Bruiser Brody was one of wrestling’s most controversial figures, both in life and in death. In the dying days of territorial wrestling, when the World Wrestling Federation was beginning to monopolize the business and recruit the best talent from all of the smaller promotions, Brody was the last true traveling superstar. He packed venues around the world, and his 1988 murder also marked the death of an era in the wrestling business.
During his life, Brody feuded with the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Kamala the Ugandan Giant, and Antonio Inoki. Brody popularized the brawling style of wrestling that is popular today, moving away from the traditional wrestling of Lou Thesz and paving the way for future stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin. He was respected by fans, was an outlaw in the locker rooms he joined, and was the source of uneasiness for many promoters. Brody had a reputation for being hard to work with, purposely uncooperative, and legitimately stiff. Despite his reputation, there was no denying that Bruiser Brody could draw a magnificent crowd.
On a summer night in 1998, Bruiser Brody’s rebellious ways caught up to him. Before a show in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Brody was approached by fellow wrestler José González, better known as Invader #1. González asked to see Brody in the shower area of the locker room to discuss some business, and there, a scuffle ensued. The end result was Brody being stabbed in the stomach, a wound that would later prove fatal. Rumor has it that Brody had upset González by refusing to job to Carlos Colón (father to WWE’s Carlito), and by investing heavily in the World Wrestling Council, Puerto Rico’s top promotion. His investments raised suspicion that he was planning to take the company over, and that didn’t sit while with González, who was also a booker for the organization.
Numerous reports from wrestlers present that night, including Tony Atlas, Dutch Mantel, and Savio Vega, say that González had the knife in his hand, wrapped in a towel, when he requested to speak to Brody. After hearing groans from the shower, Atlas investigated, only to find Brody bleeding on the floor with González standing above him holding the knife. It’s reported that the wrestlers in the locker room were too frightened to help Brody, and as a result he remained without medical attention for an hour before paramedics arrived. Once he was finally brought to a hospital, he was declared to be in stable condition. According to Tony Atlas, the next day he was told that “security guards” interrupted the care being given to Brody and demanded that doctors stop working on him. As a result, the stabbing proved fatal, and Bruiser Brody died on the operating table.
The circumstances that followed his death were as strange and duplicitous as those leading to it. Many wrestlers, including Tony Atlas, were too fearful to offer testimony at González’s trial. Others, like Dutch Mantel, did not receive their subpoenas until after the trial was over. Other American wrestlers were paid for their silence. José González’s charge of first-degree murder fell through and he ended up being tried for involuntary homicide. In the end, on the grounds of self-defense, he was acquitted of all charges. In reality, he could not be convicted because there was no one in the court to speak on Brody’s behalf. Bruiser Brody’s murder and José González’s acquittal led to a mass boycott of the Puerto Rican wrestling scene, which ultimately proved to be the decline of wrestling in the country forever. Brody was survived by his wife, Barbara, and 7-year-old son, Geoffrey.