From the top Rope, It’s SUPERFLY!!
From the days of the WWF and other territories with promotions such as the NWA, AWA, and ECW, announcers have made that statement with such euphoria, as Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka staked his claim in professional wrestling by climbing to the top rope of the wrestling ring and splashing down upon his opponent that lay listlessly awaiting the Fijian superstar’s signature move.
There have been claws, backbreakers, leg locks, and clutches, but no other move in the wrestling arena has spawned a progression in the sport or caused such pandemonium as the “Superfly Splash.”
In the early days of Jimmy Snuka’s career, wrestling didn’t see many moves that required the strength of a gymnast or the execution of strong acrobatic skills. Jimmy Snuka’s wrestling style combined these techniques along with raw strength and agility.
His physique was of Herculean stature in a time when many wrestlers were not the “bodybuilder” type. Wearing a headband made of shells, animal printed or floral designed trunks, and usually barefoot, his look and attire was purely Polynesian.
Strength, stamina, skill, and his exotic look made Jimmy Snuka a true wrestling legend.
Hawaii was the ground in which Jimmy first stepped into the squared circle as Jimmy Kealoha. Afterwards, the move to the mainland saw Jimmy wrestle for Don Owen’s NWA Pacific Northwest territory where he held the belt as Heavyweight Champion six times. The first title win came when Jimmy Snuka pinned Bull Ramos on November 16, 1973. Jimmy also stood atop the territory as the Tag Team Champion six times with Dutch Savage. During his time here, he feuded with legendary wrestler and former WWWF Champion Buddy Rogers and future governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura.
In 1977, Jimmy toppled Texas by winning, once again, both Heavyweight and Tag Team titles.
The move to Jim Crockett Jr’s Charlotte, North Carolina based Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling proved to be fertile ground for the newly turned heel to climb through the ranks and became a multi-belted champion. Teaming with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, the duo defeated Baron von Raschke and Greg Valentine to become the tag team title holders. Less than one year later, on September 1, 1979, Jimmy defeated Ricky Steamboat to hold the United States title.
Further south in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Terry Gordy and Jimmy became the NWA National Tag Team Champions by defeating Ted DiBiase and Steve O.
Every now and again, Jimmy Snuka made an appearance in the WWWF, the Northeast wrestling promotion that was owned by the father of the current WWE President, Vincent K. McMahon.
Barry Hart faced defeat as Jimmy Snuka debuted in the newly renamed, WWF, at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 1982. Just one month later, Snuka faced off against the current WWF champion Bob Backlund and won by disqualification because Backlund refused to release a chokehold. Now the battle lines were drawn for a fierce war that would eventually leave a bewildered Bob Backlund champion by the slimmest of margins.
Immediately after the Disqualification match, Jimmy progressed up the ranks by squaring off against yet, another champion, Pedro Morales. The tough Latino hailed from Puerto Rico and was touted as the fan favorite Inter-Continental Champion. Jimmy raised his hand in victory but with no belt in tow since Morales was disqualified.
Back to Backlund. The month of June saw two battles between them. Backlund was counted out and lost but no title changed hands after the first bout. Twenty-three days later, on June 28th, 1982, the match, voted by Pro Wrestling Illustrated as the match of the year, tore the roof off of Madison Square Garden.
The cage was set around the ring and both wrestlers were locked in until someone could reach the door and escape the victor. Backlund had his back to the mat. Rather than exit victorious, the signature “Superfly Splash” had to be seen by this packed house. Way above the top rope, Jimmy climbed to the top of the cage. Standing tall with his arms raised high, Snuka was ready to take flight. Camera flashes fired repeatedly, fans screamed. Nothing like this had ever been seen in professional wrestling. Snuka leapt from the steel ledge and plummeted towards a motionless Backlund. Just prior to the point of impact, the defending champion careened from Snuka’s path and the hero from Fiji narrowly escaped life altering injuries. The babyface from Minnesota was still champion.
There were two more battles in which Backlund won and remained the champ. Both athletes congratulated one another at the conclusion for such a fantastic display of wrestling prowess.
All awhile, Lou Albano was managing Jimmy. However, on one fateful interview segment of Buddy Rogers’ Corner, this changed and the heel was no longer. The fans took Jimmy’s plight. Rogers informed Superfly that Albano, in true Captain Lou fashion, was up to no good and underhandedly stealing from him.
Albano was now no longer in the employ of Jimmy, which set off a series of contests between the trio. During the winter of ’82, former manager and wrestler sparred. Matches took just minutes to complete as Captain Lou was no match for Snuka.
