WWE. The tall, hulking man held many titles and was incredibly intimidating in the ring in his prime. In 1954 he went against Yukon Eric in the Montreal Forum and knee dropped him, severing a piece of his ear in the ring. This added to his legend and, as a result, was given the name “Killer.” At the time, he was viewed as the most hated man in the ring; however, the real man behind the gimmick was the complete opposite.
“The kindest killer I ever met was Kowalski,” said Pro Wrestling historian Tom Burke. John Cena Sr. added, “He was always willing to share and give advice to those who came to him. He was truly a great human being and gave freely, never asking anything in return.”
Years later, he would open a school, “Killer Kowalski’s Professional Wrestling School.” Many of his students went on to wrestle for ECW, TNA, WWE, WCW, NWA, and various other promotions throughout the world. Some of his most notable students are Big John Studd, Triple H, Chyna, Eddie Edwards, Kofi Kingston, Chris Nowinski, Matt Bloom, Damien Sandow, Fandango, April Hunter, John Kronus, Perry Saturn, and Tommaso Ciampa. He would continue to train until his untimely death on August 30, 2008.
Kowalski was a mentor to many individuals; however, New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Inductee Slyk Wagner Brown was one of Kowalski’s star protégé’s. Known as “The Underground King,” Slyck Wagner Brown wrestled for numerous companies; some notable to mention are ROH, NJPW, TNA, and WWE. Like his teacher, he opened his own school called Test of Strength Wrestling to pass down the knowledge that the legend bestowed on him. There they follow the mantra of “Learn, Relearn, Unlearn.” This signifies the value of training for rookies, current workers, and even tenured veterans.”
How did you find out about Killer Kowalski and his school?
SWB: “My friend Pro Wrestler Beau Douglas came across Kowalski’s school in a magazine, and when we went there, it was everything you would thought it would be. I was a 14-year-old kid, and he was a 6’7 giant, and it was intimidating but really cool at the same time.”
What was the training like?
SWB: “It was in tough, but I was in shape. I played high school football and wrestling prior, so I was conditioned. The way he approached wrestling was totally different. He approached wrestling from a reality standpoint. Everything was believable, and there was a reason why you went from A to B. He broke it down. Why would you do this? Why would you do that? Everything was why, why, why, and a lot of people would find it difficult. However, for me, I just took it in.”
What was the experience like at the School?
SWB: “I remember John Kronus (ECW/WWE), A-Train (WWE), Perry Saturn (WCW/WWE), and WWE Hall of Famer Pat Paterson would come by and see us train. I saw Chyna train when she first started. Joanie was incredibly nice, and you knew she was going to get a shot…it was only a matter of when. Wrestling back then was a big man’s game; if you had some muscle, you had a chance of making it.”
Do you feel Kowalski made you a better wrestler?
SWB: “I approach it the same way he did, and I approach it from a reality standpoint. Why would you do something? Does it make sense? Is it believable? I think believability is the most important thing. From the time the music hits, the audience sees you to when the bell rings; you have three chances to win that audience over. If you fail at that, you are cooked. Every audience is different, but there is always a consistency in that equation. You are responsible for the outcome; therefore, it’s your job to figure out what that audience is looking for.
I had gotten an offer to go to Japan. In Japan, you have to really be able to go in the ring. It’s a different approach and different culture; they are very respectful of it as a sport. Walter took me aside before I left and taught some shoot holds so I could take care of myself in the ring.”
How did you begin your teaching career?
SWB: “I did some teaching early in my career with Walter, I knew I had a passion for it, and I was able to communicate properly with people. I learned you need to adjust to the individuals, so there is no miscommunication. I was also taught how to adjust and interact with different people’s personalities. When I began teaching, Walter and I developed a different relationship. He showed me he had a certain amount of respect for me and my ability. I would always welcome the knowledge he shared.”
What was something that few people knew about him?
SWB: “I learned later on in life when he broke out this giant book of photos. He was a highly skilled photographer; his photos were so well done that I had expressed to him he should publish a coffee table book. When guys were partying, Walter would go and do photography in the various territories he was wrestling. A majority of his photos were of nature, and he shot mostly in black and white. When you are on the road, you don’t always have time to enjoy the places that you wrestle; however, I always make it a point to learn the history of the town I am in.”
What needs to happen to pro wrestling to make it better?
SWB: “More than ever, it needs to be believable; you need Pro Wrestlers who need to know how to wrestle because you are competing with sports like basketball, mixed martial arts….ect. From promos to gimmicks, many of the sports borrow from pro wrestling. However, wrestling is falling behind because most of it is not believable compared to when I first broke in the business. I am not against the athleticism; however, there is very little wrestling.”
How did it impact you when Walter Killer Kowalski passed away?
SWB: “It affected me greatly when he passed away. I was incredibly thankful for him for being in my life. When I joined his school, it changed everything. It kept me off the streets and out of trouble and helped develop me into the person I am today. I had the privilege to travel overseas and wrestle in other countries.”
If you are in the area, check out some of Slyck’s students in action at “Undeniable 2” Saturday, June 19, 2021, at Columbia Club 152 Litchfield St, Torrington, Connecticut, at 6 Pm. Slyck and Jay Freddie have a tag team called The Kowalski Guys, and they will be defending their Test of Strength Tag Titles.