Killer Kowalski

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Killer Kowalski
Kowalski in 1973
Birth nameEdward Władysław Spulnik
Born(1926-10-13)October 13, 1926
Windsor, Ontario, Canada[1]
DiedAugust 30, 2008(2008-08-30) (aged 81)
Everett, Massachusetts, U.S.
Theresa Ferrioli
(m. 2006)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Hercules Kowalski
Killer Kowalski[2][3]
The Masked Destroyer[3]
The Masked Executioner[3]
Tarzan Kowalski[2][3]
Billed height6 ft 7 in (201 cm)[4]
Billed weight280 lb (127 kg)[4]
Trained byLou Thesz[5]
RetiredMarch 14, 2008[2][3]

Wladek Kowalski (born Edward Władysław Spulnik; October 13, 1926 – August 30, 2008), known by the ring name as Killer Kowalski, was a Polish-Canadian professional wrestler.[1]

Kowalski wrestled for numerous promotions during his career, including the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, now WWE), and was a known heel. He held numerous championships including the WWWF World Tag Team Championship with Big John Studd billed as the Executioners and managed by Lou Albano.

After retiring in 1977, Kowalski started a professional wrestling school in Malden, Massachusetts and trained many professional wrestlers, including Studd, Triple H, Chyna, Eddie Edwards, Frankie Kazarian, Kofi Kingston, Damien Sandow, Fandango, Brittany Brown, April Hunter, John Kronus, Perry Saturn, and Tommaso Ciampa.

In the 1960s, Kowalski claimed to be the only vegetarian professional wrestler.[6]

Early life


Born Edward Władysław Spulnik, Kowalski was the son of Polish immigrants Antoni Spulnik and Maria Borowska; he, his older sister Wanda, and his younger brother Stanley were born and raised in Windsor, Ontario.[7] Years later, he told interviewers that he never expected to be a wrestler – by the age of 14, he was already 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm), and because he was thin for his height, he began working out at the local YMCA, but had no plan to go into athletics at that time. When he entered college, his major was electrical engineering. He worked part-time at the Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit to help pay his way.[7]

Professional wrestling career


There are several stories of how Spulnik became a wrestler. The most common one is that while attending the University of Detroit (some sources say Assumption College in Windsor), he heard that there was an opportunity to make good pay by wrestling. He was only being paid $50 a week at the Ford plant and was told he could make more as a wrestler.[8] Since he already had an athletic build, he decided to give wrestling a try and began attending a wrestling school.[7][9] When he first wrestled professionally, he was known as "Tarzan Kowalski",[10] but was also called Hercules Kowalski, Killer Kowalski (this nickname is used as early as 1950) and even The Polish Apollo, according to newspaper reports from 1950 to 1951. During the Cold War his name was changed to Wladek Kowalski, which was supposed to sound more menacing.[11] Kowalski wrestled from 1947 to 1977 in a number of organizations, including the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and American Wrestling Association (AWA) as a heel.

Kowalski's rise in the business came quickly. His first recorded match occurred on May 6, 1948, and by November 29 of the same year, Kowalski was facing NWA champion Orville Brown in a heavyweight championship match. Kowalski stood out in his era for his larger-than-normal size, and for a faster-paced style in the ring. He wrestled as a demonstrative "heel," or villain, except when facing the even-more-hated Buddy Rogers. In his matches with Rogers, Kowalski would adopt a more serious "babyface" approach. Outside of the ring, however, Kowalski was considered so friendly and polite that some wrestling promoters complained about the way he would "drop character" in public.

In December 1972, Kowalski became the first wrestler to pin André the Giant in North America, in what was billed as a "Battle of the Giants."[12] Photographs from the Quebec City match helped to establish André's reputation in American wrestling magazines, since they showed him towering over the better-known Kowalski. Kowalski had done much the same to boost Giant Baba's fame in Japan, with a televised 1963 match.


