By Steve Slagle
Antonino "Argentina" Rocca is perhaps one of the most influential performers the "sport" of professional wrestling has ever known, and a legitimate trailblazer in the genre of the "high flying" wrestler. In addition to his revolutionary wrestling technique, Rocca was also one of the biggest box office draws the business has ever known. At the height of his fame, Rocca was one of the most recognizable sports figures in any sport, not just pro wrestling. Antonino (who also went by the name Antonio) Rocca was one of the key figures during the explosion of popularity wrestling received following the advent of television, and is a true "Golden Age" legend who influenced generations of wrestlers to come...
Rocca began his career as a professional athlete not in the ring, but on the soccer fields of his native Argentina. But when injury ended his life as a soccer player, a new opportunity in the world of wrestling gave Rocca a 2nd chance as a pro athlete. By incorporating some of his technique as a soccer player with the traditional pro wrestling style of the day, Rocca developed a style uniquely his own, one that was incredibly popular with fans. Not only did Rocca give new life to old wrestling holds, he developed many original moves of his own, several of which are commonplace in wrestling to this day.
Rocca was not only an exciting, fresh performer to fans of his era, he also showed that a wrestler could be very funny, and still make the fans take him seriously. For instance, Rocca loved to slap wrestlers in the face, only instead of using his hands, he would give them a humiliating flurry of smacks on the jaw, using his feet. Not only was the spot entertaining, it also showcased the tremendous balance and coordination he acquired as a soccer player. Rocca would often tie his opponent up in "pretzel holds" to the delight of his fans, of which there were many. Rocca was especially popular in the northeastern part of the country, where he was an ethnic, blue-collar hero to many. But "Argentina" enjoyed immense notoriety and popularity all across the nation. From New York to Chicago to L.A., during the 1940's and 1950's, Antonio Rocca was known as one of the most elite (and entertaining) pro "rasslers" of his day. Much like another all-time great, Andre the Giant, Rocca won very few championships during his spectacular career. However, this was perhaps due to the fact that promoters felt that he didn't need a title to "get over" with the fans...he already was. Still, Rocca did enjoy a lengthy reign as the International Heavyweight champion that spanned much of the 1940's and 1950's.
Perhaps more importantly, Rocca was a main-event challenger against numerous legendary World champions, and was a major factor for some of the biggest crowds wrestling had ever drawn at that point in history. Champions like Thesz, Rogers, and Edouard Carpentier all faced the great Rocca in sold out arenas around the country...each barely escaping with the title belt. Other foes of Rocca, such as Johnny Valentine or "Classy" Freddie Blassie fought not necessarily over titles, but rather pride, respect, and/or competition -- not to mention the large payoffs each received after main-eventing with a superstar the caliber of "Argentina" Rocca. But after years in the spotlight, tragedy struck Rocca, his family, and the wrestling world when the revolutionary performer passed away at the young age of 49, following a stellar career. High-fliers such as Mil Mascaras, Jimmy Snuka, Tiger Mask, and many, many others owe a debt of gratitude to the revolutionary Antonino Rocca, the man who in many ways originated the genre of the "sport." In 1995, the World Wrestling Federation inducted Antonio Rocca into the WWF Hall of Fame. We at The Ring Chronicle would also like to honor this innovative, entertaining legend by inducting him into his rightful place within the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame...
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