Veteran Sam Strong is without doubt the most iconic and successful wrestler of his generation, and is known throughout the wrestling world. Although his matches were often terrible, his charisma and look made him a hero to millions. He retired from active competition in 2005. Shortly afterward he became the owner of USPW, and his name value alone gave the promotion a massive boost. He is now hoping to make them a genuine threat to the "big two", SWF and TCW.
Birth & Early Life
Samuel Stragavelli was born on the 8th June 1949 in Yonkers, New York to Robert and Dinah Stragavelli, the second of eight children. His first athletic accolades came in high school, where the naturally tall and powerful youngster was a star basketball player. By the time he his 17 though, Stragavelli had become obsessed with body building, and was spending almost all of his free time working out, building up his already muscular frame. He was a regular at body building events in the Tri State area, and throughout his late teens and early twenties his impressive physique led to several modeling jobs, including, critically, a brief cameo in an early TV advert for the Olympus chain of gyms.
A Chance Encounter With A Starr
This cameo appearance came with a bonus of one year's free membership for Stragavelli, which he took, and was soon a daily visitor. In 1974, at the age of 25, he happened to meet one of the part owners of Olympus Gymnasiums, Michael Wilmington. Wilmington was better known to millions of fans as Micky Starr, the reigning Supreme Wrestling Federation world heavyweight champion, one of the most popular wrestlers in North America. The 29 year old champion became close friends with Stragavelli, and convinced him that with his muscular look and natural athletic prowess, Sam could make a lot of money as a pro wrestler. Stragavelli, who was not a wrestling fan, took some persuading, but eventually accepted Wilington's offer to train him, figuring that it would be a good way to earn some money.
In August 1975, following one year of training, Sam Stragavelli made his pro debut in Pittsburgh PA, working the opening match for the American Pro Wrestling Federation, formerly one of the biggest promotions around, who were now on the verge of closing down. In front of 300 fans, Stragavelli was soundly beaten in under ten minutes to Gorgeous George DeColt. Stragavelli would remain with APWF until July 1977, when the promotion folded. In that time he developed into a competent worker, who was particularly adept at getting the crowd into his comebacks, something that Micky Starr had taught him the psychology of over the past couple of years.
Strong & Eisen
In early 1979, after two years of working for various promotions across America under a variety of names (although he usually wrestled as Sam Stragavelli, he had also occasionally wrestled as Sam Starr and the heelish "Outlaw" Blackheart Jones), Micky Starr pulled some strings and Sam was brought in to wrestle for Supreme Wrestling Federation. Richard Eisen, the promoter of the company, quickly decided that the name "Stragavelli" didn't have a mainstream appeal, and so the new ring name "Sam Strong" was born. Eisen, spotting that the muscular 30 year old had a certain star power about him, wasn't shy about pushing him hard, and Strong spent the first year of his SWF career beating a variety of well known heels with relative ease. This young star caught the attention of the fans, and he quickly became one of the most popular workers in the company, even outshining his mentor, Micky Starr. He celebrated the one year anniversary of his SWF debut in style, when on February 2nd 1980 he used a piledriver to end Corporal Doom's two year reign as SWF champion.
Strong would go on to have a marvelous four year reign as champion, including a personal career highlight when he defeated his mentor Micky Starr in a singles bout in Pittsburgh, only a few streets away from the gym where they had first met, in SWF's first ever pay-per-view event. Perhaps the most significant event happened in July 1981 though, when the man who would go on to become Strong's greatest nemesis for the next two decades, the incomparable Rip Chord, debuted. They fought a classic battle at The Supreme Challenge, which saw Strong knock out his cocky challenger to retain his title. They would go on to fight countless more times, but it wasn't until the summer of 1984, and the challenge of the awesome young super heavyweight Dread, that Strong would lose the title. Dread was perhaps the hottest young talent in wrestling at that time, and defeated Strong in a stunning ten minute demolition to claim the belt. Strong wouldn't reclaim the title until late 1986, when he began a series of world title exchanges with Rip Chord, leaving him a record breaking four time world champion by January 1992. His final reign ended in May 1993 at the hands of Bruce The Giant, and his final year with the promotion saw him reduced to fighting in special attraction tag team bouts, partnering Micky Starr against a variety of heel tandems. This saw an argument develop with Richard Eisen - Strong believing that he should be headlining events and fighting for the world title, Eisen wanting to develop the next generation of superstars as Strong had been on top for over a decade. This argument would see Strong leave the promotion in April 1994.
Four months after leaving SWF, Sam Strong debuted for BHOTWG in Japan, defeating the massive Everest by pinfall. This match also saw the debut of Strong's new trademark finisher, a charging elbow to the temple. It was dubbed a Hurricane Express in Japan, although it would be referred to as the Strong Arm Tactic in the US. After a few more relatively easy bouts, Strong would have his first high profile bout in March 1995, where he took on Japanese legend Hooded Kudo for the prestigious Burning World Championship. After 22 minutes, Strong threw Kudo half way across the ring to counter the dreaded Kudo Kutter, and then hit the Hurricane Express on the smaller opponent to win the belt. Strong would manage three successful world title defenses (defeating Eiji Hamacho in May, Masaaki Okazaki in June, and Yoshinaka Toshusai in July) before going head-to-head with BHOTWG's newest star, Tadiyuki Kikkawa, in August. The match, which is considered one of the best singles performances of Strong's career, lasted just over half an hour, and saw Kikkawa take the title and end Strong's undefeated streak with a Kikkawa Driver. Strong would compete once more for the company, losing by pinfall to Hooded Kudo in October 1995, before taking a year out to get surgery on his troublesome left knee which had started to bother him toward the end of his SWF run.
Strong returned to wrestling in a blaze of publicity in October 1996, signing with Hollyweird Grappling Company (later to become Total Championship Wrestling) in the US. HGC was a brand new promotion that was being financed by a millionaire, and was the first real competition that SWF had had in that market in many years. Alongside Strong was his old enemy Rip Chord, marking the first time they would be in the same promotion since 1992. This would also mark the first time that Strong had held a position of power backstage, as he would be the head booker for the promotion for the first few years. HGC made their pay-per-view debut in January 1997, with Sam Strong winning the world title in the main event battle royal. Five months later he would lose it to Rip Chord, only to win it back six months later, repeating the belt-swapping that had been a characteristic of their famous SWF rivalry. He would lose the belt in July 1998 to the monstrous BLZ Bubb, and would then go into a period of inactivity. With his knees now in poor shape, Strong would spend the next four years fighting only three of four times a year, usually as a surprise partner in tag team bouts, teaming with younger stars who could carry the majority of the match. He hoped that the time off would allow his knees time to heal, and allow him to have one last full time run before retirement. He began that final run in July 2002, when he came back to defeat Dread for the world title, finally getting revenge for the crushing SWF title loss that he had suffered almost two decades ago in 1984. Strong would lose the title six months later to Tommy Cornell, and regain the title for a fourth and final time in November of the same year. He eventually lost the world title, and some would say pass the torch, to Liberty in July 2004.
Retirement & Beyond
Strong had only had a couple of matches afterwards, and publicly acknowledged that he would have his retirement bout in 2005, against Rip Chord. Strong ended the match with his trademark Strong Arm Tactic, then faded into retirement for a few months.
- Height: 6'9"
- Weight: 302lbs
- Birth Date: June 8 1949
- Birth Place: Yonkers, New York, U.S.A.
- Resides: West Virginia
- Billed From: West Virginia
- Debut: August 1975
SWF World Heavyweight (4), BHOTWG Burning Championship, TCW World Heavyweight (4)
Inductee into Hall of Immortals