Kowalski in 1951

On October 15, 1952, in a match in Montreal versus Yukon Eric, Kowalski ripped off a part of Yukon Eric's ear while performing a knee drop.[1] In reality, Eric's ears were already badly cauliflowered due to years of abuse and the injury was an accident, but it fortified Kowalski as being a ruthless villain who gleefully maims his opponents. Kowalski attempted to visit his opponent in the hospital and began laughing along with Eric at how silly the bandages looked, with Kowalski recalling years later, "I swear, the first thing I thought of was Humpty Dumpty on the wall. Yukon Eric looked at me, shook his head, and smiled. I started laughing and he laughed, too." When the incident was reported in the paper the next day, it stated that Kowalski showed up at the hospital and laughed at his victim rather than with him, furthering Kowalski's image as a heel.[13] The incident sparked a long-running series of grudge matches between the two wrestlers which took place throughout North America. By the time the feud had run out of steam several years later, Yukon Eric joked to Kowalski about the small size of an audience, "God, that's a lousy house. I might have to sacrifice another ear."[citation needed]

Kowalski also gained some notoriety in Boston for an incident in late June 1958 when he was wrestling Pat O'Connor. The guest referee was former boxing great Jack Dempsey, who suffered a kick to the diaphragm and had to be hospitalized. Dempsey did not blame Kowalski, and both said it was an accident, but this further cemented the Killer's reputation as a villain.[14]

In 1967, the top-rated Australian television talk show host Don Lane irritated Kowalski during an apparently friendly interview and was attacked with the Kowalski claw hold.[15]

Kowalski in 1953

Also in the late 1950s, Kowalski fought what was supposed to be a best two out of three match in Fall River, Massachusetts against Mr. Moto. Just before the bell starting the first fall, Kowalski had his back turned to Moto while doing some stretches in his corner. Moto raced across the ring and hit Kowalski over the head with one of the clogs with which he had walked into the ring. Of course, the referee did not see this happen. The bell rang and a seemingly dazed Kowalski staggered around the ring and was quickly pinned by Moto. Kowalski was billed as the heavyweight champion at that time (at least in eastern Massachusetts) and, as such, was not supposed to lose the match. Just after the second fall started, Kowalski was hit in the right eye with a pea or bean shot by someone in the audience using a pea shooter. Semi-blinded and genuinely stunned, Kowalski staggered around the ring covering his eye with his right hand. Moto did not know what to do. Finally, he approached Kowalski, bumped into him and fell to the mat. Kowalski reached down, applied the claw hold and Moto was not only counted out, but deemed by the referee too hurt to continue. The two raced out of the ring to a chorus of boos from the audience and dodged various objects being thrown at them. As a side note, the two had arrived 45 minutes late for the match. The Fall River Herald News reported in its next day morning edition that these two "mortal enemies" were late because the car in which they had ridden together to the match had broken down on the way.

World Wide Wrestling Federation


Kowalski became the main antagonist of Bruno Sammartino in the World Wide Wrestling Federation in the 1960s and 1970s. Kowalski formed a tag team with fellow heel Gorilla Monsoon and took Red Berry as his manager; Monsoon and Kowalski held the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship, winning the belts in two straight falls from Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard on Washington, D.C. television, and later losing to The Tolos Brothers in two straight falls in Teaneck, New Jersey in December 1963. On May 11, 1976, Kowalski won the WWF World Tag Team Championship with Big John Studd.[16] Both men wore black masks and tights and called themselves "The Executioners". However, they were stripped of the championship, following the interference of a third Executioner during a title defense against Chief Jay Strongbow and Billy White Wolf. The Executioners lost a match for the vacant title on December 6 to Strongbow and White Wolf and never regained the championship.[16]

Retirement and training


After his WWWF retirement in 1977,[11] Kowalski started a professional wrestling school in Malden, Massachusetts.[1] Due to his health, he ceased to be involved with it in 2003, and the school subsequently moved to North Andover.[17] Among the alumni of this school are Triple H,[2][1] Chyna,[2][1] Perry Saturn,[2][1] John Kronus,[5] Brittany Brown, Big John Studd,[5] Damien Kane, Christopher Nowinski,[2] Matt Bloom,[2][1] April Hunter, R. J. Brewer, Kazarian, Nicole Raczynski, Kenny Dykstra, Tommaso Ciampa, Damien Sandow and Fandango.