The beginning of the new year, Snuka was pitted against former champion Superstar Billy Graham. Snuka was victorious. He then teamed up with Andre the Giant to encounter members of his “extended family”, a menacing team of Pacific Islanders managed by Capt. Lou, The Wild Samoans. Afa and Sika lost. What made the match so memorable was when Superfly leaped from the shoulders of The Giant.
There would be a few more times when Snuka and Andre would partner over the next two years. A few three-man tag teams were scheduled which included additional members Tony Garea and Tito Santana. The third Samoan, Samu, was among the list of casualties along with the likes of Big John Studd, Adrian Adonis, and Dick Murdock. The battles involving The Giant that would lead to greater things happen in 1984.
The battles with the Samoans would continue with partners such as Chief Jay Strongbow. Since Captain Lou was the most notorious heel manager, he too found himself in the ring again with Jimmy. This time, Buddy Rogers came along to administer the beating. The Golden Boy Arnold Skaaland did substitute once for Buddy Rogers, which led to the Captain’s team victory.
Once again, the Inter-Continental Belt was within reach for Jimmy. However, it’s keeper, The Magnificent Muraco, was a worthy defender of the title. The entire year, the man from Fiji battled the man from Hawaii. Be it one on one or with partners, the contests were always a display of wrestling’s finest.
The first go around, Jimmy won, but it was by disqualification. In a cage, Muraco proved victorious and kept his title. Title or not, after the match, Snuka decided that the Magnificent one needed to get what he deserved. High atop the cage, once again, reminiscent of the Backlund battle, Snuka descended, amid the deafening volume of the crowd, the wallop of the impact of his intended target was heard. Muraco suffered the pangs from Superfly’s signature maneuver. A few strap matches between Muraco and Snuka followed. The battle ended but something greater loomed in the distance.
Snuka involved himself with several tag team partners. The matches that followed involved a particular opponent that would see he and Snuka embroiled in a bitter dispute that would swell into one of wrestling’s most riveting and appalling confrontations involving a diatribe filled with acts of bigotry.
Wrestling fans, from Scotland, Mr. Roddy Piper.
The Scottish Rowdy Roddy Piper donned a red kilt with a red T-shirt with his name printed on its back as he hosted his show, Piper’s Pit, from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He treated his guest with rancor and ranted a blaze of insults such as “You want a banana?” Snuka sat politely in his crown of shells and blue printed island wear. A brown bag had been revealed of its contents: a pineapple, bananas, and coconuts. Verbal assaults rained down upon Superfly as Piper attacked his heritage. Throwing bananas and dropping coconuts to the table, the very last words out of Piper’s mouth were, “Am I making fun of you?” As Jimmy looked down, Piper bashed a coconut across the left side of Snuka’s face with such force that it split open. Jimmy flew backwards into the makeshift set and fell to the floor. Roddy smeared a banana on Jimmy’s face and continued to beat the fallen with his belt. With a slow paced crawl, Snuka continued to be bereted with racial slurs and lashes from the belt.
Piper spat, blew his nostrils, and headed for safety behind a steel door as the fallen Fijian superstar stood up. Snuka yelled out and ran for the door that quickly closed, with Piper securely out of grasp. Snuka had to be contained by several wrestlers. The battle was on!
The summer of ’84 began with a series of heated contests that would continue well in to the next year. In the first two ring encounters, Jimmy won. The latter match was a Fijian strap match. Both men were connected to a strap that was wrapped around the wrist of each wrestler. As Jesse Ventura called it, “Snuka with the definite advantage here, he knows the style of match.” The Piper wrestling skills can be described as nothing more than sneak attacks and sucker punches. With the strap match rules as no disqualifications, Piper resorted to a series of eye gouges to break from possible pins. Jimmy choked and whipped Piper with the strap, and every time Piper tried to flee, the Superfly just dragged him back. After flying from the top rope, the pin on Piper followed. After the three count, Roddy hit Jimmy from behind with a patented sucker punch and attempted to hang Snuka as he dangled from the ring with the strap around his neck.
The next match would end with Jimmy being counted out as he suffered serious neck and head trauma. Months later, the battle would resume when Jimmy hooked up with The Tonga Kid to battle Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton. This match ended with no winner so the battle would carry on. The next go around, Jimmy teamed with Tony Atlas and both teams were disqualified. Then the Junkyard Dog and Jimmy teamed up to fall to Orton and Piper. However, Jimmy made an archrival out of Bob Orton. Both men would collide one month later with Jimmy taking the match.
