Puroresu Pulse, issue 198: Interview with Joe “Malenko” Simon
by David Ditch on July 5, 2011

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Suwama retained over Nagata. Muta & Kenzo won the tag titles. Kai beat Kondo to win the junior title. Sanada & Soya won the All Asia belts back.

Dragon Gate: Mochizuki retained over Kanda. Yoshino, Yamato & Gamma won the trios titles. Pac retained again over Ricochet, then won the tag titles with Dragon Kid.

New Japan: Tanahashi and MVP retained on the 18th. Bernard & Anderson won the GHC tag titles. Ibushi beat Devitt for the junior title. Bernard & Anderson retained over Tanahashi & Goto on Sunday. The tag titles are being defended separately, so it was only the IWGP on the line.

NOAH: Kotaro Suzuki retained over Strong. Takayama turned on Sano and will be the heavy in KENTA’s stable.

Section 2- News

All Japan: Referee Wada Kohei has left, meaning only Fuchi and Kea remain from before the split. Minoru Suzuki might be done with the company. Kono, Minoru Tanaka and Mazada have been un-suspended. Minoru gets a junior title shot on the 31st at Aichi Prefectural Gym. Also on that show will be Suwama defending against Sanada.

Dragon Gate: Added to the Kobe World Hall card are Mochizuki vs Hulk, Pac & Dragon Kid defending against CIMA & Ricochet, and the team of Doi, Kanda & Cyber Kong challenging for the trios straps. Their tag league will be single-elimination

IGF: One of the semi-final matches in their title tournament will be Lashley vs Josh Barnett.

New Japan: The big surprise from the announcement of G-1 participants is Takayama. It’s worth noting that his last tour with New Japan was the 2004 tournament, during which he suffered a stroke. Ibushi will defend against Devitt at DDT’s Sumo Hall show. Tanahashi defends against Bernard on the 18th. Also on that show will be MVP defending against Yano, and Kojima vs Minoru Suzuki.

NOAH: Kobashi’s return match will be him and Shiozaki against Akiyama & Saito. Added to Sunday’s big card are Sasaki vs Morishima and Suzuki defending against Kanemaru. Bernard & Anderson defend against Morishima & Yoshie on the 23th. Taniguchi is out with a spinal injury.

Section 3- BATI BATI GAIDEN DOENS’T SHILL UP

Spohr rips on a particularly stupid Biscoff tweet. My favorite part is Eric saying “ratings don’t lie” as though that’s a point in favor of TNA.

Also, coming up next month will be the ‘Best of 2004′ vote at Purotopia. There were some incredible matches that year, but I’m concerned that there won’t be enough people to meet my goal of 10 participants. If you’re interested, let me know.

Section 4- Media Corner

2011

Kanemoto vs Hayato, New Japan May 26th.

Hayato had a breakout match against Kanemoto in ’09. I prefer this one because it’s really tight. Hard strikes, tricky counters, and no love lost between them.

Joe Malenko

Masa Fuchi vs Joe Malenko, junior title, All Japan January 20th 1989.

For some reason Baba really got behind the junior division. This was the first of 14 title matches that year, which I’m pretty sure is a record for any title in company history. Fuchi and Joe are both technical wrestlers par excellence, so this is about skill rather than trying to compete highspot-for-highspot with New Japan (which would quickly have become impossible).

Joe Malenko vs Dean Malenko, junior title, All Japan July 11th 1989.

Note that this is NOT a spoiler for Fuchi vs Joe, because the title changed hands several times over those months. Joe was very happy with this, and deservedly so. They have a clean match but it’s still hard-fought. This compares very well with the Funk vs Funk match from ’81, thanks in part to being much shorter.

Can-Am Express vs Joe Malenko & Kobashi, All Asia tag titles, All Japan October 11th 1989.

Prior to this, the Can-Am Express and Footloose (Kawada & Fuyuki) had a series of matches that really made the All Asia titles something to get excited about. Putting a technician and one year pro Kobashi in as a makeshift team and having them go out for a long match was anything but a sure thing. The gamble more than paid off: it’s well-wrestled from the start and builds to a very hot finish. Joe shows his versatility by hanging with the other three when it comes time for the highspots.

