By Joe Babinsack
Obviously I’m coming at this argument from a biased position, as I readily admit that Dominic Denucci actually laid his big, paw-like hand on my shoulder two years ago in Greensburg, PA, where I showed up to meet Chris Cruise and Bruno Sammartino.
Denucci had to interrupt the first face-to-face conversation between myself and Bruno, so some pictures could be taken. Of course, the friendship between Bruno and Dominic is well established, and Bruno admits to very few close friends in the business. The irony is that the two were born and raised some 20 minutes from each other, in Italy, but met somewhere in Japan in the 1960’s. They are close friends to this day.
That being said, I’ve not discussed the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fames situation with Bruno, but Bruno did induct Dominic into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame out of Amsterdam, NY.
To me, that’s the best stamp of approval on Denucci being inducted into any Hall of Fame.
But I’m not about rubber stamping such an honor.
The Criteria for this Hall of Fame include “drawing power”, “being a great in-ring performer” and a positive “historical significance”. From my observation, understanding and research, Dominic Denucci hits all three categories at the “outstanding” level, and thus deserves inclusion.
To argue even more strongly, let me present my points:
Drawing power is about the biggest argument in professional wrestling analysis, especially since historical statistics focus on arena attendance (and most importantly in my understanding, drawing fans on a monthly basis to the same location).
Since modern statistics focus on Pay Per View buys and TV Ratings over a live audience in attendance, there’s a huge difference that makes comparisons between eras of baseball or football trivial!
To talk about Denucci’s merit as a “draw”, we look to the most authoritative voice on the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, Dave Meltzer, who describes the run in World Championship Wrestling (the Australia Promotion run by Jim Barnett) as, indeed, “a Hall of Fame run”.
To be critical, Denucci does benefit from being slotted in the Pacific Rim/Islands/Caribbean grouping, and not North American, but more on that later.
Greg Oliver, in the Amsterdam Hall of Fame write-up, calls Denucci “a huge national star” and writer Ed Lock calls Denucci “one of the best and most popular grapplers ever to campaign in Australia.”
That run may not have been as long as Bruno’s, but who can compare to that?
His WCW run was very impressive upon the fans, as Oliver and Lock have noted, as well as Graeme Cameron, who wrote in a strong, analytical piece for this website a few weeks back that: “As far as influence on the region, he's still fondly remembered. DeNucci was the first name that came up when I talked to fans of that era”.
In a historical perspective of “drawing power”, those are my points.
What must be added is longevity. While Denucci’s “Hall of Fame” run and his two tours following that didn’t add up to a long, dominance, it did speak of a main event status. Where Denucci also benefits from the slotting is that his longevity outside that geographical region benefits his overall stature.
While Denucci may be remembered as a strong but mid-card performer in the WWWF era, he did have significant stints in Calgary, California and Japan. Both Greg Oliver and Bruno bring up that point.
To me, something that must be considered in evaluating Dominic Denucci as a Hall of Fame candidate is who he beat, and especially in Australia. The name Killer Kowalski is significant, and into the mid-1960’s, he was still a huge name in the industry.
Also consider that Denucci beat Ray Stevens for the AWA United States Heavyweight belt, showing that two of the best and biggest of the industry had no qualms about putting him over, even when he was a young guy in the business.
Bruno Sammartino gives him credit for making “people look good”, which in my understanding is one of the most important aspects of a worker.
Even if the “Airplane Spin” is the more lasting impression of Denucci among those who fondly remember the Living Legend.
Historically, Dominic Denucci gets credit for popularity in Australia for being “fondly remembered” by those fans, and his work across the world and the longevity of his career are all positive.
More so, his influence – and again I’m giving him the benefit of his “worldly” and more notably his American legacy – is significant, and likely more significant than he’s been given credit.
Mick Foley is the guy Denucci most specifically trained who gained the most mainstream notoriety.
What’s fascinating is that the connection between Foley and Denucci is definitely not the high spots, the level of self-abuse or even the fundamentals (but while his workrate is sometimes questioned, Foley’s believability, ability to connect with the fans, and his talent cannot be questioned),
Inherently, the passion for the business that both men possessed is the key connection.
Denucci’s other notable charges are Shane Douglas and the late, lamented Brian Hildebrand, two guys who shared in that passion.
In the modern day and the cookie-cutter expectations of training, I call it a positive and a significant one that Dominic Denucci influenced those three guys so immensely, and most likely by improving their outlook on the business, giving them the tools to succeed and building upon their own strengths. (Even if Shane Douglas always seemed to pick the wrong spots in his career path, but Lord knows I understand that curse).
Another guy who likely benefitted from Dominic Denucci is Hulk Hogan.
Greg Oliver notes that Denucci’s “skills were well known and he was often used as a mentor, including working around the horn with a young Hulk Hogan in 1981.”
Now, there’s no way I make claim that Hogan would be nothing without that run, but if he learned anything about wrestling a match from Denucci, wouldn’t that be a lot of what Hogan has shown in the ring?
Ok, I’m being facetious.
Dominic Denucci is a credible candidate for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Hall of Fame: in terms of his headliner status in Australia, in terms of his excellence as a worker and in terms of his positive influence, he meets the Criteria, and he meets the expectations of a Hall of Famer for me.