Kowalski training John Quinlan and The Boston Brawler in 2000

Kowalski returned to wrestling on independent shows in 1982, and worked only sparingly after that. In 1992 he fought John Tolos to a no-contest for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling in Japan. His last match took place in 1993, when Kowalski was 66 years old losing to Baron Von Raschke at the Maccabiah Mania fundraiser show in Livingston, New Jersey. Kowalski would remain a fixture on the Northeast independent wrestling scene taking autograph and personal appearances. His last appearance was on March 14, 2008, for Top Rope Promotions at an event in North Adams, Massachusetts, where he came to the ring and put the claw on local wrestler "Gorgeous" Gino Giovanni and was declared the winner of the segment.[citation needed]

He also made numerous post-retirement television appearances, including Late Night with David Letterman in 1982, and was featured in a comic role in Michael Burlingame's surrealist film To a Random in 1986. "Lost in the B-Zone", a music video for Birdsongs of the Mesozoic which was derived from this film, also prominently featured Kowalski.[citation needed]

On June 11, 2007, Kowalski was inducted into The National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.[18]

Personal life


Kowalski married Theresa Ferrioli on June 19, 2006.[19][20] He became a vegetarian after being influenced by middle-distance runners Roger Bannister and John Landy in 1953.[21] Kowalski did not eat meat, dairy or eggs.[6][21] He has been described as an "outspoken vegetarian" and vegan.[22][23] One of his favorite restaurants to go to was the Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus, Massachusetts, where a signed picture of him can be found on their walls.[24] Kowalski did not drink alcohol or smoke.[25] He took interest in photography and had a book published in 2001.[25]



Kowalski began experiencing escalating health problems in the time leading up to his death.[20] The Sun received the report on Kowalski from his friend, wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino, that Kowalski had to go to a rehabilitation center in Everett, Massachusetts, where he was recovering from a knee injury.[26] It seemed he was getting better, until he suffered a heart attack on August 8, 2008. According to Slam! Sports, the Quincy Patriot Ledger, and other sources, Kowalski's family was apprised that he would not recover. When Kowalski was taken off life support on August 18, subsequent news reports erroneously stated that he had died. Kowalski died on August 30, 2008.[7] He was survived by his wife and family.

Championships and accomplishments

  1. ^ Defeated Duke Keomuka and Danny Hodge in a handicap match to win the title.
  2. ^ Wrestled under the name of the Masked Destroyer when winning this title.