Can-Am Express vs Joe & Dean Malenko, All Asia tag titles, All Japan March 4th 1992.

Low-bitrate file because it didn’t air in full. High-bitrate wrestling, if by ‘bitrate’ you mean ‘quality’. This was toward the end of their run with the company.

Anjoh & Joe Malenko vs Sano & Sakuraba, UWFi 7/22/95.

One might think that shoot-style shouldn’t mix well with tag wrestling. One would be very wrong. Anjoh vs Sano is a great matchup to start with, and the AnJoe paring is quite formidable. Funny to think of Sakuraba as being the least of the four, and even though that’s true he has lots of talent and doesn’t hold this back at all.

Ishikawa & Ikeda vs Joe & Carl Malenko, Battlarts 6/9/99.

Ishikawa and Ikeda do heel tag work in a shoot-style fed and it WORKS. Joe, who at this point was hardly ever wrestling, shows zero signs of rust. He executes all kinds of tricked-out submission wrestling and looks like the elite talent he was.

Section 5- Jody “Malenko” Simon Interview

Jody Simon was born in 1955 in Tampa, where he still resides. His father, Boris Malenko, was a legend. Dean came along five years later.

This interview came about thanks to another Floridian, Howard Brody. I was interested in speaking with Jody because it seemed like every time I turned around, there he was. 1990 All Japan? Jody. 1995 UWFi? Jody. Someone decides to upload a random 1999 Battlarts show and there’s Jody. Goodhelmet releases a Best of Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi compilation, and once again, Joe Malenko makes his presence felt. That doesn’t even count two more Japanese promotions I haven’t seen him in! The timing of reaching out now has proven to be crucial, and somewhat bittersweet.

The first thing we spoke about was growing up as the son of a famous wrestler. When Boris was working in Florida, he was around like any other dad. But sometimes he would work other territories and be gone for long stretches. Even though Boris was a famous grappler he was still ‘dad’ to Jody. Despite what one would expect, Boris was not Jody’s principle trainer. That would be Karl Gotch, one of the all-time masters of technical wrestling and a ‘god’ of wrestling to the Japanese. Karl spent the last decades of his life in Tampa, where he trained Floridians like Jody and helped the progression of many New Japan dojo graduates. Gotch was a second father to Jody, and his training helped Jody to gain skill and have instant credibility in Japan. That’s not to say that Boris didn’t play a big role in Jody’s career, of course. One time they even wrestled, which Jody wryly said “…was like wrestling your dad.”

But before that part of his life began, Jody looked ahead. He didn’t want to end up a physical wreck like so many he’d been exposed to as a second-generation wrestler. He got a pharmacological degree from University of Florida in 1983, so that he’d have something to fall back on and wouldn’t have to run himself into the ground. His first trek to Japan was a short one: a couple weeks in 1985 at the first shoot-style promotion, UWF, which was filled with Gotch-influenced wrestlers. Appropriately enough it was Karl who set it up.

Jody’s big break came a few years later when he started a four year stint in All Japan, much of it with Dean. The initial booking came through long-time All Japan figure Lord Blears, who lived in Hawaii and helped Baba with American talent. At one point Jody gave Kobashi and Kikuchi some supplemental training in Hawaii. Asking Jody about the best matches he had in All Japan was futile, because it was good match after great match with a variety of all-time talents. Most of the time he was in with similarly-sized wrestlers such as Fuchi, the Can-Am Express, and Dynamite Kid. But he also had to tangle on occasion with the likes of Stan Hansen. I asked about how he adapted to someone like Stan. “Even though (we) were polar opposites, if you were good workers you could find some middle ground.” Jody recalled a time when he complemented Dynamite on a nice London Olympics shirt. One night on the tour, Dynamite tossed the shirt into Jody’s hotel room and left without saying a word. “I should have told him I liked his watch.”

