Remembering Killer Kowalski
When I first started watching pro wrestling as a first-grader in the early 1970s, there were various types of bad guys (we didn’t call them heels back then). There were black-hat wearing cowboys, flamboyant pretty boys, post-World War II German and Japanese wrestlers and an assortment of rugged-looking guys with snarling faces.
But there was only one Killer Kowalski.
Walter Kowalski, who died yesterday at 81 from the effects of a massive heart attack, portrayed one of wrestling’s all-time great villains during a career that spanned 30 years.
I still remember the first time I saw Kowalski wrestle in person at the Baltimore Civic Center. I was either 6 or 7, and my parents and I were seated about five rows from the ring. Kowalski’s opponent that night was Tony Garea. With his chiseled features and wavy hair, Garea was the epitome of a white meat babyface. He also was my mother’s favorite wrestler.
In contrast, Kowalski looked as if he had just stepped out of a nightmare. At 6 feet 7 and 275 pounds, he was Frankenstein’s monster in wrestling tights. Unlike the fictional character, however, Kowalski was anything but stiff and plodding. Typically, he would hunch over menacingly, curl his hands into claws out in front of his chest and then pounce on his helpless prey.
Before Garea knew what was happening, Kowalski was all over him. I was close enough to the action to hear Kowalski growling as he viciously stomped his helpless opponent. At one point, Garea screamed out in pain as Kowalski applied his infamous stomach claw hold. I believed it was all real, and I was terrified that Kowalski was going to come into the crowd and make me his next victim.
In other words, Kowalski did his job extremely well.
In real life, Walter was no Killer. In fact, he had a reputation for being one of the industry’s true gentlemen. Jim Ross wrote on his blog yesterday that Kowalski “had a heart of gold” and “was always considered too nice a guy by many promoters to be a wrestling bad guy.”
My condolences go out to Kowalski’s family and friends.