John Lanzo, better known to the world as Blackjack Lanza, passed away last week. One of the premier big men of the ‘60s, he was a veteran of the territory era where he had a knack of never outstayed his welcome.
The 6’3 graduate of the University of Minnesota began wrestling as a student of Verne Gagne, one of Verne’s early proteges that he had a knack for developing for his AWA territory. He was sent down to Birmingham, Alabama for NWA Mid-America for his first stint and slid into the job smoothly taking the Southern Junior Heavyweight title in his first year on the job. He would then move on to Saint Louis, but always he would return to Verne and the AWA where his character began to develop. Tagging with Bobby Duncum, a rope swinging cowboy-hatted Western character, Lanza adopted the gimmick along with a menacing moustache and look straight out of central casting. Add in smooth-talking heat machine Bobby Heenan, and everything clicked. A Badass wrestling Cowboy, he would tag with Duncum for years, eventually winning the AWA tag titles in 1978.
Outside of the AWA, Lanza was a singles attraction. Heading to Indiana to the WWA with Heenan he would win the WWA title from Wilbur Snyder in 1967 holding the belt for just under two years. Whilst in the WWA, Blackjack Mulligan, the very similarly attired and facially haired rugged wrestler who had started wrestling life in the WWWF in 1971, started tagging with Lanza. Together under Heenan’s leadership they would become The Blackjacks and be one of the most successful tag teams of the 1970s. Lanza would join his partner in the WWWF in 1973 facing perennial faces like Andre the Giant and Chief Jay Strongbow. Lanza returned in 1975 with the promise of a guaranteed title shot every month, to ensure he would earn main event money, Indeed he and Mulligan would become WWWF Tag Team champions in the same year.
They would also become the NWA North American Champions in the same year whilst wrestling for Big Time Wrestling in Dallas. A solo run with Fritz Von Erich would follow for Lanza as the Blackjacks seemingly had run their natural course. They would reunite in 1983, but the rest of Lanza’s career would be a mix of singles work, tagging with Duncum and Mulligan mainly around the AWA as the territory system became less attractive with a full-time office offering full-time work.
Making occasional forays abroad in the late seventies he would tag with Nick Bockwinkel in the AJPW Real World Tag League of 1978, with some big-name showdowns to round out the tour on finals night as well as trips to Canada for Maple Leaf Wrestling. An extended run on Georgia in 1979 would signify the end of his days as a regional player. He would retire in 1985 and start working in the back office for the WWF, later WWE, as a Road Agent and Producer. One of the few men that could stand up to Vince McMahon Jnr’s onslaught of a personality, he worked there until his retirement. Alongside Mulligan, he would be inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 by Heenan, who he would induct in turn. They would be inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016. He is survived by his wife Barbra.
Picture courtesy of wwe.com
Video courtesy of Squared Circle Network