Alternative Wrestling History: What if Bruiser Brody Hadn’t Been Killed in Puerto Rico

brody

John Carbery

Our ‘Alternative Wrestling History‘ series, which looks at some of the “what if?” moments from wrestling history, returns today. The focus is the death of Bruiser Brody in 1988 as we wonder what sort of career Frank Goodish would have had at a time that the WWF was expanding into a global phenomenon. 

Frank Goodish, was known and feared the world over by wrestling fans and his fellow wrestlers as Bruiser Brody. Throughout the 80’s Brody cut a swath through every major US territory and was a huge draw as a singles star and tag team attraction in Japan. Brody was stabbed to death on a tour of Puerto Rico in 1988 at the age of 42. The purpose of this article is to imagine the career that never was for Bruiser based on accounts of his life and career before that tragic day in July 88.

While Brody was a major territorial star throughout the 70’s and 80s at the time of his death that territorial system was barely clinging to life. Vince McMahon’s national expansion was in full swing as it aimed to take over the entire US wrestling scene. Had Brody not perished, where exactly would he fit into this new landscape? While Brody was on the whole beloved by fans, he was less well thought of by some promoters and fellow wrestlers. Bruiser could be very difficult to work with, he did jobs once or twice a decade and sold like the Delorean and New Coke, i.e. not at all. But, most importantly, he was incredibly over wherever he went. His matches were dirty brawls with very few clean finishes that delivered blood, guts and box office no matter where they were presented. As a result, his employers were inclined to forgive his more intractable traits for the sake of business. On top of this, Brody was a Nomad, he never really put his roots down in any one promotion for all too long, and never really outstayed his welcome. In fact, the only real consistency in his career was his opponents like Abdullah the Butcher, the two essentially embarked on a World Tour, spilling blood on every continent they could.

However in 1988, in the US at least, the age of the travelling monster was coming to an abrupt close. Andre the Giant, the most well-known of these performers, had been part of McMahon’s regular roster for a number of years to great financial reward, if little artistic merit. The NWA was quickly closing ranks and nationalising itself under the WCW brand, though both were a few years away from an attempt at globalisation despite the pretension of their monikers. WCW was a consolidation of a number of southern and eastern companies while other far-flung territories were largely left out in the cold, cut off from access to the prestigious headline talent of the NWA and suffering from comparisons to the impossibly slick WWF.

fritz_von_erichOutside of the new mainstream of pro wrestling, Brody was doing business as usual, where he still could. He bounced between the AWA, Japan and WCCW among other places throughout 86,87 and 88 even becoming Fritz Von Erich’s booker and go-between with Japan. According to many, Brody was an intelligent man and he no doubt would’ve seen the writing on the wall as it came to the territories. In 86 when he arrived in World Class they pulled 24, 121 to Texas Stadium for the third David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions show, of which Bruiser was a headline attraction taking on Terry Gordy in a barbed wire match and newly crowned World Class Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Champion Rick Rude in consecutive matches. It must have been disheartening as a talent and booker when he turned up to face Jeep Swenson in the same building before a comparatively paltry 5,900 fans the next year. Attendance was up slightly for the final Parade of Champions in ’88 but only 7,000 fans paid to see him and the rest of the WCCW talent perform.

That Texas Stadium show took place in May of ’88, two months before Brody was murdered by Jose Gonzalez. He was 42 at the time of his death and, although he was still going strong, retirement must have been something he was considering. Gary Hart described him as a frugal man who saved his money and planned for life after the business. Though John Nord, who later played the Brody-lite Berzerker in the WWF replete with imitation “Huss!”, his mentor and sometime tag partner was thinking about making a trip north: “The last time I worked with him was in Little Falls, Minnesota which was in June of ’88 – and Frank died July 3rd. We were talking to Vince [McMahon] then. Actually, Frank was talking to them. We were gonna go into the WWF as a tag team. I was really excited about it, but then Frank got killed. So that yanked the rug on that.”

1988 was a red hot time for tag teams in the WWF. There were monster teams like Demolition and the Powers of Pain and technical squads like The Hart Foundation, The Rockers and the Brainbusters mixing it up in the title picture. Brody and Nord would’ve slotted right in and delivered quality encounters with all of them no doubt. If they’d been heels they could’ve provided competition with the biggest tag team in the company of not the world at the time, the Mega Powers and gotten a few high-profile singles matches to boot.

