I recently sat down with WWE Hall of Famer Tony Atlas. Atlas is a one time World Wrestling Federation tag team champion with Rocky Johnson. He also appeared on MTV True Life and Legends House on the WWE Network. Atlas was part of the WWE Hall of Fame class in 2006. Here is the interview transcribed. The audio is at the end.
Q: Tony, how are you doing today?
Atlas: I'm doing wonderful. How are you fans out there doing?
Q: You're credited as the first person to press slam and pin Hulk Hogan, (even though Hogan's foot was on the ropes and referee didn't see it). How's it feel knowing that you are part of that historical memory?
Atlas: You're talking about The Madison Square Garden Match. If you go on the internet, and you look at Tony Atlas in the spectrum; his foot was not on the ropes. I school-boyed him from behind; he threw me over the top rope. I wrestled Hogan more than once. I've known Hogan since 1978 when he was Thunderlips; before he became Hulk Hogan.
Q: How does it feel though to be the first person to slam and pin Hogan?
Atlas: Well, my greatest accomplishment was not to press slam Hulk Hogan. My greatest press slam was to King Kong Bundy at Allentown T.V. before he became King Kong Bundy. He had long hair, and kind of looked liked The One Man Gang.
Nobody believed I could do it except my good friend and partner S.D. 'Special Delivery' Jones. He believed I could press King Kong Bundy. Bundy was over 400 lbs at the time. That was my best human lift, King Kong Bundy.
Q: July 16th, 1988, you appeared at the W.W.C. The event in which Bruiser Brody was taken from us. Can you tell us about that day, what happened and what you saw?
Atlas: Brody and I went to the gym that morning. Vice Television did that show with me, Brody's Wife Barbara, Dutch Mantel, and other people. Vice is coming out with a documentary on all the details about what happened to Bruiser Brody, but just roughly speaking, Brody was waiting on the outside of the Tamana Hotel, waiting for Jose to pick him up, and Jose didn't show up at the hotel to pick up Brody.
So I offered Brody a ride. We came in; Brody was admiring my artwork. I was doing some artwork. I was doing some artwork for Jerry and Mark Youngblood. Jose comes up and says, "Hey, Brody, can I talk to you?" Brody says, "Sure." He took two steps in the shower, and Jose started stabbing him. There was no argument, no fight, nothing. That's how the incident happened.
Brody didn't even have a chance to put his bag down. He wanted me to draw his son. That's why we were talking. He wanted me to draw his son. He liked my artwork, and he wanted a picture of his son. That's when Jose came up and said, "Hey, can I talk to you?" Brody said, "Sure."
Now, most of the time, wrestlers would go in the shower to discuss what they're going to do out in the ring. We didn't pay any mind when we saw them go to the shower, because we do it all the time. Then I heard Brody holler out twice. I opened up the shower doors; Brody was bent over. Jose tried to cut his throat. I wrapped my arm around Brody and pulled him back. He told me and didn't say, don't let him hurt me. He said, "Don't let them hurt me anymore."
So finally, the ambulance came. I took Brody to the hospital, and I stayed with him. The Doctor told me he was stable, and he was going to be okay. The next morning I found out Brody was not going to be okay and he had passed away. I was told that two security people came in about two minutes after I left and said, "Stop working on the wrestler."
In my opinion, they didn't finish the job in the dressing room. They went to the hospital and finished the job in the hospital. That's just my opinion because I had left the hospital. I went to the police station and gave a statement. They said they would contact me about the trial.
I was sitting in a dressing room one day, and they're saying, "It's a shame he got off." I said, "Who got off?" They said, "Jose." I said, "How? They didn't even have a trial yet." So they told me, "Yeah Tony, they had the trial yesterday." I said, "Nobody ever contacted me." So, I called Dutch Mantel, and he said, "No, I haven't gotten a subpoena or anything." So, about a week later, Dutch called me back and said, "I just got the subpoena." It was like two weeks after the trial. That's why Jose's walking because the two people that could have told the real story was not even invited to the trial.
