Jimmy Snuka Exclusive Interview: The Superfly Still Soars At 71

"Superfly" Jimmy Snuka could fly like no one else. His Superfly Splash from the top rope onto his opponents was a thing of brutal beauty and he delivered it to the likes of Ray €œThe Crippler€ Stevens, Paul Orndorff, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, and many more throughout the 1970s and €™80s. "Snuka's leap off the top of the cage was as groundbreaking as any single maneuver ever in our business," esteemed announcer Jim Ross said on the WWE produced DVD, The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the '80s. "It showed athletes that if you're talented enough and proficient in your skills, and you've got the guts, there's really no limits." Hailing from the Fiji Islands, Snuka was a standout in a long line of Samoan greats. Trained in Hawaii by "Cowboy" Franky Laine, Snuka debuted in 1971 in Portland, Oregon, battling everyone from "Playboy" Buddy Rose to Ron Bass to Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Taking the WWF by storm in 1982, Snuka was dubbed a phenom with his innovative arsenal of offensive aerial moves in classic feuds with "Magnificent" Muraco and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. In his entertaining and insightful book, co-written with Jon Chattman, he sheds light on everything from the famous €œPiper€™s Pit€ segment in which Roddy Piper smashed a coconut over Snuka€™s head, to his iconic leap from the top of a steel cage in Madison Square Garden. Snuka's rapport with the fans is legendary, making him one of the most adored and revered superstars of all time. In celebration of Jimmy Snuka's birthday today, WhatCulture caught up with the Superfly for an exclusive interview about his book, wrestling in Japan, and WrestleMania. WhatCulture: First off, WhatCulture wants to wish you a very happy birthday.Jimmy Snuka: Ah, thank you, brudda. I want all the fans to know I love them and I miss them, all around the world. WC: And congratulations on your autobiography, released this past year.JS: Thank you, it feels so good brudda, and the feedback has been wonderful. I wanted to be very truthful with the fans, so all the bad is in there with the good. And man, there were a lot of good times. WC: It's incredibly candid, as your book takes readers behind the scenes with tales of drugs, bar fights, arrests and your promiscuous life on the road.JS: Yes brudda, it was a free-for-all back in those days, and as I wrote in the book, I lost count of the number of women I slept with. Honestly, I don't know if it was 2,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 because I didn't keep track. There'd even be times where I had two or three women in one night, y'know. WC: You also shed light on the dissolution of your marriage, and the untimely death of your mistress, Nancy Argentino.JS: I want the fans to know the truth. Either you know the truth or you don't know the truth. And my feeling on everything is, when you do something right, let it all out. When you do something bad, let it all out. Let it all out of your system, so you can put something better in there to keep your feelings, your health, and your mind clear brudda. I wanted the truth to come out, and it's all in the book. WC: In the book, you shared some great insight into your steel cage matches with the likes of Ric Flair and Bob Backlund, along with your famous cage match against Don Muraco. Why did your memorable feud with Roddy Piper not end in a cage match?JS: We were getting to that, brudda, then all of a sudden things completely changed, the way they do sometimes in wrestling, y€™know? But we were setting the whole thing up for the cage match, €™cause I wanted to fly off the cage again for the world, y€™know what I mean? In feuds like the one I had with Piper, you go from one, two, three all the way up to ten, and I was hoping we'd take it to ten and thrill the fans with a cage match. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLng8ygr4Gs WC: You first met Piper in Don Owen's Portland territory in the '70s, right?JS: That's right, brudda. He was a young and a really nice guy who wanted to get into the business. We were in Portland together and the Carolinas and then we ended up in New York together. And what was so great about that was everywhere you went, you got to be a new person. And believe me, brudda, I was so excited to go to New York and I couldn't wait to meet the promoters and the guys I'd be associating with in the ring. I just wanted to be a part of the WWF, make everyone happy and do the right thing. WC: Though you were one of the top stars in the WWF, your role at the first WrestleMania was being in the corner of Hogan and Mr. T in the main event. Why were you not wrestling on the card?JS: That's just it, brudda, I don't know and it didn't make sense to me. Mr. T was a good brudda, but that should have been my spot, teaming with Hogan. I had been there for several years and had established myself in those feuds with Muraco, Piper, Bob Backlund, and Ray "The Crippler" Stevens, and I feel like I should have been wrestling in the main event at WrestleMania, and not just in Hogan's corner. It was disappointing, for sure. That's when I realised things weren't working for me, and it wasn't long after that I quit the WWF. I think I wrestled some matches with my good friend Ricky