2016 has been a pretty depressing year. From Muhammad Ali to David Bowie To Prince to Carrie Fisher, the world has lost a cruel amount of its most beloved artists. The wrestling world, generally ripe with loss of it's heroes, had a relatively quiet year of mourning. However, before the clock runs out on this wretched year, we do want to take a moment and pay tribute to the squared circle superstars who passed on in 2016.
Some of the people on their list lived long healthy lives into their 70s and 80s, while others were tragically taken way before their time. Regardless, each made a major contribution to the industry and we will cherish their memories for a lifetime.
Anthony Anzaldo, who was Chyna's manager, discovered the 46-year-old ex-WWE star dead on April 20 in her bed at her Redondo Beach home. Anzaldo believed she may have died two or three days earlier of an accidental overdose.
Chyna, whose birth name was Joan Marie Laurer, was a lifelong insomniac who had prescriptions for Ambien and a generic version of the anti-anxiety drug Valium, Anzaldo said.
A staple of the WWE's Attitude Era, Chyna was billed as the "Ninth Wonder of the World" and a founding member of the stable D-Generation X as the promotion's first female enforcer. Chyna was also the first and only female Intercontinental champion (a belt she won twice).
Despite being left out of the WWE Hall of Fame, Chyna was undoubtably a pioneer of women's wrestling.
Mr. Fuji passed away at the age of 82 on August 28, 2016. Harry Fujiwara spent more than 30 years entertaining fans worldwide as both an in-ring competitor and one of WWE’s greatest managers. A five-time WWE World Tag Team Champion, Fuji was infamous for keeping small bags of salt in his tights which he would throw into his opponents’ eyes.
After retiring from the ring, Fuji managed a litany of WWE’s most feared Superstars, such as George “The Animal” Steele, Kamala, Killer Khan, Demolition, The Powers of Pain, Yokozuna and most notably, “Magnificent” Don Muraco.
With Muraco, Fuji treated WWE fans to the classic Fuji Vice, Fuji General, Fuji Bandito and Fuji Chan series. Fuji made the most of a racially insensitive gimmick that would likely never bee seen in today's WWE.
If you were asked to sketch a picture of a wrestler to represent ECW in the late 90s, you would likely draw a photo that resembled Balls Mahoney. Mahoney would compete with the company in the late 90s and also with the WWE's version of ECW from 2005-08. Mahoney passed away at the age of 44 on April 12th, just one day after his birthday and within one month of his Chair Swingin Freaks tag team partner, Axl Rotten.
Mick Foley summed up the life of the former ECW star in a touching facebook post:
“Even among larger than life characters in pro-wrestling, he was one of those guys who stood out - who made you laugh, smile, or just walk away, shaking your head in disbelief, knowing you had another Balls Mahoney story to share with the boys,” Foley wrote. “RIP my friend. You brought us some great memories. My prayers will be with your family and friends - especially the little boy you loved and doted on at so many shows over the years.”
Axl Rotten's death is unfortunately yet another tragic story in wrestling history. The former ECW star was found dead at the age of 44, suffering an overdose in a McDonalds parking lot in Baltimore. Rotten worked with his storyline brother Ian Rotten as one half of Bad Breed. After the two split they developed a heated rivalry that was named Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s feud of the year in 1995. Sadly, a nasty spine injury in his later years of wrestling and was confined to a wheelchair.
One of the legitimate toughest S.O.B.'s to ever step in a ring, Black Jack Mulligan passed away on April 7 at the age of 73. Mulligan, aka Bob Windham, along with his partner Jack Lanza, formed the legendary tag team known as the Blackjacks who terrorized rings all across the country. The duo was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2006.
Blackjack Mulligan’s legacy has lived on long beyond his own personal exploits. Blackjack’s son Kendall Windham went on to have a decent career while his other son Barry Windham was one of the top stars in both the WWE and WCW during the 80’s. Barry was also one half of the former WWE Tag Team Champions, the US Express with brother in law, Mike Rotunda. Barry would also join his dad with a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of the Four Horsemen. Blackjack's imprint can still be felt as his grandsons Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt make their own mark on the modern WWE.
“Canada’s greatest athlete,” “Iron” Mike Sharpe, passed away following a long battle with ill health on 17 January 2016. The original Iron Mike is remembered as a beloved jobber to the stars by every kid who grew up watching the WWF in the 1980s, but Sharpe's career started out on a brighter note. Arriving in WWE in January 1983 and managed by WWE Hall of Famer Captain Lou Albano, Sharpe used the mysterious (and often loaded) black brace on his right forearm to defeat opponent after opponent while simultaneously berating them. Sharpe earned a WWE Championship Match against Champion Bob Backlund in Philadelphia in April 1983, but lost the bout to the company's golden boy.