Old School Spotlight: “Iron” Mike Sharpe

Mike Sharpe

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.

It’s no secret that the world of professional wrestling has undergone many changes over the last several years. During the decade of the 1990s when “The Monday Night War” for TV ratings supremacy was in full swing between the WWF and WCW, the landscape of televised professional wrestling changed forever. Pay Per View quality main events were served up to viewers each and every Monday night. That shift in philosophy had an effect on some of the unsung heroes of pro wrestling. For years many guys had made their living losing and making their opponents look like a million bucks on various syndicated WWF TV programs. These memorable characters might not have had their hand raised in victory very often but they served a vital role. They were experienced ring veterans that knew and understood the nuances of putting together a good solid pro wrestling match. Fans today still remember names like S.D. “Special Delivery” Jones, “The Brooklyn Brawler” Steve Lombardi, Barry Horrowitz, and the subject of this week’s “Old School Spotlight”, “Iron” Mike Sharpe.

Mike Sharpe Jr. was born in 1952 in California, but moved with his family to his father’s native Canada as a teenager. He comes from a family legacy in wrestling, as his father and uncle were a successful tag team in the 1950s, recognized as champions from San Francisco to Japan. In high school, he dabbled in boxing and weightlifting before choosing to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Iron” Mike Sharpe was trained by “The Missing Link” Dewey Robertson for the ring at age 25. Shortly thereafter Sharpe made his mark wrestling for promotions around Canada such as Gene Kiniski’s, NWA All Star Wrestling. He became a two-time NWA Canadian Tag Team Champion, partnering first with Moose Morowski and later with Salvatore Bellomo. He also won the Pacific Coast Heavyweight Title. His career picked up steam after moving to Louisiana, where he became a fan favorite and won three different Mid-South Wrestling belts, the Louisiana Heavyweight Championship (two times), the Mississippi Heavyweight Title (two times), along with the Brass Knuckles Title in 1979.

In January 1983, Sharpe entered the World Wrestling Federation where he would spend the rest of his in-ring career until his retirement in 1995. He was a regular on WWF programming throughout the mid-1980s and early 1990s. He was announced and self-proclaimed as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete”, a nickname taken from the first promoter he worked for, Gene Kiniski. Sharpe was well known by his near-constant yelling and grunting throughout a match, as well as a mysterious black brace on his right forearm. The trademark brace supposedly protected a nagging injury that just wouldn’t heal properly but in true heel fashion it was more widely believed to contain a foreign object. Initially in his WWF career he was managed by Captain Lou Albano and received a sizeable push, regularly winning matches after hitting his opponent with a forearm smash using the ominous black brace. This initial push culminated on April 30, 1983 with a match against WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Bob Backlund, at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Sharpe was defeated in that bout and would never reach such main event heights in the WWF again. In fact, Sharpe would never hold a title for the promotion, and was primarily used in a losing role to rising WWF stars at television tapings.

While Sharpe’s television appearances almost always resulted in a loss, and victories even at house shows were rare, he chalked up quite a few untelevised victories between 1984 and 1988. While the victories listed below were not his only wins, they do give a good indication of the type of wrestlers Sharpe occasionally defeated off camera, despite his near-100% loss record on television. Among his list of conquests are three WWE Hall of Famers.

1984 : Sharpe defeated B Brian Blair, Billy Travis, Chief Jay Strongbow, and S.D. Jones
1985 : Sharpe defeated Hiro Saito, Swede Hanson, and Rusty Brooks
1986 : Sharpe defeated George Wells, Scott McGhee, Lanny Poffo, Tony Garea, Brickhouse Brown, Cousin Luke, Paul Roma, and Sivi Afi
1987 : Sharpe defeated “Cowboy” Frankie Laine, Outback Jack, Brad Rheingans, David Sammartino, Brady Boone, and Ivan Putski
1988 : Sharpe defeated Sam Houston, Boris Zhukov, and Barry Horowitz
1989 : Sharpe defeated Lanny Poffo and Paul Roma
1990 : Sharpe defeated S.D. Jones and Sam Houston
1992 : Sharpe defeated “Headbanger Thrasher” Glen Ruth
1994 : Sharpe defeated Glen Osbourne

Sharpe had a few other more memorable moments during his decade plus WWF career. He appeared on an edition of Piper’s Pit in 1984. Sharpe provided the opposition in Ivan Putski’s 1987 comeback match at Madison Square Garden. He also pinned Boris Zhukov to reach the second round of the 1988 King Of The Ring Tournament. Though he wrestled as a heel in the WWF, Sharpe was also the tag team partner of none other than Hulk Hogan during a tour of Japan against stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling in early 1984. His last televised WWF match was on June 6, 1995 in a losing tag-team effort against the Smoking Gunns.

For some time after his retirement Sharpe made his living training aspiring wrestlers at ‘Mike Sharpe’s School of Pro-Wrestling’ located in Brick, New Jersey and later Asbury Park, New Jersey. Although the school has since closed down he turned out several notable trainees including: Mike Bucci (a.k.a. Nova and Simon Dean), Chris Ford (a.k.a. Crowbar and Devon Storm), and the Haas Brothers, Charlie and Russ.

Sharpe’s unique and quirky personality has been described in several books by former wrestling personalities; Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington, Hulk Hogan, ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta, and by legendary WWF wrestler and commentator, Gorilla Monsoon. Sharpe was described as having shown characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder, as evidenced by a preoccupation with cleanliness that caused him to spend hours washing his hands or showering at arenas and meticulously folding and re-folding his clothing. According to Cappetta, Sharpe’s behavior earned him the nickname “Mr. Clean” among the boys in the locker room. At a televised house show in the Boston Garden in March 1986, Monsoon even joked to fellow commentator, Lord Alfred Hayes that Sharpe had the first match of the night at a previous Boston show, and was still in the showers when they locked up later that night forcing him to spend the night in the Garden. During this match (which he lost to Corporal Kirchner), Monsoon also pointed to Sharpe’s known dedication to fitness and looking after his body and noted that “If more people took care of themselves like ‘Iron’ Mike Sharpe, then about 20 million more Americans per year would live past the age of 65”. This was an obvious tip of the cap to Sharpe’s early days as a weightlifter before getting into wrestling.

“Iron” Mike Sharpe may not be remembered for his victories inside the squared circle, but there is no denying that his contributions to pro wrestling were immense. Many critics believe pro wrestling would be better served to return to its 1980s syndicated TV show formula and utilize guys like Sharpe again in order to keep upper level stars from doing battle against each other constantly and growing stale. I wouldn’t mind seeing that myself. I know this, each time I saw “Iron” Mike Sharp on my TV screen, I was entertained. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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