Not even Steve Lombardi, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Brawler, can easily distill his current role as backstage producer with WWE. All he knows is it’s a Tuesday in February at Atlanta’s Philips Arena, SmackDown tapes in six hours and assorted road crew are whizzing by him with cases of cumbersome equipment as he negotiates a half-hour for conversation.
Once our time is up, he might be coordinating radio promotion with talent, shooting interviews for upcoming home-video releases, organizing international advertising spots or helping finesse that evening’s promos. As was the case during his three-decade (and, technically, still active) wrestling career, Lombardi’s made a living accepting whatever task is asked of him, regardless of formal training or initial expertise.
Raised in rough-and-tough Bensonhurst, Brooklyn alongside three siblings by his airplane-mechanic dad and homemaker mother, Lombardi developed a scrappy, self-made ethos that served him well later in life. Like so many grapplers of his generation, he got hooked on sports entertainment by flipping through trade mags and discovering the likes of Bruno Sammartino, and more specifically by tuning into local Channel 47’s Lucha Libre wrestling program.
While studying biochemistry at nearby St. Francis College, Lombardi scored his first tickets to a live WWWF event at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, he was tipped off that talent hung out post-show at the nearby Savoy Hotel. He tailed them there, approached the likes of King Kong Mosca about how they got their start and was summarily swatted away. Undeterred, he took judo classes and kept pestering those guys at the Savoy until regional WWWF booker/producer Arnold Skaaland gave him a shot as enhancement talent under his real name.
After years of working several matches a night and making headliners look good (a portion of that spent tag-teaming with fellow enhancement legend Barry Horowitz), Lombardi finally got his push in 1989 when he was repackaged under manager Bobby Heenan as the cigar-chomping Brooklyn Brawler. The character’s success was fleeting (ditto his tenure with the Brain), but Lombardi endured on WWF/WWE television for years – albeit primarily in the losing column – under the Brawler persona, in addition to a brief spell as the notorious Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz and occasional spot duty as Kamala’s masked handler Kim Chee and Doink the Clown. Befitting his brief baseball-inspired gimmick, Lombardi was the company’s ultimate utility man, and still makes sporadic appearances as the Brawler, most notably in a victorious effort before his hometown BK crowd at 2012’s TLC.
So with a tip of the stogie to Vanity Fair‘s “In The Details” interview series, here’s a panoply of eccentric biographical data, re: this Brooklyn badass.
HE LIKENS his longevity to that of a senator: “Not every senator becomes a president, ya know what I mean? My goal was to have steady work for the rest of my life.”
HIS DESTINY was written from day one. In his mother’s baby books, she inscribed, “Steve is always wrestling with his brothers. I think when he gets older, he’s going to be a wrestler.”
HE HAD no fear as a kid. “I never backed down from nothing,” he says, adding that his lack of timidity was “bred in me, because I had two brothers who were nothing like me.”
HE WRESTLED his first match in WWE against the late Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig.
HE WAS the first WWE opponent of both the Rock and his father, Rocky Johnson. He recalls the former as being “a skinny little kid with an Afro.”
HIS ARM “completely pops out and goes the other way” during a match with Barry Horowitz in New Jersey against Paul Roma and Jim Powers, but he finishes the bout. He’d then be sidelined for three months.
HE ACKNOWLEDGES “you’re always worried about job security,” but says, “I knew I was diligent about what I do, so I really wasn’t too worried.”
HE FEELS “there’s a lot of bitter guys today who will tell you things that simply aren’t true.”
HE NEVER had any issues getting along with Horowitz, though he laughs remembering how “he’s always grooming himself. We would share a room and he’d be like, ‘You gotta put my knee pad to dry on this lamp.'”
HE DESCRIBES having been managed by Heenan as “a great privilege,” praising the Brain’s “gift of gab” and considers “just being labeled as being in the Heenan family” as a “dream that came true.”
HE EXPLAINS that far as playing Kim Chee on the DL, “When you got a mask on and a safari outfit on, it’s pretty easy to be inconspicuous.”
HE VIEWS his current role with WWE as taking “mental bumps” rather than physical ones.
HE CREDITS a “rapport with the wrestlers” with helping him transition into the role of producer.
HE DOESN’T see the diminished role of enhancement talent as a lost art, because “even in the upper level, they’re all workhorses” and that “even if it’s a main-event match, one guy’s enhancing the other.”
HE NEVER looked what at he did as simply “jobbing” out. “You can call anybody a jobber,” he concludes. “A jobber means nothing to me.”