Old School Spotlight: “Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez
In the long storied history of professional wrestling, many spandex clad gladiators have grabbed our attention and captured our imaginations. These colorful characters remain in the deepest recesses of our minds years after their glory days in the ring have passed. The most memorable grapplers from our years of wrestling fandom are often those that we encounter early on in our initial discovery of the mat game. This column will take a look at some of the most bizarre, flamboyant, charismatic, and downright terrifying pro wrestlers of all time.
The 1970s and 80s saw an influx of former football stars into the world of pro wrestling. Physical, disciplined, rugged, and fearless, these former gridiron gladiators traded in their shoulder pads for a pair of trunks in order to attempt to carve out a legacy inside the squared circle. Some succeeded and others did not. One of those former football stars that went on to have a long and successful pro wrestling career was “The Raging Bull” Many Fernandez. Legit is a word that well describes Fernandez. He was as tough as they come. He had a reputation of being unpredictable and living on the edge both inside and outside the ring.
Emanuel Fernandez was born July 27, 1954 in El Paso, Texas. He spent some of his youth growing up in California. Fernandez attended Lincoln High School in San Jose. He was an All-League (Santa Teresa Athletic League) linebacker in football and a league champion in wrestling in the 191 pound weight class. Fernandez graduated from Lincoln High in 1973. Shortly after graduation he joined the U.S. Navy and became a Navy SEAL and fought in the Vietnam War. After his military service, he attended college. He was an All-American offensive guard for the San Jose City College football team. After a couple years there, Fernandez transferred to a school near his Texas roots and played football at West Texas State University, a college with strong pro wrestling ties. He also played professional football in the NFL for three years. It was his move back to west Texas that led him into the ring after his promising football career was cut short due to knee injuries.
Fernandez met Terry Funk, another West Texas State alumnus, and Funk talked Fernandez into giving pro wrestling a try. After being trained by Funk, he made his in ring debut in 1977. He worked in his native Texas for a couple years before moving to the Florida territory and feuding with his mentor, winning the Florida Heavyweight Championship from Funk in 1979. Florida mainstay and top attraction, Dusty Rhodes, soon left the territory and Fernandez and Funk carried the business for several years. In the mid-1980s Fernandez followed Rhodes to Charlotte, North Carolina joining the hottest territory in the NWA at the time, Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. There he formed a tag team with Rhodes and the duo won the NWA World Tag Team Titles from Ivan Koloff and Don Kernodle. They continued feuding with Ivan and his “nephew” Nikita until losing the titles to the Koloffs in early 1985.
Fernandez then became involved in a feud with Arn Anderson after being attacked by Anderson and his “uncle” Ole and being laid out. Fernandez teamed with Thunderbolt Patterson to feud with the Andersons. In late 1985, he formed a friendship with “The Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant and began helping Valiant in his war against manager, Paul Jones, and his “Army”. They formed a team called the “B and B Connection” (“Boogie” and “Bull”). Fernandez, who had enjoyed a lot of tag team success also began to establish himself as a singles star during this time. He had several brutal battles with The Barbarian and Abdullah the Butcher culminating in a bloody Mexican Death Match at Starrcade ‘85. In the summer of ‘86, Fernandez turned his back on Valiant accepting a big money offer from Paul Jones which started a bitter feud between the two. Later in the year, Jones also brought in “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Jones paired Fernandez and Rude together, and the new team defeated The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express for the NWA World Tag Team Titles. They feuded with the Express and kept the titles until June 1987 when Rude left the promotion for the WWF, which was resolved with a “phantom title change”. Fernandez remained in Charlotte until late 1987 when he left the Crockett territory for Memphis and Jerry Jarrett’s CWA.
Fernandez had a brief but memorable run in Memphis in a feud with Jimmy Jack Funk (Jesse Barr) which saw the two battle in a series of Texas Bullrope matches all around the territory.
Fernandez soon surfaced in Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) feuding with Chief Wahoo McDaniel after he attacked Wahoo destroying his ceremonial Indian headdress. The two veterans, who had feuded briefly in the NWA, engaged in an “Indian Strap match” at the AWA pay-per-view, Super Clash III. After that feud ended in late 1988, Fernandez headed to Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council (WWC) where he stayed until 1991. Fernandez sparked controversy in the WWC in 1989 when he wrestled Invader #3. During the match, Fernandez landed a hard knee drop off the top rope to Invader #3’s midsection; the impact apparently ruptured Invader #3’s stomach cavity, causing him to vomit blood all over the ring while Fernandez landed two more knee drops. There have been debates over the years on whether or not Invader #3’s injury was a work, with some theorizing that the incident came about due to real life bad blood between Fernandez and Jose Gonzalez (Invader #1), the booker in WWC who had stabbed Bruiser Brody earlier that year in Puerto Rico during a locker room altercation but was acquitted of murder despite several witnesses. Others say the blood incident was a complete angle and was due to a balloon Gonzalez had swallowed filled with a combination of pig’s blood and vodka. Fernandez has always maintained that the incident was a shoot and that it was payback for the murder of his close friend, Brody.
In many ways Manny Fernandez is a throwback to a time gone by in pro wrestling. He represents an era of hard-nosed athletes that fought hard, bled, and made us believe as fans. He definitely left a mark in every territory in which he competed. From Indian Strap matches with Wahoo McDaniel, to I Quit Matches with Terry Funk, to barbed wire matches with Killer Brooks, to bloody brawls with Abdullah the Butcher, “The Ragin’ Bull” bashed opponents and busted heads in wild, violent, and unpredictable no-holds-barred battles all around the world. As he often said in his promos, “when you mess with the bull, you get the horns” and “this bull is a long hard ride”.