411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007: Gorilla Monsoon
Robert Marella was born on June 4, 1937, and grew up in upstate New York. During his youth he became a top performer in football, track & field, and amateur wrestling. He went to Ithaca College and continued his wrestling career, while weighing in at over 350 pounds. He finished in second place in the 1959 NCAA Wrestling Championships, and broke several school records including scoring a pin in 18 seconds. He also held several track & field records, which was astonishing for a man of his size. A man weighing well over 350 and showing incredible athletic ability like Morella was a perfect fit for professional wrestling, and he started working for promoter Pedro Martinez after graduating from Ithaca.
Marella took the ring name of Gino Morella and played up his Italian-American heritage during his early years in wrestling. He was a proud babyface who would sing in Italian prior to his matches. While he gained some popularity, Morella soon realized that a man with his size and look could make a lot more money working as a heel. He grew out his beard, changed his look and persona and came back under the name “Gorilla Monsoon”. Monsoon was billed as the “Manchurian Champion”, he was unable to speak English and either dined on raw meat or the blood of opponents he had defeated. Fans were frightened of Monsoon and the money began to roll in. He formed successful tag teams with fellow villians Killer Kowalski and Bill Watts.
After Vince McMahon Sr. formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1963, Monsoon formed a friendship with him and became a stockholder in the WWWF. He also controlled the booking in several key cities in the WWWF area during this time. He became one of the top heels in the WWWF, challenging Bruno Sammartino for his heavyweight title. Sammartino was able to hold on to the strap, but Monsoon took him to the 60-minute time limit on several occasions. Monsoon also had a notable feud with Andre the Giant that helped establish Andre as a monster since he was able to beat the massive Monsoon on several occasions. Monsoon is the only man to have had a boxing match with Andre and a wrestling match with Muhammad Ali. Ali wound up in Monsoon’s Airplane Spin during a confrontation at a 1976 WWWF show.
Eventually Monsoon became a beloved figure to the WWWF fans, and he was used to put over young heel talent like Hulk Hogan & Ken Patera. After losing to Patera in a career vs. Intercontinental title match, Monsoon lived up to his word and retired, only competing on very rare occasions when a fill-in was needed. When Vince Sr. sold the World Wrestling Federation to his son, he told Vince Jr. to take care of certain employees and friends that had served him well over the years. Monsoon sold his shares to Vince Jr., and in return for that was given lifetime employment.
After retirement, Monsoon had two very important roles in the WWF. On-screen, he became the lead announcer for WWF programming, hosting Prime Time Wrestling, Wrestling Challenge, and All-American Wrestling. He also announced on the majority of the WWF’s shows at Madison Square Garden appearing on the MSG Network, and hosted the WWF’s pay per view events. Monsoon did play by play for the first eight WrestleMania events before stepping aside in 1993 for the newly signed Jim Ross. Monsoon’s announcing style featured a lot of medical terms, hyperbole, criticizing how holds were improperly applied, and complaining about shoddy officiating. People either loved it or hated it, most of the haters were insider fans who hated the direction the WWF was going in anyway. The people who loved it thought of Monsoon as the voice of the WWF and hung on his every word.
Monsoon had many broadcast partners, but only two really stand out. Jesse Ventura joined Monsoon in announcing WrestleMania I, and would appear on countless shows with Monsoon before leaving to pursue his movie career further and announce for WCW. Ventura became the first announcer to cheer for the heels while presenting viable reasons for doing so. Monsoon defended all of the babyfaces, especially the WWF’s top star in the 1980s, Hulk Hogan. Monsoon & Ventura had great chemistry together and were the prototype for almost every announce team that followed them. The ones that didn’t follow Monsoon/Ventura followed the next announce team discussed here…
Monsoon also formed a memorable duo with heel manager Bobby Heenan, as they were co-hosts on Prime Time Wrestling & Wrestling Challenge for many years and Heenan eventually became the color commentator on pay per view. Monsoon & Heenan were great friends off-camera, and their pairing on-camera led to many of the WWF’s most hilarious moments during the 1980s and 1990s. Their announcing in the 1992 Royal Rumble match is considered by this writer and many others to be the most memorable performance by any announce team for any match. Heenan spent the match blatantly rooting on his charge Ric Flair while Monsoon agitated him by talking about how unlikely it was for Flair to win after going in 3rd and pointing out how many of the entrants in the match didn’t like him. While they were the best of friends in private, when they were together in public they would often argue with each other rather loudly just to make the people believe they really couldn’t stand each other. And it worked!
Backstage, Monsoon was pretty much the man in charge as he was one of the top bookers and road agents during the 1980s. His biggest impact was creating a position in between the locker room and the entrance, where he would sit and observe the matches and give instructions to people going towards the ring and give feedback to people coming back from the ring. The position was eventually named the “Gorilla Position”, and is still referred to by that name to this day. As recently seen on Raw, the Gorilla Position has a sign by it with the name and either a picture of a gorilla or a stuffed gorilla by it.
Monsoon was elected to the WWF Hall of Fame on June 9th 1994, but suffered his greatest loss less than a month later, as his son Joey was killed in an automobile accident on July 4th. Joey Morella was one of the top referees for the WWF, and was most well-known for being the third man in the ring for the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III. He was only 30 years old at the time of his death. Gorilla’s family and friends agree that he never fully recovered from the loss of his son.
After stepping down from most of his announcing duties, Monsoon took over the position of on-camera WWF President from Jack Tunney. Eventually Monsoon had to step down to illness, and his last public appearance was at WrestleMania XV, where he served as one of the three ringside judges for the Butterbean vs. Bart Gunn bout that ended up needing no judging. Monsoon received one of the loudest ovations of the night from the Philadelphia fans, who, if they were like this writer, knew that it was very likely that this would be the last time they saw the man who for over four decades stood for everything the World Wrestling Federation was. Robert “Gorilla Monsoon” Marella passed away due to heart failure on October 6th, 1999.
Why Gorilla Monsoon was selected…
Gorilla Monsoon was probably the most important figure in making the World Wrestling Federation the most successful wrestling promotion in the world that wasn’t a member of the McMahon family. He was the voice of the WWF during their first big boom in the 1980s, and alongside Jesse Ventura & Bobby Heenan set a new standard for what a wrestling announce team could do on a wrestling show. As an announcer, he was a key factor in making WWF fans believe that Hulk Hogan and other top babyfaces were the greatest thing since sliced bread. As the backstage manager, Monsoon was one of the most powerful men in the WWF and was a close confidant to both Vince McMahon Sr. & Jr., while revolutionizing the way things were done backstage by creating the Gorilla Position. Monsoon was also one of the best super-heavyweight wrestlers of all time, feuding with people like Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant, and even Muhammad Ali. Gorilla Monsoon was a key component in creating the WWF Empire, and that along with all his other contributions merits him induction in any Hall of Fame concerning Pro Wrestling.