TODAY marks 29 years since the death of Bruiser Brody – one of the all-time great wrestling characters – after being stabbed in a backstage altercation in Puerto Rico.
SunSport looks back at one of the most controversial deaths in the history of pro wrestling.
Who was Bruiser Brody?
With his 6’8”, 280lb frame and scarred forehead, Brody was an intimidating figure.
He was a true innovator of the brawling style – and his wild man character laid the groundwork for what later became hardcore wrestling
Brody wrestled all across the US – including WWE (then WWF) – and was a huge star in Japan, where he formed a dominant tag-team with fellow hard-hitter Stan Hansen.
But Brody also had a rep for being as intimidating behind the scenes too. He could have volatile relationships with wrestlers and promoters, and reportedly refused to lose matches.
During one infamous cage bout against Lex Luger, he stopped “working” mid-match, suddenly no-selling Luger’s offence and refusing to cooperate with Luger or the referee.
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What happened on the night of his death?
On July 16, 1988, Brody was set to compete in Bayamón, Puerto Rico for the WWC, a promotion owned by Puerto Rican legend and WWE Hall of Famer Carlos Colón.
Brody arrived at the Bayamón Loubriel Stadium – then a baseball stadium – with former WWE superstars Tony Atlas and Dutch Mantel (better known as manager Zeb Colter).
Mantel recalls seeing Colón sat alongside the man who would stab Brody, José González, who wrestled as Invader 1.
Speaking in an online shoot interview, Mantel said: “I’ve always been able to feel tension in a dressing room… and boy I felt it heavy that night.
“But I couldn’t place it, I didn’t know where the tension was coming from.”
Mantel left the dressing room to look out into the stadium. When he returned five minutes later, Brody had been stabbed in the stomach.
From the accounts of other wrestlers present in the locker room, González asked Brody to come into one of the shower stalls to talk business.
There was nothing to be suspicious of at this stage. It was commonplace – and apparently still is – for wrestlers to go over their matches privately.
But there was a scuffle in the shower – and González pulled a large knife that he’d allegedly concealed under a towel that he had been holding, and stabbed Brody.
Brody stumbled out of the stall and in a state of shock tried to walk out into the stadium, but Savio Vega – another former WWE wrestler – stopped him.
Brody lay down and waited for help. Tony Atlas – who once held the WWE tag titles with The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson – witnessed the whole incident.
Atlas has said: “When Brody was lying on the floor bleeding, the guys were just going over their matches like nothing had happened.
“Brody laid on the floor for about 45 minutes because it was the beginning of the show and the ambulance couldn’t get though the crowd of people.
“They couldn’t lift the gurney to get him on the ambulance, so they said, ‘Can any of you guys help?’
“Every wrestler in that dressing room – including American wrestlers – turned their back.
“When [the police] asked what happened, everyone in the dressing room said they didn’t see nothing.”
Atlas described how when he began to lift Brody, he smiled at Atlas and said: “Don’t drop me, brother.”
But his injuries were gravely serious. Atlas recalls that that Brody had “two eight-inch cuts on his belly… his liver was cut in two, plus his intestines were cut in two.”
Brody died had massive internal hemorrhaging and died of blood loss in the early hours.
So, why did González stab Brody?
The real reason from González’ attack remains a mystery – though Dutch Mantel has offered one theory.
“Years ago, when they were both in the old WWWF… I think Brody got him in the ring and beat the crap out of him.
“That’s what I heard, I don’t know if it’s true or not.”
Ric Flair – who was also in Puerto Rico that night – offered an alternative explanation.
He recalled that González’ two-year-old daughter had drowned in his pool two days earlier, causing González to snap and act crazy.
Old school wrestling legend Harley Race blamed Brody’s attitude, claiming the brawler was “his own worst enemy.”
Race said: “Frank was the type of guy that if he knew he could bully you, you had a miserable-ass time in the ring with him.
“When he left to go to Puerto Rico, I told him, ‘Frank, if you go over there with this type of an attitude, you’re going to live to get off the island… and he didn’t.”
González claimed he was acting in self defence – but there’s never been a satisfactory explanation for what really happened between González and Brody.
What happened to González?
Incredibly, González walked away free – and continued to wrestle until 2006.
Dutch Mantel has claimed that the police weren’t taking his story seriously right from the start – and thought it was just another crazy wrestling angle.
Some blamed a flawed justice system, while others accused the Puerto Rican wrestling community of covering up the truth and intimidating witnesses to protect one of their own.
Dutch Mantel was supposed testify at the trial, but suspiciously didn’t hear from the court until after the trial was finished.
Mantel said: “I knew the verdict of the trial before I got my subpoena to appear.”
With some eyewitnesses seemingly observing a code of silence – and other reportedly too scared to testify against González – he was acquitted on grounds of self defence.
What’s Bruiser Brody’s legacy in wrestling?
Though a polarizing figure backstage, Brody’s work earned him huge respect in wrestling circles.
Superstars such as Mick Foley and ECW alumni Sabu were massively influenced by Brody’s realistic brawling style.
He also paved the way for the likes of Bray Wyatt.
With his unhinged dark side and commitment to embodying his gimmick, Wyatt feels like a direct descendent of Bruiser Brody character.
Daniel Bryan even paid homage to Brody in his WWE Championship-winning night at WrestleMania XXX, with his furry shin pads – a nod to Brody’s trademark ring gear.
Brody’s death cast a large shadow over the world of professional wrestling, but he’s still remembered as a pioneering force – as both a personality and talented in-ring performer.