Mike Chioda has opened up about learning from and later helping take care of WWE Hall of Famer Gorilla Monsoon.
Through the 1960’s and 1970’s Gorilla Monsoon became a titan of the wrestling industry while competing in the ring performing with WWE for a number of years. His legend only grew following his in-ring retirement and move into the announce booth in the early 1980’s.
While Monsoon called the action on-screen he remained an influential figure off it. The ‘Gorilla position’ backstage just past the curtain is named such as it was where Monsoon could often be found watching shows later in his career.
Appearing on Stories with Brisco and Bradshaw, long-serving referee Mike Chioda discussed learning from Monsoon early in his career. Chioda explained that Monsoon told him to become a referee as that’s where the longevity was, rather than actually competing in the ring.
“Gorilla Monsoon always taught me and always gave me words of wisdom. I remember I was in the ring with The Brooklyn Brawler, Barry Horowitz, and Gorilla pulled me aside. He said ‘Hey, I thought you wanted to be a referee. I told you the refereeing is the longevity in this business.’ He then said ‘Guys can go out there and have a good 5 or 10 year run, there’s not many guys who will have a 20 or 25 year run as a wrestler. The longevity in this business is going to be refereeing.’
He goes ‘I don’t want to see you in there acting like you are one of the boys, because you are not one of the boys. If you want to learn how to bump as a referee, that’s fine.’ I said ‘Yes sir, yes sir.’
Then he always told me never stooge on anybody. ‘If you have to stooge on anybody to further your position, you’re not doing your damn job right.’ Then he goes ‘Then you need to get another job.’ That was the one thing I always remember from Gorilla, don’t stooge on anybody, for what reason. Just go in there, do your job right, you don’t have to worry about Barry or anybody to enhance your job. He gave me so many words of wisdom and has just been a great guy.”
During this period, Chioda became close with Monsoon’s son Joey who was also a referee. Joey Marella was the third man in the ring for the match between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant and WrestleMania III and the 1992 showdown between The British Bulldog and Bret Hart at SummerSlam in 1992.
Marella died as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident in July 1994 after leaving a WWE taping. Harvey Wippleman was also in the car but survived.
Mike Chioda heartbreakingly explained that he and Tony Chimmel drove past the accident without knowing who was involved. It was only when he received a phone call about Marella’s death that he realised the situation.
“There were times like when Joey passed in a car wreck, coming home from a 17 day tour of Maryland. That car wreck, me and Tony Chimmel passed it, we didn’t even know that it was Joey in the car. I get the call at 6 in the morning from Gorilla at my house. It was devastating to me, it crushed me totally, we just passed by our friend in the car accident at like 4 in the morning. We didn’t even know it was him. It just crushed him [Gorilla] and everything.”
After the accident, Chioda said that he used help take care of Monsoon by driving him around and doing chores for him.
“Then he said come home off the road for a while. I used to take Gorilla, he had a couple of things [wrong] with him. He was diabetic, fighting diabetes. I used to take him to the bakery and do his chores. We used to go on the weekends to places, he would buy my mum a bunch of stuff from the bakery. I used to run all the places with him.
He would always carry about $10,000 in his pocket, cash. It would never be less than 10 grand. I would drive to his house, do some chores and spend some time with him and help him out, say hi to Mrs. Gorilla. That family was a big impact to me in this business, I’m glad the right person like Gorilla Monsoon taught me well.”
Monsoon struggled with his health as well as the death of his son, with Bradshaw commenting that he’d been told he turned down a medial procedure that would have extended his life as he was too heartbroken. Chioda confirmed that he was crushed and changed after the accident which took his son’s life.
After moving away from the commentary booth Monsoon appeared as WWE President between 1995 and 1996. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994, sadly passing away on October 6th 1999.
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