Back to one on one action, Piper and Snuka fought in a Lumberjack Match with Jimmy being counted out. The final bout would see the Scotsman and Fijian headliners end in a double disqualification.
Now the world was ready for the very first Wrestlmania. The champion, Hulk Hogan, would partner with Mr. T as Jimmy Snuka was the guest cornerman for the pair. On the opposite corner, Paul Orndorf stood as the two eyed one another.
“The South Pacific Connection” was formed as Jimmy teamed up with Ricky Steamboat. The two displayed scientific wrestling skills along with a mix of aerial moves and what minimal use of martial arts that was allowed in the ring. They tackled the communist and Middle East menace of Nikoali Volkoff and The Iron Sheik under the management of “Classy” Freddy Blassie. They went on to be victorious in a tag team Battle Royal. And two ugly heads reared onto the card once again: Bob Orton and Roddy Piper. The South Pacific Connection gladly rumbled with them and won by disqualification.
Hulk Hogan, the current champion, joined forces with Snuka to take on Orton and Piper. The top names in the business drove the packed arena wild. All four duked it out and in the end, Snuka and Hogan proved to be the stronger of the two teams.
Don Muraco came back to rekindle old animosities with Snuka. Add his other nemesis, Bob Orton, and this was a fueled by hatred. The following months main event was billed as Orton and Muraco vs. Snuka and Hogan. And again in the end, Snuka and Hogan held their arms up high.
During a brief stint in Verne Gagne’s AWA, Superfly found himself against opponents such as Col. De Beers and Brian Knobbs. After an overdue and well-deserved period of rest and relaxation, Jimmy left the ring for his home in Hawaii where his family awaited him.
April 2, 1989. The place: Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In front of 19,000 fans, it was a magnificent event in which Shawn Michaels made his debut, and those on the card, Rick Rude, Andre the Giant, and Big John Studd have since passed away.
The Superfly returned to the WWF at Wrestlemania V. In the center of the ring, Jimmy, clad in his twist on the traditional Polynesian outfit and a lavalva, knelt to one knee, raised his arms and gave the universal symbol of love, showing respect and love for all of his fans.
One month later, the man from Fiji took on The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. At SummerSlam, Ted DiBiase won by count out. Two years later, the heat between both men continued to burn. Without Virgil, DiBiase was accompanied by Sensational Sherri.
At this time, Saturday Night Main Event was airing on NBC and Jimmy was featured. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine was defeated on one broadcast but it was Randy “The Macho Man” Savage that pinned Snuka.
Snuka would be embroiled in a bitter battle with The Honky Tonk Man after being attacked with his six string on “The Brother Love Show” that summer. Before tackling the country crooner, Jimmy faced off against the Intercontinental Champion Rick Rude and won by disqualification. The two would collide at Wrestlemania VI in which Rude raised his hand in victory.
In September, Honky Tonk collided with his manager Jimmy Hart affording Honky Tonk the loss. After numerous bouts, the Steel Cage was finally in place for the December showdown in which Jimmy was victorious. To ring in the decade of the 90’s Jimmy and Ron Garvin took on The Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine at Madison Square Garden as no winners were declared due to a time limit.
At the Royal Rumble in January of 1990, 1991, and 1992, Jimmy contended. He squared off against Hulk Hogan, Road Warrior Hawk, and The Undertaker, respectively.
In the early 90’s, Snuka fought the future stars of the WWE. Notably, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker.
With various partners and tours of Japan and Europe, Jimmy left the WWF and found himself in the ECW. On April 26, 1992, Jimmy Snuka became the very first ECW Heavyweight Champion; losing it the very next day. He regained it shortly afterwards. Then Don Muraco reared his face once again and successfully battled for the belt.
At this point, Jimmy semi-retired from the sport and made appearances on the Indy circuit as well as WCW.
On November 16, 1996, Don Muraco inducted Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka into the WWE Hall of Fame.
As a proud man of Polynesian heritage, Jimmy Snuka shares in the belief, as do his fellow Polynesians, that they are all related and all brothers. This holds true as Polynesian wrestlers have always supported one another and so many have impacted the sport. Many have referred to one another as a blood relation. True or not, there is a strong kinship. Jimmy is the uncle to The Rock. Indeed, there are true blood relatives in the sport. The Wild Samoans have children in the WWE. Jimmy Snuka is the father of James Snuka, who is known as Deuce. Jimmy spent a year in Hawaii training his son for the ring. Jimmy watched on television as his son won the WWE Tag Team Championship in Milan Italy.
Bio written by: Franco Frassetti
Top of Page