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Tennessee wrestling legend Len Rossi passes away at 91

Len Rossi, one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of Tennessee wrestling, passed away earlier today from cancer at the age of 91.

Rossi, born Len Rositano, was originally from Utica, New York, but settled in Tennessee in 1958 and became a fixture of the Nashville community. He was one of the area's biggest stars for the next 15 years, and then opened Len Rossi's Health Foods in Brentwood, Tennessee, which has been in operation for more than 40 years.

Rossi was, along with Jackie Fargo, the most popular wrestler in the area during most of the 1960s. He held more than 45 championships. He was a journeyman wrestler when he came to Tennessee, mostly working smaller circuits. Tennessee was expected to be no different, but he formed a tag team with a young babyface named Dick Beyer, who later became The Destroyer.

At the same time, with his son Joey, who later wrestled, ready to start school, he decided to make a home in the Nashville area. while he did work in other territories, the Tennessee and Alabama circuit run by Nick Gulas was his base and the place he was truly a headliner.. 

Rossi held the Southern Junior Heavyweight title seven times, which is the same title that was renamed the Southern Heavyweight title in the 70s and was the cornerstone of Jerry Lawler's career.

Rossi was a constant tag team champion, holding Southern, Mid American, and World Tag Team titles with partners like Beyer, Tex Riley, Fargo, Mario Milano and Bearcat Brown. Rossi & Brown were considered a landmark tag team in their run from 1969 to 1972, as they were the first major babyface team that paired a black man and a white man together, and had a legendary feud with Dr. Ken Ramey and The Masked Interns that set box office records.

Rossi had to overcome the fact people knew he was from upstate New York, as opposed to being local, but in time, he was considered as the local babyface star. He was not charismatic in the manner of Fargo or Jerry Lawler, but was like a normal person, whose job was a pro wrestler but was on the side of good. 

Rossi & Brown were going strong as a tag team in 1972, when he was involved in a bad auto accident that left him with a broken arm, broken ribs, a broken ankle and broken feet. The injuries had a major effect on him and while he wrestled some until 1979, he was no longer a regular headliner after the accident.

Later he regularly teamed with his son, who wrestled from 1971 to 1979.

Rossi's role was as your typical guy next door babyface, who the fans respected because they had seen him weekly in their cities for so long. After the accident,he got heavily into health food and opened up his shop, and was believed to have been the oldest living merchant in his city.

Rossi was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004 and the NWA Hall of Fame in 2016.

Aside from Cowboy Bob Ellis, Rossi was believed to have been the oldest living major star in American pro wrestling.