Monday, April 7, 2008

Mike Awesome, part 1

Mike Lee Alfonso (January 24, 1965 – February 17, 2007) better known by his ring name Mike Awesome, was an American professional wrestler best known in America for his work in ECW, WCW, and in WWE and also in Japan for his work with Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling under the name The Gladiator. Throughout his career, he was known for being exceptionally agile for his size.

Alfonso grew up with Michael Bollea. As a result of Awesome's aunt (his father's sister) marrying Hulk Hogan's brother, Awesome and Bollea (the future Horace Hogan) were cousins and the two began to consider a career in wrestling during Hulk Hogan's famous WWF run in the 1980s. Alfonso received training from Steve Keirn's training camp based out of the Pro Wrestling Federation (PWF). After wrestling for the PWF in 1989, teaming occasionally with Brett Sawyer, Alfonso moved around throughout various independent promotions, including a brief stint in the United States Wrestling Association (USWA) under the tutelage of Nate The Rat, a manager there. In that same year, he made his first television appearance for World Championship Wrestling -- as a masked jobber from San Juan, Puerto Rico named The Pro.

Early 1980s: "Big Mike" graduated from King High School in Tampa and worked out at the infamous Stan's Gym on 56th Street. He exuded energy and had an aggressive sense of humor, the baseline of his career to come. Mike was known to say "I can’t see him, but I can smell the smallness". His work ethic made him a fixture and standout at the hardcore bodybuilding cauldron.

Alfonso moved on to Japan, joining Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) in late 1990 and using the name The Gladiator.

In 1993, Alfonso appeared in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) for a short period (as "Awesome" Mike Awesome) before returning to FMW. In 1994, the Gladiator finally captured his first title, teaming with Big Titan to defeat Atsushi Onita & Katsutoshi Niyama in the finals of the FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship Tournament. They lost the title that April, but Awesome won them again with new partner Mr. Pogo in October. As the Gladiator, he faced and defeated Hayabusa for his first major singles title, the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship in September of 1995, but was forced to vacate it due to (legit) injury the next February. In May of 1996 he won the title for a second time, then unified it with the FMW Independent Heavyweight Championship after defeating W*ING Kanemura in that December. The next August, teaming with Hisakatsu Ooya & Mr. Gannosuke he won the vacated FMW World Street Fight 6-Man Tag-Team Titles, holding all three belts at once, but within a month lost all three during an epic feud with Masato Tanaka.

Awesome was involved in a backstage altercation with members of a Yakuza group at an FMW event, as a result of several Yakuza members beating up his friend and fellow wrestler Sabu. As a result, Awesome, along with the rest of the foreign wrestlers, didn't leave their locker room for over two hours, because Yakuza members were waiting in the hallway. It took Atsushi Onita to smooth things over with the group and get the foreign wrestlers safe passage out of the arena.

In the summer of 1998, Awesome began appearing for ECW again, continue his feud with Masato Tanaka in the United States. Awesome began in ECW by losing to Tanaka on an episode ECW's weekly Hardcore TV. However, following the match, he delivered an Awesome Bomb to Tanaka over the top rope through a table set up on the outside. In his final appearance of his second ECW stint, Awesome lost to Tanaka again at the August Heat Wave pay-per-view event (which Awesome claimed he was never paid for).

After returning to Japan, Alfonso seriously injured his knee during a match with Super Leather, taking him out of wrestling for nearly a year. When he returned, he continued to wrestle as The Gladiator for a brief period in All Japan Pro Wrestling before returning to ECW. Almost immediately upon arriving in ECW for his third stint, he shocked the wrestling world by winning the ECW World Heavyweight Championship at Anarchy Rulz by defeating the reigning champion Tazz and arch nemesis Masato Tanaka in a three-way dance, which was signed on the spot.

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