If I were his wife (Barbara), I would take out a civil suit and have the trial held in the States, not in Puerto Rico, but the states. He was an American citizen. His trial should not have been done on foreign soil. Puerto Rico did not declare statehood.
They refused to take statehood from America. We all know that in '85. They blew up that hotel because they didn't want American business there anymore. I was there; I watched people jump from the top of the ceiling. Gorilla Monsoon was working with Carlos Colon down there at the time they blew up that big hotel.
Q: You credited the Saba Simba character saving your life. Some people felt it was racist. What did you think of portraying Saba Simba?
Atlas: A year before that character, I was sleeping on a park bench. I didn't have a penny to my name. A woman saw me sleeping on a park bench. She said, "You can come live with me if you have no place to live."
I went and stayed with this lady for six months. After I moved in with this woman, a policeman came to me and asked if I knew Vince McMahon. I go, "Yes." He said, "He's trying to get a hold of you." I said, "Well, we don't have a phone." He said, "Well, you can go to my house and my phone." I went to his house and called Vince, and he said, "Tony, where the hell have you been? I got a great idea for you."
I went to the WWE. They gave me my Saba Simba outfit. I took that money that Vince made for me, and went back to school and became a certified personal trainer. So if it wasn't for Saba Simba, if that didn't happen for me; if Vince didn't call me at that particular time; there are two people I owe my life to, my wife Monica, and Vince McMahon.
Those two people saved my life. I debuted the same night as The Undertaker. If Vince McMahon hadn't thought of me, he could have used anybody like Ron Simmons, Butch Reed. There was a lot of big strong black wrestlers, but Vince thought about me and gave it to me. So I owe Vince a lot of credit for doing that because it saved my life. Saba Simba saved the life of Tony Atlas and my career.
So regardless of what people think of the character, I could care less. Every time I look at that character, I say, "That's the character that saved Tony Atlas' life. I owe Vince for that. Thank you, Vince!
Q: This is a first for me we're both alumni being on MTV True Life. Did you watch your episode?
Atlas: No, I didn't. I didn't get to see it. It showed Tony Atlas, the promoter and Tony Atlas the wrestler because I was the promoter of the show.
Q: How did it feel when you and Rocky Johnson won the tag team titles?
Atlas: If you didn't watch the tape, I think I cried. I never figured that anyone would put a worlds belt on two black athletes because it'd only been twice in wrestling during that time. Vince put the tag belts on Rocky and me, and W.C.W. put the World Title on Ron Simmons.
Do you know what else is good about it? Tony Atlas was the first African American world champion (tag team). Rocky was the first African-Canadian world champion (tag team), he's Canadian. Isn't that something? Who knows who else is Canadian and I didn't know? Abdullah The Butcher, he was always billed from Sudan. We'd all say, "Yeah, Sudan Montreal, or Sudan, Quebec, and Sudan, Nova Scotia."
Q: In 2008 WWE brought you back managing Mark Henry who was at the time E.C.W. champion. What are your thoughts?
Atlas: What people didn't know I was being brought back as Mark Henry's trainer. To train him, get him in the gym and working out. So Vince said, "Well if we have him around Mark Henry we might as well stick him on TV." That's how that happened, but I was his trainer. I went back to WWE in 2006. I worked developmental until 2007.
That's when I and CM Punk got into a fight. It was all over the internet. I was in developmental and CM Punk, and I almost got into it. Later I had to apologize to Punk when I went back in 2008. He was trying to tell me the world I knew in wrestling was no longer in existence.
I got in a big fight with Punk. I told him to shut his mouth. Come to the ring, and I'll kick his ****, the whole kit-en-ca-bootle. Punk didn't understand what I was talking about. He said, "Tony, it's not the same." I told him, "The problem is you young kids don't want to learn from us old people."
Punk said back. "I want to learn from you. Harley Race trained me. I've trained in old school wrestling, but it doesn't work today. People don't want to see old school wrestling no more." When I went to the back with Mark Henry, I saw what Punk was talking about. I walked up to him and apologized to him. I'm a man about that. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it. He (CM Punk) was right; I was wrong.
Q: You wrestled two matches during that time. What was it like being back in a WWE ring after all those years?