Steamboat in a tag team, but I was gone shortly after that. WC: Did you meet Ricky Steamboat while wrestling for Jim Crockett Promotions?JS: No, it was after I left the Carolinas and went to Minneapolis to wrestle for Verne Gagne in the AWA. He had a wrestling school there and Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair, The Iron Sheik, Ken Patera and The Killer Bees, all those guys were there. And I got to meet them all. I remember saying to them, when you guys are read we'll be waiting for you. WC: Were you giving them in-ring instruction?JS: Yeah, and loved teaching them and wrestling with them. I think I was having the most fun, and they were picking my brain, and that's what I was there for. WC: You also trained your children, Jimmy Snuka Jr. (Deuce in WWE) and Tamina, right?JS: I trained Jimmy for about a year, but Sarona (Tamina) trained at Rocky Johnson's wrestling school. Sarona and I worked out and lifted weights before that, though. Both my kids are good performers and I'm so proud of them brudda. They have followed in my footsteps and they respect the business.They're doing so great and I don't have to worry about them. They've been to college and that's one thing I made sure, that they went to college. Now they have the opportunity to wrestle all over the world, just like I did. WC: Back in the '80s, you did many tours of Japan and formed a formidable tag team with Bruiser Brody. When did you first meet Brody?JS: I met Bruiser Brody in Houston, Texas, wrestling and whatnot. One of the guys told me, you know, Brody wants to meet you, brother. And I said, who is this guy? And they said, bro, wait 'til you see him. So I went to his house and he was working out, doing squat. Big boy, man. And what a sweetheart of a guy. He looked at me, hugged me and said, how would you like to go and team up in Japan? And brudda, we clicked so good. Our minds, we just clicked, and it was like it was meant to be that way. We trained so hard because we were different characters. I'm a different character, he's a different character. We were like the three amigos. When I first met him, I got to meet his wife and son, who looked just like him. I called him Bruiser. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aomPWRR3cxk I wrestled maybe 10 years before I ever met him, but when we came together we really helped each other out. We picked each other's brains, taking one step, one match at a time while writing down everything we do. He did all the writing because I can hardly read and write. And we spent a lot of time preparing our matches and going over everything. So it was perfect. This was a very intelligent guy we're talking about, brudda. WC: What was it like to wrestle for the Japanese audience back in the '80s?JS: It was very, very different, as you could hear a pin drop, brudda. The crowds were so quiet and only cheered at certain times, when you were coming to the ring or when there was a big move. And I spoke Japanese when I was in Japan, so I got to meet so many wonderful fans and people in the business. Though I may not be able to read or write, I can speak many languages because I pick it all up by ear. So I was able to build so many memorable relationship when I was over there. You know, they treated me and Bruiser Brody like kings. They always took us out every night to a show and to all these different places to eat. WC: Your last high profile match was at WrestleMania 25, where you teamed with Ricky Steamboat and Roddy Piper against Chris Jericho. What was that experience like?JS: It was so sweet because it was the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania. Jericho is one of the best in the business and a good brudda. And what made that match great was we had old school and new school, and I loved being in the ring again with Piper, Steamboat, and Flair in our corner. It was a decent payday and I'm very grateful to the WWE for giving me one more chance to wrestle on the grandest stage of them all. How many other guys over 60 years old could say they were in a match at WrestleMania? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1QiwaWRotY WC: You were active on the independent scene until you had ankle surgery a while back. You made the most of that time and wrote your book, but do you see yourself climbing back in the ring one day?JS: Oh yeah, brudda. A while back I did a little Polynesian dance for my doctor and he said, alright Jimmy Snuka, you can go ahead and fly now. I may be turning 71, but I just loving wrestling and I miss the fans. I don't know if or when I'll ever retire. jimmy-snukaWC: How do you picture your retirement?JS: I don't know, brudda, maybe I'll move to the Fiji Islands or Hawaii, sit on the beach or climb a tree and throw down some coconuts (laughs). As long as the Superfly can still fly, though, that's what I plan on doing. And I'm going to fly again, brudda. There's no end in sight.
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Marshall Ward is an arts, music, entertainment and professional wrestling writer based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. A weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle newspaper, Ward is also a contributing writer for Rock Cellar Magazine and has interviewed everyone from William Shatner to Olivia Newton-John to Ringo Starr. Email is welcome at marshall_ward@hotmail.com.