Even at age 60, local wrestler still grappling
A. J. "Tony" Petrucci holds a certificate of induction into the Independent Pro Wrestling Association Hall of Fame. Petrucci has a nearly 30-year career in professional wrestling, which included tours of Australia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and Hawaii. At 60, he is still winning championships.
As a professional wrestler, A. J. "Tony" Petrucci has fought the very best; names like "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, "Polish Strongman" Ivan Putski, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, Hillbilly Jim and Davey Boy Smith.
Not to mention the late Andre the Giant, who was 7-foot, 4 inches and weighed 525 pounds.
He has wrestled all over America including Hawaii. He fought opponents in Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Africa, and throughout Canada and Europe.
"I got to see the world and I didn't have to join the service," he laughed.
Petrucci is now 60 years old. He has been involved in matmania for nearly 30 years. He's still not ready to hang up his boots.
A graduate of Jim Thorpe High School where he played football and basketball, and also wrestled, Petrucci is an imposing figure. He's 6-foot, 2 inches tall and weighs over 250 pounds. His stealth and agility in the ring belies his age, catching younger competitors off guard and quickly on their backs. He still has the strength to lift and then slam opponents much heavier than himself.
He keeps himself in shape by working out regularly, including running two miles, three times a week. He admits, with his signature chuckle, "although I'm not as fast as I used to be."
Petrucci got his wrestling start in the World Wrestling Federation, which now calls itself the WWE for World Wrestling Entertainment, under legendary promoter the late Vince McMahon Sr. Since then he has fought in numerous promotions including the National Wrestling Federation, Philadelphia's brutal ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling), and currently the National Wrestling League and House of Pain Federation, where he and a partner remain undefeated.
His greatest thrill came in 1985 while in the WWF. That's when he got to perform in what many still consider the greatest wrestling venue in the world: Madison Square Garden. Back then, every Garden show sold out and this particular night was no exception. More than 20,000 fans saw him compete in a tag team match in which he and The Spoiler fought two men who would eventually become the tag champs, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo.
Nobody knew, though, that it was Petrucci in the ring. He wore a mask for the match and fought as The Masked Assassin.
Throughout his career, Petrucci has accomplished several titles:
• 1988 Won NWF tag team belts.
• 1992 Won ECW tag team belts (became longest reigning champions in ECW history 283 days).
• 2004 Won the NWL heavyweight championship.
• 2005 Held the heavyweight TV championship and tag team title the same time in the NWL.
Most recently, a spectacular highlight of his career occurred when he was inducted into the Independent Professional Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame.
Petrucci, son of Irene (Snisky) Petrucci of Jim Thorpe and the late Anthony Petrucci, is a lifelong resident of Jim Thorpe.
He got his start in the grunt-and-groan sport on Dec. 26, 1983 when he went to the WWF training camp in Connecticut and trained under the tutelage of wrestling veteran Tony Altemore.
His experience led him to train other local athletes who have excelled in pro wrestling, including his cousin Gene Snitsky, who was a WWE superstar; Doug Flex, and Gene Harper.
His debut bout was in the WWE against B. Brian Blair in Phillipsburg, N.J. Coincidentally the referee for that match was the late Tom Chapman, a regular WWF official who also was from Jim Thorpe.
The abilities of Petrucci to match up against the biggest stars put him on the WWF TV programs on a weekly basis, often competing against stars like the late Adrian Adonis, Uncle Elmer, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and former WWF champion Tito Santana.
The opponents he least liked to wrestle were Snuka and the late Junkyard Dog, he said.
"I hated fighting Junkyard Dog in the WWF," he said. "He had a finishing move, the running power slam. When he hit me, when he slammed me, we would bounce another two feet into the air."
Snuka's finishing move was a body dive off the top turnbuckle. Petrucci recalls that sometimes it was with such force it would literally knock him out.
A tour of Kuwait had quite an impression on him. It was during Operation Desert Storm.
"You could see the bombs light up; the skies light up," he said. "It was quite explosive."
Although Petrucci's initial ring wars in the WWF were as himself, he began wearing a mask in the ring and at first competed as The Masked Assassin, then as The Masked Spoiler, and eventually as The Super Destroyer. With the latter, he found a second "Super Destroyer" to be his tag team partner and the team has had extraordinary success.
Despite the intensity of his wrestling schedule in the WWF, the brutal competition in each organization, and the size of the competition he often faced, Petrucci managed to steer clear of serious injuries.
He said he often had aches and pains, giving credit to Lehighton chiropractor Dr. John DeMatte for "putting me together a lot." His injuries have included dislocations, cracked ribs, hyperextended knees, and broken blood vessels, "but nothing that kept me out of action."
Petrucci admits that his mother hates that he wrestles, and always has. She possibly has only seen one or two of his hundreds of matches. He used to take his father to some shows with him, but dad got so excited that there were times he had to be restrained by security.
He praised his wife, the former Marjorie Gasker, for allowing him to do what he enjoys.
He and Marjorie have two children, Jason and Suzanne, and neither are involved in wrestling.
Sometimes feuds in wrestling go beyond the ring, stated Petrucci.
He recalls an incident in the ECW when Johnny Hot Body hit him on the back of the head.
"He hit me so hard I saw stars," Petrucci said. "There was no wrestling. It took eight guys to pull me off Johnny Hot Body in the dressing room."
Asked what advice he would have for some youngster wanting to be a wrestler, he said, "Never give up. Follow your dream. Good things happen."
He stressed, though, that proper, supervised training is important.
Petrucci admitted that he probably doesn't have too many moons left in the sport.
He said after a match on May 5 in Akron, Ohio, when the Super Destroyers wrestled Carnage and Lavender, "I could hardly move for three days. It was a brutal bout. I think about it and nobody got hurt."
If he can avoid such violent bouts, he estimates that maybe he still has a year or more left in his career.