Lawsuit Puts The Sleeper Hold On The Myths Of Pro Wrestling

Orlando Sentinel – October 29, 1989
By Rowland Stiteler of The Sentinel Staff

What made the lawsuit seem so preposterous was the obvious contradiction. Plaintiff gets hurt on the job, performing in the fashion his boss instructed him to. Plaintiff files big bucks damage suit. Nothing unusual about that – except that the plaintiff’s job was professional wrestling, where, supposedly, nearly everyone gets pummeled into a stupor in every match.

When Stephen ”Big Daddy” DeBlasio’s million dollar damage suit against his former manager – wrestling kingpin Dusty Rhodes – and a host of other defendants came to trial in West Palm Beach last month, what unfolded was nothing less than some very embarrassing admissions by Rhodes, one of the sport’s more popular good guys.

There was Rhodes (whose real name is Virgil Runnels Jr.) testifying that well, yes, the outcome of wrestling matches is predetermined and that, well, no one is actually supposed to get hurt in a wrestling match. But accidents do happen.

The accident in question involved some ambitious, if perhaps ill-conceived, choreography to be performed by DeBlasio in a West Palm Beach match in 1983. DeBlasio, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighed 436 pounds at the time of the fateful match, says his manager, Rhodes, instructed him to end a match by somersaulting over his opponent, catching the ring rope under his armpit and then landing on his feet on the concrete floor outside the ring.

DeBlasio, thinking that perhaps the manager had mistaken him for Nadia Comaneci, said he told Rhodes there was no way he could do any somersault – much less one over the ring ropes.

Rhodes testified that he told DeBlasio he didn’t care which wrestler, DeBlasio or his opponent, did the somersault and that DeBlasio volunteered for the trick. Rhodes was overseeing both wrestlers.

Regardless of who made the decision that DeBlasio should become an acrobat, the leap had dire consequences, as the ring rope snapped when DeBlasio caught it. The big man sustained a nasty fracture of his ankle when he hit the concrete.

DeBlasio testified that when he writhed in pain – very real pain – the referee leaned over and told him ”Good job of selling it kid.”

The fracture ended Big Daddy’s wrestling career, and he sued Rhodes, the wrestling promoter who put together the match and the City of West Palm Beach for not providing ring ropes sufficient to hold the wrestler’s weight.

The jury, however, found that Rhodes and the city of West Palm Beach were not liable for damages in DeBlasio’s injury.

It ruled that a 436-pound man who attempts somersaults should know he’s taking a risk.

DeBlasio, who now works as a South Florida tire salesman, said he was deeply disappointed, and his lawyers said they would probably go for a rematch.

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