Macho Man Randy Savage was on top of the WWF as their 2nd babyface and World Champion. A heel Brody would’ve made an outstanding opponent for the Macho Man while he waited to turn on Hulk Hogan in 1989. If he’d stuck around, Bruiser would’ve also made money feuding with new Champion Hogan after he’d dethroned Savage. Though this depends on how willing Brody was to lose or how he’d be willing to let the likes of Hogan and Savage win. The Macho Man would be a more giving opponent for sure, and someone who would want to wrestle to Brody’s strengths in order to have the best Championship matches possible. Just look at the effort Savage put in against Andre during their Saturday Night’s Main Event match. Andre was basically immobile at this point but Savage worked magic with him and made the 8th Wonder look like a threat and preserved his aura as best he could.

macho-man-randy-savage_384x590Brody, with his size, promo ability and distinctive look would’ve been a perfect match for Macho on TV. When Savage as a babyface he structured his matches around his selling ability and the super stiff Brody would’ve given him something to sell. Brody would’ve sized up well against Savage’s successor Hogan too. Both gigantic wild men of a sort with larger than life movesets and personalities they’re a natural match on paper. But reality is another thing.

Hogan is perhaps the only man who lost cleanly less than Brody so in many respects their matches would be almost redundant. I think it’s safe to say that Brody wouldn’t have a hope of getting a PPV match with either Hogan or Savage due to his reputation as someone reluctant to do business anyway but his own. Hogan would be too cunning to allow himself to be trapped in the ring with Brody in front of a worldwide audience. This was the man whom Verne Gagne offered $100,000 dollars to jump the guard rail and interfere in the first Wrestlemania main event and by breaking Hogan’s leg after all. Being both a shooter himself and famously tight with money, I can’t imagine Gagne would offer such a bounty if he didn’t think Brody could and would do such a thing.

While I have no doubt he’d achieve a sizeable profile in the WWF I don’t think Brody would’ve been in the position to make real main event money and would’ve no doubt disappeared before long. Someone like Brody wouldn’t be suited to a mid-card position in the WWF at the time. The Intercontinental Championship scene was full of smaller wrestlers doing long matches and wouldn’t really have suited him. His team with Nord is an unknown commodity, they could’ve lasted 6 days or 6 months, though I do think they would’ve been a good addition and in ’88 a title feud with Demolition would’ve probably been a hit. I don’t think it’s likely though that Bruiser would’ve had a sustained run on top and after a year or two he probably would’ve quietly faded away and picked up his lucrative Japanese touring schedule full time again.

If through careful politicking, Bruiser had changed his mind and gone to WCW he might have fared better. In 88 Ric Flair was still on top as champion and no doubt the Nature Boy could’ve made magic with Brody on TV as he had before for a couple of months at least. Headline players like Brody were often used in the mid cards as secondary champions without losing their prestige, often elevated as World title contenders when the need arose. If he was brought in as a face he could’ve tangled with any of the Four Horsemen and produced solid mid card feuds and shone with Flair on top.

As a heel, Brody could’ve given Dusty Rhodes someone else to tangle with in between his wars with the Horsemen. The then up and coming Sting would’ve been further elevated by a win over Brody, though that wasn’t likely to come. Still, if they had some egalitarian exchanges in competitive brawls the Stinger would’ve been given another welcome boost to his burgeoning career. Rugged Ronnie Garvin would also have been Brody’s kind of opponent, the two could’ve knocked seven shades out of each other to the delight of fans no doubt.

With his lucrative Japanese touring schedule always an option I could see Brody riding out the death throes of the territories with his tag team partner Stan Hansen while making the occasional appearance for the AWA and others when it suited him. The WWF and WCW to a lesser degree had gruelling full-time schedules that would’ve cut him off from long tours of Japan, which was his bottom line at the end of the day. It’s possible that Brody would’ve had a cup of coffee in both organisations before simply wrapping up his full-time career as a headliner in the land of the rising sun.

stanhansenBy 1993 Brody would’ve been 47 and no doubt shying away from full-time wrestling. Still, I can easily see him being part of the early days of ECW like Abby and Hansen both. As a blood n guts merchant, he’d have been a natural fit in the burgeoning ECW and quite possibly have stuck around for the Heyman era. He, of course, wouldn’t have been the only veteran on the scene. Both Terry and Dory Funk Jr were regulars in the early days of Extreme and Terry stayed relevant well into the late 90s. While he would’ve been physically limited by the mid-90s, Brody could’ve been an effective opponent for the likes of the Sandman and Sabu. Plus, he could’ve feuded or teamed with Mick Cactus Jack Foley whom Brody was a big influence on.

Jim Cornette’s retro Smokey Mountain Wrestling would’ve no doubt welcomed Brody with open arms also, along with a host of other veteran talents. Though I can’t imagine Brody would’ve changed Smokey’s fortune any and the company would’ve gone out with the same whimper in 95.

Barring a few small-time appearances here or there, I think Brody probably would’ve faded away throughout the 90s wrestling only when he wanted to for fun or a quick payday. He no doubt would’ve taken part in many one-off legends matches on Japanese cards also. These were usually six-man affairs, which would’ve no doubt allowed Brody to avoid a few jobs here and there too for old times’ sake. Eventually, Brody would’ve taken a WWE hall of fame nod no doubt as well, even if his plans with Nord in 88 hadn’t come to fruition he had main event matches with Sammartino in the 70s.

