New York, NY – Baby boomer pro wrestling fans were saddened to learn last week of the passing of Pedro Morales who held the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (the precursor to today’s WWE) championship belt in the early 1970s. He was 76 and had been battling Parkinson’s Disease.
Morales was also a part of Shea Stadium history as 22,000 spectators watched him battle the previous WWF champ, Bruno Sammartino, to a draw after 75 minutes of solid ring action because of curfew rules.
That was the largest attendance at the time to watch a pro wrestling match in New York. Keep in mind that there was neither cable television nor the Internet back then. Pro wrestling could only be seen on UHF stations in the Northeast such as Channel 48 in Philadelphia and Channel 47 here in New York.
Pedro Morales was born in Culebra, Puerto Rico and grew up in East New York. He was a terrific athlete and an important figure in Hispanic figure in sports history who clearly has not gotten his due because the outcomes of wrestling matches have always been predetermined. Nonetheless wrestlers have to be both top stuntmen and actors who can get thousands to spend money on buying tickets for matches.
The late WWF chief, Vincent McMahon, Sr., understood the growing economic importance of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic communities in the Northeast and that’s why he was eager to have Morales be the face of his wrestling promotion in the early 1970s. Wrestling cards at Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum in Philadelphia invariably sold out. It was around that time that corporate America finally started noting the importance of the growing Hispanic market. Pedro Morales deserves some credit for that.
The easygoing Morales made for a great foil for “heel” wrestling manager The Grand Wizard whose job was to create s much heat that angry viewers would by tickets just to scream at him and his villainous wrestlers. “Pedro Morales is full of TNT…tacos n tamales!” he said during a televised interview.
That politically incorrect humor was all in good fun as both Morales and the Wizard were friends. The late Ernie Roth, who portrayed the Grand Wizard, was Jewish and adopted the moniker as a slap at the Ku Klux Klan. Clearly he knew that tacos and tamales were Mexican dishes that had nothing to do with Puerto Rico and that was precisely the joke. Roth wanted to show how stupid ethnic prejudices were and how bigots were absolute morons. Pedro, being the professional that he was, reminded us why he was one of the best wrestlers of his era.
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