Antonino Rocca (born Antonino Biasetton, April 13, 1927 – March 15, 1977) was an Italian professional wrestler. Rocca was a popular face and in some cities with both Italian American and especially Hispanic audiences, his following was exceptionally large and loyal. He also possessed Argentine citizenship.
He had a love for opera and was apparently described as having an excellent – if untrained – singing voice. Maestro Arturo Toscanini, a wrestling fan, was good friends with Rocca.
As a soccer and rugby-player when he moved to Argentina, before World War II, and an overall athlete, Rocca was known for his unique, acrobatic, off-the-ground, flying wrestling style, which he probably invented, wowing audiences with his dazzling aerial maneuvers. He was responsible for the revival of the New York City Metropolitan-Area territory in the late 1940s, which would eventually become part of the modern day World Wrestling Entertainment. Rocca became one of the most well-known wrestlers in America during the golden age of television. He also had a successful tag team career, forming a popular tandem with Miguel Pérez. The two, along with their heel (villain) opponents, drew large crowds to Madison Square Garden on a regular basis. Rocca had an uninterrupted seven-year run of headlining or co-headlining every main-event at the Garden.
Rocca started his American professional wrestling career in 1948–1949 in Texas, and his earliest days wrestling in the business are still not known. He had been trained by the legendary legitimate-wrestler and former world's heavyweight champion Stanislaus Zbyszko in Argentina. In the early 1950s, he held two regionally recognized versions of professional-wrestling's world heavyweight singles-championship while still headlining nationwide, frequently in territories where other wrestlers were the recognized champs. He was even described by then National Wrestling Alliance generally recognized champion Pat O'Connor as the "uncrowned champion" in New York City, and it was O'Connor who, on television, challenged Rocca to a match (not held in New York City) to determine who was better.
In 1949, Rocca started wrestling in the New York City-area territory for Joseph Raymond "Toots" Mondt, and the Johnston family of promoters, which controlled wrestling at Madison Square Garden and Mondt, who owned Rocca's exclusive contract. The territory had been one of the four largest-grossing areas up until the mid-1930s New York, and would later be run by Capitol Wrestling Corporation (now WWE). He is generally considered as the box-office draw that helped bring wrestling back to Madison Square Garden, on a regular basis, for the first time since 1938.
Rocca was so popular that he was being used as a main eventer by promoters throughout the U.S. and Canada, who booked him through Mondt, who was the co-founder of the booking office that provided the talent for the Garden and other venues. Rocca formed a tag team with Jose Miguel Pérez in 1957 and they were hugely successful as such. Together, they captured the NWA Capitol World Tag Team Championship, which was the top tag-team title used in CWC, and like so many other titles, was a regional one. They were never defeated after winning this title but the appellation was abandoned after about five years. Perez was videotaped with his original belt from that title in a 1987 30th anniversary tribute, after Rocca's death.
In 1963, the Capitol (CWC) promotion may have left the NWA when it was renamed the World Wide Wrestling Federation. WWE history lists a tournament final to crown the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion as Buddy Rogers over Rocca on April 29, 1963 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but this tournament is fictitious. Rogers had legitimately held the NWA world's title but lost that title to Lou Thesz in Toronto earlier in 1963 in a match—and rematch—ignored by the New York City and Chicago promoters.
In 1959 and into 1960, Rocca worked briefly with veteran Kola Kwariani and under the controversial promoter, impresario and genuine manager of wrestlers, Jack Pfefer, who took effective control of the Garden's wrestling office. Kwariani had just broken away from his partnership with Vince McMahon, Sr. Rocca then set the post-World War II record for wrestling-attendance at Madison Square Garden's 49th–50th Street location, drawing 21,950 fans in a singles-match against an obscure wrestler named "the Amazing Zuma," a/k/a "Argentina Zuma," on January 2, 1960, as was reported by the New York Times. This was part of a series of three matches between the two held during a four-month period, when the pair earlier drew, on another night, almost as many fans to the Garden. The Times called the largest turnout of these three matches the all-time record for wrestling attendance at Madison Square Garden, although there is some question whether a Jim Londos-led event in the 1930s drew a few hundred more fans. Rocca had also been provided with new wrestler, Bruno Sammartino as a partner and second-banana in tag-team matches. But when this team failed to sell-out the Garden, the pair was split up to wrestle each other in the hopes that business would pick up, however it did not. Eventually McMahon Sr. took the New York territory back and built it by first featuring "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and then, a few years later, the by-then charismatic Sammartino as its champion.
After a demotion, and with the arrival of Buddy Rogers as the featured star at MSG in 1961, within a few years Rocca left the WWWF and briefly set up a competing promotion (supported by Jim Crockett, Sr. and others) based at the Sunnyside arena in Queens, NY. It is believed to have failed and it ceased operations.
In the mid-1970s, he teamed up with Vince McMahon to handle the color commentary on the WWWF's weekly television show.
Appearances in Japan (late 1960s-early 1970s)
Rocca was involved as a wrestler, but also as a referee in Japan during these years. He refereed a number of matches for the Japan Prowrestling Association (JPA), and later followed Antonio Inoki to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972. Antonio (born Kanji) Inoki was said to take his stage name from him.
World Wrestling Council (1973–1976)
There is not much information on where Rocca worked in the following ten years, but it is known that in 1973, he joined the World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico with partner Miguel Pérez. They captured the defunct WWC North American Tag Team Championship on September 11, 1976 by defeating Los Infernos. They lost the titles to Higo Hamaguchi and Gordon Nelson on October 16.
Gorilla Monsoon vs. André the Giant
Rocca died on March 15, 1977, at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City after complications following an infection. His funeral was attended by thousands and made the front page of all NYC newspapers. He was later inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame Class of 1995.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- Montreal Athletic Commission
- MAC World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- American Wrestling Association (Ohio)
- Stampede Wrestling
- Capitol Wrestling Corporation
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Capitol version) (1 time) – with Miguel Pérez
- Southwest Sports, Inc.
- World Wrestling Council
- World Wide Wrestling Federation / World Wrestling Federation
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- w:c:DC:Superman Vol 1 155 (August 1962) features Antonino Rocca throwing Superman out of the ring.