One of the most popular wrestlers of the 1960’s and 1970’s, he was the working class hero, a beer swilling, cigar chompin tough guy.
Real Name: Reggie Lisowski
Stats: 260 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
Reggie “The Crusher” Lisowski was one of the toughest and most popular personalities in wrestling during the second half of the 20th century, battering and bruising his helpless opponents to the delight of his legions of working-class fans for over twenty years. He first established a reputation as one of the elite brawlers in the sport during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and then went on to Tag Team glory with his drinking buddy and fighting partner, the legendary Dick the Bruiser. It made no difference whether the 260 lb. cigar-chomping Crusher entered the ring as a singles wrestler or teamed with The Bruiser, championships and a deservedly fearsome reputation followed his every step. Reggie Lisowski’s nickname was one that he earned in the ring, by doing exactly what the name implies. A nearly unstoppable barrel-chested bulldozer, The Crusher steamrolled over his (primarily villainous) opposition. Wrestling technique and a vast repertoire was not The Crusher’s style. Proving himself as one of the toughest brawlers in wrestling history was…
Lisowski began his career humbly in 1949, and paid his dues early on as a journeyman. After gaining much-needed experience, and eventually a few wins under his belt, Lisowski was ready for promoters to start investing their time and effort into him. Originally cast as a “bad guy”, The Crusher’s barreling voice and quick wit (combined with his beer-swilling, cigar-puffing tough guy persona) quickly made him a popular hero for the middle-aged, working class (and primarily male) pro wrestling fan of the day. His size, power, and fighting skills (along with a dash of wrestling ability) combined in victory after victory, and the Midwestern fans he performed for soon rallied in great numbers behind their hero. Another facet of The Crusher’s style was his stamina, and more importantly, his unwavering ability to absorb punishment from his opponent, and remain as strong as ever. He liked getting beat up, thriving on a good fight…and it seemed to the fans that the more he bled, the stronger he got. Additionally, the more his opponent dared to try to inflict pain, the more The Crusher would give it right back…only twice as severely.
In addition to being a top wrestler, The Crusher crossed the line into the elite champions of the day — despite his straight-forward, somewhat simplistic, no-frills brand of wrestling. Early in his career, Reggie enjoyed a great deal of success with his “brother” Stan Lisowski, and the brawling duo won the AWA World Tag Team title in 1958, and again in 1959. Proving he was more than just a run of the mill toughguy, he won the Omaha version of the World title (an highly important championship at one point in time) on February 15, 1963 by defeating the hated Fritz Von Erich and went on to break out of his role as a “tag team wrestler.” Then, the barroom brawler followed up the major victory with another. Crusher defeated Verne Gagne on July 9, 1963 in Minneapolis, MN. and made history by unifying the Omaha and AWA World championships. In the end, Crusher wore the AWA World Heavyweight title on three separate occasions, firmly establishing himself as one of the premier athletes in the sport.
The Crusher’s fame and reputation was known far and wide, although he was not a frequent world-traveler like some of his legendary counterparts. Instead, he preferred to stay within the prosperous Midwestern territories (Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha) of the AWA, as well as the NWA’s Midwestern (St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit) and Southeastern (Georgia, Florida) circuits.
Although he would have AWA championship tag team runs later with Red Bastien, Billy Robinson, and Baron Von Raschke, the Crusher was at his brawling best during the near decade he spent teaming with Richard Afflis, better known as Dick the Bruiser. The Bruiser and The Crusher were amazingly similar wrestlers — although far from being “copies” of each other — and had a chemistry that was like few in the history of the sport. It was as if they were brothers, separated at birth and reunited in the wrestling ring. If they weren’t smoking cigars and drinking beer before and/or after the matches, they were demolishing their opponents inside the ring. The unbeatable blue-collar heroes took on the best tag teams of the day (such The Blackjacks, The Valiant Brothers, The Texas Outlaws, Bockwinkle & Stevens, and basically the entire Bobby Heenan Family) and handled them like they were rookies. The Steel Cage Match was Bruiser & Crusher’s specialty, and the team fought in hundreds of them over the course of their partnership, rarely — if ever — losing one. On the contrary…Crusher & Bruiser’s opponents invariably left the ring a bloodied and battered mess. The Bruiser and The Crusher, however, often would not get enough violence during their matches, and would occasionally trade punches with each other after their victories — to the roar of the delighted AWA crowds.
