Bruiser Brody, the wild man that became a global icon throughout the 1980s, was known for his legitimacy, amazing agility, and being a true independent of the sport of professional wrestling. Always insisting on being treated fairly and doing the same in return, Brody knew his business and kept himself a commodity around the world, even as territorial boundaries in the United States dissolved in favor of national groups in that era. The real-life Frank Goodish, a sportswriter before he broke into grappling, worked everywhere from St. Louis, Japan, and Puerto Rico because he wanted to conduct his own business without promotional ties.
Reaching mythical status for Giant Baba’s All Japan before his passing, the man with the trademark chain and furry boots inspired generations of athletes that came after him, both in style and approach to the industry.
One of those names was from a time a few decades after his passing. Sam Adonis (@RealSamAdonis), a legitimate international star that zigzags the country on a regular basis when he isn’t waiting for an international flight, first saw Brody on a grainy compilation VHS during his tape-trading days of the late-90s when he was still in elementary school. Other names like Hayabusa, Ultimo Dragon, and an array of international stars quickly became his favorites, but the genesis of his fandom started much closer to home. A native of western Pennsylvania, a region known almost as much for its wrestling as the steel it once produced, Adonis grew up with more than one family connection to the business. His father, Dan Polinsky promoted independent cards throughout the area for years, but as early as Sam can remember, his dad told him the legendary tales of the Bruno Sammartino and of course, “Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling,” a local program that echos around the iron city even decades after it went off the air.
“I basically grew up around the wrestling business. My dad promoted his first show in 1992, and I remember being terrified of the wrestlers. Since that time, wrestling was a part of every day life. My mom understood the wrestling business more than a lot of the wrestlers did. My brother and I were absolutely obsessed. WWF, WCW, ECW, and whatever we could get our hands on,” Sam said over the phone as he waited for a flight for Chicago to perform on a lucha card.
Most families have picnics or movie night, Sam and his family had their wrestling. It might’ve been the big stars from TV at an arena, or a local card that they ran, wrestling was a Polinsky staple. On any given weekend, a young Adonis was hauling ring posts or setting up chairs, while his mom wrote names on tickets before the doors to an independent show opened.
“I definitely think my obsession of international wrestling has led to my opportunities. Most kids wanted to wrestle in WWF, I wanted to travel the world like Chris Jericho or Andre the Giant from a young age and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I firmly believe that my obsession and overall passion that I gained from being in a wrestling family has helped my career,” Sam explained.
However, Adonis’ family ties to the industry weren’t just from parents. Before he was Corey Graves as one of the premiere voices of WWE, Sterling James Keenan was regarded as the top wrestler in Pittsburgh for most of the 2000s, working extensively around the world in different countries for several years before an injury put him in the announce booth. Still, before Graves hassled Bryon Saxton on Raw, Keenan gave his brother no shortcuts when his sibling wanted to pursue the family business. Adonis has since found himself under the bright lights of Arena Mexico, but at the age of just 16, his introduction to the squared circle was much less glamorous. In a converted storage facility with bare walls and just enough room to fit a ring, the older brother put Sam through the paces, completing the tedious process of repeatedly landing on the canvas to learn how to do so in the safest way possible, as well as performing technical maneuvers until the form was perfect.
“My brother was extremely hard on me. He knew how harsh wrestling can be and he made sure that I wouldn’t be seen as having it easy. His tough training was exactly what I needed to survive,” Adonis remarked.
Sam spent years going along with his brother to events, but the shoe was quite literally on the other foot when it was Adonis that laced up the boots for his pro debut on February 2, 2008 at a sparsely attended indy card. Despite being a rookie to the sport, Sam had a natural poise inside the ring ropes and standing 6’4 with plenty of agility got him noticed after just two years on the indy circuit. His potential was seen by the biggest league in the business when he signed a WWE developmental deal in 2010. An injury kept him on the sidelines for much of his year under contract, but what some might’ve seen as the conclusion of a path was just the beginning of the true journey into sports entertainment for Adonis. The legendary William Regal, a true pro that started his in teens in his native England, is regarded unanimously as one of the brightest minds the business has ever seen, and the Brit saw the true potential that the youngster had as a future star. Regal made a few calls to get him started in All-Star Wrestling, England’s longest-running promotion, and Adonis cites it as a critical part of his wrestling education.
“That’s where I really honed my craft. We had over a hundred matches per year. I learned how to be professional, how to protect myself and others, how to slow down and tell a story. It was as close to being in a territory as possible. We wrestled in a lot of the same towns every week and spent so much time on the road. We learned how to adapt and update matches to keep them fresh. The experience was invaluable, working in the UK made me an experienced pro,” he explained.
As is often the case in the over-the-top world of sports entertainment, doors can open when you least expect it. After a few years across the pond, the grind of the schedule put Adonis on the shelf for a brief period to rest from a few nagging injuries. Along his travels he befriended lucha star, Angelico, who invited his American pal to visit him in Mexico to train in the art of lucha libre to shake off the ring rust. While Adonis was there, he was invited to train to with Mexican superstar Ultimo Guerrero, training sessions that opened the door to the next chapter of his career in 2016.
“A two-week trip turned into two years. I was literally told to leave his gym and go directly to Arena México about immediate bookings. I learned so much in Mexico, really grew as a performer, and worked with everyone. At one point, I had more press than any other wrestler on earth with my Trump supporter gimmick. Working at a main event level did so much for my career, especially with Ultimo Dragon,” Sam commented.
His two-year stint in CMLL, the world’s longest-running pro wrestling group, made headlines, as Adonis infuriated the diehard Hispanic audiences. The red, white, and blue villain drew comparisons to the late Art Barr. Ironically, “Love Machine” Barr lost his mask to the iconic Blue Panther before Adonis had an extensive rivalry with Panther, winning a hair vs. hair bout against the Latino hero in 2017. A fellow legend avenged the loss for his countryman when Negro Casas had a lengthy feud with Adonis, eventually claiming the villain’s hair in front of a jam-packed crowd at Arena Mexico in 2018. The weeping Adonis watching his hair fall to the canvas prompted more reminiscence of Art Barr when he and his partner Eddie Guerrero lost their locks after an all-time famous bout in 1994.
Between his tours of Mexico, Sam had the chance to realize a personal dream of competing for All Japan Pro Wrestling, the same promotion he first saw on “Mayfield Mayhem” compilation tapes, the VHS that longtime vendor George Mayfield had at conventions and independent events in the late-90s. His bouts with Ultimo Dragon had done so well in Mexico that Ultimo wanted to import them to Japan. Considering that when he was just a 10-year-old fan that the prized possession in his wrestling collection was a signed Ultimo Dragon mask, Sam considers his friendship with the legend to be a very special part of his wrestling journey. Adonis had seen Korakuen Hall countless times through a television screen as a fan, but when he set foot in the world-famous venue as a polished pro, it was a surreal experience for him.
Pittsburgh is a SMALL airport but today it’s PACKED!
Even TSA Pre✅ is backed up pic.twitter.com/PEE1SZoDBP
— Sam Adonis (@RealSamAdonis) January 9, 2022
“Dragon was my absolute idol as a kid so working with him was a dream come true. We became pretty good friends so he invited me to tour with AJPW. All Japan had been a dream of mine forever, but that’s where I learned that wrestling means so much more than just cool moves. Wrestling is cultural, and cultural perception plays into story telling. Japan knows all about American wrestling and they saw me as a throwback. They wanted to see me wrestle like a Johnny ace or Terry Funk, which is ultimately what worked for me. I really hope to return to Japan in 2022. I have always worked for my match, the show, the fans, and the boss, but never for myself. Figuring out each crowd in each country is the fun part of wrestling. Being able to understand and adapt is how I’ve been able to stay busy internationally for nearly ten of the fourteen years of my career,” Adonis said.
Dude on the left was a total wrestling nerd..
Dude on the right is still a total wrestling nerd, but damn… he’s got some stories 🤫🤫🤫 pic.twitter.com/o6CcBz81DA
— Sam Adonis (@RealSamAdonis) October 5, 2021
Being an international and independent star has its perks, both for its personal and professional achievements, but when the world was turned upside down by the COVID pandemic in 2020, a harsh reality hit everyone, even global pro wrestlers. The upside of being a truly independent talent is the ability to work for promotions literally around the world, but with professional wrestling almost completely shuttered in 2020, Adonis faced much uncertainty. True to his blue collar roots, Sam made it work, driving for Amazon and delivering packages to many that needed supplies during the shutdown so that he could replace his usual income as a full-time pro wrestler. Frigid temperatures in a truck were a far cry from hot crowds in Mexico, but he took lessons even from that experience.
“The pandemic taught me to enjoy and cherish every moment even more. Wrestlers are always thinking of what’s next, and with no wrestling at all, we realize how lucky we are,” Sam explained.
— Sam Adonis (@RealSamAdonis) December 1, 2021
Similar to how Brody toured the territories a few decades ago, Sam Adonis was all across the map in 2021, working for Impact Wrestling, the NWA, several different independent groups, and returned to Mexico, but this time for AAA. Airports and particularly international travel can be difficult in the current climate with COVID and variants, but Adonis sees it all as a small hurdle for the chance to do what he loves for a living.
“I travel more now than I did before the pandemic. Even though I’m vaccinated, many airlines and US Customs require a negative test for every international flight. It’s definitely a more difficult process, but safety is important. I’m back to doing what I love so it’s totally okay with me. Right now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I couldn’t be more excited to work with anyone than I already am in AAA. I really believe that AAA will be the next big thing when it comes to wrestling in the next year or two, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Right on Target!! pic.twitter.com/rPUSMwU8m6
— Sam Adonis (@RealSamAdonis) December 11, 2021
Dubbed “El Rudo De Las Chicas” during his original stint in Mexico, Sam Adonis hasn’t lost sight of the passion or the dedication to the sport that made him a diehard supporter in the first place. His home is still decorated with rare action figures, but the difference is, a poster that features him in the main event of a CMLL card accompanies his collection. Adonis started on the dirt-stained canvas of a ring in a storage garage, but his passion, skill, and enthusiasm for the grappling arts took him quite literally around the world.
Slow Motion 450! pic.twitter.com/yf2cFH43sv
— Sam Adonis (@RealSamAdonis) December 23, 2021
“I’m finally to the point that I’m no longer in a rush to ‘make it’ because I feel I already have. Everyone is so desperate to keep up” or fit in that they lose sight of the fact that this is a business and sometimes the first job offer isn’t the right one to take. We are all lucky to be able to do this job, and it doesn’t owe any of us anything. I believe I’ve found the perfect balance. I’m able to make a comfortable living wrestling and at the end of the day, I’m able to control my own destiny. I know, without question, my best days are still ahead. I just appreciate everyone that has had my back along the way,” Adonis concluded.
You can follow Sam Adonis on Twitter and Instagram @RealSamAdonis
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