A Wrestling Life on the Ropes
In the 1970s, everybody arguably believed wrestling was real.
By the 1980s, people suspected the outcome of the matches were predestined, but they didn’t care because the grapplers were so damned entertaining.
One such star, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, was arguably the best wrestler of his time. That’s saying a lot when you consider he came up through the ranks at a time when names like Hulk Hogan, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “Ravishing” Rick Rude and countless others also did, all vying for the same spotlight of fame.
Snuka is a one-man highlight reel. After winning the Mr. Waikiki, Mr. Hawaii and Mr. North Shore bodybuilding titles early on in his life, Snuka set his sights on pro wrestling and shot to the top of the wrestle mania charts.
Whether it was jumping 15 feet off the top of the steel cage in 1983 at Madison Square Garden, settling ‘feuds’ with others in the ring, or being on the receiving end of a coconut smashed against his head by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Snuka made his mark in the wrestling world by putting his body on the line, night in, night out.
Jimmy could fly off the top turnbuckle higher and faster than any wrestler ever seen. He was supposed to be a villain, but everyone loved the guy. He was the underdog. And an entertaining one at that.
From a childhood of abuse in the Fiji islands to his rise in the ring, divorce, cocaine addiction, and the mysterious death of his girlfriend, Superfly Snuka endured– barefooted, in leopard print tights, and with a matching bandanna for the roaring and adoring crowds of fans in the stands.
That was then, this is now. His children, a son and daughter, have grown up to become pro wrestlers themselves. He teaches and mentors young wrestlers entering the game. has written a book, and raises money for causes and charities whenever he can. He likes to sign autographs for young fans while touring the B circuit of state fairs and carnivals.
But like a bloom that has come off the rose, Jimmy sees his glory days as fading. He’s older now; slower, mellower, and in constant pain from years of abuse in the ring.
But, in true Superfly style, Jimmy refuses to give up and throw in the towel.
“I have to fly for the fans,” he says.
From Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story, he reflected on his highflying career:
“The word fear is not a part of my vocabulary.
Growing up in the Fiji Islands, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, and eventually Hawaii, I was never afraid. Danger means nothing to the Superfly.
I live my life to the max without giving much thought to how dangerous something can be or how impossible it might be. I make the impossible possible—I always have, long before I jumped off the top of the steel cage at Madison Square Garden.
I can’t tell you how many times I used to dive off cliffs as a kid. I loved birds. I’d always look up to the sky, and I was fascinated with them. I wanted to know how it felt to fly.
My whole career I’ve soared like an eagle, brah! As a kid I would dive off boats and cliffs and yell “Superfly!” That’s how I got my name. It was only natural that when I needed a gimmick as a wrestler, I used something from my childhood.
I wanted to swing tree to tree, just like my idol, Tarzan. I remember in Fiji, my mother, Louisa, would take my brother, Henry, and me to the movies to watch Tarzan, and I wanted to be just like him. Oh man, I loved that guy right away.
I remember telling her, “I want to be like that man.” When you see me in the ring today or on video, you’ll notice I always wear a headband and leopard print as a tribute of sorts to Tarzan. I often wore shells around my neck as a tribute to my culture. I also went barefoot, just like he did. I admit, though, that I didn’t wear boots in the ring partly because no one from the islands wants their toes to be trapped in a pair of anything other than flip-flops.
When I got into the wrestling ring, I’d swing rope-to-rope and perch myself on top, just as I did as a kid on those cliffs. Everything just came so natural. I was an explorer and the islands were my playground, my education… my everything.
Like Tarzan, I never could sit still. I always need to be moving, and I need to be in the ring locking up with somebody and feeling the energy of the crowd.
I love the fans. Everything I’ve ever done is for them. That’s what makes my life these days so hard and extremely frustrating. Feeding off my fans made all the pain go away, bruddah.
But as I’ve gotten older and the matches have gotten fewer and fewer
over the years, the pain has caught up with the Superfly.
I can honestly say I haven’t been 100 percent for ring action in many years. Like I said, I masked the pain. I tried not to see how swollen my body was after each show. I pretended everything was okay, and that it didn’t bother me. I ignored the pain. Each time I’d work an independent show and couldn’t get to the top rope to do my signature Superfly leap, it reminded me how hurt I really was.
There were way too many times I had to do it from the second rope, or worse, the first rope. I didn’t like that. My wife, Carole, told me fans didn’t notice, but I knew they did. That’s what they came for — to watch me fly!
I’m 68 years old as I write this, but all this pain has had nothing to do with getting older. Yes, maybe the years took their toll, but never my ability. I never wanted to be without wrestling. I always needed to be in the ring. That’s my home, bro.
Sometimes being trapped with my thoughts can be more painful than any injury I’ve suffered in the ring. I miss being in the ring. That’s what I love. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m supposed to be resting and out of the ring for a long time, but I know I’ll be back doing what I do best. I love entertaining the fans, watching their faces, and seeing them have fun. I enjoy the friendship I have with the boys. They’re like my family when I am on the road.
The way I live my life is, I want what I want, when I want it. All that runs through my mind is the past and the future. I love what I’ve done, and I want to do more. As I sit here, I remember all that I’ve accomplished in my career and personal life, and I want more of those moments.
But as I look back, I can also look ahead, and that takes the sting away. Anything I’ve ever wanted in my life — whether it was using the Fiji Islands as my playground or learning the wrestling business in Portland, Oregon — I’ve had to figure it out on my own and bust my ass to own it.
I’m not ready to change that mind-set.
What this time has made me remember is all the things I’ve done– my highs, my lows, my failures, and my regrets.”