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Laurer, Joanie (October 2001) [2001]. If They Only Knew. ReaganBooks. pp. 144–145. ISBN 0-06-109895-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Solomon, Brian (2006). WWE Legends. Pocket Books. pp. 95–100. ISBN 978-0-7434-9033-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Killer Kowalski's OWOW profile". Online World of Wrestling. 12 September 2008. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
  4. ^ a b "Killer Kowalski". WWE. Retrieved June 16, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c "Killer Kowalski's Hall of Fame profile". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
  6. ^ a b Puskar-Pasewicz, Margaret. (2010). Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-313-37556-9 "Wladek “Killer” Kowalski was a Polish professional wrestler who in the 1960s went vegetarian and claimed to be the only vegetarian in professional wrestling. In addition to avoiding meat, he abstained from dairy products and alcohol."
  7. ^ a b c d Oliver, Greg (August 30, 2008). "Killer Kowalski dies". Slam! Sports. Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  8. ^ Dupont, Kevin Paul (1990-10-08). "A Lifetime of Learning". The Boston Globe. p. 47.
  9. ^ Marrapese, Nancy (1991-09-29). "A Quiet Life, Wild Memories for Killer". The Boston Globe. p. NW13.
  10. ^ Burnett, Thane (2005-01-24). "Confessions of a Killer". Toronto Sun. p. 34.
  11. ^ a b Simonich, Milan (1998-11-13). "Being a wrestling villain was a rewarding career". The Globe and Mail. p. S7.
  12. ^ "Events Database - Grand Prix". Cage Match. Retrieved March 6, 2023. 18.12.1972
  13. ^ Simonich, Milan (1998-11-12). "Ring of legends: Killer Kowalski and other big names come to town to wrestle up support for charity". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Block Communications. Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  14. ^ "Mauler Mauled". Los Angeles Times. 1958-08-03. p. C6.
  15. ^ Molitorisz, Sacha (2004-01-05). "Scream test". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
  16. ^ a b c "Title History: World Tag Team Championship". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2008-09-07.
  17. ^ "Chaotic Training Center | Pro Wrestling School and Training in Mass". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  18. ^ "Wladek "Killer" Kowalski". National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. June 11, 2007. Archived from the original on December 4, 2022. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  19. ^ Fussman, Cal (2007-08-03). "What I've Learned: Killer Kowalski". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  20. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Joe (2008-07-28). "Grappling With Mortality". Boston Herald. p. 2.
  21. ^ a b "Vegetarian Travel Guide exclusive interview with the world-famous wrestler... Walter "Killer" Kowalski". Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  22. ^ Wilson, Scott. (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-7864-7992-4
  23. ^ Shoemaker, David. (2013). The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling. Gotham Books. p. 316. ISBN 978-1-592-40767-5
  24. ^ "Wrestling". kowloon-restaurant. Retrieved 2023-06-29.
  25. ^ a b Johnson, Steven; Oliver, Greg. (2007). The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels. ECW Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-55022-759-8
  26. ^ Eck, Kevin (2008-04-17). "Killer Kowalski in hospital". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Company. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  27. ^ NWA United States Heavyweight Title (Hawaii version) history At
  28. ^ ACC/Big Time Wrestling World Heavyweight Title history At
  29. ^ "Killer Kowalski inducted into the 2024 Class of CPWHOF". Canadian Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame. January 21, 2024. Retrieved January 24, 2024.
  30. ^ "Kowalski gets top CAC award". 10 February 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
  31. ^ NWA Central States Heavyweight Title history At
  32. ^ NWA Central States Tag Team Title history At
  33. ^ Iowa Tag Team Title history At
  34. ^ NWA Southern Heavyweight Title (Florida) history At
  35. ^ a b Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2000). Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  36. ^ World/International Heavyweight Title (Montreal) history At
  37. ^ NWA Pacific Coast Tag Team Title (Vancouver version) history At
  38. ^ NWA Americas Heavyweight Title history At
  39. ^ NWA Americas Tag Team Title history At
  40. ^ NWA Pacific Coast Heavyweight Title (San Francisco) history At
  41. ^ NWA Pacific Coast Tag Team Title (San Francisco) history At
  42. ^ "Pro-Wrestling Illustrated Tag-Team of the Year". Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
  43. ^ Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum Inductees At
  44. ^ Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2006). "(Texas) Dallas: NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Title". Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. p. 271. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  45. ^ "Texas Brass Knucks Title [East Texas]". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  46. ^ Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). "Texas: NWA Texas Tag Team Title [Von Erich]". Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 275–276. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  47. ^ "NWA Texas Tag Team Title [E. Texas]". Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  48. ^ NWA Canadian Heavyweight Title (Calgary) history At
  49. ^ Stampede International Tag Team Title history Archived 2008-05-05 at the Wayback Machine At
  50. ^ Whalen, Ed (host) (December 15, 1995). "Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame: 1948-1990". Showdown at the Corral: A Tribute to Stu Hart. Event occurs at 15:38. Shaw Cable. Calgary 7.
  51. ^ IWA World Heavyweight Title (Australia) history At
  52. ^ IWA World Tag Team Title (Australia) history At
  53. ^ United States Tag Team Title (Capitol/WWWF) history At
  54. ^ WWF/WWE Hall of Fame Inductees At
  55. ^ "Wrestling Observer Hall Of Fame 1996 Inductees". Archived from the original on 2007-10-26. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
External videos
video icon Interview with Killer Kowalski, on Prime Time by George Dorunda (1989)