The two beer-guzzling brawlers teamed to win the AWA World Tag Team title on no less than 5 separate occasions. During the same near-decade, they also wore the WWA World Tag Team title 6 times, making the duo perhaps the most dominant and successful tag team of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Once Bruiser and Crusher stopped tagging in order to re-pursue their singles careers (after dominating the Tag Team division for nearly a decade), a change of scenery was in order for The Crusher. His longtime nemesis Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had recently been forced to leave the AWA (as well as his prized protégé Nick Bockwinkle) for a full year, and quickly “weaseled” his way into the Georgia Championship Wrestling (precursor to World Championship Wrestling) promotion seen nationwide on TBS. “The Brain” set up shop in Georgia, and was amassing quite a stable of top wrestlers as he sought to rule the prestigious Georgia territory. The “new” Bobby Heenan Family (pictured) was enjoying great success against the forces of “good” in the promotion, such as “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, Mr. Wrestling II, and others. However, Heenan hadn’t planned on one half of his worst nightmare, “The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous”, following him into the Georgia mat wars and evening things out. Once The Crusher made his presence in Georgia felt, Heenan saw his new success turned upside down. The Crusher took over in the NWA where he left off in the AWA, bloodying Heenan and his men at every opportunity. The Crusher also formed a strong allegiance with top babyface Tommy Rich — as well as taking on Heenan and his forces in singles competition — to battle The Family in front of sellout crowds all across The Peachtree State. Another prestigious championship was added to Crush’s resume when he won the Georgia Tag Team title with the NWA’s hottest young babyface at the time, Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, in 1979.
Once Heenan’s year-long “ban” from the AWA was over, he soon returned to his “home” promotion of the AWA…and so too did The Crusher, who continued their seemingly unending feud, as well as eventually branching off into other feuds with wrestlers not associated with the Heenan Family. One man in particular, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, was one of the last great enemies in The Crusher’s long career. In fact, it was “The Body” who seriously “injured” The Crusher toward the end of his career in the early 1980’s.
Ventura often took time away from the start of his matches to do a posing routine, which didn’t sit too well with the no-frills Crusher. Before one of their matches, The Crusher challenged “The Body” to a posing contest, with the fans deciding who the winner would be. The arrogant Ventura agreed, taking Crusher’s challenge — and his posing — very seriously. With his ego and reputation on the line, “The Body” painstakingly performed a series of bodybuilding poses, but still received a clearly negative reaction from the crowd. The cigar-chewing Crusher, on the other hand, merely had to raise his two (beer) barrel-sized arms into the air and flex, and the crowd exploded with overwhelming cheers. However, when The Crusher was announced as the Pose Down winner, the egotistical Ventura snapped, and attacked Crusher from behind. He grabbed the lit cigar from The Crusher’s mouth and proceeded to jam it into the popular veteran’s eye. The dramatic moment appalled wrestling fans, which seemed to please Ventura even more. In the following weeks, Ventura proudly proclaimed himself to be the man who finally ended the legend of The Crusher. However, after taking some time to recuperate, the aging-but-still-dangerous Crusher returned to exact his revenge on Ventura in AWA cities from San Francisco to Chicago and everywhere in between.
A few years after his feud with “The Body” concluded, The Crusher, who was still one of the most beloved AWA wrestlers in the promotion, finally made the decision to retire after nearly 25 years in the wrestling business. The years of brawling had taken their toll, and Reggie Lisowski decided to go out a winner, before his legend could be tarnished. During his career, his dominance and popularity (combined with his ability to absorb punishment) influenced dozens of future wrestling brawlers, setting a standard that few have lived up to. No one will ever accuse The Crusher of being a great mat technician. However, no one can deny his ability to take just a few moves and make them mean so much. Relatively speaking, his brawling skills were as sharp and effective as the greatest scientific wrestlers’ arsenal of technical moves. Maybe not as pretty, but every bit as effective…as his three AWA World Titles and 11 AWA & WWA World Tag Team titles — as well as an induction in to the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994 — all prove. Simply put, he may not have been fancy, but The Crusher always got the job done. With this in mind, we are proud to induct Reggie “The Crusher” Lisowski — The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous, and one of the greatest brawlers in the history of the sport — into the Ring Chronicle’s Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame……