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Killer Kowalski, RIP

From The Times of London:

Billed as Tarzan Kowalski, he was a babyface for the first few years of his 30-year, 6,000-bout career. His size alone made fans sit up and take notice. A chiselled physique, speed and agility made him a crowd favourite, first in Detroit and then further afield.

In an early-1950s bout against Yukon Eric, a missed knee drop from the top rope went slightly awry, resulting in Kowalski’s opponent losing part of a cauliflower ear which, as legend has it, was still pulsating when the referee picked it up. A newspaper reported that Kowalski visited Yukon Eric in hospital and laughed at his injury, and when a fan at his next bout screamed that he was “nothing but a killer”, he inadvertently gave him his nickname.

A heel from that moment on, Kowalski, who legally adopted the surname in the 1960s, became the biggest, baddest villain of them all. Reviled wherever he appeared, he filled the arenas and armouries that hosted North America’s wrestling scene as fans came to jeer.

The rise of television made Kowalski’s flickering image a familiar one for millions who watched as he stomped on, manhandled and mangled adversaries week after week.

No tactic was too underhand for Killer Kowalski, who developed a number of trademark moves to make his brand of mayhem stand out from the rest. The kangaroo hop entertained and inflamed the public during moments when his adversary was hors de combat.

The claw, his trademark finishing move, involved Kowalski’s enormous hand closing over the abdomen or head of his adversary, twisting and squeezing. It was a submission hold, one that opponents endured for varying lengths of time but that made them succumb in the end.

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