Mario Milano, who came to Australia in 1967 for a three month tour and for the most part, never left, passed away earlier today at the age of 81.
Milano, because of his tenure in the country, may have been the best known pro wrestler in the country, and certainly would be to people over the age of 45. He had more different title reigns than any wrester in the history of the World Championship Wrestling office.
Milano, born Mario Bulfone, was from Italy, but grew up in Venezuela.
He started pro wrestling as a teenager in Venezuela in 1953, and first came to the United States in 1962 as Mario La Pantera, where he held the International TV tag team titles in California with Count Billy Varga. He worked in Tennessee and WWWF during the 60s, as a tag team with Jackie Fargo in Tennessee, where he headlined for years, and with Victor Rivera in the WWWF, where at times they were the top babyface tag team in the promotion.
Jim Barnett, who once told me that Milano was one of the three biggest long-term drawing cards for his World Championship Wrestling promotion, which was the best paying and considered by many the top group in the world during the 60s. Barnett brought him to Australia in 1967 and on his first show in Sydney, Milano won a Battle Royal main event and was established as an immediate main eventer. He remained largely a main eventer until the end of the promotion in 1978.
Milano was billed as being 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, with a good physique, who had the size to be believable in fighting the monsters, but also was a good seller. In Australia, he had strong rivalries with the likes of Killer Kowalski, Pat Patterson, Skull Murphy, Killer Karl Kox, King Curtis Iaukea, Gorilla Monsoon, Cyclone Negro, Toru Tanaka, Don Leo Jonathan, The Spoiler Don Jardine, Bobby Shane, and Ernie Ladd.
Milano's three month run in Australia was extended, and he captured the IWA world title twice later that year, once from Kowalski and also from Ripper Collins, as well as held the IWA tag team titles with Red Bastien.
He garnered more popularity in 1968 when Monsoon came to Australia and had a $2,000 bodyslam challenge, and Milano slammed him. He did a heel run, managed by Gary Hart, but eventually turned face after Hart slapped him in the face.
In the 70s he was the older veteran who held the World Brass Knux title.
Because he stayed in Australia after his retirement, while the other WCW stars returned home, he became the elder statesman of the industry, often doing matches on small shows or being aligned with wrestling in some form for two more decades.