Every profession has its standouts and stars, and, in turn, the individuals who make them look good. Actors have hair and makeup crews, politicians orate the inspirational prose of unheralded speechwriters and even the most accomplished sandwich artists would be nothing without someone to bake the bread.
Pro wrestling is no different. For decades, grapplers from Billy Graham to Goldberg have burnished their reputations by defeating one unmarked-Speedo-wearing so-and-so after another en route to rising up the card. These largely unremarkable opponents, typically brought in from local promotions or kept in a company’s ranks as fresh meat, have come to be popularly acknowledged as “jobbers.” But to the community of men and women who’ve spent their careers as human offerings to bigger, more charismatic names, that word is no less than a slur. They might prefer “enhancement talent,” but the true show of respect would be to canonize them for what they are: trained, skilled, talented workers who unselfishly forgo fame and fortune to be a part of the business they love.
In our new series “Don’t Call Me a Jobber,” we’ll track down the enhancement talent that have left an impression on audiences beyond their skewed win-loss ratio, to find out what they’re up to now and reflect on their unsung contributions to sports entertainment.
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And there’s no better subject to start with than brilliantly mulleted back-patter Barry Horowitz. The 54-year-old vet of both WWE and WCW (not to mention myriad regional and indie promotions) began his pursuit of the pro-wrestling biz after graduating from Florida State University in the late 1970s, developing considerable technical prowess under the tutelage of legendary Boris Malenko. After successful runs up and down the East Coast for promoters including Jim Crockett (he even won the NWA Florida Championship in 1985 while competing as Jack Hart), Horowitz embarked upon his roller-coaster ride in the big leagues by joining WWE’s ranks in 1987.
Throughout a pair of stints with Vince McMahon’s behemoth, in addition to twin periods of employment with World Championship Wrestling, Horowitz gained notoriety for a remarkable, oft-televised losing streak (itself a testament to how reliable a worker he was). But he soon won fans over by embracing his indefatigable confidence, signified by the aforementioned prematch pats on the back and accompanying sequined vest. By 1995, he even received something of a push, upsetting Skip of the Bodydonnas (a.k.a. the late Chris Candido) on national TV, being repackaged as a Jewish-American icon and making appearances at SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. But his ascent was to be short-lived, and in the grand scheme, Horowitz will most fondly be remembered for answering the call to be pinned time and again.
In conversation from his Brandon, Florida home, Horowitz – who lives with his wife and son, still hits the gym regularly and consults for an area sports-nutrition business – sounds at peace with his legacy, if a bit nostalgic for what could have been. Just don’t get him started on a certain Action Bronson song bearing his name, because the topic nearly compels him to pull on the old Star of David tights and make Boris Malenko proud.
With a tip of the hat to Vanity Fair‘s acclaimed “In The Details” interview series, here’s a panoply of eccentric biographical data, re: the best back-patter in pro wrestling.
HE KNEW that wrestling was his calling after seeing Thunderbolt Patterson face off against Mr. Clean in Florida Championship Wrestling.
HE GOT his first break after a friend of a friend introduced him to a wealthy local businessman named Lenny Greenberg – “Lenny was Jewish, I’m Jewish, maybe there’s a little connection there,” Horowitz remembers – who then gave him Boris Malenko’s contact information.
HE TRAINED in a sweltering mattress warehouse on Judo mats until Malenko told him, “You’re ready to go.”
HIS FIRST paid wrestling gigs were at Florida bars.
HE DEVELOPED his in-ring presence by borrowing from the likes of Jack Brisco, Mike Graham, Don Muraco, Bob Orton Jr., Paul Orndorff and Bob Backlund in order to become a “technical, professional wrestler.”
HE WAS “so friggin’ honored, it’s pathetic” to win the Florida Championship Wrestling title by defeating his idol, Mike Graham. “To this day, I’ll never forget his mentoring,” Horowitz says.
HE DEBUTED his first pat on the back during an amateur match in high school. “I was almost thrown off the wrestling team for doing it,” Horowitz laughs.
HE HAD the idea for the hand outline on his vest, and even drew it himself on cardboard before having a seamstress incorporate it into his attire.
HE NEVER went to the higher-ups demanding a push. “I’m happy to be there, living my dream,” Horowitz explains of his mindset at the time. “I’m gonna do what they want. If I can progress, fine. It’s a very political business. They can make an example of you if they don’t need you.” Or, as the legendary Gorilla Monsoon once told him, “We got all our superstars. We don’t need any more.”
HE THOUGHT his win over Chris Candido was a joke. Then-champion Diesel took Horowitz aside and told him, “You know, you’re gonna win tonight. You’re going over tonight.” He figured “it was a rib” until Pat Patterson confirmed it that he was indeed slotted to defeat Bodydonna Skip.
HE HAS Vince McMahon to thank for the “Barry Horowitz, Jewish wrestler” angle, including the “Hava Nagila” entrance music. Though it was Chief Jay Strongbow who suggested the flourish of the Star of David on his trunks.
HE LEFT the WWE in 1997, shortly after his year-long push. Horowitz’s second run with WCW commenced in ’98, a period he looks back on as being “even better” than the first, adding that, “everything was going good and they were starting to push me, and that’s when the company ended.”
HE STILL gets recognized on the street “every once in a while.”
HE’S ANGERED by Action Bronson’s hip-hop paean to him (“No respect,” Horowitz spits) and wishes the rapper would have asked for permission to use his name and likeness. Horowitz says he subsequently turned down a request to appear alongside Bronson at a Florida club for free. “If anything, when I came out there, they would know who I am and not him,” he says.
HE’S READY to be brought back for one last hurrah. “Right now, I am in shape for pro wrestling,” he insists. “I cut my hair a little shorter, trimmed my beard a little bit, but as far as the tan, the look, everything, I think I could go out on Monday Night Raw in the next month or two with my jacket and get a pop out of the crowd.”