Antonino Rocca Dies At 49

New York Post – March 16, 1977
By Paul Pucciarelli

Antonino Rocca, who once said he possessed the “secret of life” and would live to be 100, is dead at 49.

Rocca, one of the most famous and well-loved wrestlers in the world, died yesterday at Roosevelt Hospital where he was admitted two weeks ago for a urinary infection. The exact cause of death is not known, pending an autopsy today.

Rocca, who often slept more than 12 hours a day and sometimes for as much as 30 straight hours before a match, claimed he would live to be 100. “And why not,” he once said: “Next to good blood circulation, the secret of life is rest. I expect to live to be at least 100.”

“Next to Milton Berle, Rocca sold more TVs in the country than anyone else,” Vince McMahon Sr., a former promoter and close friend of Rocca, said last night from his Florida home. “He was wrestling on five different TV stations at that time. There was never a more likeable and more personable fellow in sports. There was nothing phony about Tony.”

Rocca’s bouts in the old Garden with the Graham brothers, Dick Carpentier, the Kangaroos and Killer Kowalski constantly drew full houses. And when the fans got out of hand, it took only a few words from their idol to cool them off. “My fans, they obey me,” Rocca once said. “I can start a riot or stop one. But I’d rather stop them.”

Always direct and outspoken, Rocca had an incredible rapport with the fans. And he was as comfortable with senators and kings as he was in the poverty-stricken reaches of Spanish Harlem. He was never at a loss for time from his busy schedule when it came to visiting hospitals, giving lectures at local CYO, PAL or YMCA functions.

“I am their hero,” he once said of the city’s Spanish-speaking population. “Poor people identify with me. I wrestle and I beat a bad, bad man and they are glad.”

His integrity was legendary. He once spent $122 to fly from Jacksonville, Fla., to appear in a Brooklyn court for a traffic summons. The judge, a wrestling fan, was so impressed with Rocca’s honesty he dropped the charge. “I was worried,” said Rocca. “I would have rather wrestled 10 men than go before a judge.”

Rocca, who had his legs insured for $250,000, earned $1 million in the ring and enjoyed the finer things in life. He was an impeccable dresser, and except for a cauliflower ear and a too-prominent nose showed little wear and tear from more than 4,000 bouts.

Rocca was born in Trevisa, Italy, on April 13, 1927, and at age 15 moved with his family to Buenos Aires. It was there he developed his unorthodox style of wrestling barefoot.

“I was poor,” he once said. “I didn’t have enough money to buy shoes. I wrestled barefoot. By being barefoot I get a better grip on an opponent and have better balance.” A size 13 1/2 E foot didn’t hurt, either.

After graduating from Rosario University in 1949 with a degree in electrical engineering, he came to this country and got a grip on the American wrestling public.

Rocca, also a fine rugby player, was introduced to wrestling by touring Russian wrestler Kola Kwariani in Argentina in 1945. Later when Kwariani became a matchmaker he sent for Rocca. In his peak years, Rocca, who was later to be called Argentina and Tony to his many followers, was earning more than $100,000 a year. He once had a string of 1,000 straight wins.

He retired from the ring in 1967 and had been working as a commentator for a TV wrestling show.

Rocca is survived by his second wife, Joyce, and their three children, Natella, 13; Antonino Mark, 11, and Eric Timothy, 8.

The body will repose at Campbell’s Funeral Home, 81st St. and Madison Avenue. Last night his widow had a word for his fans.

“I expect to have clergymen from all denominations,” she said. “It will be kind of an international service. Please tell his fans to wait until Thursday to come. I know how many, many fans Antonino had. So many people loved him.”

11 responses to “Antonino Rocca Dies At 49

  1. One of the best of the best.

  2. Watching Rocca on TV was one of the best things I had in common with my grandmother, who loved him. Watching his several bouts on You tube today, you can still see what a remarkable performer he was; even if not an true wrestler of the Thesz/Gagne school, was still one of the most graceful, agile ringmen ever, one who seemed to defy the laws of gravity.

    • classicwrestlingarticles

      Yeah, his style is one of those that still stands up to this day. I think you could drop him in a WWE ring as is, no dumb gimmicks, and he could get over.

  3. Watched him drop-kick opponents while rocking in my Great Aunt Cecilia’s lap as she sang “In the Garden”…

  4. Mike from Brooklyn

    Antonino Rocca v. Carl Von Hess – one of the earliest matches I ever saw on television. It was my introduction to good versus evil.
    I went to about 4 matches at the old MSG. He had been away a couple of years and this night the bad guys were giving a beating to the good guys when out of nowhere the great Antonino emerged, jumped into the ring in his street clothes and gave it to the bad guys but good. He was back. What a way to do it. The crowd went crazy. He was a young boy’s hero.

    • Classic Wrestling Articles

      What an awesome memory! All I’ve been able to experience Argentina Rocca is through old videos. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Janine Annette Biasetton

    Hubiera sido importante agregar tambien los datos de su primera esposa y de su hija, la que aqui escribe.
    Mi madre lucho junto a el , codo a codo en los primeros años al llegar a New York.

  6. My Dear Italian Mom, may she rest in peace, absolutely loved him. She never missed a bout of his when I was growing up in Queens and Long Island. She got to meet him at the old Hempstead Arena and what a thrill that was for her and me.

    • Classic Wrestling Articles

      I love stories like this! I’ve been told time and again that my wife’s great aunt and I would have gotten along great as she was a big time old school wrestling fan… but she had passed before my wife and I has started dating.

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