Atlas: I didn't like it. They wouldn't let me be Tony Atlas. Now think Tony Atlas versus a 170-pound guy. What would I have done to him in the old days? What do you think I would have done to Evan Bourne back in the day? I would have tossed him around like a rag doll. I couldn't do that in the new wrestling today. They never let me be Tony Atlas.
The only time I was able to be Tony Atlas in the ring was my first match against Fit Finlay. Finlay was the last person I wanted conflict. He is one of the toughest S.O.B.s in the WWE, and everybody knows he's not a big guy, but he's rugged as nails.
So, if you get in a fight with Fit Finlay, you better bring your lunch. He's a rugged, rugged individual. He could hold his own against Tony Atlas. If you watch me and Fit Finlay work, that was where I could really do things because Finlay was old school and new school all wrapped together.
I enjoyed my short time with Fit Finlay a lot better than with Evan Bourne. Evan Bourne, I felt like I was wrestling my wife. No offense to my wife Monica because she would kick my ****.
Q: In 2014, you were part of the only season of Legends House. Did you enjoy that?
Atlas: Well, I'm going to tell you something, we all did because that was the first time in the history of wrestling that all the wrestlers, and they'll all say this, we never knew each other personally.
This gave us the opportunity to know each one personally. I mean, we see each other in the arenas, but when the show was over, we all left. We all left and went to the bar or hotel room; we separated. We didn't live together. This is the first time a bunch of wrestlers lived together.
We lived together for six weeks. We got to know each other personally. That had never happened in pro wrestling. It's the first and only time wrestlers have gotten to live together and know each other on a personal level, not a professional basis.
The first week, everybody was playing their role. You know, trying to play the character that people see. You can only do that for so long. I did it for about three days and started being myself. So, people got to see the real Roddy Piper, the real Tony Atlas, the real Hacksaw, the real Jimmy Hart.
None of it was staged. We were just ourselves. Vince said if anyone was caught being anything other than themselves they'd be ejected from the show. He wanted to show us what we were like in private life. It was a great idea. I enjoyed it tremendously. If they ever do a round two, put me on and Hacksaw on so I can whoop his big ****.
Q: What was it like to get the call from WWE to go into the Hall of Fame in 2006?
Atlas: I dropped the phone. I didn't felt I done enough in the wrestling world to deserve such a great honor. I figured there was a lot of people before me like Vader, Tommy "Wild Fire" Rich that deserves that honor much more than I did.
That's why I felt it was a great honor to be moved above guys like Ivan Koloff, and people like that; that have not been inducted yet. They have sacrificed so much for the business. I went in before Rocky Johnson. It was a great honor that I thought of due to the fact I didn't feel I'd done enough to deserve such an honor. I felt some people did a lot more for the business of professional wrestling that deserve the honor much more than I did, but I was very grateful.
Q: Can you tell us about your artwork?
Atlas: When I got clean, I call it my therapy, because of every time I thought about getting stoned and high; I drew a picture. Once an addict, always an addict. We have to find ways to keep us from that world.
One thing, don't hang around people that do drugs. That's the first thing because they'll influence you and you'll be right back to where you started unless you're in a setting to help that person quit.
I do a lot of work with police and fire departments, schools and stuff of that nature. I tell them the danger of drugs, and because of drugs, I lost everything. It wasn't Vince's fault. He tried to help me as much as he could. Some guys went to rehab, and some didn't. If I took Vince's advice and went to rehab, my career could have been saved, but I didn't do that. So I draw to stay sober. So buying my artwork helps keep wrestlers sober.
Q: Where can fans find your artwork?
Atlas: I am not on Twitter. I don't run the Twitter account. A good friend of mine Matthew runs my page. Make sure that's the page, and you talk to Matthew. I see him every day at the gym. He tells me everything that people say to him, and try and keep it updated as much as possible because I'm computer illiterate. They can also contact you! You're my new art dealer.
We here at Sportskeeda.com would like to thank Scott Wilder Promotions for allowing us to interview WWE Hall of Famer, Tony Atlas.Published 29 Jul 2019, 11:11 IST