In 1992, the Malenko brothers left All Japan and their lives took very different paths. Jody decided to focus on his career as a pharmacist. Dean continued as a wrestler, soon enough landing in New Japan before finding fame in ECW, WCW and WWF. Jody isn’t sure whether he could have had the same success as Dean; “I didn’t try”. Pro wrestling is a sport he likes, and it gave him money and notoriety, but he knew how brutal it could be for lifers. Even his somewhat truncated career left him with plenty of injuries.

After All Japan, Jody wrestled sporadically. He and Dean wrestled Ricky Steamboat and Nikita Koloff in June of ’92. Once his career in Florida was underway, there was no way to be a regular part of a full-time promotion, but he accepted one-off matches in many places. First came Fujiwara Gumi, the first of several shoot-style gigs. Since shoot-style promotions tended to do one show at a time rather than touring, Jody was someone easy for them to use. Even though it wasn’t Jody’s intention for that to become his trademark, his background, skill and lack of other wrestling commitments made it a good fit. Fujiwara has a reputation as one of the originators of the style, but to Jody he was just another Gotch pupil. He helped the company’s top gaijin, kickboxer Bart Vale, with his ground game.

1995 had plenty of variety. He wrestled Taz and Sabu at the ECW Arena alongside Dean; wrestled Takada in the main event of a show at Osaka Prefectural Gym; wrestled Nishimura at an ECW show in Florida; wrestled Fujinami in New Japan. The match with Takada was “kind of a bust for me… he didn’t want to do anything”. Fujinami and Nishimura were both people he knew through their time training under Gotch. Jody met Fujinami early in their careers, while Nishimura was around regularly starting in the mid ’90s. After a few more New Japan shows in 1996, Jody’s wrestling appearances became few and far between.

The most-seen moment of Jody’s in-ring career came on May 11th, 1998, when he was brought in as part of Dean’s feud with Chris Jericho. ”That was just silly,” Jody said of the segment. You’ll note that Chris calls him ‘shooter’. Following a match in Battlarts in 1999, Jody didn’t wrestle in Japan for over a decade. His partner in the Battlarts match was Carl “Malenko” Ognibene, who became connected to Jody as part of “a long, convoluted story”. Jody helped further Carl’s training, and Carl asked to use the Malenko name. Jody obliged, recalling a brief tour of Mexico when he wrestled as Karl Gotch Jr. During the 2000s, Jody became involved in a wide variety of business ventures, and shoot-style wrestling in Japan was obliterated by MMA. Thus he only entered the squared circle for a couple local shows.

In 2010, Nishimura reached out to see if Jody wanted to participate in All Japan’s Real World Tag League. The two of them had bonded during the final years of Gotch’s life, and Jody accepted. The tournament featured a wide variety of opposition, from the gigantic (Akebono) to the Gotch-influenced (Suzuki & Funaki). The latter team was ‘comfortable’ to wrestle. On the last show, Jody and Nishimura had a singles match. Jody was pleased with the end result given his age and ring rust. The person Jody was happiest to see was Fuchi, who was described as someone who is “nice all the time”. It helps that Fuchi speaks English very well. “It was worth going back just to see him.”

The match with Nishimura is likely to be Jody’s swan song. In late May, he had a three-level discectomy. He isn’t ruling out a return, but it would have to be no-impact, so the odds are against it.

One of the things I most wanted to understand was how a top talent like Joe Malenko could choose being a pharmacist over pro wrestling. The answer is that he wasn’t a mere pill provider. Jody describes himself as ADD, and that would explain the plethora of things he dabbles in.

-Real Estate.
-Volunteer sheriff.
-Executive Producer at Maven Films.
-The Geriatric Oncology Consortium, a non-profit organization focusing on treating cancer in the elderly.
-Managing Partner in the Cancer Treatment Assessment Group.
-CEO of Commgenix, a medical consulting group.

I think it’s fair to say that Jody Simon has done well for himself. The interview ended up being short on things like road stories or memorable matches, but it was as interesting as any of the ones I’ve done because Jody has lived such an interesting life. My thanks to him for his time.




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