If there was any way Brody would’ve been involved in big time wrestling beyond the early 90s it may have been behind the scenes. He booked for several companies throughout his career, perhaps he could’ve found a spot on a creative team for a major company? The WWF might be a long shot but in the early 90s, WCW had a revolving door through which many creative minds queued up to pass through for their chance to throw fresh shit at the walls of CNN centre.

Would Brody have been able to resist the temptation indulged by so many before him, to place himself in the ring with the World title around his waist for an extended main event stay or would he have tried to do something new? Brody’s previous go-to was to bring in Abdullah to see if they could turn some red into green and hotshot their new home into the black financially speaking. As anybody who’d seen the chamber of horrors cage match knows, WCW was open to the idea of using the Butcher’s freakshow act. One thing to consider though is that by this point blood had been mainly scrubbed from the wrestling world in an attempt to make everything a bit more family friendly. To two ageing stars like Brody and Abby, the blade would’ve been an important crutch to lean on, even in a vanity match.

It was only ECW that embraced the blade with aplomb at the time and it was controlled creatively by Paul Heyman who didn’t need a hand when it came to putting compelling cards together. By the end of the decade, claret was back in vogue thanks to Brody disciples like Foley and the likes of Taker, Austin, Rock and HHH adding crimson to their matches for a much-needed edge. But this wasn’t a throwback period, this was a brave new world and one that Brody may have struggled to be a part of. We never did see how he’d adapt to a radically changed wrestling world long term.

Unlike a lot of the alternate wrestling histories I’ve discussed on this blog, a lot of the possibilities for Brody are a bit run of the mill in comparison. I can’t see Frank Goodish surviving his trip to Puerto Rico radically changing the wrestling timeline in any way though he certainly would’ve remained an interesting part of the landscape. Many of his contemporaries have described him as a likeable family man outside the ring and he was constantly saving for retirement and his families welfare. He had also had a wide influence on many future wrestling stars.

(Image courtesy of www.wwe.com)

Mick Foley has gone on the record about the influence Brody had on him. He had a surprising effect on many others also. While they were worlds apart physically and in the ring, Daniel Bryan was so influenced by Brody that he essentially cosplayed as him for his WrestleMania 30 main events. Luke Harper was even known as Brody Lee on the independents and I can’t imagine recent signee Big Damo is a stranger to Bruiser’s back catalogue. Despite the fact that he routinely beat the shit out of them on the way to the ring, Brody was incredibly popular with Japanese wrestling fans and still to this day his lookalikes are received fondly If you want evidence of this just look at how many imitators have been booked on tours of the country since his death. The Bruise Brothers, in particular, were probably the least subtle about it

With a wildman like Frank Goodish who conducted his business in and out of the ring with a bullheadedness that was both infuriating and admirable, there are many variables and too much for a hack like myself to consider but I hope I’ve given you some interesting scenarios to think about. What I can say without any doubt is that the wrestling world would’ve been a lot more colourful had Brody not been killed in 1988 and we wrestling fans would no doubt have an elder statesman with some incredible stories to tell. We all continue to be poorer for the loss of Frank Goodish.

You can read all previous ‘Alternative Wrestling History’ pieces here.

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7 thoughts on “Alternative Wrestling History: What if Bruiser Brody Hadn’t Been Killed in Puerto Rico

  1. I remember when Brody appeared in the WWWF under the name of Frank Goodish….I forget who he faced if it was either Sammartino or Morales, but he was there for a while. I can’t see him jobbing in the WWF/WWE for anyone because it wasn’t in his makeup. Probably would have punched Vince or Jim Herd in WCW out.

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    • I love the idea of Brody punching Jim Herd. Or chasing Vince with his chain. I’ve seen some of his WWWF work, but only what scraps are available online. Still I’m sure the WWF of the late 80s would’ve been a vastly different working environment from the 70s.

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  2. He fought Gorilla Monsoon as well, I heard Gorilla was Vince Sr’s backstage gun, he didn’t like Brody (this is the story of Brody’s WWWF demise anyway). We’re leaving out a lot of names and info above. Herb Simmons and Larry Matysik were promoting these shows with Brody and Nord. Both capable promoters Larry and Herb, while not competing, could have cashed in well with the anti-WWF crowd. Brody had the nicest niche in wrestling, he could carry a show by himself. Everyone knew the house was coming down when Brody was in town. Larry Matysik came from the Sam Muchnek school of promoting, things could have been different and Brody carried the key. For many of us July 17, 1988 (Nord got the date wrong) was the day that WRESTLING DIED.

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  3. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2017 week 2 | Ring the Damn Bell

  4. the problem with most US wrestling fans is that they think wrestlers are obsessed with WWE, WCW and ECW. There is a reason Stan Hansen stuck so much outside the US. He and Frank made huge amounts of money in Japan. Frank and Stan were into money; drawing money; thats what old time wrestlers wanted. Frank would have done just fine probably staying in Japan and eventually retiring to start a school.

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